Read this first:
Summertime (Part I of II)
This is the first year when the excitement of another school year ending, of my summer break beginning, isn’t there. I can no longer section the calendar year based on my school status, like which semester I’m in, which makes each day flow into the next like a continuum. The last day of spring has turned into the first day of summer without me even realizing it. Maybe even because of that lack of separation, time seems to go faster.
When I hear Summertime or Boys of Summer, or even How Bizarre, I can’t help but smile. The music must trigger neural pathways in my brain that lead to happiness. The same thing happens when I think of summer activities of my youth, like when Big Easy came up with his rapper name Da Bones, or when I played tennis with Zeke and his parents. “Not in my house!” his dad said every time he spiked the ball.
I won’t be riding my bike around Infincuralier’s hilly yard, or swimming in PepperoniNip’s pool at the houses neither of them live at anymore. Age has caught up with me, at least a little bit, as I search for a job (if anyone knows of environmental or energy analyst positions in Virginia or DC, please let me know).
In January I saw one of my surgeons for my annual checkup. He had forgotten whether he took part in my surgery. “Of course you did,” I said. Dr. Phil was a fellow at the time and has probably done hundreds of surgeries since. I was saddened that he forgot. He’s one of my favorite doctors and I like to think I’m one of his favorite patients. It’s a testament to how far I’ve come. It’s been so long since I’ve had cancer that I’m becoming less classified as a cancer survivor and more as a young adult.
I’ve always had an extraordinary episodic memory, which makes me more prone to miss the old times and probably think of them as better than they actually were. As an example, I still remember the first time I saw a trailer for Independence Day. It was on Mother’s Day, after eating dinner at Romano’s Macaroni Grill and before seeing Broken Arrow. I ordered a pepperoni pizza (what a shocker) and loved the movie (what a shocker). I saw Independence Day while on vacation at Disney World. On the way to our auditorium, located on the far right, we passed a poster for High School High.
My memory is one reason I have not gotten my book published. I remember so many details, maybe even more than normal because of the heightened mental awareness cancer provides. I remember, and therefore to me the details are important. But most people will see them as pointless. The problem is I have trouble deciphering which are important and which aren’t, so I write them all down.
My book is beginning to lose its relevance. I’m no longer twenty-one looking back on cancer like it was yesterday. The way the story was written three years ago, just like my yearning for a summer of old, doesn’t agree with my current age. Even after 13 drafts and an estimated 1,500 hours working on it, some parts are still juvenile. If I can’t get it published soon I may have to go the disgraceful route of self-publishing. I can always rewrite the story, the next time under the tutelage of my friend, author of The Woman Who Never Cooked.
I think I’ll go listen to some Fresh Prince and Don Henley.
Monday, June 30, 2008
Read this first:
Saturday, June 28, 2008
The new movie Wanted made me rethink the one thing in this world I knew to be true. I’m not talking about the secret to life, or the purpose of human existence in the universe, or how to survive cancer.
Is Angelina Jolie, and not someone else who goes by the name of Jessica, the sexiest woman alive?
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
It was more exciting than the gorgeous Orange talking to me, or sitting down with my own pepperoni pizza. I stepped off the bus and for the next 12 weeks I was on summer break.
I didn’t see time the way I see it now. There was the school year and then there were the summers when suddenly I was defined by the next grade level. “Isn’t it crazy that now we’re seventh graders?” I said to Colossus. At least we had three months to wrap our minds around that truly outrageous idea.
I wanted to be the first to hear the “summer song,” like Biggie’s Mo Money Mo Problems or OMC’s How Bizarre of the late 90s. I watched SportsCenter more than once each morning, back when it actually showed game highlights and wasn’t just an advertisement for Gatorade and Budweiser.
I played traditional sports and made-up ones, both outside and inside, hopefully without breaking much of the house. My older brother, JD, and I shot penalty kicks with a Nerf ball against the back of the couch. The trusty window blinds gave us the rebounds if we missed.
After he got home from work, my dad threw the baseball with me and JD to prepare us to be Major League infielders. No matter what, my dad always found the time to play with us.
We did things based on tradition. Several weeks each year JD and I went to an indoor sports camp where I was the king of dodgeball. The camp director was from England, so we played crazy shit like cricket and badminton. We had some fierce games with that shuttlecock.
