Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Christmas Story

We were preparing to go to my mother’s house for Christmas Eve when my youngest protested about having to wear jeans instead of sweatpants.

“It’s a party,” I explained. “You have to dress up a little.”

A superb arguer, just like his father, Clark provided his usual well-reasoned response, “Well, I didn’t have to dress up for Andrew’s birthday party.”

I was highlighting the difference between laser tag and Christmas Eve when my oldest chimed in.

“That was Andrew’s birthday,” he said. “This is Jesus’s.”

Silenced, at least for the moment, Clark put on his jeans.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Lessons from the Bahamas

My family traveled to the Bahamas over Thanksgiving to watch the University of Louisville play in the Battle 4 Atlantis basketball tournament and to enjoy some winter warmth. Here are a few things we learned during our trip.
Leap of Faith or Atomic Wedgie?
  • Southwest Airlines “can’t control the weather.” At least that’s what they told me ad nauseam after I missed connections because of fog in St. Louis. I’m still trying to figure out what fog in St. Louis had to do with either Louisville or Fort Lauderdale.
  • A $12 mango daiquiri is good, but not $12 worth (with tip) of good.
  • Forget Chris, everybody hates Duke. My U of L gear always evoked a refrain from fans of other schools of “Beat Duke.” Wish we could have.
  • Treat yourself to the grouper at Twin Brothers, even if you have to go outside to find the restroom.
  • Senior Cardinal guard Peyton Siva is not only a terrific player, but an outstanding leader. When I peeked underneath the bleachers at halftime of the championship game against Duke and saw him bring the team together for a players’ only huddle, I knew the Cardinals were going to make a run at it, which they did.
  • Get your bearings before you get on the rapids / wave attraction at Atlantis or you may get trapped in some kind of time space warp.
  • Before the season, I figured Gorgui Dieng was the player the Cardinals could least afford to lose. That’s before I knew of the talents of Montrezl Harrell and the heart of Steven Van Treese. Van Treese’s story is particularly compelling. If Rick Pitino had had his way, Van Treese would’ve been playing for Division II Bellarmine instead of going toe to toe with Duke’s Mason Plumlee in a battle of top five teams.
  • They ought to change the name of the “Leap of Faith” to the “Atomic Wedgie.”
  • VCU fans are fervent. I particularly enjoyed the big guy with ram horns and cape, although I don’t think he possessed any actual super powers.
  • When cars drive on the wrong side of the road, you’re never sure whether they’re coming or going. Just to be safe, apply “look both ways” liberally.
  • Sometimes it’s a good thing when you can’t find the Big East Network. (Think football).
  • Heed the wave warnings. Those things hit like Michael Bush.
  • The only thing in the Bahamas with bolder and more unpredictable moves than Russ Smith is a Bahamian taxi driver.
  • Just because you can charge everything to a room key, doesn’t mean you have to. Otherwise, you might order a second $12 daiquiri.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dribs and Drabs from Card Country

Having finally wrung out my poncho and gloves from Saturday night’s rain-soaked Louisville win over Cincinnati, I thought I’d open the tap and drip out a few last thoughts on the thrilling overtime victory.

No more fair weather fans. Cardinal fans tend to be self-loathing. We complain about the lack of support. We say fans come too late, wander from their seats too much and leave too early. All are legitimate complaints. But here’s one thing you can’t say about U of L fans: They aren’t the fair-weather sort. Saturday’s crowd was 50,000 strong (coaching pun intended) from beginning to end on a rainy, cold October evening.

The good hands people. Louisville’s wide receivers are among the finest ensemble cast since Seinfeld. Eli Rogers, DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland have all made fantastic catches. By comparison, the Washington Redskins’ receivers dropped more passes on Sunday than the Cardinals have all season.

A Strong decision. In overtime, with the Cards needing only a score to win, U of L head coach Charlie Strong put quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s golden arm on ice to set up a game-winning 30-yard field goal That proved to be the right call, but it sure worried me, particularly in adverse conditions. I would have had Teddy take at least one shot at the end zone, which the Bearcats wouldn’t have expected. Congrats to kicker John Wallace for hitting the field goal and silencing any second guesses by hacks like me.
The defense is getting better, by George. With three interceptions, U of L’s defense seems to be finding some playmakers. Among them is George Durant who deflected a pass and rushed from the edge like a heat-seeking missile.

