Friday, June 27, 2014

Expansion (b/w Contraction)

While relaxing at home this evening and occasionally defending myself from Flash's fearsome Adamantium claws and teeth*, a paid promotion disguised as a news story ran on CNN for Wagyu beef (rhyme unintentional, acknowledged).

I'm sure Wagyu beef is quite tasty. It looks tasty. But the advert claimed that Wagyu beef has "a long tradition of several decades."

Is several decades a long tradition? My daughter, God love her, is 11 years old. Technically, that's several decades. Does she have a long tradition of being a human being? At 36 years old, do I?

When did our perception of time collapse into such a small paradigm (rhyme unintentional, acknowledged, writer starts beat boxing)? Has it always been this way? I ask in earnest, because even if I multiply my age by 2, I can't fathom 72 years being a long tradition in raising cattle. Or in anything.

* I take Flashy von Doggie up on the roof when I get home so he can run around like a hellion and poop. It's always interesting to see grown men get spooked by such a tiny beast. Maybe, at least, he should be on a leash. Peace in the Middle East.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Prodigal Son

Real talk: I fully believe that LeBron James will sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers in free agency. This is not a sports-superstition attempt at a reverse-jinx, nor is it a Heat fan's defensive acceptance measure; I am 99.9% sure that LeBron will return to Cleveland this off-season*. If I'm wrong, cool. But I don't think I am.

And you know what? If I'm right, that's also cool.

I have enjoyed watching LeBron James play basketball for my favorite team for 4 years, for 2 NBA championships, and for 4 straight Finals appearances. He is unequivocally the best player on the planet, and it has been a pleasure to see him progress as a player and as a person during that time. Hopefully he re-signs and the Heat organization can make adjustments to their bench, sign some important role players**, and give it another go, but that doesn't seem to be the narrative, at least to my precognitive basketball brain.

LeBron James wants to be liked. That sentence is a tautology, of course, because who doesn't? But factor in the vitriol he received after leaving Cleveland, the absolute social-media holy war he's endured-- 2 titles made it go away; another Finals loss brought it back somewhat -- during this stint with the Heat, and it's not hard to see how the best player in the game, the most self-aware player in the game, wouldn't try to right the ship of how he is perceived.

Again, I'd be totally fine with that. Everyone likes a redemption story (although LeBron doesn't need one; he's already had two). But a return to Cleveland would make everything better -- at least initially -- for a disenfranchised franchise. This...this would be the narrative to truly seal an already secure legacy.

I won't be writing any angry Comic Sans letters to the guy if he doesn't return. I have so many good memories of this run. If he stays, great; if he returns to Cleveland, also great. My focus next season will be on the Heat, but if LeBron is in Cleveland, I'll save some League Pass room for dessert.

But if Bosh leaves I'm taking Aubrey Plaza hostage.

* Occam's Razor

** or Carmelo Anthony, which I'm not 100% ruling out, despite how pie-in-the-sky it is and how much I worry about how that experiment would probably take more than a full season and playoffs to work out in terms of cohesion.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


I am under the employ of a man who, in recent weeks, I have become increasingly suspectful may be taken by devils. His name is Trevor Queen.

To be sure, Mr. Queen has always been -- for as long as I've known him, at least, which my ledger informs me is six months and a day -- the sort of man whose eccentricities repel some and invite others. I suppose I fall into the latter category. I lead a dull life, and for as long as I can recall, I have been attracted to human beings who, to society in general, are not considered particularly of the species homo sapien.

And so it was that when my aunt Elma informed me that her husband's acquaintance's friend, reportedly a weird fellow who kept mantices for pets and claimed to have been born with a mustache and fingernails as long as pen nibs, was looking for a clerk, I enthusiastically applied for the position.

I was (and still am) twenty-six years old. I had been living at home with my sickly mother and my cousin, Leona, after failing my surgical exam at the University of Edinburgh Medical school. I had never had a countenance for the gruesome, but my father, a renowned surgeon (as was his father before him), who was killed when the horse he was riding while playing polo got too excited by the match and bucked him, the fall breaking his neck, made my mother promise, as his dying wish, that I continue the family legacy.

So I did. Or at least I tried to. I passed all of my examinations, time after time. The horror of seeing cadavers every day, looking at the cold, dead skin of people who were sons and fathers, mothers and daughters, receded after a few years, and I became an engine. A perfectly molded engine to repair the weak, transform the afflicted, resurrect the dying.

But my hands could never stay still. All of the humanity, or loss thereof, took its toll on me. My mind was numbed to the sight of dead bodies, but my physical being could not be as callous. It bucked at me.

I was assigned to perform an autopsy on a child, a girl, three years old. Her skull was crushed. Her torso was covered in tar. I thought she must have been a poor child run over by a streetcar, and I told the professor as much. He asked me to open her up and see if my assumption could be confirmed.

