School Days

I really want to crank out a kid sports update. But this is our busiest week of the spring – two games tonight, track meet tomorrow, two games Thursday, game Friday, track meet Sunday – and it seems like I should wait until we get through it before I start breaking things down for you.

Instead I’ll share what I did with the girls last week, when I spent two days with them at school activities.

Tuesday I went with C’s class to the Indianapolis Indians game. It was a beautiful day, sunny and pushing 70. Unfortunately we were in the lower deck under the overhang so it was still a little chilly.

This is the third or fourth time I’ve gone to a baseball game with the girls and a school group. It was the oldest group I’ve gone with, and that was reflected in how we all sat. Although we were in the same section as the kids, the parents and teachers all kept to one side and the kids to another. In the past I would always be sitting right with my daughter and the group of kids I was responsible for.

Tuesday I had a group of five girls in my group, and they had instructions to check in with me anytime they went to get food, go to the restroom, etc and then to always have a buddy with them. One of the girls in my group is someone I know pretty well. She’s a really sweet kid and has probably never been in trouble in her life. Every single time she left she told me. I texted her mom to compliment her and asked if she was a rule follower. “For sure!” was the response.

Anyway, the kids had a good time. The Indians won – although former Royal Brandon Maurer tried to blow a three-run lead. C won a couple stuffed animals playing games. My entire group was accounted for at the end of the game. The dad who rode down with me observed that he didn’t think he had been to a baseball game and not had a beer since high school. Later that evening I saw one of the teachers posted a picture of her iced tea with the diamond in the background. Because of the light, it looked at first glance like she was drinking a beer. Man, that would have been some good stuff for a teacher to be sneaking beers and then posting on Facebook about it!

Thursday was the school’s annual day of service. I volunteered to join L’s class at the distribution center for a local mission. We spent most of the day sorting through large donation boxes. In our morning session somehow L and I got put with almost all the boys in her grade. She was literally the only girl in the group. You haven’t lived until you’ve spent two-plus hours with a bunch of fourth grade boys digging through boxes of random shit. Each time they uncovered anything interesting, they would have to yell out what it was and then the rest of the group would come running over. “OOOOHHH, look, a naked Barbie!” “HEY! I found a bowling ball!” The coolest thing they found was an original PlayStation, which knocked them off track for at least ten minutes. The coolest thing I found was a Rubbermaid box filled with random crap along with two, infant-sized, dirty diapers. Yeah, that was fun. The highlight was all the yelling at kids I got to do, because they were mostly acting like idiots. At lunch I asked L if the boys always acted like that. “Yes, they’re sooooo annoying!” Seriously, boys are a disaster. I don’t know how you parents of boys do it.

We got moved to the other group after lunch and here we just dug through boxes of clothes. That was more laid back and there was less yelling, although I did get to lay the smack down on a few kids again. Over the weekend C and L both said all the boys in their classes are afraid of me because I yell at them. Mission accomplished!

I realized that I’ve come a long way. Years ago I never would have yelled at someone else’s kid, and I was always confused by parents who would raise their voices at school events when teachers were present. I don’t know if it’s a private school thing, because the school is part of a church and we feel like we’re all a part of the community, or something else, but St. P’s parents are never shy about jumping in to correct behavior. I’m glad I’ve lost my reserve about barking at kids when they act like fools.

I’ve had nothing with M’s class, although she is about to start a very busy final month at St. P’s. Her class goes to DC next week. There’s a Mother’s Mass and Mom-Kid day out a week later. There’s an awards event the following week. We have about 100 different small projects to get turned in before graduation. And graduation itself at the end of May. Time is flying in her world.

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 25

Chart Week: April 20, 1985
Song: “We Are the World” – USA for Africa
Chart Position: #1, 5th week on the chart. Spent four weeks at #1.

Ah, the 1980s celebrity/cause single. It seems like there were tons of these but a check of Wikipedia shows there really weren’t that many original songs written for this or that benefit. I guess it’s because so many came in a pretty tight window that they seemed so prevalent.

Let’s get this out of the way quick: “We Are the World” is a bad song. It is trite, patronizing, and kind of boring. To be fair that is the case with many of these songs. They were written, recorded, and produced very quickly. They were designed to cram a bunch of recognizable performers into them rather than for those artists’ particular talents. They are generally repetitive and simplistic. And even if we greeted the songs warmly at first listen, man did they have a way of getting on your nerves quickly.

The two obvious “Yeah Buts” to all of that are “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and “Sun City.” The first is set apart because it has become a Christmas classic, troublesome lyrics or not, and because it sounds like what British pop music sounded like at the time. I think if it wasn’t a Christmas song it too would have faded into obscurity, but I bet we would regard it better than “We Are the World” because of its sound. Regardless, it’s the biggest charity single ever because it’s been played four weeks a year for nearly 35 years now.

“Sun City,” on the other hand, is a pretty good song that happens to be a charity song. Little Stephen saw where music was going and understood that his message would be both better received and get wider coverage if he pulled in hip hop artists. Back in my iTunes days I had the song in my library and would listen to it a couple times a year.

“We Are the World” does fit its time well. It’s a big, glitzy, Hollywood production of a song, which perfectly sums up the US recording industry in 1985. What bugs me the most about it now is how it has no sound. Or, rather, it sounds like a bad Lionel Richie song. Since Lionel co-wrote it with Michael Jackson, that makes sense. While Lionel’s solo music always had a sound, that sound wasn’t revolutionary, genre-defining, or really all that unforgettable. Using the worst of his agreeable blandness and turn into an epic, all star, repeating song was destined to make folks hate it.

