My Ultimate Five Springsteen Songs
Bruce Springsteen, Essays, Music

My Springsteen Five

My Ultimate Five Springsteen Songs

Deciding on your five favorite Springsteen tunes can be rather intimidating. For me, it’s not as hard as, say, jotting down the five ultimate Pearl Jam ditties, but it’s still quite the cerebral challenge. And it should be for anybody who religiously rocks out to The Boss.

Regardless, I’ve gone ahead and tackled this challenge to the best of my ability. And I’m happy with the results. With such a formidable library, I doubt anyone in the world shares this same list, so I can only hope that this post inspires some adventurous readers to come up with their own (including numbering!). It’s fun, trust me. :)

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Essays, Funny, Halo, Humor

My Halo Calling

Rewind to my sophomore year at Temple University. Philosophy Intellectual Heritage class.

This was probably one of my most memorable classes throughout my seventeen years of schooling. The professor was one of the strangest individuals I’d ever met, and every single class was an adventure into the weird. My high school and college sweetheart even sat directly behind me. To start each class, in order to “take attendance”, we played an oddball sort of name game where the subject would change each time. The theme I most easily recall is “Choose your favorite way to die.” Bizarre as it sounds, as our names were called, we would let the class know what our preferred method of expiration would be. Mine involved Viagra and is entirely inappropriate for this forum.

We even spent an entire class dissecting Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. There were even scribblings on the whiteboard to illustrate how poor of a film it was. He seemed to have a particularly fiery hatred for it on that day. I suppose we should have been discussing Sartre instead.

But this is all besides the point.

The class that truly stands out in my mind is when he assigned me a much higher calling. It was the last class before Spring Break, and the topic of our funky roll call game was “What are your plans for Spring Break?” Back then, this answer was easy as pie – play Halo (Halo 2 to be exact), lots of it. Of course, all of the rich kids in the class thought this was ridiculous; you’re supposed to have your parents send you to Miami or Cabo, right? Well, I was poor, and Halo made me happy.

Upon my answer, he sat in his chair with a strange upward and contemplative stare as if a philosophical bomb was about to drop. He began explaining that he’s surprised nobody else planned to spend their free time as Master Chief and went on to discuss whether or not my passion for playing Halo could be directly attributed to a predetermined role in a potential alien attack on planet Earth. A 10-minute monologue analyzing my potential ensued.

Say what?

I never thought about it like that. Perhaps, if Earth is ambushed by some form of alien race, such as the Covenant from Halo, I will end up serving as a John Connor type – the one who will lead the people of Earth on an ultimate defensive against invading bastards. And win.

It could happen.

Sure, I’ll need more than my Springfield XD-M 9mm 5.25″ pistol and Savage .223 bolt action rifle. But if stuff goes down, looting an armory and loading my Honda CR-V to capacity with ACRs and SCARs while Springsteen’s ‘Death To My Hometown’ plays from roof-mounted speakers is clearly the first thing on my list. Anyway, it’s not all about calibers and twist rates. My intangibles would most likely be the real pudding of this saga – leadership among fearful folks, willingness to sacrifice, negotiation skills, etc. (really, I can’t prove any of these things yet). If Will Smith can punch an alien square in the face, so can I.

And so, teachers are awesome, and that strange professor can ride in my anti-alien Honda CR-V any time.

This post actually got fact-checked via Twitter, and the class was “Intellectual Heritage”. It was a Temple thing. :)

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Essays, Sports

More Tebows, Please.

Most people think my man-crush on Tim Tebow is a joke. Like some kind of lame, ironic love that you have for an informercial product. But I am incredibly sincere in my respect for and support of the lightning rod leading the Denver Broncos on an unlikely playoff run. First off, let me get it out there that Tebow is the best thing to happen to the NFL in the past ten years. No player – probably ever – has caused such a frenzy of both love and hate from the league’s fans (and, more surprisingly, people who don’t even care about the sport). It has made for an insanely exciting season. So, at the least, we have to thank Timmy for that one.

