Archive for August, 2009

Help, Conan, help!

Thursday, August 27th, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

I can’t deny the fact that my car is getting on in years. After 12 years on the road, she has finally begun to show it’s age.

A spot of rust has taken hold above one wheel well. The paint has seemingly lost its will to go on, leaving an unsightly blemish on the hood. On occassion, the lock on the driver’s door will stick, forcing me to climb over the passenger seat to gain entry. The pleather on the center console has cracked, allowing a rather ghetto tuft of padding to show through. The radio knob sometimes pops off. And she seems to be running a little louder than normal these days.

But despite those signs of wear and tear, I can’t complain. She’s been good to me.
Together, my Explorer and I have, well explored. By my recollection, we’ve visited or at least driven through a total of 21 states. We’ve enjoyed the rays in the sunny Florida Keys, had our adventures in the Colorado Rockies, partied it up in the French Quarter and on the Las Vegas Strip, and eaten up thousands of miles of road along the way.

Over the years, she’s seen me through more moves than I’d care to count. And she’s never failed me in any kind of weather, and believe me, we’ve been through it all: gale force winds, blinding snow, glare ice, freezing rain, pea-soup thick fog, torrential downpours, tropical storms and, yes, even a hurricane evacuation.

Despite the memories we’ve made together, both good and bad, sometimes it crosses my mind that maybe it’s time to retire the old girl. But I think I’d feel like I was betraying an old friend.

This week I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for myself about my wheels, seeing as I’d missed my chance to take advantage of the Cash for Clunkers deal. But then a co-worker by the name of Chris Greeley forwarded me a video he’d made about his own car, which made me feel infinitely better about mine.

His is WAY worse. In fact, it’s so bad that he’s submitted a video to the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien to try to get Conan to blow up it up. Once you watch the video, it won’t take you long to figure out why.

Believe it or not, Chris’ car is newer than mine by a good three years. But his 2000 GMC Jimmy, a distinctive shade I like to describe as metallic “taupe,” has about 150,000 miles on it. Every one of them shows.

His hood, which he opens using a system he’s rigged with what looks like a pair of vice grips, has been known to fly off while driving. It’s apparently a matched set with his front bumper, which also has a tendancy to fall off at the drop of a hat. One of his headlights, damaged when he hit a deer, is held together by the grace of God and vast quanitities of clear packaging tape.

At one point, the car had what Chris thinks might have been an early morning run-in with a plow truck. The plow apparently kept on driving, but its blade left its mark, opening up the passenger door “like a tin can,” as Chris describes in the video.

I know what you’re thinking. It can’t be as bad as that, right? Well, I assure you that it is. But don’t take my word for it. Have a look yourself with the link below. (Cut and paste if you can’t click through.)

While you’re there, make sure you rate the video to help Chris move up in the standings. Every view and rating will get him one step closer to having his car blown up. Which I guess, if you are forced to drive that piece of junk, would be a good thing.

Good luck, Chris!


Friday, August 21st, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

A couple of weeks ago, I got a friend request on Facebook from someone who I don’t really call a friend. Oh, I know the person, all right, but it’s complicated. Because of that past drama, I dithered a bit with the decision of whether or not to accept the request. To friend, or not to friend, that was the question.

I was already leaning toward the ‘ignore’ option when I spoke with someone who is genuinely a friend, both on and off the social networking site. Her advice was to reject said request without a second thought. She wouldn’t want that person knowing everything she was doing, she told me.

I had to laugh at that. One, because she was in fact already “friends” with this third party, who shall for the purpose of this discussion continue to remain nameless. But secondly because, let’s be honest, if someone wanted to know about my personal life, all they have to do is pick up a copy of The Evening Sun, or log on to our website, The good, the bad and the ugly – I write about it all.

When I first started at the Evening Sun, my family wanted assurances that I wouldn’t write about them. But don’t worry, they’re use to it by now. Although, come to think of it, they have become a little more tight lipped around the dinner table.

My friends, on the other hand, eat it up. Even when I don’t mention them by name, they are quick to take credit for the roles they have played in my illustrious adventures. They almost seem disappointed when I DON’T blog about them. Do you think maybe I should start charging?

