Election 2016

It has recently been brought to my attention that I was once six years old and part of a classroom of first-graders. Of course I knew this, but not in any sort of detail. I’m always amazed at the way other people remember things from that part of their lives. How they have retained room to maintain lasting memories of trivial things from decades ago is astonishing, and commendable. Most of the things I remember from my first few years exist because they are recorded on VHS, and I’m remembering them through the lens of the antiquated, 600-pound home video recorder that was used to capture them. Nonetheless, I was once six, and part of a classroom project called “Future Presidents.”

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Click this to make it bigger.

This was my rendering of me as the President. Rotund, handless, wearing a cape, flipper-footed, and damn-near bald. I have admittedly spectacular dimples but no eyebrows, and a nose curiously proportioned like a lowercase “d.” The person who put this photo on Facebook for my viewing pleasure found it humorous that I decided everything in the photo needed labeling, including the text. I find it quite helpful, because holy crap I’m a bad artist.

What does a good President do, aside from standing on grass among low-flying birds, ominously close clouds and a devastatingly hot sun while smoking a Presidential cigar? According to the text, he ensures people pick up garbage, and makes sure “people don’t start fires just to be mean.”

Is that really something that happens? Altruistic arson? I don’t know where six year-old me developed such a curiously specific aversion to fire, but good on me. I don’t recall Obama or Bush or Clinton or Reagan addressing the oppressive mean-spirited fire problem that plagues this great country in any of their State of the Union speeches.

I’m not sure whether Presidential-me is sticking out his tongue, or if I have some sort of Kirk Douglas butt-chin, but it’s regal either way and sets me apart from other “rresidents.” It almost makes up for the devastating lack of hair.

All in all, I think the attitude advertised by this graphic is just what we need in this country. I knew it in 1991, and I know it now. So I’m presenting this to you, my dear constituents, and asking that you keep these values in mind as you prepare for the 2016 election. Don’t worry about health care, international wars, gun control, or the Keystone pipeline. Forget about infrastructure and jobs and foreign policy. Think not about the Iran Nuclear Deal. Just pick up your garbage and stop setting things ablaze, stop to enjoy a cloud or two, let your capes flap proudly in the wind, and for the love of God, stop being mean.

Thanks.

☆THE PRESIDENT☆

Happy National Corned Beef Hash Day

September 27 is National Corned Beef Hash Day. It’s real, look it up. I know you’re probably still coming off the high of National Johnny Appleseed day yesterday, but if it’s not too much trouble, go grab yourself a can of Hormel foodstuffs and celebrate today with some corned beef hash. And while you’re doing that, I’ll be over here, going through your stuff.

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My Google Drive is really full of junk. (If you wanted a good segue there, consider yourself disappointed.) I have a folder where I keep my running work for ScreenPrism, which is getting pretty hefty. (I’ve written over 400 articles for that site since May.) I have one for various other clients and companies I’ve worked with, one for photos of the kids that automatically sync from my phone when I take a picture, and one called “Old Nonsense.” It’s that last folder that contains magic and mysteries, like a cloud-based Penn & Teller show without any of the riches, fame, or cohesive composition.

The folder contains several half-written stories. I learned to read proficiently when I was three, started writing stories in blank notebooks as a small child, and in 30 years haven’t actually finished a single one. I’ve never been able to pinpoint the reason, but I’m growing a little tired of the behavior so perhaps it will change.

At one point early in this blog’s conception (four years ago!) I thought about using it to humorously address various paradoxes.  I wrote one back then, about the Pinocchio’s Nose paradox, and then realized I didn’t really want to have a blog about explaining paradoxes because… well, I mean like, who wants a blog about explaining paradoxes? I’m also not that smart.

