Friday, February 12, 2016

Brothers From Other Mothers

Friday was a damn fine day.  Margaret and I are going to Colorado at the end of March to visit Rob and Jess, which trip coincides with his 30th birthday.  Mr. Springsteen and his brothers in arms from E Street recently added a March 31st stop in Denver.  It was our hope to be able to purchase tickets for the show.  Our faith was rewarded.  Rob made it through the on-line labyrinth and scored four excellent seats.  Thus, our trip to Colorado will include a few hours of "Boss Time". 

On Friday night, Margaret and I were down at our little Paradise by the Sea.  We spent a few hours over at Bar A taking in a performance by the E Street Shuffle, which is celebrating its tenth year together.  We were joined at Bar A by two of my high school classmates, Steve and George, and two friends of theirs, Kevin and Paul.  These four gentlemen - all of whom are roughly my age - have been close friends since they were pre-school-age children.  A lifetime ago, when Steve, George, and I went to W-H together, I had the pleasure of first making the acquaintance of Kevin and of Paul.  I had not seen either of the two of them in more than a quarter-century.  It was as if twenty-five minutes or so had passed and not a moment more. 

By mutual choice, mine and the world's, I am not a person who belongs to groups.  Most of my favorite things to do are solitary things - reading, running, and writing.  If I was an award, I would be the Heisman Trophy - not because of my wild football skills but because of its pose.  It is an award that keeps the world at arm's length.  That is my kind of trophy. 

Although I have never been a man who has been part of a close group of male friends, I admire those who are.  Steve, George, Kevin, and Paul are their own band of brothers.  As they all glimpse "50" growing ever closer on the horizon line, they are - as they have always been - thick as thieves.  I marvel at the depth and the breadth of their bond.  I applaud them for it.

From a distance...

...of course.  


Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Bittersweet Year of the Snake

It's bittersweet
More sweet than bitter
Bitter than sweet
It's a bittersweet surrender.
-Big Head Todd and the Monsters

This past Saturday, on the eve of the Super Bowl, the NFL announced the members of the 2016 Class for enshrinement into the Professional Football Hall of Fame.  Among the nine men to be added to the Hall's roster of football immortals this summer is Ken Stabler.  

As a little boy, I rooted principally for two teams, which were the New York Giants and the Miami Dolphins.  The only rationale I can offer for the latter was that my older siblings were fans of the Jets and (as hard as this may be to believe) I enjoyed being a contrarian.  The only other possible explanation I can offer for it is that the Dolphins of the early 70's had a team full of cool nicknames, including Larry "Zonk" Csonka and Eugene "Mercury" Morris.  Apropos of nothing, I find it hilarious to the point of pathetic that Morris allegedly opens a bottle of champagne each NFL season to celebrate the first defeat of the league's last undefeated team.  One would think that a man who spent several years after his career ended in federal prison after he was convicted for cocaine trafficking would appreciate the difference between those things that are important and those that are not.  

I never have rooted for the Oakland/Los Angeles/Las Vegas/San Antonio Raiders.  Back in the day, they were -as were the Pittsburgh Steelers - Miami's principal rivals for supremacy in the AFC.  Even though I was not a fan of his team, I always loved watching Ken Stabler play.  

Perhaps it was the fact that he was left-handed.  Perhaps it was the fact that his nickname was "the Snake".  Perhaps it was the fact that while the quarterbacks for my team (Bob Griese) and the Cowboys (Roger Staubach) both appeared to have plucked from Central Casting for Up With People, Stabler looked every inch of the hard-drinking, riverboat-gambling gunslinger that he was.  He was the epitome of cool.  

Stabler's playing career ended prior to the start of Stuart Scott's career at ESPN.  I know not whether Stabler served as the inspiration for Scott's signature phrase ("As cool as the other side of the pillow") although I suspect that he did not.  Whether he did matters not.  He epitomized it. 

Kenny Stabler died on July 8, 2015.  He was only sixty-nine years old.  I must confess that until I read his obituary, which mentioned the fact that he was not yet a member of the Hall of Fame, I had assumed that he was.  It would have been nice - it seems to me - for him to have been alive when this honor was bestowed upon him.  

