Month: November 2017 (Page 1 of 2)

A Shift

Dang it. Once again my slowness in writing has caused someone with a lot more readership than I have to hit the same topic. Will Leitch has a piece in New York Magazine about whether the NFL is on a downward spiral. He hits a lot of the same notes I wanted to hit in a more personal post. His piece is really good, so I do recommend reading it. But I won’t let it stop me from sharing my own thoughts. Finally.

Over the past month I’ve seen a pretty big shift in the sports I watch. After several years of watching the NFL less and less, I’ve kind of given up on the game. My Sundays are more often spent watching the Food Network with one of my girls, if we’re going to spend the day watching TV, than going back-and-forth between Fox and CBS with the afternoon games. Where once NBC’s Sunday night game was required viewing, I don’t think I’ve watched it for more than 30 minutes all season combined.

Why the move away from the NFL? Long time readers know how our fall soccer schedule started the process a few years ago. September and October Sundays were all spent on soccer fields watching the girls play. That’s what began to break the life-long pull the NFL had on me. Then – again as I’ve written about before – the mismanagement of the Colts has taken a toll on me. I don’t have much interest watching a poorly constructed team lose by playing bad football most Sundays.[1]

All the issues around football this year don’t help. Most of you would guess correctly I’m firmly on the side of the players in the kneeling during the anthem controversy. But I understand how some folks will be put off by that. I, though, am more put off by owners and advertisers trying to silence players. And I’m put off by the drama of Jerry Jones and Roger Goodell fighting about if Goodell should remain as commissioner and how much he should be paid. All these issues strike me as a league that is unclear on what its path forward should be, or worse attempting to distract from the real issue surrounding football that could threaten its future.

Yes, all we’re learning about the terrible toll football takes on the bodies and brains of its players has some effect on me, too. It’s hard to watch massive hits we grew up cheering knowing the long-term effects they carry. It’s frustrating to know that the NFL put off giving the players more protections for so long. And it’s terrible to see nearly every Sunday a player somehow avoids going under the concussion protocol despite taking a fearsome strike to the head.

Biggest, though, is simply the quality of play. The NFL just doesn’t seem as good or exciting as it used to. Part of that is just about every Sunday another superstar suffers a serious injury. Part of it is various rules and strategy changes that have made the games feel interminable. I fondly recall when the Peyton Manning Colts were at their zenith, when they were playing wide-open, pass-first football, but were so efficient at it that 1:00 games would sometimes end at 3:45. That was outside the norm, but it was possible. Games now, with all the replays and challenges and incomplete passes, are lucky if they check in at three hours fifteen minutes. That extra half hour, in which nothing happens, feels much longer.

(Quick aside: How can a guy who loves baseball complain about football games taking too long? Well, A) baseball does have a time problem, too. But B) length is part of baseball, and much more manageable as a fan watching at home. You can do other things while watching baseball. For football, you really need to be locked in lest you miss something important.)

I don’t know which of those factors is the biggest, but when you combine them they all result in me having no interest in watching the NFL. I still watch plenty of college football on Saturdays, which likely makes me a hypocrite on one level or another. College football just seems a lot more exciting despite still having the injury issue, games taking forever, and my favorite team sucking big time.

Balancing this somewhat is my slow shift into being an NBA fan again. I’ve watched a good chunk of most of the Pacers’ games this season, and often spend some time watching the national NBA games each evening.


For starters the Pacers are a lot of fun to watch. At least so far I was dead wrong on their return for Paul George. Victor Oladipo has been fabulous when thrust into the role as primary scorer. He’s exciting, plays with flair and passion, and is much better than I expected. Domantas Sabonis has also been great as the Pacers primary bench weapon. Kevin Pritchard made some other wise roster moves resulting in a team that runs, shoots, plays defense, and is generally fun to watch. They’re not going to challenge the Cavs or Celtics in the East, but they at least make you want to watch and root for them.

It also helps that the NBA is in a really good place right now. Most teams are about getting out and scoring. Most of the Pacers games I’ve watched this year have checked in at just under or right at two hours, which is the perfect amount of time for a regular season game. The games are brisk and entertaining.

