Sunday, December 20, 2009

Best of the 2000s: Albums

Before I unveil my favorite albums of this decade, I will give you some songs that missed the cut. I meant to add this to my last entry.

"Kids" MGMT, "Keep the Car Running" Arcade Fire, "Optimistic" Radiohead, "Munich" The Editors, "Tie Up My Hands" Starsailor, "Jesus of Suburbia", Green Day

Moving on ... I know any real list would have Eminem, Kanye West, Amy Winehouse etc.
Again, I'm as narrow-minded as a Tea Partier when it comes to music, though I do appreciate some of the above artists' songs. Also, unlike real lists, you won't see Radiohead here 15 times.

So here's my Top 10, brought to you by WBRU.

10. Good News for People Who Love Bad News - Modest Mouse (2004): An quirky collection of songs, some with a dreamy feel (Float On), some punkish (Dance Hall) and some very understated and folksy (The Good Times Are Killing Me). This collection of songs sounds from another planet, from another time. It's easy to lose yourself in this 16-track behemoth.

Best songs: Ocean Breathes Salty, Dance Hall, Float On.

9. Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand (2004): While some albums drag, especially towards the end, this one checks in at a scant and rollicking 38 minutes. Right from the catchy "Jacqueline" to the final " '40," you don't have much time to breathe. There are no acoustic ballads or filler tracks to calm things down. These Scots start off running and they don't stop. "Take Me Out" is the masterpiece, but it's not the only notable track. "This Fire" sticks to your brain and "Darts of Pleasure" does the same, the latter containing the album's best lyrics. "You can feel my lips undress your eyes" and "Words of love and words so leisured / Words of poisoned darts of pleasure." These guys came out of nowhere - for me anyway - and I haven't heard much from them since, but at least they left us with this memorable record.

Best songs: Take Me Out, Darts of Pleasure, This Fire, Jacqueline

8. By The Way: Red Hot Chili Peppers (2002): The Peppers eschewed their usual funk stylings with their most pop-friendly, accessible album. The title track gets the adrenaline started but mellow, sad songs mark this album, from "I Could Die For You" to "Tear." They definitely throw in some rockers, like "On Mercury" and my favorite, "Can't Stop." They toss the entire playbook in this one, which sets By the Way apart from much of their work. It's emotional, subdued and some of the songs are downright beautiful. No "Suck My Kiss" or "Give It Away" here.

Best songs: Can't Stop, On Mercury, By the Way, Tear

7. In Your Honor: Foo Fighters (2005): Dave Grohl has said he wants to be remembered for this album. This isn't the best Foo Fighters record - that goes to The Colour and the Shape - but it's their best since Y2k ended the world in 2000. Inspired by his time campaigning with John Kerry in 2004, he penned this double-album, one disc full of rock songs and the other full with acoustic tracks. "Best of You" and "DOA" mark the first side with typical Foo Fighters energy and melody. What really separates this from the rest is the acoustic part. For these hard-rockers to discard the amps and electric guitars and come up with very solid, stripped down songs is a major achievement. The haunting "Over and Out," the whimsical "What If I Do?" and the jaunty "Hard Day in the Sun" highlight the softer side of In Your Honor. It's hard to pull off a double-album, especially these days in ADD nation, but the Foos did it.

Best Songs: DOA, What If I Do?, Over and Out

6. Elephant: The White Stripes (2003): In the annals of album openers, "Seven Nation Army" is near the top. Right away, you know the Stripes are following up White Blood Cells with an album even more diverse, daring and bare. The garage rock tunes still pepper this album, but Jack White slows it down with some slower, even odd tunes, like the final "It's True That We Love One Another" and the piano-tinged "I Want To Be The Boy Who Warms Your Mother's Heart." They don't forget their roots though, which explains "The Hardest Button to Button" and "I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself." Jack White is an old-school blues musician who comes up with simple, home-spun lyrics and chords that just thump like a heartbeat. Elephant was universally praised by critics and fans alike - for good reason. It turned the Stripes from niche garage rockers to megastars.
5. Songs for the Deaf: Queens of the Stone Age (2002): Anytime you have Dave Grohl as a drummer, odds are the album will kick ass. He mans the drum kit for this amazing collection of head-banging, mosh-pit rock. It's more than just some songs thrown together; Songs for the Deaf actually serves as a concept album of sorts. It's a car ride from LA to the Mojave Desert where we get to hear the Queens poke fun at the state of radio. It begins with "Clone Radio" in L.A., that proudly says "We play the songs that sound more like everyone else than anyone else." Everything from Spanish stations to college stations appear, adding another level to what is already a great album. "No One Knows," "First It Giveth" and "The Sky is Falling" are some of the standouts. While satirizing the stale, mind-numbing airwaves, Josh Homme and company find the time to add in great song after great song after great song. Not bad.

Best songs: No One Knows, The Sky Is Falling, Go With The Flow, First It Giveth

4. American Idiot: Green Day (2004): Another concept album, but from Green Day? They're used to singing about getting stoned and masturbating. They named an album "Dookie" for crying out loud. The fact they produced a modern-day, suburban America rock opera is one of the biggest surprises of the decade. American Idiot follows the Jesus of Suburbia, a bored, lost and frustrated everyman who runs away from home and falls in love with Whatshername. He also meets St. Jimmy, a self-destructive freedom-fighting rocker who is supposed to represent the Jesus of Suburbia's alter ego. The Jesus of Suburbia medley is beyond great, with Billie Joe Armstrong's best lyrics to date. "I read the graffiti on the bathroom stall / like the Holy Scriptures of the shopping mall." While making an American Beauty-esque critique on American materialism and conformity, Green Days tells this story and, like most operas, it ends in tragedy and loss. Unlike most operas, the music is listenable. The Who would be proud.

Best songs: Jesus of Suburbia, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Holiday

3. Is This It - The Strokes (2001): No list of albums for this decade can ignore this seismic offering from this New York, Emily Schaible-discovered misfit band. While not nearly as good as Nevermind, it had a similar effect on this decade in rock music. While Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit and Korn were dominating the air waves, The Strokes blew everything up. Instead of macho, bloated metal, people started paying attention to alternative bands with tattered jeans, suit jackets over t-shirts and floppy hair. This album lacks any pretension. Simple, groovy, low-key guitar rock, from the huge hit "Last Nite" to the hypnotic "Soma" make up this record. Julian Casablancas growls into the microphone, his voice distorted and probably hung-over. This album kicked off the frenzy for the "The" bands. The Hives, The Vines, The Libertines, even Kings of Leon owe them. This album made alternative cool again.

Best songs: Someday, Soma, Last Nite

2. A Rush of Blood to the Head - Coldplay (2002): These top two albums are in my all-time top five. This album is as close to perfect as an album can be. Reflecting post-9/11 attitudes, A Rush of Blood to the Head begins with the epic piano rock of Politik and ends with a somber and sweet piano song "Amsterdam." I like every single song. Every single one. As you know by now, "Clocks" is the stand-out. But "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" is infectious while "The Scientist" could make a lesser man cry. The circular guitar and ecstatic vocals of "Daylight" are hard to dislike and the simple "Green Eyes" is enough to make any woman melt. It worked on Gwyneth Paltrow, right? Six years later, I still listen to this album often and I almost never skip a song. This record still stands up as Coldplay's masterpiece. Don't snicker. They've released four albums this decade and all have been good. AROBTTH is more than just good. It's a deserted island album for me.

Best songs: Clocks, Politik, The Scientist, Green Eyes, Daylight

1. Hot Fuss - The Killers (2004): While I love the previous album on this list, I don't think it broke any new ground. This one did. The Killers resurrected 80's synth-rock by jazzing it up with pop melodies and adding sneakily dark lyrics. Fun themes of murder, obsession, helplessness, rage, sorrow and vengeance pop up everywhere. "Jenny is Friend of Mine" has a man confessing to the murder of his sweetheart. "Mr. Brightside" has the man obsessing about his mate girl on him. "Smile Like You Mean It" deals with the break-up. "Midnight Show" deals with the murder. Brandon Flowers shields these dark words with a flurry of pop chords made for radio airplay. It's a delicate balancing act and these Las Vegas guys pull it off brilliantly. It's the one album that I think would make the deserted island list of The Brookline Trio of Jeff, Steve and Zach. The one quibble I have is the final track, but the greatness of what comes before it more than makes up for my distaste. Frankly, I still remember the first time I heard this album. I was laid up after surgery and it was love at first sound. This album just fucking rocks. I don't think I'll ever stop enjoying it.

Best songs: All These Things I've Done, Jenny Was a Friend of Mine, Mr. Brightside, Midnight Show
Whew. This took a while. More than I expected. Here are the albums that missed the cut.

Only by the Night: Kings of Leon

Pearl Jam: Pearl Jam

Oracular Spectacular: MGMT

Audioslave: Audioslave

Hopes and Fears: Keane
How To Build An Atomic Bomb: U2

Monday, December 14, 2009

Best of the 2000s: Songs

Ready for the 2,000th Best of the Decade list?

