Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Mixed X-Mas

This year, my mother didn’t get around to tree shopping until Christmas Eve. Her mother, a laidback Catholic and a strong though silent believer in family tradition, died around this time last year, and my mother decided we’d have a tree, even if she had to delay its purchase until after my arrival on the evening of the 23rd.

My father’s mother, who is eighty-five, Jewish, and as sentimental as a parole hearing, came along for discouragement. She’d spent the week wiping the stovetop while we were cooking and the tabletop while we were eating. She’d cleaned the toaster-oven of crumbs mid-toasting, undeterred by the brief ignition of her paper towel. Her singular concern was the unnecessary mess that a Christmas tree brings into the house.

Despite a cold drizzle, we found a tree lot still open, behind a gas station near our house. We were the only—and final, I assume—customers. A man with aviator shades and a white beard and ponytail limped out of the trailer and showed us the remaining few, the rejects of the season. One group of lanky, spiny, lopsided trees looked like middle-school basketball players posing for team photo. Those were twenty-five dollars apiece. There were others, real trees, fairly proportional, trees without scoliosis or bark acne, but the lumberjack shook his head.

“Those are fifty bucks. I’d come down on the price, but they’re these trees are on commission. The farmer takes back what he doesn’t sell and writes them off and burns them.”

“You don’t want to spend fifty dollars for a Christmas tree for one day,” my grandmother told my mother. “All that mess, just for one day.”

“Tell you what,” the lumberjack said, “we’ve got a whole flatbed full of pieces we cut off other trees. I’ll just give them to you.” He took us around his trailer to where they’d piled the extra limbs punctual families hadn’t wanted, the limbs that hung too low or protruded in the wrong direction or might have made it hard to get the star to sit straight. The lumberjack piled the healthier-looking scraps of other people’s trees for us, explaining which were Douglas Fir and which were White Pine, and how to secure the scraps with baling wire or twist-ties to make garland we could lay across the mantel or window panes.

And my mother, though she was tearing up a little, thanked him, and had me put the scraps of other people’s Christmas trees in our trunk. “Mom is turning over in her grave,” she said.

But my alive grandmother was pleased, and so was I, since I didn’t have to search the garage for the tree stand; and even my mother came around once we got the eggnog flowing. Personally, I’d like to think we come from many lines of reasonable people with talent for compromise. We set up a tidy table of pine scraps and presents, and it was fun to feel like we were winging this Christmas thing, figuring out as we went along what it was supposed to look and feel like, since of course we were and always have been.

Monday, December 25, 2006

My Christmas Present to Vince Young

My family just opened the presents that Santa brought down from his icy abode. It poured rain last night. I hope Santa had something waterproof to don.

I wonder if it rains and snows more frequently during the night. Perhaps it does. Perhaps the rapid temperature decrease aids in the formation of Rain and his many relatives (Sleet, Snow, Freezing Rain, Hail, and Tinkle).

I’m not a meteorologist, but if I had to guess, I’d say that 75% of the world’s total precipitation falls from the sky during the dead of the night.

Later tonight I will officially give my gift to my brother Vince Young. I have decided to root for Miami in their Christmas-day game against the Jets, even though the Jets are one of my favorite teams. Vince did not ask me to give him anything for Christmas, but I know that a Jet loss aids the Titan playoff hopes.

I do not know if removing my voice from the multitude of Jet-fan voices will make a difference in the outcome of tonight’s game. Would Santa have noticed if I had managed to stop a single raindrop from falling on his head last night?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Directing Operations

I see my life as a design. I can’t control it, but I can predetermine the structure of it: I can Mies Van Der Rohe it up as thoroughly as possible before the Parade of Homes tramps through it. I weigh all my groceries on the produce scales to make sure I’m getting the ounces I pay for. I line-edit with a blue pencil everything I read, including The Washington Post and hate mail. I have sex with my girlfriend only on odd-numbered dates, with dates missed due to the female cycle transferred to holiday weekends and even-numbered nights with a full moon. My one remaining sports aspiration is to be named President of Basketball Operations for an NBA franchise. I don’t know what a PBO does, exactly, but here are the operations I would direct every season, scheduled months in advance:

One two-week stay on the disabled list for the star player.
Two significant losing streaks.
One closed-door profane screaming session by the coach.
One players-only meeting.
One major surgery for the coach, preferably on his prostate gland.
The death of one immediate family member of one of the starters.
One bench-clearing brawl resulting in brief suspensions of two or three players.
One fine for the owner for complaining about refereeing.
Two or three team cheerleaders arrested in a nightclub.

I believe that scheduling these incidents ahead of time, having the whole organization on board and prepared, would prevent anything unforeseen and disruptive taking place. The adversity would bring us together. That’s what being a team is all about.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Race Report From My Final Cyclo-cross Race of the 2006 Season

The night before the race, I carb loaded and ate a meal of whole-wheat whey pasta and free-range tomato sauce. I drank "bottled" water from a company that dipped an all-natural 300 year-old loincloth into a stream in northwestern New Hampshire and then hand-wrung it into an origami-folded banana leaf.

Before going to sleep, I debated which cycling shoes to wear. One had suede inserts to prevent blisters, while the other had a two-inch thick pad of gel to massage the bottom of my feet and aid in circulation and thus prevent gangrene and gout. Adding to the complexity of the decision was the all-important weight issue: the suede shoes weighed 513 grams, while the gel shoes weighed in at 512 grams. The extra gram sometimes made my feet feel “hot” and “a little constricted in the toebox.” I decided I’d get to the course extra early and make my shoe decision after my warm-up laps.

