Sunday, March 29, 2009

State Memories Project: Illinois

I’ve been to Illinois a fair number of times…my dad was raised there, and I’ve had relatives there my whole life, which has resulted in many trips there as both a child and an adult. I’ve probably had more years where I’ve been to Illinois than years where I haven’t. But the best memory, strangely, is one where I was alone.

In 1993, the summer between my Louisiana teaching years, I had my original baseball stadium tour. It was a life nadir for me…a major breakup had nixed my plans to live with my college girlfriend in Pennsylvania that summer. I decided to change plans by driving my 1987 Subaru GL to all the ballparks in the Midwest. After a Cardinals game, I slept in Vandalia, drove to Effingham (home of the Chasers Nite Spot…since I was in the Kenyon College Chasers, I was sure to stop there to purchase a sweatshirt), and then...

Well, I’d always wanted to go off the map.

My destination that day was Valparaiso, Indiana, where Jennifer, my HS friend and prom date, was going to kindly allow my to sleep on her couch. It would have been easy for me to zip straight up I-57 to get there...2.5 hours, if that. But instead, I made up some rules that would take me to places I wouldn’t otherwise go.

--I would leave the interstate.
--I would stay on pavement.
--But beyond that, I would simply turn north and then turn east at every opportunity and see where the road brought me. If I got to Indiana, I would end the adventure and go north. If I got to I-74, I would end the adventure and go east.

I wish I could remember whether I tried to pull in local radio or if I popped a tape in the boom box in the backseat (my Subaru’s tape deck was broken almost from the day I got it from my folks). I think I probably picked music, and the music was probably sappy love songs designed to make me feel more intensely like a lovelorn sensitive ‘90s man. But what I remember most is the corn. Tall, tall corn on either side of me, and farm houses not far from the tiny, lineless roads.

At one point, I entered a town on some tiny local road heading northbound. I was curious what town it was, hoping I could find it on the map. Strangely, the town’s name wasn’t on the water tower, and the road I entered the town on was so small it didn’t have a “welcome to ____” sign on it. I turned east at the next intersection, as the rules required, and slipped out of the town not long after I entered it. To this day, I do not know what town I was in.

I happened upon the Lincoln Log Cabin Historical Site, which I checked out, and where I called my friend to say I was running late. I then resumed the trip through nowhere, eventually crossing into Indiana just south of Danville, Illinois. I believe the whole off-the-map experience lasted nearly five hours.

I like traveling, getting a sense of “I am here. I was here. I have parted the air here. I existed here.” On that day, I was doing that…but nobody knew I was there, and I didn’t even know where it was I was existing. I lived somewhere on a line between alienating and exhilarating. I’m glad I did it. Won’t soon forget how it felt.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

It's payback time

Today both Mizzou and Pitt lost, preventing them from making the Final Four.

Take THAT, institutions I left early because they dissatisfied me!

(Very few people see the cause/effect relationship here. They're not looking closely enough, and forgetting that I am the center of all events.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

-Odd Man Out-: It just gets weirder

A while back, I blogged about Matt McCarthy's book Odd Man Out. I liked it. More than one commenter stated that they doubted the accuracy of McCarthy's account of life in the low minors, specifically the 2002 Provo Angels. I stuck with McCarthy until the New York Times pretty well obliterated his credibility by showing not one, not two, but dozens of moments in the book that simply could not have occurred at all as they were written. We're not talking dialogue here, or moments of poetic license. We're talking about literal impossibilities. Many critical events were so far off the actual, documented events surrounding the 2002 Provo Angels that, simply put, it led me to no longer trust McCarthy's version of events. If McCarthy's "detailed journals," as he called them to the Times, are that far off that often, I don't think we can reasonably call the work non-fiction anymore.

So, faced with that evidence, I said that I no longer believed the book was true and that I no longer recommended it.

Now, a few weeks later, the since-quiet comments section on that post receives this comment defending McCarthy:

Wait a minute. Has anyone bothered to follow-up on this story? The New York Times invented almost all of the so-called errors in McCarthy's book. Odd Man Out isn't being retracted. They're not even publishing a revised edition. All of you who feel for the Times article were duped. The book continues to get great reviews in Fortube, Forbes, Huffington Post, etc. Don't believe everything you read! The Times should be held accountable for such irresponsible journalism.

All in all, a pretty passionate and utterly factless defense. Yes, the book was well reviewed in several places, including my blog for a while. But at this point, any defense of McCarthy needs the specific facts the Times calls into question addressed in a manner more satisfactory than simply calling the Times liars.

Guess what?

That visitor to my blog came from Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York.

