Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What a Snappy Dresser

This weekend, I took some time off from watching people trying to out-Murica each other on Facebook, to actually accomplish some things.  (“I’ll see your eagle and American Flag collage and raise you a 105-year old WWII vet.”)

OK, I’m just kidding.  I hardly accomplished anything this weekend.  There was just this one thing… And it was kind of a big deal, for me.

As you may recall, my back bedroom has been basically empty since last April.  I’ve tried to refrain from filling it up with junk, so it can function as a guest bedroom.  I might have gone a bit too far because four stark walls, with nothing on the floor, doesn’t make for a very inviting guest room.  And since the CFO and his giant son are supposed to come visit this summer, I figured I should at least provide them with somewhere to put their clothes and stuff, besides their suitcases.  So I bought a dresser.

Now, in my upbringing, Dad rarely put anything together; he almost always made a play for the floor model. 

My friend, the VP of Hell No, he could fashion an ornately carved dresser out of an oak tree, scrap metal and a donut, using nothing but the tools sitting around his garage.

My Blog Sister (“Blister?”) Cassie would find a second-hand dresser with a drawer and two legs missing, and turn it into a showpiece with nothing but sandpaper, stain, and the force of her will.

Me?  I had to order a kit.

“Dresser in a Box!”

Despite my frequently telling tales of Bluz the Incompetent Handyman, I am adequately proficient with basic tools and following instructions.  I’ve assembled much larger things than a simple 3-drawer dresser… like my corner PC desk, my 1994-era entertainment center, and other media racks and such.  I just had to make sure I took my time and followed the directions carefully.

So, Saturday afternoon, I tackled my chore of the weekend and began banging out a dresser.

Yep, all the big pieces are there.

Luckily, I had plenty of time to get my power screwdriver all charged up.  Otherwise, I would have needed to ice my forearms for a week.

One of the steps specified that I take diagonal measurements and ensure they were equal.  I was thrilled because that meant I got to use Grandpa’s tape measure.

When I was in Pittsburgh for Grandpa’s funeral a couple weeks back, Dad wanted to pass something of Grandpa’s on to me.  None of his personal jewelry items seemed right… his watch would have been nice, but I was literally wearing the exact same watch.  Then I saw his locking tape measure and knew that was the perfect item.  Grandpa was very exacting in his measurements and I knew that this tape measure was the perfect avatar.  Either that or a level.  Grandpa wouldn’t hang a roll of toilet paper on the spool without getting out his level.

Thanks for the assist, Grandpa.  Too bad I couldn’t find a level as well.”

Things went along OK, more or less.  I did have to go back and redo a couple of things.  The directions were mostly pictures, with very little verbiage.  So on a couple of things where it looked like a particular panel had symmetrical markings, the scored holes were one inch from the edge on one side, and maybe three inches from the edge on the other side.

Naturally, I didn’t notice the difference until things didn’t line up later.  But I figured it out soon enough, and it didn’t set me back too far.

Oh my God, where are my drawers?

The biggest problem was that while they seemed to have included a number of extra hardware parts, I was short by one small flathead screw.  I needed one more for the metal slider rails on the drawers.  I swear, I looked all through my hardware and screws (which I had already sorted into like piles), and all over the floor, but could not find it.  I was going to have to rely on whatever I could find in my random box of screws in my tool bag.

I found a number of screws that were the proper size, but they were round on top instead of flat.  When I tried one anyway, it looked like the end of the screw would stick out too far on the rail, and maybe keep it from opening properly.  The whole detour cost me about a half hour.

But not to worry… the drawers ended up opening and closing just fine, and I had me a dresser!

Naturally, as soon as I was done, and cleaning up the spare parts, don’t you know I found that little son-of-a-bitch screw… sitting right there on the table, where it was supposed to be.

There it is, at the upper right.

If I didn’t live alone, I would have sworn that someone moved that fucker when I wasn’t looking and then put it back.

So now the guest bedroom has something in it besides and empty microwave box.

When I emailed some pics to my folks, Dad asked me if I was sure it was level.  You know, because Grandpa would have expected nothing less.  Remembering that there is a level included with the iPhone compass app, I checked it out.

That’s what you call, 100% balls-on accurate.  It’s an industry term.

Good thing too.  I’d have hated to have to jam some of those extra parts under one side.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Odd Bits - The Hills, Bills and Sills Edition

You know, when your day starts with listening to Zorba the Greek in the car, you know you can’t be sad, even on a Monday.

Yiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!  Yip yip yip yip!

Count DeMoney (“Dee-mo-nay!”)
Can someone please wake me up after the 2016 elections?  It seems like the campaign has already been going on for years.

OK, it doesn’t seem like it, it has.  The Republicans have been sharpening their knives for Hillary Clinton ever since, well, forever.  But it really became noticeable over Benghazi.  I know I’ve said it before, but the only reason that it has been getting kicked around for so long is to throw shade at Hillary.  No one gave a damn about the dozens and dozens of people killed in Embassy attacks during the last few administrations.  No one even remembers.

The GOP kept opening inquiries and investigations for the sole purpose of contaminating the Clinton presidential campaign.  Which is fine, but guys, stop pretending you care about the people who were killed.

But with the heat on Benghazi dying down, (after a GOP-led investigation could turn up zero offenses), they are laughably going after Hillary’s financial stream.  Now they’re claiming that she took money for her Senate campaign from people who wanted her favor.* 

[drops mic, walks off stage in disbelief]

Excuse me, isn’t that just like every single congressional candidate across time and space?  Please.  There is major influence being bought and sold under the guise of campaign finance, and the Republicans are the standard bearers.  Hillary should tell these clowns that she’ll open up her books right after they do.  An investigation of the Koch Brothers campaign finance endeavors, alone, would make people’s heads explode.  The GOP is only against influence-peddling when someone else is doing it.

