by the Mitchells

The Miracle Mets

June 13th, 2008

[Originally an email response to Chris Shillock and friends]

Thanks for passing that along! (A phrase I very rarely use for emails, or hepatitis.) Chris, you already knew that Seaver was on of my childhood heroes, along with Jerry Koosman, from the ’69 Mets’ pitching roster. But not Nolan Ryan for some reason.

And they were all dwarfed by my idol, Ron Swoboda — the greatest hitter in the history of the game, and the greatest fielder as well. Sometimes, Swoboda would get tired of Seaver’s inaccuracy or Ryan’s lack of heat, and throw 99 mph strikes — from right field. Watching Swoboda, Nolan Ryan learned to throw a 98 mph fastball, just 1 mph less, but of course, also from a much shorter distance. When I was a kid, the moon was round and smooth; all of those craters came from Swoboda home runs. The smaller pockmarks aren’t from baseballs, though. Swoboda liked to golf, too.

The “Summer Of Love” in 1969 saw young people across the country joining together in peace and love, specifically, the love of the New York Mets, and to celebrate the mighty victories and ponder the ethical philosophies of Ron Swoboda. It was a strange and different time, especially thanks to Gil Hodges’ successful synthesis of LSD using stuff that was just lying around the clubhouse.

Meanwhile, the war the Yankees had started in Vietnam continued to rage, and the sensitive and caring Mr. Swoboda found himself pondering how something as wonderful as baseball could produce a team so evil, so twisted, so greedy. Later that year, the Yankees longtime manager, Charles Manson, left to start a band, meet some California girls, manage the nascent (but already promisingly evil) Oakland As and tell some people to kill some other people because he liked the Beatles a lot. Yankees owner Richard Nixon was so upset he more than doubled the bombing in Vietnam, and wanted to give Richard Speck a shot at the job. Unfortunately, Speck was already locked up in Peoria for stabbing some nurses to death, which, ironically, meant that the only team he could manage would be the Mets, since they didn’t really need a manager. Or luck. Or shoes. Finally, Nixon settled on a system of rotating managers, using Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Hells Angels leader Sonny Barger, putting together a dream team that would work together so well that they decided to put on a free concert after the regular season. But they didn’t invite Nixon, who, out of sheer frustration, began bombing way the fuck up into Cambodia, killing Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper and Marlon Brando.

But the season wasn’t over for the Mets, yet. They had to beat the Baltimore Orioles, who were also good and righteous men, who were also heroic players with skills beyond those known to ordinary humans, who were also getting blasted on hash brownies and dropping liquid mescaline between innings. (1969 and all that.) They were, in fact, almost sort of kind of nearly as good as the Mets, but not quite. The Mets courteously let the Orioles take the first game, which was difficult because God kept intervening on behalf of the Mets. This was a touchy situation, because, as manager, Gil Hodges felt that he was good at his job, and he didn’t like God, as owner, interfering with his decisions. Finally God got peeved, and swore never to direct any miracles the Mets’ way from then on out. God kept his word, and it later had disastrous consequences for Darryl Strawberry. Especially when Strawberry would try to go through rehab, and couldn’t ask God to help out. Darryl Strawberry ended up in the Yankees. So don’t do drugs after 1969, or you could end up like him — in baseball hell, with a tarnished reputation; getting bossed around by the ghost of Richard Nixon AND an all-too-alive George Steinbrenner; middle-aged; multiply divorced and black. It could happen to anyone. Luckily, since Strawberry left the Yankees, he has been doing good works, including a lot of work for autism. This shows that, through a lack of contact with the Yankees, all things are possible.

The series continued, with Swoboda at one point having to run the bases backwards at faster-than-light speed to reverse time, because he felt the Mets were just embarrassing the Orioles at that point. Everyone felt sort of bad for the Orioles, since even without God offering up miracles, the “Miracle Mets,” as they were now known, still had (literally) fantastic playing skills. And, of course, Ron Swoboda still had complete control over all matter, energy, time and space. [This is how the Mets got their name: Matter Energy Time Space -- dig?] Naturally, the Mets won the Series, and even though the Orioles only won that first game, they garnered much respect. The kind of respect we give to the brave few who refuse to back down, no matter what the odds or obstacles. The respect we reserve for the fanatically, heroically stupid.

After winning the ’69 Series, Swoboda, Seaver and Jerry Koosman became the first men to land on the moon. Swoboda was, of course, the first one to set foot on the lunar surface. And I’ll always remember being a kid in 1969, watching the Moon landing on a flickering black and white TV, and being enthralled by his first words as he jumped onto solid land that was not on Earth: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind. And Thurman Munson, go fuck yourself.”