And as if the eyes of our 5,000 subscribers and the 120,000 hits we get a month aren’t enough, I usually post links to my blogs and columns via Facebook and Twitter for the further edification of the masses.

This, according to an article I read earlier today on, classifies me as one of the 12 worst kinds of Facebookers: The Self Promoter. But I don’t agree. I’m not some shameless “self-centered careerist.” I just think everyone should read what I write. [Insert smiley face emoticon here.]

Legalizing marijuana?

Friday, August 21st, 2009
Tyler Murphy

Recently I went along with detectives from the Chenango County Sheriff’s Office and participated in busting up a marijuana growing operation in a remote McDonough swamp.

The article attached a lot of feed back, nearly half of it from proponents of legalization who basically claimed that social taboo is the only real reason it’s outlawed.

A number of these responses revolved around the medical purposes of the substance and attacked alcohol use, which is generally accepted to have far more volatile affects on people than a number of illegal drugs, first among them marijuana. Another flawed angle of approach in the argument is that pot is a natural plant of mother earth and therefore less harmful than the non-oraganic drugs.

The most frustrating part of theses complaints is that I agree with their surface values but the line of reasoning is flawed.

Not as bad as alcohol?
Marijuana certainly gets more grief than it probably deserves when pragmatically compared to the social and criminal effects of other drugs, including alcohol- which I’m sorry to say is a drug.

Accept it or not if you drink alcohol you are in fact a legalized drug user. If it wasn’t why would people drink it to intentionally affect their mind’s chemistry provoking feelings of euphoria (aka buzzed) and withdrawal (aka, hangover.) And of course people get addicted to it’s effects and can be permanently damage by long term use. It’s a drug, and most of us are guilty of at least being occasional drug users.

However attacking alcohol doesn’t validate the view of legalizing pot, rather it credits the view of making alcohol illegal.

There is a good point in the “well if alcohol is worse for you and legal why can’t other drugs like marijuana that aren’t as bad for you be legal” argument. It is hard to refute rationally because the world we live in doesn’t make sense.

Some how alcohol made the cut and that’s just the world we live in. It kills countless of people directly and countless more indirectly, inspires all manner of domestic and social violence, it’s survived prohibition and apparently has a thriving base of consumers and powerful business interests aiding it.

The alcohol versus pot social taboo argument gets more sympathy from me than any of the others but it’s sort like complaining that life isn’t fair. Just because alcohol is worse doesn’t make marijuana good.

I need my medicine?
The concepts of medical marijuana are for the most part an utter joke. I know I’ll get a dozen mean spirited comments and testimonials for saying it but save your breath- most of you are uninformed or have ulterior motives.

Unless you’re the one in a million exception to the rule I’m positive modern medicine can deliver you a healthier, more effective alternative to your problem than THC (active ingredient in pot) can offer.

Realistically the argument for marijuana to be legalized for its medical treatment and pain killing ability is more often than not just a vehicle for putting forth an eventual debate for legalizing recreational use. So why not just admit it?

Most people probably figure medical legalization is a step in the right direction, but if there’s no real evidence to suggest it’s any more necessary than legalizing cocaine use for headache relief, then why argue it?

Having a patient testify to the wonderful healing effects of marijuana does not impress me, what matters are the scientific findings produced by medical professionals and pharmacists. The false front only alienates those in the middle of the issue who become disgusted by the such a deception.

It’s natural?
The people who claim that the organic value of pot has value in a critical debate are just nuts. Here are some other organic materials: lava, tobacco, the bubonic plague and poison ivy. All natural world creations so therefore they must not be that bad right? Like I said you people tend to be crazy I have no rational way to talk you out of your insanity. Again I see the same line of reasoning as the alcohol debate in that it cites the “there are worst things out there for you so how bad can it be” belief. There is always something worse, it is not premise for putting forth an active debate to positively convince me to support marijuana legalization.

Things to consider
Here are some good reasons why caution should be exercise in the debate.

The versatile nature of the plant makes it very easy for just about anyone to cultivate it leading to very challenging methods of control even in a legal system.

Legalizing a new recreational drug will have profound and unknown economic and social effects on our society.

