Tuesday, August 29, 2006

At this time last year...

Kind of ominous, no?

That's not even a bad storm. I've been through worse than this, and I've never been through anything even close to Katrina.

My man Pastor Sprague down at the Trinity Church is still hosting relief workers, a year after the shindig. Check out his site Trinity Curch In Covington

Remember... the next time, it could be you....

Friday, August 25, 2006

As The Summer Dies

   The 2004 World Series was what scientists call an anomaly- a rare event that can be viewed as a deviation from the norm. The Red Sox winning the World Series was probably around that video of the kitten chasing the bear up the tree as far as the level of anomaly goes. It ranks above a June snow on Cape Cod, and slightly below a pregnant man or US President Iron Mike Tyson.

   Any further proof of this statement can be found in the Yankees five game curb-stomping of the Old Towne Team. We may just be in for another 86 year drought, and all but the most heroic advances in medicinal science will keep me alive to see the next Dub. Some would call me pessimistic, but others would just see it as a case of things returning to the norm.

   The September Swoon came early this year, and the old-timers here view the collapse of the Sox as a harbinger of an early winter. I haven't mentioned this theory to the people at Mann Farm in Buzzards Bay (who we photo-essayed last year right here: Mann To The Fiz-Arm), but I'd be willing to bet that they will harvest the crop a lot earlier than November 4-11 this year.

   Farmers are very attuned to the change of seasons. Their fortune can be made or lost by leaving the crops unreaped a week too long. New England weathermen have a history of blowing the forecast, so farmers have what we call Other Ways of determining how the weather will work itself out months in advance.

   While I haven't read the Old Farmer's Almanac this year, I bet THEY haven't had to change their hurricane forecast this summer. The people at the NWS spent a lot of your money to blow a forecast, and they're the best we've got.

   Native Americans had little use for calendars, and watches only got in the way. You hunt until you can't see the deer anymore, and the night rightfully belonged to the Beasts. While there were exceptions, many societies measured times by Moons. The Beaver Moon, the Harvest Moon, the Reverend Moon... all had their own period, and- however primitive this system may look to someone with a $2000 Rolex- they had it down well enough that the Harvest Moon never came in April.

   Teachers have it down, too. I learned rather quickly that summer ends when school starts, winter arrives with the first snow, spring begins when the last snow of the year melts (and thus can only be determined retroactively), and summer begins when school lets out. As occupationally specific as this sounds, anyone with children follows the same schedule. Once they get used to it, the patterns continue after the kids flee the nest.

   It's an adaptable plan. A snowfall in June merely means that Spring was really, really late. No snow until January means that we had an early Autumn, an Indian Summer, and an extended harvest season.

   Since I got out of teaching, my seasonal perception has been off-kilter. Autumn never started last year, and- were it not for New England winters- I'd eventually be at a loss to go outside on a 50 degree day and tell what season it is. I'd then have to go to the calendar... and begrudgingly admit that my kung fu is not the best.

   Thankfully, the world of professional sports helps keep me in line. The Celtics and Bruins sort of share the winter, when the weather outside is too frightful to sit in a chair and drink to the good health of Mr. Nice Warm Sun. The fact that the NHL playoffs have men skating in June show that their season is way too long... but it's also tailored to Canadians, who live in a far colder climate.

   The Red Sox are a sign of Spring, and they rule the Summer. The September Swoon is usually just too late to use as a barometer for buyinh school supplies, but usually far too early to wager on who'll be the Homecoming Queen at your local Kid Factory. It never happened in 2004, but it came damn early this year.

   You can pretty much stick a fork in the Sox after the Yankers prison-bitched them to the tune of a sweep last week. Sure, they could still rally for the wild card spot... but they'll have to go another series with the Yanquis at some point, and we all saw how that worked out last week.

   Summer isn't over yet, andthe nights won't truly get chilly until that day when the Sox are eliminated mathematically. Still, I saw a lot of prep work being done on the bogs when I walked Sloppy Dog today. The time has come to think football.

   Sure, I think football all summer. There was no way that I couldn't have noticed the departure of Adam V, let alone that of Willie McGinest... who was among my 10 favorite humans (and favorite black man, slightly ahead of MLK) for most of this decade.

   The effect was not such that I changed my perception of the seasons, though. It was much like waking a hibernating bear... sure, he might kill you, but he'll most likely go right back to sleep after.  

   But now, with the virtual death of the Sox... I want to see someone blitzed. I have not given up on the summer. I'm simply thinking of the Harvest earlier than I am most years. It's instinct, but the fact that I recognize it doesn't lessen the fact that I just shifted from thinking baseball to thinking football.

