The CDP 2013-2014 Fall TV Preview.

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Two months ahead of schedule, IT’S BACK!

For the 8th goddamn year, the CDP is back with the scoop on over 50 new, returning and canceled TV shows. These are the shows that I will be watching (or at least giving a chance to); all times are Central, and the time slot information is as accurate as I could get as of the date this was written. I also stuck with mostly national TV and some basic cable; I did not include premium channels, because the CDP is welcoming to TV fans in all tax brackets.

And hey, if this preview isn’t enough for you, feel free to take a trip in the Wayback Machine to see my 7 other Fall previews:

2005-2006 Preview. (Remember Invasion and Night Stalker?)
2006-2007 Preview. (Remember The Unit and Studio 60?)
2007-2008 Preview. (Remember Kid Nation and Carpoolers?)
2008-2009 Preview. (Remember The Goode Family and Lipstick Jungle?)
2009-2010 Preview. (Remember Time Warp and FlashForward?)
2010-2011 Preview. (Remember Detroit 1-8-7 and Better With You?)
2011-2012 Preview. (Remember Alcatraz and Awake?)

Let’s do this, starting from the top.

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6-7pm – America’s Funniest Home Videos (ABC)
7-8pm – Once Upon A Time (ABC)
7-10pm – Sunday Night Football (NBC)
7-7:30pm – The Simpsons (FOX)
7:30-8pm – Bob’s Burgers (FOX)
8-9pm – The Walking Dead (AMC)
9-10pm – Talking Dead (AMC)

The SkinnyAFV, the classic, reliable archangel of nutpunches and vomiting babies, kicks off the night for me. One of the Missus’ favorites (that is beginning to grow on me), Once Upon A Time, returns for another season of fairytale genre-bending. If you’re not interested in NFL action (and who are you?), you can check out the best animated series on TV (Bob’s Burgers), preceded by the greatest TV show of all-time (The Simpsons) on FOX. We cap the weekend with the pop culture juggernaut that is The Walking Dead (and its companion Talking Dead) at 8.

What Else Is On? – CBS typically owns the night with heavy hitters such as The Amazing Race, The Good Wife and The Mentalist, while FOX closes the evening with Animation Domination mainstays Family Guy and American Dad.

But I Can Only Watch 1 Show!Bob’s Burgers might be the funniest show on television right now, so if comedy is your thing, go get it. However, The Walking Dead is the reigning heavyweight champion of ratings and discussion (oh, and it’s great), so if action and gore by the truckload is more up your alley, you can’t miss it.

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6-6:15pm – Adventure Time (TOON)
6:30-7pm – Regular Show (TOON)
7-8pm – Antiques Roadshow (PBS)
7-10pm – Monday Night Raw (USA)
8-11pm – Monday Night Football (ESPN)
9-10pm – Under The Dome (CBS)

The Skinny – The weird, wacky, surreal double-shot of Adventure Time/Regular Show starts Monday evening off with a much-needed dose of unbridled enthusiasm. From there, you can bask in other people’s nick-knacks with Antiques Roadshow, or watch professional wrestlers use similar foreign objects as weapons on Monday Night Raw (or watch both, like I do). Monday Night Football is a cultural institution at this point, although you can watch just to take bets on when Chris Berman finally has that heart attack. Finally, the excitement surrounding the Stephen King/Brian K. Vaughan-created Under The Dome will officially give me a reason to watch something on CBS.

What Else Is On?How I Met Your Mother is heading into its last season, which I guess is a big deal, while The Voice continues to be NBC’s most lucrative commodity from 8-10.

But I Can Only Watch 1 Show! – I personally find professional wrestling and football to be more stimulating and (dare I say) authentic to shows like The Voice and Dancing With The Stars, but I’m in no position to judge. Monday is a wild card; anything goes.

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7-8pm – Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC)
7:30-8pm – Brooklyn Nine-Nine (FOX)
8-8:30pm – The Goldbergs (ABC)
8:30-9pm – Trophy Wife (ABC)
8-9pm – The Ultimate Fighter (FS1)
9-9:30pm – UFC Tonight (FS1)

The SkinnyAgents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. has some mighty big expectations to fill, and I’m sure its pilot episode will open to huge ratings. Another comedy with similar buzz is Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a buddy cop satire starring Andy Samberg. A couple of lesser-discussed sitcoms, The Goldbergs and Trophy Wife, show up in the 8-9 slot on ABC, and I’m crossing my fingers that The Goldbergs is everything I wish it to be. We wrap the evening up with The Ultimate Fighter and UFC Tonight, as I get my MMA fix and drift to sleep while watching people getting kicked in the head.

What Else Is On? – CBS continues its unrelenting cavalcade of crime dramas NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles and Person Of Interest, while Supernatural continues to ward off pure evil (and cancellation) over on the CW.

But I Can Only Watch 1 Show!The Ultimate Fighter is going to be incredible and Brooklyn Nine-Nine looks to be the breakout comedy of the season, but I think most of us are looking forward to what Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. is going to pull out of their hat. No new drama has generated more buzz this year.

