Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Becoming offended in defense of someone else

Note: This column appears in the 4/1 issue of The Glendale Star and the 4/2 issue of the Peoria Times

One of the clues that I am getting older is that I am becoming increasingly offended by things.

In my younger days, nothing fazed me. Even things that I recognized as being extremely offensive were not actually offensive to me. It wasn’t that I didn’t have morals -– I was just indifferent to or amused by the lack thereof in others. Which, I guess, reflected poorly on my own morals, but whatever. I’m not the one on trial here!

Anyway, now in my early 30s, I am finding myself perturbed by even things that have gained national acceptance. Sometimes especially things that have gained national acceptance.

Exhibit A for me is “Dancing With the Stars.” Believe me that I do not voluntarily watch this show. (Don’t get me wrong -– I watch plenty of shows that would make you question my masculinity. This is just not one of them.) But my wife does. And I am appalled by it.

I mean, have you seen this show? It’s nothing but scantily clad men and women –- and, in some cases, teenagers –- grinding on people that are not their significant others. Then they are judged by a panel that includes a crazy Italian man whose critiques are just sexual innuendos. Last week Pamela Anderson performed and the host looked like he needed a cigarette after watching it. In fact, I am convinced that everyone on the show is sleeping with each other and ten years from now we’ll find out that it was pretty much the Studio 54 of dance shows. It should be on Cinemax, but it instead airs in prime time on a network owned by Disney.

"I'd move my hand lower, but this is a family photo-op. I'm Ian Ziering."

Not so much as five years ago, I would have read that previous paragraph and slapped myself for writing it. What has happened to me?

Sure, as previously mentioned, I am getting older. However I don’t necessarily think that age itself relates directly to an increased sensitivity to broadcasted cleavage. But being a father does.

Things never offended me before because I trusted myself to not be adversely influenced by them. As an adult I can’t say for sure that I, in actuality, wasn’t, and I now understand my parents’ opposition to certain things I listened to, watched, and the people I hung out with.

(Side note: I still remember the day that the song “I Touch Myself” came on in the car and my mom flipped out. Fascinatingly awkward. And can you believe that was a song that gained radio play? I always felt bad for parents of my generation, who grew up listening to Frankie Valli and then had to deal with hearing “Do Me” while driving their kids to school.)

Now that I’m on the other side, I’ve become sensitive to almost everything. My radar of inappropriateness is constantly buzzing. It’s certainly not like we’d ever watch Dancing With the Stars with our little one –- or, even if we did, that she’d notice anything other than the lights and glitter…and maybe Pamela Anderson –- but my whole mindset has changed. Every thing that I watch, and listen to, and say, I do with her in mind.

Things that aren’t good for her are becoming less appealing and more offensive to me. I have morphed into a combustible old man and she’s not even one-year-old yet. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get these kids off my lawn.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Classic card of the week

Dave Winfield, 1988 Kay-Bee Superstars of Baseball

In the late 80s, the authority on who was, and who was not, a superstar of baseball was Kay-Bee Toy Stores. The good news for everyone playing baseball in the late 80s was that Kay-Bee Toy Stores was pretty liberal in who they named superstars. For example, this particular card is No. “33 of 33 cards.” For the year of 1988, it was deemed, by Kay-Bee Toy Stores, that there were 33 superstars in baseball. Thirty-three! That is a lot of superstars, especially considering that my complete and unopened set of 1989 Topps is worth $4. It remains curious as to what the criteria was to be a superstar in the mind of Kay-Bee Toy Stores, but you definitely needed at least some form of identification. If you happened to root for a team in 1988 that was mysteriously bereft of at least one superstar, that only meant that your favorite player was not forging an adequate relationship with Kay-Bee Toy Stores. And that was unfortunate.

But I digress. Let’s find out more about Dave Winfield, Superstar:

Dave produced 20-or more Doubles for the 14th consecutive season in 1987.

First question: Why is “Doubles” capitalized? Second question: Is that good? I mean, doing anything positive for 14 straight years is obviously good. But is 20 doubles in and of itself necessarily that good? I’ll be honest –- I am indifferent to 20 doubles. This is a superstar we’re talking about here! I need something better.

