January 2007 Archives

mr. good hand, mr. bad hand

All told, I was lucky. I could have been doubled up with one of my slob teenage sisters, but instead I slept in the bottom bunk under my brother, Russ. At 14, he was nine years older than me and the acknowledged master of all things worth knowing. All these decades later, in fact, he still claims to hold this title.

(An aside to prospective parents: a nine year gap between brothers is insanely cruel to the younger party. By the time I was big enough to fight back, he was a practicing dentist.)

I don't remember much about those years. I remember crying one time because my nose was stuffed and I couldn't breathe, and I remember Russ yelling at me to stop. I explained. He replied that it was, in fact, possible for me to breathe through my effing mouth. A life-changing revelation.

Mostly, I remember the occasional visits from Mr. Good Hand and Mr. Bad Hand.

handSignal_ok_200x200.jpgSometimes, a hand would appear. Hanging from the bunk above, it would watch me. Sometimes it beckoned me. If it was the entity I came to think of as Mr. Good Hand, he would perform intricate hand-shakes with me, give me five, thumb-wrestle, even give me candy. But if it was Mr. Bad Hand, run for cover. Mr. Bad Hand would give me searing Indian burns, peel my thumb back until I screamed, crack all of my knuckles at once, fling me out of bed, or worst of all, yank me airborne and wedge my tiny body in the two-inch gap between the top bunk and the wall. Sometimes I even had to wake up my brother and have him unwedge me.

The genius of Mr. Good Hand, Mr. Bad Hand was that they were utterly indistinguishable. I tried to recognize them, but there was no apparent pattern to which side of the bed they would appear on. Even the placement of the thumb seemed to change. Most insidious of all, Mr. Bad Hand sometimes pretended to be his kindly twin, only to later announce himself in a horrible and painful reveal. Beware bad hands bearing candy.

Why touch the hand at all, you ask? Why didn't I learn that my participation was central to my own torment? Because I had to know. I simply had to know which hand was watching over me. No amount of bunk wedges could dissuade this lethal curiosity.

It was good practice, as it turns out, for dating.

running out the clock

It started out nobly enough. Given my dog Ed's recent physical deterioration, I stopped making any plans that would require me to leave home for long. Spokane folks can visit me this year, and I don't think I'll be watching the Seahawks play in Pittsburgh as hoped. That's okay. I owe it to Ed.

Somewhere along the way, though, this notion has transmogrified uncomfortably from "I owe it to Ed" to "making a list of really cool stuff I get to do as soon as Ed dies."

I try to puncture my guilt with gallows humor. "Would you get a move on?" I ask her. "You're critical path on my Australian road trip."

It doesn't help.

wonder of wonders, a miracle a miracle

I'm was working Saturday morning and generally feeling sorry for myself when my phone rang.

Holy cow, one of my parent-friends is actually calling me on a weekend!

I've grown accustomed, you see, my parent-friends granting me an audience under only one condition: when their only alternative activity is work. But not on this gloriously sunny Saturday.

Maybe she wants to do something. Fantastic.

I answered the phone with a chipper "Well, hi!"

She wanted the phone number of another parent-friend.

youthanasia

I never know what to say when someone dreads, out loud, my own reality. For instance, a friend getting back together with her exceedingly paranoid and nasty ex because "I was alone all weekend, John. It was horrible. Horrible!"

"Uh, I haven't seen another human being since last Thurs—"

"So I don't care if he is emotionally abusive. It's still better than being alone."

Another friend insists he needs a new car because his old car is, as it happens, half my own car's age. That he needs a new car is clearly not a self-evident truth to me, yet here we are, blinking at one another.

Christmas is an oldie but goodie. "I didn't even get to see my Dad this year until the 30th," a friend practically weeps. "Isn't that...just...awful?"

I haven't seen my family on a holiday since the 80s. She knows this. My parents are dead. She knows this too. Neither thing upsets me particularly, so I settle on:

"I spent Christmas alone, sick as hell, and heavily medicat—"

"This isn't about you, John."

