The Curious Case of a Band Called Ambrosia, the World's Only Three-Hit Wonder

Most every music fan has their guilty pleasures and mine is the super-cheesy soft rock of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Among the guiltiest of these guilty pleasures is the band Ambrosia. Now, don’t fret if you don’t remember Ambrosia. They were big enough to garner a few Grammy nominations back in 1980 but not big enough to win.

So, here’s the weird thing about Ambrosia. Many years ago I came to the realization that Ambrosia was responsible for not one, not two, but three of the greatest tunes in soft rock history. The three tunes are:

Biggest Part of Me
You’re the Only Woman
How Much I Feel

If you gave those songs a quick listen, I’m sure that you’d agree that all of them are nothing short of incredible. Each one could easily be considered a legitimate one-hit wonder song and yet Ambrosia somehow produced three absolutely perfect tunes.

Post-epiphany, I rushed out and bought their Anthology collection. Look, if you’re a band that can deliver three 24 karat gold songs you definitely deserve my $15 for the rest of your best stuff. But then the weirdest thing happened when I listened to the full album.

It was unlistenable.

Now, I don’t mean that it was average quality music. I’m not saying that it was uneven or erratic. I’m telling you that every other song – aside from the big 3 mentioned above – was horrible. I’m talking “the Yoko songs on Double Fantasy” level horrible.

Quite honestly this blew my mind. And the more that I thought about it, the more that I realized that Ambrosia may be the only band in the history of music to accomplish such a rare feat: they produced three amazing songs and literally nothing else of quality.

Think about it. Most successful bands that are talented enough to sign a record deal, tour and maintain a career tend to deliver at a fairly consist level throughout their recording careers – barring significant line-up changes or finding god. And while many bands may be culturally significant for just a handful of popular songs, their popular songs will usually fit logically within the context of their entire catalog.

For example, my favorite band, The Black Crowes, are famous for probably 4 early ‘90s hits (‘She Talks to Angels”, “Hard to Handle”, “Jealous Again” and “Remedy”). In the case of the Crowes those songs perfectly represent the band and even though they aren’t mainstream popular anymore, they have consistently produced work of roughly the same quality for 20 years.

One-hit wonders, on the other hand, typically produce a singular song that strongly represents a moment in time where the cultural moment eclipses the actual quality of the song.

Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” is the perfect example of a one-hit wonder where the song became inexplicably popular in the summer of 1988 in a way that represents the summer of 1988 much more strongly than it represents Bobby McFerrin. Most of us know Bobby McFerrin from that terrible song, but in reality he’s an accomplished musician whose work and reputation far exceeds that one song. sadly, Bobby McFerrin will always be remembered for a song that doesn’t represent him particularly well. In a way, that sucks for him as an artist. In another way, those royalty checks probably keep his mansion well-stocked in cocaine and hookers.

But most one-hit wonders don’t have the musical chops of a Bobby McFerrin. Their one-hit does accurately represent the entirety of their musical identity. In most cases those one-hit wonders weren’t able to sustain a career precisely because that one-hit gave us exactly what we needed from them. There are countless songs that fit into this category, but a great example is Toni Basil and her hit “Mickey.” “Mickey” fairly represented both the early MTV era of 1982 as well as Toni Basil’s musical vision, so we don’t need anything more from her.

The next level up from the one-hit wonder is the one-and-a-half-hit wonder. In this scenario, a band, take Extreme for example, hits it big with one huge song (“More Than Words”). Since people enjoyed that one song so thoroughly that they were more than willing to try another song (“Hole Hearted”) that showed a different side of the band. And while “Hole Hearted” became a moderate hit it couldn’t quite reach the heights of “More Than Words,” which caused people to question whether they like the band Extreme or just the song “More Than Words”. As a result, their inability to nail that second hit sealed Extreme’s fate of better than one-hit wonders but not good enough to sustain a consistent career.

In conclusion, my theory is that every band in the history of music can easily be slotted into one of those 4 categories: consistent band, good one-hitters, bad one-hitters or one-and-a-half hitters.

