Thursday, December 05, 2013

A letter to the squirrel I ran over

Dear Mr. Squirrel

At first I didn’t believe it happened.  I was just driving along headed home from running errands.  I saw you there on the parkway, headed towards that tree.  Then that black Mercedes backed out of a driveway and you, instead of heading for the safety of the walnut tree three feet away from you, you darted into the street.  I tried to slow down, but there wasn’t enough time or space and my brakes were kind of soft. I didn’t hear a thud or a thump or a crunch so I was sure I missed you.  But as a drove away, I could see you, a much flatter you, smashed into the street, not moving.

Dammit, squirrel, why did you go into the street?  Didn’t your mother teach you anything?  Look both ways before crossing the street.  You should have been playing in the backyard away from the traffic, not in the front yard.  Why would you go that way?  The tree is always safer, unless Lindsey Lohan is driving nearby but she would never be in our neighborhood.  How could you be so dumb? I mean besides you tiny, tiny brain, which is now tinier and flatter.
Maybe that wasn’t you.  Maybe it was a pile of leaves.  Maybe you got between the wheels, you ducked down, then scampered back out of the street before I could look back and see you.  Even if that is you on road, maybe you didn’t get squished under my tires.  Maybe you are stuck to the road in fear, unable to move.  I mean, that happens to squirrels, right?  Okay, if you are injured, maybe it’s pretty minor.   Maybe I just clipped your tail.  Oh, please be okay Mr. Squirrel.
How could I have done such a thing?  I am not going to be able sleep tonight.  I’ll be thinking about the innocent squirrel life I ended, tossing and turned in my bed, crying.  I am such a terrible person.  This is going to take me days or weeks to get over.  What am I going to tell my children?  What would they think if they knew I was a squirrel killer?  I am so depressed.
 But, really, he’s just a squirrel.  There are hundreds of them in our neighborhood.  We see so many when we walk the dog.  Plus, come on, it’s just a fucking squirrel.  I mean, circle of life.  If I didn’t get him with my car, somebody else would have, or worse, a coyote would have got him.  At least when I squished his tiny little head into the road, it all ended quickly.  I don’t think a coyote would have been that compassionate.  Yes, I am compassionate.  I love squirrels, and I’m going to keep loving them, even if they keep running in front of my car.

So long, Mr. Squirrel.  I hope you are in squirrel heaven, chasing your squirrel friends, jumping from tree to tree, eating through the pumpkins I send to pumpkin heaven after Halloween. You are in a far better place.

The Driver of the White SUV who squished you

Thanks for reading

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Things I Don't Get, Volume 1

This might end up being a regular feature, but I’m starting to run into a lot of things that I don’t ‘get.’  Even if they are explained to me I don’t understand them.  I’m sure many of these things make perfect sense to other people, and I am okay with that.  We are allowed to not understand the same things (with some exceptions.  Everyone should know how gravity works, and probably how to change a tire, but what people should understand is a completely different topic.  And I’m sure there are things that I like that other people don’t get.  But those people are not writing this blog.  So here we go with the first list of things I don’t get.

1)      Mirrors above the toilet in the bathroom

While it is perfectly okay to have a mirror in a bathroom because sometimes you have to check yourself out, mirrors above toilet are creepy.  We just moved into a new house (more on that in a future post) and we have a mirror above the toilet in the bathroom.  It totally creeps me out.  Clearly any time this happens the decision is driven by someone who sits down with the back to the mirror while peeing, not those who are standing and facing the mirror.  I could understand why Dirk Diggler might want to have a mirror above his toilet, but pretty much no one else does.  In our house, I want to sit down instead of standing when using this bathroom.

2)      Black toilets

Our Darth Vader Toilet
Yes, this, too is because we moved, but this is the other bathroom.  Black toilets look cool.  My son thinks we have a Darth Vader bathroom.  But there are problems. Like you can’t see in the toilet at all.  Not that you would want to, but now you can’t.  And it’s impossible to tell if the toilet is clean, even after you just cleaned it.  I feel like we are going through three times as much toilet bowl cleaner in this house since it is better to be safe than sorry.  Trust me, I lived in an apartment with three other guys.  Stuff grows quickly on a toilet and ours was white and we could see it growing.  If we had a black toilet, we wouldn’t have noticed until the toilet clogged and wouldn’t flush with all the stuff that grew on it.

3)      Fishing  

Okay, this isn’t entirely true.  I understand why other people might like fishing.  If real life fishing was anything like it is portrayed in ‘A River Runs Through it’ everyone would move to Montana and fly fish all day (and I’m sure our wives would love it if we looked like Brad Pitt, or even Tom Skerrit for that matter).  I’m taking about suburban or urban fishing.  People try to fish in the Chicago River.  Now, it smells like dead fish, which would make you believe there are live fish in there but I’m doubting it.   We live near a river now and I heard there might be fish in that river.  I often see people with their poles dangling in the water.  In some places, the water is even deep enough for fish to swim.  But I’ve never seen anyone catch a fish.  Maybe I am not patient enough.  No, I just don’t get it.

