Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Word game spells d o o m for my e g o

Note: This column appears online on The Glendale Star and Peoria Times websites.

My wife introduced me to Words With Friends. At first I thought she was trying to tell me something. Shouldn’t we be playing Words With More Than Friends? But then I realized it’s just the name of the game. Everything is cool.

Words With Friends is an app for the iPhone. People have said it’s like Scrabble, but the thing is, it is Scrabble. It’s just called something different, for some reason. The only difference is that it’s played on your phone at your respective leisure as opposed to the urgent confinement of a board game setting where several letters are missing and a dictionary must be referenced. (One day I will tell our daughter that, when I was young, we used to play a board game that required a dictionary, and I am going to sound like a Pilgrim.)

Anyway, my wife won the first game. I discovered this when I logged into the app to see if it was my turn and was instead greeted with a party-type audio and graphic informing me, "You lost!" This was actually less infuriating than having the final score revealed, because I’m pretty sure I lost that game by over 100 points. Would I like a rematch? Darn tootin.’

I lost the rematch. It was starting to dawn on me that I was not playing the game well. I was more concerned with making awesome words than utilizing the double and triple word and letter blocks. I was playing for respect as opposed to points. I would earn six points for what I deemed a clever and well-thought-out word, and then my wife would add an “s” to it for 47.

By the third game, I was ready, and I got off to a blazing start. I had a 50-plus point lead with only a few letters remaining, and was feeling confident. Later that day, my wife giddily asked if I had played a word yet. These words—“Did you play a word yet?”—have come to send shudders down my spine, as I now understand them to mean that she has played a word, and earned some serious pointage. She asks this with a twinkle in her eye, unable to contain her excitement at my reaction to logging in and witnessing her mastery. Indeed, in this case, she had earned a 60-point word. Also, I lost that game.

Okay, everything is not cool. How could I, writer of words, be losing to my wife, speech pathologist? This would be like if there were an app called “Teach People How To Speak Correctly With Friends” and I was kicking her butt.

I had neither respect nor points. I was no longer having fun. I turned into a six-year-old. I began screaming things like, “How is ‘Utah’ not a word?!” as I stormed out of the room. I accused my wife of being the beneficiary of unfair practices—“You get all the ‘z’s!”—and, lamest of all, threatened to quit.

I was ashamed at both my inability to win and my reaction to that inability. I like to believe I don’t have much of an ego, but a silly game revealed otherwise.

Eventually (two months), I realized, hey—my wife is awesome at this game. After all, this is the same woman who proudly spent 17 consecutive weeks atop her Bejewled Blitz friends leaderboard on Facebook, and who once lobbied to have her Angry Birds score framed and hung below her Master’s Degree on our Wall o’ Achievements. There was no shame in losing to this woman, I now understood, which was good, because I have still not defeated this woman in Words With Friends.

I have been humbled. After all, that is what friends do—they strip away your ego, force you to look at the less attractive side of yourself, and then love you anyway. Wives, too. Wives do that a lot. “Wives” would also earn me a lot of points. Do I have a “v?” I’ll be right back …

I hate you.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

DJ Mixmaster Peanut Butter Person is in the hizz-ouse

Hey, so first of all, I eat Reese’s Puffs cereal for breakfast. I am a full-grown adult male. I prefer Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch, but sometimes that cereal is like $4.95, and I have principles. Both cereals, however, are part of a complete breakfast, in that you must eat a bowl of kale and three gallons of organic prune juice just to break even on the nutrient scale.

The other morning I was standing by myself in the kitchen eating a delicious bowl of Reese’s Puffs when the back of the box caught my eye. MIXMASTER, huh? I own turntables AND I love Reese’s Puffs (although I admittedly do not own any Reese’s Puffs records like the one featured here, which makes me wonder why I even have turntables in the first place), so this seemed like something I should look further into.

First, I need a name.


Three ways if you include, “Use your imagination to think of a name on your own.”

1. Take the street you grew up on and the name of your first pet,

It was always my understanding that this was one of several formulas to decide your porn name. Maybe I was mistaken. Nevertheless, as the saying goes, whether you’re in porn or a breakfast cereal DJ, the point is: you need a good name. My name is “DJ Northfield Oreo,” which is the worst name that has ever existed.

then change the “I’s” to Y’s.”

