Saturday, April 29, 2006

Darn right.

It should be pretty clear that I dearly love my wife. Should you require further proof, please see the post below and the accompanying photo of the BOE (Bane Of my Existence).

Yet sometimes we miss the mark. I zig, expecting she'll zag, but she zigs and bonk, suddenly we have sore foreheads. But this will happen from time to time in any long-term relationship.

Our latest zig-zag has been about a new television set. We currently have two of them; both of them work properly. But both are pretty old; we both got them in college, so they're pushing 10 years old.

In the technological world, they might as well be black and white.

So we have been discussing how to go about getting a new TV. And we're both zigging a little, as I would expect both her and her mother-in-law to be in more tune with men.

Within the past few weeks, my dad bought an HDTV that was on sale at Boscov's, one of the regional department stores in Pennsylvania. We visited the weekend before, and he seemed pretty intent on bringing home a new set. A few days later, while talking on the phone, he spent 10 minutes telling me cool the set was.

The same night, when I talked to my mom, she was the first to tell me about the new purchase. I slyly asked if they knew our shipping address. OK, it wasn't really that sly.

Then I mentioned to her that hopefully that might spur us into the purchase of an equally sweet TV. Her reply shocked me.

"Well," she said, taking a motherly tone, "you don't have to keep up with the Joneses, you know."

Uhhh, yes we do.

Back in our less-civilized days, men would go out hunting. Say, for instance, Caveman Timmy brought home a dodo bird. Then, imagine Caveman Timmy's next-door neighbor, Caveman Tommy, brought home a brontosaurus.

Who would get more props from the rest of the neighborhood? Who would mope back to his cave, wallowing in shame?

Men have been involved in similar pissing contests ever since. Governments build ever more massive statues and memorials. The Great Pyramid of Giza was the Egyptians' chance to say, "How you like that, Macedonia?!"

On through time it went. Now, instead of discovering unmapped continents or controlling the biggest army, the modern American man is all about technology.

Along the same lines as my mom's comment was my wife's: "I was thinking we'd spend between $500-$800."

Uhhh, no. I will part with as much of my paltry paycheck as humanly possible for as long as we need to in order to bring home a satisfactorily kick-ass television. (Though, to be fair, my wife has also said we will take some time to go investigate and learn as much as we can before buying. Right now, I can't ask for anything more.)

Surely you've seen the commercial shows several circumstances of men buying more than they really need - including a group of guys setting up a flat-screen TV. The ad, for motor oil, ends with: "Do you really need a motor oil that lasts for 15,000 miles?" A man's man type of guy, pouring said oil into his engine, looks into the camera. He doesn't blink and replies, "Darn right."

So why do I feel the need to own a television that's got all the bells and whistles? I can't pin down a reason, but who's going to argue with thousands of years of dick-measuring contests?

Or maybe the wizardry of modern marketing has gotten to me, too.

Monday, April 24, 2006


That's Grace the cat.

Grace and I don't get along. Well, I don't get along with Grace; my wife likes to tell me how much the cat (apparently) loves me.

The feeling is not reciprocated - so much so that my wife once, while talking to the cat, told her to go see her "daddy". Uh, no.

At best - at very best - I'm the cat's stepdad. She was part of the package when I moved in with my wife, so as long as I'm married, I'm stuck with the cat, too.

That look of innocence is precious, isn't it? Don't let her fool you. If you drop by the house, she'll act like you're evil incarnate. It's come to the point where she'll come out and roll around the floor, trying her best to be cute. But we just tell everyone to leave her alone, because it's not worth her getting pissy.

I can think of three people that have ever come here that Grace has tolerated, and just one - my wife's aunt from Oregon - that Grace allowed to pet her on the first visit.

And that's part of the reason I'm not Grace's biggest fan. Like we're going to let cat abusers into the house. These people that come in the door are our friends and family, and they will treat you with respect and love!

That look of innocence is funny in a different sense, because Grace makes Mariah Carey and Diana Ross look like diva amateurs. Grace wants what she wants when she wants it - and that can change second by second. I can see the thought bubble above her head that reads, "Yes ... love me, love me ... OK, stop. You're done."

