Monday, April 30, 2007

The Monday Softball Diary - Chapter Two

Sunday was the last practice before the regular season. Both the Bombers and Flames had practices scheduled for 9am, but the Bombers had an actual scrimmage against another team – the Reds - so I chose to play with the Bombers.

The day was overcast and drizzly, not a good day for softball at all. Since it was unseasonably cold, I wore my lovely new Red Sox warm-up jacket (Thanks, Mom!) to the field. When I got there, I saw two of the Reds walking the fields and determining if any of them were playable.

We play the majority of our games in the Sunday league at Smith Field in Allston/Brighton. Smith is situated directly between Harvard Stadium and the studios of WBZ-TV and we softball players aren’t really warmly welcomed by either entity. Parking by the players is discouraged in both of the lots owned by those facilities. Harvard tries to get folks to buy a parking permit, but I don’t personally know anyone who has. It’s freakin’ Harvard; like they need the $15 they want some poor schlub of a softball player to fork over.

(I believe in the sanctity of personal property and all, but c’mon. It’s Sunday morning. It’s not like any of us are taking up spaces that anyone else would be using then. Even so, I’ll usually try to find a spot on the street because I don’t want to take the chance that some security guard with a hair across his ass will take it upon himself to call the tow trucks someday.)

Smith – someday I’ll have to find out just who Smith was - has three softball fields, two Little League fields, a street hockey area and truly horrible drainage. If it rains heavily on Thursday, there’s always a good chance that the fields will be waterlogged on Sunday. And that was exactly the case this morning. There was a lake in center field on one diamond, another at second base on the next diamond, and the pitcher would have needed scuba gear on the third diamond.

I conferred with the two players from the Reds. They wanted to set up a makeshift diamond in a far corner of the outfield of one of the diamonds. There was a reasonable amount of playable field if they did that, although we’d have no real infield - no dirt. I suggested that we check out another field in Brighton that I knew of, and I volunteered to drive over to it and take it look.

Well, that field was a no-go, too. Not only was there a soggy infield, there was also a soccer net set up right smack in the middle of left field. So, I drove back to Smith.

When I got there, other Bombers had still yet to arrive. The Reds had 8 guys throwing around already and they had set up the temporary diamond. I walked out to them and told them about the other field and that, since there were no other Bombers yet, my doubts concerning whether or not this scrimmage would actually happen. I went back to my car to sit, have a smoke, enjoy a little heat, and see if anyone else would show.

I was pretty much one minute from going home when Jack – the manager - pulled up behind me. He had his son, Pat, and Emilio, our shortstop, with him. Freddie Goodman almost immediately followed. After talking to these guys, I was reassured that there were others on the way.

I get too damned worried about these things. I’m not the manager anymore, so I should just assume that Jack has things in hand. One of the reasons I wanted to just be a player this final year was so that I could sit back, enjoy, and NOT stress about this stuff. Well, I guess pre-season is useful for more things than grooving your swing. Lesson learned. I’ll take a chill pill and maybe not be the first guy down to the field every week, like I have been for the past 12 years.

Not much to talk about concerning the scrimmage itself. I caught, more as a result of who did show up, as opposed to my being most useful there. As I’ve mentioned, we have plenty of catchers on the roster, but not so many showed up for this practice. Just as well, as I needed the more strenuous workout my legs got from catching.

I’m pretty sure we lost the scrimmage, but nobody was really keeping a strict score after the second inning. For a rainy sort of day, it was fun. Guys on both squads were pretty loose. We had no umpires for this one, so catchers on both teams called balls and strikes, as well as fouls and the bases. Both the Reds catcher and I called a very loose strike zone, since neither of us felt like squatting in the cold mud through a bunch of walks.

The Bombers still appear very shaky defensively. Of course, Jack is trying things out in the practices, to see what guys can and can’t do, but the outfield play has been abysmal. Today wasn’t a great test, as the field was slick and wet and nobody wanted to run into a pulled groin or anything else, but even given the conditions there wasn’t much to be impressed with in the outfield.

One play in particular stands out. The Reds batter lofted a high fly to left center. It may or may not have been catchable with a good effort, but neither our left fielder nor our center fielder even moved an inch. They both stood there like statues waiting for the other guy to sprint for it. By the time either one of them moved, it was down and gone and what should have been at best a double was a home run.

The thing is this for me: If a guy doesn’t have real talent, but he hustles his ass off, OK. I can live with that. What I can’t stand is a lackadaisical attitude on a ballfield. That just pisses me off to no end.

(I’m not saying these guys were dogging it in a way that they would have, given a real game situation. However, now I won’t know for sure until that situation occurs in a real game. I’ll always give the benefit of the doubt, but they could have dispelled the doubt already. Oh, well.)

I’m getting closer to game shape. I’ll be OK by next Sunday, as long as I lay off the Fig Newtons and Capicolla sandwiches I put onto my training table this past Saturday. Duh. I’m going to walk a few miles a couple of days and try to lay off the carbs and fat this coming week. I’ve got a bit of a sore wrist – don’t have any idea where that came from – and a red ear. I took the bounce of a short curveball by Jack on the side of the head. Thankfully, I’ve got one of the wrap-around goalie-style catcher’s masks, so I had protection, but it still stung and my ear feels slightly warm. No biggie.

The only other thing I feel like talking about is how I perceive Jack treating me. He’s a very nice guy to begin with, but I think he may be showing me a bit of extra deference because of my being the manager for the 10 previous seasons. He seems to be bending over backwards to make sure I’m happy. Not that I don’t appreciate the nice treatment, but I’d rather he just put me where he wants and then I’ll do the best job I can. He doesn’t need the extra headache of wondering if my feelings are being hurt or something like that. Maybe I’m reading too much into things.

It appears that I’ll be third batter on the Bombers this year, which is a distinct change. I’ve been leadoff for years now, but I can see the logic behind making this move. I’ve certainly lost some speed. I’m going to have to come up with a bit more power to justify my hitting third, though. I hope I can. I haven’t really tried much for power in quite some time. I’ve been a singles hitter and a walking machine for so long now that I don’t know if I can be more than that.

Or maybe I should just STOP THINKING. Jack knows what my game is and he wants me batting third. If I’m not doing what he wants, he’ll tell me, right? Right.

Yeah! Next week for real, in both leagues. I hope it’s sunny and hot.

Tomorrow, with something that has nothing whatsoever to do with softball.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Very Bad News Received

I had a story ready to go for today, but I just received the most horrible news I've heard in years. I'll be back on Monday with my story.

You all know how I feel about the Magazine Man. He is, in my opinion, the best writer on the Internet. He deserves every plaudit he gets, and he gets a lot of them. He is also a very nice person, with a lovely family.

Great joy came his way when his third child, a daughter, was born just a short while back - a week or ten days.

On the heels of that wonderful occurrence, today came devastating news. Both of his parents are dead, victims in a traffic accident.

Please, if you have enjoyed his stuff, go to his site and offer what words you may. I couldn't find any that are sufficient.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Big Fat Bunch Of Lies

You know, today I was going to tell you about the time I was robbed while working at a gas station, but I just plain don’t feel like working that hard. Writing true stories involves actual effort. You have to start at the beginning and end at the ending and in between you have to remember details and all sorts of other things that REAL writers do. So, instead of that, I’m just going to make stuff up.

Well, not completely. I’m going to make up some stuff. And some of the stuff will be actual real true facts. It will be up to you to decide which is which. Or you can just believe all of it, if you’re really gullible; up to you.

DeWitt Clinton was simultaneously a New York state senator, lieutenant governor of New York State, and mayor of New York City, in 1811.

Only about 1.6% of the water on Earth is fresh. Most of it is unusable for drinking, as it is frozen in the snow and ice at the poles and on the peaks of high mountains.

The female Bering Monkey gives birth to anywhere from one to six infants at a time. Anytime there is a litter of more than three, the male partner eats the rest. If the male is not present at the birth – if he has died or is otherwise not around – the mother monkey will eat all of them. If neither of the parents is present at the birth, the infants will eat themselves.

Picasso and the poet Max Jacob shared a bed when they were both rather poor. Jacob slept at night while Picasso worked, and Picasso slept during the day as Jacob worked at a novelty shop. When he awoke in the morning, Jacob often had to tread lightly on a floor covered in drawings. Later, as Picasso became famous, art experts removed Jacob’s footprints from many of Picasso’s drawings. Later still, they tried to put the footprints back on, but were unsuccessful.

The ancestors of the horse were only about a foot tall 60 million years ago. These creatures became extinct when humans tried to ride them and just basically flattened them into jelly.

The digestive juices of crocodiles contain so much hydrochloric acid that they have dissolved iron spearheads and six-inch steel hooks that the crocodiles have swallowed.

Crocodiles are notoriously stupid and have been known to swallow iron spearheads and six-inch steel hooks.

Elephants only sleep about two hours a day, while gorillas sleep about fourteen hours. This means that, twelve hours out of the day, the elephants could be robbing the gorillas blind.

According to the best fossil evidence, elephants, lions and camels roamed Alaska 12,000 years ago. Then they got smart and moved someplace warmer. This was bad news for gorillas, who sleep 14 hours a day and don’t know jack about burglar alarms. Of course, the ancestors of the camels were over twenty feet tall and ate an average of sixteen Eskimos a week. The lions were just lion around.