In the final few years of his life, Kenny Stabler battled something far more fierce than the Steel Curtain or the No-Name Defense.  He battled colon cancer, which is what killed him.  He also battled the effects of C.T.E. (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), the degenerative brain disease that is believed to be a proximate result of repeated blows to the head - such as the blows one absorbs while playing football.  Neuropathologists apparently use a 1 to 4 scale to grade the severity of C.T.E. and the post-mortem testing performed on Stabler's brain revealed that he had "high Stage 3"

This summer, Kenny Stabler's family will gather in Canton, Ohio in celebration of his long-overdue moment in the Hall of Fame's sun.  Perhaps the Lords of Football were waiting for Brett Favre to become eligible for enshrinement so that he and Stabler could join the Hall together.  Their careers were separated by a generation but linked together by that same innate gambler's instinct, which made both of them great players.  

Hall of Fame players, as it turns out.  

"Sea of Hands" - Miami v. Oakland
December 21, 1974


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

What Once Seemed Black and White

From the "Are You Kidding Me"? news desk: 

According to a piece Max Berlinger wrote for the February 3, 2016 Fashion & Style Section of The New York Times and its website, the world is now awash in little boys pretending to be grown-up men by - believe it or not - having their hair colored gray.  

I fear that we have now crossed the Rubicon in terms of "First World" problems.  I am not sure what shall eclipse - or even rival - "an insufficient amount of gray hair" in terms of utter and absolute vacuousness.  I laughed out loud when a stylist to whom Mr. Berlinger spoke informed him that the process can range in cost from $350.00 to $600.00 a session and likened the care required to keep it up - the facade that is - to that associated with caring for a pet.  

Memo to the Millennial Douchebags spending their money on graying themselves:  You embody the old saw about a fool and his money soon being parted.  Grow a set of fully-descended testicles and you just might discover, lo and behold, gray hair has made your acquaintance the old-fashioned way:  Through getting older, through getting married, and through fatherhood.  If you want to really speed the process up, then have a daughter.  In my experience, one is more than adequate to act as a catalyst.  

We cannot possibly be morphing into a nation of detestable, immediate gratification jagoffs who now cannot even await the arrival of gray hair through natural processes.  Can we?  Sadly, it appears as if we can.  Worse yet, a growing number of us already are. 




Tuesday, February 9, 2016

My Bologna Has A First Name. It's T-E-D-D-Y

Travel back with me if you would to an iconic moment in the annals of American television history. Remember this little, curly-headed sandwich eater, sporting his Oshkosh B'Gosh overalls and his homemade fishing pole? 

As we live and breathe, he and his jingle have transitioned to the 21st Century.  In the latest iteration of the commercial however, it is not Oscar Mayer peddling the bologna.  Instead it is the Canadian Cowboy, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas (via Ontario).  

On February 1, 2016, after winning the Iowa Caucus (an accomplishment about which his camp might crow a little less heartily upon consideration of just how well the Republican winner of said Caucus has fared once the campaign advances beyond the foul lines of the Field of Dreams), he had the balls to declare himself to be the champion of first responders.   No need to paraphrase his words when we have them available for review directly from the horse's ass's mouth: 

And to the police officers, the firemen, and the first responders,
the heroes who rushed into burning buildings instead of out of 
burning buildings, the last seven years of having a President, of 
having an Attorney General that demonizes you, that vilifies you,
that sides with the criminals and looters instead of the brave men

I presume that if for no other reason than to preserve the continuing functionality of his church bell-sized testicles, Senator Cruz told that particular lie while he was wearing his asbestos pants.  For other than engaging in the annual self-serving exercise of posting a platitude on his Twitter page each year on September 11, he has not been a champion of first responders.  To the contrary, he has been an impediment.    

Or, to put it another way, in the world of lunch meats, he is the phony bologna.  


Monday, February 8, 2016

Memory Lines

I am an enormous fan of spontaneity - as long as I have planned for it accordingly.  A week ago yesterday, I did something spontaneous, which I am glad I did - even if it made Monday feel as if it was the longest day of the year. 

Early in the afternoon on January's final day, the Missus and I were out and about running a number of errands.  While we were out doing our thing, our friend Gidg sent me a text message inquiring about my availability to join her little cabal at that night's stop on Springsteen and the E Street Band's tour, which stop happened to be in Newark.  Although I knew a late night on Sunday night would likely cause me to whine like a baby with a prize inside of his Pampers for at least a day or two, the lure of Springsteen was irresistible.  

