Wednesday, September 28, 2011


When I was in the 6th grade, I remember stumbling across my parent’s copy of The Guinness Book of World Records. It was the most enthralling collection of information I had ever seen. It had pages upon pages of the world’s tallest man, the world’s oldest Siamese twins, and the world’s tallest building. Here was an authoritative volume chronicling the greatest achievements of both humanity and the natural world complete with pictures. I believe I read that entire edition from cover to cover and continued to stay updated when a new version was released so that I would not be in possession of outdated information. 
The series, like all great contributions of mankind, began with an alcohol-fueled disagreement over which European game bird flew the fastest.  Since the argument involved Sir Beaver, the then managing director of Guinness Breweries, he decided to recruit a London fact-finding firm to settle the argument. He then realized that there must be similar debates occurring in pubs all over Europe with no definitive reference book to settle them. So, in 1954, the first copies of The Guinness Book of World Records were distributed to the public and the rest is history.

Sadly, the modern incarnation of Guinness Records is but a hollow shell of its former glory. Case in point: CNN ran a story a few days chronicling a group of people attempting to cook the “world’s largest outdoor stir-fry.” Due to their hard work, determination, and obvious lack of full-time employment they were successful and Guinness officials were on-hand to present them with an official world record. The final dish, prepared in a 14-foot frying pan, weighed in at 4,010 pounds and shattered the previous record of 2,319 pounds. Over 800 pounds of chicken and 50 pounds of canola oil used to prepare the meal.

I can only imagine how emotional such a moment must be for the participants and their families. I was hoping for an interview with the previous record holder where he shook his fist skyward and vowed on the graves of his ancestors that he would restore his honor by making a 5,000 pound stir-fry served on a bed of rice pilaf the size of a Motel 6. That poor guy probably had “get into Guinness” on his bucket list and figured “largest outdoor stir-fry” would be a foolproof category to tether his dreams to.

Unfortunately, the stir-fry incident was only the most recent in an embarrassing downward spiral. Other “feats” given Guinness status include:
  • Most Simultaneous High-Fives 
  • Largest simultaneous self-check for testicular cancer
  • Most Consecutive Gender Reassignment Surgeries
  • Oldest married couple to visit the North Pole
  • Longest time spent playing Grand Theft Auto IV
  • Fastest Marathon Finish While Dressed as a Viking
  • Most simultaneous opposing rotations of the arms in one minute
  • Most consecutive donuts (spins) in a car while standing on the roof of the car
  • Youngest person to row by themselves across the Atlantic Ocean from west to east

While each one of these obviously represents the pinnacle of human achievement in their respective fields, I am not sure that a synchronized, outdoor scrotum groping deserves the same attention as say, fastest mammal or oldest human structure. It seems as though Guinness is simply creating categories in order to stay relevant so that people have a reason to buy the newest edition. I can sympathize to an extent because “oldest fossilized biped” isn’t exactly a page-turner, but there has to be a balance between the franchise’s integrity and their sales figures.

If, however, they continue down the path of unnecessarily-specific world records, I offer the following categories:
  • Longest Involuntary Eye-roll by a Swede.
  • Fastest Marathon Finish by a Non-participant in a Different State.  
  • Most Simultaneous Appendectomies Performed on a Jewish holiday.
  • Oldest Fraternal Twins to Cross the Canadian Border on a Tandem Bicycle.
  • Longest Unbroken Stream of Profanity by a Licensed Nurse Practitioner.
  • Tallest Pentecostal to Circumnavigate Milwaukee in a Kayak.
  • Most Consecutive Felony Convictions by a Type II Diabetic.
  • World’s Largest Hamburger Helper Wrestling Match to Benefit a Marathon.
  • Shortest Custodian to Lose a Knife-Fight.
  • Youngest Pianist to Never Take Up the Cello.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pay Per View

While on our recent trip to San Francisco, my wife and I spent several nights at the Hyatt Hotel located beside Fisherman’s Warf. The room was comfortable, the location was ideal, and the staff was infinitely courteous. I would later test the boundaries of this courtesy and discover that nothing fazes the front desk employees.

One afternoon we decided to stop back by the hotel in order to freshen up and change clothes after our morning tour of the city. Toying with the idea of calling it an early night and watching a movie in the room, I turned on the TV and looked through some of the tittles. As expected, they were outrageously expensive and we remained unconvinced that the convenience was worth the fee.

Like all reputable hotel chains, they also offered adult film choices which they coyly advertised by showing a woman in a robe drawing the curtains to her bedroom (presumably for some carnal pursuit or a homicide). This scene was accompanied by spoken instructions on accessing said films and the assurance that no movie titles would appear on your final bill.

My wife snickered and wondered aloud if that was really true or if they just told you that because you were more likely to pay if they could embarrass you with the titles later. I half-kiddingly suggested that I should go to the front desk and clarify this promise of viewing anonymity. My wife bet me that I would never be able to carry out such a mission and we set about finding the most awkwardly-titled adult film they offered.

