A wannabe writer looking for something meaningful to say

Because we play both sides of the ball …

I posted earlier about Tom Brady’s torn ACL. Well, NFL defensive star Shawne Merriman, who plays outside linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, also will be missing the rest of the season. He played injured against the Panthers last Sunday, but it seems his knee won’t hold up.

So in an effort not to give the quarterback all the attention, a moment to acknowledge Merriman’s lost season. Merriman also happens to star in one of my favorite sports commercials of all time. (He’s number 56.)

It could have been worse, Tom

The spring of my freshman year in high school, on the day of my first junior varsity soccer game, I sprained my ankle while warming up.

Our coach, Miss Jones, had this drill that involved jumping over the ball from one side to the other with both feet. I guess it was supposed to get your heart-rate up before the game or something. All it did for me was suggest I wasn’t particularly quick on my feet. I remember landing on top of the ball and dropping to the ground in a pile, feeling a sharp pain in my foot and thinking, “Did that just happen?” Whatever sound I made sounded like laughter to Miss Jones, who asked someone, maybe me, “Is she laughing?” I suppose that was her way of hoping I wasn’t really hurt. I couldn’t start, but I made it into the game in the second half after a teammate’s dad taped my ankle.

This injury came to mind when I heard that Tom Brady, star quarterback for the New England Patriots, suffered a season-ending ACL tear eight minutes into the first game of the season. There are no commonalities to be found in our situations. He’s a millionaire with a hot girl-friend and a slightly less hot baby-mama, and I am a non-millionaire with no political aspirations or out-of-wedlock children. His injury, which will require knee surgery, was also much more serious than mine. Still, part of the beauty of playing or even just watching sports is that they can be uniquely unifying and for a moment make you think that everybody is really just like everybody else.

In the German movie Good Bye Lenin! (a wonderful story about a young man’s efforts to keep his ailing communist mother from learning that the Berlin Wall has fallen, lest it affect her ill health), the main character suggests that German unification worked because the country’s victory in the 1990 World Cup gave all Germans, east and west, something to feel good about.

For a brief moment, seeing Tom Brady drop to the ground and grab his leg in obvious pain, part of me thought, “Poor Tom Brady, I know just how he feels.” Then I remembered that he’s Tom Brady, that he’s most certainly not poor and that he should be spending more time with his kid anyway. (My husband, for his part, had a bit of a laugh about the whole thing because receiver Randy Moss fumbled the ball on the same play. He doesn’t like the Patriots.)

There’s been a whole lot of handwringing on ESPN and elsewhere about what this means to the Patriots and to the NFL, but if you think about it, Tom Brady’s injury is the best kind of injury there is in sports. He’s already rich, he’s already won championships, he’s young enough that he’ll come back and if he doesn’t come back, well, he’s already rich and he’s already won championships. If someone like me knows who he is, it’s because he’s already a household name.

Many sports injuries happen to players whose comfortable living isn’t guaranteed, to young men from the inner city or rural America whose talent in sports was the only ticket to college and a chance to buy their mother the house she always dreamed of, to promising stars who have to spend the rest of their lives telling people, “I don’t regret nothing that happened. It was fun, and I had a blast. I just wish it would have ended up in a different way, but I don’t regret.”

So we needn’t feel too bad for Tom Brady. It could have been worse. This might have happened before he got the chance to become Tom Brady.

Boys will be boys

As the sun rose on the first episode of the latest season of Entourage, E and Ari were trying to salvage what is left of Vince’s career, the former while trying to step out on his own as a Hollywood manager, the latter while yelling creative insults at every minion within a half-block radius. Drama was unwittingly trying to self-sabotage his own “comeback.” Vince was trying to drown himself in tequila and boobs, and Turtle was trying to score with Vince’s leftovers. In other words, business as usual.

Even though it’s a testosterone-driven fantasy, I’ve always found Entourage thoroughly entertaining.

HBO’s short-lived Unscripted, one of George Clooney and Steven Soderberg’s less heralded collaborations, offered a more emotional, more real look at life for struggling actors trying, and usually failing, to make it in L.A. It equaled Entourage in the cameo department, but we all want to believe that Hollywood really is all endless parties, STD-free sex and trips to the Cannes Film Festival, so Entourage was bound to get all the attention.

In my mind, Entourage is a lot like Sex and the City, except the thing that gets discussed ad nauseum is not romantic relationships (there are none to speak of) but Vince’s career. The proverbial happy ending with Mr. Big is the unbridled success and opportunity of starring in the top grossing movie of all time (Aquaman), when everyone is dying to work with you or give you a bag of their best pot. The low-point Vince seems to be at right now is something akin to Carrie finding out about Big and his French trophy wife, Natasha.

