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.