Friday, June 22, 2012

Nurse the Hate: Hate The Gambling Problem

Yesterday I walked past the new Horseshoe Casino here in downtown Cleveland.  Like all casinos here in the United States, a large group of very elderly people were hobbling in to spend their Social Security money chasing dreams on the penny slots.  Other lost souls that had yet to acquire their oxygen tanks smoked in a penned in area outside, ready to return to high stakes nickel video poker.  Within eye sight was a public service sign.  “Gambling Problem?  Call 1-800-bla-blah” 

If you take a big hit on penny slots, what are you down?  Two bucks?  That’s not gambling.  If you lost less money than it would cost to feed yourself at Subway, have you really risked anything?  Let me tell you what gambling is…

We used to play cards in the van, mainly blackjack where I was the dealer.  The scenario was the same every time out.  I would ask Leo if he was interested in winning a prize that was a big score in the Leo Lifestyle (cigarettes and intoxicants mostly).  I would give Leo ten coins from the change drawer in the van, and those would act as his chips.  Let’s say he would have to buy the chips for a buck each, but if he could win ten chips from me, he would win 5 cases of beer or cartons of smokes.  It would always be a big win if he could score the ten chips.  The carrot was dangled o-so-very-close.

Sometimes Leo would win those chips from The House and score his prize.  Usually he didn’t.  This was the real object of the game from the rest of the band’s point of view.  The real game would start when we had Leo in a position where he couldn’t pay off his losses and he would no longer be able to cover it with money.  Leo would find himself hurtling down the highway somewhere in Indiana into the House (the van) for $40 and having an empty wallet in his jeans.  This would lead to negotiation where Leo could then risk “acts of degradation” to clear his slate.  That is real action!

You haven’t played high stakes blackjack until you have risked having to rub your own feces on your face and sing an Al Jolson song at a rest stop.  That truly makes hitting or holding on a soft 17 a real gut check with that dealer showing 8.  Each hand of cards became life and death, with Leo’s losses resulting in further and further degrading acts, usually imagined up by Bobby and myself.  We always gave Leo a chance to win his way out, but sometimes he had sunk to such lows that he just “paid off” to get himself out of the bookie’s grip.  It was during this time period Leo:

  • had “Matt the Wonder Roadie” fart directly in his face one (1) playing card length while he kept his mouth wide open.  This was after Matt had spent the evening drinking Old Style draft and eating Burger King onion rings.
  • walked into a high volume redneck Speedway location in rural Indiana dressed in cowboy boots, bike shorts, a pink wife beater, and a scarf tied around his neck accented by Elvis sunglasses to pay for our gas
  • had to eat any actual food item we purchased for him in an Arkansas gas station, which turned out to be a pickled pig’s foot he gnawed on like a dog
-          Note:  This was later thrown out of the van when Leo said “I can’t bite through this!  I don’t think you can even call this food!”  It is probably still undigested on the Arkansas roadside.

Maybe the worst situation he found himself in was when he lost and had to piss himself in full view of a party that we attended at Champaign IL.  At one point, he considered risking having to walk into Skins N Tins drum shop, drop to the floor and shit himself.  He would then have had to scream out “Baby Leo has dirty diaper!  Baby Leo has dirty diaper!”.  Since he had a long relationship with the shop owner and staff, Leo didn’t want to risk that scarlet letter being attached to his name.  Instead, he opted to pay off his earlier loss, wetting himself in front of strangers. 

