Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Note: This column appears in the 7/1 issue of The Glendale Star and the 7/2 issue of the Peoria Times

There was a guy who used to live next door to us. He never wore a shirt -– I literally saw him with a shirt on only once or twice –- and he always had a beer in his hand. Now, this would have been a hilariously endearing scenario were this a sitcom and not real life. Also, he stored his cement mixer (!) on our side of the front yard. Then one day he was gone. We later found out he had been arrested.

Before him, a family lived there. I never could quite figure out their infrastructure. The wife lived with her brother-in-law, and some cousins or something, and there were random children in and out. But everyone over the age of 12 smoked a pack a day, which they did in their backyard, and which delightfully wafted into our living room each evening.

Most recently a different family lived there. They avoided human contact at all cost, and would close their garage door before we could so much as wave to them. We saw them so infrequently that it took us the past two months to realize that they do not live there anymore. The other day my wife mentioned –- in all seriousness -– that we should be alert to any smells emanating from the house in case they are still inside.

On the other side of us lived a man and his father. They similarly avoided us, the son especially. I would say “Hi” and he would turn away. So that was fun. They left, too.

Now, nobody lives on either side of us. We are neighbor-less –- on an island in Arizona. Considering the previous occupants of those houses, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it’s not good, either. We live in between two vacant houses that do not get pest treatment. Or landscaping. Also, birds have moved in. Now whenever I take the recycling out, at least a dozen birds flutter out of an outdoor vent and I am forced to shield myself with cardboard and run for cover.

The economic circumstances that have created a high turnover of shirtless renters and those with no pride in ownership are beyond my control. I remain confident things will turn around in time. More disconcerting to me however, is the lack of community.

Forgive me if I am speaking only for my small block in northwest Peoria, but I get a sense that this persists throughout the Valley at large. Where I’m from neighbors had block parties, and pool parties, and you could go knock on their door when your mom ran out of eggs, and you all met in the street to talk on warm summer nights while the kids ran around. Here? Everyone seems to keep to themselves. Nobody comes out. Few even wave back. The only thing of note that has happened in our neighborhood in the past year is when we were attacked by dogs.

It’s sad that nobody lives on either side of us. It’s sadder that those who remain in the neighborhood remain inside. Maybe a recovering economy will result in more families moving in and searching for the same sense of community that we seek. But for now, it’s cold in this heat.

Because my yard's not big enough for a cement mixer, THAT'S WHY!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Getting Grilled About a Grill Cover

Scene 1:

I walk into Barbeque Worldto pick up a grill cover for my father-in-law, who is out of town and needs to protect his grill from the 115-degree heat. Before he left he had ordered the grill cover from Barbeque World, and asked me if I could pick it up. I said yes, of course. The previous night my mother-in-law called my wife to remind her about the grill cover, and earlier in the day he had texted me to ask if I could get the grill cover. I am aware of -- albeit a bit confused by -- how important this grill cover is to him

Jim, Barbeque World: Hey, can I help you with something?

Me: Yeah, hi. I need to pick up a grill cover for my father-in-law. He was here last week and put one on order to be picked up.

Jim: Oh. Uh, okay. What's the name?

Me: Tony ____.

Jim briefly checks a binder underneath the register, and finds nothing. He walks into a room in the back of the store, and walks back with nothing. I feel sorry for him immediately, and also for myself.

Jim: Ummm, do you know who he spoke with? We usually don't hold things like that for people. What probably happened is that what he wanted came in, because we just got a bunch of grill covers in the other day.

Me: I'm not really sure who he spoke with.

Jim: Do you know which cover he wanted?

Me: No, I thought it was here for pick up. He's out of town. Let me call him.

I call one of my father-in-law's 13 cell phones. It rings. And rings. The phone picks up. There are some random noises.

Tony: Hello?

Me: Hey, Dad!

Tony: Mikey! Baby! Oh boy, we gotta get that little girl of yours over here for some dinner and...