You have the Warriors, who are an all-time great team, at least in terms of talent and style. That’s a sexy team to watch. You have LeBron, who is doing things no one his age should be able to do. You have Kyrie Irving, who has reinvented himself and is leading the Celtics to do things no one expected of them. You have James Harden and the Rockets, who are spectacular. You have Joel Embiid, the man-child who (for now) is healthy and doing amazing things. There’s the Greek Freak, the Thunder, The Zinger, the promise of the T-Wolves, and a couple dozen young guys who are loaded with potential to take over as older stars age out. It feels like every time you turn on an NBA game, you’re going to see something amazing that you’ll want to start texting people about.

Oh, and the NBA has embraced the idea of its players taking social and political stands. Granted, those views are generally progressive and fit with my world view. But, still, unlike the NFL which tries to turn its players into nameless, faceless, voiceless, interchangeable jerseys, the NBA appears much more open to allowing its players to both emote and entertain.

Put simply, the NBA is a lot of fun, while the NFL seems joyless.

I don’t miss the NFL. Whatever hole it leaves in my sporting life has been filled by trying to re-learn the NBA. Once the NFL was my perfect generic sport. College basketball was my passion. Baseball was my first love. But the NFL was the sport where it didn’t matter who was playing. If there was a game on, I could sit and watch for 15 minutes or 30, and be entertained. Those days are over.

  1. Emblematic of the Colts’ issues, after keeping the roof of Lucas Oil Stadium closed on several perfect Sundays earlier in the season, they opened it for last Sunday’s game, when it was nice, but still fairly cool inside the building. Appropriately the roof got stuck when they attempted to close it that night. It was fixed Monday but, still, symbolism and whatnot.  ↩

Thanksgiving 2017

An action-packed Thanksgiving break in our house.

We kicked things off Wednesday by heading to the post office to submit passport applications for all three girls. We are going to Mexico next spring break and wanted to give their applications plenty of time to percolate through the system. We double, triple, quadruple checked that everything was in order, talked to a couple friends who had gone through the process recently, and arrived thoroughly prepared…only to discover the post office now takes reservations for the passport window and they were booked solid for the day. We got there early, and they told us if we wanted to hang out they’d try to squeeze us in. We gave that a shot, as there were only two groups in front of us, but before the first family got processed two more came in and we gave up. So much for planning ahead!

Off to a couple stores to do last-minute shopping for Thanksgiving dinner and then it was back home to wrap up cleaning/straightening the house to get ready for the big day. One of the girls’ big Christmas presents was delivered that afternoon. In a rather large box. With a sticker listing the box’s contents. Somehow the girls didn’t see it as it sat at the front door until I could sneak it up to the attic. Honestly, I’m not sure why I’m trying to act like their gifts don’t come from Amazon, Target, Pottery Barn, etc like everything else we get them. One of us has to keep up appearances, I guess.

Last year I let L watch the Cheers “Thanksgiving Orphans” episode with me on Thanksgiving eve. As I recalled, she didn’t seem to really understand why I laughed so much, although she did enjoy the food fight. So this year I went back to my old system of waiting until the girls went to bed to watch it. I drank a little too much bourbon and laughed a lot, just like I have for the past 31 Thanksgivings.

The next morning L asked me, “Are you going to watch the show with the food fight?” She was disappointed when I said I had watched it the night before. I guess she’ll join me again in 2018!

On to food prep. We were hosting, but it was about the smallest possible group we can have in our local family: only six adults plus our girls and two one-year-olds. I handled the turkey, corn casserole, and made Giada’s stuffing/dressing. When I put the bird in, I thought something looked different about it. When it was time to carve it, I asked my sister-in-law who is a chef take the knife. She started carving, paused, and wondered why it wasn’t cutting like she expected. That’s when she realized I had cooked the bird upside-down. She said that was actually a good thing, as it kept the breast in all the juices and fat, which kept it moist[1] and tender. Fortunately the bird turned out great, so I decided that will be my thing going forward, and will refer to it as my Famous Upside-Down Turkey.

We had a fine meal, and I once again bemoaned the fact that my minor stomach issues prevent me from eating nearly as much as I used to. Seriously I can’t even go back for mid-evening leftovers anymore. That just meant more food for the weekend.

Friday is decoration day in our house. I stepped outside in the frosty morning to begin putting up lights while S worked a half-day. Within an hour I was chucking my jacket aside and wiping sweat from my brow as it turned into a beautiful, warm, fall day. Weird. Usually I’m freezing on decoration days. Once S got home we headed out for the purchasing of the tree and got the inside decorations taken care of. We ended up with a very handsome tree once again.

