A Fish Dinner in Woodbridge

Good news, everybody! We’ve become Pescatarians.

I know, it sounds like it should be a cult. Maybe it is – I haven’t decided yet. But hold off on calling for an intervention.

Two weeks ago – more or less – we decided to modify our diet a bit. You can safely assume that the usual reason is applicable: a desperate need to generate that feeling of smug superiority so lacking in our day to day life (just kidding, it was mostly for health/weight loss).

And while that could have been achieved our daily dose of smug by driving a Tesla while enjoying the smell of our own farts and dining exclusively on the freshest yak raised by Satanic monks on the slopes of the Mountains of Madness and slaughtered during the full moon… we aimed a bit lower.

We’ve cut beef, lamb, bison, the aforementioned Satanic yak, deer, rabbit, muskrat, beaver, bear, squirrel, chicken, turkey, duck, quail, dove, and pigeon from our menu. I don’t know if I’ll be able to survive without my yak sliders, but I’m willing to sacrifice for the sake of healthier living and the ability to look a yak in the eye without feeling guilty.

Insects are rumored to taste better than some of the soy-wheat based products on the market, but the last time I attempted to walk boldly into PetSmart, fill a bag with crickets and proclaim in my best stage voice at the checkout, “Oh I don’t have a lizard, these are for me”, I collapsed in giggles before I even got out of the car. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure where I’d go to find insects fit for human consumption. Last I checked, that wasn’t an option in the gluten-free aisle at my local Megalomart.

As it turns out, being a pescatarian doesn’t mean we have to join the local Esoteric Order of Dagon or interbreed with the Deep Ones, which is a shame as I was somewhat looking forward to the possibility of becoming an immortal amphibious humanoid. Then again it’s only been two weeks; maybe I’ll soon be contacted by the descendants of Obed Marsh and get an invite to spend our next vacation at Devil’s Reef and the ancient city of Y’ha-nthlei.

Within days of starting this new diet, I became more aware of how many television commercials feature meat as the star attraction. You don’t get a bland voiceover, “By the way, ground chuck is $1.12 a pound this week,” while the camera pans over some mundane packages of processed cow bits. Hell no. Meat is presented with the full food porn treatment. Hear it sizzle! See the generous cuts of perfectly marbled flesh ooze molten fat, witness rivulets of glistening meat juice cascading into the roaring fire! The primordial urge of hunters to roast the kill! Steak, it’s what’s for dinner! Pork, the other white meat! Finger lickin’ good!… and so on.

Merely an observation, not a condemnation; I’ve been advised by the imaginary legion of lawyers in my head that advertisers are people too and are just trying to make a living.

Smug and snarky observations notwithstanding, I have to admit that the pescatarian adventure has, so far at least, been… well, interesting.  Besides the usual beans, rice, vegetables, fruits, and nuts, we’ve foraged into unfamiliar territory in the grocery store: the “plant based protein shaped like familiar meat” aisle. I knew from past experience none of it would taste the same as meat, but isn’t it strange that we are somehow comforted by food that resembles other food? Making it look like a pork link isn’t fooling me. I know I’m not eating a breakfast sausage. I’d be perfectly satisfied if it were molded into fun shapes like crickets or guitars. Or guitar playing crickets.

Going out to eat has become adventurous as well. Most places have at least some fish and/or vegan options, but we now look at menus from a different perspective. Black bean burgers, the new Impossible patty, all the Gardein options, plus of course the fish choices, occupy small sections on the backside of most menus. But as luck would have it, there are still some spectacularly unhealthy options open to pescatarians… like French fries (only in vegetable oil) and pancakes (yes, please) and of course beer, except for that one flavor from Rogue Brewing: West Texas BBQ Brisket Stout. But then again, that one kind of made me gag anyway. I won’t miss it.

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Enjoy the Go!

I was in the grocery store this afternoon picking up a few things for dinner when internal alarms started to go off, indicating that I had possibly forgotten something I was supposed to get at the store.

As a dedicated hausmensch (Homo sapiens domus) I have become increasingly familiar with the interior of the local foodstuff and drygoods dispensary, perhaps more so now than at anytime in my past. And one thing I’ve learned to do is head to the store without bothering to jot down a list of needed items on a piece of paper before sailing off to run errands (which my bog-dwelling Scot ancestors refer to as going the messages). Wait, did I insinuate I might write something down? Naturally I meant I clicked on the corresponding emoji in the memo app on my cellphone. Writing. Pfft. How ludicrous.

As I meandered in a predetermined pattern with a vague sense of purpose (if you must know: right to left, down and then up, occasionally skipping an aisle [baby essentials, pet supplies, pizza] with the intent of never ever having to double back [unless it’s for beer; I will always double back for beer]) I heeded the internal alarm and flexed that fantastic Power to Recall Offhand Remarks Made as I Paid Scant Attention, congratulated myself, and made a hard left up the paper goods aisle.

