Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Play Ball

The Little League team rosters got released today. I'm a coach this year, taking the opportunity to role model for an audience wider than my own family.

My youngest has reached the age where it's no longer assumed that you play with your friends. League reps try to juggle skills, neighborhoods, schools, relationships, and a million other things when they put together teams, most of which results in everybody hating them. Not bad for a volunteer position.

I've explained this to the boy. For the most part, he understands. Watching SportsCenter three hours a day has given him insight into drafts, trades, and competitive balance (not to mention salary caps and high-profile arrests). He wants to be on a team with all of his buddies, but he also knows that a lot of them are pretty good ballplayers and it wouldn't be right to do that. There's one friend in particular, though, his best friend, the one kid he really, really wants to play with and the one kid who feels the same way about playing with him. They both know, however, that it's a crap shoot. There are a lot of teams and not a lot of guarantees.

So, the rosters came out today and I brought one home. He was downstairs watching television, SportsCenter of course. When he saw me come in, knowing that I had the roster, he looked nervous.

I yelled down, "Hey, want to see the roster?"

"Yeah, sure, I think, I mean I want to see it, who's on the team, do I get to play with my best friend, dad, dad, dad, dad, dad, who are we playing with, I bet he's not on the team, I never get anything, I bet he's on the team, dad, dad, dad, dad, dad. . . ."

"For God's sake, feed the dog and we'll look at it."

We did. We got a fair shake. Some decent players, some kids I know, a bunch I've never met. It should be a good season, a chance to teach some things about hitting and pitching and sportsmanship. My boy will have fun, I think.

His best friend? He's on the team. I suppose it shouldn't matter. After all, there comes a time when sports isn't mostly about friendship.

For at least one more year, though, I'm glad it is.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Call Me Ishmael

Saturday night, I slept in a casino parking lot.

It's not as bad as it sounds. I wasn't with my family.

Wait, that's not helping. Here's the story.

This weekend was going to be a hunter-gatherer deal, a chance for some friends and me to bring home sustenance for our lovely brides and precious angels.

"They're calling for bad weather," we all heard as we packed our gear.

"Bad weather? Do you stop needing food just because it's bad weather? That's all the more reason for us to go."

"There's a grocery store five blocks from home."

"Grocery stores are for weenies."

The roads were fine on Saturday morning. What do women know? Predicting the weather is man's work. We got to our destination, unpacked, and started fishing. Didn't have much luck, but that was alright, we were comfortable and had a full cooler.

About 5 o'clock, someone suggested running up the casino for dinner. It was only 20 or 30 miles away, there's a nice buffet, and we could do a little gambling so that we could shower our families with both fish and cash when we returned home.

By 10 o'clock we were ready to head back. Granted, it's not a good sign when a sheriff's car is in the ditch, but that's why you pay extra for four-wheel drive.

There were flags that marked the turn-off to our rental cabin. At least there had been in the afternoon. Now, we couldn't see more than a few feet and the flags sure as hell didn't seem to be there. We weren't even sure we were where the turn-off was supposed to be.

One of the guys volunteered to get out and go look for them. He walked ten feet and turned around.

"Do you think he saw something?"

"Yeah, a wolf."

"Maybe. I wonder if he'll make it back to the car."

"Turn off the headlights. That should freak him out."

Entertaining as the rest of us found this, at this point even we knew it was time to give up. By now, the casino hotel was full. As were the rest of the hotels in the area. The casino itself was open, of course (Mammon never sleeps), so back there we went.

It's fun to gamble at 1 or 2 in the morning. It feels like a sophisticated evening out with the Rat Pack. By 3 a.m., however, I was starting to wonder if perhaps we'd really died on the road out there and I'd ended up in hell. This wouldn't be unexpected, but I've kind of been hoping I could delay it for a few more years.

To make matters worse, the piped-in music was almost entirely "Greatest Hits of the 80s." If there's something more horrible than listening to Madonna sing "Material Girl" while you're pumping money into a nickel slot machine, perhaps I should reconsider my lifestyle after all.

Meanwhile, two of my friends had settled in at one of the poker tables. Another was roaming in circles around the casino floor, looking more and more like a tiger in a too-small cage. The last was sitting at the slot machine next to me, his face taking on a pasty, overly-caffeinated look. I suspected I was starting to look like him. Not something I wanted even on one of his good days.

"Give me the keys. I'm going to the car."

I've spent more nights sleeping in vehicles than I care to remember, but it's been a while. Exhaustion finally caught up to me, though, and I was able to doze for an hour or so. Apparently I at least looked refreshed when I went back in, because the others gave it a try as well, sleeping in shifts until the sun came up and we could find our way back to the cabin.

