Month: April 2018 (Page 1 of 2)

Reader’s Notebook: 4/30/18

The City of Mirrors – Justin Cronin
This was my spring break book, the final in Cronin’s super virus/vampire trilogy. In this book, thought it took him a long time to get going, offering a lot of background in the first half or so. Some of the background, that which centered on the life of Tim Fanning and how he came to be Patient Zero in the outbreak, was quite good. The rest of that half of the book, though, was a slog.

But Cronin finally got things cranked up in the second half. As the final entry in a trilogy about good vs evil, it all build up to a final confrontation. The build up was better than the actual moment of decision, to me. But Cronin made up for that with a highly satisfying epilogue, which jumped even further into the future when the world had begun rebuilding itself.

This was a perfect spring break book: not too heavy, thus did not require too much mental effort, but long enough to fill up nearly a week’s worth of reading.

Split Season: 1981: Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike That Saved Baseball – Jeff Katz.
If there was a moment when I most loved baseball, it was the summer of 1981. We moved to Kansas City late in the 1980 season, so while I was able to jump into the midst of George Brett’s chase of .400 and the Royals’ pennant drive, 1981 was the first season that I started from scratch. My room was filled with baseball magazines, baseball cards, sections of the Star and Times sports sections with blurbs about the Royals. I remember one week, when I was home with a stomach virus, falling asleep listening to rebroadcasts of that day’s Grapefruit League game. If baseball was an illness, I was fully infected in 1981.

Which made that summer’s strike a real pisser to me.

Katz’s book covers everything major that happened in baseball in 1981, but he spends his most time breaking down that year’s labor dispute, which was one of the most damaging and significant in any sport’s history. Sometimes he even goes too deep into the strike. There are incredibly detailed accounts of negotiations, behind-the-scenes maneuverings, and the public relations offensives both labor and management put out. My head was spinning at some parts trying to keep everything straight.

But it’s a useful read to get a feel of where the game was at that time. The owners actually wanted teams that lost free agents to be able to claim a player off the roster of the team that signed their outgoing player. So when the (then) California Angels signed Reggie Jackson that fall, the Yankees would have been able to claim a player off the Angels’ roster. How insane does that sound today? The motive was clearly to dramatically reduce the opportunities for free agents, both increasing the likelihood they would remain with their most recent team and keeping salaries from escalating so quickly.

Katz is unabashedly on the side of the players, as I generally am today. I don’t know if that was the case for 1981 me, most likely because of people around me complaining about the players being greedy.

There’s plenty of on-the-field stuff, too. Katz follows Fernando Valenzuela’s amazing rise, the Oakland A’s incredible start, another year of heartbreak for the Montreal Expos, the insanity that was the Yankees, and the general strangeness that came from baseball’s only split season.

American War – Omar El Akkad.
Another alternate history that takes place in the future and has to do with a division within the United States.

American War takes place late in the 21st and early in the 22nd centuries. The US has been split in two, between the north and south, once again. This time the casus belli is a global ecological disaster. As the climate has changed, the oceans have overrun coastal areas. Florida is completely under water, along with other long stretches of the US Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The US capital has moved to Columbus, OH, where it is safe from the encroaching waters. And the government has banned the use of fossil fuels, an act the oil producing and exporting areas of the south refused to go along with.

South Carolina led a secession effort that was quickly followed by Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. While other border states sympathized with the southern cause, they remained in the Union. (Texas and much of the southwest are under Mexican control, but we never really learn about the war(s) that caused this.) In response, the US launched a biological war effort on South Carolina, infecting its population with a virus that kills people incredibly slowly. To isolate the disease, South Carolina has literally been sealed off with a large wall monitored by guards with orders to shoot to kill anyone who attempts to get out. South Carolina, and the south, got the last laugh, though. When US scientists were working on a vaccine for the disease, they unwittingly unleashed an even more powerful and much faster virus that ended up killing over 100 million Americans.

So in the late 21st century the US and Free Southern State are in a stalemated war that has caused both sides to live economically stunted lives. A new power, that spans Northern Africa and the Middle East, works behind the scenes to keep the war going to protect their status as world’s biggest power.

