Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Slip up

The lesson has been handed down from parents for years: Do as I say, not what I do. I'll pass along another example here.

The tread on my old running shoes -- the ones I wear for casual use at this point, and not for running -- has been about gone in spots for a little while. I've been meaning to go to the shoe store to pick up replacements, as I had slipped a couple of times. Naturally, I didn't get around to it.

So on Monday afternoon, I rounded the corner of my house, headed down the stairs, out the door, into the car and off to work. Fate had other plans. My feet came out from under me on the stairs, and I went crashing to the ground, bouncing down a stair in the process.

The results of this spill: a scraped left arm, a small scrape on my right hand, and a very sore tailbone. It took about 18 hours for me to walk anything close to normally, as I looked like I needed a cane at work. It still hurts to get up and down from a chair or from the car. You'd be surprised how many movements you make in a day that are taken for granted.

I checked the various Web sites at work on such injuries, and the messages were similar. Unless there is bleeding, there is no emergency (and there wasn't here). It's just a case of having a sore tailbone for a while.

Therefore, take a look at your sneakers every so often, and don't try to squeeze a couple of more weeks out of them when they are dead. The butt you save may be your own.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Take Ten

* I was listening to one of those classic rock stations the other day, and I heard a song I hadn't heard before. I believe this is the first time that has happened since 1984, when the station's playlist essentially stopped getting updated.
* There's been talk about buying out Larry Brown's contract with the New York Knicks for $40 million, and telling him to go away. I'm not sure where that stands right now. However, let me start the line of people asking the question, "How do I get me one of those deals?"
* If the government really wants to know who I've been calling lately, it is free to take a look at my phone records. One tip: the inspector in question is going to be really bored.
* I bought the latest DVD release of "Blazing Saddles." A warning: The billed scene-by-scene commentary by Mel Brooks is basically an hourlong monologue by Brooks, and has little to do with each scene. The half-hour documentary on the film is better, though, and the package is still worth the $7.50 I paid for it.
* I get done writing silly stuff about infomercials, and who do I see on one the other night but ... Alexander Haig. I feel cheated. Generals' pensions must not be what they used to be.
* It's been 28 years since the Buffalo Braves left town, and they (in their current form, the Clippers) still can't win a seventh game. Time to start writing about the Curse of John Y. Brown.
* I suppose there are worthy Presidential possibilities out there jockeying for position in 2008. I just haven't discovered any of them yet.
* On my TV set, the program title pops up on screen when the correct button is pushed. When the Fox News Channel is on, the button-pushing prompts the title "Fair and balanced." You can write the next line on your own.
* When the identity of "Deep Throat‘ came out, it almost felt like we were running out of secrets. Now authorities are looking for the body of Jimmy Hoffa in Michigan. It's enough to make me go out drinking with my good friend, the Loch Ness Monster.
* Prediction to be read and thrown away: Al Leiter has a chance to be a great baseball commentator. I learn something every time he opens up his mouth on the Yankees' broadcasts.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Big of me. Big of all of us.

Is there a psychological phrase when a subject seems to be following you around? I've been going through something like that over the last several months. Let me explain.

A while back, I picked up a copy of Jon Krakauer's "Under the Banner of Heaven." I had read his previous book on climbing Mount Everest, and it was terrific. It cured me of ever wanting to climb a huge mountain, not that I was thinking about it. Krakauer drastically changed subjects here, switching to an investigation of a murder involving a renegade branch of the Church of Latter Day Saints.

I've had a small interest in LDS ever since my next-door neighbors from my high school days were of that faith. They were nice folks, a little more family-oriented and insulated than the rest of us. Besides, I live about 80 miles from Palmyra, sacred ground to the LDS faith, and I've attended the Hill Cumorah pageant there. It's quite a production.

Krakauer's book is quite fascinating on its own merits. It talks about a fundamentalist branch of the LDS in which polygamy is practiced. Krakauer says the area of Colorado City, Arizona is a hotbed for the group. That got my attention. A few years ago, I drove through Colorado City, which is near the Utah border, on my way back from the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I didn't stop, by the way. The murder in question is a case of sect members hearing a voice from God ordering them to commit the crime, raising a variety of ethical questions in the process.

Later in the book, Krakauer points out that some of those 19th-century Mormons who believed in plural marriage had enough of the fighting in Utah and moved to Cardston, Alberta -- right near Glacier National Park, an upcoming vacation spot for me.

