Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Free Land! In Rural Kansas...

The old Homestead Act is back, sort of--but nobody wants it. If you feel at all bad about your hometown or where you live, consider this: Towns in Kansas are trying to give away land...but can't.

The Kansas City Star reports today that that twelve Kansas towns have offered free land to folks willing to build houses on it and do things like put their kids in local schools and patronize local businesses. Some of these towns have been doing this since at least 2003, and only one, the Star says, has kind of sort of "succeeded;" Marquette has managed to increase its population from 527 in 2003 to nearly 700 today. Look out, Manhattan! Kansas!

Now, I like Kansas a lot. I've seen a decent chunk of the state, and my lovely wife, of course, is kind of a Kansas native. (Her father is a Kansas native.) It turns out that much of Kansas is gorgeous (really!), and, in case you haven't been there, it's a far more interesting place than you might think it is. Lawrence and Manhattan are fun college towns, and Abilene is home to the library of one of the greatest Americans to ever live, President Dwight David Eisenhower. Kansas has some stuff going for it. Seriously.

But...parts of it are a little remote. And then other parts of it are very remote. And that's where, if my Kansas geography isn't failing me here, at least a few of the free-land towns are located--in very remote Kansas. Plus, one of the towns is actually called Plainville, which just doesn't seem like good marketing. Could the town not rename itself Excitementville? That move could only help.

I'm from a small town, albeit one that's only about 30 miles or so from a couple of major cities. I really hate seeing the decline of small-town America. So, would I take up the offer and move to rural Kansas on the (very) cheap? Well...no. I like living near a major city. I kind of don't want to live in a small town again. And then there's the matter of jobs...and entertainment...and travel viability...and the difficulty of breaking into small-town culture...and...well, you can see why these folks in Kansas haven't been able to sell their homestead dream. I'm cheering for them--but I'm not going to join them, either.

Sometimes a Beard Is Just a Beard

So, I was all ready to write a post about how I got my hair cut on Saturday, and how I hadn't had a serious haircut for at least a couple of years before this past weekend, and how I absolutely love getting my hair cut (oddly enough), which I do.

But when I put up a new profile picture on the sites I use regularly (including this site), nobody said much about the hair. What got all the attention was the beard. Now, I've been wearing a beard for a while now, since December or so. And I've grown to like the way it looks and feels. The honest truth is that I just got tired of shaving and decided to let the whiskers grow. That's all there is to it--nothing else.

It has prompted a completely unexpected response, though. I know that heavy beards aren't too popular anymore, generally speaking, but I didn't think that the look was shocking or anything. Some friends have reacted as though I got a mullet and a rebel-flag tattoo or something. To be fair, though, other friends have liked the face pelt and have told me so. One friend said that I look like Barry Gibb--which I consider a compliment. Another person told me that I could do those GEICO caveman commercials now. Hey, for a little extra income...

My favorite reaction thus far, though, has come from a good friend in England, who said that he was going to start calling me Socrates--not after the Greek philosopher, but after the much more influential Socrates, the legendary Brazilian footballer:
I would consider that moniker to be a great honor, just as I did when a random guy at a Brazil-Venezuela football match at Gillette Stadium a few years ago saw my (now-departed) ponytail and said I that looked like a fat Gabriel Batistuta. Here's the real, skinny Gabriel:
Having always been a little bit more Argentina than Brazil in my South American football leanings, I was especially proud of any comparison between me and Batistuta, regardless of the (accurate) observation of portliness that went with it.

But if not having to shave and not having hair constantly in my face means being more Socrates (or even Barry Gibb) than Batistuta, I can live with that. In the final analysis, though, my beard and my hair are just, well, hair. They're not political statements or hints of rebellion or signs of personal transformation or anything else. They're just the hair on my face and head. And, yes, fortunately there is a lot of it.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

BC Brings Some Sports Happiness

This isn't exactly rare. BC has made the "Frozen Four"--the final four of the NCAA hockey tournament--nine times since the 1997-98 season. This season marks the ninth appearance, with the Eagles having outlasted Yale tonight by an astonishing score of 9-7 to advance to...Detroit. Ahem.

