Thursday, May 31, 2007

Hodag Love Part 2: The Ultimate in Columbus

A story so stupendous it took not one but two postings to encompass! Read on, True Believers....

Hodag - 1) A legendary beast first observed in the state of Wisconsin. 2) The University of Wisconsin 2007 Ultimate Champions.

Originally called "Ultimate Frisbee," the team sport played with a flying disc is now usually just called Ultimate because of trademark hassles with Wham-O. Ironically, and perhaps deservedly, discs made by Wham-O competitor Discraft are now the most commonly used in the sport.

According to Wikipedia, there are over 600 college Ultimate teams in North America. Teams compete in the UPA (aka The Ultimate Players Association) Championship series during the Spring. Sectional and regional champions advance to the Nationals to compete for the Championship title in May.

And seeded #1 in the Nationals this year were the Wisconsin Hodags. A juggernaut in 2007, Wisconsin held a 49-1 record coming into the Nationals, its lone loss by one point at the hands of its arch-nemesis, Florida.

Off the Skybus in Columbus, Peggy and I found our ground transportation (a.k.a. Peggy's sister Roberta) had thought we were getting in an hour later. But a quick phone call and we were at the fields of The (you must always use the article) Ohio State University, just in time to watch the Hodags give Kansas a 15-5 thrashing, an indicator of things to come.

A Quick Ultimate Tutorial


Ultimate combines elements, of soccer, rugby, football, hockey, and basketball. A non-contact sport, the objective of Ultimate is to score points by receiving a teammate's pass of the disc in the opponent's end zone. Intercepting a disc in the opponent's end zone by a defensive player gives the defending team a point. The disc can only be moved down the field through passing. A player catching the disc must stop within a few steps, and can then only move their non-pivot foot when passing. Incomplete passes cause a change of possession.

One of the most charming things about Ultimate is that the players are self-regulating. There are no referees or judges, only Observers who can be called in to resolve a call when the players can't agree on it themselves, which in the Nationals only happened maybe 20 to 30 percent of the time. In most cases, after a relatively brief discussion - occasionally highlighted by a slow-motion reenactment of whatever the claimed offense - the players would nod and get on with the game.

Back to the Games in Columbus

So, on the one hand, you have these very serious, very competitive, kids who are playing at a championship level. But on the other hand you don't have that win at all costs Bear Bryant 'tude that you often see at other college-level games. They want to win, but you don't get the impression that they'd happily kill their opponents if that's what is needed to beat them. It's kind of refreshing.

The whole thing is kind of refreshing. I don't remember the last time I've spent so much time with so many healthy, focused, and generally nice college kids. I'm somewhat of a cynic about the whole college spirit, "rah-rah" sort of thing, but these guys could make the most dismal character want to put on a raccoon coat and beanie, grab a pennant, and sing a few fight songs.

The Hodags put away North Carolina as easily as they did Kansas, and we're done with Day #1. We head back to the hotel, welcome Roberta and Ted's other son, Dan - and help with the preparations for the Hodag Dinner for team and parents.

Day #2 - the Quarter- and SemiFinals - is a repeat of Day #1 for the Hodags. In the Quarters they took out Oregon 15-9, and in the Semis blasted away the bloodthirsty Stanfordites 15-6, never falling behind in either game. By this point, under the careful instruction of our brother-in-law, Ted, we've learned that when one team pulls ahead of another by 5 or 6 points, that's usually the game. Even though they'll play on until the winning team hits 15, it's usually near-impossible to both protect against the other team scoring while also making up a large deficit. In Ultimate, you tend to see very close games, only separated by one or two points, or runaways. Wisconsin is running away with its games.

Day #3 - The Championship

The only thing more intense than the Hodag players by Day #3 are the Hodag families, of which there are many here. Only Stanford has had anywhere near the crowd of supporters that are cheering on Wisconsin today. Roberta and Ted have blown off breakfast in the morning, both looking pale and nervous as they drive us to the field.

And they're one of the calmer set of parents.

By game start at 3:30, after an interminable championship game between the Stanford Superfly and UC Santa Barbara's Burning Skirts women's teams (Stanford would win 13-7), the stands were a sea of Hodag baby blue, and the cry of "HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO-DAGS" was heard upon the land.

Not only overwhelming in numbers, Wisconsin also has one of the better chants. Oregon ("e-GO") was pretty cool, and Stanford amusing. "We want blood," the mostly graying Stanford supporters surrounding our littler group shouted yesterday, prompting a Hodag parent to state coolly, "Hodags LOVE their opponents." But the Hodag friends and family - often spanning three generations - were determinedly louder than anyone else, certainly louder than the Colorado supporters who didn't seem to have any chants at all for their strangely-named "Mama-bird" team.

Colorado - who had taken out Florida to get to this point - looked for a time as if they would give the Hodags some trouble, matching Wisconsin, point-for-point and even - for a moment - taking the lead, the first time we had seen the Hodags fall behind in four games.

But by the half it was 8-5 in Wisconsin's favor , and the Hodags, dominant all year, and dominant throughout the tournament, threw themselves into over-drive.