We needed toilet paper for one of the bathrooms. I don’t know which one. Presumably the one devoid of extra rolls of toilet paper.

My mission was critical, I could not fail. The fate of the Rebellion depended on me! I scouted out my possible advances. Defenses were formidable in the Household Essentials Department/Paper and Plastic Aisle, leading to the Bath Tissue Shelf: misplaced end-caps that could be disguised energy shields and lost children who squatted in strategic points armed with what might be Ion Cannons aimed at my wheeled metal conveyance!

I maneuvered around these obstacles only to be confronted with a squadron of starfighters intent on fouling my approach. I swung my cart to avoid an octogenarian who teetered and wobbled down the aisle with even less of a sense of purpose than me (and infinitely less Star Wars references [going to the store is boring, we all have our coping mechanisms]), then was forced to drop a shoulder and bust through a gaggle of gabbling gobblers, slipped and skidded around Harried Mother and Bawling Baby in Metal Wheeled Cart (as once famously depicted by Caravaggio, now on view in the annex of the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini [go for the Capuchin Crypt but stay for the hot pretzels served in the Gift Shop]) – almost there, stay on target, Gold Leader – only to skid to a halt mere feet from my intended target, the four pack of Charmin Ultra Soft Megarolls, blocked by a man who appeared to be – stalled. Incapable of motion. Locked up. Frozen.

I gave him time (about 5 seconds… I had shit to do, man) and space (about 5 feet… not so close as to be a threat, not too far away to be mistaken as someone merely attempting to get around him) until my curiosity overcame whatever societal considerations keep us from rudely interjecting ourselves into other people’s problems.

“Is there some sort of issue here?” I asked in a vocal tone that was hopefully less accusatory/pleading and more assertive/curious.

He shot a sideways glance sideways. “Maybe. I don’t know,” he whispered. He reached toward the stacked rolls of “bath tissue” but then whipped his hand back as if the shelf held packages of exploding clown noses. “You seem like a nice person.” Damn, that means I wore my Father Befouled hoodie for naught. “May I confess something to you?”

“If you must…”

“I must, I must!” He drapped an arm around my shoulders. “If I put this – bath tissue – in my cart, everyone in Wegmans will know…” his voice trailed off.

“Yeah? That you take a shit?”

He nodded with enough vigor to qualify for bobblehead status.

“Listen, man. I get it. I really do. We see these commercials on TV. The ones with the oddly colored bears? Blue bear and red bears, which is probably some sort of political commentary on how both of our national parties are full of shit? And they say weird things like enjoy the go. The go? What the hell is that? That’s dishonest is what that is. Bears don’t crap in bathrooms. Bears shit in the woods. Everyone knows that. It’s literally a saying. If you asked me, ‘Hey buddy, you playing softball this weekend?’ and I said, ‘Does a bear enjoy the go in a nice bathroom and then brag to his entire family about how soft the paper was that he used to wipe the excess fecal matter from his anus while making soothing happy sounds and dancing around?’, you wouldn’t know what the fuck I was talking about. Right?”

“I guess… yeah.”

“Exactly. It’s unsettling. You’re not a bear. You don’t have pink fur, unless you do, and that’s none of my business. Look around you. Every single one of these people – the mother and child, the old man, the lost boys, they all shit. The most beautiful people in the world take a dump. The most powerful leaders of every nation on Earth pop a deuce. You’re not alone, brother. You’re in a group that includes every single person on the planet now and in the past. And unless in the future they invent some sort of device that breaks down your crap while it’s still inside you into individual molecules and transports it to the Toilet Planet, every human in the future will be enjoying the go. You reach up there and grab that thirty-six roll pack of Charmin UltraSoft or SuperStrong and be assured that it’s the best, most absorbent, clog and septic system safe, Roto Rooter approved, two-ply dookie wipers on the market today. You march up to register 5 where Amelia the Check-Out Specialist is waiting with a non-judgemental smile on her face, throw down your credit card, and declare, ‘Yes! Yes! I… what’s your name?”

“Uh, Clem.”

“‘I, Uh Clem, am a human being! I deserve to go home, make sure there aren’t any bears around, drop the kids off at the pool and then put this bath tissue to the test because I don’t want to walk around all day with a shit-stained asshole! In fact, I’m going to feel proud and empowered by my actions!

Do you feel proud and empowered, Uh Clem? Do you?!”

He nodded, perhaps a tad sheepishly, and glanced around at the stunned and incredulous crowd that had gathered around us. They started chanting.

“Uh Clem… Uh Clem… Uh Clem!”

He gulped, hastily snatched a roll of some bargain brand sandpaper that would surely leave him doing the crab walk and ran down the aisle, blubbering like a baby, as someone started a slow clap that quickly built into a storm of applause.

Am I not a motivator with good intentions? Does a bear pop a squat in a grassy field?

Yeah. You know they do. Stupid bears.

