Friday, March 30, 2012

The Final Fore

His name, Forrest von Trapp, didn't augur well for his prospects as a golfer. In fact, von Trapp (no relation btw; he couldn't sing a note, well maybe one, but nobody would call it melodious), was not really much of an athlete. As a child he was a mountaineer, and a promising one at that, to hear him tell it, but once adolescence and a nasty case of acrophobia kicked in, he was grounded, in more ways than one (to really rattle his already fragile golf mind, we'd take him to a new course and tell him there were a lot of elevated tees and greens). His clubs were a mix-n-match "set," his balls fished-out x-outs, and his "trusty" pull cart had two uneven, squeaky wheels. No lie, for his fiftieth birthday a few of us chipped in and bought him a lesson; on his first swing in front of the teaching pro, the pro's video camera broke. Ten minutes later, the pro, still fuming about the video camera that didn't work, suffered a coronary--DDOR: Dead, Dead on the Range.

Despite these (and others, too inane to mention, including an uncanny talent for attracting bees; yes, he was allergic) challenges, von Trapp loved the game of golf. A hack in every sense of the word, somehow Forrest was able to maintain a fairly even keel and enough fives on his scorecard so that you weren't too upset when he ended up being your partner. The only golfer I ever knew who wore a leather-sheathed compass on his belt, and who needed one. Fourteen out of eighteen holes he'd hit his tee shot, disappear from view for ten minutes, then reappear on the green, sink a miraculous putt and proclaim, "Bogey!" What a ballhawk. Unless you dropped one in the drink (and even then, with his extra-long retriever, Forrest resurrected many a thought-gone Top-Flite), you'd never have to worry about losing a ball, as long as Forrest was in your foursome. He was a great organizer of outings and was a walking calculator. Just throw him the scorecard at the end of a round, and within a minute he'd spit out everybody's score and the results of all the various wagers. With anybody else, the moment the guy says, "And you owe me five bucks," is your cue to say, irritatingly, "Lemme see that card." But with Forrest, his word was gold. If he said, "Looks like I got you for twenty, Lou," Lou would duly ask the guy in the pro shop where the ATM was.

But, and you can confirm this with any of us regulars or any stray single who ever was paired up with Forrest for even nine holes, the most distinguishing and most distinguished part of Forrest's game was his penchant for and panache at yelling, "Fore!" His voice, when raised and alerting the entire golf course of a possibly incoming errant shot, was positively operatic, in both volume and drama. When you snuck into the men's room at the turn, there always seemed to be a guy washing his hands, somebody you hadn't seen out on the course, who would say, matter-of-factly, "I hear von Trapp's here today." Now most golfers are a little too proud or etiquette-bound to yell "Fore" the way it should be yelled--loud--but Forrest never suffered such insecurity. Maybe that was because, being at heart such a nice guy, he was terribly insecure about his golfing skills and gravely worried about hurting somebody. And so, a couple dozen times a round, after striking his ball, Forrest von Trapp would cut loose with a tree-rattling "Fore!" It got to the point where the standard joke, told, or, performed, only in Forrest's absence, of course, was to take a practice swing, and immediately upon starting the backswing, break out in a loud, "Fore!" In all my years of golfing I have never seen a hole-in-one, but I have witnessed something much rarer: On July 12, 1994, on the seventh green at Briar Oaks, while Hank Sledge and Dennis Judas were distracted watching Misty, their at-the-time favorite beer cart girl rearrange her forty ouncers, Forrest von Trapp, while attempting a par-saving fifty-footer from the back fringe, somehow shanked his putt, and as the ball veered off line toward the drooling Sledge and Judas, Forrest, on the green, with putter in hand, yelled, "Fore!" Sledge nearly jumped into the greenside bunker; Judas, dazed by it all, turned slowly, watched Forrest's wayward putt trundle past his feet, and asked incredulously, "Did you just yell 'Fore!' on a putt?" Amazing.

Anyway, years later, August 7, 2007, we were playing down our local, The Links at Fox Chase/Glen Run (or what we regulars had shortened, not so affectionately, to, The Patch).  Our usual noon tee time had been pushed back to 12:30, as the course was packed and slow-moving. It was an odd foursome, me, Forrest, our old buddy Sal Overtino, and some stray single we got hooked up with, Fritz, I think his name was, an ex-Marine with the attitude and all the stories. We had to wait on every shot and by the fifth green we were ready to shoot Fritz, who wouldn't stop talking. About the only word any of us got in edgewise was Forrest's ubiquitous Fores!, including an extremely embarrassing one when I bladed a shot out of the bunker on the first and it whizzed over the green toward the second tee. Despite the waiting and all his shouts, Forrest was having the round of his life. After six holes he was just two over. Like most of the holes at the Patch, the seventh is an unimaginative one, a treeless, straight forward par four that runs parallel with the sixteenth (I've made more pars on the seventh from the sixteenth fairway than I've ever made from the seventh). On that day, though, the four of us each hit one down the middle, Fritz and Sal several yards ahead of me and Forrest, which was fine by me, because Sal had to stand next to Fritz and hear all about a boot camp mooning contest, while Forrest and I lingered behind, chatting about pretzels, of all things, as I recall. Then, as we still waited for the group ahead of us to putt out, Forrest happened to look up and across and down the sixteenth fairway to the tee. "Are those guys drunk," he said. I looked up and sure enough, there were four guys on the sixteenth tee all windmilling their arms, not frantically, but with determination. It kind of looked like a round, all of them making the same set of gestures, but in different time. Before I could think of something witty to say, bam! a ball hit Forrest right on the forehead and knocked him down and out cold, just like that. Somehow there was no blood, but there also seemed to be no life left in Forrest. I whipped out my cellphone and quickly called the clubhouse. Long before the ambulance arrived, the four guys from the sixteenth tee had driven their carts over to us, and started to try to explain.

Try to explain, being the operative description. After the ambulance came and carted away Forrest (still alive, we were assured, but not much more, it seemed), and after we let a few groups go through us, and after Fritz huddled with the four golfers from the sixteenth and some scribbling on scorecards, it all became clear. The four were old Navy buddies having a reunion. Seems that the four of them had survived an on-ship explosion thirty-four years before, an explosion that had rendered each of them deaf and dumb. Fritz was crestfallen. "Semaphore, dammit," he moaned. "If I hadn't been going on and on about McAfee's pimpled ass, I would have recognized that those guys, doing all they could, you know, without the ability to shout, were using semaphore signals to tell us 'Fore!'"

Sal and I drank ourselves pretty drunk at the nineteenth (our seventh, as it turned out) hole that day, shaking our heads at the irony of Forrest von Trapp getting beaned by an errant shot from golfers who couldn't shout "Fore!" Sadly, Forrest was never able to appreciate that irony. He survived, but he was pretty feeble, and pretty silly looking, to tell you the truth, with a permanent spot on his forehead, all dimpled and with the offending ball's name half-emblazoned into his forehead, backward. Who ever realized that the first three letters of Titleist are a palindrome?: tiT.

In his sad state, Forrest survived a couple years and took to whittling. I still have a few dozen of the lopsided tees he fashioned for us. Finally, mercifully, he succumbed quietly of a heart attack last April 4, at exactly four p.m., the usual time we would be gathering on the patio and he would be adding up the scores and settling the wagers. God bless you, Forrest. Golf is a little quieter without you, but not nearly as fun.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

NSFW, Or, Pretty Good For Work; Is Robert DeNiro The F-King Of Cinema?

Funny how things coincide. Yesterday I came across this pretty duh story where so-called experts say that swearing at work can be good for you. Not only can swearing at work help you express your feelings (it took human beings thousands of years to reach this insight?), but it can also make you "more relatable" to your co-workers and help you build valuable relationships with them. The story didn't address the benefits of swearing at your customers; maybe after the next round of funding they'll look into that issue. I wonder how this all applies to the self-employed.

