Monday, September 29, 2014

Fire the Bastards!

It's October, and in recent years here in The Yard, that has meant a sudden uptick in my posting frequency, as I follow my Tigers through the baseball post-season, and this year, that grand tradition continues, as the Tigers have won their division for the fourth consecutive year, the first time in team history that they've appeared in four consecutive post-seasons.  Although, to be candid, post-seasons these days are not what they once were, with 10 teams out of 30 qualifying for the festivities; whereas, back when Ty Cobb and the boys were appearing in three consecutive World Series from 1907-09, two teams out of 16 faced each other in the World Series, so that still seems like a bigger deal. . .

Even so, these recent years have been a period of noteworthy success for the Detroit Baseball Club.  You might think that such a period of unprecedented sustained success would make for a happy group of Tiger fans.  But you would be wrong.  At least on a wider level; myself, I'm as happy a Tiger fan as I've ever been, except in the immediate aftermath of the '68 and '84 World Series.  But at least judging from the people who call in to the sports-talk-radio stations, Tiger fans by-and-large are unprecedentedly angry and frustrated.

Both last year and this year, the Tigers finished atop the division standings by just a single game over the second-place team.  Many fans, evidently spoiled by the team's run of success, think that the division race should have been over by Labor Day, and by such a dominant margin that the next-best team should be in third place, not second.  When the team struggled with injuries, and a few of the players who were being counted on to perform at a high level, um, didn't, these fans became even more angry and frustrated.

The Tigers' manager this year is a man named Brad Ausmus, who is on his first managing job after a long career as a player, during which he achieved average-to above-average success from, shall we say, less-than-elite-level skills.  He played two separate tours with the Tigers, during which he was a consistent fan favorite.  So when he was named the Tigers' manager last winter, the move was met with approval, for the most part.  But when the team failed to dominate in the 'expected' manner, a growing undertone of anger arose.

This is nothing new, mind you.  For the eight seasons prior to this one, the Tigers' manager was a man named Jim Leyland, who was what they call a 'baseball lifer'.  He'd had a couple previous gigs as a major-league manager, taking the Pittsburgh Pirates to a couple of post-seasons back in the early 90s, and winning a World Series with the Florida Marlins in '98.  In his eight seasons in Detroit, the Tigers made the post-season four times, and played in two World Series, both of which they lost (they also lost a one-game tie-breaker in '09, which ought to count as a 'post-season' game, especially if you're going to count a one-game wild-card playoff as a post-season game; but I digress).

Virtually every day of those eight years, somebody in Detroit was calling in on talk-radio, calling for him to be fired.  Because he didn't call for the bunt when he should have.  Because he called for the bunt when he shouldn't have.  Because he left his starter in one batter too long.  Because he pulled his starter, who was obviously cruising, and good for another 23 innings.  Because a hit-and-run play backfired.  Because the third-baseman threw the ball into the upper deck, or the left-fielder missed the cutoff man.  Etc., etc, etc.  All under the general heading of "We know more about baseball than you do."  A guy who's been in professional baseball for 50 years, and some pizza-delivery guy is certain that he knows more about baseball than him.  'Cuz, you know, he played baseball in high school, and he KNOWS baseball.  It would be funny if it weren't so pathetic.

And so this year, when injuries set in, and key players under-performed, and success was less certain than it 'should have been', the same set of brilliant fans began calling for Brad Ausmus to be fired.  Or Dave Dombrowski, the general manager.  Or both of them, in a public execution at home plate, before the next game.  It's just a good thing that the Tigers finally did win; who knows what might have happened if they hadn't.

And here's the thing that really grinds my backside about the whole thing, even beyond the pathetic aspect of thinking they know more about baseball than a guy who's been in the game professionally for 50 years - these folks are awfully casual about wanting someone else to lose their job.  Look, I know that professional sports is a results-driven business, and if you don't win, you won't keep your job for long; I get that.  But the constant, day-after-day drumbeat of 'Fire the Bastard!' directed at a team, and a manager, having considerably more-than-normal success, is jaw-droppingly bizarre.  Would they want other people to be as casual about pulling the plug on their continued employment as they are about the managers of their favorite sports teams?  Do people act like this in other towns?  I mean, other than New York?

