Saturday, December 19, 2009

Unlike last week, there is no nudity in this one. Sorry, Sweetie. (Sweetie's Hunk Of The Week, 43)

I'm just going to be honest with you. I don't care for

James Franco,

Sweetie's 41st Hunk of the Week.

It's nothing personal with him. It's just that he's so... boring.

I'm not sure why it is, but for some reason, just seeing James Franco show up in a movie makes me not want to see that movie. Not in a bad way. Not like how having Helen Hunt in a movie will make me not want to see that movie (and will make me want to punch something; Helen Hunt evokes a visceral reaction in me.)

And it's not like I dislike him personally, the way I dislike Ethan Hawke personally. I don't even know Ethan Hawke, and I don't want to know him. I can't stand Ethan Hawke, and his presence in movies also makes me not want to see those movies. More than that, the existence of Ethan Hawke makes me angry. The fact that he not only exists but does things sets off an almost-inestimable rage in me.

James Franco's not like that. He doesn't make me hate him or make me mad. He just bores me and I don't like him because of that.

But Sweetie has picked him for the 41st Hunk of the Week, so, um... here goes.

You Don't Know Him Without You Have: No matter who you are or where you are, and no matter how bored you are by James Franco's existence, which throws boringness out the way neutron stars emit... something... the odds are that you know James Franco, because he's been steadily crammed down our throat by Hollywood for the last 10 years or so in a variety of different movies, as the Sylvester McMonkey McBean's Hollywood Star-Making Machine tries desperately to make James Franco the movie star he so seemingly deserves to be.

He does, apparently, deserve to be a movie star, if anyone can deserve to be a movie star. He's got those casual good looks, he's a decent actor, he's apparently a pretty nice guy, too, and girls like him.

That seeming-movie-starness is probably why Hollywood keeps trying to make him an actual movie star, and that's why he's been in big-budget superhero movies (Spider-Man 3), romances (Nights In Rodanthe), action-comedy buddy films (Pineapple Express), Oscar Bait (Milk, In The Valley of Elah), and Judd Apatow films (Knocked Up), and why he'll be in four different movies coming out in 2010. Which means that James Franco will, by the end of next year, have had big roles in 10 different movies, as well as being on a soap opera. James Franco is in a major movie about every 2 months.

And still, I don't care. No matter what they put him in, his being in a movie bores it down a little for me. Even in movies where he's really good, like Pineapple Express, which I liked, James Franco seems a little boring and, more or less, uncare-about-able.

Thing That Makes You Go Hmmmm About Him:
I think the most unusual thing about James Franco is that there's nothing unusual about him at all. I have a theory that I've been kicking around for a while now, and it combines and explains two things I believe:

(A) Supermodels aren't that pretty, and
(B) James Franco is boring.

Those don't seem to be related, but they are. In the Unified Theory of Everything, Supermodel not-that-prettiness and James-Franco-boringosity are related, and both explained by the same theory: They're just empty surfaces, something to look at with nothing behind them, and that makes them blah.

Supermodels are not that pretty because they have no personality. They're like looking at a painting; maybe it's attractive enough, but it's two dimensional and not that interesting, in the long run. That's why I've never understood why people go so nuts over supermodels; they have no story, no persona. I've never thought any supermodels were pretty, period, because of that lack.

Some actresses, and some real people, have that personality, and it gives life to their looks. When you look at an actress who's pretty - a Jennifer Aniston, say -- she's got something behind the screen. It may be something that I create, something that I think about her that may not be true at all (for example, I think of Jennifer Aniston as mostly acting like Rachel on Friends), but it's something. It animates that person and makes her prettiness come alive. In order for someone to be pretty, for me to like someone, they've got to have a personality and I've got to like it. Otherwise, it's like looking at a pretty vase: empty and boring.

Supermodels don't have a personality, and because I know nothing about them (and I have nothing on which to assume a personality for them, the way I can assume an actor or actress has a certain kind of personality because of a character they've played), they're not pretty.

James Franco, is just like that. He, too, has no personality that I can pick up on, at all. He's just... there. He's good-looking and competent and yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever; it's all surface. There's nothing behind it, so far as I know. He seems so interchangeable. He doesn't stand out in any way. Unlike most other actors and actresses, you don't get the idea that there's a personality -- any personality-- behind the face. Even when he plays a character, he doesn't seem to be like that character at all. Some people seem to be like their characters: Bruce Willis seems to be like That Die Hard Cop. Jason Batemen seems to be like Michael on Arrested Development. That kid who played the star of A Christmas Story seemed to be like the kid he played in that movie.

But James Franco doesn't even seem to be like the characters he's played. I can't say he seems like his drug-dealer guy in Pineapple Express or like Milk or like Harry Osborn in Spider-Man. He doesn't seem like anyone. Even when he plays a part, there's no personality to it and it makes him boring.

That might not seem fair, but it's true, and I think that James Franco knows it, too. That's why he's trying to get a personality, trying to create one the way I once taught myself to be a fidgeter, by just going out and doing it. He's trying to weird it up and make that his personality, in ways like how he's taking a role on a soap opera, and then claiming it's all in the interest of "performance art." He's trying to inject some personality into his life.

See what I mean?

But he seems to be trying too hard.
Also: The Bear seems more exciting
than James Franco.

It's not working, though. At least not for me. Just reading that little piece on how he's trying to pretend that being on a soap opera is some sort of meta-James-Franco-Experience bored me, too.

James Franco, I think, is the billboard that you drive by everyday on the way to work. You saw it once, years ago, and now, you can't think, really, what's on that billboard, can you? Are you even sure that it's got anything on it? Maybe it's blank? Maybe they tore it down and put a Mexican restaurant there... but until I brought it up, you hadn't even thought of the billboard at all, and then, the moment you did you became uncertain about it, period. That billboard has faded into the background existence of your life. It's there, trying to get you to notice it by advertising jewelry or the circus, but you drive by it every day, your eyes seeing it and moving on, so that now, it might as well not be there at all.

