Monthly Archives: August 2010

Notes from a bathroom wall. My super-fast computer. And the Open begins

One of the many, many things I’m fascinated by are the writings on public bathroom walls, and toilet paper racks.

So many thoughts go through my head when I see pen or marker, and a few words, while in the potty.
Why did some person feel they had to express themselves in words at that exact moment? And why did they have a pen or marker with them in the john? And why write it there, and not on the side of a building, or a restaurant table? Are they hoping someone comes along and says “Hmmm, I never knew Tina loved Angelo. I have a whole new sense of enlightenment on the world.”

Apparently I’m not the only one who finds this stuff interesting. While surfing andrewsullivan.com tonight, I ran across this blog tonight, called “Notes from the Stall.” It’s simply a really funny collection of stuff people have written on bathroom walls, stalls and toilet paper dispensers.

The one above is one of my favorites, but check out the rest here.

**Got my brand-new Dell computer the other day. I had an HP from, I think, 2004 that was simply dying. The poor thing was like a 1987 Pontiac running in 2010. It literally took about 10 minutes to power up and be ready to work when I first turned it on in the morning.

It was coughing and wheezing and near the end of its life, so I bought a new one and oh, my God, it’s like going from riding a tortoise to a cheetah. My Internet surfing now is SO much faster, like 35,000 times faster than it was.

I said to someone Monday (I think it was my friend Scott at work): Think about how much time I’ll save now in my life. Those extra 10-15 seconds I’d waste, waiting for a stupid website to load on my slow computer, they’re now gone. Think about all I could accomplish, if you multiply 10-15 seconds times 10,000!

I could cure cancer! I could run a marathon! I could finally write that novel!

Or, you know, I could spend more time on YouTube watching scenes like this, from “Almost Famous.”

**Finally, the U.S. Open, one of my favorite sporting events of the year, kicked off Monday in New York. I so miss living in NY and going to the Open every year. Complaining about the overpriced food, being amazed at how close I can get to the players on the outer courts; stumbling upon an incredible match between two guys I’ve never heard of, but who are playing their hearts out for 200 people far from the glare of fame.

As always I’m doing a U.S. Open daily blog for my newspaper; check it out here.

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A great night at the Emmys. And rude service-people do so much damage

Love the Emmy Awards. Always one of my favorite TV nights of the year. And yet I’m always disappointed and angry when my favorite shows don’t win.
Except Sunday night, they almost all did. Stunning to see quality rewarded. Thrilled that “Modern Family” and “Mad Men” both took home the big prize.

A few rambling thoughts from my brain from last night’s show, which I found very entertaining:

**Very nice job by Jimmy Fallon. Surprised at how good he was. The opening sketch was great, and I loved Fallon’s musical tribute to the three shows that went off the air. Brilliant.

**LL Cool J. As my wife said, “Dude, you’re like in your 50s. Time to take off the Kangol hat.”

**Jane Lynch had to win for her role in “Glee.” I only wish she wore the track suit and did a “Sue’s Corner” while she was up there.

**Great speech by Eric Stonestreet, Cameron from “Modern Family.” I loved that he said he’s giving the Emmy to his parents so they can see it every day “and realize what they made possible for me.” Very touching.

**January Jones is beautiful, but that was a pretty awful dress, I think.
**And Lauren Graham, sweetheart, I love you, but what the hell were you wearing? Not good.

**So glad Al Pacino won for the Jack Kevorkian movie “You Don’t Know Jack.” Although that was a rambling, weird speech, Al.

**I’m a huge fan of the death montage every year, and I loved this year’s, with Jewel singing along with it. But Dennis Wolper is the last person we see? He’s the most important death of the last year? And yeah, I moaned a little seeing Boner Stubone and Corey Haim in the montage. So sad.