My name is DJ Northfyeld Oreo. I am uncertain as to the point of this. If it’s to add more street cred to a breakfast cereal DJ name, then may I remind you, box, that we are talking about a breakfast cereal DJ name. By the way, I have never understood how misspelling things apparently makes them hipper. I’m not sure how I escaped my hip-hop-filled childhood safe from the assumption that “z” is the plural for everything.

2. Take the name of your favorite movie or Superhero villain, then add the first letter of your middle name.

My alternate name is DJ Tthe Godfather Part II. I don’t know which one I dislike better. I guess I’ll go with DJ Northfyeld Oreo for now, but we’ll see where that takes me. If it takes me anywhere other than the pinnacle of breakfast cereal DJing fame, then I will change it and distance myself from the original name like how Katy Perry used to be a Christian singer.

Now that you have your DJ name, you’re ready to create your own Reese’s Puffs rap!

I thought DJs DJed. Nevertheless, I accept the challenge!

As you can see, if you are even still reading this, the back of the box provides alternate phrases that can simply be plugged into your Reese’s Puffs rap. This is sort of like signing to a major label and relinquishing almost all creative control. But really, who has time to think of his own Reese’s Puffs rap from scratch? I mean, I’m standing up while eating cereal, so I obviously don’t.

That said, I, DJ Northfyeld Oreo, will now choose wisely from the provided phrases and set forth my very own Reese’s Puffs rap (the pure irony of Oreo paying homage to Reese’s is not lost on me, by the way). For hilarity’s sake, I will insert sporadic BEEPs into the provided slots to imply terrible curse words in this ode to peanut butter and chocolate cereal:

That peanut butter chocolate I will address
(get ready)
Is the hookup that I BEEP that I will obsess (makes no sense)
Reese’s Puffs, Reese’s Puffs, in your bowl, in your bowl! (My goodness, is that the chorus?)

Recognize the taste that I craver (not a verb)
Reese’s Puffs Reese’s Puffs (I forget: what cereal is this song about?)
Wow peanut butter chocolate raver (the last person you want to run into at the club is a peanut butter chocolate raver, trust me)

So crucial to my totally radical vernacular (it physically pained me to write that ... but it was worth it)
That peanut butter BEEP is oh so spectacular (nasty)
Reese’s Puffs Reese’s Puffs! (the Reese's Puffs chant is the "Let me clear my throat" of repetitive, breakfast-based chorus)

My Reese’s Puffs are a miracle (this miracle was packaged in Ohio)
Each peanut butter orb is a miracle (at the risk of redundancy, allow me to reiterate how miraculous theses peanut butter orbs are; loaves and fishes < peanut butter orbs)
Reese’s Puffs, Reese’s Puffs, in your bowl, in your bowl! (crowd right now is going crazier than at the end of “8 Mile.”

So yeah, pretty much just killed it. I think I speak for the hip-hop community at large when I say, indeed, hip-hop just died. In my cereal. For realz.

*By the way, per below, "Reese's" was an existing tag, which surprised me at first, but then didn't.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

On playing host to great hosts and also kids

Note: This column appears in the 1/26 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/27 issue of the Peoria Times.

My wife and I don’t often host parties. It’s not that we don’t want to, it’s just … we’re not exactly the laid-back type of hosts who can graciously serve food and entertain while also fielding questions like, “Where is your plunger?” without freaking out.

It’s not so much that we obsess over cleanliness, although that does play a small role in our anxiety, especially when kids are involved. Whenever kids who are not ours are in our house, my mouth says things like, “Hey, kids, let’s play, ha, ha, fun times!” but my brain is thinking, “Don’t touch that, put that down, get off of there, what time do you go to bed anyway, it’s almost six!”

More so than that, however, is a fear that people will not have fun due to some flaw in our ability to host. I think it all stems from an instance back east when we had a bunch of people over to watch a playoff football game, and literally more than half the people there fell asleep. Par-tay! Granted, we had the fireplace going and a very comfortable couch, but geez. Fell asleep! We vowed that night to either never have people over again or be so darn entertaining that someone (me) would leave in handcuffs before a guest dozed off.

