Upfront: Looking back at 2011
From the interesting to the captivating, the disgusting to the uplifting, Upfront's Cory Vaillancourt brings you a year in review like only he can.
A wise old writer once said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro." It turns out, he proved his own adage by shooting himself in the head a few years later and requesting that his ashes be shot from a cannon…but he was right about the weirdness, and Erie is no exception. Erie's 2011 was chock-full of professional weirdness, and Upfront had a ringside seat. Below, you'll find a month-by-month recounting of some of the most interesting, disgusting, captivating, uplifting, and disappointing local, national, and international stories documenting the weirdness that was 2011.
The New Year starts with a bang when a schizophrenic named Jared Lee Loughner kills six people outside of Tucson, Ariz., on January 8. Miraculously, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the intended target of the attack, survives a gunshot wound to the head. Remember that the next time you lambaste your public officials for having no backbone.
Locally, the Hamot Women's Hospital finally opens, years behind schedule, the as-yet unresolved 814-area code debate heats up, and Erie hands the reins of power to two new Republicans: Congressman Mike Kelly and Gov. Tom Corbett.
And just south of Arizona, Mexican drug smugglers get medieval in their never-ending cat-and-mouse game with American law enforcement: they construct a 10-foot tall trebuchet for the launching of drugs across the U.S. border. "Trebuchet" is fancy old-timey talk for catapult. Sadly, they are interrupted before they could launch their 45-pound bale of marijuana high into the air.
This Chicago Bears fan is one of the world's biggest Steelers fans during super bowl XLV. Unfortunately, the Steelers lose to the hated Green Bay Packers in very un-Steelerlike fashion. I don't care who wins this year's Super Bowl (since it won't be the Bears) as long as it's not Green Bay. Or Tim Tebow.
Collar-bomb co-conspirator Marjorie Diehl Armstrong receives a life sentence despite her pleas of innocence. She's either bat-shit crazy, or crazy like a fox; we may never know the explosive truth.
Everybody's favorite train-wreck, Charlie Sheen, inhales enough cocaine to kill two and a half men, and in the process entertains us for the first time in his career. Dance, monkey! Dance!
Something called the "Arab Spring" finally begins to enter the consciousness of most Americans; most Americans had no idea that the Arabs manufacture springs.
Rumblings about a groundbreaking new publication in Erie send shivers through the collective spines of existing competitors. Ignoring the presumed death of print, local impresarios Brian Graham and Adam Welsh eye an already-saturated local print market and remain brave enough to say, "Me, too!" A tsunami of interest soon follows.
A 33-year-old nurse in Minnesota resigns rather than take a drug test, after suspicions arise that she is stealing pain medication intended for patients. During one surgery, an intoxicated Sarah Casareto tells the patient, who is writhing in agony, to "man up" and "go to [his] happy place." I don't know what your happy place is like, but mine is not nearly happy enough to allow me to ignore a tube sticking through my back into one of my kidneys.
The Villa Maria Academy High School Girls Basketball team returns to Erie as PIAA State Champs for the third straight year. They are all immediately signed by Erie's NBA Development League team, the Bayhawks.
Rumblings deep beneath the ocean produce an earthquake and tsunami that devastates Japan, killing more than 15,000 and spawning dozens of awful charity musical tributes. Seriously, Counting Crows, haven't these people suffered enough? The tsunami also damages the world's coolest-named nuclear plant, Fukushima, irradiating thousands of innocent people while simultaneously creating Godzilla in the process.
After months of anticipation, other rumblings are confirmed as the Erie Reader is born on March 30; veteran Erie writer Rebecca Styn ushers in the "Erie Reader Era" with a fine cover story on Blues legend Buddy Guy. At this time, Upfront has not yet been born, leading most Reader readers to say, "My, what a well-written, wholesome family publication this is!"
A study released by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine draws a surprising correlation between obesity and attending religious services. The study tracked more than 2,400 men and women over 18 years and found that people attending religious services were "50 percent more likely to become obese by middle age," suggesting that frequent churchgoers face risks to their physical health. No word on effects adverse to mental health.
It may be cold and rainy, but a small glimpse of summer emerges when the Erie SeaWolves open their 2011 home season on April 7.
The first bar to receive its own entry in the Official Erie Reader Style Guide – The crooked i – is profiled in Michael Bennett's very first cover story. Bennett hosts a highly respected, highly recommended weekly radio show on 90.5 FM each Wednesday from 9 p.m. to midnight; he continues to provide the Erie Reader with the best live music coverage in town.
In a world plagued by street violence, warfare, disease, poverty, injustice, inequality, hunger, and discrimination, two insanely wealthy white people get married in England. You should be ashamed of yourself for knowing anything about this.
