I Coulda Been a Contender!

I have no clue what caused me to recollect this particular day after so many years.  Why I’ve chosen to share these memories is even more inexplicable, but here goes.

When I was nine years old, my family moved from Florida to North Carolina.  It was early June and we were temporarily living in a small duplex apartment while my parents searched for a new house.

Directly across the street from the duplex was an elementary school playground.  At that time, the local Parks and Recreation Department staffed many of these playgrounds with college students during the summer months.  Their primary task was to ride herd on the kids from the surrounding neighborhoods who gathered each day to play all sorts of games and participate in arts and crafts.  The playground was closed each day for an hour beginning at noon to allow for lunch.

One of the more popular activities were the daily tetherball tournaments.   For the uninitiated, tetherball is a one-on-one competition played on a circle of packed dirt in the center of which rises an eight to ten foot pole.  Affixed to the top on the pole is a strong cord, on the other end of which is secured, a tennis ball.
The object of the game is for each combatant to strike the tennis ball with a solid wood rectangular paddle.  One competitor directs the ball in a clockwise direction, while his opponent attempts to drive the ball in the counter-clockwise direction.  The game is won by the player who succeeds in completely wrapping the cord and ball around the pole in his chosen direction.

Such was my fervor to excel at this competition that I would quickly eat lunch at home and then rush back across the street to the tetherball pole to practice before the playground officially reopened at 1:00 p.m.

During one particular midday practice session, I was really seeing the ball well, in the same manner that the best hitters in baseball can see the seams rotating on a hanging curve ball and drive it into the left field bleachers.

That day, I was effortlessly catching the furry orb in the sweet spot with forehand after forehand.  Nearing the end of my workout, I tracked the ball as it seemed to glide toward me in a languid, slow-motion arc.  Paddle in hand, I reared back and put everything I had into one final overhead forehand smash!

I found myself awash in a thick fog.  My vision was blurred and the normal neighborhood summertime sounds seemed to be muffled.  As I gazed ahead, the fog began to clear and to my amazement I was staring at our duplex, but it had inexplicably rotated 90 degrees.  It appeared to be standing on end.
left for dead
Suddenly, I realized that I was on my side, lying prone on the packed dirt of the tetherball circle.  Small puffs of red dust blossomed before me each time I exhaled.  As my mind continued to clear, I realized that as I had followed through on my last Herculean stroke, I had struck myself directly on the ankle.  The rest was a simple matter of anatomy, physiology, and free-nerve endings.

I had succeeded in knocking myself out.

Now before you roll your eyes and say to yourself, “No way!  No one can knock themselves out!“, go get yourself a foot-long piece of 1″X 6” and whack that nubby projection on your ankle with it.  I don’t mean just tap yourself with it, give it all you’ve got!

Learn from my experience. Self-induced unconsciousness is a reality.  Like any good scientist, I confirmed this, although not intentionally.  After dinner that same evening, with nothing better to do, I walked back over to the playground for a few quick practice strokes.

Moments later, in the gathering dusk, I found myself wondering, “Why is the school building standing on end?  How’d this dirt get in my mouth? “

Sometimes, practice makes imperfect.


Keeping Up With the (Jerry) Jones

georgia dome
It looks like the good people of Atlanta are going to be on the receiving end, whether they want it or not, of a new stadium which will be replacing the Georgia Dome.

The price tag for the new sports venue will come in at around $1 billion (that’s with a B).  The plan is for the Atlanta Falcons to cover $700 million of the costs with the rest coming from a new hotel-motel tax which purportedly will impact only non-Georgians.  One would have to assume that residents of the Peach State never stay in hotels or motels when traveling overnight.

The party line states that there will be no financial impact on the residents of the greater metropolitan area or the fans of the Atlanta Falcons.  That might seem plausible until you remember that if you patronize the stadium it will cost you something like $20 to park your car, $8.00 for a beer, $7.50 for a Coke, and $8.00 for a hotdog (without chili).  Don’t even ask what a ticket is going to cost.

It’s also being slowly leaked out that season ticket holders will be assessed a “seat license fee” which apparently will grant the payor the right to then purchase a season ticket from the payee.  “Hiya, hiya!  Step right up!  You pays your money.  You takes your chances!

