Sunday, April 24, 2011

Go Directly to Jail, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Punch Your Grandmother

Monopoly is the most popular board game in the world, which is not surprising since it's one of the few games guaranteed to make you hate your entire family.  All it takes is one ill-timed trip to Boardwalk with a hotel on it and someone's flipping the board over, tossing property cards in the air, and firing the dangerously sharp battleship token at the Boardwalk owner, potentially poking his eye out.  Also, the game takes seventeen hours to finish, not including the mid-game fisticuffs.  For those reasons, I stopped playing Monopoly when I was about twelve.  Being called a "greedy, money-grubbing, property-hoarding swindler" by my own grandmother was what finally did it.  Not that I didn't deserve it, but there was no way I was giving up Illinois Avenue and Short Line Railroad for Water Works.

I mean, really.

In the thirty years since that fateful day, I gave very little thought to Monopoly except of course when McDonald's used it as some sort of game promotion.  Big Macs and fries have been a staple of my nutrition program for as long as I can remember, so my exposure to McNopoly was bound to happen sooner or later.  One Saturday afternoon, I peeled Marvin Gardens off my large order of fries and discovered that I was one-third of the way to winning a 1997 Jeep Wrangler, unless I happened to be related to an employee of McDonald's or Parker Brothers or their affiliates, which I wasn't.  But aside from the McDonald's thing, the game of Monopoly didn't cross my mind again until a couple years ago when a teacher at my school started using it as a way to reinforce his sixth grade students' math skills.

Tim Vandenberg is an outstanding teacher.  His students love coming to school, he spends time getting to know them and teaching them in a way that ensures success, and his class consistently scores at the top of the charts as far as state testing goes.  Tim is also a Monopoly wizard.  He has systematically determined all the statistical probabilities involved in the game.  I'm not talking about dice rolls, such as how often double-fours come up.  Asking Tim to calculate dice probability is like using IBM's 1.025 Petaflop Roadrunner Supercomputer to play Tetris.  No, Tim has created a Monopoly board that includes the average rent earned by each property, the chances of landing on various color groups, and precisely how many rolls of the dice will take place before Aunt Jenny blows a gasket and whizzes her battleship token at your head.  Basically, Tim Vandenberg is the Monopoly version of Rain Man.

"Uh oh!  I just bought St. James Place.  Orange monopoly, the most profitable color group on the board with an average rent-per-roll of forty-seven cents, definitely forty-seven cents.[1]  With two of my opponents' tokens coming around the corner, there is definitely, definitely a 59 percent chance that one of them will land on an orange property.  Better build houses, definitely three houses, because the rent-to-investment ratio is the most advantageous at that level."

He's smart, is what I'm saying.

Tim (facing camera) competing at the US Championship
Tim and his class were featured in a documentary about Monopoly entitled "Under the Boardwalk."  I know what you're thinking.  Someone actually made a movie about Monopoly?  What's the running time, thirty-six hours?  Maybe it should be called "Go Directly to Sleep, Do Not Pass Go."  

That's what I was thinking also.

When the movie was released on DVD, Tim gave me a copy and I checked it out.  I was sort of hoping it would be a compilation of people yelling and arguing, throwing game boards and properties up in the air, pelting each other with cast-iron race cars and thimbles, culminating in a climactic battle scene where a fifteen-year-old kid named Butchie tells his Uncle Frank exactly where he can shove Reading Railroad.  Sort of like a Hasbro production of "Sling Blade."

As it turns out, though, "Under the Boardwalk" is fascinating, taking a captivating look at the history of Monopoly and some of the people who play it.  The movie wraps up with coverage of the 2009 National and World Championships.  Tim, in fact, was runner-up in the U.S. tournament.

With a new-found appreciation of Monopoly, some co-workers and I began playing on a regular basis.  Having been somewhat brain-washed by Tim and his mathematical gobblety-gook, I quickly realized that the orange properties are by far the most valuable, the brown and green groups are worthless piles of sheep dung, and when it comes to whizzing a token at your opponent's face, the thimble inflicts the most damage.[2]  The rounded side can cause bruising, while the opposite, open-ended side is good for cuts and abrasions.   After playing for a few months, a couple colleagues and I had improved our skills to the point where we were beating Tim as often as he was beating us.

One evening, Tim set up a game for three of us to play against Matt McNally, the 2003 U.S. National Monopoly Champion.  This may not sound like a big deal to you, but to us it was like being invited to play a round of golf with Tiger Woods, with possibly a lesser chance of nailing a cocktail waitress afterwards.  This is not to say that Mr. McNally isn't smooth with the women, but I think you get my drift.