That said; I am far from Hillary’s biggest supporter.  In fact, I’d be thrilled if some other Democrat could somehow win the nomination.  Call it Hatfield and McCoy fatigue, or, in this case, Clinton and Bush fatigue.  I don’t think the country will be best served with either one in office.

Personally, I’d love to see Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders make some noise.  Yes, I know there is zero chance of either one winning the nomination, let alone the general election.  But I’ve seen very little that either one of them has said, with which I disagree.

However, the Hillary juggernaut rolls on, and if she wins the nomination, I’ll vote for her, if for no other reason than that she’s not one of those out there in Iowa fear-mongering and posing reprehensible propositions in order to win over a bunch of right-wing nut-jobs who wouldn’t know the Constitution if someone slapped them upside the head with it.

*Director’s DVD Commentary: I saw the story about the influence-peddling claims online this morning, but when I went back to include the link, I couldn’t find the story again.  Bugger-all.

The Old Game Ball, again.
I’ve been going to a lot of Orioles games this summer.  I like to load up early in the season before it gets obnoxiously hot out.  I’ve been to four so far, and am going tomorrow, and probably once over the weekend, and again during the week.  So by the time it gets smoking hot outside, I should be pretty much sick of it all.

But I’ve had a good time so far.  Sitcom Kelly and I went Monday night and got seats in the 2nd row, down the 3rd baseline.

Was really hoping someone would lace a ball into “our” corner, but no such luck.  A foul ball did come our way though, landing one row behind me and 3 seats further down.

Then on Friday, I went by myself and got one of those seats where I was the only one in my “row,” because the section ended in a point.  It would have been totally cool, to win pizza for the whole row, and then have it just be me.  (Yes, I would have shared around anyway.)

This was our view on Monday, and the arrow points to where I sat on Friday.

There wasn’t much action in this corner either, but I’m pretty sure I was on camera a lot when they were shooting the pitcher from inside the opposite dugout.  Unfortunately, I didn’t record the game because I needed to DVR the season finales of Grimm and Amazing Race.

I did snag one bit of luck though… when I “checked in” via the MLB app, (which I can do now that I’m an official smart-phone haver), I got a message that I was one of the 25 “pre-selected” people to win a t-shirt.

Whoo Hoo!  Because I totally don’t have enough orange t-shirts.

I really had to hand it to the Orioles sound guy that night, for pulling out the most strained musical reference I’ve ever heard.

The Angels had a player named Cowgill.  The first time he came up to bat, the sound guy played the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You.”  What’s the connection?

The Partridge Family TV show was based on a real singing family, called The Cowsills.  

Cowgill?  Cowsill?  Booyah!  I bet I could count the number of people there who got that reference on my fingers.

And speaking of Angels, I’m pretty sure I know who these fans were rooting for…

When did nuns start wearing blue?  Maybe it’s white at home, and blue on the road…

Anyway, MLB’s efforts to speed up the game must be working, because Friday’s game was wrapped up in 2 hours and 20 minutes.  Or maybe it was because of the pitching duel.  Either way, I was actually home by 10, in plenty of time to watch one of my shows.

Of course, it was Friday, so it didn’t matter when I got home.  Hope they can work some more of that magic for weekday games, when I have to get my tired ass up in the morning.

So like I said, although I was in good position to pinch a foul ball, none came my way.  But if I had, you can be damned sure I wouldn’t hand it to some kid!

There’s been a lot of fuss in past weeks, about grownups snatching baseballs and not handing them over to the nearest kid.  I’ve gone into this before, so you know where I stand.  If I come up with a ball, I’m keeping it, despite what this new chart says.  And if I AM going to give it to a kid, it will be a kid of my choosing, who may or may not be at the game with me.  It’s not my job to pacify some random kid’s tantrum.  I say, start teaching him right away that life can be unfair.  Life does not always cater to what you want, when you want it.  The earlier people learn that, the better.

That said; I’m talking about catching a ball fair and square.  I wouldn’t intercept a ball that’s been tossed to a kid, or wrestle one away from him, and I certainly wouldn’t shove an old lady away from one, like this Phillies fan did.  That’s just not right.

Of course, you have to take into account that it WAS a Philadelphia fan.  I don’t see why anyone was surprised.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

We Put the 'Fun' in Funeral

So, it was back to the Burgh for Grandpa’s funeral.  I drove out Tuesday morning, attended two “viewing” sessions, the funeral was Wednesday and I drove home Thursday.

But first, I had to prepare.  My dress shoes were a little beat up, so I figured I’d better do something about them.  Usually when my shoes get too scuffed, I buy new shoes.  But I didn’t have time for that, so for the first time in about 15 years, I shined my shoes. 

Unlike Joe Pesci in “Goodfellas,” I still have my shine box.

The trips were relatively uneventful.  I ran into some rain on the way out, but that was actually a good thing.  There was so much orange pollen on the hood of my car, I felt like I was driving a giant peach.

It was really good to see everyone.  That’s the funny thing about funerals, at least in my family.  I have so much fun hanging out with my aunts, uncles, and cousins; I almost forget why we’re there.

As my dad frequently said, we wanted to “celebrate the man’s life, rather than mourn his death.”  So what’s wrong with a little frivolity?  Sure there were some very sad and serious moments, like when my cousin’s 3-year old daughter tearfully exclaimed that “my Grandpa’s DEAD,” at the viewing.  But then later, she touchingly slid a piece of candy under his pillow.

This is Luci, in a much happier moment.  Flash forward to someday in the future when she has kids: “I didn’t have fancy toys when I was little; I had to play with a corkscrew!

But there were also plenty of moments of merriment.  Like when we were back at my aunt’s house, where Grandpa had spent the last several years.  There was a bunch of us gathered in the living room, including my sister-in-law and nephews, and other assorted relatives.

