Sunday, May 31, 2009

Letter to Hedgehog: Month Three

Dear Hedgehog,

We had a wonderful month, and it ended with you being baptized today. Family and friends came from all around to party with you. And early returns indicate you enjoy parties. Like your dad (and NOT like your mom), you seem to enjoy being the center of attention. Today was a great day for that. We played "Pass The Baby" all day long. When the minister took you up and down the aisle at the church, everybody waved and made faces. You're a really, really cool guy and get along nicely with everyone.

You're gathering skills at a simply mind-boggling rate. It just blows my mind, the human brain and watching you develop yours. Last week (and for all weeks prior), you would just stare up and the fish on your mobile...maybe swat at them a little. Within the last few days, you figured out you could grab them. Yesterday, you even pulled one right off its velcro mooring. I notice you reaching out for the books I read you and even following them around when I move them around. It's simply an awesome experience, in both the modern sense of the word (i.e., "cool") and the traditional sense of the word (i.e. "inspiring awe and wonderment").

Yesterday, your 14-year-old cousin decided to lay down next to you and play with a baby cell phone your grandparents had gotten you. It's a little advanced for you as yet, but when your cousin sat there and smacked the buttons in a game he invented (which sounded challenging), you were absolutely transfixed. I think you focus a LOT on kids when they're around. Not so much on babies, but on kids who can do more than you can. That's a hell of a good way to learn.

And I'll keep busting my butt for you if you keep on smiling at us whenever you can. It still feels sort of unreal. I'd imagine it always will. I should ask my parents about that. Their oldest turned 45 today. I bet it still feels unreal to them in some ways. Because when I'm singing to you or reading to you or just chilling with you, I continue to think this when I look at you:

"Whoa! I helped make THAT????"

Talk to you in another month.

State Memories Project: Michigan

This particular memory comes from a rite of passage in our family. At age 10, each of us—my siblings and me--got to fly to Detroit…alone! spend a week or ten days with Aunt Sally (mom’s kid sister) and Uncle Fred. I therefore headed out there in August of 1980, and remember loads from that trip—Bablo Island amusement park, Greenwood Village, hanging out endlessly with my cousin Joe, and my first major league game (Tigers 8, Red Sox 7…a game that ended at 12:50 AM due to a huge rain delay).

In the middle of that 10-year-old trip, we headed up to Caseville, a town at the tip of the thumb where my Grandpa Joe, who had died the previous year, had a cottage a long block from Lake Huron. My cousin, me, Aunt Sally, Uncle Fred, and maybe a couple of others had gone up there with some neighbors of Sally and Fred’s who had a daughter named Beth about my age and a son a little younger whose name I have since forgotten.

The four of us kids had headed down to the beach for the last bit of daylight, walking the five or six houses west-bound (I remember it as about a hundred yards) to the water. Once there, we saw an absolutely flat-out gorgeous sunset--a bright, vivid, very dark red sun in a perfect circle hanging a little ways above the water. We were all between 7 and 10 years old, but we were absolutely awe-struck by the sight, loudly shouting “Whoa! Wow!” a few times.

I’m not sure why, but it occurred to me that the adults needed to see this sunset. My companions agreed.

So we all ran as fast as we could off of the beach and up the road to the cottage, where we ran in and shouted at the two couples that there was an incredible sunset that they needed to see and that they had to get out there NOW because the sun was going down and they’d miss it. (Because of trees and houses, the sunset was invisible from the cottage; one had to walk to the beach to see it.)

We did everything we could to impart this sense of urgency to Aunt Sally, Uncle Fred, and their neighbors, but much to my dismay, I remember them lollygagging a little, getting on shoes, etc. At every moment of the way, the four of us shouted “Hurry up! It’s going down! Hurry!” And at every moment, the adults would not comply. Even when we were out on the road, we were running ahead of them a little, then turning around to gesticulate and tell them to run, hurry, they’d miss it--yet they were still not compliant. They walked very, very slowly and engaged in stupid adult conversation instead. They didn’t understand the urgency.

I saw the last of the bright-dark-red sunset through the trees, but when we got to the clearing, the sun—and the sunset—was gone. We tried to describe it, and said “Couldn’t you see a little of it through the trees?”

“That? Oh! I thought that was a light!” said the neighbor mom.

