Reader’s Notebook, 10-5-17

The Force – Don Winslow.
Winslow writes excellent epics anchored in the world of organized crime. In the past he’s focused on the drug trade, specifically the cartels of Mexico. Here he shifts much farther to the north to look at the life of Denny Malone, Manhattan’s toughest, best, and most powerful detective.

Malone’s crew runs North Manhattan. Nothing happens in that part of the city without either his permission or his punishment. His crew makes the biggest drug busts, snatches the most rapists and murderers, and attempts to keep the peace between the various drug gangs that harass the locals.

Stephen King offers a cover-blurb for The Force and says is is reminiscent of The Godfather for both its scope and quality. I would argue the book more closely mirrors Goodfellas if you want to compare it to a classic tale of the American mob. The first third of the book is a very Scorsese-like setup: we see Malone and his partners reaching the pinnacle of their power, and enjoying the spoils of that success. Everything builds up to a single night of celebration after a huge bust. The next morning everything falls apart: the FBI has Malone on tape committing multiple Federal crimes, and demand his cooperation in order to save his badge. He has to weigh the value of saving himself, and his family, against becoming the worst thing a cop can be: a rat.

The whole thing is typical Winslow: sprawling, detail rich, great characters, and filled with moral ambiguity.

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
I had never read this classic before. But I recently came across a list of best dystopian novels and picked it from several I had not knocked out in the past.

I hate it when I read a book that is revered and it just doesn’t connect with me. I enjoyed the central concept of the story: a society where citizens are numbed by constantly staring at screens that feed us videos designed to make us forget the struggles of life and wipe out independent thought, and where all books are banned and any found are burned by a crew of firefighters. But, man, Bradbury’s writing style was just so dry and tedious to my eyes. I struggled mightily to get through the first 100 pages. M said she will read it at school next year so the one redeeming quality is now I can discuss it with her. I wonder how it will read to her 21st century eyes.

The North Water – Ian McGuire
Here’s a fine book. Set in 1859, on a British whaling ship that is embarking to Canada with a crew full of misfits and men trying to salvage their lives after past failures.

One crew member is an Irish surgeon who was on the wrong side of a battle with a commanding officer while serving in India. He is educated and worldly, and thus doesn’t fit in with the rest of the crew. Another crew member is a sadist who has equal appetites for liquor, prostitutes, physical conflict, and teenage boys. And the captain has had a series of disastrous whaling trips and is torn between redeeming his reputation and fulfilling a troubling order from the ship’s owner.

Their trip to Baffin Bay goes poorly. A young deckhand is murdered and while a crew member is charged with the murder, no one is really convinced he is the guilty party. After some early luck with the whales, the hunting soon runs dry. Yet the captain persists in staying deep in the Northern Canadian waters even as the winter ice begins to regenerate. Soon their ship is trapped, and then destroyed, by the freezing pack. The crew soon dissolves into chaos: there is another murder, they argue about whether to seek a ship that can rescue them or travel toward the nearest known settlement, all while winter weather begins to bear down on them. The story builds to an expected, but satisfying, final confrontation.

McGuire is brilliant in setting the scene for us. He describes all the sounds and smells of Hull’s shipping yards and the taverns that surround it where the crew spends its time while onshore. It’s not a pleasant description, but it is very effective for putting you there. The process of stripping a whale carcass is laid out in tremendous detail. He knows his way around a ship, and supplies all the necessary nautical terms and functions.


Yesterday L marched into her classroom and immediately proclaimed that it was the last day she would be attending school as an eight-year-old.

Girl is not afraid of attention.

Yep, nine years ago today we became parents for the third time. And, as I say every year, L is the ultimate third child. She can size up a room quickly and know how to entertain everyone in it. She can sense when her sisters are fucking up, do the exact opposite thing, and make sure we are aware that her behavior is different. Example: M and C are both in messy bedroom stages. Actually that’s being kind. Their rooms are both total disasters. S and I have reached the point where we won’t even walk into them. Each weekend L will carefully and thoroughly clean her room, then cheerfully announce in front of the entire family, “I put all my clean clothes away and got my room cleaned up!”

