Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Battle of the Network Stars - 1977

It's a sad day here at The Popcorn Trick.

About 11 seconds after ejecting the DVD holding the epic 1976 Battle of the Network Stars, I scrambled over to the homemade case of DVDs boasting the entire BotNS series to throw in the next Battle from February, 1977.

As my DVDs weren't clearly labeled (2 DVDs came in an envelope labeled "1 & 2;" after that, my supplier obviously assumed I didn't need any more specifics and I was left to sift through a pile of identical, unlabeled DVDs) I simply grabbed the next one out of the box and hit play.

It was not the February 1977 battle.

After checking wikipedia to get a list of the players involved in each of the battles, I meticulously went through each DVD checking for this now elusive 1977 battle. No luck. Dejected, I realized while I should have 19 DVDs, I counted only 18. Thinking perhaps my brother was playing a cruel joke on me (actually hoping, since it would mean I could recover the lost episode) I called him. No luck there either.

After countless emails to the original seller went unanswered, I found myself retelling this story to a coworker (it's an exciting office!) one day. He mentioned he had the exact same set and would happily lend me his DVDs to allow me to copy the missing ep. and complete the set. Overjoyed, I took him up on his generous offer.

Now, I'm unsure what it is exactly I've done to insult whatever god or being or power that controls this universe, but it must have been something egregious, because upon checking my coworkers DVDs, I saw that he too had the same 18 count that I had. Still I ran through his, in meek hope that he might be missing a different episode. Still no luck.

So it is here I sit, a broken man, missing what I deem an essential episode in the Battle canon. Essential, as it returns the captains (Kaplan, Conrad, Savala), the key players (Hatch, Dobson, Ron Howard et al) and also introduces some new, larger than life participants. But that's not the half of it. I think this missing DVD also contains the evidence of one of the biggest conspiracies since Van Duren found himself with the answers before the taping. Evidence? Read on...

As you can see here on the wikipedia page for Battle of the Network Stars, every episodes cast is listed. Now compare the casts for 1976 and 1977...seems innocent enough until you get to NBC. The only returning players are Robert Conrad and Karen Grassle (who, if you remember in the 1976 controversial running race, "misremembered" what happened, supporting Conrad's version of the race). Unusual to say the least, but shows get picked up in the Fall and there may have been a larger turnaround to allow a new crew of actors to sign up. Except for one thing - only three months had gone by between the 1976 battle and the February 1977 Battle.

After watching Conrad's maniacal performance in the original Battle, it wouldn't surprise me if he had actually gone to the NBC executives and handpicked his team from the stable of stars. Dan Haggerty alone (Grizzly Man), could ensure a huge point swing into NBC's favor (as we'll see in the next Battle). Add Kurt Russell and W.K. Stratton (co-star of Conrad's on Baa Baa Black Sheep) and suddenly this crackpot theory gains some momentum.

Sadly, as of right now, I don't have the video footage I need to confirm my beliefs. I'm not even sure who won in February 1977, which obviously would be damning evidence if it happened to be NBC. All I have are DVDs of every other Battle, so instead of crying about this anymore (which I've done plenty of behind the scenes) I'll simply move forward, starting with the November 1977 Battle.

Battle of the Network Stars - 1977

Good news and bad news at the beginning. The good news is that all three captains are back. The bad news is that Conrad has demoted himself to simply a participant, and Telly Savalas is not competing, rather he has been given the role of oil to Cosell's water as a co-host of the festivities. Actually, this probably isn't bad news as it gives Savalas' wit more room to roam. I couldn't be happier with the current setup.

The Teams

Gabe Kaplan (captain)
Fred Berry (???)
Billy Crystal
Chris DeRose
Victor French
Cheryl Ladd
Kristy McNichol
Penny Marshall
Suzanne Somers
Parker Stevenson

Dan Haggerty (captain)
Robert Conrad
Elinor Donahue
Patrick Duffy
Peter Isacksen
Lance Kerwin
Donna MIlls
Belinda Montgomery
Michelle Phillips
Larry Wilcox

Jimmie Walker (captain)
Adrienne Barbeau
Valerie Bertinelli
Kevin Dobson
Jamie Farr
Caren Kaye
James MacArthur
James Vincent McNichol
Loretta Swit
Lyle Waggoner

(Quick aside: This is Loretta Swit's 3rd appearance, and I think I've seen her a combined 4 seconds on screen. Unless she was the lynchpin of the February team, it seems to me she probably lived about 5 minutes away from Pepperdine and liked picking up checks.)

