Monday, December 19, 2011

Where Justin Bieber Fans Come From?

If you ever look at, say, a rabid Justin Bieber fan and think, "I wonder what she (or he, I guess) was like 5-6 years ago," wonder no more.

I'm not sure if it's a gene or a developed trait, but our older daughter tends to get a little fanatical about, well, whatever it is she happens to be fanatical about.  For a long time, it was Tyrone from "The Backyardigans."  Tyrone was the subject of most of her sentences, most of her artwork, and most of her stories.  Her fanaticism shifted to "Bunny," the name of her most treasured stuffed bunny.

These days, Mario is her "Justin Bieber du jour", and what follows is a small sampling of the fruit of her attention.

First up is a list of book titles involving Mario.  I'm not sure if these are books that currently exist in her imagination or that she just thinks would someday make great, real, books.  I think at least a couple of them are variants of titles that are actual children's books.  Here's the scanned list with my typed version to follow (which may add some capitalization and punctuation to The Hungry PK 1's original list).

"Mario and the Princess"
"Mario and Mary Get in a Fight"
"The Two Marios"
"Water Mario"
"Mario is Silly (Silly Mario)"
"Mario and the--'Yuck!  Uh, I Don't Want to Finish"
"Mario and the Egyptian Ruins"
"Mario and the Bad Bike Crash"
"Mario and the Hick Up" (I think it would be "Mario Gets the Hick Ups") [I'm interpreting the 2nd part of this to be her voice second guessing the original title, and not part of the title; contra the "Yuck!"-title above, which I believe is all part of the suggested title proper -THP]
"Nobody Likes Mario"
"Muddy, Sticky, Cruddy, Wet Mario!"

Not to boast, but I gotta say this is a pretty impressive list of made up book titles.  Lots of variety in both title structures and themes, which would seem to include, for example: conflict resolution, history, bike safety, and follow-through on tasks.  The targeted age range also seems to vary, from infant ("Muddy, Sticky, Cruddy, Wet Mario!") to toddler ("Mario is Silly [Silly Mario]") to pre-school ("Mario and the Princess") and on through grade school ("Mario and the Egyptian Ruins") and junior high ("Nobody Likes Mario"--or was that just me?).

So if other options stall, Monkey 1 definitely has a future in book title authorship.  Or...  perhaps even as an actual book author.  What follows is an actual book, written by Monkey 1, that I scanned page by page.  I'll provide a little clarification on the plotline after each page.

"Mario's Bad Bad Bad Bad Bad Bad Bad Life"

Based on the title alone, the Coen brothers have already expressed interest in acquiring the movie rights.

"Ouchy, morning hurts!" / "It's dark in here."

LEFT: Mario wakes up so suddenly that the alarm clock bounces off his head and flies out the window.
RIGHT: Mario gets up on the wrong side of the bed and is afraid because it's dark.

"Um, I'd rather wear Baby Marios!" "Wear yours!" / "Mom, my cereal is mean!" "That doesn't make sense."

LEFT: Mario's clothes are too boring, so he says he wants to wear Baby Mario's.  His mother replies to this with "Wear yours!"
RIGHT: Mario's cereal tells him that he is dumb.  Mario tells his mom, who tells him that that doesn't make sense.

"I'll take care of it." / "Achooooo" "Sorry"

LEFT: Baby Mario had been crying, and Mario's mom tell him that she'll take care of it.
RIGHT: Mario leaves on his bike and kicks up some dust in the face of his friend, who sneezes.  Mario apologizes.

"Go!!!!" "Go Mario! Go Mario!" / "Whoops" "Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!"

LEFT: Mario goes to practice for the bike race on Saturday.  He gets off to a good start.
RIGHT: Mario accidently drives off a cliff into some lava.

"This race is no match for me!" / "Oops" "Uh oh"

LEFT: Mario confidently tries again.
RIGHT: Mario misses a jump and lands in lava again.

"Woo Hoo!" / "Oops" "I hope he's okay" "Silly Mario"

LEFT: Mario makes the biggest jump on the track.
RIGHT: Mario misses the landing and ends up in lava again.

"Who turned out the light?"

LEFT: In mid-jump, Mario's bike turns into a long cart that can hold a lot of people.
RIGHT: Someone turns out the light, and Mario gets scared.

LEFT: Mario practices some more, and things go well.
RIGHT: Mario's name appears on his bike.

LEFT: Mario lands in lava again.
RIGHT: Somehow, Mario manages to win the race, and is hoisted in the air by his friends, trophy in hand.

This is a slightly happier piece of work: Mario giving Luigi a flower.

Prose?  Check.  2D art?  Check.  3D art?  See below.  The figure below is Mario.  In the first photo, he's standing, supported by a chain of beads.

At the puppetmaster's decree, Mario "falls", at which point his head lines up with the pre-arranged talking bubble which, of course, reads "Ow!".

The puller-of-strings can then make Mario stand up again.

Finally, here is a picture of Monkey 1 herself, modelling her new favorite shirt that, when she received, she immediately put on over her Christmas dress.

So is this the picture of a future teen-idol fanatic?  We'll find out in a couple of years.  In the meantime, I'm going to work on channeling her focus towards curing cancer or stomping out world hunger.  Though I will probably settle for cleaning her room.


Updated, 5/26/12:
Monkey 1's Mario fanaticism has waned ever-so-slightly in the last few months.  Or maybe not.  It's hard to tell.  But there are a couple of artistic highlights that she created that are post-worthy.  However, creating an entirely new post of Mario art seems excessive to me.  Hence, an in-post update.  Enjoy!

The girls received an easel for Christmas which, of course, meant bigger Mario pictures.  

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Luigi & Mario; Mario & Peach; Tall Mario

Any artist worth their salt has used the medium of Pixos.  Monkey 1 is no exception.

But tapping into the tradition of more classic media--like mosaic--is a surefire method of inspiring art aficionados everywhere.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Thanksgiving Themes, PART 5: "Jury Duty"

Jury duty doesn't bother me.  It's an inconvenience, and the whole jury system (along with the justice system) could use an overhaul.  But it is what it is.  Our system is pretty decent compared to the rest of the world's, and someone's got to serve on the juries.

So when I got summoned to show up on November 28th, the day after my birthday, I wasn't crying a river or anything like that.  If anything, I thought, "Well that will be easy to remember."

And overall, my experience at the courthouse was fine.  Got some emails read & written, sorted some coupons, took a nap--it was fine.

Before and after jury duty?  Pretty sucky.

Things started off innocently enough on my birthday.  As I emerged from my donut coma and the late NFL games wound down, I began to gather up what I needed for the next day, like a book, some snacks, stuff to write with--oh, and my summons.  I looked where I thought it was.  It was not there.

I looked through a couple of piles.  Still no summons.  I told Beth to start exercising without me, and I'd be down in a few minutes.  When she finished, she came upstairs.  I was still looking.  For about 2 hours I sifted through piles of stuff on all three floors of our house.

I was surely not the first person to misplace this important document, but I also didn't know how big of a deal it was to lose it.  Would it be a big headache for the jury coordinator?  Would it result in a fine for contempt of court?

