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Swiss trip, part 3. To Murren. Jul. 27th, 2014 @ 06:13 pm
Tuesday morning, it was time to head out on our first long train ride. While packing up, I watched an awesome British Recue 9-1-1 type show called Countryside 9-9-9, where they re-enact emergencies in the British countryside and show the struggles the ambulance driver faces trying to get to these places. And if that wasn’t enough, there was a sign language interpreter in the corner of the screen who was even more entertaining than the show.



Can I just espouse my love for the Swiss transportation system for a moment? I knew it was possible for us to get from Zurich into the Alps by public transport, and I knew basically how it was going to go, but I wasn’t sure how to buy tickets. The Swiss public transit system is so perfectly easy to use, so ridiculously comfortable, so reasonably priced, and so insanely on-time that I was completely befuzzled.

Getting from Zurich to Murren in the Alps requires a train transfer in Lucerne, another train transfer in Interlaken, a bus transfer in Lauterbrunnen, and then a cable car transfer up the mountains. I gave my itinerary to the station agent in Zurich, was able to buy the whole trip at once, and simply transferred at each station to the next waiting train. By the time we got to Murren, the cable car operators, who had only been handling day-trippers in the area, seemed taken aback that our ticket started in Zurich.




Even more awesome than the transit system itself are the views it provides.









Lauterbrunnen canton seal on the side of a train.



On the trip up to Murren, our chalet is actually behind the far left guy’s head.




Murren is on a side of a mountain, and I guess just as you’d expect, there’s a lot of uphill and downhill walking to get around town. So we walked around town, and it took a while to recognize what was happening, but we soon realized that there was no one else around. The town seemed deserted. We saw a few workers with little pick-up truck type vehicles (I should mention Murren is car-free, so you only see tiny little utility vehicles), and two kids on bicycles, and that was basically it. Also, almost every restaurant was closed, every hotel was closed, and every store was closed. There were just no people. And it was honestly one of the greatest moments of my life, coming to realize we had an entire Alpine village basically to ourselves.












The things we needed to be open were open. And by that I mean the grocery store and our inn. We stayed at Chalet Bobs, a place with three apartments and a front-row view of the mountains and Lauterbrunnen valley, run by Kitty and Albert. We found out from Kitty that the town basically closes down when the railroad is under repair, which is a few times a year, which explains the absence of people. Normally, people will take a cable car up and then a railroad into Murren, but since the train was down, we had to take a bus, then a different cable car. Boy, are we lucky Kitty and Albert stuck around for the week! I understand Murren is almost known as a resort town at this point, but we saw maybe only one other chalet open.




This little church had a bunch of plaques inside memorializing people killed by avalanches and lightning.











As you can see, the streets were jam-packed with tourists, making it hard to even walk! The cacophonous noise was unbearable!





Awesome mural on the butcher shop, unfortunately also closed.



The one other open chalet I noticed, Helvetia, has an outdoor rabbit playpen, where this big Cornelius lookalike was playing.





Since we had an apartment, we could shop at the Coop grocery store, open for 4 hours a day during the railroad downtime. And despite being halfway up a mountain, the prices were reasonable, even to an American. But since we had gotten there too late on Tuesday, we had to eat out. There were, like, two restaurants open, both serving Swiss food, so we went to Stagerstubli and saw some of the few other people in town we would come to recognize over the next three days.



The grocery prices were good, but restaurant prices still abominable. We had the cheapest thing on the menu, rosti (shredded potato topped with egg or cheese or whatever) and it was still over $20 a person. They charge for tap water, which is so bizarre, because all over town, and all over every town for that matter, is free, delicious fountain water. In Murren, it pours charmingly into cow troughs.



Now I had seen some great tv so far, like Schlaag den Raab and Countryside 9-9-9, but on Tuesday night came the piece de resistance of European television…

The Eurovision Song Contest

I had a vague idea of what Eurovision was, but I had no idea we’d be visiting Europe during Eurovision week. How lucky I am, because it was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen on tv. Eurovision stretches over three days. Two days of semi-finals, and a final blockbuster Saturday show where the top twenty qualifiers, plus five or six countries who pay to skip the semi-finals (it’s complicated), compete for the ultimate prize.



Ostensibly, it’s a song contest, but it’s so much more. It’s a contest of visuals and spectacle, it’s a display of political and cultural tribalism, it’s cheesy and schlocky and overproduced, and everyone is trying their best to sing in English. I saw things on Eurovision I might never forget. I saw a man sing about his mother as his shoulder, his shelter, his satellite (Belgium). I saw sexy Polish girls perform a minstrely rap song (Poland). I saw a man wearing a parachute play the drums in a song about skydiving (Georgia). I saw knockoffs of the Backstreet Boys (Belerus), Mumford & Sons (Malta), and LMFAO (France). I saw blonde Russian twins get booed because they were from Russia. I saw an amazing amateur dance showcase, something probably every singing or dance contest should have. ​


Swiss trip, part 2, Sunday and Monday in Zurich Jul. 18th, 2014 @ 10:52 am
Caitlin reminds me that at Zum Schiffchen, we saw one of the nicest public gestures. Next to us was a young Chinese couple, and the next table over a couple of older German guys. The Chinese dude kept looking over and checking out what the Germans were eating, since one was having a tartar steak with a raw egg on it. The German dude noticed, so he ordered another one for the Chinese guy’s table. When it arrived, the waiter explained who ordered it. Then the German dude went over and showed him how to mix the egg in and eat it, despite the language barrier. So, word to the wise: When in Germany, show curious interest in what the Germans are eating and you might get some yourself.

