Playing Ball

The last few years, baseball has slipped out of our family a little.  And most of this was getting rid of cable TV, where Major League Baseball now lives.  It might not be something you notice if, unlike us, you don’t get rid of cable (or, if you’re odd, you don’t care for baseball), but it’s increasingly the case.  You can’t watch baseball on TV unless you’ve got cable, not much and not often.

And here’s the thing: Baseball is great on the radio, maybe better.  I took a walk the other day and listened to a few innings, and it was a joy, made it feel less like exercise and more like just walking the perimeter of Safeco Field, looking for a bathroom.

Of course, baseball was wildly popular before television, and it was our national pastime before radio, even, in a sense.  I’d suggest even that it’s a game paced for radio, filled with stats that fill the time between pitches.  The pace is perfect for an audio audience, and taking a walk or mowing the lawn, or just driving to the store, allows us to drop into a particular game, winning or losing, and be reminded that it’s spring or summer and the boys are playing.

Here’s the thing about TV, though, at least what I’ve noticed this year: You connect to the team in a way you can’t, at least in this 21st-century version, where baseball cards aim for the collectible market and not to give you a mental picture, and where ticket prices can make an average game for an average team prohibitive for anyone but the biggest fan and the nosebleed seats.

The pace of our world has picked up in a way I’m beginning to think is exponential: Just look at same-sex marriage approval, gone through the roof in a couple of years, and that’s just a social issue affecting a very small percentage of people.  The way we do things is changing rapidly, and television is right on the cusp, I think; we’re going to see some strange things in the next couple of years, as cable and satellite become demographic technology, something for the older folks (gulp, shut up) as the next generations explore their possibilities.

In the meantime, the business of baseball is business, and catching the local team on one of your broadcast networks that conveniently come via an antenna is going, going…almost gone.

And we missed it.  We missed seeing the faces, and the stances, the swings and even the scratching.  Smoak?  How would I have affection for Smoak unless I saw his baby face and felt a surge of goodwill toward this kid?

But no cable, no baseball games, so we slipped away, barely keeping an eye on it.  And last night, as Julie and I caught the last few innings (she saw the whole thing; I was busy until then) of the Ms beating the Orioles, I said, “This was one of the best things we’ve ever done,” and I meant it. has been around for 11 years.  You can sign up for a variety of accounts, but the premium version will let you watch any game, anywhere, for around $25 a month (less, of course, if you buy a whole year).  And with a variety of devices to suck that Internet into your TV (I prefer the Roku, which gives me a perfect HD picture without a bunch of Web-based nonsense floating around the edges), you can get cable-less baseball again, just like the old days except better.  As I said, any game, anywhere.

Except for your team.

Baseball is business, as I said.  So MLB TV is a fabulous thing if you live in Idaho and love to watch the Yankees and the Braves and the Bluejays and so on, but in Seattle?  Sorry, Charlie.  No Mariners games, home or away.  Part of the deal with the cable company.

So I hoisted those bastards by their own petards, paying a Canadian company a couple of bucks (seriously; around $4) per month to route my IP address through a maze until it looks like I’m in Idaho or some other godforsaken place, and now I watch my games.  And that has made all the difference.  It makes radio better, even.

Is it illegal?  Naw.  Just tricky, and used for all sorts of things, and to be sure MLB is trying to stifle it, a little, but they can’t, I think.  And I pay $30 a month, six months a year, to watch a product they surely want me to watch.  They just want to sell me TNT and CNN and Lifetime along with it, and I don’t want it.

It’s baseball season.  And in a world in which the pacing is picking up, it’s damn near the perfect game.

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Quick and Incisory

UPDATE: Much better than I thought. All clean. Need whitening and something done about this little bridge I have, which now makes for two shorter teeth than the rest. Meaning I still won’t open my mouth much until that’s fixed, implants and crowns or whatever. Enough to make me feel better and know I still have my teeth and won’t be losing them anytime soon. Good morning, then.
If you’re the sort of person who checks in with this blog daily (and who are you?), I have an early morning dentist appointment, one that excites me to no end (there may not be an end). So I will update this this later on in the day, to assess the damage and try not to smile. So more later, in other words. Feel free to recheck further along this Monday, whomever you may be.

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Smile When You Say That, Stranger

I participated in an acting competition when I was in college, a stupid way to judge actors when you have to pick a “best,” more like an audition process (do a couple of scenes), in which case directors are looking for an actor to play a specific character.  But it was a thing, and I was glad to participate.

And afterwards, during the official criticism session, where the judges offered advice and commentary on what we did, this one guy that somehow had been snagged from the Royal Shakespeare Company, among some nice things offered up that I appeared “doer.”

