What Would Jesus (yanno . . . Hey Zeus) Do?

The old saying about all politics being local can also be applied to the Cuban sandwich. I first fell in love with this edible masterpiece at the former Broadway Sandwich Shop on Roosevelt Ave in Corona. Muy abuelo would take me there for lunch and I’d get the Cubano with a papaya shake. Once I got wheels, I collected some wonderful memories inside that culinary cathedral under the train tracks.

Needless to say, I take my Cuban sangwich seriously.

It seems every chain restaurant has tried the Cuban sandwich on for size, with mostly forgettable results. Hooters perpetuated a ghastly sacrilege of the Cubano many moons ago. I was on a business trip so I tried it . . . because Hooters. It was the first and only time I let a chain restaurant dupe me on this. Maybe it’s a Cuban thing, because not everyone is so discriminating when it comes to the commercialized come hither of a Cuban copycat.

“Went to Subway yesterday.”

Jane is a favorite work pal of mine, because she has no filter. But something in the way she began this particular conversation had me worried. As in, I had the sneaking suspicion she was about to fuck with my shit. Specifically, the Cuban sandwich.

“Sorry to hear that.” I said.

“It wasn’t bad.”

“It’s Subway, Jane.”

“Me and hubby had the Cuban sandwich . .”

“No you did not, no you did not!” I barked.

Jane began laughing her ass off because she had been there when I had issued an embargo on the Subway Cuban sandwich days earlier during an impromptu huddle. My rants are oftentimes turned into memes throughout the day, and so it was in this instance when I had remarked that “Fidel Castro is crapping in his dead pants” over Subway’s criminal handling of the Cuban.

“It was pretty good.” Jane said.

“Oh my God Janie, good compared to what? A bologna sandwich?”

And that’s when the pile on started happening to me, as another co-worker decided to crash this chat whilst carrying some bad intentions of his own.

“Oh, the Subway Cuban sandwich?” Mike interrupted. It was clear from the smirk on his face that he knew what was going on and was simply looking to apply the finishing touches with an atomic bombed exclamation point. Dude’s got game, I’ll give him that much.

“Don’t even.” I warned.

“It’s good!”

“You know what? The hell with you guys.” I huffed.

“Well if you would make us your famous Cuban sandwich, then maybe we wouldn’t have to rely on Subway.” Mike said, adding insult to these most injurious words.

“Anyway.” Jane chortled.

“For one thing, that’s no excuse for going to Subway. And for another, I’m not your monkey.”

“I can’t cook,” Mike said.

“Well, neither can Subway and that hasn’t stopped them.” I replied.

“You should make Cuban sandwiches.” Jane suggested.

“What? For everyone?” I said.

“Yeah, why not?”

“Great idea Jane.” Mike added.

“No its not, it’s a horrible idea. You have no idea what kind of undertaking it is, to make a legit Cuban sandwich. You don’t just go to the grocery store for sandwich meats and white bread, people!”

“Subway makes it work.” Mike replied.

“Well, I have never had a legit Cuban sandwich so I’m sure it’s much better than Subway.” Jane said.

“And I can give you the recipe.” I said.

“Why not just make them some time?” It was clear Mike wasn’t going to let this go.

“It’s funny, but for someone who can’t cook . . you’re really good at enlisting other people to cook. And for, like . . two hundred people?” I laughed.

“Not everyone is gonna eat it, so you’d be safe if you made it for a hundred and fifty.” Mike said.

“Yeah, make that a hundred and forty nine, because your ass ain’t getting one.” I said.

“That’s cold.” He replied in mock sheepishness.

“You disrespect the Cuban sangwich, that’s what happens.”

“You can just cut them smaller.” Jane said.

“Like sliders. Yeah!” Mike laughed.

“Like nah! Sliders are for quitters. A Cuban sandwich isn’t a 10k run, it’s a marathon.” I argued. “You go big or you get the hell out of the way.”

Mike feigned reaching in his pocket, “I think I have a coupon from Subway. . .”

“I’ll open your jugular with a stapler, I swear to God.” I warned.

