Month: September 2003

Speaking Of

I was all prepared to write about the key to Saturday’s KU-MU game being the MU offensive line. On their two scoring drives, they looked like monsters, pushing the much smaller KU d-line around at will. Not sure if it was adjustments by KU, or failure to stick to what worked by MU, but that dominance wasn’t evident the rest of the game. Bill Whittemore was more able than Brad Smith to adjust to what the defense was giving him, and that pretty much was the game. I wonder if Kevin Kietzman will finally start giving Mark Mangino a little credit. That Northwestern game is really looking ugly now.

Dante Hall is playing like he’s in a video game.

I like it when Randy Moss is playing like he’s from another planet.

I walk off my plane in San Francisco last night, look at the TV, and see the Colts lead the Saints something like 40-12. Fifteen minutes later, when I’m pulling my Sunfire out of the rental garage at SFO, it’s 55-12. Then I hear Edgerrin James never played. Amazing. Did Tony Dungy miss the game too? Surely he wasn’t actually on the sideline for an offensive outburst like this.

Speaking of rental cars, since my company tries to keep expenses in check, we have to take the cheapest cars (unless you’re a high flying, board member assisting, revenue generator like Mike Allison). In the old days, I’d walk up to the counter, they’d offer me a mid-sized car for an extra buck, and I jumped at it. Then I got upgraded to “preferred” status. For the pleasure of skipping the counter and walking directly to my car, I’ve now been driving nothing but Sunfires and Cavaliers for the past eight months. Luckily, I’ve yet to drive a red Cavalier.

Read three-quarters of Jonathan Franzen’s collection of essays How to Be Alone on the plane. I don’t care if he dissed Oprah, the dude can write.

I meant to comment on this back during the summer, but for some reason kept skipping over it. Do DJs at weddings not listen to the lyrics of the music they play? At one of our weddings this summer, during the dinner hour the DJ played “Every Breath You Take” and that Sheryl Crow – Kid Rock song in succession. First off, “EBYT” isn’t about romantic love. It’s about stalking someone who has pushed you away. Second, should a song that includes the lyric “I can’t think about you when I’m lying next to her” (or whatever it is) ever be played at anything that has to do with marriage? There is an endless supply of music to play at a wedding. If you’re going to play a song about infidelity or being a sick bastard, at least make it a dance song where the meaning gets lost behind the beat. (This is when you can chime in and tell me about inappropriate songs played at my wedding that I didn’t hear because I was too preoccupied.)

I watched about five minutes of Real Genius a week ago. Classic, brilliant mid-80s movie. Val Kilmer’s first big role. The inspired use of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” over the closing credits. Laslow Hollyfeld. Everything about this movie is good. I got sad while watching it, though. I remembered the time when each weekend meant watching an endless supply of Real Genius, Vacation, and Fletch. As you grow older, you get busier, sleep becomes more important, and perhaps you acquire a spouse along the way who isn’t into watching the same movies endlessly. I miss about 75% of the current movies, so I don’t even have time to think about watching Fletch once a month like I used to. Swingers is probably the last grown-up film I’ll watch 50+ times in my life. Of course, I’ll probably get to watch countless unnamed Disney films that many times in the next ten years.

Speaking of growing up, I was driving around last week and heard “Keep on Lovin’ You” by REO Speedwagon. Immediately made me think of a night in 1981 when my mom got me a sitter, and went out for the night. I spent the entire night in front of the stereo, with headphones on, flipping back and forth between KY-102 and Q-104 in Kansas City, trying to hear that song. I seriously spent five hours, not saying a word to the babysitter, staring at the dial as I flipped it back and forth. I don’t know if I ever heard the song, but I sure as hell tried. Fast-forward four years. I stayed up until 4:00 AM one Saturday night trying to hear “Axel F” from Beverly Hills Cop so I could tape it. Finally, when I was about to give up, I heard it, got my copy, and crashed. I think these two stories may explain some of my music obsessive behavior to those of you who don’t quite get it when I go on-and-on about some song or group I like.

Speaking of driving around, I have bought three tanks of gas for my truck since moving to Indianapolis. Another beauty of working at home. If you never drive it, I guess you can’t feel guilty about driving a gas-guzzling SUV.

Speaking of SUVs, why do environmentalists just whine about the lack of efficiency in them and not in sports cars? I hear over-and-over about how horrible for the environment SUVs are. I get at least five miles-per-gallon more in my SUV than my step-dad does in his Corvette. What about heavy Cadillacs that have V-8 engines? I have a mid-sized SUV with a V-6, get roughly 22 MPG. It’s not a great number, and I really wish it did better. If I had it to do over, I would get a smaller SUV that was in the upper 20s. But until you start calling out the cars that get equally poor or worse mileage, get off my back.


Let’s make this very clear to start: tomorrow’s Kansas-Missouri football game should be played the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Always. Without exception. I know, I know, when played in November, the game meant something to both teams other than just being a rivalry game exactly once in the past 20 years: 1981, when both teams entered the game 7-3. By moving the game to an earlier point in the season, the argument goes, hopefully both teams are still playing for something other than pride. But come on, the oldest rivalry west of the Mississippi and you just yank it away from its traditional date? Kansas-Missouri deserves the same respect as Michigan-Ohio State, Texas-Texas A&M, and Duke-North Carolina. It felt right being the last game on the calendar. An appetizer to the coming Thanksgiving celebration. A bow to tie up the season, good or bad. Sure, it’s been seven years since the game was played on its traditional date, but I’m still writing this under protest. (I’m well aware there are many big rivalries played throughout the college football calendar. However, most of those have traditionally been played at their current dates, not moved around for almost a decade like KU-MU.)

