Saturday, September 23, 2006

Catalina View from a Very Cool Parking Lot

Ah, just look at it.

This was taken from my favorite grocery store. Shopping is good in San Pedro.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Army vs "Army"

I’m about to commit collegiate and football hari-kari. But I can’t help it.

I wanted to root for Army this Saturday.

So what’s the big deal? Because they were playing my alma mater – Texas A&M.

Another post will tell you more than anyone would care to know about how grateful I am that I attended A&M and got two degrees and even taught there for awhile while in graduate school – “the best job I ever had” I tell people all of the time.

But this was about something else. Texas A&M probably has, if not the largest, the most visible ROTC program on a major college campus. The school was all “Corps” until the early 60’s and didn’t admit women until the end of that decade. Now it boasts an enrollment of 45,000 of which only 2,000 are cadets but that is the face of the school. The rest of the population is pretty much like any other college – but with a fairly deep reverence for the traditions that paved the way – bonfires, midnight yell practice, the 12th man – maybe you’ve heard about it.

Great great stuff.

So the schedule-makers got together and suggested that we play Army – and I mean the real Army. We have yells during the football games that are marked off by the male yell leaders (no pom’s pom’s and glitz here) and one of them actually is “Army Fight”. The word “Army” is used interchangeably through a bunch of A&M stuff to signal its military heritage. So I guess those yells got retired for the day. And if you didn’t know - back in the 40’s and 50’s Army was the team – they were a football juggernaut. And now well they are (and still were) West Point – the military academy. Their football players are soldiers – not looking at college as a way station to the pros – but as a call to duty.

But as excited as I was to see this fairly long-awaited match-up of which was presumed to be a “natural” I felt queasy about the comparisons between the two schools – and not so much the schools but the football teams and its players. A&M was favored by 27 points. We outweighed Army players greatly – our players were guys who were recruited nationwide for their speed and strength. Army guys were men who wanted to fight for their country.

By halftime it was tied 14-14. A&M was supposed to romp – but other college football games have been close midway through the contest until the more “talented” team (as we were told endlessly on ESPN) finally breaks free from the underdog.

Not this game.

And I started to feel the juxtapostion of what was really displayed on the field. Every man on the field for Army had a tour of duty planned for him upon graduation. The only Aggies even planning for such were in the stands banging on a drum.

By the third quarter I wanted to root for Army. This team was armed with gutsy guys, outmanned the entire game but giving it all on the football field just as they had the summer before at what the broadcasters’ described as “bayonet training”. Think the A&M team went through “bayonet training” last summer? No, they went through Wendy’s.

A&M did start to pull away but, through a series of events that can only be described as “college football”, Army was on the A&M 2-yard line with seconds left and a chance to win the game. Army beating A&M would have been a colossal cherry for the cadets and the Academy’s program – actually beating a historical football factory of a school. For A&M it would have been “be careful what you wish for”. While on paper a game with Army sounded romantic, a loss would have been historic for all of the wrong reasons.

Army coach Bobby Ross sent in a running play with 9 seconds left and A&M gobbled the runner up behind the line of scrimmage. Time runs out. Game over. A&M wins.

But Army you won for me.

Friday, September 15, 2006

It's Just a Fantasy

Ah, fall is here, school has started, elections are almost here and it is time for young men’s sporting minds to turn to…fantasy football.

And yes for the 17th year our league of lunatics again assembled in some southern state backwater to select our teams and basically give each other shit. Yes it was another reunion all over.

If you don’t know what this phenomenon is well you must live with a gay guy – not that there’s anything wrong with that. But its based off the premise of rotisserie baseball which was a dreamed up actually at the Rotisserie Grill in NYC where some guys thought about picking real life baseball players for their mythical individual teams and following them through the year as if they "managed" them themselves.

The same is true here in “fantasy football”. We have 16 teams owned by individual guys and/or groups. We give them colorful names – for example my team is named the Middlesboro Juggernauts (named after the small hamlet in Kentucky from which I was born). We then pick players for our teams and then play a schedule of “games” against one another, like a regular NFL season, and depending on how our players score each week we either win or lose. We can trade and waive players during the season and have to anticipate injuries and just bad overall play. I’m an expert at that.

