Monday, March 31, 2008

Where have you gone, Keith Osik?

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keith osik baseball cardI know the Red Sox and A's played two games in Japan last week.

Yes, Ryan Zimmerman homered in the bottom of the ninth so the Washington Nationals could beat those evil Atlanta Braves in D.C. last night and officially break in their new stadium with a win.

But to me, the baseball season doesn't start until the game is played both on American soil and under the sun.

Even when the Mets opened in Japan a few years ago, it didn't count as far as I was concerned. My Love, who woke me at 4 in the morning so I could watch that game and made me a breakfast of Lit'l Smokies, spicy mustard and Shiner Bock, understands, too. God bless her.

The following comes from Greg Shea, author of one of the first Web sites/e-mail digests I ever subscribed to back in the dark days. It was called "The Closer," a funny, insightful summary of the day's baseball action. I miss it. I think Greg later got a job with ESPN.com. He deserved it.

I like to circulate his poem at this time every year because it's a perfect description of how I feel about this day.

Except for that cola reference. Sorry, dear.

TODAY

Today you'll dig in the closet for your glove and snap a ball into it while sipping your morning coffee.
Today as the toast comes out of the toaster, you'll still remember how to execute a perfect "pop-up" slide.
Today you'll drive to work and admonish yourself to "keep your head down" and your eye on the road.
Today your team will be in first and planning to stay there.
Today you'll end your contract holdout.
Today you'll still be able to turn the double play.
Today you won't lose a business deal in the sun.
Today you'll find yourself rotating your arm around your head to stretch the shoulder and keep it loose.
Today someone asks if you'll be at the meeting and you respond by saying, "Let's play two."
Today you spend an hour in the attic with old baseball cards and dusty Sports Illustrateds.
Today sunflower seeds strangely find their way into your back pocket.
Today you find yourself muttering something about "Bill freakin' Buckner."
Today you'll think of wearing a black suit to match the eye black.
Today you'll have the steal sign.
Today you slip up in a meeting and mention "our sales team ... vs. lefties."
Today a hot dog and peanuts for lunch will sound about right.
Today you tell a co-worker to "warm up."
Today the only strike you'll know about is above the knees and below the armpits.
Today you'll wear your jacket only on your pitching arm.
Today you'll buy two packs of gum and stuff them in the side of your mouth.
Today, during lunch, you'll wonder why Coke doesn't come in a wood can.
Today you'll scratch yourself and spit for no apparent reason.
Today you'll wonder why stirrup socks never caught on.
Today you'll be the rookie looking to make it big.
Today you'll be the wily vet with just a little something left.
Today you'll look for the AM dial on your radio.
Today your glove is hanging off the handlebars of your bike.
Today seems like a good day for an ice cream before you head home.
Today is box scores and "Baseball Tonight."
Today is Donnie Sadler and Keith Osik.
Today is Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds.
Today your first coach is cheering. Still.
Today mom's watching.
Today dad's in the backyard -- with his glove.
Today it'll still be a kids' game.
Today you'll be a kid.
Today is Opening Day.

March 31, 2002 - By Greg Shea
Copyright © 2000 The Closer

Sunday, March 30, 2008

But the box is a good source of fiber

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I'm not exactly sure when my kids' addiction to French toast sticks started. In any case, it ends today.

A few months ago, the brand (Farm Rich) I usually buy Thing 1 and Thing 2 stopped appearing in my grocer's frozen food section. That bites. They were tasty, not too greasy and contained some general semblance of nutrition, at least compared to the entire line of Entenmann's donuts and danishes I grew up on.

So we tried Murry's Double Cinnamon French toast sticks. Seemed to satisfy the brood, all right. Then, one day, I read the nutritional information on the side of the box.

What follows is the actually e-mail exchange between me and a senior VP at Murry's:

Me: I've bought your French toast sticks for my kids many times. I notice the box says they are "vitamin fortified," but the nutrition panel lists the only detectable amount of vitamin or mineral is iron at 2% of the daily recommended allowance. Isn't the "vitamin fortified" statement (on the cover of the box) a bit misleading?