Aside from those concerns, I wasn't even sure exactly where I was supposed to be and when I was supposed to be there.  The St. Louis courts website was of very little help; most of the FAQ's were variations of "This is my situation--does that get me out of jury duty?"  Was the question "What if I lost my summons?" asked THAT infrequently?  Apparently so.

Of course, since it was Sunday, there was no one official who I could call to ask my IAQ ("infrequently...").  This meant I would be getting up earlier on Monday to get the girls ready for school more quickly, and still "drive blind" towards the courthouse, hoping someone at the courthouse would answer my phone call on Monday morning.

My relaxing birthday was getting less and less relaxing and more and more tragic feeling.  I had brought this on myself.  Important documents go in designated places--that is a rule I have had trouble internalizing.  When we moved to California 10 years ago, I closed out our savings account in Kirksville and was issued a cashier's check for our life's savings.  My next stop was to buy a tub of protein powder at the local health and supplement store, since we weren't sure we'd be able to get it in California.  Five days later, after much stress and anguish for both myself and my wife, we found the check in the brown paper bag alongside the tub of protein powder.  Seemed like a good place to put it at the time.  As Spinal Tap sings in "The Majesty of Rock": "The more things stay the same, the less they change."

"Isolating areas of growth while not getting down on myself"--that's another rule I need to work on.  I'll put that right next to "Put important documents in designated places" on my "Things I'm Working On" list which, of course, is hard for me to look at without getting down on myself.  Another post, I suppose...

But my pre-jury-duty crisis has a happy-ish ending.  On Monday morning, someone at the courthouse answered my phone call right away and told me that losing my summons wasn't a big deal, and to just show up.  When I got there, I told them my name, and they printed off a new jury number tag.  They actually didn't even check my ID, which I found a little odd.  I guess they're not too picky about filling up the jury pool, as long as the person who shows up appears to be of the same species as the name they have in their records.

The moral of this story is: Pretend all important documents are jury summons, and care for them as such.

Like I said, jury duty proper was uneventful and even productive.  But my pre-service crisis was bookended  neatly by an independent post-service crisis.  Most of the jurors were released to go home around 5:00 (along with most other people in downtown St. Louis).  Jurors and normal people alike scurried to the parking garage, then weaved around in our cars like connected train cars.  The train approached an exit ramp, and cars began backing up behind a mechanical arm sitting in the down position.

The person in front was trying to feed their paper, courthouse validated parking ticket into a machine intended for plastic parking passes.  I observed that the second exit-lane, parallel to the first, was empty.  Furthermore, there was a small sign taped to window of the booth of the second lane that read: "Jurors Exit Here."  I pulled up to THAT closed arm, only to find that to get the arm to open, I would need to hand my ticket to an actual parking attendant inside the booth.  And the booth was empty.

So both exit ramp arms were in down position.  Meanwhile, rows of cars lined up behind both me and "I wish I had a plastic ticket" lady.  Neither of us could pull forward, thanks to the arms.  And neither of us could pull backwards, thanks to the cars lined up behind us, many of the drivers of which many began to honk and yell things out of their windows.

The next few minutes I've tried to block out, but I recall that somehow it WAS finally communicated to the cars at the end of the train that it would be nice if they could back up a little, so that the people in front of them could back up, and so on and so forth.  When it was my turn to back up out of the exit ramp, I rolled for a few feet, then heard a loud noise, then saw a concrete wall a little too close to my passenger-side window.

Literally about 5 seconds later, a woman appeared--I'm not sure from where--with a bag of fastfood, and said, "Oh, I'm sorry."  She walked into the booth, took my ticket, and opened up the arm.

I drove out of the garage and then pulled to the side of the street, hopped out of my car, walked around to the passenger side, and saw this:

If I had waited for another 5 seconds to back up my car, this wouldn't have happened.  If I had continued to drive around the parking garage to the NEXT exit, this wouldn't have happened.  If I had gotten stuck behind the lady in the left lane, this wouldn't have happened.  If I had missed the elevator, or missed the shuttle from the courthouse, or let one person go in front of me, this wouldn't have happened.

When assessing how angry I am at any given moment, I (like most people, I'm sure) ask myself, "If I were David Banner, would I turn into the Incredible Hulk right now?"  As I stood looking at the damage caused to my car because someone thought it was a good idea to go grab their dinner at 5:15 on a weekday evening, well, yes, I would have turned into the Incredible Hulk.  I don't know what I would have done THEN.  Probably caused even more damage, or maybe growled in the face of the parking garage attendant.

I was still fuming when I got home, and fuming when 30 minutes later when I got a phone call from our insurance adjuster.  She was calling about the CRV, which careful readers of WPFF will recall was totaled back in August.  She wanted to ask me how I would feel about a settlement figure for the accident.  It would cover my medical bills (chiropractor treatment) for the accident.  I was happy about that, but the numbers didn't quite add up.  The number she was quoting me was more than the amount of my bills.  I expressed my confusion, and she was quickly chimed in, "Oh, the extra money is for your pain and inconvenience."  It wasn't enough to retire on, but it WOULD be enough to get, say, a scratch on our new car taken care of.  Add in my $12 for jury duty, and we may even have enough left over to paint flames across the hood.

So, my Thanksgiving weekend wrapped up with an unexpected expense followed by an unexpected influx of cash.  Interesting.

Meanwhile, my black eye is healed and my nose is straight-ish.

I just spent the last of my Walgreens and CVS coupons that I attained Thanksgiving day.

A friend of mine with a kid who loves trains is coming over tomorrow and he will get to play with the train that my uncle gave us.

And I am still very grateful for a family that wants to celebrate me on my birthday.  It was a good Thanksgiving weekend.

Oh, one final addendum:  While I was sitting outside the courtroom to which I had been called on Monday afternoon, I decided to catch up on some reading, and pulled out a stack of emails I had printed out.  As I flipped through them, I stumbled across this:

There was much laughing.  Not by me, of course, but I'm sure someone, somewhere in the world was laughing about something.


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thanksgiving Themes, PART 4: "Happy Birthday to Me"

I'm sure I don't need to tell you that Sharlto Copley, star of the Oscar nominated "District 9", was born on November 27, 1973.  But did you know that he was born the very same day as The Hungry Preacher?  True fact.

So after fighting off sickness Tuesday and Wednesday, shopping and partaking in a Thanksgiving feast on Thursday, breaking my nose and hosting an second Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, and cutting down a Christmas tree and attending a birthday party for my nephew on Saturday, I was pretty razzed for doing as close as possible to nothing for my birthday on Sunday.

Beth had originally suggested that I get a TV for my birthday, but after some consideration, I suggested that we wait on that purchase.  I made this call late in the game, so plan B was donuts and an omelet for breakfast and chillaxing most of the day.  I was happy with this plan.

The girls were excited to celebrate and my younger one created an original piece of art for me.

She was obviously eager to present me with this, as demonstrated by her actions the day before my birthday.  It was about 7:30 in the morning when I awoke to hearing Monkey 2 wandering into our bedroom.  She crept up to my side of the bed and said, "Daddy?"  Half asleep, I muttered, "Yeah?"

"Is your birthday today?"

