Wednesday, May 18, 2016

PG-Parental Guidance Suggested

Internet, I am going to let you in on a secret.  Most of us working in retail management did not aspire to these great heights, it just sort of happens.  But now that I have reached this career pinnacle, my Olympus, if you will, I figure I have earned the right to lob a few Zeus-ian (or is it Gene Simmons-ian) thunderbolts of advice.

You see, retail managers burn out from equal parts customer shenanigans, corporate bunk rolling downhill, and having to babysit smarmy, lazy, know-it-all twentysomething shithams.  It is the last of these I would like to address directly:

           Hi guys.  I don't know what kind of leadership you have been given previously, and, truthfully, I can't promise what type you'll always receive here, but I have a few tips for you.  Dress up for an interview.  Shorts are not appropriate.  Look people in the eye.  Unless you set it up for Minute Maid, you may want to leave your lemonade stand off your resume.  Act like you care, even when you don't.  It takes more than showing up to earn a paycheck.  Speaking of showing up, you may want to do that (on time) every time you are scheduled.  You may (Gasp!) have to sacrifice something fun because you are scheduled to work.  Guess what?  I do it all the time.  Listen, remember, write it down; I am not teaching you how to do something for my health.  I actually expect you to retain and use this information.  Don't bullshit me; I have been lied to by better than you.  Don't tell another manager one thing and tell me the opposite.  Why yes, we are open every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Yes, we do need to staff the store on Christmas Eve.  I also want to see my family, but we CHOSE to work in retail.  Praise is necessary, but don't expect me to hand you a cookie or do a touchdown dance every single time you complete a task that is a minimum expectation of your position.  If you don't know or remember how to do something, ask.  You may think you are saving face, but I assure you that you look twice as stupid trying to fake your way through something and doubling down by lying to me about it.  Don't be so stupid as to doodle, sit down,  ignore customers, text on your phone or steal(!) on camera.  Don't act offended when I correct your behavior.   And, PLEASE, for love of everything holy, please don't tell me how to do my job on your first day. 

I know this post will be dismissed by some as a "Get off my lawn/When I was your age/Kids these days" rant.  To me, it is more a call to action.  Kids unprepared and/or unwilling to work hard are not Bernie Sanders' fault.  They are not this way because "everybody gets a trophy."  That's too easy a narrative to slip into, too broad a brush with which to paint. I will not lay this at the feet of Millennials and Generation Z.  I know plenty of young people that are killing it. Frankly, killing it with passion, direction, and effort that I did not possess at age twenty-three.  I work with some young people who attack even the most mundane of tasks with enthusiasm, hard work, and a smile.  They do what is asked of them and more.  Sadly, in my experience, there is not enough of them.  

No, this is not bashing all young adults; it is a call to action for parents. The problems I described are not endemic to an entire generation; they are born in the home.  Mom and Dad must lay the foundations of responsibility, work ethic, and sense of right and wrong.  Our observant children learn from us their social cues and behavior modification.  Parental Guidance isn't just a label on a movie poster.  Only through our lead, will our children be receptive to criticism and lessons from teachers and coaches.  Parents, I beg you, let your children be disciplined in school, let them be coached on the field, reprimand them at home.  You are doing them a disservice if you don't. 

I hear, almost daily, complaints from parents about the roadblocks thrown in front of their kids by the "system."  Parroting critiques of Common Core and whining about summer reading assignments.  You would think the parents themselves were being asked to turn off Netflix and pick up Hemingway.  I witness incredulous mom after angry dad try to find the shortest books for their child.  God forbid we expect our child to work their way through 300 pages of  Austen or Faulkner.  Hell, we should be encouraging it.  What rankles me more, though, is that I am even speaking to the parent.  Why isn't the sixteen-year-old asking me for help instead of standing nearby rolling his eyes or scrolling through her phone with the bored countenance of a Kardashian?  Little pleases me more at work than when a young child, empowered and encouraged by their parent, asks for help locating a book.  I have to restrain myself from high-fiving that parent.  Such small steps can make a huge difference in preparing a child.  It is not that far a leap from confidently asking me for help as a kid to being able to look me in the eye during a job interview as a college student. 

Mom and Dad, you want your child to be good citizen?  Act like it.       