French toast guy: This correspondence is in regards to your inquiry regarding the use of the phrase "vitamin fortified" as it appears on our Murry's French toast items. The bread utilized in the production of the Toast is baked in accordance with our Murry's bread specification that states that the Enriched flour must be utilized. The term "enriched" means that when formulating the flour for the bread a standard component of vitamins is added into the process. When looking at the ingredient statement on the French toast carton, you will see that the first ingredient says "Enriched Flour" follow by parentheses that include a series of terms that define the enrichment. Each of those ingredients is a vitamin. Hence, the use of the term "vitamin fortified." However, when you look at the vitamin content in the Nutritional facts panel it read "0" for 3 of the 4 vitamins. Unfortunately, the cartons have been misprinted and should show the percentage of vitamins used in the enrichment of the flour. When we produce French toast cartons millions are printed at one time. There is a very long time frame before the next printing for us to correct the problem. Both the Quality Assurance and purchasing departments are aware of this error and have taken the necessary steps to correct. I thank you for taking the time to inquiry about our product and for being a customer for Murry's.

I've had to handle consumer complaints in a prior life. I've made mistakes (this blog possibly being the latest; once entering an Achy Breaky Heart dance contest being among the ugliest) and I'm willing to cut people some slack. It was a misprint on the box, so rather than drop a kajillion dollars and hike up the price of my kids' breakfast food, they are going let the supply of boxes run out and then put the ones with the correct info out there. They care! I feel the love!

But one thing bothered me about the French toast guy's reply. I mean, aside from the Random capitalization Of words his Company Thinks are Important. So, I wrote back.

Me: Thanks for your reply. So, what are the correct vitamin levels that will appear on the new boxes?

French toast guy: The percent of enrichment for each of the items would be 2% based on the final formulation.

To clarify, that means 2% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamins A, C and D. And don't forget the 2% of iron currently listed on the box.

Kids, tomorrow, it's Crumb Coffee Cake and Rich Frosted Donuts for the lot of you. Chow down.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Not letting sleeping dogs lie

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murphy lab on bed
My Love has decided that our dog should start sleeping in our room. This could be yet another subtle plot of hers to avoid my advances. She claims otherwise.

"I want to get rid of that dog gate at the bottom of the stairs," she said.

The gate prevents Murphy, who is still in puppy adolescence at 22 months, from sneaking up to the second floor. When up there, he inevitably goes straight to one of The Things' room in search of one of their stuffed animals.

If he goes to our boy's room, he either slobbers over Greenie, a bear won at Dave & Buster's two years ago, or Mommy Beaver, a stuffed beaver a friend bought for me years ago because … well, because my nickname is "Beaver." (Not sure why our son is convinced this is a female and a mom, but never try to reason with a kindergartener set in his stuffed animal beliefs.) If Murphy heads to our girl's room, he takes his pick from among 1,604 Webkinz.

"We just need to make sure the doors upstairs are closed," I said, apparently expressing far too much husbandly confidence than I should. Suffice it to say, I was overruled.

Then, I brought up that Murphy sleeps in his crate at night. Which is locked. And in my office. Downstairs.

See where I'm coming from on the "avoid my advances" angle?

So, on Monday night, Murphy was brought upstairs from his comfy crate. He quickly jumped up on the bed, and demonstrated how happy he was to be here by using his tongue to give free facial dermabrasion. After a brief struggle, he rotated around and planted his yellow Lab rump on my pillow.

"How about a good night kiss, hun?" I asked My Love. She didn't fall for the bait.

Murphy eventually turned his 72 pounds of fur and flesh around and, thankfully, downwind. All was well, although I'm pretty sure this goes against every "Dog Whisperer" episode I've ever TiVo-ed. Forgive me, Cesar, but you are married and we both know that "pack leader" crap only works for dogs, wolves and cults.