Their laughter was a disparaging slap in the face to my culinary senses. And that’s when it occurred to me that I am living in the age of ‘foodies’- a Forrest Gump-like term defined as ‘a person with a particular interest in food’. Which best describes . . . everybody! Sadly, it’s a Food Network world, full of people who dig the porn but just don’t understand the hustle and flow that goes into the deal.

I wonder if this is what the Cuban Missile Crisis felt like.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnDvosGDPqg

Mama said there’d be days like this . . .

All he had to do was win it all.

Great expectations do not come with refunds. You deliver or you die trying. You show the world you’re worth all that hype, or you wilt under the bright lights and become just another big talent that couldn’t handle the big moment.

Kevin Durant shined.

He didn’t just help the Warriors reclaim their championship belt. He led them to it; averaging more than thirty five points per game and serving notice to the King that his throne ain’t a forever deal. And maybe Durant isn’t there yet, because LBJ showed us that he’s still got plenty of tread left on his size 15’s. But here’s the thing. After the last week and change, Durant has officially entered the conversation.

So here’s to the man whose game I happen to be in deep love with. The man whose game is a prototypical wonder in an age of fast and furious athletic dynamism. The man whose game is best enjoyed (by yours truly) with the sound on the flat screen chilled and Curtis Mayfield served up piping hot. The man who took his surgical skills to those great expectations and delivered up the kind of thrill only the great ones get to own in perpetuity.

Here’s the Dear Kevin letter I penned last July. It was right after he signed on with the Dubs, who were fresh off a Finals meltdown that had tainted a regular season for the ages. A special thank you to the lovely Anna Beguins for coming up with the idea to re-post this.

My man, you went and did it this time.

You threw down a seismic dunk on the Association by joining a club that won 73 games last year and came within a Superman’s cape performance by Lebron of ‘Best Ever’ status. You’re not much for nuance at this stage of your career, and I gotta admit . . . I dig it.

Now, all you have to do is win it all. As Stephen Spielberg would tell you, you gotta kill the whole shark because the audience expects nothing less. And so while this new Death Lineup you have rounded out could make a legit run at 70 wins if all goes according to plan, it’s gonna come down to the 16 games you have to win in May and June. Your new mates won 15 spring games this year and were five points short of winning a second straight title when the clock struck midnight on their magical season. It might as well have been a hundred points because the end result still feels empty.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled for you. Really and truly and forever. I have been in deep love with your skills ever since you were a hotshot kid making Texas Longhorn basketball something worth watching. I remember the first time I watched you play, thinking that you possessed the silky smooth capture of a Jamaal Wilkes jump shot with the cool hand moves of George Gervin at go time. You had next in a league built on Rushmore legends, and I knew you had the kind of special to carve a spot of your own.

It began with that short stint in Seattle- which was a fitting destination for your supersonic talents- before making Oklahoma City your home. For nine years, you did the place proud, on and off the court. You went and took a football enclave and turned spring football into a fallback option. When you made the finals against Miami, it was a bittersweet proposition for yours truly. I would’ve been thrilled with a tie. But that’s not how it works in sports.

As you well know, it’s all about winning the last game of the season. No matter how great you are, no matter how transcendent a player you might be, people demand that 35 wins a ring. In OKC for sure, in Golden State? Most definitely.

Anything less than a ring will be considered an epic fail. So lemme be the first to recognize that you did not take the ‘easy’ route as your critics claim. These people have no idea how to set a pick and roll, much less master it. They never made a defensive stop when they needed to, or sank a free throw with the season on the line or knocked down a three as the clock went blank. There is no such thing as ‘easy’ in professional sports. As Pat Riley once opined, there’s winning and there’s misery. He knows of what he speaks from his time in Los Angeles and Miami. Building a Hall of Fame lineup guarantees you nothing, other than the vitriol of every fan base that ain’t yours.

The haters are pulling out archival proof that you’re a phony because your decision doesn’t jibe with their opinions. I guess you were supposed to base a life changing decision on the Twitter feed. Rest assured, many of these same critics have taken turns trashing and adoring Lebron for more than a decade. So there’s that.