But my point today wasn’t really to critique the song like that.[1] Nope, my intention is do something that has been done before but which I was inspired to do after hearing the song this New Year’s Eve night while listening to the Top 100 hits of 1985: critique each solo singer on “We Are the World.” There will be no comments about folks who just showed up and sang with the group. If you didn’t have a line of your own, you don’t make the cut. Sorry Sheila E., Lindsey Buckingham, and assorted Jackson siblings, among others. Each artist will be rated on a 1–5 scale, with five being highest. So here we go!

Lionel Richie, appropriately gets us started. He was a pro, and kicks off the song with a professional take. It is right in his pocket: clean, smooth and safe. Yet somehow also forgettable. Score: 3
Stevie Wonder: Man, you have to give Lionel some props for, despite being the song’s co-author, only taking a quick line and then handing over to Stevie Fucking Wonder. That shows a lot of humility. And this was just hours after he tried to make the word “Outrageous!” a thing while he hosted the American Music Awards. Anyway, Stevie’s lines are just a tease, because he’s coming back for more later. Score: Incomplete
Paul Simon: Here’s how crazy these songs were. Paul Simon is one of the greatest song writers in the history of American music. In 1985 his cultural relevance had faded a bit, although he would begin recording his final massive contribution to American records, Graceland, six months later. He gets nine words and drifts across them without making an impression. Grade: 2.5.
Simon passed to Kenny Rogers, who gets just eight words to himself. Kenny had some pipes, man. He was kind of the country Michael McDonald: a white dude with some serious soul in his voice, great hair, and a beard. Kenny also looks very happy to be here, unlike some other folks. Grade: 3.5.
James Ingram makes a very brief appearance but will be back, so his line gets an incomplete.
Next is Tina Turner, coming off the biggest year of her career, and one of the greatest stories in American pop music history. But her line does not match her voice. She needs to be able to stretch out a little bit, to get the growl going, and have a chance to make us feel it. None of that is here. But it’s not her fault. Grade: 2.
Tina passes to Billy Joel, who also gets a lame line. But his voice is much better suited to it. Grade: 3.

Quick Intermission: Man, am I grading too hard? All 2’s and 3’s? I wonder if it will get better as we get deeper into the song.

Michael Jackson comes in to sing the chorus for the first time, solo. I remember getting chills the first time I heard his line. 1985 me was all like, “Here we go!” But it’s another tease, as Mike passes to Diana Ross, who was still one of his mentors and great friends, before they close with a quick duet. Grade: 3.
Diana Ross is a bit of a cross of Tina Turner and Kenny Rogers. Her lines don’t let her really get into it, but like Kenny she still makes it work. Plus she does a little fist pump after she and Michael finish their lines together. Grade: 3.5.
Dionne Warwick is next. Dionne would go on to have a massive charity single of her own later in the year, “That’s What Friends Are For,” with Elton John and Stevie Wonder. That was a cover, though, so I put it in a completely different class of song. I wonder why she was on this song. This should have been a Pointer Sister. Grade: 2.
If Kenny Rogers was pop-country, Willie Nelson was the old school, real country representative. And he does just fine, doing Willie things. Grade: 3.
Al Jarreau. What the fuck? Did he take Prince’s place, since Prince famously refused to attend? Or did he just show up and Lionel, Michael, and Quincy were all like, “Oh, shit, Al is here! Where can we slide him in?” Grade: 1.
Fortunately, Bruce Springsteen was there to save us. He’s kind of the Bono of the song: the guy who really throws down and everyone has been making fun of ever since. Because Bruce was INTO IT, MAN. Grade: 4.
Onto Kenny Loggins. Why was he invited? Did they think it was a movie soundtrack or something? Grade: 2.

Quick Intermission #2: Ok, things have been pretty mediocre so far. Only Springsteen has garnered a four or above so far. Whether by intent or because the folks later in the song had to wait longer to record their lines, we are about to hit the song’s high point.

Steve Perry gets that stretch started. And he just fucking nails it. It’s like the final line of the last verse on a massive Journey power ballad. He’s singing so the kids in Peoria, Chattanooga, Spokane, and Buffalo can hear him. Grade: 5.
Poor Daryl Hall has to follow Steve up. Which is kind of fucked up. Daryl was a bigger star than Perry in 1985. He’s a bigger star now. And he does perfectly fine on his lines. But somehow they seem like a letdown. Grade: 4.
Michael comes back for a few more quick lines as you can feel the song climbing further. In retrospect they could have easily made this a Michael Jackson-fueled machine. But it was genius to show some restraint and just offer a little bit of The King of Pop. The Jacksons would kind of use the same strategy on their album later that year! Grade: 4.
When it comes to unlikely baton passes, Michael to Huey Lewis is right up there. But you know what? My man crushed it. Grade: 4.5.
We’re nearly three minutes into the song when Cindi Lauper gets her chance. And she says, “Fuck it, I’m making this bitch mine.” She takes the song, slaps it around, makes it confess to her, then makes sweet love to it, and turns her lines into the biggest and most memorable of the entire joint. Grade: 5+.
Kim Carnes was up next. She had one of the biggest hits of the 1980s with “Bette Davis Eyes.” But she is just a distraction because Cindi and Huey join her at the end of her section, with Cindi blowing her away with a “YEAH YEAH YEAHHHHH!” Was Cindi showboating? Maybe. But she was trying to feed some kids in Africa. Grade: 2.

We finally hit our first, big group chorus. The lines that are stuck in your head forever. Ugh.

I was never a Bob Dylan fan. But it’s kind of cool he showed up. He does Bob Dylan things here, which will be overrated by his legion of fans, and underrated by people that never dug him. Grade: 3.

Big chorus number two. Double ugh.

Here we hit the only part of the song that can be called genius . Mike, Li, and Q throw in just a touch of the African American gospel experience to give the song a little extra weight but without turning into a “Black” song. Because that might have offended some people.