A kick in the keister. U of L’s kick coverage continues to be a pain in the behind. The kick is typically low and short. As a result, returners get a good head of steam going and are rarely stopped before reaching midfield. Cincinnati’s game-tying drive late in regulation benefitted from yet another poor effort on kick coverage. At this point, it might be better to just routinely kick the ball out of bounds.

A fragrant flag. Strong drew a flag for arguing an official’s call about whether a muffed punt should’ve been or touchback or a safety. Despite being the dumbest rule I’ve never heard of, the official was apparently correct on the touchback call. I’m more suspect on the flag. South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops both pitched similar fits over the weekend with nary a yellow a hanky in sight.

Plus, that ref’s yellow towel could’ve been used for something far more practical, such as wiping the water off my seat.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Win Comes with Loss (of Sleep)

I felt grumpy Saturday after my beloved Louisville Cardinals ran their record to 5-0 with a slim, come-from-behind, 21-17, victory at Southern Mississippi on a soggy night in Hattiesburg. But my fellow Cards fans were surprisingly upbeat on Twitter.

Their comments included these themes: 
  • Yee Haw, we’re 5-0!
  • Oh well, the conditions were horrible and we won.
  • Maybe we needed this scare anyway.
  • Everything is irrelevant until Big East play starts. 

Perhaps it was because I was up past my bedtime reading Twitter instead of going to sleep, but I couldn’t be as optimistic. Sure, I’m happy to be 5-0, but U of L has now played 10 quarters of pretty uninspiring football.

They blame the rain, but I don't.
The Cards have played in the slop for the past couple of weeks, but so have their opponents. Conditions aren’t always going to be ideal. Both teams have to adapt. So I’m not ready to pull a Milli Vanilli and blame it on the rain.

In terms of needing a scare, the Cards have had three straight. Louisville nearly coughed up a 36-7 lead against North Carolina before breaking up a potential game-winning pass. They came from behind to beat Florida International of the Sun Belt conference. Then, against Southern Miss of Conference USA, they had to both come from behind and hold on. If U of L hasn’t been scared straight yet, then it’s probably not going to happen.

By comparison, Southern Miss was throttled 42-17 just a week earlier by Western Kentucky University. I bet WKU also beats FIU by a greater margin than Louisville. Although I respect what Willie Taggart is accomplishing at Western, that shouldn’t happen.

Finally, there’s the notion that what really matters is the conference schedule and its attendant BCS bid, not these lackluster road games at FIU and USM. However, even with West Virginia leaving for the Big 12, the Big East looks tougher than expected. Just ask Virginia Tech of the ACC, which lost to both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Additionally, although Charlie Strong’s teams have shown the ability to improve throughout the season, I’m not convinced that U of L’s defense is suddenly going to snap to attention once conference play starts.

Some people think this could be a pretty special season. After all, Louisville returns most of its key players from last year’s Big East champions. Others believe the Cards might be a year away because of their youth. After five games, it seems cases could be made for both. Today, I’m leaning toward the later, but maybe just because I need some rest. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Isaacson Shows Jobs' Genius, Madness

Apple founder Steve Jobs was a man who was complicated as his products were simple.

I recently read Jobs biography, written by Walter Isaacson. Even when I finished, I couldn’t figure out whether to admire Jobs or pity him.
I picked up the book because I was interested in insights regarding one of the great visionaries of our time. However, I feared the book would amount to nothing more than a very long Apple press release. To Issacson’s credit, he somehow got the notorious control freak to release his grip and allow the author to tell the full, fascinating story.

The book drags a bit in the middle. For instance, I could have lived with less discussion of open code vs. closed systems. But other seemingly extraneous material, such as Jobs’ relationship with Bill Gates, could not have been missed.

