Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reader's Guide to the 2009 Royals - Part 2

After a brief intermission to delve into the world of foolish ways to waste money, we're back with the second part of the Readers' Guide to the 2009 Royals. Can this sequel, and examination of KC's pitching corps, live up to the near mythical* level reached by the first? Read on to find out.

*Editor's note: In this case, "mythical" is used to relay the fact that a large number of people do not know, nor care, whether this even existed.

Zack Greinke - The most promising pitcher on KC's staff, Greinke is kind of like the Willy Wonka of baseball. (I realize that this sounds a bit nutty (pun semi-intended), but hear me out) Much in the same way Wonka closed his successful chocolate factory after suspecting that spies were stealing his recipes, Greinke shut down his baseball career in 2006. He had been a 20-year-old phenom in 2004, finishing fourth in American League Rookie of the Year voting, but 2005 was not so kind. Greinke led the AL in losses with 17 and allowed more hits than the first few opponents on Mike Tyson's Punch Out. During spring training in 2006, Greinke left the team. (Although not because he thought spies were stealing his chocolate bar recipes.) Greinke's future with the team was uncertain until he chose to begin playing baseball again with the Royals AA minor-league squad. He pitched out of the bullpen for much of 2007, but returned to top form last season. (For the purposes of this lengthy stretch of a comparison, one might say he "re-opened the factory.")

In one last ditch effort to defend my Greinke-Wonka comparison, you can be sure that they're both interesting quotes.

Gil Meche - Meche signed a five-year deal with Kansas City worth $55 million in December 2006. The deal was lambasted for much of the next five months. It was dogged as one of the worst in baseball... Until people realized that he's actually a pretty good pitcher. Meche, and All-Star in 2007, led the Royals to a win over the Red Sox in his first contest wearing Royal blue and has been a solid part of the rotation since then.

Brian Bannister - A thinking man's pitcher, Bannister has become known as a hurler who pays much attention the stats behind the stats. How often does he give up a hit when he has a count of no balls and two strikes against a batter? Which of his pitches gets tagged for home runs the most often? Bannister probably knows it. It's rare for a pitcher to pay attention to these details and his results have been mixed. As a rookie, he won 12 games and had an earned run average (ERA) of just 3.87. (meaning he would allow 3.87 earned runs if he pitched nine innings in a game... You should see how a team scores 87/100 of a run. It's crazy.) Alas, last year, Bannister's ERA ballooned to 5.76.

No matter how Bannister pitches, it's kind of a given that the Royals got the better end of the trade that brought him to KC. Why? Because this is the guy they gave up. Go Banny!

Kyle Davies - According to www.baseballreference.com, the pitcher most similar to Davies is Runelvys Hernandez, a former Royal who started a seemingly promising career in 2002. (It seemed promising enough that a certain Writings author purchased his autograph off eBay, thinking it might be a good investment.) Hernandez proceeded to essentially eat his way out of the majors. (Once listed at 205 lbs., he's now listed at 250 lbs.) But I digress. Davies finished 2008 with a very strong September and could play a key role in KC's rotation in 2009. Also, his actual first name is Hiram. Don't you have to root for someone named Hiram?

Luke Hochevar - The No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft, Hochevar is an interesting case because it's hard to figure out who decided to draft him. Former general manager Allard Baird was out the door by the draft, but Dayton Moore - hired just days earlier - did not provide input on the draft. One might not worry about pointing fingers, but the 2008 AL Rookie of the Year Evan Longoria and the 2008 NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum were both selected within the next nine picks. Sour grapes aside, Hochevar will compete for a spot in KC's starting rotation in 2009, but could also figure into the bullpen puzzle.

Horacio Ramirez - An apparent fan of barbecue, Ramirez played in Kansas City from May-August in 2008, before being traded to the Chicago White Sox. A free agent after the season, Ramirez signed back with the Royals over the off-season. I'm sure it had to be the KC barbecue that brought him back... It certainly would not have had anything to do with the $1.9 million they offered. This southpaw (left-hander for those who might be clueless when it comes to directionally inspired monikers) is expected to compete for a spot in the starting rotation.

Joakim Soria - The owner of the best nickname on the club, the "Mexicutioner" has become one of the top closers in baseball over the last two seasons. His 42 saves ranked second in the AL in 2008. He is also doing his part to bring back the Abe Lincoln-style beard.

Kyle Farnsworth - In what seems to be a case of "even if you can beat 'em, join 'em," Farnsworth signed with KC this off-season. Royals fans might remember Farnsworth as the Tigers' pitcher that went Hulk Hogan on then-Royal Jeremy Affeldt, slamming him to the ground in the midst of a bench-clearing brawl. Despite the fact that advanced numbers seem to show that Farnsworth is an average pitcher, the Royals signed him to a two-year, $9 million deal. I guess good fighters aren't easy to come by.