Ray Charles gets the first run, and even though he was 98 years old, he knocks it out of the park. Just a tremendous performance. Grade: 5.

Finally, the song closes with two quick duets. First are Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen, singing back and forth to each other. Both show why they are Hall of Famers and music legends, arriving in full character and throwing themselves completely into their lines. It’s also fascinating to hear the Boss’ voice harken back to his younger days. I hear more “Hungry Heart” than anything off of Born in the USA here. Grades: 5 for both.
Ray comes back in to close things out with James Ingram. Ingram was a favorite of Quincy Jones, likely explaining why he got this plum assignment. He is more than capable of playing catch with Ray, singing his lungs out and giving us the “Ya Mo B There” double fist pump on each syllable. Ray will not let the young fella steal his thunder, though, and closes the song with a big “WHOOOOOO-HOOO! Good God!” Grades: 5’s.

Happy Easter everybody!


  1. He says nearly 500 words in…  ↩

Friday Playlist

A very Good Friday and Happy Easter weekend to you all.

“Everybody Here Hates You” – Courtney Barnett. This song is a grower. I was just thrilled CB had put out a couple songs for Record Store Day. But as I’ve listened to this more and more, it has gotten into my head and I really like it.

“Caves” – Gregory Alan Isakov. Isakov’s albums are often tough for me to listen to because they are so spare and folksy. But there is always a song or two that he adds just a little growl to, and those songs are the ones that stick with me. This is my favorite off of his latest album.

“Am I Doing It Right?” – Alex Lahey. The latest on my “can’t wait for this album to come out” list. We’ll find out if it is worth the wait on May 17.

“Let’s Get It On” – Marvin Gaye. Once again stealing from the The Number Ones series at Stereogum. Partially because this is a goddam classic. Partially because this entry was one of Tom Breihan’s best.

“Hard to Believe” – Charly Bliss. Not quite power pop, not quite ‘90s retro, Charly Bliss falls between the sub-genre cracks to produce timeless, thoroughly enjoyable music that makes you want to bounce up-and-down. 

 

Reader’s Notebook, 4/17/19

Through a combination of laziness last week and being super busy this week I haven’t caught you up on what I’ve been reading over the past month.


Black Leopard Red Wolf – Marlon James
This book arrived with massive hype. James’ last novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings captured nearly every major book award and was one of my favorites of recent years. For his next effort, James decided to take the classic elements of fantasy writing and incorporate African folklore, history, and themes into them.

Or at least that’s how this book was presented to the masses. And all of that is true. I found it very interesting, though, that James made another adjustment to the “traditional” genre that didn’t get nearly as much hype: moving a story that is filled with sex from a heterosexual world to a (mostly) gay world. There’s no getting around it: there is a lot of sex in this book. And almost all of it is between men, and the book’s main character is a horny-ass gay dude.

Which isn’t a big deal. I just found it interesting how that received very little publicity where the African angle got played up so much.

So, a book that will be shelved in the Fantasy section but takes place in an Africa of an earlier, mythical age filled with gay sex. Different, for sure. How does it read?

Well, it is a bit of a tough, meandering, occasionally unfocused read. And other times it is straight-up confusing. But James has such a gift of taking sprawling stories and finding a way to pull you back in just when your attention begins to wain. Knowing those moments are coming keeps you plowing through the parts that may not make much sense or stretch on too long. If you manage to get through the entire book – and it’s not that difficult, I shouldn’t overstate it – the final chapter is a glorious, massive, emotional payoff.

To me this does not come anywhere near A Brief History. It is the first of a promised trilogy, and I’m not convinced I will stick with it. But it does solidify James as one of the most daring and brave authors in the game right now.


Don’t Go There – Adam Fletcher
I have no memory of buying/obtaining this book. But there it was, on my Kindle as I charged it up for spring break. So I read it. Fletcher is a British ex-pat living with his girlfriend in Berlin who spends his time mostly lying about the house as the websites he runs bring in a decent income. After his girlfriend challenges him for being boring and lazy, they jet off to Turkey and find themselves in the midst of anti-government protests. The adrenaline of the moment inspires him and sets him off on a series of trips to places that aren’t your typical tourist jaunts. Remote parts of China, Ghana, Chernobyl, disputed territories in Eastern Europe, and the mother of all forbidden travel spots, North Korea.

His writing is irreverent and light. But the book itself felt lacking compared to other travel works I’ve read over the years. I wanted to learn more about the places he visited. I guess those stories will be left to other authors.


Dark Star Safari: Overland From Cairo to Cape Town – Paul Theroux
My second spring break book was another travel work, this by the author of one of my all-time favorite books. I’ve read Theroux’s The Happy Isles of Oceania at least five times over the past 15 years. Every travel book I read gets compared to it, and they generally fall short of its brilliance. Theroux is a legendary travel writer, but for some reason I’ve never read any of his other books. Until this one.

In 2001–02, as his 60th birthday approached, Theroux set off on another of his lengthy trips. This time he wanted to travel the length of Africa, from Cairo to Cape Town, by road as often as possible. He faced bureaucratic hang ups in Sudan, Somalia bandits who shot at his vehicle in Kenya, and countless infrastructure issues throughout the continent.

But, as always, his natural cynicism and crankiness was conquered by the wonderful people who helped him along the way.

One powerful section of the book is when he returns to Malawi, where he served in the Peace Corps in the early 1960s, but was eventually expelled because he gave an anti-government politician a car ride. He is dismayed to see how the promise of those days right around independence from Britain died and education, something he was helping to bring to the country, has withered and nearly died.