Saturday was another prep day as C was having two friends over for a sleepover. It was a Harry Potter-themed sleepover, as the girls would be watching the Freeform marathon of the Potter movies while doing some Potter-related crafts and playing games. C decorated the basement so it was filled with references to the books and movies. She’s very creative and did a fantastic job. The nice thing about having 11-year-olds over for a sleepover is you just kind of turn them loose. We only saw them when they came up for pizza. Now we did hear them plenty. They were still going strong at 12:30 when I finally fell asleep. We heard Sunday morning that C and one of her friends made it until 3:00 before passing out.

Oh, and we squeezed in taking a picture for the Christmas card Saturday afternoon, too. This has always been a problem in our family. Each year at least one kid doesn’t want to cooperate. S and I are usually yelling at them to knock it off/stop pouting/stop whining/leave your sister alone the entire time. Somehow we always end up with a decent pic. But, man, this year was an especially big struggle. I won’t out which kid was the biggest problem but I took the fewest pics I’ve ever taken because there was a complete meltdown after about 10 minutes. Fortunately one of the pictures was good enough to work, although neither of us think it is one of our best.

Sunday was clean-up, chill-out day.

The girls got an extra hour added onto break as I made an appointment first thing this morning to knock out the passports. The lady at the post office was really nice, rushed everything through so they could get to school quickly, and the forms are off to Chicago for processing.

Just before sitting down to put this together, I whipped up a batch of cookie dough so C can make the first Christmas cookies of the year after school today.

The holiday season has begun!

  1. You’re welcome.  ↩

KD Comes to Allen

Busy, busy day around here getting ready for tomorrow. All the errands have been run and (hopefully) the final trip to the grocery store completed. The girls and I are midway through our house cleaning regimen. I’m about to head outside and do some leaf blowing and grass mowing in the 90 minutes or so the thermometer might reach 40 today.

With that in mind, I thought I’d just share this most excellent link with you all. Whether you’re a KU fan or not, I think a lot of you will enjoy reading through the oral history of Kevin Durant’s one visit to Allen Fieldhouse in 2007.

‘He’s Going to Get 80 on Us’: How KD Almost Toppled the Jayhawks’ Big 12 Dynasty

Of course, the headline is not entirely accurate. Had Texas won that day, the teams would have tied for first place in the Big 12. So the KU Big 12 title streak would still be at 13 today.

Anyway, safe and happy Thanksgivings to all of you!

Reader’s Notebook, 11/21/17

So much for my little lull. I raced through two books over the past week. So as I don’t forget about them over the holiday weekend, here they are.

The Lock Artist – Steve Hamilton
This book arrived with loads of praise from many different sources. And it ended up being a magnificent read.

Our narrator is Michael, a man who is writing down his memoirs while serving a prison sentence. As he warns us up front, his memories will not be shared in chronological order. That is because there was a terrible event in his childhood that, he claims, he needs to work through other memories before he can share it with us. He does give us the hint that people call him The Miracle Boy because of whatever happened back then. An after effect of that event has major ramifications for the entire book: Michael does not speak. Key words being does not. He has no physical issues that prevent him from speaking: his vocal chords are intact, his mouth works just fine, he has a tongue. But something about that childhood encounter has left him speechless for over 20 years. But, as he promises, we’ll get to that.

He runs through his childhood with his uncle, who cared for him after his parents weren’t able to. In his teenage years he became infatuated with two things: art, specifically drawing, and locks. He would take apart locks, figure out how they worked, then put them back together. This led to impressing his classmates by helping kids who forgot their locker combinations to open them, picking door locks, etc. Along the way he meets and falls in love with a girl who also has a passion for drawing. Their relationship is unorthodox on many levels, not the least that he can only communicate with her via the comics they draw for each other.

These memories alternate with others from his late teen years, when he comes to work for various crime groups as one of the best lock pickers and safe crackers – also known as boxmen – in the country. He makes a little money and gets famous in certain circles in the process. But he’s also involved in two capers that go horribly wrong and is lucky to escape with his life. The second of these is what lands him in prison.

The big reveal, of the tragedy of his childhood, is wonderfully laid out. It is dramatic, cathartic, emotional, utterly shocking, and completely delivers. Hamilton even finds a way to make a book that closes with this horrible revelation and several key characters getting murdered end on a hopeful note.