Matt McCarthy is currently a resident at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York.

Therefore, there are only two reasonable possibilities as to the identity of this visitor:

1. It is Matt McCarthy.
2. It is a co-worker of Matt McCarthy.

I can't prove anything, but my money is on #1. I say why in my own hunch is that a co-worker would say "Hey, I know Matt McCarthy, and he's a good guy" rather than simply calling the New York Times a bunch of irresponsible liars.

I find the image of McCarthy sitting in the hospital Googling himself and his book and commenting on my little blog (just a couple dozen visits a day) pretty tragic. I imagine him staying up on a late shift by Googling his name and his book, desperately trying to get his name back through anonymous postings.

That's just the cruellest paradox. He's anonymously trying to get his name back.

Mine isn't the only blog he's stopped at. Check out this post from a ways above me on Google. See that comment way down on the bottom? It's identical to the one on my blog. He's cut-and-pasting his defense (such as it is).

Whoa! Even as I write this, he comments on a different post of mine on the same topic. Same comment, with only minor changes. And it was him again:

Wow. No way this is a co-worker. This is the man himself, trying to comment on every blog that has written negatively about him.

It's too sad to laugh at.

So I repeat my statement from the comments: Mr. McCarthy, I'd like to hear your specific defenses, and will do so with an open mind. If you're willing to go public with your journals or to disprove the Times' painstaking point-by-point dismemberment of so many of the events in your book, I'd like to hear it.

But anonymously going to every blog on the internet will NOT do much for your name.

***UPDATE: A CPMC visitor has now been here, and chose not to comment. If you're back here, welcome, Mr. McCarthy! Feel free to take me up on my offer, which remains open.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

State Memories Project: Idaho

Swankette and I went to Boise on the original Minor League 4th of July Baseball Trip. We’d attended a game in Spokane on July 4th and then drove into Idaho for a game the next day.

We took the scenic route. I drove for a while, then Swankette drove. For whatever reason I was quite tired, and tilted my seat back a bit so I could catch a quick nap. I briefly roused in a beautiful resort town on a lake…a map tells me it was probably McCall. I got a nice sense of the gorgeousness of Idaho, and snuck a peek at my girlfriend, who was driving while I slept. There was something undeniably protective about that moment, and I felt safe. So I fell back asleep, happy to have had that two-second look at Swankette and the lake.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Debate season over.

Well, we did our best. I had a freshman sneak into state in Lincoln-Douglas. And while it looks like she had her hat handed to her this weekend, it was still a highly worthwhile trip. What I liked best was how at the end of every round, she'd tell us exactly what arguments came up, exactly what she didn't understand, exactly what she did with what she did's like you can see the learning happen. Great kid, and coachable, and three more years to go.

But now I have my weekends back. Huzzah!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

State Memories Project: Hawaii

The best part about the honeymoon was that we had come in under budget on the wedding. So when Swankette’s parents kicked in timeshare at a condo and my parents bought us plane tickets, we suddenly had a week on Kauai and loads of cash. We decided that we would, for the only week in our lives, completely ignore all price tags and do what we wanted. This meant we enjoyed all of the absolutely best restaurants for the whole week. But my best memories turned out to be not at the fancy-pants places but at Taco Bell on the first day (see Alabama’s story…) and the Waimea Brewpub.

Waimea Brewpub bills itself as the westernmost brewpub in the world. It’s well out west on Kauai, in the tiny town of Waimea, which is downhill from Waimea Canyon, which is one of the most breathtakingly gorgeous places I’ve ever seen. Swankette and I wandered along rainforests at the top of the canyon and checked out the river down below. With gorgeous mountains, this transcendent canyon, and of course, the Pacific Ocean all within easy striking distance, I was hooked. We drove by Waimea High School, and I entertained some fantasies of teaching AP English there for a living….grading kids’ papers on a balcony overlooking the ocean in 83 degree weather every night of the year isn’t a shabby way to live. (But it’s way too removed, alas, from all the people I love.)

On the way home, Swankette, a lover of microbrews, decided that we should stop at the Brewpub. What I remember about it is how awful the service was. It took forever to get our food (I believe I had the Kalua pork enchiladas). The wait staff were on Hawaiian time. But, sitting on the patio in the thick, salty air with my wife of four days, time didn’t matter. Where would I rather be than in that place at that moment, enjoying a drink with an umbrella in it while Swankette negotiated her microbrew? A longer wait was far preferable to a shorter one. I loved that place, that moment, and that woman.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Holy crap, holy crap.

All in all, I've had some tough student/parent meetings, but none like this.