In music, the 2000s could not - and did not - live up to the high standards of the 1990s. That doesn't mean there weren't some great songs. Below I'll list my favorite songs of the past 10 years. Be prepared for me to miss something. I did a list of Best Comedies and forgot Arrested Development. Epic FAIL! Also, my tastes in music aren't the most eclectic in the world. I know that. Live with it.

And if this were Rolling Stone, I'd put Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen all over this list. They're legends, I get it, but how relevant has their new music been this decade? Not much in my eyes. Another thing ... if this were Rolling Stone you'd see 10,000 comments below crying "Where's The Comatorium Emporian of Wounder Seals? Their debut album "Whispering the Heart" is the best of all time!! You sell out!"

With that out of the way, here are my Best Songs of the 2000s.

15. World Wide Suicide - Pearl Jam: Again, if Rolling Stone can put Bruce and Bob on their lists, I can include PJ. They came back to life in 2006 with their eponymous album and this was the first single. A rollicking song that brought back angry Eddie Vedder as he rants against George Bush and the war in Iraq. "Tell you to pray/while the devil's on their shoulder." The guy writes great lyrics and it was nice to see him dip back in the well of angst one last time.

14. Soul Meets Body - Death Cab For Cutie: Not much to say except this is one great melody. A great, great, great melody. "I know our filthy hands can wash one another / and not one speck will remain." "If the silence takes you / then I hope it takes me too." Oh, those boys in Death Cab! They're so sensitive! Every now and then they produce a very good tune as well.

13. Ocean Breathes Salty - Modest Mouse: Another song dealing with death and the afterlife. While "Float On" was the big hit off their album "Good News for People Who Love Bad News," this is the best song. Far and away. My favorite line: "You wasted life, why wouldn't you waste death?"

12. Bedshaped - Keane: Did you hear? Keane is a rock band without guitars. It's true. This song, moody and atmospheric, almost seems as if it's rising to heaven. I don't know how to write about music like Jeff Schaible, so I hope that makes sense. Here's my take: Great song. Fun to listen to. It's good. I like it.

11. Cochise - Audioslave: I remember first hearing this song and wondering how Chris Cornell and the remaining members of Rage Against the Machine would sound and not being disappointed. While some never accepted this band, their first album holds up well, beginning with this ear-scratching opener. When I'm pumping iron in the gym, I like to put this on the ol' iPod. A great workout song.

10. 1901 - Phoenix: I can't stop playing this song. I just can't. It's so damn catchy and original. The lyrics are vaguely historical and the music very modern and electronic, but not too electronic. They performed on Letterman and this song sounded exactly the same live. It was amazing. Who knew the French could rock out? And yes, I first heard this on the car commercial. I'm not proud of it, but that's what happened. All that matters is I found it. And now I can't stop replaying it.

9. Take Me Out - Franz Ferdinand: Sometimes when pitchers are yanked, you can hear this song blaring in the stadium. It doesn't have anything to do with baseball, but the title is a perfect, if accidental, fit. This guitar lick that starts at 55 seconds is the best of the decade. Impossible not to remember.

8. Beautiful Day - U2: A sentimental choice. They played this song during halftime of the Pats-Rams Super Bowl and from then on it became the soundtrack to all the highlights chronicling that momentous game and that shocking season. This is standard U2 fare, but any song that immediately turns my mind to that season gets a place on this list.

7. 3 Libras - A Perfect Circle: Melancholy. Sad. Sorta beautiful. Not what you usually expect from the lead singer of Tool, but then this was not Tool. A violin and soft guitar lead to a powerful chorus where he repeats "You don't see me." Appropriate, since this song came out during my high school years. A really solid song that the decade has forgotten. That should never happen to song as great as this one.

6. The Widow - The Mars Volta: My musical tastes don't align much with The Mars Volta and their prog-rock, but they cut a very radio-friendly tune here. Echoing Led Zeppelin, The Widow contains a fantastic chorus and a great guitar solo and freaky lyrics to go with them. I don't think this ever received huge air play, which I'll never understand. This should have been on of the biggest rock hits of the decade.

5. Banquet - Bloc Party: A very enigmatic song, but entirely original and catchy like you wouldn't believe. Those British rock bands know how to write great 3-minute tunes that burrow into your brain. "Turning away from the light / Becoming adult / Turning into my soul." No idea what this means. Who cares? I know I love a song that whenever it comes on my iPod shuffle, I never EVER press fast-forward. This is one of those songs.

4. Seven Nation Army - The White Stripes: One of the best rifts in rock history. I'm not kidding. Even the Grammys couldn't ignore this song. Famous for not having a bassist, The White Stripes create a rift that sounds like bass, but Wikipedia tells me the sound is actually a semi-acoustic guitar run through an octave pedal. Wikipedia also informs me Jack White used to call the Salvation Army the Seven Nation Army. Thanks, Wikipedia. And thank you, White Stripes. You even have soccer and college crowds singing this song in stadiums.

3. Change (In the House of Flies) - Deftones: This might be the oldest song on the list, all the way from the Year 2000. Some songs rock and some songs ROCK. This one ROCKS. I can't imagine what it must be like to hear live. It has to be ear-splitting, with Chino Moreno screaming his lungs into shards and the guitars and drums blasting away. The lyrics mean nothing to me. It's just one of those songs that make you want to turn up your speaker to 11 so all your neighbors can bang on the ceiling with their broomsticks for you stop.

2. All These Things I've Done - The Killers: Could easily be No. 1. It starts with a single keyboard note and then the organ sounds and Brandon Flowers appears and then the drums and then the rolling guitar lifts you off. The Killers know how to build up a song (see Jenny was a Friend of Mine). What starts a slow soliloquy turns into a sing-along and, most famously, a church choir singing the lyrics The Killers are most famous for: "I got soul, but I'm not a soldier." This song has it all. And it's perfect. I wouldn't change a thing, a single note.

1. Clocks - Coldplay: I wrestled with this one. Clocks wins out because I've never heard a song quite like it. I'm a sucker for great piano rifts and this might be one of the best I've ever heard in a pop/rock/alternative song. The lyrics generally allude to time winding down ("Confusion never stops / closing walls and ticking clocks"), but as with most of the entries on the list, the words pale in comparison to the arrangement. Dreamy and trance-like, the piano, the repetitive drum and the muted guitar flow together on a cloud of melancholy. (How's that for a Rolling Stone-esque sentence?) If I could ever learn one instrument and one song on that instrument, I would learn this one. Imagine just plopping down on any piano and letting this rift go ... I'd be the coolest person in the room.

I bet you have many problems with this list. Please, be my guest and do your own. I'm feeling kind of lonely in the blog world lately. What's keeping you away? Jobs? Relationships? Please.

I'll be back soon with my Best Albums of the 2000s. There will be more buzz for this than the final season of Lost.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Worst commercial ever

This commercial is on all the time at work. It makes me sick every time I see it.

Basically, the message is this: Buy a gun or get murdered, maybe even raped. It's just disgusting. And it plays every day.

Maybe I'm being too sensitive. You be the judge.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Entertainment tonight

I have some TV/movie/book related topics to share.

1. I remember being angry when Saving Private Ryan lost the Best Picture Oscar to Shakespeare in Love. SPR is a war movie classic and the D-Day scene at the beginning is unforgettably intense. SIL seemed like a chick flick that had no business winning that Oscar. I remember my history teacher that year, Mr. Thompson, being visibly upset the morning after.

However, how could I truly know if SPR was shafted if I never saw SIL? Due to wonderful Netflix, I finally saw it. I have to say the movie pleasantly surprised me. I enjoyed Gwyneth Paltrow's performance and Dame Judi Dench got the job done in her 10 minutes of Oscar-winning screen time. Nice, enjoyable film with solid performances all around. Though the William Shakespeare character didn't quite ring true. He prances around like a horny twenty something in Melrose Place. The weight of his genius is nowhere to be found. Didn't detract that much from the movie, however.

Still, I can now say with certainly it did not deserve the Best Picture award. The verdict is in ... about ten years late. It's not just my testosterone either. History has decided this one as well. SPR is more fondly remembered and the storming the beach scene is one of the most memorable scenes to come out of any film in two decades. I wanted to make sure my first impression was correct and it was.

2. Since when did Jim Halpert become a complete moron? This past Office episode saw him fail to recognize what was clearly a Dwight prank, especially when the cake arrived. He should've known it had to be Dwight, yet he stammers.

What happened to witty, smart Jim. He's one of the only characters we're supposed to identify with. I understand they're trying to show that Michael Scott's job isn't as easy as it looks and it can be funny for Jim to have problems in his new position, but to continually have no idea how to act or react to situations is really grating on me. So much so that scenes that are supposed to be funny just end up pissing me off.