Tuesday night, My Love suggested bringing Murphy's dog bed upstairs to see if he would sleep in it. I was going to suggest it the night before, but unlike the dog, I had learned better by now. I know, I know. I'm the one who took the dog to training, watched the videos, clicked the clicker, picked up the poop, and so on, but how am I to argue with an empowered woman's determination to do things her way? You think Bill tries to talk Hillary out of those god-awful pants suits? Hmm, let me rephrase that …

So, for the next hour, it was "Murphy, go to your spot. Go to your spot." Followed by "Muphy, dowwwwn. Dowwwwn." Followed by a lot of cussing.

Honestly, I have no problem with the dog being upstairs. Our first dog, another Lab, would start on our bed before jumping off and crawling underneath it for the night. It worked well until you dropped something and it rolled under the bed. He wouldn't eat it, but crawling under there to get it meant coming out with a two-inch layer of fuzzy yellow ex-dog on you.

Finally last night, Murphy settled on his dog bed. He jumped up only once. It was about 4 a.m. and he did it to give the wife a wake-up lick.

She then took him downstairs and let him outside to do what he needed to do.

Then, she put him in his crate, locked it and came back to bed.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Old-school txt msg'n

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My Love regularly travels internationally for her job. It is more glamorous than it sounds, she says.

Our closet full of complimentary shampoos, conditioners, sleeping masks, earplugs, toothbrushes, sewing kits, breath mints and sleep booties says otherwise to me, though.

Then again, one of my most exotic business trips consisted of driving from Dallas to a plastics packaging plant in McAlester, Okla. I got to eat at a restaurant with a statue of a steer that was the size of a bus (similar to the one they had for years at United House Wrecking in Stamford) and drive past the state prison that Tom Joad was discharged from at the start of "Grapes of Wrath." Now that's Americana, people.

Because of her frequent travel, mi' lady and I tend to converse through messages put only in e-mail subject lines. It is text messaging - 1990s style, yes, but I'm never in need of a cell phone while working from home, texting is expensive and instant messaging, the wife says, only opens the door for more colleagues to interrupt her already hectic work day. Technological aptitude is definitely one of the few things not in her skill set.

So, we communicate in non-real time. This is usual between her giving 723-slide PowerPoint presentations on why someone's salary is being paid in Euros via Chinese yen exchange rates with bonus payouts in English pounds parlayed into equitable compensation by Heisenberging U.S. dollars in accordance with international duty schedules for aligned Band 18 jobs. Mmm, sexy - no?

So, here's an example of how Friday might have gone if she wasn't inbound from Heathrow all day:

Coloring Easter eggs this AM.

RE: Coloring Easter eggs this AM. -- Ugh! Another meeting. I'm slammed.

Eggs boiled. 16 survivors. Maybe. Define "hard."

RE: Eggs boiled. 16 survivors? Maybe. Define "hard." -- Stop it. I'm on Slide 467.

Out of white vinegar. Using red wine

vinegar. Red wine vinegar. Sorry. Premature launch.

RE: Premature launch. -- I got carsick on way from airport again.

Eggs dyed; kids alive. Dog still mostly yellow. C U soon.

RE: C U soon. -- Love ya.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Deal or no deal

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This entry later ran as an Op-Ed piece in The Advocate (Stamford, Conn.) newspaper on March 27, 2008, under the headline "City budgeting not a game ... or is it?"

* * * * *

Gooooood day! And, welcome to this year's edition of "Stamford Budget Crisis"!

We have an exciting show for you today as we try to find ways to pay for all the things you – that's right, you! – need, want or couldn't-care-less-about-but-are-dear-to-certain-political-interests!

So, let's give the Wheel O' Gristle a spin to see what we will be trimming today to fund the "essentials" of tomorrow …

Oh, oh, oh … it lands on slashing public library funding for $750,000! Excellent! You get to shorten the operating hours and stop buying new books!

