Thursday, April 30, 2009
I don’t even know how to explain it. In the first place he’s this huge guy, which you don’t always realize when you see him on the sidelines. Some coaches look like just any old bum off the street, like Orlando’s Stan Van Gundy (who bears a striking resemblance to Ron Jeremy) or New Jersey’s little Lawrence Frank (who looks like the little leprechaun from the Lucky Charms box). But you can tell that Jackson used to be a player. He towers over the scrum of media, hands placed coolly in his pockets while giving interviews. His hands aren’t so much hands as they are paws, and because he’s something of a cowboy he walks bowlegged, which would look stupid on most people but just makes him look like an even bigger badass.
Truthfully, he’s not a very charismatic personality. Knowing his history as the “Zen-Master” I assumed he’d have a little more mystery and intrigue about him in person, but he’s just a pretty laid-back, normal dude. The way he smiles, though, suggests that he’s in on some joke that nobody else knows the punchline to.
When you’re a kid there are adults that you call “Sir” or “Ma’am” instinctively because you’re afraid of the repercussions if you don’t. These were the kind of people that you worked so hard to please because their approval mattered that much, yet at the same time you’d do anything not to let them down. These people required you somehow feel admiration and fear for them at the same time, and that’s the kind of vibe Phil Jackson exudes.
He’s just clearly a patient, intelligent, thoughtful dude that takes his life in stride. I remember watching Bulls games as a kid, and he would let Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen keep playing through huge bursts from the other team, refusing to call a timeout. He’d just be chillin’ on his chair, scratching his nose or chatting up the assistant coaches, and I get the sense that this is the way he lives every day. No timeouts. Just let it roll.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
The chick that plays the mannequin in this prank knows exactly how to be creepy. Her gestures are those, "Did I just see that?" sorts of gestures. And that poor, poor girl at the end...
One of my all-time favorite America's Funniest Home Videos moments:
You're telling me that the Ron Artest "Malice at the Palace" incident was more agregious than a Boston Bruin removing his skate and using it as a weapon against a fan? I thought that was just a joke on "Happy Gilmore," but no, it actually happened! Hockey is ridiculous...
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
I thought, “That’s a fantastic question,” but my wife is usually the supplier of fantastic questions. My initial response was that it probably had something to do with the instinctual relationship between mothers and their children—the first thing a new mom does after giving birth is cradle the child close to her. I’m guessing that as we get older we exercise that instinct on several non-mother people as well, usually looking for comfort, protection, or warmth.
That led me to wonder where the kiss comes from, since the answer didn’t immediately pop into my head in quite the same way. Where a hug can be defined in a lot of different ways, a kiss has to be much more deliberate. There’s a lot more aim involved in planting a kiss, as my wife will attest to considering all my missed targets for good-night kisses right after we’ve shut off the lights and said our final “I love you’s.”
Kissing, as it turns out, doesn’t just occur in human beings. Animals make kissing motions during grooming, and there has to be a certain level of trust and comfort in allowing another animal in the same group to take on that responsibility. Monkeys, dogs, birds, rodents, and all kinds of other animals exhibit this behavior, including my two male cats, who make out constantly and are gay together.
Anthropologists still don’t know if human kissing is a learned or instinctual behavior, but it does seem to be rooted in the grooming procedure. This could become even more believable if we consider that man is evolved from primates. If you believe that mankind was created by God, I suppose that argument won’t work.
Still, from a biological standpoint kissing is extremely interesting. Kissing allows two members of the opposite sex to taste and smell a potential mate to test compatibility for mating. I suppose this could work for gay people, too, but the instinct portion of kissing suggests that it’s done for the sake of procreation. I have nothing against homosexuals (remember, I have two cats that are gay), but same-sex marriages aren’t going to be producing any naturally-born offspring.
Humans use 34 facial muscles to execute a kiss, and psychologically it’s one of the more complex activities a person can undergo. As for the French Kiss, it’s been around for hundreds of years but didn’t earn that specific name until 1918. And nobody can say with any certainty that it actually originated in France. Sharing saliva via a joining of the tongues has been around forever, long before France was even called France.
Monday, April 27, 2009
But no matter how much I relate to Miles or how much I learn about wine, it doesn’t change the fact that I will never be refined enough to enjoy the whole wine-tasting experience as much as some of my more distinguished peers. For one, fermented grape juice gives me heartburn, and for two, I really, really don’t care about nutty undertones and effervescent aromas. I’m just not that into it.
My first real experience at a high-class winery occured somewhere in the Wisconsin backwoods (okay, it was like fifteen minutes away from the Dells) and when it came time for the tasting portion of the tour I stood around with my brother and buddy Kevin like yokels at a book club. We were clueless. What is the proper etiquette for this sort of thing?
Everything I knew about the process I had learned from “Sideways,” but that movie was a distant memory when I lifted the glass to my face to initiate the wine-tasting procedure. Cupping my palm around bulb of the glass and raising it to my lips, the lady working at the sampling table stopped me with the look of someone watching a child trying to shovel food into his mouth with the handle-end of a fork. “No,” she said, “You’re not doing it right. Have you ever been to a tasting before?”
Kyle and Kevin, mere bystanders at this point, chuckled heartily at the question, inwardly thankful it was me making the ass of myself instead of them.
“Yes,” I said. “Of course.”
She looked at me skeptically.
“Okay, no,” I corrected, hanging my head, chin-to-chest. “I’m so ashamed.”
Then I cried a little bit and the lady held me in her lap, rocking me and stroking my hair until I calmed down. Then, she showed me the right way to do it. The steps of proper wine-tasting are as follows:
#1 – Hold the glass by the stem and lift it to the light, so you can see the color.
#2 – Turn the glass sideways to see the density of the color.
#3 – Insert your nose into the glass and sniff, getting a full sense of the wine’s aroma.
#4 – Swirl it around to let the oxygen invade the wine. This is called “letting it breathe,” and it’s good for flavor and aroma.
#5 – Smell it again.
#6 – Taste it, but only just a little, and let it swish all over your “palette.” That’s the word wine people use for “tongue.”
#7 – Spit it out into the spittoon. Bonus points if it makes a puh-TING sound.