Jeremy Piven and Kevin Dillon, as Ari Gold and Johnny Drama, respectively, are the two who make the show funny. Jerry Ferrara gets a few laughs because someone has to be on the bottom of every totem pole. But it’s Kevin Connolly and Adrien Grenier, playing childhood best friends from Queens whose success is delicately intertwined, who are at the root of what drives the show.

I don’t think much of Adrien Grenier’s acting or his looks, so I sort of take it on faith that Vince really is as appealing to audiences as everyone in his universe says he is. The central character for me is Eric, who is always eager to prove he is his own man and that the “entourage” would no more survive without him than without Vince. He worries about his best friend, to be sure, but also about himself as Vince’s manager: if Vince’s career is in the tank, then so is E’s. In the season premiere, what finally pulls Vince back to L.A. to begin his comeback is not his own desire to redeem himself (he’d happily go on boozing it up in Mexico forever) but E’s wish not to be known as the guy who ran Vincent Chase’s career into the ground. In short, the boys need each other.

So these are the questions to contemplate this season: How will the crew rebuild the brand that is Vincent Chase? Will E’s management company take off? Will Drama get through his TV gig without anyone photographing his left side? Will Turtle do anything other than drive or get high?

Welcome back, boys! We missed you.

Are you ready for some football?

In my effort to really get into the NFL this year, I’m going to try to live-blog one game every week. I would do the Broncos game against the Raiders tomorrow, but I have to work. The afternoon game on Fox today is the Carolina Panthers against the San Diego Chargers, so here we go. . . .

2:20 p.m. – I missed the kick-off, which is my favorite part of every football game. I like seeing all the players running toward each other. We’ll have to wait until after the first score.

I’m rooting for the Panthers since I used to live in North Carolina and once baby-sat for a couple who worked for the Panthers promotions office. Also, rooting for the Chargers would not sit well with my husband since they are in the AFC West with the Broncos. Apparently, though, the Chargers are good this year.

2:38 – The Panthers fail to score after going for it on 4th and 1. They tried to pass the ball instead of pushing it in through the middle, which I always enjoy watching. Kind of like reverse tug of war. Speaking of passing, the QBs are the Panthers’ Jake Delhomme (who is apparently, “back” from something, an injury, I guess) and the Chargers’ Philip Rivers, who also has some North Carolina ties, having gone to N.C. State.

2:41 – Julius Peppers is mentioned! He was a Tar Heel basketball player, so we like him. I’ve heard that he’s the only person to have played in a Final Four and a Super Bowl. He’s on defense for the Panthers, but doing exactly what, I don’t know. (How many days until Midnight Madness?)

2:59 – Panthers score! A field goal gives them a “surprising” 3-0 lead. The Chargers haven’t been able to get much going on offense.

They’ve mentioned Charger Shawn Merriman’s torn knee ligaments a few times and showed a chart to show exactly what’s wrong with him. I’m really curious about this: Does it hurt to walk? What exactly is holding his leg together at this point? Will it come flying off if he’s hit too hard?

3:01 – Kick-off! But the Chargers take a knee in the end-zone. Oh well. I wish every team had a Devon Hester.

I like LaDanian Tomlinson’s Darth Vader helmet visor.

3:09 – Chargers score! Touchdown on a very long pass, though it came after the Panthers tried to challenge a call on the field. The announcers thought the Panthers had it right, but alas the referees did not. Something about Rivers having run past the line of scrimmage before he threw. (I think — this is one of the rules I’m not clear on.) Anyway, 7-3 Chargers.

3:21 – Panthers score! Another field goal, after a 1st and goal, so a bit anti-climactic. Still, a long stretch of non-commercial-interrupted play, which was nice. 7-6 Chargers.

Before the kick, they showed a Chargers defensive coach holding a long stick with a football at the end of it and using it so defensive players could practice reacting to when they see the ball move. These are the things I would never think of.

3:32 – Tight End Dante Rosario (thanks Wikipedia!) catches a pass from Jake Delhomme then hurdles a defender. These are the kinds of plays I’d like to see more of. I mean, why would you just ram into the guy — isn’t vertical jump one of the things they look at during the combine?

3:36 – Panthers score! Yet another field goal. Do these guys think the NFL has outlawed touchdowns? The offense has done well throughout the game, until it gets past the 15 yard line. Well, a lead is a lead, I guess. 9-7 Panthers.

Halftime! As the players walk off the field one of the announcers makes a bizarre Sarah Palin reference about new studio member Michael Strahan. Whu? I guess he’s “shaking things up,” but has he mocked community service?

4:06 – Chargers go for it on 4th and 1 and get the 1st down. Tomlinson seems to have found his game.

Almost at the two-hour mark, and I’m losing steam. Baseball is way long too, but that doesn’t bother me as much, I think, because there is no clock. Plus, I understand the details of that game. In football four 15-minute quarters somehow triples in time with all the stoppages. Must push through!

