Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Walk Off Miracle

     This post is directly inspired by a recent middle school writing project for my son Jesse.  He was asked to write about a memorable event in his life, and he chose a game winning inside the park homerun that he hit in a baseball game a few years back.  I would have to agree that it was definitely a memorable event, and the excitement level reached an all time high for yours truly.  It was a clutch at bat, and while he has come a long way in his baseball journey since then it's nice to look back.  This is my interpretation of the events that occurred.  All that follows is true.

     The night was hot and the air was heavy with an unusually high humidity for April in Alabama.  As we arrived at the park we saw the fields of green and the nice chalk lines over red dirt that can stir so many positive emotions from those of us who love the game.  The familiar "ping" sound reverberated throughout the park, and it is a distinct sound that can only come from an aluminum bat.  Children wearing bright colors of all kinds were running everywhere.  Their names printed solidly on the back of those jerseys with numbers underneath.  Important numbers, no doubt.  Numbers are important.  Through the sea of baseball caps and uniforms we made our way to the batting cages to properly warm up for the athletic contest that would occur within the hour.

     The hero stepped into the cage as if a gladiator of old entering the arena.  His blonde bangs fell out from under his hat almost hiding eyes of blue.  He pulled his weapon of choice out of a bag full of the tools of the trade.  Steely eyed he stepped into the cage with malicious intent on his mind.  The baseball would bear the brunt of his extreme prejudice and force.  The smell of fried food was intoxicating, and all seemed right with the world at this very moment.  Nothing other than the present seemed to matter to anyone.  All of life's stressors melted away at this oasis of grass, dirt, and metal fences.  A certain comfort was brought to all, and it was accepted that this was good.  The young man took his swings and gave way to another wanting to do the same.

     The team gathered together as they walked toward the field where the game would be played.  Loud pops from leather gloves being struck by baseballs was the music for their entrance, and the music was good.  Preparation for the contest continued, more "pings" and "pops" were heard clearly, and a stray yell of, "You missed that one Blue!" provided the background noise.  The combatants may be small in stature, but the heart and desire was far from diminutive.  This would be one for the ages.  The hero and his fellow ballplayers were properly fired up by a post game fire and brimstone speech by the coach.  His eyes on fire with the passion that was surely shown many years ago in the same setting, and his voice erupted with a sense of urgency that was delivered honestly.  Game time had come.

     A run here a run there, nice plays on both sides kept the game even throughout the early stages, but a massive blow to the baseball by the opposing team had caused our hero and his band of merry baseballers to temporarily hang their heads.  The deficit was challenging, but not an impossible task.  The team leaders stepped up for motivation, and the coach did the same.  Time was not on their side as the game continued, and it seemed that victory may be slipping away.  Then great plays in the field breathed new life into the downtrodden warriors, and a diving catch inspired the crowd.  A fever pitch of hope began to rise, and the tension in the air, already thickened by the humidity, was suffocating.  One last chance remained.

     The home team came to bat with it all on the line, and three runs were needed to tie and four to win.  The first batter up struck out, and the second popped up to the third base- producing two outs.  The game seemed to be slipping away, but a walk was issued to the next player and a runner was on base.  Then a base hit, and another walk filled the bases and the hearts of the players and fans.  Who was it that began the long walk to the plate, but our hero his blue eyes on fire with determination and his hair drenched with sweat.  A calm confidence was with him, although his hands were shaking with nerves.  As he walked he heard the words, "It's all up to you!  Go out there and win the game!"  He shrugged his tiny shoulders and said, "Ok."  His hands tightened on the bat as he stepped in close to the plate, and it felt as if his heart would leap from his chest as the pitcher took his wind up.  From the soles of his feet to the tip of his cap he gave it all his little body had, and clenched his teeth as the fast ball came hurling toward him.  His eyes followed the ball all the way to the bat as it was met with a mighty blow.  He sent the ball travelling with a blistering line drive that found its way between the 2nd Baseman and Shortstop.  Then the ball was past the center fielder heading to the fence.  One run scored, and then two, and our hero ran with a speed that he summoned from a place he didn't know he had.  Three runs scored and the game was tied.  The Centerfielder caught up to the ball, and threw with all his might as the little blue eyed boy approached third, and was waved home.  Dirt flying from underneath his cleated feet, and arms churning with the sheer force of his determined legs.  The ball headed toward the catcher and so did our hero, and the outcome to the game would be at the plate.  He sacrificed his body and slid with all he could as the catcher caught the ball.  His feet slid over the tip of the plate, and he looked up to the umpire for a signal of the result, and with arms waving and in a loud voice the official yelled, "Safe!"  "Safe!"  The young man was mobbed by team, coaches, and parents alike.  The eruption of cheers was deafening and seemed to shake the ground.  The boy stood up took off his helmet and took a deep breath as if he hadn't done so during the entire event.  A huge smile covered his face, and his blue eyes lit up like Christmas morning.  It was a good day.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Themistocles or Leonidas?