4)      Iced Coffee

I like coffee. A lot.  I can’t remember the last day I didn’t have a cup of coffee.  Even when I get up early to go running, I have a cup of java before I head out.  And even if it is , it is 88 degrees at 6 in the morning in September, it is hot coffee.  Always.  I have a coworker who drinks iced coffee in the summer and regular coffee in the winter (well, not entirely true.  He gets like an iced mocha frappe china choo choo coffee at Starbucks in the summer).  I have writer friends who swears by iced coffee (are you reading this Ben Tanzer?) and insist there is something wrong with me for not liking it.  But I’ve tried it and, well, I don’t get it.  I know, I know, I should totally get it.  I like ice.  I like coffee.  But not together.    Maybe I am still stung by the first iced coffee I even drank from a Gloria Jeans coffee shop at the mall.  I drank half of it, then immediately got the caffeine shakes.  I though my heart was going to burst out of my chest and pull me through the mall by my guts, beating at 120 bpm.  Maybe I’m doing it wrong.  Am I supposed to brew regular hot coffee then pour it over ice?  Do I need to let hot coffee cool to room temperature then add the ice?  Do I brew it a room temperature and let it steep first (wait, forge that.  12 hours of steeping?  Too much planning.

5)      Talking on the phone in the bathroom

I’ll do just about anything in the bathroom.  I’ll read the paper or a magazine, check email, play Words with Friends or the Simpsons Tapped out. I’ll scroll through endless Facebook posts.  I once brought my laptop into the bathroom because I was picking my fantasy football team.  But I won’t talk on the phone with people.  “But Mike, isn’t it the same thing?” you are saying right now.  “You were using your phone to play words with friends.” Of course it’s not the same thing.  What I am doing while in the bathroom do not bother other people.   There is nothing more distracting when you are standing at a urinal than the guy next to you yapping on his phone about some sales visit to a new client (airports are notorious for toilet phone talkers). And sometimes peeing takes concentration (remember this post?).   Now, maybe I’m not as coordinated as others because I can’t hold my phone while unzipping, pulling out, aiming and complaining to my friend that the cell phone reception totally sucks in this bathroom.  I just don’t want to try.  Seriously people!  Just call them back.  I can't even put a picture of this in here because its gross.

I once had a girlfriend who would go to the bathroom while we were talking on the phone.  I could always tell because she would wait until I was doing the majority of the talking, then she’d get quiet.  Of course, most of our conversations were dominated by her, so I usually didn’t talk for long.  Then there would be silence so I would ask her something.  Her answer would come back with a little echo (why do bathrooms always echo).  “Are you going to the bathroom?” I’d ask.  “I’m already done,” she’d say.  She might have been, but I just figured she was lying to me.  I hope she remember to go back and flush.

So three out of five were about bathrooms.  I promise next time that sixty percent of the list won’t be about toilets.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Holy Cards

In the fold out window of my wallet, sandwiched between my state ID and my badge for work is a faded holy card.  The edges are worn and the corners are folded.  On the front is Jesus Christ, haloed head, holding court in front of a gathering of small birds perched on tree branches and a rock.  On the back are the following words:


In Loving Memory Of
Florian V. Smolarek
United States Veteran
Born Into Life
July 9, 1944

Born Into Eternity

August 21, 1983



The last word is cut off because that corner of the holy card is gone (it’s “die”, if you were wondering, from John 11:25 and yes, I had to look it up).  The E and K of the last name are cut off as well.  Across the top are four numbers in my handwriting: 8-36-39-67.

It was twenty years ago, the summer of 1993, just a few weeks before I started my freshman year of college, when I visited my father’s grave for the first time.  I’d been to the cemetery since his death to bury other relatives, my great aunt who was in her seventies and my cousin, who was only eleven.  This time I was going for my father and I was going by myself.

There are things I remember about August 21, 1983 but there are lots of holes in my memory, too.  It was Sunday. We must have had pancakes for breakfast because that’s what we always did on Sundays.  I’m sure I was the first one awake and I snuck downstairs quietly to watch TV before my older brother and sister came awoke.  We were going to visit my grandmother on the south side later in the day and we were running late.

My mother screamed.  I think I was upstairs in my room.  My father was crumpled on the floor in the bathroom.  I went downstairs.  My brother followed and called the paramedics from the kitchen phone.  They arrived and worked on my father upstairs.  They brought in a gurney and carried him out to the ambulance.  We sat on the couch in the living room.  My mom called my uncle before she left in the ambulance with my father.  We three kids waited alone at home.  My uncle dropped my aunt off with us then went to the hospital.  My aunt and uncle had just gotten married, just gotten back from their honeymoon.   We had just seen the family photo taken at their wedding.  I don’t know what we did while we waited.  My mom and uncle returned a little later.  She wasn’t crying but I could tell by her face she was carrying bad news.  My aunt and uncle moved to the family room.  My mom sat us down on the living room couch and told us our father was dead.  We cried together.  I couldn’t tell you how long were stayed together on that couch but I know my mother has never hugged us harder than she did that moment.