Sunday morning, since I could now check Germany off my list of countries visited, it was time to head to Switzerland. Back to the airport for what would be a quick jaunt to Zurich, about an hour plane ride. Well, it would’ve been if they hadn’t made some huge mistakes loading luggage.

Somehow, they loaded incorrect bags on all the flights, so every flight had to have all the bags removed and checked, and moved around. Remember, this is Germany. And what is it they’re known? It’s not efficiency, is it? Well, that added over an hour before we could leave.

Needless to say, when we got to Zurich, our bags weren’t there. My clever routing may have given us a full day in Dusseldorf, but since it was technically a layover, I had clearly confused the system (and that loading problem probably didn’t help). We had a feeling this would happen, so we were the first of many AirBerlin customers in the customer service area. Of course, we didn’t have a luggage tracking number either, because the check-in clerk in Dusseldorf took it away when giving us new boarding passes, and I didn’t notice. Figures, doesn’t it? So finding our bags was going to be an extra challenge. We put in our claim.

Luckily, I had my excellent eBags backpack which had a day or two of clothes in it just in case of an emergency like this. We got on the train (notably 3 times more expensive than the German airport train, but not a longer duration) and walked to our hotel.

We stayed at the Park Hyatt for two free nights. Our room was renting for the equivalent of 900 US DOLLARS. And that’s their cheapest room. This was just the beginning of that I-shouldn’t-be-here feeling I would keep experiencing in Zurich. This hotel was catering exclusively to the wealthy businessman, not the backpack-toting weekenders, which is what we looked like. In America, it seems like many wealthy people “dress down” but I feel like this just doesn’t happen in Switzerland. Everyone was wearing an expensive suit, while I had only a backpack of soon-to-be dirty clothes. On the upshot of staying in a hyper-luxury hotel, the front desk clerk will give you absolutely anything you need, which was great because we were lacking all our toiletries in the lost luggage.



A woman shows up at the room every afternoon to refresh your fruit. The room has a Nespresso machine.



Churches, churches, churches of Zurich!




The Grossemunster church has this gigantic statue of Charlemagne in its basement. It’s from the 1300’s and was originally outside. The original is now inside and the other Charlemagne is a replica. You’re actually not supposed to take pictures of old Charlemagne, so don’t report me.



Does that crown look familiar?



The Fraumunster is another church in the hilly Old Town neighborhood.





Wandering the old town.









Did I mention Zurich is expensive? We saved money by having free flights and mostly free hotel rooms, but the cost of dining out was still shocking. There I was bringing grocery bags of breakfast into our five star hotel. Our Sunday lunch was reasonably priced and sufficed for dinner also. That was Brauschanzli, a sort of outdoor cafeteria on an island in the river. I had a bratwurst, of course, since that’s always the most affordable option, and a pretty excellent beer called Schwarzer Kristall. I gave you your tenth rating on BeerAdvocate, Schwarzer, giving you a public ranking. You’re welcome.



I took some video just to get the audio of this:



The band is playing “Redneck Woman” because why? Because ZURICH IS FULL OF BACKWOODS REDNECKS APPARENTLY.







I should also mention, our luggage didn’t show up, so now the panic started to set in. Were we to wear the same clothes all week? We washed our clothes as best we could in our five star hotel’s sink with the bath soap and hung them up to dry. Luckily there was a luxurious towel warmer rack that helped speed their drying.

---------------------------

MONDAY we went into the Grossemunster convent, which is resplendent in insane carvings.











Nuns lived here!



Walked through the botanical gardens and up past the train station where we eventually ate lunch at Nordsee. If it looks like a junky fast food place, remember, this is Switzerland where only the highest standards will do. It’s a really good fast food seafood place with lots of delicious seafood salads to pick from, and fried fish sandwiches.

This was in preparation to spend some time next door at the Swiss National Museum! Which was closed. Of course it was closed! It’s closed on Mondays don’t you know! So I really don’t remember what we did next, except go back to the hotel room and consider buying new clothes since our luggage was still MIA.

Did I mention Zurich is expensive? The average pair of pants cost probably $70 at H&M. If you go elsewhere, you’re looking at triple digits. I had two pairs of pants, but the fear was Caitlin might have to buy a crappy and insanely overpriced pair of pants just to get through the week.

Well back at the hotel, around 4PM, there was a knock at the door and our luggage had finally arrived. JOY! This was lucky because 24 hours later we would be a hundred miles away, halfway up the Alps in a village reachable only by gondola! At that point, we’d never get our luggage. So basically we were ecstatic. The relief was so great it might actually qualify as one of the happiest moments of my life.

Caitlin’s sister and her husband showed up soon after that after returning from their weekend trip to Paris, and they whisked us away to their apartment for fondue supper. Apparently fondue and raclette at this time of year is something only tourists do. For the real thing, you have to come in the wintertime. So we hid away and had homemade fondue.



And followed that up with a café called CakeFriends. Is that not the most appealing name for a restaurant? Who wouldn’t go there? They have all kinds of cake, all variations on a heavy type of pound cake, with its own sauce. Plus coffee. Sorry, no pictures of the cake.



