Reggie Jackson

RJ

Public Enemy sniped at him late in the decade on the Fear of a Black Planet LP, but what were they on about? Sure, he had an ego as big as a Macy’s day float, but let’s not pretend that every single other professional athlete, in every single other sport, scurried around as quiet and deferential as a church mouse. Sports has always been populated with blowhards, it’s just that some have the goods to back it up. Reginald Martinez Jackson had those goods. Not to mention that at least 80% of what he said actually made sense. He’s a bright, articulate guy.

But that is not why he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer. He was a big man, barrel-chested and broad-shouldered, naturally gifted without a doubt, but also a fitness freak in an era when most baseball players treated their bodies like the pull tab on that last can of National Bohemian they had just guzzled. (Don’t forget he spent 1976 in Baltimore!) Reggie’s near 70 now and he will still slap you down if you want to get lippy.

But that’s not why he’s in the Hall of Fame, either. Reggie was larger than life, when he stepped to the plate, pulling at the V of his V-necked uniform and flourishing his 40 ounce bat like it was a Panda Express chopstick, all eyes were upon him. He was a SLUGGER. No one goes to a baseball game or watches the interminable things on TV to see a slap single hitter prance from base to base like a polyester-clad Tinkerbell. They go to see the long ball, to see that stitched leather sphere get the living shit blasted out of it. If you don’t agree, check out what happened to Major League Baseball in the 90s when the league sold its soul to just that very thing by letting grotesque, steroid-injecting monsters run rampant all over what was once “Our Nation’s Pastime.”

Most people remember him in green and gold or blue pinstripes on a white ground, and why not, he was absolutely iconic in both places, but I prefer to remember him from 1982-1986 when he wore the white (later light gray), navy and red of the California Angels. He was a solid performer for them, even as his career was winding down. By the way, I still refuse to acknowledge the name my favorite team goes by today, the Orange County Angels of Los Angeles as presented by the Jack in the Box on the corner of East Gene Autry Way and South State College Boulevard or whatever the hell it is. They’ll always be the California Angels to me.

Reggie was clean, he was clutch, his dingers were divine. I love the man.

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Chi-Chi’s

chichilogo

They took the first three letters of their signature dish, doubled it, added a hyphen, an apostrophe, the letter “s,” and presto, white-bread middle America had something incredibly exotic to explore.

Where I grew up, in bleak and isolated Northeast Ohio, the good citizens had to ease their way into the unique experience of consuming authentic South-of-the-Border vittles. There was distrust: “Was Mexican food taking away ‘American jobs’?” There was fear: “This building looks like the Alamo. It could be a trap.” There was a lifetime of rigid culinary habits that were nearly impossible to break: “I’d really, really like a baked potato on the side with this. And some ketchup.”

But Chi-Chi’s eventually won us over, no doubt aided by the inhibition-lowering giant Margaritas served in glasses with bowls as big as upside-down umbrellas. And huge piles of tortilla chips that were, gasp, free! At the peak of Chi-Chi’s popularity, waiting in the Cantina for a table to open up could take as many as four hours, and that meant a lot of playing the golf tee triangle game for sure. But it was worth it. It was so new and different. No sheltered Midwesterner can ever forget the first time they heard the sizzle of a tray of fajitas flying past their ear or the first time they were confronted with a healthy heaping of guacamole: “Mommy, this looks like the doggie’s throw-up!”

Celebrating a birthday at Chi-Chi’s was extra special as all servers were forced to immediately drop whatever they were doing to go circle the anointed one’s table and perform a special birthday ditty. To enhance the effect that guests were actually dining down in old Juárez and not some half-empty rust belt strip mall, of course the song was chanted in ENGLISH, with a token Spanish interjection tacked on at the end. Even better, a Polaroid picture of the birthday boy or girl wearing a lice-infested sombrero was provided “on the house.”

The chain managed to thrive for 20 or 30 years but the end came suddenly and swift. The entire company was laid low in 2003 after some tainted green onions slipped their way into the kitchen and nearly 40,000 people in western Pennsylvania died. It was so bad a Pittsburgh Steelers NFL football game was cancelled because of it. In less than a year every single restaurant had closed.