That's James Franco, and joining a soap opera isn't going to help him, anymore than changing that billboard will help it. You're going to go right on not noticing it at all, and we'll all go on not noticing James Franco, either, no matter how many movies he makes and how quirky he tries to be.

(Note: It's not just me, either. This person said "It's strange that people don't seem that interested in the fact that James Franco is in the middle of a two-month guest star arc on the soap "General Hospital." And if you Google news about James Franco, today, of the first six stories that come up, three aren't even about him:

That's right: Even the news about James Franco is bored with James Franco.

Reason I Tell Myself Sweetie Likes Him: Who cares? I'm bored by him, and in the time that I've been writing this, James Franco has made another 4 movies that nobody will care about in the long run. I'll just say "Because he's there."

Actual Reason Sweetie Likes Him: Something about him being "good-looking" and "tousled." Or good-looking in a tousled kind of way. Or tousled-looking in a good way. I don't know; I kind of blanked out on Sweetie's conversation about James Franco. Seriously. Yesterday, driving around and running a few errands, I asked Sweetie "Who's going to be your hunk of the week this week?" And she said "James Franco."

I said "Really? Why?"

And she then said something about tousled, but by then I'd moved on, mentally, and was probably thinking about having some leftover sloppy joe when we got home.

That's James Franco for you.

Point I'd Like To Make About Sweetie's Actual Reason For Liking Him: The point I'd like to make is about Sweetie picking him, period. I'm writing this at 2:40 p.m. on Saturday, nearly 24 hours after she told me "James Franco" was the Hunk of the Week. In that whole 24 hours, I was completely unable to come up with anything interesting about James Franco. The guy is like a black hole of interest.

I tried, too. I thought about doing a poem based on James Franco, trying to rhyme everything with tousled. I got this far:

When you're a good-looking actor who's tousled,
It almost seems certain my spouse'll

And then I got bored with that. I tried looking up "James Franco" on Youtube, and it's just a bunch of boring interviews of James Franco.

I wanted to do something seasonal, so I tried Googling "James Franco Christmas" and even that didn't work. I got nothing. And so here I sit, at the end of the 41st Hunk of The Week, and all I can say is... I don't care for James Franco.

Oh, and also, I lied about the nudity. But I had to -- if I mention it up front, Sweetie just skips to the end.

Even his butt is boring!

(Sweetie, I know you just thought: Oh no, it's not! Shame on you.)

The casinos may be online, but that doesn't mean they're pantless. Let's have some standards here.

On my law blog the other day -- you do read my law blog, right, so you saw this, I'm sure -- I mentioned that I never really understood "insurance" in roulette. In actuality, that was an understatement, as I never understood much of gambling at all, let alone roulette.

Which is really a shame, because I think I'd be a good gambler. Any style of gambler: I could be the cool, suave, James-Bond-esque gambler wearing a tux and holding a fancy martini glass (although the glass would be filled with Diet Dr. Pepper, as I don't drink) and leaning back at a table of baccarat...

... baccarat's a thing, right?...

... or I could be the "aw shucks" regular-folks guy at the table in a flannel shirt and ironic t-shirt, the guy who never played before tonight and can't believe he's winning all this money, and making all these new friends.

The only thing I need to complete those scenarios is to actually know how to gamble, which I'm taking care of by learning to play roulette online, thanks to Best Online Casinos. This site -- I've mentioned it before, too -- is a great resource for people who like to gamble, for real or fake money, online. It's got reviews of sites that are compiled by talking to experts, looking at regular people's comments, measuring the bonus money for signing up, and more. But you don't need to know how the reviews are compiled to know that they're accurate and a great way to find the best online casinos for your gaming.

And, remember, just because you're online doesn't mean you can't bring it: Take me, for example. I'm wearing my tux right now, playing online baccarat.

(Will someone please tell me if that's a real thing?)

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Barber of Seville is a song I know thanks to Bugs Bunny Cartoons. (3 Good Things From 12/17/09)

I was at work at 7:20 yesterday, and 6:50 today... but now I'm "working" from "home..." and missing phone calls from people because my phone plays The Barber of Seville for calls and it takes me a while to realize that it's my phone ringing instead of a hallucination.

Here's my 3 Good Things from Thursday.

1. I can get past the Q. The Babies! like a new game, the alphabet game from Kneebouncers. It's not much of a game: Just press any key and the 'puter will go through the letters, one each time you press them. The Babies! know how to do that, learning their alphabet and cycling through octopi and ice creams and the like. But they won't do the Q. Q on that game is a Queen, who comes out and marches around and gets cheered by digital throngs of royalists, and the Babies! won't sit for it or even press the button to get past it. Instead, they come and get me or Sweetie to do that for them, and last night Mr Bunches made it my job to get past the Q. Which I did for him, all the while being glad that he was so pro-democracy/anti-royalty... but worrying that his alphabet would be 3% smaller than everyone else's.

2. Mr F likes his tunnel. Lisa at my office gave the Babies! a Christmas present: a nylon tent-and-tunnel. Mr F enjoyed the tunnel immensely, so much so that for a while he wore it and walked around our living room, a multicolored, tiny-legged cylinder. Then he took it to bed with him, where he didn't sleep in it, he slept next to it.

Mr F is not shown with the tunnel, because I took one picture of him in it, but it turned out blurry, and then he insisted on holding my phone for the remainder of the time he played in the tunnel, either because he wanted me to stop taking picture of him, or because he likes the little song the phone plays when you spin the keyboard into place.