If Vandenberg is Monopoly's Rain Man, Matt McNally is Obi-Wan Kenobi.  A soft-spoken, laid-back guy with slick negotiating skills, McNally is fully capable of using the Jedi mind trick to acquire the properties he wants.

"Mr. McNally," says an opponent.  "I'll give you Oriental Avenue and the Electric Company for B & O and Reading Railroads."

"You don't want the railroads," replies McNally, waving a hand in the air.

"I don't want the railroads."

Me and a co-worker Paul with Matt McNally (center)
"These are not the properties you're looking for."

"These are not the properties I'm looking for."

"You'll give me your two yellow properties for Baltic Ave."

"I'll give you my yellow properties for Baltic Avenue."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

Ten minutes later, McNally has hotels on the yellow group and his opponent is being strangled to death by Darth Vader.

So we got together with Matt and played a couple games.  Sure enough, toward the beginning of our first game, Obi-Wan McNally mind-tricked me into giving him the yellows when he had over 900 bucks to spend on buildings.  He proceeded to build hotels like Steve Wynn and Donald Trump on a Twinkie-and-Red-Bull bender.  The other two players (Paul and another guy named Matt, but we'll call him "Chuck" to avoid confusion) looked at me like I was a complete moron, which of course I am.  Before long, Paul and Chuck went bankrupt, leaving me in a head-to-head matchup with Obi-Wan.  The odds were completely in his favor, but that's when Lady Luck decided to intervene.  For about twenty minutes, I continually skipped over the yellow group while he hit my greens just about every time around the board.  It was pure luck, no question about it.  Finally, he rolled a six and landed on one of my green properties, Pacific Avenue I believe, and went bankrupt.

So now I can say I defeated a U.S. Monopoly Champion.  It's definitely going on my resume.

Brimming with confidence, I signed up to play in a regional Monopoly Tournament in Redlands, California.  The event attracted several Monopoly "pros," including a lawyer named Ken Koury, who is featured in the role of Dastardly Villain in "Under the Boardwalk."  Koury is a "win-at-all-costs" type of player who will, without any hesitation at all, bilk a Cub Scout out of Park Place if it suits his purposes.  He also seems to think that everyone else who plays the game is a cheater, including our old buddy Tim, who Koury dubbed "The Dark Prince of Monopoly."

Ken Koury's "Stealth Iron," AKA "Exhibit A"
Which brings us to Mr. Koury's place in "pot vs. kettle" lore.

In the Redlands tournament -- I'm not making this up -- he used a custom iron token that he'd painted to match the color of the Monopoly board, rendering it invisible to the naked eye.  That way, his opponents would overlook it and forget to ask him for rent when he landed on their property.  To me, this smacks of chicanery.  Seriously, if your pre-game preparation includes a trip to the Sherwin-Williams store to pick up a can of 6933 Clean Green touch-up paint, you might be going against the spirit of fun and fair play that the folks at Hasbro originally intended.

I can just hear Attorney Koury making his case in Monopoly Court.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let me present Exhibit A, which we will hereafter refer to as 'The Stealth Iron.'  According to the Official Monopoly Tournament Rulebook, Article 14, Section C, all players must use one of the tokens included in the tournament game set.  Clearly, this rule is in place to maintain the integrity of Monopoly tournaments by banning 'novelty' tokens such as Rocky Raccoon from Beatle-opoly, the milk bottle from the Hello Kitty set, and -- my personal favorite -- the Johnnie Cochran token from the Simpson Edition.[3]  The Stealth Iron, however, was originally part of a set that I myself purchased at Tom 's Toy Store in the Glendale Galleria on February 16, 2002.  Since the rules do not mention anything at all about altering tokens, I should be allowed to play with my Stealth Iron."

Imagine the havoc that could ensue in future tournaments, if such subterfuge is permitted.  Players playing with severed Scottie Dog heads, flattened shoes, and maybe even thimble dust.  Mass hysteria!

So anyway, I had a great time playing in the tournament.  I placed second in my first round match, while at another table, Koury and his Stealth Iron were bankrupted almost immediately.

Not that I am bragging.

In the second round I was at a table with another tournament regular, a skilled player with a good sense of humor.  Early in the game, I acquired all four railroads and built up cash reserves that proved to be insurmountable.  Eventually I bankrupted my opponents, and the tournament pro, demonstrating sportsmanship and class that would make the Parker Brothers beam with pride . . .

. . . whizzed his battleship at my face.[4]


[1] After reading this, Tim texted me letting me know the actual rent-per-roll for St. James Place is 38 cents.  See what I mean?

[2] Followed closely by the Scottie dog.

[3] Other tokens in Simpson Monopoly include a bloody glove, Judge Ito, Kato Kaelin, a knife, and a Ford Bronco.  Also, the Chance deck contains nothing but "Get Out of Jail Free" cards.

