Saturday, December 20, 2008

Back... to the Future!

Well, at least back to something.
Last night I went to a sold-out performance of a show that's been off the air for ten years.
"In the not-so-distant future, next Sunday A.D. ... "
Recognize it?
It's the starting line of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (or MST3K)!
That's right, the whole MST3K cast was in town to do 3 different live shows, Thursday, Friday and Saturday! People came down from Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana to see the show - and judging from Friday's first show (they did repeats on Friday and Saturday nights) it was totally worth it!
Calling themselves Cinematic Titanic now, and ditching the robots from MST3K, the six MST3K alumni ripped a film called "House of Vampires!", a Filipino movie thankfully free of copyright. The film was set in Mexico, and it really isn't that important what the plot involved (a House of Vampires?) but the comments came fast and funny.
It's quite different seeing an MST3K show "live" and in a theater (The Lakeshore Theater - hoo hah!) than on tape or CD. The whole audience is laughing at the jokes, making it easy to enjoy the craziness.
I got everyone to autograph "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" for me - you may recall that MST3K did a takeoff on "SCCTM" already, THAT version meade me roll on the floor in hysterics, so this version should be good.
Afte that, I went to a chili restaurant called Chili Macs (whose specialty was.... chili mac!) for some chili (sans mac) and walked up and down Broadway, enjoying the pulse of that part of the city. It was so... alive! So... New York City! Stores were open and video shops and theaters and Chili Macs!
Needless to say, the MST3K - Cinematic Titanic bunch left me in a great mood, and so too many of the other audience members, who I got to talk with while waiting in line to get my car out of the garage.

All in all, an excellent night!

Friday, October 24, 2008

October ball

Well, I can't help but stare at the television and wonder "what if".

If we hadn't won a record number of games, for our team at least, I probably would have given up long ago.

You see, I believe it's much less painful to come in fourth or fifth... than second. In virtually anything.

Second means you had a chance. Second means you were this close. Second means you can taste it.

No one really remembers who came in second, anyway. Or third or fourth or fifth. We remember the winners.

It's good baseball. I guess I'm rooting for the Phillies but either team's got a good story.


It's gonna take me some time to get over this one.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Well... that certainly sucks.

Oh, really? ;)
The National League playoffs have begun, and it's the Dodgers versus the Phillies.

Not a Cub in the bunch.

Maybe the Cubs shouldn't have rested after clinching so early. Maybe they shouldn't have rested their pitchers. Maybe the Dodgers were that good.

Maybes aside, it's all for naught.

Why did they discombobulate right when it mattered most?

I guess we'll never know.

I guess we'll just have to say it, like we've said it again and again and again.

Wait til next year.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Stroke... what an ugly word

It figures.

I had my total physical (EKG, blood work, tetnus shot included) and came out fine. Diabetes under control, blood pressure under control, weight under control. I'm feeling pretty darn good.

Cubs are due to start playing their first game in what hopefully will be a long series - wow, I'm feeling pretty darn good!

I get to my cell phone - and have eight messages.

I NEVER have eight messages.

Turns out, my father had a stroke and is in the hospital.

Coming back from San Francisco, he started driving erraticly - swerving in and out of lanes. My mom thought he just was a little under with his diabetes, and they stopped and he ate something...

But later that night, he started talking goobledegook and it went downhill from there. Luckily my brother-in-law was there to flag down the ambulance (my parents live far back off the street and it's DARK there) and my sister was visiting from Atlanta so she got to take care of my grandmother while my mom and other sister followed the ambulance...


I mean, we had seen this coming, kind of... but not so soon. My Dad hasn't reached seventy yet.

He doesn't take care of himself. Doesn't go to sleep until early morning and then sleeps in until noon or so. Just sits and watches TV. What happened to my Dad?

Look, I know bad stuff happens.

To a lot of good people.

Heck, I caught up with my sister at the pulmonologists for a three year old, just got out of the hopsital - again. Breathing problems, collapsed lung - you know, the usual.

It's just... well, until fairly recently, my Dad was a big, bold man who lived life heartily and all, and now he's... old. Rapidly growing older.

Who knows, it maybe a transient ischemia - that means it just goes away.

But it never goes away entirely. Life is going to be changing in big ways for not only my parents, but for Shannon and Ben and their three kids (live only eight miles away) and my grandmother, who's got her own set of problems but hey, she's 95 :) .

I know there's really no sense complaining about it - although I hope I'm venting, not actually complaining. You deal with what life deals you and go on, I know that.

You can't do much else, really.

It's just, well... he's my Dad.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Aw, heck, it's probably too early to post this, but there's a little tune that everyone's been singing after a Cubs win (literally - the whole stadium gets into it)... and I've been humming it all morning, so here goes...

Go, Cubs, go!
Go, Cubs, go-o-o!
Hey, Chicago, what do you say?
The Cubs are gonna win today!
They got the power, they got the speed
To be the best in the National League.
Well this is the year and the Cubs are real
So come on down to Wrigley Field!
We're singing now
Go, Cubs, go!
Go, Cubs, go-o-o!
Hey, Chicago, what do you say?
The Cubs are gonna win today!
Baseball time is here again.
You can catch it all on WGN.
So stamp you feet and clap your hands -
Chicago Cubs got the greatest fans.
You're singing now
Go, Cubs, go!
Go, Cubs, go-o-o!
Hey, Chicago, what do you say?
The Cubs are gonna win today!


Monday, September 22, 2008

Oh, you just knew I'd have to mention it...

Cubs clinched.

And Maggie and I went up to Cedarburg, WI, for their Wine and Harvest festival.

Cedarburg is one of those small cities that you don't think really exists anymore. Downtown is eight blocks ong, anchored on one end by a church and the other by an old mill winery. In between is full of little restaurants (I do mean little) and gift stores and florists and meat markets (home of the damn BEST apple brats you ever tasted!) and ice cream stores (where you can still get an apple dumpling with ice cream for two bucks. Can't get a cone for that around here!).
It has more than a downtown - it has many neighborhoods and an ice rink and even a McDonald's and a Dairy Queen (so it's a reasonable sized city, I guess).
You have to understand something here - even though I always lived in the suburbs, it's always been in the suburbs of a reasonably large city. I guess South Bend was the smallest city I've lived aside, and even that was reasonably large. San Jose, Sacramento, Buffalo, Chicago? Definitely large!
Maybe there are a lot of those towns out there - just sitting in the middle of nowhere, still operating and not slowly dying... but color me pleasantly surprised that Cedarburg, the Smallville of Wisconsin, is still there and still kicking.
Nice to know.

Oh, and the night the Cubs clinched we went to the play Damn Yankees. Not only was it baseball oriented? It starred -

The Washington Senators!

Americana would approve.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Oh-h-h-hh, man!

Cubs were down four runs, bottom of the ninth, two outs, nobody on.

They won.

They won?

Four runs down, one out left and they won?

It's never over until it's over.

This is the year!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Funerals and Moving

Well, just got back from the funeral for Maggie's cousin Richard.

He had been sick for quite some time, and when he went to the hospital Maggie and I visited on two occasions, including the night before he passed away.

Last night was the wake, and though his family is Polish, not Irish, the feeling was one of more joy than sadness. His sons and daughters came in from New Hampshire and Carolina and Ohio, and there were plenty of Maggie's local relations there as well (her entire family lives within seven miles of my house. Literally.).