**I like George Clooney more and more these days, because he can laugh at himself. That’s rare with famous people.

**Guess I should see that “Temple Grandin” HBO movie. I think it won like 412 awards.

**Finally, a long overdue win for Jim Parsons, Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory.” Such a great show, and such a great part. Really, it was a terrific night for people who like good TV.

**So I found myself in a department store in the mall the other day, and I had a pretty crappy experience with a saleslady.
This woman was rude, dismissive of the story I told (that a product I was told was in stock by another employee a short time earlier on the phone, now wasn’t in stock, it appeared), and just extremely off-putting.

And I wonder if she realizes how uncomfortable she made the situation for me. And how I simply won’t shop there again, because of her attitude. And that for all she knows I could be a big spender.  Just like I would patronize a store that gave me great customer service, just because they were nice, customers like me avoid stores because of one bad attitude from one employee.

I know retail work isn’t easy; I’m not saying every person should be as enthusiastic and helpful as Richard Simmons on a case of Jolt cola (do they still make that?).

But the damage one person can do to a store’s reputation is unbelievable.

The year Jordan played baseball. And a batshit-crazy pastor in Florida

Looking back on it, sports historians are likely to be puzzled.
Wait a minute. You’re telling me that in 1994, the greatest basketball player in the world, the greatest basketball player ever, quit at the height of his ability, to play minor-league baseball in Alabama?

Yep. It doesn’t make any more sense the more you think about it. But 16 years ago Michael Jordan, fresh off his third straight NBA title with the Chicago Bulls, and with his father’s murder fresh in his mind, decided he wanted to be a baseball player.

It didn’t go all that well. The skills don’t exactly translate; Jordan played in Double-A in Birmingham, and hit. 202.
And then, after one mostly failed year, Jordan came back to the NBA and was his old self again. It was a weird, weird story, though I remember I admired Jordan at the time for having the guts to try something at which he might fail.
Jordan’s year in the minors is chronicled in the new ESPN 30 for 30 movie, “Jordan Rides the Bus.” It was directed by legendary sports movie writer/producer Ron Shelton (“White Men Can’t Jump,” “Bull Durham,” etc.), and I had extremely high hopes for it.

And it was … pretty good. There are great interviews with Jordan’s old teammates, a pretty funny scene with his Birmingham real estate agent, and lots of footage of Jordan swinging and missing.
Shelton didn’t get an interview with Jordan for the documentary, but if nothing else he did debunk the long-held conspiracy theory that Jordan was forced to retire by NBA commissioner David Stern, due to Jordan’s serious gambling problem.
What I took out of the movie was how a place like Birmingham can be totally transformed by the spectacle of having Michael Jordan hanging out there for a summer. Everyone in town went nuts, like every other city in America would’ve.

Shelton did a good job with the movie, but I think it could’ve been a little better. He’s set the bar so high with his movies, it’s hard to reach it every time.

**Yep, nothing like a good ole’ crazy pastor to get my blood boiling.
Terry Jones, of the Dove World Outreach Center (sounds like a harmless name, right?) in Gainesville, Fla. has decided to help the world get along.

He and his church recently announced that on 9/11 this year they’ll be holding a “Burn the Koran” day, to, and I quote “bring to awareness to the dangers of Islam and that the Koran is leading people to hell,” adding that, “eternal fire is the only destination the Koran can lead people to so we want to put the Koran in its place – the fire!”

What a disgrace for a human being Jones is. Here he is on Chris Matthews’ show the other day:

Learning to swim. At 35

Me and swimming? We have a tortured history.
I learned as a little kid, like most people, but really didn’t like it. When I was first taking lessons my Mom and I would go together and I sort of was bored, and then the whole class would go over to the diving board and we’d each take turns jumping in, while the instructors were in the water to catch us.
I was terrified, so I used to cut the line backwards, letting other kids go six or seven times while I hoped no one would notice. (Eventually, someone did).

When it came to summer camp, my friend Marc Feigelson and I would “cut” the instructional swim period and go hang out in the locker room. Neither one of us can exactly remember what the hell we did in there, but it sure beat instructional swim.

