Friday, September 19, 2008

The Euroblog, Take 7 - Austria

After getting whatever we wanted at Greg's apartment in Stuttgart, we arrived at the Alpenland Sporthotel, a 5-star resort in the Austrian countryside, courtesy of Steve's step dad. It was a super nice place and we were very grateful to stay there. However, we were in for a slightly rude awakening: whereas everything at Greg's place was free, almost everything at the resort cost money. Fortunately, the spa and ping pong table had no cost involved, which equaled us spending most of our time there when we were at the resort. We did get nailed with a $50 internet bill and a $40 laundry bill - for four loads. But this was more than offset by the first-rate views, the accommodating facilities, and some sweets sent by Tracy which disappeared after they were set in the middle of the room.

We spent a marathon day seeing everything in Salzberg, which turned out to have a lot more to offer than I expected. There were a couple castles, a couple rides up nearby mountains that offered killer scenery, a river tour, and a couple sites dedicated to Mozart, among other things. One of the castles - the Hellbrunn Palace - was built in the 1800's by a monarch who also apparently was an extravagant practical joker. He had a running water system installed throughout the castle grounds, and also constructed several various rooms with contraptions designed to interest any of the guests to his castle (these included fountains, a cave/room with a bird theme, and a small mechanical recreated version of Salzberg). The catch was that as guests were absorbed with site seeing, he would trigger jets of water set up throughout the castle grounds and would brutally spray them down. The tour was no different, as the guide mercilessly sprayed all the tourists along the way. This castle was also supposedly the location of the gazebo from The Sound of Music. Here we had perhaps our dumbest moment of the trip. We wandered around the grounds trying to find the gazebo, and came upon a circular slab of concrete with a couple stone benches on it. Not seeing anything else promising, we assumed that the gazebo had been destroyed and that the concrete floor and the benches were all that remained. We spent about 5 minutes there taking various pictures and videos before another couple came by and laughingly pointed us in the right direction.

At this time we were joined by Chris Riboli. The joke now became that poor Carly now had a dad and not one evil step-brother, but two. At this point I also was joined by a terrific case of swimmer's ear. It developed suddenly during the day, and by evening I could barely get to sleep. That night I was awakened every hour that night by Steve and Chris snoring and by what felt like a knife being stabbed into the side of my head. I may or may not have then woken up Carly with some choice words. In the morning I decided I had to get a prescription before my ear swelled shut, but it was the beginning of the weekend. I called back home and eventually got in touch with a family doctor who agreed to call it in. However, the drugstore closed before he called, and so they sent me to another drugstore, which I discovered closed at the same time as the other one. I was now ready to be screwed and not sleep for the next 48 hours and have my ear fall off. That was until an Austrian woman stuck her head out of a small window in a similar way to the crazy guy at the gate to the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. After a struggle of communication I eventually got what I needed.

Random moment award goes to one evening when were eating in the small restaurant at the resort, only to be suddenly interrupted by someone singing opera loud enough that I thought my glass might shatter. Turns out a somewhat famous tenor from Spain was staying at the resort, and was so charmed by the waitress that he decided to sing her a piece of an opera. At full blast. I guess he enchanted the waitress too much, as she stood us all up later that evening after agreeing to take us out on the town in her car.

There is almost no end of scenic places to go in Austria. We visited a gorge with a built-in path inside it next to a river that led to a waterfall. Nearby was a field with some mountains in the background, so we thought we'd try to recreate the first scene from The Sound of Music. Carly wanted to just skip down the hill, which I thought was pointless since the goal was to recreate the scene, in which there was no skipping at all. I tried to do it with Steve, and told him to just walk normally down the hill, but for some reason he ended up running down the hill singing as I chased after him with the camera. But in the end I think we got some solid footage. We also visited the largest ice cave in world, which was a good ways up in the mountains. Chris decided to do it in a short sleeve shirt, which didn't really seem like a big deal until we were standing outside the cave watching people in full winter garb exit shivering and rubbing their hands together. I gave Chris my hoodie, thinking it might be fun to rough it, but the guide graciously gave me a jacket. We were first in line, and when the doors were opened to the cave, we were completely smashed by a 40 mph gust of below-freezing wind. I couldn't breathe for 10 seconds, and most of my aspiration to rough it fled away pretty quickly. We hiked up several thousand steps and did end up seeing some pretty eye-opening ice formations.

After Salzberg, we took a short trip to Vienna, which only increased my admiration for Austrian towns. There was a square downtown set up with all types of ethnic food available, a palace with incredible gardens, and sandy beach along part of the Danube. Outside St. Stephen's Cathedral there was a guy who looked like he was asleep while posing as a statue of a soldier. Carly timidly walked up to take a picture with him, but as soon as she got next to him he suddenly turned and shouted. She screamed and ran about 20 feet - it was one of the funniest things I've seen. The evening was great - the night was another matter, as Steve was snoring especially loud that night. I tried to sleep on my side with one hand propped to cover my ear - but to no avail. Eventually I nodded off, but awoke in the middle of the night to both Steve and Chris snoring in tandem so that there was hardly a moment of silence - when one was breathing out, the other would snore, and vice versa. Early in the morning I awoke again to Steve, and I had had enough. I kept getting out of bed and hitting him (not hard, okay..), and he would stop for a few seconds. Finally, there was a long enough pause and I got back to sleep. In the morning, Steve revealed to my incredulity that he had hardly slept at all because Chris and I were snoring, and that in order to get to sleep he was trying to make disc jockey-type rhythms in his head out of Chris' and my snores. And apparently he had finally gotten to sleep when I began hitting him. Chris slept the whole night without a problem, of course.

We decided to take a night train from Vienna to Venice. It started out on a shady note, as I was in the train bathroom trying to wash my hands, when someone busted in on me (apparently, the lock didn't work). I pushed back on the door and knocked them back out, but then they turned right around and tried to bust in again. Not believing it, and I again pushed back on the door and knocked them back out, this time keeping my foot in front of the door, while trying to reach the sink, which left me in a strange position. I came out half-expecting to fight someone, but there was no one to be found. Speaking of washing hands, I'm reminded of a previous train incident when a fly hit my face, and Carly insisted that I use a wipe on the area. She then proceeded to wash her own hands, the idea of a fly landing on me apparently being so gross that it became too real for herself. Later I used the bathroom later to change, which several girls in the aisle by the door seemed to find humorous. I guess transitioning from jeans to red Jordan shorts is pretty comedic stuff in Europe. It was also established around this point in time the Murphy's Law of riding on a train: as soon as you stand up, the train will swerve, and you will in all likelihood fly into other seats, looking stupid and uncoordinated. Things were going great until the train was inundated after midnight, and the two extra seats in our six-person room were taken. There was little ac, and so it soon felt like we were being taken away to a concentration camp. But we made it to Venice all in one piece and ready to take on Italy.


Steve (to a German-speaking person): Do you sprechen sie English?

Carly: I'm always afraid that when a train comes a pebble will shoot up and hit me in the face then I would die. It's my biggest fear.
Me: Then you'd be a minotaur. I mean cyclops.

Carly: That mountainside is beautiful. If I were a bird, I'd live there.
Steve: That's cool.
Me: If I were a person, I'd live there.

Carly (looking into the distance): I need a stethoscope so I can see that better.

Steve: If you removed "stuff," "crap," and "thing" from your vocabulary, you'd be a mute.
Me: I say all kinds of stuff.

Carly: Germs to me have ugly faces. They have mean expressions, and they're wrinkly, kind of like a raisin.

Carly (looking at her cards of the same suit): I have the runs.

Chris: The reason it sucks to be a girl is not pregnancy or a period, it's not having sword fights.
Carly: Okay, I've had all the testosterone I can take right now.

Steve: I have too many character flaws: I sweat and I snore.

Chris: It's 11:11, make a wish!
Chris: Was that kind of girly?
Silence from Steve and me.
Carly: No, that's cool!!

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Euroblog, Take 6 - Quotes: German, Swiss, Dutch

Carly: Do you think it's coincidence that there are black squirrels in the black forest?

Carly: Are there any yetis in the Alps?
Steve and I can't help laughing.
Me: Yeah, they had an incident last year.
Carly: Ok, ok, but is there anything like a yeti up there?
More laughing.
Me: My great uncle lives up there.
The officer comes to check our tickets and Steve and I try to get further directions.
Carly: Good job, you guys really looked helpless.
Me (calling after the officer): Sir, are there any yetis on the Matterhorn? Will this train get attacked by a pack of wild yetis?
Steve: Will the characters in Monsters Inc. show up?
Me: Is there a portal to the Monsters Inc. world on this train?
Carly: I'd rather hang out with the yeti than with you two.

Swiss pastor (in all seriousness): All the Swiss pastors go to America to buy clothes from Hollister.