At game point, 14-7, to quote Chris Spittal's wrap-at at the UPA site,

"After the pull, Dahl was pinned on his own goal line and ripped off a huge backhand that went much to far and fell into the area being patrolled by Wisconsin’s Miller. The Hodag handlers worked the disc down the field until Matt Scallet was able to find Cullen Geppert with a huck from near midfield for the win."
And yes, that would be our Matt Scallett, our nephew, Roberta and Ted's son, making sure that we got our money's worth for taking him up on that Christmas invite by delivering the pass for the winning point.

Hodag Love Part 1: The Skybus

A story so stupendous it took not one but two postings to encompass! Read on, True Believers....


"How about coming to the Nationals in Columbus if we get in?" asked our nephew Matt at Christmas. And given that it was his last year of play, that we had never seen an Ultimate game - let alone a college championship game - and that we like hanging with Peggy's family, we said "Yes!"

After the Hodags took the regionals, my brother-in-law, Ted, sent an email telling us it was never too early to start thinking about booking a flight to Ohio and - incidentally - he had just read about this start-up no-frills airline called Skybus based out of Ohio that was selling $10 seats from Portsmouth, NH to Columbus. Skybus wasn't flying yet when I checked out their Web site. In fact, they hadn't even received their FAA certification, but after doing some research on the company and assuring myself they were legit and safe, I booked us on a flight on what would be - we hoped - their third day of operation.

Skybus did, indeed, receive their certification a week or so before they were to start flying, and sent us email telling us Flight #2 from Pease Trade Center (originally Pease AFB) to Columbus was departing as scheduled at 9:05 Friday morning, the 24th of May. Peggy and I went down to Pease the weekend before to check out the scene - and a weird one it was. Imagine something like 28 Days Later, but without the zombies. A few cars in an otherwise empty lot, a totally deserted terminal, a sign for the Pan-Am Clipper, a couple of Skybus kiosks. We were relieved to see the last, as it was the only evidence that the airline existed.

On the Skybus

So, here's some basics on Skybus:

  1. $10 Seats? Yep, they do sell $10 seats, a minimum of 10 per flight according to their Web site. But those seats go fast. And whether $10 or not, you need to book early for the best rates. A quick check of the Skybus site today shows the first $10 seats now available on the Portsmouth to Columbus route are in late October. I booked our seats for late May in early April, and it cost $30 apiece one-way. The same seats can cost as much as $110, dependent on the date you want to travel and when you book your flight. Flights from Columbus to San Francisco (really Oakland, as "Boston" is really Portsmouth on a Skybus flight) were ranging from $225-330 in June to $50-$150 in November. Again, you need to book early for the best rates.

    A $120 round-trip for two was a bargain when a comparable trip from Manchester, NH and back would have cost over $600. I should note that the $120 wasn't really $120, though. With taxes, baggage fees and priority boarding, our total round-trip cost for two was $202.60. See #2 below.

  2. How do they do it? First, they sell sponsorships. Our jet was displaying the logo of Nationwide Insurance on the outside and Skybus plans to also sell advertising space in the cabin, too. Our flight attendant closed her little landing speech by noting that if we'd like to sponsor that announcement, please check out the Sponsors page at Skybus.com.

  3. Second, they also offer a variety of geegaws and gadgets for sale during the flight - everything from perfume to chocolates to a kid's knapsack to iPod accessories. Think of the in-flight catalog items you see on most airlines... that sort of stuff. They only difference is you can buy it right then and there.

  4. Third, they really are no-frills, and they charge for everything except the use of the bathroom. Checking in bags? It will cost you $5 a bag, with a maximum of two bags per passenger. Have more than two bags? The price goes up to $50 per bag. If you can carry it on, it's free, but the Skybus space restrictions on carry-on baggage are very tight. Carry-on items can't weigh more than 22 pounds, and can't be larger than 9 inches by 16 inches by 19 inches.

    Want priority boarding - a fancy way of saying you get closer to the head of the line? You can get it for $10 a person. I bought it for us, but I'm not sure it was worth it. However, if you like the Exit seats or want to make sure you're not sitting in the middle seat, it might worth the price to you. I'm not sure how many "priority" seats Skybus sells per flight. All they say is that it's limited. We were with a group of maybe 15-20 people in our priority lane out of 109 people on the flight from Portsmouth to Columbus.


    Want a pillow or a blankie? You have to buy it (on the up side you can keep it). Want something to eat or drink? You can't bring food or refreshments on the plane, since they want to sell everything to you. Meals - ranging from cheese plates to salads to sandwiches to mini-dinners - run from $8 to $12. Beverages run from $2 (coffee, water) to $5 (booze) - about standard or a little higher for airline fare these days.




  5. How's the Experience? Not bad at all, in fact unsurprising, which is meant as a compliment.

    If you fly Southwest or one of the other economy airlines you're not going to find much different on Skybus. You have to walk out on the tarmac and use a set of stairs to get on/off the plane, which may be a little problematic during bad weather. On the other hand, that's what generations of passengers did into the late `60s, and still do in many locations. The jets are brand-new Airbus jets. Since they were just recently FAA certified and are flying a new fleet with experienced pilots, Skybus is as safe - perhaps safer - as any other airline. Peggy commented that it's the first time she ever was on a plane with a "new car smell." Seats are three across throughout the cabin. Leg room is good, maybe a little above standard.