All of this comes a few days after seeing the new Robert DeNiro movie, Being Flynn. A long-time DeNiro fan who's been sort of forced to bite the bullet over the last twenty years or so, I really enjoyed the movie and DeNiro's performance, as well as the subtle nods to his bravuro performance in Taxi Driver. In the middle of the movie, though, as a drunken DeNiro was railing at anybody and everybody in his path, I had this thought: In the history of mainstream cinema, is there another actor who has said the F word and all its colorful variations more than DeNiro? I think not. He was just starting out when the F word seemed to become acceptable on-screen, and his prolific career marked by many turns as cops, crooks, etc. has certainly provided him with ample opportunity to utter, spew, shout that powerful word again and again. Who else would be in contention? Nicholson? Pacino? Pesci? Heavyweight F-bombers for sure, but I don't think anyone can match the longevity and consistent F-bombing of DeNiro? Can you think of anyone else? There must be some wing of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences that functions like the hallowed Elias Sports Bureau and can do the calculations. My guess is well over a thousand Fs issuing from DeNiro's lips have been preserved on film over the past 40 years. Considering the accolades he's won and the reputation he commands, I guess DeNiro proves the point of the above story: Swearing on the job can be very very good for you.

As much as I love DeNiro, I must say, though, that cinema's all-time greatest F-bomb scene is this one, from Planes, Trains and Automobiles, courtesy of Steve Martin and the delicious Edie McClurg:

Monday, March 26, 2012

Of Bells and Whistles and Remotes

I roll into work early yesterday and park next to Co-Worker. Co-Worker is a proud guy, as I would be too if I were half the handyman he is. Anyway, as we're parked side by side, waiting for Boss Co-Worker to show up and let us in and start cracking the whip, Co-Worker electrically lowers his window. Ah, early morning repartee, I surmise, and duly electrically lower my window. "Wanna check out my new stereo?" Of course I do. Co-Worker's been boasting for a couple days about how he single-handedly (although he is not an amputee, so technically it was a double-handedly job, but still, he did it himself, which is more than I could ever say) installed his new car stereo system. So I get out of my car, walk two steps, and get into his car. He slides in one of the two Van Morrison mixes I just made him to celebrate the return of sound to his car, and damn, Them's "Mystic Eyes" sounds pretty damn good. "Fine job," I say, in that guy-to-guy, you-sure-rigged-this-thing-damn-good voice we guys speak, all the while looking closely at his dashboard for tell-tale signs of a mechanical struggle--stray accidental screw-driver gouges, a slightly punched in panel--any of the signifiers of technical ineptitude that trail any tool-centric job I ever have to undertake--but I don't see a one. This guy's good. "And of course," he smiles and wields a small remote device he had told me about but which I hadn't really believed existed, "it's got a remote." Before I know it, from all of about eight inches away, he presses a button and now Van is singing, "Do do-do do dit, di-do do-do dit," from "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)." I am astounded. Not at how great Van Morrison sounds, which is a given, but that I'm sitting in a small car listening to a car stereo system being operated by remote control. Once again, the world proves to me it is insane.

Now of course I don't own a television. So the general concept of a remote is, well, rather remote from my direct, everyday experience. But, yes, I am familiar with them and have used them, and I appreciate them. Having spent a great deal of my youth getting up off the couch to manually turn a clunky knob this way and that to get to one of the five or six functioning channels on our TV, I now love (when the opportunity arises and I am somewhere where a TV exists and I find myself in possession of the grail-like remote) slouching in comfort and pressing buttons at my own whim to follow simultaneously the action on about twenty of the hundred or so available channels. Life in the 21st Century is so nice. But when did remotes become so standard, the de rigueur accompaniment to any device sold? A car stereo with a remote? Unless you're being driven in a limo, what's the point? Doesn't a remote for your car stereo just invite further intrusion by nosy backseat drivers? I don't get it. But I did get a remote when I purchased one of those nifty personal DVD players a while back. Don't get me wrong, being a non-TV person, I love my personal DVD player, but come on, the screen is tiny--if I'm more than a foot and a half away from the screen, I can't distinguish Jack Nicholson from Scatman Crothers in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (or is it The Shining?--from two feet away I can't tell), so why in the hell do I need a remote for this thing? I don't. Which is why the remote for it is presently collecting dust piled up with all the other superfluous remotes I've acquired over the years (here's an idea for the inevitable next generation of Twilight Zone iterations--after years of collecting dust and whatever other environmental toxins are floating around, a box of unused remotes is discovered to be able to control people, yes, egads, PEOPLE!).

Folks, the word "remote" is an adjective, meaning "far apart" or "distant in relationship or connection." From the past participle of the Latin removere, to move away from. It is a fine word. A pity, then, nay, a disgrace, that this fine word has been reduced to a noun meaning only some plastic device used for operating some bigger device usually sitting no more than five feet away. Of course, our present day use of the word remote is shortened from the kind of sexy sounding "remote control." Remember those two glorious words--remote control? My God, back in the 1970s we boys loved those two words, remote control. You could have bought us anything that was remote controlled, and we would have loved it. Even a remote controlled remote control, which did nothing but light up buttons on a different device. Almost as good as the nirvana of two-word constructions--see through, or, sexier yet, see-thru. But no, all we have now is a mere convenience device that overfeeds our sedentary lifestyle, the remote. How cold and stand-offish. Think of the damage done to our culture, our alleged erudition as human beings, that one of the most popular sentences rolling from our tongues now is, "Where the hell is the goddamned remote?" A hundred years ago schoolchildren with a fourth grade education could quote Kipling in a blink; now we're reduced to muttering, "Gimme the remote, asshat!" Armageddon, with or without any Mayan input, is nigh.

At the risk of getting too nostalgic, remember TV guides? Not the official TV Guide (which I believe for years was the most popular magazine in America) but just the local, comes with the newspaper every Friday, then they moved it to Sunday, TV guide? My God what a glorious weekly almanac stuffed with juicy arcana and entertainment. Almost as good as the phone books that have become another relic. I remember watching Jay Leno (back when he was funny; yes, kids, it's true) do ten minutes as a guest on Letterman once doing nothing but reading through a TV guide. Genius. Now you simply press the "menu" button. How mundane. And how sad, that one of the greatest words ever--menu, which should conjure all sorts of delicious fantasies, an array of food, your choice, a salivating read if there ever was one--is now reduced to nothing more than a list of techno-info bits to click. Pop-up menus, a term that thirty years ago would have you greedily foaming at the mouth, now conjures nothing but the taste of bile.

And speaking of salivating, how about the phrase "bells and whistles," which was going to be my main point today? "You gotta have it, Ralph. It comes with all the bells and whistles." I despise this phrase and never use it unironically, because, well, besides sounding so snake-oily, personally, I don't give a rat's ass about either bells or whistles, and I'm sure I'm not alone in that sentiment. My on-line reference source says that the phrase, naturally, comes from those old fairground organs, the more deluxe ones of which came equipped with all sorts of bells and whistles. Fine, while gorging on cotton candy and perusing the sea of unclad, and mainly uncouth, tattooed flesh at a fair, a dizzy ringing whistling organ is the perfect soundtrack, but who goes to fairs anymore and really, aren't those organs kind of obsolete what with synthesized crap blaring from ubiquitous loudspeakers? The reference also claims the phrase was coined in the early 1970s, which I find hard to believe, but which only serves to further my claim that culture has nose-dived in my lifetime.

But to signify any new-fangled thing with the latest techno-gadgets as coming equipped with "all the bells and whistles" is not only haplessly anachronistic, but hopelessly devoid of any creativity. For the most part, bells and whistles, while employed in and of themselves, and not in the service of some jaunty tune, are almost as bad as balls and chains. They're regulatory in nature, aren't they? They call us to attention, quite shrilly, and who needs that? To call bells and whistles totalitarian would be a bit of a stretch, but to hear a bell or a whistle (as opposed to someone gaily whistling, which is quite another, much more pleasant entity) is to be instantly stopped in your tracks and called to task, no? I suggest, in the interest of creativity and to insure that the phrase doesn't become technologically obsolete--as bells and whistles obviously has become--to signify anything that comes fully equipped with all the most modern, desirable features, instead of using bells and whistles, we now say, "And it comes complete with all the bacon and peanut butter." Now that might make me purchase the thing, no questions asked, no demonstrations necessary. As it is now, all "bells and whistles" means to me these days is the shudder of being reprimanded, along with a superfluous remote thrown in.