I made it through the check out line and all the way out to the parking lot when I realized that in all the affirmative social counseling I’d just done, I’d completely forgotten to purchase my own tidy package of sanitary butt paper. My mission was a failure. I wept at the thought of all those Rebellion butts making skid marks in those neat uniforms. I had helped the few… and failed the many.

Blame in on the bears.

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Softball Report Summer 2018

Now that fall is officially here, even if it’s still more like summer in Virginia, I can reflect back on the summer softball season with a reasoned and only vaguely prejudiced point of view. It was the best of times, it was… oh, somebody already used that one? Damn it, Mr. Dickens!

And yet… expectation is a tricky, slippery beast. Especially great expectations. Did I set my goals too high? Again, as usual? Naturally. Because in my mind, I’m 22 years young, crushing the ball over the left-center field fence, running the bases like a grease slick on hot concrete… not grounding weak shots directly to third, unable to beat out the throw, legs pumping and heart pounding but body barely moving through space. Reality versus expectations.

At the beginning of the year, knowing I would be aging out to the mid-century mark, I made the (fateful?) decision to play more, not less, and at a higher level. This decision was not without immediate consequences. As Debbie was quick to point out, the whole reason we started to play softball was to do something together, not for me to fulfill some latent desire to satisfy childhood ambitions of athletic grandeur. And here I was off to play without her.

Here’s the thing about my wife. She is rarely (ever?) wrong about certain things. Most things. She’s got the instincts of a porpoise with a purpose, homing in on an issue and inevitably making the correct choice, decision, or determination. Over the years, I’ve learned to respect this ability. Trust it, even. Ignore or contradict it at my own (often considerable) peril.

Yes, well… never let years of accumulated knowledge get in the way of a selfish decision.

Not only did I move up to the C Division in CAPS (Chesapeake and Potomac Softball) but I also joined an all-mens team in Woodbridge. The CAPS team I joined was the Cherry Bombers, and they are a fantastic bunch – friendly, enthusiastic, competitive, but not so much that they killed the joy of playing. The Woodbridge team is the Bullets – young (compared to me!), athletic, and also competitive but with a tad bit more of an edge. Nothing I couldn’t handle, nothing I had experienced before, but a slightly different mindset.

I wanted to do well. I wanted to have that same shine I felt playing with the Shockers, the Mavericks, Slap-A-Pitch, maybe even the Cohn Reznick corporate team. And at times, briefly, here and there, I did well enough to justify my selfishness. A couple of fielding plays where the ball was hit so hard I didn’t have time to think, just react, surprised (and a bit chuffed!) to find I hadn’t missed. A glove flip here and there, a pop fly caught while running flat out, looking back into the sun. Those moments I’ve stored away in the memory box labeled “Things To Look Back On Years From Now When You’re Too Old To Fart Without Shitting Yourself A Little”.

The batting, though. I don’t know what went wrong there. Better pitching (yes, even in slow pitch softball, a great pitcher can make a difference) and better fielding certainly took a toll on my average. And mechanically, things just weren’t jiving. Shoulder dropping, weight not distributed correctly, swinging up instead of level, not making good contact, a lack of power… and every now and then, every fifth or sixth at bat, I’d see a flash of what I used to do without thinking. That was torture. I knew it was still in there but it just didn’t want to come out and play.

I didn’t give up, and I did work on it. One of my teammates on the Bullets was very helpful on getting me to think about mechanics and noticed a few things I could work on: throwing my hands at the ball, turning over my wrist to get a little more power in my swing, understanding I had a good opposite field swing and knowing how to use that to my advantage.

I’m not a great softball player. Hell, even in my age bracket, I’m not a particularly good softball player. And I did miss playing with Debbie, and Dirty Mike, Arran, Steve, and all the wonderful people in CAPS D Division. We’ve made so many friends over the past six seasons, and I really do consider them to be part of my extended family. But it was also great fun to meet a whole bunch of new people in C Division and make some new friends. And playing with the Bullets in Woodbridge has made me feel a little bit more connected to the community in which we live.

I’ll keep strapping on the cleats and going out on the dirt and the grass. Some people go to church and I go the field. There’s a spiritual quality to moving in space, tracking down a ball as it drops from the sky, making that connection between the ball and the glove. I can’t beleive I went so long without it – no regrests, I was doing a bunch of other interesting stuff – but I’m happy to have it back in my life. You were right, Mr. Kinsella… it is without a doubt the thrill of the grass that brings me back.

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Afternoon Baseball in Woodbridge

It’s a toasty 91 degrees here at the Pfitz (or more grandly and gracefully: Northwest Federal Field at Pfitzner Stadium) for the 63rd home game when the first pitch kicks us off just after noon local time. Starting pitcher for the Nats is Joe Ross, on rehab assignment from the big club after Tommy John surgery. The Potomac Nats in their home whites jump to an early two run lead in the bottom of the first and knock the Myrtle Beach Pelicans starting pitcher out of the game before he could record three outs.