My cousin Nikki was going through the cable TV on-screen guide, looking for a suitable TV show to put on.  I don’t know how she managed to bring the guide up into the wilderness of the 500-series of channels, but there she was… in porn land.  The highlighted field happened to be a delightful selection called, “Gonzo Goo Splatter #8,” complete with a colorful episode description.

Nikki, completely oblivious to the situation, rolled the grid trying to find her show.  (Later on, she said she saw the “Gonzo” part and thought it was a Muppet show.) 

Biting the insides of my cheeks, I began looking around to the room to see who was noticing.  It wasn’t everyone yet, just a couple cousins.

Just as everyone began to notice… FINALLY, she took a second to look at what was being highlighted on the screen, went “OH MY GAWD,” and mercifully changed the channel.  I swear I must have laughed for a solid five minutes.

Someone said, “What kind of cable package did they sign up for?

I said, “Either our aunt has some exotic tastes we didn’t know about or Grandpa was a lot more spry than we thought!

The other funny moment was at the late viewing Tuesday night.  I was sitting with Nikki, her sister Angela, and my sister, and we were trying to list some of our grandpa’s attributes that the priest might be able to work into his homily.  Soon their father, my Uncle Ange, strolled by and they asked him for some ideas.

He explained that Grandpa had a lot of opinions about what’s right, what’s wrong, and how things should be done.  He’d speak his piece, and let it go, never arguing with you about it.

My sister spoke up and said, “That’s not so!  He was always trying to get me to taste things I didn’t like, no matter how many times I told him I didn’t like it.”

Uncle Ange very gently said, “That’s because you were the Nuisance Grandchild.”

Well, that was a big mistake… not in what he said, but that he said it in front of me.  I then spent the rest of our time there bringing up her status as the Nuisance Grandchild, and soon the rest of the cousins were doing so as well. 

Director’s DVD Commentary: He was totally kidding and felt bad about causing all the fuss.  I, however, have no such conflict.  In fact, in my role as Older Brother, I’d be derelict in my duties if I had done otherwise.

Angela and Nikki were also responsible for picking out a couple of Bible verses to read at the service.  I was really glad that they were asked, and not me.  No, it's not because of my anti-religious tendencies; it's that I would have been sorely tempted to use the verse that Samuel L. Jackson uses in "Pulp Fiction."  (Ezekiel 25:17)  But I'm not a bad enough muthaf***er to pull that one off.
Available to speak at funerals, weddings and bar mitzvahs.

My grandpa was such a great planner, he even made sure he ended up with six grandsons; the perfect amount for pallbearers.  It’s been a while since I had the honor, so I must have forgot how much heavy lifting was involved.

My big mistake was at the funeral home, where we had to move the casket down the stairs and into the hearse.  I ended up on the back corner to my left.  My left hand is practically useless, plus, I was in a major load-bearing position.  I came very close to dropping my end until I could get my other hand into play.

Live and learn though, because we had a lot more moving to do: from hearse to church, church back to hearse, and hearse to the cemetery.  Each time, I made sure I could use my right hand, and got myself in the middle spot.  I’m the oldest of the group… let the young bucks handle the load!  Some of those guys could bench press that much weight… with me sitting on top.  I was content to be there merely for decorative purposes.

After the service, my nephew Sammy, pretending he's in the end of the movie “Big.”

In and around all the formalities, we would gather back at my aunt’s house, where there were plenty of catered dishes to work on.  Several people made liquor store runs, and Uncle Ange kept us stocked with plenty of wine.  We tended to do what we always do: sit around a table and eat, drink and tell stories.

I know my nephew Daniel likes it when I tell stories about his dad.  (His dad?  Not so much.)

We also made sure we paid attention to Grandpa’s late-in-life-partner, Samantha.

How can you not love this little face?

They were great companions ever since they got the little Maltese.  It was funny though because the only dogs Grandpa ever had were hunting dogs, who were always kept outside.  No one ever thought he’d become attached to a fluffy little lap dog.  I'm sure it helped that she turned out to be very smart, and a very good girl.

On Thursday, before scattering to the winds again, we stopped by our favorite hometown place to get fish sandwiches.  Because of course we did.

I even ordered two more, to go.  And remarkably, they both made the trip home… although one of them didn’t survive much longer.

Just in case you always wanted to know what Lady and the Tramp looks like in Italian, check out the poster that was hanging in the place:

“Vagabondo.”  It sounds like it should be somebody’s name… “Now batting for Philadelphia, third baseman, Joe Vagabondo.” 

So, we came to town, we laughed, we cried, we ate, drank and made merry.  And we made plans to restart our reunions, and get together more often.

Just what Grandpa would have wanted us to do.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Patriarch

It was the call I was expecting.

Grandpa went into hospice on Thursday, and that’s almost always a one-way ticket.  My parents left for Pittsburgh on Friday, and Mom called me Saturday afternoon.  Grandpa had passed.

I was very glad that I had gone to see him when I was in town at the end of March.  He seemed OK then, but I’d been told, he had good days and bad days.

It saddened me, as I started looking through my photo archives, for pictures of Grandpa, because we would all be the poorer for his not being here.  In business, we call it “Institutional Knowledge.”  He knew the best ways to do everything, and lucky for us, he was only too willing to share. 

But really, I can’t be too sad.  I mean, he was 99!  Ninety-freakin-nine!  I don’t know any other 53-year olds that still have a grandparent around, so I know I’m fortunate.  Hell, the last 15 years have been gravy.

And after a long, honorable life, he followed it up with the perfect death.  He was asleep when they took him to hospice, and he never woke up.  There were no IV lines, feeding tubes, respirators, or any pokes or prods.  His family was by his side, as he simply slipped away in his sleep.