She's a big fan of roaming onto our balcony and peering into the woods. She makes no bones about her intentions when she walks to the sliding door and reaches up in an apparent attempt to unlatch the door herself.

Most of the time, if she doesn't get her way, she gets pissy and beats the crap out of her scratching post.

Dear Grace: Life ain't always fair. I wish we were pulling down a million-six and living on the banks of the Potomac, but we can't always get what we want, can we?

The third of my gripes with Grace is an offshoot of the second. She's happy when we come home - which I do appreciate - but doesn't realize that groceries can be heavy. So she meanders about the pathway leading from the door to the kitchen.

Or, if she's in a needy mood, I walk down the hallway with her zig-zagging in front of each step - at her own slow pace of course. Either situation results in me bellowing, "Grace, get the hell out of the way!"

(I should note that I'm not mean to Grace. If she needs food or water, I'll gladly give her either. Beyond that, I tolerate her.)

How silly is it that I try to reason with a cat? I never grew up with them; instead, I grew up with my dad and uncles making jokes about cats being a good practice tool for punters. Grace is quite puntable, a point which even my wife acknowledges.

Hopefully, not every cat is like this, with the divaness and territoriality. If they are, then I might re-think my strategy of adopting a cat that I help pick out, one where I wouldn't mind being called the daddy.

I've been promised a dog one day (our apartment complex prohibits them), and I can't wait for that day. By then, I might have Grace figured out. Either that or I'll still be yelling a lot.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Spring giveaway

The grass out front won't stop growing, getting more out of control seemingly each hour. Then, one day, when you've finished with the excuses and you're ready to cut it - finally - it's raining.

Ahh, spring, a season so lovely that even the rainy days are beautiful.

After the drudgery of winter, where taking out the trash requires a heavy coat, it's rather liberating to kick winter while it's down and walk outside with T-shirt and shorts - raining or not.

The sunny days? Indescribably beautiful.

Summertime humidity has yet to set in. The flies and other pesky insects aren't yet pests. Rolling down the window in your car and enjoying the air is okay - no air conditioning required.

Baseball has become linked with springtime. "Spring" training happens when it's still winter for most of the country. But by the time the season kicks off, April 1 or thereabouts, spring is well under way. Or if it isn't, at least we've probably got a few hopeful glimpses of it by then.

But the parallels between spring and baseball are numerous and strong. When pitchers and catchers report to Florida or Arizona, they're 0-0, and theoretically anyone can win the World Series. In February, hope springs eternal.

Watching grown men field and bat and bunt brings out the kid in many of us - a sort of rejuvenation that spring is famous for.

Most of the highlights from spring training feature casually-dressed analysts working under a nearly cloudless sky against the backdrop of green fields. Funny that the grass on the baseball diamond never seems to become the jungle it has here.

Nothing makes you feel alive as catching your first warm baseball game of the season. (Baseball in cold weather is an experience in misery, and God bless the die-hard fans who attend such games.)

I caught mine the past two weeks, when the Washington Nationals held their home opener, complete with Vice President Dick Cheney sporting better accuracy during the first pitch ceremony than he did on that imfamous hunting trip.

A week later, the Nats' Class-A affiliate, the Potomac Nationals, opened their home slate as well. The players there are younger, less jaded and (mostly) a joy to be around. Even when the occasional Major Leaguer drops by for a rehab assignment, they seem to be at ease with the more relaxed surroundings. All-Star second baseman Jose Vidro, generally a good interview regardless of the circumstances, talked to the media with a smile when he came through last season.

Of course, maybe he was just happy to be back on the field and not in day-long physical therapy sessions.

Hearing the wooden bat strike the ball, watching a helpless batter get rung up, seeing a crisp throw from short to first - it all means spring to me and many others.

Let the cookout season begin. Welcome, spring.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

This is my hometown

It's amazing to see the differences between my actual hometown and my adopted hometown.

