The Bare Minimum

Lazy ass.

That’s what I’ve been.

Well, to be fair to myself, we do have a couple potentially large projects in the planning stages that have dominated my attention of late. Should they proceed, I shall share them here at a future date.

But I’ve also just been lazy. Freaking weak-ass weather isn’t helping either.

We got the boat in the water last weekend. All went well in every aspect of that process. No issues getting the boat down from Indy to the lake. S got the trailer in the water as quick as she ever has. And the boat started right up for a very chilly, early Saturday trip from the ramp to our lift. We had to do it early in order to get back for L’s soccer game, so it was still idle speed hours on the water, thus we casually cut across the lake, the only boat out.

We were also able to check out the repairs that had just been completed to our boat dock area after a big-ass tree fell on it in February. Everything looks good as new. The crazy thing is it looks like there was about a 5% chance of that tree making it all the way to our dock without getting blocked by another tree. Somehow it threaded that needle and did a fair amount of destruction in the process. I think it may have actually bounced off another tree on the way down. Freaking gravity…

Spring sports are officially underway, although our family has more rainouts than games played in kickball so far. I have a legendary kickball story to share in another post at some point.

Other things I need to write about soon:
* KU basketball and the FBI
* A Reader’s Notebook
* Something about the Royals maybe
* Perhaps some NBA playoff chatter
* Share a couple more good links

It’s supposed to start drying out here tomorrow and slowly begin getting closer to normal April/May temperatures. Hopefully that will get me re-focused on providing you quality content on a more regular basis.

Friday Playlist

A week away means there’s a glut of music to share, so I’ll expand this a little bit this week. Oh, and there’s an absolute monster track that appeared last night that will wrap this up.

“Cali” – Ride. Ride’s comeback album, Weather Diaries, was released nearly a year ago now. At the time I was a little more enamored with Slowdive’s comeback disk. This song popped up in my Discover playlist recently and I’ve fallen in love with it. A great spring song, now that spring may finally be coming.

“Sure” – Hatchie. Another track I missed when it was first released last fall. And another most excellent track from an Australian artist. Seriously, the Aussies are coming at us hard these days. There’s a lot of Cocteau Twins in this song.

“Plastic Soul” – Mondo Cozmo. Mondo’s songs have been bouncing around on Sirius for awhile. I gave his album a listen last week and ended up really liking a few of the songs. This one has a trippy, mid-90s feel to it.

“Believe” – Amen Dunes. I’ve really been digging AD’s new album, Freedom. It’s got a good, mellow, contemplative vibe.

“Best Friends” – Little Dragon. They rarely go wrong. This one is another absolute treat.

“Pynk” – Janelle Monáe featuring Grimes. About a year ago, after HAIM released their first couple singles for the new album, I suggested the summer of ’17 would be the summer of HAIM. That ended up being a dud, as the album did not live up to expectations. I’ll try again: the summer of 2018 will be Ms. Monáe’s. Another utterly perfect track. One more week until we get to hear the whole thing.

“Nothing Compares 2 U” – Prince. HOLY SHIT!!!! There have been live versions of this song out forever; Prince even included one on his mid-90s greatest hits collection. But Michael Howe, who has been tasked with going through Prince’s mythical vault of unreleased recordings, recently found this, Prince’s only studio recording of the song he wrote, passed onto his protege group The Family, and was eventually made legendary by Sinead O’Connor. The story behind the song is Prince went into a studio with a notebook, started writing and recording, and an hour later most of the song as we hear it here was complete. Speaking of legendary…

Tomorrow is the second anniversary of Prince’s death and this is a fine way to honor his legacy and memory. And this video! Even if the song sucked I could be mesmerized by the footage of Prince and his band rehearsing their moves for literally days.

 

Some Links

It’s been a weird week, trying to get back in the swing of things after our vacation. The weather hasn’t helped, with the cold mornings robbing me of motivation to do much of anything. I have a couple posts mentally prepared but just can’t sit down long enough to bash them out.

So I guess I’ll share some links.


My main man John N. sent me this link, to an excerpt from Chris Nashawaty’s upcoming book about the making of Caddyshack. It’s a great read, as I’m sure the book will be. I do not understand, though, why it’s taken nearly 40 years to write this book!

Inside the Caddyshack Scene That Squashed the Bill Murray-Chevy Chase Beef


I don’t do a lot of watching of old TV shows that air on Comedy Central, FX, etc. I barely have the time to keep up with my current shows let alone go back and watch ten-year old episodes.