“Spartans!  Ready your Breakfast and eat hearty for tonight we dine in hell!”  Well, not quite.  If you were a fan of the original 300, and were seeking more Spartan awesomeness, then the sequel may not be your cup of tea.  However, if you are a fan of all things Ancient Greece and really enjoy action-packed sequences with great special effects you are definitely in the right place.  Throw in a little nudity and sex, and you have the recipe for 300:  Rise of an Empire.  What the movie lacks in historical accuracy, it more than makes up for in pure violent entertainment for the masses.  I would give the movie two big thumbs up, to borrow from Siskel and Ebert, mainly due to the dynamic between Themistocles and Artemisia and the very well-done action sequences.  Leonidas is present, but we all know what happened to him, right?

            The movie begins by revisiting Leonidas and the brave 300 at the “hot gates” or Thermopylae pass just in time to see Xerxes take the head of the brave king of Sparta.  However, this is misleading because the entire movie is basically a companion piece to the original.  The naval battle of Artemisium takes places simultaneously with the events at Thermopylae.  We are introduced to Themistocles as the main protagonist, who is painted as the source of all Persian/Greek animosity.  This is due to the events that took place at the Battle of Marathon some ten years earlier.  According to the movie, Themistocles shot King Darius of Persia with an arrow during the battle, which resulted in his untimely demise.  Unfortunately for Themistocles (and basically all of Greece) he shot the wrong guy.  Darius’ son Xerxes was with his father, and the movie makes mention of this as a missed opportunity to do away with the young man who would become the god king of the Persian Empire.  This is one of many historical inaccuracies in the film, and as any competent historian would know Darius was planning another invasion of Greece after the Battle of Marathon, but died due to poor health.  Sorry Themistocles fans, but he didn’t kill Darius.  He may have helped plan the Battle of Marathon as an Athenian “strategoi” or general, but he did not have an opportunity to shoot an arrow at Darius or Xerxes for that matter.  In fact, if that didn’t ruin good old Themistocles for you this will: he later joins the Persians.  Yes, it’s true.  Hollywood is not known for letting truth get in the way of a good story, however, so no one should be surprised.  The idea that Themistocles is trying desperately to make up for a missed opportunity fits the theme of the movie.  300: Rise of an Empire also contains elements of those freedom-loving Greeks battling the evil Persians.  Sound familiar?  In a post 9/11 world, movies like this continue to reflect the struggle for freedom against those who wish to repress it.  However, we must remember that the idea of democracy in Themistocles’ Athens does not resemble the democracy of today in any form or fashion.  That fact doesn’t add to the entertainment value, so it has been omitted – as maybe it should be, because this is entertainment, and not social commentary.

            The director of the film, Noam Murro, described the action as “operatic” in a recent Los Angeles Times interview, and he said he hoped the film was not a sequel or a prequel to the original but an “equal.”  This is a departure for Murro who is best known for directing offbeat feature films like the 2007 comedy Smart People.  A native of Jerusalem, New York, he made a name for himself doing promotional films for companies like E*Trade with his own production company, Biscuit Films.  Murro was able to capture the spirit of the original without venturing too far from the swords and sandals blueprint.  Though he took some creative license, the overall direction was very good.

            One of the main elements that makes this movie so appealing, besides the obvious violence, is the dynamic that forms between our hero Themistocles and his enemy – the beautiful but deadly Artemisia.  Most of what we know about Artemisia comes from Herodotus, and, while she was a female naval commander and an ally of Xerxes, she probably didn’t set the stage for the emergence of Xerxes as the King of Kings and she probably wasn’t nearly as cool as the character in the movie.  Artemisia is deliciously evil.  She will defeat you and you will like it.  Our boy Themistocles gets wrapped up in a love affair with her and fireworks ignite.  The mixture of sex and violence that occurs between the two would make Freud do a double-take.  What does it all mean?  It’s Hollywood telling a pretty good story, and throwing in ribbons of truth to keep it interesting.   I’m not saying that Themistocles couldn’t have hooked up with Artemisia while they were fighting on opposite sides of the Greco-Persian Wars, but the odds are definitely against it.  Though a real-life longshot, the movie wouldn’t have been the same without this plot enhancement.  Chalk one up for Hollywood imagination over authenticity. 