She’s also a little but of a suck-up. We get stories all the time from parents who either substitute teach or serve as recess supervisors at St. P’s about L hanging out with them and volunteering to help them. I was in the pickup line early one day last week and saw her literally racing people to see who could pick up the most playground balls before they went back inside. Her current teacher is always her “favorite teacher ever,” and she makes sure they know it. Fortunately she manages to do this in a manner that is still charming and not Eddie Haskell-ish.

She has a wide range of interests. She reads constantly. She’s not as artsy as C, but when the mood strikes she’ll whip up all kinds of crafts. She’s always down for throwing, kicking, shooting, or hitting any kind of ball. Regular readers know about her prowess on the soccer field, kickball diamond, and basketball court. She’s one of those kids that can quickly and easily take to any sport, and play them with an equal desire to win and have fun. She has a drum set and electric guitar that she enjoys writing her own songs with. She and her sisters love to watch cooking shows then go into the kitchen, or outside, and do their own mock cooking competition shows. She enjoys coming up with impromptu plays for the entire family.

L has always been a leader amongst her friends. It’s weird how that both came naturally to her, and her friends always seem willing to follow her. I suppose that’s another side of being the third-born: she watched her sisters do things for years, so when she started preschool, she had everything down and became the guide for everyone else. It’s not just about her leading games at recess, being an excellent student, or being the best player on her teams. She’s been selected to represent her class and school at several events over the past year, including introducing the keynote speaker at an educational symposium and telling a room full of parents about her experiences at St. P’s.

We all need balance in life, and L is a bit of a surprise on the ways she balances out her personality. We finally got her onto the tube in the lake in the summer of 2016. This summer she again refused to go out, and preferred to stay at the dock and fish rather than even go for a ride on the boat. For all her adventurousness the kid is still in our bed at least one night a week because she can’t sleep or something woke her up and scared her. Fortunately we’ve at least got her to go to the basement if it’s a storm that wakes her up. Oh, she’s terrified of storms. If I mention that it might rain in the evening, she’ll immediately ask, “Is it going to storm?” I feel bad lying to her, but I want her to at least have a chance to sleep instead of stressing out about a little thunder. A few times this summer she actually slept through loud storms. The next morning I would tell her, “See, you can do it! No big deal!” The next time it thundered she’d either be in our bed or fleeing to the basement.

L’s ability to read the room has always meant she’s gotten in less trouble than her sisters. That’s changing just a little, though. She’s developed a little bit of an attitude over the past year. Sometimes she’ll snap at us, or argue when we correct her. I think that’s equal part stubbornness, which she gets from both parents, and simply growing up. I admit I look least forward to her hitting her teenage years because she’s always been the B girl who went out of her way to avoid conflict with us. We’ve been fighting with M and C for years; what comes next with them is just a natural progression. When we start fighting with L, it’s going to rock my world a little bit.

Hopefully she can put that off for awhile and we still have several more years of her goofy, good cheer.


September 2017

  • The War on Drugs – 81
  • Frightened Rabbit – 36
  • John Mellencamp – 35
  • The National – 34
  • Alvvays – 24

Complete stats available at my page

Friday Playlist

A mix of old and new this week.

“The Others” – The Jezabels. The proverbial “Between Albums" single from this very fine Aussie group. The song is very fine, too.

“Continental Breakfast” – Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile. There are plenty of one-off duets. Not so common are two artists coming together to make an album together. Barnett and Vile are so perfectly matched with their easy, mellow, guitar-based vibes, that this seemed inevitable. Two lead singles suggest their album is going to live up to all its expectations.

“Baby Missiles” – The War on Drugs. M had a late-morning ortho appointment last week. On our way back to school we stopped at Jimmy John’s to grab her a sandwich. This song, my #2 song from 2011, played on the in-store music feed while we were waiting. I thought that was a pretty great random tune to pop up. Oh, on Monday TWOD announced an Indy concert just before Christmas. Tickets have already been purchased. I am excited. Trivia: Kurt Vile got his start in TWOD.

