Day 30 - Horsehide

I don't understand the "tradition" of throwing back the ball when the opposing team hits a home run. I don't know where this got its start although, if I were forced to take a guess, I'd say either Boston or Chicago. But you've just caught a home run ball at a major league baseball game. Off the bat of a major league baseball player. You've either just completed a feat that requires some degree of athleticism, or been extremely lucky, or a combination of the two. To then throw the ball back on the field at the urgings of some meatheads seated around you is inexplicable to me. First, if security can pick you out of the crowd, and they will, you're going to be tossed out of the stadium. Second, with only a small amount of effort, you'll probably be able to find some wide-eyed kid sitting nearby whose month you could absolutely make by tossing the ball to them. Third, in the unlikely event that ball turns out to be the first career homer by the guy who eventually breaks Barry Bonds' career record, and it's worth a fortune, you're going to feel like an utter tool.

Seriously, don't be that person. Remember what it was like the first time you saw a game live. If you can't recapture that feeling yourself, help someone else create some early baseball memories.

On an unrelated note, I love good, intelligent writing – writing that advances well-argued positions, writing that makes you think, writing that moves you. I'm always jealous of that kind of talent, but I love finding it. There's a lot of that writing out there today if you know where to look for it. If you're a baseball fan, and you don't already know about Joe Sheehan, you should. Joe's a booming voice full of logic and passion, ex of Baseball Prospectus and currently found writing for Sports Illustrated, co-hosting a podcast, and publishing a subscription newsletter. It's in the latter forum where I think Joe particularly shines, unfiltered and unconstrained by word count and publishing deadlines.

Joe stepped away for personal reasons just as the current baseball season was getting geared up. Upon his return, he managed to pull off the difficult feat of writing both obliquely and movingly about the reasons for his absence. Now, a couple of months later, he's in fine form, dissecting the all-star rosters, Cliff Lee's win-loss record, the confounding mystery of R.A. Dickey, and the draft over the last month to provide just a few examples. On Saturday, he wrote a phenomenal piece about the latest developments in the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State situation.

I'm in no position to give anyone in the media a bump. But, if I manage to throw just one newsletter subscription his way beyond mine, I'd call that a win. It's money well spent – check it out at www.joesheehan.com.

Day 26 - Tombstone

Here lies Fred, the earth is fed. Six feet under 'cause now he's dead. Nora Ephron passed away earlier this week. Actually, if you happened to get your news through the filter of Twitter, she passed away, turned out not to have passed away after all, and then finally did pass away in the end.

But her death got me thinking about legacy – how someone might want to be remembered as compared with how they ultimately will be remembered. Make no mistake about it, Nora Ephron was extremely accomplished in her field... no, fields. A career spanning better than 25 years, playing a major role in bringing significant movies to a screen near you. She wrote scripts, she produced, she directed – sometimes she did two or all three of those things on the same project. She was talented and, often more importantly, she was bankable.

Was every movie a home run? No, of course not. Nobody bats 1.000. But even when she didn't square up her pitch, she usually still made solid contact, spraying doubles all over the park.

So it was interesting seeing how people used their 140 characters to twemorialize her. How do you sum up her career? What's the touchpoint so that people who didn't know Nora Ephron by name would go "Oh, her? That's too bad. I like her stuff."? And when someone chose "You've Got Mail" as their touchpoint, it was especially interesting seeing over people jump all over them for it, as if the only acceptable choice was either "When Harry Met Sally..." or "Silkwood".

Look, "You've Got Mail" is ubiquitous. It's Sunday afternoon on TBS when baseball's not in season. It's Wednesday nights on W Network. It's the "Law & Order" of movies; scarcely a day goes by when you wouldn't trip across it on your dial. It's also a perfectly fine movie. Better done the first time around, sure. A little formulaic, yeah. But it's a movie very much of its time, with familiar faces, and a familiar meet-cute premise. It's Wonder Bread. It's vanilla ice cream. It's comforting. And a ridiculous number of people have seen it, and watch it again and again every time it's on.