I held that scalpel over that ruined child's belly, my hand trembling, prepared to make my incision. Then I dropped the knife. It clinked on the cold stone floor and stayed there, motionless, like a dead fish washed ashore.

"Mr. Stoakes," my professor said, "you will never be a surgeon. You have neither the spleen nor the heart."

"I know," I said as I collected myself and walked out of the theater. "Thank you."


It was a Wednesday. I was met at the train station by Gregory, Mr. Queen's assistant. His severe arched eyebrows and bowler hat, which lent his visage a look particular to shadows falling from trees at dusk, belied his genial nature. When he spoke, my ears perked up immediately.

"Oh, Mr. Stoakes, so glad to see you. Here, let me take your bags. There is a cab waiting, don't worry. I trust you haven't waited long, have you? No? Good. Well, then, shall we be off? Mr. Queen is eager to see you, and I feel a tad guilty at having had the pleasure first. Let's keep that a secret between you and me, haha, promise? The cab has cushions, so you needn't worry about your piles on these bumpy streets. Are you hungry? No? I thought you might be, so I prepared something, veal and cheese. The cheese Roquefort, the veal I don't know. But if your appetite isn't present, more for me then, hee."

"I will eat if I can," I said. "Right now, I would rather sleep."

"Indeed, indeed! I can already tell that you and Sir Trevor are going to get along terrifically."

"Terrifically," I said, and then I fell asleep.


July 9, 1878: Among his office possessions, Trevor Queen keeps an ivory paperweight on his desk of a dead greyhound with a rictus smile, its inscription reading, in beautiful calligraphy, forever.

I cannot wait to meet the man. But first I must sleep.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Back in King's Landing

Note: This post plays with the geography and characters of Game of Thrones to serve my own basketball analogies. There might be spoilers.

In fewer than twelve hours, Game 3 of the 2014 NBA Finals between the Heat and Spurs will tip off. The series is split 1-1, and the Heat have home floor for the next two games. That provides some comfort for me, but that comfort is about as small as Tyrion Lannister is diminutive. The Spurs are at the Wall, and they have the man-and-giant power to breach the gate (Matt Bonner is Ygritte here, by the way).

No one is safe on the Iron Throne, and having home court advantage after taking Game 2 shouldn't provide the Heat with much comfort or confidence. As the competition and media have echoed during these playoffs, these Finals, you can never sit comfortably on the throne. If it isn't some unworthy usurper like Lance Stephenson trying to blow a maester's air-borne poison into your ear, it's the AT&T Center's air conditioning breaking to simulate the heat of the sands of Dorne*.

These two teams are like Marvel Comics' The Blob fighting the Juggernaut (the illustrated definition of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object). Want proof? Here's Grantland's netw3rk with the -- unbelievable -- stats:

Dating from the 2011-12 season, up to and including last night’s Game 2, the Heat and the Spurs have played 14 games. In those 14 games, the Heat have scored a total of 1,385 points and the Spurs have scored 1,386 points. That — in the most simplistic, reductive of terms — is the minuscule margin between these two teams over the past three full seasons. One point.

 The Heat haven't lost a home game this postseason. But neither had the Spurs until Sunday night, and they'll be seeking retribution. It's hard to protect your home floor when you have 100,000 men -- and Tiago Splitter, who is the wooly mammoth here -- marching on your gate, trying to breach your defense to pull your banners down, and seek vengeance.

Game 3 starts at 9 PM EST, 10 AM on the Peninsula. Hopefully the Wall will hold.

Nock, draw, loose.

* I don't actually believe this. But it will be a fun bit of basketball lore for years to come.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Anything Can Happen (It Usually Does)

I woke up on Friday morning at 5:30 AM, overly eager for Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Heat-Spurs Part II, to commence. I fed my dog, cooked some cheese* ramen, watched TV for a spell, and after all that it was only 6:30, still three-and-a-half hours before tip-off. Dammit.

Like a restless kid, I fidgeted and couldn't keep my attention on any specific thing for very long. It was as though I had woken up early on Christmas morning and couldn't wait for my parents to wake up so that I could unwrap the gifts Santa Claus had left under the tree.

By eight o'clock, I started to get drowsy, so I set my phone's alarm for 10:00 and hopped into bed to take a nap.

I woke up at 9:59. But I was as groggy as I can recall being in years, which was weird. I blame it on the cheese ramen, that giver and taker of vitality. Nevertheless, I fired up League Pass and sat down to watch the game. I don't need coffee to wake me up when basketball, the true sport of Kings (James, Bernard, et al.) works just fine.

And that first half was amazing, what every NBA Finals game should be like: the two best teams in the league going toe-to-toe, each side attacking, each one countering. It was beautiful. I think the Heat were down by four points at halftime, but that was pas de problème.

