Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A home filled with castles is my castle

Note: This column appears in the 12/2 issue of The Glendale Star and the 12/3 issue of the Peoria Times

We live in a modest home. It’s a considerable upgrade, however, from where we lived in New Jersey, which was a two-bedroom condo.

There was more storage than we had stuff when we moved in. This was great, as everything could be packed neatly away. As the years progressed, and we acquired more and more stuff, and my wife maintained her refusal to dispose of the stuff we already had, that extra space dwindled. Now, we have a child.

There is no more space. In fact, the walls are closing in. There is a trampoline in our dining room. Next to my side of the bed rests a multi-colored jumper thingee that our daughter no longer uses, which has a plastic sun on it that sarcastically smiles at me each morning as if to say, “Still here!” At the foot of our bed rests a plastic dinosaur castle. It has compartments for the dinosaur egg balls it came with—obviously—but now our daughter uses those compartments for other things, like my cell phone.

It has become an ongoing battle between my wife and I, which I am losing, as to why we keep acquiring so many things. Of course I want our daughter to have toys, it just seems that most of these toys interest her only upon their arrival, and then she moves on to other things. Were it up to me, we’d have a house full of only battery-less remote controls, which I could easily store away each night.

Last weekend we went to pick up a kitchen play set that was offered to us by a friend who was moving. I thought it was going to be one of those cheap, plastic Fisher Price toys, but it most certainly was not. Were it not downsized, I would prefer to it to our actual kitchen. I needed a screwdriver to dismantle it. It barely fit into the back of my car, and on our way home I openly wondered where we’d put it. “Don’t worry,” my wife said. “We’ll find a spot.”

That spot is now in our living room, next to the TV. It used to be the spot where our dog rested on his bed, but he has since, to his chagrin, been displaced.
As I was lamenting what new plastic wonders Christmas would bring, it suddenly dawned on me—why am I hung up about this?

For some reason, I have always fashioned our living quarters as, ideally, being ready for company. But 97-percent of the time it’s just us. When family is visiting, or when friends are over, it doesn’t even matter. Who cares? It’s not like we’re hosting wine and cheese parties. Although if we were, it would be fun to rest the caviar on the dinosaur castle.

For the time being, our daughter loves her new kitchen. Sometimes, we will drag the trampoline into the living room, because the best thing to do after cooking a fake pizza is to jump around on a trampoline.

I also realized that the best way to get her to play with the toys is to play with them myself. Now I’m the one scattering toys around. Apparently, she’s getting a wiffleball swing set for Christmas. I can’t wait.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Classic card of the week

Wilson Alvarez, 1996 Topps

Here is a Wilson Alvarez baseball card. Like you, I wonder: Did this professional baseball player play baseball as an adolescent?

Wilson pitched for a Venezuelan entry in the 1982 Little League World Series, an event that also included a Tampa, FL, team whose star was Gary Sheffield.

This is the most interesting thing I have ever heard about in my entire life. Are you trying to tell me, card, that Wilson Alvarez played baseball in an event that also featured another, different baseball player? I mean, what are the odds? Furthermore, what are the chances that the other player would be none other than Gary Sheffield? Is there no end to the link between Wilson Alvarez and Gary Sheffield? Some things are just…destiny.

Earlier that year, he’d fanned 21 in a game!

Who? Gary Sheffield or Wilson Alvarez? Either way, I enjoy the emphatic exclamation point as it pertains to what somebody did when they were 12-years old. I don’t like to brag, but I once accumulated 36 total bases during one inning of a tee-ball game when I was 6, mostly because several of my peers had not yet learned how to catch or throw a baseball. You would think this rousing success as a youth would have translated to a professional career, but alas—I am the exception rather than the rule.

Ironically, in 1994, a squad from his hometown of Maracaibo won the series.

