Saturday, December 27, 2008

The dawg that couldn't hunt

More of a hippo than a dawg, really... then again, to compare Romeo Eatwell to a hippo is to unfairly malign an entire group of mammals, and I don't mean grossly overweight, incompetent head coaches. As Eatwell's tenure as head coach of the Browns comes to its merciful end, I can't help but wonder how he could have convinced the team's brass to hire him. Sure, he seems like an even-keeled and extremely decent fellow, and although fiery, driven personalities tend to fit the stereotype of coaching success (Lombardi, Ditka, Parcells, etc.), plenty of low-key, players' coaches have won and won big (Landry, Gibbs, Dungy, etc.). Eatwell's problem isn't his temperament so much as the fact that he's completely clueless. The Eatwell regime has been characterized by some unfortunate constants that provide a damning indictment of his failings as a head coach:
  • A lack of on-the-field discipline, as the Browns consistently ranked at or near the top of the league in penalties, and surely led in the unofficial statistic of egregiously stupid penalties.
  • The team's performance was inconsistent at best, coming prepared to play on some weeks, and barely showing up on others. Last season's catastrophic and inexcusable loss at Cincinnati with a playoff spot on the line is a perfect example of the team NOT being prepared for a crucial game. Ugh.
  • An unforgivable disregard for fundamentals. No team misses more tackles, blows more coverage and blocking assignments, drops more passes, misses wide open receivers with errant passes, or forces the ball into quadruple coverage than Eatwell's Browns. Maybe in any given year one or two teams might have surpassed even our collective inadequacy (2K8 Lions, anyone???)... but over the duration of Eatwell's tenure, we stand alone at the nadir of incompetence.
  • Piss-poor clock management and atrocious situational coaching. If you're down by three touchdowns late in the 4th quarter, kicking a field goal on fourth and short is NOT a f*cking option!!!
  • No off-the-field discipline. Oh, to choose from so many examples! From Kellen Idiot Jr.'s crotch-rocket, staph-ridden "I'm just a piece of meat" stupidity, to Braylon Edwards developing a bad case of concrete hands then having the balls to deride the fans for supposedly not liking him because he attended Michicrap (Braylon, we don't like you because you drop passes like a bad habit and are a high-priced bust -- we loved Leroy Hoard, and HE went to Michicrap!), to having Jamal Lewis the convicted cocaine dealer not only question the other players' resolve, but actually be quite right in doing so, to the QB and pretty-boy face of the franchise getting into a fistfight with a trash-talking defensive tackle... every possible bit of repulsive strife is present in the locker room. GM Phil Savage also gets a dishonourable mention here for getting into a profanity-laced internet forum battle of the witless with some fair-weather douchebag "fan"... but that'll be discussed in a future post.
  • A blatant disregard for and inexplicable lack of urgency regarding divisional match-ups. The team is well below .500 within the division during Eatwell's tenure and, even less excusable, is an atrocious 0-7 (soon to be 0-8) against the hated Steelers. If you don't win in your division, you're not going anywhere. If you lose every single rivalry game, your a$$ is getting run out of town. If you adopt an "aw-shucks, we'll hopefully get'em next time" attitude about losing every rivalry game, your a$$ is getting run out of town with extreme prejudice. It's that simple.
  • A failure to implement a system based on the team's personnel. Yes, Eatwell loves his 3-4 defense almost as much as he loves an all-you-can-eat buffet. Too bad the team lacks the players to run this system. A good coach tailors his schemes to match his personnel. A stupid coach stubbornly insists on running a 3-4 defense with three undersized, no-tackling nitwits and a slow, crippled Methuselah at the linebacker position.
And yet, this is the man who, according to management, "blew them away" during his job interview. Here's how I envision the interview, with actual quotes and/or actions from Eatwell as his answers:

Lerner & Savage: How would you define success as the coach of the Cleveland Browns?

Eatwell: "Going into this season there was some talk that we might be able to beat Pittsburgh and I don't think there has been that kind of talk around before. This year we ended up taking a step back, but going forward, as we build, I think we will have a chance to be much more competitive against them."

Lerner & Savage: Um... OK... so the mere possibility of deluded people thinking the Browns might actually beat Pittsburgh is, in your opinion, success?

Eatwell: "I haven't been able to beat Pittsburgh and that's discouraging to everybody, myself included. It is somewhat of a mountain to climb, but it is a mountain to climb because they are a good football team along with the other things that are involved with it."

Lerner & Savage: What "other things that are involved with it" are you talking about?

Eatwell: "Progress. I think that we have some progress here. This year we ended up taking a step back, but going forward, as we build, I think we will have a chance to be much more competitive against them."

Lerner & Savage: That kind of makes no sense... do you think "being competitive" is enough? Do you take comfort in losing a close game as opposed to a blowout?

Eatwell: "It seems like we play them close one game and get killed the next game. That's one of my fears going down this time, [that] we played them a close game this year."

Lerner & Savage: Holy sh... Er, let's move on to personnel. How would you decide on a starting quarterback during an open training camp competition? That is to say, what parameters would you use to measure the pros and cons of each player as a starter, and do said parameters include only physical ability and measurable benchmarks, or will they also include intangibles and leadership skills?

Eatwell: "That's a tough one... I guess I'd just flip a coin to decide on a starting quarterback."

Lerner & Savage: Wow. Your ineptitude has really blown us away.

Eatwell: "Great. Can you pay my salary in chicken-fried steaks, lard, and biscuits'n'gravy?"

