Saturday, May 01, 2010

I'm off to change my ringtone again! (Sweetie's Hunk of the Week, 60)

It's time for the 60th Hunk of the Week...

Joe Penny!

You Don't Know Joe Penny Without You Have... Okay.
I've got nothing.

Seriously. I've been screwing around for just over an hour trying to think of something, anything, to say about Joe Penny. As you may have guessed from the intro, and from the "Okay, I've got nothing" part here, I've got nothing.

In the better-part-of-an-hour, I've read Wonderella. I checked my Twitter page. I did blog posts on two other blogs (This one, and this one). I even changed the ringtone on my phone. (I went with Barber of Seville for almost everything, but I changed it to hand claps for alerts.)

I also actually tried to research Joe Penny. I looked up some images of him, these, to be exact:

And that second one, I thought okay, I can do something with that. He's all 70'd-out, with that towel and that hair, like he'd be playing the main government guy in Manimal. But then, nothing.

So I looked at what he's done, and saw a lengthy career with all kinds of shows that I could be making fun of -- from Riptide to TJ Hooker, to Cold Case (a/k/a The one that's not Law & Order, not CSI, and not even the one that everyone confuses with CSI but which has Mark Harmon, what's-it-called, NCIS, that's right, but not that one, either.)

Still... nothing. I checked my email and went and gave Mr F and Mr Bunches some cookies and started a movie for them. I took the new (used) desk chair that I'd bought today and put it out in the garage because it turns out the new desk chair, as comfortable as it looked, is also rickety and sitting in a rickety chair makes me feel like I'm having a series of mini-heart-attacks, which actually is not that unlikely when you consider that I rushed downstairs to eat Pancakes-On-A-Stick for breakfast this morning.

And even that didn't give me any ideas for what to say about Joe Penny.

His name, too, should be good for something, shouldn't it? I worked on that for a few minutes. Joe Penny. Joe Penny. Joe Penny. It sounds like... it seems like... well, it seems like the kind of name that it should be easy to make a sounds like joke about, but, again, nothing.

I went for the old standbys: Look at the names of characters he's played. Think of something to say about those. But aside from playing Speed in something called "Mother Juggs & Speed," a show I assume is either a porn flick or a made-up movie someone slipped in there to test IMDB's screening process, there's nothing there, either.

By the time I finally sat down and said Okay, let's just write this thing, then, it was really starting to concern me. Not only do I never get writer's block -- never -- but I never have a shortage of things to say about the movies and shows and hunks Sweetie likes.

But even with this:

I just had nothing. It's not even like he was boring. I could work with boring. It's like everytime I tried to think about Joe Penny or writing up the 60th Hunk of the Week, my attention was shifted away like he's surrounded by a Somebody Else's Problem field or something.

And that's when it hit me.

No, not the

Thing That Makes You Go Hmmm About Him: There's plenty of stuff that makes you go hmmm about him -- ranging from the fact that he allowed his repaired hairline to be featured on something called the Balding Blog ("Your hair loss questions, answered daily.") to...

... wait a minute, let me back up.

Your hair loss questions, answered daily?

What questions about hair loss can be answered daily? Aren't there only a limited number of hair loss questions? As a guy who himself is losing hair, I can think of exactly three hair loss questions:

1. Am I losing my hair?
2. Is there anything that can be done to stop that?
3. How does this toupee/transplant/other 'miracle cure' make me look?

And the answers to those questions are all obvious and well-known:

1. Yes.
2. No.
3. Oh my freaking God! Is your hair under attack by some sort of alien.... uh, that is, I mean, maybe try a hat, instead.

So what questions need to be answered daily?

I think, from here on out, I'm going to redouble my efforts to make money off people being stupid. Previously, I was going to focus on selling dumb stuff to rich people, making sure the rich people bought it through a series of simple steps like ""initially refusing to sell it to them" and then charging them lots of money for it. But now I'm going to also get rich by selling stuff to guys to stop hair loss. It might slow your hair loss and make it look fuller, I'll tell them, and then have them shovel the money into my minivan. (I'll buy a minivan for that purpose.) In a world where we sell hair-in-a-can, I can't help but get rich.

But it's not Joe Penny's fake hair and the Balding Blog that are the thing that makes me go hmmm about him. Nor is it the fact that I can get Joe Penny's exclusive lasagna recipe online. [SPOILER ALERT!: THERE'S LASAGNA NOODLES IN IT.]

No, those are not the things that make me go hmmm about Joe Penny.

No, wait, they are. But they're not the thing that I figured out. What I figured out is this:

The Reason I Assumed Sweetie Liked Him: I figured that out. Sweetie liked him because of the Somebody Else's Problem field.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about [SPOILER ALERT! THAT'S EVERYBODY!] a Somebody Else's Problem field is an idea created by the late, great Douglas Adams, who came up with the idea of spaceships being powered, and protected by, the Somebody Else's Problem field. How it works is this: You make your spaceship as ridiculously out-of-place and eye-catching as possible; in the books one spaceship was an Italian Bistro. Then, when people see it, they will realize that whatever they're looking at is so wildly out-of-place that they can't comprehend it and their minds will instantly decide it's somebody else's problem, and stop thinking about it.

You know, the way The Boy's mind works about every single chore around the house, including feeding himself.

So Sweetie, I assumed, had picked out Joe Penny because as a Hunk, he is protected by a Somebody Else's Problem field -- I can't make fun of him. I can't even think about him. I can't write about him, talk about him, post pictures of him. I sit down to do it, and he fades away and before I know it I'm back on Twitter thinking about picking a Twitterfight with that one guy who keeps ranting about illegal immigration.

