Thursday, July 30, 2015

Something for Thursday

Sometimes you need something big and epic, so here is Trevor Jones conducting a suite of his themes from The Last of the Mohicans.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

Should we get rid of the dollar bill in favor of a coin?

And what changes would you make to US currency in general?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ten Thousand

Wow. It turns out that my post about Aaron Maybin the other day was my ten thousandth post to this blog.

Not sure how to best mark the occasion....

Sunday, July 26, 2015

“I know who I am, and I know what I want.”

In 2009, the Buffalo Bills were in need of pass rush on their defensive line, and they had the ninth overall pick in that year's draft, which pretty much gave them the pick of the litter in terms of defensive talent. They selected a guy named Aaron Maybin, who had just finished a very impressive year at Penn State. Maybin was supposed to be the next great defensive talent, but it turned out that he wasn't. In fact, his career in Buffalo went so poorly that he was gone a few years later, after pocketing an immense amount of money. (This was before the current CBA, with its structured contracts for rookies.) Fans hated Maybin for his perceived lack of production and/or effort; fans derided the Bills for once again managing to bungle what should have been a golden opportunity to draft a fine player. In all honesty, as a fan at the time, I fell in both camps.

Maybin landed on a couple other NFL rosters over the next few years, and he had what looked like a decent season for the Jets, although a case can be made that his good sack numbers that year reflect the quality of the Jets' defensive backfield that year (which was awesome). But Maybin still never caught on anywhere as a productive regular player, let alone a star, and he's been OOF -- Out Of Football -- for a few years now, mostly forgotten except by masochistic Bills fans who like to bring up the name, every once in a while, of one the biggest draft busts in franchise history.

In today's Buffalo News, however, writer Tim Graham has a remarkable story on Maybin's life since football and the factors that shaped his experience within the game. It's a pretty amazing piece, and I highly recommend reading it.

The Bills drafted Maybin 11th overall in 2009. Two years, one vainglorious rap song, several flamboyant hairstyles and zero sacks later, the Bills cut him. He was out of the NFL after four seasons.

Maybin isn’t solely to blame. Rare are the instances when an athlete’s inability to meet grand expectations is his fault alone.

Maybin, after all, led the 2011 New York Jets in sacks and tied for fifth among all NFL players in forced fumbles. He retired with an offer from the Indianapolis Colts on the table.

But with the Bills, he was miscast, mismanaged and misunderstood. He was unfinished when he arrived, and still unfinished when the Bills discarded him.

I've seen my feelings on football shift significantly over the last five years or so. I admit that it's easy to take a second look at one's fandom when the favorite team is constantly bad; maybe if the Bills had been a regular playoff team or even a Super Bowl contender, I'd be a lot more of a fan right now. But maybe not. It seems to me that football's ugly side has really come out in recent years, from the constant fleecing of taxpayers for the building of stadiums* to the way the game tends to leave its former players with lasting brain damage. I find myself more and more sympathetic to the increasing numbers of players who have walked away from football, while seemingly in their prime and with millions of dollars potentially left to earn.

The fact is, we tend to view our teams as singular entities with interchangeable parts called "players". Graham's article on Maybin serves as a valuable reminder that the "parts" are, in fact, human beings, and as such, they bring all their various challenges and difficulties and quirks along with them. In Maybin's case, it's a good dose of poor decision-making, coupled with some hard-ball contract negotiating by the team, coupled with life experiences that add to the difficulties. Maybin also had great physical difficulty simply gaining weight to be the proper size for an NFL player, and he happened to be struggling with all of this at a time when the franchise was experiencing massive turnover in the front office and in the coaching staff. All that can wreak havoc with a young player who is still trying to grow and learn the game, and to me, it's no surprise at all that Maybin eventually decided that he just wasn't all that emotionally invested in football at all.

What is Maybin doing now? He's a painter.

Maybin’s garage is full of finished canvases, leaning on each other in rows.

There are portraits of Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, Joe Paterno and Tupac Shakur, unhinged erotica, challenging images of gladiatorial sport and slavery, inner-city reflections on death, oppression and strife.