Now, why one of our party felt obligated to call home and tell his spouse all this will forever remain a mystery. Needless to say, the story quickly made its way to the rest of the wives, not to mention our children, none of whom had much respect for us to begin with. It didn't help that we hadn't caught any fish.

"How'd the hunting and gathering go?"

"Be quiet."

We've already planned next fall's hunting trip. One of the guys isn't crazy that he got picked to be the moose decoy, but he'll get over it.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Parent Of The Year, Part 2

Oldest child: Can I kill my brother?

Me: No. We don't have burial insurance. I haven't been a very good parent, so if he dies I'll feel guilty and have get him an expensive casket. Then we won't have as much money to spend on you.

Oldest child: That makes sense.

[Pause while oldest child goes downstairs and talks to youngest. Youngest comes upstairs.]

Youngest child: Did you tell him he could kill me if it wasn't so expensive?

Me: I guess it sounds bad when you put it like that.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Cruel To Be Kind

I took two of my PAs*, and a friend of theirs, to the big city for a game last night. The tickets came from a friend. Rich Guy seats for a change, instead of the nosebleeds.

It's always interesting to go to sporting events in the middle of the week. It was a school night and most parents are more responsible than me, so there weren't many kids. Instead, there were a lot of people who came straight from work, via a dinner stop at one of the nearby bars. A lot of twenty-somethings who still think it's fun to dress up for work, middle-aged men out with their colleagues (sorry dear, won't be home tonight, got this job thing I've got to go to), some older gentlemen, most of whom looked like lawyers.

There was a smattering of others too, more couples than there used to see, a few groups of women. Occasionally some obviously less affluent people, although with today's ticket prices, baseball is the last sporting refuge of the corporately unendowed. For the most part, though, young professionals and upper-middle class men.

Now, I'm not an "eat the rich" kind of guy. For one thing, a lot of people would find me a pretty tasty target. Furthermore, I don't think there's anything wrong with working hard and enjoying the results. At some point, it's just greedy (Diamond Jim Brady without the panache), but not too many of the people in this crowd fall into that category.

No, what I don't like about these crowds is that they reek of frat boy Republicanism. The mix of testosterone, alcohol, and money too often leads to people like George W. Bush; as Jim Hightower put it, guys who were born on third base and think they hit a triple. Not really the kind who will pick a fight, they're not brave enough for that. More the type who'll rag on the homeless guy asking for change outside the arena and then spend the rest of the evening swapping Hitlery jokes.

Anyway, last night was one of those giveaway nights, everybody got a little something as they came in. We sat down a couple of rows in front of a group of guys who couldn't have looked more like my stereotype had they tried; early-30s, wearing suits with recently removed ties, drinking beer, talking loud. The boys started comparing their souvenirs, excited by junk as only kids can be. Pretty soon, I heard, "Hey, buddy. Hey, buddy, turn around."

So I did. One of them was holding a handful of the giveaways that he'd collected from his buddies. "Here, the kids want them?"

Of course.

Later, during one of the breaks in the game, t-shirts were getting thrown into the stands, people diving for them and whooping when they got one. A shirt arced our way and one of the boys stood up to try to catch it. Sitting next to him was one of the older guys, white hair, distinguished, wearing expensive business casual. Tall and thin, someone with time and money to spend at the gym. A good foot taller than the kid. He stood up and easily plucked it out of the air.

He smiled at the boy, handed him the shirt, and said, "Here you go, son. You look like you want this a lot more than I do."

These were kind, generous things to do. Now, maybe last night was just a fluke and we happened to be sitting amongst a bunch of social justice organizers who won new wardrobes and tickets to the game. Probably not, though. I'd bet a significant sum of money that at least some of the people in question happily and repeatedly vote for people and policies that are anything but kind and generous.

President Ford's press secretary Jerald terHorst once said, "If [President Ford] saw a schoolkid in front of the White House who needed clothing he'd give him the shirt off his back, literally. Then he 'd go right in the White House and veto a school-lunch bill." I understand the psychology. I don't understand the reasoning.

* Precious Angels

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Duck, Duck, Stupid Duck

That Mallard Fillmore, he's hilarious! So what were those lazy, good-for-nothing federal employees doing yesterday?

