Sunday, June 29, 2014
The World Cup is here which means time for everyone to pretend they care about soccer. Literally, as I’m writing this, I’m watching my next door neighbors leap around their back deck like they have spiders in their festively-patterned bathing trunks and screaming “Goal” and slapping five and pumping fists. Why you ask? Because the Mexican National Team put a ball through the back of a net. They’ve got the TV outside, the grill going, and the above-ground pool crowded with colorful floats and tubes.
And this has been the scene every single day since the World Cup commenced and my property line turned into a Manchester tailgate party. I think they might’ve quit their jobs. Where do they get the energy to fake-root for Spain or Croatia or Brazil with such cartoonish passion and epical energy? It’s quite a spectacle. If you’re concerned about said neighbors reading this and getting offended, don’t worry. There’s far too much soccer to scream at and dance around like lunatics for to waste time reading or even putting on a shirt apparently.
But it’s not just my neighbors. It’s everyone everywhere. People who’ve never said a word about soccer before are suddenly Facebook posting about it and planning inner-office lunches to watch it. Every time the local news runs a live feed from Biergarten in Albany, there they are: hundreds of impassioned nail biters with eyes on the game, then the powder-keg celebrations when someone scores. This has to be fake, right? Nobody’s genuinely carrying on like this over soccer eight countries from here. Anything to be involved.
I can’t flip a switch in my brain and transform into super-duper-uper soccer nutcase fanatic just because it’s World Cup, and in a week it'll be over. I don’t know anything about any of the teams or the players or the rivalries. I'm not a fan. But I am a fan of the NY Giants, because I love Tom Coughlin and Eli Manning and know their stories inside out. The franchise and the game of football have meant so much to me. Sorry, I can’t fall off a cliff about this soccer tourney. It’s not my game. Period. It has no bearing on my existence. Plus, the culture of soccer doesn’t interest me. I don’t care about 5’7” guys named Caleb. I don’t care about Landon Donovan. I don't care about David Beckham. It’s not my game.
The sport itself is confusing and troublesome to me. The clock doesn’t tick down to zero, it runs the other way. I can’t make heads or tails of the rules. American soccer leagues: are you serious? Trying to follow the domestic season is more complicated than solving quadratic equations. Nobody in this country gives a hoot about soccer till the World Cup rolls around and I’m-a-sheep season officially starts. The one World Cup game I tried watching this year was last Sunday between America and Portugal. I quasi-devoted an afternoon to following it, and found myself sort of getting invested, because I guess I have do that whole "USA! USA!" thing at least once before I bash it. My neighbors were well ahead me on the Americana card. At one point during last Sunday's game, I swear I saw my neighbor’s head spin entirely around like in the Exorcism. In the end of all that mania: Final score 2-2. A tie. Ah soccer.
If you're one of the sixteen genuine year-round soccer fans in this country, understand this rant isn't about you or against you.
I’ve been to Hell and here’s the story. About five years ago, when I got convinced we needed some extra money because we'd just done the new-house thing, I sadly signed up to be a referee for high school soccer. The training classes started in August, and three evenings a week I had to drag myself to a summer-abandoned Shaker High School and sit in a science room and learn the rules of referring soccer. There's nothing sadder than talking soccer in a high school in August. Like I said: Hell. It was scheduled for nine sessions of some guy explaining colored cards and corner kicks. After five times, I threw in the towel, told the league they could keep my hundred bucks, and drove home with a mile-wide smile on my face, happy to go broke as long as I never had to sit through anything soccer related ever again.
Read More: http://online.wsj.com/articles/world-cup-how-to-skip-work-to-watch-u-s-vs-germany-1403706187
Sunday, June 22, 2014
Whole Foods has arrived in Albany: Start the madness!!!
If you don’t know where the newest organic food store can be found, look no further than the former Sears at the anchor end of Colonie Center, and you’ll see a caravan of Volvos and Subaru Wagons and hybrid cars corkscrewing out to Wolf Rd. When anything opens in the Capital Region, the mob mentality hits high gear and we flock to said franchise like lemmings falling off a cliff. Relax, crunchy-yuppies, Whole Foods is Trader Joe’s and the Fresh Market and the Co-Op with bigger windows and a greener sign. And every place I just named is Hannaford with better lighting and cool Musak.