    As I mentioned, the attendants come through the cabin, pushing a cart with all the things they have to sell. There's no hard sell. They ask. If you say, "No," they move on. But I have to say that was the only part of the Skybus experience I found disappointing. While I wasn't expecting a carnival - or maybe I was - I was kind of hoping for some kitsch; Skybus t-shirts, caps, key chains, stuffed animals, that sort of stuff, all the bling they have for sale on their site, in fact. Instead, I was presented with Toblerone candy, iPod accessories, and watches. Personally, I think Skybus is missing the march on this. If I'm brave enough to fly a no-frills start-up, I'd like to have a souvenir, not something I can get anywhere.

    The flights were - again - standard flights. The flight into Columbus left and arrived on time; the biggest hassle was getting through the tiny security section in Portsmouth, which is not set up to handle getting a 100+ people through security screening in any timely fashion. The flight back was delayed about an hour-and-a-half because of some computer glitch, in this day and age, not unexpected. The only - minor - criticism I had was the the Skybus personnel were obviously new at what they were doing, not bothering to announce the gate, flight destination, or number of the delayed flight to Portsmouth, almost causing us to miss the plane, not bothering to change departure signs (our departure gate said our flight was bound for Pasadena further adding to the confusion), stumbling through the announcements, forgetting to deliver coffee. Minor stuff as I said, and all could be chalked up to birthing pains, considering we flew on the airlines' third and fifth days of operation.

  6. Would we fly Skybus again? Definitely yes, especially if it matches up to our travel plans. Skybus currently flies to only a handful of destinations (map above), and like Rome, all Skybus roads lead to Columbus, Ohio. While it's possible to work out a multi-point itinerary (say, Portsmouth to L.A.), it probably won't be the easiest thing to do. You have to pick up and re-check your baggage, for instance, and expect a lengthy layover in Columbus.
Skybus promises more routes are opening soon. But for now, if you're planning a trip to/from one of their destination cities, looking for an economical flight, can book well in advance, and are willing to be a little flexible for the savings, I'd recommend taking a look at Skybus.

Animated New Yorker Cartoons


Drawn doesn't like the idea, and if you're a traditionalist, you probably won't like these animated versions of new and classic New Yorker cartoons either.

Me, a couple of them made me laugh out loud. To your left, a frame from Leo Cullum's Outside the Box, a print of which I bought for Peggy several years ago, and which hangs in our downstairs bathroom.

American Life in Poetry: Column 114

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006

Poetry can be thought of as an act of persuasion: a poem attempts to bring about some kind of change in its reader, perhaps no more than a moment of clarity amidst the disorder of everyday life. And successful poems not only make use of the meanings and sounds of words, as well as the images those words conjure up, but may also take advantage of the arrangement of type on a page. Notice how this little poem by Mississippi poet Robert West makes the very best use of the empty space around it to help convey the nature of its subject.


Echo

A lone
voice

in the
right

empty space
makes

its own
best

company.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright (c) 2005 by Robert West. Reprinted from "Best Company," Blink Chapbooks, Chapel Hill, NC, 2005, with permission of the author. Introduction copyright (c) 2006 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

American Life in Poetry: Column 113

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006

Though the dog chose domestication, cheerfully enjoying human food and protection, most of the world's species look upon us with justifiable wariness, for we're among the most dangerous critters on the planet. Here Minnesota poet Freya Manfred, while out for a leisurely swim, comes face to face with a species that will not be trained to sit or roll over.


Swimming With A Hundred Year Old Snapping Turtle

I spy his head above the waves,
big as a man's fist, black eyes peering at me,
until he dives into darker, deeper water.
Yesterday I saw him a foot from my outstretched hand,
already tilting his great domed shell away.
Ribbons of green moss rippled behind him,
growing along the ridge of his back
and down his long reptilian tail.
He swims in everything he knows,
and what he knows is never forgotten.
Wisely, he fears me as if I were the Plague,
which I am, sick unto death, swimming
to heal myself in his primeval sea.


Reprinted by permission of Freya Manfred, whose most recent book is "My Only Home," 2003, from Red Dragonfly Press. Poem copyright (c) 2006 by Freya Manfred. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

At gather: You Say It's Your Birthday?


Well, it's Bob Dylan's (May 24, 1941) birthday too, yeah.

You and Bob also share the day of your birth with Queen Victoria (1819), Tommy Chong (1938), Gary Burghoff (1943), Patti LaBelle (1944), Priscilla Presley (1945) and Rosanne Cash (1955).

The song Happy Birthday to You is celebrating its 114th birthday this year and is generally acknowledged as the most sung song in the English language, followed by For He's A Jolly Good Fellow and Auld Lang Syne, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Thousands of off-key renditions of Happy Birthday are sung every day, and the song has been performed everywhere from Earth orbit to ocean depths. But you'll seldom hear it performed in either a movie or on a television show, because this 19th century ditty is still protected by copyright, and the current holders aggressively protect their interests in the song. You can sing Happy Birthday in a commercial performance, but, boy, you're gonna pay for the privilege.

