Friday, July 31, 2009

Let Them Play!

Sometimes I think it's unfortunate that more people don't watch our public processes play out, either by attending City Council meetings or by watching them on local cable. While watching baseball or football on television is usually (okay, mostly) more exciting, the discussions and decisions that are made at these sessions do impact us.

And tell me what sporting event you can watch on television where you can get up, get in your car, drive to where it's happening, and become part of the action? That's just what happened in Hadley Wednesday night at the Board of Selectmen meeting.

From the Gazette:

"A long-running feud...spilled over into a Board of Selectmen meeting Wednesday.

"...said he got a call from someone who had been watching the meeting on television and drove to Town Hall. He called [the other person] 'a vicious neighbor' who 'has been nothing but a thorn...'"

In sports there's an old saying, "that's why they play the game," which is used when something unexpected happens, like a huge underdog winning. Can I say, "that's why they have the meetings"?

Is It So, Papi?

I'm not a Red Sox fan. I am a Yankee fan. The fact that my sports-mad children, steeped as they are in all things New England when it comes to sports, are Red Sox fans is a great source of discomfort (read: it pisses me off), but I really have no one to blame but myself, since I made the decision to move to Massachusetts from New Jersey in 2001.

But given my anti-Red Sox leanings, I can take no joy in the recent news that David Ortiz was on the list of Major League Baseball players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. Over the years, David Ortiz has been a Yankee killer, and the fact that he often spits on his batting gloves kind of grosses me out, but in general, I like David Ortiz. He's a big man with a big smile and, from all appearances, a big heart. I really find it hard NOT to like him. At the first game I ever went to at Fenway, Ortiz hit a home run in the bottom of the last inning to beat the Orioles. I was rooting hard against the Sox that day, but it was thrilling to see him win one in such an exciting fashion.

And it's not hard to see why kids love Big Papi, my kids included. And I think that's what upsets me most about the news, how it will affect the kids. When Manny was suspended 50 games, it was easy for my kids to label him a cheater because they'd already decided not to like him any more because he's no longer on the Red Sox roster. Big Papi is still very much a part of the team.

I should say that I've long been bothered by baseball's tendency to play fast and loose with the rules. And I'm not talking here about individual players who choose to break the rules, but the institutional imperative to wink at the infraction, mostly because that's they way it's always been done. I'm talking about the "neighborhood" play at second on a double play. I'm talking about how the first batter in the game usually takes great pains to erase the back line in the batter's box so that subsequent batters can cheat back a bit. And this happens right in front of the umpire. And here's perhaps the most memorable instance: in the famous pine tar game, George Brett's bat did have too much pine tar in it, but American League president Lee MacPhail ruled that it didn't violate the "spirit of the rules."

In other words, there's breaking the rules and there's breaking the rules. One you can do, the other you can't.

Which is why, I suppose, baseball players can use caffeine, over-the-counter painkillers, herbs, energy drinks, whatever, and not risk running afoul (bad pun alert!) of the performance-enhancing drug rules. And, of course, everyone in baseball has basically agreed to look the other way when it comes to amphetamines in the sport. But when someone gets caught having taken steroids, all hell breaks loose.

I'm not condoning steroid use, but I can't help but think that we're in this mess because years ago, baseball never quite figured out the best way to enforce its own rules. And that means that parents like me get a lot of exercise doing explanatory gymnastics when we have to explain to our children why Barry Bonds is in trouble not for taking steroids, but for lying about it, and why Manny was suspended but Big Papi won't be, and how just because he won't be punished doesn't mean that what Ortiz did was not wrong.

Just as I have to take the blame for my sons' becoming Red Sox fans, I think all baseball fans--and all sports fans in general--have to take some of the blame for allowing our favorite pastimes to become the farces that they are today.

So, I take no joy in the Red Sox's misfortune, if a rising tide lifts all boats, an ebbing tide puts all boats at risk and makes everything smell fishy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sidewalk Days

For the first time ever, I was around when Sidewalk Days came to Northampton. Not only that, but my kids were out of town, so I was drunk on freedom from responsibility. So on Saturday, after I went for a run and took a nap (ahhh), I went downtown.