There were several worthy contenders that I will not mention here (as I already get enough questionable Google search referrals from my Why Are Drug Reps Hot? article) but we unanimously decided on a promising motion picture called “Tits Ahoy!” both due to its clever word-play and its implied nautical theme.

As my wife suspected, I lacked the fortitude to actually go to the front desk in person so we decided on a compromise: I would call the front desk from the room and put the employee on speakerphone so my wife could hear the exchange. After one ring, I was greeted by a matronly voice that I knew belonged to one of the women (who I will refer to as Rosacea) that was manning the front desk when we checked in the previous day. After she greeted me as Mrs. Taylor (the room was in my wife’s name) I calmly asked if movie titles appeared on the bill.

She soothingly replied that no movie titles would appear on the final bill as per the hotel’s policy. Our conversation continued as follows:

Me:  Rosacea, let me lay out a completely hypothetical scenario for you.
Rosacea: Sure thing Mr. Taylor
Me: Let’s suppose, for argument’s sake, that I wish to view some of your adult titles…
Rosacea: Go on……
Me: …And it is imperative that my purchase of these films remains undocumented in any way. Is that something that you can help me with?
Rosacea: Absolutely Mr. Taylor!
Me: Now I wish to be completely clear on this. If I were to order, say, “Tits Ahoy!” from the pay-per-view service only the term “In-Room Entertainment” would appear on the bill because I am really leaning toward that one.
Rosacea: I can assure you that after you purchase and enjoy Tits Ahoy there will be nothing on the bill to suggest the nature of the film.
Me: Rosacea, it is refreshing to discover such wonderful customer service.
Rosacea: In fact, Mr. Taylor, we can even remove the charge from your bill completely and you can come downstairs and pay for Tits Ahoy in cash so that no extraneous charges will be billed to your employer….
Me: Oh sure, I can’t have my “employer” finding out about this. What if I come down later and pay for it after my “employer” has gone to sleep?
Rosacea: That will not be a problem Mr. Taylor. Enjoy your stay!

We were so impressed with her professionalism that I almost filled out a comment card demanding a pay raise for Rosacea but I was unable to decide how I would describe our conversation. In the end we did stay in and decided to order “Limitless” and after it was over I found myself grateful that no one at the front desk would know I paid $12 to watch it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Shaft

There have been several episodes in my life where I felt that I had been shafted as a consumer (I am talking to you Pontiac) but it seems that the past month is destined to become legendary.

First, I was informed by my bank (via letter and graph-intensive brochure) that I would now be charged a monthly fee for using my check card. As with all unnecessary bank-initiated account changes, I was informed that the fee was essential for them to continue providing the quality level of service that I had come to expect. 

I quickly called and assured them that what I had come to expect was not paying for using my check card. Using the “I have been a customer for 12 years” line, I was certain that I would be exempt from such a preposterous fee. Confident in my unassailable logic and unquestionable loyalty to the bank, I had no doubt that I would be issued an apology and given a private tour of the vault. I was informed that the only way to avoid the fee was to pay for my checking account or keep a minimum $250,000 balance in all my accounts. I informed her that it would a lot easier to keep $250,000 in my account if they would stop taking my money. I had forgotten, of course, that with access to my back account she could call my bluff on the quarter-million balance thing since I was verifiably-poor. Long story short, I will miss that $4 each month.

Next, my wife and I stopped to have lunch at Lamberts CafĂ© in Missouri. For those of you that do not know, Lamberts is famous for throwing rolls to the customers and has been featured on the Travel Channel and USA Today. What they should be famous for is their aversion to accepting anything but cash money. Between the two of us, we ran up an almost $30 check and they would not take my card. I was instructed that they had an onsite ATM “for my convenience” which convenienced me out of a $3 courtesy fee.

As I was standing at the ATM, I watched a kid beside me pump several one dollar bills into a machine where you attempt to win an iPad by maneuvering a mechanical arm. The arm had a clipping mechanism at the end of it and the objective was to cut the cord that held the iPad. The cutting surface was probably made of felt and the dust on the iPad box indicated that the vending machine had not lost a round since it was installed. I shook my head and thought “what a sucker” until I later realized that we had both been screwed out of $3 but at least he got to play a game in the process.

