Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Bourbonnais Boogie Begins

Tight End on a stick off to Carolina


New dad and kickball champion Greg Olsen has been traded to the Carolina Panthers.  Upon arrival there, he was given a four-year contract extension.  This means newly unengaged QB Jay Cutler's fave bitch (yeah, tight end/wide receiver, whatever, I am going to beat this line until it's no longer a line) was traded for a handful of beans, a baking-soda-powered submarine, and a sixth-round draft pick next year.  Greg was a pretty good Bears players, so I am puzzled by the trade.  There is some sort of purge going on at Bears Central or in Bourbonnais or somewhere in Bearsville and when the dust settles, I am hoping we have an offense that is recognizable as such.

Remember last year?  Jay Cutler, the Hesitatin' QB, who can't seem to let loose of the ball or find any of the guys who was supposed to catch it when he threw it, whose offensive line can't seem to cover him, getting sacked multiple times?  Getting a concussion and missing a game -- which is when we found out that Jay might not be primo but that second-in-line was dang stanky and the third-in-line was just young?  Remember that?  Me, too.  It appears in the battle of the Mikes -- Mike Tice and Mike Martz -- the notion of how to formulate a team is being won by Martz.  I am more of a Tice fan with balance being the goal but, again, what the hell do I know?

As of last night, Center Olin Kreutz, this year a free agent, was the single hold out of the 2010-11 Bears, with a reported difference of $500,000.  Yes, half a million smackers which most people will never see in their whole lives.  This is ciggies-and-pantyhose money in the world of the NFL and Bears management needs to just open that stinky old piece of cracked leather they call a wallet and give Olin the loot.  Attention Bears Mangement:  The games are about to begin and the 49ers are nipping at your heels because they know a good man when they see him and could be ready to make an offer.  Kreutz has been very a supportive teammate and knows how to keep up morale or as much morale as a bunch of millionaires require in order to feel better about their sad lot doing just what they like doing and getting paid insane amounts to do it.

Who seems to be missing is Lovie Smith.  Where are you, Lovie?  I am sure he has better things to contentrate on before the exhibition games begin way sooner than anyone can believe.  I would not mind a simple "hello" in the news media as they dance and prance around in Bourbonnais, Lovie and the team out in the hot sun without air conditioned benches to keep them cool and concentrating.  They can fan themselves with cold hard cash.

I am very sensitive to the air conditioning issue because mine has been out for about ten days.  I have determined that I have been going through the Five Stages of Grief:  Denial ("no, not the a/c!  I will change cords.  It just needs a new cord and a different surge protector box!"), anger (I know you are familiar with anger), bargaining ("If you work I won't put you in the alley"), depression (never a good look for me and probably not for you, either), and acceptance (it being what it is, y'all).  It may get fixed or replaced today (my knight and his dad are due to come and smite it with their mighty screwdrivers and if that doesn't work, we are going to Sears), but I am mostly calm about it (acceptance -- see how that works?).

Several years ago, I bought myself a giant industrial fan which has proven to be quite smart as I am usually not very forward thinking.  When said fan is on low, I can't hear a thing but the fan's roar, and the breeze it creates is pretty stunning.  I am glad to have it.  You know what I really would be glad to have?  Air conditioning.  Houston, Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore -- all would be jerky little nowheres were it not for air conditioning.  Those super-high-rise buildings would not be possible were it not for central air.  What changed the face of the world?  A/C might not be totally responsible but it sure didn't hurt things.

I won a certificate for a free night in a hotel and, like last week, when I got into my room I turned the thermostat down so low that the hotel might have asked to hang their spare legs of lamb.  All cuts of meat were welcome.  BYO ice is all I asked.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

They're baaaaaack and taken out to the ballgame

It was reported today on the radio that the NFL Players Association has agreed to the terms of the NFL owners and so will be back to it pretty soon with a nice ten-year contract.  In next week's blog I will report on more details.