3. I was able to fix whatever it was I'd done to my phone. My new phone has many mysterious features on it, one of which is that little song it plays when the keyboard is activated and another of which, as I found yesterday, was that I am completely able to turn off the sound on the phone. All the sound. Keypad beeps, ringtones... and the ability to hear what callers are saying.

I don't know why that feature is on there; what good is a phone that doesn't been when you dial, doesn't ring when someone calls, and that doesn't let you hear the person you're trying to talk to when you realize that they've called you?

I also don't know how that feature gets activated; I only know that it can be activated randomly or by accident, as it was yesterday, and I also know (now) that it can be de-activated by turning my phone on and off.

Oh the toil that knows no breaking! (Friday's Sunday's Poem, 40)

Christmas in India

by Rudyard Kipling

Dim dawn behind the tamerisks -- the sky is saffron-yellow --
As the women in the village grind the corn,
And the parrots seek the riverside, each calling to his fellow
That the Day, the staring Easter Day is born.
Oh the white dust on the highway! Oh the stenches in the byway!
Oh the clammy fog that hovers
And at Home they're making merry 'neath the white and scarlet berry --
What part have India's exiles in their mirth?

Full day begind the tamarisks -- the sky is blue and staring --
As the cattle crawl afield beneath the yoke,
And they bear One o'er the field-path, who is past all hope or caring,
To the ghat below the curling wreaths of smoke.
Call on Rama, going slowly, as ye bear a brother lowly --
Call on Rama -- he may hear, perhaps, your voice!
With our hymn-books and our psalters we appeal to other altars,
And to-day we bid "good Christian men rejoice!"

High noon behind the tamarisks -- the sun is hot above us --
As at Home the Christmas Day is breaking wan.
They will drink our healths at dinner -- those who tell us how they love us,
And forget us till another year be gone!
Oh the toil that knows no breaking! Oh the Heimweh, ceaseless, aching!
Oh the black dividing Sea and alien Plain!
Youth was cheap -- wherefore we sold it.
Gold was good -- we hoped to hold it,
And to-day we know the fulness of our gain.

Grey dusk behind the tamarisks -- the parrots fly together --
As the sun is sinking slowly over Home;
And his last ray seems to mock us shackled in a lifelong tether.
That drags us back how'er so far we roam.
Hard her service, poor her payment -- she is ancient, tattered raiment --
India, she the grim Stepmother of our kind.
If a year of life be lent her, if her temple's shrine we enter,
The door is hut -- we may not look behind.

Black night behind the tamarisks -- the owls begin their chorus --
As the conches from the temple scream and bray.
With the fruitless years behind us, and the hopeless years before us,
Let us honor, O my brother, Christmas Day!
Call a truce, then, to our labors -- let us feast with friends and neighbors,
And be merry as the custom of our caste;
For if "faint and forced the laughter," and if sadness follow after,
We are richer by one mocking Christmas past.


As I searched for a Christmas poem today, I was struck by how many sad Christmas poems there are. I've heard that the holidays tend to be sad for many people, and can bring on or exacerbate depression, and I think that's terrible; it seems more awful to be sad at the holidays than to be sad at other times of the year. By the same token, though, Christmas can make little things seem more special: Looking at Christmas lights, or a small gift from a friend or coworker, or just a Christmas card with updated pictures of old friends you never talk to anymore.

This poem seemed to reflect both of those thoughts, as well as a third that I ponder on from time to time: What Christmas used to be like before it was a months-long buildup and frenzy of good will and shopping. I love to hear stories of how people spent Christmas when it was an important holiday but not so big as it is now, and in other countries where the traditions differ.

Kipling's poem does all that, positing a Christmas that is barely there: The speaker or people in the poem are in a foreign land, working amid the sun and strange sights, and barely acknowledging Christmas... until at the very end, there is a glimmer of hope and happiness and an acknowledgment that even a poor, mocked Christmas is better than no Christmas at all.

That seems an appropriate sentiment for this time of year: We are better off for having a period of time in which we, to a greater or lesser degree, try to be something better than we are the rest of the year, and we are that better off even if we don't reach our ideal.

Is is just me, or were the people in "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" only about 1 minute away from a home invasion?

One week left 'til Christmas, so all those chores you've been putting off need to get done now: Put up the inflatable Tigger-wearing-a-santa-hat! Get the Figgy Pudding properly figged! And go buy everyone on your list one of the Bulova chronograph watches from Blue Dial.

Those are all serious commands, especially that last one. If you've still got people on your shopping list, people who need a great present, there's very little you could give them that's better than a great watch. Watches are classy gifts: They're like jewelry, but useful: people can wear them all the time, and when they do, they'll think of you, the gift-giver, whenever they look to find out what time it is.

The one shown here is an excellent example of what you could get for that special someone. Polished gold over a steel case, a chronograph, and it looks like a million bucks (but costs way less than that, and is on sale for half-off at Blue Dial right now.)

And if you're getting a watch, make sure you order it from Blue Dial. Blue Dial offers pretty much every watch they've got for half off, if not more. I've checked and I can't find any watches that AREN'T on sale.

Also good: Right now, Blue Dial is guaranteeing delivery by Christmas on almost every watch they've got. So you can go online, order a great watch for someone, then relax knowing that it'll be there before the big day... giving you more time to figure out what figgy pudding is.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mr F mostly behaved because I let him play with my cell phone... but whatever works, right? (3 Good Things Times Two)

I didn't get to post the 3 Good Things yesterday because I spent most of the day busy with a variety of things and then at night, Mr Bunches had the flu and Sweetie got a kidney stone, leaving me and Mr F to try to cope with things on our own while The Boy was at work... but I liked the 3 Good Things I had planned, so I'm posting them anyway -- 3 Good Things From Tuesday along with 3 Good Things From Wednesday.

