Category Archives: Uncategorized
Mostly non-baseball posts.
This week marked the 30th anniversary of the release of Van Halen’s epic album 1984. I could sit here and wax poetic about the greatness of each song, the unbelievable sales the album achieved, and how it played into the departure of David Lee Roth from the band. But that’s all been done so many times I’m afraid Google would laugh at me if I added another document like that to its search results. So here’s something a little more personal.
Van Halen’s 1984 is easily the largest brick in the foundation of my love for all things music. In fact, it might just be the entire foundation.
I was born in 1977, so Van Halen has been around almost as long as I have. But like most kids in that 7-8-9 year old range, my mid-80s music tastes were still pretty much limited to what my parents owned or what happened to come on the radio. I’m not entirely sure how much airplay Van Halen got in those days before 1984, but I either never heard it or never recognized it on the stations that dominated our house and cars. We listened to a lot of music, and we had a lot of records—just no Van Halen that I can recall.
Then my parents decided it was time to step out of the 70s and into the 80s and bought a portable stereo with a cassette player and tuner known in those days as a “boom box.” My dad also joined Columbia House, the music club catalog service that would send you new cassettes (or records, at that time) you chose every month, or a preselected hit album unless you told them not to. Back then I think the introductory offer was six for a penny or something like that. Anyway, I’m pretty sure by that time “Jump” and “Panama” and “Hot for Teacher” had made it through even our stereo speakers via popular radio, so that first shipment of cassettes included 1984.
I don’t know if it was fascination with the new medium or just a budding desire to listen to whatever new music came my way, but I listened to those first cassettes every chance I got. Eventually I would start building my own collection of music outside of the children’s records and random 45s I had scattered among my parents’ collection, and it was all cassettes. I still listened to a lot of the stuff my dad was now acquiring on cassette as well, but 1984 was always a go-to for me—so much so that, inevitably, the tape ended up in my collection permanently. I played the shit out of that thing, so much so that the white plastic yellowed and most of the screen printed track listings were rubbed down to mere ghosts of the black lettering they once were. I was in awe of Edward Van Halen’s guitar virtuosity, Alex Van Halen and Michael Anthony’s thunder, and David Lee Roth’s bravado. My love for Van Halen was off and running.
As I got older, friends turned me on to the new incarnation of VH with Sammy Hagar at the helm. By the time I started high school, I owned every Van Halen release on cassette. Not long after, I got my first CD player. I had evolved into full-fledged geekdom over Van Halen by then, so of course I re-bought every album on disc—but one of the first ones was, of course, 1984.
And then something happened that would change me and my music obsessions forever. At a friend’s house as a teenager—probably while I was preaching to my eye-rolling comrades about how great Van Halen was and/or how Eddie is the greatest guitarist who ever lived—my friend’s dad caught wind of my love for VH and said he had something I might like. He brought out a copy of 1984 on vinyl that was still partially in the original shrink wrap. He said he bought it when it first came out because he liked “Jump” but didn’t really care for the rest of the album, so it had been played once. I was in awe once again but, oddly enough, I couldn’t quite figure out why. At that point in the mid-90s, vinyl was nowhere near its resurgence. Records were the dusty old fossils parents brought out to reminisce about polyester days gone by. A child of the times, I had a respectable cassette collection that I was slowly pushing toward obsolescence by a growing CD collection. But this record immediately jumped out to me as a beautiful, pristine work of art and I had to have it. The black vinyl was so clean I could see myself in it. It even still smelled new. I think I gave him $10 for it; at the time, it probably wasn’t worth half that. But you can’t put a price tag on love at first sight.
Since that day, I’ve acquired about 1,000 records of varying condition and worth, both monetary and sentimental. But 1984 is still my most treasured record, and always will be. It was the first hit of a long, steady addiction to vinyl. Strangely, it’s not even my favorite Van Halen album musically. But as is true in every aspect of life, you never forget your first. And listening to it today still gives me that same flood of awe and wonder it did nearly 30 years ago and every day in between.
