Friday, October 24, 2014

The Cat's Pajamas Link to the Times Union

For all Cat's Pajamas blog posts, please click the link below and you will be redirected to the latest postings under the Cat's Pajamas banner.

Starting Monday October 27, 2014 @ 5.30AM the Cat's Pajamas is officially launched with the Times Union:

click here to access

Brian Huba

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Off to the Times Union

Effective Monday, October 27, 2014, the Cat’s Pajamas will be relocating to the Times Union. Working with the Capital Region’s largest paper will help generate a wider audience and a deeper interaction with the content. This is an exciting new chapter in the Cat’s Pajamas, and I’m excited to have the readers make the leap with me.

In addition to a more professional site and wider audience, working with the TU creates an opportunity for the Cat’s Pajamas to be featured in-print in the paper’s Perspective Section. Nothing else will change, except the URL, which I’ll keep posted on this site right here. The Cat’s Pajamas goes live every Monday morning and will always be a click away.

Thanks to everyone who reads and occasionally comments. I’m eager to start pumping out new opinion pieces to a larger universe. I believe the Cat’s Pajamas is the best kept secret in the area, and now it’s time to tell a few more the little secret we’ve shared the last several years. I also believe Pajamas readers are smart, forward-thinking people, and that’s the best part.

The Cat’s Pajamas started with a little blog about my idea to bring back the draft: and ended this past weekend with my take on the Hoffman’s Company partnering with Huck Finn’s:

The almost five years in between we’ve discussed everything from pop culture, to community events, sports, and music. You’ve heard me praise THE SOPRANOS and defend Barack Obama. I called DMB the best band ever then abruptly took that back. This forum has helped me through some of the hardest losses of my life and the good moments. It’s been a wonderful story--it’s been our story--and the big wheel churns again on October 27th and every Monday after!

The last words go to one faithful fan/commenter who wonders the same thing many have wondered about the Cat’s Pajamas. His name is anonymous (think that’s a Greek name) and he says, “Can someone please explain . . . is this supposed to be funny or witty? My eight yr old has better sense.”

See you again on the 27th!

Brian Huba

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Memories on the Move

Remember the circa-August rhetoric about getting to Hoffman’s Playland one last time? Yep, the Latham-based amusement park was on its last leg, so bring your friends and pose in front of the roller coaster for those final Facebook photos. All that sappy media coverage. All that crap about reclaiming childhood memories. In the end it was a waste. Hoffman’s Playland lives again, as Huck Finn’s Playland, reopening on the exciting Erie Blvd. over Memorial Day Weekend 2015.

If you didn’t catch my sarcasm about Erie in the previous paragraph, I’ll clarify: Erie Blvd. is the most depressing blvd. on the planet. If you don’t know what Erie Blvd. is, let me paint the picture. As you move south on 787, going past the city of Albany on your right side, you’ll see a string of eye-sore buildings and brownish warehouses and rail yards choked in tumbleweed. Bingo was his name-o. You’re looking at Erie Blvd.

I’ve heard the talk about Hoffman’s to Huck Finn’s beginning an Albany boon. But I can’t imagine that stretch of industrial wasteland as a fitting backdrop to little-kid fantasy. And the crowned jewel of this terrifying site is the Huck Finn’s Warehouse itself. I love Huck Finn’s furniture and reasonable prices, but going there on a Saturday afternoon is soul sucking. It’s like they followed the blueprint for Birkenau when constructing that place. The depressing Subway Restaurant. The depressing loading dock. Nothing’s worse than Huck Finn’s on a Saturday.

I don’t know if the Hoffman’s magic can be recaptured there. Even the 787 off-ramp to Erie is sad and scary. You have to turn right at that creepy gas station and nondescript/crumbling edifice behind it. Then drive into nothingness before hitting the first business. The other reality here: the Hoffman’s magic isn’t that magic. It’s been kind of overblown for nostalgia sake. It was a few third-rate rides and a decent ice cream joint. The best part of that place: location, location, location.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that Huck Finn’s Playland with that terrifying furniture retailer in the backshot is the marriage needed to jumpstart Erie. But I doubt it. The problem is Albany’s not destination now. Don’t believe me? Drive down Central Ave. tonight at eight p.m. Sure, it still has some good restaurants, and the biggest car dealers, and the State offices. But nobody wants to live in Albany or play in Albany. U Albany’s not even in Albany. They’ve been trying to get that Convention Center built since Bush I was in office. One look at the Greyhound Station down there and you’ll understand why that never happened.

It’s the suburbs now. Not just here but everywhere like here. Don’t believe me? Try finding a hotel room in Latham, CP, or ‘Toga tonight. You’ll get laughed at. Try going from Albany to Malta at four pm on a Friday. Hope you got a good book. Jennings had the best idea to build up Albany: do it through the bar scene. It worked for a while then the cliental changed. Party over.

I say Hoffman’s can never be redone in the City of Albany. They should’ve moved it to Ballston Spa or let this past summer finally be the Playland’s last.

Read more:

Brian Huba

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Saturday, October 4, 2014

You Can't Trust a Cat

I saw a posting for a cat in need of adoption. It was a beautiful tiger with gray fur and green eyes. And I thought to myself: 3 dogs AND a cat? We’ve flirted with the idea of adding a feline a few times. Maybe this was the one to move on. Then I read the info and the provider wanted the adopter to pay a $250.00 fee. This wasn’t an agency or humane society. It was a private individual. Instead of paying $250.00 I could walk into any Petco and have a cat for free and/or drive to the dumpster behind Hannaford and have a whole family. It was a frustrating ignorance of the supply-demand cycle in the cat world. I walked away.

You can't trust a cat. I’d pay $250.00, put the cat through the battery of vet fees and fixing procedures, then bring him home, where he’d promptly climb the fence and take off into the neighborhood, never to be seen again. Cats are different than dogs. I’m not sure a cat is even meant to be domesticated. They don’t seem loving. They claw furniture and crap in a box and go "rrreeeerrr" in a scary way. Here’s what you know with a cat going in: The animal’s going to give you nothing super stimulating but will no doubt cost you cash and heartache. The cat is such a selfish animal. It’s like living with a Kardashian.

What does one do with a cat? Do you walk the cat? Do you take the cat on hikes into the mountains around Lake George? How could you? The cat would take off in two seconds. I don’t understand why people get cats. What’s the point? Cat People strike me as people who want responsibility but not that much responsibility. Sorry, Jack Byrnes from MEET THE PARENTS, it's true. A cat doesn’t need human beings. At my mother-in-law’s last month I watched through the window as her cat captured and ate a mouse in two bone-crunching bites. I didn’t even know they owned cats. Yeah, they have several, they live in the basement. You’d know if several dogs lived in the basement.

Nothing rips my insides harder than a news story about dog abuse and/or those ASPCA Sarah Mclachlan commercials. Mclachlan herself has admitted to changing the channel when that spot airs. I refuse to read MARLEY & ME (But argue THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN is the best book ever written, except LEGS of course) and bawled at the end of WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS. But cat stories don’t move me. If someone has too many cats and can’t feed them, just open the back door and wave goodbye. Those cats will be fine.

My favorite thing in the world is sleeping late on Saturdays. I did it today. I love rolling over in the wee hours of 11AM and seeing my little Sophie Dog’s face on the pillow next to mine. I saw it today. If I rolled over and saw a cat so close, I’d scream in horror. That cat was about to claw my face to a thousand strips of confetti. You can’t trust a cat.

The first dog we bought was Lola James, in 2007. Eight months later we added Sophie Cinnamon. Back then we lived in an apartment complex that went from young yuppie to the recruiting ground for Al-Qaeda in the two years we stayed there. The couple who lived a few doors down bought a baby beagle named Pepper. That dog was all the rave. Lola and Sophie loved playing with her. But something wasn’t right. There was a fear in Pepper.

We started having Pepper over to our apartment in the evenings. I’d come home from work, go get Pepper, and we’d keep her till dinnertime. When I brought her back, the woman who owned her would deliver Pepper to a blanket-covered cage, then lock her inside. It was eating me alive knowing Pepper was living like that. Then one day, that woman came to our apartment and asked if we wanted Pepper. She told me she’d charge us $250.00.

Check or cash?

Now Pepper (Pepper Jackson AKA "PJ") is part of our family and will be forever. She lives the good life. We don’t speak about her first family. I would’ve spent twice that much to have her freed from that woman. And I wouldn’t give any of my dogs up for all the money in the world. Money means nothing to me. But $250.00 for a cat: Are you crazy?

You may ask: How can a guy called the Cat's Pajamas write something called "You Can't Trust a Cat?" hmmm, ummm, ugghhh ... shut up!

Brian Huba

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Friday, September 26, 2014

I'll Repeat Myself

Last Monday I came across a story. It was about a bar fight at a place called the Paddock Lounge in Saratoga. The story said a 31-yr-old man (Aaron Huggins) and a 25-yr-old man (Jeffrey D. Mann) bumped into each other, exchanged words. This encounter climaxed when the 25-year-old man grabbed the 31-year-old-man and smashed his face into the concrete floor. The victim was rushed to Saratoga Hospital in critical condition. The 25-yr-old man was arrested on felony assault. Last Monday I came across a story.

How could this happen? This bone-chilling account of drunken violence, this poor man’s face messed up for life. It doesn’t get more important than the face, does it? Every time he looks in the mirror for the next sixty years he'll see a reminder of the night he drank too many G&T’s and made beef when some lug bumped him. And his 25-yr-old attacker’s going to be staring down the barrel of a legal M-80 for years. How could this happen?

Then I came across an update . . . the victim passed away on Wednesday.

Bang-bang, manslaughter charges cometh.

Read here:

His name was Aaron Huggins. He was 31. He’s dead now. He was beaten to death in a bar fight. He’s going in the ground this weekend. His name was Aaron Huggins.

Can anyone make sense of this? Whose life ends like that, from that, because of that? And my second thought: Aaron Huggins, what were you doing at the Paddock Lounge at 31 years old? You were too old to be there. You put your life in the hands of a barroom full of drunken twenty-somethings. There’s nothing more dangerous than a barroom of drunken twenty-somethings. I could’ve told you that when I was a drunken twenty-something. Back in my bar-going days I never said boo to anyone. If some guy bumped me or bad talked me, I tucked my chin and walked the other way. I went to the bars for one reason: girls, girls, girls. Can anyone make sense of this?

One day I outgrew the bars. I knew it when it happened. I sensed it. I felt it. I was 27 years old and the party was over. If I tried hanging on into my thirties, something bad would’ve happened. I would’ve gotten hurt. I would’ve done something dumb and blown the rest of my life apart. Aaron Huggins had outlived his expiration date on the bar drag. I bet you this attack happened at 2am. Huggins had no business being anywhere around 25-yr-old Jeffrey D. Mann last Saturday night at 2am. Why? Because Mr. Mann is nothing but a boy. And boys do dumb s#*t when they’re S#*t-faced. One day I outgrew the bars.

When I turned thirty my life became a closed campus. Now I’m thirty five and it remains so. I don’t go anywhere or do anything if I’m not in control. I don’t go to bars. I don’t drive down to Giants games anymore. Big crowds are a no-no. I trust me to take care of me, and the only thing that matters is what’s under my roof. Before I go to bed, I trace my property with a flashlight, inside and out. I lock every window and door. The dogs are micro-chipped, and only one person on earth is trusted with them when we’re gone. I don’t hand out spare house keys and I never leave anything to chance. When I turned thirty my life became a closed campus.

This is my life. I will never put myself in a position to be floor-slammed by some 25-yr-old who's had too much to drink. I’m going all the way in this life. To do that I have to stay alive. You have to stay alive. That’s the name of the game. There's no room for unwarranted risk. The world already provides plenty of that. I’m certainly not adding to it. This is my life.

I'll repeat myself . . .

His name was Aaron Huggins.
He was 31.
He’s dead now.
He was beaten to death in a bar fight.

And that’s how his story ends.

Brian Huba

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

I'm So Torn

I’m so torn. I’m the biggest Jimmy Fallon fan. I’ve followed his entire career. I think he’s the hugest talent we have in entertainment. Heck, I even went to the same college he did and walked the same city streets he once did. My connection to him is almost personal and I’m happy we have one of ours in the TONIGHT SHOW. I believe he’s the face and sound and barometer of our generation. So why am I so torn? Well…because the TONIGHT SHOW is a terrible, unfunny, boring watch. And every week it gets worse and worse.

Last night was Jimmy’s 40th Birthday Bash. It was must-see TV for us. Wow, Jimmy 40yrs old and on top of the world. That makes me feel successful and on top of the world by extension. After a tragically-unfunny monologue that starred a dancing panda and some cringe-worthy segment called NFL superlatives, the first surprise of the night was rolled out in the form of a three-tiered celebration cake. Inside said cake was the talked-about surprise guest. McCartney! Joel! Timberlake!

This was going to be big, except it wasn’t. It was a shirtless Seth Rogen and a shirtless and shaved-headed James Franco, playing stripper-gram cop. Ugh, who the hell cares? I guess it was supposed to be funny and shocking. It was neither. It was moronic. Talk about a letdown.

But alas Rogen wasn’t the surprise guest. They were just the tease. Thank God. And now the surprise guest… Drum roll please… Ladies and gentlemen: Mr. Stevie Wonder. Huh? Now Stevie Wonder’s out there with his big shades and piano singing, “Happy birthday, Jimmy” over and over and over and over again, as Rogen and Franco dance inside the open cake. After the commercial we got Thank You Notes. "Thank you, meatloaf, for having a name one level better than meat wad." What?! This is just old-fashioned bad.

My epical love for J-Fall aside, it’s never funny. I didn’t even crack a quasi-smile last night. The awkward monologue, the amateurish segments with the cheap props, the stale, same-old-thing interviews with stars who aren’t all. This isn’t a knock against Jimmy, but more against the TONIGHT SHOW format and its PG-Rated sensibility, which are both unbearably outdated.

A guy dancing in a panda suit isn’t funny to me. This is 2014. You need to come way bigger than that. In the beginning of this TONIGHT SHOW thing, Jimmy just being Jimmy was enough to salvage the swing-and-miss jokes and dullest Cameron Diaz spots. Even that’s not enough now. And that’s saying something.

Of course when I checked the transom this morning, it was one on-line story after the other raving the hilariousness of Jimmy’s Birthday Bash. If nothing else he has Social Media on his side. And that’s huge in this day and age. And, of course, he has guys like me behind him. But how long does that last? How long can this Open-Mic night level of entertainment sustain in TV’s top spot? Will we watch out of loyalty alone?

Jimmy has the talent around him. Higgins is brilliant. The Roots are an A+ operation. It’s such a fun vibe and cool feel. And there've been moments, no doubt about that. But generally the show just isn’t funny. It's kind of amateurish. Objectively speaking: Leno was better. It was flat-out lame last night.

I have no doubt Jimmy will survive and thrive and get very wealthy off the TONIGHT SHOW. That’s not what I’m saying here. And maybe asking anything to be funny five times a week is unrealistic. Funny is hard. Even Stern took his radio show down to three days a week.

Maybe I’m overthinking the whole TONIGHT SHOW concept. Maybe dancing Pandas and meatloaf humor is right on with their target market. Like I said, Jimmy’s the successful one, and I’m the tool writing a blog on a sunny Saturday afternoon. So maybe I’m way off. Maybe shirtless Seth Rogen is gut-busting humor. I’m so torn.

Read More:

Brian Huba

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Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fair Eastside

This past week the second security video came. It's official: Footballer Ray Rice punched his then-fiancée Janay Palmer in the face. The Ravens running back was suspended and his contract was stripped. You may remember the original footage from several months ago: Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer off the elevator in an AC casino. Now, thanks to TMZ and ESPN and Anderson Cooper, we’ve seen what happened inside that elevator again and again and again. Imagination no longer required.

The questions swirled: Did the NFL know about this second video all along? More importantly: Did League Commissioner Roger Goodell lie when publically stating he’d seen it for the first time this week? The collective outrage came (as it always does) and the calls for Goodell’s resignation raged. Forget ISIS. We’ve got a serious threat to the national wellbeing now.

Even if Goodell saw Video #2 before last Monday, what do you want him to do? The NFL has degenerated into Eastside High (that’s a LEAN ON ME reference) and Goodell has been cast to play Principal Joe Clark. It’s literally one player after the other being busted. As I’m writing this, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson is being booked for child abuse. The NFL’s players union is fighting to get a stable of stars reactivated off drug suspension. The 49ers' depth chart reads like a rap sheet. Who could forget bounty-gate or bully-gate? What about Michael Vick’s dog-slaughtering ring? It’s literally never ending.

If Goodell dragged every NFLer who engaged in criminality onto the proverbial stage (Joe Clark style) and tossed them out, we’d be left to watch the PGA Tour on Sunday instead of football. There'd be no football. That wouldn’t jibe with the sponsors (It’s Jake, from State Farm) or the owners. If Goodell lied to cover Ray Rice, believe me, he was ordered to do so by someone behind the Oz curtain. Have you noticed the support he’s seen from NFL owners this week? Hello, McFly!

The two strongest forces in the world are nuclear missiles and suburban moms. The NFL's personnel is on the decline because suburban mom is no longer allowing little Caleb to play organized football. Not when there’s lacrosse and ultimate frisbee. Football’s becoming an urban sport. And the NFL is drafting these urban kids. They’re showing them real money for the first time, telling them to play this blood sport, or the bling-bling goes poof-poof. And make no mistake: You better have a touch of something like crazy to pass, punt, and kick with the big boys. It has to be hard to turn that kind of crazy off when the whistle blows. These guys must live their whole lives in the echo of that whistle. It’s Richard Sherman’s world now.

How outraged are we supposed to be about this Ray Rice mess? Ms. Palmer took the punch, picked herself off the carpet, and married him a month later. When the second video leaked, she bashed the media and stayed right by his side. Suddenly everybody's so righteous about DV. Exhibit A: This week, when asked by a beat writer about domestic violence, NY Giants’ Head Coach Tom Coughlin said there was no place for it in the NFL. Then he was reminded by said writer that players he’d signed on his own team had been involved with DV. Oh yeah. Cue coach’s angry face. Next question!

Now I have to hear that phony Drew Brees bash Goodell as a hypocrite. How’s this for hypocritical: Ray Rice is going to be back in the league next season. If a team was willing to sign Michael Vick, who’s as despicable a human being as you'll ever encounter, then Ray-Ray will make his way-way back. Believe me. You haven't seen the last of #27.

This past week, hundreds of women were seen wearing Ray Rice jerseys to the Ravens vs. Steelers game on Thursday night. When asked by ESPN why they’d do that on the heels of punch-gate, they explained their fandom for Rice and shrugged off the elevator incident. The fans don’t care. The owners don’t care. Janay Palmer doesn’t care. But I should care?

I watched the just-mentioned game on TV. It was halfway through the second quarter. The Steelers were driving. They were feeding the rock to a running back named Le’Veon Bell. He was cutting and juking and jiving. He looked great. And I thought: Here’s a kid who made his NFL dream happen. He’s doing it the right way. I felt good for him. I felt good for the game. Then Phil Simms, the CBS commentator, remarked on Bell’s arrest this past summer for DUI and marijuana possession. Oh yeah. I forgot about that.

Sing with me now, “Fair Eastside . . .”

Brian Huba

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Almost 35

At the end of this month I turn 35 years old. That means I officially made it to almost 35. So I started thinking about some of the things I’m probably too old to wear, or eat, or do. I came up with 15 of them. Here’s the list.


1.Wearing my sunglasses pushed up on my forehead: I’ve never done this and never would. But now that I’m almost 35 I couldn’t do it even if I wanted to.

2.Wearing sweaters with un-tucked dress shirt underneath: I can’t think of anything sadder than an almost-35-year-old man trying to pull this look off. I say this with all respect to TV’s Ted Mosby.

3.T-shirt half tucked and half un-tucked around the beltline: Bro, are you serious?

4.Wearing clothes where the manufacturer’s insignia is displayed: The days of shirts with the Express Lion on the breast are done. I now uniformly wear plain shirt and plain pants. There aren’t graphics or name brands or logos. I take daily two fish oil pills to promote cardio health. I’m not wearing a graphic tee.

Everyday Life

5.Going out to the sports bar for the big game: Discount wings, draft beer, and a wall of flat screen TVs all showing different NFL tilts was once my idea of an epic night out. Now it sounds like a super hassle. I’m too old for the sports bar.

6.Pulling up somewhere with loud music blaring from my car: In high school having the big speakers booming in the back was cool. Then that phase ended and you just ripped into parking lots with your super-cool Third Eye Blind rocking. “I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend.” But now . . . I’m just not sure how "gangsta" I’d look with Dan Brown’s INFERNO audio-CD on full blast when I rolled through.

7.Being seen walking around the mall: Here’s the deal. If I have to go to the mall these days it’s most often to hit an anchor store. So I park outside Macy’s or Boscov’s or Sears, go in, do my shopping, directly exit that store.

8.Having a picture on a wall in my house that isn’t framed or behind glass: Take down the Bob Markey poster or that other one of John Belushi from ANIMAL HOUSE. You’re almost 35, my man. Time to put on your bog-boy pants.

9.Being a groom’s man: This has nothing to do with being 35. When I got married that ended.


10.Alive at Five/Rocking on the River/Outdoor Music Fest: Back when I went to see the Tom Petty cover band it wasn’t for the reconditioned music. It was because the place was packed with hot girls in their twenties. Now I can’t get hot girls in their twenties so I’m just going to the actual Tom Petty show.

11.Adult-themed cartoons: It stopped being clever and quirky and ironical when you were a junior in college.

12.Watching E! Entertainment Television: If you’re a TV network that airs a reality show starring Giuliana Rancic, umm, I’m too old to watch you.

The Other Stuff

13.Having crumpled McDonald’s bags anywhere I live, work, drive, or hang out: On a seventh grade field trip to Proctor’s I ate six cheeseburgers, a large fry, and chocolate shake in one sitting. But that was then and this is now. And now I haven’t been to Mickey D’s in five years at least. Is it still the best food on the planet? No doubt. I could inhale ten cheeseburgers right now, and I just had lunch. Lo and behold the cheeseburger champ has retired.

14.Pleading with my wife to throw out all wood-colored wedge heels: Now that I’m almost 35 years old, I need all parts of my life to look the part. This is going to cost me a pretty penny on replacement purchases, but I’ve convinced my wife to let the Kendall Jenner footwear go.

15.Rocking the baseball cap: I’m done wearing the NY Yankees hat to Home Depot. The baseball cap can only be donned when going out to watch the big game. But, as I indicated earlier in this list, I’m too old for going out to the game too.

Looking back I can’t believe I made it to almost 35. I’ve gotten lucky and been blessed. But this life has not been easy. It’s been hard. But it’s the wounds and the loss and the hurt that makes the great so great. Only one great thing has ever happened to me. Just one and no more. See what I mean? And on we go.

Brian Huba

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Summer Day at the Car Dealer

We’ve heard a thousand times how those crafty car guys love to upsell repairs. The car clunks, we go into the shop (Firestone, Midas Muffler, the dealership) with short hairs raised and ready to strike down any "extras" the guy with grease under his fingernails suggests. It’s all a rip off, we’re sure of it. And the continuation of their franchise is dependent on hooking us for a coolant flush. Is the existence of these snake-oil guys actually true? The truth is like Teri Hatcher’s you-know-whats on SEINFELD: they're real and they're spectacular. Watch here:

Last Thursday my wife found a piece of plastic hanging off her car’s undercarriage. The car is eight years old and has 125,000 miles on it. She’s already put $2,500 into it this summer, so the hanging plastic was an unwelcome sight. We took it to Firestone. They removed the part and said a replacement was required. But only “the dealer” could do the job. Next stop: the dealer. Yikes. I called the Mazda store, got the service guy on the line. Yep, he had the part. Yep, he could do the job. I didn’t even finish describing the problem and he was 100% sure they’d have it fixed in a jiff. He even quoted me: $220. Just get down here. Just come now. We set an appointment for Friday. We’d be there.

Maybe the first mistake I made was letting my wife go alone. It was a Friday afternoon and the place would be mobbed with before-the-weekend service customers. I knew that. That's how they work. But we had a quote. She’d be in and out in a half hour. The service guy said so. She showed up at 1PM and didn’t get checked in till 1:45. Off to a slow start, no biggie. Once they printed that service report and the jockey drove the car inside the double-bayed garage, they had her right where they wanted her. She was inside. She was in their clutches. Game on.

The next two hours were spent in the waiting room: bad coffee and talk-show TV. They promised the job would take a half hour. They promised they had the part in-stock. But I kept getting her texts, “still waiting,” then again, “still waiting,” then “what the f%$#!” Looking back, I think she was left to wait two hours because they were picking up her part at another dealership. They got her inside by saying they had the part in-stock. Getting her there was the key. And when they saw they had a young woman holding a Gillian Flynn novel, who surely didn’t know a spark plug from a starter, they went to work. When my wife went to check on the job at 3:35, the service manager said they hadn’t gotten to her car yet. She was sent back to the waiting room.

While waiting, she described to me the dealership hustle and bustle: the wall of offices, the big boss in his tweed coat walking through, the receptionist paging phone calls nonstop. And somewhere in the bowels of that service building out back her car was hidden. This is what it means to be at the dealer. When that door closes behind you, they have you, and they hold you in. When she got fed up and demanded her car back, they said it had suddenly been taken apart and if she wanted it back they’d have to charge an hour of labor to put it back together still broken. Her choice was pay $110.00 and the two hours she’d lost waiting for NOTHING, or keep waiting and get it fixed right. No brainer and they know that. The car hadn't been touched. I guarantee it.

When the service manager finally called her inside, he had an entirely different story. Gone was the $220.00 quote from the phone call. Now my wife needed two additional parts that were required to be installed with her original part. What are these magical new parts? What was their purpose? Jargon-jargon-jargon, say a lot of car-sounding things a woman wouldn’t understand, new quote: $550.00. He was sorry about the new quote but he wasn’t aware of the job’s total scope. He'd have it done in fifteen minutes though! Love how they adjust those repair times to fit the situation. She told him she needed to contact her husband (me) and would be back in ten minutes with a decision.

My wife called me with the new quote and I told her enough was enough. I said tell the service manager you want to file an insurance claim and have the job done at the garage our carrier uses. She took this message to the service manager and he told her she was too late. They’d already gone ahead on the job. See, she’d said ten minutes and didn’t get back to him for fifteen minutes. He saw that time lapse as her concession for the work and pulled the trigger. She couldn’t get to him because he’d left his service post and didn’t come back for fifteen minutes.

In the end, she handed the cashier her credit card and there goes $550.00, a devastating blow in late August for people like us. We’ve had a lot of crappy expenses this summer, but this one hurt bad-bad. And I’m not angry at the Mazda dealership. I’m kind of in awe. We all think the rip off happens when some lug tries pitching you a coolant flush and you smartly say no thanks, and ta-da you beat the system. The truth is so much realer and so much more spectacular than that. It’s a multi-level system that starts when the garage door closes and ends at the cashier’s office, and nobody stands a chance.

This is their game and it's evolved famously. The bigger they are the better they are. My wife with her master’s degree and Gillian Flynn book got taken behind the woodshed. And maybe it would've gone better if I'd been there. Maybe me and my Harlan Coben novel would've struck fear in them. But somehow I doubt it. We're all the dumb widow at a car dealership.

On the way out of the dealership, my wife was talking to me on the phone, practically crying about the all-afternoon beat down she’d just received. She told me there was a vending machine by the door that had unsalted peanuts, and she was sooooo hungry. When she told me she was grabbing a dollar to slide in the machine, I told her NNNOOOO!!! I’ve seen that episode of SEINFELD too. Watch here:

Brian Huba

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Give Me Your Money

Has anybody heard of It’s described as the #1 do-it-yourself fund-raising website. I first learned about it last summer when a good friend was killed. The community raised thousands for his family. These days I’m seeing the program being applied to pretty minor money-raising efforts. I’m not sure this is the intended purpose of

Last week on Facebook I read two stories where had been applied. Both of the following instances were self-promoted and requested that people make donations through the website on their behalf. Case study 1) a woman posted a story about her twenty-something daughter’s desire to take a trip to Australia, and from that this woman wanted people to give her money to fund the expedition.

Case study 2) A family suffered the unthinkable tragedy of having to replace a leaky roof in their home. The shameless post, offensively riddled with grammatical miscues and elementary misspellings, detailed how this tragedy was tearing the family apart, and could people send money to cover the repair work. Shaking the tin can is one thing, but this is ridiculous. And if you're going to go public can you please run a grammar and spelling check? Can you take five minutes of extra effort before pleading for a piece of my pay check?

And here’s the kicker: people are contributing to this blatant shakedown. Who would ever log onto the Internet, scroll through the animal abuse drives and cancer fundraisers etc., and dump hard-earned dollars into this insanity? Isn't everyone too busy planning the perfect ALS Bucket Video? The power of Facebook never ceases to surprise me.

Seeing the cash total on these two crap case studies tick higher and higher left me pining for the good old days of the bullied bus monitor. Remember that one-woman pity parade? Here’s a refresher. She was the elderly bus monitor who was called fat by some kid in middle school and the whole thing got caught on camera. In response she went on every talk show in the country to sing the blues and nationally unleash her list of potential punishments for this twelve-year-old child. And we rewarded her shameless self-promotion by raising $400,000 on her behalf. Let the homeless animals starve and the people dying of diabetes tough it out, I’m pledging my cash to some woman who was called a not-nice name.

I get it. People don’t have money. The economy’s in the crapper. George W. Bush ruined the US of A (and by extension the world) in less time than it took Jerry Seinfeld to finish his primetime run. But come on. Your adult daughter wants to go to Australia? You need a new roof? Where's your pride?

I see it with kids too. Every time I go to Wal-Mart, I have to dodge a swarm of Boy Scouts or Brownies or Little Leaguers at the exit doors. They build a pubescent wall between you and the parking lot and demand money. They don’t wash cars or bake cookies or rake lawns. They just want you to hand the cash over and be on your way. And if you cold-shoulder the kids, the parents who stand behind them scowl at you as you slither cheaply to your car.

Give me your money!

Brian Huba

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The remake is never better than the original

My first thought when I read of Robin Williams’ suicide was something along the lines of “screw you, Williams.” I jumped on my soapbox and screamed about a world-famous movie star selfishly taking his own life. With all apologies to Dr. Drew, I don’t see suicide/depression as a disease. I see breast cancer and diabetes as diseases. So don’t tell me about tying a belt to a closet door and taking a seat. And there I go again, back on that soapbox.

Suicide is statistically an American condition. Look it up. Movie stars don’t hang themselves across the pond. Calling it a disease and/or comparing it to cardiac sickness, as Dr. Drew did this week, kind of, sort of justifies it. There’s no comparison and Williams’ wife knows that, hence the Williams family floating that (I believe) bogus angle about “the early stages of Parkinson’s.” The whole world is suffering the early stages of something. I think Williams did what he did for other reasons.

Let’s begin at the beginning. Robin Williams was on a rocket ride to the top of Hollywood, and why not? His talent and work ethic were unparalleled. He was a comedic genius. He was a kamikaze of hilarious one-liners and whacky voices. He went from playing a TV alien to a drag-queen nanny to a cartoon genie. He was pure drama in GOOD WILL HUNTING. Everybody who’s ever worked with Williams has talked about his super talent and huge heart. Robin Williams was one of the biggest movie stars in the world and beloved by generations of Americans. Then one day he woke up and he was gray-haired and 63. He'd officially entered the Fat Elvis part of his career. He couldn't give the gas from the glory days and he knew it. Nothing's sadder than Fat Elvis.

After a dramatic heart surgery to replace his aortic valve he made his long-awaited return to TV, starring in CBS’s THE CRAZY ONES. The critics raved Williams’ performance but the show was cancelled after one season. Americans didn’t care about this version of whacky Robin. It was a blow Williams publically described as “devastating.” Maybe not devastating to you and me, but a gut shot when you were once starring in movies that made 300 million. The best thing he had coming in his career was a retread of MRS. DOUBTFIRE, the film he made over twenty years ago, a lifetime ago.

To be as mega-big as Robin Williams you need to be a world-class talent AND be wired a bit differently than the guy who works the bakery down the block. Watching Williams being interviewed was exhausting. If you don’t think he was on “something” when he reeled off 88 one-liners in five minutes on LARRY KING LIVE, I got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. When you rise to that sized fame, there’s only one way to go. If Williams wasn’t the funniest, zaniest guy in every room ALL THE TIME, what was he?

In the end Williams was the same as that guy you went to high school with. You know the guy. He was the king back then. Then he wakes up one day and he’s 35. He looks in the mirror and realizes he has 80 tattoos and 60 bucks in his bank account. Then he ties a belt to a closet door and takes a seat. Some guys live for the party, need the party, thrive in the party, and when the party ends, because the party always ends, the world goes black. Bet the guy who works the bakery down the block never goes down like that.

Williams’ party was a big-screen blowout bash that lasted forty years, and Robin was the center of the show. And that’s the only Robin we wanted. THE CRAZY ONES was great, but we didn’t care. We wanted zany, crazy Robin, circa 1998 Robin. You could film fifty DOUBTFIRE sequels and every fan in the country will leave the theatre saying, “the remake is never better than the original.” That’s where Williams was in his life last Monday. He was 63. He had a cardiac scar on his chest. And the funny voices weren’t as funny as they were before. The party was over.

In this life you either evolve or die. It’s imperative to the human condition to believe that the best is yet to come. But Williams made it to the mountaintop already. You can’t get higher in this life than he got. And his final act had little to do with a brain disease. It was a career move. Suicide was his last headline-grabbing act. Zing-bing-bot, we’re talking Robin Williams again.

There’s nothing more cliché than the depressed comic who pulls a do-it-yourself job. And I’m sad because Williams deserved better than a clichéd finish. Don’t believe me? Watch DEAD POET’S SOCIETY. He deserved better. So here’s another cliché: It’s better to burn out than fade away. And Mr. Williams has been fading away since he danced with a vacuum dressed in drag, because the remake is never better than the original.

"I'm afraid if I ever grow up, I won't be able to make a living" --Robin Williams

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Brian Huba

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Summer of Pizza

My whole life I’ve loved pizza. The first great pizza memory I have is eating a cheese pie at Papa Gino’s in Glens Falls. My father used to work short-term jobs at the Finch Pine paper place up there. My mother and I would drive north to meet him. We’d stay at the Howard Johnson’s Hotel on exit 19, my all-time favorite hotel. And one time we did Papa Gino’s on a Saturday night. All these years later, I remember eating piece after piece after piece and never filling up. Papa Gino’s and HoJo’s are long gone now.

There used to be a Chuck E. Cheese in Albany. I think it was located somewhere around the old Northway Mall. That was the setting of my second great pizza pie. There was a darkened dining room with long tables, and every so often the Chuck E. Cheese characters would rise out of the floor up front and give a thirty-second sing-song performance. I remember the pit of colored balls and the great pizza I had at some kid’s birthday party. It was perfect pizza. It tasted as good as pizza looks in the movies and TV commercials. And that's rare. That Chuck E. Cheese is long gone too.

The third great pizza of my life was homemade by my dad in November 1990 when the Giants lost 7-3 to the 49ers on Monday Night Football. I came home from school and my dad said he was taking the night off work. I saw the flour, the plastic bag of pizza dough rising, and the cutting board on the counter. And I knew. The Giants didn’t win that night but my dad’s pie was first rate. Then the G-Men got the last laugh, knocking the Niners out of the NFC playoffs that year and winning SB25. I like to think my father’s cheesy pizza had something to do with that.

This summer I decided it was time to create a new batch of pizza memories. I wanted to finally figure out what the best pizza place in the Capital Region really was. Who better than yours truly to preside over such a serious matter? After all I’ve loved pizza since Papa Gino’s in Glens Falls. And nothing says good pizza like, um, Papa Gino’s. Yes, this would be the Summer of Pizza.

While King of Queens reruns played on TV Land we plotted out our course. Rule one: Nothing in Clifton Park. Every Thursday night during the school year we order out to the CP shops, so we know them well. Cusato’s is our top spot, and like the song says, “See you in September.” This summer project would be on the road. So gas the car and let’s go.

We began the quest for #1 with a drive out to good old Averill Park, the place of my meager beginnings. First on tap: a night at Kay’s Pizza on Burden Lake. We ordered one cheese pie and one veggie pie plus a pitcher of soda. It isn’t a real pizza place unless they sell soda in pitchers. It was amazing. And that wasn’t a surprise. It was voted by Times Union readers as the area’s best. We’ll see about that.

Next on the agenda: a long sip from the Fountain in Albany. (That's a pun, people, so laugh.) We sat at the Gov. Pataki table on the raised floor in front. Remember when Pataki had surgery way back and he couldn’t eat pizza for a while after? He famously restarted his pizza eating at the Fountain and it was a big news story. So that’s where we sat. I’ve had a spotty history with the Fountain. But the food was A+ on this night, which was nice, because the service left something to be desired. (Note to owners: a waitress who actually speaks with the diners is a nice touch.) Maybe the secret to having a magnificent pie at the Fountain is to sit at the Pataki table.

When family gets together it’s time to hit the Purple Pub in Watervliet. Tradition is important. Plus, umm-umm good. What’s not to like at the PP? It’s always good. I ate seven slices of cheese and almost a full pitcher of diet coke that night. Here’s the thing with the Purple Pub though . . . you will have a pizza hangover in the morning and the mere idea of ever consuming sauce and cheese again will make you dry heave for three days straight. Maybe that’s the secret: The Purple Pub is like a great lover, it ruins you for anybody else. But four days later, I rose above my queasy tummy and went back to it. After all, this was the Summer of Pizza. I would not be stopped on July 15th.

LaBella’s Pizza in Wynantskill. I was a HS senior when this Main Ave joint opened its doors, so I like to think I have a special connection with the people there. I threw the front doors open and strode in like the King of the World. "I've returned after years gone!" I announced. And the counter crew acted like they didn't even care. Such characters down there at LaBella's. With that said, I think LaBella’s is one of the region’s best kept secrets. We did a large chees, two house salads, and soda. It was a perfect Tuesday night on the town. Total tab: 24.00 plus tip.

We decided to give the pickup scene a shout out so we did the Deli & Brew by HVCC. They advertise the best cheese and freshest toppings and claim they can cook a pie in seven minutes. Eight minutes later we were eating like royalty. Plus they have a great mac salad. Light on the mayo; tuna mixed in. Best fourteen bucks I spent all summer.

So here we are, halfway through August and summer’s coming to a close. We're running out of time to hit all the region’s top pizzerias. If the Cap Reg has one thing going for it: a plethora of great places to buy a slice. All my life I wanted to do Little Anthony’s in Albany. This would finally be the year I'd do it. But LA’s closes at 9:30PM and it was already 8:45PM when the garage door closed and we pulled out of the driveway. To the iphone for a last second audible. We ended up at DeFazio’s in Downtown Troy. It’s in the gut of the ghetto and the dining room is no bigger than a cardboard box. Then the food came out and I forgot all about Little Anthony’s.

There’s one more pizza place on the summer schedule: Publik House in Malta. We’ll be meeting a lifelong friend there this Thursday night. There’s no better way to eat pizza than with a friend like him. We’ll talk all things and laugh and have some good food. These are the glory days. And when the bill’s paid and the goodbye hugs given, another pizza memory will be made.

So which Capital Region joint delivered the best slice of pie? Guess you’ll have to hit the road and have your own Summer of Pizza. But I’ll tell you this much, we only went to one pizza place twice this summer. But I can’t tell you which place that was, o-KAY. And if you go to the same pizza place more than once in one summer--especially when it's the Summer of Pizza--that must mean something, inKAY’S you didn’t catch my drift.

The Summer of Pizza.

Brian Huba

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Glory Days

I hate when people say they wish they could wake up and be rich. I wanna be rich! All my problems would be solved! I'd be so happy! It would be Heaven! To me, wealth is exactly like Heaven. People think they want it but if they actually stopped and thought about all it would entail, they wouldn’t want it anymore.

This weekend we painted the living room. It was a long, hard job and it turned the household upside down. We chose a flint blue and went to work. We taped and plastered and sanded and painted. We decided we didn’t want to wall-mount the TV anymore, so we purchased an entertainment stand and spent four hours on assembly. After the second coat went on and Springsteen pined for those long ago Glory Days from the I-Pod playlist, we decided the floor needed to be cleaned and the light switch covers needed to be updated. It was the job that went on and on and on. Price tag: $500.00.

If I was rich, the price tag wouldn’t be a problem and I could’ve hired two guys in Wrangler Jeans to do the dirty work while I played golf or lay by the pool. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Sounds kind of like--I don’t know--Heaven. But what kind of life is that really? Who cares about rounds of golf or lying by the pool? That’s not genuine happiness. It's not reality. Life is lived in the details and the sweat. Don’t you wanna leave something tangible on this planet? Of course you do. The last part of the living room job was me touching up the dinged bookcase with wood marker. Fake wood marker is real life. We earned that new room, one excruciating hour after the next.

Last night, when the living room was finished, we sat on the couch and soaked it in. It was my happiest moment this whole summer. I know every bump and angle and rough spot on those painted walls. We rebirthed that room and that’s how come we can enjoy it now. It's our baby. And because it cost us so much money and bruised knees and badly-calloused fingers, I will love it that much more. The pain is the love. There could be nothing like that when you’re rich, and life’s little problems aren’t problems, could there?

I’m not advocating poverty and I’m not an idiot. People need money in this society, I get that. But money isn’t the key to happiness. You think--oh, I don’t know--the Kardashians are happy because they have millions and can travel the world and wear the best clothes and jewelry and drive the best cars? Pop culture glorification aside, the Kardashians are the ten suckiest people on the planet. I argue they’d be happier/better/kinder if it wasn’t for the money and this phony dose of fame. Having lots of money doesn’t matter in the long run, does it? When you’re rich, the whole world’s a dollar store in a strip mall. How exciting!

Time is the most important thing in life, nothing matters more. It’s the time I want to hold on to and take care of. You can’t get time back when it’s gone. If Bill Gates offered me a hundred-billion-zillion dollars for one day of my life, I'd say no dice, sure I would. It's time, you fools, time!

The best part of our new living room is the time we spent together building it: sweating and thirsty and covered in paint. That’s what matters. That’s why that little room is my new favorite place in the world. Ask anyone who’s been hurt or widowed or whatever. Ask them what’s important. Bet you ten bucks they won’t say money. Betcha ten more they'd hand over their life savings for one more day with that lost loved one.

The other day a lifelong friend texted me and we chatted about being kids way back when. He wrote, "the good old days." I told him those days were good, no doubt, but these days right now are "the good old days," the best days, the glory days.

Brian Huba

Sunday, July 27, 2014

It's OK to say No

So here we are, in the belly of the beast. It’s wedding season full swing, which means the rest of us have to refinance our mortgage to fund your cocktail of pre-nuptial activities. This thought snapped into focus for me as I watched a caravan of Escalade Limos on the northbound side of 87 last night, no doubt ‘Toga bound. Experience has told me limo rides like that will mean two things 1) the night that follows will fall short of the hype and 2) the Citizen’s Bank card is about to take a whipping. If my days of Abercrombie modeling taught me one thing, it’s this: It’s OK to say no.

Last week I was at a barbecue. One of my colleagues was detailing the three-ring circus he’d been bullied into because his high school friend was getting married. Keep in mind this guy’s got two kids, the usual medley of monthly bills, and a good job but not a job that pays Kobe dollars. Not only is he on the hook for a bachelor party in Montreal (Montreal, are you joking me?) at three hundred a head to start, but a cross-country plane trip to Cali, where he’s expected to spend two nights in a hotel to get this guy hitched. Oh yeah, did I mention he’s in the wedding, so he has to rent a tux for two hundred bucks. His wife cannot come to the wedding, because they have two kids and can’t afford to sink the whole family into this insanity. Oh yeah, he has to take two days off from work to make the trip and buy this guy a gift. Guesstimated price tag: three grand.

Truth: He doesn’t even want to go. Who would want to suffer through that at 34 yrs. old? He’s glad his friend is getting married, and wishes him well, but the whole affair is bringing nothing but stress to the household. He doesn’t care about Montreal, can’t afford the money, his wife doesn’t want him traveling to Cali without her and the kids, and the days he has to take off work are the third and fourth day of the school year. He’s a teacher. Doing that is taboo in the teacher rack. But he feels he has to. He feels obligated. He feels guilty. I respect that stance, sure I do, but a young family man shouldn’t have to shoulder this load. It’s too much. I told him it’s OK to say no.

Same barbecue different colleague. She’s planning her own wedding for next year. Money’s tight, she’s trying to put a toehold into her own life and house and soon-to-be family. But before any of that happens, she has to flush away hundreds and hundreds this month on multiple bachelorette parties because ‘Toga-bound limos need to be paid for and drinks need to be bought and a night of saying “woo!” has to be floated. She’s miserable. She doesn’t want to do it. She doesn’t have the money. But she feels like she has to sign on because that’s what friends do. It’s OK to say no.

I’m tired of that line: That’s what friends have to do. At this age (thirty something), you’re chief obligation is to your family and that’s it. Besides, what kind of friend let’s his/her wedding guests go through this because it’s their day and it’s about them? We want you to be hitched and happy, but we have lives too. I don’t have eighteen hundred bucks to drop on your Caroline Street bachelor party and Franklin Plaza Wedding. Here I will buttress what I’m saying by admitting that the same etiquette does not apply to people getting married in their twenties. Everyone at that age is self-absorbed and should be and none of your friends should have mortgages and families at that point, so order the limos and bring on the strippers.

Perhaps my attitude on this subject would be softer if the ordeal had done a drop of evolution in my lifetime. Bachelor parties with limos and strippers. Limos are the lamest things on earth and the stripping business hasn’t progressed since the caveman age. Girl. Pole. Sweaty dollar bills. Wake me up when this is over. Wait a second . . . you actually want strippers at your BP? You like strippers? Who’s your favorite JERSEY SHORE Character? Ronnie or the Situation?

There was a time when I prescribed to this whole notion of going to ‘Toga and dropping big bucks on some dude’s bachelor party. But that time is no more. First off, ‘Toga might be the most over-hyped place on the planet. And second, bachelor parties in the made-for-the-movies sense are not fun. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good jubilee and appreciate the company of great friends. But getting older means the crowd gets smaller, the conversations get more meaningful, and renting limos is something dorks do. It’s OK to say no.

This year we have one wedding on the docket, and to this man’s credit, he’s gone low key and kept it mature. He’s asked us to do the following: show up, bring a gift, and have a nice time. And right now I can’t wait to do all three. I wouldn’t miss this one for the world. And when a guy does it right and treats his guests well, it’s NOT OK to say no.

Brian Huba

Sunday, July 20, 2014

On Second Thought

. . . Look no further than the Thompson Hill Casino Project. Here you have the Hard Rock Franchise trying to anchor a multi-million dollar construction that would turn East Greenbush into a national destination spot, but a handful of home owners have tied themselves to a tree, and this Hard Rock bid is going bye-bye, bet your bottom dollar.

On second thought, maybe the group’s got it right. I’m beginning to think the Capital Region would be a bad fit for a casino. Think of the epic traffic snafus that sized complex would create. Presently, if you live in Clifton Park and have a 3PM appointment in Albany on any given Wednesday, you better bring a good book and/or comfy pillow because you’re not getting home till 8PM. You can try back channeling via Route 9, but that’s also become a parking lot too. It’s the same blood-boiling scene on Alt 7 out of Troy. There’s ALWAYS an accident. It’s ALWAYS standstill traffic. There’s no escape.

It’s because there’s too much stuff here already (Global Foundries, that Nano Science place, all the two-year and four-year colleges, Saratoga Track Season, the State Offices, Jack’s Burgers in Albia). We’re already trying to shove a basketball-sized plan into a softball-sized setting. We're putting houses on top of houses. To build a casino here would bring that Northway nightmare I just described to every highway system in the area, all day every day. Unless the State is planning on adding fourth lanes to the Northway, Alt 7, and 1-90, that’s what I see happening. I think you have to put a casino in the middle of nowhere.

Are Capital Region residents really casino people? I don’t think so. Casinos demand a sad, depressing kind of individual. It’s not sharp suits and high-risk poker and glitzy and glamorous like in THE HANGOVER. That’s Vegas. That’s not casinos everywhere else. Try walking through the gaming room at Mohegan Sun or Turning Stone. It’s a galaxy of extras from the TV show ROSEANNE. And nothing is scarier than watching that scoop-brained lady pull slots. If you build it they will come. I’m not even going to write about the cesspool of degenerates a joint like that would bring, or the prostitution, or the addicts. We don’t need it.

The state may need the added income of a casino system, but the Capital Region doesn’t. This area has stayed above the fold through the Great Recession and the Double Dip Recession. We’re the economic little engine that could. But maybe we’re just not on Boston’s level or Philly’s level and that’s OK. The roadway construction is already round the clock. If we wanted to go next level, we’d have to rebuild every rung of the Cap Region ladder. It would be construction everywhere you looked for the rest of your life.

Last night we drove home on the Northway at 11PM, and all six lanes were on fire. That’s what happens when track season hits. People from every part of the country come here to wear goofy hats and play the ponies. And when that whole scene gets dull, we have our casino up there. So stop by and see the ladies pull slots. And leave it at that and nothing more.

. . . America is the greatest country in the history of the world, and it’s fantastic that the Group still has serious weight. Suburban mom with her arms crossed and a look of disdain on her face can stop a speeding bullet on the spot. On second thought I'm all right with that.

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Brian Huba

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Two LeBrons

On Friday, LeBron James announced he’s ditching South Beach for Cleveland, back to the fans that burned his jersey in the streets. Again, he’ll play for an owner who bashed him in writing for the public. Forgiveness may be divine, and you can always go home, but LeBron James is the most dominating force I’ve ever seen play pro ball, with the mindset of a melting ice cream cone. This was about reversing the number-one blunder on his record AKA the decision, not about winning rings. He wants people to like him. Jordan didn’t give a damn about his public record. It was about basketball first and PR second. And you can guarantee MJ would never fly back to an owner who trashed him on ESPN. LeBron’s softer than Jordan and Kobe, but he’s a better player than both. He’s a Yankees fan AND a Cowboys fan but isn’t from New York or Dallas. See what I mean?

James stumbled publically when announcing on ESPN he was “taking his talents” to South Beach in 2010. He’s not a bad guy. He’s just has the wrong people around him, and he's easy to manipulate, I guarantee it. For the record, “I’m taking my talents . . .” was originally done by Kobe when he was in high school. So LeBron filtered his most famous line from circa-17 Kobe. But he’d crush Kobe in one-on-one. The duplicity is utterly frustrating.

So who's LeBron James? Let me put it this way: James is best friends with Johnny Manziel, the NFL’s answer to Mike ‘the Situation’ Sorrentino. And I get the impression 5’10” Johnny’s the alpha. When leaving Cleveland, LeBron followed Wade to Miami. While playing with the Heat he conducted postgame interviews alongside Dwayne Wade, like they were equals. Wade missed half the season in 2013-14 and was a non-factor in every playoff game. They’re not equals. When Michael addressed the media, nobody in the Bulls organization was allowed to breathe loudly. But LeBron and Wade are best friends, so they share the spotlight, and no one needs to be the star. Kobe needed to be the star so bad he had Shaq run out on rails. Kobe addresses the media in six-foot mink coats; LeBron wears fake glasses and Justin Beiber t-shirts. That’s the difference. ESPN’s treating LeBron’s homecoming like Flight 370. He’s the biggest star on the planet. But you’d never know it and I don't mean that in a good way. There's such a lightweight energy about him off the court.

At seventeen, LeBron was already the world’s best player, not even close. But instead of filling the role of the “Chosen One” and blazing an original trail, he decides to keep Jordan’s #23 into the pros. Then a few years later, announces no NBA player should ever wear #23 again. Why even raise that issue when you’re the most visible culprit? Classic LeBron. This past season in Miami he started publically working in references about “his guys” and “leading the team” and “It’s up to me” to reverse the PR perception that he can't lead. Sorry, not buying that from a guy who went back to Cleveland so people up there would stop booing him. What does LeBron James owe Dan Gilbert or that city? He was holding all the cards here but decided to people-please. There are a handful of NBA ballers all time who are defined by rings won, and LeBron's one of them. This was a demotion. This was a backwards move. This was weak.

Bird’s Boston, Kobe’s LA, Jordan’s Chicago. How are we supposed to archive James’ successes on South Beach? LeBron choosing to reassume his relationship with Northern Ohio is the same as Timberlake getting back into NSYNC. Why did LeBron even leave in 2010? What was the point? A week ago, Pat Riley--in his role as Heat Prez--met the media and talked “staying the course” and mental toughness in hard times. “Trend this,” he said, “I’m pissed.” He was calling LeBron out, just like Dan Gilbert did. Only difference is Riley treated LeBron like a son; Miami treated him like royalty, but he had to "Go Home," and ESPN's acting like he's Martin Luther King Jr. for doing it.

Going to Miami in the first place was a mistake. LeBron’s South Beach dynasty didn’t inspire anyone except fourteen-year-old boys. People grew tired of the Heat. Miami’s a fine town. I’ve been. We ate Cuban food. But actually live in Miami when I’m globally the best in my profession? Miami isn’t even the most relevant city in its own state. It’s second, to Disney World, a place of make believe. If he ends up winning in Cleveland, that will be wonderfully regional, but we’re talking about a once-in-history skill set with James.

Truth is he never needed Miami or Dwayne Wade or Pat Riley. Anywhere LeBron went in 2010 would’ve immediately been the best team because they had LeBron. The Carmelos and Durants and Garnetts would’ve come. FIELD OF DREAMS inspires us because Costner builds it, not the other way around. What has LeBron built? New York was always the answer. There’s nothing better or more important than winning in NYC, and LeBron dodged it . . . twice. He chose Hidden Pond, when he could’ve had the East River, Hudson River, and Atlantic Ocean. Jordan’s six in Chicago and Kobe’s five in Hollywood are historical, but being the first to hang dynasty banners in MSG, that would’ve been something. Instead he’s moving back into his mother’s house to do selfies with Johnny Football.

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Brian Huba

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Group

Countless things have changed about America from the first July Fourth to the one that just went by. But one thing remains constant: the Group is the most powerful force going.

99% of the nation’s wealth is controlled by the top 1%, the middle class is evaporating, a NY Yankees ticket is $900.00, and we have a black guy in the White House, but when eight housewives get together and decide they want something a certain way, you better believe that’s how it’s happening. Look no further than the Thompson Hill Casino Project. Here you have the Hard Rock Franchise trying to anchor a multi-million dollar construction that would turn East Greenbush into a national destination spot, but a handful of home owners have tied themselves to a tree, and this Hard Rock bid is going bye-bye, bet your bottom dollar.

It’s not just casino constructions though. Think about teachers and school employees. If one community member doesn't like something, and that community member gets a group of his/her friends to follow lock-step, it’s checkout time for the offending teacher or school official. You see it in the news constantly. Remember the Bullied Bus Driver? People got together and raised her $400,000 and an all-expense-paid trip to Disney because some fifth grader called her fat. There truly is an unbreakable strength in numbers and some things never change.

Why are we so petrified of the almighty group? Look at the fiasco in North Adams over the closing of the Regional Hospital. It made absolutely no sense (or cents) to keep that facility operational, but enough people griped and complained and carried on, and they’re gonna find a way to keep it going, I’m telling you. Does this fear begin in grade school when staying aligned with the popular pack is the surest bet for personal/social survival? We feel empowered when we’re in a group vs. being alone, and when a group comes up against us, we feel that same feeling in reverse. Am I onto something? Facebook is such a scary tool in today’s culture, because you could truly accomplish anything if you mobilize enough people, and what better place to rally the knuckleheads around a cause?

In some cases the power of a group is a good thing, but so often it’s a dangerous deterrent to progress, and here’s why: People are sheep. The same way they picked on Little Timmy in third grade because the cool kids were doing it, they’ll raise fists to fight a casino or get a teacher terminated. They’re just doing it to do it. Was that ever-more obvious than that nonsensical Occupy Movement? They literally could not verbalize why they’d halted their individual lives and gathered. But thousands and thousands blindly/sheepishly went along with the protest.

America is the greatest country in the history of the world, and it’s fantastic that the Group still has serious weight against the wealth and raised Yankees rates. Suburban mom with her arms crossed and a look of disdain can stop a speeding bullet on the spot. But before we storm the Capitol Building to protest Common Core Standards or whatever else is buzz-worthy, let’s make sure we know the pros and cons of said issue. Fighting this fight (or any fight) because Helen from across the road said so is not good enough.

The power players in this country know all about appeasing the Group. Everything in this country is marketed to target the masses, and it works. NASCAR is the most watched sport in America. Justin Beiber is worth 200 million dollars. The Kardashians still get 3 million viewers a night. If you watch the Kardashians, I don't want you spearheading any major movements. And maybe that's the scariest part about the Group Dynamic. Smart people can mold and manipulate them into fighting the wrong fight or buying into the wrong side. Look at the epic saga this country turned Donald Sterling into. Oh my God, the outrage. They destroyed a man's name and his business because he said black guys on a tape.

ESPN's Colin Cowherd said it best. He talked about being in sports radio for twenty years, but admitted if a group of listeners got irritated or offended by something he said on-air, even if those listeners misunderstood what he'd said and why, his ESPN career would be over. And he's right. God Bless America.

Brian Huba

Sunday, June 29, 2014


The World Cup is here which means time for everyone to pretend they care about soccer. Literally, as I’m writing this, I’m watching my next door neighbors leap around their back deck like they have spiders in their festively-patterned bathing trunks and screaming “Goal” and slapping five and pumping fists. Why you ask? Because the Mexican National Team put a ball through the back of a net. They’ve got the TV outside, the grill going, and the above-ground pool crowded with colorful floats and tubes.

And this has been the scene every single day since the World Cup commenced and my property line turned into a Manchester tailgate party. I think they might’ve quit their jobs. Where do they get the energy to fake-root for Spain or Croatia or Brazil with such cartoonish passion and epical energy? It’s quite a spectacle. If you’re concerned about said neighbors reading this and getting offended, don’t worry. There’s far too much soccer to scream at and dance around like lunatics for to waste time reading or even putting on a shirt apparently.

But it’s not just my neighbors. It’s everyone everywhere. People who’ve never said a word about soccer before are suddenly Facebook posting about it and planning inner-office lunches to watch it. Every time the local news runs a live feed from Biergarten in Albany, there they are: hundreds of impassioned nail biters with eyes on the game, then the powder-keg celebrations when someone scores. This has to be fake, right? Nobody’s genuinely carrying on like this over soccer eight countries from here. Anything to be involved.

I can’t flip a switch in my brain and transform into super-duper-uper soccer nutcase fanatic just because it’s World Cup, and in a week it'll be over. I don’t know anything about any of the teams or the players or the rivalries. I'm not a fan. But I am a fan of the NY Giants, because I love Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning and know their stories inside out. The franchise and the game of football have meant so much to me. Sorry, I can’t fall off a cliff about this soccer tourney. It’s not my game. Period. It has no bearing on my existence. Plus, the culture of soccer doesn’t interest me. I don’t care about 5’7” guys named Caleb. I don’t care about Landon Donovan. I don't care about David Beckham. It’s not my game.

The sport itself is confusing and troublesome to me. The clock doesn’t tick down to zero, it runs the other way. I can’t make heads or tails of the rules. American soccer leagues: are you serious? Trying to follow the domestic season is more complicated than solving quadratic equations. Nobody in this country gives a hoot about soccer till the World Cup rolls around and I’m-a-sheep season officially starts. The one World Cup game I tried watching this year was last Sunday between America and Portugal. I quasi-devoted an afternoon to following it, and found myself sort of getting invested, because I guess I have do that whole "USA! USA!" thing at least once before I bash it. My neighbors were well ahead me on the Americana card. At one point during last Sunday's game, I swear I saw my neighbor’s head spin entirely around like in the Exorcism. In the end of all that mania: Final score 2-2. A tie. Ah soccer.

If you're one of the sixteen genuine year-round soccer fans in this country, understand this rant isn't about you or against you.

I’ve been to Hell and here’s the story. About five years ago, when I got convinced we needed some extra money because we'd just done the new-house thing, I sadly signed up to be a referee for high school soccer. The training classes started in August, and three evenings a week I had to drag myself to a summer-abandoned Shaker High School and sit in a science room and learn the rules of referring soccer. There's nothing sadder than talking soccer in a high school in August. Like I said: Hell. It was scheduled for nine sessions of some guy explaining colored cards and corner kicks. After five times, I threw in the towel, told the league they could keep my hundred bucks, and drove home with a mile-wide smile on my face, happy to go broke as long as I never had to sit through anything soccer related ever again.


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Brian Huba

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Whole-y Crap

Whole Foods has arrived in Albany: Start the madness!!!

If you don’t know where the newest organic food store can be found, look no further than the former Sears at the anchor end of Colonie Center, and you’ll see a caravan of Volvos and Subaru Wagons and hybrid cars corkscrewing out to Wolf Rd. When anything opens in the Capital Region, the mob mentality hits high gear and we flock to said franchise like lemmings falling off a cliff. Relax, crunchy-yuppies, Whole Foods is Trader Joe’s and the Fresh Market and the Co-Op with bigger windows and a greener sign. And every place I just named is Hannaford with better lighting and cool Musak.

This isn’t the first time a new operation has had this kind of over-the-top response. Does anyone remember Krispy Kreme Doughnuts on Hoosick Street? When that place first opened you had to get in line the night before for morning goodies. Then people realized they were waiting hours and fighting traffic and missing work to buy, um, glazed doughnuts. Six months later there was a closed-for-business sign on the window.

Same thing when Trader Joe’s opened. Didn’t they have a marching band or something? People called into work and waited hours to buy overpriced potatoes that are fake-organic. And don’t even get me started on Dinosaur Barbeque. When that glorified King’s Buffet opened you couldn’t even get across the Collar Bridge from restaurant traffic. Dinosaur is slop on a plate, and the TIMES UNION called it the best BBQ in the area last week. Really?

I think the Cap Region is on the upswing and I love the excitement that surrounds novel commerce, don’t get me wrong, but can we ever act like we’ve been in the end zone before? This is why Albany will eternally be the little engine that could, just happy to be mentioned. You couldn’t even get inside Colonie Center's parking lot this weekend. And seeing that I ask: who signs themselves up for a Saturday of sitting in traffic then shopping picked-through produce because you CAN’T miss the opening? I bet half the people on line don’t even know what Whole Foods is. They just did it to do it. It’s literally the definition of sheepdom. Shoppers probably had to wait over an hour in checkout lines just to buy whole-wheat-organic-grain fed-sugar free bread. It’s not that urgent, especially when Trader Joe’s sells the same thing.

Is this Whole Foods thing for real? Is it here for the long haul or the latest yuppie trend that can’t last? It was, for me, societally symbolic to watch Sears get bumped for this get-healthy monument to the 21st Century. Sears has seen this country through wars and depressions and recessions. Sears is apple pie and fireworks and hot dogs at the ballgame rolled into one. Now Sears is that little place behind Whole Foods where my father-in-law will be browsing socks as we’re shopping for organic strawberries.

What’s happening to this country? What’s happening to me?

I was at a party Friday night. Everyone was drinking these things called Craft Beers and listening to Imagine Dragons and One Republic. When I asked after the Budweiser and Skynyrd, how it was with my parents, my wife told me I embarrass her when I say things like that. At dinnertime, there were two tables: one with regular meats and salads and sides and a second for vegans and organic and gluten free. And of course all grub was served on eco-friendly, biodegradable plates. The men were playing this frat-house game where you throw Frisbees at garbage cans. I guess nobody’s heard of horseshoes. And what party would be complete without four grown men comparing yoga poses on the grass? My father and his friends used to beat the hell out of guys like us. (For the record my headstand was a forty second thing of beauty.)

It’s a Whole Foods World and I am a Whole Foods Girl . . . I mean Boy.

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Brian Huba

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Retirement: Who Cares?

This week I received a letter from NYS telling me that I no longer had to take a biweekly deduction from my paycheck towards retirement. The profession I work in carries a pension that’s fully contributed to after ten years of service, which is great, but I’m beginning to think that retirement isn’t exactly the pie in the sky everybody thinks it is.

I’ve never given much thought to saving for retirement. I have no idea what an IRA is and have never needed a 401K. When one of these financial planners with their big-faced wristwatches and slicked hair tries pitching me some idea for investing my money all I hear is blah-blah-blah. I’m not giving some 26 year old with a degree from Schenectady CC a penny. I think people in my economic circle who use a planner are sort of dopey. Bro, you make $44,000 a year, you don’t need a team funneling eight bucks a week in deductions through the market. Whenever I get the email from some old friend who’s in finance now, I hit delete. A month later that same guy’s selling cars on Central Ave.

I’m not that worried about retirement because I "kind of" don’t ever plan on retiring. It’s not a natural thing to just stop working and do nothing. And please don’t think you’re going to retire from your municipal job and travel the globe like a Danielle Steele character on that pension. Retirement, in its purest form, I'm not sure. I don’t want to stop seeking out challenges and opportunities and enterprises. I don’t give a hoot about sitting on some beach. I want to always be working for something bigger, better, greater. You’re never going to have “enough money” to retire so let that whole pipe dream die an immediate death. You could contribute half your paycheck every week for the next twenty years and still fall short.

Does anybody else work with that knucklehead who constantly keeps you abreast on how close he is to retirement? “Just eighteen years and I’m out.” Only 18, huh? I pity that guy. If you’re spending your life doing something you hate and "possibly" making it to the end and getting out is the goal then quit tomorrow, live your life for right now, do what makes you feel alive. And maybe everyone doesn’t have the opportunity to chase some utopian existence and be-happy career, because the kids need to be fed and the mortgage paid. All I'm saying is: we know how the story always ends for countdown-to-retirement guy . . . he croaks a month before the finish line and everyone says, “He was only four weeks from the dream.”

I spent this morning with my father-in-law. He’s 70 years old and has been "retired" for a decade. But he still drives a school bus and works as the town supervisor and keeps himself busy and his vision kinetic. It’s the oldest rule in the book: a body in motion stays in motion. Believe me, money’s not an issue for him. I don’t even think he takes a pay check. My mother-in-law was a teacher for 34 years, retired and now owns a business, volunteers, gets on committees, and is presently building a reading program for teenage mothers. Ask her: 70 is the new 70. Daytime TV is fine but she rather have a three-dimensional reason for getting out of bed, because it’s never too late to help make the world a better place and engage in that betterment. It’s not sexy but it’s sustainable. They’ll both live to be 90 years old.

When you retire and slip into that abyss head-first because you’re retired! the health problems start, we all know that story. I believe your body can sense when the short and long term goals are suddenly non-existent. Humans need goals and things to work towards all the time. Whether it’s the weekend or the summer vacation or the next wedding or the annual Paws in the Park, we can’t function without purpose. That’s how come I think Heaven is a concept that would actually NOT appeal to the human condition. Something that lasts forever and ever and ever and ever . . . even if it has Pearly Gates and a guy named St. Peter, it sounds horrible if you think about it.

Is there anything more depressing than a retirement party?

I will be prepared when the time comes in my life to transition from my profession to the next phase--not retire--and I’m not being fear-mongered into putting a whole bunch of money into some kind of system that may go up in smoke ten years before I can access it. I have things in place and so be it. I don’t have kids and I get a pension plus my wife gets a pension, which is nice, so this may be an easy thing for me to say, I get that. Who knows? I could be dead by the time I hit retirement age.

Sometimes making it to see 20 years from now seems about as likely as tap dancing through a field of land mines and coming out fully limbed. I’m already falling apart at the seams, even though I eat the best foods and exercise every single day and haven’t touched alcohol in years. Life is hard and the obstacles are innumerable. I can’t give up anything else. If I was any more boring you’d have to hang a tombstone over my head. Me at 34: I won’t drive backroads after dark and I still don’t care about retirement. The concept doesn’t interest me. I’m here today and that’s what I’m living for.

Either way I got the call from NYS, saying I don't have to worry about retirement deductions anymore, and to borrow from my boy, Forrest Gump, “That's good! One less thing,” and life goes on.

Brian Huba

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Because of what I do for a living (Chippendale dancer; great dental plan) I have always associated the NBA Finals with a happy time of year. And while I’m a massive football fan, my memories of the Super Bowl are always steeped in dark and cold and dreary winter. I don’t follow baseball and don’t know who the reigning World Series champ is, but any event that means the end of the MLB season is fine by me. I get depressed just knowing that baseball’s going on, and it’s not easy to depress me during summer. But my question for every major sport commissioner is this: Is the goal of your office to make sure that nine-to-five guy CANNOT watch your game’s culminating event and/or series?

Let’s look at the NBA Finals, a great matchup between the polarizing LeBron James and the fundamental machine the San Antonio Spurs. I'd love to “chillax” in the "chill zone" and watch every second of this slugfest, but of course, I can’t. Game 1 from San Antonio had a 9.15PM EST tip last Thursday night. LeBron wasn’t carried off the court in a muscle-cramped heap till almost midnight, so I heard. (Seriously, anyone making fun of LeBron for that or labeling him weak, get a clue.) With Game 1 on Thurs and no travel day for either team, Game 2 would obviously be on Saturday night, right? Nope. Inexplicably, the series resumes on a Sunday night; tip 8.35PM EST. Okay, NBA, you win, I won’t watch, even though I really want to, so you and the 7,000 State Farm commercials that will run on TV timeouts will miss me. (Jesus lady, it’s Larry from State Farm. How many times does that husband have to say that same thing to you at 2AM? Yes, he’s wearing khakis, get over it.) Let’s take a look at the rest of the impossible-to-watch Finals schedule:

Game 1 - Thu, June 5, Miami at San Antonio, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 2 - Sun, June 8, Miami at San Antonio, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 3 - Tue, June 10, San Antonio at Miami, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 4 - Thu, June 12, San Antonio at Miami, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 5 * Sun, June 15, Miami at San Antonio, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 6 * Tue, June 17, San Antonio at Miami, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 7 * Fri, June 20, Miami at San Antonio, 9 p.m. ET, ABC

Okay, if it goes to Game 7, I get to see beyond halftime once. Maybe I should just stay up later. No way. I'm the Dos Equis man's long-lost son: the Most Boring Man in the World. I'm not staying up till midnight on a Tuesday.

It’s the same thing with MLB Baseball. Every World Series game throws its first pitch around 9PM EST, and baseball is like watching paint dry, except slower, so you’d have to stay awake till tomorrow at breakfast time to see the whole show if it hits extra innings. And once you get through the thirteen renditions of “America the Beautiful” the six Armed Forces tributes, the eighteen minute coin toss starring Joe Willie Namath, and the thirty-third look at the hardscrabble story of some wide receiver in the big game, and finally, mercifully start the NFL’s Super Bowl, it’s near 7PM EST. Then we have to suffer through a forty-minute Fergie-licious Halftime Performance (maybe she’ll give us another epic cover of G N’ R’s “Sweet Child ‘O Mine.” That was as good as it gets) and a third qtr. played in pyrotechnic after-smoke to finish the football season off by midnight. “Expanded playoffs!? Expanded playoffs!?” I ask in my best Jim Mora intonation. The NFL is the Roman Empire of professional sports. The mighty fall is forthcoming

We really can’t play the Super Bowl on a Saturday night? Trust me: we’ll still watch the Big Game and all the ESPN nonsense afterwards if it’s not on Sunday. That would be so much fun. “But, Brian, that’s not the tradition of the game.” Ugh, tradition. I want to actually be able to watch the game without thinking about my 5.25AM alarm clock and afternoon dept. meeting.

I understand that the later starts on the east coast are to ensure that the west coast is into primetime as well, I get that. And I wouldn’t mind the later starts if they could sometimes happen on days where I can take the entire event in, regardless of time. If these major leagues insist on Tues/Thurs/Sun game nights for their championships, then I must remind Madison Ave. that Madison Ave. is on the east coast, along with 80% of the country’s population. Sorry, San Diego Guy, New York is the center of the Universe, and that should mean we get everything on our timetable. Perhaps that’s ethnocentric of me. So be it.

How bad has this problem in scheduling gotten? I was reduced to watching the NHL Stanley Cup game last night, and actually getting into it. There is something called the Law of Unintended Consequences, and if the NBA insists on this inaccessible TV deal then I might just become a hockey fan. The Rangers/Kings game was great last night. Everyone I was watching with said the same thing, "I’m not a hockey fan but this is fun." When I watch football and basketball I can pick apart everything that’s happening and why. I can narrate the whole show from a lifetime of watching, but I don’t know a hockey puck from a hamburger, and that’s kind of liberating. It went to 2OT and the Kings won, and I was thinking: Thank God it’s not Sunday night. I would’ve been in bed two hours ago.

Brian Huba

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Summer 2014 Reads

Summer's here. Let's get reading

Albany in the House
10. Fellow Mortals by Dennis Mahoney
9. As Catch Can by Vincent Zandri

Girl Power
8. Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger
7. The Manny by Holly Peterson

Let's hear it for the boys
6. Sycamore Row by John Grisham
5. Lullaby by Robert B. Parker
4. The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

Little non-fiction
3. Death Trap by M. William Phelps
2. David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Let's go to the movies
1. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

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Brian Huba

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Memorial Day Time Machine

A look back . . .

Camping at Lake George . . . Oh boy/2013

On the way up the Northway Friday afternoon, I couldn’t believe the number of SUVs and family vans with camping equipment attached, heading off the Lake George exits. I don’t understand this insistence on pitching tents in artificialized camping areas and spending a long weekend getting poured on. It's supposed to rain buckets right through Monday without break, so let’s be soaked to the bone until it ends. Then come home filthy, exhausted, possibly sick and go right back to work on Tuesday. Is there anything worse than “packing up” after a rainy weekend? Miserable.

But it’s not just the rain.

Rain or shine, what's the attraction to these overpacked Lake George camp places on Memorial Day? Why spend your free time living like this? We are in America in 2013. We have 100-inch HD TVs and hotels with hot tubs and swimming pools and state-of-the-art workout rooms. We have it so great we need to invent ways to “rough it.” Why? What’s the point? Building a fire and sucking down canned beers before passing out on the lumpy ground, wake with a crooked back to shower in those slimy public barracks. It’s disgusting. There’s always that wet, rotting kind of aura around the campsite the whole weekend, even when the weather’s nice. I don’t get it, guys, I’m sorry.

When I "did" Lake George on Memorial, we’d grab a cheap hotel on the Strip, bang down some RB & Vs, get busy with the bars. The energy was exciting, a bit intense, but so much possibility. We had a lot of great weekends like that. I almost got us kicked out of a hotel one year. Another year we watched Kobe & Shaq at a cool outside bar called Fire & Ice with a gang of girls. It was great. Whenever that one knucklehead suggested an 8PM detour to King Phillips to meet up with someone there, I never agreed. To me that was the fastest way to lose a killer night to the Hillbilly vortex. Nah. I’d rather listen to live music with college girls on the waterfront. I was single almost my whole twenties though, I will admit that, and if I had a serious g/f I might’ve approached LG differently, but no way would I have camped. Hell no. Thank God for my friend who hated King Philips more than I did.

My parents took me camping all the time when I was a kid, a place called Hidden Pond. I have no idea where that is, just that it was called Hidden Pond. The adults would get wasted, and there’d be motorcycles everywhere. I think one time a fight broke out. I’d wake up in that horrible tent, with the puddle of pooled rain water seeping into my sleeping bag. It ALWAYS rained. All I ever wanted to do was leave. My camping days officially ended when I found myself waist-deep in that slimy little pond, and my dad and his friends were on the shore “making their own cigarettes.” From the swamp to the left of the beach, a long snake emerged, swimming to cross to the swamp on the right. He moved through the water, with head up, three feet from me, and I freaked, splashed out of that water so fast, and never went back.

It’s not just camping though. I don’t understand packing elbow to elbow into the Plaza to go ooohhh and aaahhhh at fireworks on the Fourth. I'm totally bored at Labor Day Parties. Parades? Get real. New Year’s Eve is the worst. I feel like it’s more work to partake in all the American ways of passing a Holiday. I know I sound like a wet blanket, but I just like hanging out and relaxing with my small circle, not engaging in phony activities with thousands of strangers, because that’s what we “always do.” Come on, you actually like the Flag Day Parade and going to the Plaza for Price Chopper fireworks? No you don’t.

In the 80’s, we spent a lot of time at the Howard Johnson Hotel off Exit 19. We’d get a room, go to the movies on Aviation Drive, eat at the greatest pizza place ever: Papa Gino’s. At the hotel, there was a huge indoor pool and hot tub. That’s where I learned to swim. In the morning, we’d go to the hotel’s restaurant for pancakes, so thick with blueberries they’d bleed purple when you touched a fork to them. Every time we head north now, we detour off Exit 19 for a place called Mr. B’s, and I always drive past that HoJo’s, which was torn down years ago, and tell my wife the same battery of remember-when stories. It’ll always be the greatest hotel in the world to me.

Brian Huba

My Memorial Day Question/2012

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, and I have the same question I have every Memorial Day Weekend: WHO WOULD EVER SIGN UP FOR THE ARMED SERVICES? Wait a second, you signed up for this? At eighteen years old you said, “Forget college, forget chasing girls on Friday nights, forget sleeping late on Saturdays and just being young and having fun, let’s go to war in Iraq?” First off, does anybody have any idea why we were ever in Iraq or are still in Afghanistan? On the news last night, I saw a clip of American Troopers stalking through the Afghan Desert, heads on a swivel, guns ready, waiting to shoot somebody or just waiting to be shot themselves. I guess the soldiers were guarding some desert-looking wall. Why? They literally looked like warm bodies with guns, sheep to the slaughter.

Don’t misunderstand me, I have massive respect for people who risk their lives like this, but at the same time, I don’t understand the mentality of a person who willingly walks into that life. That’s all I’m saying, I don’t get it. “But, Brian, the Army pays for college.” First off, that’s kind of untrue, can we just admit that and move on. There are hoops within hoops within hoops, i.e. they own you. Second, if you’re asking me what I’d take: college debt or five years in Iraq waiting to die, um, give me the student-loan debt, I’ll work it out. When I was a high school kid, and I saw that local recruiter, every instinct told me to stay away, because he was going to try to lure me into signing a piece of paper, and once I did, my freedom was gone. I treated that recruiter like a telemarketing Jehovah’s Witness.

“Brian, you’re a coward.” No doubt about it. The lion from the WIZARD OF OZ would make fun of me. I’ll take it. This is my life. I’m chasing my dreams; I’m living the way I want to live. I can’t miss a thing. Honestly, I don’t care about free and fair elections in Iraq. I’m sorry, I don’t. I want to be here, in America, the best country in the history of the world. I want to be with my family, my friends, I want to watch every NY Giants game, and wake up every morning in my own bed. In my mind, the Armed Services are like prison. I know that sounds disrespectful, I know. What can I say? We are living in a Capitalistic World and I am Capitalistic Girl (I mean boy). Sign up for war? Give up my youth and all that fun that goes with being young? Sorry, Charlie, the American Party is too good to miss right now. And I know what you're gonna say, you're gonna tell me if I want to maintain this American Party, somebody has to fight and die for it. Look, I'm not trying to go all Ringo Starr on you (peace & love), but why do they have to die in the dirt of Afghanistan? Is it about 9/11? Didn't we get bin Laden and everyone behind 9/11?

Which brings me to my final question: Does anybody have any idea what’s going on in Iraq or Afghanistan? Eleven years? What? Who are we even fighting? Why have 7,000+ Americans died since 2001? Do you mean to tell me all this death and war is to stop Al Qaeda and the Taliban? What does that even mean? Hey, Mom, your son just got mortar bombed fighting those guys from the grainy training videos who do the monkey bars and crawl through tires in the dirt with rifles. Sorry, I thought he was going to be a doctor or schoolteacher too, mom. That’s who we're fighting? We could be in Afghanistan for a hundred years, and some guy is still going to try and blow up a JFK-bound commercial flight or some major city’s bridge.

The American Revolution, the Civil War, WWI & WWII, those wars HAD to be fought, of course, they made America what it is today. But I have no idea why we went to Iraq and I have no idea why we’re in Afghanistan. If we’re worried about terrorist operations taking root, let’s protect OUR borders, OUR airports, and OUR roads, etc. In Afghanistan, we cannot win; there is no winning anything over there. We need to protect ourselves, here, on the home front. These American boys are like sitting ducks over there, just waiting to die. Are they heroes? Of course. Are the power players and politicians to blame? No doubt about it. But, to be perfectly technical, these young men & women did sign up for this. Nobody forced them, maybe outsmarted them, but not forced. That’s what I don’t get.

And maybe some of our brave, nineteen-year-old service men will be at Lake George this weekend, partying and having fun, and being young, home on leave, etc. But, I promise you, Lake George on Memorial is WAY more fun when you don’t have to go back to a war in Afghanistan on Wednesday. When this weekend is the beginning of a summer of part-time jobs, the beach and girls, Alive at 5s, just being young, it’s much better. That’s what I wanted for me. That’s what I want for my son when and if I have one. Is that selfish? It is.

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Brian Huba

Randy vs. the Rapture/2011

Dedicated to Dan 'the man' Hepp. All things Savage

At 6.15PM on Saturday night I was sitting in this same spot when I heard a huge thunder roar down from the sky. And I thought: Oh man, is the Rapture really happening as predicted? Seconds later I was still here, and I understood what had taken place in Heaven’s wrestling ring. The Macho Man Randy Savage had landed a flying elbow from the top rope, right across the unconscious face of God, thus saving the world from certain termination. How did Randy Savage get God down you ask? Easy. Miss. Elizabeth distracted the Great Creator with a little ringside leg, and Savage suckered him for the finishing move. So yes I do think the whacko who predicted this Rapture had it right. Problem is he didn't count on Macho Madness. Classic mistake. And when I realized we’d all safely see the next almost-Armageddon, I said out loud, “OOoooooooohhhhhhh Yyyyyyeeeeaaahhhhhh.”

For those who’ve been living under a Macho-sized rock since Friday, former WWF icon, Randy ‘the Macho Man’ Savage died in Florida, after suffering a heart attack at the wheel and driving his jeep into a tree. He was 58 years old. His wife was sitting shotgun, and maybe, from across the meridian, he thought he saw that tree staring at his wife the same way he caught Hogan hawking Elizabeth in the 80’s, and said, “Tree, you get jealous eyes, ooh yeah,’ and taught that roadside birch a lesson, Macho style, same way he taught Hogan backstage at Saturday Night’s Main Event. Maybe but probably not. I like to think he went to that big Slim Jim Factory in the sky to save all mankind from the forthcoming Rapture. And I’d like to be the first to say, ‘Thank you, Macho Man.’

Macho’s was a life of sheer madness, and, as a former WWF fanatic, I loved every second of the always-nonsensical insanity. Genius comes in all shapes and sizes, and what Savage could do with Mene Gene by his side cutting promo was second to none. Plus he was an amazing wrestler inside the 'steel' ropes. Savage survived multiple bites from Jake the snake’s 12-ft python, Damien. If that’s not Macho, I don’t know what is. He had feuds with guys named Rickey Steamboat and Honky Tonk Man. He wrestled Hulk Hogan in the main event at Wrestlemania V. He held all major WWF Championships. (Forget WCW. That was fake wrestling.) He told Morgan Fairchild not to go crazy on him while sitting beside her on Arsenio Hall’s couch. A Kardashian-sized jab in the 80's. 'Can you dig it!'

Everyone has been going on line and sharing their favorite memories of the Macho Man. Whether it was the Mega Powers vs. the Mega Bucks, or his battles with the Bobby Heenan family, or his outrageous outfits and huge sunglasses, or the fact that he was the only figure in sports history to get away with, and gain popularity from, playing the abusive, out-of-control boyfriend. There was no limit to his theatrics, and when he was on the circuit, the WWF was as real any athletic event in America.

My favorite memory of the Madness was seeing him live at the Glens Falls Civic Center when I was 9 years old. WWF used to have this interview segment hosted by a red-faced fellow named Brother Love, who was anything but. I was less than ten feet from Savage being interviewed on a raised platform when the massive Andre the Giant came out to confront him. How decidedly inconvenient, I thought, because Randy was just bashing the Giant. While Macho was distracted by the Giant, the Million Dollar Man came rushing from behind, clobbered Savage with a double-fist to the back of the head, dropping him right into the waiting clutch of Andre. The Giant raised Savage up in a vicious choke hold then tossed him off like a bag of trash. The crowd booed and I booed, until Andre the Giant looked right at me, swear to God he did, and I froze a big boo in my throat and gave Andre a 'giant-sized' thumbs-up out of fear. If I didn't he would've choke-slammed me. Like I said, WWF wrestling was real back then. I still can’t figure out how come Savage couldn’t see Million Dollar Man behind him, or at least suspect something fishy was about to fly. Oh well, that was Randy Savage for you. Crazy as they came.

By the time he died, Savage’s once black beard had gone snow white and the whole act felt long gone, but it was always great, always Macho, right till his final promo cut for the WWE video game. Along with Hulk Hogan he helped define a time in wrestling that will forever prove to be its pinnacle, and for that he’ll always be a part of my childhood and best memories. A part of an innocent time when I believed rassling was for real. But those days are done for me, for all of us born in the 80’s, and now Macho Man is gone too. Heaven bound to battle Big John Studd, Andre the Giant, Rick Rude, and Owen Hart, and of course, Miss. Elizabeth in his eternal corner, distracting opponents for Randy then taking the blame when he loses.

When Savage walked through the pearly gates on Friday, I’m sure he was wearing his bright pink robe and big sunglasses, and the heavenly harps played ‘Pomp & Circumstance,’ because Macho never made a ring walk with any other music. And when he finally met God, I’m sure he pointed his finger right in the Creator's face, and said, ‘The Macho man is not impressed, ooh yeah.’ I’m sure of it.

Thanks for saving us from the Rapture, Randy.

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Brian Huba