Weekend Notes

Our holiday weekend was both busy and lazy.

We watched one of our two year old nephews from Friday night through Monday morning. He’s a really good kid – smart and funny and loves being with the girls – but you do kind of forget how exhausting that phase of life is. The repeated questions. The bizarre mood changes. The out of nowhere finickiness when eating. The failure to grasp basic logic. We love having him but it’s a relief to pass him along after a few days rather than face his barrage of Two-ness constantly.

But the weekend was mostly good. The big bummer was our expected snow storm came through about 12 hours later that initially forecast, and by the time we could get him outside to play the windchill was in the single digits. So we only took him out for about 10 minutes, made a slow lap around the house looking for icicles, and then went back inside.

M went on her first ever ski trip Sunday, down to a hill near Cincinnati with a group of other middle schoolers from North Side Catholic schools. She had a great time. She had never tried skiing before. Late in the afternoon she sent us a video of her zooming along rather nicely. All without taking a class. She had a great time and is excited to go to Colorado some winter and try skiing with her cousins.

As for sports, I’ll save the KU stuff for a post later in the week. Our nephew-watching duties cut into my football viewing time a little on Sunday. I actually slept through most of the first half of the Rams-Saints game and then turned the TV over to the kids while I made dinner. I started getting texts about a terrible call and then it took me five minutes of searching before I could find the remote to switch back to the game. It was after that game ended before I finally saw a replay of “The Call.” Man…that was brutal. How many bullshit DPI penalties do you see every game and then they let that go? Utterly amazing. If I was a Saints fan I would probably still be rioting.

I kept the TV on while we ate dinner and had one eye on the game. But somehow I missed that Greg Zuerlein’s absolute bomb of a field goal was for the win. I muttered “Wow,” between bites of taco lasagna, thinking it was just a great kick. Then I saw Rams running on the field and realized the game was over. That was a wacky, wild game.

For the Pats-Chiefs game, I watched the first two drives then had to run out to pick M up. By the time I was home it was halftime and I just had this feeling that A) the Chiefs would get back in it but B) the Patriots would manage to pull it out.

My football picks generally suck but this one was right on!

For most of the third quarter we were watching a movie with the nephew before bedtime. But I was able to sit down and give the game my undivided attention roughly mid-way through the fourth quarter. Which was the perfect moment to pick things up. With about 5:00 left I – semi-jokingly – texted a couple friends saying there would be four more scores in the game. I was wrong; there were five.

For an non-partisan viewer, those final five minutes plus overtime were fantastic to watch. And the best part was Tony Romo calling every damn play before it happened. I don’t get how some viewers are put off by this. And I don’t get why no other analyst is as good at it as he is. Does he watch more film than them? Are they told not to do it, as he apparently was told by CBS for part of this season? Or does he just have a gift no one else has? It was an amazing football game taken to another level by his insights.

I’ve heard plenty of bitching about the NFL’s overtime rules. In general I agree with those complaints. The overtime rules are already tweaked for the playoffs since you play until there is a winner. Why not make a second minor tweak and say that both teams get a chance with the ball, regardless of how the first possession plays out? Ending the season based on the whims of a coin toss seems counter to what the NFL is all about.

Then again, every sport is somehow compromised by its overtime rules. Soccer is strange, with different tournaments having different rules. College football is dumb. Basketball likely gets it best: add five minutes and keep playing. But team fouls also carry over, so you begin overtime with teams generally being overly penalized for every foul. Playoff hockey is fantastic: add a fresh 20 minutes and repeat until someone scores. But while those extended overtime games are often breathless viewing experiences, the play can get very choppy because of exhausted players.

I’ve heard some folks say the NFL should just go to a fifth quarter in the playoffs. Add ten minutes, play it out, and if someone is ahead at the end you have a winner.

I think the fairest way is to ensure each team gets at least one possession in overtime and then sudden death kicks in. No need to play out the last three minutes if one team kicked a field goal and the other scored a touchdown.

Anyway, another January disappointment for Chiefs fans. Another January of listening to Patriots bullshit. How long until pitchers and catchers report?

Title Games: How I Got Here

Conference championship weekend.

That doesn’t get me fired up the way it used to. Although I came back to the NFL a little this season, I would still label myself as a casual fan at best. A far cry from when I was a kid and I was super into everything about the NFL. I watched The NFL Today each Sunday, made sure I caught the halftime highlights on Monday Night Football, and could likely tell you several important facts about the third place team in each division.