There is nothing better in sports that college football rivalry games. I love college basketball far more, but rivalries are different there. You almost always have two, even three chances to face your rival in basketball. Bragging rights change hands quickly in the winter. Plus, the wide-open nature of the NCAA tournament reduces the importance of rivalry games. Sure, they’re great for fans and TV viewers, but in the big picture they’re less important.

Football rivalries, on the other hand, are much different. There’s one chance to play your rival. A single opportunity to claim the Little Brown Jug, Indian War Drum, or Floyd the Pig for 12 months. Three hours to earn the right to shove it back in the face of your friends, neighbors, and coworkers for a year. One day, circled on the calendar months in advance. Despite the prospects for your team’s season, this game means more than all the other games combined.

You team sucks? Beating your rival (especially if they’re making a run towards a bowl game) can mask a lot of other failures. Have a team that’s playing not just to get in a bowl game, but also to work its way into the elite round of bowls? Defeating your rival is the cherry on top of a dream season.

Basketball is played in a vacuum. You may remember an icy drive to the game, or walking across campus in sub-zero temperatures, but those elements have nothing to do with the game. From cool, crisp fall afternoons with gentle autumn lighting to the days when you pack on four layers and secretly hope the game gets out of hand early so you can flee inside to a heated room at halftime, the weather always become part of the football experience.

These are the games you never forget. I was as exhausted after listening on the radio to the 46-44 Kansas win in 1989 as if I had actually played in the game. I can still see Tony Sands running for a then NCAA record 396 yards in the bitter cold in 1991. I see Chip Hillary’s head smacking into the Omniturf in Columbia in 1992, ending our chances of winning that game on our first possession (I angrily told MU fans around me, “At least we’re going to a bowl game.” Didn’t make Thanksgiving in Kansas City any easier to take.). Corby Jones’ schizophrenic career (Two of his turnovers, in his first start in 1995 turned a close game into a blowout. 1996: his redemption, one of the best single performances in the series. 1997, again, Corby’s mistakes turn one of the ugliest games into a narrow KU win. Finally, 1998, when Corby’s leadership turned a close game into a blowout in MU’s favor.) Turn in a career performance against your rival, and you’ll drink for free the rest of your life. Old men will come up, wrap their arms around you, and tell you how much your performance meant to them. They will toast your name with a tear in your eye. Drop a pass that would have given your team the win, some bitter alums will never forgive you.

On rivalry days, conventional wisdom goes out the window. Heart overtakes mind. Fiery speeches from former coaches and players ensure that current players understand the significance of the game. It’s not just about team, school, sports. It’s about history, right and wrong, good and evil. Winning becomes important for personal reasons, not just for the benefit of the team.

I’ll be watching tomorrow from the comfort of my basement. There will be Boulevard beer, Gates barbecue sauce, and if I get my ass in gear today, I’ll finally have the school flag flying from the house. I’ll be watching with both an MU alum and some KU alums. We’ll have our own little version of the groups that will be spread throughout Memorial Stadium tomorrow. And when it’s over, I’ll be finding some goalposts to tear down when Kansas marches off the field (having thought better of picking up Mark Mangino) with a 45-41 victory. (Like I’m picking against the alma mater!) Rock Chalk!


As a reminder to my faithful readers (and those who may bounce in here by accident) you can either comment on any topic by hitting the comment link under each entry. Or, for a more private comment, you can send me an e-mail by using the link to the right. With that in mind, I wanted to share some thoughts based on recent comments and e-mails I have received.

I hope everyone either watched or taped Oprah and saw today’s episode with the Queer Eye guys. Lisa L. did New Hampton, Iowa proud and Thom Filicia gave Ms. L’s boyfriend a fabulously redesigned apartment. I think we’re all owed the story on how they were selected. Erick & Ann, do tell.

Speaking of Erick, he wrote me a tremendous e-mail last weekend. The following shall serve as my public response:

Dear Erick,
Thanks for the message. It’s always great to get feedback from loyal readers such as yourself. I’m glad you both enjoy the website, and use it as a starting point for an evening of surfing. I, too, love the Internet and the endless possibilities. Sometimes, I get online only wanting to research how many free throws teams coached by Roy Williams missed in their final game each season, and three hours later I’ve watched penguins at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, read the lyrics to every Public Enemy song, and read 15 different perspectives on the day’s biggest news story. I still need to send that thank you note to Al Gore for inventing this when he was reinventing government. I wish I had that kind of free time!
I have not tried the mayonnaise recipe you got at, but rest assured, as soon as we empty our current container of Hellmann’s, I’ll give it a shot.
I had no idea there was still a burgeoning BMX subculture. I remember breaking my friend Kent’s Mongoose bike in seventh grade (I snapped the gooseneck while trying to make a wicked jump). Giving Kent two month’s worth of my allowance to pay for it ended my BMX career early.
I’m pleased that Willie Nelson is such a big supporter of education. While it’s clear Willie got his masters in the school of life, not every kid has to follow his path to be successful.
Your HGTV reference confused me. Everything we’ve tried to plant here has died. Clearly there is nary a green thumb in this household.
Finally, I think the results returned from your search for Sean Murray have to be shared. From
Sean enjoys playing the guitar, snowboarding, snow skiing, horseback riding, and building computers. He is an avid David Lynch fanatic and has an impressive collection of Lynch memorabilia.
I’m surprised there’s no mention of his fondness for being naked.

Thanks again for the message, Erick. Please continue to wear your Bill Whittemore jersey out and about each weekend. It’s clearly paying dividends. If you find yourself anywhere near Indy this weekend, please stop by and we can watch the KU-MU game together.

Your pal,

Sebastian Assman would have been a fine name for a child. In fact, I may add it to the list of names I keep ready for those moments when S. asks me, “When we have kids, what names do you like?” My pat answers are DeShawn, LaDanian, and LaFester. If the kid’s going to ball, he needs a name to get respect before he steps on the court. I think Sebastian Assman has the same effect. Fellow newlyweds, answering like this ends the little question game pretty quickly, so you can get back to watching the game and drinking your High Life.

