Monday, January 31, 2011

Steve's Peeves: Stranger in a strange land

I came home today exhausted, like I usually am on Mondays. My body and 4 am do not get along.

Like the 80-year-old man I am, I napped ... for about two hours. And man, my subconscious was in overdrive. Vivid dreams pulsated in my sleepy projector brain. I dreamed about dreaming about losing my teeth. And I was losing my teeth to some sort of Smoke Monster-esque evil force that caused my teeth to jar loose. It only had power over me if I allowed it by ending my dream's dream. So when I decided to ignore the evil force, my teeth came back.

To summarize, my dream self dreamed about losing teeth to an evil, shadowy force. The dream self inside my dream self knew I had to get up from this dream within a dream where my teeth were becoming loose.

Yeah, intense.

Also, I dreamed about stuffed reindeer that walked upright and I could not tell between two identical ones -- one an enemy and one a friend.

I unfurl this belabored lede in a roundabout manner to explain my brain's proclivity for overreaction this afternoon. My old enemy had reared its fangs once again. This enemy has haunted me since I first came onto this earth.


More specifically, strangers.

Below I will list some strange encounters I've had with strange strangers who have weirded me out strangely.

First, back in December before my trip back to Rhode Island, I exited a pet store with a Christmas present for Jelly. A black van stopped by me in a darkened parking lot. A guy came out of the passenger side door and offered me an entertainment system.

Naturally skeptical of this stranger in a black van offering me goodies, I declined. He persisted. I persisted in my rejection. So I walked on to my car and the van followed me.

"C'mon, man. It's right in the back. Great set. I'm just trying to be nice."

"Thanks," I said firmly and politely. "But I'm good."

"It's right in the back."

"No thanks." This time with force. Perhaps it was the inflection of my authoritative voice or my intimidating physique, but the black van drove off at last, most likely to find another victim to cut into tiny pieces and eat for breakfast.

Second incident. Just last week I was walking along a busy street on a beautiful, absolutely perfect Florida afternoon. Suddenly, another car slowed down to my left and a man with spikey hair, probably late 20s, leaned out the window and hooted and hollered like a construction worker watching Jessica Alba stroll by. He wasn't alone. Whoever else accompanied him in that car also whistled. I think the guy even puckered his lips. It happened pretty fast. The car drove on, unable to stop in heavy traffic.
At least when a woman is objectified in such a manner, she can think to herself, "The opposite sex finds me so attractive they can't contain their urges." I can only credit myself for a.) inspiring a car-full of mischievous heterosexual hoodlums into a joke or b.) inspiring a car-full of roving homosexual hoodlums into cat-calls.

Either scenario is not uplifting.

The third incident. I'm driving in Boca Raton and I stop at a red light. A car full of youths ask me where Wakefield plaza is. Plazas are a dime-a-dozen in South Florida. So I told them I had no idea. They weren't done.

"Hey, man. You do drugs?"

"Uh, no."

"You want any?"

I just told you I don't do drugs, idiot. "No thanks." I then stare straight ahead like a mannequin, the red light refusing to change colors.

"I've got a whole bunch of shit here." He then listed a bunch of drugs I'd never heard before. Mind you, this took place in broad daylight. I continued to stare straight ahead. A passer-by on a bike distracted them long enough until the light turned green and I turned into Paul Walker from "Fast & Furious: Part IV: Speed Kills."

The last, and most minor incident also occurred in Boca. I was going to the most fancy movie theater I've been to in years to see "The Kings' Speech." This theater had valet parking. It also had a cheap matinee ticket. So as I'm walking up to the outdoor booth to purchase my admittance, a portly teenager in glasses stared me down the whole way. I grew suspicious of him just feet away from my car.

He kept staring at I kept walking toward him. I walked past him and he turned and gave me a dumb-ass glare, like I was only dressed in orange underwear. On that day, I wasn't. I happened to be wearing my Jim James band t-shirt. Perhaps he was so astounded to see someone in that shirt he couldn't speak.