“My Forgotten Favorite” – Velocity Girl. To my ear, 90s music hasn’t aged as well as 80s music. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of great music from that decade that I listen to. But I’m far more likely to pick 80s on 8 or First Wave over the Lithium 90s alternative and grunge channel on SiriusXM. Every few months Spotify will spit out this song, though, and I’m taken back to the heart of the 90s, when grunge and pop were mixing, and think maybe the 90s were better than I remember.

“Roadless” – Frightened Rabbit. Another track from their recent, surprise EP. This is a tremendous song for the fall. A beautifully crafted video, too.

R’s: Requiem

It’s over.

Sure, there are five games left in the 2017 season, but the run for the championship core of the Royals is officially finished.

Although the standings kept showing them just out of the Wild Card spots, they’ve effectively been done for about a month. But it became official Tuesday when Minnesota beat Cleveland leaving the Royals too far behind with too few games remaining.

What a frustrating season. The death of Yordano Ventura in the off-season was by far the worst thing that happened to this organization over the past year. But then came a brutal start to the season that had us worried all the free agents to-be might not make it through June in Kansas City. The team steadied in May and then was blistering hot through June and July. They added instead of subtracted at the trade deadline, and it looked like it was going to be another exciting fall in KC. The team then promptly went to shit again in August. And September has been thoroughly mediocre. There have been injuries all over the roster. Players who put up the worst performances of their careers. Despite that great middle, it’s going to end up being a pretty meh season.

Time and again this team has had chances to get back into the heart of the race with just a solid week of baseball. But every week they muddled around, maybe 4–3, maybe 3–4, but never 6–1 or 7–0. Minnesota wanted someone to catch them, but no one ever did.

Honestly I began checking out about a month ago. I kept waiting for that spark to appear that ignited the team. It never came. Throw in kid sports and a flakey AppleTV and I wasn’t automatically turning the game on each night. Sure, I’d check my phone to see what the score was. Once the kids went to bed I’d turn on the radio broadcast and listen while I did other things. But I was far less invested than I would have been had they kept playing like they did in the heart of the summer.

So it’s been a sad week for a lot of us Royals fans. As the end drew near the blog posts and Twitter threads began popping up reliving the greatest moments of the Octobers of 2014 and 2015. I’ll admit I got a little emotional watching a few of them. We re-ranked our favorites, recalled how those months felt, and shook our heads in disbelief once again at what this team had done. If the end feels a little empty at what was not accomplished the past two seasons, it is with a greater appreciation for what was achieved the previous two years.

And now five games to say goodbye. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Jason Vargas are almost certainly all gone. Alcides Escobar may be back, but only because no one else is interested in paying him. Vargas missed the 2015, but the other four all accounted for some of the greatest moments in franchise history.

Hosmer tripled in the 12th inning in the 2014 Wild Card game then tied the game. He won game one of the 2014 ALDS with an extra-inning home run. He hit a massive home run in legendary game four of the 2015 ALDS. He hit one of the biggest singles in franchise history in game six of the 2016 ALCS. He doubled to bring in Cain in the 9th inning of game five of the ’16 World Series. Moments later he made his mad dash home to tie the game.

Moustakas won game two of the 2014 ALDS with his own extra-innings homer. He made an unbelievable catch of a foul pop-up in game three of the 2014 ALCS. He hoovered up everything hit his way, and was the “5” in the two 5–3 putouts that ended each ALCS. Along the way he reinvented himself, becoming the consistent hitter we had always hoped he would be. This year, became the Royals single-season home run king.[1]

Cain could fill up a highlight reel with his catches alone during the playoff runs. He single-handedly broke Baltimore’s hearts in the 14 ALCS with catch-after-catch while hitting the shit out of the ball. And if he did nothing else, his scamper from first-to-home in the 8th inning of game six of the 2015 ALCS would earn him a spot in the Royals Hall of Fame. He went from a guy with potential to a complete player and became my favorite Royal along the way. Hosmer and Moustakas are going to get paid for sure. I worry Cain’s age is going to prevent him from signing a ridiculously huge contract. I think he deserves every penny, and probably a lot more, that he earns.

