Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Classic card of the week

Jacque Vaughn, 1998 NBA Hoops

If you have not already figured it out, I will never stop posting these NBA Hoops cards with the amazing write-ups on the back. Never.

That said, here is a picture of Jacque Vaughn –- the encapsulated “V” is for “Vaughn!!!” –- making a mundane basketball motion look super intense. But it’s not what’s on the front of this card that I’m concerned with. Slam-poet commissioned to write these cards, hit us off with the realness:

Auntie M, Auntie M.

Jacque Vaughn played his college ball at Kansas. But we’re not in Kansas anymore. We’re in Utah. Which is totally different than Kansas, with its big-city lifestyle and diverse populace. So anyway, they went with the "Wizard of Oz" reference. Kind of presumptuous if you ask me. I would have started it off: Carry on my wayward Vaughn. But what do I know.

The only thing JV here is your initials.

Indeed, Jacque Vaughn plays for the Varsity Jazz. He also dates the head cheerleader who oftentimes can be seen donning Jacque’s Varsity Jazz jacket, with its obnoxious surplus of patches.

Tops all-time in assists at Kansas.

That was weird. Something that actually has to do with Jacque Vaughn. I’m confused.

Nice tutor you got there in Utah.

Sure, if by tutor you mean short-shorts-wearing white dude who is so beloved and so much better than you that you will never play basketball again, then yeah…nice tutor. It should be mentioned however that John Stockton did help Jacque Vaughn pass his test on the French Revolution.

See you on down the road.

I’m not sure if they are referring to the yellow brick road here in an attempt to bring this oddness back full circle. Either way, an interesting formula of “Use Wizard of Oz quote – refer to high school sports hierarchy – give stat about Jacque Vaughn – allude to the reason he will never play for the Jazz – tell Jacque Vaughn that you will see him later.”

Nevertheless, if you have indeed been following Jacque Vaughn down the road of life, you must be very tired, as that road went from Utah to Atlanta to Orlando back to Atlanta to New Jersey –- holla! –- and to San Antonio. And that is why I think “wayward Vaughn” would have worked much better.

Did you know?

John Stockton actually has an Auntie M, whose birthname is Mildred Constantine, and who is not really his aunt, but a really, really good friend of his mother's.

Monday, November 23, 2009

On giving thanks for not giving up

Note: This column appears in the 11/25 issue of The Glendale Star and the 11/27 issue of the Peoria Times

We’ve had a few “I can’t do this anymore” moments as foster parents.

The first of these moments occurred when CPS came and rather suddenly picked up our first foster child just ten days after we met him. The next moment occurred when two children –- a two-year old and a three-month old –- arrived at our doorstep. There were a few moments after that as well, but one in particular sticks out very vividly in my mind.

We were about a month into our placement and had yet to really settle in. My parents were visiting from back east, and the quality time we were used to spending with them on their visits was lost amidst the chaos of having two foster kids. I got back from work that Monday feeling very sick, only to discover that our foster daughter most likely had pink eye. I felt terrible for my parents, but my wife and I were going to have to bring her to urgent care. We also needed to decide who was taking off the next day, as I had taken off work one day the previous week because the baby was sick. We were completely overwhelmed.

I sat in the doctor’s office and thought about what time in the morning I should call CPS to have someone come get the kids. I was dead serious. We were done.

This too shall pass. Luckily, that feeling of dread did just that. Shortly thereafter, something clicked. We just completely settled in. We had our routine down pat, and nothing could stop us. We were like a machine –- a machine working on 20 hours of sleep per week and stained with spit-up and urine –- but a machine nonetheless. Before we knew it we had potty-trained a child, took her on a cross-country trip back east, helped diagnose some lingering health issues for a vulnerable baby, and then watched him develop into a little boy.

One of my favorite truths goes like this: “God doesn’t call the equipped. He equips the called.” We had no equipment –- we didn’t even have a crib! Seriously -– but we did it. For almost eight months, we did it.

I thought of these things as we made the drive up north to officially return our two little foster kiddos to their family last weekend. The fear and uncertainty of their arrival at our house, which had morphed into the anxiety of them being in our house, had now become a deep sadness at the reality of them leaving our house.