Carly: Do you think there's caramel in that chocolate?
Me: I don't know, could be.
Carly: You look like a terrorist.

Me: In a C-section they take some of your organs out.
Carly: Do they put them back in?
I can't help but laugh.
Carly: I mean they important ones. Like, you don't need your appendix, your gall bladder, and one of your kidneys.
Me: Yeah, they usually try to keep those out if at all possible.

Carly: If you want to prevent pregnancy do you have to block your Ethiopian tubes?

Carly: Dave, talk to me like I talk to you.
I talk loudly with lots of inflection.
Carly: Steve, defend me.
Steve (unaware of the situation): Dave, stop talking loud and obnoxious.

Carly: A bunch of people are doing the 300 workout.
Me: I'd want to do it.
Carly: Do you think you could?
Me: Well, three hundred people did it. I think I could.
Carly: You think that three hundred people can do it?
Me: The three hundred people in the movie did it.
Carly: Is that what the movie is about?
Me: Yeah, the movie is about three hundred guys who try to see if they can all get buff before the Persians come kill them.
Carly: So the movie is about people working out?

Carly (trying to hurt me): I'll pinch you in a pressure spot. Didn't that hurt?
Me: I don't think you've ever managed to make it hurt.
Carly: I'll do it when you're not looking.
Me: Why don't you just punch me in the face when I'm not looking?

Carly: So we're going to Amsterdam, but our host lives in the Netherlands.

Steve: I wish I could sing.
Carly: You can sing.
Steve: Not very well.
Carly: You can make a joyful noise.
Me: You know you're bad when someone busts out the "joyful noise" line.
Steve: It's like having your opponents cheer for you: "Yeah! Good try!"

The Euroblog, Take 5 - German, Swiss, Dutch

You might think that being spoiled in Paris is not the best prep before going to stay with an army officer. And normally you'd be right. From the villa in Paris took a train straight to Stuttgart, Germany, where we were able to stay a week with Greg, a major in the Marine Corps. Thankfully he was not the Captain von Trapp sort that ran his house the same way he ran the army. Plus he had a super nice apartment. I felt like I was in Hollywood when I stepped inside - floor to ceiling windows everywhere, remote control blinds, extra-modern kitchen, a bidet in the bathroom, etc. A very gracious host, Greg let us pretty much do whatever we wanted.

Arriving in the public square after stepping out of the train station, I knew for sure it was Germany, and no longer France. In Paris, the public musicians play the accordion mostly, and occasionally other various instruments (one guy had a harp - I'm not sure how he lugged the thing down into the metro system without damaging it). But in this German public square, some musicians had assembled and were playing what I thought sounded like hell's national anthem on some cellos that were bigger than the musicians themselves. I half-expected Hitler's ghost to be summoned forth or for Rammstein to come play along and call up a giant demon from the depths. But then after they left it seemed like a nice, pleasant town.

We first went to Balingen to see my freshman roommate Rob Miller play soccer in one of the German professional leagues. It may have been one of the lower professional leagues, but Germans take their soccer, excuse me, futbol, very seriously. Several hundred people showed up, which was a good percentage of the town, and most of them were pretty adamant fans. One player would make a run, and you could feel the excitement. Another player would make a bad pass and there would be a collective "Aaaiii!!" (pronounced "I"). Then I'd hear some older guy mumbling to himself in German something to the effect of "What in the world are these guys thinking!?" Germans don't really cheer like cheerleaders though, which Carly discovered after she whooped for Rob and everyone around just kind of looked at her. Rob had the equalizer goal, and they ended up winning 2-1. Carly was filming during one of the goals, but unfortunately she was filming the mascot running around with some of the little children. After the game, a good amount of the fans stayed around to eat sausage and drink beer right outside the complex. I can think of few things more German - go yell at a soccer match, then eat sausage and drink beer. We hung around the town a bit and took some pictures. It was a little awkward when I asked Carly to take a picture a certain way, and she responded by yelling, "Stop being such a picture Nazi!" - in the middle of the German town.

Greg took Rob and us to see the black forest and what supposedly is the world's biggest cuckoo clock. I'll admit, if I had the choice to look at the world's biggest anything, I don't think cuckoo clock would be super high on the list. But in the end it was kind of neat, and the black forest was very scenic. Black forest initially sounded kind of ominous, like the kind of place you'd find hags and werewolves. Instead it turned out to be the kind of place where you'd expect to see Snow White and her little creatures running around. Greg took us their in his BMW via the Autobahn, which we discovered doesn't have speed limits and some points. We'd be going 130 mph and get easily passed up. One thing about Germany is the average car is pretty nice, and quite often a Mercedes or BMW - even the taxis. In fact, Germany in general looked more modern and developed than the rest of Europe. The engineering talent that was there for so long looks like it's been making a comeback. I think I have a better picture of Germany building up in the 1920s and 1930s like they did.

We decided to take a day trip to Jungfraujoch, which was nearby in the Swiss Alps and is apparently the highest you can go in Europe without doing some hardcore mountain climbing. It took about half the trip before we were pronouncing the name right. The only issue was that the most efficient way to do the trip was to leave one evening and spend from 1 am to 6 am in the Interlaken train station, before continuing the ascent. Of course, we naively packed like one jacket and froze to death outside of a bar while trying to sleep on some of the outside tables. We did meet a couple of English guys who were on their way to Paris after travelling through Eastern Europe. When asked why Eastern Europe, they said it was because they wanted to do something that few people do. As it turned out they were more fleeing to Paris after a nightmarish experience. We wanted to tell them that there was a reason why few people toured Eastern Europe - it's a generally sucky place. At one of their stops, they got back on the train in half an hour after seeing packs of dogs roaming trashy streets on top of terrible living conditions. At other stops, a creep came into their room in the middle of the night and stood there for over an hour, a beetle fell on one guy's face in the middle of the night, and one guy misused his 3-minute shower token and had the shower run out on him right after he was all lathered up. And then there they were freezing overnight in a train station. Maybe they were bad luck for us. But in the end Jungfraujoch did feel like being at the top of the Alps, and there were some pretty extraordinary views to be had. The building on the side of the mountain and the Sphinx Observatory at the top were some impressive feats of engineering.

On another trip we went to see a couple of castles in Bavaria in southeast Germany. It was going well until we got off the train in a tiny German village to catch a bus. Apparently this town had no concept of or didn't care at all about maintaining reliable public transportation. After an hour waiting for the bus to show we were trying to hitchhike. The question arose as to whether the thumbs up is the universal hitchhike symbol, but we tried it anyway. People on bikes then became the theme. Steve tried to call to a girl on a bike to see if she spoke English, but she just zipped right on by. I thought it was pretty funny, but Steve was too irritated by that point to see it. Later, I was trying to ask a lady about the bus schedule, when I heard a child cry out, immediately after which a bike with a wagon attached driven by some kid flew by just a couple inches from me. I tried to arch by back forward so the edge of the wagon wouldn't hit me, but in doing so, my head went backwards and got wacked by a wire with flag on it that was stuck on the back corner of the wagon. A little while after that, Steve and I looked up to see a woman riding toward us on a bike. She looked like she was twice the size of the bike, and from a distance she looked pregnant. But when she drove by we realized that she was just unbelievably anatomically blessed. We finally got back on the train to try a different spot, only the train was slow as molasses for while. I looked out the window to see a biker passing up the train. I questioned my $1,000+ rail pass at this point.

We eventually made it there, and it turned out to be the most scenic place we'd seen yet. There were two castles situated on the side of some tree-covered hills, with two large lakes nearby and the Swiss Alps in the background. The castles were very ornate - in Neuschwanstein the king's bedroom was covered in intricate woodwork that took 14 woodcarvers 4 years to complete. A common theme in castles seems to be to have the door to the king's bathroom be a secret door the blends into the wall. Unfortunately, our schedule had been thrown off, and this resulted in our not being able to catch the right train and having to sleep in the Munich train station for several hours that night. Carly had been having a tough time, and who can blame her, but we had to laugh when the song "You Had a Bad Day" started playing in the Munich train station. We stayed in the overnight lounge, where I've never seen rows of benches more perfectly designed to prevent sleep.

We finished Germany with a trip to the Netherlands, where we were graciously hosted by Ewout van Rhee and his new wife Jess. Amsterdam is of course generally known for it's dikes/canals and legal drugs/prostitution. I've never seen so many pimps - and interracial couples - in one place. Carly had a nice moment when she stepped on a syringe in one of the trains. Fortunately, the needle part was already gone. But even if you're not there to lose yourself and your mind in the Red Light District, there's a good part of Amsterdam that fits a more generic tourist profile. We might have gone there, but my memory of my time there is kind of hazy. Not really.

