Thursday, July 30, 2009

Strange request from my wife

My wife and I are going on vacation starting on Saturday (baby's first plane flight...wish us luck). We're already more or less all packed--tomorrow I shall clean house so it's nice when we get back here, we'll go to the sports bar for dinner, and we'll get up obscenely early on Saturday to head out of town.

Swankette had a fairly good idea. If we're cutting it close in our connection, she'll Moby the boy and I'll be the Sherpa, responsible for stroller, car seat, and my backpack. And, since it's easier/safer to run quickly with things than with a baby, she'll want me to sprint ahead of her to get to the gate.

She asked me this today. But it's HOW she asked me that alarmed me.

Here's what she said:

"Sweetie, would you be willing to do an O.J.?"

(Remember back when that meant running through an airport? It doesn't really mean that anymore.)

State Memories Project: New Mexico

I was 13 when we visited Uncle Rick and his family in Albuquerque and headed down to Carlsbad Caverns. The caves were gorgeous, and have certainly stuck in my mind. But the move vivid memory is from the restaurant the night before.

The town was Whites City, an assemblage of tourist crap at the opening of the cave. There was, as I recall, some sort of Mexican buffet in the restaurant there. It was quite expansive. I had a thing for hot food, and liked being that far south for Mexican fare. So I piled a whole lot on my plate, including 3-4 jalapenos.

“Are you sure you want all those? They’re pretty hot,” my mother suggested, kindly.

“No! I’ve had these before. I can handle them,” I replied.

What I had had before was, I believe, banana peppers alongside my salad at the Pizza Hut. In case you were wondering, those are NOT jalapenos.

I turned many, many colors. Liquid oozed out both nostrils and both eyes.

It was hell. I think Dante may have written about this feeling.

For about 5 minutes (but it felt far longer), I ran back and forth to the salad bar trying to find something that would take the hothothothot out of my mouth.

Water? Hell no.

Bread? Forget it.

Cola? Surely you jest.

About a billion other things? None worked.

I was stuck with this torturous maximum-spice all over until finally we came upon the solution at the salad bar: cottage cheese made it go away. I don’t like cottage cheese much, but you will never hear me speak ill of it again, as it saved me on this day.

I haven’t eaten a jalapeno since. Nor will I again.

State Memories Project: New Jersey

I stayed with my high school buddy Brooklyn in Weehauken, right across the river from Manhattan, during my trip to NYC for baseball in 1999.

On my last night there, we were in his tiny little basement apartment, and I was lying in bed on the other side of a curtain where he was practicing piano (actually, keyboard). He offered to play with headphones, but I said no--I enjoyed listening to him play. After working on whatever it was he was working on, Brooklyn started playing a 16-bar blues vamp with his left hand. And I’m not sure how we started this game, but I started shouting things that he should play with his right hand while maintaining the blues lick with his left. “Play Hill Street Blues!” I demanded. He’d play the theme from Hill Street Blues while keeping the blues up. (It didn’t sound good.) “Play Flight of the Bumblebee!” He did. It’s not a match for a blues bass line. “Play Rachmaninoff!” He did. Damn hard to do under any circumstances, but even harder with blues on the left hand.

I'm not sure I know anyone else capable of doing this on demand. Nice job, Brooklyn.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What's this dream mean?

I'm quarterbacking a flag football team. A tiptoe-on-the-sideline catch by the athletic secretary at my old school impresses teammates. An over-the-middle pattern to a character actor whose name I forget has us knocking on the door. Former Denver Bronco Rick Parros is upset that I'm not throwing him the ball. He's wearing gold chains (and I remember his hair with surprising accuracy). I am the ultimate field general, diagramming plays on my stomach, and someone is always open. On the goal line, I send everyone to the sideline except teammate Walter Payton. The rusher blitzes, and Payton sneaks in behind him in the end zone. I lollipop the Nerf over the rusher to Walter Payton. There's nobody within 15 yards of him.

He juggles, then drops, the Nerf football.

I'm incredibly angry at Walter Payton. This was a sure touchdown. He apologizes repeatedly, but I'm not sure his heart is in it.

I gather in all of my teammates for the second down play.

I wake up.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

State Memories Project: New Hampshire

I've never been to New Hampshire.

Therefore, use the comment space to put in your memories from New Hampshire.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

It's official. I'm still pretty much 11 years old.

Autographs. I've never been a big fan of them. If I'm close to a celebrity, I tend to want to take their picture rather than be a big disruption (so Kinnearing is a possible outcome). When I was a kid, I waited in line to get Dan Issel's autograph, and one of my most prized possessions was a basketball autographed by the 78/79 Denver Nuggets. But I can't remember the last time I got an autograph. Most occasions to gather autographs would entail me elbowing my way through a forest of kids anyhow, and that's out of the question.

But on Saturday, I attended a pretty cool talk by Portland-area MLB greats (Dale Murphy, Johnny Pesky, Scott Brosius, and a few others who aren't as household-name). After the talk, when the line for autographs stretched around most of the outfield, Swankette and I ducked out. "I don't know what I'd have them sign anyway," I said.

Pause. Light bulb.

