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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Off-Brands, Off the Grid, and Off with Their Heads!

Off-Brands, Off the Grid, and Off with Their Heads!

Spanish people may be every bit as brand-conscious as Americans; there just seems to be fewer expensive (read: exclusive) brands and fewer people willing to pay for them. Just like in Seattle, I don´t drive here and neither do my friends—at least not very much. You don´t associate people here with the kind of car they drive because you rarely see them behind the wheel. If people here do have cars they mostly keep them hidden away like the crazy uncle you keep in your basement (Don´t forget the food and water!). Most people wear really, really off-brand clothing, inexpensive stuff that all comes in on the boat from China. If you do wear some American brand, it means you are really paying through the nose for it. I suppose that Spain has its share of pijos, or snobs, but as an outsider I don´t notice them, at least not in my neighborhood.

I would go so far as to say that there isn´t anything like a good neighborhood or a bad neighborhood in Valencia. There are a couple of new housing developments on the outskirts of town that cater to more affluent Spaniards. These are really awful places that resemble the worst aspects of American suburbia and have none of the charm of traditional Spanish cities. There are lots of individual homes with gardens and you have to drive everywhere and I hope that people here soon realize the error in this type of urban architecture. I can´t imagine anyone would actually prefer living in this manner when there is such an attractive alternative in any of Valencia´s downtown neighborhoods (this means everywhere in Valencia proper). There are also a few modern apartment blocks near the Ciudad del Las Artes y Ciencias that probably cater to wealthier folks, but once again, the neighborhood lacks any sort of charm. From what I have seen, there are no cool bars or restaurants in these areas so I can´t understand why anyone would chose to live there.

On the other end of the socio-economic spectrum you have my neighborhood of Ruzafa. It has a great mix of immigrants, old Valenciano families, yuppies, hippies, and just about every other class you can think of. If any of the bars and restaurants are expensive or exclusive I haven´t visited them—and I think I´ve been everywhere. The café terraces are filled with doctors, video store clerks, butchers, street sweepers, university professors, and at least one deadbeat, off-the-grid American. Everyone at these places lives a block or two away. I don´t know if the people who live in the pijo neighborhoods come to Ruzafa to hang out, but I am positive that the opposite isn´t true.

The inbred Spanish aristocracy still survives but it hasn´t infected the mentality of the population as much as the idea of exclusivity has infected the thinking of many Americans. It is utterly ridiculous the degree to which we obsess over luxury in America. Name me a product and I can probably name a super-expensive, exclusive variety of it, no matter how mundane its purpose. I mean, is there really a need to separate yourself from the masses by the sort of hyper-expensive camping gear you use or your brand of face soap? I used to call these kinds of products “bourgeois” back when I was in high school and couldn´t afford them; now I just find them to be obnoxious and offensive—especially the ones I still can´t afford.

I suppose that distancing yourself from others with where you live, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the pots and pans you use to cook, etc. is a lot easier than just becoming an even remotely interesting person and thus becoming truly unique. Consumerism has become a shortcut for people desperate to be different. If you ask 1,000 young kids whether or not they feel they are conformists or nonconformists, I´m sure they will all say that they are different. They all want to be different in the exact, socially-approved manner such as getting a tattoo or a body piercing. People who are truly different scare the living shit out of us normal lemmings. People don´t really want to be different, they just want to be like everyone else in the particular group they wish to join.

Some of these groups are harder to get into than others. The luxury club simply limits membership by the price tags they use. None of this shit that you buy really says anything about you except that you had the money or the credit to pay for it. These exclusive brand names are nothing more than the coat of arms for the new, wannabe aristocrats.

Just be careful with your life of over-indulgence and over-priced luxury items because sometimes bad things happen to thoughtless monarchs; just ask Marie Antoinette. I look at some of our best and brightest and all I can think is, “Now where did we put those guillotines?” Of course, I´m not speaking of decapitation in the literal sense, I just feel we have reached the point where it has become necessary for the health of our democracy to trim the over-growth of the ultra-rich before they completely pollute the middle classes with their empty values of consumerism, greed, and stupidity.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Gym Teachers in the Mist

A Zoological Exploration of One of Mankind´s Closest Relatives

08:20 First Period. We must be very quiet so as not to disturb our sleeping subject. Studies indicate that this particular primate sub-species is dormant for about 80% of the traditional high school work day. He looks so peaceful in repose even though it is a fairly awkward position: leaning back in a folding chair with one hand down the front of his shorts and a newspaper in his lap. But on the far end of the gym floor savannah trouble is brewing. Another lower primate species, called stoners, are planning an attack on gym teacher. A basketball is launched through the air. Violence may ensue so we abandon the observation area and move farther away from the subject.