Legalizing a formerly illegal drug is a dangerous precedent to set and may become a doorway for others to push agendas to legalize even more dangerous drugs.

We have alcohol, do we really need to bring another mind affecting substance into public acceptance? After all marijuana is a drug. A user will not be as healthy as a non-user and will need additional medical care over a life time.

Marijuana is a mind effecting drug and any substance that allows people to escape reality has the potential to become an addiction. If legalized more people will become addicted, it is inevitable.

Pot like any drug distracts people from real life, which is fine unless used too often. People who are high tend to be content just being high and do little to expand their mind. One day people who smoke too much might wake up and find they aren’t good at anything because they never bothered to get out and do something.

Having said all that I personally don’t see why the drug needs to remain illegal.

From what I’ve seen personally, professionally and academically the drug does not seem to strip a person’s sensibilities as quickly or as potently as other mind effecting drugs, legal or otherwise.

I don’t know of many marijuana generated aggressions such as fights, rapes or other out of control emotional incidents. It seems to be a victimless crime in many cases and rarely a catalyst to causing a danger to the community. However the drug is often used in combination with other drugs, like alcohol, so getting straight answers on the effects of a single drug in society can be difficult.

The concerns surrounding marijuana often seem to focus on those who over abuse the substance, symbolizing the stereotypical burned out, good for nothing, tie-dye wearing stoner. To me that’s like taking a DWI convicted, wife beating, alcoholic and saying everyone who drinks will become one.

The argument surrounding the substance focuses more on the individuals ability use the drug responsibly. This is the debate with any drug.

Given the lax laws regulating minor use and the increasing public acceptance of the drug I don’t see why we just don’t start regulating it. There is definitely a line to be drawn between marijuana use and the use of more dangerous and addicting drugs such as cocaine, meth and ecstasy.

I’m just not sure where that line should be drawn.

Even though I believe in respecting the rights of people to make their own choices with the drug, promoting marijuana or any drug use is certainly not good for our community, no matter how you argue it. That’s a fact.

In debating this issue of personal choice versus public well being we need to ensure the argument does not appear to encourage younger generations into accepting common marijuana use any more than we’d want them embrace abusing alcohol.

I do believe however it is a discussion deserving the merit of further debate.

Creature of habit

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

As most people who know me will no doubt attest, I’m not much of a morning person. But with a workday which includes both late meetings and daily deadlines which sometimes seem painfully early, a great deal of my work must be done early morning. That would be before 9 a.m. Monday through Thursday and, in a cruel twist of fate, by no later than 8:30 a.m. on Fridays.

That’s right, while most of you are having your first cup of coffee and arriving at work, I’ve already been firmly ensconced in front of my computer for a couple of hours.

To cope with this work schedule, which goes against every fiber of my being, I’ve put myself on a rather rigid schedule. True to form, I don’t always recognize how rigid that schedule, or how much of a creature of habit I truly am, until something conspires to throw off my little routine.

Most days, it goes something like this: When my alarm goes off, typically at about 4:45 a.m., I promptly turn it off – and go back to sleep.

My second alarm sounds eight minutes later, which this time I silence by hitting snooze, therefore buying myself yet another five minutes of blissful repose snuggled in the warmth of my comforter. (Or at least it does if my intrepid feline, Lulu the ninja-kitty, doesn’t have other ideas. A well aimed paw to the solar plexus and I’m up in no time flat.)

Wiping sleep from my eyes I trundle downstairs to the bathroom, where I spend 10 or so minutes (okay, fine – maybe it’s more like 20) under the mediocre spray of the shower wishing I was still in bed.

Once my early morning bathroom routine is complete, I head to the kitchen to mix myself a glass of Ovaltine (chocolate malt, thank you) and then head back upstairs. Where I stare blankly at my closet for entirely too long, wishing fervently that I’d made that decision the night before. Whatever I choose, there is usually ironing involved. Which does nothing to improve my mood.

A quick session with the hair dryer and a round brush (if I’m feeling up to it), a couple of minutes in front of the mirror, a swipe of the tooth brush and I’m ready to go. If all has gone according to plan, I’m out the door at or about 6.

It’s precisely 13 miles from my driveway to the Evening Sun newsroom, which takes me anywhere from 20 and 30 minutes each morning, depending on whether I get stuck behind someone going 40 on Route 12.

