Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Stop and Smell the Eclipse

So, how about that supermoon, eh? I know it was over hyped and your news feed was jammed with blurry cell phone photos of glowing white orbs that may or may not have been the moon.  I know many of you think it was silly or overrated or not worth your time.  I didn't check out Sunday's lunar eclipse because Facebook told me to, because I subscribe to the mystical powers of blood moons, or even because it was an event that had not occurred in thirty-some years.  I dragged my beach chair into the front yard and looked skyward because the eclipse was genuinely neat.  Maybe, in this era of YOLO and extreme everything, "neat" is a quaint ideal that no longer has much cachet, but, man, sometimes the simplest joys are where it's at.

I found the the eclipse truly awe-some.  Maybe I was feeling a bit philosophical Sunday night because I had a rough day at work and Mother Nature reminded me there is so much more to my universe than unreliable employees or  selling books to angry old women. Maybe I was worn down by the failings of my fantasy football team.  Or maybe the eclipse was actually exciting.  I forgot that nature is actually exciting.  I sometimes don't look up from my phone or television or book long enough to appreciate nature's beauty.  Even the clouds that moved in, threatening to derail the show, were amazing to see.  I remembered to not be disappointed in what I might not see, but to appreciate what I could. And there was much to appreciate.  Whether you believe in God or Science or both, I think you could see the magic in the moon marching across the night sky.  Watching the sky, I felt the same way I do standing in the ocean-tiny, admiring the vastness laid out before me.  This weekend at the shore, with the surf non-negotiable and the wind-driven sand trying to peel flesh from leg, I couldn't help but marvel at the enormity and power of the sea.  Similarly, Sunday, watching the moon succumb to the shadow, I let my mind wander.  Thoughts, ranging from the serious to the silly, drifted by like the clouds drifting through the air.  I thought of my late father, eternity, space travel, werewolves, the new Star Wars movie and gentle painter Bob Ross (Let's give this little cloud a friend, shall we?).

As crickets' songs and the far off honks of traveling geese served as nature's soundtrack to the moon's show, I was reminded how rarely there is stillness and quiet in my life, inside my head or out.  We are always on the go; work or play, we stuff our lives with activity.  At work, crappy music, the bark of blenders and coffee grinders, and customers' bleats ring in the ears.  At home, sounds of music or a ball game or a jumping/laughing/shouting six year old fill the air.  Except when I try to meditate or write, both of which I do all too infrequently, the house is buzzing.  It felt so good to feel the gentle breeze, listen to the nature songs and watch the eclipse through my binoculars.  Then after about an hour or so, much like saying a word over and over again until it becomes unrecognizable, the magic ended and the moment was lost.  But the lesson remains:  Make time to enjoy the universe's grandeur.  Getting lost in it might just help you find yourself.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Vapid Vapers Voraciously Vaping

I am normally easygoing when it comes to people's hobbies.  After all, we all geek out about different things.  You play Dungeons and Dragons, I play fantasy football.  You like to cook, I like to eat.  You indulge in Guatemalan Midget Porn, I watch the news.  Same, but different. Who am I to say what's right? There are plenty of things I don't enjoy or "get" that I acknowledge are important to others: craft beer, Bronies, trying to make Quidditch an Olympic sport.  (Though, that last one is kinda ridiculous, right?  I love Star Wars, but you don't see me lobbying to race The Kessel Run in Rio in 2016.)  However, at the risk of upsetting the Hipster Army and getting beaten with fedoras and tins of artisanal moustache wax, I do have one hobby targeted squarely in my sights: Vaping.  I'm like a Victorian Englishwoman, all these vapers vaping their vapors are giving me the vapours.