   We'll get into the Patriots soon enough. Sometimes football is more than the game, and this seasonal aspect they share with the Sox and the Weather was pretty much where I had to go with this column.

   For a generation of young baseball fans here in New England (except treasonous Connecticut, whose Yankee fans I would gladly trade from New England status for, say, Long Island), the death on the vine of the Red Sox is pretty much perfectly coordinated with the start of school/end of summer... and the impression may stick with them until they are in their 90s, as any long-time Red Sox would attest to.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

I Got You Stuck Off The Realness

Well... we didn't lose.

The US basketball team, coming together for an Olympic-style tournament in Asia, snuck past Brazil's national team by a mere 4 points this morning. It wasn't always like that.

Ever since we started sending pros in 1992 (after the Soviets began to beat our college all stars), we stomped the world like they had WELCOME written across their face. We had 10 years where we ran the basketball world like a dangerous pimp.

Who can forget Charles Barkley elbowing that Angolan guy? Wasn't it fun seeing Larry Legend throw one off the backboard to Pippen? I've been watching basketball my whole life, and I've never seen anyone dunked on harder than the s*itting-on Frederic Weis took from Vince Carter... who actually jumped OVER the 6'10" Frenchman to hammer down a dunk with such force that Indonesians began to evacuate coastal regions.

It was bullying, but it was kind of cute. Watching some Thailand guy looking up at Shaq in the middle of the game is funny. Seeing a Serb- who was supposed to be playing defense- screaming into the stands for his mother to get a picture of him guarding Michael Jordan is hilarious. I would have done the same thing, which was a great part of the appeal it held for me.

Lithuania gave us a scare once (Lithuanians have an inordinate amount of what blacks call "blue-eyed soul"), but we took gold in 1992, 1996, and 2000. Besides only losing 2 (1972 and 1988) with kids, we won every other basketball gold medal... ever.

The other teams, to their credit, fiended for a shot at the Dream Teams. They grew a big collective pair, and they were stepping up to the next level. You have to do that to get better, and basketball is popular like soccer in many parts of the world now.

If you want to be the Man, you gotta beat the Man. It was all just concept and cliche' until they started actually beating the Man in 2004.

These beatings were ugly... losses to Italy, Puerto Rico, Lithuania, and Argentina look pretty bad on a Dream Team resume. We invented this game, and we play it with a unique style. From 2004 until we Gold Medal(v) again, our style is inferior... at least in that goofy FIBA game with the strange rules and the trapezoid lane.

We should have exerted more influence, and not allowed the Europeans to alter the basic game so much. The Olympic games are basically designed for a 6'10" Nowitzki type to shoot 20 footers- sort of like the college game here, but worse. There is simply no way for a center to post up down low, catch the ball, and spin into the lane for a dunk.

The US game, once thus divided, cannot stand against itself. All those 6'8" dunkers aren't really nice jump shooters, and the US offense can be  pretty much bedazzled by sticking two guys down low while the other three chase shooters on the perimeter.

This leads to jump shooting contests, as well as to absolute yawners as far as the game goes. I coached for a few years, and I love a screen as much as the next clipboard crusher... but the reason they sell so many jerseys is the inside game- either a huge center or a wing player taking it hard to the hole. You just don't see that in these games, and American viewers suffer in more ways than at the medals podium.

The Americans need the next Larry Bird, a 6'10" guy who can flat out shoot the ball. The NBA has plenty of players like that... they're named Peja and Nowitzki, and they don't play for us when the Olympics come around.

I see two ways of solving this:

1) Require NBA players to become US citizens before they sign contracts- nothing more than what we should be asking of any migrant lettuce picker who is doing much harder work here. I can see no reason why NBA fans should be funding the next Wehrmacht or Red Army.

2) Somebody changes their style of play.

The Europeans and the others are going to resist this, but they need to start playing the game the right way, as 2004 loser Larry Brown says. The game was invented here, and we've had the most time to fiddle with it... we know what's best for it. It's our baby.

They need to get a proper lane, learn how to dunk, and stop playing that sissy-ass college game. They'll be better for it in the long run, and they might not hate our game so much once they start playing it properly. They should be booking the Globetrotters more, just to get their heads on straight.

If they refuse, we should force them to change soccer. We should do it anyhow, just to remind them who won the Cold War.

Monday, August 7, 2006

"The World's Worst Dog Is Still Better Than A Cat."

"Why must it be like that? Why must I chase that cat? Must be the Dogg in me."

Weekend Assignment #123: Dog v. Cats -- There Can Be Only One

I used to have a cat named, at different times:

- Sasha

- Ditty Cat

- Fat Cat

She was pretty cool. She'd mostly sit around in sunbeams, and she'd only bother me for food or attention. "Rrrrrow!"