For the past few episodes, Jim will find himself in trouble with his underlings. Instead of simply stating his case, he hems and haws and makes his "aw gosh" face to the camera. I guess we're supposed to laugh. I yell at the TV.
It's clear The Office is in Tim Duncan mode. It's still good, but greatness has passed it by. It happens to every show, especially comedies. But please, stop making Jim a moron. He's supposed to be one of the smart ones.
3. Mad Men and Friday Night Lights are in a neck-and-neck battle for best show in TV right now. I started watching Season 4 online and it's safe to say FNL is not giving up its title without a fight. The past episode, titled "The Son," was perhaps the show's best. I won't spoil anything. I'll only say Zach Gilford puts on an acting clinic. Just amazing to watch. It's uncanny how FNL always hits the right emotional notes, never getting too sappy or too melodramatic. Still the most authentic show I've seen.

4. I finally caught Marley & Me. I promised myself I wouldn't cry. I can neither confirm nor deny that I did. I will allow that I got emotional. I had a dog, while not as destructive as Marley, was certainly a nuisance at times. But you still had to love him. The scene where the wife is crying and Marley is right there to comfort her., that's what dogs are about. They always seem to know, which is why they're much better than cats. Cats want to kill you for the insurance money.

Our family also buried our first dog (RIP Sparky) in the backyard just like Marley. I dug the hole and poured the dirt on the body ... something I'll never forget. So the movie hit a spot.
5. One more thing, actually. I just finished Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol." It started almost exactly like his other books, but midway through I could not put it down. The man has his formula and I'll be damned if it doesn't work.
It's Dan Brown paint-by-numbers. Freaky, silent, deadly villain obsessed with something very archaic? Check. Old man put in jeopardy in beginning? Yes. Attractive, single, brilliant woman to be Robert Langdon's sidekick? Check. Secret societies who left us with coded messages? You bet. Characters talking like encyclopedias? Sure. Two-page chapters? Yes.
(I don't like how Brown does one of his cliff-hangers at the end of short chapter and then begins the next chapter at the same point. For example, a character sees something shocking.
Robert Langdon opened the door and what he saw made him step back in shock.
"What the hell ..." he whispered breathlessly.
Chapter ends. Next chapter then begins right there. So why the cliff-hanger? Sometimes, it's not even a new chapter. He breaks, then starts right there again in the next paragraph. The scene should change.)
Anyway, it's still a great page-turner with some neat little tidbits of history. I was thinking "That was it?" after the secret all the characters were desperately chasing/protecting was revealed. If you liked The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons, you'll like this one.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bill's in town

This is my 100th blog post. In celebration, I plan on using some salty language. You've been warned.

Bill Maher came to Northeastern while I was there and yet I did not go. Since then, I've regretted it. Friday night I finally made amends, traveling down to Miami beach to see Maher at the Jackie Gleason theater.

He was fantastic.

This is a (mostly) family blog, so it will be tough to relay what he said. He went off on the usual subjects, from Republicans to drugs to marriage and, of course, religion. I'll paraphrase a few of his memorable jokes.

On Scientology: It's gotta take some massive balls to tell another human being what happened 12 trillion years ago. And not even talk generally, like the earth was cooling. No, you know the name. 'Zenu. 12 trillion years ago. End of story'

On the Rapture: Jesus has been dead for 2,000 years and has yet to come back. Of course, these nuts think he's coming back ... in their lifetime. "He wants to meet me! Hey Jesus, Bob Feldstein here. Big fan. I know you must be real busy but if you can just give me one autograph."

On married men: I knew these guys before they were married. They used to be mustangs. Now they're like the horse in central park with the blinders on, just walking all day in a circle.

And I hear them on the phone in the airport. "Hi, I'm checking my bags. Hi, I'm sitting down now. Hi, I'm going into the plane now. Love you. Love you, too. Love you more." Why don't you just put on a husband cam so she can see what you do every second of every day, you pathetic, pussy-whipped piece of shit."

On relationships: Men and women don't have mutual fantasies. Your fantasies bore us. Our fantasies offend you. You fantasize about a charming prince on a white stallion galloping in a meadow and picking you up and promising you his undying love. We fantasize about cumming on your face.

On Tiger Woods: If his wife was black, that driver would not have gone through his back window. It would've been through the back of his head.

On Republicans: It's unfair to say the Republicans hate black people. They also hate Mexicans.

On presidents: Don't think if I make fun of Obama I'm making fun of all black people. When I made fun of George Bush all those years, it wasn't aimed at all retards.

On stress: Stress is a normal part of life. It's nature. Ever see animals? Look at a squirrel. It's the most stressed-out animal on earth. "I know I'm gonna die. I know it. I just want this acorn but I now I'm gonna die." (Mimics chewing an acorn and nervously looking in every direction.)

On people being offended by his religious stuff: They tell me religion does no harm. Really? I guess they're right, if you don't count most wars, 9/11, the Inquisition, the Crusades, stonings, oppression of women, blacks, homosexuals, Jews, beheadings, suicide bombers, human sacrifice, mutilation and molested children.

Obviously, he's not politically correct. But that's part of his charm. There were many more great bits to which I can do no justice. He brought the house down, except for the one woman in front of me who seemed to be sleeping and another old lady who left when he started talking about "pussyboners." (A female version of an erection, in case you didn't know.) What was she expecting?

Time for some bonus Steve's Peeves time.

On my way down to Miami, some woman started honking at me for not taking a right on green. I couldn't go because if I did, I would have killed or hurt two pedestrians. She ends up passing me seconds later and gives me the wide-eyed look of the Pissed Off Driver. I usually don't do this, but I flipped her the bird. Sorry I kept you from your destination an extra three seconds. I know you were on your way to something very important.

I ended up parking ten minutes away and walked through the Lincoln Road strip of flashy clubs and restaurants. If you know me, I don't like to be bothered when walking around. No one cares about that, obviously. People are always asking for money or a signature to save the seagulls or something. I literally had to run an obstacle course to miss all the pests on my walk to the theater.

You know how restaurants will put a good looking person, usually a woman, near the display menu? Well, every single place on Lincoln Road seems to have one. So just because you're a cute blonde, I'm going to want to drop 50 bucks on lobster bread? Is there anything else in it for me? No? Didn't think so.

They were like pesky mosquitoes at dusk. They wouldn't go away. When you swat one away, another takes its place. Very, very annoying.

Anyway, a fun night. I finally saw one of my favorite comedians live and he came through. He even gave me a new word in pussyboner. Not sure I could ever use it in an appropriate manner. And he called Sarah Palin Cruella De Vil, which the crowd loved.

I can't wait until Real Time comes back. Maher's voice is a needed one. The airwaves suffer without him.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Counting down

Let's run down the Year 2009, sports-wise.

In January, Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators won a national championship, emboldening their obnoxious fans here in South Florida. Also, the Patriots lost the AFC East on a 15th tiebreaker. Then the Steelers won the Super Bowl. Not as bad as the Colts winning it, but still bad.

In February, as a right of passage, Northeastern loses the Beanpot final to BU. I think we'll be seeing that again in 2010.

Fast-forward to the spring. Kevin Garnett misses the playoffs and the Celtics lose their chance to defend their title. The Lakers go on to win the title and Kobe Bryant is Mr. Good Guy again. The Bruins, the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, lose in overtime in Game 7.

The summer comes and the Yankees vault ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East. The Red Sox lose 9 of their last 10 games to their rivals and miss out on the division. They make the playoffs and are promptly swept, losing the last game in gut-wrenching fashion. The Yankees roll through the playoffs and win the World Series, abusing Pedro Martinez in the final game just for kicks.

The Indianapolis Colts - my second most despised team - are 11-0 and miraculously beat the Patriots two weeks ago. One man's miracle is another man's catastrophe. Meanwhile, the Pats keep losing high-profile games while we keep waiting for them to improve based on what they did with better talent several years ago.

The Cliff Notes version of this wretched year. Yankees win. Steelers win. Lakers win. Colts undefeated. Derek Jeter: Sportsman of the Year. A-Rod: Postseason hero. Kobe Bryant: Defending champion and awesome person. Florida Gators: Soon-to-be repeat champions. Northeastern football: Over.

At least Cranston East beat Cranston West on Thanksgiving. Go Thunderbolt! And at least we have health care reform. Oh wait, that's coming in 2039.

The 2000s were specatcular for Boston fans. It couldn't last forever, as 2009 has continued to show again and again. So now it is Dec. 1st and the year is almost over. Thank God. It can't end soon enough.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

So long. Farewell.

Only now can I summon the willpower to comment on the demise of the great Northeastern University football program.

A pigskin machine that produced the likes of Liam Ezekiel and Don Brown is gone. Poof! Like it never existed. With Northeastern football's departure, jobs are lost and dreams are deferred and a once-proud school loses its soul.

I can't help but think I had something to do with this. I like football and yet I attended just one game in my five years at Huntington Ave./Hemenway Ave./Columbus Ave/Byner Street/Parkway Road. My senior year, I lived within a five minute stroll through the leafy streets of Brookline from the great Parsons Field. Five minutes. Yet, just one game.

Students such as myself and many others have nothing to blame but our own apathy for this tragic news.