Look, if you are using e-cigs as a transition to quit tobacco altogether, then I give you a pass; I don't consider you among this scourge upon humanity.  But if you picked up this adult pacifier, as my friend Elise calls it, because it's cooler than cigarettes or smells better then I simply don't understand you.  If you are a smoker, be a smoker.  Embrace it in all its nasty, stinking, yellow finger-tipped glory.  Wear that stale tobacco, we-just-spent-three-hours-in-a-bowling-alley, I-live-in-a-giant-ashtray stench like a badge.  Own it.  Take your smoke breaks, rail against being herded into designated areas to do your business, enjoy your passengers wondering if your car has exhaust leaking into the cabin.  Own it.  Don't be swayed by the shiny new technology, don't be wooed by exotic flavors.  Remember, there was a time when smoking didn't require extensive accessories.  Pop-pop's Zippo or Mom-mom's pleather cigarette case was all the accessory they needed; why are you being such a pretentious ass?  Who needs to fool with batteries, rebuildable atomizers or vape juice? (Which, by the way, is a term that, if I knew which authority to ask, I would request be stricken from the lexicon.  It sounds so oogy, like something vaguely associated with excitement below the belt.)  Keep smoking stinky and electronics-free.  Own it!

If you do bow to pop culture pressure and decide to vape, don't be surprised if people look at you funny.  Especially if you vape in an area that is off-limits to smokers.  Don't look so surprised when I ask you to not vape in my store.  Just because you enjoy it when your vape retailer helps you to encounter new flavors by blowing a vapor cloud from his mouth to your face (Gross, right?) doesn't mean the rest of us want your chicory-almond-lavender blend wafting  through our shared confined spaces.  Nothing screams, "Hey, look at me!", quite like somebody vaping in an elevator, office or retail store. (Except maybe someone linking to his blog on Facebook begging for "likes", but I digress.)  You can't browse for five minutes without a nicotine hit? Of course you can, but you don't.  Instead, you'd rather coolly prowl around like you are getting over on somebody, when really you just look like a douche.  If your oral fixation is so intense, may I suggest dabbling in Guatemalan Midget Porn?  Working with those little guys would have to be less embarrassing than pompously puffing away on your overpriced robot cigarette.

Friday, September 11, 2015

In Tyler We Trust

Trust is a tricky notion.  In interpersonal relationships, for example, trust is essential to success.  It is an investment that must be earned.  In so many other areas of our lives, however, we have to invest trust in, or at least begrudgingly hand it over, to complete strangers that we hope will earn it.  If we didn't, we couldn't function or operate in a normal lifestyle.  We trust that the subway driver is sober.  We trust that our mechanic tightened all the lug nuts properly when he rotated our tires.  We trust that the kid working the drive-thru didn't slap his Little Mac on our Big Mac before he hands us the bag through the window.  If we didn't invest this trust, we would never leave the house.  Or maybe you should leave your house right now!  Are you sure your builder used enough nails in your roof?

For parents, doling out trust to someone else to watch over your kids can be difficult.  Not that she can't skin a knee or fall off the swing when I am present (she's done both, now that I think of it), but I make keeping Grace safe my number one mission in life.  Dropping your child off to spend the day with strangers (relatively speaking, as compared to family and friends) can be an astounding investment of trust for parents.  No matter how well-researched and well-reasoned your thought process, you are still placing great faith in others.  You think you are making the right decision, but you can't see everything that goes on at school, or camp, or day care  toddler fight club.  Seriously, day care providers arrested for encouraging and shooting video of kids ages 4-6 fighting each other?  It's enough to drive a helicopter parent to drink. (And isn't that the whole reason we send our kids to places like camp in the first place, so we can enjoy a refreshing adult beverage in peace?) 

At a glance, arrests and a little jail time seem an appropriate punishment for these day "care" providers.  But are we judging these women too harshly?  Surely, I can't be the only one that was told by my parents on occasion (or dozens of occasions) when fighting with my brother to, "Take it outside!"  My parents couldn't have thought that we went outside to settle our dispute with chalk drawing or dandelion picking.  They just wanted us out of their hair.  Hell, maybe they broke out the Super 8 and secretly made black market kid fight films.  We already witness our kids duking it out with their siblings, why not get a little something out of it? Fellow parents, are we outraged at these babysitters because they slaked their blood lust with the violence of children or because we didn't think of it first? 

