L’Ren at Tsar Lounge

On June 22nd, while Imagine Dragons headlined the "All is One Orlando Unity Concert," another benefit was taking place in the Thorton Park area of Downtown Orlando.

At Tsar Lounge, a relatively new upscale bar with a chic retro Russian theme, an intimate crowd gathered to honor all those affected by the senseless tragedy in their own way.

While all the proceeds from this event were donated to the same One Orlando charity, Tsar Lounge owner Erol Altunbay decided to feature an up-and-coming Orlando resident as the main attraction. And boy oh boy was he justified in doing so! On the heels of her debut release, “What If the DJ,” POP/R&B singer/songwriter L’Ren electrified the crowd during her four-song set. As soon as the bassline drops on the aforementioned club-banger, you the listener are transported to a cascade of sultry vocals, imaginative lyrics, and a melody you’ll be humming to yourself ‘til the early morning.

Next up were mid-tempo, radio-ready jams titled “Ain’t Nobody Gotta Know” and “I Deserve Better” (see the video here). In today’s convoluted music scene, where’s it’s hard to tell the difference between a “recording artist” and a “real singer,” L’Ren makes it’s clear that she is the total package. Professional, entertaining, gorgeous and gracious; when she began to perform her closing number, “Never Let You Go,” which was especially dedicated to the 49 victims and 53 wounded, a steady stream of tears flowed throughout the crowd. But as L’Ren so eloquently stated, we were there to celebrate the lives of the beautiful people we lost. And so we did.

An Orlando City SC Fan is Born

Watching soccer is one thing, but witnessing the spectacle that is Orlando City SC before your very own eyes is a whole other.

For those who have never been to a professional soccer game or believe soccer is too boring to hold your attention, I challenge you to attend a match this season. With 20 teams currently in play, many of those which house members of the US Men’s National Team as well as former greats from across the globe, MLS has genuinely begun to cement itself as a legitimate professional soccer league

In fact, the ever-growing brand plans to have 24 teams in play by the year 2020. With the additions of an Atlanta-based franchise next year, one in Minnesota, a second in Los Angeles and of course, the Miami David Beckham’s, many of whom credit with the cultural awakening of soccer in America.

My 2016 opening day started with a prematch tailgate; good food and great friends (a necessity for any outing). Orlando City currently plays their home games at the Orlando Citrus Bowl, which isn’t exactly located in the safest part of town. 

But you know what, I honestly wasn’t concerned as we took the five-block jaunt from the parking lot (that didn’t cost $40) to the stadium.

A heavy police presence ushered in the record crowd of 60,147. As it turns out, this was the fifth-largest crowd in the entire world during the weekend of March 6, 2016 (now can Orlando, please have a professional baseball team?).

The only misstep of the afternoon was the process of allowing anxious fans into the grounds. Massive lines split according to gender wrapped around sections of the stadium. This paradox caused many, including myself to miss the first 15 minutes of the match!

Aside from the initial delay, the day was a smashing success. There were no drunken fights; the weather was fantastic and the action, insatiable. 

My group didn’t exactly have the most fabulous seats -- I’m pretty sure the clouds were closer than the action on the pitch, but it didn’t deter us, not one bit.

Soccer is one of the few sports you appreciate the further you are away from the pitch (or so I tell myself). I’m not inferring I wouldn’t mind catching the action from the midfield sidelines, or in the insane Supporters Section (90 minutes of banging a drum for $20 bucks is a steal of a deal).

As for what transpired on the pitch -- the Lions had a ton of missed opportunities to put this one away early. They simply outplayed Real Salt Lake in all aspects of the match except for when it came to putting balls into the back of the net.

A significant example of this was when Real lost defender Demar Phillips in the 20th minute after he received his second yellow card. 

Lions squandered the early man-advantage without applying much pressure, let alone a scoring chance when their midfielder, Darwin Ceren, was given a questionable red card and ejected in the 45th minute. 

You see, Salt Lake's Joao Plata had scored twice, once in each half, to give visiting Real a 2-0 lead going into the final four minutes of stoppage time. 

However, 2015 MLS Rookie of the Year, Cyle Larin took a feed from Brek Shea and redirected it past Salt Lake keeper Nick Rimando for a goal in the 94th minute.

Then just 30 seconds later, Larin crept behind the Salt Lake front line and punted a ball halfway up the field to Adrian Winter, who beat his man, blasting a shot off the bounce, past a stunned Rimando -- tying the match right before the final whistle.

Cue the excitement and three of the four people in my group yelling at the one guy who wanted to leave early because in his words: “This game is over.” Shame! (‘Game of Thrones’ Season 5 reference).

Now sure, I may have followed the club last year because of their expansion season, the acquisition of Kaka (who once played for my favorite club, AC Milan) and recently because of the addition of Antonio Nocerino (another former Rossoneri).

But after witnessing the youthful exuberance and determination of 11-men united (10 for most of this match), result in purple and gold confetti touch the sky as the good people of Orlando celebrated freely -- I know I’ll be an Orlando City fan for life! 

Three Reasons the Mets Lost the World Series

 But there is a silver lining. We offer advice on how they can not only get back there in 2016, but this time, win it all.

We offer advice on how the Mets can not only get back to the World Series in 2016 but this time, win it all.

The New York Mets came a long way in 2015. But perhaps they came too far, too fast. Because anytime a member of a professional sports club says the words “no one expected us to even get this far,” you’re doomed. So what if no pundit expected this outcome in April, you as a player or manager should! Winning games are what you get paid to do.

I’m sorry, but simply finishing a 162 game schedule isn’t an accomplishment. There are no participation awards given out in Major League Baseball. And even if you had the tiniest seed of a doubt that you wouldn’t beat the defending American League Champion Kansas City Royals, you should let it be known that you’re up to the challenge and expect to win.

Now looking back over the series as a whole, after losing Game 1 in a grueling 14 inning duel, it was clear that the New York Mets did not possess the confidence in their own ability to close out the necessary four out of seven games. And here is why…

Terry Collins mismanaged both the rotation and bullpen:

First of all, I like you, was really disenchanted with the whole Matt Harvey innings limit--Scott Boras bonus baby--Mets shutting him down situation. I feel this charade will inevitably lead to a tenuous situation going forward, perhaps culminating in an eventual trade of Harvey for a boat-load of prospects and/or a power bat to replace Yoenis Cespedes (yeah, you read that right).

And you can disagree all you want, but I would bet the farm that appeasing Matt Harvey had just about everything to do with the fact that Terry Collins sent him back out in the 9th inning of Game 5, even after already throwing 102 pitches before taking the mound for the final frame.

Now let us recap, in a matter of about two months, the Mets went from almost shutting down Harvey for the remainder of the season due to an innings cap, to letting him throw well over the magic number of 100 pitches in a high-pressure situation. Hey, I get that it’s the World Series, and Harvey stepped up in a big way demanding the ball, but all these moves are contradictory. Which brings me to my next point.

Jacob deGrom has been the Mets most consistent starting pitcher over the past two seasons (9-6, a 2.69 ERA, 144 K’s and a Rookie of the Year award in 2004, followed up by 14-8, a 2.49 ERA, 205 K’s and an All-Star appearance this season). Then why exactly didn’t he get the ball in Game 1 of the World Series? So what if deGrom had a 7.02 ERA in the “Fall Classic,” while Harvey had a much lower 3.21, deGrom only pitched once, in Game 2!

There is no argument to be made where your best hurler only takes the mound once because you only lasted 5 out of 7 games. Jacob deGrom simply needed to pitch Game 1. If you win (which the NYM didn’t), you come back with Noah Syndergaard because there would be no pressure on the rookie phenom to lose home field advantage.

Then you follow up with your “most veteran” starter, Harvey in Game 3 at home in front of a raucous New York crowd. Worst case scenario, deGrom pitches Games 1, 4 and even 7, while Harvey gets Game 3, then possibly bumped up to Game 6 if you need to win to stay alive. You already showed you no longer have a regard for an innings limit, so let's not get into needing 3 or 4 days rest. And although Steven Matz only gave up two runs in Game 4, he lasted a short five innings which taxed the already thin bullpen.

And here is my biggest issue with Terry Collins, he constantly mismanaged the bullpen. No, Sandy Alderson didn’t do him much of a favor in terms of acquisitions at the trade deadline. Tyler Clippard was a nice addition, but Addison Reed still hasn’t shown the potential he flashed while as a member of the Chicago White Sox. Moving Jonathan Niese to the bullpen after the return of Matz from injury didn’t do much to boost the confidence of Niese either, who ended the season at 9-10 with a 4.13 ERA.

But above all else, by not developing more capable and consistent middle relief arms during the summer months, most if not all of the pressure was put squarely on the unproven shoulders of Jeurys Familia. The man who came out of obscurity following the suspension of opening day closer Jenry Mejia was lights-out during the regular season.

Familia racked up 43 saves and a 1.85 ERA, but he did so after appearing in 76 contests! Talk about overkill. He appeared in the same exact amount of games back in 2014, as a member of middle relief.

After presenting this evidence, it's understandable that Familia finally cracked in the World Series, blowing three saves. But why was he allowed to blow these potential wins? Simple, because Collins did not build trust in any one of his other relief options. And no, Bartolo Colon is not a relief pitcher, he doesn't have the mentality.

Poor management of the 'pen put a huge taxation on a young starting staff and a potential dominant closer for years to come. I just hope for Familia's sake, the wear and tear this this long, drawn out campaign doesn't do more harm than good (Joba Chamberlain anyone?)

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The defense made 6 errors:

This figure could have easily been in double digits, as a number of questionable calls were inevitably ruled hits. Such instances include Lucas Duda’s wild throw to home plate in Game 5, with two outs in the 9th inning, which allowed Eric Hosmer to score; Daniel Murphy booting the ball around in both Games 4 & 5, like his name, was Cristiano Ronaldo; as well as Yoenis Cespedes (who was played out of position, more on that later) who’s failed spectacular try in Game 1 allowed Alcides Escobar’s inside-the-park home run.

To put it bluntly, Lucas Duda belongs in the American League, he’s a designated hitter, no more, no less. Between his awkward footwork and erratic throwing arm at first base, he is a consistent liability at such an important infield position.

Yoenis Cespedes is not a center fielder. He played constantly out of position. But it wasn’t his fault. He never manned anything but left field before being dealt to the Mets. So why did Terry Collins think he could cover such a huge patch of real estate at Citi Field? Because he has above average speed and a great arm?

So does Bryce Harper, and yet he too is much better suited for a corner outfield position. But why you ask? Because the ball comes off the bat at an entirely different angle to CF, it comes in straight; not on a curve or loop as it does for the corner slots. Nine times of out ten, a natural center fielder can adjust to playing the corners (take Curtis Granderson for instance), but the other way around is tricky, and La Potencia proved this theory correct.

Back to the infield, David Wright has clearly lost a step, it’s only natural for a 32-year-old guy coming off a major spinal injury. And with the loss of Reuben Tejada in the Division Series, who is a much better defensive shortstop than his replacement Wilmer Flores, Wright was pressed into playing further away from the foul line to make up for Flores’ deficiencies; again this was made ever so clear on the spin and throw to Duda in Game 5 that scored Eric Hosmer.

As for Daniel Murphy, he’s never been a great defender, average at best, and now that an onus was put on his bat because of his outstanding showing in the first two rounds of the playoffs, his defensive game was sacrificed even further because by Terry Collins inserted him into the 3 hole in the lineup. You see, “Murph” was now deemed a “power hitter” because he was batting in an RBI slot. It was more unnecessary pressure put on a guy who was overachieving in a big way.

To round out the flaws of the infield, young catcher Travis d’Arnaud allowed the Royals to go 7-7 in stolen base attempts. All that did was put immense pressure on the pitchers to keep base runners close, undoubtedly taking away focus from the batter at the plate. 

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The bats flamed out:

While Sandy Alderson may not have done much in the way of improving the Mets’ bullpen, he did a whole lot for the offense; between calling up Michael Conforto, acquiring Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe and of course Yoenis Cespedes, Alderson deserves a pat on the back.

Anyone who watched the Mets this year knows that the entire lineup came alive with the arrival of Cespedes from Detroit. And sure, the return of David Wright from a six-month long absence also brought a lot in terms of clubhouse leadership.

The Mets were a sight be seen, slugging their way to a World Series appearance and storybook finale. Unfortunately, each hitter left their offensive potency the round before in Chicago; and no one was a greater example of this than Daniel Murphy. A cult hero against the Dodgers and Cubs, “Murph” was hotter than the flames of Hades.

However, when the lights were at their brightest, Daniel Murphy played like, well, Daniel Murphy. A career .288 hitter with a high of 14 home runs, hit this season, Murphy went 3-20 with no long balls. The Captain, David Wright hit .208, Travis d’Arnaud batted .143 and Wilmer Flores was an abysmal .043.