By the age of sixty, most people have lost 50 percent of their taste buds and 40 percent of their ability to smell. By the age of seventy, they find it again. And then they lose it at eighty, re-gain it at ninety, and so on, until they just get sick of the whole thing and eat paste all day until they die.

The skin of the human adult body weighs six pounds, except if it’s heavier.

Basketball was invented by James Naismith in 1891. Baseball was invented by Abner Doubleday in 1839. Football was invented by Richard Nixon in 1947. Lacrosse was invented by the ancient Romans. The best known player was Jesus Christ, who played for Nazareth. There is rumored to have once been a game called "Hockey", played by "Canadians", but no credible evidence exists.

There has never been a case of a person with a shoe size above 15 having an IQ above 106. And vice-versa.

The daughters of a mother who is colorblind and a father who has normal vision will have normal vision. The sons, however, will be colorblind. The children of these children, regardless of sex, will be either male or female and 98 percent of them will have at least two eyes.

Paper was invented in China about 105 A.D., by Ts’ai Lun, a eunuch. Well, sure why not? What the hell else did he have to do with his spare time?

Because of the story in Genesis that Eve had been created out of Adam’s rib, it was widely believed during the Middle Ages that men had one rib fewer than women. Of course, today we know that men have one rib more.

There are more than one hundred distinct ethnic groups in the regions that comprised the former Soviet Union. They all pretty much look like Russians, though, so who cares?

In the 1970 U. S. census, there were 2,983 men who were already widowers at the age of fourteen. There were also 289 women of the same age who were either widowed or divorced. This proves that having sex with a young man is at least ten times as dangerous to your health as having sex with a young woman.

(Personally, I feel that every woman in America should heed this lesson well and think carefully before having sex with any young men. I would suggest that they play it safe and have sex with, oh, perhaps a fifty-year-old, just to be on the safe side.)

If you number fifteen sheets of paper “1” to “15”, and then tried to line them up in every possible arrangement – making a change a minute – it would take you 2,487,996 years to do it. Of course, in the same amount of time you could figure out the formula the NFL uses for its quarterback ratings. Maybe.

There are half-a-million more automobiles in Los Angeles than there are people. Four million, if you only count people with a soul.

In 1978, more than a thousand deer were killed in Connecticut by automobile drivers. Only 948 were killed by actual hunters. Of course, the hunters killed 27 drivers, too, so that should count for something.

Hailstones the size of Buicks once fell in DeBerg, Kansas. Fortunately, they did little damage because there’s no such place.

Soon, with more better stuff.

(Hah-Hah! Well, I certainly don't expect you to believe that one.)

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Monday Softball Diary - Chapter One

It begins again.

This softball season of my 50th year, my last softball season, is underway. Yesterday, in The Fens - just a couple of blocks behind Fenway Park - I hit the field for the first time. Both of the teams I play for, during the regular season, played each other in a pre-season scrimmage. My weekday team, the Flames, won in fairly easy fashion over the Bombers, my Sunday team. I caught the game for the Flames.

I’m not feeling too bad right now, but the real test will be tomorrow. Even in younger days, the first time catching usually resulted in very sore thighs the next day. That’s just the way it goes when playing that position.

(I'm also a bit sunburnt and that was to be expected after the first day, too.)

I don’t actually expect to do too much catching this year. Jack, the manager of the Sunday team, has already told me that I’ll either be at First Base or Designated Hitter most of the time – and that’s just fine by me. We have plenty of catchers on the roster this year, so no need to destroy my knees unless a couple of those fellows go down with injuries. I expect I’ll catch a couple of games for the Flames, but I’m probably second-string on that roster and can expect to play mostly at First Base for them, too.


It’s always fun getting back out on the field for the first time and seeing the guys again. The nature of these leagues is such that there’s usually not much turnover in the rosters. If someone moves away, they’ll be missing. We’re not pros, though, so nobody gets traded or cut, and nobody is ever forced into retirement. You have to have sense enough, like I hope I do, to realize when you’re at the end of the line. So, the players who were on the team last year – and the year before, and possibly fifteen years before that – will mostly be back. And this means that the first practice of the year gives everyone an opportunity to trot out their “wow, did you get (fat, thin, bald, old, ugly) during the off-season” jokes.

By telling everyone up-front that this is going to be my last year, I defused some of the jokes that might have been made about me, which might have included four out of the five qualifiers mentioned above. The thing is, nobody badmouths a guy who realizes that his best years as a player are behind him, but who is giving it his last best shot. That sort of treatment is reserved for the guys who have too high an opinion of their abilities. For instance…

There’s always a lot of braggadocio in the pre-season. Just about everybody has built up their confidence through NOT hitting pop-ups in the winter. Every dying quail from the year before has become a line drive that almost killed an opponent. Every single turned into a triple through bad outfield play has been categorized in the memory as a tour of the bases worthy of a Ricky Henderson or a Lou Brock. And a couple of meatballs popped over a short left field fence have become a slew of Bondsian smashes that made young girls swoon and opposing managers tear their shirts and cover their heads in ashes.

There are, on the field in The Fens, football stands across the outfield that serve as a fence. Beyond those stands, there is a small river. If you clear the stands, the ball will likely end up in the river. It takes a decent shot to clear them, but nothing so hideous that you’ll be tested for steroids if you do so.

One fellow – I won’t give his name – kept saying yesterday, before every at-bat, that he’d put one into the river. He was actually offering to bet real money on this proposition. Lucky for him, nobody took him up on it. He popped out, grounded out, and – ignominy of ignominies in a light pre-season scrimmage – struck out, swinging. He was the recipient of much verbal abuse, all righteously earned.

The only ribbing I took yesterday concerned good play. Some guys just can’t stand it when they see intelligence displayed on the field. So, when I walked twice, I had my manhood questioned.

“Oh, Sully, I used to have some respect for you, but now…”

“You took a base-on-balls in a scrimmage? Oh my God…”

“Fer Chrissakes, Sully, you’re supposed to be swinging the damn bat, not strolling down to First.”

Hey, is it my job to swing at bad pitches? No, and it doesn’t matter if it’s pre-season or heat of the playoffs. My on-base percentage is over .500 for my career for a reason. I don’t go out of my way to cultivate bad habits. Maybe you needed to groove your swing, but I needed to make sure my batting eye is still good. And so it is.


From what I saw on the field yesterday, I’d guess that my chances of finally playing for a championship team are fair to middling. The Flames are probably the best shot. They appear to be a decent squad and will probably score lots of runs. The Bombers look weak defensively and, as has been the case in recent years, are lacking slugging. They hit for a decent average, but lack power – just like me, these days.

Much of how things work out will depend on the pitching, of course. It appears that both teams will benefit from having the Attons available for the complete season. Jack (the man to whom I handed the reigns of the Bombers last year, after I had been manager for the past 10 seasons) and his nephew, Jay, are probably the best one-two pitching staff in the Sunday league. Even with the deficiencies apparent on the Bombers, pitching like they can provide will keep you in an awful lot of games. I don’t know if they’re the best staff in the weekday league, but I think they’re at least the second best. Combine that with a team that can score runs in bunches and maybe...


This will be the regular Monday piece for the foreseeable future, by the way. If you hate sports, I’m sorry, but I hope I’ll give you enough of the personal side of the game, my little triumphs and tragedies, a sense of what it’s like to play out the string and enough other interesting stuff to make it worth your while. As the season goes on, I’ll end these pieces with stat lines, so that you can follow the team progress and mine. Something like this:


Opp. Score Record AB H 2B 3B HR RBI AVG. BB K OB% SLG% OPS Position
Bombers 21-8 1-0 2 1 1 0 0 1 .500 2 0 .750 1.000 1.750 C

And so forth. Of course, yesterday was just a scrimmage, so these stats mean nothing. As the regular season (and, I hope, playoffs) happen, I’ll give running totals for my season to that point.

(I have the feeling that the numbers above may look like gobbledegook because I still know so very little about formatting. If so, I'll work on geting it right and have something readable by the time the real games begin.)

See you tomorrow with non-sports stuff.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Even MORE Old Crap!

I'm an incurable egomaniac.

(Show of hands: How many of you just said, "No shit!" or an equivalent thereof?)

(Doesn't matter - I'm an incurable egomaniac.)

Anyway, here's another piece I wrote last year. I think I've only re-posted this once or twice since then, so my ego is screaming at me to put it out here again, in hopes of garnering your approbation.

(Have you ever had your approbation garnered? I had mine garnished once. No, wait, that was my salary. Nevermind.)

What excuse could I possibly have, really, for putting this out here again? Mmmmm, it's baseball season and my first softball scrimmage is Sunday? Yep - no reason whatsoever.

Soon, with more better (and maybe even new) stuff.



Show of hands, please. How many of you have ever owned a baseball team?

Not too many of you. That’s too bad. I did. Remember the Boston Green Sox?

No? How strange! I mean, after all, they won five World Series in one year, back in 1966, and no other team has ever done that. You’d think people would remember such a feat. Jeez.

During the late summer of 1966, I was sick. I can’t remember now what it was I had; probably one of the childhood illnesses that would be common to a 9-year-old, like measles or the mumps.

(The Mumps. Sounds like a recurring sketch from Saturday Night Live. “Hey, did you see ‘The Mumps’ last night? Damn, that Cheri Oteri is funny! I thought I was going to pee my pants when she said they were from Scotland!”)