As for the revisionist history being thrown around, let’s review. The critics contend that back in the day, star players were anchored to their teams like a Norman Rockwell painting. Which is interesting, seeing as how Maravich, Wilt, Kareem, Moses Malone and Charles Barkley all changed uniforms in their primes. That last fella has been awfully noisy about your move, but he changed zip codes a couple times in search of a ring. Funny how that works.

I wish the haters would stop throwing the halcyon days of Magic, Bird and Jordan in your face when they get on their soapboxes. Such talk fails to acknowledge the chasm that exists between their past and your present. It asks us to consider their motives retroactively, because that’s the only way their argument can work. Thanks but no thanks. I’ll stick to understanding the league and its players inside the times we’re living in.

Listen, I daydreamed about you in a Miami Heat uniform. And I agreed with my son when he said Boston was a pretty solid idea. Not to mention, I was intrigued about your chances in OKC next year with a team that had added Oladipo and possessed a belief that they could take the Warriors out next time around.

But see, here’s the thing. Those were my wishes and opinions. Not yours. And I think the critics are forgetting how all this free agency business works. But I won’t, promise. I’ll be rooting for big things from you in your new Bay area digs. And if you win it all, I’m gonna be pretty damned happy about it. I rooted like hell for Cleveland this June, but as a ball fan, I’m allowed to change things up. And so are you.

All that has to matter, all that should matter is what you feel in your heart. And not for nothing, but if Mom is good with it, you’re doing just fine. Your career to this point has been a basketball life well lived. All that’s left for you to do is write the ending. So don’t worry about the critics and the clowns. You just keep doing what you’ve been doing all along.

Finish strong.

 

There’s no crying in baseball, but in softball it’s expected

The great Willie Mays once said of softball, “What the fuck?”

Okay, Willie never said that. But he would have if he had ever played the game, which he didn’t. Because he’s Willie Fucking Mays and he wouldn’t have been caught dead playing the game I affectionately refer to as “marshmallow baseball”. Nope, when Willie strayed from the game he loved, he chose stick ball- the city game-  where every foul ball is promptly followed with death threats from angry tenants.

This isn’t to say that all softball is created equal, because what the Oklahoma Sooners girls did in winning the NCAA title didn’t look anything like softball. Those girls burned the marshmallow, applied some epoxy to it, dressed it in duct tape and kicked some ever loving ass. No lollipop tosses or candelabra posing . . just straight up gangster shit.

As for my band of misfits and the softball tournament we took part in last Sunday, there wasn’t much gangster to us, and there sure as hell was no evidence of Willie Mays.

It was for a good cause (Schreiber Pediatric), which is what I told myself when the alarm went off that morning. And it’s what me and my teammates kept telling ourselves throughout a 17-4 drubbing in which our opponents treated us like pinatas. We actually had a 2-0 lead at one point . . and then they came to bat. This kind of abuse is what keeps human rights agencies in business.

And as if 17-4 wasn’t bad enough? It got worse.

“Okay, let’s regroup guys. We have another game . . . we can do this!” Our captain announced.

“What? You mean we do this again?” I asked.

“It’s double elimination, dude.”

“But we didn’t do this the last time we played.” I argued.

“That’s because Billy gave up.” Replied Rodney, our co-captain.

“Billy was a good captain. He knew when it was time to die.” I said.

This elicited a few laughs, but it did nothing to thwart the possibility of a sequel to our first round horror movie. So we scouted our opposition and as it turned out? They sucked even worse than us. So bad, in fact, that after giving up three touchdowns and getting blanked in their first game, the captain of the team came into our dugout and, well . . he basically surrendered.

“Guys . . we suck.” He began.

He was no Vince Lombardi, but I dig that kind of brutal honesty. Especially when it’s coming from the other team.

Welp, funny thing happened on the way to our cruise into the third round. After taking a commanding lead early on, we spotted them a few runs. We even gave them a run they didn’t earn, which is how confident we had become; how dismissive we were of our first round drubbing. So when we entered the final inning holding to a precarious three run cushion, I wondered aloud whether we might be able to, yanno . . . ask for that run back.