I came across this history of The Office’s legendary “The Dinner Party” episode last week and saved it. I read through it Monday and could barely stop laughing. I re-watched the episode on Tuesday and roared the entire time. I highly recommend reading and then watching.

That One Night: The Oral History of the Greatest ‘Office’ Episode Ever


Finally, I think I found a link to this on Twitter. I have no idea how accurate it is, but it claims to be a database of NBA court designs. I’d pay good money to see a college version of this.[1] I admit that I prefer the minimalism of the old courts to the garishness of the modern courts. I’m linking to page three, where the Kansas City Kings courts from their days at Kemper Arena are located. Not sure why there aren’t older courts at Municipal Auditorium or in the franchise’s earlier stops in Cincinnati and Omaha in there.

NBA Court Database


  1. There are several college courts in here, for teams that have played regular season, home games at colleges at some point.  ↩

Some Catch Up

I’ve finally made my way through my RSS reader, which collected over 1800 articles while we were gone. In that glut, I found a few items that can very loosely be connected, as all are about one kind of loss or another.


First, Lindsey Buckingham announced he was leaving Fleetwood Mac again. I had to wonder why this was such big news in the music press. Sure, Fleetwood Mac is one of the biggest bands of all time and a summer tour will probably draw way more people than my 10 favorite current bands combined. But the entire band is either in or approaching their 70s. And Buckingham has left the band before. I’m not sure this is really a big deal. Adding Mike Campbell from The Heartbreakers and my all-time fav Neil Finn to replace Buckingham is a little interesting. But, still, I’m not sure this really moved the needle all that much.


Next was this piece about the future of Sports Illustrated. I forget exactly when I finally let my SI subscription expire; it was sometime in the past 10 years. I’ll occasionally pick up a copy in a waiting room but it’s been a long, long time since I went through an issue cover-to-cover. Like the author of this piece, getting each week’s new SI was, arguably, the most important part of my week as a teenager. The perfect days were when it came on Thursday and I could flip through it during commercials in NBC’s Thursday night comedy lineup. The weekend was right around the corner, I had a magazine filled with amazing sports writing, and the Huxtables, the Keatons, Cheers, and Night Court were going to provide two hours of laughs.

It is sad that SI has fallen so far. But, honestly, I get the sentiment expressed in the article that it’s hard to see how weekly magazines work anymore. The reading experience on paper is much better than on a screen. But magazines these days seem so light – both physically and metaphorically – from what they were in the glory days of the 1980s that they fail to hold my interest. Thick, monthly magazines that can be picked up at anytime are far more appealing these days.

“Who Can Explain the Athletic Heart?”


Finally, speaking of Night Court, Harry Anderson died yesterday. Like a lot of geeks my age, I first discovered him via his early 80s appearances on SNL and then in his guest spots as “Harry the Hat” on Cheers. Night Court was probably the first time in my life I came across one of those contrarian arguments that are so popular today, when you take what appears to be the weakest link of a group and argue that it is, in fact, the strongest. As good as Night Court was, I never bought into that garbage that it was, in fact, the best show on NBC’s Thursday lineup.

RIP to Harry.

Here’s a fine clip from one of Harry’s appearances on Cheers.

Una Semana en Mexico

We left cold, snowy Indiana for a week in the warmth and sun of Mexico. It was, almost completely, an excellent trip.

Our home for the week was the Paradisus La Esmerelda resort in Playa del Carmen, about 45 minutes south of Cancun. Our flight down was without incident, we navigated the hour-long line that was Mexican immigration, gathered our bags, and found our transport agent, a man holding a sign with our family’s name on it. The girls thought that was pretty cool. My sister-in-law who works in the travel industry had arranged the transport for us. I had to chuckle and wonder if she had tipped our driver about my musical likes, because as soon as we left the airport he switched the radio from Mexican music to one that played classic 80s and 90s music. The first song we heard was “Maneater” by Hall & Oates. Nicely done, Mexico!

The resort was very nice. Our room overlooked one of the resort’s several pools. Sadly we were also right next to one of the main walkways, so we got noise throughout the night from people strolling about. And our next door neighbors liked to keep their three-year-old kid out until well after 9:00 PM each night, which meant he had a full meltdown when they tried to put him to bed. As our rooms had a connecting door, we could hear every single scream and shout from the kid. The parents apparently decided that it was better to let the kid shriek and disturb everyone around them rather than lay down with him or find another method of soothing him. On our final night, when we were all wiped out and in bed early, this went on for about 20 minutes. S lost all patience and went over and kicked the connecting door over and over, which made me laugh. The parents did remove their son to one of the bedrooms so his screams were at least muffled a bit.