Ron Mahay - Often, it seems difficult to find much to say about middle relievers. Much like baseball umpires, if they're effective, they're often unnoticed. If they struggle, they're deemed worthless. Mahay is an effective middle reliever. He's also been an extra on a soap opera, according to his Wikipedia page. Either someone out there has entirely too much time and is updating Ron Mahay's page with erroneous information, or we've got ourselves a bit of Hollywood on the KC roster.

Jimmy Gobble - Gobble set a rather dubious team record in 2008, allowing 10 runs in a single inning. He also ended up with a cactus needle stuck in a big toe while in Arizona for spring training 2008. Overall, those two events alone make up for a pretty rough year. Here's hoping 2009 is more like 2007 for this lefty, when he put up a 3.02 ERA.

Doug Waechter
- Waechter is yet another player new to the Royals in 2009. New enough that I know extremely little about him.... Crap... (*pulling up Wikipedia*) He played for the Albuquerque Isotopes, a minor league team whose name came direct out of The Simpsons lore. I cannot find any qualms with that. Nevertheless, a decision on whether he is a pitcher or a belly-itcher is currently not available.

Robinson Tejeda - The Royals picked him up mid-season in 2008 and Tejeda exceeded the expectations anyone may have had for him. He could potentially be the second-best reliever in the bullpen.

John Bale - Bale broke his pitching hand last season when he punched a hotel door. I suppose he has Farnsworth's back should any inanimate objects team up with opposing players in a brawl.

With that, you have your 2009 Royals. Now clear your calendar because spring training games begin on Wednesday. (That's "today" for some.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Public Service Announcement

We break from the regularly scheduled Royals roster rundown* to bring you the following message: neon ground effects are not cool.

*The Writings: Where alliteration matters.

Granted, some might think that neon ground effects are not a topic worth delving into.* Those people are probably also unaware that I once wrote about a conversation I overheard at Burger King. It seems pretty much anything, not matter how common (or pointless), is fair game around here.

*One also might think that I'm not necessarily the person that should be making final judgments on whether or not something is "cool." The fact that I own a Three Dog Night CD, one book with the entire Lord of the Rings series found on the pages inside, and a white t-shirt that has "Go Ceiling" written on it in Sharpie probably serves as good support for your argument.

For those of you that may be unsure of what exactly neon ground effects are, (my imaginary readership is diverse, after all) I'll attempt to explain. Have you ever been driving down a city street in the twilight hours (that means evening or night time here... It does not concern goofy vampire love stories), only to notice that a car driving in the lane next to you seems to have an interesting glow about it? A glow that might make it seem as if the vehicle took a wrong turn and drove through a mutant-firefly breeding ground, resulting in a vibrant color seemingly straight out of a Skittles commercial illuminating the car's underside? If so, you have experienced the topic of the evening first hand.

As you may have guessed by now (and if you haven't, be aware, these Writings are interactive. Yelling out any guesses, questions, comments or concerns you might have as you read is highly encouraged.), I found myself driving next to a car "pimped* up" in such a manner this evening. The road beneath the vehicle was glowing a green that would have made Kermit the Frog seem pale in comparison.

*For those keeping score at home, society has seeming decided that - when used as an adjective to describe something cool (e.g., That car is pimp.) or a verb to describe the process of increasing the snazziness** of something (e.g., My ride is lame, but I would like to pimp it up.) - "pimp" is a good thing. When used as a noun (i.e., My uncle Leon is a pimp.), it's still an illegal occupation. Please refer to this lesson as necessary in order to avoid making any inopportune remarks. (e.g., Hi, boss. Your date is lovely. I never knew you were a pimp.)

**How did "pimp" replace the word "snazzy?" See if that thought keeps you awake tonight...

As I drove past this car, my mind raced as I attempted to conjure up reasons why someone would ever spent hard-earned (or even luckily won) money on such an unnecessary feature. Sure, people buy Christmas lights every year, but those are seasonal and stationary. Are those with neon ground effects just attempting to mobilize holiday cheer and spread it year-round? Are they just folks who tend to be a bit clumsy, continually dropping important things underneath their vehicles at night? It seems the lights would be quite helpful in such situations.

My mind was still scrambling to come up with a legitimate reason for decorating a car's underside as if it were a Budweiser sign when I pulled up to a stoplight next to the offending Camaro. I glanced over again. The street under the vehicle was illuminated so brightly that it looked like a putting green. The car made it seem as if everything it drove over was a miniature golf course. Following suit, the traffic light turned green, and the Camaro drove away. I half expected the clown from Happy Gilmore to appear out of nowhere, bringing the car to a halt. Alas, that didn't happen and I still don't know why anyone would purchase neon ground effects... If it's because they're really big fans of Fast and Furious, may God have mercy on us all.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Readers Guide to the 2009 Royals - Part 1

Although the calendar may not support this statement, Spring is finally here... Well, according to Major League Baseball anyway. Spring Training for all 30 Major League Baseball teams started this week, and with it comes a period of unbridled optimism at The Writings base of operations (i.e., a couch that has its natural floral design discreetly hidden by a slipcover from Target... The Writings: We're all business). With a slate of 162 regular season games approaching, it's an annual tradition for me to get my hopes up about "my team" the Kansas City Royals around this time of year... Unfortunately, in the past it has often been an annual tradition to realize how feeble my hopes were around the end of May each year.