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In my job, work teams sometimes build relationships with vendors such that the vendors invite a team to be their guests.  My present team is comprised of some very hard-working people and not a single person is lazy about getting the job done.  Our client is extraordinarily parsimonious, the client employees act like they are entitled to most everything, and vendors really get sick of this sort of behavior.  A new vendor is on the scene, a generous and classy vendor, and we were invited to stay a night at the vendor hotel, check in early, check out late, were treated to several meals, and were taken to a baseball game at Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs.

An Astros pitcher doing his job
When I was a teenager, I was insanely committed to the Detroit Tigers and got very excited when each new baseball season was to start.  (I also followed skiing which is almost inexplicable.)  As I've gotten older, I have lost most of my devotion to Major League Baseball but I admit to liking the Chicago White Sox.  I moved to Chicago in 1978 and had been to all of two Cubs games (and a soccer game) at Wrigley Field in all that time, the last time in 1988?  1987?  Anyway, decades passed and I was given the choice of hanging at the hotel and doing my thing or going to the Cubs game.  The Mike Quade Cubs, who are near the bottom of their division, versus the Houston Astros, the division team that's lost even more games than the Cubs.  A radio station referred to it as the Battle of the Bottom Feeders and that was right.

Mike, handsome in sun protection
I asked Mike, my close work friend, if he were going to the game and he said, yes, why not, and because I need things to write about in my blog, I agreed that I'd attend too.  Neither he nor I are fans of very hot weather.  Example:  When I got into my hotel room, I cranked the thermostat down to 63 degrees.  When Mike got into his room, he would have turned down the thermostat, but it was set at 60 degrees and he left it.  So you have two people who are not ready to say "I do" to the marriage of heat and humidity agreeing to go sit outside at a baseball game.  It must be a world gone mad.

Strike!  It's okay.  The Cubs won.
We went.  It was hot.  It was humid.  We lasted for the entire game and did not complain bitterly so good for us.  The Cubs won but the Astros were spectacularily error ridden.  This Battle of the Bottom Feeders went to the team that could see the surface a bit and went for the sunlight and air bubbles which on this day was the Cubs.

Why do great fans of the Cubs and Wrigley Field call it "the friendly confines?"  It's an astoundingly old-fashioned ball park with terrible sight lines, uncomfortable and narrow seats, and some aisles -- those off to the far sides, like where we were sitting -- are almost impossible to navigate.  We were glad we went and are even more glad that now we don't have to ever go again because friendly it's not but confining it most certainly is.

In the conveyance on the way over, someone with great affection for the Cubs said with enthusiasm, "If they win tomorrow after maybe winning today, then they will have won three in a row, which they haven't done all season long."  A backhanded way of saying, "They suck so hard but I live in hope."  His dream was answered and they did get three in a row.  During the game we agreed that Mike Quade was probably a great guy but Ryne Sandberg, ex-Cub, Hall of Fame second baseman, he of the retired Cubs number 23, would have been the superior choice.  It is feared that the three-in-a-row might mean Quade is not so terrible.  Oh, he's terrible and he needs to go to the Minors.  I suggest a swap.  The Minors take Quade and the Majors get Ryne Sandberg.  I think that's fair.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Still locked out but I won't be a millionaire soon

The NBA is still locked out.  At least one NBA player has signed to play ball in Europe, specifically Turkey.  A reason:  the need to make money for his family.  Ahem.  You make millions of dollars a year and you need to play ball in another country to get food on the table?  I am pretty sure if you injure yourself in another league you will be SOL for injury assistance forever more.  If you'd like, you can send me an email and I will assist you in setting up a budget.  In no time, you will have saved zillions of dollars and your wife and kids won't think you're a mope.  You're welcome.

The Joffrey Ballet is still locked out.

The NFL is still locked out but rumored to be very close to an agreement but please note the July 15 deadline has come and gone.  It is also rumored the retired players will probably get nothing much out of this deal.

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Chicago is a big city and major game shows and talent competitions come here regularly to get new participants for their offerings.  This week, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" came to Arlington Park to recruit local Brainiacs and I went.