That’s how he pronounced it, anyway.  Only later did somehow explain that this was a British pronunciation.  He meant “dour.”

And it’s very likely.  I tended to aim for naturalism when I was an actor, nothing extravagant or showy, and it’s possible as a result of that I looked a little glum a lot.

Really, I wasn’t dour, I think, not at that time, although God knows I’ve had some tendencies toward depression.  But I could certainly smile.








And I had actual teeth, and sometimes you saw them as above, although, again: Sometimes I was going for a look, obviously.  Here’s a serious actor look, from about a year later.

Still not dour, I think.  Just serious.

I get crap from people all the time on Facebook who wonder why I don’t smile.  Again, probably a camera thing, or maybe I just look that way all the time, although often these days I’m happy and go-lucky, amused with life and life’s companions.

But you definitely won’t see teeth.  Because teeth are in trouble.

Part of the problem was that I avoided the dentist for over 20 years, from my early 20s to around age 44, and only then I went because I was in serious pain.  And there were some issues, in terms of some gumline cavities (damn you, Altoids), and just general upkeep that needed work.  Periodontal disease, sigh.

And a couple of my front teeth had suffered.  For whatever reasons, probably smoking the main culprit.  They were even a little loose, and eventually my dentist just pulled them out, cleaned them up, and glued them back in.  As a temporary measure, of course.  Next step was implants and crowns.  People go through this, particularly smokers.  So don’t smoke, or stop, and see the dentist regularly, and so on.

But it was a difficult time, particularly since I was paying for orthodontia and serious work on my daughter’s mouth, who had a genetically missing bone and so needed special attention.  And she never smoked.  So I put it off, and eventually just got a temporary bridge, a little snap-on for those two tiny teeth until I got the implants.

And then it got to be a more difficult time.

And I continued to smoke, but I deteriorated in many ways.  Dental hygiene was not a priority.

And then we were hit with four major family medical crises, one after the other, none of them having to do with me.  So while I maintained good dental habits – good brusher, good flosser, heavy user of Listerine – they (meaning teeth) got worse.  Not painful.  Not loose.  Just…uglier.

And so I practiced keeping my mouth closed as much as possible, but I didn’t see the dentist.  No dental insurance, for one thing (not that this means much anymore; have you looked at dental insurance? Worthless), and plenty of other things to spend money on.  And I could eat anything, and again there was no pain, and as long as I kept my mouth closed as much as possible and tried not to think about that temporary dental bridging hanging around for almost a decade, I was managing.

Just not smiling too much.

And now I’m making a movie.  And doing interviews, and public appearances, and you know what?  I would just like to smile again anyway.  As I said, I’m generally a happy person.  Smiling would be good.

Like nearly everything in my life (excluding brain tumors, which were not mine anyway), everything I wish for, everything I want to be better and wish hadn’t happened, has been pretty much my fault.  If I could blame Bush or Reagan or Cheney or terrorists or Obamacare or cable TV or whatever, I would.  But I can’t.  My bad, all of it.  Including (especially) my teeth.

It’s relative, too.  My poor dad suffered with his teeth from his 20s on; by his late 30s, I suspect he had only a few natural ones left.  Of course, he smoked like a chimney and didn’t have a lot of access to dental care early on, and then there’s just bad luck.  So I’m better off definitely.  I have most of my teeth, missing a couple of molars is all (and those two front ones).

But I’ll be damned if I open my mouth if I can help it, and I wouldn’t mind doing that.

For over a year, in fact, I’ve been squirreling away money, bits at a time, just for this reason.  I feel guilty about it, with all of our medical bills, but I’d like to smile again.  I think it would be good for me.

And I don’t smoke anymore.  Good thing, all by itself.

So tomorrow I see the dentist again in a long time, and we’ll find out.  I think there’s a good chance the damage has been done, no answers there except fake ones all the way around, but again: No pain, no loose teeth, no problems at all other than ugliness.

After cleaning and x-rays, then, we need to have a conversation.  Money will be involved, and referrals, and we shall see.  I have vanity but at my age it’s not exactly a priority.  I wish I didn’t have that big bald spot in the back of my head, but that’s just life and I’m fine there.  I gripe about flab but I’m not doing badly for a guy my age, and I’m in excellent physical shape, apparently.  Just could cut back on bad stuff and take off a few.

But I want to open my mouth again, and tomorrow morning I’m going to be forced to, and then we’ll know what we know.  A summer spent filming, though, with cameras that can get very close, and I think it will be less vanity than shame, and shame I try to avoid.  Bad for recovery.  Bad for mental health.