The four of us drove to Carol Stream, Illinois, for a family reunion. When JD turned sixteen we joked that we should go in a separate car than our parents to see how much earlier we’d arrive. “We may get there before they even reach the Pennsylvania Turnpike.” We also took a trip to New York where my dad suddenly found his Brooklyn accent that had been hiding for 20 years.
In late July we went on our summer vacation, usually to a couple amusement parks, some boring museums and Virginia Beach. It wasn’t my mom’s ideal vacation, but sadly she had little hope of changing it. I used to look forward to it 11.5 months in advance. We stayed at the same hotels as always, ate at the same restaurants, did the same activities. I think it was nostalgia that kept us coming back; keeps us going to an extent.
At the amusement parks, with the exception of one or two shows they made us see, my parents waited for me and my brother on all the kitty rides. When we got older they waited for us on the roller coasters where very long waits weren’t uncommon. They still seemed to enjoy it, maybe because of how much fun JD and I were having.
The nights before we went to Busch Gardens or Kings Dominion I could barely sleep, I was so excited. This past Sunday I went to Kings Dominion and it was sad how different the experience was than it used to be. Riding in the front row of Volcano—one of my all-time favorite coasters—was enjoyable, but when I was in middle or high school it was earthshaking fun.
When Volcano opened in 1998, JD and I waited 3.5 hours to ride it. It was worth the wait. On Sunday, Kings Dominion was virtually empty. The park was cutting back costs, like fewer waterfalls on White Water Canyon and an absence of shows at the theater. One of my childhood loves is deteriorating.
My days were carefree as I pushed my summer reading back until the last weeks before the new school year. My biggest concern was which friend I’d hang out with, or whether we’d play Monopoly or American Gladiators with Nerf guns. Decisions life depended on. One year I broke a window playing baseball and Zeke’s parents caught us watching the stripper scene from True Lies. I didn’t get in much trouble for either.
My mom often took JD and me to lunch or the mall on a rainy day where I was guaranteed a stop in the candy store. At night I could stay up late and have sleepovers. Zeke and I would go through the yearbook and select the girl we’d most like to do from each row. If the row had only dudes then we still had to choose. I picked the goofiest looking guys so I could feel less gay.
Aside from a little boredom—okay, a fair amount of boredom—life was great. We were in our youth, innocent kids with the simple goal of having fun. As I aged, that goal, as well as summer traditions, didn’t change much. When I was 16 I think I saw 12 movies in the theater. If it wasn’t for me hanging on to my traditional summer I would’ve gotten a job with Regal. Then they would’ve paid me to watch the movies.
Most of my friends had no problem moving on, playing the part of their age. That left me with fewer people to spend time with. I wasn’t about to let go of my summer break, the same one I had since my mom was still picking me up at the bus stop.
I had my summer break in college. The activities changed and there were even fewer friends to hang with, not to mention that it wasn’t cool unless there was a group or alcohol was involved. But I clung to my summer breaks the way a cancer woman clings to her last wisps of hair before chemo takes it all.
Summertime (Part II of II)
Monday, June 16, 2008
Like any good statistician, I looked for the numbers that would prove Kobe Bryant is better than LeBron James and I would disregard the rest. It turns out Bron Bron is a statistical freak. He was even better on efficiency ratings like assists to turnovers and points per shot attempted.
I try to like LeBron James. After all, he and I share the same birthday. It’s not his incessant whining or the way he plays the victim role when he’s fouled that makes me dislike him. He is 250 pounds and built like a truck, and I don’t think he needs to check for blood every time he hits the floor.
The reason I can’t embrace LeBron is not his fault. It’s that some people legitimately feel he’s better at basketball than Kobe. Every knowledgeable analyst calls Kobe the best basketball player on the planet. Hubie Brown said he’ll end up one of the five best guards ever. Phil Jackson said he’s one of the two best guards he’s ever seen. We all know who the other one is.
I could make an argument that Kobe is a more polished offensive player than Michael Jordan, that he’s an artist with the ball and can create whatever shot he wants. I could refer to his higher three-point and free-throw percentages to show that he’s a better shooter than Jordan. Of course I won’t say that. That would be un-American. I’d be deported to Canada.