Anyway, while I was laid up in bed, a bunch of my friends did one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. They brought me a shoebox full to the brim with 1965 Topps baseball cards. There were probably 500 cards in the box, almost the complete set. Now, I know that they almost certainly fished the boxful of cards out of somebody’s trash, but that didn’t matter to me; it was the thought that counted. All of us kids liked baseball and baseball cards, and there were always card-flipping games going on, so they could just as easily have divvied the cards up between them as given them to a sick kid.

So, I had all of these baseball cards. I spent hours going through them, reading the stats on the back, wondering where such oddly-named places as Duluth-Superior and The Quad Cities were, and marveling at the fact that anyone would actually admit to having played in something called the Sally League.

(I have a pet theory, by the way. I think the reason boys have historically had much better math scores than girls is because girls don’t have any equivalent to baseball cards. Guys learn early on to deal with abstract numbers, fractions and percentages, all through the reading of sports statistics. If girls knew that My Little Pony batted .276 in the Three-I League, or that Barbie had an earned run average of 4.19 while playing for Pawtucket, the world would be a different place altogether. Once you start dealing with things like a third of an inning, two plus two isn’t all that hard.)

Getting back to the story, after I had looked at all of these cards a couple of times, I found that there had been a subtle shift in my boyhood dreams concerning baseball. Whereas before I had wanted to be just a baseball player, now I thought it would be exceedingly cool if I could not only be a player, but also the youngest team owner in the history of the sport. Of course, since I would own the team, I could choose my own manager and what better choice than me? To facilitate this fantasy, I decided to build my own team from out of the 500 or so players at my disposal in the shoebox.

The first thing I decided – and it was a fairly profound insight for a 9-year-old - was that the team couldn’t include players I had heard of before. How could Tony Conigliaro play for both the Red Sox and my team? So, although he was my favorite player in the real world, he couldn’t be part of this fantasy. The same was true for the rest of the Red Sox and for almost all American League players. Any player I had heard of before was eliminated. This cut the field pretty much in half.

Before I chose my roster from the remaining players, I thought about where the team would be located and how they would have come into being. Well, I lived in Boston and I liked Boston. New York had two teams; Chicago had two teams; Los Angeles did, too, so why not Boston? My team would be a National League expansion franchise and, since there were already White Sox and Red Sox, why not some Green Sox? It was my favorite color.

Now I had my ‘expansion draft’. I made up a roster of twenty-five players from out of the shoebox. No doubt a whole tribe of psychiatrists could make a serious living out of explaining why I chose whom I did. However, I’ll tell you that I chose my players based mainly on two factors:

1) They had to have some sort of interesting statistical aberration. In the case of many, it was that they were power hitters. If a guy had a few 20-home-run seasons, he was a leading contender. With some, it was their minor league record and I could enhance this fantasy by pretending that I was the only manager in baseball who saw their true potential! Others were guys who had hit 250 or 300 career home runs, but were old and gray and ready to be put out to pasture. I would be the manager to coax one last great season out of them. For pitchers, perhaps they had an inordinate amount of strikeouts one year, or they had once had one or two really good seasons, but had lost their effectiveness due to injury or age. Again, I was the genius boy manager, motivator of over-the-hill athletes, who would teach them to once again reach the peak of their abilities.

2) Or they had to have a really cool name.

Here’s the roster of the Boston Green Sox. These are all real players, and the links will take you to their pages at, where it won’t take you long to figure out that this team probably would have had trouble winning 50 games in a season, let alone any championships, especially with a 9-year-old for a manager.

P – Larry Bearnarth
P – Al Jackson
P – Curt Simmons
P – Chuck Estrada
P – Jack Fisher
P – Carl Willey
P – Bill Wakefield
P – Galen Cisco
P – Bob Bruce
C – Chris Cannizzaro
C – Gus Triandos
C – Jim Coker
1B – Jim Gentile
1B – Roy Sievers
2B – Ron Hunt
2B – Dick Tracewski
SS – Jim Davenport
SS – Julio Gotay
3B – Bobby Klaus
3B - Ozzie Virgil
OF – Hawk Taylor
OF – Chuck Hinton
OF – Gino Cimoli
OF – Frank Thomas
OF – Woody Held

Woody Held. I realize now that his name sounds like the punch line to a juvenile joke. You know the type, where you have a list of fictitious books written by authors with ironically funny names? The Yellow River by I.P. Freely; The Tiger’s Revenge by Claude Balls; The African Princess by Erasmus B. Black; that sort of thing. Perhaps my outfielder would have written The Joy Of Onanism.

The attraction of a couple of the others is less subconsciously explained. Bobby Klaus, for instance, sounded like he might have been Santa’s kid brother. And how could a kid not be fascinated by some guy named “Hawk”? He was the star of the team. I always had him batting clean up and he’d perennially challenge Roger Maris’ record of 61 home runs in a season. This was partly a function of how I devised the rules of the games I played with this team.

I used dice to simulate games. Each roll of the dice was a time at bat, and each number rolled corresponded to an action. Here’s how it worked:

If I rolled…

2 – Home Run
3 – Ground Out
4 – Fly out
5 – Ground Out
6 – Fly out
7 – Single
8 – Fly Out
9 – Walk
10 – Strike Out
11 – Double
12 – Triple

There were additional things to be done with the dice in certain situations. If, for instance, there was a man on first and the next batter came up with a ground out, I would then roll the dice again to determine if it was a double play; things like that.

Now, if you do the math (which I don’t expect you to do – I did it myself, a few years after the fact, to see just how closely my rules would have really approximated a baseball game) you’ll find that the team as a whole would hit well over .300 and you could expect about 200 home runs a season. There were a lot of 14 – 11 or 19 - 8 games for the Green Sox. My poor pitchers had hideous ERA’s.

Yes, I was so into this fantasy world that I kept detailed statistics for the team. My softball players of today will tell you that I still keep an ungodly amount of stats for our real seasons. For some reason, I’ve always found the breakdown of numbers in defined categories an interesting way to pass the time. I feel that there are secrets there, waiting for a diligent researcher to come along and uncover them. This is sometimes true, but other times I have to admit that it’s just so much high-level solitaire; a sort of bubblegum for the mathematically inclined mind.

I usually played the games out as honestly as the rolls of the dice would dictate, but sometimes the needs of fantasy are stronger than any sense of morality. Heck, it was my fantasy. If you can’t change the rules at whim now and again, what’s the use of even having a fantasy? You may as well live in the real world all day. So, I have to admit that the Green Sox didn’t win all of their championships strictly on the up-and-up.

Of course, after a while you tire of such things; you grow up, in other words. You realize how silly it is to be spending hours rolling dice, writing down utterly meaningless figures in a notebook and imagining yourself as something wholly unrealistic even under the most insane of circumstances. You realize that you aren’t going to be the miraculous boy manager. Soon after, you understand that more than likely you aren’t going to be a major league ballplayer, either. As a matter of fact, you realize that you aren’t even going to be a minor leaguer and, truth be told, the highest level of competition you’ll probably ever reach after high school is a decent brand of fast-pitch softball. You put away the baseball cards and you shelve a number of dreams along with them. Childhood and fantasy take a backseat to adulthood and real life.

Still doesn’t mean you aren’t pissed when your Mom throws out your cards, though.


I can’t end this on that note, because I’ve given my Mom way too much grief for her having thrown out my baseball cards. I think by now she knows that I’ve totally forgiven her, but just in case she’s still worried about it, she shouldn’t be. She’s gone out of her way to make it up to me, most notably by buying me another big shoebox full of cards one time when she was at someone’s yard sale, and then giving them to me as a birthday present, about ten years ago. That was extremely touching.

Anyway, I probably got the cards originally because someone’s mother threw them out. I like to think that when my Mom threw them out, they ended up giving great pleasure to some other kid.


Here’s the happy ending.

A few years back, when I was on a vacation in New Hampshire, I was strolling through the downtown area of where I was staying and I passed by a sports memorabilia shop. I took a couple more steps, stopped, and then decided to turn around and go back to have a look inside.

There were thousands and thousands of baseball cards, all categorized by year and then sorted alphabetically as well. I decided to see if the 1965 bins contained all of my old players. I’m happy to report they were all there - and in much better shape than when I last saw them, to boot.

I bought all 25 of them and took them home again. The nice thing about my team having been comprised of has-beens and never-weres is that they weren’t all that expensive, even for cards so old. I think I spent about 6 dollars to reacquire the Green Sox. They’re sitting here in front of me now as I write this, suspended in time so that now I’m way older than any of them were when I was the boy manager.

God bless you, Chris Cannizzaro, wherever you really are. You, too, Gino Cimoli. And especially you, Hawk Taylor. In real life, you guys may not be remembered as great players, but in the part of my heart that still belongs to a 9-year-old boy? You’re all in the hall of the fame.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Rex, Bozo & Me

Today is MY WIFE’s birthday. We are going to the last Celtics game of the season. This was by her request, oddly enough. She may be under some sort of mistaken impression that her birthday is actually my birthday. In any case, when you go to a sporting event, there is always the possibility of being seen on the telecast of the game. And that is today’s flimsy excuse for a segue, because…

Yesterday, I mentioned the times we’ve both appeared on television. You needn’t go there for reference. Here is the list again:

Bozo The Clown
A televised Catholic mass
A filmed review, on the news, concerning a play we attended
A WCW wrestling show
A quiz show on PBS
A cable talk show that I hosted for three or four weeks

And now, as threatened yesterday, the details concerning a couple of these fleeting moments of fame.