I cracked my eyes open and saw an envelope in her hand.  I said, "No, it's tomorrow."

She pulled the envelope behind her back and said, "Oh."  After I pause, she said, "Can I go downstairs and watch something?"  I said she could, and she walked away, envelope in tow.  Very cute.

Anyway, as the late NFL games were wrapping up, my birthday got less relaxing and more frustrating.  Which I will talk about in the final post of this series: Thanksgiving Themes, PART 5: "Jury Duty".


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thanksgiving Themes, PART 3: "The Train"

Beth cooked up a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner for an assortment of relatives who gathered at our house on Friday afternoon (there were conflicts on Thursday).  As the festivities wound down, my uncle informed me that he had a gift he wanted to present to our family, and to not let anyone leave before he had the chance to.

My uncle is a generous and thoughtful guy, so I was curious, to say the least.  In a few minutes, we corralled everyone into the living room and gave him the floor.  He explained that when he was growing up, his family had a train set that came out of storage for only a few weeks out of the year, around Christmas time.  The track was set up around the tree, and each year, a new car was added to the set.  This was a special and memorable tradition for him, and he wanted to give each of his nieces and nephews the opportunity to embark upon the same tradition with their own families.

And how, you may wonder, would someone bestow that opportunity to their nieces and nephews?  By presenting them with a "Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer Freight Train Set with Diorama," of course!

Honestly, my knowledge of trains is half-Amtrak, half-Thomas, but I have known for quite some time that there existed types of high-quality train sets in shops and basements previously undiscovered by me.  Friday, the contents of those shops and/or basements came into my house in a large gift bag, compliments of my uncle Paul.

Beth and I were pretty floored, and the girls were (pardon the cliche) filled with wonder.  Future setup locations are TBD, but this year we weren't prepared to loop the train around the Christmas tree.  Instead, we looped it around our Christmas branch, which we set up on the dining room table.

The setup was pretty simple (especially since Beth did it), and the girls have enjoyed it.  The light on the engine is functional, and actual smoke puffs out of the... uh, I don't think it's called a "chimney" on a train, is it?  Anyway, whatever it is, smoke comes out of it.  The engine is heavy and solid.  I am sure that we will embark on the tradition that my uncle suggested when he gave us the train.

We are thankful.

I had some technical difficulties getting this post up yesterday--sorry about that.  Parts 4 & 5 of Thanksgiving themes are penciled in for Monday and Tuesday, for those of you with planners.  See you then.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thanksgiving Themes, PART 2: "Shopping"

Ever since the white man negotiated a November land purchase from Native Americans for the low, low price of "not killing you", Thanksgiving has been associated with getting good deals.  For decades, the time to give thanks for shopping has been narrowed more and more precisely to the day after Thanksgiving.

If you haven't heard, that day is called "Black Friday," first designated as such in 1966 by Philadelphia city police.  It sounds like a somber religious holiday, but it's actually a joyous cultural celebration.  It's so packed with joy that retailers are finding that 24 hours can no longer contain the joy associated with the holiday.

For the Hungry Preacher, Black Friday celebrations began a few hours before midnight on Wednesday night.  While Beth was studying ads for moderately priced Christmas gifts, I was absorbing the ridiculous prices for toiletries and other essentials at CVS and Walgreens.

Between those two stores, about 40 different items were being offered at a sale price, starting at midnight.  Then, after your purchase, you'd receive a coupon for the full amount of the item good on any future purchase at the store where purchased.  As far as I was concerned, these items were free.  Of course, I need to make sure I don't loose the coupons, but isn't that true of cash as well?

The kicker is that the stores allow you to use manufacturers' coupons when purchasing the items, and then they STILL give you coupons back for the full amount.  So if I buy a tube of toothpaste for $3, and pay with a $1 coupon and $2 cash, I walk out with a tube of toothpaste and a coupon for $3 off my future purchase.  It's like they're paying me to take the toothpaste.

Since Facebook still has more hits than willpreachforfood, friends of my wife may have already seen this picture posted on her account, but I'll post it here anyway.

I can't help feel that I could have gotten more.
Considering the coupons that I received back, and subtracting the money that I fronted, I actually came out about $10 ahead, plus getting all this stuff.  And most of it is stuff that I will actually use (like razors, toothpaste, and medicine; the stuff that I won't use I got because they paid me to take it).

The actual shopping experience was fun enough.  There were about 30 of us at CVS at midnight, and it wasn't long before you couldn't tell who were friends prior to showing up and who were just being friendly and helpful to others.  You could hear bits of conversations like, "I think this is the size of lip balm that you need to get.  Oh, but where did you get the detergent?"

Oh, and it seems couponing is largely a girl thing.  It was me and 29 women galavanting around the aisles.  At one point, someone said, "It is so cool that you do this.  I can't get my husband to get on board with coupons."  To which I said, "Look, I didn't come here to hear about your marital problems--I just want my free pack of Benefiber, OK?"  Tee-hee.  Just kidding.  I actually said something like, "Yeah, there are some good deals."

While checking out, I heard a couple or three ladies in line about 7 feet behind me saying stuff like, "You don't see too many men out doing this sort of thing" and "His wife must give him a really good list."  I turned around, and they were all like, "Oh, he heard us!"  There was much giggling.

Of course, a few minutes later, I got to see all my new friends across the street at Walgreens, and we went through the whole thing again (this time sidestepping a dropped and broken-open gallon of milk in the middle of the check out line).

By 1:30 a.m., I had visited 2 Walgreens and 1 CVS, and was ready to call it a night, since I was still recovering from my illness and wanted to be at 100% for receiving my broken nose.  My Black Friday shopping was over, and it was barely even Thursday.  Well done, Hungry Preacher, well done.

Check back tomorrow for part 3 of Thanksgiving Themes: "The Train."


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Thanksgiving Themes, PART 1: "Physical Pain and/or Discomfort"

The last 6 days have been busy for the Hungry Preacher.  I figured I'd offer a quick recap for those who wonder how their Thanksgiving festivities stack up to those of a neutral and normal third party like myself.  I will be your "control group".  I will do that for you.

The girls had a half day of school on Tuesday, and were off on Wednesday, an archaic practice held over from the days when children were expected to spend their Wednesdays before Thanksgiving saying goodbye to, then slaughtering, the family turkey.

I had big plans for the day and a half with my young daughters, and they were all thwarted when I was stricken with a diabolical and undiagnosed illness.  I was achy, experienced pain when swallowing, and had a 101 fever.  "Fun stuff with daddy" time became "watch stuff on TV while daddy sleeps" time.  So many memories...

The the pain I was experiencing drew me closer to my pilgrim forefathers who also endured physical hardships during Thanksgiving, but I needed to shake off my case of consumption* (* = what I assumed my condition to be).  I wanted to get back on my feet for 2011's Turkey Bowl, a game of tackle football that my brother regularly sets up with his friends and family for the day after Thanksgiving.

By Friday, I was well enough, and set out to prove that with a little more skill, training, size, and athleticism, I could have been an adequate high school football player.  Probably not on defense though, which is too bad, because my brother was NOT able to rope in enough players for each team to have specialized offensive and defensive squads.