My modest proposal - anyone who goes on talk radio and calls for the coach of his favorite team to be fired, should be judged by the same standard.  Get the change wrong on a pizza order - you're fired!  Have a typo in your sales report - you're fired!  And so on down the line.  Any bit of strategy that backfires - that's it, you're gone!  Have great results year after year, but some guy with flecks of spittle on his I-phone thinks you're a moron and he could've done better?  You're screwed, get outta here!

(*puff, pant*) (*puff, pant*)

(*deep, cleansing breath*)

Okay, better now. . .

Anyway, the Tigers begin their fourth consecutive post-season on Thursday against the Orioles in Baltimore.  And once again, hope springs eternal.  I wish all your teams well, until they play my Tigers.  Maybe this will finally be our year. . .

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Day of the Drunken Birds

These days, I'm not posting so much, and occasionally, I'm leaving some good, post-worthy stories as comments on other folks' blogs.  Such is the case with this one, although by now I forget whose blog I left it on as a comment.  It really does deserve to be preserved for posterity along with the rest of my stories, though, so here you go. . .


The house I grew up in, Up North, was situated at the end of a dead-end street, out near what, in those days, counted as the edge of town.  There were no other houses within a block of ours, and our back yard was bordered on two sides by what could only be honestly described as a swamp.  In one corner of the yard was a mountain ash tree, the kind with the little orange berries.  For most of the summer, the tree would be liberally speckled with orange berries, which made for a colorful splash in that corner of the yard.

Now, birds (mostly robins and blue jays) loved those little orange berries, and would come from far and wide to descend on our yard in order to partake of their orange-y goodness.  And throughout the summers, the, uh, bird-lime that was splatted around our yard (and on our cars, and house, and back porch, etc) had a distinctly orange-ish hue, sometimes containing the stems and other accoutrements of the birdly-eaten berries.

The birds usually kept the berries eaten to a degree that meant that, by summer's end, the berries were gone, and the tree wasn't producing any more of them.  In the fullness of time, the leaves fell, and the following spring, the cycle commenced anew.

One summer, though, the berries lingered into the early fall.  I don't know if the birds were otherwise occupied that summer, or if the tree put out a particularly abundant berry crop that year, but September came, and there were still berries on the tree, where, in a typical year, there were none.

Then suddenly, one day, a massive flock of birds descended on our yard and denuded the tree of its remaining berries.  The berries, however, having remained on the tree so much longer than usual, had begun to, uh, ferment.  In fact, they were well-advanced in the process of fermentation.  And so, by afternoon, we were treated to one of the most bizarre spectacles I've ever witnessed in my young life, which has gone down in family lore as The Day of the Drunken Birds.

Dozens of birds were reeling and stumbling around our back yard, staggering sideways, hopping on one leg, trying desperately to keep (or regain) their balance, like something out of a Red Skelton skit.  I was still a couple years away from heading to college, but, in retrospect, it was reminiscent of last call at a college-town bar.  Birds were bumping into each other, knocking each other down, and struggling to regain their feet with indifferent success.  A few of them tried to take flight, but they simply couldn't get their wings and tail-feathers working together, and they would careen sideways, a foot or two off the ground, until they crashed awkwardly back onto the lawn, somersaulting a couple times before coming to rest.  I didn't witness it first-hand, but I'm sure that, scattered around the yard were numerous small puddles of worm-scented bird-puke.

By evening, a few, maybe half, had recovered enough to have moved on, but our yard was still scattered with several comatose, semi-comatose and near-comatose birds.  Some were just lying there, awake, their wings splayed out from their bodies on the ground, staring with glazed eyes off into the sky.  Others were asleep, dozing off their unplanned bender.  If my mom had been inclined to serve robin for dinner, marinated in ash-berry wine, we could have invited company and had enough to go around.