OK, I made that last one up. Be that as it may, after tomorrow, we'll bid a not-so-fond farewell to Romeo Eatwell. Nice guy, well-liked by his players, and a terrific defensive coordinator... but as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, an unmitigated disaster. Wait 'til next year...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Urine big trouble now

This is a true story, and I haven't even changed the names to protect the innocent, 'cause none of us are. This morning, I arrived at work an hour or so late owing to a frustrating visit to the dentist, only to find out that our restrooms were out of order. Initially, I wanted to blame Lulu (aka The Cheeburglar) for this calamity, but since he's gone on his cheeseburger-only diet, his BMs have been of the human-scale variety; the fact that the entire building's gag reflex is no longer triggered roughly thirty minutes after lunch bears witness to this improvement. As it turns out, the problem was sewer related, as evidenced by the pungently aromatic bubbling brook o'sewage right outside the building's back door:

Now, even though I don't like it, especially during mosquito / no see-um season, I've urinated outdoors, and there are some lovely, dark, and deep woods just beyond our building... but that would hardly help my Graphics Department crony Anna G, since she's a firm believer in the old adage that "a lady reveals nothing." And that's basically the what, why, when, where, and who of The Great December 2K8 Quest For A Mid-Morning Pee Venue. Since the building where we work is in the middle of an industrial / warehouse street in Nowheresville, USA, we actually had to hop in a car and drive around. Luckily, there's a Mercedes dealership right at the Airport Road intersection. As we pulled in, an obsequious salesman magically materialized beside us to ask whether he could help us. Once he realized we weren't in the market for a Mercedes, he suddenly remembered that the dealership's bathroom was being remodeled and sent us packing. So, if any of my faithful readers is/are ever in the market for a Mercedes, do yourself(ves) a favour and avoid Mercedes-Benz of Naples like the plague, because they f*cking suck, big time.

Ah, but fortune favours the bold and the beautiful -- luckily for me, I tagged along with Anna G! She had a stroke of inspiration: the Naples Airport. This may seem like an odd choice, especially considering that I bore an even surlier-than-normal expression thanks to the dentist and my bladder, was dressed like a hobo (as usual), and had a two-day stubble; in short, I looked like a destitute terrorist, and it wouldn't do to get arrested by some overzealous wannabe-hero hilljack airport rent-a-pig the week before Christmas. Fortunately, the Naples Airport is actually McDonald's-sized, with plenty of free parking, and possessing the sleepy charm of a Midwestern Greyhound bus depot. So, we peed (nice, clean restrooms, by the way -- way to go, Naples Airport!) and made our triumphant return to Sewage Central, where we were informed by the world's most obnoxiously smug plumber that he couldn't fix the toilets. Why he was so happy about this, I'll never know. Luckily, his ignorance was our salvation, because we were somehow back in business less than an hour later. It's a good thing, too, because I don't think the Naples Airport could have withstood one of The Cheeburglar's, ahem, special deliveries. Here's hoping we never have to find out.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Giving thanks

Thanksgiving is a super-cool holiday, what with the four-day week-end, football games, built-in excuse to pig out and all, but it's also hypocritical, given the eventual demise -- nay, barbaric near-obliteration -- of Native Americans. When late November approaches, the people who know I was not only born but also spent the first 12+ years of my life in Uruguay ask me whether Thanksgiving is celebrated there. It isn't. As I'm overly fond of saying, we also drove our natives to extinction, but didn't make them cook us dinner first. The Uruguayan Charrúa Indians signed no treaties, as they were apparently smart enough not to trust Whitey, but their refusal to yield to the intruders resulted in their being ruthlessly hunted down, massacred, and literally wiped out of existence. As if that weren't enough, the last few remaining living Charrúas were sold to France as living museum exhibits -- I shit you not. And yet we continue to think of ourselves as superior and the true natives as savages!

Regardless, since I've been living in the US for so long, I've come to appreciate Thanksgiving as a time to give thanks, as well as a time to reflect on the execrable treatment received by the three Americas' indigenous peoples at the hands of their European "enlighteners." (Sorry, I just can't let it go. It's part of my obsessive-compulsive nature.) Because I'm very sports-geeky, I always associate Thanksgiving with football, and since The Game -- Ohio State vs. Michicrap -- usually takes place shortly before Thanksgiving, I'm going to take the time to express my thanks, yet again, to The Sweater Vest. After last Saturday's dismantling of Bitch Rodriguez's crew, Tressel's mark against the hated wolverqueers is now 7-1, including an unprecedented five wins in a row. And haters (or h8rs, if you will) can harp on the two championship game losses, but I, for one, am still basking in the glory of the 2002 National Championship. Let me reiterate that for the idiotic haters (h8rs) with short-term, selective memory: 2002 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!!! And now that Michicrap has pretty much hit rock-bottom thanks to their forcing out the classiest, most decent coach their garbage program has ever had in favour of a backstabbing, unethical, greedy scumbag, my beloved Buckeyes are comfortably ensconced in the proverbial catbird seat. Thank you, God!

I'll let The Best Damn Tribute Band In The Land close this diatribe. Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A great time was had by all

This line is a running joke at work, thanks to one of the newsletters we used to typeset before our mind-numbingly incompetent boss managed to single-handedly lose a rather lucrative account (a sailing and yacht club that shall remain nameless). When recapping every special event or party for this club's newsletter, the editor would always close the recap by stating that "a great time was had by all." In a way, it's a variation of the running joke we used to have at Val-Pak over the "Pointing Santa" and "Santa Hat" clip art overload during the Christmas rush, or the running joke we used to have at FGCU about the most important job qualification there being, "Is currently fucking one of the faculty members." Oh, wait... that last one isn't a joke but an all-too-real, sad reflection of the FGCU crony-system cocksuckery. My bad!