Adding to our self-consciousness is the fact that our family and close friends are extraordinary hosts. My in-laws have approximately 80 people in their home for holiday dinners, and they have to cook for people who can’t eat gluten, won’t eat fish, or refuse to eat meat, and they don’t judge even though they are Italian and it’s a mortal sin to not eat anything and everything all the time. The pile of resulting dirty dishes can make lesser hosts cringe, but my mother-in-law has the dishwasher filled in 10 minutes flat. I swear, she can squeeze every dish she owns into one cycle. One time I tried to help her out and I got a bowl and three forks in there and then shamefully cried, “I can’t fit anymore!” at which point she pushed me out the way and demanded I go eat more.

We cannot, however, play guest all the time, so, as a direct result of the guilt of reciprocation amongst loved ones, we decided to host a party last weekend for visiting family and a few friends. Because we lack the spontaneity to invite people over on a whim, we started planning this in October, which inadvertently added an unnecessary amount of hype. Everyone was like, “Can’t wait for the party!” and I was like, “Definitely! But don’t worry if you can’t make it!”

I set up a ball pit outside for the kids that I hoped would be destroyed because I did not want to store it in the garage anymore. And let me just say, the kids did not disappoint. There was a near-serious ball pit-related injury that required me to dismantle it an hour into the party, and when I went outside to do just that, I was barraged with an onslaught of ball pit balls to my head and back.

For the adults I had purchased cigars to be enjoyed by the fire pit. They were not enjoyed, and were described by one friend as tasting like “dog turds.”

Other than these slight hiccups, everything went well, mostly because my in-laws and my wife’s cousin did all the cooking. No one fell asleep, except the kids, which was awesome. My wife and I stayed up until the early morning cleaning up, and then shared a coffee by the dwindling fire, where we agreed that everything went fairly well and, who knows—maybe we’ll do this again in five years or so.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Classic card of the week

Patrick Ewing, 1998 NBA Hoops

Today we continue our exploration of 1998 NBA Hoops basketball cards and the manner in which they personally address the player featured on the card with down-to-earth street talk. With this Patrick Ewing card, however, we are treated to a special literary device called, “wordplay.”

Ew the man.

A common phrase throughout the mid-to-late 90s was, “You the man!” This would be directed at a particular individual who was serving his community well. This was a shortened version of the more exhaustive acknowledgement, “Hey, male—you are the best of all the men in present company, myself included! We are embarrassments to our respective families in light of your performance! Keep up the good work!” Here, NBA Hoops treats the cardholder to a clever case of wordplay when they utilize the first syllable of Ewing’s last name to say, “Ew the man.” Of course, this only works in literary form, as to verbally express the phrase would illicit head turns from average men who were neither "the man" nor basketball player Patrick Ewing. This would have worked, however, as a great sign to hold up at Madison Square Garden, were the sign-holder comfortable enough, morally speaking, to plagiarize NBA Hoops’ creative concept.

Heart of a lion.

And here I am, thinking Patrick Ewing had the heart of a human being. Of all the things to say about Patrick Ewing, that he had/has the heart of a lion is curious. He was eight-feet tall, it took him seventeen years to jog down the court and he was dripping in a pool of sweat in the layup line before the even game started. That doesn’t scream lion-hearted to me. That’s more like a giraffe heart. You know who has the heart of a lion? David Eckstein. Also, Lion-O.*

‘Nuf respect,

This is NBA Hoops acknowledging Ewing’s Jamaican roots: “Hey, Ew! ‘Nuff respect, mon!” as they pound their chest twice, then kiss their fingers and point them in his direction, the ultimate show of (‘nuf) respect. One can also read this as, “You have received enough respect. That will be all, thank you,” which is less complimentary, but probably more accurate.

SIDEBAR: When I was a senior in high school I went to a Knicks game at MSG with a bunch of buddies. One of our friends decided to wear his varsity lacrosse jacket from our all-boys Catholic high school in NJ, which was completely embarrassing for the rest of us. After the game, we were on the escalator headed down towards street level when my friend and I noticed that, riding right behind us was rapper Fat Joe. This was trilling for me at the time, and I managed to get his autograph on my ticket stub, which has since been valued at zero mics by Source magazine. Less exciting was our mutual friend, in his varsity lacrosse jacket and with no idea who Fat Joe was—the nerve!—asking Fat Joe for his autograph. It was the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me. The only thing that would have been worse is if our friend had said, “’Nuff respect” to Fat Joe as we parted ways. This story has nothing to do with Patrick Ewing, other than that he was probably playing that night, unless he was resting his lion heart. I wasn't paying much attention because we spent most of the game making fun of our friend for wearing his varsity lacrosse jacket. Thank you. END SIDEBAR.

one of the NBA’s 50 greatest players ever, Hoya National Champ and arguably one of the greatest shooting centers EVER.