At a recent news conference at which plans for the new stadium were discussed, Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons, had the audacity to say (out of the right side of his mouth), “We don’t need a building to play in next Sunday . . . The Georgia Dome is a good building. We love playing in it.  (Falcons coach) Mike Smith has an incredible record in it.

Out of the left side of his mouth he must have been mumbling something along the line of, “Gotta have it!  Gotta have it!

Did I mention, that I’ve been unable to find anyone who roughly meets the description of the “common man” who desires, much less believes that there is a need for, a new stadium in Atlanta?  I’m still looking.
insde dome
As a sports photographer, I’ve covered many events at the Dome.  The Dome has just turned 20 years of age and I’ve got to tell you, it’s a beautiful stadium; well maintained, offering every amenity that the discriminating sports fan, athlete, and member of the working media could desire.  But apparently, it’s got to go!

I can’t help wondering to myself why Atlanta needs a new stadium.  Is there a desire to relocate the stadium out of the downtown area, placing it in the suburbs where presumably it will be more accessible?  Apparently not, the word on the street is that the new artifice will be located just south of the current Dome’s location.

One explanation may be that Roger Goodell and the NFL patriarchs have let it be known that the Georgia Dome will no longer be considered as the location for future Super Bowls.  Why?  The upcoming Super Bowl is going to be played in New Orlean’s Super Dome which is over twice as old as the Georgia Dome.

Relative sizes - NFL Stadium Jumbotrons

Relative sizes – NFL Stadium Jumbotrons

No, I think the true explanation is much simpler.  As Mark Bradly, Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports writer put it, “…. in sports as in life, new and shiny trumps tried and true.

Imagine the angst that rends the hearts and souls of billionaire owners and millionaire players as they walk into new stadiums like the monstrosity which recently opened in Dallas, an architectural testimony to the massive ego of Dallas Cowboy’s owner Jerry Jones.

Gee, our Jumbo-tron’s not nearly as big as Jerry’s.  We need a new one!  And he’s got a retractable roof too!

Make no mistake about it, size does matter.

Ground Control to Major Tom

Ancient Aliens
I have a confession to make.  I really enjoy watching the History Channel series, Ancient Aliens.

I enjoy the series for a couple of reasons, one of which is most assuredly NOT because I believe that the “ancient astronaut theorists”, as they prefer to call themselves, are coming anywhere close to the truth with their suppositions regarding the history and origins of mankind vis-à-vis visits by tourists from across the galactic expanse.

No, the primary reason I watch the series is that it highlights some really interesting and inexplicable archaeological sites, which is a subject that has always tweaked my interest.  Beyond that, it’s enormously entertaining to watch the “ancient alien theorists” convolute logic and the scientific method to beyond the breaking point in order to make their hypotheses appear to be plausible.

When I was in grade school, I learned that the scientific method consisted of the following steps:  1) Start with a question, 2) Make observations and conduct background research, 3) Propose a hypothesis explaining that which is being questioned, 4) Design an experiment to test the hypothesis, and 5) Accept or reject the hypothesis based on the experiment’s results.  Then of course, rinse and repeat.

The “ancient astronaut theorists” on Ancient Aliens have seen fit to substantially streamline the scientific method to three extremely expedient steps:  1) Start with a question, 2) Propose an hypothesis, 3) Accept the hypothesis.  Why waste time with cumbersome and time consuming stuff like observations, research, and experimentation?  Bah, humbug!

Ancient Aliens never fails to provide a bit of comic relief as the show’s stalwart group of “ancient astronaut theorists” blithely present startling inconsistencies in their extraterrestrial explanations of otherwise earthly artifacts and events.  And they’re able to do so with such straight faces.
For example, in different episodes, the Great Pyramid of Cheops has been explained to have been, without question, 1) an enormous chemical generator designed to produce microwave energy which was then beamed up to the ancient alien’s mothership orbiting the earth, 2) an enormous nuclear powered device designed for the purpose of converting common elements into gold (for as we all know, the ancient aliens were really only interested in our gold), and/or, 3) a cosmic portal used transport our extraterrestrial vistiors, not to mention the occasional Pharaoh, between Earth and the region in and around the Orion nebula.