Back in those days I was a hardcore Cowboys fan. That all stemmed from the first Super Bowl I ever watched in January 1977. I thought it was cool that the two teams playing, Dallas and Denver, both started with a D. The Cowboys won, I adopted them as my favorite team. I lived in southeast Missouri, the nearest team, the St. Louis Cardinals, were kind of garbage. It seemed like a good move.

When we moved to Kansas City in the summer of 1980, the Cowboys were beginning a run of losing in the NFC title game three-straight years. At my new bus stop, in the classroom, on the playground at recess, and at my own football practices, the primary topic of discussion was the Royals, who made it to the World Series that year. But when football would come up, I was usually the outcast. There were a few Steelers fans, a few random Raiders or Broncos fans, and a sprinkling of Cowboys fans. But most of the boys I hung out were Chiefs fans.

I remember a conversation that fall that went something like this:

“Why don’t you like the Chiefs?”
“Because I like the Cowboys.”
“Well, you live here now, you have to like the Chiefs.”
“That’s stupid. And so are you.”

I didn’t learn to cuss until later that year, otherwise I would have told the kid to fuck off.

Don’t get me wrong, over the next decade or so when the Chiefs had the occasional solid year, I would cheer for them. I went to a few games here and there and pulled for them to win. In the early 90s, when they became a very good team, I pulled hard for them…as long as they weren’t playing the Cowboys. They were a pretty solid second team, and it was cool that the local team was doing well.

But as the 90s progressed, the Chiefs started to drive me nuts. I hated how the Chiefs were the primary topic of KC sports discussion so much of the year.[1] I hated the almost Stalinist party line that the entire Chiefs organization stuck to in the Carl Peterson era. And that guy, he drove me freaking nuts with his press conferences where he would say “The Kansas City Chiefs Football Team” 1000 times while insisting everything at 1 Arrowhead Way was better than any other place in the NFL.

And then there were Chiefs fans. Not all of them, for sure. In fact, not even a very large percentage of them. But there was that vocal, idiot minority who just drove me nuts. The ones who yelled “Chiefs!” at the end of the national anthem at KU, Royals, or other games. The ones who had entire wardrobes that were nothing but Zubaz pants in Chiefs colors. I remember coworkers going on-and-on about how Steve Bono or Elvis Grbac were going to lead the Chiefs to the Super Bowl. I decided those “Camaroheads” were the typical Chiefs fan, and began openly rooting against them. I laughed when the Chiefs blew playoff appearance after playoff appearance. Greg Hill raising the roof when he got a first down while precious time ticked away in another home playoff loss was my favorite Chiefs moment ever. That the Cowboys dynasty was crumbling didn’t matter to me. I was more interested in watching Chiefs fans be sad.

I think it is very hard to live in an NFL city, be a fan of another team, and not end up hating the local team. Especially these days, where NFL games are 3+ hour exercises in avoiding drunk people, fights, and other nonsense. It’s easy to look at whatever stupidity is going on at your local stadium, think that is unique to your city, and then use it as a reason to hate the local squad.

When we moved to Indy, I was still a Cowboys fan. But I was growing sick of Jerry Jones’ bullshit. The Colts were getting good. It seemed like the perfect time to jump ship. My first year here, the Colts went to Kansas City for a playoff game. I wish I still had one of my favorite voice mails of all time, left on the answering machine attached to our land line – !!!! – during that epic, no-punt game.

“D, it’s Julie! Are you watching the game? Because the Colts are wiiiiiiinning!”
(Voice in background: ‘He doesn’t like the Chiefs!’)
“Oh, Mark says you don’t like the Chiefs…so never mind. Go Colts!”

So, for the couple of readers who told me they didn’t realize I wasn’t a Chiefs fan a week ago, that’s most of the story of how that came to be.

Speaking of bullshit, I’m pretty sick of New England’s bullshit. When their dynasty was first getting started, I really admired them. Tom Brady still seemed like a delightful fluke. They rarely had superstars around him on offense, and Belichick built a classic No Name defense that was always better than everyone else in January.

