Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Great article from Sunday's LA Times

When your child has a certain disease, your eyes become trained to see it in print and immediately read the newspaper or magazine article. Out here in Los Angeles, Bill Plaschke is on of the great sports columnists for the L.A. Times. I have read his columns periodically and always enjoyed his opinions. I did not know that his brother has cystic fibrosis, so it surprised me when I read it in the wonderful article he wrote for Sunday's edition of the Times. Cf does not factor into the point of the article, but the fact that Plaschke's brother is 34 and "winning the battle" is wonderful to hear. The article is about Tony Gwynn, the great San Diego Padre ballplayer who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this past Sunday. I wish there were more players like Gwynn in every sports league. Enjoy:

A Hall of Famer as sweet as his swing
Bill Plaschke

July 29, 2007 (LA TIMES)

This is a Tony Gwynn story. But, as with every Tony Gwynn story, it is about somebody else.

It was 20 years ago in Cincinnati. I was covering the San Diego Padres for this newspaper. My little brother Andrew had joined me on the trip.

It was the early evening hours after a day game. I was in the hotel room finishing work. Andrew was in the hotel lobby waiting impatiently for dinner.

As you may remember from a column several years ago, Andrew suffers from cystic fibrosis. At 13, the terminal illness kept him thin and small.

Swallowed by an overstuffed chair in an elegant hotel lobby, Andrew wasn't easily noticed.

Tony Gwynn noticed him.

Tony Gwynn didn't even know him, and he noticed him.

Upon returning from the game, Gwynn saw him sitting alone, looking lost, so he walked up, sat down, and started talking.

He talked hitting, he talked life. Andrew eventually introduced himself and they talked some more. At one point, Andrew wondered why one of the best players in baseball was hanging out in a hotel lobby on a Saturday.

That's when the pizza arrived.

Keeping with his nightly ritual, Gwynn had ordered a pizza that he would eat in his room while watching videotape.

Only this time, he opened it up on the expensive lobby furniture and shared it with Andrew.

By the time I got downstairs, Gwynn was waving goodbye and disappearing up the stairs, leaving Andrew with crusts and memories.

The next day I thanked Tony, and, typically, he shrugged.

"Thanks for what?" he said. "For eating dinner?"

Today Andrew is 34 and still winning the battle against CF. During one of our daily phone calls, I asked him if he remembered his time with Tony.

"It's one of the stories of my life, and a story that gets even better," he said. "Beginning Sunday, I can tell everyone I had dinner with a Hall of Famer."

In a way, many of us can.

When Gwynn is inducted into the Hall of Fame today, he carries with him the memories of those he touched in ways that had nothing to do with ball or bat.

His sweetest attribute wasn't his swing, it was his personality. His biggest hits weren't on the field, but in the lives of those who were lucky enough to brush against him.

People ask me who, in my 27 years in this business, is the best player I have covered.

It is Tony Gwynn. There is no question. There is nobody second. I am not alone.

His Cooperstown plaque needs a soundtrack. His Cooperstown wing needs a couch.

For two decades, Gwynn was the most approachable, accommodating athlete not only in baseball, but in all of sports.

One question would lead to a discussion. A five-minute interview would last an afternoon. He never talked about himself, he talked about the game.

He brought you into its wonders, he mesmerized you with its charms. He made you laugh at its foibles.

Then you would write the easiest story in the world, using Gwynn's words to spread that same gospel to the readers.

He was a gap hitter, indeed, bridging the gap between the average fan and his sometimes complicated sport, warming a chilly relationship in his giant embrace.

When bad losses sent the clubhouse into tension and the players into hiding, Gwynn was always at his locker to take the punches.

When a timid reporter was afraid to ask a question, Gwynn would ask it for him. When an embattled reporter was being harassed by other players, Gwynn would literally stand beside him.

His cynical young teammates thought he should be meaner, but he couldn't. The gruff veterans wanted him to stop smiling so much, but he wouldn't.

"How hard is it to be nice to people?" Gwynn asked me once. "How hard is it to promote the game I love?"

Because he spent his career in the relative shadows of San Diego, the sports world never fully appreciated his impact. Because he never promoted himself, few understood how much he promoted the game.

Remember that celebrated moment when fellow Cooperstown inductee Cal Ripken Jr. circled Camden Yards slapping high-fives with fans after breaking the consecutive games record?

In a way, Tony Gwynn did that every day of his career.