(This also qualifies as a continuance of the piece I wrote concerning children's television, some two weeks ago. Hah! You thought I just crapped out on that, didn’t you? Nope. I promised to come back to it and now I have. I’m not always timely in keeping my promises, but keep them I do.)

If you’re from Boston and over 40, you don’t need to be told what Boomtown was. You remember it and you probably loved it. If you’re from anywhere else and under 40, telling you probably won’t make you jealous of me for having appeared on it. In either case, I’m going to tell you about it, no matter how superfluous the imparting of such information may be.

Boomtown was a children’s show that aired on WBZ-TV in Boston during the 1950's, 1960’s and 1970’s. The host was Rex Trailer, a he-man cowboy type. The setting was a western frontier town. Rex, along with his trusty sidekick, Pablo (and, following Pablo's untimely death, Cactus Pete and/or Sergeant Billy), would ride into town each weekend to sing songs, show cartoons and do a few rope tricks.

I was a huge fan. Then, as now, I was one of those annoying morning people. I'd get up at 5:30 or so on Saturday morning, turn on the TV, and sit through the test pattern, a farm and market report, and a few public service announcements, waiting for Rex and Pablo to come on at 6. The show was on for as much as four hours each Saturday and Sunday. This varied a bit throughout the years, depending upon the sponsors and ratings.

Each episode would begin in the bunkhouse, where Rex and Pablo cohabitated. Some adventure or other would ensue, always culminating in Rex riding into Boomtown (to the tune of Hoofbeats, Hoofbeats, Hoofbeats) on his trusty steed, Goldrush. Pablo would follow as best he could on his donkey.

Once in Boomtown, there were segments with animals ("critter corner"); a naming of one lucky kid as the day's deputy; a contest wherein every kid would parade to the tune of Hey, Look Me Over, while the deputy tried to spot another kid who had been put on a wanted poster, with prizes for both parties; and plenty of other games, cartoons and the climax of whatever had started at the bunkhouse a few hours earlier.

(On the Sunday show, Rex would introduce the Davey & Goliath cartoons - produced by the Lutheran Church and each containing a solid chunk of sermon - by playing the guitar and singing the following song:

This is the story of The Lord
This is the story of The Lord
The way we tell it may be new, but every word is true
This is the story of The Lord

This no doubt assuaged many feelings of guilt parents may have been feeling for having their kids watching TV on Sunday morning rather than being in church.)

When I was 7 or 8, a few of us from the neighborhood were on the show. I’m not sure how we came to be on the show. It was probably somebody’s birthday. However it came about, it was quite a thrill. Rex Trailer was a veritable God to those of my age range. We looked forward to actually walking the streets of Boomtown and seeing Rex ride the noble Goldrush into town, spurs jingling and whip cracking, just as we saw it each week on TV.

In actuality, this particular show was taped on a soundstage in Brighton. The show did have a complete western set built outside of the studio, but that was used only during the Spring and Summer months. We were at one of the Winter shows, all of which were taped indoors.

Despite the extremely (in retrospect) cheesy sets, it was still somewhat of a letdown to discover that Boomtown was just a series of facades with no actual buildings behind most of the doors. Heck, some of them weren’t even wooden facades; they were painted cloth backdrops. And when Rex came roaring into town on the mighty Goldrush, he was riding the dusty trail on tape only. A stagehand gave poor Goldrush a slap on the rear and got him to scoot out onto the soundstage from the wings, where he had been standing for the first 20 minutes or so of the taping.

The worst part of the experience? Whereas the show seen on TV contained Popeye, Davey & Goliath, Hercules and other cartoons, the five minutes or so each one occupied was filled with little but Rex talking things over with his crew when you were actually in Boomtown. Ah, well. Even with all of these bummers, it was still a thrill to actually see Rex in the flesh.

(To be completely fair, from all accounts I’ve ever seen, Rex was [and is] a very nice fellow. He did a lot of charity work and I’ve never heard any stories about him kicking kids to the curb or anything. And he really was an honest-to-goodness singing cowboy, having spent childhood years in Texas and then toured with wild west shows before landing the TV gig. He wasn’t a phony. He actually did the rope tricks and had a mastery of the bullwhip and he played the guitar and it really was him riding Goldrush, even if only on tape.)

Next on the list is Bozo The Clown. MY WIFE and I both appeared on Bozo, although we assume it happened on separate telecasts. Our paths crossed many times before we met and fell in love, though, and it wouldn’t be shocking to find out we were both under Bozo’s Big Top at the same moment.

As I found out later, there were numerous Bozos throughout the country. The format of the show was syndicated and a local person pegged to play Bozo in each locale. Boston’s Bozo was a fellow by the name of Frank Avruch. A rather handsome man to be playing a clown, he later went on to some fame as host of a number of other locally-produced programs and tended to shy away from talk of his days as Bozo. Another member of the Boston show's cast, playing Mr. Lion, was Carroll Spinney, who went on to greater fame as Big Bird on Sesame Street.

(I found out the truth on a flight to Chicago when I was 10 or 11. My father, as he often did because of his gregarious nature, became engaged in conversation with a fellow passenger. When meal service began, my Dad told me about the conversation. It seems the fellow he had been chatting up was Bozo in Chicago. I was somewhat incredulous concerning this revelation, but my father patiently explained how it worked. I left that flight a wiser person, but perhaps not happier.)

Anyway, Bozo was a half-hour daily show, aired each day at 5:30, just before dinnertime in most homes. It was a way to keep your kids occupied while supper was being prepared. The show was taped in a mock-up of a circus tent, with seating in the round. There were cartoons of Bozo and his sidekick, Butch. The live segments often featured Bozo interacting with some visitor, perhaps someone with an interesting animal or a job that kids would like hearing about. And one lucky kid from the audience got to be “Butch For The Day.”

(Yes, there are numerous jokes available here, some of them quite filthy and most involving some sort of reference to lesbianism. I’ll forego them, thanks.)

Courtesy of MY WIFE, who never has forgotten a song lyric in her entire life, here is the theme song from Bozo:

I am such a funny clown
I like to travel round and round
The Circus is my home
I always seem to roam

In a rocket ship I soar
I explore the ocean floor
But you must know, I'll never go
Unless you come along!

Bozo, Bozo, always laughs, never frowns
Bozo, Bozo, Bozo the clown!


There aren’t any such shows now. They were a television staple at one time. Parents used to put their children’s names on waiting lists to be on such shows. In the case of very popular programs, such as Howdy Doody, some kids had their names placed on the lists prior to their birth, since the waiting time for tickets was so long. It was a big deal among us kids to be on Boomtown or Bozo or Major Mudd or Romper Room (and my Cousin David has a great story concerning that show.) I suspect that most kids would consider it an imposition on their time now.

We tend, as a society, to want our children to mature more quickly now. Silly orange-haired clowns and TV cowboys are not seen as furthering our children’s push toward success. At the same time, our kids reach a certain age and seem to actively resist accepting responsibility. These are blanket statements, of course, and there are mighty exceptions. However, I find it interesting that parents want their children to move out of young childhood very quickly and these same kids seem to want to hang on to childhood for more years later on.

Ah, well, enough sociological psycho-blather. I'm going to go have some Bosco and a fluffernutter.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My Sunday Of Candlepin Joy

The last time we met in this space, I told you about my friend who was going to be competing on a televised candlepin bowling show. Urb, whose real name is John Kafalas, was making his return to television competition after an absence of 32 years.

If you read that previous piece, you know how I feel about this achievement. I like it so much, I’ll tell you again: I think it’s just about the coolest thing ever. For a person to make a successful comeback, in any endeavor, is a wonderful thing. To do so in a competitive sport, where age so heavily takes a toll over the years, is that much harder. To have given up a sport completely and then work hard enough to do something that you once did 32 years before? I consider it heroic.

(To truly understand how much I admire this feat, it helps to have read the piece I wrote about my own joys and disappointments in this same sport. I tried - and failed - to achieve this thing that Urb has done. I am so full of admiration for his accomplishment because I know how hard it was to do.)

The taping of the TV show took place this past Sunday at Woburn Bowladrome. I had been scheduled to have the first practice of the season with one of my fast-pitch softball teams, but that practice was cancelled due to torrential rains. I was now free to go see Urb make his return to the airwaves. MY WIFE and I took an early drive to Woburn and arrived at about 9:15.

Comcast was taping four hour-long shows this day. Urb had previously told me, via e-mail, that his match would probably be on the second show taped. This turned out to be true, so MY WIFE and I settled in to watch the taping of the first show. A small section of bleacher-type stands had been erected behind lanes 35 and 36. We climbed into a couple of seats in the third, or topmost, row.

While this was Urb’s big day, MY WIFE and I quickly figured out that we were seated in a spot that would provide the television audience with a good view of US throughout much of the telecast. It was OUR return to TV, also. This is, of course, another reason why you should want to tune in when the shows air. You already know what I look like, if you’ve been paying attention when visiting here, but I’ll give you the further aid of telling you that I was wearing a herringbone scally cap. MY WIFE is to my right at all times.

(And if you were paying attention during that last paragraph, you might now be saying, “Wait, Jim, you said that this was the return to TV of you and YOUR WIFE. Pray tell, when were the two of you on television before?”