After an emotional farewell, we returned home to a quiet, clean house, and had a chance to reflect on eight months that felt like three years, that felt like three days. What overwhelmed the emptiness inside was the feeling of gratefulness I felt to be a part of their lives. I was so unbelievably happy that we never caved to the pressure.

I’m also grateful for the confidence this experience gave me. Going from zero to two kids was almost more than we could handle, but like I told my wife the other day -– I now feel like I could spin one kid on my fingertip like a basketball. One kid? Pfftt.

That said, I think it’s time for a little break. We have a ton to be thankful for this year, so I think we’ll especially enjoy Thanksgiving this week.
And besides -– we need to clean the machine.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Classic card of the week

Yancey Thigpen, 1998 Upper Deck

Sometimes when I am doing research before posting a classic card, I stumble upon some amazing factoids that I would never have discovered were it not for my extreme dedication to reintroducing worthless and ugly sports cards to the insatiable American public. For me, it just kind of reaffirms the fact that: This is my calling.

Case in point. Here is an Upper Deck, Black Diamond Series Yancey Thigpen card. Not much to see here. In fact, my stable of post-worthy football cards is growing very thin. So many times I will Google a player from an otherwise unexciting card to see if there are any worthwhile goodies. This often -– and by often I mean always -– leads me to Wikipedia, which is pretty much my favorite site. As the great Michael Scott once said: “Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you’re getting the best possible information.”

The very first thing that I discovered while navigating this Wikipedia page was that Yancey Thigpen’s middle name is Dirk. So here we have an odd first name that seems to purposely defy an original, more common name.

Mother: Your father’s name is Clancy, but I really like the letter “Y.”

Father: How about we add a second “y.” Clancyy.

Mother: No. Screw it. He shall be called “Yancey.”

Father: I want a divorce.

To combine this uncommon first name with the abrupt and very weird middle name of “Dirk” pleases me in a way that I cannot fully express in words. It rolls off the tongue like a thing that does not roll very easily off a tongue. But even though I have wasted much time in examining this name combination, that is not why I am here today.

The reason I am here is because I think -– nay, I am almost certain -– that I have discovered the greatest sentence ever written. In order to provide the necessary context, here is the preceding thought:

In 1998 he signed with the Oilers with a contract that was then the highest known for any wide receiver and played with them for the final three seasons of his career, assisting the team (now known as the Titans) to Super Bowl XXXIV in the 1999 season.

Okay. Not exactly Tolstoy. Lot of “withs” in there. But whatever. Here’s the follow up. Be ready though, because it is extraordinary:

Thigpen's greatest accomplishment in this endeavour might have been the signal from his contract the role Wide Receivers would play in the future.

I have read this sentence approximately 700 times, and I cannot wrap my brain around its awesomeness. Let me start though by acknowledging that the faux-British spelling of endeavor adds a certain class and je ne sais quoi to the sentence overall. I respect that.

So let’s see…”Thigpen’s greatest accomplishment in this endeavour...” In the endeavour of “assisting the team to Super Bowl XXXIV,” Yancey Thigpen accomplished many, many things. For one, he caught some passes. Probably blocked a few guys. He also literally drove the team to the game. And assuredly he assisted the team in other ways that will forever remain unknown and undocumented. Yet, no accomplishment was greater than the signal from his contract.

Yes. Yancey Thigpen’s contract included a signal. It was like the Bat-signal. Except it had a dollar sign. And it alerted other Wide Receivers -– capitalized with a purpose, so as to express the inherent godliness of men who catch footballs for a living –- as to the role they would play in the future. That role? Probably wide receiver. But for more money.

It’s difficult to say how the signal from Yancey Thigpen’s contract specifically affected other Wide Receivers, mostly because that sentence is bereft of the necessary predicate. But we can credit Thigpen himself, because we know it was his accomplishment. In the endeavour.

Unfortunately, Yancey Thigpen’s greatest accomplishment in assisting his team to Super Bowl XXXIV did not assist his team in winning Super Bowl XXXIV. The Titans lost when Wide Receiver Dirk Dyson –- frustrated at not receiving the signal sent out from his teammate’s contract -– was tackled at the 1-yard line to end the game.