And with that, Grandpa “won” at life.  A perfect 1-0 record of kicking life’s ass.

How could anyone not be happy for that?
I have to pack now and get ready to drive to Pittsburgh tomorrow, so I’m not going to ramble on.  But if you’d like something more to chew on, I’m reposting a bit I wrote 2 years ago, for Grandpa’s 97th birthday. 

His grandchildren (and other family members) were working on a book of stories and remembrances, to be bound and presented to him for the occasion.  Each of us wrote up our own stories, and I posted mine here. 

(The book came out wonderfully, I might add.  There are a quite a number of talented writers in this family, of whom I hadn’t been aware.)

97 99 Years of Awesome
Director’s DVD Commentary: Next month, my Grandpa is turning 97.  It’s really amazing… the dude is a real piece of work.  Ever since he hit 90, I’ve been telling everyone that he’s a shoo-in to make 100.  And you know how I hate being wrong…

Anyway, to mark the occasion, my cousin’s wife asked a bunch of us to send her some material… pictures, stories, memories, and whatnot, so she can have it made into a hardbound book.  Naturally I loved the idea.  Not only do I have a warehouse of photographs, you KNOW I love to tell stories.  

My original idea was to recycle the post I wrote a few years back, regarding the story of how as a kid, my dad got picked up by the local cops for jumping trains, and Grandpa refused to come down to the station to get him.

Last night I got it all written up and adapted for the book; I just wanted to review it with fresh eyes today before I sent it in.  It wouldn’t do for the Family Blogger to submit a story full of typos and awkward grammar.

But then I had to go and sleep on it.  By morning, I had decided to scrap the original idea completely and write something more nostalgic.  And because I never keep anything I write to myself, you can have an early glimpse.

So let me tell you about my Grandparents…

There are so many memories associated with my Grandma and Grandpa, from early childhood up through becoming a creaky old grown-up.  I’m betting that most of these will be shared among all of us that grew up visiting their tidy little home in Coraopolis. This is what I remember from our weekly visits, when we still lived in the area, to our annual visits for holidays or reunions.

It starts for all of us in The Lap… Grandpa’s Lap at the head of the table.  Newest baby gets the spot, where he learns how to dunk biscotti in coffee or wine.  I don’t think any of us actually remember being on the lap, but we remember the next youngest kid that displaced us, sitting there.

We older-generation grandkids remember the movie lights.  Grandpa took 8mm movies every Christmas, which were always accompanied by the blindingly bright movie light.  I think the light was so bright so that after it was turned off, the grownups could watch us stumble into things.

In watching some of those movies later, I realized that it was all actually the same movie, repeated over and over:

Here’s some squinty kids opening presents.  Look who’s coming in the door…everyone say hi!  There’s the baby, sitting in the middle of all the presents.  Time for dinner… look at all the food!  Everyone wave… now let’s eat.”  Then the next year… “Slightly older blind kids opening presents… hey, there’s a new baby… look at the food… Everybody wave…”  Repeat indefinitely

When we’d visit, the first stop would invariably be the basement; that’s where all the toys were.  I’d always be amazed at the floor.  It was always painted, and so clean you could eat from it.  We’d head straight for the shelves that held the puzzles, blocks, Lincoln Logs and board games.  Sometimes I’d wander through the other section, through the amazingly organized workshop, to the wine cellar.  I loved the sharp smell of the old wooden barrels.

That reminds me of the other favorite pastime: caging sips of the grownups’ drinks.  It wasn’t very difficult, the grownups always obliged, except that one year, when they were finishing off the last of Grandpa’s home made wine from 1962.  No sense wasting the Good Stuff on the children.

As the oldest of all the grandchildren, I always tried not to make the “strong drink face,” or else I figured they wouldn’t give me anymore.  I wanted to be a Big Boy.  I remember being so happy when I was finally old enough to participate in the post-Mass eye-openers.  After getting back from church, Grandpa would break out the Jack Daniels or Crown Royal and we’d all get an eye-opener shot.  Then Grandpa would say, “Well, we have to open both eyes, don’t we?” and then pour us all another shot.
 Sa-lute!

I always remembered the back yard as being so big… we’d play football or wiffleball there, and it would cause a stampede if we hit the ball over the hedges.  We’d have to run out to the street and try to stop the ball before it rolled down the hill and into the sewer.

It wasn’t until I visited as a grownup that I realized that the yard wasn’t that big at all, and most of it was taken up by two things.  First was the garden.  Grandpa’s garden was a work of art.  He grew enough stuff to stock a salad bar all summer long. 



These shots were from 1992, so Grandpa was in his mid-70s.  At that point, he was taking it a little bit easier.  You can tell because the tomato stakes aren’t all the exact same height, nor are they all painted the same color.  But what you can’t see are the boards laid down between the rows, so he could walk between them securely and care for each plant.

As for weeds?  There were no weeds.  Ever.  I think that whenever a weed dared poke up out of the ground in Grandpa’s garden, he’d stick his head out the back door and go, “Hey, what’choo doing over there?  Get outta here!

The weed would zip right back into the ground.

I should note that my dad did NOT inherit the gardening gene, as evidenced by the year he used his golf clubs for tomato stakes.  He said it added iron to the soil.

There also used to be a large apple tree in the middle of the yard that yielded the biggest, tartest green apples around.  Sometimes we’d actually race through dinner just to go outside and pick a giant apple or two for dessert.  (Of course I’d have to spend the next day on the pot, but it was totally worth it.)

I didn’t do that for very long because I quickly learned that the dinner was where it’s at.  Grandma always put out enough food to feed an army.  As soon as we’d arrive from out of town, a huge spread of cold cuts would appear, along with her homemade wedding soup.  I’d build myself a sandwich the size of my head.  And then we still had to eat dinner a few hours later.  It was a dream for a growing teenage boy.