There is some fumbling. I assume he is on the Outerbridge Crossing, with a coffee in one hand, the phone on his shoulder, a different phone in the other hand with which he is cursing at Comcast Cable, and driving with his knees.

Tony: ...and uh, stuff her full of food, and...

He trails off.

Me: Dad?

Tony: Yeah...what a, what are you doing?

Me: Hey, yeah, I'm actually at the barbeque place right now and I just -

Tony: What barbeque place are you at?

Me: Barbeque World, on 75th and Jackson.

Tony: The one on uh, 75th and uh... Jackson Avenue?

Me: Yes. The one you told me to go to.

Tony: Barbeque World?

Me: Yes.

Tony: What place are you at? On 75th?

Me: Yes. Dad, so uh, I asked for your grill cover and they don't have anything here waiting for you, and the guy said -

Tony: Let me talk to the guy.

Me: Oh. Ummm, actually, do you remember who you spoke with, because -

Tony: Put the guy on the phone.

I am valiantly attempting not to put Jim in the position of talking to my father-in-law over the phone.

Me: Well there's a couple guys here, so if you remember who you spoke with, maybe one of them -

Tony: Maybe you can uh, put the guy on the phone and I can talk to him.

I hand the phone the Jim, giving him a sheepish, "Good luck -- this one's outta my hands now" look. He looks at me confused.

Jim: Uh, hello?...yes...uh huh...Barbeque World...ummm, on 75th and Jackson...yes...Barbeque World...okay...yeah.

Jim walks to the back room on my phone. I aimlessly walk around the store, pretending to look at grills. Then I move towards the back of store to find out what's going on.

Jim: Okay, does your grill have red buttons?...Like, red buttons for igniting?...Yes, your grill...But does it have red buttons?...Okay...Yes...Barbeque World...uh huh.

In the background I whisper loudly to Jim that the grill has three black burner knobs. He nods his head at me and gives me a grateful thumbs-up.

Jim: Alright, well we only have two covers for that kind of grill, so let me ask you this...Yep...Lemme just...Uh huh...Okay, is your grill flat on top, or does it angle upwards?...Yes, the top of the grill...I mean, is it flat on top, or does it like, angle upwards?...Okay, yeah...I mean, if you put something on top of your grill, will it fall off?

In the background I whisper loudly to Jim that grill cover is flat on top. He nods.

Jim: Okay, so no...yeah...okay, I know what grill cover you need, so I'm just going to...yeah...okay...okay...okay.

Jim is desperately trying to hand me back the phone, but each time as he's about to hand it to me he brings it back to his ear and says "okay" to appease my father-in-law, who is still talking. Finally he just hands it to me and walks away briskly. My father-in-law is still talking.

Me: Da-Dad, hey.

Tony: Mike? WHAT? I wasn't finished talking to him. I don't know, I just...I wasn't finished talking to him. Mike?

Me: Yes.

Jim walks past me back towards the register holding a box that contains the grill cover.

Tony: Mike, listen -- what does the grill cover look like?

Me: I don't know, Dad. It's in a box.

Tony: Oh. Is the box flat?

Me: ?

Me: Uh, yeah, the box is flat.

Tony: What color is the grill cover?

Me: What color is it? I don't know. It's in a box.

Jim overhears me and whispers loudly to me that it's black.

Me: It's black, Dad. He said it was black.

Tony: It's black? Okay, good. It should be black. It's black?

I see Jim scan it and the price loads to the register.

Me: And it's $39.95.

Tony: WHAT? Noooooo. Thirty-nine ninety-five? No. Tell him he's gotta do better than that.

Me: Uh, really?

Tony: Can you see if he can do better than that?

Me: Ummm, do you want me to negotiate for the grill cover?

Tony: Let me talk to him.

I have given up. I hand the phone back to Jim. He winces.

Jim: Hello?...uh, okay...uh huh...ummm...well, I guess I could give you the "fireman's discount"...10% off?...yeah?...okay...okay.