Ah, but deep down, in the depths of my soul, "bells and whistles" means something much more personal, much more sacred. The extent of my mother's expletive-spewing when I was a kid was an earnest, "Hell's bells!" I instinctively started running for the confessional at the sound of that, though I may not have gotten too far if I heard my father's whistle. If Yahweh, the strictly Old Testament God, wanted to get the immediate attention of His chronically messing up Chosen People, He couldn't have used a more jarring, more stop-'em-in-their-tracks signal than my father's whistle. It came from deep within him, his outer body showing absolutely no sign of the strain it must have taken to summon that earth-shaking clarion call--the lips didn't move, no fingers were inserted in the mouth, just a stoic man somehow making a sound that could make bandits drop their guns, laborers stop their hammers, strippers pull up their underthings, and boys freeze in panic. Oh, those "Hells bells" and that whistle--the stuff of childhood fright and guilt--now are nothing but the music of lost innocence, which is everything. The only remote device I need would have but two buttons: one to activate my mother's "Hells bells," the other to activate my father's colossal whistle. The rest of life I can deal with hands-on.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Meting Minutes

Everybody supposedly loves a parade. Which I dispute. If so, though, everybody must hate a meeting. Which I further dispute, having met a few of the rare subset of homo sapiens who seem to revel in meetings (people I generically and collectively refer to as Ron). While not complete torturous hell, meetings are pretty bad, and if I had to guess, I'd say Purgatory is like one long meeting, minus the snacks. Needless to say, the absolute worst thing to be at a meeting isn't late, but the one who has to "take the minutes." While everyone at the meeting, except of course Ron, has minutes which turn to hours taken from their lives, the minute taker--unlike everyone else present--actually has to pay attention to the proceedings. It's no wonder that at certain particularly frazzled times of my time I've shown up at meetings with my hands crudely bandaged ("Ah, nothing too serious; you know me and my ineptness with that blasted can opener in the staff kitchenette!"), making it all but certain no one looks at me when the inevitable "So who wants to take the minutes?" question/plea is raised (admittedly a kind of wimpy, desperate ploy on my part, but at least a little more dignified than a guy I used to work with, Earl, who, when called upon to take the minutes always replied, "No can do, Ron, sorry. Bad case of the trots today"). Before I learned such an efficacious minutes-avoiding strategy, though, I got stuck taking minutes a few times. I'd rather watch a soundless video of Al Gore watching Bob Dole's paint dry. Anyway, I am qualified, then, to write the following, a distillation of the minutes of the more than twenty-five years of staff meetings I have endured. Purgatory on Earth.

4:00-4:03: Boisterous chit-chat, snack hoarding, and once again Steve Frugal's feeble joke about somebody getting on a chair and moving the clock ahead 20 minutes before Ron gets here. As usual, Suzie Inkling giggles.

4:03: Herb Tankerous walks past me with fresh cigarette ashes splattered down his barrel chest and mutters, "Bastard's late again, I see."

4:04: Barb Toole announces there's only two more days to order Girl Scout cookies from her.

4:05: IT Czar Brandt Watt erases the dry erase board and fiddles on a laptop. A transcript of what he's always talking to himself about would read like Finnegans Wake without the cohesiveness. To my right, LaVerne Hobble writes at the top of a blank piece of paper the phrase from which she will spend the entire meeting attempting to find all the various words that can be made from its letters: Highball Equals Oasis.

4:06: Ron arrives laden with manila folders and his ever-present coffee mug that reads, Hers. Pointing toward the laptop, he whispers something to Brandt Watt, who gives him a thumbs up. LaVerne writes labial.

4:07-4:10: Ron makes the usual jokes about being late, the usual comments about the tight agenda, and the usual promise to have us all out by 5. LaVerne writes squish.

4:11: After the mandatory three seconds of everyone's eye-averting silence, Barb Toole chirps, "I'll take the minutes," and cheerfully digs a yellow legal pad from her ample carry-all and fishes a pen from behind her ear. The palpable tension in the air becomes slightly less palpable. LaVerne writes slough.

4:12-4:17: Ron takes it from 0 to 60 in no time. Something about "measured unknowns," "counter-intuitive cognition," and "fingers in the proverbial dike." The bootie Suzie Inkling is knitting is pink. I give Herb Tankerous's eyelids another ninety seconds, tops. Brandt Watt's got a hole in his left sock, about an inch above the ankle. Who gets sock holes there?

4:18: Barb Toole politely interrupts Ron, while never stopping the pen's flow, to ask, "Was that 'convex paradigms' or 'concave'?" Ron says, "You know," and makes a swooping gesture with his hands. "Oh, gotcha," Barb replies.

4:19: Earl Frank trots out the door.

4:20: Jeff Gage gets twitchy.

4:21: Without lifting her eyes from Highball Equals Oasis, LaVerne asks, "Will there be an extra stipend for that?" Ron, a tad flustered, says, "I'll check with Alex about that. No promises, though." LaVerne writes quash.

4:22: "differentiated verisimilitudes"

4:23: I lift the bag of Sun Chips to my mouth and shake out the last few shards.

4:24: Barb flips a page and keeps on writing. "maximal diversity of output ranges"

4:25: "Good point, Hal." Hal? Who's Hal? Oh, the new guy with the rash. "Make sure you cc Dan with that to keep him in the loop." No need, Ron. Permanently looped, right here.

4:26: LaVerne writes ibis.

4:27: Earl ambles back in. How he manages to open and close that door without a squeak is beyond me.

4:28-4:47: I have no idea.

4:48: How come the second hand (a jolter, not a sweeper) on that clock never lines up directly with the minute slashes?

4:49: Projected from the laptop, all that shows on the dry erase board is an error message I can't make out from here. Must get eyes checked soon.

4:50: The bootie is now blue.

4:51: LaVerne's been tapping her pen on the page for a while now. I lean over and whisper, "quail." "Mind your own damn business," Verne whispers back with affection.

4:52: Ron apologizes for the technical difficulties then refers us to the handout, which contains the whole PowerPoint presentation anyway. Brandt Watt, sounding like a bi-lingual Tourette's sufferer, mutters willy-nilly while pressing a bunch of keys on the laptop.

4:53-4:55: In what appears to my ears like one long sentence, Rich Wallow, incorporating "throw the baby out with the bathwater," "ostentatiously flouting Robert's Rules of Order," "simply in-box thinking," "lopping off our noses to spite our faces," "mired in bogosity," and "two-bit snake oil," raises his usual objections.

4:56: Ron duly takes Rich's input into due consideration.

4:57: Suzie Inkling pulls another ball of yarn from an oversized bag. If that stuff were oil, she'd be a sheik.

4:58: LaVerne crumples up the Highball Equals Oasis paper and whispers to no one in particular, "I gotta pee. Let's draw the curtain on this charade."

4:59: Barb drops her pen for a second, massages her right wrist for a few seconds, then gets back to writing.

5:00: "Anyone interested in serving on the committee to set parameter paradigms for the formation of future committees, see me now."

5:01: As we get into our separate cars out in the parking lot, Earl Frank says, "That wasn't too bad, as far as meetings go, no?"


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Rourke Forked: The Road More Easily Taken (I Think)

The Cosmos doesn't care. As if I needed any more proof about Life's and Fate's total indifference to my (or anyone else's) petty desires and concerns, yesterday I got the message loud and clear, in stereo. It was supposed to be a leisurely, carefree day for me. Although it was Wednesday, in my world it was Saturday. I had worked five days straight and had been running around at night. It was a day for sleeping in. A day to catch up on some laundry. A day to do some spring cleaning (which in my case involves shifting a few piles until enough dust is kicked up to make me sneeze three times). A day to order take-out Chinese. An early spring day to take advantage of the unbelievably warm weather we're having to call it a lazy summer day. The Cosmos, however, held other things for me on Its daily planner.

Separately, two old and dear friends, both of whom I don't see or talk to enough these days, contacted me with requests, one was a favor, the other an invitation. I must stress the word separately. These two friends of mine have never met each other, and their requests were mutually exclusive--I could respond positively or negatively to each one without having the one decision impact the other in any way. And yet, in my mind, the decisions regarding the two requests became inextricably bound. Once the decisions had been made--after much tortured thought concerning each, separately--it became crystal clear to me that I had had to say yes to one, no to the other. Such an either/or decision was not easy. In addition to pleasing one friend and disappointing the other, the reality is that both requests scared me beyond belief, and I would have much rather bitten the bullet of letting a friend, or two, down and said, "Oh, I'd love to, but I really can't right now. But let's grab a beer sometime, okay?" and been done with it. On a gloomier day I might have done just that. Being a Gemini, though, if the day had been an off day after working merely two days in a row, and if I hadn't been consumed all day with the absurdity of Newt Gingrich getting his big head of hair all mussed up (you'd think the fat guy would have a bit thicker skin) about Robert DeNiro's pretty funny when you think of it and pretty innocuous joke question about whether the country was ready for a white First Lady, I could have easily said to both of my friends, separately, "Sure, no problem. And let's grab a beer sometime, okay?" But no, the way things were aligned for me yesterday, I had to say yes to one request, and no to the other. The consequences of my yes and no will be played out for months to come, literally, and I shudder at the thought.