So how do you best describe the late Steve Jobs? Imagine the most difficult person in your life. Now multiply that by a thousand.
Jobs co-founded Apple in a garage and parlayed it into one of the nation’s most admired and financially successful companies. He left his fingerprints all over some of the greatest innovations in a host of industries, including personal computing, cell phones, retailing, music and even movies (through Pixar). In the process, Apple created legions of loyal fans who swear by the simplicity and elegance of its products.

Isaacson tracks each of these great developments from their genesis to completion and all the pain-staking details in between.

Despite Jobs successes, he was neither personally nor professionally satisfied. Issacson suggests this stems from him being placed for adoption as a child. Although Jobs ended up in a loving home, he never got over feelings of abandonment.

Perhaps this is why he could be so cruel, especially to people closest to him, including his own family members. He kept some of Apple’s first employees from sharing in its financial gains and eventually got run out of his own company because of his volatile temper. In his personal life, Jobs had a child out of wedlock and initially chose not to be in her life, just as his own biological parents had done with him.

Jobs eventually returned to Apple to orchestrate some of its greatest accomplishments, including the IPod and IPad. But the ending isn’t nearly as redemptive as it seems. He continued to struggle with professional and personal demons until his death.

According to Isaacson, Jobs wanted to revolutionize other industries, including television. It would have be fun to see what else he would have created. On the other hand, the destructive path in getting there wouldn’t have been any fun at all.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Teddy Bridges Troubled Waters for U of L

With an outstanding freshman campaign behind him and a bright sophomore season ahead, who wouldn’t want to hitch their wagon behind the considerable talents of University of Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater?

Today, Bridgewater’s recruitment seems like such a no-brainer. He may have been one of Louisville’s most important signings ever. Yet, if you reverse the clock more than a year, there were some people who believed Cardinal Head Coach Charlie Strong was actually making a mistake by pursing Bridgewater.  

At the time, U of L already had a commitment from another highly regarded quarterback in local product Damarcus Smith. As the thinking went, Strong was putting Smith’s commitment at risk by courting another quarterback. Some of Smith’s staunchest supporters took to the message boards. They criticized Strong for disrespecting a local kid who was loyal to the program in favor of a pie-in-the-sky guy from Florida. 

Whether it was because of Bridgewater’s signing or not, Smith did renege on his commitment to the Cardinals, just as some predicted. He went to the University of Central Florida instead, flamed out there and wound up at Western Kentucky University. He still hasn’t played a down in college. Meanwhile, Bridgewater reversed U of L’s football fortunes, leading them to a share of the Big East title with a series of gritty performances. 

Recruiting is such a crap shoot. Who knows what would’ve happened had Strong never pursued Bridgewater. Maybe Smith would’ve accomplished just as much or more. Maybe not. I, for one, am glad we didn’t have to find out.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Kids Take Celebrity in Stride

Things that would make our bucket list, often don’t even register with our kids. I was reminded of this twice in recent weeks. 

First, I read about Stephanie Decker visiting the White House with her husband and two children. Decker is the woman from Clark County, Indiana, who saved her kids by covering them with her body during a tornado. In the process, she lost parts of her legs. President Obama heard Decker’s inspiring story and invited her family to visit. 
Clark and Rondo
The opportunity to visit the president of the United States in his home is heady stuff for anyone ... except, perhaps, kids. “My kids don’t get it because they’re young,” Decker explained. “But one day they will understand.” 

As a father of two, I relate to Decker’s comment. Although we’ve never met the president, my kids have had lots of opportunities, too. They are always grateful, even if they don’t always appreciate the gravity of the situation. 

For example, my son, Clark, recently had the opportunity to play basketball with Rajon Rondo at Rondo’s basketball camp. Yes, that’s Rajon Rondo, the NBA All-Star. Just a few weeks earlier, we stayed up late at night to watch Rondo confound the world champion Miami Heat on television. Now, Clark was passing the ball to him. Yet, when I picked Clark up, he neglected to mention it. In fact, I wouldn’t have even known it if the camp photographer hadn’t told me she snapped a picture of them together. 

Clark was more likely to tell me about the french fries he ate for lunch. That’s just the way kids are. As I’ve previously written, they are more impressed by ice cream than celebrities, sports superstars and political leaders.

