Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Classic card of the week

Gheorge Muresan, 1992-93 Classic Four Sport Collection

First of all, that is an offensive foul. You cannot use your non-shooting arm weapon to ward off would-be defenders whilst also utilizing your tree branch fingers to poke said defenders in the eye, mouth, or mustache. Second of all, it doesn’t even matter because you are simply delaying the inevitable if you call an offensive foul on Gheorge Muresan, unless you do that five more times, which would cause Gheorge Muresan to foul out of the game, thus delaying the inevitable until the next game. Also, the inevitable is Gheorge Muresan dominating your sorry ass in the lane all day long with his array of big man moves and arm weapon tactics. Third of all, this is the French League, and the first rule of the French League is: There are no rules. The second rule of the French League is: Get out of Gheorge Muresan’s way.

Let’s find out more:

Gheorge Muresan enters the NBA as an untested potential star.

This is the exact same way ever person who ever entered the NBA entered the NBA, assuming that they are referring to being tested in a basketball sense and by NBA standards. Either way, this anecdote is accurate regardless, as Gheorge Muresan literally never took a written test in his entire life, mostly because he was five-feet tall coming out of the womb and was immediately inserted into the starting lineup of the Romanian National team and thus, was never formally schooled. In addition, he was never able to fit inside of a car, and was never required to take a drivers test. In 1990 however, he was approved by the United Nations -- sans tests -- to wear a Smart Car on each foot as transportation.

America patiently waits to see this Romanian giant up close.

America, in fact, was so patient in its anticipation of seeing this Romanian giant up close, that one would almost think that America did not care that much about seeing this Romanian giant up close, especially considering that, for most of America, up close meant “on TV,” which is where America could watch him anyway, if they had the French League channel on their cable package, which almost every American did back in 1992. I, on the other hand -- bored with the raw athleticism and high-flying nature of the NBA at that time -- was brimming with excitement at the thought of a 7’7” Romanian person jogging briskly up and down the court for a full 48 minutes. I even recall, as a 14-year old, tugging on my father’s shirt several times a day and asking him when we could see this Romanian giant up close. “Be patient, son,” is all he would say.

I would now like to direct your attention to the Gheorge Muresan photo on the back of the card:

Here we have a basketball card hyping the arrival of Gheorge Muresan to the NBA. If you could pick one person on the planet, at that time, to assist in this transition, who would it be? Who could possibly provide this Romanian giant with the credibility he would need to adjust to the most competitive basketball league in the world? I have somebody in mind. And all I’m saying is, I probably wouldn’t have cropped him out. On the other hand, this could have been done purposely, so as to signify the eminent takeover of the NBA by one Gheorge Muresan, which is exactly what happened.

Did you know?
My father kept his promise when he took me to see My Giant in theatres. It was the sixth best day of my life.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Classic card of the week

Dikembe Mutombo, 1992-93 Fleer

I’m sorry -- I know this sounds dorky, but aesthetically, this has to be one of the ugliest series of cards ever made. And within that ugly series, this card may very well be the ugliest of them all. And that is saying a lot.

Imagine that you have absolutely no background in basketball whatsoever. Somebody hands you this card. What would you make of it? Would you enjoy looking at the multitude of flailing arms and assortment of atrocious colors? Would you know what the letters -- written vertically, so as to cause additional confusion for the uninformed -- signified? And if you were somehow able to distinguish that the letters formed the name of the moderately popular Congolese-American professional basketball player Dikembe Mutombo, would you be able to figure out which player featured on the front of this card was him? And let’s say, for arguments sake, that upon further detailed inspection you were able to determine which player was Dikembe Mutombo. Would you then be able to understand why he was wearing a rainbow-themed uniform? Then, after all of this exhaustive research that has caused you to drop out of college and has created a major rift in your most treasured relationships, would you then be able to explain why, in a series of cards that classifies itself as a “Slam Dunk” series, you are left holding a picture of Dikembe Mutombo blocking somebody’s shot?