Here’s to smiling, then, and more of it.

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Come Saturday Mowing

My neighbor was out this morning at 8am, mowing his lawn, worried about rain.  We’ve had a few sunny days in a row, although that didn’t get the car washed and my wife is still sick.  You can’t count on sun for everything.  And the Mariners stranded 326 men on base last night against the Angels and there was plenty of sun.

But he wants to finish up before it starts to drizzle, which it probably will, and I can’t blame him, although sometimes you can’t allow for the rain.  Sometimes you just have to mow wet, we all know this.  It’s just nice to avoid it if you can, and he has a huge half-acre of grass, and is 75.  It takes him a couple of days, and so on.  I don’t mind hearing the lawnmower.

I do mind his damn leaf blower, but he’s usually pretty quick with that and it’s never a distraction, not like some other people in this neighbhorhood I won’t name because I don’t know their names.  Not a fan of leaf blowers.  Fan of rakes and brooms.  Call me traditional.


If there are a few of you who stop by this blog every day, regardless of whether I’ve linked to it elsewhere or not, you might get the impression that I’m starting to run out of gas a little, here on my year-long journey to document my Last Meaningful Year.  And you might be right, a little, although there’s some ebbing and flowing as always.  Sometimes I have to concentrate on other things.

And I went through a mid-winter blah season, as usual, and then there was the usual trying to pay bills and so on.  Mostly, though, I’ve backed off the world a bit, and I already had been when I started this last July.  I’m not as pessimistic as some and actually radically optimistic in a few ways, but generally the delivery systems have started to get old.  The sites I can rely on for clear information and analysis that isn’t covered with crap are few but cherished, and they generally do me, you know?  What they said.  I don’t need to opine.

And again: I started this daily blogging thing as sort of a conceit, or a notion at least, and a practical one: What would happen if I put something down in this space every day, rain or shine, mown or not, for a year?  I’m not sure much of anything has happened, but I suspect what has will take a while to figure out.  In the meantime, as I keep saying…this summer gets a whole lot more interesting.  First goal, though: Get to Arizona in the next few weeks.

Actually, first goal is to go the dentist Monday.  That’s another story, though.  See how clever I am?  Now you have to read about it tomorrow.  Or next week.  Depends on the lawn, really, and the rain.

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The Night Before Now

Today is the last Friday of April and the first day of the rest of your life, unless you’re my wife, in which case it’s all up in the air.  Whatever attacked her this week has been fond of her upper respiratory system and overstaying its welcome, which to be fair was not exactly with open arms.

I, on the other hand, still remain with only sympathy stuffiness, or that’s what I think.  Hardly anything.  And I went out last night to talk into a camera lens until nearly 9pm, outside, in a park, wearing only a T-shirt.

And other stuff.  Jeans, shoes.  But I was shivering a little toward the end.  Then again, I don’t appear to be sick.

This was a video for our Kickstarter project to raise funds for “Winning Dad,” even if the funds required are not that much.  Still, there is equipment to lease and probably a house to rent and it adds up.  You can make a movie now with your cell phone and edit it on your computer and stick it on YouTube or Vimeo – and you can call it a movie, feel free – but there would be a difference.  And this one will be different.

Personally, I still have work to do.  I’d still like to drop 20 pounds at least, although that’s a matter of willingness only and sometimes I can be stubborn.  And Monday I go to the dentist for the first time in forever, getting the teeth cleaned and looking for options so I maybe can land somewhere less than Tom Cruise and a bit more than Steve Buscemi, if you get my drift.  I know you should only pay attention to the teeth that you want to keep, but my attention wavers sometimes.  So I’m on a mission now.

Otherwise, I had actually a great day, with temperatures high and sunshine, and Volunteer Park on a sunny spring evening at sundown was a treat, and nostalgic.  I hadn’t been there in years, but it looks the same, really, and thinking that I was walking around the same area back when I was the same age as the two people I was with are now, and when they were babies or not quite born yet, was less daunting than just amusing.  Who knew, all those years ago, what was waiting at the other side of the calendar?  The babies would grow up and get ideas, and they’d need a dad, and I’d be the right age, and now all I have to do is stay away from sugar and get a couple of crowns and I’m off on an adventure.  Life is funny.

And trust me: It will be an adventure.

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Post-Portland Blues

We came home from Portland with a hitchhiker, some sort of Rose City virus (I assume) that crawled into my wife’s immune system and seems to like it.  She’s not terribly sick, but on the other hand she sort of is: She has no voice, and now a cough, and today is her second day stuck in bed, mute and demanding orange juice.

