Monday, February 26, 2007

Light Lenten Thoughts

Most of us spend the first six days of each week sowing wild oats, then we go to church on Sunday and pray for a crop failure. ~Fred Allen
It is the Lenten season, as the Kraft Food ads used to tell us. Lent, for the unaware, is a period of 40 days beginning on Ash Wednesday and extending to Holy Thursday (Good Friday is technically not part of Lent). It is supposed to be a period of prayer, fasting, and self-examination, particularly for Catholics. Of course, in our modern times, most of the fasting rules have been relaxed to the point that we don't even see all the endless ads we once saw for tuna fish and cottage cheese dishes.
Ash Wednesday is preceded by Fat Tuesday (better known as Mardi Gras), during which people eat like pigs, drink like fish, and do things that they will absolutely need 40 days of prayer, fasting, and self-examination to atone for.
I was raised as a Catholic, although honesty compels me to point out that I no longer practice the faith. Lent was a big deal in those days, but, as I've gotten older, I find that it passes by without a lot of my attention being diverted to it. This year, though, I was struck by two things.
First, our local newspaper did an article on what Lent is. The first item in the piece was a statement claiming that Ash Wednesday occurred 40 days after Good Friday. The remainder of the article was equally accurate. I don't know if someone was smoking dope or just using the Internet as an information source, but the article was so bad that, two days later, the paper printed a complete reworking, along with an apology for lacking any editors who knew what Lent is.
Second, Mike Golic, of Mike and Mike in the Morning, the ESPN Radio morning sports program, began discussing with partner Mike Greenberg what he might be giving up for Lent. Mr. Greenberg, who is Jewish, took Mr. Golic to task on his initial suggestion that he give up coleslaw, which was followed by the offer to refrain from cornmeal. After several more bits of silliness like this, Mr. Golic decided he would give up sweets for Lent, a pretty traditional choice.
The following morning, though, a debate began over what constituted a “sweet.” For example, the former NFL player asked, is banana bread a sweet? It's made with fruit and called bread, so he should be able to “stuff my piehole”, as he quaintly put it, with banana bread for 40 days.
Mr. Greenberg, despite not being Catholic, was quick to point out that this was certainly a violation of the spirit of sacrifice, if not outright cheating. Based on this and the e-mails of many listeners, Mr. Golic ultimately backed down and admitted that banana bread would have to be off his diet (by the way, Mr. Golic endorses a weight-loss plan, so what's he doing eating sweets to begin with?).
At least Mr. Golic was doing better than the local radio personality who, last year, announced he was giving up the F-word for Lent. This jerk doesn't exactly understand the concept of sacrifice. But, then, there are a lot of concepts he doesn't understand.
The Mike and Mike episode reminded me of my youth. When I was a kid, my parents sent me to CCD classes, which stands for Catholic Christian Doctrine. If that doesn't sound familiar, it's also called Catechism, which most Catholic kids regard as serious penance to have to pay for being a kid. My parents were born, raised, and married in central Europe, where Catholicism was practiced in a very traditional manner, or at least, in a different manner than I was learning about in CCD. So, as I came home from Catechism and told them what I had learned, they were occasionally perplexed. Such was the case with “giving up” something for Lent.
In my parent's neck of the world, kids didn't give up candy bars or soft drinks for Lent, primarily because they didn't get much of that stuff to begin with. Actually, children were exempted from most of the fasting rules, except for the prohibitions against eating meat, because, well, they're children who are growing and shouldn't be fasting. As to giving up sweets or deserts, pretty much everyone gave those up for Lent as part of the more austere diet that was followed.
By the way, I don't know about other central Europeans, but I know that my parents knew every loophole in those dietary restrictions. If my dad got a sniffle, he was getting a regular meal, because if one is sick, one shouldn't weaken oneself further. Also, as long as there were no chunks of meat in the food, it was meatless, even if it was cooked in bacon grease. We never gave up our homemade beef soup during Lent; we just didn't eat the beef.
Anyway, when I came home and announced that I was supposed to give something up for Lent, my parents were rather confused. What did giving up candy bars or ice cream have to do with Lent? But, if that's what I wanted to do, and that's what the nuns said, then I had better do it. Of course, we seldom had candy bars in the house because my mother was an excellent baker. And, both parents made sure that any sacrificial promises I made were narrow enough to allow for the partaking of Mom's walnut-cream-filled yellow cake.
Mr. Golic should have talked to me before he made any rash commitments.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Bent Judgment