And Esky saved his best baseball for October. He was the catalyst for the offense, spraying hits down the lines and taking extra bases. He was the 2016 ALCS MVP for torturing Toronto pitchers with line drive after line drive. And his inside the park home run to open game one of the 2015 World Series was a quick reminder to the Mets that they were powerless against Royals Devil Magic. Oh, and he also played amazing defense throughout the runs.

What was great about all those guys was how we got to see each of them grow up in front of us. Moose and Hosmer were the high draft picks that were supposed to become All-Stars. It took awhile, but it happened for each of them. Cain and Escobar came over in the trade for Zack Greinke, but had yet to establish themselves as everyday MLB players. They fit right in and the fanbase embraced them. They, and the guys around them, had all this potential to change the course of Kansas City Royals history. Holy shit did they deliver.

If you’re a Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cardinals, or (now) Cubs fan, you expect your team to replace your heroes when they depart. They’re going to sign the best free agents, or have a bunch of talent in the minors they can dip into when legends move on. For Royals fans we’re not sure what’s next. The minors aren’t brimming with talent. The payroll will no doubt get slashed as the team begins to rebuild. That, too, makes our relationship with the current guys more powerful. It might be another 5–10 years before we see a group like them again.[2] And even then, there’s no guarantee the next batch of young talent will be able to do what this group did.

This group began hitting KC in 2011. That’s seven seasons which, on balance, had more frustrations and pain than success. But in those early years they were building to something, and even when it was hard for the fans to trust the process, the players did. Out of that came a year when they narrowly missed the playoffs, another where they narrowly made the playoffs – then made it to the last out of the last game, another year where they dominated for five months then won the whole damn thing, and finally two years where they began the season with legitimate playoff hopes only to come up short. Along the way they helped Kansas City fall in love with baseball again.

That’s not a bad run.

  1. He should have crushed the record if not for six weeks of bad health that slowed him down.  ↩
  2. God forbid we have to wait 30 years like we did last time.  ↩

Boom Goes the Dynamite!

Duuuuuuuuude! What a freaking couple of days for college basketball! And we haven’t even started fall practice yet, let alone any games that matter.

A couple hours ago one of the 20 greatest coaches in the history of the game got fired. (Correction: he’s officially been placed on leave, although apparently his contract calls for a 10-day grace period before he can be fired for cause.) Yesterday assistants at four other schools were arrested. Two more programs appear to be in deep shit, too. All the result of an FBI investigation into the relationship between coaches, player’s families, shoe companies, and agents. And, as many writers have been pointing out, this is likely just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

Shit is getting really real here.

After somehow dodging scandals for several years at Louisville, Rick Pitino finally found the straw that broke the camel’s back. The FBI asserts that current UL freshman Brian Bowen’s family may have received up to $100,000 in exchange for him choosing the Cardinals last spring. Although there is no current public evidence that Pitino was directly involved in the exchange, after a scandal involving one of his assistant coaches bringing prostitutes in for recruits a few years back,[1] there was no way even a coach of Pitino’s accomplishments could survive this. It’s almost stunning it happened so quickly. I expected a few days of hemming-and-hawing. I’m sure we’ll soon hear from Pitino how all this happened without his knowledge, he’ll insist he ran a clean program, and that he was betrayed by people he placed his trust in. No apology, though, or acceptance of blame.

What is most stunning about the Louisville side of this case is that they don’t need to buy players. UL is one of the top 10 programs in the game. It is consistently the most profitable program in the country. They have an amazing, pro-like arena, are located in a basketball-crazy city, were coached the only man to win national titles at two different schools, and have a long, rich history of success. This isn’t like SMU football in the 1970s and 80s trying to beat traditional powers Texas and Texas A&M for recruits. Louisville should be able to go toe-to-toe with any program in the country when it comes to collecting recruits.

