Tuesday, August 30, 2005


I do voice-overs. If you have the money, I'll say anything. I'm a Vo-Ho - a vocal whore.

When I tell people that I do voice-overs, they seem genuinely interested. They ask, "What have you done that I'd be familiar with? Have you done anything that I've heard?" My answer is, "I've probably done something that you've heard, but probably not much you'd be familiar with."

I'm not giving them the doubletalk. Most of my work involves telephone applications, so there's a decent chance you've heard my voice, but it's doubtful you'll remember having done so. For instance, I'm the voice of the National Amusements/Showcase Cinemas chain of movie houses, in some 17 or 18 states. If you call one of their theatres - to try and find out when a certain show is playing, or for directions, hours, etc. - I'm the guy you'll most likely hear, in a recorded announcement.

I've done some TV and radio spots, but only very sporadically. If I had to rely on that money to put food on the table, I'd have starved long ago. However, when you get placed on hold and a deep baritone voice tells you (what I hope are) interesting things about the company you're calling, while soothing/irritating music plays in the background, it might be me you're hearing. If it's a male voice instructing you to "Press One for Customer Service... Press Two for Shipping...", it could be me. Yep - I'm that son-of-a-bitch.

I'll say anything for money. For instance, I recently said this:

"New technology and innovative techniques in the field of cosmetic procedures now produce enhanced aesthetic results in the areas of facial rejuvenation, contouring, skin youthening, eyelid beautification, nasal sculpturing, and tumescent liposculpture. These effective lunch-time procedures are known as radiofrequency laser photorejuvenation."

Of course, "youthening" isn't a word, but I'm being paid to say it, so now it is! And do you think I could tell you even one salient fact concerning nasal sculpturing? Not even if you held a red hot poker to my privates. But, I sure do have the ability to sound like a board-licensed nasal sculptologist, which is why I get the medium-sized bucks. Tumescent Liposculpture? Sure, who wouldn't want that? Probably damned good for the economy. Radiofrequency Laser Photorejuvenation? Absolutely. Had some yesterday. Tastes like chicken.

I like to think that if I'm asked to read a script which contains outright lies, I'll have enough gumption to not do so. So far, most of what I've been paid to say could be the truth (albeit perhaps in an alternate universe) or else it's something I don't really know enough about to realize if I'm actually lying. For instance...

"Do you know what the wearable computer and rugged mobile computer markets did last year? XXXXXX can keep you informed about industrial measurement and control with reports like Industrial Distributed Remote I/O and web-addressable distributed remote I/O, which will be a must have. Learn about the critical issues suppliers face as they attempt to establish competitive positions in next generation application segments."

Sounds plausible to me. Cha-Ching! Next!

Lest you think I'm actually getting rich doing this linguistic tango, I'll tell you that I'm a paid employee at a firm which specializes in telephone recordings. I get a salary. I'm not some free-lance nationwide union guy getting $348 an hour for scale.

(That's not a wholly made-up figure, by the way. I did a union-scale job once, even though I work in a largely non-union market. I received $348 for about 10 minutes of recording. That was the going rate per hour or portion thereof, at the time.)

Anyway, I'm also a member of the production staff, which means that I not only do voice work, but also produce/record other voice talent sessions, piece together finished productions (including laying down musical beds, putting the productions to tape or CD, packing and shipping, etc.) and I used to wash the dishes, but we've got a dishwashing machine now. I still make the coffee, though.

When I do get the rare TV or radio spot, I usually get in the neighborhood of $50 to $100, which is not exactly a ritzy neighborhood. I don't get residuals - that is, no matter how many times it airs, I don't get anything extra. Heck, I've done spots that are 5 years old and still airing. And nobody knows who I am, unless I tell them. The best I can hope for, as far as fame is concerned, is a quizzical "Do I know you from somewhere?" look when I say something to a stranger. Sometimes something clicks in their brain - they've heard the voice - but they never, EVER, know where they've heard it.