I remember feeling exasperated that I’d tried to share this beautiful thing with others, and they didn’t seem to understand its beauty or importance until too late.

Monday, May 25, 2009

State Memories Project: Massachusetts

About three weeks after my own wedding, Swankette’s maid of honor was married in Boston. We flew out, hung out with them and their friends, and had a generally great time hanging out with cool people. Swankette reciprocated as maid of honor for her friend, and everything went fabulously...Swankette looking hot in her outfit, giving a beautiful speech or two, happy people singing and performing at the was the garden variety joyful wedding.

It was similar, and it was, of course, a little different, because it was my first gay wedding, and barely a year after Massachusetts had legalized same-sex marriage, was still a fairly new thing.

My single memory of that weekend is of the wonderful rabbi, who somehow wove together the ordinariness and the extraordinariness of what we were all there to celebrate. I wish I had his exact words, but here’s what he said as best as I could remember:

“In the middle of all of this joy, we can’t forget that what we’re doing is unquestionably a political act.”

I remember feeling like marrying someone you loved shouldn’t have to be a political act or an act of courage. I remember feeling like the wonderful moment here wasn’t any different or any less important than the wonderful moment Swankette and I had had a few weeks earlier. But I remember being grateful that the rabbi didn’t neglect either the commonness or the extraordinariness of what was happening--neither the sameness nor the difference this ceremony bore towards my own recent wedding. He got that complexity, and it helped to clarify what was on my mind as I watched my wife stand next to her best friend, one of two brides. I won’t forget how he pulled that off.

Western Conference Finals, Lakers vs. Nuggets

I just saw Denver is up by 7 early on the Lakers. I watched a good amount of Game 3--sort of caught Nuggets Fever again due to the media. But, as always when I watch the NBA, I tired quickly of motionless offenses. I DO NOT WANT TO WATCH THE BEST ATHLETES IN THE WORLD STAND STILL. Please, SOMEBODY move away from the ball!

But that's not what this is about. It's about a statement I heard that the Game 2 victory for Denver was their first playoff victory over the Lakers since 1985.

My mind went back to the 84/85 Nuggets as if to an old crush. That's the first team that I honestly, totally, 100% fell in love with. And nothing's been the same since.

Sure, I liked the Nuggets equally-good teams of the late '70s--these were my first-ever pro sports events. But I was only 7 or 8...not enough to REALLY understand what it means to commit to a team. At 15, I got it.

Denver had traded Kiki Vandeweghe to Portland in the off-season and acquired Calvin Natt, Fat Lever, and Wayne Cooper in return. Dan Issel, who was going to hang it up at the end of the year, was a bench player. And Doug Moe, the coach, was still running his players like hell (an earlier Doug Moe version of the Nuggets had set records for most points scored AND most points against...128.7 and 128.0, if I remember correctly). So the games were ADD eye candy...constant set-ups and shots. Alex English, the NBA's top scorer of the 1980s (look it up! it's true!) was a silky mid-range jumper guy (who the hell is his current NBA equivalent? I can't think of any either). And T.R. Dunn would come out to stop the opponents' #1 guard--but Moe had ordered him to never, ever shoot.

The team got out to a good start--they were 11-2 at one point--and won the division quite handily. Dad and I jumped on the phone for playoff tickets as soon as they were available, buying game 2 tickets since they sold out sooner. And we watched the Nuggets LOSE to the Spurs by two in the 2-7 matchup.

Great! But we came back around and won the series in 5 (the first round was a best-of-5 in those all series should be now, possibly excepting the Finals).

We put away the Jazz 4-1 in the second round (I was present for an overtime win in Game 2...which I can't remember anything about these years later) which set up the Western Conference Final. Nuggets and Lakers.

Remember: The 1985 Lakers were the absolute zenith of Showtime. I'd rank it as the #1 single-year team of the decade...I wonder if the experts would agree. Magic was at his peak, Kareem was still an honest threat, James Worthy had developed into the real deal, Bob McAdoo off the bench, Michael Cooper, Jamaal Wilkes, Kurt Rambis...hell of a team.

Dad and I bought tickets for game 4. I hoped we could poach a game in LA and ride out a 6-game series in the altitude at home.

