Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Pro Bowl and nobody asked me ... AGAIN!

This week, the Chosen Ones from the AFC and NFC are off doing gridiron battle in Honolulu, Hawaii.  I smile when I think about it because it's so monumentally ridiculous.

The Pro Bowl players are chosen by the votes of the fans, the coaches, and all players.  In other words, if you are a fan of professional football a la USA (not soccer, known worldwide as football) and have access to a computer and the worldwide web, then you can have a say in who goes to the Pro Bowl.  It is the heights of democracy!

For the third year in a row, the Pro Bowl is played on the Sunday between the end of regular-and-post season play and the championship game, also know as the Super Bowl.  How colossally dumb is that?  Of course, not a single player that will be going to the Super Bowl can play.  Were they to be injured, that could harm their own team's advantage.  So it's a bunch of guys who are fine players getting a trip to Hawaii -- an excellent place no matter the time of year -- to grunt and push and strain and dash for the greater honor of the NFC or the AFC.  And who the heck cares because the guys you want to see playing can't play because they have to save it for next week!  The Super Bowl!  The biggest battle of professional sports in the United States!  Winner take all!  Advertisers start your digital cameras!

I will share who cares:  Real fans of football because they want to see A Game to get their football fix, to have stats they can swap around, to speculate on a fantasy concoction, to pick a side and hope their side winners.  The players in the bowl also care because it looks mighty fine on their resumes and it's Hawaii!  Name five people who would not like a free trip to Hawaii who is in their right mind.  Really?  Five?  Are they in their right mind?  Are you sure they are in their right mind?  Go to Hawaii and then tell me they are in their right minds.

As for the players, the winning team, AFC or NFC, gets $50,000 for each player, while the losing team members each gets $25,000.  Pretty good for grunting and straining, pushing and dashing and, yes, in Hawaii.

It would make most sense for it to go back to the week (or two) after the Super Bowl so there's a more accurate representation of the Chosen Ones but, back to my point, no one asked me.  It might sadden me but I'm used to it.

Super Bowl XLVI next week and I am so for the Giants.  Anytime the Pats, Tom Brady, and Bill Belichick can be proven stoppable, then I am all for it.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Romancing the Northern Ecloutte

The Chicago landscape has grown cold and white from snowfalls that linger, melt, return afresh in a loop of winter energy that is at once disgusting in its intensity and stark in its beauty.  Mostly it makes it difficult to walk (my neighbors must be strangers to the miracle of salt on cement), especially to walk briskly.  We can search the area for birds of any sort along with the local dick measurers, I mean Men Who Watch Birds and the Other Men Who Also Watch Bird Because They're Mostly Retired and What Else Can They Do Since Their Wives Told Them To Either Go Back To Work Or Get A Damn Hobby, Enough Already.  These dudes troll the lakefront and certain parks that are known only to each of them ("If I told you, the park would just be overrun."  "But I won't tell anyone.  My friends don't care."  "Still...") so they can gloat about what they saw and touch themselves earnestly, I mean polish their binoculars.  If there's a photo of a Snowy Owl on the lakefront near 39th Street, they will go there just to see for themselves and maybe walk all the way to the Museum of Science and Industry and back, on the outside chance something might show up.  They can hunch together all they want, because I have seen the Northern Ecloutte and he wants nothing to do with them.

The Northern Ecloutte is a medium-sized bird with a thick, dagger-like bill and a round head.  Its neck is noticeable but not overly long.  Its wing span is surprising wide for a bird of its size but its most striking characteristic is its long fan-like tail.   The feathers are a medium blue on its head and wings while the body is a pale slate gray and the tail is an inky blue, which has been described as black.  The eyelines of the Northern Ecloutte are chevrons of white and black.  Its pale blue-gray crest moves rapidly when the bird is distressed or agitated, letting its enemies and/or prey know that it means some sort of business, that action will be taken.  The tail has been described as lattice-work and "WTF is with that tail?" There are small white mottles in the center of the blue wings.  The feet are dark gray.

