Thursday, December 31, 2009

One blog per day all month -- Mission Accomplished!

I did it. At the beginning of December I promised to post something on my blog every day for the entire month. Today marks post No. 31, and although it is coming after midnight I'm still counting it. Thus I have accomplished my goal.

And now that I've done that, I doubt I'll ever try to do it again. The reasons are varied, but mostly because it became increasingly difficult for me to write anything of substance. It was fun digging through YouTube looking for videos about hockey or music or whatever.

But I didn't create anything in those posts that stretched my writing muscle. I started the blog because I want to use this space as if I am writing essays for a newspaper. I wasn't able to do that very often this month because those type of posts usually take me longer to write. Sometimes it takes three or four days for me to get all my thoughts in order enough to share them.

For whatever reason, that didn't happen this month. I spent more time looking for videos or links than I did with the actual writing. I'm glad I tried the daily blogging thing, though. It was an interesting experiment and did keep me from neglecting the blog. I was losing steam with it in October and November, but I didn't want to stop doing it.

I also decided I want to keep blogging. I may not be doing it every day anymore, that's true. But I am hoping to do it at least once a week. That way I'll keep my writing muscle a lean, mean fighting machine.

I remain amazed anybody is reading this at all, but I am thankful there are readers. It makes it much more fun knowing I'm not doing this for nothing.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

At the cinema in 2009

I have never been much of a movie critic. The art of good critique is beyond me, and I'm fine with that. I watch a lot of movies and I know a good one from a bad one (or maybe I don't), but I can't often describe the particular elements that led me to my decision.

I also hate being judged, which is funny because I'm constantly judging others and they never measure up (I keed, I keed). So when I tell someone I liked a movie, or didn't like a movie, it inevitably becomes a situation where I have to defend my position. And I take it personally when someone hates a movie I liked.

So naturally I decided a perfect blog post for me would be to rank the movies I saw in 2009. Makes sense, right? I'm not going to include all the movies I saw (27 -- I've watched more, but those are just ones released in 2009), but I am going to include some I wish I'd seen, and some I wish I'd never seen.

By the way, if you want to read a real movie critic, check out my friend Josh's excellent site. He knows a thing or two about actual critiques.

Enough of the buildup. Here are my lists:

My Top Five (in no particular order)
  • "Up in the Air" -- Maybe it's because I'm out of work, but this movie really struck a chord with me. Well-written and acted, I was pleased at how the filmmakers avoided the cliches I figured were going to be inevitable.
  • "Crazy Heart" -- Just saw this today, so it's probably getting on the list because it's fresh in my mind. Jeff Bridges is deserving of the Oscar buzz he's receiving for playing Bad Blake, a down-and-out country-western singer. How could I not love a movie with great acting and great music?
  • "Adventureland" and/or "Zombieland" -- This is clearly cheating, but I enjoyed both of these movies a whole lot and that's because of the eminently likable Jesse Eisenberg.
  • "Funny People" -- A lot of people hated this movie because they mistakenly thought it was going to be a comedy. While it had its funny moments, the poignant scenes between Adam Sandler and Seth Rogan are why it's on my list. When Zevon's "Keep Me in Your Heart" came on I had to choke back tears. Sandler and Rogan don't say anything for quite a while while the song plays, but their expressions say everything. I just really liked that scene and the movie, though I wish they had trimmed it down by about 30 minutes.
  • "Away We Go" -- I've noticed that I seem to like movies with likable male leads. This one's got Jon Krasinski in what I think is his best role. I love him as Jim on "The Office," but he's even better in this one. Maya Rudolph really surprised me, too
My Bottom Five
  • "Paul Blart, Mall Cop": This is one of those, "What the hell was I thinking when I actually put this into my DVD player?" Awful. Just awful. But kind of awesome in its awfulness.
  • "Year One" -- What a waste of talent. It had a few moments of actual comedy, but they were few and far between.
  • "Land of the Lost" -- Will Ferrell is quickly falling off my list of must-see actors. Although I'd wait in line outside overnight for an "Anchorman" sequel.
  • "The Goods" -- The only time anything resembling a laugh escaped me was during scenes with Craig Robinson. "Alligators? Who brought alligators?"
  • "Drag Me to Hell" -- It felt like that's exactly what happened for the 99 minutes I spent watching this garbage.

Three related to an apocalypse

  • "2012" -- This wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. You can't go wrong when you take every means of natural disaster ever filmed and throw them into one movie starring John Cusack, right?
  • "The Road" -- A faithful adaptation of a remarkable novel, it lacks Cormac McCarthy's beautiful prose. Thus the emotion is drained from the story and I felt nothing at the end. I did enjoy seeing McCarthy's postapocalyptic world brought to the screen, though.
  • "Watchmen" -- I read the graphic novel a few months later and realized how badly the movie missed the mark. I found this too violent, and that's saying something.
Three I should have seen
  • "Where the Wild Things Are" -- I already regret not seeing this in a movie theater.
  • "The Hurt Locker"
  • "A Serious Man"
Three I missed that are now waiting in my Netflix queue
  • "(500) Days of Summer"
  • "Up"
  • "Extract"

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Bench-clearing brawl, Part 2

No rivalry in any professional sport was more feisty than the Blackhawks-North Stars one in the 1980s and early '90s. The fans hated each other. The players hated each other. The coaches hated each other.

All that hatred boiled over on a night 20 years ago in the old Chicago Stadium. This came to mind after I wrote about the brawl between Canada and Russia durig the 1987 World Juniors. That one still gets my vote as the worst ever due to the circumstances.

Anybody remember this one? Man, I miss those days. I never would have considered cheering for the Hawks like I do now if the North Stars hadn't been stolen away.

