All posts by Jeff Saporito

A Twisted Tea Party for One

Working my second job at a beer store has been one part blessing and two parts problem. The effort provides me with supplemental income, which is great, and it gets me out of my house and forces me to put on pants. I’ve made some good friends and it’s a generally nice change from the lifestyle I had for several years prior.

Countering that, I’m fatter now, and I end up with way too much beer in my house. The ongoing count is anywhere from 120-200 beers present at any given time, typically replenishing faster than I can drink them. Still, the consumption and study of beer is now part hobby, part vice by convenience, and part duty – we at the store like to have an answer when someone asks, “What’s this like?” which naturally means we have to try it all.

Most of what I bring home is good stuff. Craft beer, local products, and rare releases from some favorite breweries. But as a growing connoisseur of the craft, I also have a keen interest in the terrible corners of beer production.  I like to try the spectrum of products, and for months have had my eye trained on a particularly awful-looking variety pack of Twisted Tea cans ever-present within the walls of our licentious establishment.

Fortunately, today was the day a variety pack went out of code. (And let me tell you, it takes a long time for this bullshit to expire.) We put the majority of the cans in the handy clearance crate where we offload past-date beers for $1 each (colloquially referred to as the “fuck-it bucket”) and I relegated one can of each for my own personal amusement. I have never previously experienced any products from this line, so I started with the basic Twisted Tea.

Cracking the tab, I already felt like a fatter, sloppier man. I raised the can to my nose, gently wafting the offering’s chemically-produced tea-like aromas. They say it’s made with “select teas,” whatever that translates to, but I can’t confirm or deny the presence of actual tea. The smell isn’t far from Brisk or some other pseudo-tea drink, but let’s face it — Brisk is iced tea as much as cat feces and grass clippings are a cheeseburger.

The flavor isn’t far off from a Brisk; the sweet and dry initial offering of whatever actual tea may be used in this concoction is combined with some medicinal lemon cleaner, swiftly followed by an uncomfortable metallic bile not dissimilar from the aftertaste following a painful empty-stomach vomit session. Nothing improves as time progresses, the warming of the product making even less enjoyable. If anything, Twisted Tea leaves you wishing it were, in fact, a Brisk tea — and if Brisk tea is the bar by which we’re measuring the quality of canned tea-ish beverages, that’s a shame.

Twisted Tea is basically the flavor of disappointment, yet exactly what I imagined.

Next up was Twisted Tea Raspberry, which, let’s face it, I was expecting to taste like Raspberry Brisk. Years ago, as a teenager with no palate or life experience, with an unfortunately high level of braggadocios overconfidence, and a diet comprised largely of Hot Pockets and Wendy’s chili, I would pound Brisk Raspberry teas like a zealot and exclaim “That’s Brisk, Baby!” as if I were the first and most hilarious person to ever connect an ad campaign with reality. Now, as an adult with a Gran Torino worldview and an obsequious dedication to my own preferences and rituals, I’d be hard pressed to recall the last time I consumed a canned raspberry tea. Maybe it’s something about the raspberry flavor being produced from beaver anal glands. I dunno.

Anyway, again falling short of my low expectations, Twisted Tea Raspberry does taste somewhat like Raspberry Brisk, if only the Raspberry Brisk were first laced with ground-up berry Tums and filtered through the pubic hair of an end-of-shift coal miner. Granted, I’ve consumed far-worse beverages (Frank’s Red Hot Malt Liquor?) but didn’t pay money for any of them (except Wild Blue, holy crap, what a painful abomination).

As to whether or not Raspberry is better or worse than its sans-raspberry brethren, it’s hard to say. It’s like having two different Taco Bell patrons fart on either side of your face while slapping you with unrefrigerated herrings as they ask you which Beach Boys song used a bicycle horn as a background instrument. The answer is just not important, though it’s “You Still Believe in Me,” the chorus of which is “I want to cry,” so maybe it connects after all.

Next up: Twisted Tea Half & Half. This was clearly derived by someone who despises the game of golf, as there’s no better way to dishonor the late, great Arnold Palmer than by sullying his namesake fluid mixture by incorporating it into the Twisted Tea line of canned beverage debauchery. “Hard Iced Tea with Lemonade Flavor” they write on the can — a delightful combination of non-things they attempt to disguise as real-things. This product smells exactly like standard Twisted Tea but somehow manages to taste even more deplorable. The ‘lemonade flavor’ element is so extraordinarily artificial that it’s a downright travesty. Literally all that is required to produce actual lemonade is water, sugar, and lemons. Seeing as this beverage has the first two ingredients in spades, it seems a short reach to include real lemon and not “lemonade flavor,” which is no doubt extracted from the drainage pipe of the little hand washing sinks in Bath & Body Works where you can sample the seasonal soaps. Surely this beverage could be weaponized for corrosive purposes.

Finally, the mack-daddy of Twisted Tea. The one I had been anxiously awaiting for over a year. The most illogical, disturbing, unfortunate variation of this product line: Twisted Tea Bourbon Barrel. “Malt beverage with select teas and natural flavors aged on bourbon barrel staves.”