Anyway, the resort… Paradisus is an all-inclusive place. S and I had gone to all-inclusive places twice before with mixed results. Paradisus was excellent. There were something like 16 restaurants, although not all were open to kids. The food was always good to excellent. We had Asian-fusion, Mediterranean, modern Mexican, Japanese steakhouse-style, Italian, and ate at the buffet two nights. We also went to the buffet every morning but one. It was really, really good. I fell in love with combining chilaquiles and scrambled eggs for breakfast. It’s going to be my new breakfast thing here at home, too.

We also paid a little extra for the “family concierge” service. This got you some things like a fancy check-in service, a private pool that other guests were not allowed to use, and a personal concierge who was there to help you with all your needs. It was a slow week, so we “lucked” into having two concierges. I use quotation marks because that meant we got to tip two people at the end of the week. Lucky us! Anyway, Eduardo and Fernando were very nice. They brought the girls cookies and milk each night, although the girls did not like the cookies since they were Mexican-style and much drier and grittier than what they were used to. They set up dinner reservations for us for the entire week. They answered questions. And the big event was drawing the girls a huge bubble bath in our balcony jacuzzi tub, complete with balloon animals and cupcakes. There was an insane amount of bubbles involved: when all three girls got into the tub, you could only see their faces and toes poking out. They loved it.

Our days followed a regular rhythm: I usually woke up a little after 6:00 when the birds started chirping. One of the girls and I would then walk down to the beach to watch the sun rise. We never got a great sunrise, the point we were on looked east over a little grove of trees so we missed proper sunrise, but I got a few good pictures. Then we’d go eat right when the buffet opened at 7:00. After that, we’d take a walk, get our towels for the day, and claim some spots at the private pool. We’d usually head back to the room for a bit and then return to the pool around 9:00. We’d hang out there until noon-ish, eat lunch either right at the pool or at one of the outdoor restaurants, then continue hanging in the sun until late afternoon. We usually ate dinner at 6:30 and almost all of us were in bed and asleep by 9:30 most nights.

The girls did a few activities with the Kids Club, but they were kind of silly and aimed at younger kids. We didn’t take any trips into town or to visit any Mayan ruins either in Tulum or Chichen Itza. And the beach was a big disappointment. It was covered in some kind of nasty seaweed that washed up and rotted on the sand. So the area stunk and was full of small, flying insects that liked the rotting piles. Everyone told us this was unusual and was more typical of late summer than fall. There were crews out shoveling and using a Bobcat to move it, but it was a fruitless exercise as it just kept building up. S and I have been to Cancun and had told the girls about the beaches there, beautiful white sand and shallow, impossibly clear blue water that you can walk out into for several hundred feet and still just be knee-deep. So the expectation was pretty high for that kind of beach experience. They were disappointed, although we pointed out we still had a bunch of really nice pools. Even if the seaweed had not been present, the beach wasn’t nearly as clean as Cancun’s, once you got into the water it was very rocky, and the water was much more murky than 30 miles up the coast.

Although this was my third trip to Mexico, I did experience something new: coatis. We first saw them on Sunday morning at the pool. The girls started screaming about seeing ring-tailed lemurs. I said they looked like raccoons with long tails. Turns out I was closer to the truth: coatis are members of the raccoon family, although their tails are indeed rather lemur-like. They are active during the day and love to come out in packs of 5–20 and dig through trash, scavenge through leftover lunch trays, and take whatever you feed them. The younger ones, which have more colorful fur, are pretty cute. The older ones, which often turn gray and lose their fur, are borderline disgusting. One morning we found an old one hunched over on the stairs up to our floor. It looked like it had come in to die or something. We reversed course, took the elevator up, and then I walked down from above, slapping the stone steps hard until it scrambled back outside. There were also lots of big ass iguanas running around. One day one jumped up onto the lounge chair next to me. I heard scuffling, thought it was a bird, and just about pissed myself when I turned and saw this big lizard sitting two feet from me.

We did have the inevitable stomach issues during and after the trip. M likely ate something bad on Wednesday, and threw up overnight and Thursday morning. C and L both had lower GI issues that caused some trouble. And I think all of us have had lower GI “looseness” since we got back. I’m having some issues today, but let’s stop right there. Some of that can just be attributed to the amount of food we ate, I think.

