Thursday, October 28, 2010

Classic card of the week

Jerome Kersey, 1993-94 Topps Stadium Club

Here is Jerome Kersey executing a slam-dunk. Feel the excitement. Undoubtedly, point guard Rod Strickland has driven the lane, thus drawing multiple defenders, and subsequently dished off to a wide open Jerome Kersey, who was standing on the block, and who then proceeded to jump as high as six inches in the air in order to dunk uncontested while letting out a half-hearted scream of dominance. Clear this area which has already been cleared! Jerome Kersey’s ‘bout to get his dunk on!

There are a few interesting things going on with this card. And by “interesting,” I mean stupid. For starters, the font of the “K” on the front makes it look like an “H,” so the uninformed onlooker may feel as though he or she was just dunked on by a man named Hersey. Hersey Johnson. Hersey Johnson is a person I made up, but who I Googled for fun and who I discovered is, among other things, one half of a charcoal grey sweatshirt-making team. Luckily for me, I grew up idolizing Portland Trailblazers power forwards, and so I knew it was Jerome Kersey the whole time.

Please also notice on the bottom left a weird, compass-type thingee that contains the letters “HC” and also other alphabetical letters, like “G” and “O” and “U.” It’s uncertain if even more letters are there but have simply run off into the black background, which could be a graphic error, or a clue, and if you use a magnifying glass with 3-D plastic glasses, you will uncover the code that reveals that Jerome Kersey urges you to drink your Ovaltine.

It is also uncertain what the freakin’ heck these letters mean, but if anyone has any ideas, please let me know because it’s honestly starting to bother me. The “HC Compass” is also contained on the back of the card, minus the other letters. It’s unfortunate that no one was using their creative compass when creating this compass, and stopped to say, “Wait—this compass makes no sense!” I mean, I don’t want to make too much out of this, but this compass has ruined my day. A nonsensical compass on a Jerome Kersey basketball card has ruined my day.

In fact, I was thinking about it, and the only possible thing I can think of that would cheer me up would an upside-down night-vision image of Jerome Kersey. Why? I don’t know. I guess I just think it would be kinda cool, and would definitely take my mind off the compass for a while. Alas, where in the world would I-

What? Is that what I think…


Did you know?
The Predator version of Jerome Kersey is much more aggressive when urging children to drink their Ovaltine. He sort of demands it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How a mortgage broke, almost -- a not-so-funny tale

Note: This column appears in the 10/28 issue of The Glendale Star and the 10/29 issue of the Peoria Times

Talking about mortgages is not fun, or funny. Whenever a friend or acquaintance attempts to become involved in a conversation about mortgages, interest rates, or anything involving finances, my strategy is to draw upon enough acquired knowledge to prove that I am not an idiot, and then make a forced and ill-timed joke in an attempt to steer the conversation back to an inane topic, like sports or celebrity gossip. You know who should refinance? David Arquette! What a jerk, huh?

If there is anything worse than talking about mortgages -- besides, of course, having one -- it’s reading about them. Please consider a forthcoming column that even I wouldn’t read evidence of my immense frustration.

Like many Americans, we have watched our home and greatest asset depreciate in value exponentially. This has been wonderful, especially since we purchased our home at the peak of good economic times, and committed to a high interest rate. In this respect, moving to Arizona was like a crazy night in Vegas, in that we were down $50,000 before we unpacked our bags. (I hear that moving to Vegas three years ago was also like a crazy night in Vegas, as their housing market is no better than ours.)

The good news is that we love it here, and have been content to wait in the hope that things will turn around economically. While we wait, we thought it would be a nice idea to try and refinance, as we had watched interest rates plummet. In the meantime, friends and acquaintances foreclosed, or strategically foreclosed, and the squatting epidemic became national news.

We wanted to go about things the best way we knew how. We were fortunate enough to still be able to pay our mortgage, but thought we could earn a new rate. My humble attempts to go about this were met with roadblocks and misinformation, but I didn’t give up, because I am the hero of this story. A hero who wants to save $300 per month.