I felt jittery as I hugged my life-sized stuffed animal of Lance Armstrong and tried to sleep, but after an arch massage from Lili, my live-in masseuse, while listening to an audio cassette recording of a 1998 NPR show on the benefits opera music can have on a fetus, I was able to relax and catch a few hours of sleep.

I arrived at the race site four hours early so that I could scout out the race course. The sun wouldn’t rise for another two hours, and so I traversed the course with the aid of a mining headlamp that I’d bought at a Colorado garage sale four years prior.

The course had two sandpits, seven hairpins, a 180 turn, one barrier, and one pavement section. The course didn’t have a run-up. The course was relatively mud-free. I went back to my car and hooked up my GPS laptop, and plugged these numbers into a matrix spreadsheet. After factoring other variables, like weather, marital status, and the possibility that the U.S. eliminates the paper dollar bill, I ran a few regressions and was able to determine the following:
1. I should go out fast
2. I should wear the suede-lined shoes
3. Sacagawea was a hard word to spell

Two hours before the race, I ate three bites of a chocolate flavored Powerbar and three sips of a flat two-liter bottle of Barq’s rootbeer, as is my custom. I washed all that down with three pizza-flavored Combos.

Minutes before the race was to start, I realized that I had warmed up doing the course backwards. I ran back to my car and uploaded this new information into my race matrix and discovered that I should use the gel-lined shoes, go out slow, and that I should allow for the possibility that saying "Sacagawea was a hard word to spell" might be racially insensitive in certain contexts. I quickly changed shoes, sprinted back to the start, and began my deep breathing exercises to help “center” my soul.

Fifty-three riders were in my race. My starting position was in the third row of four, which was perfect position for a slow start. I was beginning to think that maybe today was my day. My gel inserts sloshed quietly as I trembled with anticipation.

The gun went off, and I quickly found myself in perfect position: dead last. At the first sandpit, I dismounted gracefully and then passed a number of other riders. As I passed, I gazed deeply into their eyes and I could instantly tell that while they were more talented then I was, they were not more prepared.

Once I settled into a rhythm, I began to turn over a bigger gear, hoping to capitalize on my genetically freakishly large quads. I moved my glasses to the tip of my nose to cut down on drag. I zipped my uniform down three teeth to aid in cooling. By the fourth and final lap, the people I had placed strategically around the course and paid to cheer for me really began to be a difference maker. My strong last lap catapulted me into twenty-sixth place, just inside the top half of the field. But in my 14k-white-gold heart, I was a champion.

After the race, I personally thanked each paid member of my cheering section and then went back to my car to clean the dirt from my teeth with a portable water pick that plugged into my car’s cigarette lighter. On the ride home, I listened to music by Sheryl Crow and wondered if professional cyclist Ivan Basso would win the Tour de France now that he had moved to the Discovery Channel team, Lance Armstrong’s former team. I wasn’t sure. Everyone talks about how young Basso is, but his age using the mathematical property of absolute value is twenty-nine years old. And he isn’t negative twenty-nine years old, if you know what I mean! I was pleased with this rant and repeated it into my voice recorder to remind myself to post it on the various cycling internet forums that I frequented.

Once home, I sat on my hardwood floor with my legs up against the wall for three hours so that the lactic acid would drain from my legs and be cleaned from my blood by my heart. As I waited for this to occur, I watched the latest episode of “Day Break” (Wed 9/8c) starring Taye Diggs and Moon Bloodgood on TiVo, while simultaneously knawing on bamboo to help harden the calcium on my teeth. After I finished draining my legs, I went for a quick 98-mile bike ride. Sure, my ’06 ’Cross season was now finished, but if I began my training now, maybe I could squeak into the 60th percentile next season.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Vince Young Lifts My Spirits, Part I

I was having one of those days when I didn’t feel like doing any work. If I were working still working at my cell phone tower company I would have gone down to the 14th floor and paid the network administrator $50 to not track my internet usage for the rest of the day and then I would have gone back to my office and shut the door and logged onto ABC's free full-episode site and watched watched five straight episodes of “Day Break” (starring Taye Diggs as Detective Brett Hopper and Moon Bloodgood as Rita Shelten).

But I no longer work for the cell phone tower company, I work from home, and so I decided to cook some microwave popcorn and watch the Netflix movie I had, The Year of Yao, a movie that stars a Chinese actor who plays a basketball player who travels to the U.S. and overcomes adversity to become a stellar pro player.

The chemical-ish butter on my microwave popcorn smelled strangely like cat urine but the movie was very good. The main character in the movie was very likeable.

After the movie ended, my stepbrother called me, and he said that his full-brother, Vince Young, had started reading this blog, and that he was happy to see that Anson was rooting so hard for his team. After I hung up the phone, I watched Vince’s overtime touchdown run over and over again on YouTube and each time through I felt a little better about myself, the world.

I love Vince Young. I love him like the full-brother of my stepbrother.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks...

has a blog.

And he writes in it nearly every day, long entries that are about such topics as the state of the newspaper industry and anything Google related. His entries have the feel of a rough draft written by someone who writes 75 words a minute but with only 97% accuracy. His entries are full of digressions.

I find it charming that Mark Cuban has a blog. Anyone who has a blog is charming to me. Blogs are like those flower vases that are built into the dashboard of the new Volkswagen Beetles. They are cute, they can improve the smell in your car, and push come to shove, you can always toss the flowers and use the vase to hold something serious, like rolled-up architecture blueprints, or a Harry Potter wand, or a stoppered test tube of polio vaccine.

