"...it's like Will Rogers, Jean Shepherd and some grumpy Jewish man all rolled into one."

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Bad Sports

“Average players want to be left alone. Good players want to be coached. Great players want to be told the truth.” -- Doc Rivers
  • The truth is -- you suck.

“It's not whether you get knocked down; it's whether you get up.” -- Vince Lombardi
  • And also whether you file a complaint with OSHA.

"A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be." -- Wayne Gretzky
  • Where the puck were you yesterday?

"If you have everything under control, you're not moving fast enough." -- Mario Andretti
  • This explains our CEO's chaotic leadership style.

"Age is no barrier. It's a limitation you put on your mind." -- Jackie Joyner-Kersee
  • Then why do job applications want to know what year I graduated from college?

"It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe." -- Muhammad Ali
  • Nevertheless, our dress code still prohibits flip-flops.

“You can’t put a limit on anything. The more you dream, the farther you get.” -- Michael Phelps
  • But fall asleep just once during a presentation to upper management and next thing you know you’re out on your keister.

“Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement.” -- Matt Biondi
  • It can also lead to a sexual harassment claim.

“It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” -- Paul “Bear” Bryant
  • It also matters that you prepare your will before you “leave the field”.

“What to do with a mistake: recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it.” -- Dean Smith
  • Of course, I’m referring to my own mistakes here – one more screw up from you and you’re out on your keister.

“I've learned that something constructive comes from every defeat.” -- Tom Landry
  • A pity our shareholders don’t feel the same way.

"Make sure your worst enemy doesn't live between your own two ears." -- Laird Hamilton
  • Perhaps you should try using Head & Shoulders.

“It ain't over till it's over.” – Yogi Berra
  • Oh, it’s over – pick up your packet from HR on the way out.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Death Fakes A Holiday

Some years back, as we were watching TV one evening, my wife's ears suddenly pricked up and she leapt from the couch. "What's the matter?" I asked. "It's Josh," she replied. "He's crying." Apparently he was howling at a frequency only a mother could hear.

Carol dashed upstairs, returning several minutes later with the nine-year-old Josh trailing behind, his face flushed, eyes wet and using his pajama sleeve to wipe his tears and runny nose. Carol informed me Josh was upset about something and wanted to discuss it with both of us.

"What's the matter, buddy?" I asked, extending my arms and offering him a reassuring smile while trying to keep one eye on the courtroom histrionics unfolding during the second half of Law & Order. We discussed a concern common among children around his age -- he had begun to wrestle with the concept of mortality.

Josh told us how he realized his grandparents were getting older and one day "soon" they would die, as would his parents and friends and pets. There was no reference to his own demise but I chose not to press him on that omission.

His mother and I took turns consoling him, trying to respond truthfully without introducing undue alarm. We trotted out all the usual homilies -- death is a part of life, everybody/everything dies, it's not going to happen for a long time, yes we had named him as our sole beneficiary, etc. He eventually calmed down, seemingly placated by our reassurances, and soon went back to bed.

A few nights later, just as the late news came on, we heard footsteps and Josh came around the corner into the living room. Again he had been crying and was distraught. "What's wrong, honey?" his mother asked. He stopped sobbing long enough to exclaim, "It's death again!" We pulled him onto the couch between us and had a conversation very similar to the previous one. In between sniffles he said his latest worry was around whether we were going to establish a living trust so he could avoid probate. I offered him a tissue and while he blew his nose I said we'd certainly give it some thought.

The subject eventually faded from discussion and the only other time after that I recall hearing Josh cry out in the middle of the night was about a year later. Carol and I dashed through the dark into his room to ask what was wrong. He was terrified because "There's a spider trying to kill me!" We said that was ridiculous and turned on the light so we could show him it was just his imagination. After flipping the switch, we saw a spider the size of a silver dollar descending from the ceiling light fixture along a thin line of silk, hovering inches from his face. It was a scene right out of a horror film and all that was missing was a high-pitched shriek, which I obligingly provided. Carol, keeping her wits, ran to grab some toilet paper and quickly wrapped up the beast, relocating it to the commode and a swirling end of days. None of us, most importantly Josh, seemed upset in the least by how abruptly the spider had been forced to confront its mortality, and our son fell back asleep before inquiring as to the disposition of the arachnid's estate.

I thought of these vignettes after reading an article in our local newspaper about the sudden death of a man after shoveling snow. To clarify these events: both the man and I had recently shoveled snow; after that the man died, and after that I read about it. In the past when I'd heard about such tragedies I didn't pay much attention since the decedent was usually someone well into middle age, older than me. But this time I noticed the man was age 54; I just turned 59. This gave me pause; I thought about my own mortality along with what I could do to make sure I didn't succumb to a similar fate from future attempts at this specific endeavor. I read an article about proper body mechanics when shoveling snow, reminders to pace oneself when doing so, and also considered whether it made sense to acquire a snow blower to lessen my exertion. I love to get a new toy as much as the next guy, but decent snow blowers are expensive -- so I weighed my available options and return on investment while factoring in my blood pressure and cholesterol levels. After calculating the probabilities, I implemented the most effective course of action to all but guarantee I would never meet my demise as a result of shoveling snow.