Hear me out.  There are lots of reasons why it makes sense to make the whole process more transparent,  to drag it out of the dark, to officially sanction toddler fight clubs.  First, today's parenting experts advise us to spend our money on experiences for our children not toys, gadgets and trinkets.  Talk about an experience!  There is nothing like "experiencing" swallowing  your own blood or putting back a dislocated finger.  And, look, those kids were going to lose most of those teeth anyway.  We build a whole army of baby Thoreaus learning about themselves in the proverbial "woods" long before their tenth birthdays.  That kind of self-discovery is invaluable.  Speaking of our money, who among us couldn't use a little more pocket change?  Come on, let your entrprenuerial spirit shine.  We sanction the bouts, set odds and watch the money pour in.  It's really no more complex than organizing  fantasy football or our March Madness pools.  Now, I don't wanna brag, but if all Grace's unintentional(?) headbutts, accidental knees to the groin, and elbows to the nose over the years are any indication, I might have a contender on my hands.   So, come on, let's build some tiny octagons and get this thing rolling.  You can squeeze one more thing on the schedule.  Dance, Scouts, Choir, Soccer, Fight Club...at least you can trust that you know what's going on.  What could go wrong?
*May this post in no way discourage any of you from bringing your children to our house for a play date, Grace's birthday party, etc.  My wife is quite a normal and sensible person.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

September 1st:Expanding Rosters, Shrinking Pennant Hopes

Though they have provided little evidence throughout the season they are more than a .500 ball club, the Orioles' sweep of Oakland a couple weeks ago made me think they could be starting a playoff push.  No team seemed to want the second wildcard berth.  If the Birds could finally put together a sustained run (and with 6 games remaining on a season-defining homestand, it seemed possible), perhaps they could hit the post-season for consecutive seasons.  They put together a run, alright.  A run for last place; an anti-pennant chase, if you will.  Since that Oakland sweep, which now seems like some sort of mirage, the O's are 2-11.  They now stand closer to last place in the division than to the second wildcard spot.  Suddenly, all those cutesy hashtags seem silly and sad.  #BuckleUp because we are not sure where rock bottom is, but #WeWontStop until we find it!  Instead of authoring a September to remember, Baltimore is finishing a season to forget.  Instead of writing about the joy of my postseason experience like last year, I'll be penning a tale of October-less woe.

So how did we get here, me sobbing over my keyboard singing the Charm City blues?  I guess we should have seen it coming.  Unlike the Flats down in D.C., the O's were not prohibitive favorites.  Most will agree they overachieved last season.  Many wondered if they could duplicate a first place finish.  Even Showalter, speaking at my local minor league team's hot stove banquet, sought to temper the crowd's enthusiasm.  He was cagey about the prospects for this season, seeming to know how difficult it would be, given the off-season losses, to repeat as division champs.  Maybe it was coach speak or maybe it was a sliver of honesty in a giddy off-season.  Even by measured expectations, though, this club has disappointed.  It proves that Chef Buck is even better at making chicken salad than I previously thought. So, if not Buck, who is to blame?

I rightly praised Dan Duquette last season, yet he must shoulder a chunk of blame today.  He made some great finds that worked out last year.  For this team to take the next step in the evolution to contender, though, 2014 should have been built upon.  I love Nick Markakis, but not bringing him back was the right move.  His presence is most certainly missed, however, the Braves overpaid.  Nelson Cruz is another story.  Kudos to Duquette for grabbing him last year for what turned out to be a bargain at $8 million.  He steadied the middle of the order and, at times, seemed to be the only guy hitting.  I know he would have cost a bunch in dollars and contract years to bring him back, but I wish they had.  As a DH, he could potentially produce for years beyond the extent of his contract.  Worth the risk, in my opinion.  You can't expect to add pieces from the scrap heap, cross your fingers, and hope it works every time.  Maybe it is good scouting, but often it is simply luck when a journeyman brought in catches lightning in a bottle, turning in a Pearcien Performance over the course of an entire season.  You can not rely on this method as a path to sustained success.  Look at the pieces jettisoned this year alone.  Snider, Cabrera, Lough, Young, De Aza, (I'm pretty sure I am forgetting a couple) were all pieces deemed useless by a team that is currently 5 games under .500.    