The first thing I noticed was the large number of people downtown.

I don't object to large crowds, per se, but I did find the meandering, sauntering, and general be-in-my-way walking to be incredibly annoying. It took me awhile to realize what the problem was: most everyone around me was from out of town. And that explains why the most common phrase I heard during my time on the streets was from drivers explaining (yelling, pointing out, reminding) to pedestrians crossing the street that "the sign says DON'T WALK."

The other interesting comment was from the man walking down the street with his daughter. "Now," he said. "That Tracy Chapman. Is SHE a lesbian?"

I soon retreated to the cool, quiet, and dim interior of the Dirty Truth for a beer and left the Sidewalk Days outside.

That beer was the only thing I bought that day.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Men In Skirts Invade Local Park

First, let me apologize, because if I were a more dedicated blogger (or a less dedicated runner, I suppose) I would have pictures. But I don't.

You see, usually my Saturday morning runs through Look Park are pretty calm affairs: I can enjoy the scenery and the quiet and be interrupted only be the occasional hello from a dog walker. Not this morning.

Yesterday during my morning run through Look Park I had to dodge a long line of cars driving to park on the big field and at least a dozen bagpipers warming up on their instruments. I had run into the Glasgow Lands Highlands Festival, which has become an annual event in Northampton.

I discovered two significant things on this run. First, because I was there early and saw the pipers preparing, I now know what these pipers wear under their kilts.

Second, I learned that the mist that sometimes surrounds the pipers on these early mornings is not always fog and is not always naturally occurring. Let me put it this way: it could be caused by what puts the "high" in highlands. At least for that one guy I ran past.

Morning runs: good for body and brain.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

All-Star Break

I took my two sons to the last Red Sox game before the All-Star break. Josh Beckett pitched a complete-game shutout and there were no home runs, so for this non-Red Sox fan, the game was pretty dull. Oh, the things we do for our kids.

We had pretty good seats, except for that darn beam.

Owen kept a sharp eye on who was playing.

And singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is always fun.

Brothers in arms, united against their Yankees-fan Dad.

The best part of the game for me was when they brought three young kids, as part of some promotion, into the announcers' booth and had them introduce the Red Sox batters. The girl who introduced Kevin Youkilis said, "Now batting, number 20, Kevin Use-less!"

That got a big laugh from the crowd, and a pleading gesture from Youk.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Radio Shack Does It Again

UPDATE: I noticed over the weekend the Cumberland Farms on King Street, the same place that scans the driver's license of anyone, regardless of age, who buys tobacco, and therefore is already heavily invested in the gathering customer data game, if they'd ask for my phone number if I bought a Go Phone. "No," the clerk said with a puzzled look on his face. "Why would anyone do that?"

I hesitated to write about this for fear of governmental reprisal, but then I realized that "they" probably already know, so what's the harm?

But first a little background. The most suspicious person I know is my brother; and by suspicious, I mean it in the sense of he is suspicious of other people and entities not (necessarily) in the sense that he is someone to be suspicious of. What do I base this assessment on? Well, here's just one reason: it wasn't until last year that my mother found out his real address. For the 15 years or so that he has lived in Virginia, he's been giving his everyone his Mailboxes Etc.-type address for mail and other things.

My brother is six years older than I am, and when we were growing up, I was fascinated by all of the electrical gizmos he made. At one point, he'd created a push-button panel right next to his bed from which he could control all of the electrical things in his room. In the days before the Clapper, this was cutting-edge stuff. And I'm crediting him for introducing me to Radio Shack. I don't know in what context exactly, but I've always associated him with Radio Shack. So, given his libertarian bent, I also just naturally assumed that Radio Shack was on board with that. (I know what you're thinking: Radio Shack is the company that used to ask for your name and address any time you bought anything. I'm not saying I'm smart here--I'm just sharing what I believed.)