My former debate coach reports.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Nat Quals and Kelly Clarkson

We're still an infant program, so no qualifiers and no finalists. But kids saw what the best of the best are like. The growth continues. I'd love to go to Nats in another 3 years or so. Maybe a little more.

The weekend was a success, however, if only for the drive home. We played the game of "My iPod, your choice" for a while, and kids picked songs off my iPod. First choice: Jason Mraz. Second choice: The Monkees. Quite a shocker to me, that second one.

But then they put their own music. All five of the kids were girls, and all started passionately singing along with Kelly Clarkson's "Behind These Hazel Eyes." And as I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw all five of them singing along, semi-head banging...

well, I couldn't stop grinning.

Then, at the very end of the trip, they decided we had to sing "Since U Been Gone" too. This one I know the chorus of, so along with the five of them, the interim coach and me sang along with rare gusto. I was even able to do it in Kelly's octave (except for the really high bridge..."again and again and again and aGAAAAAAIIIIINNNN"...that one's not for me. Kids sang and laughed...

At the end, they said "This was the best trip ever. WAY better than band or choir! That last song was EPIC!"

And that, more than a finalist or even a national qualifier, probably does more long-term good for my program.

State Memories Project: Georgia

I went to NFL Nationals in Atlanta in 2003 with Amy, who, if you made me pick, would make the short list for Best Student Ever, and with Swankette as chaperone. On Sunday night, several Washington coaches (including Jim, although we weren't yet friends because we weren't yet blog-friends because we didn't yet have blogs) and their kids made their way to the Underground Atlanta mall in the heart of the city. It was about 6:50. We gathered everyone around and said “Go anywhere in the mall, and meet us back here at 8. Oh, but don’t go to Hooters.” Everybody laughed.

Swankette and several coaches and I wandered around the mall, examining our options, looking for the best one, when we suddenly every restaurant we could find shut down in front of us. Except one.

Hooters. And, faced with no other options to eat, most of our students had ignored our directive and had settled into Hooters for their evening meals. Against our better judgment, we hungry coaches decided that we’d just tough it out and join them. I knew Amy’s folks wouldn’t care, Joe, one fellow coach, wasn’t worried either. Carolyn, however, was a little worried about one of her more conservative kids (and his parents back home), so she was quite nervous. But I was fine. I just figured I wouldn't turn in the receipt for reimbursement.

We ordered our food and our drinks. We waited. And waited. And waited. It was virtually endless. No food was in sight. Our students were starting to wander to the gift shop to buy mugs and T-Shirts, which we strictly forbade. Carolyn was beside herself with nerves, and we were hungry and tired of waiting. So we decided that enough was enough, threw a five-dollar bill on the table for our drinks, and walked out.

I was at the ATM outside, getting money and preparing for the walk back to the hotel, when Swankette tapped me on the shoulder.

“TRP, come with us now. A policeman just made Joe walk back into Hooters.”

Incredibly, the waitress found a cop and told him we’d walked out without paying. He walked out to Joe and said “Take your hands out of your pockets!” Joe did. And all four of us walked back inside.

Carolyn was livid. All four of us were, but she did most of the talking. We pointed at the money we’d left for the drinks, and pointed out the complete lack of food on the table. Our large-breasted but stupid waitress aided our cause immeasurably by walking up and saying: “Oh! Your food is ready now!” The cop walked away at that point, and the embarrassed manager offered to box everything up for us. We told him no way and left.

My teaching and coaching career might have gone differently if I’d gone to jail for pulling a dine-and-dash at Hooters, but I was surprisingly close that day. And anytime you're close to a dine-and-dash rap from Hooters, well, it's a state memory.

So what are your Georgia memories?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

You've gotta admit, it's kinda catchy

My son does not like wearing pants. But seriously, who among us does? Given the choice, wouldn't we all be pantsless? But we pants him up when we go in public. Might as well teach him now that the world will force us all to wear pants. Bastards.

But when I'm pantsing him up, I've taken to singing this song. It's to the tune of the "Hands Across America" theme song, and it goes something like this:

Pants across America
Pants across this land I love
Divided we fall
But we all wear pants
Pants across America

Now you'll be singing this all day...much as I'll be singing it until the kid is old enough to tell me to shut up.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Looks like I've been James Freyed.

The minor league baseball book, Odd Man Out, that I enjoyed so much?

Pretty much looks like it's fiction. The NY Times has a highly damning list of impossibilities and some reaction from justifiably pissed off teammates and coaches.

