Saturday, December 26, 2009

I Return to the State of My Birth



There's no place like home for the holidays.


Here in Rhode Island, it's not much different than the rest of the country: busy streets, crowded grocery stores and shopping centers, and slam packed restaurants. Economists say that relatively speaking the recession has hit the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations harder than 49 other states, boasting a mind-numbing 12% unemployment rate, and posting continuous declines in population each year. The days of healthy economic growth have been absent here for quite some time - going back to the era when blue collar workers were paid honest wages for a days work. (Have to wonder why it still takes 30 minutes to an hour to get a table for some food around here?)

Driving around the state, you can clearly see the signs of a declining economy. Boarded up store fronts, empty and vacated auto repair shops, once-crowded diners whose burners have gone cold - they provide the visible part of the downfall. Yet, the true despair lies in the stories and people living beyond the naked eye, specifically in the form of home foreclosures, evictions, and the loss of jobs and businesses which have ruthlessly attacked this state at its very core.

At one time, Rhode Island was known as the "Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution", leading the nation in the manufacturing of textiles, toolmaking, costume jewelry, and silverware. Naturally, those aren't the kinds of jobs you find here today, having been eliminated by domestic and overseas outsourcing, and obsolescence. Quite unfortunately, the State also has one of the highest rates of taxation you will find in the union, making Rhode Island an unattractive opportunity for companies to bring their business, money and jobs.

My wife and I moved to Washington, DC about a year ago because we could not risk the unstable nature of the economic climate here. Proof of this is easy to find, you can see it in the eyes of the people here that times are tough. The iconic Big Blue Bug in Providence still wears his red Rudolph nose, but sadly you can see a small tear forming in his large, cracking yellow eye. Rhode Island is hurting, the people are hurting, and the state government is oblivious and loathe to fix it. The business environment is in decline, the political arena is toxic, the taxes are through the roof, and the job pool is heavily loaded with skilled trade workers and other functional, line-level personnel. The answer to this problem is complicated, yet simple. Although, I fear, it's one that this state will never embrace.

Here is what I propose:
  • Eliminate the state income tax for anyone making under $250,000 per year. For those families who exceed that amount, reduce the income taxes by 50-60%. Provide tax relief to workers to keep them here in the state, and give incentive to corporations to move their businesses here by offering a competitive tax program.
  • Construct three toll booths: two on I-95 (at the CT/RI line in the south and the MA/RI line in the north), and one on I-195 at the MA/RI line. Charge tolls in either direction. If the system can get linked up to EasyPass, they can charge $1/axel for RI residents, and $2.50/axel for non-RI residents who use it. This will reposition an enormous amount of tax burden off of Rhode Islanders, and onto other transients and tourists who take advantage of the roads and services of this state.
  • Dissect every public program that is offered and paid for via state funds. Cut the budget by a factor of 50%. Prioritize only the absolutely essential programs. Disseminate ALL wasted state funds.
  • Eliminate the state payroll tax for small businesses with less than 10 employees, or annual revenue under $500,000. Corporations who legitimately relocate to Rhode Island from another state may apply to receive a 5 year moratorium on all payroll taxes.
  • Establish a program to assist unemployed workers to get additional training and education, and job placement. Require a payback program for those people who take advantage of state funds.
Lower taxes. Better incentives. Accelerate growth. Reeducate the general populace. Create jobs.

This is a beautiful state, with tremendous pride and incredible unleashed potential. Roger Williams, the founder of this great state once said, "the greatest crime in the world is not developing your potential. When you do what you do best, you are not only helping yourself, but helping the world." From the beaches of Block Island and Southeast Light, to the ballroom at the top of the Biltmore Hotel; from the steps of the mansions of Newport, to the quaint village of Wickford; from Watch Hill to Barrington, Scituate to Sakonnet. It's just like they say, good things come in small packages.

It's long past due for Rhode Island to make some drastic changes. I just hope that someday the people here will see it the same way. All we can do is Hope.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Rock it Acapella


It's not often anymore that I get sucked into a television program, especially the "high-drama" reality shows that are a dime-a-dozen these days. After a few years of suffering through American Idol, KidNation, Hells Kitchen, More to Love and Dating in the Dark, I can say that I no longer need the addiction, and I'm getting off the crack (so to speak).

Yet, it seems that each time I say that, a new idea is born. I'm addicted to a new crack this time.

Sing Off rules.

This is no Idol (even though it desperately tries to be!). I'll be the first to admit that Nick Lechey is a first rate loser, and a terrible choice for Emcee of the 4-day event. Yet, at the same time, I think that what he leaves to desire, the show more than makes up for in interest. In fact, I'll say I'm actually glad they chose an emotionless, no-talent ass clown as a host, because he can't overshadow the raw talent of the contestants. So good call by the producers (even if the only reason he's there is because they couldn't get Ryan Seacrest). They also chose the three-judge format (a la Idol), and one dimly lit bulb in the form of Nicole Scherzinger from the Pussycat Dolls (Paula Abdul).