Friday, May 13, 2016

Dad Plaid

This may come as a shock to you, but I have never been considered stylish.  Mostly because I don't care to be considered stylish, especially by today's standards.  Man buns, skinny jeans, and fedoras?  No thanks, I'll pass.  More power to you if you can pull it off; I'll be over here dressing a little more pedestrian.  It is fair to say my style evolution has not progressed past Cro-magnon.  In elementary school I was the whitest kid to ever rock parachute pants, break laces, muscle shirts to reveal my twig-like arms, and, of course, Jams.  Junior high brought attempted preppy with some tight-rolled jeans thrown in.  High school dress code was acid-washed jeans, high tops, rugby shirts, college sweatshirts, puffy Starter jackets, and whatever semi-profane t-shirts we thought were clever (they weren't) at the time like "Big Johnson's" or "You can't beat the meat at Alan's Deli!"  Oh, early 90's you were so silly.  I skipped Grunge, never owning Doc Martens, baggy jeans, or a wallet chain.  No, I spent college in lacrosse shorts.  Never mind that I never played lacrosse or that the shorts were completely impractical with no pockets.  Since college, it has been a steady diet of long sleeve t-shirts and khakis with some ugly Hawaiian shirts and cargo shorts mixed in for "variety."  Not exactly the makings of a GQ photo shoot.

Recently, I looked in my closet and realized I have unconsciously altered my wardrobe a bit.  I have developed a uniform.  I still have Converse and flip-flops, and plenty of khaki shorts.  I also saw an alarming number of plaid shirts.  I'm not complaining, I was just surprised at how many plaid shirts were populating my closet.  Long sleeve, short sleeve, lightweight cotton, heavier flannel, it is a rainbow smorgasbord of Dad Plaid.  Dad Plaid- the mid-sized sedan of men's attire.  Like a white picket fence you can take with you wherever you go.  Dad Plaid- timeless, efficient, dad-like.  Timeless?  Heck yeah.  Dads throughout history have sported the plaid, linking fathers across generations.  Efficient? You bet.  It allows dad to be comfortable, colorful, and boring simultaneously.  And, yes, a plaid shirt is dad-like in its versatility.  Tuck it in for instant Business Casual.  Untuck for Casual Casual.  Perfect for a picnic. (Sometimes you even match the tablecloth!)  It is lightweight enough to throw on at the beach.  Your plaid shirt is dressy enough for dinner somewhere nicer than Taco Bell, but is not formal or stuffy.  Its handy single front pocket is great for stashing a pen at the office or protecting whatever random piece of jewelry your daughter asks you to hold while she twirls/flips/barrel rolls across the playground.  Untucked, it hides (I hope) the flaws of my dad bod better than a clingy golf shirt.  Although, that is a lot to ask of a shirt.  There is only so much masking you can do when you are a man of larger carriage.  Plaid is, indeed, rad.

A closet full of Dad Plaid indicates you have settled into that sweet middle ground of somewhat giving a shit.  Your fraternity days are long passed.  You have places to be where you can't show up looking like a total slob.  Dance recitals, preschool graduations, homeowners association meetings.  But if you want to spend your day off binging on hot wings and ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries, well your plaid is quite the comfortable choice of garment.  Just pop an extra button and settle in.  Yes, a closet full of plaid shirts indicates I have landed where I want to be: a gentleman of leisure, a suburban stalwart, a DAD.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Indiana Votes and the End of the Republic!

Indiana Votes and the End of the Republic! No, unfortunately, this is not a Harrison Ford adventure movie; this truth is stranger than fiction.  Today's Indiana primary will likely lock up the Republican nomination for Donald Trump.  It doesn't have to be this way, America.  If we can prolong the contest until the convention, we can shake things up, getting your dream candidate. Ted Cruz? Heaven's no, he's more dangerous than Sarah Palin at a geography bee.  No, not Trump or Cruz.  It's me; I'm the man for the job.  I've previously told you why I am better than the current front runner.  Now allow me to explain why I am a better candidate than Mr. Cruz.  I suppose fireside chats are obsolete, so cozy up to your phone or laptop for the modern day equivalent.  Learn why I, Bryan Hailey, will move America #EverForward.

