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.