Except for one band: Ambrosia.

The world’s only three hit wonder.

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Can We Just Give Hawaii and Alaska Back Already?

Recently, I was talking about the Unites States with a youngster and I made a “joke” to the effect that Hawaii and Alaska don’t really count as states. After a responsible adult – in an attempt to stave off an elementary school test failure – informed the child that yes, Hawaii and Alaska are indeed real states I decided to take my idea to a more open-minded audience, namely, you, the internet.

In my view, Alaska and Hawaii aren’t real states because they don’t touch the rest of the country. Sure, I might be a stickler for contiguousness, but I always thought that the “united” in United States meant that the states were geographically united, in addition to being united under the boot-heels of a bunch of fat old white men (and one skinny black man) in D.C.

I once read the back-story of Hawaii (but not the James A. Michener book ‘Hawaii’) which informed me that Hawaii was once a peaceful kingdom ruled by a benevolent queen until evil American corporations convinced our corrupt government to invade the place so we could steal their sugar cane, coffee and gourmet pizza. And then we promptly crapped up the place, per our usual MO.

I haven’t heard the back-story of Alaska (nor have I read the James A. Michener book ‘Alaska’) but I’m guessing that it’s the same deal as Hawaii, but substitute “whale blubber”, “oil” and “crystal meth” for “sugar cane”, “coffee” and “gourmet pizza.” I’m not sure that there was much in Alaska for us to crap up, but then again, polar bears can’t (or won’t) talk. Plus, this would be a really easy way to get rid of Sarah Palin for once and for all (but Levi can definitely stay – he’s super awesome.)

It seems like the least we can do, in the new spirit of “America isn’t so bad after all,” to give these two territories back to their rightful owners. Plus, I hear that Hawaii is really expensive and I’m thinking that our broke-ass country can’t really afford any expensive vacation timeshares these days.

Now, the other thing that our broke-ass country probably can’t afford is to reprint our letterhead and flags and stuff with just 48 stars. But I have a simple solution: when we ditch Hawaii and Alaska we automatically give DC statehood and split California into North and South California. That way, we’ll stay flat at 50 states and keep everybody happy.

So that’s the plan and I’m confident that all of you – with the possible exception of my son’s teacher – will embrace it warmly.

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Magnum, P.I.’s Short Shorts and the Golden Age of Television

Recently, we were watching an episode of Magnum, P.I. and several thoughts occurred to me:

1) Magnum’s shorts were really, really short. I’m talking ass cheeky-Daisy Duke short;
2) Higgins’ shorts were pulled up incredibly high, as in all-the-way-to-the-sternum high. Even so, that man certainly knew how to rock a pair of khakis;
3) Magnum’s jeans appeared to be made of a denim-like substance that probably wasn’t denim. They looked like the faux-jeans that you can buy in the back of Parade magazine;
4) They easily contrived a way for Mangum to strip off his shirt, giving the ladies a little extra something for their viewing effort.

But what occurred to me most of all was that the ‘80s truly were the golden age of television dramas. Now, I know that it’s popular to say that today is the golden age of television – with your Mad Mens and your Deadwoods and your Sopranos - but, sorry, I don’t buy it.

Think about Magnum, P.I. Here’s a show that had it all: action, adventure, comedy, bromance, Hawaiian scenery and a fussy Brit and was still able to deliver some deft post-Vietnam social commentary while dazzling us with exciting mysteries. And a helicopter!

Just imagine being a writer on Magnum, P.I. and having to figure out a way to work a giant brown and orange colored helicopter into each and every plot. How often do helicopters come into play in our daily lives (outside of useless traffic reports)? And yet they pulled it off brilliantly every time. Now that’s a TV show.

The problem with today’s TV dramas is that they’re too realistic. They’re too gritty. Who wants grit? Not me. I like shows that ask me to suspend my critical thinking faculties. For example:

I like shows where guys live on a houseboat and solve mysteries (Riptide). I like shows where a fat D.A. friend can help you solve mysteries (Jake & the Fatman). I like shows where people can run from the government in a van, act crazy, make tanks out of the very same van and solve mysteries (The A-Team). I like shows where even old people can solve mysteries (Murder: She Wrote, Matlock). I like show where Glenn Frey can play a villain who solves mysteries (Miami Vice).