Nevertheless, the Royals have shown improvement as of late, and could potentially be a contender in their division this season - something that hasn't happened since a near-miraculous 2003 season. Do you think "near-miraculous is overstating things? Tony Pena was Manager of the Year. Think again.

I realize that at least a portion of the readership of The Writings doesn't really give a fistful of sunflower seeds about baseball.* You're the same folks who are wondering who the heck Tony Pena is right now and wondering what that statement was even supposed to mean. Alas, this poses a problem. You see, I like baseball. Odds are, I will feel the urge to write about baseball at times during the upcoming season. As a result, I need you to at least develop a passing interest in (or at least a tolerance for) baseball. Otherwise, those baseball posts will go unread, and what's a blog without readers? (If you said, "The Writings," you're close... and a smartass.)

*I also realize it's a pretty big stretch to say The Writings has a "readership" at all. Please, don't hold my delusions against me.

In effort to familiarize you with the names you may be reading later on this year, we're doing a quick (ha, yeah right) rundown of several members of the 2009 Royals. In Part 1 we're covering position players; Part 2 will be pitchers; Part 3 may involve mascots and snack vendors. (Note: Forget you ever heard about Part 3.) Read the list of Royals, commit it to memory, and embrace them as your own. (Or at least pretend to read it while contemplating how many bottlecaps you could balance on your "all the way home" toe, I'll never know the difference.)

Miguel Olivo - A catcher who signed with KC in 2007, Olivo once - as a member of the Florida Marlins - charged a runner that was standing on third base. Olivo took a big swing at the runner, but failed to connect. The same could often be said of Olivo in the batter's box, as he hit 12 home runs last season, but struck out 82 times.

John Buck - The second half of the Royals' catching duo, Buck was part of the trade that saw Carlos Beltran shipped to the Houston Astros in 2004. Not to be outdone by Olivo, Buck has also been involved in fisticuffs at the ballpark. However, Buck took things to another level, sparring with Runelvys Hernandez - the very pitcher that was tossing to him that game.

Mike Jacobs - A slugger in the truest sense, this first baseman hit 32 home runs for Florida last season. He came to KC via trade and is expected to barrage the Kauffman Stadium fountains with a number of batted balls the stadium walls cannot contain. Unfortunately, the term "slugger" does not say much about defense.

Billy Butler - A 22-year-old who has put up remarkable hitting numbers at every level he's played at, one thing Billy hasn't been able to do is find a position. He was drafted as a third baseman, but later moved to the outfield. After some adventures in the land of fly balls, he moved to first base, where he'll play in 2009 (unless he's in the designated hitter spot). The 6-1, 240-pounder has reportedly shown up at Spring Training in the best shape of his young life.

Ross Gload - Mention his name to a Royals fan and, odds are, the word "grit" might come up. For better or for worse, Gload is a gritty player. The type who may not have the most talent, but will be caked in dirt before the game starts and will play wherever you ask him to... Unfortunately, when worded like that, "grit" also seems to describe an old little league teammate of mine that would sit down in the outfield during games and play with the grass.
Willie Bloomquist - When signed this past offseason, it seemed Bloomquist - who has played seven of the nine positions on the diamond in his seven-year career - was being brought in as a sort of "supersub" (please note: supersub does not refer to any sort of aquatic vehicle piloted by Superman); as a player to back up all positions. As the season nears, it sounds as if he has a legitimate shot at being the starting second baseman. He's a slick fielder, but has about as much power as an electric toothbrush. Need evidence? He had exactly one more extra-base hit last season than my six-month-old niece.

Alex Gordon - This former Cornhusker came to Kansas City expected to be the "real deal," the "next big thing," and just about every other cliche that refers to something with grand expectations. While Gordon has not ascended to an All-Star caliber level yet, he's shown flashes of such talent. If Kansas City is to become a contender in the future, Gordon is expected to be a big part of that improvement.  

Mike Aviles - The Royals' 2008 Player of the Year, Aviles didn't even make his debut until the end of May. After going 0-3 in his first game, Aviles didn't even see the field again until seven games later. Fortunately for Aviles (and for Royals fans tired of seeing Tony Pena, Jr.'s feeble attempts at swinging the bat) he took control of the starting shortstop job from that point on. Aviles finished fourth in American League Rookie of the Year voting.

David DeJesus - The resident heartthrob for at least one Royals tolerater I know, DeJesus is moving to left field full-time this season after playing centerfield for much of his career. DeJesus is kind of the anti-box of chocolates of the Royals, in that you can be fairly sure of what you're going to get: solid defense, a batting average hovering around .300, and decent run production.

Coco Crisp - The Royal whose name you might expect to see on a cereal box came to Kansas City via trade this offseason. Regarded as an excellent defensive outfielder, Crisp will man centerfield for the Royals and is expected to bat leadoff. Whether or not he'll consider changing his last name to "Cola" is anyone's guess. (You knew some sort of horrible joke playing off his name was coming, but did you expect that one? The Writings: We take pride in cringe-worthy attempts at humor.)

