Month: August 2018 (Page 1 of 2)

(Early) Friday Vids

I’m posting this a little early as Friday is a big day for the Mrs. and I: We are flying to New York City, the first visit there for both of us, believe it or not. Officially this is our annual trip to one of her conferences. But we will be spending most of the weekend with her two college roommates and their husbands. One lives in Jersey, the other is flying in from Chicago. It will be the first time the three former roomies have been together since we all went to the Bay Area together 11 years ago. Time flies!

We have a full agenda and I will, of course, catch you up on it next week.

Before I head out, I wanted to share two songs with you. First, what may the be song of 2018, one I’ve been rocking out to for several weeks. It’s been a slightly off musical year so far – not as good as last year at least – and this upcoming album gives me hope for the last four months of 2018.

“The Red Door” – Restorations

Next, a song for our destination. Bonus points if you dig around and find the conspiracy nut who broke this video down to prove that 9/11 was planned by the US government, or some stupid shit like that. I watched it a few years ago and it made me laugh. Sadly, as we’ve learned, those folks have a lot more sway in the world than we thought they did.

“New York, New York” – Ryan Adams

Reader’s Notebook, 8/30/18

Man, how did I get so behind on these? Well, part of it is that my reading pace has remained slow in recent weeks. It doesn’t help that I have a stack of golf instructional books that are stealing time away from my proper reading stack. I’ll quickly run through some recent books.

Notes from a Public Typewriter – edited by Michael Gustafson and Oliver Uberti.
Gustafson and his wife own a bookstore in Ann Arbor. A few years back they set out an old typewriter left over from his grandfather’s estate along with a stack of paper, and invited people browsing to type notes that they would leave for others to read. This book is a collection both of those notes and essays about them. It made me want to take a trip to Ann Arbor and bash out a few words, likely not very profound, to be a part of the experience.

Minute Zero – Todd Moss
The second of Moss’ Judd Ryker foreign policy thrillers. As with his first book, The Golden Hour, this is centered on political unrest in Africa and the US trying to both keep events from spinning out of control and nudge them in the direction we want them to go. Moss’ books are good summer books, because while dealing with politics and government he still manages to keep the pace of events racing along at a swift pace.

Upon Further Review – Edited by Mike Pesca
The best thing about sports is winning. The second best thing is playing the What If game. What if that recruit had picked your school over a rival? What if the ref had/had not blown his whistle? What if that ball had curled foul?

Pesca throws readers a curveball with the cover of this collection, subtitled “The Greatest What-Ifs in Sports History.” It shows pictures of Bill Buckner fielding that ball “behind the bag at first,” Dwight Clark letting Joe Montana’s toss slip through his fingers, Charles Barkley holding the NBA championship trophy, and Kevin Dyson dragging Mike Jones into the end zone rather than being stopped one yard short.

That’s a curveball because the book is not about isolated moments like that.[1] Instead, Pesca asked the writers he assembled to look at broader What Ifs and to examine the long-term implications of them.

There are some serious chapters: What if Muhammad Ali had gotten his draft deferment?; What if the US had boycotted Hitler’s Olympics?; What if horse racing was still the most popular sport in the country?; and what if the MLB had started testing for steroids in 1991?. These, and the other serious chapters, are interesting to read.

But the book really shines in the more light-hearted chapters. Ethan Sherwood Strauss sends the 2017 Golden State Warriors back in time to play Jordan’s Bulls and the Shaq/Kobe Lakers. Jesse Eisenberg wonders if the 1993 NBA finals would have ended differently had he not written Dan Majerle a fan letter than winter asking for help to stop a kid bullying him at school. Nate DiMeo imagines a world where tug-of-war was never dropped from the Olympics and was now one of the biggest and most storied sports in the world. Paul Snyder’s chapter about a blimp full of money exploding over world track headquarters in 1952 and turning Wilt Chamberlain, and all the great basketball players who followed him, into full-time track and field stars is an utter delight.

Josh Levin closes the book with a chapter titled “What If Game 7 of the 2016 World Series Had Turned Into Every Sports Movie Ever Made?” which is brilliant.

The balance of serious and farcical make this book a great read.