Then there is the man who carried the Mets towards October, La Potenica. Maybe he was worn down, not used to playing into the late fall. But wow, did he struggle! His marble-like sculpted body seemed to betray him. Every little nick took him out of play, literally. I’m a bit surprised, nay disappointed, that a big leaguer with such a huge payday coming up in a matter of mere weeks couldn’t fight through the rigors that come with playing into October.

When his team really needed him most, Cespedes disappeared. Sure his bat was non-existent, a .150 BA solidified that fact, but more important was the loss of his presence in the lineup at crucial moments of the series

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Light at the end of the tunnel:

It begins with the starting pitching. Matt Harvey is 26-years-old, Jacob deGrom-27, Noah Syndergaard-22, Steven Matz-24, and even Jonathan Niese is only 28. Throw in 25-year-old Zack Wheeler, who will return from Tommy John surgery sometime in the summer, and another 25-year-old prospect in Rafael Montero, and well, you’ve got yourself a plethora of starters for the next 10 years or so.

And if the need really arises, you could always trade one or two of the aforementioned fellas to fill any needs you incur before the 2016 campaign begins. I would lean towards dealing Matz or Wheeler, simply because of past injury concerns. But the haul would have to be plentiful.

Michael Conforto. The 22-year-old left fielder was playing in the College World Series less than 12 full months ago, while at Oregon State University. After getting called up to the big leagues during the middle of summer, Conforto slugged .506, hit 9 HR’s and had 26 RBI’s while batting .270 in only 56 games, proving he should be a mainstay in the Mets’ outfield for years to come.

Juan Lagares. Either give him the everyday center field job or trade him, because he won’t get any better as a late inning defensive replacement. Maybe Lagares showed what he’s capable of while batting over .300 in the World Series. Or he could have simply strung together a couple of good at bats because he did hit .269 with 6 homers after getting a full seasons load of plate appearances with 441.

Keep Curtis Granderson. He’s only signed for the one more season when he’ll turn 35 years of age. The “Grandy Man” actually walked 91 times (the most in his 12-year career), something he’s struggled with since his days in Detroit. Now yes, he did strike out 151 times, but Curtis played in 157 games while belting 26 home runs with 70 RBI’s, regularly batting out of place as the lead-off man.

I say, stick him back in right field for 2016 and get what you can from him while his contract comes to an end. But move him down in the order, I'd say 5th or 6th suits his attributes best. The free agent class this time around isn’t all that deep, and at the very least you know that “Grandy” can still handle the ferocious New York media market.

Trade Lucas Duda. His value will never be any higher than it is right now. Duda’s 27 home runs and 73 RBI’s are really good numbers for a first baseman. But when you factor in his below average defensive ability, the fact that he is super prone to streaks and his inability to hit left handed pitching, trading Duda to an American League team in need of a DH makes the most logical sense. Leverage him for a lead-off hitter.

Other options for first base could be to stick Michael Cuddyer there for the last guaranteed year of his contract, or make a big splash by breaking the bank for former Baltimore Oriole, Chris Davis. If not, offer a 2 year, $12-15 million per year deal to Edwin Encarnacion, or go cheap and bring in the likes of Mark Reynolds. Any one of these alternatives is stronger defensively than Duda, although you have to worry about Encarnacion’s increasing lack of durability.

Resign Daniel Murphy if…he is willing to sign for no more than 4 years and $40 million. Anything more is not worth his value. I’d rather have Howie Kendrick or Ben Zobrist for 2-4 years and $30 million total.

See if Travis d’Arnaud can stay healthy. A .268 BA, 12 HR’s and 41 RBI’s in only 67 games are uber-impressive. But can d’Arnaud sustain the ability to play 145 games, give or take? If not, a move to first base might be in the cards, just to keep his potent bat in the lineup.

Sign Free Agent Ian Desmond. No, Desmond did not have a prototypical Ian Desmond-like year. But he did somewhat find himself in August, finishing with a .233 BA, 19 HR’s and 62 RBI’s while only missing six games in 2015.

That’s what the Mets need, consistent ability to hit for power while more importantly, playing as many games as the calendar holds. Yes, he did commit a career high 27 errors, but how else can you easily replace your less than stellar incoming shortstops and still make up for the potential loss of Yoenis Cespedes' bat. 

Add Bullpen Arms. This is the biggest need for the New York Mets. General Manager Sandy Alderson needs to start by resigning Tyler Clippard, though Clippard may finally seek to become some fortunate teams closer (San Francisco, Detroit, Atlanta). Any combination of the likes of Ryan Madson, Jason Motte, Joakim Soria and/or Marc Lowe are all low risk, high reward type arms.

Try to Resign Cespedes. La Potencia is going to command at least 7 years and $160 million. Will it be from the Mets? There’s a 50/50 chance he leaves, as Cespedes himself has already stated. But the Mets may not open the purse strings wide enough, as they have been burned by one too many big name free agents in the past (Bobby Bonilla, Mike Hampton, Carlos Beltran). If Cespedes is deemed too expensive, the Mets should try for equally talented players still in their prime (their value shouldn’t exceed $100 million), such as Justin Upton, Jason Heyward or Alex Gordon.

All in all, it was a great year for the New York Mets, but they came up short of the ultimate prize. And if you’re not a Mets fan, in about 3-years time when someone asks you who the Kansas City Royals beat in the 2015 World Series, you’ll probably draw a blank.

That right there should be enough motivation for the Amazins to get back to the World Series sooner rather than later. It took 15 long years for this club to play into late October. Don’t make it another decade and a half, Metropolitans.

Food for thought. I know a larger segment of people wanted to see the Chicago Cubs win the World Series, simply to prove Back to the Future Part II right. But chew on this, its been 30 years since the Kansas City Royals won a championship. 1985, the same year Back to the Future Part I hit theaters, the same year Back to the Future Part II was supposed to take place; before Marty and Doc traveled to 2015. Now how bout them apples!

Heath Ledger: A Look Back

 Seven years after his untimely death, we take a look back at Heath Ledger's short but massively successful career.

Seven years after his untimely death, we take a look back at Heath Ledger and his short but massively successful career.

Today marks what would have been the 35th birthday of Academy Award winner, Heath Ledger. Ironically it's also the 21st anniversary of the passing of Kurt Cobain; two giants of their respective crafts who left this world way too soon. Seven years after the passing of Heath Ledger, we take a look back at his filmography and reflect on the magnificent career that was, and what could have become.

At the age of 28, Heath Ledger was still a way away from hitting his professional prime. Unfortunately, he was never able to celebrate the numerous awards and accomplishments for his portrayal as ‘The Joker’ in Christopher Nolan's, "The Dark Knight." A posthumously awarded Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA and SAG awards were absolutely deserving in Ledger's most iconic role.

Some say Ledger’s dedication to the character, including spending weeks inside New York psychiatric facilities studying patients left him isolated, neurotic and scared of the outside world. These symptoms would lead Ledger down a dangerous path that included the mixture of powerful prescribed narcotics and alcohol dependency that eventually caused his accidental overdose and subsequent death on January 22nd, 2008.

Being a student of "The Method," Ledger approached each character head on, making you truly believe he embodied the heart, body, and soul of the man he played, all the while telling their story so effortlessly. Dedicated artist aside, you have to wonder if Heath Ledger had known that his intense preparation would also be his ultimate undoing, would he have been so convicted to the craft?

Heath Ledger first came to light for US audiences in the teen comedy/drama "Ten Things I Hate About You." In this Shakespearian adaptation of “The Taming of the Shrew,” Ledger sent young girls’ hearts a flutter as Patrick Verona, the bad-boy with a heart of gold from where else, but Australia. Looking back, it's funny to watch Ledger star alongside Joseph-Gordon Levitt. Why’s that? If you haven't realized by now, Joker, meet Robin.

The next time Ledger garnered Hollywood acclaim was in the Mel Gibson blockbuster "The Patriot." As to avoid being typecast as a "hunk," Ledger was determined to erase the stereotype with a hardened war picture.

He soon put Hollywood on notice that he was indeed the real deal and more than ready to carry his own weight alongside one of the industries biggest names (at the time). As the young revolutionary soldier Gabriel Mann, Ledger stole each and every scene he was in. A boy turned man trying to step out of his father’s shadow, we waited with baited breath each time Gabriel set out for battle. When he ultimately met his maker, you as a viewer couldn't help but get caught up in the emotion.

Showing his versatility, the extremely fun action/comedy "A Knights Tale" was next on the docket. Perfectly cast as a squire turned heroic knight, Ledger proved he was now a leading man, making men want to be him, and women want to be with him.

As the son of Billy Bob Thorton's character in "Monster's Ball," Ledger continued to grow as a thespian. In a film chock full of elite performances, Ledger shined bright in limited screen time, as his Sonny Growtski spoke to all audiences. By now the Academy knew this gentleman was someone to be reckoned with.

Again, Ledger did everything he could to avoid being a one-trick pony actor, by taking on a wide array of character roles in films that were, unfortunately, less than stellar. From the fabled Australian folk hero "Ned Kelly," to a supernatural seeking priest in the "The Order." 

This was followed by a small role as Skip the skateboarder in "Lords of Dogtown," and one-half of "The Brothers Grimm." It wasn't until Ang Lee's heart-wrenching tale of two American cowboys who fall in love that Ledger finally cemented his claim as one of this generation’s great actors. Starring alongside good friend Jake Gyllenhall, and the future mother of his child, Michelle Williams, Ledger was nominated for his first Academy Award and BAFTA for "Brokeback Mountain."

A few years would pass and the vast array of portrayals continued: "Casanova," as the title character; a film called "Candy," and a critically acclaimed part in the Bob Dylan biography "I'm Not There Yet." "The Dark Night" would soon follow with only one more project before his passing, "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus." 

Because of Ledger passing while still in production, a number of highly talented and successful leading men (Jonny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law) stepped in to play various incarnations of the good Doctor, all in Ledger's honor. The gesture spoke volumes of the man, artist, father, and friend that Heath Ledger was.

In only 28 years, Heath Ledger was fortunate enough to appear in 23 different film and television titles. I have no doubt in my mind that if he were still here today, he'd have doubled that number by now--if he wanted to. It wasn't about the money or the fame for Australia's brightest. It was about the craft of acting, and who he would portray. The possibilities would have been endless for a man of such precision.

So as we remember an incomparable figure of the silver screen, think about a fascinating character from a film you've seen in the past seven years and how Heath Ledger would have done it differently. How would he have looked inside the Marvel Universe? As a Jedi in forthcoming “Star Wars” saga? A new and improved Indiana Jones?

Maybe he would have even been offered juicy roles destined for the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hardy or Leonardo DiCaprio; eventually garnering a second or third Academy Award. More importantly, though, be glad that you were lucky enough to see the work of a one of a kind man while you had the opportunity to.

Don't Forget to Tip Your Bartender

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When out getting a drink, don't act like a chump! Remember to always tip the bartender correctly.

This sounds like a DUH type of statement, but you’d be amazed that even as we approach the year 2015, people still don’t know how to tip their bartender. You see I still do a bit of drink slinging from time to time here in the Los Angeles area.

I mean, you would think in the City of Angels where alcoholic refreshments average $12 a piece, and the median household income is $55,145 people would know the rule of thumb. What’s the rule of thumb you ask? It’s super simple, I’ll explain:

  • 1 drink ordered up to $9 = $1 tip
  • 2 drinks ordered from $10-$15 = $2 tip
  • 1,2 or any other # of drinks ordered that total $16 to over $20 = 20% tip

There it is, three equations that anyone and everyone who cares to partake in a drink out at a watering hole, no matter what city or state you’re in, should commit to memory. And keep in mind; these are merely minimums to tip. If you have the means to leave more, please do so.

Your bartender will most definitely focus on making your experience much more pleasant by keeping your glass full, probably while pouring with a heavy hand!

Now here’s my most recent experience of tending bar that led me to pen this piece. I was working an event for 65 CPA’s (now keep in mind, CPA’s on average make over 82,000 per year). The company covering the event that night paid for each individual’s first round; after that, each drink would only be $5.

This is a long way from the LA average of $12, remember? Stocking the bar was a nice selection of spirits and wine; a pinot noir and chardonnay from Napa; well alcohol that included Jim Beam bourbon, Finlandia vodka, Captain Morgan rum, Don Julio tequila and Beefeaters gin. And although there were a number of mixers, we were sans beer; HEY don’t get mad at me, take it up with the event host who didn’t select any brew!

Anyway, I was splitting the bar with another bartender and bar-back, so I busted out the customary tip-jar for occasions where I’m not so sure just how much money I’ll be walking with at the end of the night. The event started out even keel, as wine was the order of the hour. I mean you never want to be the first guest at a party throwing back Jack and Coke’s. Do you?

Now as more and more invited guests trickled in, the hard liquor started being requested. Yet the ratio of drinks to tip was a lot less substantial than we had hoped; around 7:1. Soon enough, the majority of 65 guests had blown through their first round and were now onto the $5 bonanza round; I mean come on, this is a hell of a deal for a great assortment of well liquors!

