Thursday, October 30, 2014

Trick-or-Treating for Dummies: Best & Worst Candy Power Rankings

Conventional wisdom says you should stop trick or treating long before you get to the age when most of your peers have children who are old enough to start trick or treating. Then again, conventional wisdom also says you shouldn't wear white socks with dress shoes, so as far as I'm concerned, conventional wisdom can suck an egg. So whether you’re an adult, a child, or stuck in one of those ghastly ages in between, my cap is off to you if you plan on venturing out into night on Halloween to hit up your neighbors – politely – for some free candy.

I won’t be out on the streets with you, comrades. I’ll be indoors as the lure of a night-long pumpkin beer and horror movie binge once again proved too great to resist. I’ll still be dispensing candy, however, because I just so happen to love George Washington and I refuse to allow his sacrifice to be in vain.
If you are planning to trick-or-treat this year, it’s important to have an air tight game plan, which I’m sure you already know and have. But I’m not just talking about picking the right neighborhood, although that is a crucial step. Once you’re out there, you have to make sure you’re getting the right candy as compensation for your efforts. When faced with a giant bowl of assorted goodies, it’s easy to make a panicked decision and next thing you know, you’re coming home with a metric ton of gum and those weird, too-busy Take Five candy bars. Basically, you’ve wasted your evening.
I don’t want anyone of any age to have to experience such a thing and so, as a public service, here’s my official Best and Worst Halloween Candy Power Rankings. Commit this list to memory so when you’re going door-to-door, you’ll know what your primary target should be, what you can safely fall back to, and what you need to avoid like it’s guaranteed to be chock full o’ razor blades.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Good & Bad: 'The Walking Dead' (10/26/14)
Plot: Well that was fast. The remaining Terminus folks had an emotionally busy episode. One minute they’re chowing down on Bob, all happy like. Then they find out poor old Bob had been bitten by a walker, meaning that dinner could repeat on them in a nasty, nasty way. So they ditch Bob back to where they found him and set their trap. See, they know Bob will tell Rick and company where to find them and they further know that Rick will storm over there with the intention of killing all of them dead. And all goes exactly according to plan. A skeleton crew headed by Carl is left behind to guard the church and Rick’s gang goes off to find the Terminus folks, who are actually waiting to attack the under-guarded church while Rick is off hunting them. Of course, Rick is suddenly a master at sniffing out traps and so he leads everyone right back to the church just in time to save the day and massacre all the Terminus people once and for all.
                Along the way we learn Gabriel’s not-so-shocking backstory (hid in the church while his congregation got eaten alive outside), Bob dies and Ty stabs him right in the head for it. Also, Abraham and Rick yell at each other and at the end, Glenn, Maggie, Abraham, Eugene, fist bump girl and Latina Sarah Connor head to D.C. to save the world, Rick and everyone else decide to hold up in the church. Daryl shows up in the middle of the night and acts all mysterious and brooding and handsome when asked about the location of Carol.

Good: Bob’s reveal. I did not see that coming. A couple of friends of mine predicted the reason Bob was such a weepy mess last week was because he’d been bitten, but I thought he was just reminiscing about the good old days. In hindsight, the fact that Bob wasn’t long for the world should have been clear for a couple of reasons: a) He became the group’s conscience. This is a bad spot to be in, ask Dale and Herschel. b) Fr. Gabe is a black man and “The Walking Dead” has a long and suspicious history of offing one minority character to make room for a new one. Still, I totally missed it.

Bad: Gabe’s backstory. Not that it was bad, per say, more just predictable. Thus far, I still think this should have been a one and done thing.

Good: Abraham vs. Rick. I’d watch this match. Abraham has the guns, but Rick will do literally everything to win. I’m not sure Abraham is prepared to stab Rick to death with a porcupine after chocking him out with a sock puppet wearing a feathered boa. These are things that Rick does every single day. Muscles, numbers, they don’t win in a fight with Rick. You need to fully embrace the crazy. 

Good: Should we stay or should we go? In terms of this argument, I probably side with Rick strictly for the “We need to wait here for Daryl and also Carol and so we should probably make the area safe.” I mean, you can’t ever leave Daryl and the only reason the entire group isn’t hamburger right now is Carol so you kind of owe it to her. And that’s not even factoring in the potential of Beth which they don’t know about.  

Bad: Latina Sarah Connor. Can we give this girl something, anything to do? At all? Her just lurking in the background and occasionally yessing or noing along with the group is getting distracting.