Well, this sounds like a whine now, and I really don't mean it to. I have a really good gig compared to someone that, say, cleans septic systems. And it is still a major kick when I'm not paying attention to the TV and I suddenly hear my voice on it.

Anyway, the next time you get put on hold, and you hear a male voice telling you "We're sorry to keep you waiting...", if it's me telling you that, I really am sorry. Really, baby. I mean it. I'm not telling you that just because of the money. I really, really dig you. Oh, yeah, baby. I want your tumescent liposculpture. And I'm not just saying that.

Monday, August 29, 2005

I Play Softball For A Living

Well, not really. Sometimes I like to pretend, though.

Before we get into the meat of this piece (if, indeed, there is any meat) let me make sure that you have an accurate mental picture. I'’m not talking about beer-league soft-toss swing-from-the-heels-and-stumble-around-the-bases, while another guy with a drink in one hand and a sausage hanging from his mouth weaves around in the outfield trying to avoid getting hit on the head. I'’m talking fast-pitch.

It takes a certain amount of athleticism to hit a 70 mph pitch coming at you from only 47 feet away. You have the same time to decide to swing or not as a major league baseball player does against a 90 mph fastball. And, if you'’re an infielder, you'’re a full 1/3 closer to the batter than a hardball player, thus increasing the need for quick reflexes and excellent hand-eye coordination, especially with the ball coming off of an aluminum bat. Since the bases are 60 feet, instead of 90, all baserunning and throwing mistakes are punished with lightning swiftness.

I'’m a catcher, and a 48-year-old one. I play without a chest protector or shin guards, as do almost all of the catchers in the two leagues I play in. Some of it is macho, but most of it is expediency. Our 7-inning games are usually on a 90-minute time limit, so we'’re not going to waste 5 minutes of that time pulling equipment on and off. I'’m not totally insane; I do use a facemask and a cup. However, there's not a day that goes by, between May and September, when I'’m not sore somewhere. I play Tuesday and Thursday nights, and a doubleheader on Sunday.

I manage the Sunday team, and have done so for 9 of the 11 years the team has existed. I'’m the manager not because I'’m a great tactician, but mostly because I'’m the one guy who shows up for every inning of every game. I'’ve missed two games in those 11 years. One year, I tore cartilage in my knee during warm-ups before the first game of the season and had arthroscopic surgery a few weeks later. I was on crutches a good part of the season and played only 7 games by the end of the season. I still came down and coached, every game. A team is a team.

There are guys on my team older than me. Stu and Ron have been on the team as long as I have, and they'’re both over 50. Jimmy Jackson, who finally had to stop playing last year after having had both of his knees replaced, is in his mid-60s. On the weeknight team, there'’s an amazing fellow named Bobby who is 78. He doesn'’t play every game, but he'’s there for every game, suited up and ready. He'’s a capable pitcher for an inning or two when needed. You learn a lot of crafty stuff when you play the game for close to 70 years.

I'’ve played ball with my friend Fred for more years than with anyone else. We first played on the same team in 1987, so we'’ve been teammates for 18 years. The first team we were on together was a company team. I was 29 and he was 22. That company has since gone out of business, but we're still playing. Now Fred is 40. Fred thinks he'’ll play forever. Who knows? Maybe he will. He certainly loves it enough.

I know that I spend way too much time thinking about softball. I keep precise stats for the team I manage; “get-a-life” type stuff, if I'’m forced to be realistic about it. I'’ve been playing ball of some sort or another for over 40 years, but I still use visualization techniques, seeing myself at bat when going to sleep before a game day. I wake up earlier on game days because I can'’t wait to play. I go to sleep later after a game because I enjoy reliving the good moments (and trying to learn something useful, even at this late date, from the bad ones.)

Some concessions to age are made. I used to play some outfield, but I can'’t turn on a fly ball very well with the small bit of cartilage I have remaining in my knees. My arm has been fairly much shot for some time now. Any throw over 60 feet and my shoulder feels as though someone just drove an ice pick into it. When I need a break from the grind on my knees catching, I play a few innings at first. What were once stand-up doubles are now execute-a-good-slide-and-you-still-might-be-out-on-a-good-throw doubles, and an infield single is as rare as a home run -– haven'’t had one of those in six seasons. Of course, we play on fields that don'’t have fences, so most home runs have to be a combination of power and speed.