Mass today was a little sadder, but then, I always choke up a little at funerals. Must be the music or something. :)

Seriously, every time my family gets together it seems it's at a funeral. And now Maggie's family.

I think I will be planning a multi-family get -together soon, not on a holiday or anything but just to get together. You never know when, you know?

I've moved a lot - I've lived in Albany, Boston, Syracuse, Buffalo, San Jose, Sacramento, Buffalo (again!) and Chicago, with school in South Bend thrown in there for good measure.

Maggie has moved - um, never.

Her family has moved around but generally stayed within Arlington Heights or close to it.

So have a lot of my relations - they've never left the Syracuse area, even though they may have moved around a bit.

It's a different experience, a different lifestyle - but I think I'd like to see my brothers and sisters more often.

Of course, they live in Atlanta, Washington DC, and San Jose, so that kind of makes it difficult.

I don't know... it's just good to have family near. And when they're not, to make the time to see them/

Cubbies Magic Number is still 4

We're going to the play-y-y-y-y-y-offs. Some time. :)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Carlos Zambrano Rides Again!

Last night the Cubs-Astros game got moved to Milwaukee, since Houston is kind of a mess right now. Milwaukee has long been known as Wrigley North, by the way.

Carlos Zambrano came back after several weeks off and we wondered about his injured shoulder.

It must have gotten better.

He pitched a no-hitter, the first for the Cubs in 32 years.

The first ever in a "neutral" ballpark.

The Cubs won again today too.


Just maybe.

This is the year.


First, the floods.

Chicago has been hit with the most rain ever recorded. Up to 11" in some places, more like nine out where I live.

Do you really know how much 9" of rain is? Consider the ground is sopped and can't absorb anymore, and the cement and buildings and tar parking lots certainly can't absorb it, and that it's all gotta go somewhere...

A soccer field near us had 25 feet of water on it. Granted, it's lower as a retention area just for such emergencies, but 25 feet of water is still damn impressive.

Maggie got stuck coming home from driving a guy over to the dialysis center (wotta gal!) - all the roads coming from there to here were impassible. In Des Plaines only two north south streets remained open and only three east west. That's for the whole dang town.

We had a lot of water.

The retention ponds in my development overflowed, which is pretty impressive since a few days ago they were ten feet down, at least. Now they extend clear to the street.

But the skies cleared, cloudy but no rain today, and we're not due for any more until Saturday. So. looks like my neighborhood dodged a big bullet (since all our lower floors are halfway into the ground - half-basement, half-room!). Unfortunately, many of my neighbors did not dodge the bullet and streets are still pretty much impassible in many areas. Took several of us three hours into work today, trying to find a dry route in. Normally takes 20, 30 minutes.

Still, I couldn't help thinking as I watched Ray Kroc's #1 and #1000 MCDonalds go under water , and the Interstates closed and O'Hare airport cut off - what power the water has! Nothing to do but get out of the way - no amount of sandbags could stop it. Just sort of a reminder that for all man's great works and cool buildings and well-engineered roads, heaven and nature still can wipe it away with a shrug.

Just kind of makes you think of your own mortality, is all.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I'm not sick... yet.

Bad news: The Cubbies have lost 7 out of their last 8 games.

Good news: Milwaukee and the others in pursuit have played badly too. Cubbies still lead by four and a half.

Bad news: The Cubbies still have to play St Louis (our archenemies) and worse, six games against Milwaukee!

Good news: The Cubbies usually kick Milwaukee's butt.

Bad news: But that means that we're playing for the pennant directly against our number 2 rival.

Good news: You'd rather play Arizona? Maybe we're better off coming in second, at that.

Good news: The Cubs are definately in the playoffs.

Bad News: They've gotta get their swing back, their winning ways back! They've just gotta!

Good news: They will.

Let's go Cubs!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

They're at the Post!

One of the things I enjoy about this area is that there is a racetrack nearby.

Not one of those dingy, dirty little tracks with horses pulling buggies and spiderweb-strewn betting windows. No, I'm talking about a mammoth operation with gleaming white spires and acres of horsebarns and areas to watch the horses.

I'm talking Arlington Park.

Arlington is quite the place - huge, yet divvied up so nicely you never feel crowded or lost. I've felt crowded and lost at a dog track (WAY smaller!).

They have nice self-service betting machines and you can get whatever you want to eat there, and the track is very nicely kept and they have huge viewscreens so you can see what's going on...

But primarily, there are the horses.

Thoroughbreds, some of which go on to the Kentucky Derby (same owners of the tracks) and some of which, well, are a bit out of their league. All of which are very handsome animals which you can go down to the barns and down to the track and see pretty up close.

Then you go bet on them.

I have no idea how to bet, really. Sure, I can read all the tips and figure out that Glue Boy hasn't won in fifteen starts and I can see the odds posted, but to be honest I go mostly for names and colors.

Dynareign ran Sunday, so I had to bet that one because of Aaron's Dynagirl. Similarly, Windjammer - how can I turn down that horse!?

Then there are the Irish names with two Irish parents wearing green - ho, you bet I'm going for that one!

Sexyblueeyes ran Sunday. Maggie bet on that one because of me. I bet on BrownEyedGirl because of her.

OK, ok, I do have some guides in the odds department. I'll usually choose horses that are 4-1 to 7-1. Far enough out there that they aren't favorites, not so far that a good run is impossible, high enough so the payout is worth getting is you win.

Oh, I'm a big better. $2. That's it.

So, if I lose, no big deal.

I usually hit about 3 winners out of the 8 or 9 races we get there for, which actually is pretty good - the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times usually only hit one or two. I'm not sure that's particularly good.

Of course, I lose the other 5 or 6, so I usually don't walk away any richer than I came in. Often a few bucks less.

But you know what? On a clear, sunny day, with white clouds gently rolling overhead, and Maggie and her neices and nephews there (yeah, I get talked into babysitting) and some diet Cokes,man, you can't get any better way to waste a Sunday.

Er, except a ballgame.

Or gaming with my friends.

But it's a nice third :)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Take Me Out To A Ballgame... Again!

That was this weekend.

Monday I went to the White Sox game with my company.

I didn't realize that the boss had paid for really good tickets, up in the skyboxes. We rode the elevator up, walked down the hall and into the box. It was only five seats wide, but that was enough because half the guys just munched down on hot dogs and the dessert cart - man, was that fancy!

I enjoyed myself, really. It was quite the gesture from a boss who won't pay to have our name on the sign out front.

But one, it was the White Sox. Crosstown rivals to my team, the Cubs.

Actually, the Cubs are our team. You just can't get fifteen tickets to a Cubs game, even if you had an open checkbook. There are certainly no skyboxes!

And two, the Sox are leading the division, just like the Cubs, but there were plenty of seats available that night. Look, guys, your team is WINNING and you can't sell tickets? The Sox are continually advertising tickets for sale. The Cubs sold everything out in hours, months ago.

Truth to tell, I kind of wish the Cubs had some extra tickets available, so you could just go down to the game. Just can't do that, and that's a shame.

Kind of funny. The Sox have this big new stadium with lights and sports boxes and fireworks with every home run and spinning lights on the scoreboard and TVs and really good food and it's right off the freeway.
The Cubs have an ancient hole of a stadium with no special boxes and ballpark food and it's in the middle of a neighborhood (NO parking!) and the score is kept by hand - it's not even an electronic sign!
And guess who attracts more fans?