Deion Sanders and I have now BOTH played on both sides of the ball during our football careers.

This meant that I would have to alternate between demonstrating my elite receiving skills and my textbook arm-tackling technique.  You see, it's all about moving your feet out of the way of the anticipated route of the runner, then sticking your arms out as he runs by.  I like to imagine my arms are brushes at a carwash, and the runner is the car.

As the game wore on, the missed tackles weighed heavy on my self-esteem.  I kept telling myself to "get my head in there" on tackles.  About an hour into the game, "get my head in there" I did.  Just as I dove at the ball carrier from the side, he--not seeing me--spun suddenly away from another tackler.  Using my nose, I tried to grab his rapidly approaching elbow and pull him to the ground, but to no avail (unless you count the fact that the ball carrier claimed his elbow hurt for about 5 minutes after the incident).

For symmetry's sake, I can't decide if I should put concealer under my left eye or purple eye shadow under my right eye.

Fortunately, of the 9 guys playing football, a whopping 22% were male nurses by trade.  They deemed me OK to continue playing by a vote of 1-0, with 1 undecided.  It wasn't until later that Phil, one of the nurses AND one of my favorite brother-in-laws, told me that, "You know, I'm thinking it probably IS broken."

Nose breaks come in all shapes and sizes, and mine seemed relatively minor.  In fact, it may have been beneficial.  Short term, it totally took my mind off the pain I felt when I swallowed.

Long term, I may have a better-looking, more symmetrical nose than I did before.  See, back in high school, I took a hockey puck off the upper right side of the nose, causing my nose to bend a little to the left.  It's also always been pretty wide, from top to bottom.  Nothing pretty about it, really.

The elbow I took on Friday was smack on the left side of my nose.  My new nose dent has taken some getting used to, but as Beth and I were looking at it, we both agreed that the blow may very well have straightened things out for me.  It is now more feng sui, with a streamlined visual flow from top to bottom.

In high school, I went to a doctor a couple of days after the street hockey game, and he told me, "Yeah, it's broken.  We could re-break it and straighten it, but you're young--you'll probably just break it again."  Full-time doctor, part-time prophet, I suppose.  I don't remember if he added "...on Thanksgiving weekend, 2011..." but how much detail do you want from the guy?

Come back tomorrow for part 2 of "Thanksgiving Themes": Shopping Edition.


Friday, November 18, 2011

A Tribute to My Deer Friend

The Hungry Preacher just got a little less hungry.  Today, in a fit of rage, I shot a deer.  Actually, now that I think about it, it may have been a “fit of chilliness.”  But the important thing is there is one more cow in the world who will NOT have to be butchered in order to satisfy my carnivorous desires.  On behalf of that cow, I say to my deer, “Thank you, deer, oh cow of the wild.”

The hunt didn’t go quite as smoothly as one would hope.  I was in a tree stand, minding my own business, and 4 deer meander up from a creek bed maybe 60 yards away.  They walk my direction, then veer a little, giving me a side view from about 40 yards.  At this point, I picked the biggest one (read: the one least blocked by trees) and fired a shot.  Three deer took off from whence they came, while the fourth galloped straight towards me in my tree stand.  She was running oddly, and I was pretty sure that I had wounded her.  I just needed to finish it up.

Flashback to me loading my rifle an hour earlier: Forgetting that my rifle can hold more than one bullet at a time, I am only putting one bullet in said rifle.

Back to the narrative: Instead of calmly ejecting the casing for the shot just fired and moving the next bullet into the chamber, I frantically reloaded with another single bullet.  By now, this deer was literally about 10 yards away, looking up at me as if to say, “I don’t know how to make this any easier for you.”

I got my gun set, aimed, and pulled the trigger.  You know how in movies they always have the dumb person try to shoot someone while the safety is still on?  Well, I TOTALLY thought it would be funny to pretend to be that dumb person.  So while I’m laughing and laughing, trying to remember where the safety switch is, the deer is all like, “OK, I’m outta here.”  She bounded away back across the creek bed.

Fortunately, I was wearing my boots that work equally well as hunting boots AND tracking boots.  There was a blood trail.  I followed it.  I lost it at one point and wandered a few hundred yards before circling back and starting over, this time with my dad.  Is it weird that I actually thought about 6 different times, “How would Daryl from ‘The Walking Dead’ be doing this?”

Finally, we found our venisonian friend.  She had already entered into pre-cleaning stage without any further assistance from me.

Indisputable evidence of my hunting expertise (pixelated for our more sensitive readers)

I had offered my dad a deal: “you clean, I transport.”  He was good with that, and was excited to use a tool he had bought that is now tied with “Butt Paste” for first place on my list of “Favorite Products with the Word ‘Butt’ in the Name.”

If you have to ask, you don't want to know

This deal would have been a lot sweeter for me had I shot the deer at the deer stand when it stood sideways 10 yards from me and all-but shot herself.  My mishap ended up costing me another couple hundred yards of dragging a 100-pound deer through hilly and wooded terrain.

But all’s well that ends with filling out a meat order form at the butcher’s, so my day of hunting was a rousing success.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A St. Louis Cardinals Post Postseason Post

Just over a week ago, the Cardinals won the World Series, and the city of St. Louis is still celebrating.  Well, actually, we're not.  We're just worrying about whether or not Albert will re-sign with the Cards.  No, really--that is all we're doing.  Doctors have begun prescribing medication to people who are NOT worrying about Albert.  Police have let criminals go free if they explain that they "got caught up in worrying about Albert's contract".  Law firms have permitted "worrying about Albert" to count as billable hours.

But the household of the Hungry Preacher went the proactive route and scheduled a "Please Re-sign Albert" parade.  To conserve resources, we scheduled it the same time as official St. Louis Cardinals World Series Victory Parade.  Here's a picture.

Me with Yadier Molina (sophisticated software required to see me in one of the reflective surfaces in the picture)
Since the parade, I've had some time to reflect on the Cardinals amazing post-season run.  Here are a few thoughts, presented in Hungry Preacher style (i.e., bulleted list form).