Fine, enough evasion. The cosmic fork in the road of my life consisted of this--house sitting, complete with rambunctious dog, for my friend (who lives about 40 minutes away, no small item to lay on the scale) for a mere four days beginning today, or (yes, the two are completely separate, but as I've explained, bound forever) joining my other friend in joining a fantasy baseball league.

There, has the paragraph break enabled you enough time to digest the enormity of the two requests, suppress regurgitation, and pull yourself back off the floor? I know, no one would wish such a twisted, damned if you do, damned if you don't, damned six ways to hell anyway either/or proposition on anyone. I had meant to yawn all day, the Cosmos yawned back with all Its ass-kicking force.

The fantasy baseball request came early in the day, via email. Email's nice for stalling. I closed it once without replying. I opened it later after mulling my further stalling options. I replied--honestly--that for twenty years I have resisted  overtures from various other good friends to join their "rotisserie" fantasy leagues mainly for two sound reasons: I don't have (maybe more accurately don't want to use) the time necessary to competently manage a fantasy baseball team. Second, I love baseball so much--the dailiness of checking box scores and transactions and various teams' ongoing dramas--that to do all that in the service of my own glory ("Hey man, I've won my fantasy league six out of seven years"; "Good for you, Steinbrenner, but you look like you could use some sun.") seems--on a truly secular basis--quite sacrilegious. Baseball, in and of itself, excites and powers the imagination so much I don't need to "fantasize it." Of course, beyond all this hooey, the prospect of fretting away some perfectly boring July day worrying about the fate of some Colorado Rockies rookie's sore groin does not, in any way, qualify as my idea of fantasy. No, "fantasy baseball enthusiast" has never been a moniker I desired for my CV. As far as I could muster, there were only two reasons I would say yes to this proposition: It would give me a chance to interact more frequently with my good friend, whose daily conversation and laughs I've missed since we stopped working together a few years ago. Second, always being in the service of you, dear readers, my adventures in the world of fantasy baseball might provide some (not too much, I would promise) inspiration for this old blog of mine, which, admittedly, has suffered some inattention the previous two summers of its existence. All in all, not a good forecast for joining a baseball fantasy league (even though it has an "autodraft" which cuts down on preparation and mandatory acumen). I ended my emailed reply with, "Let me sleep on it and I'll get back to you."

I must qualify the house-sitting argument by stating for the record that the phone call last night was my friend's penultimate grasp at straws (I won't go into whose fault it was--her or her husband's--that their plane tickets were for today not tomorrow as they had thought; besides, their original plan--regardless of which day they were to fly--had been scuppered by an emergency). She had tried other undoubtedly more responsible and adept house/dog-sitters before making the second last ditch effort of calling me. She spent almost as much time getting to the point as I do in one of my usual posts, stating again and again that it was okay if I said no. Now look, I'm on record as not being the most animal-friendly person in the world, but I have dog- (and other beast-) sat before, and no trips to the veterinarian or coroner's inquests have resulted. I can and, more importantly, happily will help out an animal-loving friend in need. I have house-sat before and the fire department was never called and no silverware ever went missing. I can and happily will house-sit. But my friend lives out in the sticks! Very nice sticks, and compared to my hovel, the accommodations are positively palatial. But forty minutes both ways, when I'll be working odd hours the next few days and have a few plans--it just wouldn't be fair to the dog, now, would it? And did I say this was a phone call? Not a late night desperate one, but an after-sundown-the-day-before-action-must-be-taken one. There was no stalling. No, let me sleep on it and get back to you. No time for me to indulge my beloved hemming and hawing, talking myself into and out of and back into and coming up with some compromise and begging for another day to think about it all--no, the decision had to be made then and there in the here and now. "Ummm," I replied, as the totality of the what the next few days would/might entail sailed through my brain: long drives, a lot of running around, responsibility for another life, the fear of (hey, it's been over forty years, I might be due) wetting somebody else's bed, the fear of finding the one or two great pieces of music I don't already own in my friend's collection, the Mamma Mia soundtrack, say, and cranking it and getting lost in the reverie and knocking over some prized knick-knack, the fear of backing up a toilet, the fear--a constant one, the immediate presence of a canine not required--of being eaten to death by a dog. "Ummm," I continued. My gosh, I thought, the laughter and good cheer I had with this friend years ago when we worked together. Although it wouldn't bring us together again, house/dog-sitting for her would be such a nice thing to do, and I've certainly benefited from the helping hands of friends in my desperate times of need. And what the hell's a few days of disruption to my daily routine? And even though the house sits right on the most-worn notch of the infamous snowbelt, it's summertime, ain't no blizzard on that sunny blue horizon. And my God, if I can't milk the whole house/dog-sitting out in the sticks experience for a month of blog posts, I better just swallow the gum and pull the curtain on this whole show. "Well," I concluded.

Cunundra abound. The Cosmos is a disinterested task-mongering bastard. Friends, my backpack of neuroses is already seam-bursting; I don't need more, be it a house/dog in need of sitting (trust me, with my finesse around animals, the house would be much more easily sat) or a six-month plunge into the arcane, constant world of baseball statistics. My God, Nancy Reagan, I take it all back. You were so right. Just Say No, indeed.

Upon hanging up (and isn't it a pity that we no longer get to poetically, romantically "hang up" the phone, but just press a button?) the phone, without even considering the tit for tat that Cosmos had been insisting on all along, without even thinking this is what must be done, I immediately logged on, found among my list of favorites, and signed up for the Big Sky fantasy baseball league (taking out insurance, I'll have you know, by naming my team the Cellar Dwellers). Call me what you will for letting down a friend, for opting for six months of aggravation (which doesn't start for another ten days or so--delayed punishment, baby) rather than an immediate five days--sure, I'll be hurt by what you call me, and believe me, with my well-earned and relentless Catholic guilt, my dying words will no doubt be, "I should have dog-sat that one time," but the Cosmos doesn't give a damn, and since the Cosmos apparently pulls the strings--it doesn't make all that much difference in the end, does it? I'm forked.

And oh, by the way, do you think Jason Heyward is ready for a bust-out year, or is he just a bust?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sponsors Welcome

Somebody should go back and check the Master Clock. It seems like we sprung forward much more than a mere hour back then last week. Here in Cleveland on the first day of spring, it's more like mid-summer. Against the better wishes of the general public, who usually have about two more months to prepare for such a jarring moment, I wore shorts today. Not just around the house, but out in public, all day long. The glare might have been too much for some people, but what's a guy to do when the temps reach into the 80s? At this rate, the Indians will be mathematically eliminated from the pennant race before Opening Day occurs.

Shorts, though, are an easy thing to don. My golf swing is another matter. Usually at this time of year I'm taking slow warm-up swings with the snow shovel and pondering whether or not it's worth it to finally remove my clubs from the trunk of my car for the winter, or just wait it out another six to eight weeks or so. But my God, the Masters--which usually is the first big indication to me that golf on a sunny warm day is not only possible again, but somewhat imminent--hasn't even been televised yet. I could be playing as early as tomorrow, but I'm woefully behind in getting my sponsorships in order. I'm still waiting--while cursing the Postal Service-- for Buick to respond to my generous letter of two years ago, offering my services as their main golfing billboard in the wake of their parting of the ways with Tiger Woods. But, for all of you marketing people, I do have a slew of sponsorship opportunity openings and would like to fill them up ASAP. I need to lacquer on the sun-block like every other hole, so there's a grand option for maximum exposure. Hand in hand, I need hats. Plenty. Now I realize my endeavors on the links don't often end up on network TV, but a ball company would get a great value-added package by supplying me with a year or two's worth of balls: I lose quite a few, so when other golfers (or scuba divers) have to make a quick stop in the woods and they discover the resting place of one of my errant shots, "your logo here" would greet them. After nearly forty years of golfing, I must admit my vast repertoire of clenched-jaw cursings is getting a bit stale. Thus, if you own proprietary rights to any really juicy bon mots, I'll gladly substitute them for my worn-out ones for a modest fee. I'm also man enough to admit that too often one or two horribly-timed sevens creep onto my scorecard and ruin an otherwise respectable round. So, 7/UP, the opportunity of a lifetime awaits you: "What did you make on that hole, Dan, bogey?" "No, Phil, that par four 13th was brought to you by 7/UP. Why make a birdie and go one under when you can hack away and go Seven UP!"

