Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Conversations without a filter

Note: This column appears in the 9/2 issue of The Glendale Star and the 9/3 issue of the Peoria Times

At a job I had a very long time ago, there was a woman who possessed no internal mechanism that informed her which pieces of information were relevant to which people. As a result, she would have phone conversations, with customers, where she would say things like, “I’m sorry sir, I have to go in a few minutes. We’re having cake in the conference room for Julie.”

This is an extreme example –- this woman lacked many more internal mechanisms –- but I have always, personally, enjoyed gathering information from others that does not pertain to the given situation. Especially if it is revealed to me in the form of an excuse as to why my needs cannot be met.

Case in point. My wife and I have both called, on our own, on separate occasions, a person who is supposed to be assisting us in closing an important matter. When I initially spoke with her, she eased my concerns about the delays in this matter by informing me that her company was dealing with budget cuts, and that they were “bogged down,” and that she, specifically, was “bogged down” because they did not hire anyone to help her. This made me feel…better?

During subsequent phone calls she repeated this schpiel, as if she were reading it off a piece of paper. My wife sort of flipped out. So I had to call this woman again and explain to her, calmly, that this was not my problem. Rather, it was her problem. She was required to assist me despite these factors, and my awareness of these factors was not relevant. The time that she had used to make excuses could have been put to better use in getting the job done. She understood my point, and assured me that this matter would be taken care, although it might take a while, because nobody was there to help her.

Not that customers are off the hook in this matter. Just last week, at my present job, I received a phone call that required me to undertake a simple task, and which I accomplished in like three seconds. The result of this efficiency was me listening to a 10-minute long story that involved specific details about the unfortunate deaths of people I do not know. Not that I’m an insensitive person, but I do not like being put in this situation because I do not what to say. In this instance, I said, “Wow…sheesh, uh…that’s a…that’ll be ten dollars.”

Now, I’m all for trying to relate to people on a personal level, even in professional situations. But these are not occasions for excuses, nor, I think, should they ever get too personal. A general rule would be, if you are immersed in a business or service transaction, and you find yourself using phrases like, “my boss doesn’t care,” or “it takes me 55 minutes to get here,“ or “and that’s how my nephew contracted lupus,” then you have probably stepped over that fine line.

Find that internal mechanism. It’s right next to your schpiel.

*Update! Had a phone conversation today at work in which I was informed this during the normal course of conversation, and I quote: "I got food poisoning and then my car caught on fire."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Classic card of the week

Mike Marshall, 1992 Score

Off we go!

Like some visitors to the Big Apple, Mike did not enjoy his brief stay in ’90.

Hmmm. “Like some visitors?” Looks like somebody spent a wedding anniversary weekend in NYC, spent $315 to park his car in one of those lots where they stack three cars on top of yours, stepped in barf on the subway platform, and couldn’t get a table at Carmine’s after seeing “Cats,” which he thought would have less cats. Still…why you gotta drag Mike Marshall into this? Let’s see how bad Mike Marshall’s time in New York really was.

After being traded in the off-season to the Mets,

Okay, that kinda sucks.

he smashed the seventh grand slam homer of his career and drove in six runs in an 8-3 win over his old team, the Dodgers.

This sounds terrible. I would hate New York too if all I had to base my experience there on was the fact that I once hit a grand slam there for the local team that helped enact revenge against my former team. “This city is the worst!” I would say.

But Mike lost his first base job to Dave Magadan while he was incapacitated with his chronic back problem,

New York’s fault? Yes. In honor of the man who hit a grand slam one day, the Mets should have vacated the position of first base until Mike Marshall healed from his chronic back problem, which probably wouldn’t have healed much, because it was chronic. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that: Should they have been forced –- due to some stupid rule -– to place a different player at first base, and that player miraculously outperformed Mike Marshall, by no means should the Mets have awarded the job to that player while Mike Marshall was incapacitated with back pain -– back pain undoubtedly caused by the high cost of living in New York City.

Third thing: If New York did not meet these above-mentioned expectations –- which they obviously did not, or we would not be here talking about this -– the least they could have done was trade Mike Marshall to a different team that would be less discriminatory with regards to his chronic back problem.

and was finally traded to the Red Sox in late July,

“Finally,” in late July, thus ending Mike Marshall’s long and arduous and back-pain-filled four-month New York experience. Besides his Jodeci CD and a trail of broken hearts, did Mike Marshall leave anything behind?

leaving behind a .239 batting average.

