Thursday, January 28, 2010

Classic card of the week

Malone-Eaton-Stockton, 1989 Fleer All-Star Game series

Here is a photograph of three All-Star basketball players who are all on the same team, their varying sizes and ethnicities spanning all corners of the globe and giving testament to the strong diversity of the state of Utah. We will learn more about them later. What is behind the curtain however, we may never know. Let us begin:

The Utah Jazz keeps on delivering

There seems to be a grammatical tug-of-war when it comes to sports teams that boast a nickname that is not otherwise of the plural variety. In one camp are those who insist on recognizing this name in its original form and not in the context of a collective basketball team, which is what we see here. In the other camp –- the one in which I have pitched my tent, so to speak -– are the normal people who realize that this name is, in fact, plural, and treat all accompanying words thusly. We would not, for example, say: The New York Knicks keeps on delivering. A) Because they don’t. B) Because that sounds stupid. This is a classic case of abiding by the letter of the grammatical law and not the spirit. Nevertheless, the point here is this: The Jazz deliver. Or something.

The reason can be seen in this trio of premier defensive players: KARL MALONE, MARK EATON and JOHN STOCKTON.

Perhaps you have difficulty reading the players names within the same font and size of the accompanying text. For your convenience, this particular card utilizes the CAPS LOCK key so that you may not, for one second, think you are reading about KARL MALONE when you are in fact reading about JOHN STOCKTON. Do continue:

When teams played against The Jazz, they knew their attack must be adjusted to account for MARK EATON.

Firstly, I love sports-as-war metaphors, especially when they involve MARK EATON. Also, when teams played against the Jazz, I doubt that MARK EATON was what caused them to hypothetically return to their hypothetical drawing board. Finally, if opposing teams did, in fact, adjust their attack on account of MARK EATON, I would venture to say that their new offensive strategy looked like this:

-Shoot over MARK EATON

On the fast break when the quarterback handling the ball needs to find the open man, JOHN STOCKTON delivers.

I also enjoy sports-as-other-different-sports metaphors. But let us note that JOHN STOCKTON does, in fact, deliver. But what about KARL MALONE?

KARL MALONE is known as the “Mailman.” Why?

Because he is a mailman?

Because he delivers!

Oh! Cool!

Power forward, as played by KARL MALONE: A small tank driving to the hoop.

That sentence sounds like KARL MALONE is in a movie playing the role of a power forward, but the power forward is actually a tank. The movie is called “Power Tank” and it is directed by Michael Bay and co-stars Blake Lively as a shooting guard who is actually a sexy helicopter.

Watch out for the Mailman or get “stamped!”

Thanks for the “stamped” in quotes! For a second there I had thought that KARL MALONE was literally going to place a stamp on me for getting in his way. Because, ya’ know, “stamped” has absolutely no connotations to getting defeated on a basketball court.

I’d like to, if I may, end this Classic Card post with a short quiz to see if you were paying attention. The answers are in the “Did you know?” section.

1) Things that KARL MALONE is:

a) a Mailman
b) a small tank
d) a and b
e) none of the above

2) Which of the following does not deliver:

b) The Jazz, in general
e) a Mailman

3) Complete the following sentence: The Orlando Magic

a) is in the hiz-ouse!
b) don’t be knowin’ how to run Princeton.
c) are steadily increasing their lead in the Southeast division.
d) has a profound impact on the economic stability of Florida.
e) deliver.

Did you know?
The correct answers are:
1) d
2) c
3) c
If you missed any, please adjust your attack.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Grading Arizona

Note: This column appears in the 1/28 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/29 issue of the Peoria Times

I enjoy it when one entity grades another entity based on the latter entity’s own method of grading. Which is why I was thrilled to see that Quality Counts -– an organization that does such things -– gave the State of Arizona a C- for its educational system.

Arizona -- which did not know it was getting graded and therefore didn’t even study – is among the majority of states that received a C or lower. So…America!

As with most studies and research of this ilk, the method of gathering information and the subsequent conclusion is suspect at best. For example, in the category of “Transitions & Alignment” -– for which, in general, Arizona received a C- and which, also, makes it sound as though Arizona’s educational system is a car –- the state received a D- in the sub-category of “College readiness.” In my humble opinion, being ready for college involves a myriad of factors, and the quality of your high school education is often the least influential of those. Plus, accurately grading an entire institution’s ability to prepare hundreds of thousands of kids seems too all-encompassing an endeavor. I’m just saying.