Now, I’m a Patriots fan. So my expectations for the quarterback position are quite high. Is Tebow the next Brady? I doubt it, and even if he is, he hasn’t earned enough props to be included in the same sentence as Brady (the second greatest quarterback of all time, in my opinion, behind Montana). But Tebow is about more than completing passes. Here’s a guy who was told he couldn’t be a quarterback through his entire high school and college careers, even when he was busy winning the Heisman. And when he finally got to the NFL as a surprise first-round pick (I think it’s funny that nobody has mentioned Josh McDaniels through any of this), it was more of the same criticisms. Now, I didn’t really care at the time, as he had yet to finally lead an NFL team.

But then he got the chance to kick some ass. And he’s been doing just that. He’s taken the Broncos to 8-5 and a division lead. He’s led four fourth-quarter comebacks. He’s won five games on the road. Three overtime wins. The man has defined clutch this season. And he still has his dissidents, which I completely understand. He hasn’t destroyed Goliath, his completion percentage is under 50%, and he doesn’t follow the same outline as your typical, elite quarterback.

But, so what? The NFL today is filled with assholes who are worshipped. Michael Vick. He kills a bunch of defenseless dogs for no apparent reason and is now the King Leonidas of Philadelphia (only with a much worse spiral). He absolutely sucks as a quarterback, has a disgusting past, and yet we are still overjoyed to watch him play. Big Ben. Sexual assault, apparently, is also something to model yourself after. Sure, he’s got two rings, but surely we can follow a player for different reasons.

And much of the criticism is simply unfair. Have some strange events – some claimed to be ‘divine intervention’ – helped the Broncos in their recent wins? Sure. But welcome to the NFL. Hell, Mark Sanchez needs twelve God-induced events to win on any given Sunday. Anybody remember Eli Manning’s absurd toss in the Super Bowl that was somehow caught on David Tyree’s helmet? Do we all hate Eli Manning and the entire Giants organization because of that fluke catch? Not more than Tebow, apparently.

But here’s my point – the NFL needs more Tebows. Players who are genuine, honest, respectable, and damn talented at what they do without being complete assholes. Players who play for the team on the front and not the name on the back. Hate him because of his apparent faith? You’re an idiot. A stupid one. Hate him because such a religious and prudent guy can have a girlfriend that looks like his? You’re a loser. Hate him because his completion percentage is less than stellar? Get over it. He could bench-press your entire body mass and then steal your wife just because he’s bored. The point is to win games, and the man has done just that. I can’t say how the season will end for Tebow, but it’s been an absolute blast watching him ball. So, shut up. Sit back, enjoy the show, and show some love for one helluva football player.

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Essays, Funny, Humor

My Mentos Moment

High school was fun. Girls in plaid skirts (hey, it was the required attire in a Catholic school), the TV club, suicide sprints in ice hockey, that foxy Ms. Poliwoda who taught me the value of words, and those crazy lunch ladies who took pride in serving me chicken fingers from the ninth ring of hell. Every time I pass a fire station, however, I’m reminded of my favorite part – the morning commute. Here’s my story.

It wasn’t all that exciting at first. I was one of two students (the other being a great guy – we’ll call him Slick Rick) in a certain region of Montgomery county, and so, was forced to take a school bus chock full of rich and snobby elementary school kids. We were actually bullied by the little punks quite often – hey, they understood the law of numbers. But whatever – Slick Rick and I would just listen away on our CD players, on which we’d frequently play the same album. Incubus’ “Make Yourself” comes to mind. And our bus driver was a character, always telling those “no-good punks” to “sit down and shut up”. Little bastards.

Then, Slick Rick got his driver’s license, and things started getting really interesting. Slick Rick began picking me up in his totally awesome white 1988 Cadillac DeVille. Primus and Dream Theater would absolutely blare out of its speakers as we made the 20-minute trek to our school every morning. The other students would regularly stare at us as we found our parking spot. Sure, they probably thought we were weird, but in our head, they thought we were simply awesome. And we were, dammit.

As time went on, the DeVille started having strange, though comical, problems. On a particularly hilarious day, when Slick Rick honked the horn at a driver waiting for a certain shade of green (another random Incubus reference for the smart ones in the crowd), the horn got jammed and stayed that way all the way to school. Another day, we were “racing” another group of students out of the school’s parking lot when the accelerator became stuck. Slick Rick went to fix the problem while I held the wheel from the passenger seat (yeah, don’t try that at home). This kind of stuff eventually became par for the course, and we came to love every minute of it.

But, listen. One day stand out among all the rest.