"He was the best interview I've ever had, by far," said Bob Nightengale, USA Today baseball writer with 22 years on the beat. "And it wasn't just me, it was everybody. He treated a high school reporter the same way he treated a reporter from '60 Minutes.' "

On my first day on the Padres beat for The Times' San Diego bureau in 1987, volatile manager Larry Bowa engaged in a screaming match with another reporter, literally chasing him out of his office. The team's best player saw me wandering around the clubhouse a few minutes later and stuck out his hand.

"Hey, my name's Tony Gwynn," he said. "I'm here if you need me."

Man, did we ever need him.

During a period when baseball players became flush with money and ego while their popularity was being flushed down the toilet, Gwynn was its best player-ambassador, even when nobody was looking.

George Dohrmann, a writer for Sports Illustrated, was an intern for a San Diego newspaper when he approached Gwynn for his first baseball interview.

"I was a nobody, yet he invites me to sit down and talk, and I'm thinking, wow, all baseball players are going to be like Tony Gwynn," Dohrmann said, pausing. "And here I am today, interviewing Barry Bonds."

No baseball player was like Tony Gwynn.

You could criticize him, even on highly sensitive subjects, and he would understand. The San Diego Union-Tribune once ran a chart on Gwynn's annual weight gains, infuriating the slugger.

"But a day later, you wouldn't have known we ever ran the story," said Tom Krasovic, longtime Padres beat writer for the Union-Tribune. "He held no grudges. He was the same old Tony."

Barry Bloom, a former Padres beat writer known for his critical stories, remembers when the club voted to stop talking to him.

"After the vote, Tony came right over to me and said that, while he had to vote with his teammates, I could talk to him whenever I wanted," Bloom said. "I never forgot that."

Nick Canepa, longtime Union-Tribune columnist, remembers running a quote from Gwynn that was critical of booing fans.

The next day, television reporters rushed to Gwynn to check the quote's accuracy. Canepa didn't use a tape recorder, so it would have been easy for Gwynn to deny the quote and save face. In fact, many players in his situation have done exactly that.

"Not Tony, never Tony," Canepa said. "He stood by the quote. He always did. He was best of the best."

I was going to call Gwynn for this story, but, you know, he has shared enough, spread enough, sold enough.

Can a bunch of us get in a word edgewise?

That word would be thanks.

Monday, July 30, 2007

From the Malchus Vaults...

While searching for a Jonathan Franzen short story sent to me a couple years ago, I came across a folder of old journal entries that date back to my senior year of high school. Included amongst this drivel is a letter to an ex-girlfriend and a lot of bad poetry. So, I thought I would share with you all, my ode to Roy Orbison. But first, a bit of history.

When Roy Orbison died in December of 1988, I was a freshman at Bowling Green State University. I had become attached to his music ever since hearing "In Dreams" featured in "Blue Velvet" and seeing the great Orbison perform on Saturday Night Live soon thereafter (I believe that Dennis Hopper was the host). Orbison had just been involved with the Traveling Wilburys and performed his final concert in Cleveland when he died. I can't explain why I became so moved by his death. Looking back, my reaction made no sense to me. The night of his death, I called the BG radio station to get some Orbison played... and they didn't have any! Although, they did have the single of "Handle With Care" by the Wilburys, which they played two times in a row for me. I hung a picture of Orbison on my dorm room door and soon I became known as that geek with the dead guy's picture on his door. I could take the jokes. But when someone defaced my picture or Orbison, I lost it.

Again, I can't explain my behavior. Perhaps because Orbison reminded me of my dad (in his demeanor and the way he looked), I felt like his death sort of tied into my dad's own mortality. Who really knows what I was thinking. I was 19 and dumb. Anyway, after the incident with the picture on the door, I called my friend Bob and said to him, "They just don't understand, man." Can you say "freak"?

After that phone call, I sat down to write one of the angriest pieces I have ever come up with and I'd like to share it with you now. So...


He was lonely and dreamed of candy colored
sand men
He cried, only for the lonely, and
He loved pretty women.
But when my hero was dead,
They all laughed instead.
Is it so much to ask for respect?
Does anyone remember what an idol is,
Or do they only care about money?

(Dec. 7, 1988)

Ugh. Cue the finger snaps.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

The day was spent preparing for the birthday party of my father. He turns 70 on August 1 and since mom and dad are in town, it was a perfect (and rare) opportunity to celebrate with him. The disappointment he felt last week when I told him we wouldn’t be able to drive to Tucson next weekend wasn’t visible tonight when he entered the house to banners Sophie hung, two huge mylar balloons, handmade cards and a crown Soph constructed out of printer paper. Buying any gift for him has become more and more difficult as the years go by. The man has everything he’s ever wanted. I wound up buying him the recent autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and a collection of Artie Shaw’s best music. He seemed genuinely excited about the Shaw cd. In fact, he told me (as we were listening to the music) that he’s always preferred Shaw’s clarinet playing to Benny Goodman’s. I guess that thirty minutes I spent wandering through Barnes and Nobles scarce music department was worth it.