In the rough and tumble world of “ancient astronaut theorizing”, the rule seems to be ‘If the hypothesis comes anywhere close to fitting, stretch it.
Live Long and Prosper, Ancient Aliens!  It certainly beats watching American Idol.

On second thought, some of those contestants appear to have just beamed down.

“To Sleep, Perchance to Dream”

“Ay, There’s the Rub”

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”  I’m of the opinion that Poor Richard, aka Benjamin  Franklin, was on to something when he published this proverb way back in 1735.
I’ve always been a big fan of catching my fair share of the recommended daily allotment of 40 winks per night.  Likewise, I’m a big believer in hitting the sack when I find my eyelids getting heavy, regardless of the hour.  No social convention is going to inhibit me from surrendering to the sheets simply because it happens to be 8:30 p.m. or earlier.  I often refer to this practice as “sleep with honor.

I have to admit that I’m still waiting to acquire Poor Richard’s stipulated wealth and wisdom, but one out of three isn’t all bad and I still have a few years left to continue with the experiment.

Recently, I came across an interesting article in the January/February issue of Discover magazine regarding sleep.  It piqued my interest not just because I’m so fond of the practice of snoozing, but because for many years, I worked in manufacturing management.

What, you might be thinking, does manufacturing have to do with sleep?  Quite a lot it turns out, if the schedule that you require your employees to work has an impact on their ability to get enough of it.
shift work
The 24 hour/7 day per week manufacturing operations which I managed over the years, utilized a number of different shift schedules.  One feature common to all of them was the use of rotating shifts.

The most common schedule involved 12 hour shifts with a 3 day on, 4 day off cycle followed by a 4 day on, 3 day off cycle.  This schedule required those working on it to rotate between days and nights, as well.

The most bizarre schedule I ever managed involved three traditional 8 hour shifts with the addition of a fourth crew which, over a seven day period, was required to rotate through the regular 1st, 2nd, and 3rd shifts in order to allow those crews to have 2 days off.  That schedule was both bizarre and brutal.  It was a scheme worthy of Tomas de Torquemada, Grand Inquisitor of the Spanish Inquisition.

So back to the Discover article.  It highlighted recent research which indicates that work and/or lifestyle schedules which disrupt the more typical night time sleep cycle may be hazardous to one’s health.   An increased incidence of diabetes, obesity, some forms of cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease have been shown to occur when normal sleep patterns are consistently disrupted.

Thankfully, it’s been a while since I’ve been involved with rotating work schedules, but I’m confident that they are still commonplace in manufacturing operations.
I wonder if employers are still able to engage consultants who can be called upon to proselytize to their employees regarding the benefits of working on those schedules?

Sweet dreams.

Let It Snow, or Maybe Not

Atlanta went through one of its annual wintertime rites of passage last night.  A cold front came through the region on the heels of a weather system which had been bringing us rain for the past several days.
Hmm?  Cold air mixing with moisture in the air!  Wait just a minute.  Somehow this all sounds strangely familiar.  Didn’t Miss Crabtree go over something about this during one of our 3rd grade science lessons all those years ago?

Aren’t these conditions perfect for generating a crippling white out?  Maybe some snow flurries?  Or at least a little freezing rain!

This sort of frenzy grips Atlanta’s meteorologically challenged at least once a year; sometimes twice.  In the old days, these conditions would cause knees to begin spasmodically jerking within the newsrooms of the local television stations which would then rush crews out to the nearest grocery store to do a live remote broadcast featuring stalwart citizens buying up all of the bread and milk they could carry in preparation for the wintery blast headed their way!
remote news
Lately, most of the stations are content with simply sending their most junior news reporter up into the wild and minuscule mountains of north Georgia in the faint hope of capturing at least one snow flake on camera or better yet showing the viewing public a patch of “Black Ice” on a road waiting to victimize an unwary motorist.

Move over Jim Cantori!