Bleargh #1 — Busted My Apricot

March 30th, 2007

>[Note: The intention of these “Blearghs” is to chronicle what I expect to be my horrific, pain filled reentry into stand up comedy after 2-3 years of being out of it. (I was sick, but that's another blog for another time.) I may ramble into other, unrelated topics. But I do that on stage, too.]

I’ll call it my apricot. I can’t call it my “cherry,” because I broke my comedy cherry about 12 years ago.

Wednesday, I went to an open stage hoping to get some time. This turned out to be pretty easy, since there was only one other comic.

In the past, people often asked me, “Doesn’t it scare you to go up there in front of hundreds of people?” No. Any comic can tell you that it’s much scarier to go up in front of a dozen or less people. You piss three people off, and that’s a quarter of the audience. A bit that would get a roar from a crowd of hundreds, gets scattered laughs. Fear ruled the night.

And this was going to be my first time doing stand up in literally years. And I was going up first, to a cold audience.

Oddly enough, the jittery, stomach-churning feeling of being an open stager again left as soon as I grabbed the mic. At least that part stuck with me. I’ve always been tense and into my own head before shows, then let it all go when I hit the stage.

I did also manage to remember some of my old rules, like making as much eye contact as I could, and talking to the audience, not at them.

But I still sucked.

I totally spaced on the two new bits that I thought were the strongest, (I refuse to pull out index cards or notes on stage), and since my new bit of pure filth got the best response, I went back to some of the old blue stuff.

That was a mistake – as soon as I hit the old bits, I went on autopilot. I’d done them hundreds of times, and I was bored with them. I used to have the skill to hide that from an audience, but I don’t seem to anymore.

So I had a tiny audience watching me bore myself on stage.

Grandiose Display Of Suck #1. At least it’s out of the way.

Stay tuned for #2.

Nice Ink

October 4th, 2005


Neal St. Anthony: Deconstructing advertisements
Neal St. Anthony
Star Tribune
Published October 4, 2005

There’s a noisy new Burger King commercial featuring a heavy-metal band and agitated, muscular dancers with nasty chicken masks promoting BK’s new chicken-fingers product.

“Burger King seems to be going for creepy and confusing,” said Sam Simon, the co-creator of “The Simpsons” and longtime TV writer and critic.

Maybe. But no way am I going in a BK now without earplugs and a Marine rifle squad for protection.

Simon and three other panelists were in St. Paul on Saturday afternoon to critique ads for a taping of “Mental Engineering” — the Twin Cities Public Television show that’s rich in candor, biting humor and insight about television advertising. And it also may be one of the lowest-budget endeavors ever on TV.

The show inaugurated its latest season Saturday on Channel 17 and several dozen other public stations throughout the country. The show, which first aired in 1997, is the entrepreneurial brainchild of host John Forde, who stages the show on a set he built himself. Each episode costs about $300 to produce, including satellite transmission fees. The production staff consists of college interns at St. Paul Neighborhood Network public-access television studios.

TV is a high-buck medium in a consumption-driven economy that has resulted in many Americans believing that introspection in a political candidate is weakness, grease-soaked French fries are better for you than a real potato and new is always better than used or repaired.

Yet TV also can be a valuable source of entertainment, education and enlightenment that spans politics, sports business and social issues.

“TV is the dominant driver of culture and politics in America, and commercials are the prism though which you see how the power dynamic flows,” said Forde, 47, a Minnesota native who has done everything from driving a school bus to hosting a talk-radio show. “But nothing really is said to upset advertisers on mainstream TV. We prove that the First Amendment [of the U.S. Constitution] is real.”

Two-thirds of the U.S. economy is driven by consumer spending, and advertising is the grease that helps to keep capitalism’s wheels turning. That’s not all bad. I still remember one thing from my night-school marketing class a couple of decades ago: A good ad is the best thing for a good product. And a good ad is the worst thing for a bad product.

And if General Mills or General Motors or General Reinsurance tout some product that doesn’t taste good, drive right or pay out properly, you can bet the competition will hit the airwaves with a contra campaign. That’s competition.

As a capitalist endeavor, when it comes to profit from “Mental Engineering,” Forde remains thankful for his wife’s day job.

The program, guest travel and related expenses of less than $10,000 a year are covered by the likes of Simon, who travels to St. Paul a few times a year at his own expense, and a couple of dozen other individuals and a small foundation who throw in a few bucks to $2,500 when Forde passes the hat at fundraisers once or twice a year.

Suffice to say, commercial sponsors have not been lining up at his door. But Forde would like to produce more than 13 shows a year and establish his own budget for marketing.