But they kept winning, got obnoxious, cheated several times, and became a joyless, soulless machine that just grinds all the fun out of the game. Tom Brady whining about how everyone thinks they suck and no one thinks they can win is classic, Patriots horseshit. Jon Bon Jovi and Robert Kraft sitting together and singing “Livin’ On A Prayer,” might be the worst moment of the 21st Century.[2]

So am I pulling for the Chiefs Sunday? Let’s not go too far, now. I would rather see the Chiefs win. But I will still laugh if all the Camaroheads go home sad because Belichick and Brady’s deal with the devil remains valid and they somehow get out of KC with a win.

Chiefs 45, Patriots 21. Yes, 21. Fuck you, Brady.
Saints 38, Rams 35

  1. It didn’t help that the Royals now sucked.  ↩
  2. JBJ is from fucking New Jersey, owns an arena team in Philly, and tried to buy the Bills. How the fuck – other than bandwagon jumping – is he sitting on Kraft’s lap during games?  ↩

Friday Playlist

The music finally hit this week. There has been a steady flow of new tracks all week. There are at least five new albums out today that I am interested in (Sharon Van Etten, Deerhunter, Maggie Rogers, The Twilight Sad, and Steve Gunn) along with a couple others I’d like to get to. We’ll start to see that flood of new tracks hit the playlist next week. Although I am excited that the first 2019 song I’m crazy about is in this week’s selections.

“In This Time” – HAERTS. The latest great track I found thanks to my Discovery playlist on Spotify. HAERTS released a new album last fall, both the result of and focused on losing their major label deal. I just read a review that said the album harkens back to the 70s sounds of George Harrison and Tom Petty. This song, to me, sounds like it could have been a B-side to a classic Fleetwood Mac song.

“All Over Now” – The Cranberries. The Cranberries were working on a new album when Dolores O’Riodon died early last year. This is the first track they’ve released from those sessions. Let’s be honest: it’s fine enough but doesn’t match up to their classic work. Yet I’ll listen to it because it’s the last thing we’ll get from her legendary voice.

“Five on It” – Spielbergs. These Swedish dudes keep cranking out excellent, massive tracks. 

“Weird Ways” – Strand of Oaks. Here it is, the first great song of 2019. Timothy Showalter is back, this time with most of My Morning Jacket serving as his backing band. Their presence comes through beautifully on this track. Musically you could drop this on about any MMJ album. They really work well together. I don’t know if it is Showalter or Carl Broemel playing that solo in the middle, but it is beautiful and takes the song to another level. Jason Isbell and Emma Ruth Rundle will also appear on the album, which I am officially very excited for.

“Dynamite” – Jermaine Jackson. The Stereogum series The Number Ones has gone through several songs by The Jackson 5 in recent weeks. In one of those entries, someone dropped this video in the comments as a reminder of Jermaine’s solo career. I remember the song – and have always kind of liked it – but, whoaaaa doctor!, I forgot how terrible the video was. There is just so much to deal with here: why is Jermaine so sweaty? Why do they put “Dynamite!” on the screen some of the times he sings it, but not all of the times? Did they mean totally rip off the “Beat It” video’s dance sequences? Could they not have choreographed this better so Jermaine didn’t have moments of just standing and waiting for his next dance moment to occur? What tiny sliver of Michael’s video budget did Jermaine get? And what’s going on with that warden? The 80s, man. They were a trip.

Reader’s Notebook, 1/16/19

A new reading year comes with a bit of a change. I still have my Carmel library card, which should be good for several more years.[1] Just before Christmas L and I finally went over to the Indianapolis public library branch that is about a mile away to get cards there.

Our local library is very small. But you can request books from any IPL location and they will show up at our branch in a few days. I imagine I will still be going up to Carmel for most of my library needs, but it is nice to have an option that is basically right around the corner.

My first book is from the Carmel library. The second from the IPL.

Sting-Ray Afternoons – Steve Rushin
This is officially listed as a memoir. But it is an odd kind of memoir. It’s hard to say whether it is more a document of Rushin’s childhood in Minneapolis, or an accounting of what every kid who grew up in the 1970s went through. Every story about some event in his life contains diversions where Rushin highlights a few things that were popular at the time, whether it is music, Evel Knievel, Hamburger Helper, or some other fad of the 70s.