Anyhoo, after a considerable amount of planning and an enormous amount of help from a wonderful Sarasota Opera rep named Maureen, a few of us attended the opening-night performance of Rossini's "The Barber Of Seville." Some highlights:

  • Because I refuse to waste water by dirtying more than one set of clothes, I wore my "opera outfit" to work, wherein my manager Weejgay, who fancies himself a sartorial wizard and could be an honorary member of the "Queer Eye" guys (albeit a gimpy, fugly, Cuban member), proceeded to rake me over the coals for not wearing my suit, and referred to my outfit as "Dickies" with a shirt and tie. Even though I wore a nice pair of Dockers, not Dickies, Weejgay put together a pretty funny rant -- he never disappoints.
  • A member of our party was actually fulfilling a dream: ever since she'd seen "Pretty Woman," she'd wanted to enjoy an evening at the opera. In the interests of full disclosure, I shattered her dream by reminding her that the repulsively schmaltzy opera scene in "Pretty Woman" included roughly fifteen seconds of opera music, and was in no way representative of whether she'd be able to tolerate some 3+ hours of fat people caterwauling in Italian. I also built up a pretty good head of Puritanical steam while describing "Pretty Woman" as a movie about a greedy scumbag and his dirty hooker girlfriend. Hey, I go out of my way to never disappoint, either.
  • The drive to Sarasota was roughly two hours, and so the manly men required a urine stop. Of course, the girlies took this as an opportunity to try to belittle the superior sex and our teeny bladders. I'm embarrassed to admit I didn't help matters by taking one of my customary five-minute pees -- I have an inguinal hernia, and it takes me forever to get going. Sue me.
  • Pee delays notwithstanding, we managed to sneak in a quick but delicious dinner at Arosa, right next door to the opera house. Beautiful setting (an old brothel -- I kid you not!), great food, and an awesome waitress who understood we were running a little late and rushed our orders through.
  • The Sarasota Opera House turned out to be a magnificent venue. The theatre is beautiful, and although it's smallish in size (bonus: outstanding acoustics!), had very comfortable, roomy seating (kind of a big deal for me and my crummy bad back). Since Maureen the Sarasota Opera angel scored us fifth-row seats at rush ticket prices, even though I bought the seats a week and a half before the performance, our vantage point was nothing short of spectacular. Rosina's cleavage never looked so plentiful!
  • The performance itself did not disappoint. Sure, the orchestra was a bit sloppy during the overture, and the singers weren't exactly of Bechi / De Los Angeles / Monti caliber... but the cast of young, up-and-coming no-names did a terrific job, the mise-en-scène was clever, and the audience, God bless them, actually didn't disrupt things the way the Naples Philharmonic audience of octogenarian idiots always does. Two salient points, aside from Rosina's Himalayan mountain range of a chest: 1) The Basilio was Korean, a first for me; and 2) The girl who sang Berta is a studio artist, and was therefore a no-name among the cast of no-names -- she was simply awesome, and worlds better than many a Scala and Met Berta I've had the misfortune of hearing. Her name's Maria D'Amato, and I hope she makes it big.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening. Kudos to Maureen the Sarasota Opera angel, and here's hoping she'll be able to take care of another group o'losers -- Donizetti's "L'elisir d'amore" beckons!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Once a fraidy-cat...

... always a fraidy-cat. In honour of Halloween: seemingly ordinary things that scare the bejeezus out of me.

Closet doors that are slightly ajar -- thanks a lot, Stephen King.

The creepy, smiling ladies on the Kashi Good Friends cereal box. Can't you just picture them emerging from a dark hallway and advancing upon you with those Stepford smiles stamped on their faces? (Shudders.)

Having the air conditioning or heating vent air flow rustle the bath-tub curtain, thus giving the uneasy impression that something may be lurking behind it.

Dripping faucets -- thanks a lot, Mario Bava.

Those Kit-Cat clocks that were very popular during the 80's. You know, the kind where the cat's eyes moved back and forth to mark the seconds? I always wondered whether one of them was suddenly going to turn its eyes upon me. For some reason, the prospect of that happening terrifies me.

Store mannequins -- see Kit-Cat clocks above for reason. Inanimate objects suddenly becoming aware and turning their knowing eyes upon me are a fear I can't shake, even as a grown man.

Feather pillows, and, by extension, any sort of downy product that invites me to recline my head upon it -- thanks a lot, Horacio Quiroga.

If I may quote the lovely and never-forgotten Elvira, Mistress of the Dark: Unpleasant dreams...

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Five great rock albums you’ve never heard of

And by rock, I mean just that. I have neither the musical knowledge nor the attention span to quantify these into sub-genres like “punk-rock nü-metal with a reggae-ska kick.” The rules:
  • The albums must be easily accessible – I could bring up Battery’s “Till The Day We Die,” but no one outside of myself and the Cleveland band’s family would be able to come up with a recording (and I’m not even sure about the band’s family).
  • The albums must be full-length efforts – EPs need not apply. Too bad for 1000 Homo DJs’ “Supernaut.”
  • The albums must be somewhat obscure, not just relatively obscure for a particular artist. For example, “Christ Illusion” is the most egregiously underappreciated of Slayer’s albums, but it still gets plenty of love.
  • The albums must have been released over the past twenty years. Otherwise, I’d dust off jewels like Gamma’s “Gamma 2” and nobody under the age of 35 would know what the hell I was talking about… and I can’t penalize you for not being a geezer.
And while we’re on the subject of geezers…

G/Z/R – Plastic Planet (1995)