But then the stupid questions began; “Did you guys get any beer?” “Can I have my fifth Coca-Cola refill?” “Let me get a big cup (yes, he said cup) of red wine.” The absolute worst part about these people who graduated from college yet clearly never went to any campus parties was…you guessed it, they never left a single buck!

You’re a Certified Public Accountant, make close to 90G’s a year, got your first round for free and now don’t want to tip anything for a $5 tequila sunrise?! Shame on you! When you get things on the house or at a discounted rate it’s customary to tip your service professional better, not worse! Why isn’t this common sense? Really, tip etiquette needs to be a class taught in universities. 

Now I won’t pigeonhole all the CPA’s in attendance, some were decent enough and left between 2 and 5 dollars each visit, but this was few and far between. The guy with the 5 glasses of coke? Yeah, he must have forgotten his wallet at home. Regardless if you ask for soda or water, by the time you scoop up your third non-alcoholic drink, it’s time to pony up a buck, just in good faith.  

So according to my calculations, that night, we the bartenders poured around 165 drinks. 100 of which cost the individual $5. How much gratitude did we have in the till when the night ended you ask? A whopping 89 bucks. That breaks down to $1.85 per drink.

For one bartender $89 is fine. For two and a bar-back to split evenly, not so much. Had these folks followed my tip equation chart and tipped, let’s say $2, factoring in the low costs of the drinks and said occasion, our pull-in should have totaled $330. $110 would have felt much better in my pocket.

The moral of the story is simple: don’t act (tip) like you’ve never been out on the town before; especially if your company is picking up most of the tab. And if you honest to goodness don’t know how to tip or simply don’t want to, either don’t leave your home, or tip a nice $10 spot on your first drink and be done with it. Your bartender will remember. 

American Sniper: More than a Movie

Honoring the memory and spirit of the soldiers who lay down their lives each and every day is what should be celebrated after watching 'American Sniper.'

As American Sniper faded to black, and the credits began to roll, we the audience were left with the images from Chris Kyle’s funeral procession. During these real life photos and video of American citizens honoring Kyle’s final ride through the highways of his native Texas, not a single individual in the theater dared to move.

Fixated on what each and every one of us had just witnessed through Clint Eastwood’s brilliant storytelling, and Bradley Cooper’s epic portrayal of America’s Deadliest Sniper, we too paid our respects to a man who sacrificed more than anyone should ever have to. When the credits came to an end, moviegoers quietly and humbly exited the theater.

Still digesting the true tale of what we had just seen, there was no cheering, no crying, just simple and silent admiration. I for one have never been a part of something like this, and I’m thankful I was there to bear witness.

Sure, I could get into all the reasons why this film should win each and every one of its six Academy Award nominations. But for that just go to your local cinema and pay the price of admission.

What’s more important than any gold statue given out, is the fact that’s it’s time this country, especially the Hollywood community, begin to place a little more onus and respect on what’s really important; which is honoring the memory and spirit of the men and women who lay down their lives each and every day so that civilian Americans can live without fear of tyranny or invasion.

Yet for some reason, individuals of the “Hollywood-elite” have taken their 1st Amendment right to the extreme. Yes, the United States is the greatest country in the world where you are allowed the right to say, think, and do whatever you feel is just. But at what costs? And why exactly is this acceptable?

Because you have a ton of money in the bank and a name synonymous with movies that it’s fine for you to flap your uncensored gums about a subject in reality you don’t know the first thing about! Honestly, the 1st Amendment should have an asterisk next to it that states: *Speak your mind, but prepare to be held accountable.

“Clarifying” – not apologizing via twitter that you were misunderstood or taken out of context isn’t good enough. I’m sorry! How about you go to Seal School, don’t wash out, and then get dropped into a war zone just months after 9/11. Would you like that? Would you still feel invincible thousands of miles away from your Hollywood Hills perch?

More so, you probably wouldn’t last five minutes before becoming just another casualty of war. Or maybe you would survive. That is if someone like Chris Kyle was your overwatch. Men like retired Army Ranger Sean Parnell, retired Navy Seal Jason Redman or Army Sgt. Nick Irving led you to safety and allowed you to head back home to be with your families. But that doesn’t seem to be important to you, not if your recent comments mean anything.

I for one think it’s about time we stop caring what individuals with no moral fiber have to say. What’s the point, to create news? For these people to stay relative? Let’s stop publicizing people and things that don’t deserve our time and attention. Put the focus where it belongs, on the real heroes. Our sense of value is so screwed up in this country.

We drool over crap reality television, one-sided documentaries that are actual propaganda, and films so atrocious and down right stupid that a country with less electricity than Disneyland threatens our way of life.

So pick your battles, gentleman. Because this is one battle you won’t win…out of context or not.

Dining Etiquette 101

Dining Etiquette 101 should be a class taught in school, because most people suck at it.

If you’ve ever worked at a “sit-down restaurant,” be it casual, formal or fine dining, then you should be able to relate to the specific instances I am about to describe. And if you are indeed the person who is doing these idiotic things when going out to eat, then please STOP! Dining etiquette should be a class taught in high school because I’d venture to say about 40% of all diners don't know basic restaurant etiquette.

1) Do not order water, and then ask for a bushel of lemons and unlimited packets of Raw Sugar so you can make your own lemonade. It screams CHEAP-ASS!

2) If you see I am speaking to another table of guests, do not throw your hands in the air like you just don’t care! Wait till I am done and gracefully ask for my presence.

3) If I’m not your server, don’t ask me for anything! Sorry--not sorry.

4) If you have to ask me for something because you just can’t wait, and I reply, “Who is your server?” Do not say, “I don’t know.” It just makes you look like a selfish clown that couldn’t even bother to remember a one or two syllable name for 60 minutes or so.

5) When you’ve finished your meal and have paid the bill, don’t sit at the table for the next 20, 30 or 90 minutes! You’re taking up a table in the server’s section! Look, just because you’ve tipped doesn’t mean you can sit all night and make the server lose money.

6) Give the server attitude and see what happens. No we won’t spit in your food, that’s an urban legend, but we sure as hell will make sure your order gets pushed to the back of the board-taking FOREVER!

7) In the event the restaurant is super busy - let’s say because it’s a SATURDAY NIGHT, relax. Your food is going to take time because only “amateur” diners go out on the weekend; hence the kitchen gets backed up. So please do not get mad at your server. It isn’t their fault you ordered a well-done T-bone steak 35 minutes ago. Look for someone dressed business casually. They’re a manager, and only they can coddle you with freebies till your over-cooked steak arrives.

Dining out should be a relaxing time where you can kick back and enjoy great food with equally great company. And the dining professional guiding you through this experience deserves your respect, not your attitude. Now don’t forget to leave 20% gratuity!

Backpacks and Suits Don't Mix

The beauty of a suit is that it speaks measures about the man wearing it. That's why you never pair it with a backpack!

I was recently at a business conference with many young entrepreneurs. Most everyone looked the part, well groomed, spoke eloquently, only a hint a douchie male permeated the room. That is until I spotted the first one; a man in his 30s wearing a black three-piece suit, sophisticated dress shoes, a good head of hair and a backpack (or nap sack) thrown over one shoulder.

Confused and a little disgusted by his lack of putting this ensemble together, I shook it off and continued my people watching elsewhere. But low and behold I spotted another man, same age range, same attire, same fricken little boys backpack! Only this cat had both straps on, surely wrinkling his JCPenny suit coat. You wouldn't believe it, but I immediately turned to my left and saw the same exact travesty, dude-suit-backpack!

And by no means were they stylish Gucci knapsacks, more like something you'd see at a discount department store. When did these guys think this was a good idea? You completely lose all credibility with a nap-sack; I don't care if you're wearing a $3,000 Dolce & Gabanna work of art.

The beauty of a suit is that it speaks volumes of the man wearing it. It says, he's a professional who has his life in order. Maybe he's got a little money in the bank, confidence for sure, and is comfortable being leered at by intrigued women and envious men. A good suit should fit like a glove. Smooth; yet snug in all the right places. Tailoring is a must.

And don't forget the perfect tie. Too fat and you look like a big band leader. Too skinny and someone will ask you what time the appetizers are served. Somewhere in the middle that brings the entire suit together is just right.

Now back to the backpack epidemic. This should never be an option when dressing for business, or even business casual. There are better, stylish options that a backpack just screams, I'm a lazy tool!

The swanky options are endless. And whether you go with a messenger bag, briefcase, or even some sort of European “murse,” choosing the right travel companion for your important papers, laptop or whatever else you need to get through the day is essential. Never take the easy way out. If you do, then don't even bother with the suit.

JFK and His Affect on Milennials

Will we ever know the real truth behind the JFK assassination? 

Over 50 years ago, America suffered one of the worst tragedies this country has ever dealt with; the assassination of a President. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was gunned down at 12:30 p.m. while riding in an open limousine through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas. Unfortunately, this was not the first time a man holding the highest office of American government would lose his life because of a sheer act of hatred.

There was Abraham Lincoln shot dead by John Wilkes Booth on April 14th, 1865. Sixteen years later on September 19, 1881, Charles Julius Guiteau assassinated James A. Garfield. Twenty years after that, President William McKinley died from complications after being shot twice by Leon Czolgosz. And lastly, there was JFK. 

For children of the 70s, 80s, and even the early 90s, it’s hard for us to understand the pain that this country went through on that morbid day in 1963. The closest us 20-30-year-olds can come to is September 11th. These are two entirely different scenarios, but both gripped the world equally, forever changing it.

My father still vividly tells me how he was a 14-year-old freshman at New Utrecht High in Brooklyn, New York when the school principal entered his classroom, sobbing with the news of the fallen president. Soon the black and white box TV that usually sat in the corner of the room was turned on to Walter Cronkite's telling of what had just transpired. School's were cancelled for the rest of that day as a nation struggled to cope with the reality of the situation.

And now, looking back over 50 years ago, my father knew right then and there that his childhood, and all that belonged to it, would never be the same. To put it into perspective for my generation, this is how we will forever feel about the events of 9/11. Our innocence was taken away, never to return.

When you bring up those three haunting initials, J.F.K., a myriad of thoughts from people of all walks of life spring to fruition. For folks that lived through the assassination, it’s one of patriotic pride; how his supporters believed JFK was a take-charge President who backed up his bravado with poise and conviction, ie. The Cuban Missile Crisis, his unabashed belief in civil rights, ambitious domestic policy, and dedication to the space program.

As for the children of “Baby Boomers” and the like, talk of conspiracy theories and government cover-ups are usually a topic of debate and intrigue. To me, it’s amazing how one man could create such and heir of intrigue and mystery in only 1,000 days in office. To understand this you must look at some of the wildest theories of the assassination and how each “could” in actuality have occurred. 

Such theories include:

The Driver Did It. Hard to believe no one saw the man sitting directly to the front-left of the President pull a gun out and fire at him in broad day light. Unless you feel the Zapruder film gives evidence to a shiny reflection glaring from the front of the vehicle just after shots are fired.

Umbrella Man. Could someone really shoot poisonous darts out of an umbrella, fatally hitting the President in the neck? More explainable would be the fact of someone with said umbrella letting his mark know his shot was indeed on target by opening and closing the contraption.

Friendly Fire. Could JFK have been shot in the head by his own Secret Service Agent, George Hickey? Perhaps after the first shot was fired via the assassin, JFK was simply in the line of his own man’s aim.

The GovernmentLyndon B. Johnson wanted to become the 36th President of the United States. This wasn’t news then, it isn’t now. Perhaps Johnson didn’t want to wait anymore, as he was reportedly going to be taken off the ticket as VP for JFK’s re-election in 1964. Another coincidence is Johnson’s home state of Texas as setting for the act. He boastfully favored the conflict in Vietnam while JFK believed there was no way the US could ever make a positive impact. JFK strongly considered pulling out of Vietnam altogether after the ’64 election, even signing the NASM, which meant bringing home 1,000 troops. After assuming office, Johnson soon reversed Kennedy's decision and reaffirmed the policy of assistance to the South Vietnamese.

Badge Man/3 Tramps. Could a Dallas Police Officer have shot the President from the “Grassy Knoll” and then escaped into the sewer system? Was it one of the 3 Tramps, all of whom didn’t look tramp-like at all, (did you know one of the men was Woody Harrelson’s father) yet were all convicted criminals just coincidentally meandering around at this specific location, at the precise time of the incident.

The Mafia. Never cross Frank Sinatra, or more importantly Sam Giancana. These men “lent a helping hand” to get the Kennedy political machine rolling. And when it came time to pay the piper, Bobby and John did not do what was promised, much to their father’s disapproval. This all coincides with the Storm Drain Theory

Whatever you believe truly happened over 50 years ago, one thing is for certain; a man of great historical importance was murdered. Will we ever know the truth? Maybe we already do. Or maybe this is just one of those times when each person forever affected from the terrible day will draw their own conclusions to appease their own beliefs and feelings. Sometimes, that’s simply OK to get by.

