Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A-Rod: An ‘interview’ with Public Enemy No. 1

Being an esteemed member of the “media,” I have access to many of today’s most popular athletes. Unfortunately, my “access” is usually limited to me watching them on TV. So in order to get integral information about these athletes to you (the reader), I often have to resort to improvising. For example, instead of having an actual sit-down, one-on-one interview with Yankees’ third baseman Alex Rodriguez, I have to simply make up what I THINK he would say regarding several important topics. This is called “journalism,” except, not really.

Regardless, my exclusive interview will commence…NOW!

Me: Hey there, Alex! Why don’t you have a seat…

A-Rod: There aren’t any chairs in here.

Me: Great. So, Alex — two years ago, you’re playing with the Texas Rangers, en route to winning the AL MVP. You’re widely considered THE best all-around player in the game. Today, you’re on the Yankees, and everybody hates your guts. Does this feel good, or bad?

A-Rod: Well, first of all, I wouldn’t really say that everybody hates my guts. I mean,…

Me: No, really — everybody does. I’ve talked to a lot of people.

A-Rod: Okaaaay. Uh, I’ve definitely noticed some hostility in my direction, but all I worry about is going out and playing baseball everyday. I try not to let all that other stuff bother me. And actually, that’s not what I came here to talk about, so I’d appreciate it if we could change the subject.

Me: You’ve been called a “phony.” Other players have implied that you’re a kind of “teacher’s pet” of an athlete — saying that your feeble attempts to be a “leader” and a “team player” reek of insincerity. Players say that, because they know how you act on the field, they find your public persona fake. Is this true, or is all this stuff simply jealousy from the fact that you make enough money to buy Europe? Ya’ know, if it was for sale.

A-Rod: I think jealousy is definitely a factor. I mean, if you go back and ask some of the guys I was close to while I was with Seattle and Texas, they’ll tell —

Me: I did. They told me to tell you that you’re a phony. And you smell. But don’t get mad at me — I’m just the messenger.

A-Rod: Listen — regardless of the reasons for all the criticism, I don’t really care what anyone has to say about me. Like I said, I’m solely focused on playing baseball, and bringing a championship back here to New York.

Me: I can’t stand when you wear those humongous, pointy sunglasses at third base during day games. What are those, “Oakley’s?” Didn’t they go out of style in like, 1989? Why don’t you just go all out and rock and half-shirt and Zubaz when you wear those things? Seriously, the eye black should suffice.

A-Rod: I don’t know how I’m supposed to respond to that.

Me: You don’t have to. I just wanted to get that off my chest.

A-Rod: (silence)

Me: Anyway, on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being like a trip to Chuck E’ Cheeses, how would you rate your enjoyment for playing in New York so far?

A-Rod: I would probably have to give it a seven. All the other stuff aside, I’m having a great time here playing for the Yankees. The only reason I wouldn’t give it a higher rating is because we weren’t able to win the World Series last year. And because everybody hates me for no apparent reason.

Me: Is that story really true about how you, while in Boston a few weeks ago, saved a little boy from getting hit by a car, or did you just make that up to become more popular?

A-Rod: I can’t believe you would even ask me a question like that. Apparently, I can’t even save someone’s life without getting blamed for having a hidden agenda. Are you even a real member of the media? Where’s your press pass?

Me: I left it in my truck. Now let’s not get off the topic. How are you getting along with Derek?

A-Rod: Derek who?

Me: Ummm, Derek Jeter. He plays shortstop for the Yankees. Right next to you. Everyday. Ring a bell?

A-Rod: Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that you were on a first-name basis with him.

Me: Touché.

A-Rod: Derek and I get along just fine. The comments I made about him years ago in that “Esquire” interview were completely blown out of proportion, and the whole situation is water under the bridge now. In fact, I’m going over to his house tonight for a costume party. He told me it’d be hilarious if I dressed up like a French maid. That’s the kind of guy I am — I try not to take myself too seriously.