“All my painting I do from the soul, and very rarely does somebody understand it,” Maybin said. “But everything you see me create came from me.

“The beauty in art is that it has so many interpretations. I just want you to feel something to the point of starting a conversation.”

I'm not equipped to say whether he's a good one or not, but I do like what I've seen of his art. We often hear that there is life after football, but it seems to me that sports fans don't always like to admit that there is life instead of football, too. In fact, there are times when I think that fans should not only realize that there is life instead of football for the players, but there is life instead of football for the fans. Yes, I hated Aaron Maybin as a player.

And then I realized what a colossally stupid reason that is to hate someone.

* Want to know how insane the stadium thing is? Take the case of Atlanta, where the football Falcons will begin play in a new stadium in 2017, replacing their existing stadium which opened in 1992. That's twenty-five years. And the baseball Braves? They're moving that same year to their new ballpark, replacing a stadium that opened in 1997. They didn't even get a combined FIFTY YEARS out of their existing facilities. That is batshit crazy.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Bad Joke Friday

All right, you get two jokes today because I forgot to post a joke last week.

Joke the First: Why does a milking stool only have three legs?

Because the cow has the udder!

(hat tip to Roger, who e-mailed me that one)

Joke the second: Two antennas met on a roof, fell in love, and got married. The ceremony was just OK, but the reception was awesome!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Something for Thursday

Theodore Bikel died yesterday, at the age of 91. My main memories of him are a couple of guest appearances on Star Trek: The Next Generation (he played Worf's adoptive human father), and his memorable single scene in My Fair Lady as Zoltan Karpathy, former student of Professor Henry Higgins who is described by servant Mrs. Pierce as "that dreadful Hungarian". That role is interesting, actually: Bikel is onscreen for all of five minutes of a nearly 3-hour film, but he makes the most of it, creating this slightly smarmy character who is nevertheless sharp enough to realize that there's something off about this "Miss Doolittle".

Anyway, here's something interesting. It should embed as a playlist, if I did it right. It's Bikel singing Yiddish folk and theater songs. This is music I know very little about.

I salute your long and energetic life, Mr. Bikel!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Farewell to a Tree

This post seems to be having a viral moment, and deservedly so. It's an elegy for an old tree.

People never had trouble finding our house.
"It's the one with the giant maple in front," I'd say, "the one with the tire swing."
That was enough. They'd see the tree, massive, 60 feet tall and almost as wide, then behind is, hiding, our 1905 farmhouse.
The tree was one of the oldest in Northbrook: easily 125 years old, and was perhaps the best feature about our place. A living link to the 19th century.
"I bought the tree," I'd tell visitors, "and the house came with it."

Read the whole thing. It's a lovely piece of writing; elegiac and affirming at the same time.


Photographic evidence of recent adventures....

Chestnut Ridge forest. #ChestnutRidge #wny

I do not hate dandelions. #dandelion

Non-green trees are cool #tree

Stream and ravine. #ChestnutRidge #wny

Lester shows dignity. #Lester #CatsOfInstagram

GOOD MORNING WORLD GET UP GET UP WAKEY WAKEY!!!!! #threedayweekend #overalls #herringbone

My hair is on point today, thank you very much! #feelinggood #overalls #longhairdontcare

Turkey club #Yum

So this happened.... #donut #Yum

Hi Rochester! #Rochester

At the Lilac Festival #LilacFestival #rochesterlilacfestival #Rochester

At the Lilac Festival #LilacFestival #rochesterlilacfestival #Rochester

Tree at Highland Park #LilacFestival #rochesterlilacfestival #Rochester

The heart of the tree #LilacFestival #rochesterlilacfestival #Rochester

Looking up the hill #LilacFestival #rochesterlilacfestival #Rochester

We loved these bell-shaped flowers. #LilacFestival #rochesterlilacfestival #Rochester

Pink #LilacFestival #rochesterlilacfestival #Rochester

I found this "hanging pine" fascinating. #LilacFestival #rochesterlilacfestival #Rochester

Reservoir #LilacFestival #rochesterlilacfestival #Rochester

Dinner was at this little joint in Webster. FANTASTIC fried chicken. #friedchicken #Rochester #Yum