Sweetie had to do this, I figure, because she's tired of me making a big deal out of her Hunks and tired of me realizing just how much time Sweetie devotes to the Hunks, or how much time I assume she devotes to the Hunks, which is pretty much accurate I assume. (I assume that Sweetie's time breaks down on a daily basis like this: 8 hours of sleep. 4 hours of caring for Mr F and Mr Bunches. 1 hour of preparing dinner and household chores. 1 hour of figuring out what that stain is. 10 hours of "looking up Hunks online.")

I may be a little off on the exact figures, but I'm pretty close. How else could Sweetie have an encyclopedic knowledge of every single Hunk? How else could Sweetie pick out obscure hunks that nobody's ever heard of who then go on to be major movie stars?

When it comes to Hunks, Sweetie is what Stephen Hawking would be if instead of stealing Dane Cook jokes, Stephen Hawking thought about Hunks.

But Sweetie's probably embarrassed that she spends upwards of 70 hours per week on her Unified Theory of Hunkiness, or she doesn't want me to feel insecure, especially this week, when I'm already a little insecure because when we went to The Boy's rugby game one of The Boy's friends was giving Sweetie the eye (even though I was right there) and then Oldest's boyfriend said to Oldest "Your mom is really hot," and Oldest said "She's my MOM."

Not "She's married."

"She's my Mom." That was Oldest's reason her boyfriend shouldn't think Sweetie is hot. Because I, apparently, am not a hurdle for her boyfriend to overcome in thinking Sweetie is hot.

So this week, I assumed, Sweetie was trying to protect herself, or my ego, and so she used her SuperKnowledge of Hunks to pick out a Hunk who couldn't be noticed, really, or talked about.

But I caught on. You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to fool me -- especially because I get up pretty early to get those Pancakes On A Stick.

With all that, let's check into

Sweetie's Actual Reason For Liking Him: "He’s got a nice smile… he’s got nice hair. He’s gorgeous… he’s got a hairy chest."

Point I'd Like To Make About Sweetie's Actual Reason For Liking Him: Come on, Sweetie, you know he's... he's... um.. hairy chest?

Okay, that's just weird.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Panera-geddon! (3 Good Things From 4/28/10)

I'm stuffed full of waffles and french toast; Sweetie made my breakfast this morning and loaded up on both, I think to try to prove to me that there is such a thing as too many waffles. Well, she was wrong, and while I nap and try to digest this stuff, here's my 3 Good Things from yesterday to keep me happy today -- focusing on the bright spots of otherwise bad things.

1. The kids at Panera got it right (almost).
In the past, I've wondered how The Boy, with his anti-work surliness, can keep a job the way he's done at the Panera near us for almost two years. Lately, the answer became apparent to me: because everyone else who works there is so much worse.

We go to the Panera where The Boy works about once a week; Sweetie likes their "frozen mango" drink and the Babies! and I usually run in to get her one, along with a mini-Bundt cake. And each time we've gone, the service has gotten a little worse.

It begins, always, with them questioning my order. Panera serves two mango drinks: A frozen mango, which is like a mango Icee with whipped cream, and a Mango Smoothie. That's how the drinks are identified on their menu. So when I go in, I order "A frozen mango," and without fail, the Panera person asks me "do you mean the mango smoothie? Or the other one?"

(Imagine going into McDonald's and saying "A hamburger please," and they respond "Do you mean the chicken sandwich, or the hamburger?")

So I always clarify, and then go through the process of getting the cake, too, which is located about two feet to their left -- a two-foot journey that goes through some sort of memory vortex, because the clerk always... seriously, always... gets to the cake and says "What was it you wanted again?" (Or some minor variation.)

So it takes a lot to sort out the order, clarifying that I meant what I said, and then saying what I meant again, and all, and last Saturday when we stopped in there was the worst yet: I had to order twice, the girl rang it up wrong twice, she tried to give me the wrong cookie when we ordered one of those, and then nobody actually made the drink we ordered, so I stood there with two unruly 3-year-olds for 10 minutes before politely asking a guy if someone was making my drink.

"Nobody told me to make it," he said, "But I can," after which I thanked him and finally got the frozen mango, only it didn't have the whipped cream or raspberry syrup or other things that actually make up the drink. Like a noncomplaining sucker I took it out to Sweetie, anyway, frustrated with the whole process (but not wanting to complain to the boss and make trouble) and Sweetie agreed with me that the drink was terrible.

Last night, then, we gave Panera another try -- The Boy was working -- and this time, the clerk got the order right the first time, the girl made the drink perfectly, and everything went just the way it's supposed to... except that I ordered it to go and didn't get a bag, so I had to juggle a cake and a cookie and a drink and two 3-year-old's on the way to the car.

2. Towelie made a return to South Park! And presumably no linen-makers threatened the creators with death for defaming towels by depicting them as drug-addled prostitutes. I've always liked Towelie, and he was the only bright spot in an episode that was just another tired parody of other TV shows (something I've long been against)... an episode that didn't keep my attention, as I drifted in and out of sleep.

3. The drive home was pretty fast... which it should have been, since I didn't leave work until almost 6 p.m. I decided, at 4:30, to read every single email in my inbox, going back to March 30. An hour and twenty minutes later, I was done and headed home through traffic that was surprisingly light; if you've got to stay late at work reading emails, you might as well get an easy commute home.

125 down, 10,825 to go: For no particular reason other than I'm in the mood to hear it: Good Work by The BoDeans. Or, as I used to call them when I was a college DJ: "Waukesha's own The BoDeans."

Diamonds are forever... if you get them in time.

Mother's Day is...

... um...