Mark Cuban is the sort of fellow who would do a google search for his own name, find it here, and then post a comment on this site. In fact, there is a link on his blog that allows you to "search the Blogosphere for references to Mark Cuban." I don’t know what the word is for someone who would put this sort of self-referencing link on their site. Earnestly helpful? Maybe earnest like an a cappella singer who can live with the fact that he’s bobbing his head unnaturally and making fake happy faces as he sings because he knows his singing voice is money in certain registers.

Yet, at the same time, a large part of his soul is desperate for a little post-solo applause.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

The Eight Kinds of Cold

1. Cold. Luckily for you, this isn’t that cold, since you are in Tennessee. Have a beer.
Correct temperature for: Beer.
2. Cold and windy. You are again in luck: wind can be broken. Put on a windbreaker or wrap yourself in an old tarp. Actually, wind makes fires hotter, so maybe wind isn’t cold.
Correct temperature for: Fire.
3. Cold and rainy. Good thing you brought a raincoat! Now only your thighs are wet. You thought carrying an umbrella would look fey? Not as fey as wet thighs.
Correct temperature for: Inviting yourself in to dry off.
4. Bone-chilling cold. This is a misnomer. Your bones will be fine. And your pinky toes (bluey, really—another misnomer!) no longer serve a purpose. Humans have evolved beyond pinky toes. We’ll put them in the jar with your appendix, wisdom teeth, and tonsils. Although the tonsils turned out to be less useless than your pediatrician thought. He seemed more competent when you were a kid.
Correct temperature for: Supernumerary congelatio.
5. Cool. May cause goose bumps. Can be avoided by putting on a sweater and tucking it into your corduroys.
Correct temperature for: Serving a martini.
6. Clammy. The chill of the chase. A cold-blooded animal is chasing you in order to eat you for your body heat. The fear and cold sweat combine to send a chill down your spine.
Correct temperature for: Storing clam juice.
7. Cold and empty. Also known as “the chill of defeat.” You again find yourself wrapped in a tarp. This time it’s the one that’s been gathering dust in a corner of the garage for years. Tonight you’re learning the importance of eating your squash whether you like squash or not.
Correct temperature for: Storing fresh fish.
8. Cold and tickly. The chill of a mustache tickling your neck.
Correct temperature for: Special deliveries.

Monday, December 4, 2006

My Arbitrary Rules For Rooting Against A Team:

1. Each year, you may select one Team To Root Against (TTRA)
2. You can only root against one professional sports team per calendar year.
3. Once you publicly declare your TTRA, you must continue to root against that team for the remainder of that season.
4. You are allowed to pick one player on your TTRA that is not considered blameworthy.

In addition, you are allowed to pick one individual player to actively root against. You can change this player as frequently as you wish, but you can’t actively root against more than one player at any given moment….unless you are rooting against your TTRA, in which case you are allowed to root against every player on that team, excepting of course if have allocated one of the members of your TTRA to not be considered blameworthy.

I hereby declare my 2006 TTRA to be the New York Knicks; as such, I will actively root against the New York Knicks for the remainder of the NBA season.

However, please note that I exempt one Knick player, a certain David Lee, from my active dislike of the Knicks. David Lee is not to be considered blameworthy of any actual or perceived Knick failure in the 2006-2007 season.

I am not yet ready to declare which individual player I will actively root against.

As of today, I will also replace my former favorite NBA team, the New York Knicks, with the "upstart" Charlotte Bobcats (The quotes are not intended to show that I am actually quoting anyone, but rather an indication that I am "self-aware" of the fact that the use of the word "upstart" is cliched. In addition, the quotes around the word "self-aware" are intended to indicate that I know that people who think that they are self-aware usually confuse self-awareness with self-absorption. Still, even knowing the pitfalls of the word "self-aware," I used it anyway, which really goes to show how crazy and unpredicable I can be at times, which I argue makes me possibly more annoying in person but probably more likeable in general).

I also publicly predict that the Bobcats will end the 2006-2007 season with a better record than the Knicks.

I haven't yet related why I'm making this switch. And I'm not going to...yet. Mostly because I don't know why. I don't know who to trust anymore. For example: In this yahoo article, the author states that one former teammate compared Marbury to a “a walking rain cloud.” Hearing this made me wish I had a trusted source inside every team, and that before deciding to root for (or against) a given team I could first discuss my decision with my trusted source and see if I agreed with what he had to say about their team dynamic. Is Marbury a walking rain cloud? Who knows? I don’t trust this yahoo source. Or any sports-related op-ed-type source.

I think this is why I like anything written by Malcolm Gladwell or Michael Lewis: I trust them as sources. They've somehow managed to circumnavigate my Rules About Sports-writing Skepticism (Rule #1: always be skeptical). When Lewis declares Joe Morgan to be a bonehead, for example, I believe him.

So until Gladwell or Lewis write something about the Charlotte Bobcats, I’ll be blindly rooting for Morrison and Co.

Bironas, Baby

I attended the Tennessee Titans/Indianapolis Colts game on Sunday, held at LP Field. I have mentioned to Musa D. that NBA regular season games are the worst pro sporting events to attend, but I will say that an NBA regular season game in a properly heated venue is sometimes quite nice. I was cold. I am not a person made for cold, I guess, since Musa D. and Dr. Gravitee would inform me that 41 degrees is not that cold, and what did I do when I lived in Boston for two years (I cried and cried), and if I wanted to toughen myself up against the cold maybe I should have stripped naked and dove into the sub-zero water last winter when we went ice fishing at that remote cabin in Alberta, Canada, instead of standing around watching them thrash about in the water and then awkardly pull themselves back onto the ice (there was not enough room for all of us to safely jump in at once, guys, so give it up already and, like I said afterwards, while you two were warming each other with your combined body heat, "I came here to fish, fellas").