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7-7:30pm – The Middle (ABC)
7-8pm – WWE Main Event (ION)
8-8:30pm – Modern Family (ABC)
8-9pm – Mythbusters (DISC)
8:30-9pm – Super Fun Night (ABC)
9-10pm – Nashville (ABC)

The SkinnyThe Middle and Modern Family have found permanent residence in the Zeinert household, as well as earning themselves heaps of praise and Emmys (the latter more than the former, although The Middle has a sizable, vocal fan base). WWE Main Event is for those of us who crave more than the 7 other hours of weekly pro wrestling we’re fed, and Mythbusters continues its 10th season with more skepticism, explosions and Kari Byron. Super Fun Night has trainwreck potential, but I’m giving it a shot due to Executive Producer Conan O’Brien. Finally, the sexy, trashy, soapy goodness of Nashville returns for a sophomore season.

What Else Is On?Arrow and The Tomorrow People might send some more casual fans the CW’s way in the wake of solid critical buzz, while the rest of the dial is loaded with massive mainstays (Survivor, CSI, The X Factor and American Idol).

But I Can Only Watch 1 Show!Modern Family is about a perfect of a sitcom as you’ll find over the last decade, but if dirty, soapy drama better suits you, you’ll find it in Nashville.

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7-8pm – Once Upon A Time In Wonderland (ABC)
7-7:30pm – Parks And Recreation (NBC)
8:30-9pm – The Michael J. Fox Show (NBC)

The Skinny – What happened to Thursday night comedy? What was once a beacon of critically-acclaimed, breakthrough sitcoms has been relegated to a last-show-standing powerhouse (Parks And Recreation), and the welcome-yet-tenuous  return of a veteran TV actor (The Michael J. Fox Show). Thursday night also welcomes Once Upon A Time In Wonderland, a spinoff of the Tuesday night cult favorite.

What Else Is On? – Thursday night comedies seemed to have flipped the way of CBS, with The Millers and The Crazy Ones joining The Big Bang Theory and Two And A Half Men. Meanwhile, Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal satisfy a need for sexiness on ABC.

But I Can Only Watch 1 Show!Parks And Recreation, hands down.

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7-9pm – WWE Friday Night Smackdown (SYFY)
9-11pm – AxsTV Fights (AXS)

The Skinny – Fake fighting followed by real fighting. There’s a skinny for you.

What Else Is On? – With Grimm, Dracula and Crossbones, I like that NBC is throwing its weirdest stuff on Friday nights, a night where, let’s face it, their expected nerd fanbase is home in front of their television. Elsewhere, the CW keeps is superficial with The Carrie Diaries and America’s Next Top Model.

But I Can Only Watch 1 Show! – Get out of the house. Go hang out with your friends, or perhaps watch the shit you DVR’d throughout the week. Friday’s a consistent wasteland for television, and for good reason.

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7-8pm – Cops (SPIKE)
10:30-12am – Saturday Night Live (NBC)
11-5am – Toonami* (TOON)

(*The Toonami block currently includes: Bleach, Naruto, One Piece, Soul Eater, Eureka Seven, IGPX, Thundercats, Sym-Bionic Titan, Cowboy Bebop, Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Inyuasha.)

The Skinny – After 25 years on the air at FOX (spanning the entire lifespan of the network), Cops finds a new home at Spike (home of their entire catalog at this point). Saturday Night Live returns with what we can expect to be a mostly new cast of featured players, which means it could be a stinker of a season, or a showcase of awesome new talent. Time will tell. Finally, the Cartoon Network gives us six straight hours of action-based Anime with Toonami, a weekly marathon that will take you right to sunrise.

What Else Is On? – Not a goddamn thing, dude.

But I Can Only Watch 1 Show! – Stay up late and watch Toonami with me. We’ll liveblog it; it’ll be fun.

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Time TBA – Resurrection (ABC – Night TBA)
9-10pm – Crossbones (NBC – Friday)
8-9pm – Believe (NBC – Sunday)
7-7:30pm – Community (NBC – Thursday)

The SkinnyResurrection was a trailer that surprised me with its premise, but a mid-season slot usually means a rough road ahead for the vaguely-spiritual drama. Crossbones is, I believe, the first pirate-themed drama on network TV in a while (maybe ever), and Believe is a J.J. Abrams-produced thriller about a girl with special powers (sure, why not). Rounding out the Winter schedule is the very unexpected return of Community, along with the unfathomably unexpected return of series creator Dan Harmon. For those of you who didn’t watch Season 4 because of Harmon’s departure (and you missed out, because it was good), now you have no reason to stay away.

What Else Is On? – I’m not sure. It’s like, six months away; be patient.

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10. Animal Practice (Alright, just kidding.)
10. Vegas
9. Touch
8. The Cleveland Show
7. Gossip Girl
6. Smash
5. CSI: NY
4. Fringe
3. Happy Endings
2. The Office
1. 30 Rock

The Skinny – Two of the greatest comedies of all-time, 30 Rock and The Office, signed off last season to massive critical acclaim and fantastic finales. Happy Endings and Fringe were both beloved shows with cult followings that never seemed to get proper footing (or attention) at their respective networks. CSI:NY presumably fell victim to an over-saturation of the genre, and Smash…well, that just looked stupid from the beginning.

Well, there you have it. The scoop on my personal Fall TV schedule, for the 8th year running. Set your DVR’s, sound off in the comments section and enjoy your week. Don’t forget to tell me the shows you plan on watching on My Twitter and over on My Facebook. And hey, go buy one of my books while you’re at it. Thanks much; have a good one.