Also, Sweetie's doing pretty good except, she reports, Mr F and
Mr Bunches are both feeling better now and keep jumping on her.

The 3 Good Things From Tuesday, 12/15/09:

Tuesday, after running out to get the last of The Boy's presents, we went driving around a little to look at Christmas decorations in the neighborhoods around us. Here are:

1. The best Christmas lights I saw:

2. The best Christmas lights Sweetie saw:

3. My favorite view of the night:

And, then there's the 3 Good Things from 12/16/09:

1. I was on the news! This story quotes me, but the television story (which aired yesterday at 5:00 on our local channel 27) did more than that; it featured me on air for almost 30 seconds, and referred to me as an "expert." Which I am... and a tired-looking one; one of our paralegals asked if I saw myself on the news and I said "Yeah, and I thought I looked tired." She said "I thought you did, too."

And that was before the night of barfing and kidney stones.

2. Mr F behaved like a perfect gentleman at the ER. We had to take Sweetie to deal with the kidney stone, and both Babies! behaved great while we were there -- but that's to be expected from Mr Bunches, who spent the day with an upset stomach. Mr F, who was already on the rebound, behaved, too, so there's hope for us yet that someday we will be able to go into society with the Babies!

3. I got to start on the Penguin Fudge, and it turns out it's Penguin Cake. I finally opened the Penguin Fudge that Uncle Dick sent us and found out it's not fudge, but delicious delicious cake, with layers of almost-candy-like frosting in between and on top of and below the cake. Candy-coated Penguin Cake is pretty much the only thing better than Penguin Fudge.

Hopefully, Mr F and Mr Bunches will remember to be nice to Santa. They don't need coal again this year.

This is a Sponsored Post written by me on behalf of Hiltons of Branson. All opinions are 100% mine.

I keep meaning to head to Branson, Missouri and stay at the Hilton Promenade at Branson Landing, and just never get around to doing it. I've talked about it before -- how the allure of the tons and tons of nightclubs, amusement parks, golf courses, and (for the ladies) shopping draws me in and makes me think, time and again, "I should go there."

Now, Hilton might have finally drawn me over the line and forced my hand, with their "It's a Wonderful Life" package. $329 per night through December 23 gets me (or you, if you go) what they're calling "the ultimate holiday getaway," one which includes a "Branson Landing" passport stocked with discounts on attractions and shopping and even Spa treatment savings.

But it gets more than that. For people with little kids, Mrs. Claus is there at the Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel lobby, reading stories to the kids. And for some packages (the "Santa's Coming To Town" deals) you can get Santa himself to stop by the hotel rooms and bring cookies, milk... and PRESENTS.

So now there's not just tons of entertainment options -- shows for everyone -- and not just roller coasters and thrill rides, not just roughly 1 zillion (an estimate) shops but now SANTA is there? And, technically, Santa is having his wife babysit while I do stuff? That's what's pushing me over the edge. If you call me next week and I don't answer, I'm at the Hilton Branson Convention Center Hotel getting a rubdown in a spa before golfing, while Mr F and Mr Bunches climb on Mrs. Santa's head.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Praise You! (From The Cheesecake Truck To The End Of The Line, 10)

Just before I got married to Sweetie, I made a mixtape to take on our honeymoon road trip to New York. The other day, I found that tape and decided to tell the story of our honeymoon through the songs on that tape. This is part 10; click here for the Table of Contents.

We've come a long long way together,
through the hard times and the good
I have to celebrate you, baby.
I have to praise you like I should.

It took about one-billionth of a second for me to agree that, yes, I very much did want to go onto the field and see where the team plays and otherwise tour the stadium. Sweetie may have been thinking that this might not be the most romantic way to spend our honeymoon, but she went along with it and before long, we were walking through the hallways to head out onto the field.

I walked out there, holding Sweetie's hand, and looked around. It was only the third time I'd ever stood on field at a football stadium, and for some reason that's always an exciting thing to do.

The first time I'd ever gone onto a football field -- a real football field, not the football field we used as kids behind my house, the one that we set up in the outfield of the baseball diamond at the park -- was when my dad took me and my brothers to see a Packers playoff game. That was in 1982, and I wasn't quite sure what a "playoff" game was and didn't really care for the Packers. As a kid, I wasn't sports-crazy at all, and wasn't that into sports, period. (That's a surprising thing, I know, to hear from a guy who wore glasses, was fat, and liked comic books and Dungeons and Dragons). But my dad liked sports, and my brothers liked sports, and so I got involved in some sports-related things from time to time, trying my hardest to be an athlete, too, or at least to like sports. But in 1982, I still didn't care that much for sports and, truth be told, would rather not have gone to the Packers' game, period.

The game was in December, or maybe early January, and winter in Green Bay is not a time to be outdoors. This particular playoff game took place on a day that not only was winter, but was winter-with-a-vengeance, as it had snowed, a lot, and was extremely cold, too. We drove up there with my dad and brothers and two uncles along for good measure, and then tried to enjoy ourselves while tailgating.

I've never understood tailgating, either. I don't get the appeal of cooking on a grill at the back of my car, eating out of a cooler and balancing plates on my legs. Grilling itself is dumb, to me, and I don't do that at all anymore. The last time I ever grilled anything was, actually, shortly after I married Sweetie, when her sisters and brother came to visit us in our apartment. For dinner on the Saturday night, we decided to grill hamburgers on the little charcoal grill we had on the balcony. That marked the only time in my life I had been solely responsible for grilling food, and I botched it pretty nicely, taking forever to get the coals going and then forever to cook the burgers, which didn't look very appetizing when they were done, a pile of burnt-on-the-outside, pink-on-the-inside, only-vaguely-patty-shaped pieces of meat sitting on the plate, almost untouched, for dinner.

I never tried to cook anything on a grill again, unless you count the George Foreman grill I got for Sweetie a couple years back.