This isn’t the first time a new operation has had this kind of over-the-top response. Does anyone remember Krispy Kreme Doughnuts on Hoosick Street? When that place first opened you had to get in line the night before for morning goodies. Then people realized they were waiting hours and fighting traffic and missing work to buy, um, glazed doughnuts. Six months later there was a closed-for-business sign on the window.
Same thing when Trader Joe’s opened. Didn’t they have a marching band or something? People called into work and waited hours to buy overpriced potatoes that are fake-organic. And don’t even get me started on Dinosaur Barbeque. When that glorified King’s Buffet opened you couldn’t even get across the Collar Bridge from restaurant traffic. Dinosaur is slop on a plate, and the TIMES UNION called it the best BBQ in the area last week. Really?
I think the Cap Region is on the upswing and I love the excitement that surrounds novel commerce, don’t get me wrong, but can we ever act like we’ve been in the end zone before? This is why Albany will eternally be the little engine that could, just happy to be mentioned. You couldn’t even get inside Colonie Center's parking lot this weekend. And seeing that I ask: who signs themselves up for a Saturday of sitting in traffic then shopping picked-through produce because you CAN’T miss the opening? I bet half the people on line don’t even know what Whole Foods is. They just did it to do it. It’s literally the definition of sheepdom. Shoppers probably had to wait over an hour in checkout lines just to buy whole-wheat-organic-grain fed-sugar free bread. It’s not that urgent, especially when Trader Joe’s sells the same thing.
Is this Whole Foods thing for real? Is it here for the long haul or the latest yuppie trend that can’t last? It was, for me, societally symbolic to watch Sears get bumped for this get-healthy monument to the 21st Century. Sears has seen this country through wars and depressions and recessions. Sears is apple pie and fireworks and hot dogs at the ballgame rolled into one. Now Sears is that little place behind Whole Foods where my father-in-law will be browsing socks as we’re shopping for organic strawberries.
What’s happening to this country? What’s happening to me?
I was at a party Friday night. Everyone was drinking these things called Craft Beers and listening to Imagine Dragons and One Republic. When I asked after the Budweiser and Skynyrd, how it was with my parents, my wife told me I embarrass her when I say things like that. At dinnertime, there were two tables: one with regular meats and salads and sides and a second for vegans and organic and gluten free. And of course all grub was served on eco-friendly, biodegradable plates. The men were playing this frat-house game where you throw Frisbees at garbage cans. I guess nobody’s heard of horseshoes. And what party would be complete without four grown men comparing yoga poses on the grass? My father and his friends used to beat the hell out of guys like us. (For the record my headstand was a forty second thing of beauty.)
It’s a Whole Foods World and I am a Whole Foods Girl . . . I mean Boy.
Read More: http://www.bizjournals.com/albany/news/2014/06/18/whole-foods-market-draws-big-crowds-on-first-day.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+vertical_58+(Retailing+Industry+News)
Sunday, June 15, 2014
This week I received a letter from NYS telling me that I no longer had to take a biweekly deduction from my paycheck towards retirement. The profession I work in carries a pension that’s fully contributed to after ten years of service, which is great, but I’m beginning to think that retirement isn’t exactly the pie in the sky everybody thinks it is.
I’ve never given much thought to saving for retirement. I have no idea what an IRA is and have never needed a 401K. When one of these financial planners with their big-faced wristwatches and slicked hair tries pitching me some idea for investing my money all I hear is blah-blah-blah. I’m not giving some 26 year old with a degree from Schenectady CC a penny. I think people in my economic circle who use a planner are sort of dopey. Bro, you make $44,000 a year, you don’t need a team funneling eight bucks a week in deductions through the market. Whenever I get the email from some old friend who’s in finance now, I hit delete. A month later that same guy’s selling cars on Central Ave.
I’m not that worried about retirement because I "kind of" don’t ever plan on retiring. It’s not a natural thing to just stop working and do nothing. And please don’t think you’re going to retire from your municipal job and travel the globe like a Danielle Steele character on that pension. Retirement, in its purest form, I'm not sure. I don’t want to stop seeking out challenges and opportunities and enterprises. I don’t give a hoot about sitting on some beach. I want to always be working for something bigger, better, greater. You’re never going to have “enough money” to retire so let that whole pipe dream die an immediate death. You could contribute half your paycheck every week for the next twenty years and still fall short.