Even at this distance we are able to document the crude verbal communication system employed by gym teacher: A primitive dialect consisting almost entirely of vulgarities and sports aphorisms. Gym teacher screeches at the other primates on the savannah and threatens to castrate the guilty parties but is unable to identify his attackers. Because of the gym teacher´s extremely basic level of intelligence, he is unable to deduct that those laughing the loudest at this prank are probably responsible. After a minute of angry howling and breast-beating, the gym teacher returns to his lair in the corner and picks up his newspaper which has been scattered in the attack. He turns to the sports section and if you didn´t know that they lack the intelligence for it, it almost seems like he is reading. Why are his lips moving? Fascinating.

09:05 Second Period. We have followed gym teacher down the hall to the Sex Education class he is assigned. Why anyone feels that gym teacher is qualified for this role remains a mystery to this group of scientists. From his obscene, politically incorrect ramblings on the subject of human sexuality—not to mention his pending trial on charges of indecency—this choice seems about as wise as hiring a lynch mob to teach a class on criminal justice. However, if you look in his briefcase he has several magazines with glossy photos of humans in various stages of intercourse, so perhaps he takes this subject more seriously than we think.

11:30 Fourth Period. Gym teacher is more at home here in his native habitat, the gym. In the classroom he was uncomfortable and out of his element, what with all of those books, pens, and papers lying around. Although he cannot seem to correctly grasp a writing instrument, he is able to employ certain tools. He has mastered the use of the whistle, another primitive form of communication that our studies indicate has only a single message: “Shut the fuck up, you bunch a pansies! I mean it!” He also carries around a clipboard he uses to scream out the names of some of the lesser primates on the gym floor. If these names are of foreign origin, gym teacher mispronounces them so badly that they become ethnic slurs.

12:20 Feeding Time. One of the downsides of studying this animal at close quarters is being forced to watch it eat. Even as far as lower primates go, this isn´t a pretty sight. At what we felt was a relatively safe distance of three meters, we are still sprayed with bits of bologna sandwich, fruit cup, and Pringles. At least we are not forced to share the same table with gym teacher like the unfortunate female substitute teacher that he is sexually harassing. To further demonstrate his sexual authority, gym teacher playfully pats the ass of the 60 year old lunch lady. We theorize that his belching and flatulence are also part of this peculiar mating ritual.

1:18 Fifth Period. He is sheltered from the attacks of the lower primates while he is in his den, or office as he calls it. He seems to have nodded off while studying one of his magazines on human reproduction. The fact that two of the models in the magazine are dressed as cheerleaders, violating at least a half a dozen school board regulations, doesn´t seem to affect the tranquility of his sleep in any way. Perhaps the three cans of warm beer he consumed have aided his rest. When it is time for gym teacher to attend his next class, a singing bass alarm clock violently erupts. Startled, gym teacher comically falls backwards in his chair and strikes his head against a file cabinet. A 30 second aria of profanity follows.

2:45 Sixth Period. We are observing the grooming habits of the gym teacher at disturbingly close range. Although he spends a good part of his day watching the lower animals in the showers, he himself doesn´t appear to bath. We note instead a vast array of techniques that include nose picking, crotch grabbing, ear digging, and butt scratching. We have named a certain nose-clearing technique after him wherein he uses a finger to plug one nostril and blows violently through the other, shooting a stream of mucus across his desk. We call it the "gym teacher´s handkerchief."

After the end of the work day we are able to follow gym teacher´s whereabouts by means of a tracking device we implanted inside of his Members Only® jacket. On his way home he makes stops at a strip club, an adult video rental outlet, his sports bookie, a liquor store, a tavern, and a massage parlor called "Ham Yankees." In the spirit of scientific inquiry we look through his mail before he arrives at his home to find a stack of nasty invoices from legitimate collection agencies as well as death threats from Mafia bookies, child support reminders, and a handful of restraining orders. We attempt to observe gym teacher through the window in his kitchen. We are able to remain hidden from gym teacher until one of our scientists bursts out laughing when, in the course of a phone call with one of his collection agencies, gym teacher gives his occupation as "educator."

Monday, April 21, 2008

Chameleons: Not Me, Not Yet

I meet people all the time who could easily pass for British, or German, or Spanish, or French but were born in a country other than the country whose language they now speak perfectly. I really admire these linguistic chameleons. It´s not the people who learned their second, third, or fourth language as a child, but the ones who reached their bilingual status through their own hard work as adults. Unfortunately, because of the cruel nature of the human propensity for learning languages, those of us who began learning a second language later in life are doomed to always carry with us some hint of an accent (or a full-blown whooper of an accent). I don´t mind the fact that I will always speak Spanish with an American lilt to it; I just want to reach the point in which I am completely comfortable in Spanish—reading, speaking, listening, and writing.