 We had rabbits in our house.  Not pet rabbits, but wild baby rabbits.  Our neighbor’s dog had gotten the mother and my brother found their den while mowing their lawn.  They were tiny, each one of them could fit in the palm of my hand.  We convinced our parents to bring them into the house and fed them with an eye dropper.  They stayed in a cardboard box next to the basement door.  When we finished crying on the couch, I took one of the rabbits from the box and went down into the basement, sat down in the dark, pet it and cried more.

 Since the funeral was going to be on the south side we stayed at my grandmother’s for the next week.  .  When you die young, your wake and funeral are well attended.  For three days people filed in and out.  Some I knew, most I didn’t but they all talked in hushed tones.  There’s not much for kids to do at a funeral home.  You can only play so many hands of Uno, you can only go for a walk around the block so many times.  I remember going to see Return of the Jedi at Ford City Mall with my mom’s cousin, Katie.  She fell asleep while the people behind us cheered for Luke Skywalker and the fall of the Empire.  The father-son dynamic of the story was over my head at the time.

 The church was packed for the funeral.  I’d never sat in the reserved front rows before.  I don’t remember the mass, only the flag draped across the casket.  Then a limo ride to the cemetery.  Then it was over.

 We went back home. Just the four of us. School started the next week, third grade for me.  People treated me differently, especially the teachers.  Like there was something they all knew about me but didn’t want to talk about if I was there.  “That’s the boy whose father just died.”  Was it compassion?  Pity?  I don’t know.  I was eight.

 I cried a lot that year.  Anything could set me off.  If I got yelled at, if I was by myself, if something went wrong at school, if I got in trouble, sometimes for no reason at all.  To say I was emotionally unstable was an understatement.  Even though I was having problems I’m sure it was hardest on my mother.  Everything fell to her to do.  She started working a few months later, her first full time job since my brother was born.  My father’s company had offered her a job.  We’d be okay.

 There was a man who worked at our grade school, the only male besides the custodian.  He was the school counselor and I started meeting with him every other week.  We played Yahtzee and invented the practice roll which didn’t count and you could use at any time during the game by crossing out the P we wrote in above the top line of the Yahtzee scorecard.  We talked a lot.   For four years, every other week I was in his office.  I was in high school before I realized he was checking on me, making sure I was okay, making sure my family was okay.  Later in life my sister worked at the same school that he did. I had her thank him for me because I never did.  Thanks Mr. G.

 The hardest part was answering questions about my family.  It always came up but as soon as I answered the conversation ground to a halt.  Most kids don’t know what to say when you tell them your father is dead.   A year later another kid’s father passed away.  Finally another member of the Dead Dads Club.  We spent father’s day playing together in his back yard.  His mother remarried a year later and they moved away.

 Then junior high.  My first girlfriend, my first kiss.  Her father had died too, about the same time as mine. Another Dead Dads Club member, this time one who would French kiss me at the movie theater during Three Men and a Baby.  She broke up with me a month later.

 Then High school.  I met more members of the Dead Dads Club and dealt with fewer family questions.  Graduation.  Moving on to college.  Now it had been ten years. A long time, more years without him now than with him.  I wanted to go to the cemetery.  I told my mom.  She gave me the holy card, told me how to get there and gave me the numbers to write down so I could find the grave site.

 Have you ever had to find a grave site in a cemetery?  First of all, cemeteries are huge.  Even after studying the map by the entrance gate for ten minutes, I could barely find the section where my father was buried.  That turned out to be the easy part because once you find the section, you then have to find these four inch diameter concrete lot markers buried in the ground to match the next pair of numbers.  If you get lucky and match one number, then you are halfway there.  Now you just have to walk in a straight line, either left to right or up and back until you find the next number.  If you are a widow visiting your departed husband for the twenty-seventh time, this is easy.  If you are an eighteen year old kid visiting your father’s grave for the first time since he died ten years ago you wander lost through a cemetery by yourself for a long time.

 Eventually I found the right numbers.  Then I found the headstone.

Florian V. Smolarek
My Lord and My God

The tears started immediately.  I sat down and picked the dirt out of the engraved letters with my fingernails.  Grass crept over the edges of the light gray marble stone and I pulled it out.  The surrounding graves were well kept, many with potted flowers resting on their headstones.    My father’s looked neglected.  I felt bad no one had looked after it.

Now you know what the F stand for in my middle name.
 For the first time in ten years I talked to my dad.  I told him what he’d missed, how I was off to college, about my mom, how she was about to get remarried.  Then I just tried to remember what I could of him.  How he always jingled his keys.  How he used to say “Mmm, hm,” the pitch in his voice rising on the “hm.”  How that’s the only thing I remember of his voice.  How he had us pick out the “cooties” from our carpeting every night before bed.  How he would nap on the floor of the living room on weekends and I would curl up next to him.

