Thursday, March 30, 2017

Custom Card Crush

Sometimes I wish I had learned Photoshop.. or maybe not. 

I've met a couple of sports card collectors on the blogosphere who have a talent for creating custom-made trading cards. Once such blogger is Corky, author of the blog Pack War. He fulfilled nearly my whole wish list of custom cards. Most of them were female athletes who are fairly well known but have few if any actual collectibles (women's sports aren't exactly in high demand in the collectibles market, unfortunately.) 

If you're interested in some of the sports stars Corky customized I shared them on my other blog.  

Because I'm still very much a teenage boy at heart, I had also requested some custom cards of my favorite female celebrities (i.e. non athletes) Corky came through with this gem:

Awww yeah!

I gave the option of this "Color TV" design from the 1955 Bowman baseball card set, or a more modern Hi-Def flatscreen style. Corky opted for the classic look. Excellent choice.

Not sure where he found this pic (edit - it was her video for "Change It Up") but the colors really pop. This is why I'm glad I never learned Photoshop - if I knew how to make things like this, I'd never do anything else.

If I'm ever able to procure a physical copy, I might just send it to Taryn for an autograph. People send her things sometimes (such as SpongeBob undies) and when I first became a fan I stumbled on her Patreon page, in which she offers to send you a signed (and defaced) headshot if you contribute to her creations.

Speaking of creations.. many thanks to Corky for combining two of my favorite things: classic baseball cards and Taryn Southern. This absolutely made my day :-)


Sunday, March 19, 2017

Pumpkin Playoffs - March Music Madness vol. 2

Back by popular demand, here is the conclusion of my March Music Madness - The Smashing Pumpkins song tournament. After one round, the following songs remain: 

(1) 1979 v. (8) Appels & Oranjes
(1) Today v. (8) 7 Shades of Black
(1) Tonight, Tonight v. (9) Stand Inside Your Love
(1) Bullet With Butterfly Wings v. (9) Heavy Metal Machine

(2) Disarm v. (10) Crestfallen
(2) Cherub Rock v. (10) Pug
(2) Perfect v. (10) Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
(2) Zero v. (7) X.Y.U.
(3) I Am One v. (11) Hello Kitty Kat
(3) Siva v. (6) Geek U.S.A.
(6) Soma v. (14) For Martha
(3) Thirty-Three v. (6) Starla
(12) In The Arms of Sleep v. (13) To Sheila
(4) Tarantula v. (5) The End Is The Beginning Is The End
(4) Rhinoceros v. (12) Raindrops & Sunshowers
(4) Rocket v. (5) Eye

I'm going to skip the first "region" for now, and you'll see why in a sec. Let's start with the middle groups: 

(2) Disarm def. (10) Crestfallen
(2) Cherub Rock def. (10) Pug 

(10) Porcelina of the Vast Oceans def. (2) Perfect 
(2) Zero def. (7) X.Y.U.

Perfect struggled in the first round, then gets picked off by Porcelina in the second. And it's a really good song. This only gets harder from here.

(11) Hello Kitty Kat def. (3) I Am One
(3) Siva def. (6) Geek U.S.A.
(6) Soma def. (14) For Martha 

(6) Starla def. (3) Thirty-Three 

Kitty Kat's run kontinues. In hindsight, I should have ranked For Martha much higher. The loss to Soma was a double-overtime thriller that made me tear out (what's left of) my hair. Most of these match-ups were incredibly difficult. I don't know why I'm doing this.

(13) To Sheila def. (12) In The Arms of Sleep
(4) Tarantula def. (5) The End Is The Beginning Is The End
(4) Rhinoceros def. (12) Raindrops & Sunshowers
(4) Rocket def. (5) Eye 

These battles were relatively easy. Eye is one of the Pumpkins' most unique tracks (and that's saying something) but Rocket is just kicking ass and taking names. 

And finally, the bracket-buster:

(8) Appels & Oranjes def. (1) 1979
(1) Today def. (8) 7 Shades of Black
(1) Tonight, Tonight def. (9) Stand Inside Your Love
(1) Bullet With Butterfly Wings def. (9) Heavy Metal Machine

I feel like I should explain this one: Appels & Oranjes (yes, that's how it's spelled) is one of my absolute favorite Pumpkins songs.. primarily because it sounds like a New Order song.
It feels wrong to knock out what is arguably the band's most well-known song in the second round; I can only assume that anyone who only knows a little bit about them knows 1979.. but I don't know what it's like to not be a Smashing Pumpkins super fan. Appels advances. Sorry, seventy nine. 