Before having been straightened out, these were the steps I assumed were to be taken:
#1 – Raise glass to lips and drink contents in their entirety.
#2 – If there is still wine in the bottle, pour more into your glass and repeat step #1. Continue doing so until bottle is empty.
#3 – Pass out on winery lawn.
As you can see, my way would’ve been simpler, but less refined. So I did it the winery lady’s way and was left feeling somehow dirtier. It’s like when the waiter at a really fancy restaurant puts the cloth napkin on my lap for me. Something’s not right about that—there’s just too much pomp involved in the whole process. It’s a napkin for cripe's sake. I can handle it.
Anyway, the wine was tasty enough, but all wine is tasty enough. Church wine is tasty enough. There’s no need to go through all the huffelty-puffelty just to put down a gulp of alcohol. Imagine going to a bar and ordering a black & tan in a long-stemmed glass. The barkeep would laugh at you, and if you tried sniffing at it and swirling like a little girly-person they’d boot your rear end out of the building.
Whatever the case may be, I was glad I’d learned the ins and outs of wine-tasting when my wife and I went to visit my cousin Joanna in San Francisco, because we spent the better part of a full day wandering around Sonoma Valley. Clearly I’ve established that I’m not a wine person, but Wine Country (hell, California in general) is just about as beautiful as America can get.
So riddle me this—how does a guy spend three to four hours at various wineries and experience not so much as a single inebriated giggle from the whole ordeal? Like I said, the scenery was amazing. Rows and rows of grapes wrapping over subtle hills, the whitest, fluffiest clouds even spaced on a perfectly-blue canvas sky. Gorgeous weather, gentle breezes, and clean California air (thank you, Governor Schwarzenegger). It was lovely, but sober.
If you’re looking for a refined, good-natured afternoon at a winery, where you can hold glasses of liquid to the light and sniff to your little heart’s content, then Napa and Sonoma Valleys are a wise vacation destination decision. But if you aren’t the sort of person who eats fancy cheeses not named "Cheddar" or "Mozzarella" or, preferably, "American," and you don't mind living a relatively classless life, I've got the answer to your winery needs...
Here’s my idea: You build a facility with award-winning winemakers behind the scenes so that the wine itself is actually delicious. You've got to have that because you want people to come, but the kick to my dream here is that everybody gets to wear jogging pants and collarless shirts while they drink wine out of plastic sippy cups. There would be a stage at one end of the grounds where awesome bands would come and play, and you could bring tents and grills and just stay all night drinking wine and listening to music in your pajamas. Instead of selling cheeses and summer sausages in the gift shop, there’d be Doritos and a little pizza place like they have at some gas stations. We could set up beanbag games and horseshoe pits somewhere near the camping area, and you’d get in free if you could belch the alphabet. We'd have to call it something audacious, like "Nipple Slip Winery," but I'm not married to that name.
Seriously. That’s a winery I can get on board with.
Less interesting is the hoity-toity environment surrounding all the other wineries. I’d love to enjoy it more, but the process has made me a little bitter. And, someone needs to invent a wine flavor that doesn’t require I ingest 6 TUMS after a glass and a half. Come on, Science. Where you at?
Friday, April 24, 2009
What you see below are foods that both taste gross and feel gross in your mouth. Even just writing that previous sentence felt gross somehow. And that’s exactly why I hate vegetables so much. Here’s the list:
#5 - Cooked Spinach – I can do cold spinach in a salad because it tastes essentially the same as lettuce. It’s crisp and refreshing. But if you’ve ever gotten a chicken sandwich at a fast food place with lettuce that had been sitting under the heating lamp for thirty minutes, you know that cooked lettuce is friggin’ nasty. To me there’s no differentiation between that and cooked spinach.
#4 – Asparagus – I know two things about asparagus: one, there are lot of people who absolutely love how this stuff tastes, and two, it’s supposedly makes your pee smell really, really bad. If you like the taste, then foul-smelling urine is a fair tradeoff. But if you can’t stand the taste it’s like you’re losing twice.
#3 – Squash – It’s all stringy and mushy, like eating sand pudding with human hair mixed in for texture. Also, it smells and tastes like cooked vomit. With the right ingredients added, it can even look like cooked vomit. Pumpkin pie is as close to any sort of squash dish I’ll eat, and I’ll be honest—I’m not even a huge fan of that.
#2 – Cauliflower – There are a lot of people who are surprised that I dig broccoli but not cauliflower, but the taste is what turns things off for me. Broccoli at least goes good with cheese, but the white twin doesn’t go good with anything. It doesn’t even go good with candy, and everything goes good with candy. Especially more candy.
#1 – Brussel Sprouts – My father used to feed us these periodically, constantly telling us that they were so delicious if we’d just give them try. Well, it’s like sucking on a little ball of hot soggy lettuce, which I’ve already described. The only difference is that instead of just sucking down the warm, wet leaves, you actually have to chew into a semi-solid mass of brussel sprout to get it to where you can actually swallow it. King of gross. Duke of gross. Earl of gross. Gross.
This has been exercise in dieting. I have now lost my appetite for the remainder of the day. Just water and candy for me.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Before meeting the gigantic African, whose full name Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo (seriously), I knew very little about him other than he’s done an unreal amount of humanitarian work in Congo and other parts of Africa. The man funded a hospital for Christ’s sake. He’s practically a saint, and at seven-foot-two, that’s a whole lot of saint to go around.
Anyway, when the Rockets came through Chicago last year I was unable to meet up with him before the game, but since he is one of only a handful of guys still in the league from when I used to watch basketball as a kid, I made it a point to do a quick interview afterwards. Even that proved difficult. When someone on the roster doesn’t play—and therefore doesn’t sweat—they’re in and out of the locker room extremely quickly. By the time security opens up the doors for media availability, most of the Did-Not-Play guys zoom right out.
This was the case with Deke, but I stopped him and shook his hand while asking for a quick interview.
His response, even though I knew what to expect, rumbled my entire body. You see, Mutombo is known for his deep, gravelly Cookie Monster voice. So when he responded with, “Yes, but I am on my way out,” I was sort of star struck. He has the sort of iconic voice that reminds you, hey, you’re talking to Dikembe Mutombo.
