Monthly Archives: March 2011

The worst burying of a lede, ever. Another “end of an era” day for my family. And Baby Jessica makes me feel old

If you’re a Gen Xer like me, or older, you’ll remember how America went completely insane over Baby Jessica in 1987. The little girl in Texas who fell down a well in October was enormous news for three days that month. Hell, it was a defining childhood moment.

I remember

how every single person I knew was riveted  by this thing: Is she going to live? How can she survive down there? Why can’t those men in Texas just pull her out of there somehow?

Well, the kid survived, only losing a toe in the process. And America went back to its normal life after a few days, worrying about things like how many arms Reagan sold to Iran. (I love imagining how big stories would’ve been if the Internet was around when they happened. Can you imagine how ginormous the Baby Jessica story would’ve been if we had the Web back then? I think Barbara Walters’ head exploded as it is, trying to get the first exclusive.)
Why am I telling you about Baby Jessica in March of 2011? Because I just read this story in the Boston Globe, that Jessica McClure turned 25 last weekend, and now gets to spend the $800,000 trust fund set up for her after she was rescued.

Wow. Baby Jessica is 25. Makes me feel really, really old.

**So you might remember I wrote a post about my grandma recently, and the painful decision made to move her out of the apartment she’d lived in for 65 years, and into a nursing home.
Wednesday was the coda to that decision; my Mom and my Aunt Linda spent the final day they’ll ever spend in Grandma’s old apartment in Queens, as the lease expires today. I can’t imagine never going back into that apartment, but for my Mom and Aunt, it must’ve been excruciating. They’ve had that little miracle of a home in their lives for six decades; they were infants there, grew up there, came back with their own families there. And now it’s gone, forever.
Yes, it’s a part of life. And yes, Grandma seems to be doing pretty well in her new home.
But man, that had to be hard for my mother and aunt.

**Finally, this one may only be entertaining to my fellow writers. Or maybe to all of you. It’s the worst burying of a lede (which is what we journalists call the beginning of a story) you will ever see.
So here’s the deal: It’s job of a sports information department at a college to always put a positive spin on things, and to always focus on their team’s effort first. As an example, if State U loses a football game 48-7, you will usually see a lede on State U’s website saying “Despite Johnson scoring a touchdown, State lost to ….”
But sometimes, common sense has to dictate that what your team did isn’t the most important part of the story.
OK, so now you know that, I give you this. In a college baseball game this week, a University of Virginia pitcher named Will Roberts threw a perfect game against George Washington University. It’s only the 19th in Division I history, and 8th in the last half-century.
And yet, here was the lede from the game on the GW sports website:
The George Washington baseball team held No. 1 Virginia to just two runs on Tuesday evening at Davenport Field but were unable to compliment the strong pitching performance at the plate, falling 2-0.

They get around to mentioning the perfect game in the SEVENTH paragraph. In the immortal words of Monica Geller, paragraph Number SEVEN.

Utterly, utterly absurd. Hilarious in its awfulness, though.

Learning to love Joni Mitchell, a few decades late. And Extreme Couponing? Really? And Kevin and Winnie.

My semi-regular plea for  you to follow me on Twitter here.

I think for just about all of us, there’s at least one gap in our musical knowledge.
We all think the music we like is awesome, and refined, and sophisticated, and if you don’t like it, well, you’re just wrong.
I’ll never forget a raging argument I had with my childhood friend Marc Feigelson one day while we were in college; we were arguing about some music group I said I liked, and he said they were crap. And we went back and forth for a while and then finally he just said “But Michael, here’s the thing:  the music I like is good music.”
And that was that in his mind; end of discussion.
Anyway, what I’m saying is, we all have at least one or two singers or groups who we know is legendary, and we respect them from afar, but never really took the time to listen to them.
For me, one of my gaps was Joni Mitchell. Go ahead and scoff and shake your head; I see you doing it. “Lewis, you idiot, you n ever listened to Joni Mitchell??”