Something seemed off, though, and during the halftime break I realized what it was. Flash, my dachshund, who always sits on my lap during games and licks my face whenever I cheer at big plays, was asleep on the sofa, totally zonked. This was not normal. It was decidedly abnormal.

I don't subscribe to many beliefs or theories concerning religion, conspiracies, the paranormal, or the restorative quality of rice porridge**, but I've watched enough basketball games with my dog to know that if he's not in the mood for roundball, something bad might happen.

I can count the number of times Flash has been reluctant to watch a game with me on one hand and still have two fingers in my palm***: Game 5 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals when the Celtics went up 3-2 on Miami; Game 1 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals when the Bulls stole the opening game in Miami; and this past Friday morning, when the broken air conditioning at the AT&T Center ostensibly caused LeBron James's legs to cramp so badly that he couldn't walk and had to sit out during the latter half of the fourth quarter.

During those final three minutes of the game, as the Spurs kept raining 3-pointers, I looked at Flash. He had the hangdog look after which his species' expression is named, and I was convinced he knew all along how Game 1 was going to end. He just didn't want to hurt my feelings by spoiling it.

In the 48-plus hours since Game 1, it's been interesting to gauge the reaction from the media and fans -- and anti-fans, who only cheer for the Heat to lose -- to LeBron's injury. Suddenly, we're back in time to 2011, and most non-Heat fans are questioning him again, and the man himself is saying that he's the "easiest target in sports." The guy will never catch a break, it seems. This, after two straight NBA titles and a consistent record of clutch moments. Whatever; the sharks smell blood, and they're eager to start a feeding frenzy.

Tomorrow, I will wake up at 7:00 AM and go to work. I won't be able to watch Game 2, which starts at 9:00 AM here, but I'll follow it, obsessively, via ESPN's Gamecast. Anything can -- and probably will -- happen: maybe LeBron has a monster game; maybe he fouls out in 13 minutes; maybe Mario Chalmers hits a game-winning 3-pointer; maybe Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli combine for 50 points; maybe Danny Green builds upon his Finals resume and has 10 3-pointers by halftime; maybe Tim Duncan gets a technical foul from Joey Crawford in the Spurs locker room.

Everything is in play. I just hope I don't have to come home tomorrow evening to a sad dachshund whose face says, "Damn, we're in a 0-2 hole."

* It puts the cheese in the ramen or else it gets the hose again.

** So please, kindly, stop soliciting me, Mormon 9/11 truther ghost hunters.

*** I don't care if that makes grammatical sense; I like how it sounds.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014


I was woken by the shrill barks of my dachshund, Skipper. The sun was halfway up, so it must have been at least five, maybe six. My mind was still somewhere between sleep and consciousness, and I shouted, "Who's there?"

I keep the frosted sliding doors to the bedroom closed at night because, as much as I'd enjoy Skipper's presence in bed, he sheds tiny black hairs that cover everything, including blankets, and which creep up my nose and make me sneeze and my eyes water something fierce. So he sleeps in the apartment's main room, which is an amalgam living room-kitchen.

"Who's there?" I shouted again.

Now Skipper was barking at me. I got up and could see him, a little black shadow, low to the floor, through the foggy glass, his snout pressed against the doors' divide. I slid open the doors and petted the little hellion.

"G'mornin', pup. Who's hungry?"

I filled his bowl with food and refilled his water bottle. Then I went into the bathroom to simultaneously have a smoke and take a shit and meditate.

There was no threat; Skip probably just heard the milk maid outside or someone taping flyers to apartment doors and got overprotective, as is his species' wont.

I took a shower, got dressed, and was ready to leave for work, but just as I was stepping out I received a text message from my boss:


I was a little annoyed by the late notice (If I'd known the day prior, I probably would have called up some friends to go to the pub); but a day off is a day off, and I was happy that I'd be able to catch up on all the things -- washing dishes, doing laundry, browsing adult websites -- that I usually reserve for the weekend.

Best of all, instead of sitting at my desk for eight hours, I could lie on the sofa with Skip and have guy time. Maybe watch some Liam Neeson action movies.


I made breakfast, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. There was no food in the apartment; like Mother Hubbard, my cupboard was bare, save for a lone can of Van Camp's Baked Beans with Pork (spoilers: there wasn't any pork) that I was saving for the Apocalypse. Whatever, day off, eat like a hobo.

I added some Tabasco sauce to it and half of a container of Papa John's Garlic Dipping Sauce that had been sitting in the fridge for a couple months. I considered further adding a packet of Burger King ketchup, then remembered that I'm an adult.

What resulted was...interesting. It looked like vomit. It had the consistency of baby food/vomit, but it actually tasted pretty good. For hobo food.

After that I watched the news for an hour or so and began to feel drowsy, so to wake myself up I asked Skip if he might be interested in taking a walk along the riverside. I don't speak Dog, but his reaction was something along the lines of an enthusiastic "You bet!" and a sarcastic "What the fuck do you think?"