Unfortunately, dampening everyone’s hope for a memorable climatic onslaught, the rain moved out of the area quicker than expected and the cold front wasn’t quite as frigid as the prognosticators had projected.  Atlanta awoke this morning to mostly dry, non-icy road conditions.

But that didn’t forestall at least one local school system from canceling its classes.  “By God, we built snow days into our school calendar and we’re sure as hell going to use them!

I wonder how many days it is until that groundhog does his thing?

Multi-tasking My Way Through Middle Earth

This past Sunday on our way home from church, my wife mentioned to me that she’d like to go see the movie adaptation of The Hobbit that afternoon.  We’re both J.R.R. Tolkien fans.  When our two sons were just little guys, we team-read The Hobbit and the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy to them.
I tell you this so that you won’t question my motivations as I explain that I wasn’t all that excited about seeing Bilbo tangle with Gollum on that particular Sunday afternoon.

You see, at 1:00 p.m., the Atlanta Falcons were kicking off against the Seattle Seahawks in one of the NFC division playoff games.  But I also knew that my spouse had been through a lot over the past few months and could really benefit from a little entertainment downtime.

I know that you’re probably asking yourself, “What could have possibly been more entertaining than watching an NFL playoff game? ”  But you’ll just have to trust my reasoning when you learn that I agreed that we should spend the afternoon together in Middle Earth.
gandalf iphone
Understand however, that heading to the local cinema multiplex did not preclude my ability to stay in touch with the gridiron action down at the Georgia Dome.

For I had access to magic that even a wizard of Gandalf’s standing could not imagine: my trusty iPhone, a solid 3G network signal, and the Yahoo Sportacular app.

With just a few deftly executed flicks of my thumbs, I had the app set to notify me of any score changes, the ends of each quarter, and all incursions by either team’s offense into their opponent’s Red Zone.  All with only a brief, noiseless, and totally unobtrusive vibration.  A quick and surreptitious glance at my iPhone was all I would need to remain on top of the pigskin action.
Being a natural born multi-tasker and armed with technology rivaling the powers of the One Ring, I had no difficulty in following Thorin Oakenshield and his company of dwarves on their trek toward Erebor and the Lonely Mountain, while at the same time staying in touch with Matt Ryan as he led the Falcons to a last second, come from behind victory over the Seahawks!

What an age We live in!

Nectar of the Gods or Cheap Drunk

I work for a small company which recently is experiencing a lot of growth.  This of course is a very good thing in these days of economic and employment uncertainty and I’m very happy with the situation.
In order to gain some ground against the backlog of work, a number of us were asked to work this past Saturday.  In the hope of getting my part of the work done in time to leave a significant portion of my Saturday open for other activities, I decided to go in early.  Actually, you might say that I went in late on Friday, as I was in the office by 4:30 a.m.

Despite our best efforts, the amount of work that needed to be done kept us busy until late Saturday afternoon.  Since I was going to be tied up for most of the day, my wife decided to go to work on Saturday as well.

I’m sure that you’ll understand that I was really dragging by the time that I got home; as was my spouse.  Neither of us felt like cooking on Saturday evening and we just didn’t have the energy required to crawl back into a car to drive to a restaurant, so I dug a pizza out of the freezer and popped it into the oven for a quick and dirty, if not nutritious, dinner.

As I was exploring around in the refrigerator, I also came across a bottle of beer that my youngest son had purchased over Thanksgiving, but had never opened.  Since he’s living out of state, I decided to appropriate the bottle and put it to immediate use.  His loss was my gain, so to speak.
st bernadus
Now this wasn’t just an ordinary bottle of beer.  First of all, it contained 25.5 ounces, not your ordinary 12 ouncer!  It also was sealed with a cork and wire mesh thingamabob just like you see on champagne bottles.

It was a bottle of St. Bernadus Belgian Abby Ale, which, since there was enough for both my wife and myself, seemed to me to be the perfect beverage to compliment the pizza which was nearing culinary perfection in the oven.

As I was about half way though consuming my portion of the pizza and the very excellent Abby Ale, I couldn’t help but notice that an overwhelming sense of peace and general well-being was beginning to course through my mind and body.  The effects of the long work day just seemed to be draining away with every bite, or perhaps more importantly, every sip.