I have made the most progress in the reading department. I feel that reading is absolutely essential in developing vocabulary and strengthening grammar understanding. I try to read at least 40 pages of Spanish every day. I am currently reading El Árbol del la Ciencia by Pío Baroja, a Spanish writer who was supposedly a big influence on Ernest Hemingway. Besides all of the new vocabulary that I learn when I read a novel, I also try to concentrate on certain grammar patterns as I read. On some days I will pick out every instance of the use of por and para, two words that mean “for” but with different rules of use, often confusingly so. Other days I will examine every single use of the subjunctive which is used heavily in Romance languages. My French has improved greatly as my Spanish gets better simply because they have similar grammar structures.

I have found that reading books that have been translated into Spanish are often easier for me to read than native Spanish literature. I don´t know why this is but probably has something to do with the fact that translators are not finding new ways to say something in Spanish, but are simply moving an idea from one language to another. Maybe my observation has no linguistic merit, but it just seems that I have an easier time reading translations. Now I feel that my reading comprehension is good enough that I can start tackling some more ambitious works in Spanish literature. I have a lot of catching up to do.

Reading is also a good way to develop a certain degree of cultural literacy in Spanish. Educated people in every language are able to speak in a sort of linguistic shorthand because they have a common cultural background. When someone talks about Hamlet, all natives of the English language who have read Shakespeare are aware of the facts of the case, so to speak. Two important works in Spanish, don Quixote and Tirant lo Blanc (one of the first great works of Spanish literature written in Valenciano), are part of this circle of Spanish cultural literacy that I hope to enter. Don Quixote is difficult to read for native Spanish speakers and I don´t know any Valenciano, so I have picked up both of these works in children´s editions (both in Spanish, not Valenciano). I now can say that I have read both of these great works. I will fail to tell my impressed Spanish friends that the copies that I read of these icons of Spanish literature had lovely cartoon illustrations, but what they don´t know won´t hurt them.

I am nowhere near where I would like to be as far as speaking Spanish. I am becoming increasingly more comfortable. I was in a crowded bar the other night and I met a Spanish guy who spoke perfect English. After I complimented him on this fact I promptly returned to speaking Spanish. I took it as a great compliment the fact that he didn´t find my Spanish too tedious to follow. I just feel stupid speaking English with Spanish folks, no matter how well they have learned my language. I think that I just feel self-conscious about coming across as the dumb, monoglot American. Of course, I may be betraying myself when I choose to speak Spanish, but you have to start somewhere.

The problem with reading and learning all these new words is that you have to start using them or they will never sink in. I was at a party this Saturday when I was desperately reaching for a phrase that I just learned which means “to drink from the bottle.” I knew that it had something to do with some part of the body. I asked around the table and I was inundated with phrases other than the one I was trying to remember. Evidently, the Spanish like to drink directly from the bottle because it seems like everyone in attendance had their own way to say this. I finally pulled out my trusty notebook of vocabulary and found what I was looking for: beber a morro. Morro can mean snout or fried pork rinds. I don´t think that I will forget that expression again. Another tactic of mine that I don´t do nearly enough is to read out loud in Spanish. Whenever I do this I immediately feel more comfortable in my speaking ability.

I feel a particular jealousy for native Romance language speakers as they are able to learn Spanish quite quickly. I think this is especially true for Rumanians, Italians, and people who speak Portuguese. The French seem to have a bit harder time but maybe I am wrong about this. All these folks share a very common set of rules for grammar, gender use, and vocabulary. English is quite a bit different but at least we have it easier than, let´s say, the Chinese or Arabs who must learn everything from scratch, even the alphabet. I can´t complain.

Friday, April 18, 2008



Mi Mascota

I´d much rather have a dog but for now a turtle will have to do. You can´t take him for walks, and he won´t return a Frisbee, but he´s a lot more entertaining than a tank of fish. I used to call him El Conde de Monte Cristo because he was forever trying to escape, but I got him a much bigger tank to swim around in so now he seems either resigned to the fact that he ain´t getting out, or he is content with his new quarters. Now I just call him Schmurtle. After worrying all winter because he never ate anything, now he has become a carnivorous pain in the ass that needs to be fed constantly. If I somehow forget to throw him some food in the morning, you can hear him splashing around furiously. He eats turtle food from the pet store. I also found that he likes the flies that I catch in the apartment. Fly catching is fairly time-consuming and not too productive, so he mainly lives on these little fish that I bought in the seafood section of the supermarket. He loves his little pescaditos and will swallow them whole if he is hungry enough, and he´s almost always hungry enough. I let him bite my finger once. I won´t fucking let that happen again as I thought he was going to take off a hunk. He has quite a set of jaws and some sharp teeth. The next project is finding a filter for his tank because he dirties it up in a hurry with the amount of dead fish he eats. I have to clean it out every week or so. He´s a good little swimmer and I have thought that he may want to be released into the wild when he gets a little older. I have a nice little place picked out for him in La Albufera that is a brackish pond with access to the Mediterranean. I don´t know if he can make it on his own because he is so used to having fish literally dumped on his head. Sometimes I make him work really hard to get his pescadito just to keep things honest.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Copa del Rey