The show starts out with "network executives" getting down to business and speaking of the seriousness of this battle. Jimmie Walker is positioned early as having a yacht. It's hard for me to believe. Finally the familiar, dulcet tones of Howard Cosell come on and after we're treated to the introduction of Telly Savalas as a co-host (along with the returning Bruce Jenner (who surprisingly does a good job of mixing subtle humor and actual analysis in his commentating) and David Marr (who collects a paycheck for 6 minutes of work on the golf event and is never seen again)) we're ready to get started.

Event #1: Swimming Relay

Roger Goodman stays with his recipe and gives us nice tight shots of Adrienne Barbeau in a swimsuit. I'm guessing her contract stipulates she be involved in the swimming event regardless of her swimming ability. Glancing at the male competitors it appears many of them have shaved their chest; whether it's for the race or normal grooming practices for Hollywood stars of the 70s is unclear. What is clear is that Jamie Farr did not shave his chest. Or maybe he did and it just came in thicker...a lot thicker.

As ABC wins going away, on the strength of Parker Stevenson, a graduate of Princeton University and a member of their crew team (I predict we'll be seeing him in the rowing competition), Cosell informs us NBC captain Dan Haggerty recently fell off his motorcycle riding over 50 mph.

Event #2: The Obstacle Course

Nary a change has been made to the course which is just the way I like it. That way, runs from previous competitions can be measured against one another, and there are no variables involved. The surprisingly adept Penny Marshall is back, but she faces some stiff competition in Michelle Phillips, who we're informed was a member of the Mamas and the Papas. Not the one that enjoyed ham sandwiches.

Regardless, Michelle Phillips starts off great, before hurdling herself into the wall, and possibly hurting her ankle. It's unclear just how badly she's hurt, as she runs again in the next heat and ultimately wins the whole shebang. Cosell throws it down to Savalas to see if he can get any answers, but he replies, "When a girl's running, I look at other things..." Ok, so he won't be winning any investigative journalist awards, but can you blame him?

On the men's side of things, Cosell slowly builds up the legend of Billy Crystal's athletic prowess, seconds before we see him falter on every obstacle on the course, and finish dead last.

That sets up Patrick Duffy and Jim McNichol in the finals (and I'm pretty sure both McNichol siblings wished they hadn't performed on the Mike Douglas show, as we're treated to a little bit of that trainwreck), where Duffy sets a new course record of 19.9 seconds.
So, after two events, all three networks are tied with 150 points.

Event #3: Bowling

Bowling? I guess it's a sport. Anyway, here's the first place we see Savalas openly rooting for CBS, as he gives Barbeau advice. Of course, he also might just want to be close to Barbeau, and who can blame him?

I'm also pretty sure that Vegas wouldn't take your bet if you wanted odds on Conrad bowling without a shirt.

Because bowling is inherently boring as a televised sport, the producers are left to find other ways to kill time, and so we're treated to Crystal's first Muhamed Ali impression (I'm pretty sure he's contractually obligated to do this). Afterward he does pick up a ridiculous split for a spare so there's that. NBC winds up winning vaulting them into the overall lead.

Event #4: Rowing

Though I never want to question Kaplan's strategy, he puts Parker Stevenson 2nd in the rowing competition. He might be the only out there that has actually been in a boat! Of course, my questioning looks silly as ABC wins the race by a full pool length. We also are treated to a rare Loretta Swit appearance, as she stands by the pool and cheers.

Event #5: Golf

Ahh, here's where we get the expert insight of Favid Marr's commentary. Aside from some slow motion golf shots of the ladies and Jamie Farr, the highlight of the golf event is the profile on Fred Berry, which begins at a place called Disco 9000 in New York. There's Berry on the dance floor, showing off moves for everyone. He also suggests one of his favorite hobbies is horseback riding, which I take as a joke, but Cosell takes with complete seriousness. I'm unsure who's right.

Somehow ABS wins, and CBS and NBC tie.

Event #6: Running

Always a crowd pleaser is the running relay. The teams are introduced, with Kevin Dobson seemingly having the same disposition as a serial killer dismembering a prostitute. I'd hate to be his teammate.

Kaplan employs a brilliant strategy of having his women run their legs first, and anchoring them with the men, which of course works and has ABC dominating the race. For some reason Chris DeRose (pardon me if I have no idea what show he is from) runs the last leg of the race in bare feet. I have no idea. I was also disappointed to see neither Kaplan nor Conrad compete, but I think there's too much honest to goodness tension there and it would have ended poorly. So ABC wins with NBC second and CBS bringing up the rear. We now get an overall score update, with ABC in the lead with 525 points, NBC with 437.5 points and CBS with 387.5 points.

Wait, what?