But this study does have a purpose, and that is to expose and hopefully improve the faults in this country’s educational system. And with regards to Arizona specifically, according to Quality Counts, one need look no further than “School Finance,” for which the state received a D+, with an F in “Spending.” Based on that, it’s little surprise that in the realm of “Accountability for Quality” among teachers, Arizona earned a solid D.

One does not have to buy wholeheartedly into this study to see that Arizona is failing at spending money for education.

In fact, someone doesn’t buy wholeheartedly into this study, and it may be that his view is more disconcerting that the study itself. That someone is State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne. Mr. Horne, citing the state’s high poverty level, had this to say about the report: “It should be a credit to our education system that they are getting as high scores as they are.” He then spontaneously awarded Quality Counts a D- for their research.

Now, I agree with Mr. Horne that poverty level is indeed an educational factor that could not have been properly taken into account. However, what he is essentially saying here is: I am surprised that we didn’t do worse. And I’m proud.

A more hopeful response to this study by Mr. Horne may have been: Regardless of indeterminable factors, this study is a wake-up call, and we will do whatever it takes to improve our educational system, its funding, and its results in the immediate and long-term future. But hey, that’s just me. And what do I know -– I was educated in New Jersey. (They got a B by the way.)

I would also like to add, if I may, that states such as New Mexico, Arkansas, South Carolina, West Virginia and Louisiana –- which annually have a larger percentage of people living at or below the poverty level than does Arizona -– earned considerably higher rankings. Again, I’m just saying.

Taking into account our educational system’s response to its own reported below-par performance, I do agree with Mr. Horne in one other respect: it is a wonder that we didn’t do worse.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Classic card of the week

Brad Muster, 1990 Score

Seen here is Brad Muster –- as my friend Bill would say, and has actually said -– “demonstrating how to carry the football with both hands, in front of the waist, while looking to the sidelines.” Indeed. Were Brad Muster, at this very moment, to take a hit to the midsection, his lungs and intestines would come out of his mouth and his bladder would be punctured with a football. Unless of course, on this particular play, Brad Muster was running up the middle, an area of the football field where he was indestructible:

Brad, a big, tough runner up the middle

Rushing to the outside however? Not so much, as Brad Muster had the elusiveness of a desk. But hey -– that’s why they don’t ask big, hunkering white dudes who went to Stanford to make guys miss. Speaking of Stanford, how does one get into such an esteemed institution? I can think of nobody better to ask than Wikipedia:

Muster prepped at San Marin High School in Novato, CA, graduating in 1983.

I’m sorry…he prepped at? The pretentiousness of that terminology has just punctured my bladder. I mean, it’s preppy enough to go to a prep school. But to describe your experience at a prep school as prepping, and then to go to Stanford, and also your name is Brad…I am going to be sick. How Brad Muster translated his background into a lunch pail-type fullback with the perceived blue collar Bears is a testament to his preparation. Nevertheless, tell us more about Stanford, Wiki:

Muster had many memorable runs as a running back at Stanford University. In the 1984 Big Game, Muster ran the ball for 204 yards on 34 carries. He had 78 receptions in the 1985 season

Thank you, for that inspiring recap of some of Brad Muster’s most memorable runs at Stanford. The descriptions of some of those runs really made me feel like I was there. Especially the run where he had 78 receptions in 1985. What else about Brad Muster?

ESPN’s Chris Berman,

Oh no.

known for giving athletes colorful and pun-filled nicknames, dubbed him Brad “Colonel” Muster. This is a play on Colonel Mustard from the board game Clue.

Ha, ha! Get it? Remember Colonel Mustard from the board game "Clue?" You kids today probably don’t realize it now, but back in 1990, all anyone could talk about was the board game "Clue." You couldn’t escape it. Everybody was playing "Clue." In my family, Saturday night meant going to Mass, and then coming home and playing "Clue." There was no discussion. I was always the slutty maid, and my weapon of choice was the thimble. Anyway, this was before the Internet. And that’s why Brad Muster’s nickname was not only hilarious, but topical.

But, you may be asking yourself, which professional wrestler did Brad Muster prefer most?

Muster is huge Ric Flair fan.

Okay then.

Jim Ross noted on the broadcast of the 1989 Chi-Town Rumble which Muster attended that he would wear a Ric Flair t-shirt underneath his jersey while playing.

I have no idea what just happened. My guess: That sentence was not penned by someone who went to Stanford.

Did you know?
In his Stanford days, it was widely noted that Brad could easily "Muster up some lovin." Whatever that means.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Glendale, Peoria land trade goes smoothly

Note: This column appears in the 1/21 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/22 issue of the Peoria Times

Have you ever found yourself looking at a map of Glendale or Peoria only to be completely disgusted and put off by the jaggedness of their respective boundary lines?