Wait, there's more!

Our exclusive, two-faced pointer thingy on the wheel has also landed on closing your most academically successful elementary school for a savings of $5.4 million! Fantastic!

What's that, Johnny?

Our announcer informs me that as an added bonus, we'll eliminate several crossing guards at the remaining schools because those near-minimum wage jobs for fixed income seniors really add up!

Such is life in my hometown. We may be on the alleged Gold Coast but every year the headlines read like we are in the poor house. This is because Stamford, unlike most of our neighboring towns, is really more of a rebounding, old industry city than a wine-and-brie bedroom community. Compared with most of Fairfield County, we have a wider diversity of ethnicity, socioeconomic standing and hamburger joints.

But that builds character … or does it create characters? Either way, it beats white bread.

Because of my city's location amid the home bases of celebrities, hedge fund kings and the plain ol' stinking rich, we tend to get the short end when it comes to state and federal funding for essentials like education and infrastructure repair, even though we have lots of the same issues as our poorer, more urban cousins. Stamford is a city, the Hartford and D.C. types forget, not a hamlet, and something is rotten in the state of the city.

Solution: corporate sponsorship.

Look, I abhor teams and municipalities selling the naming rights to ball parks. I also can't understand why corporations want their name on them because it tends to be a good predictor of whether the buyer is going kaput in the near future. Witness Enron Field in Houston, AmeriQuest Field at The Ballpark in Arlington, and PSINet Stadium in Baltimore. Mark my words, the Mets' new home being called Citi Field isn't good news for the financial giant's employees and stockholders.

But there is a market for it, so why not cash in? Capitalism, like freedom and democracy, separates us from the evil-doers and terrorists, I hear. Also, this is selling out for the sake of community enrichment, not personal riches.

Here are just a few suggestions that involve area corporations:

World Wresting Entertainment can make a nice donation to help keep the local libraries open at normal hours. In return, the city hangs banners at all branch entryways for the year, announcing: "We didn't close down on Mondays thanks to WWE SmackDown on Fridays (8 p.m. on The CW)!"

Priceline could give some financial help to the school system in exchange for high school stadium and sports team advertising. Here's your slogan: "Priceline.com: Where you 'Name Your Own Price' -- but not at the cost of educating Stamford's kids!"

We could spiff up the concession and restrooms areas at our beaches if we get one of the many major beverage distributors headquartered in and around town to pay for their names on these facilities. Welcome to the Pepsi Picnic Pavilion at Cove Island! If Rover does his business in the park, no worries – use one of the complimentary Doritos' Do-Not-Doo-Doo bags to pick it up. Then toss it into one of our many Quaker Oatmeal trash canisters because, while any oatmeal can help lower your cholesterol, only Quaker helps reduce pollution in Long Island Sound!

Disclosure: Those last examples are also shameless plugs and hints for my wife's employer. Hey, corporations have paid bigger bucks for dumber ways to advertise that didn't benefit anyone other than the C-level suits in the long run.

Now, let's take a commercial break.

When we come back, we'll play a round of that annual favorite, "Too Poor to Pay for the Fourth of July Fireworks Show," OK?!

Monday, March 17, 2008

When Irish pants are fallin'

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thing 2 on saint patricksSt. Patrick's Day was never a big event in my family while growing up.

Mom would boil a slab of corned beef beyond recognition. My sister and I would find different ways to conceal the cabbage under mashed potatoes, used napkins or assorted condiments. Dad would put some green food coloring in his Carling Black Label. But that's about it.

It probably has something to do with that, despite our family name, we've never been real sure whether we had any Irish in our heritage. My mother's parents came over from Italy. My dad's family has lots of German and Polish in them. I remember having one Polish grand-uncle named Yosh and my dad always said his mother made great strudel. Not material that's going to get me into the Ancient Order of Hibernians any time soon.