I’ve put a lot of thought into the “what causes gun violence” question that Bowling for Columbine brought up. Two thoughts: 1) Personal property is the organizing principle for the US. If you even think about taking something that’s mine, I’m supposed to defend it. I remember uncles who were farmers always reaching for the shotgun when a strange car pulled into the farm after dark. You show the gun first, ask questions later. Even a perceived threat can elicit the worst response sometimes. 2) The huge amount of wealth in this country combined with the ease of movement among social classes. If I have a gun, I can steal some money, a car, clothing, whatever it is I want. Instant social mobility. Problem is, sometimes flashing a gun and not meaning to use it escalates quickly.
Those aren’t meant to be exhaustive explanations, just two ideas. Whether you have an agenda or not, I think you can spend years studying this subject and still have no idea what the cause is (if there’s even one) or how to even begin finding a solution.

Some of you may have noticed the little counter on the right side of the page, which shows how many people have visited. I can get extended stats, like the IP address of everyone that visits, how they find me (personal bookmark, Google search, referring site, etc). The most interesting search so far is someone who searched for Drew Henson Girlfriend Pictures on MSN. Not sure how this popped up on the search, but I’m glad to have random people, if only for a moment, take a look. Dale Smith says he was able to find me briefly on Google under I love Nazis, but that has gone away, sadly.

Well, that’s all for now. The more comments and e-mails I get, the more often I’ll open up the mailbag. Coming events this week include:
– A discussion of the separation of church and state
– An ode to college rivalries
– And I’m way behind on my Listening Post entries. I hope to have one that Mike from BYU will enjoy.

Fab Five

I love to write. That’s the whole point of having the blog. However, the down side is the pressure to write on certain subjects. For example, someone who I’ll refer to as “Feldman” has all but demanded that I compare the Fab Five of Michigan to the Fab Five of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. “Feldman” really knows how to put me in a spot. One of the most dynamic college basketball teams of all-time compared and contrasted with my current favorite TV show. I’m shocked ESPN’s Bill Simmons hasn’t already taken care of this comparison. OK, I’ll give it a shot.

University of Michigan, 1991-1993
Chris Webber – 6’10’’ Center
Juwan Howard – 6’9’’ Forward
Jimmy King – 6’5’’ Forward
Ray Jackson – 6’3’’ Guard
Jalen Rose – 6’8’’ Guard

Queer Eyes
Carson Kressley – Fashion
Thom Filicia – Décor
Ted Allen – Food and Wine
Jai Rodriguez – Culture
Kyan Douglas – Grooming

Chris Webber vs. Kyan Douglas:
Two wildly talented, charismatic superstars. However, both have spotty records with the game on the line.
An almost perfect mix of size, speed, and talent. Chris Webber will dunk on you, talk about your mom, and otherwise intimidate for the first 38 minutes (we’re playing with a college clock). But in those last two minutes, he’ll shrink from taking the big shots, travel, and call time outs you don’t have. After the game, he’ll unleash a profanity filled tirade that makes you wonder how someone so intelligent can act so immature.
Kyan will have your hair looking gorgeous, get you on a skin care regimen super models would die for, and make you feel good about yourself. But why is Ted Allen always taking the Straight Guy to the kitchen right when Kyan is showing him how to shave? Perhaps he’s worried Kyan will cause a nasty nick or brutal razor burn that derails the Straight Guy’s date.
C-Webb dates Tyra Banks. I don’t know whom Kyan dates, but I have a feeling it’s the gay male equivalent of Tyra Banks.
Advantage: Push. I don’t want the ball in the hands of either of these guys in a close game (first mildly suggestive line of the comparison).

Jalen Rose vs. Carson Kressley:
The boisterous straws that stir the drink. The multi-tasking, trash talking, motors that kept the car cruising down the highway.
Jalen was the 6’8’’ point guard who created incredible match-up problems in the college game. Although his job was running the offense, he could do a little of everything. He could take the outside side shot, go to the rack, and play defense. Jalen always seemed a little off, though. He could explode emotionally on the court. His interviews were the kind that always made you a little uncomfortable.
Carson is the wisecracking fashion expert and most flamboyant of Bravo’s Fab Five. Always quick with a homo-erotic joke (Grandma, “This is a Siemens couch.” Carson, “I have a semen couch, too.”). A little too willing to put out-of-shape, middle aged men in clothes that shout GAY. Yet somehow, he always has the Straight Guy wearing something that perfectly matches his physique and personality by the end of the show. And in between all his jokes, he’s really all about love.
Advantage: Carson

Juwan Howard vs. Ted Allen:
Juwan was the mild-mannered sidekick to Chris Webber’s basketball genius. On any other team, he would have been a superstar. On Michigan, he quietly played in C-Web’s shadow. Until crunch-time. Then he would take over. While Webber was in the corner pouting, or chasing after referees, Juwan was the guy who would demand the ball and hit shot after shot. If he had Webber’s athletic ability, or Webber had Juwan’s head, you might be looking at the greatest college player ever. I’m talking better than Luke Axtell even.
Ted Allen, Carmel High School grad, is Queer Eye’s food and wine expert. By far the least cool of the Fab Five, he seems to mirror Juwan well in that sense. The whole point of Queer Eye is to take guys who need some help getting their wardrobe, grooming style, and homes in decent shape, then have them able to sustain the lifestyle after the Fab Five leave. I think Allen over reaches a lot. I have a hard time seeing guys living in apartments in the outer boroughs shopping at fancy food boutiques in the Village. Plus, his recipes always seem just a little too complex, guaranteeing the Straight Guy will somehow destroy it.
Advantage: Juwan