My commute always includes a quick stop at BlueOx in Oxford, where Ella is usually kind enough to have the papers ready for me. Then it’s back on the road, where I try to shake off my morning funk and gear up for the day.

While my coworkers generally start their day at 7, my goal is to be there by 6:30 at the latest. That gives me time to plan my day, check email and voicemail, wind myself up by reading 30 seconds, take a cursory glance at my favorite online news sites, eat a bit of breakfast and brew a pot of coffee (heavy on the cinnamon) before anyone else arrives.

From 7 to 9 a.m., the newsroom is a bevy of activity with each of us typing furiously away on whatever stories we’re trying to finish up for that day’s paper. Except for that quiet clacking of the keyboard and the occasional murmur of someone on the phone conducting a last minute interview, it is usually so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Jeff likes it that way, and out of deference to him (and our continued employment), we don’t protest too much.

We spend the next half hour reading each other’s work: checking for grammar, punctuation and flow before Jeff has a go at it. By 10, that day’s edition is off to press and shortly thereafter the online edition is posted.

By about that time, I’m usually ready for a break, but that doesn’t happen. That’s when we have our daily editorial meeting, where we regroup, share what we’re working on and catch up on the buzz.

The rest of the day (and sometimes into the night) is spent covering a mix of meetings and events, making follow up calls, conducting interviews, snapping necessary photos, writing and the like. But the morning is always the same, barring a breaking story here or there.

After a year on the job it’s what I’m used to. It’s what I’m comfortable with. I need that morning time to finish up my stories. I guess the pressure of deadline just works for me. As a result, I’m not always quite so productive in the afternoon. (Remember me staring blankly into my closet? Just sub in my computer screen in place of said clothing repository.)

That’s why I try my hardest not to accept invitations to meetings and events that take place much before 10 a.m.. This week however, it was unavoidable. Both Monday and Tuesday I had commitments at 8 a.m. or earlier. It cut into my deadline time both days and, although I hate to admit it, I’ve been a little off my game as a result.

But that’s all right. I’m going to suck it up, shake it off and get stuck right back into that nice comfortable groove.

Ahh, the trials and tribulations of being a creature of habit.

The Accidental Blonde

Friday, August 14th, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

Most of the people I know seem to be incredibly cavalier about their hair color. They think nothing of sudden transitions which transform them from brunette to redhead to blonde and back again. Whether it is a full dye job or just some chunky highlights (or low-lights), changing the color of their crowning glory is something they do with little regard. In fact, they seem to enjoy changing up their hair color more often then most people swap out their bed linens.

I’ve always been the exception. An unfortunately high school incident, which left me with burgundy-tinted tresses for much of my freshman year and scarred for life, cured me of any desire to mess with my natural mousy-brown locks. Much to the chagrin of my friend Liz, I might add, who is absolutely addicted to her (increasingly blonde) highlights.

Fearing what would happen if I ever attempted to alter my hair color again, I resigned myself to being a brunette to the end of my days. Until that is, I started noticing a few too many silver strands in my otherwise dark locks.

My hair stylist, Penny, no doubt tired of my lamentations, suggested that a few subtle highlights were just what I needed to take my mind off my prematurely graying mane.

After months of dithering and self doubt, I conceded. And just before Christmas, I let the saintly Penny work her magic. She added just a few caramel colored highlights, but it worked. Any and all unsightly gray was effectively camouflaged and I felt all pretty and new.

Liz, of course, was thrilled. And she was practically cackling with delight a few months later, when I let Penny have her wicked way with my wayward locks once more, adding even more caramel to my coiffure.

Initially, I was a little worried that I’d gone too far, but I got used to it. I failed to anticipate Mother Nature, however, and the amount my tinted tresses would respond to sunny summer rays.

I didn’t realize just how much my hair had lightened up until last week, when I returned to Penny’s chair once more for a much-needed touch up. I left the salon decidedly more blonde than I’d gone in.