I’m glad you asked. Here is a complete list of the previous boob tube appearances by both of us, whether singly or together:

Bozo The Clown
A televised Catholic mass
A filmed review, on the news, concerning a play we attended
A WCW wrestling show
A quiz show on PBS
A cable talk show that I hosted for three or four weeks

Yes, it IS a stunning resume. And I’m sure you want to hear about each and every one of these things in excruciating detail. Rest assured that, if I’m the one telling you about them, the detail will definitely be excruciating. However, this piece would take you three days to read if I did that, so I’ll tell you about them tomorrow – and maybe the next day and the day after that, too.)

OK, back to the real substance of this piece – candlepin bowling on television. There used to be many televised candlepin bowling shows in this area. While it is strictly a regional sport, confined to New England and Eastern Canada, it was a big enough deal at one time to afford some guys a very good second income as professionals, via the TV shows and the pro tour. There was even the possibility, if you were good enough, to eke out a living as a professional candlepin bowler. Granted, you wouldn’t be eating caviar and living in a penthouse, but you could keep yourself in burgers and afford a second-story one-bedroom apartment on River Street in Dorchester, where you could spend your declining years cursing the fates and trying to handicap the daily double at Wonderland – maybe.

In recent years, the sport has become even less of a possibility for profit than it once was. There are probably about half as many candlepin houses as there once were. Tenpins, with its national TV exposure and relatively large payouts, has begun to make inroads into this area, wiping out the small profit margins of some of the smaller houses and thus putting them out of business. Whereas there were five or six weekly candlepin bowling shows being telecast at the peak of the sport’s popularity, there is now just the one – although a second show has had a start on Channel 56 and may start up production again in the future. If you’re good enough to compete on what remains of the pro tour, you’ll mostly be lucky to make back your expenses. The biggest payday possible comes via the Comcast show we were seeing taped, with a grand prize of $5,000 to the bowler who wins the season-ending championship.

None of the foregoing makes Urb’s comeback any less spectacular. The competition is still tough. The best bowlers of today stack up favorably to those of yesteryear. Expenses are higher. And getting onto TV is now that much harder since there is only ONE show to be on.

In order to get onto the show, a bowler must win a preliminary match called a roll-off. They are held at various differing locales throughout the year and the entry fee is just the cost of the bowling. I entered a number of these, myself, back in the day. They are open to everyone who wants to test themselves against the best the sport has to offer. You bowl five strings and top scorer advances. It’s as simple and fair as that - best bowler wins. Urb won his roll-off and that’s how he earned his TV appearance.

As MY WIFE and I watched the first show of the day being taped, I spotted Urb warming up, in preparation for his match, 9 or 10 lanes away. His opponent, Skip Easterbrook, was warming up with him. This was the first time I had ever seen Urb in person, by the way. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but we had never actually met. We knew each other only from interaction on-line.

I didn’t want to make a pain of myself during his pre-game prep, so I decided to wait until after his match was over to introduce MY WIFE and myself. Maybe when he came over to bowl his match, he might recognize me in the crowd. As it turns out, that’s what happened. Just before the match began, he looked up into the crowd, saw me, and waved. I gave him a “thumbs up” and wished him good luck.

The crowd at the event is an interesting one. It appears that they mostly know each other and that they all come out for every taping. There is one fellow, something of a Colonel Sanders look-alike, who has been sitting in the front row of every televised candlepin show for years and years. He is here. As we were waiting for the camera crew to do a white balance, and for the other members of the show’s production staff to give the OK to begin taping, one of the hosts inquired about a couple of missing audience members, by name, as though they were uncles late for a holiday dinner. She is informed that they will be here later because of the storm – and they do show up later, to a warm welcome.

(One fellow has worked really hard on a poster. It reads, “Don’t forget your income taxes!” The “I” in “income” is a drawing of a candlepin. While his heart is in the right place, the crew informs him that the shows will not air until after tax returns should have been filed. He says that he will put the poster away until next year. MY WIFE and I expect that this is the literal truth.)

Certain parts of the telecast have an odd life of their own. For instance, Earl.

In candlepins, the “wood” is live. That is, the pins downed by the previous ball or balls, if remaining on the pin deck, may be used by the bowler in making his next shot. This is what gives the sport much of it’s cachet, really, as it lends a billiards-like quality to the shotmaking. However, if a downed pin is beyond a certain line, it is illegal to use in the shotmaking and must be physically removed. This is where Earl comes in.

Earl is the scorekeeper and he is also the official remover of illegal wood. There is an unusual amount of illegal wood produced on this day. Earl is called upon to remove an offensive pin five or six times during the course of taping. And, each time, the crowd cheers and Earl’s name is called out, somewhat to his embarrassment. The cameras follow him on his task and he will be a more prominent part of these shows than he usually might be.

As to the matches themselves, it’s an interesting phenomenon to watch a sporting event, with money on the line, involving someone you actually know, competing in a sport you’ve had experience competing in yourself. I could easily imagine myself in Urb’s place, feeling perhaps the same mixture of pride and nervousness, wanting to make that first ball a good one to relax me and allow me entrance into “the zone,” that place where muscle memory takes over for an athlete and allows forgetting of the cameras, lights, announcers, prize money and whatever other distractions are at hand.

(You’ve come this far in the narrative, probably hoping for some sort of resolution, but I’m afraid that, at this point, I have to let you know that I won’t be revealing any results of the matches. This way, if you’re in the area served by Comcast in New England and will have an opportunity to view the shows, they won’t be spoiled for you. If you want to know the results, drop me a line at and I’ll reply with the spoilers. If you’d prefer to watch them – and I hope you will – the show airs Saturday morning at 11am and repeats at 5pm on Sunday, on CN8, the Comcast Channel. The shows we saw will begin airing this coming Saturday, the 21st, with Urb’s return to TV slated for a week from then, on the 28th.

As enticement to get you to watch on the 28th: There was a 171 thrown by one of the competitors – a very high total for candlepins, perhaps equal to a 260 or 265 in tenpin. The crowd gave a standing ovation for the match, very rare.)

After the taping, we went over to say “Hi” to Urb. He was a bit sweaty, putting away his gear. He gave a big smile as we shook hands. I introduced MY WIFE and then we exchanged a bit of small talk. I again told him how cool I thought his accomplishment was. He was extremely self-effacing, almost embarrassed to acknowledge what he had done. He told me an interesting fact. Although it was 32 years between TV appearances for him, the record – so far as he knew – was 42 years, accomplished by another bowler last year with an appearance on the Channel 56 show mentioned earlier.

Urb pocketed a check for his appearance, of course. I can’t give you the total without somewhat giving away the ending – at least to those of you familiar with the payouts on the show – but I can tell you that some other professional athletes make that much by the time they brush their teeth in the morning. Even more reason to admire Urb and the other bowlers – it’s a labor of love.

Well, even a blowhard like me can rhapsodize for just so long about candlepin bowling. See you tomorrow with tales of our fleeting TV fame.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Various & Sundry Items Of Little Interest, Except For The Thing About Urb (Which Is Really, Really Cool)

Some of you were under the mistaken impression that End Of Lunch Hour Theater was just the beginning of an ongoing series. Nope. It was just a way to kill five minutes of my time. Sorry!

I've got a number of things to write about, but probably won't get to them until this weekend. Right now, I'm looking at a busy two days here at Marketing Messages. I've got three voice talents coming today - one to record in Spanish and another in Mandarin Chinese - as well as a whole bunch of Vietnamese voice files to edit, so this may be my last posting until next Tuesday, since I'm taking Monday off.

The reason I'm taking Monday off is because of the Boston Marathon. This might lead you to ask a question: Am I running in it? I'll answer that with two questions of my own: Is The Pope a bear? Does Catholicism take a shit in the woods?

I'm lucky to be able to run down to first base these days without having a heart attack. No, I am most definitely NOT running in the marathon. The reason I take the day off is because, going to and from work, I have to cross the marathon route. This always costs me an extra hour of commuting on the day of the marathon. I've decided to just stay home, instead of cursing as I wait in my car for a break in the runners long enough for the cop on duty to wave some of us across Commonwealth Avenue.

(Actually, come to think of it, I did the same thing last year. You could read all about the exciting adventures MY WIFE and I had at the same time a year ago!)

Meanwhile, one of my softball teams is supposed to be having its first practice of the season this Sunday. Since the forecast calls for snow today and more snow on Sunday, I'm thinking that this may not happen. I can't say that I'd be terribly disappointed if the practice was postponed. Even though I've lost enough weight to be ready to go, I'm still not really ready. I've done almost no exercise. A few series of squats, some lightweight curls, some half-hearted push ups - that's about it. An extra week before a real workout would be a good thing.

Also, my friend Urb is doing something very interesting this Sunday and I'd like to see it. You may recall my writing about my semi-career as a candlepin bowler. If you have an extraordinary memory, you may recall a picture I used as illustration concerning my "leg kick."

That picture is of Urb - John Kafalas - as a youngster. Now, I have never met Urb, but by using his picture in that piece, I picqued his curiosity. See, he somehow found out that I had used his picture, so he wrote to me. He and I have come to have some very pleasant correspondence and he seems to be a really nice guy.

Urb actually competed in some decent professional tournaments as a youngster. He was - and appears to still be - a step above my own level as a bowler. Anyway, he appeared on TV many years ago in one of the professional candlepin bowling shows which were ubiquitous in the New England area. Since that time, he pretty much gave up the game and moved to a place - Arizona, if I remember - where the game is utterly non-existent.