4:10 – Chargers score! All field goals all the time today, it seems. I’d love to watch a game where all the scoring came from safeties. 10-9 Chargers.

4:19 – Surfing the Web: Colombian Camilo Villegas wins the BMW Championship for his first PGA tour win! Viva Colombia!

4:23 – Touchdown Panthers! They must have sensed my increasing boredom and decided to look alive on defense. Chris Harris strips the ball from Antonio Gates and Chris Gamble returns it 31 yards for a score. Chargers challenge but no dice. 16-10 Panthers.

4:40 – Panthers score! The fifth field goal of the game makes it a two possession game. 19-10 Panthers.

4:48 – Chargers score! After a quick, impressive drive Chargers carve up the Carolina defense back to within a safety of the Panthers. 19-17 Panthers.

I wonder why Philip Rivers is not as omnipresent, pop-culture wise, as Tom Brady and the Mannings. He’s got the looks.

4:54 – Panthers fumble! Are they getting tired? Apparently, it’s 90 degrees on the field, and there’s been many a shot of players on oxygen. I wonder if it’s harder to play when it’s really hot or when it’s really, really cold. Panthers challenge. Nope, say the refs. Chargers’ ball.

5:03 – Touchdown Chargers! Tomlinson is playing really well, but all TDs have been in the air for San Diego. Not a whole lot of time left for the Panthers, who seem to have lost all their mojo after that last field goal. Can they do it? They would need their first offensive touchdown of the day.

5:17 – TOUCHDOWN PANTHERS!!!!! Oh, my freakin’ lord! The Panthers tear down the field and score on the final play of the game with two seconds left. Panthers: celebrating like crazy. Crowd: stunned. Chargers assistant on the side line: “Oh, fuck!” This is what I’m talking about!

5:22 – Some ramdom final thoughts. The game felt really long, especially during the 3rd quarter, but definitely finished strong. I’m really looking forward to the Fox show Fringe. Taco Bell commercials are really annoying. Panthers kicker John Kasay gets the game ball for keeping the team in the game.

Back to school — West Beverly, that is

I haven’t been in high school for a long time, and yet such is the draw of high school soaps that despite what seemed to me reasonable attempts at resisting, I finally broke down and watched the two-hour premiere of the new Beverly Hills 90210.

Officially, the new show’s name is just “90210,” so I guess the ZIP Code is fabulous enough to stand on its own now. It was, in any case, as craptastic as the original and quite possibly just as addictive.

The formula is similar: a brother and sister from the Heartland — back then it was Minnesota, this time Kansas — transfer into West Beverly Hills High School and find themselves out of place in a world of expensive cars and Prada backpacks. The producers, understanding that the perception of what it means to be ubber-rich has changed drastically from the early 1990s, have had to up the ante a bit. Brenda Walsh’s first misadventure involved a fake ID and going out to fancy dinner with a guy who thought she was a college student, not a wee lass of 16. In the new series, out-of-town girl Annie’s crush takes her out to dinner in San Francisco, courtesy of his private jet. Kids today.

Gossip Girl showcases equally lavish lifestyles, even for the “poor” Humphreys, whose massive Brooklyn apartment would likely be priced in the seven figures. I enjoyed that show’s first season. Lately, though, it’s gotten a little too pleased with itself and with the massive hype that surrounds it, generated primarily, I think, by New York-based entertainment writers who want the world to believe everyone in Manhattan lives that life. I love the city, but life for most people there is a lot more Seinfeld than Gossip Girl.

Getting back to 90210, though, there are other ways in which the show has been updated. Annie’s brother is Dixon, an African-American kid her family adopted. I’m glad to see at least an attempt at a more diverse cast, especially if brings back to TV the likes of Tristan Wilds, of the late, wonderful, best-show-ever The Wire. (No word yet on whether this show will remember, like The O.C. apparently did, that there are Jews in California.) The natives include jock boy Ethan, bratty rich girl Naomi, drug addicted drama queen Adrianna, wannabe rebel Erin “Silver” Silver (Kelly and David’s little sister!) and Dixon’s soon-to-be best friend Navid, an amalgamation of Andrea Zucherman (whose daughter with Jesse makes a brief cameo in the pilot) and Steve Sanders.

The acting is meh. The dialogue is cringe-inducing at times, though Annie and Dixon’s grandma (played by Arrested Development’s Jessica Walter doing her best to keep Lucille Bluth’s memory alive) does get some funny lines. Still, I found comfort in the cheese and predictability. It was nice to see that Kelly Taylor turned out all right after all the drama the first show put her through. And she has a kid! Who is the father? Is it Dylan? And Nat is back! Still running the Peach Pit!

The nostalgia will die down after a few episodes, at which point I may find that this show, like the first, is just silly, and I’ll eventually stop watching. Still, for now it’s kind of nice to know that even Brenda can go home again.