Me: That’s weird. He invited me over tonight too, but didn’t say anything about it being a costume party. Anyway, your talent is undeniable. But for this interview’s sake, allow me to deny it. You stink. What would you say to that?

A-Rod: Well, I would just tell you to check the numbers. Last year was an “off” year for me, and I hit 36 home runs, drove in over 100 runs, and hit just under .300. I changed positions for the good of the team, and made the transition from shortstop to third base like it was nothing. Granted, I experienced some growing pains in the beginning of last year, but tell me what player who is new to the Yankees hasn’t? I hit a game-tying double off the wall in the ALDS against the Twins’ marquee closer, and I was scorching hot throughout the playoffs, until I, along with the rest of my entire team, hit a brick wall against excellent Boston pitching. I never made any excuses for myself, I absorbed all of the subsequent blame that came my way, and I plan on turning things around this year. If I don’t, then you can hate me all you want. And as a side note, I couldn’t care less what the fans of the Red Sox have to say about me, because they were all drowning in their sorrows two years ago when their front office failed to land me in a trade. Now THAT’S “phony.”

Me: Well said, Alex. Listen, just to let you know, I don’t hate you. But you need to start coming through for the team more often. Nobody really cares if you’re saving the lives of little children when you keep leaving runners on base in big spots. We as Yankees’ fans WANT to love you, but you need to come through when it counts. That’s all it takes. Like, take last night for example. You hit three home runs and had 10 RBI. Just do that, like, all the time.

A-Rod: I’ll try my best.

Me: Okay, great. I’m glad we talked. And you don’t smell.

A-Rod: Thanks.

Me: THAT bad.

A-Rod: What?

Me: Just kidding. Listen — can I borrow five bucks?

Monday, April 25, 2005

The wonderful world of writing

Writing is a strange beast, so I’ve come to learn.

I’ve made some pretty big strides in my attempt to make writing a career. Two years ago, I was mired in a job at a healthcare company, with only pipe dreams of having my own column someday. Now, I DO have my own column (with a headshot and everything!) for a local New Jersey weekly newspaper. However, my dream of drawing an actual income from writing has been thwarted by a) the fact that my actual job at the newspaper is that of circulation manager — my column is merely a benefit of me working there, and b) the fact that nobody reads the paper I write for. Well, at least nobody who can remember what they ate for lunch.

The newspaper of which I am employed has been around for fifty years, and its loyal readers range in age from 85 to deceased. In fact, it is part of my job to field the various phone calls from 97 year-old women who did not get the paper that week (I blame it on the Post Office, always), and who are, apparently, in dire need to keep abreast of the hot-button local issues our paper covers, like “School board meeting a success,” and “December: The cold month.” My unique brand of sports-related sarcastic humor does not necessarily appeal to the genre of “people whose grandkids just retired.” Old people do not care about Ron Artest, much less my opinion of him, and nor do they “get” my frequent references to Paris Hilton. After all, there are more important things to worry about, like who died, and why the print in our newspaper is so small.

Nevertheless, I’ve been trying. A few months ago my mom bought me a book called, “Writer’s Market,” which lists all of the various outlets that you (as in, “I”) can send your (as in “my”) writing to. But of course, it’s not that simple. You can’t just send your writing somewhere, because it will immediately get thrown into a pile of rejected Marmaduke cartoons and banana peels. In most cases, you send what is called a “query,” which is a 100-word or less description of what you actually wrote. This makes little sense to me, since most of my writing is 500 words of nonsense, and my queries would read like, “An exploration as to whether I should continue to shave my back, or get laser hair removal surgery.” I’m sure that most media outlets in the country would just be stepping over each other to get their hands on the rest of that story. Regardless, I did find a couple of places that accepted manuscripts in full, although one of them suggested not to send anything their way if it didn’t force them to “pee their pants.” With laughter, that is. And while this particular media source doesn’t seem to be as professional as say, “Time” magazine, I still sent them several samples of my writing anyway. From the lack of response I have received thus far, I am left to assume that they are still using urinals.