We lost game 1 by 17. Game 2 was a late-night affair, starting at 9:00 Mountain on a Tuesday night. Parents would not permit me to stay up to watch the second half.

I was PISSED. Pissed until, alas, I went to school the next day and found nobody else had been allowed to watch the game. I also learned that, when he saw how special Game 2 turned out to be, he thought of waking me up to see the end.

I did watch the third quarter over my breakfast.

The Nuggets SLAUGHTERED the Lakers. In the Forum. They couldn't put anything together.

Our white stiff backup center, Danny Schayes, muscled Kareem into losing his cool and getting into a huge fight in the fourth quarter. Both were ejected. I remember him trying to gouge Schayes' eye out while saying "How does it feel to have your eye gouged out?"

I kinda wish they'd suspended both players for a game--that'd have been awesome for the Nuggets. But they didn't. While I listened on the radio from my grandparents' house in the mountains, I heard the Lakers win game 3 handily in Denver. We needed--NEEDED game 4.

The game I was headed to.

Here's what I remember. It was close throughout. There were signs under every seat that said "BEAT L.A." When they played Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll Part Two" ("Don't worry, you'll recognize it," said the directions on the back of the card), we were to shout "Hey! Beat L.A!" in the part where Gary shouted "Hey!" It sort of worked. It was DAMN LOUD. And we improvised, just chanting "BEAT L A! BEAT L A!" to the beat during the "verses" of the song (if you could call them that).

I don't remember the specifics, but Denver was down by 2, or maybe 4, late, when we popped back to a tie with a couple of buckets. 116-116. One minute on the clock. (Or was it 59 seconds? What I think I remember and what is true may be different here.) The L.A. time out...the sound never went down the whole time. I just wanted that one damn win at home.

L.A. came back out and scored. If I remember right, it was a damn skyhook.

Denver ran RIGHT down the floor. A pass, a pass, and Danny Freakin' Schayes had a step on Kareem! He's going to score on the break!

The ball bounced off of his hands and out of bounds.


L.A. scored again, and we didn't. Final: Lakers 120, Nuggets 116.

"I just don't want this to be the way Issel's career ends!" I said.

(I knew damn well we wouldn't win Game 5.)

Issel did get a last hurrah. In the 44-point loss in Game 5 to end the series, Moe sent him back out for a goodbye stretch, and Issel hit a 3 in his career's final shot. I wish we had that to remember him by rather than his losing his cool and attacking a fan in the racially-based tirade that ended his coaching career. But, playing-wise, it turned out OK.

Denver never made it back to the conference finals until this year...when we lost game 1 and won game 2 in L.A.

And it feels familiar to me. The nostalgia was enough to drive me to watch game 3.

Go Nuggets.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hawker bloopers

At the Mariner game today, a hawker was selling both Dibs ice cream and Mike's Hard Lemonade.

Let us set aside the strangeness of the same hawker selling kid snacks and adult beverages. I guess they have a limited number of portable receptacles that keep things very cold.

What was strange--and disturbing--is that the guy kept shouting this (and, with apologies to Dave Barry, I am not making this up):

"Mike's Hard! I've got Dibs!"
"Mike's Hard! I've got Dibs!"
"Mike's Hard! I've got Dibs!"

Wife and I were, to my knowledge, the only people doing the Beavis and Butt-head laugh at all of that.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Really, really funny.

This went viral a little while ago, so you've probably already seen it. But it has given me the giggles at random times over the past week or so since I first heard it.

WARNING: The jingle is so catchy that you'll probably be caught singing it somewhere marginally appropriate.

State Memories Project: Maryland

All of my Maryland trips have had sports in them—two Orioles games, one Aberdeen IronBirds game, and a Washington Bullets game. The latter was on my first trip to Maryland, and is my best Maryland memory.

This was April of 1995. I was wrapping up my time at Pittsburgh, and somehow had a weekend to burn. My buddy Rob (see Arizona) was getting a graduate degree at Penn State, and we met up and headed down to Rockville, Maryland, where former Kenyon College Chaser-mate Alison lived with her boyfriend (now husband) Joe. We found their place and hung out for a couple of days.

