“I have a problem with religion or anything else that says ‘we have all the answers.’ We’re complex, we change our minds on issues all the time. Religion leaves no room for human complexity.”–Daniel Radcliffe
“I believe that there’s an intelligence to the universe, with the exception of certain parts of New Jersey.”–Woody Allen
This is a summer rerun. It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I’m in the midst of three days stuck in the so called “Garden State” on business, and I thought, “why shouldn’t I share the pain?”
I have spent the lion’s share of my adult life working in the pharmaceutical industry. To be precise, I sell goods and services to pharmaceutical companies. This is a difficult profession, for it entails enduring one of the most hair raising trials-by-fire in any known line of of work.
I have to drive in New Jersey.
Unfortunately, due to the high concentration of pharma companies in the so-called Garden State, I have to drive there often. At least, I try to. I sometimes think it would be easier to run in quicksand. It has taken me 15 minutes, on one occasion, just to cross the street. I have been 20 minutes late in getting to a location less than a mile away–not because there was a lot of traffic–but because I was pointed the wrong way on Route 22 and the nearest jug handle turnaround was three miles and seven traffic lights in the wrong direction.
It all started away back in the mid-1980′s. I was driving for the first time to Sandoz in East Hanover. As I approached my target on Route 10 from the west, there majestically high on hill to my right towered a high-rise with large block letters S-A-N-D-O-Z emblazoned across the top floor. Brilliant! I found it and I was on time. I drove past an intersection, turned right into a parking lot and pulled up to a security gate to register for my sales appointment.
“Sorry sir, this is the service entrance, you need to go to the visitors center at the main gate.”
“Huh? Where’s that?”
The guard pointed to the intersection that I had just passed. No problem, I was 10 minutes early for my appointment. All I needed to do was pull out of the security area and turn left. There was just one problem. Between me and the traffic going in the other direction was something that looked like the Berlin Wall–complete with barbed wire and machine gun turrets. It was then that I learned about jug handle turns. You see, New Jersey has it’s own laws of physics. In New Jersey, you have to turn right to turn left. Understanding quantum mechanics is easy compared to understanding traffic patterns in New Jersey.
So I continued in the wrong direction on route 10 until I came to the first jug handle turn; I think this was somewhere near Bangor, Maine. I came back to the original intersection I had missed, only to find there was no left turn allowed there, either. This required me to go to the next jug handle, just outside of Allentown, PA. Needless to say, I was late for my appointment.
It all boils down to this. Other states have freeways, expressways and thruways; in New Jersey they have no-ways. Once you get on, there is no way to get off. You have to drive to Delaware to turn around.** There is one good thing about all of this, though. Here where I live in Connecticut, all the country roads in the woods can be confusing, particularly at night. In a strange area it is easy to drive around in circles if you don’t have a GPS. But in New Jersey, you don’t need a GPS to know you have gone wrong. When you miss your turn in Jersey your whole life starts passing in front of you. By now I have lived more lives than a cat.
**This literally did happen to me once, though it was actually in southeastern Pennsylvania, which has obviously been mapped out by the same civil engineers that designed New Jersey. I was on a limited access connecting road and missed my exit. In order to turn around, I had to drive six miles to the end of the connector–which was in Delaware!
“If god had meant us to play soccer, he wouldn’t have given us arms.”–Mike Ditka
If god had meant us to spend this much time online, we would have been born with a modem. Personally, soccer sort of bores me. I can’t wait for the world cup to be over so I can go back to being bored watching baseball, tennis and golf.
This post also appears today under a different name on The Blog of Funny Names
“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.”–Mark Twain
With Minor League Baseball’s annual Moniker Madness competition just a few weeks away, what better time to investigate and recount the stories of two of the most curious names in baseball history? Not only are the names unusual, but the stories more so, because neither of them ever actually existed.