OK, that's all an interesting coincidence. Shortly after that, though, HBO started showing a quirky new series. Having missed some of the other ones like the Sopranos, I figured I would actually watch this one. It was called "Big Love." Yup, it's about a Utah man who owns a couple of big hardware stores ... and has three wives. One of the secrets of such an arrangement, apparently, is large doses of Viagra.

And then a short time ago, the FBI got into the act. It named Warren Jeffs one of its top ten most wanted. Jeffs is one of the leaders of the fundamentalist branch of the church, and has a variety of charges pending against him. When Jeffs' story became national news, Krakauer was interviewed at length on CNN about the group.

I'm not sure what the next step in this run will be, but it has been a little spooky. Maybe I'll put a Marx Brothers movie, "Animal Crackers," in the VCR, and watch a scene in which Groucho is on a ship with a couple of women. He suggests that he should marry both of them.

"That's bigamy," one of the women says.

"Yes, and that's big of me too. It'll be big of all of us. Let's be big for a change," he replies.

Always good to have Groucho supply the last word of any essay.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Loser's circle

America's generally diminishing interest in horse racing increased over the weekend ... for all the wrong reasons.

As you no doubt know, Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro broke down shortly after leaving the starting gate in the Preakness Stakes. The horse was shipped to a hospital in Pennsylvania, where his leg was repaired as well as possible. As of this writing, Barbaro's chances of surviving are 50-50, although it's easy to guess that every hour of time without incident improves his chances.

The stories about Barbaro, and the public's reaction, have been interesting to follow. I particularly liked the person who sent a get-well card to the horse; I suppose it will be a bigger story if he sends a thank-you note. The whole incident got me to thinking about horse racing, which has taken a, pardon the expression, wild ride in terms of public interest over the years.

I don't know how long horses have been racing against each other, probably for centuries in one form or another. "Modern" racing started in the 1700's. Many small towns had their own tracks, even if they were used just for the county fair. There was a certain country charm at such races, although horse racing soon became big business. Champion horses such as Man O'War and Seabiscuit became nationally known, and the Triple Crown races turned into major events on the sports calendar.

But something went wrong with horse racing, and it was probably television. The sporting landscape changed in the 1950's. Football and later basketball gained ground, while horse racing and track fell way back. Check the old newspapers and you'll see confirmation of that. My guess is that horse racing never figured out how to market itself until it had lost a generation of fans; opening the gates just wasn't enough any more.

The economics of the sport have changed greatly too. Breeding has become a big money-maker and the financial engine. Owners want good horses to win a couple of big races, establish some value, and then retire. It's not a strategy that will build an audience. The exception is a gelding like Funny Cide, but he hasn't been able to maintain a high standard of racing.

So where is horse racing now? You don't hear much about attendance figures at the smaller tracks and races anymore. You don't meet many people under 50 who know how to read a Racing Form. Some tracks are still open because of casinos. Most people don't like to work too hard -- using such skills as reading and math -- to earn money via gambling. Slot machines require much less thinking. The Triple Crown races attract public attention for about six and one-half minutes every late spring/early summer. People watch on TV, and then forget
about it.

Some stars would help the situation, even if they are shooting stars, passing brilliantly if briefly through the sky. Smarty Jones was a bit like that; he was forced into early retirement. Now there's Barbaro, coming off a stellar performance in the Derby and horrifying the casual fan who just wanted to see if he could be as dominant in the Preakness. You wonder how many won't be able to forget that image.

I still find the race track atmosphere on the charming side in a quaint sort of way. The horses are pretty to watch, and the feeling in the grandstand, with characters only seen near a betting window, is unique. The question is, how does horse racing get everyone's attention again for the right reasons?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Late Shift

If you turn on your television some night after 1 a.m., you may get some unexpected entertainment.

Ah, infomercials. You love them, you hate them, you can't avoid them ... particularly in the wee small hours of the morning.

These products often go in two different directions. One, a product that seems almost too good to be true is being offered at a fabulous sale price. Two, a money-making scheme that seems almost too good to be true is being offered at a fabulous sale price. I've already detected a trend here.

Infomercials first popped up on the scene several years ago, when local stations discovered they could make more selling the time instead of putting on The Late Movie. The more remote the time period, the odder the product.

