Journal In A Jar – Part 9: ‘Worst Vacation Ever.’

“Do You Recall Any Outstanding Family Trips You Experienced As A Child?”

When I was 6 (Summer of 1987, I believe), my parents took me and my cousin Scott to Walt Disney World. We drove to Florida, which took a few days, spent a few days in Orlando and drove a few days back. I remember very little about the time spent at Disney, other than not being allowed on a large majority of the rides. There are photos though, and it looks like I had a fairly good time. What sticks in my head most was my dad driving well over 100 mph in Atlanta for hours at a time, and the lingering suspicion that I saw a ghost in the hallway one night at some random hotel. My parents tried to make memories for me; they wouldn’t be happy if they realized that these were the only ones that I kept.

I also remember a trip to Kentucky, where we put six people in a 5-person vehicle for the entire duration (it was a tense several hours). I think I was 10 at the time, and the highlight of the vacation was me challenging a mentally handicapped kid to a footrace. I can’t remember if I won; I certainly hope that I did.

My family never had a ton of cash for big vacations, so when we wanted to get away, we usually went to Wisconsin Dells, The House On The Rock, or something else that equated to nothing more than a long weekend. I hold these trips fondly; I still go to the Dells every now and again, and the childhood nostalgia keeps me coming back to that mecca of t-shirt stands and mini-golf.

Oh, wait, I do have a vivid memory of riding Pirates Of The Caribbean at Disney World. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, too. That ride kicked ass.

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day. For more information on Journal In A Jar, click here.

Journal In A Jar – Part 8: ‘Wanted Mom.’

“Write A Want Ad That Describes Your Mother.”

WANTED!

A little neurotic. A little phobic. A bit of an enabler. Eternally optimistic. Prone to bouts of extreme selflessness. Someone who will love me for who I am and how I make them feel. Someone whose trust is their chief blessing and greatest downfall. Someone who cries when they get a photograph for Christmas. A brilliant singing voice. Obsessively clean and neat. Always there. Always supportive. A fantastic storyteller. Comedic timing.

Must be under 5’1″. No fat chicks, please.

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day. For more information on Journal In A Jar, click here.

Journal In A Jar – Part 7: ‘Above The Fold.’

“Tell About Some Of The Most Notable People In Your Hometown.”

I currently live in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, which was the birthplace of Georgia O’Keeffe. Sun Prairie is home to some other famous faces, but none more recognizable than Ms. O’Keeffe.

I was raised in Larsen, Wisconsin, which was the birthplace of author, blogger and raconteur Ryan J. Zeinert. If there is anyone from Larsen that thinks they are more famous than I am, I suggest contacting me so we can settle it with a fistfight at the Historical Society.

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day. For more information on Journal In A Jar, click here.

Journal In A Jar – Part 6: ‘WMGV.’

“Did You Have A Favorite TV Show As A Child? Radio Show?”

I’m copying and pasting my answer from a post I did over a year ago, but all of the answers still hold strong.

1981/1982
WINNER – M.A.S.H. (premiered in 1972)
RUNNER UP – Three’s Company (premiered in 1977)
HONORABLE MENTION – The Incredible Hulk (premiered in 1978)

M.A.S.H. was already deep into syndication by the time I was old enough to understand it, but it was that same exposure that made me realize the significance of the program (as we all know, the series finale attracted over 105 million viewers). I was initially drawn to Three’s Company because of the slapstick antics of the late John Ritter, but as I get older, I enjoy it because it’s one of the filthiest sitcoms of all-time. The Incredible Hulk hasn’t aged very well, or spawned anything even resembling an interesting film, but it’s still good for nostalgia’s sake.

1982/1983
WINNER – Cheers
RUNNER UP – Knight Rider
HONORABLE MENTION – Family Ties

The Missus, in her lifelong quest to hold grudges for the most superficial reasons ever, hates Cheers because she hates Ted Danson (for a reason which still escapes me). The rest of us know that it was one of the greatest and best-written television shows (comedy or drama) of all-time. The fact that they rarely left the bar and still managed 11 seasons of brilliance is proof enough. Knight Rider has greatly diminished in retro appeal since the remake and subsequent fall from grace of David Hasselhoff, and Family Ties still reminds me of just how cute Justine Bateman was and still is.

