Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Proud to be UnPatriotic

I’m not a reporter (nor do I play one on TV) but in an effort to write a fair and balanced column about the upcoming Super Bowl for my local paper, I conducted a somewhat scientific survey to determine which of the two teams, the New York Giants or New England Patriots, had the most fans among my fellow Sheltonites.  I hypothesized that since our town is situated somewhat in the middle between New York and Boston, the supporters would be equally divided as well. Boy, was I wrong! But before revealing the results, let’s take a look at how the data was gathered.

Being a bit on the shy side, I began by polling my closest friends…until a quick analysis of their responses made me realize the flaw in this plan. By limiting it to just my friends, I was skewing the data unfairly towards one team, since a big part of what bonded us as buddies (and Americans) was our shared love for the mighty New York Football Giants. So to maintain my poll’s integrity, I expanded the search to my facebook “friends” by posting the same question on both my wall and on several pages dedicated to Shelton. But again, the responses came back heavily in favor of Big Blue.

Now, I know that Shelton, like Giants Stadium*, is full of smart, hard-working, good looking people, but I felt there had to be some Patriots fans out there.  But where were they? And why weren’t they responding to my survey?

Concerned, I dusted off my old psychology books and reread the chapters on conducting proper studies and surveys. When I got to the part about confounding variables, which, as Giants fans know, are any extraneous variables whose presence affects the variables being studied so that the results you get do not reflect the actual relationship between the variables under investigation (or, for you Patriot fans, they’re the thingies that make the other thingies seem to be one thing, but are actually something else.)

This helped me recognize that a major problem with my poll was that it was only conducted as a written survey. Because of this, I could not trust the validity of my results, which seemed to show that Shelton was full of Giants fans, because in reality, it could be equally populated with Patriot fans, but the nature of the survey made it so that only Giants fans were responding. Why?  Because the average Patriot fan can’t read!

With that in mind, I set out to personally interview people in order to rule out the illiteracy theory. I decided to start at Downtown Danny O’s because, well, they have beer there.  And as it turned out, some Patriots fans as well Granted, it was 2:00 pm on a Tuesday, when most people should be working, but still. I was just glad I could finally put a couple tally marks in the Pats’ column.

In fact, I was so happy, I offered to buy them a round of drinks, which they eagerly accepted. Our beers were delivered by a very pretty waitress, whose appearance inspired a lively conversation about Tom Brady’s hair.  “I betcha he’s a VO-5 man,” said one. “No way!” said the other. “Brady’s all man. None of that expensive salon stuff for him! He prob’ly just rubs a bar of Ivory on his head in the shower.” “Whatever he does, it’s working,” the first one sighed wistfully.  “You got that right,” his friend agreed, raising his glass. “To Brady!” they toasted. “QB of the Century! Just imagine if he had played for the Red Raiders!”

“Wait, you guys are from Derby?” I interrupted. They both nodded. Well that explains things, I thought as I mentally erased their tally marks from my list and set off in search of a Shelton Patriot fan.

It shouldn’t be this difficult, I whined as I wandered through Walmart, where every other customer appeared to be wearing a Manning #10 jersey. After all, Shelton IS in New England. There should be some people supportive of the “home” team. But where could I find them? I know it’s an oxymoron, but I had to think like a Patriots fan. So I sat in the parking lot and asked myself, “If I were a Pats Backer, where would I hang out?”

A few moments later, inspiration struck, and I raced off to my destinations. But the dog pound, sewage treatment plant, and city dump didn’t turn up anything either, save for a few Jets fans. Maybe Shelton really was a Giants town. Could it be that Pat Carey only sells homes to fellow Giants fans? Might having hometown hero, Dan Orlovsky, taking over for Eli Manning’s brother have something to do with it? Or is it just that thanks to our quality education system, strong local leadership, and supportive parents, we were all simply raised right?

Whatever the reason, Shelton is clearly Giants Territory. At least in the eyes of this unbiased columnist. But if you want the facts to back it up, here are the actual numbers: Of the 53 people who responded to my poll, 32 are rooting for the Giants, 16 are pulling for the Patriots, and 5 claimed to not care. Toss out the last group and the data indisputably shows Shelton favoring the Giants by a 2:1 ratio. Or, as the Pats fans will surely call it, a Twenty One Radio.