It’s another summer camp day game so there are a bunch of kids in the stands. I came prepared this time with a music player and earplugs if needed. Last week I was run out of here before the sixth inning by the screaming kids, a bleating chorus of vuvuzelas, and the bizarre chants of tiny but vocal Sponge-Bob Square-Pants cult members.

Bottom of the second and the Pelicans relief pitcher Leal is struggling. Seven balls in a row before he got one over. Jakson Reetz (“Puttin’ on the Reetz!”) is the Honey Baked Home Run Hitter of the game and everyone in Section H (for Ham!) is rooting for him to go deep but he draws a one out walk. Edwin Lora comes up with two on… I can only hope he doesn’t strike out as usual. Well, he does anyway… and a baserunning snafu ends the inning. Way to look like High-A ballplayers, guys.

To be fair, the P-Nats have played some good defense so far. David Masters is a lock down at third. Lora, despite his miscues at the plate, is a pretty solid shortstop. My music mix is so weird: on shuffle, it goes from Slayer to Jethro Tull and off into some weird Viking folk metal and then Bandmaid, my favorite Japanese band. It’s so hot I’m sweating down like a sad beast. The kids are doing the We Will Rock You footstomp-handclap thing and I fear the stadium, which is no longer up to the standards of the Carolina League, will collapse in a pile of dust and rust. The Pelicans steal second with two out but for my money he was out. It doesn’t matter as the next batter is easily retired.

It’s weiner toss time now, sponsored by Flying Dog Beer (Good People Drink Good Beer, Bad People Drink Bad Beer… Think About It. I hate that tagline). I don’t even bother to stand up. We got one one Tuesday and it was at best disappointing, even for free. But it’s not like we did eat it…

Bryan Meija leads off the bottom of the third, hitting .265 on the season but with a respectable 45 RBIs… and strikes out swinging. Sagdal reaches on an E-5 with two out and takes second on a past ball. The smell of sunscreen and little kid sweat permeates my world. Sags almost gets picked off second. White Zombie (“Black Sunshine”) comes on and it’s the perfect music for the moment… but Nick Banks spoils it with a long fly ball to the warning track that doesn’t have enough juice to get over. Next time, Banksy.

Brooke is our guest announcer for the entire fourth inning. The ushers are tossing water balloons at the kids in the stands, which is good solid fun and the kids are screaming to be soaked. Not a bad job if you can get it. I’d sign up just to be the Water Balloon Tossing Guy. Another good play at second by Meija. I hope he gets moved up soon, he’s languishing here in High-A and has the chops to play in Harrisburg or Syracuse.

Uriah Heep is in my ears and I can guarantee none of the players have ever heard “Rainbow Demon”. It’s all hip-hop, bro-country, or Latin trap for these boys. Another good play by Meija, diving to his left and throwing from his knees. The batboy looks like a chunky ice cream soda come to life. A quick mound visit from pitching coach Sam Narron and our pitcher is back to throwing strikes but is struggling here to get Galindo out. Galindo fights off pitch after pitch. Too many for Coach Keister, Joe Ross is done but had a solid rehab start. Coach K calls in the rangy A.J. Bogucki (3-2, 1.35 ERA in 20 innings) to finish off the top of the fourth and he induces an out to foul ground in right field on one pitch. Time for a beer… a Tropical IPA and a bottle of water. What I really need is a hog waller to, you know, waller in.

Bases loaded with one out. Base hit, error, and a walk. It’s the little things that will sink a team. One of the songs I played bass on comes up at random on my MP3 player and it is, as usual, weird to hear myself playing. 3-0 to “Strikeout” Lora and somehow I know he’ll still manage to KO with three balls to work with. That foul ball was closer than any this season! Just a few rows away. And Lora strikes out, as predicted. The Pelicans gather on the mound to discuss what to get Jimmie and Millie for their wedding present and sacrifice a live chicken. My feet are toast, I shouldn’t have worn sandals. Meija up with two outs… and grounds out. Runner on third with less than two outs? You have to score. Coach Keister is jawing with the umpire about something, and manages to avoid getting tossed… this time.

It’s one dollar cookies for the entire 5th inning, and for once there is no sponsor for it. I guess they ran out of businesses to soak for sponsorships. They keep playing Aretha Franklin on the PA, much respect for paying homage to the Queen of Soul who passed into the great cornfield at the edge of the outfield today. Bogucki gets his first strikeout (brought to you by Orion Home Improvement: Roofing, Siding, Windows, and Gutters). The Pelicans bullpen throws a ball into left just for lolz. Base hit to center, one on two out and the Pelicans light hitting short stop is up. The infield grass really looks like crap, I guess they’re waiting for the playoffs before they try to fix it.

Bree is trying her best to sell $1 cookies. But then again it’s the same spiel she’s used all season and we’re not enthused or responding, except for the summer camp kids, who will scream for damn near anything if asked.