More later.

Swiss Trip part 1, JFK to Dusseldorf Jul. 15th, 2014 @ 05:23 pm
Vacations exist only to be bragged about online. To that end, I had better write down everything about our trip far east before I forget it all.

The first leg was Albany parking lot -> Greyhound Bus to Port Authority -> Walk to Penn Station -> Long Island Railroad to Jamaica station -> AirTrain to JFK -> Air Berlin flight to Dusseldorf

Higgledy-piggledy, but it’s probably the easiest way to get to JFK without spending a fortune. The bus ride to New York was a tad stressful. When making a flight at JFK, maybe I need to leave more than 6 hours travel time. There was traffic going into Manhattan at the evening rush hour, which seemed counterintuitive to me. My first time taking LIRR out of Penn Station was also hectic. There is one gigantic sign listing every destination possible, their gate and departure time. But since every train goes to Jamaica, and there is only one line on the board for Jamaica, no matter when you get there, you probably have less than five minutes to make it to the train on the board.

Eventually we got to JFK, but not with enough time to enjoy the business class lounge! Argh! Why fly at all if I can’t get unlimited free drinks beforehand? And stupid Air Berlin uses the lounge of another airline located in another terminal.

Waiting at the gate, we were surrounded by Germans speaking their strange language and wearing odd sneakers, so it felt like were in Germany already. Since we were flying business class, we got to board before all of them. And this was a big plane. There had to be a few hundred people on it and we were in the very first row of the whole plane, aside from the pilots of course. I wonder if I can use my frequent flyer miles to get a seat in the cockpit?

The seats folded down completely flat, but were just short enough to be annoying. I couldn’t stretch my legs out completely into the small cubby hole for my feet. Waaah! I don’t think I watched anything on the entertainment system on the way over. Both the seat and entertainment options paled in comparison to Cathay Pacific business class. But the food was pretty delicious. I had a meaty salad appetizer, a lamb tagine, and a bunch of cheese for dessert.





Landed in Dusseldorf, and we didn’t really know if our bag would pop out at the baggage claim or not. Since we were going to be in Dusseldorf for less than 24 hours, it was technically a layover, and you normally don’t get your bags at a layover. They didn’t come out, so we left.

After several trips up and down the escalator system (the train would not accept credit cards, or 20 Euro bills, meaning several trips back into the airport) we made our way into the city. After exiting the train station, there was a Turkish parade underway. Come to find out, Dusseldorf has a big Turkish community. So I guess this was some kind of Turkish version of St. Patricks Day or Gay Pride Day. Is that offensive?



The original location of Kraftwerk’s Kling Klang studio was this building, up until very recently. Did you know it’s the 40th anniversary of Autobahn?



We were able to walk to our hotel, the Intercontinental, which was a free hotel night. Really very nice, with a huge, expansive lobby. It took hours to figure out how to turn the lights on in our room. These stingy Germans have it worked out that the lights automatically turn off unless you put your key card into a slot on the wall. I appreciate the energy-mindedness, but it was frustrating at first.



You know one of my favorite things about visiting foreign countries is watching foreign television. This was no exception. I watched some Schlaag Den Raab, a strange little game show where a guy named Raab competes against one person in a serious of stupid little games. The prize for each episode is a half million euros, and if Raab wins, that week’s prize is added to the next episode. So if you beat him playing finger-flick football for example, you could potentially win a few million euros. It’s bizarrely high stakes, so it’s treated very seriously.



Walked around Dusseldorf’s old town. Bright and sunny day along the Rhine. There was a used book fair going on. Normally I would be very interested in this, but of course everything was in German, so… I checked out a table of board games.



Awesome pretzel, or “risen brezel.” This was one of the best things I ate on the entire trip. There are carts everywhere to satisfy your pretzel needs. There are also churches everywhere in the old town that you can walk into and tour for free, which was very nice.





I had looked up a few restaurants to check out, mostly looking forward to one called Zum Schlussel. But what Yelp doesn’t really tell you is that when you come to this place around 7PM on a Saturday night, the entire pedestrianized block is packed, and I mean packed, with drunk people. It was truly nuts, and I believe there was a soccer game on somewhere. There must’ve been ten bachelor and bachelorette parties going on in this one block. It was people-pissing-on-buildings nuts. So needless to say, we didn’t eat at Zum Schlussel, and found a good restaurant on a much quieter block.

Zum Schiffchen brews their own alt bier, Frankenheim, which I had of course with sausages and sauerkraut.




More at another time.

Letter to the Editor Jul. 14th, 2014 @ 10:37 pm
So, last year a local supermarket knocked down a church to put up a new supermarket a few blocks away from their old one. There was a big to-do about it because the church had been there for a hundred years, was the tallest structure in town, and was unique in its architecture. I was annoyed about it all too, and now that the new supermarket just opened, I started writing a sarcastic letter to the editor of the Times Union. But figured it came out a little too mean-spirited and maybe offensive in a way I didn’t intend… so I’ll just post it here instead.

------------------------------------

On July 11, the new Watervliet Price Chopper opened at the site of the old St. Patricks church. I, for one, would like to welcome them to the area. Or, I guess to be more accurate, I would like to welcome them to their new street since they apparently moved about four blocks away from their last location.

