Thursday, April 12, 2007

Ah, Barbaro...we hardly knew ye.....

Sometimes I start a blog with all intention of finishing it quickly and posting it in a timely manner, especially when I’m commenting on a current newsworthy topic. But, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and this blog is a few months late once again.

Ahhhh, Barbaro, we hardly knew ye……

Recently, the American Sheeple were saddened by the euthanizing of beloved Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. To hear the newsies say it, the entire nation as a whole mourns the January 29th death of a beloved sporting icon, a courageous fighter who finally succumbed to his traumatic injuries.

Oh, for fuck’s sake, let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? It’s all about money.

Yes, he was a fast, beautiful, graceful animal. He won the Kentucky Derby and was poised to possibly win the entire Triple Crown. And more so, he was going to make a number of people ungodly filthy rich. Once he was injured on May 20th 2006, that gravy train derailed. If he had recovered, Barbaro would have been worth about 30 million dollars. That’s prize money up front, and stud fees for the rest of his natural life. Thoroughbreds, unlike other animals, cannot be bred through artificial insemination; the rules to their particular sport dictate that only natural mating may produce a thoroughbred horse. So, run a few times in a circle, get paid to screw the rest of your life….30 million bucks worth? Hey, not a bad deal. Even Ron Jeremy envies that deal.

Of course, there was insurance. LOTS of insurance. There was not only death coverage, but stud insurance too in case he was incapacitated and could no longer mount a mare to breed. So, the owners still got paid; just not as much as had he lived. But I’m willing to bet they were pulling his weasel every day he was in that vet office, freezing his skeet to sell…he might not have sired any immediate thoroughbred offspring but how many spurious fuckers are out there willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for black-market underground breeding stock?

He spent several months in lavish doctors’ care at a recovery facility in Pennsylvania, with thousands of people showing their love by shipping him crates of apples and carrots as treats. Are you fucking kidding me? Spending scads of money to ship perishable produce to a horse…a fucking horse, people……a horse who was already getting better medical care than 90% of Americans. And these are the same people who wouldn’t even think to send a leftover packet of Arby’s horseradish sauce to starving people in Darfur, but they send apples to a 30-million-dollar jumped-up pack animal.

In a sinister coincidence, Barbaro’s jockey at the time of his accident, Edgar Prado, was riding the British-owned horse Funfair at the 2005 Breeder’s Cup a year before the Barbaro incident. At the start of the race, Funfair broke a hind leg in much the same way Barbaro did, and it was so badly torn up that the horse was killed right on the track. How many more millions of rich hoity-toity dollars must be lost before this man is stopped?

Last Fans Standing, Part One

Written in April 2005 after the Rays’ season ended with a playoff loss to the Everblades at home…...

The game was over, and there was no joy in Mudville so to speak. It was a hard-fought game that ended a hard-fought season. It was a season that saw rookie players shine and rise to professional challenges, and a season that saw adversity befall the team in the form of injuries, suspensions, and sometimes-frantic lineup changes. A season somewhat overshadowed by the player lockout at the NHL level, but sweetened somewhat by seeing some NHL players playing in the ECHL. This year’s Stingrays team showcased rookie talent that will be the future of the Washington Capitals, as well as showing that the old dog veterans still had teeth.

I only missed one game this year that I can recall, and that was due to a wedding. One of my friends left me phone messages on my cell throughout that game to keep me posted on our win. The previous year I only missed four or five games, but this year I became a serious die-hard fanatic. My jersey is covered with autographs from two years’ worth of Rays, and a few stray former players as well. I finally traveled to Florence and Charlotte for some away games too this season, supporting the team on the road. I became a bit of a spectacle in many games shaking my ample tush on the JumboTron. Marty Clapton came to call it my “Mojo Dance”. It was great fun to joke around and chat with the team after the games, whether celebrating a victory or supporting them after a loss.

Of course, I’m not alone in my exploits, by no means. There’s a group of about 20 of us who hang out after the games, win or lose. Some of us get together and listen to road games on the radio and make a party of it. We’ve become great friends because of hockey games. My own fiancée, who had never been to more than a single game in her life before we met, sports an autographed game-worn jersey complete with a few players’ buttons, and knows the rules well enough to catch a lot of the calls that the refs miss. We even got engaged at a Stingrays game. Our home is a shrine to hockey, with bobble heads, MacFarlane figures, souvenir pucks, posters, a helmet from Pee Dee’s last-ever game, official Fitzy water bottles, and a couple of game-played Rays’ sticks decorating the place. With no NHL on TV to watch, we watched both the ECHL and AHL all-star games on TV, and I was reduced to sometimes watching NHL games from last year on ESPN Classic just to get a fix. You know you’re a puck-head when you’ll watch a repeat of a year-old game, knowing full well how it ends, because you need to feed your Hockey Jones. On the plus side, I got to see Jeremy Stevenson playing for the Predators against the Red Wings that way.