Finally, we agree on something.

picking a horse

As I was munching popcorn and watching the excellent AFC championship game, I couldn't help but note how much more I enjoy football when my team's been eliminated. It's the difference between your wife and your mistress. Yeah, you love your wife, but on the other hand you never have to hold a bucket for your mistress when she's got the stomach flu. She's just about the quickie. Meaningless, yes, but pleasant.

So says the man with neither wife nor mistress.

With the evil teams having been dispatched, I really didn't have a rooting interest in the final four. So is it with the final two.

So here's my case for rooting for Indianapolis.

  • Tony Dungy is a long-suffering member of the Steeler family tree, and he finally made it to the Show as a coach.
  • Mouthy Mike Vanderjagt is sitting at home while Peyton and Dungy, now liberated from "Shank" Vanderjagt, finally got to the Super Bowl. Coincidence?
  • People said KC would shred the Colts' running defense, and KC got stuffed.
  • People said that the Ravens' physical defense would pound the "soft" Colts, and the Colts didn't flinch.
  • People said that Manning's longtime nemisis Belichick would, as always, get in Manning's head. Manning prevailed.
And here's the case for the Bears:
  • Every football whore for whom I have no respect is rooting for Indianapolis.
Go Bears.

the content of their melanocytes

I officially feel sorry for Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith.

In the eyes of the media, they are not decent and beloved men, deserving of coaching in the Super Bowl. They are neither geniuses like Belichick nor towering leaders of men like Parcells. The sum of them: they are black men. This all the media knows or cares to know. Of this Smith was reminded by my own team's village idiot, Terry Bradshaw, who, upon the Bears advancing to the Super Bowl, made his very first question to the celebrating Smith "How does it feel being the first African-American coach in the Super Bowl?" Three hours later, Dungy answered the same question, only it was "second." It's clear that much as the hack storyline last year was "Jerome Bettis playing his final game in his hometown of Detroit," this year is the "black coaches Super Bowl." Sigh.

Hell, even new Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was asked what he thought about the black coaches Super Bowl in the third question of his first press conference. The third bloody question!

I don't diminish the historical significance of this. Let's note it and celebrate it. But to make the moment about it is distasteful to me. Smith and Dungy are more than black coaches, and their teams are composed of more than black coaches' players. As Tomlin noted, real progress will be when this isn't a story.

• • •

I am presently a polka dot. Nestled in Thompson's, a bar in Seattle's predominantly black Central District, I've been drinking bourbon and billing for it for several hours. I'm also the only white guy out of the 20 or so here. Not especially noteworthy except for one thing: in all the discussion here about the Super Bowl, the pigmentation of the coaches hasn't come up once. Not a once. Compare that to the one-note media coverage. Here, Dungy and Smith are discussed as men, as coaches. Call me peculiar, but I think mental health lies in us uptight white folk following this lead.

Now if you'll pardon me, I'm going to go pile on the scorn being heaped upon Terrell Owens for torching Bill Parcells.

ex week

It started at a recent lunch with Annette, who at various times was my editor and my boss. I told her my idea for my own memorial service. After I'd been dead, say, two weeks, I wanted my friends to gather in a sticky bar and hold a full-blown roast. No sentimentality, no hugging, no tears. Just one unabashed "he was such an asshole" story after another.

Annette perked up. "You're stupid if you don't do this while you're still alive," she replied. Annette's feedback always includes some variation on my being stupid.

"I mean, don't you want to be there for this?"

It was shortly after that conversation that I thought of having Ex Week on this page. Get an ex-girlfriend, an ex-friend, an ex-boss, an ex-subordinate, and an ex-editor to serve up their "he was such an asshole" stories. The idea's never really gone away, especially during weeks like this one where all of the ideas in my queue are difficult to write.

I'll see what interest I can drum up.

• • •

Since that conversation, I quietly nixed the idea of my posthumous roast. It was all too easy to imagine my two childless friends sitting in an otherwise empty bar, everyone else skipping the event because it couldn't be held at their house.

my sporting world in a nutshell

player_faneca.jpgLooking for news of the Steelers' coach search, I went to Steelers.com today.

Noticing with approval a large photo of unglamourous offensive lineman Alan Faneca on the home page, I chuckled smugly and went to see whether the Seahawks' home page featured their quarterback or their running back.

I was wrong. Dead wrong.

Chantale200_1024.jpgIt features Chantale.