And to the people who opposed the demolition of St. Patrick’s I say, “Cheer up! When life hands you lemons, you sometimes have to make lemonade.” So why not make the best of it? Who’s to say that the spirit that was found in the old church can’t be found on the same site?

The aisles are your pews. Take a knee before grabbing at an end display. If you wish to take the Eucharist, head to the Crackers and Cookies aisle and pop open a box of Ritz. They look similar to communion wafers, and taste better, too! Wine? Sure, it’s not allowed to be sold in grocery stores by law, but you can find grape juice. Grab a bottle of Welsh’s.

To those who miss the grandiose architecture of the church, I’m sure you can find something to appreciate in the efficient design of the modern supermarket. Isn’t beauty in the eye of the beholder anyway? Do you find god in nature? Bask in the glorious front lawn of Price Chopper. In all that expansive grass where the alter once stood, maybe you can spot Jesus.

No one's stopping you from chanting hymnals inside Price Chopper hallowed halls. Hey, you might even find a copy of the Bible available for purchase!

Please let me introduce myself Jun. 9th, 2014 @ 05:10 pm
TEACHER:
Hi everybody! Welcome to your Character Counts class. We’re going to have a lot of fun this semester and we'll get to know each other better and understand what makes us all unique. To that goal, before we get started today, I thought we should all introduce ourselves. Let’s do it in the form of a rap. It’ll be fun!

Here’s what you do: In the first line you introduce yourself, like, “My name’s Wendy and I’m here to say.” Then in the second line you say something about yourself! Like this: My name’s Wendy and I’m here to say, I like to learn in a major way!” Okay? Let’s try it. Everyone clap a beat!

*All the students start clapping rhythmically*

TEACHER:
Okay, Peter, you’re first.

PETER:
My name’s Peter and I’m here to say
I like to play ping pong everyday

TEACHER:
Great, Peter! Now you Katie!

KATIE:
My name’s Katie and I’m here to say…
I.. like to play ping pong everyday I guess?

TEACHER:
Come on, kids! Be a little more creative! Jason!

JASON:
Well my name’s Jason and I’m here to say
I like… uh.. I play ping pong everyday Sorry

TEACHER:
*groan*

MADISON:
My name’s Madison and I’m here to say
I play ping pong every day
It’s in my head now I can’t help it! That’s all I can think of!

TEACHER:
Leonard!

*Leonard stands up with a ping pong paddle in each hand, cool shades on, and a ping pong championship t-shirt tucked into his blue jeans*

LEONARD:
Leonard Jefferson, I’m the ping-pong master
Forehands backhands nobody’s faster
Grandpas, pets, kids, dudes, moms and ladies
You know that I’m crazy for this ping-pong, baby
Rock diamond crusted paddles cuz I’m the champ
Knock a ball off ya dome cuz ya too slow, Gramps!
So I play serious cuz this game is my career
But I’m rockin balls so hard they made me President of Korea
Never restin’ you know I’m testin’,
Your fast twitch muscles, I ain’t messin’
Arms moving so fast I look like Ganesh
And with wrists like this you know I’ve been blessed
Ping pong’s not for kids just playing for a good time
Nah bitch, you gotta fight like your life’s on the line
So start making a trophy to scribe my name on it
Cuz anywhere that there’s a ball you know I’m gonna pong it

TEACHER:
See, kids! We learned a lot about Leonard! Be more creative like him! Melissa!

MELISSA:
Well my name’s Melissa and I’d like to tell ya
I like to play ping pong… uh.. uh-oh…
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» Will Ferrell, death, volcanoes, and people I know: the makings of a dream
I actual remember a dream/series of dreams I had this morning. I quickly typed up the notes on my iPod, so I might as well share it now.

Started off I was going to the Boston Museum of Science with Caitlin and some other friends. I didn't see them at all, but I faintly recall it being Kristen, Michael, Don and Jaime. They were off doing something else and I figured I would save everyone time by buying tickets, but I couldn't remember how many people were in my group... Ed O'Neill (or maybe just Jay from Modern Family) as at the ticket booth next to mine, and he might've actually been part of my group of friends.

FAST FORWARD and now I'm suddenly at a hotel. It is a new, small hotel and there are not many people there. Some people are there for a conference? At any rate, Caitlin and I know we must kill the people in the hotel, less than ten. Lucky for us, they are all in the elevator at the same time. We completely skip the physical act of killing, and suddenly all of these people are dead on the floor of the elevator. I knew we could get in trouble, even though this act of killing was justified! I have no idea why it was justified. Maybe they were a bunch of war criminals?

FAST FORWARD and now I'm at work. The office was my office but wasn't my office, you know? Typical dream logic. Anyway, Will Ferrell works there, and it really is Will Ferrell, weirdly. My boss does not like him. I don't know why, but they are thinking of firing him. She is giving him a stern talking to in her office. I figure he can't be as bad as Jim (a former, real-life co-worker).

I'm looking on my computer and find a bunch of files left on it by another employee. One is a PDF that has all these illustrations of a pig woman on it. I figure this must be a former employee that someone made these terrible drawings to torment her. The PDF contains fake movie posters for movies where this pig woman gets killed, lists a bunch of directors, and movies it is similar to. It lists "Psicho" so I figure the person who did this must not be very bright.