Monday, December 28, 2009

What. A. Joke.

Photo credit: Scott Strazzante, Chicago Tribune

Remember when I said how I was going to just enjoy the Vikings season and not worry about the inevitable letdown? Sure you do. I wrote it in a blog entry earlier this month. Right before the 10-1 Vikings turned into the 11-4 Vikings.

As it turns out, I wasn't able to enjoy anything. The collapse came faster than I imagined. In that four-game span the Vikings played themselves right out of contention for home-field advantage in the playoffs and a first-round bye.

Sure, they can still get the No. 2 seed, but now they need the Eagles to lose. Up until Adrian Peterson fumbled and Jay Cutler turned into an actual quarterback tonight, the Vikings were in control of their playoff scenario. Not so anymore.

When they trailed the Bears 23-6 in the third quarter I vowed to turn the game off and not watch the Vikings again this season. I was fed up. Then Brett Favre and the offense woke up and rallied to force overtime with an impressive fourth-quarter comeback that included two game-tying drives in the final six minutes.

But the special teams and defense again showed how they are not to be trusted. A team in serious contention for a Super Bowl does not have glaring weaknesses like the ones exposed by the Cardinals, Panthers and Bears. Oh my!

Now I don't know what to do. On one hand, not watching the season finale against the Giants will free up my Sunday. I could spend the day reading or something. On the other, I feel oddly compelled to watch the implosion, much the same way people can't resist gawking at a car crash.

Maybe I should just hope Los Angeles can lure the team away from Minnesota. That way I won't have to feel guilty when I declare allegiance to the Bears*.

* -- This statement was made in anger. I reserve the right to rescind it at a future time.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A hockey brawl like no other

I'm about 22 years late on this but I really didn't know about this event until earlier today. It's a brawl between Canada and Russia during the 1987 World Junior Hockey Championships.

I've never seen anything like it, especially when you consider the setting. It was the final game of the tournament. Canada led 4-2 on its way to a possible gold medal. Future NHL stars such as Theo Fleury, Brendon Shanahan, Pierre Turgeon, Sergei Fedorov, Alexander Mogilny and Vladimir Konstantinov played in the game.

But with 13:53 remaining in the second period, the worst bench-clearing brawl I've ever seen broke out. Fleury was at the epicenter, which should come as no surprise. Turgeon and Canada's backup goalie were the only two to not join in the fight. Turgeon remained on the bench with his head down while the 20-minute melee went on. His inaction was deemed unforgiveable by some teammates.

Both teams were kicked out of the tournament, meaning Canada went home without a medal. The 2010 WJC is under way now in Canada. But I doubt anything like this will break out.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Musical interlude -- 2009 finale

This has been a good year for me in terms of discovering new music, which I already wrote about this month. But one band I left off the list was Arcade Fire, mostly because the band didn't release anything new and didn't tour. I just heard them for the first time this year.

I actually had heard them a few times on the radio, but nothing ever stuck with me. That happens sometimes. You hear a band at one point in your life and don't think anything of them. Then you hear them later and they strike a chord.

So when I was at a local music store I just grabbed "Funeral" and gave it a shot. I loved it, enough so I went out and bought the second CD, "Neon Bible" within the same week. That one was released in 2007 and Arcade Fire has yet to make another.

I'm not sure if they have anything planned for 2010, but I sure hope so. Meanwhile, they did get some attention this year when one of their songs off "Funeral" was featured in the "Where the Wild Things Are" trailers.

Enjoy this video.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A final Christmas post ... for this year

As Christmas slowly fades away for another year I'm left feeling a little corny. So I dug up this video to share. I was a junior in high school when this song came out, but I still have vivid memories of watching this video.

The song is far superior to this one, though USA For Africa did have a Springsteen solo and duet with Stevie Wonder. It's hard to top Bono's solo here, though. He looks so young, plus he's sporting an awesome mullet.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

O Vikings Tree Redux

OK, this is big-time cheating on my part. But it's Christmas Eve and I don't have anything to blog about quickly. So I'm reaching back to earlier this month when I posted the video Kristin made to go with her version of "O Christmas Tree."

If you haven't seen it yet, please check it out. If you have seen it before, I hope you don't mind taking another look. Or you could just ignore this completely. But that doesn't seem like a very Christmassy thing to do.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What does it mean to be a fan?

Every Sunday morning during football season, it's the same thing. I get out of bed and go hang my Vikings flag from our front stoop. Sometimes Kristin does it, but either way, the flag is usually flying by 10 a.m.

I have a contest with my neighbor, a Lions fan who also hangs a flag on Sunday mornings. I'm always disappointed when I see that he's got his out there before I do. I'm also disappointed when I realize he's not aware of our contest.

When it gets close to game time, I make sure I'm wearing my purple Vikings thermal shirt under my white Adrian Peterson jersey. I look through my collection of six Vikings hats, but I always choose this one. I pour myself a Diet Pepsi or Diet Mountain Dew into the same Vikings mug I've had since the 1970s.

Then I head to my recliner where I take my good luck charm (a squirrel friend) and put a tiny Vikings helmet on her head. I place her on the Vikings couch/Kleenex dispenser that sits next to me. Then -- and only then -- am I ready for the game to start.

I own three Vikings jerseys. In addition to the hats, I have two Vikings T-shirts and one purple hoodie. A shelf in my TV room is loaded with Vikings memorabilia. I have a Vikings window flag for my car, which also has a Vikings license plate holder on the rear. Our downstairs bathroom has a Vikings shower curtain, and I have three Vikings light switch plates downstairs as well.