Your Smashing Pumpkins Sweet 16:
(4) Rhinoceros v. (8) Appels & Oranjes 
(1) Today v.
(4) Rocket
(1) Tonight, Tonight v. (13) To Sheila
(1) Bullet With Butterfly Wings v. (4) Tarantula

(2) Disarm v. (6) Soma 
(2) Cherub Rock v. (3) Siva 
(6) Starla v. (10) Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
(2) Zero  v.
(11) Hello Kitty Kat

At this point in the tournament I'm still trying to be fair and match-up similar sounding songs.. but I'm also becoming aware of the growing divide between songs I really love and songs I like a lot but aren't my absolute fave. It might lead to more low-seeds advancing than you'd see in the college basketball tournament, but I've got to be honest. Here we go:

(8) Appels & Oranjes def. (4) Rhinoceros 
(4) Rocket def. (1) Today 
(1) Tonight, Tonight def. (13) To Sheila
(1) Bullet With Butterfly Wings def. (4) Tarantula 

Case in point: top-seeded Today goes down. This was agonizingly close, both are personal faves. I'm not happy about losing another one of SP's biggest hits, but it just didn't have the stamina to take down Rocket. To Sheila was a Cinderella story, but it gets clobbered by Tonight, Tonight.

(2) Disarm def. (6) Soma 
(2) Cherub Rock def. (3) Siva 
(6) Starla def. (10) Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
(11) Hello Kitty Kat def. (2) Zero  

Cherub Rock and Starla move on without much difficulty. Hello Kitty Kat is folowing the old Jim Valvano motto: survive and advance. Zero isn't nearly as strong of a two seed as Disarm; the shirt was far more iconic than the song. 


As for Disarm...umph. It was agonizing trying to choose a winner between two of my very favorite songs off Siamese Dream. Soma is amazing - if you haven't heard it, you have to trust me. (Or just give it a listen.) Why am I doing this? This isn't fun anymore. 

Anyway, here's the Elite Eight:
(1) Bullet With Butterfly Wings v. (8) Appels & Oranjes
(1) Tonight, Tonight v. (4) Rocket  

(2) Disarm v. (11) Hello Kitty Kat
(2) Cherub Rock v. (6) Starla 

So, here's the deal: I can tell you that the top four Smashing Pumpkins based on chart/sales success, airplay, recognition, etc. are most likely 1979; Tonight, Tonight; Today and Bullet. That's why they were #1 seeds. If I could have a fifth #1 seed it would be Disarm. 

If I were to continue with this NCAA basketball-style tournament, the Final Four would be:

Appels & Oranjes; Rocket; Disarm; and Starla

But I'm not even sure those are my four favorite Smashing Pumpkins songs. Maybe I'd choose Bullet instead of Disarm. Or Tonight, Tonight. Or Soma. Gah...this is impossible!

Either way, the championship match would be between these two songs:


And I am not choosing a winner. I've made enough gut-wrenching decisions today.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

March (Music) Madness - Round One

This week my wife told me about something so awesome it actually made me miss Facebook. One of her Facebook groups for her favorite band Muse has made an NCAA basketball-style tournament out of the band's best tracks. Not sure who decided which songs should go where, but fans can vote on their favorite and decide the winner of March Muse Madness (incidentally, "Madness" is a Muse song...that was featured in a commercial for the NCAA Tournament a few years ago.) 

Unfortunately, because I'm not on Facebook I can't vote for my favorite Muse songs. So I decided to do some March Music Madness of my all-time favorite band, (The) Smashing Pumpkins. 