Reading over the liner notes of the Shaw cd, his life seemed very fascinating. He gave up his music career at his peak to become an author and was more interested in furthering his mind than furthering his pocket book. Wouldn’t that make for an interesting film someday? How many stories about intellectual clarinet players who dated Billie Holiday can there be? I wish I could write it and film that story for my dad. Add that to the growing list of stories I wish I could accomplish for him. Here I am, 37, and I’m still trying to please him and make him proud.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Basement Songs- "Ana Ng" by They Might Be Giants

If you should find yourself in North Olmsted, Ohio with a few extra minutes, you can drive past the North Olmsted high school. There, if you know where to look, you can see a brown brick, perfectly centered between two windows on the way to the soccer practice field at the back of the school. Because it is brown, this brick blends in nicely with the rest of the orange and tan skin of the school. That layer of burnt umber, oil based paint was applied to the wall on a humid, scorching afternoon in August 1990. At the tail end of my time working on the North Olmsted Board of Education summer maintenance crew, I decided to leave my mark on the school in which I grew up and started the path to adulthood.

For three years, I worked alongside a group of college guys my age and a group of men in their 40’s and 50’s (“lifers” as we called them) who were the full time maintenance men for the school system. Each year, our summers were spent sweating our asses off in the Ohio heat, primarily painting classrooms and the exterior trim of the schools. My friend, Jeff Dillon, landed me the job and I convinced him to persuade Mike Clancy, the head of the maintenance department, to hire Steve, too. Like I said, I matured during that period. I learned how to be a better friend, an okay boyfriend (which would provide me with the lessons to be a good husband someday) and a halfway decent painter. Those laborious days were full of “Diner”-esque conversations; lazy, introspective moments; and a lot of good music playing from my Emerson dual cassette boom box. Although there were many songs I grew to love during that time, many of those tunes hold only nostalgic value to me these days. However, one song remains a favorite basement song and it is one I would include in my personal top ten: They Might Be Giant’s “Ana Ng”.

In 1988, having graduated from high school, I anxiously awaited the fall and what Bowling Green State University had in store for me. I hoped to learn everything I needed to know about becoming a better writer and a filmmaker. I knew the road was going to be long and tough, and that’s where my anxiety came from. Was I up to this challenge? What if everything I tried to do was shit? What if I failed and wound up back in Ohio the rest of my life. At that age, there was nothing worse, to me, than failing and winding up living with my parents. On top of all of this, I was still heartbroken from my high school sweetheart moving away and the feeble attempt at making a long distance relationship work crumbling miserably. To paraphrase Crash Davis, I was “dealing with a lot of shit, there.” Luckily, Steve, my best friend and the one guy I looked up to more than my brother, was returning from his freshman year at UNC. I was able to tap into his knowledge and listen to his stories of what to expect: Girls, parties, long nights theorizing and drinking, hard classes, dickhead teachers, if you’re lucky, a solid roommate and some new, good friends. There was also independence and freedom. And of course, there was the music.

College radio was in its heyday, featuring the Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen, Inxs, the Minutemen, the ‘Mats and so many more there isn’t enough space (you should all check out the exemplary Rhino collection, “Left of the Dial” which is 4 cd’s of outstanding “underground” music from the 80’s). One of the albums Steve was hooked on was “Lincoln”, by a couple of guys named John who hailed from New York. John Flansburgh and John Linnell write quirky, off beat songs that fit into no particular style. At that point, in the 80’s they still played all of the instruments on their songs, which ranged from accordion to saxophone to guitar. I had never heard They Might Be Giants (TMBG) before that summer, but Steve’s enthusiasm for “Lincoln” was infectious. The moment the guitar and drum machine of “Ana Ng” charged into my ears, my life changed. There is something so hypnotic about the driving music; it makes you want to bounce up and down, bobbing your head like one of the characters on the “Peanuts” cartoons. And Flansburgh’s nasally delivery carries a hint of sadness that this woman, Ana, is not his. Either he’s lost her love, or it was never his to begin with, that's a question left for us to decide.

I’ll be honest; to this day I barely have a clue what the hell they are talking about. “Make a hole in a gun perpendicular/To the name of this town in a desk-top globe”. Huh? Still, it’s the delivery. The passion. Whatever the hell these guys are talking about; their sincerity moves me every time I hear the song. The highlight of the song comes at the bridge.