  • vs. Phillies.  I liked the Cards chances against the Phillies.  They have done OK against good pitchers, while flailing against lesser-known, lesser-skilled types (the “Bud Norris effect”).  Oswalt, Halladay, and Lee didn’t scare me.
  • vs. Brewers.  The Brewers DID scare me.  Their lineup was crazy good, better than the Phils at almost every position.  Their pitching was good enough to win, but not so good as to transcend the “Bud Norris effect”.
  • vs. Rangers.  Same as Brewers: killer lineup, good-not-great starting pitching, excellent bullpen.  But with the momentum the Cards were riding, I figured the series was a toss-up.
  • LaRussa.  I’m sure I’m the only one, but I sometimes find LaRussa’s managerial moves to be, at best, irksome and, at worst, contrived to call attention to himself for its own sake.  But kudos are due (“phone-gate” notwithstanding).  Some of his good moves: 1) erring on the side of yanking starters too soon rather than too late; 2) sitting Jon Jay for games 6 and 7.  I would have figured Jay would pull out eventually and was worth keeping in the lineup, but Schumaker did well replacing him and Jay proved most useful off the bench in game 6; 3) not jumping the gun on defensive replacements: that Berkman AND Freese were both still in the game for the 9th, 10th, and 11th innings of game 6 was nearly as amazing as their performances.
  • Westbrook.  Jake Westbrook turned in the most overlooked performance of the World Series.  Not bad for a guy who barely made the roster and was probably only going to get used for either “mop up” work or “crap, we’re out of pitchers” work.  Jake leapfrogged ahead of Boggs and Rhodes to work the 11th inning of game 6.  This is when Cards fans, conditioned by watching Ryan Franklin pitch in the first half of the season, expected a progression like: solid single ("oh, here we go again") - pop out ("well, he got an out, so maybe he'll get through this") - bloop single ("OK, that was just a blooper--that could have happened to anyone") - 3-run-homer ("oh crap--why didn’t they bring in Schumaker to pitch?").  Westbrook gave up one hit, and no more, and will go down in history as the winning pitcher of one the of greatest World Series games in history.
  • Freese & Berkman.  I wonder how many games at any point in the regular season came down to a team being 1 strike away from winning, once in regulation and once in extra innings, and still losing.  It wouldn’t surprise me if it didn’t happen at all during the regular season.  So for it to happen as it did in the World Series of all places, well, that’s pretty much as amazing as the media has made it out to be.  Jawdropping.
  • Ringlessness.  I wish there was at least one player on the Rangers who was kind of a punk so I could not feel bad about them not getting a WS ring (at least the Brewers had Niger Morgan).  Truthfully, I feel kind of bad for the team.  They seem like a standup organization from top to bottom.  Why can’t EVERYONE get a ring?
  • Re-signing Pujols.  I actually think winning the series will help the Cardinals NOT have to overpay to sign Pujols.  Fan bases tend to be forgiving for a few years after a World Series championship.  Plus, the WAY the Cards won the series--with Pujols really contributing for only 1 game--would make it easier to justify to the fan base that he is NOT worth $25 million a year for 8+ years.  Allen Craig's World Series production was comparable to Albert's, and he currently doesn't really have a position with the Cards for next year.  See where I'm going with this?  Just sayin'.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"A Cinderella Story" (As Told By Monkey 2)

Ever since Monkey 2 turned down a starring role in The Hungry Preacher's original motion picture "It's All in Your Head", she has regretted it like Tom Selleck watching "Raiders of the Lost Ark."  Once she saw her sister on the big screen (uh, monitor), she has regularly asked, "Can you do that with me?"

The other day, she brought me some drawings she had made that progress like a story, then narrated the story that went with it.  I asked her if she'd be willing to do it again with me filming, and she lit up.

The first take ran about 4 minutes, but was too dark (the lighting, not the content).  So a couple of days later, we went through it again in a brighter room--and it ran about 11 minutes.  Doh!

So off the editing room I went.  This is the trimmed down version, and it's still about as long as the original album track of Bruce Springsteen's "Backstreets," so grab some popcorn.  I didn't cut TOO many details of the actual story, so you should be able to follow.



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

That's What She Said, VOLUME 2

The Hungry PK's are both wont to offer up unique and insightful perspectives on life, the universe, and everything.  PK 2, however, is especially adept at coining expressions "just right."  In an earlier post, I shared some of her greatest quotes.  Since then, she's offered up a few more gems, and now I pass them on to you.  Enjoy.


"If you want to play with me, don't hit me again, then I'll play with you."

DAUGHTER 2: "I've got something to say, and I'm as serious as I can be."
ME: "OK."
DAUGHTER 2: "So here I go."
ME: "OK."
DAUGHTER 2: "Are there any baseball stadiums in Egypt?"

"Did God even invent bad stuff like mosquitoes and boo-boos?  Oh, I know!  Is it because God invented dragonflies and dragonflies eat mosquitoes and God didn't want them to die?"

We had pulled into a Jack in the Box drive-through only to find that the fruit-smoothie machine was broken.  The woman asked me if I'd like a shake instead, to which I replied, "No thanks.  I'll just hold off for now."  Then we drove away, after which Monkey 2 asked:
"Did you hurt her feelings?"

"Did you remember our towels, or is that the only thing you forgot?"
-on the way to swimming

"Dear God, we pray for anyone outside that they don't die and that they have raincoats.  And that you are with them and that they know you are with them."

"Are monsters your favorite bad animal?"

After mommy had made biscuits, she went upstairs to get ready for church while the girls and I ate.  One of the jams we had available was huckleberry.  I told Monkey 2 that, when mommy came back down, to say, "I'm your huckleberry."  When mommy came back down, Monkey 2 paused, did her best to remember what to say, then looked at both of us and said:
"I'm your guyses huckleberry."

"I think it's going to rain, because I feel the wind and it feels like rain wind."

MONKEY 1: "There is a dangerous street on the way to Tyrone's house [Tyrone is a cartoon character].  It is very curvy and ends at another streeet.  So people don't like to go to his house very much."
ME: "Because it's too dangerous to get there?"
MONKEY 1: "Yeah.  But the construction workers made it very curvy so that people can't drive too fast on it."
ME: "Oh, are you talking about the street in San Fransisco?  Because there's a street in San Fransisco like that--did you read about that at school?"
MONKEY 1: "No, I'm talking about Tyrone's street."
ME: "Oh.  Because that's exactly what they did on this street in San Fransisco.  They made it really curvy so that people couldn't drive too fast."
MONKEY 1: "No.  The street in San Fransisco is Lombard Street, and Tyrone lives on Lafayette."

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Springsteen "Gave It a Name"--and Some Were Better Than Others (PART 2)

For ground rules and Bruce's first 8 albums, read PART 1 here.

9.  HUMAN TOUCH (1992)
Pop:  It's a cliche, which means the pop could probably max out at about a 3.  So 1, 2, or 3?  As cliches go, this one has an average amount of pop.
2 strings out of 6

*What’s the theme of this album?
Without the title as a guide, the theme of "Human Touch" is murky (notoriously so, among Springsteen connoisseurs).  Using the title as a guide (which is circular), one could suggest that the songs of "Human Touch" collectively focus on relationships.  Chronologically, thematically, and even musically, "Human Touch" is a transition between the hardships of "Tunnel of Love" and the peace and contentedness of "Lucky Town."  The Boss is still searching for what relationships are all about and--literally and metaphorically--he finds stability in the "human touch" of another.
*Does the album title capture this theme?
In a self-fulfilling sort of way, yes.  In a vacuum, would a neutral party independently listen to the album then choose "Human Touch" as the name of the album?  It's iffy.
3.5 strings out of 6

Memorability/Longevity:  Did Bruce want this album to be immediately forgotten?  He released it alongside the superior and more-memorably named "Lucky Town"; he titled it with a cliche; bizarrely, the title track isn't even the most memorable song called "Human Touch" by people who either are, or who have been mistaken for, Bruce Springsteen.  He had to know this last point, right?  Was it an inside joke?  If it was, that's kind of funny, kind of memorable, I guess.
1.5 strings out of 6