Here's how I did it: I made a list of 64 Pumpkins tracks, sorted them as objectively as possible by popularity, airplay, and general recognition... then matched them up tournament-style. I don't have brackets to illustrate the results, but here they are:

#1 seeds: 1979; Today; Tonight, Tonight; Bullet With Butterfly Wings
#16 seeds: Feelium; Depresso; Pulseczar; The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning

#2 seeds: Disarm; Cherub Rock; Perfect; Zero
#15 seeds: Jennifer Ever; Sun; Nothing and Everything; Slunk

#3 seeds: Thirty-Three; I Am One; Siva; Ava Adore
#14 seeds: For Martha; Snail; Soothe; To Forgive
#4 seeds: Landslide; Tarantula; Rhinoceros; Rocket
#13 seeds: To Sheila; Tear; Frail & Bedazzled; Thru The Eyes of Ruby

#5 seeds: The End Is The Beginning Is The End; Drown; Eye; Mayonnaise
#12 seeds: The Aeroplane Flies High; Quasar; In The Arms of Sleep; Raindrops & Sunshowers

#6 seeds: Soma; Geek U.S.A.; Bodies; Starla
#11 seeds: Bleeding The Orchid; Hello Kitty Kat; Silverf*ck; Bury Me

#7 seeds: X.Y.U.; Muzzle; Tristessa; The Everlasting Gaze
#10 seeds: Pug; Porcelina of the Vast Oceans; Crestfallen; Love

#8 seeds: Doomsday Clock; 7 Shades of Black; Jellybelly; Apples & Oranjes
#9 seeds: Stand Inside Your Love; That's The Way (My Love Is); Heavy Metal Machine; Quiet

That was hard! The first five seeds are either singles or songs that had a fair amount of airplay. After that I went with songs that seem to be popular with fellow Pumpkinheads and/or songs that I felt were more significant. Many of the last two seeds are early SP demos that didn't appear on any of their albums. 

As if this wasn't hard enough - I then had to choose which songs to 'face off' against each other. I didn't want to put my thumb on the scale and choose an easy match-up for a certain song I wanted to 'win'.. but with no one to oversee this, I didn't have any other opinions but my own. And so it played out thusly:

All the #1 seeds advance: 1979; Today; Tonight, Tonight; Bullet With Butterfly Wings

The 8/9 match-ups: 
(9) Heavy Metal Machine def. (8) Doomsday Clock
(8) 7 Shades of Black def. (9) Quiet
(9) Stand Inside Your Love def. (8) Jellybelly
(8) Apples & Oranjes def. (9) That's The Way (My Love Is)

Quiet v. 7 Shades was very close. I really had to think about that one.

All the #2 seeds advance: Disarm; Cherub Rock; Perfect; Zero
Though I really like Jennifer Ever and Sun.. let's say one of them gave Perfect a fight

The 7/10 match-ups: 
(7) X.Y.U. def. (10) Love
(10) Crestfallen def. (7) Muzzle
(10) Pug def. (7) Tristessa
(10) Porcelina of the Vast Oceans def. (7) The Everlasting Gaze

Ouch. Only the gritty, heavy-metal X.Y.U. holds serve against some of my favorite album tracks.

The 3/14 match-ups:
(3) I Am One def. (14) Snail
(3) Siva def. (14) To Forgive
(14) For Martha def. (3) Ava Adore
(3) Thirty-Three def. (14) Soothe

The upset special! I like For Martha (and about five other tracks off Adore) a lot more than the album's title(ish) track, which was a moderately successful single. I Am One very nearly suffered the same fate.. but the Pumpkins' first single survived on a buzzer beater.

The 6/11 match-ups:
(6) Soma def. (11) Bury Me
(11) Hello Kitty Kat def. (6) Bodies
(6) Geek U.S.A. def. (11)
Bleeding The Orchid
(6) Starla def. (11) Silverf**k

When choosing which songs to match-up against each other I tried to pick two that sounded similar. I may have done that a little too well with the one upset; Bodies features one of my all-time favorite lyrics ("Love is suicide") .. yet it still loses to a b-side.

The 4/13 match-ups:
(13) To Sheila def. (4) Landslide
(4) Tarantula def. (13) Tear
(4) Rhinoceros def. (13) Thru The Eyes of Ruby
(4) Rocket def. (13)
Frail & Bedazzled

Landslide is a wild-card since it's a cover of a Fleetwood Mac song. It's probably an unfair result, but I feel more of an emotional attachment to the perfect summer night ballad that is To Sheila.