Braced by my ninety-minute power nap, which commenced immediately upon our arrival home from our errands, I joined all four Sisters Kizis, Liv (University of Colorado Class of 2020), and Jeff in Newark at 4:00 PM.  We were all the proud possessors of General Admission tickets, which had our numbers been drawn in the lottery that was held shortly after 5:00 PM, would have entitled us to view the concert from "the Pit".  It is an interesting way to see a show, which all of us in our group have experienced on multiple occasions.  It is also an exhausting way in which to watch a show.  If you think that middle-aged Caucasians jockey like NBA power forwards to get position in the five minutes prior to Costco's opening on a weekend morning, then all you need to do is multiply that ferocity by 1000x or so and you almost have an understanding of the way elbows are thrown in the Pit.  

Sadly - or perhaps not so much depending upon your perspective - we were lottery losers, which entitled (sorry "relegated") us to space anywhere on the arena floor other than the Pit.  We started out within one hundred feet of the stage - almost directly in front of Springsteen - but as the people around us crowded in, almost all of us (except for Liv and Pam) sought refuge at the back of the arena floor.  Irrespective of wherever we stood, what we heard and what we saw was extraordinary.  

Among other things, Springsteen is a marvel of conditioning.  He is sixty-six years old and has thus far on this tour led his band of merry men and women through intermission-free concerts that have lasted in excess of three hours.  In Newark, the music started flowing at or about 8:10 PM and did not stop flowing until it was just about 11:30 PM.  At night's end, I felt considerably more worn than any of the musicians, Springsteen included, themselves appeared to be by their hard work.  

Springsteen - when he is touring with the E Street Band - no longer tells the stories that were once a staple of his live shows.  Last Sunday night, while he did not tell a lot of stories, he told two that revealed to those who might not have been familiar with The River and reminded those of us who first made its acquaintance three and one-half decades ago the powerful meaning behind the album's songs.  He set up the record's title track, which is the eleventh and final song on the double-LP's first album, by telling a story about his sister and his brother-in-law and how their struggles served as the template upon which he created the piece's characters.  It is a story that I had heard before - a very long time ago - and both the words he spoke and the inflection in his voice when he spoke them communicated the power behind it and behind the song that it inspired. 

The River is also the album that includes "Independence Day", which has long been among my favorite Springsteen songs.  Prior to performing it, he told the story of how hard it was for him when he was a child - and by extension how hard it might have been for any number of us - to recognize that our parents were not simply our parents.  Rather, each was a person whose life had included dreams, hopes, and aspirations and that their ability to relate to us - their children - was very much influenced by how much each believed that their life, as they were living it, approached the life they had hoped to live.  

At its core, "Independence Day" is a song about fathers and sons.  Better stated, it is a song about father, sons, and the maddeningly complex relationship that can exist between us, the complexity level of which is likely exacerbated by the fact that neither of us probably possesses the tool set required to express our feelings to the other.  It is a song that I heard for the first time in the Fall of 1980, when Dad and I were sharing an existence but were not sharing even an iota of one another's lives.  It is a song that - upon first hearing it - lent a voice to how I felt dealing with (and more often than not, not being able to deal with) my father.  Dad died slightly more than six months after I had heard "Independence Day" for the first time.  I was fourteen.  We very well might have, over time, found our way back to the point where we no longer drew lines in the air marking off our territory.  Perhaps.  He died, however, before any of the already-drawn lines could be erased.  

As I stood on the floor of the Prudential Center two Sunday nights ago listening to Springsteen sing "Independence Day", I smiled.  My relationship with my father was not extraordinary.  Hell, among the Kenny brothers it was not even original but, rather, was simply the third iteration in the series.  More importantly, it was neither a bad thing nor a good thing.  It was simply a thing, which neither defined him then nor defines me now.  It was something that helped shape me, however.  So was he.  

Some lines are simply never intended to be erased for they serve not as boundaries but as reminders - of hopes, dreams, and aspirations.  Ours and someone else's.

They represent something that is simply too important to not remember.


Sunday, February 7, 2016

While Somewhere Danno Smiles...

If it's the Ultimate Game, then why
Are they playing it again next year?
- Duane Thomas

Forty-six years after the then-rookie running back for the Dallas Cowboys posed that question to members of the media gathered for Super Bowl V in Miami, the National Football League shall crown this year's World Champion in Super Bowl 50, which shall be played this evening in Santa Clara, California.  Is it an indictment of the American educational system that this year - for the first time in L editions of the Super Bowl - the NFL has abandoned the use of the Roman numeral?  

I cannot help but wonder how they might have identified this year's game had Anne Coulter brought the issue of the NFL's use of Arabic numerals to the attention of her audience.  Eighty-seven Republican debates thus far this Presidential election season and that issue never came up once.  