Tailgating is grilling, only stupider: It's done in a parking lot, surrounded by a bunch of other people eating out of the backs of their cars, almost a mockery of the Dust Bowl migration, as if a bunch of people in garish colors had decided to re-enact families on a pilgrimage to find work. Everything that someone wants to use to "tailgate" has to be packed into the car in advance, and then unpacked and then packed in again, and what's the point of hauling not only your lunch but all the things needed to make your lunch to the place where you're going to eat? Life is tough enough without deliberately making it tougher by setting up mock challenges for ourselves. Tailgating is the answer to the question: I wonder if there's some way I could, in this day and age, make it almost unimaginably hard to eat a cheeseburger?

But we tailgated that day, cooking burgers and hot dogs at 10 a.m. on a grill set on a pile of snow, and then wrapping ourselves not just in triple-layers of clothing but also blankets and sleeping bags to stay warm, before carrying all those blankets and sleeping bags into the stadium, where we re-wrapped our bodies and watched a game played in the most uninviting conditions imaginable: sitting in snow, outside, in subzero temperatures, in a position where most of the time we couldn't see what was going on.

I don't even remember anything about the game beyond the fact that the Packers won, and I only remember that because when they won, people rushed onto the field to tear down the goalposts, and my brother Matt and I went to join them. (That's parenting, 1980s-style: My dad freely let a 13- and 11-year-old wander, in freezing temperatures, into a crazed mob of people storming the field to tear things down.) We got down onto Lambeau Field and wandered around trying to (in my case, at least) figure out what we should be doing, now.

Eventually, my dad found us, we left the stadium, went back home, and at some point feeling returned to my toes, mostly.

The second time I was on a football field was in my third year of law school. Each year, the 3rd-year law students had a ceremony where, during Homecoming, they would take walking canes and march onto the field at Camp Randall Stadium. I did that my third year, too, and joined the procession of law students walking single-file across the field towards the opposite goal post. On the opposite side, law students were supposed to throw their cane over the goal post and try to catch it on the other side. Legend has it that if you caught your cane, you'd win your first case. Drop it, and you'd lose your first case.

I walked across, feeling rather silly even though nobody in the stadium would really know who I was, and, when I got to the field goal post, I tossed my cane up, where it joined a jumble of other canes in the air. A few inches later, I was underneath a hailstorm of canes and stuck my hand up while ducking my head down, and I caught a cane... just not my cane, because the cane I caught had some sort of little marker or tassle on it, and had been decorated by someone. I had not decorated my cane.

I took the decoration off and left the field carrying the now-it's-my-cane. I don't know what legend says about the lawyer smart enough to do that, but I'm sure it's something good.

Standing on the field at the Bills' stadium, then, was the third and definitely the best time I'd done that. I was right in the end zone, holding Sweetie's hand while the Bills' guy took our picture, and I was pointing towards the end zone and telling Sweetie about various big things that had taken place on the field, while looking up at the stands and remembering the times I'd watched on TV and seen this stadium full of fans, cheering and yelling and rooting. It was the high point of the day until, a moment later, the Bills' guy said:

"How'd you like to go into the locker room?" He motioned up the ramp we'd just come down, and said it was the ramp that the players ran out of the locker room onto the field, and that at the top was the players' locker room.

I forgot for a moment that this was May, about as far away from the beginning or end of a football season as you can get. What I thought was: The locker room! I'm going to get to meet Doug Flutie! And other Bills players that I can't think of right now!

"We'd love to," I told him, and motioned to Sweetie to follow him up the ramp. We walked the few feet up there, and got to the door.

"Your wife can't come in," the man said. "There may be some guys in there, after all," the guy said. "So no women allowed." That posed a problem: This was my honeymoon, after all: we were beginning to spend the rest of our life together, in better and worse and sickness and health and all of that. I didn't want to separate from Sweetie on our honeymoon. Then again, how often does one get a chance to maybe bump into Doug Flutie and have him give you an autograph and promise to invite you to the Superbowl and be your pal for life?

"I'll be right back," I told Sweetie.

I didn't actually hit anyone [I think; there were some big bumps] (3 Good Things From 12/14/09)

On 5 of the last 7 days, winter has hampered my ability to drive into work. The latest is this morning, when the ice would not come off my windshield, forcing me to drive to work looking through a narrow band of windshield cleared off using an empty soda can. If you were on the road with me, I'm sorry. Maybe you need your own 3 Good Things to cheer you up as you wait for a tow truck.

1. We got through Chapter 3 of "
A Series Of Unfortunate Events." My new thing this month -- a variation on this -- is to read each night to Mr F and Mr Bunches from Book 1 of the "Lemony Snicket" books, with varying degrees of success. Sometimes they like it, sometimes they don't. Last night was a "we like it" night, and we got through about 10 pages. (And, in response to the question I'd ask: I kind of do the voices. But I keep forgetting what voice I use for Count Olaf.)

2. I got on the radio (but didn't win a sub sandwich.) On the way home from work, the call-in question on the radio was Are the Green Bay Packers serious Superbowl contenders. I got on the radio with "No, because their offense isn't good enough and their defense doesn't play a complete game," but they picked someone else for the free sub sandwich. Still... it's my start as an on-air sports commentator!

3. I finally got my laundry put away (and found my burgundy shirt while I was at it.) Each day for a week I've been meaning to put away the clean laundry Sweetie puts neatly in front of my dresser. Yesterday, the pile had grown to cover 2/3 of the dresser itself, forcing me to put it away -- but at the bottom was the burgundy dress shirt that's my favorite shirt, so, score!

Monday, December 14, 2009

You know what never runs dry? A crayon. (The Great Ranking Of Problems.)

