My sick day.

I spent today laid up on the couch with what I assume is a head cold. Not fun. I was actually surprised that it took me so long to be sick this season, what with my wife being around dirty, dirty dirty fourth graders all day every day. But there I was, sinuses feeling very much bludgeoned and muscles aching like I ran a mile (what can I say, I'm out of shape).

I spent a lot of the day reading Brainiac by Ken Jennings. I'm always on about him, so I won't spend much time lauding his work. I will say, however, that the book does a good job of tying the concept of trivia to larger and more inspiring themes. I'm even more glad now that I never dabbled in Quiz Bowl, and my long-dormant dream of appearing on Jeopardy! is quickly being revived.

I discovered mid-afternoon that PBS puts out a high definition signal around here. Let me tell you, cooking shows are even more scrumptious with that level of clarity. I'm really glad it's not a stomach bug; I didn't have to be denied an afternoon of feasting my eyes. I caught a show this afternoon called Legends of Jazz. They had on a couple of amazing jazz guitarists. Makes me want to aspire to that. One of them was so old that I think with decades of commitment I could come close. I'll mull it over.

I'm kind of hooked on high def PBS now. Tonight I kept flipping over to watch a Frontline episode about the newspaper industry. My wife looks over her laptop screen at me from the next couch and says, "Are you 80?" Unfettered, I try to convince her that the issue of the newspaper industry facing a world where the internet is fundamentally changing the very definition of journalism is something we need to pay notice to. She yawns. Ok fine, I'll flip back to American Idol.

I also watched the newest Fox hit, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader. I'm hooked. I know it's a dumb idea and that the whole point of the show is to make adults look like idiots. And they do a good job. It's kind of stacked if you ask me. They're trying to get middle-aged people to recall facts they learned twenty or thirty years ago, and comparing it to kids who learned these same facts very recently. There are no clues within the questions to help the adults figure it out, it's purely knowledge recall. And it's delicious. I'm proud to say that I didn't miss a single question in that half hour. The first one was close, however. "In what month is Columbus Day celebrated?" That blindsided me, and I doubt that many kids know this one (maybe the accelerated kids they get to help out on the show).

It's October, by the way.


Midnight in the Velveteen Sector, Chapter 2.

Bursting out of the front door with more force than he anticipated, Benton was surprised with how invigorating the cool night air was. Late night walks were no big mystery to him, yet he could scarcely remember a night that seemed so perfectly sculpted from the very fabric of serenity itself. The sweet, cool moisture of a recent autumn rain collected itself in vaporous pools here and there; it swirled about him as he forged a trail to the store.

He was headed to the Joy Market, a convenience store of sorts that occupied one corner of a main intersection four blocks away. On account of the immense pleasure he found among the heavy-set stone buildings bathed in mellow orange streetlights, our protagonist ventured several blocks out of his way to pass by Clementine Park. The whole point of his sojourn was to rid his mind of the sudden, sharp emptiness it felt. The iron trellis that bordered the park, hung with the strangely savory ivy plants, would no doubt bombard his olfactory glands and spur him farther on toward his destination.

With earphones droning their ambient tones into his increasingly placated brain, and unconsciously stepping around cracks with a bit more bounce in his step, Benton rounded the corner and came in sight of the park. He crossed the empty street and slowed to a lazy stroll as he soaked in the wonder of it all. He reached out his hand to gently brush the ivy leaves as he walked; they were dewy and fragrant, beckoning him to drift and forget.

Clementine Park had been closed off for years. Its two giant iron gates were sealed shut long ago and the wonderful ivy had been allowed to grow so heavy that nobody could see inside anymore. Had one been inclined to push aside the foliage to see through, a thick row of hedges furthered the abandoned park’s fortress-like defense. Huge shady trees hung like a canopy over the block the park occupied, making the entire place a lush, impregnable cocoon. No one tried looking over the walls, no one ventured a guess as to what made the City of Cranville close it off in the first place. The populace of the neighborhood, including our man Benton, was happy enough to simply take in its ever-rejuvenating beauty.

His walk was going so well that Benton decided to come back this way once he found something tasty to drink. Thus it came as little disappointment to him to leave the park behind and press on toward the growing fluorescent glow not three blocks away now. The utter emptiness of Mission Hills would have been unnerving were it not so common. Several blocks away down a side street Benton spotted a nondescript form ambling in the other direction, and a car had passed by several minutes ago, but otherwise the night streets were desolate and comfortable. And so it was that Benton felt completely at ease as he stepped into the flood of bluish-white light that was the Joy Market.


SB XLII half time show

It's going to be hard to beat Prince. It really is. But if I had to guess who's up next, my money's on U2. In an ideal world, we'd either have Prince back next year or bring in George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars. Who'd you like to see, and/or what's your prediction for next year?


Super Bowl XLI recap

Now that we've all had a little time to digest, let's dig in to my thoughts from the game. Trust me, they're good. I took notes and everything.