While out west, he worked on his tenpin game - big balls, for you New Englanders and Eastern Canadians. He became proficient and actually cashed in a minor tournament. Now he has moved back to this area and - God, I love this - he has worked on his candlepin game and...

He won a roll-off and will be once again appearing on TV, some 30+ years after his initial appearance. That is SO cool, I can't even put into words the level of coolness this reaches. The taping is this Sunday at Woburn Bowladrome and, if it rains or snows or my softball practice is in any other wise cancelled, I'll be there to cheer him on as he makes his triumphant comeback.

Well, my first talent just walked through the door for her recording session, so I've got to go. See you soon!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

End Of Lunch Hour Theater

I have five minutes before my lunch hour is over. I am going to create a short scene, right now, and it must end at 1pm. Here goes:

(Time: 12:55pm, April 10th, 2007)

(Setting: Newton, a suburb of Boston. Erica and Alexander are sitting on a couch.)

Erica: Alexander, why are we sitting on this couch?

Alexander: I don't know, Erica, but if Suldog had given us shorter names, he'd be able to give us more lines before 1:00, don't you think?

Erica: Yes, I suppose so.

Alexander: Well, then let's change our names. I'll be Ed. How about you?

Erica: Ed is nice. Can I be Ed, too?

Ed: No, no, we can't both be Ed. Then how would the readers tell us apart?

Erica: I'd be the one with the boobs.

Ed: But they can't see you, so that wouldn't work. Why don't you be Amy?

Erica: Amy? That's not too bad, I guess. OK, I'll be Amy.

Ed: Good. I'm glad that's settled. Now, what shall we talk about, Amy?

Amy: Oh, I don't know. How about

Monday, April 09, 2007

Where Was I?

Well, it’s Monday and here I am. I wasn’t struck by lightning. This is not proof positive that my theology on Friday was sound, but I’ll take it.

My Cousin David, who is turning out to be an interesting writer and whose own theology is certainly less controversial, wrote a piece several days ago detailing where he was - and what his reactions were – to some very memorable moments. “Great idea,” I thought when I read it. My second thought was, “I’m going to have to steal this.”

And I have. So, without any further ado – because what the hell are you going to do with more ado? – here are my reactions to the same events.

(OK, just a tiny bit more ado. I’m not going to write about as many events as David did. This is because I am more chronically long-winded than he is. As a matter of fact, the only reason I’m not taking just ONE of these events and padding it out with more of my interminable bullshit is because, when I told David that I was going to steal his idea, I told him that I’d ask you to go to his place, to compare and contrast our experiences, so it wouldn’t be much of a comparison if I only wrote about one.)


I was at work, same place where I am right now. Ellen, a co-worker at the time, came into my studio and told me that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I assumed it was a personal aircraft, a Cessna or similar, gone off-course. When Ellen told me that it was a commercial jet, I asked her for particulars concerning deaths and such, but she didn’t have much more information. She had just heard it on the radio.

About ten minutes later, she came back into the studio and told me that a second jet had hit the buildings. She was now firmly convinced that we were under some sort of enemy attack and that we’d be at war any minute. She was trying to reach some loved ones via phone, but having no success. She was the first person I heard forward the theory that it wasn’t just an amazing accident. I had no details, other than what she had told me, so I hadn’t formed any theories. I was still thinking that perhaps it was just an amazingly tragic coincidence.

I tried to find something on-line, perhaps a photo. The internet was slow as molasses – our office didn’t have anything beyond dial-up then - and trying to get onto any site with photos was pretty much a fruitless task. I don’t keep a radio or TV in my studio. My only source for news was fellow employees.

Cindy, our office manager at the time, told me that one of the towers had fallen.

I said, “No, you must have heard it wrong. Part of the tower fell; a piece dislodged from the crash...”

“No, one of the towers collapsed completely,” she said. She was on the verge of tears.

Now I was worried. My brother-in-law lived on Staten Island and worked in the financial district area. I didn’t want to worry MY WIFE and I had no idea how much she may have heard about this, so I didn’t try to contact her immediately. I assumed that the timing – I had a basic timeline of events by now – was such that John probably wouldn’t have been in direct danger.

MY WIFE and I finally talked, of course, and when we were both home that evening, we watched the footage of what had happened with both revulsion and fascination. We had been unable to reach John. Phone communications to any part of New York were sketchy at best.

I’ll cut to the chase: As it turned out, John was safe. He had been in the general area, but basically out of harms way. We both thanked God for that.

John wasn’t wholly reticent to talk about what had transpired, but he didn’t seem anxious to do so, either. I was just happy he was safe, so I wasn’t going to push him for more detail than he was willing to divulge at his own ease. As time has passed, he hasn’t – as some people with less circumspection might – painted himself as more of a participant in the events of that day than he may have been. I may be forgetting, but I really don’t recall him mentioning it in conversation unless directly questioned by somebody. If I had been part of that, I don’t know if I would show the same commendable restraint.


I was 12 years old and I saw it on TV, just like every other person in the world with consciousness. If you’re so young that you didn’t see it when it happened, it’s hard to describe how amazing it seemed.

I grew up during a time when putting a man on the moon seemed like one of the most important things that could ever happen. For some reason, it seemed vital that the US put someone there before the Russians. It was drilled into us in school that the space race was this overwhelming national concern and should be a great source of pride. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine the fervor with which the government pursued that goal.

I’ll be honest and tell you about something truly stupid on my part. As the time approached for the landing, there was lots of talk among my friends about what the astronauts might find there. Now, none of us expected that the moon was made out of green cheese, but we thought that maybe there might be life of some sort or perhaps elements unheard of back here on Earth. Me? I thought there was a good chance that the first man to step foot on the place might disappear, swallowed up by the dust or maybe falling through the surface as it was unable to support his weight. My wildest imaginings had the moon blowing up when they planted the flag. I speculated that perhaps the craters were caused from within, by gaseous explosions something like volcanoes, rather than by the accepted notion of their having been caused by hits from meteors and such.

Nothing blew up, nobody disappeared, and there was no life. They brought back some rocks. All in all, it was an amazing feat, but I can’t help thinking that the money spent on accomplishing it could have been better spent on something else.


Newspapers blared the headline. Television and radio commentators talked incessantly about it. I’ve got to tell you: it didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me. I thought it was a foregone conclusion.

I was 17 at the time. During the previous three years, I had undergone some pretty big changes in my life and in my way of looking at the world. I had taken up recreational drug usage, my parents were divorced, I had decided to become a musician, the only thing I wanted out of school was me, and I was carrying a draft card in my wallet. I’d always been an optimist, but now I was pretty cynical.

The standard image of drug-using youth is of lazy kids with addled thoughts. Sure, some folks are like that when they use drugs. However, I’ve found that the folks most likely to be that way when they use drugs are the folks who were that way BEFORE they used drugs. The kids in MY neighborhood were sharp. Taken as a whole, we were one of the smartest groups of kids in the city of Boston.

There was a core group of ten who hung on the same street corner. A few others came and went, but we same ten were always there – smoking dope, selling dope, drinking, whatever. Of these ten, four of us passed the examination for Boston Latin School, the most prestigious high school in the city and whose entrance examination was the toughest. Since two of the ten didn’t even take the exam - their parents were sending them to Catholic high schools - that means a full 50% of us who took the exam passed it. Three of the other four guys passed the exam for Boston Tech, which was the second-toughest school academically. There were no dummies on that street corner.

The point of telling you about our drug usage and our innate intelligence is that we had all come to the conclusion that the government was completely full of shit. The government told us, continually, that marijuana would rot our brains or do some other hideous thing to us to ruin our lives. It didn’t. We saw that the government lied to us about that. As a result of gaining that insight, we began to see the myriad other ways in which the government was screwing the people. Since we weren’t dim bulbs, we had very thoughtful detailed discussions concerning these things. And we came to the conclusion, during the Watergate hearings, that there were only two ways this thing was going to resolve itself: either Nixon would be impeached or Nixon would resign.

So, big deal. Nixon resigned? Not unexpected. And when Ford pardoned him, we weren’t surprised about that, either. And ever since then, I’m pretty sure that none of us has expected anything more from the executive branch than lies and deceit – maybe, at best, stupidity. I can’t say that I've been disappointed much.


Well, what I'll say here will piss off some people, that's for sure. Sorry if you're one of them.

Truthfully? I haven’t the slightest idea where I was or what I was doing. For some people, Elvis Presley was some sort of a god. To me, he was a sell-out.

Elvis Presley made good music at the start of his career. By the time he went into the army, he was already recording pap. When he got out, he made a string of second-rate movies and released albums full of saccharine dreck.

He became a parody of himself, the Liberace of rock and roll. He tried to get Nixon to appoint him as a junior G-man - a drug enforcer. He was a hypocrite and a poser, not nearly as talented as his publicity made him out to be. He had a soulful voice, but if a strict comparison is made between his vocal abilities and those of other great singers, he doesn’t rate very high in my book. As an actor, he was passable. His greatest contribution – and this is considerable – was as the white face that made black music more acceptable and popular.

I’ll certainly grant the man his place in the history of music, but anything beyond that is wishful thinking on the part of overzealous fans. Even now, I couldn’t tell you the year he died or the date, without looking it up.


My Cousin David, in his piece, went on to describe quite a few sporting events. I have my memories of those, of course, but I think I’ll save them for another time, as this is long enough for now.