Third pitcher for the Pelicans. Garcia leads us off in the bottom of the fifth as the DH. The Washington Nationals are a National League team, but the High-A team is in a majority American League farm system, so they utilize the DH. This annoys me on some fundamental level I can’t explain. Solid defense from the Pelicans this inning. It’s down to Nick “Banksy” Banks to do something with two outs… and he strikes out. Coach Keister has some words of wisdom for him as he walks past… “Don’t strike out next time,” probably.

Our favorite commercial… the Virginia Birth Father Registry.

Top six and Kyle Johnston takes the mound for the P-Nats. He gets a KO despite an ERA closer to 4 than 3. It must be hot out on the field, as I’m melting in my seat. Some of the kids are leaving… too hot. Two strikeouts! Johnston is dealing. Good scoop by Sagdal at first and it’s 1-2-3. Now it’s time for the Sweeto Burrito toss… not an actual burrito, which could be awesome and disgusting, but just a coupon, and once again I sit quietly. I’ve been eating those things all summer… enough to build a pyramid of burrito shit.

Bottom six and “Sunny” Jack Sundberg leads off hitting .280 but flies out to left. David Masters (“Master, master, where’s the hits that I’ve been after/master, master, promised all the RBIs”) comes up and knocks a double up the middle. Rhett Wiseman (“Do it for Scarlett and Tara!”) has 20 taters this year. I don’t expect to see him next season in High-A. Everybody clap your hands? Fuck you, I’m not your puppet, Mr. PA Announcer guy. Master pops out to short. It’s up to Jakson Reetz. The Pelicans pitcher digs into the mound like a bull in the ring and gets the third out.

Sports fans, I don’t know how much more of this I can take. The grounds crew is really hurting, they pulled a couple of servers out of the stands to help them drag the infield dirt. Three guys in front of me are getting smashed at 2 in the afternoon. Pelicans are at bat; Johnston gets a KO on an appealed check swing and the batter is bitter. A walk and then Cruz hits a right field line drive homer to tie the game… sigh. He got the silent treatment from the bench! Psych!

Seventh inning stretch and the derigeur “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”, though I’d really like to hear “Shadows In The Deep”. Sue me, I’m an unrepentant metal head. More summer campers are bailing and I can’t blame them. Lora almost hit the batboy… that’s the most he’s hit the ball all day. Well, he didn’t strike out at least, just popped out to short. The guys in front of me are bragging about their softball glories. I swear I’ll never do that again now that I hear how dumb it sounds.

Top 8; I’ve made it this far. Extra innings though and I’m out of here. There’s probably 50 people left in the stands. Quick top of the inning and it’s time for the Prince William Recycle Roundup Race. And Andrew wins… the PA announcer sounds like he’s channeling his inner Brockmire when he thanks the young lady who runs the between inning games: “Thanks a LOT, Bree,” and you can hear the drool dribbling from his flaccid lips and he strokes the microphone.

Big hole on the left side for the left Ian “Sags” Sagdal but he goes to right for an easy out. Coach should make these guys take BP after the game. It’s more fun at this point watching the kids search for foul balls in the stands than the play on the diamond.

Top 9 and I’ve shed 18 ounces of water weight. Two quick outs and what’s this… a light breeze caresses the stands! It’s only minor relief but still welcome.

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Luis Garcia, who delivered the game winning base hit. He got belted with a little bit of everything… Gatorade and water and chalk.

Bottom 9 and they’re playing the inspirational bullshit on the screen. It’s about heart. We’re gonna be winners. Don’t let anything come between us. Shut them down because we can. Well… that remains to be seen, doesn’t it? Masters leads off. Single to left… winning run on base. Wiseman sort of blunts the runner over… not really a bunt but not a full swing either. One out. Reetz comes up. No pressure. 2-1, hitters count. 2-2. Strike out. Two out. Pinch hitter is Aldrem Corredor, and we’ve seen him walk it off before. Intentional walk, 1st and 2nd with 2 out. Meija up and takes a swing for the fences and misses. 2-2. 3-2 with 2 outs… most exciting play in baseball. Foul ball sponsored by Metro Pawn. And a walk! Meija walks and the bases are juiced. Ducks on the pond sponsored by Duck Donuts! To the plate comes Luis Garcia  hitting a very solid .307. He looks like he wants it, so let’s see what… oh! And just like that, base hit to the hole between third and short, walk off, game over! I did not see that coming. That’s how you end a ball game, boys. Good job.

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The Grand Design

(I ran across this on a flashdrive. I think I wrote this 2009, when I was still working for Unisys – contracted to GSA/PBS Property Disposal. Maybe meant to be lyrics for a song that never quite happened? Maybe. Strong influence from the mighty David Foster Wallace.)