A New York IT worker picks the wrong week to try to save a buck. Although he is usually a participant in the office's weekly lottery pool, the week he decides to take a pass, 7 of his co-workers win a jackpot entitling them to $16 million each. No word on if he's hung himself yet, or simply resigned himself to living out the rest of his days with the memory of what could have been.
Municipal primaries take place early in the month. Almost nobody notices, and almost nobody votes. Gooooo Democracy!
In what is likely the top international news story of 2011, U.S. Navy Seals locate and kill Osama bin Laden on May 2, nearly 10 years after the attacks of September 11, 2001. Pakistan does their best, "Gosh, you guys, we had no idea the most wanted man in the world has been hiding in our country for the better part of a decade, honest!" routine, apparently assuming that Americans will believe anything.
Later in May, unfortunately named New York Congressman Anthony Weiner sends a pic of his…ummm…anyway, he sends an inappropriate picture of himself to a woman on Twitter – a woman who is not his wife. When confronted, Weiner initially denies sending the picture of his…ummm…Weiner later says that the picture was the work of a "hacker," apparently assuming that Americans will believe anything. Revising his hard stance, Weiner later pulls out.
Many Americans awake May 22 quite surprised to be non-raptured. An apocalypse prediction issued by the illustrious Harold Camping calls for the end times to begin on May 21. Some people sell their houses, quit their jobs, and max out their credit cards; apparently, some Americans will believe anything. Revisiting the early Upfront I wrote so long ago about this very incident reminds me of looking at baby pictures – awwwwww, it's so cute! And underdeveloped! And infantile!
Well, I guess Pakistan was right. A 53-year old man in Sonoma, Calif. unquestioningly accepts an enema from a mystery woman who appears at his door on May 1. Although the man is visually impaired and has been recovering from a recent surgery, he assumes this mystery woman is legit and assumes the position. His physician later tells him this mystery woman is indeed not legit. But hey, free enema!
Erie's outdoor block parties begin, proving yet again that the multi-talented drinkers of Erie can consume alcohol outdoors as well as indoors.
Cornell Green gets his first piece, on Erie's "Lover's Lane." I know that sounds weird if you haven't read it, so you might want to visit the Erie Reader archives, located deep in the bowels of the Erie Reader Tower. Since that issue, I have dubbed Cornell the "Green Machine," because of the way he effortlessly cranks out quality copy, or because the "Green Machine" was also a badass black-and-green big wheel back when I was growing up. Lately, Cornell has trained his sharp Eye On City Council. He's the only person I've ever met who can make a City Council meeting seem interesting; normally they're like plain rice cakes dipped in lukewarm water – tasteless at best, sickening at worst, and always bland and boring.
A young, African-American college football player is arrested for causing a disturbance at San Francisco International Airport after he refuses to pull up his droopy drawers and is subsequently kicked off a US Airways flight. Unbelievably, just 6 days prior to the incident, US Airways allows a 65-year old white man in women's underwear and thigh-high black stockings to fly, proving that African-Americans still do not have the right to be weird. Oh wait, I forgot about George Clinton.
Casey Anthony is acquitted of murdering her infant daughter Caylee. She then quickly joins O.J. Simpson in the hunt for the real killers, who are really starting to rack up an impressive body count. Let us hope they catch these "real killers" soon, before they kill again. Or rather, let us hope the real killers find O.J and Casey first.
Sadly, the immensely-talented-when-sober Amy Winehouse dies of alcohol poisoning, surprising approximately no one. Nevertheless, the world loses a very talented young woman that day, a woman who literally partied herself to death. She probably should have said "Yes, yes, yes," to that rehab offer.
Continuing to provide Reader readers with the finest local music coverage in town, Michael Bennett, in a supreme act of journalistic sacrifice, reluctantly agrees to attend the 31st annual Chaffee Gathering. Bennett chronicles this local, unique, yearly music festival in a fine piece of immersion journalism.
A man dressed up as a banana emerges from some shrubbery to turn the tables on nature's usual order by attacking a Strongsville, Ohio business's mascot – a man in a gorilla suit. I assume he shouted, "Take that, stupid monkey!" whilst mid-attack. At last report, the banana is still at large; the public is advised to avoid wearing gorilla suits and be on the lookout for a 6-foot tall yellow member of the Musa acuminate family.
The Erie Art Museum's annual Blues and Jazz Festival fills Frontier Park with soulful sounds and hula-hoopers galore. Next year, remember not to abbreviate it as "BJ Fest" on your kitchen-wall calendar.
