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Running, a personal history

About a month ago, I started running again. It had been a good while since I’d done it on a regular basis—years, as a matter of fact. There was my pregnancy and before that decreasing motivation and increasing work- and life-related exhaustion. I’d wanted to, but I couldn’t find a way to put one foot in front of the other. I kept telling myself, having run on a regular basis before, that the hardest part is always starting, but it wasn’t until I quit my job that I felt the necessary modicum of motivation to slip into my worn (though not by recent use) sneakers again. With THE MAN no longer dictating my schedule, having to be somewhere for so many hours in the day and the resulting tiredness could no longer be my excuse. Plus, I was starting to crave the excitement of it.
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Baseball, Now There’s A Reason To Go To The Theater

Over the course of our relationship, hubby and I have gone to see two plays. I happen to love live theater, but getting him to enjoy it with me, while not exactly like pulling teeth, isn’t especially easy. His willingness to consider a play largely depends on the writer and the subject matter. (Musicals are a non-starter.) Very few subjects interest hubby more than baseball, so it won’t be a surprise that the two plays we’ve made it out to see—Take Me Out, several years ago, and The Catch, just last weekend—happened to be about that very subject.

Take Me Out, which we saw very early in our courtship, was about a popular baseball player (modeled loosely on Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees) who comes out as gay and about the repercussions that has on the players around him. It wasn’t so much about baseball, as it was about the politics of the clubhouse and sports celebrity. My favorite parts of the play were a series of monologues performed by one of the show’s supporting characters, a gay man and neighbor to the newly out star who begins to attend games in solidarity and finds himself falling in love with the sport. He articulates the many things that baseball fans love about the national pastime, why it is so very American, and so very democratic. It was a good play.

The Catch, playing at in the Space Theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts until February 26, is about a guy named Gary, a midwesterner who moved to San Francisco to ride the dot-com wave, only to see his company wipeout and wipe him out in the process. Having lost his house, along with his marriage, at the start of the play, he’s living in a small one-bedroom waiting for the next big idea to hit him. His optimism and belief in his eventual return to success in the face of such failures, remains undented–even when his father, a Polish immigrant and grumpy old man of the first degree, comes to stay with him after a diabetic episode while celebrating paying off his mortgage almost lands him in a nursing home, courtesy of his other son and a neighbor he fears is after his house.
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New on TV this season: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Part 3

I welcomed this summer with high hopes of writing a whole bunch. Well, maybe not a whole bunch, but I did plan at the very least to write about three TV shows I watched last season and do so before the new TV season started. Alas, it was not to be. The new TV season begins in earnest this week, and the kids of One Tree Hill already are back to the usual over-the-top-but-would-we-want-it-any-other-way hijinks: Brooke is arrested and her business closed mid wedding-planning-turned-fantasy-tryst with Julian; Nathan and Haley tell Jamie he is going to be a big brother only to find that they have no answer to his subsequent question, “So, how does that work?”; Alex turns her other-woman routine onto Chase and Mia, the world’s most boring couple; Clay and Quinn make out and go skinny dipping in their subconscious while bleeding out on the floor of his bedroom; no word on Psycho-attempted-murderer Katie. But before we get too sucked into another year of middling soapy melodrama, we should take a moment to appreciate one actually good show that that didn’t get a chance to stick around longer than a season. Continue reading

5 things in no particular order, late edition

Stuff I’ve been meaning to blog about for days, weeks and months, even. Enjoy.

1) A (bath)room with a view, five months late

The number of times I’ve moved in my adult life is almost too absurd to consider. Starting back when I officially stopped living at my mother’s house 15 years ago at age seventeen, I’ve called no less than 13 different residences home. The majority of those moves were only across town, but a couple did take me across the country. In any case, such has been my life and my luck that nomadism is the norm. Earlier this year, hubby and I moved for the second time since our return to Denver from our adventure in Chicago. This time, fate landed us on the doorstep of a colleague who, having been our partner and commiserator in newspaper job loss, was heading out of town for greener employment pastures and needed tenants for his lovely home. We left our tiny condo in the hope that someone might take it off our hands permanently (no such luck, yet) and that we could welcome the end of this tedious recession (anytime now, economy) with a bit more leg room.

The house has many of the wonderful idiosyncrasies of a place that has been lived in for a long time. My favorite is the window in the second-floor shower. It’s small and up high on the wall (I have to stand on my toes to see out) and doesn’t reveal anything that a discreet bather wouldn’t. Still, it allows for a nice view of the tops of neighboring trees and houses and, if you look hard enough before the hot water starts to fog it up, the Rocky Mountains. If I shower in the early afternoon on a clear day, the sun shines on me and the water in such a way that I feel as if I am outside, which takes me back to the days early in my childhood when my cousins and I would bathe in my aunt’s back patio. The light is best at the end of the day, when the warmth of the setting sun soothes as much as the hot water. Serenity is welcome anywhere one can find it.