Cruising on the neon river
Reach out and touch the skyline
Back again for more my friend
Never heard such commotion

Streets littered with casualties
Of the Grand Design
How did we get it so wrong

Stop by the sign of the serpent and vine
Just to see if the Doktor is in
He’s got a fresh crop of eyes
And is ready to make a deal

Never mind we’ll get lost in time
Another casual victim
How could we get it so wrong

I know a place we can go
It’s just up the freeway
Halfway to Edge City
There a cradle full of dogs and babies

We’ll stay for a while
From up here the Grand Design
Is obtuse and oh so wrong

DFW are you receiving
I know it’s very late in the evening
We’re on a quest, we’ve got questions
About the nature of the jest

Nothing but static up the line
Random clicks bouncing
All part of the Grand Design

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To Raise the Cup of Stanley, To Drink the Sweet Nectar of Victory At Long Last

(This was an email reply to my dad but it also works well as an essay on my odd relationship with hockey. #ALLCAPS #WEGOTTHECUP)

Hockey… the sport of kings. Or at least, the sport of those with winter bound hides who revel in any opportunity to smash into each other at high speed while on ice skates, chasing after a hardened piece of rubber known affectionately as the “biscuit”. Growing up in California and Texas, hockey wasn’t a part of my sports DNA because the rink at the Galleria Mall discouraged fore-checking into the boards. Ironically both California and Texas have healthy hockey cultures now, and in fact, my first hockey game was a Houston Aeros minor league match. I found it intriguing but also utterly foreign, somewhat akin to the first time one tries sushi. Why wouldn’t you just dip the whole thing in batter and deep fry it? It makes no sense.

NHL_Hockey_CoverartHowever, enter the world of video games sports. While attending Florida State (and a quick but heart felt shout out to the FSU Softball team for earning their first national championship) and working at The Mill Bakery, Eatery, and Brewery I fell in with some enthusiastic young men who introduced me to the Sega Genesis version of hockey, NHL Hockey 1991. Weekend long tournaments were held. Brackets were created. Bets were made. Drinks and other substances were consumed. Some people won, others (like me) lost but had an amazing time and started to vaguely get a grasp on the rules of this sport. Icing was no longer something reserved strictly for cake. Boarding wasn’t giving the ne’er-do-wells a place to live. Two-man advantage wasn’t just a bad ass punk band from New York.

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I hated the Penguins even back in 1993. HATED.

When I moved to Houston after graduating college, the first major purchase I made with my JC Penny credit card (the only card I qualified for at the time) was a Sega Genesis and the first game I bought was NHLPA 1993. This game featured stellar hockey stars in their prime and even without a license from the NHL (no team names or logos) it provided hours upon booze-and-drug soaked hours of entertainment for me and my equally insane roommates. I may or may not have smashed a few controllers over my head after particularly heartbreaking loses at the hands of that bastard Wayne Gretsky.

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Frenzy, the Tallahassee Tiger Sharks mascot. Yes, your mascot well never be as cool as this… thing.

Flash forward several forgettable years and I found myself back in Tallahassee. Expansion hockey had moved into town in the form of the ECHL’s Tallahassee Tiger Sharks. Already primed to enjoy the fastest sport on ice (sorry, curling fanatics, but you play with brooms and there is no cross-checking… in fact I would watch curling if one were allowed to hook the opponents legs out from under them as they mosey down the ice strip, sweeping away) I went to as many games as I could (turns out taking ladies from exotic up-north locations such as Chicago or Boston to a hockey game is the equivalent of giving southern women tequila) and even got to mingle with the players at the bar of the restaurant that curried my employment at the time. The players were smaller in person than I imagined, had outrageous accents (more exotic locales such as Czechoslovakia, Minsk, or Bangor, Maine) and usually walked away from the bar with all the women and left an enormous tab for someone else to pick up. I was hooked.

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Ray Ferraro, the Thrashers first captain, bobbling his head.

When the ever expanding fortunes of the NHL came to Atlanta, Debbie and I were quick to attend many of the Thrasher’s home games of the inaugural season. Tickets were reasonably priced, the arena was brand new and very nice, and as long as you didn’t mind being constantly abused by Toronto Maple Leafs fans during a game, it was a congenial atmosphere. The Thrashers were never a good team despite some first round picks of Russian vagabonds, but they did manage to make it to the playoffs one year. Of course we had to go. We took the kids and were treated to a sweep out of the playoffs by the Rangers from New York and it wasn’t too many years later that the Thrashers folded up shop and moved to Winnipeg where they became the Jets (again) and are now poised to make deep playoff runs (having lost to Vegas this year).

We moved to the DMV in 2013 and I was very happy because DC had a hockey team. I’d never paid that much attention to the Capitals, outside of knowing that Peter Bondra was a fearsome opponent in the Sega Genesis NHLPA 1993. But we embraced the Caps as our new home-town hockey team and have gone to at least a couple of games every season… and, given our history in Atlanta, were well positioned to root for a team that performed well in the season and folded in the playoffs. I became familiar with the “close but not quite enough”, the playoff runs that went 7 games only to be lost by the slimmest of margins. I also renewed my hatred for the Pittsburgh Penguins, in particular that son-of-a-bitch Sidney Crosby who is by all accounts a nice guy but he’d better never end up in front of my car in the middle of a busy intersection. When it came time to renew our license plates, we debated between going with the Nationals or the Capitals and ended up going with the Caps. Of course, this is why the team won the Cup this year. To suggest anything different is just ludicrous.