Jim does the thing again where he tries to hand the phone back to me, but can't.

Jim: I'm just gonna..hand the phone back now...to him.

I take the phone, unsure whether or not my father-in-law just told Jeremy that he was a firefighter.

Me: Dad?

Tony: Yeah, Mike. I got the discount.

Me: I know.

Tony: It's gonna be 10%. That's okay, for now.

I am unsure whether this means that he will attempt to get additional discounts upon his return, but do not doubt it.

Tony: Okay, so uh, I hope that the grill cover fits, because if it doesn't, I'm sorry but I'm gonna need you to return it. Because, ya know, it uh, it needs to fit on the grill.

Me: No problem. I'll test it out this weekend, probably tomorrow.

Tony: It's just because, it needs to fit.

Me: Yes. I'll try it tomorrow.

Tony: Okay. Is that all?

Me: Yep, I think that's it.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Classic card of the week

Joe Ferguson, 1974

Recently, for some reason, I have been getting the type of positive feedback which seems to confirm that my chosen path in life –- making fun of old sports cards on a blog that very few people read, for free –- is indeed my life’s calling. This has been both surprising and humbling.

Last week though I received an email that blew my mind. It was from Mike in Chicago, whose wife had discovered an old football card lying on the ground on the corner of Racine & Van Buren and, as Mike puts it, thought of me. So, Mike attached the card to the email, and let me say this:

That at least one person in the middle of freakin’ Chicago thinks of me when they see an old beat-up sports card is, for me, a compliment of the highest order. That Mike’s wife took the initiative to pick this thing up –- without gloves, I assume -– and that Mike then took the initiative to send it my way is, for me, the culmination of a lifetime of hard, albeit questionable work. Because, as Mike notes: “From all appearances, this card has been lying in that gutter since 1974.” God bless you Mike and Mike’s wife.

Anyway, on with the show:

Joe has all the tools to make a good pro quarterback.

According to the accompanying cartoon, the tools necessary to make a good pro quarterback are a saw and hammer. I can take this statement quite literally as there is no reference as to the tools necessary to be a good pro quarterback (i.e., a good arm, nails, poise, and an industrial-sized sander). Nevertheless I had always assumed that the best way to make a good pro quarterback would involve either a) the relentless pressure and force of a loving father blindly determined to see his failed dreams realized through his offspring, or b) sex with a good pro quarterback. But Joe Ferguson proves you can just make one in your garage. And that is why quarterbacks don’t have souls.

Joe became Bills’ starting quarterback in rookie season of 1973. Possessed with a fine arm, he made All-Southwest Conference Team.

Both Mike and myself thoroughly enjoy the implication from this statement that the Bills reside in the Southwest Conference. Unfortunately, like the Bills, the Southwest Conference no longer exists, and all evidence of Joe Ferguson’s fine collegiate arm are now on tour with the Dead Sea Scrolls, and can only be viewed at predetermined locations for a small fee.

But enough about Joe Ferguson, am I right? I am in the mood to play a football game! Luckily for me, there is a football game on the back of this very card:

“Runner breaks tackle” good for 16 YARD GAIN
Field goal – No good

Wow, that was fun! Wait, what happened? Am I on offense or defense? Why did we kick a field goal after a 16-yard gain? Was it third-and-20? Who’s calling the shots here? What’s the score? Can I call a timeout? I would like to call a timeout. Where is everyone? This game is awesome!!!

Did you know?
In Buffalo, this card -- in near mint condition -- can be brought to any real estate office in exchange for an average single-family home.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Blog announcement!


I have an announcement! No, seriously.

I am extremely excited and honored to now be a contributing writer for the fabulous blog The Baseball Card Blog. It's creator and founder and CEO and treasurer Ben Henry does a fabulous job and I am truly humbled at the opportunity to join him in his quest for world supremacy.

For now I will be posting classic card-type material on The BBC Blog weekly, and exclusively. So those posts will not appear here. So...you will have to venture over there should you desire to further feed your insatiable appetite for silly card write-ups and also to check out Ben's own fine work.