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Are You Ready for Some Football? Week “World Cup Final Weekend”

It’s been a while since I live-blogged a game, and with the World Cup coming to a close this weekend, it seemed appropriate to drop in on the third place game between Uruguay and Germany. And yes, if you hadn’t already guessed, the “football” of the headline is the world’s game, not the head-bashing American brand.

Action is underway and I’m already running a little behind, so I’ll pepper in some tid bits as I update with game highlights.
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El Equipo De Todos

My hubby says that I give up on my teams too easily, and though I fight him on it sometimes, I have to admit that it’s true more often than not. I wouldn’t say I’m pessimist–in fact it’s precisely because I hope and wish that my team wins so badly that sometimes I have to prepare myself mentally for the possibility that it won’t happen. And, yes, sometimes I walk away because watching a loss unfold before my eyes is just too much to bare. This went through my mind on Wednesday morning as I closed the ESPN gamecast window by which I was “watching” and listening to the game online between U.S.A. and Algeria, the last in World Cup first round play for Group C and the one that would decide who would advance. I couldn’t witness my team falling just short. My boss has a small TV on his desk and continued to watch it, so I continued to hear, through his oohs and aaahs, how close and yet how far Team USA was to the goal it needed to advance to the second round of the World Cup.

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5 things in no particular order

5 things, World Cup edition. Lots of links coming your way, so click away and then come back.

1) This one is for us.

The World Cup is now merely days away. I would venture to say even hubby can’t wait for the games to start, if only because he’s probably very tired of hearing me say how excited I am. He’s not interested, and though I made an effort to get into American “football” for his sake, I’m in no hurry to try to convince him to watch the real stuff. I’ve never been interested in convincing any American that soccer in general, and the World Cup in particular, really is great fun to watch. Non-believers — and there’s no other way to describe them — don’t want to be convinced. There have been countless attempts to put the magnificence of this event in terms they can understand. This one is pretty funny if you know American sports (though I would cast Argentina as Duke basketball and France as the Boston Red Sox).

The fact is some Americans take great pride in hating soccer. I don’t have patience or time for that. Those of us who love the sport love it more than enough for the rest of the country and are comforted by the fact that the rest of the world has our backs as far as this argument is concerned. The nice thing is that for this particular Cup, American sports media have bought in. In previous cycles the bulk of the coverage would be spent on trying to draw non-fans to the game, trying to explain the sport’s idiosyncrasies, and introducing top players like flash-in-the-pan Olympians instead of treating them like the world superstars they are. Even the play-callers were once chosen based not on their experience covering soccer, but on their experience covering American sports, in hopes that U.S. fans would recognize the voice, if not the action on the field.

Mercifully, that era is long behind us. Football isn’t merely coming to America. It’s here. All the Cup previews and analyses I’ve seen and read make it clear that the major sports media have figured this out. ESPN and ABC are carrying every game in this World Cup with coverage that respects the game and the fans. They aren’t devoting 300 staffers to Cup coverage for the non-believers. They are doing it for us.

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The Yanks Are Coming!

It’s been so long since I’ve updated this blog here, that one of the entries lingering at the bottom of the first page is from North Carolina’s run to the national championship more that a year ago. My how times have changed. Carolina took such a tumble that their absence from the tournament was a foregone conclusion halfway through the painful season. But enough about that because it’s baseball season and pretty soon, it will be World Cup season, tragically without Michael Ballack for Germany or Charlie Davies for Team USA. This is the World Cup, though, and the World Cup stops for no man.

It would be difficult to overstate how excited I am. The U.S. National Team played its best three halves of soccer last year during the Confederations Cup, with an incredible upset of Spain and a brilliant first half against Brazil–including what might have to be the most beautiful counter-attack goal in Landon Donovan’s career. This year, getting out of group play is a manageable task with games against Slovenia, Algeria and–the marquee match-up–England. The expectations are high, of course. The same was true 4 years ago, when they failed to win a game or advance to the second round. Here’s hoping this year is better.

So looking forward to the highlight of the season kicking off in a little less than two weeks, I’m marking this Memorial Day and the official start of the summer with what I hope is the first of a whole wave of new material on this here blog. So thanks, dear readers (hi mom!) for your patience. Here’s to Team USA and the start of a promising, writing-infused summer.

5 things in no particular order

1) It’s a wonderful time for Oscar! Oscar, Oscar! Who will win?