G/Z/R was founded by legendary Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler. If I may paraphrase an old saying, you can take the Geezer out of Black Sabbath, but you can’t take the Black Sabbath out of the Geezer. The trademark eerie minor-chord progressions abound, and every single song in the album is terrific. If I were hard-pressed to pick my fave songs, I’d go with “Catatonic Eclipse,” the title track, “Giving Up The Ghost,” and “Séance Fiction,” but as I said, the album is solid from beginning to end. As a bonus, I’d rank this among one of the most unrelentingly heavy albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. Who knew Geezer had it in him? A great deal of the credit must also be given to vocalist Burton C. Bell of Fear Factory. G/Z/R is much more melodic and infinitely more refined than Fear Factory’s best efforts, but Bell’s influence is easily discernible, especially if one listens to Geezer Butler’s Bell-less follow-up, “Black Science,” which is wildly inconsistent and, at times, idiotically bizarre (“Unspeakable Elvis” may be the worst rock song of the past ten years). Anyhoo, Bell is a mediocre singer who sometimes appears to lose track of the correct pitch, albeit possibly on purpose; I don’t know how else to explain the fact the he’s flat on the last sung note of just about every line… but his signature combination of growling and singing really punches up the album’s insistent aggressiveness.

And while we’re on the subject of growling and singing…

Kittie – Oracle (2001)

This album also features plenty of singing and growling, but with a twist: this all-girlie band incorporates instances of simultaneous growling and singing. Guitarist Morgan Lander does the singing (unlike Bell, she’s terrific) and growls like an absolute fiend. Combined with a very heavy sound and plenty of melodic inventiveness, the effect is remarkable, particularly on “Mouthful of Poison” and “Severed.” It’s a shame that the simultaneous sing/growl gimmick is kind of lost during live shows. I’ve never been a big fan of Pink Floyd (I guess all that stoner stupidity is always going to bias me against psychedelic garbage), but Kittie’s cover of “Run Like Hell” is phenomenal, especially in the chorus – Lander sings it in very mellow fashion, then delivers the line “you better ruuuuuuuuuuuun LIKE HELL!” with remarkable ferocity. Delightful.

And while we’re on the subject of covers…

Type O Negative – Bloody Kisses (1994)

No, I wasn’t referring to the actual album cover, although it may very well be the most suggestive cover I’ve ever seen (possible exception: Montrose’s “Jump on It”). I was referring to one of my favourite remakes of all time: Seals & Croft’s beautiful, mellow fluff piece, “Summer Breeze.” In the hands of Type O Negative, it becomes a crunching, menacing, utterly creepy masterpiece. Be that as it may, “Summer Breeze” isn’t even the album’s best track. That honour goes to “Christian Woman,” the closest thing to a hit Type O Negative has ever had (I think I heard it on the radio once – oh, wait, what I meant was I once heard a Christian woman on the radio; no radio station has enough balls to play Type O!). “Black No. 1” and “Blood and Fire” are also solid. Some of the songs can be a bit overdrawn, and vocalist Peter Steele’s remarkably deep voice and brooding delivery add to the theatrics. The result is a solid album that can sometimes be overwhelmingly depressing, so be sure to take your Prozac prior to playing it.

And while we’re on the subject of depressing…

The Sisters of Mercy – Floodland (1990)

I don’t know what it is about The Sisters of Mercy that makes me want to chug a Drano cocktail. Maybe it’s singer / songwriter Andrew Eldritch’s whispery delivery, maybe it’s the fact that he’s apparently unaware of the major scales, or maybe it’s because of his monothematic obsession with unrequited / unfulfilled / flawed love. Whatever the reason, the band (and by “band,” I mean Andrew Eldritch, the woman who does the background vocals, and whatever assorted collection of studio musicians he assembled for any given album) has always been way too angst-ridden to achieve mainstream success. It’s a shame, because they’ve always been top-notch, and “Floodland” is their most musically accomplished effort. I can remember a shortened, radio-friendly version of “This Corrosion” getting quite a bit of airtime, and the now-defunct “Night Flight” video show that used to air at 2:00 in the morning on the USA Network once aired not just one, but two videos from this album… but that’s about all the love “Floodland” ever got. Maybe if Eldritch had varied his tune and theme, things would have been different. Then again, this is one of my all-time favourite albums, so I suppose I can’t complain.

And while we’re on the subject of picking a theme and sticking with it…

Manowar – Fighting The World (1988)

Ah, Manowar… I remember the first time I saw / heard this monothematic bunch. I was watching “Headbanger’s Ball” on MTV, and on this particular evening, the great Blackie Lawless was the host. At one point in the show, Lawless brought in these two goofy dudes, one all snickers, the other crazy and intense. The relaxed chuckler was Manowar singer Eric Adams, and the overwrought tool was Manowar bassist and songwriter Joey DeMayo. Lawless apparently thought highly of the band, because he gave DeMayo free rein to rant and rave about “poseurs” and “false metal” while Adams cackled hysterically. DeMayo capped off his diatribe by ripping the shirt off his chest and yelling incoherently at the camera, and then their video for “Blow your speakers” came on. Although I was amused by DeMayo’s crazy antics, I didn’t expect the music to be good – after all, if the music’s good, do you REALLY need to be that crazy? Apparently so… “Blow your speakers” is a wonderful song, and I loved it in spite / because of the tacky video and nature of the lyrics. Make no mistake about it, Manowar are cast from the same mold as many other 80s-90s metal bands: long hair, leather, cheesy lyrics, and even fur codpieces, but they have a few attributes that set them apart from the rest. I imagine their most remarkable such attribute is the fact that they are in the Guinness World Book of Records as the loudest rock band in the planet.