This is all to say, I love the Vikings. I consider myself a true fan. Yet, I know there are others who would say I'm not a good fan, that I should support my team no matter what it does. So when the Vikes play like crap and embarrass themselves and their fans on national television as they did Sunday night, I should just suck it up and say, "We'll get them next time."

[On a side note, true fans use "we" when referring to the teams they cheer for. I'm not on the team, so I don't say "we." "We" did not lose to the Panthers. The Vikings did.]

I suppose then I'm not a true fan. When the game is over -- win or lose -- my life goes on. I might be mad for a while, as I was this week, but a loss has no long-term effect on my life. When they win, I'm happy. Even that wears off after a while, though. I wasn't always like that, but I am now.

I don't get the types of fans who dress like the guy pictured above. I've never seen the appeal of being a face-painter, either. I can't fathom why someone would get on a message board and rip others for criticizing the team. And I can't understand how so many people could behave like this, even in Philly.

Living in Chicago, I see this discussion up close when it relates to baseball fans. White Sox fans are practical. When their team is good, like it was in 2005, they go gangbusters and support them. When the team is awful, they refuse to spend their hard-earned money on the bums.

Then there are Cubs fans, the ones who are so often romanticized beyond reality. They brag about sticking with their team through all their years of mediocrity and worse, yet during the times I've gone to Wrigley I hardly see anyone watching the game, especially in the bleachers which are really more like a singles bar. The game is just background.

I realize both of those descriptions are stereotypes, but which set of fans can be considered true fans? Can I consider myself a true fan even though I posted "Stick a fork in 'em," as my Facebook status Sunday night?

You tell me. What makes a fan a true fan?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I wanna drive the Zamboni

Photo credit: Steve Stearns / Duluth News-Tribune

Longtime hockey fans from Duluth will recognize the guy on the right. They’ll probably recognize the one on the left, too, but this isn’t a post about me wanting to dress like the state bird, skate on stilts, and call myself the Maroon Loon.

No, the man I’m talking about is Walt, and I loved to watch him work. I’m not alone in that feeling, I’m sure. You see, Walt drove the Zamboni at the Duluth Arena. While many fans headed to the bathrooms and concession stands between periods of high school or UMD hockey games, I stayed glued in my seat, watching Walt guide the Zamboni through its looping patterns over the ice.

I loved how clean and wet the ice looked after the machine passed over it. I loved how he sped up along the straightaways and appeared to coast into the corners without smashing into the boards.

Years later I met Walt, who was an avid bowler at the alley where I used to work. By then it was no big deal. But had I met him as a child, it would have been akin to meeting Mark Pavelich, the former Bulldog who played for the 1980 Miracle on Ice team (if you saw “Miracle,” he was one of the Coneheads).

And so began my lifelong love affair with the Zamboni. Damned if I can tell you why it’s so fascinating, but I still stay parked in my seat between periods to watch them do their work. I pull for them to clean every inch of ice, and cringe when they’ve missed a spot and have to come back. I get mad when they dare ignore their faux pas.

It is crazy how much of my hockey enjoyment is wrapped up with the Zamboni. As a senior in high school I went to the state hockey tournament with a group of friends. It was held at the old St. Paul Civic Center, which was known for its clear boards. We had seats in the corner against the glass. Throughout the entire weekend, every time the Zamboni came by we were there greeting it and its driver, Mike. Twenty-some years later and I still remember his name was Mike.

One of my strongest memories of visiting the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minn., is seeing the fourth Zamboni ever built on display. I’m secretly envious of my sister-in-law, Alicia, because she is a rink manager in Pueblo, Colo., and gets to drive the Zamboni. On a visit several years ago, she wouldn’t let me drive it, but she did pull me behind it as I imagined 20,000 people at the old Met Center watching me between periods of a North Stars game.

I’ve never been fortunate enough to sit behind the wheel, to experience what the Gear Daddies meant when they sang:
Now ever since I was young it’s been my dream / That I might drive a Zamboni machine / I’d get the ice just as slick as could be / And all the kids would look up to me.
Walt knows what that’s all about. Lucky guy.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I. Am. Iron Man.

At this point in my life I don't really care if people think I'm a geek. That's why I'm willing to admit how excited I am to see "Iron Man 2" when it is released May 7.

I love movies based on comic books, especially the ones featuring Marvel superheroes. I own the Spider-Man and X-Men trilogies on DVD, and have the original Iron Man on Blu-ray. I've seen the great ones, the good ones, the bad ones, and the horrific ones. I've found something to like in all of them, even something from "Fantastic Four."

Back in my youth I collected comics, mostly the Marvel ones I've already mentioned. Some of them are still with me in a box downstairs. I keep threatening to dig through them, but I never get around to it.

Anyway, I saw the IM2 clip a little while ago, so that's why I started thinking about all this. I just hope I'm not setting myself up for disappointment. Sequels usually don't top the originals. Plus, I make a habit of setting myself up for disappointment. We shall see.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A weird, scary Santa

Chicago has a wealth of wonderful traditions at this time of year. We were lucky enough to participate in one of them last night. But Christmas in Chicago also means the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival, the Christkindlmarket Chicago in Daley Plaza, and of course, the window displays at the former Marshall Field store on State Street.

But there is one tradition I just don't understand: the affinity for "Hardrock, Coco and Joe," a black-and-white, stop-motion animated Christmas special that began airing in the 1950s on WGN-TV.

I saw it between movies at the Music Box Theatre last night. I had only seen it one other time, but Kristin told me local car dealerships distribute a free DVD of it each Christmas season. It lasts around three minutes, but the creepy Santa sticks with you for much longer.

Take a look for yourself below. Then ask who wouldn't be forever scarred by this version of Santa Claus and his horrific, child-eating teeth? (Check out the 50-second mark and tell me I'm wrong about those teeth.)