It's always cathartic for me to see Skipper run. I named him Skipper because when he really gets going on a run, he has a hitch to his gait that is probably imperceptible to most people, just like you can't see exactly how flat stones are skipped on water, which way they'll move, or even if they'll continue to do so. Sometimes he'll propel himself with his hind legs only, then he'll switch to four-wheel drive, and sometimes he'll go light speed.

Today, though, he kind of just lagged and sulked. We walked a mile or so and then he stopped, whined, rested his head on his forepaws and nodded back toward home. So there we went.


We got back home and I wiped Skip's feet off with baby wipes and then walked toward the bedroom to take a nap. But just as I was about to open the sliding doors, Skip barked his ear-piercing alarm again.

"Fuck, what, guy?" I said, annoyed. He had no further comment. So there I went.


I tossed my phone on the bed and opened my wardrobe to fetch a light shirt. There was a man hanging inside, his face fat and purple, his lower half soiled and brown.

Shocked, I turned quickly to get my phone and call the police, and that's when I saw another man, just as dead as the man in my wardrobe, lying on my bed. He was naked, also soiled, and a Post-It note was attached to his forehead. It read:

Ha! Get away? Never going to get away. I'll find you. Make you pay. Make you pay forever.


I was investigated as an accessory to the crime, but the charges were soon dropped. Who those men were, what had happened between them, and how they both ended up dead in my apartment I didn't want to know, nor do I now.

But I still catch chills whenever I hear Skipper bark, and I always let him sleep in bed -- in our new apartment -- beside me, his shedding be damned.

Monday, June 02, 2014

The NBA Needs to Fix Its Terrible Playoffs Music

"Be careful what you wish for, friend, 'cause I've been to Hell and now I'm back again."

The Finals start on Thursday, Friday morning for me, and by the grace of the basketball gods it's a holiday on the Peninsula, so I get to wake up and watch Game 1. Christmas in Bundang! In the meantime, between hysterical visions of doom and measured reasoning that a fourth NBA tile for the Heat -- three consecutive for the Big 3 Era -- is possible, I've been thinking about music -- specifically the songs the NBA has tortured me with again and again used during the Playoffs (Playoffs) for most of my life.

The song used this year has been a reworked version of Pitbull's "Timber (feat. Kesha)," and it has been driving me insane*. As one Redditor commented,** "It sounds like I'm at a gay rodeo." I find that offensive to gays and rodeos, though. It is a song that makes cats mewl, that makes whales seek beaches, that might have been the source of the pings that were mistakenly thought to come from Flight MH370's black box.

This is the last straw. "Timber" is an apt title: cut the tree down and plant anew, please. The NBA, for reasons that I simultaneously can and cannot comprehend, has had almost uniformly terrible music for its Playoffs and Finals for years, as this Wikipedia article illustrates.

I understand that the league is always trying to attract new viewers, and recruiting popular artists*** is a sound idea, in theory****. But why do the songs have to be so terrible? Why do these songs, in recent years, have to be set to clips of the NBA's stars awkwardly bopping around like something out of a diehard fan's nightmare?

It works both ways though, I know. If ABC started playing "Helter Skelter" during the Finals (which is not a bad idea, in my opinion), Twitter might blow up with comments like,"SMH @NBA" and "Finals muzic I can't even." The NBA Playoffs transcend generations and cultures, and there is no way you can please everyone.

But you can treat your Playoffs and your Finals with some respect. Remember when Michael Jordan won his first championship in '91? Now, have C+C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" play during each and every commercial break of that year's Playoffs. Jordan's first title will always be special; C+C Music Factory, not so much.

It's cheapening the moment in real time. I had a big smile on my face and goosebumps when the Miami home crowd serenaded the Pacers with chants of "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," a song from 1969, in route to eliminating Indiana in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. That song was produced nine years before I was born.

I don't have the solution, but I have a solution, at least for this year. While chatting with Psychedelic Kimchi alumnus denz and spitballing some possible songs to usurp "Timber," Steve Earle's "Feel Alright" was agreed upon. It feels right, and, for these Finals, the lyrics feel apt.

Rock and roll.

* And I like Kesha. I used to have two guilty pleasures: Kesha and Duck Dynasty. But after reading Phil Robertson's real -- as opposed to A&E's scripted "reality" -- beliefs on race and sexuality, I can't watch it anymore. Save me, Kesha, you are my last guilty pleasure.

** If using Reddit comments in news articles is good enough for mass media, it's good enough for this hallowed blog.

*** I know, but what other job title can I use? Musicians? Tom Petty certainly fits that description, as does U2 and some others, but if you throw in the Pussycat Dolls, the only umbrella descriptor I can come up with is song people.

**** So is communism.