These are rhetorical questions, of course. Let’s find out the facts:

It only took a year for Dikembe to establish himself as one of the NBA’s most intimidating centers.

Dikembe Mutombo is 7’2” with the wingspan of a football field. He talks like Cookie Monster and he played collegiately for one of the most popular basketball schools in the NCAA. He has 17 elbows. It took him three-and-half seconds to establish himself as one of the NBA’s most intimidating centers.

(By the way, it is not known whether or not, after blocking this feeble Derrick Coleman dunk attempt, Mutombo executed his famous finger wag, in which he awkwardly wags his 3-foot long finger in the direction of the player whose shot he just blocked, as if to say, in a Cookie Monster-type voice, “No thank you, sir! I will not be enjoying your dunk today,” while the other nine players run down the court and continue to play basketball.)

There’s even a song about his shot-block exploits, a reggae tune called, “The Dikembe Block.”

Add this to the list of things I did not know before today. This reminds of the Calhoun Tubbs character from In Living Color: ”Wrote a song about it. Like to hear it? Here it go!” Also, I couldn’t resist an attempt to look up additional info on this reggae jam, and while I couldn’t come up with the song in full, I was able to locate this little tidbit:

Hey mom,

I’m assuming they mean “mon.” Unless they are actually singing a song about Dikembe Mutombo’s blocking exploits to their mother, which would be weird.

Have you heard da word?

No! What is da word?

No more flyin like a Bird. No more Mail Delivery. He don’t come into da key.

An obvious swipe at Larry Bird and Karl Malone. Bird himself would return fire -- via John Cougar Mellencamp –- on the dis track entitled “This Is Ouuuuuur Country,” which appeared as a bonus track on Mellencamp’s 36th album. Sample lyric:

A little diddy, ‘bout Dikemebe Mutombo
Ain’t from ‘round here, but he'll foul ya' hard if you go down low
Trying to be a basketball star
But he can put that finger wag back in his cookie jar
Cause a little Birdy, just pooped on his head
This is ouuuuuur country

Did you know?
Upon reading this post, Dikembe Mutombo reveled in the irony that he can speak nine different languages and I have yet to master English. He then finger-wagged in the direction of his computer monitor.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Classic card of the week

Shawn Kemp, 1995 Upper Deck

When I think about the “Images of 95,” one of the first images that pops into my head is Shawn Kemp dressed as Santa Claus. An easier way to describe this image is: Santa Kemp.

Since I am, for the moment, rendered speechless, let’s immediately go to the back of the card:

Looking up at a six-foot ten-inch tall Santa may be hard to believe

Equally hard to believe: Looking up at any Santa. That aside, why can’t Santa Claus be 6’10”? He’s a mythical figure who rides a sleigh operated by eight reindeer -- one of which has a red nose -- and he delivers toys to every child in the world by sliding down a chimney at night, yet now we’re putting height restrictions on the guy? I think the “hard to believe” factor arises from the fact that, in this particular case, Santa plays power forward for the Seattle Supersonics. To wit:

The Seattle Supersonics All-Star forward has represented Santa proudly

This is -- for anyone familiar with the off-the-court exploits of Shawn Kemp -- arguable. Far be it from me to judge, but let’s just say that Mr. Kemp was renowned for his, well…potency. The easy joke to make here is that Santa Kemp is simply delivering presents to all of his own children. But I will not make that joke. Instead I will direct your attention to my absolute favorite part of this card: the picture of Santa Kemp on the back. For your review:

Nothing says the holidays like an exhausted Santa Kemp sitting in stunned silence on a leather couch, wondering why the heck he ever decided to become Santa Kemp in the first place. We can’t see the rest of the scene, but I imagine that Santa Kemp is surrounded by eight thousand screaming kids demanding more presents and incessantly asking him if he can still dunk in his Santa boots.