Our pitcher locked down the seventh though. Just kidding, he lobbed a few meatballs that proved indigestible to our opponents anemic bats and that was that. It was such an ugly game that both sides really should have forfeited, but fuck them . . we won!

It was somewhere around 11:30 when I learned that our next game wouldn’t happen until 12:45. Which would give me time to go home, take a shower, eat lunch. And not come back until next June.

Instead, we scouted again. Which was a really shitty idea since both teams were really good. Having a preference as to who we might play would have been like choosing between being water boarded with kerosene or having my balls shaved by fire ants.

The clash of the titans ended in a rout, and the worst part about it is that we were fairly certain we would have gotten pummeled . . . by the losing team. We must have looked like a bunch of emaciated Christians as we took the field to warm up; about to be fed to a club of hungry lions who were going to make us wish we had twisted our collective ankles, or gone blind. And I learned that you can’t invoke the mercy rule before you start playing the game, which is just plain stupid if you ask me.

Ironically, our pregame highlight had nothing to do with alcoholic beverages; a fact I didn’t think was possible in softball. But leave it to Gus, our in-house pastor of all things righteous and soulful. He had recorded a prayer for us to listen to before each game, and it had carried us into the third round . . . against a superior opponent, that was going to deep fry us in runs and eat us for lunch. But really, Gus meant well.

My goals for the match-up were modest ones. I wanted to get a hit, I wanted us to score a run and I didn’t want to hurt myself. That was it. When I dared myself to dream bigger, all I could come up with was this unrealistic scenario where a small aircraft crash landed on our field. If it had to take a few of us with it in order to prevent another ass kicking, so be it. It would have been for the kids, after all.

The problem with this double elimination bullshit is that sooner or later, we had to play a legit team. And our third round opponents, they meant business. They belonged to a softball league that plays every weekend and it showed. No wasted movements, fundamentally spot on, there was no slow to their mo. As a team, we had mastered the art of wasted movement. Our fundamentals had been honed over the course of one lousy practice thanks to a couple of rain outs. The only go to our mo was our captain, who played college ball. Unfortunately for us, we weren’t allowed to give him every at bat.

Team Juggernaut (I forget their name, so why not?) won the coin toss and opted to be the home team. As if it fucking mattered. And the smirks on their faces told us it didn’t really matter, at all.

“Yanno what? Maybe we get our asses kicked here, but fuck them.” I said to my friend Roy.

“I know right? It’s almost like they’re rubbing it in our faces, and we haven’t even played yet.” He agreed.

Don’t get me wrong, they had every right to be confident. But arrogance in softball? That’s like professing to be the world’s best driver because you know how to parallel park. Uh . . no.

We broke up the no hitter in our very first at bat, after which we were dismissed quietly. In the home half of the first, they only managed a single run, which was cause for celebration in our dugout (a quiet celebration, of course). And then the second inning came along, and that my friends, is when disco happened.

I came to bat with a runner on first and one out. Digging into the batter’s box, I summoned my best Dropkick Murphys scowl for the pitcher, because I didn’t fear retaliation. In fact, I welcomed it. You know what they call a brush back pitch in softball? Hilarious.

My morning turned afternoon had already proven infinitely more successful than my first organized softball experience two years earlier, when I failed to pull a single pitch yet somehow managed to pull two muscles. So I figured it was time to make some gravy. I took a hanging curve (because everything in slow pitch softball is a hanging curve) and I slammed it down the third base line. Fair ball. One batter later, we had tied the game at 1-1. Standing on second base, I clapped like a madman as I mouthed my reaction to Roy.

Fuck. Them. 

We kept waiting for their big inning, but it never materialized. We traded the lead early on, we held it late. Our team was coming together in unimaginable ways and we had gotten busy stealing a lot of that confidence the other guys had brought into this tilt. They threw a punch, we countered. They went for the knockout, we deflected. No more wasted movements, we were living the fundamentals and adding some sriracha to them as we moved along. We stopped expecting the worst and we started expecting the very best.

Adversity came in the snippets of intrigue that only a hard fought contest can produce. I reined in one of my younger mates, Corey, when he started talking back to the umpire.

“Don’t fuck with umpire ball sack, he’l throw your ass out and we need you.” I implored him.