Even though I’ve made a few over the years, I’m not really sure what the point is of making a New Year’s Resolution. I get the symbolism of a new beginning and wanting the road ahead to be better than the one in the rearview mirror. But I’m not sure any of my resolutions ever stuck. I’ve had much more success with positive change when I said “fuck it” and spontaneously jumped in head-first. If you’re going to do something, do it.
I promise I’m not discouraging others from making resolutions—just stating that they’ve never worked for me. I know I’m not alone on that island, just like I know there are tons of folks who make their annual covenant with self and follow through every time. We’re all different, obviously, but we’re all really kind of the same too. Raise your hand if any of these sounds like you:
Would I like to lose that last 20 pounds? Sure.
Would I like to finish that project I’ve never been able to polish off? Sure.
Would I like to put myself in a better financial position, eat healthier, learn to play an instrument, learn a foreign language, volunteer in my community, take a cooking class, or become a helicopter pilot?
Sure. All of that sounds wonderful.
But I can’t do it all in one year. Hell, all of that stuff would take me at least ten. So what if I pick one and fail? Can I start another one as a March resolution? Seems a bit too gimmicky for me. I’m all for making lists, but this isn’t picking up groceries or figuring out the best songs of 1972. This is supposed to be me bettering my life. Not that I have a lot to complain about in the first place…there’s just always room for improvement, no?
And that idea is what led me here. There is always room for improvement. You super goal-oriented people: how long do you revel in the achievement of a goal before you start working toward the next one? It would be very easy for me to keep one of the resolutions above and, at the same time, completely blow it in another area of my life. That’s not really success in my book.
So I’m not making a New Year’s Resolution on January 1 of 2014 or any of the following years I’m fortunate enough to remain on this earth. But I am adopting a new motto. This may be something you’re down with and want to try; if so, more power to you and good luck. Or maybe you love the idea of a yearly resolution and think I’m a weirdo; if so, that’s fine too. I just think I’ve come up with something meaningful to my life that doesn’t ever have to change, but at the same time could bring about tons of change every day of every year going forward. This isn’t anything groundbreaking or planet-saving, but at 12:01 every 01/01 I’m going to say it to myself. Ready? Here it is:
“Do it better this year than you did it last year.”
Simple, yet potentially outstanding no matter what I achieve (or don’t). Here’s to living up to it. Cheers, and Happy New Year.
Right. So it’s the closing moments of what would have been Hunter S. Thompson’s 76th birthday. Not coincidentally, I’m in the closing sips of a glass of a pretty good 5-year rum.
If not for the good doctor, I’m not sure I’d enjoy writing—and, for that matter, reading—as much as I do today. I never wanted to be HST; I just wanted to capture that bite. It’s not something that can be properly explained but you know it when you see it. I could be talking about anything—sports, politics, pop culture, cooking, laundry tips—and then, crunch, like a shark through unsuspecting flesh. Fear. Loathing. The bite hits you and you can’t turn back. Maybe you’re inspired or horrified or tickled or disappointed. Regardless, your brain carves out a little niche and shoves those words in. And they’re in that little cranny forever. It’s a legacy to which all writers should aspire, content be damned.
No one can capture and relive the frenzy that was Thompson’s life; at least not fully. But your own life can take on Gonzo qualities if you really want it to. Because I always viewed that state of being as completely subjective. Live your life. Take chances but always be smart. Fight for what’s right. Do it with a buzz or do it without; it doesn’t really matter as long as you make your own rules in spite of theirs and manage to not get caught along the way.
Thank you, Doc. For everything. Maybe someday I’ll come up with a proper tribute.
Res ipsa loquitur.
I have to write this, because I have to write something.