At one point, I looked over at my wife who was apparently experiencing an equally deep Zen moment and said, “Damn!  I think I’m getting buzzed!”  Such was the sharpness of my mind and verbal eloquence.

As I was meandering back into the kitchen to place the dishes in the dishwasher, I picked up the empty St. Bernadus bottle to learn more about this delightful beverage.  It didn’t take me long to notice the small disclosure on the bottom edge of the label.  It read, “10% ALC./VOL.

Ah ha!

I was well and truly buzzed, but given the other circumstances of the day, finding myself in that condition wasn’t all bad.  In addition, by 8:30 p.m., I was well and pleasantly asleep and enjoying every minute of it.
Smiling Monk
Now I understand why the monk on the label is smiling!

Long live good St. Bernadus!

Seeking Forgiveness, Celebrity Style

I just read that Lance Armstrong, seven time winner of the Tour de France, is considering apologizing for the use of performance enhancing drugs, an act which he has spent the last few years vehemently denying.

I don’t know if it’s the case, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a bevy of high-powered public relations specialists are holed up somewhere working feverishly at developing a strategy by which Armstrong, or perhaps more importantly his reputation, can be rehabilitated.
It worked for Tiger Woods. Why shouldn’t it work for Lance?

After cheating on his wife with a list of bimbos rivaling the length of the Yellow Pages, all Tiger did was recite a well scripted “apology” to an empty room, lay low for a few months, and then come back to the cheers and adulation to which he had grown so accustomed.

I keep hearing that it’s in the nature of the American people, sports fans in particular, to be very forgiving. Of course the reality is that most of those pronouncements are made by the same PR gurus who are earning their very lucrative livings rehabilitating the characters of one tarnished athlete after another corrupt politician, not to mentioned the occasional befouled celebrity. I’m not sure that’s the type of resource I would select to reliably assess anyone’s true nature.
Anyway, back to Lance. He seems to be following the trail first blazed years ago by Pete Rose. That is – lie, dissemble, deny, and fabricate until the cows come home and then be prepared to apologize as if you’d never contradicted the truth in the first place.

I’m not sure Pete has been completely satisfied with the results he achieved and I don’t expect that Lance’s experience will be any more satisfactory if he chooses to pursue that route.
Maybe the best thing to try would be a “Forgive Lance” campaign complete with a distinctively colored lapel ribbon, or perhaps a wrist band.

Now that’s idea whose time had come!

Into Each Life, a Little Rain Must Fall

No doubt, many who begin to read this tale of woe will not get very far before they find themselves saying, “Yeah, yeah.  Just pay the ticket and get over it.”  Which no doubt I will do in good time, but first I’m going to vent a bit.

I’ve been licensed to drive automobiles for 45 years.  In all of that time, I’ve only received three (3) speeding tickets.   One which a little better luck would have allowed me to avoid, one which was clearly deserved, and one today which was nothing more than a thinly disguised methodology for increasing a small southern town’s revenue stream.

My first ticket was received as I was driving across the vast emptiness that is west Texas in a minivan rented from Hertz.  The officer who pulled me over expressed his confusion over the fact that I had not slowed down as he approached me from the opposite direction.  “If you had, I’d of just kept going and let you off”, he told me through a toothy grin.

I explained to him that I didn’t feel the need to slow down because I had the cruise control set right at the speed limit.  “Hmm”, he replied as he wrote out my ticket.

It was later determined that the speedometer in the minivan was indicating 12 mph slower than the van’s actual speed.  Thank you Hertz, thank you Chrysler.  Regardless, I accepted fault and paid the $120 fine.

My second ticket was received on a trip to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.  It was without doubt completely my fault as I was driving through the park at 45 mph knowing full well that the park-wide speed limit was 35 mph.  Two heavily armed park rangers with extreme no-nonsense attitudes vis à vis the speed limits within their slice of natural splendor, briefly explained the error of my ways.  I totally agreed as they fondled their 9mm semiautomatics and I happily paid the prescribed $90 fine.

Today, I received my third speeding ticket.  Today, I will not accept the accusation that I was speeding.  Today I was victimized by an officer who purportedly is sworn to protect and defend.