[4] Okay, I made that last bit up.  He took the defeat graciously.


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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Note to My Readers

Hello, everybody.

Thanks for stopping by.

I'm probably being a bit arrogant in assuming that anyone would really notice, but starting next week I'm going to scale back just a bit here on Knucklehead.  Instead of posting two or three pieces a week, I'll be going to a weekly format, most likely putting up new material every Monday.

The reasons for this are simple.  First of all, I've always tried my best to focus on quality.  Yeah, smart-asses, I know, I haven't always succeeded at it, but I don't want to resort to posting half-polished ramblings just because I feel "obligated" to get something new up every couple days.  I got into blogging to hopefully hone my writing "skills," but just tossing up a new piece because "it's been three days" isn't exactly leading to greatness.  If anything, I fear it might be counter-productive.

Also, I've been re-posting old material far more often that I want to for those same reasons, and I'm starting to feel guilty -- and lazy -- about it.  I don't want to take "some time off," though, because one week could lead to two, and before long, this would be a dead blog and I certainly don't want to deprive you all of my brilliance.

Ha!  Had you for a minute, didn't I?

So anyway, here's the new plan.

I will be posting an original piece every Monday morning.  This will keep me from getting too complacent about it, and also allow me to make sure everything I write is the best it can be.  Some of it will still undoubtedly suck, but I can only do so much.  No more re-runs, no more half-assed bullshit.  Just a reasonable effort at providing decent content.

As always, I'd love your feedback.

Thanks for being here, and keep reading!



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Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Best and the Worst: People to Be Stranded on an Island With

In this day and age, with cell phones, GPS navigation, and all sorts of satellite communication, it is very unlikely that any of us will wind up stranded on an island somewhere in the South Pacific.  All we'd have to do is call 911 and say something like, "Hey, it's Chris on the Verizon network and I'm on some tropical island located at 41 degrees, 15' 31" north latitude and 95 degrees, 56' 15" west longitude."  At which point, the 911 operator would say, "You idiot, that's not an island, you're in Omaha, Nebraska."

If by some strange confluence of events I were to end up stranded on an island, there are certainly a few companions that I'd love to have with me.  And of course several that would be among my most horrific nightmares.

So let's take a look at the best and worst people to be stranded with on an island.  For the sake of argument, we're going to assume this is a decent-sized hunk of land with a reasonable variety of plant and animal life, not the stereotypical tiny desert island with two palm trees and a hammock.


1. Donald McKay (1810-1880)

There's nothing really funny or creative about this choice, but since Donald McKay was a 19th century Canadian-born shipbuilder, I'd have to assume our stay on the island wouldn't be very long.  We'd spend a couple days gathering up raw materials, and I'd sit back and relax while my new pal Donny whipped up a 75-foot clipper ship.

Good thing, too, because from the looks of him, he's probably a crotchety old fart. I can only imagine what we'd talk about if our stay on the island extended more than a week.

Me:  So, Don, how about a game of beach volleyball?

Don:  No, thank you.

Me:  Do you even know what beach volleyball is?

Don:  No.

Me:  Let me explain.  I hit the ball over the net that someone conveniently set up prior to our arrival, you hit it back, and so on and so forth.  If someone misses, the other guy gets a point.  First one to fifteen wins.  Sounds fun, eh?

Don:  No.  It doesn't.  Now if you'll excuse me, I must go wash my knickers.

Probably best if we just built the ship and got the hell out of there.

2.  The Wonder Twins

The superpowers of Zan and Jayna would be very convenient to have around.  Zan, as you may know, can convert himself to water in any form, and Jayna is a shape-shifter who can transform into animals -- mythological, or real.  Certainly, all I'd need is for Jayna to become a giant sea turtle and Zan a strong oceanic undercurrent, and I could drift home in no time.

But why not have some fun first?

"Wonder Twin powers . . . activate!"

"Form of . . . Sandra Bullock!"

"Form of . . . pitcher of margaritas!"

Or maybe . . . 

"Form of . . . Angelina Jolie in a white t-shirt!"

"Form of . . . bucket of water!"

The possibilities are endless.

3.  Tina Fey

This one is a tricky proposition.  Obviously, if you're going to be stranded on an island, and you're a guy, female companionship is a must.  But who would you select?  Keep in mind that the "physical activity" would only be part of the equation.  Most of your time would be spent in other ways, so having a gorgeous pea-brain would be more frustrating than tantalizing.

Before I continue, let me remind you that for the purposes of this exercise, you are on my side.

