Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hoboken, NJ - St. Ann's Festival

Every Summer, various churches in my area throw festivals, or feasts, in an attempt to bring the community together, increase awareness and, of course, raise money for the establishment.  Last week, St. Ann's Church in Hoboken, NJ was holding their annual event and we decided to check it out this past Sunday.

These festivals are usually nothing special, but always worth attending to see what type of food is on display.  More times than not, they're worth going to simply to buy a bag of zeppoles, but it seems that everybody had the same idea.  The line offered a good 30-35 minutes worth of waiting and I just didn't have the patience.  For an extra half-hour, I can be down the shore enjoying the real deal.  So I took a picture of the entrance and inflatable Spidermen and Spongebobs.  That was time better spent.

Zeppoles might have been factored out, but this looked promising.  MozzArepas!  I spelled it that way because it looks cool in the logo.  It was advertised as fresh, grilled, mozzarella cheese sandwiched between two slices of cornbread.  Sounds great!  I love mozzarella cheese and I'm a big fan of cornbread, so I forked over the $5 and gave it a shot!

Looks delicious, right?  Nope! Not good at all.  On paper, it sounds amazing.  But on the actual taste buds, it falls flat on it's corn-bready face.  I was disappointed because this had so much potential, but it was nothing but a plain old sandwich without any flavor.  Ah well, let's see what else they have at the Hoboken Feast!

This looked cool!  I believe we saw it at the NJ State Fair, but we didn't find time to try Wild Bill's Olde Fashioned Soda Pop.  This time, it really stood out because of it's presentation.  The wild west decor gives you a Six Flags or Disney World feeling.  Trust me, on a dirty city street, all it takes is tarnished wood, fancy fonts, and bright colors to change the ambiance.  This proved to me that somebody actually took time to set up a cool display and give me more than a white tent and an extra capitalized letter in their logo.  This deserved attention.

Here's how it works.  For $10 bucks, you get an old fashioned cup and your choice of sugar cane soda.  You can choose from flavors with awesome western names - Buck'N Birch Beer, Outlaw Orange, Sarsaparilla Six Shooter, Vintage Vanilla Cream, Gatling Grape and, our choice, Rocky Mountain Root Beer.  They pour some ice into your cup and you're good to go!

$10 seems like a lot of money for some soda, but you get free refills throughout the day and you get to keep your cup!  We didn't stay long so we didn't really get our money's worth, but if you stayed from Noon to 10pm, you'd not only get more than enough soda, but you'd get one hell of a sugar rush, too.  Now that's worth 10 bucks!

These stained glass designs have been everywhere, lately.  We saw them at the State Fair, they're always down the shore, and now they're in Hoboken.  Unlike the Meadowlands variety, this stand actually offered some cool stuff.  That Ninja Turtle is glorious and almost came home with me.  Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Mario looked great.  The Smurfs, Spongebob and Batman were all enticing.  I really liked the way these were made, I just couldn't justify spending any money on these when I can just take a photo and share it with you.  That's free and means more than having the physical piece.  Plus, I saw these..


Two loves of mine stand out in these images and they've both been massacred! First, the WWE logo on the left side is horrible.  What they did was take the old "WWF" logo and, instead of redesigning the logo to be more official, they just cut the F off and called it the "WWE."  No wrestling fan would find that acceptable!

The second, on the right, is the Brooklyn Nets logo.  As I've mentioned before, I'm a die-hard Nets fan and worked for them for the last 5 years.  That stained glass Nets design is an absolute joke!  The font is wrong, the B is wrong, the basketball is wrong and "new york" is upside down.  Had it been perfect like the Knicks or Yankees, I would have picked it up in a heartbeat.  Would have looked great next to my Nets collection, but that wasn't happening.  I guess they rushed it to make a quick buck.  Not gonna happen!

These are the rides they had for kids.  There's not much I can say about them.  There wasn't much of a selection.  There were about 6 games and two rides.  One flew around in a circle while the other, in the foreground, is a mystery to me.  There are 4 seats for rides to take, but I don't know what happens once you're locked in.  I just know I wouldn't risk anything that can roll away.  So far, this fair is sub-par..