Of course I’ve always known who she was, and always she knew she was an amazing songwriter with a fantastic voice. But really, I never took the time to listen to her music.  Until recently, when I heard a song of hers on a “Wonder Years” re-run I was watching, and it sent me scouring to YouTube for more.
Truly, she is/was an astonishing talent, and one I’d never truly appreciated. Here, check this out, Joni Mitchell singing the beautiful “Both Sides Now” from a concert in 1970 (Lyrics are here).

So perfect:

**I know it’s crazy that I still get surprised at some of the idiotic ideas that get made into TV shows these days. But what can I say, I still can’t believe people watch some of the bizarre stuff that’s on.
Heard about this show the other day, on TLC, which apparently is the home of mostly bizarre shows. It’s called Extreme Couponing, and it basically showcases people whose major skill in life is hoarding coupons, and then getting a $75 pair of jeans at Macy’s for like 38 cents.
Apparently it debuted last winter and is coming back on April 6. Might be train-wreck TV viewing for me.
Tell you what, my buddy Clay would be a perfect star on this show.  As cheap as they come (and I say that with affection), he loves coupons like pyromaniacs love fire.  He’d put all these people to shame.

**Finally, since I’m in one of my “The Wonder Years” re-run phases that I love getting into from time to time,  I just wanted to share this. Kevin and Winnie’s first kiss, the last scene from “The Wonder Years” pilot, with an incredible closing monologue from Daniel Stern.
Just one of the greatest shows ever.

A woman changing the world, one repaired child at a time. And VP Biden’s peeps lock a reporter in a closet

Sometimes, you look at what someone is doing with their life, and are awestruck at the power of one soul.
Sometimes, you look at what someone is doing with their life, and you feel like yours is worth so little, given the vast gulf of importance between what you do, and what they do.
I had one of those moments Sunday night, as I sat riveted, watching “60 Minutes,” tears dripping from my eyes, and learned of Elissa Montanti, a 57-year-old woman from Staten Island, N.Y. who runs the Global Medical Relief Fund, out of her house. Their motto: “Helping Restore the Broken Lives of Injured Youth With Healing and Dignity, 1 child at a time.”
Elissa is basically a one-woman operation, and this is what she does: She learns about badly wounded children from third-world countries, brings them to America, and enlists doctors and nurses to make them well again.
She gives hope, where there had been none. She provides light, where there had been only darkness.
She’s constantly begging for money, time and medical services, and in the past decade she’s helped more than 100 kids, often coming to her without arms, legs, or a future, regain their lives.
I implore you to watch this story of one woman, changing the world, little by little. (For some reason I can’t embed CBS News videos here; it’s really annoying. But trust me, it’s so worth the click.)
This piece is one of the most moving things I’ve ever seen, as “60 Minutes” follows the tale of one little Iraqi boy, on his journey from devastation, back to normalcy.
Elissa Montanti is a wonderful, inspiring woman doing so much good.
She makes me want to be a better person, which I think is the highest compliment you can give someone.
If after watching you would like to learn more, here’s a link to GMRF’s website.

**Proof forthcoming that I don’t only rip Republicans here at Wide World of Stuff:
VP Joe Biden held a private fundraiser in Orlando last week. An Orlando Sentinel reporter wanted to cover the event. Fine, the VP’s peeps said, but he couldn’t interview or talk with the guests. He would be allowed to hear and report on Biden and Fla. Sen. Bill Nelson’s speeches, though.
The reporter agreed. Except then they stuck the reporter, Scott Powers, in a storage closet for more than an hour.
Seriously. A freaking storage closet.
Read the delightful details here.

On today’s show: Bill Maher nails it, a harrowing video from Libya, and a few words about Geraldine Ferraro

Sometimes, Bill Maher just nails it. OK, usually he just nails it. Friday on his almost-always funny HBO show, he did this bit about how the GOP, since it opposes everything Barack Obama says or does, has found its perfect candidate to run against him in 2012. (On his show last week, Maher made a disgusting sexual reference to Sarah Palin, calling her a really, really vulgar name. For that he should apologize and be ashamed. Not because Palin deserves any sympathy, but because it was awful and gross that he would call any woman that name.)