Don’t even get me started on the Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes.  Best meal of the year, every year.  Man, I miss the smelts.  And the cookies!  All the ladies in the neighborhood would bake dozens of their favorite cookies and then trade them all around.  All of us kids had our favorites… mine used to be the “ravioli” cookies, which looked like raviolis, but had chocolate filling instead of meat or cheese.

Another treat was that we got to have pop with dinner, which we never got at our house.  But Grandma and Grandpa would have those variety cases of orange, grape and cream soda in those returnable 12-oz bottles.

Some summers, my folks would leave us there while they went off for some no-kids time.  We always had a ball and enjoyed the uninterrupted Grandparent face time.  I still remember sitting out on the front porch, drinking our orange pop and listening to Bob Prince call the Pirates game.  We also liked to walk down the hill and watch the trains go by.  It was always soothing to me to hear them go by at night, from up in the guest bedroom.

In the wintertime, Grandma always knitted us slippers, usually in black and gold.  My brother and I constantly wore out the bottoms, necessitating the new models.  I wore them well into adulthood.  I’m sure Grandma never expected to be knitting size-12 slippers.  I still have my last pair, holes and all.  Even though I can’t wear them, they’ll always have a place on my bedroom floor.

When I was managing record stores in Cleveland, Christmases used to be the worst.  Life in retail was crazy during the holiday season, but the saving grace was that on Christmas Eve, I could close up shop and set sail for Pittsburgh.  I’d roll in to Grandma and Grandpa’s about 9:30 and Grandma would be ready with soup and sandwich while Grandpa brought a cold Iron City Light up from the cellar.  And Grandma always had Klondikes for me when she knew I was coming.  At the time, they weren’t yet available nationwide.

That would be the first moment in months that I’d just be able to sit and breathe, and catch up with these two dear people.

My grandparents were the rocks of our family, then and now.  They were always there for us, always helpful and always with the right advice.  Usually it was just to work hard, be honest, do your job and always do the right thing. 

Not to mention there’s nothing that can’t be fixed when you come together around a table full of good food and wine.


Monday, April 27, 2015

And Then, Baltimore Just Blew Up

I was actually going to write about some other stuff today, but the events of the last week have pretty much snuffed that out.

How often is it that you get to see the doors to your place of employment get smashed in on live television?

As you know, the death of Freddie Gray, last week, has been entered into the lengthening list of suspicious (or downright criminal) police-perpetrated deaths.  Since the videos have come to light, citizens of Baltimore have been conducting public protests.

All week long, these protests have been fevered but peaceful pleas for justice. It was like a model of how a community should react to such events.  And then Saturday night, it all went straight to hell.

I was just sitting at home, chillin’… watching TV and switching between the O’s game and a movie on HBO.  Then I got a text from my friend Jenn, wanting to know if I was OK, and wondering if I was at the game.

I responded that I was fine and wondered what was going on.  She let me know…


I switched over to the news, and eventually got to see our building get attacked.

The guy is throwing a cigarette butt disposal pylon through our front door.

Luckily, they didn’t try to enter the premises.  Of course, there is nothing there to loot in a big, empty lobby.

Later, coverage shifted further south, where police were formed in skirmish lines, inching down the street.  Made me glad that I opted not to go see the Orioles game that night.  Finally, my frugal tendencies (in this case, refusal to pay extra to see what the team calls “Premium” games), paid off for me.

At one point, the team was asked to keep all the fans inside the ballpark.  The Orioles made the best of it by blowing a lead in the 9th inning, thus sending the game into extra innings.  By the time they won it in the 10th, the fans were free to go.

But it was weird watching all the chaos taking place right outside the ballpark.  If I had been there, my usual route to the subway would have taken me right into the heart of the conflict.

Sunday passed without incident, but then this afternoon, the “Downtown Partnership” (of local businesses and law enforcement) sent a picture on an email around that chilled everyone’s collective shit.

This was supposedly being send around via high school social media.  So what to do?  Stay put and risk the safety of your employees?  Or send everyone home and risk over-reacting.  I was happy to report that our powers that be opted for the position I favored: Getting the hell out of Dodge!

The unnerving part was that the subway line has a stop right at ground zero for this troublemaking; Mondawmin Mall.  We were concerned that some of these rioters might try to come down into the subway to raise hell.

When we pulled into that station, it didn’t appear that there was anything out of the ordinary going on, on the platform.  But we had to look quick because the train never stopped.  The conductor announced that she had been instructed not to stop there.  That was good for me… but not so good for those poor people who needed to get off there.

So I got to spend the rest of the afternoon watching the riot on TV.  Today’s events were far worse than the incidents Saturday night.  Cars were getting set on fire, people were throwing bricks, rocks and bottles at the cops, and a local CVS got looted and is currently on fire (as of 7:00 PM Monday night).

The police form a barrier allowing fire trucks to fight the fire at the CVS (which is obscured by smoke at the far right).

That second, parallel, line in front of the cops was said to be neighborhood leaders trying to stay between the police and the rioters, to de-escalate the situation.  Meanwhile, they just reported that someone cut one of the  fire hoses being used to fight the fire.

What seems to be clear is that this rioting is only tangentially related to the actual protests.  The family of Mr. Gray, (whose funeral was this afternoon), specifically asked that there not be protests today.  But these are punks and troublemakers using the situation as cover to create havoc, puff up their rep, and steal stuff.  And they’re dumb enough to do it in their own neighborhood.  Hey, breaking shit is fun!

Granted, I don’t think they have much choice.  Judging from the TV coverage, they already have police lines positioned all around the Inner Harbor.  It’s like they’re saying, “Feel free to break up your own neighborhood, but you’re not coming near our showplace.”