Being a fan means more than clapping when the team scores. It also means making sure the team knows they have support even as their run for the Kelly Cup, and the season as a whole, abruptly ends. As soon as the game ended, I was shocked to see the number of people who just stood up and left without looking back. My own group of compatriots stood around for a few minutes before we, too, left to stand by the parking lot to say goodbye to the players. To us it was important that the last view of us that the players had was a good one. It would have been nigh on criminal for their last view of us for the season to be our backs as we dejectedly tromped out of the stadium. No one deserves that, especially after a season like this, a season where they made the playoffs for the twelfth consecutive year. They deserved to leave with heads held high, with the smiles and handshakes of the fans to usher them into the off-season.

And so it went, the players trickling out in threes and fours, some with girlfriends in tow, others with wives, kids, moms, aunts, siblings, or old friends. Somehow in the mix, we managed to say bye to just about everyone. And before we knew it, all our friends had gone home, the parking lot was pretty much empty and quiet, and only a couple players were left to come out.

After 18 years in professional hockey, Ed Courtenay had played his last game. Ed came out to his car surrounded by his wife & kids, and I was glad we stayed to talk to him and his family. After a career that spanned a full 50% of his lifetime, it seemed fitting for Ed to have at least two last fans there waiting to see him off. It just wouldn’t seem right to have him come out to an empty lot.

And then a final figure in the distance…

Wracked with pain from back spasms, Mike Jickling was the final player to leave the Coliseum that night. He actually apologized to us for making us wait for so long. But again, it wouldn’t be right for him to come out to an empty lot either and we told him as much. See, that’s the joy of hockey at the ECHL level. You get to talk to the players and interact with them, and really feel a part of the action. The players are so accessible, and for the most part genuinely friendly and happy to have that fan interaction. If you want an autograph or a picture, you simply hang out after the game, without having to fend off a couple hundred people or waiting for naught as a player runs off at top speed to his limo surrounded by his handlers. I’ve gotten to casually chat with professional athletes who play a sport I love, and they know who I am and recognize me, taking time to talk for a few minutes before heading off into their private lives. It’s a 2-way street of mutual respect. Matt Reid even called my fiancée’s son in Arizona on his birthday after a game. That was class act all the way.

And then, it was over. Just the two of us in an empty parking lot. It was just after 11:30, and we had an hour-long drive home still to go. The season was well and truly over, and we held on to it for as long as we could. We held onto it about 90 minutes longer than the other people in the stadium did, and somehow that made us feel good. We were there at the pre-season exhibition game at the Ice Palace, and here we were the final ones to go. We were among the First Fans Standing, and we were indeed the Last Fans Standing.

Last Fans Standing, Part 2

Well….still another hockey season has ended in the Lowcountry. This time the ending was even more bittersweet than in years past. This year, for the first time in the 14 year history of the team, the South Carolina Stingrays did not make the playoffs. To add insult to injury, we only missed the playoffs by one point in the standings. But to really rub salt in the wound and twist the knife a bit, the team that made the playoffs ahead of us was just knocked out last night by being swept in a best-of-three first round series. Way to go, Augusta…

In the ECHL you get to develop a rapport with most of the players because they’re so accessible after the games and make so many community appearances. It’s common practice for us and many of our friends to hang out for an hour or so after the games and talk with the players and get to know them not just as players but as regular guys. And as a general rule, the guys are usually very willing to talk for 5 or 10 minutes with the fans, especially the die-hard fans and the kids. The guys are always especially good to the kids.

This year though, it seemed that the team was even more close to the fans than before. Maybe it’s because we got to know some of the girlfriends and spouses, or sent gifts to a new baby in Moscow, or talked at length with players’ parents in from out of town. It could be the miracle of MySpace, too; I know that by seasons’ end I had about 8 current and former Stingrays on my friends list and emailed some of the guys regularly. I turned a couple of them on to the joys of German gluhwein on a chilly night, and am still trying to translate the last name of one player from Ukrainian into English; it’s become a sort of running joke with us.

It was a little bittersweet to see this years’ team walking away out to the parking lot. There are a few guys who will likely progress within the Capitals’ organization to slots in the AHL. While I hate to see good players go away from the Rays, at the same time it’s great to see them go to bigger & better things. Invariably there will be guys who sign with other teams or even other leagues both here and overseas. Some of the guys seemed genuinely sad to say goodbye and sincere when they said they’d keep in touch. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to say I’m friends with professional athletes. It’s a great feeling to be recognized by people that I pay to see.