So I popped out my hand recorder and walked him to the bus, and we did the interview while walking, his gigantic tree branch of an arm on my shoulder for the entire walk. It made me feel like a child, but I could also empathize for all those kids in Africa that have gotten help from him over the years. He really does wrap you up and make you feel at peace. Generally there are butterflies when you interview someone you admire that much, but he was able to just put me at ease. It’s almost a superpower, like that creepy quiet vampire brother in “Twilight.” And yes, I just made a “Twilight” reference. Right, ladies?
Truthfully, I haven’t the first idea of what the interview was about. It was gobbledygook one-on-one that almost nobody cared about (probably pretty similar to how nobody cares about how I met Dikembe Mutombo), but it was a cool experience from me. I remember watching when eight-seed Denver upset one-seed Seattle in, I think, 1994. As a twelve-year-old in the height of my love for professional basketball, that was A Moment.
And that’s why I loved Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean-Jacques Wamutombo. Also, because of that awesome name.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
And this classic, "The Landlord" (Not safe for work):
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
If a foreign-born female gives birth on an airplane in U.S. airspace, or on a ship within 12 nautical miles of the U.S. coast, her child automatically becomes a U.S. citizen.
In 2000, not a single hurricane made landfall in the United States.
Charles Curtis, Herbert Hoover’s Vice President was a Kaw Indian. He attained the highest elective office (so far, anyway) of any American Native.
The hippopotamus is considered to be the most dangerous animal in Africa. Hippos kill more humans annually than lions, crocodiles or snakes.
The bikini wax has been around for hundreds of years. Muslim brides-to-be in the Middle East and North Africa remove all their body hair before the wedding night.
Monday, April 20, 2009
In July of 1991 my family made its own pilgrimage to Dyersville, Iowa to see the cornfield baseball diamond built for the movie. It was the first vacation the four of us had taken since my mother died in March of that year, and my dad was staring down his first wedding anniversary to spent without his wife. He tells me now that the trip was for him—that he needed some sort of distraction—but those three days in what Shoeless Joe mistook for heaven was one of the greatest trips of all our lives.
Considering my memories of the 4-and-a-half hour drive are almost eighteen years old, I remember the trek as a flash, but I’m sure it wasn’t all that easy breezy at the time. Put three kids under ten in the back of a station wagon and take them on that sort of drive and your bound to have some whining and slapping and arguing and whatever else we did as misbehaved children. But my dad didn’t seem to care. We got to Dyersville, dropped our bags off at the Colonial Inn—a well-kept 1950s motel—and headed straight for the field.
It’s a bit of an adventure getting out there, as that stream of headlights from the movie suggests. Lots of twists and turns through cornfields, rows and rows of crisp green stalks with wispy straw-colored tassels flitting in the breeze. Coming up on the film site itself, though, is something magical. The last stretch comes down over a hill, so the field and the house and the wooden bleachers lay out right in front of you, and on this beautiful summer day the place was packed with kids and their parents playing ball on the field.
We parked, packed our fists into our child-sized ball gloves, and quick-stepped over to the field. It is exactly what you remember from the film. The old white farmhouse wasn’t just a set; it’s still there. And the field stretches out in front of you, the outfield wall replaced by a wall of cornstalks. The ivy at Wrigley pales in comparison.
Waiting for our turn to bat was a painful experience, as the line to take a swing wrapped halfway up the first baseline. All the adults manned the field, and there were probably two or three kids at each bag waiting for the ball to be hit so they could finish making their way around the bases. No one was keeping track of runs or anything, but it was definitely a serious game. Had to show the masses what you were capable of with a bat.
There’s a home video somewhere of Kyle waving a bat high over his shoulder, chomping on a huge wad of gum like a big-leaguer while he waited for the pitch. His little ball cap’s bill aimed towards the sky, and his shortish shorts and high socks made for a pretty iconic picture of early ‘90s children’s fashion. Right before the pitch came in, the wad of gum slipped from Kyle’s mouth and landed on his shoulder. Unfazed, he carefully craned his neck to the shoulder to retrieve the treat, but the movement caused it to drop to the dirt a millisecond before his lips hit the gum. Despondent, he used the tip of his tennis shoe to rub the candy carcass into the dirt. America’s Funniest Home Videos, here we come.
After making a donation in a left field box we each pocketed a little vial of dirt from the outfield, and we made our last minute rounds of the grounds before heading back into town for dinner. The only disappointment of the afternoon was weaving into the rows of corn on a search for Ray Liotta, to no avail.
It wouldn’t be the only trip to the field, however. My dad tells me that we went a total of three times. Our first trip was great, but it’s the second go-round Pops seems to treasure most. We came back much later as the sky changed to deep gold and swirling purple, one final group of fellow tourists heading out for the night as we came to claim the empty field for ourselves. I don’t remember exactly, but I’m sure there wasn’t much baseball played in the twilight. Parking ourselves on the bleachers, we watched the sun set over the corn, casting sweet summer shadows on the outfield grass. None of us really said anything, despite the twins being only six, so the silence of the country was that much more pronounced. There was an unidentifiable howling of some animal off in the distance, but nothing intimidating or scary. Just a fellow wanderer letting us know that we weren’t alone in the world.
Day three was our time for saying goodbye. Fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, grandparents and grandchildren, even a wedding party, did their thing at the film site on a really busy weekend morning. My dad calls it “basking in the mystery of baseball,” and it’s helps explain why the movie has been so successful and why so many people consider baseball to be the American pastime. Team allegiances have been passed down four or five or more generations. There are legends in this game older than our grandparents. There are stories of heroes and improbable victories and heartbreak and redemption. The history of baseball is in so many ways parallel to the history of America, and that’s why a father takes his three kids to a baseball field in a small Iowan town three months after losing their mother.
There were, of course, tons of pictures being taken that morning, tons of bats being swung, tons of baseballs being tossed around. It was a lot of what we did on the previous day but busier. We didn’t care. “The Field of Dreams” was one of our favorite movies growing up, so to be there experiencing it all was enough for us. My dad bought us each a “Field of Dreams” shirt before we left, even buying a 1917 White Sox hat (which I still think he has somewhere) for himself. Then, inevitably, we headed home, back to real life and back to getting on with our lives.