Did you know?
Yancey Thigpen's career was not one-dimensional. As his Wiki page mentions: He also rushed for four yards.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One three-year old’s tactics prove difficult to overcome

Note: This column appears in the 11/19 issue of The Glendale Star and the 11/20 issue of the Peoria Times

Our foster daughter has recently begun employing the strategy of reminding us that she loves us when she’s in trouble.

For example, last week, after being reprimanded for the third and final time for sitting way too close to the television, she sullenly walked over to me, hugged my leg and said, “I love you, Michael.” (Fyi: She calls me Michael. I tried in vain for months to get her to call me Mike, but she prefers Michael. She’s very formal.)

This is a very shrewd tactic, especially for a three-year old girl who, when asked what she wants to be when she grows up, consistently replies: “a Care Bear.” It’s so obvious and transparent in its efforts, yet still so disarming. For one thing, it’s funny. I also feel obliged -– no matter what other disciplinary schpiel I delve into –- to remind her that yes, I love her too. Both of these factors take the edge off of any anger or frustration that I am presently feeling towards her.

We also do not know where she learned this from. Between preschool, daycare, and her weekend visits with her biological family there are certainly enough opportunities for her to absorb new things, even if “absorbing new things” isn’t necessarily her forte. And I think that’s what makes this so endearing – most days she cannot tell me what she had for lunch. That she possesses a survival-instinct-type tactic for getting out of trouble makes me smile.

Her strategy however, was put to the test a few days ago. While I was playing with her and her brother outside in the backyard, she inexplicably jumped on the dog. Like, full on jumped on him, as hard as she could. I could barely contain my anger as I immediately sent her to the stairs for a timeout. She cried uncontrollably (another tactic) as I informed her that she lost her television privileges for the evening and her nighttime story.

I was left incredulous at what she had just done. As sweet and good-natured as she is, she can also make us wonder what is going through that head of hers sometimes. When the dust eventually settled, I explained to her why she was wrong, why a true Care Bear would never do anything like that, and made her – yes – apologize to the dog.

A few minutes later, she walked up to me, tears still in her eyes, hugged my leg and said, “I love you, Michael.” But this time was a little different, and I started to wonder.

When she came to us she had barely ever experienced discipline before. It is still the case now that when she’s not with us, she runs the show, and although it seems great to her to at the time, it physically and mentally drains her. As she stood there clutched to my leg, I wondered if she was genuinely thanking me for providing her the discipline and structure that she inherently craves.


Nah. She was probably just trying to get back on my good side. Either way, I'm pretty sure she mans it. And that makes me smile.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Classic card of the week

Brad Lohaus, 1992 Fleer

Brad Lohaus, a.k.a. Toby Flenderson, was a prisoner in his own body:

A small shooting forward trapped in a seven-footer’s body

“Ahhhhhhh! Get me out of this seven-footer’s body!” is what the 5’11” shooting forward version of Brad Lohaus would scream from inside the robotic walls of his gargantuan master. These screams often came at night, waking the children.

And –- nitpicking alert! -– why is it a small shooting forward that’s trapped in Brad Lohaus’ body? Just to provide more contrast to that silly statement? I mean, why couldn’t it be an average NBA-sized shooting forward trapped inside? Also: what is a shooting forward? That’s not really even a thing. Why didn’t they just say: “A shooting guard trapped in a seven-footer’s body?” That way I could humorously picture Hubert Davis trying to awkwardly operate the arms and legs of Brad Lohaus. I smell sitcom!

I would be remiss not to mention that I myself am a 6-foot, 195-lb Hawaiian fullback trapped inside of a 6’ 3” lanky white dude who blogs. I will clear an aisle at the supermarket like nobody’s business.

But let’s continue. From the top:

A small shooting forward trapped in a seven-footer’s body, Lohaus is a shot-blocking

I just want to cut it off right there to illustrate a point: Highlighting Brad Lohaus’ shot-blocking ability first and foremost in no way justifies how or why he is a small shooting forward trapped in a seven-footer’s body. In fact -– based on his shot-blocking ability alone -- it’s more likely that he is a seven-footer trapped in a small shooting forward’s body. Or, more simply, a seven-foot tall person.