So a few days ago I went into Radio Shack for a cell phone battery. It all started when I got an iPhone for (myself) for Father's Day. My kids told me that my wife had lost her cell phone, so as I was going through the iPhone process, I had them make my old cell phone my wife's new cell phone. And everyone was happy, until the battery in that cell phone died. I took it to the AT&T store in Northampton, and they told me that I could either go to Radio Shack and buy a battery or buy a Go Phone. So, off to Radio Shack I went.

They didn't have any cell phone batteries in the store (a not-uncommon occurrence if you've tried to buy anything at Radio Shack) and the woman helping me said that I could just order one online. As I headed outside to ponder my options, I spotted the Go Phone display and decided to go that route. As she unlocked the display to give me one, the saleswoman said, "You know, AT&T will know that you're using a Go Phone and cancel your service." That seemed a bit odd, since it was an AT&T employee who'd told me to do this. "I'll take my chances," I said.

So we walked over to the register and she began the checkout procedure. She hit a few keys on the computer and then asked, "Phone number?"

"Wait a second," I said. "Why do you need my phone number?"

She literally threw up her arms and let her head fall back so that she was looking at the ceiling. You'd have thought that I asked her to inventory every battery in the store or something.

"The system needs your phone number," she said.

"The 'system'? What system?"

"The government," she said.

"The 'government'? Why does the government need my phone number, and can you tell me what government rule says that Go Phone purchasers have to provide a phone number?"

At this point she brought over another salesperson to help her out.

He walked over to me, spread his arms out and intoned, "It's the PATRIOT Act."

My first thought was to ask him to tell me exactly where in the 800-plus page PATRIOT Act it says that Radio Shack has to get my phone number, when I remembered my brother and one thing he taught me: it helps to have an alias for situations like this.

So, to speed the process along, I duly gave them what they asked for: a phone number. And I got my Go Phone.

But I left with my confidence in Radio Shack severely shaken.
I suppose the real question, however, is not why I go to Radio Shack, but why I will most likely go back to Radio Shack.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

How Do I Get to the Hall of Fame?

I took the boys to Cooperstown this week for a quick overnight trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I'd never been before, and neither had they, so it seemed like a good way to reward ourselves for a spring full of baseball.

Despite being a little befuddled by our computer-generated directions (that's when I was able to tell the oldy-but-goody by replying "practice" when one of my children asked me how we get to Cooperstown) and slowed by some wicked thunderstorms, we arrived at our hotel around 4:30 on Tuesday. Our first stop was the hotel pool. But then we rallied and after a quick change of clothes, we headed into Cooperstown. Before we got there, though, we saw Cooperstown Dream Field, a multi-field complex that hosts Little League tournaments during the summer. We stopped to watch for a bit, but we had to leave because it was getting chilly. Yes: chilly on June 30th.

Once we made it into Cooperstown, we found a place to park that was right across the street from the Hall of Fame itself. I'm tempted to say that the place is so small we almost missed it. The truth is, it does look small from the front, but it would be really, really hard to miss it, situated as it is in the middle of downtown Cooperstown, surrounded by souvenir shops and baseball-themed restaurants, like the Short Stop, where we ate.

When we walked in, the place was virtually empty. Our first stop was the theater where we watched a short video that talked about the history of baseball in America. I'll admit that I got a little teary eyed thinking about what baseball means to me and how it's special to be able to share the experience with my children. And I don't even consider myself a big baseball fan! I can only imagine what it must be like for the hardcore fans when they fist get there. It really is a place where dreams abound. It says so right on the floor.

While I was in Cooperstown, I also had the opportunity to confirm that a story told to me by one of my English professors years ago was true. It seems that when James Fenimore Cooper, for whom the town is named, spent some time in Europe, the townsfolk took it upon themselves to build a road right through his property, including his house. Right next to the Hall of Fame is a private road overseen by a statue of the man. And yes, he does look pissed. But who wouldn't be?