Thank You, Derek Jeter

 This is a thank you letter to Derek Jeter from a fan, because of the way Jeter inspired him to be greater in his life each and every day.

This is a thank you letter from a fan because of the way Derek Jeter inspired him to be greater in his life.

Dear Mr. Jeter,

My name is Mike, and I wanted to take the opportunity to thank you for making me a Yankees fan for the past twenty years. You see, I was born in the Bronx, but my family soon moved to Staten Island, which just so happens to be Mets territory. And even though my grandfather was a die-hard Joe DiMaggio loving Yankee fan, my father steered me towards to other New York franchise. Maybe it was because of the ’86 Amazin’s, or the fact that my dad’s favorite player growing up was Detroit Tiger, Al Kaline. Regardless, as the next few years went on and the Mets broke up their championship club way too soon, I began to drift; not so much to another team, but individual players.

As I started to grow into a good little ball player, I watched and studied some of the greats of the day such as Ryne Sandberg, Cal Ripken Jr., Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey Jr. My father and I soon began to collect signed memorabilia of our favorite players, yet perhaps because the Yankees of the time lacked marquee players, the only Yankees in the collection were long retired, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford. I’d soon enough get a porcelain figure of Don Mattingly, but this was just the beginning of my Yankees fascination.

Then in 1994 the Major League Baseball strike hit. I remember sitting at the dining room table going through packs and packs of opened baseball cards, thinking what a shame it was because Matt Williams, as well as the Montreal Expos were having such good seasons. This from the mind of an 11 year old! At the end of the summer and still with no return of baseball in sight, my family relocated to South Florida for a multitude of reasons; mom’s job, parents sick of the north-east winters, the opportunity for me to play ball year round.

Life in Florida was a bit of a culture shock, but a good one none-the-less. Now I’ll be honest with you, I don’t remember much about the 1995 Major League season. I think it had a lot to do with me still being upset about the lost ’94 campaign. That and I was 12, and getting acclimated to my new surroundings. What I do recall quite well is Buck Showalter’s new Yankees, who had been perennial cellar dwellers for quite some time finally making the playoffs in Don Mattingly’s final season.

Unfortunately they would go up against a stacked Seattle Mariners team, never allowing “Donnie Baseball” the opportunity to play on October’s biggest stage. This still burns me to this day!

That winter, around Christmas time, my family and I went to the local mall. With a few dollars in my pocket via relative’s gifts, we stepped into Champs. Looking around, I came across the sales rack. I’ve always loved a deal, what can I say! Flipping through the vast assortment of clothes, I spotted a super sharp navy blue New York Yankees sweatshirt.

With big beautiful red embroidered letters and the classic Yankees ball logo, I was fixated. Luckily for me, the sweatshirt fit like a charm. But what good is a new sweatshirt without matching fitted hat; yeah my dad bought me my first Yankees fitted.

The following April 9th, 1996 is forever an opening day I will remember because it was played in the snow; pretty cool, even to this day. A young Andy Pettitte pitched 6 innings of 3 run ball for the win. But what really stood out was the lanky rookie shortstop who made a spectacular defensive play on the way to a future Rookie of the Year award, and first World Series Championship. Did I finally have a young player on a team I could fully root for?

So I went back to school the next day and wore my Yankees sweatshirt with pride, but it became very apparent that I was now living in Atlanta Braves territory. You see, the Florida Marlins were still a relatively new franchise, and in fact the Braves spring training home would stand in West Palm Beach till 1996. Being the new kid with the “weird” accent, still trying to find my identity, I embraced being a New Yorker, and absolutely rebelled against the standard Southern loving fans.

To this day I take great pride in rooting for teams that are hated; Yankees, Knicks, Giants, Jets (yeah, all NY teams, go figure). But at this time, the Yankees were the under-dogs; a club that hadn’t won a world series since 1978, the Pinstripers were continuously mediocre, that is until you laced ‘em up.

Getting crap from people I barely knew only pushed my desire to learn everything about you and the Bombers I possibly could. In early summer of 1996 no one wearing Yankees apparel would be considered a “front runner.” HA, I beat the bandwagon by about 5 months! Being on the ground floor of your career and witnessing the rise of a one of a kind, dominant team that still seeks greatness to this day because of the standard you set is something no one can ever take away from me.

Since that day in 1996, my love for the Yankees and favorite player label has belonged to you. And I can honestly say it won’t ever chance. Even when you hang up your cleats at the end of this week, when people ask, “who’s your favorite player?” I’ll always respond, “Derek Jeter.” Why? Because you made me that way, something I should have been since birth.

I played baseball all the way through college and I emulated your game as much as I could, even though I was primarily a second baseman till I moved permanently to centerfield. I wore your jerseys. Read your book, collected your baseball cards, Starting Lineup Figures, all sorts of memorabilia, and was even given a signed ball as a Confirmation gift from my Uncle. I’ve been there with you through the highs: (5 World Series Championships, your 3,0000th hit which was a home run, “The Flip”, Jeffrey Maier, the “Jump Plays”, and “The Dive”; and I’ve stuck through the tough times; losing 2 World Series, the broken ankle, not making this playoffs in this-your final season.

But all in all, you’ve had the career only dreams are made of. You’ve left it all out on the field and inspired a generation of future ball players. I’ll be forever lucky and grateful to say I saw you wear pinstripes, both in person and on TV.

Thank you, Derek, for being the example of what an idol should be. You played the game the right way and more importantly lived your life off the field in a private, humble, and unapologetic way like the greats used to. You’ve inspired me in more ways than I could ever thank you for.

And although I’ll never get to don Yankee pinstripes, I hope to achieve greatness in my profession by being prepared, hungry and genuine, just the way you taught me to be.

All the Best,

Mike Calendrillo aka “Your Fan For Life”

Growing Up with Robin Williams

 Growing up with Robin Williams allowed us to know what a true comedic genius is.

Growing up with Robin Williams allowed us to know what true comedic genius is.

You never forget where you are when you first get the news. For me it was on line of the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland. As my girlfriend and I waited in the queue, she looks down at her phone, then looks up at me and says, “Brittney just said Robin Williams died.” Immediately I responded, “are you serious?” She nods, yes. So I frantically jump on Facebook because that’s what people do for reliable news reporting these days.

Hoping that this is just another Internet troll falsely reporting a celebrity death, my hopes are soon dashed as I begin to scroll and am inundated with post after post of the horrible news. Robin Williams did indeed die, and to make matters even worse, he took his own life by asphyxia. Still a young man at the age of 63, Robin Williams leaves so much behind. At least that’s what we as fans feel.

The saddest part is that we will never truly know at what point someone decides their only cause of satisfaction is to end their own life. Suicide is so personal and calculated. To plan out your last breaths is something that no one should ever be faced with, but is a reality millions face everyday. Depression is something that needs to be taken seriously, even at its smallest exposure.

Because even though Robin Williams recently celebrated 20 years of sobriety, he still checked himself into a rehab facility in Minnesota for maintenance on his continued road to recovery. Why? Because as any addict will tell you, you never fully exercise the demons.

Again scrolling through my news feed, I was amazed at the amount of Robin Williams’ related posts. Friends and family that have nothing to do with the entertainment business spoke of their fondest memories from the comedic genius. From his early days on Mork & Mindy for our parents, to every 90s kid and Aladdin, Williams was in a lot of ways the comedic voice of our generation. I myself am now 31 years old and recall the first time seeing Williams in action in a number of roles:

Mork & Mindy: Although premiering a few years before my birth, I recall re-runs of the wild hairy man in the silver jumpsuit, buzzing around the TV set, saying things like “Nanu-Nanu.” A larger than life, awe-inspiring comedian was just waiting to break out.

Good Morning Vietnam: Too young to understand the complexity of this great film, the infamous phrase “Good Morning Vietnam!” has been forever been engraved in my subconscious since the age of 4.

Hook: I would watch the VHS for hours and hours whenever my buddies and I would get together. RUFFIO! Perfect casting…

Aladdin: Come on! You know you’ve seen it. Even kids born in the 2000s can quote the Genie verbatim. Absolutely genius! And now word comes that Williams basically improvised the entire role! If only they gave Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actors for animated films back in 1992.

Mrs. Doubtfire: I still remember going to the movies on a whim to see this flick alongside my mother. Both of my parents have forever been big fans of Robin’s work, so still maturing into my own voice of what I liked and didn’t, I went along to see this film not knowing what to expect. What transpired was the first memory I have of laughing till I cried because of a one man’s work in a motion picture.

What Dreams May Come: Now in high school, this film at the time was a bit lost on me. I do recall the shear beauty of the picture, and how the premise was so sad. Still, those haunting images of Robin Williams trying to get back to his wife are eerily reminiscent.

Popeye, Old Dogs, Night at the Museum, Man of the Year, RV, Insomnia, Death to Smoochy, Bicentennial Man, Flubber, Patch Adams, Jack, Jumanji, appearances on The Tonight Show, The Crazy Ones: All films and television shows that I either loved or hated. Still, I watched because of the man whose talent was bigger than life itself; so much energy, so much curiosity. How could anyone bring so much life to such a diverse and complex list of characters? Because he was so damn good. I hope he never forgot that.

There are two films of Robin Williams’ that have helped shape the person I strive to be today. The first is Dead Poets Society. I didn’t see this film until many years after its 1989 release, but the portrayal of English teacher John Keating is simply amazing. The passion that is shown towards his students, with a no, holds barred approach and a fuck you attitude towards the establishment is the reason Williams was nominated for his second Academy Award. “Seize the Day” is a message that will never be lost on me.

Good Will Hunting: Maybe Robin Williams was destined to be a teacher all along. Because he played one hell of a convincing educator while walking away with the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor!

We as an audience either had an a teacher like Maguire or definitely wanted one. He longed to make young Will Hunting a better person and in the meantime as an actor, allowed the years of training, sacrifice, patience, and professionalism to shine brightest as a true artist. This is one of the first films that made it clear I wanted a career in film. It touched me in a way I can’t describe, and for that I will forever be grateful.

Of course there will be second-guessing for those closest to Robin Williams, about what they could have done differently to derail this horrible happening. Unfortunately at this time it is irrelevant. What everyone should take away from this tragedy is to act when and if they suspect an individual suffering.

To live with “what if’s” and “I should haves” are an absolute burden built for no one. I’m sad today because Robin Williams brought so much joy and happiness to people around the world, allowing us to forget about our problems and ailments, even if it was just for a few hours while we witnessed his genius unfold on screen; yet there was nothing anyone could do in the end to repay the gesture.

Those who knew and worked with the man speak of his one of a kind ability. But more importantly they speak of the kindness and genuine nature of a man who seemed to have it all on the outside. Inner demons aside, the passing of Robin Williams will be felt for years to come. Luckily we have the footage to pass along to the next generation of a true chameleon in action. But at the same time, we need to offer sage advice that all this can come at a price; and we shouldn’t keep losing brilliant people for something that can’t be taken on alone.

NEED HELP IN THE U.S?, CALL 1-800-273-8255 FOR THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE.

What's Wrong with the Baseball Hall of Fame?

 Three deserving men were elected in to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014. But the voting system is still flawed and so are the old-time voters in charge of admission.

Three deserving men were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014. But the voting system is still flawed and so are the old-time voters in charge of admission.

Unlike in 2013 when not one man was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, this years crop ushered in three more than qualified former All-Stars. One of the top 15 right handed pitchers of all time, Greg Maddux heads to Cooperstown with staggering career numbers like 355 career wins over 23 seasons. He was an eight time All-Star, winning at least 13 games in 20 straight seasons!

Add all that to a lifetime 3.16 ERA, with four consecutive Cy Young’s from ’92-’95 and 18 total Gold Gloves, and well it’s easy to see why Maddux would secure 97.2% of the vote via the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. FYI, it’s the eighth highest total ever.

Frank Thomas and Tom Glavine had illustrious career’s of their own, but questions were raised as to the possibility of Greg Maddux taking so many votes, would it leave these two men, as with many others, the liklihood of having to wait for the class of 2015? 

Luckily, this would not be. Tom Glavine is hands down one of the twenty greatest left-handed pitchers in baseball history. Glavine won 305 games over 22 seasons, while becoming a ten time All-Star and two times Cy Young winner (plus one World Series MVP in ’95.) Glavine and his 3.54 career ERA blew away any pundits with 91.9 % of the vote, and it is only fitting that he and Maddux, teammates for 10 years, be enshrined together.

Frank Thomas had tremendous power numbers during his 19 year run. A .301 lifetime hitter with 521 home runs and 1704 RBI’s, you would assume he’d be a runaway choice for the HOF. But the one lingering question was the fact that Thomas spent the majority of those 19 years as a Designated Hitter, and no man, strictly a DH, had ever before been elected. That is until now. ‘The Big Hurt’ grabbed 483 votes of the total 571 ballots, easily clearing the necessary 75% entrance total. 