The facts are well-known by now: a seriously disturbed individual walked into Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, CT and opened fire with two handguns, killing about 30 people—and 20 of them were children. English is a versatile language, but it falls way short in having adequate words to describe something like this. Maybe every language on Earth does. But that doesn’t stop the information from flowing constantly, on the best of days as well as the worst.
Social Media is a funny thing. It is, simultaneously, all of these: annoying and inspirational, informative and misleading, shocking and totally predictable. I read dozens of “reports” throughout the morning on various reputable news websites and their Twitter feeds that turned out to be partially or completely false; too many times, being first trumps being right. But the gist was easy to grasp, and the horrible realities sunk in quickly. Many people spoke out about the gun violence problem in this country; their opposition promptly swatted them back with either “this is not the time” or “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Others took the stance that more guns were needed, or they hoped their guns would not be taken away as a result of this nutjob’s actions; their opposition knocked them down with labels like “heartless” and, again, “this is not the time.” And probably the majority stuck to the middle of the road, offering something to the effect of “please don’t politicize this tragedy, this is not the time, let us all grieve and help the victims and their families.” I don’t have a problem with that in principle, but don’t trivialize the issues at hand by calling them political. Gun violence, like all violence, is a societal issue. We have a problem with violence in this country. This is not news. It is also, apparently, “not the time.” Well when the hell is the time, then?
Where I sit on this issue is what I would call “medium-left.” I’m not really anti-gun, because I just don’t care that much about them to have that stance. Frankly, I don’t get the fetish—and believe me, that’s the correct term to use in too many cases. I’m generally not a fan of concealed carry, simply because I don’t think the vast majority of Americans are skilled enough, smart enough, or stable enough to safely carry a loaded gun around all the time. It’s not the gun that scares me; it’s the fuckup that’s carrying it around trying to pass judgment on who might be a thug and who might be just a person wearing a hoodie. You want to talk about freedom? I happen to like walking around town without worrying about being accidentally shot by an untrained citizen who thinks his or her wallet is going to be lifted because they were looked at funny. That’s true freedom to me. Now I know the 2nd Amendment humpers will either be getting ready to click over to another website right about now, or are simply readying their vitriolic (yet patriotic, I’m sure) reply for the comments section below. But before you go, let me say I too believe in the 2nd Amendment—especially the part that says “well regulated” at the very beginning. We are not well regulated when it comes to gun laws, not by a longshot. But we need to be.
One of the favorite arguments in debates like this is “Well, how many people kill other people with their car? We gonna ban cars now too?” Listen, Gomer—that’s not exactly apples to apples, and you know it. But even if it was, think about what it takes to legally become a driver: months of driver’s ed, written tests, road tests, eye tests, registering and ID’ing the driver, registering a vehicle, re-registration of the vehicle yearly, re-registration and ID’ing the driver every five years max, retesting, etc. Is that even close to what a citizen has to go through to legally own and carry a gun in most states? It is far too easy for the wrong people to obtain weaponry and equipment that should be reserved for police and the military: automatic and semi-automatic weapons; extended magazines; thousands of rounds of ammunition; body armor…and on and on. Self-defense? With that? Give me a break.
But I digress—back to social media, and something specific I saw on Twitter that really grabbed me. The same basic idea was tweeted by many in slightly different ways, and I failed to note where I first saw it so I cannot properly attribute this quote. My apologies to whomever said it first. But trying to sift through the more guns/less guns/gun control/CCW for all/let’s not talk about it now hullabaloo, I found this simple statement to be the most telling:
Only in America can gun ownership be a right and healthcare be a privilege.