Does anybody else work with that knucklehead who constantly keeps you abreast on how close he is to retirement? “Just eighteen years and I’m out.” Only 18, huh? I pity that guy. If you’re spending your life doing something you hate and "possibly" making it to the end and getting out is the goal then quit tomorrow, live your life for right now, do what makes you feel alive. And maybe everyone doesn’t have the opportunity to chase some utopian existence and be-happy career, because the kids need to be fed and the mortgage paid. All I'm saying is: we know how the story always ends for countdown-to-retirement guy . . . he croaks a month before the finish line and everyone says, “He was only four weeks from the dream.”
I spent this morning with my father-in-law. He’s 70 years old and has been "retired" for a decade. But he still drives a school bus and works as the town supervisor and keeps himself busy and his vision kinetic. It’s the oldest rule in the book: a body in motion stays in motion. Believe me, money’s not an issue for him. I don’t even think he takes a pay check. My mother-in-law was a teacher for 34 years, retired and now owns a business, volunteers, gets on committees, and is presently building a reading program for teenage mothers. Ask her: 70 is the new 70. Daytime TV is fine but she rather have a three-dimensional reason for getting out of bed, because it’s never too late to help make the world a better place and engage in that betterment. It’s not sexy but it’s sustainable. They’ll both live to be 90 years old.
When you retire and slip into that abyss head-first because you’re retired! the health problems start, we all know that story. I believe your body can sense when the short and long term goals are suddenly non-existent. Humans need goals and things to work towards all the time. Whether it’s the weekend or the summer vacation or the next wedding or the annual Paws in the Park, we can’t function without purpose. That’s how come I think Heaven is a concept that would actually NOT appeal to the human condition. Something that lasts forever and ever and ever and ever . . . even if it has Pearly Gates and a guy named St. Peter, it sounds horrible if you think about it.
Is there anything more depressing than a retirement party?
I will be prepared when the time comes in my life to transition from my profession to the next phase--not retire--and I’m not being fear-mongered into putting a whole bunch of money into some kind of system that may go up in smoke ten years before I can access it. I have things in place and so be it. I don’t have kids and I get a pension plus my wife gets a pension, which is nice, so this may be an easy thing for me to say, I get that. Who knows? I could be dead by the time I hit retirement age.
Sometimes making it to see 20 years from now seems about as likely as tap dancing through a field of land mines and coming out fully limbed. I’m already falling apart at the seams, even though I eat the best foods and exercise every single day and haven’t touched alcohol in years. Life is hard and the obstacles are innumerable. I can’t give up anything else. If I was any more boring you’d have to hang a tombstone over my head. Me at 34: I won’t drive backroads after dark and I still don’t care about retirement. The concept doesn’t interest me. I’m here today and that’s what I’m living for.
Either way I got the call from NYS, saying I don't have to worry about retirement deductions anymore, and to borrow from my boy, Forrest Gump, “That's good! One less thing,” and life goes on.
Sunday, June 8, 2014
Because of what I do for a living (Chippendale dancer; great dental plan) I have always associated the NBA Finals with a happy time of year. And while I’m a massive football fan, my memories of the Super Bowl are always steeped in dark and cold and dreary winter. I don’t follow baseball and don’t know who the reigning World Series champ is, but any event that means the end of the MLB season is fine by me. I get depressed just knowing that baseball’s going on, and it’s not easy to depress me during summer. But my question for every major sport commissioner is this: Is the goal of your office to make sure that nine-to-five guy CANNOT watch your game’s culminating event and/or series?