Much has been made of America’s inability to grasp what the term “ironic” means, but this Wilson Alvarez baseball card really doesn’t grasp what “ironic” means: Venezuela did not win the Little League World Series in 1982. Ironically, they did win the Little World Series in 1994. What is ironic about that? According to this card, when a thing doesn’t happen but then it does, that = ironic. Now, what IS ironic is the fact that when the 1994 Maracaibo, Venezuela Little League attempted to celebrate their World Series victory with ice cream cake, they were unable to cut it since they had plenty of spoons but no knife.

Ironically, Wilson Alvarez was no stranger to cake himself. Sayeth Wkipedia:

The inconsistency and poor conditioning continually kept the talented lefty from realizing his full potential.

Poor conditioning?

He’s like an Adonis! Besides, Alvarez’s strategy of walking a ton of guys and not working out reaped its fair share of rewards.

On August 11, 1991, Alvarez pitched a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles, a team that had, earlier that year, faced off against none other than Gary Sheffield.

Did you know?
In 1992, Alvarez's conditioning coach, no one, told him to take a break until 1993.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Holiday TV specials inspire nostalgia, teach about love, war

Note: This column appears in the 11/24 issue of The Glendale Star and the 11/26 issue of the Peoria Times

Television is a big part of my annual holiday experience.

For me, much of the nostalgia that surrounds this season revolves around movies and specials that I continue to watch on TV, even if those movies/specials have nothing to do with the holiday itself. For example, this Thanksgiving I will be greatly upset if I do not see two movies that have come to define this holiday: the original Willy Wonka and Home Alone. The former aired for whatever reason during a few Thanksgivings of yore, and I steadfastly continue to search for it on TV each year, even though I don’t really like the movie and find it bizarre and disturbing. The latter traditionally airs every Thanksgiving night, and I will not be able to sleep unless I see Joe Pesci fall and hurt himself 80 times. Again.

This week will also unleash the flood of Christmas specials, few being as special as A Charlie Brown Christmas. This is by far the best Peanuts special ever. (A close second being the one where they all went to France. Remember that one? No? Whatever.) It has, however, been tarnished in recent years by CBS’ decision to air a more contemporary Peanuts special afterwards, with slightly different voices and more nonsensical yet not-as-endearing plotlines. (They did this with Frosty, too.) But it’s still worth it.

(Speaking of nonsensical—I could never quite figure out the drawn-out sequence of Snoopy being a WWII fighter pilot. What is that all about? Where does it fit in? I do not understand.)

I am not one of those people, however, who cling to the oldies while ignoring the new stuff. In fact, a more recent holiday obsession of mine involves Lifetime holiday movies, which are all spectacularly bad in a great kind of way. They all have the same exact plot and simply feature different sitcom castoffs. Two years ago we watched a Lifetime special that featured Uncle Joey from Full House, except in the movie he despised kids, until those very kids showed him the true meaning of Christmas. It was terrible, and I have been desperately searching for it ever since.

The truly great ones hold a special place in my heart though. As a family, we used to sit together on Christmas Eve and watch my parents’ favorite version of A Christmas Carol on TV—the one starring Alastair Sim from 1951. I too believe that no version is better. Until, of course, Lifetime premieres its own version starring Tony Danza and Delta Burke.

The night before Thanksgiving this year—tomorrow night!—we have plans to watch a few new holiday specials with our daughter. Maybe one day A Madagascar Christmas will be her Charlie Brown. Though I hope she likes Charlie Brown too, if only because it’s her parents favorite.

When she develops her sense of irony, we will introduce her to Lifetime. In the meantime, the crime, violence, and terrible parenting portrayed in Home Alone should do.

Happy Thanksgiving.

This is going to be the chocolatiest Thanksgiving ever!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Classic card of the week

Jeff Gryaer, 1993 Topps Stadium Club


This is what Jeff Grayer said, in his head, as he dribbled a basketball while wearing white tube socks. One can sense the excitement of this dribble-off as the culturally diverse crowd looks on in amazement and anticipation of what will happen next. Will he shoot it? Will Ron Harper get called for reaching? Will Jeff Grayer dribble in a different direction? Is a five-second call in order? Who knows. Anything can happen in basketball. All I can say is, that is some fiiiiiiiiine dribbling.