Austria looms. We'll see what happens next.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Euroblog, Take 4 - Paris, Round 2

You might think a little diversity in the menu is desirable. And you're right. But that only works in Paris if money is no object, and for us, "money is no object" can quickly take on the sense of having no money at all. Which I object to. Thus we essentially only ate three things while we were in Paris: pizza, sandwiches, and a third meal that will become obvious if you further read this. Incidentally, I have to wonder which is better: a French waiter saying "bon appetite," or an English butler saying "what can I do to help you, sir?" Take into account the accents.

To get back to Paris from Geneva, our only ride to the train station left in the morning, while our train left in the late afternoon. That equals seven hours in the train station coffee shop. Fortunately, they had comfortable furniture, so I put my feet up and went to sleep. A couple hours later I was awakened by high-pitched harsh-sounding French not too far away from me. I groggily looked up to see the waitress staring right at and just going to town on me in French. I tried to tell her I only spoke English, but it didn't phase her one bit. After she had ranted to her satisfaction she sped off and left me there to wonder what I had done. I learned from a nearby customer that she objected to me just sleeping in her coffee shop. So I bought a sandwich to appease her. Then I went back to sleep.

We got back to Paris around ten in the evening not having eaten anything since lunch. There was a legit Italian restaurant a few blocks away from where we were staying that we were hoping against hope would still be open when we got back, because nothing else would be. Now, I would first like to say that our hosts were very fun and very caring people and we had a great time with them. But we were mortified of having to eat at our hosts' place because they would always offer us was the flattest tasting lemonade I've ever had and stale French bread that you would have to rip at like a caveman if you want to have a bite. Sometimes I wondered whether they only bought that bread because of the fancy French wrapping it came in. What made the food issue worse was the fact that they were very controlling people, so they would get out the stale French bread and the flat lemonade and insist that we have some - and we couldn't say no. On top of that, since they were both controlling people, their relationship consisted a lot of the time of them having to explain to each other every solitary detail both of what they wanted to do and what each of them thought we should be doing with our time there. At times I would sit there with there staring at my stale French bread and flat lemonade listening to them discuss how dishes should be put into the dishwasher and I would just want to tear out every last hair that I had. So maybe now you can see why we thought all our hopes of not going to bed starving rested on this Italian restaurant.

We went by the house to drop off our stuff, and Carly promptly started to get into a conversation with our hosts. I quickly ended it for her and we ran off to the Italian restaurant. People were still eating when we walked up, and when we asked the waitress for anything edible... they were closed. We walked back towards the house as depressed as we've ever been on the trip. But then what seemed like a miracle happened. A guy on a motorcycle drove by us with what looked like a large stack of pizzas on the back. We flagged him down and it turned out he was in fact a pizza delivery guy. I got the phone number for the place and we had renewed hope. We called the place looking for anything edible... they were closed. At this point I was wondering what the next cruel twist would be - was I going to discover a frozen pizza in the freezer only to burn it black in the oven? Fortunately, our hosts came through in the clutch and fixed us a bunch of spaghetti, of course accompanied by the the customary bread and lemonade. Perhaps the whole thing was a test of character - we definitely could have told the pizza guy that we had ordered it, paid for it, and run off with it. And in the end we got a providential meal.

Having yet to actually visit the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, those were next on the list. But first we visited some street shops. We had thought about buying a weird hat that whoever was the last person to say something stupid would have to wear. Carly found a potential candidate, but I apparently upset the shopkeeper by putting in on and trying to take a picture of myself to see what it looked like. I slowly became aware that he was angrily addressing me as "woman" and signaling me to remove the hat from my head. Guess what? He got no business from me. We had another typical American tourist moment at the Louvre. As soon as we got in, we rushed to see the Mona Lisa. Now, the Louvre is tens of thousands of square feet of world-renowned paintings and architecture, but after we had spent five minutes at the Mona Lisa, we turned to each other thinking, "Now what?" The Eiffel Tower was of course legit. We made it all the way to the top, courtesy of some tickets from some older English folks who didn't want to stand in line, or "queue," as the Europeans call it. One thing I thought was interesting to see was that from the top of the Eiffel Tower you can see the actually curvature of the world. Perhaps if the motivation behind the Tower of Babel hadn't been so wrong: 1) we all could still be speaking the same language, and 2) the western hemisphere would have been discovered earlier because people wouldn't have been afraid of sailing off the end of a flat world.

We also visited the palace of Versailles, which was the most ornate place I've ever seen. The front was nothing too gawk at, and you probably wouldn't expect much based on first impression. However, the rooms toward the back and the gardens behind the buildings were incredibly lavish. The walls and ceilings of the rooms were covered with classic paintings, intricate woodwork, plush materials, and decorations made of precious metals. The gardens weaved back for probably a quarter mile before ending in an amphitheater. The palace of Versailles has the personality of a mullet - business in the front, party in the back.


Steve (while visiting the Musee d'Orsay and the Louvre): I've never seen so much human anatomy in my life.

Helen (to Matt, after he messed up a line from Pride and Prejudice that she taught him): I taught you that sentence for you to be elegant, but now you look like a fool.

Carly: When I was young I read a really scary picture book.

Steve: You ready to leave?
Me: I really like Napoleon.

Helen (several times after we taught her the word "fruity"): That's so flowery.

Next we head over to Stuttgart in Germany. We wonder if there are any Nazis left. Are we typical Americans? Possibly. We'll see what happens next...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Euroblog, Take 3 - Geneva

You might say that you have to have money to live in Geneva. And you're right. Of course you have to have money to live anywhere. Except Siberia - I think they pay people to live there. But Geneva is a Goliath-sized head and shoulders above the rest - matters of cost quickly become costly matters. Because of this, we cut our stay a little shorter than originally planned, but nonetheless it was still a fun time. And I didn't have to sleep in the same room with Steve, which was a plus for my ability to sleep.

We thought there would be no trouble getting a train from Paris to Geneva. After all, who goes to Geneva on any regular basis, besides a few determinists and people who can't do without authentic watches and Swiss army knives? As it turned out, everyone from Paris does, when the Geneva Festival is going on, the grand finale of which occurred the day we tried to get there. So basically we got up before five in the morning to catch a 7:30 train that turned out to be already full. When Steve tried to get tickets, the lady laughed and said, "Impossible!" I was still half asleep for this trip apparently, as I was too late getting out of one of the metro cars. I timed it perfectly wrong. There were two sets of doors - one on the metro itself and one on the edge of the platform. Both sets of doors simultaneously closed on me right as I walked through with my two bags. Pandemonium ensued as I fought two sets of doors that kept trying to shut on me as I tried to rip my bags and myself through. Thankfully, some of the locals helped me out or half my luggage might have become an artifact of the Paris metro system. I found the whole situation rather humorous. Carly was horrified and thought I had broken my ribcage, that I was going to need emergency surgery, and that I would possibly die.

As it was, we made it to Geneva that evening all in one piece. We did get in at an ideal time, right when they were having a massive fireworks display. The buildings for blocks around were literally shaking. I felt like I was reliving World War II as I was walking out of the train station. After the fireworks came my blind date with the Genevan cost of living. Being hungry and wanting something cheap, I figured McDonald's would do well. After all, they have a dollar menu in the States. As Steve and I looked over the menu, we saw that a meal was over 12 Swiss francs. Unaware of the conversion rate, we decided that there was no way that the Swiss franc was nearly as strong as the dollar, because there was no way a meal at McDonald's would cost anywhere close to 12 dollars. So we both ordered a 12 Swiss franc meal. Warning flag number one was when they wanted to charge us for the little packets of ketchup for the fries. The cashier lady did us a favor by throwing those in for free. Soon after we had gotten the meal, we were informed of the truth - the Swiss franc and the dollar are essentially equal. I learned this in time to realized as I ate my burger that each bite I downed was another dollar I had spent.

The Geneva Festival was a madhouse of people running all over the place filling themselves with food and alcohol. As we walked across a bridge, I felt someone latch onto my bag. Ready to deal with some kind of pickpocket, I whirled around to engage the culprit. I was greeted by 5 smiling faces surrounding one lady in her late 30's, who was grabbing onto my bag. She said something in French, and it was obvious she was totally drunk. Not understanding her, I just stared at her, creating a great awkward moment while she and her friends all smiled back at me, before they just walked off. As John Glass - our gracious host - informed me later, she had asked me to take her away with me. Oh well, the one that got away.

We stayed at the foot of the Alps, and decided to go on a hike up to a nicer spot a bit higher up. It ended up having some great views, and was a popular spot for hang gliders. Apparently it was also a popular spot for kids with remote control airplanes, one of which seemed to keep zooming unnervingly closer and closer to us as we ate lunch on the side of the hill. I wanted to grab the plane and send it sailing over the cliff to its destruction. Our American tourist moment came when we were trying to find an edelweiss, despite having no idea what an edelweiss actually looked like. Is touring in a foreign country known to automatically make you dumber?