Three-point shooting and free-throw shooting are also the two stats I’d use to show that Kobe is better than LeBron will ever be. This past season Kobe’s three-point percentage was 5 points higher and his free-throw percentage was 13 points higher. LeBron’s field-goal percentage was slightly higher because of the kind of shots he takes, not because he’s a better shooter.
LeBron’s only offensive weapon, with the exception of some streaky shooting nights, is to get in the lane for a layup or dunk. I expect over time opposing defenses will adapt to his style and force him to shoot more jumpers. LeBron’s jump shot can improve, but it still won’t be close to as good as Kobe’s.
Just as a reminder, Kobe once scored 81 points in a single game, the second most in NBA history. In 2003 he scored 40+ points in 9 consecutive games. In 2006 he scored 45+ points in 4 consecutive games, and a year later Kobe scored 50+ in 4 consecutive games.
Eight years ago I made the claim that Kobe is the next Mike, in the sense that he’ll be as close to Jordan as anyone can be. I may have been correct. Or, maybe I’ve just had a man crush on Kobe Bryant for eight years.
Postscript #1: I also have a man crush on Will Smith.
And Leonardo DiCaprio.
And Ken Griffey, Jr.
And Brad Pitt.
And Tom Brady.
And Josh Holloway.
And Adrian Grenier.
And of course William Hung.
Postscript #2: I’m not gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
I was the overwhelming favorite to beat Nookie, curb stomp him and leave him for the vultures and other various scavengers. Nookie was massive, a defensive end at a local high school, and I was just a little old Jew, three years older than him, but in this case size and age and religious views meant nothing.
Everyone was staring at us, and even the Hollywood Video customers—technically called our “guests”—knew that what we were doing was not in our job descriptions. Nookie and I were Guest Service Representatives having a race at the cashier counter to see who could unlock twenty DVDs the fastest.
If it wasn’t an official race for a coveted prize then I would’ve unlocked 100 DVDs before Nookie got to 20. I had Chad Johnson caliber arrogance, but I also had Randy Moss speed. My hands were fast as fuck.
But not on this day. My normally calm hands quivered under the hot lights and menacing customer eyes, unable to get a strong hold on those tricky 2004 summer DVD blockbusters like Mystic River and Paycheck. Yes, as hard as it is to believe, a Ben Affleck movie was one of our most rented.
My expectations, like for Big Brown, were too high. Instead of a slaughter, Nookie and I were tied after unlocking our first five DVDs. How is it possible that this big dude with his thick fingers is able to keep up with me, who took piano lessons for half my life and can type 100 words per minute with no errors?
When I unlocked my tenth, Nookie was already at his fifteenth. When I got to thirteen he was done, looking over at me with the grin of a champion. I angrily paid him his earnings, the coveted candy money. He used it to buy Zours, which was my favorite, just to rub it in.
“Rematch tomorrow,” I said.
When I lost that contest and one more two days later, I quit playing. If it were a video game my Speed rating would’ve been a 99, but my Clutch rating would’ve been a 5. I was the Alex Rodriguez of video store DVD-unlocking competitions.
Freezing sales so we could have our races wasn’t the only reason I was a stellar Hollywood Video employee. Once I forgot to give back the customer’s driver’s license and she left without it, only to come back hours later fairly upset. Several times I played a non-cartoon movie on the TVs that was not only frowned upon, but was blatantly against the rules. “But Top Gun is rated PG,” I said. “I even fast forwarded the sex scene.”
Apparently there were anonymous complaints. I don’t know what the problem was. Top Gun only uses the word “shit” 21 times.
Messing with customers was the most fun part of the job. I dabbled with a fake accent, especially of the British variety. I used a lot of “bloodies,” “chaps,” and “jolly hos.” I was checking out a couple, probably in their 30s, when I turned to the back counter to answer the phone and heard the man whisper “fake British accent.” I couldn’t switch in the middle of the transaction so I continued using my terrible Brit voice, giggling all the way through.
I got several odd requests, one from two middle school boys. “So, um, where are your adult movies?”
“You mean rated R? They’re sort of spread out around the store.”
“What about, like, uh, naked movies. Don’t you have a side room or something?”
I couldn’t tell if they wanted to rent porn or whack it in my store, and either way I felt bad ruining their plans. “We don’t carry that. Sorry.”
Another time a small, Indian man in his fifties said he wanted to ask me something. He then walked around the counter to the employee side, unbuckled the red rope that was meant to prevent these very incidents, and got very close to me, so close that I could smell his breath. He whispered, “Where’s your porn, I know you got porn.”