Be it Miller Park in Milwaukee (just up the road - hey, they serve Leinenkugel, can't be all bad ;) ) the Sox or the Cubs, there's no place in the summer like a ballpark.

Take Me Out To A Ballgame... Please!

Aaron Storck dropped by this week, in town for a meeting. We went out to pizza with Maggie, out to the local racetrack (where Aaron showed me a thing or two with his consarned fancy betting - Exacta? Didn't he used to fight Combatra in Shogun Warriors?) and up to the Yolo Auto Museum before he had to head home.

The Yolo Auto Museum is quite a place - six large buildings filled with finely-shined cars from all different eras, all for sale. But wait! There's the Batmobile, Black Beauty, the Scooby-Doo van, Fred Flintstone's car, the Back to the Future DeLorean, a Hagar the Horrible viking boat car (?!), Herman Munster's dragster, Grandpa Munster's coffin car, and cars from XXX, Fast and the Furious, and quite a few other movies.

There's also a military sort-of museum, which I call GI Joe Museum, because the displays are based on what they could get - you see a Soviet group with a machine gun next to an Italian display next to an American display of a tiny snowmobile-like vehicle. Cool, stuff I haven't seen elsewhere, but the diaramas get kind of cheesy after awhile.

Oh, and six more buildings filled with antiques. And a General Store. And a candy store. And...

Well, we just did the military and cars.

That night Maggie and I went to a Kane County Cougars game, intending to meet up with her cousin, who had written a book on baseball's Hall of Famers and was signing the book at the game (seems he got his start in sports with the Cougars and was paying them back, so to speak).

Well, we made the mistake of going to Mass before the game, and got there at 6:15. We kept getting idrected farther andfarther from the stadium and at 1/2 mile away I asked a parking lot guy whether there were any tickets - and he said just lawn seats. We actualy did not go in,figuring by the time we walked to the stadium there wouldn't even be that.

It was Single A ball!

What the heck? I mean, the Schaumburg Flyers never sell out!

Of course, the Cougars advertise like hell, have fireworks on every weekend game, and promote the team incessantly. Guess it works.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Thunder and Lightning

Last night we had a thunderstorm - or rather, several.

And they weren't the normal nice thunderstorms, but the kind where you literally can't see out the windows because the rain is coming that hard and it's blowing sideways, besides.

Oh, and it's white, because the lightning is literally coming every second, right over your house. (Seriously, a map of lightning strikes was just one big blur, on the news.)

But for all the storm's ferocity over those couple of hours... I actually enjoyed it.

I mean, we were inside the house. No broken windows. We had power, but it wouldn't have mattered much if we hadn't - the place was quite well-lit from those bolts and I had candles besides.

It was strangely... I hesitate to say peaceful, but maybe peace-bringing?

I'm not sure how to explain it, but being safe inside while the fury of the storm raged around, just watching out the windows as the neighborhood was lit up lie a Christmas tree, jumping as the occassional bolt hit the driveway... well, Maggie and I just sort of relaxed and took it all in.

I know it was a ferocious storm, tearing the roofs off of houses, gusts to 95 mph, tornado sirens screaming at Wrigley, buildings blown flat, trees down, power out for days, probably.

But it was still beautiful, awesome in its power.

Just a little reminder from above, I guess. :)

Well... MAYBE...

I went down and saw Lisa after he surgery, and initial reports are pretty good. They may have gotten all of the cancer out. Then again, they may not.

But the fire in her eyes is back, and they actually let her eat a Popsicle (well, she ate about a quarter of it) - her first food in three days. '

Over the past couple of days, she's had her parents, her sisters, myself, my mom and dad, Sean, the kids - even her cousins who stopped in. Considering we all live very far away, that meant a lot to her, I think.

She may need chemo - likely, truth to tell - and she's going to be in the hospital for another week and she can't eat dairy for at least three months... but she's a heckuva lot better than the doctors cautioned us.

For now.

Nice. I'm feeling pretty good about now.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Not one of my favorite weeks...

Sometimes it does seem like the bad news comes all at once.

And surprisingly, it's when that bad news affects people close to you, that you have to watch them go through it, is somehow worse, much worse actually, than things that happen to you personally.

My Dad, as I've written, did swing pretty close to death but he's now being watched by cardiologists and endocrinologists and other-ologists and if he pays attention and doesn't act too stupid he'll come through this pretty much intact. Still call every night, but (crossing fingers)the danger has pretty much passed.

My sister Shannon's baby was hospitalized because a) he lost almost half his birth weight in a week and b) couldn't breathe, besides. He's still in there, getting his blood transfused and all, but Shannon's been through this at least six times before with her other kids (seriously, is it cool or just odd that you know the nighttime emergency room lineup by name? Hey, Dr. Bob!). Concerned, yes, but we know the drill by now.

Well, last night my brother left three messages on my phone to call him. He barely calls me at all, let alone three times.

Well, it turns out his wife Lisa has a huge malignant tumor growing in her colon and totally blocking one of the other lower pipes, I forget which. It's serious - real serious. She goes in for surgery next Friday.

Lisa's pretty young, about forty, I think. She's got five kids, ranging from almost one to eleven.

Her parents are coming out Monday, and my parents are coming Tuesday and staying at my house (which is six miles from Sean and Lisa's) and possibly my brother's coming out Friday, so she'll have plenty of support.

This isn't really supposed to be one of those "poor me" posts. Anything that happens to me is pretty much nada compared to what's happening to others - I know that.

But to have three people who are very close to you come that close to death in the space of a week, well, it makes you think.

There are those people who claim that if God wants you, he's going to take you and there's not a whole lot you can do about it when your time comes.

I understand their point, but I also have one of my own (point, the joke is old):

A man was trapped by the flooding Mississippi, and a boat came to get him from his doorstep. "God will help me," he said, refusing the aid. The water came higher, so he went to the upper story. Another boat came by, but he refused to get in, saying "God will help me!" The waters really rose, so he had to go the roof, and a helicopter came by. Once again, he refused - "God will help me!" So the copter left, the waters rose further, and he drowned.
The man gets to heaven and sees God. "Uh, God? Why didn't you help me?"
God looks at him and says "What do mean? I sent two boats and a helicopter!"

Live while you can. No one ever died wishing they could have attended just one more meeting.

Anyway, if you get a chance, say a prayer for my sister-in-law.

Aand since I'm her only relative outside of California, say one for me too - I have a feeling I'm gonna need it. ;)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Music of the Night

I went to a concert last night, a little cabaret act with a fellow name of Michael Ingersoll.

Never heard of him? That's okay - neither had I.

Maggie remembered late Sunday that she had bought tickets for this guy. He's in a little show called Jersey Boys (not exactly little - sarcasm there).

He was outstanding - sang everything from the Tin Man song in Wizard of Oz to jazz classics, interspersed with interesting talk on his rise in theater and his life and his wife - who lo and behold, also showed up.

It was his first solo concert - ever - but he had chosen the Metropolis because he had appeared in a show there two years ago, before hitting it big (we had seen him in that show, too).

And the place went nuts when the other Jersey Boys showed up and sang along.

I did not go nuts. I had never heard these guys sing. It was all the white haired people (my dad included - he had seen Jersey Boys) who went nuts.

After hearing them sing - well, Maggie and I are buying tickets for his other show in August. The exact same show, probably. It was THAT good.

So that got me to thinking - of all the musicians I really like. Put my money where my mouth is. As in, have paid to see them at least twice. I've seen plenty of other singers and shows, but these are the people I have seen at least twice and that I really love - over the past twenty five years or so. Needless to say, i have multiple albums from each.