Remember that classic Mentos commercial where that sleazy businessman blocked in that girl’s really tiny car? And this group of large men randomly emerge from the street and simply pick up her car to move it? With that amazing jingle? Sure you do.

We were driving home from school when we pulled into the parking lot of a local train station (this was part of a shortcut we used to take). The DeVille – bless its heart – started dying on us. So, we pulled into an empty area of the lot on an incline and let it finally fizz out. We cursed for a while, thought out loud, and tried laughing it off. Suddenly, the car began slowly rolling down the incline. We jumped out to spring into some sort of confused and misguided action. Quite frankly, I was an asshole; I burst out into a furious flurry of laughter with absolutely no chance of controlling myself. Slick Rick – bless his heart – started wailing for help while he stood in front of the car trying to push it back up the incline to no avail. But don’t let that fool you; he was laughing too.

Into the parking lot pulls a giant fire truck with about six brawny firemen hanging off the sides (mind out of the gutter). The truck pulls up behind Slick Rick, who’s essentially about to be crushed by his own Cadillac, as the firemen jump off and take control of the car. They easily push it up back up the hill to stable ground, wave, and hop directly back on the truck as it pulls away. Slick Rick and I just stare at each other for a few minutes trying to make sense of what just transpired. Eventually, he calmly states, “Dude, it’s like we’re in a fuckin’ Mentos commercial!”. I couldn’t have agreed more.

I’m not entirely sure what the point here is, but I like to think that everyone has a “Mentos Moment”. I hope so, anyway. They’re quite awesome.

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Essays, Music

The New Piano Man

I didn’t really grow up listening to Billy Joel; it just wasn’t my era. But when I truly began to appreciate good music, I understood the Piano Man and the wonders he created with that damn piano. It is absolutely fantastic stuff, and he still, without fail, appears several times on any random playlist I may put together when I’m in need of one. It’s good music. Plain and simple. And it makes me yearn for more music that gets the piano as much as he always has. There is a certain degree of soul that comes with it – one that not many guitars can claim.

But it looks like I have found my very own Piano Man (well, um, one from my era). One that I can confidently tell my children about.

I remember watching the video for Something Corporate’s “If U C Jordan” back in high school and laughing at the entire act. The lyrics, the whole “we’re so different, because we use a piano” shtick, the clear and silly pop-punk scheme – it came off as a joke to my musical senses. And an even bigger insult to the Piano Man. I guess the frontman, Andrew McMahon, could play the piano well enough, but nothing could possibly help this band’s cause (whatever that was). I safely ignored the band (one of my favorite band names ever, though) and the dude behind the piano, from that point on.

Then, many moons later, that same dude, became Jack’s Mannequin, and things started to change. “Everything in Transit”, the band’s first attempt at a record, had some remnants of that pop-punk silliness that annoyed me with Something Corporate. But it was a start. The piano, in a starring role, really grabbed my attention – just like when I first started listening to Joel. Things got even better with “The Glass Passenger”. I could feel the pop-punk silliness begin to fade away and McMahon really start to understand that piano’s potential. I had the privilege of seeing the band during the tour for its second album, and my fondness grew. How a dude with a piano could play a concert that felt this rock-and-roll blew my mind. I never had the chance to see Joel in concert, but if he ever performed at even 20% of the energy level of McMahon, I missed out on something special. At this point, I’m starting to maybe wonder if McMahon is the Piano Man of my era. Could be. Possibly.

I woke up to a surprise on a recent Tuesday morning. Jack’s Mannequin third studio album, “People and Things”, dropped. After a few quick and short song previews, I was all in. For six straight days, I listened to the entire album on an infinite loop. This was it. McMahon was my Piano Man.

One of the things that always bothered me about the potential Piano Man crowning is the strangely high number of teenage girls that worship McMahon. It sounds strange, but there’s a level of validation there that takes a hit. But I can’t harp on that forever when he puts out music like this. Go ahead. Listen to the first five seconds of “Release Me” and just try and tell me that you don’t immediately hear the original Piano Man.

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Cars, Essays

Don’t Buy a Car Here

Chrissy and I are kinda, sorta, almost in the new car market. We have a 2006 Scion tC Release Series (which means it has all the bells and whistles and only 2,600 of this particular car were made) and are getting a bit tired of paying an insane amount of insurance on it every year. The car is owned free-and-clear, is in perfect shape with a perfect history, and, at the moment, retails for around $12,000. We’d ultimately like to lower our insurance rate and put that extra money towards a small finance payment each month. Our semi-serious plan is to trade it in (and not get effed in the A while doing so) and basically pay off most of the new car with that amount.