Its habitat is the woods of Northern Canada, but not the pine forests which would make its tail less lovely.  It winters in Southern Florida, near the Atlantic Ocean, with a preference to be slightly inland so as not to compete with gulls.  It feeds on insects and berries and the occasional acorn, snatched from an oak before it hits the ground. 

The Northern Ecloutte is shy and solitary but will gather with others of its kind if it is mating season or if more are passing through its basic territory.  The territory of each Northern Ecloutte can be surprisingly wide but is mostly pretty narrow so perfect control can be maintained.

The Northern Ecloutte voice might be described as husky.  As juveniles, the voice is higher and clearer, but the more mature birds have a throaty, husky quality that reminds one of sighing.

I talked to the birders and they were very excited about the Northern Ecloutte.  I shared with them where I saw it and when and they were most anxious to race over to see if it were still in residence.  As for the rest of you, I would love to tell you where I saw it --and I know your wives would love to have a few hours off to maybe watch TV without your supervision and opinions -- but, you know what, the park would just be overrun and that would just scare it off.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Night with Bulls

In the Golden Age of my job, we used to get invited for regular overnight visits in hotels, to concerts, to parties, to baseball games, and soirees at hotels with fabulous prizes.  Unlike most golden ages, we knew we had it good and that things were wonderful.  We liked and appreciated these times with their selections of bacon-infused vodka, vodka-infused caviar, martinis served cold through the mouth of an ice sculpture dragon, and a selection of cheese that would make the head of the most knowledgeable cheese aficionado explode.  There were celebrations of champagne, festivals of destinations, simple get-togethers to experience a stunning view in a Chicago rooftop bar that ended with parting gifts.

These days are mostly long gone, until last night.

Last night, our entire department was invited to a luxury suite at the United Center to see a Bulls game.   I feared it might be way up high under the rafters but it was on the lower level and it was magnificent from beginning to end.  The food was delicious -- hot dogs, quesadillas, and Italian beef for some and salads, antipasti platters, and veggie slices for others, and a dessert cart for all -- and there was plenty of soda, beer, and wine, with a view of the court that was incredible.  Better still, the Bulls won handily over the Toronto Raptors.

No one told me there would be a dirigible.
The most stunning thing about the game is that something is happening from the beginning to the end.  If the Bulls stop for a time out, Benny the Bull comes out and shoots t-shirts into the crowd with a cannon, the Luvabulls dance and shake midcourt, the Swingin' Seniors do a routine, or the Bulls blimp comes down from its mooring in the roof of the United Center to fly around the arena.  There is a half-time show and more shirts shot into the crowd with giant slingshots.  Benny the bull is put on a small, padded platform on casters, giant bowling pins are set up, and Benny is shot across the arena with a giant slingshot with Benny as the bowling ball.  (We all wanted to do that last one.)  Finally, a basketball game doesn't last that long.  If the game starts at 7pm, you are probably out by 9pm, and you will not have been bored because every participant -- entertainer or player -- is giving everything full-out the entire time.

I had the option of driving but I chose to leave my car at home, instead meeting up with my coworkers and taking public transportation.  I got a seat on the bus and had a sweet conversation with a young man who is attending barber college on the southeast side.  His commute from his westside home is at least an hour but he is very happy to do it.  The school is good, the experience is useful and necessary for his license, and he looks forward to one day leaving a legacy of a haircutting business to his seven-year-old daughter.  His only objection was that the bottles of disinfectant he had to carry each day, along with the shears, clippers, and scissors, made for a very heavy thing to tote around.  He knew that was a very minor objection because he knew his life was going to better once he had his license and he had started working.   I personally believe the same.

On the way home, it occurred to me that maybe I do want to get a nice phone with Bus Tracker on it.  My friend and coworker, Michael, gave me bus tracker updates for the Milwaukee bus and a young woman on the train gave me updates for the Belmont bus when we had to leave the train at Logan Square as it had to run express.  Run express?  At 10:30 pm?