Included in the itinerary that weekend was a trip to see the Washington Bullets play and their then-home in Landover, Maryland. A quick Google search reveals that we saw them play Phoenix and lose 127-123. Rob, Alison, Joe and I mostly sat back and made snarky comments. This is back when I would yell stuff for fun. And for some reason, we noticed the Bullets’ cheerleaders, about 20 rows beneath us on the floor by the corner of the court, were responding to some of the dorky things we were yelling.

Rob said: “I bet we could get them to join in a cheer we start.”

So, next time Washington had the ball, we tried.

“LET’S GO, BUL-LETS! (clap, clap...clap-clap)
LET’S GO, BUL-LETS! (clap, clap...clap-clap)”

By the end of our second repeat, the cheerleaders were saying it with us. We stopped chanting and started high-fiving. Yeah! We did it!

About a second later, Rob started a second chant:

“WE LOVE THE CHEER-LEADERS! (clap, clap…clap-clap)”

They laughed. And Rob later suggested we could have bedded the whole cheerleading squad due to our hilarious wit. It's a shame we didn't try.

What do y'all have for Maryland?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

This just occurred to me.

I've been singing a lot of John Lennon lately because I've convinced myself, based on a very small sample size, that it helps my son sleep.

Alas, as I've stated here (and am too lazy to link to), Paul Simon's songs to children are superior. In fact, the only song Lennon wrote for a kid is "Beautiful Boy."

Yeah. I'm not a fan either. I usually sing "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." Done right, it's a sweet little fantasy. (Yeah, I know people say it's about LSD. But let's go with Lennon's story that it's about a picture his son made.)

It occurred to me, however, that John Lennon hasn't even written the best song to his own child.

Lennon's song to his son: "Beautiful Boy."
Paul McCartney's song to Lennon's son: "Hey Jude."

That's such a blowout that we need the mercy rule.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Another take on the steroid issue...or the worst job in pro sports

From the not-sure-how-we-got-there-but-it's-still-somehow-predictable department...

Here's a conversation I had with my Dad this weekend:

TRP: Hedgehog and I will be going to another ballgame this weekend.
DAD: Oh. What's Hedgehog's opinion on Manny Ramirez?
TRP: What?
DAD: What's Hedgehog think about the steroid thing?
TRP: Hedgehog thinks that all players should drink nothing but breast milk.
DAD: Nah...that won't work. People will all go for juiced, supplemented stuff.
TRP: Not if all the players are required to get milk from the same woman.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Perhaps I'm a blog weekender.

Most of my energies go to work and bedtime for the boy. Here's what I've got for this week:

--Something really funny happened where I said "I'll have to blog about that." Then I forgot.

--Something happened at work that pissed me off, that's a hilariously bad decision by our district. But I don't blog about work.

And everywhere I look, the daily-stuff blogs are kind of winding down, easing up...they're so very 2005.

I've committed to finishing my state memories, so I won't shut the blog down...but why am I not doing that on Facebook?

Just mulling over the future of this site, guys...

Another good look at why the steroid problem matters

The best ever explanation why steroids in sports are a tragedy came from the late, lamented Batgirl years ago:

There is little doubt that Bonds would have been one of the best players of his era without the BALCO--but these substances have elevated him into one of the best players of all time. And it is a lie. A fraud. Smoke, mirrors, and "the clear." He pretends to show us something beautiful and rare, but he lies. Professional sports are supposed to be fun, a wonderful diversion--but they can come to mean so much more. And when we see Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan[...]we're reminded of humanity's capacity for greatness. True greatness inspires, excites, and enlivens--whereas false greatness breeds nothing but disappointment and cynicism. And it hurts baseball. And no one hurts baseball on Batgirl's watch, dammit.

But a close second is unabashed Red Sox fan Bill Simmons this week:

"So you won the World Series twice because of Manny and Papi," my son says, "but they might have been cheating the whole time, and so were some of their teammates? Dad, your whole book was about how you could die in peace because they won in 2004. If they cheated to win, does that make what happened OK?"

The question hangs in the air. And hangs. And hangs.

State Memories Project: Maine

I have never been to Maine.

So you'll have to do this one. What's your best memory of Maine?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

State Memories Project: Louisiana

I was as exhausted as any teacher approaching the end of his first year teaching. In fact, I’d say more so; in addition to being in the first year teaching, I felt terribly isolated in Leesville, Louisiana and was working through a dificult breakup. I worked hard to become a good teacher, however, particularly in Math, which was tougher for me to teach, and at the end of the year, I got an unexpected payoff.

