Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Red Grange

When I was younger (so much younger than today) I wrote letters to professional athletes and asked them for autographs. I would tell them that they were my favorite player, or that I had some connection with their school or team, and I would ask for their autograph. Some letters were an exercise in creative writing for me. I would send a self-addressed stamped envelope along with the letter and the card to make it as easy as possible for the player to sign the card and send it back. Usually, I’d just send the letter to the stadium or team headquarters.

One day, my buddy Nate changed the game when he came home with a book that had the home addresses of many retired athletes from all sports. This opened up a whole new avenue for my letter-writing career. I could now write to the legends in each sport!

During the summer of 1994, I found a cheap box of unopened packs of hall of fame brand football cards and bought the whole thing. This gave me cards for players like Johnny Unitas, Roger Staubach, Gene Upshaw, and many, many others. Because these players were much older in some cases (Johnny U or Otto Graham). I would tell them that my dad was a huge fan of theirs and it would sure mean a lot if they would sign a card for him. One such legendary figure I wrote to was Red Grange.

Red Grange was a football player in the very early days of the sport. (like leather helmets early!) He played for the Chicago Bears and was a key figure in legitimizing football as a sport on a national level in the U.S. For his time, he was a superstar and one of the best in the game. He even caught a TD pass from Bronco Nagurski to win the 1932 championship for the Chicago Bears. As a legend and one of the all-time greats, I thought it'd be cool to have his autograph. So I wrote him a letter.

"Dear Mr. Grange," I said. Then I gave him my name and told him a little about myself and how much I loved football. I continued, "My dad and I are both very big fans of you as a player, we think you were great." Despite the fact that his career likely ended before my dad was even born, and neither of us had probably ever seen him play I went on and on and on about how much of a fan of his I was and how I really thought he was a great player. Naturally, I asked for his autograph towards the end of the letter noting that it would “mean a lot for a couple of his biggest fans” to have his autograph. With that, I sent it on its way. Several weeks later I got a response.

"Dear Andrew," it read. "If you and your dad were such big fans of Red, you would know that he died three years ago. Thank you for the letter, Margaret Grange."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Still Dancing

We're through two weekends and four rounds of the NCAA tournament and my bracket is still standing. Of the four teams left in the tournament, I have Duke and West Va. still going strong.

Of the 5 or 6 pools I participated in this year, I can safely say that I am in first-place in almost all if not all of them. My picks have already earned me a sum of money and if Duke wins just one more game over West Virginia, that sum of money will increase a bit. It makes me want to quit while I am on top and never submit another bracket again...but where's the fun in that?

Go Devils!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Moody Vending Machines

Vending Machines and I...we don't get along. Perhaps it is because I am not a frequent patron or something, perhaps, we plain just don't like each other. This is not to say that I don't extend the occasional olive branch and feed it money in return for a cool beverage or a scrumptious snack, I just don't do it very often. But today, I decided to give it a shot.

Given that I get up so early in the morning to drive into work and I eat a very small breakfast, I try to build in a snack around 10:00 AM, usually a granola bar or something to that affect. Yesterday I ate the last granola bar in the box and when I went looking for some in the storage room at 5:30 this morning I ran into some kind of labyrinth of boxes that I could not make heads or tails of. So, I grabbed a dollar of the table and some change out of my coin machine and headed on my way. My stomach was feeling a little queasy so I doubled up and got enough for a soda and a snack.

When I arrived at the vending machine, there was nobody else in the break room...just me and ole vendy. I approached with caution, you know, as though I was about to pet a wild animal. I didn't want to startle it and not get my soda or pretzels. I went to the soda machine first. Armed with my $1.00 bill I approached and looked at the prices. $1.35 for a bottle of soda. What? $1.35? I've seen $1, $1.50, $1.25, but never $1.35. Taken aback, I put in my $1.50 (because nobody carries around an extra dime in their pocket) and made my selection. Then, 6 coins were vended back to me. Had I hit the jackpot? No, I'd just been traded a dollar for four quarters and no soda. Believe me; if change was all I was looking for, I would've gone to the arcade.