I waited in line and he continued to stare. I summoned all my powers pretending to ignore him from that point on. Once I had my ticket, I speed-walked into the theater. Watching previews of that horrible looking Matthew Perry show sure beat this weird kid.

I ask, "What in the name of Rachel Maddow is going on with people?"

When you sit back and wonder at the origins of my stranger-phobia, don't forget these stories.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A happy blog ... Siriusly

I am a customer of satellite radio.


Just a couple of weeks ago I splurged on Sirius XM radio, and my review is in .... FOUR STARS.

Instead of listening to the same CD on an endless loop to avoid the horrid terrestrial radio down here, I can enjoy Lithium - otherwise known as Satellite WBRU.

I broadened my musical horizons, going from classic rock all the way to independent rock. I can listen to Michael Kay or Jason Ellis. I can listen to gospel or 50's hits. There's even a Pearl Jam station, which mostly plays live stuff, but still. All Pearl Jam, all the time.

They even provide me with with the syringe of liberal propaganda I can shoot into my death-tax loving veins with America Left. And the dulcet tones of NPR if I ever need to fall asleep while driving.

I often find myself angry when I arrive at my destination now because a song I like is coming on. That NEVER happened before.

In addition, it brings back a few memories with some of their out-of-left-field selections. A few days ago, one station played "Fit But You Know It" from The Streets. A call-back from the college years. Maybe if I listen to the Spectrum station long enough, they'll throw up some JJ72.

And when they overplay a song, at least they overplay a good one. For some reason, I've heard "Thirty-three" from Smashing Pumpkins several times. They love that tune. So do I. Beats hearing Beastie Boys for sure.

One thing I worry about is the actual radio itself. I fear it sends a "Steal Me" signal to the local thieves running about in Florida. So I always detach the actual radio and stash it unseen to prying eyes inside my car. Paranoid? Or not enough? I don't know. It's my new puppy and I don't want anything bad to happen to it.

Anyway, just wanted to let y'all know how much I love having satellite radio. I needed to write a happy, uplifting blog entry anyway.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Social distortion

*Socially awkward penguin!

In the course of human events, sometimes I have to interact with other humans.

It's not an ideal situation. When I could be rewatching a Season 2 episode of 30 Rock for the third time, often I have to actually exchange words with another sentient being. This often requires me to nurse light alcoholic beverages while informing someone pretending to be interested in what I have to say that, no, I don't get tickets to the Super Bowl because I work for a sports website.

While it may surprise you, I've been in many social situations the past month or so. I just attended a birthday barbecue in Coral Gables. I fret over such events. I contemplated which kind of alcohol to bring for almost 20 minutes. I considered Becks or Heineken and then remembered the family is Jewish. So I went in a different direction. I need to think of everything because my instincts in this field are world-class terrible.
At least these experiences provide an opportunity to self-scout my ability to interact with other people. And the scouting report says I have plenty to work on. Mel Kiper Jr. doesn't like my measurables at all. But I think his hair is stupid, so take that. He says I should stay inside all day, every day.

I'm trying.

Anyway, here are a few things the report would say:

1. Bad first step: When reacquainting with someone he has already met and conversed with several times, the Sears still says, 'Nice to meet you.' Concerning. At the Sunday BBQ, the Sears unfurled this beauty on the wife of his co-worker, a woman he had 'met' several times now. Why does he do this? We don't have a freaking clue. He might be better off saying, "Hi. My name is Steve. I'm a registered sex offender." Other preferable options: punching her in the stomach or giving her a copy of "The Card Cabal."

Word is, he's done this more than a few times. Watching the Sears perform this social stink bomb is like watching Tony Allen dribble ... sooner or later someone is going to get hurt.