Nevertheless, you can bet that I’m framing that Rondo picture. Like Decker said, Clark will eventually come to treasure it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Matlock or Mayberry?

Like everybody, I knew of Andy Griffith from the Andy Griffith Show. I enjoyed that show. But for me, the enduring Griffith is the one from my afternoons – the man in the seersucker suit and not the one in the sheriff’s uniform.
To put it another way, I’ll take the Fulton County Courthouse over Mayberry.

Lawyer or Sheriff?
For as long as I can remember, national cable network WGN has broadcast reruns of Griffith’s “Matlock” in the afternoons. Whenever I was at home during the day, for whatever reason, I usually watched it. Afternoon television could be pretty meager without Ben Matlock, particularly in cable’s early days.

Ben Matlock was there for me when I was at home sick, with a sick kid, freelancing, job searching or working from home. I could always squeeze in Matlock between Benadryl, naps, interviews, phone calls, errands or assignments. When I couldn’t watch closely, Matlock still provided the background noise.

I often joke that I realized it was time to kick up my job search after I’d been through the whole Matlock series once and started through it again. That’s a lot of people wrongly accused, hot dogs eaten and $100,000 fees collected.

During that time, I even started to take note of guest stars that I previously missed, such as Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame.

Although the series ended in 1995, Matlock holds up pretty well. In fact, when I recently dressed for the Kentucky Oaks, I patterned myself after good old Ben. Matlock’s longevity is quite a tribute to a guy who could’ve been forever typecast as Sheriff Taylor. In Griffith’s honor, WGN should run a Matlock marathon. I might not tune in though. I’ve been through the entire series already … one afternoon at a time.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Playing it Cool

Kids are more resilient than you’d think. Let me give you an example.

There’s a boy who once played baseball on Clark’s team. He’s a fine baseball player and one of the nicest kids you’d ever meet. So nice, in fact, that he’d actually apologize if he accidentally bean-balled someone. He’s the kind of kid that you like to see succeed. That’s why I’ve kept an eye on his progress since he played on Clark’s team.
A snow cone soothes the soul

He recently approached me after one of Clark’s games with a dramatic declaration. He said, “This is the last time you’re going to see me.” When I asked him why, he said his family was moving away. Sensing his trepidation, I gave him a hug and told him he’d make friends fast and be on a new team in no time. 

I was really proud of myself. I felt my words had soothed his troubled soul at a critical crossroads. 

His response to such a great act of compassion: “Buy me a snow-cone?” 

While I thought he was craving reassurance, he was actually thirsting for shaved ice. How could I resist? Of course, I bought him a snow-cone. 

Then I wondered how it would be if us adults were so resilient. Lost your job? Grab an ice cream cone. Did the bank foreclose on your house? Have a brownie.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Driving Me Mad

WARNING: If you’ve been catching up on past episodes of Mad Men on your DVR like me, then this column many contain spoilers.

Pryce is wrong
At times, it seems to me like AMC’s Mad Men is moving much too slowly. I grow impatient waiting for something significant to happen. Then my patience is rewarded with a seminal moment that makes it all worthwhile. Finally, when I see the puzzle instead of the pieces, I appreciate the mastery of it all. The facts I viewed as insignificant were actually momentous.

Such is the case with the recent episode featuring the shocking death of Lane Pryce.

We’ve witnessed Lane’s demise picking up speed for weeks. It began innocently enough when we learned he owed back taxes back in Britain. To stave off the taxman, the normally conscientious Lane makes an out-of-character and ill-advised decision. He forges a check from the firm to cover his debt, figuring he’ll pay it back in week or two when he gets his Christmas bonus. Unfortunately, the partners unexpectedly cancel their bonus.

Still, you figure Lane will somehow get out of the jam. After all, the firm has landed a big new account in Jaguar. With everyone celebrating, Lane lobbies for reinstating the bonuses. However, his plea falls on deaf ears and everything unravels with a flourish.