Catch The Wave (I’m On TV Tonight)!

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Arriving (or intruding) Monday. Get your DVR ready.

Here’s the bigger news: To whet your appetite for Monday’s preview, you can SEE ME LIVE ON TV TONIGHT!

AXS TV (DirecTV Channel 340 – Dish Network Channel 167) will be broadcasting RFD 8 live tonight from the Eagles Ballroom in Milwaukee, where yours truly will be wearing a nicely-fitted suit and making sure nobody gets killed. So check it out! Not only do you get to see me on your TV, but you get to watch a bunch of rad fights. Show starts at 9 Central/10 Eastern.

Sound off in the comments section, check me out on AXS TV tonight, and enjoy your weekend.

If Love Is The Answer You’ll Hold, Hold on.

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Today is my 9th wedding anniversary (and 13th as a couple). To celebrate this, I wanted to share with you what I wrote in Celia’s yearbook in 2000, the year I graduated high school. Please remember the year and my age when you read this; it’s the emotion that counts.

Dear Celia,

And so it ends. The curtains have been drawn to one of the fastest school years on record, and what a school year it was. This was the year that we stopped passing glances at one another, and actually worked up the nerve to speak a word or two. Well, I did most of the ice-breaking, but who’s keeping score? So I made you come to one or two of our little shows, and I tried my best to communicate with you in between flailing my arms like a fool. These attempts fell through, but I continued to shadow you and invade your space every chance I got. Asking you meaningless questions, staring you down, and even showing up on your computer screen*. This attempt proved to be my best, as I forced you to listen to all of my idiotic thoughts. And wouldn’t you know it? You actually thought I was a halfway-decent guy.

(* – All hail ICQ!)

When I heard you were having troubles with your boyfriend, I was genuinely concerned about it. However, at the same time I was visioning you holding me tightly, and it made my nights very sleepless and stressful. I wondered about you. I worried about you. And for that time being, I pushed my thoughts of you far away, so they wouldn’t bother me. But they quietly whispered sweet thoughts in my ear very late at night. They would say, “You know you like her, so just tell her.” I woke up with a purpose. I understood then what I should have done the first day I saw you. The only regrets you have in life are the risks you didn’t take. These emotional battles were not worth fighting if I wasn’t going to do what I thought was right. Something had to give. Wonderfully enough, this came at a time where we both knew there was something more between us than a friendship. So three car rides, two dinners* and one amazing kiss later, we were a couple. It was then that my life took a 180 for the better.

(* – All hail Fazoli’s!)

In a school where I hung around nothing but Blink 182-listening kids who were always looking for a store window to stand in*, you and your friends beamed like a beacon of hope for the future of rebellion in Winneconne**. Okay, it was mostly you, but once again, who’s keeping score? We talked so much about not smothering each other, neither of us realized that we were slowly becoming inseparable. The conversations got longer, the letters got deeper and the nights were harder and harder to end. A completely new feeling arose from the dust and rubble, and challenged me to figure out what it was. At this point, the weather was cold, we spent every night we could together, and my Buick still had a gold bumper***. Through the ice I would scrape off my windows every day, I saw your angelic face smiling at me through the reflection in the 10-below school parking lot. It was those times, where I was numb and sniffling, that I realized I had fallen hopelessly in love with you. What else could make me happy in those moments, curled up under a fuzzy blanket on an old couch? You did. And you still do.

(* – In retrospect, it was harsh to sell my friends out like that.)
(** – At current time, the Winneconne rebellion is at a cease-fire.)
(*** – I hit a deer.)

These moments seem so long ago, now that the weather is so hot sometimes, but in reality are no further away than a daydream. All these feelings are stronger beyond all imagination, and that will never go away, even though high school is becoming a speck in my rearview mirror. I can look over and smile though, because I know you will be right there beside me, humming along to the stereo while I ruin my brakes* more and more. This is not the end of anything. It is a beginning of a whole new life. And in all honesty, if Ben and Sherry can do it, so can we!**

(* – There are an above-average amount of car references in this love letter.)
(** – If you knew Ben and Sherry, you’d be laughing pretty hard right now.)

Celia, my entire existence is two sections: Me and you, and me and the rest of the world. Me and the rest of the world will never affect me and you. You mean more to me than anything I could have ever fantasized about when I first spoke your name. No matter what happens around us, and no matter where I go, I will swear to you that I will never stop wanting to be around you with every breath, and I will never stop thinking about you when you are not near. I love you so much, Celia. And I cannot wait until I can spend my entire summer with you. We will drive off into the moonlight and turn off the rest of the world. Heck, it was what I had in mind all along.

I love you,

I don’t look through my yearbooks anymore, but when I did, there was always a bittersweet tinge of faded emotion. There were so many passionate friendships that seemed to fade into the ether of adulthood for no good reason. Thanks to social networking, a lot of those relationships have been rekindled, but in a remarkably distant and passive way. Just like our coworkers of today, a lot of friendships seem to happen only because you have to see someone every day, so when that forced camaraderie disappears, it sometimes takes away every logical reason you spoke to that person in the first place. It doesn’t mean you weren’t friends, it just means that it was more rooted in geography than sincerity. It’s happened to all of us dozens of times, I assume.