In college, my frat buddies and I had a rating system.  All women could be scored on a ten-point scale in two categories -- looks and personality.  For instance, a hottie with spaghetti for brains might score a 9-3.  Nine points for looks, three for personality.  For a woman to be considered "relationship material," the general rule of thumb was that she'd need to score around a fourteen total.  If she were an eight in looks, you could deal with a six in personality.  If she was only a five on the looks scale, but her kindness and sense of humor garnered a nine on the personality charts, that was fine also.  Again, this is for relationship purposes.  There was nothing at all improper about a one-night stand with a 10-2, or having a 3-8 for a drinking buddy.

Based on that information, the perfect woman to have with me on a deserted island would be Saturday Night Live's  Tina Fey.  Cute but not stunningly-so, with brains and a sense of humor, Tina would rank around a 7-8 or so.

And that'll get it done.

4.  Emeril Lagasse

If I'm going to be on the island for a stretch of years, I'm going to get awfully tired of  fish and berries.  Seriously, I might be able to trap a woodchuck or something, but there's no way I could prepare and cook the thing in any way that would render it edible.

Bam!  Enter Chef Emeril.

I'd do my part of course, catching fish, hunting various animals, and gathering plants and fruits suitable for human consumption.  And then Mr. Lagasse could whip up dishes like "Squirrel l'Orange,"  "Grilled Breast of Seagull with Coconut Sauce," and blackberry tarts for dessert.

Being stuck on an island doesn't mean you shouldn't eat well.

5.  Gwen Stefani

Going back to the ratings scale mentioned earlier, No Doubt's singer Gwen Stefani is definitely a 9-plus on the looks scale so anything around a five in personality, and she clears the bar.  Plus, she's an excellent singer.

So . . .

If I were stranded on the island with Gwen, she could spend hour after hour performing for me, providing endless enjoyment and pleasure.

The rest of the time, she could sing.


1.  Jeffrey Dahmer

With this freak as an island-mate, any hope of a good night's sleep goes right out the window.  Not that there would be windows, but you get the drift.  At any given moment, Jeff might slink into my hut, stab me to death, and then to add insult to injury, fry me up for breakfast.

Let's face it, the guy's a psycho.  Sure, I might try to reason with him, explain that the two of us working together would give us the best chance of long-term survival and eventual rescue, but sooner or later the conversation would deteriorate into something like this:

Me:  So, Jeff, what say we get started on building some sort of water craft?

Dahmer:  Water craft?  What?

Me:  You know, like a raft.

Dahmer:  Oh, I don't know about that.

Voices in Dahmer's Head:  Kill him!  Kill him dead!  Eat his liver!  I'll get the fava beans!

Dahmer:  Heh heh heh heh.

Me:  Um, Jeff, what are you doing with that pointy rock?

Generally speaking, your chances for rescue decrease dramatically once you're dead.

2.  Joan Rivers

This one might strike you as an odd choice, but let me explain.  If there's a woman on the island with me, there's always a chance that I'll get delirious enough, desperate enough, or flat-out horny enough that I'm going to take a run at her, no matter who she is.

I'm not proud of this, but there's no arguing with testosterone.

Worst case scenario, after three years on the island (and the smart money says it wouldn't even take that long), Plastic Joanie and I would give in to our basest desires and do the deed.  And with my luck, we'd get rescued the very next day.

No way could I carry on living after that.

3.  Gilligan


Even with six other castaways, one of whom was a professor with multiple graduate degrees, Gilligan managed to screw up rescue attempt after rescue attempt.  With just the two of us, all hope would be lost.  On top of that, just co-existing with this goober would be enough to inspire thoughts of smearing myself in raccoon blood and plunging into shark-infested waters.

And here's another thought.  What if he developed a crush on me?  Not that I'm the most desirable guy in the world, but let's look at facts.  Gilligan was stranded on an uncharted desert isle for years, and not once did he make a move on Ginger or Mary Ann.  Did he have a thing for Navy dudes?  Not that I'm judging, of course, but if Gilligan started trying to woo me with moonlight walks or dinner at sunset, it would just be awkward.

He's not my little buddy.

4.  Wally, My Elementary School Bus Driver (no photo available)

Wally was overweight, smelled like sweaty asparagus, smoked cheap cigars (how he got away with this on a school bus, I have no idea), and to top it off, he had a giant, never-healing, oozing scab on the back of his bald head.  As he drove the bus, all us kids tried not to stare at the massive head wound, but we couldn't help it.  It was like the curse of Medusa.

Also, he was mean.  He tolerated absolutely zero talking on the bus.  On the bus!  It's not like we were in the middle of a math test, or sustained silent reading.  It was a bus ride to school, we wanted to chat.  But the minute someone said, "Hey, don't we have a report due today?" Wally would be all over us, in his mafia-boss baritone:


On an island with no school buses and a limited supply of cigars, there's no telling what the guy would be capable of.