Link to full article

Monday, May 21, 2007

"You've created a whole criminal culture,"

via Wired (highlighting is mine):

Refusing to Fold, Online Poker Players Bet on Prohibition Repeal

WASHINGTON -- Anyone who thinks poker isn't a game of skill should see Boy Wonder playing Texas hold 'em online from his D.C. apartment. The 24-year-old sharp starts with six tables. Then eight, then 11. He folds. He checks. He raises. New windows pop up on his monitor like whack-a-moles. Boy Wonder doesn't even break a sweat. This is a job to him.

Well, it was a job. Last Monday, he laid down his poker career to become an internet consultant. His roommate, Johnny CIA, had already done the same thing. They're hardly alone. A law passed last September by Congress outlawing financial transactions between online casinos and American banks and credit card companies has had a profound effect on the poker players in the United States. In less than a year, according to players and industry insiders, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) has pushed online poker into the shadows and saddled a national pastime with a prohibition-like status that many compare to the booze ban in the 1920s.

"There was mass panic when the legislation came out," says Boy Wonder, who asked to be identified only by his screen name because he fears the IRS might target him. "(The Act) scared away the novice."

The novice used to pay the rent for Boy Wonder, who started playing poker full-time after graduating from Haverford College in 2005. He earned around $1,000 a week playing in $1/2 and $2/4 limit games, which specify the amount a player can bet during rounds of play. But now the game is more trouble to him than it's worth. "It's unstable," he says.

Some major sites such as PartyPoker.com ban Americans altogether. But others like PokerStars.com and FullTiltPoker.com don't, and determined players have found ways around the legal impediments. Boy Wonder and Johnny CIA describe pre-paid VISA debit cards sold through foreign middlemen that allow Americans to pay online casinos. Some gamblers bankroll friends that have existing credit. Americans can also set up offshore bank accounts or sign up for foreign credit cards. Some use phone cards. There are many ways to keep playing. Many are legally dubious.

In January, the FBI arrested the Canadian founders of NETeller, an online money transfer service based in the Isle of Man that was popular among poker players. Last week, a federal grand jury in Salt Lake City charged seven people and four companies with bank fraud, money laundering and racketeering for concealing money transfers for gamblers playing online.

"You've created a whole criminal culture," says former New York Sen. Al D'Amato. D'Amato is the chairman of the Poker Player's Alliance, a 500,000-member grassroots group of poker enthusiasts working to overturn last year's law. Instead of controlling and licensing the industry, D'Amato believes, UIGEA has only created the conditions for shady operators to flourish outside the reach of law. "Just like prohibition," he says.

Equally troubling to D'Amato and a growing group of federal lawmakers is that UIGEA, which then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) tacked on to a port security bill in the dead of night, gives the government too much control over the personal liberties of citizens in a digital age.

"The fundamental issue here is a matter of individual freedom," Rep. Barney Frank (D-Massachusetts) said at a news conference last month. Frank introduced a bill that would re-legalize online poker and gambling and regulate the industry, requiring that all gaming sites build technological safeguards to prevent underage and compulsive gambling, crack down on cheating and protect user privacy. Better sites already use this technology, but lawmakers believe that without oversight, dishonest services will emerge, and the government will divert important resources to stop Americans from gambling on them.

Legalizing online gambling under a federal umbrella could raise around $3.5 billion a year in tax revenue, according to the Poker Player's Alliance. It might also get the U.S. out of hot water internationally. In March , the World Trade Organization ruled that America's online gambling ban has unfairly closed U.S. markets to offshore casinos. The U.S. Trade Representative's Office fought the ruling by arguing that restrictions on remote gambling were needed to protect American morals, but that argument fell apart when the WTO noted that the U.S. allows online betting on horse racing, which is supported by a powerful lobby and managed to carve out an exemption from UIGEA. The WTO ruling clears the way for lawsuits from online gaming countries such as Antigua and Barbuda or even the United Kingdom.

Frank's is not the only proposal that puts online poker back on the table. Rep. Bob Wexler (D-Florida) is drafting more narrowly-crafted legislation focused specifically on games like poker, mahjong and bridge that many players believe have been unfairly lumped with games of chance like roulette and craps. Indeed, a number of states already allow high-skill versions of poker such as Texas hold 'em, Omaha Hi Lo and seven-card stud, even if federal law does not. "We're looking at a standalone bill that would specifically identify poker and allow that and similar games without restriction online," says Josh Rogin, Wexler's press secretary.

Another measure , introduced May 3 by Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nevada), would commission a National Academies study to look into online gambling issues and other countries' regulatory frameworks. "If we banned every activity that someone had an issue with, that's all we'd be doing," says David Cherry, Berkley's spokesman. "We're setting up a cat-and-mouse game."

Cherry describes current U.S. law as "Swiss cheese." D'Amato, who grew up playing poker, isn't as gentle: "We talk about fair trade and free trade. We talk about individual rights. We're sanctimonious hypocrites."

For now, though, online poker players have been handed, as they say in the business, a bad beat. Stars like Chris Moneymaker and Greg Raymer cut their teeth in online poker rooms, then crossed over to win world championships in live tournaments. Their success fueled the growth of the industry. But today's aspiring sharks have had to temper similar dreams.