The Eagles won the national championship in 2001 and again in 2008; in the latter season, I actually went to one of their games--a loss to Providence. Still, I got to see what would be a championship team play live, and that's pretty unusual for me. In fact, I think it was a first.

In case you're wondering, I didn't get to a Red Sox game in 2007, and I was still living in Paris in 2004. I went to my first Celtics game this season, and I've never been to a Patriots game. The Bruins...well, I've been to plenty of their games, but let's just talk about something else. Oh, by the way, I never saw the '90s Cowboys Super Bowl teams play live, either.

I got to see a BC team defend its title in 2009, but it wasn't much of a defense. Last season was a rebuilding year for the Eagles--they didn't even make the NCAA Tournament. This season, though, they're back to the heights (pun intended, sort of) that Coach Jerry York has them accustomed to reaching. And I'm really hoping that they will win it all, although I have no idea what their chances are.

Why am I so interested? Well, for one thing, I've really adopted BC hockey as both my winter sports fix and a pick-me-up during the cold-weather season. So, I'm a fan. I see more BC hockey live than any other sport or any other team. Also, let's face it--2010 has already been a rough sports year. The Fiesta Bowl didn't work out as planned for TCU; the Bruins are mediocre at best (again), and (worst of all by far) West Ham is fighting what appears to be a losing relegation battle that looks worse with every passing match lost.

And there's more: Wade Phillips still coaches the Dallas Cowboys; the Patriots are sinking into mediocrity, and I have to be a New York Jets fan now. I adopted the Kansas City Royals at my own risk and with no regrets, but they're not going to go anywhere this season. The New York Mets are always bait for massive disappointment. Even the Celtics are looking older all the time. At least there was France's wonderful Grand Slam, but European rugby seems (and is) pretty distant at this point--even if I did really enjoy watching France beat England to win le Grand Chelem.

So, I need BC hockey to do well for my sports sanity. But more than that, I really want to have been a part of a championship season, even just as a fan in the arena. Again, I've never really done that before--I don't count the one BC game I saw in 2008--and I made it to six or seven BC games this season. (You could probably count the blog entries about BC hockey here and get a specific number. I'm not inclined to do that right now...) In that sense, I feel as though I invested in BC hockey this season in a way in which I have rarely been able to with any sport in the past--by going to games regularly. (Those $5 and $10 tickets helped a lot with that effort.)

Plus, what could be better than seeing a team on its way to a championship play live multiple times and then watching that team defend its title the next season? Isn't that what being a sports fan is all about? Isn't that the ultimate reward? Granted, BC hockey has already had a great season. A Beanpot, a Hockey East tournament championship and a Frozen Four make for nice additions to the program's long list of honors. As a fan, I heartily applaud everything that the team has already done. And if BC goes out in its first game in Detroit, I won't be too upset about the result. I'll move on pretty quickly. But if the Eagles can manage to bring a title home again, I'll be very, very happy. And sportingly speaking, I could use some of that.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Sure Sign of Aging

So, I'm in the grocery store last night, fairly late by New England grocery-store standards, around 10 pm. I'm pushing my cart around somewhat deliberately because even after more than two years of shopping at our local Hannaford's, I still can't find anything there. (It's not the store's fault. I can never find anything in a grocery store.)

Now, Hannaford's actually plays some decent music on its PA system. Sometimes, it's downright good. And sometimes it's a little embarrassing--as it was last night. I was looking for banana bread mix when I heard the opening notes of a tune I used to really love. You know the feeling--the ears perk up, the eyes open a bit wider and you make a somewhat guttural "aahhhh" noise. Well, that's what happens to me, anyway.

We're getting to the somewhat embarrassing part now. (No, the initial reaction to the tune wasn't it.) The song gets into its first few bars, and I realize that it's Keep on Loving You, the 30-year-old rock ballad by none other than REO Speedwagon. Now, it's embarrassing enough that I used to like REO Speedwagon...and still do. Kind of a lot. But I only made things worse by, uh, participating in the song.