Ron Hawking
If you've never heard this guy, he is amazing. Sings Frank Sinatra and Rat Pack songs in his own inimitable style. Does Vegas quite a bit but also comes through Chicago semi-annually in all sorts of venues. Always top notch cabaret shows. Have seen him four or five times.

Billy Joel
Only the good die young, only Billy Joel can put on such a fantastic show, either alone or with Elton John. Seen him three times.

Jack Daniels Silver Cornet Band
Yes, the whiskey company has their own promotional band of, well, silver cornets. They each play characters from 1849 or so. Wonderful performers, great Christmas shows. Three times.

They Might Be Giants
Particle Man, Particle Man, does anything that a particle can.... just fun. Twice.

Barry Manilow
Say what you want, the man can put on a show that NO ONE can resist stomping their feet. If you only know him from records you've never seen the real Barry Manilow. Three times.

Harry Connick Jr.
Come on, the guys plays everything from Bear Neccessities to his own compositions, in a really cool jazzy style. Seen him twice and would love to see more of him.

Elton John
Can Corkidile rock still resonate forty years later? You damn well better believe it! Three times.

The Irish Rovers
My all time favorite Irish band. Just awesome! They're a bit older now but they still can sing the Unicorn! Wasn't that a party? At least ten times.

The Chieftains
Almost as good as the Rovers, a little less on the humor though. Still darn good. Six times.

Seamus Kennedy
My favorite entertainer of all time. Seen him at least a dozen and a half times and would see him more if he came to the Chicago area anytime. He's an Irish singer of incomparable quality and humor, and always gets me singing! He's absolutely terrific! Eighteen times, probably more.

Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson
Admittedly, this pair comes from twenty five, thirty years ago, but when I saw them I knew the words to every song. Highwaymen is still a classic. Ghost Riders in the Sky ! Two times.

Michael Crawford
Con-DOR-maaaaaaaannn! Yes, I knew of him before he was famous. He was a comedian, for cripes sake. Who knew the man had such a voice!? His Phantom is still standard, but he does so many other great songs too! Three times.

Reba McIntyre
Long before Reba had her own TV show, she toured a lot more, and she used to come to Buffalo every time. Why? Because we loved her. When she sang Fancy atop a stage that lifted into the air and whirled her around the Aud so she was on a level with the balcony (hey, they paid their money too!) - man, I still get excited. Twice.

Garth Brooks
The only thing I don't like about Garth Brooks is his habit of making every seat the same price. Every seat pays the same. I never got a good seat. Didn't matter much - the man plays to everyone in the house. Everyone knows every song. I mean, every word to every song. Again, like Manilow, if you've only heard the records you haven't heard or seen Garth. Awesome performer. Twice.

Beach Boys
I am such a sucker for surf music sometimes, though I prefer Jan and Dean a little more. Saw them a long, long time ago and their voices were going south. Know what? Nobody cared. :) Three times.

This is kind of a cheat, because I've only seen him once and don't have any of his records or anything. But I enjoyed his concert.

Well, those are the ones I can think of now. this doesn't include things like the Notre Dame band or the Sacramento/Buffalo/Chicago Philharmonics or jazz festival bands or Radio City Christmas that I've all seen multiple times. Just kind of gives you a little insight into my world...

Monday, July 21, 2008

Just a few More Hours...

Yesterday morning I was feeling low. Worries seemed to pile on and I just felt... bad.

By the afternoon I was feeling wonderful.

It's amazing what a Sunday afternoon outside can do for you.

Maggie and I went up to Lake Geneva, just across the border in Wisconsin. We walked around the town and the lake, visited a couple of our favorite stores, and had dinner on the waterfront with a nice view of the boats and the main dockhouse.

We went over afterward but the last boat tour wouldn't leave for almost an hour, but we did discover there's now a KC's Cones stand in the main dockhouse (Maggie kidded me that now she knew my secret source of cash, and I countered that it couldn't be me because it served Pepsi and I'm more of a Coke person).

Walked by the old arcade due to close for good at the end of the summer, and played a game of Ms PacMan (she kicked my tail - geez, she was good at that game. Hidden story there somewhere!) and then we walked a bit more and went home.

Oh, we stopped at the old Dog n Suds drive in, in Richmond. Supposedly there are only eleven of the places left, and only three within driving distance. We just got some diet root beer.

It's like going to an actual A&W, same effect. The root beer is just that much better, that much creamier, than much smoother than anything available in a store. It is so damn good you can't believe it's legal. The perfect ending to a perfect day.

There's something about the water, and boats, and root beer for that matter, that gets me in the summer time mood, that brings back memories of long ago. That just makes me happy.

I can't explain it, really. But if you've ever heard those ads, where the man talks laconically about how refreshing it is to play golf, or boat, or swim... well, it was Wisconsin, but it sure felt like heaven.

Remarkable what a Sunday afternoon can do.

Monday, July 14, 2008

My dad is old

Yeah, I know, how original.

I just got word, like half an hour ago, that my dad started bleeding profusely and ... well, long story short, he's hospitalized in Lake Tahoe. Or was, overnight, they're driving home right now.

I cannot begin to say how much I hate the way my father takes care of his health. He doesn't. He goes off to the dentist, keeps it secret from my mother as to when he goes and what they do, he takes Advil even though he takes a blood thinner (news to me!)... aaaaagh!

According to my sister my mom awoke to Dad out of bed and a huge pool of blood on the bed, he's in the bathroom because he doesn't want to wake her - WAKE her? He's spouting blood like a turnip! They go to the hospital and he gets a transfusion and a blood thickener and it still doesn't stop and they're wondering whether to give him more would make clogs or give him a heart attack -

My dad is only 67!

Yes, I suppose that's old, but not these days! He's not supposed to have a club foot and arthritis and diabetes and he's supposed to TAKE CARE of them, not eat Jack in the Box milkshakes and chocolate cake! JEEZ!

He was bleeding like crazy Wednesday, so Thursday they go to TAHOE? HEL-LOOOOO!

I'm... so flustered I can't think straight. I am so mad! DAMN, he's getting worse - LOTS worse - and there doesn't seem to be anything we can do to get him to take it seriously! My brother's a DOCTOR, for crissakes!

And now they're saying there might be Alheimer's, because that's the only explanation? No, he's stubborn. Stupidly stubborn, just like his father. I just find it damn ironic that a man who could probably afford the best doctors around


Superhero on Tap

Let me state, right now, I am not a particularly big fan of dance. It's okay on occassion, I suppose, but there's about thirty things I can list off the top of my head that I'd rather spend the time on than attending a dance performance.

There's always an exception, and that exception is The Hourglass and the Poisoned Pen.

It's a superhero comic book done in tap.

I know, weird.

It's a big improvement over last year's show (yes, I dragged Maggie to that one), with a better set (a giant comic book whose pages are turned to form the backgrounds, and with projected captions!), better villains, better fight sequences (they've gone from tap dancing at each other to a mildly-inventive way of actually fighting while tap dancing) and even better costumes (for the sidekick, at least - I think the Hourglass' outfit was the same last year).

Before the show, we were warned that if we had seen last year's show, to forget it. You got it - it's a Hulk-style reboot! :)

So we got a different origin for our heroine (much quicker, allowed the story to move to the action faster), the sidekick had a costume right off, and the story went pretty much like a superhero comic book. You know, sidekick is knocked out, used as bait for hero - the usual.

