Lacrosse: The Fastest Game on Two feet

“Lacrosse: Turning violent personalities to world class athletes”   – unknown

I grew up in the South.  As such, I was not exposed to the game of lacrosse until I was well past my prime in terms of personally participating in contact sports.  By that time, merely giving serious thought to playing the game of lacrosse would have been detrimental to my health and general well being.

I often find myself wishing that had not been the case.  Given even half a chance, I would have eagerly been out there on the field engaged in the non-stop action and controlled mayhem that is the game of lacrosse.

I know of no other sport in which one is allowed to run up and down the field of play while whacking one’s opponent with a stick …… without being immediately penalized for doing so.  To my mind, it just doesn’t get any better than that!

I was first introduced to the game of lacrosse through my work as a sports photographer.  Once I began covering local college and high school games, I immediately became a huge fan of the sport.  It’s the kind of event that Sigmund Freud was thinking about when he said, “Without spectator sports, all societies would be neurotic.”  Or words to that effect.
LacrosseI’m often asked, “What’s your favorite sport to photograph?”  I believe that most people assume that my reply will be, “Football.”  Football is a close second, but without a doubt, lacrosse is my favorite.  That is, as long as I’m photographing the Men’s game.

The Women’s version of the sport, if one can call it that, is in dire need of a major rules revision which will eliminate the need for referees to halt play every time the action on the field is about to peak.  Highly competitive women athletes who play the game must have extremely high thresholds for dealing with frustration.  Either that, or they might find themselves in need of Dr. Freud’s services.  But that’s a story for another day.

If you’re not familiar with lacrosse, I encourage you to take in a (men’s) game at a local high school or college.  If you’re a sports fan, you’re not likely to be disappointed.


“What Fools These Mortals Be”

Speaking through Puck in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”, ol’ Will Shakespeare once again hits the nail on the head.

You may not have heard of Doug Bartlett.  He’s a school teacher in the Chicago Public School system.  He’s been teaching school for 17 years.  He’s currently assigned to teach a second grade class.  Or should I say, “He was.

As the saying goes, “Into each life, a little rain must fall.”  If that old saw is correct, then it’s safe to assume that Mr. Barlett has been hit with an Amazonian rain forest deluge.  He was recently suspended from his teaching position for four days without pay.  That’s a fairly significant slap on the wrist.  What, you might be asking yourself, did Mr. Bartlett do to deserve a punishment of this magnitude?

I’ll tell you.
Mr. Barlett was teaching a unit on tools.  The kind of hand tools that are found in virtually every home.  As part of his demonstration, he showed his class a screw driver, a pair of pliers, and a wrench.  Mr. Bartlett kept the tools under his control at all times.  He didn’t pass them around the room or let his second graders handle them.  When the demonstration was completed, the tools were stored away in his toolbox which was then placed on a high shelf, well out of the reach of his young and inquisitive students.

Having once been a young boy myself who found himself sitting in a second grade class, I can tell you that Mr. Barlett probably had the full attention of his class during this innovative teaching exercise.  There was probably some real learning going on.  Which one might reasonably assume is just what the school system is charged with promoting.

Well, …. maybe.

Upon learning of Mr. Bartlett’s lesson involving tools, he was summarily charged with “possessing, carrying, storing, and using a weapon.”  Which in turn led to his suspension from teaching and his loss of pay.

Ever since reading of this travesty, I’ve been struggling to find a word which accurately describes the school administration’s decision to take this action against Mr. Barlett.  Pathetic is the only term that I can come up with, but pathetic really fails to capture the full depth and breadth of my personal displeasure.  I’m still looking for a more descriptive term.

It’s difficult for me to accept that there are individuals filling top level administration positions in our school systems who consistently demonstrate such a complete and utter lack of judgement and common sense as is so clearly demonstrated in this case.  But the reality is that they are in those positions and they are making decisions impacting our children every day.
Sadly, Mr. Bartlett’s case is not unique.  There is the case of the two eight or nine year old boys who were expelled from school for pointing their fingers at each other during recess on the playground and uttering the phrase, “Bang, bang!”   There is the young girl who was expelled for possession of drugs because she took an Advil that she had in her purse.  And unfortunately the list goes on and on.