For the first time in my life I wore glasses in a few games this year, although I really couldn'’t get used to how they cut my peripheral vision, so I deep-sixed them. If my vision gets any worse, I'’ll have to wear them next year and either get used to them or get used to striking out.

The one compelling reason I have for continuing to play, aside from loving the game, is that I have never been on a championship team. Forty-or-so seasons of both hardball and softball -– little league, CYO, high school, organized leagues, very unorganized leagues -– I'’ve never known what it'’s like to win the final game of the season. I'’d like to find out.

Anyway, it'’s almost September now. One team didn'’t make the playoffs and the other was knocked out in the first round. I won'’t be playing again until next April or May, and by that time I'’ll be 49. I'’ll be another half-step slower; my bat will be another fraction of a second behind a really good fastball. My knees will loudly protest every run down the first base line to back up an infield play. And the next collision at home could always be my last.

Twenty years ago my dad told me that I should give up baseball and softball. He said I should play golf. His reasoning was that golf was a game you could play your whole life, while I wouldn'’t be able to play ball much more than another 5 or 6 years. He was a football guy. He had to stop playing his game when he was in his early 20'’s, so I understand where he was coming from. But, I know Bobby, Stu and Ron. And Jimmy Jackson. I'’m playing until they drag my lifeless carcass from the field. Bury my wounded knees at the heart of the diamond.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Return To Caddy Road

This past Sunday, for the first time in almost 12 years, I walked down Caddy Road. It was the street I grew up on. It was the street I called home for the first 37 years of my life.

Caddy Road is a side street off of a side street off of a side street. It is located in the Mattapan/Dorchester section of Boston, a couple of blocks away from where Baker's Chocolate used to have it's headquarters on the Neponset River, until they moved to the Midwest in the early 60's. When I was a kid, the entire neighborhood smelled of chocolate. It was wonderful.

There are 12 houses on the street, all duplexes built in 1953 or so. Each duplex apartment consists of two bedrooms and a bath upstairs, a living room and kitchen on the ground floor, and a basement area. My Mom and Dad bought our house, number 14 (and the other side, number 16, which they rented out) in 1955, the same year they were married. It cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $14,000. I would guess the going price now might be $250,000 - perhaps a bit more, perhaps a bit less.

When my Mom and Dad were divorced, in the mid-70's, my Dad kept the house and I lived with him. I was an only child and my Mom felt (and my Dad agreed) that this was best for me; to not be uprooted and to live with my male parent as role model. I am eternally grateful to them both for considering my welfare so thoroughly and not making me choose between them or anything else hideous like that. They both made it quite easy for me, despite whatever they were going through emotionally.

My Dad went through quite a period of depression during and following the divorce - he was on anti-depressant medications for a long while - and he let the mortgage payments slip. As a result, the house was sold at auction. However, we continued living there, as renters, as did our former tenants, the Murphys.

Over the course of the next 20 years or so, the neighborhood changed gradually. Where once it had been a quiet upper-middle-class neighborhood, almost exclusively white, Irish, and Catholic, it became a mostly black lower-middle-class neighborhood, and not nearly as peaceful. Crime in the area increased and properties were not kept up as well as they had been. This is not to blame just the blacks, by the way. The economics of the neighborhood changed and, whereas previously the houses had been occupied by owners, most of the houses were now rented on both sides of the duplex. There was less pride in the properties, more a feeling of transience, and this was among both the black and white renters.

In 1988, my father suffered a heart attack. The doctors who examined him determined that it was actually one of 4 or 5 he had had over the course of his lifetime, but it was the first one for which he received treatment. He underwent open heart surgery a couple of months after that and was out of work for a long time. Meanwhile, his employer fired him. In 1990, he won a judgment against them and received a (somewhat small, all things considered) monetary settlement. He then began looking for a place to buy for his retirement years (which would, regrettably, turn out to be too few.)