Jimmy King vs. Jai Rodriguez:
Very interesting match-up. Jimmy King nearly committed to Kansas. Then his mom got the 1990 US News & World Report guide to colleges. Michigan was in the top ten, Kansas in the top 50. Jimmy King went to Michigan. Jai Rodriguez was not on the early episodes of Queer Eye. Apparently he committed to another show, but realized his mistake and transferred in, after sitting out the required two episodes. OK, that last part is made up, but he was a late addition, replacing the initial choice for culture expert.
King was Michigan’s high-flying wingman. While defenses tried to clamp down on Jalen Rose at the point, or Juwan and C-Web in the paint, he blew by over-extended defenders for easy dunks and lay-ups. In the true Fab Five days, that’s about all he did. After Chris Webber and later Juwan and Jalen left for the NBA, he actually turned himself into a pretty good all-around player. He’s had a solid career on the bench in the NBA too. That’s not a knock; I’d sit my ass at the end of an NBA bench for a cool quarter million a year.
Jai is in many ways my favorite Queer. He seems cool. He’s into music and culture. I feel like I could hang out with him. That said, he uses the word amazing too much. It’s amazing how often he uses the word amazing. And his segments always seem to get cut down to almost nothing. It’s almost as though he’s around since he’s a cool guy and rarely says anything too gay, so his job is stay buddy-buddy with the Straight Guy and keep him focused if Carson gets too over-the-top.
Advantage: Jimmy King. Dunks are always good.

Ray Jackson vs. Thom Filicia:
Ray Jackson was often referred to as the Fifth Fab Five guy. The other four were all top 30 recruits; Ray was just some guy from Texas to a lot of basketball fans. He didn’t start until late in his freshman year, but when he was inserted into the starting lineup, Michigan took off. His game was kind of non-descript, too, so he rarely did anything that you had to call your buddy across the country to talk about after the game. He managed to fill whatever hole needed to be filled, though (Suggestive comment #2). If Jalen was in foul-trouble, Ray brought the ball up. If Calbert Cheney was going off for Indiana, put Ray on him and watch him get shut down. Ray did the dirty work so the other guys could shine. And like Juwan, he always seemed to come up huge in crunch time.
Thom Filicia has the hardest job on Queer Eye. He has to redecorate an entire house or apartment. While Kyan is getting facials and Carson playing dress up, Thom is picking out furniture, painting, and basically remodeling an entire residence. Anyone can get a haircut or buy some nice clothes. Redoing a house over the course of a couple days (the show is actually shot over 2-3 days) is a Herculean effort.
Advantage: Thom. The unappreciated genius of the show. Every house looks fantastic when he’s done with it.

Final Tally:
Michigan Fab Five: 2 ½
Queer Eye Fab Five: 2 ½

A tie! I wonder how the whole kissing your sister analogy works when gay guys are part of the equation. How to break the tie? The Michigan Fab Five were the signature basketball team of our generation. They lost two championship games, but I bet outside of North Carolina, most people remember the Fab Five better than either the ’92 Duke or the ’93 UNC teams. They brought baggy shorts, black socks, and baldheads to the college game. They were the first modern college team, when personalities were becoming as important as they were in the NBA. They were brash, but did it all with a twinkle in their eye. Most importantly, when they focused, they were very, very good. One of the best teams I’ve ever seen. They were incredibly fun to watch when they were clicking.
The Queer Eye guys really can’t be judged fairly in comparison. We’re halfway through their first season. They take elements of Trading Spaces, Total Makeover, Emeril, and even Oprah and combine them into an hour of pure joy. What appears to be a gimmick at its surface is actually a very well done show. That said, the humor isn’t anything you can’t already hear on Will & Grace. For all its positive qualities, I’m not sure if it will go down in history for anything other than the novelty element.

So it looks like Michigan pulls out a close one. Wait…what’s this? Chris Webber has shot the ball into the wrong basket! This is amazing, folks! Chris Webber has blown another one for Michigan! Queers win! Queers win!

Hope you’re satisfied, “Feldman”. Have a great weekend.

D’s Notes

No 18-hour football watching session yesterday. My step-dad was visiting, so we took him down to Bloomington for the day. You will be relieved to hear the Colts sold out in time for their thrashing of the Titans. Since they missed the blackout deadline, though, the only highlights available here were those shot by local stations from the sidelines. That’s how hard core the NFL is: if you can’t sell your game out at least 72 hours in advance, you can’t expect to see network highlights on local stations either.

The big news here, of course, was Governor Frank O’Bannon dying. He looked a little like Mel Carnahan (O’Bannon, Carnahan, that makes sense). His politics were similar. And they both had demeanors that made you forget they were lifetime politicians and probably pretty ruthless when they wanted to be. Gov. O’Bannon just looked like a nice, old man. New Governor Joe Kernan was ready to end his political career. He had no interest in running to replace his close friend this year. Now, he’s forced to fill the final four-months of O’Bannon’s term. When politicians die, you always hear heartfelt eulogies from friends and foes, and lengthy discourses on everything they did for their constituents. I don’t think any of those obligatory remembrances of Frank O’Bannon were forced or less than genuine.

We finally watched Bowling for Columbine last night. I thought it was interesting so much of the movie that is specific to the Columbine shooting takes place in the first 45 minutes. It makes sense, when you take into account that Michael Moore is looking for what causes the high level of gun violence in the US. But you would expect that the entire movie would lead up to the security footage of students hiding in the library, then fleeing as the gunmen made their way into the room. My sympathies on the subject lie with those who would put limits on certain types of weapons and ammunition. But I felt it was a fairly evenhanded portrayal of the subject. It’s really a movie that I would write for hours about, but since it’s Monday morning, this is really all I have in me.

