Monday, December 20, 2010

Keep Your Eye on the Ballgame

Call it the "Miracle at the New Meadowlands." Or, if you're a New York Giants fan, call it "The Nightmare Before Christmas." I'll just call it the worst mistake of my football-viewing career.

Disgusted by the Philadelphia Eagles' heartless play in the most important game of the season, I switched channels in resignation to the Colts-Jaguars game after the Giants had upped the score to 31-10. With 8:17 to go in the game, Philadelphia was surely defeated. Sadly, I sat down at my computer as the Colts and Jaguars slugged it out in their contest, the television over my shoulder. Listening more to the game than watching it, my occasional glances at the action weren't enough to alert me to the monumental comeback slowly progressing on the update ticker at the bottom of the screen. Not until many precious and historic moments had passed did I notice that the Eagles had somehow risen from the dead and tied the Giants, 31-31. Disbelieving, I leaped from my chair and grabbed the remote, furiously pressing the "Last" button as a spate of expletives escaped my lips. A near-eternity elapsed as the screen changed from the Colts-Jaguars game to black to the Eagles game...but there was DeSean Jackson racing across midfield and on his way to a stunning, game-ending, punt-return touchdown—a freshly minted spectacular moment in NFL history.

It was right about this time that my body took on a quick series of animated forms.*

*An incidental ascending vibraphone note may have accompanied each transformation—details are difficult to recall after such a life-altering moment.

I learned my lesson the hard way: Never change the channel. Never break away from a highly anticipated and critical sports contest no matter how lopsided the score. Not even if it's 62-3. With twelve seconds to go. And the starting quarterback has bilateral Joe Theismann leg fractures. And Ron Jaworski and John Gruden are over-enunciating so much that smoke is billowing from the television. And Charlie Batch is squatting in the bush, getting stronger while I get weaker and the walls move in a little tighter.

Never change the channel. Absolutely goddamn right.

(Photo of DeSean Jackson copyright Associated Press; animated photos copyright Warner Brothers.)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Phillies Could Beat(le) All Comers in 2011

With the acquisition of Roy Oswalt, the Philadelphia Phillies now have baseball’s equivalent of what Mick Jagger called The Beatles in their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech: “the four-headed monster,” for pitching rotations such as the Phillies will have for 2011 come along very rarely. So, as I have neither heard nor read in any media outlet, I am hereby coining Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Roy Oswalt the “Phab Four.”

Any why not?
Halladay, ever the artist on the mound, cranks out no-hits almost as frequently as Paul McCartney wrote hits. Cliff Lee possesses the same slender physique as late-sixties Lennon. Cole Hamels, now somewhat lost in the glare but still a vital craftsman, parallels dark horse George Harrison, and Roy Oswalt, perhaps the least picturesque of the quad yet undeniably instrumental to its success, fits Ringo’s throne.

If that makes Charlie Manuel Fifth Beatle George Martin, then so be it—although folksy Charlie trying to effect a London accent could well cause his mouth to explode.
And, as other teams in this town have had their own songs, such as “Phillies Fever” and “Here Come the (1-2-3-4-5) Sixers,” the 2011 Phab Four surely need their own:
Here come the top Doc, he come grooving it quickly
He got joo-joo fastball, he earn Cy Young dollars
He got no-hitters down to his knee
Gotta be a 20-game winner, he just throw what he please
Lee wear no pinstripe, he shun Texas baseball
He got mustard finger, he love Philly pretzel
He say "I know you, you know me"
One thing I can tell you is I wanted back in Philly
Come together right now...and win the World Series
Cole bag run production, he got runners picked off
He got the Braves’ number, he one Atlanta cracker
He got cleats down below his knee
Hold you in the bullpen he don’t need no relief
Come together right now...and win the World Series
Low ERA-poster, this Roy got Oswalt surname
Just like Muddy Waters, he from Mississippi
He say “One and two and three out is me”
Ain’t no one gonna rob Roy of victory
Come together right now...and win the World Series

(Phillies photos copyright Getty Images; With the Beatles photo copyright Capitol Records.)    

Monday, December 6, 2010

Every Picture Doesn't Tell the Right Story, Don't It?

So Monday Night Football is about to start: New York Jets (9-2) at New England Patriots (9-2), in a battle for first place in the AFC. As a network always does, ESPN is showing scenic night shots of Boston, specifically Quincy Market. However, the Patriots play in Foxborough, and the approximate 22-mile distance between Foxboro and Boston may well be the longest distance between a football stadium and its associated city (possibly equaled only by Arlington/Dallas).

Twenty-two miles is not an insignificant distance, especially considering Boston's ubiquitous traffic problems. And at that remove, Foxborough residents certainly can't be considered Bostonians. In fact, Foxborough is actually closer to Providence, Rhode Island than it is to Boston.