There was a drunk passed out on the platform at Logan Square, the motorman saw him and refused to leave him alone like that.  He called CTA dispatch and we had to wait for the guard to come.  "You're gonna run express, aren't you?  You're gonna run express to Jeff Park, right?" I asked.  "Yes, I think that's right, " said the sweet-faced motorman.  "OH MAN!" I blurted.  "I'm just going to the next stop!"  "If it were up to me," said the sweetie, "I would just stop, but it's not up to me."  "OH MAN!  Fine, thanks.  Thanks for being such a sweetie," I said, because he was and he was not displeased with the compliment.  As predicted, the train was instructed to run express and at least 65% of the train got off to get the local and stare at the passed out drunk, which is when the young woman offered up the Bus Tracker information.  "It's coming in three minutes," she said as it got to Belmont, which she and I and all my co-riders easily caught.  It was a good winter night for a walk home from the bus stop:  clear, all things easily made out in the bright snow, and no moisture hanging in the air to chill one to their bones.

FOJ Tim Tebow and the Denvers Broncos were pulverized by Tom Brady and the New England Pats.  Tim should not be saying the game is won because of his savior.  Saying it all came from a higher power dismisses the work of coaches and teammates and the talents that were there when born.  If it all came from deities, then any hard-believing football fan could be out there leading their home teams to victory and that is just never going to happen.  If it all came from deities, then linebackers could still be powering through in their sixties.  Talents have to be fed and nurtured and massaged and treated like the special things they are but even still they can relax or expire.  An Almighty can't stop aging.  An Almighty also can't seem to zip Tebow's lips.  Amen.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Soldier Field welcomes back fans

Readers of this blog (and you know who you are) know that I like professional football, especially the Chicago Bears, and that I donate blood regularly.  Yesterday I was presented with a stellar opportunity to donate blood at Soldier Field and not have to pay for parking.  There would be members of the 1985 Bears present, signing autographs and posing for pictures.  Yes, of course I went.

Because I am not a perfect human, I'd made an appointment to donate blood at 8 a.m. at my local donation location, then made breakfast plans with my friend at 8:30, having forgotten about the donation.  I was planning to go to the donation center and apologize for the mistake when I saw a news item about the Soldier Field event.  Even if I'd not messed up the appointment time, I would've blown off the local center and gone downtown.  Yes, I did go to the center.  Yes, I did apologize.  Yes, the very nice person she didn't blame me for wanting to go to the remote location.

What a glorious day!  January temperatures in the 40s!  Blue sky!  A light breeze off the lake!  FREE PARKING AT SOLDIER FIELD!!  I had to shell out $19 for parking when I attended the Bears Expo in the spring.

While I am a regular donor, I am occasionally rejected for low iron.  They usually have to stick me twice to get an accurate reading.  I eat meat and leafy green veggies, eggs and beans, so I am always stumped when I am sent packing, but it happens about every other year.  Naturally, yesterday was the day it happened.

I hate having my finger stuck more than anything and while the first technician did a pretty good job of it, the second one was a lovely sadist whose roughness yielded a small bruise.  (I see the cut-and-bruise thing about once a year.)  I advised the first technician this might happen so she said, "Oh, hey, you were right," when I didn't pass the first time.  I didn't want to be right;  I just wanted to donate blood because it's important.  "If you want snacks, please have a seat and help yourself," the technicians said.

Snacks are for blood donors.  I don't partake of the white cheddar popcorn and apple juice unless I have donated.  My life is otherwise devoid of white cheddar popcorn.  (It's either the WC popcorn or cheese and crackers, peanut butter and crackers, or pretzels.  One can also have mystery orange juice and apple-raspberry juice.  One wants none of those as one likes her post-donation routine.)  You will never see me fail the donation and then tucking into something crunchy because I feel at that point I should just leave.  I have nothing to contribute so I don't get any benefit.

Shaun Gayle, looking fine
Still, I had to break my rule because checking out some of the 1985 Chicago Bears was a non-edible treat and, frankly, my reason for driving downtown.  I joined a group that went down to the visiting team locker room where we met Michael Richardson and Shaun Gayle, sitting at a table, signing pictures and having their photos taken with fans.  They were looking good and were as sweet as pie to all of the fans who were also very sweet and polite.  It was really a great thing:  1985 Bears being nice to nice people who'd taken time out of their busy lives to donate blood and meet their heroes, even if said nice people had failed due to a day of low iron.