As I became an adult, I pretty much forgot about swimming. I knew I could do it passably enough (i.e., I wasn’t going to drown anytime soon), so who needed any more than that?

Then I moved to Florida, where you can swim year-round. I loved the exercise of swimming, and of testing my endurance. Unfortunately, my swimming skill had faded even more (how can you fade from nothing? I wondered.)

My form was awful. I didn’t put my head in the water for fear of getting water up my nose (I really, really hate water up my nose). I could barely kick. I swim in sort of a herky-jerky motion that doesn’t look much like swimming. More like I’m spasming, actually.

I wasn’t getting any better, I was exhausted after only a few laps, and I think i hurt my shoulder at one point.

So finally, at age 35, after a lifetime of being embarrassed, I’m learning how to swim. For real. I’ve signed up to take four 1/2 hour lessons, and last Saturday was my first one.

A friendly lifeguard named Caroline (who was born when Nirvana was big, I sadly realized) first taught me about breathing. My whole life, I never knew you were supposed to exhale underwater. We worked on that for a while, and then on some kicking (man, did my hip flexor hurt), and then tried to put three things together at once (arms, breathing, and kicking) and it didn’t go so hot.

But hey, it was my first lesson. I’m super excited for lesson No.2 this Saturday. Finally I will be able to channel my inner Ryan Lochte and swim like a regular grown-up person.

If I get this swimming thing down, maybe next I’ll tackle staying calm during Jets games.

Nah. That’d be way harder than swimming.

Riffing on “Hard Knocks” and “Weeds.” And Fox News, oh, Fox News

Watched two fantastic TV shows Wednesday night, two of my favorites.

Episode 3 of “Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the New York Jets” on HBO was

outstanding. So much good stuff packed into an hour. Rex Ryan losing his mind in excitement over a big hit by a Jets rookie named Chauncey Washington. The human drama of a player tearing his Achilles and being out for the rest of the season now. The hilarity of linebacker Bart Scott asking if the magician hired for the team party can “pull (holdout Darrelle) Revis out of a hat.”

NFL Films and HBO do such a magnificent job with this show, completely bringing you inside the locker room. I’m a little surprised they haven’t focused more on guys like Jason Taylor and Braylon Edwards, but otherwise, it’s been fantastic, with two more episodes to go.

And then there was “Weeds,” the second episode of the new season. I love how they seem to take this show in a new direction every year. Frankly, I was getting a little sick of Esteban and his goons (though somehow I really wish Helia and Conrad, from the first few seasons, would come back. They were hilarious).

Great episode of  “Weeds” this week, as the Botwins flee Mexico and become the Newmans. The scene with the bonfire, where they all burn their old identities while “Rabbi Andy” presides over the service? Freaking brilliant. I can’t wait to see what act of psychopathy (is that a word? Don’t think so) Shane will pull next.

If you have Showtime and you’re not watching “Weeds,” shame on you. If you don’t have Showtime, get it just to watch “Weeds.” It’s subversive and brilliant.

**Finally, sometimes Jon Stewart’s material just writes itself.  Fox News tried to get its audience all whipped up about a shady Saudi Arabian billionaire who is “funding” the New York City Ground Zero Muslim community center.

Except, he’s the same guy who’s Rupert Murdoch’s partner in News Corp. Oops. Watch and enjoy:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A setback on stem cells. Ebert nails it again. And a hilarious ESPN graphic

I’m a huge proponent of stem-cell research, as it’s one of those issues I just can’t understand why people are against. After eight years of the Bush administration severely curtailing the ability of scientists and doctors to find cures for devastating diseases, I thought scientists would be able to get back to work on these potentially life-saving stem cells once President Obama approved funding for more stem cells in 2009.

So it was with anger and sadness that I read this story in the Times Tuesday, saying that a federal judge has stopped Obama’s expansion of stem-cell research, on what appears to be flimsy grounds.