Nonetheless, Ireland tops my list of places to one day visit if only to be able to pay respects to the brewers at Guinness for all the joy they've brought me over the years.

I took my first stab at a homemade St. Pat's feast this year. Cooked up my own batch of corned beef in the Crock-Pot this weekend … simmered in Guinness, naturally. Skipped the cabbage, but did the red potatoes, carrots and onions and bought a surprisingly tasty loaf of soda bread at the corner A&P.

I sipped down my annual shot of Jameson, a tradition I picked up from a real Irish TV cameraman I worked with during a college internship, and dug in. Shockingly, it was really good. The wife claimed it was the best corned beef she ever had.

Of course, My Love also believes it was the first corned beef she'd ever had in her life. Remember, my wife is a Midwest farm girl of an undetermined European stock that has most likely never even tried Lucky Charms. But I still accept the compliment.

True to form, my kids hated it. Thing 2 pronounced it "horrible" but he says that about everything that is neither a hot dog nor a McNugget. Thing 1, at least, liked the soda bread. It's a start.

But, this morning, I was greeted by a surprise.

Thing 2, who is that rare type of morning person who could make Attila the Hun soil himself, came downstairs all dressed for school for a change. But not in the clothes I laid out for him. Instead, he had put on a pair of green corduroy pants, a green school sweatshirt and the oversized, foam leprechaun hat his Mom brought home for him from a business trip to Dublin last year.

"And look!" he yelled.

With glee, he undid the button to his pants and let them fall to the floor. He revealed a pair of shiny, emerald green soccer shorts underneath.

Erin go brea, little buddy.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Sign o' the times

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brooklyn welcome signShortly after we moved in to our home, I made two alterations. I added a massage head extension and a radio to the shower.

This caused My Love some concern. She feared next would be a mini-fridge. Still not a bad idea.

I like to get a dose of news radio with my Irish Spring (sorry for the images now dancing in your head) so I can make pithy comments to my wife, the corporate executive, about how horrible the morning commute is shaping up. Then I put on my fuzzy slippers and Brew Thru T-shirt and lumber downstairs to my desk.

Also, like this morning, I get lathered up just hearing that New York State Department of Transportation workers are rushing around to remove hooker-happy, ex-Gov. Spitzer's name from several hundred "Welcome to New York" signs.

Never understood the need to put anyone's name on these signs. There are too many places a politically savvy person shouldn't want to assume credit for.

And, what a waste of time and tax money when they need changing as often as they do here in the tri-state area. Yes, it took us less than four years to hit the gubernatorial pond-scum trifecta with Spitzer, New Jersey's James McGreevey (it's OK to be gay, but not to put your unqualified boyfriend in charge of homeland security without your wife's explicit written permission) and Connecticut's John Rowland, who still doesn't get it -- not that that stopped the Waterbury mayor who hired the convicted felon as an economic adviser.

It's not just governors. In my hometown, the mayor has his name on the signs welcoming you to town. He also has his moniker on the entrance signs of various city-owned venues. This includes the landfill-turned-recycling-center he tried to essentially close down earlier this year to save money. Hmm, I forget … was that before or after he announced his plan to make our city a model of energy efficiency, green technology and environmental goodness for generations to come? Well, rave on, Mr. "Cool and Green in 2020."

The only exception to my rant – the signs in and out of the borough of Brooklyn. My knowledge of them began when the shower radio let me down before taking a trip with the kids to the New York Aquarium a few weeks ago. But, my many detours led me to enjoy such bon mots as "Welcome to Brooklyn: Believe the Hype," "Welcome to Brooklyn: How Sweet it is" and "Leaving Brooklyn: Fugheddaboudit."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Borough President Marty Markowitz - stand and take a bow, gentlemen. I can't wait to go back to find "Leaving Brooklyn: Oy Vey!"

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Put him in, coach

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ticket stubsAfter 3-plus years of at-home work, I've learned that unless you are needed to sign, delivery people rarely let you know they are at your front door. They drop and run.