The 5/12 match-ups:
(5) The End Is The Beginning Is The End def. (12) The Aeroplane Flies High
(12) In The Arms of Sleep def. (5) Drown
(5) Eye def.
(12) Quasar
(12) Raindrops & Sunshowers def. (5) Mayonnaise

The first and last battles were very close; all the 12 seeds except Quasar had a legit chance of advancing.

Here are the match-ups for the second round:
(1) 1979 v. (8) Apples & Oranjes
(1) Today v. (8) 7 Shades of Black
(1) Tonight, Tonight v. (9) Stand Inside Your Love
(1) Bullet With Butterfly Wings v. (9) Heavy Metal Machine

(2) Disarm v. (10) Crestfallen
(2) Cherub Rock v. (10) Pug
(2) Perfect v. (10) Porcelina of the Vast Oceans
(2) Zero v. (7) X.Y.U.
(3) I Am One v. (11) Hello Kitty Kat
(3) Siva v. (6) Geek U.S.A.
(6) Soma v. (14) For Martha
(3) Thirty-Three v. (6) Starla
(12) In The Arms of Sleep v. (13) To Sheila
(4) Tarantula v. (5) The End Is The Beginning Is The End
(4) Rhinoceros v. (12) Raindrops & Sunshowers
(4) Rocket v. (5) Eye

If anyone is interested in this madness, I'll play out the rest of the tournament on Monday (and I'll embed the videos of the Final Four.)  Hope you all have a great weekend!


Monday, March 13, 2017

Four Years

Sent: Wed, March 13, 2013 5:30:22 PM
Subject: Congratulations

Hi Chris,  I hear you got the job!  That's great. I think you'll enjoy working for attorneys..some of the work is routine, but I'll bet it's seldom boring. Imagine the experience in human nature!  It may lead to bigger and better opportunities; or just look great on your resume.  Either way, I hope it works out.  Best wishes.  It sounds exciting.  Love, Aunt C.

I had been unemployed for over three years. Quit my job when my first daughter was born. My wife made more money than me, and so someone had to stay home and watch our baby girl. Shortly after our second baby girl was born, my wife lost her job. It was time for me to go back to work.

This was the second job I applied for. I was amazed at how quickly I got called in for an interview.. though it was only a part-time position as a file clerk. $10 an hour. No benefits. But.. it was a job. It was easy and stress free. Take documents from each of four boxes. Place documents in pocket folders. Pull pocket folders for attorneys. Rinse and repeat. I could do this job on five hours sleep - and often did.

I actually wore a tie and dress shoes on my first day as a file clerk, mostly because the only men I had met were attorneys, and they didn't mention anything about a dress code. (There were a lot of things they never explained to me; I've had to fly blind through so many tasks.) 

The girl who trained me said she made a similar mistake; she wore a dress and heels on her first day - and got them all scuffed and dusty when pulling files from the basement.

The paperwork boxes are located in the collectors' room. There were two guys who handled collections - Steve and Jose. Nice guys. Everyone in the office was nice (well, almost everyone.) I could hear them deal with debtors sometimes, and I'd shake my head at their side of the conversation. You couldn't pay me enough to do that job. Steve was the calm one, Jose was more animated. I don't think that's why he was fired, I just think the attorneys are cheapskates. 

For a while Steve was the only collector, until Jose got a job in Princeton - and convinced Steve to come with him. The attorneys decided to offer me the job of running the entire collections department. I had no experience with collections, and no idea how to handle debtors. I also had anxiety and a history of traumatic experiences in retail. I did not want to take this job. But it was the first time I had ever been offered a promotion, and it felt good to support the family. 

My first day as a collector felt like the first day at a new school, only like.. three grades ahead of where I'm supposed to be. I was originally set up at Steve's computer, in the back room. All by myself. Just me and the deadbeat debtors. Only I couldn't log on to the computer. I think he left me the password, but it didn't work, or the attorneys set me up with a new login and didn't tell me. Either way, I felt so much relief that I could not do my job. Since then I've learned to navigate my way through the work day.

Some of the debtors are easy enough to deal with. They know they owe money, they make an offer, I call them back with a response. Tedious, but not difficult. The problem is that far too many of the issues are out of the ordinary. Either the debtor argues that they don't owe this bill, or they don't have the money to pay and they give me a sob story about their hardship, or they get nasty with me. And it's my job to be the middleman; I can't just pass the difficult debtors off to an attorney (though I do try.)