“I hit a grand slam and suffered back pain in New York City and all I got was this lousy t-shirt and .239 average.” – mikemarshalltshirts.com.

A dangerous power hitter, Mike took an immediate liking to Boston and batted .304 in his first 13 games.

Using the Mike Marshall formula: back pain + grand slam + Mets + .239 average x .304 average in 13 games + DH rule = Boston > New York. Coincidentally, this card’s author happened to spend a lovely autumn weekend in the Boston area on a visit to take in the foliage and see his eldest daughter on the gorgeous Harvard campus. Mike Marshall’s 1992 Score card began thusly:

Like all visitors to Beantown, Mike immensely enjoyed his brief stay there…

Did you know?

According to Wikipedia, Mike Marshall is the first person in the history of the world to date Belinda Carlisle AND play for the Nippon Ham Fighters of Japan.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Birthday party number one: No jacket required

Note: This column appears in the 8/26 issue of The Glendale Star and the 8/27 issue of the Peoria Times

Last weekend we happily hosted a first birthday party. The theme was butterflies.

Even though I had attended several first birthday parties in the past year or so, and acquired some knowledge as to their culture and thus gained some confidence, there were still many facets of first birthday party etiquette that I was unaware of.

For example, I learned that one cake is not enough cakes. I thought that one cake would be enough, but that was before I discovered that one cake is set aside for the sole purpose of allowing the birthday girl to smush her hands and face in it so that you can take funny birthday pictures. Then that cake is removed and a different cake is brought in for guests, so as to reduce the likelihood of your guests finding boogers in their cake. Luckily for us our friend Donna took care of the “real cake” personally by making a full batch of her Sassy Pops, which are literally pieces of cake on a stick in a coating of hard, delicious icing. They were the hit of the party, and because she made so many I am currently averaging four Sassy Pops per day. (Not to mention trying to finish the non-smushed section of our daughter’s booger cake. Yum.)

While I was aware that our party would be themed, I was unaware how all encompassing that theme must be. My wife, as mentioned, selected butterflies as the theme on behalf of our daughter. Because boys would be in attendance, the theme was extended to include bugs. Butterflies and bugs. Everywhere. My wife is a strong-willed, hot-tempered, Italian, independent working-woman, yet her daughter’s first birthday party managed to reveal her inner Martha Stewart. Everywhere I turned there were butterflies and bugs. The girls had butterfly wings to wear, and the boys played bug-themed games, and “A Bug’s Life” played on the TV. I was in charge of making the sandwiches, and so my wife handed me a “butterfly cutter” –- I honestly don’t know where she gets these things -- to make the sandwiches into butterflies. Have you ever attempted to turn a grilled-cheese sandwich into a butterfly? It’s not easy. Even with a butterfly cutter.

(I couldn’t help but imagine how differently the scene would have been if I were in charge of the theme. There probably would have been a poster of a butterfly hanging crooked off the wall and that’s it.)

But for me the greatest realization about first birthday parties was this: It doesn’t matter what the theme is, or how many cakes you have, as long as you keep the kids entertained. At one point I noticed the kids and several adults had drifted into our dining room, which houses my turntables. To keep things moving I made the executive decision to turn this into a mini-dance party. Now, ninety-percent of my records are inappropriate and profane hip-hop records from college, but I’ve also acquired many old records from my parents and in-laws. So…I had to settle for Phil Collins, “Susudio.”

We danced like no one was watching, except for all the videos and pictures being taken. And by “we” I mean myself and five little girls wearing butterfly wings, including our daughter.

It seems like everyone had a fun time, which is all that matters. I know I did. And if our daughter still likes him when she turns two, I will attempt to make sandwiches in the shape of Phil Collins. Wish me luck.