Once again it was the same cluster of die-hards out there in the cold night air saying goodbye. There were a few new faces, which is always great, and there was the comforting comradeship of friends that we’ve known from seasons past. However, once again and all too soon it was over and we all made our separate ways to our cars and headed out into the night. We all plan to get together like once a month in the off-season to hang out & imbibe of a few adult libations, but there will be a few that I won’t see for another six months.

Yeah, hockey season in the Lowcountry is over, but on the bright side I’ve already started the countdown till the puck drops on the 07-08 season. See you in October at the rink!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Crossing the Thin Blue Line

Last week, while enroute to Savannah, Dougherty County police officer Jeremiah Fenn, aged 25, took his eyes off the road for a second to look at his cruiser’s on-board computer screen. In that second, he rear-ended a rental trailer being towed on Interstate 16. The resulting crash killed 33-year old Milton Wilcox and seriously injured his father. Ironically, Officer Fenn was driving to participate in a safe-driving campaign.

While tragic, this incident doesn’t exactly surprise me. Every day I watch as my local municipal, county, and state constabularies drive about town breaking all manner of traffic safety laws, all the while not only expecting you and I to obey the laws unerringly but also to pay the price for failure to do so.

Roughly 90% of the time I drive past a cop, he or she has a cell phone up to their ear busily yapping away on what ostensibly must be personal affairs, since the officer has that wonderful radio and computer uplink system in the car with which to handle official police business. Roughly 90% of the time I see a police officer make a turn or a lane change, their state-of-the-art police cruiser mysteriously lacks turn signals. And as a rule, our law enforcement personnel drive well above the posted speed limits and will mercilessly tailgate you if unable to immediately blow past you.

And the shining example of New Jersey Governor Corzine's state trooper driver doing over 90 mph (and Corzine not wearing a seatbelt) when they crashed all over the Jersey Turnpike.....yeah, that's setting a great example.

So much for leading by example. The unspoken rule is do as I say, not as I do, for I am the law and therefore above the law. This behavior also extends past the on-duty time and extends to their personal driving too. Many officers take their cruisers home and use them to run errands and take the kids to soccer practice and hit Wal-Mart for toilet paper. It’s common knowledge that apartment complexes and smaller housing developments clamor for cops to live there so that the take-home cruisers will act as some sort of miraculous crime deterrent. Some complexes even give discounted rents as an incentive, which to me smacks of a kickback and conflict of interest. But for those who drive their own private vehicles, there exists a sort of Get Out Of Jail Free Card system that a cop can use to identify their vehicles to others of the community so that they can speed and do as they please at will without fear of retribution or consequence. This system consists of specialized Law Enforcement license plates and the omnipresent Thin Blue Line stickers. The stickers are a black rectangle with a royal blue stripe in the center, and occasionally they appear as a front plate too in states that have only a mandated rear plate. In South Carolina, officers can get a thin blue line sticker in the shape of the ubiquitous palmetto tree. How very clever.

In years past, many folks would donate to various police charities just to get a badge-shaped window sticker in hopes that any cops stopping them for a violation would be swayed into letting them go. This same attitude applies to the use of L.E. license plates and TBL stickers. It’s an Old Boy network at the very simplest level; only in the police world it’s called Professional Courtesy. I say, old chap, you wouldn’t give a ticket to a fellow badge that’s “on the job”, would you? That wouldn’t be sporting cricket…On Easter Sunday I had my doors blown off by a giant SUV with North Carolina L.E. tags who was doing about 50 in a 35. By the time we made it to a 50 mph zone, he was doing nearly 65, and only used his turn signals 50% of the time as he weaved in and out of traffic. He then pulled off the road and into the parking lot of a hotel. So this whole attitude of speeding and only following the rules when convenient trickles over into personal time as well as professional time.

As a former law-enforcement professional myself, it saddens me to see this sort of flaunting behavior. And as a CDL-licensed driver who is constantly being lectured to about safe driving and following the rules, I find it especially galling to think that I could be ticketed by people who by far break more laws daily than I could ever dream of.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Simple Pleasures

Simple pleasures, not to be confused with Guilty Pleasures, are those little things in life that make you happy while you’re still dressed (usually) and without having to feel bad or go to Confession. Think upon it to yourselves and ponder what simple, almost innocuous bits of daily mundane life make you smile like an idiot. For some it’s the small of a newborn baby. For some it’s smell of fresh bread baking. But for me, these are the things that tantalize all my senses:

1. Melty butter dripping off a hot Maine lobster tail. Holy crap…heaven on a fork.
2. Deep dark chocolate, and I don’t mean a cheap-ass Wonka bar. I’m talking at least 70% cocoa DARK chocolate, bitter and rich, melting slowly on your tongue and driving straight to your taste buds and into your brain.
3. The first mouthful of a cold beer on a scalding hot day.
4. The sensual decadence of REAL vanilla ice cream.
5. That first sip of hot coffee on a cold day.