C made a friend. The night we went to the Japanese steakhouse we sat by a family from the UK. We chatted them up and the next day their 10-year-old daughter and C started hanging together. They were kind of inseparable for the next five days. M and L also played with some sisters from New Jersey a couple days, but they didn’t get nearly as friendly with them as C did with her friend.

Once upon a time I spoke a fair amount of Spanish. Most of that is gone but I was able to recall and use a little last week. The waitstaff who were most comfortable with English enjoyed messing with customers who said more than “Por favor” and “Gracias” to them. Most of our meals began like this:

“Hola señores, ¿como están?”
“Muy bien, gracias, ¿y tu?”
“Bien, gracias, ¿hablas español?”
“Sí, pero muy, muy poquito. That’s about all I can do, your English is much better than my Spanish!”
And then we would all laugh.

One day at the pool our waiter came around and greeted us “Hola amigos!” I was talking to one of the girls at the time so instead of ordering a Dos Equis, I ordered “Dos Amigos.” I immediately caught my mistake and corrected it, but our man Alejandro loved that. “Dos Amigos, señor? Maybe dos amigas, right!?” The rest of the day he’d come by and ask, “¿Señor, quires más Dos Amigos?” and laugh again.

Folks also liked to ask where we were from. Apparently Indianapolis isn’t well known in Mexico so we ended up just saying “near Chicago.” Then they would ask if it was much colder up there. When we told them our security camera showed the front yard covered in snow Monday morning they were all amazed.

I believe those are the highlights. We had a very good week, the minor stomach issues excepted. It was relaxing, the girls were relatively well behaved, and we all came back with a little more skin color than we had when we left. Well C came back with a lot more, but she tans about 100 times faster than the rest of us.

We were supposed to jump right into spring sports today. It is Opening Day for spring kickball and we had three games on the calendar, plus L had a soccer practice we were going to try to make after her game. Naturally it has been snowing all day and although none of it is sticking, the windchills are down in the 20s. We’ve postponed all our games and are hoping the weather cooperates so we can get them in later this week. It is supposed to warm up quite a bit but there is also a chance of rain every day.

But we can’t complain after our lovely week in Mexico.

Friday Notes

It’s been a busy week around these parts.

First, crazy ass weather. Sunday night/Monday morning we had our fourth snowstorm in the past two weeks. This time we got somewhere between 3–4” of snow. We received almost as much snow in those two weeks than we had gotten all of this winter before then and last winter combined. Weird.

We followed that up Tuesday with ridiculous rains. Some areas got 5” of rain. Pretty much any low land around here was/is still flooded.

And then Wednesday it snowed again, flurries all day.

I actually kind of like this late winter burst. Only because we’re leaving for a week in Mexico on Saturday. I like leaving for spring break when it still feels like winter. It’s kind of strange to leave when it’s already in the 70s and sunny every day. Now the real trick is for spring to finally kick winter’s ass out of here while we’re gone and come back to normal April weather.


Another sign spring – and summer – are getting closer: I had our boat scheduled for its spring start-up so it is ready to put in the water in two weeks. That’s a little earlier that we would like to do it, but we had to switch storage places this year and the new business has an earlier pickup deadline than our old place.

Today was also confirmation that our boat survived the winter. I forget if I shared this already, but the place we store our boat had one of their storage buildings burn down right before Christmas. I assumed our boat was fine since we never got a call. But I was reserving about 1% of my brain for there to be a long pause and then the owner asking me to come into his office when I was setting things up today.

Our new deck at the lake was not so lucky. About a month ago a large tree fell onto it during a wind storm. The tree took out one side of deck railings, destroyed a few of the floor planks, split our peddle boat in two, and also damaged a bunch of pavers that form a retaining wall. Luckily insurance will cover most of it and the repairs have already begun, so everything should be 100% when the summer season begins.


Wrapping up college hoops, I remember when my mom used to tell me, when I was a kid, that I should always want the team that beat my team to win the championship. She argued that validated my loss. I always thought that was garbage; I wanted the teams that beat mine to go down in flames in their next game. I wanted them to feel the pain I felt. Besides, my team should have won, why give that other team any credit?

I’ve softened in that view as I’ve grown older. If the other team was legitimately better, I’ve learned to give credit. And Monday night Villanova proved they were the best team in the country, by far, this year. There was zero shame in KU losing to them in the Final Four. I think the only team this decade that is better than them is the 2012 Kentucky team that had Anthony Davis. He’s probably the one guy this decade that Nova couldn’t guard. And that Kentucky team would give them fits because of their height. But Nova shoots the ball well enough that they would still have a chance in that mythical game.