So, what's the matter with being remembered as the director, screenwriter, AND producer of a movie with that kind of pedigree, whether it's the valedictorian of your particular class of work or not? Shit, there are literally tens of thousands of people who would be thrilled to have that as their epitaph.

Look, you live your life, and the people who cross your path are each going to take away their own memories of what your time here meant. All you can do is leave firm impressions with your footsteps and always keep pointed in the direction you want to be travelling. Do your best each day, and hopefully the gap between how you want to be remembered and how you ultimately will be can be spanned with a tiny hop rather than a suspension bridge.

What do you want it to say on your tombstone?

Day 17 - Move Over

I'm back today from five or six days east on the 401 visiting our families. Other than at Christmastime, this was the first time in I can't even remember how long that we've spent this much time doing the family thing. I found it ridiculously relaxing, which is not the norm for me. It's usually either too rushed or too quiet (family members reading this can make their own guesses). This time, I don't know; it's like we found the secret formula, the eleven herbs and spices of the family visit coating. Of course, I'm pretty much predisposed to finding almost anything relaxing these days – the lack of weekday 8:30 to 5:00 obligations will do that to you. But there was more to it than that.

Anyway, true to form, there was one part of the trip that I didn't find relaxing, that I almost never find relaxing – the drive. Please, don't misunderstand. I love to drive and, living in the city on the main public transit line, I rarely get to do it. I also like to drive fast. You can make your own assumptions about what I mean by "fast" but, suffice it to say that I'm in no danger of having our car confiscated if I get pulled over.

The problem with wanting to drive fast, while simultaneously having our entire trip take place on the country's main highway for commerce, is that the car manufacturers haven't yet installed the magic button that allows me to control the quality and the speed of the other drivers on the road. I firmly believe this will go down as one of the great tragedies of the modern age.

I don't ask much of other people on the road. Keep an even pace. Stay inside your lane. Don't slam on your brakes suddenly without a good reason. Most of all, every once in a while – just for the fun of it – take a look in your rear-view mirror. This holds true no matter what lane you're in, but it's especially true if you're in the left lane. AKA, the passing lane.

Yes, it's called the passing lane. It's not the sit-here-going-110-until-you-hit-your-exit lane. It's also not the pull-your-semi-alongside-that-other-semi-while-you-go-uphill-until-you-pull-behind-him-again-at-the-top lane. It's the passing lane, the lane used by cars driving at a faster speed to pass other cars driving at a relatively slower speed. Simple concept, but one that's critically dependent on an equally simple social contract. That's right...

Slower drivers have to either move or keep to the right.

Like I said, simple. I'm sure you feel like quite the daredevil going 113, grandma, but when there's no other car ahead of you, and I'm behind you looking to go 135, the system breaks. I get stuck going 113, or 110, and so does the lady behind me, and the guy behind her, and then the temperature inside my car starts to approach the ridiculous heat outside. External forces are holding me back, keeping me from getting where I want to be at the pace I want to set.

Anyway, I'm home now. Vacation's over...

I'm ready. I'm ready to go faster. Get out of my way. With all due respect, move over, before I run you over.

Day Five - Hype

I don't like hype. No, I take that back – it's not strong enough. I can't stand hype. Hate it. Let me give you a for instance. If you're not a baseball fan, you've probably been spared hearing about Bryce Harper. Harper is an undeniable phenom – left high school before his junior year and got his GED so that he could enrol in community college at 17. After a year of college, he was the number one pick in the draft and signed with the Washington Nationals for a ridiculous amount of money. He rocketed through the minor leagues in just a bit more than a season and, at the age of 19, he's already playing in the major leagues.

I hate Bryce Harper. I don't know him, I've never met him, and everything that I know about him I've learned through the media, but I hate him. It's not rational and I won't even try to pretend that it is. And my feelings about him are completely a result of the hype. You can't swing a dead cat without reading a story about him or hearing about him on a podcast. Earlier tonight, Major League Baseball's Twitter account was breathlessly tweeting that he was only a triple away from the cycle, and encouraged everyone to watch LIVE as he went for history, which meant that their website was also giving everyone a chance to see that game for free. You don't often hear "free" and "Major League Baseball" in the same sentence.