There was singing along, not particularly quietly, including attempts to hit the high note on "only thing I want to do..." in the chorus. There was some fairly considerable swaying and tapping of fingers on the handle of the cart. And, during the guitar break, there was...air guitar. Needless to say, a few folks (and there weren't more than a few in the store, period) gave me a look or two. They were bemused, I think. I hope. A young woman who appeared to be a college student actually seemed genuinely entertained.

The scary thing is that I really didn't realize until the song was almost done that I was singing out loud and physically interpreting the music. I was behaving as I would at home or in a crowded bar where the music's loud and everybody's acting goofy, anyway. But this was the grocery store--the quiet, dull, entirely functional grocery store. And I was enjoying--outwardly enjoying--grocery-store music.

That's why I say that this little episode was a sure sign of aging. It has nothing to do with the fact that Keep on Loving You came out in 1980 and that I was the only person in the store last night who was both alive and living in this country when the song was a radio hit. It has nothing to do with the fact that I can actually remember listening to Keep on Loving You on the radio...in 1980. No, this wasn't about time. It was about behavior.

In my younger days, I would have been way too self-conscious to sing along with a tune in the grocery store, much less rock an air guitar. I would have worried about embarrassing myself and the people around me. But last night, I rocked out without even thinking about it. And when I was done and came back to full consciousness, I wasn't mortified.

Oh, I probably blushed a bit, but I mainly just kept on shopping and didn't worry about what anybody else thought. I'm old enough now that I don't care--as much as I used to, at least--what people think of me. I don't want to be an outcast or anything, but jamming to REO Speedwagon at Hannaford's on a Wednesday night? I can handle that. In fact, I can't help but handle it because apparently I do it now without thinking about it. And I don't care how people react.

The truth is, too, that the folks who were there last night didn't react much at all. A smirk here or a glance there--who cares? There was a time when that kind of unsolicited attention would have left me mortified, maybe for days. But I'm beyond that now. There are a lot of factors at work here, I'm sure--a wonderful marriage and the comfort of feeling at home in a great town among them. But mainly I think that I'm just more mature and confident than I used to be. And those qualities come, at least in part...from being older. Just plain older.

Yup, at 36, I've crossed the barrier of grocery-store rock-outs. By the time I'm 40, I'll probably be telling the kids from Brandeis who live down the street to get off of my lawn, even though it's not really my lawn (we rent)...and we actually don't have a lawn at this house. I would say that it's all downhill from here, but it's not. Generally speaking, I'm actually liking life more as I get older. I certainly wouldn't want to go backwards. And grocery shopping is way better now than it has ever been before.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

They Keep Pulling Me Back In

Olympic hockey was so captivating that I've had trouble, even all these weeks later, coming back to the NHL. And I've really had trouble coming back to the Boston Bruins.

For those who haven't followed the Bruins lately--and that's probably everybody in the world except for maybe 20,000 Boston-area residents--trust me when I say that they're heartless, gutless and mostly worthless. Oh, I haven't switched my allegiance. I couldn't do that. I'm just fed up with what has mostly been an uninspired season from a bunch of guys who haven't seemed to care much about wearing the spoked B.

So, when the B's played a big game in Atlanta tonight, with both teams vying for the final spot in the playoffs, I wasn't going to watch...but, of course, I did. And I got into it. I cheered goals; I breathed sighs of relief at each save by Bruins goaltender Superfly (my nickname for him...) Tuukka Rask. And here's the worst part--the B's won (in a shutout), and in doing so they took a pretty important step toward guaranteeing a first-round playoff exit.

That's the worst part. The Bruins are only going to disappoint me. It's what they do. The best Bruins team in years crashed out in the second round of the playoffs last season and left me feeling empty for much of the summer. This season's team is less healthy, less potent, more wimpy and overall far more difficult to watch. Except that tonight, the B's showed shadows of their best 2008-'09 form. Milan Lucic looked healthy and up for battle for the first time all season. Rask was very good. David Krejci was making plays all over the ice. If Michael Ryder can start finding the net, and Rask gets hot, and Krejci and Patrice Bergeron play up to their potential, the B's might just surprise...