Okay, I am done. From the top. Again:

A small shooting forward trapped in a seven-footer’s body, Lohaus is a shot-blocking, three-point specialist

Okay. So there it is. Brad Lohaus is a really good shooter for a big man. Got it. Wait, what? There’s more?

who runs the floor well

“A small Kenyan trapped in a seven-footer’s body…”

Did you know?
R. Kelly’s next groundbreaking project is entitled: Trapped in Brad Lohaus.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Search for trash receptacle proves difficult, ends happily

Note: This column appears in the 11/12 issue of The Glendale Star and the 11/13 issue of the Peoria Times

After months of deliberation and weeks of searching, my wife and I finally made the important life decision to buy a new garbage can.

Now, this wasn’t a decision made easily or without much heartache and gnashing of teeth. What happened was this: The springs on our original garbage can, which we had always kept under the sink, broke. This meant that I could no longer simply pull down the handle and experience the grand convenience of having the lid pop open, thus allowing me to easily dispose of waste. No, instead I had to drag the can out from underneath the sink, open the lid manually and, in the process, get hit with a brick wall of funk made possible when dirty diapers meet onions.

So we were in the market for a new garbage can. As a result, I was unusually excited about the normally loathsome trip to Bed Bath & Beyond. Their entire back wall was full of garbage cans as far as the eye could see, and I felt like a kid in a garbage can store! Unfortunately, each one cost about a million dollars.

Listen, I like to splurge every now and then just as much as the next guy. Just last month I paid $1.29 for one song on iTunes, which is just ridiculous. But I refuse to pay good money for something I am going to consistently defile with trash. Most of their garbage cans were stainless steel with laser sensors and built-in alarm clocks, which are, by my standards, unnecessary conveniences for something you’re throwing garbage into. My wife however was lured -– as many people are –- by the fantasy of a modern garbage can and all the social advantages it entails. Instead I managed to find the only plastic one there, which cost like eight bucks. It had one of those flip lids! It was going to be the best day ever.

We then got into a heated discussion as to whether or not the garbage can I chose would fit underneath our sink. I was convinced it would. My wife didn’t think so. I am sure you can imagine how that one ended, but I do need to mention that it wasn’t even close. If I had cut the garbage can in half, it still wouldn’t have fit.

So we were in the market for a new garbage can. We continued to search and search, unable to find anything in our (my) budget. Also, the harsh realities of modern waste disposal forced us to reconsider if under the sink was a feasible location. I was obviously distraught.

They say the best time to find something is when you’re not looking for it, and wouldn’t ya’ know that when we had just given up hope, we found one! I won’t say where, as it may offend some people (my father) who have boycotted this store for various reasons. But still.

It didn’t come without compromises though. It’s not plastic, and it won’t go under the sink. But it’s small, which means it’s not an eyesore, although it does mean that I have to change the bag every 45 minutes. Most importantly, it has a foot pedal. Now, when people come over, they don’t have to look in every cabinet for our garbage can. It’ll be right there, and they can use their foot! And they will think that we’re rich.

A foot pedal? Pfftt.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Classic card of the week

Doug West, 1996 Skybox

Quite possibly you recall a mysterious yet magical time when Kings’ forward Michael Smith was catching hot flaming balls. Now, you can believe this or not -– your call –- but other NBA players at the time enjoyed a similar experience. In order to sway your belief in what I have just mentioned, I will now post several cards as proof of my honor:

Here is the patented Charles Barkley: “Ouch! This flaming hot basketball is hot!” face.

And here is Dale Davis with the “I realize that this basketball is, literally, on fire. But I am going to rebound it anyway. Here goes…mother f-!” maneuver.

And of course, what would a flaming hot basketball feature be without Gheorghe Muresan’s famous “I am 10 feet tall, but this comet ball still alludes me!” low post move.

Which brings us back to Doug West. Now, let’s say you are the Skybox Company of basketball cards. Your ace young executive has just wowed the boardroom with her -– yes, her –- idea to feature NBA players catching flaming hot basketballs. It is a fail-proof idea. Why? For one thing, it makes sense. Secondly, who doesn’t love a good hot ball card? Nobody. That’s who. And also, this idea is versatile. There are a million ways you can go with it.

You can have a guy rebounding a flaming ball. Awesome. Or, shooting a flaming ball. Even awesomer. And hey – how about passing a flaming ball? Crazy awesome. That is three ways right there. Add a few more and you have a million. But here is where Skybox refused to rest on its laurels. Because check this out: How about having a guy calling a timeout within the comet tail left by a flaming hot basketball?