KU and Villanova play the next two years in the regular season. Those could be decent games.

By the way, Bill Self has won three straight games against Coach K. He’s won three straight games vs. John Calipari. And he’s won three straight games vs. Roy Williams. But he’s also lost three straight games vs. Jay Wright. Interesting.

As I was eating my lunch today the news broke that Lagerald Vick has declared for the draft. That came a day after Malik Newman announced he was leaving school. And now suddenly KU has an open scholarship! They just happen to be one of three schools in the running for the best un-signed recruit, a shooting guard from southern Indiana. I would approve of KU finally signing a blue chip recruit from Indiana.


Oh, and I finally finished season one of Stranger Things last night. I started watching it in late January and went 2–3 weeks between episodes until this week when I knocked the last four out in two nights. That was some high quality television programming. And the final episode was about as good as TV gets. Pretty much every note of that episode was perfect. Looking forward to starting season two after we get back.


That will pretty much do it for posts here until our return. If we have a rainy day and I’m stuck inside I might post something, but do not expect any new content for awhile.

Friday Playlist

“Twisted Highway” – Erika Wennerstrom. While her excellent band Heartless Bastards takes a break, Wennerstrom decided to record a solo album on a whim. If this, the first single, is any indication, there will be no loss of quality compared to her work with HB. 

“Gauntlet in the Sun” – Ricky Lewis. I feel like my general music tastes have not changed that much. I’ve been locked into alt/indie rock for over 20 years now. But within that umbrella there have been shifts over the years. This song, for example. Would I have listened to and enjoyed it ten years ago? Would the pedal steel and the gentle whine of the guitars have put me off as being too country? But after discovering The War on Drugs, Kurt Vile, and Ryan Adams, this song fits squarely into what I like these days. It seems perfect for playlists put together for road trips once summer arrives.

“Chasing the Muse” – Valley Queen. Along those same lines, Valley Queen is a band I probably wouldn’t have listened to not that long ago. But over the past 18 months or so they’ve put out a series of tremendous songs that bump up against Americana and Folk while keeping one foot firmly planted on a 70s, retro-rock base. This is good stuff.

“You Don’t Tell Me” – Night Flowers. So much power pop greatness wrapped up in this track. It could be a lost track from The Posies’ prime era.

 

“Mexican Radio” – Wall of Voodoo. This time tomorrow, the travel gods willing, we will be on our way to Playa del Carmen, Mexico for a week in the sun and sand. What better way to celebrate than the greatest song from the New Wave era about Border Blaster radio stations that pumped ground breaking music into America in the 1970s?

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 6

Chart Week: March 26, 1983
Song: “Little Red Corvette” – Prince
Chart Position: #27, 5th week on the chart. Peaked at #6 for two weeks in May.

A few weeks back I heard Prince’s first Top 40 hit, “I Wanna Be Your Lover” and wondered when the first time I ever heard a Prince song was. “Lover” reached #11 in 1979, and the radio stations my parents listened to at the time were likely to have had it in their rotations. So odds are I heard it back when it was first released. Later in the early 80s, Prince had several songs that charted on the R&B lists, and my mom spent a good chunk of her radio time listening to our local R&B station. There’s a good chance I heard songs like “Controversy” and “Uptown,” too.

While I have some very vague, and most likely imagined, memories of “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” as I thought it through I decided “Little Red Corvette” was the first Prince song I ever heard. The Music Gods were listening because this countdown played later that week. What became Prince’s biggest pre-Purple Rain song jumped ten spots back in that week of 1983.

I like imagining the first time people heard artists that took music and shifted it in dramatically new directions. Teenage girls who were enamored with the Beatles putting Revolver on for the first time. Disaffected youth in London’s tower block apartments putting on The Clash for the first time in 1977. Suburban white kids listening to It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back in 1988.[1] I imagine their little minds being blown by music they probably couldn’t totally comprehend or appreciate. I know some of them are turned off by these new sounds, but others take to them immediately and have their worlds opened up because of it.

I and a lot of my friends had that experience with Prince in 1983. We were all bumping up against puberty, bodies changing, hormones raging, minds going down sometimes disturbing paths. And then this song and the album 1999 showed up to work us into a frenzy. There was something in that slow, synth fade up that begins “Corvette” that triggered all our hormonal antennae and had us sitting up, blocking out distractions, and paying very close attention to what followed.