At least for one more night, however, Boy Wonder is in the clear. He's got trip tens and a fat fish on the line. He clicks. He bets. He wins.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Dreamtime Podcast - Episode 35 - Cooking (and Drinking) with Bob





Today on Cooking with Bob, Mint Juleps! Rum and Coca-Cola! Barbecue! Beer! Figgy Pudding!

And Bob's Mom's Banana Chocolate Chip Loaf Bread!

American Life in Poetry: Column 112

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006

Not only do we have road rage, but it seems we have road love, too. Here Elizabeth Hobbs of Maine offers us a two-car courtship. Be careful with whom you choose to try this little dance.


Slow Dancing on the Highway:
the Trip North

You follow close behind me,
for a thousand miles responsive to my movements.
I signal, you signal back. We will meet at the next exit.

You blow kisses, which I return.
You mouth "I love you," a message for my rearview mirror.

We do a slow tango as we change lanes in tandem,
gracefully, as though music were guiding us.
It is tighter than bodies locked in heat,
this caring, this ardent watching.


Poem copyright (c) 2001 by Elizabeth Hobbs, whose most recent book is "A Craving for the Goatman," Goose River Press, 2003. Reprinted from "Poems from the Lake," Goose River Press, 2001, with permission of the publisher. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.

Monday, May 14, 2007

36 Years Ago - Chadwick School


While doing some spring cleaning, Peggy came across my old yearbook from Chadwick School. We had thought it lost or destroyed in one of our periodic basement floods. Instead, it had been safely packed away in a box that had remained unopened since our move from the condo to this house, what 11, 12 years ago now?

Pictured to your left is the group photo of the staff of Chadwick School's 1971 yearbook, The Dolphin, all looking very young. As I remember, the semi-pro photographer, who later quit midway through the job, was very big on "natural" poses. Thus, this and many other group photographs where some people are posing and other people look as if they've wandered into the shot by accident. Our Yearbook Adviser was not pleased and after several clashes with the photog - himself a recent Chadwick grad, the remaining work was farmed out to two Chadwick students; a junior and sophomore as I remember who did, in fact, a much better job.

I may eventually post my individual class picture, although Peggy says I look geeky... And indeed I do. I don't remember anymore, but from the photo it looks like I was at the start of growing what would turn into the Fu Manchu 'stache I wore until going into the Army and had recently had an amateur haircut from one of the girls I was dating, probably at the demand of either the school or my Dad. Two of those girls are in the picture. But I won't tell you which two.

Friday, May 11, 2007

My Tag Says "Wash in Cold Water"

I hadn't even realized that the "Tag - Seven things About Me - Tag Seven Other People" meme was an internet thing, probably going to show how little I social network either in real life or virtually. I had judiciously avoided the game on gather - where I thought it had originated - even after being tagged by the ghost of Jimi Hendrix, or so he claimed. Anyway, like nearly everything on gather, a semi-huge battle broke out about the Tag Game among various factions for and again' it and, like nearly everything on gather, it was easier to avoid the whole thing by ignoring it... so I did.

But, I've been tagged by a friend, and that makes it a horse of a different color, as the doorman to the Emerald City says. But I got a couple of problems. Uno: I'm not sure I can come up with seven new things. Hell, I mean that's what fhb is all about, and after 3+ years, there's not many new stories left that you O Constant Reader haven't already read - or in Peggy's case, heard. But I'll try. Dos: As I said, I'm not all that much of a social butterfly, I don't think I even know seven people who would understand what this is all about, let alone those who have blogs to continue it. So, I'm afraid that part of the tag game will remain unfulfilled here.

But in the spirit if not the letter, seven (or maybe less) things you probably didn't know about me unless you're Peggy.

  1. I'm a 1 1/2-finger typist. Back in the day that they offered typing classes in my middle/high schools, it was considered a "girl's trade," like "homemaking" and not offered to us virile young men-types, who were supposed to take such useful classes as "Shop." I never learned how to formally type, ironic given my trade, doubly ironic since I spent the final days of my Army career as a "clerk-typist." I type with the middle finger of my right hand and use the index finger of my left to press the "Shift" key. The one time in college I tried to learn formal QWERTY typing, I became like the proverbial centipede who was asked how he kept all those legs in order... and never walked again. But, unless you're a professional typist, I'd lay odds I still type faster than you.

  2. I learned how to fly when I was 13 years old. My Dad taught me in a Cessna 180 seaplane on Long Lake in Maine during one long-ago endless summer. We had to put a pad on the seat and blocks on the rudder pedals. I never bothered to get a license because my father had let his instructor's license expire and I would have had to go through all the formal crap and why bother. While I've done both in a seaplane, to this day I've neither taken off or landed a plane on land.

  3. When I was young I was regularly mistaken for Cat Stevens. Now I'm regularly mistaken for George Lucas. Make of that what you will. And I mean mistaken, not "Hey, you look like..." I've had people get angry at me because I wouldn't sign an autograph. In one case, I did. That autograph probably now goes for a few hundred dollars.