How do I differ from Senator Cruz?  Let me count the ways.  First, to my knowledge, I've never been referred to as "Lucifer in the flesh".  Fortunately for the world at large, most people, my self included, refrain from mentioning my flesh at all.  I don't even show off this doughy dad bod at the beach. You're welcome.  Secondly, I have yet to demonstrate enough hubris to select a running mate before being nominated.  Who does this guy think he is?  Maybe he has read The Secret one too many times.  Wishing hard that you are the nominee does not make you the nominee.  You have to be patient like me, attempting to steal the nomination at the convention.  Duh. (However, I will break a little news.  Currently on my VP short list: Peter Dinklage, Spud Webb, and Kevin Hart. Dad jokes!)  Thirdly, unless you are my seven-year-old, I have not lectured you in a pretentious, condescending, speaking-slow-so-you-can-keep-up manner.  Fourthly, have you ever seen Senator Cruz in red pants?  Look at the picture up there; they are magnificent!

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I am not a fear-mongering, hate-fomenting scare tactician trying to drum up votes on the backs of people already bullied enough.  This transgender bathroom nonsense has to stop.  People choosing to use the public restroom assigned to the gender they identify with pose no more harm (probably less) to our children than a non-transgender person.  I have given this matter much consideration.  I have debated it with smart people.  I don't know what these smart people can't see about the situation.  The people I have debated are not bigots. Perhaps they are scared of what they don't know or understand?  I simply don't get it. 

My favorite part of this argument and these proposed laws is that many of the proponents, sponsors, and supporters of these bills identify as small government champions.  It is hypocritical on their part to propose unnecessary laws.  Laws which will be enforced how?  Oh, oh, I know!  We can expand government further by creating a Potty Police Force to perform cup checks in every public restroom nationwide.  Give me a break.

Of course, the biggest outcry from supporters is,"What about the children?!?!"  Yes, the world is a scary place.  We venture out into this frightening place every day and face much bigger obstacles than what may trans-pire (See what I did there?) in a public restroom.  Here's a few things about the fear Cruz and his ilk try to drum up. My daughter uses public restrooms A LOT.  In fact, Grace has never met one she didn't "need" to use.  I am frightened of public restrooms because they are fetid bastions of germs and piss-covered toilet seats.  I also think about who could be lurking inside.  I send my daughter into the ladies' room knowing full well someone in there could be shooting up, could be a homeless person setting up camp, could be a lesbian "allowed" to be in there waiting to prey upon a girl or another woman, or could be a lady filling a stink bucket with a nose-wrinkling load.  And, you know what?  There could even be a dude hanging out in there waiting to pounce.  Because if a dude has already made the deal with his moral code that he is going to rape or molest, do we really think he will be deterred by a symbol on a bathroom door?  I ease my fears by teaching my daughter to be aware of her surroundings.  I tell her to scream her head off if something goes South.  You can believe I will kick in the door of a ladies' room if I heard Grace scream out.

My point is, Grace is in no more danger than normal because a woman born in a man's body shares a bathroom with her.  She has probably already been in restrooms with ladies who were born dudes.  I have probably shared restrooms with dudes who were born ladies.  Why do we care?  Think about how scary the world might be if you were transgender.  Think about how scary life might be if you truly felt you were born in the wrong body.  How scary it might be if at every turn you were ridiculed (or worse) because of it.  If using a certain bathroom gives these folks a slice of peace and comfort, then I am all for it.  It doesn't harm me (Or you, America!) in the least.  I'd venture to say transgender people know themselves a whole lot better than the rest of us.  Maybe we should invest in a little more introspection.  Or better yet, maybe introduce yourself (preferably not in the restroom) to somebody who is "different" than you.  White, black, gay, straight, mentally ill, in a wheel chair, nerd, Republican, Democrat, introvert, Kanye, transgender...we're all "different".  All with more in common than what divides us.  All deserving of dignity and respect.

Now, come on, Empathy, Introspection, Red Pants...are these not the things you seek in a candidate?

#Hailey2016  #EverForward

It Ain't Easy Being Red.

Hi, my name is Bryan and I am a Cap-oholic.  The internet has likely tired of my Washington Capitals jabber, but I can't help myself.  Asking me to stay silent during a playoff showdown with the Pens is akin to expecting an alcoholic to stay sober on Nickel Draft Night.  I'd like to think, despite my Cap-oholism, that I give coherent, objective analysis and opinion.  Read on if you care to find out.

