Saturday, January 31, 2009

Column: A twit tweets and tries for tix


I have a son who’s a Red Sox fan. Actually, “fan” is probably not a strong enough word for Timmy’s feelings about the Red Sox, who have completely supplanted Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi even though none of them could last 10 minutes against Darth Vader. (Well, except maybe Youkilis, who might be able to fight him off with his massive head.)

This puts me in an interesting position. As a native New Yorker, it goes against my grain to actively support the Red Sox, and yet as the father of a Sox-obsessed 7-year-old I find myself compelled to hock something valuable and try to get tickets to at least one game every year. Knowing this, the Red Sox make the process as humiliating as possible, just to rub it in.

If you haven’t tried to buy Red Sox tickets lately, the process involves logging on to their Web site on a particular day and being shuffled into a “virtual waiting room.” After that, one computer sitting in a janitor’s closet at Fenway Park (I think it may be a Commodore 64) gives you a chance to buy tickets at some random moment during the next 24 hours, most likely when you’re in the bathroom or have fallen asleep at the keyboard.

In the meantime, the site tortures you with a little 30-second screen-refresh ticker that clicks down to zero, only to restart back at the beginning, over and over and over again. It’s a nice touch, probably devised by the same people who invented the little bomb symbol that used to pop up when your Mac crashed.

So to keep from going insane this past Saturday, I shared my waiting room experience in real time on Twitter.com, the “micro-blogging” tool that limits you to 140-character bursts of wisdom. It’s kind of like a telegram, if telegrams had funny little avatars next to them and were sent exclusively by unrepentant narcissists.

And so, following are my “tweets” (as they’re called) from my time in the waiting room, along with those of some fellow Twitterers (as they’re also called) who chimed in during my quest. (Note: Some tweets have been embellished to protect the innocent.)

· Preparing to spend the day in the endless Red Sox “virtual waiting room.” It’s like a Sartre play.

· The waiting room is nice, but all the framed pictures of Johnny Pesky are creeping me out. His eyes follow you wherever you go.

· I was going to leave the virtual waiting room up in the corner of my screen and try to work, but the digital readout is too mesmerizing.

· 10 ... 9 ... 8 ... 7 ... It’s like the bomb at the end of “Goldfinger.”

· [from @KimRossi] I’ve got 30 windows open.

· [to @KimRossi] Does the “opening more windows” method really work? I’m afraid my computer will explode.

· [from @KimRossi] It’s definitely worked for me in the past. Though I feel like I’m going to induce a seizure trying to scan all these windows.

· Is it ignoring me on purpose? I think it knows I grew up in NY. And I get this weird feeling that John Henry is watching me and laughing.

· They need some new virtual magazines in the virtual waiting room. I mean, “Highlights” from 1978? How much Goofus and Gallant do we need?

· Can feel the Red Sox tix slipping away through my fingers. Damn you, virtual waiting room! Must you mock me so??

· [from @KimRossi] I’m telling you: more windows is the key.

· OK, got seven Red Sox virtual waiting room screens open now. Am sitting here mainlining “5” brand Flare gum. Beads of sweat on forehead.

· [from @BillBrenner70] You really need to get a life. ;-)

· [to @BillBrenner70] No, I need to get Red Sox tickets! Haven’t you been paying attention?

· Success! After 3 hours, got four in August in G13. Thank you, Red Sox virtual waiting room, for smiling upon me in all of your munificence!

· [from @haverhill01835] Geesh man — it’s just the Red Sox — get a wide screen TV! The seats and food are better watching at home.

Come to think of it, I guess @haverhill01835 has a point … But he’s not the one who’d have to explain it to Timmy. Try doing that in 140 characters.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Read his column each week in North Shore Sunday and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Column: If the bikini fits ...

On the season eight premiere of “American Idol,” a woman auditioned wearing nothing but a bikini. And I know what you’re thinking: How could it possibly have taken eight seasons for someone to think of auditioning for “American Idol” in nothing but a bikini? Whatever happened to American ingenuity?

It was a tasteful bikini, of course, if your definition of “tasteful” entails having to superimpose an “American Idol” logo over the woman’s rear end to make it acceptable for broadcast on national television. And she got picked to go on to the next round despite trash talking judge Kara DioGuardi, which got Paula Abdul so upset that she started to gesticulate wildly and speak in tongues, just like in seasons 1-7.