Really, corporate folks, I've got a lot of great ideas like that one, but I don't have the time to go into them right now as I've got to make my July 4th plans before it's too late. Suffice it to say, if you subsidize some of my golfing expenses, my golfing prowess in 2012 will reward you tenfold. The contact info is on the column to your right. Let's do business, on the course, preferably.

Friday, March 16, 2012

An Irish Engagement

I don't know about you, but my St. Patrick's Day weekend got off to a rousing start tonight. The other day, my old friend Rory McGoogle calls me up out of the green. Always worth a few stories, I hadn't talked to Rory in over a year. "I need your help," he pleads. "What can I do," I say. Well, it's a good news bad news thing, he explains. He's finally found the girl he wants to marry. I congratulate him heartily. "But there's a catch," he starts to explain. "She hasn't met my mother yet. And even worse, when you think about it, my mother hasn't met her yet." Bad news indeed. Mrs. McGoogle, seemingly a generation or two removed from being right off the boat, is as right off the boat as can be. A meddler, a stickler, a heart of gold, and a tongue of sheer hellfire. She knows every saint, and can even rank them as far as their deservability for sainthood goes. A real pill, as my own Grandmother Sullivan would have said. "That is a problem," I say. "But how can I help?"

"Well," Rory continued, "I decided to bring my beloved betrothed to my mother's for some cocktails this Friday, but I'm also inviting about six of her friends--my fiancee's friends. I'm not going to tell my mother which one I'm going to marry. Because, as you well know, if I brought just her and said, 'Mom, this is the girl I'm going to marry,' well, you know what would happen. World War Three in my mother's living room." I couldn't help it. "And a good start on Four, too." "Of course," Rory replied. "So this way, she's got to be nice, right? She's got to be the lovely hostess she actually can be for all the others, but not knowing which one will become her sworn enemy, she'll be nice to them all. After an hour or two, I'll pull mom aside and let her guess. It's the only thing I can think of." Say what you will about his public record, but Rory's got a lot of wisdom. "Sounds like the best plan available," I said. "And naturally, you want me to help calm your mother down when she finally learns which one you're marrying." Rory laughed. "I knew I could count on you. You're always the angel in her eyes, and I'm the devil. She's still going to go nuts, but with you there everybody will be spared a good portion of her."

So I arrive tonight at Mrs. McGoogle's, who greets me at the door with hugs and kisses and the usual questions about when I'm going to join the priesthood. I catch Rory's eyes; he just winks and hoists a pint in tribute to my peacekeeping prowess. Then the parade of women. Rosie, Mary, Megan, Molly, Betsy, Annie. All nice, beautiful, would-be perfect matches for Rory. I've decided to play along too, to see if I can tell which one will be the new, gentler Mrs. McGoogle. The evening goes well. Mrs. McGoogle is as charming as ever, Rory seems relaxed, and all the would-be fiancees terrific. But the Guinness flows, and I start to get nervous knowing the conviviality has an expiration date, and that pretty soon I'm on serious duty. The upshot being I have no idea which one of the nice women is Rory's love. Pretty amazing, I must say, for Rory to be so subtle. But I know inside he's even more nervous than I. Finally he comes up to me and whispers, "Let's get this over with. I'm dying. Go into the kitchen and pretend like you're looking for beer in the fridge. I'll get mom in there and pop the question, and we'll see what happens. Needless, to say, be gentle, but don't shy away from using force, if necessary."

So I'm in the kitchen, rooting around Mrs. McGoogle's drawers, when Rory comes in carrying a tray of something, followed by his mother. I stand up and smile at them, trying to take a snapshot of the calm before the storm. "Well, ma," Rory says. "Have you talked to them all enough? Do you know which one I'm going to marry?"

"Silly boy," she says and playfully slaps him on the cheek then kisses him there. "Of course, I do. I knew thirty seconds after they all arrived that you're going to marry Betsy." I think to myself, Betsy, the one with the curls. Banker, brother in the army. Nice.

"Thanks incredible, ma. How did you kno--"

"Because I hate her."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

(Not Bono's) Streets With No Name

Among the assorted talents I take pride in (such as whittling, whistling, and whipping curds) is the ability to give clear directions. How many times have I been pulled to the phone at work to tell a lost would-be customer just where to go! So the other day, when a woman stopped me outside the gas station and asked for some directions, I swelled with self-satisfaction and told her reassuringly the way to go. She was much appreciative, but a funny thing happened in the midst of my display of geographic acumen: She mentioned a street name which was in the area she was going to and which I've been familiar with for thirty years. But, but, my gosh, for the life of me I couldn't quite remember just which one of the myriad streets in the area it was. Still, she seemed pleased with the help I had given her and drove off. I have no doubt she reached her destination with little problem.

But I started to wonder. I know my way around a lot of places in these parts, and can give pretty darn good directions to most of them, but I can't say I remember all of the street names. Is that strange? Just the other day I turned down a street I normally take to work (for more than a year now) and only then did I notice the street's name (which I'd tell you, but I can't remember it). Now if I were Herman Melville (one can dream), I could write ten pages about the philosophical significance of "knowing the way" without really knowing the nomenclature of the way. But I'm not Mr. Melville, and I have a plane to meet later today, so I'll spare us all. But just what does it all signify, that we live among and rush headlong on all sorts of routes we couldn't name if our lives depended on it? I'm thinking there's a Martha/Mary meaning to it all, but I haven't had enough coffee this morning to investigate further. Suffice it to say that U2 and their ur-philosopher Bono made a few bucks rambling on about some opaque, alleged spiritual place where the streets have no name, but for me the really interesting nut to crack is the fact that all around us are streets with no name; nonetheless they take us to where we're going, without much thought required on our part. Makes you think.

Similarly, getting back to a post of ten days ago, so many of those "everyday people" in our lives are equally familiar yet nameless. I was all excited to tell the sandwich guy from that post that I had made him www-famous. But I haven't seen him since he told me he couldn't complain (I hope being anonymously mentioned in this blog isn't an employment curse). I just know his first name. What's his last? What's the last name of the Fed Ex driver, Joel, I happily conversed with for years? What are all the names--first, last, nicked--of all those other great everyday people of my past? I really don't give a shit about street names or just which street in University Circle is Adelbert, but something in me wants to know the full names of all these friendly anonymous people I know and have known for years.

I don't know. I have no answers and don't even know what the right questions are. What's in a name? Plenty, if it's a person; not much if it's a place.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

And Then There Was Nun (Dominic Rotini's Version)

This is the second part of a two-part post. Read part one below first.

Considering yesterday's post, let me first set the record straight about a few things. During the infamous foul shot shoot-off during fifth grade, I was wearing Hush Puppies, not Buster Browns. I had consciously, despite the objections of my dear mother, made the choice to switch from Buster Browns to Hush Puppies at the beginning of the third grade. Additionally, I was not "bald as a cueball" at the age of twenty-one, and I am not presently. I have an ample ring of hair around my head, so much so that I visit my barber every fortnight. I am an accountant; every entry on the ledger is important.

