Pledge Week! Pledge Now!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Black men can't kick


Of the 724 points scored in yesterday’s NFL games, 240 of them, more than 30 percent, were scored by a lilly white group of men who’ve always ruled a crucial facet of football the way Bull Connor used to rule Selma.
It’s a racial profiling so odd it practically defies belief, but anyone looking at the history of the NFL would conclude African Americans athletes are the victims of blatant discrimination.
Because on its pale face, it looks like the fair-skinned men who run the NFL don’t want black men kicking the football. They’d rather entrust the task to small white men named like they ought to be kicking in quaint wooden shoes.
While many of our best professional athletes are black, most of our best kickers seem to be, of all things, Scandinavian, a land known more for windmills and lutefisk than football.
Some of the greatest scoring machines in the NFL history are agile black men like Jim Brown, Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders and Walter Payton. Their explosive play will dominate highlight reels for as long as the game is played.
Yet in a sport where nearly 70 percent of the competitors are African American, some of the league’s best kickers have been named Jan Stenerud, Morten Andersen, and Gary Anderson (he’s a South African in the old school sense).
Yesterday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers featured a game-winning kick by a white man named Shaun Suisham, thus helping his team beat the Buffalo Bills and their kicker, Ryan Lindell.
Other kickers scoring points yesterday were white men named Nate Kaeding, Garrett Hartley, David Buehler, David Akers, Neil Rackers, Ron Bironas and Josh Scobee.
I haven’t the motivation to research all their lineages, but I can pretty much eliminate equatorial regions as their ancestral homelands.
In fact, in the past three years only one African American has been summoned to try his, er, hand at kicking. And he isn’t even a kicker.
He’s Detroit Lion defensive lineman Nadamukong Suh.
And he’s scored one point.
He was called in to make the extra point after the regular kicker suffered an injury.
The regular kicker’s name is Hanson, Jason.
In what for any blogger passes for actual research, I believe I found the best African American kicker in NFL history. He played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1985-89 and is the Nigerian-born Don Amechi Igwebuike.
Igwebuike’s kicking career ended when he was indicted for smuggling $1 million in heroin from Nigeria. He was acquitted of the crime in 1991.
Some sources say there have only been seven African Americans who earned their living kicking in the NFL, none of them for any duration longer than Igwebuike’s, and several of them were punters, most notably Miami Dolphin Reggie Roby.
By comparison there are currently seven African American head coaches in the NFL (and zero owners).
Yet, just seven kickers in the entire history of the NFL.
It’s extraordinary.
The only thing I can conclude is blatantly racist.
Blacks are just too cool to kick.
It has to be. The culture that gifted humanity with the Delta blues wants nothing to do with an essentially silly skill practiced by grade schoolers at recess and men who reside countries that insist on calling soccer futbol.
Every aspiring football player, black or white, probably first aspires to be a quarterback, then wide receiver, etc.
A good kicker is likely someone who’s failed at every other position.
But why it seems to draw men of Scandinavian/Northern European descent mystifies.
Perhaps the harsh conditions of their ancestral homelands make them immune to the inevitable criticism that comes with high stakes kicking. Because even skillful kickers are eventually hooted out of town for missed kicks or evident stupidity.
That’s what just happened here in Pittsburgh with Jeff Reed. He said some stupid things, missed some easy kicks and now we’re all in love with this Suisham guy.
At least until next Sunday.
In this regard, Reed followed in the cleated footsteps of the former Indianapolis Colts kicker named -- Hello, Holland! -- Jeff Vanderjagt.
During a drunken interview, he once told reporters Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and head coach Tony Dungy were chumps and would never win a championship.
Manning could have been disparaging the entire kicking community when he said, “What can I say? Our idiot kicker got liquored up and ran his mouth off. The sad thing is, he’s a good kicker. A good kicker, but an idiot.”
The next year Vanderjagt was gone. The year after that Manning and Dungy won the Super Bowl.
You’d think there’s bound to be some grant money out there for a guy like me to snag to study the whole thing. It’s fascinating.
Of course, if I was serious about money, I’d devote my time to learning how to boot a football through the uprights.
Really, it’s perfect for a white guy like me. I’m Swedish and certainly have a high tolerance for disparaging remarks about my shortcomings.
I could kick myself for not thinking of it sooner.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Some movies I might or might not see


With so many interesting movies by so many of our top stars either out or emerging, I think it’s time to take a look at what Hollywood’s offering during this busy season.
And with so many of these stars leading extravagant and intrusive off-screen lives, this will probably get snarky in a jiffy.
  • “Unstoppable” -- I love trains, train movies and Denzel Washington so this one tops my must-see list. The reviews are great and it is one of three major releases filmed here in western Pennsylvania. Denzel brings no distracting baggage to his films. In fact, he’s becoming one of our coolest stars.
