Sunday, June 24, 2012

Wants it so bad

So LeBron James and his teammates -- who made the Oklahoma City Thunder look downright puny -- wanted to win their championship rings so bad that they worked together and kept their heads level and won it all at the conclusion of Game 5 in a best four out of seven series. 

Congrats, LeBron.  I would say "now go away" but he has not been all up in our videos with his happiness.  I haven't seen a single LeBron interview or news piece anywhere nor have I been looking.

I learned something this week.  I was talking to my work pal and he said he hated LeBron James too, "but not for the reason you do.  You hate him because of what he said, right?"  Yes, I confirmed that I did.  He said, "I hate him too, too, but I hate him because he didn't come to Chicago."  Interesting, yes?  "And," he added, "unlike Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley and a lot of other elite players, he doesn't go off on his teammates."  Because I wasn't paying too much attention back then, I missed Michael Jordan -- possibly the greatest professional basketball player of all time -- ripping new ones for his teammates when they didn't play up to his standards.  He said LeBron never ever does that.  Ever.  And he's been in the NBA for a while.

Here is what I learned:  LeBron got what he wanted and went into hibernation; LeBron doesn't scream at coworkers who don't do their jobs the way he thinks their jobs should be done; LeBron would have made my friend happier had he come to Chicago and I would have dealt with that giant ego just fine if he had.

Congrats to the Miami fans, too.  Good for you to have something to be proud of!  In honor of this momentous time I hope no hurricanes blow you right off the map.  Seriously. I know people in Miami and the world would be a crappy place without them.

Next week will be the start of something new:  a serialized story with plot, characters, and situations. Oh, I think so!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Call Me Maybe but not if you're LeBron James

It's the Thunder vs. the Heat, y'all, and everyone I know well or casually who cares even slightly about basketball is so hoping that the Heat gets beaten to a cold hard pulp.  As one fellow told me on Friday after the Heat barely beat the Thunder, "I hope Oklahoma wins the next three games in Miami so the Heat fans will suffer and be miserable."  And who do nonfans (practically legion) hate the most?  Why, that wacky LeBron James, natch.

Every year, my friend Ray has a party for his birthday in the middle of June.   The party is announced months in advance -- this year was five months ahead but some years he's told us the date before Christmas -- and if you go once, you have to go thereafter because now you're a fixture.  There are vast platters of catered food:  Puerto Rican, Cuban, Filipino, American.  There is an insane open bar where you can find everything and anything but mango-orange martinis were the featured bevy this year.  The apartment is huge and attractive and tidy like most place are in our dreams.  There are people I like so much whom I see just once a year at this party who bring their kids, their girlfriends or wives or domestic partners or boyfriends or neighbors or some of each.  I see people with whom I work whom I can mostly stand and often adore.  The cake is the traditional Filipino cake made with purple yams -- it's like a papal purple.  We sit in the garden and chat, we stand in the kitchen and talk, we sit in the dining and living rooms and wonder if there might be room for a bit of the guacamole a late-arriving friend brought, the guacamole that everyone says is the best they ever had.  There is music but it doesn't matter what's on because going and sitting and eating and chatting is what it's about.

This year someone turned on the TV.  "Do you mind?  It's Game 7 of the Eastern Division Finals."  As people drifted in and out, I met even more people whom I'd missed for the first three hours I'd been there, nice people, funny and interesting, and everyone felt the same thing -- hatred for LeBron James and the Miami Heat.  The man won the MVP award for the third time and still no one admires him except for Miami fans.

The fourth quarter he didn't seem to have last year?  Well, he looked under the couch cushions and there it was!  That fourth quarter!  He wrapped it in plastic wrap and tucked it into his underpants to make sure he didn't lose it and the Heat beat the Boston Celtics to go on to the finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

I was at the gym when Game 2 was on Thursday night.  Maybe it was my vantage point from the treadmill, but it seemed like the Oklahoma City Thunder are tall men but the Miami Heat are not just giants but steroidal giants who found out their business managers ran off with their money and their sweethearts.  LeBron's fourth quarter?  He committed a foul which was clear to everyone but the officials did not call it.   LeBron's fourth quarter must have slipped inside his knickers because suddenly he saw the only way he could win was to foul the crap out of the Thunder.