-->The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals. That doesn't mean that God doesn't love heterosexuals. It's just that they need more supervision. ~Lynn Lavner
John Amaechi used to play in the NBA, which was news to me, since I don't follow pro basketball at all. Mr. Amaechi, who didn't have much success as a basketball professional, has made quite a splash as an author by writing a book in which he announces that is gay.
Tim Hardaway is a former NBA basketball player, too. I always confuse him with Penny Hardaway (whose real name is Anfernee, which explains why he goes by a nickname), but I won't any more because Tim Hardaway has definitively made himself stand out in my mind.
It seems that Mr. Hardaway was in Las Vegas to participate in a publicity role during the NBA All-Star weekend. He was being interviewed by a Miami sports columnist, Dan LeBatard, on a radiio sports talk show. As the interview was winding down, Mr. LeBatard asked Mr. Hardaway his opinion of Mr. Amaechi's coming out. Mr. Hardaway then proceeded to lose his mind.
It's not that he started screaming or acting like some maniac; quite the opposite. He succinctly and calmly explained that he was very uncomfortable with the idea of a gay player in the locker room, he would not want a gay man on his team, and he didn't want to be around gay people. When Mr. LeBatard pointed out that this was a “bigoted” point of view, Mr. Hardaway failed to grasp the straw he was was being thrown. My thought was that the interviewer wanted Mr. Hardaway, a member of a group that has suffered at the hands of intolerance, to think about how his own prejudice toward gays was, at best, ironic.
Mr. Hardaway was not about to be rescued.
Still speaking calmly, he said, and I quote, “You know, I hate gay people, so I'll let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I am homophobic. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States.”
Smooth move, groove.
Mr. Hardaway subsequently found himself unwelcome at the All-Star festivities, being told by NBA Commissioner David Stern that his presence was no longer desired in, around, or near the part of the world where the All-Star game was being played. This act finally triggered the alarm bells in Mr. Hardaway's tiny little brain, signalling to him that he may have gone a bit too far. He issued an apology, in which he did not repudiate his stance but merely said he was sorry that he had stated it out loud.
Just so we're clear here, allow me to say that I would be uncomfortable in a locker room with a gay man, just as I would be uncomfortable with a female teammate in the same locker room. But, I certainly wouln't mind having a gay man as a teammate or a co-worker, so I suppose I could get used to the idea. In fact, I've known several gay people over the years and found that I liked some of them and found some of them to be a pain. My judgement had nothing to do with their sexuality; it had to do with them as people.
So, had Mr. Hardaway stopped at the “uncomfortable” level, I could have understood that. However, when discomfort escalates to hate, that is wrong.
I don't know what it is about this whole gay vs. straight thing. There are all sorts of theories why so many straight people get bent out of shape at the concept of homosexuality. The fact is that Americans are very hung up on the subject of sexuality of any sort. Most of us go through a hypocritical upbringing as regards sex, which hasn't changed much over the years, even though television brings sex into the living room every night (between bouts of excessive violence).
I also get confused about why gays and lesbians think it's so important to hold parades where they actually enforce the stereotypes of flaming homosexuality. It is like the NAACP holding a rally where everyone shows up carrying watermelons and saying “Yowzah, boss!”
I don't feel the need to wear a sign that says, “I'm a heterosexual”, and I don't really care what the sexual proclivities of people I interact with are. If I walk into someone's office and see a family picture showing that person cuddling with someone of the same sex, it's not going to bother me particularly, and it definitely isn't going to change the way I regard that person.
If, on the other hand, that person feels the need to show up cross-dressed and scream, “I'm queer! What are you gonna do about it?”, I'm not going to think, “Yech, one of those people!” No, I'm going to think, “What a complete loon!” and move away before he or she gets violent.
We don't need to hide our differences, and we don't need to emphasize them. It is our differences that make humanity dynamic. But, using those differences to discriminate against people diminishes all of us. Frankly, there are so many serious problems in the world that we don't need to be wasting energy on who is sleeping with whom.
The Hardaways of the world (and the United States) need to figure this out and get on with life.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bob's of Broadway