Besides freelancing, I’ve considered other options as well, like writing for a daily newspaper. My sales pitch goes like this: “Hi! My name is Mike Kenny. I know you probably have 25 reporters who are dying to have a column, but why don’t you give ME one instead? I have no journalism degree, and no experience, although I currently write for a small paper that nobody reads. I am also tall. Looking forward to hearing from you! P.S. My salary requirement is at least $40,000, and I need a week off in November because I am going to a wedding in Florida.”

Everybody I know has been trying to help me out though. I have been put in contact with approximately 346 people over the past three years who are associated with the field of writing in some capacity. Some of these people never called me back, even after I sent them my resume, and made various threats via voice mail. Others have offered me helpful advice like, “Go back to school,” which is great to hear considering I can barely afford to pay back the school I already attended. (And what school, exactly, will help me hone my skills for writing whole columns about how I got over my fear of pooping in public restrooms? It’s not like I’m doing political commentary here.) Still, others have offered me even better advice like, “Have you thought about getting the ‘Writer’s Market’ book?” Yes. Yes I have. Of course, the REAL advice I am looking for is, “Would you like a job writing for us?” Yes. Yes I would.

I am becoming more convinced that if I want to do this, I’m going to have to do it on my own. I am considering putting a book together of all my various columns, publishing it independently, and then promoting it on “The Today Show,” or a similar nationally televised morning show. If that doesn’t work, I may, as the cliché goes, sell the books out of the back of my pick-up truck. To profit from the publishing fees, each copy will cost $1,000, but will include a copy of my resume, absolutely free.

But even that plan would require a more extensive body of work, and more money that I do not currently have. This writing thing can get fairly frustrating at times. A lesser man would be left to assume that he sucks at writing, but I am not yet convinced. Four thousand local senior citizens can’t be wrong.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Golf — The sport of kings…and guys like us

There are certain things that you start to do as you get older. For example, you inadvertently become much less hesitant to waltz around the gym locker room naked, which often leads to sports-related conversations with other naked people. You start waking up earlier on the weekends to do weird things like “build a birdhouse,” and you begin watching “the news” at 6 o’clock instead of reruns of “Charles in Charge.” This is all normal, so I’m told. But one of the great parts about getting older is the inherent and ever-increasing appreciation for the game of golf, which, like random back spasms, only comes with age.

Now, I don’t consider myself a veteran of the aging process (I’m just 26), but as a kid, I was all about the big three — baseball, basketball, and football. And I still am, for the most part. But I married into a golf-playing family (my wife and mother-in-law being the only non-golfers), and after initially shunning their love for such a pointless activity, I slowly began to appreciate the game. Of course, this was mostly the result of marrying into an Italian golf-playing family, which left me no option other than adaptation, or I would, as they put it, “never eat again.” Nevertheless, the sport of golf is growing on me, and I can’t get it off.

I, like many young people, was steadfast in my opposition to golf. It’s too uppity — only attracting white, wealthy suburbanites with nothing better to do. It’s too expensive to play, too boring to watch. The announcers whisper. Mostly, it violated rule No. 1 of my own criteria for what should qualify as a sport, which is, “If you can smoke while you play it, then it’s not a sport.” But I suppose that golf-research analysts (if they exist) would quantify me as a “Tiger Woods baby-boomer,” as I only began to become mildly interested in the sport at around the same time that Woods was obliterating the Masters field in 1997.

The influence that Tiger Woods has had on the game of golf is truly remarkable in that, while many people originally tuned in to watch one man — who wasn’t even white — dominate the sport, they were inadvertently introduced to other participants of the PGA Tour. The same guys who were treated, by the increasing masses, as nothing more than doormats en route to another Woods’ PGA victory, are now even more popular than Woods himself. Win enough times and people yearn to see you lose, although we’re even past that point now, as Tiger has recovered from mediocre play to reclaim his superiority within the game, except that his perch is now occupied by three others.