He is also savage in his critique of western aid. He points out how after 40 years so many organizations have spent so much money without really affecting change in Africa. In his view, the organizations are both too willing to work with corrupt governments and are often more interested in perpetuating their mission rather than solving the problems that brought them there. I wonder what his view would be if he travelled through Africa again now, a decade later.


Joe Peta’s Tour Guide Presents A 2019 Masters Preview – Joe Peta
Peta was a guest on one of the golf podcasts I listen to, The Shotgun Start, and after listening I immediately bought the Kindle version of this book, which was a perfect, quick read right before the Masters.

Peta is on the forefront of bringing advanced statistics to golf, although his focus is generally to use that data to make bets rather than just breaking the game down. His primary stat is Strokes Gained. With that stat, he argues that a player like Jim Furyk, who never won a Masters, actually is a better golfer on that course than Nick Faldo, who has three Green Jackets. Faldo, he suggests, benefited from playing well three times when there were epic failures by others, where Furyk always played the course very well but was just unlucky that someone else always played a little better. The better bet, in his eyes, would always be Furyk over Faldo.

As this is a bit of a preview of a longer work he will publish down the road, he slices and dices his methods to their basics to then offer both a breakdown of every hole at Augusta and give his predictions for this year’s tournament. He didn’t do too bad: he picked Tiger third and Tony Finau to win. But he also had Justin Rose fourth. As is usual with sports, you never know.


The Big Miss – Hank Haney
Finally, I’ve had this book for close to two months, renewed a couple times, but never got around to opening up. Masters week seemed like the time to get on it, and fortunately it was a quick read so it synced up nicely to what was happening in Augusta.

Haney was Tiger Woods’ coach for nearly six years, from the mid-‘00s through 2011, meaning he was in for the back half of Tiger’s dominance, the beginning of his body falling apart, the dissolution of his marriage, and his first comeback. The book ends just before the 2012 season, so it misses arguably the most dramatic part of that story, when Tiger’s back betrayed him and no one expected him to play again.

This reads about as you would expect: it is equal parts revealing and self-serving. But I think it probably presents a pretty fair picture of Tiger and his relationship with Haney. Tiger is shown as a little aloof, certainly living a life that no one else can understand. He’s difficult to connect with and keeps relationships on his terms. Although he calls Haney his friend publicly, he never does much to express that friendship directly to his coach and confidant.

Much of the book is devoted to their long hours working together to remake Tiger’s swing. Haney explains why they remade those changed, the process they went through, and then argues the results do not deserve the criticism that he received for it. Again, self-serving but the numbers are indeed far better than common opinion would suggest.

I don’t know how much anyone can ever know about Tiger because of the walls he’s always put around himself. I was, in fact, reluctant to read this because I figured the benefits are fairly small because of those limitations. But it fit the moment and it was quick, so not a total waste.

TIGER!!!

Holy shit!

What else can you say to Tiger Woods winning the Master’s in 2019, 11 years after his last major victory and 14 years since his last win in Augusta? It was a pretty insane weekend down at Augusta National.

First, a big shout out to Mother Nature. Usually if I’m discussing her I’m calling her a bitch. But by threatening severe storms in Georgia, and thus moving the tournament’s final round up to Sunday morning, and also raining out C’s track meet here in Indy, I was able to watch every second of Sunday’s glorious coverage.

Well, not every second. I took a 15 minute break around 10:30 to get a quick shower just in case I was forced to leave the house at some point. That shower came at a good time, right when Tiger had had a rough patch on the front nine. My showering seemed to both improve my odor and his game, as he was birdieing #7 when I sat back on the couch.

Favorite shot of the week: I think the easy choice is Tiger’s tee shot on 16 Sunday, that was pretty much perfect. Well, not as perfect as Bryson Dechambeau or Justin Thomas, who both carded aces earlier in the day. Tiger’s missed the cup by about three inches and left him with a tap-in for birdie. Pretty, pretty good.

But I’ll go with something that came earlier and was more impressive. His first putt on #9. It was a tricky 40 or so footer. He aimed well away from the hole to grab the ridge and then had to get the speed just right so that the ball didn’t zoom past the hole once it caught the downslope. It was a ridiculous shot that took nearly 20 seconds from impact to when it came up inches shy of the hole. Twice it looked like it was coming to a dead stop, only to find a nudge of gravity to slowly rotate again. It was utterly insane. One writer I follow, who has seen a lot of golf, said it was the best lag putt he had ever seen. Tiger was not hitting the ball great at this point, and it seemed like Francesco Molinari was going to par his way to the title. But that putt showed that Tiger was capable of something no one else was and, I believe, gave him confidence in himself for the back nine.

And, come on, that might have been the greatest back nine ever. The final two groups to go through 12 put four balls in Rae’s Creek. I was literally yelling at the TV, “OH MY GOD!!!” as balls kept coming up short. In the midst of that, Tiger hits a sublime and safe shot, pars the hole, and is suddenly tied for the lead. Molinari hits a terrible second shot on 15, then catches a tree branch and ends up in the water again, effectively ending his day. Meanwhile Tiger is striping the ball off the tee, looking like his vintage self.

But wait. Up ahead Brooks Koepka, Ricky Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, Xander Shauffele, and Patrick Cantlay are all trying to get into it. I’m pretty sure there was a two or three minute stretch were 20 or 30 guys were tied for the lead. Cantlay momentarily took the lead with an eagle on 15, only to play 16 with a brutal bogey. My favorite tweet of the day was from someone who said, after Cantlay’s eagle, “NOT FUCKING NOW PATRICK!!!”

That kind of summed up the day. As the back nine at Augusta tends to do, it was giving us terrific drama. There was like a 15–20 minute stretch where CBS showed us an important shot every 10–15 seconds. It was both amazing and dizzying to watch. But we didn’t want drama, we wanted Tiger.

