Archive for October, 2007

30
Oct
07

Why there’s nothing in the world better than football.

Something I don’t usually let people on to about me is how big of a sports fan I am.  Or rather, how big of a football fan I am.  I like most sports, but the only one I’ll watch consistently during the regular season is professional football.  I love it.  I love everything about it.  I love smart quarterbacks, lightening-fast receivers, and hard-hitting defenses, and I love the strategy of it all.  From about mid-August to the first Sunday in February, I’m absorbed in and by professional football.  I’m on ESPN.com about twelve times a day, reading columns, analysis, predictions and stats.  I’m obsessed.  For me, the day after the Super Bowl is probably the most depressing day of the year.  I tell myself I’m not like those guys you see in the beer commercials, their ass melded to a recliner with stains on their shirt from a messy meatball hoagie.  I tell myself I’m a smart football fan, I don’t watch football, I observe football, like a scientist making a study of some planet he wants to know everything about.  It works.  Kind of.

Every fan must have a team, so for the past maybe twelve years of my life, I’ve been a Green Bay Packer fan.  They’re a unique team.  They’re the only team in the league that is owned corporately by the community in which they play.  When you watch a football game, usually at some point the TV crew will cut to some rich guy in a suit up in a fancy club box holding a shrimp cocktail– the team owner.  They don’t have this in Green Bay.  In Green Bay, there’s 60,000 team owners with a beer and a bratwurst in their hands, sitting on metal benches in the snow wearing a neon orange hunting vest and a foam piece of cheese on their head.  They hold stock in this team, and go to shareholders meetings where they get a say in how the team conducts its business.

I’m currently on the waiting list for season tickets to Lambeau Field, where the Packers play.  I’m close to number 70,000 on that list.  At the rate it’s moving, I’ll be number 1 in almost 60 years, because fans always hold the right to renew their seats, and the just don’t give up their tickets.  They keep them until they die, and then they pass them on to their kids.  I’ve heard stories of people befriending the fans that sit near them at the game, and then keeping those friendships for years, simply because they get to hang out with each other for three or four hours for a few Sundays a year.  It’s like church, but instead of religion, it’s football.  Being a Packer fan is a community thing, and it’s a family thing.  And for me, since I won’t see my season tickets until I’m in my eighties, it’ll have to be.

I went to Green Bay once.  It was during the off season, and I had taken a trip to Chicago to see a ballgame at Wrigley and take in the town.  With Lambeau only a 3 and a half hour drive away, it was too tempting not to go up there and take a look around, sort of a pilgrimage of sorts to see where the legend really lived.  When you’re there, you realize just how much this town lives for this team.  The population of the town is just over 100,000, and the stadium holds 73,000, most of them locals.  This means if you’re a criminal and you live in Green Bay, the best time to rob a house would be Sunday morning, because nobody’s home.  Fortunately, in Green Bay even the criminals are Packer fans, so they’re at the game too.

Lambeau Field, where the Packers play, is across the street from K-Mart, and just down the street from some nice looking residential homes, a few bars and restaurants, and a smattering of churches.  Back when the reverend Reggie White used to play for the Packers, on Sunday mornings he would wake up, preach to his congregation at a church in Green Bay, and then drive to the field to find his congregation would be there waiting for him again, this time with a bratwurst in their hand instead of a Bible, cheering wildly every time their pastor recorded a sack.

So my love of my sport and my love of my team have become something of an obsession for me.  I’ll watch every Packer game I can, no matter the circumstances, which explains my situation this evening.  The Packers played the Broncos on Monday Night Football, which is on ESPN, a channel not provided by the rabbit ears that sit atop my apartment’s television.  So, I called my cable-subscribing friend Sal and explained my situation to him, and he happily obliged to let me watch the game at his apartment, despite the fact that neither he nor his roommates would be home.  This is how far my obsession has come.  I will have friends of mine leave their keys under their mats so I can go into their apartment and watch games on their TVs, sitting in their chairs, all by myself.