This would go good on a stick, so a Sassy Pop may be better...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Classic card of the week

Pat Kelly, 1991 Fleer Ultra, Prospects series

Here is a picture of Pat Kelly pretending to catch a ground ball for the camera. One would think it was during an actual game were it not for the fact that second base is not traditionally played in foul territory. Also there is a tractor on the field. Another option would have involved the camera taking a snapshot of Pat Kelly actually catching a ground ball in real life, but then he probably wouldn’t have been able to simultaneously stare into the camera with the same raw emotion you see here. So, you take the good with the bad.

Fortunately, in the case of Pat Kelly, it’s all good:

Pat Kelly has everything a manager could want from a second baseman.

Let’s say I’m a major league manager, which I am. I want my second baseman to hit 50 home runs, score 125 runs, OPS like 1.340, make approximately zero errors while also making behind-the-back throws to the shortstop during double-plays for no apparent reason, steal zero bases because he’s always hitting home runs and because he’s kinda fat – I don’t want the guy to be perfect, ya' know? – and hit eighth in the order because the rest of my team is even more freakin ridonkulous than my second baseman. Then and only then will I say that I have all that I want from my second baseman. Pat Kelly?

He has great range, good pivot skills

I forgot to mention good pivot skills. I want my second baseman to have good pivot skills. I thought that was implied.

for turning the double play, hits for average, steals a lot of bases and even has some pop to his bat.

Okay, so…yeah. I guess that’s everything. For somebody. Else. Anyway, let’s see how Pat Kelly does everything:

Last year at Double-A Albany, Pat hit .270,

Record scratch! Let’s hit rewind: {dream sequence montage}…hits for average…hits for average…hits for average…Lisa needs braces…dental plan….Lisa needs braces…hits for average…

So I guess, technically, Pat Kelly does hit for average, in that .270 is an average. (By the way, as we always strive to acknowledge here: average is stupid. But I didn’t bring it up. Pat Kelly’s supporters did.)

He also belted eight homers and six triples.

Eight homers = some pop. More pop involves triples, which are belted in the same fashion as home runs because they are only one less base than a home run and thus must be belted and not simply be ground balls that careen awkwardly off walls. Wow, I am being a jerk, and I am a Pat Kelly fan. Let's hear from a Pat Kelly fan who need not compromise his subjectivity due to his desire to make snarky comments on his blog about nothing:

At his position, his manager in Albany, Dan Radison, raves

This is a weird sentence that makes it sound as though Dan Radison is dishing out praise while standing on or near second base.

"I've seen him make plays, and I just can't figure out how he did it!"

I wonder if this exclamation point happened in real life, or if it was added for effect. Baseball managers tend to downplay things and have a general "been there, seen that" attitude, so I am skeptical. Also, what the heck is Dan Radison talking about? What is so mysterious about the way in which Pat Kelly makes plays? Possibly he is referring to the fact that Pat Kelly sometimes catches imaginary balls in foul territory while looking at a camera and still manages to throw a tractor out at second base. In which case: I agree!

Did you know?
Wikipedia claims that Pat Kelly, infielder, born 1967, is a different person than Pat Kelly, climber, early female climber and founder of the Pinnacle Club.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On being the victim of circumstance and the after-hours HVAC market

Note: This column appears in the 8/19 issue of The Glendale Star and the 8/20 issue of the Peoria Times

I am a reasonable fellow. I am neither, I don’t think, cheap or lavish, falling somewhere in between Costanza and Trump. Like most people I prefer to know the price of something before I purchase it. Occasionally however, there are those transactions in life where the urgency of the matter dissuades price from becoming an issue and, as a result, price becomes an issue. I do not like these occasions.

First let me say that there are others more well versed than I in making any transaction a casual one, and these people I have come to know, mostly, as Italian. An example I have used before is going to a fine Italian restaurant with my father-in-law –- one where you won’t see a price on the menu –- and watching the dynamic work between him and the waiter. Without words, my father-in-law says, “I am willing to pay for a good meal, but you better not screw me over,” and the waiter acknowledges, without words, “Indeed, I will not.”

On occasion I have attempted this on my own while out with my wife. “I’ll have the fish special, sir…market price!” Then I spend the rest of the meal on edge, wondering how drastically the fish market has fluctuated, only to eventually discover that my tilapia is $75.