I have no idea where half points came into play, or how why the scores appear to be so random. It was explained earlier in the show that first place received 100 points, second 75, and third 50. But the score were flashed up on screen, with nary a comment from Cosell, Savalas, Jenner, or Marr (and you would think Marr could be doing something at this point, since his only work so far has been 38 seconds of golf commentary explaining how he thought the celebrities would have a difficult time chipping. Thanks for coming Marr).

Event #7: Dunk Tank

I'm a little worries when the dunk tank starts, as the last time it was on, it dragged on forever. However, by the third Battle, it seems Goodman got the knack of filming this event, and cut it down significantly, which is good, because there are only so many times Jamie Farr can get dunked before it loses all value of entertainment.

That's not to say we don't get to see Jamie Farr get dunked a lot.
Farr, in a speedo, a collared shirt and what may or may not be a life vest made of hair underneath, gamely steps into the booth for CBS, with ABC up to throw. Immediately, the integrity of the event gets called into question as a Penny Marshall misses the target, yet Jamie Farr still gets dunked. I think after the original battle, when the target had to be hit with a missle for someone to fall in, the producers may have tweaked it. Anyway, it is here, in the seventh event where we are introduced to this battle's celebrity commissioner, Frank Robinson. I'm not sure what his responsibilities are, but there you go. He certainly doesn't seem fazed by the questionable hair trigger dunk tank. ABC wins again, and now the scores after 7 are:

ABC 625
NBC 500
CBS 450

Yeah, I have no idea either.

Event #8: Football

Oh, glorious football. I assume with the popularity of Monday Night Football, everyone figured they could cash in by introducing this into the competition. Basically you have a QB and 2 receivers who go out and try to score a touchdown, with defenders. QB can only be rushed after a 3 second count, which is a non-factor.

Barbeau looks visibly nervous receiving instruction from Dobson before the start of the first heat. ABC takes on CBS and were treated to only highlights. It appears Kaplan (QB) took apart the CBS defense.

That leaves CBS and NBC to battle it out to see who goes up against ABC in the finals. Dobson starts at QB and starts throwing 10 yard outs to his receivers, well short of the endzone. Sure, the catches score him some points (2 for each catch) but since touchdowns are worth 5, it hardly seems like a wise strategy.

Dan Haggerty proves me right by basically throwing 2 touchdowns and beating CBS. In the finals, while ABC makes a valiant effort (Marshall and Ladd drop 2 in the endzone!) but no one can figure out how to stop Isacksen and his 8'4" height. It's no contest and NBC wins an gets the honor of taking on ABC in the tug 'o war.

Event #9: Tug 'o War

Here's a beautiful are the standings heading into the tug 'o war:

ABC 700
NBC 600
CBS 500

So, if NBC wins, there would be a tie for first place. However, in the BotNS bylaws, in the event of a tie, the team with the most individual first place finishes is declared the winner. Actually, I have no idea if there are BotNS bylaws, but Cosell explained this as though there were, so let's go with it. So ABC wins, regardless of the tug 'o war outcome. Of course, everyone still wants a tug 'o war, so the producers on the spot ante up $1000 per player for the winner of this event. I love it! No controversy, no silly judgement calls...they just throw more money at them.

Looking at the squads, the early money favorites are NBC. Dan Haggerty might be able to win by himself. The man has a physique. On the other side yo have people like Billy Crystal and Parker Stevenson...athletes to be sure, but c'mon.

And the paper champion also is the real champion as NBC demolishes the smaller ABC team and wins themselves an extra $1000. I'm also pretty sure Dan Haggerty is half bear.
Conrad gets interviewed and he announces his retirement, saying it's a young man's sport. I have a sneaking suspicion however that this isn't the last we'll see of this wild man.

And so winds up another Battle, with ABC on top again. While not nearly as much controversy as the initial battle, this one still had plenty of entertainment value and plenty to talk about. Sadly, this also appears to be the last one Telly Savalas participated in. Mr. Savalas, you will be missed.

For your enjoyment - a lovely Cheryl Ladd montage from this episode. Though she didn't do much, it's never a bad thing to enjoy watching Cheryl Ladd...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Links of Interest 8/29

Perusing this list of "Best seasons of televisions," I love that they included Murder One. A great show that I think was ahead of it's time. I bet it would definitely work in today's environment and would really work on a cable channel. I will say I'm not loving the inclusion of season 2 of the Wire. The first season was probably as close to perfect as you're going to get. And no love for John from Cincinnati?

I need to get a relationship with a butcher. Problem is, they seem to be a dying breed, at least near me. And I'm not going to shoot the shit with the guy at the Acme, regardless of his skill.