  • “Fair Game” -- This is the story of the disgraceful Valerie Plame affair. Some of the pre-release events I’ve seen have shown Plame with Naomi Watts and, gee, Plame is far prettier than the starlet cast to play her. And she’s smart. The combination means I’d rather see the real Plame being interviewed about her life than the film version of events. Plus, this movie will remind of me of guys like Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, and Robert Novak and that’s a dark part of history I just don’t care to revisit during the holiday season.
  • “127 Hours” -- Gruesome tale of the man who had to cut his own arm off to survive a rock climbing accident. I can’t see mention of the movie without being reminded of a similar event from about 15 years ago when I was working for National Enquirer. A Pennsylvania woodsman was pinned by a tree he’d felled and had to sever his own leg to escape. It was one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever heard. It got such saturation coverage the Enquirer eventually passed allowing me to fabricate a better reason for when friends asked why there’d be no story from me. I told them it lacked enough compelling elements to warrant Enquirer interest. In order for it to a be an Enquirer story, I told them, the woodsman would have needed to have severed his own leg and then eaten it to survive. This looks really good but as sitters are hard to come by, it won’t make the, uh, cut.
  • “Little Fockers” -- “Meet the Parents” was wonderful. But how this humble story inspired a three-movie franchise with a cast of A-listers is a disgrace. Everyone involved ought to be ashamed. Robert DeNiro? Again? This is the man who played Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull?”  He ought to be ashamed of himself. Same with Ben Stiller. Every time I hear this crew’s going on another cheap money grab it makes me like the funny original less and less.
  • “Tangled” -- This looks like a fun Disney movie. My wife’s taking our daughters to see it today and the girls seem a bit miffed the old man doesn’t want to tag along. Well, I predict by 2012, I’ll have seen “Tangled” about 150 times on the DVD we’re bound to own. Me watching college football with the boys in the bar seems like a more sensible option for a guy who gets bored with re-runs.
  • “The Next Three Days” -- I’ve done a complete 180 on Russell Crowe. I used to hate him for his pretensions and public surliness. Then I loved him (and Denzel) in “American Gangster,” a movie that still freezes the remote whenever I stumble upon it. Then Crowe came to film this one here in Pittsburgh and I heard all kinds of stories about what a great guy he was while here in town. That means a lot to me. Maybe he just doesn’t like people in New York, L.A., or every other place he’s filmed on location. I heard one story that he was in a local guitar shop and overheard a couple saying a fine mandolin was just too expensive. The story, one I believe, says he paid for it and walked out without even waiting to be thanked. Makes me wish I’d been mandolin shopping that day. The movie trailers make the scenery look like a love letter to Pittsburgh. Very cool. Alas, it is being dogged by lukewarm reviews. I’ll wait for the DVD.
  • “Love and Other Drugs” -- This is the third major release this month filmed in Pittsburgh. Take that L.A. If anyone surpassed Crowe in the good guy department it was Jake Gyllenhaal. The city fell in love with him. Me, I’m in love with his co-star Anne Hathaway. She’s had my heart ever since “Ella Enchanted.” If the term didn’t have such dog-like connotations I’d call her fetching. Plus, she’s nude in this and that still appeals to the eighth grader in me. The reviews aren’t great, but I haven’t read any reviews penned by eighth graders. It’s in play if Val’s eager to see it. Looks like it would be decent enough if all the actors remained fully clothed.
  • “The Tourist” -- Johnny Depp is one of my favorite actors; Angelina Jolie/Brad Pitt one of my least. They make what ought to be one of the most fun things in the world -- being an adored celebrity -- seem as crushing a burden as driving the last bus bound for Surlytown. It would take a lot of nudity for me to want to see a Jolie in a movie.
  • “True Grit” -- This is the most intriguing offering of the season. First of all, I loved the original and Jeff Bridges is becoming one of our most interesting actors, if not the best. We just loved him in “Crazy Heart.” But the Coen brothers have been infuriatingly uneven lately. After being golden with a run that included some of my favorite movies (“Raising Arizona,” “Fargo,” “The Big Lebowski”), they have lost their way. I hated “Burn After Reading” and “No Country for Old Men.” Their purest defenders say the latter was true to the original intent, but after 2 hours and 40 minutes I have a right to expect a conclusion. It was an infuriating afternoon at a movie I’ve heard some call “No Ending for Stupid Movie.” This “True Grit” looks great and the cast is outstanding. I’m eager to see the reviews. If they screw this up, may both Joel and Ethan Coen be horsewhipped by the ghost of John Wayne.
This list omits about 20 other new movies that are so obviously dreadful (“Yogi Bear,” “Faster,” Burlesque”) they deserve no consideration.
The best movie I’ve seen this year is by far “The Social Network.” And “Zombieland” is uproarious fun.
In short, Hollywood’s still capable of making some great entertainment, but its batting average is well below the Mendoza line.