She did four years of high school cheerleading, she loves the eliptical machine, and when asked what she likes best about being a SeaGal, she replied "Everything!"

Gotta respect the twelve fans.

three kings revisited

One of the first movies I reviewed on this site was 1999's Three Kings, which I caught again last night during an angry bout with insomnia. Although this film about post–Gulf War Iraq is obviously dated, it's still enjoyable. Notes:

  • What's more dated: characters debating whether blacks can play quarterback, or Hollywood moralizing about how George Bush I shouldn't have let Saddam remain to murder his citizenry?
  • Jamie Kennedy is in this movie? I had no idea. And Arrested Development's "Maebe" is barely more than a fetus here, portraying a terrified little Iraqi girl.
  • After the film ended and I resumed raging myself to sleep, I got to thinking about how post-Gulf War I, scads of Arab couples named their kids after George Bush I. How'd you like to be a fifteen year old Arab kid named "Georgebush Nidal" right about now?

i did not just read this

It's early in the morning and my eyes are blurry, so I'm hoping that's the problem. Because no one would be so utterly lacking in self-awareness that they would say this to a reporter, and no journalist would think this is newsworthy. Uh, right?

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (AP) -- The hookers are back on Bourbon Street. So are the drug dealers, the strippers with names like Rose and Desire, the out-of-town businessmen, the college students getting blitzed on candy-colored cocktails and beer in plastic cups.

But a closer look reveals things are not back to the way they were in the French Quarter. Sixteen months after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans' liveliest, most exuberant neighborhood is in a funk.

"The money's not the same. I remember when I made $1,200 a night," said Elizabeth Johnson, a manager and dancer at a Bourbon Street strip club, frowning at another slow night. "I know girls who used to never let people touch them, and now they're resorting to prostitution."

Of all the tragedies of Katrina—the thousands of destroyed homes, the uprooted families, the thousands of deaths, the hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, the looting, the disease, the government apathy—I think the strippers no longer making $1200/night and, no longer chaste, having to resort to prostitution is easily the most troubling. I weep. Truly.

Historically, I'm of one school of thought when it comes to NFL halftime shows. Three words: frisbee catchin' dogs. I don't need anything else. I don't want anything else. Frisbee catchin' dogs. Sadly, they seem to have fallen out of fashion. Perhaps the dogs unionized.

On Football Weekend this year, in Indy, they fielded something quite close in entertainment value. While the Colts and Bengals retired to the locker rooms, various mascots from around the league played a quick game of football. While in full costume. There's something oddly thrilling about a guy in a giant foam dolphin head catching a 10 yard slant and getting laid out by someone in a foam bronco costume. Yes, this feels good. It feels right.

I had the opposite feeling at the BCS championship game last week. Normally, I enjoy watching Ohio State's band humiliate the other team's, but this time it was me who was hanging my head in shame. You tell me. They set up a lean-to along the sideline, about 120 feet long and 20 feet wide. It had waves painted on it. The band, meanwhile, was out on the field playing the theme from "Titanic"—how hilarious is that bit of foreshadowing?—and forming a giant outline of the ship, which "floated" on the water lean-to. Okay. Stupid, but okay. But then the ship split in two, and we watched first one, then the other section disappear under the lean-to.

We sat speechless in our seats. Finally I gagged out "Um. People. We just re-enacted the deaths of 1500 people as halftime entertainment."

I was utterly appalled and embarrassed. What do you have in mind for an encore, Ohio State?

"The Hindenburg Follies"

"Oh, Guyana!"

"A George Gershwin Salute to the World Trade Center Collapse"

The mind reels.

This is fantastic. A school teacher in Portland shot this video this morning from his apartment.

self-awareness is a beautiful thing

My Japanese mom, Miss Sue, called last night to mother me. She immediately wanted to know how much I spent on my BCS ticket. When I declined to tell—what am I, stupid?—she berated me anyway for spending too much. I wouldn't have thought a non-relative capable of that.

Talk turned to the weather, and she complained that near her house, the city had plowed a steep hill, leaving an exposed sheet of ice with which she could not deal.

"My god," I said. "The carnage! Don't they realize how many Asian drivers there are in that neighborhood?"