My technique for getting kids ready for The Big Chapter Tests (that they had to pass in order to pass to the next level) was to precede the chapter test with an even more difficult test on the same topic. I called it a Math Olympic Event. I’d gear the kids up for it, and then, as I passed out the test, I’d play John Williams’ Olympic Fanfare on my boom box, gradually turning it down as the kids got to work. The payoff? If a kid got an A (on either the original test or a retake) on every single one of the Olympic Events all year long, I bought them pizza.

So it came to be that Pam, Jason, and Latasha joined me at the Leesville Pizza Hut one May afternoon in 1993. Pam was a great kid who liked my sense of humor. Jason was a troublemaker who never made trouble for me, and he was great at math. Latasha was a very, very quiet kid who busted her butt at English, where she struggled, and cleaned up at math. Latasha had brought along a friend from class, Kendra, who had NOT earned pizza, but I think she wanted to feel comfortable. Her stepdad had brought both of them. And while the four of them chowed down and talked, I chatted with the stepdad.

Artemis had had a very different life from mine. He was born in a tough part of Cincinnati and had escaped through the military. He also was one of my favorite parents that year. He was a regular at parent nights, totally supportive, and insisted on his stepdaughter trying her hardest.

Between slices of pizza, he and I wound up BS-ing about sports (my plans for my first really big baseball trip that summer), movies, our quick biographies...the stuff that people who don’t know each other will talk about. He eventually asked me how I wound up teaching in Leesville. When I answered, he said something wonderful.

I don’t remember the exact words. I wish to hell I had the transcript, because it completely made my year; indeed, it made my entire two years in Louisiana (as this entry indicates), and perhaps my whole teaching career. But I know he said how happy he was that I was there to teach Latasha. I recall him saying something about how my efforts to work with Latasha had given him hope in our educational system and—imagine my shock—hope for the future of U.S. race relations.

Wow. Who gets to hear a compliment like that--ever, in their lives?

“You have a great trip!” he said to me in the parking lot. “I’ll look for you dancing in the bleachers on SportsCenter!” We laughed and smiled, and that was the last time I saw him.

Nobody who teaches plans on having that kind of moment. We’d all go insane trying to make it happen. But at the end of such a difficult year, it made a hell of a lot of difference to my mindset. It remains the best compliment I’ve ever received as a teacher. I wish I could tell him how important it was. I only hope I fumbled my way to adequate thanks at the time.

What do you all remember from Louisiana?

Who would you choose?

Bear with me on this one.

On my birthday this past week, we imagined having a party for everyone born on April 29, 1970 and their spouses (so my wife could be there). I was worried she'd leave me for Andre Agassi, but with Steffi Graf also invited, we'd be in reasonable shape. And if my wife did hang out with Andre, well, I could get my revenge by hitting on Jennie Garth when wife hosted her 4/3/72 party.

Now, Jennie Garth is certainly a lovely blonde woman. I'd not throw her out of my hypothetical celebrity bed for eating animal crackers. And I was explaining this to my wife when she said "Which of the original 90210 cast members would you most like to marry if you could? And you have to count personality."

Wow. This is a more difficult choice than one might think, and not for the reasons one might imagine.

There's not a great choice.

The best looking of the four major cast members is Shannen Doherty--by a magnitude. Yowza. But she is also out-of-her-gourd nuts. She's SO nuts that I'm not even sure she'd be worth a brief fling, let alone a marriage.

Then we have Tori Spelling. It's sweet that she's writing motherhood advice and all that. But she's a distant last in physical attractiveness and appears to be not at all intelligent. And that sense of entitlement. Ick. I'd claw my eyes out. I might even choose Shannen over her, but it's a bit of a tough call (in the "waterboarding or electodes to the gonads?" sense.

Next comes Gabrielle Carteris. I think she was already in her mid-30s when the series was taped, so she's far too old for me, I believe. Not seeing it.

So we're back to Jennie Garth, who wins this competition. She's got a job now, and was on Dancing with the Stars,, has a regular spokesperson gig...she doesn't seem bat-shit crazy. And while she's had a bit too much work done for my tastes, she'd win out over some weak competition.

Anyone feeling me on this one?