Hayden Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch (Born and Died, April 1, 1985) is to baseball what Piltdown Man is to anthropology–the most famous hoax ever recorded. Concocted by iconic sports author George Plimpton as an April Fools day prank for the April, 1, 1985 issue of Sports Illustrated, Finch was touted as a super rookie pitcher with the New York Mets. According to the incredible story–a bit too incredible to get many people to believe it–Finch grew up in an orphanage in Tibet where he learned meditation, yoga and to play the French horn. Supposedly he had never played baseball before his tryout in Mets spring camp that year but could pitch the ball an astounding 168mph without warming up and while wearing only one shoe with the other foot bare. It was reported that he was still undecided between a career as a professional baseball player or professional French horn player. I remember this story vividly, because one of my best friends called me and urged me to get a copy of Sports Illustrated and read the story. The company I worked for at the time had front season box seats at Shea Stadium for the Mets; my friend thought I would fall for the story and get really psyched to get a good close up look at this guy. It didn’t work; I was not buying it. From the beginning, something didn’t seem right. The pictures didn’t feel genuine; they appeared staged. Then I got to the 168 mph fastball. I’m an ex-sportscaster and major baseball aficionado–I stopped right there. The fastest
pitch ever officially recorded at that time was 103mph (since surpassed by current Cincinnati Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman at 105 mph). I don’t care if the guy had a Howitzer for a right arm, there is no way any human being was going to pitch near that fast. I turned the front page, looked at the issue date, and said “April Fools.” Ironically, that 1985 Mets team had no need of a Sidd Finch. Their real super rookie pitcher, Dwight Gooden, had won NL Rookie of the Year award the previous season. He proceeded to win the NL Cy Young award in 1985 and helped lead the Mets to their best season in history in 1986: 108 wins and a World Series championship. The only sad thing about this story? The current Mets probably couldn’t win with five Sidd Finches.
Joe Shlabotnik (b.??-d??) was the favorite player of the most famous fictional baseball fan in the history of the universe: Charlie Brown. Joe Shlabotnik, in the “Peanuts” world, was to baseball, as that infamous failed place kick was to football. It was Lucy’s ultimate diss of Charlie. Though Joe was a marginal player who spent most of his time in the minors, Charlie pined for his baseball card but could never get it. On one occasion in the early 1960′s he squandered $5.00 on 500 penny packs of cards, and did not get one single Joe Shlabotnik. Lucy then bought one pack, got a Shlabotnik but refused to trade it to Charlie Brown, even for the offer of all those hundreds of penny packs. Charlie walked away in disgust, and Lucy proceeded to throw Joe in the trash. “He’s not as cute as I thought,” she opined. With names like Zealous Wheeler, Jose Jose, and 2013 winner Sicnarf Loopstok, we’ve often commented that Minor League Baseball’s Moniker Madness has names that you couldn’t possibly make up. Well, maybe, but George Plimpton and Charles Schulz might have had something to say about that.
“Marriage is like putting your hand into a bag full of snakes in the hope of pulling out an eel”–Leanardo da Vinci
“I am working on a new book about a boa constrictor and a litter of hyenas. The boa constrictor swallows the babies one by one, and the mother hyena dies laughing.”–E. B. White
Ophidiophobia. It’s a fear of snakes, from which many people suffer. My wife is most certainly not one of them. OK, she’s a veterinarian so it ought not to be a big deal to her. But let’s just say her non-fear, even love of snakes, is something I learned about very early in our relationship. Like, within the first fifteen minutes.
It all began one night in June, 39 agonizing years ago. It was a get-together I organized with a few friends on the occasion of a visit by my sister from the west coast. One of the invitees was the aforementioned Kate (Tales #8). She brought along a mutual friend of hers and my sister’s. Of course, that would be Cheryl. Kate introduced Cheryl to me as a pre-veterinary student at the University of Connecticut, and she added, “come and see the pet snakes in the back of her pickup truck!” I was not exactly thrilled. A girl with a pickup truck carting around two pet snakes was not exactly the description of my ideal match. So of course, I wound up marrying her three years later.