I don't get it. Maybe some long-time Chicagoans can help explain its appeal.

Dreaming of a White Christmas and remembering It's a Wonderful Life

I hadn't even walked into the theater yet, but already the sounds of Christmas carols were greeting me in the lobby of the Music Box Theatre tonight. I was there with Kristin, and our friends Andy and Corri.

As I stepped through the doors I saw Santa Claus sitting next to an organist at the front of the packed theater. Cheerful voices rose up in singing. Winter Wonderland. Jingle Bells. Rudolph. All the easy sing-a-longs songs, yet the lyrics were still being displayed on the movie screen. People wore crazy Christmas hats and ugly, busy sweaters. Some held lighted props or shook tiny bells.

We settled into our seats and joined in, though I really just pretended to sing. Up until that moment I hadn't given much thought to it being Christmas time. Now here I was immersed in this celebration, the 26th Annual Music Box Christmas Show. It's a double-feature with "White Christmas" followed by "It's a Wonderful Life," which is my favorite Christmas movie.

I couldn't help getting a little choked up as I looked around and took in the whole scene. It was such a festive atmosphere and everybody was so happy, it made me think about how fortunate I am. Just for being there. With Kristin and with our friends.

It's something I need to remember more often.

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Year in Music -- Part II

I'm back to complete the list I began two days ago. This all took way too long to put together, so I don't think I'm going to do something similar again. It's really just a way for me to talk about me anyway, and though this is a blog, I usually strive to make it about something more universal. But with this I guess you get to see the kinds of music/bands I like and a little bit about why. So with that, it's on to the top five. Thanks for reading.

5. Patterson Hood – It wasn’t a Rawk Show like his Drive-By Truckers fans are used to, but Patterson had a hell of a performance at the Metro on June 20. Playing songs from his long-awaited solo album, “Murdering Oscar and Other Love Songs,” Hood ripped through a memorable set with his Screwtopians backing band, which featured members of DBT and Centro-matic. I missed seeing DBT this year, but this show helped make up for that. It was a big year for the Truckers, who also released a live CD and a rarities collection. The band just announced it’s switching record labels and releasing a new studio album in the spring. I can’t wait for the Truckers’ return to Chicago.

4. Bruuuuuuce!!! – I’ve seen better Springsteen shows, but the May 12 performance at the United Center may be one I remember for a long time. It may be the last time I see Springsteen perform with the E Street Band. Plenty of speculation points to the “Working on a Dream” Tour being the final full-fledged tour for the man and band whose impact influenced my life more than any other artist. It’s hard to accept for me, but they’re getting old. Clarence had to sit for most of the show this night. Max Weinberg sat out almost half the show, being replaced on drums by his talented son, Jay. Patty wasn’t there. Nothing official has been announced, so I hope I’m wrong about this. I wasn’t able to see them when they returned to the UC in September, the show they played Born to Run in its entirety. I just hope I get another chance.

3. The Duke and the King – Like I said in the first half of this post, I didn’t listen to enough new music to put together a list of the year’s best albums. But I find it hard to believe I’d hear one better than The Duke and the King’s debut CD, “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” Simone Felice left the Felice Brothers, the roots-rock band he started with his two younger brothers, to form this band with Robert Burke. The pairing is magic. As I did with Joe Pug, I ask that you really listen to this song – it’s achingly beautiful, as is much of what the album holds. I missed my chance to see them when they came through Chicago the first time. That won’t happen next time.

2. Jon Dee Graham – I first saw Jon Dee when Kristin and I lived in Texas. Though he doesn’t leave his home state all that often, thankfully when he does he usually comes through Chicago. We caught him a couple years ago and remembered a story he told between songs about how bad the food is when he’s out on the road, and how much he misses home-cooked meals and desserts while he’s away from Austin. When we were finally able to see him again, Kristin got in touch with him through Facebook and told him she wanted to bake him a pie. He requested a butter-chess pie, a staple of Texan desserts. So on Nov. 7 Kristin and I showed up, pie in hand, for Jon Dee’s show at FitzGerald’s in Berwyn. We met him backstage and he fawned over Kristin, amazed that one of his fans could be so thoughtful.

During the show Jon Dee shared his pie with the audience, even coming out to serve it with Kristin’s help.

He put on an amazing show that night, playing songs from his upcoming new CD. Afterward we stopped backstage to say goodbye. He gave Kristin a big hug and thanked her again. Then he hugged me and said, “You take care of this one.” I’m trying my best to do just that.

1. Slobberbone returns – I’m proof that you don’t need to be as whiskey-soaked as their music is to enjoy Slobberbone. Still, I imagine their live shows would be even more fun with a few belts of Jack. I first saw them in around 2001 at Antone’s in Austin with Kristin. We didn’t see them again until 2005 at the Abbey Pub in Chicago during their farewell tour. Four years later they got back together and played a short reunion tour that included a return to the Abbey on Aug. 13. Kristin and I were there, right up against the stage in front of guitarist Jess Barr (you can hear Kristin singing at about the 1:20 mark in the “Meltdown” video below). Four nights later I drove up to Green Bay with my friend, Andy, to see them again. Both shows were amazing. I hope I don’t have to wait another four years to see them again.

The Pillowman

This is Martin McDonagh, an Irish playwright and movie director ("In Bruges"). Kristin and I just saw his play, "The Pillowman," at Redtwist Theatre in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood.

The play is a violent drama told with dark humor and, according to Redtwist's Web site, "a vicious whirlpool of dazzling storytelling at the hysterical edge of creepy and encroaching, despair and doom."

