Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Another long ago connection

You guys know I'm big on the if-you-had-told-me-back-when-I-never-would-have-believed-you stuff. A moment like that happened earlier tonight.

I called and talked to my mom a few minutes when she asked about a birthday gift. (In less than a week, I'll turn 32.) My wife is handling this, so I headed into the bedroom to let them discuss options without me around.

I turned on the TV and tuned in a program we had both watched out in the living room: "Beyond the Glory," FSN's (limited) answer to ESPN's outstanding SportsCentury series. Tonight, Comcast SportsNet featured the show on Bengals running back Corey Dillon. It made for interesting watching because Dillon is from Seattle and attended Washington, much as my wife and most of her family did.

They had interviews with his brothers and a childhood friend. In teasing one segment, the friend mentioned that he ran for like 220 yards against Oregon. And something about the way he said it struck me weird, for reasons I can't really explain.

But I'll try. It was said with such a nonchalance - not that he meant 220 was no big deal, but in that Oregon was just another conference foe to be disposed of, like he had grown up watching Washington and Oregon play (which he had). And I guess what struck me is that the Pac-10 is still a new deal to me. It's like if you grow up around Eagles fans and Giants fans and Cowboys fans, sometimes you forget that there are Chargers fans and Broncos fans and Cardinals fans. OK, maybe there aren't any Cardinals fans, but you get the point.

In a split second, I flashed back to sixth grade. My dad took me up to Bangor, Pa., to an outlet sale that took place in something that fairly resembled a garage. That was back when this particular sports apparel manufacturer made all sorts of random gear. In the decades since, they've grown up, and Majestic Athletic is now the official supplier of Major League Baseball uniforms.

My dad bought me a sweatshirt that day, one that I picked out. I figured that any place that used Daffy duck in their logo had to be pretty badass. Plus it was different, and I was all about wearing unusual sports apparel (unusual for our area anyway).

All these years later, I'm reminded of it. Maybe it was fate, though, that I bought a sweatshirt from the state university of where my future wife grew up, a place where her brother and dad both did time. (And, even more random, a pretty good friend of mine in elementary school moved away while we were in elementary school. She moved to Bend, Oregon.)

The only other connection I had to Oregon - before all the ones I have now, anyway - was that 1995 Rose Bowl, and we all remember what an ass-kicking that was. (Sorry Mark.)

Life is 20/20 in the rearview mirror, of course, but it's strange to sit and wonder whether it was foreshadowing or just the random oddities of life.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

A meaty proposal

An observation from a basketball game I covered tonight:

Several kids from the visiting school made the trip to support their classmates, certainly a laudable show of support. It's something that's customary, apparently; their T-shirts had a singular logo and color. Some even had names on the back.

From the looks of it, most of them had nicknames. And they must have been nicknames they weren't ashamed of - I won't speak for the kids and say they're proud of their nicknames - but they must not have been that bothersome.

One stuck out to me, though: No. 63, apparently his football number.

How do I know this? Because folks nicknamed "Meat" aren't generally on the tennis team.

(Before I continue, I must confess I played football in college with a guy nicknamed Meat. But he wasn't what you might expect from someone with that name; he was pretty thin, relatively speaking, and was a pass-rushing outside linebacker. So he wasn't your normal Meat.)

I don't know who Meat is, i.e. his real name, but that's fine by me. He very well could have been good people. I really don't know. But he certainly looked the part more than my ex-teammate.

But Meat? Come on now.

He even had a girl or two come up and chat with him. A well-adjusted Meat? That doesn't make sense. Furthermore, where's the social justice? My own high school nickname wasn't that far away - Mort, the circumstances of which I'll save for another time - and I just had dudes chatting with me. I have trouble envisioning a high school girl chatting up someone named Meat; it seems the name alone should make him nearly unapproachable.

Oh well. Good for him I guess.

Maybe I should have been Meat.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Holy crap, I've been negligent

Almost 20 days between updates? Shame on me.

But there's a reason for it. Whether it's good or not, I'll leave that for others to judge: There just hasn't been a whole to write about at the moment.

One of the things I really enjoy about this is the chance to write whatever I damn well please. Which is cool to an extent; but I have standards. I'm not going to throw any old shit here just to fill up space. Some would argue that's nothing I haven't done before (and the drums go ba-dum crash); others might say I do enough of that in my day job (ba-dum crash).

But there are better days on the horizon. My NASCAR blog is scheduled to pick up again next Monday, just in time for the start of Speedweeks in Daytona. I'm starting to get pumped about it again, stockpiling ideas for 10 days' worth of blogs when there's next-to-nothing going on on the track.

Hopefully that habit of writing daily will get me back on track.

In truth, that's a hard deal. It certainly would be a lot easier if I was at the track each weekend. But since I'm not, well, I've got to do the best I can. Three of NASCAR's four manufacturers (Chevy, Ford, Dodge) have been kind enough to put me on their e-mail lists, and that helps a lot. But it just feels like such a disadvantage to try and do justice to a sport from a distance.

David Poole of the Charlotte Observer has a cool blog that I enjoy, but he can go for weeks before updating it. That's his prerogative, since I'm sure he's got enough to fill that thing more often. The folks over at NASCAR Scene do daily blogs too, but they're at the track.