He found a house in northern New Hampshire that was affordable, so he bought it and moved there. He invited me to live there, also, but I was seriously dating MY WIFE at the time, as well as attending broadcasting school. I wanted to remain in the Boston vicinity, so I stayed at 14 Caddy. MY WIFE moved in with me shortly afterwards. We were married in 1992 and it was our first home together.

We last lived there in 1994, the year of my father's death. That was a very hectic time period for us. Over the course of 12 months, my father died, both of her parents died (a few months apart), and we were forced to move during Christmas week, due to the impending sale of the house. We hurriedly found another place, in Watertown, packed up and moved. There are lots of good (and bad) stories concerning that move, but they don't really belong here. Another time.

Until we were forced to move, I had never seriously considered having to live anywhere else. The house at Caddy Road was almost a physical part of my being. Every sound the heating system made as it kicked in, every creaking stair, the feel of every doorknob, the time it took for the hot water to actually run hot after turning it on - these things and many others were all ingrained in my subconscious. That house was my womb with a view, so to speak.

During the 12 years since we moved, I had driven through the old neighborhood 3 or 4 times but never actually walked it. Until I did so, I had no idea how strongly it would affect me. As it turned out, very much so.

The reason for the walk was simple enough. MY WIFE has a volunteer position on the MBTA (Boston public transit system) Rider Oversight Committee. She had heard that the small trolley line which serves the old neighborhood was going to be shut down - supposedly for repairs, to be re-opened at a later date, but we both feel that once it's shut down it will probably become a permanent closure. Anyway, she knows how much I like that little trolley line - also a major part of my youth in that neighborhood - so we decided to go for what might end up being a last ride on it. Since we would be riding the trolley, why not get off at the Central Avenue stop and stroll around the old neighborhood?

The first thing we both noticed, as we crossed the river and approached Caddy Road via Sturbridge Street, and then Monson Street, was that the neighborhood in general seemed a bit nicer than it had been at the time of the move. It was generally cleaner, and some of the houses had beautiful gardens in the front yards. It was very quiet, too, which was not the case when we left. It was Sunday, but that had never really made a difference in the last couple of years we had lived there. It did on this day, though.

We noticed a police car in one of the driveways on Sturbridge. It wasn't making a call; it was parked there and we assumed it was now the home of a police officer. This was a bit of irony, as the last tenant we knew there - since passed away, and a nice guy despite what you'll read next - had done time for multiple bank robberies.

As we approached Caddy Road, I found myself feeling rather odd. It wasn't melancholia, but rather a feeling of spatial displacement. I felt like my body didn't fit me anymore, and that the street itself was much smaller than it should have been. I felt as though I should be smaller, too - about 10 years old, agile and very thin, with a full head of hair and all of my own teeth. Instead, I was 48, carrying 15 extra pounds around my middle, with a bald head and half a mouth of implants.

As we walked, MY WIFE said this and that about the houses - "Oh, look at the nice way they've redone that porch", "That one looks better now with siding" - but while I heard her, my mind was spinning. I actually felt slightly faint at one point. Somewhere in my heart of hearts I think I had still considered this "my" home, but as much as I may have wanted to feel as if this were a homecoming of sorts, I instead felt as though I had become part of a "Through The Looking Glass" type of story, my body grown too large without my knowledge or permission. It was akin to one of those dreams where you're in public and all of a sudden you discover that you're naked. I felt totally out of place. I half expected people to come out of the houses to stare at me and point and laugh.

The street as a whole looked very nice. It was as close to the way it had looked, when I was growing up, as it had been for at least 30 years. Whoever owned the houses now was taking care of them; keeping the yards trim, doing painting and fixing cracks in walkways. There was new masonry work, cheerful windows with pretty drapes, and the street itself was clean. I had expected the street to be even more rundown than it had been when we moved, and this would have made me feel better about having left. Instead, the street was almost taunting me. "You thought you were leaving me for dead. But, I'm back and I'm beautiful again. And you? If either one of us isn't what he used to be, it's you. You're the one headed for the dirt nap, not me."