There was talk the window was closing, that Ovi was going into a decline, that he would be a Hall of Fame player but never have the team around him needed to win the Cup. They couldn’t find the chemistry, that mystical combination of skill and talent and luck that would turn it all around. The first time I saw Kuznetzov on the ice I said to anyone who would listen that he was the piece they’d been looking for to compliment “the Great Eight” and Nick Backstrom. They added piece after piece… Burakovsky, TJ Oshie, Bruce Orpik, Devonte Smith-Pelly, Tom Wilson, Lars Eller. We went to the final game of the season this year and watched Ovechkin chase 50 goals and just barely miss the mark… but they easily won the game. I had a good feeling.

This post season the Caps seemed to be poised for another quick exit, down two games in the first round to the John Tortarolla (a persistent thorn in the Caps crown) and the Columbus Blue Jackets. They’d lost two overtime games when the “puck luck” had gone against them. Then they changed goalies, righted the ship, and dealt the Blue Jackets as sound a defeat as Nathan Bedford Forrest ever had (a cheap but historically relevant shot). Next up were the hated – HATED – Penguins, who have historically had the Caps number come post season. And as quickly as you could say “Sidney Crosby has a venereal disease which has disfigured his ball sack in such a way as to render it unrecognizable as a human sexual organ” the Capitals had dispatched their rivals.

An odd thing began to happen. People around here started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, this was the year. But hockey disappointment around here is a structurally sound part of the fan base. The frustration of the early expansion years. The sweep by the Red Wings the only time the Caps made it to the Finals in 1998 (the Red Army line was still clicking for the Wings). Playoff bounce after playoff bounce even though the team seemed better than that. I can’t speak for long time Caps fans who have waited since 1974 for something to finally go their way. I don’t feel their pain, as I’ve only been a fan since 2013 and honestly these have been pretty darn good years to root for them despite their lack of the ultimate playoff victory.

The prognosticators said that we couldn’t beat the Tampa Bay Lightening. They were too fast, too skilled. But the Caps went out and played a style of hockey I hadn’t seen in years: a variation of the neutral zone trap, which forces the opponent into playing dump and chase and takes away the speed factor. Rough forechecking and backchecking, smash mouth hockey, coupled with skilled goal tending and a powerplay that featured Ovechkin lurking around the right faceoff circle ready to unleash his deadly one-timer. We were in the Cup.

Vegas had a storybook year. As someone who watched an expansion team struggle to win even a handful of games in Atlanta, it was really cool to watch from afar as Vegas lead their division all year. They had a great playoff run. They had a goalie in Fleury who had bedeviled the Caps before when he was with the Penguins. They were a high scoring offensive machine. But the hockey gods are as cruel and capricious as Crom or Cthulhu. Shots rang off the post. Open chances were blown. Those crazy bounces that always seemed to go against the Caps finally started to go their way. We won a road game. The two wins at home were dominating. Even the one loss at the Medieval Times – I mean Vegas Knights – home rink was a barn burner. And then came game five…

We went to eat at the Bungalow Alehouse, a local pub here in Prince William County. Arthur the Bartender has been an ardent Caps fan since he moved here from Georgia. He even went to Vegas and saw game one. He also made a $1,000 dollar bet on the Caps to win in 5 games at 35:1 odds… and couldn’t find his betting stub, lost somewhere in transit. He chastised us for not staying for the game, but we had tickets to the Potomac Nationals (minor league affiliate of the Nats) and left the bar before the puck dropped but promised to return if it looked promising. While watching the P-Nats drop another game to some damn team or other, we kept an eye on the ESPN scoreboard. 1-0. 1-1. 2-1. 2-2. 2-3 at the end the second period and I said, “Well, let’s just go home, I don’t know about this.”

When we got home, I took off my Caps gear because whenever I wear the shirt and hat and all that we seemed to lose. We sat down and watched as they tied it up on a Smith-Pelly goal that he scored falling onto his face. Then Lars Eller poked one in and we were up 4-3 with 7 minutes left. We were on our feet and like the song, breathless. Fleury was pulled from the goal and we missed several chances to salt it away but the clock kept running (even if the arena clock didn’t, a last minute bit of magical buffoonery that could only have been the work of Penn and Teller). I knew they’d won it, even before the final faceoff with .6 seconds on the clock.