Last week there was a woman who whined about her wage garnishment. She wanted to settle for an amount roughly $75 less than what she owed. My boss told me repeatedly that he won't accept her offer, and we're proceeding with our current course of action (already in progress.) I told her this three times but she keeps calling. He told me to "disregard her calls" - which is easy for him to do. But when I see her number pop up on the caller ID, I panic: if I have to argue with her one more time my blood pressure will skyrocket... but if I don't answer it, she'll just call back and talk to Receptionist Lady. And she'll just redirect the call back to me. 

I've learned to avoid a certain amount of confrontation by turning the telephone volume down (which allows me to not answer the phone if I so choose) and if it's a particularly difficult issue or a debtor that has called one too many times, I'll wait until they hang up and either a) fax something. quick. b) call a different debtor, and stay on the phone for as long as possible. or c) power-walk to the bathroom.

More often than not, this is what I feel like after a five-hour day of collection calls:

(right up until 0:46, when Ned Braden says "mother of god")

I started applying for full-time jobs almost immediately after beginning my job in collections. After all, I got the file clerk job after being unemployed for three years, I was promoted, and I've had a dozen different responsibilities with this firm. That's going to look great on my resume.. right?

And so today begins year four as a part-time employee at the same tiny little law firm that hired me to be a file clerk (God, that feels like a lifetime ago.) At least I have my own office, and I can still wear the same jeans/polo shirt/sneakers I wore when I started. I'll probably be stuck here forever - unless the attorneys retire or they fire me.

I'm practically in a permanent state of anxiety and frustration. Even if I'm at home, I'm scrambling to maximize every moment of not working... because the second I wake up, the nightmare starts all over again.

So, yeah.. I've been in a sour mood for most of the month. It's not just work stress. I'm drowning in negativity, bad outcomes, and family drama. I needed something to perk up my mood (besides baseball cards) and I thought that this video might be a welcome distraction, or possibly give me some tips on how to deal with my anxiety:

Was this video helpful?


God, she has completely lost her mojo. I used to love her stream-of-consciousness tangents, but she's just kinda rambling here. Her voice sounds kinda off. And she's reading from a screen. Come on girl, you're better than this!

I don't even know how I feel anymore. I know that the simple act of watching her video felt like a major decision I had to question multiple times - Are you sure you want to see this? Are you sure you want to know? It's like deciding to smoke a cigarette after you've gone without one for six months. You might feel good, you might feel guilty, you might need this one last drag to know that you're done forever. Or you might get addicted again. 

I'm sorta leaning towards three, but with a little bit of two sprinkled in. The only time I felt one was when I saw that she and GoPro Bro broke up. I mean... it's not like I'm happy she's single or whatever. It's just like.. let's say her life is the reality show that she wants it to be. I was into it from the beginning, but kinda lost interest after season three. She was dating this photographer dude who lived in a van and traveled all over the place taking pictures and doing action sports.. and they were a cute couple and all, but the whole time I'm thinking What kind of future can she have with this guy? He's always traveling, always out of town.. and he lives in a frickin van.

Then I stopped watching the show, missed the beginning of season four, and just checked in about halfway through. Her business is going well, her physique is/was on point.. but everything else is a mess. And she actually declared in a different video that she's a disappointment to her parents, which just makes her sound overdramatic. (ha! I'm one to talk.) Her mother even commented on said video to straighten her out. 

Btw, her mother has the exact same name as a local attorney here in the Jerz. When I saw the attorney's name on my office phone I thought oh I gotta take this call. Yes I'll fax you that information right away. And tell Kayla I said 'what's up?'

Ugh...I have been watching this "show" for far too long. And I have been at this job for far too long. I'd wish for a major life change, but it would almost certainly be something bad - and I cant handle any more negativity. 

I did take some much needed "me" time yesterday. Stayed home while the wife & kids went to Grandma's, sorted some basketball cards, caught up on Kayla videos, and blasted this old school jam for reasons I cannot explain:


Maybe it was all the old school basketball cards that brought this out of my brain. Whatever it was, it made me feel good for about six minutes. 