I sorely wanted to go into "my" house. I wanted to see physical reassurances that it was not "my" house any longer. I wanted to see, with my own eyes, that "my" bedroom did not contain "my" bed; that "my" kitchen table was long gone; that "my" television set and stereo were no longer playing. But, that would have entailed me looking like a raving looney to whoever lived there now. I contented myself with seeing a sign posted on "my" front porch. "Beware of Pit Bull", it said. "My" house had a very friendly cat in it, not a vicious attack dog.

MY WIFE said such a sign indicated that the neighborhood wasn't as safe and peaceful as it might have seemed. That made sense, so I latched on to that thought and held it close. Yes, it was NOT the neighborhood I loved growing up in. It was dangerous and full of snarling, barking animals.

Eh, whatever. I still felt sort of empty. I do realize the futility of holding onto a past that can't possibly have been as nice as the one that lives on in my imagination. Still...

We walked around a bit more on a couple of other streets and then caught the little trolley back to Ashmont station. As we waited for the subway, the little trolley left Ashmont headed back to Mattapan. As it rounded the turn and the steel wheels squealed against the rails, it was (at least to my ear) singing a farewell song to me. This also was a sound ingrained in my subconscious and I was very glad to really hear it one last time.

Finally, we took the subway to Alewife, picked up our car, and drove home. We could have taken public transit all the way, back and forth, as they have a trackless trolley in Watertown that goes to the subway, but I really didn't want to do that. They call it a trackless trolley, but it's just an electric bus.

MY trolley is a trolley.

Friday, August 19, 2005

SPINEROONI! -or- You, Too, Can Contribute To Popular Culture

(This entry concerns professional wrestling, but even if you don't like wrestling it is still an interesting bit of history. This was previously published at slashwrestling.com, which is overseen by the always gracious Christopher Robin Zimmerman. Go there. Read of armbars and armdrags. Enjoy.)

On various WWE (and, before that, WWF and WCW) telecasts, you may have heard an announcer use the term "Spinerooni" during a match involving Booker T. This would be in reference to Booker's breakdance-off-the-mat move following his axe kick to the back of an opponent's head.

I'm here to tell you that MY WIFE coined that term.

I hear you saying, "Oh, come now, Jim." Either that or, "Who gives a damn, Jim?" Either way, I'm going to relate the story, so you may as well feign interest.

A few of you may have read my wrestling-related stuff before. I did a weekly wrestling review called "Jim's Nitro Notes", which appeared on Joe Collins' website during 1997 & 1998. If you have been following wrestling for a few years, you might have guessed from the title that I did the WCW MONDAY NITRO review. I got a fair amount of traffic. As I recall, I was peaking at about 900 hits a week when I folded my part of the column, due to an increasing "real-life" workload.

(It says something about my psyche that I put "real-life" in quotation marks. However, I digress...)

Anyway, here's the chronology of "Spinerooni". Those of you with aspirations toward making a similar contribution to mass-appeal culture should start taking notes.

I began "Jim's Nitro Notes" in November of 1997. It was your standard snicker-and-sneer at the faces (good guys) and cheer the heels (bad guys) sarcastic review of TV wrestling. One of the literary devices I used as a regular feature was to quote MY WIFE (always mentioned in capital letters, giving the **ahem** appearance of my being whipped...)

Understand that MY WIFE was not what you would call a big-time wrestling fan. If she had her way, we would have spent every Monday watching "Everybody Loves Raymond". However, I started writing my column and she understood that I needed the TV for that purpose. She would watch "Raymond" in the bedroom, on our non-cable TV, and leave me to make notes on wrestling. This did not stop her from coming into the living room every so often and making incisive remarks concerning the ridiculous spectacle I was watching, and I would, more often than not, incorporate these remarks into my report since they were usually right-on-target.