The term “arguably” seems to cancel out the emphatic CAPS LOCK of “EVER.” And do we really need to argue that someone is “one of” the best at something? Just say it! Patrick Ewing’s is da man and his heart is made of lion heart parts and he is da greatest shooting center EVER, yo! For reals! Name a better shooting center, homeslice. And don’t be talking ‘bout no Mikan round here. Don’t front!

Patrick. We Believe.

I honestly don’t know why this is written as such as opposed to, “Patrick, we believe,” nor am I familiar with the implied surplus of Patrick Ewing non-believers at the time. Nevertheless, rest easy, Ew—NBA Hoops basketball cards has your back.

But you best to watch your front – GZA

Did you know?
The NBA named its 50 greatest players before the NBA was over.

*That is the biggest picture of Lion-O that exists on the Internet. You're welcome.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tough Mudder status: complete

Note: This column appears in the 1/19 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/20 issue of the Peoria Times.

We had to hop over a 12-foot wall just to make it to the starting corral for the Tough Mudder event in Mesa last weekend. Once we landed safely, we were informed by the event’s emcee—after a rather inspirational speech—to be careful, as many of the runners who had already departed had suffered injuries like dislocated knees and broken collarbones. Oh, and also a heart attack. Someone had suffered a heart attack. And with that, we were off.

The second obstacle was the Chernobyl Jacuzzi, which has, for your records, been renamed the “Arctic Enema,” which does not do the obstacle justice, as I would happily endure a dozen arctic enemas before doing this again once. It is a dumpster filled with ice water and separated by a board in the middle. You walk in, unspeakably freezing water up to your chest, and to make it to the other side, you must submerge yourself in the water and go under the board. Once we—myself, my buddy Pete, my father-in-law, and brother-in-law Anthony—made it out alive, we shook ourselves off, looked at each other, and silently acknowledged that we would finish this. (We also verbally acknowledged this by screaming, “ARRRGGGGHHHHHHH!” and beating our chests like cavemen.)

From there we crawled through mud, jumped bales of hay, climbed mountains of mud, ate mud, crawled through tubes filled with mud, climbed over walls, jumped over gorges, unsuccessfully traversed balance beams and fell into florescent green ice water, and all the types of things you do on a Saturday for no other reason than to test your body’s limits and form an impenetrable bond with a select few who are the only people in the world who can understand what you went through.

We looked at the map of the course online beforehand, each of us singling out in our minds which obstacles we would skip. But your entire mindset changes once you’re in it. You get to an obstacle and you do it because it’s there. There’s no time or reason to rationalize what could go wrong, and before you know it, you’re jumping from a wooden plank 15-feet in the air into freezing water, just sort of hoping it’s deep enough. (Note: it was.)

Case in point was the final obstacle, Shock Therapy, which is a series of live wires dangling over muddy water. We had heard reports on this ranging from “it’s not so bad” to “someone has suffered a heart attack,” and I can tell you now that it’s closer to the latter. Anthony bravely attempted to walk through—most choose to crawl through the mud—and the first shock dropped him like he’d been picked off by a sniper. We sort of promised my mother-in-law that my father-in-law wouldn’t do this one, but you can guess how that went. He looked like a fish getting tasered in there. I got hit three times, but the one in the shoulder was so bad it sent reverberations to Pete, who was crawling next to me. You can’t really say you’re “friends” with someone until they’ve absorbed some of your electrical shock while crawling through mud.

And that’s the most amazing thing about the Tough Mudder: you literally cannot complete it alone. It requires the help and support—not emotional, though that helps; like their hands and arms and stuff—of others, whether teammates or complete strangers who immediately cease to be strangers. It is the most extreme physical exercise, but it is mostly an exercise in humanity.

The feeling of satisfaction I imagined upon finishing was instead an extreme physical shivering that made me think my jaw was going to lock shut. I couldn’t even hold my free beer, which is the boldest declaration of difficulty for this event that I can offer.