“When I was driving once I saw this painted on a bridge
I don’t want the world, I just want your half.”

The bitterness of that line, delivered coolly by a woman’s voice, always affects me. What happened to this couple? And how do I avoid that happening to me (I would soon learn that you can’t avoid unhappy endings to relationships that were never meant to be).

Knowing that it was a drum machine should have turned off the drummer in me. But learning that these two New York guys had played all the instruments and programmed the drum machine (well) intrigued me. Their D.I.Y. approach inspired me and does so to this day. I thought, “If these two guys can produce a melancholic masterpiece (as well as an album that still stands up after twenty years), imagine what I might achieve some day”. That thinking helped me get through the making of King’s Highway” and just about any script I write. And that was, perhaps, one of the most important lessons I learned over the course of those three summers: The possibilities of the future are endless.

Each summer I was on the paint crew, and each subsequent summer after that, I have returned to this song. It is the only appropriate way I know how to kick off the month of June. Even after the release of TMBG’s breakthrough album, “Flood”, in 1990, if I didn’t hear “Ana Ng” at least 70-100 times, I felt incomplete. The song became an anthem for three of the best years of my young adulthood. My life would be empty without the time I spent wasting away those days in North Olmsted. Most important, my friendship with Steve grew into brotherhood over that time and if only for that, I am grateful. I believe that is why I chose to paint the brick that summer. In 1991, Steve would graduate and I would be on an internship in California. 1990 was our last summer of seeing each other every morning, calling one another in the afternoon and just getting together to do nothing but shoot hoops or cruise the valley. As we’ve gotten older, there are no more days like that, which makes visits like the one Steve bestowed upon us this spring all the more special.

There were actually three bricks painted that summer, one at each school we worked at, Chestnut Elementary, the middle school and the high school. I have no clue where the other two brown bricks are located. I believe they are high up, near the roof, and hidden from sight. The day we decided to paint the high school brick was a typical afternoon. Sweltering, dripping heat. I’m sure our clothes stank of sweat, alcohol from the night before, grime from not showering, and paint fumes. Steve and I were separated from the rest of the crew, on a scaffold. We were in the wide open, yet we couldn’t have been more alone. With no one around, it suddenly struck me to paint that brick. "We should paint one here", I must have said. Steve, ever the cautious one likely replied with an unsure, "Okay." The two of us shared a look, each one daring the other to be the first one to deface the school property. Mind you, we had defaced a lot of property in one way or another, but this was right out in the open. There would be no denying what we had done if caught by one of the lifers.

I was younger, more ballsy back then and I took my brush and painted half the brick. Steve had no choice but to finish the work. After he was done, being a perfectionist, I decided to add a second coat of paint, to make sure it looked good. We were careful, making sure that none of the burnt umber bled on to the mortar between the bricks. Time had stopped. We stepped back and admired each other's handiwork. So consumed were we by this moment, we didn't hear the department pickup truck approaching down the driveway. Steve was the first to notice and exclaimed,
“Someone’s coming!” Mike Clancy, our boss, drove by, his arm hanging out the window and his seat back to accommodate his big belly. With his dark glasses and his finely trimmed mustache, he looked directly at us, my paint brush dangling by my side. Were we caught? He waved and drove on, not noticing, or, maybe, he just didn’t care. Steve and I looked at each other. He gave me his “Can you believe that?” look and I laughed. Then, we stepped back and admired the handiwork.

If you should find yourself in North Olmsted, Ohio with a few extra minutes, you can drive past the North Olmsted high school. There, if you know where to look, you can see that brown brick, perfectly centered between two windows on the way to the soccer practice field at the back of the school. That brown brick is a testament to my love and friendship with Steve. It is a reminder of the people in my past who have left this earth, including my friend, Jeff Dillon, who fought and supported me for many years. If you pause to admire the brick, listen hard enough and the echoed laughter of young men ready to take on the world will blow by you with a summer gush of wind. Close your eyes and wait a little longer and I’m sure you will hear the far off strains of “Ana Ng” playing somewhere in the distance.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Boston 1, Indians 0

An exceptional effort by C.C. Sabathia was wasted last night when the Inidans once again wasted scoring opportunites with men on base. I guess you can't really complain about a 1-0 loss to the best team in baseball, but at some point, these guys are going to have to put up some runs if they hope to make it to the World Series. This isn't 1997 anymore. And man, I dread saying this, but we have to keep an eye out for those damn Yankees.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

One of the visits I was looking forward to on our trip back to Ohio was with Matt's brother and his mother. As is always the case, schedules were hard to coordinate and I wasn't able to see them until late Wednesday night. 11:00 pm, to be exact.