You know that you have gained the favor of the Good Day Gods when this happens: while walking around a town you don't know to pass the time while the little restaurant you've just discovered that day cooks your food from scratch, you find a terrific used

Our view from the picnic bench where we ate our fried chicken. This was a "pinch yourself" kind of day. #Ahhhh #park #Rochester

My fried chicken. So good. I wanted to cry while eating it. #friedchicken #Yum

And finally, baby geese! #huzzah #geese #Rochester

18 years of marriage today. What a ride it's been! #wife #anniversary #overalls #ocean #shark #pieintheface #picgrid

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I -- I turned around because hey, who's got time for decision-making and stuff. #EmeryPark #wny

Water dog #Cane #DogsOfInstagram

Now I am out of waffles. Everything is terrible. #waffles #yum

Leaving work today. #wny

I ate the whole thing and I don't feel the slightest bit of remorse. #pizza #yum

Cane and The Daughter. #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #greyhound

I #amwriting and also #amfreezing. Cold day today in the 716! #overalls #Brrrrrrr #tiedye #vintage

A Random Wednesday Conversation Starter

An early episode of South Park established that if Cartman hears the tiniest snippet of "Come Sail Away" by Styx, he has to sing the entire song. I suspect we all have a song that we just have to finish if we hear its beginning, no matter where we it a "Stay In The Car" song. What's yours?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Five Lakes (and one book)

I've pretty much been of the opinion for years, even though I don't think I realized it until more recently, that I honestly don't ever want to live more than a few hours from one of the Great Lakes. This region has been my home since 1981, and you might make a case for before that, since Pittsburgh certainly falls within the "few hours from the Lakes" category. These five inland seas encompass so much beauty and history and character, all of which are sometimes overlooked in our seemingly forever-ongoing "North versus South" thing in this country.

There's a children's book I read not long after we moved to Allegany, NY, in 1981. I don't recall exactly when I read it, or the circumstances under which a copy found its way into my hands; I don't recall if I owned it or if it was a library book. The book's title is Paddle To The Sea, by Holling Clancy Holling. If I owned this book, it vanished from my personal library years ago. However, I found myself remembering it recently, so I availed myself of the Erie County Public Library and checked it out.

The book came out in 1941, and it tells a simple story: a young boy living in Canada carves a wooden Indian in a canoe, names him "Paddle To The Sea", and sets him afloat on a river that empties into the northern reaches of Lake Superior.

From there, Paddle follows the long and improbable journey through every one of the Great Lakes, until he finally reaches the St. Lawrence River and the Atlantic Ocean. Paddle's journey is mainly a narrative frame, though, which supports Holling's real goal: exploring the nature of these five enormous lakes.

Holling's art in this book alternates between pencil drawings accompanying the text on the left-hand pages, and full-color plates on the right. In this way Holling traces paddle's voyage, which doesn't even begin to follow any kind of straight line.

Along the way Paddle encounters various obstacles and dangers, such as the huge cargo ships on Lake Superior, the enormous waterfalls at Niagara, and a sawmill, whose operation Holling depicts:

I also love the fanciful ways Holling interprets the shapes of the lakes themselves. Lake Superior as a wolf's head is pretty obvious, I suppose, but the others are impressively creative, and I have thought of all the Great Lakes as these shapes ever since I read the book when I was ten or eleven. I remember a conversation with some college mates, trying to explain to them this particular interpretation of the shape of Lake Huron, and I remember wishing I had a copy of the book then to show them.

Holling's prose is somewhat dated at this point, but that's to be expected, and I wonder how Holling would depict the Great Lakes now, since the region endured a period of extended decline that began not terribly long after this book came out and which some might still think is going on. But it's still a region of nature and industry often side-by-side, all of it dominated by these enormous bodies of water.

Paddle To The Sea is a wonderful piece of Great Lakes lore, and I'm glad I took the time to revisit it.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Sunday Somethings

A few oddities and randomments for the lot of you:

:: One night, while we were sitting around at home reading stuff, The Wife came across this, and mentioned it to me. I said, "That can't be right," but lo and behold, apparently it was. The thing? Well, you know those incubator things they put premature babies into, so as to keep them nicely warm while they develop after their births? Apparently the guy who invented those had no luck convincing the scientific community of their validity, so he did the next best thing: he set up a sideshow at New York's Coney Island to display them to the public. Babies and all.