No, no, they won't. If the B's make the playoffs, Washington, Pittsburgh, New Jersey or just about anybody they play will likely beat them in five games even if the Bruins play at their best. I know this. I have to know this. And yet I'm back, again, watching. Following. I can't quit this team; I just hope it hasn't quit on me. If tonight is any indication, Atlanta is truly awful...and the B's still have some fight left in them. (Maybe more than some--they also managed to knock off the Rangers last Sunday in another big game.) Enough fight to give me hope? Nah, but it doesn't matter. I'm back on for the ride. Again...even though I know how it'll end.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Le Grand Chelem, English Style

It was just perfect. I loved everything about it. The rain, the mud, the slow pace, the lack of scoring. Today's France-England rugby match, better known (as it is every year) as "le Crunch," had everything an ex-tighthead prop like me wanted to see. It was a match I would have loved to have played in...in theory (and fantasy), anyway.

Oh, sure, the French are freaking out about it. Never mind that their national team won the 6 Nations Grand Slam--or Grand Chelem in French--for the first time since 2004 (when I watched on TV in my apartment in Paris as France beat England for the Slam). Never mind that it had been a while since the French could put two victories in a row together over anybody, and they just rattled off five in the last few weeks (over the opponents they face in the 6 Nations tournament every year, of course: Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Italy and England).

The French love running rugby, or "French flair" as even they call it. They love spectacular tries that start from inside the five-meter line and go blazing down the pitch with fluid passing and slippery runs. They love drama, beauty and suspense. They generally don't love the kicking game (any facet of it--penalties, drop-goals, tactical kicks, whatever...), and while they do embrace physical play, their teams are not usually as strong as those of the English, who remain--for reasons of climate, most likely--the best mudders in the world.

And that's why France has lost so many big matches to England over the years. In the last two World Cup semi-finals, the English scrapped, rucked and kicked their way to victories over the French, who had come into both matches with a huge head of steam. The English have always been about fundamentals--making drop goals, kicking penalties, winning set pieces. Their best sides have also shown some beauty and drama, but mainly they prefer the stiff-upper-lip, get-the-job-done approach to rugby. It's why they've won a World Cup and the French haven't. (That little fact still drives me nuts, by the way, but I digress.)

Today, though, everything was different. Everything was reversed. Rain drenched the Stade de France in the first half. The French used a strategy of ball control and tactical kicking, successfully suppressing the desire to try to put every ball they touched over the try line. Morgan Parra nailed three penalties and only missed one, which pretty much counts as a perfect day by French kicking standards. Moreover, France absolutely dominated the English scrum, particularly in the first half. Nicolas Mas, France's spark plug of a tighthead (yeah!), just devoured his opposite number in the first 40 minutes. France dominated the match physically--less so in the second half but enough to hold on for the win.

What was most amazing about this match was that France, which had mostly rolled over its first four opponents by rolling up the points, beat England without scoring a try. Again, that's the opposite of what's normal. Generally, England beats France (when England wins--which, of course, isn't always the case) with penalties and drop goals, while the French score glorious tries in losing efforts. Even in the 2003 World Cup semi-final, all of England's 24 points came off of someone's foot--most (maybe all--I don't remember) off of the toe of Jonny Wilkinson, who has so tormented the French over the years that his name might as well be Nelson or Wellington. France's seven points in that match came from a diving Serge Betsen try. And that was that.

Even today, the aging Wilkinson came on as a substitute in the second half and put a huge amount of pressure on the French, kicking an astonishingly long penalty to make a 12-7 game 12-10 in the dying minutes. But the brave French--who were actually huge favorites to win the match, although odds and such matter nothing in a rivalry as intense as this one--out-mudded the mudders. They were more English than the English, who, for their part, played the typically French role of turning the ball over too often and committing too many costly penalties. And the reward for l'equipe de France was not just another 6 Nations tournament victory--their fifth in nine years--but a Grand Slam in the 6 (which used to be 5) Nations tournament's 100th-anniversary season.

