Monday, December 27, 2010

Gaming for Bums

I pride myself on knowing as many games as possible.  Games of all kinds.  Card games, clapping games, or even just sitting around talking games.  But I’ve noticed that almost all societies have created sports that can barely be called sports- and yet they do require a certain amount of skill.  There’s bocce ball, baggo, billiards and even lawn bowling.  A lot of hoite-toite societies like to play croquet.  One thing they all seem to have in common, though, is projecting a ball from a stationary position.
My biggest problem, though, is that I never have an off switch for my competitiveness.  When I’m bowling, for example, I’ve gotten many many many two-strike combinations before, but I’ve only been able to hit the turkey one time.  My hand gets sweaty and I can’t control it.  Whatever you’ve got, I’ve tried it.  Be that as it may, I probably have about a 135 or 140 average.  Nonetheless, whenever I am playing against someone in a friendly bowl, I try to make sure I win more games against them than I lose.  I would not be The Dude, because I do not abide losing very well.  I’ll even try to get a “fun” game, like between the legs game, if I sense I could clinch having won most of the serious games.
But the new sitting around sport, actually appears to be several games.  Wii Tennis, for one. What’s so fun about sitting down and playing a sport that you could just go outside to play.  Well, for one, it’s a lot easier to be good at a sport that you only have to time correctly, rather than swing in the exact right place.  But that seems to just be for the Wii Sports game.  The newest game I got (Thanks, Katie!) has a lot of really fun games that are quite honestly a lot more fun (or at least more safe) to play than the actual game.
I’m not going to be able to drown playing the Kayak race on the Wii.  Or break my neck skiing (now if we could only get another numchuck to play it).  Probably the most awesome is the Air Races.  Flying the plane without having to get your pilot license is pretty cool, but I wonder if this is the first step to get my pilots license…
My biggest tip of anyone who gets way too into these games, like myself, would be- Wear long pants to avoid carpet burns, Always use the Squishy Case, so you don’t destroy the Wiimote, and wear the strap, so you don’t hurt anyone or anything either.  If these games still sound way too intense, I would have to recommend playing Shuffleboard on the Arcade disc.  Sound like an old- person game?  I beg to disagree.  It’s really on the way back.  It involves precision and strategy- you can go from ten points on the board to five for your opponent.
There still are some games that don’t seem to be uniquely Minnesotan.  Cribbage is a fantastic game, which is complex, but rewarding when you understand the strategy.  The game can be played with anywhere from two to four, even up to six players.  My greatest moment in this game was probably a two-on-two matchup when my partner and I were down by four with our opponents needing one to peg out.  Then the pegging came.  We got two.  Another two- and one to peg out for the win.  I wish I had as good a story about Billiards, but most of those involve scratching for the loss.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Re-evaluating the Left

            A left turn has come to be a euphemism for an unexpected action.  I have been intrigued about left turns ever since I saw Zoolander and he could make left turns, because he wasn’t an ambi-turner.  Which makes him the exact opposite of NASCAR drivers, I guess.
            And maybe that’s why not many of them come from Michigan, the state left turns forgot.  The first time I drove in the state, I learned about something called the Michigan Left.  Apparently keeping their state connected wasn’t the only thing the Michiganites (Michiganers? Michiganians?) are afraid of.  In order to make a left turn on a highway, one is required to drive about a city block past the light in the left hand lane, then, when it’s safe.  Do a U-turn, come back to the same stoplight and turn right.  I suppose it saves on left turn signals, but Really? How aren’t U-turns at least as dangerous? Maybe they just want you to see more of their state.
            I’ve found that the city of St. Paul has come upon an interesting mechanism for speeding up traffic flow, while taking advantage of left turns.  As much as it pains me to compliment St. Paul in any way, I have to give them props for this one.  As the son of a Program Manager in the Office of Policy Analysis, Research & Innovation at Mn/DOT, I am well-versed in how important traffic flow is for the growth of an urban area.  But this idea is so simple and so smart, I am going to call it the St. Paul Right.  Simply understood: As it stands, people turning right must stop completely at a red light before turning.  But oftentimes there are several cars coming from your right, turning left. Often because they have a green arrow.  This being the case, you shouldn’t have to stop.  Therefore, St. Paul has installed green right arrows for when the left arrows are on going the other way.  Genius! The road essentially becomes just a bend and it gets more people through the intersection quickly.