Who doesn't like the Dude? As in The Big Leboski Dude.

Time gets grimy and steps into the porn world by interviewing Ron Jeremy.

It's true, I loved MacGuyver. So I spent a decent amount of time with this list of problems he solved without the use of a gun. (Macguyver fans should get that.)

The Good...the Bad...the Beautiful #5


Genius. This makes me hope for a hurricane soon. You know, the kind that doesn't leave a lot of damage in it's wake, but leaves about 6 inches of water in the road.

Make sure you don't miss the end.


This looks terrible. Seriously, it's getting a lot of buzz, and I can't figure out why. I'm assuming Tarantino plays the narrator type of character, and so he isn't in it that much, but he even makes the trailer bad with his poor acting.


Don't you dare suggest this isn't beautiful. Obviously that robot made great friends on Earth, and is sad to go. But don't fret for him, it looks like he's about to enjoy robot poontang. And stay for the peeping tom in the tree.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Good...the Bad...the Beautiful #4


Unfortunately, this one can't be embedded, so you're going to have to click here.

I'm a huge Cavett fan, so don't be surprised to routinely see clips of him show up here. This one is genius. Listen to how deftly Cavett attempts to diffuse the situation, and to see how Hepburn will have none of it. I also love how she wants a table so she can put her feet up. It's a classy look


Maybe if he got hit he would have learned his lesson. Doubtful.


Who didn't play with Legos as a kid?

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Good...the Bad...the Beautiful #3


"Use of tunnels and hiding underground is an example of the ninja technique using the earth element for invisibility."

And so begins what might possibly be the greatest ninja training video ever (if there is more than this one). Honestly, I thought to become a ninja took years of training and discipline, but apparently I was wrong. I simply have to watch these 5 videos and keep notes.


Ok. I love GI Joe as much as the next guy (probably more) but not enough to invest a lot of money and time to make something like this. I mean, the creators have done just enough to make you realize that they have some skill, but not enough to pull something like this off.


Maybe you've seen it, but it's worth seeing again. Who doesn't like water balloons and slow motion?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Links of Interest 8/21

Have a need to buy a corpse? Hey, I don't judge. At least I don't judge anyone that feels the need to buy a corpse. See what other strange items you can buy here.

I have hated Blockbuster since high school. I even wrote an essay on how the company encourages censorship (yes I realize it's not true censorship - call it social censorship). So, to see their CEO have (alleged) bewilderment as to why people like Netflix is very enjoyable to me.

Though not as exciting as it sounds once playing the video, apparently there's been a rumor that an extra exposes himself in the movie Teen Wolf. Judge for yourself.

As I went down the list of bizarre delicacies from around the world, I asked myself whether I would try it. I don't think I could do number 1 - at least not alive like they describe it.

The Good...the Bad...the Beautiful #2


In honor of the Olympics, check out this race from 1964. After running about 6 miles, Mills comes out of nowhere to sprint past the leaders. I love the announcer going absolutely bonkers. Not being a racing aficionado, I can't truly appreciate how hard this accomplishment was, but I can imagine. It takes me back to Kaplan coming out of nowhere to beat Conrad during the 1976 BotNS, when everyone (including teammates) thought he had no chance.


Wow. This was a terrible idea. I'm not sure what's worse - the act, the acting, or the concept. I dare you to last all 7:55. I can't believe people thought Arsenio Hall had a good late night talk show.


Now that's a lot of surf. Do people live in these places? Could you imagine if you had to?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Good...the Bad...the Beautiful

New post series (at least I hope I can sustain it - all signs point to not likely) about videos I find on the web. each post will have 3 videos, that I obviously find "good," "bad" or "beautiful." Assume the definitions of those words will be used liberally.

The idea came from the cliff diving video I linked to yesterday - that would fall under the "beautiful" category. The Quincy theme song video would fall under the "brilliant" tag, which is why it will never make it into GBB. Anyway, enough of this...on with the show.


Here's what happens when you leave teenagers unsupervised. You get "Ron's Slip n Slide Extravaganza." I'd love to meet the Neil Armstrong of the group, and ask what was going through his head that first time down. I'm still not sure I could try it - the consequences for a failed slide are catastrophic. That's why I tip my hat to you, Ron.


Here's what happens when not-so-smart teenagers are left unsupervised. I can only imagine myself as a young buck trying something similar to this. I'm sure had I lived close to an awesome, unsupervised water park that was easy to break into during the offseasson months, I would have been included with this group. But I'd like to think I have the common sense to bring a lot more inflatable inner tubes.