Jose Guillen - While the word "journeyman" may be overused in sports, it fits Guillen like a floppy foam finger. In his 12-year career, Guillen has played for nine different teams. His bat can be a difference-maker when he's hot at the plate (hitting well... this has nothing to do with food lust), but his attitude can be a detriment. Last season, Guillen nearly came to blows with a fan in his home stadium. What this fan may not have been aware of is Guillen's toughness, which is well illustrated by this recent event.

Mark Teahen - The "I can't because I'm going to my grandma's funeral" of baseball, Teahen has been tried about everywhere. He came to KC via the Beltran trade as a third baseman, moved to right field with the arrival of Gordon, left field with the arrival of Guillen, and has also seen time at first base and centerfield. Naturally, this spring he's getting a shot at second base. It may only be a matter of time before he's working as team trainer and part-time color commentator.

Keep an eye out for Part 2... The Pitchers

(insert dramatic musical theme of choice here...)

Monday, February 16, 2009

Does anyone have change for a button?

The title of this post is one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite television shows. It's also a phrase I may be heard uttering if the economy continues attempting to complete a Triple Lindy. When news came out today that my employer is low on funds and may not be able to pay employees on payday, I wasn't exactly thrilled. The exact words that came out of my mouth may have been some combination of "the," "what," and "(insert profanity not condoned by The Writings here)," but the boggled state of my mind won't allow me to remember the exact phrasing in accurate fashion.

The economy is treating just about everyone like garbage these days. As a result, people everywhere are looking for new ways to make money. If my income will be delayed, it's probably not a bad idea for me to be considering some extra-income options, as well. In film, I have often seen fundraisers where people sell kisses out of wooden booths. Alas, those marketing the smooches are often individuals deemed "attractive" by society's standards. Thus, this option was marked off my list in rather quick fashion.

I have also heard tell of people that earn money by doing things they're actually good at. Their "talents," if you will. (I know it's strange terminology, but stick with me.) Alas, 26+ years has presented me with little in that department, as well. Instead, I have really just developed a long list of work opportunities that I cannot pursue.

Doctor? Nope. I tend to get squeamish around blood.

Lawyer? I'm a bit of a pushover when it comes to arguing. My guess is that a defendant would not appreciate my would-be-patented "You're right, he probably did rob that bank" defense.

Chef? I have set off my smoke alarm when making hamburger helper.

Interpreter? I took two years of Spanish in high school and I'm about as likely to have a meaningful conversation in the language as a lobotomized chimp.

Salesman? I don't even like hearing myself speak... Why should others?

Radio personality? See previous response.

Ice skater? Please, don't get me started...

Reality dating show contestant? I like to maintain what little dignity I do have.

Improv comic? I... can't think of anything to go here.

Spy? Those who stub their toes on a weekly basis probably aren't meant for covert ops.

Okay, that's enough of what I can't do. It's time to figure out what I can do. What are the best opportunities for someone of my precise age, appearance, and intellectual capacity to earn some extra bank? Here's what I've come up with:

- Selling high-fives
It's kind of the cousin of selling kisses, but not as intimate or intrusive. Who doesn't enjoy a good high-five? I think this option will really come play if(/when?) I ever am forced to become a hobo. Some people play a musical instrument for spare change. I will offer up the satisfaction of crisp, skin-stinging high five. For a bit extra, I may even be willing to give low-fives, fist pounds, or complicated handshakes.

- Serving as a hobo-for-hire
 Astute readers will realize that this job again refers to the hobo chapter of my life. (Coming soon?) It seems that people are always hiring clowns or magicians to perform at birthday parties... Guess what? A hobo will be a heck of a lot cheaper. Can the hobo make balloon animals or pull rabbits from hats? If you provide the props, he'll figure it out... Although he gets to keep the rabbit. After all, he's a hobo and meals are hard to come by.*

*If the idea of eating a rabbit upset anyone, we at The Writings apologize. But really, is being eaten that much worse than being stuffed in some sweaty top hat, only to later be pulled out by some guy dressed like Mr. Monopoly?

- Being a Television channel cartographer
For those with televisions (they're the wave of the future), nothing can be as frustrating as not being able to locate a channel you're looking for. No need to fret. Just hire the TV channel cartographer and let him map things out. By sitting on your couch, using your remote, and studying the programs put forth by your television**, the TV channel cartographer will create an illustrated guide laying out how to get to your favorite channels. ***

**Mapping process may take days, or even weeks.

***Illustrated guide may be a Big Chief pad with channel names and numbers written in crayon on the inside.

- Working as a stand-in for "after" pictures in diet ads
As soon as there's a diet plan that advertises losing muscle mass along with fat, I should be set.