Based upon the absence of judgement which is now routinely demonstrated by school administrators all across our country, I can only assume that scissors, pins, and sewing needles have been banned from Home Economics classes and that all Industrial Arts courses have been totally expunged from the curriculum.  After all, it follows that both of these pursuits represent clear and present dangers to our children, not to mention our society at large.

I wonder how long will it be before no one under the age of eighteen will be allowed to enter a Home Depot or Ace Hardware store?  Or if a background check is going to be required if I want to purchase a pipe wrench?

Any man is liable to err, only a fool persists in error.
Marcus Tullius Cicero


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An Ode to the Springtime of My Discontent

How could something so small and which looks like a dog’s toy cause such discomfort?

This time of year, I often find myself longing for the salad days of my youth when I lived in a state of total freedom from the effects of allergies.  Hay fever was a condition that I often heard others complaining about, but as far as I was concerned, it was little more than the subject of television commercials and the occasional drug store product display.  Furthermore, the idea that animals of any species could cause discomfort merely by their being in close proximity to me seemed positively implausible.

Youthful naivete kept me from realizing how lucky I was.  I was oblivious to the reality that I was effectively living in some sort of hypoallergenic bubble which, much to my chagrin, was soon to burst.  I never saw it coming.  It’s a cruel reality that so often in life, you fail to realize your good fortune until you no longer possess it.
During my sophomore year of college, a friend came over to my dorm room one afternoon accompanied by his newly acquired pet kitten.  Now I’d never been a cat person, so it was inconceivable to me why any self-respecting college man would want to be seen in public with a kitten.  I could see myself walking around campus with a Germany Shepherd or even a Bassett Hound, but not in the company of a calico kitten.  It simply wasn’t a good look, neither then nor now.

Soon enough, friend and kitten moved on to other venues, but not before I realized that my right eye had begun to itch.  This wasn’t just a pleasant little itch which could be quickly relieved with a bit of gentle phalangic persuasion.  This one was rapidly escalating into the Mother of All Itches.

What was called for was some serious digging and scratching.  Before I knew it, my right eye was swollen and bloodshot to such an extent that it appeared as if I’d just gone a couple of very long rounds with Muhammad Ali ….. and he with bare knuckles.

Having never experienced anything like this, I was slow to recognize that the source of my distress was a long dormant, but now awakened, allergy to felines.  I’d always been suspicious of those beasts, but now I found that I did not care for them in any way, shape, or form.

Perhaps triggered by this new reaction to cats, within a few years I also developed chronic hay fever and seasonal allergies.  Springtime was no longer that wonderful season of rebirth and renewal, pleasant temperatures, and abundant sunshine.  It had morphed into a time of itching, sneezing, watery eyes, nasal congestion, contact lenses which impersonated small circular pieces of sand paper, and a generalized overall gunky feeling.

A grain of Peony pollen

A grain of Peony pollen

And to think that this is all due to rampant reproductive rites occurring within the plant world and the microscopic irritants which that bacchanalia releases into the otherwise congenial springtime air.

I’ve never been able to isolate just which species of weed or flowering plant serves as the source of my affliction.  Inexplicably, my reactions to inflated pollen counts seem to occur on an every other year basis.  It’s as if Mother Nature is toying with me, leading me believe that my condition has gone into remission, which only serves to make my suffering all the more acute the following spring.

Yet I press on, sure in the knowledge that there is always better living to be had through chemistry.  Armed with Claritin, Zyrtec, and Allegra, I am more than a match for even the most belligerent clump of ragweed.

Ah the grass is greener, swaying lightly in the breeze,
The air is sweet and friendly, excuse me while l sneeze.
Watching the grasses grow atchoo, leaves me with a smile,
I just wish this wretched sneezing, would leave me alone for a while!