Was Duquette handcuffed by the Angeloses?  Probably.  Was he purposely weakening the O's because he planned on ducking out to Toronto?  Maybe.  Either way, Baltimore entered their division title defense shorthanded.  Having no ace, no corner outfielders of consequence and no quality designated hitter is a recipe for disaster.  It puts a lot of pressure on the players that are here, who, obviously, are not absolved of culpability here.  During this season-sinking stretch, the excellent bullpen back end and stellar defense have faltered at inopportune times.  Adam Jones, as much as I love him, isn't a yet consistent or disciplined enough to be a true superstar.  If Jones, Machado and Davis aren't hitting bombs, the offense struggles.  Add in a few Cinderellas turning into pumpkins (Pearce, Gonzalez) and you get the mess currently stinking up Camden Yards.  That said, there is enough talent to avoid a stretch as terrible as the last two weeks.  Losing 10 of 11?  Inexcusable.  Obviously, there is no help coming from outside to fix this.  To paraphrase Rick Pitino from his Celtic coaching days-Cal Ripken isn't walking through that door. Well, okay, except for tonight, when they are honoring  The Streak, but you know what I mean.

Of course, I am writing all this hoping it is some sort of reverse jinx; that in some bizarre confluence of my whining, turning the page on the calendar, and Cal being in the house, my Birds can fix this.  While writing this I saw a black and orange butterfly flitting its way about my driveway.  A sign of hope, perhaps, but more likely just a sign that I have a butterfly in my driveway.  Unfortunately, this season feels way more like most of those lost years during Cal's streak instead of the few glory years.  But that's okay, it's almost hockey season and the Capitals never let me down, right?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Gary Bettman Sucks

The internet has been dominated recently by stories of East Coast shark attacks and arguments about gay marriage.  Can we please turn our attention to something important?  Like why the heck the NHL approved playing 3-on-3 overtime for regular season games?

Maybe I am way off base here.  Maybe come October I will love 3-on-3 OT.  But for now, I think 3-on-3 should be reserved for memories of the pick-up basketball games of my youth.  I have heard the arguments for the change:  Too many games end in shooutouts and, though it is exciting for the fans, the shootout decides a game in a way that is too different from how the previous 65 minutes were played.  So the solution was to further bastardize the game to fix the way it was bastardized when the shootout was created ten years ago?  I suppose it might be better than the shootout, but when was the last time you saw 3-on-3 played in an actual NHL game? 

Three skaters aside could be interesting when you have the best players on the ice allowed more room to show their skill.   In fact, if it is so great let's play 3-on-3 all the time.  Wide open play, lots of goals, goalies under siege, the scoreboard lighting up like a video game-what's not to love?.  (Mr Bettman, I am totally kidding.)  There could also be precious seconds wasted chasing pucks that were not held in the offensive zone.  3-on-3 overtime is just more circus trickery that, unfortunately, will still end in a shootout if no one scores in OT.  I have some suggestions that might work better, especially for those concerned about excessive wear and tear on those poor, over-taxed star players.

*Flip a coin. (See this quarter it used to be a nickel.)

*Instead of letting the pros finish, we will let the Mites that play during intermission settle things in overtime.

*No sticks or pucks during OT.  A team picks its five best skaters to figure skate a routine to music.  The team earning the best artistic and technical judges marks earns a standings point. 

*At the end of regulation, one monkey will dress in the sweater of each team.  The team whose monkey flings its poo the furthest wins!

Ooh, Ohh. Pick me! Pick me!

Yes, you there in the back that looks like you have been sitting on a good idea for ten years.

I have a plan. I know how we can make it so fewer games end in a shootout. 

Let's hear it.


So simple, yet so brilliant.  The shootout is exciting for fans, but it is more like an exhibition contest or a game to end practice.  Nothing of value should be decided with an exhibition.  (I am looking at you and your "All-Star Game winner earns home field advantage in the World Series" fiasco, Major League Baseball.)  I say we go back to the old days when games could end in (GASP!) ties.  A team earns one point for a tie and two points for a win.  This fixes four problems.  One, we get rid of the ghastly shootout.  Two, we eliminate a team earning a point for simply reaching OT.  I know my Capitals have benefited mightily from this system, but awarding a point to a team that loses is foolish.  Three, the standings get easier to decipher (Goodbye ROW and OTL).  Four,teams have to win (or at least tie) their way in to the playoffs.  Tell me why I am wrong.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Marriage Is So Gay

Boy, the internet pisses me off sometimes.  Friday, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage and the terror attacks in Tunisia, France and Kuwait, I read someone questioning whether terror attacks might be looming in the U.S. (legitimate question) and whether said attacks would be God's way of showing us that he was displeased with SCOTUS (eye-rolling, forehead-slapping, heavy sigh-inducing question.)  Who, besides the Westboro Baptists, thinks like this?  And for those that do, why?  What's the problem here?

I think the biggest issue is a lack of empathy.  For two seconds, put yourself in someone else's shoes.  If you were gay, would you not seek the same things?  What are gay and lesbian couples really asking for?  To have their bond with their partner recognized by the state.  To be able to visit their sick lover in the hospital.  To help make end-of-life medical decisions.  To reap the same tax benefits.  To have the same perks that married straight couples have.  Sir, nobody is asking you to marry a dude.  Mam, no one is suggesting you take a wife.  Nobody is saying you can't find it repulsive or against God's will.  I submit that same-sex love is perfectly natural, but if you don't subscribe to that thinking, nobody is saying you must.  Likewise, empathy is not required. I just ask that you try it on for size and ask yourself, "How does it harm me?"

I say to the fervent believers that feel God should smite homosexuals-"Be patient."  We will all learn the truth when our Earth time ends.  Maybe there is an afterlife.   Maybe we'll just be a bag of bones.  Just be patient.  If you are right and gays are sinners doing the Devil's bidding that are doomed to literally be flamers as they burn in Hell, you have all Eternity to gloat.  But while you are Earthbound, how about showing some empathy, showing some compassion, showing some respect for those that are different than you.  Different, by the way, in ways that affect you not one iota.

Like the esteemed philosopher, Forrest Gump, I am not a smart man, but I know what love is.  I know married gay men who express their love and affection better than most straight couples.  I know women who, if they decided, in addition to being awesome aunts and great mommies to their  fur babies, that they wanted kids of their own, would be amazing moms.  It may not fit everyone's definition of family.  It may not fit everyone's defintion of marriage.  So what?  I often hear we should be more religious in this country, a more Christian nation.  What about the significant percentage of the population that does not believe in God or any Supreme Being?  Why on Earth would they feel compelled to be bound by the rules and authority of a figurehead they don't even think exists?  People of faith should use their faith to guide themselves; the Rule of Law should be the Rule of Man (and Woman). 

So what do we do next?  I have seen it suggested government should have nothing at all to do with the union of two people.  That smacks a little of "I'm taking my ball and going home.", but I could get on board with this for the most partI think keeping taxes or assets an individual thing would be fine.  It is the medical/death decisions that I think would get sticky.  Maybe, since we can't agree on a definition, we should simply eliminate the word "marriage" from government.  Everyone gets a Civil Union.  Man to woman, man to man, woman to woman, transgender to transgender, man to goldfish; everybody gets a civil union.  We don't have to worry about  Natural Law; we can just worry about the law.  Marriage remains a religious institution.  Churches get to enforce their definitions within their domain.  Civil Unions can give equal rights to estates, medical directives, taxes, hospital visits, etc.  It might be a little awkward at first for those that have been married a while.  Honey, here on our anniversary, I love you more than ever.  I can't believe it's been fifteen years since we were civilly united. But awkward is okay.  Love is awkward and messy.  Love is hard.  But, at least on Friday, Love wins.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Happy Father's Day

From Clark Griswold to Ray Barone, from Fred Flintstone  to Homer Simpson, dads are often portrayed as bumbling idiots.  Even though it is a portrayal that I sometimes reinforce for laughs here on my own blog, it really is an unfair stereotype.  Most of the dads I know are working hard to get it done right.  Fortunately, my father, before he passed, and my father-in-law are more Heatcliffe Huxtable, setting a positive parenting example through word and, more often, by deed.  I don't know exactly where I  fit on the scale from Homer to Heathcliffe, but I was recently reminded that, no matter the situation, dads are always on duty, because our kids are always watching.