If it were a ball player it would be utility infielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Pat Downs thinks about pat downs


Here’s a story that ran Tuesday on msnbc.com and, hey, they pay! I’d already scored a couple of holiday assignments from them, but this one is special to me because it's the first and it came straight from my blog.


I’d posted on Monday a blog bit about invasive airport pat downs titled “Keep me safe! Touch my junk!”
As usual, it meandered all over the place as I, uh, groped for a snappy conclusion. Out of nowhere, this popped into my head:
“I think I’m going to spend the day searching the internet for a Patrick or a Patricia Downs to ask them if they’re invasive by nature or upset that people are hating all these pat downs. I’ll let you know if anything comes of it.”
Well, this is what came of it. I pitched the idea to an editor there and she asked if I could have it to her in 24 hours. It was a cinch. There must be 10,000 people named Pat Downs on Facebook and five of them called right back.
So here you go. I wish you a truly Happy Thanksgiving and urge you all to download the 2006 Ray Davies song, “Thanksgiving Day,” and make it a tradition of playing it full blast first thing in the morning to get our best holiday off on the right foot.
Leave it to a Brit to write the song about the quintessential American holiday.

Read on . . .

It was bound to happen. A quiet backlash is brewing amongst the people who love pat downs, enjoy pat downs and, gadzooks, have even become parents because of loving encounters with pat downs.
Talk about invasive procedures.
“I absolutely adore my Pat Downs,” says Jim Downs, who in a 1972 act of holy matrimony turned his beloved fiancee into something an increasing number of fidgety travelers denounce with venom.
He turned a perfectly respectable Pat Reed into Pat Downs.
“I flipped on the news the other day and saw scrolling across the bottom, ‘People angry about pat downs at the airport,’ and I thought, ‘I don’t remember angering anyone at the airport,’” says Pat Downs, an Avenel, Maryland, secretary. 
News reports late Monday indicated the government intends to reduce the number of pat downs, something that ought to make a number of confused and frightened Pat Downs flee for the border.
Thanks to the TSA’s intimate security measures, pat downs have overnight become a national punching bag. They do pat down skits on SNL, cable news channels air experts debating the efficacy of pat downs at the airport and at coffee shops, taverns, and hair salons across the nation, the topic of pat downs has become a conversational lightning rod.
Well, let’s clear the air.
First of all, there are Pat Downs in nearly every town in America. Pat Downs delivers your mail in Toledo. She teaches piano in Spokane. You could be sitting right next to a genuine Pat Downs on a bus and never even know it.
They’re just like the rest of us.
“I put on my Facebook page the other night, ‘I am Pat Downs and I do not appreciate people not wanting me in their airports!’” says Pat Downs, a 48-year-old systems administrator for a Little Rock, Arkansas, general contractor.
She said the onslaught of news stories about Pat Downs has put a focus on a name that for years had been unburdened by any snickering notoriety. 
“A friend of mine, I’ve known him for years, never made any connection about my name until he saw ‘Pat Downs’ in a headline,” she says. “Now, he thinks it’s hilarious.”
Others, like 33-year-old Pat Downs of Toledo, Ohio, was so enamored with the name’s connotations he almost let it dictate his career.
“Honest, I almost went into law enforcement because I wanted to be known every where I went as Officer Pat Downs,” he says. “Instead I became a mailman for the U.S. Postal Service.”
Now he’s postman Pat Downs, something that goes far beyond the normal job description.
Whenever he wants to avoid hearing predictable jokes, he simply introduces himself as Patrick Downs so most people fail to making the obvious connection.
Of course, some of those who love their Pat Downs will hasten to inform others that they are getting their pat downs from the real thing.
“I’m a mechanic and I heard the guys talking about pat downs and I told them I know everything there is to know about Pat Downs,” says Jim Downs, 68. “She’s the mother of my two kids. I’ve loved her since the day we met. When people say they hate pat downs, I tell them they’ve never met my Pat Downs. I’m a lucky man to have Pat Downs in my life.”
As for the crux of the debate, Pat Downs it seems are, like the rest of us, divided on pat downs.
“I disagree with the procedure,” says the Toledo Pat Downs. “I know these guys have a job to do and are only getting paid about $12 an hour. I’m sure they’re not thrilled about it either. But I don’t think they should be able to use the front of their hands or come that close to the private parts. I wouldn’t want them doing that to my daughter.”
Little Rock Pat Downs, however, disagrees. “I don’t really see the problem,” she says. “It’s done in public and not in a private area behind closed doors. If it prevents anyone from getting on a plane with a bomb, then I’m for it. It makes me feel safer. We’ve already had one underwear bomber so it’s not like this is something someone just dreamed up.”