Did you know?
According to a reporter on the scene, after one precocious child asked a visibly exhausted Santa Kemp what was wrong, Kemp responded by saying, "Mrs. Claus is giving me some sh%&."

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Making holiday memories here in moderate AZ

Note: This column appears in the 12/18 issue of The Glendale Star, and the 12/19 issue of the Peoria Times

There were two reasons my wife and I thought twice about moving to Arizona. First and foremost: family. Was Arizona far away enough? (That was a joke.) The second reason was much less important -- though still relevant -- and actually in direct contrast to one of our main reasons for wanting to move here in the first place (the warm weather), and it was this: Christmas…in Arizona?

(Spoiler alert: We moved here anyway.)

Now granted, both of these issues are rendered moot when we travel back east for the holiday itself. But Christmas isn’t just a day. It’s a season, and it’s one that starts -- judging by my 2008 calculations -- three weeks before Halloween. I had my reservations about what it would be like here for those days and weeks, especially after my dreams of sipping hot cocoa by the fireplace (that we don’t have) were interrupted by the sign near our house that reads: Fire danger: Extreme.

Speaking of extreme, I wondered exactly how much I missed the extreme east coast weather as my wife and I watched the crowd at Rockefeller Center freezing their butts off during the tree lighting ceremony on TV a few weeks ago. Last Saturday night we wore jeans and a light jacket when we attended Glendale Glitters. We saw the lights, grabbed a cup of coffee, and just took in the whole holiday scene. Afterwards we went to our good friends’ house to test out their new fire pit. We had a few drinks and even made s’mores. It sure felt like Christmas to me.

A couple of weeks ago we went out to dinner with friends to a place we never would have found on our own. It was called Tutti Santi in Glendale, and, as you can imagine, it was authentic Italian cuisine. If there’s one thing a guy with Italian in-laws misses this time of year, it’s authentic Italian cuisine. Outside of the restaurant a live band played and the promenade was adorned with Christmas lights. Inside our waiter demanded that we try the crème brule. Strangely, it felt like home.

Sure, nothing is the same without family, but if you’ve noticed a common theme of our Christmas-in-Arizona experience thus far, it’s that we’ve got some great friends to share it with. Most of them are in a similar position to ours -- far from home but trying to make new memories here. Corny? Yes. Christmas-y? Also yes.

On our way home from Tutti Santi the other night my wife and I took the back roads home so we could see the lights on the houses along 91st Avenue. I have no idea how you get Christmas lights on a cactus -- or, for that matter, off a cactus -- but these people get it done. And it all looked so amazing amidst the clear, cool Arizona night sky. As we got closer to the house, our headlights revealed that the fire danger had been reduced to “moderate.” I asked my wife if we could get the fire pit going and have some hot chocolate. After all, it was a crisp 48-degrees. She said we didn’t have a fire pit.

Maybe next year.

I’m looking forward to it already.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Classic card of the week

Mel Blount, 1991 Pro Line Portraits

Scene: NFL studios is Los Angeles, California. Several executives are meeting with Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mel Blount.

Executive #1: Thanks for coming by today, Mel. Listen -- I’m going to be “blount” (makes quote signs with his hands) with you-

Mel Blount: Stop right there. I will walk out of here right now.

Exective #1: I’m sorry…I’m sorry, Mel. I thought you’d appreciate that. Let me start over. Mel, I’m going to be honest with you -- we want you to do a Pro Line portrait. You’re one of the most popular players in the league, sort of, and it would mean a lot for our line of football cards to have you on board.

Mel Blount: I really appreciate that, guys. Really, I do. But I’m a busy man. Why can’t you just send out a guy to take pictures of me playing football?

Executive #2: That’s not how we do things over here at Pro Line portraits, Mel. We want the fans to get a taste of who you really are, off the football field. That’s what the football-card-buying public really wants to see.

Mel Blount: I thought they’d like to see me playing football.

Executive #3: No, that is a myth. They hate football. They want to see Mel Blount the person, the father, the pedestrian, the chef, the lounge lizard, the professor…whatever makes you who you are, that’s what the fans want to see.