We're supposed to get a major snowstorm tomorrow. 12-18 inches. If I'm lucky I'll miss two days of work :-)

Now I'm the one rambling. Okay, I'll stop now. Thanks for reading!



Friday, March 3, 2017

Not Ready

I apologize for my extended absence here. I've been distracted by sports cards, and if I hadn't been I might have gone insane. My family is falling apart. Not my marriage, (though it's as bland and hopeless as ever) but my home base in Connecticut.

My nephew is getting a divorce. For reasons I cant explain (because I don't quite understand them myself) his wife has taken their six month old baby and left. From what my mother tells me, it sounds like H has been accusing my neph of some awful shit, threatened my other neph's new girlfriend, and basically lost her mind. I think she may be manic. My wife thinks it's post-partum, but if it is, she's not getting treatment and she's taking it out on the men in her life - which I guess is better than harming the baby (though I've heard she is a dangerously incompetent mother, so...)

I don't really know all the details. I called my mother yesterday, and she told me that H ran off to New Hampshire (where she's originally from, and where she met my nephew). My neph has hired a lawyer to try to get the baby back, but they're definitely getting divorced.

I haven't talked to my mom as much as I'd like, and whenever I call she gives me horrible news. While all of that madness was happening next door, my mom realized she is going to run out of money by the end of summer.

When my aunt died, we all assumed she had a ton of money tied up in investments, accounts, and liquid assets or whatever. Turns out there isn't as much as we all thought, and being that Mom is 74 and retired, she's had to live on a lot of it already.

Also, my (late) aunt owned a small beach house that my other aunt lives in. Neither she nor my mother can afford to 'own' it since the taxes are prohibitive and ownership of such a thing would prevent them from collecting SSi or whatever. My aunt did not think of this when she left the property to my mother. Someone is going to have to take the little shack off their hands, but that leaves Aunt S with no place to live. Which is just as well, since my mom wont have a home much longer, either.

As for my happy little home... I seem to live in a germ-infested rathole. My wife had to miss work once or twice last week because her father was very sick for a couple days and couldn't watch our kids. Then I got sick for three days. No sooner did I start feeling better than my wife got a horrible stomach bug. She's finally starting to get over it, after missing two more days of work.

My illness made me worry about all kinds of things, from the clutter and dust that fills every room in the house, to the worn down bed and couch we can't afford to replace, to my failing health. I had planned to dig out the exercise bike from the closet and ask my father in law to help me assemble it.. but I spent all day Saturday in bed. How can we start to get healthy if we're always sick? Perhaps I can dig it out tomorrow, I don't know.

I need to go back home and see my family. My 7 year old had suggested a while ago that we visit Grammie in CT, and she even picked a weekend - March 25th. I told my mom about it, and she asked yesterday if we're coming. But before I could even mention it to wifey, she's already telling me that my 7 year old might have soccer practice that weekend.. and she wouldn't mind going the weekend before, but it's St. Patrick's Day and she doesn't want to deal with the drunks on the road. Sigh... can't win.

The weather has been much too warm and pleasant lately. I swear that part of the reason I was sick was because the temps in NJ suddenly reached 70F and my body couldn't adjust. I couldn't tell if I had a fever or the chills or what. I feel better now, and the weather is still sunny but not quite as warm. Maybe 50's or so. 

And lately I've been thinking of the one or two times I used to take the day off and meet up with my BFF in New York City. I'm not a big fan of NYC, but it was so refreshing to just hang out there on a spring day, with no real plan other than a museum or something. The feeling of being in a big city on a lovely spring afternoon and worrying about nothing but "where should we go next?" I miss it.

Spring is an annual reminder of all the fun things I never really had in life..and it's come much too early this year. I'm not ready for it. I'm not ready for the nice weather, the nostalgia, the reminder that I'm so painfully old.. and that I'll never get to just skip work and hang out in the city again.

And I miss Joy. I miss her sweetness, her smile, and those big brown doll eyes. Not even thinking of Taryn lately... I need someone "real" on my mind. I need to feel young and alive and healthy and happy. I need those chill California vibes. 

I need to play this song on repeat until I fall asleep.

And I need to get back to your blogs.