The Boys of Dunbar – Alejandro Danois
This is an accounting of one of the best high school basketball teams of all time, the 1981–1982 Dunbar Poets of Baltimore. That team featured an unbelievable amount of talent. Reggie Williams and David Wingate both starred on the powerful Georgetown teams of the mid–80s. Muggsy Bogues went on to play at Wake Forest. Reggie Lewis at Northeastern. And Gary Graham captained UNLV’s 1987 Final Four team. All of them played in the NBA. Beyond those players was a bench that could beat most staring lineups they faced. Unlike the super teams of today, which are built around prep schools that recruit across the country, all these guys grew up in East Baltimore and played at Dunbar for legendary coach Bob Wade.

In that 81–82 season, Dunbar really should have won the mythical high school national championship. They were denied that honor, though, by cross-town rival Calvert Hall, a private school that refused to play them that year. We get inside their practices, how they just destroyed everyone they played, how the kids on the team struggled with growing up in East Baltimore as the economy there was crumbling and the drug trade was becoming increasingly violet, and how Wade, a former NFL player, insisted his players take care of their academics first and set themselves up for a future when sports wouldn’t get them where they wanted to be.

It’s a little hagiographic – all the Dunbar players come across as saints who never did anything worse than a little horsing around – but given how dirty elite high school sports are these days, it serves as a nice reminder that not everything is about getting to the NBA as quickly as possible. And it made me appreciate how good Muggsy Bogues was. Sure, he played in the NBA, effectively, for a long time. But still I looked at him as a novelty, the 5’3” freak who somehow hung on despite his size. His addition to the team in 1981 took a team that was very good and turned them into an epic squad. In fact, despite losing Wingate and Graham to graduation, Muggsy was the key in a second-straight undefeated season in 1982–83, and finally earning the national title.

Friday Playlist

The flow of new music has slowed recently, as it always does this time of year. Thus, I’ve spent more time reviewing and whittling my Favorite Songs of the Year list lately, getting it ready for unveiling in about a month. 

So for today’s playlist, I decided just to open up Spotify, select my Songs, hit shuffle, and share the first five songs that popped out. Enjoy!

“Shark Fin Blues” – The Drones. Great, sludgy, grungy, emotional song from this Australian band, released in 2005. I remember it as a song I discovered on the great I just looked it up and found that it in 2009 it was voted, by a group of current Aussie songwriters, as the best Australian song ever. Wow! 

“Little Black Submarines” – The Black Keys. The Keys’ take on the “Stairway to Heaven” formula. And it works pretty well.

“This Lonely Morning” – Best Coast. We ought to be due for some new music from Best Coast in 2018. Please!

“Inside Job” – Pearl Jam. PJ’s 2006 self-titled album was a bit of a comeback after two straight albums that were often uneven. Fueled by anger about the Bush presidency and the way in Iraq, Eddie finally found something to get fired up about again. But this closing track was remarkable in being unlike anything the band had ever done before. It was written by guitarist Mike McCready. In fact, it was the first song he wrote entirely – including lyrics – to appear on a PJ album. 

“She’s A Girl and I’m a Man” – Lloyd Cole. Hey, it’s our old friend Dave introducing one of the greatest, forgotten pop songs of the early 90s. 

Reader’s Notebook, 11/16/17

Funny thing. After reading that Van Halen book in one day, I then didn’t read a thing for an entire week. And then took roughly a week to really get into my next book. Obviously my body was self-regulating and making sure I didn’t get too far ahead of my book-a-week pace.

The Sellout – Paul Beatty
Here we have An Important Book. So important, in fact, that Beatty became the first American to win the Man Booker Prize. That label and accolade make this a tricky book to write about. Oh, and the fact the book is a layered and outrageously original look at race in America makes it difficult to write about, too.

Do I just run through the plot? Tell you how it’s set in the mythical community of Dickens, CA, in south central LA, a predominantly black neighborhood that has been “disappeared” into larger LA – its borders erased, exit signs noting its name removed, city services all but dissolved? Do I focus on the narrator, a second-generation farmer in the community who continues to adhere to the original intent of Dickens – farmland for black folks – even as the land around him becomes increasingly urban? Do I tell you about his assistant, errrr, slave? The last surviving Our Gang actor who, after facing decades of racial abuse decides to turn himself back into a slave and demand to be worked hard, whipped, and otherwise degraded? Or do I go into detail about the narrator’s plan for saving Dickens as a distinct entity, which involves re-segregating its schools, buses, and businesses? Any one of those elements could demand 500 words or more to break down.

