Mission Unaccomplished

Here’s my horoscope from a couple of Sundays ago:

I’m pretty sure I’m the reigning champ of the world… nay, the universe… at goofing off. I’ve been practicing for decades. My job during the summer after my freshman year of college was lifeguard.

Yep, that’s pretty much how I looked…

Sure, we had to make sure the pool patrons didn’t drown (it’s bad for repeat business), but 99.9% of the time I was sitting on my butt…. or using tortilla chips to skim the crusty layer off the nacho “cheese” (using that term very loosely) in the snack bar.

The following summer I took the same gig .(I’m mean, who wouldn’t double down on the free nachos?).

I shifted gears slightly the next summer – I was a summer camp counselor. Actually, check that, I was a summer day camp counselor. So I spent my days playing “Capture the Flag” with a bunch of rugrats (and got a free lunch) but then I could go home to a bed instead of roughing it in a tent or cabin.

Yep, that’s pretty much how I looked dressed.

None of those jobs involved night shifts. The pool was closed on Sunday. While the money wasn’t great, the jobs were decidedly “cush gigs.”

Once I graduated, my jobs were:

  • Marketing at a horse racing track
  • radio station
  • another radio station
  • travel agent
  • radio yet again
  • still more radio
  • writer at an ad agency
  • writer at a marketing firm

These dainty hands of mine have never known calluses. (Although there was that one time when the hot nacho cheese dripped on a knuckle… )

Writing takes up the lion’s share of my workday now. And with all due respect to the late great sportswriter Red Smith, who said:

Writing is easy. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

The type of writing I do (employee communications) isn’t exactly War and Peace. And the first part of writing is coming up with ideas, which is really glorified daydreaming. So I get paid to stare out the window. (I’m really really good at it… probably my 2nd best skill behind “nacho eating.”)

I do believe I’ve fulfilled my horoscope destiny. (It’s not being lazy if it’s written in the stars!)

However, I don’t want to take any chances. To increase my goofing off capacity, I need to make sure my well-honed do-nothing muscles don’t atrophy. Practice makes perfect, right? So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be the one napping on the couch, with a streak of nacho “cheese” trailing down my cheek.

Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the best at Pickleball?

It’s me! I’m the best at pickleball!

OK, I’d better pump the brakes on that superlative. In all honesty and modesty, Cary and I are the best. Oh sure, we were in the 3.0 bracket at the local pickleball tournament this weekend….and that’s the lowest possible level. But that makes us the best of the worst, right? Besides, we tried to get into the higher 3.5 bracket, but it was full. So we weren’t really sandbagging too much… more like sand-pouching.

We were rookies – it was our first tourney. But it’s kinda hard to call us “rookies” when we have a combined 132 years of living under our (Sansa)belts. We’re a mirror image team: I’m 57 and Cary’s 75.

There were 12 teams in our bracket, split into two six-team pools for round-robin play. The top two teams from each pool advanced to the “medal round.” Cary and I won our first five matches before losing to two young whippersnappers 15-9. But our record was good enough to get us to the next round, where we knocked off the #1 team from the other pool, then had a rematch against the whippersnappers… and WE won, 15-9!

I’m such an anti-competitive dude that my first thought was that the whippersnappers got screwed.. (Actually, that was my second thought – my first thought was “holy schnikes, I can’t believe we won!”) We both had the same record, and we split our head-to-head matches by identical scores. But we won when all money was on the line (the whopping $30 gift certificate!).

This isn’t really a pickleball story, though. Cary’s originally from Cadiz, Ohio, a coal-mining town in Eastern Ohio (near scenic Steubenville!). His dad worked for the coal company, and Cary’s first job was at the mines. But he was a pretty good baseball player. In high school, he played against future major league star Thurman Munson, future NFL receiver Danny Abramowicz, and longtime MLB coach Rich Donnelly. Cary got a baseball scholarship to Bowling Green State University, in western Ohio, and, in his own words, “it changed my life.”

Cary was able to escape the inexorable future of most of his classmates — a life of back-breaking, unforgiving labor in the coal mines — and get a college degree. He wound up working with “big data” and teaching statistics classes – 20 years at Bowling Green and 20 more at the University of Cincinnati. He met his wife in his first year of working for BGSU, when she was a student there and working as a waitress. They have a son and daughter-in-law and two grandsons who live in Indy. Cary volunteers at a local YMCA, teaching pickleball to beginners.

The Harvards and Stanfords get all the prestige of higher education. But let’s not discount the role of the “mid-major” state schools that offer scholarships and semi-affordable tuition to first-generation college students. They are changing life trajectories… and therefore changing the world.