I plan to talk about it more in a future post about storytelling, but for now I just wanted to put this up on my blog so I can go to bed. My Year in Music will be continued tomorrow.

Here's a video showing some rehearsal footage of the play.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My year in music -- Part 1

I haven't seen enough live shows or heard enough CDs released in 2009 to do a "best of" year in review. But by merging them into one category, I'm able to come up with a top 10 list, My Year in Music. It took me longer than expected to compile this, so I had to split it into two posts. And now I don't have to worry about coming up with something for tomorrow's post.

10. Scotland Yard Gospel Choir – This Bloodshot Records band was poised to take off in 2009. I saw them with Kristin at the Taste of Chicago on June 27. They were playing songs from a new CD that was released in September. As they hit the road for that tour amid rising critical acclaim, their van blew a tire on an Indiana interstate. Several members were severely injured and the tour was called off. They are still rehabbing. But let's hope they hit the stage again soon. A really great band.

Scotland Yard Gospel Choir (LIVE) - "And the horse you rode in on" from Bloodshot Records on Vimeo.

9. Meat Puppets – I left Pizza Luce in downtown Duluth on July 15 at 2 a.m. (so technically it was July 16) in shock. I had just seen the Meat Puppets for the first time. They were old, they were loud, they were enthusiastic. The crowd was young, loud and even more enthusiastic. I wasn't up to joining the mosh pit up front, so I slid over to the side room and watched most of the show from behind glass. It did nothing to diminish the energy. I was completely enthralled, both from the band and the fact it was happening in my hometown. Afterward as I walked down Superior Street with my friend, Mark, he joked, "Just a typical Wednesday night in Duluth." Ummm, not from what I remembered.

8. Steve Earl’s release, “Townes” – Townes Van Zandt died New Year's Day 1997 after years of substance abuse as a virtual unknown in mainstream America. But Townes was an amazing songwriter who influenced some remarkable artists, including Earle. Earle once said, "Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that." To keep his mentor/friend's memory alive, Earle released a 15-track CD this summer of Townes songs. Give it a listen sometime. And please if you don't know who Townes Van Zandt is, do some research. It's worth it.

7. Gaslight Anthem – I found out about them, bought their latest CD, "The '59 Sound," and saw them live at Bottom Lounge all within a couple weeks last spring. I'm like that when I find something new I like. I obsess. And a band so clearly influenced by Springsteen is obviously going to rate pretty highly for me.

6. Discovering Joe Pug – Ranking a step higher for me was finding out about this Chicago songwriter. He, too, is burdoned with comparisons. This time it's to Bob Dylan, which is clear to see in this video. Do me a favor and really listen to the song and lyrics. I'm drawn to songwriters, and Joe Pug is one of the best out there right now.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What's the deal with this scar?

For years I've had this mark on my left shoulder, the one pictured above. It looks like a crater or, as Kristin says, as if a burning spiked Froot Loop had been pressed into my flesh. Why anybody would do that, or how anybody could actually set fire to a Froot Loop are questions best left for another day.

I've had the mark for as long as I can remember. I'm sure at some point I asked my parents about it, found out what it was, and stored the knowledge somewhere in a compartment of my brain.

Eventually that compartment filled up and my brain began jettisoning old information so it could store new, more important things. Like Springsteen's birthday (Sept. 23, 1949 -- and, no, I did not have to Google it) or that Pete Rose got the first hit at the Metrodome, though it came during an exhibition game (I did double-check after I wrote it. But I was right. It happened on April 3, 1982, so you'll have to scroll down a bit in the link).

Anyway, back to this scar. Kristin has asked me about it from time to time, and I think at one point I told her it was some sort of vaccination scar. But I wasn't sure what it was for.

Tonight she asked again. And since I didn't have anything to blog about and I had my laptop with me, I did an Internet image search on vaccination scars. I came up with this, but be warned -- some of the images are rather disgusting.

I noticed one that looked similar to mine and found out the vaccination was for smallpox. Back when I was a little kid, getting the vaccine was routine. But Kristin doesn't have a similar scar because the vaccinations stopped in 1972, the year she was born. At that point the disease had been eradicated in the United States.

The mystery is solved. So not only will I always remember my scar is from a smallpox vaccination, I'll never forget the guy who had the first hit in Metrodome history -- Ted Williams. Wait, that's not right. Dammit.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The future of Sports Illustrated?

I haven't had much time to read about this, but it appears Sports Illustrated is creating something similar to a Kindle for its publication. I'm not sure what to think, but I do know it looks pretty cool.

Check out the YouTube video and then let me know what you think.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Reading retention

I reorganized my bookshelves last week after Kristin moved the furniture in our living room. She took all the books out to move the shelves, and when she put them back they were all out of order. Being a somewhat anal-retentive dork, this drove me nuts.

My favorite authors row was mixed up with my Irish history books, which had been separated from my Irish fiction. My Native American section was interspersed with my music biographies. Stephen King was standing next to the Best American Sports Writing collection.*

It was chaos. And I'm pretty sure Kristin did it on purpose.

But it turned out to be a good thing. Going through all my books again was a little like taking a trip to a used bookstore. There were books I haven't read yet, plus ones I had forgotten about. I looked through some of the latter kind, trying to jog my memory about their plots.

That's when it hit me -- my reading retention is abysmal. I struggle to remember specific details about many of the books I've read. Take "Miles from Nowhere" by Nami Mun. I loved the book, which has received much acclaim.

But when Kristin picked it up to read a few weeks ago, I couldn't remember anything about it, other than it was gritty and involved heavy drug use. I didn't remember anything about the narrator or what happened to her or how it ended.