This is a delightful and touching book. Rushin is about five years older than me, so his memories don’t line up exactly with mine. Especially in the sections about the late 70s, there were a lot of “Oh yeah!” moments for me. I also felt a strong sense of jealousy reading his book. I wondered if I could write my version, tweaked more toward the 1980s, and based in Kansas and Missouri. Sadly I don’t think my family was nearly as interesting as Rushin’s – that’s the breaks of being an only child vs growing up in a large family – so I doubt I could make my version as universal as his.

Broken Harbor – Tana French
After I read French’s In The Woods I did some research on how to best tackle her other books. Although many of them have very loose connections, they are not a proper series. Most folks seemed to think Broken Harbor was her finest work, so that was where I jumped into the rest of her oeuvre.

The books have several common elements. A murder investigation in which an established Dublin detective is working with a new partner. The detective has a personal connection to the case that he keeps secret from everyone around him. And the detective has a side of his personality he keeps hidden from his co-workers.

Broken Harbor revolves around a mass murder in a subdivision 45 minutes from Dublin. A husband and wife are found in a pool of blood on their kitchen floor, the wife with a faint pulse. Their two young children are found upstairs in their beds, dead of apparent suffocation. Their home is also filled with all kinds of strangeness: holes in the walls, chicken wire stretched across an open access point to the attic, and baby monitors in strange locations.

Detective Mike Kennedy and his rookie partner Richie Curran are assigned and within a day have a primary suspect who, after rather light questioning, confesses to the attacks and murders. That all seems too simple, especially since there are over 250 pages left in the book.

A large swath of the book deals with how Kennedy and Curran deal with that next part of the investigation. How they try to press neighbors to tell what they saw. How they dive into the suspect’s life and find his shared past with his victims. And how they slowly discover what was really going on with the victims in the months before the attacks. At times, I was bored as the pace was quite slow for long stretches. There were several chapters where I would pause, flip ahead, and count how many more pages until I reached the end of that chapter so I could put the book down.

But I kept going because of all the praise for the book. The case gets more and more murky the deeper the investigation goes. Murky in a good way. French throws a number of wicked curves at her readers. I reached the next-to-last chapter at about 11:00 last night. There was no way I was stopping, knowing the identity of the real killer was about to be revealed. Over the next hour I raced through the nearly 50 pages of French’s “confession” chapter. I set the book aside and went to bed utterly spent.

French is really, really good at this stuff. She plumbs all kinds of delicious psychological depths of each of her characters. The crime elements of her stories are rich, believable, and well-told. And, man, can she ratchet up the tension.

  1. I don’t understand why, but the BMV let me keep my old license, which doesn’t expire for five more years. I’m saving it just so I can renew my Carmel library card the next time it is due.  ↩

Snow and Sports

A busy and fun weekend around our house.

Saturday C and I headed out at 7:00 am for her first preseason volleyball tournament. At that point in the day we had about 2” of snow. The roads were not great, but not terrible either. It helped that no one was out on them, other than parents going to volleyball tournaments. We were at one of two volleyball facilities that back up to each other. There was a long line of cars to pull into each, more traffic than I saw on the 30 minute drive there.

C’s team did ok. They won three of four sets in the pool play part of the day. Then they lost their first playoff match before winning the second in dramatic fashion. They were down 13–9 in the third set, against a bunch of fifth graders, before they came back to win 16–14. Six hours in a cold gym on hard, metal seats wiped me out. C was tired, too. When we left all the cars were covered in another 3+ inches of snow. The roads were, again, not great but still usable. We made it home without incident.

We ended up getting about seven inches of snow at our house, which I believe was the biggest snowstorm in Indy in nearly five years. We were overdue. We were pleased at how well our new snowblower worked. We replaced our 12-year-old blower in the fall. I had my eye on some higher end models but S insisted I stick with a more budget-friendly pick. Our choice runs at least twice as fast as our old one, and is lighter to boot. S ran it once Saturday while I was out, and I did a second run Sunday morning. I cleared our whole driveway in less than three songs on the old American Top 40 I was listening to![^1][^1]

I was very thankful that the KU-Baylor game matched up with the first half of the Colts-Chiefs game. That way I missed the Colts laying a big, fat turd and was able to move on to other things when the KU game ended.

A disappointing end to a surprising and successful season for the Colts. They enter the off season with a young, talented team, more cap space than any team in the NFL, and a general manager who absolutely cleaned up in last year’s draft. There’s every reason to believe even being half as successful in this year’s draft and free agency will make the Colts the AFC South favorites next year, and right up with the Chiefs and Patriots as best teams in the conference. Of course, football always surprises, so whether the results match those expectations is another story.