After Game 3, I feel there are, once again, mystical powers at work.  Forces that we can not explain with rationality, common sense, or logic.  There will be no dictating circumstances; we all, players, fans, announcers alike, are just along for the cosmic joyride.  Two specific areas of this series are currently up in the air, beholden only to the whims of the Universe.  One, is how the Capitals respond to the seemingly annual tradition of failing to win a playoff game they dominate.  The second is the impossible task of trying to deduce how the NHL will deal with Kris Letang's dirty hit on Marcus Johansson.

Longtime readers likely assume that on Point One I am feeling as dreary as this morning's downpour.  A safe bet, to be sure, but one they would lose.  Yes, virtually everything that transpired during last night's game would suggest that these are the same old Caps: plucky buggers who simply will not overcome the Hockey Gods that perpetually conspire against them.  Yes, the Caps peppered the latest "hot goalie", Matt Murray, with forty-nine (49!) shots only to come away with a paltry two goals.  Yes, presumed Vezina winner Braden Holtby gave up goals on two of the first three shots he faced, including a tip-in and a deflection off a forward's back.  Yes, our boys in red finally played the full sixty minute game we have been begging them to bring.  Yes, the Caps did everything correct EXCEPT WIN THE GAME.  These are all evidence that this series is another in a string of playoff misfortune that routinely befalls this franchise.  All omens, talisman, or signs that "here we go again."  Fellow fans, I can't blame you if you feel that way.  It makes sense.  Well, nothing about Washington's postseasons ever make sense.  I simply mean I understand why you would feel that way. 

It is also a line of thought of which I have grown tired.  Maybe I'm delusional.  Maybe I'm drunk on Red Rocker Kool-Aid.  Today, I choose to see the good.  To see the sparks of hope from Game 3.  I must admit, it feels weird, like when you drive someone else's car.  You know how, it's just not what you are used to.  I know the Pens, the League, or the Caps themselves could snuff out those sparks of hope quickly tomorrow night.  However, if you look objectively, not through "The Sky Is Falling" lenses, the omens of the tide turning were present.  First, Alex Ovechkin was everywhere last night.  He scored his first goal of the series, which was also his first against the Penguins all season.  He looked like he could have scored a half dozen more. (That would have been nice, eh?)  He was destroying people with huge, clean hits.  He skated, competed like a champion, and LED this team.  Secondly, Justin Williams hopped off the side of a milk carton and into the series.  His first goal was a big one.  If he can continue land on the score sheet for something beyond a penalty, our guys might be okay.  Thirdly,we have a coach that exudes confidence.  For all I  know it is an act, but Barry Trotz looked comfortable in the postgame press conference.  He knows his guys are good.  He knows they face only a one game deficit.  He knows it is a BEST OF SEVEN.   I trust Barry Trotz.  (Though, I do have one small piece of advice for him.  Unlike fans, coaches don't usually believe in superstitions. However, I have noticed, largely through no fault of his own, that the team is now 0-4 in the playoffs with Taylor Chorney in the lineup.  Just sayin...)  Maybe he hasn't yet been swallowed by the Caps Curse, but I will take Trotz's mindset over Bruce Boudreau's red-faced uncertainty any day.  Finally, and this will sound ridiculous on the surface, by losing Game 3, it is now mathematically impossible for the Caps to blow a 3-1 series lead.  Silly, right?  Who wouldn't want to be up 2-1 or 3-1?  Maybe these guys.  This team plays better when desperate.  Playing from ahead, listening to the whispers of playoffs past rarely works for them.  If they can escape Pittsburgh with the series tied 2-2, the Caps will be looking good. 