And I’ll always love Kojak best of all.

I could go on and on and on. Do you know why? Because Donald P. Bellasario went on and on. None of this “I’m an auteur who can only make 10 episodes every two years” crap. Donald P. Bellasario or Stephen J. Cannell could shit out more episodes of a TV show before lunch than Matthew Weiner could make all year. And their shows had staying power – often running for 5 or 6 seasons before William Conrad died or Joe Penny violated his parole.

I’m pretty sure that Hill Street Blues was the turning point. Sure, it was a great show, but it was too realistic. Well, except for the kooky cop that called everyone “dogbreath.” But aside from that, I think the success of Hill Street marked the end of the golden age of 80s dramas.

Ah, Theodore “T.C.” Calvin, we hardly knew ye.

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Hey James Beard, what's with all of the Awards?

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned by watching cooking competition shows on television, it’s that only losers don’t have at least one James Beard award to their name.

I had never heard of the James Beard award before I started watching Top Chef and initially I was pretty impressed when the award came up in someone’s bio. But like most things, I got a little less impressed each time I heard somebody else brag about their James Beard award. I’m starting to suspect that James Beard might be in league with the “American Tasting Institute” for doling out meaningless, yet fancy-sounding, food-related awards.

For an award to appear prestigious it requires three things: 1) it has to be well-known by the general public; 2) it has to be difficult to win; and 3) it needs to possess a hint of mystery. James Beard fails on 2 of the 3 counts: most people haven’t heard of it, and once they do, it seems like literally anyone can win one.

Perhaps that’s why the Michelin award is so respected in the food world. It seems very exclusive, Frenchy and enigmatic. I really like the idea of chefs being awarded Michelin stars, but there’s still a few problems:

1) Maybe in France Michelin stands for something cool and tasty, but in America Michelin stands for a creepy fat tire monster. Whenever Tom Colicchio talks about Michelin stars I always picture the Michelin man in a chef hat presenting the award – which makes it seem slighty less important but somewhat cooler at the exact same time.

2) Michelin stars are earned individually, as if the chefs were playing Super Mario Galaxy and collecting stars. Earning even one star is an impressive, career-making feat. Yet where I come from, one star is a really bad grade. And Michelin only goes up to 3 stars. Are French movies rated on a 3 point scale or something?

3) There aren’t enough Michelin stars awarded in the U.S. Now, I’m not saying that every Cheesecake Factory should get a star, but if people don’t have the opportunity to experience what a Michelin star tastes like, then they’re not going to really care about Michelin stars, making it a somewhat irrelevant award.

I was a cook for 7 years in high school and college and now I’m wondering if maybe I should have stuck with cooking as a career. I probably wouldn’t be a very good chef because I have the palette of a 4th grader and I hate fancy food, but I imagine that I’d have racked up at least 5 James Beards and a few Michelin stars by now. Oh well.

Then again, if I play my cards right, I might still be able to get an award from the American Tasting Institute.

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The NHL-NASCAR Merger: Not As Crazy As You Might Think

As a sports expert of sorts (and by “of sorts” I mean “not at all”) I often find myself thinking long and hard about the future of two professional sports leagues that I care little about: the National Hockey League (NHL) and National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR).

(For the record, my order of pro sports preference is: football, baseball, basketball, Russian women’s tennis, hockey, golf, auto racing, jai alai and last, and most definitely least, soccer.)

Just a few short years ago it seemed like both leagues were poised to conquer the world: NASCAR announced plans to build race tracks in exotic locales like Long Island and Mexico and the NHL expanded from 17 to 30-something teams. But as quickly as it started, the momentum abruptly stopped: the NHL went through a long lock-out, settled on a non-lucrative TV deal with the little-watched Versus network and ended up with a bunch of nearly-bankrupt teams. Meanwhile, NASCAR stopped talking about how their TV ratings were going to exceed NFL levels and quietly shelved plans to expand into non-traditional markets.