USP NHL: STANLEY CUP FINAL-WASHINGTON CAPITALS AT S HKN VGK WSH USA NVI’ve watched the Cup raised many times (in video games and on TV) and always liked the notion that the names of the players were on the trophy. That’s just cool. No one else does that. And when they won… well, I was… I was perhaps a little underwhelmed. But hear me out. I’m a johnny-come-lately. I’ve only been a fan for a few years. I have a lot of admiration for the team but even in the few years of my fandom, they’ve really let down the side and that got to me. I had to put some distance on it this year, my blood pressure couldn’t take it if I was too invested. I was resigned to yet another fateful ending. Only this time, the hockey gods decreed it was the Capitals year. The puck luck was on their side. I was happy, but not in tears. And yet…

Seeing the look on their faces as they hoisted the Cup over their heads was priceless. It’s such a hard thing to do and it really is a great accomplishment. I’m so happy for the fans who have been with them since 1974 and never wavered. I’m happy for DC, which really does need something to celebrate in this Era of Idiocracy.

But I’m really sad for Arthur the Bartender. $35,000 dollars just went up in smoke even though his dreams of a Cup came true. The vagaries of life… now that’s something to ponder.

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It Was Fifty Years Ago Today…

…Dr. Satan told the band to slay
They’ve walked down the Green Mile
Still sharp as a crocodile’s smile
So may I introduce to the world
A band you’ve known for years
Seabass and His Clan of Merry Misfits!

The first person to wish me many happy returns on the day this morning was my lovely wife Debbie, who sang Happy Birthday as I crawled out of a dream about flying around in a car above the streets of San Francisco while being menaced by shadowy and sinister forces. We still don’t have flying cars. I just knew we would by now… but I digress.

The second person to wish me happy birthday was Google, which seems strangely appropriate given our current state of technological mania. Google was also happy to inform me that I share a birthday with Don Rickles, Harry Truman, Enrique Iglesias, and Chiu Yi the muckraking Chinese legislator. Germany surrendered to the Allies on this day in 1945, so that’s a good thing. In addition, Google was kind enough to tell me about two new inmates to the Manatee County Jail: Elizabeth Duerr, on warrants for providing false owner information on pawn items less than $300 and dealing or possessing stolen property, $18,000 bond; and Covington Raney, on contempt of court, no bond. Elizabeth! What were you thinking? You’ve tainted my birthday, shame on you.

Shout out to my birthday buddies Don York, Masuhara Iwasa, and Anthony Reidler. Happy Birthday, guys. Let’s show this day who’s boss around here!

Since I’m unlikely to ever return to my birth weight of seven pounds/fourteen ounces, I’m making up for it by letting my hair return to my birth hair of seventeen thin follicles held in place with superglue. It’s been 17,897 days since the fateful May morning in Sonora, CA in 1968 but if I’m to count my age by beers it’s been 19, 438 so make of that what you will. By shoes, it’s 56 pairs and 14 cleats. By guitar strings… well, you get the idea.

As I ate my hale and hearty morning cup of plain, no-fat, utterly tasteless yogurt made the Greek way (which I hope means it was whipped up on the thighs of Spartan women but it probably doesn’t), which I eat because my cholesterol hangs in the balance between vaguely healthy and OH MY GOD YOU’RE GOING TO DIE, I was given to contemplating what has transpired in the five decades since my birth.

Hits on parade: heavy metal, the Star Wars original trilogy, Swamp Thing, Buckaroo Banzai and the Hong Kong Cavaliers, video games, Tina Belcher.

Swing and a miss: eternal war, Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, bro-country, prescription drug advertising on television.

Rooster Cogburn once told me that looking back is a bad habit, but I mean to make a liar out of that one-eyed fat man. I somehow managed to avoid joining “Club 27” though I did make a run at it. When I realized my life would last longer that twenty-seven years, I did my best to have fun within reason and get a few things accomplished. I’m proud of the words I’ve written, the comics I’ve drawn, the music I’ve played, and the the lines I’ve spoken on the stage. I know I’ve made a few enemies along the way, and I’m sorry about that, but I’ve tried to make more friends than enemies and treat people with the dignity and respect they deserve.

If it’s all a slippery slide from here toward the inevitable date with death (I’m buying, but it’s going to be at the original Eddie’s Pizza so I have some leftover to take with me), then I’ll try to make the balance of my life as fun, loving, productive, and silly as the first part. I look forward to more sun filled days on the diamond scooping up grounders and making weak, off target throws to first. Long walks with my wife. Getting published (finally). Being kind to cats. Sharing my extensive knowledge of obscure cultural references with anyone stupid enough to get within earshot. And of course, more pints of fine ale shared in the company of hobbits.

Time is like a river of green sliding unseen beneath the trees (© Alan Parson/Roger Waters) and I have enjoyed punting down it, occasionally dipping my hand into the waters and letting the fish nibble on my fingers. Tomorrow may creep along at a petty pace from day to day (© Bill “Noodles” Shakespeare) but I plan to make the most of the ones I have still to come.

Cheers, well met, hail and fare thee well. Until we met again, may the hair on your toes fall out and somehow be magically transported to the top of my head.

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