So why not show exterior nights shots of Foxborough during the pregame introduction? After all, the franchise left Boston proper—and even abandoned its "Boston Patriots" name—in 1971, so Foxborough has earned that right. How about a shot of the Foxborough Comfort Inn bathed in its lawn spotlights? One of the jewels of the Foxborough Skyline, the Comfort Inn offers free breakfast and a fitness room equipped with a Stairmaster and a wall clock.

Or the Paine School, built in 1795, either apparently to teach color-blind colonial youngsters how to enter and exit structures or, according to its colloquial spelling, as Massachusetts' first S&M grotto.

And what about Extra Space Storage, one of Foxborough's finest self-storage facilities? Stuffed with sentimental garbage that local pack rats can't throw away, this oversized closet serves as the town's silent nerve center, likely housing aged heirlooms and hand-me-downs from Foxborough's bygone days. Who knows what treasures from its sleepy suburban past lay in climate-controlled darkness?

So, get on the ball and do away with the visual clichés, football networks. There's a hell of a lot more to the hometown team than the postcard-mimicking money shot.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Blow Must Go On

As was reported in The Smoking Gun on November 29, a South Carolina couple were involved in a domestic disturbance on Thanksgiving day when the woman, while performing oral sex on her boyfriend, stopped in mid-act to answer her cell phone. As can be seen in the official sheriff's report below, she lied to her boyfriend that the caller was a woman, later admitting that the caller was a man, which infuriated her boyfriend—as if halting her blowjob to take a phone call from her girlfriend wasn't infuriating enough. The boyfriend then allegedly slapped her, at which point she called 911. The investigating police officer examined the woman's face but found no evidence of physical harm. After refusing to give the officer a statement, the woman left the scene, and no further action was taken.

As you may be aware, South Carolina is home to many kooky laws. And as still extant in the South Carolina Code of Laws as of the end of the state legislature's 2009 session, under Title 16: Crimes and Offenses:

SECTION 16-15-120. Buggery.

Whoever shall commit the abominable crime of buggery, whether with mankind or with beast, shall, on conviction, be guilty of felony and shall be imprisoned in the Penitentiary for five years or shall pay a fine of not less than five hundred dollars, or both, at the discretion of the court.
"Buggery," of course, is the archaic term for what we commonly refer to as "sodomy," which, in legal matters, encompasses a range of sexual acts, including oral sex.

Now it's lunacy to still have a puritanical law such as this on the books, even if virtually never enforced. But it's beyond lunacy not to have a law on the books criminalizing the halting of a blowjob for any purpose other than to cause ejaculation via a different manner. Let us be plain: once a person is involved in administering the act of oral sex, the recipient cannot be left hanging. Let the phone ring. Allow dinner to burn. Disregard the doorbell. Ignore the fire. South Carolina legislators must realize that—regardless of whether oral sex is outlawed in their state—once "head" is underway, the mission must be completed. Even under the aegis of such prudish laws, failing to complete a blowjob is far more heinous a crime than engaging in the act altogether.

Perhaps this man did slap his girlfriend—which, of course, would be criminal under any circumstances. But police found no evidence of such, and the accuser refused to file a statement, which not only makes her allegation dubious, but renders the matter moot. It is she who is guilty in this case—guilty of stopping a blowjob to answer a phone. Sadly, there is no weight with which the law can come down on this unconscionable for perhaps banning her from South Carolina Gamecocks events. Shame on this woman.

Therefore, I propose that the following amendment be added to the South Carolina Code of Laws—and, indeed, to the Code of Laws of each state:

SECTION 16-15-120a. Fellatus Interruptus.

Whoever shall commit the abominable crime of fellatus interruptus, whether to tend to another matter or to cease for reason other than to change position or stimulatory method, shall, on conviction, be guilty of felony and shall be imprisoned in the Penitentiary for five years or shall pay a fine of not less than five hundred dollars, or both, at the discretion of the court. The offender shall further be required to wear a scarlet "CT" at all times that the offender be known publicly as a cocktease. So do the right thing and finish what you started.


It is my hope that this incident—as have many other actual criminal occurrences—becomes the basis for a future Law & Order episode. Sure, fellatus interruptus probably would constitute only a Class E felony in more liberal-minded New York City, but any chance to see Assistant DA Connie Rubirosa reenacting the crime in court for the benefit of the jury is sure to be a ratings-grabber!

In fact, I think I'm gonna write the episode myself.

Maybe even story-board it, too...

(Photo of Law & Order copyright NBC.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Young Victoria's Secret: Michael Palin Trumps Emily Blunt

So we watched The Young Victoria last night, the underwhelming 2009 period piece starring Emily Blunt as the United Kingdom's iconic 19th-century queen. Sure, she made a beautiful Victoria—far more attractive than the real Victoria—but for my money, Blunt cannot hold the proverbial candle to Michael Palin in portraying England's longest-reigning monarch.