Watching the game today (thanks, BBC America) reminded me of how much I love the 6 Nations and how much I used to love it when I lived in Paris. (I also deeply love French rugby, although I don't talk about it much because not many people in this part of the world know or care much about it. I could get started with the names of great players I remember and go on for hours...but I won't. Not now, anyway.) I actually got to go to a 6 Nations match--France v Italy in 2002--in a year in in which France won the Grand Slam. But even without tickets, everybody in Paris could enjoy the atmosphere on tournament match days--particularly when the English where in town. (The Irish were also a lot of fun, for that matter.) The pubs were electric. Heck, the whole city was even more electric than usual.

The ribbing was always good-natured, and there were always beers after matches with friends and foes alike, regardless of the score. Rugby spirit is one of the greatest things in the world. I don't know how 80 minutes of utter violence and brutality leads to hours of drinking among both opposing players and opposing fans, but it does. Sure, everybody takes the game seriously, but there's no such thing as a rugby hooligan--not off the pitch, anyway. Rugby is a family and a close one at that.

I do miss my 6 Nations days out at the pub, but watching France beat England in rugby always puts a smile on my face, even though I'm watching in Waltham now and not in the 17th arrondissement. And today's match, with its blood-and-guts play, made the ex-prop in me especially happy. I really believe that my rugby days as a player are over. The sport is fun but awfully brutal, and I don't have the time to commit to a club that I had when I lived in Europe. (Plus, I want to spend my time in other ways now.) But I'll always be a fan of French rugby and a fan of down-and-dirty rugby. Today, the two came together in a rare moment, and I couldn't have enjoyed it more. Merci, les Bleus, for what has already become another great memory.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dr. Suzanne Hevelone, PhD

My lovely wife (second from left in the photo, of course) defended her dissertation at Boston College and earned her PhD today. This incredible achievement was nine years in the making, and even though I've only known her for about three-and-a-half of those years, I could not possibly be more proud of her. Congratulations, Dr. Hevelone!

Full photographic coverage of this momentous event--unedited as always--is here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!

How is this supposed to work, exactly? I live in New England, and I'm a Boston sports fan. (Well, I've traded in my flimsy Red Sox affiliation for an attachment to the Kansas City Royals, but I'm a pretty solid Boston fan other than that.) Although my ultimate NFL loyalty will always lie with the Dallas Cowboys, I started cheering for the New England Patriots in 1993 and have supported them as my AFC favorite and second-favorite NFL team ever since.

But now, Football Jesus, the savior of the TCU football program and almost assuredly the greatest Horned Frog of the modern era of college football, has signed with...the Jets. The New York Jets. The closest thing the Patriots have to an arch rival, and a New York team to boot. I should note here that I'm still a New York Mets fan and have been since childhood--but I have no love at all for the Yankees, Rangers, Giants, Knicks, etc. Mostly, I dislike New York sports. A lot. And I mostly disliked the Jets...until tonight.

But wherever LaDainian Tomlinson goes, I go. Such is my loyalty to the man who has brought me more sports joy than any other athlete of my lifetime. When he was in San Diego, as he was for his whole career up until now, it was easy to cheer for him. Sure, I was torn when the Pats played the Chargers in the playoffs, but I saw those generally as no-lose situations. After all, nobody here hates the Chargers. How could anybody hate anything about San Diego? It's paradise. Plus, my powder-blue Tomlinson jersey is undeniably sweet, if now outdated.

But the Jets? This is different territory altogether. I can't just wear a Jets jersey around Boston. I might even have to be careful wearing my autographed Tomlinson TCU throwback jersey--although it's too spectacular not to wear. I'm not sure that I can cheer for the Jets, either. I was already on thin ice as a fan by having two "favorite" NFL teams (despite the first-and-second and NFC-AFC situations), but cheering for New England and the Jets? At the same time? It's just not possible.

