Monthly Archives: June 2010

My first summer job, or Life as a 13-year-old counselor. And John Isner on Letterman

So it’s summer, a time when so many teenagers are looking for their first summer jobs.

I was thinking about my first summer job the other day. It was right before my 14th birthday, and I figured it was time to start earning some coin. For reasons that still aren’t that clear to me, Park Shore Country Day Camp, a place I loved as a kid when I was a camper, hired me to be the fourth counselor in a four-person group. Basically, I started the summer as the lowest possible life form on a day-camp site: the CIT. (This is Park Shore today, below).

I was assigned to a group of 5-year-olds, the first time in my life I had really been around little kids. It was a six-week gig, because for the first two weeks of that summer I was at sleepaway tennis camp (and that’s a whole other story).

My wage for the five day a week, seven hours a day job? One hundred bucks.

For the whole summer. Seriously, I know nine-year-olds making soccer balls in India who have better deals than I had that summer of ’89.

I think one day I figured out I was making, like, 38 cents an hour.

Still, it was a hell of an interesting summer. I taught Jon-Albert Rovello how to tie his shoes. I took away, then reinstated extra ices for Adam Singer at least 412 times. (Ices withholding is the absolute No.1 weapon in a camp counselor’s arsenal; seriously, you’d think there was cocaine in those Mario’s Italian ices, the kids worshipped them so).

And yes, it frightens me, too, that I still remember those kids’ names.

I learned that just because a 5-year-old can act grown up for a few minutes, he can revert back to infancy when it’s time for instructional swim.  I learned that kids never forget a harsh word; weeks later one tow-headed boy repeated back to me something I’d said in anger, and I was amazed at his recall.

I may have worked harder, and sweated more, for less in those six weeks than I ever have in my life. But I learned so much in my first experience at pseudo-parenting.

When the summer ended, and I got my measly tips (the parents had four counselors to thank, you think I was going to get much?), I remember thinking it was the best money I’d ever received. Because I’d worked hard for it. For the first time in my life, I had the responsibility to look after others, and I didn’t screw it up.

You can ask Bob and Chuck Budah (Park Shore’s co-directors, then and now; that’s the ageless Bob leading the charge in the phot0) themselves: I didn’t lose a kid that summer, nor did any of them drown.

I remember on the last day one of the kids thanked me for teaching him something.

I wish I knew then that, really, he had taught me so much more.

**So you can always count on David Letterman to commemorate a history-making event with a really funny Top 10 list.

Here’s John Isner, winner of that 70-68 fifth set match at Wimbledon last week, with the Top 10 things he was thinking during the match. This is great:

HBO examines Neda’s life in Iran. A great career that should exist. And those Lohans love them some Carvel!

**Just a reminder that if you’re into Wimbledon, you can check out my daily blog about tennis here.

It’s been a little over a year since a real revolution tried and failed to take hold in Iran.
What was an amazing display of courage, hope and faith in each other by the young people of that country spread throughout the world last June. Despite attacks from the police, despite the threats from the Ayatollah, millions of Iranians risked their lives to protest a hugely fraudulent election.

One of those people was Neda Agha-Soltan. She was a beautiful young girl who decided to get involved in the protests. When video of her being shot to death, then dying in the street in Tehran, hit YouTube, she became an incredible worldwide symbol of the disgusting repression of Iran, and the stakes the Iranians were fighting for.

HBO debuted a documentary about Neda a few weeks ago, called “For Neda.” and I watched it Sunday. It’s tremendous. Using interviews with her family, friends, and witnesses to her murder, you get a picture of who Neda was, far beyond the horrible, bleeding image we know of her.

She was one woman, among hundreds and thousands of others who were beaten and killed last summer. Things have not changed much in Iran since the Green Revolution was squashed. A dictator is still in power. The state still runs everything. But read this hopeful essay by an Iranian journalist in Newsweek, and believe that while last summer didn’t topple the regime, it’s certainly the beginning of the end.

Check out the HBO documentary when you have a chance (it’s running all month). Look at the faces of those who marched for justice.

You won’t be able to forget them so quickly.