In talking to my father about this vacation recently, he mentioned that he’d like to go back but he’s afraid to have a less magical experience than the first time. I suppose some memories are best left as they are. It certainly wasn’t the same when Kyle and I went back to visit in 2006, but it was interesting to see it all again. The corn wasn’t as high as it needed to be, there were now two entrances and two gift shops (there had been a property battle since our last visit), and because we showed up for a fifteen minute clear window on an otherwise rainy day the place was barren. I can say pretty confidently that it wasn’t the experience we’d had the first time, but it was still the Field of Dreams. What a name for that place.
Friday, April 17, 2009
#5 – Washington DC – Just about every single person my age was taken to Washington D.C. as an eighth grader, yet somehow my brother and I were left out of this particular rite of passage. I want to see the White House, Arlington National Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial, and all that other good stuff. I know it’s probably a generally unexciting trip, but I’m a history nerd. I dig that sort of thing.
#4 – New Orleans – I fully understand that outside of the French Quarter, “Nawlins” is a mess, but there’s a mystique to the city that has always made me long for a visit. The food, the music, the architecture—it’s all so uniquely New Orleans. I really need to go, even if just for a long weekend.
#3 – San Diego – After having visited San Francisco last year during Spring Break, my wife and I fell in love with California, and from what we understand San Diego rivals San Fran as California’s most beautiful city. I’ve got a cousin out there who loves it, and plus there’s that awesome zoo.
#2 – New York City – It’s huge. There’s so much to do there. And I know it’s expensive to have fun in NYC, but between Ellis Island, the Statue of Lib, and Times Square, there’s more icons there than I’d know what to do with. Add in all the shows, restaurants, and homeless people and you’ve got yourself a vacation.
#1 – Boston – There’s no reason for me to be this infatuated with a city I’ve never seen, but just knowing it’s the oldest major city in the county intrigues me. Plus, Salem is close, Plymouth Rock is close, and Lexington & Concord is close. There’s so much history there. Plus, my grandpa Brigham grew up like 45 minutes west of Boston, even giving me even more reasons to get out there and sniff around a little bit.
Curiously Left Out:
Los Angeles – My wife wants to see Hollywood more than anything, but L.A. doesn’t really hold much appeal to me. I’d absolutely go, but it’s a bit to smarmy for me.
Honolulu – Hawaii is supposed to be beautiful, and I’d actually really love to go, but because it’s so ridiculously expensive I’d rather spend my money on more attainable goals. Hawaii is like the hot chick you know you’ll never get, so you aim lower to maintain your happiness. For the record, I married my Hawaii, so I’ll also assume this vacation will happen eventually.
Las Vegas – I don’t gamble and I don’t like strip clubs. What other reason do I have for Vegas? Plus, I’m scheduled to make my first trip there this summer to cover the NBA summer league. So I’ll get a gander at it then.
Philadelphia – I actually really want to go for Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and, most importantly, to run up the Art Museum steps to the theme song of “Rocky,” but beyond that I’ve found that there’s really not much to do in Philly. You could spend about half a day there without getting bored. I’ll go to do what I want to do, but it doesn’t crack the Top Five.
There are probably great cities I’m just not thinking about right now, but these five are the ones I think most about when Wifey and I or Brother and I talk about doing a bit of traveling. It’ll take me a lifetime to get through everything I want to get through, but that’s why there’s so much to see. I don’t want to retire and have nothing left to see, right?
Thursday, April 16, 2009
In the trophy case at the Shirk Center en route to the recreational basketball courts, there’s a yellowing vintage Seattle SuperSonics jersey with the number 43 plastered across the front in a somewhat discordant combination of yellow and kelly green. You can’t see the back, but it reads “Sikma” in a block font curling in an arch over the numbers. The first name that accompanies “Sikma” is, of course, “Jack,” a former NBA All-Star and IWU alum.
As a lifelong NBA fan, I know my stuff when it comes to basketball that was played before I was born, so I’m fully aware of how good this guy was. It helped too that he played his high school ball at one of the school’s in my alma mater’s conference, so I’ve been hearing about how legendary this guy is my whole life.
That’s why it was such an honor to finally meet him.
Nowadays he’s an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets, his primary function being to help turn Yao Ming into a respectable NBA center. I guess it’s sort of working, but any shortcomings by the famous Chinese center are no fault of Sikma’s. Yao’s just soft, that’s all.
But in introducing myself at a 2008 Bulls game as a fellow IWU grad, I found Sikma to return the handshake with genuine kindness. That may not sound like much, but when I’ve introduced myself to other former NBA legends currently acting as assistant coaches (cough—Patrick Ewing—cough, cough), I haven’t been greeted quite so warmly.
They say we Wesleyanites are particularly intelligent, and I see no real evidence to prove otherwise, so I wasn’t surprised to find my conversation with Mr. Sikma to be an extremely cerebral one. He talks about basketball like it’s physics or something, raining down deep sports philosophies with loquacious phrasings and poetic flair. Nice and smart. He’ll find himself an eligible lady in no time with qualities like that.
I thought my one meeting with Sikma would be the end of my experience with the legend, but when the Rockets came through the United Center again this year I re-introduced myself and he actually remembered me. Turns out he found the magazine piece I wrote on him to be especially flattering, so he took a minute to introduce me to his brother (another Wesleyan grad) and a couple other friends from his college days. Had a great little conversation that reminded me how great it is to be in the IWU Bubble.
Three full seasons into doing the basketball thing, visiting players and coaches are starting to remember me when they come back. It’s just a matter of repetition. But to have a guy I respect so much remember me was pretty flattering. I can’t stand the Houston Rockets, but I always check that game off on my calendar hoping to bump into my Wesleyan Idol again.
To read the 2008 piece I wrote about my meeting with Sikma for the Illinois Wesleyan alumni magazine, click HERE.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Asia is so ridiculous with their training of future Olympic champions. They'll be putting this girl in the 2012 summer games and telling us she's 19 years old. Just wait.
The Whitest Kids You Know are always good for some fun, politically incorrect humor, and this "Black Doctor" bit is no different.
And finally, a link to the new Eminem video:
He's always good for a chuckle. Enjoy this week's YouTube goodies!