History – that's a big word. Particularly in sports, you'd think people would reserve it for things that happen exceedingly rarely. But here's the problem; there have been 272 times in major league history when a player has hit for the cycle, going all the way back to 1885. That means that, on average, at least two players per season hit for the cycle. Not common, but not exceedingly rare either. By comparison, there have been only 21 perfect games pitched. 16 times where a player has hit four home runs in a single game. 15 unassisted triple plays. Only twice when a player has hit a home run from each side of the plate in the same inning. Now THAT's historic. Not something that happens twice a year. Not something that's been done no fewer than eight times by players for Harper's own franchise.

So, why is MLB pumping his tires so furiously? A kid, with that kind of talent, doing things at that young an age – that's a drawing card, a meal ticket, for potentially the next two decades. And so the hype faucet gets turned on and, once it's flowing, you have to keep feeding it. And it's not just MLB itself revving the engine. When the Nats go on the road, Harper will often get booed. This isn't an unusual thing for a key player on the visiting team. Blue Jays fans boo Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez on the Yankees – boy, do they boo ARod – just like they boo Kevin Youkilis on the Red Sox, or any visiting pitchers who throw over to first again and again to hold a baserunner. Fans boo the enemy. However, according to so many baseball writers who I see reference it, booing Bryce Harper is inexplicable. He's only 19; leave the poor kid alone. It's just mean. It's as if booing was invented the minute Harper made it to the major leagues.

Example the second – The Beatles. Yes, I don't like The Beatles. No, take a minute; I'll wait for you to pull it together... There you go. I'm sorry, but they leave me cold. I think their lyrics are simplistic. I think that, although they harmonized well, none of them were particularly good singers. But I'm convinced that, as much as anything, it's the hype. I can't stand the hype. I can't stand the looks that people give you when you say you don't like The Beatles, as if you'd told them that you just finished a supper of sous vide puppies with reduction of baby seal. I can't believe that more than 40 years after they broke up, Rolling Stone magazine is trying to tell me that they have three of the top five, four of the top ten, and five of the top fifteen albums ever recorded. Ever. In the history of recorded music.

I recently sat through a round of all-Beatles-songs karaoke, and I found myself Statler & Waldorfing the whole time. "Richie Havens did that song better.", and he did – I dare anyone to play Havens' version of Here Comes the Sun and tell me it doesn't kick the original in the ass. "Chantal Kreviazuk did that song better." "The Thompson Twins did that song better." "That guy who just sang that did that song better." I meant very little of it, but it was awfully fun tweaking people.

Wayne Gretzky. Patrick Roy. Kanye. Prince. Woody Allen. Harry Potter. ER. Glee.

Ech...

I just find that hype has been on my mind a lot lately. The challenge, seemingly getting tougher as I get older, is separating the reaction to the hype from well-reasoned, considered opinion. I don't know why I'm finding this so difficult, but I hope it's a good sign that I'm at least aware of it.

Day Four - Second Chances

Losing sucks. The Toronto Marlies played game three of their Calder Cup finals series tonight. They're up against a really tough opponent in the Norfolk Admirals – if you're not familiar with them, this is a team that finished their regular season with 28 straight wins – and they came into tonight down 2-0 in the series.

It was a very, very close game; scoreless through three periods and needed overtime to decide it. Toronto came out strong and played much better than they had in the series so far. But as the game wore on, you could see the balance shift ever so slowly. After being outshot most of the game, Norfolk evened up the count in the third period and then pulled ahead, an advantage they'd never give up. Toronto couldn't get a sustained rush past the neutral zone. They looked like they were playing not to lose, rather than playing to win. As early as the second period, I said to my fiancée that it felt like the game would come down to one goal, and it wouldn't be the Marlies scoring it.

In the end, that's exactly what happened, and it came on a play you could try 100 times in practice without being able to duplicate it. A Norfolk player dumped the puck into the near corner, and Marlies' goalie Ben Scrivens moved behind the net to corral the rebound for one of his defencemen. But the puck hit a seam on the boards and took a ridiculous bounce on a line directly into the far side of the open net. All anyone could do was stand in disbelief and watch the game end.