**These are the kinds of things that my wife and I talk about: Something came on the radio the other day that made me think of mimes.

“You know it would be really hard to do an interview with a mime,” Julie said.
“You know what would be a great career? Being a transcriber for mime interviews with other mimes,” I replied.
“Totally. You could just sit there the whole time, and at the end of your shift, just hand in a blank piece of paper.”

Yeah, we’re a little strange. But we amuse each other, and isn’t that the key to a good marriage?

**If you grew up in the Northeast, you know all about the glory of Carvel ice cream. Soft serve at its finest, with the great Tom Carvel doing the voice on the commercials. They had Fudgie the Whale (above, right), Cookiepuss, the whole gang.

Well, apparently some people love Carvel a little too much. The fine folks at the company decided to give some celebrities a “black card” entitling them to free ice cream. A little good publicity, right?

Except the Lohan clan of Long Island just can’t play by the rules. Mom Dina and the clan abused the card so much in a six-month period that the store had to actually cut them off, and explained that the celebrities are the ones who are supposed to use the card, not their soul-sucking parents. Turns out Mom even called the cops to get her Carvel card back.

No Flying Saucers for her!

The genius of “Toy Story 3.” Rafa’s cool blog. And stretcher-bearers dissed at World Cup

Saw “Toy Story 3” last night with the wife.
Loved it. Thought it was the equal of, or perhaps greater than, the first two movies in the series.
And it occurred to me, as I thought about all the recent Pixar movies I’ve loved, from “Shrek” to “Up” to “Finding Nemo,” that there’s one common thread linking them:
The stories all have a tremendous amount of heart. It’s evident in the writing, in the acting (the voices of Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn and Estelle Harris are amazing in this one), and in the morals.

I’m finding that Pixar movies are so much better written than most other movies today, and yes, I might be the only person in the world who comes away from one of their flicks talking not about the visual brilliance, but the words.

But in telling this story of a young boy growing up and going to college, while his toys stay behind, Pixar takes a theme we all can relate to (growing up and outgrowing childhood things, and friends) and weaves a beautiful story.

Go see this movie. As soon as possible. It got the highest score I’ve ever seen on Rottentomatoes.com, 98 percent (and I want to meet the 3 movie critics who didn’t like it).

I wish some of Hollywood’s top “real people” storytellers would take a lesson from the genius writers at Pixar.

**There are lots of reasons to love and respect Rafael Nadal, which is why it’s so hard to muster up anger toward him when my idol Roger Federer plays him (six more days till Nadal-Federer IV on Breakfast at Wimbledon. Please, please, please give us that on the Fourth of July.)

One reason is that Nadal does things like this: During every tennis Grand Slam, for the last several years, Nadal writes a daily blog for The Times newspaper in London. He takes readers questions, talks about how he’s feeling, all that good stuff. Does he really write it? Who knows. But the fact that he does it to keep connected to fans during a tournament is pretty cool. Here’s a link to Nadal’s blog.

**The best writers are the ones who watch the same events you do, then ask the questions in print that you’re wondering.

Which is why Joe Posnanski had me cracking up the other day during the U.S.-Ghana World Cup game. I’ve always thought it was ridiculous how, when a player in soccer looks to be really hurt, they have four guys come out and carry him off on a stretcher. Of course, the guy’s not really hurt, because he seems to always re-enter the game like, five minutes later and runs like a gazelle.

Joe Pos saw it happen again with a Ghana player Saturday and said:  “You think those guys with the stretchers get mad when they carry a guy off and he runs right back on? It’s like: “I just CARRIED YOU.”

I think those stretcher-bearers should strike. Or at least, test these fakers when they get to the sideline. “Oh yeah, you’re really hurt? Well, then, I’ll just kick you right HERE to see if it hurts.”

Or how about they pull the old “get in the car” trick, where when the guy is about to get on the stretcher, they pull it away and make him roll a few feet more? Keep doing that and see if he can chase the stretcher to the sidelines, while the bearers yell “No really, this time I won’t move it. Get on already, we’re delaying the game!”