Now, watching someone like Ron Popeil at work can be entertaining. Popeil used to sell products at fairs and the like, and he's got the pitch down. A 30-minute opportunity to sell on TV is tailor-made for him. The Dean Martin roast DVD's have some entertaining moments in-between the sales pitches. If nothing else, you can try to find someone who was on the show who is still alive. There's Billy Crystal, um, er, um ... well, I'll have to watch again and count them.

As for the others, well, it's a different story. An early favorite was Tom Wu, who was trying to pitch a real estate scheme with no money down. The shots of people who had made thousands of dollars were mixed in with shots of young girls in bikinis, usually bending over, around Wu.

Once in a while, a celebrity spokesman pops up on these infomercials. If you were wondering what ever happened to Minnie Driver, tune in at 2 a.m. A couple of these appearances were really disheartening. I think Meredith Baxter popped up on a cosmetics ad; Baxter was always a favorite, so it was tough to see her do that ad. Even tougher, though, was seeing Jim Kelly in an ad for a vaguely-defined company called 5LINX. Jimbo, did you really need the money so badly that you needed to get into multi-level marketing of communication equipment?

There are a couple of ads making the circuit right now that are appropriately silly. I see some medical-looking guy talking about how a clean colon might be a key to better health. I've never had the guts to hang around long for that one. Sounded icky.

Then there's an ad for the world's greatest vitamin. When the hosts aren't explaining how much easy money can be made, and testimonials aren't being given from people who earned tons of money from Web sites, I seem to recall (remember, it's on late) two women in low-cut dresses talking about the selling program. If they showed much more, I'd think I was watching The Movie Channel. Maybe it's a tribute to Tom Wu.

I think Homer Simpson is about the only person who calls the toll-free number, so I don't need to conclude with a warning about that. I'll merely say if you want an laugh, do a Google search for investigations into some of these operations. The people behind the "world's greatest vitamin" sure have had some less-than-great adventures over the years.

Friday, May 19, 2006

No cheering outside the press box

This is a tough time not to be paying much attention to hockey in Buffalo.

The Sabres are in the midst of making an unexpected run toward the Stanley Cup finals, reaching the conference finals for the first time in seven years. Not bad for a team that was bankrupt a few years ago.

The catch is, I haven't been paying close attention. After many years of covering and watching the team, I've cut back on the amount of time following hockey. Part of that is working the night shift -- you just don't get to see any games on this time schedule. I did go to one of the Flyers-Sabres playoff games, but that was it for the season.

So I'm on a bit of an island when it comes to following the team. But it is hard to notice one thing when standing on the outside -- the amount of cheerleading from the media at this time of year.

Now, I don't like cheering in the press box from sports people, but at least I understand it a bit. Many of the people in the press box are fans of the home team, and have been for years. They get excited over a victory. Sometimes it leaks into coverage, sometimes it doesn't. (By the way the newspaper guys are generally the most objective -- partly because they are more worried about finishing their story. The radio guys, who are the least experienced, often are the least objective.)

But it's the news people that truly are bothersome. Take it from a former PR person in pro sports, there are plenty of news people who think it's really cool to figure out a way to get into a sports press box. They've tried. Those cheerleading feelings really come out a time like this, when story assignments get silly. Sabres in the playoffs? Go to a sports bar and ask patrons what they think of the game. Yeah, you are sure to get some articulate answers to that. Find out what superstitions fans have as they are watching the game. Find out how briskly jerseys are selling. Oh, and refer to the home team as "we." Frequently. Ugh.

I know the community is excited, and that's fine. I know the coverage attracts viewers/readers, and that's the business. Still, there's a difference between telling the story from a Buffalo perspective and openly rooting.

Personally, if I had a choice, I'd rather have my news people rooting for Delphi to stay open.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Scoring at half-a-hundred

Another season of recreational basketball has come to an end. Each Thursday night, from September to May, a bunch of people get together in a suburban Buffalo gym for some hoops. I've been playing at this particular location since 1989, which outside of the instructor makes me the veteran of the group. I'm the 50-year-old in the bunch. (In Barry Switzer's football book, he calls scoring 50 points on someone as running up "half-a-hundred." Hence the term in the title, even if it applies to age here.) Most of the others are in there 30's and 40's, although a few weeks ago I had to guard someone's son who checked in at about 16. I never thought I'd be playing this long -- late 30's, maybe -- but here I am. And it's still fun.