Valencia CF 3, Getafe 1 CF


Not that anyone cares outside of Spain, and not many people care in Spain, but Valencia CF won the Copa del Rey title last night in Madrid. This is a tournament that takes place inside the Spanish football league. It still looks like Real Madrid is going to win the league title again this year and that´s what really counts. The Copa del Rey is a bit of a consolation for Valencia after this year´s rather disastrous season. Yippe! Next week begins the semi finals of the Champions league with Barcelona facing Manchester United. Chelsea and Liverpool will fight it out on the other side of the bracket.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

It´s the War, Stupid

So the choice is between a terrible decision and one that is even worse. The terrible decision is just to begin leaving, knowing that even more innocent civilians will be killed and that we’ll be dealing with agitation out of Iraq for years to come. The worse decision would be to wait another year, or two, or three and then take that terrible course. If we thought a longer commitment and presence would lead to a better outcome, then the extra commitment might be sensible. But nothing occurring in Iraq in the last year has given rise to any hope that things are getting better rather than worse. (This, by the way, is the reason I have changed my mind: the absence of evidence that the chances for a “decent” departure will improve.)

-James Fallows in The Atlantic November 30, 2006


This is what I have been saying since the first day American troops entered Iraq. All exaggeration, lies, and hyperbole concerning “The Surge” aside, I have never seen anything in Iraq that looks even remotely like an improvement. What I have seen is a steadily escalating disaster that has all but destroyed the American economy and now threatens to do the same with the rest of the economies of the world. If anyone could have looked into the future on the eve of the Iraq invasion and shown the American people the harsh realities we face today as a result of the war, everyone in the Bush administration would have been tarred and feathered. The terrible thing is that many people predicted almost the exact outcome. If anyone in the Bush circle would have listened to James Fallows from the start, we´d be in a lot better shape today.

Since the beginning I have asked this simple question: Was there a single conservative pundit who predicted that the war would go badly? I didn´t hear one conservative opinion at the outset of the war that stated that Iraq would be anything less than a cakewalk, a homerun, or whatever bright-and-cheery adjectives that were used to describe this war that was to finance itself from the oil revenues. In the halcyon days of “Mission Accomplished,” many conservatives actually called upon liberal opponents of the war to apologize to the American people for their negative views. I don´t expect conservatives to apologize for being horribly wrong; I just want them to get the fuck out of the driver´s seat and let someone else take over.

In talks with my two brothers about the war, we have often expressed our opinion on the American exit strategy from Iraq. It could be modeled on the Spanish exit after the election of Zapatero. It goes something like this: just get the fuck out. Load up everyone and everything we can into some C5 aircraft, take off, and blow up everything of any military use we are forced to leave behind. Leave all of the KFCs and Burger Kings built for the troops and then fire every one of the government contractors who have been living like a gigantic tick on the ass of the American taxpayer.

Saving the American economy is only one of the reasons we should run from Iraq as fast as we can. The most important reason for leaving is that we cannot “win” in Iraq, even if we stay for the 100 years that John McCain suggests. There will always be a large element in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East that will never accept an American military presence in their midst. I can´t say that I blame them.

American military occupation was what got us into this mess in the first place, if you remember correctly. After the first Gulf War (I disagreed completely with that war as well) we left a sizeable contingent of American troops in Saudi Arabia. This is a country that is supposedly an ally of the United States yet treats one half of its population (women) like political prisoners, denying them basic rights, such as the right to drive a car. Kuwait, the country we rescued from Saddam Hussein´s aggression, also has a fairly terrible record of human rights. You can say the same for every other country in the region. I never understood the idea that we could somehow instill democracy in the region through force when we can´t even convince our alleged allies to allow their female citizens to obtain a driver´s license. It´s not like this is the only bad thing about Saudi Arabia, but it´s a good place to start.