There’s a fancy term that we use in the business world to describe the point when things stop growing: plateau. (You also may be familiar with ‘plateau’ if you’ve ever been on a diet or climbed a mountain.) Yes, it appears like both the NHL and NASCAR have hit a plateau. But I’ve got a genius idea that’s going to take both leagues all the way to the top – together!

It’s Time for the NHL and NASCAR to Merge into One Super-League.

Cool idea, huh?  Here’s how the merger would work:

The National Auto Racing and Hockey League (NARHL) will become a dual league that is operated on a regional basis. Cities south of the ‘Grits Line’ (the geographical line where grits are served in restaurants) get auto racing. Northern cities and Canada get hockey.

This regional approach makes a lot of sense because hockey is a very difficult sport to comprehend if you’ve never before seen ice, blades or Canadians. Plus, the whole concept of the “Zamboni” will take generations to explain. Similarly, auto racing is puzzling for people who primarily ride the subway or sit in traffic jams. Also, kids up north aren’t really allowed to ride tractors or go-karts or ATVs, which seem to be the three primary training vehicles for professional drivers.

To make this merger happen, we’re going to have to dump a bunch of hockey teams, but losing these clubs (or moving them north) is no big deal: Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Atlanta Thrashers, Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, and San Jose Sharks. (Personally, I’d love to boot LA, Dallas, and St. Louis, too, but at least those cities have some hockey tradition.)

The following NASCAR tracks will have to be eliminated, but it shouldn’t too be a big problem because NASCAR fans love road trippin’ in their RVs: Pocono, Michigan, New Hampshire, Chicagoland, Indianapolis, and Watkins Glen.

Now, I know that this idea is so radical and innovative that at first blush it might seem a little insane. Hockey and Auto Racing clearly have NOTHING in common.

Or do they? Let’s look at the many ways in which the NHL and NASCAR are nearly identical:

1) The Champion Wins a Cup

In hockey the champion wins Lord Stanley’s Cup. In auto racing the champion wins The (insert sponsor’s name here) Cup. Moving forward we’ll probably want to maintain the historical significance of Lord Stanley, but make it a little bit more accessible to the average NASCAR fan (“Lord” does sound a little twee,) therefore, I suggest that we rename it “Stan’s Cup”.

2) There’s a Lot of Missing Teeth on Both Sides

Sure, in hockey the players are missing teeth due to the flying pucks, while in auto racing, the fans are missing teeth due to a lack of basic dental hygiene, but the bottom line is that we’ve got two leagues that don’t expect perfect smiles – and I for one, find that refreshing. (And say ‘allo to future UK expansion plans!)

3) The Mullet is Always in Style

Hockey players choose the mullet because it works well underneath their helmets. Fans like the mullet because most of them (male or female) look like Ray Bourque anyway. NASCAR fans like the mullet because it provides a little neck shade and is easily converted into a rat-tail for formal occasions. In the end, it doesn’t matter why you wear a mullet, as long as you’re wearing one.

4) Major Rule Changes, Anytime

Both leagues have a habit of making major rule changes to the game whenever they damn well feel like it. No one, drivers included, have any idea how the cockamamie “Chase to the Cup” even works – something about top 10 or 12 finishers and bonus points and penalty points. In hockey, I think fans now vote on how a team gets points: overtime losses? Shootouts? Mini one-on-one battles? Sure!  You decide. And the rules for off-sides and two-line passes change daily. Let’s be honest: these are two leagues that are always up for some change.

5) A Shocking Lack of Diversity

On a side note, I’ve got a spin-off idea for a great new reality show, called ‘Needle in a Haystack’. Two teams compete: One has to find a Jew at Talledega. The other has to find a black guy in Ottawa. Good luck!

But seriously, neither hockey nor auto racing are the most diverse sports out there. A little cross-pollination between the NASCAR fan base and the NHL fan base might be good for the country. I mean, since when have northerners and southerners not gotten along in this country?