- Serving as a confidence booster
Feel like you can't do anything right? Think your life is just one dumb move after another? Hang around me and - by observing a variety of stupid situations I end up in, along with witnessing a level of self-deprecation normally only observed in social disorder experiments - your life won't seem as downtrodden in comparison. A new level of confidence will naturally follow.

... Actually, this kind of sounds like what I'm doing for free right now (whether you realize it or not). If you're reading this, your invoice is in the mail.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

... and another thing...

I have never been able to figure out why Sprite, a sponsor of the NBA, insists on continually showing people playing playground basketball in their commercials. Have you ever taken part in a considerable amount of physical activity after downing a bottle of this carbonated lemon-lime beverage? If you have, you know what I'm talking about. If not, give it a shot. Odds are, minutes after you start you will kind of feel as if your stomach is attempting to wage war against the rest of your body. The feeling could probably be compared to having a string of blackcats exploding in your gut*... Good times.

*Please note: The author has never had a string of blackcats (the small fireworks or dark felines) explode in his gut.

If the commercials were interested in showcasing the truth, all of the
basketball players would double over due to stomach pain in the middle
of the game. Instead, the most recent commercial shows a pair of players jumping into each other, seemingly resulting in a strange chemical reaction that turns the players into a mist of Sprite droplets. Some might think this would alarm the players' teammates, leading to a halting of the game to alert the authorities. Instead, the players that have not dissolved into sugary liquid are quick to run over to be "refreshed" by these clouds of Sprite droplets... Yes, the droplets that resulted from the combustion of their friends.

Is Sprite endorsing cannibalism?

Quick hitters

- I drove by a gas station today that had a sign that read, "Yes, we do have a carwash." Believe it or not, I found this odd. It seems that most of the carwashes I have encountered in my life have been somewhat distinguishable. When I encounter places with carwashes, my mind immediately identifies it as such, often leading to a bit of inner monologue that sounds like, "Hey, that's a carwash."* I like to think that most minds are pretty sharp when it comes to identifying carwashes. Thus, it would seem that advertising the service on a sign would be rather moot effort.

*At times, this might be followed by "Hey, My car certainly isn't clean. I should wash my car there."**

**In 99-percent of cases, an excuse not to wash my car follows. Such excuses may come in the form of, "Nah, I did just wash it a few (days/weeks/months) ago," "Nah, I think it's supposed to (rain/snow) (tomorrow/next week/this year)," or "Nah, little smart-alecks in grocery store parking lots have only written 'Wash me' on my back window three times so far."

Unnecessary advertising aside, I have another issue with this sign. I don't want to read answers to questions I'm not asking. I have driven by this gas station on several occasions in my time behind the wheel (that's a car steering wheel... I don't just hang out behind old wagon wheels. I'm saving that for the "hobo period" of my life. It should be an interesting time.), and I have never once thought of running inside to ask the counter-jockey if they indeed had a carwash. What would happen if I took this same, "openly advertising answers to questions no one asks" approach to life? It would be a massive waste of my valuable time***. I can't afford to spend time making signs that read, "Yes, I do have brown hair."

Along with that, my build isn't exactly conducive to carrying around signs all the time. Think how much strength it would take for me to lug around a sign that says, "No, I'm not really doing anything exciting tonight... but Lost is on, so I'll definitely watch that. I'm still trying to figure out what the deal is with Richard Alpert. Why doesn't that guy age? And will all this time traveling end now that John Locke has turned the underground wheel? And what effects might the time travel have on those remaining on the island? And I still can't figure out the smoke monster. Don't even get me started on the whole Christian Shepherd issue... I think he's been there before...," and so on.

***You know, that valuable time spent watching horrible television and then writing stuff no one reads about how awful it is.

- I ended up sitting next to a KU fan at Saturday's "Sunflower Showdown." (Lousy tickets.) Had the Wildcats been able to reign in a victory, this situation wouldn't have been an issue. Alas, such was not the case. As a result, I spent the final seconds of the contest feeling like I was sitting next to someone rooting for Sauron in The Lord of the Rings. (Nerd alert.) It was painful. I can think of a long list of people or things I would rather sit beside than a Jayhawk in the midst of a loss to KU. The list includes: someone that knows nothing about basketball that hasn't showered for a week; a grizzly bear with a taste for human flesh; someone that prefers to tell detailed stories about their most recent trips to the proctologist; and a cloud of nano-robots programmed to destroy skinny individuals with heads seemingly too large for their bodies.

- Word is now spreading that the Atlanta Falcons of the National Football League (that's NFL, for those who struggle with acronyms) are hoping to trade the rights to quarterback Michael Vick who is nearing the end of a prison sentence that resulted from a very unfortunate situation involving dog-fighting. A friend mentioned the other day that the Kansas City Chiefs, the pro football team I back through thick or (mostly) thin, should take a chance on the former Pro Bowl quarterback. There was only one response that crossed my mind: I think KC Wolf might work on his resignation letter if that were to happen.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A pretty stupid story

The following story is fictional. The people and events contained within do not depict any actual person or event... This certainly isn't an attempt by the author to relay an embellished version of an event that actually occurred to him earlier today... Honestly, where do you get these ideas?


