Monday, January 30, 2006

Slip Sliding Away

It's crazy how popular the sport has become in this country. Go across the country and you'll find that most workplaces have some type of office pool that has high participation. Vegas thrives on all the money bet on games. The networks pay billions for television rights. Newspapers and web sites devote page after page with analysis, predictions, and coverage that makes the average player recognizable to even the most casual fan. Geeks paint their faces their team's colors and dweebs devote every last free minute trying to improve their fantasy team.

So I have to clarify what I meant when the reporter stuck his mike in my face and I uttered the now infamous line that is dogging me every place I go: "I play when I want to play."

Truth is curling isn't the most exhausting cardiovascular sport ever devised. Some times one might get winded if a rock is released way too softly from the player's hand and thus the two sweepers have to brush their brooms hard down the length of the ice. Doing that can make the shoulders flare with pain and the lungs heave for the next breath. But still much of the game is pure strategy so it isn't exactly the same as racing your cats up a steep flight of stairs. That said, it is hard to play at 100 percent rock after rock. That's way too intense so there are times when I find myself holding back during a match. That's all I meant with my quote.

Who could have known that I'd be such a natural at the game. I began playing just last year and my introduction to the rules and playing techniques came right before my first match after I had worked all Election Night and I showed up at the club and my friend Lisa tried her best to explain what was going to happen.

Our team last year did surprisingly well especially since we were all beginners. We ended up with a five hundred record. Nate, the kid, was our skip and he was clearly our best player. He had the form down and he made some really nice shots throughout the season. Bernie (who we later found out was the chief financial officer of Northwest Airlines- he had only told us his job was as A finance guy for the company) was our third and was pretty good at take out shots.

Same goes for Lisa who threw second. She's got great form and Bernie and I often marveled at how far out on the ice she would glide when she was throwing her rocks.

I was the lead, the position generally given to the weakest member of the squad. It took me half a season to figure out whether the best strategy was to try and get my rocks in the house or leave them just outside thus making all the other curlers try and get their rocks around mine.

This season Lisa and I are the only two returning members of the team. In Nate and Bernie's place we've got Gail and Jon, a married couple who curled up in Canada a few years ago. The lack of continuity has been a problem. This season has been full of ups and downs. We've either been beat badly or have won rather handily. There have been few close matches.

My own play has probably been the most consistent on the team. I've better learned how to control the weight of my throws or how far the rock ultimately ends up going. My personal goal has always been to outplay the lead on the other team and for the most part I think I've done that.

And hence this is where my somewhat regrettable quote came from. After a particularly humiliating performance where we made bad shot after bad shot I was a bit frustrated since I thought I was playing fairly well. It was demoralizing to be being beat by a team that was clearly not as talented as ours and so when the reporter asked about my effort and whether I had given up before the match was over, I was pissed to say the least. Still I'm not one to pretend. If we're getting hammered I'll just do what I can until it's over.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Nano Nano

It's been kind of a sad week for me. My attempts to buy William Shatner's kidney stone fell way short. Yup I got outbid by an online casino who paid $25,000 for it. I'm guessing it will end up with someone who is a bigger Trekkie than I. And I'm guessing that'll literally be the case, the lucky stone holder will probably eventually be some 300 pound guy who wears Vulcan ears out in public.

Now I'm no Dr. Janet Lester but I have in the past enjoyed a Star Trek episode a time or two. In the end I'm glad I saved my life savings for something equally as enjoyable: this past week I broke down (in so many ways!) and bought myself an iPod Nano.

If Star Trek taught me nothing, it taught me that technology will turn my life around. How many times when I was little did I wish I could have a communicator? Well heavens to Betsy the day finally arrived when I was given a cell phone so anyone can now reach me at any time! And I always longed for a tricorder and someday soon I hope to be a proud owner of a Blackberry device. Of course my biggest Star Trek related desire is for the transporter to become reality, allowing us to all some day get rid of our primitive forms of transportation. Until that day, I guess I'll just have to love my scooter (well, during the summer anyway).