As you can see, this idea has some real merit. And that’s what I’m here for – providing real solutions to non-existent problems.

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An Open Letter to People Who Write Open Letters

Dear People Who Write Open Letters,

What’s your point?

I mean, I get that the “open letter” is a literary device of sorts, but it strikes me as being an exceptionally lazy literary device. It’s the equivalent of starting a presentation with: “Websters defines a ‘letter’ as a written form of communication typically between two individuals.”

In other words, it’s a stock device that betrays your inability to come up with a better conceit – like making up silly acronyms, or lists, or quizzes.

I suggest that we retire the “open letter” before another generation of writers embraces its modest charms.

Now, you’re probably thinking of me as a hypocrite because I once wrote an open letter to blue-eyed soul man Michael McDonald. But the truth is that I was actually deconstructing the open letter. My letter to Michael McDonald was truly intended for him and him alone. While you thought that were reading funny jokes about yacht rock I was secretly communicating in code to my dear friend Michael.

(And yes, “blue-eyed soul man” is a hackneyed cliché, but I used it ironically, once again demonstrating my ability to deconstruct the familiar.)

The dirty secret of open letters is that they’re really intended to be read by everyone except for the person they’re addressed to.

For example, instead of writing an open letter to Dick Cheney to express your opinion that he is the Satan spawn, maybe you could just write an essay openly declaring him to be the Satan Spawn? I bet that it’ll be even more powerful than your faux letter.

Then again, is that essay even really necessary? I’m pretty sure that when Dick Cheney (and his evil daughter Liz) are chugging the blood of virgins out of a goat’s skull they know better than anyone who their dark master is.  And if he hasn’t admitted it yet, well, I don’t think he’s going to just because he got an open letter.

Perhaps a better use for your typing skills might be to pen a closed letter to the editor of People magazine. I know of no greater pleasure in life than reading the idiotic letters page in People magazine. Seriously, what could possibly compell a normal person to write a letter commending Britney Spears on her superlative parenting skills based solely on a puff piece that previously ran in People magazine? Did that 1,000 word photo-essay on Britney really fill you with such a burning desire to tell the world that Britney is a really, really great Mom, regardless of what Kevin (or your lying eyes) indicate?

In closing, after re-reading this open letter I take back everything that I said. Open letters are hilarious, effective and awesome.

As always,

I remain,

Sincerely yours,

MB

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3 Rock & Rollers that Should Stop Rocking

Everyone loves to marvel at rock and rollers like The Rolling Stones that keep on rocking well into their golden years. But isn’t it also incumbent on us to tell certain rock and rollers when they should just give it up? I’m not talking about retirement here – I’m just saying that there are some people should stick to the soft stuff.

3 Rock & Rollers that Should Stop Rocking

Elton John

Nobody does schmaltz quite like Sir Elton. He’s been one of music’s finest purveyors of maudlin ballads for well over 30 years. From the early masterpieces like “Daniel” and “Your Song” to the bloated (yet endearing) pomposity of later songs like “The One” and “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, Elton and his frequently collaborator Bernie Taupin know exactly what it takes to write a song that goes down easy and makes you want to give the whole world a big old hug.

But something awful happens when Elton decides that it’s time to rock. Songs like “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” or “The Bitch is Back” are bad enough, but “Crocodile Rock” is the real sin here. “Crocodile Rock” is probably the worst song ever written by a major star. It’s an insult to rock, and EJ should have his rock license revoked for writing it. The fact that Bob the Builder, The Beach Boys and The Baha Men have all covered the tune show that they, too, definitely do not rock.

Billy Joel

Ironically, or perhaps not, the next contestant in our little game is Elton John’s touring partner Billy Joel. Now I will admit that I am unfairly biased against Billy Joel because he is the aural manifestation of Long Island. Having attended college in upstate New York, 90% of my classmates were Long Islanders and they loved two things: Long Island and Billy Joel. Now, I have nothing against Long Island (except for the clutter and the traffic) but I have nothing for it either. But Long Islanders act like Long Island is the South of France. It’s not. And years of living with people that possessed a ridiculously high opinion of Long Island (and Billy Joel) has caused me to hate both Long Island (and Billy Joel.)