Mel Blount: I’m a football player.

Executive #1: One day a week, you are, Mel. One. Day. A. Week.

Mel Blount: Alright, listen. I like the way you guys operate. I’m going to do this. (Conference room erupts in ecstatic “hoorays!” and awkward hi-fives.) But HOLD ON! Because this is how it’s gonna go down: I’m going to need a bow tie, a 12-inch belt buckle, a cowboy hat, and a horse. Not one of those mini-horses, either. A real, legit horse. And you’re going to fly me out to a remote ranch in northwest Kansas, and we’re going to do this in one take, because I don’t have a lot of time. We leave this afternoon.

Executive #8: Harry, can we do this?

Executive #12: I’m already on it. The private jet is on the runway. Carolyn is working on getting one of the horses from “Young Guns.”

Mel Blount: Let’s roll.

End scene

Wow, that got out of hand pretty fast. Let’s get back to reality here and have Mel Blount explain what this portrait signifies:

Football challenges the total individual – spiritually, physically, mentally, morally, and emotionally. The game exemplifies life.

Speaking of life, another thing I like to do in life is to hang out with my horse on our 50-acre ranch back home. That is what I imagine the next sentence will be.

It’s a true test of manhood.


I think that’s one reason the proudest moment of my life, as far as an accomplishment, was when I heard the news that I had been selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I shall wear my best bow tie to the induction ceremony! Also, still no mention of the horse portrait.

That was great news. I remember all the people I played with, worked with, and met while I was in the league. I love the game horses.

There. That explains it.

Did you know?
The urge to reference "Blazing Saddles" was resisted an estimated 26 times during the construction of this post.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Holiday movies teach us important lessons

Note: This column appears in the 12/11 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/12 issue of the Peoria Times

The theme of almost every holiday movie is finding the true meaning of Christmas. Except, of course, for the movie “Jack Frost,” in which the theme is: if your absentee father dies, be alert, because there is a good chance he will come back to life in the form of a snowman, and finally teach you how to play hockey. This is another important holiday lesson.

Anyway, the true meaning of Christmas in these movies usually proves to be quite elusive at first, but is ultimately found in some form of non-materialistic love. That is why, I am sure, so many people like myself are suckers for holiday flicks -- because they make you feel good, and reaffirm what you already know to be true.

But let me ask you this: Have you ever tried, in real life, to execute a non-materialistic Christmas? Contrary to what the movies would imply (gasp!), it is quite difficult.

A few years ago, on the heels of Hurricane Katrina, my wife and I decided that we really didn’t need presents that year. So in lieu of gifts we asked some of our family to simply donate to a particular school in New Orleans. A part of us imagined that everybody would follow suit when it came to their own gifts, and we would all have one, big, giftless Christmas. But it didn’t necessarily go down like that, and two days later we were in Victoria’s Secret searching for those pajama pants that say “Pink” on the butt. It was almost as if our family learned nothing from the movie “Jack Frost.”

And what example is Santa Claus setting in all of this? I have yet to see him denounce the materialism of the holidays by replacing Xboxes with $100 United Way donations. (Plus he was a total insensitive jerk in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”) That’s why I often prefer to take it upon myself to force my agenda on others by making donations on their behalf without their consent. Take that, loved ones!

Rudolph, you idiot -- your hoof is on my toe! Your father should be ashamed...

Only a holiday movie can help us. I choose “Once Upon a Christmas,” in which former swimsuit model Kathy Ireland plays Santa Claus’s daughter and she has to save Christmas because her parents – Mr. & Mrs. Claus -- went on vacation to Hawaii (again, nice example, Santa.) Not that there is a lesson to be learned from that movie -- it is horrible – but if you buy it on DVD for someone they probably won’t want a gift from you next year. And that’s a start.