Storytelling done right in “The Moth.” And pantyhose for men. Seriously

Writers are, at heart, storytellers. The first writers were the dudes and dudettes (we never really have agreed as a society on the female word for “dudes,” have we? Let’s work on that this century) who came back to the campfire and excitedly said, “You won’t believe what just happened in that cave over there!”

So yeah, I love a good story. Almost every writer I know takes about 50 percent longer to tell a story to someone than anyone else (my wife’s favorite expression when I’m being long-winded in a tale:  “Get to the point, Edna!”). But we’re losing the art of storytelling in our culture; so many of our communications now are in quick, 140-character bytes, or emails and texts. We don’t really spin yarns to each other as much as we used to, I think.

All this is a way of telling you that “The Moth” is one of my simple pleasures in life. It’s a podcast and a show from NPR, and it’s taken from the popular storytelling series in New York City and other places. Basically, you go to a Moth show, get up on stage, and tell a story without notes. It could be hilarious, like one I heard recently about a couple fighting and falling back in love in Italy. It could be heartbreaking, like the one I just listened to Saturday about a father trying to get over the death of his daughter right before childbirth.

Moth stories educate, entertain, and basically remind me how you really can learn something from every person you meet. Some of these tales are five minutes; others last for 20.

But all of them leave you richer for having heard them, because hearing about someone else’s life experience can only inform yours.

If you’ve never heard any Moth stories, check them out here, (I highly recommend the Ed Gavagan one, the Jon Levin one, and the James Braly one) and then download them on iTunes.


**I know, this sounds once again like something made up. But after laughing in horror for the first five minutes, I started to believe this is true.

There is now something called Mantyhose. Yep, pantyhose for men. Because if you’re like me, gents, you spend much of your life walking around thinking, “Hmmm, pantyhose look so comfortable for women. Why can’t I have soft nylon fabric to place around my legs and thighs, as a means to making me look and feel better?”

A website called e-mancipate.net has all kinds of varieties of mantyhose for sale. I know, I know, you wish I blogged about this before Father’s Day.

But really, is there ever a bad time to buy that guy in your life this product? I think not. Make sure in addition to the other frightening (I mean useful) photos, you check out the “how to put on mantyhose” page.

Because really, we all need a little help sometimes.

Are you ready for some more soccer? And BP’s latest solution? Paper towels!

It’s been a long time since I arranged my day around a soccer game. But I’m making sure my usual Saturday routine (exercising, running errands, taking Bernie to the dog park so he can run around with his canine pals) is done by 2:30 today, so I can watch America in the World Cup’s second round.

I know soccer can be boring, yada yada yada. I’m hardly a huge fan of the sport. But come on, this U.S. team has the power to unite us, and as Pearlman pointed out on his blog, it’s not often America gets to be the underdog anymore. We’ve been a soccer nation that’s been far, far behind the rest of the world for decades, and only lately are we starting to catch up.

Should we beat Ghana today (and there’s a phrase I never thought I’d write), America would be in the quarterfinals, with the big boys .

To get you ready, two clips, one audio, one video. First, here’s the great Univision announcer Andres Cantor, with his call of Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria Wednesday:

And then, another, beautifully-made video compiling some of the best reactions to the U.S. winning goal: Truly, sports brings us together:

**Yeah, this one was too funny to pass up. Mother Jones magazine sent a reporter to the Gulf of Mexico to report on the oil spill. The reporter, Mac McClelland, was able to go a few places other reporters weren’t, places BP didn’t want anyone to see.

One thing McClelland saw? Thousands of oil-soaked paper towels on the beach.

Really? Paper towels are being used now? What, we couldn’t get a giant sponge? I just hope they were Bounty. Rosie would be so proud to know how her product helped her country:

Renting white guys in China. And the dog who survived being blown away

There are lots of countries in the world I don’t think I’ll ever understand. Whether it’s the culture, the people, the laws, whatever it is, I’m terminally confused and baffled.
China’s one of those places. It’s such a strange place that the more I learn about it, the more confused I become.
Take this goofy story I heard about on NPR, based on a tale first written in The Atlantic.
Businesses over there have been, basically, renting white guys. They pay Caucasians a good chunk of change to dress up in a business suit, come to dinners and conventions, shake some hands, and then go home.
Apparently it creates the kind of image the Chinese companies crave; showing how multi-national and important they are.
The writer of the story, Mitch Moxley, was one of the “fake” employees and made some good money. He did all kinds of “work” for his company, took his paycheck, and then moved on to “work” for someone else.