Alternatives:  In Springsteen's defense (sort of), he didn't have a lot to work with.  Most of the other song titles--say, 9 out of 14--are "plain-yogurt bland": "Cross My Heart," "All or Nothin' at All," "Roll of the Dice," "Real Man," "Man's Job," "Real World."  Those last three make me wonder if he used a starter set of refrigerator poetry magnets as a song-title prompt.  Most of the songs are as generic sounding as their titles.  Case in point: this is the Springsteen album that I cut my teeth on, and have probably listened to it from beginning to end a good 50 times--and I can't even think of how "Real Man" goes!  I don't even think it's on the tip of my tongue.  "Real World," both as a song and a theme-capture-er, rises above the competition, but its title isn't memorable and it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue (for a 2 syllable title, it takes about 3.5 syllables worth of time to say).  Could "Soul Driver" be a dark horse candidate?  Maybe--thematically it fits pretty well, and it's memorable and easy to say.  On the other hand, I think I like that song more than most Springsteen fans (a longtime friend of mine and Springsteen convert hates it).  And it just doesn't feel like an album title.  Where does that leave us?  Right back to where we started...  "Human Touch" it is.
5 strings out of 6

Average Strings for the Title: "Human Touch":
3 strings out of 6

10.  LUCKY TOWN (1992)
Pop:  Distinct enough--it's a figure of speech, but not one that anyone uses earnestly.  Short.  Easy to say.  Objectively, it's fine.  Subjectively...  well, I'll get to that.
4.5 strings out of 6

*What’s the theme of this album?
Bruce finds something like happiness.
*Does the album title capture this theme?
Almost.  What doesn't quite sit is that most of the songs attribute this happiness to an array of causes, and to Bruce opening his eyes and seeing them.  Maybe luck is a contributing factor, and I'm probably reading too much into it.  I mean, it's OK for Bruce to feel like the luckiest man alive.  But the songs betray a more nuanced and effort-driven arrival into "Lucky Town", and for Bruce to title the album as he did undercuts those complexities.  Of course, album titles are supposed to distill complexities into soundbites--it just feels like Bruce distilled in the wrong (or at least the shallowest) direction.
4 strings out of 6

Memorability/Longevity:  Bear with me here, but my brain doesn't know how to remember "Lucky Town" in any meaningful way.  It knows that a "Lucky Town" is a place, a concrete noun.  But it can't picture anything concrete.  Compare with "Nebraska".  I hear "Nebraska" and my brain pictures Nebraska: fields, silos, thunderstorms, corn, etc.  I hear "Born to Run" and my brain immediately knows we're talking about abstract concepts, and begins to wonder abstractly what it means to be "born to run."  But when I hear "Lucky Town," the part of my brain that interprets "Nebraska" tries to do the same with "Lucky Town," but there are no pictures evoked, nothing concrete at all.  My brain, with no concrete images, and not finding the phrase very alluring in the abstract, kind of just gets bored and decides that "Lucky Town," as an album title, is functional but forgettable.
2 strings out of 6

Alternatives:  Oh, what could have been.  "Better Days" is an obvious choice, and would have been a good one.  "Living Proof" is a highly regarded song on the album and distills better than "Lucky Town" does what the album is all about.  "Leap of Faith" is cliched, but also better describes what Bruce is talking about.  "My Beautiful Reward" spells it out a little much, but at least sounds personal.  Even "If I Should Fall Behind" (though long) would have provided a layered and humble introduction to the album (and perhaps shined some light on Bruce's best love song).
1.5 strings out of 6

Average Strings for the Title: "Lucky Town":
3 strings out of 6

Pop:  Unconventional pop, but pop nonetheless.  A shout-out to "to the protagonist of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath" (quoting wikipedia) may not excite the younger crowd, but you gotta tip your cap for trying something different.
5 strings out of 6

*What’s the theme of this album?
Stories, characters, despair--think "Nebraska," but with a southwest flare.
*Does the album title capture this theme?

Confession time: I have neither read nor seen "The Grapes of Wrath".  I have some idea what it's about, and Tom Joad could have easily been a character that Springsteen came up with on his own and sang about on this album (or "Nebraska").  The characters on this album are modern day (mostly), hence their summoning Tom Joad's ghost, since Tom has long since passed away.  In a way, they are Tom Joad, continuing to provide new bodies and settings to the anguished spirit that he is.
6 strings out of 6

Memorability/Longevity:  I like the album OK, but I never forget the title.  Like a relief sculpture, both the album and its title are shaped by what is missing: it is the absence of easily interpreted choruses, enhanced instrumentation, and radio-friendly catchphrases that define "The Ghost of Tom Joad."  Paradoxically, these absences create a memorability of their own--indeed, like a ghost in the corner of a photograph.
5 strings out of 6

Alternatives:  There's some potential here.  "Youngstown" went on to become one of the best-known and best-loved songs on the album thanks to Bruce's full-band electrification of it on tour a few years later, but 1) you can't know the future, right?  2)  "Youngstown" is too similar to "Nebraska" as a title, and 3) geographically, "Youngstown" is something of an outlier concerning where most of the songs are set (or at least feel like they are set).  "Across the Border" would have worked, but you lose some subtlety.  "Dry Lightning" has some grip to it, and probably could have worked.  But "Joad," though a little long and beginning with "The" (usually a strike against a title, in my book), probably works as well as any alternative could have.
5.5 strings out of 6

Average Strings for the Title: "The Ghost of Tom Joad":
5.38 strings out of 6

12.  THE RISING (2002)
Pop:  A title with pop should both catch your attention and draw you to investigate.  This title does both of those things poorly, but not abysmally--think "D+" instead of "F".  The pop level increased for me when I really thought about it, but if I have to really think about it, it's not really pop--it's more like "intrigue". Thus, we have: [(not quite failing) x 2] + [intrigue / 3] =
2.5 strings out of 6

*What’s the theme of this album?
No other Springsteen album lends itself to using the album title as a legitimate self-fulfilling guide for establishing a theme.  One could listen to the album and ascribe either a dark or a hopeful theme.  There are some dark songs ("Nothing Man," "Empty Sky"), some brighter songs ("The Rising," "Mary's Place,") and some that are a mix of hope and despair, musically and/or lyrically ("Lonesome Day," "Into the Fire").
*Does the album title capture this theme?
Having just suggested that--thematically speaking--Springsteen could have reasonably gone either direction with the album title, here I'll go on record as saying that he chose correctly.  A darker title would have undercut the currents of hope more than a brighter title would have invalidated the sorrow.
5.5 strings out of 6

Memorability/Longevity:  For as little pop as I initially recognized in the title, "The Rising" has aged like a fine wine.  The song has absorbed character through the years, first as a post-9/11 anthem of resilience and later riding sidecar along with Barack Obama's "Yes We Can" campaign.  Like a prism that is clear to the naked eye, the song affects how we see the various contexts that shine through it.  As an album title, "The Rising" has proven to be similarly adaptable, framing the entire album first as a soundtrack for the heartache and hope following 9/11, but subsequently as a challenge to the downtrodden of every setting to not lose hope and, instead, to rise.  
5.5 strings out of 6