Bad: The double cross? Triple cross? Was it actually a cross of any kind? I don’t know, but I was not thrilled with it. For one thing, I wasn’t ready to say good bye to Gareth. Yes, I know last week I said not everything on this show needs to happen in eight episode arcs, but I wouldn’t have minded this particular story going eight episodes. The Gabe thing, that I could take or leave. There was so much untapped potential with the Terminus people. I’m not sure this show has ever really nailed a villain. Either they last way too long (Guv, Shane, Laurie, Andrea) or not long enough (Joe, Gareth). Either way, how did Rick know the trap was set by Terminus peeps? Why did he come back? Was he winking the entire time he talked about getting the Terminus people at the school and I just missed it? Even if you didn’t want to let anyone get taken hostage, you could have had Ty go full beast mode and rip a few of them apart before Rick storms back after hearing their screams. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, I don’t like Rick as the all-knowing Jack Bauer of this show. He doesn’t need to be an emotionally-shattered mess again either, but stop having him be 15 steps ahead of everyone else. It makes him less interesting.  

Good: “This is a church!” says Fr. Gabe after Rick and the gang beat the Terminus people to death. Ok, first of all, talk about brass balls. You, the man who hid in the church while his congregation was eaten by walkers outside, don’t get to judge anybody for doing anything anywhere. Also, it gave us this great, nothing-is-sacred-anymore line from Maggie, who is still in this show in case you forgot: “No, it’s just four walls and a roof.”

Bad: Way to dodge the question of whether eating an infected human will make you a walker, “Walking Dead” writing team. Inquiring minds want to know.

Good: We haven’t done the sad walker turn in a while. Was Laurie the last one? Oh wait, no I think it was Herschel’s head. Still, been a while.

Bad: Really? We put Ty in charge of killing Bob when he comes back? Ty? The last person Ty was supposed to kill ended up eating Bob’s leg like two days later. Ty seems like the worst possible person for this assignment. At that point, I would have trusted Judith to take care of business before Ty. Judith was at zero whereas Ty was in negative numbers.

Good: Michonne gets her katana back. Seeing her with a gun just felt off. It’d be like seeing Daryl trying to kill someone with Rick’s porcupine.

Good: Yay, we're all split up again and some of us are on the road. Fantastic decision. Something for everyone here.

Good: You all got lucky. Oh, hey, Ty, welcome back to doing stuff all the way through. Feels good to check off boxes again, right?

Good: Sup, Daryl, man of mystery? We get to spend all of next week with you? We better.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

We’re Talking About Playoffs: The Actual End of the Whole Mess

The playoffs began and ended for my team last night. By virtue of our less than impressive regular season, we’d been granted a one game playoff against another team who had a less than impressive regular season with the right to go into the actual playoffs and likely get smoked by a bunch of professional amateur athletes on the line.
                There was some concern as to whether or not we’d actually get the chance to play last night due to looming thunderstorms, but as 6:30 rolled around, we bravely took the field, ready to thumb our noses at Mother Nature and dare her to do sumptin’ about it. Well, that’s not exactly true. My team took to the field. I, on the other hand, took to the bench. That’s right, an astonishing five games into my return to softball, my team finally realized what many a gym teacher and little league coach had long since known: I was most valuable defending the dugout and offering words of encouragement to my teammates.
                For the first time all season we had an extra player, which meant the guys on the team would have to rotate, one person always sitting. Wisely, I was the first person chosen to sit and the team got off to a good start. I was also listed at 10th in the batting order, right near the bottom, another smart strategy.
                Let’s talk about the offense first, because this is the part that’s least interesting. First at bat, I work a five pitch walk. This is shocking because I have honestly no clue what the strike zone looks like and since none of the pitches were over my head or in the dirt, they were all ones I’d usually swing at. My only explanation was that I was momentarily overcome by the magnitude of what I’d done so far that season at the plate and thinking of all those infield singles paralyzed me. Eventually I came around to score when one of my teammates hit a ball deep into the outfield. My next at bat, I ripped a grounder right at the third baseman or shortstop who couldn’t make a play on it, allowing me to safely reach first on what I’ll go ahead and call an infield single.
                And that was it. Two plate appearances, one official at bat. We had kind of a rough night at the plate and in the field last night as a team, so the game I believe wrapped early.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Good & Bad: 'The Walking Dead' (10/19/14)

Season 5, Episode 2: Strangers
Plot: Remember last week when Rick wanted to hunt down and kill all the cannibalistic Terminus people after Carol had blown up their home and infested it with walkers? Further remember when everyone was all “Nah Brah, live and let live” and talked him out of it? Well, I can think of one person in particular who is wishing he changed his vote. But we’ll get to that. 