But all kidding aside, whatever team you favor, I hope you have a safe and entertaining Super Bowl. And Go Big Blue!!!

* I know the new stadium is called MetLife,
 but until someone pays ME for the naming rights, 
it will always be Giants Stadium

Monday, January 23, 2012

Anything to Get a Head

This is author Megan Bostic, celebrating the release of her
wonderful novel, "Never Eighteen" with a few "friends" who
couldn't make the trip to Tacoma.

Last week marked the two year anniversary of the (self) publication of my book, Alchemy, which to date has sold about 10,000 copies (mostly on Kindle.) And while that number seems surreal to me, I know it’s nothing to get excited about, as my two year total amounts to a (bad) day at the office for someone like Stephen King, Suzanne Collins, or even Jeff Kinney.  The good thing is, this does not bother me. I’m not naïve, or delusional, enough to measure my worth by how my sales compare with bestselling authors. I know we are on MUCH different levels.

But there are many authors out there who are closer to my level* - and thanks to facebook, I’ve had the opportunity to connect with some of them- and it’s their success that bothers me! Which really bothers me, since as their friend, I should be genuinely happy for their success.  I should be enthusiastically applauding their achievements. I should be congratulating them for their contracts and awards and reviews. And I do. I really do. But not with my whole heart.

You see, while I appear to be a staunch supporter of my author friends, be it buying their books, talking them up on facebook, or attending their signings, there’s something sinister going on just below the surface. Don’t get me wrong. Inside, I really do feel genuine excitement for them. There’s a real appreciation for their accomplishments and a sincere fondness for them as people. Not to mention, I like feeling like a cool kid when I tell people that I know them. But at the same time, I can’t deny that I’m jealous as hell!

So while I’m quick to offer comfort from caustic critics, there’s a petty part of me that’s silently rejoicing over their scathing reviews. And each time I empathize with their difficulties in finding an audience for their book, the sadistic side of me is enjoying watching their sales’ ranks plummet. Oh, and speaking of audiences, when I go to their readings and signings, my snarky side is secretly smiling at all the empty seats surrounding me. And if they happen to be full, I’m scrutinizing the faces for family relations.  Perhaps worst of all is the douche bag in me that subtly high-fives the little devil on my shoulder at the reports of their latest rejections. Like somehow their failures will make mine seem better. But they do. They so do!

And even though I've just admitted to having more sides than an octagon, I still can’t bring myself to stop. I know it’s wrong. I know it’s selfish. And petty. And pathethic. But I do it anyway. All while calling myself friend.  But what sort of “friend” does that?

Before answering my own question, let me take some solace in the knowledge that this unsavory side of me only appears in my writing world. I don’t begrudge a fellow teacher’s success or revel in their failings. I don’t enjoy seeing my friends falter (unless it’s on a mountain bike), and I don’t covet their accomplishments…or hot wives. At least not to the extent that I do with my writer friends.

I guess there’s a difference between “friendly competition” and competition among friends. And the way the publishing world is set up, it practically pits us against each other.  Writer “friends” can spend months workshopping each other’s stories, offering constructive criticism and providing praise and encouragement. But should one of them be lucky, or talented, enough, to sign with an agent, some of that support starts to shrivel once it’s recognized that their success means one less chance for everyone else. We all know there’s only so many publishing contracts to go around, and each one that’s signed means one less for the rest of us. No matter who signs it.   Sure, I’d prefer it be a friend than a foe, but I’d much rather it be me!

Writers tend to be a brave, but bitter, bunch. And unsigned writers are even worse. When they’re not wasting time wishing for what someone else has, they’re looking for proof for why they don’t deserve it. Trust me, I know.  When it comes to professional jealousy, I’m an expert. First Team, All Pro. But as an author, and friend, it’s clear I’m still an amateur.