We completed all 12.5 miles, all 29 obstacles. The average age of the Tough Mudder participant was probably like 29. My father-in-law is 60-something. This was Pete’s fourth. Anthony was a beast. I am a web editor for a weekly newspaper who cannot locate the main water valve in my house, and I felt like a freakin' tribal warrior out there. My happiness that it’s over is only surpassed by my pride that we did it. Together.

I think I am going to keep the Mohawk.

Team "Here Comes the Stuff" pre-mud.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Kansas hip-hop

In the quest to discover new and exciting things to post to this blog in addition to the cards and weekly columns, esteemed reader and writer Don D. submitted his choice of “hip-hop-ifying classic rock songs.” Many times around these here parts we have interpreted hip-hop songs into the standard Caucasian vernacular, and that has been ... fun? Well, it has been for me. But Don’s idea got me intrigued as well. I have to admit I was skeptical at first, but I gave it a shot, and I remain skeptical.

There’s been discussion of, if this concept is well received and thus moves proudly into the future, posting simply the hip-hop version and having you, the reader, determine its classic rock origins in the comments for a prize of: cyber congratulations. So, please provide your feedback on that, if you will. For this week, however, there will be no reveal.

Also, a personal note: I truly dislike including curse words into this blog. Call me prudish, whatever, but like David Cross said on his comedy album filled with curse words, it’s lazy. And also offensive to many people. For this endeavor, however, it seemed near impossible not to, for humor’s sake, and so I allowed myself some creative license, although the words are blocked out with impossible-to-decipher symbols. My apologies.

And so, without further ado, the hip-hop version of Kansas’ “Carry On My Wayward Son” …

Carry on my wayward son,
For there'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more

Get on witcha self, son
Goin’ lounge when that sh*t’s done
Get a pillow or some sh*t
Stop crying like a b*tch

Once I rose above the noise and confusion
Just to get a glimpse beyond the illusion
I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high
Though my eyes could see I still was a blind man
Though my mind could think I still was a mad man
I hear the voices when I'm dreamin', I can hear them say

Tryin’ to rise above all the chaos, see
Feels like I’m trippin’ on some LSD
Get so high, man, too high sometimes I think
Am I blind? Oh sh*t, that's just a blink
Insane in the brain they say, like Cyprus Hill
Had a dream, voice said, “It’s time to chill”

Carry on my wayward son,
For there'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more

Get on witcha self, son
Goin’ lounge when that sh*t’s done
Get a pillow or some sh*t
Stop crying like a b*tch

Masquerading as a man with a reason
My charade is the event of the season
And if I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don't know
On a stormy sea of moving emotion
Tossed about I'm like a ship on the ocean
I set a course for winds of fortune, but I hear the voices say

Wear glasses so folks think I’m Lupe
Summertime, be swimming with a toupee
I say “knowledge of self;” what’s that sh*t even mean?
Swerving drunk up in this limousine
Or should I say a submarine
Winds of fortune got me trippin’, na’ mean?

Carry on my wayward son,
For there'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more

Get on witcha self, son
Goin’ lounge when that sh*t’s done
Get a pillow or some sh*t
Stop crying like a b*tch

Carry on, you will always remember
Carry on, nothing equals the splendor
Now your life's no longer empty
Surely heaven waits for you

So get on, son, and don’t forget
Those French chicks we met up in Quebec
That was dope, though left you worse for wear
Say ‘sup to Pac when you get there

Carry on my wayward son,
For there'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more

Get on witcha self, son
Goin’ lounge when that sh*t’s done
Get a pillow or some sh*t
Stop crying like a b*tch

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Training tip for Tough Mudder: hope everyone else trains less

Note: This column appears in the 1/12 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/13 issue of the Peoria Times.

Many people who discover I am participating in a 10-12 mile mud run with obstacles—they discover this because I tell them instantly upon seeing them—ask me, “How do you train for such a thing?”

That was a question I asked myself after signing up. Initially, I had considered setting up a few giant, flaming hoops throughout our development that I could jump through during my weekend training. But alas, it is “no burn” season in our part of the Valley (pfft), and besides, my earlier attempts to douse hula-hoops in gasoline and set them ablaze did not produce the desired result.

My buddy and Tough Mudder teammate Pete sent me a few training videos a while back that I did not really watch because, well, I have a difficult time being led in a workout by an accompanying video. I mean, I’m trying to envision myself as Rocky here, downing raw eggs and running up an absurd amount of steps. In fact, all of the training knowledge I’ll ever need comes from Rocky montages, and I don’t recall him ever getting ready for the big fight by stretching his quads to a Jane Fonda VHS tape.