Okay, we went to the Hoboken Feast for the food and this was what we got.  Off the bat, I'll tell you that this was a major rip-off.  Eileen had the rice ball which was 6 bucks.  I got the chicken fingers for 7 bucks.  I'm still trying to figure out how mine was more than hers, especially without any fries, but I figured they'd be so delicious that I'd forget all about it.

Bummer!  The chicken fingers were cold, warm if I'm being nice, and didn't taste good at all.  Eileen said the rice ball was only okay.  What a bust!  We specifically went there for the food and we were duped by the MozzArepas and chicken finger/rice ball combo.  Two thumbs down!  We needed something to ease our pain... and hunger.

Ahh what better than an ice cold Miller Lite on a hot day in Hoboken?  Well, besides some good food, nothing was going to beat this.  St. Ann's Feast had a closed off section that served alcohol to patrons.  Nothing says "Support the Church" like a few beers and drunken behavior.  But we didn't have time for all that debauchery.  We had a drink each and headed for the exit.  We really weren't happy with the Feast, but we had to give it a shot.  I know there was a live band playing later that night, and they even had Bernie Williams from the NY Yankees play on Friday, but it wasn't worth sticking around.  To top it all off, we spent $10 on the 50/50 raffle in hopes of winning 20 grand.

I wish this was the part where I throw a curve ball in a depressing post and surprise you with the fact that we won, but we didn't.  We knew we weren't going to win, but man that would have been one hell of a story.  Maybe I should just lie and say "Yeah, we had a pretty crappy time, but then we won 20 thousand dollars and went to Disney World for the weekend."  Now THAT would be a happy ended to an otherwise boring post!  Ah well.. I cannot tell a lie.

Just because the Feast wasn't much of an adventure, we honestly didn't have a bad time.  It was fun spending the day together and, really, can you beat that view?  That's one of the best parts about living where I do.  There are times when I take that view for granted, but when I stop to truly soak it in, I can't believe I get to see the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, and Freedom Tower every single day.  

That's life in a nutshell.  Sure, much like the St. Ann's Feast, it can get you down and not always live up to expectations, but just remember what you have right under your nose, what you sometimes take for granted.  If you keep your eyes on what's truly important, the intangibles in life that we can't explain, then what does a bad chicken tender matter, anyway?

Deeper than the Hudson River, eh?

Obviously I was talking about the last box of Twinkies at Target ;-)

Monday, July 29, 2013

Growing Up A Wrestling Fan

"The Holidaze" is a blog designed to focus on anything and everything that puts us in a "daze" during the holiday seasons.  However, this is the first time I've consistently written throughout the Summer and I'm beginning to realize that "The Holidaze" is really only fitting during the months of October and December.  As I've posted more and more this Summer, I've enjoyed focusing on the past and the reasons behind my love for certain things that bring nostalgia to life.  Writing about the past is a great way to relate to the present and that's something I plan on doing more often from here on out.  It does change the theme of this blog a bit, but I also think it enhances its character and content.  I've debated whether or not I want to change name from "The Holidaze" to something else, but I haven't come up with anything creative, yet.  We'll see about that but, regardless, I don't plan on stopping.  I'll still be focusing on all the Halloween excitement that pumps me up, I'm simply writing about topics that I probably wouldn't have considered when I first started, as well.

In this case, I'll be talking about my amazing experiences as I grew up a die-hard wrestling fan!

I was first exposed to professional wrestling at 3-years-old.  I was sleeping over my Aunt's house in Keansburg, NJ and my cousin had WCW on television.  At first, I was more enticed by the entrance music than the wrestling itself, but that quickly changed as I watched these athletes pull off amazing maneuvers that I had never seen before.  I was hooked and from that day on, I became more and more obsessed with wrestling.  Once I discovered the WWF (now WWE,) I became emotionally involved in story-lines and fell in love with the early 90s characters.  From there, with trips to live events and WWF Fan Fest at Madison Square Garden, it only got more and more insane.

At age 5, my Dad opened a sports and memorabilia store in Bayonne, NJ called "C&C Cards."  Throughout the years, he had various WWE Superstars make appearances to increase business and raise awareness.  It worked out great for the store, but even better for me.  As a young kid, I couldn't believe that I had the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with Papa Shongo.  For those unfamiliar, Papa Shongo's character was that of a witch doctor, capable of casting spells on his opponents.  I asked him if he'd put one on my Dad, but he said "Ooohh you don't want me to do that."  What a good son, I was!