The funny thing is, remember when conservatives scolded war opponents for comparing it to Viet Nam? Now we are looking back on that horrible conflict in Southeast Asia with rather fond memories compared to the shithole we find ourselves in now. I mean it´s funny in a horrifically tragic kind of way. Bush makes Richard Nixon look like Abe Lincoln. It wouldn´t take much to make an improvement over our exit strategy in Viet Nam. We couldn´t have planned a more ignominious departure than the one we chose in Viet Nam. Yet somehow that wasn´t the end of the world like Viet Nam supporters predicted. When we finally leave Iraq after failing to meet our ill-formed objectives, the country is sure to fall into chaos. My question is, “How will we know the difference?”

In a very direct way, skyrocketing oil prices resulting from the war have further strengthened a number of despicable regimes in OPEC while crippling the U.S. economy. The United States has replaced Israel on the Muslim world´s shit list, and bored Muslim teenagers from Morocco to Afghanistan have begun to search anti-American, jihadist websites instead of looking at naughty Britney pics while they are online. America used to be the great Satan, as far as Muslims were concerned. Then Bay Watch came along and the extremists forgot about the great Satan bit and concentrated on Pamela Anderson´s boobs like everyone is supposed to do. I´m sure that even Osama bin Laden tossed off to her in that red one-piece bathing suit at least a couple of times. When we pull out of Iraq we can ask Pamela Anderson to undergo yet another breast enhancement in the name of national security.

Instead of the Peace Corps, our government can enlist the services of thousands of liberal, educated Americans to travel the world and tell people about the new Bay Watch with the even bustier new Pamela. They would be like Mormon missionaries but not creepy in any way. While these ambassadors are roaming the globe they can also try to convince people that most people in America never agreed with Bush and his policies. Hell, most people didn´t even vote for him. We could finance this program with the money we save by taking away one single contract from Haliburton. I´ll shut up now.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Death with Dignity, Inc.


There has been a lot of talk recently about euthanasia, living wills, dying, assisted suicide, death, deceased people, and other stuff that may interfere with you concentrating on the new Girls Gone Wild DVD. Most of us would rather watch videos of college girls making out than contemplate the grim realities of dying, especially if we are involved in any way. The issues that go hand-in-hand with death can be at least as messy as changing the oil in your car and you don´t do that yourself. Now there is a new company that can take care of the details of when you are chosen to go to the big Jiffy Lube in the sky.

Death with Dignity, Inc. is a subscription service that will ease any anxieties you may be harboring about the day you are picked to meet your maker. Death with Dignity, Inc. will help you preserve your image when you are in your most vulnerable and possibly most compromising position: death.

Here’s how it works. We install a tiny microchip in your head that automatically monitors all of your bodily functions. Well, not all of them because a few are just flat-out gross. When we receive indications that your vital signs have flat-lined, our team of professionals will jump into action. We guarantee that our people will be the first on the scene. Our associates will arrive in a discreet van disguised as a cleaning crew. They will immediately begin to sanitize the area by removing anything that may cause embarrassment for your loved ones. We will basically be doing what you would do yourself if you were about to have company over, but were prevented from doing it because you just croaked. Sometimes company comes at an awkward time.

We will clean your apartment so others won’t see that you have been living like an animal. Our technical experts will delete all of the files on your computer that would lead people to believe that you were some sort of expert studying human reproduction techniques, if you know what we mean. On second thought, maybe we will just take that laptop of yours out into the country and burn it. After our workers take off their HAZMAT suits they will probably want to take a long, hot shower.
We will return your overdue videos so family and friends won’t know that you were on a Ben Affleck movie marathon. We´ll replace your vulgar video choices with a copy of some boring foreign film you wouldn´t watch if you lived to be 200 but will make it look like you were smart. We will take out your trash that is filled with vodka bottles and empty cheese doodle bags. From the looks of your diet it´s a miracle you didn´t kick the bucket ten years ago.

Chances are pretty good that when you pass away, you will be in a less than flattering position, if you get my drift (RIP Elvis Presley). We will pull you off the pot, dress you up in your best clothes (clean underwear just like mom always harped on), and sit you in a reading chair with a copy of the Riverside Shakespeare in your lap. A fine glass of port sits on the table beside you. We will supply the port, because let’s face it; you couldn’t keep a bottle of half-way decent booze around for more than 12 hours. Let me remind you of the time you received a bottle of expensive scotch at the Christmas party and then drank 1/3 of it driving home that night.

Perhaps you’d like to leave behind a notebook filled with pictures of the fictitious children you sponsored from Save the Children. That is something you often thought about doing, but you could never afford it because instead you were sponsoring five movie channels on cable.

If you subscribe to our premium service, a Las Vegas showgirl will testify, under oath, that you passed away while trying to nail a difficult dismount while in flagrante delicto with the aforementioned 21 year old dancer (only 15% more to make them twins!). This service is extremely popular with our senior citizen clients who are still trying to impress high school classmates. As far as your lifetime ambitions go, the sky is the limit when you’re dead, so start living without worries. Leave it to us to lead others to believe that in life you were living a remotely interesting existence. We do such a good job that friends and relatives are often saddened by the untimely demise of slackers like you.