2. Failure to engage: These South Florida women are different than others. A simple wave hello or soft handshake is not enough. They lean forward and this sets the Sears in panic mode. A female is getting too close. Abort! Abort! Sadly, running away is rarely an option so he must clumsily partake in this formal practice. Does each person kiss the other's cheek? Or is it just the guy? Or the girl? The Sears has no idea. He is just happy that he has yet to headbutt anyone doing this, but his discomfort is evident. A polar bear in the rain forest. A black guy at Fenway Park. Just out of place.

3. Terrible coordination: The 2004 Red Sox had handshakes more complicated than most missile systems. If the Sears were on that team, he would not have fit in very well. First, his 0.00 batting average would be an impediment, as well as his terrible fielding, threat to catchers, awful instincts, Jack Skellington frame, paper meche bones and insistence on Coldplay as locker room music. Also, this is a guy who chokes in mini-golf. Imagine Yankee Stadium in October?? Besides those very few faults, the Sears would have been completely helpless when it came to the Manny-Pedro-Papi coordinated handshakes.

The Sears can win an English award, write an enormously popular college column, graduate with a prestigious degree from a Top 100 university, operate a Toyota, and photograph street signs, but he can't pull off anything other than a simple handshake. Anything - ANYTHING -more than that goes over like anti-Obama joke on Real Time. A lobotomized high school dropout who watches Two-and-a-half Men can breeze through this ritualistic male greeting call.
The Sears has only one go-to move. A handshake with all the power and affirmation of an 80-year-old grandmother greeting a councilman after a zoning board hearing. That's it. Perhaps he should study this.

Many a time has an unsuspecting dude attempted such uncomplicated maneuvers only to find the Sears totally incapable of following along. This male will usually stop the complicated stuff and revert to a normal handshake, disgusted and befuddled while asking himself, "Is this guy gay or something?"

Yeah, I'm guilty of all these things. What can I say, other than "Nice to meet you?"
I'll see you inside with the shades drawn. My comfort zone.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Surveying the wreckage

Nightmares can come true!

Exactly what I feared came to pass. The Patriots turned it over. They started slow. Things began to snowball. The crowd grew quiet and the Jets fed on it.

More sloppy play. Momentum clearly on Jets side. Dumb mistakes, curious calls, physical errors, lapses in judgment. New England did the veritable Dick Van Dyke routine, slipping over the Ottoman, clashing into the china cupboard, and accidentally falling into the same bed as his wife.

And then the Jets preened around Foxborough, just as I imagined they would. Bart Scott, a flea to Tom Brady's St. Bernard, mouthing off like The Rock on Monday Nights. Braylon Edwards doing a full back-flip at midfield. I don't even want to imagine LaDainian Tomlinson's smug smile.

A complete bomb.

Rehashing this game in my head as I drove back home from where I watched the game in Coral Gables through half-heartedly following the Golden Globes, one word keep repeating in my head: baffled.

I was, and remain, baffled at what I saw yesterday. Credit the Jets for playing well and avoiding mistakes, but this Patriots team did not slink by in the regular season at 9-7 and tip-toe into the playoffs. In that case, a performance like yesterday's would make sense. This team went 14-2, beat every playoff team it faced and scored the most points in the league by a wide margin.

In this case, being stuck with 11 points as the clock ran down in the fourth quarter was preposterous. Let's start with the Tom Brady interception. Awful pass of course, but the Jets did not score. Disaster averted, right? Then Alge Crumpler drops a touchdown. What could have been 14-0 was 3-0.

Then the Jets went to work against a defense that played well, but when the time came to absolutely make a play, they couldn't. A troubling pattern since 2006. Fast forward to the last quarter and it's 14-11. Pats finally have some momentum. Stop the Jets and they might just eke the game out. Instead, they allowed Cotchery to turn a simple crossing route into a 58-yard gain.

Shockingly easy and utterly deflating. And over course, they gave up the fade route in the end zone. Opposing teams have an Albert-Pujols-against-the-Sears-fastball average against the Patriots with that play.