 After an hour, I left.  It was a relief to finally go there and I’ve gone back many times over the last twenty years.  I don’t stay as long and I seldom cry now.  When my son started asking me a lot of questions about my dad, especially as we were driving by the many cemeteries near our old house, I took him, too.  It seemed like the best way to explain it to him.

 It’s been thirty years since my dad died.  I’m just a year younger than he was when he died.  Next year is going to be tough for me, my older brother says.

 My son still asks me questions about my dad.  How old was he?  How did he die?  How old was I when he died?  Am I going to die while he is young?

 I wish I could tell him that I’ll be here forever, for as long as he needs me.  I’ll be there to coach his soccer team, to teach him how to ride a bike, how do drive a car.  I’ll teach him to play chess, to be nice to people, to play tennis, to mow the lawn, help him with his math homework, and show him how to throw a curve ball.  I’ll be there when he graduates high school and moves away to college, when he starts out on his own, when he brings his girlfriend home to meet us.  I’ll be there when he gets married, at his younger sister’s wedding to walk her down the aisle, to see their child born, my own grandchildren. I’ll be there for a long time.

 Hopefully I will be right.  Hopefully I’ll see my children, the two that are here and the one who is on his way, grow into adults, see them through all of the life they have ahead of them.  But I can’t be sure.

 So every night before bed, no matter the time, I sneak into their rooms while they are asleep.  I pull their blankets up, put the stuff animals that have fallen onto the floor back on the bed.  I give them a kiss and whisper goodnight.  Most nights they never know that I’ve been in their rooms.  But sometimes, sometimes the open their eyes, they look at me and smile, or reach out and hug me, then roll over and go back to sleep.  Those are the best nights.

 Thirty years later and I still miss you, Dad.
Thanks for reading.


Monday, August 05, 2013

Twenty Years Later

When the movie 'The Breakfast Club' came out in 1985 I was in 5th grade.  I'm not sure how I was allowed to see it but I was.  At the end of the movie, Brian Johnson, played by Anthony Michael Hall, reads their essay as voice over. 

I always assumed high school would be like 'The Breakfast Club.'  People fit into simple categories and stayed within their clicks and if you had braces you were, well, screwed.  But then high school happened and that wasn't exactly the case. Sure we had people we called geeks and jocks and burnouts and just about any group mentioned in 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off.'  We had the popular people and the not so popular people and, as a recently posted video taken by a classmate of mine on our last day of high school shows, we overused the word 'dork.'  But there weren't rigid walls that prevented a brain from talking to an athlete.  The athlete might not respond, but he wasn't likely to get jammed into a locker (although in 7th grade the basketball team did try to stick me a garbage can, which was weird because I was on the basketball team).  After four years of high school, we graduate and moved on.  We went to college, or we stayed home.  We moved out and moved away.  Then twenty years later, we got back together on a Saturday night at a bar close to our High school.  We were older, balder, fatter and slower, but we were still us.

Reunions are much different now.  With the Internet in general and with Facebook specifically, it's pretty easy to find out the basic information on just about anybody.  We didn't have Facebook at our ten year reunion, but we did for this one.  So, pretty much the whole first hour "where are you living, are you married, do you have kids" didn't have to happen since we all knew that already.   And while we all don't fit into John Hughes' five labels-- a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal—I ran into my own groups.  To protect the innocent (and the guilty) I'll leave out names, but if any of them are reading this, they will easily recognize themselves.

The first person you see that you didn't know was going to be there
This is a critical person because if you recognize them and they recognize you, the night is off to a good start.  If yoy don't know you and you don't know them, it could be a disater.  Walking in with your best friend from high school that you talk to all the time doesn't count (sorry to one of my best friends who I walked in with this year).  Luckily, the first person I saw recognized me and I recognized her.

The Couple who started dating in High school who are still together
Normally, this couple is the annoying couple who everybody hates or the couple that everyone loved who are now divorced.  Fortunately for my classmates, our couple is still together and they still rock.  I do wish the wife would have let her husband wear his old BGHS jacket.  The fact they were able to find each other in high school and are still together is incredible.

The Friends you still talk to but don't get to see much
Most of my close friends from high moved far away.  This was great when I was in my twenties and would just go visit them for a long weekend or over a holiday weekend (I spend years visiting different friends for Thanksgiving in Seattle and Boulder) but sucks now.  Many of them made it and it was awesome to talk to them.  At times, I felt not a second had passed since we were last playing spades on a Friday night or shouting "Penis," in the cafeteria (that's a long story).  So, from the guy who has lived in the same county his whole life, thanks for coming back to visit all of you down-staters and out-of-staters.

The girl who broke your heart
Everyone guy has one of these (and I'm sure every girl has a guy who broke her heart).  These are the ones you get nervous about, but if there is one thing high school teaches you it's that while it hurts, you eventually get over the girl (or the guy).  Mine was in attendance and just like more than twenty years ago, I got that same nervous stomach and shaky hands I felt in high school when I saw her.  We talked, it was brief but good.  Her smile reminded me of why I liked her from the moment I met her Freshman year.