So, where were YOU? What were YOU doing? I’ve been free with MY opinions; please be free with YOURS. I’d love to hear them.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Friday, April 06, 2007

I May Need Your Prayers Any Minute Now...

As you read this, it is Good Friday. What the hell are you doing reading this, you heathen? You couldn't possibly believe that anything I have to say is divinely inspired. Get your ass to church.

OK, now that the easily-guilted holy rollers are gone, let’s get down to business.

(By the way, I’m writing this on Thursday night, wise guy; that’s why I’M not in church, OK?)

(Well, all right, it IS Maundy Thursday, but my feet are already clean.)

(That’s a Catholic joke. See, Maundy Thursday was when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples, showing them that the way to do His business was to serve others, no matter how high and mighty you were perceived to be. In the Catholic Church, some parishioners have their feet washed by the priest at Maundy Thursday services.)

(Except in Boston, the Archbishop refused to wash the feet of some female parishioners a couple of years back. He said something to the effect that Jesus only washed men’s feet, so he wasn’t going to wash women’s feet, either. That’s why I haven’t been to a Catholic mass in quite some time, even though I’m most definitely still a Christian.)

(So now, I’ve gone from lightly sacrilegious and flippant to deadly serious. Bummer. Let’s see if we can recapture the mood.)

Jesus is hanging on the cross. He looks down and sees Mary Magdelene crying.

Jesus says, “Mary...”

Mary looks up, still crying, and says, “What is it, Lord?”

Jesus says, “Mary...”

Mary again says, “What is it, Lord?”

Jesus says, “Mary, it’s... amazing.”

Mary says, “What, Lord? What is it? What’s amazing?”

“I can see your house from up here!”

Whoa, Pilgrim! Don’t go away mad. You think it’s just a crummy blasphemous joke, but I can justify almost anything. Nothing up my sleeve... PRESTO!

See, Jesus is closer to heaven and he can see Mary’s house IN HEAVEN. He’s telling her that her faith has saved her and that she will spend eternity in paradise. Hah!

And I guess that’s today’s lesson: It all depends upon your point of view. This is “Good” Friday, right? Why? Why do Christians call this “Good” Friday, when this is the anniversary of the day when their savior was murdered; the day He was nailed to a tree and died a miserable, painful death?

Because without the cross – without the death - none of us can ever see our house in heaven, no matter how high up we are here on earth.

(Boy, that was pretty good! Quick! Are the easily-guilted holy rollers still within shouting distance? Call them back. Maybe this is divinely inspired. Let’s see if I can wriggle out of another one.)

So, see the painting up above, of Jesus on the cross? There’s a plaque nailed to the cross, just above His head. The plaque reads “INRI.” Want to know what it means?

I’m Nailed Right In.

Well, what it really means is lightning bolts should be coming any minute now and I’ll be going to hell immediately if God doesn't have a sense of humor. However, I believe that God has an amazing sense of humor. My belief is that, when we die, we’re going to find out that this whole thing was one long and involved joke. And we’ll laugh and laugh and laugh when we hear the punch line.

Or, if you don’t find that terribly convincing, try this on for size. If God doesn’t have a sense of humor, what can we expect in the afterlife? An eternity without laughter? Hey, kill me now and leave me dead; none of that resurrection shit for me, thanks.

Or are some jokes theologically sound and others not? Maybe. We all have subjective senses of humor, I guess. Maybe God does, too. If so, the only way to know for sure is if we can hear God laugh. Then we’d know what He finds funny. Let's try it. Cue Simon & Garfunkel.

(*sounds of silence*)

So, I don’t hear God laughing. I’m assuming you don’t hear anything, either, right? Well, that's OK; it wasn't that good a joke. Maybe we'll try again later.

What it comes down to is having faith. One way or another, you've got to have faith. If you don't, you're screwed. My faith lives in the belief that everything is for the best and that everything will be revealed in the end. Now, if what's revealed in the end is that God has absolutely no sense of humor whatsoever, and He's royally pissed off at me for this, then that's the way it goes; I'm doomed. But if God has no sense of humor, I've been doomed for a long, long time now. You, too - so at least we'll all fry together.

(The following will seem totally unconnected, but wait for it.)

I remember watching The Mike Douglas Show, one day when I was a kid, and he had this comedy troupe on. For the life of me, I can't remember their name. However, the bit they did has stuck with me forever. It was a parody of Moby Dick.

Ahab and Ishmael are standing on the deck of the Peqoud. Ahab is looking through a telescope. Suddenly, he sees something and gets all excited.

Ishmael: "What is it? What do you see?"


Ishmael: "Let me see."

Ahab hands him the telescope. Ishmael puts it up to his eye and looks out at the sea. After a little while, he takes the telescope down from his eye and hands it back to Ahab. He says:

"Eh. It's a good white whale..."

Now, I know why it's called Good Friday. It's because people were saying, "What a horrible day! They've croaked Jesus!" And so it had to be explained over and over that this was actually not a bad thing when you consider how it plays out in the end. So, "Good" Friday.

But why not really get the point across? Why not go all the way and call it Great Friday? Or even Super-Duper Amazingly Fantastic Friday, All Sins Forgiven Or Your Money Back? A little salesmanship wouldn't hurt...

Well, that's about it for me. I'm doomed, right? Eternal damnation; fire and brimstone; some guy with horns, in a red union suit, poking me with a pitchfork.

Nah. See, Jesus died for our sins and that even includes crummy jokes. Thank God.

And, if you're an atheist, I got you to actually consider this stuff for five minutes. I got you to read the name - Jesus - 12 or 13 times. I figure that's got to count for something.

Have a joyous Easter and I'll see you on Monday - unless I'm struck by lightning.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

I Am Now 180, So If You're Edible, You're In Danger Again

It’s Wednesday night, April 4th, and it’s snowing outside.

(This is better than it snowing inside, but just barely.)

I am cooking a pot of macaroni and tomatoes. This is despite the fact that I gave up flour products (as well as dairy) for Lent. I figure if God isn’t going to play by the rules, giving us a snowstorm in APRIL, then I can have a night off, too.

Actually, I’m breaking my fast because of three things:

1 – I’m freakin’ hungry.

2 – I’m freakin’ cold.

3 – I freakin’ reached my goal of weighing 180 before the softball season.

When I had the first thought about having the macaroni, which was in my car on the way home from work in a SNOWSTORM IN APRIL, I decided that I would weigh myself before I started cooking. If I still weighed 181, which is what I weighed when I went to work this morning – when it wasn’t snowing – I would still be a good boy and have gefilte fish and schav. However, if I weighed 180 or less, I was damned well going to have the macaroni.

I am a somewhat svelte 180, so over the lips and through the gums, look out stomach, here it comes.

Sheesh. What a rebel. Macaroni. You’d think I’d go out and buy a box of Mallomars and a gallon of chocolate milk to wash them down with and whip up some chocolate mousse for dessert, and maybe have cream cheese and a couple boxes of saltines for a snack and then chocolate chip cookies just for shits and giggles. Nah. Macaroni and plain tomatoes. I'm the rebel without a sauce.

Is that Judas Priest I hear playing in the background? Breakin’ the law! Breakin’ the law! I think I’ll go tear the tag off of my mattress after dinner. Woo-Hoo!

Enough of this crap. The timer just went off. See you tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Me! I've Been Given An Award! Me! Me! Me!

I have been given an award. About time.

This blog has been deemed worthy of the “Thinking Blogger Award.” The person who deemed it worthy of such high praise is Mushy, a real nice Volunteer from Tennessee. He was given the award and passed it on to me.

Here’s how this thing works: Five bloggers were given the award, which originated at this site. The award was given as a result of those bloggers making the original award-giver think. That is, those bloggers weren’t just your run-of-the-mill “I did such-and-such today while my kids did so-and-so” diary-type bloggers - not that there's anything wrong with that, of course. These bloggers included content that made someone actually ponder important stuff, like why cream cheese with chives was on sale for 50 cents off at the Stop & Shop immediately after I decided to give up dairy products for Lent; stuff like that.

The five writers so honored were then charged with passing the award on to another five bloggers whom they felt were worthy of the title. And so on.

So, now it is my turn. Having been given this prestigious honor, I must now pass it on to five other bloggers that I feel are praiseworthy for their ability to make me think. I will do so, but with an apology to everybody that I do not name.

Let’s face it. NOT being honored by me might be even better. I’m a self-righteous bozo with odd habits and even odder opinions. As a matter of fact, you might like to make up your own award - the “Suldog Didn’t Single Me Out, So Thank You, God" Badge Of Honor, or something like that. Display it with pride!

After much consideration, here are the five bloggers I’ve decided to pass the award on to.

1 – Somewhere On The Masthead

Like you didn’t expect this one. Magazine Man is, as I state on my sidebar, the best writer on the internet. I sincerely believe that. He is my generation’s yarn-spinning equivalent of Mark Twain and should be showered with gold coin.

2 – GNM Parents

I have a banner ad for this site up on my sidebar for a reason. I wasn’t paid to put it there, but did so as a favor to Stu Mark, the editor of the site and one of the nicest guys on the planet. There is fresh material daily and always of a thoughtful nature. I’m not a parent, so not all of it is useful information for me, but it’s almost always interesting reading. I expect that, for a parent, it would be a great source of knowledge and ideas.