            The crescendo of the movie reaches its peak with the Battle of Salamis.  This is where, historically, the Greek forces led by Themistocles turn away Xerxes and the Persians.  Themistocles retreats to the Bay of Salamis and lays in wait for the Persian Navy.  The big screen depiction is a triumph of Hollywood movie making.  There are flying horses which seemingly appear out of thin air, people dying everywhere, scary looking Persians, and a rousing speech by Spartan Queen Gorgo, the wife of Leonidas, who is leading the Spartan naval forces into battle to assist Themistocles and avenge the death of her husband.  Don’t get me wrong, this was goose-bump inducing coolness, but Spartan women – while truly unique in the Ancient world – never commanded a naval unit of any kind.  If you have even a rudimentary knowledge of history, something like this is kind of hard to get past.  Does it play well on the screen?  You bet your sweet bottom it does.  Not only was this a Spartan queen, but Leonidas’ wife who had come to kick some Persian butt.  Not to mention the fact that Lena Headey, the actress who plays Queen Gorgo, has a huge following from her other gig as Cersei on Game of Thrones.  The stars align nicely for the conclusion, but it was difficult to tell what was happening.  This may have been fairly accurate, because it would have been very hard for an observer to follow what was happening at the actual Battle of Salamis.  The great special effects and musical score, coupled with the arrival of the second and third waves of Greek back-up, made the sequence eventful and exciting.

            The biggest disappointment of 300:  Rise of an Empire was the diminished role of Xerxes.  He’s present in all of his gilded, god-like glory, but there seemed to be much less of him this time around.  I felt like Will Ferrell from those Saturday Night Live skits, and I wanted more Xerxes.  I need more Xerxes.  There may have been a reason for less Xerxes, and my hypothesis would be that the negative depiction of the character resulted in a downplayed role.  In the original 300, Xerxes was the poster boy for Orientalism, and maybe the filmmakers caught on to this.  Then again, maybe not.  In this film there was a huge oil spewing barge resembling a “suicide bomber,” heading back down that slippery slope.  Either way, Xerxes was one of my favorite characters from the original movie and I had hoped to see much more of his ostentatious display of Persian dominance, but it was not to be.

            The verdict on 300 part deux?  I enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it.  It was fun, sexy, violent, cool, and even comical.  What else could you ask for?  Well, maybe lines like, “Spartans!  What is your profession!” or “This is where we hold them, this is where we fight.  This is where they die!”  I actually believe that from a Spartan point of view a lot of the first 300 was accurate, but then again I am an undeniable Spartan fan.  Bottom line is that while this movie disregarded the accepted history of events it was very entertaining.  I found myself rooting for Themistocles and on the edge of my seat when Queen Gorgo and the Spartans arrived.  I loved to hate Artemisia, and was oddly attracted to her brutal brand of sexy.  Go ahead and pay the money to see it.  Just don’t let the kids go or use any of this stuff for a history lesson.
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Friday, September 12, 2014

The Road Not Taken

     The alarm sounds with the normal high intensity shrill that I have become accustomed to, and with one leap my feet hit the floor.  As is normally the case my foot finds the lone lego piece, undoubtedly left behind by one of the offspring.  It feels like Neptune's trident has pierced the bottom of my foot, but like Jesse Ventura in the first Predator movie, "I ain't got time to bleed."  The life that has chosen me awaits. Up and at 'em.  Coffee drank and kids woke.  Baths.  Teeth brushed.  Clothes picked (or at least attempted to be picked, because Maddie is the free spirit type.)  You haven't lived until you have a naked 5 year old scream at you at 6 am about a twirly skirt.  That is a fact.  My excitement is peaked in car pool lanes and birthday parties at the Chuckie Cheese.  I am a master of the art of Macaroni and Cheese preparation, and I make a mean milk.  I am dad hear me roar...or growl.  I could have been somebody.  I could have been a contender (shout out to Marlon Brando.)  I could have been President of the United States...strike that.  I inhaled.  That's out.  Hold on a minute here.  I've got the best job in the whole wide world.  I get to be a father and a trophy husband full time!  I'm the undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion of the world!!!!  Hold on, I have to pick up little girl underwear and clean toothpaste out of the sink.  This is the Glamorous life.  Sheila E ain't got nothing on me. 