The Athletes who are computer nerds now
This may sound like a stretch, but I couldn't believe how many people are IT nerds now.  I'm pretty nerdy.  I can tell you what an ERP is and let me tell you it is nothing fun or interesting to talk about unless you have survived implementing one.  By some small miracle, there was another person there who knew exactly what I was talking about and survived an ERP himself.  Was he the math geek who got a 5 on the AP Calc test?  Hell no.  He was an athlete who played basketball, football and baseball, the big three. Now he runs an IT department.  Nerds rule, even if they are just really athletic nerds who were smart even back then.

The Drunk Huggers
There were a lot more of these at our ten year reunion but we are older and smarter, so we didn't have an open bar event (I'm pretty sure I was one of the drunk huggers ten years ago).  Now, if my memory serves me correctly, most of the girls in our school were big huggers back then and what guy is going to pass up a hug in high school.  A girl wants to voluntarily touch us, instead of being force to, like during square dancing in gym glass?  Who could say no.  Clearly this was learned behavior.

The Shot Pusher
No, not the two guys who threw the heavy ball in Track and Field (our two shot putters were missing), but the guy who wanted to ensure everyone was having fun at the reunion.  And he wasn't pushing shots as much as he was sharing them.  In fact, he is probably responsible for the drunk huggers, so he should get extra credit for that.

The Guy you knew was going to be a doctor
This was the guy who kicked ass in every math and science class.  We had a lot of these in high school and a lot of them ended up being doctors.  One became an anesthesiologist (I totally had to look up how to spell that) which was funny to me because in our English class, he had a hard time pronouncing the word "ether."  He tells me they don't use that anymore, but if I ever need surgery, he could totally hook me up with the good stuff.

The people who look exactly the same twenty years later

I hate these people.  No, I'm kidding, I don't.  These are likely the people who are not married and have no kids.  Do you know why? Because getting married and having kids turns you grey and makes your hair fall out.

The Crush
Normally, this would have been about some girl I had a crush on that I never approached and it would have been titled "The Crushed."  You see, I wasn't good at the whole girl from age ten to twenty nine.  It's a miracle any girl wanted to marry me and looking back, if I were a girl, I would have never dated me either.  In a prior blog post, I mentioned how my popularity in school peaked in seventh grade.  But near the end of the night, a girl who I didn't recognize started talking to me.  I had to look at her name tag (thank you, name tag!) to remember her name, and in my defense, she had much bigger hair in high school.  We talked for a few minutes and then she told me she had a crush on me in 7th grade.   She even tried to sit close to me on the bus to cross county meets.  I was floored.  No, literally, I almost fell down.  This was news to me, something I didn't remember, something I was probably too dumb to notice in 7th grade.  I told her this would have been good to know twenty six years ago when we were in 7th grade.  But let's be honest, even if I did know back then, I still wouldn't have known what to do.  Most likely I would have done something horribly embarrassing, like ask her out then puke in front of her and she would have avoided me all of high school and at our reunion so it's probably good I didn’t know.  But man, I sure felt even worse not recognizing her right away.  So, thank you, secret crush.  It was flattering to hear that, even if someone sitting next to us said, "Wait, you had a crush on HIM?"

I wonder if there were ever plans for a Breakfast Club 2.  The gang likes hanging out in detention together so much they keep doing it one Saturday a year then fall out of touch, only to gather together for their twenty year reunion.  The five of them, the brain, the athlete, the basket case, the princess and the criminal, sneak out of the gymnasium where the reunion is held and meet up in the library around the statue, which, twenty years later still has a baloney stain.  They talk, they laugh, Brian takes Bender's bag of weed out of his pants, Andrew tries on his old tights and Claire passes around the sushi.  I know, without John Hughes the movie can't be made.


This is not what our logo looked like in 93
But the Buffalo Grove High School class of 1993,  we made ours and overall, it was a great reunion.  Time stood still, we forgot about everything else hard in life, working, raising kids, taking care of our parents as they age, feeling old as our hair grays and are bodies break down, everything the last twenty years dealt us and we just talked. We laughed.  We told the same stories to each other and they all started with "Remember when?"   I just hope we don’t have to wait ten more years to get together again.

Thanks BGHS Class of 93 and thanks for reading.


Saturday, June 01, 2013

NHL Playoffs Conference Finals Preview and Predictions

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 3

Wow.  Western Conference fans got to watch back to back game sevens, both which game down to the last moments.  Sharks fans were disappointed again as the defending champion Los Angeles Kings knocked them out by holding on 2-1 in a furious game seven finish where goalie Jonathan Quick was the difference.  The other series saw an epic end to the Chicago-Detroit divisional rivalry as the Blackhawks crawled their way back down 3 games to 1 to win game seven when Niklas Hjalmarsson scored in the closing minutes of the third period, er, I mean Brett Seabrook scored early in overtime to send some happy humans home at the Hangar.  The Eastern Conference wasn’t as fun to watch, as Boston and Pittsburgh rolled to the conference finals.