On third down, they give up 6 to Edwards. Subsequently, the inexplicable Drive to Nowhere begins. I think the Pats were so used to running out the clock in the fourth they reverted to an old habit. I can't comprehend what they were possibly thinking. Let's move on.

It typified the whole game offensively. Something was off. They were out of sorts. Brady kept throwing passes to receivers who weren't even looking for the ball. He flinched in the pocket when there wasn't any pressure. And sometimes, he had enough time to watch the Shoah documentary and still could not complete a pass.

I still don't get it. This wasn't the team I watched this season.

If this loss does one thing, it wipes away that aura of certainty we as Pats fans have taken for granted. Bill Belichick will have a great game plan. The Pats won't shoot themselves in the foot. They'll play situational football. And, if need be, Brady will make the plays in the end to win the game.

The past three playoff games have kicked these assumptions straight in the balls.

I'm done waiting for that magic to reappear. Those players, McGinest, Bruschi, Harrison, Vrabel, Brown, et al are gone. Most of the current Patriots don't have any rings.

So enough with the invincibility train. Enough with the 10-point lines. This is just another team trying to make a name for itself in the postseason. That 'championship intangible' does not reside in Foxborough at the moment.

It's not all bad. They did go 14-2. They aren't the Bills. They have a young core on defense, plenty of draft picks, and the all-time coach-QB combo. Maybe -- and I've been praying for one for years -- they'll get a pass rusher. Maybe they will fortify their offensive line or find another threat on offense.

Then we could be here 12 months from now.

But I won't be counting on some Patriot mystique to take over in January 2012. No more "We have Brady and Belichick, so we win" proclamations.

Three straight postseason losses to Eli Manning, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez make that a stone-cold certainty.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I have a nightmare

I'm having nightmares.

Rex Ryan beating his chest like a gorilla in mating season. Mark Sanchez running off the Gillette Stadium field wagging his finger Joe Namath style. LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Cromartie and Braylon Edwards hooting and hollering in front of the few Jets fans who have moved to the front row in place of departing Patriots fans.
"The Jets are going to the AFC title game!"

And then comes the media hype. The sickening celebrations. The New York media gnawing at the New England carcass non-stop for weeks. Rex Ryan is the greatest coach of all time. Mark Sanchez is the next big star in New York. LaDainian Tomlinson for Pope. Antonio Cromartie starring in Tyler Perry's Full House remake.

This Armageddon scenario has dominated my mind since the Jets beat the Colts last Saturday. And after a week of constant sniping, most of it coming from New York, the game is finally here. And whatever happens, at least this haunting uncertainty that is slowly driving me batty will disappear.

Rational Steve knows a few things. The Patriots are better. They have a better quarterback. They have a better head coach. They have receivers who don't drop five balls a game. They're playing at home. They went 14-2 and beat every playoff team they faced in the regular season.

And, duh, they savaged the Jets 45-3 a month ago.

The facts are clear. New England should win. Odds are, it will. But the mere possibility the Patriots could lose to this team -- of all teams -- makes me physically ill. Who knows? A freaky turnover or two. An injury. A helmet catch. Weird stuff can go down. And if it does, I will have to avoid the Internet and TV for a while.

Which is tough when you work for a sports website.

I used to be supremely confident in the Patriots in the playoffs. And while I know how lucky all us Flying Elvis fans are to have witnessed this dynasty, the past several years have ended in every agonizing way the football deities could envision.

That sloppy loss in Denver. The collapse in Indianapolis. The game in Phoenix I still have problems dealing with. And last year's pathetic effort against Baltimore.

There are some playoff yips to be exorcised here, is all I'm saying.

Losing this game would feel worse than winning it would feel good. And winning would feel damn good. Losing ... that's what brings the demons at night.

So Patriots, if any of you are reading this right now -- Tully, you're my man -- don't screw around. I want 75-0. If it's 27-26, I'll take it, but you'll have to pay the hospital bills. Just, please, for the sake of us and the rest of the world not having to listen to the Jets anymore, beat these clowns.