The light turned red.

Seconds beforehand, cars were zipping up and down the street on the southern edge of Kaw State University like worker bees looking to appease the demands of their queen. Now, the red light had brought it all to a halt. The action had stalled as if life was a game of Super Mario Bros. and someone had hit the pause button. With that, Doug crossed the street.

The sun was bright and this February day was proving unseasonably warm. It was just after lunchtime and the temperature was creeping past 60 degrees. It was an excellent day for a walk. Thus, the fact that Doug had an envelope-enclosed project he needed to take across campus seemed to be a stroke of impeccable luck.

Doug tried to take in all of the beautiful day that he could as he trekked across campus. Although the typical greenery lacked much of its "green" in the midst of winter, the campus still had a certain appeal on this day. As he walked, Doug observed students enjoying the day by having classes outdoors, rollerblading, and even rocking John Mayer riffs on acoustic guitar. Why couldn't all days be this way? The weather was the type that one usually only reads about in sappy nature poems and Doug had escaped the confines of his office. Getting out from behind his desk had been a rare situation for Doug in weeks prior.

Although he sometimes felt he was prone to some combination of rough luck and stupidity, things seemed to be in his favor on this day. He considered running off to buy a lottery ticket just as he arrived at his destination - Cottonwood Hall. Doug whisked through the glass doors at the entrance and, minding the room numbers along the way (thank goodness he had learned to count years earlier), found his way to room 111. All he had to do was deliver this envelope containing some of the morning's work and it was back to the wonder of the outdoors for the return walk to his office. Doug sidled up to the room's entrance and gave the door a rapid tri-knock.

No response.

Doug had noticed through the frosted glass of the office door's window that the room seemed to be cloaked in a darkness that would freak out most cave-dwelling creatures, but he had ignored it. Maybe the inhabitant just had severe light sensitivity...

Doug tried the doorknob.

No luck. The door was locked. Dumbfounded, Doug looked for a mail inbox around the door, but there was none to be found.

At this point, some may have said to themselves, "oh well." They would walk back to their place of business, vowing to deliver the envelope another time. (Perhaps even calling in advance to make sure the receiving party would be present for the delivery.)

Not Doug. Not today. Today, he was motivated. It was as if the spirit of the greatest mailmen to ever sort letters had delivered a priority mail message directly to the depths of his mind. The mail must get through.

Noticing that there were a couple folks in the office across the hall, Doug stepped over to ask if they might be able to pass the envelope along. Unfortunately, even though they worked just across the hall from the intended recipient, those in this office acted as if they had no idea who their neighbor was. What type of place was this? In attempt to be helpful, a young woman suggested he try slipping the envelope under the office door.

Doug glanced at the envelope in his hands. The 9x12-inch paper product was packed so full that the clasp on the back was looking a bit like the belt buckle of someone that refuses to admit they've gained some winter weight. He glanced at the crack of space between the bottom of the door and the floor. There was little clearance. If the envelope were to fit, it would be a pretty tight squeeze.

"The mail must get though." The thought echoed in his head.

Doug kneeled at the base of the door and began sliding the hefty envelope into its new residence. Piece of cake. The envelope met no resistance. It now sat in room 111 and all was well.

... Jumping to conclusions was a nasty habit, and it had worked against Doug in this case. Three-quarters of the envelope did slip through fairly uninhibited. Unfortunately, the top right corner (that's Doug's right, not the door's right... Wait, would the door have a right?) had proven problematic. With most of the envelope now resting comfortably in its darkness-bathed dwelling, one little corner sat stuck underneath the door like Augstus Gloop in the Wonka plumbing system. So much for luck.

Alas, the familiar refrain again echoed. "The mail must get through." At no point did the saying delve into detail about whether fractions of mail would suffice. He doubted it would. This envelope was going to move. Doug pressed hard on the corner of the tan envelope and pushed with the strength of four whole fingers. The power generated was enough. The envelope was forced home. At last, the mail had gotten through.

Pleased with this turn of events, Doug soon discovered that he was not free of burden yet. In sliding the fourth corner into the office, Doug's fingers had followed underneath the door. Now, those digits seemed to be doing their best imitations of the obese envelope they had previously grasped. So much for avoiding stupidity. Droplets of sweat formed on his brow as Doug thought.

The mail had gotten through, but now his fingers were stuck under this wooden door that had served as the most basic form of office security for years. The Postman's Creed had no advice for emergency action in the case of stuck digits.

Lousy mailmen.

Deciding against facing the embarrassment that might come with screaming as if the building was being engulfed in flames, Doug pulled. Hard. He preferred not to be discovered with his fingers caught under this door if the resident of the office returned soon. He pulled again. And again. Oh, the ravages of rough luck and stupidity.

Just as he was trying to figure out the least embarrassing way to explain to coworkers how he had managed to lose four fingers in a trip across campus (Rabid squirrel attack? Mugging by finger-snatchers?), the door released its kung-fu grip.

He was free.