For the Chiefs, although I watched very little of the game, I thought of one very promising comparison. The 2006 Colts were absolutely terrible on defense late in the year. In December it looked like it was going to be another waste of an epic season by Peyton Manning and the offense. They the defense flipped a switch when the playoffs started and were amazing. In fact, other than in the second half of the AFC title game, the offense was pretty mediocre through the entire playoffs and it was the defense that got the Colts their only Super Bowl title since coming to Indy.

I’m not sure whether the Chiefs can sustain what they did defensively on Saturday. But if they can? Look out. You only need a halfway decent defense with that offense.

My other predictions were so-so. I thought the Cowboys-Rams game would be closer that most folks expected. I went to bed before it ended, but it wasn’t the complete domination that some predicted.

I whiffed on the Chargers. My bad. And apparently Tom Brady reads this blog, as his comments after the game about all the people who thought they sucked and couldn’t win a game were clearly aimed at my comments about the Pats on Friday.

That Philly-New Orleans game was really solid. I feel for Alshon Jeffrey. That guy has made so many big catches over the years and whiffs on a fairly easy one that cost the Eagles a chance to pull the upset. Sports are brutal sometimes. I’m sure Philly fans will handle his mistake gracefully. Some people believe every championship team needs a gut-check game along the way to wake them up. Perhaps yesterday was the Saints’ gut-check game.

Sunday we had all the two-year-old nephews over to play in the snow. We only spent about 20 minutes outside because the winds were beginning to pick up, but we drug them around on sleds, made snow angels, and L and C made a snowman. It was pretty funny watching the little guys play. They’re beginning to separate a bit more in both abilities and personalities. Throw in none of them being at the developmental stage where they can co-play or begin to understand sharing and it can be a volatile mix at times. But for the most part they are very entertaining. We’re watching one of them next weekend, so this was good prep.

NFL Predictions

I should probably lock in some kind of prediction for tomorrow’s game between the Colts and Chiefs.

I’ve watched zero minutes of the Chiefs this year, so I only know what I’ve read about them. But that’s been plenty. They spent much of the season being the most talked about and exciting team in the NFL. For all the nervousness among some Chiefs fans about their playoff history against the Colts, KC is a 5.5 point favorite for a reason.

I haven’t watched a ton more of the Colts, to be honest. Their Sunday night finale in Nashville was the only game I’ve watched more than half of all year. Still, I’ve watched enough to have a good feel for the team.

Fittingly, I doubt I’ll watch much of tomorrow’s game. C has an all-day volleyball tournament. KU plays Baylor at roughly the same time as the football game. And we’re supposed to get our biggest snow storm in several years during the day. I’m hoping it hits early enough for the roads to be so bad volleyball gets cancelled. I’m really not looking forward to dragging C out of bed at 6:30 so we can be on the court by 7:30.

I think the Colts will make a game of it, especially if the weather is bad. Andrew Luck is playing the best football of his career. The offensive line has, out of nowhere, become one of the best in the game. The running game has been punishing in the last two months. And the defense has been a true revelation, stuffing the run, playing well-enough against the pass, and forcing turnovers. For a team that was terrible last year the Colts are very, very solid.

But making the jump from Wild Card winner to conference finalist feels like one step too far. Especially having to do it in Arrowhead. Unless the Colts can force multiple turnovers, or the weather is so bad that it turns into an old-school game where every play is a handoff, I just can’t see them getting it done.

The Chiefs will put to rest 24 years of playoff misery against the Colts.

Kansas City 38
Indianapolis 27

In other games:
Rams over Cowboys. I think this will be closer than anyone would have expected six weeks ago.
Chargers over Patriots. I think Philip Rivers is a first-class douche. I have a hard time finding myself pulling for him. But I just don’t think this year’s Patriots are as good as their record is.
Saints over Eagles. Surely Nick Foles magic isn’t enough to take out the Saints in New Orleans?

Friday Playlist

“Seventeen” – Sharon Van Etten. Still no new albums worth getting excited about. But next week is the first big push of new disks, including Sharon Van Etten’s newest. Of the early singles she’s released from it, this is my favorite. I love it’s rough edges and long, slow build.