     It wasn't that long ago that putting folks in jail and teaching the art of the Redneck Jedi (Defensive Tactics/Expandable baton) was the calling card.  However, in the recent past its been changing diapers, head bottle washer, child coach and counselor, and all around cleaner/fixer/toenail clipper/snot and butt wiper/ and so on and so forth.  Both jobs had there ups and downs, and one was paid and the other is not.  If you ask him which one made him feel wealthy....well that question should answer itself.  The man is fortunate for the road he is on, and the one he decided not to take.

      The first child was a sweet blond haired blue eyed boy who would turn into a pretty smart cookie who moonlighted as quite a baller (that's young person speak for good athlete...at least I think it is.)  The boy was absolutely perfect as far as he was concerned, and watching him grow into the young man that he will become was of the utmost importance.  This boy's life would mean more than anything to the father, that is until an equally important miracle occurred.  A daughter.  A little girl with all the light of the world in her eyes, and a true gift for joy and happiness.  Sure, she turned out to be a hardcore legend that was as tough as they come, but a happier child I don't think exists in this world.

     What is that they say about the woman behind a man?  Is it that behind every great man is an equally great woman?  I've tried to research that phrase a little, and the origin is uncertain.  Some believe that it originated from the movements of the 60s and 70s involving women's rights.  I've got my own slant on that.  Behind every man is a woman that has influenced his life and helped to shape him.  First it is his mother and then his wife.  The two most important woman in the shaping of a man, and who he will be.  It's a fact.  Could the male species survive on this earth without women?  I would like to think so, but it sure would be a boring place.  The road that I took when it came to a soul mate was definitely the road less traveled.  I'm not trying to be Robert Frost here, but its true.  Total opposites.  She's a yankee and I'm a good ol' boy.  She's a democrat and I'm a republican.  She's a vegetarian and I am purveyor of eating seared animal flesh.  She drives a Prius and I don't.  I could go on, but you get the point.  Bottom line is this:  the luckiest day of my life was when I met her.

     This tribe.  This family unit.  These people that I would not hesitate to lay everything on the line for...well they are what it is all about.  They are my company on the road that I have chosen.  They are what sustains me throughout everything.  Mi Familia.  My Family.  My Loved Ones.  The four of us make up quite a team, and we're hard to beat.  There are a lot of teams just like ours out there, and lets hope that we're all doing something right for the future.  Sometimes I think about what would have happened if different decisions had been made, but I believe that things turn out like they're supposed to.  I believe that we are given a mind and a brain to think for ourselves and the decisions we make definitely effect what happens in our lives, but no matter what there is a destination that has been set forth beforehand.  It is up to us to find it.  I've found mine, and now as I enter the next phase of this life my eyes are open to all the possibilities.

     My life my rules.  The code I've lived by since my youth.  Sometimes it didn't exactly work out like I wanted, but overall I think I did pretty good.  The Road Not Taken has been pretty good to me, but that's probably how it was supposed to be all along.  I took the right road.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Manifesto of the 5th Dentist

     You've heard it before, "4 out of 5 dentists recommend Crest Gobbedly Gook Flavor Toothpaste."  Well, I for one admire the 5th dentist.  That's right, this guy (or girl) stood up for what they believed in and took a walk on the wild side.  I have always been a non-conformist by nature, and I normally travel on the road with all the bumps.  Look no further than the direction my life has taken since the kids were born.  From putting folks in jail to changing diapers like a boss.  Then rockin' the main stage as a 42 year old college senior, and trying to be a 43 year old grad student.  I may end up pursuing my life long dream of carnival work.  I hear they need a weight guesser.  When opportunity knocks, you've got to answer the door!  Carnival folk are the backbone of our society.  But, you knew that already.  The following diatribe is about why it doesn't matter what your job is or how different you are.  This is frustration boiling over with the stroke of every key.  Some folks meditate, but I write, and yell from time to time. 