A little over a year ago my Dad was kind enough to give me the year's hottest product, Apple's iPod, for my birthday. The compact little device with massive capabilities, soon became a rather large part of my life. Gone was the need to drag a handful of CDs with me to work for the day's music. Gone was the worse need for missing the blood of my existence, music, on my trips away from home whether far or a little further than near. I have found the times I've loved my iPod most is when I'm in some other city and I have the ability to dial up any of my favorite songs in a moment's notice.

But good things almost always turn bad (remember that Star Trek episode when the most beautiful rose turned out to burn upon touch, being made out of some acidic material?). What I discovered was that I had so many songs I needed to carry with me at all times that I quickly filled up my iPod to its capacity. Thus I was posed with a dilemma every time I bought some new music. I was forced to delete something from my iTunes library, and more and more that was getting to be tougher and tougher.

An easy solution beamed its way into my wee little brain sometime last year. Since the artist who was taking up the most digital space on my digital device was probably the least digital related artist around, Bob Dylan, I thought, geez if I only bought myself a second iPod and loaded only Bob songs on to that, I could free up a lot of space on my original iPod.

The thought wouldn't leave me alone. When the auburn-haired lass (how does one check out the authenticity of her hair color claim?) bought herself an iPod Nano last year, and I helped her do so, I became envious when she finally showed me her device. It was so cute, so sleek and modern.

For those of you who have spent the past year in an igloo the Nano is about the size and thickness of a piece of beef jerky cut into a threes. The one I bought is supposed to hold up to 1,000 songs but since I loaded it with many Dylan live performances (that tend to run six to eight minutes long) all I could fit on to mine was 755 Bob songs.

And it's all I've been listening to (and doing) since. I hit shuffle and have to smile when the 1994 version of "Shelter from the Storm" from a concert in Brixton, London England comes up next to the near punkish (and I can so relate to this) desperate version Bob wailed out on the official 1976 Hard Rain recording of the same song sung in a completely different way. I almost want to shout out to my friends and family to let them know what they are missing. But who knows who is still listening?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Truth of the Sum of It

I used to think the most courageous thing one could do is let it all out, not hide behind any walls, let it all flap in the breeze. To this end I always loved a quote from my favorite singer/songwriter from the Iron Range who once said that his songs are like dreams but they aren't fantasy. The difference? Dreams are rooted in reality where fantasy can be all made up from somebody's imagination. Under this interpretation dreams are somewhat true while fantasy is usually all make believe. And who wants to close his eyes in order to see?

My personal perspective seems to be shifting these days, trying to find some shade, trying to linger in the shadows for a while. The simple question I grappled with all week was 'what is truth?' Is it for example, the same thing as honesty? Seems to me like they are related but only as much as three cats involuntary brought together under one roof for the majority of their lives.

I had some spare time this week trying to avoid the brunt of rush hour traffic in the western metro suburbs so I stopped to watch the movie Dreamer starring Dakota Fanning, Kurt Russell, Kris Kristofferson, and my second favorite actress, Elizabeth Shue, in an inspirational story about a racehorse that breaks its leg and eventually comes back to race in the Breeder's Cup.

The movie begins with the disclaimer that almost always makes me dismiss a movie, "based on a true story" yet I didn't dislike this movie. Rather I was quite moved by it. Yes, this is the kind of sports movie about plucky underdogs (or in this case gimpy horses) that we've all seen about a hundred and fifty thousand times. Still the story is told so well and the quality of the cast (can anyone believe how talented Ms. Fanning is at her age?) that Dreamer proves that even in a movie where we can predict every step along the way, we can tolerate the obvious if there is a great big heart behind the telling of the tale.

So what's true about the story of Dreamer? Turns out there was a real life horse named Mariah's Storm that broke her leg and went on to win the 1995 Breeder's Cup. The stuff about a little girl's unwavering faith in both her father and the horse? That part was embellished.

I teared up a couple of different times during the movie. See I'm a sucker for animal stories. Waking up every morning to a grunting three-legged cat who has patiently dozed during the night and knows meal time is around the corner just a mere hop down the stairs, has kept my heart from turning completely to stone. Yeah I knew I was being manipulated by Dreamer and I knew it's claim to the truth was probably a tad misleading but I bought the story hook, line, and sinker. In the end I wanted the made up horse, Sonador, to kick some butt.