Anyway, Google Drive’s “Old Nonsense” folder contains a document titled “blog stuff,” which looks to be many years old and contains various “blog topic ideas” that I never wrote about. I put “blog topic ideas” in quotes that are to represent finger quotes, and I’m telling you that so you can go back and re-read the sentence and do finger quotes. Go ahead. I’m going to take that time to post a photo of Angela Lansbury that would make a suitable alternative to the popular “condescending Wonka” meme:

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If I had been more diligent, Saporito Means Tasty’s past could include posts about how deodorant can have a smell, and whether or not something can be both new and improved. We could have discussed whether or not it’s a hostage situation when a man with multiple personalities threatens to kill himself, and whether or not you would weigh twice as much or disappear completely if you ate yourself. What happens if you are in a car driving at the speed of light and you turn the headlights on? Is the word heterological, meaning “not describing itself,” a heterological word?

Beyond that, it seems I once fathomed writing an “open letter to whistling.” I’m not…

It might be time to delete this file.

Hovatter’s – The West Virginia Zoo

My family has held a timeshare at Lakeview Golf Resort in Morgantown, WV for decades. I celebrated my first birthday there, and this year, my 30th. During my late teens, college years, and through the late 20s, I hadn’t been down there with the family – but the past two summers, now having a family of my own, we’ve restarted the trip as an annual tradition.

While Lakeview is a decent enough place for golfing, there’s not much else to do there. When it rains, or if we’re simply not in the mood for a grueling round of difficult golf, we never know what to do for amusement. This year my wife took it upon herself to do some research. West Virginia’s “things to do” website informed her of the West Virginia Zoo.

You didn’t know West Virginia had a zoo? We didn’t either. It’s actually a privately-owned place called Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo. And it is amazing.

As we drove the winding, limestone dust-covered roads through West Virginia forest to find the zoo, we started to joke about what kind of place we were going to find. The zoo was about a 30-minute hike from Cheat Lake, mostly via wooded, nausea-inducing roads.

“It’s probably going to be three pigs in someone’s backyard,” Laura said, after 20 minutes of driving through seemingly nowhere.

“I really have to use the bathroom when we get there,” I told her. “Hopefully Jeb or Betty cleaned out the crap bucket this morning.”

When we finally got within proximity of the zoo, the signs we saw weren’t doing much to quell our doubts. Pulling into the zoo’s entrance feels like you’re driving into someone’s backyard, aside from the presence of kangaroos.  The dirt/rock road leading up to the zoo empties into a parking lot big enough to hold a couple dozen cars, at most. When we arrived, there were only two others.

“So…this is a zoo, is it?” I said, pulling the umbrella strollers out of the back of the car, sticking the kids in them, and attempting to push them on the gravel surface.

But as the family walked from the cars to the ticket building, we quickly started to realize this wasn’t a normal zoo. I mean – that much was obvious already – but it wasn’t a normal zoo in the sense that the animals aren’t showcased as distant, wild objects the way they are at larger zoos. You’re not standing behind glass, staring at animals from 200 feet away, trying to locate them among their habitats. In fact, some animals aren’t behind glass at all.

As we bought our admission tickets, a baby llama wandered into the ticket building and kissed my wife on the face. A newborn tiger was wandering around behind the ticket counter, playing with another tiger cub like kittens on a living room floor. A pitbull/bulldog mix floated around the area, friendly as can be. It was like walking into your friend’s house, except their pet tabby was replaced with exotic animals. A peacock screeched and raised his feathers outside the window as we bought our tickets.

Now, one of the reasons we really wanted to go to this zoo was because their website advertised them having a baby giraffe. I adore giraffes greatly, and would never pass up an opportunity to see a young one. They grow so rapidly, it’s a keen thing to witness. But when we arrived at the zoo, a sign by the register offered something so magical, I couldn’t even process what I was seeing.

You can buy a cup of carrot sticks and feed the giraffes. FEED them.

I’m not even going to try and elaborate how awesome this was. The giraffes are positioned as one of the first animals you meet inside the zoo. They walk up to the edge of their pen and stare down at you with their big, majestic eyes. When you hold up a carrot stick, they shoot out their long, black tongues, wrap them around the carrot, and slurp it up. Their closeness is incredible. I pet their faces, got giraffe slobber all over my hand, and giggled with delight like a twelve year-old girl who just held a boy’s hand for the first time. We ended up getting more carrot sticks since one cup wasn’t enough, let the kids try feeding them, and recorded everything.