By the next morning, they were gone (perhaps amazingly, I saw no evidence that any of the neighbors' cats had come marauding overnight).  I smile to imagine them, one by one, drifting groggily awake, shaking their heads to clear the fog, wondering what the hell had happened to them, complaining about how loud the damn crickets were chirping, then taking weary flight while promising themselves, "never again. . ."

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Honeymoon in the Hotel Chevette

Since our wedding anniversary was just a few weeks ago, I got to thinking about our honeymoon (and hey, who doesn't enjoy thinking about their honeymoon?), and recalled that I had posted a story from our honeymoon, some years ago, on my old blog.  It's been a long time since I re-posted anything, so I suppose you all won't mind too much.  Besides, it's a pretty good story. . .


For our honeymoon, Jenn and I went on a tour of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We actually spent our first night in our own house, then went to Mackinac Island. We spent two days and a night on the island, then drove on to the tiny village of Paradise (sign on the outskirts: “Welcome to Paradise; Glad You Made It”), where we spent our third night of wedded bliss (yes, we really did spend a night in Paradise on our honeymoon) before taking in Tahquamenon Falls the next day. At the end of that day, we drove on to Munising, where our plan was to take in the Pictured Rocks the following day.

Now, other than Mackinac Island, I hadn’t made any reservations. Northern Michigan, especially along the shores of the Great Lakes, is blanketed with hundreds of little mom-and-pop cabins, and it is not usually a very big deal to just drive along the road near the area you intend to stay, looking for a ‘Vacancy’ sign to be lit at a place that doesn’t look too nasty. I’ve done it dozens of times, and never had a problem. Except once.  On our honeymoon.  Oh yeah. . . Good, good times. . .

After a delightfully scenic drive from Tahquamenon Falls to Munising (I think I'm not supposed to mention skinny-dipping at a secluded beach on Lake Superior, so I won't), we began to see the little cabins popping up as we got close to Munising. ‘No Vacancy’. Hmmm. . . OK. With the Pictured Rocks, though, there ought to be no shortage of other cabins available to choose from.

Next place – ‘No Vacancy’. And the next place, and the next place, and the next place. We were into town by now, looking for a not-too-seedy-looking motel, and we found several, all with the ‘No Vacancy’ sign lit.

Hmmmm. . . well, we’ll just head on down the road on the far side of Munising, and see what we find there. . .

Again, ‘No Vacancy’, ‘No Vacancy’, ‘No Vacancy’.

I’m starting to get frustrated now, and Jenn is starting to get a little concerned as I’m getting more and more agitated as the ‘No Vacancy’ signs continue piling up. Finally, I pulled into a gas station, and asked a guy where I might look that I haven’t tried yet. He suggested a couple back roads out into the hinterlands surrounding Munising, and I thanked him for the tip. We followed his directions, and found the places he was sending us to.

‘No Vacancy’.

I actually went into the office at one of the places, just to confirm that they really didn’t have any rooms, and the neon ‘No’ wasn’t just inadvertently lit. Alas, the sign told the truth. But the manager pointed us farther down the road, to the little village of Christmas, Michigan, about 10 miles or so west of Munising. I thanked her, and we drove off.

We arrived in Christmas (greeted by giant plastic candy canes, and a giant plastic Santa Claus, as we drove into 'town', such as it was), and found a small cluster of three or four cabin-resorts.

‘No Vacancy’, ‘No Vacancy’, ‘No Vacancy’


What!? Was this a mistake? Did one of these places actually have an available room? Or was the neon ‘No’ cruelly lying in its unlit state? I pulled into the parking space by the office, and fairly sprinted in. When I walked through the door, there was a guy standing at the desk, with a mildly disgusted look on his face, and I heard him say,

“Well, if that’s the only room you’ve got, I guess I’ll take it.”