Things ain't what they used to be and probably never was. ~Will Rogers

Before I moved to Alabama, I had the good fortune to live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Some of the nicest people on the planet live in the Shenandoah Valley. I think this occurs because the less desirable types all gravitate to the areas near Washington D.C.
I have written before about my fishing buddy and mentor, Moon. His name was (and most likely still is) Gary, but there was this hot day when we were fishing out on a lake and he decided to change into swim trunks.  He was bending over to put them on just as a boat full of people hauling a water skier came around the bend.
Hence, the logical nickname, “Moon”.
Moon is the best fisherman I have ever met, which is saying something because Alabama is full of very good and very fanatical fishermen. He was very jealous of my moving to Alabama, because I would now be close to Lake Eufaula. Eufaula is an immense lake on the border between Georgia and Alabama which had a reputation for holding monstrous bass. In Virginia, the average fisherman felt that if you lived a good life, you went to Lake Eufaula when you died.
For the record, I've been there twice, didn't catch much either time, and with the Alabama River within twenty minutes of my house, driving 3 hours to get to Eufaula seemed so unnecessary.
But, what I was going to talk about was Bob's Surplus.
One afternoon when we were supposed to be working, Moon mentioned that he and another fellow were going to Bob's Surplus that evening and asked if I wanted to come. I asked him what kind of surplus store it was, and he replied, “It's an Army/Navy store.' Well, that didn't do anything to make the strings of my heart go “zing” because I had seen Army/Navy stores in Ohio.
There was a time, back in the mid-1950's when Army/Navy surplus stores were all over the place because there was a lot of military surplus stuff left over from WW II. I had heard about them as a kid, but when I finally went to one in the sixties, it was a pretty tame place, with a lot of khaki and olive drab clothes, but little if any of it actually was old military gear. In fact, aside from a few fake hand grenades and an occasional helmet liner, the stuff was the sort of thing you could pick up at K-mart, usually for less money.
I offered this opinion to Moon, but he quickly said, “No, no. This is the real McCoy. I get my hunting clothes there, and it's the real heavy Army stuff.” Well, it would be fun to spend an evening with Moon, no matter how disappointing the surplus place might be, so I agreed to go.
Bob's Surplus was located in Broadway, Virginia, which is in no way, shape, or form ever going to be confused with the Great White Way. At any rate, we made our way out there. We got a bit of a late start so I was concerned that they wouldn't be open very long by the time we got there. No problem, Moon assured me. Old Bob kept the place open until at least nine in the evening and later if there were still people in the store and he felt like staying up.
We pulled into the gravel parking area around Bob's, and the first thing I laid eyes on was an ancient olive-drab jeep. I'm no expert, but if this thing came off a dealer's lot, the dealer had to be Uncle Sam. I began to have hope.
Bob's was a big old barn of a place, and it was filled with very genuine looking Army and Marine gear. Some shirts had stripes of rank on them. The clothing was clean but looked well-used. There were knives, mess kits, jeep caps (I still have mine somewhere), even trooper hats. I coveted a trooper hat, but on several visits I could never find one that fit. When you went to Bob's you got what he had, and what he had was whatever he could get his hands on.
Oh, he did have some new clothes, like painter's pants, which were supposed to be cotton but had the wear characteristics of canvas. Mine lasted through years of abuse, as did the rubber rain suit I bought. I also got real woolen gloves and socks. All of this stuff was available for a song. Bob didn't care about getting rich in his old age; he just liked the company.
The store had an honest-to-goodness pot bellied stove, complete with a couple of old codgers sitting around it, who were there just about every time I went. It was a wonderful place.
All good things come to an end, though. One weekend a couple of years along, the Wife and I decided to drive over to Broadway just for the fun of going through Bob's. It had been a while since I had been there, but as soon as I pulled in, I could tell something was different: There were all sorts of cars in the lot. When I went in, my heart sank. The place had been organized, and there was no old military gear anywhere. Instead there were jeans, shirts, down jackets, and other yuppy sorts of clothes, all at premium prices.
Worst of all there was no Bob anywhere. It turned out that Bob had gone to that big surplus store in the sky, and his kids had taken over the store, deciding to make it a money-making concern. Now, Bob had managed to make enough money to keep the place going, but his inheritors were going for the gold. I don't recall what became of the place because I never went back, preferring to remember it as it had been.
I wonder where that jeep cap went.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Sick Leave

The art of medicine consists of amusing the patient while nature cures the disease. ~ Voltaire

I was sick last week. It wasn't anything horrific or disgusting, just a sore throat. Boy, what a sore throat. What started out as a little roughness I attributed to sinus drainage turned into a condition that felt roughly like a scotch bonnet pepper had become lodge in my throat. Talk about burn.