Essentially the show is a contest of musical talent, with the human voice as the only instrument allowed - otherwise known as Acapella. It's a lost art, if you ask me, but thankfully shows like Glee and Sing Off are bringing it back to center stage.

So here's my opinions on each group - whatever they're worth. If you don't like them, you know what you can do.

Face - (eliminated) Even though they were eliminated on the first show, and their wardrobe choices were questionable at best, you have to give these guys credit. One guy was a chiropractor, another worked at a bank, another was a FedEx delivery guy - they were real people with families and full-time jobs. Their rendition of Living on a Prayer didn't carry them beyond one performance, but you still have to hand it to them for a solid effort.

Face

Solo -(eliminated) A downtrodden group from an impoverished section of Omaha, these guys had heart. They sang "Whatcha Say" by Jason Derulo, and they sang it quite well. Also, they were the only all-black group in the competition. They just didn't have the glitz and glamour of the other competitors. I know it was hard for the judges to send these guys home - but I certainly hope they keep it up. They got potential.

Solo

Noteworthy - (eliminated) Nine mormon girls from Provo, Utah. Good beat boxing, decent lead, but twangy and high-pitched as hell. They needed a deeper voice in there to make a solid run for the gold.

Noteworthy
Maxx Factor - (eliminated) Four classy, suburban "soccer moms" united to form a barbershop quartet. They were the black sheep of the group, but managed to survive two rounds of elimination before finally getting cut. They were pretty good too! Judges Ben Folds and Shawn Stockman obviously liked their style enough to keep them around.

Maxx Factor

The Socals - (eliminated) I loved these guys. Their lead was awesome, energy awesome, and song selection was on spot. They killed "Nothings Gonna Stop Us" by Starship and "Somebody to Love" by Queen. It was the judge's "Hazy Shade of Winter" by The Bangles that got them axed, which I think was a bit of a cheap shot, because that did NOT match their style of music. In my opinion, they deserved to go one more round in the place of Voices of Lee. It was perhaps the first wrong call the judges made on the show.

The Socals
Socals

The rest of the contestants will be elected by America by number of votes (Idol again? sheesh).

Voices of Lee - Don't get me wrong, these kids are spirited, talented, and they can all sing. They come from a small religious school in Tennessee, and they're a pleasure to watch. But they will be the first one's out on Monday - guaranteed. They just don't have the level of talent to rise above the last two.
Voices of Lee
Beelzebubs - Truly fantastic. These 12 guys are charismatic, creative, entertaining, and everything you could possibly want in a musical stage entertainer. The crux of their problem is in their ability to win a competition that awards the winner a Sony record contract. While they are certainly a lot of fun to listen to, their true strength is in their multi-media stage presence. If you don't actually SEE the Beelzebubs, you miss so much of their talent and charm. Case in point is their If America agrees with me, they should go on and put together a road show with their routine, or perhaps even Broadway. It would be an instant hit, and I'd pay good money to see it.

Beelzebubs

Nota - Hands down the most talented of all the performers. These guys from Puerto Rico have the sound you want to hear on disc. Clearly they can put it together, as displayed in their rendition of Down. They have a falsetto lead, and probably one of the best beat box drums I've ever heard. These guys are sick. The sound is seemless, natural, and highly entertaining. But admittedly, they aren't much to look at.
Nota
Nota_opera_box


They say that the handsome guys get elected President - it will be interesting to see if the same holds true for Acapella.

The final show airs Monday night 12/21 at 8:00pm. Thanks NBC for bringing some half way decent programming to the screen. Even if we have to listen to Nick Lechey.

Monday, November 23, 2009

What's in a name?



I'll be the first one to admit, I've got a rather unusual name. Most people I come in contact with do not know any other Ladd's, and for that matter, neither do I. It's a rare occasion to introduce myself to somebody for the first time without getting a question or two about its pronunciation, origin, or what it's short for. Often times, I've decided, it's just not worth the trouble of telling people my name, because the effort each introduction involves is exhausting.

Here's a typical first encounter:

Me: "Hi, I'm Ladd, nice to meet you."
Them: "Hi Lance, it's a pleasure."
Me: "No, ah, actually it's Ladd, not Lance."
Them: "OHHH, Larry, I'm sorry."
Me: "No, it's LAAAAAD-dah"
Them: "OOOH LAAAD... like L-A-D?"
Me: "No, like L-A-D-D."
Them: "Wow I've never heard that, is that short for something?"
Me: "No, it's just Ladd."
Them: "Sounds Irish. Are you a "good Ladd"? (chuckle, chuckle)
Me: "HA! That's funny. I've never heard that one before."
Them: "So, how'd you get that name?"
Me: "Same way you got yours."