Loudness aside, this band has a lot going for it. Adams has a very high-pitched but oddly raspy voice, so his two octaves above the staff screeches are metal bliss. Bassist Joey DeMayo is phenomenal, as evidenced by his occasional instrumental solo efforts, although none are included in this particular album. They also have a fondness for including classical music and opera in their songs, although, again, no classical/opera tracks are included in this album, making me wonder why I brought them up! No, “Fighting The World” is all about their specialty, which a wag much cleverer than myself once dubbed Sturm und Cheese. In a nutshell, the songs are a hodgepodge of “we’re the only band playing true metal” and “somehow, we’re tying this true metal-ness to war, battle quests, and scantily clad, voluptuous women.” Hell, they even got Orson Welles to record a spoken intro to “Defender,” and his ominous, melodramatic delivery manages to transcend the cheesiness of the material. Cheese, cheese, and, oh-by-the-way, more cheese. But as far as cheese goes, this album is French Camembert: stinky as hell, but absolutely glorious!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"You have to have FAITH!"

A line immortalized by Chris Sarandon in "Fright Night," a sublime 1980's horror cheese-fest movie. The late, great Roddy McDowall, playing Peter Vincent, Vampire Killer, was trying to ward off Sarandon's character, a suave, night-club hopping, prostitute-loving vampire named "Jerry" (I shit you not) with a crucifix. Jerry the vampire laughingly pooh-pooh'd McDowall's efforts by reminding him that the gesture was meaningless without faith.

Why do I bring this up? Because faith is all that keeps the Cleveland faithful (pun intended) from swallowing the business end of a .44 Magnum and pulling the f*cking trigger until it goes "click."

  • Predicted by many to win the World Series, the Tribe just wrapped up a disappointing season that saw them finish with something of a flourish just to reach .500. In the process, they wasted a ludicrous, Cy Young winning season by Uncle Cliffy Lee.
  • Predicted by many to unseat Piggsburgh in the AFC North, the Brownies finally squeaked out their first win today to climb out of the AFC North cellar, but with a less-than-stellar 1-3 record and an offense that's downright offensive, this team's going nowhere this year... well, nowhere good, at least.
  • The Cavs had those b*tches from Bawl-ston on the ropes, but couldn't muster a single f*cking road win, and ended up bowing out and missing out on what was probably their best chance to win a championship. As if that weren't enough, the entire sports media keeps harping on the fact that Bron-Bron's pretty much on his way out of town even though he's under contract until 2010!
  • The Buckeyes came into the season ranked in the Top 3, lost Beanie Wells to injury during their first game, and fell apart like a cheap suit in their game against USC, getting their a$$es kicked with such a flourish, that they could win out their remaining schedule and STILL not get back into the Top 10.

Ah, fellow Clevelanders... long-suffering, loyal fans of The Holy Quaternity... hopeless Sisyphus of the sports universe... endeavour to persevere, and, above all, remember the words of Jerry the Suave Vampire: "You have to have FAITH!"

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Don't tread on me !!!

In the immortal words of Borat Sagdiyev:

"Can I say first, we support your war of terror! May we show our support to our boys in Iraq! May U.S. and A. kill every single terrorist! May George Bush drink the blood of every single man, woman and child of Iraq! May you destroy their country so that for the next thousand years not even a single lizard will survive in their desert!"

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Soviet invasion

Here's a pretty circuitous way to get onto the subject of the first two professional boxing champions from the former Soviet Union: the other day, I was making fun of one of my friends because he had too many of his shirt buttons undone, and his grossly hirsute chest was repugnantly exposed. He looked like a reject from the Tom Jones 1970's über-gay collection. Of course, that blatant display of mean-sweaterism merited a crack or two, and I went with, "Nice pelt! Who shot the bear?" and "Hey, Nikolai Valuev called... he wants his furry chest back!" All-too-predictably, our exchange of insults turned into a conversation about the preponderance of "Soviet" boxers, especially in the heavyweight division, and eventually evolved into a listing of our favourite fighters from the former Soviet bloc. Hey, we're guys in our late 30's / early 40's -- talking sports is pretty much all we have left at this point.

Aside from the obligatory Armenian Honour Roll (and who would have thought tiny Armenia was a hotbed of boxing bad-asses? Abraham, Darchinyan, Martirosyan, and the too-soon-forgotten Abelyan, to name but a few), my two faves happen to be the first two professional champs from the Soviet bloc: Yuri Arbachakov and Orzubek Nazarov. I first read about these guys while leafing through a boxing mag at the Convenient Food Mart on the corner of East 98th and Granger; Garfield Heights inna moddafukkin' hizzay !!! Anyhoo, the mag in question featured both fighters on its cover, posing with their backs to one another but facing the reader. Arbachakov, an orthodox flyweight from Russia, had a pseudo-mullet and a frighteningly intense glare. Nazarov, a southpaw lightweight from Kyrgyzstan (I had to look up the spelling -- buy a fucking vowel already!), had a very impressive fu-manchu, and one of the friendliest grins I've ever seen on a boxer.

Physical differences notwithstanding, both fighters exhibited features that would prove to be a constant among Soviet fighters, or at least those of the non-heavyweight variety: a thorough understanding of the boxing fundamentals. Their defense was unspectacular (no Pretty Bitch Floyd Gayweather bob & duck here) but very solid. Their combinations were crisp, varied, and well-leveraged. They ALWAYS remembered to throw body shots. Their footwork and balance were exceptional. Their preparation and conditioning were, invariably, top-notch. They both had rock-solid chins and redoubtable mental toughness. They were both signed by Japanese promoters, and as such would become ultimate road warriors -- neither fighter ever fought in the Soviet Union, and most of their championship fights took place in the opponents' backyards.