... it's soon. Let's just say it's soon. I can't say exactly when it is because I rely on Sweetie to tell me when things are, and I can't ask Sweetie to tell me when it is because then she'll know that I haven't helped the Babies! get her a present for Mother's Day yet.

So it's soon, and that means you, like me, better get on the ball and get a present -- for your own mom, or for your wife if your kids are too little to get her a present. And helping the kids draw a cutesy picture doesn't cut it, pal. That may have worked in 1830, when the only other option for giving a gift was leeches, but now now, not when Diamond Nexus Labs exists.

Diamond Nexus Labs has great jewelry, and women love great jewelry. And Moms are women. Are you with me so far?

This year I'm thinking earrings: Simple, elegant, not that expensive, but jewelry nonetheless, and the perfect item of jewelry to give to a Mom, because earrings are not all fraught with symbolism like other pieces of jewelry: rings are romantic, necklaces are for rich guys to give to their mistresses, and tongue piercings are eccch.

So it's earrings, like the ones shown here -- and I don't have to worry about ordering them online, either, because Diamond Nexus Labs has a "triple guarantee:" You can keep the jewelry for up to 30 days and return it for a full refund -- plus they guarantee performance and replacement for the life of the piece of jewelry.

So whenever Mother's Day is, I'm ready. Unless it's already come and gone. In which case, these earrings are make-up gifts.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

I'll probably suggest some solutions to these one of these days, but for now I'm just griping. (The Great Ranking Of Problems.)

In all the talk about whether or not to deliver mail on Saturdays, two important points are being forgotten about.

First, where is my Entertainment Weekly this week? It usually comes on Saturdays, but then it was coming on Fridays, and now here it is Wednesday and I still haven't gotten the latest one, which makes me wonder whether my subscription ran out or not -- I can't tell, because I don't remember when I last renewed it, and I don't remember how long I renewed it for the last time I renewed it.

I tried, once, to tackle the problem of constantly being asked to renew my subscriptions when it occurred to me that it was a problem: Sweetie and I were always renewing our newspaper subscription until one day I said "Wait a minute, didn't we just do this?" So we checked into it and realized that we were subscribed for about 3 years ahead; they'd just kept sending us renewal notices and we'd kept renewing without ever bothering to ask when does this subscription expire?

To avoid oversubscribing, I started keeping track of when my subscriptions were going to run out, using the Outlook reminder on my work computer... but then our firm switched over to a different calendar system and I never used Outlook anymore, so now I'm back to not knowing when my subscriptions run out, making me wonder whether the mailman stole my EW or if I'm simply out of subscription.

Which all now dwarfs what I was going to say was the real problem for today, which is mail delivered at the wrong time of the day. I get my mail at the office at around 11 a.m., which is not good for me. It's usually when I'm in the middle of something else, and the mail then distracts me from whatever I was working on as I focus on whatever annoying thing I've gotten from some annoying lawyer in the mail.

At my old office, years ago, the mail was worse: It came about 4:00, which is way too late. At 4:00, there's nothing you can do about annoying mail except fret about it overnight; so I used to simply go get my mail the next morning, instead, picking it up about 9 a.m., giving me the whole day to deal with whatever was in it, and doing so before I got wrapped up in anything else.

So, officially, that's two problems for today: Uncertainty over how long my magazine subscription lasts, and Mail delivered at the wrong time. I'll slot them in at numbers 8,766, and 103, respectively:

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.

103. Mail being delivered at the wrong time of the day.

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?

. . .

8.766: Uncertainty over how long my magazine subscriptions last.

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

This parable is also why I never delete ANYTHING off my iPod. (3 Good Things From 4/27/10)

1. Smush castles: I've been taking Mr F and Mr Bunches to a park near our house; it's about 2 blocks away and we didn't go there in the past because (a) it's not much of a park: it's only a slide, a sandbox, some swings, and a teeter-totter, and (b) it's right on a busy street near our house, which is not good because in the past Mr F and Mr Bunches tended to decide, on a whim, to run off in random directions, and (c) the park is right next to someone's yard, with no clear line of demarcation as to where the park ends and where the yard begins, which makes it sort of weird: it's like going to play in someone's yard.

But Mr F and Mr Bunches are less impulsive now, and they discovered the park on one of our walks, so we've gone there twice now, with last night being the second time. I showed them how to make sand castles (using some of the toys in the sandbox, toys probably left there by the people who's yard we were sort of playing in), but the only real interest they had in the castles was to smush them, which they'd race to do: I'd build a quick castle using a pail and they'd scramble over each other to stomp on it. At one point, Mr F got so determined to smush the castle first that he grabbed the bucket from my hand, dumped it, and smushed that.

2. X number of waffles is not a lot: Sweetie complained that she felt she'd eaten too much yesterday, basing that almost entirely on the number of waffles she ate. To protect her privacy, I won't reveal the exact number of frozen waffles Sweetie ate, and I will say it's not that many, objectively speaking -- but unobjectively speaking, I can say this with certainty: You can never eat too many waffles.

3. My tulips are finally up. I planted tulips in our yard years ago and all around the neighborhood, everyone else's tulips have bloomed, while mine were just sitting there doing nothing. They finally, the other day, grew some flowers on the end and look like tulips instead of green stems; and though they haven't bloomed yet, I'm at least relieved that they're getting around to doing their jobs.

124 down, 10,826 to go: Today's song is the song that made me graduate from an iPod mini to a full-fledged iPod. When I first bought an iPod, I got a mini -- a reward to myself for quitting smoking, back then. The first one I had held more or less 1,000 songs, which seemed like a lot to me until about 6 months later when I'd accumulated 1500 songs, and the computer had to randomly select for me which songs to put on the iPod. I always fretted that at some point I would want to hear a song and not have it on there, and one day, that happened: I wanted to hear the song Rock Lobster while I was running, but it was nowhere to be found on my iPod, practically wrecking my jog that day (and serving as an excuse to quit early.)