One of the key elements of the story of Dreamer is the importance of the 'keep on keeping on' philosophy in the face of uphill odds; the easiest thing maybe to throw in the towel and end things right then and there in the dirt of a circular racetrack, but the easiest thing may be a hard thing to do if one doesn't want to disappoint another.

Shue's character of the sympathetic wife and mother is the least fleshed out of the movie and yet she plays the key role in the story. She won't let her husband disappoint her daughter nor will she let him off the hook for not seeing how his fatalistic attitude has been given a second chance by a horse that has no chance despite being given an unusual second shot at it all.

As the too young to sit still girl behind me kicked my seat and chomped her popcorn with mouth open making it hard to hear, I could relate to Russell's character's discomfort at being at an evening's parent/teacher thingie and being forced to accept some truth in the word's of his daughter's essay. The scene made me want to run from ever being a parent, and wishing I still was one all at the same time. It showed that not only do dreams sometimes come true, but also that there are times dreams are true.

Monday, January 9, 2006

Oh How I Still Miss Buffy

I essentially took the past two weeks off to recuperate from the past couple of years. My official goal was trying to clean my house from fussily organizing my video tapes and CDs, to opening long unopened mail and reading unread books. Once upon a long ago I gave up the fight against cat hair but even this was a challenge I tried to address during my two week recuperation swiffing and sweeping and dusting and picking up globs of hair here and there.

Coming from a tired mind and weary body you'll have to take the following with more than a grain of salt (I'd suggest a Morton's sized container) especially since much of my free time was spent transferring my collection of Survivor video tapes on to DVDs thus proving my standards may have eroded some over the years. I like to say that I majored in TV in college. My major senior paper was all about the history of television and its influence on our culture. My major senior project was spent out in Hollywood trying unsuccessfully to get on to a game show.

In his critically acclaimed book Everything Bad is Good for You, Steven Johnson makes a convincing argument that our so-called dumbed-down, instant gratification culture is a myth. Johnson writes that not only are video games quite educational for the youth of America, but that the current slate of TV shows are so much more sophisticated that any shows from the past that just by watching them the American TV viewer is cognitively challenged in ways never before seen in our history.

So I don't know if any of you were fortunate enough to see not one, but two GREAT television moments this past week. One was FOX talk show host Bill O'Reilly's appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. Dave was thankfully scornful of O'Reilly's view of our current affairs. When O'Reilly began his segment with his nonsensensical fight against how political correctness is trying to take Christmas away from God-fearing Americans, Dave dismissed it all as silly, a few isolated incidents and examples that can't be taken seriously.

When O'Reilly attacked Cindy Sheehan for calling the Iraqi insurgents "freedom fighters" Dave rightfully called his guest out. "I'm very concerned about people like yourself who don't have nothing but endless sympathy for a woman like Cindy Sheehan. Honest to Christ. Honest to Christ." Dave then asked how anyone could defend the decision to invade the country now that the President has admitted that he did so with faulty intelligence. "Why the hell are we there to begin with?" Dave asked a couple of times.

The second great, not to be missed, TV moment was Monday's episode of Arrested Development. The show has all but been canceled by FOX and the writers made great fun of this by tying the show's future in with the show's storyline. The episode centered on a benefit to help the Bluth family out of its troubles only to have the benefit sabotaged by the fact that the family has few redeeming or likable qualities. Conan O'Brien's ex-sidekick, Andy Richter, made a killer appearance as himself and his multiple brothers. Richter of course was the victim of his own too short-lived, too good for the masses FOX TV show, Andy Richter Controls the Universe.

The episode was a semi-inside joke about the show's plight about not being able to catch on with the public mostly because of its premise- that we all come from screwed up families but the Bluths were perhaps the most screwed up family of all time. God I'm gonna miss one of the best examples of Johnson's book/argument- of how sophisticated TV has gotten. The only plausible reason that Arrested Development failed was that there was way too much going on in the typical episode for the average TV viewer to appreciate. This was a long ways from the Andy Griffith Show but some of us have to see that don't we?