Whether it was jealousy at Kentucky getting the #1 recruiting class, filled with future pros, every single year, Pitino pulling out all the stops to win one more title before his career ended, sheer competitiveness run amok, simple greed, or even just a rogue assistant, it doesn’t make sense. Louisville didn’t need to cheat. Now one of the signature programs in the game is in shambles, and likely will be for several years.[2]

Arizona also seems like a school that shouldn’t have to cheat. They’ve been one of the best programs in the game over the past 35 years, winning one national title and making multiple other Final Fours. Tucson is a decent place to spend the winter. Over the past few years, though, they have signed several recruits that the “experts” were sure were going elsewhere. Today that makes a lot more sense.

Both Louisville and Arizona were expected to be top five teams this coming year. That seems unlikely now.

The other schools currently involved – Auburn, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, and Miami – are schools trying to get to where Louisville and Arizona are. I’m kind of discounting Oklahoma State because their assistant who was arrested, Lamont Evans, had only been there a year and came from South Carolina, which may be where he did most of his dirty work. South Carolina did break through last year, making a run to the Final Four, knocking off Duke along the way. Miami has been really good, and close to the Final Four, for several years. For a program trying to make that leap to the elite, it is more understandable that rules will be flouted and chances will be taken. Not acceptable, mind you. But understandable for sure.

I think just about every football or basketball player at a power five school is getting something beyond their scholarship and living expenses. It may just be a tab is overlooked when the eat out. $100 handshakes from alums at bars. Cushy summer jobs that pay cash under the table. “Help” buying a car. And so on. The better the player, the more likely they’re raking in one or more of these extras.

There’s not much you can do about these because they are so widespread and difficult to track. The NCAA has a hard enough time getting people to talk to them about egregious and public recruiting violations, let alone try to monitor tiny, day-to-day stuff like this.

But this big stuff, the systemic fraud and bribery and purchasing of talent, that’s a whole other ballgame. Especially since it’s the FBI that’s doing the investigating. And they reportedly have wiretaps and witnesses ready to talk. I imagine over the past 24 hours there have been a lot of interesting conversations between head coaches and assistant coaches, athletic directors and head coaches, and university presidents or chancellors and athletic directors. “Is there anything I need to know about?” is likely the most common question asked in these meetings.

And for fans, there’s a lot of waiting to be gleeful about a rival school getting sucked into this mess to be sure your alma mater’s name doesn’t come up first.

Is this the first step in a massive cleanup of college sports? I really doubt it. No matter how broad this investigation is, I can’t believe that it cuts into more than a small part of these practices. And this is just basketball. Football is a much bigger beast. Who knows if the FBI is looking that direction yet. And there’s always going to be cheating. The perks of winning are just too high for people to not break the rules in order to get that program-defining recruit.

What I think is far more likely is this could be the big shove we’ve been waiting on that divorces college sports from the academic mission of universities. Whether that change comes rapidly, or is still 5–10 years away, the first big cracks in the foundation of college sports as we know it appeared this week.

  1. And his own affair/extortion scandal.  ↩
  2. Ironic that Pitino took a Kentucky program that was in even worse shape and turned them into national title contenders in just four years. Someone gets to clean up his mess now.  ↩

Kid and Cougar

Steven Hyden has to be one of the three or four writers I’ve linked to most over the years. I think he’s the best music writer going these days, and have followed him across Pitchfork, the AV Club, Grantland, and now Uproxx. I appreciate both his musical sensibilities and his writing style. I’d say eight times out of ten when he is enthusiastic about an artist, I end up loving them too.[1]

So when he flagged his latest article on Twitter last week and mentioned it was kind of lengthy and “think-piecey”, I was all-in. Even with that warning I was not expecting how excellent it would end up being. It’s a deep look at Kid Rock of today, John Mellencamp of the 80s, the growth and collapse of Heartland rock, and the intersection of politics and music.

From Farm Aid To F@#$ You: Kid Rock, John Mellencamp, And The Fall Of Heartland Rock

Yep, I’ve been listening to some Mellencamp over the past week because of it.