I have a game-show past.  In 1977, while a very young woman living in Manhattan, I was a contestant on "The $20,000 Pyramid," hosted by Dick Clark.  In 1994, I was on "Jeopardy," hosted by Alex Trebek.  In 2002, I was a contestant on the daytime version of "The Weakest Link," hosted by George Gray (now a permanent announcer on "The Price Is Right").  At each of these auditions, an appointment had to be made in advance.

At the time I was on Pyramid, the only way to get on was to know someone who had been on the show, to get picked at random from the studio audience, or be visiting from out of town and write in advance to ask for an audition.  I ran into someone I'd known in theatre at Michigan State and mentioned I'd seen him on Pyramid, he told me who to call, and bingo, I had my audition.  At said audition, twenty people were in a room and we played Pyramid back and forth across the room.  My first partner was very smart and a very good player but he was also very soft-spoken and laid back, just what a game show doesn't want.  I was chosen for the next round because I am neither soft spoken nor laid back; I've been accused of having been a high school cheerleader but I am merely enthusiastic.  At the end of round two, the woman running the auditions advised us that she thought we were all very good and they were going to use us all.  I ended up winning $2325, which was a fortune in 1977.

For "Jeopardy," one had to send in a postcard to get chosen at random to get a chance to take the qualifying test.  I sent in five postcard and was not chosen.  The next year I sent in twenty postcards and was selected at random but flunked the test.  Year three I was going on vacation and didn't want to cancel, modify, or otherwise not go.  Year four, I sent 37 postcards.  I got four calls inviting me in to take the test.

The test was in a downtown hotel, there were several sessions each day, and we all filed in and sat at long tables, each provided with a blank test sheet (numbered 1 to 50) and a pencil.  The test was on TV and featured the voice of Alex Trebek.  I was mentally prepared and I passed.  This was followed immediately by a verbal test and having to stand before the contestant coordinators and talk about ourselves.  I don't remember what I said but four months later I was invited to come to California to be on the show.  I ended up winning $9001 and was a returning champion.

In 2001, at the end of the year when everyone was still in shock from the events of 9/11, "The Weakest Link" came to Chicago.  I believe I sent in 30 postcards (and was called twice) and took the test at another downtown hotel where there were long tables, each with a blank test sheet (I don't remember how many questions but I think 50) and a pencil.  I don't remember how the questions were administered but I passed and went to California to be on the show.  I won nothing but, hey, I was not the weakest of the weak links.  "The Weakest Link" is not the ideal show to be on if you know something and want to win a couple of bucks.  It is a stab-your-neighbor-in-the-back affair and best left to the UK, where it originated. 

For each of these, there were tables, we arrived for specific appointments, there wasn't excessive waiting around and contestant overlap, and we were not treated like cattle in the barnyard.

Several months after I was in California, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," the daytime version, came to Chicago for testing.  A coworker asked me if I were going to try out and I said no, I wasn't because I didn't think I wanted to do it again.  And so it went, year after year.  They came to town, I said no thanks.  This year it coincided with day one of the Nordstrom Anniversary sale and I'd taken the time for it two months ahead.  Oh, dear.  I felt compelled.

The day before I was to take the test, I decided I didn't want to go wait in long lines in the heat and humidity of a Chicago suburb, in the parking lot of a racetrack, plus have to drive 30-45 minutes in rush hour traffic to get there.  I wanted to just go to the Nordstrom Anniversary sale and score some shoes, a top, and some black pants.  I wanted to take the test but I didn't want to stand outside in a parking lot and then stand around somewhere else before I could take the test which I did want to take.  Ultimately, I decide yes, I would go and give it a try.