Managing Editor Ben Speggen finally gets his Erie Reader Writer's Union card by penning the cover story "Brand Erie: The Shaping of Erie's Cultural Identity," complete with a snazzy cover image by Todd Scalise. I don't want to say the best thing about this issue is the free sticker on the cover, but hey, free sticker!
If you ever get the chance to visit Cuba, be sure to seek out Yoandri Hernandez Garrido and give him a high-five. Or a high-six. Garrido, you see, has six fingers on each hand. Far from being a detriment, "on the contrary, people admire me and I am very proud. I have a million friends, I live well." Garrido has even found amusing ways to make light of his unique anatomical anomaly. "One day when I was in primary school, a teacher asked me how much was five plus five… She told me to count how many fingers I had, so I answered, '12!'" Well played, Senor Garrido. Well played indeed.
Jay Stevens is welcomed into the Erie Reader Writer's Union with his much talked about cover story on cigarette smoking. In the very first paragraph, Jay drops a bombshell – the owner of The crooked i, Marty Schwab, decided to make his popular tavern non-smoking. Whiny non-smokers and inconsiderate smokers face off on Facebook as well as within the comments section of Jay's article debating the legality, morality, and efficacy of such bans. Currently, Jay writes "Street Corner Soapbox," a fantastic weekly column that continues to explore important issues that affect all of us, and all of you.
Add dolphins to the list of organic and/or robotic entities poised to one day overthrow the human race. Renowned for their intelligence, dolphins can be trained to perform a variety of tricks and tasks; some dolphins have even learned another disturbing human behavior – murder. Laughingly deemed "porpicide," bottlenose dolphins are observed attacking and killing harbor porpoises, particularly those who are lactating, leading some to speculate that these attacks are a form of aquatic genocide meant to remove breeding competitors for already-scarce resources. Note to Porter Ricks – keep Sandy and Bud away from Flipper, just in case.
Muammar Gadhafi is killed by one of those "Arab Springs." Sic semper tyrannis, Daniel-san.
Another apocalypse scheduled, another apocalypse averted – presumably through virgin sacrifice or superhero intervention. Whatever the case, keep doing whatever you've been doing, virgin-murdering mutants!
If you've ever wanted to see Saddam Hussein star in a porno, well, you're a very sick person. Nevertheless, you almost got your wish. Mohamed Bishr of Alexandria, Egypt, is beaten and kidnapped when he refuses an offer of $333,000 American dollars to star in just such a film. Now, I would do a lot of things for $333,000 American dollars…Come to think of it, I'm going to run out and get a fake beard right now. Egyptians, email me at the address below.
Municipal General Elections take place, reminding me of a 1971 song by The Who. Unfortunately, we got fooled again, and, the new boss is indeed the same as the old boss.
The #occupy movement in America demonstrates to the world that it is indeed possible for a large group of people to accomplish less than the elected leaders they so despise, even when some people – ahem – set the table for them. What a shame.
Once again, Jay Stevens delivers another hard-hitting cover story and uncovers the local angle on the Associated Press's top national story for 2011 – the still-unfolding Jerry Sandusky scandal. Hitherto unreported, Stevens finds that Jerry Sandusky continued holding football camps as late as 2008 right here in Erie at Penn State University, The Behrend College. Stevens also reports that the man who initially discovered the alleged sexual abuse in 2002, Mike McQueary, allegedly participated in these camps. Stevens appears on ESPN radio to discuss the allegations, making him the Erie Reader's first bona-fide national superstar. Go Jay! And take Bennett with you! Hahaha. Just kidding.
Which do you love more – your spouse, $10,000, or 18,000 pounds of garbage? When Brian McGuinn of Margate, Fla. realizes that his wife's custom diamond and platinum ring has somehow ended up in the trash, he dutifully reports to the ol' trash heap. After searching for only a few minutes, he begins to notice familiar items discarded from his household, and less than 20 minutes later, he leaves, filthy stinking ring in hand. She must be quite a lady, that Anna McGuinn.
The newly crowned "World's Shortest Woman," one Jyoti Amge of Nagpur, India, wants to be a movie star. "This title of world's shortest woman will take my career to new heights," she says, presumably with a straight – albeit tiny – face. Amge stands just 62.8 centimeters – whatever that is – tall, besting (worsting?) the previous title holder, Bridget Jordan of Illinois, by nearly 8 centimeters. Amge's potential movie career is yet another disappointing instance of American jobs being outsourced to India.
The Erie Reader successfully ends its first year by moving in to a new office. The jury is still out on why it is located so close to the Erie County Department of Special Probation Services; the guys at the Erie Reader must have interesting plans for 2012. Keep reading, dear Reader readers; I'm sure you'll see soon enough.
Related: A Parade on Parade: Reporting live from Erie's oldest tradition