  4. My draft number was 79 in 19 and 71. They drafted up to 125 that year. For those of you who don't know what that means, go here.

  5. The first time I ever got drunk was on a vile concoction called raisin jack, which my boarding school roommate and I brewed up after I discovered the recipe in a book about prison. One batch blew up in my closet, forcing me to launder all the reeking clothes. The hangovers would last for days.

  6. My nose was examined by Tom Jones' doctor. So, I'm reaching, what the hell. But it was. Jones had flown the doc up to Maine to treat him for a sore throat. I was in the room next door being examined for a constant nose bleed. The Doc was the leading nose/throat man on the East Coast, and came over to express his opinion. Tom himself later stopped in to shake my hand, not an easy task leaning far back in an examination chair and covered in blood as I was.

  7. The first story I ever wrote was titled "Screwy the Screwed-Up Screwdriver." I'm not sure how old I was, but young enough to bemuse my teacher with it. It's somewhat frightening to me that I can still remember not only the title but whole sentences from something written around 45 years ago, but can't remember whether the cat is in or out five minutes after I've seen him.
So there you go, Miss K/M. Realize I wouldn't have done this for just anyone.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

American Life in Poetry: Column 111

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006

As poet Felecia Caton Garcia of New Mexico shows us in this moving poem, there are times when parents feel helpless and hopeless. But the human heart is remarkable and, like a dry creek bed, somehow fills again, is renewed and restored.

Drought

Try to remember: things go wrong in spite of it all.
I listen to our daughters singing in the crackling rows
of corn and wonder why I don't love them more.
They move like dark birds, small mouths open

to the sky and hungry. All afternoon I listen
to the highway and watch clouds push down over the hills.
I remember your legs, heavy with sleep, lying across mine.
I remember when the world was transparent, trembling, all

shattering light. I had to grit my teeth against its brilliance.
It was nothing like this stillness that makes it difficult
to lift my eyes. When I finally do, I see you
carrying the girls over the sharp stones of the creek bed.

When they pull at my clothes and lean against my arms,
I don't know what to do and do nothing.

Reprinted from "Northwest Review," Vol. 44, No. 3, 2006, by permission of the author. Copyright 2006 by Felecia Caton Garcia. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

At gather: Maria Muldaur - Naughty, Bawdy & Blue

If the gig at gather doesn't produce anything else, it did give me the pleasure of hearing Maria Muldaur call me "darling." Here's a clip from my latest column, an interview with Maria on her latest release, Naughty, Bawdy & Blue.

***

Maria Muldaur is in a RV on her way to her next gig somewhere in Iowa when her cell phone rings.

"So, where's the show?" I ask.

"Clear Lake," she answers, which gives me pause. I've never been to Clear Lake Iowa, but the name brings a flood of memories from books and movies anyway. A skinny young man in horn-rimmed glasses, an improbable rock star, blasting out a Bo Diddley beat; teenage girls in pleated skirts doing coordinated dance moves, a heavy-set guy thumping a tambourine, dancing onto the stage, surprisingly light on his feet; now a grinning Chicano kid coming out and adding his guitar to the mix. And the orchestra keeps the beat going, the horns lifting Not Fade Away higher and higher as the group laughs, unplug their guitars, and wave goodbye to the audience as they walk off-stage one-by-one.

"Thank y'all! See you next year," the last one, the tall, skinny guy, calls back to the crowd... and they're gone.

Clear Lake is one of those iconic rock places, like Max Yasgur's farm - or maybe the Altamont Speedway. It was the last stand of the Winter Dance Party of 19 and 59.

"Whoa," I say, back in the future but totally thrown out of interview gear. "Buddy Holly territory."

"Yeah," Maria answers. "We're even playing the same place, the Surf Ballroom. But at least we're not flying out."

Link to full article

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Stuck in the Middle at the Wheaties

As you may have noticed, I don't blog about poker all that much anymore. Not that I haven't stopped playing. I actually have fairly healthy bankrolls at UltimateBet and FullTilt. PokerStars is another story. Yesterday was the second time since the start of the year that I've had to recharge my PokerStars account - a feat that's become less difficult once I discovered Visa "gift debit" cards could be used to make deposits at on-line casinos. No fuss, no muss. Highly recommended if you're looking for an easy way to get money in. Money out is still problematic, but even my healthy UB and FT accounts aren't fat enough yet for me to be exploring ways of taking money out.

My game went sour on PokerStars at the beginning of the year, partially I think because my dwindling bankroll forced me to give up everything except the Wheaties Tuesday night tournament and then I got into an evil circle of not getting into the money, posting the $11 buy-in, not getting into the money, posting the $11 buy-in... and so on. When you only have around a $75 stake to begin with, it doesn't take too many $11 buy-ins to make your money go away unless you win something. Usually, I had been able to offset the Wheaties spend with the occasional SnG win, but I found it was easier - much easier in FullTilt's case - to get in the money at SnGs at FullTilt or UltimateBet than at PokerStars. And because there's now no easy way to move money between various poker sites, I'm now faced with lopsided bankrolls among the three.

