Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Dying in threes?

Every newspaper I've ever worked for, or known much about, subscribes to the same legend -- that the deaths of famous people always come in threes.

Whenever a couple of celebrities die on the same day, somebody in the newsroom always wonders who'll be the third to take the fall. (Newspeople have the same strain of black humor that you find among EMTs, social workers, cops -- folks who see the dark side of life up close every day.)

So when I checked the news Monday morning and saw that Ingmar Bergman and Tom Snyder had died, my reflex thought was: "Who's next?"

Bill Walsh obliged.

(That's an interesting group, by the way. I'm not highbrow enough to know much about Bergman, except that one of his famous scenes was ripped off in one of the "Bill & Ted" movies. Tom Snyder I knew a little -- mainly because the theme to his show was the flip side of one of the first singles I ever bought, the Brothers Johnson's immortal "Get The Funk Out Ma Face." And I hated Bill Walsh when he coached the San Francisco 49ers because they CRUSHED my then-beloved Atlanta Falcons for, like, eight years straight. Plus he trained George Seifert, who later led the Panthers to a 1-15 season. Maybe we should just move on.)

I'm sure that those of you who are statistically inclined could say that famous people die all the time -- especially if you're willing to stretch your definition of famous people -- and so we've just conditioned ourselves to notice them in groups of three.

Can't argue with that.

But I think life is better when there are mysteries. One of my old college roommates swore that there was some weird electrical pulse in his body that made streetlights go out when he walked by. And, in fact, I saw this happen at least half a dozen times. Of course, I've seen streetlights go out at least 100 times when he wasn't around. But I'm still gonna go with that pulse thing until I hear different.

Noticed any interesting stuff that you can't quite explain? Speculate away in the comments. (But stay away from UFOs. I mean, at this point, who hasn't seen a UFO?)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Shed a tear for Bat Boy

Sad news from Florida -- the Weekly World News is going six feet under.

If you don't know the Weekly World News, clearly you have not spent any time over the last 20 years in a supermarket. The WWN used to sit in the rack near the checkout of every grocery store and Jiffy Mart in America. It had the eerie ability to leap right off the rack and into your hands. I swear, sometimes I'd get home and unload my bags and find it hiding in there, next to the Wheaties.

Sample headlines:




As you can see, the Weekly World News held itself to the highest journalistic standards.

The WWN actually had a Charlotte connection -- Eddie Clontz, who was the editor for years, grew up here. His brother, Derek, also worked for the paper. Eddie died in 2004 -- devoured by the Loch Ness Monster, I'm guessing.

The Weekly world News' greatest story was the continuing saga of Bat Boy, a (duh) half-bat, half-boy who was discovered in a cave in 1992. He turned up every year or two -- in fact, people who didn't read the WWN might not know this, but Bat Boy led U.S. troops into Iraq in the War on Terror. He also became the subject of an off-Broadway musical.

(Believe it or not, that last sentence is true.)

The paper also checked in regularly with a space alien who endorsed presidential candidates. The alien endorsed George W. Bush in 2004. So there's still hope that aliens might not be smarter than us after all.

Apparently the Weekly World News will remain on the Web -- good news for the people who need a regular dose of columnist Ed Anger. But it's easy to see why the print edition is shutting down. The WWN had to compete at the checkout rack with People, Us and Entertainment Weekly.

And frankly, Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears are battier than Bat Boy ever was.

Got a favorite tabloid story? Add favorite stories, UFO sightings, etc., in the comments.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Which sport do I watch now?

When I was a kid, I wasn't sure what I was going to be when I grew up, but I had it narrowed down to three things:

1. Professional baseball player.
2. Professional football player.
3. Professional basketball player.

OK, so my worldview was sort of narrow when I was a kid. (Actually, my real dream was "Professional kickball player," but I never could find a kickball game on TV, not even on "Wide World of Sports.")

Even then I knew that sports weren't all pure and beautiful -- I think a couple of the pitchers in my Little League years were already paying child support. But when you were watching a game -- or, especially, playing one -- you could escape the real world for awhile.