(For the uninitiated: Scotch bonnet peppers are one of the hottest hot peppers of all. On something called the Scoville Scale, a jalpeno pepper is 3000. Scotch bonnets are 350,000. That's hot, brother.)

I do not often get sick, which is a good thing. I don't like being sick, which makes me aggravated and cranky, which makes me a lousy patient, which means that if I got sick very often, the Wife would have departed for greener pastures years ago. What made this bout all the more annoying is that it was such a single-minded disease.

I had a wretchedly sore throat, but I didn't have a fever, congestion (other than that drainage trickle that seemed to be causing the whole thing), or a cough. So there I am, with nothing but a sore throat and a generally punk feeling. I'm feeling too rotten to go to work, too worn out to do my Tai Chi (which could actually help my overall wellbeing), and so distracted by the throat that I don't even fell like reading.

In the not-to-distant past, the Wife would have gone out and gotten a certain 12-hour cold product that always dried up this sort of crud, and I could have gone on with no problems. Unfortunately, our legislators, in one of those we've-got-to-look-like-we're-doing-something modes, decided that all these meth labs were getting the raw materials from off-the-shelf cold medicines. Now, I don't doubt these guys were getting these products, but I am seriously dubious that they were coming into Wal-Mart and buying them over the counter fifty at a time.

Rather than deal with the fact that this stuff is being stolen in large quantities, the government decided that the stuff that makes cold medicine work should either be removed from the products, or the products should be sold from behind a counter in quantities of very little at a time. Well, the guys who make this stuff aren't dummies. They know that if people have a choice of having to track down someone in the pharmacy or taking a less effective product off the shelf and getting on with their shopping, they're going to get the less effective stuff and worry about whether it actually works later.

So the Wife, anxious to get me off my crabby butt, hunted until she found the aforementioned 12-hour product. Of course, it wasn't the same anymore. It only lasted six hours, and it didn't have a non-drowsy formula, but, miraculously it did clear up the drainage – at the cost of leaving me slightly loopy, which meant another couple of days off.

The main palliative to keep me going until then was hot tea with honey. Honey is itself a wonder drug, and it did mitigate the pain, but it wasn't as effective as the mixture my mother used to come up with.

When I was growing up, a cold meant one thing – hot, hot tea with lots of sugar and laced with lots of rum. It didn't cure anything outright, but the Old World theory said that if you drank that down two things were going to happen. One, not surprisingly, you were going to get some rest, because that triple shot of booze was going to lay you out. Second, you were going to sweat, which meant you were going to get those “poisons” out of your body.

I don't remember when I started getting that cure, but I was pretty young, under 10. The amount of rum was, of course, quite small, but, as I got older, it got bigger. Almost used to look forward to getting sick, actually.

Of course, there was always home-made chicken soup, which has to be as effective, if not more so, than these pitifully denatured drugs available now. And, usually served with the tea, was toast, smeared with bacon grease and heavily rubbed with garlic. In today's polyunsaturated world, that sort of thing will have many people cringing, but I'm here to tell you that even if you had the stomach flu, you would keep chicken soup and that toast down, and it would make you feel better.

Of course, we seldom have any bacon grease around, and, since we don't drink much, there's never any rum in the house. We're not anti-alcohol, but somewhere along the line, we just got out of the habit of having an occasional drink (except for my nightly shot of red wine – that kind of medicine I can agree with). A six-pack of beer usually lasts use six months or so.

At any rate, I am more or less hale and hearty once again, back at work, and back at blogging. It's been about 10 years or more since I was sick enough to take time off, and frankly, I can easily wait another 10.

By that time, the Wife will have forgiven me enough to fix my tea and honey.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Super Bowl I

Football isn't a contact sport; it's a collision sport. Dancing is a contact sport. ~ Vince Lombardi

I'm writing this prior to the playing of Super Bowl XLI, so there will be no pithy analysis of how well or poorly the respective quarterbacks played, no in-depth look at the Bears' “Cover 2” defense (whatever the hell that is), no postmortem about the errors that led to one team beating the other. Nope. Between the hype leading up to the game and endless recaps afterwards, I should think most people would be tired of hearing about this particular game.

Never let it be said that this blog will bore you with the same ol' drivel you've been listening to and reading about from the mainstream media. I can find ways to bore you on my own, by golly.Actually, I wanted to talk about the original Super Bowl game, which, if I recall properly wasn't even called the Super Bowl. If memory serves, it was called the NFL-AFL Championship game, which, while accurate, wasn't particularly catchy. However, thanks to Lamar Hunt, the game eventually got a name. Whose idea the Roman numerals were is not as well known.