Hey, some props to CBS. They tend to take a lot of heat in the golf circles I follow for their coverage. Most folks I follow believe NBC does a much better job showing the game. Likely because it was Augusta and they aren’t totally in control, CBS mostly got out of the way and let the golf present itself. Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo did say some stupid shit, but that’s to be expected.

Further props for wiping out their morning schedule and showing golf for nearly six hours. The annual complaint about the Masters is the limited TV schedule on the weekend. Good on the Augusta management and CBS for making it work.

Another fine moment from the weekend: that freaking security guy who nearly took out Tiger on Friday. Imagine if he had actually taken Tiger’s knee out as he crashed into him???

So, really, how did this happen? No matter how good they once were, guys in their 40s with fused backs, reconstructed knees, and nearly a decade of personal issues are not supposed to come back and win majors. Not in an era that is filled with much younger, physically gifted, ridiculously talented golfers. Yet here we are and folks are talking, in dead seriousness, about Tiger running through the summer and winning the Grand Slam to tie Jack Nicklaus’ all time major championship record.

Let’s pump the breaks on that a little. It’s great that Tiger is competitive on the game’s biggest stage again. But I don’t think he’s anywhere near approaching the kind of dominance he had in his prime. Everything came together at Augusta. It probably won’t at Bethpage, Pebble Beach, or Royal Port Rush. But it’s fun that it is a possibility again. And, again, there is a huge swath of absolutely crazy talented players out there right now.[1]

For an old time Tiger fan, I found this to be an immensely entertaining and enjoyable weekend. No matter how I feel about him as a person, it’s hard not to get sucked into the hype machine that I was so in-tune with for a decade or so. But…

As remarkable as his physical rehabilitation is – and it’s a great story – I’m still not ready to brush away his other sins. As I said last fall, I really don’t care how an athlete or entertainer lives their life. But I can find it icky, for lack of a better word. And there’s no doubt Tiger lived an icky life for a long time, wrecking his family in the process. For all the emotional outpouring that came with his embrace of his kids and mother after his win, I kept thinking about how it was his fault that his kids have had a difficult time of it. I hope he’s a changed and better man. But how do we know, because he always presented himself as a good family man before he hit that fire hydrant and shit got weird. I’m just saying let’s not act like he’s some super perfect human being now just because he suffered, learned, maybe changed, and now occasionally laughs at himself.

Oh, it probably didn’t help that this weekend I was reading Hank Haney’s The Big Miss, about his years coaching Tiger, which coincided with all the ickyness becoming public. I’ll write more about the book later but it was a reminder that Tiger dug his own holes with both the icky behavior and a long run of strange behavior that likely caused/contributed to his physical breakdown.

So Tiger the guy, I’m still not on board with. Tiger the golfer? Yeah, I’m totally down with him, especially after this remarkable, unforgettable weekend at the Masters.


  1. I haven’t mentioned Rory McIlroy yet, maybe the best of the bunch, who had a rough weekend in Georgia.  ↩

Friday Playlist

A bit of a busy week here for a variety of reasons, which has put me in the strange position of not having a big queue of new music to share. So some classics for you this week.

“Float On” – Modest Mouse. This song has jumped up a lot recently on Sirius for some reason. I think I’ve heard it 10 times in the last six weeks or so. M has been in the car with me a couple of those times and she and I are always pleased that she knows this is the song I was listening to when S’s water broke the night before M was born. 

“Only a Memory” – The Smithereens. I heard this on my way home after dropping the girls off at school this morning. Always great to crank up.

“So. Central Rain” – R.E.M. I skimmed an article this week that was a track-by-track breakdown of R.E.M.’s second album, Reckoning, to celebrate its 35th anniversary. I didn’t like them then, but I’m sure glad that I learned to love songs like this.

“The Lines Are Cut” – The Coast. One of those bands that I discovered after their very brief career and didn’t understand why they didn’t make it bigger. This is one of several great songs they had in their run from 2006-08.

Spring Break Biggie

It’s a Nephew Duty day so getting this out a little later than I planned.

OK, now for the trip itself.

First off, I must say, I can not recommend enough traveling on off-days during spring break. I believe we saved a little on the airfare by doing a Thur-Thur trip. More importantly, the airports were breezes to get through. Immigration in Mexico was a stupid easy; last year it took us nearly an hour to get processed. This year we got to the front of the line so quickly – less than 10 minutes – that we actually had to wave people past us when reached the front as we still had girls in the restroom. That’s the difference between two planes landing at the same time and 20 or whatever it was last year. Same on the way home: we switched planes in Dallas and, thus, had to get processed there. Even with us getting pulled to the “special” line – I assume because of S’s new passport – there was literally no one in front of us. We waited longer to drop our bags and get new boarding passes than we did to clear immigration and customs.

I had an interesting person sitting next to me on our flight from Charlotte to Cancun. She was a young, pretty biracial woman. Seriously, she had about the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen.[1] She was very chatty at first and I did not mind because that meant I got to look at her eyes. She told me how excited she was for her trip. She had been to Cancun several times with girlfriends but this time was with a boyfriend – across the aisle – and was ready to PAR-TAY!!! M was sitting next to me and my new friend nodded at her and asked if it was just the two of us. I think she assumed M was my partner rather than my daughter, which was a little weird. Or a lot weird, actually.

I asked where she was from and she said, “Bowie.” That’s it. I’ve heard of Bowie, MD before, but since we were in North Carolina I didn’t want to assume.

“Where is that?”

“MARYLAND!”in a tone like everyone knew that. Silly me…

Later in the flight, when we were filling out our Mexican immigration forms, she asked for some help. She didn’t understand the difference between nation of residence and citizenship. Which, to be fair, can be tricky. Moments later, after finishing her form, she noticed the airline safety pamphlet in the seat pocket with the aircraft model on it: A321. She tapped my arm and said, “That’s not our flight number, is it? Because I put something else on my form.”