First post should be up there in the next day or so. Please support my attempt to extend my reach on these here interwebs, and while you're at it -- become a fan on facebook! It's the only contemporary way to express your interests to others who couldn't care less!

***End announcement***

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

How 'hopefully-soon-to-be' came to be

Note: This column appears in the 6/24 issue of The Glendale Star and the 6/25 issue of the Peoria Times

You know how you always have a picture in your mind of what someone is going to look like before you meet them? Usually we soon discover that those visual images were way off.

When my wife and I began the process of foster care with the hopes of adopting, our agency asked us to write down our ideal scenario, right down to the details. We both preferred, if ever given the opportunity, to adopt a baby girl, and any other detail seemed silly considering it was all make believe anyway. Nevertheless we listed an ethnicity, age, personality attributes…all that. Our excitement at imagining this was tempered by the reality that things almost definitely wouldn't happen that way. After all, foster care has more horror stories than fairy tales.

If you had asked me to describe what our daughter was going to look like, I couldn't have told you. But I nevertheless had a distinct picture of her in my mind. So when we walked into that room on a late November morning and met her for the first time, I mean…it was her. Amazingly, it was her.

She was now our hopefully-soon-to-be-daughter. In our hearts she was our daughter from the moment we were made aware of her, but things need to be put to paper in this world. Our reservations as to when, and how, and if this would officially happen were a result of silly superstitions, our deep familiarity with the system and a general east-coast-imbedded skepticism. That everyone involved viewed this as a seamless transition proved more disconcerting to us than reassuring. We would take nothing for granted and we wouldn't rest easy for an indefinite amount of time.

The process of making things official did little to quell our concerns, as people move slowly or not at all within a system that moves slowly or not at all. Meanwhile we were raising our daughter and watching her make real a story we had made up. Still, and more so with each passing day, the thought of the unthinkable was always in the back of our minds.

Luckily for us, our allies in the process overcame our obstacles. Last week we officially became parents of our daughter. When the judge issued his decree, a feeling rushed over us like a wave of relief and joy and peace. All of our doubts -- though so real at the time -- seem so unwarranted in retrospect. She was, after all, always our daughter.

Why things work out the way they do is beyond my explanation. Nobody gave her a name when she was born, and now she is the center of our universe. She has big brown eyes and smiles all the time and looks like my wife. Go figure.

I can't help but think back to that day years ago in a conference room in Phoenix, filling out paperwork about an imaginary person. What would be your ideal scenario? That I can now say "this" is extraordinarily humbling and amazing. We are resting easy.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Classic card of the week

Jeff Fassero, 1993 Topps

Here is Jeff Fassero, Major League Baseball pitcher. Now, believe it or not, Jeff Fassero was not always a Major League Baseball pitcher, because he used to be a child. He is like most of us in that respect. But even as a child, Jeff Fassero liked baseball. So the question remains: Before he became a Major League Baseball pitcher, where, oh where, did Jeff Fassero hone his baseball skills?

Participated in Khoury, Pony, Mickey Mantle, Connie Mack and Thoroughbred Amateur Baseball Programs during youth.

What in the heck? An easier way to say this, in my opinion, would have been: Played Little League. Which, I suppose, is assumed anyway when you’re holding the card of a man who made it to the big leagues. Because, ya’ know, that is a lot of “amateur baseball programs” right there, and like half of them are types of horses, which is weird.

More importantly, how does a youth manage to participate in so many youth baseball programs? In my formative years I played for the East Brunswick Baseball Managers Little League, for like, my entire childhood. We were the Dodgers. Every year. Same kids on the team, same coaches, same fat kid who batted cleanup and had to wear a different and darker colored shirt than the rest of us because the regular one didn’t fit. Now granted, I did not possess that Fassero-type talent that would have had me advancing to such esteemed amateur programs as Thoroughbred (?), but still. It just makes me wonder if one Mr. Fassero wasn’t the sort of sports-dad that America loves.