"Actually, it'd be cool if I brought my scorebook. The could sign under their name for a game I saw them play."

"Wow!" Swankette was impressed. I love this woman because, among countless other reasons, she understands the things I would find very cool. "Now THAT would be worth waiting in line for!"

To be fair, the only person on the panel I'd seen play was Brosius. I figured it'd be cool to pick out his best performance in my presence (reviewing the stats, it'd be this game where he hit a home run for the historic 1998 team), and have his signature right there in my scorebook.

Fast-forward to today.

For Beavers' season ticket holders like me (sorry, Jack), today was set aside for the chance to watch AAA All-Stars take batting practice and to get autographs from the players and coaches.

I sat down with the rosters and referred to my Access Database (yes, I actually have one) of stats in games I have attended. I looked for each player. About half had played in my presence...a handful in past major league games, a bunch in recent Beaver games, but significant numbers in long-ago games at lower levels all across the US.

I put sticky notes in my scorebooks, headed to the ballpark, and waited in some lines.

Much of the autograph-seeker culture feels a little slimy to me. I didn't care for the guys there who asked ballplayers to sign three, four, five, even as many as eight copies of the same card. The ushers in charge clearly said one item per player, but people ignored it--including the players, who probably didn't want to be seen as stingy. I guess I don't know why an adult would want eight cards signed. It's not a really great financial move. My 1985 Topps set, still in the box and in near-mint condition, has only doubled in value from $20-ish to $40 over the last quarter century. They wouldn't be worth THAT much more signed, would they?

Of course, in a way, I should talk. I was in line right with them. But I was having them sort of officially mark past games they'd been in...the verb "consecrate" isn't quite right, since ballplayers aren't holy, but there it is anyway.

The result was different from what I expected.

The ballplayers were sort of rotely scribbling their names on whatever was put in front of them...cards, bats, balls, programs. Few adults talked to the players (and what would they talk about anyway?). Some players would give kids a thrill by chatting a little, which was nice.

When I would walk up, though, they'd have this different experience.

For instance, I got to J.D. Martin, an all-star from the Rochester Red Wings (AAA in the Nationals system...if you count the Nats as major league...)

"Hi! Could you sign this scorecard down by your name? I think it's your first start for Kinston."

His response: "Wow!"

Next to him, pitcher Jim Miller said this: "Now THAT'S impressive."

But what was fun is that I sort of got to SHARE these past games with the players.

Nelson Figueroa is a AAA all-star this year, but in 2002 he was in the rotation of a horrendous Brewers team. I saw him pitch a game that April.

"Could you sign this scorecard from a game you pitched for Milwaukee back in '02?"

Figueroa: "Wow! I actually got into a game?" [Quite well-spirited and tongue-in-cheek. I was worried a little about players being upset or wistful about major-league appearances. They were not.]
Me: "Yep. You started. It was the first game after the manager was fired."
Him: "Yeah! Davy Lopes! And it looks like we won!"

What I liked best about doing this was the way that the players would perk up when they saw what they were signing. Almost all asked one thing: "How'd I do?" Because I tried to pick out their best games, I usually got them in a good mood.

Portland's Chad Huffman signed a game from his days as a Eugene Emerald. He habitually began signing "Chad Huffman #17," but then stopped. "Wait. What number did I wear that year?" I saw it was 31, and said so...so Chad Huffman signed his name as "Chad Huffman #31" for the first time since he was in the Northwest League.

Colorado Springs Sky Sox outfielder Matt Miller signed a game I saw him play as a Modesto Nut.

HIM: "How'd I do?"
ME: "One-for-four with a walk and a run scored."
HIM: "Yeah...[signs]...I see here I had a strikeout. I remember that. It was a bad call."
ME: [examines the scorebook] "It was swinging, Matt."
[he laughs]

When I then asked the guy next to him to sign a game I'd seen him play as a Chicago Cub, he remarked that I clearly "get around."

Yup. I do.

[Nearly-40-year-old former-high-school-nerd still likes props from jocks. Film at 11.]

The Beavers' Scott Patterson said that he'd never been asked to sign a scorebook or scoresheet before, but Fresno's Kevin Pucetas, seated next to him, said that mine was the third he'd signed that day. Maybe I started a trend. I hope so.

Because rather than commodifying their signatures, the signature was an opportunity to share their game with them. Fans don't often get to do that, really, on a one-to-one basis.

So the net result of this is that I am now into autographs. I will NOT seek them out during batting practice, after games, or anywhere else where I would be competing with kids for ballplayers' attention. That's just wrong. But I'll keep an eye out for events like this one where there are autographs to be signed, check my scorebooks, pick out a game, and ask the ballplayer (or ex-ballplayer) to sign them. I had enough fun yesterday to justify doing it again under similar circumstances. And when I do, whether I'm getting a signature from a career minor-leaguer or from a Hall-of-Famer, you can rest assured that he'll say this:

"How'd I do?"

Monday, July 13, 2009

Not a bad choice to make, I guess

For reasons too complex to go into here, I wound up having a conversation about strip clubs with a friend/advisee tonight. I've never been to a strip club. I asked him if there's one out there that I might actually enjoy. (I'm not certain I'd enjoy it. I'd feel bad for the dancer.)

"Oh yeah." He gave the name of the place. "It's just a dive bar, low key. You'd be able to sit at the bar and watch the Mariner game. The girls are at a pole in the corner. They aren't overly made up, there's no MC or DJ, and they get to pick their own music."

"Hmmm. I wonder if, given the choice between breasts and the Mariners, which I would look at."

"At this place? You'd watch the Mariners, but you'd be aware of the girl."

Not sure what that meant, but I knew who to ask.

My wife is aware of my love of baseball and my love of breasts. Which would win?

"Honey, if I were at a strip club and there were a Mariner game on, do you think I'd watch the stripper or watch the Mariners?"

She thought, deeply, for longer than I thought she would. And then, my dear, wonderful wife asked this question:

"This year's Mariners, or last year's?"

Sunday, July 12, 2009

State Memories Project: Nevada

No need to repeat myself. I'll just send you to the post I wrote right after it happened.

Psalm 66

When the Psalmist wrote "Make a joyful noise unto God," what noise was he thinking about?

I think it might be the squeaking my son makes as he practices rolling over.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Don't let the door hit you, Yuniesky

The Mariners unloaded Yuniesky Betancourt today, who has had it coming for a long time. The long-suffering Royals took him off our hands for a couple of prospects (although we'll be sending some cash as well).

Curious as to the reaction, I hunted down a Royals blog and checked out the comments. In there, I found this exchange, which is as hilarious as it is tasteless:

MARINER FAN: Seriously...this is like the US Cavalry giving a small pox blankets to the Native Americans. My condolences.

ROYAL FAN #1: To be fair, It’s like giving the blanket after the village is already infected. Is one more crappy SS even going to matter at this point?

ROYAL FAN #2: Yeah, it's more like, while they're dying of small pox, you kick them in the nads.


I'll be giggling about this for a while. Ashamedly, but definitely.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Cue Beavis and Butthead laugh in 3...2...

Just a minute ago on the Mariner game, Dave Sims and Mike Blowers were commenting on Mariner farmhand James McOwen, who hit in his 45th consecutive game yesterday:

DAVE SIMS: "I understand his manager is going to give him a blow tonight. He's earned it."
MIKE BLOWERS: "I'll say."

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

State Memories Project: Nebraska

I was high school age for one of our trips out east to Detroit when we stopped to visit a medical friend of my dad’s who had left Denver and was doctoring in Omaha. My dad and Dr. R were an unusual set of friends, I think; to this day, I can’t see what they have in common. But they’re close enough that they get together often, and even spent a week canoeing in the Boundary Waters up in Minnesota. They joked a lot about my dad’s high-brow culture tastes and Dr. R’s low-brow culture tastes. “Have you seen Top Gun?´ “Nope. Have you seen My Life as a Dog?´ “Nope.”

On this visit, however, one wacky moment with my mom took the cake. Somehow, we all wound up visiting the SAC museum, which mostly consisted of wandering on tarmacs in 100-degree heat looking at old planes. This might have been somewhat interesting for my dad, but it was not remotely my mom’s cup of tea. Nor mine.

We were inside an exhibit room where, in the middle of the room, was a glass case. Nothing was inside the glass case except a card with the words “This exhibit not yet completed” on it. Just the card. My mom decided that we should stand outside the non-exhibit and look into the glass case as though we were completely transfixed by the fascinating contents.

And we did. I put my hand up to my chin and stroked my imaginary beard. We squinted, leaned, and even whispered to each other to have conversations about the imaginary exhibit. Predictably, people would walk up to the glass case, look inside, look at my mom and me, look inside again, and walk away with some combination of pity, confusion, and irritation.

It was a hell of a fun five minutes. Try it next time you see something similar in a museum. And from my mom…who, like me, is a bit of a rule-follower...it felt just subversive enough to surprise me, and it was quite hilarious.

A warm welcome...

to my kid sister, who began blogging tonight.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Learning from the baby

Monday night is Swankette's knitting night. That means I'm on baby duty solo for a few hours. Mostly we go on walks, read books, and play.

But the other day, as we tended to the in-laws' garage sale, we learned something Hedgehog likes.

He likes to look up at trees.

I decided to give that a shot. I put down a blanket and put the boy down under a tree in our backyard.

He was transfixed.

I decided this would be a great chance to get some reading done, so I grabbed a lawn chair and read. But I felt funny sort of hovering over my son like that. So I lay down next to him and read. But my arms got tired and heavy holding the book.

So I watched the tree with him. I explained to him some things about wind and leaves.

The sun was brightening a few leaves at the very top of the tree, which were sometimes obscured by the darker nearby leaves. The whole thing shifted in the wind like a kaleidoscope of green.

At one point, I closed one eye so that I would lose depth perception. A brown latticework of branches provided a proscenium for all the leaves, which maneuvered all around the brown.

We gave my son a middle name that matches my favorite transcendentalist writer, and Monday, he taught me a transcendentalist lesson--every now and then, put down the book and look at the tree.