Arbachakov was a high-powered, sped-up version of the prototypical "Russian automaton." He was preternaturally composed and methodical, and was one of the slickest counter-punchers I've ever seen, having an uncanny knack for timing his punches so that his opponents' forward movement would supply much of the power. He won the bantamweight world championship in only his tenth or eleven pro fight, and defended it successfully over the next few years until being forced to give it up due to inactivity caused by a serious right-hand injury. He never fully recovered, but tried to regain his championship before retiring. He lost a close decision to Chatchai Sasakul, a terrific Thai brawler Arbachakov had easily defeated in one of his previous defenses. Arbachakov announced his retirement immediately after the fight, his only career loss.

Here's a clip of the last three rounds of Arbachakov's textbook demolition of tough-as-nails Thai challenger and ex-champ Muangchai Kittikasem. The fight was staged in Thailand, and it's pretty funny to hear the crowd ooh and aah at every gutsy lunge by Kitti, only to be immediately silenced by Arbachakov viciously snapping Kitti's head back with well-timed counters. Note, as well, that Arbachakov never really goes after Kitti until he decides Kitti's hurt enough that he won't continue to come forward. The second knockdown in the ninth round is a thing of beauty. Arbachakov nails Kitti with a right and sends him flying backwards into the ropes, follows up with a left hook that whistles past Kitti's head as Kitti's starting to bounce off the ropes, then hesitates for just a split second, measuring Kitti perfectly and absolutely crushing him with a devastating right cross as Kitti's forward inertia drives him into Arbachakov's fist. Again, just a methodical masterpiece of ass-kickery:

Nazarov was an aggressive, lanky, long-armed, heavy-handed fighter who was as ruthless in the ring as he, by all accounts, was affable outside it. He threw punches in bunches and overwhelmed his opponents by applying constant pressure -- sort of a swarthy, left-handed precursor to Antonio Margarito. He won the lightweight championship by beating up South African champion Dingaan Thobela over twelve one-sided rounds, then defended it over the next four years in venues ranging from Maine and Florida to Johannesburg and Paris. Alas, much like Arbachakov, his career was derailed by an injury: Nazarov developed serious eye problems, and by the time he lost his title to Jean-Baptiste Mendy by decision in a somewhat listless but close fight, he was legally blind in one eye. Like Arbachakov, Nazarov was forced to retire after the Mendy fight, his only career loss.

Here's a clip of Nazarov's destruction of then-unbeaten challenger and media darling Joey Gamache. The fight was staged in Gamache's hometown of Portland, Maine, and poor Gamache got every bit of help imaginable from the wicked re-tah-ded hometown ref, who allowed him to repeatedly hold and hit, throw rabbit punches, and shamelessly grab and hold when in trouble. Still, this was nowhere near enough to dissuade or even slow down Nazarov, who simply cut off the ring, cornered Gamache, and pummeled him into submission in less than two rounds. The final knockout sequence is a thing of beauty, and something every prospective fighter who wants to develop finishing skills should study religiously: Nazarov walks the rapidly fading Gamache into the ropes and starts to whale on him. Gamache grabs Nazarov and tries to hang on for dear life, but Nazarov frees his left arm and throws a half-dozen vicious left hooks to Gamache's ribcage. When Gamache tries to step back from the barrage and lowers his arm to protect his ribs, KA-BOOM!!! Nazarov lays him out with a brutal uppercut & left hook combo. In the immortal words of Smokin' Joe Frazier: "Kill the body, and the head will die."

Monday, August 11, 2008

The big 4-0 !!!!!!!!!

Funny, but I don't feel older / wiser / significantly enlightened. I guess once you get past 18, all subsequent birthdays lose their landmark feel. It's been a pretty crummy few years, though... let's hope years 40-49 aren't quite as taxing as the previous decade or two (or three).

A check on the to-do list:

Career -- just about ready to pick up my second college degree, still working a dead-end loser job, zero decent work prospects in sight, still haven't gotten over the f*cking over by the douche-bags @ F*ckGCU. Not good.

Finances -- still living paycheck to paycheck. See "Career" for further details.

Relationships -- still the biggest relationship train-wreck around. I'm nothing if not consistent.

Health -- I'm alive. I guess that's enough. CHECK!

Hmmmm... one out of four ain't bad, I guess. On the bright side, I at least have a job, can afford to pay my bills, am not stuck in some crummy loveless marriage, and can keep food down on a semi-regular basis. You've gotta be thankful for what you have!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Mayhem Festival

The verdict is in: I'll never grow too old to attend a kick-ass metal concert. After last year's phenomenal Slayer / Marilyn Manson show, I vowed to try to see at least one rock concert per year. This year, the dubious honour of being the concert o'choice went to the Mayhem Festival. To tell the truth, I wasn't even aware of this terrific day-long event until my nephew Damian mentioned it a few weeks ago -- well done, my young metal apprentice!

Heavy metal crowds get a bad rap, at least in my opinion. Aside from the inexplicable stupidity of the mosh pit, we're a pretty mellow bunch. We scream a lot, and bang our heads along with the music (my neck's still sore from the concert even though it's been two days -- I guess I am too old for some aspects of metal mania), but other than that, we're harmless. Sure, there's always the obligatory stench of booze and weed, as well as a few schmucks that equate puking and/or passing out with having a good time, but that malaise is hardly limited to the heavy metal crowds.

This woman was unconscious for pretty much the entire show.
She should have just stayed home.

This Guido, on the other hand, was doing OK during most of the show (he was sitting two rows ahead of us), but lost it all of a sudden, and had to be dragged out to the lawn by his loyal trooper of a girlfriend.

