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 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


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.