"Old Asian drivers," Sue corrected.

• • •

While I'm doing my part for race relations...you ever wonder how Asian restaurants get away with hiring only Asians? These are the things I think about when a Chinese chick in a geisha robe brings me my bento box.

one step forward, two steps back

"Star Trek" will likely always be the gold standard for tokenism on TV. Not only did the bridge crew look like a Noah's Ark of humanity—one of everything—but when we traveled to the remote planets of Romulus or Bajor or whatever, we found white Romulans and black Romulans and Asian Romulans and Puerto Rican Romulans. It always astounded me that every planet in the galaxy has the exact same continents as Earth. Aliens aren't purple or polka-dotted or hairy or scaley. They're Asians. It also astounded me that 400 years from now, humans seem more racially pure, not less. Wouldn't we all just kinda blur together over that kind of time? I'm imagining a utopian future in which we all look like Dean Cain and Rosario Dawson. Don't take that away from me.

kalpenn.JPGI wouldn't go so far as to say "24" practices tokenism, but there's definitely something squirm-inducing afoot. The racial choices made in casting are a peculiar blend of heartwarming and appalling. The series is on its second black president, both of them saintly and wise. This viewer gets the distinct impression that the show is simply too forward-thinking to portray them any other way. Like, say, complex and ambitious human beings. The white president between them, though, was scheming scum on the order of Mussolini. So there's that.

marisolnichols.JPGHmm. That observation didn't really even occur to me until just now. Perhaps I was distracted by the show's treatment of Arab characters. We're battling Islamic terrorists this season, and in order to mitigate the use of Arabs as bad guys, we're given Arabs as good guys. The CTU boss is suddenly Arab, for instance. Except that she isn't. The actress is Mexican. And the Arab kid? He's really Indian.

So on the one hand we have producers ham-handedly trying to present a balanced view of a race, and on the other hand we have them positioning Mexicans and Indians in frame—right next to the other product placements—calling them Arabs, and expecting that the audience won't be able to tell the difference. Now that's progress.

I've suddenly got a notion to talk to a hot Mexic—er, Arab chick on a Nokia phone while driving a Ford vehicle. I don't know why. Perhaps I'll just stream Fox News on my Dell, instead.

atheitards

elin woodsStank troll Elin, who could not possibly be as hot in real life as she is in my imagination (right), poses a challenge. She tells of an trend among young atheists. They record footage of themselves renouncing the Holy Spirit, encourage others to do the same, and post it on YouTube. How, Elin leadingly asks, does this gibe with my validation theory?

Answer: all too well.

I really don't see a difference between this monkey-see-monkey-do, "have you posted your renunciation yet?" movement and a monkey-see-monkey-do, "have you been baptized yet?" one. Although self-described opposites, all of these people are followers. They are not content to walk quietly with their beliefs; they must have their beliefs heard and echoed by others. And what's the difference between watching atheist YouTube clips and watching TV religious services? Between atheist meetings and Christian churches? To me, none. It's all so much mutual masturbation. Want to distinguish yourself intellectually? Seek out someone who doesn't already agree with you.

These folks doubtless see themselves as opposites, even mortal enemies, but to me they're all just different flavors of needy.

fan DOs and DONT's

Even when Ohio State still led—hence before I was questioning my very birth, let alone why I was at the championship game—I wondered if I should really be attending games in person anymore. The bigger the game, the more deplorable fan conduct is becoming. I spent most of the Super Bowl and BCS championship wishing I could see the game. Thanks to my fellow fans and their underdeveloped senses of consideration, I would guess I saw maybe 70% of the Super Bowl and 40% of the BCS. When you're shelling out this kind of bank, those percentages inspire murderous daydreams. Visions of shivs, specifically.

Because of the overwhelming evidence that football fans are not born with this knowledge, I hereby bequeath to fandom this primer.