The mail was through, he still had 10 fully operational fingers, and he was headed back outside to the spring-like weather that had taken this winter day hostage. Doug wiped sweat off his brow and took a relaxing deep breath as he stepped outside to be drenched in sunlight. Despite the hiccups in delivering the project, things were good.

Then he noticed that his fingers were bleeding.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

This is awkward...

"So, have things been busy today?"

For some reason, that is the only question I can ever think of asking an individual that is cutting my hair.

That's it.

If a conversation is to carry on from that point, I either need some feedback or I require something quirky to take place that I can quip on. (Most likely in a fashion I deem humorous, but others find a bit odd... Such is life.) If these requirements aren't met, my hair is snipped in silence while my inner monologue continually shoots down ideas for new talking points. ("So, do you ever just get sick of hair?"... No, that's stupid... "When did you first realize that you might have a knack for using a pair of clippers?"... Nope, that might come off as offensive... "Which is better: shampoo or conditioner?"... Aaaarrrggghhh!)

This admission is probably not a surprise to anyone that knows me. I have been called many things in my life (including "Doug" on a continual basis by someone who never could seem to pick up on my name... but that's neither here nor there), but "outgoing conversationalist" is not one of them. It seems that words have always come to me a bit more naturally when writing. It's much easier for me to sound eloquent when typing or writing than when pressed to speak "off the cuff."

In many cases, those who prefer to only speak when they have something relevant (or at least something deemed witty) to say are referred to as the "strong, silent type." Alas, that "strong" label has eluded me for all of my 26 years, and "weak, silent type" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Anyway, the point of all this isn't to simply discuss my social inadequacies... It's to dissect a couple more situations in which the awkward conversations that I am prone to having often present themselves. Hopefully, I am not the only one that struggles to strike up life-emboldening conversation in these spots.

"Hi there. How are you today?"

What else can be said in an elevator? You are encountering a stranger, and your face-time with them depends entirely on the number of floors this form of vertical conveyance must travel. Riding up two floors doesn't exactly allow time to get to know a person.

Sure, there's always the option of playing the "ignore them and mind your own business" card, but if you're in for a long ride, prolonged silence can make things even more awkward. Just think, if your elevator happens to get stuck and you're trapped for hours, those first few minutes you spent avoiding eye contact could come back to haunt you. After all, they might have Tic-Tacs to snack on.

If I had to place a wager on it (and if I do, we live in a pretty crazy world), I'd say most of my lifetime rides in the 'vator* have come in hotels. Sadly, the phrase, "So, 12th floor, huh? That must be a pretty good view," can only take you so far.

*Kids, feel free to use this as the new, hip slang. You know you've been longing for something to call an elevator.

I guess if you're riding the elevator at a hospital, you can always try to guess the reason that the other occupant is there visiting. "So, do you know someone that is now appendix free?" or "Let me guess, someone got a severe case of the gout," could both be potential ice breakers, but you're also taking a pretty big risk by digging into visitation motivation. If you hear "oozing," "urinary tract," or "million-to-one shot," you may find yourself wishing you had taken the stairs.

As a young child, I flirted with the idea of one day becoming one of the few, the proud, the taxi drivers. Deciding whether or not steering away from that profession was a smart decision is not my verdict to strike, however I do know that most the cabbies that I have experienced in my years since turning my back on that profession have not been lauded for excelling in the art of conversation.

In most cases, their scripts of lines rarely stray from "Where to?," "uh huh," "okay," and "We're here, that'll be (insert overpriced charge here)."*

*I forgot to mention hurried lines of French spoken into a cell phone. Most of the utterances could have been French cursing or making fun of my head (which may or may not be too large for my body) and I wouldn't have known any different... Viva Montreal!

Alas, if you find yourself in a cab, you probably won't be worried about conversation anyway. It's hard to conjure up talking points when you are grasping for something to hold on to as you weave in and out of traffic showing no regard for rules of the road. At times you might even wonder if your driver is a failed stuntman and is attempting to redeem himself by recreating scenes out of movies like The Bourne Identity... There's nothing quite like leaving a tip for a near-death experience.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Lessons Learned From Those Under 20 (pounds)

I spent the weekend visiting some family. This visit included ample time spent with a pug who can be a bit onery* and my ever-growing niece.**

*He is - as far as I know - the only living being (I can't speak for the undead) to complete a "daily double" (loving term in the family for a part of life not so lovely) while serving as passenger in a vehicle I was driving.

**February 2009 winner of The Writings' "Coolest/Cutest 6-month-old alive" award... Quite an accomplishment. Congratulations!

It's only fitting that, although I arrived intending to teach a few things (Who knew that teaching someone to crawl, sit-up, talk, walk, make macaroni and cheese, find Waldo, parallel park, fly a kite, write haiku poetry, and split the atom all in one weekend was beyond my expertise?) to those with developing minds, they instead left me as the one with an abundance of new knowledge.