Except, there's this – the play was offside. There was at least one Admirals player in Toronto's end when the puck was shot in. The linesman raised his arm for the delayed offside call and, as the play developed, there was no way that Norfolk had cleared the zone before the puck crossed the goal line. No way. I'd have bet my first-born child on it – an empty wager in my case, but still...

All the way home, I was seething about the game ending that way – Toronto losing, in overtime, on a goal that shouldn't have counted. It wouldn't have been the first time this season that lousy officiating had contributed to a Marlies loss. The AHL has no video replay, awful refs, and more often than not only one referee assigned to each game.

Once I got home, and calmed down, I stopped in at the bar across the street to grab a beer and – this is where you insert the gasp – do a little karaoke. After I got settled, I saw that the bar had LeafsTV on, and they happened to be showing a recap of the game from which I just got home, including the ending.

Damn.

It wasn't offside?

They cleared the zone in time.

It wasn't offside.

Down 3-0, the Marlies now have enormous odds to overcome in this series if they want to win the championship. Game three is over. They'll never get the chance to play it again. Ben Scrivens, so good all throughout the playoffs, will never get a second chance to make that critical save.

I saw the replay. I got a second chance.

Not to try to get all deep here, or to draw a parallel to other, unrelated events in my life, but here's the thing – you don't always get a second chance. When you do, take it.

Update – apparently the AHL needs a second chance too. I guess it doesn't matter that the player cleared the zone – the goal still shouldn't have counted (h/t to James Mirtle at The Globe and Mail).

Day Three - Labels

I am a man. I am white.

I am Canadian.

I am a banker. Or am I?

I am a sports fan.

I am intelligent.

I am sarcastic.

I am funny.

I am even sarcastically funny. Or is that funnily sarcastic?

I am a singer.

I am an actor.

I am a partner.

I am a son.

I am a brother.

I am Liberal.

I am liberal.

I am socially awkward.

I am a writer.

I am short.

I am extra-large. Except when I am large.

I am average.

I am above-average.

I am a friend.

I am a mentor.

I am shy.

I am half full. I am half empty.

I am a realist.

I am hopeful.

I am tired.

I am fortunate.

I am afraid.

I am whelmed.

I am less than I ought to be.

I am more than I believe I am.

I am what I am, and that's all that I am.

Day Two - About Earwigs

I hate earwigs. No, not the bugs, although, don't get me wrong – I hate the bugs too. I remember having a lot of earwigs on our porch during the summer when I was growing up. You'd open the mailbox, or grab the screen door handle, and there'd be one there. If you were unlucky enough to get it on your hand, you'd almost always get pinched too, which was just the worst. But I digress. No, the earwig I'm talking about is a song. You know the song. That song. THAT song. You hear it through someone's headphones on the streetcar in the morning. You catch just a snippet of it in the background during an ad on TV. Sometimes, it's enough for someone just to say the title, and that's it – you're buggered. It gets into your head, and then you just can't get rid of it. You hear it all day long, over and over. You find yourself humming it while standing on-line at the grocery store. It's burrowed right in there. Like an earwig, see?

If you're someone who likes to while away an evening with some karaoke, as I am, then earwigs are practically an occupational hazard. Guaranteed, at some point during the evening some drunken idiot is going to get up on stage and sing that song. THAT song. The awful top 40 radio hit – past or present – with the hook. "Friday". Anything by the Spice Girls or S Club 7. "Call Me Maybe". Oh, by the way, Ms. Jepsen, Carly Rae is a perfectly nice name – why do you want us to call you 'Maybe' instead? That is what you want, right? Otherwise, surely there'd be a comma in the title of your song, wouldn't there?

Anyway, what was my point here (after three paragraphs, I damn well better have a point)? Oh, yeah. Last night at karaoke, somebody sang "So Far Away" by Staind. You might be familiar with the song. It's from the sensitive ballad portion of their oeuvre, by which I mean there's a chance you heard it on the radio at some point, as opposed to most of their music, which you'd only have heard if you'd been fool enough to buy one of their CDs. "So Far Away" has now been stuck in my head for almost a full day as I write this.