Thankfully - if for no other reason than to spare us all having to have it made into a plank of the GOP platform at this summer's Republican National Convention - this year appears to be a numerical aberration.  The NFL's concern about our collective aptitude was confined to this year apparently.  Someone in the League office was concerned that people reading "Super Bowl L" might mistakenly think that the Super Bowl had managed to get itself shitfaced and had started slurring its speech, including its own name.  

Thus, a year from now, when the NFL crowns its World Champion, the game in which that champion shall be so crowned is a game that shall, once again, be identified by Roman numerals.  If the New York Jets fail to avail themselves of this cannot-miss marketing opportunity as a way to arouse the interest of their fan base for the 2016-17 season, then they have no one but themselves to blame:

Jet Li - "Unleashed" 

Enjoy your Super Bowl Sunday.  I have zero rooting interest in anything other than Carolina - as often as possible - having a score that ends in a "5" at the same time as Denver has a score that ends in a "2" - for each and every time that magical combination appears on the scoreboard, it earns me $250.00.  



Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Low-Sinkin' Sun

Typically, February's most endearing quality is its brevity.  This year, however, is a Leap Year.  Instead of a mere twenty-eight day sprint to March, an additional February day graces (or pockmarks if you prefer) the calendar.  For everyone out there begging for one more day of cold, miserable, shitty winter weather, rejoice!  I sought refuge in law school to avoid the hard sciences so I know not whether - at the initial meeting of the Committee to Adjust the Calendar in Leap Years - anyone broached the idea of adding Day 366 to one of the other eleven months...such as July.   

Who would have opposed the idea of having an additional summer day once every four years?  No school-age child within the geographical confines of these United States.  Except, perhaps, for my cousin Moira.  Moira and I are the same age.  She is a Californian so, as kids, we did not see each other often but we did chat on a regular basis.  Whereas I spent my high school career counting the days down to graduation, Moira went to school every chance she got - including attending high school year-round.  Lunacy.  

This year, February's saving grace is that it cannot be any more devastating to the music industry than the month that preceded it.  In January, the music world mourned the loss of (among others) David Bowie and, shortly thereafter, Glenn Frey.  Frey was one of the founding members of the Eagles.  In addition to his longstanding membership in the band, he carved out a nice, extended, and successful solo career for himself, which began in earnest way back when in the 1980's following the Eagles' decision to break up (or to take a timeout, whichever you prefer).  

Frey is a man whose acquaintance I never made.  However, while I was a student at CU, a woman with whom I was friends who had met him spoke very highly of him.  Her dad was the Director of Photography on Miami Vice and Frey guest-starred on at least one episode.  She happened to be in Florida visiting her father the week that they filmed Frey's episode.  During the breaks in filming, she not only had the chance to talk to him but to observe him as he interacted with the people on the crew, the extras, etc. and, apparently, came away quite impressed.  In the immediate aftermath of his death, as tributes poured in from all over the world, I noted just how often others made reference to the quality of his character.  He apparently treated practically everyone with whom he interacted as well as he had treated Karen and the other "regular folks" on the set of that television show thirty years ago.  

The Eagles are a band whose music I enjoy but whose catalog I do not pretend to know in any depth.  There is one Eagles track that I detest, which is "Hotel California."  It is a song that I have loathed since I first heard it close to forty years ago.  I cannot explain the root of my disdain.  Nor can I explain the hatred and loathing I have always felt for "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits, a band whose leader, Mark Knopfler, is one of my favorite artists.  

But I digress.

Whatever familiarity I have with the Eagles' catalog is almost exclusively with their "pre-breakup" material.  I understand that in connection with the somewhat relentless amount of touring they did over the course of the past decade or so, they released a couple of albums of new material.  Between the dates on which they released it and the date on which Glenn Frey died, the only "new" song of theirs I had ever heard was "Get Over It", which I like because of its "Kill all the lawyers" lyric.  

It was not until after Frey's death that I heard, for the first time, a song of his that appeared on the band's Long Road Out of Eden album.  "It's Your World Now" appeals to me for the same wholly inexplicable reasons that "Hotel California" does not.  It is a piece of music with which I wish I had become familiar much sooner than last month.  I did not.  But now, at least, I have.  That is the great thing about music.  Once it seeps into your pores, it is impossible to wash out.  It remains forever ingrained. 

That is the way it is meant to be...