Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Third annual ‘Big Time Sports’ awards

Welcome to the Third Annual “Big Time Sports” end-of-year awards! I’m glad you could make it. As always, these awards are completely random, and were voted on by a one-man committee of sports experts. Also, these awards, like the baseball trade deadline, are intangible; so if you’re a winner, please don’t contact me in hopes of picking something up for your trophy case. We don’t have that kind of budget here. So without further ado, on with the show!

Strangest Moment of the Year Award

Terrell Owens doing half-naked sit-ups in his driveway. What was that all about? Owens hosted an impromptu press conference at his house in August, which ended with him doing shirtless crunches on his asphalt driveway for no apparent reason. I wonder if Terrell Owens’ neighbors are going to miss him. I can just picture T.O. walking out of his house in the morning to get the newspaper, wearing only boxers and a camouflage bathrobe, and waving to his neighbors as they peaked through the blinds. He needs a reality show. And don’t act like you wouldn’t watch.

Runner up: Anything that involved R. Kelly.

Worst Year Ever Award

Sidney Ponson. The best part of former Baltimore Orioles’ pitcher Sidney Ponson’s year was his ERA, which was 6.21. Ponson began 2005 in jail, because on Christmas Day of 2004, he punched out a judge in his native Aruba. Then he got a DUI. Then he lost 11 games for the woeful Orioles. Then he got another DUI. Then he got released from the woeful Orioles. Two weeks ago he was sentenced to five days in jail for his most recent DUI. All in all, Ponson began and ended 2005 in jail, and in between that, was one of baseball’s worst pitchers. Things can only get better at this point for Ponson. Let’s hope.

Runner up: Colorado football coach Gary Barnett

Most Inevitable Coaching Change That Ended Very Weirdly Award

Pat Riley replaces Stan Van Gundy in Miami. Riley, the president of the Miami Heat, was this close to relieving Van Gundy of his duties before the season even started, but ultimately decided to keep the guy who led the Heat to the Eastern Conference Finals in the spring. But after an 11-10 start, Van Gundy abruptly “stepped down,” citing “family time” as the reason. Apparently, Van Gundy suddenly realized that he had a family at the same exact time Shaquille O’Neal returned from injury. Also, Riley tried desperately to convince Van Gundy to stay, probably saying things like, “You’re sure about this decision, Stan?” while several armed men wearing black sunglasses formed a circle around Van Gundy’s desk.

Runner up: Mike Martz, embattled coach of the St. Louis Rams, goes on medical leave for a heart condition, tries to call in plays from his hospital bed, but Rams’ management refuses his calls. Meanwhile, some guy named “Vitt” coaches the team, and by “coaches,” I mean, “was on the sideline during the games.”

Third place: Larry Brown leaving Detroit for a Knicks’ job he started interviewing for while his Pistons were still in the playoffs. Gotta love Larry Brown. Or hate him. Either one.

Best Facial Hair Improvement Award

Jake Plummer’s mustache. In 2004, sans mustache: 20 interceptions. In 2005, with mustache (and then beard): six interceptions. Enough said.

Runner up: Pau Gasol’s beard. Instantly transforms Memphis Grizzlies’ player from a soft European weakling, to a blue collar, wood-chopping workhorse.

Quote of the Year Award

“It can be very therapeutic.”
- Alex Rodriguez, on therapy.

Thanks for that nugget of knowledge, A-Rod. He would go on to say that his childhood dream was to become a podiatrist, until he realized how much podiatry was involved.

Runner up: “Jim Haslet should be considered for ‘Coach of the Year,’”
- ESPN’s Joe Thiesman, during a “Sunday Night Football” telecast, referring to the coach of the then 2-8 Saints.

Play of the Year Award

Derek Jeter’s diving catch over Robinson Cano. Sometimes I’m not so sure if everything Jeter does is THAT amazing, or if, as a society in general, we are so enthralled with the entity that is Derek Jeter, that maybe – just maybe – his accolades are sometimes overblown. But then I watch this catch, and I’m reminded that he really is that great.

Runner up: Each time Reggie Bush touched the ball against Fresno State and UCLA.

Game of the Year Award

USC beats Notre Dame. Any game that features a) a million points, b) a huge late fourth-down conversion to keep the game alive, c) Reggie Bush, d) a 32-game winning streak on the line, e) a national title at stake, f) a revitalized, legendary college football program with an excellent coach, g) a game-winning, fourth-down touchdown play that ended with last year’s Heisman trophy winner being literally pushed into the endzone by this year’s Heisman trophy winner, and h) a confused and delirious Pete Carroll running around giving man-hugs, will ALWAYS get my vote for game of the year. Always.

Runner up: Kentucky versus Michigan State, NCAA Tournament.

Third Place: Game Five, NLCS (Albert Pujols’ home run).

Worst SportsCenter Gimmick That Further Serves to Replace Actual Highlights and Drive Me Crazy Award

Fake baseball press conferences. Yes, fake baseball press conferences. In November, ESPN started this thing where baseball commentator (and former Mets’ GM) Steve Phillips pretended like he was the general manager of a baseball team – say, the Houston Astros – and then held an actual fake press conference, where the “members of the press” were simply other ESPN anchors, who would ask him questions about the Astros that he had no business answering. A few things here. First, if you’re flipping through the channels and you come across this, you think it’s breaking news. So if you’re an Astros’ fan, you immediately think that your team just signed Manny Ramirez or something. But in reality, nothing happened, because it’s fake. Secondly, why? What is the point of this? I don’t even like watching real press conferences – why would I watch a fake one? Thirdly, if I wanted fake news, I’d watch CBS (bum-dum, ching!) And fourthly, how ‘bout some freakin’ HIGHLIGHTS?!

Runner up: (Tie) Pedro Gomez’s, season-long, live updates on the progress of Barry Bonds’ knee, and…inexplicably ending “Pardon the Interruption” during “SportsCenter” rather than at the end of “Pardon the Interruption.”

The Most Success With Somebody Else’s Players Award

Roy Williams, North Carolina. Williams’ won his very first NCAA title with the Tar Heels, which finally proved what a great coach he is, except for the fact that he won the title with former NC coach Matt Dougherty’s recruits. And now, with his own players coming into the fold, Williams and the Tar Heels began the 2005-06 season unranked. Whatever. A title is a title, right Roy?

Runner up: Charlie Weiss, Notre Dame.

The “That Doesn’t Sound Right – Are You Sure?” Award

The Rutgers football team goes to a bowl game.

Runner up: The Chicago White Sox win the World Series.

Third Place: The Cincinnati Bengals win the AFC North.

Nickname of the Year Award

A-Vlad. This one is an interchangeable nickname for both Alex Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero that originated out of the fact that both of these guys had absolutely brutal postseasons. It was almost as if they were competing with each other to see who could play worse. I’m not sure who coined this one (possibly my favorite writer, Bill Simmons, or one of his readers), but it’s one of my all-time favorites. It’s unique in that it only captures a specific time period, unless of course, these two are able to simultaneously achieve such a degree of ineptitude again. I sure hope not.

Runner up: The Cooler. Amazingly enough, also for Alex Rodriguez. Used by his former Texas Rangers’ teammates to describe how A-Rod tends to cool off any team he goes to. Ouch.

The Best Athlete Who Is Currently in a Venezuelan Jail Facing Attempted Murder Charges, And Also Whose Mother Was Kidnapped, But Then Rescued Award

Ugueth Urbina. This was a tough one, so congrats, Ugueth. Not sure if we have a runner up for this.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Tree huntin’ on asphalt

This was the second year that my wife and I went out to buy a Christmas tree.

We are 0-for-2.

It’s not so much the actual tree that has been a disappointment – although once we brought this season’s tree inside, we realized it was too big to allow anyone access to the stairs, and thus my wife and I have been entering and exiting our house by sliding up and down a fireman’s pole we were forced to have installed through the deck outside – it’s the PROCESS of buying the tree that’s the problem.

Last year we went to a nearby establishment to purchase our tree. The place however, sold more than just trees – it was a one-stop shop for everything involving the holidays. If you had never celebrated a holiday in your entire life, you could go to this place and come home properly armed to decorate a whole city. If, of course, you had $10,000 to burn on lawn gnomes wearing Santa hats, or a 54-foot long, life-sized train set engineered by Snoopy. We did not. We were only there for a tree.

The trees were in the back lot. Christmas trees, by law, are only sold in parking lots, which makes things difficult, because people are idiots. It is the asphalt jungle. There is no rhyme or reason to the Christmas tree parking lot. The same people who would rather wait 45 minutes on the drive-thru line of a fast food restaurant rather than actually get out of their vehicle and be served in five minutes, are the same people who will navigate their way through the Christmas tree parking lot with their, well, Navigator. Last year, there were no signs telling people NOT to drive through the lot, just the realization that there was only about five feet of space in between each row of trees. Nobody cared. The joy of finding the perfect tree was counterbalanced by the harsh reality that – bam! You are dead because you’ve been hit by an SUV.

My wife and I managed to avoid the passing vehicles long enough to find a decent tree. Since it was our first year of doing this, our immediate reaction to this find was…what do we do now? What is the protocol here? Who do we inform that we have located a tree? Who works here? Everybody looks like a lumberjack.

So we followed the sound of the chainsaws. I didn’t know what to do, so I awkwardly carried the tree with me, trying to appear like a real outdoorsman, even though half of my body was covered in sap, and one leg of my sweatpants was being held up by a branch, exposing my now-bleeding legs. Of course, someone “would have done that for me,” but I knew that.

Apparently, our tree needed a “fresh cut,” because the original cut had lacked in freshness. They put the tree in a net, and asked if we needed it tied to our car. Adding to my newfound manliness was the fact that I drive a pick-up truck. Thus, this is the one time of the year that I am actually able to utilize the features of the pick-up truck, and I was more than content to look this unknown lumberjack in the eye, and tell him just to “throw it in the back.” He probably thought I was a steel worker or something, what with gusto I had said that. Then I walked to my truck in slow motion, but my wife said we still had to pay.

It cost us $25 for the tree, and we tipped the lumberjacks a few bucks. We’re very generous like that, especially around the holidays. When we got home, we realized that the “fresh cut” they had given our tree was SO fresh, that there was no stump to go into the tree stand. If our tree was 10 times smaller, we could have just sat in one of our end tables, and it would have balanced itself. Maybe I should have realized this before I lugged the tree up the stairs, knocked over every picture we had the wall, and inadvertently installed a new carpet of pine needles. There have only been a handful of times in my life where I thought I was legitimately capable of murder, and this was one of them. But instead of killing someone, I shamefully drove back to the place where we got the tree, and had the lumberjacks cut off some of the bottom branches, so we had a stump. This time, I did not tip them.