Bikini Lady also walked up to host Ryan Seacrest and kissed him full on the lips, leaving him with a bemused look on his face that seemed to say, “I wonder if this type of thing will keep happening when I take over for Larry King?”

But it doesn’t really matter whether she wins the competition, since she’s already gotten the real prize: hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. Because these days anybody can get on TV — reality show producers have taken to knocking people unconscious, and when they wake up their wives have been swapped and they’re standing on one leg on a pole in Fiji — but you have to be really popular to get thousands of people to watch you on the Internet in an effort to avoid doing actual work. (And we wonder why we’re in a recession.)

But the “American Idol” incident isn’t the only bikini in the news this week. In Australia, Ananova.com reports that a Navy commander is under fire for suggesting that woman sailors could boost recruitment by wearing bikinis. And I know what you’re thinking: Australia has a Navy? Well, it is an island after all, and they have to defend themselves from attack by New Zealand, specifically by Orcs.

In his defense, he was simply responding to the question, “If female sailors all had to be hot and wear bikinis, would that help recruitment?” He responded, “It would certainly get the right demographic,” but apparently the proper answer should have been to whack the interviewer with a boomerang. (That’s legal in Australia — it’s in their constitution, right next to the picture of Nicole Kidman.)

But the message is clear: There is immense power to be found in the bikini. It’s ironic, since when the bikini was invented in 1947, it was considered a second-class alternative for people who couldn’t afford an entire bathing suit. But since then it’s become clear that the only thing more persuasive than women in their underwear is women who might as well be in their underwear, plus, they’re out in public where they might, at any moment, start playing volleyball.

(Incidentally, Madison Avenue realized this when they created the Swedish Bikini Team, which, contrary to popular belief, was made up of actresses and models and was not actually a bikini-clad commando unit. Which I realize may come as bad news, for both beer drinkers and Sweden’s national security.)

These latest examples are surely the sign of a trend — can it be long before Hillary is wearing a bikini to her diplomatic sessions with Vladimir Putin? Or at least sending an emissary in one, like whoever happens to be on the cover of this month’s SELF magazine? Russia would surrender immediately, possibly to the Australian Navy.

Of course, there is a potential problem with this strategy: Namely, what if at some point men stop viewing women as sex objects? Or at least realize that just because a woman is wearing a bikini doesn’t mean she’ll let your hairy body anywhere near her person.

Unless, of course, you happen to be Ryan Seacrest. Sorry, Simon.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Column: Your guide to the Springsteenaugural

Heading out to Washington for the inaugural? Well, you don’t need to be one of 3 million people standing aimlessly out in the cold. Instead you can read this handy inauguration guide, and be one of 3 million people standing out in the cold in an informed kind of way.

To start off, on Sunday you should plan to be at the Lincoln Memorial for the inaugural weekend kickoff concert, when President-elect Barack Obama will acknowledge his status as the first African American, ever, to be a fan of Bruce Springsteen. Reports say Springsteen will perform at the event, although his representatives are not expected to confirm that until sometime during his third song.

Then on Monday evening, make sure to attend the Youth Concert at the Verizon Center. The event is intended to remind Americans that our youth represent the future of this country, so we should be prepared for the future to include a lot of videogames and ecstasy. Performers have been kept under wraps, but reports point to such big-name teen stars as Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers and Bruce Springsteen.

But it’s on Inauguration Day that the real excitement will take place, the true pomp and circumstance that reminds the countries with kings and queens that we can be just as self-important as they are — but better, because we don’t have to wear all those kilts and sashes.

With that in mind, here is a quick rundown of the order of events:

· Musical selections: The event starts off with the United States Marine Band, followed by the San Francisco Boys Chorus and the San Francisco Girls Chorus, and Bruce Springsteen.

· Call to Order: Sen. Dianne Feinstein will remind all present about how Democrats plan to reach across the aisle and, their hands still shaky and sweaty from excitement, embrace whomever happens to be sitting there.

· Musical selection: Aretha Franklin will sing a duet with Bruce Springsteen and then hug him, effectively burying him within her prodigious bosom.