What else about Jeff Grayer?

Here Grayer is rocking the Warriors throwback jersey, although that trend in clothing hadn't yet peaked among NBA fans. Coincidentally, Grayer's Warriors jersey on the front of the card is now a throwback. Jeff Grayer is so old that his regular jerseys are throwbacks and his throwback jerseys are future jerseys. In fact, according to this card, Grayer was popularly referred to as “Ol’ No. 44.” I think we’re all familiar with that, no? Jeff Grayer? Ol’ No. 44? Anybody? Allow me to illustrate:

Person A: Then the Clippers cut the lead to one, but the Warriors scored on the next possession to ice the game. Bailed out by Ol’ No. 44.

Person B: I don’t even need to inquire as to whom you’re talking about, because everybody knows that Ol’ No. 44 is Jeff Grayer.

Person A: I honestly cannot tell sometimes if you’re being sarcastic, or if you’re just a really weird person.

Ha, ha! Warriors fans are hilarious. Anyway, what was the ol’ “buzz” on Ol’ No. 44 those days of 1993?

Per minute, Grayer ranked in TOP 34% of the NBA in OFFENSIVE REB…

Indeed, when they weren’t discussing with anticipation the release of Nas’ debut album, those in the streets were aflutter with talk of Jeff Grayer’s per minute offensive rebounding statistics. Top 34 percent? That’s almost top 30 percent! Crazy, yo.

I would now like to draw your attention to the Topps Skills Rating System listed on the back of this card. In an astounding maneuver, it appears as though the team of experts responsible for formulating the Skills Rating System decided to rate players on a scale of “out of ten.” Remember, please, that the Sporting News Skills Rating System that Topps had traditionally used was a complex formula that rated players “out of five.” So throw out everything you thought you knew about the Skills Rating System. They done blowed it up. Out of five? Pffft. Try out of ten.

That said, Ol’ No. 44’s modest 8.1 ball handling rating seems rather low considering the breathtaking, Globetrotter-esque maneuvers he is displaying on the front of this card.

Did you know?
When Latrell Sprewell first became a Warrior, he declined to wear his favorite number, 44, out of respect for Ol' No. 44. Then he choked P.J. Carlesimo.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The old man and the sea of change

Note: This column appears in the 11/18 issue of The Glendale Star and the 11/19 issue of the Peoria Times

Like many men of his generation, my grandfather held strong—often stubbornly strong—to his worldview.

God only knows what he experienced and witnessed during World War II. He wasn’t the type to talk much about it. Post-war America was a much different place than it is today, and all of this helped shape his ideals and opinions.

When we were kids, my grandfather was a larger than life presence, sitting on his throne, which doubled as a recliner, watching golf on TV and generally not wanting to be bothered. The underlying threat of my grandmother telling Pop of our misdeeds was enough to redirect us to better behavior, though I’m now certain that the last thing he ever wanted to do was get out of his chair to discipline us.

All would have been well should things have proceeded as expected in his world, but life had other plans. It began when his eldest daughter married a Jewish man and later converted herself. It continued when his home inadvertently became part of a growing, urban, somewhat depleted neighborhood. It culminated almost a decade ago when we lost my grandmother.

Pop was forced out of his cultural, spiritual, and idealistic cocoon. Without my grandmother as the conduit, he was going to have to become a more hands-on patriarch—one that was going to need some help of his own. This could have gone one of two ways.

Pop chose the higher, less-traveled, emotionally introspective road. The knots of angst were loosened. He began to, slowly but surely, open up to all of us. I would mow his lawn on summer days after work, and find myself sitting at his kitchen table, sharing a cold one with him, and we would talk. When I had to go he would insist on “one more.” The man who once didn’t want to be bothered didn’t want me to leave.