This is such important work, and so vitally crucial to the health and welfare of millions. Every available opportunity needs to be there for researchers and scientists, and here’s a federal judge basically ordering them to stop working.

My beloved grandmother, the best person I’ve ever met in my life, currently suffers from Alzheimer’s. Stem cell research may be unable to help her, but it could help some of the millions in the future who’ll be afflicted.

I hope this decision gets appealed and overturned, but quick. There is no time to waste. None.

The Times also had an eloquent editorial about the issue here.

**Roger Ebert, one of my favorite writers of any genre, wrote an excellent blog today about the ridiculous Ground Zero mosque issue. Ebert cuts through the b.s. and really nails it, with 10 cogent points. Check it out here.

**Gotta love the Little League World Series, for so many reasons. Tuesday I loved it because I happened to turn on ESPN while I was eating breakfast and saw this scoreline graphic on screen:

New Jersey 0
Saudi Arabia 0

I love that. How often do you ever get to see New Jersey and Saudi Arabia square off in an athletic event? I love the possible promos for the game: “One’s got sheiks and Arabs, the other one has a guy who shakes his abs!” Tune in for New Jersey vs. Saudi Arabia!”

A beautiful lesson learned from Mandela. And 1 more reason golf is stupid

My friend Kristin Collins and I went to school together at Delaware. She’s smart, funny and very talented, and worked for a long time at the excellent Raleigh News & Observer, in Raleigh, N.C.

She wrote on her blog the other day a beautiful post about reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, and how it’s affected her as a woman, and as a mother.  It’s honest, so well-said, and a joy to read.

It’s truly the best thing I’ve read in a long time, and if you have five minutes, please check it out.

**OK, so please explain this to me, golf fans of the world.

Let’s say I’m watching an NFL game on TV. I see a play develop, and I see No. 78 on the offensive line blatantly trip and hold a defensive lineman. No flag is thrown signaling a penalty. However, I saw the infraction on TV. So I call the stadium and get connected to an NFL official, tell him what I saw, and then suddenly, No. 78 gets a 10-yard penalty.

Ridiculous, right? Never in a million years could that happen. Yet, in the “sport” of golf, this kind of thing happens regularly. Fans on television, sitting on their couches, call in infractions to tournament officials, and affect the outcome of tournaments.

It happened again over the weekend in the LPGA’s Safeway Classic. Top pro Juli Inkster was seen by a TV viewer swinging her club illegally during a break. The viewer emailed the tournament director, and Inkster was eventually disqualified.

This is insane! How can you let a guy or girl on their freaking couch officiate a major sports event!?? It’s unbelievable to me that pro golf allows this to happen, and players are victimized by it. It’s happened at least a half-dozen times that I can recall in recent years.

What a joke. No other sport in the world would stand for this, but golf does.

Meg Whitman doesn’t get it. A funny NY Times sportswriter (seriously). And astronauts weaken in space

They’re just never going to get it, people like Meg Whitman, Republican candidate for governor of California.

They don’t see that railing against gay marriage, and repeatedly saying that they’re going to take the recent ruling striking it down to appeal, is a losing war in the long run.

Every day, every month, more and more Americans are realizing that denying gay people the right to marry is stupid, illegal, and just plain wrong.

Yet here was Whitman the other night at a convention of her fellow Republicans, talking about how she was going to appeal Prop 8 as far as she can, and talking all this big talk about “defending the Constitution.”

Ah, Meg. You’re doomed to be on the wrong side of history on this one, and the longer you fight it, the worse you’re going to look.

**It’s not often that the words “funny sports story in the New York Times” appear all together like that. Times columns and writers are a lot of things, but funny usually isn’t one of them.

But for the past year or so the “Old Gray Lady” has contracted with Mike Tanier, a guy who runs footballoutsiders.com, to do NFL stories. And the man is really, really funny.