Extended his record with 6th Double in All-Star competition, 7-14-87.

I hereby declare Dave Winfield the champion of all arbitrary doubles-related statistics! Years from now, when I am playing a baseball trivia game with dear friends of mine who enjoy doing such things, and the question is posed -- Who has the most doubles in All-Star games? -- I will be confident in declaring my answer, assuming that no player has since surpassed Winfield in that meaningless category, which is something I do not care to look up right now. But I will impress no one, as anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of our national pastime will know that Dave Winfield is the most likely answer to any question regarding an excess of doubles.

Something more interesting to mention with regards to Dave Winfield would have been anything other than that. Seriously, check out his Wikipedia page. I was a fan of Winfield growing up and his greatness alluded even me. He was one of the best pure athletes to ever play professional sports, is a Hall of Famer, was involved in several bizarre and fascinating situations, was a great quote, is a freakin’ philanthropist, and one of the most respected guys to ever play the game of baseball. If I were commissioned by the President of the United States to pen a brief synopsis of the career of Dave Winfield, this is what I would say:

A paradox of springtime, he was both Mr. May and a bird killer. He was also pretty awesome at baseball. Don’t believe me? Call Kay-Bee Toy Stores, bitch. I met Dave Winfield at a baseball card show once and he was nice. I told him I had a cold and he promised to set the record for doubles in All-Star games for me, which he did. My cold went away shortly thereafter. Dave Winfield saved my life.

Did you know?

During his playing days in Minnesota, Dave Winfield spent his offseasons playing pick-up basketball with Prince on the legendary indoor courts of St. Paul.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gaining some perspective from being briefly sick

Note: This column appears in the 3/25 issue of The Glendale Star and the 3/26 issue of the Peoria Times

Like many people I often wonder: If I ever struck it rich through either the lottery –- which I do not play –- or through fantasy sports –- where our annual payout for any league is around $200 –- would I continue to work?

I always liked to believe that I would continue to work regardless of whether I needed to or not, although that mindset is often second-guessed on those mornings when I’d just rather go back to sleep, which is, actually, every morning. But last week something happened that helped reconfirm my original position.

Last Monday morning my wife woke up feeling very ill. Stomach flu. Luckily for us, I have off from work on Mondays anyway, so although it was no fun to see her in so much pain, at least I was around to take care of things.

I was Mr. Mom for the day. I cooked, straightened up, made phone calls, and most importantly took care of our little one. Admittedly it’s much easier to play mom when real mom is actually present, and is able to coach me from the sidelines. But the most telling sign of her sickness was her indifference to the mismatching and ill-fitting clothes I was dressing our hopefully-soon-to-be-daughter in. Or maybe that’s why she was throwing-up so much.

Anyway, I was feeling pretty good about a productive day. By the time evening rolled around, my wife was showing signs of improvement and I was thinking about what I needed to get done at work the next day. And then it hit me.

Stomach flu, 2.0. I immediately realized that whatever sympathy I had felt for my wife did not come close to matching what she was actually experiencing, as I spent the entire night hugging the toilet and groaning incoherently. (By the way, in a healthy state I tend to think I have a high tolerance for pain. But the second any kind of actual pain hits, I crumble to the ground and ask God why He has forsaken me.)

As anyone who has experienced it is well aware, the stomach flu is a hurricane that comes through and strips your body of its insides, and then leaves you on the side of the road for dead. That is actually the medical definition of “stomach flu.” As a result, I was laid up the following day and could not go to work.

I was a complete waste of space, sprawled out on the couch all day watching spring training baseball games on TV, still groaning. All I could think about was how I wished I were at work.

Weird? Maybe. But like playing Mr. Mom on an off-day, work gives me that feeling of accomplishment that I so need psychologically and even physically. The worst part, for me, about being sick was not so much the physical sensation of sickness, but the utter dread I felt at wasting a day doing nothing.