What made it so enjoyable was the villainous Poisoned Pen, who's actor was terrific - both in secret and villain ID. The Conductor was kept from the previous show, and instead of just doing a little dance and raising an eyebrow got to beat the tar out of the heroines this time around. And the heroine herself, the Hourglass, acted far more like a comic book heroine (kind of in an Adam West vein) than the reluctant wimp she was in the first episode.

The play is actually going to a NY festival in September, given a chance to perform off-Broadway, which is darn good for a show that plays in an old 70-person theater.

So if you get the chance to ever catch the show, I'd recommend it. It's fun, fast-paced, and interesting to a comic book guy.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Making a Point

Well, Maggie and I went out to Cedar Point, Ohio this past Fourth of July weekend.

As did nearly everyone else in five states, apparently.

We went out there because her sister had insisted that on Fourth of July people stayed with their families and didn't go to the park. I had my doubts, but Cedar Point is located pretty far from any city of real size, so maybe...

(On our last night there, we went to Friendly's (a more or less New England based chain of ice cream and sandwich shops - great!) and our waiter told us he had worked at Cedar Point for five years and NEVER to even go in July, let alone the Fourth weekend - what were we, nuts?)

BUT - I had pre-purchased two-day tickets, just in case. We really hadn't planned on using them on the same weekend, but they were a lifesaver. The park was open until midnight and we just walked around and took in the coasters - anything with too long a line we skipped until the next day.

For thos eof you who aren't too familiar with Cedar Point, it bills itself as America's Roller Coast. It's no idle boast. There's something like 17 roller coasters. Yeah, no kidding. Even if two or three could be considered junior versions, that still leaves 14 full-size coasters.

And some are way bigger than full sized. Millenium Force stands over 300 feet tall and is nearly 7000 feet long. Top Thrill Dragster goes 120 mph, 420 feet straight UP. The Magnum is considered a steel coaster classic. And on and on.

Suprisingly, people lined up for hours for the newest rides - but left the Magnum, the Mean Streak, and the Gemini twin coaster relatively abandoned. The Gemini is my new favorite ride - racing twin wooden coasters, what's not to like?

Maggie even talked me into going on the Ripcord. That's where you get pulled 15 stories into the air with a cord attached to your back (through a steel hitch), in an arc; you pull the ripcord, and fly/fall 15 stories to within 6 feet of the ground, then swing up again, then swing back and forth for awhile. It was fun, but I don't think I'll tempt that again. It's like skydiving - all you need is one thing to go wrong and WHAM.

I DID hold out my arms like Superman and shout "Daht dah dahhh!" or something similar as I flew. Figure if I might die I might as well enjoy myself.

Anyway, the fireworks were terrific and literally fifty yards in front of our faces (were they SUPPOSED to be that close?) and they even played the music I'd chosen for Americana's theme song (which I'll post up soon's I can make a good recording) which considering it's not a true patriotic music thing I rather enjoyed.

In the end we got on almost all the coasters we wanted (exception - Maverick and Top Fuel Dragster, though we did them last year) and had a wonderful, wonderful time.

And having a Friendly's across the street from the hotel CERTAINLY didn't hurt. :)

(How small town is it? They had a Rally's Hamburgers, but it closed at 8. And those are summer hours. Eight o'clock?!)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


No, I did not choke to death on my own cooking, though you could read it that way (likely, if you've had my Margareta Chicken).

The Kansas City BBQ restaurant, down in San Diego, burned down last week, and this sad event has been talked about a lot by the people who went there.

Am I correct in saying that everyone I know who went to the San Diego Comic Con at one time or another has eaten there? The list is long, people...

The KC BBQ was located right next to the Embassy Suites, or close enough. That alone would have made it good, as it was a prime location for dinner after the Con closed (back when they had it at the old convention center) and even better, for lunch when the new center opened.

The food was delicious. Really. Either we don't have good BBQ in Chicagoland or the atmosphere just made it all the better.

It had to. Inside the restaurant was a veritable mess, with tables crowded together and all sorts of junk hanging from every post, all thanks to the movie Top Gun. What did the sign say? "Top Gun Cheesy Bar Scene Filmed Here"? "Cheap Bar"? Whatever it said, it was far worse.

Which made it better. :)

I always ate on the patio - even when it rained (which admittedly was not that much). The patio had just the right flavor, the nice outside views... damn, I'm going to miss that place.

Hopefully, by next year they'll have rebuilt - and I'm looking forward to digging in once again to a true classic.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Three Hours at Wizard

Saturday, I had to go into work for a couple of hours. When I got done it was a little past one, and Maggie was at work until six. So I drove the two miles up the road - literally - to the Wizard World Chicago convention.

I had gone to Wizard once before, a few years ago, and hadn't really enjoyed it. But one of my artists had said she was going to be in Artists' Alley at a con (Kitty from Kitty's Tavern) and I was going to miss San Diego this year... so I thought I'd give it a try.

Let me state, unequivacally, that this is not San Diego. At all.

By the time I arrived most everyone had already gone inside - and quite a few were leaving already, which didn't give me much hope. The registration tables were buried under mounds of junk - literally - so I just went up to the registration booth and got a badge and a bag.

With one set of Magic cards. No program book, no guide. They were out.

And they still had Saturday and all of Sunday to go. Brrr.

I decided that if I only had a few hours, I'd like to meet Kitty at her booth and say hello. This was complicated bythe fact that I had no idea what she looked like, and more importantly her name isn't really Kitty. No more than mine is KC, I guess.

This would have been good to know. :)

Now, the one advantage I think Wizard has over San Diego? That I could see, any way?

Artists' Alley is HUGE. Takes up about a third of the convention hall. There must have been two, three hundred artists there. I mean, I was shocked. Maybe they couldn't get a lot of dealers or something, or maybe they hold the artists a little higher than San Diego, or maybe they just put them on the main floor without thinking, but MAN, there were a lot of artists!

Me, being Captain Observant, didn't know this at first so I started in the back of the room. I moved pretty swiftly, stopping to say hi to artists I knew from Ebay (about five of them, I'd used) and wondering why all these talented folks were NOT on Ebay (there were a number of really good artists there - had I planned better I could have gotten Americana pics) and a lot of concepts that never made it to my store.

I finally found Kitty up near the front, found out her name wasn't even remotely Kitty in the first place, got a copy of the comics she had illustrated (that were kind of bleah but she just illustrated them), chatted a little bit about a 3-D Americana she's doing for me (okay, that she's hinted at wanting to do for me for so long I finally said yes) and -

I had about an hour left. I decided I wasn't going to go back to some of the places I passed (looking at all the name badges on the floor - yes, on the floor - to see if maybe one of them was the gal I was looking for) but I had seen about five other guys I'd used and several more I recognized and it was fun to see what they looked like (normal, every one of them! :) ) and I got some nice complements on the new site (so they ARE looking at it - cool!).

I walked around and looked at some of the booths and got some lightsabres for my nephews and some comic art boards for me to draw on... and then got out of there.

Yeah, there were Alex Ross Art and DC and Marvel and Image booths, but there didn't really seem to be much going on there. I assume they had some rooms for panels but they had to have been really small because I walked through half the convention center without seeing a soul.

The actual convention was nicely crowded, though I never had a problem moving through aisles or anything, and the retail booths were kind of... sporadic, I guess. I didn't see any guests, the autograph tables were empty... in the middle of Saturday afternoon?