Try to not let your biases cloud your vision while you read that sentence—look at it as just a general statement of fact. Kind of seems like skewed priorities, no? Imagine a society where the reverse of that statement was reality. What if gun ownership was a privilege—not illegal, but tested, registered, retested, the whole lot—and healthcare (including mental healthcare) was a right protected by the Constitution? I know, I know…there’s a money issue. Ignore that; just evaluate this idea on principle. Would we as a society—We The People—really be worse off? After all, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Then why aren’t we taking better care of our people–body, mind, and soul? And save your “Obamacare” diatribes; this isn’t about that. Bob Costas raised a stink recently after the Jovan Belcher murder/suicide by going on TV and saying they’d both still be alive if he didn’t own a gun. Well, here’s my stink to raise: would six adults and 20 children in Newtown, CT still be alive if Adam Lanza had no access to his mother’s guns? Maybe. Would they all still be alive if he had unimpeded access to mental health professionals who could evaluate, diagnose, and maybe treat him for some of the impulses that led him to commit this unconscionable act? Maybe. If the U.S. had a better handle on both sides of the equation, could this tragedy—along with the numerous others that have occurred in recent years—have been prevented? Yes, I believe so.
Again, this is not just a gun issue. It’s not just a healthcare issue. It’s not just a political issue, and it’s not just a rights issue. It’s a society issue, and a priorities issue. Only across-the-board changes will truly prevent things like this from happening again. And it may cost some money, and it may result in uncomfortable nuisances we aren’t used to. But the longer we bicker about it without taking action, that prevention will never come. This is something worth working towards. Now really is the time. You know why? Because prior to 12/14/12 should have been the time, but we missed it. We cannot continue to miss it again and again and again.
The road trip is winding down.
Our trip started at 4 a.m. last Wednesday, July 4th, as we headed south towards Gulf Shores, Alabama. We watched the sun rise over southern Illinois, heard a different version of the “southern accent” each time we stopped for gas, food, or a stretch, and made it to the Gulf of Mexico with plenty of daylight to spare. Gulf Shores is a spectacular destination for anyone who wants to get to a legit beach vacation spot in less than a day by car (from the St. Louis area, anyway). Certainly many of the most exotic beach locales on the planet are easily reachable in just a few hours by plane. But if flying isn’t an option for whatever reason—or if the prospect of a road trip is just more appealing—you could do a lot worse with under 12 hours on the road than Gulf Shores.
Two things immediately come to mind: First, the food is outstanding…especially if you enjoy seafood. Thursday evening at a place called Oceans, I had a piece of grilled grouper that was so good I didn’t know if I wanted to eat it or make out with it. I am a seafood fiend, and this may have been the best piece of fish I’ve ever had in my life. Other highlights included the tuna dip and Mahi tacos at LuLu’s, the gumbo and etouffee at DeSoto’s, and the bacon-wrapped shrimp (as well as the steaks) at Nolan’s. Honestly, we probably could have stayed two weeks, hitting a different local place for lunch and dinner each day, and not made it to every one. The other great thing about Gulf Shores is, of course, the coast. The beach is white sand and the water is calm and warm. We could have found plenty of activities to keep us busy—golf, deep sea fishing, museums, exploring, etc. etc.—but all we really wanted to do was relax on the beach for a few days. Mission accomplished. Some may not find appeal in that type of vacation, and that’s fine. But when I’m laying on a beach chair reading a book with the breeze off the water hitting my face, or standing in the salty, waist-deep gulf while the just-right sized waves break over me, well—for my money, there’s no better therapy on Earth.
We decided to break up the trip home, so we left Gulf Shores Sunday and stopped in Tunica, MS for a couple nights’ stay at Harrah’s. We may hit the casino, or we may just stay in the room and drink beer all day. Regardless, we head home tomorrow and back to the daily grind on Wednesday.
People sometimes talk about “recharging the batteries” on a vacation. Being someone who doesn’t normally let stress overwhelm, I’m not sure I ever really knew what that meant before this week…but I definitely understand it now. Relaxing, sleeping in, not stressing over alarm clocks and deadlines and job duties and housework—all have been well overdue. That’s tough to see when you’re in the thick of it. But from the outside, the picture is much clearer.