But I digress. Here’s Maher with the hilarious candidacy of Karab Omabo:

**You know, you can hear and read so much about what’s going on in Libya, and all over the Middle East right now, and sometimes after a while it just sounds like so much white noise. But then you see two minutes of video like this, and you remember these are all real people going through harrowing atrocities right now.
This is a Libyan woman named Eman al-Obeidy, bursting into a hotel that housed the foreign press in Libya, trying to tell the media that she’d been raped by Col. Gaddafi’s forces.  Security tries to drag her away, but she bravely keeps trying to tell her story. It’s horrible and fascinating at once; the oppression is despicable, and this is one time where journalists were right to try to intervene.

**Geraldine Ferraro, who died over the weekend at 75, was the first politician I ever cared about. I was 8 when she was nominated in 1984 to be Walter Mondale’s running mate as vice president in the upcoming election. I had no idea who she was or what she stood for, but I just thought it was so cool and different that a woman could possibly be VP.
Some people, I learned as I got older, thought it was a Hail Mary from Mondale, picking a woman who could possibly help him beat Ronald Reagan in an election that wasn’t shaping up to be close. Maybe that’s right, maybe that’s why Mondale did do it.
It didn’t matter, as Mondale got crushed in November. But Ferraro did herself proud that year, and she put the first crack in the awfully-high glass ceiling for women in politics.
Maybe without Ferraro, Hillary Clinton would’ve had an even tougher road. Ferraro was a trailblazer and a pioneer, and deserves to be remembered fondly in American politics.
And somewhere in the world today, there’s a Mondale/Ferraro ’84 sign that used to be in our garage.

The amazing Butler gets to the Final 4. An etiquette question. And a very cool then and now photo exhibit

God I love Butler. I wish I went there today. I want to go buy a Butler hat, T-shirt and 3-subject notebook with the Butler logo.

My goodness, those were two fantastic NCAA Tournament games Saturday.
And I don’t know that I’ve ever been more impressed by a college basketball team than I am with Butler.
Last year, they thrilled me all the way to the championship game, when I finally had to root against them since they played Duke.
This year, they’ve been must-see TV again, and again they’ve somehow made it to the Final Four.
Non-college basketball fans, take note: This is an incredibly rare thing, a school like Butler making it to the Final Four two straight years.
The Bulldogs are so much fun to watch play, they’re coached by a 34-year-old named Brad Stevens who could name his next job right now, and they play the game the right way.
Butler has no superstars; they just have scrappy, hard-working kids with talent like Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard.
They’re not flashy, and usually in the second half, like Saturday against Florida, they’re down and have to make a comeback.
For hoop fans like me, they’re a joy to behold. That a powerhouse could be built by a small school in Indianapolis (and they certainly can no longer be called a “Cinderella”) is so wonderful.
Butler, in the Final Four. Again. Sensational. It’s why we watch this Tournament every year, and why it’s so sweet to see stories like this unfold.
I hope they win the championship this year.

**So I was playing tennis Saturday with my friend Vinnie, and at one point I hit a shot that tipped the net, and just barely bounced over for a winner.
I did the usual tennis thing, raising my racket up to him in the international tennis gesture of apology when such a thing happens.
Then he and I started talking about it. Why do tennis players do this? Why apologize when you get a lucky break? Does a basketball player say “Oops” when his jumper accidentally banks in? Do baseball players apologize to pitchers off broken-bat squibbers that go for singles?
Maybe it’s because we tennis folk are more gentlemanly. But it’s odd that only in tennis do we say “sorry” like that.
Just a rambling observation by me, challenging something in my mind that I never challenged before. That’s what life’s all about.