Rain came down on a surprisingly dry Northeastern Ohio, just in time to salvage dead lawns and relationships gasping for life. The time we spent at Matt's mom's house was very pleasant. The three of us just hung out, having some laughs and catching up. By about midnight, though, we decided to leave and go have some beers at a local bar. I bid Matt's mom good bye and off we went into the drizzling night. She appears to be coping as well as can be expected. I was happy to see her.

It was off to Arturo's, a dark watering hole that has a kitchen and serves up half way decent food, if memory serves me well (it was actually one of three places Julie and I went to on our first date). The place was empty and the bartender, call him Mike, was not very happy to see two new patrons enter the bar. He was getting ready to close up and our presence put a kink in his plan to get out early. Besides my dead friend's brother, there were a couple of female barflies hanging at the bar, sipping hard liquor. Everyone in the bar was a regular, except me.

The time at Arturo's was fun. We reminisced some, bullshitted and made fun of each other. Outside, lightning flashed as the rain continued to fall in various spurts. On the jukebox, I dropped in five dollars and tried to select some tunes that weren't full of the sad memories that hung over this visit. Of course, there were some Journey songs, some Van Morrison, a Prince song, Otis Redding... and a bunch of other tracks. You can really get a lot of music for five bucks.

I should have known that the evening would eventually take a dark and uncomfortable turn as more alcohol flowed. While I kept to the beers, my companion soon switched to hard shots of whiskey. Still, we were having fun. There were plenty of laughs tempered by the distant looks away from each other’s gazes to avoid near tears. Then, as Johnny Cash began singing "Ring of Fire", Mike the bartender and the remaining lady in the place got into a vicious argument.

Turns out she works at Arturo's and there was a discrepancy about her tips. This argument escalated into angry slaps on the bar top and numerous uses of the word "fuck". If ever there was an indication that it was time to go, it was this exchange between the two Arturo's employees.

We drove into the sleeping North Olmsted city night, our destination another bar in town, The Phoenix. It was closed. So, we decided we'd hit Denny's for an early morning meal. As we approached Denny's, I saw that my brother in law's brother's bar was still open (try and figure that one out). A quick u-turn and we entered for last call at Hanna's.

Inside, another round of drinks was ordered. I once again stopped by the jukebox. With only 3 selections before we had to leave, I chose another (rare) Journey song, and two others. At the bar, Matt's brother began to take on some of the same mannerisms that Matt did when he was drunk. He was getting loud. There was no censor on him. Anything that came to mind, he expressed. There was some slight flirtation with the bartender (a woman who couldn’t have been more than 21). And anger started to rise. What had been friendly jabs at each other took on an edge. I couldn’t tell if he was having fun with some of the comments he was making to me, or if he was really pissed. We should have gone home after that. But, the two of us had made a decision to get some Moon Over MiHammy sandwiches at Denny’s.

As you can guess, Denny’s was dead. We were seated in a section where I think only the idiots up that late are placed at 2:30 in the morning. It was obvious that the two of us had been drinking. I could feel the alcohol stink coming out of my body. To top that off, my friend’s brother was now getting loud. Our conversation became pointless observations. I was uncomfortable. He noticed it. I began making mental notes about the people stuck working at a Denny’s at the wee hours of the morning. Our server was a woman who seemed a couple of years older than me. She wore a wedding band and seemed very nice, but a little sad, or tired. Why was she here? How did she wind up as a late night employee? Everyone wandering around the restaurant wore the same glum smiles. At that moment, about five minutes before our food arrived, I wanted to leave. I wanted to hug my children and kiss my wife.

A couple of teenagers entered and sat across from us. They looked like typical skater kids. They kept quiet and ordered food. Behind us, a young couple ate their food and sat closely, like kids in the early stages of love will do. And in a corner, and older couple entered and promptly told their server that they only had ten bucks to spend. Their server responded as if she was used to hearing this type of story. She quickly showed the man, overweight and missing a several of teeth, what the best selections would be for him and his wife.

I felt like I’d stumbled into a brightly lit, humid David Lynch film.

As soon as our food arrived, I dug in, rushing to finish my greasy ham, egg and overly butter toasted sandwich. I wanted out. I wanted home. I don’t stay up until 3:00 anymore. Then, my companion made some loud comments to the skater kids.

“You guys have fun skatin’ tonight?”