And, yet, I'm going to do it because TCU football is closer to my heart than any other sport and because I still believe that LaDainian Tomlinson had more to do with the revival of our program over the last decade-plus than any other human being on earth. Plus, I want him to prove that his career isn't over yet and to cement his place in the Hall of Fame. So, as wrong as this may be, I say this for LaDainian: "J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!" Go get 'em, you Horned Frog legend. I can't help but be on your side.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

"Really?" Yeah, Jerry Seinfeld Really Was Funny

So, I just finished watching a Saturday Night Live Weekend Update bit called "Really? with Seth and Jerry," featuring SNL Update regular Seth Meyers and sitcom legend Jerry Seinfeld.

I can't link to it because it's not online yet, obviously--it just finished maybe two minutes ago. But it was funny, which surprised me. Why? Well, I wasn't surprised that one of the players was funny. It was the other one I worried about.

New Hampshire's own Seth Meyers is reliably hilarious on SNL, but Jerry...well...here's the deal. Seinfeld the TV show was genius. It was brilliant. It was epic. It was live-changing, revolutionary. But Larry David--whose own show, Curb Your Enthusiasm, is more crude than Seinfeld but is side-splitting nevertheless--was the real creative force behind the Seinfeld sitcom.

And, let's face it, Jason Alexander and Michael Richards (the latter sadly now best known for his, well, let's just say impulse-control problems) were the acting muscle behind the Seinfeld program. Jerry was often a straight man, and Elaine was quirky, but George and Kramer made Seinfeld. Well, along with the incredible cast of characters that surrounded them. Jerry was obviously responsible for a lot of that but certainly not for all of it. Probably not even for most of it, actually.

And Jerry has had a bit of a rough run since Seinfeld ended more than a decade ago. Oh, he's not hurting for money. But his short-lived Microsoft advertising campaign with Bill Gates struggled to even approach mediocrity, and that whole Bee Movie thing--while, to be fair, I didn't actually see it--looked absolutely miserable. Add that to the fact that Jerry's stand-up act was never all that funny to begin with, and Jerry Seinfeld was starting to look like a spectacularly bright flash in the pan.

Then there's The Marriage Ref, a program so painful that I got through about the first seven minutes of it the only time I tried to watch it and genuinely wanted to pluck my eyes out with a melon baller--which I didn't do, of course, because that wouldn't have solved the equally grave problem of having to hear The Marriage Ref. I changed the channel instead.

Needless to say, I have lost some faith in the great Jerry Seinfeld over the last 12 years or so. His show made him a legend--and rightfully so. But he might not be the great entertainer I thought he was. That jury is still out. Tonight, though, live, on a show with decidedly hit-or-miss writing (although it's usually good for Weekend Update), Jerry Seinfeld was funny. Really funny. Funny like old times funny.

Somehow, that makes me feel better about entertainment in general and about comedy in particular. Ditch The Marriage Ref, Jerry, and just be one of those funny guys who shows up on TV once in a while...actually being funny, the way you were tonight. It's a role that suits you well. You've earned it. And Seth Meyers--keep up the good work, you Granite State legend.

Friday, March 12, 2010

I Want to Write Another Entry...

I really do. But every time I check my site and see Oscar Gamble's magnificent afro at the top of it, I just don't want to see Oscar get bumped down toward the bottom of the page. Oscar makes me happy. Alas, I must move on. Eventually. Maybe later...Oscar needs a couple more days. Patience, friends. Patience.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Truly Unusual Distinction

I caught a headline today about the death of the person who until this past weekend had been the oldest living American. Mary Josephine Ray died on Sunday in New Hampshire, and the author of the Reuters article about her death tried to put her longevity into perspective:
Ray...was born before Henry Ford built his first car or Marconi patented the radio...
Impressive, sure. But the article also mentioned that she was a tremendous fan of the Boston Red Sox. Now, I don't know, obviously, how old Mrs. Ray was when she adopted the Sox as her team. But given that she was born on May 17, 1895, Mary Josephine Ray was old enough to remember--really remember, with some clarity--all of the World Series titles the Red Sox have won, from the first in 1903 to the latest in 2007. (By the way, the 1903 World Series was the first World Series, period.)