The nameplate on my desk says Montgomery Sams. In some weird dream logic, I think my name is Montgomery Fairbanks, but know that is not my real name either. Angela (another real-life co-worker) says I look like another Montgomery she knows.

Time to go home, so I drive north on 787 like normal, but the landscape looks like Hawaii. At the north end of the highway, there is a volcano in a national park, it is erupting, and people are gathering to watch. (Caitlin points out this is similar to the Cohoes Falls, which is also at the north end of 787) The sun is setting and I can see the bright lava flowing.

The volcano is surrounded by a lake. People are looking for momentos of the eruption to take home, like rocks. But two guys are carrying a shark. The shark was touch by the lava and so became vulcanized. Get it? The volcano made things vulcanized? Well, the inside of the shark was red-hot but the outside was hard rubber. The man carrying it said "This is the warmest shark I've ever carried!" I call Caitlin to come check out the volcano after work.

I see whales in the lake/ocean/whatever. I wonder "I wish they were orcas" since I know I missed seeing them in Victoria. And of course they then turn into orcas. Four or five follow each other in the water. Then in a perfectly choreographed dance, four baby orcas jump in an arch next to each other, then the four adult orcas jump in an arc in the opposite direction. I take out my camera to take video of it. Then an orca (must hate cameras) starts coming towards me. It's shallow water and I worry that it will beach itself. Just then as I am fussing with my camera with low batteries, I hear a voiceover of two men talking about the best batteries to put in your camera.
» Lending Club 3 year anniversary.


I’m 3 years into my Lending Club experiment, and I have to say it has been, mostly, an unqualified success. I make loans to people, and they pay it back with interest. My account is making 11.5% now, and that barely fluctuates. Now that I have over 400 loans in my portfolio, all in $25 increments, it is very diversified. Loans are spread all over the country, across people with all kinds of professions. I even had one person default about a week and a half ago, my return took a hit, but it’s already back to normal. The big turning point for me was using Nickel Steamroller to study which attributes in these loans have historically indicated that they will be paid back. I was able to use that to fine-tune my filters and take out the type of loans I won’t make any more (ie. for any reason other than debt and credit card consolidation, since the other reasons tend to lead to so many defaults).

Lending Club has also seemed to fix another big problem they had a few months ago, that is not enough good loans to go around. For a few months, my filters might not return any loans worth making, depending (absurdly) on the time of day. Now I regularly find 25-50 loans to pick from whenever I sign on.

If you are thinking at all about putting money into peer-to-peer lending, consider this your latest, if not last, recommendation.
» Get em high
I thought I had a genius sample-spotting revelation today, listening to De La Soul's "The Magic Number," the way one of the guys says "Get 'em high" sounded so familiar, and I knew it had to be from a Prefuse 73 song. It goes by in half a second, but I still spotted it. I was all set to post it at WhoSampled.com, but SOMEONE ELSE ALREADY FOUND IT. Aargh!
» Five Scharpling & Wurster calls
I guess it’s been two months since the final episode ever of The Best Show on WFMU, the greatest thing ever created, but I still feel compelled to commemorate the show by making a list. So here are five of my favorite Tom Scharpling & Jon Wurster phone calls from the last 13 years, and the quotes from them that, despite numerous listenings, still make me laugh out loud.


Rick Stevens, center for the Washington Generals, the team that always plays the Harlem Globetrotters. He claims that kids come up to him every day to complain that the Harlem "Globefarters" weak routines are played out...

J: "I'm gonna start doing gags, too, during the game... And it's gonna be edgy stuff, too. Stuff that kids in 2009 can relate to."
T: "Like what?"
J: "Well, for starters, there's my basketball. Looks like a real ball. Red, white, and blue just like a normal ball."
T: "Sure, and what is it, a prank ball?"
J: "I'll let you decide. Here's what it's made out of: Cement."
T: "Cement?"
J: "Oh yeah. It's hilarious. I get on the court and I do this big wind-up with the ball, and I throw it into the crowd."
T: "A cement basketball??"
J: "Oh yeah, it's super heavy. And nobody knows it's made of cement."
T: "That's horrible! Where does it land??"
J: "I do it with safety, with absolute safety precautions."
T: "How so?"
J: "Well, I throw it at the fattest kid I see."
T: "That's terrible! That's not a safety precaution!"
J: "I hit him in the blubber!"


Philly Boy Roy discussing the final episodes of The Brady Bunch:

J: "Do you remember when Bobby made that concoction, and it turned Greg's hair orange?"
T: "I do remember that one."
J: "Little known fact: That was the last episode they shot."
T: "Really?"
J: "Little known fact number two: One of the grips on that episode got decapitated."
T: "When? Later in his career?"
J: "No. During that episode. And you can see his ghost in the episode! His headless ghost!"
T: "Well how can you get decapitated on the set of the Brady Bunch?"
(At this point, Jon cracks up and excuses himself for getting a “peanut chew” lodged in his throat)
T: “You got your bearings, Roy?”
J: “Yeah, I’m in the Bering Strait... Anywho, you know Chris Knight? He played Peter Brady?”
T: “Yes.”
J: “He was swinging this machete…”
T: “So… Peter Brady.. you’re saying he decapitated somebody!”
(Tom and Jon both crack up)
T: “I’m only laughing because it’s so unsettling. To think that somebody like Christopher Knight, who America really grew to embrace, could be responsible for anything along those lines.”
J: “Absolutely. But apparently he was a really good machete swinger.”
T: “Except for this one incident apparently.”
J: “When he chopped Irv’s head off, yeah… You can see the head roll into a scene apparently, in the outtakes.”
T: “So not only do you see his ghost, you see his murder.”