But as snake stories go, that’s not nearly the best one. In fact, the following story is so #1, there really is no #2.
It started innocently enough one day in mid-August of 1989. Cheryl went out for her usual late lunch, took her usual catnap in her car, and came back to the office. But something was clearly up–when she returned to work, the parking lot was packed with a slew of unfamiliar vehicles. They were news vans. Channel 3, Channel 8, Channel 25, The Bridgeport Post, The Hartford Courant. WTF? What was all this media brouhaha?
Well of course, you’ve figured it out by now. It was a snake. But not just any snake, and not just for any normal reason. It seems that a local Naugatuck woman felt something odd underneath her as she was sitting on the toilet. It was a six foot boa constrictor. Honest. She called the police; they wouldn’t touch it. The snake stayed in the toilet. She called Roto Rooter and, no joke, they sent a snake fear-averse serviceman to literally and figuratively snake it out. The critter was then dispatched to my wife’s practice. The media loves animal stories, and this was no “dog bites man” run of the mill occurrence. The story went the 1989 version of viral. It was picked up by the national wire services and we heard a short mention of it on WCBS newsradio from New York.
So what was the back story? It seems the previous resident of the apartment in question had owned two boa constrictors. But the city of Naugatuck has an ordinance against dangerous pets, and this certainly qualified by their standards. He was reported to the authorities and ordered to get rid of them. He obliged; or so he said. Apparently his definition of “rid” was to simply let them loose.
Anyway, the snake was unharmed and shortly transferred to a wild life rehabilitator who eventually found it a legal home.
But wait a minute. There were two of them. But there was no immediate sign of the second one. The residents searched and found nothing–well almost nothing. A few weeks later, they found a shed snakeskin. This was not taken as a good sign. Finally, some six weeks after the original event, my wife got a call from the Naugatuck police.
“We found the second one. Please come get it.”
She obliged, and got to the residence within a few minutes. There she found a Naugatuck cop sitting on the front porch, his service revolver drawn.
“Really!!?” Her reaction was typical Cheryl. “Are you afraid it’s going to make a break for it?’
Honestly, boa constrictors are not what you would call “speedy.’
She collected the animal and headed back to her office. When she got there, guess what?
News vans. Again. Channel 8. Channel 3. Etc. The New Haven Register, having missed the first story, was quick to the scene that Friday, and the story landed on the top of their front page the next day, Saturday, September 23, 1989. It appeared approximately as shown below, right above a story that Irving Berlin had died 101 that same day.
As you may have guessed by now, though, the story did not end here. Although the second snake wound up with the same wild life rehabilitator, it made another stop first. Cheryl, vividly remembering our very first meeting, brought the snake home that evening in an attempt to freak me out. It didn’t work; after 14 years with her I’d grown accustom to pranks like this. But it did freak out our daughter’s somewhat timid nanny, Lynn. While we were out to dinner, the writhing monster escaped from the box it had been brought home in, leaving poor Lynn with little option but to muster up her courage and stuff it back in. To her credit, she did it, and she didn’t quit her job.
Is there a moral to this story? Of course there is. Be careful what you marry; it might come slithering back to bite you.
Another oldie but goodie. New stuff soon–I promise.
“The best doctor in the world is the veterinarian. He can’t ask his patients what is the matter-he’s got to just know.”–Will Rogers
Episode One: You called me for what??
I don’t know if a veterinarian is the best doctor in the world, but I do know this: to survive thirty years of marriage to one, I may be the most patient spouse in the world. The early years were the worst. Why? In two words: on call. Thanks to a proliferation of 24-hour veterinary emergency clinics, she no longer gets those middle of the night wake-up calls. But here are just two of the many gems she dealt with through the years.
Phone conversation Sunday afternoon late summer day
Panicked client: “Help! My dog can’t get up!”
Dr. Sackler: “What’s happening.”
Panicked client: “My dog can’t get up.”
Dr. Sackler: “Well can you describe the situation?”