The whole time I was standing there, I didn't really want to be there.  Here come the TV cameras and it's my favorite morning show!  I stood behind a guy so no one would see me even the hosts of my all-time favorite morning show.  (I take this opportunity to say, "Hi, Robin!  Hi, Larry!")  And so it went until we were sent into the room.  Where were the long tables?  There were chairs and tests in envelopes ("Do NOT open your envelopes!" they admonished) and cardboard rectangles that were to serve as tables on our laps ("Leave the cardboard for the next group," they admonished).  Scoring was via computer so make sure to press hard! There was the two-page test sheet and the cardboard, so good luck juggling that.  No, not the ideal way to give a test like this or any other kind.  The young woman running the test talked mostly about herself and what she liked and she'd never been to Chicago and it was so so nice.  And she so loved Tina Fey.  And asked if anyone worked at Second City and she didn't care about the fact that the woman who said she worked at Second City said she taught there.  This young person wanted to know how to score tickets because it was her dream to see a show there.  And Chicago is sooooo nice!  She didn't think it would be this pretty!  Finally, someone behind me shouted in frustration, "This isn't Chicago."  I agreed loudly.  There wasn't enough a/c.  We were given magnets and t-shirts and got to keep our pencils but I suspect the local Millionaire affiliate had to pick up the costs (their logo appears as well).

Long story longer, I didn't pass the test and I didn't mind at all.  I was probably the only person practically skipping out of the building.  I watched all the previously happy potential candidates reduced to subdued cattle.  They wanted it so much.  I didn't want to be on TV, I didn't want to get a new outfit just to be on TV, I didn't want to stand in a parking lot to take a test to be on a game show ever again.  I would, however, be willing to take another test if they let me sit at a long table in a room where there was plenty of air conditioning, where I'd arrived for a scheduled testing time, and I would certainly be willing to go to New York.  I would also be willing to advise the young woman to stop talking about herself and totally focus on the crowd.  Be encouraging and add, "When people ask you how you did, tell them you missed it by one."  Drill that into the crowd so it becomes second nature and they leave with a comfortable bit of fiction for their loved ones and feeling good about themselves.

By the way, after I lost on Pyramid, the first call I made was to the Internal Revenue Service.  I didn't wait until I got home.  I stepped up to the first payphone I saw and talked to someone in Lower Manhattan.  This is true.  I like living in a free country but I also want to pay taxes so I can enjoy civilization. 

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Yesterday's errands took me to a hardware store.  I am a size queen when I shop and like big stores and lots and lots of options.  I went to a wicked huge, two-story Menard's in a suburb, efficiently chose what I needed, and took these items home.  When I got home I looked to see where everything was made, fully expecting to see it had been made somewhere on the western side of the Pacific Rim to be followed by some light cursing.  Wrong.  In their TV ads, Menard's has been bragging about stocking its shelves with goods that are made in the USA and my items, bought without country of origin in mind, were made here in these United States.  Menard's now has me and my ugly mug as its newest loyal customers (as my ugly mug is a whole other person).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The lockout that will not end

Last week, I thought the NFL and the players were going to all come to their sense and twirl back to the locker room and the playing field and everyone would be training for the fall, cameraderie developing between the players, and the owners taking their appointed places at their cash registers.  Well, wrong and then some because the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St.  Louis ruled that the lockout of the players could continue but they did not rule out the possibility of the NFL being sued for anti-trust violations.

The last part slays me!  I never thought about it but yes, there is just one NFL, there are no other huge major football leagues, and what they have now is a monopoly.  Of course, if they busted it up, would what we think of a pro football exist?  If the NFL is taken to task for being a monopoly what would the break up spawn?  Big, burly bitches standing on freeway off-ramps with signs saying, "Will tackle anything for food," or "I was a Tight End.  Be kind." 

The NFL says July 15 is the last date to get things hammered out before they have to cancel the Hall of Fame game on August 7, which marks the start of the pre-season.  The New York Giants have cancelled their Albany, NY, training camp after 15 years and will instead train at the Timex Performance Center at the Meadowlands.  The Baltimore Ravens have cancelled their training camp as well.  And so it begins -- the ugly domino effect that goes down to local vendors, store owners, parking lot attendants who look to people making a trek just to see the Giants or Ravens practice and spending their money while they are there.  No, I don't think the players are the greedy ones.  The NFL is a corporation and the corporation wants lots more of the pie.  Cancelling training camp in Bourbonnais, exhibition games, pre-season games, and actual games gets them more pie how exactly?