In Monty Python's Flying Circus Episode 41, "Michael Ellis," Michael Palin portrays a spirited, if culturally confused, Queen Victoria (seen here with her late husband, Albert, the Prince Consort). In fairness to Emily Blunt, Palin's Victoria is certainly not the Queen of The Young Victoria's youth, yet it is a more honest, realistic, and geopolitically consequential version. Palin plays her with the masculine verve that so defined the stuffy, sexless age we call Victorian. More importantly, Palin bravely infuses his queen with Germanic tendencies that epitomize Victoria's tangled cultural lineage, lest we forget that she sprang from the Teutonic House of Hanover and herself became progenitor to many future European rulers, including Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II, Russia's Tsar Nicholas II, and, of course, Great Britain's George V—second cousins who would feud catastrophically in the First World War. When Palin's Victoria slips seamlessly from English into German, we are confronted with the hard truth that England and Germany—destined to rival for control of Europe—are deeply tied by blood, which will, over the coming years, muddle sympathies and affect both the course of poetry and politics. None of this can be gleaned from Blunt's pristinely Anglican Victoria. Frankly, one can hardly envision Blunt's Victoria curdling her nose at the recent soiling of the Victorian Poetry Reading Hall carpet and uttering Was ist das schreckliche Gepong? Es schmecke wie ein Scheisshaus! with any conviction.

Like all of the Pythons, Palin thrived playing female characters. His Victoria is Prussian and assertive without sacrificing English matronly compassion. When Palin's Victoria declares ant-themed poetry verboten, it is to be replaced with the more feminine themes of "skylarks, daffodils, nightingales, and light brigades." I'd be hard-pressed to believe Blunt's Victoria had she delivered such a royal decree!

Perhaps this is not a fair comparison. Sure, Emily Blunt is a Golden Globe–winning actress—but Michael Palin and the Pythons rank among the finest actors in the annals of television and film. It is no wonder that I also prefer Graham Chapman's "Erizabeth" (Monty Python Episode 29) to even the supremely talented Cate Blanchett's virgin queen. Blanchett portrays Elizabeth with a near-perfect balance of virginal sex appeal and icy integrity, yet it is Chapman who transcends the role, maintaining remarkable dignity whilst Erizabeth's closest advisors sit atop motorized bicycles and everyone, including Her Majesty, speaks Japanese pidgin English. This is not an Elizabeth whose reign is predictably defined by the Armada, but who defines herself by changing with the anachronous times and embracing the premature industrialization of her kingdom.

Yes, Emily Blunt and Cate Blanchett are gifted and gorgeous jewels in Hollywood's realm, but I'll take Michael Palin and the late Graham Chapman as England's on-screen queens—for without a Python in drag...we are not amused. God bless you alles!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Some Particulars About the General

Perhaps he's not as ubiquitous as the Geigo gecko or cavemen, but "the General" from General Auto Insurance is beginning to show up all over the television dial. With his promise of quick quotes, low rates, and a low monthly payment, the General is aiming to take command of the auto-insurance battlefield.

But the General has several telltale flaws that betray him as unfit for command and keep me from volunteering for his outfit:

» A five-star general, such as the general in question, is a General of the Army. Only Dwight Eisenhower, George C. Marshall, Omar Bradley, Hap Arnold, and Douglas MacArthur attained this rarefied rank as active soldiers. A General of the Army wouldn't be casually referred to as "the General," which fails to delineate him from even a measly brigadier.

» More significantly, the General's rank insignia on his helmet is incorrect. A five-star general's rank is denoted not by five stars in a row, but by a "pentagon" of five stars, as can be seen here and on the shoulder of Eisenhower, Bradley, and Marshall below...which leads me to believe that the General is, at most, a four-star general who stuck a fifth star on his helmet without the approval of Congress—congressional approval being the only way a fifth star can be conferred.

» And the General's drooping biker moustache is an egregious breach of military regulation. Sure, a high-ranking officer gets leeway in the realm of facial hair, but this moustache won't pass muster even for a General of the Army, and the Commander-in-Chief should bust this Hells Angels wannabe down to three stars for its flagrancy. One cannot lead by example if one is not setting the example...even in peacetime auto insurance.

I'll support our troops all day long...but I can't support this trooper.

Now, there is an admiral for The Admiral Insurance Group, based in Wales, but I don't know enough about 18th-century Royal Navy dress to put my trust in this guy. And isn't the parrot really an indication of piracy?
For more on potential violation of military regulations,, see the Mount Drinkmore entry of January 4, 2007, "A Promoter Without a Promotion" via the blog archive or keyword military.