Rick and his gang have left the train tracks behind them and struck out on a pleasant, if somewhat introspection-heavy, walk in the woods. Everyone’s got issues, everyone’s got regrets oh and to make things worse, Daryl is pretty sure someone is following them. The gang thinks they found out who that is when they find a priest scampering atop a boulder to avoid a pack of walkers who are trying to eat him. They rescue the priest, and he takes them back to his church in the middle of the woods. He explains he hasn’t killed anyone or anything and has survived thanks to a well-timed food drive prior to the walker outbreak. While most of the rest of the gang follows Father Gabriel into town for supplies, Carl finds evidence that the good priest may be less good. After a brief tussle with some water walkers, everyone comes back to the church, gets plastered on some Communion wine and Bob goes outside to have himself a good cry for some reason.

Elsewhere, Daryl and Carol wander off to a random car in the middle of the road and at that exact moment the car that stole Beth (and is presumably still being driven by that dog Daryl met last season) drives by. Daryl and Carol hop in the other car and tear off in hot pursuit.

Of course, Bob is attacked by someone and that someone turns out to be all of the Terminus people who aren’t dead. They share with Bob a little secret: He doesn’t taste too bad and then we see that they’ve cut off and begun to eat at least one of his feet.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The End Of Softball (And No, I Didn't Play So Poorly They Canceled The Sport)
Another softball game went in the books this week without me completely 100% embarrassing myself and, as far as I can tell, society has yet to crumble. Although to be honest, the fact that this Ebola thing has coincided with my rise as a below-average softball player has me a little concerned. Makes wonder what would happen if I ever hit, I don’t know, say a double.
                Last night’s game was the regular season finale and, considering I’m not currently slated to play in next week’s playoff game, it could be my last game of the season. Or, potentially, my last game ever, depending on whether or not the team makes the tactical mistake of allowing everyone in the company to play again.
The potential finality of the game was something I hadn’t considered until literally just a few minutes ago. Had I known, you can rest assured I would have put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself, failed to even come close to meeting my own expectations, and spent most of the game caught in a tidal wave of nostalgia over events both great and small. “This may be my last ever at-bat.” “This could be my last ever time taking the field.” “This could be the last time I ever sit on this exact bench.”
                Instead, I went out there last night and did pretty much what I’ve done for most of this season: Be perfectly mediocre. Sure, last week’s game was a bit worse than mediocre, the week before was a little better, but when you take the whole thing into consideration, I’m hovering around the middle.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Good & Bad: 'The Walking Dead' (10/12/14)
"No Sanctuary"

Plot: When we last left the gang, Rick was ready to John Cena his way out of a boxcar prison in the middle of the cannibalistic town of Terminus. When we meet up with them again at the start of season five, the gang is arming themselves to the teeth with all sorts of homemade weapons, provided your home is a boxcar. But before you can say “nail punchy thing,” the Terminus people spoil the sneak attack by dropping a gas grenade into the boxcar and taking Rick, Glen, Bob and Daryl to the kill room to turn them into hamburgers. Right before anyone important can die, an explosion interrupts the festivities. From there, Rick and company have a merry adventure finding/rescuing their colleagues and killing dead any Terminus people they see.
                Elsewhere and earlier, Carol, Ty and Judith, the lovable anchor-baby they’ve been saddled with, still aren’t at Terminus. They stumble upon a guy who’s talking into a walkie talkie about wearing some punk kid’s sheriff hat and playing around with some lady’s samurai sword. Well, Carol and Ty only know so many punk sheriff kids and lady ninjas, figure he’s a bad guy and take him prisoner. They find out Rick and crew are in trouble, so Carol goes to help, leaving Ty to watch the baby and the prisoner. This goes belly up real fast and eventually Ty is forced into full-on beast mode to fix things.
                Carol douses herself in blood to hide her scent from the walkers and launches a one-woman, Schwarzenegger-esque assault on Terminus. We find out she’s the cause of the explosion that saves Rick and crew. She helps the walkers overrun Terminus and then everyone has a big happy hug fest reunion at the end of the episode.
                Also, the episode begins and ends with some Terminus backstory and Eugene spouts off some mumbo-jumbo about reverse-engineering viruses to kill walkers or something.

Good: Will they or won’t they? Now look, there are a handful of people on “The Walking Dead” who probably aren’t going to get killed ever (Rick, Carl, Judith). But even still, they had me pretty well suckered in at the start. I had no clue how Rick was going to get out of that predicament. Very tense.