1. Fresh cut grass. I dunno why, but it’s one of those summer smells that always makes me smile. It almost smells cool & wet.
2. Cold salt air at the coast. It smells especially good in New England, but sometimes here in South Carolina you can get a whiff of it. I’m not sure if the seaweed is a part of the aroma or not.
3. Wood smoke, especially on a cool day. It just makes me think of a cozy fire, or a campfire in the woods.
4. Sizzling meat on a BBQ grill, mixed with a little BBQ sauce. The smell that invokes instant drool and makes you want to hop the neighbor’s fence & bum a meal.
5. Fresh lemons & peaches. Sure, I look a little weird leaning over a bushel at the store but damn it smells good.
6. Citronella candles. Yeah, I’m a weirdo.

1. Sliding into fresh cold sheets on a warm night and swishing all about like you’re making snow angels in bed.
2. As much as I HATE to be barefoot, I really like the feeling of warm beach sand on my toes.
3. Lingering decadently in a scalding hot shower, as hot as I can stand it without causing physical damage to my skin.

1. A full moon over the ocean.
2. Shooting stars
3. A starry sky out away from the city lights. Like way out in the willywags where there’s nothing but dark sky & bright stars.
4. A bright red sunset. Especially if it turns the whole sky orange and pink and red.
5. Watching my dog curl up like a pretzel and sleep.

1. Waves crashing on rocks, or really just the surf in general. Puts me to sleep just thinking about it.
2. Bagpipes. There’s nothing like it on earth.
3. The purring of a happy cat. People would purr if they could.
4. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. ‘Nuff said.
5. And no matter how any THOUSANDS of times I hear it, I love to hear Enjoy The Silence by Depeche Mode. It’s my favorite song of all time.

Hot For Teacher

It seems that every 6-8 weeks or so there’s a news article or story on TV about a young, fairly attractive female teacher caught having sex with some teen boy student. Occasionally it becomes a huge spectacle, like the Mary Kay Letourneau fiasco, but often it just gets a headline or two and goes away until the next scandal hits the airwaves. Actually, I think her story got more attention than others because not only did she get knocked up by the kid, she defied her parole & probation and kept on making the beast with two backs with him and got knocked up again, I do believe. I say believe, since I didn’t follow the story quite as closely as Lifetime and Oxygen did.

Recently here in SC we had a married, 29 year old cheerleading coach busted for not only banging a male student but also for taking her cheerleaders to hotels to screw National Guard soldiers, one of whom the coach was also banging. The most surreal aspect of this particular case is that no criminal charges could be filed against the adults since the students involved were 16, which here in SC means they were over the age of consent. As far as the state is concerned it was consensual sex.

A couple weeks ago a tragic story broke about a husband who shot and killed the 18 year old former student of his wife as the kid sat in his car in front of their house. Details were unavailable as to whether the wife was actually having a relationship with the kid or if he was just infatuated and doing the stalker thing, but her husband found out about their friendship and abruptly ventilated this kid’s cranium in broad daylight after calling 911.

So what’s in the water lately to cause this rash of 20-something teachers to snap and start shagging an otherwise “innocent” teen boy? And furthermore, where the fuck were these teachers when I was in school? I know that there was a serious lack of hot young teachers at Traip Academy in the mid-80’s. And when I was a soldier, there was certainly no one providing us with nubile virgin cheerleaders for morale-boosting recreational bang sessions.

So far it seems that if you dig into the stories, you’ll find a sinister common thread at the heart of the matter. It’s not the seduction during detention. It’s not clandestine meetings in motels. It’s not even dirty emails and camera-phone snapshots. This insidious parallel is that the authorities are always getting tipped off by another male student who obviously wasn’t scoring any poonanny from the teacher. And the old adage of, “If I ain’t getting any, no one else can either…” is especially brutal when it comes to sexual rivalries among teenaged males of the species. Plus, the average high-schooler can’t keep their mouth shut either. He gets his salad tossed by his English teacher, blabs to all his buddies to look cool, and the group geek, who’s tired of beating off into a gym sock to the Sears catalog, rats his buddy out to even the score. The cops swarm in like a Mossad raid on Martin Bormann’s house, and the tabloids go apeshit for a week.

Oh yeah. You can always count on your buddies to cock-block you in your moment of weakness. It’s the American Way…..