It's easy to see why cats were often afforded mystical status among earlier peoples. Even modern Americans don't like a black cat crossing their path. Would you be afraid of a witch who had a schnauzer?

Cats don't fuc* around much. They're all about Do Fo Self. Even when they want attention, they don't hang around much... they've got Other Stuff to do.

Cats are also of a higher order than dogs. A strong man with an axe can fend off even a pack of wolves. A tiger can tear apart an army platoon if it catches them with their weapons down.

Still... dogs are way better. It's not even close.

Sloppy is laying at my feet as I write this. If I get up, she may follow me... and even if she doesn't, she'll be keenly aware of where I'm headed. If I actually leave the house, she'll watch me walk away from her Sloppy window.

Dogs are best friends. Cats are associates. Dogs like to play. Cats give you that look like "leave me alone," and they may scratch you. Who needs that? I mean, that's what the rest of the world is for.

Every night, I take Sloppy and we walk on the local bog. If something happened, I trust that Sloppy would at least try to intervene. She probably wouldn't do any good, but her intentions would be honorable.

I actually got Sloppy shortly after 9-11, given to me from a friend who thought I needed cheering up. Sloppy was part of a brood that someone at a gas station in Maine was trying to give away, and she was about 3 days from the pound when she suddenly became a Monponsett resident.

In her first year with me, she:

- ate the bathroom floor

- ate the bedroom wall

- ate the carpet

- scratched into every closed door in the house, bringing about an architectural(?) style that sculptors know as "reverse bas relief."

- jumped up on a cranky cop at the DHS lacrosse game, scratching him

- got out of the house and boarded a school bus with the neighborhood third graders

- tore apart a pile of newspapers in my class when I brought her to school with me

- we're just scratching the surface, trust me.

 Sloppy got her name from my students. I thought it would be a good idea to bring her to school on a slow day where I had nothing planned, and let the kids pick a name for her out of their history textbooks.

They chose:

- Hitler

- Atilla

- The Nina (after Columbus' boat). "The" was important... "trust me... it'll look cooler of it's called 'the Nina'... no one else will have a dog named like that."

- Hannibal

- Catherine the Great

- General Sherman

- Khan

- Whitey, after notorious Boston underworld figure James "Whitey" Bulger. This came from Andre- who is in jail now.

"Andre... I live in the suburbs.... if I yell 'Whitey' out my door, 50 people will show up."

While Andre and I were discussing this, Sloppy deuced right on my classroom floor. Bashaw- who was genrally a silent presence in my classroom- noted, "Damn... that's a sloppy mother****ing dog."

The whole class became animated. "Yeah... you ought to name that s*** 'Sloppy Dog'.... (the dog comes over to the kid who says it)... look, she likes it!"

Seemed like solid enough logic for me. Sloppy it was.

My friend Tornado was against naming the dog "Sloppy." She favored "Bennie," even though Sloppy is a female. "You can't name it 'Sloppy,' because it will hear you calling it "Sloppy,' and it will create a self-fufilling prophecy."

"It's a f****ng dog, Tornado... it doesn't have a concept of sloppy."

She was right, though... that dog knocked about $30,000 off the value of the Monponsett house.

Not long after we decided on a name, my friend Tonya (who worked in the adjoining office, which was the Boston base of the Norwegian Seafood Export Council) asked if she could "borrow" Sloppy.

 "My sister will be in town from Norway for a week, her English is terrible, and it'd be nice for her to have a dog to walk in the park."

"I don't know, Tonya... it's a real Sloppy dog."

"If it becomes a problem for her, I can just keep her in the office with me the rest of the day (my boss at the school had banned Sloppy from attending anymore, after Sloppy deuced his office while he was watching her as I took the kids to basketball practice... I was proud of Sloppy, because my boss at that school was a real prick)."


I gave Tonya the dog at 7:15 AM. There was probably a period of 5 minutes where Tonya brought Sloppy back to her apartment. At 8:35, I took my first class out for a smoke.

"Ain't that Sloppy Dog?" Myles was pointing at the offices of the Norwegian Seafood Export Council.

I turned, and there was Sloppy.... ripping down the venetian blinds of the poor Norwegians. She then got into their Viking replica boat, and scratched the s*** out of it.

 It turned out that Sloppy drove Tonya's sister crazy in about 15 minutes, and was sent into exile to the seafood export council. I doubt that they sold any salmon THAT day.

She's a nightmare, but she's my nightmare. She also knows i'm thinking of her, because she just looked up. I expect her to wreck something today, and it most likely will be something valuable.

I wouldn't trade her for anything, though.