I make Carol do it now.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Route Cause

After visiting friends and family in Boston last weekend, we drove home amidst a tumultuous storm; relentless heavy rain and unsettling gusts of wind. I wasn't feeling well; hadn't slept much the night before and felt exhausted and headachy, so Carol kindly offered to get behind the wheel despite the conditions. She then experienced a condition I call "passenger-itis", where somehow a well-known route becomes completely unfamiliar once you move from the shotgun side to the driver's seat.

We've made the trip between Maine and Boston countless times, together and solo, and can practically identify from memory which fast food joints present themselves at each turn-off -- "Wait until the next exit because the McDonald's at this one doesn't have a drive-thru." Carol seemed completely unfazed by the sopping, blustery weather and was sailing (almost literally) along in the outside lane as we passed the sign indicating our exit was coming up in two miles. After traveling one of those miles she still hadn't started to move toward the right-hand lane, so I prompted her to get ready for the upcoming merge: "Honey, we're approaching the exit for 95 North." She still didn't react for a moment, then asked me, "Is this the same 95 that we usually take?" I told her that, although some routes are marked as "alternate", it wasn't in the context of a parallel universe and yes, it was the same paved multi-lane interstate that winds along the East Coast and that we always take to get home. There was no "other" Route 95 to seek out.

I sensed she still didn't believe me but she moved toward the exit nonetheless. It was an A-B exit; one ramp heading north, another just past it heading south. Now Carol saw the half-mile indicator but was confused since it was labelled by town versus direction -- "37A - Peabody" or "37B - Waltham". "Which one do I take?" she asked me. I reminded her that Peabody was north of Boston and therefore that sign was the one to follow. I sensed she still didn't believe me but she took the Peabody exit anyway.

[A short aside: locals know the correct pronunciation of "Peabody" is "PEA-b'dee", with nary a pause between the first and second syllables. Years ago we were watching a police procedural on television which was ostensibly set in Boston but obviously filmed on a West Coast soundstage since we never saw the principals stepping anywhere outside in the Hub. In this particular episode the cops were tracking a criminal escaping via car through his cellphone usage, calling out the names of the various towns he and his handset drove through. One investigator sprinted over to a conveniently posted area map and traced the route, coming to the conclusion that the authorities could intercept the perp as he approached a suburban location spelled M-e-t-h-u-e-n. Unlike Peabody, this town's name is pronounced pretty much as it's spelled: "Meth-OO-en." But instead the Hollywood actor exclaimed, "He's headed straight for Meth-WHEN!!" Don't these show folk have people on-set, or working in the commissary, who know how to say things as the locals do? They might as well have advertised this show was set on the gritty streets of "BUS-tone".]

Anyway -- now we were on 95 North and would remain so for the next 120 miles. Visibility was poor with the rain and reduced even further as night came creeping across the sky. Still, we'd been this way many times before, so I was surprised when Carol asked me if the bridge we'd just driven over meant we were now in Maine. "No, honey -- that's the bridge from Massachusetts into New Hampshire. We still have to drive through New Hampshire before we get to Maine." "Oh, sure..." she replied, though I sensed she still didn't believe me. The Granite State leg of the trip is over in a flash, even when we take the time to stop and purchase tax-free liquor, so we were crossing the Piscataqua (don't ask me how to pronounce that) River soon enough and found ourselves back in our adopted home state.

I don't know how much time passed before I heard Carol ask, "How far is it to our exit?" In Massachusetts and New Hampshire the exits on 95 are numbered in an ordinal sequence, but in Maine they are numbered by their distance in miles from the state border. I said our exit was number 86, so we had 86 miles to go on the highway. "I know that," she replied. "I mean how far is our exit from where we are NOW?" "Well, where *are* we right now?" "I don't know -- aren't you paying attention?" I replied no, I wasn't -- due to my excruciating headache I was trying to keep my eyes closed and so hadn't seen the last exit or mile marker we'd passed. Just then I spotted the illuminated sign for Cabela's, the huge outdoor goods supplier, so I knew we were passing through Scarborough and were still south of Portland and so had about another 40 minutes before leaving the highway. I informed Carol of such and thanked her again for driving while silently wondering how she could be so disoriented doing something she'd done countless times before.

Once we left the highway we had another 18 miles to go on local roads and now it began to rain and blow even harder. Carol drove cautiously and we made it home without incident. As she parked the car she asked, "Is there anything you need to bring in the house? Because if not, just leave it in the car until tomorrow and let's make a run for it now without getting everything sopping wet." I agreed that was a good suggestion and dashed toward the door. I had my key in hand and was prepared to get us inside as quickly as possible -- but for some reason the lock was stuck and I couldn't get the door to open. I became increasingly frustrated while continuing to turn my key and rotate the doorknob, my grip getting more slippery with each attempt since we were being pelted with rain. Then I heard Carol say in a calm tone: "The key turns the other way to unlock the door."

I've already petitioned the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to request an update to their signage.