You just CAN'T lose this game. You can't.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Goodbye, Dodger

I'm going to spare you a lullaby to the early 90s, when the kids of Byron Street frolicked outside while partaking in four squares and manhunt as parents sipped lemonade and talked about Ross Perot. My home street glowed with the warm sunshine of good times.

Now it is a dark and dreary cave of living room dwellers who don't know each other and allow their grass to grow taller than Andre the Giant.

I'll spare you that rant as I tell you that my mom's car was stolen last weekend. Swiped right from the driveway in the middle of the night.

A fifteen-year-old Dodge Caravan ... poof. The fact it was taken right from the house has my mom questioning the safety of the old neighborhood for the first time. She's lived there since about 1985.

Steve flashback: This story should remind you of another similar crime perpetrated against the Sears clan.

Yeah, the world is going to hell in a Chinese-made basket. Blah blah. There are two important things I want to relay at this moment. First, bad dog. Bad dog!

The family pet, Jelly Ignatius Mother Hubbard Queen Latifah Sears, did not notice a thing. She will bark if a squirrel sneezes twenty yards away from the house. But if a pack of thieves pilfer the family van parked right outside the window, she doesn't notice a thing. She growls at me if I simply walk by, yet the thieves escape clean.

And don't tell me she was deep in slumber. That little treasures sleeps with one eye open, just in case she catches you doing something that pisses her off.

Second, I'm gonna miss that ol' van. I learned to drive in that thing. I took many a trip back and forth to school while listening to 92 Pro FM in that thing. I took many a trip to Boston in that thing, to move to college in September, 2001 and back to Cranston in utter shame and humiliation in August, 2006.

The Dodge Caravan took us to Virginia and Maine, Pawtucket and Seekonk. It was my Rhode Island car on trips back home.

But like a family pet, it started to lose its faculties as the years fluttered by. The radio went. The brakes weakened. The heat vacillated. But gosh darn did it always get you where you needed to go. And with plenty of space to help four kids move in and out of dorms for nearly ten years.

So forgive me if I mourn the passing of a big part of the Sears family. Like my basketball rim with the 'S' painted on the plywood backboard. I cherished that old hoop. Like the four-foot high removable pool that made 31 Byron the place to be for the neighborhood kids. These objects, while irrelevant in the big picture, constitute the memories of a family and a time long passed.

And the Dodge Caravan was a part of that, and it left us too soon. Right now, it's probably in a million bitty pieces in some West Warwick chop shop, but it will be always be whole where it matters most -- my heart.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

No tix for you

I'm known for my performance under pressure. Calm eyes and what not. But my heart was racing this morning.

Mr. Dave Doyel (or Doyle? Doyal?) will be coming to South Florida for a few spring training games. I was tasked with purchasing the tickets. It was more suspenseful than Paranormal Activity.

First there's the virtual waiting room, an online limbo that could never end ... but you better be on standby or you go to the back of the line.

Then the fun starts.

You have one minute to pick your seats.

I'm hurrying! OK ... Two reserved box seats. Just in time.

Nice try, sucka. We don't have that available. Clock is ticking.

Um ... box seats?

No soup for you! MACGRUBER! (Bomb explodes)

Actually, I was able to pick some bleacher seats for the Red Sox-Marlins on March 12.

Then you have a minute and thirty seconds to remember your password. I have about 10 of those, and I never remember which ones go where.

Then a little over two minutes to fill out your credit card info. I'm racing through my name, address, postal code and I never know where the Doomsday Clock is.
And they even want me to buy ticket insurance. Is everything insured now? Can you buy anything anywhere without someone trying to get you to sign up for this card or buy this insurance or purchase this warranty? Sigh ... society.


But I made it through to the other side. I came up huge in the clutch. Now I know what those Hurt Locker guys were going through. The pressure. Any small mistake could cost you your life ... or a chance to see Marco Scutaro battle Burke Badenhop.

I think this makes up for my Taboo debacle.