· Joseph R. Biden will be sworn in as vice president by the Honorable Justice John Paul Stevens, whom Biden will later refer to as the drummer for Led Zeppelin.

· Musical selection: John Williams, composer, with Itzhak Perlman (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano), Anthony McGill (clarinet) and Bruce Springsteen (Fender Esquire).

· Barack H. Obama will take the oath of office, after which he will spread his arms over his head and every American watching will ascend into heaven.

You’d might think that would be the end of things, and that President Obama would run directly from the podium into the Oval Office to start fixing up our messed-up country. But no, first there is a luncheon, during which Obama will escort outgoing President George W. Bush to a departure ceremony; there, you can watch Bush dodge shoes thrown by David Gregory.

Then after that, you can head immediately over to Pennsylvania Avenue for the 56th Inaugural Parade. The parade is known around the world for its elaborate floats, like the one of a giant smiling Obama made entirely from live orchids. Children will be delighted at the close of the parade, when Santa Claus arrives at Macy’s, pulled by Bruce Springsteen. And that night, you should do your absolute best to get a ticket to one of 10 inaugural balls, which thanks to the economic downturn will all be held at Chuck E. Cheeses throughout suburban Virginia.

Finally, on Wednesday, you should try to be present when the newly inaugurated president and vice president will participate in a prayer service. If you’re looking for something to pray for, how about that they’ll be able to put all the hoopla behind them and get right down to business? Fortunately, they seem like the right men for the tough work ahead, and they’ve chosen the right people to help them.

It’s a good thing Bruce Springsteen was available!

Originally from northshoresunday.com. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Column: The secret to my (future) success

Last year I made a new year’s resolution to lose some weight, and I wound up dropping 8 pounds. So with that kind of track record, I’ve decided this year I’m going to resolve to become a spectacularly wealthy icon of material success. Wish me luck!

The first question, of course, is exactly how much success I want to attain. After giving it some thought, I’ve decided I want enough success to live a luxurious existence, but not so much that someone would want to write an unauthorized biography about me. (This means you, Madonna‘s brother.)

So then, how to do it? I’ve narrowed it down to the following four categories:

1) High finance. I used to figure this was not a good option for me, since I have no mind for business or numbers and find all those screaming men at the New York Stock Exchange to be vaguely intimidating, like those guys who yell at invisible people in the subway.

But as recent events have shown, I could probably do as good a job at this as anyone. In fact, if I had collected money from all of Bernie Madoff’s investors and did with it what I do with my own money — namely, nothing in particular — they would all be better off. Of course, they would also be better off if they had given it to one of those guys who yell at invisible people in the subway.

2) Rock star. I used to think my lack of musical ability could be an impediment here, but that was before I realized my penchant for tapping color-coded plastic buttons along with cheesy classic rock songs. Which I think is how Ted Nugent got started.

Yes, my kids got the Rock Band videogame for Christmas, and I’ve been reaping the benefits. I figure I’m going to need to parlay my Rock Band prowess into some serious cash in order to make up for scarring their young minds, as evidenced by the way my 7-year-old now walks around singing about Roxanne not having to put on her red light. I think he thinks she’s a cop.

3) Lawsuits. Surely there’s someone out there who should be paying me punitive damages. I mean, just look at me!

4) Publishing. This would seem to be a logical avenue to pursue success, since I am, ostensibly, a writer. One option would be to publish a book of my collected columns, and then keep all the unsold copies in my closet to burn in the fireplace, which would at least save me fuel money. I’m pretty sure this is what all my friends who are authors are doing.

But to achieve true publishing success I’d need a real “best seller,” ideally about one of the following topics:
  • Vampires
  • Dragons
  • Harry Potter
  • How Not to Look Old
I’m thinking my best bet would be to write a book incorporating all four, and then make it into a movie starring George Hamilton.

I suppose I could try to achieve my monumental success right here in the newspaper industry — except I think I’ve probably already gone as far as I can go, in that I actually have a paying job and have yet to be landed upon on my way into the newsroom by a despondent classified sales representative jumping from a higher floor.