They’re a kind of “Super Friends” who don’t necessarily get along, but golf’s “Big Four” — Woods, Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, and Ernie Els — adequately represent the progression of the sport. Most apparent are their ethnic backgrounds — Woods is a mix of Asian and African-American, Singh is from Fiji, Els is South African, and Mickelson just plain old American. More importantly, all four are men with distinct personalities and games — Woods the unofficial ambassador of the game that people love to hate (or love to love), Singh the proven winner who doesn’t hesitate to speak his mind, Els the soft-spoken one with the sweetest swing this side of Ken Griffey Jr., and Mickelson the risk-taking fan favorite who, up until last year’s Masters, made his living as the beloved underdog. Throw in the fact that all four are currently on top of their games, and golf is at its peak.

Or is it? What I can’t seem to figure out is if I’m late to the party, or if I’m just in time. Were my former misconceptions of golf just that, or has golf caught up to me? If getting into the sport of golf is simply part of the aging process, then how do you explain all the young people playing it? Or is that the manifested influence of Tiger Woods? I guess it doesn’t really matter, because I’m here now.

Of course, even with the “Big Four” headlining tournaments, it’s impossible to have a true appreciation for golf without actually playing it. (And yes — like you, I’m horrible.) But while golf is a notorious assault on your confidence and mental capacity, I also realized that I underestimated the athleticism of it (walking 18 holes really ISN’T a walk in the park), the machismo of it (my drive is longer than your drive), and the preciseness of it (why can’t I make a freakin’ three-foot putt?). In fact, I always thought that having a ground ball roll through your legs was the most humiliating moment in sports, however, whiffing on your drive off the first tee because you picked your head up too early, with the starter and a foursome behind you watching, is never fun. Do it twice in a row and you might as well go home. Golf is tougher than I thought, and that knowledge makes watching professional play all the more enjoyable. (Or frustrating, depending on how you look at it.) After all, the sports heroes of our youth were the guys who could best do what we wished we could do. In turn, those who we marvel at as adults are guys who can consistently birdie a Par 5.

It seems as though I was mistaken as a youth. Golf isn’t just for well-to-do, upper class whites. Just look at the most popular players in the game. And it’s not boring to watch, once you understand that a five-foot putt can mean $500,000. The announcers whisper out of respect, and although it remains a fairly expensive hobby, more often than not, it’s worth it. Plus, you can smoke while you play, if you choose to, which is nice, I suppose.

We’re currently riding the wave of last weekend’s Masters tournament — the first of four Majors to be played in the upcoming months — in which Tiger Woods rather officially took back his rightful place as golf’s greatest player, by defeating Chris DiMarco in a scintillating final round, and subsequent playoff. My interest in the sport is evolving, and it appears as though the same can be said for the rest of the country as a whole. We’re all getting older, I guess. And wiser, as maybe it takes time to mold an appreciation for a sport of such beauty, and hidden difficulty. It’s golf — it’s at its peak, and it’s what all the naked guys in the gym locker room are talking about.

Trust me.

Monday, April 11, 2005

You-Pod better than I do

For reasons that I will not delve into, I will have some spending money coming my way soon (let’s just say that I overestimated the cost of my last dentist’s appointment…I’ve been flossing, and it shows). Whenever this rarest of occasion occurs, instead of saving the extra money, like a more financially-sound person would do, I prefer to immediately spend it on various luxury items, such as a nice mouse pad, or a popular Old Navy “graphic” t-shirt that indicates I have been to a fun place that doesn’t really exist, like “Big Bill’s Rodeo Circus, in Houston, Texas.” But since I have more money coming in the near future than maybe ever before, I’m thinking big time. I may get an iPod.