The University of Kansas is 2-1!!! That one is looking very ugly now, as Northwestern clearly peaked in the rain in Lawrence (are they mudders?). But the two is looking more impressive as UNLV ran all over Wisconsin in Madison Saturday. Something tells me Erick R. was running up and down his street without a shirt Saturday afternoon. The heartbreak of college sports is having a player like Bill Whittemore, who has single-handedly won a couple games and kept KU in other games in his career, when there’s very little talent around him. Next year, when he’s moved on and the offensive line, defense, and receiving corps are maturing, we’ll be busy breaking in some new quarterback.

Is it just me, or is Colorado the polar-opposite of Kansas State? I heard K-State ripped on CBS, ABC, and ESPN Saturday for their scheduling. Sure, CU takes a beating early each year (Colorado State, UCLA, Washington State, and Florida State this year), but they also have two straight Big 12 North first place finishes. The murderous quality of their non-conference schedule seems to prepare them well for the rigors of the B-12 season. I think CU and KSU should swap schedules next year so we can see what happens.

My first local recruiting effort has been aborted before it could get started. A.J. Ratliff, a 6’2’’ guard from Indianapolis that KU was recruiting, committed to Indiana over the weekend. That’s a shame. The kid will never know what kind of love he’s missing out on by not having me at his games this winter.

The Rising

(Year two. The first anniversary is always hardest. You know it’s coming, you keep thinking about it, and you long to get it over with. The second is easier. You’ve hopefully started to put things into perspective. Perhaps found ways to begin moving on. The pain is still there, but it’s a different pain than it was a year ago…)

In the weeks and months following the attacks of September 11, 2001, there were countless musical tributes to the victims and relief workers. The Tribute for Heroes concert, the Concert for New York, Paul McCartney’s well intentioned but absolutely awful “Freedom”, and other ad hoc tribute songs were all immediate attempts to honor those lost and attempt to repair the country’s psyche. There have been numerous songs since that first wave that directly or indirectly deal with 9/11 and its aftermath (And some which have nothing to do with 9/11 but are widely thought to. Wilco’s “Ashes of American Flags” most notably). I don’t think any of the acknowledgements have come close to what Bruce Springsteen accomplished with his phenomenal album The Rising.

At its surface, The Rising is a return to the classic Boss sound of the mid-80s, in large part due to his reunion with the E. Street Band. However, even a cursory attempt to listen to the lyrics reveals the stark, vivid imagery that immediately brings back all the memories of that awful day. If I knew someone who had died in New York, Washington, or Pennsylvania that day, I don’t think I could listen to the album. Even without that connection, it’s still difficult to listen to at times.

The Rising is a truly brilliant album on several levels. It’s one of the most thematically cohesive, mainstream albums in many years. There are a few carefully placed songs written before 9/11 that lighten the mood temporarily, but even those are quite good. From start to finish there’s no question what Springsteen’s motivation was or what his message is. Often being influenced by a single, powerful event like 9/11 can be difficult, even for great artists. Springsteen strikes a careful balance between grief, anger, horror, and hopefulness and rebirth. The music plays a perfect counter-balance to the incredibly distinct and vibrant lyrics. If you never listened to the lyrics, you would hear rockers recalling Born in the USA tracks, and thoughtful songs that challenge the tone of the best songs from Tunnel of Love.

The Toby Keith’s of the world responded to the events of 9/11 by writing angry, vengeful songs full of narrow-minded, jingoistic nationalism. Springsteen, on the other hand, created a work that not only honored those lost in a tasteful, perfectly suited manner, but also unified and forced the listener to look ahead. The album builds to the final three songs, “The Rising”, “Paradise”, and “My City of Ruins”. “The Rising” which has been called by some Springsteen’s best ever single, is told from the perspective of a fire fighter entering the World Trade Center (see below). “Come on up for the Rising, come on up lay your hands in mine.” The buildings fell, but that doesn’t mean we have to. “Paradise” is a haunting song sung from the perspective of a suicide bomber preparing to detonate their deadly device. Finally, “My City of Ruins” serves as the dramatic, uplifting closing chapter. Bruce screams out, with a gospel choir behind him, “Come on rise up! Come on rise up!” over and over. After 70 minutes of being devastated by reminders of everything we saw and learned that day, sixty seconds put us back together and make us able and eager to consider the future.

The Rising will stand as a testament to all those who’s lives were affected by what happened on September 11, 2003. It just happens to arguably be Bruce Springsteen’s greatest album of his rich career. I’ve put some selected lyrics below as they can tell the story better than me. Be warned, if you’re already somber about the anniversary, these aren’t going to improve your mood. (For full lyrics, you can go to Springsteen Lyrics )

“Into the Fire”
The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me than you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire

I don’t remember how I felt
I never thought I’d live
To read about myself
In my hometown paper
How my brave young life
Was forever changed
In a misty cloud of pink vapor

“Empty Sky”
I woke up this morning
I could barely breathe
Just an empty impression
In the bed where you used to be

“You’re Missing”
Shirts in the closet, shoes in the hall
Mama’s in the kitchen, baby and all
Everything is everything
Everything is everything
But you’re missing

“The Rising”
Can’t see nothin’ in front of me
Can’t see nothin’ coming up behind
I make my way through this darkness
I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me
Lost track of how far I’ve gone
How far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed
On my back’s a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile of line

In the crowded marketplace
I drift from face to face
I hold my breath and close my eyes
I hold my breath and close my eyes
And I wait for paradise
And I wait for paradise

“My City of Ruins”
Now there’s tears on the pillow
Darlin’ where we slept
And you took my heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss
My soul is lost, my friend
Tell me how do I begin again?
My city’s in ruins

Come on, rise up!
Come on, rise up!

Football Heaven Part 1: South Bend

First of a two-part summary of the first full weekend of football.