(Photo of the General copyright General Auto Insurance; photo of the admiral copyright The Admiral Group.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

When the Cosmo Aligns...Giddy-up!

Like many of you, I harbor deep regrets: Ruined romantic opportunities. Misguided career decisions. Short-sighted moments of inaction. Some of these have steered the course of my life for the worse, or at least left lasting scars that I’ll carry for the rest of my days.

If I were to compile a list of my regrets, one that remains fresh bears getting off my chest:

Spring 2004: I’m walking north on 19th Street, about a block and a half from my then-residence just off Rittenhouse Square. Roaring toward me comes a hook & ladder, siren blaring as it responds to a call on the other side of the square. I saw the fire engine coming, and my immediate instinct was perfectly natural for a Seinfeld connoisseur: yell "Hey, Kramer!" to the hook & ladder's rear driver, just as in Episode 117, "The Secret Code." Maybe he'd respond as did Kramer—with a wave and a yell. Maybe not. Either way, I'd be fulfilling every Seinfeld fan's dream: to play out in reality a classic moment from the show. I had several seconds to react, but a completely irrational inhibition of drawing attention to myself on a public street cropped up and, unbelievably, kept me from seizing the Kramerian the opportunity tragically passed forever. I think about that moment a lot—perhaps not as much as foolishly opting to transfer out of what was a pretty good party school after my freshman year or failing to take Miss So-and-So to bed—but enough that the pain flares every time I see that Seinfeld episode in reruns or hear a fire engine's horn racing down the block.

Other regrets:

• Never went to a Gordon Lightfoot concert on acid
• Spent three years earning a PhD in Morse code on a hunch that e-mail was a passing fad and the telegraph would make a comeback
• Chose to see Avatar in 1-D
• Have never visited 332 Kellett St., Deloraine, Manitoba
• Got out of bed most days
• Approaching my 43rd birthday, yet still don't know what the difference is—if any—between a sweet potato and a yam
• Convicted of a Class B misdemeanor for castling in a checkers game
• Took a stunning 19-year-old, 5-foot-six, 110-pound, 38-DD, redheaded vegan to an all-you-can-eat rib joint on a first date because I was in the mood for ribs

(Images copyright NBC.)

Friday, October 1, 2010

You're a Grandma's Old Flag...You're a High-Stylin' Flag

Once again, a furor has arisen over a citizen flying the Confederate battle flag on his/her property. Annie Chambers Caddell, of Summerville, South Carolina, has opened the latest can of worms by flying the flag on her front porch. She is white and lives in a historically black” neighborhood. Caddell insists that she is merely displaying pride in her Southern heritage, but some of her African American neighbors see it as a symbol of overt racism and want her to remove the flag. Denying any hateful intentions, this rebel without probable cause refuses to comply, and objecting members of the community plan to raise the issue before a town board meeting later this month.

Regardless of Caddells constitutional right to fly the Confederate flag, or whether or not you view the rebel flag as a symbol of hatred or racism (I, personally, consider it a badge of treason, emblematic of the evil institution of slavery cloakedlike its vile cousin, lynchingin the spurious rationale of states rights”; a flag of, literally, a foreign nationand a vanquished one at thatthat has no more business flying over an American government building than does the Japanese rising sunone fact continually has been overlooked in this long-standing issue: its a good-looking flag: assertive design, attractive color scheme, lots of triangles. Sociopolitical implications aside, the Confederate flag brightens up any home, business, or official property. I find it a great shame that such an aesthetically pleasing flag carries the repulsive historical baggage it does and thus cannot be enjoyed simply as stylish decor.

Then again, The Dukes of Hazzards General Lee, with its Confederate battle-flag roof, serves as a constant reminder of one of the dumbest shows in television history (apart from Daisy Duke in her Daisy Dukes), thus doing even more to sully the flags reputation than its insurrectionist, segregationist legacy.

Those dopey good ol boys may never have been meanin no harm, but their car beats all you never saw...highlights the flags worst flaw...since the day that show was born.

(Photo of Annie Chambers Caddell by Brad Nettles and copyright The Charleston Post and Courier; photo of Bo and Luke Duke copyright CBS.)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Grand Old Blanda Makes Final Pass

I collected primarily baseball cards as an adolescent. They were, in some respect, my closest friends during those unsure and impressionable years. But a pack of football cards regularly found its way into my shoeboxes. Along with my bubble gum–scented diamond heroes, I equally cherished gridiron icons such as Bob Griese, my pitiful pre-Vermeil Eagles, and, heretically for a Philadelphia-area boy, my favorite player, Roger Staubach—most of them holding ridiculous poses for the lazy and unimaginative photographer. But one player in my football-card collection filled me with wonder: George Blanda. He sat in profile, head somberly in hands, a river delta of creases flanking his eye, and, most curiously, more silver in his hair than on his vaunted Oakland Raiders jersey. How could a man that old still be playing professional football? I had probably seen him kick field goals or extra points during a televised playoff game, but his helmet obscured that aged coif, so Blanda never achieved memorability on screen as he did from my football card.