So how did I do?  Much better this round as I picked all four series.  Now, for the conference finals

Eastern Conference Finals

Pittsburgh Penguins (1) vs. Boston Bruins

Both team dominated in their previous series.  Sidney Crosby is back, netting 15 points in only 10 games.  Evgeni Malkin said he needs to step up his game, although he has 16 points in 11 games.  The only thing holding Pittsburgh back is their goaltending, although Tomas Vokoun  played very well against Ottawa.  Boston made beating the Rangers look easy and it cost Rangers coach John Tortorella his job  Both of these teams have been scoring a lot so this could be a wide open series which bodes well for Pittsburgh.  On the other hand, Boston knows how to clamp down defensively, which bodes well for them.  Zdeno Chara is playing almost 30 minutes a game, David Krejci is leading the playoffs in scoring and Tuukka Rask is playing well in the net.  The top five scores in the postseason are playing in this series.  As long as the goaltending holds, this is Pittsburgh’s series to win.  Penguins in 7.

(Okay, quick recap. On the top is Zdeno Chara.  He is 6'9", 255 lbs. and is 36 years old.  He is Slovakian. 
On the bottom it Charo, aka Maria Rosario Pilar Martinez Moline Baeza.  Her age is, well, in dispute.  According to Wikipedia, her birth records in Spain say she was born in 1931, in the US 1941 but somehow she got a US court to decree 1951 as her birth year.  So she is 82,72 or 62, depending on who you believe.  No indications on height and weight but I'm pretty sure those are double Ds.)

Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks (1) vs. Los Angeles Kings

The Hawks are still not playing their best hockey although they played very well in long stretches in the last three wins over Detroit (sucks).  The Kings used home ice to their advantage (note: the Kings passed the Sharks for the 5th seed the last weekend of the regular season) and have yet to lose at the Staples Center.  Did I mention they have just about the same team as last year’s Cup hoisters?  Did you see Jonathan Quick in the 3rd period of game seven against the Sharks?  Did you know his GAA this post season is 1.50?  Did you know Corey Crawford is second in GAA with 1.70?  For the Hawks to win this, Kane and Toews need to pot some goals.  Patrick Sharp has already scored more post-season goals than regular season goals and Bryan Bickell has been a beast, netting 5 goals of his own.  Chicago’s D has been up and down, with too many turnovers against Detroit but overall they are the deeper team.  If they can get a few past quick and keep the Kings top line in check, Chicago can advance.  There will be a lot of 2-1 games in this series.  Hawks in 7.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Daddy Cool

So in my free time I still write, and, as you can tell by the anemic output of this very blog, things have been pretty busy.  Finally, though, there is some good news on the writing front, especially for all of you cool people out there.

I always wanted to be cool and for a few short months in Junior High I might have been cool.  But alas, since then coolness has past me by. 

Me at my coolest.

Until now.

Daddy Cool, a collection of writing by dads, writing for their children, about their children, and even with their children, was released by Artistically Decline press.  This collection, edited by the uber-talented Ben Tanzer, contains stories from writers across the country (and a few from Canada and England), including  <insert some people here>.  Oh, and somehow one my short stories “The Witch at the End of the Street” snuck into the collection here.
The Daddy Cool Cover

Tanzer, well known for his faux media empire, which includes This Blog Will Change Your Life and This Podcast Will Change Your Life, says "I see this collection as a celebration, of dads, children, story, and joy. The joy of friends, the joy of community, and the possibility that even if these things can't be available to everyone all the time, and even if we are all far apart from one another, there will always be story, and that will always be cool, daddy, and otherwise."

You can buy the book through Artistically Declined  or through Amazon. 

To top it off, for all of you in Chicago, we’ll be hosting a Daddy Cool reading on Saturday June 8th at 7pm at The Book Cellar (4736-38 North Lincoln Avenue Chicago, IL).  The night will feature Myles and Ben Tanzer, Jason Fisk, Mike Smolarek (hey, that’s me), Richard Thomas, Pete Anderson, Robert Duffer, Joseph Peterson, and Mark Brand.  Of course, since we are cool dads, you can bring the whole family.

So, give a read and I hope to see a lot of you at the Book Cellar on June 8th.


Cool?  No, Daddy cool.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

NHL Playoffs Second Round Preview and Predictions

NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2

It was a wild first round with a bunch of game 7s, some upsets and a few teams steamrolling their opponents.  Those Boston fans who stuck around to see a furious three goal rally in the third period last night, including two goals in the last 90 seconds with Tukka Rask pulled for an extra attacker to send it into overtime and the game winner by Patrice Bergeron in overtime, will remember that game forever.  In Toronto, however, the Leafs faithful are probably slitting their wrists after watching their post season hopes slip through their fingers.  Sidney Crosby returned to the Penguins lineup and put up a hundred points in four games as the Pittsburgh bounced the scrappy Islanders.  And something has to finally give in Vancouver after San Jose swept them out of the playoffs.