* By "level" I don't mean talent, drive, or abilty; areas in which ALL my author friends greatly surpass me. I just mean they are a little closer to my level of sales than, say, a Nicholas Sparks. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Off the Cuff

For the past 6 weeks, I’ve been having trouble with my left shoulder. It probably stems from one of my many bike crashes, and chances are, it’s a partially torn rotator cuff.  I know I should have seen a doctor sooner, but since I was right handed, it didn’t seem like HUGE problem, so I decided to take a wait and see approach. And during that time, it didn’t get better, or worse. It stayed the same, which basically amounted to me not being able to lift anything higher than my chest – and I do mean anything.  For example, since our refrigerator opens to the right, I reach in with my left hand, and if I have to get a half-gallon of milk, I can’t lift it. Unless it’s half-full.

So rather than see a doctor, I resigned myself to purchasing milk in quarts. Sure, it cost a little more, and we ran out more often, but better that than meeting with a medical professional, right?  And so what if I couldn’t raise my arms to properly put on a sweater – it’s been a mild winter anyway.  Not to mention that there are people out there with no arms who manage to get by. Surely I could manage with one and a half.

But then came dinner at the Outback. They were on an hour wait, so we (me, my wife, and two-year old son) were hanging out in the crowded waiting area. I went over to the bar to get us some drinks while she entertained Eli, and came back to find them seated at a skinny counter-type table in the middle of the room. I handed Sarah her wine and took a sip off my 22-ounce beer before resting it on a narrow shelf in order to help Eli color a picture.

Time flew as the people waiting for a table made a fuss over Eli, who is rather charming, and before we knew it, our buzzer was going off to be seated. I scooped up Eli in my right arm and reached with my left to grab my beer…and couldn’t do it! I could not lift my arm high enough to reach the mug.

Now you can mess with my milk. And you can screw with my outfits. But you can not come between me and my beer!  Which is why 24 hours later, I had an appointment with an orthopedist.

It’s not that I’m afraid of doctors. In fact, unlike most of the guys I know, I’m up to date on all my physicals and have no problem making appointments when I’m sick for prolonged periods of time. But when it comes to certain things, like pain and discomfort, doctors can be sort of useless.

I’ll never forget going to a urologist. It took all my nerve to make that call and explain that I was having trouble peeing. One of the most basic of human functions, and I was having issues. But I swallowed my pride and went to see a specialist.

I nervously told him how I was an avid bike rider, and that after long bike rides, I was having difficulty  “starting” to pee. Fearing some sort of tumor or worse, I was more than annoyed with his expert advice, which was, and I quote, “To wait awhile after your ride before peeing.”

Seriously. His solution to my embarrassing problem was to wait an hour after riding before peeing. 8 years of medical school and that was the best he could do? I’m pretty sure I could have come up with that treatment plan on my own. Which is why I half expected the orthopedist to tell me that if it hurt when I raised my left arm, not to do it. 

But, I’m happy to report, that was not the case. I went in expecting to hear I needed surgery, and was relieved to learn that he was not overly concerned. He took some x-rays, gave me a prescription for some sort of anti-inflammatory gel, and had a trainer show me some exercises. If things don’t get better in a few weeks, then it’ll be MRI time.  

Granted, other than the prescription, he didn’t really do anything that me and WebMD couldn’t have handled, but it was still a relief to get an expert opinion. I know many people put off going to the doctor because they are afraid of getting bad news, but it’s better to get bad news now than terrible news later, so if you’re concerned about your health, make an appointment. The longer you wait, the worse it’ll get. Unless you’re having issues peeing, in which case, waiting apparently is the solution!

Monday, January 9, 2012

I'm a Giant Fan, but not a GIANT Fan

I root for the Giants, but don’t consider myself a diehard fan, which to me would entail calling in to sports radio shows, owning (and wearing) an officially licensed NFL jersey, and having the ability to spout off stats about third string receivers…all from the comfort of Mom’s basement! But I am enough of a fan that I have an animated light-up Giants figure in my front yard, my son’s name is Eli, and I recently shelled out over $100 for a ticket to see their first ever play-off game in their new stadium, a 24-2 beat down of the Atlanta Falcons!  

But lest you think I’m a closet diehard, let me clarify that the yard ornament was a gift, which I display ironically, and not fanatically. My wife was the one who came up with the name Eli, and in all seriousness (and obliviousness) also suggested Peyton as a potential girl’s name. And as for buying those tickets, sure, I was excited to go, but had to be forced into wearing my one and only item of Giants’ clothing, a sweatshirt, after my wife criticized the pair of jeans and chamois work shirt I had on.