But these situations are self-imposed and avoidable. It’s the unavoidable situations that irk me, as you are at the mercy of the other party. For example…

Last week our air conditioner conked out right as we were putting our daughter to bed. When you live in Arizona, in August, having the A/C go out, from an urgency standpoint, is the equivalent of having to go to the emergency room. Should you research other emergency rooms first? Can you wait until tomorrow? Maybe. If you are a masochist. As a result, you don’t think about price.

Well, you do. I do. But not out loud. I called the company listed on our thermostat because they installed the unit, which was under warranty, and they sent someone out within the hour.

Granted, I was willfully ignorant throughout the process. Price wasn’t mentioned over the phone or upon the technician’s arrival, and I didn’t ask. Mostly because I didn’t want to know, plus even if I did know, I figured, what am I going to do? In formulating the potential cost in my head I even factored in their inevitable explanation as to why, in fact, our unit was not under warranty.

Turned out the part that needed fixing was under warranty. Great! So, it would only cost…$330. Market price.

Because we called “after hours” –- we called at 6pm -- we incurred an additional cost for both the service call and the labor. (I always enjoyed those being two separate costs by the way – as if the technician will come to our house and instead of fixing our A/C, we’ll watch a baseball game together.) I am now arguing the cost with the company, a process by which I inevitably come across as cheap and stupid. Fun times. But I am willing to sacrifice my dignity for a greater good, and fight those who take advantage of unfortunate circumstances and the willfully ignorant!

I will lose, of course. I am a reasonable fellow.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Classic card of the week

Mo Vaughn, 1996 Topps Road Warriors

Mo Vaughn is a Road Warrior, as evidenced here by this graphic in which Mo Vaughn displays his awkward follow-through -– a result of not being able to move his arms as well as a non-overweight baseball player -- while literally on the road. In this instance the road is a one-lane highway going nowhere. It is reserved exclusively for Road Warriors, and the purple sky is ominous only for those homebodies who lack the Road Warrior attitude displayed by players such as Mo Vaughn.

But what makes Mo Vaughn a Road Warrior?

Vaughn’s Five Favorite Out of Town Parks

This card makes it seem as though as Mo Vaughn personally selected these road venues as his favorite, however I fear that Topps simply selected these on his behalf, highlighting those locations where Vaughn hits particularly well. The reason I say this is because, apparently unbeknownst to Topps, Mo Vaughn was asked to name his five favorite out of town parks in a 1994 interview with Highlights Magazine. His answer included three different Six Flags locations, Sesame Place, and, as he put it, “that one by my aunt’s house with the hot dog stand and all the geese.”

Nevertheless, Mo Vaughn was indeed a Road Warrior in every sense of the word. He hit 24 home runs on the road in 1995, and also killed three enemy soldiers when the Red Sox suddenly and inexplicably invaded Rome. In fact, the top left corner of the back of this card contains a “RW 18,” which indicates that there are only at least 17 other players that display the uncanny ability to play baseball well even when they are away from the field where they currently play baseball the most.

Coincidentally, Vaughn would eventually flee Boston for Anaheim in order to play in one of the parks listed here. Let us consult Wikipedia to see how Mo Vaughn’s Road Warrior attitude translated to his new home:

He started his Anaheim career by falling down the visitor’s dugout steps on his first play of his first game, badly spraining his ankle.

That never would have happened were he on the road -- at Fenway for example -- but I do enjoy the irony of this happening in the visitor’s dugout. Thus began the latter half of Vaughn’s career, where he retained his Road Warrior status, but only in the respect that fans of the teams for which he played openly wished for him to leave on a more permanent basis. But by armoring himself from the boos with additional fatty tissue, he inadvertently became a Home Warrior as well.

Did you know?
A college road-trip was once interrupted when the highway we were driving on was blocked by a giant Mo Vaughn. So we drank somewhere else.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

From He-Man to just man – a cartoonish yearning for youth

Note: This column appears in the 8/12 issue of The Glendale Star and the 8/13 issue of the Peoria Times

I loved –- loved -– watching cartoons as a kid. In fact, I think I watched them just slightly past the time when I should have stopped watching them. Like, when girls started calling the house I was still watching Looney Tunes, which made it quite a surprise that girls were calling in the first place.