Alternatives:  While "The Rising" errs on the side of vagueness, other potential titles would have been too tied to their context to work well as album titles; or they would have leaned too far away from the theme of hope; or both.  The closest contenders are "Lonesome Day," "World's Apart," "Into the Fire," and "My City of Ruins," but none of these capture the album as "The Rising" does.
6 strings out of 6

Average Strings for the Title: "The Rising":
4.87 strings out of 6

13.  DEVILS & DUST (2005)
Pop:  An original phrase coined by Springsteen, one that piques curiosity, but leaves surprisingly little to the imagination: "Devils" is metaphorical, "dust" is literal.  Not his best, not his worst.
4 strings out of 6

*What’s the theme of this album?
See "Nebraska" and "The Ghost of Tom Joad."  I'm overstating some.  On the one hand, "D&D" certainly piggybacks on the styles and themes brought up in those albums (e.g., Wikipedia even points out that the song "Matamoros Banks"...seems to continue a story first told in 'Across the Border' in The Ghost of Tom Joad.").  There are lots of loner-types narrating the songs, telling their stories of struggle and desperation.  On the other hand, more than "Nebraska" or "TGOTJ," "Devils & Dust" has a few more seemingly-autobiographical songs interjected into the mix, creating am impression that Springsteen sees himself as a comrade of the characters.  Unstated but perhaps implied is the fact that Bruce has achieved some measure of victory in his struggles, and that in coming alongside his characters, he seeks to provide them with both empathy and assistance.
*Does the album title capture this theme?
The title track could be labeled (albeit simplistically) as a musical, political call to "Bring home the troops!"  As such, it captures well the twofold themes of "raising awareness" (empathy) and "offering help" (assistance) to those bound in difficult and/or desperate situations.  Furthermore, the metaphorical "devils" are not bound to (presumably) Iraq or Afghanistan; they live in America, too, in places like "Reno" and the "Matamoros Banks".  And dust?  Well, dust is everywhere, and is an image evoked many of the songs on this album.
5 strings out of 6

Memorability/Longevity:  I'm not typically a fan of having the first single of an album be the title cut, and this is a good example as to why.  The album title actually could have timelessly transcended the title cut more than it has.  But because the title track was released first, "Devils & Dust" was never really given a chance as a theme-capturing album title; it's just first track from the album.  That said, the name "Devils & Dust" is probably better remembered by the masses because of the promotional efforts regarding the title track, but it is likely recalled merely as a way of identifying the album rather than an artistic statement in its own right.
4 strings out of 6

Alternatives:  Not much competition on the track list.  An ultra-context-specific title like "The Hitter" or "Silver Palomino" would have been novel, but not as memorable or appropriate.  More general titles like "All the Way Home" or "Long Time Comin'" are too general and don't offer much to capture the themes of the album.  "D&D" was the best choice.
6 strings out of 6

Average Strings for the Title: "Devils & Dust":
4.75 strings out of 6

14.  MAGIC (2007)
Pop:  Oh-boy. calls this Springsteen's " record since 'The River' in 1980."  I'm calling it the least-interestingly-titled album since then.  Please, make this title disappear... 
1.5 strings out of 6

*What’s the theme of this album?
This might be Springsteen's most political album, and with George W. in office, troops overseas, and individual rights being compromised left and right in the name of national security, Bruce isn't exactly conservative (pun intended) in expressing his opinions on the state of the union.  American liberties are being threatened, and the enemy is within at least as much as it is without.
*Does the album title capture this theme?
Meh.  There's nothing about the word "magic" that captures this theme.  The lyrics to the title track have a poignant moment or two, but you need to read the theme into the lyrics to make the connection.
2.5 strings out of 6

Memorability/Longevity:  If the effectiveness of "Devils & Dust" as an album title is compromised by the over-promotion and release of the title track, "Magic" suffers on the opposite end of the spectrum.  "Magic," the song, is lost in the shuffle, the last one I noticed and the first one I started skipping.  It certainly wasn't released as a single, and was played on a little more than half of the concerts in support of the album.  As an album identifier, "Magic" is OK, but it does little to bring the tracks together under a thematically distinct umbrella.
2 strings out of 6

Alternatives:  "Your Own Worst Enemy" immediately jumped out at me as a pretty bad--s title, and the cover photo of Bruce looks like it was taken with that track in mind; and it would have nailed the theme to a T.  "Radio Nowhere" and "Livin' in the Future" each have more character than "Magic" does, and sacrifice nothing regarding thematic significance.  "Long Walk Home" would have scored high on pop, appropriateness, and memorability, and is arguably the best song on the album.  Or, we could go with the track that was best known as the title of an Olivia Newton John song, until it became even better known as the title of a Cars song.  Sigh.
1 string out of 6

Average Strings for the Title: "Magic":
1.75 strings out of 6

15.  WORKING ON A DREAM (2009)
Pop:  My normal response to one of Bruce's album titles is to wonder, "What does that mean?"  For the best ones, I ask the question with sincere curiosity, eager to unwrap the plastic and find out the story behind the cover.  For the less-good ones, I ask, "What does that mean?" in a skeptical manner, as in, "What does that even mean?"  These less-good titles err in their failure to evoke a specific, meaningful image or idea.  Guilty parties include (to varying degrees) "Darkness on the Edge of Town," "Human Touch," "Lucky Town," and... (drum roll) "Working on a Dream."  These titles--and probably "Working on a Dream" more than any other--offer something like an "unpersuasive specificity," which is to say that I'll assume that Bruce really did have something specific in mind when he coined "working on a dream", but my image receptors find nothing tangible or emotive about the phrase.  My mind says, "This is fine."  My heart just shrugs.
2 strings out of 6

*What’s the theme of this album?
This Bruce's least thematic album since "Human Touch" (or maybe ever; I'm not counting "Tracks").  Word is this album evolved out of "Magic" sessions, and the content backs that up.  It's like someone tried to make a consistent meal out of what they had left in their refrigerator after a weekend of entertaining guests.  On a song-level, that's fine.  Some are good.  And I don't have any problem with Bruce mixing together different styles and themes within one album.  Could that in itself be the theme?
*Does the album title capture this theme?
Maybe the title "Working on a Dream" does capture the implied optimism demonstrated by Bruce's relaxing of his legendarily rigorous criteria for a song's inclusion on an album (even Bruce eventually admitted that including "Because the Night" on "Darkness on the Edge of Town" would not have reduced the album to an incoherent pile of sludge).  And the album does have a more hopeful feel than any album since "Lucky Town," so it's not as if there is a gross detachment between the title and the content.
4 strings out of 6

Memorability/Longevity:  "The Rising" proved to be a title that--though vague--absorbed life and detail from its contexts, like a once-blank passport stamped with ink from exotic and varied locales; each stamp holds a memory and--by association--the passport itself becomes a powerful symbol of a life well-traveled.  If "Working on a Dream" started off as a blank passport, well, it still kind of is.  Maybe a civil rights movement or politician will adopt the title track as a theme, but until then...
1.5 strings out of 6

