making the team

I have never been what you would call an athlete. My high school sports career consisted of one practice with the junior varsity basketball team. It’s not like I didn’t learn the value of teamwork, though. I was a key member of the Quartz Hill High School Math Team—talk about dealing with the pressures of competition, try being the guy on the team everyone turns to when the team has a differential equation to solve! But, I just tried to stay inside myself, bring my ‘A’ game, and give a hundred percent (it was the math team, after all—we knew that you can’t give ‘a hundred and ten percent’).

I was at a lot of games in high school, because I was in the pep band, and I’d like to think I brought quite a lot of pep to my school. The problem was the music. It was the mid-seventies, and band directors across the nation began to toss out John Phillip Sousa in favor of watered-down Sousa-like arrangements of hip tunes the kids might like. Our band actually marched to an arrangement of the theme from ‘Shaft.’ Which would be like your grandpa performing “Me So Horny.”

The last year I was in band, the school began issuing letter jackets. To the band. And the choir. That’s right, you could letter in band. I chose not to get one, realizing I was enough of a target carrying a briefcase and a clarinet. I didn’t need the jocks, who were already inclined to shove me in a locker, to think I was mocking them by wearing a jacket that looked just like theirs, but with an embroidered music lyre on the sleeve.

I love watching sports, but I follow baseball more than the others. The NBA has become a little…thuggish for my tastes. With the chest thumping, tattoos, trash talking and women dancing on the sidelines, I’m never sure if I’m watching a sports event or a rap video. Football’s exciting, but it’s hard for me to root for guys who are just grownup versions of the guys who…shoved me into lockers.

Baseball is my sports passion. My favorite thing about it? It’s the only professional sport that the average guy can watch and say things like “Hell, I could have made that catch.” Now, granted, the average guy probably couldn’t in fact “make that catch,” but we all think we could, because, hey—it’s just catching a ball. No different than having a catch with dad, except that dad wasn’t juiced on ‘roids. As far as I know. Point being, nobody watches a Vikings game and thinks “Damn, I could have tackled that two-hundred fifty pound guy who runs the forty in under five seconds!”

The pro sport I can’t get into is hockey, which is followed with religious fervor here in Minnesota. The high school tournament is actually televised here, which creates scenes of middle-aged men in bars swearing at sixteen year-olds playing a game. Plus, the puck is too small. Make that thing the size of a discus so I can figure out where the hell I should be looking. Also, in the NHL, too many teams make the playoffs. I’m pretty sure if I could get five of my friends together with some sticks in late January, we would be given a playoff berth.

I’ve moved around so much, my team loyalties are literally all over the map. Wherever I am, I follow the home teams, because if they win a championship, I can help overturn cars and set shit on fire downtown, because that’s how we celebrate athletic excellence in this country.

I spent some time in Chicago, and I think my favorite moment as a spectator came at Wrigley Field. Game against the Phillies. I was in the bleachers for batting practice, and a misguided woman was trying to get the attention of one of the Phillies outfielders, screaming that she loved him. Suddenly, with no prompting, HUNDREDS of Cubs fans began chanting “SHUT UP BITCH”, in unison, until she, in fact, shut up. Very fun, in a scary, villagers-with-torches sorta way.

Sometimes, a team’s name is what seals it for me. I’ve been a Vikings fan since I was a kid in Southern California. Sports is combat, and your name is what you carry into battle. Historically, if Vikings defeated you, they pulled your lungs and still-beating heart out of your body, and that’s what I want my team to do. Metaphorically, of course.

The other Minnesota team names are less intimidating. ‘Timberwolves,’ I suppose, are scary enough, but ‘Twins’? “Hey, honey—I think the twins are coming for the weekend, would you make up the guest room?” The U of M Golden Gophers? Please. Is that the meanest animal you could think of? “Watch out—the Gophers are in town—they’ll…annoy you by burrowing in your yard!” And don’t get me started on the missing-an-‘s’-so-it’s-not-really-a-team-name Minnesota ‘Wild.’

Hockey also has the ‘Avalanche’ and the ‘Lightning.’ Look–a team’s name should be either something iconic, specific to that city (‘Pistons,’ for example) or the name of an animal that might kill you. And it should be plural. I think the reason the WNBA hasn’t drawn more fans is that half of their team names are…just concepts. The ‘Dream.’ The ‘Sky.’ The ‘Liberty.” These would be great names–for a team entering a poetry slam. It’s a slippery slope—what’s next–an expansion team called the Anchorage Angst?