**Finally today, the brilliant Roger Ebert pointed me to this on his Twitter page. A photographer named Irena Werning loved old photos of people so much, she decided to try to have the subjects re-enact them, 20 or 30 years later, in the same pose. It’s fascinating to view how much we change, and yet stay the same, as we grow older; check out the whole gallery here

The best workplace fridge notes. The GE Tax scam. And Fat Ho Burgers comes to Texas

It’s happened to you, it’s happened to me, it’s happened to all of us.
Somebody where you work has eaten or drank something of yours from the workplace fridge. Maybe it was a piece of cake, maybe it was a salad, maybe even a Diet Coke.
I don’t know who these people are that do this, nor how they live with themselves. I once accidentally ate someone else’s unopened Dannon yogurt a few years ago (I thought it was mine from the day before, but alas, it wasn’t) and felt guilty about it for days.
But there are thieves among us. Fortunately, many of them can be shamed by a well-placed, caustic note.
The website buzzfeed.com has collected the 30 best angry notes from folks like you and me who’ve had their lunch or beverages pilfered (Where did they get such a collection? Who knows. I can’t believe people take pictures of notes on workplace fridges.)
Enjoy and laugh at them all here.

**So General Electric was in the news Friday, a big story in the N.Y. Times. Angered me, and I’m sure lots of others. It seems that in this tax season of ours, GE, a company that made $14.2 billion in profits last year, is paying ZERO dollars in taxes.
How? Loopholes and schemes, mazes and tax shelters. Every damn tax break our government gives to major corporations, it seems GE uses.
Read the story here, and then you’ll probably need the nearest trash can.

**Ah, those crazy Texans. Apparently a new restaurant in Waco, Texas is causing a little bit of a stir. A 23-year-old woman owns the place, and it’s called: Fat Ho Burgers.
Can’t imagine why anyone would be offended by that.

“Hey, want to go to lunch? Yeah, let’s go to Fat Ho.”

John McEnroe will never grow up. And that makes me sad. My Dukies get blown out. And an incredible dog trick video

So I’m flipping around the channels a few mornings ago and stumbled across Tennis Channel, which I sometimes watch during big tournaments. What was on this morning was a pro tennis “Champions” match, the old-timers circuit for ex-stars like McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Bjorn Borg, etc.
Anyway, as I haven’t seen any of these matches in a while, I was curious to see 52-year-old Johnny Mac still had game. He was playing Mark Philippoussis, who’s about 20 years younger than Mac, and in the second game of the match, a couple of close line calls didn’t go McEnroe’s way on a particular point.
McEnroe lost the point, and then absolutely exploded at the linesperson who “missed” the calls. Called him a disgrace right to his face, screamed at the chair umpire to have the guy removed, then ranted and raved a little more, cursing and muttering “Jesus Christ.”
You could say, “Maybe it was a put-on. McEnroe knows these crowds want to see him act like a lunatic, so he gives them what they want.”
Maybe.
But I don’t think so. I think this is a man, a man I used to absolutely idolize, who is an enormous baby. He’s 52 years old, and he’s still behaving like a 10-year-old on the court. He is still an intense competitor who thinks nothing of belittling other human beings and making them feel like dirt. Maybe he still gets off on it, I don’t know.
But after a few minutes I turned the match off. It made me sad to think of McEnroe like this, a 52-year-old man throwing a tantrum on a tennis court.
I felt sad for him, mostly. That he’s never in his life learned to grow up.

**Well that was a miserable Duke game to watch. Man, did the Blue Devils play horrendous defense in the second half. I think the less I say about this game the better, and truly, after winning the national title, improbably, last season, Duke fans like me can’t complain for another few years.
However…
— Arizona’s Derrick Williams is astoundingly good. Unstoppable.
— It’s been a LONG time since Duke had a quality inside player. Like 5 years long.
— I think that was the last we’ll see of Kyrie Irving in a Duke uniform. He’s going NBA, no doubt. It just never worked, re-integrating him into the lineup again after being out for so long.
— Bobby Knight’s a happy guy today. He gets to keep the all-time wins record from Coach K for six more months (K has 900, Knight has 902).

Congrats to Arizona, man, did they ever deserve this one. And go Butler! Man I love seeing those Butler kids play. They’re one win away from another Final Four. Incredible.
— Farewell, the Jimmer. Hell of a career for a kid from Glens Falls.