Thank God for this softening, because in that time my sister, his granddaughter, married an African-American man. Pop came to the wedding. It was there that he met for the first time my future in-laws. Having always had a distaste for Frank Sinatra, my grandfather remained skeptical about Italians in general. As the party was winding down, he told my father-in-law that he “wasn’t so bad…for an Italian.” Progress.

Time brought my grandfather a Jewish daughter and son-in-law, an African-American grandson-in-law, and two-mixed race great grandchildren. Italians had infiltrated the family on his watch. He also now had an adopted great granddaughter. We brought our daughter to see him on a trip home this summer. Pop was impressed with the way she smiled and jumped on the bed in his nursing home. He commented, “She’s a special baby.”

Before we left that day, as he had each and every time we went to see him over the past few years (something he did rarely if at all when I was a kid), he hugged me and said, “Love ya’, pal.”

My grandfather passed away last week, the day before Veterans Day.

A Navy man set in his ways for most of his life, he rode the sea of change instead of going against the current. As a result, the grandparent who I most feared as a child ended up being the grandparent with whom I had grown the closest to as an adult. It didn’t have to be that way, but he made it so, because Pop was a special man.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Classic card of the week

Michael Adams, 1992 Stadium Club

Several things immediately stand out about this basketball card. First, Michael Adams is a small man. He is roughly the same size as the referee in the distance -- we all know how small referees are, am I right? Hello? -- and I imagine that the referee will get taller as he gets closer. (I’m no scientist, though.)

It also appears -- and I realize this is a small sample size, in the form of one still shot -- that Michael Adams does not know how to dribble a basketball. The ball is hitting the side of his hand. Plus, I do not understand why he is bouncing the ball so high in the first place. Remove the crowd, keep the knee pads, switch the uniform to a pair of jorts and an oversized t-shirt, and you have a small man playing basketball for the very first time.

But on the contrary:

The always-reliable Sporting News Skills Rating System has Michael Adams’ ball handling skills at a 4.6, which matches his “floor leadership” rating. In those categories, Adams is only 0.4 rating points away from perfection -- Pistol Pete and Norman Schwarzkopf, respectively.

Astoundingly, Adams also attains a 4.8 in “shooting range,” which means he only misses a shot four percent of the time, and there is only four percent of the entire basketball court from which he cannot properly execute a shot. (I am a mathematician.) Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Michael Adams should shoot the ‘j’ all the time!” Ha, ha! Agreed. Thing is, it’s tiring on the little fella. Sayeth Wikipedia:

Renowned for his “push shot,”…

I could not locate a video of this renowned push shot, but I imagine it is a thing of beauty. So here we have Michael Adams, a small man who dribbles high and awkwardly, and shoots a basketball like David Eckstein throws a baseball. Recipe for success?


Adams had his best season in 1990-1991, when he averaged 26.5 points (including a 54 point game) and 10.5 assists per game while playing for the Denver Nuggets.

Granted, I realize the Nuggets of the late 80s, early 90s put up, and gave up, All-Star Game-type pointage. Still though. 26.5 points per game? Michael Adams, you can floor me with you leadership any day.

For a more genuine and accurate account of Michael Adams’ vast abilities, see here. For more information on Michael Adams, the English chess Grandmaster, see here. For an unrelated video of a dog doing the Merengue, which, after one-minute, will make you feel as if you just smoked a pound of weed, see here.

Did you know?
Michael Adam's 54-point game was inspired by the movie, "Teen Wolf."

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Road to dental wisdom is paved with speed bumps, tarter

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

One advantage of living in the middle of the hurricane that is fatherhood is the ability to more easily put off certain burdens, like going to the dentist. When I considered the stark reality, however, that putting it off further will only make it worse when I actually do go, I decided to make an appointment.

I have been repaying the carelessness of my youthful lack of dental hygiene—I rebelled against my own braces—throughout my adult life. For example, I have been forced to wear a mouth guard at night, every night, for the rest of my life. Apparently, I rather forcefully grind my teeth at night, a habit that is no doubt a form of relief at the subconscious stress I feel towards dentistry in general.