So I’ve been training pretty much how I always trained for the half-marathon: by running aimlessly throughout the neighborhood and mixing in some weight workouts. I’m trying to keep it simple, lest I burn myself out or burn myself literally. Also, I realized early on that, since the team must finish together, the four of us are bound by the least prepared among us. And, as previously mentioned, I’m not sure when/if my father-in-law started training, so … yeah.

In truth, I’m not worried in the least about my father-in-law’s stamina—the prospect of proving he is still 45-years old will provide enough adrenaline for at least six miles and eight obstacles. From there, he should make it through sheer Italianism. With him, I’m more concerned about the “staying together” part, as he has a long and storied history of abandoning us at the starting line. Most recently, at the Pat Tillman run in Tempe, right before we were set to go, he said to me, “Do you want to the set the pace, or do you want me to? I don’t care, either way.” Before I could answer, he was gone.

My team arrives this week, and Saturday will decide, I guess, how tough we really are. The Tough Mudder event donates much of its proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project, and as I’ve come to learn, many of our country’s wounded vets participate in the event. I plan on being in shape, yes, but I also plan on being inspired by the amazing stories around me, and the camaraderie of my ragtag team.

I also plan on having fun. Pete texted me last week to inform me that one of the obstacles for our Phoenix event is called the Bump and Grind, in which “participants crawl over crushed gravel while listening to R. Kelly’s R&B hit.” And that, actually, is something I’ve been able to incorporate into my training. The people driving by look at me weird, but I think it’ll pay off.

I also plan on getting a Mohawk, which many people do at Tough Mudder’s allocated “Mohawk stations.” I haven’t told my boss yet, and I probably won’t until after the fact. I hope he doesn’t read this paper.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Classic card of the week

Danny Manning, 1993 Upper Deck "Collector's Choice"

I’ve been a bit heavy of late with the artist renderings, I know. What can I say; I have a soft spot in my heart for the detail with which talented artists portray professional basketball players. It’s like flowers. Flowers are great and all in real life, with the way you can look at them and smell them and all that crap. But a painting of a flower is something you can look at and say, “Wow! That looks just like a flower!” Unless it’s one of those paintings that’s supposed to be a flower but looks like a mess, and you need someone who is good at interpreting art to explain it to you but you are not listening because you are bored. Man, art is the best.

And this particular card is not abstract at all, no sireee. That’s Danny Manning right there—two of him, actually—drawn by Alan Studt. I have to admit, the details are pretty cool, most notably the sweat beads on Manning’s forehead and the ripples in his Clippers jersey. The ripples represent waves of franchise ineptitude, or, they are just ripples. I don’t know. Ripples, ripples, ripples. That word has lost all meaning. Where was I? Oh yeah, my favorite part is this:

I love the idea of a diverse collection of Caucasian, die-hard Clippers fans attending home games en masse, holding up signs that read, “SLAM.” Are they urging players like Manning on: Hey you, basketball player—slam-dunk the basketball! Or are they simply acknowledging the game: I enjoyed that slam dunk that just happened! The signs are missing an exclamation point, so that may indicate the latter. Either way, it just goes to show how pumped people get at Clippers games. I mean, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, if you’re wearing a vest or have opted not to, if you just got to the game from work or if you weren’t working that day or whatever, if you have facial characteristics or have faded into a background blobface a la Double Dribble … you can go to a Clippers game and cheer on Danny Manning and not be judged. I mean, hey, the guy in the Kangol forgot his SLAM sign, as did the woman (?) near him. No biggie. There are other ways to cheer. For example, looking the other way or robot clapping.

This all reminds me of my mild fascination with people who make signs for sporting events. It’s quite the cultural phenomenon. Whenever we—my wife and I share this fascination—spot a sign at a sporting event, we always think, “Wow, someone really took the time to make that.” She even has a story of a time many years ago when her dad took the family to a U.S. men's soccer game at the Meadowlands, and the family gathered round a piece of poster board and some glue and glitter beforehand and made a sign. She doesn’t recall what it read—she only recalls her embarrassment—but you can bet your arse there was plenty of red, white, and blue on that baby! I also like to believe my father-in-law wrote, “Beat those Commie bastards!” in marker at the bottom, even though they were playing Switzerland.