5.  Tom Brady

I can't say that there's not an upside to being stranded on an island with Tom Brady, because there is.  If he's stranded, there's no way he could play football for the New England Patriots, thereby improving my New York Jets' chances of winning the AFC East.

But here's my main concern.

Realizing that this is of course hypothetical (and unlikely), in the event that a plane full of Hooters girls crashed on our island, there's a good chance that Tom would get most of the action.  Come to think of it, setting the bar with Brady is probably over-stating my chances.  I mean, really, like he's the only guy I'd lose the battle for Hooters girls with?  I'd probably be in the same predicament if I were stranded with Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, or hell, Tom Brokaw.

But let's stick with Brady, because I can't stand the douchebag.  And ladies, the picture here is my way of apologizing for that sexist "ratings scale" stuff.  You're welcome.


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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Celebrity Roast: Jim "Suldog" Sullivan

"Anyone got any fruitcake?"
In a startling development that was long overdue, our good friend Jim Sullivan, aka "Suldog," has decided to discontinue writing his humor blog.  To honor our dear friend, I thought it would be appropriate to roast him a little bit here on Knucklehead!  

I personally asked several of Jim's long-time readers to write a few words in his dishonor.  To a person, they all told me to go screw myself, that their time would be better spent weeding their gardens or scraping the callouses off their feet with one of those rough stone-type thingies that I'm sure has a name which I'm far to lazy to look up.  So instead, I had to pay complete strangers four bucks a pop to write about Mr. Suldog.  Because that's the kind of guy I am.  Cheap.

I'll start the festivities myself, before passing the baton to our fellow roasters.

Jim "Suldog" Sullivan is the nicest Boston Red Sox fan I've ever met.  Yes, that's the sports equivalent of "for a fat girl, you don't sweat much," but I have to admit . . . Jim isn't quite the douchebag that most of his Boston compatriots are.

As for his blog,  Suldog has a writing style that can be summed up in one word: Interminable.  That's interesting in and of itself, because Sully can't sum up anything in just one word, not even his favorite color, which is "A particular shade of blue that is not quite teal, but can't really be described as turquoise either."  His philosophy on writing is "why say in 250 words what you can say in 3,000?"  If Jim had been hired to write the Pledge of Allegiance, school days would be fourteen hours long.  You know how the families of alcoholics go to Al-Anon?  Jim's family members go to On-and-On-Anon hoping to find an intervention for his perpetual blathering.  When Jim was six years old, his parents let him write the invitations to his birthday party . . . he finished them when he was nine.

Reading a Suldog blog post is like spending an afternoon undergoing oral surgery.  In fact, Jim once wrote a five-thousand word, four-part epic on the subject of oral surgery.

Irony, party of one, your table is now ready.

I always enjoyed Jim's stories about softball, though.  For years, he played on a team called the Bombers.  According to Sully himself, his major contribution to their offensive attack was his uncanny ability to draw walks.  Leave it to Jim to find away to succeed by standing in one place not doing anything.

As all his readers know, Jim concluded each post with his catch phrase, "Soon, with more better stuff."  What readers don't know, however, is that this line has nothing to do with his writing.  It's his standard answer to the question, "Hey Sully, when will you be coming by with the weed?"

All kidding aside, Jim is truly a fantastic writer and although I've never actually met the guy, I consider him a friend.  Thanks for the laughs, Suldog, you'll be missed around these parts.

But Boston still sucks.

Next up to the podium, we have the lovely and talented Miss QUIRKYLOON!

How does one roast a wombat?

I mean a fruitcake?

Nah. That won't work either.

How does one roast one Suldog who has been an anchor of my own blog reading for many moons?

With a Howl?

I leave that to him. He howls pretty well. He likes fruitcake (the ONLY person I know in real or cyber life)

He likes the Boston Celtics (not the only person I know who does in real or cyber life).

He plays Bass Guitar. He was in a band. And his top 15 favorite albums did NOT include Aerosmith. And yet? I still like the man.

He holds a special place in heart for ants, mice, Mr. Rogers, and the brunette Power Puff Girl.

What a guy!

So I take a huge slobbering juicy bite with meat tendrils stuck in-between my teeth and sing a song for Sully.  Come on everybody clap your hands and sing along.

SING A SONG - The Carpenters (lyrics by Quirkyloon)

I, read his blog
Read out loud
Written strong
Blogged of good things, sometimes bad
Blogged of happy, and sad.

Read, read a blog
Written solid
Made me smile my whole life long
It was always more than good enough
for anyone else to read
Just read, read his blog.