First, partner Bert Cooper discovers the check, but not its significance. He passes it along to fellow partner Don Draper who confronts Lane. After briefly protesting, Lane confesses his sin. Don fires him on the spot, saying he can’t trust him anymore. Oh, the irony! Don Draper, the man with the double secret identity, declares he can’t trust someone.

Lane returns home from a long afternoon of drinking (this is Mad Men after all) to find that his unsuspecting wife has just bought him a new car … a Jaguar, of course. Fast forward to the next day and Lane sits in his new car with the windows up contemplating suicide. But the guy just can’t catch a break. The Jag won’t start, recalling an earlier theme about how the agency has landed a third-rate car. (The PR guy in me can’t help but wonder how modern-day Jaguar executives are receiving this storyline, given the company’s reputation for quality.)

Lane later returns to the office afterhours where he is eventually found hanging from his office door. Although I would’ve appreciated the irony of the Jaguar death, this was easily the most realistic suicide I’ve ever seen on television. I don’t know how they did it, but Lane actually looked rigid and lifeless. My theory is that the actor who plays him was so distraught by losing a lead role on a hit show that it was easy for him to appear moribund.

That’s the beauty of Mad Men though. Lead characters come, go and come again. (But not Lane, unless it’s on AMC’s The Walking Dead). The show was once almost exclusively about Don Draper’s misdeeds, but now he’s the well-coiffed poster boy of goodness. Mad Men is constantly reinventing itself that way. And the show’s creators know where they’re going, even when we don’t. So take it easy, don’t rush them and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A Painfully Honest Voice

They say legendary writers come from a place of great honesty. If that’s the case, then my 8-year-old son is on the verge of literary glory.

One of Clark’s last school assignments before summer recess was to write a poem about his deepest wishes. He came up with the following heartfelt gem: 

I Wish
I wish that I had the most expensive car in the world
I wish I didn’t sit at this table
I wish school was one day a week
I wish I didn’t have to read fables. 

With a voice this true, Clark is clearly on his way to becoming one of the great masters of his time or possibly expulsion, whichever comes first. 

I, of course, wish for the former.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Hell Hath No Fury

Apparently few things inspire a woman songstress more than a bad breakup.

There are not one, not two, but three such songs currently on my iPod, including Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know,” Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger.”

Here are a few snippets from each.

·  From You Ought Know: “Does she know how you told me you’d hold me until you died? Til you died. But you’re still alive.”

·   From Rolling in the Deep: “Go ’head and sell me out and I'll lay your sh— bare. See how I leave with every piece of you. Don’t underestimate the things that I will do.”

·   From Stronger: “Thanks to you I got a new thing started. Thanks to you I’m not the broken hearted. Thanks to you I’m finally thinking ’bout me.”

That’s a whole lot of anger for the fairer sex.

Of course, men have been rapping not so kindly about the ladies for years now. Take Eminem and his demented rants about ex-wife, Kim, as one example. Now the women are taking their turn, spewing vitriol toward the fellas. I’m all for equal opportunity. I’m just thankful none of my exes were particularly musical.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Good Friends Hard to Find; Harder to Lose

I am deeply saddened by the premature passing of my friend, Jim Montgomery, who succumbed to cancer after a hard-fought battle. I remember Jim in many ways, but mostly as a guy to whom no request from a friend was too much. Whenever I asked Jim for anything, he replied, quickly and with certainty, “Not a problem.”

I first met Jim at LG&E where I learned I could depend on him as both a coworker and friend. Need graphic support at work? Have an impossible deadline? Is your butt on the line? Jim could handle it. Not a problem. 

While at LG&E, I once told Jim I was decorating my basement with University of Louisville memorabilia. Jim was coaching U of L’s club ice hockey team at the time. He surprised me with a puck and jersey. I thanked him. Not a problem. 

I lost that job, but I never lost track of Jim. He continued to support me through the years just as he had at LG&E, listening to me vent and even providing a little freelance work through his own company when I needed it. Not a problem. 

When I wanted to get my resume online to boost a job search, Jim not only told me how to do it, but even hosted it on his servers. Not a problem. 