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Back when chariot races were part of the Olympics, the charioteer was not the person awarded the traditional olive branch. Instead, the owner and breeder of the horse was given props. It didn't help, of course, that most charioteers were pithy slaves.
There were women drivers back then, though, and the first woman to ever technically win an Olympic event was a young lady named Kyniska, who won first in a chariot race way, way back in the day. But she was a slave, so she couldn't technically go in the books as a winner. The first woman to actually win a gold medal was Charlotte Cooper, who dominated Tennis in London, 1900.
The games have changed a lot over the years, though cheating is nothing new. We've grown up dealing with sterroid scandals, but back in 388 BC a boxer paid all his opponents to lose. Back then you couldn't strip an athlete of his olive branch, so as punishment he had to commission six statues of Zeus to decoarte the entrance to the Olympic Stadium. That couldn't have been cheap.
So there's your daily nugget of Olympic trivia. Let's hope Chi-Town takes 2016!
Monday, April 13, 2009
In the first place, beer has absolutely no business standing seductively on the same table as a midterm study guide. Six proud brown Pacifico bottles sweating sweet condensation through their honey-gold labels, taunting us to abandon our studies of Romantic European Literature. Nope. Something like that has no more business on a study room table than a large-chested stripper pining for singles. But it was sort of a foregone conclusion that halfway through any study session we’d take a beer break, just one drink a piece, so we could free our minds momentarily from the very deep intellectual depths of poetry I myself could barely comprehend.
It’s just that—once in a while—that slight procrastination coupled with that one delicious temptation took us away from what was necessary for our academic betterment. This is what happened the night of Mardi Gras, which doubled as the eve of our Romantic Lit midterm exam. Clearly, stupid things were meant to happen. And happen they did.
Studying for a literature exam isn’t at all like studying for a science or math exam in that chemical formulas and sigma functions have pretty black-and-white answers. You’re wrong or you’re right. But when it comes to literature the grading is subjective, and depending on how ridiculously intelligent your professor is and expects you to also be, getting full credit on deeply analytical questions can be as challenging as childbirth or juggling.
So the environment at one of these study sessions is pretty heavy. Usually we met at Rhys’s building—a converted mansion now used to house several international students—because it housed this fantastic Victorian library room (sans books) with a long oak table down the center. Sitting in there made it feel like you were holding a meeting of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or like Sherlock Holmes were due at any minute to explain a crime to well-dressed men with giant gray mustaches and monocles. It was a cool setting for being intellectual, and it was quiet, and it had those doors that rolled shut instead of swinging on hinges. In other words, it was perfect.
The four of us gathered ‘round one end of the giant table and scoured over notes and tomes, trying to make sense of Blake and Shelley and Keats. We’d argue over what certain lines meant, or how a particularly complex phrase could hold two or three different meanings. I’ve said this many times before, but as I graduated college my English major was right there on the brink of what my brain was capable of comprehending. Had my courses gotten even 5% more difficult I would’ve had to cover my ears just to keep the exploded bits of brain from leaking down the sides of my face. This stuff was hard, no question about it.
Luckily for me, the other three guys in my group all managed a unique blend of intellect, love for literature, and spontaneity. I was the only guy heading into the education field, which meant Rhys, Elwood, and Garrett all would likely attempt careers as writers. You’ve only got three options as an English major—teacher, writer, or editor—and these were not guys meant for cubicles and office buildings, combing through science textbooks for a paycheck. These were the kind of guys who needed to travel to places like Scotland and London to get in touch with their literary roots. These were the kind of guys who needed to smoke things and drink imported beers. They weren’t like me at all in any way except humor, but I always envied them for the free-spiritedness they brought to the table. At 21 years old fresh off not one but two serious heartbreaks over the course of my senior year, I needed them and their stupid ideas more than they’ll probably ever know. They helped me have fun and loosen up my underthings a little bit. Think of that last semester of college as my metaphorical switching from briefs to boxers.
In the spirit of these three guys’ impulsiveness, we broke from studying after about ninety minutes and decided to run up the road to what was perhaps the most shoddy, rundown Kroger in this history of grocery stores to grab a six-pack of something. For some reason Garrett had this obsession with Pacifico back in college, so that’s what we almost always got. By the time we’d returned to the oak table and cracked open a cold, bitter cerveza, the desire to study any more had all but abandoned us. The fact that Mardi Gras parties were taking place on campus that night didn’t help us refocus our efforts.
One would think the simple gravity of a huge midterm examination would be enough to keep us studying despite our restlessness, but in this one would be wrong. Mardi Gras parties meant that women would be exposing their chests to anyone with beads, and as four single males we really wanted to see some exposed chests. So Garrett came up with the plan.
“Look, let’s just go to Mardi Gras,” he said, “and see four pairs of breasts. We’ll see four pairs of breasts, maybe have one drink, then come back and finish studying.”
“Four pairs of breasts?” Elwood asked, “Or four breasts total?” This was apparently an important distinction.
“Four pairs,” Garrett reiterated.
“But we need beads,” Rhys chimed in, a fine point indeed. “Where can we get beads on such short notice?
Suddenly I was inspired. Saving the day, I shared that there had been some beads around the necks of statues at the campus library earlier that day to celebrate Fat Tuesday. Maybe they’d still be there.
So we heartily stomped through the front doors of the library like Reservoir Dogs, splitting up on the ground floor on a search for beads. It was an in-and-out mission, and after five minutes we reconvened outside and counted up our wares.
“Four,” Elwood said, grinning the grin of fate. “We’ve got exactly four.”
And so, we began the cross-campus trek to the fraternity house hosting the biggest Mardi Gras party of the night, intent on coaxing coeds to lift their shirts at us. This is the way we studied for tests.
We must’ve thought the ten-minute walk would involve the usual unintelligent jibber-jabber of twentysomethings, but along the way something interesting happened. Through February chill—bare branches stretching ominously overhead like cracks in a midnight blue sky—we started to study, remembering things from our first two hours of cramming. Except we didn’t do this via witty conversation; we did it via hip-hop.
I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but we started putting all of our mnemonic devices and memorizations into the form of song. Each of us was pretty musical, so we’d take turns beatboxing and humming while the other person rapped. To be honest I don’t remember a single thing from that literary freestyle now except for the word “Nobodaddy,” which was part of a title of a William Blake poem we needed to know.