I, for one, miss the Fried Ice Cream. Dat shit was da bomb! It even looked like a bomb!

Rubik’s Cube

Rubik's Cube

Developed out of nothing in Hungary, one of the top two coolest countries on this big blue marble we call Gaia, Rubik’s Cube swept the nation like no other cube since the ones made of frozen water.

This brightly colored, hand-held game resembled Lindsay Lohan’s celebrated FireCrotch in one significant way. At some point, everybody you knew had their paws all over it. They sold so many of these, I think there was 1.7 of them for every person in the United States. That is remarkable. What you did with it was up to you. Most gave up after 20 minutes, some persisted from 5 to 20 hours and managed to get one side uniform. Others pried every single cube off the damn thing and then one by one stuck them back on, 9 of the same colors to a side, until the puzzle had been “solved.” They then brought it to school, where they immediately got laid, sometimes even by their own math and/or science teacher. It was that big a deal. A small handful of users were able to fairly and legitimately solve the entire thing on their own–these whiz kids grew up to invent the Internet.

Some hardcore “speedcubers” would inject it with Vaseline, salad oil or even expensive imported civet urine in an effort to make it go faster. Others stuck it into a drawer or a shoebox where it probably sits to this day. Neither side was right or wrong. Again, it’s all about what’s good for you.

I personally only managed to get one side matched up a few times, but I can remember the, er, “feel” of it in my hands and believe that at the very least it made a decent alternative to worry beads or a stress squeeze toy.

It still sells steadily, even today (not quite Johnny Manziel football jersey steady, but definitely Picasso “Don Quixote” poster print steady) And why not? It’s a puzzle and human beings love trying to solve puzzles. Where the heck do you think religion comes from?

T.J. Hooker

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After the end of Star Trek (the actual television series, not the phenomenon, which will never end) William Shatner, or “Shatty” as he likes to be called, was in a bit of a bind. He’d been typecast as Captain James T. Kirk. so it was hard for him to land substantial roles–he ended up wandering through the 70s in something of a daze, doing occasional guest spots on schlock like Match Game and The $25,000 Pyramid.

In 1982 he was finally given a “second life” via the television show T.J. Hooker, and considering that now, in 2014, he’s on his 11th or 12th reincarnation, taking this role was definitely the right choice.

These days, Shatty struts and frets across the world entertainment stage as a jocular figure of fun, but his character T.J. Hooker was one dead serious hombre. He was an angry cop, his asperity supposedly fueled by the death of his partner at the hands of some scumbag criminal, but I always suspected it was all because he bore the burden of a surname that was an American English colloquialism for a streetwalker and a first name that perfectly rhymed with the slang term for a depraved oral sex act. In any case, he brooked no guff as he molded the fresh-faced new recruits down at the Police Academy into cyborg-like killing machines as well as finding the time to patrol the beat and collar a few detestable felons every episode. He also leaped onto a LOT of moving cars, buses, and even freaking planes, like some blue-suited half human/half mountain lion.

Joining him on his crusade was Adrian Zmed, whose career might have gone farther had he added a vowel or two to his last name. Also along for the ride was Heather Locklear, who was about as believable an inner-city cop as Paris Hilton would be playing the Vincent D’Onofrio role on Law and Order: Criminal Intent.

Despite T.J.’s almost constant poker face, it was all pretty groovy–they even got Leonard Nimoy to come aboard for an episode and play Hooker’s former partner and bestie who turns into a berzerk vigilante when his daughter is assaulted by a sexual predator in a Fonzie jacket. Near the end, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock trade punches like Hagler and Leonard!

Diego Maradona

maradona wc

It’s an argument that has been raging for 30 years and will continue to rage until the very first day of The Rapture. Who is the Best Of All Time? Pelé or Maradona? Both boasted otherworldly skills and won World Cups. Pelé has a decisive 3-1 edge in World Championships but he also had a far more formidable supporting cast every single time he took the pitch for his country.