It’s a strange, strange world we live in.

**I had to read this story a few times before I really believed it. A small Hungarian dog was blown away in a storm, 20 miles away, and somehow managed to survive.
Somehow the dog survived the huge trip and was found by a man who lived 20 miles away from the home of the dog’s owner.
The dog was still in his dog house when the wind swept him away. Amazing that the little guy made it out OK.
And what a story the pooch (since renamed “Lucky” will have to tell his friends at the dog park.
Spike, you think you had a rough week? Please. Wait till you hear what happened to me!”

And how about this: Imagine living in this town in Hungary, Gesztered, and seeing a dog house flying through the air. I think that might be a little unsettling.

The dog survived the huge fall and was found by a man named Kalman Csutor, located 20 full miles from Tamas’ house, the dog’s owner. The noble man was looking for a away to bring back the poor dog to his owners, so he contacted a local radio station, that was able to locate the Tamas.

Tamas said that while in the house he saw how his all house is ripped apart by the storm. Later on he found out that not only the dog was gone, but the dog and the dogs house while he was in it.

The dog’s owner decided to change his dogs name to Lucky, which is without a doubt a suitable name for a very lucky dog.

Two incredible sports events thrill me Wednesday. And buh-bye, Mr. McChrystal

It’s not your typical Wednesday in June when you get two amazing, heart-stopping, nail-chewing sports events.
But Wednesday was one of those glorious, wonderful days when it’s a joy to be a sports fan.
First the United States of America’s national soccer team had me on the edge of the couch for 90 minutes, screaming and yelling at the TV like I only usually do for Jets and Duke basketball games.
It absolutely, positively was maddening watching our boys in red, white and blue miss chance after chance against our longtime rival, Algeria (Seriously, could most Americans find Algeria on a map?).

I was convinced we’d blow it, especially when Landon Donovan hit the freaking post in the second half. But then, a goal was scored we’ll be talking about years from now. Donovan redeemed himself, knocking home a rebound in the 91st minutes.

I screamed. I yelled. I’m an Olympics kind of soccer fan (once every four years, I care about the sport), but this was a great moment.

Course, we were playing Algeria, not exactly a soccer powerhouse. And we just earned a berth in the second round, which is still a long way from winning. You could argue, in a glass is half-empty kind of way, that the U.S. just lived up to expectations so far.

Still, although I felt that way for a few minutes, I talked myself out of it. This does a lot for soccer in America, and for my many friends who are fans of futbol, I am happy.

Not as happy as these people, though; absolutely love the reaction from these fans at a bar in Nebraska. I love the first 40 seconds of despair, followed by incredible euphoria:

For a great take on the game, here’s SI’s Grant Wahl:

**Then, because we needed some more sports excitement, two men named John Isner and Nicolas Mahut decided to play the longest match in tennis history. They set the record while playing one unbelievable, mind-boggling set of tennis, for more than seven hours. The match didn’t end; it picks up again this morning, U.S. time.

The score? 59-59. Let me repeat that. FIFTY-NINE TO FIFTY-NINE! It’s pretty much incomprehensible to me, and there are so many astonishing facts contained in that 59-59. (Here are two: The seven hours of the fifth set is longer than any match in history. Just the fifth set! And in that entire set, there were only four break points faced by the servers. And oh yeah, 98 aces for Isner for the match, and 94 for Mahut.)

It’s truly a once in a lifetime match. I left my house at 28-all, to go have lunch with my friend Buddy, and figured I’d miss the end of the match. Got back an hour later, and it was 42-42 and my jaw literally dropped.

9:30 a.m. today on ESPNU, these two exhausted warriors resume the match. And it’s a travesty that Wimbledon isn’t putting them on Centre Court. An absolute travesty.