That said, the rest of Lou Ferragamo's version is credible. I'd like to think my hundredth shot that day traveled at least fourteen feet, by I couldn't swear by it in a court of law. Speaking of courts of law, I was surprised as anyone by Joey Flippant. Not surprised that he has been indicted on 52 counts of corruption, but that while out on bail awaiting trial he called me six weeks ago with his idea that Sister Mary Clyde and I meet in a rematch in order to raise money for Our Lady of Perpetual Chewing Gum's proposed Sister Mary Philpot Gymnasium. Understandably nervous that the phone call was being recorded and that this was yet another of Joey Flippant's schemes, I begged off, saying--truthfully--that I hadn't touched a basketball in more than thirty years and that I gave much of my time and a considerable amount of my money to Our Lady of Intermittent Rain, my beloved parish for twenty-eight years now. Joey just chuckled and said, "I'm not through with you yet, Rotini" and hung up. Obviously I feared for my life until three days later when Sister Mary Clyde herself called and explained to me that Joey was seemingly sincere in all of this and that the shoot-out would be great fun and the way Joey had proposed it sounded like it would raise a lot of money and Our Lady of Perpetual Chewing Gum really needed a new gym and wouldn't I reconsider. Nuns, you can never shake their hold on you. So I agreed, despite the fact that this was happening in the middle of tax time when I am not only busiest but when both my plantar fasciitis and psoriasis are at their worst. Like an accountant's, I guess, the Lord's work is never done. I agreed once again to take on a nun in a free throw shooting contest.

Luckily, as the chief collection basket counter at Our Lady of Intermittent Rain, I have an all-access key to the parish's facilities. For the past six weeks I have used what little time is available to me to go to the gym there and practice my free throws. Bursitis is imminent, but over time I have regained much of the form that made me that playground--if not CYO--legend. Four nights ago I made 289 out of 300 shots, and promptly went home and said a rosary, praying that I had not peaked a little too soon.

Say what you will about Joey Flippant--and in a less public forum than this, I could say plenty--but last night's fundraiser was quite the show, and quite successful. That old gym (and once I saw it I realized the need for a new one and so was happy to lend what help I could for the construction) was packed, not only with parishioners and alums (Jane Filibuster, nee Octave, still sets my heart aflutter, I confess) but also, owing to Joey Flippant's current status, a lot of media. There were raffles, silent auctions, hot dogs, the school band (I smiled fondly at the boy playing the French Horn, my old "axe"), cheerleaders, and Bingo. Sister Mary Clyde, clad smartly in an Our Lady of Perpetual Chewing Gum warm-up ensemble (which, naturally, I was forced to purchase; one for myself, not hers) was beaming. Yes, her hair is stark white, but she was as robust and energetic and kind as always. She greeted me with a big hug, which was a bit unsettling to me (having never made physical contact with a nun before, discounting Sister Mary Philpot's hands on my ears), but in time I chalked it all up to sincerity and not gamesmanship on Sister Mary Clyde's part.

Joey Flippant, of course, made a big speech, and then Sister Mary Clyde spoke. She made reference to Lou Ferragamo's much-read account of the original shoot-off, contradicting the stern way Sister Mary Philpot came off there and stating for the record that, "You'll never believe it looking at me now, but back in 1969, my hair was jet black, not a red hair at all." Paulie Flugle screamed out, "I'll make it any color you desire, Sister girl!" Say what you will about Paulie (I won't), but he and his partner Skip Epstein not only pledged a hundred dollars apiece for every shot both Sister Mary Clyde and I made, but also promised to donate half of their take from every parishioner's hair styled until construction is complete, and a lifetime supply of jump ropes.

"Ladies first," I again said, and we were off shooting. Sister Mary Clyde apparently had not devoted as much time to practicing for the evening as I had. Despite having the entire gym rooting for her, and the aid of some pretty swanky Nikes, Sister Mary Clyde, at the free throw line, looked very much like the pushing 70 woman she is. The contest was pretty much over by our third round of ten shots each. Certainly I was disappointed by my tally of 72 made shots; Sister Mary Clyde was ebullient that she made 53. Realistically, though, I don't think it mattered. If we had each made 100 of 100, I don't think it would have been possible to raise any more than the $82,537.92 our shots alone raised.

All in all, despite my reservations about the entire thing, I was happy to be involved. Happy to see old classmates. Happy to contribute to the building of a new gym (with more forgiving rims, I trust). Happy to have concluded the night by reciting, with the entire crowd, a rosary for all the Our Lady of Perpetual Chewing Gum's deceased parishioners and teachers. And happy, I cannot lie, to have won.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Nun Better

Well, speaking of Bingo and county corruption trials and this being Lent and all, I thought I'd pass along one of the more legendary tales at Our Lady of Perpetual Chewing Gum Parish, here told by the most legendary Lou Ferragamo, as he regaled the crowd at last week's Catholic Bingo Workers Annual Retreat in nearby Bucyrus.

Sister Mary Clyde's her name, appropriately enough. Was then back in '69 and somehow still is, despite sometime back when the nuns could switch and use their own names. Guess she liked Sister Mary Clyde and didn't want to be known as Sister Pearl Van Arsdale. I don't blame her. She did do away with the wimple like all of them did, though. Hair white as a dove now, but back then when she was our fifth grade teacher, the color of her wimple-shrouded hair was the cause of much speculation. Joey Flippant swore he climbed the tree back of the convent one night and looked into the window to see Sister Mary Clyde brushing long locks of golden red hair. That was back when we all believed what Joey Flippant said, so the matter was settled--Sister Mary Clyde was a redhead. Of course being ten-years-old as we all were then, Sister Mary Clyde, being an adult, seemed ancient, but now when you think about it she was probably no more than twenty-three, twenty-five tops at the time. "The only nun in the school who never flayed my knuckles with a yardstick," is how George Kendall always puts it. She was nice, and fun. A fun nun, I tell you, and the memory of her is probably the only thing that kept half of us practicing Catholics still practicing for years. For years after, all through the Seventies, there were always rumors that she was going to leave the convent, but she never did, unlike most of them. Now she's principal.

Anyway, back then we boys used to play basketball every recess. One bent-rimmed, rusted-backboard, no-net hoop out on the back parking lot. No wonder none of us ever became even half decent players, shooting at that devilish hoop. So one day Henry Pale was sick and we only had nine boys and we were starting to fight about whether we should kick Paulie Flugle out of the game and play four on four or let him play and just not pass to him when Sister Mary Clyde, faithfully doing God's work tending one of the ends of the girls' jump rope, saw her chance at some liberation recreation, if not theology, and said, "I'll play." Saul, on his way to becoming Paul, was not more dumbstruck than us nine boys--a nun, our nun, Sister Mary Clyde, playing basketball? Heresy. In our paralyzed astonishment, though, Sister Mary Clyde had handed over the rope to poor lazy-eyed Jane Octave, ran over to us, grabbed the dirty orange ball from me, and proceeded to knock down a twenty foot set shot from the top of the key, left-handed. "Swish," we all whispered in reflexive wonderment (since there was no net to make the sound, we were obliged to credit one another's good shot by providing the sound effect).

The upshot of it all was, much to the jealousy of the girls and the scandalized tisking of then-principal Sister Mary Philpot, Sister Mary Clyde became a regular player in our games, which relegated Paulie Flugle (undoubtedly thrilled, absolutely thrilled, he'd tell you) to jump rope duty, where he quickly became the confidant of all the girls, which in turn probably led him to his successful career as a hair stylist, which in turn led him into the arms of his longtime partner Skip Epstein. But anyway, back on the b-ball court, we all soon became acquainted with Sister Mary Clyde's potent holy elbows and her formidable shot-blocking abilities. "Man, we'd rule CYO if we could only suit her up," Joey Flippant always said. Despite the rough and tumble games, we never did catch even a glimpse of the alleged red hair, but we delighted in having played a tough game whenever we spotted a small, sweat-darkened spot on that wimple. I can only imagine how good she could have been in shorts, a t-shirt, and anything other than those awful nun shoes.

Joey Flippant, though, as always never satisfied with just a good thing, engineered a scheme. Dominic Rotini was a pretty lousy basketball player, but he was the best foul shot shooter in the school, because that's all he practiced. Unfortunately, Dominic hardly ever saw playing time in our CYO games, and when he did he was too timid to do anything but immediately pass the ball whenever he somehow got possession of it, so he never got the opportunity to shoot free throws when they counted. Anyway, Joey Flippant, after a week of badgering, finally convinced Sister Mary Clyde to agree to his bet. If Dominic Rotini could sink more free throws out of a hundred than Sister Mary Clyde, we wouldn't have homework for a week. If Sister Mary Clyde sank more, we boys would we obliged to forego a week's worth of recess and instead have to sit in the church saying the rosary for the departed souls of all the deceased nuns who used to teach at Our Lady of Perpetual Chewing Gum. Needless to say, Dominic Rotini had no say in the negotiations.