Mercy. Good for her that she had pretty eyes and people have probably always been looking out for her.

We stayed at the Dreams Sands resort. If you’re familiar with the geography of Cancun, it is located just after you make the turn at the top of the “7” of the strip. It ended up being a fantastic location. We were protected from waves and tides, so the water was gentle all day long. One morning L and I took a walk around the corner, to the long side of the 7. About three hotels away, when you make the turn south, there were consistent, decent-sized waves coming in and a clear high-tide line.

As I mentioned, our old neighbors and some church friends of theirs were staying at the same place. Both families have daughters M’s and C’s ages, which worked out well. L went back-and-forth between groups all week. Since we are a family of five, we had two rooms and let the older girls have sleepovers with friends in their room a couple nights. L slept with us every night, naturally.

The resort was nice. The beach was fantastic. Every morning my old neighbor and I would head to the beach around 7:00 to grab a group of chairs. We would both usually start reading then and continue until one wife or the other came down to go to breakfast. After we’d return, slather on the sunscreen, and hang out until late afternoon. It was real, real nice, Clark.

Our actual beach was rather narrow, maybe 100 feet deep. But the water was classic Cancun water: shallow for about 200–250 feet. I could easily walk 150 feet out before the water even reached above my waist. And it was all beautiful, white sand. In the water were no stingrays to worry about and hardly any fish.

After a couple nights we noticed there were no mosquitos or lizards anywhere. It was really weird. We wondered what kind of biological agent they had dropped on our area to wipe out the pests.

There were lots of birds, though. And there was a guy who, we think, worked for the resort who would patrol with a blowgun and shoot something at the birds to get them to fly away. Which was also weird because we only saw him twice all week and there were about a million birds. One day one of our friends left her lunch plate at her chair when she left to use the restroom. Within seconds there were seagulls everywhere getting after her leftover guac.

The food was decent all week. I think the buffet at the place we stayed at in Playa del Carmen last year was better. But the regular restaurants were better this year. There was a second buffet right on the beach where you could get snacks all day, which was nice. I made a habit of getting french fries and queso each afternoon. Most nights the adults sat at one table for dinner, the girls at another. A couple nights we even let the kids go to a different place than us.

One of the things included in our resort were the use of small Hobie Cat catamarans. I think max occupancy was six. You had to reserve them a day in advance, and then only had them for 30 minutes. But our group took them out at least 10 times over the week. We would sail out about 15 minutes, get pretty far off the coast, then turn and come back. The water was absolutely amazing. We would cross some deeper, darker water and then suddenly break into shallow, sandy water that looked like a tropical screen saver from the Windows ‘98 days. One of our friends showed L how to manage the catamaran and she got to sail us for a little bit, which she loved.

On Tuesday we took our one excursion for the week, a large catamaran trip to Isla Mujeres. S and I took a similar trip 18 years ago, although that was on a larger, public ferry ship and then we took a smaller snorkeling boat out to a reef.

This time we had maybe 30 people with us, including a group of about 10 college aged kids that seemed excited about liquor. We stopped at a sandy area on the way out where people could snorkel. I was going to try – I hadn’t snorkeled since our honeymoon in 2003 – but realized that since I wear glasses now, the mask they offered me wouldn’t fit over it. And I wouldn’t see a damn thing without glasses. So I stayed on board and had another beer. L tried it, but she got in the water, got a little overwhelmed, and came right back out. M and C loved it, though. It was a quick swim, maybe 10 minutes. And they weren’t on a reef so there wasn’t a lot to see. But they still had fun.

We went over to Isla Mujeres for a couple hours. S and I had gone there in 2001, but only had about 30 minutes and thus avoided the town. This time we wandered around the shops, interacting with the merchants. Most of them were funny and good natured. “Amigo! Tequila!” “Special price today only, 99% off!” One even lured one of our friend in by saying, “Lady, come in because, what the hell?” That was good enough for her.

The only thing we bought were three beers for less than $5. Seemed like a bargain.

While waiting for our return trip, we ate chips and salsa at the restaurant near our pier. There was a guy sitting near us who looked almost exactly like a guy I worked with in the dorm cafeteria nearly 30 years ago. That guy was from Peru, but I could not remember his name. And it just isn’t in my nature to bug strangers. “Excuse me, did you work in McCollum Hall from 1989–1991?” I figured he wouldn’t remember me, anyway, as he never did a double-take when he looked my way.

We were sailing home at sunset, which was nice. Nicer still since the families all congregated at the front of the catamaran and the college kids stayed below decks near the bar. The captain pulled L up to his perch and let her pilot the boat for awhile. Again, she was thrilled.

When we got off the boat one of the college kids came up to us and whispered, “Hey, we weren’t assholes, were we? We didn’t bother your family did we?” I thought that was solid.

Along those lines, our resort was filled mostly with families or adults. Not a lot of dumb, college spring break nonsense. We only saw one alcohol incident. One night while heading for dinner we noticed a woman in her early 20s who was being helped to a wheelchair, where she collapsed and then puked all over herself. A fine teaching moment for our teenagers. “See, this is what happens if you drink!”

We needed some souvenirs so a few of us walked about half a mile to a big tourist-trap shop Wednesday morning. M got a t-shirt, L got a hat. But what I will always remember of that shop is the tiny Mayan women who were working there. I swear two were shorter than L, who is not a tall kid. L would look at me with big, wide eyes each time one of these señoras passed her.