Being sick often exposes things we take for granted, most obviously our health. But it also left me thankful to have a job to go to everyday –- even on those days when I don’t want to go to it –- so that I can be a contributing member of society and feel good about myself. Another thing that makes me feel good about myself is having my intestines back. I thought I had lost them.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Classic card of the week

Nolan Ryan, Baseball Heroes, 1990 Upper Deck

Here is our collective baseball hero, Nolan Ryan. In 1989 he struck out his 5,000th batter. But I bet you were wondering what he was like as a naïve, impressionable, hillbilly youngster, caught up in the big bright lights of New York City.

As a youngster with the Mets, Nolan once remarked to teammate Tom Seaver that Jim Bunning’s 2,500th strikeout, which they had just witnessed, was a remarkable accomplishment.

Nolan Ryan: You know what, Tom? I was thinking. To me, 2,500 strikeouts is a pretty remarkable accomplishment.

Tom Seaver: Oh, really? Ya’ think? You know Nolan, I thought your strong suit was throwing 100-mph fastballs. But let’s throw “perceptive analysis” into the category of “things you do really well.” In fact, I wanted your opinion on something. This baseball looks round to me. What do you think?

Nolan Ryan: I hate you.

Seaver told him about Walter Johnson’s 3,508 career K’s.

In the realm of silly and contrived and 99%-false baseball anecdotes, this one may take the cake. This sounds like a story that Tommy Lasorda would tell at a Little League Awards Banquet before losing his train of thought and then complaining about how the lasagna is cold. Am I really supposed to picture this moment happening as it is described here, with Tom Seaver putting his arm around Nolan Ryan and telling him about Walter Johnson? Gather ‘round here young buckaroo, and grab a seat on ol’ Pappa Tom’s lap. Lemme tell you about a fella named Walter Johnson… For crying out loud, Nolan Ryan was a grown man and a major league pitcher. I think he knew who Walter Johnson was.

Little did either dream about 4,000 much less 5,000.

How do you know what these men dreamt about? I dreamt about 5,000 Ks last night. Granted, I was pitching against a team of polka dots and my coach was Patti LaBelle. But still, I got 5,000 Ks. What can I tell you. Dreams are weird.

The point is, speculating that Nolan Ryan could not even entertain the thought of 5,000 strikeouts is just a means of making the achievement sound better, when the achievement itself doesn’t need any help. And yes, I realize that I am railing against the back of a baseball card. Still.

Most likely, if baseball is played in the future as it is today,

With bats and balls...

no one will ever again challenge 5,000.

So, if baseball is played in the future as it was when Nolan Ryan reached 5,000 strikeouts, then no one will ever reach 5,000 strikeouts. Because the same game that allowed Nolan Ryan to reach 5,000 strikeouts will not allow somebody else to reach 5,000 strikeouts. Because it will be the same game. X = Y. Of course, what this is attempting to say is that if the current baseball trends –- specialized relief pitchers, lower pitch counts, et al –- continue, it will be near impossible for another player to attain 5,000 strikeouts.

An easier way to say this would have been: No matter what, no one will ever, ever, ever again reach 5,000 strikeouts. Ever.

Did you know?
"Fireside Chats With Tom Seaver" was a PBS program that featured the Hall-of-Fame pitcher reading Dr. Seuss books to current major leaguers.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why ‘The Marriage Ref’ could use a ref of its own

Note: This column appears in the 3/18 issue of The Glendale Star and the 3/19 issue of the Peoria Times

So my wife and I have been watching “The Marriage Ref.”

For those who have managed to miss this mercilessly promoted television program, it features married couples having arguments which are then discussed and arbitrated on by the host and a panel of celebrities, most of whom have an obvious and shameless connection to NBC, “The Marriage Ref’s” home network. I have many issues with the show, not the least of which is not finding it to be particularly funny, which is, I think, the point of the whole thing. But that’s not my only problem.

Besides the inherent disingenuousness of people arguing in front of cameras, the arguments themselves are made-for-TV in their outlandishness. In the interest of declaring “a winner,” this makes it near impossible to not immediately and obviously side with either the husband or wife. For example, the first few episodes featured a husband who wanted his dead, stuffed dog on display in the house, and another husband who wanted to install a stipper pole in their bedroom. I mean, really. This context may assist the panel in making silly jokes, but it certainly doesn’t help the show at large.