When I left my real hometown here in Pennsylvania five and a half years ago, the local shopping outlet had just welcomed a combo Arby's/T.J. Cinnamons. Anytime any sort of national retailer comes to this town of 5,000, it's a big deal, whether it's Arby's or something else. I didn't get a chance to drive around town during this Easter weekend trip; then again, I don't need to. The post office, coffee shop, convienence stores, banks and schools are all in the same place.

Meanwhile, Northern Virginia is in constant flux. Areas are always being built and re-built as massive constuction cranes create their own unique silhouette along the skyline. There are stores there that wouldn't dream of settling anywhere near my hometown.

There's something to be said for sameness. I can drive through any part of Lehighton (my hometown) and tell my wife a story for every block we pass. It's like Bruce Springsteen in "My Hometown," a song that always saddens me for leaving my roots and family in the rearview mirror. "Take a good look around," The Boss tells his son in the song, "this is your hometown."

I drive past friends' homes or businesses and wonder how they're doing. Whenever I come in town from the west, I drive past a chiropractic clinic run by an old football teammate and classmate. I can drive through town and remember where all of my friends lived.

Those houses are all still there, of course.

My high school class scattered around eastern Pennsylvania, mostly, but a few of us made it as far south as Virginia and North Carolina. One girl, who I was pretty good friends with, went off to college at UCLA (I think; maybe it was USC) and I never heard from her again. Wherever she is, I hope she is well.

Coming back here always makes me think all of those people I've lost touch with - and all of those people I should do a better job of staying in touch with. At the same time, I'm always worried it will be perceived as me wanting to draw attention to myself - like I'd tell people about some of the things I've been fortunate enough to do and some of the people I've been fortunate enough to meet, and for whatever reason, they might be put off by it.

I hope that wouldn't be the case, but I could understand it.

For whatever reason, leaving is always difficult. I'm always down whenever I visit and then leave, because I always feel like I'm leaving something behind. In a sense, I'm leaving behind my childhood and early adult life; but that shouldn't be a big deal, right?

One would think so. I know that to the town generally, I'm one of the many of the younger generation that moved elsewhere because the town and surrounding area simply doesn't support a lot of white-collar jobs. My parents understood that, and gave me their blessing.

So I'm about eight hours from leaving. It's not an easy deal, leaving 85 percent of my family behind. But there is an apartment, lots of friends and a job to tend to four hours south of here. It will be a while before I see Lehighton again.

And when I do, most everything will be in the exact same spot as I remember it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

If a butterfly in Africa...

Another commuting story, but not one of frustration; one of empathy.

Traffic has a tendency to back up at one of the lights at our nearest freeway entrance. The lights had worked fine until our city decided to update them. In fairness, the old lights had seen their better days, and they were replaced by several new ones, hanging from a shiny new standard.

But enjoying their newness quickly gave way to the realization that getting through them in a timely matter isn't always the easiest. For me to get on the freeway, as I must to get to the office or most any area we cover, I must merge onto the road that leads to the freeway. A hundred or so feet from the merge is the troublesome light.

Most of the traffic that uses this road makes use of the service roads that connect the main road to the freeway; the same service road is used whether taking the freeway northbound or southbound. Since all that traffic usually crowds into the right lane - where I'm merging from - the line backs up quickly. And if I have to wait any length of time to merge, I can usually count on not making the light in one cycle.

Phew. Sorry for the tediousness; but it had to be done to understand the story.

Today, there was the typical backup in the clogged right lane. One man in a van was kind enough to let me in; when people do that, I try my best not to dawdle as a show of appreciation. I stay as close as I reasonably can to the car in front of me.

The moment of truth arrives as I approach the troublesome light. Two cars before me, it turns yellow. I correctly figure I have enough time to squeeze through - and I do, though the light was pink and going on full-blown red.

I squeezed through, but sadly, the kind gentleman behind me did not. I felt a bit of sadness as I drove on; had me not let me in, he definitely could have made the light, given the time it took me to accelerate.

What if he was really in a hurry, to a big meeting or a job interview or something else? His generousness might have raised his blood pressure more than a few points. I, merely driving to work for a quiet day, had no such concerns.