Read, Suldog's blog
Let the world read along
Blogged a lot of baseball things,
He blogged for you and for me.

Read, read his blog
Made it funny
To make us smile a lot.
Don't worry his blog was always good enough
for anyone else to read
Soon, with more better stuff.

Thanks, Quirky!  Next up we have Mr. EDDIE BLUELIGHTS!

I first 'met' Jim in BlogLand two years ago and we immediately 'hit it off' as blogging adversaries, and of course we became good friends. Our senses of humour are very similar, although Jim is a little braver than I in his chosen subject matter and the general way he describes things. It was always very refreshing for me to read Jim's unique writing style when he injects copious quantities of amusing verbal diarrhea into his posts, lavishly interwoven with wonderful phrases like "Holy Mary on a Pogo Stick" or "As for giving me awards, you are even braver than the rugbyest rugby player with four missing front teeth, a leg that sticks out at a 30 degree angle, and his gnarled fingers that he can barely operate the remote control with in order to turn the telly over to a showing of American Football".

I ask myself, who else in this universe could possibly come up with stuff like that?  . . . . answer, "Nobody!". 

Jim is a genuine and nice guy beneath the verbal vitriol he spews out between those new teeth at those brave or foolhardy enough to present him with awards, as I found to my cost on no less than three occasions LOL. . . . . but we all loved jumping into the lion's den it and kept coming back for more.

It wasn't all humour (note Jim, the correct way of spelling it LOL) . . . . Jim wrote a lot about his family and some serious stuff . . . . but he really came into his own when he posted more contentious stuff or when he 'grilling' us LOL.

I loved reading the comments on his posts almost as much as the posts themselves because it is obvious that everyone loved that guy and after a hard day at work Jim's blog was the place to visit to let off steam and have a really good laugh.  Jim, a lot of your followers, including me, will miss you tremendously.  A song goes through my head as I write.  It is Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen and please imagine the words right at the end when ALL of us say:

We will not let you go - let me go
Will not let you go - let me go (never)
Never let you go - let me go
Never let me go - ooo
No, no, no, no, no, no, no -
Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go . . . . . . .
Of course we all hope you will return one day but until then  . . . . .  thanks for the many laughs and your friendship. I salute you.

Great work, Eddie!

Moving right along, here are a few words from Michelle, at THE SURLY WRITER.

Jim Sullivan? We're talking about Jim Sullivan? Or are we talking about Suldog?

You need to take your pick. I know both men. I know Jim Sullivan, the smart, lovable guy who would give you the shirt off his back to help you out if you were in need, despite him getting a nasty sunburn in the process. Jim Sullivan: a man who posts about those lovely memories concerning his youth, such as the time when he gave HIS MOM a stick of gum and a glass of water as a "breakfast in bed" morning.

Then there's the person who calls himself Suldog. The man who likes those pot-smoking, green leprechaun people called... um... Celtics? That doesn't even make sense? What would a Celt know about basketball? It's not even in their culture. But Suldog is from Boston... and we all know what it means to be from Boston, don't we? It's in the New England territory, which means that it's basically ice up there for 11 months out of the year. Someone suffering from that much of a brain freeze isn't going to have all the cells thawed out to root for a better team, like the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Anyway, I know of a Jim Sullivan and I know of a man named Suldog. They posted great pieces on their humor blog for over six years. Out of those six years, I have had the pleasure to know them for about four years. FOUR YEARS!!! Once you get to know a man that long, he takes on his own identity -- one that I affectionately call MLGF. HE knows what it means, and has mentioned it numerous times on his blog. If you are curious to know what that means, go through his archives. You won't be disappointed from the number of entertaining stories he has there.

Next we have Eva from WRESTLING WITH RETIREMENT, keeping it short and sweet (that's what SHE said).

If you ever have trouble getting to sleep, just read one of Suldog's posts about the Bombers' softball games.  Instant ZZZZs!  And then there's HIS WIFE.  She sounds like a saint, how he ever got lucky enough to hook up with her amazes me.  She obviously could've done so much better.

I'm not very good at roasting; hell, I can barely cook, so I'm going to stop there.

Seriously, Suldog, you will be missed.  More than once I found myself cracking up over one of your posts.  Best to you in whatever path you follow from here!

And now a word from CRICKET!

What to say about my swell pal Suldog as we bid him goodbye, for what I hope will be a sabbatical, not a retirement?  We'll miss his unique voice, his way of finding humor in all circumstances, that brightening of the morning when we realized he's put up a new post.

My own blog would not exist without his encouraging me to begin it.  I'd be surprised if I'm the only one.  And without that, I would not have "met" most of you.  I likely wouldn't be here at all.  I'd owe him my gratitude if only for that.