Still, you can never objectively declare that one is better than the other. Van Eyck or Velázquez? Beethoven or Mozart? Ferrari or Lamborghini? That’s a mug’s game! What it really comes down to is a matter of taste. So I hereby admit that I have always been resolutely in the camp of the Argentine–it’s much more fun there, where anthill-sized piles of cocaine are left about, delicious Malbec wines served by the hogshead and every woman in sight is as scorching as a January afternoon on the Plaza de Mayo. Over in Pelé‘s camp, there is only Subway sandwiches, tedious corporate meetings and trannies.

The 80s were, without question, the prime of Diego Maradona’s career. A league championship with Boca Juniors, a few cups with Barcelona, a world crown in 1986 for Argentina and then the curious case of Società Sportiva Calcio Napoli in Italy. Maradona managed to haul in the Scudetto not once, but two times for a perennial Serie A also-ran. They hadn’t won it before and haven’t won it since.

To watch his first goal against England in the 1986 World Cup Quarterfinal is to watch a canny opportunist doing anything he can to win for his homeland, to watch his second is to peer down into Heaven for a few fleeting moments, perhaps, just perhaps, seeing God Himself at work.

Since then, Maradona has done and said whatever he wants, slowly but steadily chipping away at all the amity he accumulated during the 80s by being as outrageous and unapologetic as possible. Still, he would have to live another millenium or two, roasting live babies on television every single day, to completely deplete it, at least in Argentina and southern Italy. And maybe, not even then.

Just a few years ago, El Diez ordered the packs of Argentine yellow journalists who dog his heels and question his every move to “suck it and keep on sucking it,” and that’s exactly what those lowlifes need to do. While they are busy with that, for Maradona admirers like me, forever in his camp, the blow will be everywhere, the red wine will flow like the Rio Paraná and the Latin American beauties will cling to our limbs like creeping vines.

Live is Life!!

Tones On Tail

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As I flip through the nice booklet that comes with the two disc CD compilation rather unimaginatively titled Everything!, I see that Tones On Tail played Peabody’s Down Under in Cleveland, Ohio on October 15, 1984. I wasn’t there. This still rankles me to this day, in fact it’s a veritable pine cone in my shoe with every step I take, even so many years later. Why wasn’t I there? Well, not because I didn’t have “gas money” to get up to the Mistake By The Lake from my own Mistake By The Mahoning River 60 miles south, not because I was grounded for bad grades, not because I “blew it off” to watch the debut episode of Murder She Wrote (you remember the one–Lou Ferrigno plays a mentally-deficient, green-skinned monster who throws a small girl picking daisies into a babbling brook.)

It was because I didn’t know the group existed at that point.

Sometimes you discover things a few years late. I think I first heard “Rain” on WUOG pretty much the first week of school and almost fell off the childish Brady Bunch-style bunk beds UGA provided their matriculating young adults smack onto the floor. Because it was such a hauntingly beautiful song. The next day I went over to Ruthless Records and bought a copy of Pop on vinyl. With a handwritten check. But whatever. What’s important is that Tones On Tail were darn near perfect. Every single track they laid down was great, even that “Heartbreak Hotel” cover that sounds like it was recorded underwater. And for the entirety of their career, they were barely a real group. It was all just a bunch of dicking around. A silly, frivolous lark in between the two “important” bands Bauhaus and Love & Rockets. That’s too bad, because I like Tones On Tail better then both of those quite worthy groups.

In an era lousy with Sunset Boulevard metal “dudes who looked like ladies” Daniel Ash boasted a fetching pair of impeccably-painted lips even the straightest high school jock wanted to kiss. I’ve actually been told this by several former NFL football players! Kevin Haskins was the Topper Headon of the Goth set–the guy could play any style Danny Boy threw at him, and that was quite a lot because they laid down 25 tracks in pretty much 25 different styles. Finally, bassist Glenn Campling did just fine for a guy whose hair was the color of straw. (That is, I think it was the color of straw–these guys never once allowed themselves to be photographed with color film–it may have been Warhol-white.)

Did I say I liked this band a few sentences ago? I meant to say LOVE.