Now I'm trying to figure out how that can be. I'm not an idiot (really, I'm not!), but how can my reading retention be so bad?

My theory is that I spend a lot of time paying attention to style more than plot. I'll make notes when I like a sentence or a particular turn of phrase. Maybe doing that is too distracting for my brain.

Maybe my perspective is just skewed because Kristin has a photographic memory when it comes to this kind of thing. She can't remember names of her students, but she can tell you in great detail about a scene from "Miles from Nowhere" where the narrator covers her mother with dirt while her mother was praying in the garden. I barely remembered the narrator had flashback scenes with her mother.

So what about it? Do any of you struggle like I do with retention? Do any of you have any tips to help my retention? I know there are a lot of readers out there, so please chime in.

While I wait, I'm going to bed to read the short story collection, "Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir" by Joe Meno. Just don't ask me to give you any details.

*-NOTE: This paragraph isn't 100 percent true. Big surprise, but I don't really remember where Kristin had reshelved everything. I just know it was a mess. The details I give are only for attempted humor and to give you an idea of how particular I am about organizing my books. But this is my blog, so if I want to interject a slight bit of fiction into it I will. :-D

Saturday, December 12, 2009

In a hockey state of mind

Now that there is snow on the ground and temperatures have been below freezing, I'm ready to declare hockey season is fully under way. I miss seeing games in person more often, but I still love watching games on TV.

Anyway, here's another YouTube top 10 video. It's titled "Top 10 NHL goalies most crazy/funny moments," but not all are goalie-related. I'm not sure what to make of "most crazy/funny" either. Let's just say hockey fans aren't known for their grammar skills.

Friday, December 11, 2009

He would get deliberate penalties

Anyone who's seen Slap Shot knows what the title refers to here. But if you don't know, may I ask how you've lived this long without seeing the greatest sports movie ever made?

I'm thinking of Slap Shot tonight not because I watched the Blackhawks game earlier with Kristin and a friend and recited one of my favorite lines: "I'm listening to the %&#!! song!" But because I was struggling to find something to blog about tonight.

Up until about 45 minutes ago, I had forgotten I still needed to post something to keep my streak alive. I surfed Google and Yahoo! News for odd or funny items, but nothing really spoke to me.

I headed over to YouTube and watched a few lame videos. And then I saw this. I knew I had found what I was looking for. Gotta love hockey!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Musical interlude: RIP Bruce Allen

I can't say guitarist Bruce Allen had a big impact on my life. I had friends who were much bigger fans of the Suburbs. I can only remember seeing the new-wave band, which hailed from Minneapolis, one time.

It was at the NorShor Theatre in downtown Duluth and it must have been in 1985 or so. The underage kids like me were sequestered in the balcony, but a couple of my friends -- the ones who introduced most of us to the Suburbs' music -- got down on the main floor. I remember spotting them near the stage and being bummed I wasn't down there with them.

I left the theater that night with a different perspective on not only the Suburbs, but live music in general. I'd only been to a handful of shows prior to that night, and those were all at the Duluth Arena. The Suburbs was my first show at a smaller venue.

I left the theater that night sweaty and hoarse -- and I barely knew any of the songs. As I've gotten older I've come to appreciate the band much more than when they were in their prime. They were an influence on the Replacements and did sign with a major label, yet the Suburbs never became more than the "go-to party band" in Minnesota during the early to mid 1980s.

The band is on my mind tonight because I found out Allen died Tuesday. He was only 54, which is far too young. I wish I had a better memory to share of Allen, who was also a noted graphic designer and created the band's logo. I'm sure my other friends have much more vivid accounts of Allen's impact.

For me, I still enjoy listening to the only Suburbs CD I own, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the Suburbs Have Left the Building," a 1992 anthology. I've been watching videos of them on You Tube tonight and figured I'd share this one. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Haunted: A book review

I already posted this on Facebook today, but figured it would work here as well. Plus, I added a little to it.

I just finished reading "Haunted" by Chuck Palahniuk and wanted to write about it while everything was still fresh. It took me several attempts before I finally got through the whole thing. That had more to do with how disturbing the material is rather than it being a bad book. I'm glad I kept with it though. I don't think I can recommend it to anybody unless you've got a really strong stomach.

The book is broken up into 23 short stories interlocked within the main story of a group of people trapped without food and electricity. It's supposed to be a "writers' retreat," which I found rather funny. I wonder if Palahuniuk is commenting on the value of retreats or if I'm reading something into it.

The first story, "Guts," nearly made me sick. Palahuniuk says in the afterword he's had 71 people faint when he's read the story in public. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but I tend to believe it. It was really hard to get through. It was after reading that part the first time I decided to put the book down for more than a year.

My biggest complaint about it, though, was that there were too many characters. Because of that, I had a hard time caring about any of them. Also, none of them had real names. Instead we have Saint Gut-Free, Reverend Godless, Director Denial and others. Palahniuk gives them all interesting back stories, but they still seemed two-dimensional as characters.

If you have a strong stomach and are not easily offended, give it a try. I'd love to compare notes with somebody on this book.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The best wife ever!

I know I've said this before, but I have a pretty awesome wife. Tonight Kristin took me to dinner and then we went to a basketball game. She even knew when one of the teams was trying a half-court trap.

And that's not even the best part. Earlier today she asked if I wanted to stop at Best Buy to pick up "The Wire" complete series on DVD, which was massively reduced in price. I triple-checked with her to make sure she was serious, and then we were on our way to Best Buy.

So I'm now the proud owner of every episode of the best drama in the history of television. And I'm one damn lucky guy.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Boxing myself in

I enjoy watching almost any movie or TV show that involves reporters. Sometimes I can even relate it to my own experiences as a sports writer, as was the case last night after I watched “Resurrecting the Champ.”