One night in February of 1998, on one of her trips through the living room, she decided it would be cute to do her own play-by-play of a match involving Booker T. Since, in the words of the late, great Gorilla Monsoon, she didn't know a wristlock from a wristwatch, it was pretty damned funny. When Booker did his breakdance thing, she said, "And there's the spinerooni move!" Knowing genius when it walks up and kicks me in the face, I quoted her in my match recap.

When I showed her that column, she remarked how cool it would be to actually name a wrestling move - to have a term that she coined become the actual announcer-used name for a move. So, I mentioned this desire of hers in my next column, plotting a scenario wherein many internet wrestling writers would use the term as often as possible, until it filtered through to one of the announcers, who might use it to impress the "smarts", as we wrestling fans who understood the business were sometimes called.

Some of the other writers DID start picking up on it. Dean Rasmussen (long may his tribe increase!) was the first to use it in his own column. Zach Arnold, Joe Collins, CRZ, Mike Handy, and others used it a few times. Foremost, along with Dean, was Chris Hyatte. One of his lines is my (and MY WIFE's) favorite. He said: "Spinerooni - it's not just a word; it's a state of mind!"

Well, no announcer picked up on it right away. However, I got a swell surprise on April 7th of 1998. The recapper on WCW's official website used the term! The following is a word-for word quote of the historic moment:

"After suffering numerous Disco [another wrestler - Jim] clotheslines and punches, Booker T struck back with his trademark Spinneroony recovery (helicopter spin off the mat into a spinwheel kick)."

Aside from the fact that it was not spelled as I and others had given it in our columns, this was quite the rush. As a matter of fact, it was downright scary. I hadn't really, in my heart of hearts, thought that there was a real chance that it would be picked up by a WCW announcer, but there it was in cold print on their own website, so now anything was possible.

To make this incredibly long story somewhat shorter, my column finished on May 18th of '98, as my voice-over and production work became too heavy (Thank God!) to allow me to continue putting time and effort into a wrestling review. Some of the guys gave Spinerooni another mention or two, after my demise, but it pretty much died out by the end of that year.

Now, imagine my surprise when, one Monday night, I'm sitting back watching a Booker T match and, completely out of the blue, WCW announcer Mark Madden yells out "Spinerooni! Spinerooni!" (and his partner, Tony Schiavone, says, "Yes, the... uh... spinerooni...") I tell you, son, I almost dropped dead on my couch, I was so shocked.

Fortunately, I was taping that segment of the show, so I was able to replay it (many times) for MY WIFE, who was even more pleased about it than I was.

I sent a big thank-you to Mark Madden, for giving us the rush. Likewise, I sent some notes to the folks who helped (Hyatte, Rasmussen, Collins) and missed a few folks whose addresses I no longer could find. To everybody who helped at some point, a big wet thank you kiss from me and MY WIFE.

It still remains a mystery to us how Madden came to use it, so long after the time we thought it was dead and buried. However, it was probably even more of a thrill because of the time lapse.

As an aside, in case anyone is wondering about legalities, I stated many times in my column that we weren't interested in royalties. We figured that if there were any legal questions, it probably wouldn't ever be used. However, I did say that if WCW ever made a Spinerooni t-shirt, MY WIFE and I wouldn't be averse to a few bucks being thrown our way out of the goodness of WCW's heart...

So, that's how MY WIFE and I came to contribute to popular culture. Now *you* should pick out a wrestler's most illogical (yet still popular-as-all-hell) trademark move (that doesn't yet have a name) and do as we did. Who knows what heights you might reach? Spinerooni!

(2005 Addendum: Later on, the WWE started using the term in advertising. This was in concert with Con-Agra, the makers of Chef-Boy-R-Dee products. At that point, MY WIFE and I felt that it was being used for more than we had originally granted as free-use within my columns. We did some copyright backtracking, had a lawyer draw up a cease-and-desist, and sent it to WWE and Con-Agra. They did, insofar as the commercials were concerned. We were subsequently offered $500 by WWE as an honorarium for our writing in connection with the term.)