Winning Game 4 may be a task made easier if Pens defenseman Kris Letang doesn't play.  Whether or not he is suspended is the second great mystery coming out of Game 3.  In the first period he caught Marcus Johansson with a high, late hit to the head.  The shot was as dirty, as unnecessary, as punishable as Brooks Orpik's hit in Game 2.  As of the time I write this, the NHL has not levied a punishment for the hit.  I thought Orpik deserved a one game suspension.  He received three.  Because I think the hits are equitable, I would lobby for Letang to also receive three games.  Unfortunately, several factors lead me to believe the NHL will not drop the hammer on Letang.  One, he is a star player for the Pens.  It shouldn't matter, but it does.  Secondly, even though he has one prior suspension, Letang does not have the same headhunting reputation that Orpik carries.  Finally, from what I have read from hockey writers since the hit, the league's Office of Player Safety factors the extent of the injuries sustained into the equation.  The thinking goes that since Olli Maata has missed time from the Orpik hit, Orpik's suspension may be longer than Letang's because Marcus Johansson was able to stay in the game last night.  Personally, I feel this SHOULD NOT factor into the decision.  If the league truly wants to eradicate these head shots it must punish the act, not  the intent of the checker or the extent of the injury.  We will see how the NHL acts later this afternoon.  My prediction is a one game suspension.   Let's just say I have more faith in my Caps, even with their record of failure, than I do in the often inconsistent Office of Player Safety. 

Maybe Kris Letang will be suspended, maybe he won't.  Maybe the Caps will be swept up in another doomed postseason, maybe they won't.  The signs are there to be read however you'd like to see them.  Today, I look to the positive.  Today, I Rock the Red.  Let's Go Caps!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Supersonic Seven

My daughter, Grace, has always reminded me of the line from A Midsummer Night's Dream, "Though she be but little, she is fierce!" (I see those quizzical looks out there. No, I don't read a lot of Shakespeare.  I probably saw the quote on a t-shirt or bumper sticker.  Just go with it.)  Lately, I have been forced to recognize that, though she is still fierce, Grace is not so little anymore.  I had a sappy dad moment last night at the supermarket, a tiny reminder that Grace is growing up.  I was shopping alone in Giant.  (Well, not alone.  There were approximately a billion people with me in Giant last night, only two of which were cashiers.  I thought I was going to have to recreate the end scene of Crocodile Dundee,  walking on people's shoulders to get to the frozen food aisle.  I had a similar embrace with the Hot Pockets when I finally reached them.) Anyway, I was shopping alone in Giant when I passed a guy pushing a small girl in one of those carts where the child sits in a plastic car mounted to the front of the cart so she can pretend to drive.  I was taken off guard by the tiny wave of sorrow that struck me when I realized Grace has grown too big to pretend drive one of those carts.  (Not that she wouldn't try to squeeze in one.)  As much as I enjoy watching Grace grow, I sometimes miss my little baby girl.

At age seven, Grace has reached the point where she is caught in between stages.  No longer a loony, id-driven toddler, yet not a pre-teen.  As she walks that line, she bobbles back and forth between each side.  She is still genuinely excited to see me and often jumps in my arms when I get home from work, but is embarrassed if I use my thumb to wipe her face before she walks into school.  She likes to sometimes sing silly songs together, yet rolls her eyes if I start jamming to one when she doesn't feel like it.  She often could use a nap, yet rarely takes one.  (Sigh.  Remember naps?  Those glorious times where you could get things done on a weekend, like watching something with colorful language on Netflix.  "Quiet time" isn't quite the same.)  Grace can easily tie her own shoes, but must be asked a thousand times to find them and put them on.  She is perfectly capable of fixing her own lunch, yet whines there is not a "single thing to eat" in the fully-stocked cabinets or refrigerator.  Helping Grace navigate the between stages line is quite a ride.  A ride I assume only gets bumpier as we hit the teen years.  My father-in-law takes great joy in telling me I ain't seen nothin' yet.

I acknowledge growing up is tough for the kids, too.  Just a few years ago they were drawing cheers as mundane acts like walking, talking, and not crapping their pants were seen as major milestones.  As you age, the bar is raised.  I am a tougher audience today.  "Oh, you finished reading Green Eggs and Ham all by yourself?  That's nice.  If you really want to impress me, Sam-I-Am, go grab some Dostoyevsky off the shelf and give that a whirl."

Of course, there is also great upside to Grace growing up.  We haven't watched Frozen in months.  We have hilarious conversations.  I love her curiosity.  We are beginning to share sports fandoms.  It is heart warming to watch her be a good neighbor to her younger friends.  And every once in a while, amidst bedtime arguments and soliloquies about why she should be allowed to wear high heels to the playground, Grace will give Amanda and me a sign that we are doing things right.  Two small, but cool things recently made me proud.  For Christmas, Grace had the idea, completely on her own, to use her leftover birthday money and gift cards to buy gifts for some family friends.  A generous and unselfish act.  Then, earlier this month, Grace was honored at school for raising the most donation money in her school for Jump Rope for Heart.  As she handed Grace her prize in front of the entire school, the vice principal put a live microphone  in Grace's face.  In that split second, I wondered how Grace would react.  Would she turn and walk away?  With the gross, gassy kick she has been on, would she belch the alphabet?  No, she responded with a simple, polite "Thank you."  It was a small thing, but it made me realize that our conversations about manners seem to be sinking in.  