I enjoyed checking it out and meeting people, but having paid twenty five for admission and eleven for parking, that's a lot for three hours of basically buying stuff. A couple people I spoke with said it was pretty slow, bad for them, good for me.

So, no, it wasn't San Diego, not even approaching San Diego. Maybe the old, old San Diego, when the hotels were ancient and sometimes not air-conditioned, the tattoo parlors open, the con was at the old Convention Center and you stayed up all night playing games.

There was no sense of excitement, really. No Transformers tractor trailers, or Image rocketships, or DC big booth gatherings.

Okay, so there were no five dollar hot dogs and long lines, either, so I guess it's a wash.

It's a nice local con, maybe a bit bigger than most, but with most of the same stuff (just more of it!). A very VERY nice Artists' Alley, though - if I return in the future I'm going to get some drawings done.

And above all, very nice people to strike up conversations with... which is what I enjoy most at cons, now, anyway. I met a half-dozen people who I had only known through email, got lightsabres for five bucks each (NO, they're not authentic - think the kids will care? :) ) and had a fun couple of hours.

I guess the convention bug never really leaves you.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I can't believe I'm saying this, but...

I have come to the realization that I just don't like most superhero movies.

No matter how good they are (Superman I and II) or how pathetic (Daredevil, Catwoman) they can never measure up to what's inside my head.

Don't get me wrong - I'm certainly not saying that my ideas are any better than anyone else's. They're not.

But when I read comics, those characters exist in their own little comic book worlds and interact with comic book physics (Reality is, Batman can NOT kick someone in an arc clear across a room, Spider-Man should have some place to attach his web to before swinging).

In old Marvel comics, people would talk for several paragraphs while they were in the middle of a fight. Heck, if a panel captures a moment in time, they should be limited to a few words, at most!

But not only do I accept that, I enjoy it. I'm not conscious of it, but as I read from panel to panel I just take it all in and fill in the spots in between panels. Not to some ludicrous extreme (Batman eats breakfast, Batman shaves, Batman reads the paper, Batman uses the john...) but enough so that I get the feeling that the writer and/or artist is trying to convey.

Comic book heroes in movies... well, they kind of miss the point.

Costumed heroes work best in their own worlds. No matter if you build the world's best supersuit (Iron Man, Batman) or sort of sexiest costume (Elektra) or just do it like the comics (Superman, Spider-Man) you either have to make the city the darkest city ever (don't they know about lights or moonlight even?!) or change the characters so much (Wanted) that most people don't realize they're comic book characters.

Often they change characters' costumes to look more "realistic". In Batman that's a necessity, but the characters were still identifable (though Catwoman didn't need all the stitches - any idiot can get a spandex suit with no stitches, why can't Catwoman?)

In Mortal Kombat, they threw a lot of the outfits out the window. Why not let us see those goofs in their spandex? Sure, no one goes around wearing leotards, but at least then we'd know we're in a comic book movie!

Ever notice how most of the really "good" comic book movies are origin stories? Why can't anyone come up with a story that isn't an origin? (OK, so there's The Dark Knight).

Virtually every comic book movie has its goofball points - some more than others. Spider-Man - not only can't I believe a guy can move like that (fake!), the swinging bit proved the movie makers needed more physics lessons. Superman Returns - and does what, fights normal guy Lex Luthor again?! Hulk - big cartoonie CGI guy with a too-small head.

And I can like these movies for what they are, I suppose. I liked Iron Man, Batman, Superman, Superman II, Batman Begins, well enough. Even Flash Gordon, I suppose.

But the vast majority are el stinko. Supergirl. Masters of the Universe. Daredevil. Elektra. Catwoman. Street Fighter. The Phantom. Buck Rogers. ANY of which you could make a great movie out of, if only you weren't so afraid of offending the public or offputting a segment of the moviegoers or some such crap.

If you are going to make a comic book movie, for gosh sakes why not make it like the comics?

The Rocketeer. Geez, I love the Rocketeer. Not that there was all that much story to adapt but they did a great job, made a fun movie and that was semi-realistic to boot.

Batman, with Michael Keaton. Sure, there are a few goofball things (like the Joker's gun) but that was pretty much a good comic-book movie.

Of course, I do realize that my dislike of most of these movies could come from the point that I'm just getting old.

Don't buy it.

It isn't particularly hard in coming up with a comic book story. It is a little harder when you actually have to think it through and write the ending first (otherwise, how do you know when you're on track? basic!). So I do have sympathy for the movie writers who have to put up with constant changes and all that.

It's not their fault that, even with CGI, their movies will often fall short to what my imagination says they could have been.

But come on.

I certainly don't have a unique grasp on imagination. You all do - you're part of a comic book roleplaying game group, sometimes more than one at once! Your various stories and tales betray that you too have an immense imagination!

And I have no doubt you could write a better comic book movie - because it would BE a comic book movie.

I guess I am becoming... well, not cynical, but for ten dollars I want something resembling the comic books the characters were taken from (like Iron Man having SHIELD agents with unidirectional explosives ((I remember Jasper Sitwell using that on Iron Man in the comics!)) and that big comic-booky energy source! Cool!).

And of course, some movies I will see just because they feature Batman, or the Spirit, regardless of how good they are.

I don't want there to be an Avengers or a JLA movie... because the chances of them messing it up become just too high.


Maybe I am just getting too old to expect much.

But while they can improve the costumes, the machines, the CGI, the fights... is it too much to ask that they improve the story too?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

daht dah dahhhhhh DAH....

I arrived in San Jose in the middle of a slight heat wave - about 104, give or take. I really wasn't bothered by it but the neices and nephews were, and were already planning to go to a movie.

They had already seen Kung Fu Panda, which seemed to be a good film for ten kids aged 3-16 (many more toward the lower end of the scale) to see.

They had also seen Iron Man, which though I liked it is in no WAY a movie for kids. Covering up their eyes was one parent's action, another wisely walked out (come on , three and five year olds seeing the first part of that movie? Unh, uh.)

So, this time they all decided to see Get Smart.


It's not a movie for kids, either - though mostly because of language and a few off-color references.

Which is funny, in a way, because the kids were laughing and giggling the whole way through the film. I found most of the jokes were sophomoric and the movie rather juvenile.

But you know what? By the second half of the movie, with most of the dumber jokes out of the way, it turned into a fairly decent movie. Pretty good action sequences. For a Get Smart movie.

I think that it's a movie based on a 1960s TV show that was made so people born in the 90s can enjoy it. Those of us who are older?


May I recommend Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day.

Seriously. I hadn't even heard of this film but went on friends' recommendations, and found it every bit as delightful and entertaining as they had.

Set in London on the eve of WWII, unemployable Miss Pettigrew intercepts an agency request for a housekeeper and is drawn into a web of clever relationships, always on the outside looking in. Poignant.

It's rentable (my definition for movies that don't require scope - like Indiana Jones - to make their point, and can be watched comfortably on television), and is much, MUCH better than I make it sound.

If you liked Thank You For Smoking, you'll like this one too.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

On Lacrosse...


This will be short.

Lacrosse is basically ice hockey on land, without the speedy skating.

You throw the ball from netted stick to netted stick, then toss it in the goal. The ball can be hurled with wicked speed, allowing for some interesting plays.

I've watched a few Buffalo Bandits and Chicago Shamrox games. One of my brother in laws was captain at Holy Cross. A number of my relatives' kids play the game.