You spend a lot of time, money, and effort to create a false image of yourself that you present to the world while you are living. In death we can help you create an even more flattering image of you. It will be easier to do this after you pass away because we won’t have to deal with you screwing it up for us. Call it post mortem PR.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Return From Computer Hell

I think that I am over the darkest part now. It was touch and go there for a while but I think that I have survived. I had a computer meltdown. I learned my lesson when my external hard drive shit the bed on me several months ago so I have been extra-diligent in making sure everything I have is backed-up on DVD. I only lost a few pictures and I actually think that I may be able to recover everything on the hard drive of my Dell Inspiron computer. The good news is that I now have a brand new Acer laptop with lots of cool stuff on it and a 250 gig hard drive.

The Bad news is that everything is in Spanish. The good news is that I never really knew shit about computers in English so for me to switch from English to Spanish is probably easier than someone changing from Windows to Mac. I probably should have made that leap myself as I also have to learn the new Windows Vista operating system. If anyone can tell me what advantages this has over Windows XP I´d love to hear it. I can´t find anything about it that I like better. I do like my new version of Microsoft Office and the new MS Word program (also in Spanish).

I haven´t looked at my credit card statement to see exactly how much this is all going to cost me in American currency but I´m pretty sure I´m taking it right on the chin with the dollar in the toilet like it is today. Someone told me they saw a rap video with the gangsters waving around euro notes instead of greenbacks. Any economist worth his salt will tell you that when gangsta rappers switch to euros, our currency is doomed.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Gentleman´s Guide to Baseball



Gentleman´s Guide to Baseball

Baseball games are one of the few occasions for adults to act like complete assholes with impunity. When they announce the players before the game I like to screech like a 13 year old girl at a boy band concert when they introduce the equipment manager. Is there a better excuse to have a beer before noon than a day game? At a pre-game event in Seattle they had some 9 year old cancer survivor run the bases. While most of the crowd was teary-eyed and cheering, everyone in my cheap-seat section was screaming at the kid to show some hustle. OK, replace “everyone in my section” with “me” but I think they were all thinking it. And would it have killed the kid to slide into home? It´s not like he just hit a walk-off home run. In almost any other aspect of modern life this sort of behavior would be awful. At a ball game it is practically normal. However, as much fun as it is to act like an idiot, I think all fans will agree that there are limits to the level of stupidity accepted at the ballpark: certain things just aren´t done.

Like a complex jazz improvisation, enjoying a baseball game is open to a high degree of personal interpretation; however, like staying on key in jazz, baseball does have certain standards. It´s what separates us from the animals…and hockey. The rules for watching baseball at the park are few and uncomplicated yet people continue to behave badly. It´s time to put down the rules for fandom in writing.

Pre-Game Rituals

Baseball is a game with more traditions than the Catholic Church so it is important to develop your own set of rituals when you go to the game. We as fans need our own customs just as all the players have their personal quirks and superstitious rituals. It is essential to have at least one beer at a neighboring bar before you enter the ball park. I can walk to the stadium so I pity the people who drive to the stadium, park, enter, and immediately start paying $9 for crappy beer in a plastic cups.

There´s nothing like a good bar on game day and when the Mariners are at home one of my rituals is to get a beer at FX McCrory´s, a fine old saloon in Seattle´s Pioneer Square district a couple blocks from the ballpark. The street leading to the park is lined with a gauntlet of hot dog stands and food concessions. If you forget about the cholera epidemic of the 2003 season, this isn´t a bad place to buy some cheap eats before you enter. If your tradition is to eat sunflower seeds and spit the shells all over the people in the two rows in front of you, save some money by buying the seeds at one of the concessions outside the park.

What´s That In Your Hand?

There are only a few acceptable items that you can have in your hands while the game is in play.

I guess it goes without saying that beer is one of the suitable items you can grip with your hand. Ditto soft drinks. If you are in a luxury suite I suppose things like mimosas or wine are allowed. Rich people have their own rules. They aren´t watching the game anyway.

Food is another one of those things. From all of the public eating that goes on at baseball games you would think that the fans are all famine victims. Bad food is as much a part of baseball as the intentional walk and the infield fly rule. I think that we can all go nine innings without trying to be health conscious. When I see a guy eating sushi at the ball park I wonder if he is going to take off his shoes and paint his toenails when he finishes. Stick with hot dogs, peanuts, and sunflower seeds.

You can have a baseball mitt in your hand.