1983/1984
WINNER – The A-Team
RUNNER UP – Webster
HONORABLE MENTION – Newhart (premiered in 1982)

The A-Team was a hilarious cavalcade of unnecessary violence, pro wrestler cameos and tricked-out GMC vans. The recent rumor of a film remake sounds pointless, but almost expected in this current state of zero Hollywood ideas. Webster will be remembered by me for having a series finale that consisted of the family inexplicably traveling into space with the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Newhart was another classic that I started watching too late, but can look back on fondly as a man-child.

1984/1985
WINNER – Miami Vice
RUNNER UP – Hunter
HONORABLE MENTION – Charles In Charge

Miami Vice was far more influential than given credit for. The use of music, imagery and location has since been mimicked into oblivion by essentially every flashy crime show on television. Hunter ruled because Sgt. Hunter’s weapon of choice was a 9mm that he used to pretty much kill at least one person every week. Charles In Charge was a springboard for the limitless talent and world-renowned celebrity of Willie Aames.

1985/1986
WINNER
– Amazing Stories
RUNNER UP – MacGyver
HONORABLE MENTION – The Equalizer

Can someone please tell me why the Second Season of Amazing Stories hasn’t been released on DVD yet? After winning 5 Emmys (and being nominated for 12), NBC pulled the plug on this incredible anthology series created by Steven Spielberg in 1987. MacGyver needs no explanation, and The Equalizer seems to be a somewhat-forgotten all-time TV badass. “You wanna know what I do for a living? I kill people!

1986/1987
WINNER – Sledge Hammer!
RUNNER UP – ALF
HONORABLE MENTION – Perfect Strangers

Sledge Hammer! was one of the first ‘spoof’ shows I had ever seen as a kid, and it was like nothing I had ever seen before. Even then, I loved the idea of tearing apart cliche’ in absurd and over-the-top ways, and I consider it a large influence on my sense of humor. ALF is absolute trash if you happen to watch it in present day, but at the time, it was a major hit, and Perfect Strangers was always absolute trash, although nobody in America happened to know at the time; presumably hypnotized by the rugged good looks of Bronson Pinchot.

1987/1988
WINNER – Full House
RUNNER UP – Max Headroom
HONORABLE MENTION – Thirtysomething

I’m something of a Full House junkie; I’ve seen every episode at least three times, I can tell you what the episode is about within the first 30 seconds and I can relay every character arc at the drop of a hat. Max Headroom was ahead of its time, and it probably still is, honestly. Thirtysomething was the first in a long line of shows where friends sit around and cry about things, and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t awesome.

1988/1989
WINNER – The Wonder Years
RUNNER UP – Unsolved Mysteries
HONORABLE MENTION – China Beach

Now we’re getting somewhere. I know I’m not alone in saying that The Wonder Years was one of the greatest TV shows of all -time, in that it laid the blueprint for hundreds of shows thereafter. The fact that there hasn’t been a complete DVD release is almost criminal (securing music rights is what’s keeping dozens of brilliant television shows off of DVD). Unsolved Mysteries doesn’t necessarily fall into the Comedy or Drama category, but as a kid, this was the scariest show on national television; I still remember the Tip Line 1-800 Number by heart. China Beach was a critically-acclaimed and multiple Emmy award-winning war series that was taken off the air after poor ratings sealed its fate.

1989/1990
WINNER – The Simpsons
RUNNER UP – COPS
HONORABLE MENTION – Seinfeld

Wow; what a year. The FOX Network becomes a ratings powerhouse nationwide, bringing with them two shows that are still in production to this day. The Simpsons is, without question, the greatest television show of the 20th Century (just ask Time Magazine), COPS is a show that I pray runs forever (and why couldn’t it?), and Seinfeld was the funniest live-action sitcom ever made. Jeepers.