Of course with so much to celebrate, there will always be something negative to deal with. Look no further than former Houston Astro, Craig Biggio. The converted catcher, turned outfielder, turned second baseman, played 20 seasons while amassing the former magic number of 3,000 hits (3,060 hits to be exact for CB7.) Just like 300 wins for a pitcher or 500 home runs for a slugger, why don't 3,000 hits for a position player assure you a plaque in Cooperstown anymore?

On top of all those hits, Biggio accumulated a .281 career batting average while becoming a seven time All-Star, four Golden Gloves, and five-time Silver Slugger Award winner. No big deal then that he fell only two votes shy (427 total for a 74.8%) for election in his second year of eligibility. What?! How is this possible? And how did Biggio not get in last year when not one former player was elected?! Well, look no further than honorary BBWAA voter Jerry Dowling. Here’s why Mr. Dowling didn’t add Biggio to his ballot. 

"Craig Biggio, the Houston Astro second baseman, fell two votes short. One of those could have been mine. I refuse to vote for a guy who cheats, as Biggio did with all that armor on his arm, so he could get hit with pitches and trot to first base as a result. He made no attempt to avoid getting hit and actually stuck that arm out further, inducing the ball to smack him. That, my friends, is against the rules and umpires should be calling that shit a ball, but they don’t. I once asked umpire John McSherry about that, and he skirted around the question, never answering it."

 Jerry Dowling, are you friggin’ serious?! You disregard a 20-year career full of accolades and 3,000 hits because the man wore a protective piece of plastic on his elbow to avoid injury? Makes sense, you are a former cartoonist for the Cincinnati Inquirer and Cincinnati City Beat. As it turns out the names Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were voted for though. C’mon man! OK, you’ve at least got to have a good excuse as to why you did what you did, right?

"Bonds wore it because pitchers would much rather give him one base than a four-bagger and Bonds didn’t want a broken, bruised arm. Remember how many times he was walked?"

I’m going to throw what's left of Dowling’s credibility right out the window, here goes: Biggio was plunked 285 times in his career, and in August of 1997, he was hit ten times...the same amount as Bonds was plunked that entire season! 

This guy is just as bad as Dan LeBatard, who gave his vote away to deadspin.com, the entertainment equivalent of Fox News. I don’t read much of LeBatard’s column, and I only know him from his fill-in role on ESPN’s ‘PTI’, but the act of disrespecting a professional’s career, careers he covered for the Miami Herald and ESPN, while making quite the pretty penny is distasteful, ignorant and downright pathetic.

So the Baseball Writers Association of America banned him from ever voting for the HOF again. Oh, and he was banned from attending a game for a year as a credentialed member of the media. Like he cares! You really want to send a message to other writers, to take your job seriously, blackball him from the industry.

Why would any newspaper or television conglomerate want this man representing their brand? It's about time people stop standing behind the First Amendment. It's 2014 and it's time to be held accountable. After all, that's what Le Batard and Dowling were trying to convey. Right?

This brings me to my final point. The clock has struck midnight for the Baseball Writers Association of America, and all voting committees for that matter, to bring in fresh blood. Don’t get me wrong, most of these men, ages 50+ have seen some of the greatest players to ever play the respective sport.

But therein lies the rub. These men, of a time gone past, continue to compare the athletes of yesteryear to those of the 1990s and now 2000s. There is no comparison! I’m sorry. The game has changed, some for the better, some for the worse. What hasn’t changed though are the ideals of the 50+-year-old men who hold the keys to enshrinement.

Where they grew up with the likes of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Hank Aaron, my generation grew up with the Craig Biggio's, Mike Piazza's, Derek Jeter's and so on. In my opinion, all three of these men should be HOF'ers, hands down.

Regardless, I’ve already made my case for Biggio; and if not perhaps for the likes of Le Batard giving his vote away in protest, and Dowling not voting for him because of an arm guard (unreal), Biggio should have made four more than deserving enshrinees. I can continue to make cases for the players of my generation, i.e. Mike Piazza who is only the greatest statistical hitting catcher of all time; a .308 career hitter; he belted 427 home runs, 1335 RBI’s while making the NL All-Star team 12 times, 10 Silver Slugger awards, became the ’92 NL ROY and ’96 All-Star game MVP, yet still only achieved 62.2% of the vote. 

In the years to come, I hope the controversy will subside, and we the fans, and they the players will achieve the ultimate recognition "we" rightfully deserve. Hey, if you think everyone, post '95 strike through today and counting, cheated, then create a separate PED wing in Cooperstown. But to lump all these men together is just wrong.

No positive test should equal innocence and enshrinement. It’s that simple. Take you bias out of the equation. Otherwise simply take yourself out of the equation and give your vote to someone with a fresh voice; to a person who grew up watching these players compete at an elite level, leaving an indelible mark for years to come.

Writing a TV Pilot Script

If your TV Pilot script doesn't strike a nerve within the first few paragraphs, you're simply reduced to the recycling bin.

For those that have never undertaken any role in the creation or production of a television Pilot, it is a painstaking process that has as many ups and downs as a roller coaster at Six Flags. But it also contains that same sheer thrill, as you watch your hard work, sacrifice and passion come to life.

Since the viewing audience of most, if not all television shows simply get to witness the finished product and not the meat and potatoes of bringing the script to life, I wanted to give you a glimpse into what it really takes from conception to screen. So follow along, and perhaps you’ll be motivated enough to shoot your own piece of cinematic work one day, or you’ll be simply glad you can just sit back and enjoy someone else’s. 

The script. Without this you have nothing. It’s the roadmap to success. Usually, if your story doesn’t strike a nerve in the reader within the first page, you are reduced to the recycling bin. As writers, we all love our own work. Hell, we’re super territorial and think our manuscript is ready for production from its first save as PDF. But as you get older/wiser, and continue to write scripts, you learn that re-writes are not only necessary but that they enhance the script because your story is always evolving.

For the script of “Full Circle, ” I pulled from my own life experiences, real world situations that some may question ever happening. Well, I got two words for you, IT DID! The best stories told are nine times out of ten based on actual events or true stories. I think that’s because it allows people to simply relate to the source material that much easier and sooner, letting the viewer find their favorite character, least favorite, who to root for, who to not.

Is there that character that comes off one way at first, but deep down you see yourself falling in love with, a la Ari Gold in ‘Entourage’. A writer not only has to be mindful of layering the Pilot with the right amount of wow to peak your interest, they at the same time must hold back the bulk of the goods so that you return week after week to see what's next. Sounds simple, but it's the furthest thing from the truth.

Pivotal character attractions need to flow seamlessly with a storyline that moves. This is especially true for a sitcom like we at Mantality Media are shooting. Sitcoms have evolved from multi-cam setups on sound stages (‘Friends,’ ‘Home Improvement,’ 'Cheers') to open-world free roaming single cam productions like ‘The Office,’ ‘Modern Family’ and 'Parks & Rec' which all thrive from being on location.

As an audience, when the shoot is on location, it simply allows us to go along for the ride. Raising the stakes in new and unique settings allows the storyline to venture to exciting places, often even allowing secondary characters to evolve in front of our very own eyes! Sub-plots are what make shows last! I'm sorry but Ross and Rachel almost broke up one too many times.

Timing and pace are everything for a comedy. Whether you’re talking about the acting or the writing, landing on a joke late or flat is a recipe for disaster. And lets face it, we all know that person who is absolutely hilarious, so much so, we implore them to try their hand at standup or improv theater. Well folks, much like the latter two, comedic screenplay writing is not for everyone.

Now it's one thing to be witty or cheeky towards others when the situation is apparent, it’s another beast all in itself when you are not only creating the situation, the environment, characters from scratch, actions, reactions, banter, and dialogue for a multitude of personalities and temperaments. It takes a very succinct person, almost on the break of psychosis to bring this all to life, and still find the funny. 

There are all different types of comedy; slapstick, crude, dark, deadpan, spoof, etc. For ‘Full Circle’ I made sure to keep the comedy grounded. Sure, there are moments of theatrics in the way our characters speak to one another, but it’s the fact that each one of them have a purpose; a background unto their own that makes you believe the sometimes crazy things that come out of their mouths could indeed be spoken.

Sure a lot of this has to do with the actor’s portrayal, but it all starts on paper. I liken a lot of my sitcom style of writing to a show that ran for a whopping 9 seasons, ‘Scrubs.’ Creator Bill Lawrence and his amazing team of writers were able to combine complicated and ever-evolving relationships, a remarkable central theme, absolute hilarity and the ability to walk away from each episode learning a life lesson.

This is no easy task. Sure ‘Mash’ did it. But how many other shows can you think of went this route? Dick and ball jokes are simple. They’ll get a laugh at first, sure, but then what? You become cliché. And that’s a sure fire way of getting canceled, or in our effort, not picked up by a network at all. So we’re doing something different.

The premise of ‘Full Circle’ is unique. It combines two high stakes worlds; one being the ultra competitive and unforgiving industry of music; and the other, the highly fast paced and cutthroat business of restaurants. Take a young good-looking guy with a world of talent on the cusp of success that has just had his life shattered by scandal and lies. Place him in Los Angeles, a town unlike any other, where people will step over a dead body in the street if it means getting to an audition before you.

Throw in the fact our lead is trying to start anew and find his rightful place in the universe when he unknowingly takes a job as a server in a restaurant that is also home to a reality television show, and you’ve got the platform for explosive situations. Our hero does his best to keep his talent and past a secret as to not be judged differently by anyone, but in a restaurant where sexual harassment is a term of endearment, his exploits soon come to light.

The restaurant needs him to put butts in seats, while the floundering reality TV show needs him to attract new viewers. All this occurs around a cast of characters, each with their own agenda and ideas on what the meaning life really is all about. 

For me, it really is a beautiful thing to watch these fictitious beings, which like I said, are taken from those I’ve encountered in my journey, come to be so much more. As the cast members of the fake reality show and staff of the restaurant come in contact with our lead, each benefit substantially.

Our hero’s greatest gift may not be his talent at all, but the way he inspires others to achieve more out of life. And while he is unknowingly doing so, the special interactions and bonds he makes are creating a long-lasting effect that will eventually set him on his true path of success and self-discovery. 

Butt or Boob Man?

Men have debated upon the topic of butt or boom man for centuries. Hell, even wars have been started over it. Remember Helen of Troy?

Either you and your buddies have debated on this topic for hours; your girlfriend asks which you prefer (quickly looking her up and down and reply with exactly what she has); or in my case, being prodded with the question by a manager who is trying to set up her college-age daughter.

My boss looks at me with lust in her eyes (or it could have been the lighting) and says "So are you more of a butt or boob man? 'Cause my daughter who plays volleyball (setting the mental image of short-shorts, I presume) is a lot like her momma, (imagine the biggest breasts' you've ever seen and times them by four) she's well endowed."

By telling me she was a lot like her momma I gathered that she was smuggling a small village in her sweater, but she really wanted to drive the point home about her "Z" cup. So I thought back to all the conversations in my life that had been relatively similar to this one, different circumstances of course, and gave the same honest response I always do: "I'm both."

Before you say anything, I’ve already heard it: You can’t be both! You really don’t like one more than the other? But you have to! I’m sorry; I’ve never been fully able to differentiate the value of one over the other. Before this starts to sound like I’m comparing automobiles or types of fruit, I’ll explain myself. Here, we’ll focus on the male fascination of the female Gluteus Maximus.

You see I love a great rear end. Whether it’s hiding under a pair of tight yoga pants (oh how I love me some yoga pants), slightly pushing out the backside of a sexy dress, or Sunday fun-day where a thong and a smile are the only dress code, a toned and curved derriere is a magical thing. What guy doesn’t like putting his hands in his girls back pockets and grabbing him some booty? Or while in the throws of love making, slapping or “pounding” the caboose just to watch it shake.

Yes, please! If your girl isn’t backside inclined I feel bad for you, son (Jay Z voice). I’ve had buddies who love small, petite buns. Good for them. One guy’s reasoning, let’s call him Chris, was simply that he feels his girl is sexy skinny and doesn’t enjoy the idea of any fat on his woman.

Douchie? Perhaps. I also took a female’s perspective, let’s call her Angela, that badonkadonk’s are gross. I disagreed but heard her out anyway. She says there is nothing sexy about the crack you sit on and shit out of. True, that description makes butts in general sound less appealing, but I then took a quick peek at where her apple-bottom should have been, and only saw a cutting board.

Maybe she was envious of women who are blessed with butt cleavage, or she could be one of those super determined chicks who hit the gym for two hours a day, six days a week and just do cardio to avoid curving it up. Either way, I’ll never know because her disregard for my appreciation of the fanny forced me to hastily exit the scene.

I will say from personal opinion and years of research, that depending on the situation, the humps value as I call it, (copyright pending) can waver in necessary value. Gentleman’s publications such as Playboy do not tend to put a lot of focus on the booty. Most of the models, gorgeous or airbrushed as they may be, are thin and therefore don’t carry a lot of junk in the trunk.