I wasn’t totally alone, I guess, and here’s where I get to why I really love football.  As I sat in a friend’s apartment, watching a game completely by myself, my best friend Beau sat in the lobby of the dorm hall where he is an RD, 2000 miles away, watching the same game at the same time.  He called, and we talked through the third quarter, about the game, about things we liked and didn’t like about the league, and about life in general.  We talked about the Pats-Colts game coming up this weekend, and how neither of us liked how Belicheck was running up the score on every team he faced just because he can.  We talked about how his team, the Bengals, are about a step away from becoming the Bungles again.  We talked about how ridiculous it was to have guest stars in the booth with the announcers when all these guys know is football.  And we talked about how the Packers are finally a legitimate threat again, and look really good when they get their running game going.  We watched the game together, despite that we were both alone and separated by over 2,000 miles and two time zones.

The best part about it is that Beau couldn’t have given a tinker’s damn about the Packers four years ago.  My friend Luke once made the astute observation that going to college and making friends with people from all over the country makes you a fan of teams you wouldn’t normally think twice about.  Beau likes the Packers because I like the Packers, just like I like the Bengals because he does, or the Broncos because Luke does.  Two weeks ago, I was rooting like crazy for a Rockies-Indians World Series, not because I’m a rabid baseball fan, but because those are Luke and Nathan’s teams, and I wanted them both to have a chance at the big show.  I feel like such a stereotypical beer-commercial guy for saying it, but sports bring people together.  They really do.  Maybe it’s the beer, but I’ve met some of the friendliest people at sporting events, even when I’m rooting for the opposite team they are.

Beau and I hung up around the beginning of the fourth quarter, but he called me back after Brett Favre threw an 82-yard touchdown pass on the first play of overtime to win the game.  We didn’t really have anything more to say at that point, we just both felt foolish doing a little victory dance in our respective rooms all by ourselves.  We wanted to share the victory, to feel the community, just like all those Packer fans do on Sunday afternoons.   It’s better that way.

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19
Oct
07

Yeah, but where’s the number 2 pencil factory?

As the TEP Program Assessment Technician at Azusa Pacific University (since my path into the professional world, I’ve come to appreciate titles) I am responsible for knowing and working with a software program known as Cognition. This program is developed by Scantron.

…Yes, that Scantron.

So, in order to become a proficient employee, I was sent to Scantron Headquarters in Irvine, CA, for a training seminar that spans the course of two days, the first of which was today. Here’s how my day went:

6:40am: Alarm goes off, I get out of bed and shower in my surreal, half-asleep state. I’m up early enough to get ready and get on the road, as traffic (so I’m told) will be a bitch.

8:25am: Traffic IS a bitch.

8:55am: I arrive at Scantron Headquarters, a large, plain white building in the middle of nowhere off the 133 in Irvine. I walk into the building where the receptionist gives me a name tag, shows me where the bathroom is, and points me upstairs to where the training will be taking place. I climb the stairs and enter a room that looks just like a classroom in the Duke building, but with far less personality. Two of the walls are covered with blank whiteboards, and one is a wall of windows, all of which have shades pulled (because heaven forbid we get any natural light in there). The back wall has a counter with a sign in sheet, which I fill out, and then grab a training handbook and a free spiral notebook so I can take any notes I want. There’s a basket with breakfast bars, granola bars, and a fridge full of sodas, but I pass on all the above and head for my computer station, nestled in the second row underneath the dim fluorescent lighting. Our training captain is Micheal, who is a woman. Right away I notice that not only do she and I share first names of the masculine ilk, but we also share the same haircut. She’s really not helping herself out there.

9:03am: Introductions start. Including me, there are four students in the room, and I’m fairly confident in saying I’m the most physically attractive person in the room. I’ve never had a huge ego, and I still don’t feel like I do even after saying that, because frankly, in my lifetime, this is the first room I’ve ever been in when I’ve genuinely thought that.