John's
DOs and DON'Ts
for football fans

DO DON'T
Stand and jeer when the opposing team is on offense, especially on third down. Stand the whole time. See the fans behind you? See how some of them are short, old, handicapped, or lazy? They cannot see through you. While you're still turned around, please also note the nice seat the team provided for your use. See how they didn't provide risers?
Stand and cheer after great plays. Leap up in the middle of the great play. I'd like to see how it turns out, thanks.
Get front row seats. I sure wish I had. Inexplicably stand up so that the 5000 dominoes behind you all must do likewise.
Sit the fuck down. Seriously. Argue with people when you're politely asked to sit down. For example, "It's the Super Bowl!" is not really a compelling argument for impeding a crippled 70 year old's view of the Super Bowl. (True story. He'd just had knee surgery and was on crutches, yet he was told off for very nicely asking someone to sit down.)
Proudly wear your team's colors. Wear an oversized rainbow afro that completely eclipses your neighbors' view of the field. If you must get on TV, paint your chest like a man.
Proudly wear your team's colors. Wear those asinine "ladies' versions." Your team's colors almost certainly do not include pink.
Make comments to your neighbors. That's what fandom is all about. Yell comments to players and coaches 2000 feet and 40,000 fans away. Amazingly enough, they cannot hear you.
Bitch about our mutual team. That's really what fandom is about. Attribute player/coach failings to race, sexual orientation, etc. I didn't shell out good money to be slimed, thanks.
Participate in team chants. Here we go, Stillers, here we go! Drunkenly inform your fellow fans that they suck because they don't join your theatrics. Double-penalty for ignoring the game in order to lecture "inferior" fans.
Say hi to friends at the game. Call them on your cell phone, stand up, and wave. See "shiv," above.
Good naturedly needle opposing fans. Buy them a beer, while you're at it. We're all one fraternity. Ruin the game for them and everyone else. The right to unleash your pent-up hostilities and ruin someone else's good time is not included in the price of your ticket.
Root for your team at road games. Clamor for everyone's attention. This is about the game, not about you.
Bring signs Hold them overhead during plays. This really needs to be said? Jesus Christ, people. And by "during plays," I don't mean "lower it a millisecond before the snap." To those of us without rainbow afros and "Romo is a homo" signs, watching pre-snap shifts is an integral part of the game.
Urinate as needed. Walk in front of me during a play. During a 3 hour football game, there are 2 hours and 48 minutes of down time. Use that.

conjuring a silver lining

Many thanks to Allie, who thoughtfully calculates that on my BCS trip I spent $28.90 for every yard of offense Ohio State mustered. I suppose I should be grateful not to have gone to the Michigan game, which at that rate would have cost me $14,037.

not that i'm saying they phoned it in...

A sign at the championship game:

bcs07 017.jpg

Alternate headline: Tell them I'm not here.

• • •

As much as I'd like to do a satire of Hurricane and Seahawk fans' bitter ungraciousness in defeat, I liked the Florida fans too much to shit on their moment. Fact is, their team earned it. We didn't. And to win both basketball and football championships in the same year...wow. I applaud.

gak and double gak!

GLENDALE, AZ - The Fiesta Bowl and championship game were moved this year from Arizona State's Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe to the Cardinals' new stadium in Glendale. I haven't been inside the latter yet, but I already miss Tempe. Its shops and restaurants cluster around the stadium, providing a lovely and natural meeting place for fans. In Glendale, not so much. Not even desert surrounds the ghastly stadium exterior. Only dirt. The stadium itself is Kingdome-quality ugly. A big, featureless gray pimple on mud flats.

I've seen thousands of Ohio State fans, which is no surprise. I've also seen thousands of Florida fans, which is a welcome treat after the dozen or so Miami fans who showed four years ago. There's no animosity between the schools, so the fans are mixing amicably. There's none of that nonsense I saw at the Super Bowl, with punk-ass fans looking for fights. We Buckeyes are more playful about it, often breaking into song. The Florida fans and local media are amazed at how quickly we devised (and all learned) songs like "We Don't Give a Damn for the Whole State of Florida," not realizing, of course, that all we did was substitute "Florida" for "Michigan." In Ohio, our mothers sing us that song at cribside.

The superstition survives: my game ticket is in my 2003 championship sleve, with my 2003 and Super Bowl tickets.

tix 007.jpg

hail no

Stank Troll Jim baits me with news that the University of Michigan marching band greeted the arrival of President Ford's corpse with a rousing rendition of "Hail to the Victors."