Throughout this entire mortgage crisis, I always felt a little bad for the banks. The way I figured, it’s easy to blame an institution, a “bank,” but it’s more difficult to blame people -- people with families. It’s easier to blame a business philosophy and those who took part in it than to trace that philosophy back to its roots, where it becomes more complicated to pinpoint fault.

I do not feel bad for the banks anymore.

Eventually, I made progress with our bank. We had our home appraised, which was humbling, yet it placed us in the bank’s arbitrary window to refinance. We worked out a good rate, and we were on our way.

Or so I thought. First they sent paperwork with incorrect names. Then they lied about sending the corrected paperwork, and only “resent” it after I insisted. It took weeks for them to respond to any issue. As the projected closing date approached and then passed, they stopped answering their phones and returning emails. Here we were, trying to go about things the right way. A major, national bank chose the teenage-jilted-lover route, and just didn’t answer their phone. Nice.

After locking in a 90-day rate, pretty much the next time we heard from them was 92 days later, when they informed us that they had input the wrong property address in their system. Ya’ know, small detail. After three months of waiting for them to get their act together, the bank needed us to close in two days.

Your hero closed, thanks in no part to the bank itself. Even after ultimately succeeding, I can see why our country is in its present financial state. If you ask me, it's not very funny.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Classic card of the week

Christian Laettner, 1993 Classic Games, Inc.

Here is another installment of Classic Games, Inc’s immensely popular and relevant “Four-Sport Collection.” Featured here is famous four-sport athlete Christian Laettner, who besides excelling at basketball, was also an offensive lineman for the Chicago Bears, a jockey (who once, it should be mentioned, almost rode Butter Purplefingers -- a thoroughbred owned by trainer D. Wayne Lucas -- to glory at the Belmont Stakes), and a competitive dancer who was featured in the independent film, “You Got Served.”

Today however, we focus on basketball. Laettner, seen here dribbling intensely with slicked-back hair, was dubbed “The Professor” while at Duke, for his entertaining brand of streetball and also because, when he received enough college credits, he actually taught an introductory course on French Literature. But let us see what else this card has to say:

Christian Laettner helped Minnesota tremendously during the 1992-93 season

The 1991-92 Minnesota Timberwolves finished 15-67. The 1992-93 Minnesota Timberwolves finished 19-63. So, in this particular case, “tremendously” = four wins, assuming that no carryover players improved, and no new players sans Laettner contributed anything positive. I think this is a fair assumption. I am good at assumptions.

Laettner quieted all critics who doubted he could perform at the power forward position in pro basketball.

Indeed, Laettner’s 18-plus points per game and spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie Team were impressive, especially for a honky. And therein lie, I believe, the foundation of the skepticism with regards to Laettner’s NBA potential: Could this Caucasian from Duke, where he had succeeded immensely at playing basketball, play basketball? Many thought he should focus on football, where there was less of a chance of him getting pushed around by bigger, more culturally diverse men. Even his own family was skeptical of his choices. On NBA Draft day in ‘92, in an emotionally charged interview with Ahmad Rashad, who had posed the simple non-question, “You must feel great,” Laettner’s mother said, while wiping away tears, “We raised him to dance and/or ride horses. But Christian’s going to do what he wants to do, and I have to support that.”

Under the leadership of Timberwolves coach Sidney Lowe, Laettner and his teammates could combine to make a serious run in the Western Conference.

That depends what you mean by “run.” If you mean, literally, that they could, if everything broke just right, run up and down the basketball court with serious faces on -- which is something Laettner himself excelled at, obviously -- then yes, this would be a feasible statement. I mean sure, their 19-63 record was a clear indication that the Timberwolves were poised for great things, and they did improve on that, albeit not tremendously, by going 20-62 the following season.