Say what you will about Leo, but he does pay off his gambling debts.  However, when you see a grown man look over at you across a living room and say “It’s time…” and then stand in the room with an ever expanding stain growing in his jeans while people roar in laughter, that’s when you say to yourself ‘I don’t know if this is rock bottom, but it is in the same general neighborhood.”  If there had been that gambling problem billboard outside of that house, I think Leo would have made that call in his soggy urine soaked jeans.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Nurse the Hate: It Was Me... It was me

I have a terrible story to tell you.  It has been a burden that I have carried for many years.  I feel now is the time for me to cleanse my conscience and move on from this horrible experience and begin anew…

Around 2002 The Cowslingers were playing a show in Charleston IL.  This was one of our favorite towns to play because of an odd collection of people that partied like bikers on a speed binge and also had impeccable taste in music.  These people turned every show into a descent into madness.  “The Twenty”, as they were known in the van, turned every show into a careen off the road car wreck of a good time.  The one show we played at the Dungeon with El Vez was memorable not because the entire crowd was baked on mushrooms and gallons of beer, but when a subgroup of The Twenty carried off an “Elvette” (one of El Vez’s female backup singers) off into the night like a Viking taking their loot.

We used to play this wild multi band bill that Friends and Company, the tavern side of the Dungeon, used to put on called The Turkey Testicle Festival.  For those of you wondering what a turkey testicle tastes like, think of a very dense deep fried mushroom.  I had never really thought of a turkey having testicles, but clearly these birds need to make more little birds, so it makes sense.  The bar would send someone to a slaughterhouse to buy gigantic containers of testicles at some mammoth discount.  They would then spend the night before breading the little lumps of flesh and get them ready for the deep fryer.  You do what you have to do to have fun in the Midwest.

We were pretty popular in town, so we would usually play late on the bill.  The particular festival I am thinking about now had the bands performances split into early shows in Friends, and then a big three band bill next store in The Dungeon.  The bars were actually all the same building, and had the office and storage area acting as a buffer between them.  The bar at Friends was really crazy that afternoon.  Most of The Twenty had commenced drinking that morning, and the rest of the townsfolk must have followed suit.  It was like being at Clancy O’Toole’s on St Patrick’s Day.  You could see eyes starting to roll back into heads, and conversations that went nowhere surrounded you no matter where you stood.

When you are the only sober person in a room that is like 3:25 AM New Year’s Eve, you hit a breaking point.  I remember hanging out in the office area with some of the staff while the party raged on in the growing dusk.  I had a couple beers so I had to go to the men’s room.  I didn’t want to have to go back to the bar and wait in line, so I went through to the Dungeon side, which would remained closed until 8 pm.  The plan went haywire when I couldn’t find a light switch to find and use the men’s room over there.  I was out of options.  I went back to the crazy Friend’s side and waited in line.

Things started to mellow out.  You could tell that a good portion of the crowd was just plain out of gas.  We took over a few seats at the bar.  Bobby and Leo were to my left.  We ordered some beers, and got down to what any good indie rock band does…  Wait around.  I saw Charlie Watts in a Rolling Stones 25th Anniversary documentary give this great line.  The interviewer says “Charlie?  What’s it been like being a Rolling Stone for 25 years?”   Charlie is milling around backstage and says, “It’s really only been five years.  The other twenty was just standing around.” 

While we were sitting there, a bar back comes walking from the office/Dungeon area to the bar cursing up a storm.  “Where’s the fucking mop?  Some asshole shit all over the floor in there!”  Everyone in the area looked over at the now mounting scene with wide eyes.  The guy was understandably upset.  That’s when I noticed Leo put his head down and whisper to Bob.  Bob then starts laughing.  Leo?  What is it?  He turns to me and whispers, “It was me!  It was me!”

At some point Leo must have gone through the same assessment of the situation that I did.  The men’s room in Friend’s was not a safe haven for a man needing to have a bowel movement.  It was like a men’s room at Mardi Gras.  He then made the logical decision to head over to the nice private Dungeon bathroom and take care of business there.  Like me, he discovered that the light switch was not immediately available.  This is where out tales differ…

Leo decided to work his way in the complete darkness and try to feel his way to the men’s.  He had played the club before, so he had a pretty good idea where the toilets were.  After slowly feeling and backing into what he thought was the men’s toilet, he let loose with a monstrous movement that exploded over the general area.  Because he wasn’t positive on where he was, and instead of confirming his proximity to the toilet, he decided he was probably in the right location and just let it rip.  I don’t know how he figured out he had made a mistake.  It was probably from the sound of the fecal matter hitting floor and wall instead of ceramic encased water.