The movie, based on a magazine piece by J.R. Moehringer, starred Josh Hartnett and Samuel L. Jackson. Hartnett played the Moehringer character, though many liberties were taken. I imagine Moehringer wasn’t flattered by being portrayed as a journalist more interested in the story he wanted to tell rather than the truth.

The story centers on a reporter who discovers a homeless man claiming to be a former heavyweight title contender. The boxer is played by Jackson, whose performance alone is worth watching the film. Along the way, the reporter learns something isn’t right about the boxer’s claims.

In the movie, he discovers that after the story is published, and even then he debates about whether to come forward with the truth. As I watched I grew increasingly annoyed that nobody asked the reporter to verify his facts. It seemed there was no fact-checking process at all. At least one other journalist was annoyed by that, too.

The general public may perceive journalism that way, but in the vast majority of cases that’s not the reality. The old journalism adage is if your mother says she loves you, check it out. In other words, don’t take anybody’s word as sole proof of anything. Publishing a cover story without anybody double-checking the facts is preposterous.

In Moehringer’s original, he uncovered the lies during his reporting process. And he was able to incorporate them into a story that was included in the Best American Sports Writing of the Century.

The article is an important lesson for journalists about corroborating everything. Also, you should be willing to let the story take you in a different direction than you originally planned. You never know, it could end up becoming something better, such as was the case for Moehringer. Tom Junod did a similar thing with this story in Esquire, which I mentioned in an earlier post.

I just wish I had done the same thing two years ago. I was writing a freelance article about the Mooseheart football team. I was still working at the Sun, so the reporting for this story was done on my own time. I felt I needed to come up with a structure first and then plug in the details as I uncovered them. I settled on breaking it into four sections, one for each quarter of the team’s homecoming game, and within each part I focused on a different player.

I think it turned out all right. You can judge for yourself by reading it here.

But it could have been better if only I’d stepped back and listened to the nagging voice inside me. One of the players I met was Floyd Mays, a senior who wore the same jersey number his older brother had when he played for the Red Ramblers. It was also the same number worn by Floyd’s coach, Gary Urwiler, when he was a star at the school in the 1980s.

Late in the reporting process I met an old timer who often returned to Mooseheart despite living in Milwaukee. He was a former football player who had come to Mooseheart as an infant. And he had worn the same jersey number as Floyd, Floyd’s brother and Urwiler (I believe it was No. 21 or No. 22).

Right there I had a thread connecting the Mooseheart tradition through multiple generations of football players. It just wasn’t the story I had in mind. To switch that late in the process would have been too time-consuming.

So I forced it into the box I’d already created. The story I turned in was truthful. I didn’t make anything up. I double-checked details with the kids’ families and friends. No, my sin was ignoring the whispers coming from the real story.

It still pisses me off now because I know it could have been a great story. At least I was able to salvage something from it – a lesson.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Skol Vikings!

I am doing my best to not get too excited about the Vikings this season. Their 10-1 start is better than I expected, and it's been fun to watch even with a certain No. 4 at quarterback (strange, but as the season has gone on he's looking more natural in the Purple).

But optimism and Vikings fans have had a rocky relationship. That's because the Vikings have a history of disappointing us. For me it started with the Vikings' fourth Super Bowl loss. Honestly, I don't remember much about Super Bowl XI, but I do know I watched the 33-14 loss to the Raiders.

That feeling of disappointment has never left me when it comes to watching Vikings games. And for good reason. No team has lost more playoff games than the Vikings. But it's not just the losses -- it's the way they've lost.

There was the Darrin Nelson Drop in the 1987 NFC Championship game. Then there was the 1994 playoff loss to the Giants in which the Vikings blew a 10-3 halftime lead while their quarterback tandem of Jim McMahon and Sean Salisbury (egad!) was knocked silly.

But that was nothing compared with the 1998 NFC Championship game, which unfairly is blamed on Gary Anderson. Sure he missed the field goal that would have given the Vikings a 10-point lead over the Falcons, all but clinching a trip to the Super Bowl. But it was the defense that let the Falcons march down the field in the closing seconds of regulation and tie the game before winning in overtime. It still hurts.

And who could forget the 2001 NFC Championship game? Apparently the Vikings did. They forgot to even show up in an embarrassing 41-0 loss to the Giants. Ugh.

So forgive me if I don't want to be too excited for this year's team. I feel like I'm just waiting for the inevitable crash. I know I'm not alone, either. I think deep down all long-time Vikings fans are holding their breath.

Yet, here I am writing this wearing a Vikings hoodie over a Vikings T-shirt. My Vikings hat sits next to me, waiting patiently to be put on my head when the game starts in two hours. When it gets closer to game time, I'll don my Adrian Peterson jersey. The Vikings flag has been flying in front of the Minnesota Embassy since 10 this morning, a good nine hours prior to kickoff.

I do this because ... well, I guess because I'm crazy. I somehow manage to hold onto some tiny bit of optimism despite all the disappointment. So screw the past! I'm going to enjoy the season and stop worrying about what might happen down the road. Skol Vikings!!!!!

(And, yes, I realize my blatant optimism has just doomed the Vikings.)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Christmas song with a Vikings twist

Kristin loves Christmas. Most years she decorates our house with not one, not two, but three Christmas trees. This year she went even further and decorated a fourth one. The new one is draped in all things Vikings, including an Adrian Peterson football ornament and Vikings candy canes.

And then she went even beyond that, creating a song to celebrate the Vikings Christmas Tree. We made the video below so we could share the Christmas/Vikings spirit with even more people. (You may have to crank up your computer speaker volume in order to hear it)

In case you missed them, here are the full lyrics to O Vikings Tree:

O Vikings Tree, O Vikings Tree!
O how we love our Vikings!