The Orioles have postponed tonight’s game against the White Sox.  I’ve been planning to go to a game either tomorrow night or Wednesday… I’m hopeful that all this stuff is over with by then.  I really hate when public unrest interferes with my pursuit of leisure activities.  That’s just crossing the line.

I’m not optimistic though.  The Governor just declared a State of Emergency, which paves the way for the National Guard.  I’ll be surprised if we’re even open for business tomorrow.

I am optimistic in the sense that unlike places like Ferguson, there is a level-headed, African-American presence in city government.  The Mayor is black.  The Chief of Police is black, as well as the City Council President and most council members. The Congressional Representative for the downtown district is black.  Their calls for peace will sound less self-serving that if they came from white leaders. Many important voices are appealing for calm, not just in government, but neighborhood elders, church leaders, and whatnot.  Right now, they're conducting a march of elders, asking the rioters to stand down.

So maybe we have a chance.

Still, I’m probably over-thinking it all.  It’s probably just Ravens fans.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Odd Bits - The Lethal Force Edition

I’ve had this post floating around in my head for a while now, but they’ve been post-blocked by my trip to The Burgh.  Three posts from one trip is pretty good use of my time.  Also, it goes to show how little is going on with the rest of my life.

One thing that’s been rattling around in my cranium is wondering what the hell is going on with the nation’s police force.  All over the country, dudes are getting shot, choked out or broken by police officers.

Earlier this month, the Walter Scott case, (police shoot guy who’s running away, 8 times in the back, after being stopped for a broken tail light), was the candidate to become the next Ferguson.  But it didn’t because this time almost the entire incident was caught on video, which showed the shooting and subsequent planting of evidence to bolster the cop’s initial story.

Because of the video, the cop was arrested, which pretty much stemmed any violent public demonstrations.  But without the video, it would have been just one more uncorroborated cop story where the black guy gets killed.

So with yet another such story dominating the news cycles, you would think that police forces would start to get the message, that they can’t use citizens (even our possible criminal citizens) as target practice.

But still, the stories keep rolling out.  Right here in Baltimore, a guy died after having his spine 80% severed at the neck after he was taken into custody.  (The charge: running away upon seeing some cops, and having a knife clipped to his belt.)

Taken all together, this tells me just how deeply ingrained it is with our police forces, to view black men as criminals; judged as sub-human for no other reason than that they’re black.  Even with all the heat; all the publicity going on over these incidents, they keep happening over and over again.

How routine is it to plant, move or adjust evidence to back up a false story?  And here, I thought that was something that just happened in the movies and on cop shows.

I’m really not trying to impugn all cops with this stuff.  I know it’s not universal.  My cousin is a cop, and I don’t think he’s like that.  But I’ll bet you he knows some guys that are

I know it’s a dangerous and often thankless job, and they put their lives on the line for us every day.  But something is seriously wrong, when a cop thinks it’s a good idea to open fire on a guy who’s trying to run away from a traffic ticket.  His life was just that cheap.

In a previous post, I called out for judicious use of cop cams.  That way, as long as the cam is activated, (and I would make it a fireable offense to turn it off during an interaction), citizens have recourse from biased, violent, out-of-control police officers, and the cops have recourse from false accusations of brutality.  (Not to mention capturing evidence of suspect’s demeanor or drunkenness.)

If we think cop-cams are too expensive, how expensive is it to repair a town after a riot?  Or to repair the faith of a community in their police force?

Now on to lighter fare…

O No
I’ve gotten out to see a couple of Orioles games already this year.  You might have seen evidence of such on my Facebook or Twitter accounts.  I know it was probably unsettling to my Twitter followers who know me primarily as a Penguins tweeter, but the O’s are running this thing (#OsBirdNest or #Birdland) where you win things by referencing them on social media.  I mean, I’m still a dedicated Pirates (and all things Pittsburgh) fan, but what the hey?  Why not try to win something by doing stuff I’m likely to do anyway?

It was funny though, as I was riding the subway down to the game on Opening Saturday versus Toronto… I hit the Heinous Subway Rider Jackpot.  How I wished I’d brought my MP3 player and headphones…

Loud girls with screeching laughter: Check.

Guy singing badly with is earphones on: Check.

Loud, oblivious cell phone conversation: Check.

300-pound guy coughing up a sundae: Check.

Fresh gum left on the seat beside me: Check.

By the time I got to the ballpark, I was relieved to only have to deal with the drunks. 

After pounding a few beers at The Bullpen, I went over to the ballpark early, so I could receive their give-away:

A canvas celebrating the Orioles AL East title last year.

I was kind of disappointed.  Was this really the best they could do?  It looked like something whipped up on MS Paint, circa 1999.  I assume they didn’t use a photograph as a base, because the stark 4-color treatment was cheaper.

I think they should have used something like this…

They’d just need to move those dudes on the left out of the way.

Anyway, as I was cruising around the club level, I wandered into their Collectibles shop, that featured various signed or game-used equipment.  One thing they offered was a broken Chris Davis bat, for $1500.  I’d have taken a picture but I was too busy spit-taking.

For $1500, I’d expect Chris Davis to come to my house to give me batting lessons.  And move some furniture.
"Hey Chris, can you give me a hand with this sofa?"

I also went by the case that has the last two Orioles World Series trophies.
Funny how I don’t see any from 1971 or 1979.  [Boo-yah!]

Anyway, the O’s won this game, which featured a grand slam home run, by 2nd year guy, Jonathan Schoop.  (Pronounced “Scope,” unfortunately.  He probably says that just to avoid the inevitable Salt N Pepa walk-up music.)

The following Wednesday, I went back for another game.  The Yankees were in town, and because it was mid-week, it wasn’t designated as a “Premier” or “Price Gouging” game.  So it was a good opportunity to go and boo Alex Rodriquez for being an obnoxious steroid monkey.  Of course, he got even with my ass by smacking a home run.