So he says he's running on fumes and needs a break?  So be it, but his fumes are more than some of us ever have, and funnier.  And there it is.

So enjoy your break, Jim, and I sincerely hope it is a break.  Gather some new stories, maybe.  And I hope to see you again out here, sooner or later, with more better stuff. 

That will about finish him off for now!  Sully, we'll miss you around here, and hopefully this isn't "goodbye" it's just "see ya later."  Be well, and good luck this coming softball season.  Remember, just stand there.  A walk's as good as a hit.

If anyone else would like to contribute to the roasting of good ol' Sully, have a go at him in the comment section.  I'm sure he'll appreciate your thoughts!


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Friday, April 8, 2011

Pity the Fool

I've always enjoyed April Fools' Day.  When I was a kid, my brother Eric played a great trick on our mom, running up the front sidewalk with catsup dripping down his forearm screaming bloody murder.  It looked like his hand had been chewed off by a starving wolverine.  By the time Eric got around to yelling "April Fool," our poor mother was apoplectic.  He got swatted for the prank, of course, but it was well worth it.  To me and our other brother Bobby anyway.

During my teaching career, April Fools' Day was a wonderful opportunity to teach my fifth graders all sorts of handy life skills such as the proper placement of a Whoopie Cushion, the "dollar on a string" trick, and the ever-popular plastic dog poop on the lunch tables.  We also worked together to spread the tomfoolery to other classrooms.

One April first, I had about ten of my students come in early.  We convinced the custodian (a couple Snickers bars took care of it) to open one of the sixth grade classrooms, and the students and I snuck in and swiped all of the chairs.  We left a ransom message on the white board:


Here's the best part.  The sixth graders had never heard of the "I'm a Lumberjack and I'm Okay" song.  Their teacher, Mr. Linsin, was a good friend of mine and I knew he was a big Monty Python fan.  So before his class could come retrieve their chairs, Mr. Linsin had to take about fifteen minutes to teach and rehearse the song.  They did a fine job, if we're going to be honest about it.  Every last verse.  Cracked my class up.

The next year, Linsin exacted his revenge.  When my students and I entered our classroom, all the desks had been turned upside down.  Even mine.  Apparently the custodian was a double agent, his allegiance easily turned by the offer of Snickers and Kit Kats.

Can't blame him, really.

While April Fools' Day is usually filled with good-natured and harmless jocularity, every now and then someone with a tenuous grasp on the concept of "funny" will take things too far.

According to an article in the Victorville (Ca.) Daily Press, a woman -- for privacy's sake we'll refer to her as 24-year old Marlina Flores of Apple Valley -- is currently doing some time in the slammer for making a prank phone call to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department saying that she and her two-week-old infant had been kidnapped and thrown in the back of a pickup truck.  When the call came over the police radio, deputies immediately dropped their chocolate iced crullers, put down their lattes, and responded.

I'm kidding of course.  They finished their donuts, and then responded to the call.

As "24-year old Marlina Flores of Apple Valley" stayed on her cell phone giving the "location" of the "pickup truck" to the dispatcher, deputies patrolled the "area" trying to find the missing "victims."  After an hour of searching, the deputies gave up and returned to Dunkin' Donuts for a couple more maple bars.

Ha!  I'm just kidding again!  Seriously, authorities became suspicious when they couldn't locate the pickup truck and after some investigation, they found "24-year old Marlina Flores of Apple Valley" safe at home with her child.  The deputies, following standard San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department procedure, secured the child safely in her crib and returned to the living room where they beat "24-year old Marlina Flores of Apple Valley" senseless with their night sticks and whisked her away to the pokey.

Makes sense, if you think about it.  If the authorities go easy on April Felons like this, it would be easy for criminals to "April Fool" their way out of all sorts of crimes.   Hell, I'd do it.  Every April first, I'd put on a ski mask and waltz right into the local Bank of America and hand the teller a slip of paper saying, "Put a million dollars in this paper bag."  One of two things would happen.  Either I'd get away with it and you'd never hear from me again or, more likely, a SWAT team would be waiting right outside when I exited the bank with my bag of money.  At that point I would of course holler "APRIL FOOL" and we'd all have a good laugh and share a box of Krispy Kremes.

As for "24-year old Marlina Flores of Apple Valley," the first night in jail her cellmate totally got her with the "what's that on your shirt?" gag.


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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Why Can't I Have Some Balls?

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I'm a huge baseball fan.  I've been attending games since I was about six years old, when my folks took me to Shea Stadium for a Mets-Cardinals twi-night double header.  In the forty years since that night, I've attended anywhere from 15-75 games per season which, if my math is correct, works out to a whole lot of games.  Most of the time, I've had really good seats.  Lower tier, down the line, prime location.