And then there’s Beatty’s writing style. This is an insanely funny novel, but also deeply disturbing, depending on how you approach it. I read some reviews by people who either didn’t get Beatty’s humor, or were put off by it, and thus missed the power of the book as a whole. The book is profane and direct, yet also laugh-out-loud funny on nearly every page. I guess some folks think when you’re writing about the series concept of race in America, you can’t have any fun while doing it.

This is a crazily good book. It’s one that you want to go back and read again as soon as you finish it, both because of Beatty’s writing ability and the story he’s trying to tell. And beyond all the laughs are some deeply important questions about where we are as a country and how we should try to move forward, and how in a multi-ethnic nation we find the balance between a new, common culture and keeping the traditions of our various sub-cultures alive.

Crimes in Southern Indiana – Frank Bill
After reading the collection of Daniel Woodrell short stories, I did some digging for authors with a similar style and came across Frank Bill. As the title of his own collection of short stories suggests, he is from southern Indiana, and all his stories take place down near the Ohio River.

Like Woodrell, and Donald Ray Pollack, Bill’s stories are dark, full of violence, and rarely have sympathetic characters. There are criminals and borderline criminals. Meth heads, dog fight trainers, cheating spouses. There are murders aplenty.

That this was Bill’s first published work was apparent. His stories lack the polish and subtleties of Woodrell’s and Pollack’s works. But they show promise, if you’re into the genre his work fits into.

Hoops Are Here

Here we go. Too early for sure, but the first big night of the college hoops year is tonight. These games would likely be much better if played a month from now but, whatever, we have to live with all these marquee matchups before Thanksgiving.

This year’s Champions Classic is perfectly arranged. Duke and Michigan State, #1 vs. #2, two complete and mature teams, will open the night. Then Kansas and Kentucky, #3 vs. #4, one fairly young and one very young team, both with lots of questions, will close it out. Doesn’t mean we’ll get two great games, but at least the matchups make sense this year.

The hard thing about these games is you don’t know what to expect. A week ago, KU struggled with a mediocre D2 team. On Friday they annihilated a mediocre D1 team. Kentucky struggled with a mediocre D1 team Friday and had to hang on for dear life against a solid D1 team Sunday. Of course tonight both teams might come out and shoot 60% and play a breath-taking game, as KU and Indiana did last November. Or it might be a dog of a game. It’s November freaking 14th, we just don’t know.

My expectations for this year’s KU team are fairly low. I must add the “relatively speaking” label to that, of course. Baring significant injuries, they should still be really good, win a lot of games, and have a high seed in March. But it doesn’t feel like a national title contender to me. They are just too short of depth and experience inside and are lacking that NBA prospect that can elevate a decent college team into a great one.

There is potential for that first problem to be eased a bit. Current high school recruit Silvio De Sousa is petitioning the NCAA to join KU after he graduates from the IMG Academy next month. There is some historical precedence for this – from one of the greatest KU players ever coincidentally – but since it hasn’t happened in years I’m not sure whether I should get my hopes up or not.

If high school football players can graduate in December, enroll in college in January and begin practicing right away, why shouldn’t De Sousa be able to play college hoops as soon as he’s graduated from high school? If Marvin Bagley III could decide in July that he was going to reclassify into the class of 2017 and enroll at Duke, how is this any different?

Still, I hate all this reclassifying nonsense. I feel like there need to be hard rules about it, and kids should stick with an academic class. So I’m conflicted.

Anyway, De Sousa could really help KU, even if he’s just another clueless body to plug in down low this year. I have a hard time seeing Udoka Azubuike play more than 25 minutes a night. And once he’s out, that leaves KU Billy Preston, who is 6’10” but is also more of a face-up player,[1] and Mitch Lightfoot, who is only 6’8” and checks in just over 200 lbs, as the Jayhawks inside guys. Even in the age of small ball, that’s going to be a problem.