Even more disposable than a High School friendship was, I presume, the High School relationship. I say ‘presume,’ because I didn’t have too many of them. The relationships I had prior to meeting Celia were important – I wouldn’t delete those memories for the world- but in the winter of 1999, I got lucky in a profound way. A way that set the course for what my life was to become. A way that made me write the above in a yearbook, because I knew that this was different. That this would work. The fact that Celia’s yearbook now sits in our house, on our bookshelf, seems to validate my optimism.

When I graduated in 2000, I shuffled around my hometown for two years waiting for Celia to graduate. Most of my friends dumped their high school girlfriends and went to college. I started a punk band and spent every night with Celia in my room, shaping the landscape of what our adult future was to become. And even though we’ve spent nearly every day together for the last 13 years, I’m still excited to wake up every morning just so I can see her face, talk to her, and fall right back asleep next to her.

She’s a different person now than she used to be. She looks different, listens to different music, appreciates different culture and even has a different sense of humor. But all these changes managed to do was get me to love her in a completely different and evolved way. I can only hope that I, too, have evolved in a way that makes Celia proud to stand next to me, because I am infinitely proud to stand next to her, 13 years later.

At the very least, I think I’m a better writer now.

Happy Anniversary, Celia. I love you.


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(Dad, mom and me. Circa 1982.)

I never write about my dad, and I don’t really know why.

He’s a ridiculous, larger-than-life character. A chain-smoking, Survivorman-esque sportsman. A hunter, fisherman and trapper of game large and small. A former dairy farmer, turned tavern owner, turned bird farmer. A grizzled, salt and pepper beard. A broken glass voice that literally hurts your ears, ravaged by decades of alcohol, cigarettes and general yelling at things that piss him off. While I currently inhabit a generation of urban hipsters that grow facial hair and drink PBR as a way to pretend they have something in common with their fathers, my dad’s mere existence reminds me that we’re only playing dress-up. Theodore James Olson is a man, and the older I get, the more I realize it.

As you would assume, my dad and I don’t talk a lot anymore, and frankly, we didn’t talk a lot back when we had more opportunities to do so. As a kid, I remember that he was run ragged by his job on the family’s dairy farm, and the few hours he had at home were usually spent sleeping or working on some outdoor project. We always got along, but we were predominantly acquaintances due to nothing else but circumstance. He didn’t try very hard, I didn’t try very hard, and we still sort of don’t. Seems like a bleak diagnosis, but I thought about it for a good five minutes, and that’s really the best way I can describe it. Family is like that sometimes, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t care.

When I was about 10, my parents divorced and I stopped living with my dad. Even at the time, I knew this was the best decision for the family. My parents were arguing pretty much non-stop at this point. My dad was in no real hurry to be more attentive to the marriage, and my mom (and her infinite anxiety) was asking too much of a guy that clearly wasn’t going to change. They loved each other, but were fundamentally incompatible. My mom would go on to remarry (and re-divorce) several years later, and my dad would go on to marry a woman he remains with to this day. Present day, my mom and dad are on good terms, live no more than a few minutes from each other and talk every few days. They’re both grandparents now (my sister has a son), and as unwilling as he might be to admit it, I’m sure he adores babysitting that kid whenever he gets the chance.

I went through my entire teenage phase without the constant presence of a father, and I have no doubt that this affected the way I communicated as well as the company I kept. Becoming man of the house at such a young age gave me a rather hefty aversion to male authority or belittling, ‘big brother’ friendships. While most in my position would search for a father figure, I attempted to become one, and I still prefer the company (and criticism) of women as a result. I never had a problem with how this turned out for me, so I guess I was one of the lucky ones. It could have been a lot worse had I not had a logical head on my shoulders.

I would send my dad cards on his birthday and see him about two or three times a year, a pattern I more or less keep to this day, 20 years later (he usually buys me a case of craft beer every Christmas, which makes perfect sense). It works for us; like I said, we get along just fine (my time living with him was as enjoyable of a childhood as I could have hoped for), we just don’t have all that much to talk about, and we know it. I’m not afraid to tell him that I love him, and I also wouldn’t be afraid to tell him that, due to his absence, I had to learn about a lot of things on my own that would have been easier with a man around. Doesn’t matter anymore, though, because as I matured and became a husband, I learned to wholly forgive both parents for every misstep that may have harmed me.

My parents are young. Both were under 20 when I was born. They had no intention of having a child together, and they had no intention of getting married, but my arrival put a hitch into a boatload of their future plans (which probably included a boat, now that I think of it). They tried their absolute best for what they had to work with at the time. They also made huge mistakes, but I’d be a prick to continue to fault them. I looked through a photo album a few weeks ago, and saw a photo of me on my dad’s lap at an early age. I marveled at how young my dad looked- he looked just like me, but with a moustache (a genetic trait among many that I didn’t earn from him). Then I realized that he was 21 years old in the photo.

When I was 21, I was so neck-deep in my own selfish, nonsensical problems that I assuredly would have been the most deadbeat father on Earth. I would have made more selfish mistakes than I could have counted. It’s for this reason (and many more) that you reach an age where you have to drop the resentment of your parents once and for all. Unless they broke the law in the way that they raised you (and my folks didn’t), then you have to find a way to make them okay in your head, because the only thing it’s doing is driving you (and maybe them) crazy. Again, at some point, you’re going to have to forgive your parents for not being the parents you wanted, and I have.