The one game I did see was against William & Mary. The field was worthy of a decent high school team with cheap bleachers and lousy player facilities (and by facilities, I mean no facilities at all. Opposing players often came dressed in their uniforms). It was at this game that one Zebediah Chartwells Hossem attacked an innocent old man for a free Northeastern t-shirt. It was a vicious assault, and I bet the old man was ready to donate billions to the program, ala T. Boone Pickens, but changed his mind after witnessing such brutality from a dishevled, menacing, technicolor scarf-wearing pseudo-terrorist.

My fault, too. I just stood there.

Sure, there were many issues with Husky football. First, no one cared. Second, no one gave a shit. Third, what's Husky football?

Parsons Field is a 20 minute ride from campus. The elusive Columbus Ave. Stadium never materialized, so the best option for home games was a surrounding suburb well out of the way in a field most fans can generously describe as "sucky."

It also never helped that the team sucked. There was that one good year in 2002 when they made the playoffs, but it was one-and-done. A run then could have set up a nice future, but it was never meant to be. From then on, 2-8 and 1-9 records have been the norm. Northeastern fans demand success and the football program rarely delivered. So they watched the hockey team lose to BU instead. At least the games are located close to campus.

Perhaps if I had joined the football team and blessed them with my speed, toughness (I could definitely play through a common cold) and strong arm, then the Huskies would have piled up the necessary wins to draw attention. Instead, I chose the great Vin Books dynasty at PlayStation Duke.

So sue me if you must. You have all your NU football jerseys and souvenir helmets and you don't know what to do with them. Lash out at me if you must. I deserve it. In my defense, I worked Saturdays in the fall and football isn't my best sport (that would ping-pong). Still, no excuse.

But before you point the finger at me, inspect thine self. All of Northeastern Nation is responsible for this. Our apathy. Our neglect. Our "sieve" chants. Our co-ops. Our Saturday morning hangovers (from playing six hours of Madden on a Friday night. That's what a hangover is, right?)

We're all guilty. We have red and black blood on our hands. We dug the grave. The Athletic Department just dumped the body.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Back to school

People are always giving up their time, energy and money to help others, especially in the holiday season. Me, I've only given my time to Sopranos re-runs and football games during this time of year. So I figured: I have some time. Why not help out somewhere?

So I did. I volunteered in the Harvest Drive at Western High School in Davie, Florida today. Yes, I'm just a great person. Father Theresa, you can call me. No. Mr. Father Theresa.

This drive helps out over a thousand families in the community, giving out canned food, clothing, toys, books, you name it. Trust me, there were lots and lots and lots of things donated to this drive. And there was certainly enough room. This high school is gigantic. It has its own campus. It looked like a college. Multiple buildings. Very wide hallways. Student parking.

When one of the leaders told me the big gym they were using for all the food was a mini-gym, I rolled my eyes. My travels have taken me to quite a few high schools since I graduated from Cranston East, and every single one has been bigger. Much, much bigger. They have fields, big parking lots, stairways that aren't as narrow as those one would find in medieval dungeons. It ticks me off a bit. East consisted of one-and-a-half buildings, separated by City Hall, accompanied by very limited student parking and coffin-sized stairwells.

Anyway, the place was gigantic. I showed up at around 3 p.m. and got to work immediately, moving tables into the auditorium and boxes into the so-called mini-gym. I spotted two high school kids struggling mightily with a hefty box of shampoo so I took it and carried it myself about a hundred yards. They were amazed at my strength.

They also asked me what class I was in, like senior or junior. I told them it's been a long time since I was in high school. Back then, we had dial-up modems and cell phones were exclusive items. They weren't the only people to ask me what high school I attended. I guess I look younger in a hat.

While sorting out the toys and books, I came upon a few things that sent me straight to nostalgia land. One, the etch-a-sketch. What a marvelous invention. The second, a book on the TV show Dinosaurs. Remember that one? Didn't last too long. I was telling a young whipper-snapper about how that show was a take-off on The Simpsons. The kid had never heard of Dinosaurs.

Yeah, I'm getting old and out of touch.

Also, the ring lady of the toy/clothes/books department helped me sort the books by age. Baby books in one box. An outdated book on the perfect Gosselin family in the adult box and so forth. But there were some books I thought were for fourth graders that she said were for first or second. Was I just a dumb child? I don't remember what I read until sixth grade, when I got hooked on Goosebumps and Michael Crichton/John Grisham novels.

I sorted and utilized my muscles for most of my six hours there. At the end, I broke up cardboard boxes outside the gym and bunch of smaller boys started stomping on the boxes. They were just goofing around. Accidentally, I spilt one of the kids soda because he put it on the ground next to my feet. When he saw the spill, he screeched, "You spilled my soda!" He seemed a bit perturbed. Then he looked up at me. Way up. And, I'm being serious, he gulped and said, "It's OK. No problem."

Oh yeah! It may be ten years too late, but I'm a frightening, intimidating figure! I'm a bully!

Yes, it feels awesome. Sensing other people's fear is intoxicating. I have to start picking on little kids from now on.

I left at 9 p.m., taking a piece of candy from one of the nice leaders of the drive. I ate the dark chocolate bar with the satisfaction of a day spent doing something worthwhile ... and the realization that it's been almost ten years since I was in high school and a lot has happened since then. Like this.

All in all, a good day. Now, I just have to wait for these people to pay me.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's a hard-knock life for Aoun

It's a tough world out there and $590,000 just does not go as far as it used to. You ever live in Boston? It's expensive! Faberge eggs just don't bring themselves into your living room. Gold watches just don't leap onto your wrists.

So count me in as someone who fully supports Northeastern University giving President Joseph Aoun a 25% raise. When times are tough, give rich people huge raises.

Of course, the Obama-licking, Olbermann-watching, fetus-killing sycophants on Huntington Avenue are raising a stink about this. "You lay people off, raise tuition and then give a guy who doesn't have to pay for his swanky Boston home a gigantic pay increase?" they will complain. They may even take time off from their Twilight watching to hold a vigil or protest. They'll burn candles for economic justice.

How cute.

While the indentured students cry into their coffees, President Aoun will burn thousand-dollar bills just to heat some cat food. While the Huntington News pisses against the wind, Aoun will spend $200,000 to purchase another consonant for his last name. And God bless him.

Lately, a troubling trend has emerged. The commoners don't like the rich anymore. In America, we used to dream of being rich so we didn't mind when they inserted their gold-encrusted rods straight up our collective rectums. The plebeians never used to mind waiting under the table like a dog hoping for some crumbs to trickle down their way. They used to be grateful for those crumbs. Not anymore.

What they fail to understand is that it's not easy being rich. It ain't easy getting a raise for doing nothing. There's more responsibility. More taxes. You have to find another parking space for the luxury car reserved just for bi-weekly grocery shopping at Whole Foods. You have to go through all the trouble of upgrading a 50-inch plasma TV to a theater-size entertainment system. That's a lot of work to pay other people to do.

I bet if you ask President Aoun, he'd gladly just give his money away. But great people don't shy away from such responsibility; they embrace it. I bet he wishes he had to take a third job just to pay for a semester's worth of books. Working menial jobs is so romantic, so American. The more soulless jobs you have, the better. Aoun regrets he has but one job to give to his country.

Furthermore, you know how much time it must take to figure what to do with all that money? Days, weeks even. So don't you dare complain until you know what it's like.

No one forced these whiners to go to a college that is at least the fourth best school in Boston. To be the fourth-best, you must pay like the best. The Board of Trustees know this. I trust them. They are Trustees. Trust is in their name. Money is their game. Ours is to pay them that money until we die, and it's a privilege to do so.

So I stand with President Aoun. Solidarity, my man! Fight the little machine! Please, Northeastern, send me requests for alumni donations. Screw typhoon victims and kids with cancer. They've been sucking the charity teat for far too long. I want to donate to a worthy cause -- a university president closing in on a million-dollar salary while the economy floats in the toilet.

Because when times are tough, we can only rely on the wealthy to lead us out of the abyss. They know the way out because they got us there. Let them do their thing. Let them make as much money as they want and shut up.

And for those jogging-pants wearing, iPod-listening, Farmville-playing paupers, I think the President and I have one thing to say.

Let them eat Ramen Noodles.

Monday, November 16, 2009

What's past is prologue

I just saw Newman on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and it really lightened my night. So I'm prepared to discuss the epic (and annual) second-half collapse/choke job/cough-up/charity give-a-way in Indy.

Actually, I'm not. I still don't know how that happened. A 13-point lead with four minutes to go ... great teams don't lose that.

I don't feel like going over every play call, the horrific clock management and the embarrassing defense. They'll be beaten to death this week and deservedly so. Something else is nagging at me.

The Patriots are now what the Colts used to be. They score tons of points but can't pull out the big games. Their defense blows leads and the offense, when it needs just a yard or two, has no idea what to do. This isn't just fresh anger (though that's a part). It's a pattern.