With Adrian Peterson
on the line!
right behind!


The defense blitzes
all night long!
And Jared Allen
leads the throng!


They’ll score touchdowns
and field goals!
A saftey’s nice,
let’s beat those trolls!


We sing our song,
and watch the games.
Our Viking’s are great,
your team’s lame!


Friday, December 4, 2009

Pulling the goalie and other sports-related innuendos

I realize I’m not always the most mature person. I still giggle when I hear the word “poop,” so I’m aware my sense of humor needs an upgrade to even be considered juvenile. To drive that point home, here’s a knock-knock joke that still makes me laugh whenever I hear the name Emerson. Just ask Kristin.

Who’s there?
Emerson who?
Emerson nice tits, bitch.

I know it’s misogynistic and offensive. And juvenile. Extremely juvenile. I first heard it in high school almost 25 years ago, but even now I just chuckled when I wrote it. I’m sorry.

Nowhere is my juvenile humor more apparent than when I’m watching sports. Sexual innuendos or double entendres are everywhere. Simply turn on a game, let your mind plummet into the gutter (for some of my friends that’s not a far drop) and you will be amazed at how almost anything can sound dirty if you try. Sometimes you don’t really even have to try.

In hockey you can pull your goalie or go 5-hole. Football has tight ends and more penetration than a Jenna Jameson video (so I’ve heard … I’m not all that familiar with her work). In basketball you can take it hard to the hole. Gymnasts stick the landing, while batters try to avoid the high, hard one.

Tonight a new one came to my attention. It seems USA Curling has joined with its sponsor Kodiak to sell condoms to raise awareness of the worldwide HIV and AIDS problem. The name of their condoms? Hurry Hard.

My curling friends know this is what is often shouted while the stone slides down the ice toward the house (there I go again). The skip yells this to the sweepers to sweep the rock harder (that’s what she said). By doing this, the rock will go straighter and faster (really, this is getting ridiculous).

According to the story, a member of USA Curling joked that hurry hard would be a good name for a condom. And the project was born.

I’ve probably overlooked some other good innuendos, which I’m sure some of you will bring to my attention. It’s just as well. I need a blow after ballin’ earlier tonight anyway.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My stories make it to the big leagues

OK, technically they weren't "my" stories. They were two I had assigned to me from the annual Radiological Society of North America meeting at McCormick Place this week.

One of the stories I did was about a study that found kids are still swallowing the safety tabs on pop cans. You can see that article here if you're interested (it's on the front page but it's not the main story so you might have to scroll a little bit).

As I was digging around the Interwebs tonight trying desperately to find something to blog about that didn't involve Tiger, his wife or his ... um ... 9-iron, I came across a Reuters article written about the safety tab study.

The same thing happened when I checked on another story I'd written, this one about how childhood obesity could lead to spinal disk disease. You can find that one here on page 8. The Reuters article is here.

I thought it was kind of cool and figured I'd share it. I don't get bylines for the stories I do for RSNA, but that's all right by me. The compensation more than makes up for that.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Musical interlude

Is it a cop-out to already be posting something like this, just the second day into my one-entry-per-day-for-December decree? Maybe. But I had a long day and I'm tired and I want to kick back in my recliner and watch a movie or something.

I've had this song in my head all day. It's on the Drive-By Truckers latest album, but it's a cover song. Here's the original from a pretty original artist, Warren Zevon. He left us far too early.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

From the ashes

Much like the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes (or the X-Men character rising from the ocean), I am resurrecting my blog. I've been neglecting it for too long, mostly because I'm not sure what I want to do with it.

When I started this, my intention was to document the unemployment process as I lived it. I envisioned this being a mixture of my personal details and helpful tips or links to aid others. I did that to some degree, but never to the extent I intended. So that rules out that purpose for my blog.

Another thing I wanted to do was to explain my transition away from being a sports writer. I did a lot of that early on with this. But as I've drifted farther from my life in the newsroom, the blog drifted further from that as well.

Now I find myself trying to get my freelancing career rolling with some magazine work, but I have not written anything about how that is going or how it happens I'm being pulled back into a direction I thought I'd abandoned.

So my blog is not really about my transition anymore, either.

About the only thing I think I've accomplished with this is to give myself a forum to write. That was what I missed more than anything when I first left The Sun (yes, even more than the friendships). Yet there have been dozens of times I wanted to blog about something and never got around to doing it.

So what exactly am I trying to do here? Does it even matter? If I just ended the blog, would anybody notice? Has anybody even noticed I haven't posted anything in almost a month?

I have a lot of questions. Must be the reporter in me still fighting to get out. But with no answers forthcoming, I figure I'll work my way through this and see if I discover what it is I'm trying to accomplish here.

Kristin and our poet friends are often challenge themselves by writing one poem per day for an entire month. Kristin is doing that for December. I decided I'm going to do the same thing with this blog.

That's nothing earth shattering, I know. Many, many bloggers post things every day. It's kind of the point of blogging. But for me, I've always tried to make each post more like an essay. That's hard to do more than once or twice a week for me.

So I'll probably have a lot of filler days. Days where something on YouTube seems particularly entertaining. Or I'll stumble on an interesting article relating to writing, such as this one from Stephen King about Raymond Carver.

Whatever happens, I'm determined to stick with it for the next 30 posts (31 counting this one). I'm hoping I'll uncover just what it is I'm trying to accomplish here. Who knows, maybe I'll discover my title for this blog has been my purpose all along. Maybe I've just wanted to give everybody a glimpse Beneath This Dirty Hood.