“Sunday Driver” – The Raconteurs. The Raconteurs are back! Two lead singles from an untitled new album with no release date hit last week. This one sounds exactly like what you want a Raconteurs song to sound like. 

“Crazy Now” – Ryan Adams. DRA has been teasing us for awhile. He dropped the excellent single “Baby I Love You” last Valentine’s Day and hinted for the rest of 2018 that he had a new album ready to go. So it brought of mix of both excitement and disappointment when he leaked this week that he will release three albums in 2019, although the first will not hit until April. The first single has got some airplay but has not seen an official, digital release yet. In it’s place, here is one of the better tracks from his 2017 Prisoner B-Sides collection.

“Easin’ In” – Edwin Starr. Another classic find from Tom Breihan’s The Number Ones series. Yesterday Breihan highlighted Starr’s most famous song, 1970’s “War.” But in the comments he also shared this amazing Starr track. I knew it from it being sampled many times over the years. Most notably to me was on Ice-T’s “High Rollers.” This is a jam.

A little something different for the video section this week: two different artists’ takes on the same song.

“Police on My Back” was recorded and released by the British band The Equals in 1968. The Equals were touted as one of the first multi-racial bands to reach the British charts. Their primary writer and vocalist was Eddy Grant, who children of the 80s know for “Electric Avenue,” “Romancing the Stone,” etc. This was a minor hit for them – their biggest and best song was the most excellent “Baby Come Back” – and largely faded from history. Until The Clash put on their 1980 triple LP *Sandinista.” Like so many songs that The Clash covered over the years, it was a perfect cover: respectful to the original but completely updated for the times and their sound.

Enjoy The Equals rather goofy video, from the German music show Beat-Club, and then The Clash performing it live in Japan. 

Reserve Readings

I guess I spoke too soon. One more quick piece of clean-up from 2018.

Here are three excellent articles I read in the last month that I think are worth sharing.

First, a pretty amazing story about a crazy-ass endurance race, and the woman who competes with men to win the damn thing.

Ultrarunner Courtney Dauwalter Takes On The World’s Most Sadistic Endurance Race

In theory the race sounds easy: run a 4+ mile loop through the woods on a Tennessee farm every hour. But, as with taking a shot of beer every minute for an hour, it wears you down a lot faster than you would expect. This race sounds bananas.

Next, a pretty sobering account of the health of the Internet. Specifically in how much of what is out there is real. And it is just going to get worse as technology improves.

The “fakeness” of the post-Inversion internet is less a calculable falsehood and more a particular quality of experience — the uncanny sense that what you encounter online is not “real” but is also undeniably not “fake,” and indeed may be both at once, or in succession, as you turn it over in your head.

Maybe we should just shut it down and start over again.

How Much of the Internet Is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually.

Finally, I’m betting a lot of you have already read this one, about the unlikely friendship between Charles Barkley and as Asian-American man from Iowa. Save this one for a bad day, because it will clear the clouds a little bit, guaranteed.

My Dad’s Friendship With Charles Barkley

Reader’s Notebook, 1/8/19

The kids are back at school, so time for one more piece of 2018 wrap up.

I finished my reading year with two more excellent books, one of which was a big a change-of-pace for me.

The Flight Attendant – Chris Bohjalian
I put several books that I saw on Best of 18 lists on hold at the library, and this was the first to become available. Man, is it a humdinger of a read!

It begins with Cassandra, a flight attendant with a penchant for heavy drinking and hooking up, waking in a strange bed in Dubai. As she reviews the events of the previous night to figure out where she is and how she got there, she realizes the man next to her is dead. Not “died peacefully in his sleep” dead, either. But rather dead because his throat was slashed and he bled to death.


From there we follow Cassandra as she makes a long series of bad decisions, which, apparently, is pretty standard for her life. Although she, and we, are fairly certain she wasn’t responsible for killing the man she woke up next to, her actions at least give the impression that she has something to hide. Which is a problem because the FBI has their eyes on her – along with the rest of the flight crew she flew to Dubai with – and so does a woman who appears to be working for Russian interests. Cassandra may be innocent, but by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and by acting rather stupidly after the fact, she’s placed herself in the crosshairs of some very powerful folks.

The book then transitions into more of a spy novel, and does so deftly. The final 150 pages or so are pretty breathless. And outstanding. Bohjalian lays on a series of “Oh shit!” moments so casually that you almost miss them.