In front of me are two young women who both work for the California Healthy Marriages Coalition. The hair on their arms is darker and thicker than mine. One has her frizzy hair (on her head) pulled back to reveal her watermelon-sized forehead. Nice girls, but I’m guessing that in high school, when most girls were primping and putting on make-up to impress that super-cute football player, these two were spell-checking the minutes from their most recent Campus Republicans Club Meeting.

To my right is Andrew, who is a new hire at Scantron, and makes that point staggeringly clear. He reminds me of a turtle, because he hunches over in his chair and has little to no neck. And if it’s possible for a turtle to have Diabetes, this would be the one, because Andrew’s pounding down a Dr. Pepper at 9:00 in the morning.

9:14am: Enter Carmen, who works for some state water company, and got stuck in terrible traffic. She’s quiet, and not at all homely, but thankfully doesn’t come close to threatening my run for Scantron Cognition Training Prom King.

9:31am: I notice that Andrew has yet to close his mouth, except when swallowing down gulps of Dr. Pepper. People who breathe with their mouth open have always creeped me out, because I always think something’s gonna fly in there and they’ll start choking. I’m hoping Andrew just has a sinus problem or something.

10:12am: We’ve been going strong on the training for an hour now, and it actually doesn’t seem half bad. Time is going by fairly quickly, and the software, if it’s not too nerdy to say, is actually pretty cool. This machine we’re learning about reads human handwriting. So, if you fill out a form, you can scan it into a computer, and it will read exactly what you wrote down. And if it’s ever unsure of what you wrote, it can check the context of the letter or word it doesn’t understand and make a guess at what it is, and nine times out of ten, it’s right. It’s the smartest computer program I’ve ever seen, and it’s got me fairly fascinated.

10:44am: The fascination doesn’t last that long, and is fading quickly, thanks to the fact that I’ve been sitting in the same place for a long time under fluorescent lighting with very little hope of getting up in the near future. Micheal tells us all something that perks me up a bit, though. If you’ve seen the third season of The Office, you probably remember the Pretzel Day episode, where a local pretzel business comes in and gives away free pretzels to all the employees as an advertising gimmick. Well, today at Scantron, it’s not Pretzel Day, but it is Starbucks and massage day, and Micheal promises us that after lunch, we can head down to the building’s lunch room and join in on the fun.

I’ve never had a massage. Ever. Sometimes people will come up behind me and rub my shoulders in a “hey buddy” sort of a way, but when it’s uninvited, it’s really not all that comforting. Plus, no one I know is a professional masseuse, so this is exciting… a FREE massage. And I’m fairly sure I don’t even have to take my pants off or anything.

12:02pm: Lunch. A catering company has provided food for us, which they’ve brought into the room. I eat quickly and escape to my car in the parking lot for a little peace, and for some natural sunlight. I make a few phone calls and head back up to the training room to check my email and my fantasy football team.

1:00pm: Training starts again, and Micheal promises us that if we can get through another hour of training, she’ll take us down to Starbucks and massage day at 2pm. I’m really starting to get psyched about this massage stuff, so much so that I think I can feel my muscles tensing up in preparation for their rub-down. This is gonna be nice.

1:58pm: Micheal says it’s time to go down there. In my anxiousness, I’m the first one to the door, but I quickly decide to be polite and hold the door for the rest of the crew. Carmen, according to my calculations, takes a half an hour to get from her desk to the door.

2:01pm: The first thing you see in the room when you walk in is the coffee cart with a modest line of employees forming next to it. I quickly scan the room, and look to the left, where I see three breathtakingly gorgeous, young, blonde masseuses, each one of them… folding up their massage table and packing them away for the day.

This is the single most disappointing moment in my professional career.

2:07pm: I stood in the coffee line, but I didn’t really want any. I didn’t really want anything except that massage, and I’ve been struck dumb by their untimely departure. I get an iced coffee with a couple pumps of Irish Creme syrup anyway, and drown my sorrows with it. Micheal brings over a hip-looking mid-forties guy to introduce to us trainees. Turns out this guy is the vice president of the entire company, and he personally welcomes each of us and presents us with our very own Scantron pen and calculator. It’s a nice gesture, but it’s no massage.