There is little in life more frustrating than the newest addition to my ongoing effort to categorize and rank all the problems in the world, so that finally we all can know whose problems are actually worse than whose.

The latest on the list, I'm sure we'll all agree, is a big problem. It's...

The pen ran dry midway through my signature.

I sign a variety of things during the day: letters, legal pleadings, my paycheck over to Sweetie (ba dum! Bum! Don't forget to tip your waitress!) and I may run into this more often than most people, but it's a problem for everyone.

When the pen runs dry, midway through my signature, I immediately think two thoughts:

1. What are the odds of that?


2. What the heck am I supposed to do now?

The "What are the odds of that" question is one I ask all the time when something happens that momentarily impedes me but I figure it shouldn't have happened -- like last week, when I was nearly stuck in the snow and needed to rev up my car to get up the hill, and suddenly a car comes down our hill preventing me from getting going... cars almost never come down our hill, because we're very nearly a dead-end, so I got to think What are the odds of that? and also many mean-spirited thoughts that aren't fit to print here.

And what are the odds of that is appropriate to think when a pen runs dry, say, in the a in my first name, or somewhere around there. How likely is it that the ink just ran out right there and couldn't even make it through the rest of my name? I always secretly suspect, when things like that happen, that "life" as an entity is conspiring against me to make things just a tiny bit more difficult than it has to be.

Worse, though, is the what do I do now? It's a problem, first, because I rarely realize the pen has gone dry instantly, so I have the almost-visible indentation of the rest of my name in the paper. But then I have to complete the signature, which requires finding a pen of the same color and beginning my signature right at the spot where I left off.

It almost never works. My signature is the end result of a variety of influences: the time of day, the things I'm working on, the years of practice to get my signature to have flourishes but be uncopyable, all of that culminates, when I sign my name, in a quick-but-stylish signature that, once interrupted, is like coming back to watch the second part of the movie the next day: it can be done, but the feeling's not the same.

And sometimes I can't find a pen of the same color, so I have to take a different color and trace over the first, carefully, making the whole thing look like a sloppy forgery.

Because my signatures could have legal implications, I'm going to break this problem out into two listings:

The pen ran dry midway through my signature (legal documents), ranked 72nd, and

The pen ran dry midway through my signature (stuff that doesn't really matter at all, so why am I signing it?)
ranked 13,334th.

Prior entries on The Great Ranking Of Problems:

72. The pen ran dry midway through my signature (legal documents)

Family members imposing their diets on me

99: Spousal PB&J Incompatibility.

173: Preshoveling & reshoveling snow.

What to do about stuff I was going to buy but then it broke in the store and now I still want to buy the stuff but I don't want to buy something that was broken?

413: Guilt Over Meanness To Sentient Paperclips
. . .
502: Having to wait forever, seemingly, for Italian food to cool down.
. . .

721: Printer not holding a lot of paper at once.
2,624: Unidentifiable Mystery Song Stuck In Head.
5,000: Lopsided Nail Clipping.
7,399: Potato(E?)s?
. . .

13,334: The pen ran dry midway through my signature (signing stuff that doesn't really matter at all, so why am I signing it?)

14,452: Worrying that there's too much peanut brittle leftover to eat before it goes bad.
15,451: Almost napping.
22,372: Having hair which isn't quite a definable color.
22,373: Having too many songs on an iPod

Nothing says "Holiday Cheer!" like a gutted carp. (3 Good Things from 12/11-12/13)

The snow has been covered with freezing rain. Who dreams of a shiny, slippery Christmas? Not me. Here's my 3 Good Things from the past weekend. Hopefully they'll keep me out of a ditch on my way into work...

1. Mr Bunches' yard work: Mr Bunches and I went out into the snow to play on Saturday. (Mr F came initially but went back inside out of fear of the neighbors' dog.) While walking around, I stopped to brush some snow off a pine tree branch that was weighed down too heavily. Mr Bunches watched me do that, then spent most of the rest of our time outside going around and brushing snow off of every branch in our yard. Except for one bush near the edge, which he motioned me over to and made me brush the snow off of.

2. I got our giant inflatable decorations up! Christmas came a little early to our neck of the woods, as I put up the lighted snowman, the giant inflatable Rudolph, the sled-full-of-reindeer, and Pete The Patriotic Parrot a couple of days early. Then, of course, they got weighed down by the sleet and freezing rain and spent most of Sunday looking Dali-esque. But still Christmas-y!

3. I got a digital photo frame as the Random Gift at my office Christmas party. Sweetie and I attended this year's party, and made it through with no real troubles, excepting the various people who grabbed at Sweetie or subjected her to drunken conversations. (I was mostly left alone to eat meatballs and cheese slices.)

Each year at the party, the office manager gets gifts for all the employees; this year, it appears she bought them at an unusual garage sale: One person got Green Bay Packer mudflaps. One got a coffee collection. One got a crock pot. I initially ended up with a "Bucky Book" of half-off entertainment coupons ... whee!... but then my boss traded me for his gift, which was a digital photo frame.

Plus, there was a hollowed out fish there, as I'd told The Boy there would be. When he asked why we were eating dinner before my Christmas party, I explained that the food at the party traditionally revolved around a hollowed-out fish with crackers, and that meant that mostly there was nothing good to eat there. This year, that was mostly true except there were meatballs, too.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Your team made 20 million bucks by not caring about you. (Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!)

This week, there was a minor... extremely minor ... flap as "Disgraced Ref Tim Donaghy" decided he wasn't done being kind of famous yet -- fame on the level of, say, Tiger's 10th or 11th girlfriend: Famous enough to get mentioned on a blog, but not to host a panel discussion with Kate Gosselin -- and announced that the NBA was fixed.