In just a few months I'd gone from being stuck listening to whatever was handy to "needing access to every song I've ever heard, right now," and Rock Lobster by the B-52s was the tipping point:

It's the time of the year when I start wishing I could wear sunglasses again.

I can't wear sunglasses -- or at least not easily. I've got a crooked nose, you see; my nose bends about 1/3 of the way down, which means that when I put on sunglasses, they sit crookedly and look weird and hurt my ears.

All of which means that I spend my springs and summers and falls (and even winters) squinting, which in turn makes me look older, and also I spend my time holding up my hand to block the glare of the sun, and otherwise bearing the brunt of my crooked nose -- and also that I can't look cool like people in sunglasses do.

Remember when Snoopy wanted to be "Joe Cool?" He put on sunglasses. So did Tom Cruise in the 80s, and Bill Clinton in the 90s: Sunglasses aren't just helpful, they're cool. And all those people who want to be cool get to go to Optics Planet -- -- and pick out cool sunglasses like these
and wear them to the places they go -- and be cool. While all I can do is imagine how I'd look in those -- wearing them, say, as I take the Babies! to the park, no longer a dorky dad in my Crocs and Green Lantern shirt -- but a cool dad in my Crocs, Green Lantern shirt, and sunglasses.

Monday, April 26, 2010

It takes more than a worldwide conspiracy to keep ME down. (3 Good Things From The Past Weekend + Monday)

I'm up to 19 followers on Twitter... click here to be the 20th!

1. The Boy's rugby team won again! We went to see The Boy play rugby again yesterday, and I understood a little more this time -- although I still don't understand the part where they lift a guy up and hold him in the air. That's The Boy shown there at right, number 1, throwing the ball in after it went out of bounds.

We stood this time on the visiting team's sideline: for some reason, the home team at this rugby field has the worst seats: sit where the home fans sit and you stare directly into the setting sun for the entire game, and you have to stand on a hill. Sit where the visiting team sits, and the sun's at your back, plus there are benches and there's a small playground for the little kids. I'm not sure the first home fans to show up got it exactly right.

A special note: After posting my thoughts on Sunday about how sports teams at high schools get it so wrong, I was pleased to overhear the visiting team's coach yesterday at the game. This guy was amazingly positive: When the ball went out of bounds, he said "That's all right." He kept pointing out the things his team was doing right. And I heard his halftime speech, which was this: "Go out there and play. The sun is shining. Let's have fun."

2. The movie The Lovely Bones. Sweetie and I watched it Saturday night, and it was better than I expected. What surprised me the most is that I remembered almost nothing about the book, which I distinctly recall reading. Aside from remembering that I read it, though, I wasn't sure what was in it, after all -- forcing me to keep asking Sweetie "Was that in the book?"

(Yep: I'm exactly as much fun to watch a movie with as you'd imagine.)

3. I ran 5 miles again! After a couple of disappointing outdoor runs, when I could barely make it 2 miles on the nature trail (although, to be fair, when I run outdoors I load Mr F and Mr Bunches into their old stroller and push them ahead of me for as long as I can), I went jogging at the track on Friday night and made it through a five mile run in only 46 minutes

123 down, 10.827 to go: Almost exactly 2 years ago, I let the world know about my belief that there was a conspiracy to pretend that the song "99 Red Balloons" had never been released in English. This past Saturday, I downloaded the English -- the real -- version of 99 Red Balloons, by Nena, thereby proving that I was not nuts, and that no amount of vast conspiracies can keep a guy like me from getting at the truth, (and by "truth" I mean an 80s-techno-song that mentions Captain Kirk.)

Take that, Trilateral Commission!

Then again, with the steam cleaner, I could go back to drinking fruit punch in the living room...

This will be my 10th anniversary coming up in a few weeks, and I've been thinking that I should get Sweetie something REALLY special for it. I've narrowed the choice of presents down to:

1. A steam cleaner for the carpet, or
2. Jewelry.

As fun as #1 seems, because of the freedom it promises me to never have to worry about spilling again, I'll probably go with #2, as it's SLIGHTLY more romantic, and as I also found the website.'s site features brilliant, beautiful engagement rings and wedding bands, and the ones I've seen on their site are better than the jewelry I've seen anywhere else. Like the one shown here, an "Eternity" Wedding band, with diamonds all the way around it, symbolizing how love goes on and on and never ends. is the only place I've ever seen a ring like that, and, even better, they've got handmade wedding bands, too, with prices that start as low as a couple hundred dollars.

So I COULD go with the steam cleaner, but those rings are really jumping out at me. I keep thinking how I could surprise her with a new ring, sparkling with a zillion diamonds (or so it looks like) and how much she'd like that. I wish I'd known about back when we got married, in fact; while the ring I got Sweetie is a nice one, it isn't as great as some of the rings on their site, and it was more expensive than most of the rings I could have ordered through

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Advice on how to run sports from the oldest, slowest, fattest would-be pole vaulter ever. (Nonsportsmanlike Conduct!)

I think it's time to pay kids to play sports.

That's where I ended up in my meandering thoughts today. It's a rainy, cold, foggy day -- The Boy's 18th birthday -- and I'm thinking about a mixture of things that I could write about today. My mind is wandering from But Is It A Sport?: Cup-Stacking to wondering how many great rock and roll songs there are about sports to the NFL draft, which I think is still going on and which one day will rival the NBA Playoffs for sheer mind-numbing length...