You can have a scorecard in your hand.

If you are a Yankees fan it is OK to have your finger knuckle-deep in your nose.

That´s it. Everything else is a disgrace. Talk on your cell phone while you are waiting ten minutes in line to buy a beer or while you´re taking a leak. There are no rally monkeys, thunder sticks, or other gimmicks in baseball. Sit in front of me with that kind of crap and you´ll be watching the final innings of the game on the TV in the emergency room.

Foul Tips

I´ve lived in three cities with major league baseball teams (Baltimore, Miami, Seattle) and I´ve been to more games than I can count, but I´ve never been in the same area code as a foul tip so all of this advice is pure theory. Bare-handing is the perfect way to handle a foul ball. Just try not to make too big of an ass out of yourself if you are going after a foul tip. Don´t end up on ESPN because you fell out of the top tier seats going for a ball that retails for about $5. After you bare-hand the foul tip, do the decent thing and give the ball to the nearest kid—you may be on camera so try to be noble for once in your life.

You Don´t Know Shit

To be a baseball fan is to be a geek. Baseball enthusiasts know more about their game than any other sport fans, so don´t make yourself look like a stupid turd by screaming “Balk!” at the top of your lungs every time the opposing pitcher throws over to first base. Trust me; nobody knows what the fuck constitutes a balk. You have a better chance of guessing a random number between 1 and 1,000 than you do of correctly calling a balk.

Remember To Keep Your Eye On The Ball

There are signs at the park warning you to watch out for flying balls and bats. Bats! If these aren´t good enough reasons for you to hang up your phone and pay attention, then you´ll have to let me explain the rules to the game we invented that allows us to bet on every single pitch. Enjoy the game.

BEER CUP BASEBALL BETTING GAME official rules:

My friends, Andy and Tom, and I came up with this game one summer afternoon while watching the Orioles. I have heard other people claim to have invented similar games but I think I´m the first to actually write down the rules, so I own it. It goes like this.

Everyone who wants to play puts a dollar in an empty beer cup. One person takes the cup. That person takes the first batter. If the batter hits an extra base hit the person with the cup keeps the kitty. If their batter fails to get an extra base hit that person puts another dollar in the cup and passes it on to the next person. If he walks you just pass the cup with no penalty. If your batter strikes out, hits into a double play, or flies out to the warning track you must put in two dollars before passing the cup. If your batter hits a home run all other players must give you an extra dollar. After someone takes the pot everyone must ante up again and play resumes.

The beauty of our game is that it gets non-fans involved in every play of the game; something real baseball fans do anyway. I wouldn´t suggest you play with more than ten people and 6-7 is ideal. During the course of the game any player has the right to yell out “Embellishment” and add another rule which must be approved by a majority of participants.

P.S. After the seventh inning stretch song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” is played, some stadiums follow that with their own song. In Seattle they play “Louie, Louie.” In Baltimore it was “Thank God I´m a Country Boy.” What song do they play in your park?

Saturday, April 05, 2008



Football Update

Shalke 0, Barcelona FC 1
Roma 0, Manchester United 2
Arsenal 1, Liverpool 1
Fenerbache 2, Chelsea 1

This is how things stand in the Champions League after the first round of the quarter finals. You would think that Manchester has the most comfortable position after scoring two away goals until you remember back to last year’s 1,7 loss at Old Trafford against Milan. I think that only Barcelona is pretty much assured of advancing at this point. They even showed the headline in a German paper that read “Adiós, Shalke.” Chelsea can advance with a 1,0 win at home. The Liverpool-Arsenal game will be another war and is probably way too close to call (but I will).

I have been saying for weeks that Manchester is going to win it all. I have had the advantage of seeing them play quite often this year. Spanish television broadcasts one of the best games of the week in the Premier League every Saturday afternoon. British friends here tell me that they are able to see better matches here (at least without paying) than they were able to watch at home. Spaniards follow British football more closely than any other European league. This all means that I have had the pleasure to see Manchester United play on at least five occasions this year and I think they won every game. Christian Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney are the best pair of forwards playing today, if not individually then together as one unit. Each scored in their game with Roma. They are like a two-man highlight reel every time they play.

Barcelona, although highly dysfunctional at times, has so much talent to spare that it can leave superstars like Ronaldinho, Marquez, Decco, Messi, and Eto’o on the bench and still field enough talent to beat anyone (except Valencia CF two weeks ago!). As if they needed anyone to step up, now this 17 year old Bojan kid is starting to play like a champion. He is the youngest player to score a goal in the history of the Champions. Granted, his goal was somewhat of a gift from his mentor, Thierry Henry, but still. Henry is playing well, to put it mildly, and so is Eto’o. Barcelona could and should win it all but they probably won’t because of internal problems.