So let’s hope that clears up some misconceptions and restores some civility to a debate about what we have to expect from Pat Downs -- “a delicious barbecue chicken for one thing,” according to Jim Downs. “She’s a great cook, but that chicken’s outstanding.”
And then there’s this: Of all the Pat Downs surveyed for this story, Pat Downses from around the country, not a one of them confessed to an urge to spend a long day going from one garage sale to another to browse over tables of stuff you no longer want.
In short, Pat Downs don’t want anything to do with your junk.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Keep me safe! Touch my junk!


In “The Sting,” the outstanding Paul Newman/Robert Redford 1973 film, Redford and a crafty old con man target a mob numbers runner for larcenous deception.
The old man and another insider stage a knife fight to lure the eager mark into taking the loot.
During a clever swap, Redford’s Johnny Hooker tells the mark to put the money way down the front of his pants to avoid detection.
“The toughest guy in the world won’t frisk you there,” Hooker says.
I was thinking of that scene the other day as I stood, legs spread, in the security vortex at Greater Pittsburgh Airport.
The TSA agent didn’t look like the toughest guy in the world. In fact, I figured I could have kicked his butt had I been indifferent to spending the next five to 10 years in a federal penitentiary.
He had a job to do. I doubt he sprung of bed each day all chipper and thinking, “Man! I’m the luckiest guy in the world! Today I get to run my hands all over nearly 300 sullen strangers! Yippee!”
He sure didn’t look happy about getting what I guess you can call “frisky” with me.
My arms were spread and I’m sure to the lady operating the full body scanner I resembled the Leonardo da Vinci sketch of the naked Renaissance man, only one with a modern middle age paunch.
He did the arms, the chest, then knelt down to my ankles and started working his way north with a series of squeezes what in other circumstances could have been called affectionate.
 “Okay, now I’m going to come clear up to the bottom of the torso.”
I’d never heard it called that before. It’s a perfectly bureaucratic phrase. I’m sure the rest of us civilians can instinctively come up with one or two mono-syllabic words to describe the region he was duty bound to secure.
Did I feel violated? No.
Did I want express outrage? No, but I did make a mental note to place an industrial-sized whoopee cushion near the bottom of my torso next time I fly.
And the worst way to travel somehow manages to make itself even more irksome and degrading.
Few people remember but one of the biggest stories of the summer of 2001 was the push to pass an airline passenger bill of rights.
Why, passengers were tired of being treated so rudely. We’d had it up to the tops of our torsos with such shabby treatment.
Remember what bumped that story off the front pages?
Sure you do. After the terrors of 9/11 we were all willing to submit to any indignity that would ensure our planes were safe.
I guess the hyperbolic outrage over these invasive pat downs is a sign of how complacent we’ve become.
What’s amazing to me is there has been actual attempted bombings that involve every invasive security measure that have us literally so up in arms.
We had a shoe bomber so we all had to shuck their shoes.
We had a bomber with explosives in his underwear -- and you’d think there’s a dandy pick-up line in there somewhere -- so now we’re getting grabbed in places once reserved for intimates.
No one can argue the whole system isn’t utterly insane and wasteful. In 10 years, we’ve had fewer than a dozen young men of Middle Eastern descent try to board planes with bombs, yet every single passenger from toddlers to grannies is suspect.
I take a back seat to know one in regard to civil liberties, but the current system makes no sense. Yet, who’s to argue it’s not working?
For me an even more egregious incident than the invasive pat down happened on the way home.
I was given bottle of fine cabernet and thought it would be safer if I returned it home in my carryon, rather than risk getting it smashed by the gorillas in baggage handling.
It was corked and waxed. I would need banned weapons and a good reason to celebrate to open the thing in flight.
Never occurred to me it was a liquid and thus eligible for confiscation. They told me I could go back and check it, but I didn’t need add yet another layer of hassle to my trip.
I said cheers, boys. This one’s on me.
So you know what I’m going to do?
I think I’m going to spend the day searching the internet for a Patrick or a Patricia Downs to ask them if they’re invasive by nature or upset that people are hating all these pat downs.
I’ll let you know if anything comes of it.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cheering for a devil of an NFL celebration


Please don’t take this wrong or think me evil, but I’m rooting for a Satan worshipper to score a touchdown this weekend.
I want him to set the football down and make a demonstrative sign of gratitude to the Prince of Darkness. I’m not saying I want to see him sacrifice a virgin on the goalpost -- as if there’s one to be found at any 70,000-seat NFL colosseum.
I’d just like to see some humble gesture to show the devil that, hey, this one’s for you.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the god-like men who run the NFL would have a collective fit and that would please my mischievous soul.
This will be the year I’ll remember as the one the NFL came unhinged. One week it’s fining its best players tens of thousands of dollars for hits it celebrates with commemorative DVDs. The next week it defends as just referee decisions that confound logic.