Hell, if I wanted a beer and a chat, a partner for a backyard Oaks party or someone to argue with. Jim was always game. Not a problem. 

Friends like that are hard to find. Losing him will most definitely be a problem. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Chips off the Old Block

I have talked before about my secret superpower of being able to look at someone’s face and immediately identify their identical twin. Sure, it won’t get you in the Avengers, but it’s fun nevertheless. For example, try this one on for size: professional poker brat Phil Hellmuth, below left, and blind Chinese civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng, below right. Given their claims to fame, something tells me you wouldn’t want to try to bluff either one of these guys.

Phil Hellmuth

Chen Guangcheng

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lang Lets Guitar Do His Talking

Johnny Lang -- so close we could see him sweat
When an amp briefly malfunctioned at his concert at Horseshoe Casino in Elizabeth, Ind., last weekend, bluesman Johnny Lang lamented the fact that he’d have to talk a bit, which he said isn’t his strong suit. True to his word, Lang doesn’t play to the audience like Buddy Guy does. He doesn’t scream out your hometown. Heck, he rarely even opens his eyes. But that’s OK because Lang lets his guitar do his talking for him.

Lang rollicked through some of his most well-known tunes, including “Rack’em Up” and “Red Light.” He also covered the great Muddy Waters. Even the lesser known tunes delighted with pure, unbridled energy, thanks to a talented band.

At times, the event seemed more like an old-fashioned revival than a concert. If that were the case, then the most spiritual moment occurred when Lang appeared on stage alone and played a heartfelt version of his biggest hit, “Lie to Me,” on acoustic guitar. Once Lang had seemingly finished, the band rejoined him and they romped through it once more. This time it was fully powered and plugged, providing a nice contrast.

I’ve now seen Lang twice. In that time, he has grown from the warm-up act to the featured performer. No one works harder. He seemingly agonizes through every guitar lick and high note, sweating through his t-shirt as he goes. (Trust me, we were close enough to see every bead, thanks to winning a Facebook contest).

And if a few words remained unspoken, no one seemed to mind.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

It Feels Doggone Good Being Right

Have you ever told someone in a position of authority something you knew to be true, but they just wouldn’t listen to you?

When I was a kid, I was riding in a pickup truck with a friend of mine. His dad was driving. Their dog was running around in the back. I noticed the dog popping up on his hind legs as if he were about to jump from the truck.

“Your dog is about to jump out of the truck,” I warned my friend’s father.

“No, he won’t,” the father replied dismissively.

I sat in the cab transfixed, unable to divert my eyes from the impending disaster.  Finally, the dog jumped right out of the moving vehicle, just as I said he would. I had mixed feelings. Of course, I didn’t want the dog to get injured. (We retrieved him unhurt a short time later). But it sure felt doggone good being right.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Arkansas Administration Proves Praise Worthy

Recently I’ve heard some sports commentators contend that the University of Arkansas is getting too much credit for its handling of the Bobby Petrino affair. Arkansas fired the ultra-successful head football coach for covering up the circumstances surrounding his motorcycle crash and hiring his mistress to work for him. His offenses were so egregious, critics say, that the administration really had no choice but to fire him. As a long-time follower of college athletics, I can tell you that nothing is further from the truth.

The history of college athletics is littered with administrators who were more than happy to look the other way to any number of transgressions as long as their coaches were winning. In fact, I have to look no further than my own favorite college team -- Petrino’s former employer, the University of Louisville, for an example.

Faced with a similar situation involving basketball coach Rick Pitino’s affair, U of L rallied behind its coach. They gave him their unwavering support, while the Cardinals’ fan base demonized Pitino’s accuser. She ended up behind bars for blackmail, while Pitino basked in glory of taking his team to the Final Four.

Some people will tell you these two situations aren’t analogous. They argue that Petrino abused university resources and Pitino did not. But it was one of Pitino’s employees who married his dalliance when things got messy.

U of L is just one example. There are plenty more. Right up the road, Indiana University put up with Bobby Knight’s boorish behavior for decades as long as he was winning. It was only when The General lost his mojo that it finally caught up with him.