To avoid these excruciating conversations, I have several aliases on standby for things like restaurant reservations, dealing with the dry cleaner, pizza delivery, taxi cabs, bartenders - or anyone who has that look, like they need to have the conversation seen above. They can call me Kin-Tahn-Tee for all I care, so long as I don't have to go through that again.

As a kid, it's difficult having a name that's unusual. The gift shops never had my name on a keychain or a coffee mug, or a bracelet. On roll call, the substitute teachers would always murder every name that wasn't John or Mary, and mine always ended up hacked beyond recognition. I mean, really? It's a mono-syllabic name. How can I believe that you are going to teach this class effectively if you can't successfully pronounce my name in three attempts? Other kids liked to joke that if I was a girl, I would have been named Lassie (or they'd just flat out call me Lassie, because it was utterly hilarious). Even my father would occasionally torture me by singing a nauseating melody with a refrain that went something like "Ladd's bad and Dad's glad."

Suffice to say, it took me a fairly long time to get beyond the idiosyncratic nature of Ladd, and begin appreciating my name for what it is. Even as I write this blog, I have to look beyond the fact that each instance where I use my name, the computer dutifully reminds me that the word Ladd is not in it's database of recognized vocabulary, and I should change the word to 'lid' as quickly as possible. Apparently even Bill Gates thinks my name is funny.

Easily, the best thing that the name Ladd has going for it is its uniquity. Sure, there are others out there, but Ladd is almost exclusively a surname, not a first name. Complicating matters further is the fact that my last name, Keegan, is most commonly used as a first name. At least my parents clearly must have had a good sense of humor.

Of course, it's not all bad. I've taken a few moments to compile some notably good things about Ladd, and here are just a few of them:

  • Ladd Syndrome, I am an extremely rare genetic disorder characterized by abnormalities affecting the lacrimal and salivary glands and ducts, ears, teeth and fingers and toes. (http://children.webmd.com/ladd-syndrome), which also relates to


  • Ladd Air, I am a fantastic, one-aircraft charter airline based in Dayton, Ohio - operating since 2004 and never crashed! (http://laddair.com/)
  • Ladd, Illinois - I am a village in Bureau County, Illinois, population 1,313 (as of 2000 census - since then I'm sure it's exploded with popularity). According to Wikipedia, "Ladd is most notable for the large hill in the middle of town." It is also the undisputed center of the local music scene, with The Cancun in Ladd hosting shows at least once per month. (http://www.city-data.com/city/Ladd-Illinois.html)
  • Ladd Observatory, I am a historic observatory at Brown University opened in 1891 by Professor Winslow Upton. I'm open to the public on Tuesday nights from 7pm-9pm, weather permitting. (http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Physics/Ladd/index.html). **Please note that Ladd will be closed tonight due to the weather.**
Outside Ladd


So this begs the question, what would my life be like without Ladd? Surely enough, things would be quite different. I suspect that had I been named Mike or Dave or Sean that this blog entry would read quite differently than it does now.

Not long ago, I finally asked my parents, "what on Earth were you thinking when you named me Ladd?"

They said, "we're not sure, but aren't you happy we did?"

There was only one thing I could say. "You're God damn right I am."

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Gambler



This morning I woke up, and my heart is no longer racing. The agony of defeat is no longer palpable in my mouth, the stomach has stopped wrenching, and the dust has settled on another chapter of the Indy-New England rivalry. Yet, for some unknown reason, my instincts want me to cry (I've already picked out a few good hiding places around the office should the urge be too much to fight off). I know very well that it's time for us to look forward to watching the team take out some of this frustration on the Jets next Sunday; I know we need to learn from the loss and move on. We, as fans, need to learn from this, and move on.

I say to you folks, let's try to keep it all in perspective.

One, we played a tough game against one of the toughest teams in the league, and we dominated them for the better part of 60 minutes.

Two, Peyton Manning has an explosive offense that can strike at will against the best defenses in the NFL. And he does so with ease, and without a viable running game.

Three, the last four match-ups between the Pats & Colts were won by the team who came back from behind.

Four, if you have a chance to put it in the bag, you take it. When the go-ahead was given on 4th-and-2 on our own 28, my emotions were high, and I had difficulty containing my anger for Coach BB and the lousy call to shoot the moon. I was surprised at the call, and even more shocked that we came out with nobody in the backfield to run. But it was a play they knew, they'd practiced, and it had been successful several times already during the game.

Five, they made a good play. They completed it. It was just [a little] short. It's a game of inches, and inches decided the game. With no red flag to throw, and the booth unable to review, there was little the Pats could do but pray to stop the Indy offense machine from reaching the short 29 yards to the end zone.