Now. If you happen to own a team, and you’re not able to extort a gazillion dollars from the city you’re in for a fancy new stadium, so that city calls your bluff and you move your team—pick a new name. Utah Jazz is an oxymoron. Call yourself the Utah Missionaries, or the Salt Lake Polygamists, but leave the Jazz in New Orleans. L.A. doesn’t have Lakes—you don’t get to be the ‘Lakers.’ You can be the Los Angeles…Tourists. And while British Columbia may have grizzly bears, so there could be Vancouver Grizzlies, ‘Memphis Grizzlies’ just sounds stupid. How ’bout the Memphis Presleys?

I think all real sports fans look forward to the Olympics, and next year the Winter Games will be in Vancouver. The one event I never understood in the Winter Olympics is the biathlon, which is essentially trudging through snow, while stopping occasionally to shoot a rifle. I get cross-country skiing, and I get shooting things. Do one or the other.

I mean, while we’re combining random things, let’s have an event in the Summer Games that combines the 100-meter butterfly with…archery. The next Summer Olympics will include two new sports—rugby and golf. Now THERE are two activities that should be combined. Golf would be much more interesting if you could tackle your opponent as he lined up his tee shot, and all the golfers got into a big scrum at each hole.

To any actual athletes reading this  (‘Athletes Who Read’–on the next Tyra!), understand that I harbor no ill will toward those of you who might have picked on me. And really, it worked out for the best. Sure, because of your freakish physical talents and genetic luck, you have the opportunity to earn millions of dollars while I have the opportunity to…i dunno, have dozens of people read my stuff. But it’s been years since I’ve been shoved into a locker, and besides, I’ll always have the clarinet to fall back on.


snow in october

Ah, the middle of October, when thoughts naturally turn to ghoulish pumpkins, crunching leaves, and drunk Germans. Unless you live in Minnesota, where we got our first snow a few days ago. Granted, it was only a couple inches, but THAT”S NOT THE POINT! I  want to have burnt sienna tinted thoughts of baseball and bountiful harvests. I should be trying to find my rake, not my windshield scraper.

I’m no meteorologist, but I think we had four days of autumn this year. We had a lovely mild summer, with none of those four-day stretches of ninety-three degrees and eighty percent humidity during which an entire city becomes cranky. But no matter how nice summer is, Midwesterners know that it’s all a tease; winter will always show up, distract us with a week of crisp, clear forty-five degree days, and then proceed to stick its frozen boot up our fat Midwestern asses for five months.

I’m not a native Minnesotan. But I’ve always preferred cold-weather cities to the other extreme. Do the math with me—no matter how cold it becomes, if you put on enough layers, you’re no longer cold. You’re unable to move because of all the layers you’ve had to put on, but you have defeated the elements. Whereas, in someplace like, say Phoenix, even when you’ve removed ALL your layers, you can still be miserable. Cold places are better than hot places—Q.E.D. (which stand for ‘quod erat demonstrandum,’ which is Latin for ‘I took some advanced math classes and for some weird reason remember the Latin phrase for ‘there—I proved my point’)

I’m not a native Minnesotan, though, and I don’t quite think like one yet. The first time I saw the temperature forecast on the front page of the newspaper (news used to printed on paper) and read “8 degrees,” I thought it was a typo. That’s missing a digit. That’s not enough degrees, I thought. But Minnesotans have this amazing, resigned calm about the whole winter thing.

Everybody here has the same attitude you see in “Chinatown” when the photographer says to Nicholson, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” Here, it’s “Stop whining, Sven. It’s Minnesota.” Everyone seems to have accepted their fate. It’s a strange, mass-delusional badge of pride, making it through a brutal winter. You get to the other side of it and people pat each other on the back saying, “Yeah, that winter in ’88—the pipes froze, Grandpa slipped on that sheet of ice, we had to drive in whiteout conditions…” You don’t hear people say “Man, remember the summer of ‘92? That was awful—it got really…hot.”

So people in Minneapolis do the rational Scandinavian thing. We cope. We trudge through snow banks, each of us wrapped up like old Ukranian women walking through  the shtetl, muttering things like “We have a great theater scene here. We have a great theater scene here. We have a great theater scene here.” And there’s no use complaining, because when you do, a local is always nice enough to point out “It could always be worse.” Thank you, Captain Perspective.

I like that people here openly taunt Nature. For example, skyways.  If you haven’t experienced one, a skyway is an elevated, enclosed climate-controlled bridge, and Minneapolis has a series of them connecting, essentially, all the buildings in downtown. It’s like a Habitrail, with hamsters in suits and Starbucks kiosks. And it’s our way of saying “Screw you, God. That winter bullshit? Bring it on.” (note: if there is a God, then what I’ve written is satire and I don’t actually mean “Screw you.”)