So, even though I sort of long for the seven and a half years that have passed with supersonic speed, I can't help but look forward to the fun ahead.        

Sunday, April 24, 2016

On to Round Two

We don't yet know when the series will begin, but that won't stop me from starting the Caps v Pens chatter.  It's never too early, Caps fans.

Fact: I hate the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Opinion: They are Grade A, USDA-certified, notarized, card-carrying douchenozzles.

Fact: The Washington Capitals were the best     team in hockey for the first half of the season.
Opinion: They are no longer the best team in hockey.

Fact: The Pittsburgh Penguins were the best team in hockey during the second half of the season.
Opinion: They still are.

Fact: I am worried about this series.
Opinion: You should be too.

Fact: My friend Eddie has always been, and remains, the sunniest Caps fan I know, always finding hope among springtime doom and gloom.
Opinion: We should applaud his optimism and follow his lead.

Fact: The Penguins will be called for some penalties this series.
Opinion: The Capitals will be called for many more.

Fact: My playoff beard continues to grow.
Opinion: It still resembles a defective Chia Pet.

Fact: My friend Roberto thinks Barry Trotz looks like George "The Animal" Steele's little brother.
Opinion: It would be awesome if, during Game 1, Trotz took a huge bite of the turnbuckle-like  pad at the end of the bench.

Fact: This series will garner much national coverage.
Opinion: I hope on the national broadcasts we get more Kenny Albert and less of the more celebrated Doc Emrick.

Fact: We fans will cheer like crazy and adhere to all our nutty superstitions despite the fact neither will have any bearing on the outcome of the games.
Opinion: We must never stop Rocking the Red.

Fact: In five games against the Penguins this season, Alex Ovechkin had zero points.
Opinion: In this series, The Great 8 will elevate his game in an epic battle with Sidney Crosby.

Fact: I was convinced that today I would be writing about fretting over a Game 7.
Opinion: In about two weeks, I will be writing about fretting over a Game 7.

Fact: There will be much teeth-gnashing, nail-biting, curse-pondering, hockey gods-begging watching the games through our fingers over the next couple weeks.
Opinion: We would not have it any other way.

Fact: The Caps CAN beat the Pens and win the series.
Opinion: The Caps WILL beat the Pens and win the series.

Fact: I've been wrong before...

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Puck You, Flyers.

Well, I suppose it is time to climb up on my high horse.  I wasn't going to weigh in on the ugliness in Philadelphia Monday night, but the comments of Flyers General Manager Ron Hextall have called me to action.  Before I get to his comments, a little history lesson is in order.  I was raised on the battles of the old Patrick Division.  The first NHL game I attended in person was Caps vs Pens, but my true Patrick Division baptism occurred soon after when the Flyers came calling to the Capital Centre.  That afternoon was educational.  Barely in the arena, walking down to our seats, I heard a fan profanely informing Flyer goalie Ron Hextall about the sexual abilities of Mr Hextall's sister.  The game itself was a penalty filled bloodbath.   Dirty hits were leveled, blood shed, teeth dislodged.  The main event, a twelve player brawl, included one goalie beating another, required blood be scraped from the ice before play could resume.  The box score read like a career criminal's rap sheet.  That game served as a portal to my hockey fandom and to a not-yet-relinquished hatred of the Philadelphia Flyers.  Plenty of other Caps/Flyers moments that stoked the hatred followed: a game with more fights in the stands than on the ice,  Hextall wielding his goalie stick in a menacing, dangerous way,  handmade "Flyers Suck" t-shirts, Eric Lindros, Overtime Elimination in 2008, watching a car full of Flyers fans nearly intentionally hit a female Caps fan with their car.  So I have seen, and participated in, the ugliness of the rivalry, including moments I am not proud of personally.  I know of what I speak.