A-Rod, jackin’ one. (Yes, that’s the actual HR I shot.)

This time, I sat in the first row of the upper deck, right behind home plate.  When you’re only looking for a single ticket, sometime there are some orphaned seats available in prime locations. 

I was hoping to get a panoramic shot that was worthy of putting on canvas.  Best case scenario would be a nice, sunlit shot with creeping shadows, but alas, it was a cloudy day.  But night shots aren’t bad either.  You think this would make a good frame-able shot, or should I come back on a sunny day?

The O’s won this game too, which features homers by Manny Machado and another one from Schoop.  But the best part might have been our big reward.

Someone in my row won pizza for the entire row.  I was in the bathroom at the time when I heard them announce the row, and I was like, “Hey, that’s my row!”  I had been considering trolling around for something to eat, so instead, I beat feet back to my seat, to take advantage of this cheesy bounty.  Out of the 120 or so games I’ve been to, this was the first time I ever was a part of a winning row or section.

Now I just have to figure out what that lady did to win the pizza.  I would love to be Pizza Provider for my row. 

None for Yankee fans though.  They have enough dough as it is.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Pen Pals

I originally planned to include this story in the last post, but cut it for length considerations.

It kind of started at dinner with my blogging friends.  Cassie was telling stories about all the famous Pittsburgh athletes she met back when she was waiting tables.  My favorite was when Penguins’ goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was a rookie, he came into the place where she was working.  She had no idea who he was… in fact she went back to the kitchen and started to tell her friends about the really cute Canadian guy at her station, with nice teeth.

Maybe if she had played her cards right, she could have been Mrs. Flower by now.

So the next night, I forget how it came up, but my cousin Greg told us about his brush with fame.  (Greg, I hope it’s OK for me to pass it on here, because it’s too freakin’ cool to not tell.)

We both have another cousin, Jeff, who a number of years ago, dated a woman who was best friends with the wife of Penguins player/owner/savior/legend, Mario Lemieux.  Every so often, he’d go along when his girlfriend went to visit the Lemieux family.  The women would talk and he’d hang out with Mario, drinking wine and smoking cigars.

Sometimes, when I’d be staying with my aunt and uncle (Jeff’s parents), he’d come home late and we’d stay up and talk, after everyone else was in bed.  He told me a lot about what it’s like to hang out with Mario.  I mean, my head was practically exploding from the vicarious thrills.

So, Greg tells us that one night, he gets a call from Jeff, inviting him to a party.  He didn’t say where; he just sent him the address.  Greg went “as is,” in a tee shirt and jeans.

He knew something was up when the address he was directed to was a freakin’ mansion. 

Yes, this is the one.

I’m not sure how he got in, but he met up with Jeff and found himself among a small clutch of dudes hanging out in a wine cellar with Mario himself.

Director’s DVD Commentary: I don’t know how the destination came as a surprise… I’m sure the address had to be something like 66 Le Magnifique Way.

Greg sort of stayed off to himself, watching the scene from the sidelines.  I mean, it was like being in one of those Bud Lite “Are you up for anything?” commercials, but with better drinks and a much better celebrity.

As people began to move off, Mario took note of Greg, standing there with a look of stress and amazement on his face.  He went over to him and said, “Let’s get this out of the way.  Is there something you’d like to say to me?

I’m telling you, I’m getting shivers as I type this, because as cool as I think Mario is, it’s even cooler that he realizes the effect he has on people, especially lifelong Penguins fans.  He has the kind of presence make grown-ass men become dumbstruck.  But he was like, “I get this all the time.”

Even dogs know Mario is cool. Source

Greg went silent for a bit, collected his thoughts, and then said, “Thank you for saving the only hockey team I ever cared about.”

And with that, they moved to rejoin the rest of the party.

It’s more or less exactly what I would have said, if I were in his place.  Just, “Thank you for everything you’ve done for Pittsburgh, hockey, sick children, and hockey fans everywhere.” (And I had considerably more time to put that together.)

So… Stanley Cup Playoff hockey commences this week.  I guess that means I’d better figure out what I’m wearing.

As usual, I tracked my game jersey mojo throughout the hockey season, to find out which ones were most effective.  Unlike past year, there’s no clear favorite.  Perhaps the magic is wearing off, and it’s time to start going with t-shirts.  But here’s how it shook out:

The jersey with the best winning percentage was the “Snoop Dogg 66.”

3 wins 1 loss .750 winning percentage

It’s hard to really count that one because I only wore it four times. Before crowning a #1 Seed, I like to have a little bigger sample size.  So with that, I see this as my front runner:

6-4, .600

It’s still not great, but like I said, no single jersey really had an effect, unlike in years past.


6-7, .461

The Penguins used this one as their “3rd jersey this year, in a break from their previous blue ones.  Everyone really seems to like the way they look on the ice.  All I can say is that I wore the jersey every time the Pens wore it, and they didn’t break .500.  Not good mojo.


3-4, .428

Geno seemed to be hurt for a lot of the season, so I didn’t wear his jersey on nights he didn’t play.  But when he did play, he was definitely “score.”

Moving on to the away jerseys, this year I again used my white Sidney Crosby jersey as the workhorse.

9-8, .529

Not a lot of magic there, but then the Pens were pretty bad on the road.  That can’t be all my doing.  As a switch-off, I used the first Winter Classic jersey for away games.

3-3, .500

Might be an option if we need a big win as visitors.

Also in the running:
Black Brooks Orpik #44: 2-3, .400  Didn’t wear it often, because Brooksie’s gone. But it’s a quality jersey.

White James Neal #18: 2-3, .400  Neal’s gone too, but I don’t have many white jersey options.