Maybe this is why they focus on the “T” and not the “A.” Or maybe Hef is more of a “T” man. I’d love to ask him. Someone get Playboy on the phone! So what the genius’ at Playboy are hoping for is that the more they show you of something, the more inclined you are to either like it or accept it.

And you know what, they’re right. I can look at a gorgeous centerfold, her lovely bosom, great teeth, perfect skin, hair, and tiny tush, and turn the page satisfied that she is for sure my future ex-wife without giving her money-maker a second thought.

Now take the same situation while out at a mall or any public place for that matter, and when I spot a pretty lady who could be Dakota Fanning’s butt double, a tiny tear falls from my eye. It’s something about clothing, and how the designer creates the look to accentuate the female figure or not that truly makes having or not having an ass stand out.

These days there are ways of getting around not being born with the fanny gene. I’m no longer able to get to the squat machine at the gym because of the line of ravenous rump shaker hungry ladies. Still, should she be squatting 225lbs? Get it girl! Skechers makes those hideous step-up shoes that correct posture while building muscle tone in your legs, butt, and thighs.

Hey, if it works for Joe Montana it will…never mind. The most go to solution for making that tambourine play is and will always be a woman wearing her favorite pair of high heels. Hell, that’s what they’re made for. Ask any woman, heels have to be designed by a man ‘cause they make almost any ass look great while killing her feet. You’re welcome.

Before I go any further there is one minor detail that needs to be addressed. Bigger isn’t always better. The same can be said of breasts, more on that in the next article. Of course not all men feel this way, and that’s great. Take a look at Kim Kardashian. She always had a trolley car backside, and it was pretty phenomenal. But right before she became preggers it began to get a little out of hand; thanks for ruining that as well Kanye.

I can only imagine now that those two Christmas hams look like a shooting range for paintball guns (ie. dimpled and beat), and that’s not good for anyone. If you’ve got more cheese than a Kraft factory it might be time to tone it up, ladies. Even a master truck driver can’t handle an out of control dump truck. Ya’ feel me?

By now you’re probably saying, wow Mike, you’re a female butt connoisseur. And I just might be. But I am only one of many. Men of different races, creeds, and religions have debated over coolies for tens of thousands of years; countries have even gone to war over them (remember Helen of Troy).

Why? Because science has yet to figure out why men live and die by the tuckus. That certainly doesn’t mean they haven’t tried. Back in 1968 Wiggins et. al asked 95 college aged men which silhouette drawing they preferred with varying degrees of body types. FYI, these men each completed personality questionnaires and provided detailed background info.

"The men who preferred large buttocks were characterized by a need for order. Those who preferred the largest buttocks figure tend to be business majors and tend not to be psychologically minded. In social situations, they are dependent and given to self-abasement (self-deprecating). Their value orientation tends not to be stoic in nature. On the other hand men who preferred small buttocks tend not to be self-abasing. They tend to persevere in the completion of their work and do not feel the need to be the center of attention. As a group they tend not to be education majors and their reading interests do not include sports magazines."

Damn! I’m not so sure how I feel about these results. I mean over forty years have since passed and no other major studies have been conducted. Through high school and college education we’ve all heard bits and piece about how in early the primitive era, flat bottoms would become enlarged (due to blood flow) during mating.

Basically, the enlarged female rear gave the male primate the signal that it was time to dip the noodle. Smart. In today’s age, both men and women are pretty much always ready to “get down.” So besides the fact that a female's bottom acts as a storage container for fat cells in times of limited food supply and aids in breastfeeding, it still “brings all the boys to yard” when looking for a potential partner.

Like the old saying says, there’s an ass out there for everyone. That is the saying, right? One thing is for sure, though, the one I choose will look bootylicious in a pair of yoga pants!

King Joffrey Is Dead

 We all wanted Joffrey dead, nay we needed him dead. But talk about a brutal way to go!

We all wanted King Joffrey dead, nay we needed him dead. But talk about a brutal way to go!

Did anyone expect this to happen so soon into Season 4? Maybe readers of the books did, but you guys don’t count. As much I love a good book, I dare not pick up George R.R. Martin’s manifesto because I don’t want to spoil the television show! How many times have you heard someone say that? Seriously, though, each and every week is an expedition into a dangerous, exciting land that is unspoiled to me because I haven’t read a single page of one of the novels!

Episode 3, “The Lion & The Rose”, or more affectionately known as “The Purple Wedding” was met with much anticipation after last seasons blood bath, we all still cringe at, “The Red Wedding.” But would ‘GOT’ really do it again, make a huge spectacle out of an already enormous setting? Yah damn right they did! Because this is ‘GOT,’ you have got to expect the unexpected. The entire episode felt like one giant lead up to something remarkable.

From the very beginning as the two hounds chased that defenseless girl through the woods, a sense of inevitable catastrophe took shape. From that very moment it was a sprint to the finish line.

You see, even Theon Greyjoy showed signs of a heart when he found out his ex-best friend (Robb Stark) had a dagger stuck through his heart by his captor’s father. Man, I would have loved to see Theon slice the throat of the Bastard Bolton! I still think “Reek” is bating Ramsay and his father, Roose.

He has to possess even one redeeming quality, right? Giving up the fact that he never killed the two youngest Stark children will certainly lead to another major plot development involving Reek, I mean Theon.

Bran and Hodor made their first appearance of the season. HODOR!! Bran soon finds out where he and his gang will head to next, albeit via a message from a tree with a face. Does the shadow of the dragon flying high over Kings Landing illude to the destination?

What’s with Oberyn? Yeah, he’s a “switch-hitter”, but what I’m really interested in is when he will enact his own revenge! He has clearly come to Kings Landing for more than Joffrey’s wedding; he made that clear in episode 1. But after his verbal confrontation with Tywin and Cersei, you know the preverbal shit is about to hit the fan.

You could sense Tywin knew exactly what Oberryn meant when he referred to “cultural differences.” I love the severity, yet misdirection of threats that were thrown around by the trio.

Then there is Tyrian, everyone’s favorite Lannister. He has truly tormented the entire wedding reception; made a fool over and over again. It didn’t take a Detective to figure out one way or another; someone wasn’t leaving this episode breathing. With having just shunned his true love, Shay (for her own safety), Tyrian does all he can to keep his composure, throw some proverbial jabs, and even manages to console his wife, Sansa, all at the same time.

This led us to the latest WOW moment for ‘Game Of Thrones.’ Margaery calls for the pie to quell the bickering between her husband and his uncle. Joffrey slices the pie with his Valyrian steel sword, given to him by his grandfather as a wedding present. If you watch closely after the doves fly out, there is an insert shot of the inside of the cake. A dead dove falls out of the cake, as other perished ones lye around it.

Poison?! Has to be, right? As Joffrey begins to choke, he calls for his uncle to bring him wine, which Tyrian does. Joffrey begins to spill out of control. Lady Olenna screams out for someone to help the King. Jamie runs for his son… nephew, as Joffrey hits the ground. Cersei and Jamie surround the boy as he turns a multitude of colors; blood and vomit spews till Joffrey gasps his last few breaths of life.

Of course, the little incest driven, prick wielding psychopathic child manages to point towards Tyrian before he finally passes. This sends his mother into a horrific cry for the guards to arrest her brother, the murderer! Too bad he didn’t do it, lady.

Hours after conclusion of episode 2, the Internet went ablaze with whodunits. The most popular theory is that it was the doing of The Queen of Thornes. If you remember from episode 1, Ser Dotos, now the King’s jester gives Sansa a necklace that once belonged to his mother. She wears it to the wedding; and if you pay close attention, while Olenna is talking to Sansa on how she must come visit her homeland, Olenna skillfully plucks a jewel from the necklace. Why’d she do that?

If indeed the old bag is the murderer, then how will anyone ever suspect? And how did the jewel get in the pie? But how does a jewel kill someone anyway? Of course Olenna has her reasons to see Joffrey dead; to protect her kingdom, her granddaughter, her grandson (Loras, and his upcoming marriage to Cersei), revenge for Joffrey’s mistreatment of Sansa.

And if the jewel did in fact cause the death, then it makes sense when Ser Dontos stealthily whisks Sansa away in the midst of chaos. Is too Lord Varys involved? He has a running connection to all advantageous parties.

But this wasn’t how I wanted the inbred to die! Sure he suffered. But at the hands of poison! Yes, King Richard died because a bore struck him, and Renly died by the hands of a ghost-spirit. But for the evilest character in all of Westeros, something far worse should have befallen the King. I for one wanted it to be at the hands of Jon Snow.

Sure Snow has plenty more Lannister’s and Frey’s to slay for the deaths of his brother, father, and direwolves. But revenge at the hands of a Stark, albeit a half Stark, sure would have been sweet.

Alas, we have at least two more seasons in the series to tie up all the loose ends. I just hope Jon Snow gets his before he meets his maker. After all, it’s only a matter of time before my favorite character dies too.

Sam Smith on 'SNL'

 If Sam Smith is marketed correctly in the United States, then we've got a brand new star on our hands.

If Sam Smith is marketed correctly in the United States, then we've got a brand new star on our hands.

I’ve been a loyal 'Saturday Night Live' viewer since the days of Adam Sandler. And though the iconic sketch comedy show is going through a “rebuilding year”, the quality of hosts and musical guests continues to show up. But perhaps no musical guest has impressed me and the viewing public in a long time the way Sam Smith did this past weekend.

‘SNL’ has a way of introducing little-known acts to the mainstream public, soon launching them to mega success. Such names at least for me are The Kings Of Leon, James Blunt, and Dane Cook. While others whither away performing on LIVE national TV (agh Ashlee Simpson), some shine and are set on a course for stardom. Ladies and Gentlemen, Sam Smith is the next big thing.

Funny thing is, about a minute into Smith’s first amazing performance of the show, “Stay With Me," I realized I’ve seen this guy before. You see theMantality’s very own Adam Jack covered the EDM group Disclosure back in the beginning of 2013.

One of his points of emphasis was the group’s duet with another young Brit, you guessed it, Sam Smith. I myself am not the biggest fan of EDM and the like. Now don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it as a genre, but it’s just not my go-to, no offense Adam! But when I originally heard “Latch,” what stood out was the guy with the ridiculous vocals. Through the two-step and electronica, Sam Smith’s velvety smoothness was more than apparent. More songs like this might make me a believer in EDM after all. 

Fast forward to a few weeks ago as I drove home late one night. With the radio on, the DJ begins to speak of a new track he is about to play. It’s a pop station that plays a little bit of everything, but it’s late at night so these guys tend to push some of the boundaries. He says the next song is from DJ Naughty Boy.

Great, I think to myself. Another Aviici. Another case of a nameless singer lending his/her talent that is somehow deemed less important than the person who crafted the beat. I soon was concerned with the “LA LA LA.” And then the first verse came in. There was that voice again, I thought. I knew I had heard it before, but there was no mention of the singer. The radio DJ only spoke about how Naughty Boy was delivering pizzas this time last year, and now his jam was being played on the air. Props indeed. But what about the vocalist!

Then on Saturday Night Live as Louis C.K. introduces Sam Smith, I waited, not knowing what to expect, although the cross earrings did remind me of another performer from across the pond, George Michael. Is he a Sir?

Anyway, then the 21-year-old Brit began to sing, or more appropriately sanggggg; because that’s what he did! Smith opened with a stirring rendition of “Stay With Me,” the first single off the LP, ‘In The Lonely Hour.' Buttery smooth was Sam, as the chilled musical vibe and string-tastic arrangement left plenty of room for his vocal acrobatics.

Smith’s runs and trills were spot on; he showed no signs of going off-pitch or even the slightest hint of vocal strain. His delivery was flawless; he truly made it look simple. The choir behind Sam was a nice touch that only enhanced the performance.

As I geared up for the second performance of the night, I was now Googling (is that a word?) this fella. Bam! The first article I read via VH1.com finally put all into perspective. It spoke of Smith’s collaboration with Disclosure and his most recent work with Naughty Boy. See, I knew I wasn’t going crazy! I know good music when I hear it. With the Googling now complete, “Lay Me Down” began.

From the first note I was hooked. Talk about the combination of breathiness and strength, all wrapped up into one angelic voice. On stage with just a simple piano and cello backing, Smith’s vocals reigned supreme. Damn, if I didn’t feel like I was listening to the young Marvin Gaye. High praise? Too soon? Maybe.

But who cares! With this kind of talent, you’d be bit braggadocios. Sam Smith is a vocal chameleon. In his tone I heard old school R&B, top of the charts pop, filthy blues, a slight EDM flare even a bit of show tune-esqness rang out. Talk about diversity! 

If Sam Smith is marketed correctly in the States, then we’ve got a genuine new star on our hands that will transcend musical boundaries across all continents.

Paul Walker: The Death of Someone I Knew

 Watching Paul Walker on the silver screen embedded a connection that was deeper than that of just a fan.