–  Hay Fever Blues by Colin Skilton


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Do What You Love, But Love What You Do

But isn’t that the same thing?  As life teaches repeatedly, not necessarily.

When I was a youngster,  I became fascinated with electronics.  Specifically, with radio.  The idea that we could use radio to transmit our voices across town, across the state, even around the world seemed absolutely magical to me.
This all began when I was around seven years of age.  My grandfather was cleaning out his attic and gave me an old tabletop AM radio that otherwise would have ended up in his trash can.  It had a large round dial on the front panel.  The range frequencies to which the radio could be tuned were illuminated by a dim amber glow which I found to be remarkably cool when I would cut the lights off in my room at night.

The back of the radio was enclosed by a sheet of thick cardboard containing multiple rows of small circular holes through which I could view the various tubes mounted on the radio’s chassis.  Some were large and looked something like light bulbs, while others resembled small test tubes.  Each of them were filled with tiny wires, screens, and rods which gave off a mystical reddish orange glow and generated enough heat to warm the radio’s cabinet, as well as to fever my imagination.

I would sit for hours, particularly at night, slowly tuning that radio across the AM band picking out the various stations which would fade in and out between the static crashes.  I wasn’t interested in listening to the local stations, but rather those stations coming in from distant towns and states.  I remember the excitement I’d experience when I’d tune across KDKA in Pittsburg, WJR in Detroit, WWL in New Orleans; and on and on.

You could say that it was either a simpler time, or that I was just a simpler kid.  Take your pick.  Both are equally acceptable and accurate assessments.

Soon, I discovered the world of shortwave radio.   A friend of mine who lived down the street had a small portable radio receiver which included coverage of a couple of the international shortwave broadcast bands.  After borrowing the radio from him over one memorable weekend and discovering the likes of Radio Peking, Radio Moscow, the BBC, and Deutsche Welle; I realized that I had to find some way to obtain my very own shortwave receiver.

After several months of exercising every persuasive skill in my somewhat limited repertoire, my parents finally relented and gave me a Knight-Kit Star Roamer shortwave radio for Christmas.  As the name implies, this was a kit that I had to build myself from the parts included.  Within two days, and much to the amazement of my parents who had no idea which end of a soldering iron to hold, I had completed building the kit.
Inside Radio
Initial dismay was quickly turned to joy unbounded when a cold solder joint on the radio’s speaker was discovered.  With a quick whiff of melted solder followed by the crackle of electron tubes warming up, the radio roared to life.  This was followed by countless hours of tuning for stations coming in from the far corners of the globe.

In subsequent years, I went on to build many other radios and electronic devices; some from kits, some from scratch.  I viewed the occasional missteps, such as near-misses with self-inflicted electrocution, as little more than learning opportunities which I knew better than to share with the other members of my immediate family.

Along the way, I became the “go-to” person whenever a radio, TV, stereo, or telephone needed to be repaired at our house or around the neighborhood.  I became known, somewhat inappropriately, as that kid down the street who could fix anything.

All of this led me to believe that my future was going to lie somewhere within the field of Electrical Engineering.  When it came time for college, I defied all of the odds-makers and succeeded in being accepted by North Carolina State University’s school of Engineering.
Unfortunately, I had a short, but storied career at State.  It wasn’t long before I discovered three very formidable roadblocks in my path to pursuing a career in electronics.  They were known simply as Chemistry, Physics, and most intimidating of all, Thermodynamics.

To this day, chemistry remains little more than black magic to me and I’d still like to take a big stick to the guys who came up with the laws of entropy and enthalpy.

But perhaps most importantly, my first few years in college revealed that merely having a passion for a subject did not mean that one was meant to pursue a career in that field.

I learned that there is a very clear and distinct boundary between an avocation and a vocation.

This tale does have a happy ending.  I went on to complete a Masters degree in Experimental Psychology.  Which begs the question, where in the world did the idea for that career path come from.  But that’s probably best left as the subject of a future post.

Happy trails!