By stopping at the red light, he made the line of cars that much longer. Someone was probably back where I was, waiting to merge. Maybe they got the benefit of a kind-hearted driver; maybe they didn't. But the problem likely wasn't resolved for some time, since rush hour was an hour or so from starting.

I presume there are no back-ups at the intersection now, since it's 1:10 a.m., 12 hours away from when I drove through.

The gentleman stuck in my mind as I motored down the highway. Where was he going? Did he have some cool errand to run, or some menial task from work? Or was it a late lunch? Or, more likely, something altogether different? No matter what, his day - if only for a few moments - was made more difficult because I took him up on an offer of kindness.

In the blur of cars wizzing by on the freeway, it's hard to tell who's in a hurry and who isn't. But everyone is going somewhere. For a brief second, our lives don't cross paths, but merely run parallel to each other. Every person has a reason to be on the road, as varied as the model of car they're driving.

Speeding down the highway, there are thousands of stories coming at you in the other direction.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Genesis of HHC

While sitting in church, our pastor was midway through her sermon when she mentioned finding what one's heart craves spiritually. That worked out well, because I had been thinking I owed a better explanation of this blog's origin than what was explained in the Intro.

Though there won't be any talk of spirituality, Pastor Abi's lesson does run parallel for my reasons for starting the blog.

As you see in the post below, I and two colleagues took a five-day trip to Indianapolis to cover the Final Four. Before we left, I was hesitant; our workload was going to be heavy. In addition to covering the hell out of George Mason - the reason we were in Indy in the first place - we had several other responsibilities to get people to visit our website.

Among the additional duties were to record and download interviews, if we happened to get one-on-ones (which anyone in sportswriting knows is damn near impossible at an event the magnitude of the Final Four). Still, for atmospheric pieces and such, that wasn't a problem at all.

Another key duty was to blog. The only instruction we got from our web boss was this: Write whatever. I believe her exact quote was, "If you think this idea sucks, then write it: This blog sucks."

To my surprise, it didn't.

In fact, it was quite liberating. In a less formal format, there was no need for the typical catchy lede-nut graf-quote-body-catchy wrapup one sees in most published sportswriting. But in the blog, the options were limitless. So I wrote about the atmosphere (figuratively and literally, since we had some severe thunderstorms and possibly a tornado on Sunday night), the apparent frustration of downtown drivers during Friday's "rush hour" (rush hour in Indianapolis and rush hour in Northern Virginia is a laughable comparison), an off-day trip to Indianapolis Motor Speedway and myriad other topics that would have never made the actual paper.

There were no deadlines. There were no inch counts.

Once I got back from Indy, I realized a personal blog would be fine way to sink my teeth into some creative writing, something far different than what we do during a typical day at work. That's why I hope sports is only a small portion of what this blog turns out to be; I write about sports every day and frankly, there's a lot more of the world than what happens in and around a field or a racetrack.

While I suppose I'm a bit late to cash in on observational humor - buried when comedians made jokes about observational humor itself - the writing here goes beyond that. It's an outlet for me, one that I hope everyone enjoys and one that I hope finds an audience outside of people I know. But if it doesn't, it still will have been worth it.

Until now, I was content to stop and look at life's proverbial roses. Now I get to write about the roses too, without worrying whether I buried the score or got some kid's first name right.

And that's a pretty cool feeling - a liberating feeling. Perhaps, in a sense, this is what my heart craved.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Indy trip

In case you haven't seen the photo already: This was my once-in-a-lifetime trip. Our smaller, community newspaper sent two writers and a photographer to Indianapolis to cover the Final Four and, specifically, George Mason. The photo is from my seat on press row prior to Saturday's national semifinals.

I've never flown to an assignment before. And I've never stayed anywhere more than three days. So we did our best to live it up: We took in a lot of the brewpubs in downtown Indy, saw some good (if not always competitive) basketball and even survived a brush with an apparent tornado.

This was, by far, the biggest assignment I've done in a decade of journalism, and one that I will never forget.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Maggie Dixon

The saddest stories in the sports world are the people with unrealized potential - stories that are written far too often. The greater the unfulfilled potential, the sadder the story.