Many of our waiters had little jokes to help ease the language gap. They were always willing to pour you some tequila, and would often joke that the water was tequila. One night at dinner, after our waiter had called water tequila three times, I decided to go along with the joke. “Señor, dos más tequilas, por favor,” clearly pointing at our water glasses and laughing. So of course he comes back with two shots of tequila and no water. I guess if you’re dumb enough to say the magic word they will hook you up.

Our girls got along fairly well most of the week. There was some arguing over the bathroom, which is to be expected. There was some tension between the sister groups at times. But they did a good job.

Until our last night. That was going to be picture night. We planned on getting pics of every family at sunset. The girls went down early to take their own pics. S and I were almost out the door when C returned, in tears. Apparently she had become fed up with being told what to do by her big sister all week and bailed. S summoned M to our room and sent me down to dinner, so I missed 30–45 minutes filled with yelling and tears between our oldest girls. Which, you know, is going to happen when you’re away from home together for a week. But I was just pissed that we left the trip with zero family pics and our only pictures of all three girls came on the catamaran with bad hair.

Yes, I will be reminding them of this for years. Especially next year when we don’t have enough pics for our family calendar. Seriously, these girls take 8000 stupid pictures a day to keep all their dumb social media “streaks” going, but can’t suck it up for 10 minutes to take a picture with their family that we can use to remember this trip for years to come.

No, you’re bitter…

We avoided stomach issues this year, which was a big win. No throwing up at the pool because of bad shrimp (M) or throwing up in the middle of the night (C and L). We did have a few missed spots with sunscreen issues, though. One day I apparently forgot to do my face and just got roasted. Real smart.

The trip home was fine. We were delayed about 30 minutes getting out of Cancun. Then we were a couple hours late getting out of Dallas. But that gave us enough time to eat and be sure to get through immigration without having to sprint to our connecting flight. We laughed while eating our meal at DFW. When we were done the girls started to get up and leave. “Wait, we still have to pay!” A week of all-inclusive dining had ruined them.

A few other notes:
* Mexico has boring passport stamps. And they’re trying to process people so quickly that you can often only see part of the stamp. Doesn’t make flipping through your passport very fun.
* It was funny trying to search for things online from Mexico. Web results showed prices were in pesos, and if you searched for a store it would pull up the nearest Mexican location.
* The hotel elevators had little video screens that ran constant commercials for activities on site. The volume was always cranked up to about 15. We all still have one song stuck in our heads.
* Every calendar year I pack on a few pounds in the last quarter. I know I’m not alone in this. The change in weather, holidays with lots of treats, and extra drinks are a bad combination when you’re on the back side of 40. It doesn’t help that every year I eat approximately 800 mini cheese cake bites in the days after Christmas. My January 1 weight was higher than it’s been in awhile. But I worked hard and had lost seven pounds by spring break. My post-vacation weigh in showed that I gained five of them back. Time to get back at it…
* Finally, it was fun to arrive home, walk inside, and still notice some new house smell.

Other than the no picture thing, it was a successful spring break. When we got home M immediately started counting down the days until her eighth grade trip to Washington, DC and C and L started counting the remaining days of school. Spring sports games start tonight. And we have a summer trip already booked. It will get here quick.


  1. Not a euphemism.  ↩

The Final

I’ll hold off on my big spring break summary to share some thoughts on the end of the college basketball season.

I don’t know if it is me getting older, the media getting stupider, or a combination of both, but I have a harder time following sports media without getting pissed off these days.

For example, in the lead-up to last night’s National Championship game I kept seeing articles, mostly on ESPN, that referenced the “controversial” foul call at the end of the Virginia-Auburn national semifinal. You know, where Kyle Guy was clearly fouled by Auburn’s Samir Doughty?

I’ll admit, in real time, I started screaming. “They’re calling that??!?!” Because the camera angle kind of hid the point of contact, below the waist, and there did not seem to be any contact up high. But all it took was one replay to show that Doughty clearly went into Guy’s legs.

That’s a foul in the first minute of the game, the last minute of the game, every day of the week.

How is this “controversial”? But even yesterday that storyline was being cranked out.

Of course, what was controversial was that UVa’s Ty Jerome had clearly double dribbled moments early, which should have ended the game. But that play had some nuance to it: the players were moving up court quickly, the referee was expecting Auburn to foul, and it was kind of weird how the double dribble occurred.

Oh, and last night, at halftime, there was some more media stupidity. While talking about his keys to the second half, Seth Davis pointed out that Texas Tech only had four team fouls in the first half. He noted that several times in the tournament teams went into the final minute of the game needing to foul to put their opponents on the line, but had not committed seven fouls yet to put the other team on the line. He suggested both teams needed to manage that closely in the second half in case they did need to foul to stop the clock late in the game.

So Seth Davis, longtime college basketball “expert,” was basically saying both teams should foul more?

Is he dumb? Trying too hard to find a clever angle no one else had? Or just let the moment get to him? I expect dumb things from Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, who understand basketball but, once again, proved they don’t know much about college basketball. But Davis should be better than this.

Oh, the game. Pretty much a dud for 30 minutes. Yes, there was some amazing defense on both ends of the court that made it ugly. And I appreciate good defense. But I also don’t like watching teams struggle to get the ball inside the 3-point line before there are five seconds left in the shot clock, throwing up bricks, and future NBA lottery picks looking like walk ons.

Thank goodness for the final 10 minutes of regulation and overtime.

Ironically the final score ended up being about 10 points higher than the last overtime title game, that glorious game in 2008 between Kansas and Memphis. The ’08 game was filled with future NBA players, was back-and-forth all night, and sure felt a lot better than last night’s game. Yet more points were scored last night.