Mr. Fassero: I don’t like the way they do things here in Khoury. How do you not bunt with no outs and a runner on first in the fifth inning of a scoreless game? I mean, how? Pack your bags, Jeff –- we’re going to Pony.

Jeff Fassero: What? But dad, Billy plays in the Khoury league! We’ve been best friends since Kindergarten!

Mr. Fassero: Billy? Pfftt. That kid couldn’t field a grounder if his uniform were made of Velcro.

Jeff Fassero: I don’t think a baseball would stick to Velcro, dad.

Mr. Fassero
: You’re grounded.

Mr. Fassero: This Pony league is for kids!

Jeff Fassero
: I know, dad. That’s their motto: The Pony League is for kids.

Mr. Fassero
: Screw that. You’re too good for this nonsense. We’re going big time. Ever hear of Mickey freakin’ Mantle?

Jeff Fassero
: We’re going to Disney World?!

Mr. Fassero
: How are you my son?

Mr. Fassero: This league has no competition! Or snack bar!

Fall, 1975
Headline in local newspaper: “Fassero K’s seven in Connie Mack debut, father tossed

Mr. Fassero: Do you know what happened yesterday, son?

Jeff Fassero: Yeah, you embarrassed me in front of everyone.

Mr. Fassero: No. Yesterday, you became a Thoroughbred.

Okay, that was fun. Even more fun however, I think, would be compiling a list of teams and youth baseball programs that Jeff Fassero has played for. All of my Simpsons-fan brethren should derive further enjoyment by beginning this list with the phrase: “I’ve sold monorails to…”

Mickey Mantle
Connie Mack
Johnson City
St. Petersburg
St. Louis
San Francisco

Did you know?
The demise of the Colonial Spanish Horse Amateur Baseball Program of Chicago occurred as a result of the mismanagement of Isiah Thomas.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why I’m doubting my benefits of a doubt

Note: This column appears in the 6/17 issue of The Glendale Star and the 6/18 issue of the Peoria Times

I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. For example, if somebody were to do something that I found to be weird, utterly stupid, or wrong in a way that would indicate a general incompetence, I would do my best to not allow that to, initially, adversely affect my opinion of that person’s character.

My wife is the opposite. If somebody does something that she finds to be suspect –- and we’re differentiating here between honest miscues and that special brand of idiocy mixed with laziness -- best believe she will dip into her bag of profanities and pass immediate judgment on that person’s motives and character. (Not necessarily to them directly, but definitely to me.) Being Italian and from Brooklyn and reactionary anyway, there are times when I think she jumps to conclusions. But the sad thing is -- she’s usually right.

Now you are undoubtedly saying to yourself, “What is he referring to and is he talking about me?” Ha, ha! Don’t be silly. Yes, I am talking about you. But “you” are hypothetical.

Let’s say for example that I, a human being, need your assistance. Not because I otherwise couldn’t do something myself, but because your assistance is required by, let’s say, the State of Arizona. Now, what I am attempting to do is extremely important and directly influences the lives and well-being of many people, including myself. You: don’t care. So, in attempting to accomplish my goal, I send you an email. You: don’t respond.

It is at this point that I would typically give you the benefit of the doubt, acknowledging that you are most likely very busy. My wife is less sympathetic. Nevertheless, I am now forced to contact you more directly because I need you to do something that you are required by your position to do, and honestly, should have already done. You: after a lengthy delay, do it wrong and then, send the wrong thing to the wrong address.

This process repeats itself, to the point where I have rallied an entire team of supporters to assist me in the simple act of urging you to do what you are supposed to be doing anyway, and then, to correct what you have done. My wife then uses me as the sounding board for her own frustrations with the situation, reminding me what she thought about you from the get-go.