Looks like the Yalie southpaw is a first-class butthole. It'll be interesting to see what the fallout is for him. The Times did such a good and thorough job listing McCarthy's many, many verifiable inaccuracies that I can't trust any of the unverifiable stuff, either. So I doubt that there's any real long-term impact on his teammates.

McCarthy was such a good writer--it's a shame he had to lie. Why not just write fiction?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

State Memories Project: Florida

(For an overview of what I'm doing here, look here.)

My elderly Aunt Dorothy was kind enough to let me stay with her in Tampa during my 2005 spring break baseball trip to Florida (the only time I’ve been in the state). I made it a point to bring an audiotape player. My plan was to talk to her about family lore for posterity’s sake.

She told her whole bittersweet story. Dorothy never felt welcomed by the family. She married my great-uncle Casimir just before he went off to serve in WWII. She was not Polish and not Catholic, so it was a bit scandalous that Uncle Cass, who was both, would marry her. But when I looked at those pictures…damn, they were a good-looking couple. Cass was a star football lineman at the U of Detroit who played a year professionally with the Giants, and Dorothy was a major, major beauty. But it was clear she always felt like an outsider. “We stayed married for 54 years!” she boasted to me—I think defiantly at all those who rejected her.

I’m very thankful for my Aunt Dorothy. When my mom married my non-Catholic, non-Polish dad twenty years later, it surely raised some eyebrows, but my great-grandma insisted she loved my dad, to the point of INSISTING he help her across streets, etc. Maybe it was that Dad was a doctor, but maybe Dorothy had softened the blow for her and prepared her for the next non-Catholic to come along.

After my interview of Aunt Dorothy, we--along with several other family members--had a party. There were signs, cake, and the works, all to celebrate Prince Charles’ marriage to Camilla Parker-Bowles that week. “They want her to be like Princess Diana,” Dorothy said, “and she never will be. But she still deserves a party.” So I ate meat pie and cake and celebrated the marriage a woman who could never be accepted by the family of the man she loves. And after listening to Dorothy’s story, it didn’t seem like a strange celebration at all.

Aunt Dorothy passed away in August 2007. She's probably in heaven, her gorgeous young self again with her gorgeous military football-player love. And for her, heaven may well include just a pinch of I-told-you-so.

(I also told a brief version of this story back when it happened.)

What are your Florida memories?

State Memories Project: Delaware

It's the first of the month, so I will remind everybody what I'm up to with this State Memories Project. The concept is here, and audience participation is encouraged.

This was supposed to be posted last Sunday, but I postponed it due to the birth of my son, which you might be seeing when we get around to Washington's memory. So those of you who have been breathlessly coming back here, eager to read my best-ever Delaware memory: gee, I'm sorry.

Anyhoo. Delaware. It's a baseball-related memory.

There was almost nobody in Wilmington on the day I visited it for a ballgame in 2007. Wilmington is a credit-card and financial center, so it is absolutely deserted on the weekend. I got a fantastic deal at a ritzy hotel—but so few people were in the hotel that they’d even shut down the restaurant for the weekend.

I wandered along the lovely waterfront walk. It was a sunny day, and I figured I’d find people there. Nope. It was also totally abandoned. I then made it to the ballpark very early for a Saturday night game…about an hour before the gates opened It’s a good thing I did, too, because attached to the stadium was the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. I love sports museums with extremely local flavor. I wandered in, checked out the plaques, and kept saying “Huh! I didn’t know he was from Delaware.” A Hall of Fame with such a miniscule population to draw from honors some athletes that wouldn’t make any other Hall of Fame. Steve Watson, a pretty-good-but-not-great Denver Bronco wide receiver of my youth, was in there. So was Val Whiting, a women’s basketball player for the my dearly-departed Seattle Reign ABL basketball squad.

The most memorable part of the day, however, was that I had a personal museum guide the whole time. I can’t remember his name, but the man in charge of the museum must have been extremely lonely (NOBODY was in there, and since NOBODY was anywhere else in Wilmington on a Saturday, he must have sat there all alone all day.) He walked me through the museum on a personal tour. When he found out I was from Washington state, he took me to the couple of Hall-of-Famers with Washington ties. When he found out I was a sports official, he took me to the two or three referees who were enshrined. When I said I wanted to write a piece for Referee magazine on a specific game, it turned out that he (who was a basketball referee in addition to his museum duties) knew one of the guys who reffed that game—and he gave me the ref’s address and phone.

Sure, it’s not the Louvre, the Rijksmuseum, or even Cooperstown, but when the heck else am I going to get a 45-minute-long personal tour of any museum by such a nice guy?

Okay, friends and strangers. Out with it. What crazy-ass stuff do you remember from the First State?