“Little Red Corvette” is probably the first song that I immediately knew was about sex. Not sweet and tender kisses. Not holding hands. Not even making sweet love. Nope, this weird cat Prince was singing about something I had no comprehension of: hot, sweaty, crazy-ass S-E-X. But I knew I wanted to know about it. Maybe with that cute girl who had a locker next to mine, or the girl who sat across from me in art class and always laughed at my dumb jokes. I remember thinking there was some secret message deep in Prince’s music that would unlock all the secrets to this amazing new world that involved getting naked with girls.

Eventually I bought the 1999 album and my mind was further blown. Whatever subtleties Prince used on “Corvette” and “1999” were totally shed on songs like “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” and “Lady Cab Driver.” I could get away with playing side one of the extended cassette when my mom was around. But side two? Hell no. But I made sure to listen to it often, and carefully, when she wasn’t around.

These awakenings are inevitable, regardless of era we grow up in or the music we listen to. There’s a direct connection between the flood of hormones and the music of our youth that combine to make us look at the world a little, no, a lot differently than we had before.

There’s a whole generation of us who have Prince to thank for helping us to make that leap.


This song also has one of the sneakily greatest lyrics of the 80s in it. However, most folks missed it until years later as the line was cut from the radio version. Today you’ll almost always hear the album version played, but in 1983 saving those nearly two minutes was more important and it rarely got radio time. Of course, America probably wasn’t ready for what Prince shared at the end of the album version:

Girl, you got an ass like I never seen, ow!
And the ride
I say the ride is so smooth, you must be a limousine
Ow!

I remember rolling on the floor the first time I heard those words. When I got older I realized as much as young Prince tried to camouflage his horniness in metaphor and misdirection, he couldn’t complete hold it back. These lines are like the hyper kid who has behaved all the way through a church service and then loses it just before its end.


  1. Hello 17 year old me!  ↩

Reader’s Notebook, 4/4/18

The Kremlin’s Candidate – Jason Matthews
Interesting timing, with this coming out right around the same time as the movie adaptation of Red Sparrow, the first book in the trilogy it completes. Matthews has been lauded by folks who know a lot more than me as an author who can combine good spy novel plot with offering realistic tradecraft, something he allegedly knows a lot about since he spent most of his adult life in the CIA. I have to take people’s word for that; this may surprise you but I am not a spy. Then again, would I tell you if I was?

Anyway, the series is centered on Dominika Egorova, a former ballerina who was trained in Russia’s notorious Red Sparrow school, where women are taught to use their sexuality to gain power over foreign agents. In the first book she fell in love with, and was recruited by, an American agent that she was sent to recruit. Her motivation has been her love of her home country and her anger at what Vladimir Putin and his cronies were doing to it.

By book three Egorova is on the verge of taking over the Russian foreign intelligence service, the SVR. As she gains more access that can be of immeasurable value to her American counterparts she also faces the biggest threat of her career. After the Putin orders the secret assassination of the CIA director, the Russians are working to have a Navy admiral, who Egorova helped to recruit for the Russians years earlier, installed as the new director. Should this admiral be confirmed, Putin would know within hours that Egorova was working for the Americans.

All this leads to a rather entertaining and satisfying conclusion.

Unfortunately getting there is a bit of a mess. For starters, Matthews infuses his books with lots of sex. His descriptions of those acts get more and more cringeworthy the more he has to write. I found many of these scenes to be sexist and cliched. Others were just awkward to read. But I tend to think the less you write about sex scenes the better; let the reader’s imagination fill in details. So other readers may enjoy his saucy bits.

I also found most of the first half of the book difficult to read. It seemed to me like Matthews was working too hard to build up intrigue for the closing quarter or so. There are several B plot lines that don’t add a whole lot to the story other than filling pages. And I found his insertion of politics distracting. Often in spy novels there are vague references to contemporary politics, usually just added to offer a sense of place and time. At several points through the book I would say “Oh come on!” at political details that were both ridiculous and unnecessary to the book’s momentum.

Overall this is a good series. But the third volume is a bit of a disappointment. I have not heard whether Matthews plans on continuing the series; it’s doubtful as several important characters did not survive this entry. But if a fourth book does appear, I doubt I will read it.

KU Hoops: So Bad It Didn’t Hurt

There’s something to be said for losing in the Final Four in blowout fashion to a team that breaks a couple NCAA records along the way.