The game, however, was quite wonderful. Long bombs from Peyton, Vince Young running and throwing, though mostly running (and running in an awkward, if-I-don't-run-right-now-we-will-probably-lose-this-game-so-here-I-go kind of way that seems more graceful on TV), and Rob Bironas kicking an incredible 60 yard field goal. I am happy to say that I was there, that I was part of the magic (A man two rows behind me, when the Titans were driving for the winning score, shouted, "Shock the world! We're going to shock the world!" and I actually believed for a short period of time that a 4-7 team beating a 10-1 team would be enough, in this seen-it-all world we live in, to indeed shock the world.) I am slightly ashamed, however, to admit that, with twelve seconds left, Bironas readying himself for the kick, I was so cold that I said two prayers to God.

1st Prayer: Dear Lord, please let Rob Bironas kick the ball straight and true and lead our Titans to victory.
2nd Prayer: Dear Lord, if you decide not to let Rob Bironas kick the ball straight and true, could you let one of the Colts defenders block the kick and then pick up the football and rumble down the sideline for a game-winning touchdown? I am very cold and cannot handle overtime.

So the Titans won. And I learned that some of God's greatest gifts are unanswered prayers (the second ones). And that if you leave your Vince Young/Payless Shoes poster under your seat, you cannot turn around in the sea of people to retrieve it. You will be yelled at, even in the post-shock-the-world happiness of the mob.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

A transcript of Musa’s attempt to speak Bambara to an English-speaking cab driver

Musa: “i ni ce. i ka kεnε wa? ne tɔgɔ Musa. Ne tε se bamanankan na kosεbε, nka ne b'a men dɔɔnin dɔɔnin. N b'a fe ka taa Arlington la. kaa fara numanbolo fe! kaa fara numanbolo fe! Namara ka cha. A mine! Sisan. N b'a fe ka wari sara ka taa. i ni ce. n taara.”

[Hello. How are you? My name is Musa. I don’t speak Bambara very well, but I understand a little. Take me to Arlington, please. Turn left! Turn left! You are cheating me. Stop! Now. I want to check out. Thank you. Good bye.]

Cab driver: “Why are you handing me this strange-looking money?”

Musa: “N be se k'a sara ni Malian wari ye wa?”

[Do you accept Malian currency?”]

Cab Driver: “If you don’t pay me American, I will call the police.”

Musa: “Don’t you speak Bambara?”

Cab Driver: “I was born in Naperville, IL where I grew up speaking only English.”

Musa: “Oh. Sorry. Keep the change.”

Cab Driver: “i ni ce--I mean, thanks.”

Friday, December 1, 2006

I am asked, rather infrequently, but more frequently than I am asked other questions,

how I like living in Northern Virginia.

I say, "You know, I like being so close to the Metro and having a partially obstructed balcony view of the National Mall, and our neighborhood has a nice grocery and a restaurant I like, but our apartment building is generally populated by frat boys and lawyers." This sometimes makes me sound sour, depending on my tone of voice, which I control poorly.

But last night when I came home, I discovered in the elevator a broken bottle of Sutter Home Chardonnay, the wine soaked into the carpet and the shards of glass scattered as if previous riders had kicked them aside. I guess from now on, when asked my least-infrequent question, I'll tell this Sutter Home Chardonnay anecdote, presenting my Northern Virginia elevator as a parody of a menacing housing-project elevator. Maybe I won't sound sour.

NOTE: I've never had a female cab driver. I did, however, try to speak Bambara to a cab driver the other day, to be then informed that he only spoke English.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Rooting For The Mets, Yankees, and Red Sox (Concurrently)

Now you have me thinking about spectatorship and fandom, Musa D.

As I see it, this world has limiters and it has enablers. The person at Motts who decided that an applesauce jar should be sealed so tightly that only the strongest of humans, using every ounce of his strength, should be allowed to get at the mashed fruit-water inside the jar has to be considered a limiter. TiVo? Enabler. Diapers? Enabler. A hat can sometimes be an enabler for a man with a bald spot. You get the idea.

As a fan, I try to be more enabler and less limiter. This means that I spend the majority of my sports-viewing time rooting for a particular player or team. I do not, with very few exceptions, root against players or teams. At worst, I simply don't care.

To do this successfully I have had to undergo a transformation that many fans would consider to be blasphemous: I have taught myself to care less about teams and more about the individual players. I like Derek Jeter. I like Jose Reyes. And I also like Wily Mo Pena. And I LOVE the potential of Baltimore’s, Daniel Cabrera, all 6’7” 260 pounds of him. In a start this past spring, he walked 9 guys in five innings but his 10 strikeouts helped minimize the damage to one run. The guy is both unhittable and unable to throw strikes. I argue that he is the most interesting pitcher in all of baseball to watch because in the back of your mind you know that you are either watching the baseball equivalent of Michael Jordan (incredible NBA player and star of the flick Space Jam) or Harold “Baby Jordan” Minor (his nickname aside, his NBA career had very little in common with Adult Jordan).

Some fans have the Boston Fan Who Actively Roots Against The Yankees disease. This disease, which I call BFWARATY (phonetically: BF War-A-Tee) for short, is a quiet rage against a particular team or player that becomes vocal in direct proportion to alcohol consumption. This rage is often most severely directed at the best teams or athletes: Tiger Woods has his fair share of closet haters, for example, as did/does Jordan. Other examples include Notre Dame football, the Yanks, Jeter, Microsoft, Pfizer, and hot dogs.