Watching Paul Walker on the silver screen embedded a connection that was deeper than that of just a fan.

My hand has been forced. I am here to sound off on the blatant disregard for human life and death that too many people have shown, and sadly will probably continue to. I’m talking in regards to the recent horrific passing of Hollywood actor, Paul Walker. I first read the news, like many, through social media. When the news sprouted up, it was because a friend had shared a link from TMZ. 

I was immediately caught off guard, so I hit the comments button below Mr. Walkers picture, which brought me to a slew of gossip. The second post from someone I am not acquainted with, stated that this was indeed a hoax, and that Paul Walker himself had confirmed he was not in a fiery crash as TMZ had first reported. I was immediately relieved, as I thought back to a few months ago when word of Adam Sandler dying in a skiing accident turned out to be a tasteless internet tale.

But with my curiosity still peaked, I continued to scroll through the news feed. One after another, friends were posting their condolences and RIP to Paul Walker. Say what you will about TMZ, but when it comes to breaking Tinseltown news, they are nine times out of ten spot on. Still scrolling, with that original knot in my stomach back in full force, I feared the worst.

It wasn’t until later that evening when I returned home and saw the tragic video footage on the local news of the red Porsche Carrera up in flames, that it truly hit me, I lost someone I knew. 

No I wasn’t acquainted with Paul Walker personally, or knew very much at all about his off-screen persona. But that doesn’t matter.

You see, maybe it’s the fact I understand the mind set that goes into portraying a character for film. Ask any actor, especially one who is a student of “The Method”, and they will tell you, even though you take on the persona, traits, strengths and weaknesses of someone with a different name, the individual giving the performance must manifest all they have created for this being, let it flow through his/her veins, and then make this character come to life.

In layman’s terms, the act you are watching, no matter how unique, amazing or dreadful, still at the core, is part of the actor’s soul. An actor must strip themselves of all emotions and allow the audience to see exactly what makes them tick. It’s a highly intimate, sometimes emotional wrecking experience that most people will never understand.

Acting is not simple. Words on a page are just that till someone with an ability for storytelling gives them life. And that’s why even a man who portrayed an FBI agent turned fugitive street racer turned international criminal six different times could appeal to the masses. Because his real world charm, good looks, and passion for creating a character we all would have loved to become for even a day, let us in on the world where Paul Walker was all of those things.

This brings me back to my original point. Hours after the confirmation of Walkers death, social media lit up like a Christmas tree yet again. But the posts I read this time were insensitive, cruel, and downright dumb. People spouted off nonsense like “an hour ago no one cared about Paul Walker, now it’s Walker-book.” Another consensus said something to the effect “RIP to the other man killed in the accident that no one cares about because he wasn’t famous.”

Comments so tasteless, this is the ugly side of social media. Two men died, and yes we knew one’s name more than the other. It does not mean his death is any greater, but what it did do was affect more people. So by littering the Internet with these pitiful posts, all it proves is that some individuals just don’t get it.

They don’t truly understand the repercussions of life and death, and how losing someone like a Paul Walker who did so much good through his charity for first responders (Reach Out WorldWide) will forever leave an impact on his family, friends, fans, and those whom benefit from ROHH.

I first met Paul Walker in 1998, in a film called “Pleasantville.” A year later we crossed paths in the coming of age tale “Varsity Blues” and again in 2000s “The Skulls.” Soon after Brian O’Connor was brought to life for not one or two movies, but six installments. Hell, I even met up with Paul in the movie “Timeline” (in was highly underrated in my opinion.)

Call me delusional, that’s what social media would lead you to believe, but through 42 acting credits, Paul Walker left behind a legacy. No, we never went to a bar and grabbed some cold ones. But almost once a year for the past 14 years or so, whenever I felt like seeing my old friend, I’d head to the theater to watch him work…and live.

Veterans Day to Me

This celebratory Veterans Day and the exploits of my grandfather the war hero, gave me the closure I'd been searching for since his passing.

Veterans Day has always held a special place in my heart. It’s the reason why I decided that November 11th, 2012 would be the official launch of thePush. Now two years later, having produced consistent content that I am proud to say represents the Mantality Media brand to the fullest, I wish to continue this trend by letting you know why this day, in the year 2013 will forever be a nostalgic one for me.

My entire life I’ve been a history buff. Heck, the first profession I ever wanted to pursue was that of an archaeologist. Maybe it had something to do with the fictitious exploits of Indiana Jones. Or perhaps it was based on my sheer intrigue of days gone by.

Either way, I still yearn to know more about those who came before us, the one's that left a distinct mark upon time allowing all of mankind to continue reaping their rewards for today. I remember sitting in history class as early as Catholic elementary school when the teacher first introduced the subject of World War II; and how even then in the early 1990s, it was difficult to grasp the concept that genocide had only taken place roughly 50 years before. 

As I moved on to high school and my knowledge and fascination of WWII became more prevalent, I came to fully appreciate the men and women who gave so much, so that we, the future citizens of the world, could live without the threat of oppression, dictatorship or mass extermination.

You see, my feelings of gratefulness and blissful admiration were spearheaded by my grandfather, Michael Calendrillo I. I always knew that “Poppy” (as I lovingly referred to him), was a WWII veteran who enlisted in the Army at the tender age of 17, and soon found himself smack dab in the middle of the European front at the height of the conflict, 1943.

What I'd come to find out as I matured to an age of understanding was that my grandfather was a highly decorated serviceman who specialized in demolitions as part of the 89th Infantry. As my grandfather explains so eloquently in the heart-wrenching documentary “Nightmares End,” (see below) is how he and the rest of his platoon were the first unit in all of WWII to come across a Nazi concentration camp on April 4th, 1945. The camp will forever be known as Ohrdruf, named after the town of the same designation.

Despite this, my grandfather absolutely loved the Armed Services. He was a spit-shine, law and order type of guy who would give all he had to the cause. After fulfilling his military obligation, he even re-enlisted for three more years to see Europe post-war. 

Throughout the rest of his life, though, the family patriarch would struggle with horrific nightmares of what he witnessed on that misty morning in war-torn Germany. Despite this, the man for whom my father was named after, and subsequently I, was chock full of vigor, love, compassion, and an amazing personality right up until July 2013, when he passed away at the age of 87.

A key piece of advice for all generations to come is spoken from the mouth of Michael Calendrillo at 7:35 of the documentary. 

“People shouldn’t forget--gotta make sure these things never happen again. You gotta stop things before they even get started.”

Losing a loved one is never easy on a family, especially when that person has shaped the men in said family into who they are today. But the passing of my grandfather made me come to even a greater realization of just how fortunate I am.

Because if just one single occurrence had played out differently for Michael Calendrillo I in WWII, my grandfather on my mother’s side (Joseph Raymond Pizzi) during the Korean Conflict, or my mentor and father, Michael Calendrillo II during the Vietnam War, I wouldn’t be here today.

So if you have ever had someone put their life on the line for this country and were blessed with the opportunity of them coming home to tell their tale, you are truly fortunate. For those that have lost someone to the horrors of war, you forever have my sympathies; I wish you nothing but peace. 

Michael Calendrillo:

“I’m sorry for breaking down like that.”

Documentarian:

“I think it’s important you told your story.”

Michael Calendrillo:

“Maybe--maybe I needed that. If anybody don’t believe that this thing happened, then I wish they were there for a few seconds--just to see.

(Deep breath)

Yeah, I feel better now.”

Thank you, Poppy. You stood up for what you believed in and I'm honored to share your name. We need more men like you. I needed this--I too feel better now.

'The 20/20 Experience' - 2 of 2 Reviewed

20_20

This deluxe second helping of the 20/20 Experience gives us the opportunity to celebrate what makes Justin Timberlake such a remarkable performer.

The first time I slid disc #1 (deluxe edition purchased, of course) into my car stereo, pumped as always for a new JT soundtrack, I was not so thrilled by tracks one and two (“Gimme What I Don’t Know” and “True Blood”), so that obviously didn’t help. The songs to follow were easy on the ears, and brought me back to a simpler time of Timberlake, let’s call it, Before “Sexy Back” (B.S.E.).

Within a week, with the CD still on constant rotation, I was hooked. I loved the familiarity of the soon-to-be hits, unlike the good folks at thechroicleherald.ca, who lambasted the album by stating: "2 of 2 doesn’t challenge enough, and we want and expect more from one of music’s best all-around entertainers, especially when the original 20/20 Experience still has so much more to offer."

So there it is Justin. You did such an amazing job on 20/20 - 1 of 1 that you’ve wasted all of Canada’s…I mean record buyers time and money! At least I don’t feel the same! Unfortunately, the critics continued to take their shots, this time over at hotnewhiphop.com, who offered a backhanded compliment by claiming '2 of 2' consists of “lyrical downfalls and mediocre moments saved by solid production and flawless vocals on a sexy, edgy sequel to the clean-cut 20/20 Experience.” 

But my favorite negative piece I read was from the consciousofsound.net who captioned the album, as “this isn’t truffle season.” That’s funny. Even witty. But wrong! And let me tell you why.

By now Justin Timberlake has earned the right to pretty much create whatever type of music he so desires. He’s an artist and it’s his gosh-dang right to do so! Just because an album shares a similar title to another wildly successful, yet seven years in the making piece ('1 of 1') doesn’t make it the same friggin piece of music!

What would be the point of that anyway? Instead, '2 of 2' should be looked as an experiment of sorts. What I feel JT and his team did, was take a little bit of everything they've written and recorded over the past 10 years, mashed it up, and even sprinkled in a little old school nostalgic *NSYNC for good measure to create what he, the artist, wanted to release.

Sure the byproduct has hints of what we’ve heard (don’t forget loved) from his past work, but more importantly, it gives us the opportunity to celebrate and appreciate what makes this entertainer so remarkable; his ability to stretch his musical talents so wide, that we as fans are sure to accept it as a new style of “Timberlake,” when it’s really the same guy we’ve watched since the late 90’s, this time, only more aware of himself as a performer.

Track by Track:

Gimme What I Don’t Know (I Want)

The opening tune definitely was a grower. This is the first track that Timbaland puts his stank (a good thing) all over. A wild jungle backdrop set to overlaying harmonies and a hard bass line makes for a fun beginning to an eclectic mix.

True Blood

This is the only song I’ve yet to warm up to. At 9:31, it’s quite the investment in time. And with the continuous arrangement changes, werewolf howls, and Halloween feel, I’ve yet to be hooked. Maybe it’s JT’s homage to MJ’s “Thriller”. At least that would make some sort of sense.

Cabaret

Man, this song is smooth! True cinematic production once again from Timbo ushers in a fiery verse from the new face of the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, Drizzy-Drake. Someone tell Drake to feature Timberlake on a hook or two for his next album. That latest effort of his, 'Nothing Was The Same' had me thinking I had accidentally picked up a Keith Sweat CD at Target by accident.

TKO

Hottest track on the album for sure! It’s as good a second release as “Mirrors” ever was. The beat, the verses, the lyrics, they're all heavy hitters. If you can’t get down to this anthem, then just stop. As for the video, I’m not really sure what the hell I’m watching, well, besides from Riley Keough!

Hello! Scary how much she looks like her mother and subsequent grandfather. Google it if you don’t know whom those two people are I speak of. As for the video, there is very little interaction between JT and Riley, who is only dressed in a white men’s business shirt.

Besides from intense glares, reminiscent of the movie “Drive”, what we witness is Justin having his way with Riley; her in turn, whacking him upside the head with a frying pan, tying his legs to the back of a truck, driving towards a cliff, she jumps out leaving Justin to look back as he and the truck descend down the cliff to his inevitable death.

What did this storyline have to do with the song lyrics?! I thought the song was a simple case of female betrayal. Yet the video sets the case for forced intercourse and murder. Or am I over thinking it?

Take Back The Night

Every time I hear the intro, I immediately think back to a warm summer night riding through NYC in a drop top convertible. If you have no idea about the feeling I describe, I implore you to reenact this scenario one time in your life while jamming out to “Take Back The Night.” Shoot for June before the humidity is around 99%. The video did a fantastic job of putting all this on display. After all, songs should take us on a journey.

Murder

Back is ‘HOV’ in a big way. His line about Yoko Ono and the Beatles is insanely clever! I won't ruin it for you, but look out for its crass nature. Even the beat has a bit of two-step, Knight Rider-ish flava to accompany a fly melody and tight harmonies.

Drink You Away

Another great descriptive imagery drive tale of heartbreak, and how one man deals with his loneliness. Just picture JT sitting in a dark and smoky Memphis bar, perhaps a bit inebriated, head spinning, throwing back shots, one after another while spilling his guts to whomever will listen.

Wait a minute, that’s the idea for the video! Get his people on the phone. I’ll direct it! Throw in the Tennessee Kids playing outside the bar, maybe on a desolate dirt road and we’ve got fire, people!