Another day we walked around downtown Geneva and checked out a few of the shops. All Carly really cared about on this leg of the trip was being able to try some authentic Swiss chocolate. We found it in a shop, where each bite-size piece cost a dollar. Because of our poor state, we bought five of these little pieces of chocolate. Each of us then took a tiny bite from each piece. I felt like street urchin. Later on, we ventured into several clothing stores. I walked into a Gap, and was laughed at by the shopkeeper lady as it apparently was a women's-only store. Feeling poor and dumb, I ventured into a Diesel outlet, where one pair of jeans sold for 350 dollars. As we walked in, the shopkeeping lady gave us a "What are you jokers going to buy here?" look. Being in Geneva I felt like I had been shot with a shotgun and money was just falling out from every hole. It felt like I was growing poorer even when I was just walking around and not spending anything. I suppose it was only fitting that perhaps the most fun we had in Geneva came when we tried out all the child toys on a playground at a nearby park. This was near what is supposedly the longest bench in Europe, which must have been over 50 yards long. But this begs the question - who figured that out? Where do you work where you get that assignment? "Hey Bob, make sure everyone gets the memo about the meeting tomorrow, and also figure out whether our bench is the longest in Europe."

Sitting at the bus stop we kept cutting up about guys in suits driving bicycles and mopeds around and kept being amused by some of the fashion styles that seemed to be normal for that area. It was like the stereotypes of the 70's teamed up with the stereotypes of the 80's - eccentric clothing revealing extra hairy chests topped off by hairstyles sporting the colors of the spectrum. John - who has lived there for a large part of his life - ridiculed us as being typical American tourists. I say at least we're adept at something on this trip besides ooing and ahhing and spending lots of money.


Carly (concerning germs she was worried had accumulated on her in the city): Why do they stick to you? Can't you feel them on you?
Me: There's probably germs frolicking around all over you right now.
Carly: Germs don't frolic. They miiiingle.

Steve (trying to stall while grabbing camera items): You guys ready?

John: I grew up French, so I'm negative.

We're heading back to Paris for round 2. Ideally both my pocketbook and myself survive. We'll see what happens next...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Euroblog, Take 2 - Paris, Round 1

You might think it's a good idea to know how to get to your destination in a foreign city, especially when you don't have the phone number for the residence at which you are staying. Well, you're right. We walked out of the train station and into downtown Paris, and within five minutes it was apparent that we had no idea where to go. Carly and I had assumed that Steve would know how to get to his friend's house where we were supposed to stay, but quickly discovered that the only directions we had were Steve's scribbles from a phone conversation he'd had with his friend weeks ago. I knew we were in trouble as soon as I asked Steve where we should go, and he responded by trying to pronounce one of the street names, then shaking his head in confusion and admitting he had no idea how it was spelled or pronounced. He was, however, convinced that the final stop was "3 Rue Alexandria Street," and that it was only supposed to be a few blocks from the train station. As it turned out, no one around the train station had heard of "Alexandria Street," and the large maps at the station apparently hadn't, either.

I decided that we should consult Google Maps at the nearest internet cafe. Unfortunately, we had no euros, since we had arrived straight from England. I tried with my Visa to buy 30 minutes of time for 4 euros, only to be told that the minimum amount they accepted on a Visa was 12 euros. We then proceeded to buy all kinds of drinks just to get the total above 12 euros, so that we could use the internet, so that we could hopefully find where in the world we were supposed to go. Several SOS emails were sent to Steve's friend, telling him to call us as soon as he got the message. As it turned out, Google Maps hadn't heard of an "Alexandria Street" in all of France.

Checking through Steve's emails, we found that one of them from his friend mentioned Meudon, which was another district in Paris and a good distance away. An older email even had a picture of the house where we were supposed to stay. Assuming that "Alexandria Street" was wrong, we again consulted Google Maps to try to find any street beginning with "A" near the train station in Meudon. A "Rue d'Alesia Street" turned up, and so we took a taxi over to what we thought was the Meudon train station and walked up and down Rue d'Alesia Street looking for the house in the picture from the email. We found a 3 Rue d'Alesia Street building that didn't really look like the one in the picture, and banged on the door for a few minutes with no answer. After this latest failure we trudged all the way back to the train station. I will mention that this whole time we were carrying all of our bags around. A legally blind person could have identified us as lost, clueless tourists. At this point it was getting dark, and Steve became worried that we would get jumped by French hooligans.

We found another internet cafe, and tried to get some of the locals to tell us if they recognized where in Paris that picture was. They informed us that all streets in Paris looked the same. At this point we discovered that we had mistakenly picked the wrong train station around which to search. Google Maps was consulted again, another train station near Meudon found, and a "Rue d'Arthelon Street" turned up. We tried for over half an hour to get a taxi, as almost no taxis came by the station since the trains were done for the day. When we finally got a taxi, the driver couldn't find an Arthelon Street in his GPS. Fortunately, another taxi did, and we left to go investigate Rue d'Arthelon Street. Halfway there, we got the call from Steve's friend. We discovered that the street we wanted was "Rue ALEXANDRE Guilmant," not "ALEXANDRIA," and that was by a still different train station in Meudon. Guilmant was the name that was put aside because of spelling and pronunciation issues.

As we found out, Steve had missed the step in the directions where we took a train to that station. I was further chagrined to discover that I could have left a message on Steve's friend's U.S. cell, which I didn't because Steve said he was told that it didn't work in France. All in all, Steve and Carly were ecstatic just to finally make it. I just wanted wreck Steve as soon as he went to sleep. However, a large pizza later all was forgiven - a good meal is the adult pacifier.

One thing that became the predominant theme was Steve trying to identify with the locals, but failing miserably at the language barrier (incidentally, I don't think anyone could be a more stereotype American tourist). Examples:

- At a French pizza restaurant, he tried to order a pepperoni pizza, but pronounced pepperoni with an Italian accent, rolling the r's and all. I wondered if a strain of Rigoletto was next.
- He continually speaks Spanish to all the French people. At a sandwich stand, he said "si" to the owner, we laughed at him, and then five seconds later in all seriousness he emphatically said it again. "Gracias" and "bueno" make frequent appearances as well. I continually give him a hard time about it. But apparently he still rubbed off on me. On our third day in Paris I accidentally said "si" to our French waiter. I don't know if I've hated myself more.

Carly inadvertently joined in, developing a brand new English/French accent as she tried to order a panini. It is a challenge trying to order good in a foreign country. I was trying to order a large pizza for myself and they weren't reading me. By the end of the conversation I was just waving my arms in a big circle and telling them I wanted "a bunch." Used to having to speak slowly, enunciate, and make hand signals, Carly found herself doing that very thing to me when she asked if I could get the pictures off of her camera. She leaned forward, looked at me with wide eyes, and made what I'm guessing was her sign language interpretation for downloading, which was one hand continually pulling something out of her other hand: "DO.. YOU.. think you can.. GET.." - frantic motioning - "PICTURES.. from my" - goes through the motion of taking a picture - "CAMERA?" I found myself subconsciously leaning forward, eyes widening, and nodding like I was getting the gist of what she was saying.

In walking around the streets of Paris and hearing all the foreign chatter, I feel like I'm in the video game Age of Empires, where the characters from different civilizations all have several nonsensical phrases that they say from time to time in their civilization's particular accent. You might have to have played the game to get that one. I've decided that you are not properly speaking French if you are not somewhat trying to turn your lungs inside out. We were on the metro trying to find Sacre Coeur, and people couldn't understand what we were talking about until I jokingly said it with a loud, exaggerated French accent.

Characteristics of Paris:

- at least some of every class of citizen have a backpack and ride a bicycle - even businessmen in suits
- people make out everywhere with no regard
- there are more hip black people in Paris than London - actually, I don't think I saw any in London
- I saw a cop on a motorcycle pull out a smoke at a red light - you won't see that in the U.S.
- yes, street performers play the accordion - some bring various boom boxes to add a synthetic beat.
- there are two kinds of people: those who enthusiastically help you, and those who look at you like your clothes are made of trash.

Out hosts showed us around very well. We visited Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower (I can't believe both were almost torn down). The Louvre looks like it could be a quarter of a mile long. I'm only slightly exaggerating. Carly got a chocolate crepe and was satisfied with Paris. We also visited a museum of Monet's artwork, which was Steve's highlight. I must admit I wasn't too impressed. A lot it was just various lily pad arrangements - several times while walking around I couldn't really tell if it was the second time I was looking at some of those paintings since being there. Well done? I'd say so. World class? Don't see it - but then I'm not an expert. A few other famous artists featured, and people lying around naked was a popular theme for these artists. I have to admit it's a kind of strange vibe to be standing next to a bunch of other people, all of you thoughtfully inspecting nude paintings.