For several years, I have written a weekly column about the Cardinals on InsideSTL.com and it has been great. But a couple of weeks ago, site owner Tim McKernan posted an article saying they were looking for a full-time columnist. Not full-time as in 40 hours per week, but a daily column writing about whatever that posts on the site every morning. I threw my hat in the ring, as stretching my journalism legs has long been a desire of mine. This week, I found out I am a finalist for that gig.
Now comes your part: your feedback can help my cause. Per McKernan’s post today (you can read the entire column here):
“Starting tomorrow and through Friday, each of the final four will have a new column that I will post in my section. I would really like your feedback…whether it be in the comments section or via email…on the columnists you like/dislike and why. As I told the applicants, they can play Girl Next Door and flood the voting box all they want. That’s not going to determine who gets the job. But, as this is a subjective process, I want to get as much feedback as possible.”
Basically, he’s looking for legitimate feedback on all of our columns; gratuitous and obvious fluffy stuff like “This is the best thing I’ve ever read!!! Hire this man immediately!” will not be taken seriously, so don’t bother. And the same goes for illegitimate negative feedback for the other finalists. Also, if you’d rather not comment because of a conflict of interest based on our personal relationship, that’s OK too. I’m not begging for votes here, because this isn’t a contest; I’m just letting everyone know what’s going on. But this does help me, too, because I’m interested in the legitimate feedback as well. It’s always great to hear, whether good or bad, because it lets me know what works and what doesn’t. I write because I love it; without readers it’s just a journal entry. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s nice to know the difference. It’s nice to hear about it when someone is actually paying attention, for good or ill.
So visit InsideSTL over the next three days and check out my columns. Leave some honest feedback, if you like. And if you want to discreetly cross your fingers for me to get this gig, that would be OK too.
I have become a wasp assassin.
I got stung by a wasp at an early age…I’m sure I had bee stings and other bug interactions that I don’t remember at this point, but one event still stands out: I was playing with the neighbor’s cat and it ran into a large bush.
Fearless Ignorant kid that I was, I followed to “rescue” the cat from the bush…and got stung right between the shoulder blades. For some reason, it stuck in my mind as some of the worst pain I’ve ever felt. I was like five or six years old. Nearly 30 years later, I remember it like it was yesterday.
So to this day, I have a very general fear and loathing of insects that sting. It’s not a paralyzing phobia, but I get startled easily by these buzzing agents of pain and do what I can to sufficiently flee or destroy them when confronted. Unfortunately, when you live in an old house like I do, you’re often confronted with gaps and spaces that allow for critters to enter. This is especially true of brick homes and how the soffit/facia lines up near the roof. I think you can see where this is going.
I work from home, and my office is in the only room on the second floor. That room is surrounded by a lot of inaccessible (to us) attic space, and I know wasps live in there. I’ve seen them go in from the outside. And since there is quite a bit of remodeling work that still needs to be done, there are less-than-flush seams in certain walls/closets/etc. So I’m faced with the low-frequency buzz of a wasp entering my office space at least three times a week. It is infuriating and usually leads to me spouting a string of profanities followed by me chasing my enemy around the room with a fly swatter like in the famous “bat country” scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Today alone I killed two of these bastards. They both received the Osama bin Laden treatment from me: taken out with a precision weapon (fly swatter) then buried at sea (toilet). I find them in other areas of the house, too…usually the bathroom for some reason. The other day I picked up a pair of shorts from the floor and one flew out of the clothing’s folds.
Am I the target of some coordinated attack scheme? Do they know my fears and countermeasures? Can they hear me right now? These little pricks must die, and I must be the one to kill them. No rest for the weary.
On this date three years ago comedian, author, and actor George Carlin died.
Those descriptors only tell part of the story, however. Carlin’s name is forever imprinted on how the U.S. views language fit for broadcast over the public airwaves. His dissection and analysis of language and the way we use it trickled into nearly every routine he shared with an audience. His social critiques were both funny and poignant, making listeners at the same time laugh and wonder what the hell is wrong with all of us.