But then Lowe, unable to harness the raw potential of Laettner, and other greats like Thurl Bailey, and “Funk in the Trunk” creator J.R./Isaiah Rider, was, out of nowhere, fired, thus bringing to an end the great, serious, Western Conference run of the 1992-94 Minnesota Timberwolves.

Christian Laettner would eventually retire from all sports, even ones that he never played. He would, however, go on to improve his street cred by -- with the help of other Duke alum -- financing the development of an upscale community in North Carolina’s Brightleaf District. The original name of the development, inspired by former teammate J.R./Isaiah Rider’s brief musical career, was called, “Funk in the Trunk Meadows.” But they eventually, to the chagrin of me only, settled on “West Village.”

Did you know?
When Laettner was named to the 1992 USA Dream Team instead of favorite Shaquille O'Neal, it became the most important thing that never mattered in the first place, ever.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Washing my hands of washing my hands a lot

Note: This column appears in the 10/21 issue of The Glendale Star and the 10/22 issue of the Peoria Times

All of a sudden, my wife is on a mission to ensure that I wash my hands more often.

I’m sure this is at least partially based on the fact that we have a child. Indeed I’ve found myself -- when ill-prepared with resources I should have thought to have at my disposal -- wiping clean the runny nose of our daughter with my bare hands. I remain unconvinced, however, that my wife’s concern with my hand-cleanliness stems from a more general concern for my well being, rather than for her own well-being and that of the aforementioned child.

It has been suggested on several recent occasions that I wash my hands. If I maintain that I have washed my hands recently, the follow-up question is, “Did you use soap?” Most 32-year old men with a lifetime of hand-washing under their hypothetical belts would find this question insulting, although I have been known to simply run my hands under water as a means of rinsing them clean. So I usually relent and head shamefully to the nearest sink.

Even when I do use soap, however, that is often not enough. My wife recently read in one of her parenting/womanly/style magazines that many people do not wash their hands for a long enough period of time. Crisis! A good trick, this magazine insisted, is to say the alphabet as you wash your hands to ensure proper cleanliness. I do not know if this advice was aimed at the children or the disgusting, bumbling husbands of this publication’s readers, but I find it to be preposterous and inconvenient. I therefore protest by singing one verse of a song of my choice while washing up. So there.

One particular point of contention involves the dishes. Before I wash the dishes, of late, my wife has inquired as to whether or not I have washed my hands. Because I consider washing the dishes an indirect form of hand-washing, I do not think it is necessary to do so, as I believe that washing your hands before washing your hands is going a bit overboard. My wife’s counterpoint is that, “We eat with those dishes!” I tell her that I did not drag my hands through mud as I traveled from the table to the sink. We go back and forth like that until I ultimately, because I never win, wash my hands.

Because she works with kids all day, my wife is dedicated to remaining disinfected. I suppose I could become more of a germaphobe myself if I really tried. Whenever I see those commercials where normally invisible germs become a green fog, and travel from child-to-child-to-keyboard-to-adult-to-deathbed, I tell myself that I should probably wash my hands more often. But then I figure, “Whatever. I’ve made it this far.”

Though some may argue with my hygienic habits, one thing I am most certainly not is wasteful. When the straw in one of our soap dispensers can no longer reach the soap, but there is still some soap left in there, I have been known to add some water to mix it. Sure, this dilutes it, but it saves us some soap.

Last week I added water to a small bottle of hand sanitizer that we have in the kitchen. My wife went to use this, while asking me if I was going to wash my hands as we had both just teamed up to clean the extremely runny nose of our little girl. She pushed down the pump and a mix of water and hand sanitizer went all over her clothes.

The way I figured it, at least now she wouldn’t need to wash her shirt.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Classic card of the week

Junior Ortiz, 1985 Topps

No doubt this gorgeous, professional swing produced a grand slam home run for Junior Ortiz! That, or an opposing player has grabbed the other end of Ortiz’s bat with plans to drag him around the infield as retribution for an earlier insult.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. And here it is, the thing that you are thinking: Sure, Junior Ortiz likes to play baseball during the summertime. Who doesn’t?! But I wonder what he does during winter months?