            You know what else keeps traffic flow going?  Round-abouts.  All you St. Paul people, don’t tell me that, “Oh they’re scary!” “Oh I don’t understand them.”  They’re very simple.  You yield to the people already in the roundabout, then you enter and continue in a counter-clockwise motion until you exit on the road you entered.  You can even end up going back the way you came if you want to.  But you’re going to have to learn them eventually.  Richfield just installed two-lane roundabouts along 66th Street, a very prominent byway.  They’re practically Minneapolis!  But St. Paul has never been about things that make sense and eliminate congestion.  Except maybe chili.  That’s why they’re saying that the Central Corridor light rail (the Uni-Line, as I plan on calling it, regardless) is not going to have pre-emption at stoplights anywhere down University in St. Paul.  It’s going to take 45 minutes to get from downtown to downtown! Give pre-emption, build some round-abouts and give your streets some rhyme or reason. Hate to say it, but Jesse V had it right about you guys.
            If you still don’t get round-abouts, look them up on the back of any new state map.  I just recently used a roundabout to avoid having to turn left off Hiawatha Avenue.  It was awesome.  Nonetheless, turning left has gotten much easier to do, since our main form of transportation gradually changed from boats to cars.  Trains were somewhere in there, but as far as I know, they didn’t have to worry about turning left.  Now we call turning left Hanging a Louie.  But with boats, big sailing ships, that is, even the language implies that it must have been a more tricky maneuver.  Hard-a-Port! the captain would call out.  Then he would have to turn the rudder, and six-to-ten man crew would have to swing the sails in the appropriate manner as to turn the three ton ship toward the port side.  Although even “port” is a relatively recent term.  That direction used to be called Larboard- rhyming with Starboard, which is the right side of the ship. (And the front is called Fore and the back is called Aft.  You’re welcome.)  But imagine a captain trying to yell out one of those over the roar of a storm.  What could you do but change the terminology?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Why I'm Still Watching

            We watch a lot of TV in the Buckeye house.  Well, I watch a lot of TV.  And as such, I’ve had to get used to commercials and how to deal with them.  Personally, I find many of them funny.  My dad has said that while we’re watching football together the commercials have to be muted for the most part.  This requires having the remote.  Step One: finding it.  Not always an easy task, especially since the basement has been refurnished with a couch that has deep, attached cushions.  Step Two: Keeping the batteries in.  This is a problem for me, because I tend to fidget with remotes to the point where the cover breaks, and we’ve had to get a hairband to keep it attached.  We’ve heard rumors that the feds will soon pass a law that the commercials cannot be louder that the loudest point of the show they’re being shown during.  What a great law- until then, here’s my Guide to Hip and Lame Commercials.
            The first, most lame commercial that comes to mind is the Jared Galleria commercial.  There are some commercials that must be just a certain level of annoying that they get the name into people’s head.  I can’t help but wonder if Jared crossed the line.  I know people who’ve said they will never shop at Jared, simply because they don’t want people to be able to say “He went to Jared.”  It’s not that every diamond commercial ticks me off, either, because I really like most Kay commercials (question: how would they say their slogan in another language?).  Jared just uses their slogan way too much, culminating in that stupid, “What’s a Thirteen Letter Word for Marriage Proposal?” one and me getting rug-burns diving for the remote before I hear more than three words of it.
            Bud Light has a lot of interesting commercials, and I don’t hate all of them.  Exception: The one which takes place in the office on Saturday.  Guys decide to watch the game and drink beer. You know the one.  I’m going to explode with reasons why I hate this one.  You’re not going to stay out of trouble drinking at work.  And if you do stay out of trouble, it’s not going to be because you’re drinking Bud Light.  We get it: Here We Go is a catchy phrase to mean you are going to party.  It would be good, but you over-use it.  (My dad openly wonders if these commercials sell more beer, or just make it cost more.  My guess is the latter.)  The finishing touch is that I know the original version of this commercial did not have the Boss yelling “Johnson!” before he gets in and opens a beer.  He just came in silently.  I know, not only because I remember the first version, but also because it doesn’t even sound like him.  Get it right the first time, Bud Light.