On Memorial Day I grabbed The Wife and The Girl and we headed to Baltimore for some holiday baseball.  Grace, at age six, is beginning to grasp the game, but her love of Camden Yards is still mostly driven by the thrill of riding the light rail, dressing in Orioles' orange from head to toe and her love of peanuts, popcorn and cracker jack (and cotton candy).  Or the fact that she likes to be where the action is.  And on this Memorial Day we had a little action.  On the way in to the ballpark, Grace, employing the wisdom and expectations of a six-year-old, announced that she wanted me to catch her a baseball while at the game.  Sure, we were arriving early enough to watch some batting practice and have a chance at a ball, but I needed to temper expectations.  I explained to her that, yes, some BP homers and game foul balls and home runs would land in the stands, but also that thirty thousand other people would be here too.  The odds of getting a ball were extremely low.  Undaunted, with that awesome hope of a youngster not yet beaten down by reality, she shrugged her shoulders and said, "Okay, but we should still get a ball."

Not two minutes later, as we worked our way down Eutaw Street, the plaza just outside centerfield, I look up in time to see a ball screaming from the clouds like a missile.  Not too many balls, even in batting practice, reach Eutaw Street; somebody has really put a charge in to this one.  Suddenly, like a wish granted, I see my opportunity to be a hero to my kid literally falling from the sky.  I judge Opportunity's trajectory. Calculating that it is not heading straight at us thereby posing no danger to Grace or Amanda, I head for the ball's likely landing spot, not twenty feet from me.  (I don't normally chase balls at the ballpark; to me, getting one is just not that big of  a deal.  I think people get a little crazy over chasing down fouls and homers.  However, when your wide-eyed daughter has asked for a ball and it is this close, you better spring into action.)  The ball spucks off the ankle of an unsuspecting fan and rolls right toward me.  I look up to see there are a whole bunch of fans running towards me that have been tracking the ball's flight path much longer than I have.  I begin to crouch down to reach  for the ball when I realize without a Brook Robinson-like dive I have no chance at getting it.  Common sense and a forty-year-old's notion of self-preservation prevail.  I pull up and let some kid grab the ball.  Unfortunately,  another lumbering oaf, likely influenced by some batting practice beers, was not able to pull up in time.  He crashed into me as I was standing up.  Though he was not shirtless, we had an Along Came Polly moment where the side of my face met his belly and got slopped with his alcohol sweat. Not thrilled to be wearing my new cologne, Eau De Sweaty Douchebag, I put my hand up and say ,"Easy." He mumbles something clearly  unapologetic so, a little sharper this time, I say, "Hey, take it easy." Meathead wittily retorts with a ,"Fuck you." And again, in that long drawn out way that indicates he means business, "fuuuuck youuu."

Great, now we have a confrontation. Standing a few feet from this guy a thousand things rush through my mind at once.
Terrific. I have ruined our family day five minutes after entering the stadium.
We are about the same size. I can handle him if it gets ugly.
Am I really ready to do "this" if he takes a swing?
What exactly  does "this" mean?
Will anybody notice if I pee my pants?

I remained calm with no intention of escalating the situation  further.  Little did I realize that it didn't matter; Mama Bear had her claws out. One "Hey Asshole, not in front of my kid!", from Amanda was all it took to defuse the situation. Meathead turned back towards the field and we headed for our seats. (I'd like to point out here that I am the only one that did not use profanity in front of the six-year-old.) Grace, while not shaken up, did have questions  about why the man was mean and worried if we would have trouble from him later. Assured that everything was fine, she enjoyed batting practice , even getting close to nabbing a few homers, and an Orioles victory.  A fine day that could have ended much differently.

And there are the lessons. The kid is always observing and learning, so you are always teaching. She will do as we do. I hope by staying calm and not further escalating the confrontation I taught her to do the same. And, of course, lesson number two: When in doubt, let Mama help you out.
Happy Father's Day!