*shudder*

For no sensible reason at all, the product smells like someone canned the liquid inside of Gushers and added an alcohol-based children’s cough suppressant. Taking a sip, the flavor which entered my mouth was the taste of pure self-loathing. I recoiled in agony like I had just fired a poorly-held shotgun that kicked back into my ribcage, but the reality was much more painful. This beverage retained a hint of its original “tea” self, with something more reminiscent of watered-down RC Cola and a bit of sweet barbecue sauce you’d find on a pork sandwich at a sketchy gas station. Having consumed so many fine, top-tier, actual bourbon barrel beverages, I perceive this as the beer equivalent of ordering pizza from the “American” section of a Chinese restaurant’s menu.  It’s like going to see a cover band of The Machine, which is already a tribute band of Pink Floyd. It’s like Shredded Wheat, pickle, and meatloaf-flavored chewing gum – it just shouldn’t exist.

After a few sips, I decided the remaining contents of all four of these cans needed to visit the pipes under my home and wash away in everlasting harmony with the other suburban excrement flowing beneath the street. Godspeed, Twisted Tea, and good riddance.

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IMDB Shut Down its Message Boards and That Makes Me Frown

I scarcely remember an internet where IMDB didn’t exist. It was one of the first truly incredible, big-picture website concepts I remember being inspired by. I’ve spent countless hours across the years scanning its pages, absorbing unnecessary trivia, connecting actors and films and learning about little-known projects. It has expanded my world of films in numerous ways, and for that I have always been and will always be grateful.

A few days ago, I was disheartened when I attempted to visit a particular film’s message board to find that particular feature of IMDB’s offering had been removed just two days prior. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of similar message boards filled with people’s thoughts, opinions, arguments, and banter about films were casually wiped from existence with little fanfare.

Why did this happen? The official reason is IMDB concluded their “message boards are no longer providing a positive, useful experience.” In an internet age where message boards are a thing of the past, a relic better suited for how people chatted online in 2001 and not 2017, that logic makes sense. Message boards are dead technology. Add to that the massive amount of hateful, condescending, judgmental, and downright useless trash so many trolls spewed all over those boards, it’s easy to see why, superficially, the boards were put to bed. Weeding through the boards’ trash could often be taxing, for sure, and that is the opposite of a positive, useful experience.

But if you visited the boards of any currently-popular mega-hit, classic film, cult favorite, or mega-star, you were bound to find more great discussions and insight than trash. You would see lively conversations that were ongoing and often hundreds of responses deep. The IMDB boards were a brilliant way to find out what other people were thinking about and talking about in regards to visual art. They were visited by people the world over with different perspectives, different opinions, and different interpretations of what they saw. And that’s exactly the kind of thing people need these days. Sure, we still have Reddit and other alternatives for that type of chat — but what is so bad about having a choice of outlets? And how am I supposed to know the top 100 things everyone learned from Super Troopers without it? Say Car Ramrod!

Anyone can post their thoughts about a film or TV show on Facebook and get comments and feedback from their friends. But, as we’re reminded every day, we’re in a culture of echo chambers. The current climate of internet discourse is in flux. It’s one of bad press, fake news, and people rehashing their opinions amongst like-minded, like-cultured people only to get similar opinions in return. The IMDB message boards were one place where, while certainly not exempt from plenty of misinformation and false facts, people were at least guaranteed to not merely reabsorb the exact thoughts they shared. Eliminating a popular spot where global thoughts and perspectives came together is the opposite of what global conversation needs right now — even if that discussion is about trivialities like movies and TV, and even if the trolls of Earth want to insult my affinity for Hollywood musicals.

As someone who was recently responsible for writing daily analytical film and television articles for ScreenPrism, I often discovered writing topics by thumbing through the IMDB message boards. They were an illuminating means of finding what elements of a production people were talking about. When I needed to write a Q&A piece about a particular show, I’d go to IMDB message boards to see what people were asking. When I needed to do deep analysis of a classic film trope or compare themes in a renowned picture to another cinematic masterwork, I would visit the boards as a springboard for my own interpretations. Even when I had no obligation beyond a simple personal interest in a particular work, I was always eager to visit the boards and feed my curiosity about what others noticed that perhaps I didn’t, and to gain new perspectives I hadn’t thought of organically while watching. People made friends on those boards through their insights and shared interests. The boards provided an avenue of dissemination for wild theories and pieces of inventive fanfiction. Quite simply, there was a lot going on there — much more than trolling and time-wasting.

In those ways, the post-by-post structure of the boards wasn’t outdated, but a staple of what kept people coming back to IMDB over all these years. Of course, IMDB isn’t going anywhere. The website itself is now a staple of the internet with hardly anyone over the age of five unfamiliar with its existence. But it quietly lost a bit of depth, however antiquated, and an important piece of film and television’s fiery social culture has been caught beneath the snuffer.

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.