I have no comment. This situation is sufficiently self-mocking.

immortal

Maybe the sexiest thing I've ever seen. In 11 months, anyway.

It's starting to dawn on me that in my dotage, I'm going to remember these last eleven months as a golden year. In February, I traveled to Detroit to watch my boys win the Super Bowl. This weekend, I travel to Phoenix to watch my other, younger boys play for a championship of their own. In between those momentous trips, I took in football games in Iowa City, Chicago, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Charlotte and Seattle. Hell, I even saw two Gonzaga home basketball games.

Every once in a while, you're blessed to know that you're in the good old days while you're still in 'em. For the rest of my life, I'll never come close to duplicating this year. I won't even try.

Good feeling.

sanitizing the slopes of everest

everest.jpgI first read Jon Krakauer's treatment of the 1996 Mt. Everest deaths, "Into Thin Air," when it came out a decade ago. Impressed, I eventually bought the super-deluxe illustrated edition, a mason block of a book that has gathered dust in my guest room since. Why do we buy books we cannot comfortably hold in our hands for long? This week I finally cracked it open, and my arms soon tired, so I downloaded the audiobook from iTunes. How pleasant it is to casually follow along and look at pictures while someone is reading to you! It would take me back to childhood if anyone had actually read to me during childhood.

It's been revealing. The audiobook uses the text of the first edition; my illustrated anvil was printed years later. Every once in a while, invariably when detailing someone's actions or inactions pertaining to the deaths, the words diverge. Passive voice creeps in. "Bob told Fischer" becomes "Fischer was led to believe that Bob." Qualifications like "thought to" and "said to have" appear as if from thin air.

I've had fun imagining the threatened lawsuit behind every change.

• • •

As I've been playing catch-up with this story, I've googled its various players to see where they are now. I found the rebuttals written by two of Krakauer's subjects to be wholly self-serving and cluelessly ineffective. Witness the Sherpa's concluding statement:

My name was misspelled and my age misrepresented throughout the article. So you know, my name is Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa and I am 23 years old. Finally, I express my profound condolences to the families and friends of the victims.
Uh-huh.

Most chilling, though, was to read dizzying rationalizations like

My choice to summit Everest without oxygen was questioned by him. I have summitted Everest three times without oxygen, (not two as mentioned by JK), before this expedition and will continue to do so. I was requested to join a Japanese Expedition this fall. I will climb without oxygen.
and then click the next tab and see the headline
"Lopsang Sherpa killed on Japanese expedition".
Dead a month after writing that. Creepy. Ditto the other rebutter, Boukareev, who was killed in an avalanche a few months after similarly boasting about his prowess in his rebuttal.

There's a moral here somewhere. I'm not sure what it is, but you can bet that ten years after my death, people won't derive macabre amusement from seeing that immediately before I shat my pants I'd written "I am infallible! Invincible, you hear me?"

my kid has a thing

I gave Jacob, a dad-type, a lift home last night. Not really a friend, but more friendly than most co-workers, he was the perfect person to ask.

I told him about how on New Year's Day, I was hosting a bowl-watching party. A crab boil, specifically, complete with massive king crab legs, jambalaya, bananas foster, and assorted vegetables thrown in the boil. I told him how at the last minute, guests called to say their kid was kinda sick the day before. He was feeling better now, but, "Could we do it over here?" the mother asked.

Ever reasonable, I packed up my other guests and my 120 quart crab pot and its stand and the propane tanks and the rum and bananas and ice cream and jambalaya and frozen crab and corn on the cob and—

Of course I didn't. I flatly declined her preposterously rude request. And I steamed as I considered the distinct probability that she was simply hung over.

As Jacob and I drove across the 520 bridge, I asked him what percentage of kid-related, last-minute excuses are bullshit. "A lot of them," he conceded. "Kids are in a perpetual state of being sick. It's not hard to exaggerate at any given moment."

The hate is swelling in me now.

happy new year!

In honor of the occasion, I updated the stupid church signs page.

Did you notice the timing of when the military announced the 3000th dead U.S. soldier? On a Saturday, comfortably nestled between Saddam's hanging and New Year's Eve. Some cynics might accuse the administration of manipulating the event to get the least possible news coverage. Some cynics like me.

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