1990/1991
WINNER – Twin Peaks
RUNNER UP – Get A Life
HONORABLE MENTION – The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air

Even as a 9 year old, I loved the hell out of Twin Peaks. The amount of intrigue and attention the first season of this David Lynch show received was unparalleled until the debut of Lost. As an adult, the DVDs remind me that it stands the test of time…well, Season One, at least. Get A Life was too weird, even for FOX standards, and the fact that The Fresh Prince is now on Nick At Nite makes me feel like I’m about a billion years old.

1991/1992

WINNER – Eerie, Indiana
RUNNER UP – Herman’s Head
HONORABLE MENTION – Blossom

Attempting to cash in on the Twin Peaks method of ‘weird is in,’ NBC scored huge (with me, at least) with Eerie, Indiana. America needs the wisdom of Herman’s Head now more than ever, and I’d probably still chop off one of my fingers for just one night alone with Six from Blossom.

1992/1993

WINNER – Picket Fences
RUNNER UP – Dateline NBC
HONORABLE MENTION – Roseanne (premiered in 1988)

More Twin Peaks-style weirdness (it was fairly influential, you see), this time on CBS and set in Wisconsin! Picket Fences was more well-received than Eerie, Indiana, and boasted a great cast to boot. Dateline NBC redefined the ‘News Magazine’ format and is still one of my favorite television shows in the True Crime format, and Roseanne began a stretch of incredible seasons that, unfortunately, hit the toilet faster than you can say ‘Tom Arnold.’

1993/1994

WINNER – The X-Files
RUNNER UP – Phenom
HONORABLE MENTION – Frasier

Without Twin Peaks, there would be no The X-Files, and creator Chris Carter knows it, too. Fortunately, The X-Files carved out its own legacy, becoming one of the most terrifying, interesting and influential shows in history. When you watch some of the best X-Files episodes, rest assured that you’re watching some of the best televised sci-fi ever filmed. Phenom was a hilarious and almost instantly-forgotten show about an up-and-coming, young tennis star and her family, and Frasier would soon be remembered as an intelligent, brilliantly-written and worthy successor to Cheers.

1994/1995

WINNER – The Critic
RUNNER UP – My So-Called Life
HONORABLE MENTION – Party Of Five

In 1994, The Simpsons couldn’t have been any bigger than if it were 1989, and the idea of a spin-off was music to the ears of fans. The Critic wasn’t the hit it could have been, but much like Futurama, there are flashes of brilliance in every episode. My So-Called Life wasn’t nearly as good as people remember it being, but it launched the career of Claire Danes, one of the worst actresses of my generation. Party Of Five did the same thing for Neve Campbell, Scott Wolf and Jennifer Love-Hewitt, while Matthew Fox managed to snag Lost almost a decade later.

1995/1996

WINNER – NewsRadio
RUNNER UP – American Gothic
HONORABLE MENTION – Ned & Stacey

For those that keep wondering, “Why won’t people shut up about NewsRadio?“, it was honestly that good. Anything with Phil Hartman is amazing (even that Atari commercial he did in the 80’s), but the rest of the cast (yes, even Andy Dick) really drove home the underrated power of this show. American Gothic was a short-lived, Twin Peaks-esque series that I don’t recall surviving for very long, and I probably only watched two episodes of Ned & Stacey, but thought it was pretty funny at the time. And Deborah Messing is freaking beautiful.

1996/1997

WINNER – ER (premiered in 1994)
RUNNER UP – Early Edition
HONORABLE MENTION – Men Behaving Badly

As ER mercifully enters its final season this year, I’m forced to remember a time when it really was the best new show on television. George Clooney, for Christ’s sake! Early Edition was not a show I admitted to watching at the time, but man, Kyle Chandler is seriously one of the best male, dramatic actors on television (he sucks at straight-ahead comedy, as ‘What About Joan?’ can attest to). While I wouldn’t watch a show like Men Behaving Badly now, I thought this Americanized version was fairly funny while it lasted.

1997/1998
WINNER – King Of The Hill
RUNNER UP – Ally McBeal
HONORABLE MENTION – Working

It took a long time for a worthy comparative animated series to The Simpsons to arrive, but it did in a big way with King Of The Hill. Mike Judge, to me, is the king of underrated satire, and he hits both sides of the spectrum with the Beavis & Butthead/King Of The Hill universe. Ally McBeal launched my two-year long obsession with Calista Flockhart, and the Fred Savage NBC series Working could have been remembered with as much appreciation as The Office had it had the time to percolate.