To start off, you’re already happy your team made the Final Four. Even more so if you beat arguably the most talented team in the tournament, a team that you’ve hated for over 30 years. The fact the blowout started about a minute into the game helps a lot, too. There is never any time to work up any angst or anger and you’re able to just sit and watch. Eventually you find yourself hoping your team’s opponent keeps hitting shots; if they’re going to lose big, the record books might as well have to be updated because of it.

That sums up my experience Saturday night as KU’s season ended against one of the most impressive performances ever dropped in a Final Four.

Our family celebrated Easter on Saturday, so I had lots of distractions during the day. My belly was full and I was sleepy late in the afternoon. Instead of focusing on the game and building up stress, I was hoping my gut would pass out of Uncomfortable phase by the time the game began so I could drink some beer. Pretty sure this was the least stressed out I’ve ever felt going into a Final Four game.

Villanova coming on literally on fire – yes, literally, I know I saw smoke coming off of several of their players – and putting the game away pretty much immediately was a blessing. There was no yelling or screaming, no throwing of objects in my basement. Only once was there a glimmer of hope. KU went on a 7–0 run to cut the margin to 22–11. A couple stops, a couple more makes, and the deficit would be manageable and who knows what happens.

Nova hit three-straight 3s while KU hit a couple 2s, and the game was over.

KU has blown people out twice in the Final Four. In 2003 they beat Marquette by 33, leading by 40 much of the game. But that was a very different game; KU hit 53% from the field, but only hit 8 3s. They just carved up Marquette inside all day while holding them to 31% from the field.

And there was the amazing North Carolina game in 2008, when KU was once up by 28 in the first half, causing a rather famous comment on TV. Much of that run was fueled by 3-point shooting, but after the first 10 minutes, KU only hit one more 3 in the game and ended with just five for the night. Carolina got back into the game, cutting the lead to 4 midway through the second half, before KU took control again and won by 18.

As impressive as both of those games were, they aren’t even in the same chapter as what Villanova did Saturday. KU gave them open looks early, but after that there was a stretch when I thought KU actually guarded the shooters fairly well. But hitting those first three were enough to get every Nova player locked in. I swear there were a couple where the defender had two hands right in the shooter’s face, the shooter barely looked before releasing the ball, and they still barely moved the net.

I guess it’s one thing to play poorly, which KU certainly did. Forget about guarding the 3 and getting open looks on the other end. At one point KU was shooting less than 30% from inside the arc. They were taking bad, forced shots, doing the proverbial “trying to make a 12-point shot” thing that teams in the midst of panic often try.

But it’s another thing for the opponent to do something historic. No one was beating Villanova Saturday. Not Michigan or Loyola. Not Virginia or another strong defensive team. Those dudes were locked in and on a mission. It was impressive to watch, even if it was my team on the wrong end of the beat down.

There was no blaming the refs, getting upset at KU players, or wondering what the hell Bill Self was doing. This blowout was 90% Nova.

(An aside too long for a footnote: I hate the “What if Player X had played?” thought experiments. I know as fans we have to do them, but I hate that people take them seriously. Last year after the Oregon game, it was “What if Udoka had played?” The answer was simple: Jordan Bell would have blocked all of his shots, too. And these questions ignore how adding Player X impacts everyone else. Would Josh Jackson have been as good as he was if Udoka had played all year and Self had not gone all-in with four perimeter players? KU might win two more games with Udoka last year, but they also might lose five more because Josh never gets locked in.

This came up Saturday when people started pointing out, “Hey, what if Billy Preston had played? He was much better suited to chasing Spellman and Paschall all night.” Which ignores would Udoka have been as good as he was if Billy had played 25 minutes a night all year. Would KU have won some of those tight games against West Virginia, or in Lubbock if a young Billy was on the court late instead of four experienced guards? Maybe Billy helps them win three games they lost, but maybe he also causes them to lose three games they won. It’s not worth the mental overhead to dive into these questions.)

So I was never worked up Saturday and quickly moved on to appreciating this KU team for what they accomplished. They fought through all the distractions of the Preston affair. There were some dark days in mid-December, after losing to Washington and Arizona State back-to-back. There was frustration about Malik Newman, who looked nothing like the unstoppable scorer KU fans had been promised. There was the early loss at home to Texas Tech, who looked like a much, much better team for that entire game. Getting their asses kicked at home to Oklahoma State in early February was the clear low point. At that point I was wondering if KU could even go 9–9 in the Big 12. A terrible loss a week later at Baylor didn’t help; 9–9 and a 4 or 5 seed based on non-conference wins seemed like a reasonable hope.