I know. Me neither. Nevertheless, this problem is in the process of, thankfully, being resolved. As reported here last week, both cities are planning on swapping land located along the New River.

Now, I know what you’re saying: We have a river? And: Is it a lazy river? Because I would like to float down it. Yes, we do. And yes, it is. More importantly, this river has, for years, contributed to the jaggedness of each cities imaginary boundary lines.

The current situation, as far as claimed land is concerned, has a Glendale area of land on the side of the river closest to Peoria, and Peoria’s parcel of land on the side of the river closest to Glendale. Crazy, right? The problem occurred when the original inhabitants of the land -– the Pilgrims? –- got drunk on moonshine before etching maps of the newly discovered area on rocks.

Anyway, the cities have finally decided to resolve this mess. Glendale will receive a 4.6-acre parcel of land near 81st Ave and Utopia Road, and Peoria will receive an 18.6-acre lot near Beardsley. The negotiations went as follows:

Peoria: We’ll give you 4.6 acres for 18.6 acres.

Glendale: Deal.

It should be noted that Peoria also threw in an Albert Pujols rookie card. Nevertheless, this deal will, as the Arizona Republic additionally notes, “smooth out both cities’ jagged boundaries.” No more will we needlessly endure the eyesore of squiggly lines on our maps of Glendale and Peoria, which we look at all the time, because we live here. That’s the good news. The bad news is that now we need all new maps. The project to create new maps will cost a proposed $8 million.

The discrepancy in exchanged acreage is not as dramatic when considering that “the amount of developable land on the sites is roughly the same.” So…surprise! This land will be developed on. What will be done with the undevelopable land remains to be seen, though may I suggest: trade it to New Mexico. For cash, because we will need that money to pay for the development of this developable land because, well…we have no money and development of other areas throughout both cities has either halted or slowed to a crawl. And even though we cannot actually drive on the New River, I will nevertheless expect delays on the 101 as a result.

Speaking of hypothetical cash, Glendale will save $1 million it would have had to pay to build power lines along the river. So that’s nice. Also, there will be power lines along the river. Sounds dangerous. And beautiful.

But before we all get too excited, it should be noted that this is not yet official. This agreement needs to be approved by both respective city councils. When will that happen? Sayeth the Republic: “in a few months.” Or, in layman’s terms: Who knows. But when it does, we can all enjoy our smoother maps and anxiously await the construction of new retail outlets and self-storage units. Which is what, I think, the Pilgrims had envisioned.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Classic card of the week

Derrick Coleman, 1993 Fleer Ultra

Here is Derrick Coleman, noted by Fleer Ultra as having a “Dunk Rank” of #10 in their influential “Top 20 Jammer” series. Off the top of my head, I could probably name 812 players from the Derrick Coleman era that I would rather watch dunk a basketball than Derrick Coleman. But that is only because I personally do not care much for disinterested dunks that possess the improvisation and stylistic twist of a UPN sitcom.

But dunks are only a small part of the overall basketball equation. What sayeth thee with regards to Derrick Coleman, basketball player? Let’s ask, oh I don’t know…Charles Oakley:

“I think he will be the next Barkley.”
- Charles Oakley

I think you are wrong. I must admit that I am very surprised to discover that the Oak Man actually said this, as my perception of Oakley is of a man who was, in his day, impressed by very little on the basketball court, and who would rather stick needles in his eyes than lavish praise on unproven young basketball players. Charles Oakley once shrugged his shoulders at the question: “Do you think Michael Jordan is good?” which was asked by a Nickelodeon kids reporter in the Knicks' locker room after Jordan’s double nickel game at MSG.*

In Oakley’s defense, he’s not the only one who envisioned a dominant Derrick Coleman in the NBA. Even Wikipedia did:

When Coleman entered the NBA, he was compared to elite power forwards such as Karl Malone and Charles Barkley


Instead, his career was overshadowed by his questionable attitude (lack of work ethic resulting in excessive weight gain, plus alcohol abuse and general disruptive behavior)

Now, where I come from, “general disruptive behavior” can mean two things and two things only: 1) refusing to move your truck and/or 2) peeing in front of an Italian restaurant. So let’s not go anointing Derrick Coleman as the baddest moth ---

In 1995, Coleman was arrested in Detroit and charged with refusing to move his truck and swearing at a police officer.