Or rather than do any of these, I suppose I could just redefine “success” to mean a fantastic wife, some great kids, more pets than I can shake a stick at, a roof over our heads and a couple of cars that actually run. The best part about that is, I wouldn’t have to do a thing differently this year.

Although come to think of it, I could probably stand to drop another 8 pounds.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for Gatehouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Column: That was the year that wasn't

As regular readers of this column know, this is the time of year when I like to look back on my predictions from 12 months ago to see whether my keen journalistic insight served me well in prognosticating the major events for the coming year. And those same regular readers are probably asking, “What keen journalist insight?,” because they know me.

So let’s see what I had to say about 2008:

1) The economy will continue to soar, and with it the value of our investments. If you haven’t yet put money in reliable stalwarts like Lehman Brothers or Madoff, better do it now! Clearly I was a little overzealous with this one — hopefully nobody actually listened to me. In retrospect, I’m sure glad I didn’t have any money to invest.

2) After a rough couple of years, President Bush will leave on a high note after successfully ending the war in Iraq, shoring up the economy and finally reforming Social Security. Not sure what made me think Bushie could pull it out — maybe I just felt sorry for him, being in so far over his head all these years. I should note that I also predicted he wouldn’t be hit by any shoes, which was correct, albeit just barely.

3) Once again, nothing interesting or even remotely noteworthy will come out of Alaska. Cut me some slack on this one — who could have possibly predicted Sarah Palin, or even the kafuffle over Sen. Ted Stevens, for that matter? This would have been an accurate prediction during any of the last 50 years, so you can’t really blame me for throwing in a gimme.

4) Comic book superheroes will rule the roost at the box office, led by a blockbuster sequel about a dark crusader for justice — “Punisher: War Zone.” OK, I was close on this one. I still think the only reason “Punisher” tanked was because it didn’t have Heath Ledger and was based on a comic book character that nobody ever heard of. Also, it kind of sucked.

5) Madonna will reinvent herself once more and launch her “Middle-Aged Matron” tour, performing standards from the American songbook while wearing tasteful sweaters and pantsuits, and not engaging in any controversial extramarital relationships with younger men, especially baseball players. Damn you, Madonna! Must you always defy expectations?

6) Audiences will cheer as Rosie O’Donnell single-handedly revives the variety show format, earning herself the title “The new Sonny and Cher.” Apparently I was the only one eagerly anticipating the variety show revival … and even I didn’t watch Rosie’s show. But I was right in my prediction that Jay Leno’s time slot would be changed, although I predicted they’d move him to 3 a.m. and broadcast him in Spanish.

7) The Jonas Brothers will be proven by an investigative team from E! to be animatronic creations designed by Disney scientists. Yes, I agree that this one was kind of far-fetched. E! doesn’t even have an investigative team.

8) Several forward-thinking Chinese corporations will introduce the latest sensation for kids: toys you can suck on. OK, so it turns out that sucking on Chinese toys would be bad. But I was right in my prediction that tomatoes would prove dangerous this year, even if I said it would be due to them falling on people from great heights.

9) The Patriots will face the upstart N.Y. Giants in the Super Bowl, where Tom Brady will crush them between his powerful, manly thighs. Hmmm … I think all those pictures of Tom in G.Q. were starting to cloud my judgment.

10) Barack Obama will be elected 44th president of the United States. Actually, I was just kidding about this one. But I’ll take it!

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for Gatehouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Column: Now you know the rest of the stories

It’s time once again for newspapers to name their top stories of the year, which is very helpful for the people who can’t recall who was elected president, or whether or not the economy imploded. Also, it fills space.

But here, as you may recall, we like to point out the important stories that should have gotten more coverage from major media outlets. The ones that are still in business, we mean. With that in mind, here are the top five At Large actual news stories from 2008:

5) Bruce Springsteen-related crime. First there was the Australian woman who was sentenced in March for stabbing her boyfriend when he wouldn’t let her listen to Springsteen music. (“I mean, who doesn’t like Bruce Springsteen?” she asked the arresting officer, and frankly, I had to agree.)

And then later that same month, cops in France stopped a man going 125 mph while watching a Springsteen DVD on a player he had mounted to his dashboard. An officer said: “He said he had a long drive to Paris and was bored.”