The best thing about winter is spring. I grew up in Southern California, and sure, they have seasons. I’ll never forget the first time I felt the subtle change as the calendar turned from the Brushfire Solstice to the Mudslide Equinox. But there is no feeling quite like that first time the mercury hits fifty after five months of ridiculous, marrow-chilling temperatures. The entire city erupts in a communal ‘woohoo!’ that can be heard as far south as Des Moines.

So I’m fine with winter. I embrace the invigorating chill, and the wind that cuts through you like a set of knives from an infomercial. It’s just too soon. Snow this early in the year is like giving someone a Nobel Peace Prize after a few months as President. It’s beautiful, but it’s too soon.

I’m just not ready to get all Currier and Ives-y. It’s too soon to start thinking about when I have to mail gifts I haven’t even bought yet. It’s too early for winter storm watches, and weather advisories, and road conditions. It’s too early to hear that “the temperature is thirty-one, but it actually feels like it’s nineteen.” I’m not ready for…ah, who am I kidding. I’m a Minnesotan now. Bring it on.


and the senate seat goes to…

Having lived in Illinois during the Blagojevich era, I came to enjoy political scandal as theater. In a state where reading the local political news feels like reading Soap Opera Digest, reactions from people on the street to the latest allegations weren’t so much “Oh no he DIDN’T” as they were “Ah, what are ya gonna do?”

Here in Minnesota, political controversy is a much bigger deal because, well, it’s pretty darned unusual.  We like our politics as clean as our cities, don’t ya know. In an exhaustive ten minute internet search, I was only able to find one previous scandal in Minnesota:

  • Minnesota State Senator Sam Solon (D-MN) Pleaded guilty in 1995 to telecommunications fraud for letting his ex-wife make $2,430 in calls on his State Senate telephone line

Outrageous! Where are the reformers?! The system is broken! Seriously, folks–that’s it. Over a decade ago, a state senator’s wife made some long-distance calls. See, ‘Minnesota nice’ means that we don’t have scandals. Heck, we even have a Muslim congressman, and the hubub over that here in Lutheran Land lasted maybe a week. And though right-wing nutjob Michelle Bachman is TRYING to generate some cymbal-clanging outrage, we tolerate her, too.

Our politics is quirky here. Minnesota has historically been a bastion of old-school liberalism (Hubert Humphrey, of course, and don’t forget we’re the only state Mondale carried), but we also elected a professional wrestler as governor. And, if is former comedy partner is to be believed, our current senator is the only member of that august body to have dropped acid.

So I figure there might be an opening in the next election. The issues which grip this state will be the same–having enough Target stores, keeping Garrison Keillor on the radio, and solving the Twins’ pitching problems. So I have decided to launch an ‘exploratory committee’ in advance of the 2016 race.

Let me offer a little background for the voters. I have always registered as a Democrat, except for the year in California when I switched my registration to the Peace and Freedom Party. Suffice to say, there was a woman involved. And some weed. On the issues, I’m opposed to crime, and in favor of education. I will save the state millions of dollars by running official business from my apartment,, and since I am currently unemployed, I will have the time to commit at least three hours each day to solving the state’s budget crisis.

The state’s unemployment will be addressed by the creation of a massive public works project.  I propose we build a giant insulating dome over the city of Minneapolis, thereby courting conventions and tourist dollars even in the middle of winter.

Now here’s the most visionary part of my plan. Forget ‘sin’ taxes, which clearly haven’t stopped people from smoking or drinking (every smoker I know has said things like “When cigarettes get to be more than x dollars a pack, I’m quitting,” and in reality, we would buy them for fifty dollars a pack out of the back of a van).

Instead, I am proposing a  tax on healthy things. Soy milk. Broccoli. Bicycles. Especially bicycles. And everything related to bicycles–tax their goofy little blinking lights, tax their ridiculous bells and tax their helmets which apparently make them feel invincible as they cross three lanes of rush hour traffic and ignore stop lights even though the helmet will only protect your skull while the rest of your body can still get RUN OVER! Sorry. Bicyclists just seem a little full of themselves sometime.

Oh, and to avoid any possibility of getting caught up in some pay-for-play, graft-fueled corruption scandal, I will sever all ties with any professional politicians. I will only talk to my closest friends. Just my buds. Who will also be my advisors. And who will serve in various positions in my office.