**It’s Friday, and I know we all just want the weekend to start. Well, if this 3-minute video doesn’t put you in a good mood, then nothing will. This is Jesse, a ridiculously well-trained dog. Look at all the things he can do! (Hat tip to my father for sending me this. He gets annoyed when I don’t give him credit…)

The Liz Taylor obit writer who died first. The steroids test that saved a life. And Joe Poz on inspiration

The great Elizabeth Taylor died Wednesday, and it’s truly a great loss for society. She did so much good in her life, for charity, for AIDS research, and shoot, she was Michael Jackson’s good friend, so that alone should get her into heaven.
But what cracked me up Wednesday was this revelation. A dirty little secret of newspaper journalism is that the obituaries of major celebrities are always pre-written. Whenever a major star is getting up in years, somebody at the New York Times, Associated Press, Washington Post, etc. writes an obit for them, so that when the celeb dies, the newspaper is ready to print it immediately.
Well, the New York Times obit of Liz Taylor that ran on its website Wednesday was written by a man named Mel Gussow.

Mel Gussow died in 2005.

So Elizabeth Taylor outlived her obituary writer. That, my friends, is an accomplishment!
I’m guessing he won’t be phoning in any additional quotes for his story.

**My friend Andrew pointed me to this incredible story, which I’m surprised hasn’t gotten more national attention.
With the Barry Bonds trial going on this week (and I could not care less about it), figured a rare “positive” steroids story would make more news. New York Mets minor leaguer Emmanuel Garcia was told he had failed a drug test last June, because his random test contained high levels of human chorionic gonadotropin, which is illicitly used after an anabolic steroid cycle to jump-start the body’s production of testosterone.
Garcia swore he was innocent. Said he’d just been working out, that’s all. Garcia was examined by a Mets team doctor, who discovered a tiny tumor on his testicles, which was the reason for the high gonadotropin level. Garcia had testicular cancer; he had never used steroids. After undergoing treatment, he’s now been cancer free for six months, according to this remarkable story on ESPNNewYork.com.
So many things at play here possibly saved Garcia’s life: The fact that he happened to be randomly tested. The fact that he saw a doctor who discovered his cancer at a very early stage.
If Garcia doesn’t get tested for steroids, maybe the cancer spreads, and by the time he realizes he’s sick, it’s too late.
Garcia is probably the happiest guy who ever tested positive for steroids you’d ever meet.
Amazing what unintended consequences can result sometimes, isn’t it?

**Finally today, the writing God that is Joe Posnanski has absolutely nailed another story. He wrote a blog post past this week, ostensibly about former Olympic wrestler and current “The Biggest Loser” contestant Rulon Gardner. But really, it’s about life, and about being inspired.
It’s an absolutely beautiful piece, and I guarantee you’ll be smiling by the end of it.
And who couldn’t use an extra smile?

My old friend Tyler Hicks survives kidnapping in Libya, and tells about it. Mascot Madness. And a really splashy world record

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You ever meet someone in your life and you think, “Man, that guy is just cool. He totally has life figured out?”
That’s kind of how I felt when I first met Tyler Hicks (that’s him, above) in 1997. I was working at the Wilmington Star-News as a young sportswriter fresh out of college. Tyler was just a few years older than me, and he was a staff photographer. Hard to describe Tyler other than saying he was kind of like Dan Cortese’s character on “Seinfeld” that one time; just a guy who floated through life, happily and acting goofy. He was a sweet guy who was always friendly and always took great pictures.
I lost track of Tyler for a few years after he and I both left Wilmington, and then saw that he’d landed at the New York Times, as a war photographer.
His photographs were nothing short of amazing. Every once in a while I’d pick up The Times and see Tyler’s photo credit on pictures from Serbia, or Iraq, or Bosnia, and be amazed at how good he was, and marvel that this was the same guy who used to shoot New Hanover vs. Laney high school tennis matches I was covering.
I don’t want to exaggerate my relationship with Tyler; we haven’t talked in many years, but I always followed his career and was happy he was doing well.
As you probably have heard by now, Tyler and three other journalists were kidnapped while in Libya last week, and for four days they endured horrendous treatment and conditions.
Tuesday the Times published a first-person account from Tyler and the three others, and it’s absolutely compelling reading.
This is happening more and more to my fellow reporters all over the world; dictators think that by capturing members of the press, they can stop the flow of information.
Fortunately, Tyler and the others survived. Knowing Tyler, he probably can’t wait to go back to Libya.
Though personally, I wish he’d go back to shooting high school tennis matches. Rarely do you get kidnapped from those.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