It was true, umpire ball sack had it in for us. He had issued a warning to Corey, ordered our captain to change out of his cleats and inspected our bat as if he was making the decisive call in a World Series game. But with each inning and each new intrigue, we were acquiring equity. We were a rag tag bunch of smack talkers who refused to be an appetizer. We were forging our Miracle moments, as if the late Herb Brooks was commanding us to just go out there and do the impossible.

(Okay, it’s softball. And besides, the little guy has spirit.) 

We had gotten in our opponents heads by the time the fifth inning rolled around. Down by a run and with their confidence waning, they stopped swinging for the fences and got desperate. Drawing walks just to get on base, they were able to tie the game at four. They were sweating the outcome. It was pretty sweet to witness such a thing. And that’s how it stayed until the seventh and final frame.

I would love to tell you this underdog story had a fairy tale ending, but that’s not how things played out. The bottom of the seventh went all Longfellow on us. They loaded the bases before the next batter smashed a ground ball through our drawn in infield and into right field . . to yours truly. I scooped up the dying ground ball and I knew my throw was going to be an effort in futility seeing as how the runner was more than three quarters of the way home already, but I threw that sonofabitch anyway. It was one last reminder that we had given them a game, right to the bitter end.

The teams lined up to shake hands and fist bump and I began a chant that caught fire. When our opponents barked “Good game”, I offered back “Damn right.”, and so it went.

Next year . . had arrived.

The high cost of living

Over the weekend, I left a comment on a friend’s blog. Susie Lindau was off on a European vacation and I left her some memories of my trip to the UK, attaching best wishes at the tail end of the comment. Those cheery, hopeful wishes were ransacked inside the very same day when I got home on Saturday evening and turned on the television to news of terrorist attacks taking place across London. And so I hopped on the computer and emailed Susie, hoping to generate a reply that she was somewhere safe.

Before I left the house on Sunday morning, I checked my email again. Still no reply. I headed off to a softball tournament, but my thoughts never strayed very far from Susie and her husband; and the hope that I would receive word that they were okay. When Susie finally replied, letting me know she was in Edinburgh, Scotland with Danny . . I said a prayer of thanks and I exhaled. But that giddy feeling was soon replaced with a sobering thought.

My God . . there’s really no end to this crazy shit.

The opposing sides will tell you differently. The people on the right insist that we can stop the bad guys with walls and tough guy immigration policies even if the truth of the matter is that walls ain’t gonna keep us safe from harm, and stricter immigration policies will not undermine the evil bastards who are stealing more and more of these days from us. And then you have the people on the left who bend over backwards not to offend the Muslim community. But pretending away the virulent fringe of that community isn’t going to help us identify what in the hell is going on and has been going on in the most desperate pockets of the world for a very long time.

Neither side seems to understand what in the hell they’re looking at. The only thing they have in common is that they do not possess a blessed idea as to how this stops. How could they?

Because the truth is, there is no end to this kind of madness. Not really. If someone is willing to die in order to take another human life, nothing short of placing every single human being inside a titanium bubble is going to prevent that from happening. It’s a dark and hopeless take, I know. It also happens to be the reality of our world.

No one is safe. Anywhere. Anytime.

Most people were living with a false sense of security before the September 11th attacks; an event that provided its global citizens with the bloodiest evidence to date of a new and pervasive normal. Thing is, terror isn’t a new reality to the hopeless places of this world, where the looming threat of bloodshed is possible on a daily basis, and has been that way, like . . . forever. Hell, it wasn’t even new to our own backyard. Not after Timothy McVeigh took 168 souls with a truck bomb in April of ’94. And just so’s we can keep the “Make America Great Again” faction honest, let’s not forget that McVeigh was born here. And for those on the left who are always quick to point that out . . . see? You can identify where a bad guy is from, if you try hard enough.

Why do we still pretend that sides matter if the best they can offer is Chuck Norris to right of us and Kumbaya to the left? Neither side is going to make the peace that cannot be made, in a world where peace cannot involve itself for very long before the next day is lost to madness.