Bad-ish: Thank god the bad guys decided to line everyone up at the kill trough based on their importance to the show, extras first, main cast members next. You know, that way you can still kill people just not anyone anybody cares about. Cool sequence, but maybe let’s be less obvious about it next time, yeah?

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Inevitable De-Wheeling of My Softball Bandwagon

The good thing about being a pessimist is that you’re never surprised when the wheels fall off. You’re just like, “Well, that was bound to happen” and then you deal with it. Meanwhile optimists are wracking their brains, contorting themselves in weird and “Exorcist-y” ways all to find the elusive – and usually non-existent – bright side to their present misfortune.
                That just sounds way too exhausting for me.

                Tuesday was supposed to be my week off from softball, but due to a lack of players I was summoned to represent my employer in athletic competition. Furthermore, due to a lack of female players, my girlfriend was also summoned even though she is not an employee.

                My new-found ability to be barely adequate at softball has been well-documented. Equally well-documented (if I do say so myself) has been my surprise at this and my expectation for me to revert back to my previous ability level, which my 7th grade baseball coach publicly likened to that of “an old lady.”

                Well revert it did on Tuesday night. I’d blame my girlfriend for jinxing me with her presence, but there’s not a lawyer in the world who could make that case. We’ve all been expecting this to happen for too long for that to be anything other than an unfortunate coincidence.

                I found myself near the bottom of the batting order this week instead of the leadoff spot I’d occupied recently. I should have seen this for what it was – a dark omen of things to come – and just run off screaming into the night. But for whatever reason, I didn’t make the connection at the time.    