The question itself sounded innocent, but the tone was abrasive, almost challenging them. They both glared at us. “What did you say?”

“Skating? You skaters?”

They were in no mood. Or maybe this is the typical exchange between people in Denny’s on the edge of sunrise. But I was nervous and felt I had to step in and apologize. “He’s tired,” I said, or something along those lines. Then I turned and asked for our check.

On the drive home, he turned to me and said, “Uh, dude, don’t be alarmed, but I’m a little drunk.”

A very long silence fell between us as he drove us back to his house where I picked up my father in law’s car to return to the Flynn’s.

“I guess you’ve had enough of me. You probably don’t want to get together on Friday.”

He had read my silence. He was right. I felt like a dick. I gave him some lame ass excuse. As soon as he pulled the car over, I jumped out and drove home. Crawling into the quiet Flynn home felt like returning to earth after a crazed plane ride.

I don’t know what I was expecting. I never do when the two of us get together. Are we both trying to replace Matt in our lives? Is that right? Maybe he should just rest in peace and we shouldn’t be placing the burden of expectations on our relationship. I truly care about and love this guy, but I can’t spend each visit with him like this one. It’s not healthy. At some point, if this friendship is going to continue, I’ll have to be up front. I’ll have to be honest about my concerns and feelings.

Maybe we’ll just get coffee next time.
The Indians lost last night. However, I believe they were destined to lose no matter how erratic Jake Westbrook pitched. Boston pitcher Jon Lester, who left the bigs last year to battle lymphoma, was returning to the majors for the first time since defeating the cancer. HE was the story of the night and being the optimist that I am, I wanted the guy to win the game. The entire WORLD wanted the guy win. It's just the way things should be in this messed up world.

That said, I have to ask how much longer the Indians can put up with the inconsistent pitching of Cliff Lee and Westbrook. Although Lee showed some signs of his former self in the late innings on Saturday (after a 5 run 1st inning), Westbrook has been miserable. And folks, I love Jake Westbrook. Since the day we got him in the trade with the Yankees, I've thought the guy was scrappy and earned his way to that nice fat contract he received this year. I don't want the guy to fail. In fact, I would love to see him bounce back and win the rest of his games this season. But something isn't right. Opposing teams know what to expect from him and I haven't seen any adjustments.

If the Indians really want to challenge the Tigers for the Central Division, and if the really want to go far in the post season (which, let’s face it, they do... come on, what kind of question is that anyway?), I ask again, how much longer can they put up with this? With a young ace (Jason Stanford) in the bullpen, out of options and just sitting on his rear, as the summer slowly becomes a memory, should Westbrook be given many more chances, even though he's been so reliable in the past?

When does the Tribe take Jake aside and say, "Kid, it ain't your year. We need to win now"?

There has never been a game that gives me such happiness when my team wins, and such utter despair when they lose.

I love baseball.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Back in the swing...

Vacation is over and I'm going through that slow ease back into working and L.A. life. I'll tell you, it was very difficult to leave Cleveland this year. So many times in the past, you'd catch me being the first one on the plane. Not so, this time. The weather was awesome, the company we kept with Julie's family was outstanding, and every visit I had was memorable (good and bad).

For the first time in years, I found myself contemplating the "what if's" of moving back east. I know I've discussed this in the past, but as of Saturday, I was searching for a way to make it work. There would be no simple solution. One of us would have to have a job long before any move.

And as I say these words out loud, I feel like I'm betraying myself. Still, the dagger in my heart doesn't hurt as much as it has in the past. I have a feeling that the dark months I went through this past winter may have something to do with that. Watching Sophie and Jake play with their cousins was so heartwarming.

I don't have an answer for this dilemma. It seems that every six months or so, I raise this questions and after I live through the fears and second guessing, something in my career happens that keeps me on the film making path. However, I'm not so confident this time. I turned that script in and I am filled with dread over what the manager guy will think of it. Seriously, this is like a bad relationship with a girl. Every day, I don't know what to expect.

Anyway, I've decided that setting a goal for writing is the best way to keep up the old Thunderbolt. Since baseball season has 62 games left, I will write each day the Indians are playing. That's 62 days over the next three months to ramble and bore the hell out of all of you. Hope you enjoy it.