One of the cars we’re looking at is the Hyundai Genesis Coupe. Now, I don’t buy Hyundai, I think it’s a joke; in fact, I only buy Honda. But it’s mostly going to be Chrissy’s car, and it cranks out about 50 more horses than the Scion. Whatever. And so begins the worst experience at a car dealership ever at Piazza Hyundai in Pottstown, PA.

Let’s get started with the “deal”. We test drove a 2011 Genesis Coupe that has been used as a demo and has 500 miles on it (the two previous cars I financed/leased had a combined 50 miles on them). I’m okay with this, though. I hear the discount bells ringing in my ears. The car, after a test drive, is okay. It’s certainly not a Honda and is far from anything special. It’s a Hyundai, so I’m not surprised. But I think that, maybe since it’s been sitting on the lot for over a year and has 500 miles on it, the deal ball is in my court. The reasonable discount? Not even $1,000. The car doesn’t even have a moonroof! And if I’m going to be stuck, in five years, with a six-year-old Hyundai with 500 more miles than it should have, the discount needs to be realistic. I would love – absolutely love – to meet the moron that walks into that dealership and takes this “deal”. I have some things I would love to sell him. Like this damn sock that lost its match in the wash.

Now, let’s get to the trade-in. Again, the car retails for around $12,000, and the KBB trade-in value is around $10,500. I obviously can’t take any less than $10,000. The initial estimate comes in at around $8,000. I laugh. I’m not stupid, and I know what the car is worth – even to a dealer. Obviously, the whole Release Series thing isn’t being taken into account here. Fine. So, our saleswoman pulls together a meeting in the manager’s office about the car. Several of them, apparently, use to work at Toyota dealerships (I see why they’re no longer there). They seem to understand the concept of the Release Series, but they don’t really know what it does to the value. Not rocket science. So, she comes back and tells us that they “feel comfortable” at $8,500. And that, no matter what, whatever computer programs they are using to determine this bullshit amount will never understand that it’s a Release Series and value it accordingly.

So, as I gather, because they use a shitty program to determine trade-in value and clearly know little about Scions (even though nearly every manager used to work at a Toyota dealership), I am going to get effed in the A, while they make at least $3,000 on me. Next, she prints out a sheet of all the different financing options and adds a $2,000 down payment in. So – now they’re only giving me $6,500 for a car that retails for $12,000. Truth be told, our Scion has more features than any of the Genesis coupes we saw, and it’s a Toyota. Hyundai has a 10-year, 100,000 mile warranty for a reason.

My entire family has been in the car business forever, so I’m not an idiot when it comes to these sorts of things. In fact, my grandfather, God rest his soul, got started in the car business with Vince Piazza (Mike Piazza’s father), the owner of this particular dealership.

All of my previous dealership experiences (I’ve both financed and leased a car in the past 3 years at Keenan Honda in Doylestown, PA) have been stellar, so just don’t go to this place unless you know absolutely nothing about cars, resale values, or how to shop for cars – or – you have a worthless (or nonexistent) car to trade in and don’t care about getting screwed there.

Listen; I’m not asking for more than our car is worth, but don’t be an asshole. If you’re going to turn around and sell this for $12,000 (which you will have no problem doing), don’t think you’re going to easily screw me in the process. If the intention here was to not sell me anything and convince me to take some more time and go the private-party route, mission accomplished. But, even when I do that, there’s no way I’ll even consider going back there (or any other Hyundai dealership, for that matter). There’s a clear line between being reasonable and respecting a customer and simply insulting them.

To top it off, I’m told that it’s a “niche car” on my way out. No, it’s not. It’s a sport compact coupe made by Toyota. It’s not a Miata. Don’t try to justify screwing a potential customer. F*ck you very much.

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Baseball, Essays, Sports

Ryan Howard Sucks. Okay?

It’s really no secret that I’ve been terribly hard on Ryan Howard, of the Phillies, or a while now. From my perspective, he’s the most outrageously overrated big-time, big-money slugger of this era. And after the previous two postseasons, it’s becoming really difficult to fight me on this one. In fact, the final outs of the two previous Phillies’ seasons have come on his failed attempts to do something of importance. It’s embarrassing.