White Mario Lemieux #66, with the triangle penguin logo: 1-3, .333

Blue Pensblog jersey:  0-1, .000

Blue Penguins hoodie: (worn mostly over Christmas when I had a cold and felt like shit), 6-2, .750.  Good record, but it may be too warm for a hoodie, come playoff time.  I may pull it out if nothing else works.

And lastly, while wearing no Pens mojo at all, (like Saturday night when I was at the Orioles game), 2-1, .666

Let’s go Pens!

Director’s DVD Commentary: For an outstanding article and a look at why Mario Lemieux is such a big freakin’ deal, on the occasion of his being named Pittsburgher of the Year for 2012, access this link to Pittsburgh Magazine.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Trippin' the Burgh, Part 2

We finished up at Sharp Edge around 9:30, then the Sitcom Sisters and I hit the Doubletree bar, for a night cap.  But as full as we were, we didn’t stay long, and we adjourned to our rooms for the night.

We met up the next morning at 10:45, and headed over to a restaurant/bar over by the arena, the Blue Line Grille.  Honey Google led the way.

There were plenty open tables, so we grabbed one where I could keep my eye on the door.  We needed to meet up w/ my cousin Greg, not only for “old times sake,” but because he had my ticket!

He rolled in shortly after we did, so we set out to do a little eating and power drinking on the cheap, before going in and submitting to arena prices.

Our family runs black and gold.

My bacon cheeseburger was awesome.  The fries… well, the fries certainly had “body”…

“The Giant Lump’O Fries.”

I was pretty excited to get out and get into the arena… Greg’s tickets, (courtesy of his mom’s company) were stellar.  We were sitting two rows behind the Penguins’ bench, right beside the corridor leading to and from the locker room.  I don’t think I’ve ever had better seats than that, for anything.

We got there just as warm-ups were wrapping up, so I just began snapping pictures of anyone who came by, with special attention to Kris Letang, so I could send the shots to Sitcom Kelly to use for wallpaper.  (Not on her desktop, on her actual walls.)

Kristopher Letang, wondering why he feels an eerie chill.


Shortly after this, the only thing Letang will be feeling is woozy.


The Pens’ starting lineup.

We had to pay attention though… I couldn’t get too wrapped up in taking pictures that I miss a puck come flying at me.  I was perfectly situated to take a puck to the melon, right through that gap in the glass.

This was a big game; the Pens had been on a losing streak so they needed this win.  Part of the problem was that Evgeni Malkin hadn’t been playing, resulting in a scoring drought.  He even called out his team for their lack of goals.

*Not his actual words.

During the game, the second goalie sat right in the tunnel.  The Pens’ primary goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury had started the night before, so he was the backup on this day.  I was so close to him, I could have handed him a drink.

Sitcom Kelly telescoped in on us from their perch in the upper deck. We’re on the far right, and I’m playing with my camera. Or the phone.

I’m sorry, if you put me right behind the bench, I’m going to have to spend time looking into my camera.  So sue me.

It was a tough game, as hockey games are prone to be.  In the second period, Kris Letang got slammed into the boards, bashing the back of his head.  I didn’t see the hit, but I could tell as he was helped to the locker room, that it was no leg or shoulder injury. I could actually see the birds flying around his head.  I'm sure Sitcom Kelly will take real good care of him, once he gets back into her basement pit.

During one of the period breaks, Greg and I headed up for refreshments: a couple of 24-oz Iron City Lights.  As I stood back at me seat, I realized that I couldn’t be any more “Pittsburgh” than I was at that moment.

“Ich bin eine Yinzer.”

I also stuck my hand through the railing to come up with some shots of the Penguins’ sticks, lined up alongside of me.

I’ll probably make this into some wall art, at some point.

The Pens won the game, 3-2, and Sidney Crosby was selected as one of the stars of the game.

Captain Sid, just about to hand his stick to the kid in front of me.

When the game was through, we rejoined the Sitcom Sisters and went back to the Doubletree to plot our next move.  Greg graciously agreed to chaperone us through the city to our next eating establishment, August Henry.

You know how I always go on about Pittsburgh fish sandwiches?  Seriously, I had the longest fish sandwich I have ever seen.

The picture doesn’t do it justice… that plate is about the diameter of a basketball. The bun was at least a foot long, and the fish hung out an inch on either side.

I don’t know how I even finished it. Pure determination, I guess.  Only problem was that when we went to the next bar, I had very little room left for beer.  (Although I did manage a few.)

I don’t know what time we called it a night… around 11 maybe?  The temps were in the teens by the time Greg headed home and we scurried back to the room.  The man did yeoman’s work, shepherding us around town for 12 hours.  I’ll have to thank his wife for letting him come out to play with us all day.

Before we could leave on Sunday, I had a little errand I had to run.  I told the Sitcom Sisters to sleep in and I’d meet up with them around 11, after I ran out to the west side to visit my Grandpa.

He just turned 99 in February, so I couldn’t pass up a chance to see him.  Not many people my age have a grandparent that’s still around.


While I was in town, I also had to stop by the local market, to pick up some Pittsburgh delicacies to take back home: fresh-baked Mancini’s Italian bread, and Isaly’s chip-chopped ham.

I scored enough for 2 weeks’ worth of ham sandwich dinners. 
Whoo Hoo!

I got back to the hotel right around when I’d planned, met up with the Sisters, and we were on the road by 11:00.  We made it home uneventfully, which was nice. 

Later that night, I checked out the game via DVR, (after downloading about 200 pictures), just to see if Greg and I made it on camera.

Yep, there we are, larger than life.  I mean really large. Am I smuggling pillows in there, or what?

So, all in all… great trip.  Lovely company, good friends, good food, good drink, lots of sports action, and no one got lost.

Can’t wait to do it again next year!