By the way, the Indians are losing to the Red Sox in the bottom of the 4th.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

reflections on the hometown

After 37 years I am still amazed each time we return to North Olmsted and I discover small pockets of the city; unknown neighborhoods that have always been here but I never roamed into during my youth. I grew up thinking that this Cleveland suburb was so small and restrictive. The only thing I wanted more than becoming a filmmaker was to get out of here. How many of us have felt the same way? How many of us left seeking the American Dream only to return to Ohio time and time again to find some comfort or to escape the hardness of the world? Or, how many have stayed here, finding the surroundings just right? How many decided that there are enough dark corners in this city to make up for the L.A.'s, Miami's or New York's in the country?

Oh, and there are dark corners. Some mornings, when I'm on a walk in my in law's neighborhood, I'll take a left when normally I would have travelled straight. And upon that turn what do I find but a seemingly peaceful cul de sac with just one entrance from the main road. Tract houses built in the 60's still retain their sense of pride the original owners' must have felt that first day they crossed the thresh hold. Trees as tall as the sky and as thick as tanks stand proud and protective, holding within them the mysteries, secrets and histories of a North Olmsted I never knew. On the rare occasion I see someone out watering their lawn with a hose or cleaning up after their dog, eyes grow narrow and suspicious of the stranger in the cut off sweats and grungy t-shirt air drumming to Crowded House on one of those MP3 thingies. I wonder what happened on these streets, in those houses. Did children live there? Were there classmates of mine I never got acquainted with reside in those houses? I am left to wonder.

And there are nights driving the dark streets of North Olmsted in the wee morning hours. I'm often compelled to venture into developments I never entered once I received my drivers license. Why didn't I? What stopped me from just veering the Whomobile into this place or that to better understand my hometown. Lord knows there were enough opportunities of just cruising on a Saturday night, with Zeppelin, or Floyd, or Lou Reed, or The Who, or U2 blaring over the rattled speakers to do some exploring. I could analyze for days, but I know the truth: I had already left North Olmsted by the time I was 15 and I decided that a life in the movies was the life for me. You don't make movies in Ohio, at least, that's what I thought. Once my folks moved to Tucson, I never thought I'd step foot in North Olmsted again.

Starnge how life works. Julie's parents moved here in 2000, and now, whenever we come back to Ohio for a family visit, I walk the same beaten sidewalks I used to. I can't tell you how many times I've wandered through the mall, looking at faces of shoppers, wondering... sometimes hoping I would see someone I recognize. But none of these faces are familiar to me. Neither is the mall, for that matter. However, what I have learned in these past 14 years is that you don't need a big city to get a big mystery, or a compelling drama, or a heartbreaking love stroy. John Steinbeck taught me that. Arthur Miller and Barry Levinson taught me that. Bruce Springsteen taught me that.

And North Olmsted has taught me that.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Sheer artistry at the ballpark

Sophie decided not to go to the Indians/White Sox game with me tonight and I wish she had been there. Not because it was a great game (except for one inning, it was) or because the Indians won (they didn't). No, I wish she would have been there to see the most brilliant catch I have ever seen at a baseball game. It was sheer artisty and proved once again that Indians center fielder, Grady Sizemore, is a rising superstar in major league baseball.

With one down in the 7th, a fly ball was slammed into deep center field, destined to hit off of the scoreboard and result in extra bases. Instead, Sizemore timed the ball out perfectly, made a ballet like leap into the air, and I mean LEAP, it must have been a good 10 feet into the air, and then, after the ball did bounce off of the board, he caught it. Landing with a graceful plop onto the warning track, he jumped up and sailed the ball back into the infield, preventing the White Sox from advancing their runners.

It's one thing to see a play like that on television. ESPN has gotten us all used to these type of web gems. But to see it live, to witness the grace and skill of a ballplayer of this caliber was... AWESOME. That's the only way I can describe it.

Despite the loss, I still came away from the game feeling I'd seen a human marvel tonight. Man, I wish Sophie had been there.


Friday, July 13, 2007

Flying to Ohio, I recalled one of my favorite memories from this summer. It was a Saturday afternoon when Sophie, Jake and I danced to Paul McCartney's "Ever Present Past" (from his great new album, "Memory Almost Full"). During each version of the song, we marched around the house with straight arms and stiff legs until reaching the living room and the jubilant chorus. Then, while Sir Paul's music takes a bittersweet, melodious turn, the three of us danced crazily, like teenagers on "American Bandstand" in the 1960's: Twisting, shaking our butts and jumping around like loons! It was great fun.

I can see their smiles now. Sophie, with her wide eyed, opened mouth grin that she inherited from Julie grabbed my hands and wanted to dance in a circle. And Jacob, all squinty eyed and giggling, laughed hard and ran out of breath. In the end, we were all sweating. "It went by in a flash, it flew by in a flash" is how the song goes. "searching for the time that has gone so fast, the time I thought would last."