This will be the most sarcastic and cynical section of the post, but I really want to meet the guy who was responsible for putting this catastrophe together. Cirq du Soleil? Really? I couldn't quite wrap my mind around this one. The people flying around in the most awful costumes to enter the city of Miami (and that's really saying something), the other people dancing around in what appeared to be skin-tight basketball jerseys, the sasla music, the bizarre human field goal contest, the marching bands dressed up as football players (direct from a high school student's most horrifying nightmare), and just for good measure they threw in some people whose sole purpose was to run around flipping. To steal a line from Margot Tenenbaum, if somebody asked me what this was about I'd have to say, "I couldn't even begin to think about knowing how to answer that question."

The opening montage of the game's telecast proper made me think about the Vikings. Honestly, I can't see them being introduced as a Super Bowl team anymore. It just doesn't fit into my worldview at this point. That makes me very nervous. Is Red Sox syndrome setting in? Will I be increasingly worried of dying without seeing my team win it all? God willing, I have another fifty years left. That seems like a long time. But I don't know, Brad Childress might cost another five to ten of that...

Coin Flip
It was nice to see Dan Marino as an honorary captain. It was even nicer to see that he didn't try to suit up, in a desparate attempt to lead a team to victory and stop being the biggest "never won it all" goat in history.

First Quarter
Devin Hester is a freak. I mean wow. I was stunned by that opening kickoff. We all knew he was the big Bears threat, but for him to take it home on the first time he touched the ball, suddenly this felt less like Peyton's coronation and more like a real football game. I especially love how Jim Nantz said, "Rex Grossman, you've been spotted seven points." You just know at least 100,000 in the United States followed that up with, "So don't f@%& it up."

On the Bears touchdown drive, Grossman showed up for the last play and that's about it. He's like the guy who, when you're all helping a friend move, shows up at the end. You know the guy, he helps out with that last one big piece of furniture and gets full pizza privileges. Around here we call that "pulling a Blanco." Well, on that drive, Grossman pulled a Blanco.

Second Quarter
When Indy went in to make it 16-14, I got the feeling that they were through the woods. Chicago had their return TD, their turnovers, and the Colts still found a way to take the lead. It seemed that the Bears had taken their best shot and lost it. And it wasn't even halftime.

And by the way, as the first half wound to an end, how in the world did Chicago ice Vinatieri?! That's never happened. He's the most cold-blooded clutch kicker in the history of the NFL. If they found a tell on Adam V., they need to sell it for a very steep price.

I think I'm starting to like these straight-up rock legend sets. McCartney was only so-so, but the Stones last year were solid and Prince this year was great.

(Side note: I watched the first half at a church youth group function. There were rumors that they were going to switch off Prince's halftime show, and I overheard kids trying to come up with ways they could still see it. That gave me some hope for the future. It really did.)

I got home to my new HDTV just in time to catch the halftime show. I was amazed at the clarity of the driving rain. How they avoided any electrical mishap is beyond me. I loved the fact that Prince played three different guitars in a ten minute set. I was a little unnerved by hearing Proud Mary and All Along the Watchtower. The marching band with neon tubing was kind of weird too. (Hey, can we start a petition to just leave marching bands out of all subsequent Super Bowl festivities altogether?) But when he was rocking Purple Rain in a hail of actual purple rain, I said to my wife, "This is the greatest Super Bowl halftime show I've ever seen." And I meant it.

Third Quarter
I got a little random in my thoughts in this quarter. A-like so:

If the Bears draft Adrian Peterson, what will they do on the jerseys? When they have two guys with the same last name, they go initial and last name. Like R. Johnson and C. Johnson. If they have the same first initial, they go first name. Like Tank Williams and Todd Williams. But what if they have two players with the exact name? Middle initial? "I" and "II"?

They put up a graphic that showed Rex Grossman, in the first half, racked up 32 yards and a 120 quarterback rating. That's just not right. Like baseball statistics, you should have to have enough playing time before qualifying for some stats. But as Grossman took two sacks in the middle of the quarter, I swear I almost felt bad for him. Almost. Slap on a purple jersey and the number 9, and you have Tommy Kramer all over again. Painful.

That Emerald Nut commercial was the role Robert Goulet was born to play. Best commercial of the night.

NFL + HD = HOLY COW. I've heard people rave about it before, but this was the first football game I've seen in high def. It's unreal. There aren't enough superlatives to explain how great it is, nor are there enough slanderous names to shame you into going and buying a great television.

I actually heard Phil Simms say, "I don't have the numbers in front of me, but..." and I didn't hear the rest of what he said. I was too fascinated by the prospect of starting sentences this way. "I don't have the number in front of me, but you're kind of a douche." "I don't have the numbers in front of me, but isn't it time we had taco bar for lunch?" "I don't have the numbers in front of me, but I'm pretty sure the accident was your fault." It's a bright new world, my friends. Let's live it up.

Fourth Quarter
11:44 remaining, I go to the kitchen because my wings are ready. Indy scores on an interception return. The moral? Never go to the kitchen during live game play. Wait until a commercial or get married and have your spouse take care of those things. On the challenge, I love that CBS has the zoom feature on their replays. It really makes things crystal clear. That and HDTV. Just thought I'd mention that again.

So a dome team has finally won the big one. Great. I suppose that means there's hope for the Vikes too. Yeah, but not really. I stand by my previous statement.