For awhile I was playing crappy in the Wheaties, getting knocked out fast. I settled myself down, but then had the misfortune of running into the same crazy two Tuesdays running who - two Tuesdays running - succeeded in knocking me out of each respective tournament with terrible suckout hands, all while proclaiming how drunk she was while doing so. That put me on tilt so badly that I stopped playing at PokerStars altogether for a few weeks. When I came back the crazy was gone, but she had taken the rest of my luck with her. I've tried everything - I stopped chatting; I deliberately played hands the reverse of how I would normally play them; I gambled; I played as tight as a tick; and variations of all thereof.

The "problem" with SnGs and tournaments, of course, is that you can play beautifully for hours at a time but the bottom line is that only certain finishes are going to pay any money, sometimes only the top 3, sometimes the top 9 or more, depending on the size of the field. In recent Wheatie weeks I've been placing consistently in the top 20 - not too bad in an average field of 60 - but still far out of the money. I don't think I've even seen a final Wheaties table since February.

Last night was the usual. I played well, made it past the first break with an average stack for the field. Unfortunately at the same table was a player who was on one of those golden rushes that you see occasionally in poker games - he or she could literally not lose a hand. And with a stack around 3 times the size of the rest of the table, s/he was able to play a lot of hands. With a pair of 7s, I just called the a min raise, as did the player and one other person. A seven hit on the flop, giving me Trips. I decided to run a check-raise trap and checked. The first better throws 400 at the pot. The player threw in a pot-size raise, which I had expected, as s/he had been doing it all night, scaring people off. I went All-In with around $2k. The other two players folded. The Big Stack called and showed a pair of 9s... and a possible straight draw with a 7 and 8 on the board. Runner, runner, as they say. a 6 hits the turn, meaning I now have to avoid a 5, 9, or 10. Too many outs for this guy and a 10 hits the river and I'm gone.

Could I have played it differently? Possibly, but I think he would have forced me into an all-in anyway. Just calling his $1200 raise would have committed over half my stack, and I doubt I could have laid down those trip 7s even facing a straight at the turn. I had to bet that s/he didn't have a strong enough hand to make an additional $2,000 a worthwhile investment, and I was wrong.

Anyway, that was last night Wheaties - and I think my last Wheaties for awhile. I'm going to take a shot at the Mookie at FullTilt - Wednesdays at 9, and see what that brings. For PokeRStars I'm going back to single- and multi-table SnGs for awhile. As you can see from the graphic above, courtesy of SharkScope, I've actually done pretty well at those.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The Ol' Ball Game - The Sea Pups and Slugger at Haddock Field


Peggy and I went up to Portland for our 23rd anniversary last weekend, staying overnight so we could use a gift certificate to Vignola that my brother Lee had sent down. Vignola, located in restaurant row in Portland's Old Port, is highly recommended, btw, if you're in the mood for high-end Italian. I had the pork and veal meatballs with porcini mushrooms, tomato and pancetta and Peg had the grilled quail. Both were excellent.

A little weirdly, Vignola shares a basement kitchen with a "sister" restaurant, Cinque Terre, located a building away, which serves even higher-end Italian from the looks of its menu and prices. Vignola which is positioned as "casual" in their marketing, seems to be the Jan to Cinque Terre's Marcia Brady, but it was a fine choice as far as we were concerned.

Earlier in the day, we finally went to a Sea Dogs game, something we've talked about doing since the Pups, as I nicknamed them long ago, were a Marlins affiliate. Now they're the Red Sox's AA team, and they were playing New Hampshire's Fisher Cats last Saturday, giving us even more of an excuse to go - if we needed one.

As I've mentioned before, I'm not as rabid a baseball fan as Peggy. I like the Sox, but can seldom get through a full game on the tube. We'll maybe go to one or two live games a year, dependent on how many freebie tickets come our way from family and business. But, even with subsidized tickets, a trip to Friendly Fenway can put a serious dent in your pocketbook. Parking costs are outrageous unless you can come in by way of the T. You can easily lay out $40-50 for food and beer for two - and we're talking ballpark food and watery, lukewarm beer. You take an average-sized family to a major league park and you're talking an expensive day or night.

Plus - and I don't want to go into a rant about Fenway, because I actually do I kick out of going there - but it ain't a family ballpark all that much, advertising hype aside. It's mostly a park for testosterone-infused 20-somethings, too many with foul mouths on them, and listening to the constant F-bombs being dropped can quickly get old.

So, it's kind of nice to step back in time, and get something closer to what going to a ball game was probably like in the `40s and `50s. At the Pups' Hadlock field (which again, we had quickly twisted into "Haddock Field" for all the obvious reasons), you're almost sitting on the players, no matter where you're sitting. The place was crawling with kids and family, not surprising when general admission is $6 for adults and $3 for kids. Even box seats go for only $8 and $7.

The announcer comes on and tells you "no swearing allowed," and happily, there isn't. The game isn't bad, probably no one would consider it up to pro standards, but no one seems to much care either. We're all just having a good time.