... and I keep coming back to thinking about how there are people who like to play sports, and people who are really good at sports, and how lots of times those people don't comprise the same group. If it was diagrammed in a Venn diagram -- something I only learned of 20 years after graduating, when helping the kids with their schoolwork, it would look like this:

As it turns, out, too, The Boy's 18th birthday, the NFL draft, and my liking sports all tie into one thought, which is what I said: We should pay kids to play sports.

It's about time we just set up professional leagues for sports from about age 3 on.

I'm totally 100% serious: I think that from the time when kids start to walk, or thereabouts, there should be two types of sports leagues: Professional leagues, and leagues for the rest of us. That's the only way I see to let people continue to enjoy sports while also allowing people to really excel at sports -- excel without wrecking it for the rest of us.

I've never been good at sports. Not even a little. I am, as an athlete, a complete train wreck. I missed a lay-up, when I was in 6th grade -- and while that happens, occasionally, to even good basketball players, the way I missed the lay-up was spectacularly awful -- dribbling the ball about shoulder-high, awkwardly running to the hoop, trying to dribble and watch the ball and the backboard and the wall at once, then flipping the ball up over the backboard, arcing it up so that it missed the backboard structure entirely on the way up, bouncing off the wall, then off the back of the backboard, then down through the bars that held up the backboard. It was so bad that the gym teacher ordered me to try it again, saying that so loudly that everyone in the gym stopped to watch me blow the next one, too -- although I didn't do it quite as badly.

In football, I'm weak-armed and slow. In baseball, I have trouble with depth perception and so can't quite catch the ball; I'm as likely to get hit in the face as I am to make the grab. In golf, I have a tendency to lift my head to see where the ball's going -- and usually it's not going much of anywhere, and rarely is it going in the direction I'm looking.

But for all of that, I love sports, as do many people. I like to get out there and play basketball. I love golf. I played football every single day on recess from 4th grade through 8th grade.

Then came high school, and with the start of high school came the end of my athletic career, such as it was. In high school, wanting to play were no longer enough. By high school, at least at my high school, you had to be good, too -- and you had to start out being good, because at the high school level, even back then in the shoulder-padded, big-haired, collared-up 1980s, even back then high schools were competitive at sports and wanted to win. There was no time, in high school, to take a kid and make him into an athlete. If he wasn't an athlete already, they weren't going to waste time trying to make him one. If he was an athlete, they'd work on making him better, maybe -- but only if he could go from "really pretty good" to "really even better."

So when I showed up for soccer tryouts, I got scoffed off the field by other players and got cut almost immediately by the coach -- because I didn't know how to play soccer. I'd thought they'd teach me, the way I'd been taught baseball when I joined Little League.

They wouldn't. And I didn't make the team, and never learned soccer. When, in the spring, I went out for track with the goal of being a pole vaulter, the coach (also my algebra teacher) eyed me warily. "You want to be a pole vaulter?" he asked.

I did. I wanted it really badly. At that point, I was probably the fattest, slowest, pole vaulter-wannabe around. The coach noted that, and gave me a day to try to work out with the track team: He said "Come on," and they all left on a two-mile warm-up run. I made it a half mile -- lagging behind terribly -- before walking back to practice. "Better try shot put and discus," the coach said. That was where they stuck the fat guys: shot put and discus.

The coach -- even on the track team, even for a small school -- didn't want to teach me to get in shape and compete at pole vaulting. He wanted kids who could pole vault. So instead of working with me to make me a faster, better-shaped runner who might pole vault one day, I got sent off to shot putting with the other fat kids.

I tried out for only one more sport after that, baseball, at the start of sophomore year. I got into the batter's box and hit the first three pitches pretty well. The fourth pitch -- from one of the kids who'd been on the team the year before and who didn't want me on the team -- hit me in the temple. "Keep in there," the coach said, even though I was dizzy and couldn't really see straight. I didn't hit another ball, and didn't make the team.

I didn't stop loving sports -- I just stopped trying out for high school sports. I made it through high school without playing any sports, and in college joined a fencing club. I learned to roller blade. I took up jogging and swimming and finally got in shape. I played football and softball in law school, playing pick-up games with friends who would let me be on their team and not make me the all-time center. I played racquetball, and then I got into coaching: I formed my own softball team, with one rule: anyone can play, and a corollary: anyone can play any position they want. I coached my kids' teams and let them play any position they wanted. I taught my kids to golf and took them golfing with me, and avoided golfing with friends who were both better than me and too competitive. I played basketball with The Boy, because he didn't mind beating me 38-3 and giving me some tips.

But I never really got over the high school experience, or lack thereof, with sports. I didn't get a letter, and my only chance to have gotten one, really, would be to have been in shape and been an athlete by 8th grade, so that the coaches could take a chance on me and let me play the sports I loved and teach me to get better at them.

They couldn't do that, though -- and they couldn't do that for a couple of reasons. First, it was obvious, then and now and always, that I was never going to amount to much, athletically. Fat kids with glasses and lazy eye who like comic books and D&D do not, on average, grow up to lead their team to victory in the Super Bowl. They don't win the Masters. They don't stand on the podium with a gold medal at one of the constantly-going-on Olympics.

Investing effort into my athletic skills was not likely to lead to a big payoff. Hours spent with me were going to at best turn me from a not-very-good wannabe to a not-as-very-bad wannabe. I got that. I didn't think, deep down inside, that I was going to go from not being able to run a half-mile to pitching Game Seven of the World Series. (Game 4, maybe -- if our team was up 3-1, say.) The coaches, I'm sure, saw it that way, too -- they figured that there wasn't a lot of potential there, and so they didn't try.