"Disgraced Ref Tim Donaghy" (now his official name, I believe) hardly dropped a bombshell; everyone knows the NBA is fixed -- not that it needs to be, given that 31 of the 32 NBA teams make the playoffs, and the playoffs themselves last more than 2 years. (Any day now, the NBA expects to finish the 2007 Finals. I'm breathless with anticipation!)

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that every major sport league is rigged, including the NFL, and I can prove it. But they're not rigged to favor gamblers or certain teams or only the Mannings (okay, the NFL is kind of rigged to favor only the Mannings, but can you blame them? They're a nice family.)

No, sports leagues are rigged to favor corporations, and they're ruining your game to do it. You, the little guy in your Manning jersey, are getting screwed over because you aren't a corporation.

You, per se, don't matter to the sports leagues. You as an individual don't matter not a single tiny little bit to the sports leagues. They don't care what you think, unless what you think is "I'm going to throw this beer at Ron Artest," in which case, they'd officially rather you didn't do that but unofficially would be okay with it because it would make an otherwise 2nd-tier player into a higher-level media interest and let them get him to Los Angeles where he can keep the television money rolling in. (Ron Artest is another guy who benefitted greatly from being Kerriganed.)

That television money -- and other corporate bucks-- are what controls sports, and it's why sports are rigged (to favor corporations) and why you don't matter.

In the NFL, the television money pays the players. That's more or less how it works out: TV pays a bunch of money to televise the games (even though the NFL is undercutting them with the NFL Network, proving that (a) TV stations are stupid enough to pay their competitor and (b) there's way too much money to go around in sports) and that bunch of money more or less covers, almost exactly, the players' salaries.

The team owners, though, still want to make money. Making money is the number one reason sports teams (or any business, except maybe the Salvation Army) exists. (Never forget that: Sports teams don't want to win championships. That's for players and fans; sports teams want to make money.) Team owners need to make money, and because TV pays their players, they make their money off merchandise and ticket sales and concessions at the games.

This holds true not just for professional sports leagues like the NFL, but for "Professional-but-we-say-they-aren't-so-we-don't-have-to-pay-the-players" leagues like college football, where teams get $18 million for playing in a bowl game and where a team like the Wisconsin Badgers can pay another team $1 million to come play in Madison, because if they do, then the Badgers will still rake in two million.

But don't get excited: Just because teams want you, with your Manning jersey on, to come buy a ticket at their stadium and pay sixty bucks for a pizza, doesn't mean they care about you. They don't. Not really.

Sure, they want you to fill up those seats that they wouldn't otherwise sell, like standing-room-only areas for $29 (Twenty-nine bucks to stand in a hallway at a stadium and watch the game on TV? Sign me up! Wait, no, don't!) But they don't really care about you one way or the other, because you don't have the big bucks.

And teams need big bucks. They're not going to survive on people buying $29 tickets and $60 pizzas, not for long. I mean, they could, but if they did that, where would their owners get outrageous sums of money to spend on personal jets?

Corporations, that's where. Corporations have the big bucks, and are willing to shell them out to be associated with NFL teams, for exclusive selling rights with NFL teams, and for the right to attend games in luxury boxes. Corporations have lots of money, and they'll use it to get what they want from sports teams, and they have more money than you have, so they'll get what they want, each time.

Let's take a look at the math. Look at Lambeau Field. The Green Bay Packers are held up as an icon of some sort or other in sports leagues because they are owned by us, the little guys -- stockholders, not some Fat Cat Johnny Wall Street. So they'll protect the little guys, right, and make most of their money off the little guys?

Lambeau Field holds 72,928 people. The average ticket price for a Packer game is $64. That means the Packers make $4,667,392, gross, off ticket sales for each home game, or $37,339,136 for the regular season off of you. (Not off of me; I don't go to games in person.)

The Packers also have 166 suites, described as "state-of-the-art suites featuring increased square footage and high-end custom finishes." Back in 2003, those suites went for $115,000 annually. I wasn't able to find out how much they're going for now before I got tired of looking, so let's use that figure. That's $19,090,000 -- in 2003 dollars, remember. The Packers also have 6,000 "club seats," 3,000 of which are indoors. Those cost $600-$1,200 per seat per game, so averaging them at $900 shows the Packers gross $43,200,000, at least, from those.

So the Packers make $37,000,000 of their gross cash from you, and $62,000,000+ from corporations and other big spenders. Guess who they're listening to when they decide what to do with the facility or the team?

Not you and me, that's for sure. The Packers stopped listening to you and me not long back when they decided to stop being such a losing organization. And by "losing" I mean "losing money."

Back in 1999, NFL documents show that the Packers were second-to-last in the NFL, earning only $288,000 in profits that year. That was following years and years of great successes, including two Superbowl appearances. The Packers were media darlings and had great, legendary players.

Last year, the Packers' operating profit was...

get ready...

$20.1 million.

The Packers netted $4 million last year. After "significant" investment losses.

(One of those losses? Lost souvenir and Favre sales after the team got rid of him: the Packers lost $5 million in local souvenir sales.)(But still turned a $20.1 million profit.)

How did the Packers, in ten years, increase their profitability by a factor of ten? By shifting TV money from players to the organization: By paying players less, so that TV money supports their bottom line, their profit. They're making a profit off of corporations by selling them nice seats, and off of TV money by not using it to pay players -- and they're putting an inferior team on the field for you and I to watch.

The numbers show that the Packers are intent on not signing big name players and not paying their players that much. In 2009, the Packers were $16,080,000 under the salary cap -- 3rd highest in the league, and trailing only Cleveland and Tampa Bay. They were about $24,000,000 under the 2008 salary cap, and $30,000,000 under the cap at the start of the 2007 free agent season. They have an inexperienced head coach without a big resume -- a move that many teams make to save money, hiring a younger, cheaper, but not-as-good person to fill a mostly-expendable job.