So here I am, asking the same Groundhog Day question I was asking not so long ago after terror had struck another city. What do we do, as regular everyday people who are going about our regular everyday lives in a completely irregular fitting world? How do we manage things without a double dose of Ambien or a permanent stay inside a fallout shelter?

I guess we just do it. Same as always.

We get up and we get going and we don’t wait on Superman to save our asses, because that dude went Hollywood. We treat street corners the same as airports, cafes the same as packed stadiums; by marrying our freedom of movement with an ever more keen awareness of our surroundings. And we do the things we did before, knowing full well that the only thing between us and the wolves at the door is God’s good graces. And that will have to suffice, because it’s really all we got.

Think on this horrible year in Britain. Be mindful of Paris, Spain, Boston, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Orlando and New York. And don’t blame Hemingway for being wrong. Because we already knew the world wasn’t a fine place, even if we still believe it’s a place worth fighting for. And don’t let the days we lose be an epitaph to the days in front of us. And if you were planning a European vacation, or a trip to the top of some skyscraper or a day in the city, or any other blessed thing that these scumbags are trying to steal away from us, by all means . . get there. And be mindful of that last line of defense.

We’re it.

It’s Not Over Until James Brown Says So

What a difference a year makes.

This time last June, I was rooting my ass off for the Cavaliers to bring a long deserved title back to the city of Cleveland. I blame it on the Believeland phenomenon because I really didn’t give a piping hot pizza bagel about the Cavaliers but for the snake-bitten history of the franchise and its town. Granted, the great Lenny Wilkens not only played for the team, he later coached them. And yes, Lebron’s history with his home town team is now the stuff of legend. But for reals, this organization has given the NBA more cool names than titles. A top five cool names list? On it!

The Cool 5 of Cavaliers Lore 

World B. Free

John “Hot Rod” Williams

Campy Russell

Bingo Smith

Zydrunas Ilgauskas

This time around, I’m more chill. And while I can’t bring myself to pull for the Warriors (It would be like rooting for Brad Pitt to get laid, really), I most certainly can be alright with them winning it all. Because it means Kevin Durant will find himself at the top of the basketball world, and . . depending on how this series goes down, perhaps the new King of his sport. Because if he plays the rest of this series the way he played tonight, who could argue he hasn’t supplanted Lebron as the game’s top player? I wouldn’t.

My allegiance to the Heat and Lakers prevents me from rooting for other teams unless they are prohibitive underdogs, which kinda cancels me out of this series altogether seeing as how these clubs were chalk from the get. I’m not hating on the “threematch” because I happen to dig the drama of a rock opera rivalry with the sexy contrasts. It’s hot and it’s cool. Both! And it’s why I love this game.

Hey, I’ve been in love with the Association ever since I went to see a hot shot young gun by the name of Larry Bird play the Knicks like a rec team at Madison Square Garden. I got to see Bird, McHale and Dennis Johnson, Bernard King and Sugar Ray Richardson that night. And then things got real. Over the years I took in Kareem and Magic and my all time biggest man crush . . Pat Riley, coaching them up. I saw Artis Gilmore, Sydney Moncrief, George Gervin, Adrian Dantley, Dominique Wilkins, Julius Erving and Moses Malone and Elvin Hayes. Once I got wheels, I trekked down I-95 to Brendan Byrne Arena off Exit 16W where the joint was much less romantic but the patrons were every bit as involved. I took road trips to Philly where my friend George would take me to dinner and a Sixers game at the old Spectrum. A few years later, I was involved with a young lady who was dating a member of the Sixers (The dude was married, but I never could get a name out of her). Lemme tell you, those tickets were like Studio 54 to a young man who loved the game the way I did.

Admittedly, I’m a lapsed fan as far as live proceedings are concerned. I went to one lousy game this year, and watched my Heat get their 13 game winning streak snapped by the Sixers. I’m guessing that was the Karma Police paying me a visit. It’s okay, I deserved it (Even if Pat Riley didn’t.)