Sometimes human progress happens so strangely.

:: Want to get some kind of notion of the scales of the distances in space? Say, the scales the NASA people were working with in flying New Horizons to Pluto? Check out If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel. Space is big, yo.

:: For the record: the perpetrator of this prank was not me.

That is all.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Neil Simon on how to finish a day's work

There are a lot of other videos from this same interview on YouTube; I plan to watch a bunch of 'em this weekend. Hat-tips to Mark Evanier, where I first saw the video, and Roger, who notified me of its existence via electronic pony express thing.

(Oh, and the bit of advice in question from Mr. Simon? I'm not sure if I follow that or not, to be honest. I tend to write until I'm tired and don't want to write anymore. On reflection I think I very well might follow this advice, but I've never really thought about it. I'll pay more attention next time I'm working on something new.)

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Something for Thursday

An old favorite of mine: the Mendelssohn violin concerto. I love this piece to death. Make sure you pay attention at about the 2:40 mark, when the soloist (Hilary Hahn, in this case) soars to a lingering very high note and then descends all the way back down to the lowest register on the instrument, and then holds that low note as a pedal while the woodwinds sound the magical second theme of the first movement. This entire concerto is utter magic.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Ransom Wednesday Conversation Starter

Asking this question with no hint that it is relevant to anything going on in my life today whatsoever...what's the most expensive car repair you've ever had to pay for?

I'll sit back and glower at the replies. (For no reason, really.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

It may be my year....

A new Star Wars movie and a new James Bond movie. I'm releasing my second book. Overalls appear to be coming back into fashion. and now this appears in the New York Times.

Ah, the thrown pie. Among the sweetest delights in life is the sight of an airborne cream-and-crust concoction finding purchase. It is the great leveler, a puncturing of pretension, and those who find pie throwing beneath their refined comic sensibility deserve nothing more than a lemon meringue treat, smack in the kisser.

Setting aside the fact that lemon meringue is, in fact, a terrible choice for facial dispatching, this is still quite a thing to read in the Gray Lady.

2015 may well be my year!!!


Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Whitening

White overalls. Oh yeah, babe.

Bleached overalls!

I've wanted a pair of white overalls forever, and I even got a pair a while back, by Carhartt. My problem, though, was that most white overalls are made for painters, and for some reason, the bib pocket on painters' overalls is almost always that triangular shape, as opposed to the "traditional" style of bib pocket, which I prefer. Finding a pair like this has been mostly fruitless -- they exist, and they occasionally show up on eBay, but they're pretty rare and I've never seen a pair in my size. So I did the next logical thing: I took an older pair of blue ones that I owned already and bleached them. This is the result. Score!

Bleached overalls, take 2. I really like the way these turned out. #overalls #Dickies #bleacheddenim

By way of technique, I used a big 5-gallon bucket, filled it about two-thirds with water, and then added some bleach. I didn't measure the bleach, but my concentration was no more than 1 part bleach to 3 parts water, and likely even less strong than that. I submerged the overalls, stirred them around a bit, and then left them in there a while. After an hour or so, I changed the water and repeated, and then waited another hour, whereupon I changed the water again. I think I went through four changes of water altogether, and the result is that almost all the blue is gone. There's a tiny bit remaining, if you know to look for it, but functionally, these are white!

After the final removal from the bleach water, I rinsed them with the garden hose and wrung them out, and then I washed them twice. First trip through the washer I used no soap at all, so it was essentially two rinses, and then a full washing in cold water with soap. After that, an air drying on our line, and that was that.

Bleached overalls, detail. A tiny bit of blue remains, but overall, I'm happy. (Get it? Overall, I'm happy? Get it? Overall? 😂😂😂 I'll show myself out.) #overalls #Dickies #bleacheddenim

Working...always working #amwriting #overalls #Dickies #bleacheddenim

Not that I'm wearing overalls much in July, but fall will be here soon enough!