Was it a foul?  You decide:

LeBron James:  phooey.

I might like LeBron more if he got on the Carly Rae Jepsen "Call Me Maybe" bandwagon and lip-synched the song while dancing with other members of the Heat and then they raise a lot of money and give it to a local charity in Miami, perhaps a food bank.  Colin Powell sang a few bars after an interview.  Justin Bieber has done a lip synch video with his famous GF Selena Gomez and Disney TV favorite, Ashley Tisdale, and the Harvard Baseball Team and the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders have done them, too.  The song is total pop like a fizzing bottle of shaken soda.

My favorite is, of course, Carly Rae Jepsen singing with Jimmy Fallon and the Roots in what looks like someone's dressing room or basement.  I am a big fan of charming and not taking yourself too seriously and this video is totally that.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Transit of Venus

This past Tuesday and for the last time until 2117, the second planet in our solar system, Venus, crossed the sky between the Earth and the sun.  It was an event that brought out every dork, nerd, and geek around the world and had them congregate at planetariums and observatories.  I am a proud member of those three teams and was pleased to be able to put my face to the sky and looked directly at the sun, even though my coworker said to me before I left for the evening, "Please don't look directly at the sun."  I had on special glasses, y'all.  I am not a complete idiot.

Getting the special glasses was a whole other story.  In terms of arriving just when things were getting under way, we got there late.  We all have jobs that often require us to stay late and Tuesday, June 5, was just like every other darn day so the parking situation closest to the planetarium was filled up with cars jammed into every crevice on the street so we parked at the Soldier Field lot and hiked over.  That turned out to be a very good thing.

When we left Soldier Field we met a young man who had the glasses in his pocket.  "Can we look, please?" we asked and he said, "Of course," and as we were looking, he told us they'd run out of glasses inside.  A family walked up and asked about the glasses, he explained how they ran out but added, "You are welcome to look through these now."  There is camaraderie in geekery.

We'd walked another couple of blocks and decided it might be time to have another look and asked a gay couple if we could have a peek and got the response, "Why don't you keep those.  We have another pair."  Generosity in nerdity, y'all, and now we could look directly into the sun for as long as we wanted.

This is what it looked like:  a big ball of something with a small black dot in the upper right. (When there is any sort of astronomical event, the skies in Chicago are mostly overcast, guaranteeing you will see nothing, so this night was exceptional on every level.)

Courtesy of NASA Flickr gallery
As we got closer to the facility, we started seeing long lines of people wanting to look through the more high-powered telescopes.  There were hundreds of people in those lines but there were also backyard astronomers who brought their personal telescopes, lenses, and filters so others could enjoy it.  There were people with intense filters on their cameras who were pleased to share their work.  "Did you get anything good?" we asked, and they gladly showed off their efforts.

The culmination was walking into the lowest of low levels in the facility, a facility so far down there is no cell service, so close to the Earth's core that air conditioning is offset by the magma heating the floor.  (One part of the last sentence is a lie.)  It was an auditorium with a live NASA feed from Hawaii.  They put on different filters to make it change colors (calcium filters made it blue).  They ran a simulation of what Venus looked like as it went close to the sun, the sun's flames looking like they were licking at Venus.  An Adler Planetarium astronomer came into the room and answered questions.  Not only were some of the answers not understandable, some of the questions were totally incomprehensible for the layperson.  The air down there bristled with dorktosterone.

When we'd had our fill of the excitement -- about 30-40 minutes -- we made out way to the surface and entered into the warm Chicago evening.  One more telescopic experience -- a backyarder had a telescope set up with a can that reflected light onto a piece of paper across the top of it.  You saw a glowing ball with a black dot.  "It's called projection," he said.

It was a totally satisfying experience and as we walked back to Solder Field we were almost run over by a group of Segway tourists, each looking more smug than the next, believing we should jump to get out of their way because they were going fast!  On Segways!  On sidewalks where families with little kids were walking to enjoy both the Transit of Venus and the lovely evening.  If assholes had wheels ... no, wait, they did that night.

As we entered Soldier Field, we thought we'd have one last look into the sun with the glasses and a family asked us about the specs.  We passed the glasses on to them to use.  Generosity in geekery, y'all, and we expect to be dead by the time 2117 rolls around.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Chasers!