Now obviously, this is a hypothetical example. But I think we all know people who employ similar strategies of, “I will only do something if and when I absolutely have to and then I will do it wrong” and “I will simply pretend we never had this conversation” and “I am literally trying to get fired” and “Your tax dollars pay my salary -– enjoy my indifference.” These are, unfortunately as I have come to find, the realities of life.

I am, therefore, lately doubting the liberal use of my benefits of the doubt. Plus my wife is running out of “I told you so’s.” (Not really, but still.) So, I mean, c’mon -– we may not all enjoy our jobs or even our lots in life, but we have an obligation to be something better than a person who doesn’t care. I’d like to be right about you just once.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Classic card quickie

Dusty Baker, 1987 Topps

Things that future manager Dusty Baker is saying to his teammates behind him as he watches batting practice back in 1986:

See, I would have bunted in that situation.

Somebody get me a toothpick. I can’t think.

Is that Skip out there throwin’ BP? Man, he’s got a rubber arm. What’s he at, 300 pitches? I say we leave him out there to pitch to the other team.

What's that? How come I’M not out there? Shoot, man…I woke up on my left side this morning, which usually means I got a couple hits in me. Don’t wanna mess that up.

Somebody needs to get that kid off the field, or he’s gonna get hurt! Where’s his father?

The best part about batting practice is that nobody is out there cloggin’ up the bases.

Look at Gallego out there in this heat. He looks like he’s gonna melt.

That's all I got.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Classic card of the week

Bob Welch, 1990 Score

I would recognize those fingers anywhere. Those are Bob Welch’s fingers, aren’t they?

Indeed they are. And whether they’re strumming the guitar or are painfully stretched across a baseball, those famous fingers have provided inspiration for many. Let’s find out more:

Success Is A Split-Finger

Above our bed hangs a framed photo of Bob Welch’s fingers that contains this famous saying. I bought it at the Things Remembered in the Brunswick Square Mall in 1998. Every morning when I wake up I look at it and say to myself, “Mike, success is a split-finger.” And then I go out into the world and split-finger my way around. For me, split-finger is a metaphor for love, but I do, every chance I get, throw split-fingered fastballs at lunchtime to no one in particular. All of this has played a role in my immense success.

Bob always had an excellent high, rising fastball, a hard, overhand curve and a split-fingered fastball (see front of card).

I did! I usually look at the front first anyway, but thanks!

But in 1990, he concentrated more on his split-finger than he had in the past. “It has made a difference with him,” said A’s pitching coach Dave Duncan. “The pitch has kept those lefthanded hitters off him.”

“Get off of me, lefthanded hitter!” is what Bob Welch would often yell before throwing a split-fingered fastball to a lefthanded hitter. And with that, lefthanded hitters never bothered Bob Welch ever again.

Called the pitch of the 80’s, the split-fingered fastball has made winners out of such pitchers as Bruce Sutter, Jack Morris, Mike Scott, and Orel Hershiser, to name a few.

Congratulations to Bob Welch for deciding to start throwing “the pitch of the 80’s” in 1990. It threw everybody off, so to speak. Also, fyi: the pitch of the 90’s was the steroid fastball and the pitch of the 2000’s was the hanging forkball.

For the record, Roger Clemens also threw a split-fingered fastball, which Tim McCarver derived immense pleasure from calling “Mr. Splitty.” This would always make its way into McCarver’s “Keys to the Game,” which usually read something like:

Keys to the game:
Mr. Splitty?
Remember last Tuesday
Shish Kabobs

Then McCarver would strain to explain all of this while I tried to watch baseball. Anyway, it is uncertain whether Bob Welch’s split-fingered fastball had a name, but may I submit: “Splits McGlits.” It rolls right off the tongue.

Did you know?
Bob Welch also had a face.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Is it not hot in here or is it me? Family edition

Note: This column appears in the 6/10 issue of The Glendale Star and the 6/11 issue of the Peoria Times

We have family in town for the next couple of weeks. This is not new –- our family visits us quite frequently -- so normally, this occasion would not be column-worthy. But this time is a bit different, for several reasons.