But hey, we did have some good times, and my dad has definitely lived a life worthy of random celebration. So I took an hour to write down whatever random memorable moments I could think of during the childhood I spent in his company. These are the things I think of when I think of my dad, and in honor of Father’s Day, I’m sharing them for you now.

1. My dad saved my life when I was 8 or 9. I had climbed into the passenger’s side of his truck, failing to buckle up or properly close the large door (I was kind of an idiot). A few seconds later, we took a hard left turn, my door popped open and I started to fly out. Using what can only be described as Dad Strength (a superpower that only arrives upon fatherhood), he reached over and snagged me in a snap, fighting the centrifugal force while still steering the truck. When we lurched to a stop, there was a few seconds of silence before he began chewing me out for not buckling up. Best-case scenario, I would have been thrown from the truck. Worst-case, I would have been run over. I never thanked him for that; I probably should.

2. Although it still defies logic (another example of Dad Strength), my dad could always beat me in a running race. Even to the age of 35 and me in my teens, he always managed to win. I was a pretty decent sprinter at the time, and he was a chain smoking non-athlete to say the least, but the dude always won.

3. On a particularly freezing Winter night, I was stuck at the farm with dad as he milked cows (as a dairy farmer, this used to be done manually and several times a day). I was miserable; the barn wasn’t insulated and I had nothing to even preoccupy my brain to distract me from looming hypothermia. Needless to say, I was whining up a storm for quite some time. My toes were numb; my socks and boots weren’t doing the trick. I told my dad this, and he gave me his socks while finishing the rest of his work sockless in boots. That’s a manly act; it was seriously goddamn freezing that night.

4. Sticking with the dairy farm, I once saw him get kicked in the face by a cow, leaving him with a lower lip swollen to the size of a golf ball. He didn’t miss a day of work.

5. The first time (the first time) he met my wife (then 18 or 19 years old), we went to his game bird farm to say hello. As a sportsman, dad tends to see beauty in things that most of us…might not see beauty in. Anyway, when we walked into the farm, dad was rooting around in a meat freezer, and eventually produced a Ziploc bag full of pheasant heads. He tossed them in my wife’s general direction, proclaiming “Aren’t they beautiful?” Celia rolled with it, I was mortified, and for my dad, he thought it was as welcoming of a gesture as one could hope for. Later in the conversation, he discussed the logical ramifications of the disposing of a human body. There is no question that I got my sense of humor from him.

6. Once when he was pushing my sister on our backyard swing set, a bird shit directly onto the brim of his hat, and he didn’t even pause to look up or remove said hat. He knew what happened, but he didn’t want the bird to think it won.

7. As a sportsman, my dad liked to trap small animals (think mink, fox, skunk, etc.). In order to trap animals, you need to lure them with some kind of…well, lure. A good lure is usually hormonal, such as animal urine or something that they secrete from various glands (this is about as much as I know). Well, one Summer weekend, my dad disappeared into his shed to concoct a special blend of lure of his own design (Note: my dad is not a scientist). I’m not sure what he mixed together in that shed, but it ended up being an inadvertent chemical weapon. He got sick, the shed needed to be torn down, and a good portion of the grass surrounding the shed died. He saved a small bottle of this lure, and we he uncorked it a few months later, a visible plume of smoke rose from the bottle. We still talk about this at family gatherings.

8. I punched him straight in the stomach once as hard as I could, and he didn’t even flinch. We weren’t even fighting or anything, he told me to.

9. One of the things I admire most about dad is that he’s his own boss. He has run his own businesses for over 20 years now, and honestly doesn’t seem to care about money whatsoever. His desire to not be bothered might be the thing I most inherited from him; while most of my family takes great delight in dissecting human behavior in an attempt to find reasons to be outraged, my dad would be fine, absolutely content without reserve, if he never saw anyone else ever again for the rest of his life. As a man, there’s something very noble (if not bizarre) about this true lack of ego.

10. One of the bleak realities of working on a dairy farm is that animals will inevitably die almost every week. From cows to stray cats, farm living is a near-daily task of cleaning up gross messes. When animals would die, there was a mass grave out in the middle of a field where they would be transported and disposed of. I had always heard about this place, but never actually saw it until one day when I asked to ride along with my dad as he hauled away a stillborn calf.

We pulled up about 100 feet from the grave, but it still took my breath away when I rolled my window down on the pickup truck. It was horrific; decades of animals in various stages of decay. I watched my dad drag the calf down from the tailgate and onto the pile without so much as a twitch of disgust, pause for a few seconds (either out of respect or merely to rest his arms), and slowly make his way back to where I was. He was wearing coveralls stained by years of similar, back-breaking labor.

What I saw standing on a mound of festering animals was a man– and a father– doing his job. The job he had been asked to do his entire adult life up to that point, taking into consideration how quickly ‘adult life’ begins in a family of farmers. From that moment on, any time I felt that I had the right to honestly complain about a job that I had to do, I thought about what my dad did to support his family for the first few years, and how well I would have fared under the circumstances. For the last decade, I’ve made money by sitting in front of a computer in an air-conditioned, corpse-free office. I don’t have a right to complain.

I should probably send a card this year.

This Is Why I Can’t Have Kids.