Of course, you can tell we're not dealing with the smartest bunch - one person has to be told repeatedly to get out of the way of the filming; another person seems to run toward the insufficient pile of inflatable inner tubes in a bizarre act of possibly catching the victim. It's unclear. But I will give the group credit for having the foresight to bring a video camera with them.


C'mon - you thought you could get away from Battle of the Network Stars? I'll shoehorn that show into anything if you let me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Links of Interest 8/19

I've always loved Robert Wagner. And after reading a few details about him and Natalie Wood, I love him even more. He almost shot Warren Beatty!

Ok look. I realize that lists of no value other than to spark debate, and I also realize a website called TV Crunch is not the authority on much, but still, this list of the top 25 worst game shows is atrocious. Never mind that they included Legend of the Hidden Temple, a children's game show that is adored by many, but Supermarket Sweep? Are you kidding?

We here at The Popcorn Trick, love Michael Gross. If you've never seen this, or this then I don't know what to tell you. Regardless, this news will have our DVRs humming during the afternoon.

Want to read about why a woman might head into high class prostitution? Here you go. Though I don't think the author does a real good job of intertwining her experience into the article. A lot of sizzle, but not a lot of steak at the end.

A video of cliff diving that is just so much more than that. It might have inspired a new series here at the Popcorn Trick. I live its weirdness and non sequitors.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Hidden Hollow Files

The Hidden Hollow Files is an attempt to recount the golden era (1991-1994) of Hidden Hollow Swim Club, a pool facility nestled in the suburbs of Philadelphia.

For previous Hidden Hollow Files, go here, here, here and here.


The first two years I worked at the pool I enjoyed a blissful, ignorant existence. My two main responsibilities (as I saw them) were to make sure no one hurt themselves or died while I was on the stand, and to make sure I eluded all other responsibilities at the pool. The first was easy enough; – having trained to be a lifeguard I figured if the time came where I had to apply first aid and/or CPR, some synapse would fire up in a dark recess of my brain and the knowledge would course through my body. That left the second, and looking back, I’d say I handled that one fairly well. There were tricks that older guards taught me, and in a pinch I could always hide. I still know places in that swim club where no one could find me.

Anyway, going into my third year I felt pretty good. No longer a rookie, no longer a know-it-all second year guard, I looked forward to working with friends and enjoying the summer.

Unfortunately that level of complacency dissolved quickly soon after reporting for duty that first day.

The township hired a new safety inspector. And the consequences were drastic…

Technically, I’m not 100% sure there was an old safety inspector, I have no idea how safety inspections went down before this change. I can only speculate, and speculating can only get me in trouble. So if it did indeed involve bribes of hookers and lots of money to keep the swim clubs running, I would have no idea. All I know is that things changed with this new safety inspector.

Let’s call her Betty.

The first clue we knew Betty was different was when we first saw her. It was the first time any of us had seen a safety inspector. The second clue was when she first asked us to see our chlorine records. After a lot of hemming and hawing, many of us ran and hid, hoping she went away.

She didn’t.

The process for chlorinating the pools before the arrival of Betty on the scene was simple. Two large tanks of chlorine were buried in a hill near the parking lot of the pool. Chlorine traveled down to our “chlorine house” situated on the swim club grounds. Basically, an old spring house, that’s where a number of dangerous things were stored for the swim club. Every night after the patrons left, we pulled a hose from the chlorine house and threw it in our large Olympic-sized pool for about 10 minutes or so There wasn’t really a scientific equation. The chlorine traveled into the filter and then spread out into the other pools, making things safe for everyone. The newer lap pool had it’s own automated system, which time released chlorine into the smaller, pool not connected to the network of others.

While not an ideal system, it had its rustic charm, and at the end of the day, chlorine found its way into all of the pools.

Unfortunately, Betty didn’t take to our rustic approach very well. She particularly didn’t like the hose part of our system, and really didn’t like that no one regulated the amount going into the pool. Her solution was to make the swim club get another automated system for the bigger network of pools, so chlorine would be cycled in around the clock. Efficient on paper…

The problems began when Betty “asked” us to keep a “chlorine record” for all the pools. Apparently, there are chlorine regulations for pools, and we may or may not have been reaching that standard. It all gets hazy here since heck, there were nights we left the chlorine hose in the pool for a half hour or so. Days after that unofficially became “goggle days” and nothing more came of it.

Apparently “goggle days” did not go over well with Betty; hence the implementation of the “chlorine record.” Every hour, a guard had to walk around with a kit and test the chlorine levels of all the pools and record the numbers in a binder. The kit consisted of a beaker with a gauge on the side, and a chemical that reacted with the chlorine in the pool. A nice bright yellow meant we were in good shape; weaker yellow meant less chlorine than desirable, orange meant possibly too much.