Me: Do any of us know any French?
Carly: I saw Beauty and the Beast.
Me: My dad took French in high school.
Steve. I walked by French class a few times.

Carly: I don't like vanilla coke. It looks gross. (Don't all version of coke look the same, maybe cherry coke is a little reddish?)

Carly (trying to keep the conversation going with a local and running out of questions to ask): When you get lost, what is the best thing to do?

Steve (whenever we get in the way or be loud): Sorry, we're Americans.

Local girl (explaining where she works and getting excited as Carly nods her head): You know?!
Carly: No.
Local girl deflates like a balloon.

Carly (referring to all the peddlers): I just don't want to say no. I might hurt their feelings.
Me: The Egyptians have their little kids try to sell you things.
Carly: I would lose all my money there.

Switzerland is up. Thankfully our host is picking us up at the train station. We'll see what happens next...

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Euroblog, Take 1 - London

So we all decide to meet up in London, with only myself having a phone. You might think that's asking for trouble, and you are right. As it turned, Steve spent over 35 straight hours in airports getting continuously bumped. I told him that was the price he paid for getting an essentially free pass over (the paying passengers got preference). Poor Carly was the first to get to London and expected to meet up with Steve, who was obviously nowhere to be found. I didn't get in til later, and so she was left wondering if she had been stranded in a foreign city halfway across the world.

Steve, when he finally got on, didn't realize he had a business class pass. He was eventually guided to his seat, where this conversation ensued with the person next to him:

Steve: Hi, I'm Steve.
Person: I'm Sir Douglas MacArthur III. [Scottish accent, pronounced "dooglas"]
Steve: Oh, hi Doug. [pronounced "dug"]
Sir Douglas MacArthur III: Doug? ["dug"]
Steve: Doug? ["doog"]

As it turned out, Sir Douglas MacArthur III was a monarch of some sort from Scotland. He was quite put out that he had been bumped down from first class, and proceeded to pound free alcoholic beverages the entire trip. Steve fell asleep and snored, which combined with his disgraceful bumping to business class and the butchering of his name probably pushed Sir Douglas MacArthur III to the edge of an emotional breakdown. If you've seen The Last Samurai you know that when Samurai are beaten they request to have their head cut off because their shame is too great for them to bear. I wonder if this is the same level of shame that Sir Douglas MacArthur III felt sitting in business class.

Apparently, London was more of an international city than I expected. After I landed, I went to buy a subway ticket. The ticket window was initially empty, then in stepped an Arabian with a full curly black beard and a turban. For a split second it felt like a bad dream in which I had been transported back to the Middle East. I essentially had the subway to myself until a load of oriental children all speaking Japanese or Chinese or something all boarded the train. All were equally fit with ipods and squarish black-rimmed glasses. At this point I was wondering if there were any native English people left to be found. In the area around out hotel, the only qualifications to get a job seemed to be:
- Indian nationality
- poor at speaking English
- not know where anything is.
Maybe Westminster is the Indian quarter or London. A good amount of the recommended restaurants in the area were in fact Indian.

As luck would have it, while on the subway I became distracted by a pretty English girl and missed my stop, so I rode all the way to the end of the line before changing to a subway going back to my original stop. On this subway it was just me and a random black guy who looked semi-stoned. He ended up trying to no avail to pull the automatic doors open when he reached his stop, before they eventually opened of their own accord.

Whenever the subway came up for air, I noticed that the countryside was covered with suburbs full of houses that all could have been possible locations of Mary Poppins' house, depending up which view you hold to of 19th century London architecture. In downtown London - which stretched for miles - there were literally no buildings less than four stories - many seven or eight. If you tried to built a two-story store in downtown London they would run you out on a rail. Another thing I noticed was that there were no bridges, except across the Thames river. There was nothing like the freeway spider webs you see everywhere in the U.S. - everything ran on one level. And I never really got used to the opposite side of the road thing. All the time I kept getting this urge to yell at the drivers, "What are you doing, you morons!?"

Good food wasn't that hard to find. That may seem obvious, but try visiting a foreign city after traveling around Egypt for a week, which was one of the last foreign places I visited. In Egypt you are hard-pressed to find anything besides peta, shawarmas, and falafels, and so a pizza joint is the best thing this side of heaven. Still in that mindset, when we went out looking a place to eat, my first instinct was to run into the first Pizza Hut I saw.

We all had slightly different agendas. I wanted to see as many legit sites as possible. Steve just wanted to get on a double-decker bus and ride around and take pictures with his new camera. Carly wanted to go see Notting Hill because it coincided with that chick flick starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. That and she wanted to find the steps on which Mary Poppins fed the birds. As it turned out, they were the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral. But all things considered we had a pretty good time and I think everyone got at least a little of what they wanted.

Humorous quotes:

Me: I think we'll go visit the Tower of London.
Carly: What's that?
Me: It's where they kept all the legit prisoners for hundreds of years.
Carly: Are there still any prisoners there now?

Steve (as we're looking at all the world famous paintings in the National Gallery): What's after this?
Me: The Tower of London.
Steve: Where can we do laundry?

Carly: (because I wanted her to get the angle right): You're a camera Nazi.

As I write this I'm currently under the English Channel heading for Paris. We'll see what happens next...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wanted: The Movie, "Wanted"

This was a movie about a gang of hit men who were all apparently “wanted.” But I will tell you that after seeing this movie the only thing I “wanted” was my money back!!!

This movie lost me as soon as they revealed that this group of hit men took their instructions from the Loom of Fate. That's right, in some room they have all by itself a loom that perpetually turns out material that is decoded to reveal the names of people that the hit men are supposed to target. A LOOM?! ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! I'm trying to think of a time I've felt more insulted as a movie-goer. What's next, a secret society controlling the world making decisions based on a hidden language they unearthed in some guy's beard? The loom is continually turning out material, so wouldn’t it seem that zillions of names would be coming out all the time? And wouldn't the laws of probability demand that eventually every person on the globe's name would come up fairly soon at that rate? At the last scene where the main character turns to the camera and says, "What the F have you done lately?" (which was incredibly lame - one of the lamest endings of all-time), all I could think of was, "Well, I haven't killed someone because a loom told me to..."

Another staple of the movie is the ability to curve the bullet, which is physically impossible. But then at the end, Angelina Jolie's character apparently invents the boomerang bullet tactic in which the bullet travels in an entire circle around the room before ending back at her. Another thing about Angelina Jolie is that she never puts more than five words together in the entire movie. Most of it is her making the traditional, "Hey, I'm Angelina Jolie. Look at my big lips and seductive gaze, and wish you could have me. But you can't, because I'm too much for you to handle." Actually, I think one-fourth of the movie is the camera panning to her so she can make that face.

We're also supposed to believe early on that the main character is able to be best friends with the guy he hates who is banging his girlfriend. And furthermore, that the main character still lives with his girlfriend and says nothing about it. Surely that's never happened.. at least I really hope not.

Towards the beginning the main character is continually beaten up by this gang of hit men as part of his initiation. However, there's never an explanation given as to why they kept beating him up. There's one guy who never has a line the entire movie whose sole purpose seems to be to punch the main character in the face. Maybe his value is to give the audience some satisfaction when the main character brutally kills him later on, who knows. But all the bludgeoning doesn't help the main character's career as a hit man in the least - he's still the same when they're done with him. He only gets better when he's actually practicing hit man skills. Maybe you could say they did it to make him tough, but why would you need that if you're a hit man who can kill people from a half mile away?

On one floor of the mansion housing all the hit men there is for some reason never explained a bunch of frozen meat hanging around, tended by a crazy butcher hit man who prefers knives over guns, which is also never explained. He's also strangely obsessed with calling the main character a pussy. When the main character finally goes after him, the butcher is running around hiding from him between all the hanging meat, but it somehow never occurs to the main character to get on the floor and look under the hanging meat to see where this butcher might be running. And so the main character gets needlessly flayed up before inevitably dispatching the meat monger with the Dark Age talents.

Apparently the main character is also part Hancock, as he stands on top of a train going forty miles an hour and gets knocked over by a bridge as the train goes into a tunnel, with no real injury.

At another point, the main character is about to fall hundreds of feet to his death, except he is being held by the person he is supposed to kill. But instead of waiting until he is saved to kill the guy, the main character shoots him while still being held over a canyon. Qualification for being a top-notch hit man: royal idiot. Check. Eventually, they all fall hundreds of feet down in a train car with no real injury.

In the climax, the main character ties little bombs to hundreds of mice and lets them loose in front of the hit man mansion. Apparently, he also fed these mice extraordinary amounts of steroids and enhancers, because within one minute they had covered multiple floors of this hundred-thousand square-foot compound.