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I don’t think I’ve done this before, so if looking at crap I have lying around isn’t your thing, you can skip this one and I’ll understand. A few people asked, though, so I decided to take a few pictures of my office and the subterfuge within that has kept me from writing a new book since 2010.

Above is my desk. I bought the largest one I could specifically so I could justify removing the bed we had in here. I didn’t want people staying the night at my house anymore, so I basically tried to make it as difficult as possible for them. We have a couple of laptops, an iMac that has served me well for several years now, and a turntable I really should use more. The bulletin board contains some of the more entertaining letters and newspaper clippings pertaining to yours truly. The rest I keep in a filing cabinet (I don’t throw any of that stuff out!).

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This is the first shelf above my computer. The Ouija board is vintage (the wooden board is inside). The ‘Hell Over Hollywood’ pamphlet is a 50’s-era piece of propaganda detailing the stranglehold of the Jews in Tinseltown (it’s a hilarious read). The ‘Thrilling Western’ pulp novel is from 1936 (a Western story titled ‘Dead Man’s Boots). The ‘Celia’ name tag is the one she wore while working her first job at a grocery store. Oh, and a pair of checkerboard sunglasses I wore in my ska days. The rest is self-explanatory.

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The second shelf is a bunch of Pokemon stuff that belongs to Celia, a Misfits lunchbox I got about a decade ago, a vintage (working) Etch-A-Sketch, and a Geisha I bought at a dollar store. Hey, and a vintage Mr. Potato Head, too!

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The third shelf is mostly Pac-Man stuff. Note the Zeinert’s Grocery trucker hat, though. My family used to run a grocery store, and as a kid I thought the hats (that a lot of people seemed to wear, strangely) kicked ass. It wasn’t until much later that I found one I could have for my own.

I should briefly mention that I’m not a toy collector. If, for example, I truly wanted to get into Pac-Man memorabilia, there would be no shortage of things for me to spend my money on, but Instead I have, like, six things. I merely buy things when I see them, which should explain the seemingly random, disjointed (and sometimes unappealing) stuff I own. Let’s move on.

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This is another shelf when you walk in the door of the office. You’ll see a (working) carnival game (with light gun!), a battery-operated Zoltar machine (that tells your fortune!) a (working) Pac-Man handheld game from the 80’s, and a Book It! pin I recently scrounged up.

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Here we see another vintage lunchbox (Tom Corbett: Space Cadet!), vintage Batman Halloween mask, vintage metal spark gun (pretty sure they don’t make these anymore) and a vintage horse racing game that I use to settle drunken bets (this is how it works). Oh, and a Slinky.

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No toys on the bottom part of the shelf, or the cats would ruin them. Here I just have some comics and magazines I don’t wish to part with, and a box of Legos, because…shit, Legos, man! Sometimes you just need to build something. Most of the magazines I keep are copies of Retro Gamer, due to the fact that it’s published out of the U.K. and they run about $20 each. I’m keeping them regardless of if I ever read them again.

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Top shelf contains a vintage toy dart board, kickass vintage gumball machine that I got as a gift from my grandma, and a set of ‘desk drums’ that my mom found for me. The copies of my two books are the original, proof copies, and I essentially keep them here so I don’t accidentally mail them out to someone who wants to order right through me. Ignore the whip.

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I found this hollowed-out vintage TV in my great-grandmother’s basement, and instantly fell in love with it. The glass is still on the front, and I’m still figuring out what I want to put inside of it (an aquarium seems like the best idea). Atop sits a film canister, a mannequin head wearing a luchador mask (sold separately), and my homie Tom Servo wearing a Hello Kitty party hat and a ton of backstage passes from MMA shows over the years. The Tom Servo is a replica I purchased on eBay a very long time ago, and if you can believe it, I’ve only bought about three or four things on eBay ever in my life.

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Above the actual TV (you know what a television looks like) I keep a bulletin board with a bunch of fliers from my old band. By the way, this isn’t done to bask in former, teenage glory; I just really like punk flier artwork, and since it was my band, I thought it was a win/win. We played a lot more shows than this, these are just the only fliers that survived this long.

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Mandatory office artwork. I think I bought this before I even had a house to put it in.

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Over on the media side of things, you’ll see my electronic drum kit and a few guitars. I live in a condo, so I can’t really play my acoustic drums, so I figured this was as good of a compromise as any. My DVD/VHS rack is quite small compared to most of my friends, but I never really collected movies to begin with; most of this stuff is pro wrestling and MST3K (the bottom two rows are original recordings of every televised MST3K episode with commercials included). Yeah, I’ll put my MST3K collection up against nearly anyone.

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We officially need a third bookshelf, but I’m not in a big hurry to buy (and assemble) one. Celia painted those Simpsons portraits, by the way!

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My homie Ben painted this, and when he (for some reason) didn’t want it on his wall anymore, he gave it to me for Christmas after I begged him for it. Dude’s edgy. It’s huge, by the way.

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I keep the retro video games in the office closet. Since this photo was taken, I’ve added a second NES, Sega Genesis and Sega Dreamcast (and everything works!). I have a Wii and PS3 downstairs, and I gave my Gamecube and PS2 to my nephew. The PS3 was a rather silly purchase; I don’t have time for any video games anymore, and I mainly use it for Netflix (which I also don’t have time for anymore).