Usually there are choices involved and a sense of regret, after the years passed provide wisdom and a chance to ponder, What if?

Some people never get that chance, and those are the saddest stories of all.

Maggie Dixon had just embarked on a collegiate head coaching career. In one season, she rebuilt Army's women's basketball program into champions of the Patriot League; with the title came an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament - a place the Academy had never gone.

The Black Knights were a low seed, and the tournament committee did them no favors by scheduling a first-round match against Tennessee, a women's basketball powerhouse for longer than Dixon's 28 years.

Predictably, upstart Army was no match. The Lady Vols won 102-54.

But the foundation was set. Dixon was on her way towards building her own powerhouse and establishing herself as a good bet to land a big-time job.

We'll never know how Army would have fared or if Dixon would have chosen to continue her career elsewhere. Less than a month after her team's first venture to the NCAA Tournament, Dixon died on Thursday afternoon after a sudden episode of an irregular heartbeat. At 28, her time was up far too soon.

She will be missed. She gave us a feel-good March story that rivaled only George Mason's men's team reaching the Final Four.

As the reaction begins and we try to make sense of it, the stories emerge about her personality, her drive and a warm relationship with her family, which includes her brother Jamie, Pitt's men's basketball coach.

It's too soon to understand what kind of legacy she will leave. Surely the players at Army and DePaul - where she coached under Paul Bruno before leaving for West Point - will carry on her memory and her spirit.

But even those of us that never met her can carry something from what she left behind.

After her brief WNBA career ended - she was cut by the Los Angeles Sparks after a collegiate career at San Diego - she drove from L.A. to DePaul, where she waited for Bruno to interview her. She had no coaching experience, but knew what she wanted.

In five years, she had risen to Bruno's top assistant through her dedication and hard work.

Had she been content to let the waters float her wherever they may, she might not be remembered as a coach; she might be remembered as a coach's sister. But she possessed the initiative and seized the opportunity.

That's one of the things we can learn from her. Though it's an adage that has been repeated often, Dixon's life re-inforces it for those of that need a refresher: Opportunity knocks only after we show it which door to approach.

The other primary lesson - though it shouldn't take the death of a young coach to remember this - is to live each day to its fullest. Tomorrow is no guarantee. Dixon had gone to a friend's house for breakfast, according to her brother. There, she said she didn't feel good, collapsed and never woke up.

Dixon's stunning death will leave a wake of sadness for her family, her players and the coaching brother- and sisterhood. But to allow those waves to simply ripple to the shore would be the greatest injustice to her legacy.

Carpe diem. That may not have been Maggie Dixon's signature quote, but her life and her actions tell us that's how she lived her life.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Let the billboards teach us...

Unless I'm headed somewhere different than the office, my commute takes me down Interstates 395 and 95. It's freeway traffic, with lots of different headed different places - and usually in a big hurry to get there. As a result, anyone doing the speed limit will get dusted pretty quickly.

Going that fast without any traffic lights, there's no time to take in the scenery. Not that there's much to see anyway, but it all whizzes by so rapidly that it's hard to see anything of consequence that might be there.

Still, there's little to do on the 20-minute ride, especially if XM's playlist turns decidedly crappy that day (or your receiver suddenly stops working, as mind did, but that's another story). So what else is there to keep the mind occupied besides actually paying attention to the road?

Well, we are in Virginia. And our fine Commonwealth also happens to be the king of vanity plates. You know, license plates that have some clever saying that tells you something about who owns the car.

Like one driver I passed in the express lanes. His plate read, "TO DFARM". Made sense; it was a somewhat-grizzled-looking guy wearing a flannel shirt, driving a late model Chevy pickup. It wasn't hard to imagine that guy busting his tail before sunrise to make sure the resident animals had a good meal for the day.

Not far behind the Silverado was a Mercury Grand Marquis. It also had vanity plates. These read, "HES WRTY".