The unfortunate part is that I find the concept of “The Marriage Ref” to be a good one. Arbitrating disputes between a husband and wife is a clever and potentially hilarious idea. And while I’m not sure how to resolve the underlying problem of authenticity as it pertains to reality television, I think at least having the arguments be more realistic is a good start.

Which brings me to my own marriage. My wife and I clash on many issues. I would never submit these conflicts to “The Marriage Ref” as I doubt they are “crazy” enough for their tastes –- plus I would never in a million years want to be featured on a reality show –- but they are real, and I wouldn’t mind being declared right (or, I guess, wrong) once and for all.

One thing we consistently disagree on is mold on food. If I take out of the refrigerator, for example, a piece of cheese, and notice it has even a smidge of mold on it, I will throw it out along with whatever remains of the original block of cheese. My wife is repulsed by this, as she considers it a waste of food, and she will urge me to simply cut off the mold and eat the rest, which is something I refuse to do as I am repulsed by that. Now, this argument may not have the sex appeal of a stripper pole or the shock value of a dead dog, but still I ask: who is right? I mean, obviously it’s me. Still though, I can see it being discussed.

My feet are also an issue. I do not have, what one would call, the most attractive feet. Years of marginal athletic endeavors and chasing dreams will do that to you. My big toenails on both feet are a curious shade of yellow and black, and those are pretty much the only toenails I have. As a result, my wife strongly recommends I do not wear flip-flops when people other than her are present. This is an obstacle and comfort issue for me, especially during the hot summers months in Arizona. She is embarrassed, but I believe my feet go unnoticed. Who is right?

Ironically, our most popular current argument is about “The Marriage Ref” itself. I think it’s awful, but she likes it. I think she likes it just because she wants to like it, as she and I both are big Seinfeld fans. In her heart –- and because we share the same sense of humor –- I know she doesn’t really think it’s funny. But because she has declared herself on the side of liking it, she will now not waiver from that stance even at gunpoint. That said, I think “The Marriage Ref” would do itself a huge favor by featuring a married couple arguing over whether or not “The Marriage Ref” is good.

But not us. I don’t want to be on TV. Well, only if they show my feet.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Classic card of the week

Bill Bene, 1989 Topps

Seen here is #1 Draft Pick Bill Bene, who is too sexy for this hat. There's no way he's disco dancing! It's difficult to say how this #1 Draft Pick worked out for the Dodgers, because my Internet is down and thus I cannot find the data to back up the obvious fact that it did not work out for the Dodgers. Not to say that Bene himself was not a success, as overall performance is vastly inferior to dashing good looks in a city like Los Angeles.

But where does Bill Bene's story begin? At birth? No. In high school:

Primarily a basketball player in high school, Bill was originally an outfielder.

Let's ignore the fact that this statement makes it sound as though an outfielder is a position on the basketball court. There are more pressing issues here, namely: what does it mean to be "primarily" a basketball player in high school? For Bene, was basketball business and baseball mere pleasure? Were his dreams of making it to the NBA and being an awkward, mustachioed honkey dashed when he was drafted to be, against all odds -- not counting his experience playing baseball -- a baseball player?

Bene himself would later admit that becoming a big league pitcher was a long shot considering the hierarchy of his high school identity was:

1) Basketball player
2) Playa (in a chicks sense, not sports)
3) Loyal friend
4) Student
5) Pedestrian (he walked to school)
6) Outfielder
7) Pitcher???

So how did we get here?

He was recommended to Cal. State-Los Angeles by Bill Moffitt, father of former tennis star Billy Jean Moffitt King and former big leaguer Randy Moffitt

Bill Moffitt
: Hello, is this Cal. State-Los Angeles?

Cal. State-Los Angeles
: Yes.

BM: This is Bill Moffitt, father of former tennis star Billy Jean Moffitt King and former big leaguer Randy Moffitt. I got a recommendation for ya'.