Morgan Freeman's hit man character lies to all the other hit men about whether his name came up as a target, and they all find out. He then tells them that all their names came up as targets, and they all automatically believe him. Qualification for being a top-notch hit man: royal idiot. Check.

And for some reason the hit men draw an X on the ground where they want the person they're targeting to be when they pull the trigger. But why would they need to see an X if they can also see the person they're targeting? And if they need the person to stand right on the X in order to hit them, aren't the odds pretty ridiculously small for that to happen? Plus, one of the guys who stands on the X and gets shot is the leader of the hit men. Wouldn't you think he'd see a large red X when he was walking up to it and - knowing he was a targeted person - think, "Maybe I shouldn't stand right in the middle of this bright red X today?" Qualification for being a top-notch hit man: royal idiot. Check.

Basically, what happened with this movie was one day some guy had an epiphany about how cool it would be to be able to curve a bullet. They then hired a team of B script writers to fill in the details, and picked up Angelina Jolie so that the movie would actually make some money. But hey, they gave it a shot and it worked. No pun intended.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Super Smash Lexicon

In becoming the greatest N64 SuperSmash Bros. players of all time, we have made a number of discoveries concerning the nature of the game and it's effect on those who play it. What follows is a compilation of insights into one of the greatest battle games of all time, gleaned from some of the greatest minds to ever play the game.


Chasm: The abyss on either side of the island of land where instant death occurs.

He's Doing It (HDI): The act of smashing an opponent downward when that opponent is exposed over the chasm, resulting in that opponent's instant death in the abyss.

Edge Guarding: The art form of continually smashing one's opponent back out over the chasm before they can reach the edge of the island. The HDI is the pinnacle of edge guarding.

Item Snatching/Whoring: The act of running around looking for and grabbing items to benefit oneself or to lob at other opponents who are fighting each other.

Queer Fighting: The act of lobbing items or ranged attack at other opponents who are fighting each other. This is a violation of Unspoken Rule # 1, and generally incites the wrath of the other opponents, to the Queer Fighter's chagrin.

Going Skiing/Going Cross Country: The act of getting smashed so badly that one flies from one side of the island of land to the other, and usually out over the chasm.

Don't Ruin a Good Thing: A verbalizing of Unspoken Rule # 2. Ok, so that's an oxymoron. Deal with it.

The Jake: The structure on the castle level where Jake always hung out/hid.

The Final Smash: The 4-player 99-life Super Bowl of Smash.

The Unspoken Rules:

# 1: It is not permissible to fight a ranged battle against opponents who are fighting each other close hand.

# 2: When one opponent is destroying another opponent, the uninvolved players must not interfere until such destruction has subsided.

# 3: It is not permissible to single out one opponent for extended periods of time.

# 4: When there are three players left and I am one of them, the other two must double team me until one team has won.

How not to look stupid while playing Smash:

1. Don't brag about how many kills you got if you lost. Winning is everything. Everything else is nothing. However, if one player records a goose egg in kills, he is subject to ridicule from all.

2. If you're new and you fall off the edge, don't press 500 buttons and scream while you helplessly fall into the chasm. It only makes you look more ridiculous. Example: Clay screaming "Yoshi respond!!!" while he plummets into the chasm.

3. If you win one out of every one hundred games, don't bother talking any trash.

4. Don't do the same move over and over again. But on the other hand don't do nothing. Both of these made you look like a simple-minded fool.

5. Don't go on and on about how Smash sucks and you hate it, then become convinced to play, get clowned on en route to a dead last finish, then talk about how it really is the dumbest game ever.

6. Don't claim that you can beat me. You can't. You'll only look more stupid when I beat you without dying once.

7. Don't complain about how the controller is broken. They're all broken.

8. Don't talk about how good you were as a kid. We all know you probably just beat your younger brother and a couple neighbors because you were the only one who knew how to pick up items.

Your health:

Don't play Smash for 4 hours a day. This will commonly result in you having Smash visions while you are awake. In these visions you will for split seconds at a time witness scenes from Smash over which you may have marginal control at times. The effect is that of a small dose of shrooms accompanied by Smash characters. Example: one time I received a text from Eric Durso describing how he had just "up-b-ed" Dr. Mackey during economics.


1. Players will invariably look/act like their characters. Examples include:

- Jared humphs around like Fox and also has semi-triangular head shaped like Fox's. The goatee only helps.

- Clay makes the same disgruntled noises that Yoshi makes.

- Dan Beaty is the size of Donkey Kong and has a similar voice.

- Jeff James' head/face mirror Donkey Kong's head/face.

- John Lafferty runs around screaming and out of control like Captain Falcon.

- I make Kirby's noise if I'm about to sail out of the picture.

- Patrick looks like Link - tall, thin, long curly hair, boyish/ruddy/heroic face.

- Brett playing the happy little kid Ness.

- The exception is Eric as Samus, the girl. And yes, we proved she's a girl by obtaining a snapshot of her when she became naked for a split-second after being zapped by Ness. Witness the evidence:

Sorry, that's female curvature.

2. On the castle level, the tornado will always zoom across and pick you up when you are near death.

3. If you are about to die and you decide to smash open a box or barrel, it will always be an explosive one. (Key example: Eric Durso's failure to consider this anomaly in his final life in the 2008 Final Smash, giving him 2nd place and making Brett Rice the champion. Ironically enough, we had read this right before the match began).

4. If you decide to chase after someone who has the hammer when you have your three seconds of invincibility, it will always run out right before you reach them, and you will get pounded.

5. One person always gets 80% of the hearts each game.

6. On the spaceship level, the laser guns will always target you and shoot you off into oblivion if you are close to death.

This will happen at least once every game:

1. Clay commits suicide.

2. 15 different times someone screams that they rolled.

3. Jon Lafferty screams about something irrelevant.

4. Jared comes close to doing something cool.

5. Someone wrecks on Eric for playing a girl, and he helplessly tries to state that Samus is not a girl, but no one believes him.

6. Steve calls someone a fairy while getting pounded into submission.

7. Dan Weaver exercises the "flaming on" bit for an entire life as Mario.

8. Brett Rice develops a personal vendetta against someone for hitting him once.

9. Someone believes that it is not "just a game."

10. One player questions another player's integrity/character.

11. A truce is made and violated.

12. Someone wonders what would happen if they did the moves in the game to the other people in the room.

13. Patrick feebly tries to claim that it is the "Age of Link" even though he is getting worked.

14. Someone has a life in which they have no control from the beginning to the end and never touch the ground - the whole time they are smashed from one person to another until they die.

15. Someone turns to item snatching in hopes of staying alive.

16. Someone tries to convince everyone else that everyone needs to gang up on me.

The NBA Playoffs meets Smash:

Smash, where "FREE-FOR-ALL!!!!" happens.

Smash, where "Dahh dahh, da-da-da-da-da-daaaa, dahh da dahh" happens.

Smash, where "Hey, guys, it's 3 AM and I have an exam at 8" happens.

Smash, where "THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE!!!!" happens. Every game.


Smash Club:

Some might say that the first rule of Smash Club is that you don't talk about Smash Club. But the thing is, we're good enough to get away with it.

If you feel that something was left out of The Smash Lexicon, contribute below...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The NBA Playoffs, where "Garnett and Gatorade.. again.." happens

A one-for-two effort for the conference finals. Could have been better, could have been worse, haha. My team, the Spurs, is gone, and now I have to put up with some of the most out-of-control over-the-top gushing from Laker fans and the media that I've ever seen. Patience is a virtue.

The Celtics have apparently rediscovered how to win on the road. From the start it was a mystery to me why they suddenly couldn't win on the road. In fact, it's a mystery why anyone has trouble playing on the road. Are professional athlete's the most mentally fragile individuals alive? Think about it - their play is dramatically affected by whether or not there are a bunch of people standing around them cheering for them. The knowledge that their fans exist somewhere is not enough - the crowd must be right on top of them. Good thing this isn't the pattern for all other professional jobs: "Sorry, boss, I totally crumbled at the end of my presentation because I didn't feel comfortable being away from my office. Next time send some of my co-workers with me for emotional support."

I've never seen the media miss the ball so entirely as during the Lakers/Spurs series. First, they went with the Lakers because the Spurs were "too old." Well, the oldest players on the Spurs actually played quite well. Brent Barry - 23 points in one of the games and an all-around solid performance for the series. The key to the entire series - the single reason the Spurs lost - was the disappearance of Manu Ginobili. And please don't hand all the credit on a silver platter over to the Lakers defense. It was decent, but nothing Ginobili hadn't encountered and had success against numerous times before. Obviously, his ankle was giving him some trouble - in game 5 Doug Collins pointed out how he was losing his balance and had no lift around the basket. Think about it. There were three games that could have gone either way, and each occurred without any contribution from Ginobili. If he had done anything, the Spurs probably win at least one or two and possibly all of those games. Their problem the whole series was they went cold during crunch time. And who on the Spurs has the role of creating a shot and coming up with a clutch basket in crunch time? No thanks to any of the media for asking. Answer: Manu Ginobili. This series was significantly closer than the media portrayed it.