Excellent, excellent question. I was wondering the same exact thing.

Junior is a graduate of Ana Rogue (Puerto Rico) High School.

This is valuable information. Especially the part about Puerto Rico. For a second there I thought they were talking about the Australian Ana Rogue, who was infamous for her stance on less education and who also hoarded and abused ferrets. That, or “Ana Rogue” is Spanish for “Puerto Rico,” which is already Spanish and which, if accurate, you would think I would have been aware of by now. Nevertheless, this information brings us no closer to discovering what Junior Ortiz does in January.

He plays baseball in winter months.

This is just…I mean…so you’re saying that he…what?! Junior Ortiz plays baseball during summer months and also during winter months? Man, that guy must love baseball! I bet winter months in Ana Rogue are like summer months in Neuva York! Ha, ha! Seasons are crazy sometimes. Anyway, speaking of Junior Ortiz and Puerto Rico and the Mets, let’s take a peak at the baseball trivia quiz…

Which player has played the most times on a losing All-Star squad?

The answer to this question is Brooks Robinson. Other acceptable answers are “Who freakin’ cares?” and “Junior Ortiz.”

Because the only information contained about Junior Ortiz on his baseball card is that he has a high school education and likes baseball, and also that thing about Brooks Robinson, let us travel elsewhere for information:

Ortiz himself suffered one of the more interesting injuries when he had to sit out a game after stepping on a papaya.

Standing next to him at the time was a man wearing a bumblebee costume and three scantily clad females wearing giant fruit hats -- which is how the papaya got loose, obviously -- and everybody was dancing to Menudo. I mean hey, these things happen.

In August 1991, in the midst of a long slump, Ortiz changed his name to Joe, but changed his mind when his funk continued.

Makes sense. I mean, we’ve all been there -- stuck in a rut and thinking a swift name change could do the trick. If I were 2-for-my-last-45 and just stepped on a freakin’ papaya, I would change my name to Joe, too. And if it didn’t work? Change it back! It’s just a name. Nothing is written in stone.

He also named his son Junior, making him Junior, Jr.

So is this a Puerto Rican thing or what? I need to know. I guess it doesn’t really matter anyway, as after Junior, Jr. failed a vocabulary test at Winston Churchill (Puerto Rico) Elementary School, the entire family’s name was changed to “Bill.”

Did you know?

My great-grandfather once missed a very important Whiskey-drinking contest after he slipped on a potato near a Catholic church.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On Wonderpets and wondering how I got here

Note: This column appears in the 10/14 issue of The Glendale Star and the 10/15 issue of the Peoria Times

Things happen fast when you’re a parent. There’s not much time to reflect on what, exactly, is happening. Therefore, there are moments when you look around, and say to yourself, “Where am I, and how did I get here?” Once such moment occurred for me a couple of weekends ago, as I sat there on a Saturday afternoon, watching live Nickelodeon characters dance around and sing onstage.

We took our daughter to Arena to see Nickelodeon Live Storytime. (For those of you who follow the column, yes -- I returned to Westgate. They called me personally to apologize for the farmer’s market fiasco, explaining how they were forced to cancel last minute due to the heat and valiantly attempted to get the word out in time. Tip of the cap to them.) Considering it was the beginning of October, and still one thousand degrees outside thanks to “the summer that wouldn’t die,” I was happy to get her, and us, out of the house.

Sure, dozens of college football games were being broadcast at the time, but these are the sacrifices we make as parents. And truth be told, I was kind of excited, considering I watch these shows more intently than our daughter does, as she has the attention span of a squirrel. I was also intrigued to see how these cartoons would translate to a live performance.