Bill Bradley once wrote that he liked to play basketball with people because it offered a great deal of insight into character. He's right. I'll tell you lots about personality after playing with someone for an hour. Is he willing to sacrifice for the greater good? Is winning at the top of his personal value list? Does he play with enthusiasm? (Change he to she when appropriate; we've had women at these games over the years who have fit in nicely.)

At this age, my strategy is simple: keep moving. Running as a hobby helps. As one person put it, "When you play once a week, the last thing you want to do is chase a guy around the court for more than two hours." You'd be surprised how often someone can get open merely by hustling. I never could create offensive opportunities on my own, and I still can't, but I can hit the open 18-footer. I can try to take care of the basketball, and I can work hard and help others on defense.

I do have a little secret when it comes to basketball. When it comes to the game, I'm practically a socialist.

The game has to be played right in order for me to enjoy it. That means, pass the ball around, hustle when possible, take good shots, don't basket-hang, etc. When the game is played that way, it takes on a new age feel to it. Everything is in balance.

There's nothing worse than running all the way down the court in order to gain a step on the man that's playing defense, only to see a teammate launch a 25-footer on the run that has no chance of going in. I used to play a lot with a friend who was a heck of a basketball player, and someone who was mighty dependable when it came time to taking the last shot. However, he was no fun to play with most of the time. I think he failed the category "plays well with others" when he was in elementary school, because despite many skills he couldn't utilize his teammates on the court.

One of the nicest moments of the year came when I played with a team filled with the right players. Gerald, Gary, Chris and I have been playing on Thursdays for some time, and sometimes we're on the same team. We picked up a fifth guy, a stranger who was a step below the rest of us, on this particular night. Everyone got the ball, everyone took good shots, everyone looked after teammates. We won every game. When the stranger went to pack up his stuff to go home, he said to us, "It was a pleasure playing with you guys."

Music to my ears.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Bonds, Barry Bonds

Sometimes the media leads, sometimes it follows. It looks somewhat determined to lead in the Barry Bonds case.

You probably know about ESPN's coverage. Barry has been the lead story on SportsCenter quite often this season as he chases down Babe Ruth in career home runs. His at-bats are now shown live. This raises some ethical questions, considering that ESPN is a partner with Bonds in a reality show of sorts. (I should mention that ESPN the magazine had a fine article on the problem with a baseball record become meaningless before our eyes.)

I just visited MSNBC through a link. There, with a list of all of the other sporting categories like NBA and NHL, is Barry Bonds. Yes, he has a home page, and a poll. In fairness, the commentary on the page seems pretty well-balanced. Can't say I read it, though.

It's a story, but an odd one. The steroids angle puts Bonds' accomplishments in question, of course, and it has dampened public enthusiasm greatly. I haven't heard of many people who are paying much attention to him. Granted, a career record is different than a seasonal mark, which has the added element of a specific time frame, but mostly this has been greeted with yawns.

Two positives from all of this:

1. It doesn't look like Bonds is going to catch Hank Aaron, since Bonds' body looks pretty broken down.

2. I'm in favor of anything that reminds us how great Aaron was.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

My own Web sites

You might notice the links to Web sites here. They are my own sites. The story behind the first one isn't too interesting to the general public. It's something of a tribute to my college newspaper at Syracuse, complete with current jobs, books written, and pictures. We like it.

The others are of more general interest. Some years ago, I was waiting for a phone call and was a little bored. In surfing the net, I noticed that there wasn't really a good place for sports book reviews. The most common stop for reviews is either Amazon.com or bn.com, and those are a little suspect. Authors have been known to tell friends to write glowing reviews on there, just to prime the pump, so to speak. I've done it. This won't affect the reviews for The DaVinci Code, but the small books with a few reviews will get a good average grade. So, I write up a review of everything I read that's been published in the last five years. It's mostly sports books, hence "Sports Book Review Center," but has other nonfiction as well.

The third site, "Road Trips!", was an excuse to get travel photos up on line for friends and relatives. Surprisingly, most people get there through searches for pictures. I got a few hundred hits for my Punxsutawney, Pa., pictures around Groundhog's Day. Otherwise, people just stumble on it for various locations. Jimi Hendrix's grave remains a popular picture.

Feel free to visit them at your convenience.

Friday, May 12, 2006


If Greg Connors, my workplace counterpart, can have a blog (http://gregconnors.blogspot.com), I figured I can too. I'll throw on a few comments as I see fit, and see how it goes.

So start with the title. Someone once said I didn't have an inquisitive mind. Well, we'll see.