The point is, I don’t live and die by Giant victories or losses. Was I excited when they beat the “undefeated” Patriots in Super Bowl XLII? Hell yeah!  But was I distraught when that jackhole, Desean Jackson, returned a kick for touchdown to complete Michael Dick and the Eagles miraculous comeback that sent the Giants spiraling into oblivion last year? Hell no. And I’m not still bitter about it either!

I also don’t make it a point, or priority, to watch EVERY game. I might check in every now and then, or sit and watch the second half.  But if something else is going on, like a wedding, or funeral, I’ll do the right thing and go. When all is said and done, it’s only a game. Real life should always take precedence over sporting events. Besides, that’s what God invented smart phones for.

Speaking of which, back in the pre-internet days when the Giants won their first Super Bowl against the Broncos in 1987, I was on a school trip to Florida. We were at a place called Medieval Times, which for those unfamiliar with it, is a large themed restaurant set to resemble a castle, complete with a King’s Court and jousting knights. Needless to say, there was not a television to be found. My friend and I kept leaving our table to seek out a radio, but to no avail…until we walked past the curtain behind the king’s throne and heard the unmistakable sounds of a play-by-play announcer. We peeked in and there was the “King” in full regalia, listening to the game between his appearances on the throne. He made us go back to our group, but not before we convinced him to update us on the games progress. Which he did! He cleverly peppered his prepared speeches about fair maidens and brave knights with subtle mentions of the “Northern Giants” and their battle with the “Western Horsemen.” It was great, and to this day remains the most memorable Super Bowl I’ve never seen.

By the time the Giants returned to the big game, I had graduated high school. My friends and I rented a hotel room and watched every second of it – but in all honesty, for much of the broadcast, we were more engaged with Bud Bowl II, the state-of the art (at the time) series of commercials featuring beer bottles playing football, than the actual game. But, as corny as it sounds, I clearly remember many of us holding hands as Scott Norwood lined up for his potential game-winning field goal attempt. It went “wide right” and we went right wild, jumping up and down in the bed, spraying each other with beer, screaming and cheering like WE had just won the game.

Fast-forward ten years to Super Bowl XXXV, where the Giants got trounced by the Ravens. All I remember was that it was played on my dad’s birthday  - he who introduced me to the Giants (figuratively and literally, as he once brought me to a charity basketball game where I got to meet Lawrence Taylor, Larry Flowers, and Joe Morris) and they gave him the worst gift ever. I was sick with the flu that night, but even sicker by what I saw on the field. It was the first Super Bowl I actually stopped watching at halftime.

But the 2007 Giants more than made up for that loss when they beat the previously undefeated Patriots in the most exciting of fashions. We hosted a Super Bowl party at our house, which was mostly attended by our hippie friends who had little to no interest in the game. But that fourth quarter had us all on our feet, exhorting the team on to victory. Even my wife was excited. And not just for me. She was truly engrossed in the game.

And now after several years of setbacks, we’re back. But as a self-professed non-die hard fan, I’m not naïve enough to predict another Super Bowl victory. Sure, they came close to beating the Packers a few weeks back, but that was in the friendly confines of Giants Stadium (money well spent, MetLife. It’ll always be Giants Stadium!) But Lambeau, and a fully rested Green Bay team, will present a much bigger challenge.

But stranger things have happened. Just look at the Broncos. But unlike Tebow, we don’t need God on our side. We’ve got Eli, JPP, and Victor Cruz! Not to mention, we’re GIANTS! Meaning, as the underdog, we’re both David and Goliath. And they’re just a bunch of Packers. Which means what, by the way? That they put stuff in boxes? How intimidating! But come Sunday, it’ll be the Giants packing their bags for a trip to the Conference Finals while Green Bay and their quarterback with a girl’s name cry themselves to sleep on their foam cheese hats.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go pick my jersey up at the dry cleaners and place a call from “Mike in Midtown.” Oh, and Coach Coughlin, if you’re reading this, you should really consider activating Brandon Bing for this week’s game. I watched him play cornerback for Rutgers, and that boy has some talent!