Look, it was a gamble. No true Patriots fan can look me in the eye and tell me that Bill Belichick isn't a gambler. And we'd all better thank God he is. Praise be to Allah, only somebody like Belichick will release a pro-bowl, first-round quarterback (Bledsoe) in favor of a young, barely proven, 6th round unknown. But think about where we'd be if he hadn't. Only somebody like Belichick will send a reliable, veteran defensive lineman (Seymour) to another AFC rival in exchange for a draft pick in two years. Only somebody like Bill Belichick can make decisions that make little sense in the present time, but result in 3 Superbowl Rings in 4 years, plus an almost undefeated season.

Alas, only somebody like Belichick will go for it on 4th-and-2 deep in our own territory, with the game in the balance. Afterall, BB is the king of going for it on 4th. Bill could have been a hero this morning. Instead, some will question his play calling, and the effects it may have on the team moving forward.

I got news for you Patriots fans - facing that situation, with Peyton Manning ready to take the field, Billy will take that risk every time. Everyone knows that to get the rainbow, you're going to have to put up with a little rain. Sometimes, we're going to miss.

I'll still follow that guy to the fire everyday of the week, and all day Sunday. Even more, anybody who walks onto that field wearing a New England Patriots jersey had better agree with that, or they can pack their bags and head for greener pastures (Jets perhaps?). Otherwise, it's time for us all to grit the ol' teeth and start making the gameplan for our next visit to Indy, which may be just around the corner.

So if you're still pissed off with Bill this morning, I recommend you cut him some slack. After all, he deserves it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Cheeseburger In Paradise



If you're ever in DC, and you get that hankerin' for a damn good burger, hit up Fuddruckers. 1/4, 1/3, and 1/2 lb. burgers with a whole slew of fixin's at your disposal. I guarantee satisfaction with your experience, or your next burger is on me.

Comes with a beer or a soda and fries.

What could be better than that?

***offer only valid in certain states, for certain people. Subject to terms and conditions, including picking up the next round, automatic DD responsibilities for the next three drinking events, and other miscellaneous responsibilities as assigned. void where prohibited by law.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Social Networking



About three years ago, at the urging of my wife and several members of my family, I joined a social networking site. At the time I had only one previous experience with internet social networking under my belt in the form of the primordial Friendster, which I found to be relatively unamusing and seriously lacking stimulation. I struggled to find reasons to sign in and visit the site with any kind of regularity. So the pitch to buy into this whole idea again was considerably easy to rebut.

I was well aware of the dangers of posting personal information and photographs on the internet. I also knew that potential employers and other unintended people could feasibly get their hands on my information. Yet, for some unknown reason, like a kid lighting up a cigarette for the first time, I acquiesced to the pressure.

At first, the site appeared to be remarkably similar to the one I had been a member of previously, except now I had a few more people to talk to, and I could "write on their walls". BFD. As the site grew in popularity, I became intrigued with the idea that this could truly offer a way to regain contact with people from deep in my past. This, of course, is the double-edged sword of the site: if put yourself out there to reconnect with certain people from way back, it's inevitable that you're going to reconnect with certain people that you never wanted to think about again. Ever.

Everyone who is a member knows what it's like to receive that friend request - the one where you say, "holy crap, why are they friending me?" You consider it for a few minutes, and then like an ancient Roman Emporer deciding someone's fate in front of thousands at the Coliseum, you give them the symbolic thumbs up/thumbs down on their future in your network kingdom: ACCEPT or IGNORE. Your decision becomes a virtual indictment of whatever feelings you may have toward that person, and a test of your ability (or inability) to let bygones be bygones. Immediately after you see the name, your mental database begins searching for any memories containing the words "Dan Froman". You start thinking about that time in high school when he told you where to put it, or how he intentionally snubbed you and made you look like an ass at Mark's Halloween party in 1992. You cross reference his name with "positive memories". Then like an empty Microsoft windows search returns with no matches, you realize that you can't think of a time in history when you ever actually liked this guy.

Let's try forget for a moment that wastebook is a colossal waste of time and energy. As it is, most corporations have wised up and blocked their employees from the time-sucking wasteland that it is, where hours of paid overtime wages are sucked into a black hole never to be seen or heard from again. Studies have proven that productivity in the workplace suffers measurable setbacks when wastebook use is allowed (Facebook cuts productivity). This is in addition to the vacuums of Twitter and Myspace, which if an employee is regularly using all three they shouldn't be fired, they should be shot. Nonetheless, in the midst of this horrible economy, 72% of over 300 million users still update their status at work, tag photos that nobody wants to see, and invite everyone on their list to join them in a game of Farmville - thereby diluting their 8.5 hour work day into about 2 hours or less of actual productive activity. Some people even go so far as to forget that they friended their boss before they go on a rant about how much they hate them.