**I have absolutely no sympathy for General Stanley McChrystal today. None. From all accounts, he’s a pompous, egotistical military man who, like so many before him, holds politicians who are his bosses in contempt.

He’s gotten his way a lot throughout his career, but he did the one thing you really, really can’t do: Criticize the commander in chief and the VP, his bosses. I’m glad McChrystal didn’t try to claim he was misquoted, or was taken out of context. And I’m glad that President Obama wasted no time in canning his rear end.

Good riddance. Of course, what we really need is not a new general, but to get the hell out of Afghanistan. My former colleague Pierre Tristam, who I often disagree with but who is a really smart guy, has a good column on this here.

An amazing movie about Columbia’s Escobars. And a father showing love through Post-Its

For months I’ve been reading, from ESPN’s Bill Simmons and others, that as good as the other movies in ESPN’s tremendous “30 for 30” series have been, wait for “The Two Escobars.” That’s the one you’ll remember.

They were 100 percent right.

Telling the story of Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar (don’t worry, there’s no scenes from “Entourage”‘s pathetic “Medellin” movie here), and the unrelated soccer superstar Andres Escobar, who was murdered after a huge mistake in the 1994 World Cup (he accidentally kicked the ball into his own net during a game against the U.S.), this movie is flat-out phenomenal.

I don’t care if it’s in Spanish, with subtitles. The filmmakers have done a fabulous job taking you deep inside the lives of both men, and how incredibly dangerous and fascinating life in Colombia was in the early 1990s.

There are so many fantastic elements in this movie. First, you’ve got Pablo Escobar, who we all know was a ruthless drug lord responsible for the deaths of millions, either through his drugs or through is violent killings.

But the other side of Escobar is shown, too, the man who built schools and hospitals and tried desperately to help poor people in his country.

Then there’s Andres Escobar, the good-looking, young star of the emerging Colombian soccer team. Until the early 1990s, Colombian soccer was a joke, but everything turned around when Pablo Escobar, having risen to power in the underworld, began spending huge sums of money to attract the best players, train them, and help them win.

The movie traces the path of both men, with fantastic interviews with people like Pablo Escobar’s right-hand man “Popeye,” his first-cousin Jaime, and Andres Escobar’s sister and fiance.

We learn how the two men’s lives became intertwined, what really brought down Pablo Escobar (his former associates, really; you screw over enough people and some of them are bound to come after you), and how tragic Andres’ death was.

I know I’ve been raving about most of these “30 for 30” movies, but this one, and last week’s one on O.J., were the best. “The Two Escobars” is on again Saturday, June 26 at 10 p.m. on ESPN Classic, and on Friday, July 2nd at 1 a.m. on ESPN2. Definitely check it out.

**Well this is a sweet little website my sister turned me on to. It’s called Message With a Bottle, and it’s all about the little Post-It notes a stay at home father is leaving for his infant child. It’s also a way, the father explains, to remind him of all the little moments, and all the things he should and shouldn’t do, when raising his son.

 The memos are sweet, touching, and oh so human. There are so many ways that new parents try to capture the little moments at the beginning of their child’s life, wishing to preserve those moments forever in ember.

Here’s one father’s invention of yet another attempt to freeze time.

A disease that’s worse when you’re happy. The unemployed Pierogi. And Wimbledon is back!

You hear so many incredible, fascinating stories on NPR’s This American Life that it really takes something extraordinary to stand out.

While catching up on my TAL podcasts last weekend, I literally almost pulled over when I heard this one. In the episode titled “Held Hostage” we meet a man named Matt Frerking, who has a disease that sounds impossibly cruel. It’s a type of temporary paralysis called narcolepsy with cataplexy. When it strikes Matt, he can’t move his head, his arms, or legs until the attack passes a few minutes, or hours later.

What triggers the attack in some patients, including Frerking? Strong positive emotions. Meaning, when Frerking is the happiest, the attacks are the worst. So he had a terrible attack at his brother’s wedding. Petting a puppy causes an attack. His grandchild’s second birthday party? Complete paralysis for a while.