It passed the time well and surprisingly, though there were quite a few beers and other forms of Mardi Gras entertainment squeezed in between our walk and our exam, we remembered everything we needed to remember. After spending minimal time at the party we headed back with a buzz and finished studying, and the following day each of us did exceptionally well. No one did worse than a B, which was saying a lot for a teacher that awarded A’s only for geniuses and the ghosts of the Romantic poets themselves.
“Studying” for our final exam later that semester was equally eventful, as we hoped our new revolutionary way of preparing for tests would lead us to the same success on the semester exam. It went well, too, as we expected. So confident were we that it would go well, Garret brought a small red cooler to class and stuck it under his chair while we tested. When the four of us were finished, we walked a couple of blocks south to the park on a beautiful April afternoon, and flipped open the lid with an air of finality and celebration.
Inside were six honey-gold Pacificos, nested amidst melting ice cubes blinking brilliantly in the sunlight like wet diamonds.
Friday, April 10, 2009
#10 – Oakland A’s – I can think of so few times in the history of professional sports where green worked effectively. It does for the Athletics of Oakland.
#9 – Chicago White Sox – So what if they’re my favorite team? I love the logo and the black-and-white color scheme empowers me (and matches everything). Good guys wear black!
#8 – Chicago Cubs (1914) – So what if they’re my least favorite team? The modern day hat gives me nausea just being in the same room as a person wearing it, but this old Cubby Bear logo is rather quaint. I dig the simplicity of it.
#7 – Washington Senators (1960s) – I could probably just as easily give this spot to today’s Washington Nationals, but the hat doesn’t match the rest of their uniform. Why award the throwback when the original started the trend?
#6 – Detroit Tigers – Both hats are gorgeous, but I like the orange “D” a little better than the white one. I’ve always had a soft spot for Old English fonts, and it works for Los Tigres.
#5 – St. Louis Cardinals – Nobody does all-red like the Cardinals, and their infamous “STL” logo is classic. I wanted to put the old St. Louis Browns hat on this list too, but it’s essentially the exact same hat substituting brown for red. Great hat.
#4 – Chicago White Sox (1917) – My love for the Sox and “The Field of Dreams” makes this simple hat one of my all-time favorites. The grey wool adds a little character to the whole ensemble, but the cool logo and the pinstripes are what make this hat work.
#3 – Boston Red Sox – The “B” is classic. I still have a hard time believing the team introduced an alternate cap this year to give their iconic noggin-toppers an occasional rest. Simple color scheme, cool oldschool font. Formula for success.
#2 – New York Yankees – Believe me, I hate, loathe, and abhor the Yanks, but no logo in the history of sports is more recognizable. It’s simple and classic, and great for all the same reasons Boston’s is, except Boston doesn’t have quite the championship history as New York.
#1 – Brooklyn Dodgers (1940s) – In my humble opinion, the most beautiful baseball hats in the history of the game. It’s a shame they had to move to LA and change everything up. But who doesn’t think of Jackie Robison when they see this hat? My favorite, hands-down.
Pittsburgh Pirates (1970s) – Not only did this hat have horizontal yellow stripes, but it was box-shaped as well. Pee-yew!
Seattle Pilots (1960s) – Were the little wings on the bill necessary?
Chicago White Sox (1980s) – I love my Sox, but the 70s and 80s were dark days for the South Side of Chicago’s fashion sense. And yes, I own this hat anyway.
Milwaukee Brewers (1980s) – The “MB” glove logo is genius, but the finished product is overly colorful and cartoony. Fun hat, but ugly all the same.
I’m positive I’m forgetting a few winners (and losers) here, so feel free to weigh in with disagreements. For those of you that care nothing about baseball—what’s wrong with you?
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Perhaps my favorite character on the show other than Baby Michelle was Joey (not “Uncle” Joey as is commonly misconceived), so when I got to meet Dave Coulier in college I just about lost it. And by “it” I mean bladder control.
Between the years of 2000 and 2004 one of the hottest trends on college performance circuits was bringing the semi-stars of the ‘80s to campuses to speak or sing or do standup or whatever it is that these people were doing for money at the time. I’m sure this idea will still be hot ten years from now, but it will be the little fat kid from “Two and a Half Men” or those little Zach and Cody’s.
But for me, on a delightful night my senior year of school, Coulier came through my university to do a standup comedy set. I worked sound for the student center, so it was my job to help make sure Joey had everything he needed over the course of the night. After his show—which featured all his “Full House” staples, including the Bullwinkle impression, the water sprinkler thing, and Popeye—our boss arranged a meet-and-greet, so he shot the crap with us and signed autographs and that whole deal. He was an extremely nice guy.
Seriously, exactly what you’d expect him to be, he was. Think Joey without the bad acting. Just a naturally, kind, middle-aged dude doing his thing. Zero trace of arrogance and just a real everyman feel about him. I know that sounded gay what I just said, but I’m not sure how else to say it. The fellah was a gent, what can I say?
Now, if he’d brought the Olsen Twins I could call this an A-List experience, but even without the big name I enjoyed the crap out my night with a childhood favorite.
Now I have to cut-it-out and get back to real life. Get it? Cut…It…Out…
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Kimmel isn't always the most tasteful humorist, but this piece about what Obama jokes are okay with black people is pretty classic.
This PSA took a lot of heat in Australia because... well... because it's just WRONG. Watch it, and you'll see why.
Ukranians know how to rock...
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
Singultus is the technical term for hiccups, and it occurs when your diaphragm (the muscle under your lungs that helps you inflate and deflat them) gets irritated and forces rapid intakes of air. Those intakes happen so quickly that your throat makes a little noise.
The cause of these little bastards is one of three things: you've either got an upset stomach, out-of-whack gastric temperature (whatever that is), or you've eaten/drank too much too quickly.
Most hiccups only last for a few minutes, but they can go on and on, sometimes lasting for days. And as it turns out, a lot of those old homemade cures can actually help--holding your breath, drinking from the far side of the glass, swallowing a spoonful of sugar--it's all supposed get rid of hiccups.
The moral, of course, is to eat slowly and in moderation. Or none of this matters and hiccups are just occasionally unavoidable. Glad I could be of assistance.