Ok now that you’re totally confused don’t worry about it. You don’t need to know the ins and outs of it- just that the season starts off with an annual ritual that many of us cannot even believe continues to this day. We started this generally in our early 30’s and are confounded that we are still doing it as we approach 50. So who are these loonies?

The league consists primarily of four groups: 1) Guys who went to Westchester High School Class of ‘76 (or Cy-Fair) and then onto Texas A&M Class of ‘80 (and I would say this is probably the more senior, intelligent and respected part of the group), 2) guys who worked at Continental Airlines in the 90’s and who remain heterosexual, 3) a bunch of losers and hanger-ons from Baytown, TX and 4) real estate hacks and general white trash that have somehow bought themselves into the league.

This ritual used to be held in my tiny backyard in the Houston Heights many years as I was one of the early and long-time “commissioners" of the league back then. In order to let everyone knew who won each week I prepared what we called “the fax” which was a six page tome showing scores and standings and giving mythical synopses of each game - and this was then faxed to each owner from one guy's office. Now, fantasy football is not a back-of-the-envelope enterprise anymore and we have our own webpage which can actually track each game as it goes on. In the old days we used to crowd into a sports bar to see what was happening and run up huge bar tabs. Now I stay at home and watch the laptop and water my garden.

The last three years however we have taken the “draft” on the road – the past two years having it at a casino in Louisiana. In fact last year, the draft was not even over 24 hours before each fantasy owner was driving like hell west back to Houston to escape Hurricane Katrina. Brownie did a hell of a job.

To be honest – this year I was going to stop doing this. I had moved to California years ago and frankly the venture did not just pencil out for me to fly into Houston, stay in a hotel and go through this. I also did not like a number of rule changes and price increases that seemed to occur while I was gone and seemingly no longer as integral a part of the group. But a work friend in LA was recently diagnosed with cancer and I said “screw it” you only live twice – this deal is always another great reunion and “event” so what’s a few thousand quid between mates? (Screw you Horn).

The blow-by-blow goes something like this: 1) Fly into H-town Thursday, take cab from airport because Longhorn friend (Horn for short) is in court (get a continuance!), have Mexican with Horn and his wife and kids, crash in big green chair to the blue flickering light of Sportscenter; 2) drive at dawn with Horn and fellow Ag and Yukon/Tahoe owner Ronnie (best part of the trip), stop at the Waffle House in Beaumont, and Wal-Mart before arriving at the casino in Lake Charles; 3) golf ensues, Horn yells at rock while chipping, Buckeye/Falcon/Penguin Fred has bad golf etiquette, Horn continues to be annoying, Ronnie gets down looking for Rock’s balls in horrendous rough; 4) showers, drinks and dinner and then 5) the draft; 6) gambling in the casino, 7) drive with Buckeye Fred back to Houston, stay up late with he and his wife Madonna (no lie) with scotch and stogies; 8) get on plane and back to La-La land; 9) and a late breakfast at the Scientology temple with TomKat.

So you see I get to sleep I mean…at places of several friends which usually is an interesting travel plan as I prepare to go in – but it has worked out really well in spending decent quality time with a bunch of friends in a short compressed time. I mean even Ronnie played golf with me because of that.

As for the draft – one of our guys – let’s just call him Biff – gets a huge suite and we cram about 20 guys in there and draft players for about 6 straight hours. We have a big board with stick-on names so we can keep track of our players – and it has even gotten to an art form that Biff runs music loops off his IPOD DJ machine 4000 and we have 70’s, 80’s, 90’s rock wafting through the room. No maybe shaking the walls – talk about 405 Aston.

There’s more to tell – and maybe through the season I will mention more. But the best thing was seeing Ronnie the Ag that Friday morning and I was telling him about our reunion a month earlier which had several of our league guys attending (and he went to neighboring Cy-Fair). So as I’m jabbering on about stuff he just stops me and goes “I know Rock, - I read your blog”.

Great Beard of Odin! Someone without a menstrual cycle reads me!

I guess the trip was worth it. Thanks Howard Roark”.