I don't think this is your usual earwig though. Some of the lyrics actually resonated with me a bit. Yes, the lyrics to a Staind ballad. Shut up – I know exactly how ridiculous it sounds. I present for your consideration the first verse:

This is my life
It's not what it was before
All these feelings I've shared
And these are my dreams
That I've never lived before
Somebody shake me
'Cause I, I must be sleeping

This is day two of the rest of my life, and it's decidedly not what it was before. Or, at least, it's not so far. It'll be up to me to decide whether that holds true or not. This is the chance to get it right, perhaps the best chance I've had in decades; if I'm lucky, maybe even to chase the dreams that I'd never lived before.

And... my introspection tank is empty. Let me just leave you with this – "I'm too sexy for my love. Too sexy for my love, love's going to leave me."

Happy earwig.

Day One

I'm on staycation. At least, that's what it feels like so far, anyway. You know - you take a week off from work, but you don't go away anywhere. You just roll out of bed whenever, settle into the couch, maybe find a Law & Order rerun on Mystery. You eat when, and if, you get hungry. Get dressed? Well, sure, if the spirit moves you, I suppose. It's certainly not a prerequisite, though. So, yeah. Staycation. For today, that's what I'm telling myself. Luckily, I'm easily suggestible. Tomorrow? I guess we'll deal with tomorrow when it comes.

The NBA inspires some random thoughts

I'm at the bar for karaoke really early tonight. Every single TV in the place is tuned to the NBA All-Star Game. So, some random thoughts as we join the game in progress... So, this half-time show, eh? They really have their finger on the pulse of popular culture:

  • Pitbull, starting with a song that's what, three years old now? Yep, just checked – "I Know You Want Me" was released on February 24, 2009. Happy belated birthday, really awful song. Does he not have a new album out and, if not, what's he doing opening the half-time entertainment?
  • Chris Brown, who nobody with any taste wants to see anywhere in public, short of his mama and his record company.
  • Ne-Yo, who – nah, I'm not going to hate on Ne-Yo, other than to say I could have done without seeing him since it meant I had to see Pitbull again.

How is it that I never watch the NBA, and yet I know that the guy with the horrifying pink tie interviewing LeBron James on the bench is Craig Sager? Damn you, Twitter; I need to learn to pay less attention to stuff that means nothing to me.

Seriously, Pitbull is this generation's Ja Rule. If there's a song released in the last three years that doesn't include Pitbull, I'd like to know about it. I need more non-Pitbull music in my life.

I stopped watching basketball with any frequency in around 1987, back when they stopped worry about travelling being a thing. So, I don't know if it's simply an all-star game non-call or normal practice, but I just saw Kobe Bryant take about six steps without the ball going anywhere near the floor. Does he not know how to bounce it? Is he worried about bruising it?

It's the fourth quarter and Chris Bosh just checked into the game. I'll confess that I don't follow the labour situation in the U.S. all that closely. However, I'm just going to assume that there's a hospitality industry strike in Orlando, and Dwayne Wade and LeBron brought Bosh along to carry their bags and get their drinks. Because otherwise...

Hey, I wonder if Pitbull's actually allowed to perform here in Ontario? There's that ban in place, or was he already a pit bull before that came into force?

There's somebody wearing number O? Seriously? Starved for attention much? And I thought it was bad when Wayne Gretzky chose the absolute highest number possible back in the day.

It's 151-149 with 16 seconds left. If this finishes in a tie, please, please, PLEASE tell me that they're not going into overtime. Couldn't they just settle the game by bringing Chris Brown back out and having the teams throw balls at his crotch in turn – first time that gets him to cry wins?

Wait, LeBron choked with the game on the line? Wow – I didn't realize the all-star game was one that mattered.

I can't tell, because karaoke's starting and they've switched the sound off, but do NBA fans boo David Stern the same way that NHL fans boo Gary Bettman every chance they get? Because I think I'd really enjoy that.

Licensed to Ride - Is That Fare?