Alternatives:  While "Working on a Dream" is pretty ho-hum as a title, there's not a whole lot of competition.  We can probably agree that neither "Outlaw Pete" nor "Queen of the Supermarket" would have been good, timeless choices.  Other options are broad and bland: "Life Itself," "This Life," "My Lucky Day," "What Love Can Do".  Maybe the best alternative would have been an outside-the-box choice like "Surprise, Surprise," which would have both captured the optimism of the album and served as a double entendre, bragging, "Hey, bet you weren't expecting an album like this!"  I actually kind of like it, but can see that it's not a slam dunk.  "Working on a Dream" may have been this album's equivalent to being the best beach volleyball team in Tibet.
4 strings out of 6

Average Strings for the Title: "Working on a Dream":
2.88 strings out of 6

16.  THE PROMISE (2010)
Pop:  Ah, "The Pattern", the mashed potatoes and meatloaf of Springsteen album titles: comfortable, easy, bland, nourishing enough, but nothing to write home about.  As far as single words modified by a definite article in a 2-word album title, "Promise" has more pop than "River," but less than "Rising".
1.5 strings out of 6

*What’s the theme of this album?
Unlike Springsteen's other multi-disc release of previously-recorded tracks (that would be "Tracks"), "The Promise" indeed petitions to be an actual "lost album" of sorts, and not just a collection of rarities and B-sides.  And for a double album with 30 years between its recording and release, "The Promise" succeeds surprisingly well in creating at least a consistent motif, if not a full-fledged theme.  The songs have the radio-friendly structure of "The River", but are still set in (presumably) the streets and bars of Jersey.  They're simultaneously gritty and romantic, exuberant and longing.  A couple of reviews call this album something like "blue-collar soul".  That sounds right.
*Does the album title capture this theme?
"The Promise," as a title, doesn't really communicate anything.  It's not until we listen to the title track that we can see that said promise was more broken than kept, and that the track might be the most somber song on the album, both musically and lyrically.  As a song, it's an outlier that should have been placed on "Darkness..." or "Nebraska," and as such, no, it doesn't capture the theme of this album very well.  It seems as though this album wasn't named so much to reflect its content as it was to honor Springsteen's faithful who have, for decades, heard tell of this long, lost treasure known as "The Promise".
1.5 strings out of 6

Memorability/Longevity:  Even though "The Promise" is not even a year released, the above-mentioned "legend of 'The Promise'," offered a significant dose of advanced memorability.  But that's kind of cheating.  Trying to imagine a world where Springsteen fans had never heard of "The Promise" until it hit the shelves leaves us, well, kind of forgetting about it.
2 strings out of 6

Alternatives:  With 20 potential alternatives, it's not surprising to find a few gems.  "Because the Night" is a legendary song, and sentence fragment titles have a personal allure to me--I want to find out how they end!  But "night" is such an overdone image, incorporating it into an album title is risky.  "Wrong Side of the Street" is also overdone, but it's hard to argue with how perfectly appropriate that would match the "blue collar soul" motif of the album, and "Wrong Side..." would have been a brief but distinct shorthand way to reference the album.  "Breakaway" stands out as a track and a title, and had this album been released 30 years ago may have been the slam dunk choice; Kelly Clarkson kind of messed it up though, with her #1 hit of the same name.  These are still good choices, but the winning "what could have been" title in my book (uh, blog) is "Outside Looking In".  The image captures the album, as does the pace and feel of the song.  It's short, catchy, familiar but not too overdone, and memorable.  It may have even turned the track into another "Hungry Heart" in terms of radio play.
1.5 strings out of 6

Average Strings for the Title: "The Promise":
1.63 strings out of 6

17.  WRECKING BALL (2012)
Pop:  A piece of construction equipment that swings around and smashes buildings?  You had me at "smashes buildings."  Quaint but cool, the only detriment to the pop of this album title is that a live version of the song "Wrecking Ball" had already been released months prior to the album, robbing the title of much of its mystique.
5 strings out of 6

*What’s the theme of this album?
Steve Leftridge at suggests that "Wrecking Ball" will be remembered as Springsteen's "occupy album."  The explicitness of that theme may be a bit overstated, but it's a fair summary, especially given Springsteen's recent history of crafting his albums within the rumblings of his culture.  That the narrators of his songs are angry and broke is nothing new; what is new is the culprits.  Usually, the culprits are a mix of bad luck, bad decisions, and the bad crowd.  On "Wrecking Ball," the culprits are anything but street-level, and are frustratingly nameless and faceless.  On the other hand, perhaps because of the distance between the narrators and their antagonists, there is a distinct "ah, screw 'em" vibe in many of the songs.  How else could someone sing "Death to My Hometown" with such jolly and carefree melody?  One moment, the narrators lash out at being reduced to anonymous economic casualties; in the next, they seem to be relishing the feelings of liberation that come with such anonymity.  At least, it seems, there is no longer any pretense of us all being on the same side.  The fat cats are on their side, and us rats are on the other.
*Does the album title capture this theme?
Beautifully so.  What could smash away all pretenses better than a wrecking ball?  More literally, consider what wrecking balls are used for: dramatically tearing down old structures to make way for new.  Something is dying so that something new can live.  A wrecking ball is a condemnation of the failure and/or outdatedness of past decisions.  And it is a condemnation far more decisive than passively assuming that that old, boarded-up building can be repainted and reused.  No, screams the narrator: "Bring on your wrecking ball."  The structure is flawed.  Boarding up the windows or painting the walls will not do.  There is no hope in that, no life, no opportunity.  If we are going to rise up above this "Rocky Ground" to a "Land of Hope and Dreams," we need don't need bailouts or legislation.  We need a wrecking ball.
6 strings out of 6

Memorability/Longevity:  Jury is still out, but so far it's looking good.  The phrase is specific and brief.  The theme is clear.  It's even better than memorable--it's hard to forget.
5.5 strings out of 6

Alternatives:  There are some good options here.  "Shackled and Drawn" certainly conjures up some images.  "We Are Alive" is striking, but not very nuanced.  "We Take Care of Our Own" as a song captures the ambivalence of an album full of death and life (a form of each of these words can be found in the titles of songs on this album); as an album title, though, "We Take Care of Our Own" is a little long and nondescript.  There are some contenders, but "Wrecking Ball" was the best choice.
6 strings out of 6

Average Strings for the Title: "Wrecking Ball":
5.63 strings out of 6

With that, we wrap up our critique of Springsteen album titles.  For people like me who like to skip to the bottom line, or who just like to review how they spent their last 20 minutes, here's the final ranking of Springsteen's album titles in best-to-worst order, followed by their scores out of 6:
  1. Born to Run (6)
  2. Wrecking Ball (5.63)
  3. Nebraska (5.5)
  4. The Ghost of Tom Joad (5.38)
  5. Born in the U.S.A. (5.25)
  6. The Rising (4.87)
  7. Tunnel of Love (4.75)
  8. Devils & Dust (4.75)
  9. The Wild, the Innocent, and the E Street Shuffle (4.38)
  10. Darkness on the Edge of Town (3.13)
  11. Human Touch (3)
  12. Lucky Town (3)
  13. Working on a Dream (2.88)
  14. Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. (2.17)
  15. The River (1.88)
  16. Magic (1.75)
  17. The Promise (1.63)
Thanks for reading, and keep an eye out for updates a couple of weeks after the release of #18.  'Til then...