OK.  She’s not demanding at all.  But the weather is amazing here right at the moment, mid-60s in our neighborhood yesterday and warmer down south, where she would have been yesterday.  It seems unfair to pay a price for a nice weekend, considering that (1) you already paid and (2) you’re the only one.

And she is.  There was a hint of congestion, a sneeze waiting to happen, a tiny cough or two, yesterday but nothing came of that.  I went out and walked six miles, came home and talked to my neighbor, did some work-like activity, made a couple of trips – absolutely fine, and my vocal cords appear the same.

So maybe it wasn’t Portland, or it wasn’t the Oregon weather or bugs, or maybe it was, or maybe who knows.  I’m sorry she’s sick, and not as sorry as she is.


In the meantime, I’ve got a video interview to do tonight as part of our Kickstarter process for “Winning Dad,” which is beginning to heat up, so I drive down to Capitol Hill tonight to (we hope) talk about what a wonderful project this is going to be in front of a sunset and skyline.  That’s the kind of pictures I like; shadows on me, focus on the good stuff.  Assuming I still have a voice, which I’m thinking is a safe assumption.

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Wednesday Archives

Wednesday has been Column Day for 12 years, and over 12 years some stuff will happen. My rule of thumb is that one should not re-read oneself unless one is willing to pay the emotional price, which usually involves groaning, but at least it’s some sort of record of what I was thinking, or not thinking. Some of these are collected in my books, but I’ve decided to ignore that for the time being and just find one from the past, every Wednesday, and post. If not for your edification, then mine. Groans are acceptable.

From April 25, 2007


“Use it or lose it,” my mother told me the other day, although I’m pretty sure she didn’t just make that up on the spur of the moment.  Still, I’ve never known my mother to lie to me outside of that whole Santa Claus thing, so I pay attention.

This came up because I mentioned to her that I recently decided I didn’t want to bend down anymore.  This seemed to me to be a well-thought-out, mature, responsible choice, like giving up dairy products, but she cautioned me, including vivid descriptions of people she has known who became one with comfortable furniture and never moved again.

This reluctance of mine to get in touch with my inner bender came after a day spent in my basement, attempting to find the floor that used to be there.  Our basement has served many functions over the years, including as a master bedroom and a den, but now it’s pretty much an attic.  It’s as if gravity got bored with just messing around with our chins and upper torsos and decided to expand into household furnishings.  Everything seems to naturally collect at the bottom of the house, including stuff that I’m pretty sure does not technically belong to us.

So I was cleaning the basement.  There was a good reason for this, although in retrospect I can’t say it was good enough.  An appraiser was coming over to our house to tell us what it’s worth in today’s market.  By “today,” of course, I mean “Thursday”; your results may vary.

We’re not planning on selling our house; that would require more than mere cleaning (it might, in fact, require dynamite).  No, we just were curious, since we’ve spent a lot of time here.  It also (so far) allows us to delude ourselves into believing we at least once made a good decision when it came to investing, and we get to have pleasant conversations like these:
MORTGAGE LENDER:  You now have blankety-blank dollars in home equity.
US:  We would like that in small bills, please.

Since any appraiser worth his or her salt would ask to examine the entire house, and not just the parts we usually let people see (i.e., our next-door neighbor’s house), I had to go downstairs and clear a path, moving broken furniture, old mattresses, rusty exercise equipment and something that might have been a lamp once, or maybe a telescope.

This occasionally required the above-mentioned bending, and even at times getting down on my hands and knees, which apparently annoyed my knees.  Apparently my knees are getting a little testy.  Apparently my knees think that 48 years of bending and unbending are enough.  Apparently my knees think they deserve a gold watch, a Social Security check, and a stack of back issues of Popular Mechanics to thumb through while they watch Larry King.

This confuses me, of course, because I think I’ve always treated my knees well.  I’ve gone easy on the bending thing.  I’ve never forced them to do strenuous exercise.  Lots of times I just let them rest, and this is what I get in return.

Noises.  Pain.  Work stoppages.  Whining.  I can’t even get them to walk up stairs unless I promise ice cream.

And now my own mother advises me, from her vast knee experience, that if I intend on bending in the future I need to practice.  I tried to argue with her, making what seemed to me to be the very logical point that there is probably only a limited amount of flexing and extending built into my joints, and shouldn’t I be conserving this for a rainy day?

She just pointed out that it rains a lot up here.  She thinks she knows everything.

Unfortunately, my wife agrees with her.  She’s been after me for a long time to bend more, particularly in situations that involve dirty socks, so I guess I need to change my ways.  I’m not really enthused about the whole idea, but then I felt that way about leafy green vegetables once, didn’t I?