That’s why Arkansas’s actions are so commendable. Petrino was winning big there, marking a run at the national championship last year. He was expected to field another good team this year. His firing sets back the program with precious little time to recover. So let’s not minimize the Arkansas administration’s actions. My only criticism is that they ever hired a guy like Petrino to begin with, especially given his past antics.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Crying Over Spilled Diet Coke

You can identify smokers not only by the smoke and the smell, but by other telltale signs, including nicotine stains and accidental burns on their belongings. Although I don’t smoke, I carry plenty of reminders of my addiction, too.

My stains are not from cigarettes; they’re from Diet Cokes. And they are not just unattractive. They can be sticky to boot.

I’ve made no secret of my love affair with Diet Cokes. I drink Diet Cokes like a person with a kidney infection drinks water. My favorites, by far, are fountain Diet Cokes. I love nearly everything about fountain Diet Cokes … the round ice, the long straw and the insulated cup that stays cold for hours. I even have a mental GPS of all gas stations in two states where I can get a giant fountain Diet Coke for less than a buck.

I’ve mastered nearly everything about the fountain Diet Coke, except one: the lid. Lids confound me. They never fit the cup. Every time I buy a fountain Diet Coke, whether at a gas station or a fast food restaurant, the lid is askew and poised to pop off like a button on Homer Simpson’s pants. It doesn’t even matter whether I put the lid on or someone else does the honors. It’s always teetering on the edge of disaster.

Engineers can design computers the size of postage stamps, but can’t seem to design a snug lid. Perhaps it’s too much to ask for 89 cents. As a result, I spend almost as much time spilling fountain Diet Cokes as I do drinking them. The evidence is everywhere, including drink holders, rugs, shirts, pants and even keyboards.

If you get too close to me, then I’m likely to spill one on you, too. So beware of the dangers of second-hand sipping.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Student Gives Teacher a Lesson

Passions run high when it comes to college basketball in Kentucky and Indiana … even as early as the third grade.

My 9-year-old son was recently given a homework assignment to use certain vocabulary words in a sentence, including the word “enjoyable.” He came up with this gem: “It was not enjoyable watching Kentucky beat Louisville.”

The paper was returned with a perfect grade and an unexpected editorial comment. His teacher, apparently a misguided UK fan, wrote, “Yes it was” next to his special sentence. Not taking this lightly, Clark scribbled out the remark before he even got home.

Normally, I wouldn’t encourage such blatant disregard for authority, but I made an exception this time since the pupil has so clearly exceeded the master.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Bridge Closure Opens Floodgate of Emotions

They say there are stages of grief, starting with denial and ending in acceptance. That describes my commute since the Sherman Minton Bridge closed.

For starters, I begrudgingly get up an hour earlier than normal. I start to feel sorry for myself, until I remember that my wife is already on the road. Having changed my outlook, the commute starts with optimism. I’m feeling upbeat, listening to some of my favorite songs from the classic rock station and thinking that perhaps today might be the day that I finally make it over the Kennedy Bridge without a glitch.

On most days, muscle memory takes over and I start to merge onto I-64 West out of habit, forgetting it’s the road to nowhere. When I remember, I get mad at my elected leaders and their lack of foresight. But there’s no time to dwell on it. After all, I’ve got miles to go and the music is playing and today just might be the day.

However, optimism quickly fades to fatalism as I merge onto I-65 and see nothing but brake lights ahead. Within a few miles, I slow from stop and go to stop and stay. I pick the wrong lane as usual. People are moving past me on both sides. I should move to the right lane, but I know it ends ahead. The other drivers know this, too, but they forge ahead anyway, counting on the kindness of strangers to let them in. If they are counting on me, they are out of luck. No way in hell I’ll let them those rebels in.

I’m getting bored so I switch to satellite radio and tune in Howard Stern. He says something outrageous. The King of all Media entertains me, but also raises my blood pressure. Forget courtesy. I’m getting in that right lane. Someone will let me back in. I move to the right, gain a few spots, find a sucker and wedge back into traffic.