Hal from Newbridge Vinyl Siding makes a cold call trying to sell siding to Tom. As he stays on the line, we learn more about Hal’s life, namely that has four familes who are unaware of each other. Which means four different wives, two of whom are named Janice, and four kids by each wife, and each group of kids has the same four names. Hal talks about his struggles to support four wives and sixteen kids on a vinyl siding salesman’s salary.

J: “By the end of the month, guess how much money I have for myself
T: “How much?”
J: “Three dollars.”
T: “Like there’s three dollars leftover once you pay everything.”
J: “Right. Three dollars for my entertainment.”
T: “And what do you do for your entertainment with that three dollars?”
J: “Well usually I’ll go to the Subway down the street from Home #1, Patricia’s place. And on the last day of the month, I’ll go to Subway and enjoy a 6-inch meatball sub. I can’t even afford a drink, though!”
T: “Yeah?”
J: “I bring a paper cup and I sneak it into the men’s room and I put water into it.”
T: “Oh god.”
J: “And I sit there for like five minutes and I eat, and I read.
T: “What do you read?”
J: “Well, depends. Sometimes it’ll be the Newbridge Shopper.”
T: “Like one of those coupon things.”
J: “Or I’ll read one of those pamphlets that goes with the Win A Cruise drawings that they have. That box.”
T: “Oh like one of those contest boxes where you fill out the slip.”
J: “Exactly. I’ve never won. I’d love to win and just.. get away from it all.”


Timmy Von Trimble, the four inch tall freak of science, is a classic caller. We learn about Timmy’s adorable little life in a dollhouse with his garage full of Matchbox cars, but slowly come to realize that not only is Timmy a racist, but he's a neo-Nazi.

J: "Can you play a White Reign song right now?"
T: "No, I can't"
"Oh come on! Please!"
T: "No!"
J: "What about Norse Savage?"
T: "Who?"
J: "Norse Savage?"
T: "No! I'm not going to play Norse Savage."
J: "Berzerker?"
T: "No."
J: "Nordic Avenger?"
T: "No."
J: "Brutal Attack?"
T: "No, I'm not going to play Brutal Attack!"
J: "How about Down For Glory?"
T: "No."
J: "Blood And Honor?"
T: "No."
J: "How about anything on the Panzerfaust record label?"
T: "Paznerfaust! So you're like a full-on neo-Nazi! Do you march around your dollhouse in your little Nazi uniform?"
J: "Sometimes."
T: "So you do!"
J: "So?"
T: "So? That's horrible!"
J: "My mommy made me boots!"



My favorite Scharpling and Wurster call, though, might be one of the least well-known. During the California governor recall vote, Bill from San Diego called. Bill is obsessed with Arnold Schwarzenegger and is sure that Arnold will run for governor, win, and be the most successful governor ever. What kills me about this call is the turn it takes, as Bill goes on and on about Arnold Schwarzenegger, he becomes more and more boring. We start to learn about Bill and his job working at a newsstand, and every detail and story about his life is more mundane than the last. It gets so boring that it starts to infuriate Tom. You can almost hear the joy in Jon’s voice as he tortures Tom with his boring stories. (You can even listen to it!)



T: "So people do tell you that you're boring?"
J: "Only if they come by the newsstand, and oftentimes I'll comment on what they're buying. And I'll try to get in a conversation about that. Like when SARS was happening, and I think all four major news magazines had the same picture on the cover. It was like a person with a surgeon's mask on, like an air filter mask."
T: "Sure."
J: "Remember that?"
T: "Not really."
J: "So I was just talking to people about that all the time... Like what a coincidence that was."
T: *tortured groan*
J: "Speaking of coincidences..."
T: "Yeah?"
J: "The first person I sold a magazine to on my first day of work at the newsstand, he paid with a, like a debit card."
T: "Okay."
J: "And his last name was the same as my last name."
T: "Which is what?"
J: "Martin... That's a pretty cool coincidence, isn't it."
T: "That's the most mundane thing I have ever heard in my life!! Oh god!!"

(A minute later, Bill kicks up the boring talk...)
T: "I'm hanging up on you!"
J: "What are your favorite websites?"
T: "Oh god... I have my finger on the button."
J: "You have to go to Bayer.com, like Bayer aspirin."
T: "Oh god..."
J: "They've got some cool quizzes there. Oh, another cool site?"
T: "What?"
J: "I mentioned it earlier. Staples.com has a cool thing. Like you can watch commercials."
T: "Like Staples commercials?"
J: "Yeah, some of them are pretty funny."
T: "Why would you want to watch,.. ugh!"
J: "Well sometimes I miss the commercial if I have to go to the bathroom, and it'll be a commercial I want to see, and I missed it. So this way you can just go to a website and you can find it. Actually I'm in front of my computer right now. Let's both go to Staples.com together."
(Bill proceeds to show Tom the selection of batteries on Staples.com)
» Groundhogs Jokes
So it’s Groundhogs Day again. What did that asshole say the weather was going to be for the next six weeks? He is an asshole, I hope you know that. Six more weeks of winter? Figures. You know why this guy is an asshole? Do you know how often he’s correct? 39 percent of the time! You can bet on the weather being the opposite of what he says it will be. He’s wrong more than he’s right!