In those days before the Internet, and even easily accessible sports encyclopedias, I gleaned virtually all of my sports knowledge from the reverse side of trading cards, where the statistics were listed and proved each player’s greatness or mediocrity. George Blanda’s fascinated me. His statistics went all the way back to 1949! How was that possible? Wasn’t that, like, right around World War II? I’d never seen so many rows on the back of a trading card. There was no room for the player’s standard capsule description. So many rows, in fact, that Topps didn’t even have space for his biographical information. This Blanda had no equal—not even the Kansas City Royals Lindy McDaniel, whose reduced-sized print went all the way back to a medieval 1955. But the Forties! Ancient Blanda surely must have played against Red Grange, the only black-and-white football legend of whom I was aware.

But wait—the front of Blanda’s card surreally denoted that he was not only Oakland’s kicker, but its quarterback as well! I knew he wasn’t the Raiders’ starter, because I counted my fellow southpaw, Ken Stabler, among my favorite players, but this silver-haired geezer played quarterback and kicked? Blanda was some kind of superman, even if I couldn’t ascertain his passing statistics from the back of his card, which only displayed his ungodly kicking totals. In actuality, not a superman—Blanda had merely been “elected King of the World” by Raiders radio voice, Bill King, a few seasons earlier, after a remarkable five-week run of second-string heroics achieved with both arm and leg. Several years elapsed before I realized that the multi-positional Blanda was the last of a dying breed—even spending part of his early career as a linebacker. It took a few more years until I learned the history of the AFL and that Blanda had led the Houston Oilers to its first two championships in the upstart league.

Despite his success in the AFL and his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Blanda never won a Super Bowl, set the all-time record for interceptions thrown, and was quickly being pushed down prestigious career lists by beneficiaries of an increasingly pass-oriented NFL. Yet, for me, the silver-haired man with his head in his hands and stats that almost ran off the bottom of his football card retains a powerful aura as a player of unique toughness and resiliency.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Dub Didn't Sound Like the Hub...and There's the Rub

Earlier today, I stumbled across Los Infiltrados (The Departed) on my local Spanish channel. Virtually any film is going to lose punch when it's dubbed in a different language, even this high-octane Martin Scorsese nail-biter. Unavoidably out-of-sync dialogue is distracting, and, more importantly, the dubbers are merely reading words off a page, which sterilizes the characters' emotional nuances.

But these are inevitable drawbacks in bringing programming to those who can't speak English.

What really irked me about Los Infiltrados was that the dubbers made absolutely no attempt to record their Spanish dialogue in a Southie accent. The essence of the film lay in its working-class South Boston setting and overtones—Irish cops versus the Irish mafia, both of whom came out of the hardscrabble section of town. Yet all of that is lost for Spanish-speaking viewers who can only understand the Los Infiltrados version.

For example: when Costigan defends himself to Costello in the pub: "Frank, look at me. Look at me. I am not the fuckin' rat. Okay? I am not the fuckin' rat..." all you hear is the dubber's Spanish-accented Frank, mirada en mí. Míreme. No soy el fuckin' rata. ¿Autorización? No soy el fuckin' rata...

Had the dubber understood the craft of dubbing, he would have read Costigan's line as Frahnk, mirahdah ahn mí. Mírahme. No soy ahl fuckin' ratah. ¿Autahizaciahn? No soy ahl fuckin' ratah.

That would have captured the flavor of a Southie cop. Instead Costigan sounds like Zorro arguing over the check...

Admittedly, I watched very little of the Spanish channel's version of The Departed, but they did a such a poor job of capturing it's all-important Southie sentiment that I can only assume its non–English-speaking viewers thought the film was a Weekend at Bernie's–type resort flick set in Cancún. Frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if the film's main musical theme, the Dropkick Murphys' "I'm Shipping Up to Boston," had been re-cut by a mariachi band.