I was driving up the interstate on my way to the in-law’s home in South Carolina.  I set the cruise control on 70 mph as I left Atlanta and didn’t touch it until blue lights interrupted my journey somewhere just south of my destination.

“Sir, I clocked you at 86 mph until the point in time when you saw me and slowed down to 81.  License and registration please.”

As I handed over the requested documentation, I informed Officer Fife that there was no way that I was going 86, much less 81, as I had the cruise set at 70 which also prevented me from allegedly reducing my speed as I approached his stakeout position.

I might as well have been speaking to the weeds lining the interstate where I’d come to rest.

Ten minutes passed.  Barney finally came back to my car and handed me the ticket.  “Sir, I’m not going to cite you for going 86.  I’m not even going to write you up for doing 81.  That would have cost you $250.”

I suppose that I was expected to have been grateful at that point, but I really wanted to ask him if he had noticed the two or three other cars that had blown by me as I was driving past his poorly camouflaged speed trap.

Before I could open my mouth, he continued,  “I’m going to write you up for doing 74 in a 65 mph zone.  The fine for that will only be $80.  You can either come to court or send your payment to . . . . yadda, yadda, yadda.”

Before I could point out that in actual fact, I’d never exceeded 70 mph, Officer Fife had spun on his heels and beat a hasty retreat to his car intent on picking out his next victim.

I’m going to pay the fine.  It would cost me more than $80 to come back in order to defend myself in court.  It’s interesting how the price-points on these fines are so precisely calculated.

The only good thing that can be said regarding this sorry affair is that over time, my cost per ticket continues to drop.  I guess I should find some solace in that.  But I can’t help believing that I’ve just been ripped off.

Have a good day.  Drive safely and don’t forget to buckle up!

Which Way Will the Pigskin Bounce?

Whether or not you consider yourself a football fan, and without a doubt you should be, there is at least one very compelling playoff game that should be well worth viewing this coming Sunday afternoon.
Twelve months ago, the Seattle Seahawks were finishing up a disappointing 7-9 season, while the Washington Redskins ended 2011 with a, dare I say it, dismal 5-11 record.  With seasons like those, it came as no surprise that neither team qualified for the 2011 post-season playoffs.  And at the time, not many expected that to change any time soon.

What a difference a year makes; not to mention having an early pick in the NFL draft!   Fast forward to 2012 and we find that Seattle will be bringing it’s 11-5 record to FedEx Field in the nation’s capitol for their Wildcard Weekend clash with the NFC East champion Redskins who finished 2012 at 10-6.  Kick off is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. EST.  Make a note of that and put it on your refrigerator door.

Both teams have experienced a significant resurgence in their pigskin fortunes this season.  One of the more popular explanations for the turn around which both organizations have enjoyed begins and ends with their team’s brand new rookie quarterbacks; the Seahawks’ sometimes diminutive, sometimes gigantic Russell Wilson and Washington’s Robert Griffin III, aka RGIII.
It’s true that it’s virtually impossible for a team to excel in the NFL without quality talent at the quarterback position, but I would like to think that in its frenzy to cover Wilson and Griffin, the media will attempt to find some time to focus a little attention on the contributions made by those often overlooked guys who play in the other 21 positions; and I’m not even including the kickers!  As glamorous as a quarterback can be, it’s extremely difficult for him to win that many games without those other guys showing up and playing their positions well.

In any event, I’ll be intently watching game on Sunday to see which of these two teams will progress to Week 2 of the playoffs and a showdown with my hometown Atlanta Falcons.  Did I mention that the Falcons have the best record in the NFL at 13-3?
Falcons fan
The really big question in my mind is which Falcon team will be showing up for that game.  The championship quality team which earlier this season shut out the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants, or that bunch of bumbling, no-tackling, smack-talkers who lost to both the hapless Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers?  If the Falcons fail to win and don’t progress to the NFC Championship game, the media backlash against Atlanta’s sports reputation will rival the coverage given the December 21st Mayan Apocalypse. None of us want to see that repeated.

I dare not say more for fear of provoking the football gods and drawing their attention any more than necessary.