2:10pm: Micheal decides she’s going to take us on a short tour of the building, including the warehouse, printing presses, and offices. First stop is the printing press, where the first thing you see is a line of pallets, each one of them covered with scantron forms stacked about five feet high. There’s about twenty of these large pallets right in front of us, so we’re looking at easily a million scantron forms. All I can think about is the amount of stressful studying that is represented by all of these silly little forms sitting right in front of me. Scantron produces every single one of its forms right in that very warehouse, so that means any kid taking the SAT, any college student taking a Exo-Deut test, anyone filling out some miscellaneous form at the DMV is using a form that originated in the very room I’m currently standing in. I should be impressed, but I’m not. I’m tense. Still.

2:18pm: The tour has taken us to the office portion of the Scantron building, where Micheal points out the different divisions of the staff. Probably a hundred Scantron employees work in this enormous room divided by cubicles, a handful of which are decorated with Halloween theme decorations for an office contest that’s going on. We walk through as Micheal points out sales, marketing, HR, and tech support.
“This one is my desk,” says Andrew, pointing. He stops talking, but his mouth stays gapingly open.

2:45pm: Back in the training room, I start to get what can only be described as “tappy.” I think the coffee is kicking in. I’ve been sitting all day, and I can feel my leg start to shake involuntarily. Carrie and KatieAnn, the two girls from the California Healthy Marriage Coalition who Micheal calls “The Two K’s” keep asking questions. I daydream about trying to throw my water bottle cap into Andrew’s open mouth.

3:13pm: “Tappy” has slowly progressed to “low-level Parkinson’s.” While chewing on my water bottle cap, I’m pretty sure I swallow a tiny piece of plastic. Micheal, while drawing another example on the whiteboard at the front of the room, uses my name as the “sample” name. Again. She’s been doing this all day. I’ve been creeped out about it since about fifteen minutes before noon.

3:21pm: With my condition worsening, minutes are starting to feel like hours. I’m looking for anything, anything to keep me entertained or distracted. The smallest, tiny things start to catch my attention.

3:29pm: I drop my water bottle cap on the floor. Andrew’s working on Dr. Pepper number four for the day.

3:52pm: Things are winding down. I start to pack all my goodies into my bag. I feel like I’m back in high school, anticipating the bell, ready to jump out of my chair the second I’m released. The antsiness doesn’t help anything, either. Before Micheal finishes saying “see you tomorrow,” I’m out the door to hop in my car and zoom off into… another hour and a half of traffic.

Well, at least the day’s over.

4:51pm: Sitting in my car, my overly sensitive eyes start to water, having seen the actual sun for the first extended period of time all day. Damn those fluorescent lights.

17
Oct
07

Rejected! (Part 2)

Dear Writer,

We don’t know of anyone who hasn’t had work returned at one time or another, but that certainly doesn’t make it any easier. We hope you will find some consolation in the individuality of editorial tastes and in the assurance that, with persistence, good work will be recognized as such.

Thank you for trying us.

The Editors

******************************************

Numero dos. This one less creative, less wordy, and certainly less personal than the first, which I didn’t really think was possible. At the Santa Monica Review, they print three rejections on a page, cut the page, and send you just a tiny little slice of denial. It makes it a little more real that way. Someone who works at the Santa Monica Review, someone who works at a desk just like me, and probably gets bored just like me, prints out a stack of those pages, and then spends a few minutes going through and slicing up mass-produced rejection. They’re hand cut, too, you can tell. Pure scissor job. The cut isn’t really that straight (careless bastards) which means that whoever is doing the cutting is probably daydreaming about something else, not necessarily considering the act of rejecting that they’re doing.