So the big day came and by then the whole school knew about the wager. God knows how Sister Mary Clyde got it all past Sister Mary Philpot, but there was the entire school arrayed around the "court" whooping and hollering as Sister Mary Clyde and Dominic Rotini took turns firing ten shots apiece at the ramshackle basket. "Ladies first," Dominic graciously offered, and I'm sure that was the first time most of us realized Sister Mary Clyde was indeed a lady. She clunked the first two shots, made five in a row, then one out of three. As Dominic stepped to the line, the eighth grade boys, thugs, all of them, as all eighth grade Catholic school boys are, each pulled out rosaries and jingled them. Undeterred, Dominic, as we teammates were so familiar with, sank nine out of ten. "Hallelujah!" screamed Joey Flippant. "A week without homework!" Then Sister Mary Philpot wrangled his ear with a little more force than we were used to and Joey Flippant was silenced for about three minutes, a world record at the time.

Over the years, at appropriate times, I have asked Sister Mary Clyde what her true feelings during the shoot-off were: Was she politely playing along but letting Dominic win out of good old Christian charity, or was she playing to win, disregarding what might become of Dominic Rotini and his standing with his classmates if he lost? She always just smiles and says, "I learned basketball from three older brothers, two of whom went on to become all-state. You don't learn anything from cheap victories. I thought meek Dominic could use the lesson if he lost. And besides, if I did lose, I knew Sister Mary Philpot would treat me a lot worse than you boys could ever dream of mistreating poor old Dominic." That's why, after ninety shots apiece, the score was tied at seventy made (not a bad percentage at all for a wimple-wearing nun and a myopic would-be accountant in Buster Browns).

By now Joey Flippant had a score of side bets going and Sister Mary Philpot looked as grim as could be, probably imagining damning (literally) phone calls from the Vatican. Sister Mary Clyde, her wimple now completely sweat-darkened, toed the line and unbelievably sank nine in a row before rimming out the last shot. "No fair!" Joey Flippant screamed, only then realizing, "She's got the Big Guy on her side." Vinny Del Corleone tossed his rosary to Joey, adding, "You're gonna need this, Flip-Off."

I do believe Dominic, who was bald as cueball by twenty-one, lost his first dozen or so hairs as he stepped to the line, needing nine out of ten to stay alive, ten out of ten to win. His first shot hit the front rim, started to crawl over, then, be it God's will or just the way the ball bounces, fell back. We fifth graders groaned, while the rest of the crowd, totally won over by Sister Mary Clyde by this point, cheered. Joey licked his perpetually chapped lips and duly sank the next eight, all soundless swishes. Equally soundless was the crowd, except for Sister Mary Philpot, who let out a loud, "Great God!" The soundlessness continued through the last shot's arc. Unfortunately for us, and especially for Dominic Rotini, there was no in-unison "swish" to accompany the descending arc. The distance between foul line and basket is fifteen feet. Gary Toole, yes, the same Gary Toole who is now a world-renowned mathematician, estimated Dominic's hundredth shot traveled 13' 7". Airball; hello rosaries.

I tell you, I've religiously said a rosary every day for the past thirty-odd years. And no matter how much I concentrate on praying for lost souls, departed souls, terminally sick souls, the saintly souls of missionaries around the globe, even the indicted souls of people like Joey Flippant, my mind always wanders, usually in the middle of the third decade, to Sister Mary Clyde and Dominic Rotini shooting foul shots. But the killer, the ultimate riot of the whole thing is that Sister Mary Clyde is now trying to raise money for a new gym, to be named, unbelievably, the Sister Mary Philpot Gymnasium (must have been part of the bargain struck between the two in order to let the thing happen in the first place), and Sister Mary Clyde, always a cagey one, isn't above leaning on her former charges, to the point that Joey Flippant, out on bail and awaiting trial at this very minute, helped arrange a re-match. Yes sir, boys, this Saturday night, March 10, Sister Mary Clyde and old Dominic Rotini will be shooting a hundred free throws each in the old gym. And everybody in attendance will be pledging money for each made shot. Joey Flippant must have a pretty good defense fund, because word is he's got about fifty side bets, all on Sister Mary Clyde. Me, I love the woman, the best thing that's ever happened to Our Lady of Perpetual Chewing Gum. But I gotta admit, I've been saying rosaries for a month now that Dominic wins. The poor guy deserves redemption.

Tune in tomorrow for the results. In the meantime, say a rosary for all those great late nuns.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

B9? Bingo!

I won today. Which is saying a lot considering that my day began with me having to endure listening to both a Glee soundtrack album and then the Rent Broadway cast album (work is one thing; indentured servitude is quite another, and while I'm on record disdaining Broadway musicals, I must admit, if I hear the Oklahoma! album I'll happily sing along, but my God is Rent dreck). But after work I listened to a voicemail from the dermatologist who removed a speck of a growth thing from my left temple the other day; she said the results of the biopsy were in and for me to call back. Now this thing was really just a speck (though the wound left by its removal makes me look like a Frankenstein wannabe) and not really unsightly, so despite my years of sunburning, I really wasn't that worried about it. But in the minute between listening to the voicemail and calling back, I got a bit antsy, as only the words "the results of your biopsy are in" will do. As the phone rang, my paranoia spiked--if the results were good, wouldn't the doctor say so on the voicemail? The fact that I have to call back and speak to a nurse doesn't sound good. Then, of course, the wonders of modern technology. After listening to my options (and wondering if there was one like, "for dial-a-prayer, please press 6") I chose 3 and had to leave a voicemail of my own. It was just after four p.m. I thought, if that office closed at four and I have to wait until tomorrow to learn the "in" results of my biopsy, I'm going to need a referral to an ulcer specialist. Lo and behold, though, within five minutes a friendly voice called back and told me the results were "benign." I almost drove to a tanning salon in celebration.

Benign. Let alone the spelling, what a strange word. For some reason it just doesn't look like good news. And once you know the definition I guess it's impossible to comment on the sound of it, but I bet if you got 100 people together who didn't know the word and told them the results of their test were benign, just the sound of that would make 98 of them shudder in fear. But my gosh, what a beautiful word. Even without the major meaning it carries today--basically, no cancer--it's one of the nicest words there is. Five definitions, courtesy of
  1. having a kindly disposition; gracious
  2. showing or expressive of gentleness or kindness
  3. favorable; propitious
  4. (of weather): salubrious; healthful; pleasant or beneficial
  5. Pathology: not malignant; self-limiting 
Truly, folks, outside of the definition of bacon, are there more glorious words grouped together in the dictionary? I mean, salubrious is worth the price of the dictionary in and of itself. Self-limiting I guess in the sense of not metastasizing, not spreading. So why is it that outside of the medical use of the word--which is great enough--benign seems to have a sort of weak connotation? "Oh, don't mind him. He's benign." Sort of nothing more than harmless, where in reality, it should be one of the greatest compliments you could bestow on a person--kind, gracious, gentle: benign! It saddens me to say that although I can't really explain it, if you said to someone, in all sincerity, "Oh, thank you so much for those kind words; you're so benign," you'd get an odd look at best and maybe a slap at worst.

So, in the spirit of my good news today, I'd like to mount my little soapbox here and represent for the greater literal usage of the word benign. Risking the slippery slope of the fate of the Smiley face and Bobby McFerrin's one hit "Don't Worry, Be Happy," I proudly proclaim the commencement of the BEnign Movement. I see t-shirts with a cool logo. I see people holding doors for others and in response to "thanks" they say, "benign!" Rush over to help that older person trying to navigate the ice, offer your arm, and say, "benign!"

Case in point. After hearing me grumble today about performing the most tedious task at work (apart from listening to Glee and Rent), Co-Worker brightened my day by giving me a Fun Size Snickers bar (so delicious). The same Co-Worker who earlier offered me some scrumptious fries, who the other day gave everybody Fun Size Snickers bars, and who before that came in on her day off with a box of donuts for us all--Co-Worker is not only salubrious, but incredibly benign. Thank you sincerely, Co-Worker.

Lord knows that in this crass and often cruel world, we need a shitload of benign. So, dear readers, go forth and BEnign. Benign, what a great word. It may not pay the rent, but it sure kicks gleeful's ass.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

It's Not Goodbye, Dennis; It's Hello To The Rest Of Your Life

An open letter to Cleveland Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who was defeated last night in the primary.