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CD collection. You’ve seen this before.

So that’s my office. Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day.

Somebody Must Have Stepped On A Butterfly (Redux).

(Originally published in July of 2011.)

This essay is about Time Travel. We must first, however, start at the beginning.

I didn’t have many talents as a child, but I did learn to read at an extremely young age. Thanks to the tireless urging of my parents, I remember going into Kindergarten already knowing how to read just about anything. To this day, relatives at family reunions will inevitably remark about how I was reading the local newspaper at age two, or reciting Pro Wrestling magazine articles verbatim before preschool. It’s something I never thought too much about, but I do suppose it’s a nice little achievement. I don’t recall a time where I didn’t know how to read; it was always just one of those things that brought a rotating cavalcade of counselors and ‘gifted class’ invitations to my doorstep back in the 80’s.

One of the first book collections that I ever obsessed over was the Berenstein Bears. Since 1962, over 260 Berenstein Bears books have been published, along with numerous television shows and video games. The Berenstein’s, an anthropomorphic bear family of four, taught me about not talking to strangers, minding my manners, budgeting my allowance and not throwing tantrums in supermarkets. The Berenstein Bears were good people, just trying to raise a family in a hollowed-out tree, just like everyone else.

Now, when I say I obsessed over the Berenstein Bears, I absolutely mean it. I got every book on the day it came out and read every one of them cover-to-cover, sometimes dozens in one night. When insomnia got the best of me, I would stay up all night counting the words in each book, literally disseminating every scrap of literature I could from within the page. The Berenstein Bears became a part of me in a way that not even the authors could have possibly predicted. They were my sanctuary, my confidant, my escape and my anxiety medication. The Berenstein Bears were my second family.

So imagine my brain-melting surprise when I turned on my television last week to see the Berenstain Bears looking back at me.

Berenstain, not Berenstein.

A quick dash to the Internet left me baffled. Apparently, the Berenstain Bears were always the Berenstain Bears; always written that way and always pronounced that way (‘stain,’ not ‘steen’). For the last 25 years, I had been incorrectly attributing a name to what I thought was a family I knew absolutely everything about. After all the books, all the memorization and all the obsessing, how on Earth could I have overlooked the fact that I’ve been reading and saying their name wrong for my entire life?

Surely, this had to be incorrect. I went to the Children’s section of the bookstore. All Berenstain. I traced the lineage of the book series back to 1962. All Berenstain. I even looked at old photographs of me reading the books. All Berenstain. It was like a cognitive blockade. I was wrong, and I had always been wrong, about the true identity of the Berenstain Bears.

I initially felt bad for myself, but only because of my egotism. I was never wrong about these sorts of things. I am always the guy that knows the correct name, pronunciation and spelling of everything. It’s something I take pride in, and a huge pet peeve of mine when I see others lacking it. More than anything, I was left really, really confused. This all seemed…wrong. Like my childhood had changed on me when I briefly had my back turned. Some sort of divine episode of Candid Camera.

Then, something interesting (to only me, perhaps) happened. I started talking to people my age about the Berenstain Bears. I made a point to A) Talk to people that read the books as a kid, but hadn’t really thought about them since, and B) Initially pronounced it ‘Berenstein’ as a way to see if they caught my error right off the bat. I didn’t think it was fair to talk to parents that now saw the books as part of their daily routine and could answer the question with the clear, present logic of an adult. I specifically wanted to see if the collective childhood experience of everyone from my generation was bizarrely shifted for one reason or another.

And you know what? Every single person I talked to was as baffled as I was. They were all certain, so damn certain, that it had always been the Berenstein Bears, even to the point of becoming sort of confused and frightened afterward (they almost always asked for proof). Weirdly, I was not the only one this had happened to.

How does something like this happen? How does a seemingly vivid childhood detail get incorrectly remembered by nearly everyone in the exact same way? Statistically, the odds were astronomical. There had to be some sort of explanation; some way this cosmic hiccup could be explained away.

Time Travel. Hang on tight.

My theory is this. At some point between the years 1986 and 2011, someone traveled back in time and inadvertently altered the timeline of human history so that the Berenstein Bears somehow became the Berenstain Bears. This is why everyone remembers the name incorrectly; it was Berenstein when we were kids, but at some point when we weren’t paying attention, someone went back in time and rippled our life experience ever so slightly. Perhaps other things have changed as well, but this is the only detail we’ve discovered so far.

We all know how the Butterfly Effect works. Someone travels back in time, being mindful to not break anything and alter the future as it’s supposed to play out. However, this person accidentally leaves a toolbox behind in the year 1410. Because of this, 1400’s technology rapidly evolves and advances faster than our known history dictates, so when our time traveler returns to 2011, he finds that the planet is significantly more futuristic than he remembers. Or perhaps when he was in 1410, he sneezed on someone, giving them a virus that no human was immune to in the 15th Century. He then returns to 2011 to find that he’s the last man on Earth, having wiped out the entire species 600 years ago with what we now think of as the common cold.

This is the only explanation I can surmise. At some point in the last 24 years, someone went back in time, spilled some ink on a piece of parchment, and permanently changed the last names of Stan and Jan Berenstain forever. Poof! The books changed, the photographs changed, the very text on every last page changed. The only thing that couldn’t be changed was our memory of how it was before the Incident occurred.