**So you may have noticed if you read this blog a lot that I love, love, love mascot stories. I am truly fascinated by people who dress up in funny costumes and wear giant feet just to entertain thousands.
A Maryland TV station recently hosted the 2011 Mascot Madness competition, and the results, well, who cares? I just had some good laughs watching them play basketball.

**Finally, a short video of a crazy stuntman. This is Professor Splash, and this is him diving 35 feet off the ground, down into a kiddy pool filled with shallow water.
I have no idea how he didn’t kill himself doing this. Guess that’s why he’s a stuntman.

A sportswriter turns into a pimp, literally. “Big Love” finale makes me angry. And the 1-legged champion wrestler inspires all

This is one of those days where there are 17 things I want to blog about. But you don’t have that kind of time and frankly, neither do I. So I’ll stick to three things.

There are not that many other things besides writing that I’m qualified to do. Trivia expert on the 1980s New York Rangers hockey teams. Reciter of every TV sitcom theme song from my childhood. Expert on watching 3-4 different sporting events at once, and keeping track of them perfectly.
But you know, maybe I’m selling myself short (easy to do, as I’m 5-foot-5). Maybe I could look at second careers of other sportswriters and see opportunity.

Like Monday, I read about this guy, Kevin Provencher. He was a sportswriter for a newspaper in New Hampshire when the current newspaper downturn forced him to take a pay cut. So Kev did what just about every other sportswriter I know would’ve done:
He became a pimp. Yep, Provencher went from writing about balls and strikes to, well, I guess his job still involves …
Provencher would recruit women through craigslist and other sites, and “arranged for them to meet men in hotel rooms, then demanded half of their earnings plus the cost of the hotel room,” prosecutors allege.
I know this is not a laughing matter. I know it’s a serious crime that Provencher committed, taking advantage of desperate women.
It just boggles my mind to think of a guy in my very profession also being a pimp. (hey, sportswriters have a hard time getting girls, but really now …)

**So, “Big Love”, a show I loved, came to an end Sunday night. SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t seen it yet, but really, it’s Tuesday people;  if you’re a fan, you’ve seen it.
I was disappointed with the finale, mostly. I am angry they just let Bill “off the hook” by having him die. They totally dropped last week’s riveting Albie storyline, barely making mention of it. And I totally didn’t understand what happened to Home Plus.
But the finale did have its great moments, like Lois and Frank lying in bed together, as he euthanized her (trust me, it’s sweeter than I’m making it sound). And the final scene was touching, as all three wives seemed to finally be at peace.
For five years, “Big Love” was a maddening, wonderful three-act drama of a show, and I truly will miss it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was damn good.

**Finally, an uplifting story that ought to inspire you. A kid named Anthony Robles of Arizona State University won an NCAA wrestling championship at the 125-pound weight class on Saturday.
Also, Robles was born with only one leg.
And yet through years of training and dedication, this kid made himself into one of the best wrestlers in the country.  He defeated the reigning champion in his class and finished his college career on top.

With one leg, Robles became the best. A sensational kid and a sensational story. To think what most of us complain about on a daily basis, and yet look at this kid… so inspiring.
I loved this quote at the end of that story I linked:

“I wrestle because I love wrestling, but it inspires me when I get kids, even adults, who write me on Facebook or send me letters in the mail just saying that I’ve inspired them, and they look up to me, and they’re motivated to do things that other people wouldn’t have thought possible.”