The Pup's pitcher, a guy with the wonderful baseball name of Charlie Zink, throws an interesting knuckle ball which seems to have the Fisher Cats confounded for the six innings Charlie stays in. A reliever almost throws the game away with a handful of pitches, quickly bringing the to-then-scoreless Cats into the game with five runs. But the Pups' manager apparently wakes up from whatever reverie he's fallen into and seeing that an 8-0 game has turned into a 8-5 game in a matter of minutes, relieves the reliever with a new pitcher who gets Our Boys out of the inning, bloody but unbowed.

And the promotions! Hey, there is something happening every minute at a Sea Pups game, let me tell you, buddy. You got what seems to half the school population of Maine marching out on field pre-game to be acknowledged as part of "most improved student day." You got flying lobsters, tricycle races, basketball toss contests, baseball throw contests, a different contest going on every inning change. You got a family winning an upgrade from G.A. to box seats. You got little garbage can characters wandering around the aisles to remind you to dispose of your trash properly. You got Oakie the Acorn in the stands who almost got clobbered by a foul ball. You got entire rows being awarded free pizza because a Sea Pup batter knocked the ball for a double.

And you got Slugger - pictured above - the hardest working mascot in Double A, who arrives chauffeured in his own John Deere cart and proceeds to work the crowd for a full seven innings, shaking hands, passing out autographed Slugger cards, all while being escorted by his own bodyguard as he travels back-and-forth among the fans. Slugger culminates his game by - in close order - stomping a fan's Yankee cap; leading the crowd in a rousing traditional Take Me Out to the Ball Game; and then finishing with what is apparently a tradition at Haddock Field, a full-blown singalong version of YMCA, complete with arm gestures spelling out the letters. Tired but triumphant, Slugger calls it a day at the eighth inning. The Sea Dogs win the day, and Peggy and I decide we'll catch a repeat performance in June when the Pups visit the Cats in Manchester.

On Sunday we'd take a quick trip through Stroudwater village, an area I'd all but forgotten until Peggy saw a magazine about one of Maine's oldest settlements and asked me if I knew where it was. That open-ended question triggered another "when I was but a sprout in Maine " speech, because I did, in fact, know where it was very well. I promised to take the ever-patient Peg back in the Summer when things are prettier and the 252-year-old Tate House is open.


We wound up the trip with a drive to Ferry Beach and Camp Ellis in Saco since we wanted to check out the damage from the last N'Easter. Back when I was but a sprout in Maine, my family lived for a time in Ferry Beach in a little Cape Cod on Surf Street, which, as the name indicates, was parallel to the beach.

The old house was still there, but most of Surf Street, already damaged by earlier storms, was gone. You can click on the picture to your left to get a better image. You're looking up the "street" maybe 50 yards away from where I used to live as a kid. Where you see sand leading up to the blue house used to be asphalt. And that house looks like it will need to be torn down. Most of the underlying foundation is damaged. The storm literally demolished six other houses in the area.

Reports have it that Saco won't allow the houses that were damaged to be rebuilt. The owners claim that the Camp Ellis breakwater - which you can see to the left in the background - is in dire need of repair and once fixed will stop further erosion. Or maybe reverse erosion, I guess, as the beach is reclaiming what used to be dunes, beach pines, roads and homes.

Our favorite restaurant for steamers - Wormwoods, where my dog Butchie used to go to drink with clamdiggers - was still intact, and, after making sure of that, we headed home.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

American Life in Poetry: Column 110

've talked a lot in this column about poetry as celebration, about the way in which a poem can make an ordinary experience seem quite special. Here's the celebration of a moment on a campus somewhere, anywhere. The poet is Juliana Gray, who lives in New York. I especially like the little comic surprise with which it closes.


Summer Downpour on Campus

When clouds turn heavy, rich
and mottled as an oyster bed,

when the temperature drops so fast
that fog conjures itself inside the cars,
as if the parking lots were filled
with row upon row of lovers,

when my umbrella veils my face
and threatens to reverse itself
at every gust of wind, and rain
lashes my legs and the hem of my skirt,

but I am walking to meet a man
who'll buy me coffee and kiss my fingers--

what can be more beautiful, then,
than these boys sprinting through the storm,
laughing, shouldering the rain aside,
running to their dorms, perhaps to class,
carrying, like torches, their useless shoes?


Reprinted from "The Louisville Review," (No. 59, Spring 2006) by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 2006 by Juliana Gray, whose most recent book of poetry is "The Man Under My Skin," River City Publishing, 2005. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. For information on permissions and usage, or to download a PDF version of the column, visit www.americanlifeinpoetry.org.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Dreamtime Episode 34 - He Was a GraveYard Smash


A goodbye to Bobby "Boris" Pickett, who passed away last week at age 69.

Somewhere in a special spot of heaven reserved for beloved monsters like Frankenstein and the Wolfman, the ghoulies and ghosties are doing the Transylvania Twist.

Episode 34 - He Was a Graveyard Smash

Dreamtime, btw, has made it to the NY Times, or at least a subset thereof. Eric Asimov, chief wine critic for The Times, discusses the pleasure, culture and business of wine, beer and spirits at his blog, The Pour. Scroll down to Mr. Asimov's blogroll, which you'll find on the right, and nestled amidst links to various wine and foodie blogs stands "
Dreamtime: Blog on Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour"

Mr. Asimov is obviously a man of impeccable tastes.