Nevertheless, cartoons hold a special place in my heart, as they harken back to the fond days of my youth, when I had zero responsibilities and I could sit in front of the TV at three o’clock in the afternoon with a bowl of cereal and watch He-Man before going to play outside, and when the Smurfs were the first people -- or, more technically, blue things -- to greet me on Saturday morning.

And so part of the reason I was so excited to become a father was to get reacquainted with cartoons through my daughter. I have already begun the process -- which isn’t very smart considering she is not yet one-year old, and really shouldn’t be watching much TV anyway -- of having cartoons on almost all the time. The Nick, Jr. channel is on a constant loop in our house and they don’t mess around. Even their commercials are cartoons. It’s a million times better than, amazingly, the Cartoon Network, which mostly targets hipster adults.

I’m hoping it’s because she’s still too young and not because she doesn’t care for them, but cartoons haven’t really held my daughter’s interest of yet. She can watch The Wonderpets for like a minute, and then the dog will walk by and that’s the end of that. But that hasn’t stopped me from watching.

(Side note: I got in trouble one day for having on Yo Gabba Gabba, which isn’t a cartoon, but which my wife described as “way too stimulating for her!” Sure enough that’s the only show that’s ever held her attention for more than a minute, and afterwards she looked like a zombie who had just seen a ghost. What can I say -- it was Brobee's birthday that day and I wasn't going to miss it.)

Indeed, much of my free time these days is spent playing with my daughter while simultaneously getting immersed in the plot lines of modern cartoons that are technically on for her, but for which she couldn’t care less about. Still, I love it.

For one thing, it’s a pleasant break from the trash that we usually watch on TV, which typically involves unrealistic and borderline X-rated realty dating/dance shows or accounts of real-life murders and/or drug addiction. On the contrary, cartoons tend to have a positive message, one that may seem corny and commonplace until we realize that lesson was somehow lost on our transition to bitter adulthood. For example, I could be really angry or frustrated with someone and then I end up sitting there watching a giant octopus tell me that I should be patient with others because everyone is different, and I think to myself, “Ya’ know what, Octopus? You’re right.” Also, some of these shows are legitimately funny. There was a Phineas & Ferb marathon on the other day and you can’t believe what those two get into! (And yes, I realize that show isn’t even close to her age bracket. Whatever.)

Plus, it makes me feel like a kid again. For at least a little while each day, I get to regain the innocence of youth via cartoons and chasing our little one around the ottoman. And as far as she’s concerned, I think she’ll get into cartoons one day. After all, it’s a loooooooong time until boys start calling the house. Right?


Wrong, Mike. Those days will be here before you know it!

Shut-up you stupid octopus! You know nothing!

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Classic card of the week

Jose Valentin, 1996 Topps

In a Bill Simmon’s mailbag from many years ago, one of his readers suggested -– I can’t recall the context, though I’m sure it was Hoosiers-related -- that Gene Hackman was born a 46-year old man. That is how I’ve always felt about Jose Valentin. I mean, not that I’ve always felt anything really about Jose Valentin. I remember him being old in 2006 with the Mets, and he looks the same in this card from 1996, so in all honestly, the thought just occurred to me. Nevertheless, that is my intro. Let’s find out more:

Jose has a brother –- also named Jose -– who is a top catching prospect in the Minnesota Twins organization.

Oh, that’s cool. Wait, what? I just…how does that happen? I don’t understand. There are so many names in the world to choose from. This seems like such an unnecessary -– albeit humorous, for me -– means of complicating things. Could it be that Jose Valentin’s real life was the Puerto Rican version of “Newhart?” Does anybody even get that reference, or am I older than Jose Valentin? Which Jose Valentin, you ask? Why, the Puerto Rican baseball-playing one of course! What?

Growing up in Puerto Rico, the siblings were known by their middle names, Antonio (Brewers) and Javier (Twins).

Two things. 1) I gathered from that statement that “Antonio” is Spanish for “Brewers” and “Javier” is Spanish for “Twins”. I trust that this is accurate. 2. I have a question, and I am being completely serious: Is it like, a part of Puerto Rican culture to associate people by their middle names? If so, this makes a bit more sense, but not really. If not, don’t tell me that “the siblings were known by their middle names,” as that only would have been done out of necessity considering they both had the same name.