  1. Well, mostly.  ↩

Trust the Process

Finally a day of calm. After about two weeks of constant activity by contractors, we have wrapped up whatever phase of the Fill the House cycle we are in. The latest projects were building a work station for S and adding a large, built-in to our main office. That involved custom cabinetry, some serious painting, and a lot of me sitting around either waiting for people to show up or monitoring them while they are here.

Other than a couple small paint touch-ups, I think we’re done. Our decorator is coming over later today to hang some lights and blinds for us. And I have someone coming to pick up an old desk we are getting rid of. After those items are checked off, we’ll be calm for awhile.

I’m excited to reclaim my office. My computer has been sitting on a table in our bedroom for two weeks, which has kept me out of any kind of music routine over that stretch. Sadly, the huge, ugly, but sweet sounding speakers I had been using will not fit the layout of the new room. I’m bummed about that because they sounded pretty awesome, and now I’ll go back to computer speakers. I think I’m going to have to upgrade those at some point, because I had become used to warm, room-filling sound since I claimed those speakers from my in laws last year.

After tonight’s final touches we will go back to waiting for furniture. We have a big shipment that should arrive in about a month now. We also just ordered some outdoor furniture that should be here in October. We have an outdoor area that needs a TV, so I’ve been reaearching the best way to get one mounted out there and then the TV itself. I’m looking forward to some cool fall evenings, sitting out there watching a game with the fireplace on. (Humble brag)

We still have a ways to go to get the house to some kind of new normal, but we’re getting there, slowly but surely.

On McCain And Myth

I never voted for John McCain – I guess I had three chances if you count primaries, although I would not have voted in the primaries he ran in – but like a lot of folks who tend to vote Democratic, I long admired the man. For me it went back to reading Michael Lewis’ Trail Fever, his accounting of the 1996 presidential campaign. McCain did not run that year, but he was a finalist to be Bob Dole’s running mate, and thus bounced in and out of Lewis’ narrative. The basis of the McCain myth was lain in that book…

John McCain’s professinal life – or at least the last 35 or so years – were all about living as a symbol for both something he may not actually have been and a time that may have never existed.

He was a self-proclaimed “Maverick,” someone willing to speak against the leadership and prevailing winds of his party when his beliefs told him to. There was truth to that: he was rarely a favorite of the party elites because he would occasionally call them out. But he was also a man who, like most other senators, voted with his party an overwhelming majority of the time.

And despite claiming to be from outside the political class, he turned himself into the ultimate insider, appearing like clockwork on the Sunday talk shows.

As for the imagined time he called back to, while it is true that Democrats and Republicans were once more capable of finding common ground and working together, it’s not like the 1980s were a time when legislative matters were light-hearted affairs and politicians always said nice things about their opposition.

Still, even if you acknowledge that public image didn’t necessarily match reality – when does it ever? – it is difficult to not think that John McCain’s death signalled an end to a larger political era.

McCain may not have been all that he and his supporters touted him to be. But he was still a man who would at least entertain the idea that his political opponents might have some ideas worth consideration, that they had the political right to advance them, and that it was possible set politics aside and find common ground as people.

I can’t help but look at his treatment of Presidents Clinton and Obama and our current president when measuring how McCain’s words and actions lined up.

Despite his own experience in Vietnam and that of Clinton’s during the same age, McCain told Clinton he would proudly visit the Vietnam War memorial with him after he took office. There is no doubt that there was much about Clinton’s history, politics, and style that McCain loathed. But he knew it was better for the country to find a way to move past the divisions of the Vietnam era and the symbolism of he and Clinton visiting the war memorial together might move that process along.

Time and again during the 2008 campaign he defended Obama as a man of character and a patriotic American worthy of the same opportunities given McCain. Late in that campaign, when the angry, racist side of the right began to speak louder and louder – harbingers of the 2010 and 2016 elections – McCain was visibly uncomfortable as he understood they believed him to be the representative of their views. Through the Obama presidency McCain spoke forcefully and often about what he saw as the failings of the president. But he never made those attacks personal and the two men seemed to share a warm and respectful relationship until McCain’s death.

In his final two years he expressed continuous dismay and disgust with the current occupant of the White House. News that had leaked last spring was reiterated this weekend: McCain hoped that Presidents George W. Bush and Obama would deliver eulogies upon his death while the current president would not be welcome at his funeral.

Perhaps that was petty and stems from horrific comments the current president made in 2015 about McCain. And perhaps it undermines the points I made above, how McCain was always willing to look beyond politics. But it also demonstrates that McCain was also willing to judge those he found to be lacking in character. He had no time for phonies and frauds, even if they held the same political beliefs that he did. He was far more comfortable with people he disagreed with on the issues, but could find common ground with as humans.

Where the line between myth and reality can be found is always difficult. Maybe McCain’s embrace of his opponents was all for show and he secretly ranted against those he praised in public. Maybe some of his “maverick” statements over the years were done purely for effect and did not reflect his actual views.

However we can only go with what we saw over his career. In an age when both parties seem more interested in destroying each other than actually advancing policies that will make this country a better place for all, it’s comforting to think that perhaps McCain represented an age when both sides gave a little and found ways to work together, and even if they fought bitterly while the Senate was in session, found ways to look beyond politics and see each other as humans outside its walls.

Cody Keenan, a former Obama staffer, Tweeted out the story of his first meeting with McCain when he was interning for Ted Kennedy. They met on a Senate elevator. When McCain learned that Keenan worked for Kennedy, he responded, “He’s a good man, without him we’d be lost.” A Republican colleague also on the elevator scoffed and departed on the next floor. McCain raised his voice and said, “Don’t mind him, he’s an asshole.”

Again, it’s impossible to know where the line between myth and reality is in that story. But that memory also sums up what most of us, of all political stripes, wanted to believe about McCain.

Our country is worse off because there are fewer politicians like John McCain left.

Fall Sports Kick Off

Opening day of fall sports, which is always both exciting and stress inducing. I have to admit, it is nice only having to worry about two kickball schedules this season. And somehow we lucked out and have no nights with two games. We do have three different stretches with three games in three nights, so we’ll still be busy. Only having two kickballers does not mean we’re not busy, though.

M’s team begins defense of their spring city title tonight. We’ve heard two of the teams on our schedule have been practicing four nights a week to get prepped for us. Our girls first and only practice will be the 30 minute warm-up before tonight’s game. Cocky? No, just too many schedules to manage. Plus the head coach said, “We won our title, I’m going to give them a break.” Oh, and they only practiced once last season, and that was before their playoff game. In fact, I think they’ve had a combined four practices over the past three seasons. This is standard for these girls.

C’s team has games Tuesday and Wednesday. This is a big year for them, playing in the top division of the 5th/6th grade group. It’s also the first time this class has played together as a true A team. This team drives me a little crazy as they have the potential to be really, really good but there’s something about C’s class that doesn’t quite work. There are good players who cry if something small goes wrong. Another good player who, once her meds wear off, will literally stand in the field and stare at people on the sidelines until you yell at her to pay attention. C doesn’t have either of these problems; she’s tough as nails and always locked in. She will cry after she’s been hit by a rocket in the face for the third time, but also refuse to come out of the game. However, she’s not the alpha like the girl who has lead M’s team since fourth grade. She’ll lead by example but not crack the whip and get everyone in line. I think this team needs that alpha to maximize their potential.

C is still running, too. Officially she has three cross country practices per week, but with kickball she’s generally running just once. Her first meet is this weekend, the annual relay that kicks off the CYO season. That will be a good start as between weather and kickball, she hasn’t run in almost two weeks.

L’s soccer team begins practice tomorrow. Some weeks they will practice twice, but for the next few weeks I think it will just be one night. With the crazy CYO sports calendar – short seasons, girls basketball in the fall – she actually had her tryouts for basketball yesterday.

We do have another addition to the family activity schedule: M has decided to cheer. Well, I should say the alpha in M’s class decided to cheer and drug along about half of the class. M told us this last spring and we kind of laughed, rolled our eyes, and thought, “Yeah, we’ll see.” Then when sign ups rolled around, sure as shit, that group still wanted to cheer.

There was much eye rolling amongst the parents of the group about this. None of these girls have cheered before, and we believe most of them have no interest in doing it in high school. It’s just another activity to do together in their final year at St. P’s. Several parents expressed disgust at the idea of hanging out at cold football games in October to watch their girls cheer. Another, who coaches other sports, said it was a complete waste of time. And these were moms complaining, which cracked me up.

I’ve come around to the idea. M was excited about it, she’s with her best friends, and it gives her something that is hers. We know it’s tough for her to be the older sister to two siblings that are known through the school for their athletic achievements. I’m glad she is having fun and just hope she doesn’t get dropped on her head or something.

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 12

Chart Week: August 18, 1984
Song: “We’re Not Gonna Take It” – Twisted Sister
Chart Position: #39, 4th week on the chart. Peaked at #21 for two weeks in September.

In between contractor visits last week, which have caused a move of my computer gear onto the dining room table temporarily, I was trying to hack together a post about a chart from 1981. But I couldn’t quite find the right song or angle. Luckily this weekend’s SiriusXM countdown was from 1984, which is a sure way to beating my AT40 writer’s block!

This song…man, what a song! From that glorious summer of ’84 was this big, bad beast of a tune, driven by that classic opening drum line. Its chart run juiced no doubt by one of the greatest videos of all time. Remember when videos were fun like this? One that after watching for the first time, you couldn’t wait to tell all your friends about it, and then to see it again? It might not have been high art, but to 13-year-old me, it rivaled any painting by one of the masters.

One of my favorite memories of this song is one of my mom’s friends trying to remember the name of the band. She didn’t know the song, the video, but had heard the name somewhere. She spat it out at one gathering or another, “Then there’s that horrid band, Dirty Mother, or whatever they are called.”

I rolled in fits of laughter after that one. I corrected her, but I’m not sure I improved her image of me in the process.

Also worth noting how fickle the video age was. This song fought its way to #21 in late September, then fell exactly that many spots and clean out of the countdown in one week. But to a generation of once-dumbass boys, it is legendary.

“I wanna rock!”

The New Year

Our summer of change, 2018, is officially over. The girls went back to school today. M begins her final year at St. P’s as an 8th grader,[1] C in 6th, L in 4th. The last time all three girls will ever be in the same school building. I think they were relatively excited to go back. M and C were up and dressed before my alarm went off, which was nice. I imagine next week I’ll be shaking them awake again.

Our commute to school is about half what it used to be, but the girls’ mental clocks were still on Carmel time apparently. At 7:25, the time we normally left the old house, they all trooped out and hopped in the car. I had to call them back in, reminding them we didn’t have to leave so early and that we still had to take pictures.

When we got to school, they all turned right as they are all in the same hallway. I said goodbye and turned left to the PTO welcome back coffee for an hour or so of socializing with parents.

Last school year got off to a weird start for me. Right when school began was when we began updating the girls’ bathroom. For six weeks I had to hang around the house most days letting people in and out. In a brand new house…nothing has changed. Today I had to get back to let an electrician in to do some work and wait for a furniture delivery. Tomorrow I’ll likely have a carpenter in the house and his work will stretch into next week. Fortunately these little projects should be done fairly soon.

How was this summer? It was certainly a momentous summer, moving into a new house. I think, though, from the girls’ perspectives it was kind of a bummer summer. Although there was a lot of excitement with buying a new house, getting lots of new furniture, etc., this whole process has dominated my time. I know we didn’t do as much cool stuff as we’ve done in past summers. We never even got around to making a summer To Do list. On top of that, we took the lake house out of the equation. There have been a few emotional moments from the girls about all the changes.

That’s the thing: as a kid you can’t appreciate how some short-term pain will make for a better future. The new house allows us a lot of new opportunities here. We can host friends a lot easier than we used to, for example. Losing the lake house means we can take more trips. I think in a few years when they look back they’ll see that this summer was a momentary lapse that set up more fun stuff down the road. But if you forced them to be honest, they would all likely curse us right now.

I mentioned in my post Monday that we went to a neighborhood gathering on Sunday. The folks across the street invited some of their favorite people from our area over to allow us all to get to know each other. It was a nice gathering. Most of the families were older than us. Two were younger. No one was right in our age range. There was only one kid L’s age, the rest were all younger. But we’ve met some families from further down the block that have older kids the girls will hopefully get to know eventually.

Our host decided to play a game of neighborhood trivia, which was a lot of fun even if we could only guess at most of the questions. We learned our neighborhood was first plotted out in the 1930s – our hosts’ home was built in 1889. We learned that way back, the property our home sits on was owned by a golf pro and he had a several holes laid out over the acres he owned. L thought that was pretty cool. We also learned that our “neighborhood” used to just go back about five or six houses beyond ours. The rest was farmland until the 1990s, when the street was extended and a larger neighborhood was built behind us. We wondered why our street was so narrow and lacked sidewalks and then suddenly got broader, added sidewalks, and the homes looked newer than the others on our street. There’s also a fellow native Kansan on our street. It’s good to know some names and faces for when folks walk or drive by.

  1. Her first day of kindergarten there was exactly nine years ago today.  ↩

The Golfs

I remember hating how much my stepdad and other guys his age loved Jack Nicklaus winning the 1986 Masters. I couldn’t believe they wanted some washed-up, has-been like Jack to win instead of the brash, exciting, much younger Greg Norman.

If my stepdad was still around, he would have been laughing at me yesterday as I watched most of Tiger Woods’ final round at the PGA, hanging on to every shot like it was 2002 again.

Before we get to that, I should note that after a long, long time not having any interest in golf I’ve regained at least some of my love for the sport lately. I’ve been watching the Golf Channel a lot. I bought L a kids club and some foam balls to hit in the front yard. Unable to hit with her, I decided to go buy a super cheap set of starter clubs for myself. I checked out a couple golf books at the library. I discovered there’s a driving range close by I may actually go hit some balls at this week. Whether I actually start playing again is another thing. But I at least have some interest in the sport, both as a participant and spectator, again.

Before Tiger started doing his thing this weekend my attention was drawn by KU alum Gary Woodland leading after the first two rounds. I figured he wouldn’t hold on; no one wins majors wire-to-wire. He had a rough opening nine Saturday but righted the ship enough to play with Tiger on Sunday. As cool as it would have been for Woodland to win, as soon as Tiger started dropping birdies I was pulling hard for him.

When I pumped my fist after he dropped back-to-back birdies to close his front nine I realized I had become my stepdad in 1986, rooting for the old, washed-up, has-been guy.

M was hanging out in the kitchen and started asking questions.

“Why is everyone so excited for that guy? Hasn’t he been good forever?”

I explained, in very broad terms, that Tiger hadn’t won a major in a decade and had barely played over the course of several years because of injuries.

“How do you get injured in golf?!?!”

“When is this tournament over? Will you stop watching golf then?”

When I saw Tiger birdie again at 15 to go to –13, I let out a cheer before we had to leave for a neighborhood gathering. Although I set the DVR to record the rest of the day, I figured Tiger would probably come up just short. Not so much because of his age or his recent history, but more because Brooks Koepka just didn’t look like a dude who was going to lose. He looked a lot like a young Tiger, in fact, overwhelming the course and the field.

While at the party, I checked the scores and let out a groan when I saw Tiger had finished two strokes back. I remembered that putt on 11 that stopped right on the edge of the cup and somehow didn’t fall. Or the one at 14 that was inside the hole before spinning out for a bogey. Two strokes right there and maybe it’s a different end result. More likely Koepka finds another stroke somewhere down the stretch. It was his weekend, after all.

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon. In recent years I’ve pretty much just watched the weekend parts of the Masters and then the same for the US and British Opens if we were home. Other golf tournaments I had no interest in watching. Partially because Tiger was gone. Partially because I hadn’t touched a club in ten years. But with L showing an interest in the sport that may pull me back in at least casually.[1]

  1. We’ll see how long L’s interest lasts. The first day she swung a club she was hitting the practice balls pretty well. We hit twice over the weekend and she was really struggling. I told her that golf is super hard and it takes lots of work, so she shouldn’t get frustrated. With soccer starting soon it may be a struggle to keep her engaged until late October.  ↩

Reaching for the Stars, Vol. 11

Chart Week: August 5, 1989
Song: “18 and Life” – Skid Row
Chart Position: #32, 5th week on the chart. Peaked at #4 the week of September 23.

These late 80s countdowns are not my favorites. By 1987 my tastes were drifting away from mainstream, Top 40-style music. Emphasis on the word drifting, because I still liked plenty of music that Casey counted down every week, just a lot less than I had a few years earlier.

I came across this countdown several times last weekend on SiriusXM, each time during the 30s. Aug. 5, 1989 was about two weeks before I went off to college, where I eventually made my official divorce from Top 40 radio. But as I looked back on this week’s chart I had two thoughts:
1 – There was a lot of shitty ass music on the charts that week
2 – Sadly, I think I still liked a lot of it

That got me to thinking about 1989 in general, and the last five months in particular. I went off to college with a case full of cassettes that spanned all kinds of genres. There was some New Jack Swing era R&B. Plenty of rap. Mainstream pop. Hard rock. Classic rock. Even some hair metal in there. I know I spent a lot of time that fall listening to Public Enemy, Prince, Billy Joel, Cinderella, Warrant, New Edition, Keith Sweat, Guy, Madonna, Boston, Van Halen, NWA, Aerosmith, and Soul II Soul. It was a wacky, wild time, man.

Of the hair metal I listened to then, this is a song that still holds up pretty well. Which shouldn’t be a surprise because Skid Row had a seriousness and depth to their lyrics that put them on a different level than other bands of the summer of ’89 like Warrant and Winger, to name two. Plus Sebastian Bach was a cool bad ass. Years later a couple buddies and I saw a guy who vaguely looked like him on our plane. We spent the entire flight mock shrieking, “We are the youth gone wild!” to each other.

Good as this song is, I was shocked that it peaked at #4. Really?!?! That’s kind of incredible. It made me feel a little better about blasting it with the windows down as I drove to the recycling center Sunday morning.

Settling In

Another pretty busy weekend in the books and now we’re suddenly just over a week from school starting. Yikes!

C went to King’s Island amusement park with a friend on Friday. L had two birthday parties over the weekend. M had two friends over Sunday night. We took them all to Top Golf, they slept over, and we made a pool run Monday afternoon. And we hosted a gathering of three families on Saturday night. Like I said, pretty busy few days.

I noticed something funny over the last couple days, when adults stopped by to drop off kids or pick up kickball supplies: they all stopped as soon as they stepped into our house, took a deep breath, and said something to the effect of “Ahhhh, new house smell!” Which I laughed about because I kind of don’t notice the new house smells anymore. We’ve lived amongst the fresh paint, wood, and carpet for six weeks now. I don’t know if I’m just immune to them now, or six weeks of cooking and cleaning, having guests over, etc have masked them. Apparently it’s more me getting used to them if our guests are still noticing the new house smell the moment they walk in. Or maybe they’re just being nice…

That made me notice how the overall newness of the house has worn off a little, too. We still have a long way to go to get it exactly how we want it. If we count the outside, where the yard is going to take at least two seasons to shape up, it’s going to be a long, long time before everything is perfect. But we’ve also knocked out so many projects that we planned for with eagerness in June that we’re kind of in a lull as we figure out what to do next. Fall will bring another big shipment of furniture – we have couches, tables, a big cabinet, and more scheduled to arrive in late September/early October – and the change of seasons will mean we do different things in the house.

But where our first 5–6 weeks were built around long lists of tasks that needed to be checked off, suddenly things are much slower. Which means we should start settling into some normal routines, like naturally remembering to clean the bathrooms, do laundry, etc without having to write it down. Or even developing normal living routines where we spend mornings in this room, evenings in that room, and so on. I still kind of wander aimlessly when I have free time, unsure of where to hang out. I’m sure all of this will get worked out quickly, although the girls going to school next week will hit the reset button.

One very underrated thing about our new house I’m just beginning to appreciate is being able to see the TV from the kitchen. At our old house it was impossible to do so. Thus for many years we had gotten out of the habit of watching either the local news or Sportscenter during meal prep times. I kind of enjoy being able to see if it’s going to rain around cross country practice time while also getting dinner ready. I still don’t actually watch the news much – there are already too many political ads that make me race for the mute button – and I’ll only casually watch Sportscenter since it is about 85% NFL talk. But I like having the option.

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