Opening Day

I love watching sports. After my parents separated, when I was about 5 years old, I started spending the summers with my dad, and the surest way to quality time with his was sitting down with him to watch baseball and soccer. It was the ’80s, back when TBS still carried all the Braves games even though the team was terrible. He taught me the rules of the game and exactly when it was appropriate to yell back at the television, something that sort of annoyed my mom when I was back with her.

In middle school, I started playing basketball, and though I turned out to be not much of a player, I loved watching it. For the last two years, I’ve taken a day off work to enjoy the first Thursday of March Madness. Dedication takes effort, after all.

The one American sport I could never quite grasp was football. When I was in high school, I went to all the Friday night games, but that was as much a social event as anything else. You couldn’t have paid me, back then, to watch an NFL game. They lasted for three hours even though individuals plays, which looked to me just like a group of men jumping into a big pile, rarely went longer than five seconds. There were way too many commercials for someone who grew up in a soccer-loving country, a fact that was only amusing during the Super Bowl, the highlight of which for me was getting to eat seven-layer dip.

But I married a guy who loves football, specifically the Broncos, so in the last few years I’ve tried to make an effort. He has patiently answered all of my questions (How can a receiver “interfere” when the ball is being passed to him?), and since I enjoy watching SportsCenter, I actually know the names of a lot of players as well as their injury status.

My husband says he realized I really loved him, when I sat down to watch the 2006 NFL draft. That was the year the Broncos drafted their current starting quarterback Jay Cutler, so I like to think that Jay and I joined Bronco Nation at the same time. He hasn’t quite lived up to his potential as a quarterback, and I certainly haven’t lived up to mine as a fan. So on the day the New York Giants open NFL play against the Washington Redskins, I affirm that I am looking forward to a memorable season.

GO BRONCOS! (I hope that sounded convincing.)

The New-clear Option

Republican nominee for vice president Sarah Palin gave, in the view of many pundits, a fine speech last night.

One thing stood out to me that was not obvious to those watching Palin on TV, but it got me thinking about an issue that, as a copy-editor, I’m always keen to discuss.

On the unedited transcript of Palin’s speech published on CNN.com, the word nuclear is spelled “new-clear.” Apparently, MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow said, the word was written phonetically so Palin would pronounce it correctly. (I find it disconcerting that a candidate for the second highest office in the country might have needed an assist from Hooked on Phonics on the biggest day yet of her political career, but that is a topic for another day.)

Generally, when people mispronounce words and are later quoted in print, the word will still be spelled correctly in the newspaper or magazine story it appears in. President George W. Bush may have said “new-cue-lar” many times throughout his presidency, but most papers didn’t actually spell the word that way (unless they were writing about the very fact that our president has trouble with his words sometimes).

Nevertheless, phrases like “gonna” and “wanna” have started to replace “going to” and “want to” in our written lexicon. These are not mispronunciations, but rather the way people speak. We’re also droppin’ our final G’s (and not always including the apostrophe — sigh). Some will tell you that quoting people in this way adds authenticy, but I question it because it’s so erratic. In one graph, someone may be “still thinkin’ about who I’m votin’ for.” And in another, he or she is “supporting Obama.” Now, to correct someone’s grammar is another matter because to do that would compromise the integrity of the quote. Changing “ain’t” to “isn’t,” for example, would be changing what someone said. Editing “could of” to be “could have” wouldn’t be.

(Here, by the way, I’m only speaking of news reporting. Fiction writers can do what they like.)
Language is an evolving phenomenon, though, which is what makes it interesting, so I don’t follow any hard and fast rules. Except, of course, the Rick Astley rule. “Never going to give you up, never going to let you down” just looks wrong, doesn’t it?

Never gonna give you up.
Never gonna let you down.
Never gonna run around and desert you…

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

Fourth grade was the first and last year I rode the bus to school. The bus driver wasn’t very nice. She had a helmet of curly red hair, and the shrill way she used to yell “SHUT your mouth!” still rings in my ears whenever I think of the experience. The seat we chose the first day of school became our assigned seat for the rest of the year or until whenever the driver let us pick seats again. Somehow, I always got stuck next to a kid named Provard, whose nose was always runny. I don’t know if Provard was his first or last name, but I remember how loud he was and the yelling matches he would get into with some of the older kids sitting in the back. Cue the driver, “SHUT your mouth!”

To pass the time, I would do word searches. (Let there be no mistake: I was a nerd.) Mom would buy me books of them at the grocery store and put them in my backpack. It was impossible to tune Provard out, but they made it easier to ignore him.
I hated the bus and intentionally missed it more often than my mom would like to know. The next year — at my behest and to save herself from having to leave work to come pick me up at home and take me in — she bought a house two blocks from my school.
Still, I can look back now and call it the beginning of something to do with me, words and cheap newsprint.