Let’s look at the NBA Finals, a great matchup between the polarizing LeBron James and the fundamental machine the San Antonio Spurs. I'd love to “chillax” in the "chill zone" and watch every second of this slugfest, but of course, I can’t. Game 1 from San Antonio had a 9.15PM EST tip last Thursday night. LeBron wasn’t carried off the court in a muscle-cramped heap till almost midnight, so I heard. (Seriously, anyone making fun of LeBron for that or labeling him weak, get a clue.) With Game 1 on Thurs and no travel day for either team, Game 2 would obviously be on Saturday night, right? Nope. Inexplicably, the series resumes on a Sunday night; tip 8.35PM EST. Okay, NBA, you win, I won’t watch, even though I really want to, so you and the 7,000 State Farm commercials that will run on TV timeouts will miss me. (Jesus lady, it’s Larry from State Farm. How many times does that husband have to say that same thing to you at 2AM? Yes, he’s wearing khakis, get over it.) Let’s take a look at the rest of the impossible-to-watch Finals schedule:
Game 1 - Thu, June 5, Miami at San Antonio, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 2 - Sun, June 8, Miami at San Antonio, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 3 - Tue, June 10, San Antonio at Miami, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 4 - Thu, June 12, San Antonio at Miami, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 5 * Sun, June 15, Miami at San Antonio, 8 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 6 * Tue, June 17, San Antonio at Miami, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Game 7 * Fri, June 20, Miami at San Antonio, 9 p.m. ET, ABC
Okay, if it goes to Game 7, I get to see beyond halftime once. Maybe I should just stay up later. No way. I'm the Dos Equis man's long-lost son: the Most Boring Man in the World. I'm not staying up till midnight on a Tuesday.
It’s the same thing with MLB Baseball. Every World Series game throws its first pitch around 9PM EST, and baseball is like watching paint dry, except slower, so you’d have to stay awake till tomorrow at breakfast time to see the whole show if it hits extra innings. And once you get through the thirteen renditions of “America the Beautiful” the six Armed Forces tributes, the eighteen minute coin toss starring Joe Willie Namath, and the thirty-third look at the hardscrabble story of some wide receiver in the big game, and finally, mercifully start the NFL’s Super Bowl, it’s near 7PM EST. Then we have to suffer through a forty-minute Fergie-licious Halftime Performance (maybe she’ll give us another epic cover of G N’ R’s “Sweet Child ‘O Mine.” That was as good as it gets) and a third qtr. played in pyrotechnic after-smoke to finish the football season off by midnight. “Expanded playoffs!? Expanded playoffs!?” I ask in my best Jim Mora intonation. The NFL is the Roman Empire of professional sports. The mighty fall is forthcoming
We really can’t play the Super Bowl on a Saturday night? Trust me: we’ll still watch the Big Game and all the ESPN nonsense afterwards if it’s not on Sunday. That would be so much fun. “But, Brian, that’s not the tradition of the game.” Ugh, tradition. I want to actually be able to watch the game without thinking about my 5.25AM alarm clock and afternoon dept. meeting.
I understand that the later starts on the east coast are to ensure that the west coast is into primetime as well, I get that. And I wouldn’t mind the later starts if they could sometimes happen on days where I can take the entire event in, regardless of time. If these major leagues insist on Tues/Thurs/Sun game nights for their championships, then I must remind Madison Ave. that Madison Ave. is on the east coast, along with 80% of the country’s population. Sorry, San Diego Guy, New York is the center of the Universe, and that should mean we get everything on our timetable. Perhaps that’s ethnocentric of me. So be it.
How bad has this problem in scheduling gotten? I was reduced to watching the NHL Stanley Cup game last night, and actually getting into it. There is something called the Law of Unintended Consequences, and if the NBA insists on this inaccessible TV deal then I might just become a hockey fan. The Rangers/Kings game was great last night. Everyone I was watching with said the same thing, "I’m not a hockey fan but this is fun." When I watch football and basketball I can pick apart everything that’s happening and why. I can narrate the whole show from a lifetime of watching, but I don’t know a hockey puck from a hamburger, and that’s kind of liberating. It went to 2OT and the Kings won, and I was thinking: Thank God it’s not Sunday night. I would’ve been in bed two hours ago.
Sunday, June 1, 2014
Summer's here. Let's get reading
Albany in the House
10. Fellow Mortals by Dennis Mahoney
9. As Catch Can by Vincent Zandri
8. Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger
7. The Manny by Holly Peterson
Let's hear it for the boys
6. Sycamore Row by John Grisham
5. Lullaby by Robert B. Parker
4. The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
3. Death Trap by M. William Phelps
2. David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell
Let's go to the movies
1. This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
Read More: http://www.latimes.com/books/la-et-jc-summer-reading-guide-20140529-htmlstory.html