Is licensing cyclists really that crazy an idea? The idea was floated today at a meeting of the City of Toronto's Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. The Committee was discussing harmonization and enforcement of the various by-laws regulating riding bicycles on the sidewalk in the city. Amazingly enough, a bunch of legacy bylaws from before amalgamation are still on the books, and are only just now being looked at.

Cycling has been a hot button issue around town for a while. The debates over the city's master cycling plan have been numerous and public, while the installation of new bike lanes on Jarvis Street and the subsequent decision to remove those lanes stirred up a lot of passion among cyclists and motorists alike. Added to the mix have been deaths of both cyclists and, last August, a pedestrian in North Toronto.

Whether it's framed as part of an environmental movement or demonized as part of "the war on cars", I think most would agree that the current situation is untenable. There aren't enough bike lanes, and many of the ones that do exist are either in poor repair or aren't connected. Cars parking in bike lanes make things that much worse, although a partial solution for that problem might be on the way. On streets without bike lanes, drivers don't pay enough attention and don't give bikes adequate room when passing. On the other hand, there are far too many cyclists who are contributing to the problem – darting between cars, riding on sidewalks, ignoring stop signs and red lights, and riding the wrong way down one-way streets.

There are a lot of good reasons for the city to get serious about making it safer and more convenient for people to ride bikes on the streets. In turn, cyclists need to start taking their responsibilities seriously - a bike is a vehicle, just like any other, and both the bike and the rider are subject to all the same rules as a car, truck, or motorcycle. The police need to be empowered to enforce existing laws, or given the right laws if the current ones aren't doing the job.

And maybe those right laws need to include some kind of licensing scheme, whether for the rider or for the bicycle. We don't let people get behind the wheel of a car without demonstrating a minimum level of knowledge and ability, and all vehicles other than bicycles must be registered and insured. Revenue from licensing could be used to help support the maintenance and extension of the bike lane network. Just as with driver's licenses, accumulation of enough infractions by a rider could result in license suspension, helping get problem riders off the roads (and sidewalks).

There's no silver bullet here. And as we work through trying to find the right solutions, it's far too soon to reject any idea out of hand.

3 Words Explained

So I figured I should probably add some context to yesterday's post, which laid out my three words for this year. The concept comes from a recent post on Chris Brogan's blog, which is a regular read for me. Chris explains it better, but the idea is to choose three words that will guide your actions and decisions for the year, rather than setting specific resolutions.

Care - There are a lot of components to this for me. I want to take better care of my relationships with people – family, friends from all my groups, co-workers. The people in my life deserve more than just me going through the motions. I can be a better partner to Erin. I can be a better son, and brother, and son-in-law. I can be a better friend, particularly to people who might need it the most. I can be a better resource to my co-workers and a better boss to my team.

However, the most important relationship of which I need to take better care is the one with myself. Whether it's making time to exercise, getting my life organized, reading a good book, or figuring out how to eat better, I need to start caring for myself again. Because if I'm not my best self again, I can't be any of things that I want to be for anyone else.

Challenge - As I move through the course of this year, I want to find ways to challenge myself. No, I need to find ways to challenge myself. Whether it's physically, mentally, or emotionally, I can't continue to be satisfied with things as they are. A challenge doesn't even need to be big or complicated. It could be something as simple as getting off the subway a stop early on the way home and walking the rest of the way. But it's about asking myself, as often as possible, what can I do today that's going to take me out of my regular routine; how can I step out of my comfort zone?

Joy - Happiness is not a natural state for me, in the way that it seems like it is for other people. I don't laugh easily or often. I'm quiet and introverted; I'm uncomfortable in large groups, which describes almost any social situation. But I'd like to figure out how to have more joy in my life. I think a lot of that is about identifying the things in life that give me joy, and embracing them fully – seeing those people, doing those things. But it's also about being in the moment. It's about wanting to enjoy things, and allowing myself to be joyful.

As I work through all this, it occurs to me that if I work the first two words properly, the third word is almost a natural by-product. I'm not sure that it's supposed to work that way, but I'll take it.

Anyway, that's the rough outline of my 2012 – I'll be trying to align my life and make my decisions around care, challenge, and joy. It ought to be an interesting ride...