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What If It Were True . . . . . . .

I strolled through the family room a couple of hours ago and immediately became ensnared by the program which happened to be showing on the television.  The H2 cable network, what used to be the somewhat more legitimate History International Channel, was once again running a mini-marathon featuring back-to-back episodes of the UFO Files and Ancient Aliens – The Series.

What thinking man could possibly resist the extraterrestrial equivalent of gazing upon a National Enquirer cover while waiting in the grocery store check-out line?
Later in the day, it occurred to me that Ancient Aliens has become little more than the 21st century version of those sideshows which routinely accompanied traveling circuses, carnivals, and annual county fairs during the 19th and 20th centuries.

I know that I couldn’t resist them when I was a kid; “Hiya! Hiya! Step right up! One thin dime, one tenth of a dollar!  See the Incredible Two-Headed Monkey Boy! 

Apparently, as an adult, I’m just as easily mesmerized by the hucksterism and pseudo-science which has become the stock-in-trade of the self-proclaimed ancient astronaut theorists.  This troupe has made the Ancient Alien series their personal cash cow and raison d’etre.

The extraterrestrial snake oil being offered up by the theorists featured on today’s Ancient Alien episode was that of the “World Energy Grid.”  If these pundits are to be believed, this is a network of imaginary straight lines encircling our planet and dividing it up into a grid consisting of 120 triangles.  The points at which the various grid lines intersect, identify points where aberrations in the earth’s energy field generate energy vortices and the ever popular and ubiquitous “portals to other dimensions”.

Easter IslandThe ancient astronaut theorists contend that thousands of years ago, extraterrestrial visitors to our planet used their advanced technologies to tap into the energy which is available at these intersections in the world energy grid.

These ancient astronauts, who our forebears quite naturally assumed were gods, used this energy to do everything from recharging the delithium crystals in their motherships, to leviating and easily transporting the massive blocks of stone which were used to construct neolithic monuments such as Stonehenge, the Easter Island moai, and the various pyramids scattered around our planet.

In turn, many of these ancient sites, for instance the Carnac stones in France and the Nazca lines in Peru, served as very convenient navigational beacons for the extraterrestrials as they cavorted all around the globe like jet-setters bound for the Cote d’Azur.

The 10-year old version of myself, fishing in his pocket for that dime, would like to believe this; but the 60-something version finds himself saying, “Hold on just a minute.  I’ve got a couple of questions.

According to the ancient astronaut theorists, this world energy grid is very well documented and understood.  If that’s the case, why aren’t we utilizing the naturally occurring energy which is supposedly so abundant at these well identified points of intersection?  Something tells me that a scientist with a voltmeter would find no more energy on the world energy grid than could be found by placing the probe across the terminals of a 9-volt battery.

I also find it somewhat hard to believe that any civilization possessing the technology required to travel several light-years in order to reach Earth, would then find it necessary to erect stone pillars and scratch long lines in the desert in order to avoid becoming lost.  Don’t you think that they would have already acquired a GPS device?

Even though I can suspend reality long enough to enjoy an occasional episode of Ancient Aliens – The Series, I’m quite certain that I’ll be keeping that dime deep within my pocket.

Live long and prosper.


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It’s Better to Be On the Jury Than Facing It

jury summons
About three weeks ago, I opened my mailbox and was greeted with a Jury Duty Summons.  I don’t know about you, but receiving yet another invitation to spend a day on jury duty will never be very high on the list of things that I most look forward to.

I wish I that I was able to pick winning lottery numbers with anywhere close to the same frequency with which my name pops up on the jury duty list. This most recent summons (request, invitation, demand) to report for jury duty is the third that I’ve received in the past five years.

Since moving here sixteen years ago, I’ve been called for jury duty at least six times.  In that same time period, my wife has been called only once.  I know of many friends, acquaintances, and co-workers who have never been called to serve. What’s the statistical probability of that occurring?  And why am I on the receiving end of this proposition?

I guess everybody’s got to be good at something.  In my case, it’s being called for jury duty.