At any rate, for the huge number of you who weren't even born at the time, it might be hard to understand just what an anti-climax the whole thing was. For NFL fans, like myself, Green Bay and Dallas had settled this issue on the “frozen tundra of Lambeau Field”. This was just a glorified exhibition game to celebrate the coming merger of the two leagues.

The whole merger itself was rather remarkable. Fans who were old enough could remember the last upstart competitor to the NFL, the All-American Conference, which struggled along for four years in the late 1940's. The league might have done better, but it was utterly dominated by the Cleveland Browns, who along with San Francisco, and Dallas (which ultimately became the Baltimore Colts) joined the NFL in 1950. To teach the upstarts a lesson, NFL schedule-makers set the Browns, who had swept the final AAC schedule without losing a game, to open the season against the previous year's champions. The Browns shocked the league by winning the game and ultimately winning the NFL championship in their first year in the league.

Those of us who were Browns fans did recall that, and I won't say that it didn't give us a sense of unease about this NFL-AFL Championship thingy.

For those who've seen the passing of the USFL, the XFL, and the World League of American Football (which I guess still exists in Europe as a minor league for the NFL) probably wonder how the AFL managed to force the big guys to a merger. Actually it was easy. First, the NFL didn't have as many teams back then, so there were more good players and pro-football-hungry cities available. Second, the AFL had lots of money to throw around. Third, the AFL was willing to play more of a college-style wide-open sort of game, while the NFL had pretty much gotten down to a run-dominated, split-T formation game, that simply looked a little dull.

Funny how things don't change much. Oh, there's all sorts of motion now and fancy formations, but essentially everyone runs the same thing. That's why a Michael Vick running all over the place or a Peyton Manning actually calling his own plays gets everyone excited.

Of course, we NFL snobs likened the AFL to pickup football and sneered at their I-formations with men in motion and moving pockets and whatnot. We looked down even further at the AFL because many of their star players were guys who had failed in the NFL. For example, Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson had been a backup for the Cleveland Browns and had never managed to beat out a major mediocrity named Milt Plum. So the fact that he would be a star in the AFL just meant that they weren't all that good.

(A brief digression: When Otto Graham retired, Paul Brown, coach, owner, and general-in-chief of the Browns, wanted very much to draft a quarterback in the first round. His first choice was Milt Plum, who was drafted by someone else; his second choice was Len Dawson, who was drafted by the Steelers. Ironically, Brown would acquire both of them within a couple of years. Who did he draft when those two weren't available? He went to his third choice, Jim Brown, which turned out pretty well, actually.)

When the big game rolled around, I was a college freshmen. A small group of us got together around a 15-inch TV in our dorm to watch the game, which was broadcast on both the NFL network, CBS, and the AFL home, NBC. This happened because the existing TV contracts didn't really cover a game between both leagues. Of course, being that the TV belonged to an NFL fan, we watched CBS.

I guess you'd call it a Super Bowl party, but we didn't know we were ground-breakers. I don't recall exactly how many were there, but I remember that we had two-count-'em-two guys from Buffalo who were holding the fort for AFL fans everywhere. Their problem was that the rest of the crowd was made up of Browns fans, a Bears fan, a Steelers fan or two, and two dyed-in-the-cheese Packers fans, who were from Wisconsin. One of these last actually came from Green Bay. The Packers fans gave us concern for the safety of the AFL guys, not because they were violent or anything of that sort. No, what they were was excessively demonstrative in their loyalty. More than once we had to pry their noses away from the tiny TV set so the rest of us could see.

On one play, three of the Packers defensive linemen met at quarterback Len Dawson, sacking him convincingly. The Packer guys looked and saw that Henry Jordan was the one lineman who wasn't in on the hit. From then on, they screamed that Jordan had to make a sack by himself to make up for it. Thankfully, he did make a solo tackle (though not a sack) soon afterwards or we wouldn't have heard any of the rest of the game.

Packers fans looooooooove their team.

Believe it or not, that first Super Bowl wasn't even a sellout, selling only 61,000+ seats in the cavernous Los Angeles Colosseum. If anyone had told us then that this would become the biggest sporting event in the U.S. someday, we would have laughed in their faces.

But, then what do a bunch of college freshmen know, anyway?