Both Joses are switch-hitters with power,

Except for the one Jose.

a rare commodity at their respective positions.

This whole thing is a rare commodity. Let’s see what Wikipedia has to say. They always seem to be impartial and accurate:

Jose Antonio Valentin…is a former Major League Baseball infielder currently working in the Purto Rican leagues.

I realize I should just stop here, but I can’t. Purto Rico. Man, I love Wikipedia.

In 2004 it was announced that Valentin bought the Santurce Crabbers,

I don’t know how I missed this announcement.

one of the most historic professional baseball franchises of the Puerto Rico Baseball League (formerly known as LBPPR).

League of Baseball Players of Puerto Rico? If so, how could you change that?

He relocated the team to his native town, and renamed them

The Joses.

the Manati Atenienses. But after a decline in attendance

Who doesn’t want to go see the Manati Atenienses, formerly known as the Santurce Crabbers?

and the reestructuring of the league,

According to Wikipedia, the reestructuring of the Purto Rican league was the biggest thing to happen in Germmany since dinosors.

Valentin moved the team back to the biggest barrio

Am I supposed to know what barrio means? Because I don’t.

of the capital city in 2008, therefore launching the much anticipated return of Los Cangrejeros.

The fact that this team, owned by Jose Valentin, has/had like four names, makes it all the more amazing that Jose and his brother share one name between them.

He has joined his home team as their second baseman becoming the only owner-player in the league.

You know what they say: Only in Purto Rico.

Did you know?
When the Milwaukee Antonios face the Minnesota Javiers once every three years during interleague play, Puerto Rico hosts a three-day parade.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

When you just can’t give something away

Note: This column appears in the 8/5 issue of The Glendale Star & the 8/6 issue of the Peoria Times

Because my wife prefers to throw away nothing, we opt to donate things when we can.

This is not to say that the act of donating things has been, in any way, easier for me than convincing my wife to throw something out. Donating old clothes is especially difficult. There is no item of clothing I can attempt to give away without her getting upset. She will literally gasp at seeing something I have placed in the bag and say to me, pleadingly, “But you wore that on Christmas Eve that year!” as if I am denouncing the fun time I had that day through my desire to donate the pants I was wearing. And God forbid I try to get rid of something she actually bought for me. It has gotten to the point where I have to donate clothes in secret. Last time I slipped up though, and she noticed one of my shirts peaking through the plastic donations bag. The next day she walked past me in the kitchen and said, “So…I see you don’t like yellow shirts anymore. I’ll remember that the next time I see a nice one at the store.”

(In her defense I am somewhat flighty when it comes to my wardrobe. If I buy two new shirts at Kohl’s, the first thing I attempt to do when I get home is get rid of everything I haven’t worn in the past three weeks. “I am starting over, “ I will think to myself. “And the foundation will be my two new shirts!” I am weird like that.)

So, as you can see, it’s difficult enough for us to donate stuff as it is. Making matters more complicated is the fact that, apparently, no one else wants our stuff either.

Every month or so, we receive a card in the mail specifying when a certain charitable organization will be in the neighborhood to pick up any unwanted items. The process, ideally, is that you place your items at the front of your house with the card attached and they pick it up. The process, for us, is that we place our items at the front of our house and nobody picks them up.

Now. I leave early for work in the morning, so I always want to put the stuff outside before bed. My wife refuses to allow me to do this, stating that “people could steal it,” a point which I do not understand as it equates to us saying, “Here, take it. No, not you!” My wife however, is convinced that these potential thieves will sell our stuff to buy drugs. And nobody wants that. Except the thieves.

So, I have to lug everything outside in the morning before leaving for work. Then -– as has been the case the last three times we have attempted to donate to three different organizations –- as I drive towards the house after work, I slowly notice that all the stuff is still there.

I am honestly unsure if our items have been deemed not good enough for even the less fortunate, or if these organizations are that incompetent. Whatever the case, now the sun has been beating on our stuff all day, and I am forced to go out in the afternoon heat and bring it all back inside the house, at which point we need to remove everything from the bags and check for scorpions. “Hey, there are my old Christmas Eve pants!” I will say. “I wonder what kind of drugs I can get for these.”