“We’re looking to get underwriting using the traditional public TV model, but at a [low] price that public TV never comes close to,” he said. “I’ve always believed that since we’re a social program, a good sponsor would be something you put in your mouth, like an independent beer or coffee. Maybe like Summit beer or Dunn Bros. coffee.”

This is not a program that’s going to rival the Pamela Anderson-in-a-bikini sitcom or “The Apprentice,” starring the beloved-to-despised Donald Trump or Martha Stewart.

Grabbing viewer attention

“The scarcest resource in the world is human attention,” Forde said. “And somehow we grab it with some people, according to what people tell me and the fan mail. People say there’s nothing like this.”

It’s true that “Mental Engineering” doesn’t play to huge audiences on Channel 17 on Saturday nights. But it’s also true that the “Mental Engineering” Super Bowl commercial special of January 2002 was carried by nearly 50 public TV stations and, anecdotally, was one of the more popular programs seen that evening.

With a panel that included the witty Lizz Winstead, a creator of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central, and “Talk Soup” host Aisha Tyler, the panelists tore into an ad for Levi’s that showed slim women pulling down their jeans, a dark-side commercial for Quiznos submarine sandwiches that featured a customer getting zapped in the neck with a dart from a blow gun. In short, viewers of “Mental Engineering” get some pretty witty insights into what Burger King, American Express, Jimmy Dean sausage, Holiday Inn, Viagra, Cialis, Snickers, Toyota and Lamasil are trying to communicate in 60 seconds.

“That stuff can’t be much good if they have to advertise it like that,” my penny-pinching Dad used to say about the commercials between scenes of “Gunsmoke” and “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

The old sergeant knew little about Madison Avenue’s hidden persuaders. But he sure knew how to throw a wet blanket on spending a buck. Unless the ads were about Camels or Ford LTDs — his preferred brands.

Is “Mental Engineering” a heavy-duty, super-analytical show?

No, but it’s fun and insightful to hear lawyer and Miami TV legal affairs analyst Katy Phang try to figure out why the young, beautiful woman on the Tylenol ad “has headaches all the time” on top of stomachaches.

“It must be the weight of her hair,” Phang concluded.

“It doesn’t really push Tylenol, so it must be an attack on aspirin,” added Simon.

“This would be the best commercial in the world if the camera rotated behind her head and there was a woodpecker banging away at it,” writer/comedian Tim Mitchell volunteered to a barrage of laughter.

Bizarre, or perfect?

In response to a commercial by author and poet Maya Angelou for cable TV and parents using discretion in what they let kids see, the youthful Phang said: “Maya who? … As if anybody would know who she is.”

Winstead called the commercial “bizarre” — that an artist would advocate control of the airwaves.

But Simon, co-creator of “The Simpsons,” noted that Angelou, not associated with commercial TV and not well known to the masses, was the perfect choice for an industry that fears a crackdown by regulators and legislators worried about what kids can dial up round-the-clock.

“It’s against censorship,” Simon said. “The companies that own cable TV hired somebody who’s respected to influence the intelligentsia who can affect legislation. They hired somebody who will not do [other] endorsements.”

Neal St. Anthony can be reached at 612-673-7144 or

Point Of Order

June 14th, 2005

>The “war on drugs” is a civil war, primarily fought against our own citizens.

I can’t see any way for it to end except by eliminating it. Who signs the surrender papers when it’s won?

The war was declared in 1969, when Vietnam was raging. Vietnam is over. But the “war on drugs” still drags on, intensifies, becomes more expensive and deadly.


June 13th, 2005

>Posted elsewhere:

As I debate and plan this on various places I’ve troll… uh, posted my solution to, alcohol would definitely be included.

There would be separate endorsements for different drugs, and each would require education and a test about the drug, much like a driver’s exam. (Probably no “behind the wheel,” though. Heh.)

Solving The "Drug Problem."

June 12th, 2005

>I’ve always said that drugs should be legal. Drug users commit crimes primarily because drugs are illegal and hard to get.

So here’s what I propose: Treat drug use like driving. It is a privilege, not a right.

Issue “drug use” licenses to adults, the same way we issue driver’s licenses. If you fuck up and commit an actual crime while under the influence of drugs, your license can be suspended or revoked.

Committing an actual violent crime could result in permanent revocation.

Committing further drug-related crimes while under suspension or revocation would be considered aggravating circumstances in the crimes themselves.

Along with all this, we offer free counsling and treatment to any drug users who want or need it, paid for by part of the taxes earned from legal drugs.

So, who’d want to risk getting their drug license yanked by being irresponsible?

Comments? Questions?