Our first tree never drank any water, it didn’t have any kind of Christmas tree smell to it, and when the time came to remove it from the house, it was as stiff as a board, and the pine needles were like weapons. Other than that, it was a great tree. Well, it was a tree.

We decided not to go back to the same place this year. Instead, we went to a different parking lot. This particular one was in the parking lot of where I work, so for some odd reason, I thought I could trust it, as if this shiesty tree-selling operation had any affiliation to my place of employment whatsoever. Really though, I’m an idiot.

I think we all know the kind of operation I’m talking about. These things are all over the place during the holidays. Someone encloses a portion of a big parking lot with a metal fence, and illegally sells Christmas trees at “One low price of whatever,” with all the proceeds going to the Russian mafia. These people answer to no one, but the good part about these places is that they only sell Christmas trees. No frills. No wreaths, no lights, no nativity scenes featuring Betty Boop. Straight trees, homey. That is their motto.

It was freezing last Saturday, as my wife and I stepped into the cage o’ trees. Almost every tree was tightly wrapped in netting, so it was impossible to make a determination as what kind of tree each was. We sure couldn’t take the risk of bringing one home, cutting open the netting, and having it take the form of an apple. There were only a few trees already out of their netting. Since it was freezing outside, and other, very annoying families were closing in on our section of the cage, we just picked one.

Again, we had no idea what to do. Again, I awkwardly lugged the tree to an area of the cage I deemed “the checkout line.” Someone who looked like Wilford Brimley approached me, as I was holding onto a tree a foot bigger than myself, and asked, “That your tree?” What’s that Wilford? Oh – THIS tree? The one I’m grasping on to for dear life? Yes, this is my tree. I didn’t even know if Wilford worked there, or if he was a customer who had spotted my tree from afar and wanted to make a deal. Nobody wears a uniform in these cages. It’s a freakin’ free-for-all. I could have put the tree down and started collecting money from everyone, and no one would have known the difference.

Wilford asked me if I wanted a fresh cut for the tree, to which I immediately replied, “No.” And as he was asking me what I’d like done to the tree, I looked up and saw a sign that assigned a price to all the things he was talking about. Fresh cut? $1.99. Put a net on? $2.99. Tree preserver? $3.99. Tied to your vehicle? $4.99. Photosynthesis charge? $8.99.

The “one low price” of this particular parking lot was $29.99, but that was actually just what they charge you to go and look at the tree. If your intentions are to actually take the tree home and possibly decorate it, there are many additional charges. Where was I – at a car dealership? Would I like insurance for my tree? Where do I sign? And what, exactly, is a “tree preserver?” Is it water? Because I have some water at home. I mean, of all the obstacles we faced last year, at least we just paid one flat rate of $25 for our tree, and we were able to put it on the ol’ credit card. This year, besides all of the ridiculous fees, we couldn’t even charge our tree. We had to pay cash, because the Russian mafia does not accept American Express.

Out of pure principle, I refused everything offered to me. I decided I was not paying a dime more than the “one low price” that was displayed. Of course, when it came time to pay THAT, utter confusion ensued. People were everywhere, asking tree-related questions. There was no indication of who we were supposed to pay, Wilford Brimley was scratching himself while I loaded the tree into my truck, it was still freezing out, my wife was pissed, and I was strongly considering stealing a Christmas tree. Finally, we found some jerk was who grabbing money from everyone like he was on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. We paid him. Also, for some strange reason, we tipped them three dollars, mainly because there was a tip jar there, and we are very generous like that, especially during the holidays. It was our little way of saying thank you. Thank you for sitting on your fat asses while I did all the work here, and for trying to squeeze me out of my hard-earned money by trying to convince me to purchase a freakin’ tree preserver. Thank you for making this the worst experience ever. Here is three dollars. I hope you choke on it.

My wife and I did not speak on the ride home, except for when she asked me how I expected to get the tree upstairs and into the house without a net. I did not respond.

When we got home, I had to tie the tree up myself with some string, and I managed to get it upstairs without getting hurt, or breaking any valuables. We put it into our brand new tree stand. The reason we have a brand new tree stand is because one of our a-hole neighbors disposed of their tree stand in our bushes, and since it was nicer than the one we had, I took it. That is a true story. Everyday now, I check the bushes to see if there is a digital printer there, because we need one of those too. Stupid neighbors.

I also had to cut off the excess branches on my own, with a hand saw that was given to me as a gift LAST Christmas because I had no saw to cut off the branches on our first Christmas tree, and everyone found it very funny that I don’t own any tools.

Our tree is huge, but very pretty. Also, it seems to be drinking water, and generally preserving itself, which is nice. Last weekend, my wife and I went to Sunday Mass, and afterwards the Youth Group was selling Christmas tree that were a much better fit for our house, and much cheaper. Also, on the way home from church, we passed a Christmas tree lot featuring a “one low price of $19.99,” which was, mathematically speaking, ten dollars less than what we had paid the previous day. Ha ha! You should have seen my wife’s face! It was worth the extra ten dollars.

Whatever. Now we know where to go next year. To church. And at least I got to use my new saw. Plus, I like our tree. It looks great all decorated and stuff. And I think it’ll still look good even after the holidays.

In our neighbors’ bushes.

We’re very generous like that.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Reggie Bush: The Trojans’ horse

He’s arguably the most exciting player that college football has witnessed since Rudy, and with slightly more talent. His USC team is on a one million game winning streak (an NCAA record) and well on their way to a third straight National Title. He has NFL scouts drooling all over themselves. He can leap tall buildings in a single bound. HE is Trojans’ running back Reggie Bush, and he’s agreed to sit down with me for an exclusive interview involving love, life, and if there’s time, football. For legal reasons, let it be known that this interview never happened.

Me: Hi Reggie! Thanks for stopping by. Did you have any trouble getting here? Sometimes Mapquest can be a pain in the you-know-what.

Reggie: Getting where? You’re at MY house.

Me: Ha ha! Yeah…you must mean that metaphorically. Ummm, it says here that you were named after two great American heroes – Reggie Jackson and George Bush, Sr. Is that true?

Reggie: What? No, that’s not true at all. I don’t know where you heard that. For one thing, you can’t just alter your last name so it’s the same as that of a former president. It’s just a coincidence that my last name is Bush. And I don’t even like baseball.

Me: Well, I’m glad we were able to squash a false rumor. Darn tabloids. Anyway, how does it feel to be part of a college football dynasty?

Reggie: It feels great, man. We’ve really created something special here at USC, and I hope we can continue this run with another title.

Me: Spoken like a true warrior. It seems like head coach Pete Carroll is fun to play for. And by that I mean, it seems as though he probably spends more time kissing your guys’ butts than worrying about things like stupid practice drills. Even when he yells, it’s usually words of encouragement, like, “Yeah! Go get ‘em!” and “You guys are the best!” Then he hugs everyone. Has he ever yelled at you in a negative manner?

Reggie: Yeah, once, when I was a freshman. He said something at practice, like, “Ronald! What are you DOING out there?!” And I was like “Ronald? Who the heck is that? I’m Reggie.” And he was like, “Reggie Bush? Oh crap, sorry about that.” Then he sent me home early so I could take a nap.

Me: He seems like a true enforcer. Most people feel as though you locked up the Heisman Trophy with your performance a few weeks ago against Fresno State. You had 513 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns. I’m not sure the Cleveland Browns have 513 yards and two touchdowns on the season. Do you think the NCAA is going to even bother inviting four other guys to the Heisman ceremony? They might as well just put a couch on the stage instead of five chairs, and you can just lounge out on the couch while people throw flower petals all over you, and the video monitor can play interviews of people saying how you’re not just a great football player, but a great person as well. It’ll be like the Reggie Bush Show!

Reggie: Ha ha! I appreciate that, but I don’t think I’ve “locked” anything up. There have been a lot of great performers in college football this season, including my own teammate – Matt Leinart. Brady Quinn has had a fabulous year at Notre Dame as well, and we all know what Vince Young has meant to that Texas team. I think there are several players just as deserving of the award as I am.

Me: Spoken like a true warrior. You mentioned Matt Leinart. I understand that he is a huuuuuuge celebrity in California, and can often be seen at various celebrity functions, like a Frankie Muniz engagement party, for example. Does this bother the team, that Leinart has achieved such status within the community, while the rest of you guys continue to live a life of virtual anonymity?

Reggie: Oh, not at all. I mean, we have a lot of fun with it. Like, this one time, Tara Reid left this rambling, drunken message on Matt’s voice mail, and we played it over and over again at a team meeting. It was hilarious. Hey – Matt’s a good-looking guy, and the quarterback of a great college football team. He deserves all the attention he gets. Plus, it’s not like the rest of us are no-names on the L.A. scene. People know who we are. I mean, you’re here talking to me now, right?

Me: Yeah, but that’s only because Leinart cancelled. Ha ha! Just kidding, Reggie. Sort of. Anyway, if you had your druthers – Jets, Texans or 49ers?

Reggie: Ya’ know, I haven’t even thought about it. We have unfinished business here at USC, and I’ll worry about my NFL prospects when the time comes.

Me: Are you saying that your lifelong dream of having a 53-year-old Vinny Testarverde handing off the ball to you for a 3-yard loss hasn’t crossed your mind even once?

Reggie: Nah, not at all. And I don’t run for losses.

Me: Spoken like a true warrior.

Reggie: Why do you keep saying that?

Me: I don’t know – it sounds cool. Well, you guys have one more big hurdle to climb – a National Championship Game against a tough Texas team. Is this going to be a good game, or reminiscent of last year’s drubbing of Oklahoma?

Reggie: No disrespect to Oklahoma, but Texas is a great team. We’re definitely going to have our hands full with them. It should be a great game, but obviously, I hope we come out on top.

Me: Are you saying that you expect Texas to actually show up for the game, instead of curling up into a little ball while you guys run all over them for 25 touchdowns, similar to Oklahoma’s game plan last year? I still want my money back for that game, and I didn’t even pay for it.

Reggie: No, that’s not what I implied at all. Let’s just say that I think Texas matches up with us very well.

Me: Yeah, whatever. Reggie, it seems as though there’s nothing you can’t do on the football field. Are you the greatest college football player of all time?

Reggie: That’s for the world to decide.

Me: Reggie, what would you say if I told you that I talked to the world, and they agree that you are, in fact, the greatest college player ever?

Reggie: I’d probably say that’s impossible. You talked to the whole world?

Me: Actually, just a few people at a bar by my house. But they said they had friends who thought the same thing.

Reggie: Well, that’s a start, I guess.

Me: One last question before we go. People have compared you to such greats as Gale Sayers, Barry Sanders, and Ladainian Tomlinson. Does that bother you? Because personally, I hate it when people compare me to Ernest Hemingway. I mean, I’m my own man, ya’ know? How do you feel about that?

Reggie: Well, it does kind of add some unwanted pressure, but I consider it a huge compliment when people compare me to such great players. Hopefully in time, I can prove them right, and maybe someday, people will be comparing some young college football player to Reggie Bush.

Me: Wow. I’m holding back tears right now. Happy tears. Listen Reggie, thanks for stopping by. I wish you the best of luck on Saturday night during the Heisman ceremony. It’s going to be a close one. Really close. Can you see me winking? Cause I’m winking.

Reggie: Yeah, I can see. And what are you throwing at me? Are those flower petals? Where did you get those?

Me: From the front yard. Why?

Reggie: My mom is going to kill you.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

National Lampoon’s Florida Vacation

Before liftoff, one of the lovely flight attendants informed us over the loudspeaker that we were going to “Florida, the hurricane capital of the world!” She giggled after she said this, as if it were meant to be a joke. Pure hilarity. Maybe that would have been mildly humorous LAST year, before one of the deadliest hurricanes in world history hit New Orleans, and before another bad one hit the very state we were flying into just two weeks beforehand. And maybe she could have mentioned the word “hurricane,” if she felt so inclined, AFTER we had landed, and had escaped the wrath of any potential gale-force winds and flying trailer homes. Actually, she did get on the loudspeaker again after we landed, saying, “We made it to Fort Lauderdale!” Laughter followed this statement as well, as if she was trying to say, “Can you BELIEVE we made it?!”

And so began our Florida experience.

We landed in Fort Lauderdale, and had to make the trip to Jupiter, where my cousin Amy was getting married to her fiancé, Andrew. Gathering the entire family for occasions involving alcohol is a glorious situation in and of itself, but having such an occasion double as a mini-vacation was cause for much anticipation. We did not anticipate however, that Florida, in general, was not anticipating us.

The questionable service provided by the inhabitants of Florida pretty much manifests itself the second you step off the plane. There should be a giant sign in the airport that says, “Welcome to Florida. Out of Order.” I flew in with my wife and parents, and my mom had arranged for a car service to pick us up at the airport to take us to Jupiter. We assumed that the word “service” within the phrase “car service” implied that the car service would be there to pick us up, but we were sadly mistaken. My mom called up the company to inquire as to our driver’s whereabouts, and they informed her that he was stuck in traffic. He should be there in ten minutes though, and we should be on the lookout for a black sedan. This made things much easier for us, considering that only eight out of every ten cars arriving in the airport terminal were black sedans. I ended up asking about five foreigners to roll down their windows so I could inquire whether they “were here to pick up ‘Kenny’,” at which point they would give me a strange look and drive away.

About a half an hour into our wait, a black sedan came speeding through the airport terminal, and the driver was frantically waving a white piece of paper out of his window. From our standpoint, it looked like a white flag, and we wondered if he was surrendering, but we later determined that this paper was intended to inform the crowd who he was there to pick up, even though the letters on the paper where a font size 12, and he was passing everyone at 35 miles per hour. My dad ran over to speak with him, and to see if he was our driver, but unfortunately my dad did not speak the native language of Florida, which is “gibberish.” Then the guy called his boss, and eventually handed his phone to my mom so SHE could speak to his boss, and it was determined that he was, in fact, our driver. We got in the car, drove for about a minute, and then Boris, our driver, turned to me and said, in his Russian accent, “Where is Jupiter?”

We learned many things about Boris within the next few minutes, besides the fact that his navigation system involves him steering with one hand while paging through a Bible-sized book of maps to figure out where he is going with the other. For example, he does not speak English very well. Also, he is from Bulgaria. Thirdly, he has no use for the white dotted lines on the road, which are often referred to as “driving lanes.” Fourthly, “Where is I95?”

We did manage to get going, mainly because my mom called our hotel for directions. Once we did, everyone calmed down, and my dad asked our driver his name, to which he replied, “Borislov.” “Okay, Boris,” my dad said. “NO!” screamed the driver. “My name is Borislov…But my friends call me Boris.” Just because you are in Boris’ car does not automatically make you his friend, as my dad would come to learn. It takes at least a two-hour journey to Jupiter, Florida, with classical music blaring from the tape player, for a true friendship to develop. Our family is now friends with Boris, united by the fact that Boris miraculously got us to our hotel using only his mental sundial, a full tank of gas, and a dream.

We opted for the cheap hotel, the Wellesley Inn. We knew we were sacrificing luxury, but had assumed that we would still be provided the normal amenities, like carpets. Again, we were wrong. When we arrived at our floor, they were still in the process of installing carpet in the hallways. Apparently, the Wellesley was still experiencing some of the effects of the latest hurricane, which, if I recall correctly, was actually called “Hurricane Wellesley,” and which came through Florida and swept up all of our money, which was amazing considering we weren’t even there yet.

All of the carpeted walls of the elevator were also stripped, which made riding the elevator feel like riding a giant plywood box with lights. It would also buzz when it arrived at each floor, alerting the other patrons that the giant plywood box was there, if anyone needed a ride. Oh well. At least they had a pool.

The pool was also victimized by the hurricane. The filter was broken during the storm, which made the pool unfit for swimming, or for looking at. The best way I can describe the pool was that it appeared as though, for the previous week, everyone who worked at the Wellesley peed in it at least once, and then threw a pile of leaves on top. But the service men and women at the hotel were working diligently to fix the problem, by waiting at the front desk for a new filter to arrive in the mail. It never did, but the good news is that on the day we left, we spotted a European couple swimming in the pool, apparently indifferent to its hazards. Crazy Europeans – they’ll swim in anything.

The Wellesley also had a fitness room, which consisted of a treadmill, a chest machine, and a sink. Notice how I did not mention windows. Or people. There was also a bizarre means of acquiring access to the fitness room, which involved getting a key from the front desk, except that the key was attached to a giant rod that was the size of a golf club, and once you were in the fitness room, nobody else could get in, because you’d be inside, with the giant rod key. It was as if the fitness room was a top-secret government facility, and the hotel could simply not afford to have potential terrorists using the treadmill.

One of the other main features of the Wellesley was its vending machine, which was out of order. But it looked very refreshing. And maybe the greatest feature of the Wellesley was its close proximity to the “Burt Reynolds & Friends Museum,” which is, in case you’re wondering, a real thing. Seriously – it was right next-door. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go in, because, like most things in Florida, it was always closed. But we had hours of fun imagining what was inside, and who, exactly, were the “friends.” I think we settled on Mr. T, Regis Philbin, and Carrot Top, but now we’ll never know for sure.

The Wellesley, to our surprise, did carry towels, however, access to said towels did not come without a price. The price was a tongue-lashing. For example, one day my wife had the audacity to contact the front desk and request additional towels for our room - a room that we were sharing with my sister and her brother. The lady at the front desk yelled at my wife, asking her how many people were in our room, and why we needed more towels. (As a side note, we needed more towels to dry our bodies.) The lady at the front desk had assumed that the four of us were carelessly going through Wellesley towels like toilet paper, maybe even sometimes using the towels AS toilet paper. Possibly, we had a created an entire third bed in the room with our surplus of towels. As a result, my wife was forced to actually go down to the front desk and sign out more towels. Also, several of the towels had yellow stains on them. The towels were also damaged by the hurricane.

If the Wellesley was short on carpet, they made up for it with dumpsters. There was not an exit door in the building that you could walk out of and not be immediately greeted by the smell of hot, rank, scrambled eggs, stemming from a nearby green dumpster that was outlined by a flock of five-foot tall, black birds, which the locals called “turkey buzzards.” The turkey buzzard is the state bird of Florida, because, as legend has it, the founder of Florida – Satan – flew in from Hades on a giant turkey buzzard, eventually settling at the Wellesley Inn, where the turkey buzzard would reproduce at a rapid rate for the next billion years. Currently, there are more turkey buzzards in Jupiter, Florida than human residents, which may serve to explain why there are more dumpsters at the Wellesley Inn than towels.

Believe it or not, it is very difficult to leave the Wellesley Inn. Not emotionally – that part is easy. I mean physically. One day, we tried to go to the beach, which was about a half-mile down the road. We could have walked, but the route to the beach was not very pedestrian-friendly, because, for one thing, it included walking over a giant, concrete bridge that sporadically went up to allow things to pass underneath, like boats, and more turkey buzzards. Anyway, I went to the front desk to request a cab. The lady informed me that it would be a 40-minute wait, unless we wanted a different, more efficient cab, in which case the wait would be three hours. Apparently, the taxicab explosion of the 1950s has not yet made its way down to Florida, where the idea of paying someone else for immediate transportation to local establishments has not caught on. I am pretty sure that there are three (3) taxicabs that service the entire state of Florida, and one of them is in the shop. Fortunately for us, a limo driver who happened to be in the lobby overheard our plight, and offered us a ride. I was relieved that someone from Florida had finally provided a service to our family, and a spontaneous one at that. But it turned out the guy was from Long Island.

Speaking of the beach, we got kicked off the beach the following day because we were not patrons of the hotel that owned that particular sand and part of the ocean. Ironically, the hotel that kicked us off was the same hotel where the wedding was, and some of our more affluent family members were actually staying there. Amazingly, their hotel, just two blocks away, managed to avoid the wrath of “Hurricane Wellesley.” They laughed at us while sipping banana daiquiris at their filter-operated pool, while nine of us had to do the walk of shame to a nearby public beach. We would eventually get the last laugh however, by not tipping the hotel bartenders at the reception, and by grabbing hours devours with our hands instead of the provided toothpicks. I think they got the message.

The wedding itself, and everything leading up to it, was a blast. A great time was had by all. My cousin Amy looked beautiful in her dress, the weather was great, and the family was able to spend some quality time together. In fact, some of the highlights from the bride’s side of the family included:

- several cousins causing a scene at the reception because one of them – 23 years old – got carded

- table chants

- a total of 38 stitches

- someone (possibly me) mistakenly telling a waiter to “f- off”

- the worm

- one (1) towed vehicle

- an organized search party for my cousin john, which ended in the bushes outside the hotel

Despite everything, it was truly a great time. If anything, we were all united by the pitfalls of Florida, and many of us combated it all by drinking a lot, which seemed to work. And when it came time to leave, I realized that, maybe Florida wasn’t so bad after all. In fact, I had tears in my eyes as we packed up our luggage and drove away from the Wellesley Inn.

But that was mostly because it smelled like rotten eggs.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The BCS motto: If it’s broken, don’t fix it

About a year ago, as the college football bowl games were getting underway, Nike ran a great ad in Sports Illustrated. It was simply a grid, matching up two games between the four undefeated teams in college football that year, followed by a National Championship Game for the two winners. It was like the Final Four grid in a college basketball pool. Underneath it read, “Just do it.” It was a tremendous advertisement, not because the concept of a college football four-team playoff was Nike’s idea – we had all heard it before - but because seeing it in print made everyone realize the practicality of such an inherently simple, and feasible playoff system. Just do it. Well, nobody did it.

In fact, nobody has done anything to remedy the issues plaguing the current BCS format of college football, a system by which several computers collaborate with various FBI agents to determine whether or not Iowa State has the right to play in the Sealy Posturpedic Mattress Bowl. It’s utterly ridiculous. The BCS (“Bowl Championship Series,” or, for the layman, “Big Confusing Scam”) system can’t even get things right during the regular season, best evidenced by the fact that one month ago, then-9th ranked Notre Dame lost to then-1st ranked USC on the last play of the game, which inexplicably caused the Fighting Irish to plummet to 16th in the rankings the following week, when they should have moved UP in the standings. And let’s not forget about three weeks ago, when USC, a team that had been ranked No. 1 for the past eight years, beat Washington on the road by 27 points, but fell to No. 2 because Texas won at home. Huh? Apparently, the computers saw something they didn’t like.

But hey – I’m certainly not the first person to hop on my soapbox and complain about college football’s ludicrous postseason format. And THAT’S the problem. Have you ever talked to, listened to, seen on television, read in print, went to the supermarket with, or engaged in email banter with someone who is happy with the current BCS system? Anyone?! Me neither. It is common knowledge that the format stinks. In fact, the running joke among college football fans is that the BCS system is best described by removing the “C.” Yet nothing has changed. The entire nation is so sick of the ongoing controversy caused by the BCS, but the powers that be won’t change it.

This just doesn’t make sense to me. Remember when Ray Handley, for lack of a better word, “coached” the Giants, but then everyone realized that he was the worst coach of all time, so he got fired? Or how about the time Michael Jordan retired from basketball to play baseball, realized that he couldn’t play baseball very well, so then came back to the NBA? And let’s not forget about the time the Fox Network created a show starring Michael Rappaport, realized that they had created a show starring Michael Rappaport, and pulled it off the air? (Well, okay – the show hasn’t been pulled YET, but c’mon.) Are we not all familiar with the concept of “when something isn’t working, fix it?” Well, under the current BCS system, Ray Handley would be in the process of leading the Giants to their 12th consecutive 2-14 season, Michael Jordan would have ended his career batting .039 for the Chattanooga Chickadees of the Independent League, and Michael Rappaport would be President of the United States.

Of course, the people running college football, whoever they may be, are full of excuses as to why there are no alternatives to the BCS system. Their biggest point of contention to a playoff format is the fact that it’s not right to ask the teams involved to play so many more games when they only play 10 or 11 games during the course of the regular season. Apparently, they are under the impression that we are asking for a 64-team tournament similar to that of NCAA basketball, which will start in January and end in May, and which will feature first-round matchups like Montana Tech versus Texas. That is not what we’re asking for, obviously. A four-team playoff is all we ask.

A four-team playoff, by which only two teams would play one additional game. A four-team playoff that would infinitely decrease the possibility of an undefeated team getting shafted out of an opportunity to play for the National Championship. A four-team playoff that would captivate the entire college football-loving nation, and inadvertently increase revenue for the NCAA itself, plus the schools involved. A four-team playoff that would alter virtually nothing regarding separate bowl games, and would only serve to give us an undisputed college football champion, which is something the current BCS can never guarantee.

Sounds crazy, right?

The BCS is seriously flawed. It is adequate only when a season plays out with just two undefeated teams at the top of the standings, and when that happens, it doesn’t mean the system works. It means the system lucked out. And hey – if there ARE just two undefeated teams left at the end of the season ranked No.1 and 2 respectively, then we don’t need the four-team playoff. It’s that simple. In fact, the computers were probably giving each other high-fives this past weekend, after undefeated Virginia Tech laid a big egg against Miami, and undefeated UCLA fell to Arizona. This now leaves us three undefeated teams – USC, Texas, and Alabama – and Alabama still has two very tough games remaining (LSU and Auburn). The system may luck out in 2005. It may not. But why this problem still exists is beyond me.

If the rest of this season holds true to form, USC is going to play Texas for the National Championship, which will make all the sense in the world, unless you happen to be a fan of Alabama, who has yet to lose. If they don’t lose, computers will ultimately decide that ‘Bama isn’t good enough to play for it all. And for no reason whatsoever, the idea of a four-team playoff continues to fall on deaf ears.
What else is there to say?

Just do it.

And cancel that darn Michael Rappaport show while you’re at it.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Meet the Survivors!

It’s “Survivor: Guatemala,” a.k.a. the most boring season ever! The tribes have merged, and it’s time to meet who is left from the this extremely unlikable cast. So without further ado…

Cindy
Hello, I am Cindy. Smiling hurts my face. I am disappointed in everyone, and also everything. The good news is that, either I am losing weight, or my boobs are getting much bigger. Either way, I hope Probst is noticing. He looks so hot in his safari hat.

Jamie
What’s up. I’m Jamie. Were you on my original tribe? Cause if not, I don’t want to talk to you. I treat my original tribe like a family, and everyone else is an outsider. And outsiders must die. Around the camp, I like to spruce things up by sitting on a rock with a sourpuss look on my face. One time I farted, and it was hilarious, but the cameras missed it. I hate Bobby Jon. One time we almost came to blows during a challenge because I rolled a giant rock to a designated spot faster than he could. He’s pretty much my mortal enemy. Back home I am a water ski instructor, but after this, I am only teaching people how to water ski who were on my original tribe. F*#% that.

Stephenie
What’s up guys? I’m Stephenie. You may remember me from last season’s “Survivor” as the “is she good-looking or not” girl who couldn’t catch a break. I hate losing. It’s even harder to lose when you are obviously the greatest “Survivor” player of all-time. Believe me – if my tribe was compromised of the 1995 Red River High girl’s lacrosse team, we would NEVER lose. Go Cougars! Anyway, hopefully they will bring me back for next season’s “Survivor” as well, at which point I am hoping that my eyebrows will have finally connected with my scalp.

Judd
Yo, what’s up, man. I’m Judd. I’m so sick and freakin’ tired of these people, man. No one has any freakin’ clue what they’re doin’ here, man. Listen, man – if you don’t like Judd, then you can get off the freakin’ island, man. I don’t care. I speak my mind, man. If I don’t like somethin’ man, I’m gonna tell you right to your freakin’ face, man. Seriously, man. Oh – you wanna vote ME off? How the heck are you gonna do the challenges without me, man? Huh? You gonna have freakin’ Lydia carry a boulder up the Mayan pyramids? Please. I played SPORTS, man! Did YOU play sports? I don’t think so, man. Hey – is that your rice, man? I’m gonna eat it.

Rafe
Hi guys. I’m Rafe. Honestly, can you BELIEVE I’m still here? Me neither. I just wish that everyone could get along here. I hate negativity. I’m having a good time though. One time I helped out the tribe by creating UNO cards out of huge leaves, but I kind of cancelled that out when I fell into a hornet’s nest and released a swarm of killer hornets on everyone. I excel in the challenges, but only when they involve prancing through a field of daisies. They told me I wasn’t allowed to bring anything onto the island, which is why I left my testicles at home. In case you were wondering.

Danny
Hello. I’m Danny. I host a sports-talk radio show back home, and I’m the only person here who knows that Gary used to be an NFL quarterback. He thinks I don’t know, but I know. I’m not going to say anything though, because that would involve talking. I beefed up for “Survivor” by eating three leaves of lettuce before I got here, so I probably won’t be hungry again until like, March. A strong wind will most likely blow me off the island, and all the way back to Kansas City. Other than that though, I think I have a good chance to stay here for a while.

Gary
Hey. I thought this “Survivor” thing would be much harder. Do you want to just mail me the money, or should I pick it up at a later date?

Bobby Jon
Hey y’all. I’m Bobby Jon. I’m from the South, and I work really hard around camp. I’m not a violent person, but sometimes I just want to hurt Jamie. I told him though, I said, “Jamie, I’m gonna knock your block off if you come any closer to me!” He knows. He doesn’t want any of Bobby Jon. I’ll kill him with my bare hands, and eat his lower intestines for lunch. Also, I love Jesus.

Lydia
Hello. I’m Lydia. The tribe needs me cause I’m a fish mongerer, and a few weeks ago, I caught a fish. Since then, I’ve pretty much just been hangin’ out. You may remember me as a good example of how NOT to play Mayan rugby. They were gonna have to pry that ball from my cold, dead hands until Probst made me give it back. Jerk. I think my small size is an advantage, cause I can easily sneak up on unsuspecting victims. Like when everyone else in the tribe is talking about who they’re going to vote off, I’ll just cover myself in twigs and leaves and pretend that I’m a bush so I can hear what’s going on. Occasionally, I like to remind the producers that I’m still around by randomly breaking out into a jig. When we get food rewards, sometimes I hide the leftovers in my mini-afro and eat them later. I had chicken wings for breakfast this morning. Take that, Judd!

Friday, October 21, 2005

The day the music died

Allow me to make a few observations from last night’s “Apprentice.”

- At the beginning of the episode, Trump’s secretary calls the house to inform the contestants where to meet up that day, but she prefaces this information by saying, “Mr. Trump is very busy, but he’s still going to meet you this morning.” Apparently, Mr. Trump is extremely busy with matters that do not involve the successful television series starring him. Ya’ know, the one that he helped create, and the one that made him famous again. He doesn’t have time for “The Apprentice,” not when there are deals to be made. I mean, why did the secretary even say this? Are the contestants supposed to feel guilty about the fact that Donald Trump is going to appear in front of them, even though they stopped the regular routine of their everyday lives to be on Donald Trump’s show? No kidding Donald Trump is busy, you idiot. He still has a show to do.

- I thoroughly enjoyed it when Trump is leaving his office, and he turns to his secretary and says, “I’m going to Sony. I’ll be back later. Hold my calls.” Who writes this stuff? Something tells me that in real life, when “The Apprentice” isn’t being filmed, Donald Trump’s secretary has no clue where he is 99% of the time, nor does she care, because she’s busy playing Tetris. I also like how it’s never something small with Trump, like, “I’m going to the deli, be back in a minute.” No, it’s the casual, “I’m going to Sony to negotiate a mega-deal with writer/director/producer Jon Favreau. If the guys from the shop call to say they’ve fixed the helicopter, call me on my Verizon cell phone. Other than that, hold my calls.”

- Everything the girl’s team does is hilariously inefficient. I never thought anything would top the Hamburger Helper-type giant hand that they inexplicably created for Dairy Queen last week, but the float they made last night for Favreau’s new movie was amazing. It was just a smorgasbord of crap, glued together on top of a giant float. And by the way, as bad as the floats were, there is no way in hell that the contestants created those things themselves. For one thing, the “highlights” of both teams during the creation of these masterpieces involved a) the guys sweeping, b) the guys yelling at Marcus, and c) the girls yelling at each other. I didn’t see anyone putting together a float. And furthermore, who on either team has the carpentry skills to create a nice-sized, single-family house, scaled down to represent the specific house in the movie? Marcus? Jen? I don’t think so.

- Glad to see Christy go. Her face looks like a box. Except a box that produces the most annoying sound in the world.

- I have a hunch that when Season One “Apprentice” winner Bill Rancic gets called back to make another appearance on the show, he gets really pissed. He’s probably like, “Geez! What the hell? Can I do my freakin’ JOB here? What is George doing this week anyway that he can’t go, that old bastard?” I also think that the only interactions Bill has actually had with Trump since he won the job are his appearances on the show afterwards, and those “interactions” include statements like, “I agree,” and the occasional awkward laughter. All in all, I’ll bet he wishes Kwame had won.

- And finally. The first time I saw R Kelly’s “Trapped in the Closet,” I was speechless. Literally. I couldn’t speak. My mouth was left wide open. There were no words to describe what had just happened. I had never before witnessed something so magnificently terrible in my entire life. I never thought I’d feel that way again. Then I saw the guy’s team create a song with Wyclef Jean. Now, for starters, my friend Lisa makes an excellent point regarding the utter randomness of this reward. Where did this even come from? Whose idea was it to have the winning team create a song with Wyclef? Remember the old rewards, when everyone would simply go out to a nice dinner, or maybe go golfing on one of Trump’s “beautiful, beautiful golf courses?” What happened to that? The rewards get more ridiculous every week, and this was the culmination of that trend. There was absolutely no rhyme (pun intended) or reason to this whatsoever. I mean, there is no way that ONE of those guys even knew who Wyclef was, and those of us that are familiar with him are aware that he hasn’t put out a decent album since 1996. It was almost like they wrote down the names of a bunch of African American musical artists who were popular in the ‘90’s, put them in a hat, and Wyclef came out. Who lost out, Digable Planets? My guess is that the producers wanted to add a little “flava’” to the show, and Wyclef was the only one willing to sell out so drastically. As for the song itself, wow. Wow, wow, wow. That recording actually set society back at least 20 years. It’s not humanly possible to find several whiter white guys willing to record a “hip-hip/R&B” song. One of them was even doing the running man while they were recording. I think it was the extremely short one, but I’m not sure. They should have just gone all out and had them wear big chains and army fatigues. But my favorite dialogue was this:

White “Apprentice” guy #1: (Trying to rhyme) In the club, I like to…watch the girls twirl?

Wyclef: (Silent, with a confused look on his face.)

White “Apprentice” guy #2: Wait, wait. WHEN I’m in the club, I like to watch the girls twirl.

Wyclef: Yeah, yeah. I like that!

Holy crap. An added bonus was Marcus’ part of the song, which consisted of him yelling “YOU KNOW WHO THIS IS,” so as to imply that, if I were to hear this song on the radio, I would say to myself, “Yeah, I know who this is. This must be the male contestants of ‘The Apprentice’ recording their new song with Wyclef.” Also, let it be known that, when these guys ARE in the club, they also like to “freak it.” Apparently, for six extremely white guys with Yale/Harvard/Duke degrees, who vary in height from 4’6” to 6’, they are in the club a lot. Freakin’ it, and also watching girls twirl, whatever that means. Anyway, if you haven’t heard this song yet, find it. It’s quite possibly the worst thing ever created. Or you can have my wife sing it for you on voicemail, like she did for me this morning. Thanks, babe.

As for next week, Carolyn is apparently taking over because Trump won’t be there. He is very busy. Please hold his calls.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Tiki Barber: Under appreciated and overexposed

His team has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise in the early going of the NFL season, their most recent loss to the Cowboys notwithstanding. Of course, he himself is a huge reason why, as his stellar play has made things much easier for second-year quarterback Eli Manning. In fact, he already has four touchdowns in five games. “He” is Tiki Barber, and “he” has agreed to sit down with yours truly for an exclusive interview. And for his generosity in doing this, there is only one condition: I must admit that this is not a real interview, and that it is completely made up in my own demented head. So there. I admit it. After all, that’s why Tiki and I get along so well – we know how to compromise.

Me: Tiki, three years ago it seemed as though your career would mirror that of Rodney Hampton, but now people are claiming that you just may be the best Giants’ running back since O.J. Simpson. How does that feel?

Tiki: I think you mean O.J. Anderson. And he wasn’t even that good. I think I’ve already proven that I’m better than him.

Me: Okay then. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think many Giants’ fans have taken you for granted until recently. Have you gotten better, or have we – and by “we” I mean the universe – simply become more appreciative of your abilities?

Tiki: Well, I think it’s probably a combination of both. I mean, I’ve always felt that I was a big part of this team, but there are a lot of stars in New York - guys like Jeremy Shockey and Michael Strahan for example. So to an extent, I probably flew under the radar a little bit. But at the same time, I also feel like I’ve really stepped up my game over the past couple of seasons. I feel stronger than I ever have, and our offensive system under Tom Coughlin suits me perfectly.

Me: Plus, you saw a doctor.

Tiki: A doctor? I don’t what you’re talking about.

Me: Ya’ know, to cure your fumble-itis.

Tiki: Ooooohhh. Ha ha! You’re lucky I have a sense of humor, because I could bench press you with one arm tied behind my back if I wanted to. No – I didn’t have to see a doctor about that, but I have worked really hard over the past couple of years to cut down on my chances of fumbling the football. It was a problem for a little while in the past, but I hope that I’ve remedied it, so to speak.

Me: Fair enough. But I know that you have seen at least one doctor – to get Lasik surgery – because I hear you on the radio everyday doing commercials about it. And I see you on television doing Visa commercials. And I see you on the YES Network sometimes doing a football show. You’re also in approximately 1,000 magazine ads. My wife claims she heard you’re supposed to be the next host of “The Swan,” and last year during the holidays, I went to the Monmouth Mall to sit on Santa’s lap, and I could have SWORN it was you. Seriously Tiki, you are everywhere these days. Are you already preparing for life after football?

Tiki: Wow. Even I haven’t heard that rumor about “The Swan,” which isn’t true by the way. At least I don’t think it is – I’ll have to check with my agent. Anyway, one thing I wanted to make sure of when I entered the league was that I’d make myself available for as many things as possible. Football is my career, but it’s not my life. And I don’t think it’s a secret that I enjoy being on camera, so being able to do that now will probably open some doors for me after my playing career is over. But that said, there is nothing that takes away from my focus with regards to preparing to play football every week. It’s not like I’m missing workouts so I can make a cameo in “Entourage.” Although that would be nice.

Me: Let’s talk about your teammates. A while back you went public with your frustration with Michael Strahan for not being more accommodating to the Giant organization during his contract negotiation period. Do you two still hate each other, or by asking this question, have I uncovered a great story of two rich athletes resolving their differences, resulting in the two of you becoming the bestest of friends? Because if that’s the case, I’d like to have the rights to it, before ESPN gets a hold of it, and has Chris Connelly narrate it on SportsCenter over some sappy piano music.

Tiki: First of all, we never hated each other. And that whole situation was overblown. Plus it was like, three years ago. Michael and I are cool. We’re not “bestest” friends, but there is no conflict between us. He’s a great player, and we both want to win, and that’s all I care about.

Me: Oh well, there goes my Pulitzer. Okay, next question. Does Jeremy Shockey crush Miller High Life cans on his forehead in the locker room, and give wedgies to the equipment managers, because that’s my impression of him.

Tiki: Actually, yeah – he does do that.

Me: Who is your favorite teammate named “Plaxico.”

Tiki: Hmmm, that’s a tough one. I’d probably have to say Plaxico Burress.

Me: Okay, one more. Eli Manning. Explain.

Tiki: What about him?

Me: Ummm, describe him in one word or less.

Tiki: What’s less than one word? Okay, whatever. I’ll go with…poised.

Me: I was thinking “unflappable.”

Tiki: That works too.

Me: Yeah, I love that word. It’s like, no matter how hard people try to flap him, they can’t, because he’s unflappable, ya’ know? Wait – have YOU ever flapped him?

Tiki: I don’t even know what that means.

Me: Me neither. And now that word has lost all meaning to me. We should have stuck with “poised.” Anyway, it’s time to wrap this thing up. Thanks for stopping by Tiki. This may not mean much coming from me, but I consider you to be the greatest Giants’ running back of all-time. On behalf of the universe, I’m sorry we’ve taken you for granted this long.

Tiki: That’s okay. I’m just trying to help this team win - I’m not looking for attention. But listen – I gotta go cause I’m filming a series of infomercials this afternoon for a new kind of computer monitor that doubles as a toaster oven. It can cook a baked potato in three minutes…three minutes!

Me: Nice.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Championship dreams now six feet under

I wanted to sit down and write something important about the 2005 New York Yankees. About how, as a fan, it was darn near impossible to fall in love with this team. About how they teased us into thinking they were tough and resilient, but in the end, they were just underachievers. About how they managed to sleepwalk through various parts of the season, and then somehow expected to “turn it on” when it mattered, although ultimately they couldn’t. About how I refused to believe in the death of a dynasty after Game Seven in 2001, but now I’m convinced.

But whatever. Who cares, right? The problems surrounding this team aren’t under the surface somewhere – they’re staring us all in the face. So I refuse to be one of the eight million people with a keyboard who is going to wax poetic about what, exactly, is wrong with a team whose payroll exceeds the next highest team by $100 million. Instead, I’m going to hand out individual epitaphs for every relevant 2005 Yankee. Because in the end, they all played dead.

***Note: In the upcoming issue of The Courier, these comments appear on tombstones, which make them a little bit funnier. I hope. This blogger site, unfortunately, does not a have a feature for "graphically-produced fake tombstones," so I apologize.***

Jason Giambi: To all of you who left me for dead, look at me now!

Robinson Cano: Am I poised, or do I just not care? You decide.

Derek Jeter: It’s harder being clutch when everyone else isn’t.

Alex Rodriguez: Most Valuable Player, Los Angeles Angels.

Hideki Matsui: In Japan, “Godzilla” means “ground out to second base.”

Bernie Williams: See ya!

Gary Sheffield: I was wrong - Derek IS the leader. Talk to him.

Jorge Posada: If it weren’t for April, May, June, July, and August, I would have had a really good year.

Bubba Crosby: New York Yankees’ center fielder. Yep.

Ruben Sierra: Productive off the bench. Except for the “productive” part.

Tino Martinez: We’ll always have April.

Randy Johnson: Yeah, 2005? Sorry about that.

Mike Mussina: Momma always said, “Life is like a box of Mike Mussina. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Chein Ming Wang: Kevin Brown makes HOW much?!

Shawn Chacon: Ace.

Jaret Wright: There’s no “I” in “Disabled List.” Oh wait – yeah there is.

Aaron Small: Diamond in the rough.

Tanyon Sturtze: Wait – you DON’T want me to give up any runs? My bad.

Tom Gordon: The reason Mo gets a two-inning save when it matters.

Mariano Rivera: Don’t look at ME.

Joe Torre: Alright Donnie, think you can handle this?

2005 New York Yankees: The new Atlanta Braves. Only richer!

Friday, September 30, 2005

Marketing 101

The three people who read this blog may have noticed the “junk mail-type” comments that keep popping up. I have no idea why this is happening, or how to stop it, although I am not so sure that I even WANT it to stop after seeing the one I got yesterday. It’s after the previous post, and it goes like this:

"Your blog is great If you have unwanted hair, I'm sure you'd be interested in Laser Hair Removal Prices Stop shaving & visit Laser Hair Removal Prices"

It is nice to see that the junk mail companies that are doing this crap have decided to get sneaky and add a “your blog is great” statement before trying to sell you something. “Hey, I am really enjoying your blog. Speaking of blogs, would you be interested in extra-absorbent tampons?” But unfortunately, these companies are not doing as much research as they should, or else they wouldn’t have failed to notice that I have an ENTIRE POST dedicated to my body hair (September ’04 archives – “Where the deer and the buffalo roam”).

Now, you have to understand that when somebody posts a comment, I get an email first, although I don’t know what specific post the comment is attributed to until I go on the blog itself. So, when I originally received this comment, I had no idea that it was junk mail – I assumed that somebody had stumbled upon that aforementioned post, liked it, and had a genuine recommendation for my problem. “That’s nice. A little weird, but nice,” I thought to myself. But then when I went ON the blog, and saw that the comment followed my fantasy sports post, I had to smile. Freakin’ idiots. From a marketing standpoint, they nailed their target, but by accident.

I don’t know what bullshit comments I’m going to receive after this post, but hey – at least these companies seem to like my blog. Cause, ya’ know – it could be worse:

“Your blog sucks. Buy kitty litter.”

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

When fantasy sports become reality

I can’t even imagine life without fantasy sports these days. In fact, I would place “fantasy sports” right below “eating” and slightly above “going to work” in my hierarchy of “things that are important to lead a productive life.” Obviously, I have great perspective.

Seriously though, three weeks ago, the NFL season began, and I cannot adequately describe how exciting it was. Six years ago, before I started consistently participating in fantasy leagues, I also found the opening of the NFL season to be delightful, simply because I could watch professional football games, root for the Giants, and spend some quality time with my family or friends. I was so naïve.

Because now that I think about it, what was the fun in watching Jerry Rice if all of those great stats went only to…Jerry Rice? How selfish of him!

Three Sundays ago, on the opening day of the NFL season, I spent the early morning juggling three fantasy teams – my baseball team was in the playoffs, and I was preparing my respective lineups for the two fantasy football leagues I was in. I had so many windows open on my computer that no appliances in the house were functioning. At that point, it was the apex of my fantasy career, since I had never before been in multiple football leagues. Coincidentally, the apex of my fantasy career did not coincide with the apex of husband career. But that is not to say that I don’t try and involve my wife in my fantasy sports life, often asking her questions like, “Should I play Stephen Davis or Lee Evans?” to which she may reply, “Why isn’t the toaster oven working?”

It’s not like I’m new to the fantasy sports scene either. I was in a league back when I was 15 years old, when we had a live draft, all of the stats came from the newspaper box score and were computed by hand, and I had to walk two miles, uphill in both directions, to school. Candy bars cost a dime. But then it stopped for some reason – probably because it was too much work - and by the time college came around, fantasy sports (football in particular) were out of the question, since getting out of bed at halftime of the 4pm NFL games kind of defeated the purpose.

But now, involvement in fantasy sports is at an all-time high, not just for me, but also for the entire nation. Everything is geared towards appeasing the fantasy sports players, which is a genre growing by the millions. There are the constantly running stats on the “ticker” during televised games, fantasy magazines that cost $10 so you can get important advice like “Priest Holmes is good when healthy,” an infinite number of websites providing leagues and useful information, and the acknowledgement that a guy like Jake Plummer actually has some redeeming football value. I mean, before this season started the ESPN anchors even had a live, televised fantasy football draft, in which Susie Kolber selected Brett Favre in the second round, which was surprising considering that quarterbacks who close their eyes and hope for the best before they throw passes usually don’t start going off the board until at least Round 11. But hey – whatever.

The point is, everybody is participating in fantasy sports these days, and one need look no further than peoples’ obsession with fantasy football when trying to explain the recent surge in the popularity of the NFL. And why haven’t potential strikes, steroids, and overall incompetence ruined Major League Baseball? Well, fantasy baseball may not be THE reason, but it’s certainly part of it.

So what is it about fantasy sports that’s so great? Well, for one thing, you’re infinitely more involved in almost every actual game than you would be from just a fan’s perspective. You’re an owner, or a manager, or a player or whatever you want to call it, but YOU have the power. You have guys you can call your own, and when those guys have a good day, YOU have a good day. And you don’t have to do anything except set your lineup (always fun), participate in the draft (which often involves pizza, beer, and trash talk), and watch sports. And, unless you’re one of those people who joins an online public league so you can compete against total strangers, most leagues consist of friends and family. In fact, I would say that 99 percent of the conversations I have with my male cousins, brothers-in-law, friends, etc. involve fantasy sports. I would even venture to say that I have no relationship with most of my male cousins outside of statements like, “I really need a complete game shutout,” and “Did you see what Duce Staley did?…Who has him?” Furthermore, fantasy sports bring out the competitive side in people whose athletic careers may currently be limited to seeing how fast they can climb up the stairs without tearing an ACL. Not to mention the potential to win money. In short, fantasy sports are the most fun you can have without getting arrested.

Of course, there’s something strange about taking extreme pride in something somebody ELSE did professionally, or not being able to focus at work because you benched Willie Taveras and he hit a triple. Fantasy sports can also cloud your rooting interests, and force you to make insane statements like, “I hope the Yankees win, but I need Jeter to go 0-4, and hopefully Mussina gets killed, only to have Matsui bail ‘em out with three grand slams.” But hey – you take the good with the bad.

There is no doubt that life is much better with fantasy sports. I mean, watching Peyton Manning play football is fun, but watching Peyton Manning play football when he’s your fantasy quarterback is infinitely more satisfying. But he better not throw any touchdowns to Reggie Wayne, because my brother-in-law Joe has him, and I’m playing against him this week. Maybe I’ll get lucky and Wayne will break his ankle on the opening drive of the game.

Obviously, I have great perspective.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Dunkin Donuts: The good, the ugly

There are two types of Dunkin’ Donuts establishments: those with employees who know what they are doing, and those with employees whose training consisted of “the milk goes in the refrigerator, and the money goes in the cash register – not vice versa.” There is no in between. There is no such thing as a “kind of good” Dunkin’ Donuts. You either get great service, or you’re walking out of there carrying a chocolate-frosted donut topped with cream cheese and a lukewarm cup of coffee with a lid that’s partially on.

I consider myself lucky because the Dunkin’ Donuts I go to every morning before work (Route 35 in Middletown, NJ) is one of the great ones. You can judge any good Dunkin’ Donuts establishment by how fast the morning line moves, and this one is a quick assembly line of great service. All the workers there are friendly, they know the regulars, and most of the time you don’t even have to tell them what you want – it’s waiting for you by the time you reach the counter. I’ve also noticed that, for the most part, the longer a particular D&D has been around, the better it is. To use a sports analogy involving baseball players named “B.J.,” you can always count on a B.J. Surhoff-type of D&D to come through when it matters, but if you risk going to a B.J Upton-type of D&D, a “home run” may be simply getting what you ordered, while “grounding into a double play” may end in you suffering a heart attack because they didn’t hear you say “decaf.”

I bring this up only because I have noticed an increasing amount of the Dunkin’ Donuts/Baskin Robbins establishments popping up throughout the Tri-State area. In fact, one sprung up by our house just about a year ago (Route 9 in Marlboro, NJ) – and let me tell you, it is THE worst Dunkin’ Donuts establishment in the history of the world. I dare anyone to find one that is worse.

First of all, I don’t know who came up with the idea to combine Dunkin’ Donuts with Baskin Robbins. I don’t know what was wrong with these two places existing as separate entities. It doesn’t even make any sense to me. But whatever. Anyway, the D&D by our house is sooooo bad, that I have felt compelled to call the Dunkin Donuts 800-number to report the travesties that have occurred there. Actually, I have had the phone out before, ready to dial, but my wife intervened because she didn’t want anyone to get fired.

And by “anyone” I mean...

There is a man who is always there working at this D&D. I would normally be left to assume that he is the manager, except that his only managerial skills involve standing up straight. For one thing, he has the personality of a cardboard box – a cardboard box that wants to kill you because you had the audacity to come into Dunkin Donuts and request one of their edible products. He speaks limited English, and he understands limited English. And he uses the small amount of English that he does know to give out misinformation. For example, a few months ago I went there with my wife and sister, and my sister asked him if they offered decaf iced coffee (she cannot have caffeine for health reasons), to which he replied, “Yes. It is all decaf.” She did not understand this reply. He went on to explain in mumbled jargon that all of their coffee was decaffeinated. In fact, everything in the store was decaf, including the muffins. Apparently, we were not at a Dunkin Donuts that offered decaf coffee – we were actually at the first Decaf Dunkin Donuts. Also, my sister ordered the iced coffee and couldn’t finish it because it wasn’t decaf.

I went to this Dunkin Donuts again last night to pick up some coffee for my wife and I, and lo and behold – this guy was behind the counter. My wife wanted a pumpkin spice donut, but I noticed that they didn’t have any left. Now, I knew the risk I was taking by asking this guy a question, but I figured “what the heck?” So I asked him if they had any more pumpkin spice donuts coming out. His response was to look behind him at the donut wall, and then turn back to me and nod his head “no.” Apparently, this particular Dunkin Donuts does not have a back room where donuts are made. Instead, when the tray is empty, a new batch magically appears at some point. So, this guy was nice enough to inform me, in head nod form, that the new batch of pumpkin spice donuts had NOT, in fact, magically appeared as of yet. So I had to order my wife a chocolate donut instead, which was coincidentally – and I’m not kidding – the “manager’s special” that day.

I also realized last night that I must be mistaken in my confusion with regards to the combination of D&D and Baskin Robbins, because I was, in fact, feeling like some ice cream. When I informed this guy that I would also like some ice cream, his response was to start walking over to the Baskin Robbins counter, as if to say, “Follow me, and carry your coffees and donut over here too because I’m not your bitch.” Of course, Baskin Robbins had to be witty when they named their ice cream flavors, so it wasn’t awkward at all when I had to inform a guy who speaks limited English that I would like two scoops of the “Honest to Good Nuts” ice cream. Again, his response was to stare at me while holding an ice cream scooper, as if he wanted to scoop my heart right out of my chest, toss it on the floor, and stomp on it repeatedly. So, I had to point to the ice cream instead.

Then it was time for him to ring me up. I was thanking my lucky stars that I didn’t have a coupon with me, because the last time my wife and I tried to give this guy a coupon, it ended up with every worker in the store examining it as if it were written in Aramaic, and trying to think of any possible excuse to tell us why they couldn’t accept it. I think the cash resister started smoking when they tried to input it, and I know I ended up paying more than I would have if I didn’t have a coupon in the first place. Anyway, the guy started ringing me up. He did not put my ice cream cup in a bag, or give me a spoon and napkins, nor did he put my coffees in a tray. The only thing bagged up was the donut, and I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if he had just sat that on the counter as well.

Another great thing about this guy is that you actually have to ask him for your change back. I don’t know if he doesn’t comprehend the process of giving back change, or if he just assumes that the rest is his, but after you pay him, he just kind of gives you a look like, “This transaction has been completed. Please leave the store.” So, I had to hold out my hand like a panhandler until this guy reluctantly gave me my change back. My money did not go in the tip jar, and I must say, if glass had feelings, then that tip jar was embarrassed to be there.

You may wonder if my wife and I are gluttons for punishment, since we continue to go back to this D&D for an occasional evening coffee fix. But if this place serves any purpose whatsoever, it makes us appreciate the good Dunkin Donuts stores in the area, like the one I go to every morning. And to be honest, the D&D by our house is so freakin’ bad, that it’s actually funny. I mean, I can’t begin to describe how hilarious it is when we pull up through the drive-thru only to see that guy’s head pop out of the window. It’s like, we know we’re not getting what we ordered, but we have to laugh.

By the way, this Dunkin Donuts also has a tip jar at the drive-thru window, just in case you just blindly received the best service of your life, even though you’re not yet sure if what you ordered is correct.

The nerve. A tip jar at the drive-thru window.

Honest to good nuts.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Shower cap

I had always figured that my attempts at maintaining decent personal hygiene were adequate, until a few days ago, when a humongous moth flew out of my hair while I was taking a shower.

I’m not exactly sure how long this moth was living in my hair. I would say that it may have been years, except that it has only been recently that I have been attempting to grow my hair out longer, as I am accustomed to having a crew-cut style haircut, which many leading geologists believe is uninhabitable for the average moth. Although, I must admit that it never crossed my mind that having short hair allowed me to experience cool breezes AND simultaneously prevented me from inviting various wildlife to come and live in my scalp. Regardless, I have met several people in my life (i.e., women) who have MUCH longer hair than I do, yet have managed to avoid having humongous moths randomly fly out of said hair while they attempt to wash themselves.

I’m not so sure I can adequately describe the shock I experienced when I immediately realized what had transpired. For starters, the particular moth in question was huuuuge. It was pretty much the size of a Pterodactyl. I mean, just seeing a moth in general bothers me. Like, if I’m walking down the street, and I see a moth, I’m like, “What the hell? Get out of here, you stupid moth.” But this one was enormous, coupled with the fact that my shower is a 2 x 2 cell, and because of my 6’3” frame, I often have to open the shower door just to wash my armpits. So imagine my surprise when I realized I was sharing my shower cell with a large, winged creature that was flip-flopping all over the place, trying to find a new home amidst the loud drone of constant running water.

Allow me specify that I knew the moth originated in my hair because, as I was shampooing my hair, I felt something flickering around up there. It must have frightened him, having his home lathered in soap and water, and he released himself like the proverbial bat out of hell. In fact, it was so freakin’ big that I thought it WAS a bat, and my immediate reaction was to duck. I’m not sure I’ve had a more humbling experience than being butt naked in a shower, and ducking for cover because I thought a bat just flew out of my hair, but that was the position I was in.

When it was realized it was just a moth (“just a moth,” as if that was any consolation), I bobbed and weaved like Muhammad Ali until I was able to frantically douse it with water. Luckily, I have a college degree, and I am well aware that water is like kryptonite to the average moth, mainly because moths can’t swim. Let’s just say it didn’t end well for the moth that had called my head home for an undetermined period of time. Picture the scene in “Psycho,” when the blood in running down the shower drain, except in this case, there was no blood, just water, and a dead moth was prominently involved. I have learned that the shock of finding out something other than dandruff lives in your hair can lead to many drastic things. Even murder.

I kind of just stood there for a while, trying to assess the situation. I had so many questions. For example, “What the #$@! just happened?” “Did a moth just fly out of my hair?” “Where is the conditioner?”

Of course, there is an outside chance that the moth was already in the bathroom, and flew on top of my head after I stepped into the shower, but I just don’t know. Call me a dreamer, but I’d like to believe that something other than hair gel and the occasional Yankees cap have been fortunate enough to call my head “home.” Although, that’s not to say that I hope this moth laid eggs, because if this were to happen again, in some place OTHER than the privacy of my own shower, like for example, a restaurant, I would be a little perturbed.

In fact, it may be time for a haircut.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Democracy – Hotmail style!

I received an email forward today which is a “Petition to Lower Gas and Diesel Prices in the United States.” Boy, is President Bush going to be surprised when he sees THIS at his desk! All this time, he’s been under the assumption that most Americans are content to pay four dollars for a gallon of gas, so this email petition is really going to knock his socks off.

It’s democracy at its best, really. When we don’t agree with something, there is no need to take any feasible means of solving it, not when we can type our name at the bottom of an email, forward it to 10 more suckers, and sit back in our chair at work and wait for things to happen. “Click. Send. Await for inevitable decline of gas prices.” Your job is done here – you may now concern yourself with other important details of life, like who you are going to forward the “God loves you! But He will not hesitate to STRIKE YOU DOWN if you don’t pass this along to seven of your friends!” email to.

Life is so much easier with email petitions. In fact, a few months ago, I signed a petition to turn mosquitoes into chocolate, so I am assuming that is going to happen any day now.

But back to the email forward in question. In keeping with the tradition of “Will the last person to leave please close the door?” the 2,000th person to “sign” this email document has an immense responsibility. In fact, the first 1,999 signatures will be rendered moot if person 2G doesn’t take the necessary step to ensure that gas and diesel prices will be considerably lower in the very near future. Not surprisingly, this step involves yet ANOTHER email, but I think you will understand the vast importance of this final step when you see the email address that all of the signatures must be forwarded to:

(drumroll please...)

President@WhiteHouse.gov.

Yes – in case you were wondering, these signatures go STRAIGHT to the Commander in Chief himself, at, what I believe to be is his “work” email address. (From what I understand, his original choice was “sexytexan69@WhiteHouse.gov, until Karl Rove caught wind, and forced a change.) George W. Bush will undoubtedly be fiddling with paper clips and rubber bands at his humongous oak desk when…BAM! You’ve got mail, bitch! And 2,000 people are pissed off! You thought gas prices were fine, huh? Well we’ve got 2,000 pieces of evidence that state otherwise. So what are you gonna do about it, Georgie Boy?

Huh?

HUH?!

Delete.

Even he’s not that dumb.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Willie Randolph: King of NY

His team is a half game out of the Wild Card chase, and is holding steady in what has proven to be the best division in baseball. After blatantly throwing in the towel on Art Howe during the second half of last season, Willie Randolph’s 2005 Mets are not going down without a fight. In fact, they went to Arizona last week and swept the Diamondbacks. All things considered, it’s been an up and down season for Willie, but he’s been kind enough to sit down with me to discuss the questions that are on everyone’s mind, like “Do you think Brad and Angelina are for real, or what?” Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to ask him that one. Nevertheless, what follows is my exclusive, candid, and soon-to-be Pulitzer Prize-winning interview with the Mets’ manager. Also, this is completely fake, but other than that, it’s totally true.

Me: Hey Willie! First let me say – I’ve always been a big fan of yours. When I was in grade school, I had a folder that was actually a huge version of your 1988 Topps baseball card. I mean – it was just like a baseball card, except that it opened up, and I kept my spelling homework in it. Every time I opened my book bag, I saw your face, and it made me happy. I wonder what I did with that thing.

Willie Randolph: Ummm, wow. That’s great. I didn’t even know they made those things. Ha ha!

Me: Yeah…they did. Willie, let me start by asking the obvious question: What time is it? I left my watch at the house, and I have to get home in time for the Yankee game. No offense.

Willie: What? It’s 11 o’clock in the morning. There are no games for another eight hours.

Me: Okay, cool. Anyway, what has been the biggest transition for you going from the Yankees to the Mets, except for all of the championships, good players, class, tradition…ya’ know – things like that?

Willie: Well, the biggest transition has been the fact that this is MY team. I learned so much under Joe Torre for all those years, and I had a good playing career in the Bronx, but to have this opportunity to actually manage a baseball team has just been great. As far as the city of New York is concerned, people are pretty much the same in Queens as they are in the Bronx – loyal, knowledgeable, brash…just the way I like it. I’m having a great time with the Mets.

Me: I remember your first press conference when the Mets introduced you as their new manager, and Joe Torre was in the audience and he wouldn’t stop bothering you about the sub you had sitting on the podium. That was a little weird, don’t’ you think?

Willie: Are you serious? That was a commercial that Joe and I did for Subway.

Me: Oh. Ummm, I knew that. Actually, is that a Subway sub in front of you right now? Wow – that looks delicious. Is there a lot of meat on it?

Willie: Yeah, there’s a lot of meat!

Me: Okay, geez! You don’t have to yell. I brought my own lunch. Anyway, who has been the biggest surprise of the season for your team?

Willie: That’s a tough question. I mean – David Wright is so young, and has been so good, but I think people expected that from him. And everyone knew that if Cliff Floyd could just stay healthy, he’d put up solid numbers, which he has. Geez…I’d probably have to say Pedro (Martinez). A lot of people going into the season were worried about his stamina, how he’d handle New York after being in Boston for so long, and things like that. But since he’s come over here, he’s been our ace. He’s given this team a swagger and an identity, and helped us win ballgames. He’s been more than we could have hoped for.

Me: Be honest with me here, Willie. When Pedro shoved Don Zimmer to the ground a few years ago, you wanted to punch him in the face, didn’t you? I mean, you HAD to have wanted to, right?

Willie: Listen – that whole incident was a heat-of-the-moment thing, and it’s in the past. I have no ill will or animosity towards Pedro as a result. He’s a Met now, and we’re looking towards the future.

Me: I’ll take that as a “yes.” The other big name the Mets acquired for 2005 was Carlos Beltran, who has been a disappointment. What’s HIS problem?

Willie: Carlos is an elite player in this league, and his struggles have been a result of several things. For starters, there’s always a rough period involved when someone comes to play in New York, and I don’t care whether that’s with the Yankees, Mets or whoever. Also, Carlos started off the season slightly injured, which didn’t help matters. And when he collided with Mike Cameron a few weeks ago…I mean, that was just plain scary. I have all the confidence in the world that Carlos will exceed expectations. He’s already starting to show signs.

Me: Speaking of showing signs, remember that time when you and Joe Torre went out to lunch, and he was giving you signs, and you came back with his sub, but it wasn’t toasted? Did you miss a sign there, cause he was pretty upset!

Willie: That was also a commercial that Joe and I did for Subway. You don’t get out much, do you?

Me: Not really, but I’LL ask the questions here, okay? Have you ever had the opportunity to meet Jared while doing all of these Subway commercials? I heard he’s much taller in person.

Willie: No. Listen – can we get back to baseball here?

Me: Yeah, sure. Uhhh, where the heck are my notes? Okay…here they are. Your bullpen stinks. Talk about that.

Willie: Well, first of all, I wouldn’t say they stink. We’ve had our problems for sure, but a lot of teams in the league have bullpen issues. The thing is, going into the season everyone said our bullpen was going to be our Achilles heel, but they’ve done well enough to keep us in this race. Braden Looper may get himself into trouble sometimes, but more often than not, he gets out of it to close out games. Roberto Hernandez has been a pleasant surprise, and even I have to admit – I’ve probably overused him at various points during the year. And Aaron Heilman has made a smooth transition from starter to bullpen, which has helped us out immensely.

Me: While we’re on the subject of pitching, let me ask you – Pitching coach Rick Peterson is the only coach remaining from the ill-fated “Art Howe Experiment.” How come nobody has addressed his curly, afro-like mullet? I mean, that hairdo went out of style in like, 1973.

Willie: Geez. Why did you have to go there? I can’t speak for everyone, but I try not to pay attention to the hairstyles of other men. I have other things to worry about, like scoring runs. And Rick is one of the best pitching coaches in all of baseball. He could have a rooster under his hat for all I care, as long as he keeps doing what’s he doing.

Me: Fair enough. Listen Willie, I’d really like to thank you for sitting down with me today. Like I said, I’ve been a big fan of yours since I was a kid, and the fact that YOU are the manager of the New York Mets has forced me to hate them just a little less. Kind of. Anyway, I wish you the best of luck. In fact, I hope you guys make the playoffs. But not if the Yankees don’t, because that will be embarrassing.

Willie: Uhhh, thanks…I think.

Me: Hey Willie, before you go, can I just ask one last question?

Willie: Sure Mike, what is it?

Me: Are you going to finish that?

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pop Culture 101: MTV’s VMAs

Every year I get suckered into watching the VMAs, mainly because MTV has become a pop culture phenomenon and I feel that if I miss at least some of the annual awards show, I will regress culturally, and will begin saying things that are so five minutes ago, like “Who let the dogs out?”

Nevertheless, every year, I am left utterly disappointed, and begin wondering who, exactly, is responsible for defining pop culture over at MTV these days, because, to be honest, it sucks.

This year Diddy hosted, and the motto was “anything can happen.” Unfortunately, “anything” didn’t include a decent performance or joke. The intro to the show pretty much defined Diddy in general. All buildup, no climax. Watching it, I was like, “Oh shit – something crazy’s going down! Things are blowing up! Trapeze artists are hanging from the ceiling! I can’t wait to see where Diddy goes with this! Oh boy – here we go!...” Yeah...we never went. And another thing about Diddy - he pulls this same crap when it’s time for him to dance, and he did it AGAIN on Sunday. It’s like, “Oh no…You guys don’t WANT me to break it down…Hey – Omarion is coming out!…I feel a battle coming on!” And then he does some really awkward head gestures, and that’s it. Over. Finished. I mean, can he dance? Even I would be able to break out the running man or something in a similar battle situation with Omarion. What the heck is going on here? I’m confused.

Here were the wild, crazy, and “unexpected” twists and turns that occurred under the pretense of “anything can happen.” A) Diddy gave his watch away. (Holy crap – Diddy, you generous bastard! I can’t believe you DID that. Where the heck are you gonna find another watch?) And B) MC Hammer performed. I don’t know what’s worse – that the biggest surprise of the night involved MC Hammer, or that it was hands-down the best performance of the entire show. Also, before the show started, Ludacris informed the television audience that there would be a big surprise. He couldn’t say what it was, but he guaranteed us we’d all know it when we saw it. And ya’ know what, Luda – I’m still waiting. Did I miss it? Was I in the bathroom? It couldn’t have been MC Hammer, right?

The performances were so gawd-awful that even my favorite band, Coldplay, wasn’t immune to the horror show. Chris Martin sounded like he just polished off a pack of Newport Lights before he went on, and I couldn’t figure out why he was walking around aimlessly instead of sitting at the piano like usual. I mean, I know he likes to walk around aimlessly in all of his videos, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to a good live performance. Before the show, Fallout Boy gave what might have been THE single worst televised performance in the history of mankind. I say that without exaggeration, as anyone who saw it knows. And Kelly Clarkson?…whoa. What happened, Kelly? You won American Idol because you have a great voice, yet you decided that screaming incoherently at the top of your lungs while having water poured on you is really what the crowd wanted? There is no way that you didn’t do irreparable damage to your vocal chords after that. And I know my ears will never recover. I mean, does anyone SING anymore? I suppose Mariah Carey sounded okay, even though her “performance” consisted of her not moving whatsoever, mainly because she is not in the business of burning calories these days. Also, when Shakira came out to perform, my wife said, “Here comes the porn,” which was funnier than anything Dane Cook had to say during his lackluster stand-up routine. Well, at least R. Kelly was able to stand on stage and lip synch through the utterly unforgivable “Trapped in the Closet” for three hours. When is someone going to tell him that the entire free world considers that whole song a complete joke, and a general travesty within the realm of R&B? Really though - this is starting to bother me. Or am I the one whose out of the loop here?

Even the actual awards were horrible. “The Gorillaz” won “Breakthrough Video” for their animated “Feel Good Inc.,” which is pretty much the same exact video as their “Clint Eastwood” one from a few years back. How can a video be considered a “breakthrough” when the SAME band put out a similar video years back? How can a video be considered a breakthrough on a larger scale, when it’s not even a breakthrough for the band that made it? Is it because it’s animated? Wow…cartoons. Simply groundbreaking. Maybe we could give “A Charlie Brown Christmas” the award for “Breakthrough Holiday Movie.” And how the heck did 50 Cent’s “Candy Shop” get nominated for multiple awards?? It’s just him in a house full of scantily clad women! It’s like every other hip-hop video ever made, except there’s a house! I don’t get it.

By the way, was MTV “V-jay” John Norris REALLY wearing a purple t-shirt with no back? I don’t know who saw the pre-show, but there was one part where John Norris, while wearing a purple t-shirt with no back, was trying to convince Ricky Martin to come off the dock of his boat so he could “interview” him. I don’t even know what to say about that. Actually, I do. But I won’t. And another thing. Where do I register for “The Kurt Loder School of How to Conduct an Interview,” where I can learn to stutter, create awkward silence, interrupt my guests, appear generally confused, and ask questions like, “So…it says here you guys are The Killers?” Really, where? Ya’ know, if I’m ever 51 years old, and I find myself apologizing to Jay-Z because I called “Young Jeezy” just “Jeezy,” you can shoot me. Kurt, I think it’s time to hang it up. You’ve had a stellar career, and it’s time to collect your 401k. And if they ever create an award for “Best MTV V-Jay With the Personality of Drywall Who Stayed at the Network 20 Years Too Long,” you will win. Hands down.

And that is my synopsis of the 2005 VMAs. In short, hated it. But, at least I got my annual lesson in pop culture. Here it is. In: Big sunglasses. Out: Substance.