I don’t blame the groundhog. He’s just doing his job. You know what I mean? He’s oooold. He’s like a hundred years old! Hey, I’m no ageist, but at some point you just have to call it quits. When you’re that old, your mental faculties.. they just don’t work as well! I don’t expect him to predict the weather like he could a hundred years ago. This groundhog’s seeing snowflakes in his sleep at this point! He’s senile, walking around, bumping into shit. Talking about…

*takes small steps, hits invisible wall* What! It’s spring!

This guy know what I’m talking about! Look at this old guy. He looks old enough to have fought in the Civil War. He was the Ugg in the caveman tribe fighting the Confederates. This guy’s so old, he’s got stalactites hanging off his dick! This guy’s so old, he was the midwife to Punxatawney Phil’s mom!

There’s been more... What do you mean? … There’s more than one groundhog… Sure. According to this guy there’s a bunch of groundhogs that can predict the weather. Yeah, that makes sense. Who’s crazy now? What are these, the X-Men? … He’s been replaced? So according to you.. let me get this straight. They keep replacing this groundhog with other groundhogs that can predict the weather. Are you nuts? This isn’t the Dark City of groundhogs. Are they replacing this groundhog while we sleep? It’s the same one, guy! How can there be more than one groundhog that predicts the weather! He’s Punxatawney Phil. Do they replace you every night when you go to sleep? No, I don’t think so. Maybe they should, and they can make a version of you with a brain in it. One that doesn’t act like a jerk at stand-up shows.

I’m an idiot? You’re the guy who believes in a tribe of magical weather-predicting groundhogs! There’s just one! It’s the same one! That’s why they call it Groundhog’s Day, asshole, it’s named after him! … Oh, and I suppose the rest of you believe this guy, too, you’re gonna boo me now? There’s one groundhog, it’s the same groundhog. Look it up sometime on Wikipedia and leave me a wiki on Facebook, okay? Forget this. I’m done.
» W******, ELAINE
Hi Rebecca

Thank you for your interest in doing your internship at M******* Regional.
I am sorry to say the manager who has taken medical office and billing students in the past is unable to accommodate an internship at this time.
Because of some current projects and training she relayed she would not have enough time to devote to training and orienting.
I wish you the best.

Elaine

Elaine W*******
Director of Volunteer Services
M******* Regional Medical Center

» Things about 2013
It's not 40 things anymore. Was it ever 40 things? I don't know.

What did you do in 2013 that you'd never done before?
Visited the west coast and saw the Pacific Ocean.
Flew business class and sat in a business class lounge.
Watched Jurassic Park in 3-D. (Also watched Jurassic Park with the RiffTrax on, but not at the same time as the 3-D)
Pulled a flooded kayak out of the water.
Passed a kidney stone. There's a fun one!
Ate a cronut, and several other similar concoctions.
Fulfilled a lifelong goal by seeing Penn & Teller live.
Rode a bike to work when it was 30 degrees out.
Wore thermal pants under my normal pants (Seriously, this was a huge breakthrough in winter clothing efficiency)

Did you keep your New Year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Next year I want to drink more water. At least 48 ounces a day. As already mentioned, I passed a kidney stone this year, which was probably due to a lack of water.
I had a goal of reading 18 books this year, and passed that by a few. Next year's reading goal will be 24 books.
Also, I need to exercise more.

Where did you go on vacation?
New York City for a weekend in May.
Cape Cod over Memorial Day weekend. Biked around Martha's Vineyard & Chappaquiddick.
A week at Kring Point in the middle of July with Faye & Melissa & Jake. Went whitewater rafting. And a flash hurricane nearly took our kayaks, tent, and a few trees.
Toronto in August for the Canadian National Exhibition.
Cape Cod again over Labor Day weekend.
Long Island for a wedding in September.
Vancouver and Vancouver Island in October.

Did you do your patriotic duty on the second Tuesday in November?
Yes. When you live in a democratic stronghold, off-year elections are pretty dull. But there were some ballot initiatives, which all seemed to go the wrong way.

Did anyone close to you give birth?
Cousin Philip had baby #2, Ella.

Did anyone close to you die?
No.

What countries did you visit?
Canada!

What sporting events did you go to?
None.

What concerts did you go to?
Albany Symphony Orchestra in February at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.
Jeff Mangum and the Music Tapes in February at Mass MoCA.
Aziz Ansari in May at the Palace Theater.
Penn & Teller in May at Proctors.
The New Pornographers at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto.
And you can't call this a concert, but I saw a book reading by Jonathan Lethem the day his new book came out, so...

What would you like to have in 2014 that you lacked in 2013?
I want for little. The drive to exercise like I did during 2012, but I'm not sure how to get that.

What date from 2013 will remain etched upon your memory, and why:
October 4 is the only one that comes to mind, the day of the flight to Vancouver.

What was your biggest achievement of the year?
I'm getting a promotion at work, but it is being held up by lack of money. Of course.

What was your biggest failure?
Working too hard.

Did you suffer illness or injury?
The kidney stone, which also resulted in an infection. Of course I also got sick on vacation, probably from the airplane. Just a cold.