And that is what’s happening. It’s strange to think that someone sat down, read the entirety of what I wrote, the dozens of pages of it, truly and honestly considered it, and came to the conclusion that it was “not what they were looking for.” This, my little baby, that I carefully crafted and considered, was not good enough, and just became another stack of papers to go through the shredder.

It sounds like I’m more disappointed about it than I really am. Honestly, for me, sending it off is further than I’d typically go, so that’s a moderate accomplishment in itself. Life is full of rejection, and considering I recently went through the process of applying for a job, rejection is pretty much par for the course these days. I’m not heartbroken about it, the world isn’t going to end, it’s just something I did. Now I can say I tried, which is the first step, and if I ever get ballsy, if I ever really want to push it to the limit, heck, I could try again. I guess we’ll see about that.

09
Oct
07

Rejected! (Part 1)

Prior to my foray into the world of paper clips and hanging files, I had a part-time job at Barnes & Noble, your friendly neighborhood/greedy corporate mega- bookstore. I enjoyed it as much as you could enjoy a part-time job working for a massive corporation that offered you inconsistent hours and a measly wage, which is to say, somewhat. However, probably the crowning moment of my experience there was just this past summer, the fated night that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was released. After an eight-hour shift beginning at 7pm, I went home and did what I normally do when I experience a weird, hilarious pop-cultural event– I wrote about it– a lot (25 pages, which is why I won’t post it here… but if you want to read it, just ask, and I’ll email it to you). Anyway, when I was done, I had something I was pretty proud of, and shared it with a few friends, one of whom asked if I had submit it anywhere, and that got me thinking. So, I looked up a few journals that published stuff I liked, and I submit it to two of them. A shot in the dark, basically just to say I had done it. After putting it in the mail, I didn’t really think about it again.

So now, a few days ago, I received this in the mail:

Gentle writer:

Please forgive me for returning your work and for not offering comments or suggestions. I would like to say something to make up for my ungraciousness, but I don’t think a few quick remarks would really help. The truth is I have so little space, I must return almost everything–99%–of what’s sent to me, including a lot that interests me and even some pieces I admire.

The important thing is this: Do not be discouraged by this or any other momentary setback. The road is long; the struggle must go on.

Then, too, the ways of the Muse are strange. When she does visit again, I hope you will give her my best regards.

Keep the faith.

Yours,

Howard Junker

Editor

*************************************

…I think I’ll have it framed.

08
Oct
07

It’s bulls and blood, it’s dust and mud, it’s the roar of a Sunday crowd.

In my life, I’ve seen a number of displays of incredible toughness when it comes to sports. Writing a sentence like that makes me sound like I’m John Madden or some sort of clichéd sportscaster, but I can think of a few.

I was lucky enough to witness live what is now referred to as the pinnacle of Brett Favre’s career as an NFL quarterback, a man whom most sportscasters and media analysts will tell you is the epitome of toughness in any sport. The day after the death of Irvin Favre, his father, mentor, and high school coach, Brett Favre played a Monday Night Game against the Oakland Raiders where he flawlessly threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns, and I was there. Pure toughness.

Last year, I watched my roommate, the catcher for the APU baseball team, start every single one of the team’s 61 games, catching the majority of those games on two completely reconstructed knees. He led his team to the NAIA World Series on those knees, and ended the season with a .476 average, 26 doubles, 14 home runs, 70 RBIs, and 57 walks. This toughness also netted him a ticket to the MLB draft, where he was picked up in the 12th round by the Devil Rays, and was just recently voted MVP of his team in the minor leagues. If that isn’t toughness, I don’t know what is.