 In 1996, Bret the Hitman Hart was scheduled to make his big return to the WWE at Survivor Series on November 17th.  On the 16th, my Dad booked him to make an extremely rare appearance at C&C Cards.  I could not believe this was going to happen.  I coudn't wait to meet one of my heroes.  My Dad, knowing I was a super fan, always did everything he could to create an unforgettable experience for me.  Had I been in love with baseball, he would have booked Rookie of the Year, Derek Jeter.  Had I been obsessed with football, he would have booked Jerry Rice.  But since I was a huge wrestling fan, he went out of his way to land Bret Hart and, as part of the contract, Bret had to play one match against me in WWF: WrestleMania the Arcade Game.  Believe me, it was more about me than it ever was about business and I'll never forget it.

I knew, prior to the appearance, that I'd be having a match with Bret.  I told myself "You're going one-on-one with Bret the Hitman Hart at WrestleMania!"  I knew this was as close as I'd ever get, so I was playing it up!  I didn't know who I'd choose as my character, but I had my eyes on Shawn Michaels.  I figured, oh yeah, this is going to be a great match.  But then, before I ever got close to HBK, Bret chose Shawn Michaels as HIS character.  I couldn't believe it.  I thought, for sure, that he'd pick himself!!  So, to have my dream match, I chose Bret Hart to go against Shawn Michaels who was controlled by Bret Hart.  In the end, Bret Hart beat Shawn Michaels which means I beat Bret Hart at WrestleMania!!  Get it??  Before Bret left, I said "Now I'm the Excellence of Execution!"  He laughed, said goodbye, and was on his way.  But it was an unforgettable experience and paved the way for even more than I imagined.

C&C Cards led to many connections for my Dad.  One year, I had the late great Bam Bam Bigelow come to my house for my birthday.  We decorated the house with action figures and photos.  I invited all of my friends over and we hung out with the Beast from the East before watching WrestleMania.  My birthday is March 30th so 'Mania always lands on or around my big day.

Another year, my Dad closed C&C for the day and allowed me to have the arcade to myself.  Again, I invited my close friends and we played video games while the doors remained locked to the outsiders.  I felt like a VIP, but even more so when King Kong Bundy came walking in to meet everybody.  For as spoiled as I was, I never took anything for granted and, to this day, appreciate it more and more as I get older.

But the biggest connection my Dad made came on the same day Bret Hart was in the store.  This guy, who we came to know as Ned, was waiting in line with his mother in a wheelchair.  When my Dad saw them, he had them cut the line and meet Bret before just about everybody else.  Ned was so thankful.  He couldn't believe somebody would be so kind and said he'd make it up to my Dad.  Of course, my Dad said it was no big deal, but Ned said he was looking to open a store down the road with his wife and he wouldn't forget about us.  The next thing ya know, he opens "Joanne's Novelties" in Bayonne, NJ.

This guy Ned had tons of money and he was willing to throw it around!  Here's the story - Whenever the WWE came to town, he'd pay a superstar (or superstars) to do appearances at his store.  He'd agree to pay for their limousine, dinner, and expenses as long as he got to ride with them and go backstage.  For a WWE Superstar, it was an offer to good to refuse.  Keep in mind, this was before 9/11, around 1997-1999, and the policies were much less strict than they are now.  Backstage access was available without any form of credential.  If Billy Gunn and Road Dogg say it's okay, then it's okay.  So, for me, I was able to cut the line, meet these fan favorites for free and, to pay my Dad back, Ned hooked us up with free tickets to whatever show was in the area.

After a house show, Ned came to my Dad and said "Can you do me a favor?"  My Dad said sure and asked what it was.  He said "Can you drive Faarooq and Kama back to their hotel?"  My Dad thought he was kidding.  He had a tiny black cougar that was too small for two men over 6'4, 300+ pounds, but for my cousin and I, he agreed.  What an experience that would be!