This chlorine record soon became a problem.

Not because no one wanted to test the pools for acceptable levels. That was far from the case. It was an easy job that got you out of other, harder jobs. The problem was the automated systems that were now regulating the pools’ chlorine levels simply couldn’t handle it. Levels rarely hit the acceptable numbers. And Betty more than once showed up and pulled people from the pools when she deemed the levels low. The swim club (and therefore the life guards) were in a bind as to what to do.

It’s amazing what the human spirit will come up with in unfair situations. Because it was unfair. We had a system in place before Betty showed up, and it worked. The system Betty demanded didn’t. The options were limited. Either somehow fix the automated system or…

(The following is a fictional account of what we could have done had the automated system never been fixed. In no way did any of us participate in any illegal activities. Think of it as a cheeky “what if.”)

…we could take matters into our own hands.

We knew, regardless of the prison pay, horrible conditions and long, boring hours, we had a good thing going at the swim club. And no high and mighty safety inspector with a God complex was going to wrestle that away from us.

Making sure the “chlorine record” was up to date was simple. We fudged the numbers. Having already collected a lot of data, we knew where the traditional peaks and valleys of the system would lie, and so we made sure our numbers always reflected that. Many of us became deft at taking measurements of the chlorine levels simply by dripping some of the solution into the pool. At least we told ourselves that.

The harder part of our subterfuge became maintaining an acceptable level of chlorine in the pools when Betty visited. We couldn’t make the automated system pump faster. Usually, on the days she was scheduled to come, we simply pulled the hose out, shocked the pool, and all was good. Bust that wasn’t an option the day she wandered down the hill, unannounced.

The response was quick, chaotic, extremely hazardous, Dirty-Dozenesque, and stupid.

Exactly the type of plan lifeguards like us were capable of pulling off.

I’m not sure who saw her first. It didn’t matter. The manager on duty at the time had the unenviable task of shuffling her from pool to pool, and trying to convince her that the level was a 1.2 and not a .8.

Luckily, today the job fell to Mr. P.

Mr. P knew the insides of that pool like no other and also knew what needed to be done to ensure pool activity for the paying members did not get suspended. Barking orders like a cigar-chomping colonel on the battlefield, (we maybe understood every fourth word) a rough plan of defense was formed.

I sprinted to the chlorine house, grabbing two five gallon buckets along the way. I needed to get a lot of chlorine into a pool very quickly, and no automated system could help me. I was going off the grid, and into a grey area of legality.

It’s one thing to fudge a number here or there in a record book – or maybe go back and fill in some numbers for a time you missed; it’s another to actively deceive someone who may or may not have the authority to close down a facility due to safety violations. Yet here I found myself actively participating in this event, not only willingly, but gleefully. Perhaps I missed my calling as a bagman for the mob.

Buckets full, I now found myself facing the unenviable task of swimming the chlorine through the pool. It couldn’t just be dumped, because it wouldn’t circulate fast enough for an “accurate” acceptable reading. I jumped in and swam the buckets around, the fumes slowly falling over my exposed face, my body knifing through the warm, slippery chemical as it lazily drifted out of the buckets to meet with the water. I felt the pungent, yellow liquid slither over my body, warm as urine. I didn’t feel great about my immune system at that moment.

The lap pool an easy fix, I finished up a little before I saw Mr. P. ambling down the path with Betty, as slowly as he possibly could go without arousing suspicion. Unfortunately getting chlorine in the rest of the pools was not going to be as easy as my trip. Because the lap pool had few swimmers in the early afternoon hours (the infamous lappers came after work and tortured guards by staying until the last possible second the pool stayed open) swimming through it with buckets of a highly toxic chemical posed little problem; the other pools posed more of a challenge.

We couldn’t swim through the other pools with chlorine. Too many people would ask too many questions, and we couldn’t chance it. Enter the “Chemist.”

The Chemist was a guard who, over the months of checking the chlorine levels, had gained a sort sixth sense for being able to give you an accurate reading using nothing more than guile, a couple drops of chemical, and possibly luck. He never really spoke of this gift, and no one really cared. It was enough that he pretty much took over the chlorine records and allowing us to hang out in the snack bar and play more Ms. Pac Man on our down time.

Because of his extensive pool knowledge, he also knew the best places in the pool to get a record a higher chlorine level. So as Betty walked around the lap pool, occasionally dunking the beaker in the water, quibbling with Mr. P about what a .8 looked like, the Chemist was directing a fire line of guards with buckets of chlorine, telling them the exactly where to dump them.

Once finished with the lap pool, Betty moved on to the rest of the grounds, now walking with the Chemist. It was up to him to subtly direct her to the hot spots in the pool, and ensure her readings came up satisfactorily. Few of us had any worries though, once in the hands of the Chemist, we felt relatively safe. Besides the hard work of delivering the chlorine was finished.

It’s here where we got greedy.

Looking back, Betty was simply doing a job she was hired to do. She held no malice in her heart, nor did she take pleasure in closing down the pools. It’s possible that some of this chicanery and “negotiation tactics” that the swim club employed wore her down a bit and hardened her during later visits, but should she be blamed for any of that? And why should we guards feel so impassioned about keeping the pool open with so many visible safety violations? We owed the club nothing, and in fact, many of us felt just the opposite; that the pool owed us.

If I had to guess, and psychoanalyze myself and my friends, I would say, a lot of us felt a weird sense of pride in keeping the swim club functional. We hated the menial tasks of picking trash and mowing grass, but give us the responsibility of ensuring the pools had enough water to swim in, and we jumped at the opportunity. Any operational responsibilities were lapped up, giving us (at least in our heads) a sense of worth that many of the other guards didn’t have. That value fueled our desire, despite our constant complaining and moaning of terrible pay and work conditions. It was that uneasy paradox that maintained success for the pool for all my years working there.

Now, I’m not 100% sure whose idea it was to break into Betty’s car. Under the guise of wanting to find out where to live, but surely just for the sake of being able to later say, “yeah, we broke into the township’s safety inspector’s car,” we skulked up to the parking lot. Breaking in consisted of opening up the passenger side door while found herself entangled in the Chemist’s half-truths, runarounds and charm still down on the pool grounds.

We came back with nothing, save a receipt we found in a cupholder and an index card with information clearly useless for any plan we thought we were going to execute. The only thing the car break-in could have helped with was our immediate firing and probable arrests. Luckily neither happened and Betty (to my knowledge) was none the wiser.

And the surprise inspection? Satisfactory to Betty’s chagrin. Regardless of how she felt about her job, I’m certain her visit was made in hopes of catching us doing something sketchy. That she didn’t, proved our worth and allegiance to the swim club. We saw less and less of her after that visit, and I don’t think she ever returned after that year. I have no idea why, and I asked no questions. I was just glad we didn’t have to deal with the safety inspector again. Things finally went back to normal.

For better or worse.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Links of Interest 8/14

An old link, but one I hadn't seen before. And I'm surprised how well the grass-fed beef fared.

It amazes me, that for one of the most important jobs in the U.S., this kind of incompetency runs rampant. It wouldn't take much to organize the campaign, either.

After reading this new trend of people guerilla gardening in L.A., I wish someone would guerilla mow my lawn.

I'm always willing to help out the paranoid.

A list of "disgusting flavors." I would by X-13D Doritos everyday if they were currently available. Sadly, it seems there not. But that still doesn't mean they should be lumped in with the rest of these.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A few Olympic thoughts...

I know it’s rather trendy to bash the Olympics – particularly the Beijing Olympics. And while many critiques have merit (surprisingly I AM against human rights violations on a global level) people boycotting the games or calling for harsh penalties against the host country are missing the point. I was always taught (quite possibly naively) that the Olympics should be a time when politics were put aside for the moment, giving everyone a brief respite from global concerns to compete against one another on the athletic field (whatever that field may be) in a spirited manner. It is true the past competitions have not always lived up to this ideal, and it may be impossible to fully realize what the games were originally intended to do. But that doesn’t mean people can’t try to realize it.

Enough. It’s too big an issue for one person such as myself to clearly solve, and I am sure I am ignorant of a million points. I just want to say that the Olympics don’t always have to be viewed with a sarcastic, caustic tint. There are great things that come out of the competition, and that’s what I always look forward to every 2 years.

That said, it certainly won’t stop me from criticizing some of the stuff going on. Here are just a few random thoughts I’ve had watching the coverage the past few days, good, bad and indifferent…

Somehow, completely by mistake, I found myself awake on Sunday night around midnight to catch what might have been the most exciting race I’ve ever seen: the men’s 4x100 freestyle relay. Not knowing too much about swimming, I still realized what Jason Lezak did, shouldn’t have been possible. To come from that far back, in that short amount of space…well, who knew swimming could be that exciting. I’ll admit it, I even got choked up – but that’s not really a surprise – my weakness is when someone, anyone overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds.