Put that all aside. What about the idea that people come into your life, and then leave your life for a reason? In a world without wastebook, I would never have come back into contact with Jillian Thurber or Leanne Moxley, or Tom Drew or Kyle Xillas - and I am (was) perfectly comfortable with the idea that I'd never interact with any of these people again. But instead, now I get regular updates on the frequent bowel movements of Jillian's 14-month old, Leanne's complete disdain for her mother-in-law, Tom's excessively hairy chest, and Kyle's tragic attempt at starting his own internet business (he never did strike me as the workhorse type). At what point did we as a people decide that there was any need for this kind of information circulating in our heads? Life was complicated enough before all of this.

So how do I get out? I need my job, I value my privacy, and frankly I don't need the hassle of responding to wall posts containing absolutely no substance whatsoever. I envision a class action-style intervention to the entire wastebook community: the first step is admitting we have a problem. The second step is to get help.

I sought the advice of several Facebook friends who have displayed a remarkable aptitude at keeping their pages up to date around the clock, 7 days a week. When questioned about providing me assistance, Meghan Barnaby, a ubiquitous wastebook user replied, "Why would you ever want to get rid of wastebook? I love it, it helps me breathe." Kim Redmond, a veterinary nursing specialist from Portland concurred. "Look, I posted a picture of my dog Nibbles as my wastebook photo. Want to see it?"

It appeared that I wasn't going to get any help getting off drugs from the drug dealer, so I solicited help from Kelly Sheridan, a non-wastebook individual that I work with. I remember a few weeks ago she told a group of us that she "hates the whole idea of wastebook", and "I just can't see ever signing up for something so stupid." I approached her optimistically, figuring she'd be an individual of critical importance to ending my wastebook dependence. "Funny you ask," she said, "I just joined wastebook on Monday, and I already have 14 friends!"

Still, I remained positive that there's still hope for people like me, who see that it's all gone a little too far. I volunteered my opinion in an email to an old friend who is now the Director of Information Technology Management at a major public corporation. He spearheads a group of over 50 computer science engineers and support specialists to manage and protect the information and systems of over 20,000 employees worldwide. My offering was met with an Out of Office Autoreply, indicating that he was on holiday and would return a week from Monday. His reply indicated that if I needed further assistance, I should contact his assistant, or visit him at www.facebook.com/mikev********. Have a great day!

I'm not sure if I'll follow up with him when he gets back.

In the meantime, I'm consciously spending less time keeping up with the lives of my wastebook pals, and focusing more on my job performance and other fruitful activities... such as keeping up this blog, which I've spent roughly the last two hours writing. So much for productivity. Yet, I can still offer hope to those out there who find themselves stuck smoking two packs of wastebook a day, and feel like there's no way out.... there is help out there. The only problem is, nobody seems to want to find it.

(the names used in this article are fictional)

Friday, October 23, 2009

If you want to sing out....



When I lived in Rhode Island, I worked in an office where it was relative commonplace to hear coworkers randomly belt out guttural ballads from the bottom of their lungs. I could be quietly reconciling somebody's rental account, adding up numbers in front of my computer screen, when BAM! - somebody crashes into my office crooning Michael McDonald's "I Keep Forgetting" (mp3 available online for $0.99 at http://www.amazon.com/Keep-Forgettin-Every-Youre-Version/dp/B00122UXES/ref=sr_tc_2_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1256303098&sr=8-1). Music was a part of the corporate culture, and it provided an outlet for creative release during an otherwise monotonous work day. At first it was awkward, but it didn't take long for me to adapt and begin singing my own tunes... my rendition of Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf" or Eddie Rabbit's "I Love a Rainy Night" began to brighten the soggy Rhode Island afternoons, and with the help of my ambiguously gay assistant, we created a hell of a duet.

My office in Washington, DC is different. You can cut through the silence with a knife. On Friday at the end of my first week on the job, I cautiously offered a modest version of "If you don't know me by now" by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, but was quickly rebuffed by looks of both fear and confusion from my new office mates (in hindsight, that may not have been the best song choice for a new employee on his first week).

In the following weeks, I determined that I would have to affect change in those around me so they would understand that my frequent outbursts were merely a coping mechanism for the dark days; a therapy of sorts. I went online and purchased a set of speakers to attach to my work laptop, loud enough so that when the time came, I could crank those babies up and we could bring American Bandstand into the office for an afternoon.

Yeah, not so much.

At the first few beats of "You Dropped a Bomb on me" by Gap Band, half of the office walked out, and the other half stared at me in disbelief. Come on people! Music is the heartbeat of life!