So, how did I do?  Not very well.  I hit only 4 out of the 8 series, tying a monkey randomly picking the winners.  I’ll do better the rest of the way.  So, wait no longer, here’s the round two preview.


Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks (1) vs. Detroit Red Wings (7)

This is the matchup everyone who lives anywhere near Lake Michigan wanted.  In their last season in the same conference, these two long-time rivals get one more chances to go head to head in the playoffs.  The Red Wings weren’t supposed to get past Anaheim, but no one told them (and no one told Anaheim’s best players that they had to actually DO something in the playoffs).  Corey Crawford was excellent in round one against Minnesota, and the Hawks got scoring from all of the lines, all of this with Kaner failing to net a goal and Toews only netting one point.  I still just don’t think the Wings are deep enough to match up against the Hawks.  Hawks in 6.  Detroit sucks.


Los Angeles Kings (5) vs. San Jose Sharks (6)

Why do I keep thinking the Kings are going to lose in the first round?  Why did Vancouver disappoint against San Jose?  The Kings are the same team as last year and Jonathan Quick played well against the Blues.  The Sharks looked good against Vancouver, and Antti Niemi kept up his stellar play.  The battle of North vs South in California should be good, but the Kings come out on top in 7.


Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh Penguins (1) vs Ottawa Senators (7)

Did you see Sidney Crosby play in the first round?  9 points in 5 games.  He’s pretty good at hockey.  Goaltending was an issue as Marc-Andre Fleury struggled before Tomas Vokoun replaced him for the last two games.  Just like Detroit, no one told Ottawa they were supposed to lose, so they went out and outplayed Montreal and sent them home.  Jason Spezza is practicing again after missing almost the entire season after back surgery.  Pittsburgh is just too good and this is where the improbably run ends for the Senators.  Penguins in 6.


Boston Bruins (4) vs. New York Rangers (6)

Boston’s game seven comeback would be an ESPN Classic Instant Classic if ESPN cared about hockey.  The Bruins proved they are built for the playoffs as their top guys finally got it going, especially Patrice Bergeron, who netted the tying and winning goals in that game 7.  The Rangers were up and down against Washington until utterly dominating them in game 7.  The Bruins solve King Henry and take the series in 6.



Tuesday, April 30, 2013

NHL Playoffs First Round Preview and Predictions

It's my favorite time of the year, NHL Playoffs. Here's my preview.  Last year I didn't do as well in my predictions.  I said the Kings could make a run but then I didn't pick them to win the first round.  So, wait no longer.  Here's my best guesses.

Western Conference

Chicago Blackhawks (1) vs. Minnesota Wild (8)

The Blackhawks went half the season without a regulation loss, gave up the fewest goals and scored the second most.  Then can roll four lines and have 8 defensemen who can play.  The only thing lacking was success on the power play as they were mid-pack, but the penalty kill was great.  Minnesota added some big names then still struggled to make the playoffs as goaltender Niklas Backstrom played poorly the last two weeks of the season.  If he gets hot, they can compete, but don’t look for an LA Kings like upset in this matchup.  Hawks in 5.


Anaheim Ducks (2) vs. Detroit (Sucks) Red Wings (7)

I still can’t see how this Ducks team did so well, but they quietly earned the second seed in the West without a lot of scoring but two stellar goaltenders.  Plus they beat the crap out people.  They hit and fore check and bang and crash.  As for the Wings, I was kind of rooting for Columbus to catch them, or at least for a first round matchup with the Hawks.  The Wings just don’t have enough talent this year.  Ducks in 6.

Vancouver Canucks (3) vs. San Jose Sharks (6)

This could be fun to watch.  Don’t forget, the Sharks got bounced by the Canucks in the conference finals in 2011.  Antti Niemi was all world for the Sharks this year, who started hot, were terrible in the middle of the season then caught fire at the end.  Vancouver is Vancouver, but with a different starting goaltender as Cory Schneider is number one.  I think Niemi outplays Schneider.  Sharks in Seven.

St. Louis Blues (4) vs Los Angeles Kings (5)

The Kings are the same team they were last year.  The Blues surged late behind Brian Elliot to snag home ice in this series.  Jonathan Quick heated up near the end of the year.  This is going to be a great series with tons of hitting and physical play, and probably not a lot of goals.  Blues in 7.


Eastern Conference

Pittsburgh Penguins (1)  vs. New York Islanders (8)

Wow, the Penguins sure played well without Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and various others down the stretch.  Geno is back, Paul Martin is back, Chris Letang is back.  The only thing that could stop this team in the first round is Evgeni Nabokov standing on his head.  And that might happen.  For a game or two.  Pens in 6.

Montreal Canadians (2) vs Ottawa Senators (7)

How did the Senators make the playoffs with all of their injuries?  Can Montreal overcome last season’s disappointment?  Will the glue and tape finally fall off Ottawa’s bus?  I wish I had a good poutine joke to insert here.  Canadians in six.