I have to wonder whether Mrs. Ray, back in 1918 when she was in her 20s, thought the next championship for the Sox was right around the corner. Wow, did she have a long wait and a lot of decades of disappointment. But the 2004 team (I hope) brought her joy, and the 2007 team must have been the cherry on top of a big Red Sox sundae. It seems entirely possible that Mary Josephine Ray was the only confirmed Red Sox fan to have fully experienced all of the team's World Series titles. Now, that would be a unique distinction indeed.

Barney Miller

Thank you, WGN America, for bringing back Barney Miller, even if it is on at 1 am on Sunday night-slash-Monday morning. (Actually, this is a great time of night to watch a classic sitcom.) This show dates back to the pre-reality era in television, when people could actually write sitcoms and create characters. It also dates back to the late '70s and early '80s, before New York became Urban Disneyland and when the city was still pretty darn scary. New York is in better shape than it used to be, but the comedies about it aren't. (Seinfeld, of course, was the exception there.) Barney Miller was as outrageous as it was poignant and brilliant. There's not much of that left in television these days.

Plus, the show had one of the greatest theme songs in TV history. (One of these days, now that I've found out how to embed YouTube videos here, I'm going to run down a list of the greatest introductory songs in TV history. This one will surely be in the top five. Crank the volume on this so that you can hear the famous bass line at the beginning. This video doesn't have the best audio of all the Barney Miller clips on YouTube, but it does feature the version of the theme song I like best. Oh, and go ahead and enjoy the sweet late-'80s Volkswagen commercial that follows the tune. It's kind of a bonus. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

BC 3, New Hampshire 2: A Bittersweet Finale

At some point on Friday night, BC led New Hampshire 3-0 up in Durham. Had BC hung onto that lead, tonight's game would have been a battle for the Hockey East Association regular-season championship. Alas, BC blew the lead, settled for a 3-3 tie...and lost the regular-season title to UNH in the process.

So, I wasn't quite sure how tonight's rematch--an essentially meaningless game--would shake out. Would it be a walk-through for both sides, given that the top two HEA Tournament places were set in stone? Would it be a walkover for BC on Senior Night with a complacent UNH coming into town? Or would it be a raucous revenge game in which UNH would try to confirm its supremacy and BC would seek to send a message heading into the conference tournament?

Fortunately for the very large crowd at Conte Forum, tonight's game was of the raucous-revenge sort, and it was a rollicking way to end BC's regular season. A back-and-forth battle, it featured something my buddy and I rarely see at BC games--lead changes. (BC tends to win big at home.) It also featured some great hockey at pretty much every position on the ice on both sides--especially from UNH's goaltender, who stopped 39 shots, many of which were excellent scoring chances.

Unfortunately for UNH's man between the pipes, he allowed the first goal of Brian Dumoulin's BC career with about three seconds remaining in the second period. The goal tied the game at 2-2 and completely turned the momentum of the contest, which UNH had grabbed earlier in period two by taking a 2-1 lead. BC scored again early in the third to take the lead for good and held off the Wildcats, who managed only 18 shots (in comparison to BC's astonishing 42) but were every bit in the game for 60 full minutes of play.

And so BC concluded its regular season just one point shy of UNH in the Hockey East standings, but the Eagles will go into what could be a tough best-of-three, first-round HEA Tournament match-up with UMass next weekend with a little momentum. And UNH, which, unlike rivals BC, Boston University and Maine, has never won a national championship, begins again what has always in years past been a futile quest for college hockey's top prize.

For me, however, the season is over. Oh, sure, I'll follow BC on TV through the HEA and (in all likelihood) the NCAA Tournaments, and I'll be an Eagles fan all the way. But I've been to my last game of the season at Conte Forum, and I have to admit that I'll miss live college hockey. It gets me through the winter, sure, but I've also come to be a real fan of the college game and of BC hockey in particular. There's nothing better than kicking back on a weekend night--Fridays are the best--and letting the stress of work and life melt away (or freeze?) onto a sheet of ice in Chestnut Hill, Mass. The tickets are inexpensive; the games are entertaining, and the atmosphere in Conte is actually pretty darn good. Plus, it's close to home. I plan to be back for at least a few games next winter.