The 2007 AFC title game. Big lead in Indy blown in the second half due to a gassed, ineffective defense and an offense incapable of converting a key 3rd- or 4th-and-short play late that would have iced the game. The next season, the Pats take the lead late in the Super Bowl after scuffling all day. Their defense proceeds to allow another Manning to promptly march down the field. Epic loss results.

Last year, there was no Tom Brady. Still didn't stop the Pats from losing a winnable game in Indy. And now we have this year. Is this what the Pats are now? A high-flying offense unable to tough out key yards and a front-running defense unable to protect leads in big games? I used to have an unshakable faith that New England would always find a way to win. After the absolutely crushing losses listed above, that faith is pretty much gone. Sure, this team should beat the Jets or Bills. But can they beat the Steelers or Colts on the road? The Saints? We're more than halfway through the season and we're still waiting for an impressive road victory.

My faith is so shaken now that if the Pats are in the Super Bowl and they're up 21 points in the fourth, I'll still be a nervous wreck. Melodramatic? Nope. Just a function of what I've seen the past three-to-four years.

Fortunately, this loss does not end the season. They can recover. They're still a solid bet for the playoffs. And maybe they'll make this whole entry look stupid in February. But I've just seen this stuff too many times the past few seasons. Does this team have what it takes to go on the road in the playoffs (which they'll have to do most likely) and win? I hope so. Back in the glory days, I knew so.

The glory days are slipping away. It's been almost five years since they won it all. I'm starting to sound like a Yankee fan here, but so be it. I'm pissed. The Patriots choke. That's what they do now. Just like those old Colts teams I used to love watch New England defeat all the time.

And I hope they make me look like complete moron in a few weeks. I hope they make me curse myself for ever doubting them. I'll be watching, for sure, and biting my nails, even if they lead Indy 34-0 at halftime in the AFC championship game. And no, that's not a knee-jerk reaction. It's purely rational.

What's past is prologue.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Shut the door, have a seat

Season 3 of Mad Men started slow. It plodded. It muddled around. But the last half of the season was television at its finest, television as an art form. And the season finale? Pure genius. Every second of it.

I just finished watching it and the fact I'm writing about it at 3 in the morning is a good indication that I enjoyed it very much.



All the shenanigans at Sterling Cooper seemed straight out of The Sting, complete with the ragtime music and fedoras. Every character plays a part as Don, Roger, and Bert siphon off clients as they form a new agency. We end up with all the interesting characters (Don, Roger, Bert, Lane, Joan, Peggy and Pete) heading up the new agency. A brilliant move, especially that it brings Joan back into the fold because it's such a waste for her to be left off the side. Two stand-out moments. First, Lane telling his British boss after being fired, "Very good! Happy Christmas!" Second, when Roger asked Peggy to get him some coffee and she says, "No."

Pitch perfect.

Speaking of pitches, Don's pitches to Pete and Peggy were home runs. Don puffed up Pete's ego by (truthfully) telling him they needed his forward-looking mindset and ambition at the new company. Then, when Don's at the bar with Roger, he calls Pete a "little shit." Then his heartfelt pitch to Peggy, whom he's verbally whacked around the whole season. He approached her the perfect way. They both share a proclivity for remaking themselves because they don't like who they really are. And what better place to do that than at a new advertising company? Great scenes, the both of them.

Of course, there was the other side of life for Don: his collapsing marriage. The whole season has chronicled the slow disintegration of the intricate facade of a life Don has constructed for himself, both in business and in his marriage. It finally came to an end in this episode as Betty asked for a divorce. The scene where Don confronts her in a drunken rage chilled me. He had no right, of course. He's cheated on her with every women in the state of New York. But a great scene nonetheless, with Don's dark side making an appearance.

But I hope Don spends more time with his children because Betty is certainly not mother of the year material. Don's actually better with the kids and while Betty takes another swing at domestic happiness with a man she really doesn't know, expect Sally to act up in a major way. She saw through her parents' BS. Smart girl.

It's too late to really analyze this show properly and I need to watch it again, but I LOVED this episode. Loved it. Like the flash-forward episode of Lost, this hour changes everything, and for the better. The Draper marriage is over, as it should be. And the fat has been cut off from Sterling Cooper to form a more interesting, yet longer named Sterling Cooper Draper and Pryce.

And it's official. With Friday Night Lights in DirecTV purgatory, Mad Men is now unquestionably the best show on television.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

They're back

It took less than 24 hours.

I knew it would happen. I just knew. Because I've been here before. But down in Florida at a random mall in Coral Springs? That's a little surprising.

As you may know, a certain baseball team won a championship. The next afternoon, I happen to be at the Coral Square Mall in Coral Springs, Florida. Wearing a Boston Red Sox cap, I minded my own business while I exited the mall and a bald man decked out in Yankee regalia shouted out at me.

I was at least 20 feet away, but when I heard, "I can't believe you're wearing that hat in this mall," I figured he might be talking to me.

"Burn that hat! Burn that hat and throw it in the garbage. I can't believe you're wearing that thing!"

Did I have a sharp comeback? Of course not. I just said, "In good times and bad." Meaning I wear the hat no matter what. Lame. Lame. Lame. Then I just walked out the door. Once in the car, a comeback came to me. When he told me to throw the hat in the trash, I should have said, "Yeah, with your 2004 AL championship gear." Yeah!

Too bad I always think of good comebacks after the conversation.

It is funny because the moment I put on that cap in my apartment, a distant thought entered my mind envisioning just that scenario - an altercation or incident with a Yankee fan.

This has happened before. After the Yankees beat the Red Sox in the 1999 ALCS, the preppy son of a math teacher at my high school walked into one of my classes to brag about the Yankees. We're talking your stereotypical sweater-vest preppy kid. I was fuming. He wasn't even in the class. He just came to brag.

During my high school graduation while I was proceeding to my seat, a Yankee fan teacher of mine started ripping Pedro. It was more friendly ribbing, but I figured I mention it. Then in 2003 after the Aaron Boone game, I took numerous calls at the Globe from Yankee fans. There was nothing I could do but listen for a moment and then hang up on them.

After Game 3 in 2004 while walking to the T on Morrissey Boulevard, a black SUV pulled up alongside me. Mind you, it was around midnight and a strange vehicle stopping like that freaked me out. No, it wasn't to shoot me. It was a car full of Yankee fans who started hollering about a soon-to-be sweep of the "Red Sux."

Already at an all-time low as a baseball fan, I was on the Green Line that same night when another group of Yankee fans decided to roll up and down the train to get in everyone's faces, including mine. Luckily, their stop came just seconds after they reached me, so I was spared (somewhat.)

After that 5-game sweep of the Red Sox in Fenway in 2006, a Yankee fan stranger started talking smack to me in a bar. I just rolled my eyes. He was clearly drunk. Rhode Island is the front-running Yankee fan capital of the world. A bunch of yahoos who root for the Yankees because they had an Italian player 50 years ago.

So yeah, I kind of expected it, even a 1,000 miles away from New York. Of course, these same morons were nowhere to be seen on October 20th, 2004. Or a week later that year. Nor did they come out in 2005 or in October, 2006. Where were they when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2007? I don't know. Strangely silent and absent. How about 2008? Only last year. Incognito.


But like worms crawling from the dirt after a child lifts a log or rats scurrying from a torn-down building, they swarm out from their hiding places to annoy and pester anyone who happens to walk by.

Of course any fan base is guilty of this to some extent. But no other fan base has ever approached me in the manner I described above. Not even Giants fans. There's just something about a high, high number of Yankee fans. While the Red Sox have plenty of idiotic meatheads with "Yankees Suck" t-shirts or myopic, Red Sox Nation-card holders who secretly wished the Sox were still lovable losers or cranky talk show callers who want Terry Francona fired after a two-game losing streak in May, Yankee fans are in a class of their own.

Not all, obviously. But most. 75 percent?

I wish I could find these people from the past, my tormentors. I wish I could have found those SUV people when their team blew a 3-0 lead. I wish I could find Preppy Boy or those scumbags on the T. But even if I did, I probably wouldn't say much. I'm not much of a trash-talker with strangers. I can't deal with strangers. I might be the worst person in the world at small talk. Instead, there has to be come Yankee fan version of me and there has to be a Red Sox fan version of the tormentors. I hope this Yankee fan receives similar treatment, just to equalize the karma, bring things back to a balance.

The guy today had a threatening smile on his face today, like he really expected me to start a bonfire right there. Why not smile? Your team just won. But what makes this person, or any person, talk smack to a stranger? What's the point? I could do the same to him. He probably likes the New York Knicks, and as much as the Yankees crush the Red Sox in titles, the Celtics crush the Knicks. Or what about the Jets? Or Giants? They beat the Pats, sure, but they suck right now.

I could do it.

Instead, I'll just wait for the next incident. Another addition to the story collection, a collection almost as thick as a dictionary. And when I (and all other Boston fans) have the upper-hand again, I won't even bother finding this guy. By then, he'll surely have already crawled back under his log.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Child, please

How does one interact with little children?