  1. The only hole in his game is his podcasting style. I’ve tried to listen to his podcast several times and he drives me nuts by talking way more than his guests.  ↩

Hot, Sweaty Weekend

Our September heatwave continues. This weekend would have been a great weekend to sneak in a weekend at the lake. Naturally we had sports both days, so had to just stand/sit and roast in the heat.

It was a doubleheader weekend for L in soccer. Her team played at 4:00 Saturday, which was probably the hottest moment of the last 4–5 days: mid–90s, humid, no clouds or breeze to help out. The parents who were watching were wisely camped out in the shade. Those of us who had to coach got beaten down by the sun for an hour. It felt more like early August than late September. As if playing in the heat wasn’t tough enough for the kids, the fields are covered in crabgrass, hard as rocks, and just a beast to try to control the ball on. Even our best player kept having the ball bounce away from him as it hit a rut or patch of crabgrass. L scored one goal as we won easily.

Sunday she played again at 1:00. It was marginally cooler, and there was a slight breeze, so it wasn’t quite as bad for the players. It was also the first time this year our kids have been matched up with a team that was bigger than them at every position, and had a good understanding of how to play. We were deep into the first half before either team scored. We went down 1–0 and L answered right back to tie it. We got behind again and she pounded a shot home from the 18-yard line to level things again just before halftime. Second half was the same story: they took a lead, L scored on a beautiful pass from our best player to tie. We actually took a lead on a free kick by our stud, but gave one back on a free kick. Ended up 4–4 in a pretty well-played game. L is sitting on seven goals through four games. She’s starting to learn how to play off our best player, who probably has closer to 14 goals despite usually only playing half of the game.

Sunday was also cross country day. St. P’s was the host school and we bumped up the start times a couple hours to try to avoid the heat. So C and I were downtown at 7:20 to help set up. It was just starting to get uncomfortable when she ran. I don’t have her time yet, but she definitely struggled compared to a week ago. She finished in the ribbons – at #19 – but was the fifth St. P’s finisher this week. Looking back, she’s never run well on this course for some reason. She has one more regular meet this Saturday before the City championship meet on Oct. 7. Hopefully it has cooled off some by then.

We were also babysitting this weekend. One of the young nephews spent four days and nights with us, as my sister-in-law had a work trip. He was pretty easy: he went to bed without fuss at 8:00 each night and usually slept until 7:15, when we woke him to get the girls to school Thursday and Friday, or later on the weekend when he woke himself up. He’s mobile and lots of fun. The girls had a great time getting him to repeat his animal sounds or say his other handful of words. He loves – LOVES! – ceiling lights and fans. Anytime he walks into a room, he looks up, and if he sees a light, he is utterly delighted.[1] Saturday afternoon we filled up our inflatable pool and the other two young nephews came over to splash around with him.

  1. Yes!  ↩

Friday Vid

Just a video today, as we have a variety of contractors in-and-out of the house today.

“I Melt With You” – Modern English. Fall begins just after 4:00 today here in Indy. So of course we’re in the midst of the hottest, driest stretch of the year. Cross country practice was cancelled last night and Sunday’s meet as been moved up two hours to keep the kids out of the heat. Lawns are burning up all over the place. I felt like I was going to melt at L’s soccer practice Wednesday and all I was doing was playing some light goalie while the kids shot. Crazy to think that, back in early July, we were something like 12-inches over normal for rain. We’ve had almost none since then.

Is There Anybody Out There? Anybody At All?

Well this checks a few boxes for me.

General 80s nostalgia
80s pop culture and political sub-categories
Nuclear obliteration
And Kansas City/Kansas references

Yep, The Day After was a pretty big deal. And, perhaps, as relevant today as it has been for nearly 30 years.

The Day After traumatized a generation with the horrors of nuclear war

My favorite family story about The Day After was of some college friends of my parents who lived in Lawrence when the movie was being filmed. They showed up for the open casting calls but weren’t selected. They found out where they were filming one day and drove their VW back-and-forth on the nearest street with the 4-year-old waving every time they passed, hoping to show up in the background of a scene. When the movie finally aired, they were disappointed not to see themselves out of focus behind John Lithgow.

The videos embedded within this story are definitely worth your time, too.