I can only shudder at the thought of how the film came off over Norwegian television...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Eagles Golden Anniversary Missed Golden Opportunity

Honoring the 1960 Eagles during halftime of the season opener against the Green Bay Packers—the very franchise it defeated a half-century ago for the NFL championship—was a classy tribute to the last Philadelphia squad to win an NFL title. For many older Eagles fans, saluting the surviving members of the only team to vanquish Vince Lombardi’s juggernaut of the 1960s likely eased the frustration of fifty years that have seen more agony than ecstasy. And to cheer such storied legends as Tommy McDonald, Pete Retzlaff, Norm van Brocklin, and Chuck Bednarik afforded an awed thrill for those too young to have enjoyed an Eagles championship first-hand. Yet although the fiftieth-anniversary celebration oozed style right down to the 1960 old-timers’ kelly-green blazers, it was missing something: Like the Philadelphia Phillies had the late Tug McGraw and Mike Schmidt re-play their victorious leap of 1980, why didn’t Eagles management bring out Chuck Bednarik and ex–New York Giant Frank Gifford to midfield at halftime and reenact the infamous hit that became the iconic image of that championship season? That moment encapsulated the toughness and mettle of the 1960 Birds, and Bednarik fist-pumping over a concussed Gifford is what everyone remembers. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie couldn’t cough up some wallet-sized kelly green to coax Frank Gifford down the New Jersey Turnpike and take one more clothesline from an 85-year-old Concrete Charlie? What better way to recall the glory of 1960?

(Photo of current Eagles at midfield copyright Philadelphia Eagles.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

SEPTA Buses Monk's Tables...and Walls and Windows and Doors...

On Tuesday, August 10, Philadelphia's version of the Hindenburg disaster occurred when a SEPTA bus, trying to avoid a police vehicle responding to a call, lost control and barreled into the entrance of Monk's Café. For those of you not aware, Monk's Café is one of the finest pubs in the city, featuring a dizzying array of Belgian ales, as well as other high-quality, hard-to-find brews. The back bar, which further features some of Philadelphia's best air-conditioning, was mercifully not harmed, but, as you can see, the establishment suffered heavy damage and required extensive repair.

I immediately rushed to the scene and kept constant vigil while repairs ensued. And as I held a candle in the wee hours, mournfully praying for Monk's speedy recovery, perhaps it was my sense of history mixing with my grief that caused me to realize how commonplace was this scene a millennium ago: the smashing of monks' walls, where beer was first concocted...inhabitants of the premises at the mercy of the intruder...the SEPTA bus a modern-day counterpart of the Viking longship...

Sure, no one was wantonly slaughtered that Tuesday night, and few were wearing hairshirts, but the moment echoed a calamity played out countless times during the Dark Ages, as evidenced by the ruins at Clonmacnoise in County Offaly, Ireland.

Look at the catastrophic damage suffered by that small church at right, where, presumably, a longship full of crazed Vikings, hopped up on hallucinogenic mushrooms and seething in a blood frenzy, rowed right up onto land and crashed into it, after which the fearsome marauders swarmed the helpless settlement and drank all the beer without paying for it.

Of course, Monk's Café will be rebuilt—not fall into ruin like so many targets of Viking plunder. And, thankfully, its waitstaff were not carried off into slavery by the bus riders. But the damage to Monk's reminds us that, even a millennium after the Viking Age, we remain in dangerous times...times in which death and mayhem can strike at any moment and ruin a delicious imported ale, just as our monkish predecessors learned. So the next time I'm enjoying a pint at Monk's Café, or indeed anywhere, I'm going to savor every sip, because one never knows when some mode of public or barbarian transportation might come bursting through the walls and send me into Odin's arms for final judgment. Skål!

(Top photo of Monk's Café copyright The Philadelphia Inquirer; second photo copyright NBC 10 Philadelphia.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Too Bad There Aren't More Like Brind'Amour

Unless in reference to the likes of a world-shaking superstar, I would rarely comment on the retirement of a professional athlete—it happens too often. But Rod Brind'Amour deserves recognition for an outstanding 20-year career in which he proved himself one of the most dependable, valuable, and admirable players in NHL history. A first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Blues, Brind'Amour learned well under head coach Brian Sutter, one of the hardest-working players ever to skate. He logged a first-team All-Rookie Team season in 1989-90, racking up 61 points and, even more impressively, a +23 rating. A workaholic, Brind'Amour left a strong impression on me when the Philadelphia Flyers clashed with the Blues during his first two seasons, and I recall wishing that this hustling youngster wore the orange and black.

General Manager Russ Farwell had the same wish and soon traded captain Ron Sutter and promising defenseman Murray Baron for Brind'Amour and Dan Quinn. The deal turned turned into a steal, even with Quinn lasting only 67 games in Philadelphia. Born to be a Flyer, Brind'Amour never took a lazy shift and quickly became a Spectrum favorite, even on a team in the midst of a ghastly five-year playoff drought. Not just an offensive-minded center, Brind'Amour, like Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, and Brian Propp before him, was entrusted by his coaches with every situation. He worked the power play, killed penalties tirelessly, and developed into one of the best faceoff men of his time. Brind'Amour quickly became a star in the shadow of Eric Lindros and the Legion of Doom. Never as flashy as Lindros, John LeClair, Mikael Renberg, or Mark Recchi, Brind'Amour seldom received ink or screen time equal to Flyers with round numbers, but he was always there, scoring nearly a point per game for more than eight seasons—a franchise-record 484 of those games consecutively, thanks to his fanatical conditioning regimen. Brind'Amour never registered 100 points in a season, or even 40 goals, but no Flyer throughout the '90s was more reliable.