I'm at Starbucks today and a little girl waddled over to my table and just stared at me, wide-eyed while holding a small stuffed animal. She looked neither fearful or happy. I didn't know what to do so I settled on the following ...
"So, what do you think of the House version of the health care bill? Looks the Blue Dogs watered it down a bit. Still waiting for the CBO to score it. Hopefully, the Senate can get their bill to the floor and they can strengthen this thing conference. Meanwhile, Harry Reid really has to whip his caucus to make sure they vote for cloture, thus avoiding a messy Republican filibuster."

The kid didn't know what I was talking about. No one follows the real news anymore. They're concerned with Dora the Explorer or Jon Gosselin.

Then the kid's mother comes rushing over and yanks the child away from the crazy man.

Or maybe I just said, "Hey." And the little girl said nothing. And her mother rescued her.
I confess. I don't know how to talk to kids. I rarely deal with them and I can't do the "coochie-coo" thing. What am I supposed to do? I'm hesitant to just start interacting with a stranger's child. With my baggy pants, scruffy 5 o'clock shadow and Red Sox cap, I might arouse suspicion.
But I don't want to be a jerk, either. What if my lame reaction to this little girl turns her off men forever and she becomes a lesbian. A LESBIAN!?!? This wouldn't be the first time, but still.

Perhaps I should read up on this. How to deal with little children you don't know but who stare at you for an uncomfortably long amount of time. I've spent all night googling "cute little children" and I'm even talking to a few online. Just for tips.

I think I should walk around with candy, because kids love candy. I could offer some to all the little children I see so they'd like me. Maybe I'd even invite them into my car. I should also start hanging around elementary schools and playgrounds just to watch and observe.

That way, next time I will be prepared. Say good-bye to awkward silences, young boys and girls. I will be most charming stranger in an over-sized t-shirt and Seinfeld jeans you'll ever stare at.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Closing time

My biological sports clock is telling me something.

After eight months of watching baseball, reading about baseball and editing countless numbers of baseball stories and columns, I am ready for the season to end. More than ready.

It's not the bitter Red Sox fan in me saying this. But Thanksgiving is coming up. I just booked my trip back home for Christmas. The clocks are ready to fall back.

And yet, on October 28th, the World Series is starting.

My instinct tells me the season should be almost over. The World Series should be at Game 5 or 6. The season awards should be coming up and I can finally get a break from five-page baseball columns every single day. But no, the World Series hasn't even begun.

Major league baseball is not a well-oiled machine. We all know this. There should be a salary cap, but there won't. Games should start earlier, but they don't. Games should not go 3 1/2 hours on average, but they do. There should not be off-days in a playoff series when neither team travels, but there are. So who can be surprised that this World Series will go into November?

Back when I was living in the Northeast, I would always start expecting winter to end in mid-March. By then I was always ready not to freeze my ass off just on my walk to the car. By late August I was ready for school. Not excited, but ready. Now in Florida, I'm ready for the 1,000 degree days we get every summer to end by the time we hit late October. (Not much luck in that department this year.)

So the fact that the World Series is only starting today just does not make natural sense. In a few hours, I will head into work knowing I will probably be there for 12 hours without a break, hoping my legs don't calcify from the lack of movement while waiting for our last column to come in at 3 a.m.

I love baseball and I appreciate the fact that something so great is part of my job. But I'm more than ready for the season to end. It's October 28th for crying out loud.

Friday, October 23, 2009

SteveCentury: Ski-eeved

I'm a land creature. Airplanes aren't my thing. Neither are beaches for that matter. Ocean water is so salty and yucky!

I'm also bad enough as it is on my two feet so add anything else to the occasion, like a scooter or Rollerblades, and I'm in even bigger trouble.

The first time I tried to use a skateboard, well, you can guess. Right on my ass.

The first time I tried rollerblading in Rhode Island (I can't remember the name of the place. In Warwick somewhere. It was a hot spot for years. Any help from my Rhode Island buddies? Roller World maybe?) it was a ghastly experience. Nothing infuriated me more to see little kids gliding along with no problems while I summoned every ounce of strength and balance to prevent a hilariously embarrassing fall.

While in college I tried ice skating. You already know how that turned out. Not only was I terrible, I had a foot-long blade attached to my feet. I could have killed somebody.

This all leads to a ski trip I took - with the usual suspects, of course. I forget where we went. It was a mountain of some sort. And cold.

I had no idea how to ski. None. Zilch. Too cheap to pay for lessons, I decided to wing it. The beginners' slope was supposed to be easy. Little boys and girls, handicapped people, dead people all skied down the slope like Picabo Street. Some had help, but still.

For the life of me I could not stay on me feet. Criss-crossed, my legs gave out on me right away. I almost couldn't get started. When I did, I onlymanaged to go a few feet before falling again. Then another few feet, followed by another tumble.

Oh, I couldn't go straight either. Nor did I know how to stop. It got so bad I would just fall on purpose lest I slam into someone else or a tree. At one point, I had veered so far off the slope that I was under the ski lift ... unable to get up.

Jeff reminded me of this story during the Cape Cod League game we saw in July. I had burned that day from my memory until he resurrected it from the ashes. He told me he asked, "Where's Steve?" and from the bottom of the slope he looked and looked until he spotted me all the way to the side under the ski left pounding down on the snow in frustration.

I admit, it had to be funny to see. I was so tried from getting up so many times and trying so hard to keep my balance that I had a mini-temper tantrum. This probably occurred within the first 15 minutes.

So while my buddies skied the slopes without me, I soldiered on the kiddie slope. After an hour, I was able to ski down at least half the slope before falling down. Satisfied, I moved on to a real slope, taking the easiest route.

I almost collied into a tree. And I think I invaded some other routes mistakenly. I can't remember what I did for the whole day, besides fall down and get up. By mid-afternoon I was absolutely exhausted and EXTREMELY frustrated. Try failing at something continually for hours. You just lose it. Or at least I did.

I had bruises on my thighs and my muscles ached for days. While I appreciated the experience, I vowed never to touch skis or snowboards ever again. I just wish I remembered that day better, but I must have suppressed it. But the story of me flailing on the ground under the ski lift brought some of it back.

Now only if it would disappear again ...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Born to run it up

The NFL is America's game. It combines violence, beer, cheerleaders, penis-enlargement commercials, announcers who remind you that football players play football on the football field and Brett Favre.

(Brett Favre!)

Forget baseball and all the Bob Costas poetry that surrounds the game. Forget going to the ol' ballyard with Pops, dropping 90 bucks to park, paying the $10 oxygen fee to breath at the game, another $10 for a tablespoon of Miller UltraLight and watching the quiet game unfold slower than Roots until it ends at 1:25 in the morning. Forget trying to decide which outfielder is on steroids or what stupid error the Angels will make in the field (drop a pop up, over-run the bag, get picked off.) That stuff is for eggheads and gays.

Football is a man's sport.

Freakishly large men run into other freakishly large men at freakishly fast speeds and, like the crowds at the Roman Coliseum, we root for more and more. They're obviously on steroids but we don't care. Guys get paralyzed, concussed and maimed and we sigh for a moment until the next third down play comes up or the Flomax commercial comes on. No game is more commercialized and fused with good ol' crass American materialism and superiority than the NFL. It's the grandest spectacle on earth.

Rush Limbaugh approves of the sport, and he's the manliest man who's ever taken shots at a president's daughter.

So why, after this overblown preamble, are NFL fans some of the pansiest pansies who've ever stalked a message board or called a radio station?

On Sunday, the Patriots took a giant No. 2 on the Titans, like Beecher did to Schillinger in Oz. The carnage became so gruesome that the refs didn't call a clear safety on Vince Young in the fourth quarter, just to spare Tennessee further humiliation. You do this in Little League when you bench your 17-year-old star slugger.

In most sports, with most sane fans, the anger - if there is any anger - would be directed at the losing team for quitting, for stealing an entire game's paycheck. The fans of the winning team would be able to celebrate the win and even have bragging rights for a while.

Not so in the Namby-pamby Fan League. Not with the New England Satanists.

The Sears office erupted into sneers when the Pats piled on touchdown after touchdown. "How could they not just turn it over on purpose to be nice?" they ask. "I hope Tome Brady gets his leg torn off for daring to play in the second quarter," others growl. This is why the nation hates the Patriots. Sometimes they win by big amounts. They don't go 0-16 every year like they want them to. Apparently that is something to be ashamed of.

Maybe it's just irrational Patriot hatred. Actually, that's most of it. They're not quite the Yankees, but they're not well liked around the nation. So no matter what, people will bitch and bitch loudly. That's a given. But shouldn't self-respecting NFL fans know better than to cry like a Pop Warner dad when guys who are paid to play football get crushed?

When A-Rod hits a home run in the 8th inning of a 13-2 game, is he running up the score? When Kobe Bryant scores his 80th point, is he running up the score? When Dwight Eisenhower had the Germans on the run did he think to himself, "Gee, we're winning by a lot here. Let's pull back. Wouldn't want to tick off Skip Bayless?" When the Beatles were at their peak, did they think to themselves, "Wow, we're selling too many albums. Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo's three-piece band in Concordia, Kansas feels sad about this. Let's pull our record off the shelves to be nice?"