It wasn’t just the highlight of the day for me, it was one of the highlights of the year.

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The zoo has tons of monkeys, a bear, crocodiles, lions, lemurs, tigers, camels, boars (stinky!), hyenas, tortoises, and an amazing array of other exotics. Every animal is confined in spaces that allow you to get as close as is safely possible, making the experience so much more personal than at a larger-scale zoo. All the animals are kept just as far out of reach as they need to be, but close enough you can really get to know them, and interact. And the way harmless animals like llamas, ducks, dogs, and such just roam around with the public is really exciting.

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A few members of my family were given a tour by a great little guy named Aiden, who is one of the younger members of the Hovatter family. I think he said he was five. His enthusiasm about animals and the zoo was outstanding, and we enjoyed his company.

I’ve never been to anything like Hovatter’s before. Living in Pittsburgh, we have access to a great large-scale zoo and aquarium. I’ve been to the Columbus Zoo, another massive and hugely-financed establishment, as well as Disney’s Animal Kingdom and other similar places. But I’ve never seen anything as unique as this West Virginia Zoo – and arguably, I enjoyed my time there more than any of those other big-name zoos. It was simply thrilling being able to interact with the animals and see them up close. I mean, seriously… I touched a giraffe’s face.

No doubt, the owners of the zoo have a challenge marketing a place like this in today’s “bigger is better” climate. To most, it probably looks like some shady, backwoods, cliched West Virginian place with Deliverance music and whatever other woodland stereotypes one can imagine. But a place like that takes heart to operate. It takes passion, and desire, and a genuine love of animals. No creature there appeared mistreated, hungry, or like it was lacking attention. Everyone we met was attentive and kind, willing to talk about anything related to the business and the animals within.

The zoo is an absolute treasure buried in some desolate West Virginian town nobody has ever heard of, and is essential to visit if you’re ever in the area. Without a doubt, it will become part of our annual Lakeview tradition from now on. I’m already excited to see what’s new next July.

Check out the gallery below for more pictures of the animals and the zoo.

Watching & Writing & Excitement – ScreenPrism.com

Everyone loves to discuss things they watch. It’s the reason you hear so much chatter when leaving a movie theater. It’s the reason shows like Talking Dead have become so successful. People like to gather input and interpretations from others. They like to share and discuss and build upon their own analyses.

But when it comes to the internet, there’s no real great place to do that. You can go to different websites to find analytical articles about different films, or you can find a discussion board in a public forum. You can try Reddit or the IMDB discussion pages, but more often than not, discussions of film and television turn into annoying, hate-filled bouts of namecalling between trolls.  There is no one central authority for interpretation and discussion when it comes to film and TV – until now.

The fine folks over at ScreenPrism have spent the last year developing a website dedicated to quality, digestible analysis of film and television.

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The idea: You watch something and have some questions about it, didn’t quite understand something, or just want to read more. Maybe there’s a theme or a plot point you didn’t quite get. Maybe you somewhat understood the symbolism of something, but wanted to get another person’s interpretation. That’s what ScreenPrism is about. Most importantly, it addresses these types of questions in a way people can understand, not in a boring classroom film theory-type of way.

I’m honored to say that as of May, I joined the ScreenPrism writing staff.  In the seven weeks since, I have already written over 200 articles for the site. I’ve covered television like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul, and True Detective. I’ve looked at newer movies like Bessie, Horns, The Gambler, Jupiter Ascending, and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. I’ve examined documentaries like Last Hijack and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, older films like Run Lola Run and Leon The Professional, and classics like The Sound of Music, Rear Window, and The Seventh Seal.

You can visit my contributor page here. While it doesn’t like you to every one of my articles, it lets you see the most recent 100 or so. I haven’t actually counted how many it shows.