Monday, April 06, 2009
My buddy Lee had a car, so he and me and my long-time good friend Gates hit the dark country roads after the Homecoming bonfire, our trunk filled to brim with two-ply. If you think this is just some story about giggling like school girls while we toss pretty ribbons of toilet tissue through the nighttime silhouettes of trees, you’re wrong. This night ended with a dent in Lee’s hood about two feet long.
It all started innocently enough, us picking out the houses of girls we thought were cute and bombarding them with Quilted Northern (the houses, not the girls). At one house, painted in the blackness of a cold October night, things almost went awry for the first time that evening. We felt the chill of the air wafting in through our t-shirt sleeves, freezing our armpits and chests, but with each draft another train of paper flipped through the branches overhead, and eventually the exertion prickled our foreheads in sweat. There was a lot of “Shhh” and laughing at things that probably weren’t particularly funny, when a light shot in the living room’s front bay window.
We mumbled some curse words and darted between backyards for the car, which was parked inconspicuously a block or two away. With the heat of the little automobile’s interior reenergizing us, we exploded in laughter the way only pranking teenagers can do. We knew police cars were making their rounds that night, but in our community at least they weren’t particularly strict about this particular night. In small communities like ours, the cops are people who stuck around, which means that they’d all done what we were doing at some point and probably had no intention of ruining our fun. We were vandalizing with impunity.
But just because Johnny Law probably wouldn’t punish us didn’t mean we wouldn’t take on a barrage of civilian backlash. One of my friends, for example, stayed at home with his brothers instead of heading out like the rest of us. They’d set up law chairs on their roofs and hold a dozen eggs in each of their laps. If anybody came by to taint their property, they’d be doing it with sticky yoke dripping down their noggins.
In a way, that made his house even more desirable for potential TPers. Adolescents laugh in the face of people who think they’re smarter than them. Usually, they actually are smarter than them, but the adolescents still laugh because they’re sort of stupid like that.
It would take a certain kind of stupid teen to brave the home of Mr. H., our gigantic biology teacher closely resembling Vader of WWE fame, known for protecting his home from us damn meddling kids. Only he wasn’t the kind of guy who sat idly on his roof with eggs. Let’s just say Mr. H. took a little more active role in dissuading students from fouling up his beloved trees.
Rolling up the long country road to H’s house, I literally couldn’t believe the scene that had laid itself out in front of me. There must have been 12 cars parked along the road, each of them emptied of their pubescent occupants, who were running around the premises with the determined fervor of Civil War reenactors. There had to have been at least thirty kids in the man’s yard, and toilet paper rained down from the sky like white, papery fireworks. Some of the attackers were soaping tags on the windows, and an occasional egg or two would fly through the dark, seemingly for effect.
Stunned, the three of us sat in Lee’s car wondering what exactly we could do here to leave our own mark. Shutting off the ignition once he’d found a place to park with reasonable access to a hasty getaway, everything suddenly grew eerily silent. The hum of the engine and the radio cut off, leaving only the muffled shouts and exultations of our classmates through the car windows.
We all craned our heads warily in the quiet and safety of Lee’s car, when Lee, in the midst of a wry smile, asked, “Where’s Mr. H?”
“I don’t know,” Gates responded.
And that’s when, as if out of a movie, Mr. H. dropped from the sky like a skydiver, crashing the brunt of his massive frame into the hood of the car with the deep sound of folding metal. Pressing his round, red-bearded face to the windshield he unleashed an animalistic growl, prompting the three of us to scream like little girls. In vain, Lee flicked on his windshield wipers—clearly a futile attempt at removing a three-hundred pound man from the front of one’s vehicle.
Keys still in the ignition, Lee hit reverse and H slid triumphantly from the car to his feet, standing like Jason Voorhees and smiling puckishly as we drove away, not even having set foot on the man’s sidewalks. If Lee were a trained stunt driver he would’ve executed one of those awesome skidding auto moves to point us in the direction of home, but with his limited experience driving a car our escape was complete only after he clumsily maneuvered a three-point turnabout while Gates and I feared for our lives. Had Mr. H. actually been a serial killer, he’d have caught up to us by then, shattered the windows with his bare fists and dragged us each out of there one by one to eat our souls. Even knowing that H wasn’t a serial killer didn’t guarantee us that this wouldn’t happen.
We didn’t have much toilet paper left in the trunk, anyway, so we thought with that particular exciting development we’d call it a night. Our hands were shaking the whole drive home—not because we’d done something illegal, but because we’d almost been devoured by the man who taught us about ions and Bunsen burner safety.
Regardless, I was given permission to misbehave for the first time in my life, and I took full advantage. Since then, I’ve only been arrested twice, but both hookers said they were eighteen. I’m kidding, obviously. Only one of the hookers said she was eighteen.
As far as I know Lee’s hood still has that dent—a trophy from our evening of debauchery. What a trophy it is. Ah, “good teenage fun.” Or “vandalism.” Whatever. I’m not one to judge.
Friday, April 03, 2009
This young lady, a rather proficient young author in my creative writing class, was to get a fake failing grade on her most recent story, which I passed out to her as a 40% F. My only comment on the final page was, “This is the worst story I’ve ever ready. Absolutely horrible.” When she got it she asked, “Is this a joke?” And I replied, totally straight-faced, “No, sweetheart, I’m sorry.”
That’s when she started to cry.
So I gave her the REAL final, graded page of her story (graded fairly, with a much less frightening score at the bottom), and she started laughing, more from relief than humor. Her boyfriend had signed his name at the bottom of the real score sheet, and she, through thankful giggles, informed me of her intent to kill him.
She was an excellent sport about the whole thing, as I expected her to be, but that’s really the worst I’ve probably ever done for an April Fool’s prank. Other people, however, have done much better than me over the years, which is the heart of this week’s Top Five.
#5 – Flying Penguins – For some reason, the BBC is especially proficient at coming up with awesome ideas for April Fool’s jokes. This one was announced by UK’s “Telegraph” in 2008, claiming that a television show entitled “Miracles of Evolution” would air the first ever footage of penguins actually flying. The fact that it was hosted by ex-Monty Python trouper Terry Jones and scheduled to air on April 1st didn’t tip enough people off, but it still ended up a pretty funny gag.