Years ago in my junior high school Civics class, I learned that one of our most cherished rights as citizens in a democracy is that of a trial by a jury of our peers.  I have no doubt that this is absolutely true in principle.  In practice however, it might well be one of the most frightening things that any defendant ever has to face.

Yesterday morning, I headed down to the county court house to fulfill my obligation   Having little else to do while waiting in the Jury Assembly room, I couldn’t help but observe my fellow potential jurors.  With absolutely no disrespect intended, it was abundantly clear that the group represented a true cross-section of the population.  Every strata of society was present from the raw underbelly to the creme’ de la creme’, and everything in between.
Imagining myself as a defendant facing trial, I had a difficult time locating twelve individuals who I could recognize as being my peers.  For a variety of different reasons, I’m not sure that I would have wanted to be tried by any of those in yesterday’s pool of potential jurors.

Apparently this was also true of some of the actual defendants whose trials were on yesterday’s docket.

As the day began, there were close to 400 of us in the Jury Assembly room.  One of the unfortunate realities of big city life is a never-ending need for large numbers of jurors to assist our judicial system in sorting things out.

Around 10:00 a.m. two jury pools, each consisting of 60 individuals, were selected and sent to their respective court rooms.  If the truth be known, the rest of us breathed a silent sigh of relief, kept our heads down, and continued to wait.

Just before noon, one of the clerks informed us that they were awaiting word from several judges as to whether or not they would need to select juries for cases to be heard later in the day.  Since it was close to lunch, we were released, but instructed to return at 1:00 p.m.

Shortly after we returned, one of the Superior Court judges came into the room.  He informed us that at the beginning of the day, there were four cases involving armed robbery and assault on his docket.  The defendants in each case had initially pled innocent to the charges.  But having used up every delay and extension available to them and faced with the reality of having to stand before a jury of their peers, all four defendants had changed their pleas to guilty thus making their trials unnecessary.

Now I don’t believe that a truly innocent person would plead guilty in order to avoid a jury trial.  As the judge pointed out to us as he was thanking us for our service, the knowledge that there were citizens waiting in the next room to serve as jurors became a powerful motivation to each of the four defendants charged with armed robbery and assault to admit their guilt and expedite the legal process.

Being a fan of the various “Law and Order” television series’, it was not difficult for me to envision the defendants and their lawyers sitting across the table from an assistant District Attorney who was saying, “Well fine.  If that’s how it’s going to be, let’s go let the jury decide.”  Apparently those words can be just as effective in real life as they are on TV.

While our judicial system may not be perfect, it seems to be in good working order.

And begrudgingly, I have to admit to experiencing some satisfaction in doing my small part to keep it so.


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How in the World Have I Missed This One?

Do you have any idea what tomorrow, April 6th, is?  Whether you recognize it or not, it is a day which was much anticipated and heartily celebrated by multitudes of our forebears.

Quite frankly, I’m embarrassed to admit that it has taken me more than sixty years to become aware of the significance of this date in history.  Especially given some of my more well practiced proclivities.

Let me provide a little background for you.

On March 23, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the Cullen-Harrison Act.  In retrospect, this is perhaps one of the most popular laws ever enacted, as well as one of the least remembered; at least by it’s name.  When you take time to think about it, the signing of the Cullen-Harrison Act provides evidence, however slight, that Congress, the President, and the Washington establishment does sometimes “get it right“; in spite of their best intentions.

You see, the Cullen-Harrison Act was the beginning of the end for the much despised Volstead Act which had been enacted on January 17, 1920.

Ah!  The lights are starting to go off above a few of your heads.  The Volstead Act, in concert with the Eighteenth Amendment, prohibited the production, sale, and transport of intoxicating liquors within the United States.

That’s right!  Prohibition!
Whereas January 17, 1920 was cause for great celebration and much back-slapping among boot-leggers, teetotalers, Baptist ministers, king-pins of organized crime, and mafia dons; April 7, 1933 became a day of celebration for the Common Man.  For April 7th was the day that the Cullen-Harrison Act effectively ended Prohibition by allowing for the sale of 3.2% (4% ABV) beer.