And I've never caught a foul ball.  Never even got within "Holy crap, it's coming right at us" range.

I know what you're thinking.  "What's the big deal, you can buy an official Major League baseball for about eight bucks."  Well of course you can, but that's not really the point.  It's not the "having," it's the "getting."  I own several baseballs, many of which have been autographed by legendary ballplayers like Reggie Jackson, Yogi Berra, and the immortal Russell Earl "Bucky" Dent.

But that's not the same thing as possessing an authentic, right-from-the-field-of-play Major League Baseball artifact.  Or a Minor League Baseball artifact, I'm in no position to be picky about it.  I go to plenty of California League games to see the High Desert Mavericks and the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, and even in 4,000-seat stadiums filled to twenty-five percent capacity, I've caught nothing more than undercooked-hot-dog-induced salmonella.

I can almost hear the Baseball Gods laughing at me.

Here's what I'm talking about.  Several years ago, I had a season-ticket package for the aforementioned Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, then the Class A affiliate of the San Diego Padres if such details matter to you. My seats were about fifteen rows behind the visitors' dugout.  Optimum foul ball territory.

I had tickets to thirty-six games that season.  I attended thirty-five, and as I'm sure you've guessed, I came away from each of those games with no balls in my possession.  Since I didn't want the tickets for that one remaining game to go to waste, I gave them to a colleague of mine named Linda.  She was a sweet lady, early 50's, and she was excited about taking her husband to a ballgame.  I was happy to share my tickets with her.

She came to work the next day, ran up to me, and said, "CHRIS! LOOK! I CAUGHT A FOUL BALL!"

Well shove a hot dog up my ass and call me Babe Ruth.

Linda was sitting in my seat and a foul ball fell in her lap.  Now, when I say it fell in her lap, I don't mean she picked it up from the aisle when it came to rest, or the ball boy tossed it to her between innings.  I mean, it was fouled up onto the roof above the grandstand, rolled down, caromed off the lip of the overhang and fell into her lap.  The way she tells it, she wasn't even looking.

She showed me the ball.  I was expecting it to be autographed, "To Chris, Ha ha, Baseball Gods."

It wasn't.  It just had the official logo of the California League with the signature of the commissioner.  Linda offered to give the ball to me.  I refused it.  Bitterly.

Last season,  I was at another Cal League game between the High Desert Mavs and the Inland Empire 66'ers.  Some friends of mine, we'll call them the Watsons, own a skybox at Mavericks Stadium (not as luxurious as it sounds -- it's still the low minor leagues), and they invited me and my family to join them for the game.  Seven-year old Robby Watson spent the entire game running around the concourse and playing on the grassy hill located in foul territory down the right-field line.  He was completely unaware that a baseball game was going on.

He got two foul balls.

One bounced into his hands while he was in line for nachos, the other hit him as he was rolling down the grassy knoll.

This led to a conversation with Robby's grandfather who told me about a game he'd attended in the late 70's.

"I was in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, and a home run ball came right to me," he remembered.  "I still have it. It was hit by the Yankees' right fielder, popular guy, jeez, what was his name . . . "

I sighed.  "Reggie Jackson?"

"YEAH!  That's the guy!"

Either Grampa was not the biggest baseball fan in the world, or his memory was failing.  He was treating the life-altering experience of catching a home run off the bat of the great Mr. October as though he'd picked up a crumpled Whopper box outside the local Burger King.

Baseball Gods, why do you mock me so?

And you thought I was making it up.
Have I not been a loyal fan?  I came back after the strike of '94, remember?  I chose to turn a blind eye to the steroid scandal of the late 90's and early 00's, didn't I?  Doesn't this earn me something?   It doesn't have to be a game-winning home run by Derek Jeter.  Hell, at this point I'd settle for a stray foul ball popped up by the backup right-fielder for the friggin' Modesto Nuts.  Beggars can't be choosers.

So yeah, it's become sort of an obsession.  I'm not going to go all bizarro-lunatic about it and take a huge fish net to a Little League game (they don't let you keep the ball anyway, as it turns out).  I'm not going to dash like a madman through an empty section of seats at Mavericks Stadium and elbow a little girl out of the way to get one.  But I am determined.  I will take my glove.

Knowing my luck, here's what's going to happen.  I'll be 83 years old, sitting in the $2,000 bleacher seats at Yankee Stadium III.  As I take a sip of my $150 Bud Light, I'll get drilled in the chest with a line-drive home run by Ken Griffey IV.

And die.

Know what? I'm fine with that.

Just bury me with my souvenir and put on my gravestone, "HE HAD A BALL".


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