Reading some reviews after I finished the book, a number of readers were disappointed that Cassandra was such an unsympathetic lead character. That’s true, although Bohjalian offers evidence for why she is so messed up and presents her as a changed person at the book’s close. But a lead character lacking in redeeming qualities did not distract from what is, otherwise, an excellent and quick read. At least to me it didn’t. Perfect for long flights, in fact. Ironically, I found someone’s boarding passes to flights from Indianapolis to LAX and LAX to Honolulu tucked inside the front cover. I hope that woman enjoyed the book as much as I did.

Because of Mr. Terupt – Rob Buyea.
L is in a book club with several of her classmates. They meet once each month after school to talk through what they’ve read. A mom does a great job running it, and a couple grandmothers and one of the 4th grade teachers usually help with their meetings. I decided I wanted to read something L was reading, and based on discussions with the mom in charge, this seemed like a good one to jump in on.

It’s a delightful book. It tells the story of Mr. Terupt, a new fifth grade teacher at a school in Connecticut who has different methods of connecting with his students. The story is told from the perspective of seven of his students. We see how they slowly come to appreciate his style, how he guides them through difficult moments, and how he helps them to become better classmates. Much of how the story plays out can be predictable. The new kid becomes an integral part of the class. The kid who acts out constantly and the mean girl are both forced to change their behaviors. Two girls who want to be friends but who are forbidden by the family of one of them eventually become fast friends. And there’s a deeply sad moment in the middle of the book that resolves itself in a wonderful way.

But the book is written for young readers, and I’m not sure the endings will be as easy to figure out for them as they are for adults. And Buyea, a former teacher, is a fine writer. The characters are full of life and each has their individual voice.

L told me this was her favorite book she’s ever read before she was even halfway through it. I think the sadness in the middle gave her some pause, but the ending pulled her back in. And I’m glad that I read it, too.

With everything accounted for, I knocked out 63 books this year, my best total in several years. Granted, 10 of those were graphic novels, but at least those were each collections from the Y: The Last Man series. And my pace really slacked off from May-July. Otherwise I could have really put up some big numbers.

My favorite reads of 2018 were:
Citizen Vince – Jess Walter
American War – Omar El Akkad
All the Pieces Matter: The Inside Story of The Wire – Jonathan Abrams
Star of the North – D.B. John
In The Woods – Tana French
The Long and Faraway Gone – Lou Berney
Beartown – Fredrik Backman
The Flight Attendant – Chris Bohjalian

I’ve already completed book #1 for 2019, but will save that for my next Reader’s Notebook entry.

Weekend Notes

It is the last day of Christmas vacation in our house. It might hit 50 for the third-straight day, but no one seems real interested in getting outside and doing something. Probably has something to do with me telling everyone their rooms need to be cleaned up before anything else gets done today, and no one is moving all that quickly to start cleaning. C does have a volleyball practice in a bit, but other than that looks like one, final, lazy day to wrap up two-plus weeks of them.

So let’s look back at the weekend.


Man, that’s about as shitty of a weekend as I can remember for KU sports fans. There were the big events: Udoka Azubuike getting ruled out for Saturday’s game at Iowa State because of an injury suffered in practice Friday, the Jayhawks getting run off the court in the second half by the Cyclones, and then Sunday’s announcement that Udoka is done for the season.

And then two smaller events, one of which that is, really, bigger: Gary Woodland getting caught by the red-hot Xander Schauffele and losing the Tournament of Champions by one stroke and former KU football great – and father of a current Jayhawk – Kwamie Lassiter dying of a heart attack at just 49. Seriously, there was a lot of bad texting amongst my KU friends this weekend.

The loss to Iowa State was miserable. Despite playing terribly, KU was still in a good spot with 1:00 to play in the first half. It was one of those “If they can survive the next minute, get into the locker room, make some adjustments, this is anyone’s game.” Then then gave up a bad and-one, followed by a bad possession on offense and a 3-pointer by Iowa State that, effectively, ended the game. The second half was brutal. Iowa State, who I had read was not a very good 3-point shooting team, hit just about everything they threw up. The KU defense seemed only mildly interested in guarding anyone and in the last 10 minutes often stood and watched while ISU had a glorified shoot around.