Nothing was out of bounds in Carlin’s comedy, and that was always the point. He knew everything from the absurd to the universal and the mundane to the controversial could be funny…as long as we, the audience, were willing to laugh at ourselves.
Carlin released a dozen albums and was featured in a dozen HBO concert specials. He performed in front of countless fans over the years, won several Grammy awards, appeared on TV numerous times as both an actor and a comedian, acted in a number of movies, and wrote four best-selling books.
George Carlin has been and probably always will be my favorite comedian. I’m pretty sure I’ve heard everything he has ever recorded (and own most of them on vinyl, tape, or CD…and in some cases, all three), I’ve seen 10 of his 12 HBO specials, caught him live in concert twice, and am now starting to read his books even though I know a lot of the material in them I can recite from memory as I read.
There’s another connection here for me, too, and that’s with my dad. I have my love of vinyl records because of my dad; when I was young we’d listen to his collection all the time. Dad has three of Carlin’s earliest albums on vinyl: Take-Offs and Put-Ons, Class Clown, and An Evening With Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slazso. I remember very clearly only being allowed to listen to the first album for the longest time, because it was the only one my parents thought a 10 year old kid should listen to (i.e., no bad words). Then they relented a little and let me listen to side one of Class Clown; I couldn’t listen to side two because it contained “Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television.” But when I got a little older and started being left home alone, one of the first things I would do once I was sure my parents were really gone was pull out the Carlin records. I repaid my dad by taking him to see Carlin in concert at the Fox Theater in St. Louis several years ago; it was my second show but his first, after all those years of being a fan. When Carlin died, we talked about it on the phone like it was a favorite uncle or good family friend we had lost. I guess sadness upon knowing you’ve heard the last from a favorite, even though you never met that person, is universal—and probably one of those things Carlin would explore on stage.
So here’s to George Carlin: comedy pioneer and entertainment icon. I could probably post 100 links and videos to some of my favorite Carlin routines spanning his 40+ years in show business, but I think I’ll stick with a quickie from the old days that actually fits in with the spirit of this blog: the original (and incomplete, according to his website) version of “Baseball and Football” from the 1975 album An Evening With Wally Londo Featuring Bill Slaszo.
And, in case you’re wondering, this is one of only a couple of tracks from the album that is safe to listen to at work.
A week ago, I severely sprained my right ankle. It’s the second time in the past few years I’ve done this, but the first set of circumstances was much more entertaining. A couple of years ago, I was treated to a Cardinals vs. Cubs game for my birthday, and let’s just say the biggest lesson I learned that night was to never again attempt to sit on the handrail of a moving escalator (I may or may not have had a few beers at the ballpark). Fast-forward to a week ago: I was trying to cram large pieces of wall paneling into the garbage truck. One piece in particular was being contrary, so I thought it just needed a quick jump-shove. Unfortunately, when I landed I came down on the side of my foot, not the bottom.
So I’m a gimp right now. But I haven’t been completely unproductive; last Sunday I read the end of one book (John Saul’s The Right Hand of Evil), started and finished another book (Sammy Hagar’s Red: My Uncensored Life in Rock), and then started a third book (American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis). I don’t think I’ve read that much in one day since I was a kid. It felt oddly fulfilling.
But my ankle still bothers me, and it’s just getting frustrating now. Stairs, whether it’s twenty or two, are a process. Sitting with my feet down makes my ankle ache; sitting with them up is just inconvenient. Wrap it, unwrap it. Ice, no ice. Anyone who has had a high ankle sprain—let alone two—can back me up on this. It quickly becomes a very annoying injury that grabs every time you try to go anywhere.
And on top of everything, I foresee this as something I’ll be prone to re-injure for the rest of my life. Not when I’m out for a run…or at the boxing gym, jumping rope or hitting the bags…but when I’m throwing trash into a truck or surfing the escalator handrail. Maybe I should just stop doing stupid shit. I’ll probably live longer.