The 2007 Patriots dealt with this the entire season, the constant cry-baby antics of jilted, jealous NFL followers who would hand over a testicle to have Toom Brady as their QB or Bill Belichick as their coach but don't have the balls to admit it.

They see Florida crush Charleston Southern and see a great team crushing a weak one - American style. Survival of the fittest. The free market, football style. They see a politician win by millions of votes and see a landslide. (Unless it's a black guy who won. In that case blame Acorn.) They see Wal-Mart putting everyone else out of business and a tear forms in their eyes at the beauty of capitalism. They see the Patriots put on a fpotball clinic Vince Lombardi would love and suddenly dissolve into teething babies.

Hating the Patriots is well and good. I love it. It means they are winning. People don't hate the Clippers or the Browns or the Buccaneers because they rarely win. They hate the Pats because they win and Bill Belichick doesn't French kiss the opposing coach after each game. Fine. Hate away.

Just have some self respect, you whining Internet mice. You're red-blooded football fans. Baseball's for geezers. Basketball's for blacks. Hockey's for drunk Irish guys, Canadians and communists. NASCAR is for rednecks and golf is for dead people. Football is for the alpha-American male whose avatar is a woman's ass.

Recognize greatness when you see it. Is there anything more American than complete domination?

You don't cry when a new McDonald's goes up in China. Don't cry when Brady finds Moss for 50-yard touchdown. Take advantage of your freedom of speech and shut the hell up.

God Bless you and God Bless the United States of America!

(Brett Favre!)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday, crappy Sunday

Working in sports can be great. However, some days are better than others. Working on a hectic Sunday while watching my two favorite teams lose kick-in-the-balls games within hours of each other and having no outlet for my frustration is what I call a nice way to get an ulcer.

OK ... that's a bit strong. Still, it was a rough day at the office. A rough day for Boston fans everywhere. We're so used to being at the top that the trip back down is odd, unfamiliar and all the more painful.

Let's recap ...

When the Red Sox surrendered to the Yankees in the Bronx late last month, an uneasy feeling grew in my stomach. They proceeded to back into the playoffs, with Josh Beckett and many others struggling at just the wrong time. So consider me not too surprised by the abrupt end to the season.

The way it happened ... is a different story. Papelbon's been shaky all season, something that his sterling statistics hid very well. And he was bound to give up a postseason run sooner or later. But he completely imploded Mark Wohlers-style, giving up two inherited runners in the eighth and three of his own in the next inning. Say goodbye to any dreams of another Boston playoff comeback.

I'm not crushed. The Angels were better and the Red Sox never seemed to have the extra gear championship teams have. They beat up on the dregs of the league like the Orioles and struggled against the elite. They have a lineup full of good hitters, but the power of the Manny-Papi combo is long gone. Is Kevin Youkilis a very good hitter? Of course. Is he the third or fourth hitter for a championship team? Probably not. The lineup failed to come through against good pitching all season and they stuck to their (unloaded) guns in October.

And when they finally came through in Game 3, the pitching faltered. The sign of a team that just doesn't have it - the inability of one facet of the team to pick up another.

Shortly after the final out, I thought about what the Red Sox can do to get better. The free agent market is weak. They might try to trade for Adrian Gonzalez but other than that - which would cost a fortune - the options are few. Here's hoping the Red Sox adjust their Caldor/Apex plans from last off-season. Signings like Brad Penny and John Smoltz were busts, proof that giving bad, old, decaying pitchers 5 million might not be the ticket to the World Series. Cultivating good, young positional players could also help. The Angels lose Mark Teixeira and replace him with Kendry Morales. Boston has had trouble finding power hitters in the farm system for years and that bit it in the ass this postseason.

Then we have the Patriots. After watching the Red Sox blow a game and lose their season, I watched Kyle Orton thoroughly outplay Tom Brady. Yeah, it makes me sick just to type that. He threw for 330 yards?? Two drive overs 90 yards? They ran the same simple patterns I ran against Jeff and Zach in one-on-one football in college. And, with the Pats' DBs giving each receiver 45-yard cushions, they completed pass after pass after pass.

I've long given up expecting the Patriots defense to make game-winning stops when they absolutely must. (See 2006 AFC title game, the last Super Bowl.) Without a drop last week, they might have lost to the Ravens. They just can't do it anymore. The persistent inability to pressure the passer is a big culprit. What I still hoped for was Tom Brady and the offense finding their gear. Sad to say, but Brady is still rusty and will be for the foreseeable future. He missed an easy touchdown to Randy Moss early and another to Wes Welker late. Those weren't the only misfires, just the biggest ones.

He'll be back to his old form before the season ends. Unlike the Red Sox, he still has a chance at redemption. So while the Pats of 2009 look a bit shaky, they're still going.

The Red Sox of 2009, may they rest in a peace. A good team but an utterly forgettable one. Just like Sunday, October 11th. I'm glad you're over and ecstatic that you'll never return.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Steve Sears - Mad Men style

Since the Red Sox have no intention of getting runs these playoffs - and since runs are important to winning baseball games - I grew kind of bored with the game Friday night. So I decided to Mad Men myself. It was fun. Here's my new laptop wallpaper. I think Joan likes what she sees from the new hot shot at Sterling Cooper. Watch out, Draper!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Steve's Peeves: Tooth aches

It's time for some exiting dental talk.

I've had three allografts since 2007 to repair my gums on the lower part of the mouth. That's all you need or want to know. I went to the dentist about twice in my life growing up so I'm catching up now with my dental plan.

They cut into my gums, add tissue and then stitch it up. It's a bloody procedure that causes some pain, discomfort and forces me to eat soft food for two weeks. So no pizza. No apples. No potato chips. No sandwiches. Nothing that needs serious chewing to digest.

Yes, it's quite an annoyance, but I can live with it. What I can't live with is the stitches. As I type, they are flailing about in my mouth like a drunk driver in Miami and it is driving me nuts.

The stitches are right at my bottom front teeth and the tip of my tongue. And for the past 48 hours I've been fighting these annoying stitches. I can't stop. I try my best to ignore it and focus on the task at hand, like reading an AP wire story on Shaq twittering about football or the whiny, cry baby Ravens bitching once again after a loss to the Patriots. But ... I ... can't ... stop. It's like that itch that won't go away, this tangle of stitches in my mouth.

For this reason, I'm going back to the periodontist tomorrow to have this problem solved once and for all. Either stitch it back up or tear them out. Those are the only options. For my sanity.

While we're on the subject, the periodontist wants me to see an orthodontist. Yeah, I have two crooked teeth and the periodontist thinks I need that fixed. When I was about 10 or 11, I heard the same thing but we did nothing about it.

But the thought of braces ... doesn't excite me.

Imagine me as the Joey Galloway of social creatures. I've dropped the ball on many occasions and I'm older than many of my peers. Now tie one of Galloway's arm's behind his back. Then tear one of his legs off. And throw him in a shark pit. That would be me with braces. Just slap and A/V shirt on me and kick me in the balls while you're at it. By the way, with braces I probably wouldn't need those either. So kick away.

I'm a man! I'm 27! I can't go around looking like Neil Goldman. I said as much to the periodontist and he told me there are other options besides metal mouth, though they're more expensive. Still, the fact that this might be necessary ticks me off. It's fifth grade all over again. Give me a Goosebumps book and the Technodrome for Christmas.
And some new front teeth.

Friday, October 2, 2009

It's The End Of The World As We Know It ... Again

Watching television last night, I saw a trailer for the movie 2012. I don't know much about it, but is there much to know? John Cusack is in a plane and the entire world is crumbling into oblivion. Highways collapse and cars plunge into an abyss. Skyscrapers are exploding, fireballs are lighting up the sky as Cusack and Co. scream for their lives surrounded by a CGI orgy.

Looks like the world is in some trouble ... again.

Of course we need another disaster movie. Americans love seeing cities, states and planets destroyed on giant projection screens. 2012 would follow in a long line of "world is over" schlock, following Armageddon, Deep Impact, The Day After Tomorrow, Knowing, Independence Day and on and on.

Something about that 2012 trailer really ticks me off and I'm not sure whether its on moral grounds or artistic grounds.

With climate change threatening the planet (yes, it's real), wildfires sprouting up year-round in California, hurricanes bashing the Atlantic seaboard and terrorist attacks leveling buildings, these movies that seem to celebrate catastrophic loss of life like it's a cool amusement park ride irk me. There are tsunamis and earthquakes killing thousands and a trailer showing the world ending (just with cooler special effects) that's supposed to make you say, "Cool!"

Granted, I watch and enjoy many violent forms of entertainment, but world-wide catastrophe packaged and sold like a Jonas Brothers lunchbox isn't as cool anymore.