So let's take a look at my childhood dream jobs.

-- In baseball, the home-run record -- the most important record in sports -- is about to belong to a guy (Barry Bonds) who almost certainly took steroids to pad his stats.

-- In football, one of the game's best and most popular players (Michael Vick) is accused of setting up a dogfighting operation -- and killing the pit bulls that didn't measure up.

-- In basketball, a referee (Tim Donaghy) is accused of betting on games and giving big gamblers key info to help them beat the odds. It's a small step from there to the idea that he changed the outcome of games by calling fouls -- or not calling them -- at key moments.

I really try not to be one of those fogeys who talk about how much better life was back then. Mainly because I don't think it's true.

But July 2007 is a crappy time to be a sports-loving kid.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A Harry Potter confession

This will probably not do much for my street cred among writers, book lovers, and especially the folks chewing their nails waiting for "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" to land in their hands at 12:01 Saturday morning.

But here goes anyway.

I haven't read a single Harry Potter book. Not one page. Not one line.

My wife loves them, and we've been to see the HP movies together, and I like those just fine. But I can't quite make myself crack open one of the books. Even though roughly 171,000 people have told me how great they are and how my life will not be complete without them.

I can't explain how a professional writer has managed to miss out entirely on the most popular books in the last 50 years. I have three lame excuses:

One, I tend to resist things that people tell me my life will not be complete without. (I've never watched "Lost," either.)

Two, we're always bringing home books -- from work, bookstores, the library -- and I always find something I want to read just a little bit more. (This week's diversion: "Can I Keep My Jersey?", a smart and funny tale of life on the fringes of pro basketball by journeyman Paul Shirley.)

And three, the Harry Potter books are so popular that they're floating around in the ether -- they're in the news all the time, part of the chatter at the office, etc. You know all the basics without even picking up the books. They're so much a part of daily conversation when a new one comes out that millions of readers spent this week trying to AVOID hearing about it, lest they hear spoilers.

(Where did that "lest" come from? I'd never use "lest" in a real conversation. But it seems right for wizardry chat.)

Anyway, we've got the books, and we'll be acquiring the new one this weekend, so I'll probably take a vacation sometime and tackle the whole series end-to-end. But this leads to a question:

Is there some cultural touchstone that you've just never gotten around to touching?

Never seen "The Wizard of Oz?" Never listened to "Sgt. Pepper" all the way through? Never read any of Oprah's picks?

'Fess up in the comments.

Friday, July 06, 2007

What did you walk out on?

Generally, I'm a stay-to-the-end guy. Doesn't matter if the game is boring or the movie makes no sense or the lead singer can't hit a note with a tennis racket. Sometimes it's more fun to watch bad stuff than good stuff. Sometimes you might leave just before something great happens. And I've never cared about beating traffic.

Still, this Chicago Tribune blog post about walking out on movies made me go back and remember. I can think of two things I walked out on.

-- When I was in high school, the movie "Tess" came out. Here's the imdb.com description: A young strong-willed peasant girl, becomes the affection of two men, in the end tragically falling into the arms of one.

Just the kind of movie your typical teenage boy would love. In hell.

Best I can remember, I went for two reasons: 1) I had a crush on a girl who worked at the theater, and 2) The movie starred Nastassja Kinski, and I thought there was a chance she might get naked. I never found out about 2) because I fell asleep about 15 minutes in. When I woke up, men in Victorian wear were giving long speeches. So I left.

-- The other event I walked out on was in 1995, when my beloved Georgia Bulldogs played our hated rivals, the Florida Gators, in Athens. It was a special event because the teams usually play on a neutral field in Jacksonville. It turned out not to be a special event when Florida went up 35-0 in, I think, the second quarter. By then I was already halfway to my car. The final score was 52-17.

It hurt just to write that.

So... Have you ever been to something that was so bad you walked out? Or did something make you walk out for another reason (too scary, too loud, etc.)? Add your candidates in the comments.