A true sports fan, a pure fan, is one who does not succumb to the urge to belittle everyone who is not currently wearing a Red Sox uniform. These are the fans that started hating the heretofore loved Johnny Damon on December 23rd, 2005 at 3:57pm EST. Which is rediculous. I am a Yanks fan (and a Mets fan) but I also like Wily Mo Pena because I think he has the potential—if he learns how to take a pitch—to become a David Ortiz-like player. I enjoy watching him play because each at bat is another sentence in the story of his career, a story I'm interested in (will he be a star or won't he?).

The trick is to realize that fans everywhere are really rooting for characters in a story where sports happen to be played. And sometimes the players who play for the team located in the city nearest to where you happened to have spent your childhood aren’t writing the best stories.

The Work of Athletics in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

The good Dr.’s last post, coupled with my attendance at the Wizards-Pistons game last Saturday, has gotten me thinking about spectatorship.

The first half was high-scoring and competitive (thanks largely to The Black President), the cheerleaders were more bare than not, an amateur Jumbotron star collided scrotum-first with a railing, and yet the rest of us seemed drowsy and disinterested as if from overeating. Meanwhile, far below us, the season-ticket and corporate strata of the “sell-out” crowd were thinned by the holiday weekend.

Part of the lethargy of regular-season professional indoor major sporting events is proximity. Like it's impossible to board a plane and not think at least once about a terrorist hijacking, it’s impossible to watch an NBA game from the upper deck and not think to oneself, I’d have a better view if I were home watching the action on television. The 400 level at an NBA game isn’t like baseball bleachers; these people aren’t out to drink, tan, and bellow. There’s no pride in sitting in Section 403. We squinted down at the show, out of range of the cameras and t-shirt cannons. We found it difficult to appreciate the authenticity of the moment.

In fact, even as I mumbled Flip Murray analysis to my sister, I felt more have-not at that game than I have in a while. At least on an airplane I know most of the rest of the plane is taken up by coach-class schlubs like myself. At least in my five-year-old sedan sometimes I make the light and the Jag doesn’t. Sitting in 403 is like going to a fancy restaurant when you know you’ll have to order pasta marinara and ice water.

Not so, I’d guess, at the cyclo-cross race. David Stern’s pro product bummed me out in a way cold mud and BYOB never could. Plus, there’s a chance to see your friend lose to a nine-year-old.

(On the other hand, if Anson got to see Predators and Wings, I think he enjoyed it no matter where he was sitting.)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Cyclo-cross, Sport of the Future

"Cyclo-cross. You heard of cyclo-cross, sport of the future? Ryan Trebon, one of the champions of the sport? I can
see by your face, no."

I participated in my first-ever cyclo-cross race this weekend. The sport is very similar to Super Mario Kart, only instead of animals and plumbers and princesses made of pixels riding go-carts the sport features humans made of cells riding bikes. The course, located on the grass playing fields of a middle school, had a 50-foot mud hill that required riders to shoulder their bike and run, a section of small man-made knee-high wooden walls to climb over, and numerous muddy switchbacks. One loop took about ten minutes, and the race was 40 minutes long. I was in the "C" race--the slow race. There were almost a dozen total races on the day, with nearly 1,000 riders participating.

Seventy riders were in my race. At the start line, bikers nervously clipped in and out of their pedals. I was surrounded on all sides by men on bikes. It was at this moment that I began to wonder if I had made a mistake. Sure, I had done my research. I had looked up "cyclo-cross" on Wikipedia. I had gone to a grass field and practiced jumping on and off my bike. I had lubed my undercarriage to prevent chaffing. Still, crashing twice during my warm-up lap didn't help my confidence. The race started when a woman with a clipboard shouted "go." How old school, I thought.

I started in too low a gear and struggled to get my shoes clipped into my pedals. Riders went around me like a stream flows around a rock. When I was good and clipped in, I took a glance over my shoulder and saw only one rider behind me. That left sixty-eight riders in front of me.

I crashed three times during the first lap, the worst one being when I rode down a long muddy hill on my top tube, my feet splayed out to each side. The crashed caused my handlebars to slide out of alignment with my front wheel. After squeezing my front wheel with my thighs, I was able to twist my handlebars back into place and continue.

During the second lap, I began to move up through the field. I especially made up ground on the flat section of the course that circumnavigated a cinder track--the only section where technical riding didn't enter the equation. When the race finished, I was in 39th place. I had specks of mud on every inch of my body, including my teeth.

In what was probably a coincidence but might have been celestially motivated, the same day I raced my first-ever cyclo-cross race, the NYTimes published an article about the sport, which can be read by clicking here.

There is nothing stopping cyclo-cross racing from becoming the sport of the future, except maybe a latent American distrust of non-football-playing men in padded tights (although Lance Armstrong has begun to make the tights practice more acceptable, if those yellow rubber bracelets are any indication). The course is perfect for spectators, as the entire course can be seen from any one spot. Crashes are frequent, even among elite riders. Cowbells are the noisemaker of choice. Concession stands sell hot chocolate, hot dogs, and fries. And beer. Mud is involved.

And plus, the sport has an element of freak to it: In my race, a 9 year-old boy and a 51 year-old woman bested me.