After two or three more failed attempts, I decided to try my luck at the food vending machine. What I found there was even more incredible. Many of the items were over a dollar...not a dollar or some round number, but like $1.15, $1.35, and...$.90 cents. $.90 Cents???? Seriously? At least I knew where that extra dime would come from. So, I put in my dollar and got my pretzels and called it a 50/50 kind of day.

I also stopped by this vending machine, but it wanted more than the $1.00 in change I had left.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Blazing the Trail

When I was in the 6th grade, I had Typhoid. I also had a broken leg, diphtheria, dysentery, and many other deadly diseases. Sadly, most of the time these diseases resulted in my passing somewhere along the plains as my wagon train consisting of myself along with close friends MC Hammer, Hulk Hogan, Vanilla Ice, Macho Man, and many others pressed forward trying to make it across the country to the great Pacific Northwest. I am speaking of course of my various journeys along The Oregon Trail.

It was one of the first video games available for the old McIntosh computers that my elementary school had and it came out on those big floppy disks.

In the game, you could leave from any number of places depending on how much money and supplies you wanted to have. I often left from Boston because that is where the wealthy came from and I figured that had I been around during the 1800s, I certainly would've been wealthy.

During the course of the game you are faced with challenges of illness, weather slowing down your pace, running out of food and supplies, losing massive amounts of clothing or oxen due to a capsized wagon train while trying to cross the Missouri. These are tough challenges for me when I fire up the game at age 30, so you can only imagine how they were for me in 1992 at age 13. However, should I ever need to pack my family up and move them across the country in a wagon train, I am better equipped because of the time I spent playing the game.

What made this game so great was that you could hunt for more food, shooting a bear or a moose with a single shot from your regular old rifle...which should come in handy if I am ever in the woods and encounter bear. I know I can take him down with one shot from a poorly aimed gun and you can't learn that kind of stuff in a history book. You could trade for supplies or purchase more supplies if you had the means to do so. And, you delat with the very real possibility that a member of your wagon train, Andre the Giant, could die of Cholera. Powerful and invaluable lessons for a kid to learn! Who knew death and despear could be so fun and educational?

It also had a very interesting wrinkle that if a member of your party passed, you could write whatever you wanted on his or her tombstone. Then, when you played the game again, you might just stumble upon your own tombstone and would be given the option to read it. One such tombstone I recall reading said: "Here lies Andrew, 'Don't fake the funk on the nasty dunk.' "Remarkable.

The Oregon Trail was truly a great game, but I would be remiss if I didn't also shout out to the game that single handedly taught me multiplication: through fear of being eaten: Number Munchers.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bracket Update

Well, the first weekend of the NCAA tourney has come to a close and I'm still standing.

One of my final four teams, Georgetown, lost to Ohio in the first round, which hurt quite a bit but sweet 16 upset picks St. Marys, Washington, and Xaiver all advanced helping me make up some points.

The big loss of the weekend was Kansas going down to Northern Iowa. I would say that roughly anywhere from 50 to 75% of all the brackets I've seen in groups I am in had Kansas winning it, which is definitely good for me.

My numbers currently sit at 11 of 16 sweet sixteen, 6 of 8 elite eight, and 3 of 4 final four participants with Duke and Syracuse, my final two, still standing.

Should be an exciting finish!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dancing With the Devils

Well, it's that time of year again, two of the least productive work days in America...the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament, better known to you and me as March Madness or, the Big Dance. It's that time of year when I agonize and agonize over my picks, only to have them fall short almost immediately.

The good news? I'm usually able to use my bracket as a napkin in a pinch.

This year the "experts" say the field is as wide open as it has ever been, yet many of them are universally picking Kansas. Being the contrarian that I am, I decided to go another way. Plus, let's be honest, if you're going to pick chalk (all the higher seeds or, most of the hire seeds) you really have to nail the first few rounds including upsets to be in contention. So, why not go in a different direction?

This year, I am dancing with the Devils...the Blue Devils of Duke. I feel that they play a great team game and they've got good perimeter shooting and enough of an inside game to give teams fits. Between John Schyer, Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, and of course, Coach K.