They didn't try, too, because it would interfere with their real goal. Coaches -- at the high school level and beyond -- who were supposed to be developing athletes didn't want to make one from scratch, as it were. This was, after all, their job, and they were paid to coach their teams and they were rated on how well their teams did -- so spend too much time teaching chubby Briane Pagel how to actually kick a soccer ball, and your team is going to suffer and you're going to be doing drivers' ed instead of soccer.

I got that, then and now -- I know it was, but I resented why it was and that it was, at all. There were my teachers, and my coaches, after all -- and whether or not the high school team was going to win shouldn't have mattered as much as whether or not high school students got to participate in sports.

But it did. It did matter. High school sports -- and beyond -- mattered a great deal, to the school and the coaches and the kids and the school board. Everyone placed a huge emphasis on winning and so the marginal athletes, and the people, like me, who aspired to be marginal athletes, got shoved to the side because we weren't going to help them win, no matter how hard we or they worked.

It's a dumb way to run a sport -- and a dumb way to run a high school. Imagine if we took kids in the classroom and did that. Imagine if my algebra teacher, instead of giving me the fish-eye and daring me to run 2 miles, the very first time I ever tried running at all, had done that in the classroom: I'd show up on the first day and say "Teach me algebra, Mr. Mulrooney!" And he'd give me that look and say "Okay, here," and given me a proof of the Riemann hypothesis to work out, and then, when I'd struggled with it, had said "Well, maybe you should just try English."

Nobody would put up with that, right? Nobody would say that's the way to run a school, but why not? We let coaches -- teachers -- get away with that at the high school sports level, because we want winners on the field, so why not let them weed out the stupid, slow kids in math, and english, and science, too? Don't we want high schools to be known for having the absolute top-notch science scores?

Things haven't changed, which is one reason I'm mulling this today, as I continue to hear bits and pieces of draft-news fluttering around me: It's The Boy's birthday, as I said, and The Boy recently took up rugby. And soccer.

I found that surprising -- as to both of them, because The Boy hasn't been all that energetic lately, and because The Boy used to be all into football and basketball.

The Boy actually played football from about age 7 on. He played in a league that had pads and helmets and tackled and sometimes even threw passes, at a young age: kids who got bussed around the local school districts to play other little kids. The Boy kept at that through middle school, and then through high school, too: he made the football team his freshman year, and then made the Junior Varsity his sophomore and junior years.

From the start of The Boy's high school career, I didn't think much of his team or his coach. They practiced all the time, far more than I could imagine was good for high schoolers who also had jobs and homework to do. Practices went until 7:30 at night sometimes, and the kids watched film and worked out in the weight room in the summer, and none of this was voluntary; The Boy had to go do that. He didn't particularly want to do those things -- but he wanted to play football, and so he did them because the team he played for, the Middleton Cardinals, is a powerhouse among high schools, routinely making the state playoffs and winning a lot.

I didn't think much of his coach, the winning notwithstanding, because of the things I saw, and the things I heard, about his coach. The coach told The Boy, once, that he had to choose between his job and his football team -- when The Boy had a conflict with his work schedule and a sudden practice the coach had put on at the last second because the team had underperformed on Friday night. That's not fair, I thought, to people like The Boy, who need their jobs for spending money. And it's not fair to employers who employ those kids and work around their schedules already.

And I didn't like the coach, either, because of the time The Boy told me about when the team was on the way home from a game they'd lost. Two kids had been talking or laughing, and the coach had snapped at them something like "What are you smiling about? You just lost!" The Boy told me that after losses, the team was to ride home silently, mulling over the losses.

It didn't surprise me, much, that The Boy quit football at the start of his senior year -- despite the fact that he'd made the varsity team and was a starter. He'd worked all summer, going to the weight room and the film room and in general working as hard at football as if he were a Green Bay Packer, and made the team and was slotted to start, when right at the start of the season, he quit.

"It's no fun anymore," he said. And it was over: 11 years of football ended just before his big year, a year the team went to the playoffs again and he'd have started on a playoff team, all over because it was no fun.

The Boy -- and Middle and Oldest -- are not like me. They are good at sports. They pick them up quick, and they're athletic and agile. They've done golf and gymnastics and softball and football and basketball and now, The Boy is in soccer and rugby -- joining clubs that play these games instead of playing them at the high school. He's never played soccer or rugby before this year, but he's worked hard enough at them to start there, too, and he's scored in those games and gotten injured and treats them very seriously, but he plays them because he gets to play and because it's fun, he says.

Middle went through the same thing: She played on the golf team, and was pretty good at it. She wasn't great, though, and had the misfortune of being on the team when two genuinely great golfers were also on the team -- so Middle was routinely passed over to be one of the golfers in the "big" tournaments. The golf team, which theoretically was "no cut," actually picked five golfers for the major tournaments, and those five only got to compete in the real parts of the sport.

Middle was never picked -- and, admittedly, she wasn't one of the best five golfers on the team. She just liked golf, and was only okay at it. Being only okay at the sport wasn't good enough to get into a tournament, because Middleton placed a higher priority on winning those tournaments than it did on teaching Middle to play golf, or on letting Middle have fun playing golf.

Right now, many of you are probably saying "Well, yeah, that's the point of sports: to win, to excel." And it is, kind of.

That's the point of professional sports. Professionals are paid to win; people competing at the highest levels of sports (including Olympians, who want to believe they're amateurs but they're not as they're paid to compete in their sports, mostly, by sponsors) are paid to win and it's only right that when you're a professional you are required to win.

I question whether that's the point of high school sports, though. Winning isn't the goal of high school, or even college. Teaching is. We get that, generally speaking, in the rest of the areas we school kids in: we set up remedial classes for kids who need a little more help. We have advanced classes for kids who don't need to be held back by the rest of us. We let anyone take wood shop and biology, even if they've never built a birdhouse or dissected a frog. We even require that kids take things like languages and math and sociology.