For now, though, the real test begins for BC's hockey team--and the wait for spring begins for me. Today's 55-degree high and brilliant sunshine gave Bostonians a glimmer of hope that spring might be around the corner, but March can be a nasty month and April rarely lives up to expectations. Still, I've managed once again to pass through the dark heart of winter here, and I know that spring will exist at some point in the weeks to come. So, I don't really need BC hockey anymore now that the worst of winter is behind me. Spring in New England is lovely, and summer here is just plain idyllic. Still, I look forward to getting back to Conte again in December or maybe January. Looking forward to winter--now, that is strange.

Anyway, to the BC Eagles, I say congratulations on a very good season and bon courage in the tournament(s), and I'll be back to see you when the days turn dark and cold again. Thanks for the good times. (Oh, and as usual--when I remember to bring my camera--the unedited photo set is online.)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Quaker City Mercantile

OK, so, I Googled myself today. Hey, I have reasons...by now, I have more than a decade of articles from various journalism jobs floating around on the Web, and I'm always curious to see what pops up when I put my own name into a search engine. (Also, it's just kind of fun to do.) Happily for me, the Web site you're reading now was the top result today. That's the reason I created it, actually--I wanted to make sure that folks who looked for me online at least got an updated version of this particular Lee Pender (and there are others, you know).

Anyway, through something of a circuitous route, I stumbled upon this very Web site linked somewhere else. As you might imagine, I was shocked. There are probably fewer than 10 people who know that this site even exists, and that's fine with me. I really just write here for fun. So, when I saw LeePender.com pop up on something called quakercitymercantile.com accompanied by a note about hyping Narragansett beer, my first thought was, "What? How could somebody else have LeePender.com? I thought there could be only one...and the other Lee Pender likes Narragansett, too? That's incredible..."

Well, actually, it's not. It turns out that Quaker City Mercantile is some sort of branding-advertising-publishing-farming (seriously) concern that apparently--along with, happily, some actual New Englanders--owns the Narragansett brand and is trying to revive the once-famous beer's identity. Well, Quaker City Mercantile, you got me! Even before I saw my own Web site linked on some unfamiliar domain, I was planning on grabbing a 12-pack of 'Gansett (cans, of course) at my local packie on my way home. And I did. And I had one right before I started this post. And I enjoyed it.

What strikes me most about all this is that Quaker City Mercantile must use the most powerful blog-search engine of all time. How on earth the agency picked up on my little blog is way beyond me. (And did somebody actually read the entry, some random person I don't know? Or was it all just automated?) What I'm wondering now is given that I've mentioned both 'Gansett and Quaker City Mercantile in this post, will the company's site pick my blog up again? And will it keep picking it up if I manage to drop references to Narragansett, Quaker City Mercantile or any of the company's other clients into posts here? Heaven help us if Quaker City Mercantile ever starts working with TCU football, West Ham United or BC hockey. I'll crash the agency's servers.

So, if I've made (new) friends in Philadelphia, hello there...and keep up the good work with the 'Gansett branding. We'll get that new brewery built in New England one can at a time.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Texas Independence Day

March 2 is the July 4 of Texas. On March 2, 1836, Texas declared independence from Mexico and its fairly oppressive ruler, Santa Anna. There was, of course, a lot of work to do after that, but Texas famously won its independence and became a nation unto itself. (Some would say that it still is...but I digress.)

Texas is the only state that was once an independent country, and perhaps its greatest hero, Sam Houston, holds many distinctions of his own. As the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung notes:

He is the only person in U.S. history to be governor of two states, Tennessee and Texas, a U.S. Senator and the president of a foreign nation — the Republic of Texas.

Well, today also happens to be the anniversary of Sam Houston's birth, so there's a double reason to celebrate in the Lone Star State today. Oh, and it's election day down there, too, which is usually less of a reason to celebrate. But it's worth hoisting a Shiner Bock or two (which I would, if I could find any) in honor of Texas and ol' Sam today.