In a rare coordinated assault on an American combat outpost north of Baghdad, suicide bombers drove one or more cars laden with explosives into the compound on Monday, while other insurgents opened fire in the ensuing chaos, according to witnesses and the American military. Two American soldiers were killed and at least 17 were wounded.
That figures. Taking it easy while we hardworking stiffs have to hump it over to the old cartoon sweatshop. It's enough to drive a guy to drink.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Evolution Of Democracy

Happy Presidents Day!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Lies, Damned Lies And Statistics

Hope Springs Eternal

I'm taking two of my angels to the museum today, along with several of their friends. The exhibit's about sports, so that reduces the odds that they'll run through the halls like escapees from "The Ransom of Red Chief." It'll help too that before we go we'll eat at a local Italian deli. A belly full of pizza and pasta should produce the desirable lethargy in the herd.

Museums are one of those things that my family doesn't use as often as we "should." The kids get annual school field trips to one or another of them. On vacation, we usually end up at a few - I'm a "World's Second Largest Ball of Twine" kind of guy, much to my family's delight. During the rest of the year, it's typically only if there's a particularly interesting exhibit (see, e.g., Sports). I've learned my lesson.

A few years ago, an Impressionism tour came to town. I loaded my precious gifts from God into the car and headed off, ignoring my Lovely Bride's advice. Bought them a staggeringly expensive lunch and then paid an equally staggering special admission cost, after promising them either ice cream or death at the end of the day, depending on behavior. In we went.

It was insanely crowded, as these things always are. (Ask my mother about a trip to the King Tut show during my own childhood. It was almost enough to make her swear off culturizing me.) And, of course, it was Freakishly Tall People Admitted Free Day, which meant that under the best of circumstances we'd see a lot more backs and heads than we would paintings.

These, however, were not the best of circumstances. Three minutes after arriving, one of my lambs was laying on the floor, doing an imitation of a snow angel with cerebral palsy. Another was complaining that his stomach hurt, raising the specter of America's greatest art treasures covered in vomit. Another was satisfied with simply listing all my deficiencies. Loudly.

If this was an exhibition of modern art, perhaps I could have passed it off as part of the show, some kind of performance piece. Not here, though, and certainly not when the docents were starting to whisper into their sleeves like Secret Service agents. Having spent upwards of ninety dollars on lunch, parking, and admissions, we lasted a total of twelve minutes at the museum. It was a very long drive home.

While extreme, this wasn't a singular event. There was the time at the science museum when I turned around (prompted by the laughter of other patrons) to see my youngest with his arms stretched out, lurching along and chanting, "Zombies eat brains." There have been the endless fights at museum gift shops, most of them centered on unyielding demands, and equally unyielding refusals, to buy a rubber coral snake or a stuffed tiger or some other crap that Wal-Mart sells for a third of the cost.

So why do I persist? I suppose mostly because the time's approaching when I won't be able to use pizza and ice cream to convince them to come with me. Soon, I'll go to museums alone or with my wife, and it'll be quiet and grown-up instead of an adventure. It'll be nice, but it will also be a little sad.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday Night Bestest Poems Ever

In times of war, in times of trouble, a nation turns to its poets to make sense of it all. Let us begin with two of the classics.

1. I'm a Little Teapot

I'm a little teapot
Short and stout
Here is my handle
Here is my spout

When I get all steamed up
Hear me shout:
Tip me over
and pour me out!

In this classic jeremiad against British imperialism, we hear echoes of both Indian and American independence. The teapot, representing a ruling class society, is soon overturned by the masses, leading to freedom and its attendant chaos. Small wonder it remains banned in much of the former empire.

2. Trees
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

A worldwide call to revolution, the biting sarcasm and unflinching atheism of Kilmer's "Trees" has made it one of history's most quoted and reviled works of art. The eroticism of the second stanza remains a favorite thesis of academics.

And now, one of my own, thrown down like a majestic, massive, huge, challenging enormous gauntlet of challenge to the lieberals who populate our academifascit "campuses."
A dark and stormy night it 'twas,
Bullets flying at my cuz,
I ducked and covered best I could,
Underneath my desk of wood.

The Democrats, they told a lie,
I really love an apple pie,
A treat they don't serve in Iraq,
Nor here at home, thanks to Barack.

We're living 'neath the Muslim's boot,
I've got to say, it ain't a hoot.
'Cause anyone who hates the pork,
Is a major-leaguing dork.

It is a struggle to the death,
We must fight to our last breath,
Hey look! This is so keen and neato!
I've finished a whole bag of Cheetos!

Parse that, moonbats!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Parent Of The Year, Part 1

I was going to post about Jonah's most recent column today. It's about global warming and contains the usual kind of crap; hysterical environmentalists, capitalism roolz, an unsupported and unsupportable conclusion. And a smug photo, of course. I don't even the energy to link to it, though. It's just too mind-numbing.