I don’t fault my lovely stylist because, in actuality, she left much of my hair as it was, just touching up the ‘rootage,’ so to speak. But to realize how light my hair had gotten was more than a bit startling to me. And I’m not the only one. My mother keeps staring at me. Liz, on the other hand, is no doubt doing some kind of happy dance.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from a platinum rating or anything. But it’s all a bit lighter than I was emotionally prepared. A few calming breaths, though, and I am more ready to go with the flow.

There’s no time like the present, I figure, to find out if blondes really do have more fun.

A bit of cut throat competition

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

On Thursday nights I golf in a ladies league at Canasawacta, or at least I do when the weather is for us rather than against us. (Thursday seems to be Mother Nature’s favorite day to let it rain, let it rain this summer.)

Last week, however, it wasn’t the weather which prompted us to go on hiatus, but rather the Country Club’s annual Member/Guest Tournament on which my coworker, Pat Newell, diligently reported.

Not wanting to give up our normal Thursday bonding time, to which we are extremely dedicated, our little crew held a little tournament of its own instead. Instead of heading up to Canasawacta as is our norm, we trooped in the opposite direction instead. Our destination was the Aurora Country Club, a.k.a. the DeMellier’s backyard.

The course superintendent (OK, Mary Ann’s husband Mark) had meticulously groomed (mowed) the 9-hole, par 27 course in anticipation of our arrival. After a few appetizers and libations on the deck, we drew names and divided into teams for competition. Which was captain and crew of course.

We weren’t allowed caddies or even carts, but I could have used a bit of assistance. Sure I only had my trusty nine iron with me, but it was tough to juggle it plus our team’s score card, my day-glow orange golf ball, a writing implement and my glass of wine. My teammates (Mary Ann, Melissa and Lisa) had their hands full as well and weren’t much help.

Our foursome teed off on hole 1, a fairly long (maybe 20 yards) par 3 with something of a water hazard to the right of the “fairway,” a term I use lightly in this instance. I know farmers who bale anything that long. I’m not going to lie. We struggled, and ended up with a bogey. Luckily my pen didn’t work and I didn’t have to record it.

We faired better on hole 2, a 15 yard dog leg right. A rather fortunate bounce put us in birdie contention, and, thankfully, we were able to seal the deal to bring us back at even par.

Our success made us perhaps too cocky, and despite a well placed first shot on three (a long, straight up-hill), we failed to birdie the hole. It went down hill, literally, from there. Three fourths of our squad overhit on four, hitting well into the woods, while our anchor failed to even come close to the “green.” Another term I use loosely, since it was in fact two concentric rings around the flag. (A chip into the inner ring allowed for a stroke to be deducted.)

Not wanting to take the chance of hitting our safety shot into the woods as well, we decided to play Lisa’s ball, which was perched atop a cute little hunk of fluffy moss. Unfortunately, it was also under a low pine tree, which meant we were hitting from what would basically be considered the prone position. Somehow, however, we pulled it off. It might have taken us three to get it in, but we made it into the inner circle, thus marking a birdie for the hole and putting us one under.

We faired well on five as well, despite the water hazard (pool) on the left and the vegetable garden, which was out-of-bounds on the right. Thanks to my superb drive, if I do say so myself, we birdied again, moving to two under.

Six was another tough one, requiring a shot over the cart path (driveway) and a stone wall, but somehow we managed to birdie that as well.

It started to get sticky on seven, though, and not just because we’d missed our chance to replenish our on-course beverages when we’d passed “the shack.” We were once again shooting over the driveway, I mean cart path, plus we had to hit low to avoid taking out an overhead cable. And did I mention that we were all parked just to the right of the green? We all cringed when Lisa hit her “drive” way right, believe me. Thankfully, the flower bed was a free drop and we managed to pull off a par, but just barely.

We thought for sure we’d redeem ourselves on 8, but to no avail. We ended up with another par, but only because we were lucky enough to make it into the inner circle once more.

We’d gathered a couple of spectators by the time we reached nine, because most of the other teams had already finished. (Hey, don’t look at me. I wasn’t the one taking all those practice swings!) The added pressure brought out the best in us, I guess, because we birdied once more to finish up with a respectable 4 under.

We felt pretty good about it, too. Until, that is, we discovered that first place was an 18, nine under par.

I’m pretty sure they cheated.