As for the Dubs and Cavs, I’m picking Kevin Durant and leaving it right there. He played like the best player in the universe tonight, and I’m loving the idea that the Cavaliers have no blessed idea how to stop him unless they plan on dropping a MOAB on Oracle Arena. Durant was every bit of his bad self, with a karate kick finish. And now he’s played in six Finals games (five with OKC in 2011) and is averaging just a split of a tic under his jersey number 35. He’s that good, and better. And . . and . . and . . if that wasn’t plenty ’nuff, he stared down Rihanna after she yelled ‘Brick!” while he was shooting a free throw. My. Man.

I would love to see KD in a closeout game. And I would love to see who guards him in the most pivotal moments of that game. And I would love it (very much) if Lebron was the guy, because hey, to be the King . . you gots to beat him. And I would really, really love it if last year’s 73 wins needed 35 in order to find redemption. And if that happens, I just might hoop and holler the way I did for Cleveland last June.

I’m very okay with that.

I choose Neil because I simply got no choice

The subject of karaoke came up recently, as in “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to get a group together and go do karaoke?”. To which this embedded reporter replied, rather earnestly “They still do that? . . Sure! Yeah! Let’s!”.

Sure enough, my quaint little town has a place that specializes in the shit. Who knew? And so now I’ve got to write up a to do list that most likely is going to begin and end with Neil Diamond songs. Because karaoke is a kitschy throwback to the musical revolution of the sixties where power to the people was de rigeur and Neil Diamond? He’s a man of the people

A top five favorite Neil Diamond cuts? Oookay why not . . .

Sweet Caroline

Song Sung Blue

Cracklin’ Rosie

Hello Again

Love on the Rocks

Girl, You’ll be a Woman Soon

Forever in Blue Jeans

September Morn

I Am, I Said

Cherry Cherry

What? That’s more than five? Of course it’s more than five, this is Neil Diamond we’re talking about here. He’s not going to be contained inside one of my top five lists. And really, I pared it down significantly, because the truth is I could throw down to basically anything he’s ever spun into vinyl. With Neil Diamond, there really is no wrong answer. Maybe America. . maybe that one. As popping as the melody is, and it is pretty triumphal . . Imma say no only because of the theme. It’s no fault of old Neil, mind you. He just happens to be the unwitting victim of my aversion to rock songs about the United States. It’s not about being unpatriotic, it’s just that, these songs rub me as commercial endorsements more than legit get downs.

If I were to give you a top five Karaoke list for yours truly, there would be little concern for overpopulation considering the fact that there are precious few songs to which I will climb on a stage and bare my vocals to complete strangers. Singing in public is one thing, I do it all the time- whilst grocery shopping, working, running, walking in the park on a Saturday. Whatevs. But that’s wholly different from standing up on a stage with props and lights and a digital song sheet staring you down, because at that point it becomes about expectations. See . . when you sing in public, without solicitation, there is a prevailing respect for that kind of rugged improvisation that doesn’t exist on a stage- even a karaoke stage. So while expectations in a karaoke setting are oftentimes lower than Charlie Sheen’s penis, they still matter enough to keep me honest.

Top five karaoke must haves? Como no . . .

The Dock of the Bay- It’s an easy transition for me, with nary a high note to tamper with my harmony.

Sweet Caroline-Same diff. Neil is a most forgiving grader.

September Morn- My grocery shopping Hall of Fame song. Along with Song Sung Blue. Oh Neil . . what you do to me (sigh). . .

Lean on Me- One of my least favorite Bill Withers selections, but imminently singable.

I feel like a Woman!- Totally left field, I know. But it’s one of my favorite car ride songs, like ever. And while I do not possess the feminine wiles to carry this song to its best Gloria Steinem conclusion . . it’s actually a safer bet to break out than you might imagine. If you’re the dude who chooses this hot number to karaoke to, rest assured that the lyrics will cover for a multitude of disharmonious sins. The crowd ain’t gonna be judging your talent . . nope. They’ll be too busy wondering why you chose this song.

When it comes down to it though, it’s going to be Neil. And it’s most likely going to be Sweet Caroline since it just so happens to be one of the best good time songs ever recorded. And I know it six ways to Brooklyn (Neil’s birth place). It will serve me best of all when the lights go hot and the patrons are getting their ten o’clock rowdy on. I’ll take the blues to the corner of Good Times Square and then I’ll just ride the mood to wherever it wants to take me.