Today, I witnessed something else I’d put up near the top of that list. I went to the San Dimas Rodeo. I had never been to a real live rodeo before, and while I had seen it on TV before, I didn’t truly realize or appreciate the pure toughness of these athletes (yes, athletes) that compete in the Rodeo. The rodeo is a completely unique experience, and it’s an intriguing view into a completely different culture, but what stands out from going to the rodeo is the outright cajones of these cowboys. These are guys whose job requires them to stare down the face of death, put themselves in harm’s way, and risk trampling (or worse), and that’s just another day at the office. Every day, these guys wake up, pull on their Wranglers, punch in (figuratively), and then hop on a pissed-off, raging behemoth of an animal and hang on for dear life, while it violently tries to shake them off, similar to how we’d try to shake the dust out of a dirty rug. Lest we forget, if they do fall off this animal, they land on the ground, which incidentally is the exact location of said beast’s stomping, forceful, lung-puncturing hooves. And this is their job. And to take it one step further, if they don’t hang on for long enough, all those guts are effectively worth nothing, because in the world of rodeo, if you don’t win, you don’t get paid. At all.

In my job, I have to stay seated on an office chair (unless I get thirsty, or restless, or I have to go to the bathroom) for the day, and I have to do whatever I’m told, which usually involves the computer, or a filing cabinet. If I get bored and no one is watching, sometimes for a few minutes I’ll check my Facebook. Or ESPN.com. Or maybe I’ll do a Sudoku. Sometimes I have to wear a tie. Oh, and no matter what I do or how distracted I get, I have a consistent wage. And so far at my job, no 2,000-pound bull has tried to forcefully squish me into a bloody little Andy pancake.

After going to the rodeo, I honestly wanted to get punched in the neck. Really. I was so overwhelmed with, and maybe even inspired by the toughness of these cowboys that I felt the need to prove myself. Maybe it’s the office job, maybe it’s the nice-guy Christian stigma, or maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think that I’m as tough as a rodeo cowboy. And I really, really, really want to be. Watching it, I started having that boyhood fantasy– the starry-eyed, “what if that was me?” fantasy. I pictured myself racing out of the chute, chasing down and roping some speedy, horned steer, hopping off, manhandling it down to the dirt, and quickly tying its legs as fast as I can, then brushing the dust off my chaps as I rise to the cheers of the crowd watching. It’s exhilarating, just to even think of it. But then the doubt comes in.

“You couldn’t do that,” the red, pitchfork-wielding miniature Andy on my left shoulder says. “You don’t have it in you. That takes a level of guts, courage, and toughness that you can’t even think about, let alone possess.”

About this time, another miniature version of myself pops up on my right shoulder. This one has wings, a robe, and a halo (I watched a lot of Looney Tunes as a kid, okay?). “Don’t sweat it, Andy, you’re good at other things,” he says. “You’re kind of witty, you’re moderately intelligent, and people really seem to like your chocolate chip cookies. That should be enough.”

“Bah,” bursts out Leftie. “Who cares about that? Chicks dig scars, and not the kinds you get from pulling a cookie sheet out of the oven without an oven mitt. You’ve got nothing on these guys. …Nothing.”

And I wonder if it’s true… if he’s right. I’ve never broken a bone, I’ve never required surgery, and the only reason I ever had to go to the emergency room was because I had an especially feisty and resilient tick lodged in my scalp. I’ve always marked this lack of serious injury up to luck, or good genes, but after today, I wonder if it’s because I just never took the risks necessary to sustain those kinds of injuries. I had a pretty protective set of parents, my mom in particular, who one year for Christmas, after giving me and my sister each a pair of roller skates, immediately made us open our next gift– knee pads, elbow pads, wrist guards, and a helmet, all of which we would have to wear every time we even considered the notion of roller skating.

So somewhere in there, I became safe, and lately (especially now after the rodeo), I’m wondering if that’s an admirable quality anymore. Safe is how you describe the PETA members who protest rodeos (and consequently take all the fun out of them) by saying that it’s cruel to treat a little calf like that. Safe is the little kid who keeps one hand on the flagpole all of recess just so he’s never “It,” but by the time the bell rings, he hasn’t even really played the game. Safe is taking the road more traveled by, just because you can be sure it’ll get you where you want to go. And honestly, if that’s what safe is, I think I’ll go buy a saddle.