Understandable, but I don’t understand why he couldn’t have passed the time doing what everybody else does when driving long distances: Texting.

4) Shower curtains declared toxic. As if it weren’t bad enough that the tomatoes turned against us this year, we then came to find out that plastic shower curtains can kill you. Next thing you know they’ll be telling us to give up cigarettes.

It’s true — the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow (which sounds vaguely fascist, but in a nice way) announced in June that your average shower curtain gives off 108 — 108! — different volatile organic compounds, including several that are banned in toys in the U.S. and Europe. (Although notably not in China, where “Spritzy the Shower Curtain Clown” is selling like hotcakes.)

I just want to know how it’s possible that the innocent shower curtain, with its jaunty prints of fish and flowers and fresh, plasticy-good smell, could possibly be harmful? It’s depressing, but fortunately we have daring legislators like Brookline, Mass. state Rep. Frank Smizik, who went out on a limb to declare, “Toxic chemicals simply do not belong in everyday products like shower curtains.” And who says they don’t really teach you anything in legislator school?

3) Man attempts to sell wife for Celtics tickets. Finally I realize why I never get any of the really good tickets. I’m always trying to hit the “refresh” button at Ticketmaster.com, when all along what I should have been doing is offering to sell my wife.

At least that’s what Kyle Carter of Medford, Mass. was banking on. Carter, like the rest of the free world, wanted to see the Celtics play the Lakers in the NBA finals last June. Unlike everybody else, though, Carter placed the following actual ad on Craigslist:

“Trade my hot wife for 2 celts tickets! - $2 - (medford).”

But it’s not what you’re thinking (and we know what you’re thinking). Contrary to what some assumed, it was a very decent proposal Carter had in mind. “He and his wife are only looking for a basic dinner date, no hanky-panky,” reported the Medford Transcript.

“At first she said, ‘Oh, no, there’d be too many crazy people calling us,’” Carter said of his wife. “But she said she’d be open to it. And some of the guys who responded seem pretty normal.”

That’s right, perfectly normal guys willing to trade their Celtics tickets for dinner with somebody else’s wife. No word on whether he got the tickets, but it’s still possible that Nicolas Cage may wind up buying the movie rights.

2) Man beats up shark to save dog. I love my dogs, even the dumb one (no need to name names — she knows who she is, and besides, she can’t read), but would I dive into the ocean to rescue them from a shark? I hope I never have to find out, but just in case I’m thinking of starting to carry shark repellent on my utility belt.

I’m referring of course to the story out of Florida this past September in which a man punched — punched! — a shark to rescue his 14-pound rat terrier from its jaws. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: Who would want to own a 14-pound rat terrier?

Greg LeNoir, a carpenter in the Florida Keys, that’s who. After a shark pulled his dog under at a local marina, he sprung in to action. “I clenched my fists and dove straight in with all my strength, like a battering ram,” LeNoir, 53, told the Miami Herald.

To his credit, he succeeded and the dog is fine, although it is still a rat terrier.

And now, the No. 1 At Large news story for 2008:

1) Science invents the bio-beer. Yes, the good news is, they’ve finally created a beer that can help prolong life and prevent illness. I know, you thought regular beer could do that, but in actuality it only makes you feel like you’re living longer.

The bad news is, the students at Rice University who developed “Bio-Beer” — which, incidentally, sounds like something they should be running tests on at the Centers for Disease Control — aren’t old enough to drink it themselves.

“We started out with a strict policy that we aren’t supposed to drink anything in the lab,” Peter Nguyen, the team’s graduate adviser, told the Discovery Channel in November.

The problem with not being able to taste the beer — and as we all know, underage college students never let the stuff touch their lips, just like they never have unprotected sex or gain 15 pounds their freshman year — is that you don’t know if it tastes like, well, Bio-Beer.

And as it turns out, it does. Researcher Thomas Segall-Shapiro told The Sun out of London: “No way would anyone drink this until it tastes better.” Buck up, chaps — people used to say the same thing about Budweiser.

So that wraps up this year’s top stories. Once again, they reminded us about the resilience of the human condition, and also filled up space.

More that second thing.

Peter Chianca is a managing editor for Gatehouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to info@chianca-at-large.com, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”