What lessons can one learn from someone who enjoys eating stray leaves that end up in the house (the dog) and someone who just started on solid foods (mmmmm.... solids) a few weeks ago (not the dog)? Consider the following (and if you cannot distinguish whether any particular lesson was learned from the baby or the dog, you may want to put off the whole parenting thing for awhile):

- When one has recently cut a pair of new teeth, it is best to break them in by continually biting human fingers.*

*The identity of the owner of any fingers in question is somewhat irrelevant. Any fingers will do.

- When venturing into a brisk breeze while on a constitutional, it's best to take advantage of the larger being accompanying you by walking behind them and using them as a shield from the wind.

- The best way to avoid the regular hassles, nuisances, and generally odd occurrences that come with a trip to the local Wal-Mart is by sleeping through the whole trip.

- The utterance of the word "treat" followed by the dispersal of said treat can patch up just about any rift.

- Sometimes nothing is funnier than watching a hand moving back and forth on a blanket.

- All visitors are unwelcome ones until they come through the door. As a result, standard barking procedure will be initiated upon the first ring of any doorbell.

- The tags of orange stuffed bunnies (that may or may not be named after a childhood cafeteria item) are worth studying for minutes on end.

- When someone is sleeping on your couch, it's best to show them you enjoy their presence by jumping on them, walking on them while sniffling and snorting, and then sneezing on their face.

- Exersaucing is worth shouting about.

- The new addition to the family is great, as long as it doesn't get close enough to grab large chunks fur.

- The best way to show your dog how much you love it is by reaching toward it, swinging your little arms wildly, and eventually grabbing chunks of fur.

Who knew one could learn so much from the smallest members of the family? Imagine the lessons that will present themselves once one of the diminutive duo begins to talk.

... (Not the dog.)

Monday, February 02, 2009

They're super?

Despite the fact that the Super Bowl game that was played on Sunday was one of the greatest in the 43-year history of the contest, all some people want to talk about is the commercials. That's right, instead of covering important things like how close the Cardinals were to winning or how strange it was to see Max Weinberg playing drums with Conan O'Brien nowhere in sight, they just want to talk about ads. 

Who am I to argue with them?

This may very well be the first in a series of Writings reviewing the video advertisements aired on Super Bowl Sunday. (It also could be the last in a series... Who am I to try to predict the future?)

Bridgestone: Hot Item
This commercial had a lot of promise... well, in my opinion, anyway. Anytime you can work some House of Pain into an ad, I'm all for it. Unfortunately, it forced me to turn against it 10 seconds in. Sure, it's fun to see the astronauts bouncing in rhythm to some early 90s beats rather than just testing out 3 irons, but Bridgestone ruins it all with the following "fine print" message down toward the bottom of the screen: "Professional driver on closed road. Do not attempt."

Really? We're to the point that we have to include that on an ad featuring a lunar craft? Sure it's a tire commercial, but you're still showing a moon car. I don't think normal "cover our butts" safety warnings apply. Twelve people have walked on the moon, some people don't even know we've been to the moon and yet we have to warn people about the rules of the cratered roads?

Sorry folks, but if you ever somehow end up on the moon - whether it's via NASA space craft, alien abduction, teleportation, or some form of conveyance even Steven Hawking couldn't wrap his mind around - it seems that you aren't allowed to tear around the lunar hills like the Dukes of Hazzard on pep pills. Sure, that moon buggy that you somehow ended up behind the wheel of is a pretty amazing piece of vehicular technology and there's not another being (especially one in a motorized moon vehicle) within approximately 238,855 miles, but you don't want to take any risks. Let's stick to riding the brake and using hand signals in the absence of turn indicators.

Fast and Furious: Trailer

It is trailers like this that make me wonder if the world would be better off if the aliens from Independence Day (how's that from an up-to-date reference?) brought their ships our way and obliterated every movie theater on the planet.

What's wrong with it? That's kind of like asking, "What's wrong with eating from the dumpster at the zoo?"

First, are there really that many people pining for another installment in this franchise? Yeah, I understand this one has "origina parts" because the cast of the original epic is back together. I'm sorry, I guess I missed the circulating of petitions to reunite the crew in wooden-acting bliss one last time.

Also, how does the removal of two determiners from a title (see title of original film: The Fast and The Furious) pass for the name of a sequel? Why subject your fans to this, when you could take the easy route of just tabbing a number on the end? (This would have to at least be The Fast and The Furious 14, right?) If that's not enough, you can pin cheesy tag line on after the number, like "Die Harder" or "Secret of the Ooze." (The Fast and The Furious 14: Running on Empty?)

Then again, it may be a fitting title. After all, it covers how quickly the movie will be out of theaters and on home video (Fast), along with the temperment anyone who actually pays the film will probably have after sitting through it for 15 minutes (... and Furious).

Doritos: Crystal Ball
This commercial seemed to draw the best reaction from the crowd I watched the game with. Advertisers out there (and I'm sure this blog is a "must read" for most) take note: the key ingredient to entertaining potential customers simple... some guy has to get hit in the groin.

Don't believe me? Perhaps you would like to hear it from one of the great minds of our time.

It works on so many levels.