The nominations are out tomorrow, and though I haven’t had the time to blog about the Oscar race this year, I am as interested as ever. This year we get ten Best Picture nominations, instead of five. Many have complained that this dilutes the pool, but the nominees in this category are to be considered the best movies of the year and many other critical bodies pick top tens every year so why not THE critical body. (And by THE critical body I mean the Academy in that it gets to hand out what is considered Hollywood’s biggest prize, not in that their choices are always critically sound.) I like the idea of expanding the field so that we get a clearer sense of the film landscape over the entire year, not just the last three weeks of December. I’ll try to carve out some time this week to offer my ruminations on the nominations. For now I will only say that Anthony Mackie of The Hurt Locker TOTALLY DESERVES A NOMINATION, Hollywood. Ahem.

2) It’s a wonderful time for Austen! Austen, Austen! Who will marry?

Some mysterious yet benevolent force of the universe landed me on an Entertainment Weekly online post buried in the magazine’s Web site about a PBS Masterpiece mini-series of Jane Austen’s Emma mere hours before it began. It stars England’s most underrated actress Romola Garai as Miss Austen’s most capricious heroine and Jonny Lee Miller as a surprisingly sweet yet still stern Mr. Knightly. For most, Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy is the Austen hero to end all Austen heroes, but I would pick Mr. Knightly over him any day of the week. He’s not a snob, for one, and is willing to move into to Emma’s home upon their marriage so that she doesn’t have to leave her overly attached, overly protective father. Serious devotion. The miniseries, which ends next week, is a lovely depiction of a book and of characters I have long loved.

(Speaking of Emma, and to be filed under “Things that are awesome,” the In Memoriam montage at the Screen Actors Guild Awards included Brittany Murphy’s timeless “You’re a virgin who can’t drive” line from Clueless, the best Emma adaptation before this one. As good a delivery of memorable dialogue as any, and a great tribute to her short career. May she rest in peace.)

3) It’s a wonderful time for Conan! Conan, Conan! Where will he end up?

A lot of things have made me feel old in the last year or so. The transition from Jay to Conan, back to Jay on the Tonight Show means that John Carson was officially three hosts ago. Yikes! I was too young to have really watched or developed any sort of attachment to Johnny Carson, but he hosted the show late enough into my childhood that I knew who he was even before I truly became aware of pop culture in general. I never really watched Jay Leno, having never really found him all that funny. Conan, however, was supposed to be my Johnny Carson. He was they guy who would be the Tonight Show for my generation. At least until the suits at NBC decided that he wasn’t for a number of stupid reasons that have been explicated and deconstructed to the point I don’t need to bring them up again here. NBC is stupid and so devoid of creativity at this point in its existence that maybe hitting rock bottom without Conan is what the network really need. I hope he lands somewhere that lets him be the kind of guy my kids might remember as the guy who really did late night right.

4) It’s not a wonderful time for Tar Heels basketball so the theme for 5 Things is not going to work all the way through.

UNC basketball is pretty bad this year. NIT bad. This was to be expected, of course, even though the “experts” penciled them into the top five before the season started. Call it the Tyler Hansbrough over-correction. The last time the Heels were in post championship rebuilding mode, these same experts thought the Heels would spend the season in the ACC cellar. Freshman Tyler took care of that, sealing a 2 seed in the tournament with a win over top-ranked Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on JJ Reddick’s senior night. The only win to top it in his career was his final one in Detroit last year. This year’s team was similar on paper, so they were given the very generous benefit of the doubt. It’s been downhill since. It should be no surprise, though. A very young team, no real leaders or go-to playmakers. It’s a low-pressure, post-championship year so I’m not minding it all that much. The bad years make you appreciate the good all the more. Still, it would be nice to have a win over Duke.

5) And I can’t not say something about One Tree Hill.

The fact that this show has been on seven years makes it one of the few constants in my life over a decade that saw a whole lot of change as adulthood hit head on. This last year was tougher than most, and maybe I’ve clung to the show especially hard this season (to the hubby’s eternal dismay) because I find comfort in its relentless sameness. Brooke is still stuck in a love triangle from hell, and Nathan and Haley are still the awkward girl and the popular boy who got together. Both were certainly true in tonight’s episode, a surprisingly effective tribute to the late, great master of angst John Hughes.

When Madonna covered Don McLean’s American Pie when I was in college, a friend of mine who really loved the song said that despite people’s protestations about the new version, he didn’t mind it. He liked the song so much, that he thought any version of it–even one by Madonna in the middle of her I’m British and really a techno geek phase–was good. The kissing over the cake scene from Sixteen Candles is one of the most iconic movie moments of my life as a film lover, and though I’ve seen it parodied and copied numerous times, I always love it. Seeing Nathan and Haley act it out it felt as real and honest and sweet as the original. It harkened back to who the characters were back when One Tree Hill first started while also acknowledging that such characters might not exist had John Hughes not been the first to breath life into them. To convince us that they mattered. May he also rest in peace.