There are many questions swirling from that incident.  If he wasn’t at the toilet, how did he wipe?  How exactly did he feel his way to the area, and what did he touch on his way there?  How did he decide that the risk was worth the reward?  How could he just walk away from such a horrific offense to Man?  Leo, in the moment, had descended into beast.  He was no different than something you keep in a stall in a barn.  The Dungeon employees must have thought a feral hog had broken into the bar.

I suppose I can understand why he didn’t ask the bar personnel for cleaning supplies.  “Hey, I just shit all over the floor and walls.  Do you have a mop and a bucket?  How about a hose?”  That really opens you up to a lot of very uncomfortable questions.  Still, I think if you make a mistake of that magnitude, you have to man up and get that mop.  Then again, it was a swirling pit of humanity with bellies filled with whiskey, beer, and turkey testicles.  Many bad decisions were made that day.  Leo’s was just one of many.

You will probably look a Leo differently now.  Well, I guess you probably won’t.  However, I think we can all agree it is for the best to just move on from that ugly little incident. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Nurse the Hate: Still Hate LeBron

I really dislike LeBron James.  I can’t help it.  I’m not even that big of an NBA fan, but every single time I see that guy he annoys me.  Before you start pointing your finger at me like I am a scorned lover, I would like to go on record as saying I have no problem in that he opted to go to Miami to work.  If I could go to Miami to work in that situation, I would gladly pack up.  It’s not what LeBron does, so much as the way he does it.  There’s no need to retread old ground.  Why go into The Decision?  Why go into that Welcome to Miami party he threw himself?  That’s old news.  LeBron James managed to go from being one of the most beloved basketball players into being a Kreep with a capital “K” in a shocking turn of events.  From a public relations standpoint, it is absolutely fascinating.

The thing with LeBron is that the public actually got a quick peek at who he really was with The Decision and the fallout afterwards.  That dude bungled that situation so badly, had ten million armchair pundits like me agree and say exactly why he messed it up.  EVERYONE agreed he fucked that up.  Then he pouted through the entire next season like he was the victim.  It shouldn’t be surprising though, should it?  If you have been having your ass kissed since you were 12, it’s probably pretty difficult to see a realistic point of view.  You have a pack of lackeys around you yukking it up 24/7 suckling off the LeBron teat.  “Ho ho ho!  Right you are LeBron.  That’s a funny one LeBron!”  I bet those guys make Elvis’s old Memphis Mafia look like a military tribunal in comparison. 

The public forgives and forgets almost everything, but most of the nation still loved seeing him fail (again) last year in the Playoffs.  Then things started to change in the way the media covered him this Spring.  You may have noticed that he has finally replaced whatever grade school public relations firm he had representing him back when he made The Decision and afterwards.  This was long overdue.  A college student taking a public relations class would have shot LeBron in the leg before letting him walk onto that set and “take his talents” to South Beach live on ESPN.  However, LeBron is so remarkably detached from reality that he was soon holding a Q score just south of Idi Amin and shocked at what happened.  That’s what you get for having your high school buddies handle something grownups need to do.  I wouldn’t let my buddies paint my garage much less put together a press conference.   Hell, my buddies actually went to college instead of picking up my dry cleaning for the last four years too.

You couldn’t avoid seeing that LeBron started to appear in news and sports stories about having fun and playing basketball.  This is the repositioning of the smiling wunderkind.  The poor boy rising from the ashes childhood story was retold, and LeBron even commented on how he would like to return to Cleveland before he was done.  This obvious pandering was ignored here, but national media took the bait.  You can tell that people that know what they are doing are trying to return to the public eye “Fun Loveable LeBron”.  That sells basketball shoes, soda, and fast food.  Then before the Playoffs, Sports Illustrated ran a fawning story about the fragile human side of this sports star, and his dedication to winning a championship.  The PR team was trying to give the public someone they could once again root for.  In short, someone very smart is making decisions in Kamp LeBron.