Now, I’m feeling guilty. I shouldn’t have broken with civility. Maybe I shouldn’t be listening to Stern either. Just then, something jams my signal. I can’t hear Stern anymore. I fear I’m missing something. As I contemplate this, my attention is diverted by broken lane dividers that have been knocked down by motorists more desperate than me. I wonder what kind of people would do that. Sure, I might have darted between lanes and listened to some bawdy radio, but I’m not that kind of scofflaw … at least not today.

Finally, after 45 stressful minutes, I exit the bridge. The traffic starts to thin. I’m breathing again. My teeth are unclenched. If there isn’t an accident ahead, the worst is behind me. In one commute, I’ve gone through the gamut of emotions: self-pity, optimism, anger, fatalism, boredom, agitation, and fear and loathing in Louisville. In the process, I’ve transformed from a righteous rule follower to a ruthless rule breaker.

When it’s finally over, a commute that should have taken no more than 35 minutes lasts for an hour or even two. I’m decompressing at work when a dark thought hits me like a rush hour fender bender: I have to do it all again tonight.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Volunteering for Trouble

Got to be the shoes.
Today I’d like to tell you how my renegade wife got dismissed from her volunteer job.

Kim and my son sometimes work a concession stand at the KFC Yum! Center to raise money for his high school band. Volunteers are supposed to wear a white shirt, black pants and black shoes. Note there is no mention of neon pink.

My wife, the rebel band mom, showed up for volunteer duty wearing black shoes with a small, but pronounced pink stripe across the bottom. Although this may be trendy, it’s apparently very distracting to the paying public. (I still haven’t figured out why the paying public has such an obsession with people’s feet). Because of this, the supervisor of volunteers asked my wife to leave the booth while it was inspected. Aggravated but committed, Kim returned later, covered the pink stripe and dished out concessions.

This is proof positive that my wife is a better person than me. If I had been in the same situation, the supervisor likely would have gotten an earful as he saw my pink feet beat a path out of there.

Thankfully, there is a happy ending to this sad shoe story. Several days later, Kim wore the same shoes to the grocery store where a woman stopped her to applaud her bold choice in footwear. That’s one nice lady, but she’ll never make it as a volunteer.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Questionable Customer Service

Sometimes people ask you a question when they really don’t care to hear the answer.

Let me explain. I’m not much of a customer survey kind of guy. But when a Fifth Third Bank representative recently called me, I couldn’t wait to give her my opinion about “dormancy fees” charged on my checking account.

She listened dutifully, typing every answer without a hint of emotion. If I had told her I’d rather do business with al-Qaeda than Fifth Third, she would have recorded it without so much as blinking an eye.

I scored Fifth Third as low as possible on the survey. She seemed neither surprised nor alarmed. Then came the payoff question like a big softball right over the plate: “Did Fifth Third solve my problem?” Despite several calls to customer service, calls to the branch, talking to a supervisor and repeated e-mails, they had never even come close. When I informed her of this, she typed in my response and went to the next question on her list. I guess she’s just the person who records problems. Someone who I haven't met yet must fix them.

It seems odd to me though that you’d go to the trouble of calling me for my opinion without having the ability – or intention– of addressing my concerns.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Ridiculous Fees? You Can Bank On It

If you don’t spend your money, then your bank might just take it away from you. At least that’s the case with me and Fifth Third Bank. 

I have a checking account at Fifth Third that I don’t regularly use. I only opened the account at Fifth Third’s suggestion. I figured it couldn’t hurt to have another checking account in addition to my primary one. I was wrong. 

I recently discovered Fifth Third has been deducting a $5 “dormant account” fee from this account for months without my knowledge. I would have discovered this sooner, but I get only quarterly statements. 

I called Fifth Third, asking them to waive the fees. They refused. When I complained and threatened to close the account, their customer service expert told me, “I was costing them money anyway.” Back in the early days of our relationship, Fifth Third used to court my money, Now, like a scorned lover, it isn’t welcome there anymore. 

No problem. My money knows when it’s time to move on. It prefers a partner with old-fashioned values anyway. 

In the meantime, let this be a lesson to all of you. You have to watch your money closely or you’ll lose it … even when it’s in the bank.