I don’t feel hard-done by though. It was a good time. And I’m definitely looking forward to trying the course out again next year.

A special thanks to the DeMelliers for making us all feel so welcome, and to all the Lady Gophers, of course. Just for being awesome.

Roll the hanging dice

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009
Tyler Murphy

My friend asked me yesterday about why I would hang a pair of gaudy black dice from my rear view-mirror. I’ve heard it all before, they’re totally lame, technically illegal and a minor safety hazard. Bla, bla, bla.

I told her they’re my good luck charm. She laughed and mocked my superstitious reply. But it’s not superstition that keeps the dice hanging but rather their power of reminder.

You see I’ve covered a number of accidents in my time at the Evening Sun, dozens, a handful of them fatal, and although sometimes the person at fault suffered the shorter end of the stick the dice remind me of the other person. The one who didn’t do anything wrong except get out of bed that morning.

I’ve been keenly reminded of the fact in recent weeks as a number of fatal accidents have occurred and a close co-worker was struck down by such random circumstance. These recent incidents didn’t involve any choice by those killed or hurt in them. No prior decisions or precautions made before those moments mattered, fate just reached out and snatched at an innocent. It is an undeniable and unfortunate part of life sometimes.

The statistics kept by the federal Department of Transportation show that the most dangerous activity the average American partakes in on a daily basis is climbing into a motor vehicle. 115 people are killed each day, that’s one person every 13 minutes. Of those only two thirds involve the driver being killed the rest are pedestrians, passengers and other non-driver victims.

I had a friend once who frequently rode a motorcycle and his favorite saying was “You can’t live life in constant fear of random circumstance.” He’s right you can’t, but you can be constantly aware of the aspect. Maybe it’ll help maybe it won’t.

Every time I climb into my car I glance at the dice and I think about those odds and I remember the accidents I’ve witnessed. Cars crumpled like aluminum foil and bodies covered in white sheets on stretchers with blood still seeping to the surface. I’ve talked to bereaved family members and grim emergency workers-it’s left an impression.

My good luck charm represents random circumstance. We all roll the dice when we get in the driver’s seat no matter who you are. Sometimes just knowing the odds though might keep them from being so fixed.

You have got to be kidding me

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009
Melissa Stagnaro

Sometimes when I read the morning headlines I have to double check what website I’m actually on. All too often it seems, the stories on my 24-hour media outlet of choice are so outrageous that I have to be sure I’m not reading one of The Onion’s satirical entries.

I did one of these double takes this morning while reading about a 27-year old woman from the Bronx who was suing Monroe College, the institution she recently graduated from. Why? Because she hasn’t been able to find a job since she received her degree this Spring.

I had a good giggle about it, until I realized this woman was serious. She is actually seeking more than $70,000 from her alma mater, an amount she says is the equivalent of the tuition she paid during her time as a student plus compensation for the hardship she has endured during her unsuccessful three month job search.

She’s entitled to receive this amount, in her opinion, because the college’s career center didn’t do enough to help her find a job after graduation. They showed favoritism, she further claimed, toward students who had grade point averages higher than her own 2.7. They should have stressed her attendance record more, according to her. Because that’s a selling point, right? She went to a lot of classes, she just failed to learn enough to earn her a decent GPA.

If she had been paying more attention as she worked toward her business degree, she might just have heard something about the current state of the economy. Which might have made her realize that the job market, particularly in New York, is a bit difficult right now.

But she’s ballsy, I’ll give her that. It’s just too bad she didn’t apply that same kind of energy to her studies, or her job search for that matter.

My next question is, now that she’s filed a lawsuit against Monroe College (who right now is probably really regretting making that admissions call) will she stop there? Or will she dig even deeper to find those responsible for her mediocrity? Her parents, perhaps. Her grade school teachers. The obvious one is her high school guidance counselor, who certainly could have helped her get into a better academic institution. Or perhaps should have steered her in another career direction, like medical malpractice.

It crossed my mind that maybe this is just another one of those outrageous stunts you hear about with people stopping at nothing to get the attention of potential employers. Like wearing a sandwich board at a busy intersection or posting your resume on a billboard. I cringe to think that there would be a company out there that would be attracted to that kind of behavior.

The sad thing is, there probably is.