Panicked client: “I see my dog outside struggling to get up and he can’t get up.”
Dr. Sackler: “Well stay calm and go out there and take a closer look.”
The dog’s collar ID tag was caught in a slot between planks on the wood deck.
Phone conversation at 1 AM, Monday Morning
Ditzy client: “Dr. Sackler, I swallowed my dog’s heart worm pill, what should I do?”
Dr. Sackler: “Mrs. So-and-so, I can’t help you. If your dog had swallowed your birth control pill, that I could help you with. But I can’t advise you on a human accidental dosing, you have to call your medical doctor.”
Ditzy client: “OH, It’s the middle of the night, I can’t bother my doctor!”
Dr. Sackler: “What am I, chopped liver?” CLICK!!
The second story was so ridiculous, my daughter, who was in 9th grade at the time, wrote it up and submitted it to Readers Digest for their On The Job column. They published it–sans the closing chopped liver line– and paid her $300. Oh, and it also turned up a couple of years later on a page-a-day calendar created from that column. Those were fifteen minutes of fame my wife could have lived without.
That’s enough for now, but stay tuned. These stories are just the tip of the iceberg–they get better.
Summer rerun of a WordPress.com “Freshly Pressed” post. New content coming soon.
“You’re not famous until my mother has heard of you”–Jay Leno
(Jay Leno graduated from Emerson College the same year I did. Aren’t you unimpressed?)
Lindsay Lohan…Paris Hilton…Charlie Sheen…you just gotta follow these people to be “with it” in this day and age. What I can’t figure out is exactly what “it” is. The nonsense involving these silly (do I dare say ridiculous?) excuses for humanity, and the speed with which their inane meme virality propagates throughout the internet and general mediasphere is stultifying.
How do we quantify this vacuous tripe? Quite obviously with:
The Index of Inane Celebrity Meme Virality
Get out your calculators folks, though the math on this one may require something more like a Cray supercomputer. This process requires not one step, but three.
- Rate the inanity
- Compute the Virality Index
- Classify the virality using the Virality Classification Scale
This part is for those of you who—like many politicians—prefer fuzzy math. In order to compute the virality of an inane celebrity meme, you first need to give it an inanity rating. This, however, does not compute. You need to estimate it by a process that could be seen as similar to the way we old folks were taught to compute square roots in days before electronic calculators. You sort of have to zero in on it—surround it, using a combination of whatever logic or intuition works for you.
Using a scale of 0 to 1.0, we rate the inanity based on how unusual, how cable newsworthy and, of course, how inane it appears to be. Using the Lindsay Lohan example, let’s rate some real and imagined events.
Lindsay Lohan gets up in the morning and brushes her teeth (or not). Probable rating=0 (probable rating because, again, there is some subjectivity here).
Lindsay Lohan gets busted for another probation violation. Approximate rating=0.5 (This is fairly commonplace but due to media culpability still maintains some newsworthiness. Also, the specific story behind the arrest may result in some adjustment up or down; the next item demonstrates this.)
Charlie Sheen stubs his toe on the curb of 34th Street in NYC, stumbles into oncoming traffic causing Lindsay Lohan to swerve her speeding Porsche through a display window at Macy’s, decapitating several mannequins, skidding across the retail floor and then crashing through a sidewall into a back room where she runs over Paris Hilton who was in the act of giving her boyfriend a you-know-what. Absolute rating of 1.0. This theory does not permit a rating higher than 1.0, but we’ll give this one a 1.0 with a star, meaning it also generates spontaneous orgasms in Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and every Fox News and CNN anchor past, present and future. (Note that while coverage on Comedy Central will actually lampoon the coverage by the other networks, this will add even greater fuel to the viral fire than serious reporting).
Computing the Virality Index
Here comes the fun.
ξ = Φ(F+T)(µ-110)
ξ =Virality Index I chose that squiggly symbol because I think it looks like Kate Middleton mooning the paparazzi.