I repented long ago, and have since committed to brushing twice per day, flossing and using mouthwash. I also, sans for this latest procrastination, go to the dentist every six months. This penance has somewhat backfired, as I discovered during this most recent appointment that I am brushing my teeth too hard, and my gum line is thus receding dramatically. Fantastic. According to my dentist, I have the gum line of a 95-year old hockey player.

I have yet to endure a standard dental check-up that proceeds smoothly, despite my best efforts. Last year I was informed that I have five wisdom teeth! I am a modern miracle of science. Also, my wisdom teeth need to come out. During my last visit the office provided me an estimate of the cost of having my wisdom teeth removed with insurance, and let’s just say that I’ll be enjoying my surplus of wisdom for the foreseeable future, or at least until these teeth produce a kind of pain that hurts more than the thought of paying to have them removed.

Luckily for me, Arizona has more dentists per capita than cacti, so it was not difficult to find a dentist upon moving here. Settling on one has proved more difficult, as I continue to search for a dentist who will tell me that everything looks great. I do enjoy, however, being assessed by various dentists and their assistants as they use their own dental Morse code. Several times I have found myself reclined in the chair, mouth wide open as the dentist inspects. I then attempt to translate things like, “Alright, we got a ‘6’ on ’21,’ an ‘89’ on ’17,’ and let’s see here…wow, looks like, yep—a ‘code red’ on ‘4.’ I repeat: ‘Code red’ on ‘4.’”

Nothing fazes me anymore. I just sit in the dentist’s chair reading People Magazine and wait to hear the bad news. Last week, after the dental assistant deemed it would be too difficult to remove the tarter from teeth with only a hand tool, I became one of the first patients at their office to experience the TarterTron 6000. It felt…unusual! It removed all of my tarter and my most of my senses.

I go back on Friday. I have two cavities to be filled, and one of them is an old filling that leaked. It’s going to be the best day ever! Until the gum surgery, of course.

My daughter will not make the same mistakes I made. That is why we brush all seven of her teeth every night. She better not need braces, or these wisdom teeth are never coming out.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Classic card of the week

Greg Lloyd, NFL A1 Masters of the Grill series

Mmmmmmm, it smells delicious! What is Greg Lloyd cooking up today?

Onion wine sauce? Nice! In my opinion, there is nothing better to do on a beautiful day -- one in which the sky is so blue that it seems to go on forever -- than go over to Greg Lloyd’s house for a barbeque. Greg Lloyd is the type of guy who will toss on his football jersey, an apron, an oven mitt, and a chef’s hat, and invite the entire neighborhood to his house as he cooks a marinade for some delicious steak. (You have to bring the steak though.) There, you can sit in his backyard, admire the vines growing up his gorgeous white lattice, and listen to Greg Lloyd recount graphic stories of grabbing other dudes’ testicles during football games. This is a rite of springtime for all of Greg Lloyd’s neighbors.

Because Greg Lloyd is much more than just a recipe for onion wine sauce, let us consult Wikipedia to discover other details of his personality:

In 2001, Lloyd was accused of sticking a gun in his son's mouth due to the 12-year old's bad grades in school, but two trials in 2004 ended in hung juries and a third was not pursued. In 2002, Lloyd pointed a gun at ex-wife Rhonda Lloyd's head, and he pleaded no contest to simple battery in 2004.

Well, nothing can ruin a Greg Lloyd barbeque quite like getting a C- in social studies. Also, if pointing a gun at a woman’s head is “simple battery,” then I don’t want to know what complicated battery is.

In Greg Lloyd’s defense, here he is, slaving over a hot grill all day, trying to provide onion wine sauce for his family and friends, and you have the nerve to not even study, and to bother him about relationship issues? I mean, c’mon. Even in this very picture, a neighbor of Lloyd’s had approached him in an attempt to get some extra sauce. Said Lloyd:

‘Sup, Bill. More sauce, huh? Margie told me you failed to file those expense reports at work last week. Now I’m gonna smile, because there’s people here. But tell me, what do you want in your mouth—this bottle of A1 steak sauce, or these tongs? Pick a hand.