We've all been on freeways or highways or expressways or toll roads where someone comes speeding by so fast that it's like he had a rocket strapped to the bottom of the car, even changing from the far left lane to make an exit that is just 50 yards from the starting point.  We've seen motorcycles -- hogs and crotch rockets -- shooting by with such velocity you wonder if the rider has no penis and therefore much to prove or maybe a death wish or maybe he just likes the wind in his hair and and face because the knucklehead isn't wearing a helmet.  (I let the latter get well ahead of me so if he crashes and his head is cracked open like a melon, I don't have to see it.  The former, well, I've been the former in LA when my sister or I realize we are at the exit we need.)

I've lived in major cities -- Detroit, New York, Chicago -- and have visited many others several times -- Miami, Los Angeles, Seattle, St. Louis.  Chicago is my home and only here have I seen the weird phenomenon that I've come to call the chasers.  The chasers move in pairs and they move at speeds in excess of 75 MPH on the expressways.

Here is how it appears:  One is driving north to meet one's friend who lives even further north for lunch at an intermediate point or one might be heading to shop in the suburbs.  It's a nice day or else it's raining.  It's sunny or maybe there's a cloud cover.  The temperatures are blazing hot or it could be a perfect temperature with low humidity or hovering in the mid 40s.  One has one's eyes on the road and is listening to NPR or News Radio 780 WBBM or classical music or classic rock.  But one is driving about 5 MPH over the speed limit because that feels like a comfy speed and there are other cars on the road.  Out of nowhere comes a car that cuts in front of one, drives about two car lengths, then cuts in front of the car in the right lane just ahead of one.  He keeps driving and changing lanes, zigging and zagging through the traffic.  That is alarming enough except he is followed by another car doing the exact same thing, maybe cutting left where the other went right because there is a little more room there.  They are driving about 10-20 MPH over posted limits as they bob and weave off into the distance.

They are never driving expensive sports cars; the cars are always later model mid- to full-size sedans or coupes.  It never seems to happen at night, only during the day.  They are always white men.  They are always over 30 years old.  They never use their car horns or flash their lights.  They never use hand gestures or even glance at anything other than the road. They mostly travel alone in their vehicles.

Regardless of where I've seen them -- the Edens, the Eisenhower, the Kennedy, Route 53 -- I always wonder "WTF?"  Where do they originate, why are they doing it, what's the point of it, where does it end, and do they have a club?  Do they find each other in old-fashioned newspaper ads ("Chasing driver seeks same")?  Do they lurk around the Lake-Cook Road entrance to the Edens until they catch the eye of someone of a like mind and then go?  Is there a seedy coffee shop in some suburb where they know to congregate and put their names on board to get a match?  Might Craig's List offer them a meeting place?  Is there cash involved or do they do it for bragging rights?  Do their wives know?

The chasers exhibit the ultimate in control of their automobiles.  They are steady, unfaltering, steely in their determination.  I have never seen a chaser get into an accident (yet) but I suspect the second car would drive off, leaving the other to hang alone.  The accident driver would, of course, be forbidden from chasing ever again and at the chasers' coffee shop, his name, picture, and a photo of his car would each bear the red circle with the line through it.  There's the phrase "Honor among thieves," so there might be the same kind of system with the chasers.  "He should have been more careful," the other chasers would say.  "He broke the code and flipped someone off."  "He smiled at a pretty girl.  What was he thinking?"  "He ran out of gas. You run the race, you don't run the race against your gas tank, too."

Two years ago, I was driving with some friends on the Edens, minding my own business in the center lane on a Saturday in summer with not a lot of cars on the road, the left lane wide open, when a chaser cut right in front of me.  I was so startled that I actually cried out.  "AH!" I cried.  He wasn't followed by anyone which at first suprised me but made me believe they have an apprentice program.  "Go from the Ogilvie Transportation Center to the Chicago Botanical Garden.  Change lanes 200 times.  We will be watching."  Then they do watch -- from sidewalks on overpasses, from cars in the right lane, from buildings right on the Edens with the senior chasers watching with binoculars -- and decide if that person is ready for a pairing to travel the length of the Eisenhower, zipping around old ladies and nervous gang members and families, dreaming of their own personal NASCAR.

And like NASCAR, it's not a sport.