Fortunately the Jayhawks have Devonté Graham to steady the ship. It’s unrealistic to expect him to go BIFM on the world this year. But through a couple exhibition games and one real game, he looks like he will be a much more productive player without Frank Mason III next to him. He’s still a deadly shooter and has already shown better ability at getting to the rim. There’s going to be a huge weight on that kid’s shoulders this year, and I think he’s up for carrying it.

The rest of the Jayhawks are a bunch of 6’3” – 6’7” athletic dudes. Which I love. Some of my favorite teams have been made up of interchangeable, athletic guys.[2] The question is, do these parts fit together? Can Malik Newman show the pro-potential offense he entered his freshman year at Mississippi State with and add the defense Bill Self wants from him? What is LaGerald Vick’s ceiling? Can he be a poor man’s Josh Jackson, playing all over the court on both ends? Can Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk finally, consistently deliver on all the hype he came with four years ago? Is Marcus Garrett ready to play a huge role as a freshman?[3] When Sam Cunliffe becomes eligible in January, what will he bring to the table?

Can a team this shallow, with a huge hole at backup big man, weather the battles of the 18-game Big 12 season and extend KU’s title streak to 14? I think that’s a huge question right now. And no matter what happens tonight, I don’t know if we’ll have any real answers to any of those questions. Playing a callow Kentucky team on a neutral court in November is nothing like playing Baylor at home on Saturday and then going to Morgantown on Tuesday then having to play Oklahoma on Sunday. Josh Jackson was one of those rare talents who could fill just about any hole on the court. This year’s team doesn’t have someone with his talent or basketball IQ to hide the roster’s gaps.

My expectations are also limited simply because I think Duke, Michigan State, and Arizona are several very clear notches ahead of the pack this year. Sure, someone else could win the title. But those three are the overwhelming favorites.

After two-straight Elite Eight seasons and the BIFM/Josh Jackson experience, and with a monster recruiting class coming in next year, this is looking like a gap season for KU. Thank goodness gap years at KU mean a lot of really fun things are going to happen between now and April.

  1. Prediction: Billy is going to drive KU fans nuts. He’ll be great one night and a disaster the next. Basically the new Carlton Bragg, hopefully without the off-court stuff.  ↩
  2. The classic UNLV teams, 1989 Illinois, to name a couple.  ↩
  3. Prediction: he’s going to become one of my favorite players over his time at KU.  ↩

On The Academic Tip

A couple cool things M has accomplished recently.

Earlier in the year, a big group of girls in her grade attended the induction ceremony for National Junior Honor Society. M had never mentioned a thing about it, and when I asked her, she just shrugged. I dug into the student handbook and saw her GPA last spring was 0.3 points too low to get admitted.

M worked really hard in the first quarter of this year, raised her GPA up over 3.6, and a week later came home with an invitation to join NJHS. When she handed the letter to me, she was trying to act cool about it, but you could tell she was really excited. She filled out the application, turned it in, and last week came home with her certificate recognizing her admission into the hallowed halls of that august organization. I mean, I guess it’s august. I have no idea what they do, and neither does M at this point. Not sure if there are meetings, secret handshakes, honors and privileges, etc.

A quick aside to point out that I was never in National Honor Society in high school. I was only a solid 3.3 student throughout my years, for starters. And when I was a freshman, I got in trouble for the one time in my high school years.

Our science teacher floated between our high school and the rival school across the district. Like any teacher worth their salt, she harnessed a class full of kids to do her grading for her. She’d pass out papers from the other school to us, run through the answers, and we’d grade them. Her nights were suddenly free! She was young and attractive so I approved.

Anyway, our papers always came back from the other school with good natured comments on them like, “Ray South Rules, Raytown Drools!” Well, one day we were a little wound up at our table, and I decided I would not stand for the name of our good school to be besmirched by the hooligans from the south side. On a paper I was grading, I wrote, “Q: Why is Ray South so good at basketball? A: Because they’re good at playing with their balls.” Dude, everyone around me thought it was hilarious! Especially since I wrote it on the paper in red ink. And we had to sign our names next to the final graded score, so there was no way they could get blamed for my heroic act.

You can probably see where this is headed.

It took a day or so, but there was blowback. I was sent down to the assistant principal’s office to discuss my transgression. He also happened to be the athletic director, and Ray South had been kicking our asses for years in basketball. He read what I wrote and literally laughed out loud. It was the 80s, he could do shit like that. He quickly coughed, composed himself, and issued me one day of in-school suspension. But there was a gleam in his eye, and a wry smile that let me know I had impressed him with my gumption.