Sunday, January 1, 2006

2005 Newsletter Woman of the Year

Previous Winners: 1992: H. Ross Perot, 1993: St. Francis of Assisi, 1994: Newt Gingrich, 1995: Cal Ripken Jr., 1996: The Bob Dole Campaign, 1997: Dolly the Sheep, 1998: El Nino, 1999: Belinda Jensen, 2000: The Taco Bell Chihuahua, 2001: Randy Moss, 2002: The Cheapo Newsletter, 2003: Lindsay Whalen 2004: The iPod

It was a tumultuous year for the Newsletter Woman of the Year Committee (NWOTYC). First the chairman's decision to invade Best Buy's Newsletter Woman of the Year Committee's headquarters because of rumored Waffles of Delicious Decadence turned out to be based wholly (holy) on faulty intelligence. Committee members who unanimously backed the decision to invade were left with breakfast egg on their faces and hardly felt safe in their own country. Thus the proceedings were moved overseas to the only country that would welcome the NWOTYC and provide plenty of blueberry flavored maple syrup: England.

Sequestered somewhere in the West Kensington district of London, committee members soon found that being in a foreign land was hardly conducive to come to some sort of agreement on who should be honored this year. At least back home if meetings disintegrated into nonproductive chaos one could always go back to one's room and spend hours surfing the Internet without paying an arm and a leg. In other words, non-productivity, a staple of an American meeting, was much more expensive overseas than it would have been at home. That said, the committee narrowed its choices down to six stellar candidates. Few years have seen as many qualified candidates than in 2005. The finalists:

6) Veronica Mars: TV's baddest woman from TV's coolest show, she ain't no Buffy but that isn't exactly the point.

5) The secret society of American scooter riders: As gas prices rose so high that even a Honda Civic driver found that he could pump in over $20 worth of gas into his fuel efficient but tiny gas tanked car, more and more people took matters into their own hands and hit the streets on stylish scooters. What made what already was an enjoyable ride even more enjoyable was by buying a scooter one automatically enlisted in a community of others who know how lovely a ride can be on a motorized two wheel vehicle. The fresh air is great but the use of all five senses, so dulled in a car, comes alive on a scooter. And it's great that it's obligatory while riding a scooter and passing another scooter rider that one should wave.

4) Harriet Miers: The biggest criticism of George W. Bush's nomination of John Roberts to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court was that Roberts wasn't a woman. Conservatives applauded this anti-affirmative action move. Liberals predictably howled. And even Bush's own wife Laura publicly questioned the move. Bush then proved how foreign a concept affirmative action is to him by next nominating Ms. Miers to replace the late William Rehnquist. If the one qualification needed for this nomination was to be a woman, Bush only had over fifty percent of the population to choose from. That he chose the entirely unqualified Miers shows that he really is a uniter not a divider. Heckava a job G.W.!

3) The Whizzinator: One would have thought that the Vikings' Love Boat scandal would be the team's most unique scandal of the year. But no, running back Onterio Smith getting caught at the airport with powered urine and the Whizzinator, a device designed to pass a drug test, makes the little sex scandal seem somewhat bland in contrast.

2) Cassie Johnson: The skip of the U.S. Women's Olympic Curling Team proves that to be good in the sport requires athleticism and grace. That the Bemidji native is also a babe means that the sport that is about to hit the big time has a photogenic spokesperson for years to come.

Committee members make no bones that the choice for the 2005 Newsletter Woman of the Year wasn't a unanimous decision. Members debated, discussed, and deliberated and their decision evolved into the eventual winner. In a year where the line between religion and politics continued to blur, committee members couldn't believe that they lived in a land where teaching creationism in the guise of something called "Intelligent Design" in science class was an issue. Most of the committee members thought that the Scopes Monkey Trial, so artistically and memorably portrayed in Spencer Tracy's movie Inherit the Wind, had long ago settled things.

Thus the committee split. Some wanted to award King Kong as a gesture towards our monkey friends. But in the end the majority went with the 2005 Newsletter Woman of the Year: Mr. Charles Darwin. That his thoughtful and scientifically proven theories have returned to the controversial after all these years is astounding. If it is our goal to be remembered years after we leave this earth Mr. Darwin surely had to be happy with 2005. It truly was the year of the monkey and the NWOTYC thank God that Darwin was such an evolved monkey.