I’ve learned quite a bit about Cary, and if it weren’t for pickleball, he’d be just another face in the crowd…. some random old dude. Yes, I’ve heard all the “pickleball is for old people” jokes. But the older folks I’ve met through the sport are great people, with interesting stories to tell. Maybe you should try pickleball. Or maybe you can just spend a bit more time with some seniors, and get to know their stories. You just might learn something.

Cary’s a good dude who also happens to be a pretty darn good pickleball player. If I’m lucky enough to reach the age of 75, I hope folks say the same thing about me.

Print’s not dead. It’s just dead to me.

Neil Sedaka said “Breaking up is hard to do” but I found it quite easy to break up with my newspaper. (Yes, I still read a newspaper… wasn’t the Neil Sedaka reference a huge clue?)

I enjoy cracking open a Sunday newspaper. There’s something very soothing about it. It’s a comfortable routine. (Step one: throw all the sales circulars in the recycling bin. Step two: read the comics.) I stare at a computer screen pretty much all day at my job, so it’s nice to go “old school” on the weekends. It’s tangible, tactile, decidedly not “meta.” Besides, you can “scroll” through a printed paper a lot faster than you can scroll through the articles online (thanks for nothing, slow-loading Metamucil pop-up ads targeted to my life stage).

The Cincinnati Enquirer, like most daily newspapers, has been slowly circling the drain for several years now. They’ve laid off most of their journalists. They shifted the printing to Columbus a few years ago, so any news that happens after noon won’t be in the next day’s edition. But there was still enough meat on the bones to keep me as a subscriber. Until they introduced their “special editions.” It’s an extra section in the Sunday paper for “special occasions” – recent ones have covered MLK Day and the Bengals Super Bowl appearance.

Each “special edition” means I’m charged about 50% more for that month’s subscription. And they’ve been trotting out “special editions” at a record pace… I wouldn’t be surprised if they put one out for Administrative Assistants Day.

There’s no way to opt out of these special editions. So they’re really no more than a flimsy excuse to try to extract a bit more cash out of their ever-dwindling subscriber base.

So I finally decided to send the Cincinnati Enquirer a special edition of my own – it’s called a “subscription cancellation.” Unlike their special editions, this one’s free!

[I’m keeping my print subscriptions to Cincinnati Magazine (best deal in town) and The Atlantic… for the tangible, tactile reasons mentioned above. And of course I’ll still be receiving AARP Magazine based on my life stage.. no pop-up ads in that one.]

Run Baby Run. But don’t leave.

Sorry for the extra helping of sports posts, but I can’t help myself. The scrappy, tough kids from St. Peter’s University in Jersey-freakin-City just knocked off Purdue last night to make their way to the NCAA Elite Eight. The Peacocks (yes, that’s the mascot) are the first #15 seed to make it this far.

From this great article by Steve Politi on NJ.com

The team’s tiny home gymnasium, on their puny campus, is called “Run Baby Run Arena.” And yesterday was “National Peacock Day.” You can’t make stuff like that up.

Guard Doug Edert has become the toast of the tourney due to his stellar play AND his cheesy mustache.

The Peacocks coach, Shaheen Holloway, has impressed everyone with his strategic savvy and his cool demeanor.

It’s thrilling. It’s magical. It’s Madness!

That’s the heartwarming part of the story. But here’s a bucket of cold water: Shaheen Holloway will be gone shortly after the “Run Baby Run” run is over.

Holloway was a point guard for Seton Hall back in the late 90s. Seton Hall’s coach, Kevin Willard, just left the Garden State for the greener pasture$ of the University of Maryland. And, in a move that was ill-advised, poorly-timed and downright stupid, Willard practically anointed Holloway as his successor even though St. Peter’s was still in the tourney:

So if Kevin Willard’s happiness is high on your wish list, congrats! But for the rest of America (i.e. those not named “Kevin Willard”)… and especially for the kids who are playing their hearts out for St. Peter’s University right now, and the entire school and all of its alums, it stinks. They’re having the time of their lives… but they know it’ll be over soon.

Kevin Willard’s base salary at Seton Hall was $2.5 million. Shaheen Holloway made $266,344 in 2019. You certainly can’t fault a guy for leaving for a job at his alma mater, in a much better conference, on a much bigger stage, for 10X what he makes now. We’re happy for Holloway, but it gives this Cinderella story an unhappy ending for the Peacocks.

15>2

15 is greater than 2.

No this isn’t a post about math. I’m not really wired that way.