My other final four teams are Georgetown, Syracuse, and West Va. with Duke taking out Syracuse in the title game. Call this the Ty Lawson effect. Last year, when he was hurt going in to the tourney, several experts jumped off the UNC bandwagon, and they're doing it this year with the Cuse. We'll see who is right!
As far as upsets go, I have a few:

  • 10. Ga. Tech over 7. Oklahoma St
  • 10. St. Marys over 7. Richmond (moving on to the sweet 16)
  • 10. Missouri over 7. Clemson
  • 11. ODU over 6. Notre Dame
  • 11. SDSU over 6. Tennessee
  • 11. Washington over 6. Marquette (moving on to the sweet 16)
  • 13. Sienna over 4. Purdue
  • 12. UTEP over 5. Butler (moving on to the sweet 16)
There are some other mild upsets in the later rounds as well (6. Xavier over 3. Pitt) so we'll see what happens.

Good luck, and happy madness!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Trouble With Flossing

Lest you think I’m going to write some sort of scathing diatribe about flossing, let me just say right off the bat that as a two-time root canal recipient (one very painful the other not so much) that I am a flossing convert. I wasn’t always this way, but I have seen the light…and have been hit in my pocket book twice with major dental bills, which tends to motivate one to start flossing in order to save ones teeth.

Having said all of that…

There are some troubling things about flossing that I would like to discuss here. First and foremost, it hurts…and it hurts badly. There’s nothing fun about jamming some mint-flavored wax string in between all your teeth. Sorry. Not only does it hurt, but it often leads to the occasional bleed, and even some swelling of the gums. This is an issue for me because once my gum swells, it feels like there is still something stuck in there and then I pick and I jab and I floss floss floss until there’s a real problem!

Second, the only thing flossing really does is that it allows more stuff to get stuck in there…and when that happens it’s like your whole world shuts down. I remember distinctly a few weeks ago flossing with a floss pick (my flossing choice) and having some popcorn a few minutes later. On the first bite of popcorn, BAM, right in the gap between my two front teeth, it was like someone had driven a Cadillac into my teeth. Not fun. I prefer my teeth to be like a maximum security prison…nothing gets in, nothing gets out.

Third, it is a constant battle of convenience. If you are a regular flosser, you know what I’m talking about here. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack time, it all gets stuck…and at the most inconvenient times, and if you’re anything like me, you MUST get it out! But, what if you don’t have floss? You improvise.

Here’s a list of things I’ve attempted to floss with in my life:
• Floss
• A tooth pick
• A floss picker
• A fork
• A business card
• An envelope
• My finger/finger nail
• A pin (push, or otherwise)
• A tooth brush
• Anything with a sturdy edge (within reason)
• A Car Key

After all this effort, floss still isn’t going to get that salad fragment out of your teeth, or worse yet, that golden shard that comes of when you eat popcorn. In fact, I had one stay in my mouth for over a week because it was jammed in so well and my flossing efforts were useless against its stick-to-itiveness to my gums. Finally, I got it with a plastic fork.

So there you have it, the art of the floss and all the challenges and problems that comes with it. If you’re going to floss, and I recommend you do (were I a dentist, 9 out of 10 of me would recommend it…and one would rebel), you might as well make it worth it…and try this:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Handicapped Tailgater

They sure don't make old people like they used to.

At least not this morning.

As many of you may or may not know, I have a long, loooooonnnnnnng drive to work in the morning. I also split time between two offices so my commute is almost never the same.

Today's commute was no different than any other in terms of who was out there on the roads. We had the typical three commuters that one might encounter on his or her way to work.

The angrry man commuter...

The Soccer Mom that drives way too fast for her own good...
...and even the Truck Driver.
But I was introduced to a new kind of commuter today...one that I didn't even know existed; The Handicapped Tailgater.

The drive was just like any other today, with the one glaring exception that, at some point, someone pulled out behind me and sat squarly on my bumper for a good 15-20 minutes. That's not so much of a surprise, as aggresive drivers are all over the DC/NOVA area. What was surprising about this one was that she appeared to be an older lady with a handicapped tag hanging from her rearview mirror.

I actually remembered her pulling in behind me at a traffic light and thinking nothing of it. See, when I was a boy, I can remember very clearly driving a good 5-10 miles under the speed limit with my grandmother and slumping down in the passenger's seat because I was so embarassed to be in the car everyone was honking at. I tell you, I miss the good old days. This grandma was so up in my business, I thought maybe she was trying to chase me down to hit me with her rolling pin or something...and I was in fact going over the speed limit at the time (less I be accused of being a slow driver).