That someone is an old PR strategist that handled Arnold Schwarzenegger gubernatorial race and the after shocks of Arnold having a kid with the maid, having sex with anything that moved, and being a difficult to understand action movie star.  In short, this guy is a real pro.  In another year, most of the country will think LeBron is a swell guy.  Think about it.  Most people forget Kobe sexually assaulted a girl in a hotel.  Allegedly.  This LeBron thing should be easy in comparison.

I’m sure that the sum of money these people are being paid to manufacture positive stories and massage existing coverage must be awe inspiring.  However, if you are LeBron, you better pony up.  Back when he willingly put himself in a position to look stupid on national TV, he told you everything you needed to know.  He wants to be a Billionaire and he think he deserves it because he is The Chosen One.  And the only way he is going to get to be a Billionaire is to win that elusive championship and appear to be humble.  I think he can do one of these eventually, but not both at the same time.  It’s just not who he is.  I can’t wait to watch this well laid plan fall apart.

Go Celtics.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Nurse the Hate: Hate The Brand

I was reading an article in Sports Illustrated where LA Dodger Matt Kemp declared one of his goals was to become a “brand” like Jay-Z.  “Brand” has become the latest buzzword from dumbass athletes and entertainers that is really just an extension of the third person conversation from egotistical celebrities.  Example:  “Rickey don’t like it when Rickey can’t find Rickey’s limo”- Rickey Henderson.  

There was an odd transition that occurred at some point in the last decade when athletes stopped worrying about making big money on just a contract based on their performance.  The focus came on becoming a global iconic pitchman for shoes, sugar water, and other high profit crap that 12-24 year olds buy.  The Michael Jordan model is the one that every one of these dopes is trying to emulate.  The problem is that most of them have failed to realize that Michael Jordan achieved unparalleled excellence and championships, and then used that to leverage sponsorship dollars. 

Matt Kemp was getting booed off the field in LA in 2010, which is pretty difficult to do in a city that doesn’t really care about anything except the Lakers and movie box office totals.  He had a great year last year, but I think it’s a little early to be worried about your “brand”.  For God's sake, you aren't even one of the 50 most famous people in Los Angeles.  If you can walk around in public without people freaking out and trying to take your picture, you may not have a “brand”.  Well, maybe you do, but it’s a brand like Dave’s Cosmic Subs not McDonalds.

Do you remember that 60 Minutes story a few years ago where LeBron James unashamedly spoke about his desire to become the first billionaire athlete?  He was talking about his “brand” trying to appear like a knowledgeable marketing whiz when the interviewer asked the most basic question of all.  “What does a company get when they get LeBron James?”  Umm…  Ahh… You get me… 


These guys need to shut the fuck up and keep this brand discussion in their agent’s office.  The lack of self-awareness is stunning.  The public wants to buy in with people they see as having desirable characteristics.  Talking about yourself publicly like you are a product probably isn’t the best way to achieve that goal. 

You know who you don’t hear talking about their “brand”? Michael Jordan.  That guy has a zillion skeletons in his closet, but you never hear anything about him.  As far as I know, he has never said anything of substance in any interview.  The public persona of MJ is a dedicated hard worker that goes the distance to win.  What do you know about him or what he thinks about anything?  Beyond the story that has been carefully crafted? Zip.  He’s a guy that truly understands what being a global brand is all about.  Publicly just be who people expect you to be.  No need to let anyone behind the magic curtain and tell them what your plan is…

Here’s the playbook.  Win some games.  Perform on the field.  Win a championship or two.  Don’t say anything stupid.  Leave the brand talk to your agents.