What was the best thing you bought?
Business class tickets from Vancouver to JFK, and round trip business class from JFK to Switzerland.

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
That one woman on the Amazing Race who tried to cheat at building the xylophone thing by chasing after the dude who finished his first.

Where did most of your money go?
Mortgage Payments! Here are my top ten expenses:

Mortgage - $9,964
New Toyota Corolla payments and fees - $7,235
Groceries $5,991 (A good deal less than the $6,882 spent last year. I did try to spend less on food near the end of the year)
Travel - $3,800
Pet Food, Boarding, Medical - $2,781 (up from $2,478)
Gas - $2,574
Student Loans - $2,511
Dining - $2,203 ($1,946 last year)
Auto Repair - $2,066
Heat & Electric - $1,868 (This magically decreases every year)
Takeout food $1,624
Gifts Given $1,600
Car and Home insurance $1,479
Recreation $1,456
Personal Care $1,083
Cable $767

What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Going to Vancouver/Island.

What song will always remind you of 2013?
"Invader Invader" by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, which I listened to on the Cathay Pacific in-flight entertainment machine.

What was your favorite TV program?
Breaking Bad, It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Top of the Lake, Orange Is The New Black, House of Cards, Extreme Cheapskates.

What was the best book you read?
Either Devil In A White City or Independent People by Haldor Laxness.

What was your greatest musical discovery?
John Wizards, who I learned of through Spencer Owen, who got it from Max Tundra. At the beginning of the year, I was ranting on here that this band would take off if anyone would just give them some coverage! And by June, they had been interviewed by Pitchfork. How strangely rewarding.

What was your favorite cultural moment of 2013?
Maybe when Walter White sets off that machine gun so those neo-nazis can meet their inevitable fate? No, when they found that marathon bomber kid in the boat in Boston. Does that count? I mean, it's a real life event, tied to a terrible act, but the conclusion sure was thrilling...

Compared to this time last year, are you:

i. happier or sadder? This is such a dumb question. Year to year, I always answer Happier, but am I really so much happier than the first year I did this survey?
ii. thinner or fatter? Thinner. I weighed 166 at this time last year. Right now, I'm 161.
iii. richer or poorer? Richer.

What do you wish you'd done more of?
Drinking water, to prevent that damn stone.

How will you be spending Christmas?
In Fredonia with the in-laws.

What did you want and get?
A "frissant" at Swiss Bakery in Vancouver. And it was just okay. Why do cronuts have to be so tall??

What was your favorite film of this year?
The Hunger Games 2.

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
31. I don't know. It was a Wednesday. I took the day off from work as usual.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Sandra Bullock. Is that weird? The moment in Gravity where she takes off the astronaut suit and is floating around wearing a tank top and bike short did it.

What political issue stirred you the most?
Just generally watching the Republican party burst at the seams as it tries to be so many things to so many people.

Who was the best new person you met?
Your mom.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
"Never go to loud clubs Cause it's bad for your ears
Your friends will all be sorry When they can't hear
And stay the hell away from drugs Cause they're not legal
Then bury all your money in the backyard Like a beagle
Cause you should never trust a bank They've been known to fail
And never travel by car, a bus Boat or by rail
And don't travel by plane And don't travel at all
Built a bomb shelter basement With titanium walls
And wear titanium suits In case pianos fall on you
And never go in saunas Cause they're crawlin' with piranhas
And never take the stairs Cause they're often unsafe
You only live once Don't let it go to waste"
The Lonely Island - "YOLO"

Best quote from a Scharpling & Wurster bit:
T: "You're holding a skull?"
J: "Yeah."
T: "Where'd you get the skull?"
J: "... I'd rather not say... Detweiller's Funeral Home."
T: "Oh god."
J: "I didn't rip it out of no one's head or nothin'. Found it in a dumpster."
T: "You found a skull in a dumpster?!"
J: "Yeah! It's not too sick... It's kinda sick, I know. Hee hee!"
T: "It's very sick. 'Cause that means that they're keeping heads back there until they become skulls."
J: "I never thought about it that way, but yeah, I guess they rot away until there's the skull left."
T: "Then someone throws it out."
J: "I'm gonna have nightmares now. Thanks!"
T: "Well no, you did it!"
J: "You made the nightmare stuff happen, though. Make the nightmares go away!"
T: "Roy, I wish I could."
J: "I'm gonna call you tonight if I get a nightmare about skulls."

Meal/restaurant of the year
Tara Kitchen in Schenectady and their tomato eggplant dip.
Side Project beef jerky from Philadelphia.
Biscoff crunchy style cookie butter.

Best podcast
Welcome to Night Vale

Best radio show/podcast
The Best Show on WFMU for life
This Is That
Do or DIY with People Like Us
This American Life

Blogs/newsfeeds I always look forward to reading
Everything Is Terrible
Million Mile Secrets
In Focus
Mrs. Tsk (Momus, whose blogging I realize I have been reading for over ten years now)
» The 2013 Lists
Top 6 Movies of 2013Collapse )
Top 20 Netflix RentalsCollapse )
Top Songs of 2013Collapse )
Top 17 Albums of 2013Collapse )
Top music videosCollapse )
Miscellaneous!Collapse )
Top 20 Arists And Songs On My AudioscrobblerCollapse )
Top Eleven Books I Read This YearCollapse )
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