I think it is in the midst of a nervous breakdown at the realization it is about to initiate a work stoppage that will cause the game grievous harm.
And through it all they simply ooze arrogance over the league belief that it knows what’s best for America.
No where is this more apparent than in the league crackdown on excessive celebrations. It doesn’t want any one doing any dances, donning any costumes or smuggling fireworks in their jock straps.
It’s gotten so bad the officials flagged two Dallas Cowboys who merely chest bumped, a move that infuriated -- speaking of Satan -- Cowboy owner Jerry Jones.
Fifty years ago there was no such thing as excessive celebrations. Stoic midwest farm boys would score touchdowns, hand the ball to the ref, and line up for the extra point.
But America’s changed and so has the NFL.
Today many of the men scoring most of the touchdowns are urban blacks from impoverished backgrounds. Newly enriched, some of them now flash gold teeth, wear $15,000 mink coats and drive Hummers tricked out with things like hot tubs.
For them, excess is something to celebrate.
The exemplar of this is the artist formerly known as Chad Johnson. He’s paid to play wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals. But as anyone who's ever watched him knows, he’s a performance artist who plays for himself.
He changed his name to Chad Ocho Cinco (his number’s 85) and was the greatest end zone celebrant the game’s ever known.
He didn’t just dance. He performed skits. Clearly, he practiced what he’d do after he scored a touchdown as intently as he did the skills needed to score touchdowns in the first place.
My favorite was when he put the ball down and did his “Lord of the Dance” impersonation.
This gold-toothed, 6-foot-1, ebony-skinned gazelle for just a moment convinced me he was a plucky little leprechaun. It was featured on all the sports highlight shows, which was its sole purpose. 
I thought it was marvelous, but stoic midwest farm boys, the kind who now run the NFL, were outraged. 
They want flashy blacks to play football and attract that demographic, but when they score points they want them to act like pro golfers after sinking a long par putt.
Meanwhile, all this is going on while one excessive celebration is overlooked nearly every game.
Yes, it’s the “Praise Jesus!” touchdown celebration. The player scores, kneels down, head reverentially bowed and then leaps skyward to say something like, “Thank you, Lord, for allowing the defense to part long enough for me to score for your greater glory and so I can fulfill a lucrative bonus clause in my multi-million dollar contract. Now, how about that two-point conversion!”
But no official would dare flag a player for a praise Jesus celebration.
That’s why I want to see a Satan worshipper score and later inform reporters his gestures were to celebrate his dark under lord.
It would infuriate the holy rollers who run and support the NFL. They’d want to run him out of the league.
But it’s an obvious freedom of speech issue. Either you’re allowed to celebrate in your own way or you’re not. 
To be clear, I do not worship Satan or advocate others to do so. 
And it’s certainly not God I resent.
It’s all the men who act like Him. To hell with them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

One-way tickets to Mars

Washington State University professor Dirk Schulze-Makuch says the key to inevitable space colonization is sending fearless astronauts to places like Mars -- and just leaving them there.
He makes a compelling argument. He says the risks and expenses of one-way voyages that would last as long as six months would be sliced in half and that these men and women would be like American pioneers from centuries past.
For eternal glory, they would face unimaginable hardship, a barren existence and, he says, a longing for human company that would be unquenchable.
Not if I had anything to do with it.
You let me pick who goes and soon Mars will look like the last day of the month at the downtown department of motor vehicles.
Here’s just a partial list of the folks I’m sending on a one-way flight to the Red Planet.
  • Brett Favre -- I’m starting to get the feeling Brett Favre spends a lot of time staring in the mirror saying, man, I’m Brett Favre. Martian mirrors would be perfect for that kind of preening. Plus, I figure he’s going to need some place to live after his wife tosses him out for sending dirty pictures to surgically enhanced sideline reporters.
  • Those five guys who chirp, “Hey! Where’s the $20 you owe me?” every time I see them. So long fellas. I’ll pay you the very next time I see you. And this time I really, really, mean it.
  • Kate Gosselin -- With all her book signings, dancing shows, etc., this is the only way her kids could possibly see any less of her than they do right now so that makes sending this mom to Mars the responsible thing to do.
  • Snickers -- I’m still having trouble adjusting to our new dog and figure him spending his wild years on Mars might ease our transition. I’ll sell it to the girls as a historical opportunity for their little purse puppy to earn enduring fame. I’ll agree we can replace Snickers only on the condition that the next pet is just a wee bit more masculine than our nasty little yipper. Then I’ll bring home a hamster.
  • Donald Trump -- My list is not purely punitive. I’d like to see what a master developer like Trump could do with some truly pristine real estate.
  • “The rent is too damn high!” guy -- He won’t be able to shout that campaign complaint if he lives in a Martian shack, at least if he beats Trump to the planet.