Unlike Elton, who reliably writes great ballads and shitty rockers, Billy is all over the map. He’s written some really good songs (e.g. “New York State of Mind”) and he’s written a ton of bad (but popular) songs. But nothing is quite as bad as his pathetic rockers. The stinkers include “Movin’ Out”, “Big Shot”, “Pressure”, “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me” and “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. I’m suicidal just thinking about those songs. And why do weak-ass rockers always have to include the word “rock” in their song titles? I suspect that Billy doth protest too much.

James Taylor

I feel bad including James Taylor in the list because he’s not really a rocker and he doesn’t even pretend to be. He’s a folksy singer-songwriter and in the past I’ve really liked JT. But ever since I bought the “(Live)” double-album in 1993 I’ve liked him a little less with each passing year. I predict that by 2015 I will actually like JT from Kool & the Gang better than James Taylor and by 2020 I will actively dislike James Taylor.

James’s crime is singular. His song “Steamroller” is an awful, awful song that is embarrassing for everyone involved in performing or listening to it. Especially the part where he scats: “chicken chunkin’, mother fuckin’ care…” Seriously, James? “chicken chunkin’” was the toughest phrase that you could come up with? It reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld trying to talk dirty. (And please lose the perma-hat – we all know you’re bald. It’s no big deal. Tell Paul Simon and Dwight Yoakam while you’re at it.)

Can you think of any more rock and rollers that should give up the rock?

(Well, besides Courtney Love. We didn’t mean that rock.)

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Francophile or Francophobe? Take the Test and Find Out!

Hardly a day goes by without someone asking me how they should feel about France. Now, please bear in mind that I’ve never been to France, I don’t know any French people and I don’t speak French. But people know that I’m a deep thinker and generous when doling out the advice, so they ask anyway. As a result, I’ve developed this fun little quiz to help figure out whether you’re a Francophile or Francophobe.

For well over 200 years France has been America’s best frenemy in the world. They gave us Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier (aka General Lafayette), without whom we’d never have won the revolutionary war. In return, we gave them randy Ambassador/Viagra inventor Ben Franklin who quickly tallied up an impressive record of sleeping with every girl in Paris as a 70-something year old man. Obviously, our two countries go way back.

For each of the following seven questions, please score yourself two points for yes, one point for maybe and zero points for no:

1) Do you like French food?

While France is credited with inventing fine dining and professional chefery, once you eliminate all of the disgusting things that they eat (frog legs, snails, fish eggs, rotten mushrooms, goose liver, etc.) you’re left with only three meaningful contributions to the food world: fries, omelets and freedom toast – in other words, the Denny’s menu. (0 points)

2) Do you like French music?

Clearly intimidated by nearby musical powerhouses like England and Sweden, the French have never produced any good (non-classical) music, ever. Perhaps it’s their obsession with techno and hip hop that’s ruined their chances at international music stardom. Hell, even the Germans managed to produce The Scorpions and Falco. You’ve got to go all the way back to Edith Piaf and Maurice Chevalier to even find a French musician whose name you recognize. (0 points)

3) Do you like French film?

Loving French cinema is a prerequisite to being a pretentious film snob and France has produced a long list of amazing directors, including Jean Cocteau, Jean-Luc Godard, Michel Gondry, Jean Renoir and the big daddy of them all, François Truffaut. But to be perfectly honest, most French films remind me of Barney Gumbel’s award-winning “Pukahontas”. Then again, Catherine Deneuve. (1 point)

4) Do you like French art?

The Renaissance, The Louvre, Notre Dame, Palace of Versailles, Jacques-Louis David, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, etc., etc., sacre bleu! (2 points, easily)

5) Do you like French wine?