3 – The Boomer Chronicles

Rhea posts two, three or four times daily. It’s always something interesting or quirky. From the title, you might think the stuff she writes about wouldn’t apply to anyone under 50. You’d be wrong. While some of it is age-specific, most of it isn’t. What it is, is human-specific. Go there a couple of times and you’re bound to find some sort of fun.

4 – Space Monkey Pants

Sween is delightfully demented. He has a way with words that makes me seriously envious. The funny flows from him effortlessly. While I throw around 2,000 word efforts in an attempt to crush you with volume, he writes 100 words and gets twice as many laughs. Therefore, I hate him. Why am I giving him an award again? Oh, yeah. Funny bastard. Hah-hah.

5 - Visible Wear

Once a week, James Cooper chooses a stock photo and makes up a thousand-word story about it. Aside from the cleverness (a picture is worth...) he’s extremely inventive and shows a nice turn of phrase. As a bonus, he’s started a second blog called Visibly Worn. That one is good, too.

If you're one of the five named above, here are the rules:

1. If, and only if, you got tagged, write a post with links to 5 bloggers that make you think.

2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.

3. Optional: Proudly display the Thinking Blogger Award with a link to the post that you wrote.

So, again, my apologies to you if you feel slighted by not being mentioned. In order to get the award, I had to choose five bloggers. With my ego, I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to bask in some gimcrack glory, even if it meant breaking your heart. But I do love you. If I didn’t love you, you wouldn’t have a link on my sidebar at all. The next time I get an award, I’ll probably mention YOU, instead.

Of course, the way I write, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for another award.

Monday, April 02, 2007

It's A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

On Friday, I asked you for some opinions concerning children’s television. You responded thoughtfully and in depth. Now, it’s my turn and I hope I can return the favor.

I first asked you for some general feelings about Fred “Mister” Rogers. Me? I think Fred Rogers was a living, walking saint among us.

When you watched Fred Rogers, there was absolutely no pretense. What you saw was the real man. That same gentleness and childlike quality displayed on the screen was present always. He was not an actor. You may be surprised to find out what he actually was.

Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister. His special charge, given upon his ordination, was to minister to children through the media. He did so – and continues to do so, even after death - with amazing grace. He has been a part of TV, in one way or another, for well over 50 years now.

He had planned to become a minister while still a very young man. He was attending Rollins College, in Florida, earning a degree in music composition. The plan was that he would enter the seminary after graduation. However, on a visit to home – Pittsburgh – he saw television for the first time. What he saw appalled him. It was a children’s show and there were people hitting each other in the face with pies.

If there was one thing that made Fred Rogers truly mad, it was when one person demeaned another person. This feeling stemmed from his childhood. He had been a fat kid and teased a lot because of it. He developed a strong sense of advocacy for the underdog. What he now saw on this new medium was despicable to him. Fred thought that hitting someone in the face with a pie was about as demeaning as it gets. He thought it was a horrible lesson to be teaching children. And, at that moment, he changed his plans. He decided to go into television.

Since television was in its infancy, it wasn’t as hard to get into as one might think it would be for a man with no previous experience. Using his musical degree as a way to open doors, Fred landed a job with NBC in New York, becoming stage manager for The Kate Smith Show and other musical programs.

After gaining valuable insight into how television worked, he went to WQED, a fledgling public television station back in his hometown of Pittsburgh. This was his first opportunity to actually do something for children. He, along with a woman named Josie Carey, created a show called The Children’s Corner. Josie Carey was the host, while Fred was never seen on camera. He stayed behind the scenes, manipulating and providing voices for puppets, writing songs, etc.

(Meanwhile, during his lunch hours, he worked towards his degree in divinity. It would be some seven years of lunch hours later before he finally became an ordained minister. During this time, he also married his wife, Joanne, whom he had met while at Rollins.)

After his ordination, he received a call from the Canadian Broadcasting Company. They wanted Fred to develop a children’s show for them. He assumed that he would once again operate out of sight, as writer and puppeteer, but the head of the CBC had seen Fred interact with children and what he saw was a man with a gift. He knew that if Fred could get that quality to come through on camera, it would be something special. And thus was born a show known as MisteRogers.

He was “Mister” because, despite changing from suit coat to sweater and dress shoes to sneakers on every show, he remained an authority figure, albeit an extremely friendly one. He would be akin to an uncle or perhaps a very nice neighbor (or, as he aged, a kindly and gentle grandfather, which he himself had become in real life by the time he stopped production of the show on PBS almost forty years later.)

The Canadian show was relatively short-lived, but Fred took the concept back across the border and started Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. It was, and remains, the most relaxed children’s show on television; thirty minutes of peaceful talk, thoughtful songs, whimsical visits to a very well-delineated “Neighborhood Of Make Believe”, and pacing that encourages children to express their emotions freely, but in ways that will not hurt others.

I said at the beginning of this piece that I believed Fred Rogers to have been a saint walking among us. I came to this conclusion through both personal interaction and then further reading concerning his life.

I wrote a letter to him, back in the early 90’s, asking him a few technical questions concerning the show. As you may know, I’m involved in what might be loosely termed “show business,” although in an extremely tangential way. In any case, I was interested in how certain aspects of his show were created and performed. I expected a short reply, if any at all, knowing that I was asking for an expenditure of his personal time.

Instead, Fred Rogers replied with a multi-page handwritten letter, explaining in great detail the answers to my questions. In addition, he included 15 or 20 pages of printout material concerning the show, as well as an autographed photo personally inscribed to both MY WIFE and me.

(I had told him that we both watched the show, even though we had no children. This was the truth. MY WIFE and I find the show to be extremely relaxing, the video equivalent of a martini after work.)

To say that I was impressed by his response would be understating the matter. I had written similar letters to a few different performers whose work I admired. Some remain unanswered to this day. Those that did answer did so by dashing off a couple of quick lines. Fred Rogers was the only one who sent me a handwritten in-depth reply and it was obvious that he had given my questions quite a bit of his time and effort.

From that point, Rogers could do no wrong as far as I was concerned. And from everything I’ve ever seen or read concerning him, Fred Rogers did no wrong, period.

Last week, I had the great pleasure of reading a wonderful book about Fred’s life. It was written by Amy Hollingsworth and is called The Simple Faith Of Mister Rogers. It details her relationship with Fred Rogers, which blossomed following her having done an interview of him for television, and the ways in which he infused his shows with his strongly-held religious beliefs. I had little doubt Fred was a good man BEFORE I read this book. AFTER reading it, I am of the opinion that there have been few who walked this earth with a more profound spirituality.

Reading this book has re-energized my own sense concerning what a Christian should do. Since finishing it, I have tried to keep Fred’s example of patience and forbearance in mind, while attempting to see that of Christ which is alive in others. I’m no saint, by any means, nor do I think I ever will be, but I hope I’m able to hold on to some of the lessons that Mister Rogers has taught me, even at this advanced age for childhood.

(Don’t worry – I’ll still be obscene, free with my opinions and otherwise the asshole I’ve always been here. I don’t think any of that is necessarily at odds with being a Christian. Anyway, one of the most important lessons Fred teaches is to be your honest self and that people can like you just the way you are.)

(One thing I think I should clear up is the seeming dichotomy between my liking Fred Rogers and also liking, say, The Three Stooges. He found people being hit with pies demeaning. I find it funny. To each his own.

OK, that’s a bit too flippant. I look at it this way: He was seeing people hitting each other with pies as being a bad object lesson for children. Maybe so. I think it depends upon the child in question. I love slapstick comedy. I also love violent cartoons, i.e., Tom & Jerry. I never considered hitting someone on the head with a frying pan as a way to truly solve problems, nor do I have an urge to run a ripsaw across anyone’s noggin. I was able to determine what was reality, and what was humor, at an early age. This was largely because I had parents who made sure I knew the difference. If a kid has less insight and non-caring parents, maybe it would be a different story; I’ll concede that point.)

Fred was a generous man, giving of himself in so many ways. In an attempt to emulate his niceness, I’m going to make you an offer. If you’d like to read the book, and you can’t find a copy available through your public library system, I’ll buy you a copy of it. That’s how much I admire this man and how much I enjoyed this book.

I expect you to make an honest effort to find the book at your library. If you don’t find it available, drop me a line at Include your mailing address. I’ll send you a copy of the book. I ask only that you pass it on to someone else (or donate it to your library) when you’re done, OK?

(I think I should mention that the book is valuable as either biography or religious tract [or both, as for me] so if you aren't a Christian, you'll still enjoy it.)

(By the way, the little contest I hid in a previous blog had to do with this offer. The hidden message said that whoever deciphered it would get a prize. This book was the prize. So, to Rhea and James and Friday 18, who attempted to really solve it, you’ve got a copy coming if you want it. I need your mailing address, so give it to me and your prize will be on its way.)

(The “code” was simple, if not readily seen. Starting with the first letter in the gobbledygook sentence, use every other letter to form a real readable sentence. Then, do the same but starting with the second letter instead. Follow this same formula for the second and third gobbledygook sentences. There you go! And I realize now that I may have left the third section a bit out of whack for the code to work perfectly. Oh, well. You're getting a prize anyway, so no need to complain.)

(If you still don’t understand, drop me a line and I’ll truly spell it out for you.)

I realize I’ve only covered one aspect of what I asked you concerning children’s television. I’ll pick it up again later this week and discuss some of the other topics you were kind enough to give me opinions about. Tomorrow and the next day, however, I have other things to write about that are more time-sensitive. For one thing, I received an award! I’ll tell you about that tomorrow. See you then.