So I'm still working on it. Perhaps I should break out of the 80's era, and jump into something a little more palatable. Until then, it's me and Eric Carmen singing "All By Myself".... on my headphones, of course.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Heartbreaker




The temperature is perfect, and there's not a cloud in the sky. Morgan is fresh in off her morning jaunt, and the coffee machine has already begun it's morning duties. In a few short hours, the intoxicating aroma of Beef Brasato will come from our Mario Batali Dutch Oven and fill the air of our small apartment.


From the excitement I felt the moment I woke up, I conclude before anything else that it could only be game day. I flip on ESPN to find that they have already dissected the games on deck for the day, and I digest their various hypotheses over a cup of coffee and toast. I feel good about my picks this week, and even better about the fact that we get the game on tv at home. Having spent most of the last 8 years living out of the New England region, I've had to become accustomed to the routine of finding a pub or watering hole to watch the games - preferably one that is Patriot-friendly. Washington, DC being no exception, we are always delighted when our digital cable box informs us that it will broadcast our game, and we can relax and watch our favorite team from the comfort of our own home. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:15pm, later than we are used to, but still safe from the evening games which generally require that we use toothpicks as eye props to ensure we catch the game in it's entirety.


I learn that we will be coming out in throwbacks today, which makes me almost giddy, knowing that our boys will be wearing the old "Pat Patriot" visitor jerseys for the first time in as long as I can remember. We are stacked up against a tough, undefeated Denver Broncos, coached by a fantastic rookie, Josh McDaniels, whom helped the Patriots win several Superbowl rings as our Quarterbacks Coach & Offensive Coordinator. He's strong, has a impeccable understanding of the game, and has been taught much of what he knows by the great Bill Belichick. It's going to be a great game - and I've got a hunch that today is going to be a great day!


Of course, nobody is more familiar with broken hearts than the fans of New England sports. By our birthright, we are both the luckiest and most doomed sports fans in the history of sports - 86 years without a Red Sox World Series win, and decades spent pulling our hair out at the incompetence of the Patriots, Celtics & Bruins at any given time. True, the 21st century brought with it a renewed hope along with World Championships in football, baseball and basketball. But for many of us, the sour taste of tough losses is still all too familiar.


The game was plagued with penalties on both sides, but the football was good. Both teams came out like they were ready to play. The match-up of pupil and professor had brought with it a stronger depth, more meaning than just Denver protecting it's undefeated record: this was an inquest of the Belichickian school of coaching, the likes of which Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weiss and Eric Mangini have failed to propagate. In essence, Bill Belichick was on trial for his ability to teach the game of coaching football.


At about 15 minutes past seven, I looked on as Matt Prater, the Broncos kicker, lined up 41 yards away from the uprights in an overtime period where Tom Brady had yet to touch the ball, and I could feel my stomach beginning to wrench...


Regardless of how you feel about Spygate, or whether you are just one of those people who continue to use it as an excuse to berate a team with an outstanding record, the truth is that the New England Patriots have never ceased to display the true essence of teamwork. The team is a true anomaly in modern day professional sports; where virtual unknowns get a chance at greatness, and proven stars take pay cuts to learn from the master. Both come for a decidedly better chance at a Superbowl ring. This "team first, self second" mindset in the Belichick era can be found far and wide throughout the organization, but some of the most prolific examples are in Troy Brown, Tedy Bruschi, Junior Seau, Tom Brady, Randy Moss and Kevin Faulk. These are, of course, the most visible symbols of this philosophy, in an era devoid of loyalty. Yet what makes the New England Patriots great is how it spans every corner of the organization, from the ball boys to the bean counters.


...the snap is good, the kick is up...


Living in Washington, I constantly hear Redskins fans rail on about the team's owner, Dan Snyder. If you were to sample a thousand random 'Skins fans, you'd likely find that less than 50 of them actually approve of him as an effective team owner. This is hard for us Patriot-junkies to relate to, as the Kraft family is one of the leagues finest ownership entities, with one of the most tremendous grassroots stories. Back in 1971, Bob and his wife Myra scraped together what money they could get together to purchase season tickets to the Patriots. The rest was history. Today they own one of the most valuable, and certainly one of the most successful professional sports franchises in history. It's rare nowadays to find ball club owners with the amount of passion, drive and enthusiasm that they have for the Pats, and even rarer do they come along with the dominant business sense the Kraft's have to make it supremely successful. The Kraft's have had a huge hand in making the Patriots a team we can be proud of.


...and it's good! The Denver Broncos move to 5 and 0!


The taste of defeat today is bittersweet. The student showed his teacher that on any given Sunday, you can be outplayed and outcoached. The Patriots played hard, but in the end, they just didn't have enough. The student turned the tables and delivered his first lesson to his mentor, and it's a tough one, but perhaps one of the best lessons Bill will ever learn. You're a damn good coach, Bill Belichick. But perhaps a little too good for all of us today.