Handball is my new favorite sport. I assume one of the main reasons it isn’t popular in the United States is because there just isn’t room for it – we already have indoor sporting events, why would we need another? That’s a shame because I love the strategy that goes behind Handball. The US didn’t even qualify which should be embarrassing, but somehow I don’t think anyone cares. Seriously though, I have to look into what it takes to qualify – I’m thinking I could lead a team at least to a bronze. I would outline my strategy, but why give opponents any help?

Does the “B” in CNBC stand for boxing? I think I’ve seen roughly 112 hours of the sport in the past 2 days.

I know this isn’t an original thought by any means, but the sports with judges (primarily gymnastics and diving) frustrate me. Watching synchronized diving the other night, I saw what I thought was a terrible attempt by the Chinese team – yet they scored fairly high marks. Next I saw the Russians perform what I thought to be a great dive, and the results were reversed. It leaves a sour taste in everyone’s mouth. And I understand the host country bias, but if that’s the case, how is anything fair for all countries involved? I don’t even want to get into the gymnastics.

Beijing is a 12 hour time difference. Why isn’t NBC, showing all live events from 7 PM to midnight every night? Or at least dedicate a channel to live events? I’m not sure when the Olympics get started every morning, but there are a ton of channels the Olympics are on. Let’s push “To Catch a Predator” repeats off a few weeks and show me some live coverage. I don’t care what the event is. I know the gymnastics is the bread and butter of the coverage (and there are a lot of things psychologically wrong with that that I won’t get into) but there are people out there that enjoy competition for the sake of competition and will watch pistol shooting and fencing. Especially if they’re in a medal count competition with their friends.

I leave you with this. Not one, but two reports about eating penis! And one's a video! Look, I understand that the far east is kooky and weird, and their belief system is something we should mock and denounce, but should we really treat this stuff as news? And yes, I also understand it's funny when you say and write the word penis. If you're 12.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Links of Interest 8/12

Time to get sexy...or watch music people get sexy.

Want to keep up to date on the medals being won by individual countries? Check out this cool interactive map.

You know how you might stumble across a link promising something that sounds too good to be true? And then you click on it and it just lists a couple vague things you already know? Well this is not one of those. I won't promise it works, and I take no responsibility if you try, but at least there was something you can sink your teeth into here.

A nice little review of some cheap beers.

Most of the time Sesame Street gets it, and it's awesome. But when they don't, it's even more awesome.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Links of Interest 8/7

After checking out this list, I'll now keep my eyes open on my way to the post office, because you never know.

For all the problems and issues that people gripe about in the United States (and I'm not belittling them by any means), reading something like this puts things in perspective.

Don't have NBC (I'm not sure if that's even possible, but whatever)? Here's a handy guide about how to watch the Olympics online.

Once the no leg pushups came on, I knew this guy had skillz.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Links of Interest 8/6

It's truly amazing just how different Pakistan is to what Americans are used to. And not just from a consumption standpoint. Check out this video of a guy who travels and sees the weapons market over there.

While it's easy to understand why this isn't getting more attention, it's still more evidence that suggests the United States has done some pretty shady things in the past few years. If true of course. Still, it's amazing how much a a new election can take the focus away of the current administration.

I wonder what goes through people's heads sometimes. With the restrictions some industries face, others seemingly can get away with anything. Your examples are right here. Although, I have to disagree about the thongs. Aren't they good for any age?

I know there has been a lot of excitement for Tron 2 on the web, myself included. However, after watching this sneak preview, I'm now a little apprehensive. In the original, the light bikes only had the 90 degree turn ability. Here, they have a full range of motion. To me, that kinda of cheats the danger the light cycles had in the original, and therefore, while I'm sure still spectacular, play with a set of rules that isn't all that original, and therefore not as fun.

Apparently it's easier than ever to go on a coke binge in the US and Spain.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Links of Interest 8/4

On a very special Punky Brewster. How high and mighty must television networks feel that they needed to educate its audience with these "special" episodes of shows that were created so that America could forget their problems. That or actors really wanted to be nominated for Emmys.

I'm not ashamed; I love the Olympics. Not a huge fan of the professionals over there - or at least the professionals I don't know about. To me, professionals defeat the purpose of the spirit of the Olympics, which above all else is competition. To me, the professionals bring an element of jadedness, which soils the vibe. Regardless, here's a breakdown of 10 of the events that will be highlighted in less than a week.

Only included because if you are already a fan of The Popcorn Trick, you already know about Numbers Stations and how awesome they are. If not, you should subscribe to our podcast. It's over there on the right.

Probably the creepiest thing you will see all year. For fans of John Carpenter's The Thing, GI Joe, and having nightmares.

Who's the bigger ass here - Lucas or Spielberg?