But even I forgot it was February and this was Bill Self’s team. They got a little better every game and played their best basketball of the year from the road game against Texas Tech, at which they clinched at least a tie of the Big 12, through the closing moments of the Elite 8 win over Duke.

Malik Newman suddenly became the guy everyone wanted him to be, scoring from behind the arc and at the rim. Lagerald Vick shook off a months-long slump and became the dangerous guy who burned you if you eased off him to put pressure on someone else. Silvio De Sousa might have saved the season by becoming a legit rotation player. Udoka Azubuike became an unstoppable force when he could stay on the court.

And Devonté Graham somehow matched, or even surpassed a little, Frank Mason III’s legendary season from a year ago. Last year was supposed to be DTae’s year, until Josh Jackson became the best one-and-done player in KU history and Frank went all BIFM on everyone all year. Devonté had to carry way more weight than Frank did last year. He scored at nearly the same clip and tossed 2+ more dimes a game than Frank did. His defense suffered this year, but he still made plays when it mattered. He was clearly either worn down or injured over the past two weeks, but willed his way through games to set up his teammates for huge plays late in games. And now, like BIFM, his jersey is going to hang from the south rafters at Allen Fieldhouse in a few years.

This is the team that extended the Big 12 title streak to 14 straight years and hung the program’s 15th Final Four banner. There’s no way I can be upset about that regardless of the score of the final game.

Villanova was just a lot better.

Looking ahead, DTae and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk are both graduating. Most folks thought Malik Newman was gone regardless as this is his third year out of high school. I’ve said all year he needed to take a look at Keith Langford’s career, swallow his ego a little, go play 15 years in Europe and make a lot of money. His play over the past month has certainly helped his draft stock, but he still seems like a Euro or China league all star to me. The difference, though, is now his leaving feels right rather than like an escape. And he leaves being loved by KU fans. I figure he’s 85% gone.

I think Udoka puts his name in for the draft, does the combine circuit, and most likely comes back. His body and game do not fit what the NBA wants from big men. He returns, adds to his game over the summer, and leaves either for the NBA or Europe next year. I think it’s 70–30 that Udoka returns.

Lagerald Vick has been the question mark all year. A year ago “experts” said he was probably the best NBA player on the roster after Josh Jackson because of his size and athleticism. He’s got that 3-and-D potential the NBA loves. Throughout this season that seemed crazy. He often looked lost and/or disinterested on the court, couldn’t hit shots anymore, and often struggled to just dribble the ball. I don’t know if the last month changed much for him. I also wonder, though, if he’s in one of those situations where the decision was made long ago and that’s why KU went out and signed another wing, Ochai Agbaji, last month. Vick returning would be huge, though, as KU has no proven shooters if he’s gone. His decision probably interests me the most. 50–50 on LGV.

Finally, you look at the roster and see if anyone else might leave. Sam Cunliffe seems like the most likely candidate. He rarely got on the court after becoming eligible and when he did, often drew Self’s ire within seconds and was immediately returned to the bench. But where does he go? He’s already sat out a full year. Would he be willing to do that again to get a chance to play? Would he consider going to a D2 school so he could play right away? I have no idea what he’s thinking or if another year in the program means he could push through what will be a crowded wing position even if Vick leaves.

Some folks are concerned about Silvio De Sousa leaving. I don’t believe he’s officially eligible to leave for the NBA, and his guardian said when Silvio enrolled he expected him to be in college at least through next season. But the G-League or overseas are options if his primary interest is getting paid. 90% Silvio is back.

Regardless of how those guys shake out, KU is going to be real, real good again next year. They will be real, real big, too. Not many teams will have the size KU should have with Udoka, Silvio, 6’9” do-everything junior Dedric Lawson, and 6’10” beast David McCormack. There will not be many shooters, though, so it will be interesting to see how a team full of bigs and slashers competes in March as the game shifts more to the perimeter.

Oh, tonight? Villanova is clearly the best team in the country. They’re playing like they’re on a mission, and they seem to be fully healthy. I think Michigan matches up with them a lot better than KU did, as UM has bigs that can chase Spellman and Paschall outside. They have athletic guards that might be able to contain Nova’s backcourt. And Nova could play really well tonight, but there’s no way they’re shooting like they did Saturday again. Michigan has a really good chance. But I think Nova is just too good.

Villanova 85, Michigan 80

Rock Chalk, bitches.