My Dad retrieved his car from the parking lot and drove it down into the arena to the superstar parking area.  Kama got in the front while Faarooq sat in the back with me and my cousin, Phil.  We drove up and out of the arena and.. whoa!  All I can say is wow!!  The fans waiting outside went absolutely nuts!  They were banging the car, trying to break windows and open the doors.  They were running after us and standing in front of the car to stop us.  Faarooq said "Just keep driving, they'll move."  They did, but that didn't mean my Dad wasn't concerned!  We had never experienced anything like this, but to the Nation of Domination, this was nothing new.

Once we finally pulled away from the crowd, Faarooq opened up a can of beer in the back seat.  My Dad was cool about it, but asked him to keep it low and he hid it under his hat.  Throughout the ride, they stayed in character for the sake of Phil and I.  We were well aware that wrestling is scripted, but I appreciate the fact that they didn't spoil it for us.  They didn't know what we thought, so Kama said "Man, Faarooq, why'd you hit me with that chair?"  To which he responded "I meant to hit The Rock, but he moved! My bad, brother!"  All very very cool!

I figured that would be it.  Ned got us tickets, we were backstage for a good 10 minutes, and rode with the Nation.  He paid my Dad back for his kindness and we were set.  But, by the next WWE event, Ned was paying more Superstars and, this time, he wanted to thank my Dad for driving Faarooq and Kama back to the hotel!!  How would he do that?

He invited me, my Dad, and my cousin to join him in a limousine with Brian Christopher, Taka Michinoku, and The Rock!!  Together, we would travel to the arena, hang out backstage, watch the show from the front row, then go out to dinner before dropping the Superstars off at their hotel.  Unbelievable.  I told everybody I knew that this was happening, but nobody believed me.  I wish smart phones had been released at that time, because I don't have half as many pictures as I wish I did.  But it happened and it was insane.

The limousine ride was amazing, but nothing touches the fact that we were backstage.  There were wrestlers everywhere and when I tell you I was obsessed, it's an understatement.  I loved nothing more than wrestling and I was convinced that I'd one day be world champion.  I was hooked.  Meeting Ken Shamrock, on what happened to be his birthday, was a highlight because we got to watch his peers sing him happy birthday around his cake.

But what we truly wanted, more than anything, was to meet Stone Cold Steve Austin.  When we were backstage waiting for Faarooq and Kama, we saw him and Vince McMahon, but were asked by Ned to not approach them.  We didn't understand why, but my Dad honored his request and we had to let them leave without getting that elusive photo.  However, I did manage to wave to Steve as he got into a truck with Vince and Jim Ross.  His response?  The middle finger.  People thought I was upset, but from Stone Cold, that's a damn salute.  I was pumped.

But, on this day, a photo with The RattleSnake was the goal!

Owen Hart had just arrived to the arena and wasn't in the best of moods, but he was just in a rush and didn't have much time.  Owen Hart is, without a doubt, one of the nicest guys I've ever had the honor of meeting and I'll get to that in a bit.  Regardless of his attitude that night, it was a pleasure meeting him.

This is one of my favorite pictures of all time and was a complete shock.  If you've ever watched wrestling, you know Mr. McMahon as a ruthless owner out to get everybody for the almighty dollar.  But in real life, he was extremelyyyy nice!  My Dad wasn't sure if we should approach him because, after all, we're nobody to him and probably don't even belong there.  But it was a once in a lifetime chance and we went for it.  Vince couldn't have been happier to meet us.  He pulled us in, wrapped his arms around us, smiled and said he hopes we enjoy the show.  We were in awe of his presence and, because of that day, he'll forever have my respect.  To think how easy it would have been for this guy to shrug us off and say he doesn't have time.  To think how easy it would have been for us to actually accept that as an excuse.  It could have gone another way, but he was simply a nice guy.

We thought, if we could approach Vince McMahon without anybody saying anything, without any problems, then nobody was off-limits, this time.  If Stone Cold came out of that locker room, we were going for it!

I've worked for the Brooklyn Nets for the last 5 years.  I've met more celebrities than I can remember, but I've never been more star struck than I was in this moment.  When Stone Cold came out from behind that curtain, my body began to shake.  This guy was my hero.  Every Monday night, I sat there, glued to the TV screen, waiting for the glass to break and watch Stone Cold Steve Austin open up a can of whoop ass!  So, to finally meet him and have my picture taken, it was a dream come true.  I wasn't looking for an autograph, I wasn't looking to make money off of his name, I just wanted to remember that moment forever.  My cousin and I were in Heaven for a good 3 weeks and I still don't think I've thanked my Dad enough for making it happen.  Such a surreal moment in my life.