With all this as backdrop, we follow Sarat Chestnut through her life. Born in the coastal area of Louisiana, she, her mother, brother, and twin sister are forced to flee to a massive refugee camp in northern Alabama after her father is killed while trying to gain documents that would have allowed the family to travel to and live in the US. At the refugee camp Sarat becomes known for her lack of fear. There is no dare she won’t take, no area she won’t explore, no person she won’t talk to. Eventually she comes under the wing of a mysterious man who travels with ease across borders and boundaries that stop others. Patiently he recruits Sarat until she begins taking on missions against the US troops that are stationed just outside the camp. In her late teens she pulls off an audacious assassination of one of the US army’s leading generals, which in turn causes a violent new turn in the war. This brief moment of triumph for Sarat does not go unpunished. Eventually she is captured and undergoes seven years of brutal torture. When finally released she slowly works her way back to normalcy with an assist from her young nephew. However, the damage done to her is too strong, and although she finds herself without interest in who wins the war, she craves revenge.

In an epilogue written from the perspective of her nephew in his adult years, we learn that Sarat’s final act was unleashing yet another massive biological attack that nearly wiped out everyone left in North America.

El Akkad was born and raised in the Middle East, but has spent most of his adult life working as a journalist in Canada. The book reflects his journalistic background, as chapters of the proper narrative are divided by various “historical accounts” of the war from after its completion. These help to provide context to the broader story.

American War works well both as a novel of a dystopian future and as a statement on the effects of war. Sarat’s development displays how anyone can be radicalized given the right circumstances. And her hopelessness late in her life demonstrates how war destroys the soul.

Highly recommended.

Friday Playlist

“Breath In, Breath Out” – Melody’s Echo Chamber. Such good news that Melody Prochet is returning this summer after suffering serious injuries in an accident last year. Her new album was all recorded and set for release before her accident but was delayed pending her recovery. Glad that she is back.

“AZ” – Now, Now. Mother Nature keeps pushing spring back. It might, MIGHT, be up in the 80s here next week. I wish it would hurry up and warm up, because we’re wasting good songs like this on these cool days when you can’t drop the windows and drive around with them blasted.

“Wild Light” – Peter Matthew Bauer. Bauer is an artist who I generally like, but I also seem to miss his new releases and only discover them a few months later. His latest album, led by this single, came out last November but I just came across it recently. This is a fine, Kurt Vile-like tune.

“No Soul Will Remember” – MOLLY. Here’s some shoegazy, dream pop from Austria of all places.

“Dreams” – Japanese Breakfast covering The Cranberries. A pretty solid take on a classic, recorded in a Spotify Studio session.

“Pynk” – Janelle Monáe. As always with Ms. Monáe, VIDEO IS NOT SAFE FOR WORK.

Yeah, I know this was in last week’s playlist. But her album, Dirty Computer, came out today and it’s most excellent. And this just might be the best song of the year, so far. Even bigger, Janelle dropped the quote of the year in her interview with Rolling Stone, in which she came out as “pan-sexual.” She labeled herself as “a free-ass motherfucker.” I want that on my tombstone. 

College Hoops: KU and Condi

I suppose I’ll finally take my head out of the sand, hold my breath, and write about KU’s name coming up in the most recent FBI indictments related to shoe companies, college hoops, and recruiting.

Over spring break I was only mildly tuned in to news of any kind. At the end of the day, while the family was taking turns getting showered and ready for dinner, I would check Twitter and scroll back just an hour or so to make sure I didn’t miss anything big. It just so happened that the KU news broke right as I was doing my daily check, so I got sucked into the instant analysis. That was a fun half hour or so as I and others speculated on what KU players were involved and combed through the indictment to see how bad it really was for the program.

I’m a little relieved to say, based on what we know right now, it’s really not that bad. I recognize that can change as more information comes out. And it’s certainly not good. But KU has not reached Louisville’s level of filth.

Why am I confident in saying that? Two words: Billy Preston. It is generally assumed that Preston is one of the two players referenced in the KU portion of the indictment. KU kept Preston from playing a single minute in a regular game last season. They appealed his eligibility to the NCAA for nearly three months before he gave up and took a paycheck in Europe. If KU was directly responsible for, or even had knowledge of, Preston and his representatives getting money from Adidas, there is no way they would have worked with the NCAA to get him cleared. That would be both the dumbest and boldest move of all times. “Hey, we arranged for our shoe company to pass a bunch of money to this kid’s mom. But we want you to examine his family’s financial records, our recruitment of him, and then rule him eligible.”

To me – admittedly wearing crimson and blue glasses – that’s a pretty clear sign that KU had no direct involvement in Adidas passing money to players they have recruited.

Again, I’ll say that’s based on what we know now. And I’m not saying Bill Self didn’t sit down with Adidas folks years ago and they had some kind of agreement that any player we were recruiting would get a bag of cash from Adidas if they signed with KU, and that agreement has held without any recent discussions to keep Self and his staff in the clear.

But if that was the case, why would KU rule Preston ineligible to begin with? Why not either let him play and hope they don’t get caught? Or just cut him loose when they believed the payments would come out? I suppose they could have fought to keep him eligible in order to keep his family from talking to the NCAA and spilling the beans. In that case, though, the smarter move is not to hold him in limbo for three months but to release him so he can sign a pro contract somewhere and get paid.

Now Silvio De Sousa likely being the other player named is more concerning. Silvio, of course, did play after becoming eligible in January. He played a major role in the Big 12 tournament championship game win over West Virginia. And he made some huge plays late against Duke in the Midwest regional final. When it became obvious that he was player #2 a lot of KU folks were saying things like, “Well, no need to put that Final Four banner up, because the NCAA is going to make us take it down because of Silvio.”

Now Silvio’s guardian, who allegedly took money first from Under Armour and then Adidas, denies he got any money from anyone. Which, of course he does. They never admit to taking money.

I’m a little less worried about the NCAA stepping in here for two reasons: Corey Maggette and Cam Newton. Duke was the only school not penalized in any way in the Myron Piggie scandal because they convinced the NCAA that they were not aware that Maggette’s eligibility was in question. Their 1999 Final Four banner still hangs. Same for Auburn and Cam Newton. Auburn is still, officially, the 2011 BCS National Champion despite Newton’s father getting paid. As with Maggette, Auburn successfully argued that they were unaware of the payments and that Newton’s eligibility was in question. If it comes to it, that is going to be KU’s argument regarding De Sousa.

Now Silvio may not be eligible to play another game at KU, but I have about 75% confidence that the NCAA isn’t going to make KU vacate any wins from this past season.

Again, this is all based on what we know now and can change if/when more information comes out.

Honestly, I was surprised this wasn’t a bigger story when I got back home and was catching up on news. I think that’s because the facts, as the public is aware of them, favor KU. No coaching staff members were named in the indictment, nor were any arrested in its aftermath. While some bomb throwers have been busy taking the allegations and running with them, it seems like most reasonable, national observers who have examined the evidence agree with my view: KU players, or more specifically their parents and guardians, were involved but so far there is no evidence that the KU program was directly involved.

So that’s my stance, and I’m sticking to it. And hoping more, worse information doesn’t come out.

Besides, Marvin Bagley III’s dad got way more money from Nike than Silvio De Sousa’s guardian got from Adidas, and it was Silvio who cut down a net in Omaha not MBIII. I view that as a much wiser investment. Flags fly forever, fools!

I haven’t dived into the details of the report released yesterday by the commission led by Condolezza Rice on reforming college basketball. I have read some summaries and reactions. I think I have to agree with the KC Star’s Sam Mellinger who said the commission was a disappointing waste of time.

I’ll bullet point the major items here:
* Ending one-and-done. Ok, whatever. Kids should be able to go pro whenever they want.
* Allowing players to get advice from agents. Good. Would be better if they could accept money and stay in school.
* Holding coaches more accountable for cheating. Excellent.
* Guaranteeing scholarships for 3–4 years. Good.
* Penalizing schools who have players go pro early by locking those scholarships until that player’s eligibility would normally run out. Absolutely fucking terrible. Texas Tech recruits a Top 200 player who blows up and is now likely to be a top 15 pick in the draft in Zhaire Smith. They get punished for that by losing his scholarship for the next 2–3 years???
* Giving the NCAA more power over summer ball. The worst.
* Completely punting on every aspect related to player compensation. Cowardly.

In short, a bunch of well-meaning, but half-baked and toothless ideas that, if implemented as expected, will probably cause as much new harm to the college game as it does clean up the issues.

I love college hoops. It’s my favorite sport, the one I live and die with for five months every year. I wish it was like the 1980s again, when the best players – guys with NBA Hall of Fame talent – stayed in school for three or four years routinely. But those days are long gone. The NCAA needs to wake up and realize that, too, and help to create an environment that helps everyone, not just the organization’s revenue stream.

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?

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