You Got It On

It begins like a T-Pain track, which scared the crap out of me. But soon enough it rolls into a super chill vibe, reminiscent of my all time favorite vocalist, Craig David and his ultra cool vibe, where JT’s vocals and song writing ability take you on a stroll of peace and tranquility. Bravo.

Amnesia

I’m sorry, but damn I love this song!! It hits hard, but not over the top. It’s catchy almost to a fault and has a hook that will haunt you dreams, all while truly taking you back… back to the days of those 5 dudes who called themselves *NSYNC.

If JT didn’t write and record this song with his ex-bandmates in mind, then I’d be shocked. Just listen to those melodies in the hook and chorus. Tell me a little piece of you didn’t hope JC Chasez would come in for the second verse.

Only When I Walk Away

Blue, blues, blues and…well you get the point. I hear Lenny Kravitz all over this one. Maybe it’s the slight vocal distortion. Maybe it’s the overall badassness of the song. Either way, JT really flips the switch on his style with this banger.

Not A Bad Thing

Yet again, Timberlake completes a CD with a soulful, thought provoking melodic explosion of emotions. This song is catchy as hell. It’s simple, but that’s the beauty of it. Here JT proves just how diverse his repertoire really is. Sometimes going back to basics is all you really need. And make sure you wait for 5:31 into the song. It could have been an interlude, regardless it’s dope how one man could make 4 different lines sound so friggin’ intriguing.

As for the bonus track, I’m not going to get into them, because my biggest complaint of '2 of 2' is the fact that two songs were placed on a completely separate CD. When and why am I going to put in a separate disc for just two songs! Sure I’m nitpicking, but so did you before you read this article.

At the end of the day, I for one am glad Justin Timberlake continues to push his musical boundaries. He released a two-part mini-series when he didn’t have to, and quite honestly, no one expected it. So don’t be critical, just find something for you that stands out within the 74 minutes of '2 of 2'. Because the truth is, who knows the next time we’ll get new music from JT.

'Blackfish' and its Backlash

The hard-hitting documentary 'Blackfish' focuses on the captive orca Tillikum at SeaWorld Orlando.

Let me start out by saying, I know "Blackfish" is a documentary. And sometimes the trouble with documentaries is that they-tend to be a bit one-sided. This is why I usually take docs with a grain of salt. But after sitting back and experiencing the raw emotion and investigative reporting done by director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and fellow producer Manuel V. Oteyza, I have to say it will be almost impossible to ever look at this particular tourist attraction the same. 

By now you know that "Blackfish" follows the story of Tilikum, a six ton killer whale (or as I prefer to say, orca), who has been in various forms of captivity for the majority of his life and how this has played a role in the unfortunate deaths of three individuals. I like most, didn't really know a whole lot about these beautiful creatures going in.

Hell, as a kid, I thought the large white patches on each side of their heads were their eyes. (They aren't, right?) Soon after, the next tidbit of information about orcas came from the 1993 feature film "Free Willy." You know, the one with that famous Michael Jackson song. If you haven't seen the movie and you're in your mid 20's or early 30's, I feel for your childhood.

Regardless, this coupled with years of cheesy SeaWorld commercials, stuffed Shamu dolls, and one trip to the park at the age of 3, was the basis of my know-all about these intelligent, loyal and graceful creatures. 

The release of this film is poignant for me, as in July I attended, the theme park around my birthday for the first time in 27 years. Why hadn't I been back sooner? Good question. I've lived in Florida off and on for the better part of my life. And while I've been a loyal customer of the mouse, I've never found myself rushing to visit a park solely involving marine life.

Not because I don't find sea creatures amazing, I do. But deep down, I've always possessed this feeling of uneasiness watching trained wildlife do rehearsed stunts for treats, then when the show is complete, being locked up until the next round of visitors arrive. My feelings of trepidation aren't solely focused on aquatic parks alone.

I've held the same beliefs while visiting the San Diego ZooThe Bronx Zoo, and even Disney's Animal Kingdom. It just boggles my mind that these majestic, regal creatures are taken out of their natural environment, forced to live and play in a diorama of sorts, to never again experience life as a free being. I do think places like Disney's Animal Kingdom do a marvelous job of recreating the natural habitats such as the African wilderness. Have you been on the Kilimanjaro Safaris?

It's a 20-minute ride in the sweltering heat through an amazingly lush and authentic jungle like setting that allows its inhabitants to roam free (within certain designated areas). The carnivores however, have been segregated from the rest of the pack as for the simple fact that a lion attack on a gazelle would traumatize more than a few children on the back of that giant GMC truck.

My original belief was that the animals were left outside at night much like they would be in actual African-lands. On my last trip to the park, while taking the train to Rafiki's Planet Watch, my girlfriend and I noticed dozens and dozens of large metal cages and housing facilities backstage. After getting a little more info while on the train ride from a cast member, we came to find out that the animals are led to the cages at night with the promise of food. I was disheartened to say the least. 

Zoo's and aquatic centers is where I really see the big issue though. Yes, these places are wonderful for studying animals, fish, mammals, etc. And where else could children, both young and old get the opportunity to see polar bears, elephants, or manatee's up close and in a safe environment! Sure it's educational; about as educational as keeping a human being in a psych-ward after they've been cleared of any medical issues.

Harsh? I'm not so sure. I had always believed (maybe it was hoped) that most animals in zoo's and theme parks were there because they were rescued; albeit from injury, illness, climate change or rejection from it's herd. And that once said animals were capable to fend for themselves, would be released back into the wild to live out the rest of their days the way god intended.

But the truth is, for the majority of animals who are present, because of abnormality who are nursed back to full strength, are then deemed too unfit to return to their natural habitat because they no longer have the ability to fend for themselves. It's the age-old tale of the spoiled child. If you feed them, bathe them, clothe them and provide all that is ever needed without the teaching methods, why or how would they ever do for themselves?

Sure animals are a bit different. To an extent it becomes survival of the fittest. This is nature! We cannot stop its progression; all we can do it stunt it. And stunt it we are.

The folks at SeaWorld claim that the animals currently at the park were bred and born there (pay attention to the graph shown in the film, as to how many calves have been born via the semen extracted from Tilikum; the number nears 40).

Sure, because in 1983 a young calf by the name of Tiikum was taken from his mother and the rest of his community off the waters of Iceland. SeaWorld says they had nothing to do with that, and it was the people behind the now long defunct Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, B.C.

OK, so did Tilikum swim to Orlando, FL after the closure of the park and ask for a job? I think not. He was purchased, for what I can only assume was at least a number well over 6 figures. This is even after "Tilly" as he is referred to in the film, is involved in the death of a young female trainer. Yes, he may not have been the main culprit, as two other female orcas were also in the tank at the time. But as the film depicts, night after night, Tilly and his counterparts were placed in a large metal box with a pool that was only 20x30 feet in diameter.

Now imagine yourself as a 6,000-pound colossal mammal in something about the size of an Olympic swimming pool, night after night, in complete darkness, with two other behemoths. Yeah, you'd start to lose it too.

A 2013 Sundance Film Festival selection, "Blackfish" is beginning to pick up steam in the world of public opinion. Actress Kim Basinger has recently joined PETA in the fight to stop SeaWorld from capturing (yes, capture… not rescue) Russian beluga whales to restock their parks. Pixar has recently decided to alter the ending to the upcoming 2015 release of "Finding Dory," the highly anticipated sequel to "Finding Nemo."

At the end of the film, according to early drafts of the script, the aquatic animals were to have ended their journey at a marine park. Now it is said, that revised edition allow the fish and mammals to leave the park if they so desire. Jeez! If only this were real.

Of course SeaWorld is going to say that the film "Blackfish" is misleading, and inaccurate. And that the filmmakers are using slander to benefit their project. And that the ex-trainers that were interviewed are just bitter former employees. But when presented with some of these facts, it's hard to take the side of big business (via the Blackfish official website):

SeaWorld says: They haven't collected a killer whale from the wild in more than 35 years; more than 80% of the killer whales at SeaWorld were born there or in other zoological facilities.
Blackfish says: Many of those captive-born calves are Tilikum's offspring, the whale who has a proven track record of killing 3 people. That said, there is a whale called Morgan at a marine park in Spain which houses SeaWorld-owned whales. Morgan was caught in the wild and was placed in Loro Parque where she will be bred and perform alongside the other SeaWorld whales.
SeaWorld says: We don’t know what their lifespans might be—though we do know that SeaWorld currently has one killer whale in her late 40s and a number of others in their late 30s.   
Blackfish says: In the wild, average lifespan is 30 for males, 50 for females. Their estimated maximum life span is 60-70 years for males and 80-90 years for females. In captivity, most orcas die in their teens and 20s and only a handful have made it past 35. The annual mortality or death rate for orcas is 2.5 times higher in captivity than it is in the wild. These are not controversial data. In the film, we depict what seems to be a deliberate attempt by SeaWorld to misrepresent these well-documented data to their visitors.
SeaWorld says: Whales live in a social setting with a dominance hierarchy, both at SeaWorld and in the wild. They express dominance in a variety of ways, including using their teeth to “rake” other whales, in the open ocean as well as in parks.         
Blackfish says: The film asserts that in the wild, whales can also flee conflict. Whales at SeaWorld cannot escape from a negative social interaction and are therefore confronted with conflicts that have proven to be injurious and even fatal. Furthermore, in the wild, these hierarchies are among family groups and are maintained with minimal aggression. In the wild, no orca has ever been known to seriously injure or kill another orca, inside or outside of their social group, in any interaction.
SeaWorld says: They move killer whales only when doing so in the interest of their long-term health and welfare. The only time it separates unweaned killer whale calves from their mothers is when the mothers have rejected them.
Blackfish says: In the wild, females generally have their first calf around 13-16 years of age. Because SeaWorld has bred their females as early as 5-6 years of age, these females have not learned proper social behavior, they have not learned how to mother a calf, and may ultimately reject and injure their calves.
SeaWorld says: The behaviors it reinforces are always within the killer whale’s natural range of behaviors.
Blackfish says: Wild killer whales are never observed performing front flips or vertical jumps to touch objects, neither have they been observed to spin 360 degrees on land. A killer whale supporting a human who rides, "surfs", or leaps from the animal's rostrum does not fall within a wild killer whale’s repertoire either.
SeaWorld says: From the time Tilikum first arrived at SeaWorld, all trainers were warned—both as part of their training and in writing—which they were not allowed in the water with him.
Blackfish says: The film asserts that trainers were not told the details of what happened to Keltie Byrne when Tilikum arrived at SeaWorld and not told the details of what happened to Daniel Dukes at the time of his death.
SeaWorld says: Tilikum did not attack Dawn. All evidence indicates that Tilikum became interested in the novelty of Dawn’s ponytail in his environment and, as a result, he grabbed it and pulled her into the water.
Blackfish says: Although eye-witness accounts and a video of events just prior to the take-down seem to strongly contradict the notion that Dawn was pulled in by her ponytail, it is most important to note that according to SeaWorld’s own Management during courtroom testimony, Tilikum was desensed to ponytails and therefore did not find them a novelty. The brutal nature of the prolonged, aggressive attack and the facts in the autopsy strongly suggest that Tilikum’s behavior was anything but novel curiosity.

I for one feel it is quite insensitive and backhanded that SeaWorld continues to fight OSHA on the charge that they do not feel trainers in the water alongside these enormous fish creates an unsafe work environment. Why, because it makes for a more spectacular show? Because they needed to capitalize on the already 24 million guests a year that visit their parks?

Regardless of how SeaWorld feels their business will be affected from this film, the record states that 3 people have lost their lives, and per "Blackfish," over 70+ trainers have suffered life-threatening injuries since the early 1980's.

Let's face it, there is no minor accident when an orca whale is involved. Even if they are indeed gentile and honorable creatures, we don't know what completely goes on inside their brains. The same can be said for all animals, as well as human beings. What makes one human want to kill another? We as a people, have a hard enough time controlling our own actions, let alone a wild animal/mammal taken out of it's natural habitat.

And you have to look at it subjectively. No matter how well you think you know something, you never really know it well enough. Now factor all this into a creature weighing thousands of pounds that lives its life a certain way because it is forced to, day after day, with no end in sight, and tell me you don't have a ticking time bomb on your hands. 

So, as I sat back with my friends to watch the new Shamu show, and saw the trainers, now out of the water, running around the tank to cue tricks, I thought to myself, this is a really unique experience. One that I honestly wish I wasn't able to partake in, had these poor mammals not been subjected to hours of training for performance.

And as I glanced around the crowded arena, I wondered if anyone else felt the way I did. Parents and their children, did they know what they were witnessing was actual cruelty in full effect? Perhaps after seeing the film Blackfish and reading this article they will be enlightened to the fact. 

So after 27 years away from the park, I can wholeheartedly say I will never be back. I've seen the spectacle, and it saddens me beyond belief to watch the unfortunate lives these Blackfish live. I have a whole new appreciation now that I know a little bit more about orcas. And this article is my first step in making a difference. Won't you do the same?