OK.  That is really not a good example.  Forget I said that.

At any rate, the basement got straightened up and the house got appraised, and at least that’s done.  And after looking at the three major property categories (land, improvements, and dust), it seems the value of our home has even increased a little, prompting another interesting conversation.

US:  So what should we do?
MORTGAGE LENDER:  I hear yoga is good.

I call my mom way too much.

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So many things going on, so much sun outside.  So much grass, so many weeds.  I have two episodes of “Mad Men” I haven’t watched yet.  This is crazy.

So, just this, for today.  Beth, Cameron, and friends are Convergence, their Austin-based vocal group, and two weeks ago they performed at the Fast Forward Austin Music Festival.  A sample, then, of what the kids are up to.


Joshua Shank – The Multitude, Riverwide – performed by Convergence Vocal Ensemble from Fast>>Forward>>Austin on Vimeo.

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There’s a little suggestion that pops up on the credit/debit card thingy at my grocery store lately.  “Donate to Disabled Kids” or something, along with “Yes” and “No” buttons.  I always press “No.”

I mean.  I don’t even know what that means, disabled kids.  Like “Help Poor People,” I agree with the sentiment, don’t do nearly enough, and still I’m reluctant to toss a dollar in the general direction of whothehellknows.  I need more information.

And, of course, I donate to disabled kids.  Been doing that for a while.

I also don’t re-post those status updates about autism awareness or breast cancer research or abused animals.  Again, I agree with the sentiment, and I don’t do enough.  I wonder about the means, sometimes, and sometimes I’m just lazy.

And sometimes?  I’m just dealing with stuff right here.

My son resisted the term “disabled” for a long time.  Still does, although he accepts a particular designation and is happy that he is able to get a discounted bus pass, because the chances are this guy ain’t ever driving.  And there are other services he’s able to access, although please trust me on this: The cuts in social services you maybe have heard about in the past few years?  They are real.  Ask teachers and school administrators.  Ask social workers.  Ask me.

But that’s OK, because my son has us.  And even though there was a period when I suspected his medical and other costs were going to bankrupt us, there are worse reasons to go bankrupt.  And we’re doing OK.

And he’s an adult, and really delightful, as much as he struggles.  Longtime readers of this blog have had a glimpse, although not nearly as much as you think.

You could ask some people at the church he just recently, voluntarily and with much joy (and much shock on my part), joined.  They know him, a little.

So, enough of that.  Just some minor details on how life goes in a family such as this (and I personally know families with much more severe situations.  I don’t need to say that, but it’s worth saying, and being grateful for all sorts of things).

In 1993, as we neared our 10th wedding anniversary, my wife and I went for a weekend to Victoria, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.  We had a fabulous time, one for the memory books: Beautiful weather, wonderful hotel, days packed with wandering around that fascinating city.  Beth was 8 and John was 3, and they stayed with different families who knew them and were more than happy to host an extra kid for a couple of days.

And that was that, then.  We’ve managed a night alone together here and there, usually over an anniversary.  A couple of years ago, we drove down to Eugene to see my daughter and her husband perform, leaving John alone for 24 hours or so, with neighbors anxiously watching.  He did fine.

But that’s how 20 years go by, at least in this family.  Not only are you self employed people, who work odd hours and days and don’t get paid if you don’t work, but then there’s John.  His sister has lived out of state for 10 years.  He’s not comfortable with a lot of people.  He has his pride, and so on.  So that’s 20 years.  Whether you’ve got a disabled child or an elderly parent or any number of other situations (including probably the most common, financial), there are reasons you just can’t or decide not to get away.  So we didn’t.

And then we did, and now we have.  That’s the 20 years.

He did fine.  We did fine, too, although we walked over damn near the entire city of Portland, a place we normally just drive through or visit for a specific, quick reason.  You could call it recharging the marriage batteries, and there’s some of that, but mostly it was subtle and joyful, a weekend to be together without much else in the way of responsibility other than paying the bill and tipping the valet at the end.

Other potential trips were talked about, of course, and maybe so.  He’s 23 now, perfectly capable of at least finding help, if not surviving just fine for a few days on his own if need be.  Again, there are other reasons.

But I doubt it will be another 20 years.  At some point, you start counting years.

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Saturday Day Fever

All over Portland yesterday.  All over.  And all by public transportation, which means we really should have taken Amtrak.  Lesson learned.

Now home.  More later, surely, particularly just to explain our 20-year gap.  But there are these:


Honoring one of my favorite American historical figures, without whom we might never have known of the Corps of Discovery.





Another favorite American historical figure
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