I did not know that “refusing to move your truck” is like, something that you can be legally charged with. Usually that falls under the umbrella of disorderly conduct. But hey, this is in Detroit, and motor vehicles are a big deal there.

In 1999…Coleman was accused of urinating in front of patrons at Intermezzo Italian Ristorante…Coleman still denies his guilt and says it was a drink that spilled on his pants.

I am no judge here, but I particularly enjoy Derrick Coleman’s defense in this matter. It’s as if he was being charged with “having wet pants by means of urination,” and did not consider any of the other factors or mannerisms that usually go along with urinating that may or may not have been witnessed by the restaurant patrons or police. Also:

In July 2002, Coleman was pulled over for driving over 100 mph…and arrested after test results showed he had a blood alcohol level of 0.13 percent when he was stopped

Oddly enough, this is not the first time I've had to admit this, but: Charles Oakley was right.

*That reporter’s name was: me.

Did you know?
If I ever looked up from a plate of linguine and clam sauce only to see that Derrick Coleman was outside and peeing on the window that overlooked my table, I am 100% certain that my wife would not implore me to "do something about it," but would rather find it as hilarious as I would. That is why I married her. I said as much, using that exact example, during one of our Pre-Cana classes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Gaining party experience for my family’s benefit

Note: This column appears in the 1/14 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/15 issue of the Peoria Times

I have been on the 1st birthday party circuit for the past month.

This is mostly all new to me. Sure, I have been to 1st birthday parties before. Most of them, I imagine, when I was one. But I do recall attending my niece’s 1st birthday party a couple of years ago. I even, rather appropriately, brought a couple of my ol’ college buddies, partly because they were staying at our house at the time and I had no other choice, and partly because they really know how to party.

Nevertheless, things are different now that we’re kind of, unofficially, parents. Whereas before at non-family 1st birthday parties we were shunned as “childless acquaintances,” we are now members of an exclusive club, with a laundry list of privileges, not the least of which is acceptance. And cake.

Case in point: While in California over the holidays visiting our friends, we tagged along to a 1st birthday party that we weren’t even invited to. Normally, this would be frowned upon by a society that is largely unwilling to dole out goodie bags to strangers. But it was cool, because we had our hopefully-soon-to-be-daughter with us. We belonged. We didn’t even bring a gift and I’m pretty sure I was first on the buffet line.

I am also beginning to understand 1st birthday party etiquette, my buffet line escapades notwithstanding. And this is good, because I had many questions going in, namely: Is it okay to ask for beer? Also: What am I supposed to do there? I have come to understand that it is okay –- encouraged even –- to accept beer if it is offered. (As a side note, at the party in California, I was offered hard liquor. I declined, as that would be a faux pas.) And your main responsibility while you are there is to smile and make sure your own child doesn’t get hurt. This is easy when you’re boasting a largely immobile four-month old. Less so when you have an almost two-year old and the birthday features a giant party bouncer, as my friend Rashad can attest.

This experience gave me confidence going into yet another 1st birthday party last weekend, which was for the daughter of our good friends around the block. Like a true professional –- and because I know my wife can hold her own at such an event -– I made sure to carry in our hopefully-soon-be-daughter myself, as I knew this would be an instant ice-breaker and conversation-starter. After I was offered a beer, I located the other men at the party and talked about baseball. Then I sang “Happy Birthday.” Acapella. I even talked to some of the other kids there, which is not required, but I was feeling it.

I have also been taking notes, because God-willing we will be able to plan a 1st birthday party of our own sometime down the line. So far I have: 1) don’t invite ol’ college buddies and 2) no peanuts. We also need a theme. Which is why I hope she likes baseball. Pfftt.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

"Class"ic card of the week

Mark Carrier, 1990 Score

One summer many eons ago I was at my friend’s shore house and it was his cousin’s graduation party. There was a small banner on one of the backyard fences that read: Congratulations “Amy.” We got a big kick out of that, because the sign seemed to imply that Amy was not, in fact, her real name, and that we were all celebrating the accomplishments of an imposter. Perhaps this “Amy” hadn’t even graduated at all. We were also drinking a lot, which made this about ten times funnier.

Anyway, it is in that vein that I present to you Mark Carrier, esteemed member of the “Class” of 1990. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.

What is Score trying to tell us here, with “Class” in quotes? My initial guess was the implication that the Class of 1990, ironically, had no class. To explore this possibility a bit further, I did some research and discovered that this classless bunch of morons included both Emmitt Smith and Junior Seau. Not that I know either fellow in any capacity whatsoever, but I find it suffice it to say that each man’s virtue of class has gone unquestioned throughout their respective professional careers, whether be it in football, in dancing, or in classy television hosting gigs. And while I’m certain that at least several members of this class left much to be desired in the realm of actual class, there is nothing glaring that, as a whole, would make this class particularly classless.