  • My friend John -- Because of his callousness at my choking incident, John’s enjoyed a starring role in my blog the last few days. Here’s what he wrote to our friends about what happened. It’s about 90 percent lie. “Chris, buddy, no need to thank me for saving your life at the Chinese place Sunday. I know you'd have done the same for me if I had been choking on a piece of dim sum too. (And no need to be embarrassed by the shrimp projectile you fired from your throat at the patrons at the next table, it's all just part of the Heimlich Maneuver.) Besides, Val's humble words of gratitude were more than enough. And don’t feel obliged about owing me for saving your life. I’m sure it won’t come up again.” In order for him to one-up me on shipping him to Mars, he’d have to arrange from there to have me sent to Jupiter. Ain’t gonna happen.
  • Jeff Probst -- This one’s going to really hurt because he’s my favorite pop culture celebrity on this planet. I’ll miss him when he departs it for another one. Still, the opportunity to set up a “Suvivor: Mars” is too obvious to neglect.
  • Conan O’Brien -- I’ve watched his manic and uneven new show a couple of times and can’t help but think sending him to Mars would be a sort of homecoming.
  • Dirk Schulze-Makuch -- Pioneering history is rife with tales of cannibalism. If the MREs spoil it would be good to have the guy who dreamed up the whole scheme around in case anyone wants to try their hand at some butt jerky.
  • Everyone listed in the Greater Boston Area phone directory -- That wouldn’t rid Earth of every obnoxious New England Patriot and Boston Red Sox fan, but it’s a good first step.
So let’s just call that a start. Once we get done with Mars, we’ll still have about seven planets that need colonizing.
Everyone better behave.
And you’d be advised not to pester me about that $20 I owe you while I’m working on my lists.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Long live the spork & me!

I can say without hyperbole I nearly died yesterday.
I lead a soft life bereft of danger. My health is good and exposure to threats minimal.
That meant Sunday in New York elevated all my risks. I’d be inebriated in an unfamiliar city, increasing the chances I’d stumble in front of a speeding taxi or get gunned down by any of the numerous homicidal maniacs who call the Big Apple home.
Any of that would have at least made an interesting death story, and I’m all for that.
That’s why my near death experience would have been fatally embarrassing to my humble legacy, had I not survived it.
Blame it on a bacon-armored shrimp.
John and I were enjoying dim sum at the Golden Unicorn in Chinatown. Dim sum is a great exotic treat where the food is served on little carts pushed by waitresses offering trays of tiny feasts. The girls bring the carts past and you point with your chopsticks at what you want.
It’s wonderful.
And John, whom I’ve recently mentioned as my most corrupt and soulless friend, is great company. He’s witty, profane and so sacrilegious I imagine dining with him would be much like sharing dim sum with Satan.
Our bellies were full from an hour of rapacious over-eating. Yet, we pressed on.
I don’t remember how it happened. I may have been distracted by my eagerness to work the words “dimolition derby” into the conversation whenever the carts collided, but the blame goes to simple poor manners and gluttony.
I didn’t even realize I was choking.
All I remember was my body started shutting down. I remember reaching for a glass of water and my hand starting to shake violently.
I don’t remember feeling pain. Only bewildered alarm.
I remember ordering my body to behave. I didn’t want to make a scene, even as I was choking to death.
An unchewed golf ball-sized chunk of lightly fried shrimp wrapped in bacon was lodged in my throat.
Now, I know better than that. But as this was a Chinese restaurant, the custom is to use chopsticks, the most ridiculous dining utensil ever conceived to convey food into the mouth.
You can’t saw steak with chopsticks. It takes practice to skillfully pick up some General Tso chicken, let alone a slippery pork dumpling. They are inferior to even the spork, a really handy innovation that by all logic should reduce by a full third the space of every single silverware drawer in the world.
But after an hour of using the chopsticks I’d gotten careless. I didn’t want to bite the piece in half and risk having the remainder plummet into a puddle of soy and splash stains on my shirt.
So I just shoveled the whole chunk into my mouth.
John later said it lasted about a minute. He thought I was having a seizure.
Somehow, I got that sucker down. I restored to normal almost immediately and we began to piece together what had happened.
The incident, of course, dominated the conversation the rest of the day. I didn’t see my life pass before my eyes or anything like that and take away no great lessons other than the reinforcement of the ones my mother told me about proper table manners.
I haven’t had any foxhole conversion to lead a better life, change any of my habits or enjoy this precious life any more than I already dearly do.
We spent the rest of the day just as we’d planned. We hit the bars and whooped it up with unbridled revelry.
John, of course, is already spinning the story to his advantage. He said today he intends to compose an e-mail telling all our friends about my piggish behavior and the heroic steps he took save my life, a complete fabrication which I fear will somehow take hold in spite of the lies.
I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say I could have died right there. People choke to death all the time. And that’s not the way I want to go.