CSLA: What does that mean?

BM: His name is Bill Bene, and he's got a great head of hair and a fastball that'll knock yer socks off. He's got the confidence and juno se qua of my daughter, Billy Jean Moffitt King, and almost as good of an arm as my son, Randy Moffitt. I say almost because because that's my son we're talking about here. Between you and me, Billy's arm is better. But you didn't hear that from me, got it?! So whaddya say we give this kid a full scholarship?

CSLA: This is the Science Department.

Did you know?

Bill Bene was an original member of Color Me Badd but was booted from the group for missing an important rehearsal due to his baseball obligations. As a result, Bene started his own group, Color Me Dodger Blue, and released the single "I Wanna Strike You Out," which was deemed too raunchy for radio.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

My failed attempts to properly pick a girl up

Note: This column appears in the 3/11 issue of The Glendale Star and the 3/12 issue of the Peoria Times

What happened?

These are almost always the first words my wife utters when she comes home from work on those days when I am responsible for picking up our hopefully-soon-to-be-daughter from daycare.

Typically, her inquisition is a result of our little one wearing different clothes than my wife had dressed her in that morning, a small detail I consistently miss when picking her up. If she is wearing “backup” clothes that means she had either a spitting-up or poop-related accident, and so my wife’s follow-up question is: Where are her clothes? My response to this -– as was my response to the initial question and any additional ones -– is a meek shrug of the shoulders.

This has been a constant source of frustration for my wife. I know she thinks that if our hopefully-soon-to-be-daughter were wearing a potato sack when I went to pick her up, I still wouldn’t notice. And she may be right. Because besides wardrobe issues, I’ve been known to leave bottles, medical devices, and important paperwork behind. And that’s with virtually every person who works at the daycare –- all of them aware of my inadequacies –- trying to help me out.

I’ve managed to brush aside these occurrences in a “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” sort of way. What do you want from me? I’m a dude! I don’t know how to do things! But lately I’ve become frustrated with myself, especially on those occasions when I’m particularly proud or confident in my progress with picking her up from daycare, only to be thwarted yet again by some small detail I had overlooked. Like pants.

It all came to a head last week though. I picked up our little one from daycare no problem. But before we went home I had to stop at the grocery store to grab a few things. When I opened the back door to get her, I was taken aback. She looked so…weird. So weird in fact that I honestly and legitimately -– if even for a split second –- thought that I had taken home the wrong child. I assured myself that was not the case, and convinced myself that her strange look was a result of the way the sun was hitting her in that moment.

We got what we needed at the store and she even managed to charm everyone on the checkout line with her smile. We arrived home just a few minutes before my wife did, and you can guess what her first words were when she laid eyes upon our soon-to-be-daughter, who was happily playing in her jumper.

Turns out, the stretchable headband my wife had dressed her in had dropped from the top of her head to just above her eyebrows –- who knew? -- which had scrunched her eyes down and ballooned the rest of her face. “She looks like Rocky Balboa!” my wife screamed. Ah, so it wasn’t the sun after all. I assured my wife that nobody in Safeway noticed and she replied, incredulously, “You took her out in public like this?!”

When my wife removed it, the headband had left an imprint on our hopefully-soon-to-be-daughter’s forehead, and they both looked at me like I was from Mars. “But hey,” I said. “At least she’s wearing the right clothes!”

She wasn’t.

I need to get better at this.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Classic card of the week

Orel Hershiser, 1989 Baseball Cards Magazine

Here is further proof of my mastery of a pair of scissors. Again, I don't remember cutting out this small slice of heaven -- apparently it's from Baseball Cards Magazine? Man, I am cool -- but Orel Hershiser himself seems pleased with my efforts. As do the fans. Let’s find out more about this fellow called Orel:

The hero of the 1988 World Series

Orel Hershiser was unreal in the 1988 World Series, pitching brilliantly during his two wins and earning MVP honors. That said: Kirk Gibson on line one.

(By the way, I’ve never used the “X is on line one” joke. How did it go? Did you laugh? No? Because your sense of humor is on line one. Ha! Take that.)