Tony Dungy is a class act all the way. I know I'm way late on this, but it's absolutely true. He is a good man in the deepest sense of the word.

Can we all finally admit that The Bowel Obstruction That Is Rex Grossman is a crappy quarterback? Can we all finally stop talking about Peyton Manning, and furthermore stop seeing him all over the tube? Can we all finally recognize that I, winning the office football pool behind the strength of correctly picking the Super Bowl champs over a month ago, am a great football mind? Yes, no, and probably no.



Midnight in the Velveteen Sector, Chapter 1.

Midnight struck in the Velveteen Sector as it was always wont to do. The air was a perfect shade of autumn cool, twin red moons cast a pale blue hue from an otherwise featureless sky, and a stifling silence hung between the rows of quietly well-appointed town homes. There were no mid-sized sedans finding their ways home from a late night out, there were no terriers or retrievers making warning at invisible passers-by; in fact the only sound to be heard was a distant cricket. And even he was having his typical difficulties with the smothering darkness. So the night went on its normal way of instilling a vastly concerting sense of security and all-is-well-ness like a blanket across the pond of faded yellow domiciles.

On the other end of Cranville, in the Mission Hills that overlook the Bay, there was a problem. There were several problems in fact, but mainly one that concerns our narrative: a young man had awoken naught but twenty minutes earlier only to discover that he was missing the one thing that he treasured more than anything: a piano key.

This was not your typical young man, nor was this your typical piano key. Actually it was, or at least it started out that way. It once occupied a space on the high end of the ivories on a worn-down upright from his childhood. The piano was an unimpressive beast of a thing, devoid of ornamentation and dilapidated to the point of betraying what wood lay underneath its dull black paint. Whether or not the piano was shiny and dignified in its younger years was anyone’s guess; that ship had long since sailed. The only really remarkable thing about the piano was that it kept its tune astonishingly well for something so long in the tooth. The particular key in question came from a couple octaves above middle C, high enough to be pretty but not high enough to be annoying or childish.

The young man’s name was Benton. He was nineteen years old, and had been for longer than he cared to remember. Moons waxed and waned, tides ebbed and flowed, but Benton was perpetually, ebulliently youthful. There were no occasions to mark the passing of his life, nary a birthday or season to serve as a milestone on the road of his humble existence. He lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment on the top floor of a timeless brick building on the corner of Somna Street and Apathy Avenue. He had one of those faces that reminded everyone of someone else. He was slightly taller than average, slightly thinner than average, with a pale complexion and straight, medium brown hair. He always wore the same outfit of faded blue jeans with a hole in the left knee, olive green long-sleeved t-shirt, and unadorned navy blue stocking cap.

Like I said, Benton woke up from a fitful night’s sleep to find that his treasured piano key was missing. He wasn’t even sure why he noticed its absence—it had been months since he had tucked it away in a bedside drawer and promptly forgotten about it. There was a time (back when he was nineteen) when he used to carry it with him everywhere, a strange combination of affectation, conversation piece, and good luck charm. During really boring moments of his life he would pull out his pocketknife and carve intricate patterns and pictures on its surfaces. There was one carving of a particularly Basque-looking palm tree that he always was fond of, and he thought of this as a cold panic swept over him while he tore his apartment open from end to end.

It wasn’t a very big place where he lived, just large enough to hold what few possessions he refused to part with. Thus, it took him roughly twenty minutes to confirm what he already knew about his misplaced trinket. He dropped himself on the middle of his loveseat precisely at midnight.

There’s a certain sense that exists within most people that indicates, without the person even realizing it, how likely that person is to fall sleep at any given moment. Some might call this feeling awake or feeling tired, but it goes beyond that. A person who has been wake for two and a half days can still know that laying down is no guarantee of restful slumber. Benton’s “sleep sense” was throwing no doubt on the futility of sleep as the seconds crawled by into the early morning hours. Sitting unoccupied on his dilapidated green couch was as good as any psychological torture to him.

One time-tested method of breaking the momentum of a troubled mind is reading. As it just so happened, there was a recent general-interest magazine laying on the arm of the loveseat not two feet away. Benton flipped past a slew of seemingly uninterrupted pages of ads for pills and cars and gadgets and anything else that could possibly serve as a substitute for real, genuine happiness. Happiness, thought Benton. I could buy happiness if they had my key for sale.

His key. How could he have lost it? He was certain he last saw it in his nightstand. Had he moved it? Could it have been stolen? How long was it gone for? Who could’ve taken it? There was a long list of friends and acquaintances that had been in and out of his apartment over the last few months; questioning each of them would be painstaking and most likely fruitless. Faces and hazy memories appeared in front of his eyes as he labored valiantly through an article on the dangers of some common food ingredient. It was no use. Reading had obviously failed—time for plan B.

Another tried and true method for curing insomnia is simply to leave. Placing oneself in new surroundings is a reliable way to break demanding trains of thought and rob one’s bedroom of its ability to stifle mental relaxation. And so, with keys in hand, Benton flung on a lightweight tan canvas jacket as he scrambled down the stairs that ran through the core of his building. The corner store couldn’t possibly be far enough away.