But, believe it or not, I have learned something over the years. While an all-out non-materialistic holiday would be quite a thing to experience, it’s not a reality, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For one, it could actually deprive others of the joy they derive from giving. For them, the look on your face after opening a thoughtful gift they couldn’t wait to give you is often the gift itself. And let’s face it -- gift-giving is part of our holiday culture, and the ultimate reason behind that is a good one. Finding the balance between helping those who really need it and giving to those you love may be the true, true meaning of Christmas.

That, or, spirit-inhabited snowmen. Either one.

You're right Snowdad -- this isn't weird at all!

Smell of the week

Milk That’s Almost Gone Bad, But Not Quite Smell

I go in stages with my milk usage. Sometimes I drink more of it because I’m on a milkshake kick or I’m mixing it with my protein (due to my vegetarian status) instead of water. Other times, I’m just using it on my cereal. Either way, I generally try not to think about milk that much because -- not sure if you’re aware of this -- milk is a white substance that comes from a cow’s utters and is often made even more disgusting than that through various processes it endures on the way to the supermarket. I almost threw-up just writing that. Nevertheless, the inconsistency of my milk intake frequently leaves me with a dilemma: How much milk do I buy?

What usually ends up happening is this: I end up buying a whole gallon of milk. Then I get home and realize that there’s still a half-gallon left in the refrigerator. My wife rolls her eyes and tells me she told me we didn’t need milk and emphatically warns me that I better not waste any. Then when she is not home I dump out the old milk in the sink and hope she doesn’t notice. This is called: married life. (Btw: she always notices.)

Occasionally we have a back-and-forth where I will take out the old milk, open the cap, smell it, make a face, use the clichéd Chappelle line that “the milk’s gone bad, bitches!” and implore my wife to smell it for herself. Then she’ll take a whiff, then another, and then she’ll tell me that the milk is fine. And I’ll be like, “Then why’d you smell it twice?” and she’ll be like, “’Cause I wanted to make sure!” and I’ll be like, “If there’s any doubt, throw it out!” and then she’ll give me “the look” and I’ll put it back in the fridge.

(It should be mentioned that my wife is the same person who, when handed a loaf of moldy bread, will cut out the mold and use the rest. This is obviously unacceptable.)

If it were up to me, milk would be disposed of the second it starts to cake up near the cap, and you start getting those dried up milky flakes accidentally mixed in with your cereal. Man, I hate that. But that would be wasteful. We truly arrive at a crossroads when the milk begins to smell…but not bad enough.

Milk should be, essentially, odorless. But it does begin to acquire a smell the closer it gets to its expiration date. That smell can best be described as: the faint smell of sour milk. It’s a warning sign, really. Sometimes I even imagine that the milk is speaking to me through the smell, and it echoes: Hello-ello-ello! Be careful-areful-areful! The really strange thing -- besides that last sentence -- is that this smell has absolutely no effect on the taste. The milk is still delicious. But you wonder how much longer it will stay delicious.

It is up to the individual how long he or she is willing to take the risk. Personally, I don’t mess with milk. Once I encounter Milk That’s Almost Gone Bad But Not Quite Smell, I’ll give it another day or two at best. However, after all this talk about milk, I am fairly certain that I'm just going to give it up altogether. I am going to throw up.

The defect in this one is Milk That's Almost Gone Bad But Not Quite Smell.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Classic card of the week

Billy Ray Smith, 1991 Pro Line Portraits series

Let me ask you a question, and I want you to be honest with me: How many lightening bolts are on the outfit you are wearing right now? If your answer is: less than 800,000, then you are dead to me.