The moral of the story here is, when you're out on the roads, be weary of who pulls up behind you, because it may not be your ordinary angry commuter...it may be the Handicapped Tailgater.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Hey Dude

It's a little wild and a little strange, when you make your home out on the range...

From time to time on this blog I'm going to take a look back at the great shows from my childhood and I thought I'd start with one of the classics!

Hey Dude ran on Nickelodeon from 1989 to 1991 (65 episodes) (I would've been 10-12 years old at the time) and I am confident that I have seen every single episode of this show.
The show is about an Easterner, Mr. Ernst, who buys a ranch out near Tuscan, Arizona. The staff included Ted, Danny, Brad, and Melody along with Buddy and his faithful dog...and Lucy, a ranch hand with a heart of gold. Another character named Kyle was later added to the show to be heart-throb competition for Ted when he returned from summer school, but I think we always knew that Ted had Brad's heart.

Christine Taylor (Melody) was the only one that really went on to do anything of note. The others had bit parts over the years, but nothing really matched what the future Mrs. Ben Stiller would accomplish.
My favorite episode, one I remember to this day, is the one where some scoundrel cowboys try to rob the ranch and they hold several people hostage in the process. But, Mr. Ernst and crew find their way out of that jam as they would many others.

So, everyone join me in salluting a great show from my childhood, Hey Dude, with a "Yippi Ki Yi Yea!"
To read more about Hey Dude, click here. Otherwise, enjoy the video below.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Who Stole the Meatloaf?

An unfortunate crime appeared to happen last week somewhere between the refridgerator at home and the refridgerator at work. The crime: Meatloaf theft. This might not seem like a big deal to the average reader, but rest assured, it was.

Last Friday started out like any other day for me. I awoke early to face my long commute into the office and as part of my normal morning routine, I packed up my lunch of leftovers from a previous dinner. The leftover that would ultimately end up spinning my world out of control was, you guessed it, meatloaf.

The meatloaf was accompanied by a nice side dish of pasta and some snickerdoodles (which I planned to share with one of my co-workers).

As I made my long journey to the office, I thought very little of the contents of the lunch container that would reshape my day, and I arrived at work and place the meatloaf in the refrigerator.

The hours passed and my stomach began to growl as lunch time drew near. So I got up, walked to the refrigerator and removed the lid off of my lunch container to warm up my tasty meatloaf. Imagine my shock and disbelief when my meatloaf was gone...I mean, the container was still there, pasta included, but no meatloaf. Where could it have gone? I know that certain leftovers are left in the refrigerator long enough that they can get up and walk away, but such was not the case with this meatloaf...there had been a theft!

As I munched on my heated not very filling honeycomb pasta, I was seething. I ran through the list of possible theft candidates over and over in my head. Who could it be? Was it it my cunning father? He's been known to eat a meatloaf sandwich or two in his day, he could've easily pulled the meatloaf out of the container the day before. Or, was it my mother? Sweet, caring, giving...unless food is involved! Could it have possibly been my dear sweet wife Melanie? Or worse, Audrey???

With every unfulfilling bite, I thought and thought...and the first thought that came to my mind was that this honeycomb pasta really didn't hold a torch to the honeycomb cereal I came to enjoy from my youth. This thought made everything worse...every bite made me increasingly angry...and It also made me really want some honeycombs!

FInally, unable to take it anymore, I called Melanie and explained to her what happened. She assured me that neither she or Audrey was the culprit. That narrowed the list to two...and quickly to one for me.


It was so simple, he removed the meatloaf the day before to enjoy a meatloaf sandwich. As the hours passed I thought about how I would address this issue when I got home and how my father would soon feel the justice of my rebuke as he realized that his son virtually starved because of his decision. How could he live with himself after doing that to his son? He would soon have to face the music.

Then, two things happened. First, in my starved state, I quickly ate all 6 snickerdoodles that I had brought into the office to share. Second, the phone rang. It was Melanie. She was laughing. I had taken the wrong lunch container to work. The container I took was a pasta only container, and the one I was supposed to take, the one she told me to take, was sitting in the exact same location she told me it would be in. Case closed. Mystery solved.

I stole the meatloaf...from myself.