Here’s a sample from today’s column:

“Coaches must be creative to break up the mid-August monotony.CBSSports.com reported Wednesday that the Baltimore Ravens’ defense took a break by “practicing its alignments against a very formidable opponent: jumbo gray plastic trash cans.” One of the trash cans will have its life story turned into a Sandra Bullock movie. The Ravens’ offense hit the arcade: quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Marc Bulger, on a quest to buy golf balls, spent some time huddled around a Golden Tee video game machine. It’s a dangerous precedent: Don Shula still blames Ms. Pac Man for his loss in Super Bowl XVII.

Check out the rest of Tanier’s column, and other ones from previous weeks, right here.

**My best friend Clay sends me a lot of scientific articles, since he’s a scientist at University of California-Irvine (go Anteaters!). Some I find interesting; others, not so much.

This one, I thought, was very interesting. Research by a Marquette University biologist named Robert Fitts has shown that astronauts, after six months in space, lost more than 40 percent of the power in the slow-twitch fibers of their calf muscles.

Fitts said the muscle decline in the 40-something space station astronauts was equivalent to that of a person twice as old. Kind of scary to think that astronauts in space can become so weak; God forbid, as the article points out, an emergency happens, they could be too weak to escape.

Check out the full story here.

A way cool perk of being an NBA star. And the most awesome minor-league stunt this year

Like it’s not cool enough already to be Derrick Rose, the superstar point guard of the Chicago Bulls.

Word has gotten out that Mr. Rose is a huge candy fan. Like, Willy Wonka-level lover of candy. Particularly, dude likes Skittles. So the Skittles people (they’re owned by Mars) found out and built Rose a customized Skittles machine for his house, and have promised to fill it for the next three years.

Seriously, how cool is that? If I had a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup machine in my house, I might never go outside.

I hope the Bulls’ team dentist knows where Rose lives. He may be over there a lot.

**The best ideas in American sports come from the marketing and promo departments of minor league baseball teams. I really believe that. These people come up with such creative stuff, year in and year out.

Check out this ridiculously-strange idea from the Savannah (Ga.) Sand Gnats. They let one lucky fan set a professional stuntman on fire before he ran the bases at a recent game.

How cool is that? Being encouraged to set another human being on fire! So jealous of this guy:

The world gets scammed by the Lockerbie bomber. And the difficulty of remembering all your kids’ names

**Well this pissed me off on a nice Friday night.

Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the man convicted in the 1988 Lockerbie bombing that killed 270 people, was idiotically let out of prison one year ago, because he was dying of cancer. Doctors told the Scottish officials who released him that he had only three months to live.

And yet, I read today, al-Megrahi is still alive, and responding well to cancer treatments. Who knows how long he’ll live?

Even more repulsive, according to this story in London’s Daily Mail, is that al-Megrahi refused cancer treatments in prison, in the hopes of winning a sympathy release. Which is exactly what he got.

What a disgusting act the Scots pulled off a year ago. I don’t care if the man is dying, he killed 270 people; did they have the option of living or dying before he blew up the plane they were on? Did they get to appeal to a government for release from the plane, so they could die more comfortably?

Releasing convicted mass murderers from prison so they can live out their final days “in peace” is an incredible insult to the families of those who were killed.

Al-Megrahi deserved to rot in prison. And yet he lives happily now.
I’m a huge believer in karma, but my belief is taking a small hit today.

**I realize that as a fan of the New York Jets this year, I can’t be complaining about the character of the players they’ve signed. I know full well that after 41 years of walking through the desert of NFL mediocrity, the Jets are going all-in, and have signed some not-so-great character guys.

I know this. I accept this as the price of doing business. But Antonio Cromartie, for the love of Shawn Kemp, is it really THAT hard to name all of your children? I know you have eight, but come on, they’re YOUR KIDS!

Oy. I just hope he plays well this season. He’s got a lot of mouths to feed.