I have no fear of death as long as it doesn’t have to hurt. I argue the best way to go is to die peacefully in your sleep of multiple gun shot wounds, which isn’t nearly as contradictory as it sounds.
I can now say there isn’t much real pain involved in nearly choking to death. The body just seems to check out. I’m happy I’ll soon be home in the arms of my loved one who, despite all my jokes, need me around for many more productive decades.
John selfishly wondered what would have happened to him if I’d have died. Would he have been stuck with the whole bill? Could he have persuaded the manager to offer him and a guest a free meal to compensate for the unpleasantness he’d endured the day his old buddy died?
I asked John to describe how I looked as the death mask tried to descend on my face.
“Oh, it was awful,” he said. “Your face was turning bright red. Your eyes were bulging and you were shaking so badly I thought you might overturn the table. I thought you were a goner. It was very disturbing.”
I told him I was surprised by his humanity.
“Oh, I didn’t mean I was disturbed for you. I meant it was disturbing for any of us who had to see it.”
So I’m damn glad to be alive today. Every day, really. I hope you are, too.
And I hope when I do die it will be quick, neat, and far from my evil friend who’s disappointed he couldn’t use my untimely demise as a bargaining chip for a free meal.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Random thoughts from NYC


News reports say stranded cruise passengers survived on nothing but spam, mayo sandwiches and booze! Booze! Booze! Sounds like my diet from 1985-89.
I’m confident I could write a decent and semi-coherent blog post about the whole incident, but I’m lacking the motivation.
As previously reported, I’m in the midst of a splendid NYC frolic. My every instinct is to completely blow off the blog until I feel the urge to write something Thanksgivingy.
But after blogging about three times a week for more than two years I feel compelled to post something. Anything.
This is a mild form of insanity. It’s not like the blog police will come along and revoke my license to blog or make me take a blogging pay cut.
So here are some random thoughts from the past couple of days mingled with a tweet or two.
  • Critics saying Bush's "Decision Points" is no "War & Peace." Had he been true to history, he'd have named his book, "War & War.” The release of books by two of my favorite topics for vastly different reasons -- Bush and Keith Richards -- should have spurred thousands of words of comment for me. But all I could manage about Bush was the “War & War” line. I just didn’t want to pile on. As for Keith, I’m couldn’t be more thrilled that by writing his life story he and I are now colleagues. 
  • If coral is a stony ocean rock and corral is a pony pen, can corrral be a rocky ocean enclosure to keep seahorses?
  • If the Shaws had a son and they named him Rick, would Rick Shaw be destined to go into the ground transportation business?
  • Yesterday our group had a really great driver who full times as a decorated NYPD officer. He honored me by inviting me to ride shotgun in the big luxury van so we could yap without interference. We talked all day about our favorite foods. He’d recently driven his family to Pittsburgh just to enjoy a Primanti’s sandwich. How cool is that? We talked about America’s great heirloom sandwiches from muffaletta, to cheese steaks, to lobster rolls. He told me some great cop stories, too, about his involvement in the Times Square bomber case, which celebs are cool (Dan Ackroyd) and which are jerks (Alex Rodriguez and Beyonce). And he told mea about an incident from just the other day where he held a victim’s bloody, dangling eyeball in his hand while awaiting the ambulance. We’re going to meet for cigars next time I’m in town. All I bring to the table in this friendship is a lot of questions. He’s got the stories. I’ve got the questions. I could ask guys like this questions until out of boredom he tases my chest just to get me to shut up.
  • How about a half-hour antiquing show where former Happy Days star Erin Moran seeks interesting items. Call it "Joannie Loves Tchotchke!”
  • In all my years of visiting New York, I’ve rarely gone to Broadway shows. It just seems too prohibitive with costs, time and other concerns when there are so many other wonderful options. That’s going to change. Last night our gracious hosts took us to see “Memphis.” It’ll go down as one of the best times I’ve ever had in New York. It was absolutely enchanting and I was blown away by the joy and the talent up on stage. I wish I had the dough to tell my wife and the kids to meet me at the airport on Monday so I could fly them right back here to see “Memphis” again. I want to share it with loved ones and cranky strangers. Everyone’s life would be better if everyone went to see “Memphis.”
  • I asked my cop friend if there’s ever been a show that even glancingly captures the day-to-day life a New York City police officer. Never, he said. Not even close. I discreetly refrained from telling him about my “NYPD Pink” idea.
  • Spent a few hours at the Guggenheim Museum yesterday. It had me dreaming of opening my own art gallery. Patrons will enter and find four bare walls and a roomful of regular guys who do nothing but say, “Hello, I’m Art.”
  • The toes on my left foot are getting so spread out I might be the first person in history to be able to give someone the finger with a foot.