I went grocery shopping instead. Found a delicious can of smoked dace in black beans but passed on the eel when my youngest said he wouldn't try it. We stocked up on candy for the grade school party, along with a package of the ever-popular American Chopper series of Valentine's cards. The romance lives!

We got home and my middle one asked for help with a school time-line project. I'm good at that sort of thing. My suggestions:

December 12, 2000 - The End Times begin.
March 17, 2001 - Mommy stops crying.
August 3, 2002 - Daddy teaches me to swear.
May 25, 2003 - What a bunch of bullshit.
November 2, 2004 - The End Times, continued.
February 8, 2005 - Daddy stops crying.
October 7, 2006 - The family enjoys a nice batch of chili.

We spend a lot of time with the school principal.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Slug Blog

I've been raising slugs for a number of years now. Often called the "manatees of the garden" due to their gentle nature, slugs have become an increasingly popular companion animal. Although efforts to train them as guides for people with disabilities have so far fallen short, research has shown clear benefits from slug visits to nursing homes and centers for troubled youth.

These are some of my favorite breeds.

1. Garden Slug

While some aficionados believe the common garden slug is simply too ubiquitous, it remains a choice of families everywhere. Good with children and easy to train, the garden slug has been a suburban favorite since the 1960s.

2. Red Slug

Originally bred for hunting, the red slug is today often found taking home top honors at the nation's most prestigious competitions. It can be somewhat high-strung and needs a good deal of exercise, but in the right hands, the red slug is a hardworking and rewarding companion.

3. Banana Slug

Banana slugs are commonly used by public safety departments around the world for tracking and rescue work. Their keen sense of smell and quick intelligence make them an ideal working slug. They can be territorial and difficult to manage in a house with active children, but young singles and empty-nesters find their loyalty well worth the attention they demand.

4. Jumping Slug

One of the tragedies of modern American life is the use of jumping slugs in the fighting contests still popular in many parts of the South. Often beaten and starved while young in order to promote aggressive behavior, they may be impossible to rehabilitate when rescued. More than one vet has been brought to tears when forced to euthanize one of these poor creatures.

People interested in learning more about slugs, or considering adopting one, are encouraged to visit one of the many slug owners clubs that can be found virtually anywhere. Responsible breeders will be happy to discuss lineage and help you find the perfect slug.

Let's get slugging!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Guernica, Redux

As an art critic, I often hear questions like, "What happened to the idea of Artist as an outsider, as a mirror for who we are?" While you may not find them in the museums that have all too often become toys for their wealthy patrons, it is still possible to find works that speak to that which is savage and free.

1. Thomas Kincaid

We see in this image of "Cobblestone Mill" the classic Kincaid style; brooding yet oddly garish. A sense of dread hangs over the landscape, and we gaze at the cottage as we would an impending disaster, certain of the horror to come, yet unable to look away.

2. Margaret Keane

Clearly patterned after Dorothea Lange's Depression-era photographic studies, Margaret Keane's "Peek A Boo-quet" captures the loneliness and existential hunger of a declining West. A chilling portrait of tomorrow's lost youth.

3. Sam Butcher

Few sculptors today can match Sam Butcher for realism and bare-knuckled emotion. In this example, titled "Follow Your Heart," Butcher lays bare the deceit and corruption of organized religion and its handmaiden industrialists. Small wonder that his work has been appropriated by the European anarchist movement.

American artists, throwing themselves into the gears of the machine that is our dying nation, using the tears of their anguish to salve our wounds. Too late, but not in vain.


Jennifer notes the glaring omission of Stefano Casali, whose Piss Love shocked the art world. Here we see the continuation of that daring tradition.

Monday, February 5, 2007


When I am an old man, I shall wear tin foil
with a swimsuit that doesn't go, and creeps up.
And I shall spend my savings on crank and shower caps
and forks, and say we've no money for tea.
I shall lie down in the food court
and eat from dumpsters and howl at strangers
and walk naked along the avenues
and make up for the bad thoughts in my head.
I shall go out in my helmet in the snow
and dig in other people's gardens
and spit at cats.

You can wear a kilt and forgo bathing
and eat three heads of cabbage at a go
or only Tic Tacs and nickels for a week
and hoard liver and gunpowder and iodine and things in coffins.

But now we must wear clothes
and take our medicine and not swear at trees
and stay away from the children.
We must have meat for dinner and scream at the television.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear tin foil.

Thanks for the inspiration, K.O.