Fast forward to this current series.  Most Caps fans expected the Flyers, if they were being outclassed on the ice, to resort to the time honored tradition of "If you can't beat 'em, beat 'em."  After two close losses, it appeared the Flyers were desperate in Game 3.  Ryan White, chief complainer about no-calls, wrecked Brooks Orpik on a questionable hit.  Once the game was out of hand on the scoreboard, the Flyers did what they do best: devolve the game into a scene from Slapshot. 

It's as if every Flyer squad is playing the ghost of their ancestors, the Broad Street Bullies.  Those Flyer championship teams of the 1970's were skilled and barbaric. They also played a style that has long since gone out of favor. The current Flyers make a cowardly, clumsy attempt to honor this timeworn tradition.  After Pierre-Edouard Bellemare's plainly dirty hit pasted Dmitry Orlov, two other Flyer players started beating on Capitals without provocation.  As I said earlier, I loved the brawls of the early '90s as long as there were willing, evenly matched combatants. It was the cowardice of the hit on Orlov that got me going.

What kept me going, pushing me to write, were the comments Wednesday from Ron Hextall.  You can find the full comments here. Hextall said after watching the hit fifty times, he believes the blame lies with Orlov for not protecting himself.  I am glad better hockey observers than I, like former players including Jeremy Roenick , have blasted Bellemare for the cheap shot.  I know Hextall is protecting his guy, lobbying for a reduced sentence, but to defend Bellemare at such length is disturbing.  Bellemare may not have intended to hurt Orlov. His reckless action, though, could have been catastrophic.  Players need to respect each other. If you see a guy's numbers, you can not ram him into the boards.  Hextall's garbage defense of the play proves he is the thug we always called him during his playing days.  And the one game suspension levied on Bellemare by the NHL?  A total joke.  If Tom Wilson were guilty of the same infraction the NHL would have ordered him tied to a car bumper and dragged down the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Finally, the fact that the Flyers goons were out at that stage of the game further cements that they had far more intention of being disruptive than making a comeback.

With Ron Hextall sanctioning thuggish behavior on the ice, is it any wonder that Flyer fans take license to act like assholes in the seats?  As I said earlier, I have done and said regrettable things in the hockey bleachers.  Except for a hat trick-celebrating hat toss, I have never thrown anything on the ice.  Monday night, bracelets designed to celebrate the life of Flyers founder Ed Snider were tossed on the ice by the dozens.  At least one Caps player was hit and the game was halted for cleanup.  Nevermind that someone, fan or player, could have been hurt, this is just childish stupidity of the highest order.  Boo like crazy, but keep your hands (and your bracelets) to yourselves.   If this were an episode of Law & Order, you would hear a bunch of fancy talk from Flyers fans, lawyerly  misdirection about the Caps getting too many power plays and benefit of the doubt. Since this isn't Law & Order, what you hear is Flyers fans using their usual grunts and booger flicks to communicate how poorly their players have been treated. (To be fair, I know several Flyers fans who happen to be classy, erudite citizens of the world; I'm surprised they have not been asked to turn in their orange replica sweaters.)   Philly fans, notorius for booing Santa, throwing battery filled snow balls, and cheering Michael Irvin as he laid motionless on the Veteran's Stadium turf with a possible broken neck, have long been a scourge on the sports world. Forever classy.   I am all about making an arena a "hostile" environment, but it should not be literal.

Where does that leave us for Game 4? Likely more Broad Street shenanigans.  Hopefully, the Caps remain poised.  As much as I would like to believe otherwise, this series isn't over yet.  Philly won a series after being down 0-3 just six years ago.  I have witnessed the Caps choke away more commanding leads than I care to remember.  The Caps would be wise to keep their heads, stay focused and finish this thing tonight.  Then maybe they can quote Grand Moff Tarkin by saying, " The last remnants of the Old Republic  Broad Street Bullies have been swept away."

Monday, April 11, 2016

Good Cap, Bad Cap:A Brief Hockey Noir

Setting: A small, dank interrogation room illuminated only by a single bulb hanging from the center of the ceiling.  Below the bulb sets a stark metal table covered  with neat piles of papers, maybe financial reports, and assorted memorabilia: bobbleheads,  t-shirts, a silver trophy marked President's something or another.  On one side of the table sits Washington Capitals owner Teddy L wearing a Winter  Classic sweater and a satisfied grin.  I, Detective A. Capsfan, sit across the table from Big Ted, cloaked in skepticism and a lack of sentimentality that I wear comfortably, like a favorite pair of shoes.  To my left is my partner, Detective Red Rocker.  I'd rather be out investigating a dame with great gams, but we all gotta play the hand we're dealt.