     I met a guy once whose occupation was an Egg Tumbler.  True story.  Different strokes for different folks, and if tumbling eggs is your game then who am I to say it's odd.  You may want to go into the Yard Sale Sciences like my brother once pursued.  He was good at it too, but he also was one that did some dumpster diving on the side.  I went with him once.  Once was enough.  It was not my bag, and that's OK.  You may even want to be a pizza guy.  I had a pizza guy go above and beyond the other day, after a generous tip from yours truly, and warn me about fluid leaking from a vehicle.  I walked outside with the young man and he squatted on the ground and touched the fluid.  I asked him, "Does it smell like anything?"  His response was "No," but then he proceeded to place his finger in his mouth.  He looked at me and said, "Tastes funny, but it may just be your driveway I'm tasting."  Thanks pizza dude, but the tasting of the suspicious fluid was not necessary.  We try and teach our kids that everyone is different, and a place in society can be carved out with hard work and dedication to your craft.  Obviously, I want the best for my kids, and I hope one day if Maddie comes home and says, "Dad, I want to be a professional wrestler!" that I take this in stride, but it could be a difficult adjustment.  She would be a great Masked Marauder though.

     We're all created equal, right?  That's what the founding fathers said, and I would not disagree.  However, it seems that more and more people think that they may be just a little bit better than you are these days.  My house is better than your house, and my dog can beat up your dog.  Stuff like that, and even worse.  My kids are better athletes than yours are, better students, better everything, and you should just accept that you're just taking up air and move on.  These people are everywhere.  You've seen them, and they've made you so mad you want to spit.  This elitist mentality seems to be what I would call a "First World Problem."  We here in the United States may have our struggles, but we don't exactly have bombs blowing up all around us and people trying to kill us just because of our ethnic background or religious beliefs. At least not on a regular basis. Thanks to our fabulous military and the fine men and women who serve our great country we can lay our heads down at night and rest easy.  So, how far my kids can hit a baseball really doesn't matter all that much, although my son Jesse may disagree.  How my kids turn out in a few years does.  Are they productive members of society?  Do they have strong moral character?  Do they work hard to accomplish the goals that they set for themselves?  Do they understand the importance of family?  Country?  Our place in this world and what we can do to improve the future?  I hope when the time comes I can answer "Yes" to all these questions.  That is what is important to me.

     Politics.  One word never covered such a broad spectrum of our lives.  From the President of the United States all the way down to T-Ball.  That's right, I said T-Ball.  But, Mr. Uber Dad, Politics doesn't belong in T-Ball or Elementary School or Tiddly Winks...right?  Well, that would be a correct statement, but sometimes who you know or what you can do undoubtedly pays off for some people.  I recently was able to participate in the Athenian assembly.  Ancient Athens that is.  Yep, I went by the name Cristos the Great, and I was a Moderate Democrat.  That was the role I was given for a Reacting to the Past game at UAB.  What am I getting at?  Rhetoric is as important today as it was 2000 years ago.  If you can talk a good game, and bribe the right people you're good to go!  That is an unfortunate fact of a political system.  Personally, I like to allow for my kids to be successful on their own merit not by who I may know (although, I don't really know anybody, undoubtedly) or what I may have (again I ain't really got nothing, so I'm out of luck.)  It is what it is, I suppose.  By the way my team of Moderate Democrats won the game.  We had to lie, cheat, and steal to do it.  I actually betrayed my entire faction, and helped to install a tyrant.  In return for my lack of loyalty and deceit, I was given the title of "General and Commander of the Military."  Things haven't changed that much it doesn't seem, and if the game would have gone on a little longer I probably would have staged a coup.  I had the power of the military so why not? 

     One more thing before I go.  I know I have mentioned from time to time that I am a student of History.  When you do enough research and look at the past very closely you can start to see patterns.  Patterns of occurrences or even outcomes.  Most of the time when these outcomes are negative you can directly link them to one thing.  Hubris.  For those who don't know what that word means I will enlighten you.  It means excessive pride, self-confidence, or arrogance to a detriment.  In Greek tragedies and real history, this hubris has led to the downfall of some pretty important folks.  This loss of contact with reality for selfish reasons seems to be all over the place these days.  Look no further than the Good Book.  I'm not being preachy here, but I like to call things like I see them.  Proverbs 16:18 says, I'm paraphrasing here, "pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."  Makes sense to me.  The Greeks sometimes put hubris in the backyard of the goddess Nemesis.  Nemesis didn't play around.  If you've ever heard of Narcissus you already know this.  He fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, and long story short he died because he couldn't leave his sexy self.  Loved himself to death, I reckon.  That is a myth, but it sounds all too real and current.  Just food for thought.  It is my Manifesto, even if I'm not a Dentist.