But then, when we put a sports team in at the high school or college level, all of that goes out the window, and it's win win win, it's don't bother trying out if you're not already good, it's "Sure, we'll say we're here to teach sportsmanship and the rules of the game but really, that one kid's going to be quarterback and you're not."

We help kids who really want to learn how to be a chemist be a better chemist; but we don't help kids who really want to learn how to play basketball learn how to play basketball, and I'm not sure why that is.

I may not be sure why we do things the way we do at the high school and college and, now, probably grade-school level, but I'm sure it's a bad thing that we do. I'm sure it hurts more kids than just my fat, glasses-wearing prior self -- hurts them not only socially, but also emotionally: how many times can you tell a kid you're not good enough to even try this thing before he or she says I'm not going to try anymore?

In my case, that number is "an awful lot." I got told that I wasn't even good enough to try a whole mess of times and I still haven't given up. There's still a part of me, deep down inside, that is 100% certain that before long, I will be in a Buffalo Bills' uniform, quarterbacking them in their first Super Bowl victory. That's the part of me that also is pretty positive that any day now one of my novels will be a best seller and that someday I'll be a rock star who's big enough to have U2 open for him.

But I'm different -- I'm less sinkable than Molly Brown. Other people, I've learned, don't have my unbridled, naively stupid optimism, and those people suffer from being told You've got no chance, because we won't give you a chance.

People suffer, too, because they're deprived of the fun of learning how to play the game they want to be better at; nobody ever bothered to show me how to do a lay-up the right way, until my kids tried to teach me... when I was 35. (I turned out to be pretty unteachable, but they did get me to be able to dribble with my left hand.) I never got to play basketball, or learn how to play it, any more than I ever got to try pole vaulting (something I still want to give a shot.) I never played soccer -- because I never got a chance to try it. I was cut on the first day of practice and sent home, and not invited to play soccer again until two weeks ago, when my boss suggested I try to join his league. "I don't know the rules or how to play," I said.

Before you think this is just the lamentation of the oldest, slowest, fattest would-be pole vaulter in the world, I should point out that I'm not just thinking of me and the people like me, but also of the pretty-good high school and college athletes, and the really good high-school and college athletes, who also suffer from the system as it is.

Consider a kid named Jean-Pierre Tokoto, who not long ago held an "Open Gym" to show off for Division I big-time schools ranging from Duke to Kentucky to Stanford. Tokoto, who must look pretty good on the basketball court, plays for Menomonee Falls High School in Wisconsin, and for the "Open Gym" night he played a couple of pick-up games against teammmates... who then filed out of the gym so that Tokoto could have the place to himself with the college coaches and recruiters, before the teammates came back out for a couple of wrap-up games.

When I read that, all I could think of was that scene from Teen Wolf, when the kid who's not Teen Wolf talks to Teen Wolf about the basketball team, and complains that even though they're winning, it's all Teen Wolf hogging the ball and nobody else gets to play.

Tokoto has a profile on a website, and is ranked number one on the kind of sites that bother to rank high school basketball players, and all I can think of is I wonder if his teammates enjoy having him on the team. I bet they're winning -- but are they winning the way Teen Wolf won? Would they like to maybe play more, even if it meant winning less? (I don't know for sure that Tokoto hogs the ball -- I've never seen him play and don't follow high school basketball. I'm just speculating.)

The pretty good athletes, the ones on Tokoto's team who were good enough to warrant their coaches actually trying to teach them, may be suffering because they're teamed up with a once-in-a-lifetime talent who's head-and-shoulders (pun intended; he's 6'6") above them. They're going to get the ball less, they're going to have games planned around Tokoto instead of them, they're going to not get taught as much because Tokoto is on their team.

And what of Tokoto? What's going to happen to him? Tokoto, growing up in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin, isn't likely to see much Division I-caliber competition, let alone NBA-level competition. He's going to be so much better than almost everyone around him that it's not going to be much work for him to excel, even without all the extra coaching and extra attention he's no doubt gets.

(In the four pickup games Tokoto played at his open gym, he scored 8 points, 9 points, 16 points, and 9 points, in order. Those seem to me to be pretty good numbers for a high-schooler -- and the recap notes that in the 16-point game, 12 points were on "highlight reel" dunks, so Tokoto was so unchallenged that he was able to showboat in the third game of the night.

What happens to the Tokotos when they first hit real competition? The results are mixed. Maybe they rise to the challenge -- or maybe they fold under pressure, pressure they've never faced before.

Clayton Hanson was a kid from Reedsburg, Wisconsin -- and not just a kid, but probably the greatest basketball player Reedsburg had ever seen. Celebrated by Reedsburg, Hanson went on to play for the Wisconsin Badgers and did well in his junior and senior years -- a pretty good career, all in all, for a kid who didn't fold under pressure.

Contrast him with Jeronne Maymon, who played at Madison Memorial and was a standout. Maymon was recruited to Marquette, a traditional big-time Division I basketball school, only to drop out of the program early in his first year when he wasn't "happy" with his role on the team. Is that the fate that awaits Vander Blue, another highly-talented Madison Memorial basketball player whose high school career has already been controversial and high-profile?

People ask the wrong questions of kids like Vander Blue and Maymon and even LeBron James, who made the jump from high school directly to the pros. They ask Should we be paying this much attention to a kid? Or they ask Should this kid be treating this like a career instead of paying attention to school?