  • Visiting a really great museum gives me such a happy and peaceful feeling, yet if anyone knew all the moronic thoughts going on in my head security would hustle me out the door and forever ban my re-entry. One example: I saw a bunch of statues of nude men and was repeatedly struck by the bronzed examples of what Keith Richards would call their “tiny todgers.” Either men have evolved in ways that must be satisfying to women or else artists back then were intent on insulting their models. Maybe size didn’t matter in what was known as the age of enlightenment. Of course, what the hell do I know? Maybe next time I go to the Guggenheim, I’ll hire a hooker to comment on the scale of all the art.
  • Like many great cities, New York is struggling for revenue. I’ll bet the city could earn nearly $1 billion if it sold for development just about six or seven prime acres of Central Park. Of course they’d never do that, nor should they. That Manhattan island, maybe the priciest chunk of land on the planet, reserves a whopping 843 acres for recreation is a tribute to the priorities of New Yorkers.
  • Now, I hope you have a peaceful and relaxing Sunday in the warm embrace of loved ones. On my last day in New York City, I’ll be doing the complete opposite.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My goodness, a trip to NYC


I’d loaded my bag into the trunk, slammed the lid and took one last look up at the house. A could see tears lining the eyes of the 10-year-old’s face as it gently pressed up against the window screen.
I could tell she was feeling an alien emotion. I was going to be gone for four days and she was surprised to learn might to miss me. As the lone male in the house with three gals, my role is to be the butt of jokes. And as soon as middle-age spread concludes its gutsy march, I’m sure they’ll target me for butt jokes. 
Without me, there’d be no one to ridicule.
“Daddy, when will you be home?”
I’ll be home Monday evening, sweetheart.
“But I thought you’d be home Sunday.”
Well, I worked it out so I could spend one extra day with Mr. John. 
I was telling one of the most darling people in the world that, rather than spend another day home with her, I’d chosen to spend a day with one of the most corrupt people I’ve ever known in a place renown for wickedness.
Manhattan, here I come!
I’ve been invited to attend a lavish Big Apple press trip. For the next four days, truly, I’ll be living like a more humble sort of Trump. The itinerary includes three nights at a landmark hotel, great restaurants and luxury box seats to SRO shows.
Go ahead and feel free to resent me. It’s perfectly understandable.
Whether anyone, especially me, is worthy of such posh pampering is a moral puzzle. But the only thing worse than being unworthy of the attention would be to mope about being the recipient of it.
Life’s short and full of pain. You have to dance whenever you hear the music.
My end of the bargain is I need to come home and write and sell a dazzling story to a prestigious publication for all to see.
My great fear isn’t falling short of that obligation. No, I’m afraid I’ll do or say something stupid and I don’t want to come across as a jerk or a boob. Word would spread quickly and the next time I get invited on a trip, it’ll involve someplace like the Bob Evans in downtown Dayton.
To reduce the chances of this, I struggle to bury my inner smart ass so deeply in manners, silence and social aplomb I fear he’ll suffocate and my life will become meaningless.
That’s why the fifth day with John, my old college roommate, is so essential.
After four days of being polite, profanity-free and eating things like salad with silverware, those ponies will be ready to bust free of the coral. The older I get the more I enjoy days of true dissolution like the one awaiting me on Sunday.
Days like that remind me of every day from 1979-2001. I was never truly evil. I never went on one of those sprees that involved breaking all 10 Commandments.
Well, at least never sequentially.
Nothing surprises me more than the number of people who think I’m “good” in the conventional moral sense.
It practically floors my wife who is truly good. Not only is she good, she’s a church organist. I’m hoping the connection will earn her a get-out-of-hell-free card for her backsliding husband.
Yet people persist in inviting me to talk to high school students, introduce me to their friends and foolishly invite me into their homes without bothering to secure things like jewelry and bath towels.
I guess if you live in a small town long enough without getting busted stealing chickens you’re considered one of the good guys.
That’s why a day in New York with the never-married John is the perfect remedy to all that unbidden goodness.
John’s perfectly corrupt. He drinks like crazy, smokes cigars by the yard and is so sacrilegious it’s surprising some crusaders haven’t duct-taped a tall lightning rod to his bald dome.
Once on a drunken ramble with my wife and I, Val -- she was sober, she swears --  twisted her ankle on Lower East Side curb and tumbled into the filthy gutter. John said, “Wow! That’s gonna hurt!” and kept truckin’. He later defended his callousness by citing the need for haste to make last call in a bar with a really great juke box.
I love my wife, but absolved him based on his reasoning.
In short, he’s everything I’d be if I’d never gotten married only with fewer hairs.
So that’s what’s in store for the next few days. Decades of joyful dissolution have dwindled to days.
And Monday, none the worse for wear, I’ll return to joyful hugs and armfuls of souvenirs I can only hope aren’t crawling with bedbugs.
One day of debauchery will have to last me for another six months or so.
Then it’ll be back to being good, for goodness sake.