            But if it wasn’t for good commercials like this next one, I would have lost faith in humanity television.  Or maybe I already have, this just helps me cope better.  I’m talking, of course, about the Google TV commercial starring Kevin Bacon as his own biggest fan.  Why aren’t people raving about this one?  It’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time, and I’m not that big a Kevin Bacon fan.  The two best quotes from this one: “Favorite movie of his?  That would probably have to be a tie.  For all of them.”  Also, “My wife says if I watch any more I might turn in to him [grins, shows crossed fingers]”.  Now Kevin Bacon gets mad street cred from me for doing this.  And he already has a buttload-  the man has his own Game named after him. He’s like the Forrest Gump of acting.  Speaking of which, it’s time to play: How many degrees does Gump have of Bacon?  Answer: Four. Gump played by Hanks who plays Lovell who goes to space with Jack who’s played by Bacon.
            And finally, to preface, I’m honestly not in love with all of GEICO’s commercials.  They have too many mascots, the caveman was abrasive, the money stack creeped me out (it was also a rug-burner, IYKWIM), and the fake Rod Serling guy is hit or miss.  One of his that is a hit with me, though, is The Little Piggy one.  I crack up whenever he stops screaming because the mom got his attention and he starts talking like a teenage kid.  But it’s great on such a deeper level, too.  What did that nursery rhyme mean?  This answers so many of those questions.  The Little Piggy’s name is Maxwell, he went WEE! because he was riding in a car and pigs don’t often get to ride in cars.  They also don’t drive, which is why he had to get a ride home from his friend’s mom.  My impression was he was coming home from school, but it also might have been the fair, because he had those pinwheels. Pretty sure I would go Wee-wee-WEE! with those things, too.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sometimes Sports Suck.

            My relationship with sports is somewhat complicated.  I love them- when my teams are winning.  To a certain extent, I can watch sports like baseball, football, or basketball on various levels and to various levels of caring, on most occasions regardless of how my team has done on that given day.  But I’m not the kind of person who will come away saying “What a great day of football!” if my team hasn’t won that day.  I’ve often said, “I hate baseball, except when the Twins are winning.” Or maybe it was, “I love baseball, except when the Twins are losing.”  Yea, that was it.
            But there are a few things I hate about sports all the time.  One of those things is: How disappointing the Sportscenter Top 10 plays are during the winter when half of them are dunks.  “Ooh, look at that.  That tall human being put a spheroid object through a hoop that’s twice the diameter.”  Don’t get me wrong- I know what a cool dunk looks like.  But they’re very much scraping the bottom of the barrel that time of year, when most of the dunks are just uncontested and not very impressive.
            Also, Derek Jeter highlights.  As if that man as done anything worth watching, ever- Oh yea, that home run in the 2001 World Series.  Also jumping in vain while the ball goes over his head and lands for the game-winning hit of that same World Series.  But here’s what Jeter does: Goes to his left.  Scoops up a groundball that any shortstop could get to.  (But here’s what he does to make it special.) Does a little pirouette before throwing on to first, making it harder on himself than if he had just planted and thrown on to first.  Has anyone done less to earn a major honor than Jeter getting a Gold Glove this year?  Oh yea, Jeter winning SI’s Sportsman of the Year award last year.
            Here’s the highlight I’m talking about, though.  2001 AL Division Series against Oakland.  The Yanks are in the process of completing a comeback against the A’s.  Jeremy Giambi is coming around to score a critical run.  Jeter picks up the ball and tosses it to Posada, and Giambi is called out- a play that came to be known as The Flip.  The biggest problem with immortalizing it, though: Giambi was safe.  I know- I saw the play live, and I still haven’t seen a perspective that shows him out.  The unwritten rule I have found in baseball is that at first base, tie goes to the defense; at home, tie goes to the offense.  In other words, they’ve already made it three bases, so to deny them the run, you have to prove he was out.  Unless your name is Derek Jeter, and the umpire thinks you made a very heads-up (gag) play.
            (Derek Jeter highlights aren’t the only ones I hate, though.  Remember that Santonio Holmes “catch” in the Super Bowl against the Cardinals?  Pretty sure it wasn’t a catch.  What? Should we give it to him because it was close? Do the Steelers need another title?  And wouldn’t Holy Angels alum Larry Fitzgerald have been just as big a hero if not for that play?)
            My personal belief on (ss that even an original thing to complain about anymore?) the BCS is that there will never be a playoff system in college football.  At the very best, we will just go back to having the two polls, sometimes conflicting national champs, and no actual national championship game.  The de facto playoffs will become the conference championship games, which, admittedly, are very exciting.  But what might continue to happen, is the Automatic Qualifying conferences gaining increasing amounts of power, and the smaller-conference powerhouses moving up to the big ones.  Boise State might even get to join the Pac-10 one day.
            Finally, on a topic that seems to be dividing America recently, I’m declaring my stance on Michael Vick- and it’s a reasonable one:  He deserves a break. (I’m talking to you, PETA.)  What he did to dogs is horrible, sure.  But he paid his debt to society, seems sincerely contrite, and has completely revamped his life. The dissenters seem to be saying, “He did something awful and therefore doesn’t deserve anything good- ever.”  It seems with all the attention he’s drawing to the barbaric sport of dog-fighting, he’s actually done more good for dogs.  Also- they’re just dogs.  They’re not people.  Did anyone here me?- Not People.  I think sometimes we forget that, as a society.  As bad as it is to kill and endanger and be cruel to animals, it is worse to do the same to people.  In other words, the jury is still out for me on Roethlisberger. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Some Neatly Flowing Winter Thoughts...

I love sledding.  I know, who doesn’t, right?  But I don’t think many people appreciate it very much at my age.  By the time you turn Twenty-Three, you have turned your attention to other fun going-downhill sports, such as biking, skiing or snowboarding, or even kayaking.  I like biking, but not as much since I had a bike stolen from the 46th Street Station and had to walk home in the dark.  And I really like skiing.  Yea, I ski.  I’m sorry, I never wanted to learn to snowboard.  It’s not my fault I learned to ski first and then just never wanted to not be good at going down the hill.  That was the main reason, really.  Do I look down on those who snowboard?  Maybe.  Why, are they looking down on me?  Then yes, I definitely do….
I also really like kayaking, but I don’t have one yet, and I may have to get one in order to do some more challenging stuff.  But the reason I love sledding so much is because the sled I own is one of the fastest, coolest sleds around.  I got it for about five bucks at the fall festival’s rummage sale, but I’ve gotten the money’s worth a hundred times over.  It’s black, it has runners and a steering wheel (kind of a mini- snowmobile), and it might be the best thing ever- I don’t know why these aren’t more popular!
But I also have a car now, and quite honestly, driving in the winter is like sledding- only with potentially greater consequences.  The strangest thing about driving this vehicle is that on a certain level, I’m not sure if it actually works.  Because I’ve never seen it running from the outside.  I have commuted to work a couple times now, but for all I know, I get in, turn it on and then fifteen minutes later I get out of it at work.  What happens in between?  I see cars going past me, and me past them, and them going past me the other way, but that could all just be a simulation, and my car just teleported to work.  I can tell it’s a different place than my house, too, because the ‘burbs just have a different feel than the city.  A little bit more wide open, yes, but that’s because they don’t use things like space as efficiently as us.  Read the book The World Inside.  One day we will all be living in Urban Monads, giant mile-high towers of people and civilization.  Probably not, but the city is better than the suburbs- so there!
Nonetheless, if indeed my car does move through the world, I haven’t seen it.  Maybe God has.  I wonder if he could tell my driving style just by watching from a bird’s eye view.  He would probably see a green Cutlass Supreme (which is being mentioned in the song I’m listening to right now, “Good To Be Me” by Uncle Kracker- and no, that’s not a coincidence) which stays about ten miles over the speed limit and insinuates itself into different lanes maybe a little more often than it has to.