Φ =Inanity rating Aren’t those Greek thingies cool? This one is iota, as in “I don’t give one iota of a hoot about these nitwits”.
F= number of “friends” or “likes” on celebrity’s Facebook page
T= number of Twitter followers of the celebrity There is a reason they call it TWITter.
µ =the median IQ of the set whose members are F+T. For the uninitiated µ is the scientific symbol for micro. How appropriate. (Can’t you just imagine those two sentences being uttered by Dr. Sheldon Cooper?)
To sum it up:
The virality index is the inanity rating multiplied by the combined number of Twitter and Facebook followers multiplied by what I call the vacuity index (median IQ of all followers minus 110).
Classify the Virality
For any chance at virality, the final Index number MUST be negative. This works perfectly fine for most of the personalities discussed above. If we are talking about Stephen Hawking, however, there is a better chance of finding virality in the singularity at the center of a black hole.
The classifications of virality are as follows
If ξ ≤ -100,000 minimally contagious
If ξ ≤ -500,000 highly contagious
If ξ ≤ -1 million immutably viral
If ξ ≤ -10 million globally pandemic
If ξ ≤ -100 million worthy of hours of uninterrupted coverage on CNN and FOX News.
Still to be determined is the threshold at which Geraldo Rivera coverage kicks in.
So if we compute the Charlie Sheen meme virality index for the automobile accident scenario hypothesized above, we multiply the inanity index of 1 times the combined number of his Twitter and Facebook followers (roughly 10.5 million, don’t worry about being exact, this is fuzzy math) times the vacuity index. We will estimate the latter for Sheehan as (100-110)= -10. This may be generous but 100, after all, is the definition of median IQ. This yields a score of -105 million. If you compute and add to this the scores for Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan who were also involved in the scuffle, the Index plunges much lower. The New York Post would be sure to issue a special edition.
This leaves one unanswered question, however. We now know how to compute the manner in which these viral memes are turned on. But what determines how they are turned off? As you would expect, I have the answer which I call the medialogical constant. I will discuss this in the next Equations of Everyday Life post, which may or may not be published within your lifetime.
Images credit: Meme Center All other material in this post ©2012 Mark Sackler
“My work is destroyed almost as soon as it’s printed. One day it’s being read; the next day someone’s wrapping fish in it.”–Al Capp
(This post appears concurrently on The Blog of Funny Names under a different title)
Joe Btfsplk was an infamous character in the long running comic strip L’il Abner, by the late cartoonist, Al Capp (1909-1979). Known as “the world’s worst jinx”, Btfsplk walked around with a cloud over his head, 24/7. Poor Joe was generally relegated to a life as a loner, as nobody would get near him due to his penchant for wreaking disaster on anyone and anything who ever got close. His only other claim to fame? His image was briefly licensed for a series of animated TV commercials–by Head and Shoulders!
As hard as his name is to spell, it’s not so difficult to pronounce, once you know the trick. Capp would apparently demonstrate it thusly at his public lectures: he parsed his lips, stuck out his tongue, and blew out air. In other words, a raspberry as this little tyke demonstrates.
Not surprisingly, it was a baseball name Evan P. Rutckyj, that dislodged this bit of decaying ephemera from my rotting neuronal archives. Rutckyj is a Canadian born pitcher buried in the low minors in the New York Yankees farm system. The name is pronounced ROOT-ski. This silent final J is a bit of a letdown. Six consecutive vowels ought to all be pronounced. If he ever makes to the Bronx Bombers, though, he’s sure to get a dose of what that little fella in the video above is dishing out. This in turn, led me to think of other vowel challenged names, including former MLB players Eli Grba and Kent Hrbek. All this led me, further, to the recall of one of the funniest stories ever to appear in The Onion, Clinton Deploys Vowels to Bosnia. Got any favorite vowel challenged names? Or a preferred alternative pronunciation for Rutckyj? Let us know in the comments section. And be sure to avoid Joe Btfsplk.