The hard part of it is that races happen once a week, and there's only a handful of news that comes out before the teams arrive at the track for the weekend. But it's the job I'm tasked with, so I do it the best I can.

By comparison, this deal should be easy. Yet it hasn't been. And that's on me, and I apologize for it.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

What I'm still missing

My parents and in-laws have it. Even the Simpsons do. And I wish I had it: a sense of community.

My mom and dad have spent their lives in Lehighton. My dad has six siblings and my mom works in one of a handful of banks in town of 5,000; between the two of them, they know - or know someone who knows - damn near everyone in the town.

My in-laws have lived in Bend for better than 30 years. My wife's grandfather was a well-known figure around town, and my in-laws know lots of folks, too. I know, because each time I've gone out there, I've met someone new.

My favorite TV show is set in a town that seems to be comprised of about 50 people, yet has all the amenities of a decent-sized city. I think of episode 9F01, where a fire at the Simpson house is put out by several secondary characters, including a TV star (Krusty).

My wife and I? We live in a city of 200,000; our corner of the state has over 2 million residents and the region at large has nearly 4.5 million. We have a large and wonderful network of friends, certainly, but it's hard to keep from feeling like the smallest of fish in the biggest of ponds.

It's depressing, in a sense, because I can't recall the last time I saw someone I knew at a restaurant. I'm sure it's happened, but we'll go out to eat 10 times - probably more - before we'll see a familiar face.

Perhaps the grass is greener over there, too. When I drive into town in the summer for softball games, I'll pass iconic structures that lots of citizens of this country might only see once in their lifetime - if at all. I can try to get tickets to the Kennedy Center Honors, or even Gilbert Arenas' birthday party. (OK, so I probably won't get in, but I could try.)

It's all a bit strange, considering that as a kid, I treasured trips to visit my aunt, uncle and cousins in suburban Baltimore. I couldn't fathom living, literally, across the street from a supermarket like they did. I couldn't fathom a four-lane road exclusively servicing a residential area, like they had. I couldn't fathom the need for a highway encircling the city.

Now, I've got all that. There's a supermarket a block away. We're bracketed in by four-lane, non-highway, residential roads. We're inside the Capital Beltway (and not that fake Capital Beltway they have in Harrisburg, Pa.).

And sometimes it doesn't seem like it's nearly enough, you know?

Who knows. Maybe one day Chris Matthews will show up one day to put out a kitchen fire in our building.

Maybe then I'll feel better about our community.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Maybe this could be your mother's video wall...

I guess you guys all know me well enough. But I bet you didn't expect this from me: Three songs that never in a million years you'd think I like.

I'm putting myself out there for you guys. All for the sake of my blog!

On this first one, I'd, uh, wait until you got home to watch it. In other words, it's pretty much NSFW. But there's something about the contrast between the ranges here. The keyboards (I think they're keyboards anyway) add a surrealistic feel to the song; the vocals are as sensual as you'll find anywhere; all against a staccato bass line and drum beat. Listen to the sixteenth-note cutoff in the bass line; every other note is allowed to ring for at least a beat, but one is cut short in a fraction of a second. The drums are complex and non-standard, two characteristics that describe the song as a whole.

I heard this very song on XM today, played it at a bar later in the evening and am hearing it for a third time now. And each time, I wonder: How in the hell can I like this song? I guess it's the powerful vocals, which dominate the music but still seem to strike a perfect balance. I guess I like the song, because good music is good music, no matter where it comes from.

This one's my guilty pleasure. The music resonated with me more than this singer's other singles. Plus it helps that she's gorgeous (IMO) and could sing the hell out of any tune you sat in front of her.

There you have it, my triumvirate of tunes I like but won't readily admit to liking. Just to add a little levity to the situation: Here's a song I meant to include on the previous post, but it slipped my mind. Though Faith No More's epic song, "Epic," is credited with spawning the rap-metal fusion common with bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, this song was released a full three years before. Though Faith No More's musicianship was far more apparent in Epic, this song seems to be one big gag. (And if you don't get the lyrics, you can find them here. Follow No. 1.)

There. I feel better now.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Not your mother's video wall

Some of my favorite songs with an edge to them...

I'm typically not one for remakes, but I thought this was one of the best I've ever heard. (Jimi Hendrix's All Along the Watchtower takes that title, a pretty obvious choice.)

A very forboding stanza and surrealistic guitar make this a favorite.

Kudos to the Navy for putting this as background in a few of their commercials. A staccato rhythm with a driving guitar riff - always a good combo. (Unfortunately, there was a sweet drum fill leading into the second verse that was only the album version.)

Turning back the time machine a bit...who doesn't love a guitar god? (And a special shout-out to this dude, who plays the whole song pretty much dead on and has more musical talent in two fingers than I have total.)

And two from my No. 2 favorite band of all-time, Iron Maiden (behind only Led Zeppelin). What can I say? I'm a sucker for pounding bass, tight riffs, quick drums and high-pitched power vocals. First up, "The Evil That Men Do":

And secondly, "Can I Play With Madness":

Hope you liked them. Just don't tell your mom.