Thursday, November 23, 2006


I just read Roger Angell’s annual baseball article in The New Yorker. Every November he sums up the season, and there’s really no baseball writing I look forward to more. His write-up of the Yankees-Diamondbacks Series a few years ago was a classic. His tone can be a little Alistair Cooke-in-his-armchair, but he pulls it off. The guy has perspective. This year, in an aside about Barry Bonds going for 755, he writes:

“Once the unlovable Bonds—still perhaps the greatest and most consistent long-range hitter I have ever seen, including Ruth—has done the deed, I trust that, like other habitués of the game, I will be able to find the right place for his record in my baseball consciousness, with whatever asterisks are needed, just the way I did with Roger Maris’s sixty-one homers (struck in a longer season than Babe’s sixty), and with the jumped-up rabbit-ball averages of the early nineteen-thirties, and even with the rare dead-ball home runs knocked out in the sunlit, bribe-prone, alcoholic, and racist baseball times of my father.”

First of all, the guy (born in 1920) remembers watching Babe Ruth play. Second, that sentence, overlong as it may be, covers a stretch of twentieth-century history rather beautifully, or at least in a way that no other living baseball writer would cover it. Third, he doesn’t feel the need to pronounce his opinion on Bonds as if he were handing down a judgment. He understands what Bonds is about, and he doesn’t want the ugliness of it to ruin his experience of the Bonds’s greatness, and you get the feeling that it won’t. He’s never been invited to fill in for Mariotti on Around The Horn, I’m pretty sure.

Angell wanted a better Series from the Tigers than he got, and I feel a little sad that my team disappointed him. He once wrote that the best seat in any major-league ballpark was in the second deck in Tiger Stadium, just behind and above the plate, a spot that was so close you could hear the pitches. He describes watching Gossage on the mound from that vantage. He wanted the 2006 Tigers to step up, I think, to say something about leadership, redemption, and crusty old managers, but they didn’t quite pull it off.

But reading Roger Angell on baseball was a good reminder of some things to be thankful for: old writers; and an everyday game that will be around as long we will; and Wait Til Next Year.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

F. Scott Holiday Feast

F. Scott Fitzgerald, who once said, "Baseball is a game played by idiots for morons," offers up some post-Thanksgiving turkey recipes.

Turkey a la Francaise: Take a large ripe turkey, prepare as for basting and stuff with old watches and chains and monkey meat. Proceed as with cottage pudding.

Turkey Mousse: Seed a large prone turkey, being careful to remove the bones, flesh, fins, gravy, etc. Blow up with a bicycle pump. Mount in becoming style and hang in the front hall.

Stolen Turkey: Walk quickly from the market, and, if accosted, remark with a laugh that it had just flown into your arms and you hadn't noticed it. Then drop the turkey with the white of one egg - well, anyhow, beat it.

Turkey Hash: This is the delight of all connoisseurs of the holiday beast, but few understand how really to prepare it. Like a lobster, it must be plunged alive into boiling water, until it becomse bright red or purple or something, and then before the color fades, placed quickly in a washing machine and allowed to stew in its own gore as it is whirled around. Only then is it ready for hash. To hash, take a large sharp tool like a nail-file or, if none is handy, a bayonet will serve the purpose - and then get at it! Hash it well! Bind the remains with dental floss and serve.

Turkey with Whiskey Sauce: This recipe is for a party of four. Obtain a gallon of whiskey, and allow it to age for several hours. Then serve, allowing one quart for each guest. The next day the turkey should be added, little by little, constantly stirring and basting.

Any of these recipes will help ease the pain of watching the Tivo'ed Dolphins-Lions game the day after Thanksgiving. F. Scott also said, "There are no second acts in American lives," but he obviously had never anticipated Joey Harrington.

Sinkhole Superstars: Drew Henson

Until A-Rod joined the Yanks, their 3B of the future was Drew Henson, the former Michigan QB. In NYC, there was contradictory pressure on the poor kid to be as good as A-Rod someday, and to do it now. Even A-Rod gets busted on non-stop for not being A-Rod enough. He won an MVP. He had a solid year last year. Of all players in baseball history at age 30, he is 1st all-time in both home runs and runs, 2nd in total bases and extra base hits, 3rd in RBIs, and 4th in hits. Leave him alone! Tangent. Sorry. So after some medium-hitting minor league years, Drew left the Yanks to join Big Tuna football, which may be the most pressure-filled football in the universe. His first NFL start was on Thanksgiving day. He threw for 34 yards in the first half and was pulled with the score tied 7-7. Last year he played in NFL Europe, but the Cowboys retained his rights. He was cut by the Cowboys on August 24th, 2006.

He briefly regained consciousness when he was picked up by the Vikes, but on Oct. 10th, 2006, Drew Henson left the professional sports world when he was cut by the Vikes. The time of cut was 4:37pm. He was 26 years old. He is survived by his pet fish Jake.

If I were a baseball team, I'd stash him in my minor leagues and pray for the pinocchio-muppet to become a real boy. The least-used parts of my soul, the wizened dusty parts, believe he will return to glory.

12/22/06 update:


Quarterback Drew Henson is in his second tour on the Vikings' practice squad. He was with the team for two weeks early in the season, got cut and returned when Brooks Bollinger injured his shoulder. A former member of the Dallas Cowboys, Henson spent three seasons in the New York Yankees organization and played college football at Michigan. Here is Henson …

On how he views his role with the Vikings: "First off, it's better to be working than not. You end up practicing and keep working and throwing. Whether it's just four weeks, that's four weeks I might not have had. I'll see what this offseason brings. I like the atmosphere here. Everyone has been great to me. Right now, I'll do everything I can to help and try to get caught up on the fly on the philosophy here."

On whether he's done playing baseball: "Most definitely."