Dear Dennis,

Congratulations. No, really. This is a great, great opportunity for you. Now you're a real outsider, with nothing to lose. Unfettered. No need to kowtow to anyone for something as cheap as a vote. So relax, take a deep breath, and let it out, man, let it out.

I'm sure, as I write this less than 12 hours after your defeat, the offers are already starting to pour in. Let them pour. Sure, your buddy Sean Penn is probably offering a permanent job as his stand-in cum in-house political wag. And if MSNBC doesn't offer you big bucks to put some zest (back?) into their nightly lineup, they're dumber than they seem. No doubt that nut Sarah Palin is probably calling ABC right now pitching the idea of you two getting together on Wife Swap and then following it up with a variety roadshow. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if ol' Obama isn't reading the morning paper and dreaming while he crunches his Cheerios ... hmmm, carpe diem, dump Joe finally and reprint the bumper stickers: Obama-Kucinich 2012. Yeah, that's the ticket! Or maybe he's thinking that with some facial hair (you can grow some, can't you?), you could almost pass for Ahmadinejad's brother. The two of you would be quite the pair. If anybody in the role of special envoy to Iran could dissolve the brewing crisis there before the Israelis um, resolve it permanently, it's you Dennis. Hell, politics makes strange bedfellows they say: Rush Limbaugh, gagging to find enough saliva these days to lick all his wounds, might just be ready for a co-host. The Limbaugh-Kucinich Report. If that doesn't make advertisers sprint back, nothing will. All great options, I admit, but personally, I'd lean toward the inevitable one coming from CBS, Undercover Minimum Wage Peon, in which you, fully polishing your everyman bona fides, take a different minimum wage job each week. If a year or two of watching you man a McDonald's drive-thru and stock shelves late night at Wal-Mart doesn't make the American populace demand you to run for President in 2016, I'd be ready to renounce my citizenship.

My point is, good God, man, you are free. The world is yours. Now just sit back and enjoy your ten months of lame duck status at the taxpayers' expense. Keep yourself open; don't commit to anything rashly. Let them drive up the price. Just don't, whatever you do, take calls from that idiot Trump. You are not, have never been, and will never be, anybody's apprentice. And although the pay isn't as good, and the national spotlight isn't as bright, please, I beg you, consider, just consider, coming full circle and running for Cleveland mayor again. God knows we need some excitement in this town.

May Shirley MacLaine's chakras be with you always.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

I Can't Complain About My Everyday People

No, I did not give up blogging for Lent. I've been a bit pre-occupied lately. For a week I've been locked inside my personal think tank contemplating today's Super Tuesday primary, which includes my native Buckeye state. Whose direction for the future of my country do I want to embrace--Mitt's, Rick's, Newt's, or Ron's? That's the quandry that has consumed me for days and nights now. This morning, though, I woke up with a clear mind and the realization hit me--I'm a registered Democrat and thus can't (won't?) vote for any of the above. So I flushed the tank and ran right over to spitoutyourgum to get cracking again. What a relief. Well, really, I've been enduring a bout of uninspired laziness (as opposed to the usual inspired laziness which usually fuels my posts).

But truly, yesterday I was snapped out of my torpor by a seemingly cliched phrase, the kind of which I'd usually blast apart in my routine scribblings here. In my by now almost daily exchange with the guy who makes my lunchtime sandwich, we of course asked each other, "howya doin?" I replied with the standard, "not bad, you?" and he replied with the seemingly equally standard, "I can't complain." Cliched, right? Two relative strangers exchanging automatic words, signifying nothing, just lubricating the social contract, kind of like a golfer taking a few absent practice swings on the first tee. But no, not this day. That "I can't complain" positively sung out and knocked me upside the head with its glee, its earnestness, its conviction. "And he meant it!" as Dennis Hopper said. A bit overwhelmed by the positive gale blowing at me, I muttered something inane about what a great demeanor the guy had and how I wish I possessed it. I soon took my delicious--truly--sandwich over to a table to enact my usual lunchtime (with my crazy work schedule, "lunch" often arrives, like yesterday, at 6 p.m.) ritual of scarfing down the delectable sandwich and reading the sports page. But I couldn't focus on the box scores this time. I was shaken by that tsunami of cheer--"I can't complain." Minutes later, to another customer, I heard him say it again, "I can't complain," and once again it rattled my core. Can I complain? Sure, whattaya got? There's always a ready list: my fate in the cosmos, the latest ache, yesterday's scores, the fact that I'm eating lunch at 6 p.m., the fact that in my morning fog I mixed the plaid boxers with the striped socks, the fact that yesterday (and appearing all week, folks) I was sporting a bullseye band-aid on my left temple--as if someone had tried to shoot an arrow through my head and it went in but not out the other side--the result of having a "thing" removed from said left temple and which is presently undergoing a biopsy (now there's a tiny atomic bomb of a word that deserves full explication here eventually--perhaps after the results are in, of which the doctor didn't seem too concerned). Yeah, pleasant sandwich guy, I thought, I can complain, but in the air suffused with his wholly upbeat, well, demeanor, how could I? Snap. As I ate that sandwich in that environment, my own always-ready-to-complain-about-something demeanor was broken as easily as a Lenten promise. The mental To-Complain-About list that often hangs quick to hand in my consciousness was replaced by that most wonderful list, Things To Be Grateful For.

At the top of that list at the moment was the, for want of a better term, Everyday People In My Life list. We all have them, those people we encounter regularly in the course of our daily treks, those people we kind of know and develop a strange casual "howya doin'?" relationship with. In addition to the sandwich guy these days, I look forward to chatting with the two women at the gas station I frequent (say what you will about the evils of caffeine, nicotine, and the daily paper, but such addictions open you up to a world of great Everyday People). I think back to other times in my life and all the great people I got to know in this strangely wonderful way--the various deliverymen I saw daily at my previous job--the guy I talked golf with, the guy I traded dirty jokes with, the guy I talked sports with, the guy I always asked how his baby girl was doing--all the other convenience store workers, secretaries, cafeteria workers, etc. You develop almost a routine patter and distinct kind of humor with each and every one of them. And they become like lighthouses for you, or bannisters to lean on during a rocky journey--pleasant little islands of sanity and amusement and good cheer. They're not really friends, because you know them in only a very limited way, but your life is so much better with them in it from day to day. Many of them you could see yourself--and even wish--becoming good friends with if the circumstances were somehow different. And then you move on or they do and that's it, you never see them again. Sad but that's life. How is that nutty guy named Thom doing, and his pride and joy daughter? I'll probably never know. But man my life was richer and funnier for the time we did see each other regularly.

It's funny, because yesterday, before the "I can't complain" revelation, completely out of our usual milieu, I ran into a guy who frequents my bookstore. These out-of-context meetings with your everyday people are often awkward, as if stripped of your usual roles--customer/employee, whatever--you're not always sure of the relationship. But as I sat there munching my sandwich (did I mention it was scrumptious?) and listening to another "I can't complain" exultation, I started to think that maybe, probably in some way, as the sandwich guy functions for me, I function for some of my customers. While I can and do (in private) certainly complain about some customers, I believe that with most I'm pleasant, cheerful, helpful, even fun. Being a card-carrying egocentric, I've never really thought about the fact that I am other people's Everyday People. An upbeat--could it be cheerful to the point of providing an "I can't complain" revelation to somebody else--Everyday Person. A lighthouse-needy lighthouse. A bannister-craving bannister. Isn't life amazing in that regard? I can't complain.

But, can't how? In the more figurative sense that I think we mean when we routinely say, "I can't complain"--sort of like, oh, lend me your ear and I'll complain for an hour, but really, I'm okay, given the possible nastiness of life, so I guess I can't (read shouldn't) complain? Or is it possible to mean it literally--I physically can't complain; it's against my nature and my peculiar laws of psychic physics? That would be above saint-like, I guess, to the point of divinity. But what a state to aspire to--to be beyond the capability (let alone the need, desire, addiction) to complain. No offense, but I'm sure the sandwich guy is not quite divine (though his sandwiches are heavenly), but his seemingly genuine "I can't complain" certainly served as a much-needed, good ass-kicking moment of grace for me. I'm glad he's one of my Everyday People, and through him I thank all the Everyday People I've been fortunate to know, past and present. And now I've got to apply the lesson--to be a worthy Everyday Person for the people who encounter me. It's a gift, after all; one that is happily received and should be as happily given.