Now, with the soapbox removed, there are creative reasons as well. Like this one: This movie has been done before! A million times! Just because computers can make explosions and a crumbling earth look more realistic than ever certainly does not grant tired moviemakers license to recreate the tired disaster movie once again.

I don't know anything about the movie, but I think I have a sense of what it will be like. John Cusack will be a regular old schmo who is estranged from his only child and living out his life in a dirty apartment with empty Chinese food cartons. Then, one day, the world starts to go straight to hell and Cusack is stranded with said child and is said child's only hope.

Luckily, he could be joined by an attractive woman who is improbably single as they race to beat the disappearing ground beneath them. They're so connected they scream in unison! Of course, this woman won't like Cusack right away. He takes some getting used to. He's a bit of a bad boy, but he has a warm caramel nougat center. Joining them will be your random oddball characters who will provide needed comedy.

"The world is ending! And just on the day I bought a new Honda Civic!" HAHA

I shouldn't be surprised. Every movie is a sequel of another movie or remake or it has superheros or toys come to life and stuff blows up. So why stop making disaster movies? It's a proven formula. Special effects extravaganza coupled with broadly drawn characters. Luckily, they survive. Unfortunately, about six billion others are dead. But at least they died in a cool way.

2012, I won't be seeing you in the theaters. Perhaps on a Monday night on HBO in 2011. Then maybe, if there's still a world to watch it in.

(PS If the year 2012 passes and the earth is still around, then I want all that Mayan bullshit thrown in the memory hole and every person who espoused it to punch themselves in the face. And you too, History Channel. If you're not whacking off to World War II for the 4 gazillionth time you're pushing 2012 every night at 8 p.m. with horrible re-enactments of events that have yet to occur. You have to punch yourself, too.)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Best of the 2000s: TV Dramas (5-1)

The conclusion of the list that has captivated America.

5. Lost (2004-present): Has any show in the history of humanity engendered so much talk, so many theories, so many websites, so main brain-hurting treatises?

The story seemed so simple at first. A plane crashes on a deserted Pacific island, leaving the survivors to fend for themselves in an unknown land. Like Gilligan's Island right? Not at all.

Where to begin? The Others. John Locke's miracle recovery. The Jack-Kate-Sawyer triangle. Flashbacks. Flashforwards. Jacob. The Swan. The Dharma Initiative. Constants. Time travel. It's impossible to sum up this show for a non-believer. Sometimes watching it feels like homework. You have to remember a tiny detail from Season 1 for something in Season 5 to make sense.

Nonetheless, it's fascinating, expertly crafted and thought provoking. John Locke and Ben Linus are two of the best characters of the decade. And don't forget, this is a show - at its core - that is about the redemption of troubled people getting a new start on a mysterious island.

It will come to and end next year in what is sure to be one of the most hyped series finales we've ever seen. The pressure on the writers will be enormous because we've been along for the ride for many years and there are many, many questions yet to be answered. I'm confident Lost will deliver. They've done it so far.

Best episode: Season 3 "Through the Looking Glass" This episode blew me away. I was literally on the edge of my bed by with my jaw hitting the floor by the time Jack was screaming to Kate at the end, "We have to go back!"

4. The West Wing (1999-2006): While George Bush did ... what George Bush did, we had a parallel president on NBC in the Bill Clinton model who was intellectual and surrounded by selfless public servants. A fairy tale? Not exactly. Just a brilliant and sometimes awe-inspiring show that made politics exciting and noble in age when it was anything but.

Martin Sheen completely dominates as President Jed Bartlett, a very moral, intellectual, moderate Democrat with his senior staff, led by Leo McGarry. Famous for its rhythmic, rapid-fire dialogue, the West Wing felt like something that was above normal network TV. It was art at it's best. In one of my favorite all-time scenes, Bartlett is in the National Cathedral after burying a lifelong friend during a political crisis that threatens his administration. After the church is cleared, he stares up at the stained glass window (the eye of God) and angrily rants in Latin. There were no subtitles. This show respected the audience. It knew that you didn't need to understand what he said. It was a man speaking to God and we shouldn't hear it. We just knew he felt betrayed. It's a brilliant, brilliant Hall of Fame scene. I command you to take three minutes and watch it if you've never seen it. Even out of context it should still impress.

It's unfair that Aaron Sorkin wrote many of these episodes by himself. How does one guy have so much talent? The first four seasons were as good as it gets. Seasons 5 and 6 suffered after Sorkin left the show, but Season 7 rebounded nicely. When I watch the news, I think there's no way I'd ever want to work in politics. When I watch the West Wing, I dream about it a little bit. In the end, it always came down to the writing and acting. A perfect mix for a show I refused to watch when it was actually on TV because I didn't get it. How foolish I was. Thank goodness for DVDs and Netflix.

Best episode: Season 2 "Two Cathedrals"
3. The Sopranos (1999-2007): Many consider this the top show of the decade. Perfectly reasonable. This show made HBO and brought the mob mystique down a level.

You must know about the show by now. It's about a New Jersey crime family led by Tony Sopranos. Tony is going through a mid-life crisis and needs to see a therapist. For the duration of the series, these sessions laid the foundation for a massively complex and fascinating psychological examination of a guilty, conflicted sociopath. The Sopranos depicted the mob as just another facet of a deteriorating work force, like auto manufactures. Except these guys are violent psychos feeling the heat from all directions.

James Gandolfini's performance will be remembered years from now. He probed every square inch of that character. He could be ferocious, cavalier, frantic and charming in just one episode. He deserves every plaudit he's received. He wasn't alone as great actor, though. The Sopranos was gifted with tremendous talent in that area. They make the episodes entirely re-watchable. Since every major character on that show -every single one - was a pretty despicable human being, it's a miracle the show was so popular. It's a testament to the actors and the writing.

The one strike against this show is obvious. The series finale was a disappointment. Knowingly artsy, it played around with the audience. The final cut to black was just not befitting a show of that caliber. It deserved a better send off, but still does not detract from this great all-time series

Best episode: Season 3 "Employee of the Month"

2. The Wire (2002-2008): The great American novel of our time.

It's Charles Dickens for 21st century America, chronicling the lowest of the low on the gang-infested streets of west Baltimore to the levers of power in city hall and the police department. The Wire was a searing portrait of a crumbling American infrastructure. It had no famous actors. It was one of the only shows on TV to have a majority black cast. It was shot in Baltimore and it unfolded with the pace and detail of an epic novel, not a TV show. So you understand why it's not as well known. A pity, because it was greatness. Pure greatness.

Unflinchingly realistic, The Wire was always a tragedy of an America who's prime had long passed. This show's main character, Jimmy McNulty, did not show up in Season 4. What other show could pull that off? They did because the character was the decaying city. Not to say that Omar and Bunk and Stringer Bell (the best villain of the decade) were forgettable. They were anything but that.

I give a lot of credit to this show. What other entity really cared to follow inner-city schools? The death of working-class jobs? The true tragedy of drugs on African-American communities? The fall of the newspaper? All these vital sociopolitical developments usually reserved for shows on PBS no one watches came to light on a fictional HBO program. It truly performed a public service while giving us one of the best American series of all-time.

Best episode: Season 3 "Middle Ground"

1. 24 (2001-present): Are you surprised? I doubt it.

This isn't the best acted or best written show in history or even the decade. So how can I rank it No. 1? Because TV is supposed to entertain and no show has been as entertaining as 24. The hardest thing to do is comedy. The second hardest thing to do is a good thriller. It's tough to keep today's audience in suspense, but 24 still does, eight years after its debut.

24 came along at an opportune time. We just got hit with 9/11 and terrorism suddenly became the foremost issue in the country. Along came a show on Fox that dealt with just that topic. As we tried to hunt down real terrorists, we had Jack Bauer kicking ass. Even as a liberal, there's a part of me that hopes we have a guy like him on our side. He acted out our revenge fantasies as we never really got it in real life for 9/11.

Kiefer Sutherland carries this show. It would be just average without him. When it careens into the ridiculous as it often does, he always grounds it right back. Other characters helped, too. Tony Almeida, George Mason, Michelle Dessler, Charles Logan and Chloe O'Brian to name a few. They keep the suspense at almost unhealthy levels, with a great assist from the show's famous calling card - it's real time element. It provides a constant feel of doom just around the corner. That's what a ticking clock always does.

I'll never forget watching the first season as a freshman in college. I had never seen a show like it. Real time. Complicated plot pieced together episode by episode. And a main character who takes the good parts of James Bond and makes him more interesting. The season finale shocked me like nothing I saw before or have seen since. It was a kick to the stomach when Jack found his pregnant wife dead just before the episode faded to black. At that time, what other show would do that? Kill off a main character so brutally? They all do it now, but not back then. They took a gigantic risk and it paid off. It meant that anytime a character was in trouble, he or she could actually die. Hence the suspense.

24 is not as good as it used to be, like any show that goes on into its sixth or seven season. That said, no show is as fun to watch. None. And isn't that the point?

Best episode: Season 1 "11 p.m.-12 a.m." The greatest hour of scripted television I've ever seen.