#4 – The Curious Case of Sidd Finch – Legendary “Sports Illustrated” writer George Plimpton put out a piece for the April 1, 1985 copy of SI centering around one Hayden Siddhartha Finch, who could throw a baseball 168 miles per hour. The record at that time was only 103mph, so that was quite an accomplishment, but the story behind the guy was nuts. The fictional Finch grew up in an orphanage, was adopted by an archaeologist, attended Harvard, spent time with a Buddhist yogi in Tibet, and pitched wearing only one shoe, which just so happened to be a heavy work boot. Oh, and he was trying to decide between baseball and playing French horn. In the April 8th issue the magazine announced Finch’s retirement from baseball, and on April 15th they let the general public know it was all an April Fool’s joke.
(Click for Full Story.)
#3 – Barack Pulls NASCAR Funding – As if staunch Republicans need anymore anecdotal evidence that our current president is the antichrist, “Car and Driver” magazine printed a joke story in their 2009 April Fool’s issue stating that President Obama had ordered Chevrolet and Dodge to pull funding for NASCAR by the end of the season if they wanted any sort of bailout support from the federal government. The reason I consider this prank to be so fantastic is because NASCAR fans are friggin’ nuts. They must have been all antsy in their pantsy. But it’s not true, thankfully, so you can all go back to just hating Obama a little bit, instead of with your entire heart and mind. The man has nothing against racecars.
(Click for Full Story.)
#2 – Dead Fairy – In 2007 a magician’s prop-maker from England posted a story on his website about an eight-inch dead fairy corpse that had recently been discovered. The thing looks eerily real, and anybody who’s ever loved fantasy stories would want more than anything to believe it was true—something that seemed especially easy to do as the prop-maker, a man by the name of Dan Baines, claimed to have had the remains checked out by anthropologist and forensics experts who couldn’t explain it. Once it became known that it was a hoax, Baines sold his prop on eBay for 280 pounds.
(Click for Full Story.)
#1 – Spaghetti Trees – People in the ‘50s were stupid. The BBC ran a story in 1957 talking about the excellent annual crop of Switzerland’s spaghetti trees, citing the “mild winter” and “virtual disappearance of the spaghetti weevil” as reasons for such a find harvest. The video still exists, limp spaghetti noodles dangling from branches and harvesters going around collecting the fruit. In the days that followed the report, several people called into the station asking how they, too, could cultivate their own spaghetti trees. Like I said, people in the ‘50s were stupid.
Living the life of a prankster can’t be an easy one, and truthfully I don’t usually have the heart do these sorts of things to people. For example, I’ve got a few students who are so into the Dungeons and Dragons sort of thing that I think they’d give half a limb to discover that fairies were real. To dangle that in front of their nose and then tear it away… my heart would break.
Now, giving an academically conscious young lady a fake “F”—that I can handle. Making children cry—no problem. I suppose this speaks volumes for the sort of person I am.
Oh well. Hope your April Fool’s day was relatively quiet, and watch out for spaghetti weevils.
Thursday, April 02, 2009
John Paxson is obviously the GM of the Bulls, and B.J. Armstrong is Derrick Rose’s agent. I bump into Bill Wennington at games all the time because he does the Bulls’ radio broadcasts, and Steve Kerr has been through Chicago a few times both as a TV announcer and the general manager of the Phoenix Suns. Stacy King does TV for Comcast, Bill Cartwright is an assistant coach, and of course Phil Jackson still heads up the L.A. Lakers. Beyond that, though, I haven’t had much luck. Michael Jordan, for example, is still an elusive delusion for me, though I hope to bump into him someday.
What about Scottie Pippen, you might ask? I have indeed met him—a couple of times, actually—and thus far I’d have to call him the centerpiece of my Bulls championship “collection.”
The first time I met Scottie was during my first season covering the Bulls. In the hallowed halls of the United Center, across from the visitors’ locker room, there’s a small suite stocked with a vast assortment of delicious foods and beverages reserved for friends and family of the team. Pippen, for whatever reason, was invited to partake in the wining and dining on this particular night, and after the Bulls lost he emerged from the room to say hello to some of the opposing players.
Little hand recorder in hand, I noticed him poking his head out while I waited around for the locker rooms to open up for postgame media availability. Shoving the recorder into my pocket so as not to frighten Mr. Pippen (off-duty athletes run from those things like dogs from the vacuum cleaner), and I approached him with my hand extended.
Having spent an entire evening indulging in the free food and spirits, Pip was in an especially jovial mood, and when I introduced myself and told him what a huge fan I was growing up, he practically hugged me. But the exchange was lightning quick and his attention span was Danny Devito short, so the whole experience for me was over before I knew it.
But there he’d been—the second-best player in Bulls history, the guy I’d grown up watching, the man who helped provide my childhood with six NBA championships to celebrate. And there he’d be a couple of years later at All-Star weekend in Phoenix, where I’d introduce myself a second time, and he’d have absolutely no recollection of who on God’s Green Earth I was.
It said a lot to me, though, that he remained cordial, if not distant, during this second first meeting. His smile always seems like it’s at about 80%, so I have no idea how genuine the man is. All I can say is that he was nice enough—twice—and did nothing to make me think of less of him as a human being and childhood hero. I’ve heard stories of him acting rather scatterbrained at times, but who cares. The guy has six rings. He can make 2+2=5 if he wants to as far as I’m concerned.
Next up has to be His Airness. Jordan’s being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame later this year, and I’m hoping to be able to make the trek out to Massachusetts to cover the festivities that weekend. That will be my chance, and after that it won’t really matter who else I meet from those championship years. Pip and MJ will be in the bank, and I won’t be able to care less about Jud Buechler and Luc Longley.
Okay, Jud will still be on the list, but who cares about Longley?
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Let me tell you I'd discipline the following kid, instead of arguing with him in a "yes-you-did-no-I-didn't" fashion like the mother does in this video. I'd find out what matters to that child, and every time he raised his voice to me, I would take that thing away for a duration of time. If it weren't illegal, I would pound his little chubby rear end into the floor. I wish he would slap me.
All text taken word-for-word from online Fundamentalist Christian forums. Some people are idiots. The second half of this video is my favorite.