Two years ago, I put together a list of things I wanted to do in my life. I included running a marathon (check), work from home (yep), kayak in the Pacific (some day), see live penguins, and a long list of places I wanted to see sporting events. Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Cameron Indoor Stadium, Neyland Stadium, and Michigan Stadium were all on there. After Saturday, I can mark one more thing off as accomplished: See a football game at Notre Dame stadium.

I went to Saturday’s Notre Dame – Washington State game with S’s high school friend J. who played hockey at Notre Dame and has season tickets. We had been talking since last fall about going to a game together, so it took me about five seconds to reschedule my yard duties to Sunday and say “Yes” when he invited me to the season opener.

South Bend isn’t exactly close to Indy, so we departed around 7:15 so we could get a decent tailgating spot. We pulled into the lot where J’s hockey buddies were at 10:30, cracked open our first beer, and began enjoying the perfect day. The beauty of the private school is absolutely no prohibitions on tailgating. Included in our area were old people with huge, refurbished buses, recent alums our age in SUVs and minivans, and a huge group of students, all sporting green shirts. We threw the football around, ate brats, stared at college girls, and went through a couple cases of beer. We also marveled at the group of students, who were drinking like their lives depended on it. I remember several very stupid drinking efforts in college (most notably Thanksgiving Eve, 1989) but I never went at it like these kids did.

Concerned that we were making fun of her drunken friends, a junior from Seattle named Lindsey came over to make sure we didn’t think all her friends were idiots. This girl was awesome! She had the guts (alcohol enhanced, of course) to walk up to a group of ten plus thirty-somethings and strike up a conversation. She told us all about her group’s traditions, slammed those of us who didn’t go to Notre Dame, and beat our friend Craig (you may remember him as presiding at our wedding) in a shotgun contest. We also learned all about her sex life (She’s a virgin, and will be until she’s married, but is “very sexual” and keeps her boyfriend very happy; draw your own conclusions.), which proved that nothing good can happen when drunken, mostly married old men start talking to college girls.

Finally, it was almost game time and we made our way to the stadium. J. and I were sitting in the northwest corner above the student section (Touchdown Jesus was directly behind us). What a view! A perfect bowl stadium without an empty seat anywhere. The classic Notre Dame field: natural grass, free of logos with only the simplest chalk work. No video boards. Minimalist scoreboards. Seats close in to the field all the way around. Only two visible advertisements (one for NBC, of course). 80 degrees, nary a cloud in the sky. Someone described this as Football Weather once upon a time. It was absolutely brilliant.

(You know what’s really stupid? I just realized, while putting this together, I didn’t actually see the Golden Dome. I bet there are some who would argue I haven’t really been to South Bend since I didn’t bother to look around for it. In my defense, I was stumbling a little bit when we got in, so I was concentrating on where I put my feet, not checking out the sites. I never thought about it after that.)

The student section was fantastic. As I said earlier, they were almost all dressed in green shirts. For every tune the band played, they either had a different dance or hand motion to go along with it. Imagine Cameron Indoor or Allen Fieldhouse student seating areas expanded to include about 10,000 or so people all completely into every play. I don’t think the student even sat down during timeouts, and while it wasn’t super hot, the sun was pretty warm (as my burned face, forehead, and neck will confirm).

If you took all the college fight songs and tried to rank them, “I’m a Jayhawk” would far and away be the finest in the country. If you had to pick a second choice, Michigan’s “Hail to the Victors” would be my choice. And I suppose USC would earn the bronze medal. All that said, I have to admit each time I heard the Notre Dame fight song in Notre Dame stadium, it sent chills down my spine.

So how did I handle sitting among Notre Dame students and with a former Notre Dame hockey player? I pretty much sat in awe of the setting and kept my mouth shut. That was easy to do when Washington State stormed out to a 19-6 lead. It really should have been 28-6 or even 35-3, but the Cougars were unlucky and settled for field goals too often. They were storming up-and-down the field on offense and completely shutting the Irish down on defense. Halftime came with en eerie silence. I did want Notre Dame to come back; I felt like I was being cheated of the full experience by sitting among 80,000 quiet fans.

The proverbial Luck of the Irish reared its tiny, green head and scruffy, orange beard in the second half. The Notre Dame offense started to move the ball. Washington State’s receivers were suddenly blanketed. The Cougar defense began to lose its cool, getting at least four personal foul penalties in the second half. It was 19-12 and the crowd was buzzing. 19-19 and the stadium was rocking. A phenomenal Julius Jones touchdown run, in which he pinballed through almost the entire WSU defense, sent the place into hysterics. 26-19 on a day when the Irish looked like a bad high school team for the first 30 minutes. Wazzoo found a little luck of their own with an indescribably great touchdown catch to tie the game with just under 2:00 left. Now it would come down to an extra point, and WSU had missed a PAT earlier. The kick was perfect, Notre Dame did nothing in their possession, and we were headed to overtime. J. asked me, “So what’s the headline in the paper tomorrow?” I thought about it for a second, then said, “Irish come back, win in 2OT.” He just smiled.

I was off by two possessions. WSU went three and out on their possession, Notre Dame got one first down, and then chose to attempt a 40-yard field goal on third down for the win. I’ve only been to college football games in Lawrence and Columbia, and I never felt the confidence for a crucial play I felt in South Bend for this field goal. We tend to wish a lot at the bottom of the Big 12. The Irish fans knew the kick would be good. Good snap, good hold, kick waffles then sails inside the right upright. Game over. Ecstasy for Irish fans. Students hugged each other. The team piled on top of the kicker and then they raced to our end and saluted the student section for sticking with them. “That’s college football!” is how John Madden would have summed it up. I must admit, I was glad Notre Dame won and excited to be a part of it. Rest assured, though, I hope Michigan kills them next week.