One possible explanation shows how hoops have changed over the past decade. In 2008 the title game teams combined to go 9-34 from 3-point range. Last night the finalists combined to shoot 21-54 from three. In 2008 the Jayhawks were 26-43 from inside the arc, the Tigers 19-40. Last night Texas Tech was 17-33 and Virginia 16-35 on 2’s. The game can be uglier, slower but still end up with more points because teams are chucking from deep more often.

I had no real dog in last night’s fight. I don’t really like either team, but also didn’t really hate either team. It would have been cool for a Big 12 team to win the title, for one of the teams that ended KU’s Big 12 streak to be a national champ, and I like Chris Beard. But it also would have kind of sucked for a Big 12 team other than KU to win. Hey, my luke-warmth for the Big 12 has been long-documented, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. 

As for Virginia, I really admired how they handled the end of last season, Tony Bennett seems like a decent guy and a good coach, and Guy being from Indy helped. But another east coast, ACC team winning is super annoying. Duke and UNC will make a claim on a portion of this title, and the national media will celebrate it much more than a Tech title would have been celebrated.

Speaking of Bennett, I think he might be the strangest coach in the country in terms of how people from other programs view him. He’s a terrific coach, and this title is confirmation of what he’s built at UVa. I can’t remember him ever doing or saying something that would embarrass or offend me if I was a UVa fan. Yet, there’s that style of play. Sure, he wins, but it is sooooo hard to watch. I bet most college hoops fans have a similar view to mine: good guy, good coach, but I would not want him coaching my team. Which is kind of dumb. But sports are dumb, so there you have it.

A spring break angle now. Our hotel did not have any of the networks showing games the weekend of the Sweet 16. So I wasn’t able to watch any of the games. I realized it might have been a blessing that KU wasn’t playing, as it would have sucked to follow along on the ESPN app, try to stream it on bad hotel wifi, or worse of all go to some bar full of drunk college kids to watch KU play.

It was strange following some of those great endings over the weekend – MSU-Duke, Purdue-UVA, Purdue-Tennessee – on the ESPN app. C said I was making strange faces as Michigan State closed out Duke.

Thus ends a tumultuous season and begins what promises to be an off-season filled with controversy. I expect the NCAA to take a deep, hard look at allegations that Zion Williamson’s family both asked for money from programs and may have accepted money from Nike, and in the end suspend Silvio De Sousa for two more years.

Spring Break 2019, Part 1: Prologue

As expected, my Cancún summary is rather long. So I shall divide it into a couple posts for you.

Part one goes back to the pre-trip drama I mentioned before we left.

Two Sundays ago we were deep into the trip prep process. Packing, printing itineraries, making our 30th Target run, etc. As a part of this I pulled out our passports to make backup copies. I got through the girls’, threw mine onto the copier, and glanced at S’s.

“Hmm, that’s weird,” I thought. “For a moment there I thought this was out of date.”

I looked at the date on her passport again.

“Wait, what year is this? 2019?”

“OHHHHHHH SHIIIIIIIIIIITTTTTTTT.”

I walked out to the living room where S was, eyes wide and feeling as though all the blood had drained from my head.

“Umm, we have a problem,” I said as I handed her passport over. “This is expired.”

Yep, her passport expired in February.

What followed was a general panic. She quickly got her sister who works in the travel industry on the phone, who did her best to calm S down. I could hear her talking about getting on the website of the passport agency in Chicago. Not being a dummy, I quickly pulled up that site. There were two open appointments on Wednesday. We immediately claimed one. The sister said she had heard of other people going up and getting their passport the same day they requested one. But as I read the website’s fine print I noticed it said passports would be issued within 72 hours. As we were leaving Thursday that wouldn’t do us much good.

The rest of the evening was very stressful, as I’m sure you can imagine. I couldn’t believe we had let this happen. We just traveled across the border a year ago and I would almost bet we both made mental notes for her to renew the passport before our next trip. I think the issue was that we did not expect to travel this spring break, so we put that thought waaaaay in the backs of our heads. When we ended up scheduling a trip to Mexico for this year, neither of us thought to check passports and make sure we were good.

On Monday I did some research to see what our options were if she couldn’t get a new passport. I read that I would need a notarized statement from S to take the girls out of the country without her. I slapped one together and emailed it over. She responded saying a couple people in her office told her they had run into the same issue, had driven up to Chicago and walked out with a passport that day. Tuesday night, at the school play, a friend told me she knew of at least two people who had done the same thing.

Things were looking better, but we weren’t counting our chickens, or pollos in this case, quite yet.

Neither of us slept well Tuesday night, waiting for her 5:00 AM alarm Wednesday morning. She made good time to Chicago and texted me when she arrived. I responded, “Let’s hope everyone up there is in a good mood today.” A few minutes later I saw that our credit card had been run at the agency, so another step had been checked off. About 20 minutes later she texted that passports would be issued between 3:00-4:00 Chicago time. Luckily she took her laptop and a bunch of work. We weren’t out of the woods yet, but the stress was beginning to ease.

Over the next few hours she got some work knocked out. She took a walk – it was a nice day in Chicago – and got yelled at by a homeless woman for being “A motherfucker who didn’t buy me that house you promised me.” Weird. Shortly after I got the girls home from school S texted saying she had her passport and would be joining us in Cancun! Relief! I told her not to drive too fast on her way home. A speeding ticket would just be the icing on the cake of a crazy week. Three hours later she was home and we were doing final packing.

Thank goodness we live within driving distance of a passport agency that does same-day service. We learned a valuable lesson that I will reiterate for all: keep track of your passport’s expiration date. Apparently you can’t even travel within the last six months before it expires, so give yourself plenty of leeway. And if you book an overseas trip, check your passport when you’re booking to see if you need to get on the renewal process right away. Mine is safe for another three years, and the girls have four years left on theirs.

With that messy step out of the way, we were off early Thursday morning to Cancún…