On the evening of April 6, 1933, long lines of exceedingly thirsty folk began to form outside of breweries all across the country in anticipation of the opening of bottles and taps at midnight!  The celebration of “New Beer’s Eve” was spontaneously born.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m somewhat embarrassed that, as a home-brewer and a lover of all types of beer, I’ve never been aware of, nor celebrated New Beer’s Eve.  I plan to remedy that oversight tomorrow.  I’m not planning on going overboard. There will be no stringing of lights over a festively decorated keg or the hanging of steins from the mantle above the fireplace in the hope that St Pauli will make a visit.  No, I’ll just open a dark ale and savor it in memory of our freedom to quaff (responsibly).

Frankly, when I think about it, I’m a little surprised that the Post Office isn’t taking Monday off in recognition of the day.



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A Million Here, a Million There. Pretty Soon You’re Talking “Real” Money!

With apologies to the late Senator Everett Dirksen
Opening day
This past Sunday night, I was watching the first game of the 2013 Major League Baseball season.  It was an all Lone Star State affair with the Texas Rangers traveling down to Houston to take on the Astros.  After 50-something years of playing in the National League, Houston has moved into the American League this year, which instantly creates a natural rivalry with the Rangers who call Arlington, Texas home.

No one is expecting much out of the Astros this season and not just because they’re going through the travails of jumping to the other league.  The Astros are in a rebuilding mode; about as drastic a rebuilding mode as one can imagine.

On the advice of trusted associates, the new owner of the Astros dumped just about all of the team’s veteran players and is currently in the process of retooling the team from the ground up.  This is a project which will take several years to complete and in the process is guaranteed to cause Astros’ fans much angst and indigestion.

As an aside, I’d suggest that Astros’ fans lay off of the chili cheese dogs when attending home games, as ingesting those can only exacerbate one’s agony.

As I was watching Sunday’s game on ESPN, one of the commentators happened to mention that the Astros’ 2013 total team payroll was estimated to be roughly $18 million.  I’ve been pondering the implications of that comment ever since.  I was having a hard time accepting that a payroll for an entire team could be that low.  So a day or two later I jumped on the internet and did some checking.  Based on my research, it appears that the actual 2013 Houston Astros’ player payroll will be closer to $22 million, but who’s counting?

On the face of it, a payroll of $22 million might seem like a lot of money.  That is, until you start to do some comparisons.
The New York Yankees are sporting a roster this year which, quite frankly, is not expected to perform very well, yet will cost the organization $229 million in terms of player salaries.  Imagine that, the Yankees’ payroll is over 10 times greater than what the Astros will be paying out to all of its players combined.  That’s got to sting just a little bit if you happen to have an “H” on your cap.

As startling as that may seem, it’s nothing to get excited about when you realize that there are 14 players in the major leagues whose individual 2013 salary will be greater than the combined salaries being paid to the entire Houston Astros’ 25 man roster.

Case in point, New York Yankee 3rd baseman Alex Rodriguez, aka A-Rod, will make $27.5 million this season; and he’s not even playing due to an injury which is expected to keep him out of the lineup until July.  That’s kind of like working in a pie factory and getting to eat the pie!

In the process of digging around in the MLB compensation minutiae, I also learned that some of the salary dollars which are included in this season’s Astros’ payroll are actually being paid to players who are no longer with the team.  It just gets curiouser and curiouser, doesn’t it?

Now I happen to be a big fan of both baseball and free market capitalism and I don’t wish to see the otherwise happy and acceptable state of either disturbed.  But speaking as one who has experienced the unwelcome reality of being laid off from two jobs within the past six years, neither of which paid $27.5 million, attempting to wrap my mind around the salaries which are now routinely being paid to athletes leaves me just a bit dazed and confused.

Fear not, I’ll get over it.  In the meantime, “Play Ball!


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