The answer is, of course, to both. School is there to allow you to learn enough to contribute to society and make a living, and people who are extremely talented in sports can do both at a young age -- providing entertainment to us while they get paid for their talent. Whether Vander Blue or LeBron James or anyone should be a high-profile athlete at the high school level isn't the question at all; they should be, and they should be allowed to be paid, in fact.

Now the other hand wringers are coming out: Pay high school athletes? Everyone will have a conniption over that -- but we should.

Paying high schoolers isn't out of the question; we pay high schoolers all the time. We pay them to flip burgers, mostly, but we pay them. Paying high schoolers of unique talent and luck a large amount of money isn't out of the question, either -- all those Disney kids make millions, and nobody is really worried about them (nobody who counts, anyway).

So why not pay high schoolers to play basketball? Or football, or whatever they're good at? Why is it okay to pay The Boy to work at Panera, but not to pay him to play football?

The answer is there's no reason not to pay high schoolers -- no reason beyond the fact that we've gotten all muddled up about high school sports and college sports and the rest; we've allowed high school and college sports to become professionals, without treating them like professionals; and, because we still think of high school and college sports as being academic, somehow, we recoil -- you recoil -- in horror at the thought of paying high school athletes.

But you shouldn't. You shouldn't be horrified at the thought of paying kids to play sports; instead, you should be horrified that we don't do that, and that we instead pretend that sports are somehow linked to academics, and that in doing so, we mistreat pretty much every single person involved.

We mistreat the people like me, who don't get to even try a sport because high schools and colleges are focused on winning because their programs are professional programs even though we don't say so.

We mistreat the pretty-good athletes who could be a little better but they're overshadowed by their already-great teammates and so they suffer as role-playing backups, shuttled out of the gym when the real show starts.

And we mistreat the great athletes by holding them into leagues that don't challenge them and by denying them the right to earn money by doing what they do best; we tell them we'd rather they wear a paper hat and flip burgers than do slam dunks or throw touchdown passes.

All because we think sports at the high school, and college, and now grade school, level, are academic.

They're not. The sports are treated, in our schools, like professional sports in every single way they can be, except one. We treat the coaches as professionals: we pay them and rank them on their wins. We charge admission. We make kids watch film and work out in the offseason. We rank the athletes on nationwide scales. In every single respect, school sports are professional sports except that we don't pay the athletes.

And in every single respect, school-sports have nothing to do with the actual goals of a school. They don't teach everyone, but only a few elite players. They don't even aspire to teach people; they try to weed out the losers as quickly as possible so that they can focus on the good kids to win games.

That's exactly the way a pro organization should run, and exactly the way a high school should not. Schools should teach, and should be open to everyone, while kids should be free, at the same time, to make money doing what they do best.

Which is why I proposed what I proposed: Pay kids to play sports. Specifically, set up a professional sports league in every single sport, beginning as soon as kids can walk. Let parents get their kids into professional golf, or gymnastics, or football, or basketball, when they're still toddlers. We already let them do it for show business, or music, or other hobbies. Why not sports? If Tiger Woods could be golfing at age 3, why shouldn't he be paid for it? Michelle Wie was a millionaire before she could move out of her house, legally -- the same as the Olsen Twins.

Doing that would get the good kids -- the great kids -- off to the pro leagues, getting them the competition they need to be better and freeing the rest of us to just play sports for the fun of it, the way we want to, playing for our grade school or high school or college teams because we want to play the game and learn it and have fun.

Under this system, there'd be private, professional leagues that would pay kids -- say, "NFL Junior" -- and there would also be school teams, so the good kids could be Junior Jets while the kids like me would have been Arrowhead Trojans. And I'd get to play, but wouldn't get paid, while the good kids would get paid for their work.

I'm not stupid, though -- I know that the good kids will also work the system, that there will be kids who would go into the high school leagues just so they could play against inferior talent and look better than they are, for whatever reasons. People will always do that -- when I played in a racquetball tournament a few years ago, I signed up for Intermediate. There were three levels: Beginner, Intermediate, and Expert. I wasn't a beginner, but I wasn't an expert, so I signed up for my level.

And got whooped. People killed me. I found out from the third guy I played that most players in the tournament were expert level but they didn't want to play against the "real" experts, so they signed up for intermediate.

I'm sure there are people who will always do that -- sign themselves, or their kids, up for inferior leagues so they, or their kids, are the standouts, the number one player. But I've got a solution for them, one that's sure to keep most of them out of there. In the school leagues -- the non-pro, non-paying leagues, I'd impose this rule:

Anyone who signs up gets to play any position they want, and everyone on the team has to play an equal amount of time in each game. So if I decide I want to be a quarterback, and Brett Favre, Jr., joins the high school league as a quarterback, we're both going to play -- and we're going to play equal time.

If Brett Favre, Jr., wants to play in my league with those rules, then so be it; at least I'll be playing, too. And with the rules set up in advance like that, and with pro leagues competing in the same sport at the same level, winning will no longer be the most important thing in high school, or college, sports.

It's not a perfect system... or, wait, it is. It would allow people to actually profit from their talent, even at the high school level (or lower). If the Olsen Twins can be paid, at age 3, for acting, why can't Phil Mickelson Jr. be paid at age 3 for golf? Why can a high schooler work at McDonald's but not as a baseball pitcher?

And it would let high schools, and grade schools, and colleges, remember what they're actually there for: to teach kids, not to win games. Somewhere along the lines, schools forgot that they are not supposed to just teach science and math and reading, but they were also supposed to teach the rules of the game and sportsmanship and getting into shape. They forgot that -- and they focused on winning, making sure that only the best even got a chance to play...

...And leaving fat kids with glasses staring longingly at the pole vaulters, wishing that there was a better way to run sports -- and, if we start paying kids to play sports, there will be.