I was afraid to let him down out of a legitimate fear of being stabbed for our store not carrying porno. “We don’t have that here, but you might want to try Manassas Video Club. I’ve seen commercials.”
He left the store, but not before kindly buckling the red rope. He should’ve just bought Zours. They’re orgasmic.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
"If it's possible for a car not to have an amenity, then mine doesn't," I said to my lone compadre, T2theZ. I had to see Dr. Andre Million in Minneapolis for my five-year transplant anniversary. There's no better way to do it than travel the country and see baseball games, even if your car doesn't have power windows, cruise control or even mirrors on the visors.
If you think that's a good mowing job then you should check out my lawn.
Poor Teddy Roosevelt never wins the presidents race.
Nice view of the Capitol.
It's sad that nobody shows up. If only the Nationals were better, or if the whole roster was a bunch of Ryan Zimmermans.
Whoever said Pittsburgh was a dirty city?
This isn't even half the bridges.
Ah, the big ketchup bottle.
I fucking hate snakes.
Again, stadiums don't get much nicer than this.
Again, stadiums don't get much emptier than this.
You call that a mascot?
Instead of the presidents race, the Pirates have a pierogies race.
I called three teams' public affairs departments and told them about our five-year cancer-free road trip. "So, how about free tickets?" Only the good people at the Pittsburgh Pirates hooked us up, with great seats, too. Big Prince Fielder takes up a lot of horizontal space.
After an hour of sleep, I started driving to Minneapolis at 3:00 AM. The NOS I drank helped. It's liquid crack.
Too bad the new Minnesota Twins stadium isn't built, yet. T2theZ and I will have to come back in a few years. The Metrodome is a dump compared to the marvels in D.C. and Pittsburgh. Check out the monstrous scoreboard. My friend who works for the Twins really hooked us up with great seats.
I sure love Minneapolis.
What the shit are these?
Mall of America is the largest retail complex in the U.S. And it has an indoor amusement park with roller coasters.
The dinosaurs are built out of Legos. I doubt they took very long to build.
Mario Lopez was having a book signing for Knockout Fitness. T2theZ wanted Mario to sign his bare chest (or cock), but he would've had to buy the book first. T2theZ is still disappointed he didn't purchase it. I wanted to yell, "Where's Zack Morris?" but chickened out. A.C. Slater is so dreamy.
Chicago: What a fucking skyline, and city.
The temperature was in the 40s for the White Sox game. T2theZ got his usual beer and a dog. I bought a hot chocolate. I win.
In the bottom of the 9th with one out, two men on base and losing 3-1, Jim Thome and Joe Crede of the Sox each struck out swinging. That didn't stop them from shooting fireworks.
The most important part of our entire trip was eating Chicago pizza. We went to Giordano's after the game. It was heaven in a greasy, heart-clogging pie. I am salivating as I type this. I was so disappointed that I could only finish one piece. I expect to mail order a pizza sometime this summer.
Nice view from the Sears Tower - the tallest building in the U.S.
What the bloody hell is this?
Our only sellout was in Cleveland.
Sgt. Slaughter was signing autographs after the game. Without proof I wouldn't believe it myself.
Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio: the best amusement park in the world. I couldn't believe there wasn't a ride dedicated to Tommy Boy's Callahan Auto. Magnum XL-200 is the fourth tallest coaster in the park.
Maverick has a 95 degree drop (steeper than straight down) and "goes upside down 8 different ways," whatever that means.
The girl in front of us was so scared that she left the line after waiting 1.5 hours to ride Millennium Force. I wasn't too far behind. When we began the 310-foot ascent I nearly pooped myself.
Top Thrill Dragster debuted in 2003 as the tallest and fastest coaster in the world - 420 feet tall, 120 mph. It was the funnest 17 seconds of my life.
Even funner than if I had relations with Kelly Kapowski, which would last far shorter than 17 seconds.
No road trip would be official without a stop at McDonald's. We happened to stop at the Big Mac Museum Restaurant in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. With plasma screens, hot cashier girls, the largest Big Mac in the world and a double drive-thru, it was the nicest McDonald's I've been to.
The perils of a 2,000-mile road trip.
Road Trippin': The Lost Stories and Photo