I feel like somebody is messing with me when it comes to this card. It doesn’t seem possible that this is real. Zubaz? Flowing mullet? Mustache? Billy Ray? Wristbands? It’s the wristbands that really take it over the top for me. Everything else is moderately feasible. I mean, did I personally ever own a pair of Zubaz? No. But I thought about it once. The mustache-mullet combination is a sign of the times, I suppose. And I would be less shocked if this guy didn’t have a two-name first name. But it’s the wristbands that make me question the integrity of this card. I don’t know what to believe anymore. Let’s hear what Billy Ray has to say:

Preparation is the key for me. I wasn’t blessed with blinding speed, or Herculean strength, but I spend a lot of time in the film room

I bet you thought that this was Billy Ray Smith’s gym outfit, in which case you are wrong, and also an idiot for even thinking that. This is actually Billy Ray’s preparation outfit. You see, contrary to what the front of the card implies, Billy Ray was not blessed with Herculean strength. And if you are never going to become as strong as Hercules, then there is absolutely no point to working out. Rather, Billy Ray Smith would simply throw on a pair of comfortable lightening pants, possibly also a lightening shirt, a pair of humongous wristbands (preparation is sweaty!), and head into the film room and break down an opponent’s offense until it was time for Step by Step, which was his favorite show. But why was Billy Ray so focused on preparation?

If the runner is coming at you, you better look for some offensive lineman who is pulling to trap you, because he is going to hit you in the ear hole.

I can picture Billy Ray Smith in the film room, watching game tape of the previous week, and rewinding the play where he gets hit in the ear hole, as he furiously jots down in his notebook, “Don’t get hit in the ear hole!!!” over and over again, his wrists sweating profusely.

Did you know?
A 1995 lawsuit claimed that Zubaz’s slogan -- “Dare to be different” -- posed a challenge that many people accepted under false pretenses; namely, that different = not horrible.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Touring Luke with a General and a rental car

Note: This column appears in the 12/4 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/5 issue of the Peoria Times

We hosted an attorney general a couple of weeks ago.

That would be my uncle, a lawyer from New Jersey who was recently promoted to Brigadier General of the Air Force. I have no idea what this means, but it did result in a big family party back home, so I know that it is at least as important as graduating the sixth grade. Of course, since his promotion, I have come to understand that this is probably the greatest professional accomplishment anyone from our family will ever experience. Unless you count my blog.

Having family visit was great. It was my uncle, his daughter and her fiancé, and they couldn’t wait to see us. And by “us” I mean the New York Giants, who also happened to be in town that weekend. Go figure.

Anyway, what’s the point of having an esteemed family member if you can’t exploit their hard-earned reputation for your own benefit? With that in mind, we kindly demanded that my uncle give us a tour of Luke Air Force Base. The farthest we had ever gotten to Luke was hearing the jets fly over our house at night, so this was going to be a real treat.

In fact, my uncle was equally looking forward to it. He had stayed at Luke while fighting the first Gulf War, and had not been back since. He did however, want to keep a low profile, so we went just as it was getting dark that night, and never got out of the car. When my uncle flashed his credentials at the gate and didn’t get the salute we were all expecting, he claimed the security guard was a “civilian.” Whatever. We got through.

I had no idea how immense the base is. It’s its own city. We drove to the back of the base in hopes of catching a fighter jet landing or taking off, and while we just missed seeing one land, just watching the jets sitting in the hanger was awe-inspiring. My uncle talked about engines and the differences between the F-16 and F-24, and I sat there pretending to know what he was saying, when really I was just happy to put a face to the noise that made me feel safe when I heard it overhead at night.

We drove past building after building, getting a quick lesson on Air Force protocol. My uncle became visibly upset when a certain Airman walked out of his barracks without his flight cap on (though he put it on one second later). We joked that he was an angry old general and should have shaken his fist out of the window, though we were all amazed at the discipline and attention to detail involved in being a member of our nation’s armed forces.

“This isn’t just a training base,” my uncle said. “It’s a mission base.” Nothing stuck with me more on that tour than those words. I felt so honored just to be there.

Of course, this is still my family we’re talking about here, so our final stop on base was at the duty free liquor store so my uncle could pick up tax-free beer for our Giants-Cardinals tailgate party later that weekend. And as I stood there in the sunshine that Sunday morning, enjoying a beer and my freedom, I felt like one lucky civilian.