Y'know, it's just... missing something. Looks too much like a club sport at a local college. Fun and all, but plays like something a bunch of kids made up after one too many drinks.

I kind of admire the way these athletes run and throw and catch. I do.

And when I'm in the mood to go to a game, every other year or so, I guess it is kind of fun.

But no matter how many times my nephews try to get me interested in their games, I have to pass.

To me the game is like soccer - I don't get it and probably never will.

On Soccer...


Don't have all that much to say on soccer.

The rest of the world seems to be really engrossed in soccer.

Can't really see why.

I mean, lacrosse is more interesting than soccer, and I can only take so much lacrosse.

Proponents of soccer will point out how popular it is among children.

I will point out that that's because the coordination to kick a ball is just a few steps past walking, and is nothing compared to just about any sport you can name, including ping pong.

I suppose it does get tougher as you get older - people run into you that much harder, at any rate.

Look at how many saves goalies make. That is one huge ball.

Look at the scores - one, two goals for all that running around?

Oh, I know why soccer's so popular overseas. It's that everyone knows that practically anyone can kick a ball. They know they could play the game, if they just got in shape and ran a few miles. I can do that. It's a popular thought.

Maybe not an accurate thought, but popular...

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On baseball teams - my favorites

Ah, the more observant among you have certainly noticed the plural in that heading... and are probably thinking, what gives?

Truth to tell, my favorite baseball team of all time has to be the Chicago Cubs.

But there have been others.

My first ballgame was a double header at Fenway, only I was far too young to remember it (2 months). It would be thirty years before I returned to that park but I've always felt a little soemthing for my first team (and first ballcap, and first piggy bank). I'll root for the Red Sox if they are not playing one of my other favorites.

In Syracuse, where I grew up, we only had a minor league team, the Chiefs, who were a farm team of the Yankees. For some reason I liked the Reds instead, who were about as far away as New York City was and they had Johnny Bench. I loved Johnny Bench.

When we moved to Buffalo, I continued liking the Reds, but the new cable company brought the Cubs into my life, and I always rooted for the Cubs. Even against the Reds.

Next we moved to California, in the last part of 11th grade for me. I took to the hometown Giants, but not really. I still liked the Cubs, and still could watch them on cable. They often sucked, but they were my Cubbies.

Moved to Sacramento, rode in the bus convoy to the Bay to press for a team of our own. Still have the shirt - Sacramento's March on Baseball!

Didn't work.

Off to Buffalo again, where I fell in love with our ballpark and our team. the park had been built almost across the street from my office, and was designed to be expandable if we got a ball team (they went to Toronto instead). It was a terrific park, well-designed, without a bad seat in the house. We'd often go over and watch a few innings at lunch, have a fried bologna and a Labatt's , then head back to work. I'd go over about once a week during the summer, and saw many games. They won often, too, conquering the International League and then another league season after season.

Then, of course, I moved to Chicago, home of the Cubs!

Unlike a lot of my fellow fans, I don't have any hatred for the White Sox (though when they won the Series, I couldn't get up for that any more than if they had been, say, Tampa). I've even been to a few games, and will gladly root them on so long as they're not playing the Cubs.

Truth to tell, there are a lot of teams I'll choose over others, for what may seem the oddest of reasons.

Pittsburgh Pirates, because of Roberto Clemente. Died in a plane crash flying relief to earthquake victims in Nicaraqua. Made quite an impression on me as a kid.

Cincinnati Reds, because of Johnny Bench, Pete Rose and the Big Red Machine. Just... cool.

Boston Red Sox, because of Carl Yastrzemski. My Dad went to school with Yaz at Notre Dame for a year, and that's good enough for me. :)

Cleveland Indians, because they were the prent team for the Bisons and I saw a lot of guys get called up. Not so much anymore because I don't follow the Bisons anymore.

Chicago Cubs - my all-time favorite bunch of loveable losers who actually are having a pretty good game this year. Waiting for the eventual breakdown, but it's fun while it lasts.

I don't really have any teams I hate - or even much dislike. I root against the Cardinals, even though they're a good team, because of the threat to the Cubs' standings, but I kind of like those guys... who couldn't like Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang?

I root FOR teams, not against them - in baseball, at any rate.

Who knows? It's the nature of the game.

On Baseball - and thinking

Baseball is...

Well, it's magnificent, really.

It's a game I grew up playing (not very well because my eyesight was TERRIBLE) in Camillus NY, in a league where we had different color hats. No logos, just hats.

Everyone in my neighborhood played on teams, and we didn't divvy them up by age. Twelve year olds pitched to seven year olds. Which is tougher than it sounds.

We played down behind the Sylvania Electric building, on an uneven field our fathers got together to mow (and occasionally plow the rocks out of). Our backstop was logs, inserted more or less straight up in the ground, with chicken wire draped between them.

The field was on the flat part of a hill, and I still recall my father driving the entire team down the hill on his Maverick (and later, Gremlin). The entire team.

Um, yeah, a little dangerous.

Then after each game we'd take a long drive up, up into the hills to the Model T Market, where they sold Pennsylvania Dutch brand birch beer in cold cans, and then cruise down the hill with the motor off to save on gas.

We'd play catch in the front yard and have ballgames in Al Lynch's backyard (which had the only flat stretch for ten blocks - Syracuse had BIG hills). We'd collect baseball cards - hundreds upon hundreds of cards - and put the duplicates in our bike wheels.

We'd watch the games on television - I distinctly remember stringing together power cords so we could watch Johnny Bench and the Reds out in our backyard tent.

And I remember my Dad driving half the team to Cooperstown. The Baseball Hall of Fame. Heaven. (We got our pictures taken and published in the Maryknoll magazine - still have a copy, actually. Though what the Maryknoll Fathers had to do with the Hall of Fame I'm still not clear on).

We'd occasionally go to Syracuse Chiefs games out at the old and rickety P&C Park (named for a grocery chain) and watch the fireworks afterwards. We even went on July 4th one time and I remember they had spinners and pictures outlined in fireworks on the outfield walls.

This was baseball to me.

A grand and glorious game, where failure to shift left could prove disastrous, where you remembered who could hit your pitcher's curveball and who couldn't, where the placement of lefties in the order could spell victory or defeat.

Watching my young soon-to-be-nephew's team play, is both charming and annoying. annoying, mainly because they are getting a little too old to be playing just hit and run. They don't think, which is pretty easy to do in the heat of the game, I guess.

You field differently if there is only one out, or two. You field differently if there are men on base and no outs, or no one on and one out. You don't always throw to first base, in other words.

You have to know whether to bunt up third or up first (again, depending upon whether you are sacrificing to move a runner and what base he's on) or hit left of center or to right field.

If you are on base, and someone hits a pop fly, depending upon where it is and who's going after it, you either prepare to run or stay on base. And that depends a lot on what base you are standing on, if your team is losing or winning...

Baseball, my father drilled into us, is a thinking man's game.

Sure. Now, I know where the throw's going - or supposed to go - the minute the ball is hit. But surprisingly, not only do kids not know these things but adults. I played in the Ad League in Buffalo, and you wouldn't believe the goofball decisions some people made - not because they were stupid but because they treated the game as simply hitting the ball and running.

That isn't it. Not by a long shot.

I think the beauty of baseball is that, given you understand the rules and logic behind the game, it's fairly easy to pick up on a lot of the game just by watching for awhile. If there are runners on first and second and only one out, and the ball is hit toward third, you aren't gonna see too many throws to first.