In this day and age the only multi-state businesses that insist on cash should be illegal narcotics rings. If I am purchasing infants on the black market I can understand, but I should be able to swipe my $4-per-month debit card to cover some fried okra and a chopped steak.    
Finally, I received a heartfelt letter from the co-founder of Netflix apologizing that he had not fully explained how badly I was getting shafted. This was welcome news since I was under the impression that I was simply looking at a 70% monthly fee increase in order to maintain the same level of service I had grown accustomed to. Thankfully, he took the time to explain that the company had also gone out of its way to make my shafting as inconvenient as possible by making me go to two separate websites to perform the same tasks I could previously accomplish on one site. While the one-two combination of less convenience for more money is impressive, I feel that Netflix should just go for the customer service trifecta. I have a few ideas:

  • Instead of mailing you a disc, they could simply give you the address of the last person they rented it to and you could drive to their home to retrieve it yourself.
  • Paramount features would only be available during Ramadan.
  • They could install a coin slot on my Roku box that allowed me to purchase films in five minute intervals.
  • Each month, one lucky subscriber would receive weaponized anthrax in their DVD envelope instead of the movie they requested.
  • They could replace the series finale of popular television shows with Nazi propaganda films.
  • They could replace their DVD library with laser-discs and have you cover all return postage.
  • The soundtrack of romantic comedies could be replaced with a recording of Don Imus screaming racial slurs.
  • On even days they could implement the “que-switcharoo” where they replace all the items in your list with those of a registered sex offender.
  • Every time you request an R-rated film, a letter will be sent to your pastor.
  • One-in-three Disney DVD’s mailed out will actually be the unrated director’s cut of Reservoir Dogs.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Recently, my wife discovered that the classic 1980’s television series MacGyver was available on our Netflix instant streaming subscription. For those who do not know, MacGyver was an hour-long show revolving around the adventures of Angus MacGyver, a secret agent working for the Phoenix Foundation. He would often find himself in tough situations that required cunning, resourcefulness, and his ever-present Swiss army knife to solve.

MacGyver (posing with what was just moments ago a baby bottle)

The show was produced by Henry Winkler (the Fonz) and the lead character was played by Richard Dean Anderson. The show ran for almost 140 episodes and was praised for its focus on science and its avoidance of gunplay. It also had a maddeningly-catchy theme song composed by Randy Edelman.

Having both been fans in our youth, we decided to watch an episode or two which soon led to an entire season and I think I have decoded the characteristics that made the show a classic:

The Fashion – After getting through the first season I cannot imagine the racks of spare Member’s Only and leather bomber jackets the costume department had on hand to ensure Anderson’s character had something to wear. I was also impressed by MacGyver’s prominent use of flannel, which was years ahead of the grunge movement.

The Females – I was always under the impression that the nickname “Mac” was simply an unimaginative abbreviation of his surname, but after watching several episodes it appears to take on a whole new meaning. Perhaps it was his approachable demeanor or simply his ingenuity, but MacGyver had quite a way with the ladies. Being a family-oriented 80’s show the majority of the carnality occurs off-screen or is implied, but there is not a doubt in my mind that Phoenix Foundation would have been well-advised to spring for bi-monthly blood tests. And since his conquests rarely re-appeared on subsequent episodes, one can be fairly certain that his “mission objective” was not long-term emotional attachments. Objects of his mulletted-affections even included future starlets like Terri Hatcher and Tia Carrere.

The Voice-overs – Long before Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives had turned disembodied narration into a clichĂ©, Richard Dean Anderson would often begin episodes with fond recollections of his childhood. They would inevitably recall heartwarming fishing trips with his father or a camping excursion with grandpa. I always found this strange since these nostalgic moments rarely explained his ability to fabricate a surface-to-air missile from nothing more than a feminine hygiene apparatus and two pints of mouthwash.  

Villains – The series had several ambitious villains, who were nevertheless unable to overcome MacGyver’s ingenuity and distaste for outright violence. His most formidable nemesis was Murdoc, a murderous assassin played by British rocker Michael Des Barres. Murdoc was employed by the Homicide International Trust (HIT) as a varsity level “problem solver” whose schemes were always foiled by MacGyver. Like Jason Voorhees, he would always reappear after his apparent “demise” to wreak more havoc on the flabbergasted Phoenix Foundation. You would think after this happened nine times they would have personally pushed his body into a chipper-shredder to prevent any future resurrections.

The Organizations – I have always wondered why they could not have put a little more effort into the faceless collectives that drive the MacGyver storylines. The Phoenix Foundation? Homicide International Trust? Are these violent charities? Are we to understand that monetary donations are tax deductible? I am also pretty sure that the key to avoiding prosecution when running a murder-for-hire business is to refrain from using the word “homicide” on the marquee (although I readily admit that the resulting acronym is deliciously subtle).

The Science – Supposedly each and every episode contained accurate portrayals of scientific phenomenon that could be duplicated in a lab environment. Once the show’s audience grew, producers even solicited suggestions from fans as to how Mac could utilize his surroundings to get out of a jam. Although I have no applicable science background, I always wanted to submit a list of items for him to combine like moose tranquilizers and human lung tissue or submarine glue and bran muffins.

I must say that I was somewhat disturbed to witness the number of times Anderson’s character built a fertilizer-based explosive in the show. With that kind of knowledge, all he needs is a festering grudge and a rented van to qualify for an FBI watch-list. My wife is also convinced that he cooked crystal meth in a first season episode but I am still trying to confirm that…