The site is still very new, so most of the focus is on currently-airing television shows and recent release movies. Eventually we do want to create a full backlog of everything people could search for, but current productions and the classics come first.

I’m pretty excited about the site and its potential. It was developed by a really great crew that knows a lot about film, so I’m pretty honored to be brought into their fold.  Most importantly, I hope you will go check the site out and enjoy!

I’m Roughly a Million Dollars Shy of Being a Millionaire

When we were about 16, my friend Randy and I decided we’d both be millionaires by the time we were 30. How we were going to achieve this, we had no idea. We thought maybe we’d co-write a screenplay and go the Affleck & Damon route. Maybe we’d invent something that would catch on and explode. Or maybe we’d both just become super successful at our chosen fields and be the most in-demand people in the world. The “how” didn’t matter. We were at a lunch table hovering over high school cafeteria chicken nuggets, hopped up on the recent release of Grand Theft Auto III, certain of ourselves in the way only teenagers ever are.

Well, he’s been 30 for six months, and I’ll be 30 in July. As it stands, and I can speak for both of us on this – I’m roughly a million dollars shy of being a millionaire.

But that doesn’t matter. I’ve had a pretty interesting 14 years since Randy and I had those teenage delusions of grandeur, thinking we’d soon rule the world.

College came and went – a time in which I broke out of my relatively reserved personality to emerge a student leader who was involved with everything. Then, the jobs started – a process which has largely put me back into my shell, but the variety of which has rewarded me with a range of pretty random experiences.

Decades ago they used to say the average person changed jobs seven times in their life. Now, that sounds like a pipe dream.

Fresh off of graduation, I worked for a two-man startup trying to simultaneously launch three super-niche social networking websites. I think everyone ran out of money (and drive) before any of the sites could take off, and I was let go. The hurt was quickly quelled when the next opportunity presented itself almost right away – another two-man startup, this one for indoor cycling DVDs that simulated riding outside. I got a look at small business development in action, which I suppose was important to witness, but it also led to six months of employment before funds ran out and I was let go again. That business is still operating, at least, but it had to get there without the continued help of me and another fellow.

I followed that gig with a few months at a laser show production company doing PR and copywriting, while also flying around the country to assist with laser shows. That type of work is fun and exciting for a single guy, but I was getting married that year and it didn’t work with my lifestyle, so I left that one voluntarily. Then came furniture sales (we won’t even talk about that), followed by bitchwork for an online retailer, then 2.5 years of proofreading national ads and tabs for Dick’s Sporting Goods, and finally working with the previously-mentioned online retailer to manage a couple multimillion-dollar international retail accounts. Oh, and I was freelance writing and doing web design that whole time on the side.

So yeah… leaving out the freelancing, I’ve already filled my quota of 7 jobs. Except it wasn’t a lifetime. It was 2008-2014. Now as Vice President of Affordable Vet, I’m on job number 8. I’d like to make this one last.

One thing having all those jobs taught me was what I enjoy, and what I don’t. What I care about, and what doesn’t interest me. And that lets me realize Affordable Vet is something I love working on, and which I really, really care about.

Lots of other non-job stuff happened, too, since the days when Randy and I proclaimed our financial ambitions and The Backstreet Boys were occupying most of the radio airplay. I got married. I bought a house. I’ve had 5 different cars. I had kids. (Expensive kids – both in their creation and their upkeep.)

All of that worked directly against becoming a millionaire. It’s also all pretty great.

Back when we were 16, we thought success was directly proportional to how rich you ended up being. Maybe that was a product of growing up in an upper class suburb where most people’s families didn’t show too much evidence of financial concern. Maybe it was just teenage shortsightedness.  Regardless, it’s a thing that goes away around the time you’re in college. And once you move past that, it’s a distant flicker.

Obviously a lot of things in life would be massively easier if we had both become millionaires by 30, but it wouldn’t make us more enriched. Everything going on in my daily life is far more satisfying than a fat bank, and worth far more than being a 30 year-old millionaire.

And hey, we can always shoot for 40.

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