Now, everyone is falling over each other to hand the championship to the Lakers, without a second thought. But stop and think. You do have to give the coaching nod to Phil Jackson. But on the floor, what advantage do the Lakers have besides Kobe? LA had enough trouble with the Spurs setup of an injured Ginobili and a bunch of spot-up shooters. What about a Pierce/revived Allen combination? Kevin Garnett will probably command a double-team, freeing up Boston's array of shooters - Pierce, Allen, Posey, House, possibly Cassell, and even Rondo recently. You can forget about the rebounding edge that the Lakers had against the Spurs - Garnett, Perkins, Powe, Davis, etc. will do a much better job on the boards than the Spurs bigs did. Gasol will look like a giant bowling pin half the time. So what if the Lakers haven't lost a game at home in the playoffs - they almost lost twice at home to a suffering Spurs team, having to overcome huge deficits both times. Boston has home-court advantage and they've been terrific at home, not to mention the fact they seem to have recovered the ability that made them the best road team in the NBA. Make it two wins at the Palace, one of the toughest places to play all year.

All things considered, I'll take the Celtics in 6.

Reasons I want the Lakers to lose:

1. The Gasol heist. What's next - are the Lakers going to offer Ira Newble, a couple of the Laker girls, and Mitch Kupchak's half-eaten lunch to the Hornets for David West?
2. Laker punks. Has anyone instigated more bad blood this year than Sasha Vujacic? It seems like every other game he's almost getting in a fight with someone. And who names themselves "The Machine?" A tool, plain and simple. Kobe has a dual personality. One is his intensely competitive side. The other is his big baby, whiny, show-off side.
3. Loud-mouth Laker fans that suddenly emerge to announce to the world how they feel.
4. The media would be brought back to earth
5. Three classy, hard-working players win a championship: Garnett, Allen, and Pierce.

Final thought: how many incredibly mindless/obvious/cliched things will Mark Jackson say before ESPN/ABC gives him the boot? Someone nailed it the other day - it's like listening to an announcer from an NBA video game. Get this - the circus show Knicks were thinking about offering him the head coaching position. How perfect would that have been?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The NBA Playoffs, where "Laker fans coming out of the woodwork" happens

Fresh off calling a perfect second round, I move on the conference finals. Thank you very little to the hoards of New Orleans bandwagoners who said the Spurs were too old to compete anymore.

Now comes some of the better conference finals matchups that have happened in a while.

Lakers vs. Spurs

Before the series started, I called that it would be a 7-game series. Here's where my Spurs bias may get me. In game 7 I have to give the edge to the Lakers, though I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Spurs rise to the challenge yet again. After game 4 it looks dismal. Still, I wouldn't be surprised to see it go 7 games. What surprises me about the series so far is that the Spurs have lost both close games. I would have expected at least a split in that area.

For the Lakers, I was expecting Kobe to defer more than he tried to take over - probably averaging less than 30 points per game for the series. That looks good so far. Pau Gasol is weak and there is no surprise he's having trouble with Tim Duncan. People are finally starting to realize what I've said all along: Lamar Odom is not a winner - he is a stat-monger, very similar to Jason Kidd in those regards. Sure, he did well in clutch in game 4, but most of it was thrown at his feet. Luke Walton incidentally happens to be the best bad player in the NBA. All he does is occasionally make a great pass and occasionally knock down a wide-open shot that he gets because other better players are being double-teamed. Thank you, Luke Walton. Cash this for millions.

The question for the Spurs is a) whether their role players can provide enough support and b) whether they can avoid their habitual scoring drouts. Michael Finley and Brent Barry have to step up, which Barry has - he almost made up for Ginobili's mail in for game 4. Thankfully Popovich has recently figured out that Jacque Vaughn is the bane of the Spurs second-string offense and starting playin Barry instead. Tim Duncan owns Pau Gasol, and I'm surprised that the Spurs haven't tried to exploit that more than they have to this point. Incidentally I would just like to mention that I called Ginobili going off in game 3 (while everyone else was doubting) and Parker and Duncan in game 4. Much good it was for game 4, thanks mainly to Ginobili's disappearance. For some reason he just has a lot of trouble if it's not either a huge game and/or a home game. Being that game 4 was a critical home game makes his no-show even all the more surprising. Attribute it either to his bum ankle or to a prime defensive effort from the Lakers.

Game 4 was simply an all-around choke-city performance from the Spurs - no one could hit a clutch basket. I don't think I've ever seen Duncan miss so many critical shots. Unfortunate contraversial no-call at the end. But all things considered, game 7 is still very likely. The key for the Spurs will be getting big shots to put a stop to any Laker momentum any time it starts. Expect Duncan and Ginobili to step it up in the elimination games. On the other side, this is a great chance for Kobe to build his legacy - does he have what it take to close out the champs at the first opporunity?

Celtics vs. Pistons

Judging from all of the ridiculously poor outings from the Celtics and a lack of impressive outings by the Pistons, expect that yet again the Western Conference Finals are the NBA Finals.

The Celtics will win in 7, simply because they have their precious home court advantage. Bill Simmons made an excellent point the other day about Kevin Garnett. Garnett has trouble playing big in big games because he's always so intense. This prevents him from taking it to another level in the clutch. Ray Allen has become the second coming of the Invisible Man. Cassell looks like he's finally run out of gas. Pierce has already used up his token monster game. Still, they have the best fans in the game, so they'll ride that out.

The Pistons are on the verge of being good enough to win, but don't expect them to climb over the hump. Only Richard Hamilton is playing consistently well for them. Billups has been mostly ineffective since his injury, which really hurts them, despite the recent boost from Stuckey. When Antonio McDyess has the best line on your team, you know something's wrong.

Everyone wants to see Lakers/Celtics, and I don't blame them. But wouldn't it be funny if after all the hype it ended up Spurs/Pistons and every game scored in the 80's? Would David Stern lose his mind? Or what if an underdog Pistons team beat the Lakers for the second time in 4 years? Would Kobe Bryant lose his mind?

What if Stephen A. Smith got fired? Would anyone lose their mind besides Stephen A. Smith?

Coming up next: Some recent interesting sports betting experiences, and maybe a top 10 list...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The NBA playoffs, where "weeding out the 'soft gene'" happens

Why do I pick NBA playoff matchups, you might ask? Allow me to take you to the gas station scene from No Country For Old Men. Picture villain Anton Chigurh as he presents his coin: "You stand to win everything. Call it." With the NBA playoffs, I stand to win everything. I call it.

A 7-1 record in calling first round series (assuming Boston win tomorrow, which they will, handily). Thank you, thank you very much. Gilbert Arenas, you cost me perfection. You have been the bane of my involvement with the NBA this season every since I made you my fantasy league first round draft pick. Terrible choice, in retrospect, but I still managed runner-up, in spite of you.

Round 2 will have entertaining but predictable matchups. In actuality there was more uncertainty in Round 1 than there is for Round 2. Here's how it unfolds (incidentally, this was written before any of these games took place)...

People just don't seem to realize that the Spurs have a higher gear that is reserved for the postseason. You can't judge how well they are going to do based on their regular season, because you haven't seen them at their best. Consequently, the decision seems to be split down the middle regarding the Spurs/Hornets series. Allow me to straighten out all you misled minions.

Chris Paul will put up good but not great numbers for the series, because the Spurs defense is too solid. With Tony Parker playing the way he is now, the point guard matchup will essentially be a wash. Two matchups put the Spurs over the top. Matchup 1: Tim Duncan vs. David West. It should take you about 0.2 seconds to make a choice between the two. The difference will be noticed between All-Star and Hall-of-Famer before it's all said and done. Matchup 2: Manu Ginobili vs. any Hornet. Expect Ginobili to average between 25 and 30 a game with around 7 free-throw attempts per game. The Hornets' bigs are not good enough shot blockers to throw him off either. Don't count on Peja - he will have a generally poor series, probably erupting in one maybe two of the Hornets' home games. And Mo-Pete is too washed up. If the Hornets are going to win on the road in this series, they must have significant contributions from Bonzi Wells and Julian Wright. Incidentally, Bonzi probably has the best chance to D-up Ginobili.

The Spurs will win in six games or less. The only thing that keeps it from being five is that the Hornets have home court advantage. Here are the two ways it could play out: scenario 1) a split in the first two games in New Orleans, the Spurs take 3 and 4 at home, New Orleans gets game 5 for a little respect, and then the Spurs close them out at home in game 6; scenario 2: the a split for games 1 and 2 and games 3 and 4, before the Spurs win the last two. I'M CALLING IT.