The result is this: A Green Bay Packers team that has few big name free agents, that makes no effort to go after (or retain) big name free agents, that has a nobody coach who's ineffective... and a very attractive bottom line.

Do you fans, freezing in your jerseys in the cheap seats, want a $20.1 million profit? Or do you want a big-name free agent catching touchdowns?

Then again, it doesn't matter what you want, because you are not a fatcat corporate sponsor, and teams like the Packers and all sports teams pay attention to the corporations, not to you.

As does the NFL, which doesn't listen to you either, and does what it can to promote the teams' courting of the corporations and big-spenders. The NFL has a stake in this: they make stadium loans, and they want franchises to remain profitable so that they don't face movement from one city to another (always controversial) and don't face the ignominy of having to take over a franchise, or, God forbid, fold one. (The WNBA has folded two franchises fairly recently.)

So the NFL does what it can, too, to keep corporations -- not you, corporations -- happy.

One obvious area where the NFL courts corporations, and not you, is in locating the Superbowl. In the whole history of the Superbowl, only three of those games have even been played north of the Mason-Dixon line, and those were in domes in Minneapolis and Detroit. The three Superbowls scheduled for the future are all in warm-weather locations.

If the NFL cared about history and the fans and interesting games, why wouldn't it simply rotate the Superbowl around among stadiums? Why not have a game at historic Lambeau Field and award the Lombardi Trophy... along Lombardi Avenue?

Simple: Corporations don't want to go to cold weather locations to celebrate the Superbowl. They simply won't go there, and the NFL won't schedule them to go there, unless the city makes major concessions. Minneapolis, to get its Superbowl, had to promise to link the Metrodome to the skywalk system it uses, so Corporate Fat Cats wouldn't get chilled walking to the game. (They were going to tear down a historic site to do that.) Indianapolis, in trying to get a Superbowl, promised to fly NFL execs to Florida to play golf that week.

The corporate aversion to cold weather works in more subtle ways, too. Look at the Packer schedule this year, set by the NFL: Green Bay has four home games in November and December -- but only two in December, when the weather can really work to the Packers' advantage. And only one of those is late December. Green Bay has two other cold-weather games, at Chicago and at Pittsburgh, in December, but finishes in a dome against Arizona. No Ice Bowl for you this year, fans.

In Week 14 of the NFL season, there are only three games that could be considered "cold weather" games. Week 15 fares better: 6 of 16 could be considered "cold weather" games, including sending a warm-ish weather team, the 49ers, to Philadelphia. In Week 16, half the schedule is cold weather, but week 17 drops back to 3 cold-weather games. So of the final 64 games, 19 are "cold weather" games -- just over 1/4 of the games the NFL plays in December will be played outdoors in cold weather.

This is from a league that still shows footage of "The Ice Bowl" every year to remind you how great they are, and a league that has eleven teams playing in cities with outdoor stadiums where the weather is frigid this time of year.

There's an even more subtle effect that corporations and big money can have on the game: the timing of games and who plays when. The NFL sets the schedule, determining who plays when (matchups are largely set in advance; the date and time of games is determined by the NFL.) The effect of television and corporate money on those scheduling issues is easy to see. Take the Week 17 schedule, for example. Week 17 is played on Sunday, January 3, 2010. It features, this year, Philadelphia playing Dallas as the only marquee matchup between two teams that could be expected to be vying for a title at that point. The remainder of the games are throwaways, with no big rivalries or highlights to finish up the season. Buffalo, for example, finishes against Indianapolis: Buffalo fans who traditionally have a team that's out of contention long before week 17 will get the low-light of a finishing game playing against a Colts team that will be resting starters and preparing for the playoffs, and the NFL gets a game that nobody can decide was "tampering" with the playoffs.

Why not give Bills fans a game against Miami on the last weekend, so that even if neither team is in contention, the fans get a good rivalry and the fun of seeing Miami come to Buffalo on January 3? Because the corporations wouldn't want it: January 3 isn't going to be a big day for ratings in football, the NFL doesn't want some teams to have big games while other teams are packing it in, and corporations don't want to go to Buffalo in January.

Week 16, the action is hotter, and more lucrative for corporations. The NFL moved the San Francisco-Tennessee game up to Friday the 25th, shorting those teams time to practice (even though both might need a win to remain in playoff contention) in order to up TV ratings by playing games on a Friday. They're not doing that to make fans happy, just as they aren't shortening the practice time for teams by making them play on Thursdays a couple times a year to make the fans happy.

Week 15, the NFL has shortened the practice time for four teams, playing both Thursday and Saturday games (shortening the practice week for those teams in one week means, also, they get more recovery time the next week.) And, looking at the schedule, I noted that Dallas -- with its new stadium -- finishes up at home against Philadelphia. Dallas has, the last few years, stunk in December, so it's possible the NFL decided to keep corporate money happy by making sure that Dallas would have a meaningful game against a major rival in December at home, no matter what.

Disgraced Ref Tim Donaghy was right: The sports leagues are rigged. But not for bettors or the Mafia or to influence the outcome of games, at all. After all, the outcome of games is something only you and I care about.

Instead, the leagues are rigged to make money. That means that fans don't get to watch any more "Ice Bowl" games, don't get to have big name players on their teams, have to watch their team struggle on short practice (as Pittsburgh did against Cleveland this week) and otherwise get jerked around to accommodate the big money that lines the owners' and the league's pockets. College teams buy opponents to come in and play them, NFL teams shortchange the fans and the teams' prospects to improve their bottom line from $288,000 to $20 million, the NFL decides that warm weather is what Gatorade wants so Seattle won't host a Superbowl...

...but, hey, it's all just entertainment, right?

At least, until it stops being entertaining for you.

But maybe then the corporations can buy up all those empty seats and get someone to watch on TV? Sports leagues better hope so.