This is supposed to give us a snapshot at someone, a public glimpse into an otherwise anonymous life. But this told me nothing. At first, I made the assumption that the "HES" was supposed to be "he's", but since VDOT doesn't really use apostrophes, it had to be omitted.

But then what? Does this person like to doodle a lot (he's writey)? Does this person have a distinct inability to run on and on about nothing - kind of like this blog - and the plate combination "HES WRDY" wasn't available?

That theory took a bit of a hit when I glanced into the window, and the driver appeared to be an older black woman. Maybe it's her car; maybe it's her husband's or brother's or father's. But her presence introduced an unforseen element of doubt.

So what if the first part wasn't a contraction? VDOT allows seven-letter license plates without spaces; why the space? HES isn't a word, doesn't sound like a word, and is the beginning to very few words. Is Heswerty a tiny, heretofore unknown branch of Hezbollah - with an Americanized spelling?

Perhaps you've heard the Lewis Black bit about hearing something so stupid and incomprehensible that the mind cannot let it go and feels the need to deconstruct it. That's what happened here; possibilities swirled through my mind - all were plausible, all were equally flawed.

Hey, I said it was a boring drive.

Perhaps this person and others can take a lesson from billboard advertisers. Because of where they are, they inherently have only a few seconds to catch your attention, so the message must be punchy. Quick-hitting gags, one-liners, scantily-clad women, whatever - it has to make its point fast, because the target audience will soon be gone, zooming down the freeway and in view of another billboard.

If you're going to tell us something about yourself, make it understandable. "TO DFARM" was well-done. "HES WRTY" was not. But if their goal was to make me think, they did that.

And helped eleviate another uneventful commute.

Good morning, neighbors

The little sanctity that existed at the gas station vanished.

Way back when, there was no need to even get out of one's car while filling up. Then stations began to realize they were paying people to do jobs customers could do themselves and, va-voom, self-service.

Still, the gas station was a place of civility. You saw someone you knew, you'd say hello and chat a bit. Aside from that, little conversation was held because, well, what is appropriate to say to a stranger when you're holding a rigid rubber hose in your hand?

The boys who pulled in behind me today seemed not be concerned with such trivialities.

Hearing the music that played over the loudspeaker - Bad Company's "Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy", I believe - they immediately burst into song.

I might not have minded so much had Paul Rodgers himself had sung it.

But these guys were awful. If that weren't enough, they seemed to want the entire block to know they were awful.

I'm generally the quiet type, someone who lays low among people I don't really know. And while I didn't grow up in Philadelphia, I grew up an hour north in eastern central Pennsylvania. Still close enough to pick up the very un-Midwestern sensibilities of Philly and New York, which was two hours away.

With each passing missed note, I came closer to telling them in no uncertain terms that they sucked, and the sound of the nearby jackhammer was more pleasing to my ear than their tone-deaf bleatings - a la Eddie Murphy singing on the street in "Coming to America."

But then I thought of the normal civility exhibited at gas stations. There's a chance my missive might, well, miss and create even more dischord. In trying to restore order, more idiocy may have ensued. Sometimes, when you push back against something, it doesn't respond; instead, it pushes back harder - like on a hill, for example.

Not wanting to waste any more time in my day, I thankfully finished filling, hopped in the car and tuned my XM to a channel with real music, sung by moderately-trained (or at least moderately-talented) musicians.

Service station civility took a hit on this day. I can only pray that the budding Nelson brothers will try to pull that stunt in Boston, New York or Philly, not some suburban place in DC where the biggest guy at the place didn't have the sack to tell them to shut the hell up.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


I'm going to make this quick, since I'm pretty tired and need some sleep before heading into work.

I'm a sportswriter by trade, but I don't intend for many of these deals to be sports-specific. I've got enough of that at work, and I want this to be an escape. So expect slice of life, casual observations, etc. Something that doesn't involve the rigid format of sportswriting; i.e., find angle, figure out catchy lead, best quotes and all of that.

And, unlike this first post, I'm incredibly long-winded.

This is designed for me to write about things that my job doesn't allow me time to write about. And if no one cares, fine with me; the whole tree falling in the forest.