On whether he regrets giving baseball a try and not concentrating on football: "Honestly, I feel like I've been playing catch-up since the day I left school, no matter what sport it was. It's the path I chose. I had the fortunate problem of having multiple opportunities. It would have been simpler if I hadn't grown up playing baseball as much as I did. But I had some great experiences. I'm still young. Before it's all said and done, I think it will be a pretty good story to tell."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Muliple Choice and Michelle Wie

Fill in the blank: After Michelle Wie retires, people will look back and most frequently compare her career trajectory to the career trajectory of ________ .

A) Shawn Kemp
B) Serena Williams
C) Tiger Woods
D) Jennifer Capriati
E) John Daly
F) Jeong Jang
G) Anna Kournikova
H) Harold Minor
I) Rob Deer

Human Development Index Summary!

The UNDP has recently released its 2006 Human Development Index. For people throughout the developing world, HDI release day is always exciting. My family and I are from Mali, and there’s nothing better than scanning down to the bottom of the list and finding that we beat out Mauritania on the HDI. Some highlights of this year’s Index:

Norway finished first at .965. Congratulations, Norway! Although the thin Scandinavian air is known to inflate child-welfare statistics, we're not taking anything away from you.

The US came in 8th at .948, tying it with Nick Johnson, macrocephalic first baseman of the Washington Nationals. Johnson, however, isn’t much of a defensive player, and he missed 15 games due to injury.

The big surprise of the Top 10 was Ireland, which climbed to No. 4, thanks to an off-season spent in the weight room. Ireland is a front-runner for the Most Improved Nation of the Year Award.

Bosnia and Herzegovina snuck into the High Development category by finishing at .800, earning a bonus of 750,000 Euros. Herzegovina doesn’t expect to see a dime.

Mali, unfortunately, came in 175th, ahead of only Sierra Leone, Niger, and Neifi Perez. Oh well.

Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia were not ranked.

Would Derek Jeter Be A Hall Of Famer If He Were To Retire Today?

Let’s apply the LPGA Hall rules to Derek Jeter’s career and see if he’s like Annika and Vijay and has already qualified for the Hall of Fame:

1. He has been an "Active" MLB player for 10 years;
2. Must have won/been awarded at least one of the following - an MVP (0), Cy Young (0), or a World Series MVP (1); and
3. Must have accumulated a total of 27 points, which are awarded as follows - one point for leading a major statistical category (and ½ point for being second), one point for each All Star appearance, one point for each ROY, Gold Glove or AS MVP award won, one point for each career milestone attained (3,000 hits, 300 wins, career .300 hitter, 300 saves, or 3,000K), and five points for each MVP, Cy Young, and WS MVP award won.

Jeter’s stats:
1996: ROY
1999: AL hits leader (2nd in BA and Runs)
2000: All Star MVP, WS MVP
2004: AL Gold Glove
2005: AL Gold Glove (2nd in AL in runs)
2006: AL Gold Glove (2nd in AL in BA, RS)
Career .300 hitter
7-time All Star
4-time WS winner

Jeter has played ten years, he’s won a WS MVP, and he currently has 25.5 points. To gain entry into the HOF (using a format inspired by the LPGA format) he’d need to get 1.5 additional points over the course of his career. And so no, he would not currently be a member of the HOF.

Out of curiosity, I also did the same monkey dance for Randy Johnson, who, if he were to retire today, would probably qualify for the hall of fame with ease. Randy easily hits the 10-year mark (he’s played 17 years), and his five Cy Youngs and one WS MVP breeze him by qualification #2. As for his points:

1 no hitter
1 perfect game
4,544 career K’s
9-time K leader
2002 Wins leader, Triple crown winner
4-time ERA winner
2001 WS MVP
5-time Cy Young
10-time All Star
1-time WS winner
(plus all the times he was second in stat categories)

By my rough tally, this gives him about 59+ points.

Sure, this system has some drawbacks, such as the ample slippery slope-ish wiggle room (should a Rolaids Relief award be a point? Should WS rings count? Should the cut-off be 50 points?) and the fact that the system is hard to weight properly (closers and catchers are undervalued, for example. And should a WS MVP really be valued as much as an MVP?). But perhaps Bill James or someone related to him could figure out a way to eliminate the wiggle and even out the weight. The real test to see if it works is to take a borderline hall of famer and see if he hits the 27 point mark. Got any borderline hall of famers in mind?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Is The LPGA Tour Hall of Fame Qualification Process Better Than The MLB One?

Musa D. might think it blasphemy to compare the LPGA Hall with the MLB one. I'm going to do it anyway:

I used to think that gaining entrance to a Hall of Fame before being a retired player was like having a funeral before dying. It seemed to me that if I ever went to a pre-death funeral, I'd feel awkward and sad around the Should-be-deceased-because-we-had-a-large-get-together-celebrating-your-death-and-yet-here-you-are-recommending-that-I-put-back-my-cantaloupe-and-select-a-better,-more-ripe-one when I bump into him at the, say, grocery store. And whenever I see the Should-be-deceased-etc. some part of my brain will be thinking, "die already!"

When seeing Vijay or Annika (two hall of famers) on TV, I couldn't help but think that they should just retire already!

After looking at the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame qualifying guidelines, however, I think I might favor their straight numbers approach over the more nebulous baseball hall requirements. Certainly the fact that pitchers and hitters have different skill sets (and the fact that there are sub-skill sets like RP, SP, or Catcher) makes it more difficult to have a straight numbers selection process, not to mention a million other difficulties and complications (rule changes, "live" baseballs, etc.). I'm not saying that the MLB should adopt a Hall criteria like the LPGA. Rather, I'd prefer to be selected by a process like the LPGA one over the MLB one.