But I’m the bad guy in all of this. The one with a silly vendetta against the Phillies. Now, it’s true that the Phillies are not my team (I wear the pinstripes), but does the sad hope that a player (one you’ve invested so much in) will eventually elevate his team to something other than a plane ride back home cause delusion? This is a case where it’s being called like it’s seen. The guy went without a hit for his last 15 at-bats in this year’s NLDS. But Phillies fans (i.e. those who throw batteries and force themselves to throw up on children) just keep the brotherly love flowing for the big man…at least the ones I talk to.

How can a player – who recently inked a 5 year, $125 million contract – fail so much in the clutch and still maintain fan loyalty? Many of my dissidents immediately bring up Alex Rodriguez, and my response is simple. I, along with most other Yankees fans, knew his absurd contract was a bad idea many moons ago. We absolutely despise him when he sucks, and he’ll hear about it. The same goes for any other overpaid jackass in pinstripes. But Howard still seems to have most of the city behind him, and it baffles me. As if he walks the dogs of the entire Phillies fan base on the weekends…for free!

Let’s cut the shit. Any player who joins the $20m+ club needs to be ready and able in the clutch, because that’s where championships are won. Howard is not that guy. At least, not yet. Personally, I doubt he’ll ever be that guy. He’s origami. He’s a joke. He’s the guy who hits the ball when you don’t need him to. And he’s not worth anything near the amount of money the Phillies are giving him, with or without an torn Achilles. I hope this city finally bucks up and admits that its next championship will not be obtained with significant help from Howard.

With the most impressive starting rotation of the past 20 years and a payroll the size of Ryan Howard’s strikeout totals, this is an embarrassing failure for the Phillies. And while not all of the blame can be placed solely on Howard’s shoulders, I think most of it has to. This is the second postseason in a row where Howard has failed miserably and completely disappeared when his efforts were most needed. He’s had far too many chances to prove me wrong, so I’m just going to go ahead and declare myself right here. That doesn’t happen often.

Hey, AROD sucks, too. But I’m over it.

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Essays, Philly, Sports

Be a Football Fan, Philly

I read an absolutely brilliant article the other day on how Eagles Fans are not true lovers of the sport of football and was surprised (in an appreciative way) to actually see such words printed in the terribly biased Philly sports media. The article echoes a theory I’ve maintained and publicly advertised for the past five years. To Eagles fans (and yes, this extends into other sports, as well), the NFL is comprised of one team – their own. There are no Sunday night games between the Rams and Raiders. There’s really no such thing as college football; Ohio State vs. Michigan – who gives a shit, right!? Hell, the Super Bowl doesn’t even matter to these folks if the Eagles aren’t participating. And while, like anything else, there are exceptions to the rule, I’m confident in saying this is characteristic of the majority.

For years, this truth has annoyed me to no end. The amount of futile attempts I’ve made to discuss a non-Eagles or non-Phillies topic with a local fan boggles my mind. And if you cannot discuss anything other than a single team, you’re just not a real fan of the sport. I’ve never understood it, and I’m happy to see that someone has made the same observations. They’re like the Penn State fans of the NFL, and I like to think that this is the sort of thing that gives outsiders reason to doubt Philly as a true sports town.

The new season approaches quickly, and for me, living here in Philly, it’s more of the same in the local sports media and fan environments. I’ll just keep enjoying my favorite college football rivalries that have absolutely nothing to do with Philly, and I’ll continue to catch every single NFL game that I possibly can (regardless of who is playing). And if the Raiders or Lions are losing 31-0, I’ll just keep on watching. Because it’s football, and it’s my favorite sport in the world.

I don’t mean to bash Eagles fans (disclaimer: I’m not one of them), but really, it’s just much more fun to be a fan of the entire sport.

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Baseball, Essays, Sports, Travel

A Different Kind of Fandom

I spent the past week in St. Louis with my coworkers and was lucky enough to catch two different Cardinals games at Busch Stadium. Beautiful venue, storied franchise, a city that is generally synonymous with the pastime, and a division rivalry that actually turned out to be pretty serious this year (i.e. the Brew Crew). I couldn’t ask for more. The games were everything I so happily expected. The fans, however, are another story.

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