No knock, no doorbell, not even a "Yo! Got a package here!"

The one exception is my postman, Joe. When a delivery won't fit in the mailbox, he comes to the door and always rings. But only once, James M. Cain. Only once.

Luckily, I have a four-legged, one-acre Sonitrol with bullystick breath.

If it wasn't for Murphy, I'd regularly miss the hordes of deer zipping past the fringes of our property because I'm too focused on making sure my fingers are hitting the right keys. Packages and overnight letters would pile up for days on my porch because, like most suburb dwellers, we only go in and out of our house through the garage.

And think of all the Girl Scout cookies, magazine subscriptions and testimonies from Jehovah Witnesses I'd have been subjected to by now.

This morning, Murph barked to say a letter was being tucked between the front and storm doors. Its contents -- probably, the most important purchase I'll make all year.

Tickets to Opening Day.

This will mark my 14th Major League Baseball home opener. It will be my daughter's ninth, having gone to her first at age 7 weeks and not missing a year since. Most importantly, it will be my son's first.

Thing 2, named after Cal Ripken Jr. mind you, has been held out of the starting lineup for his first five seasons for a simple reason. The boy wouldn't sit still. His first night home, the Mrs. and I were up all night walking him around trying to get him to settle and sleep. It left my knees sore for a week.

Thing 1, meanwhile, was always an enthusiastic, but well-mannered fan. She now seems mostly interested in going for the overpriced concession food. And not the good stuff, mind you. Once you see them open up the king-size pillow bag of "cheese" sauce and gulb-gulb-gulb it into a warming tray, you'll opt for the bag of peanuts from that day on.

But the boy has come around. The turning point came in early September when the two of us took in a Saturday afternoon game at Shea.

He listened while I tried to explain things to him. He asked questions. When the digitally recorded bugle finished blowing out the PA system, he yelled "Charge!" He understood the need to turn his cap inside out and put it on upside down when the Mets needed some runs late in the game. He didn't whine about wanting to go home until about the 7th inning, and stopped when I asked him to.

He emptied my wallet within reason, too.

I remember calling home on the drive back. The words swelled with a father's pride when I said, "Honey, he's ready."

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Of dice and men

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Had a flashback to middle-school awkwardness this morning reading Joel Stein's syndicated column about the passing of Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeons & Dragons.

My D&D days were relatively short, but vivid. My friend, Seth, started me on the game in 7th grade. He set up my first character (an elf that Seth - son of a graphic artist - penciled on my profile sheet with a crooked smile, craggy face, flat-top comb over and a pointy set of ears only Spock could love) and took me through my first campaign. With his artistic genes and anarchist pre-teen spirit leading me through the foggy moors and dank underground passages of strange medieval worlds, I was hooked.

The ever-present smoke and stray CO2 fumes from the wood-burning stove his family used to heat his house may have also enhanced the experience.

I geeked it out with my friends throughout middle school. I spent months creating my own elaborate campaign, based on the Moody Blues "Knights in White Satin" for wussiness' sake. Two of my friends even typed/programmed an adventure they created into a "state of the art" Commodore 64 gaming console computers with the cassette recorder hard drive.

OK, we had a lot of time on our hands in those days, but not enough to wait for the frickin' thing to reboot so they could scroll through endless lines of text and code on a tiny monochrome screen, trying to find if a +2 mace of confusion could be skillfully wielded by an uncharismatic half-human thief against an ogre huffing acidic stink breath while encumbered by 34 gold coins, a flagon of rancid mead and pouch full of -2 everlasting Gobstopper grenades.

My D&D days ended when I graduated into the local Catholic high school and my friends stayed in public education. I occasionally find stray sheets of the reams and reams of graph paper we used for mapping tucked into old books and files.

But I wonder whatever became of my tan suede pouch of 20-sided dice?

Opening theme

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Here's the story
of a blogger-wouldbe,
who was trying to think of something good to write ...

My Uncool Past

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