Debbie Gibson - Electric Youth

By popular demand.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Sunday Morning Top Ten

1. You're Having My Baby- Paul Anka
Often referred to as "The White Marvin Gaye," Anka used this signature song to illuminate the political and social tensions of the late Vietnam War era. When he screams,

I can see it, your face is glowing,
I can see it in your eyes
I'm happy in knowin'
That you're having my baby

you can hear all the rage and sadness of that troubled time.

2. Ice Ice Baby - Vanilla Ice
Vanilla Ice has always carried a heavy burden as the Godfather of Rap. While his entire catalog speaks to the horrors he saw growing up in the Dallas suburbs, it is this song that captured the essence of what it meant to be white in 1990s America. The emotion is raw and the pain is real.

3. God Bless the USA - Lee Greenwood
Building on the work of artists such as Frank Zappa and Phil Ochs, Greenwood combines wry satire with a passionate cry against the corporate war machine. To be a part of a stadium full of people singing out this anthem is to understand our nation’s proud history of protest and dissent.

4. You Light Up My Life - Debbie Boone
Boone exploded on the scene in 1977 with “You Light Up My Life.” The scorching vocals and unabashed sexuality of the lyrics call to mind such earlier classics as Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” and Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” Boone remains a favorite presence in college towns around the country.

5. Chariots of Fire - Vangelis
N.W.A. cites this 1982 classic as one of the main influences for the admittedly derivative “Straight Outta Compton.” Known as “Howling Okra” in his native Greece, Vangelis continues to tour worldwide, often torching his keyboard at the conclusion of his act.

6. Eat It – “Weird Al” Yankovic
A stunningly original break from the bland pop that populated the air waves in those days, “Eat It” quickly climbed both the rock and soul charts, making Yankovic one of the premier crossover artists. Yankovic continues to blaze new musical trails, having followed up his earlier success with such experimental works as “Amish Paradise” “and “Angry White Boy Polka.”

7. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go - Wham!
This death metal duo’s most famous hit was widely banned after it was alleged to have prompted a rash of teenage suicides. Although this resulted in the Clash backing out of a commitment to open for Wham! during the band's 1984 “Blood Red, Black Heart” tour, lead singer George Michael remains defiant and unapologetic to this day.

8. I Think I Love You - The Partridge Family
MC5’s predecessor as house band for the White Panther Party, this hard-rocking group was a family in name only. The band eventually split up when founding member Suzanne Crough left in 1973 to write for such artists as Led Zeppelin and The Edgar Winter Band, but not before climbing the charts with “I Think I Love You,” which remains a favorite of today’s hard-core radio pirates.

9. My Heart Will Go On - Kenny G
Kenny G melded the styles of Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, and Chick Corea in this groundbreaking classic, yet it remains breathtakingly original. With hints of Chicago blues and the shanty towns of early 1970’s Kingston, Jamaica, this G-Dog hit has inspired a generation of underground spinners and neo-Dadaist’s.

10. Big Yellow Taxi - Counting Crows
Much like Hüsker Dü’s cover version of “I've Got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates,” Counting Crows took a little-noticed pop song and set it on fire. Critics found previously unimagined layers of complexity in the Crows’ version, making it an instant favorite for those who are willing to expand their musical tastes beyond the trite and familiar.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Sports Illustrated Hates America

From the "Life of Reilly" column in the February 5, 2007 Sports Illustrated (sorry, no link, not on line yet, relying on dead Old Media, does it still count?):

So what do these five athletes have in common? They were all killed in Iraq during a two-week period in January.

. . . .

Five athletes. Five futures. All gone.

Five of 84 Americans killed from New Year's Day through Sunday. Five of 3,084 Americans killed since the war began.

Athletes love teams, and when they run out of sports teams they sometimes join bigger teams, ones with Humvees for huddles and tombstones for trophies and coaches they've never met sending them into a hell the never imagined.

And they throw their whole selves into it anyway, because they are brave and disciplined and will chew through concrete to win the game.

But what if the game can't be won?
What is it with these sports reporters? First Keith Olbermann, now Rick Reilly. Why are they, still part of a small, lonely crowd of mainstream national newspeople, taking a stand? Is it because they spend their days following men and women, boys and girls, chase their dreams and it hits close to home when those dreams get snatched away? Is it because these athletes seem so invulnerable when they're on the field that it's hard to believe that they're dying so young, killed by bullets and car bombs? Or is it because watching people strive and celebrate can't help but spark an appreciation for the human race and it hurts so goddamned much to see a member of it snuffed out in a failed war built on lies?

Or maybe it's just because Olbermann and Reilly are honest, intelligent men of courage. Whatever the motivation, they're telling the truth, loudly. It'd be nice if our political pundits took a lesson from them.