"Thanks for coming downtown, Mr. L" says Red. "Can I get ya anything, maybe some Kool-aid to drink?"

There goes Red, always trying to make nice.

"No, I'm fine, thanks.  I just want to answer your questions," says Ted.

"Really, it's just one question, Ted" says Red, "how would characterize this season for your hockey club?"

"Oh man, where to begin?   So many great things happened this year.  Let's see, we sold out every game; we've got the best fans in the league.  Braden Holtby has a real shot at winning the Vezina Trophy.  TJ Oshie scored a career high in goals."

I detect the slightest taunting nod from the Oshie bobblehead setting on the table.

Ted continues, "Ovi scored his 500th goal, Kuzy made a ton of sick backhand passes from behind the goal.  The list goes on and on."

I wonder if he believes the shit he's shoveling.  I unbutton my cuffs and roll my shirtsleeves to the elbow.  It's getting a little warm in here.

"We, uh, set a franchise record for wins in a season," says Ted.

Listen to this guy, telling us what he thinks we want to hear.  I feel the familiar eye twitch, an old friend I first met after the Easter Epic back in '87.

Red says, "Ted, I think I'm gonna step out and get you that Kool-aid."

Ted's nervous eyes follow Red out the door then lock on me.

"You were saying, Ted?"

"Yeah, I was just going to say that, you know, Coach Trotz has a strong chance to be Coach of the Year.  We earned this here President's Trophy.  All in all, I think the 2015-2016 season has been a wonderful success."

That's it, I've heard enough.  I am out of my seat in a flash, sweeping the table clean with an angry swipe.  The contents of the table fly across the room, little TJ tumbling to the floor, head bobbling all the way.  " Wrong answer," I hear myself roar.

"You just don't get it do you, Ted?  None of you losers over at Kettler do.  All that stuff you just listed is window dressing.  It's all sizzle. I'm ready for big bite of Lord Stanley steak, dammit.  All that great stuff, the records, the awards, they don't mean a thing if you ain't got that ring, Ted.  Don't you see? The people want to love you.  This town is starved for a winner.  If you guys brought a Cup home, you would be kings.  The parade would make an Inauguration look like a little church picnic.  (I know that is an exaggeration, but I 'm on a roll.) Instead, since you guys can't get your crap together in April and May, Bryce Harper is getting a key to the city for swatting a few home runs."

Ted looks like he wants to say something.  Before he can open his mouth, I press on.

"Every damn year I sit here watching you blow sunshine up Red's ass, getting his hopes up.  Sweet talk about Hart Trophies and high seeds.  Drivel about multimedia empires and Winter Classics victories.  Yet every spring ends the same: me choking down the anger as you guys choke away another series lead.  You always run into a hot goalie.  Or lack veteran leadership.  A hundred other reasons for falling short.  Now, you are out of excuses, Ted.  You tell me you were the best team all season. You tell me you have the best goalie.  You added Mr. Game Seven, Justin Williams.  This is this team's best chance to win, but I'll believe it when I see it.  The previous 82 games don't mean squat.  I've been down this road too many times.  All I care about is 16 more wins.  Show me, Ted.  Prove me wrong.  Show me."

I realize I am pacing, fists clenched, sweat dripping from my red face.  Why the hell do I even care so much?

After a few quiet moments, Ted speaks in a low, defiant voice, "Do you think you might secretly want us to fail so you can keep on being miserable?"

That stings.  If only because there might be the tiniest kernel of fact buried in there.  It's not that I want the Caps to lose when it counts, it's just that I know no other way.  It's been so long, the misery feels right.  The truth is I don't know how I would feel if the Caps hoisted the Cup, but I would sure like to find out.

The door swings open.  Red walks in, completely unsurprised by the scene before him in the tiny room.  He places the cup of Kool-aid on the table for Ted.  A Kool-aid that I am desperately thirsty to drink.  But I know better.  I adjust my tie, straighten my sleeves, and button my cuffs as I head for the door.

"Show me, Ted. Show me."