It was an experience akin to going to my first game at Allen Fieldhouse. The venue makes the game different than your average game. I love the understated way the tradition of the program is presented. It’s not like Nebraska where they hit you over the head with it (“NCAA Record 8,000,000 Academic All-Americans!!!! No Major Arrests in Two Years!!!!”). If you buy a program, you get a lot of “Only at Notre Dame” vibe, and outside the stadium the history is tangible. But inside is a holy place that the school has rightly decided to keep pure rather than ruin it by garishly displaying all their successes. That allows the ghosts of the past greats to roam freely and for each fan to get their own, personalized perspective. On top of that, the people were great. I was wearing a KU shirt and several people stopped me and asked if I had gone to the Final Four. I talked with Marquette alum for several minutes about last season. People knew their football, too. Even with all the Subway Alumni (and today, Learjet Alumni), the midwestern humility and gentleness is still very apparent.

From a football perspective, I think Notre Dame is still doing it with smoke and mirrors. Their defense isn’t as good as last year, so I don’t think they can keep the Michigans and USCs under control. Carlyle Holiday is erratic, at best, at quarterback. Yet they find a way to get it done. I guess Ty can coach a little.

All in all, it was a great day and a great experience. Having no real rooting interest allowed me to sit back and take everything in. If I had come four years ago when KU played Notre Dame, I would have missed a lot of the elements I saw yesterday (that game was tied at halftime!). While I’ll enjoy marking another entry off my to-do list, I’ll also look forward to going to another game in Irish Heaven.

D’s Notes From LA

Some notes from the coast (well, Ontario at least) while watching the NFL opener and letting my In ‘N Out Double-Double settle happily in my belly.

My favorite thing about In ‘N Out Burger isn’t the food or the name or the Fletch reference. It’s the fact I ALWAYS get some sauce on my shirt when I eat there. I love that little reminder the next time I wear the shirt (In ‘n Out sauce is a bitch to get out of cotton. Probably explains why it’s so hard to digest.).

For the record, I’m officially comfortable with football being on tonight, although let’s all admit the NFL on Thursday isn’t completely correct. While Mother Nature may have conspired to give most of the country football weather of some sort last weekend, it still didn’t feel like football season. If I’m ever elected president, in addition to banning large trucks from the roads during rush hour, I would mandate strict limits to sport seasons:

Football: Starts the weekend after Labor Day. All regular season college games must be completed by the weekend of Thanksgiving. No bowl games before December 20. None after January 2. Super Bowl must be played the last weekend of January (keeping the NFL from expanding the season).
Baseball: Opening Day must be the first Monday of April, with all games that day being day games. No regular season games should be played in October (shorten the season to 154 games to guarantee that.) No playoff games after October 30.
Basketball: No NBA games before November 1. No college games before the week of Thanksgiving. The one exception is for the preseason NIT, which would receive a one-week waiver so the campus rounds could be played in time to get the four finalists to New York the night before Thanksgiving. The NCAA championship must always be played the first Monday of April. We really need to do something about getting the NBA Finals over by June 10 too.
Hockey: Eliminate the entire regular season and just have “playoff hockey” between April 1 and June 1.

Peyton Manning has a shit-load of endorsements, doesn’t he? Jerry Rice is the greatest player ever, and probably has fewer endorsements in 20 years than Peyton has racked up in seven.

Is there anything dumber than free agents who switch teams and then talk about proving to their old team that they let someone good get away? You were a free agent! You had the freedom to negotiate with every team in the league, you got to weight the offers, and you chose the one that was best for you. Shut up and count your money.

You would think I might be a bigger fan of Lisa Guerrero than Melissa Stark. In most competitions I would be (although Ms. Guerrero is showing her age a little, but it’s kind of cool that ABC didn’t go with some 21 year old hottie), but when you’re talking fully clothed, chest-up shots all night, I think I go with the Phi Beta Kappa rather than the D Material candidate.

East Coast fans are the best. There’s really nothing like them. East Coast fans just sound different, they have a roar that the rest of the country can’t reproduce. West Coasters are bandwagoners, and can always find something better to do. Midwesterners are too forgiving and mild mannered. East Coasters, however, love their teams with a passion but will rip them when they do wrong. Their teams are an extension of their city, their neighborhood, even themselves. West Coast fans look at athletes as celebrities. In the Midwest, we view them as regular, good guys. In the East, however, players are all your hopes and dreams wrapped up in a living, breathing package.

I should have gone to Jack in the Box. I could have gotten a Raiders antenna ball. Whoo wooooooo!!!!!

I saw a story on the local sports tonight about a basketball player named Demetrius Walker. Kid is a 12 year old in the LA area that is already 6’3’’. Some people are calling him the next LeBron. How much would it suck to be 6’3’’ when you’re in the sixth grade, live in the LA area, and have people comparing you to the Next Great Thing? Something tells me he already gets laid more than I ever did in college.

While we’re on the subject, why would any athlete not go to UCLA? If you’re going to be a jock, cruise through classes, live off $100 handshakes, and drink for free, wouldn’t you rather do it where you’re sharing the free pitchers with models than with Tammy from Oak Grove?

It took me 150 minutes to travel 75 miles today. I love LA!

I had about two hours to kill in St. Louis Wednesday. St. Louis is probably my least favorite big airport. It always feels like a big, cold cave that is stuck in the 1970’s. Probably my favorite thing is the artificial sky view between terminals B and C. There are fake windows with a view of clouds, as if you’re 29,000 feet up in a Boeing jet. Other than nine-year-old boys, who is interested in this view? Put up a gaudy, fake arch. Paint a mural of famous St. Lunatics. Something to let me know I’m in St. Louis and not Peoria.

It was very odd to be flying near Kansas City and not be landing.