After the show, we were on our way to dinner with The Rock, Taka Michinoku, and Brian Christopher.  We went to a nearby Diner, but I remember wanting to sit next to Brian Christopher so bad!  Even though The Rock was Intercontinental Champion at the time, he wasn't much of a big deal and was still on the rise.  Little did I know he was going to become the biggest superstar of all time and take over Hollywood.  But, thankfully, for as awesome as Brian Christopher was, the seat next to him was taken and The Rock said "What's the matter, you don't wanna sit next to The Rock?"  I smiled, sat next to him, and enjoyed every second of it.  The amount of food he ordered was incredible.  He was so precise with the way he wanted his eggs made.  He obviously wanted the protein, but didn't want the diner grease.  There's a reason why he's the beast he is today.  I wish I could tell you more about the conversation, but with my cousin and I being the only kids, we weren't a big part of it.  However, I do remember my Dad saying "Every time you go for that elbow drop, I think you're going to miss."  The Rock replied, "Oh no, that's the people's elbow.  The Rock never misses that haha."  At the time, it hadn't even been named yet.  I like to think he decided on the name then and there.

I also asked The Rock where he kept his belt.  I was hoping my question would lure him into showing me the title, but he just said "safe and sound in my bag."  It unfortunately stayed there, but he was really cool.  He advised us to stay in school, work hard, do your best and you can accomplish anything you want.  Certainly proved true for him.

Taka Michinoku was the nicest guy we met that night.  He hardly knew any English, so he talked to Phil and I the most.  Brian Christopher said he'd "Crush him like a Japanese Beetle," while Taka just laughed.  We had a great time asking him to say our names.  Not to be disrespectful, but it was like having a 2-year-old finally say your name for the first time.  We loved it!  Then, because we were so nice to him, he said "Belt?"  We were like, huh?  He said "Belt? You want belt??"  Then he reached in his bag and pulled out the Light heavyweight Championship Title!  I was fascinated by belts so for Take to take his out, unlike The Rock, and pose with us, I couldn't be more grateful.  That will always be one of my favorite moments.

For whatever reason, we either didn't get a photo with The Rock on that night or I've lost it over the years, but that's one of my only regrets.  This photo was taken on a WWF Cruise on the Hudson River when The Rock was less of a star than he was when I went to dinner with him.  At this time, he was Rocky Maiavia, the rookie sensation who took his Father and Grandfather's name.  I was always a big fan of him, but never expected him to be the mega-star he became.  He was very nice and, despite what you may believe, that's not a pina-colada he's drinking, it's milk.  Yep, The Rock loves his protein!

After that night ended, Ned seemed to disappear for a while, but my love for wrestling didn't.  Thanks to a few other connections my Dad made over the years, I was able to meet Triple H and Chris Jericho.  Both appearances were open to the public, but photos with The Game were prohibited.  My Dad's buddy asked Triple H if it would be okay and, to my surprised, he obliged and was nicer than I expected.  I thought, ah man, he's the World Champion and dating the boss's daughter, I don't think he'll be very receptive.  But he was very kind and even commented on my silver Jericho shirt.  That was a great day that included lots of driving, from one location to the next, for my Dad.

Some time had gone by since we had heard from Ned, but he called my Dad with an invitation to Atlantic City to attend a private WWE Party after the local house show.  My Dad accepted and we were on our way.  The show was okay, but the party was sensational.  Two things stand out to me.  The first is watching Darren Drozdov, who is now paralyzed, dance with a woman on the floor.  It's an indicator of how fast life can change.  The 2nd is meeting Owen Hart for the 2nd time.  Wow, what a change in attitude!!

Owen had become GREAT friends with Ned and Joanne and the reason Ned had been gone is because he was traveling with Owen, Jeff Jarrett and Debra.  Remember Owen's "Enough is Enough" T-Shirt?  That was never available through the WWE because it was made by Ned for Owen and only available at Joanne's Novelties in Bayonne, NJ.  They were very friendly and it had gone way beyond business.