My heart sank. I looked imploringly at the manager, as if to say, please tell me you didn't really just rent out the very last room you have? The very last possible available room within three days’ drive of Munising? She shrugged, nodded, and said, “Sorry.”

I asked if she had any suggestions for where else I might look, and she said, “Well, you might try the KOA.”

I thanked her, and retreated to my car (a still-pretty-shiny ’79 4-door Chevy Chevette) to weigh my options, as the neon 'No' flickered into light above our car. At this point, I was NOT a happy camper, despite the prospects of spending the night at a KOA. On my honeymoon. Here I was, four days into my marriage, and I was already an abject failure. Tasked with nothing more onerous than taking my bride on a nice vacation so we could (*ahem*) get to know each other, I had failed miserably.

As the steam slowly seeped out of my ears, Jenn tried to be helpful. “You know, we’ll look back on this and laugh, someday.”

I was in no mood to think about how funny this predicament would come to seem, from the vantage point of some future time. All I knew is that I had failed. The Universe had conspired against me, to make me look like a fool in front of my bride, in whose eyes I had previously been able to do no wrong (well, OK, maybe she wasn’t quite that star-struck, but I wanted to think she was). And I was, how shall I say it. . . pissed!

I think I spent a couple minutes having a small tantrum in the car (it was a small car; there wasn’t enough room for a really big tantrum), before Jenn finally got me to calm down. She said how it would be fun to sleep in our car at the KOA, and c’mon, we could make it work out, and it would be fun, and a great story to tell afterward. I wasn’t really mollified (those of you who remember my old blog will get the pun that this used to be), but, lacking any better alternative, agreed that the KOA was probably our best (meaning, 'only') option, at this point. The sun was setting, and it was too long a drive to our next destination (the Porcupine Mountains, if anyone is interested), and besides, we really wanted to see the Pictured Rocks.

So I drove back toward Munising, and pulled into the KOA. The very portrait of dejection and defeat, I moped into the office. Approaching the desk, I simply asked the clerk, “What’ll it cost me to stay here tonight?”

“What have you got?” she cheerfully replied.

Now wait just a minute, missy – I wasn’t born yesterday. I may be desperate for a place to sleep tonight, but you just tell me your price, and I’ll pay it.

“No, no – do you have a camper, or an RV, or a tent, or what?”

Oh. Uh, we’ve got a Chevette.

“What’s that?”

Our car – we’re sleeping in our car. Do you just have a place where we could park it for the night?

“Oh, um, sure.” She seemed almost embarrassed, like I was some poor unfortunate homeless person asking her for a handout. “I guess two bucks is plenty for that.” I shoved a couple dollar bills at her, and shuffled resignedly back to our car.

When I arrived, Jenn was well into the process of transforming our little Chevette into the Honeymoon Suite Munising. She collected every towel, or grocery bag, or t-shirt we had readily at hand, raided the first-aid kit, and taped towels/bags/shirts over all the windows with band-aids. “There!” she declared triumphantly. “That ought to do the trick!”

My wife is a great, great woman.

I could only smile at my new bride’s resourcefulness, and her glee at having rendered our little car honeymoon-worthy was just irresistible. I grabbed one of the towels that she hadn’t used as a window-covering, and went off to take a shower. When I returned, I poked my head in through the car door, to find Jenn wrapped in my bathrobe, flashing me her very best ‘come-hither’ smile. The back seat was folded down, and our sleeping bag was rolled out. The car was too small for us to stretch all the way out – when it came to sleeping, the most comfortable arrangement involved us draping our legs over the backs of the front seats.

But it was our honeymoon, and we had business to attend to. Getting to (*ahem*) know each other, and all that. . .

When we emerged from the car the next morning, and began taking down the window-coverings, and packing up to get back on the road, I think the folks on the neighboring campsites were looking at us a little bit oddly. But who cared? We were on our honeymoon! We were going to see the Pictured Rocks!  Life was good!

And our very first marital crisis had been successfully defused, besides. . .