On top of that, the Red Sox were swept out of the playoffs today by the Angels. Let's just say I'm done with hunches for a while.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Retribution Day



Dupree: [during his job interview] I'm a people person, very personable. I absolutely insist on enjoying life. Not so task-oriented. Not a work horse. If you're looking for a Clydesdale, I'm probably not your man. Like I don't live to work, it's more the other way around. I work to live. Incidentally, what's your policy on Columbus Day?
Interviewer: We work.
Dupree: Really? The guy discovered the new world. I'm afraid to even ask about Victory Over Japan Day.



It just so happens that Columbus Day falls roughly half way between Labor Day and Thanksgiving; i.e. perfect timing for a three-day weekend. Growing up we used to spend CDW up in New Hampshire at the lake, or sneaking in one last weekend of sailing before it got too cold. It always had the potential of shaping up as one of the best weekends of the year. Suddenly all the crowds were gone, the restaurants were quiet, most people had already put their boats away, and all the small summer towns and their little shops were wrapping up their final days before the long winter break. The Columbus Day weather is dependably good, usually cool and crisp in the mornings and evenings, but pleasant and comfortable during the day. Leaves are changing color, seasonal clothes are being brought out to wear again after a hot summer in storage - it's one last opportunity to enjoy a slice of summertime.

In Canada, Columbus Day falls on their version of Thanksgiving. In Costa Rica, the day is celebrated joyously as Dia de las Culturas; in Venezuela, Dia de la Resistencia Indigena; and in Uruguay, Dia de las Americas. Many other Latino countries celebrate the day as Dia de la Raza, which is a sort of "anti-Columbus" holiday, marked to celebrate the natives of the land, rather than Cristobal Colon and the image of the encroaching Europeans. October 12 is also the anniversary of the historical day that the statue of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was toppled in 2004. It's true, the second Monday in October means something a little different to each of us.

So this begs the question - why did Columbus Day get the short end of the holiday stick?

It seems that unless you are a teacher, or work for the government or a bank, when the sun rises this Columbus Day, it will mean little more to you than the usual sluggish routine of wiping the weekend crust from your eyes and mentally preparing yourself for another manic Monday. At exactly what point did banks, schools and government decide that they would break tradition from the rest of the working world and reintroduce the celebration of Columbus into their lives? Or was it the other way around - did the productive leaders of our society decide, after much contemplation, "eh, screw Columbus. Don't you feel like everyone would rather sneak in another day of work?"

Look, until the paid holiday field is properly leveled, there will be a palpable jealousy amongst us private-sector plebes towards our institutional brethren. Something has to give - either the government needs to work, or we need the day off. It can't go on this way. Under normal circumstances, I would urge anyone reading this to contact your member of congress here in Washington and express your dissatisfaction. However that would be akin to calling the Taliban and telling them you're upset with the early morning attacks. This is a non-traditional war.

But I'd like to propose a better solution: Retribution Day. On the third Monday of every October, only those who do NOT work for a school, bank or the government will be entitled to a day off with pay, to enjoy the developing fall foliage, sip warm apple cider, and make dozens of bank teller transactions whilst phoning government agencies at random asking for information we don't need. Teachers will be forced to grade papers for 8 straight hours in their empty classrooms, and postal workers will be forced to deliver huge boxes across the country, and every recipient will immediately mark it return to sender and hand it back. Department of Motor Vehicles employees will be required to take a number and sit and wait all day, and all meter maids will have to wait with them 15 minutes for each ticket they've written in the past month. Tax collectors will pay their own taxes, and circuit court judges will be given their annual performance evaluations. President Obama will spend the day on Capitol Hill with the rest of our representatives, from dawn to dusk reading the thousands on thousands of pages of ridiculous legislation this congress has introduced over the past year. Come Tuesday, we'll once again live in a world where all are indeed created equal.

Now that's change we can believe in!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Expect Delays Ahead

"The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we ALL believe that we are above average drivers." - Dave Barry


Living in DC, you are forced to get accustomed to heavy traffic. In fact, I recommend to anybody that plans on spending any length of time in this area to become friendly and comfortable with the idea that on a good day it will take you roughly 10-minutes per mile to get anywhere. Like some other major cities that are infamous for their traffic issues (LA, Atlanta, NY, Miami), DC comes prepackaged and equipped with an archaic road system, disgruntled drivers, and a series of strategically located bottlenecks, seemingly placed to offer the city protection from the dangers of normal driving patterns. If this was the intention of Mr. Pierre Charles L'Enfant when he laid out his plans for the Federal District and surrounding areas, I must say that he succeeded admirably. (Ironically he is buried atop Arlington Cemetery, where he can posthumously observe his masterpiece in it's bumper-to-bumper glory for the rest of eternity).