                On defense nothing changed. I was in my usual spot in right field, wisely placed there to minimize the chances I’d be called upon to do anything of value and screw it up. I had exactly one ball hit my way by the team full of righties we played. It was a grounder. I picked it up, threw it wildly to the person covering second, who somehow was able to field it and tag out a runner. I’m going to give myself an outfield assist on that play even though the only reason the play even happened was because the other team’s runner had slid well passed the bag. The rest of my night was a whole lotta standing, which I will in no way complain about. It’s just risk management 101.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Hits and Catches: The Part of the Sports Movie Where Things are Going Too Good
                When I decided to write about my return to softball, I thought to myself: “Here’s a way to embarrass yourself on the Internet that you haven’t explored before.” I mean, I’ve already gone into great and disturbing detail about the inner workings of my mind and my shortcomings as a human being on this very blog.
                 But my shortcomings as an athlete? That promised to be a hot take.
                Then, during my first two weeks back, a strange and completely unexpected thing happened: I turned out to be a GOD at softball. No I didn’t. Of course not. No, what I turned out to be was a slightly mediocre slap hitter with zero power, good speed on the base paths but little to no ability to actually control said speed, and a warm body willing to stand in right field for innings on end without getting bored and wandering off.
                Basically, I was like Juan Pierre in a blindfold.
                By no means was I the total package, but by god mediocre is several million times better than what I thought was going to happen. Even though my company’s team has a long history of losing, I still expected my performance on the field to be such an affront to basic human decency that I’d be lucky to only be fired for it and not taken out into the back parking lot, flogged repeatedly and then fired.  
                I returned on Tuesday night for my third game. My team was also there, so already we were ahead of last week. Shockingly enough, my first at bat ended with the ball not leaving the infield, but with me standing proud on first base. Infield single. I went first-to-third on a long single to the outfield and there I was. Standing on third, a stone’s throw from home plate and my first official run of the season (third overall counting scrimmages).
                A co-worker steps up to the plate. Makes solid contact. The infielder won’t catch it, but he will have a play, likely at first. The third base coach says go. I stand there. He says go again. I stand there. He says go a third time and I do the only sensible thing a person can do in that situation: I stand there. The guy gets thrown out at first. He jogs by and gives me the “What the hell?” look. I continue standing.
                I have a long history of ignoring what base coaches tell me to do, but I also think my injuries from the week before came into play. I’d have to run really, really fast to get home safely and I wanted zero part in a high-speed play at the plate.
                But it was totally fine, I got to jog home on the next play when someone else got a hit.
                I also had another hit later in the game and, unlike all of my other hits, it was a doozy. It was still a single, but not only did the ball make it out of the infield, it did so in the air, dropping right in front of the left fielder. I also popped out later to end a potential rally, but let’s not talk about that. Let’s focus on the singles.
                An even bigger accomplishment then getting a ball to leave the infield occurred later in the game. It actually occurred twice. On the defensive side of things. As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve spent my time on defense gathering dust in right field, which is basically no man’s land due to the lack of lefties in the league and righties who can hit to the opposite field.
                On Tuesday, I was in my usual spot, fighting the urge to put my glove on my head and pick grass – two skills I perfected during my storied run through little league many years earlier. I heard contact and casually looked around to see whose problem it was. With a growing horror I realized the ball was heading for shallow right, out of reach of the infielders. It was my problem.
                I started running toward the spot where I thought it would land. I was moving more on fumes and instinct than anything else because all of my internal organs had pretty much stopped working so that all blood could be directed towards the panic center in my brain. The ball was close. It was a soft looper and it was coming down slowly, but surely. I reached up my glove and caught it! There were loud cheers! Marching bands were struck up! Fans flooded the field! Ecstasy! Jubilation!
                Then I dropped it.   
                Shame. Horror. Fear. Fans pelted tomatoes at me and threatened the lives of my cats. My supervisor assigned me bathroom-cleaning duty even though the bathrooms are shared among multiple companies are cleaned by paid janitors.
                Then I caught it again. Yay! The ball had fallen out of my glove, but I managed to catch it again before it hit the ground. I was so happy that I forgot to throw the ball back in to keep a base runner at first. He must have sensed my excitement or took pity on my because he went nowhere while my team shouted to send the ball back in.
                I actually caught I second looping fly later in the game. That one I over ran and had to jump a little to keep it from going over my head. That time, I got the ball back in the infield quickly. My defensive prowess had become old hat. We went on to lose the game pretty resoundingly, moving our record to 1-3 for the season.  
                In case you’re keeping score at home, and god knows I am, the evening’s doings have put my stat line for the season at: three games played, 4/10 for a .400 batting average, three runs scored, a big fat zero runs batted in, one strikeout (which in slow pitch softball is nearly unheard of), no errors and two caught balls.
I’m scheduled to play in one more game, not this Tuesday but the following one. Considering how well things have gone so far, there is a very real chance that all hell will break loose at that game just to even things out a bit. Seriously. People could die. Animals could be maimed. Empires could fall.
                Adult league softball at its finest.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Return of the Flyers Ice Girls: A Call for Sanity and Men in Hot Pants
                The Philadelphia Flyers are my favorite hockey team, and really, the only sports team I follow with any sort of sustained enthusiasm. Despite my professed fandom, I don’t see the world through orange-tinted glasses - even though the room I’m currently sitting in is painted in bright Flyers orange.
When the Flyers do something dumb, I like to think I’ll call them on it. For example, giving Andrew MacDonald a 6 year, $5M  per season contract. Paying that much money for that many years to a defenseman who at best seems to be regarded as stunningly mediocre and at worst is the front-runner for worst defenseman in the league, well, that was probably ill-advised. 
However, the Flyers have recently found a way to make grossly over-paying a meh hockey player seem like shrewd business in comparison. Behold, the strange and troubling saga of the Flyers ice girls.
In case you’re unfamiliar, the Flyers ice girls are a team of scantily clad ladies who greet fans on their way into the area and scrape snow off the ice during TV time outs at games. All while scantily clad. It’s very important you remember this point.
They’ve been compared to cheerleaders, but I’m not sure that’s the best point of comparison.  The ice girls don’t do a ton of cheering during the game, at least not in my experience, their function is far more utilitarian than that. The ice girls actually perform a useful, albeit sorta-menial task at games (cleaning the ice surface).
A better comparison would be to ball girls at baseball games who have to chase down foul balls so the millionaire athletes on the field don’t have to sully themselves with such a task. The major difference between ball girls and ice girls being ball girls aren’t expected to do their job while wearing a hot pants and a halter top.
Over the summer, a story came outwhich painted the Flyers treatment of their ice girls in a less-than-positive manner. The word torture was used and while that’s probably an exaggeration – I can’t see Ed Snider taking time out from plotting world domination to bother torturing anything – the conditions the story mentioned weren’t ideal. Girls weren’t allowed to eat in uniform, they wear little and do their job outside and near ice, both of which are known to be cold, they’re paid $50 for about seven hours’ worth of work.
This was all in addition to the fact that the ice girls as an institution are just dumb. The Flyers employ some ice dudes as well and guess what? Unlike their female counterparts, the dudes get to wear fleeces and warm-up pants. They’re not walking around flashing ball cleavage.   
Anyway, the Flyers’ response to criticism? Burn it all down. Burn everything. Rather than address the problem and, I don’t know, correct it, it was easier to just disband the ice girls. The Flyers reaction was like if a person woke up one morning and said: “God, I really hate those drapes. Well, I guess I better move.” No! Change the drapes!