Lasting words that strike into the heart of any parent.

As I conjured up these images and recalled them during our flight, I started crying. Jesus, I was crying on the airplane! At least if our in flight movie, "Firehouse Dog" had been showing, I could have blamed it on that sappy film. I would have look over at the 16 year old teenage hulk sitting next to me and said, "Dude, that dog... and Bruce Greenwood. Freakin' Bruce Greenwood, man."

Of course, that hulking 16 year old was sound asleep and had his elbow dug into my rib cage. I guess I could cry in peace.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Not gonna happen

I don't know who I was trying to kid when I thought I would write a basement song this week. With the revision on the script and finishing everything I need to get done before a family trip, old Scotty's out of time. The good news is, while I'm sitting on the airplane, I can actually write a couple basement entries, and maybe even a couple film pieces I've been thinking about.

What does this mean to you all? Not much. Another week of nothin'.

I'll be back in a couple weeks.

Have a good time. Go Tribe!


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

check this out...

Jefito features some of my rambling about rap music over at http://jefitoblog.com/blog/?p=1290

Jason Hare writes up the brilliance of David Soul on his weekly "Adventures in Mellow Gold": http://jasonhare.com/2007/07/11/adventures-through-the-mines-of-mellow-gold-39/
The thing about claiming to be "back" is that you actually have to be "back". My beard is now in the "get this shit off of my face" phase, as I am just about done with my quick revision of that first draft. Word to the wise, put some distance between yourself and your script before you dive in revise what you just wrote. It's kind of like scraping your knee nice and bloody, then going out and playing football and reopening the scab the next day. Oh sure, you thought your Toughskins would protect your massive leg wound, but no, they do not. Now, you're limping around with a bloody knee cap (or in this case, a maddening beard.

Went to see Sophie swim this morning. She's been taking a lap class for the past couple weeks and, damn, that girl can swim. There is an older girl (4th or 5th grad) who really excels and Sophie does her best to keep up. Soph has trouble with her freestyle (called the front crawl when I was a kid), but she kicks ass in the back stroke and the breath stroke. I really hope that she continues swimming because I believe she could really go far with it. And she's a competitor, too. If some kid is too slow, she just plows over them to get by. Nice.


Friday, July 06, 2007

hey, I'm back!

Sorry I've been out of commission for the past week. I decided to complete the screenplay I've been working on for nearly a year. What this means is that I don't read any new books, glance through the newspaper (except the sports section, which Sophie and I check regularly) and I generally don't write anything other than the voices in my head. but, I have finished the first draft and once I proof read it, I will send it off to the manager I have been developing this with for over a year.

I also put off shaving until I turn it in. This is basically my own stupid ritual to keep me motivated. the first week or so, the beard is kind of cool. Julie hates it, but I kind of dig having the whole Serpico thing goin' on for a while. Usually around day 7, I start to itch and the beard drives me crazy. that's when I really light a fire under my rear. Since we're leaving on vacation next week, the beard comes off on Thursday and I send the script whether I'm happy with it or not.

Actually, I'm much happier with the state of this script than I was back in April. Back then I had submitted some 80 pages and told the manager I've been working with to just toss it. I hated what I'd written. I also conjured the balls to tell him I needed to just get the first draft done so I can feel like I've accomplished something in the past year.

Why am I laying this all out for you kind folks? Well, I've come to realize that I have some nice people reading the old "thunderbolt" blog, and I like knowing that you good citizens keep checking in. This is just my way to say "Yo, I haven't, like, lost your phone number or anything. Honest, baby!"

Obviously, the basement songs will pick up again in the next few weeks. I have one almost completed that I'll publish next week. I also want to expand and write some more about movies. Might as well put that film studies degree to some use. Speaking of which, I saw "SiCKO" last week and it was outstanding. Moore once again tapped into the American heartland to come up with a story that is scary and quite tragic. You may be reading these reviews that claim it's Moore's "Funniest movie ever!". I don't know what movie these big name critics were watching, but I wasn't falling out of my seat.

Then again, the whole health care situation and the mess that it's become hits a little too close to home for our family. I will admit to have several tiny panic attacks during the movie as I began to worry about Jake.

I'm also thinking of choosing an album or two to feature in the basement series. What the hey, huh? It's my house, and sometimes, the whole album experience is better than a single song.

So, that's all for this week. I'll be back next week. Then I'll likely be hit and miss while we're out of town. By the end of July, things should be back up and running smoothly.

Thanks again for reading "thunderbolt". I know now that there are more than 10 of you.