When Owen came over to meet us, he joked and said "Ah, do you know how much Ned's paying me to meet you guys?"  Then he laughed, signed my fake wrestling belt, took that awesome photo and hung out at our table for a while.  He was so nice and proved that the first time we met him was just a bad time.

In March of 1999, my Dad asked Dan Severn to come to my birthday party.  Obviously he was being paid, but he backed out the day of and, thanks to Cousin Luke, a friend of my Dad's, I ended up with Doink the Clown and Nikolai Volkof.  Great, but not what I told all my friends.  Ned, who was at WrestleMania with Owen, told Owen that story.  The next thing I know, the phone is ringing and it's Owen Freakin' Hart!!!  On the day of WrestleMania, he took the time out of his day to call me, wish me a Happy Birthday, and call Dan Severn a jerk.  My friends got to listen through the speaker and couldn't believe it.  They weren't the only ones.  I was in shock.  Little did I know that my Dad asked Ned if he'd talk to Owen to make up for Severn.  As if he didn't already do enough!  Amazing, all around!

Sadly, Owen passed two months later and Ned, who was crushed, put a "RIP Owen" sign over his store before closing up shop and moving out of town.  We never heard from or saw Ned, again.  He was obviously crushed, but a huge reason why I got to experience so much as a kid.  Had my Dad never let him cut the line, I probably would have never done half of what I did.  Just goes to show - kindness truly does go a long way!

You wanna talk spoiled?  For our birthdays, my parents took my cousin and I (we're two days / two years apart) to WrestleMania 17 in Texas and WrestleMania 18 in Canada.  When you're a teenager, you don't understand the concept of money.  But now, as a struggling 26-year-old, what the hell were they thinking??  That's so much money and way too much to spend on my birthday, but I truly appreciate it and will never forget those experiences.  Fan Axxess, where I met my favorite of all-time, Shawn Michaels, for the third time was the highlight of WM 17.  Hogan vs The Rock tops WM 18.  

After WrestleMania 18, I slowly started to move away from wrestling.  The obsession was definitely over and I watched it more for the entertainment value.  By WrestleMania 20 in New York, I was dating Eileen who had taken my attention away from the squared circle and on her.  I didn't even have any interest in going to WM 20, but I did watch it on Pay-Per-View.  It wasn't until her younger brother started to like Wrestling that I got back into things.

This past WrestleMania was in New Jersey and it was like a passing of the torch.  We took Eileen's brother to Fan Axxess where he got to meet Cody Rhodes and enjoy the environment.  It's not as great as I remember, especially compared to 1993, but it's a fun time for any wrestling fan.  Thanks to him, I'm back into sports-entertainment and don't go a Monday without missing Monday Night Raw.  I'm no longer obsessed like I was, but I still can't hear an entrance theme without pretending I'm a superstar.  One time I walked into a Haunted House and The Undertaker's music was playing.  Nothing was scaring me at that point.  In my mind, I was The Undertaker!!

Wrestling was, and still is, a huge part of my life.  There are so many people out there who don't understand it or the fact that it's "fake," but every TV show is scripted.  Every movie is fake!  If you're watching it for an unpredictable sports outcome, then you have it all wrong.  It's entertainment!  It's a story told through the athleticism of incredible performers putting their lives on the line every single night.  It's also a multi-billion dollar company, so somebody's doing something right!

I credit the WWE for many of my skills and talents, today.  The reason I'm so good at graphic design is because I had ppv's with my action figures as child and created them for show.  I did my best to replicate and enhance what I saw.  The reason I can write (to a decent degree) is because I used to write story lines for my action figures which included dialogue.  The reason I can publicly speak and make presentations is because I pretend I'm a superstar cutting a promo.  Hell, even in the 1st grade, I was given props by my teacher for knowing the word "charismatic."  Why did I know it?  Because that's what they called Shawn Michaels.  However, I also spelled "heart" wrong on my spelling test.  I wrote "Hart."  Ah well...

The point of this post, or article, is to show you how much the world of wrestling impacted me in a positive way and created unforgettable memories for me and my family.  I didn't become violent, I didn't become crazy, and I never wanted to hurt anybody.  I took wrestling for what it was and took what I could from it to become a better person.  I believe we can do that with every form of entertainment if for no other reason than to become creative beings.  I thrive off creativity and, in my opinion, there's no company more creative than the WWE.

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