Now, I’m a beer drinker first and a spirits (rum/vodka) drinker second. If pressed, I’d admit that my favorite wine is the complex and fruity Manischewitz – which is totally awesome – so I’m obviously not a French wine drinker. However, lots of people seem to like wine and France gets credit for both the grapes and the modern production process, so good on you, les drunkelbots. (1 point)

6) Do you like French sports?

The French Open, The Tour de France and Le Mans are the three big French sporting events. That’s tennis, bicycle racing and auto racing for you non-sports fans. I don’t get the bicycle thing at all – a gaggle of men in spandex riding bikes up hills for a month in teams that aren’t really teams. On the other hand, pro bikers have advanced the science of cheating to levels that even Barry Bonds couldn’t dream of. Blood doping? That’s some seriously committed cheating. Auto racing is the most tedious “sport” known to man, but I guess that explains why French people love vacationing in the deep south. Tennis is kind of cool and I dig that they play on clay, which screws up all of the top-ranked players. (1 point)

7) Do you like French politics?

Here’s the tough question.  The French right wing (which isn’t really called right wing) is currently in control of France, but their right wing seems much saner than America’s neo-crackpots. I generally view France as a lefty country where people like to go on strike, smoke butts and take a month off in the summer. In other words, they’re awesome like Manischewitz. Sure, they get dinged for that whole Vichy government thing, but then again, Carla Bruni is their first lady – easily the hottest first lady since America’s own Ellen Lewis Herndon (Nell) Arthur. (2 points)

So, how’d you do? Are you a Francophile or Francophobe? Tally up your scores to find out:

0 – 4 points: You seriously hate France, Dick Cheney-style.

5 – 10 points: You’d follow France on Twitter, but you wouldn’t friend France on Facebook

11 – 14 points: Emballer vos sacs, mon ami!

(By the way, my final score was a 7.)

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In Defense of Jaywalking in Boston

Once again, the anti-jaywalking forces have been making a lot of noise about the dangers of jaywalking in Boston. According to alleged scientific evidence, more pedestrians are hurt walking in the notoriously jaywalking-friendly city of Boston than in any other city in the country.

I, for one, am virulently opposed to any new efforts to end jaywalking in Boston. Jaywalking is one of our most precious cultural treasures and we need to stand up against these anti-jaywalking jihadists and Keep Boston Walking!™ (potential name for our new pro-jaywalking campaign.)

Let us recall that it wasn’t too many years ago that Mayor Menino and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler teamed up to teach Bostonians how to “Walk This Way” with a clever, pun-free campaign of signs and street paint instructing people how and when to cross the street. Naturally, the campaign was ignored and promptly failed (presumably causing Tyler to start doing drugs and record bad albums again – a sad, but potentially true story,) but it looks like they might be gearing up for another attempt to ban jaywalking.

Look, it’s important that we preserve jaywalking in order to retain our distinct regional character. Corporate radio and chain stores have turned Everytown, USA into Anytown, USA. Newbury Street and Harvard Square aren’t even special anymore. Lime Rickeys are increasingly hard to come by. Flagrant jaywalking is a beautiful, uniquely Boston thing – let’s keep it that way.

One time I was in Salt Lake City and I got stuck on a street corner where there was no traffic in any direction as far as the eye could see. I was forewarned not to jaywalk because cops will ticket you in SLC for jaywalking. So I stood there like a schmuck for the longest time ever (at least 2 minutes) waiting for the light to change. Do you know how that made me feel? Mad, sad and hot. (It’s really hot in Utah in the summer.)

The big argument against jaywalking is that people can get hurt. Well, duh, of course you can, that’s part of the fun. Frogger didn’t become the most popular video game of 1981 for nothing, you know.

Can we be honest? Bad jaywalkers kind of deserve to get hit. The people that get clipped jaywalking are the people that are too busy playing with their stupid phones to notice the cars. Isn’t getting hit by a car penalty enough for jaywalking? Now you’re going to get a ticket, too?  Yeesh.  (Where are the tea-baggers when you need them?)

True story: when I lived in Beacon Hill a cop once yelled at me for not jaywalking across Cambridge Street. There was construction going on and me standing there was a bigger public safety risk than me jaywalking. In that instance jaywalking probably saved a life. Think about that for a minute.