Let us now return to Wikipedia for what may be my favorite athlete quote ever:

In 1991, Joe Namath then an analyst of NBC accused Lloyd of playing dirty, Lloyd responded by saying "Who is Joe Namath? This is a guy who, if he played in the league today, I'd probably just go hit him late and see what he did, just for the hell of it. Joe Namath can go to hell; he can kiss my ass."

I enjoy how Lloyd asks, “Who is Joe Namath?” rhetorically in an attempt to belittle him, as if Joe Namath isn’t one of the most famous football players ever and also in the Hall of Fame. That he goes on to defend Namath’s criticism of his alleged dirty play by claiming that he would play dirty against Namath is the stuff legends are made of. My favorite part though may be the implication that having Joe Namath kiss his butt supersedes eternal damnation. Joe Namath can go to hell. No, wait. Joe Namath can kiss my ass. Yeah, I said it.

In an attempt to reconcile, Joe Namath once showed up at a Greg Lloyd barbeque with a bowl of homemade potato salad. All was well until Lloyd discovered that Namath had used Miracle Whip instead of Hellman’s Original, and he responded by throwing Namath down a flight of stairs. It was the least-violent Greg Lloyd barbeque ever!

Did you know?
In many eastern cultures, onion wine sauce is believed to cure a hernia.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The security of marriage

Note: This column appears in the 11/4 issue of The Glendale Star and the 11/5 issue of the Peoria Times

I am as guilty as anyone as falling into a false sense of security occasionally. In this day and age, that can be bad news. Thankfully, in between checking fantasy scores and other people’s mundane status updates, I always make it a point to check my accounts online daily. A few weeks ago I noticed a fraudulent charge on my credit card account.

As I sat there with a quizzical look, muttering to myself, “What is this charge?” my wife, who is known in our family as “the investigator” for her innate ability to question everyone and everything to uncover the truth, reacted like a CIA operative. “What, what, what…TELL ME!” she said. I barely got the words out before she was locking the doors and windows, and questioning whether we should shred our files and flee the state for a few days.

My wife is always on guard. Whenever we are at the store and the cashier asks for our phone number, she jumps in to say that it’s unlisted, which it is, at her request. This hasn’t won us any cashier friends, but really -- why do they want a phone number? Sketchy. My wife always defaults to withholding information, to the point where I have to convince her that it’s okay to list our address when filing our taxes. At her behest, I recently blacked out with a permanent marker every relevant piece of information on an official document I sent to the state of Arizona. I don’t know why we even filled it out in the first place.

This particular charge was for almost $300, which was for an online purchase of snowboarding equipment. Our credit card company was very understanding, but they did want me to be absolutely sure that I did not make this purchase before marking it as fraud. I assured them that I am in my early 30s, have a one-year-old child, and live in Arizona. I’m not going snowboarding anytime soon.

They asked me if I wanted to be sent a new card. Had I been by myself, I probably would have opted to keep the card and monitor it closely, so I could save myself the hassle of having to cancel and then reinitiate all of our pre-set, automatic credit card charges. My wife, however, was adamant that I get a new card, so I did.

I tend to lean more towards giving people and situations the benefit of the doubt. She is skeptical about everyone and everything. We fall almost on opposite ends of the spectrum, but together we form a happy/skeptical medium. In this instance, with regards to our personal security, I am glad I deferred to her judgment.

A few days ago I received an email and a phone call from our credit card company. Someone had yet again tried to use our old card to make an almost $3,000 purchase.

It’s a sad, sad testament to society that our personal security is constantly at risk, but for that and many other reasons I’m glad I married the investigator. Now we wait, and hope that they catch that snowboarding cashier.