Washington Capitals (3) vs. New York Rangers (6)

Ovechkin was on fire the second half of the season.  It’s as if he took every negative comment directed at him, squished it into a little ball of hate, ate it, then went out and scored 32 goals.  The Rangers limped along all season and even sent Marian Gaborik packing at the trade deadline, to Columbus of all places.  Will the Caps keep it together?  Ovechkin is on a mission this year.  Expect King Henry to steal a game or two for the Rangers.  Caps in 7

Boston Bruins (4) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (5)

Welcome back to the Stanley Cup playoffs, Maple Leaf fans.  Your team overachieved.  Boston is still a deep team, and Tukka Rask played great as the number one and Boston was able to keep his workload light.  Toronto was a little unsettled at times in net this year, but James Reimer played well down the stretch.  One of the highlights of the season for me was hearing the Bruins fans singing the national anthem together just after the Boston Marathon bombing.  I’ll go with the Bruins experience.  I mean, they have Zdeno Chara.  He is tall.  Bruins in 6.


Round 2 coming up as soon as round one is over.  Good luck everyone!


Monday, February 11, 2013

Put. That smart phone video camera. Down.

Dear everyone attending concerts with a smart phone that can take video,

It's awesome that your iPhone can record video.  If you are using the iPhone 5, you can record it in 1080p. And if you have the 64GB model, you can have about 17 hours of video.  Plus whatever pictures you take.
But first of all, turn off your flash.  Please.  Performers hate flashes.  If you were up on stage and lights kept flashing in your eyes, you'd get annoyed, too.  Plus, It makes you look like an amateur, like you are taking pictures of your kid's school version of 'Your a Good Man, Charlie Brown.'

Also, it's cool to take video of a song or two, you know, maybe your favorite song, or the band's most well know song.  But the entire show?  Really?  I didn't pay for a ticket just so I can stand behind you and have your phone up in my face blocking my view of the stage.  Not for the whole show.  Please.
By the way, you seem to be watching the whole show on your phone.  You know, if you put the phone back in your pocket, you can look up on the stage and see the band playing.  AND IT LOOKS REAL BIG UP THERE.  Much better than looking through that tiny iPhone screen (full disclosure: I once had a Samsung Galaxy IIs and I still miss the giant screen it had).  And you can see the whole stage, the whole band.  The camera lenses build into your head, more commonly known as your eyes, have an incredible wide field of vision and can also focus in onto specific people on the stage.  If you want to see what the bass player is doing, just move your head a little bit to the right.  You  can see him and in the periphery still see the rest of the band.  That's better than trying to jerk your phone around between all of the members of the band.  It looks like a blurry mess, even with the most advanced steady cam improvements.

When the concert is over, can you stick around and show me the videos where you are dancing and spinning around while pointing the camera at yourself?  It's pretty cool when they do it in movies and on TV, and you seem to know what you are doing, so I hope it turns out well.  Plus that part where you and your buddy were hugging each other and dancing together, each of you holding your phones and recording it?  That was pure genius.  Scorsese wants you to collaborate with him on his next film, and Ollie Stone was asking me if I knew your phone number.  What is most amazing is how you managed to do all that hugging, spinning and filming while holding your many beers without spilling.  Wait, why are my pants wet?  Never mind.

The good thing is I'm sure you will keep those pictures and videos forever.  You've got enough room on your iCloud account to keep all of you pictures and videos, at least the ones you haven't already spruced up with Instagram and posted on Facebook, or tweeted to your friends.  I mean, I know your phone said you were out of space before the encore but you still got most of the show.  It might be time to delete that picture of the hot dog you ate from Wiener Circle last weekend.  You've got that posted in multiple places already and it looks a lot like the one you posted last weekend when you were at The Wiener Circle.

Even if you do watch these later, they are going to look like this (find a link to a really bad on-line video of a concert).  Especially from you seats up in the 500 level.  I bet you think that if you were closer it would look better?  How about this one (another bad link video).  Well, hopefully someone in the front row took some video and posted it on You Tube for us all to see.  I'm sure it will sound great, too, punctuated with your whistling and that guy who keeps shouting out those really obscure songs not even the band remembers how to play anymore.  I hate that guy.  Did you hear the story about the guy who shouted Freebird at the Foo Fighters concert?
Not real ones!
I hope you enjoyed the show, although I can't imagine how you could.  While you were staring at that tiny screen, the rest of us were watching the band with our own eyes.  You missed a great show.  The good thing is you have it all recorded on your phone.  Wait, did you drop it?  Is that it on the ground.  Let me get that for you.  Whoops!  I accidentally stepped on it.  It's all smashed.  The screen is cracked.  I'm sorry, dude, really.  You've got Apple's iCare plan right? Well, I'm sure the iPhone 6 will be out pretty soon anyway.  I hear they are going to put the headphone jack on the side on that version,

Do people still waive lighters in the crowd?
I will say this, though:  When you whipped out that lighter app and flicked it on during the encore?  That was awesome.  I guess people do still waive lighters in the crowd, or at least digital representations of them.  I bet that lighter app cost less than a real lighter.  Of course, you can't really light anything with it.