That having been said, I can't stand the mosh pit. During the early part of the festival, I went to see a couple of the bands that were playing in the secondary stages. One of these bands, Suicide Silence, generated a ton of mosh pit lunacy by repeatedly yelling "Circle pit!" or some other unintelligible exhortation. I tried to stay away from the action, but since the secondary stages didn't have seats, the random chaos of the mosh pit continuously spilled over into the rest of the crowd, and I ended up having to push bare-chested, sweaty, drunk and/or stoned losers away numerous times. I'll live, but it was pretty fucking disgusting. A shame, because Suicide Silence were actually quite good.

The first band to play on the main stage was Mastodon. I had heard good things about these guys, but they were extremely disappointing. They were loud, played fast, and screamed their heads off, but somehow managed to be about as boring as boring can be. I actually almost nodded off during their set, and I wasn't the only one. Right after their set mercifully ended, we ran to one of the secondary stages to catch Machine Head, and they were awesome. Quite frankly, Mastodon should have been relegated to the second-fiddle section of the festival, and Machine Head should have been one of the headlining bands. The fact that this wasn't so sucked doubly because we had to leave right in the middle of Machine Head's terrific set so we could see DragonForce, the second headlining band.

Mastodon -- a huge disappointment.

DragonForce is a throwback to the golden days of metal, when bands played fast, sang without growling, and produced melodic, epic songs with soaring vocal lines, extended guitar solos, and ridiculously cheesy lyrics. It goes without saying that, being an old-school metal-dork, I adore these guys. Unfortunately, because their songs are so long, they were only able to play five numbers (five!!!) because of the short time allotted. Such are the hazards of playing a festival with numerous other acts. Be that as it may, DragonForce were phenomenal.

DragonForce -- a return to the glory days.

Disturbed followed, and they were also great. I have to admit that I had some reservations about their place in this festival, especially considering their enormous popularity and the fact that they were the only participating band that gets consistent radio play. Those stupid fears were proven to be unfounded drivel. I could have done without Disturbed's surprisingly lame remake of Genesis' "Land of confusion," but aside from that faux pas, they really put on a hell of a show.

Disturbed singer David Draiman enters the stage à la Hannibal Lecter.

Slipknot had the privilege of closing out this great event, and they were more than up to the task, displaying a sophisticated level of musicianship even I, a huge fan, had never expected. Something else I'd never expected: their appearance up-close and in person is kind of comical / buffoonish. It's hard to believe that this would be the case, as they look intensely creepy and threatening in photos. But the masks and jumpsuits lose all their macabre caché when you see it's just a group of metal nerds jumping around and acting silly. Still, Slipknot were nothing short of phenomenal. By the time they closed their set with "Duality" and "[SIC]," I had screamed along with Corey Taylor (#8) so much that I had no voice left.

Slipknot tears it up.

All in all, the first-ever Mayhem Festival was a resounding success. According to the official website, the festival is scheduled to be a yearly event. I can only hope the organizers continue to put together shows of this high caliber. I'll close by posting this out-of-focus but clear-sounding video of DragonForce closing their set with their seven-and-a-half minute masterpiece, "Through the fire and the flames."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

You CAN go home again

Or, as I've been repeating throughout the week, almost to the point of attrition: Tom Wolfe was full of shite. Here are a few highlights from my wonderful week-and-a-half vacation trip to ye olde hometown.

The lush, rolling hills of Ohio... I still miss them.

I donated blood on Independence Day -- I thought it'd be a nice, patriotic gesture, and a useful one, since I'm type O-negative. Unfortunately, I not only went in on a completely empty stomach, but I also had the brilliant idea of squeezing my fist strenuously in an effort to accelerate the process so I could get to the 4th of July parade. I almost passed out, and I ended up having to wait an extra half-hour before the staff let me leave. I think I really scared the crap out of them.

Darrel and Lisa have been the highlight of the Hiram parade for the last few years, and this year was no exception. The theme:

Saluting Ohio's small farmers (yes, that's a rooster in a wheelbarrow!)...

... and breeders! As popular as the rooster-in-a-barrow was, Ella and Serena really scored the most oohs! and aahs! from the crowd, and rightly so. They're adorable.

Got a chance to see The Best Damn Band In The Land at Blossom, performing Carmina Burana, the Polovtsian Dances, and the 1812 Overture, complete with cannons and a killer fireworks show.

Glacial Grooves State Memorial in Kelleys Island. My friends know me well, we took a four-hour detour just so I could satisfy my geo-geekiness.

Reason no. 1469 why pothead douchebags should be executed on sight. Fucking asswipes!

On the ferry ride back from Kelleys Island, Ella struck up a conversation / candy-mooching mission with some random family. The nice gent wearing the baseball cap then asked me if I worked with troubled Polish kids, explaining that he, too, ran a volunteer parents camp for at-risk Polish kids. It took me roughly five seconds to catch on to the fact that he'd seen my T-shirt. Too bizarre to make up.

The centerpiece of the Sabathia trade, Matt LaPorta, was scheduled to make his Akron Aeros debut on Tuesday, July 8, but that game was rained out. As a result, we got to see his first games in the Indians organization when we attended the twinbill the following night. LaPorta (center) went a combined 3-6 on the night, showing pretty good plate discipline and a quick, powerful bat. Keep those fingers crossed!

We went to see the Tribe on Friday. Darrel shamefully and shamelessly snuck in his MD 20/20 fix in a double-layer of ziploc bags hidden in Baby Serena's diaper-changing mat. He even had the gall to claim that the rubber insulation in the mat preserved the wine's slightly chilled temperature perfectly. He's truly a monster.