1998/1999
WINNER
– Sports Night
RUNNER UP – Dawson’s Creek
HONORABLE MENTION – That 70’s Show

Looking back through TV history, it’s a shame to see all of the great shows that were canceled far too soon, only to pave the way for a major hit years later (presumably when the audience has finally caught up to the previous show). Sports Night is one of those shows, and their huge current following only solidifies their significance. Dawson’s Creek was a show that I simultaneously loved and hated as a High School Sophomore, knowing full well that teenagers don’t talk that that, Katie Holmes didn’t exist in my reality and Joshua Jackson carried a season-long affair with one of his teachers. That 70’s Show started off extremely shaky, but went on to become a huge hit thanks to the skyrocketing celebrity of some of the worst actors in the cast.

1999/2000
WINNER
– Futurama
RUNNER UP – Action
HONORABLE MENTION – Freaks And Geeks

If you didn’t like Futurama when it debuted, do yourself a favor and check out a rerun on Comedy Central. It’s actually funnier now than it was then. Action was another Sports Night-esque series that pushed the boundaries on network television (bleeped profanities were part of the show, much like we later saw with the Documentary-style shooting of Arrested Development). Freaks and Geeks owes a lot to shows like The Wonder Years, although it more than carved out its own new millennium niche.

2000/2001
WINNER
– Malcolm In The Middle
RUNNER UP – Survivor
HONORABLE MENTION – CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

Even though the ratings, Emmy nominations and awards say otherwise, I still think that Malcolm In The Middle is one of the most underrated sitcoms in modern television history. They just brought everything to the battle, every single week. Survivor is still a ratings juggernaut, but nothing will compare to that first season, where seemingly everyone in the nation was watching. Then American Idol came along and (rightfully) took away their thunder. CSI was unlike anything I’d ever seen when it premiered, and now it looks like pretty much everything that you see on CBS six nights a week.

2001/2002
WINNER – The Bernie Mac Show
RUNNER UP – Fear Factor
HONORABLE MENTION – Undeclared

While the show fizzled after the departure of the head writer and creator, the first two seasons of The Bernie Mac show were absolutely hilarious and perfectly well-written. Fear Factor needed to be watched for the curiosity appeal alone, and Undeclared took the American Pie 00’s humor template and almost instantly got canceled.

2002/2003
WINNER
– Andy Richter Controls The Universe
RUNNER UP – Oliver Beene
HONORABLE MENTION – American Idol

I don’t know what the mainstream has against Andy Richter, but he just can’t carry a show to save his life, no matter how hilarious it was. Andy Richter Controls The Universe could have been on par with 30 Rock had it the time to get over with the audience. Oliver Beene was exceedingly similar to Everybody Hates Chris, and as you should probably tell by now, the Wonder Years style of sitcom storytelling makes me a very happy guy. Maybe a decade from now, I’ll have my own show like that…..erm…or not. Then American Idol showed up and destroyed everything in its path for the next six years.

2003/2004
WINNER
– Arrested Development
RUNNER UP – Grounded For Life (premiered in 2001)
HONORABLE MENTION – Cracking Up

There is nothing I can tell you about Arrested Development that would be an exaggeration of its comedic and satirical brilliance. Buy the DVDs and watch them. Then watch them again. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the post-Seinfeld measuring stick by which every sitcom will be judged. Grounded For Life, to me, may have been the last great pre-Arrested sitcom. Cracking Up was only on for a month or so, but worked very well with shows like Malcolm and Arrested in the FOX Sunday night lineup.

2004/2005
WINNER – Lost
RUNNER UP – The Office
HONORABLE MENTION – House, M.D.

Shocking as it may seem, I did not see the first season of Lost until I bought the DVD that Winter. Within hours, I was obsessed and certain that this was the best TV drama since Twin Peaks over a decade earlier. The Office took an American remake and actually pulled it off, becoming a hit and winning Emmys left and right. House also became one of the most-watched shows on television, now entering their 5th season and making Hugh Laurie over $500,000 an episode. This was clearly a good year for new programming; perhaps the last good one.

2005/2006
WINNER
– Sons & Daughters
RUNNER UP – My Name Is Earl
HONORABLE MENTION – Night Stalker

This season was extremely frustrating for me, as two of my most favorite up-and-coming shows, Sons & Daughters and the remake of Night Stalker were canceled too quickly. Sons & Daughters was a slightly-improvisational show that I recommend tracking down on your Bittorrent site of choice, and Night Stalker was unbelievably violent and engaging for a national prime time series. They both could have been stand-alone diamonds, but instead were sent to the curb after a combined two months of lackluster ratings (Sons & Daughters was up against American Idol in the ratings, and Night Stalker was matched with CSI, almost guaranteeing disaster from the start). My Name Is Earl solidified the NBC ‘Must-See Thursday’ lineup, which is currently the best night of comedy on TV.

2006/2007
WINNER
– Friday Night Lights
RUNNER UP – 30 Rock
HONORABLE MENTION – Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip

You wait your entire life to find a show like Friday Night Lights. A blend of nearly everything you’d want in an intelligent drama; I give you my word that Season One of FNL is the greatest season of television that I have ever seen, just barely edging out Lost. 30 Rock is the funniest show on television, and the closest thing we have to Arrested Development in 2008, and Studio 60 was the most satisfying and interesting hour of television I would see each week, until its inevitable cancellation.

I would add a new section for 2008-2010, but really, is there anything new out there that’s good?

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day. For more information on Journal In A Jar, click here.

Journal In A Jar – Part 5: ‘Shoot To Kill.’

“Tell About A Fishing Or Hunting Experience.”

My dad has very transparent interests. He likes to hunt, he likes to fish, and he likes to talk about hunting and fishing. If he died tomorrow, I would bet that his love of hunting and/or fishing would show up no later than line two of his obituary. It’s his life; in fact, he makes a living running a game bird farm in the town I grew up in. He has his business, he has his beautiful stretch of land, he has his guns, cold beer and friends; I’d argue he’s living a far happier life than I am.

You may think that I’m being condescending, but I’m really not; I envy my dad’s life. Considering how miserable he seems to be at any given time, however, this is a bit of a conflicting statement.

When I was younger, I can imagine that dad was worried about me. Sure, I played sports and stayed outdoors and active on the family farm, but my love was always writing, drawing, acting things out and essentially living in a liberal, fruity fantasy world (as an adult, I moved to Madison, an actual liberal, fruity fantasy world). That being said, he tried to get me to see the world his way- his family’s way- and signed me up for a Hunter’s Safety course with the payoff being an eventual deer hunt with me and my old man.

The Hunter’s Safety course was spectacular. I got to hang out with my friends, watch woefully out-of-date PSA’s about getting lost and subsequently going apeshit in the woods, and most importantly…handle and fire weaponry. The first time I fired a shotgun, I was knocked backwards and onto the ground, but I hit that cardboard deer right in the face (I would later find out that the goal wasn’t to blow a deer’s head clean off). I passed the test with flying colors, and weeks later, I was decked out in blaze orange, accompanying my dad on the first of what I figured would be many deer hunts in my life. A true bonding experience.

This venture was obviously doomed from the start, but I want to let you know that I tried. I was at a point in my life where I still ate meat, still didn’t care what lived and died. I had slaughtered virtually hundreds of small animals with BB guns, and thought that my natural graduation to larger weapons and larger game was just something I was born to do. In a way, I was.

The first morning, I almost instantly fell asleep in the deer stand. Getting up at 3am shouldn’t come normal to anyone, and by the time I woke up, it was time to go home for lunch.

That afternoon, though, was when I faced a defining moment in my life. There we were, my dad and I, chatting about some arbitrary topic, when a good-sized doe came scampering out of the woods. I did not have a doe tag (you need to purchase specific licenses when you hunt), but my dad did, and told me that he wanted me to take the shot.

I nodded and took aim. The doe was absolutely beautiful, wandering and looking around with no idea that she was in the crosshairs. It was at that moment that I thought about why people kill animals that they love and find beautiful. I hold no position against hunting and I don’t think that hunters are bad people in the least, but at that moment, I knew that killing wasn’t for me.

I can’t do it,” I said. The doe ran off before any more danger could befall it.

As you can imagine, I never went deer hunting again. I don’t think my dad held any ill will towards me for my epiphany; he was always fairly patient with my quirks and bizarre behavior as a kid (ignoring stuff didn’t hurt, either). Even now, on the rare chance I get to visit his Game Farm, he will normally parade around his latest trophy with glee, and I can’t help but be happy for the guy. He’s doing exactly what he wants to be doing right now, and how can you dislike a guy for that?

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day. For more information on Journal In A Jar, click here.

Journal In A Jar – Part 4: ‘Pants Optional.’

“Would You Choose Differently If You Could Choose Your Occupation Again? Why? How? Any Advice?”

I can honestly say that I’ve never actively chosen any occupation that I’ve ever had in my entire life. Every single employment opportunity that has befallen me has been due to sheer luck or happenstance. Even in circumstances where I have been promoted, it still seemed out of my hands for some reason.

Any odd jobs and part-time work that I had before graduating from High School was solely at the insistence of my mother (cutting grass, hardware store, etc.). From there, I was hired into my current office at random (during a hiring freeze, I might add), promoted by my supervisor into a new position without even being consulted on the matter, and eventually settling into my current position after a slew of retirements and shifting. I’ve been there for six years and counting.

I’ve been collecting paychecks since I was 16 years old, and I’ve never had a hand in choosing the work that I did. Ever. Not once. I have yet to determine if this is unfathomably sad, or amazingly rare. And no, ‘freelance writer’ doesn’t count, as I didn’t even realize that I had a small business on my hands until two months after my first book came out. I consider that a happy accident.

The above photo is a shot of me at the hardware store with my boss (he could put out fires with his mustache). This was taken for a local farming magazine that year, and when I got the copy in the mail, I saw that my entire body had been Photoshopped over with a picture of the owner. This outtake photo that was given to me is pretty much the only proof that I ever worked there at all.

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your weekend. For more information about Journal In A Jar, click here.

Journal In A Jar – Part 3: ‘Charlene.’

“What Instrument Do You Play Or Wish You Could Play? Why?”

The instrument I do play is the drums. I’ve been a drummer since March of 1994, when I saw Green Day perform ‘Basket Case’ on The Late Show With David Letterman. Not many people can pinpoint ‘turning points’ in their lives, but that was a huge one for me; less than a week later, I was the proud owner of a vintage kit that was better off in a museum than in my bedroom. Honestly, I don’t know where this drum set came from; I think it once belonged to Buddy Rich.

From 1994 to 1995, I played religiously and even took lessons, but things got expensive and I started paying more attention to girls, so I sold the drums and music took a backseat for awhile. It wasn’t until 1998 or 1999 when I picked up the sticks again; my friends were starting to noodle around on guitars and they needed a percussionist with which to play Green Day covers in backyards all across the village of Winneconne. I was the man for the job.

From 1998 to 2002, drumming was my main gig, as I was now in a real band, with real songs and real fans. When the band called it quits in 2002, I laid off for good. I only now play as a hobby (My main kit is in the basement; I have an electronic kit in my Rumpus Room that I can play without the cops showing up).

Through it all, however, I always wanted to play guitar. I wanted to be the frontman; I was already writing the songs, why not sing them, too? With the exception of Phil Collins and Genesis, no successful band featured a singing drummer. Due to circumstance, though, that has so far never happened. I’m a lefty, I’m too impatient to understand chords, my fingers are small and my attention span is waning by the minute. Maybe someday I’ll take the time to master the six-string, but until then, I’ll have to stick to Rock Band and Guitar Hero. I have a guitar that I mess around on from time to time, but nothing beyond a few chord progressions here and there.

Will I ever play on stage with a band again? Perhaps. I’m not in the market for a band right now, but I wouldn’t rule it out. They were fun times.

Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day. For more information about Journal In A Jar, click here.