Luckily, I have a three-mile commute, which using my quick math formula provided above, averages a 30-minute commute time each day. I can live with that. This morning, however, being the supportive husband that I am, I graciously took my (gimpy) wife to school in Annandale, which is about 6 miles in the opposite direction from my office. Clearly I didn't keep my formula in mind when I agreed to provide said transportation. An hour and half and a large cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee later, I had transformed from gentle, loving husband - to an abominable wreck of a human being. The soothing hand of Jesus himself would have been no match for the rage within me as I navigated my way to work at the speed of smell.

There is truly no better time to dissect all that is wrong with America and the rest of the world, than when you are surrounded by gas-guzzling vehicles on four sides, and your foot is falling asleep from riding the brakes. So I've compiled the following go-to list of friendly reminders for my fellow rat racers - whether you're in Houston or Halifax, Boston or Bombay, I hope this makes the pain just a tad bit easier to bear.

1) The eight feet between me and the guy in front of me is not an invitation for you to join us in this lane.
2) There should be a law that allows you to t-bone anybody who blocks an intersection for more than 5 seconds without penalty. After all, faults without consequences are meaningless.
3) If you completely screw up, and find yourself in the middle of an intersection blocking traffic, swiftly offer apologies by mouthing "I'm sorry" to everyone within sight. If you are lucky, the victims of your hapless driving will take pity on you and allow you a one-time pass.
4) Many of you need to be retrained on the significance of "HOV" or "High Occupancy Vehicle". That means MORE than one person. I could have cheated and taken the HOV too, yet as a law-abiding citizen, I am here on this side stopped. You should realize that we on this side are all crossing our fingers that you'll get yours down the line, buddy.
5) The long line of cars is clearly for your exit. Get in line and wait. If you try to cut to the front of the line, you should be subject to a swift kick in the head.
6) The bass on your car is shaking your trunk, and making you sound like your car is a mobile construction site. Do you think everyone wants me to blast the Shania Twain that's on my radio right now? I didn't think so.
7) Go. GO. GOOOOOO! What the hell are you doing?
8) If your exit is in 1/2 mile and you are in the far left lane, don't you think you should have started merging right a long time ago?
9) The bumper sticker on your car with the stick figures representing your family and dog is totally annoying and makes this experience much more difficult for all of us.
10) Speaking of annoying - there is nothing more annoying in the world than being stopped in traffic, and slowly passing a sign that says "Speed enforced by radar".


With Love,
The Guy Who Just Cut You Off

Hey sorry, but I have to get to work.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Incidents and Accidents


It is purely coincidental that my first blog entry is being written just over 24 hours after the worst vehicular accident that I've ever been involved in. The truth is, I've been blogging in my mind for several years, but never had the time (gumption?) to put the "pen to the paper".

Yesterday at this time, I was at the hospital with my wife, securing care for her fresh wounds from a broadside collision that had happened hours earlier. A lot can be said for our health care system and the providers within it, but I still feel a twinge of gratitude each time I walk into a hospital in this country. I surmise that if a questionnaire was passed around that standing-room-only waiting area, inquiring as to whether that patient or family would rather be receiving health care in another country - Cambodia, for example - 9 out of 10 would respond that they would rather be here. There is a good reason for this: despite the problems our health care system has, it is still one of the best in the world.

Since the accident happened, I have replayed it in my mind about every 2-3 minutes. There is something peculiar that happens to you the moment before you encounter a collision, or something grave happens - it's almost as if time stands still for that one millisecond before impact. The rest of it goes by in a flash, but that one moment is what I will remember for ever; how the hit felt, how our bodies both flew forward against our seat belts, the face of the other driver and how it looked, and the image of a small child seat in the back of his car. It's almost as if somebody took a branding tool and burned that image into my brain, where it will now remain for eternity.

When the dust settled, and the realization of what had happened finally became clear, the mass confusion began. We were on our way to watch the Patriots game at our newly discovered local chapter of fans, but instead we were
surrounded by sirens, lights, all sorts of hoopla - the bad kind. Almost immediately after I got out of the car and asked the other driver if he and his baby were ok, I realized the irony of the fact that he was donning a Clinton Portis Redskins jersey. (I briefly contemplated removing my own Pats jersey, to lessen the chance for any onlooker hostility).



This morning I waved goodbye to my wife as she hobbled towards her carpool, newly established due to the chain of events. Her foot broken, hand bandaged, she trudged off to her daily routine of shaping young (but distorted) minds. I have to hand it to her, that's true dedication. I'd have been kicked up on the recliner with meds on one side and a laptop on the other... as Ferris Bueller says, "I'm takin' the day off."





Though we missed the game, the Patriots still pulled one through for us. It was a small consolation to an otherwise ugly Sunday.