If the “technology age” were a party, I’m still not there, because I got lost, and because I was never invited. I am only familiar with the iPod for two reasons: 1) I live close enough to New York to know that every trendsetting wannabe who is really from New Jersey has one, and 2) those catchy iPod commercials in which silhouettes dance crazily around at the aforementioned technology party to popular songs that I can’t get out of my head until the NEXT iPod commercial airs. From what I understand, iPods are like walkmans, except that they don’t have humongous pieces of foam covering the headphones that make you appear as though you are co-piloting a 2,000-seat airliner. Also, iPods do not come equipped with compartments that hold a cassette tape OR a CD (compact disc). “Then HOW do you get the music in there?” is probably what you are asking yourself right now. And it’s funny you should ask. Because I don’t know.

Considering the cost of the iPod, I had just assumed that a) it automatically came standard equipped with every song ever recorded, or b) you could just give it verbal commands, like, “Play ‘Round the Way Girl’ by LL Cool J,” and “Make my bed.” But from what people are telling me, that is not the case. You (as in “me”) are responsible for “downloading” the songs onto the iPod. This is done via the computer, by plugging the iPod into the hard drive, wearing a silver protective baseball helmet, and letting the rest take care of itself.

Obviously, I have never downloaded a song before, which may or may not impede my progress when it comes to enjoying my iPod, if I ever get one. In fact, I was just made aware that there are several kinds of iPods. There is the “shuffle,” which only holds 300 songs, and “other ones,” that are much more expensive. I’m not sure if a 300-song iPod is enough for me, considering my vast and exquisite musical tastes. Although, by the time I learn how to “download” 300 songs, iPods will have given way to a more technologically advanced means of listening to music, by which we simply absorb the brainwaves of our favorite artists, and then perform the songs ourselves, in the comfort of our own living rooms.

Nevertheless, until then, I think I will splurge on the iPod shuffle. After all, iPods, like their walkman predecessor, are integral in situations where you don’t want to speak to, or even make eye contact with, other human beings, such as while riding the train, or at weddings. My brother-in-law Anthony can help me out with the downloading part. He’s good like that, and he has a silver baseball helmet I can borrow.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

How to have fun when the Red Sox are in town

We’re traveling into uncharted waters here. For the first time in 86 years, the Boston Red Sox are the defending World Series champions, and the Yankees are the ones in a drought, if you can even call it that, which you can, because I just did. It’s only been five years, but I’m mighty thirsty, especially considering the fact that it felt like I was swallowing sandpaper when the Red Sox won Game Seven of the ALCS, and then went on to win the whole thing. I have a very bad taste in my mouth, and it’s not from the cockroaches I had to eat for the pilot episode of “Fear Factor: Non-Twin Wannabe Writers.” (Coming this summer!) It’s the taste of defeat, and I need to wash it out with the sweetness of victory champagne. Hopefully, that can happen this year, with the Yankees bringing the glory back to the Bronx, and then inviting me into the clubhouse to drink that victory champagne with them. That’s really all I’m asking.

Anyway, before I went on that rambling tangent, I was talking about how we (Americans) are traveling into “uncharted waters,” which is true. The tables have turned, from a baseball standpoint. In 2005, it’s cool to be a Red Sox fan, which is kind of an oxymoronic statement considering, ya’ know, Ben Affleck. Regardless, it’s no longer looked upon as insane to root for the Red Sox, as evidenced by the fact that everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon, except for Ben Affleck, who only hops on bandwagons carrying bad scripts and ill-fated relationships. The examples are everywhere — there’s a new movie out about Red Sox fans, “Boston Rob” and Amber of “Survivor” notoriety are on another reality show, and news came out recently that Ted Danson from “Cheers” is still alive, which I did not know. At the same time, it’s also NO longer cool to support the New York Yankees. Again, the examples are everywhere — Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield are mired in the steroid controversy, token ESPN Yankee-hater Jim Caple wrote a book entitled, “The Devil Wears Pinstripes,” and former Yankee Yogi Berra sued TBS for suggesting the term “yogasm” (from the show “Sex and the City”) meant having sex with Yogi Berra. I mean, really — that’s just nasty.