I’m talking about college basketball. Over the past couple days we’ve seen why the NCAA College Basketball Tournament is the best sporting event in the United States. If you disagree, you’re wrong. The Super Bowl is way too much hype. The NBA Finals and the World Series are usually won by the teams with the fattest payroll. And the NHL? Well I don’t know much about hockey, but I imagine their finals are like the world’s worst ice fishing expedition.

Over the past couple days of March Madness® (that’s a trademarked term by the way… good thing I don’t make any money on this blog), lots of games went right down to the wire. Especially on Thursday. There were three overtime games. Two teams that were seeded #12 beat the teams that were seeded #5. Number 16 seed Georgia State went toe to toe with the top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs for about 30 minutes…. unfortunately for them, college basketball games are 40 minutes long.

But the cherry on top was when the scrappy Peacocks from Saint Peter’s University beat the blue-blooded Wildcats from the University of Kentucky. Saint Peter’s went into the game a 17.5-point underdog. but they kept fighting and kept scrapping and knocked off one of the most storied programs in college basketball, and a perennial powerhouse. The #15 seed was greater than #2.

In case you didn’t know it, St Peter’s University is in Jersey City, New Jersey. The city where I was born.

389 Liberty Avenue, Jersey City, NJ… a.k.a. “home”

It’s also the city where my dad’s family grew up. My Uncle John (my Dad’s older brother) was a graduate of Saint Peter’s (back when it was known as St. Peter’s College). And he loved basketball.

Uncle John also loved serving others, so he became a Jesuit priest and taught at a high school in the Philippines for most of his adult life. My dad didn’t go to Saint Peter’s but he was just as much of a staunch Catholic as my priestly uncle. (We jokingly referred to him as “Pope Herbert I.”) So during the college b-ball season, and especially when March Madness® rolled around, he loved rooting for the Catholic universities. He would have been happy over the past couple days: Gonzaga, Creighton, Notre Dame, St. Mary’s, Villanova and Saint Peter’s all advanced to the next round.

Uncle John officiated at my Dad’s wedding

Schools that pull off upsets in the NCAA tourney typically get a boost in college applications. Uncle John and “Pope Herb” would surely be thrilled that a small Jesuit university in their home city is getting some extra attention.

By the time the Saint Peter’s-Kentucky game ended it, it was close to midnight on St. Patrick’s Day. My dad passed away on March 18th twelve years ago. But I know he and my Uncle John are really happy that some scrappy kids from Jersey City — kids with the odds stacked against them — kept on fighting and came out on top.

In fact, I’m sure both of them are high-fiving the original St. Peter right now!

Update: St. Peter’s beat Murray State on 3/19 to advance to the Sweet 16, only the 3rd #15 seed to make it that far in the history of the tourney, and the most unlikely one.

This is far and away the most unlikely Sweet 16 entrant in the history of the NCAA tournament.

Joe Lunardi

This article from Yahoo! Sports captures the euphoria.

“Now all you have to say is St. Peter’s University and everybody knows what you’re talking about. Our basketball team put us on the map.”

Brooke Boutchie, a St. Peter’s student and defender on the women’s soccer team.

Community. Theater.

When Mrs. Dubbatrubba and I were in New York recently, we took in a Broadway show.

Sidebar: I don’t know why you have to say “took in” when you’re talking about attending a B-way show. — it sounds like you’re adopting a stray cat or adjusting the waistline of your Sansabelt slacks — but it’s the law.

We “took in” The Book of Mormon. (Go figure, even when I try to add some culture to my normally Neanderthal-like existence, I wind up watching something South Park-related.)

You probably wouldn’t peg me as a Broadway musical kind of guy, and you’re right. I tend to lean more towards indie concerts in small clubs, not the neon lights of the Great White Way. But I loved The Book of Mormon. Sure, it was funny… in fact it’s irreverent as heck… but it also was semi-poignant.

When you see a musical live, you get a tremendous appreciation for the talent of the performers and the craft of the creators and crew. The music, the lyrics, the choreography… the talent is off the charts.

photo credit: New York Times

Putting together a Broadway show ain’t cheap, especially if it’s a musical. There’s an orchestra, elaborate sets, costumes, special effects… and only about one in five shows actually makes money for its investors. You’d have better luck playing Three-card Monte.

The stuff happening on stage is special, but there’s something very special about the audience too. There’s a sort of alchemy that happens when hundreds are folks are in the same theater. And unlike sports, they’re all rooting for the same team. Experiencing a play in a communal setting is magical. We all could probably use a bit more more time spent watching stages and less time spent staring at screens.

Broadway may be out of reach — geographically and/or economically — but there’s great community theater in pretty much every decent-sized town in this country (except maybe Orlando… sorry, The Book of Mormon joke). The shows may have slightly less glitz and glamor, but they’ve got just as much heart.

Get off your couch and get to a theater (or theatre… or even cafeteria) soon. It’ll put more unity in your community.

There was only one slight bummer to our Broadway experience: We didn’t get to see Kyle Selig as Elder Price. Kyle is the fiancé of my first cousin once removed, Erika Henningsen… who starred as Cady Heron in Mean Girls on Broadway (that’s where she and Kyle met), and plays Young Gloria in the Hulu series Girls5Eva. Kyle first starred in The Book of Mormon many years ago, but recently came to the rescue for a two-week fill-in stint when COVID hit the cast.

That’s OK, we can catch Kyle in eight episodes of the new FOX TV series Welcome to Flatch – it premiers tomorrow night at 9:30 p.m. Eastern.

It’s a Family Affair

My niece Julia got married this past Friday, in her hometown of Brooklyn.

It was a lovely wedding ceremony, and a beautiful reception. (Also a rockin’ reception… I danced more at Julia’s shindig than I did at my own wedding… actually I think I danced more than I had in my entire life, cumulatively.)

But the highlight of the trip was catching up with the whole Morris family:

And meeting Julia’s husband, Tommy:

But it isn’t just the union of Julia and Tommy, it’s the union of the two families:

Julia’s from Brooklyn. Tommy’s from Washington. That’s about as bi-coastal as you can get. It’s not like the two families will become instant “besties”… but now they’re inextricably linked.

I know the Morris crew is good people. And after meeting many members of the Thorpe clan, I could tell that they’re good people too.

We tend to think about a wedding as “from this day forward” but the truth is the building blocks started decades ago. And I know this marriage has a super-strong foundation. One that Julia and Tommy will carry with them back to South Carolina, as they build their life together.

Have you had your Berry today?

Here, let me serve it up for you:

I believe that the world was created and approved by love, that it subsists, coheres, and endures by love, and that, insofar as it is redeemable, it can be redeemed only by love.

WENDELL BERRY
Photograph by Guy Mendes

Good ol’ Wendell. He’s just a Kentucky farmer who loves the land… and the people on it. Because the land and the people are like peas in a pod… or should be.

Seems like a lot of folks these days are trying to rule the world with greed, venom, hatred. That ain’t gonna work. Love wins. Always.

Speaking of love, the Wendell Berry quote above came from the Gratefulness.org “Word for the Day” email. I love getting a new inspirational quote in my inbox every day. You will too. You can sign up here.

One Man’s Trash… is My Treasure

I’ve gotten into vinyl albums of late, and have done a lot of crate digging at the local thrift stores and flea markets trying to add to my collection without spending an arm and a leg.

Most times it’s a waste of time… a lot of sifting through the oeuvre of Andy Williams, Engelbert Humperdinck, “Sing along with Mitch” and the Ray Conniff Singers.

Me? Not so much in love with this…

The selection certainly fits the age bracket of the folks whose closets are being cleaned out by their offspring after they pass away.

Occasionally I’ll find a decent album or three as I mine the stacks. But today I struck gold. Check out this mother lode:

I’m most excited about the two Elvis Costello albums, the Clash’s London Calling (a two-LP set), Joe Jackson (an oft-overlooked gem) and Born to Run. But the Pete Townshend solo ones are pretty cool too… I’ve always like The Call….can’t go wrong with The Byrds… you get the idea.

Not bad for a whopping $4.63. (Albums were half-priced today.)

Kinda makes all that time starting at Andy Williams albums worthwhile. Almost.

Looks like I won free tickets to the gun show…

Super United

I’ve never been a fan of the two week gap between the NFL’s conference championship games and the Super Bowl. It was two long weeks of seeing and hearing every sports journalist lionize Tom Brady (he’s the G.O.A.T., not a lion!)… and seeing Patrick Mahomes ad infinitum (a Latin term meaninng “an endless number of State Farm commercials).

Sneaker-selling season started earlier this year…

But this year, the Cincinnati Bengals are in the Super Bowl. (Spell-check just underlined the last sentence… even computers can’t believe it happened.) And I’m really digging the two-week gap. It’s an extra week for the citizens of this city to bask in the warm orange glow of a long-awaited Super Bowl appearance.

Photo credit: Personal work of Jeffrey Dean.

An extra week to hope, to dream… to believe.

An extra week to rally around a common cause, rather than dwelling on the differences that seem to divide us. There’s no red vs. blue… just orange and black. Instead of yelling at strangers on the internet, we yell “Who Dey!” together.

Of course the phrase came from beer… would you expect anything less from us?

We have more in common than we think… but sometimes it takes a sports team to help us realize that.

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