Uncle Cliffy! I had never seen him pitch in person before, and was not disappointed: 6 IP, 0 runs, 7 SO. He laboured a bit, but was absolutely dominant when he needed to make pitches. The Tribe beat the Rays 5-0, and Uncle Cliffy picked up his 12th win of the season.

The beginning of a bizarre post-game fireworks and music celebration that included a gospel choir and a disconcerting hodge-podge of Motown, rock, pop, country, and Tibetan throat-singing music. (All right, I made that last one up.)

Considering what a miserable season the Tribe have put together this year, it's kind of remarkable that the town's still showing the team lots of love. The attendance was roughly 40,000, and quite a few people honked when this bus drove past.

This quick recap would not be complete without a heartfelt thanks to the best friends a guy could ever wish for. Darrel, Lisa, Baby Ella, Baby Serena... thanks a million!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

At this rate, I'm NEVER going to get anything done

On tap for this week-end:
  • Laundry
  • Work on loathsome thesis
  • Update CV
  • Write two cover letters
  • Re-format Mac & re-install Creative Suite
Reasons I won't get past Laundry:
  • Euro Cup 2K8 -- Czech Republic vs. Switzerland and Portugal vs. Turkey (aka smelly murderous sodomites) today, Austria vs. Croatia and Germany vs. Poland (insert joke here) tomorrow
  • Boxing -- Quintana vs. Williams and Forrest vs. Mora on Showtime, López vs. Ponce de León and Lockett vs. Pavlik on HBO
  • Fat Land -- started this last night, don't know that I'll be able to put it down between sporting events
It sucks to be lazy.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

An ugly admission

I'm prejudiced. I don't know if I'm a full-fledged bigot, but I'm definitely prejudiced. I often wonder how it's possible for people to instantly dislike me just because I'm dark-haired, dark-skinned, and swarthy. They should get to know me, THEN dislike me. At least that way, they'll have a legitimate reason! The truth is, I'm just as superficial when it comes to passing judgment on a group of people. Without so much as knowing even the slightest detail about the following individuals, I already hate their guts:

Redneck 'tards:
The South lost. The Confederacy is dead. The slaves have been freed.
Deal with it, you inbred hillbillies.

Stoner 'tards:
Desperate for your pot fix? Move to fucking Amsterdam.

Hippie 'tards:
Growing up and actually getting a job are GOOD things, people.
So are shampoo and soap. Ugh.

Guido 'tards:
And speaking of growing up...
Come on, I don't even have a snarky comment here.

Slutty 'tards:
Might as well just wear a sign that says,
"I'll fuck you. You don't even have to buy me a drink first."

Bra-burning 'tards:
"Sexism is a handicap," according to one of the signs.
So's being a whiny twat.

Check out the orange sign in the background...
I wonder if that guy got out of there alive!

Huntin' 'tards:
Absolutely sickening. Guys like these should be locked in a cage, naked and unarmed, to do battle with their "prey" on equal terms.
They're not even going to eat their kill, for crying out loud!
They're just killing for the fun. Cocksuckers.

Boston / New England 'tards:
Why does the entire sports universe loathe you?
It's because you're a bunch of douche-bags.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Spring Classical: the good, the bad, and the ugly

The Bella Terra Mafia and I hit the season's last concert at the Naples Philharmonic on Friday night, for a performance of Tchaikovsky's polonnaise from "Eugene Onegin," Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto, and Dvorák's "New World" Symphony. The performance was a mixed bag, as always, hence the mini-tribute to one of my all-time favourite Westerns.

The Good: Pianist Joyce Yang, a twenty-two year old Korean waif, who tackled Tchaikovsky's demanding concerto with remarkable aplomb. Although the tempo tended to be rushed at times, unnecessarily raising the concerto's severe degree of difficulty, she never once botched the notation, and she attacked the loud tutti passages with more than enough ferocity to not get drowned out by the orchestra. She was also kind enough to pose for a few photos after the performance.

The Bad: The Philharmonic's brass section. Gotta give them points for being consistent, as they continue to earn their "bane of my existence" status by consistently sucking. I counted at least seven botched duck snorts, one of them so unfortunate that I thought for a second someone had farted. At least the Cor Anglais did a nice job during the second movement of the New World Symphony.

The Ugly: The crowd. Halted the piano concerto by idiotically applauding at the end of the first movement, and were up to their usual tricks of waiting until the performance started before noisily rooting through purses for tissue, glasses, candy, whatev, talking during the music, blowing their noses, snoring, and, in what was a first even for my jaded arse, audibly humming the lovely first theme of the piano concerto's second movement. No matter, I'm still thankful these ignorant dolts contribute heavily to the Philharmonic. Considering how small our little town is, having a pretty good orchestra with enough caché to present a full season's worth of performances and lure excellent soloists is a privilege.

Recommended performances: Dvorák's "New World" Symphony is a very popular work, so there are many excellent recordings of this masterpiece, including top-notch versions by Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, and the grossly underrated performance by Rafael Kubelik and the Berlin Philharmonic... but none of these can touch Christoph von Dohnányi and the Cleveland Orchestra's fiery rendition. I actually had the privilege of seeing Chrissy VD and the Clevelanders perform this at Severance Hall, and I still haven't caught my breath from the exhilaration.

Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto is also a staple of the classical repertoire, so, again, many outstanding versions of it are available. Some of my faves include Emil Gilels with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Zubin Mehta, Artur Rubinstein with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Erich Leinsdorf, and Sviatoslav Richter with the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert von Karajan. Perhaps the best recording, but definitely the most famous, is Van Cliburn's towering performance, accompanied by the RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kiril Kondrashin. Be that as it may, Richter's rendition of Tchaikovsky's piano concerto is particularly noteworthy because it inspired one of the best-ever Monty Python skits: