Thursday, February 20, 2014

Step Away From The Candy Bar...

I should have known better.  Tuesday, I found myself with a sweet tooth, so I went rummaging through Grace's Valentine's candy stash.  While certainly not as prolific as the Halloween stash, the Valentine's candy bag, thanks to Grace being enrolled in two different schools, was impressively filled.  Surely, she would not miss a few stolen pieces.  Among the sticky lollipops and chalky "Be Mine" hearts I spied a full-size Baby Ruth.  Jackpot.  I'm not really sure who doles out full-size chocolate bars to their 5-year-old's classmates, but Jackpot nonetheless.  All was well until Wednesday night when Amanda, also feeling a chocolate craving, asked me if I wanted to split the Baby Ruth her co-worker had given her on Valentine's Day.  Oops.

In our nearly eleven years of marriage I have made enough boneheaded moves to learn Amanda's looks of anger and disappointment.  Sometimes you get what I call the Glare.  This is when you stupidly try to explain yourself.  Sometimes you get the Flare, the tiniest flexing of her nostrils, as she breathes in, weighing the idea of choking you.  This is when you don't even consider trying to explain yourself.  Sometimes you get the Glare and the Flare.  This is when you get in the car in pursuit of a replacement Baby Ruth.

I am exaggerating (a little) about Amanda's reaction, but that should have been the end of the story as we laughed as I headed out the door for a new Baby Ruth.  I told you earlier, I should have known better.  Leaving the driveway, I considered my shopping options.  There are three convenient stores within two minutes of my house.  I don't usually shop at any of them considering they are all poorly lighted, populated with shady characters and filled with questionable aromas of indeterminate origins.  Needing just a candy bar, however, I figured one of these was preferable to the chain gas stations or grocery stores ten minutes away.  Nope.  The first place was seedy, smelly and had a register that wouldn't read my debit card.  The second place was seedier, smellier and filled with blank eyes and vacant stares.  I'm pretty sure the dreaded Zombie Apocalypse is here; instead of feeding on human flesh the walkers are simply feeding on smack, meth and 24 oz. beers.  Unfortunately, what store number two was not filled with was Baby Ruths.  Aisles of snacks and munchies, not one Baby Ruth.  Store number three, while better-lighted and having a friendly proprietor, also sold no Baby Ruths.

Now nearly fifteen minutes into what should have been a four minute errand, frustration is starting to set in.  Instead of being 10 minutes into the next episode of House of Cards, I am on my way to the chain store.  Imagine my surprise when it turns out WaWa also doesn't sell Baby Ruths.  I ask the employee stocking the candy shelf from a giant cart of snacks if they sell Baby Ruths, maybe I am just missing them.  He just looks at me and shrugs.  Seriously?  Does the owner of Scary Store #1 have some sort of Comcastian monopoly over Baby Ruths in this town?  Now, completely perplexed and regretting my weakness for candy a day earlier I do what I should have done at Scary Store #2 (Or would have done if not distracted by the fear of stepping on a used needle.): I go all in on the sweets, grabbing four different candy bars and a doughnut for good measure.  Surely, something in my newly purchased sugar cornucopia will appease the Wife.  Fortunately, the register reads my debit card just fine.  I am smiling until I read the total price.   $6.66.  Ah, Baby Ruth you were a devilish snack choice, indeed. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Today Is The Day

Arise from your slumber,
Shake off your long winter's nap,
Feel the warmth on your face,
Reach for your cap.

Gather your friends in this time of hope,
Witness the first page of this yet written story,
A tale of ballplayers,
And their search for pennant glory.

Limbs to be loosened,
Hearts to be won,
Skills to be honed,
Under the hot southern sun.

Our Birds have flown South,
Dawn breaks on a cherished day of sport,
It matters not yet what summer will bring,
For this glorious day, pitchers and catchers report.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

A Fan's Lament

Aside from an occasional movie review haiku, I don't dabble in poetry because, well, I'm a lackluster poet.  But this hockey season will do strange things to a man.  Therefore, dear reader, I give you-

A Fan's Lament

What a joyous day it would have been,
A day to wistfully wonder why,
To whisper thanks to the hockey gods in the sky.