For those who are really missing their game, a football "Field of Dreams" for you from FunnyorDie.com:  NFL LOCKOUT

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Dancers with the Joffrey Ballet have been locked out and part of their season cancelled.  The ballet company says the dancers' union, the American Guild of Musical Artists, failed to agree on a new contract.  The company was afraid if they proceeded with the season, the union could, at any time, shut down the performances.  The dancers were told to clean out their lockers by last Thursday and turn in their keys by last Thursday.  The main sticking point is the company wanting the dancers to extend rehearsal time from five hours a day to six hours a day.  Sound familiar?  Like the NFL wanting 18 games in a season instead of the present 16?  Like the NFL players, the dancers don't want a full-blown strike and I remind you that ignorance is always just right there.

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It's hard for me to express the admiration I have for Alan Schwartz of the New York Times.  I was going to use this space to write about the death of John Mackey, whose profound dementia was probably caused by football injuries and whose wife, Slyvia, was key in the NFL implementing the Rule of 88, which pays up to $88,000 to the families of retired players with dementia.  But Mr. Schwartz's article is so good, so well written and heartfelt, that I ask that you click on the link below and read it for yourself.   Mrs. Mackey is donating her husband's brain to Boston University's CTE researchers to see if he had Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Alan Schwartz on John Mackey

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Lockouts! And what would you miss?

The NBA has joined the NFL in a lockout.  The difference is that the NFL will probably come to a conclusion and dash back to their respective fields in time for training camp.  The NBA will probably not come back on time and will miss a few games in their planned schedules.  The lockout in the NFL is the owners wanting to make more money under the present system.  The NBA lockout is the owners saying the system is broken and cannot be fixed and they cannot make money with things as they are.

The NBA owners say they are losing money under the present system because the smaller-market teams cannot afford to own a team and actually break even.  They also claim the current system doesn't allow for the highest level of competitive balance.  The big teams -- Chicago, Miami, LA, NY -- can afford the bigger dogs like Carmelo Anthony and the super-expensive-but-was-he-worth-it-really LeBron James.  The NFL doesn't have guaranteed contracts but the NBA does which the owners say add to the their bottom lines, adding that 22 out of 30 teams are losing money; the owners have given their ledgers to the players' union as proof.  It's not just getting money from the players back to the owners, it's getting money from the big markets to the smaller ones.

The NFL issue is about division of the funds; the NBA issue is division of the funds and then giving money back.  Bottom line:  look to a pretty normal NFL season.  Look for plenty of drama and lost money for all concerned (the owners, the vendors, and the collateral fallout to vendors, parking lot attendants, nearby restaurants, cab drivers, etc.) before the NBA ends their lockout.

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To make a long story short, I recently had to give up some foods in order to improve healthwise:  red meat, alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine (even decaffeinated products as they still have trace amounts), carbonated beverages, chocolate, citrus, spicy foods and adding extra spices, greasy food, and tomatoes.  I have never been a smoker, drank just a single cup of coffee each day, and while I like a nice cold diet soda on a hot day -- just one -- if you take out the flavor and the chemicals and the bubbles, voila, it's water.  What I am finding hard to live without is tomatoes.  I never thought about it before but I eat a lot of tomatoes.  They liven up a low-calorie diet meal.  A thickly diced tomato enhances eggs, whether fried or scrambled.  A simple slice makes an otherwise bland sandwich taste like it has a lot to offer.  Grape tomatoes make a very refreshing snack.  We are heading into tomato season, when Midwest tomatoes taste like the sun and the earth, like the vines and the sky, the perfect storm of deliciousness and freshness.  I am lamenting their loss in advance.

In two weeks I will find out if tomatoes and I can be reunited.  I eat vegetables -- zucchini, broccoli, green beans -- but they will never be tomatoes.  Instead of eggs that have been fried, I have found a poached egg on an unbuttered English muffin is really quite good.  You know what would make those lower-fat eggs on a plain, toasted English even better?  Not chocolate and cigarettes, that's for sure.

Think about what you eat, what you love, and if the doctor said no, what you would miss most?  Yeah, yeah, there are those who are all "I do whatever my doctor says and I deal with it."  Now be honest:  what would you miss?