To gain entrance to the LPGA Tour Hall of Fame:

1. "Active" LPGA Tour member for 10 years;
2. Must have won/been awarded at least one of the following - an LPGA major championship, the Vare Trophy or Rolex Player of the Year honors; and
3. Must have accumulated a total of 27 points, which are awarded as follows - one point for each LPGA official tournament win, two points for each LPGA major tournament win and one point for each Vare Trophy or Rolex Player of the Year honor earned.

There is also a "Bob Hope" rule, whereby someone can gain entrance to the Hall if they have "had an extraordinary career that significantly impacted the growth of the LPGA Tour."

There is the argument that the MLB HOF essentially follows the Bob Hope rule for all its selections (at least the "extraordinary career" part).

BCS Rankings: Number of U.S. Towns Named After Planets

1. Venus (7) (AR, FL, KY, MO, NE, OR, PA)
2. Earth + Earth-name variations (7) (TX, WI, MN x2, MO, MD x2) ***
3. Neptune (6) (IA, OH, TN, WV, WI) **CA
4. (tie) Jupiter (3) (CA, FL, NC)
4. (tie) Mercury (3) (AL, NV, TX)
4. (tie) Pluto (3)* (MS, TX, WV)
4. (tie) Mars (3) (CA, PA, TX)
8. Saturn (2) (IN, TX)
9. Uranus (1) (Technically a topographic feature in ID)

*Due to recent non-planetlike activity, Pluto is ineligible for post-season play
**Update: I have added Neptune, CA, which A.M. noticed I was missing
***There is the argument (made eloquently by A.M. in the comments) that Earth's six Earth-name variations, such as "Black Earth," should count as a Division I-AA victories and that Neptune should claim the second spot based on SOS (Strength of Schedule).

Source: U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System

Commentary: Barry Sanders' planet needs at least one more U.S. town named after it to qualify for the Bowl Championship game.

RB from another planet

I agree that LT's jog to the sidelines is intimidating. He didn't come up with it, but it works. I grew up watching Barry Sanders, and part of the spectacle of his touchdown runs was the juxtaposition of his elusive skittering and the conclusive casual flip of the ball to the ref. It was a physical statement (most athletes' favorite kind), just like a celebratory dance is. He wasn't doing it because his coach told him to, he was doing it because that's who he was. It was individual expression.

Perhaps the problem here is that I don't like the way football favors the lockstepped. I'd rather watch Barry Sanders be the only guy on the team cool enough to flip the ball to the ref after a touchdown. Trust me, I wasn't watching the Lions for the teamwork. I was watching Barry, and would still be watching him now if he hadn't left for Neptune.

Friday, November 17, 2006

"Organized" Sports

I’m not a particularly neat person. My apartment is not tidy. Yet there is something about cleaning that I find very satisfying. This is a simple observation. But watch me take it world-widely: There is a certain part of me that wants to clean the entire world, especially those places that do not really belong to anyone, like highway the grass strip between highways (although prisoners sometimes clean these), or the grass growing in sidewalks.

A large part of my childhood was waiting for my mother to pick me up. After a game or a practice, I’d wait in the parking lot for my mother to arrive in her wood-panel station wagon. The waiting-for-mom places often had imperfections: A wood fence with a whole section missing and a worn path through the gap, a building’s foundation that had raised several feet above the earth, an edge of a parking lot that had become a collection of asphalt puzzle pieces. Being a kid and not understanding how ownership of public places worked, the decay of these areas left me feeling helpless. Who was responsible for the necessary repairs and improvements? Where was the accountability?

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was starting quarterback for the second-best team in the state of Connecticut. The best team was a school named Xavier, and they wore all-black uniforms with a simple white “X” on their helmets. They didn’t have names on the backs of their jerseys. When the team arrived before a game, they exited the bus soundlessly. They each wore the hood on their black hooded sweatshirts up. All the teams that I’d been on had stragglers and jokesters and disorganization. I was always amazed and a little intimidated by Xavier. I knew their coach was in control of his team. His players had bought into his message. And I knew that they would be tougher to beat because of it.

The most intimidating fans are the ones that are organized. When thousands of people are shouting something in unison, it can be very convincing. Although I am not a fan of anything Duke, I did go to a Duke v. Davidson basketball game a few years ago and left amazed by how organized their fan-base was. As has been well reported, they stand the entire game and the crowd chants "clever" cheers in unison. I felt like someone must feel when they go to a Catholic mass for the first time. And this was against Davidson, not exactly a basketball powerhouse.

Tangentially, I disapprove of all in-game post-accomplishment celebration. When I see a post-touchdown/post-dunk/post-sack celebration, I can’t help but think that the coach of the offending athlete is not completely in control of his team. If I were a coach, I think to myself as Warren Sapp waggles his body in some absurd way after a sack, I wouldn’t allow these sorts of celebrations. Sapp-like celebrations communicate to the other team that your team is not on the same page. Your team is not the sort of team that repairs its broken asphalt or mends its fences, so to speak. Your team doesn’t believe in collective accountability. Your team is disorganized. And as a direct result, your team is not as intimidating or as good as it could be.

In Quotes

The important thing about saying "Test" into a microphone is the phoneme /t/, which, because it involves a quick explusion of air, tests where the sound system will top out. Quasi-onomatopoeia, let's call it, since "Test" tests.

The phoneme /p/ would also work. "Perp," for instance.

World-widely Appeal

In many ways your post was successful: It was grammatically correct, it was concise, and it did what a test posting should do. It tested. Still, I wonder if walking up to a microphone and coughing and saying, "test, 1-2-3 test" has become a cliche.

All this is to say, your post, being so narrow in its focus, lacked a message that can be used to appeal world-widely.

Test. 1-2-3. Test.


This is a test. How did I do?