Think about it.

Skybox did. And the rest is history. Notice how the flaming hot basketball doesn’t even make an appearance, so that the card -– taken out of the context of other cards in the series –- makes absolutely no sense. And that’s not to mention that the series itself is largely nonsensical.

But you go, Doug West. Only a true leader realizes that when an escape comet-like, flaming hot basketball has mysteriously surfaced, you call a time out.

You don’t want to get burned like stupid Barkley.

Did you know?
This idea was an offshoot of the popular video game NBA Jam, in which the ball could catch fire when a player was “hot.” Said Skybox executive Consuelo Finkleberg with regards to the concept: “There's obviously a market out there for flaming balls. We're just trying to tap into it.”

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

When pretending not to be home doesn’t work

Note: This column appears in the 11/5 issue of The Glendale Star and the 11/6 issue of the Peoria Times

My wife and I are utterly annoyed by –- and sometimes scared of –- people coming to our house and trying to sell us stuff.

This wasn’t much of an issue back east, for the most part. With the exception of Jehovah’s Witnesses –- who, long ago stopped coming to my parent’s house lest they be dragged into a dialogue with my Catholic deacon father -– people stopped ringing doorbells years ago. I think it was 1985 when the chances of getting injured or killed began to outweigh the chances of making of a sale.

And the fear was mutual. One year back in NJ, a few days after she had watched a special on Oprah about home invasions, my wife called me on my cell phone in a panic. She was at home, and pretty much hiding under her bed, and yelling for me to come home because “somebody keeps ringing the doorbell!” Luckily, I was just around the block at my sister’s house. When I pulled up to our place, a frustrated flower delivery guy was standing there on his cell phone. My in-laws had sent my wife flowers. Because it was her birthday.

The fact that we are abnormally skeptical about people coming to our house on our birthday is a testament to the fact that we would prefer that nobody came by during every other day of the calendar year. But alas –- such is not the case here in Arizona. In fact, I am fairly certain that a Valley-wide alert went out to every business within range when we first moved here. Every single time the doorbell rang and I thought it was a friendly neighbor who had baked us a “welcome to the neighborhood” cake, it was instead a 20-year-old dude who wanted to sell us bug spray services, a soft water system, blinds, or the irony of a home security system to keep out intruders.

Shooing away unwanted –- they are all unwanted –- solicitors has not been an issue. Were it not for the hassle of getting to the door, it can be a pleasurable endeavor. But most recently my wife and I have begun the unpopular campaign of shunning children.

I’m just going to say it: Kids selling stuff is the worst. And believe me, because I was one of them. I used to have to sell 800 Reese’s peanut butter cups just so our Little League team could have socks, half of which I ate myself (the candy, not the socks) and my parents had to pay for. But it’s not the kids themselves we’re against –- sort of -– but the entire process.

First of all, kids have no idea what they’re talking about. They can’t give you any information –- you’re just supposed to buy it because they’re kids. Well, that’s not how we roll. Consider us scorned.

A few months after we moved in, two girls came to our door. They were selling candles for school. Why? I don’t know. The one girl talked too fast and the other girl was facing the street. I felt bad, so I ordered one. They didn’t take any of our info -– except our money –- and I got no receipt. About six months later, I suddenly realized we never got our candle. I had to call the school and after weeks of research, we eventually got it.

Since then, we have unabashedly turned kids away.

And so this past weekend we were driving home and saw a woman standing on the corner. We waved. She did not wave back. We pulled into our driveway and began the process of getting the kids and all our bags out of the car. From behind the car emerged a boy scout. Amidst the chaos, he nervously mentioned he was selling popcorn. We realized it was his mother who was standing on the corner. We told him sorry, but it wasn’t a good time.

We didn’t buy popcorn from a boy scout because we were too busy and he was too timid. But mostly because his mother didn’t wave to us.

I don’t think we are getting a cake from our neighbors anytime soon. This is all Oprah’s fault.

I can tell by the excitement in your face that you are interested in our brand of organic shutters. And according to my clipboard, you also need a kidney. Well, I'm glad I stopped by...