Which reminds me, I might have to one day get a white G painted on the side. And then outline it in gold.  It would be fun in this Vikings-crazy country.  The best part of being a Packers fan, honestly, is that it gives you a way to relate to people anywhere you go.  Not even so much as a way to pick a fight with regular Minnesotans, but with people anywhere who are either Packers fans, Bears fans, Vikings fans or even Cowboys fans (suck it, ‘Boys Nation!).  Because you find them everywhere.  In my life, I can’t see myself living for more than a year in any place outside the Midwest, so it works out great for me in that respect, but even if I did, I could still find those I could talk NFC North football with just about anywhere.  I feel like as a native Minnesotan, some of the people I watch the games with see me as some kind of giant Helga-hat-wearing Norseman decking himself out in Green and Gold.  I gotta tell them, that’s just wrong.  I am obviously a meat-cleaver-wielding Acme Meat Packer.  (Ugh, maybe that’s why we got rid of that mascot…)  And I completely respect the great state of Green Bay, Wis.  But not Greater Wisconsin.
You can bet your ass that if I had another topic here, you’d get another killer segue.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Christmas Secrets

I kinda hate Christmas songs.  It seems silly and unnecessary for specific stations to completely devote their time from the end of November to January to songs about one specific day.  It’s the most wonderful time of the year, my ass.  But we all have to deal with it, and for the most part, even enjoy it.  Like camping.  I enjoy camping because it’s something I know I can do, and only get better at doing each time I do it.  You know the tricks of the trade, because you’ve experienced it.  And you survive it.
Let’s not ignore this part either- it gets snowy and cold up here, so there are just certain things you have to deal with.  Driving, for example.  There are times you’re going to need to get somewhere, and it’s not going to be easy.  So don’t stop at stop signs unless you safely can.  Whenever you start from a stop, accelerate slowly.  If you fishtail, turn the wheel in the direction your back wheels are slipping.  By the way, fishtails and California Rolls should be dishes served at a restaurant honoring Minnesota winter driving. Seriously though, the only way to get better at winter driving is to do it more.  But if you just can’t, buy a GoTo Card from MetroTransit and just let others do it for you.
But the most important part about fitting in the holiday activities is understanding that you can’t do everything. Lately, I’ve realized that there are certain events which I like to call Monkey Wrenches.  They are those events which don’t provide for all the fun you can have in a night, but they can definitely take away from the fun you could be having somewhere else.  If all you have going on is the MW, fine.  But I would never recommend committing to one any earlier than 48 hours in advance.  You can identify one of these events by the times during which it can take place.  They are usually from about six or seven to nine or ten.  They are probably no more than two hours long, but are more strictly scheduled than a regular open house might be.  And they are much more prominent around this time of year, so beware.
But the important thing is to keep a level head. Calmly excuse yourself from any conversation with a relative who’s half in the bag.  Learn how to play cribbage, if you don’t already know.  Or the card game Five Hundred. But my favorite part is gift buying and giving. I really no longer measure my Christmas success by what I get, but by what I give. And I’m not overly wealthy- I just buy awesome gifts.  I’ve been among the league leaders in Thought Per Dollar every season for the past four years or so.  Why worry about how much you are going to spend?  People could save so much money around Christmas and Chanukah if they just thought for a minute.  Don’t know what to get someone?  Check their Facebook page on your smartphone. Why wouldn’t you?  Also, lists are your best friend right now.  I always keep one when I’m doing my Christmas shopping, just to keep track of how much I love everybody.
And what if I just can’t figure out what to get someone, Johnny? I have dealt with this.  The Tall One and I arranged this last year.  We were each at college, away from each other, all year and despite the immense bro-love we share, admitted that neither could figure out what the other wanted.  Poof!  The “Games by James” Method, as it will come to be known.  We both respect the store, and so what we decided was that if you see something you like, just drop it on the floor.  And the other will pick it up.  “Hmmm, it’s like this gift is trying to tell me to buy it for Steve…”  Genius.
Finally, don’t be scared to go to the Mall on Christmas Eve.  So many people are scared to go, that no one is there.  That’s where you’ll find me this year, at that time.  And now I just gave away the secret.  Dammit.