My trust in Neil, it rolls like that.

The Zen of Fitbit Maintenance

I broke up with my Fitbit a couple weeks ago.

It’s okay, really. We gave it a really good run. Literally speaking . . we actually did give it a really good run. Many times over in fact. And while I would love to say I was the aggrieved, it just ain’t so. Nope, I was the lowdown dirty shame of a partner in this one sided crime. My Fitbit gave me everything and in return, I gave it my best Paul Simon hatchet job.

I still remember the moment when I looked into my Alta’s organic light emitting display and uttered the deep fried cliched sentiment that has been cashing royalty checks on a million years worth of love gone wrong songs . . . It’s not you, it’s me! And it was a mean ass razor of a misbegotten truth; because I had used that Fitbit, abused it and I never imagined there might be repercussions attached to my hard loving ways. Until it was so.

Evidently, the steps we took just weren’t enough for me. I always wanted more. Steps, I mean. And the ways in which I gained those steps were more varied than the spectators at a Grateful Dead concert. It was by my side through the thick of work days that saw me log in as many as thirty thousand steps, to the thinly administered diet of an early morning mall walk when I was recovering from a procedure. It climbed a rock wall (better than I did actually) once, and it hung with me through tennis matches in spite of the oftentimes inglorious outcomes. It even ran with me- short sprints that tested the crankiest parts of my body, to longer runs that improved my stamina. It was plenty fine with being relegated to my ankle when I used the stationary bike whilst catching up on a favorite TV show. It brokered the negotiation of black diamond studded slopes with such elan that you’d have sworn it was Swiss.

And it danced to the rhythm on those mornings when I would practice martial arts forms, never minding the demonically possessed manner in which I went about my business. It stuck with me through writing binges and push-ups and sit-ups and chin-ups; even meditative repose, despite the fact it was getting nothing in return. It endured the flames of my manic cooking expeditions as well as a one hundred and ten pound mastiff named Bull who’d had enough of shelter living and was intent on making a break for Key West.

Yep, I hooked my mojo to a ton of mofo until my Fitbit screamed “No mo!”.

And then one day, it all came crashing down. Almost. Thankfully I was able to catch my Alta before it hurtled to the ground as the result of a busted latch on the wristband. I held it there, as if a hatchling . . cradling it with the utmost care as if such an action would retrieve all those disharmonious actions which led to its demise. And then I tried to put it back together, but it was having none of it. The face of my Fitbit just stared up at me and let me know that it was going to need some time. To which I dutifully agreed with it.

So I gave my Fitbit the space it needed. For both of us, really. And I went about my life, naked and carefree to the entanglement of recorded steps. I let my steps do their own talking, I let my runs breathe with the energy that my legs and my lungs afforded them. As with Kata (a training exercise in Karate), I let the form fill that emptiness.

For the span of a couple weeks time, I learned to measure steps in the quiet of doing them and a funny thing happened. I gained an appreciation for those little buggers that I never possessed back when I was hooked on logging a hundred thousand steps a week. The space in between, it taught me things. Like how to breathe rather than binge. To cultivate rather than collect. To practice rather than possess. It taught me to be. Just be. That’s the thing about patience, it’s eloquent in its teaching methods.

It was during the mayhem of a Gotham episode the other night that I took the equity of this peaceful, easy feeling and cashed it. I figured it was time to step back in- literally- to the something I had before with my Alta. Replenished and renewed, smarter and stronger. A humbled participant rather than a greedy consumer of the Way. A couple taps later, I had become the proud owner of a 3 pack of Alta bands, in bright and shiny colors of a new. I’m happy to report that the band should be back together by this evening.

Galvanized from the break, I have all kinds of plans for my Alta. My actions will be steeped in the tranquil swim of a Zen trip taken accidentally. The application of these lessons will be similar to riding a motorcycle for the first time in years, or picking up the piano after a long hiatus. The difference this time will be in the way I transform a rudimentary understanding of the steps into a flow of new ideas.

A writing lesson, a life lesson. Served up one step at a time.