And the reigning king of the big contract and the multi-million dollar endorsement,

Yes, in his day Orel Hershiser was a lethal marketing hybrid of Peyton Manning mixed with Bob Villa mixed with a hilarious old woman inquiring as to the whereabouts of her beef. He could sell advertising space to a drowning man, as the saying goes. I mean, who can forget when the charismatic Hershiser pretended to like Pizza Hut and even claimed that he drank soda during games?

But…World Series hero that makes a lot of money and does commercials? Sounds like a dick.

Orel remains one of baseball’s nicest guys

Oh. Cool!

-- and one of its biggest baseball card collectors.

Wow, also…cool? Not really sure. Nevertheless, I look forward to finding out more about that as this tidbit continues.

He shattered Don Drysdale’s consecutive-scoreless-innings streak, led the league in innings pitched, complete games, shutouts and wins, and capped it off with an MVP award in the World Series. What can he do for an encore?

Almost the exact same thing with no run support and sans the WS appearance?

Sign a fat contract, for starters.

Geez. What is the obsession with what Orel Hershiser makes? So what if he capitalized off arguably the greatest season pitching-wise in MLB history? I would like to hear more about his dorky baseball card collection. Does he own any of this guy?

Orel played hockey in his youth.

Awesome. Did he play goalie? Because judging by the cartoon reenactment of Orel Hershiser’s hockey-playing youth, he wasn’t very good. Nice reaction time there, Orel.

Did you know?
Orel Hershiser's nickname was "Bulldog" because bulldogs are famously good baseball players. For dogs.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

How to receive an incoming call from no one

Note: This column appears in the 3/4 issue of The Glendale Star and the 3/5 issue of the Peoria Times

I’m not much of a phone person in that generally, I don’t prefer to talk on the phone. I would say that I am in the mood to talk on the phone approximately twenty minutes throughout the course of a given calendar year. What an actual phone can do however, as far as texting and letting me know who is calling so that I don’t have to answer, which allows me to better avoid actual conversations, has been great and has, ironically, made me more of a phone person.

As a result of that, or as result of me being considerably less popular than I think I am, not many people actually call me. In fact, save for my wife and parents, nobody calls me.

Under normal circumstances -– as in, if I were normal -- this would be fine. But for some odd and illogical reason, I still expect people to call me. I am equally annoyed by people calling and not calling. My own cell phone has an automatic keypad-locking feature that activates when the phone hasn’t been in use for like two seconds. So I have to unlock the keypad at least 50 times per day just to confirm that nobody has called me. I use infinitely more battery power on my phone confirming that no one has called than I do using the phone to actually communicate.

(I would just turn off that feature except that I have been known to accidentally make impromptu and profane phone calls, from my pants, to random people on my contact list. Yet another reason I’m not a phone person.)

It’s become a running joke between my wife –- whose Blackberry is constantly buzzing, by the way –- and I. Whenever I have to turn my phone off for any length of time, like before church, I’ll excitedly turn it back on later and ask my wife to guess how many people called me. She laughs as I patiently give the phone time to load…then more time…backlight is off…nobody called.

There have been Saturdays when I have mistakenly left the phone in the bedroom for almost the entire day, and upon realizing this, I will rush upstairs –- it’s Saturday! Somebody could be calling me to watch the game! –- only to be disappointed yet again.

But I reached a new low last weekend. My wife likes to play this little trick on me where she, unbeknownst to me, changes my ring to this awful ringtone that begins with a horse neighing very loudly. Last Monday morning when she wasn’t home, it went off and scared the crap out of me. It should also be mentioned that it went off because my mom was calling me…back. My mom was calling me back.

When she got home later I admitted to her that she got me. But instead of laughing as usual she sympathetically came over to me, rubbed my arm, and informed me that she had changed the ringtone days ago, well before the weekend. She had even considered asking my brother-in-law to call me just so she could hear the horse go off.

Whatever. I don’t even like talking on the phone. Texting is so much better anyway. In fact, somebody could be texting me right now…