Do any of you remember Sniglets? Comedian Rich Hall made entirely too much money in the 1980s (and earned a gig on SNL) by coming up with funny words that described everyday events or items that caused bemusement and consternation in people. Does anyone know if there was a Sniglet for the first automatic faucet you choose in an airport restroom never working? I’m seriously on a 28-29 faucet streak where I had to wave my hands in front of at least two faucets to get some tepid water to come out.

Speaking of nine-year-old boys and airport restrooms (whoa!), on our way to St. Lucia, we admired the automatic seat covers in O’Hare. Awesome invention! Along with automatically flushing, a new plastic sanitary cover slides itself over the toilet seat. I wonder how many they waste each year because idiots like me and every nine-year-old boy who’s ever walked into a stall there makes it flush five times so we can marvel.

Ode To The End Of Summer

Labor Day weekend, the traditional end of summer. I don’t need a weatherman or astronomer to tell me when summer is over. I know it always came the week the pools close and we had to go back to school (How about these poor kids that have to go back in mid-August now? Add in a general lack of air-conditioning in public schools, and I think you’ve got two grounds for cruel and unusual punishment.). A few weeks back, an uncle who works for a newspaper in New Jersey sent me an article he wrote. His editor asked his staff to all write something about a summer memory. My uncle wrote about the massive garden my grandfather kept for many years, and having to eat all the fresh vegetables my grandmother put on the table each night. Sounded like a good exercise to me, so I thought of what reminds me of summer most. Two words: swimming pools.

I recall a time when summers weren’t full of weddings, moves, honeymoons, and bridal showers. No, not the summer of 2000, but farther back. In the early 1980s, while I was busy absorbing the pop culture of the age, I would retreat for a month or so to my ancestral lands in glorious south central Kansas. For most of the time, I actually enjoyed being away from the city. It was a completely different world, but since I was staying with grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins, it wasn’t entirely foreign.

Summers in rural Kansas were idyllic, storybook times. That may sound strange, but they were simple, which is the required element for a good summer when you’re a kid. I knew I would watch The Today Show and The Price is Right every morning. After lunch, my cousins and I would be dropped off at the pool in town. If we had been especially good that morning, we would be allowed to sit in the back of the pickup as my grandmother drove slowly down the dirt roads. It was a 15-minute ride, and we would quiver with anticipation the entire way in. We’d literally jump out of the pickup as soon as grandma brought it to a halt, ignoring our grandmother’s pleas to behave ourselves and vaguely registering the time she promised to return later that afternoon. The hint of chlorine and Coppertone in the air. The fuzzy sound of the piped in radio station. The heat of the concrete on my bare feet. These are the things I remember immediately.

For the next three or four hours, we splashed almost endlessly, chasing each other around the edge of the pool (but not so fast we got yelled at by the lifeguards), dared each other to go off the high dive, and held impromptu races of varying distances. I also remember trying to use my city kid status to impress the high school aged lifeguards. I was the picture of manhood as I parked my skinny, tanned body next to the lifeguard stand to talk to my favorite, Lauren, for hours at a time. Back then, I thought she saw something in me that could cut through the six year age difference. Now I realize she probably thought I was retarded or otherwise impaired and just felt sorry for me. That’s not far from the truth, since I was generally stumbling around half-blind without my glasses on. There was no lower point that talking to some girl for 50 minutes, only to see her frown when I put my glasses on during Adult Swim so I could count out change to get some Laffy Taffy or a chewy Sweet Tart.

Being the city kid did have some advantages. I was never called away from the pool to help with cattle or to work the fields. I was always conflicted when someone I had been throwing the Nerf ball to on the high dive got called away. I was glad I was staying, but also thought it unfair that 12 year olds were asked to give up their summer fun to help adults. Wasn’t that what all the college guys who moved to town for the summer were for? The fact I had actually been to Royals Stadium and seen George Brett in the flesh made me especially popular among the other baseball fans. Despite all our talking about the Royals, we never dared bring our baseball cards to the pool, lest they be ruined in a run-away wave or tossed into the pool by older bullies.

Between 4:30 and 5:00, we would reluctantly wrap ourselves in towels and wait for our rides back to the farms. On the really good nights, when our grandparents, or some other adults had to go into town, we would eat a quick dinner of sandwiches and root beer floats, then pile back into the pickup for the evening hours at the pool. It’s funny to look back and realize that after spending hours in the afternoon sun, we would get a burst of new energy and think it was the greatest thing ever if we had a chance to go back for two more hours at night. Today, if I’m at the pool more than 30 minutes, I quickly doze off and even then have to sleep extra late the next morning.

Sure, there were negatives to being five hours from civilization. There were only three TV channels, all of which were received with inconsistent degrees of clarity. There was the annual “get the city kid on a horse and see what happens” game, in which I inevitably ended up flat on my ass as the horse galloped away. Some summers there would be a decent radio station within range, others I would be stuck listening to nothing but the Royals in the evening. (The story of when I broke down all kinds of musical barriers in my family, ironically with the Footloose soundtrack, is one for another time.) But all things considered, I don’t regret spending five straight summers in America’s outback, where my only excitement came from spending afternoons in overly chlorinated water.

Today when I go to a pool (a very rare occasion) I worry about if I’m burning, if my gut is too big, whether I can get a lounge chair or not, how loud the a-holes on the other side of the pool are being, and so on. When you’re a kid, though, the pool is your social club, work out facility, and sanctuary all in one. I miss being able to go to the pool with that same lack of care and sense of abandon, not realizing or caring how annoyed people were by me flying off the edge of the pool to catch a poorly thrown football over-and-over. Memories of summer always include Little League, vacations, chasing girls, and the amazing sense of freedom we had. More than anything, though, the swimming pool is what I think of most when I recall the summers of my childhood.

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