One factor that sets this visit apart is the amount of family that is here. Now that my in-laws have a house here, there is virtually no limit on the amount of people that will accompany them to Arizona. The word from back east is that every person that my father-in-law has informed about his new digs has also been cordially invited to stay there anytime. On this occasion, many have taken him up on the offer.

That includes my wife’s aunt and uncle, and their twin daughters. Now, for the men visiting, this trip is less about seeing us and more about their annual golf outing, so their excitement about being here is already through the roof. My wife’s uncle in particular – who works in the public school system in New York City and is literally counting the days until his retirement so he can move to Arizona, even (or: especially?) if he has to leave his own family behind –- can barely contain himself. Also here visiting is my father-in-law’s accountant, because, well, he’s Italian and he was invited. And obviously it’s not really a party until your CPA arrives.

(My wife’s cousins are staying with us. They are 20-years old, from Staten Island, and manage their tans year-round. Each of them has more friends on Facebook than people I have met in my entire life. It should be interesting to watch them adjust to our nightly routine of watching HGTV and being in bed by 9:30.)

The other mitigating factor that sets this trip apart is that they’re all here during the summer. In the past, if we so much as informed my mother-in-law over the phone of the temperature outside she would let out an audible gasp, nearly pass out, and remind us, again, that she’d never be here in the summer. And last week my wife’s uncle told us to “not even mention the heat” to his wife. So much of this visit will be spent pretending it’s not hot out, all while my wife’s cousins bake and sizzle on beach towels in the background.

Of course, the major attraction –- and the only person I know capable of motivating my mother-in-law to brave the desert summer –- is our hopefully-soon-to-be-daughter. My in-laws have been chomping at the bit to be with her again, and everyone else just met her for the first time. Everything she does is met with rousing applause and the popping of the cork of the nearest bottle of wine.

The next two weeks will include two houses full of loud Italians, euphoric from vacation, golf, a new family member, and the possibilities of the future -- not to mention the beginning of Italy’s defense of its World Cup title -– all among the 114-degree elephant in the room. It will be difficult to assess the damage, but that is why they brought an accountant.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Classic card of the week

Mark Langston, 1990 Score “Dream Team”

Mark Langston was the Mona Lisa of left-handed pitchers, and so it is appropriate that only the most artistic rendition of his likeness would suffice as an introduction to the man himself. As we will soon discover upon flipping this card/painting over, Mark Langston was also an exclusive member of some sort of intangible “Dream Team,” and so if you have ever dreamed about left-handed pitcher Mark Langston -– which I most certainly have –- then you are aware that this is exactly what he looks like in dream form. Which is to say, dreamy.

But besides a breathtaking portrait, I think that any conversation about left-handed pitcher Mark Langston should begin with an anecdote that fully captures his brilliance and bravery on the field of battle:

Mark Langston
Lefthanded Pitcher

Remember –- that is who we are talking about. Okay, here we go…

In his second start for the Expos,

So many heroic stories have started in this way…

Mark loaded the bases with no one out in the eighth inning of a 1-1 game.

Disaster. No way out. Game over. Everybody go home. But here’s the thing –- and this is just something I have always believed –- they don’t make portraits of people who give up.

Manager Buck Rodgers looked to the bullpen for a strikeout pitcher and realized his best SO man was on the mound.

Not abbreviating “strikeout “ and then abbreviating “strikeout” makes this sentence very weird. Nevertheless, when Buck Rodgers is your manager you can rest assured that proper realizations will be met, and swashbuckling adventures will ensue. Also, do you want to know who was not on the Dream Team? The Expos bullpen.

Langston went on to strike out the side. The Expos eventually won the game.

Roll credits. I hope you have a much greater appreciation for what left-handed pitcher Mark Langston means to America. Or, in this case, Canada.

Besides superlative strikeout statistics

Art on the front and alliteration in the rear should be the goal of all aspiring great baseball cards.

and invaluable innings pitched,


Mark supplied a winning presence, which close followers of the Expos had rarely seen in the team’s 21 years.