I wonder if there’s ever been an occasion where a professional athlete was motivated by a crowd sign. Like, say Danny Manning just received word before the game that his great aunt had passed away, and he was bummed, and he didn’t really feel like slam-dunking the ball even if given the opportunity. But then he looks into the crowd and he’s like, “You know what? These people came here for some SLAMs, and gosh darnit, it’s my job to give them some!” and then he steals the ball and runs downcourt and does a 360-degree windmill tomahawk slam-dunk that breaks the backboard and then no one can fix it and the game is postponed and everyone has to go home. That would be awesome.

Nowadays though, fans pretty much make signs out of the self-interest of appearing on television, which is, in my opinion, a disgrace to signs, even ones with penises drawn on them when no one was looking. Especially when they take great liberties with the “first letter of network will spell out a phrase in support of my team/cause” thing, like:

C an’t
B eat
Fal C ons!

And the Falcons are losing by 26. A simple “TOUCHDOWN” sign would have displayed support for the sport in general and would not have succumbed to the tribalism of picking a side, and the embarrassment that often brings. People are idiots sometimes.

Did you know?
Many years ago I attended a Giants-Seahawks game that ended 9-6 with only field goals, and my sign reading “TOUCHDOWN” stood out like a sore thumb. The next week my sign read “POINTS,” but no one was there because the Giants were on the road.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Obstacle-filled event to determine my manliness

Note: This column appears in the 1/5 issue of The Glendale Star and the 1/6 issue of the Peoria Times

As many of you have become aware throughout the years, I’m not much of a man. Many of the things that define manhood, like knowing how to use a circular saw, I am unable to do. There are two main things I do that attempt to offset this reality: 1) have facial hair, which is easy, and 2) run, which can be challenging. The latter is not totally manly and is often open to women as well, but it does take some stamina and mental fortitude, and so I will allow it, as should you. I should also mention that doing so once left me in an ambulance, and served as the least manly moment of my entire life. Still though.

In fact, the past three years I have participated in the Phoenix Rock and Roll ½ Marathon. (They host a full marathon, too, but c’mon—that’s ridiculous.) But earlier this year I was thinking, “Is there anything manlier than running aimlessly on a flat, paved surface for a couple hours?” It was then, as if by some Divine manly intervention, my friend Pete from back east called to inform me that the Tough Mudder event was coming to the Valley.

What is the Tough Mudder? I’m glad you asked. It is “a hardcore 10-12 mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces to test your all around strength, stamina, mental grit, and camaraderie.” It is also, according to Tough Mudder, “probably the toughest event on the planet.”

So that is what I am doing in lieu of the half marathon, Jan. 14. Finally, I will find out if I possess mental grit, and if so, all bets are off.

With regards to the camaraderie aspect, Pete is coming out to participate with me, and we also recruited my father-in-law and brother-in-law. That is our team. Pete, a former Infantryman in the U.S. Army and Tough Mudder veteran, is a customs agent at Newark Airport, which is technically a war zone. My father-in-law is a real estate broker who asked me a few days ago—the event is next weekend—how he should be training; my brother-in-law recently suffered a paintball-related knee injury and, in an unrelated matter, is required by a doctor to perform a series of back-stretching exercises every morning; and I, as previously mentioned, once ended a five mile race with zero obstacles on a stretcher wearing an oxygen mask. This should be interesting. We have already had t-shirts made, so there is no going back.

The obstacles vary for each event, but one of the more infamous ones is called The Chernobyl Jacuzzi, described as “participants climb into and out of one of three lined dumpsters containing icy water and colored dye.” Another one is called Ball Shrinker, which I will not describe. There are also obstacles in which participants run through live electric wires and flaming bales of hay. The obstacles, on the slim chance someone does not prefer to get electrocuted, are optional, but there are plenty to choose from, and choosing none, I have heard, does not diminish the difficulty of the course itself.

In fact, the event was supposed to be in Wittmann, but has since moved to Mesa after the original venue did not comply with the introduction of nine new obstacles. I am legitimately scared about all of this, but fear is an integral part of becoming a man, and I am 33 so I should probably get on that.

In the coming weeks, I will keep you abreast of my training and the event itself. If you are interested in learning more or participating yourself, visit toughmudder.com. If you are participating, meet me at the Ball Shrinker. (These are the things men say to each other.)