Sure enough, there was a not-so-audible gasp when Kai-Lan came onstage as an actual person and not the cartoon version. It was palpable, the thoughts of hundreds of kids simultaneously saying, That’s not Kai-Lan! This enthralled me to no end, and I turned to my wife and said, “These kids are like, ‘Whaaaat?!’” She quietly but forcefully shushed me. Of course, it took about three seconds for real-life Kai-Lan to win the crowd over. Myself included. (By the way, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, it is probably because you are not a parent of a young child, and your brain hasn’t turned to mush, overrun with the theme songs of various, inane cartoons. Feel free to move along.)

The Backyardigans and Wonderpets were equally entertaining, but every kid in the building was there to see the headliner, Dora. It’s insane, really. Dora the Explorer is like the Beatles, if the Beatles were the most annoying band ever. I’m not a big Dora fan.

Luckily for me, our daughter is still too young to process these kinds of things. There were only a handful of moments that grabbed her attention for more than two seconds, and those were when a new character came out and when the lights went off. Otherwise, she spent her time climbing on and off the seats and trying to play with the girls of our good friend, who joined us for this grand event. So by the time Dora came out, our daughter was finished. Meltdown. So I went out with her to the concourse while Dora went through the forest and saved Boots and became a princess or whatever.

It’s funny, genuinely being able to say you had fun somewhere if only because your daughter had fun. Wait, did she have fun? I think so. Who knows. At least we got her out of the house.

Ni hao! That's Chinese for, "Texas is coming back against Oklahoma, how are you not watching this???!!!???!!!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Classic card of the week

Chris Zorich, 1991 NFL Pro Set

I don’t think that, as a society, we’ve given the half-shirt football jersey its just due.

We certainly can’t just pretend that this trend never happened. As evidenced here, the half-shirt football jersey was championed by such champions as Chris Zorich, who –- a quick Google image search will confirm –- didn’t rock the half-shirt during only practices and scrimmages. After all, 1990 LOMBARDI AWARD WINNERS aren’t typically shy about showing off their belly buttons.

Not that Zorich was the only one. The late 80s and early 90s witnessed a bevy of football players -– frustrated with layers upon layers of protective apparel that failed to adequately expose their natural physique -– paying homage to their most manly of man parts. That part being their stomach, so appealing to the opposite sex by virtue of the grizzled strip of hair leading from the belly button and down into an abyss of additional manhood.

In Zorich’s particular case, the half-shirt football jersey screamed, “I may be a nose tackle, but that doesn’t mean a have a gut. Check out my tummy!” And everyone did check out his tummy, unwittingly, each and every Saturday. This was a boost to not only female sensibilities, but also to male fans of teams like Notre Dame, which did not traditionally print names on the backs of jerseys. Who’s number 50? I have no idea, but I’d recognize that male landing strip anywhere!

Because the underage factory workers who produce and manufacturer Notre Dame football jerseys in a small village community off the Brazilian coast do not typically cut the jerseys in half for no apparent reason, Chris Zorich was forced to break out the scissors himself. This he did as a means of not only looking fabulous, but also to pay homage to past Notre Dame greats like Paul Hornung, and Rudy, who never thought they’d live to see a day where they wouldn’t be persecuted for playing football half-naked.

Let’s find out more.

I am immensely disappointed that Chris Zorich did not also rock the half-shirt tuxedo top, as I believe the half-shirt tuxedo top would be the only appropriate apparel to wear in order to accept an award as beautiful as the Lombardi Trophy. Here is your giant piece of cork on a stick. Now go put some clothes on.

Did you know?
The term "male landing strip" received an unprecedented NC17 rating from the editors of this blog.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

A parental breakdown

Note: An edited version of this column appears in the 10/7 issue of The Glendale Star and the 10/8 issue of the Peoria Times

My parents are falling apart. Physically.

This is mainly a result of them both being super active. My dad is an avid runner, and my mom -- though she became involved relatively recently -- has possibly passed even my dad in her commitment to running.