Detroit and Orlando unfortunately is an easily foregone conclusion. Orlando needed home court for this series, and even that wouldn't have been enough. Detroit fooled around with Philly, but the sleeping giant should be awake enough by this point. I expect Detroit to win in five. Sorry Orlando, Rashard Lewis is not a franchise player that you treated him to be. He'll make you second-round material, and that's about it. Dwight Howard will have a few big games. *Yawn*. Here's what will have to happen if Orlando is going to have a chance: Turkoglu, Evans/Bogans, and Nelson must combine for 60+ points three times. Will that happen? Not a chance. I'M CALLING IT.

Game 7 between Boston and Atlanta. Anyone who thinks Atlanta has any kind of chance is on crack. Sorry all you slipper-wearing hopefuls. Expect Boston to get up by ~15 early, keep it that way until late third, Atlanta make a small run, and then Boston finish them off. I'M CALLING IT.

Boston/Cleveland: Some people think that Boston will have a lot trouble with Lebron, based on the trouble they had with Joe Johnson. There is something to that, but not enough. Atlanta matched up better against Boston because they had a number of young and sprung athletes like Josh Smith and Marvin Williams. Cleveland has Lebron and not much else. Lebron could average 40-15-10 and it wouldn't matter. Garnett will get his because he always does. If Cleveland had trouble with Stevenson, Mason, and an injured Arenas, you can bet that Pierce, Allen, and Posey will have at least their fair share. Cassell will school any of the Cleveland point guards. Bad news if Doc Rivers decides to employ the hack-a-Ben Wallace - Wallace is an energy rebounder/defender that Cleveland needs in order to contend with the likes of Garnett, Perkins, and Powe. Boston in 6, which is still showing mad respect for Lebron. I'M CALLING IT.

LA/Utah: One word sums up this series: Kobe. Utah has no one who can guard him. Kirilenko? Too weak. Ronnie Brewer? Too inexperienced. Korver? Ha. Deron Williams? They need his energy on the offensive end, and he's not the Energizer Bunny. Here's another problem for Utah: LA has the perfect lockdown defender for Williams in the feisty Sasha Vujacic. Significantly, Williams loses his height advantage in that matchup, with Vujacic being 6'7". Fisher is not a bad defender, either. Only chance for Utah - Williams and Boozer combine for 65+ three times. Sorry, not happening. Lakers in 6. I'M CALLING IT.

Coming up next: the top 10 moments of the first round...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The NBA playoffs, where caring happens, unless you're Carmelo

Or, perhaps, "The NBA playoffs, where 'J.R. Smith's thugs are waiting for you in the parking lot' happens."

The LA/Denver series could have ended up being the most entertaining, if only based on the number of eccentric personalities involved - Kobe, Vujacic, Iverson, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, and Carmelo at times. It's like playing with dynamite. Here are the four things that at the beginning I said had to happen for the Nuggets to have a chance. Needless to say, none of them came even close to happening, and now the Nuggets are back home researching the latest hard tattoos.

1. J.R. Smith must play the ENTIRE GAME. He could be one of the top 10 guards in the league with proper coaching. George Karl is simply an idiot.

2. Nene must play at least 20 minutes a game. Go ahead and let the long hair fool you - Gasol is a girl and definitely doesn't appreciate anyone bodying him up. Nene's physical defense could disrupt the finesse game that he loves so much.

3. Iverson must show some unparalleled leadership and motivate the rest of his team both by example and by getting right in their face when necessary. The Nuggets could very well be the most listless team in the NBA. Sometimes I think they let others teams score just so that they can get the ball back faster. They just sit around while the other team parades all day to the basket. Here's the newest show for ABC: The Stiffs, staring the entire Nuggets team. In the first episode, their house burns down on top of them while they all sit around and admire each other's tattoos.

4. Carmelo must give a rip. He's potentially the best player on the Nuggets, except when he's jacking around, which is his default mode of action. I think over the course of the series he averaged five missed layups a game. Someone said he looks like he's high when he plays. I'm 99% percent sure that he's not high - there's actually a reasonable chance.

bonus: 5. George Karl must be fired. He commands no respect. It sounds in the huddle like he's afraid that one of the players will slap him across the face and force him to get a ghetto tattoo at knife point.

And what happened? Smith dominated on the offensive end from 3's to taking it to the rack seemingly whenever he wanted (on defense wasn't much different than the rest of the team), but then would disappear from the rotation for almost an entire quarter. KMart seemed to be the only player besides J.R. Smith who cared somewhat. By the way, I wonder how he feels about having his nickname be the same as a troubled department store chain that sold Martha Stewart merchandise. Doesn't that put a sizable dent in his street cred? Iverson was like Gollum from Lord of the Rings. He just kind of lurked in the shadows, you knew he had all kinds of potential, but in the end he never put anything significant together and passed away. Nene was a ghost, and Gasol did whatever he wanted. Judging by how easy it was for Gasol, I'd wager that he could have ridden a skateboard down the lane and scored. That's how untouched he was during the series. Carmelo is becoming the new tin man of the NBA, rivaling Vince Carter - neither apparently have any heart.

Coming next: Top 10 moments of the playoffs so far...

Monday, April 28, 2008

The NBA playoffs, where "Tim Duncan for 3" happens

Most sports analysis from the media only informs you what the average opinion is, which is commonly wrong. This occurs all the time during the NBA playoffs. To compound that the viewer is tormented with the likes of Stephen A. Smith, who has vehemently aligned himself with both sides of almost every controversial issue, Stuart Scott, who thinks he is God's gift to sports broadcasting, and so on. My analysis goes beyond the mundane garbage fed to you by the media who's goal seems to be to dumb down sports fans everywhere. I offer hope that intelligence still remains.

Here's what I've called so far most of which the media would have laughed at me for saying:

1. San Antonio will win in 6 games or less. They are now up 3-1, thanks to the league of clutch commish himself, Tim Duncan. Almost everyone tripped all over each other jumping on the Pho-town bandwagon. No respect. When was the last time the Spurs lost four out of seven games?? Hello?? They're been "too old" for three years now - when will people get it?? Also, the Spurs coasted into the playoffs, while Phoenix had to play their best basketball to get in. Further, I called that Tony Parker would make Steve Nash look like a poor slow white boy. How about a career high 41 points for my boy Parker? Game 2 I said that the Spurs would eventually pull away late third, early/mid fourth. Game 3 I said it would take a monumental performance by Duncan for the Spurs to win. Turned out to be Parker - same difference. Game 4 I said the Suns would probably win big. All accurate. Sports betting? Give me a call. Kurt Thomas was a playoff pickup as I said from the start - look at his role/minutes increase. Stepping up against his former team. And before it's all said and done, expect Brent Barry to make a significant impact. He's already shown signs.

2. New Orleans over Dallas in 6 or less. They're now up 3-1. For some reason, everyone got starstruck by Dallas and misled by their late season run. WRONG. New Orleans is the better team. Even if New Orleans wasn't the better team, they still have the best player, which is usually good enough (case in point: DWade vs. Dallas in the '06 Finals). Jason Kidd is not a winner. I've said that ever since the trade went down. He's a stat monger who will run the fast break and throw some nice alley oops. Nice punk move tonight nearly destroying Jannero Pargo's face. Dirk's street cred is fleeing away in all directions. Cuban is jawing with fans. Someone do the Heimlich on Josh Howard. The Dallas Mavericks are a train wreck.

3. I said from the beginning that if anyone is going to pull off an upset, it will be Philadelphia over Detroit. Notice how the Sixers won the season series - they can match up. They've been one of the hottest teams since the all-star break. Sure enough, series tied 2-2, though most predicted one win at most for the Sixers.

4. I did think Washington would beat Cleveland. Looks bad for Washington. I expected the slew of Wiz shooters (Arenas, Butler, Jamison, Stevenson, Mason, etc.) to be enough to offset Lebron. Game 1 boiled down to who was clutch, Arenas or Lebron, and Lebron was. So much for Arenas' self-proclaimed status as the #1 clutch player in the league. He did better in Game 4, but still not enough. Bad coaching by Eddie Jordan. I thought at one point it was against the gameplan to shoot inside 17 feet. Plus he should have done a hack-a-Ben Wallace, who might be the worst free-throw shooter in the playoffs. But I will say this: you will not see Lebron dominating the East en route to the Finals this year.

Houston, Atlanta, and Toronto don't have a chance. But who disagrees - moot point. Toronto may make things interesting, but without home court advantage they cannot beat Orlando four times.

Coming next: the wonderful mess of LA vs. Denver...