Baseball rewards thinkers. A team that plays to the top of their game will beat a "better" team eight times out of ten.

That said, you still have to hit a tiny sphere coming at you at 90 mph with a thin bat while the crowd yells, then run ninety feet while the fielder has to run to the ball, grab it and throw it without error to the same base.

Seeing how close the runner and the ball usually arrive, I am amazed at the perfection of the field. Think of it. If the runner only had to go, say, eighty feet, he'd beat the throw nearly all the time. If 100 feet, the throw would beat him.

Same with the pitching distance. Shorten it, and the batter couldn't react in time and would have to resort to guessing where the pitch would be. Lengthen it, and more batters would hit more often.

And the fields are similar, yet have their own differences and charms. Not the stadiums, the fields. Playing at Wrigley is a lot different than playing at Yankee Stdium or Fenway or Tiger Stadium.

In what other sport do they change the dimensions of the fields from stadium to stadium?
Can't think of one.

Grab a hot dog and a beer - they're better at the ballpark.

So. Baseball is...

Just a magnificent way to spend an afternoon.

Okay, so long as we're on sports... hockey!

OK, so long as we're on sports, I thought I'd say a few words about one of my favorites - ice hockey.

I suppose I first caught hockey fever in Buffalo. I lived there during my impressionable teen years and there was nothing bigger in town than the Buffalo Sabres.

First day of school, teachers and students wore SabreJaks (special blue and gold jackets from Penney's with the Sabres emblem on them) and had hockey-stick pens at the ready. I remember seeing Mrs. Levine, my-formerly-ancient math teacher, down at one of the games and instantly she changed in my eyes to pretty-darn-cool math teacher. Mr Kohler, my science teacher, wore a Sabres sweater after every win.

And I had won an autographed hockey stick from the new cable company in town, with signatures by Robert, Martin, Pierre and others! (Though I never had a SabreJak or hockey stick pens - we were a little tight on money in those days)

Buffalo was a hockey town - and Memorial Auditorium was our home.

And I grew to really really dislike the Philadelphia Flyers (hate being too strong a word).

Then, we moved.

To California. Just outside San Jose.

There were no San Jose Sharks in those days. There was no hockey within several hundred miles. And watching hockey on TV, even when you could get it, was just not that much fun anymore.

So, I kind of fell away.

Twenty odd years later, I was back in Buffalo. Working just down the street from the brand spanking new Marine Midland Arena. I mean, three blocks down the street, the Buffalo Sabres skated - and two blocks in another direction, the Buffalo Bisons played baseball. Two blocks the other way, was Canada.

Wonderful times.

The best was when I got to have first row seats behind the glass. Let me tell you, it's a whole different game. Man, that was awesome!

Then I moved to Chicago.

And fell away again.

Wait a minute, you say. Don't you have the Chicago Blackhawks? The Chicago Wolves?

Well, yes... but the owner of the Hawks had decided that no games would be seen on TV, to avoid killing attendance (as opposed to the Sabres, whose every game was on TV).

Well, having had that little rule in place for the last twenty years killed hockey in this town. Seating prices went up, attendance fell to pathetic levels. The Chicago Wolves appeared (minor league hockey) and even won a couple of championships (like this year! Yay!) but for the most part hockey was dead.

Then, this year, the owner died.

His son took over the team operations. We had little hope.

Oh, ye of little hope - rejoice!

The new owner went to town. He brought in fresh young players, he lowered ticket prices, he brought in hockey men to run the team itself, he put all 84 games ON TELEVISION! He brought back the Hawks' 25 year announcer, who the last regime had fired, and brought back former stars into the fold and showered them with respect and actually LET THEM MAKE DECISIONS HE HAD NO BUSINESS MAKING.

AND he signed on the biggest station in town, WGN, to carry all the games on radio! The station's been going nuts, playing the old "Here come the Hawks" songs and hockey goal horn sounds before announcements -

This town is hockey crazy again!

A year and a half after it was practically dead in the water, this city is looking forward to hockey like it looks forward to football! Unbelievable! Even I'm looking to get tickets to some games!

It's not just me getting excited. It's the whole city.

Amazing what one man can do, isn't it?

Oh, I almost forgot. New Year's Day, Maggie and I curled up on the couch and watched the Buffalo Sabres play OUTDOORS - in a snowstorm, in twenty degree weather. Over 82,000 people showed up to watch.

See, in Buffalo, we actually go out in the winter. :) Friggin' Chicago wimps complain if there's more than a few inches on the ground. Constantly. Learn what real snowfall is, ya wusses. :)

And next season? The second NHL outdoor game is gonna be held -

In Chicago.

You bet I'm going to go!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On Basketball and the Celtics

The NBA Finals are on tonight.

And part of me wants the Celtics to win.

After all, I suppose I have been a Celtics fan since I lived in Boston. I have the nice Celtics ski sweater, the hat...

But I'm really not a fan.

I don't particularly like basketball.

It's too easy to score, and let's face it, teams don't even start playing until there's 2 minutes on the clock. Whcih means half an hour in real time.

Two minute games - now there would be something to watch. Plus the entire season could be done in about two weeks, three tops.

I suppose my ambivalence about the game stems from not really understanding it.

Football, I understand enough to get by. Baseball, I'm a student of the game. Heck, even ice hockey, I get the rules for.

Basketball? Not so much. I mean, travelling, that should be a simple call, right? So why don't they call it?

If you aren't going to call a penalty, fine... but take it out of the rules.

When is it charging, when is it obstruction? When do they tip off and when do they just get the ball?

It seems to change every darn time.

I can enjoy it, live. I do enjoy it live - Sacramento, Syracuse, St Bonneventure, Niagara, Buffalo (college and Braves), Chicago, Northwestern. I've tried them all. I just can't get the hang of basketball, I guess.

But I still am pulling for the Celtics.

I can't stand LA anything :)

Er... except Disney. Maybe Universal. That's about it. :)

Guess I'm Going to Get Started


Well, as my title says, I guess I'm going to get started with this "blog" business.

Truth to tell I'm not entirely certain I have anything to say just yet - at least, anything reasonably interesting.

I did go to Milwaukee last weekend for a baseball game. Miller Park is nice, really, a great spot to watch a game.

Yet it's also too... I don't know, too "newish", I guess.

The dome overhead just does not belong for baseball - baseball is a game that's played outdoors. Period. With the dome open, well...

All the windows - windows at a ballpark? The ten foot strip of electronic ads? The slide in left field for the guy with the baseball head? Uhh, no.

What's funny is that it's a big league park that acts like a minor league park. Guys dress up in sausage costumes and race around the field, kids take the field before the game, four different people throw out the first pitches, there's the Roadrunner on a sign in center. And that goofy guy with a baseball for a head who slides down the slide in left for no good reason that I can tell.

Don't get me wrong - I love minor league parks. I happen to think that the Buffalo Bisons had one of the best parks in the country (baseball mags agree) but we have the Schaumburg Flyers and the Kane County Cougars and the Joliet Jackhammers around here, and I like their games just fine. I grew up on the Syracuse Chiefs (now SkyChiefs, whatever that means).

It's just that those are small parks - perfectly proportioned to hold a few oddball elements (like Buster Bison - odd mascot!). But Milwaukee's park is FULL of these weird oddities (there are many many more). It's just another world from Wrigley or Commiskey or Shea.


Milwaukee beat the Twins, by the way.