No cheering in the press box, or a rumination on the greatest joy in sports

Imagine the baseball playoffs happened only every four years and only four teams got to play. Imagine the intervening years were one long tournament to see who got those four spots, one of which always seemed to go to the Yankees. Imagine there were baseball teams that had never gone, some that had only gone once. Imagine fans that prayed for a chance to see their teams step on to the field in the World Series just once in their lifetimes.

You can’t. I can’t. And it doesn’t matter, really, because there is no hypothetical that would convey with any accuracy the sheer ecstasy a World Cup birth can bring to an entire country. The Yankees in this case are Brazil. Yes, I’m talking about soccer, a sport that makes many a silly American laugh or sneer or take pride in the fact he hates the sport precisely because the rest of the world loves it and say, “We have our own football, and it’s better, and we still call the winner of the league ‘world’ champions.”

But, you know what, it’s his loss. That guy won’t cry like a little girl when his team simply makes it in to the big tournament, won’t run to the middle of the street after the game to see it flooded with fellow fans, incredulous and delirious, because the national team did it. They’re in. WE’RE IN! He won’t see his president declare a national holiday the next day because for the first time in 30 years, they’re in. WE’RE IN!

All of that happened in Honduras on Wednesday night, right after Jonathan Bornstein of the U.S. Men’s National Team headed in a goal in the waning seconds of its final World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica. For the U.S., the goal tied a meaningless game–they had punched their ticket to the 2010 “finals,” as they say in Europe, four days before. For Honduras, it meant the “catrachos” hop-scotched Costa Rica for the North and Central American region’s third automatic bid to the greatest sporting event in the world. It will be the country’s second ever trip to the World Cup and the first in 27 years. Most of America wasn’t paying attention when the goal happened. Honduras was on its knees. And afterward, it was euphoric.

It’s an unwritten rule in sports journalism that you don’t cheer in the press box. Sports writers are impartial observers, not fans. Even at The Daily Tar Heel, students covering UNC basketball games were not allowed to wear Carolina blue to the games. You can love the team as much as the next guy. You just can’t wear it on your sleeve. Same goes for the guys in the booth. Sure, most teams in every major league here in the U.S. has regular season radio or TV announcers who call the games with a soft-spot for the locals, but the biggest games get the biggest pros. So for the greatest play in the history of the Super Bowl, the call went to the monotone Joe Buck.

Listen to that Honduran play caller crying as he announces the U.S. goal and Honduras’ entry into the World Cup. It’s hard to imagine any American play caller getting that emotional about anything. Sure they get excited–Gus Johnson is good for that much–but has anyone actually broken down in tears on the air? It wasn’t just the play caller either. If you listen close, you can hear people in the background yell “Gol!” right before he does. The whole booth was watching and praying. The whole country was. And when it was all over, the whole country celebrated.

Honduras is a special place for me. I spent four formative summers there as a teenager, starting right after 8th grade, when my dad was transferred there by Chiquita. He doesn’t work for Chiquita anymore, but he’s still there, still growing bananas. The older of my two younger sisters doesn’t remember living anywhere else and the younger of the two never has. I have dear friends from those summers who I still keep in touch with, and memories that will always make me smile. So even though I root for the U.S. National Team, I wanted that Bornstein goal for Honduras.

It’s a poor country, one wracked by gang violence and currently embroiled in a political fight between a democratically elected, yet politically dangerous Chavez-wannabe and a quick-to-the-crackdown replacement government that resorted to a military coup at a time in history many believed Latin America had finally left that regrettable tactic in the history books. Honduras needed Bornstein to make the goal. And now, he’s a national hero. There was a palpable joy in Honduras’ celebrations, but also relief and maybe some hope that everything will be OK. Soccer has done this before.

Franklin Foer’s book “How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization” is a fascinating read. Using everything from local to international leagues, Foer looks at how certain squads are microcosms that illustrate the defining political questions of our time. The trope holds up in some cases better than others, but the underlying truth is that no sport, no social gathering place, figurative or otherwise, has the ability to affect the power structures that govern the world like soccer. That may not seem plausible to Americans because no sport played in the U.S., certainly not soccer, is capable of bridging the painfully entrenched lines in the sand between Rush Limbaugh’s right wing and Rachel Maddow’s left.

Moments of tragedy have united us–the days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the mass shooting at Virginia Tech–but just as quickly, it seems, the old divisions rear their ugly heads, bigger and uglier than before. We are a much, much larger country and much more diverse than Honduras, so bringing everyone under the same tent isn’t as easy as heading in a goal from a corner kick (and that’s not really all that easy). Maybe there will never be anything we all agree on, nothing that will drives us all to dance in the streets with joy. I suppose that’s OK. Few countries, few peoples, will every feel get to feel what Hondurans are feeling right now. I’ve come to expect the U.S. to make it to the World Cup every four years. My little sisters might never know this feeling again. They deserve it. Honduras deserves it.