Then I got to thinking that perhaps “Class” of 1990 was a clever nod to the inadequacy of the entire student-athlete system. It’s not as if all, or even possibly most of the men of the Class of 1990 were necessarily graduating from college; they were only, in the sense of this class as an entirety, graduating to the NFL. (In that regard, they differed from “Amy.”) Furthermore, that they realized the full potential of their college education is, based on stereotypes and other hard evidence, a leap of faith. So we must ask: Did the members of this class actually go to class? I mean, just check out Mark Carrier. Does he look like he knows the difference between a proton and a neutron? (They teach about that in college, right?)

But allow me to disprove yet another of my hypotheses, as the theory of the dumb jock does little to distinguish the “Class” of 1990 from any other class. And with regards to Mark Carrier:

A devastating hitter with muscle and intelligence

It would seem that looks are indeed deceiving, as Mark Carrier himself has been deemed, by his own football card, to be intelligent in the football sense. We can therefore conclude via the transitive property that his football intelligence was the byproduct of a general educational awareness. Also, his mustache is classy.

Conclusion: the “Class” of 1990 was not a nod to any inherent irony, but an error in grammatical judgment on the part of Score. For that, it is Score, and not the Class of 1990, that lacks class. And to that I would say, Score really "Scored" with this series. Boom, roasted.

Did you know?
However, the theory of Bill –- owner of this card and proprietor of others -– argues the possibility that, when not playing football, Mark Carrier was employed with Jolstens, the popular company with a monopoly on class rings. I subscribe to this theory based on its humor and validity.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

For all of your immediate needs, simply pull over

Note: This column appears in the 1/7 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/8 issue of the Peoria Times

I’ve always been fascinated with the opportunity to purchase something on the side of the road.

Most often, these opportunities involve food. Even back east you could occasionally spot someone selling tomatoes or something on the side of the road. This was pleasant, because it harkened back to a simpler time when, if you wanted to eat, you needed to drive your car aimlessly for miles until you spotted a makeshift sign alerting you that watermelons are available for purchase. Not that I ever stopped, but still. It was pleasant.

For me, one of the first indications that I was actually in Arizona occurred when I was afforded the opportunity to, while driving, pull over and buy some jerky. Any kind of jerky, according to the sign. Beef jerky, deer jerky, buffalo jerky -– pretty much any animal that could be transformed into an edible stick. Now, I wouldn’t eat a piece of jerky if my life depended on it, but I imagine that side-of-the-road jerky is much fresher and more –- dare I say, organic? –- than pre-packaged, store-bought jerky. So that was nice.

Less pleasing and more perplexing however is the opportunity to purchase non-food-related items off the side of the road. For example, back in like 2002, while I was leaving the Bronx and waiting in traffic on the exit ramp for the George Washington Bridge, I was presented the opportunity to buy a phone. Not a cell phone, but a phone for the house. And it was not a sign alerting me to this once-in-a-lifetime deal, but a guy who was holding a garbage bag full of phones and aggressively approaching my vehicle. Because of course, if I had been in the market for a landline at that particular time, I would have certainly purchased one right then and there.

I thought of that time last week when, while driving on 83rd Avenue northbound towards Happy Valley Road, I noticed a big sale taking place on the side of the road. The sale involved one item and one item only, and it was not something to be consumed. The sale was for: cat condos.

For those unaware (I did not know myself at the time) a cat condo is an oddly shaped, carpeted thing that your cat can like, go on, or something. It’s a condo! For cats. It seamlessly fits into any home d├ęcor. And on that day, if I read the sign correctly, you could purchase as many as ten (10) cat condos for the low price of $130.00.

When I got home, I quickly relayed what I had witnessed to my wife, and I marveled at the utter randomness of it all. Where did that person get so many cat condos? And why sell them on the side of the road? What’s wrong with eBay? And who would spontaneously purchase such an item?

Amazingly, just hours later I found myself in Petsmart because we had to drop our dog off there. As I was walking out, I noticed a guy approaching the register and holding under his arm, yes, a cat condo. Incredulous, I was tempted to tug on his sleeve, and be like, “Dude, they’re selling those things for cheap down the road.” But I was too embarrassed.

Apparently, side-of-the-road vendors are more tapped into the market than I imagined. And thus, I am the jerky.

For the cat who has everything. Except a condominium.