Unfortunately, their bodies are having difficulty keeping up. A few weeks ago, my dad’s knee went out while playing softball. For whatever reason, most of my fathers’ injuries involve something “going out.” Nothing is ever “tweaked,” or “pulled.” It just dramatically goes out, collapsing, I imagine, onto itself. I’m not certain what the exact medical terminology is for something “going out,” but my dad’s back has gone out so often, it’s a wonder that it’s not, at this point, being held together with duct tape and string. (Which is, by the way, how he would fix his back if it ever fell off, in lieu of going to the doctor.)

And that’s not to make light of his recent knee injury, which is pretty serious. In describing in graphic detail how it happened, he used the phrase, “ligaments re-attached themselves,” which I am also not sure is medically accurate, but do not care to find out. His frustration is not so much with the injury itself, but how it affects his status for the upcoming road race they are entered in.

This has pretty much been the routine with my parents of late. They participate in so many races -- my mom even does the Phoenix ½ marathon with me each year -- and they choose to prepare themselves for these races by running in additional races. In doing this, they inevitably injure themselves, and thus hope that they can be ready for the race that they were preparing to be ready for in the first place, until they got hurt.

My mom, though she battled through persistent foot injuries last year, is often forced to deal with less common ailments. She had, most recently, decided to prepare for their upcoming 10K by participating in the Philadelphia ½ marathon. Granted, this is like preparing for lunch by eating dinner, but no matter. She called me the following day to let me know how she did, which was, “not great,” but mostly because she hurt her shoulder as a result of wearing “the wrong bra.”

As a man, there is nothing quite like listening to your mother, over the phone, explain how she struggled in a recent road race because she wore an ill-fitting bra. Of course, any conversation with my mom includes the requisite update on my dad’s recent injury as well as an exciting recap of which random people, none of whom I can recall from my childhood, died. And so the conversation went like this:

Mom: So yeah, the bra was way too tight, and it really started hurting my shoulder. By mile 11, I was really struggling. I don’t know why I wore that bra. I had a different bra set out to wear in the hotel room, and I should have worn that one. I really should have.

Me: Uh huh.

Mom: Anyway, daddy’s doing okay. The chiropractor said he can start putting pressure on his knee next week, and if the swelling goes down, he can start going for short walks.

Me: Okay. That’s good.

Mom: Of course, you know daddy -- he tried to run a quick mile today and hurt it again pretty bad. And his back went out cleaning the bathroom.

Me: Wow.

Mom: Geez, I know. Oh, and that’s what I forgot to tell you. Do you remember Mr. Langerhans? Gil Langerhans?

Me: Uhhh, no.

Mom: He was daddy’s friend from work? But he’s a parishioner at church, too? I think he was at the party at the McAndrew’s house back in 1983? Remember?

Me: No, I don’t remember.

Mom: Anyway, he died.

(Ed. note: My mom, when speaking to me, still refers to herself and my dad, respectively, as "Mommy" and "Daddy." Just so you know. Because I'm 32.)

I feel kind of bad sometimes, being here in Arizona while my parents are back east, dealing with various injuries and the after-effects of wearing improper undergarments. Not that I’d be able to really help anyway, especially with regards to the latter, but still. At least my sisters are there, who are thrilled to get more frequent injury updates than I do, and who also get to feed the cats when my parents are limping through a race far from home.

I can still do my part though, I think, in an attempt to have my parents take it easy a bit. The next time my dad is here, instead of going for runs, maybe we’ll just have a catch. Father and son, tossing the ol’ ball around, hoping nothing goes out. Nice and easy. Maybe even while sitting down.

My mom? She’s already registered for the ½ marathon here in a few months. Maybe I can just convince her to prepare for it a little less intensively, as I certainly wouldn’t want her to miss it. In fact, it’s kind of become our thing to do together. And as any son whose mom is cool and active enough to come out to Arizona to run 13.1 miles with him would say: I hope she brings a different bra.