I can’t imagine many things worse than this for a person to endure, emotionally. All the joy that life brings, hugging his wife, his kids, feeling a wave of happy emotions over his body, are what causes him the most discomfort. Frerking said he’s basically trying to live life as a robot, to prevent the disease from striking.

It’s truly an amazing story; give it a listen, it’s only about 10 minutes long. Here’s the link; click on the live stream button, and then fast-forward to the 44:50 mark.

**Ah, another week, another funny mascot story. The Pittsburgh Pirates, always known for their acumen in player personnel and management (they’ve had 18 straight losing seasons) have now fired one of the guys who plays the pierogi mascot during a mid-game promotion.

What was his offense, he was too full of himself?

No, turns out Andrew Kurtz, 24, had criticized the team on his Facebook page for giving the manager, John Russell, a contract extension.

I ask you, where does an unemployed pierogi turn for work now? Is there a union he can file a grievance with? (Aggrieved Dumplings of America, or ADOA, for short?)

**Finally, I say this: World Cup, Shmerld Cup. Wimbledon is here, and I am a happy man. My favorite event of the sports year, Wimbledon gives me so many reasons to love it every year.

The history. The drama. The strawberries and cream. And this year, the Queen is even coming for a visit! First time in 33 years Her Majesty will watch live on Centre Court.

Monday was a scary day for Roger Federer, but he survived in five (Honestly, Fed losing in the first round to that shlub would’ve been one of the 2-3 greatest upsets in men’s tennis history).

Check out my daily Wimbledon blog for the News-Journal here.

Enough with all the anger at Obama. Couples you just click with. And a bizarre Father’s Day promotion

I’ve been listening to, and reading, a whole lot of criticism of Barack Obama the past few weeks.

Where the heck’s he been on the oil spill? Why isn’t he doing more? Where’s the leadership in his presidency already?

And I understand some of the anger, I do. When a major disaster like the oil spill in the Gulf happens, we immediately look for someone to blame. Someone, somewhere must’ve been able to stop this!

And in this case, yes, BP absolutely screwed up.

But I don’t really get the anger at Obama here. BP caused the spill. BP will be held responsible. I think people expect Obama to break out a magic wand or something. I understand the crying need for leadership in this country, especially after the eight years of incompetence from George W. Bush.

But what more would you have Obama do? Nobody knows how to stop the oil from spilling. Would Obama being down there every day, hollering and empathizing, be able to stop the animals from dying and the industry in the Gulf being choked off?

I feel like he’s on top of the situation, and he, and the rest of the smart people in his administration, are doing all they can.

It’s just that Obama isn’t flashy, and he doesn’t make grand gestures, and his talents and abilities aren’t easily captured in 30-second soundbites. And that frustrated a lot of people.

I’m not being very articulate here, I feel. Andrew Sullivan says it much, much better than me in this essay called “Getting Shit Done.”

***This one may only make sense to married people…

You know how there are certain couples that you and your spouse just click with? When the four of you hang out, everything is easy. The conversation flows, the laughs are long, and each of your strengths plays to theirs.  It’s a pretty rare thing, I’ve found, to have that complete ease with two other people. It’s sort of like jazz, when four people are able to riff off each other so easily.

Happily, Julie and I got to hang out with our “perfect match” couple a few times last week. Jen and Greg live in Georgia and were down by the beach for the week. I love them and their two daughters, but we only get to see them about once a year, if that. Jen is wickedly funny, and very much like my wife in a lot of ways (she told Julie after meeting me for the first time, in 2003 “You’re going to marry that boy.”)

She’s always just a little bit harried and bothered by life’s frustrations, but never truly loses it. Greg has a dry sense of humor, is an excellent cook (he made us terrific scallops the other night), and is a genuinely good guy.

I’m not sure if I saw them more often, if I’d appreciate how well we mesh. But I probably would. It’s a special thing when you can be completely relaxed around good friends, you know?

Plus, you know, they love board games as much as we do.

***Finally, from the “World of Diminished Expectations” Dept., I  saw this Sunday night on my way home from picking up takeout. It was on a marquee for a pizza joint:

“Happy Father’s Day. Free slice to any Dad with a child support payment stub.”

If that won’t induce a man to honor his obligations, nothing will!