Hmmm, winning presence you say? I am interested to see how this winning presence manifested itself into wins.

The Expos were 23-23 when Mark was acquired from the Mariners on May 25, 1989.

For Randy Johnson, btw, who winning presence’d himself right into the Hall of Fame.

They were 63-44 on August 3.

From this information I can infer that during that span, Mark Langston won all of his starts, and in the other games that he did not participate in –- which would be about 80 percent of them –- used his winning presence to influence his team to win. Except for the 21 games that the team lost during this stretch.

The Montreal Expos were so impressed with left-handed pitcher Mark Langston’s winning presence that they allowed him to depart for the California Angels following the 1989 season. Apparently there was, after all, a value on his invaluable innings pitched. But Expos fans will always have this portrait of Mark Langston, which is nice, because they no longer have the Expos.

Did you know?
The Mark Langston wing of The Guggenheim was briefly closed for repairs following a 2002 scaffold accident.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

My dreams of being tanner fade to white

Note: This column appears in the 6/3 issue of The Glendale Star and the 6/4 issue of the Peoria Times

I have this complex that makes me feel that, because I live in Arizona, I should always be tan.

Even as we planned to move here, I envisioned myself living the life of a perpetually tan person. Ah yes, when people came to visit us, or when we made trips home, my skin tone would match that of George Hamilton, and I would regale stories to loved ones about how we go hiking all the time, and how we enjoy lounging by the pool, and -- am I really that tan? Wow, I hadn’t even noticed.

Of course, my tan plan hasn’t always worked to perfection. Plus I’ve come to realize that I was not the only person who planned on me being a darker shade of Caucasian. When we traveled back east last fall, my wife’s aunt, upon seeing me for the first time in like a year, said, “What happened? I thought you’d be tanner, living in Arizona.” To this I was tempted to respond, “Yes, I do live in Arizona. But I’m not a lifeguard. I work in an office. And five months out of the year I cannot venture outside for more than three minutes lest I melt like the Wicked Witch of the West. Also, I was a little tan yesterday, but lost it when the plane experienced turbulence. But thank you for noticing.” I get a little defensive.

You see, I am Irish. My natural skin tone resembles that of a seventeenth-century British aristocrat. It doesn’t help that my lovely wife is Italian –- her olive complexion in direct contrast to mine. But upon moving to the Valley of the Sun, I planned to compensate by soaking up as much of that sun as possible.

This often involved little to no protection. When I originally ventured out here with my father-in-law –- also, coincidentally, Italian -– to look at houses, we spent some down time by the pool. Not realizing who I was, he purchased SPF 4 tanning oil for the both of us. Wanting to embark on my future as a tan person, I didn’t argue. Somebody who did want to argue however was my wife, upon our return home, with me, as a result of my pinkish hue and the full body aloe bath that I now required.

And I only kind of learned my lesson there. My wife forces me to use SPF 70 sun block, which actually makes me paler than before I went outside. So sometimes -– if I’m just going outside for, ya’ know, five minutes –- I will skip the lotion. Inevitably my wife will notice my bright red “tan” lines later and say, “Hmmm, did you put on sun block before?” And I will say, sheepishly, “Yes?” And she will nod her head in disappointment.

This is of course shamefully egotistical and very dangerous. I should take a cue from my own father –- also, coincidentally, Irish. He has to see a dermatologist once a week and he’s only allowed to go outside 10 days per year, and when he does he has to coat himself in medicated paint. He’s like a vampire now. (Side note: He can still drink though!)

So I’m starting to realize that I will never be George Hamilton, who is a wrinkled shade of orange now, by the way. So be it. This is me America –- I am pale, and hairy, and require SPF 70 just to get the mail. Besides, living in Arizona and being darker aren’t exactly a match made in heaven these days.

Good night everyone!

"A great beach-read!"
-- George Hamilton