In 1996-97—a subpar 59-point season for Brind'Amour (the only full season in which he would score fewer than 77 points for Philadelphia)—he made amends by erupting for a team-high 13 goals during the Flyers' run to the Stanley Cup finals. But a pair of first-round exits over the next two seasons—even though Brind'Amour rebounded with consecutive 74-point seasons and led the team in playoff scoring both years—coupled with allegations of locker-room friction between he and Lindros fostered a deal with the Carolina Hurricanes for Keith Primeau. It was a controversial and risky trade—Brind'Amour the epitome of diligence, still in his prime, and beloved of Flyers faithful in exchange for the bigger and swifter, but perennially underachieving, Primeau, who had netted a measly 6 goals in 70 playoff games.

In Philadelphia, Primeau had one good season, two strong playoff runs, and the epic five-overtime game-winner, but it was a trade that never should have been made. Brind'Amour was only halfway through his career, playing nine and a half seasons in North Carolina, becoming the Hurricanes' all-time leader in assists and points, helping them to the finals in 2002, and captaining Carolina to its first Cup victory in 2006. Along the way, Brind'Amour finally reaped the rewards of his devotion to complete play, earning back-to-back Selke Trophies. Arguably, he grew even more popular in Raleigh than Philadelphia.

Twenty seasons after first skating onto NHL ice, Rod Brind'Amour should stand in reach of Hall of Fame induction. Some may chortle, but his numbers and accomplishments outweigh Hall of Famers such as Cam Neely and leave in the corners others believed worthy, such as Eric Lindros. Only fifteen players have participated in more games in NHL history. Brind'Amour's 1184 points ranks 46th, ahead of several contemporary Hall of Famers, including Bernie Federko, Glenn Anderson, and Joe Mullen. His 44th-most assists puts him in similarly esteemed territory. And he's got one more Cup than five players elected to the Hall of Fame in the last decade combined.

In an era of high-priced prima donnas who whine about signed contracts, clamor for media attention, skip games because of hurt feelings, and have run-ins with the law, Rod Brind'Amour hustled his tail off, displayed exemplary character, and prospered without complaint.

Thanks for twenty great years, Rod.

Friday, May 28, 2010

When Game Day Is the Same Day As the Wedding: "I Don't"

In October 1993, I attended the wedding of a close friend. The night of the wedding coincided with Game 6 of the World Series between the Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays. Forced to miss much of the game during the ceremony, virtually all of the males—myself included—repeatedly shuffled between the reception and a room that had a television to watch the fate of the Phils. This Sunday evening, I must attend another wedding (ironically, of the younger sister of this close friend). Thankfully, this night falls between Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, so I won’t be deprived of watching my hometown team battle for a long-awaited championship, as in 1993. But that’s just dumb luck, and circumstance easily could have contrived another catastrophe for me and fellow Philadelphia Flyers fans.

I need not even go into the pain of a Sunday-afternoon wedding in November 2003 that obliterated for us invitees a key Philadelphia Eagles conference matchup.

I understand the personal need for marriage—and I suppose matrimony still holds some societal relevance—but I believe I speak for all sports fans in stating that scheduling weddings during sports seasons has got to stop. Let’s face it: sports are undeniably more important to the American psyche than a wedding—if they were not, then Say Yes to the Dress would have the multi-billion-dollar television contract instead of the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball. The hard truth is that sports—like the gladiatorial games of ancient Rome—are the glue that bonds society together. America shrugs off divorce, annulment, and infidelity, but it could never survive without the emotional decompression and financial gains of its major sports. Does anybody truly prefer wearing a stuffy outfit for three hours in an overheated hall, quietly bored out of their mind, when they could be rooting for their favorite team with beer in hand and t-shirt on shoulders? Of course not.

Therefore, I propose—in the most non-matrimonial sense of the word—blackout dates in which weddings can no longer be held, thus enabling the viewing of sporting events to go unencumbered. Considering that hockey and basketball seasons essentially overlap, October through June are out, which also safeguards the World Series. Also blacked out should be September, to include the first month of football season. That leaves July and August, which are, of course, the core of baseball season. By August, the pennant races are quite serious, so forget reserving the chapel during that month. Which leaves July. Nobody really wants to attend a wedding during the Dog Days of July, but the pennant races are still up for grabs, so missing a game won’t kill you.