When I reported for my day of in-school suspension, the teacher monitoring the morning session did a double take and said, “I never expected to see you in here.” Same thing for the teacher that came in at lunch. And then the teacher that covered the afternoon. And several of the deadbeats who spent most of their time in the ISS room. “Man, what did you do to end up here?” I thought about saying, “I stabbed someone.” But since most of these kids were headed for jail eventually, I figured they might see me as a threat rather than a badass. I remember getting through all my work for the day well before lunch and then spending the rest of the day reading Basketball Digest and Sports Illustrated. All-in-all, not a bad day.

One of my teachers, though, shook her head the next day and said, “You know you can never be in National Honor Society now, right?” I gave her a dumb look because it never occurred to me that I would want to be in NHS, let alone writing a stupid joke on someone’s science quiz would eliminate me from ever joining.

Oh well. I have a solid story and what are all those geeks who were in NHS back in the late 80s doing now? Probably being lawyers and doctors and titans of commerce and whatnot. But still, I think I came out ahead in the deal.

OK, back to M. Middle schoolers at St P’s have to do a monthly service project. For October their assignment was to get involved in a local issue. They were to research things going on in the community, find something that required government attention, and contact a local official about it. She read about homeless kids struggling to get their homework done and came up with an idea for secure spaces where these kids can do their school work. They would be small kiosks that were covered to keep the weather out, supplied with pencils and papers and good lightning, and had security cameras to keep the kids safe. After putting together all the details, she wrote a letter to the governor with her idea.

On Friday she got a letter back from the governor’s office. One of his outreach staff wrote M a letter thanking her for sending the letter, saying she had some good ideas, and how important it was for citizens to get involved in issues like this. She said the governor thought M was a “fine young Hoosier,” which caused me to laugh out loud. I’ve been here 14.5 years and folks willingly calling themselves Hoosiers still makes me laugh. I’ve been calling her a Fine Young Hoosier ever since.

Anyway, M was beaming after reading the letter. She realized on her own the governor probably didn’t see her letter or direct someone to respond on her behalf. But she still was thrilled to get something back. She carefully examined the signature at the bottom and said, “I don’t think this is a stamp. She really signed it!” which I thought was sweet.

Saturday Song


I’ve reached the point in my life where if I want to remember things, I have to somehow set a reminder. The girls tell me they need more school supplies? Set a reminder. There’s something I’d like to remember in three months? Put it in the calendar. 

I know this isn’t some kind of radical new system, but up until a couple years ago, I could always count on my brain to recall things when needed.

Even with these electronic assists, sometimes my system falls apart. Like if I’m hurriedly putting a reminder in and use an abbreviation I can’t recall, or put in a reminder without any details. For example, last week I had one pop up that just said “Door.” OK, was I supposed to paint a door? Buy a door? Knock on a door? No idea.

This week I noticed a reminder on the calendar for Friday that just said “EF”. Hmmmm. I stared at it for awhile but couldn’t figure out what the hell I meant when I had first put it in, so I ignored it. Nice system, right?

Later in the day I came across a Tweet that reminded me why I had put a reminder for EF in, turns out one year ago. It was because yesterday was the anniversary of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Falling on a Friday it seemed like the perfect day to include Gordon Lightfoot’s ode to the lost ship in my Friday playlist.

A couple things.

First off, I had long written off the song as some cheesy, mid-70s folk tune, a remnant from my childhood I didn’t need to rediscover. Then when our girls got to St. P’s, the music teacher, who is in her late 70s, always had them learn the song and the story behind it the first week of November. That’s kind of cool. I listened to it with them and realized it’s a hell of a tune. There’s that unforgettable riff that carries the song. The lyrics are pretty genius, and the epitomize that era: writing a folk/pop song about a tragic, real life event.

Also, people around here tend to recall the event more than I ever remember it being brought up back in the Great Plains. Apparently with Indiana bordering on a Great Lake, the events of November 1975 were a much bigger deal here, and more deeply ingrained into the cultural memory.

Between all of that, and hearing it once every six weeks or so in SiriusXM’s 70s channel, I’ve come to really love the song. I suppose it works out just fine that my reminder system let me down and I have to share it on its own rather than in yesterday’s playlist.

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