As I was heading to my car, I signed up to be a marrow donor.  I could be still be rejected but I'd like to help.

I can't say it enough:  If you are able, donate blood and sign up to be a marrow donor.  If you or a loved one needed either, you'd be relieved to have them.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The season ends and 2012 begins

The Bears ended the 2011-12 season in Minnesota and for the first time since Jay Cutler was injured, they WON!  Of course neither team had a snowball's chance in H-E-double-hockeysticks of getting into the playoffs, so it was the most even of playing fields.  There were player issues on both sides, especially QB issues.  There was playing and grunting and Brian Urlacher getting injured (please get well for the Pro Bowl).  Josh McCowan was sacked six times but he got the job done which is pretty good for a man who'd not started an NFL games once since 2007.  Now we have to think about the 2012 season, just a few months down the line.

The new year is here and it's just a few months to the NFL draft, pre-season hi-jinx, exhibition season frollicking, and the 2011-12 season.  Jay will be back, ready to give that ball a mighty toss and I will, of course, be all grumpy and negative about him, super-frowny-faced at every turn.  I think Jay has learned a thing or two while he's been off, just as I have.

What I Learned
by Me
1.  A lot of people know a lot about football.  I am not one of them.
2.  I know more about football than some people, but it's still not so much.
3.  I may know less about football than I did last season (if that is possible).
4.  It takes discipline to write a regular blog about anything.
5.  Because of what scientists are learning about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy and any traumatic brain injury, it is possible that football, from the lowest levels -- peewee leagues, high school, college -- to the highest -- NFL, CFL, Arena -- will be a banned due to its brute physical nature.  (Hockey will also need to be addressed.)  Read the New York Times for their excellent coverage of these issues.  Please be aware that the Times gives you just 20 articles to read per month if you are not a regular subcriber, which is pretty generous considering the excellent quality of writing you will find.  (Fine, be a conservative all you want but the CTE articles are eye-opening pieces of stellar writing.  You can read sports articles without being a liberal.)

When things about the Bears come to the fore, I will report them, but there will be other topics covered until that time:  birds, birding, bird watching, planned vacations, and weight loss tips. Except for the vacation planning, all of these topics give me ample opportunity to blather on about things I know nothing about.

According to surviving ancient Mayan calendars, the world is supposed to end on December 21, 2012 (two days after my birthday).  There are people who are totally buying this and getting all freaked out and worried!  Stop worrying!

1.  I listened to NPR and they consulted Guatemalan spiritualists who still follow the ancient religion and they advise December 21, 2012, is the end of the Fifth Cycle of the Sun.  The world is, of course, not going to end.  It is the end of a particular age and the new age will be one of harmony, with neither a male nor a female energy, but a more even universal energy.  Please note:  this will not happen overnight as the NFL would not allow it.

2.  This is according to surviving calendars.  Let's say those calendars did not survive.  You then wouldn't know anything about this date, right?  I'm just sayin'.

Stop worrying about things over which you've zero control and worry about the upcoming election, which is way more important than the new NFL season and also brain-shaking without the benefit of getting your head knocked down by a 300-pound linebacker.   You have a say in the election so don't squander your right to vote by not voting.  Register to vote and then get your ass to the polls on election day and do the deed.

In the distant far right, Chicago appears as a dream from the mists.
Guy #1, excited and almost dressed
Guy #2:  Complete outfit, ready to go!
We all went to Northwest Indiana and the Indiana Dunes in honor of the birthday of the lead birder.  It is way windier over there than on the Chicago side, down there in the elbow of the lake, so much so that I called it the F*ck-Me Side of Lake Michigan.  It was cold, too, but this didn't stop the para-sailing dudes.  I asked one of them about his attire and he said they wear outfits like the Coast Guard wears:  super-non-leak suits over their clothing.  He pulled out the neckline and showed me a turtleneck under the rubber suit.  Within seconds of hitting the water they were many yards from shore, dancing along with the waves, hovering in the surf like gulls.