This idea may ruffle the feathers of the betrothed, but we’ve all wished it from time to time—including the groom. Weddings that could only occur in this one designated month would make everyone’s life so much easier: we wouldn’t have to unexpectedly interrupt our lives, there would be no traveling in winter, and everyone would be happier not having to sacrifice a game for mediocre chicken marsala and line dancing. As Spock said in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Or the couple.

(Third photo copyright The Daily Collegian.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Comcast: It's Bombastic!

Nobody I know has ever had a good word to say about Comcast. And why should they? Frequently interrupted service. Expensive rates. Problematic, often combative, customer relations. Programming grids that list "To Be Announced" for hours after a power loss or, when working, are sometimes flatly inaccurate. Their sanctimonious ads boast of high-quality, inexpensive, attentive service, but I'd drop Comcast in a minute if Verizon FiOS were available in my area. Hell, I might even drop it in favor of a 1959 rabbit-eared Philco that shows only snow and has no vertical hold.

Another Comcast attribute I resent is its film synopses. The worse-rated the film, the more glowing its review—because, of course, self-righteous Comcast couldn't actually offer bad films, could it? For example, Juwanna Mann gets 1 star (the universal rating for "poor") yet is described as a "slam-dunk comedy." Another 1-star comedy, Miss March, somehow is an "uproarious road romp." I don't know if Comcast writes its own reviews or obtains them from a third party, but virtually every 1-star film is, according to Comcast, a must-see winner:

Bride Wars—"Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway are a scream..."
The Box—a "hypnotic thriller"
All About Steve—an "endearing comedy"
Bigger Than the Sky—a "charming romantic comedy"
Fired Up!—a "peppy and uproarious teen romp"
12 Rounds—an "exciting thriller"
Extract—"big laughs"
Hush—a "gripping thriller"
Bad Company—an "action-packed espionage comedy"
Year One—a "hilarious Stone Age comedy"
Jennifer's Body—"big laughs"
Did You Hear About the Morgans?—a "wacky comedy"
I Love You, Beth Cooper—a "laugh-a-minute teen comedy"
Dragonball: Evolution—an "exhilarating martial-arts fantasy film"
Old Dogs—"Get ready for big laughs"
Post Grad—a "lovable comedy"

Need more examples?

The Women—a "polished and incisive remake"
Joe Dirt—a "raucous comedy"
Step Up—includes "a wonderful wealth of dancing and romancing"
Town & Country—"Warren Beatty and Garry Shandling score as..."
The Whole Ten Yards—a "hilarious sequel"
WarGames: The Dead Code—a "thrilling sequel"
Disaster Movie—a "riotous and outlandish spoof"
When in Rome—a "lovable romance"
Taxi—"high-octane action and rollicking humor"
Max Payne—"Mark Wahlberg gives a dynamic performance..."
Planet 51—"big laughs"
Who's Your Caddy?—a "top-flight Caddyshack homage"
Because I Said So—"a charming romantic comedy"
Deck the Halls—an "uproarious holiday farce"

Such self-serving reviews make one wonder if Hollywood has ever cranked out subpar celluloid. In fact, of the very few remotely critical reviews of a film I've seen on Comcast's programming grid, the sternest is that for Johnny Dangerously (1 star): a "puerile sendup of gangster flicks."

Now, I don't know what kind of confused buffoons compile these reviews, but how does Comcast slap Beverly Hills Ninja—perhaps the greatest "Great White Hope" epic ever made...certainly funnier than its counterparts Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai, and Avatar—with a single star yet opine that "Chris Farley is in fine comedic form in this quick-chopping comedy..."? Comcast's rating system fully discredits its review, and vice versa. Such deceptive policy is not worthy of Comcast's exorbitant monthly cost. Worse, it denigrates the film that taught us that the morbidly obese can achieve martial-arts mastery, the film that inspires those of us who desperately wish to be ninjas yet don't possess the monastic resolve to devote our lives to its practice or to eliminate Twinkies and bacon from our diet.

In contrast, Comcast gives the bland 2008 comedy, Beverly Hills Chihuahua, 2 stars. Another tired talking-animal flick, a lost chihuahua must make her way back from Tijuana to Beverly Hills, with the always-hilarious Drew Barrymore providing the dog voice. Sounds great, doesn't it? Problem is: there's no self-abusive sword work, no overturning of urns and mixing of cremated ashes, no assaulting airport metal detectors, no culinary acrobatics at a tempura grill, no communicating across the Plane of Enlightenment and resultant crash landings. A 2-star comedy should make one laugh twice as much as a 1-star comedy, yet I defy anyone with an IQ above ten—dogs included—to find Beverly Hills Chihuahua funnier than Beverly Hills Ninja.

Clearly, Comcast has no idea what it's doing.

Or, as Haru of the Takagura dojo would say: "Holy shinto!"