This is the only logical solution. Me being incorrect is unpossible.

The only naysayer to this theory, so far, is the Missus. Every time it comes up (more often when I’m drunk), she gets extremely annoyed, proclaims my memory to be faulty and begs me to just shut up already so we can play Scrabble. She can’t stop the conversation fast enough, and even claims that she ‘always remembered it as Berenstain.’

This leads me to yet another airtight conclusion: My wife was the time traveler in question, futilely covering her tracks as to not be discovered. I have found you out, woman. You may have had a good run working as an intergalactic spy, but you weren’t going to fool me forever, Miss Reptile In Human Skin That Married Me So She Could Suckle My Marrow While I Slept. She thought she could shuttle back and forth through time without anyone noticing, and she did for awhile, but eventually slipped up and depended on the collective apathy of Generation X to doubt their childhood memories and overlook the ole’ Berenstein/Berenstain switcheroo. What she didn’t expect was that her husband, the man closest to her, happened to be a historian of the very book series she forever altered.

The jig is up, Skinwalker. I’m solving this mystery, and I want a divorce.

The Most Realistic Video Game Ever Made (Redux).

(Originally published in July of 2011.)

A few months ago, we finally bought a PS3. This allowed me to play UFC Undisputed 2010, a game that (as a huge MMA fan) I had been itching to get my hands on for quite some time.

True story. I remember being a 12-year old kid, watching UFC IV and thinking to myself, “They should make a UFC video game!” I remember drawing out a ‘blueprint’ on computer paper for what the game would look like; I didn’t get much further than the title screen and character select, but from what I remember, it looked pretty fantastic. Each fighter would have a button-mashing finishing move or submission, there would be a tournament bracket (in those days, you had to fight up to three times in a night), announcers, introductions, the whole nine yards. It would be released on the Sega Genesis to critical acclaim, catapulting the Ultimate Fighting Championship into the mainstream and changing the way video games would be created from that point forward.

As it turned out, I mostly just ripped off Mortal Kombat, but I think I was still way ahead of my time. 15 years later, and UFC Undisputed 2010 looks exactly the way I had envisioned it back in 1994. I am also about to argue that it’s the most realistic video gaming experience I have ever had.

One of the cool things about Undisputed (and most games in general nowadays), is that they turn the reigns over to you when it comes to creating a character from scratch. From skin tone to hair follicles to specific tattoos, you’re now able to literally put yourself into the game. As a kid playing Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!, I fantasized about a game where I was the main character (admittedly, Little Mac looked a lot like me already). These days, it’s the norm.

For the first two hours after turning on Undisputed ’10, I meticulously stressed over every angstrom, nuance and subtle characteristic of my virtual doppelganger. He looked exactly like me in every way. 5’10”. 155 pounds. The palest possible skin setting. The slightest hint of abdominal muscles. Sideburns that compensate for the fact that one of my ears is lower than the other. SimRyan was a work of art.

I was so excited and proud of the creation I had concocted. Not being a hardcore gamer, this was a rare opportunity to see myself immersed in a virtual world, and while I felt like an old man by being blown away by this, I wasn’t about to forget why I bought the game in the first place. SimRyan needed to fight someone, and now. I immediately placed him in a match against 155lb. powerhouse (and one of my favorite fighters) Clay ‘The Carpenter’ Guida, in what I could only assume would be a fight for the ages.

Here’s what I forgot to do.

I was so intensely focused on creating SimRyan as a perfect replicant of myself, that I neglected to go to the screen marked ‘Attributes’ and assign him with, you know, any sort of fighting skills whatsoever. Punching power? Submission defense? Awareness and Speed? Nothing. Zero points. A newborn lamb had more evolutionary mechanics than the clone of myself I just placed in a Mixed Martial Arts throwdown.

I wasn’t aware of this until the bell rang and the fight started, which by then was already too late for poor, defenseless SimRyan. I shambled towards the center of the Octagon like a drunk in a taffy vat, my arms drooped to either side and my feet shuffling like I had just gotten dumped. SimRyan made brief eye contact with his opponent, but because he wasn’t assigned any sort of fighting instincts by yours truly, he simply stood there and greeted his fellow gladiator, woefully oblivious as to what was about to transpire.

Fortunately, it was over quickly. SimRyan threw two of the saddest, limpest-wristed punches in the history of MMA towards Guida’s chest, and was promptly uppercut so hard that he was nearly blasted through the cage of the Octagon. His mouthpiece flew into the audience, blood was everywhere, and the announcers acted like they had just seen the first documented murder in the history of the sport. My guy was apparently so injured that the physicians had to airlift him to the hospital before the official decision was announced. He was nowhere to be seen at the post fight announcement, which I later found out is very atypical unless your CPU happens to be dead.

SimRyan retired from the UFC with a record of 0-1 that night. His whereabouts are currently unknown, but my guess is that he’s in a rehab facility somewhere, feverishly hammering a square peg into a round hole, while nurses shake their heads and silently weep for his future.

It is for these reasons that UFC Undisputed is the most realistic game I have ever played. Not because of the HD graphics, not because of the 5.1 surround sound, and not because of the physics and statistics.

Nope, Undisputed is the most realistic game I’ve ever played because this is exactly what would have happened had it been me in there.