Boston is a special place and part of our specialness is our still extant spirit of independence. Just because The Man installs a bunch of paint and lights doesn’t mean he can tell me where or when to walk.

Walk this way, Mayor Menino?

Dream On.

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Return to Sender

In the annals of junk mail my most favorite item of junk mail to receive is the charity-provided return address label.

My eyes go all aglow when I spy one of those thick envelopes in the mailbox. I always make sure to open the envelope with extra attention. I must be careful not to rip even one of those beautiful pre-printed freebie labels.

I love pre-printed address labels enormously, but not quite enough to actually pay for them. Have you ever seen how much the bank tries to charge you for a book of return-address labels? We’re talking $5 or $6 (plus tax and shipping) for a pathetic couple hundred labels. Sure, the bank teases you with 8 free labels in every book of checks, but with online bill payment I’m using fewer and fewer checks these days and I just can’t get by on 8 labels. Perhaps those greedy banks wouldn’t even need to be bailed-out if they didn’t gouge us on those exorbitantly-priced return-address labels over the years.

I once considered buying a roll of return-address labels that were advertised in the back of Parade Magazine. They were quite reasonable priced but I was afraid that by buying anything from Parade Magazine I’d find myself permanently labeled as a fan of Madame Alexander dolls, commemorative kitty cat collector plates and mock-denim slacks. And let’s face facts – aside from “In Step with James Brady”, “Ask Marilyn” and “Howard Huge” Parade is a terrible magazine. It’s like Reader’s Digest for morons.

You might be interested to learn that I don’t like writing my return address by hand for three reasons:

1) Although my last name is short, my street name contains 9 letters and my town name contains 10 letters. That’s a lot of letters. I wish I considered that before we bought the house.

2) My handwriting skills are poor. I never fully mastered cursive writing as a child so now I either write in all caps block letters (like a serial killer) or a mixture of upper case, lower case and half-script (like a serial killer); and

3) I always forget to refill the ink reservoir for my antique dip and nib pen collection.

The elephant in the room, of course, is the moral dilemma: Am I obligated to donate to the charity just because I used their (un-asked for) return-address labels?

You might be interested to learn that I don’t feel guilty for using the return-address labels without actually sending money to the charity for three reasons:

1) People will get a letter from me with a “Save the Seals” return-address label and they’ll naturally assume that I support supporting the seals. And since I’m widely acknowledged as a trend-setter and an influencer, people might be more inclined to personally “Save a Seal” in the future, should the occasion arise (perhaps if one were visiting Sea World, for example). In fact, my endorsement of “Seal Saving” is probably worth a lot more than whatever donation they were hoping to get out of me in the first place. Quite frankly, free return-address labels are getting off pretty cheaply for an official endorsement from yours truly.

2) Not using the labels would be wasteful and an environmental travesty akin to seal killing. The labels have already been printed. They’ve already been mailed. The energy cost of manufacturing and shipping the labels has been incurred. Think of the huge carbon-footprint that’s affiliated with charity-provided free return-address labels. And now I’m supposed to spit in the environment’s face by chucking them in a landfill? No way.

3) Any charity that can afford to go off all willy-nilly printing free return-address labels for the whole world is so wasteful and poorly run that they probably don’t deserve my donation in the first-place. They might as well just take a stretch Hummer to a fancy black-tie award dinner celebrating their achievements in fundraising on behalf of the Seals, those frauds.

No, I think I’ll stick to my original plan of using the labels guilt-free and giving donations to local organizations that aren’t sophisticated enough to get in on the whole return-address label scam.

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You might be interested to learn that one of my favorite charities is My Brother’s Table located in Lynn, MA. With the economy tanking, cold weather threatening and Thanksgiving right around the corner, local soup kitchens like MBT will need our support more than ever. There are plenty of worthy charities to support, but what could be more important than feeding the hungry in your neighborhood today?

Plus, they never waste my donations on return-address labels.

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