So, advantage: Boston. For now. Needless to say, Yankees’ fans are going to have to be on the defensive this year, with all the bragging rights on the wrong side. In fact, the chant that has spent 86 years in-the-making will undoubtedly surface this upcoming week, when the Yankees travel to Fenway Park. It is, “Year-Two-Thou-sand,” which signifies the last time Ben Affleck was considered a serious actor. But I’m sure that things will change the next time the Sox come to the Stadium, and I know that Yankees’ fans aren’t prepared to stand pat with regards to this rather unfriendly rivalry. In fact, I have several suggestions for chants that WE, Yankees’ fans, can counteract with during the upcoming season. (Please keep in mind that these chants are four syllable phrases, so as to be immediately followed by the necessary “clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.” Think of them as sports-related haikus, but without all of the annoying grammatical structure.)

No. 1: SCHIL-LING FAKED IT! This chant could, ney, SHOULD be accompanied by the dangling of some faux bloody socks for maximum effect. After all, the idea that Curt Schilling laid an egg in Game One of the ’04 ALCS, blamed it on his ankle, and then showed up for Game Six donning the bloody sock while throwing BBs all night seems a little suspicious, doesn’t it? As the old saying goes, “real men don’t show their bloody ankles.” Let’s let all those Red Sox fans know that we’re onto the hoax. Besides, I heard Hideki Matsui played every game last season with a torn testicular muscle, and didn’t even tell anyone. Now THAT’S a man!

No. 2: WHERE’S-THE-GAME-BALL? This chant would best be used immediately following the inevitable “Year-Two-Thou-sand” that will be hurled at us from Sox fans. Since first baseman-for-hire Doug Mientkiewicz basically refused to give up the ball he caught for the last out of the ’04 World Series, we can pretend that whole thing never happened. Where’s the proof? And could you even imagine something like that happening in New York? If a guy like Charlie Hayes refused to give up the ball from the last out of the 1996 World Series, the Yankees would hire someone to “coerce” him to hand it over, and then we’d never hear the name “Charlie Hayes” again. In fact, maybe that’s exactly what DID happen.

No. 3: SUB-PON-EA WELLS! This one works because the idea that David Wells would get subpoenaed for the Congressional steroid hearings is as hilarious as the time he got beat up in a New York diner at three in the morning. Boy, I already miss those days of waking up and reading headlines like, “Yanks win, Wells denies charges.” Anyway, Wells is obviously not on ‘roids because he is grossly overweight, and because steroids don’t go well with alcohol. Therein lies the sarcasm of this chant, in case you missed it.

No. 4: JIM-MY FAL-LON! Trust me that even the most casual Red Sox fan (if there are any) is embarrassed by the fact that “Saturday Night Live” alum Jimmy Fallon was ON THE FIELD kissing Drew Barrymore when the Red Sox won the World Series. And why was he on the field? Because he was filming the movie “Fever Pitch,” in which a Red Sox fan has to balance his favorite team and Drew Barrymore at the same time! Wow — can you imagine the hilarity? Or lack thereof? Not to mention that during an interview a few months ago, Fallon claimed to have grown up a Red Sox fan, but changed to liking the Yankees while doing SNL, but now likes Boston again. Boy — where can WE get fans like that? If being a Red Sox fan WAS cool, it’s officially not anymore after Jimmy Fallon made a movie about it. I mean, “Taxi” was the reason nobody uses cabs anymore.

And finally,

No. 5: NINE-TEEN EIGHT-EEN! Hey — nothing is as frustrating as denial.

Now my last suggestion is not actually a chant, but should work just as well. Again, if you thought that being a Red Sox fan was cool, then I hope you’re aware that five Red Sox players — Johnny Damon, Doug Mirabelli, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, and Kevin Millar — taped an episode of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” that will air on June 7. Because there’s nothing quite like watching your athletic heroes getting pedicures. So I highly recommend that Yankees’ PA Bob Sheppard, whenever one of those guys steps up to the plate or takes the mound, plays the theme song from the show: “Oh things just keep getting better…”

Ya’ know, now that I think about it, things DO just keep getting better.

JIM-MY FAL-LON!

Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!