What a joyous day it would have been,
No longer challenging a player's mettle or pedigree,
Less questioning of a coach's wisdom or philosophy.

What a joyous day it would have been,
No more trades to ponder,
Not another playoff lead to squander.

What a joyous day it would have been,
Putting Milbury's critiques to rest,
No longer shamed to don a team's woeful crest.

What a joyous day it would have been,
Spared looking up at every rival,
Relieved of anticipating a squad's revival.

What a joyous day it would have been,
An outcome so unforeseen,
Freed from hurling insults at a shimmering screen.

Oh, what a joyous day it would have been,
If only it were real,
The day Gary Bettman said, "With the players, we will reach no deal."

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Phony Phather

We have a winner.  The award for Most Unrealistic Dad of the Year goes to....Subaru Car wash Dad.  You've seen SuperDad haven't you?  The dad whose reaction to discovering his kids have scrubbed his Subaru outside and IN with suds and toothpaste is to chuckle and tell them they missed a spot?  What a guy!  I would have had a very similar reaction.  As in, "You missed a spot.  The one on your ass where I'm going to plant my foot."  Many of us dads are out here trying to do the right thing, trying to balance being a good father, a good husband, a competent employee and maybe, call me crazy, carving out a little time for themselves.  Then along comes Subaru Guy making us all look bad.  If he makes Jason Seaver look like Adolf Hitler, how the heck am I supposed to compete?

I know it's silly to compare myself to fictional dads and, truthfully, I don't.  But also true is that I have been examining my reactions to Grace.  I do lose my patience too often.  As Grace grows up, she grows more obstinate and I grow more frustrated.  Any event that requires time management, especially bedtime, as everyone edges toward crankiness, has become a nightmare.  When the clock is running on something she doesn't want to do, Grace turns into the Human Stall Machine.  I swear she's considering a career as a mercenary protester.  (You need someone to go rag doll so as to be difficult to drag away from this tree/historic building/oil refinery?  I'm your gal.  "Hell no, I won't go!")  She'll find any excuse to put off what she needs to do.  Playing, setting up baby dolls, asking for a glass of water and delivering hugs are all tactics employed to delay the inevitable.  Each night she picks at least one task (brushing teeth, going potty, putting on pajamas) and treats it like a death sentence, desperate to avoid it at all costs.  All the foot dragging makes each bedtime longer and more frustrating than a James Cameron movie.

As the stalling goes longer, my patience grows thinner.  Asking turns into encouraging.  Encouraging turns into cajoling.  Cajoling turns into threatening.  Threatening turns into arguing.  Arguing turns into threats carried out which turns to tears as Grace gets a story or stuffed animal taken away.  I am truly searching for answers because some nights I feel like a terrible parent.  I walk the line between, "Oh, she's four, get over it." and "She needs to learn respect and responsibility without questioning or ignoring every request."  Is cooperation and compliance too much to ask?  Nearly every bedtime disintegrating into a crying, shouting struggle does no one any good. 

We've tried lots of plans -making a game of it, clearly explaining expectations, earning rewards- yet nearly every night, no matter how pleasant it begins, ends with me battered, feeling I have barely survived a street fight.  If bedtime is a basketball game, I am the Washington Generals .  Of course, once we get to lights out, Grace still makes her room tougher to exit than the Hotel California.  A million questions about tomorrow's schedule, adjusting the nightlight, exchanging her stuffed animals, anything that will keep us in the room "one more minute."  I always feel like a dick when I finally pry myself away and tell her enough is enough.  She needs her rest and Amanda and I need time to unwind.  I don't want to turn in to a drill Sergeant with cartoon steam pouring from my ears, but it seems that's where we head most nights.  I long for the night when the great things about bedtime (stories, snuggles and goodnight kisses) are the only things about bedtime.  Until then, I trudge wearily off to battle.  Somebody cue "Sweet Georgia Brown".

Friday, March 01, 2013

Two Years Too Many.

Sometimes it feels like two days.  Sometimes, sadly, it feels like twenty years.  It doesn't really matter how long it has been because it still isn't easy to comprehend, but for the record, my dad passed away two years ago tonight.  Every day since, Grief and its evil companion , Anxiety, have traveled by my side.  These two, packaged together, are sneaky devils that toy with your mind and, if you let them, will consume you.  Aside from posting the eulogy I delivered so out of town family could read it, I haven't written about my dad's passing or how it has affected me.  I have started this post a half dozen times because I find writing to be a therapeutic outlet and maybe what I write will help somebody else working through similar struggles.  Maybe not.  Either way, today felt right to write.

Of course, the night Dad died and the ensuing days were tough.  I clearly remember specific details-hell, I think about them at the exact time most Tuesdays- but those memories don't cause the problems.  About six weeks after his passing, I was feeling pretty good when out of nowhere my heart started racing and felt like it was going to flip-flop out of my chest.  From that day forward I have battled Grief and Anxiety, wondering on many occasions if this was the day I was going to die.

Two pieces of background to, perhaps (or not), put that last statement in some context.  I've never lived what you would call a care-free existence.  I've had what I call low grade anxiety for most of my life.  I'm a worrier and  a hypochondriac with a little OCD thrown in for fun.  I play up the hypochondria for laughs and have a good time with it.  The anxiety was always present, yet did not  dominate my life.  My anxiety was like pre-steroid Barry Bonds.  Dad's death turned my anxiety into Home Run King Barry Bonds.  The second piece of information is that I don't know what caused my dad to drop dead.  We can make educated guesses, assumptions really, but without an autopsy (a choice made for several reasons) there is no definitive answer.  It is this mystery that I believe is the main source of my anxiety.  When you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, it is helpful to at least know what shoe to look for.

Fortunately, my doctor understanding my mind-set and my recently updated family history, ordered a battery of tests to determine the cause of my palpitations.  After an EKG, an echocardiogram, a nuclear stress test, a 24 hour monitor and a 14 day event monitor, my heart was determined to be healthy.  Most people would be satisfied by that answer.  I am not most people.  When something is stuck in my head I can not shake it.  I just knew the doctors were wrong.  They had to be missing something and for that I would pay the ultimate price.  It is not sensible and it is not rational, it is just what I do.

So what would be an occasional blip on my brain's radar became a full-time obsession.  Instead of spending a few minutes pondering whether I may actually have Mesothelioma every time I saw some ambulance chaser's commercial, I began a constant vigil, monitoring all my on-board systems.  I can tell you, nearly two years later, this is a hard way to live.  Much of the time my brain power is split.  One portion is living my life.  The other portion is in steady assessment mode.  Remember the view from inside the Terminator, where you would see what he saw?  In his field of vision was this rolling scroll of diagnostic readouts and system analysis.  That's what the one half of my brain feels like it is often doing.  I am fully functioning, but distracted by the scroll.  Because when you are always looking for something, oh, the things you will find.  Palpitations became chest pain.  Chest pain became dizziness.  Dizziness became back pain.  Back pain became surely I'm dying, right here, right now of exactly what killed my father even though I have very little clue what really killed my father. The internal dialogue would be hilarious if it weren't so draining.
      "What was that?"  "That feels weird."  "That pain in my shoulder could be from lifting heavy boxes earlier but it probably the first sign of my impending heart attack."  "Is it heart burn?  It's probably heartburn.  But what if isn't heartburn?"  "I knew the doctors were wrong."  "Elizabeth, I'm coming to  see ya.  This is the big one." 

As anybody that has experienced even a little anxiety or panic disorder knows, it is a very short trip from one negative thought spiraling into a full-on panic attack.  It is a vicious cycle.  Do the symptoms cause the anxiety or does the anxiety cause the symptoms? 

I think I do a pretty good job of functioning normally given that many of my days are filled with these cycles.  I have only had one full-blown panic attack in this two years, but I have had many moments weighing if the situation warranted a vist to the doctor or ER.  Even a good day can turn quickly.  I might go hours without worrying about a thing, but the moment I realize I haven't worried about anything for a long while, my brain kicks in and I'll feel "something".  I am doing better, though.  A few months after everything started I moved from thinking I was dying to being afraid I was dying.  That is a subtle but, to me, important distinction.  So, if anytime in the last two years I have seemed distracted, off my game (What game, Bryan?  How would I possibly know if you are off what little "game" you have?) or haven't corresponded like I should, I'm sorry.  This is part of the reason why.

Last fall, I finally made the decision to seek help from a support system outside my friends and family.  My counselor/therapist was terrific and taught me many strategies to better deal with all that I have going on, attacking the problem from all angles.  I am grateful to her and hope that I can successfully heed and hone her lessons.  I wish I had sought help sooner.  Mental health struggles, no matter the type, deserve our attention and require hard work to fix. 

I think of my dad every day and, though I don't mourn him every day (he would hate that), the repurcussions of his death affect me always.  I think a friend of mine said it best when he asked me not long after Dad died, "It fucks you up, doesn't it?"  Indeed, it does.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Movie Review Haiku: Hit and Run

Love a good car chase,
Characters make it better,
Funny little ride

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Ovie, We're Not In Kansas (Or the Playoffs) Anymore.

After struggling for days to organize my thoughts regarding the Washington Capitals dismal start, I realized that I didn't need to struggle; L. Frank Baum has done the work for me.  Like Baum's iconic Oz characters, the Capitals organization is lost and lacks brains, heart and courage.  For years the Caps have succeeded despite their flaws.  This season, for whatever reason, the team's shortcomings have resulted in losses piling up at a clip unseen since Alex Ovechkin's rookie season.  General Manager George McPhee may dismiss fans' opinions because we are not "in the game", but I do have eyeballs and it is plain to see that this team is in trouble.  But enough about GMGM.  I'll get back to him later; there is plenty of blame to go around.

In athletic circles, heart is a synonym for desire, for passion, for "want to".  In hockey, playing with heart means beating your guy to the puck, holding your defensive position, winning the loose pucks, etc. because you want those things more than your opponent.  The Caps are consistently out-hustled, seemingly playing at half-speed.  Until they are down a goal with five minutes to play, these guys play with little urgency.  What is so hard about playing your ass off for 45 seconds, sitting for two minutes and jumping over the boards to bust your ass again?  Seriously, why do these guys look like they are skating in quicksand while their opponents dance around them?

Maybe they are indecisive, partially paralyzed by trying to play their fourth system since late 2010.  Instinct has been replaced by, "Oh shit, where am I supposed to be now?"  Hockey blog Japer's Rink makes a compelling case for why the team should have never moved away from its run and gun style.  Whether a change should have been made or not is debatable.  Whether the change was forced upon coach Bruce Boudreau by General Manager George McPhee (there's that guy again) is debatable.  What is not debatable is that this team hasn't been right since then. 

The second possibility is that these players simply don't care enough to play hard every shift.  I'd like to think as a paying fan that this was impossible.  I'm not quite so sure anymore.  Former Flyer badass Bobby Clark once said of his Broad Street Bullies, "We took the shortest route to the puck and arrived in ill humor."  Show me one Cap who plays that way every game.  Certainly not the Alex "The 'C' on my sweater is for Circles" Ovechkin.  Ovie seems bored and uninterested for long stretches of his shifts.  He circles the zone or stands around waiting for a turnover or breakout and hoping somebody puts the puck on his stick as he darts out of the defensive zone.  Does he not understand that by hustling, by forechecking aggresively, by squeezing every ounce from his once immense talent he would cause more turnovers thereby creating more chances?  And, even though I think every player should be able to motivate themselves, should we be surprised that the rest of the team follows the lead of the underachieving captain?  I'm no mind reader, but I think Adam Oates, who as a player was as prepared and professional as they come, is shocked that he has motivate these players on a nightly basis.  In his media session yesterday he basically questioned his players' professionalism.  If he finds the heart he might find success.

Riding shotgun with heart for an athlete is courage.  (I think courage is an improperly used word when talking about sports, but I use it here for sake of the Wizard of Oz reference.  True courage is exhibited by folks like firemen and soldiers, people battling devastating diseases and those who stand strong in the face of injustice, not a linebacker who comes back from injury earlier than expected.)  Hockey courage is a toughness, a willingness to go to the nasty areas of the rink.  Crashing the net, digging a puck out of the corner to start the cycle, tying up your man in front of the net-these are all hard things that require sacrifice.  These are all hard things that are basic functions of successful hockey teams.  These are all hard things that the Caps don't do often enough.  The Caps don't score dirty goals because they don't get dirty. 

Hockey courage is also about continuing to battle in the face of adversity.  This season the Caps have folded whenever something bad happens.  Once Pittsburgh scored their second goal on Thursday, I had zero faith the Caps could suck it up and get back in the game.  Nevermind that they had dominated the Pens in the first period.  Instead of fighting to tie the game at two, these clowns rolled over and were down 5-2 by the end of the period.  Playing sixty minutes of great hockey seems beyond their reach. Good teams use crushing losses in games and playoff series to build resilience and fortitude to rely on in future battles.  Bad teams panic at the first sign of trouble.  Resilient these Caps are not.

Playing hard can cover many flaws, but heart and courage are of little use to an organization if it is populated by dopes.  Right now, I think there is a serious lack of organizational "brains" in America's Hockey Capital Washington.  From a star player who appears unable or unwilling to evolve his game beyond moves that are now routinely defended to an owner who raises ticket prices after a lockout, the Caps are well-stocked with Scarecrows. 

The biggest offender is the man charged with assembling this mess, the architect, General Manager George McPhee.  GMGM's patented patience has left this team a shell of the team that dominated the Eastern Conference just two+  years ago.  He, for too long, overrated the talent in the farm system, refusing to part with prospects that could have been dealt for missing pieces of a true contender.  When he finally parted with a prospect, trading Cody Eakin for Mike Ribero, he acquired the second-line center the team desperately needed.  Unfortunately, Alex Semin, the player who could have benefited most from playing alongside a playmaking center is no longer here.  Had McPhee landed a Ribero three years ago I might be bitching about when the Caps will win their next Cup.  Instead, I am left to play what-if.  What if GMGM had brought in a quality option at 2C instead of trying to force a parade of ill-fitting wannabes?  Brooks Laich?  Good player, important cog, better suited on the wing or at 3C.  Matt Perrault? Please.  MoJo?  Could possibly get there in time if allowed to develop at a more natural pace.  Instead, he was rushed into the lineup expected to be the next Nick Backstrom.  (Shoot, I'd love it if Nick Backstrom would be the next Nick Backstrom.)  The point is, GMGM waited too long to make necessary tweaks that could have put this team over the top. 

Centerman is not the only positon GMGM has buggered up.  This man actually said in his presser yesterday that he likes his defense.  Whaaaat?  I think the Caps have three legitimate NHL defensemen on their roster.  Unfortunately, most teams skate six d-men per night.   Roman Hmrlik, Tom Poti and the rest of Should Be Watching From The Press Box Brigade are no match for a swarming, attacking offensive squad.  For GMGM to say he likes the D is astounding.  Either he is a worse evaluator of talent than I thought or he is a liar.  I'm not sure which is worse.  For eighteen minutes of pure comedy gold click on that previous link and watch McPhee's entire media session.  This is the first time I have ever seen McPhee, usually a cool customer, with a confused, lost look on his face.  It may be settling in that the arrogant way he and Teddy L. were going to do it "their way" (never hiring an experienced coach, no enforcer, Euro-heavy roster, two goalies under age 22) is not working.  Their five year plan is already past due and over budget.  This team may need another rebuild, but I don't want this guy over-seeing it.

With all that being said, I am a fan and I will keep watching.  I've come back after every lockout.  I suffered through the Jason Doig era.  I have bought in to the raised (by the organization itself, by the way) expectations.  I will watch and I will cheer, but I hope changes come if progress is not made.  Patience is no longer the play.  So, since the Caps encourage their fans to don the home color, tonight I will Rock the (ruby) Red (slippers).  Hopefully three clicks of my heels will wake the Caps to their winning ways and turn this nightmare season around.