Liverpool is the other team that you can’t count out. El Niño, aka Fernando Torres, is playing his guts out these days in the Liverpool tradition. It’s a shame that no Spanish team signed him last year when he left Atlético Madrid. Arsenal has another young Spanish superstar in Cesc Fabregas. I really look forward to watching the next meeting of these two great clubs.

I think Manchester, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Barça will make it to the semi-finals.

As if the Champions League weren’t providing enough football, The UEFA game between the Spanish club Getafe and Bayern Munich was one of the better games that I have seen this year (not as good as the Valencia CF, Barcelona FC game!).

And don’t forget, Valencia and Getafe will be playing for the Copa del Rey on April 12.

#The Premier game today on Spanish TV was Arsenal-Liverpool. That has to be rather rare when two teams between Champions League games have to play each other in their national league play. The game was another barn-burner and resulted yet again in a 1-1 draw. Both teams really played theri guts out. The game at Anfield on Tuesday should be incredible!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Randomness



Randomness

After a very short and painless winter, followed by a few weeks of a pleasant spring, it seems that we are into summer here in Valencia. I have already started putting on sun block for my daily bike rides, I can sit outside and comfortably read in a café until well after dark, laundry dries in less than a day on the line*, and topless women have migrated back to the beaches. Call me sexist but I would rather be distracted by topless women as I ride along the beach bike trail than look at the old, fat, naked perverts who inhabit the dunes during the winter months. By the way, my threat of taking a picture of the public masturbator who haunted a section of the trail seems to have worked. He hasn’t been back since. I think that I will use this trick if the trail gets too cluttered with old, fat nudists. Maybe I’ll start a web site of pictures of these bloated corpses to shame them away from my line of sight.

It’s not like life is without problems. I’ve had a rash of them lately but overall I’d have to say that things are going well. I have been working hard on my Spanish, as always. I just finished reading The Catcher in the Rye in Spanish (El Guardián entre el Centeno) which I found on my roommate’s bookshelf. I probably haven’t read this book since I first read it at 17 but I still know it almost by heart. In case you are wondering “phony” in Spanish is “farsante. I talked with a Spanish friend about this book and he regretted that he didn’t get around to reading El Guardián entre el Centeno until he was 26—a little old for this adolescent classic. He also said that there is no equivalent to this icon of American literature in the Spanish-speaking world. Too bad for them. I learned a lot of very useful vocabulary. “Moron” is “tarado.” I learn useful vocabulary with every book that I read. An Italian friend absolutely insisted that I read a Spanish translation of 1933 Was a Bad Year (Un Año Pésimo) by John Fante, an author unknown to me. I just started it but so far, so good.

Life in Spain is sort of like walking: you just keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep going. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that life is getting routine, but everything just seems to be getting more and more familiar. I suppose that I have reached that point in which trying to adapt to another sort of life would be a problem. Culture shock is what it is called at times. I experienced culture shock only once in my life when my family moved briefly from the Midwest to Hawaii when I was 16. In all of my moves since then I have never really had culture shock. I adapt to the new place and then when I leave I have a bit of a problem getting used to the new experience, but it isn’t anything like a shock to me.

What does shock me is the dollar’s lowly standing against the euro. If George Bush’s goal as president was to reduce the USA to a third world nation, he is off to a good start by deflating the value of our currency some 50% since taking office. I should have converted all of my money into Mexican pesos before I left. Besides the deflating dollar, I am also getting pinched by inflation here in Spain. On top of this, my computer crashed on me. I am working on my old Dell Latitude that I brought along for this sort of eventuality. The keyboard doesn’t work so I plugged in a Spanish keyboard I found in the trash. It works but just barely. I am also without internet at home until my primary machine gets fixed or I decide to buy a new laptop. I haven’t heard back from the fix-it shop and part of me wants to go out and buy something new—damn the expense. My old laptop is perfectly suitable for what I do so if it can be fixed I will stick with it. I feel like someone standing by the bedside of a loved one in a coma while daydreaming about getting another spouse/parent/brother/sister. Does this make me a bad person? Don’t answer that.

I am also thinking about posting some of my humor essays about Spain on the humor website I contribute to occasionally. I am sort of curious as to how my Spanish stuff will be greeted by that audience of mostly knuckleheads. I think most of what makes a writer popular is someone important simply affirming that this person is worth reading. There are a lot of worse writers than I who are insanely popular just because they were anointed by a publisher.

*I never want to use a clothes dryer again. Hanging clothes to dry is something that I find very satisfying on many levels. This is solar and wind power on such a basic level that I can’t believe we ever decided that we needed to dry clothes faster. What a crazy idea!