So a bad loss on paper, but in the grand scheme of things, it was just a single loss. One I had chalked up at the beginning of the year, a belief that was reinforced when Udoka’s injury was announced before the game. KU had a lot of work to do to get better, but Bill Self is always able to adjust and get the best out of whatever his mix of talent is. As long as Dok didn’t miss more than a couple games, KU would be fine, although the Big 12 race would clearly be a dogfight.

And then the Udoka news broke Sunday. This will sound dramatic to all you non-KU folks, but the season is over. In a season after a Final Four appearance, and in which they began a national title favorites, the loss of Udoka from an already flawed team means all the lofty goals of November are trashed. The Big 12 streak will end and KU will be fortunate to get to the Sweet 16.

If KU could suddenly find an elite shooter who had immediate eligibility I would hold out hope that they could right the ship. But this team’s fatal flaw is that it has zero reliable outside shooters in an era where you need multiple guys who can hit the 3. There’s no getting around that.

Some people have been saying today, “Well, if Silvio De Sousa gets eligible, that changes things.” He’s not getting eligible. If it was going to happen, he would have been cleared by now. I’m sure KU is doing everything they can to get him cleared, but that ship has sailed. He should head to Bosnia, or wherever Billy Preston went last year.

That’s not to say this is a terrible team, or that I will not still watch every game with great interest. In fact, this season suddenly becomes pretty much stress-free. Knowing the Streak will end this early in the season means there’s less pressure on the next 16 Big 12 games. Losses on Big Mondays won’t mean I’m awake until 3:00 AM replaying what went wrong in my head. The Big 12 race will suddenly be about KU being spoilers rather than favorites. Knowing they don’t have a chance to make a repeat trip to the Final Four should make March games much more tolerable to watch.

It all sucks, but it’s not the end of the world.


As KU was losing in Ames, the Colts were hammering the Texans in Houston. As I understand it only a pass interference penalty and a tipped interception kept the Colts from leading 35–0 before halftime. I was switching over during commercials enough to get the gist of the game without all the details. As impressive as the Colts performance was, I do temper my enthusiasm a bit knowing they were playing Houston, the biggest frauds in this year’s playoff field.

Now it is on to Kansas City for a very, very interesting matchup. The Chiefs should be healthy favorites; I give the Colts about a 10% chance of winning. As good as the Colts’ defense has been this year, they’ve not faced an offense like the Chiefs’. But the Colts’ suddenly stout running game makes an upset not entirely out of the question. Get a lead, start pounding the rock, convert third downs, anything can happen. Not that the Colts have ever beaten the Chiefs in the playoffs before, so there’s really nothing for my Chiefs fan friends to worry about Saturday…

Other Football

I caught parts of the other three playoff games. I’m really not sure what Seattle was thinking on offense, although I’m not an expert on these things. I laughed at all the people who were saying “No one wants to play the Ravens!” a week ago after the Chargers pounded them. I did see that stretch at the end of the third/beginning of the fourth quarters when the referees somehow managed to totally botch three consecutive plays in at least five different ways. All those guys should be done for the playoffs. And the last couple minutes of the Eagles-Bears game were simply fantastic for neutrals. What an ending!


C, L, and I went to see Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse yesterday afternoon. It was really, really good! I was a little surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I’m not into movies based on comics,[1] nor was I a comics fan when I was little. I do recall owning some Spider-Man comics, though, and recognized the sense of humor that was unique to them in the movie. L has always been a Spider-Man fan, so she really enjoyed it. As we were walking out, we saw a little guy, maybe four, in his Spider-Man costume. She had the same costume when she was younger and I bet she would have worn hers if the movie had come out back then.


I think M is the only one complaining about our mild weather. She was supposed to go on a middle school ski trip yesterday to some hills down near Cincinnati, but with it being well over 60 down there, the trip had to be postponed for a couple weeks. She was most annoyed about having washed dishes for a month to pay for the trip. “If it doesn’t happen, I will have washed all those dishes for nothing!” she whined. I let the comment go, lest she think it through a little more and demand cash in exchange for her services.

Back to the grind tomorrow. M and C will get their volleyball schedules soon. We’re counting down the days until spring break. And after the first semester wraps up next week, M will be in her final semester at St. P’s.

  1. I don’t think I’ve seen any of the modern Marvel or DC movies other than Ant-Man.  ↩