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The end of the summer

The September trees of Michigan publish unsubtle previews of the more fiery palette of autumn. Dashes of red and yellow steal out from the green canopy, a reminder of the yearly spectacle. The end of the summer.

Within weeks, these trees will explode into a celebration of vitality, one last hurrah before winter closes its hard grip.

We won’t give up so easily. Not without a fight. And we will be back.


The best way to get oneself out of bed

Sunrise came with an important discovery today: the best way to get oneself out of bed. Simply accidentally drop your alarm clock in the laundry basket in your closet. The trick is to do it by accident, so you don’t spoil the surprise. You may want to enlist the assistance of a helpful roommate or significant other.

When the alarm goes off in the morning, you will have no idea where the sound is coming from. Throw back the covers and look all around yourself in desperation and confusion. It won’t help if you utter a helpless and heavy “huh?” but it might make you feel better.

Get out of bed and look on the floor. Under the bed. Behind the night stand. As the sound gets steadily louder and more frantic, you will finally isolate it to your closet.

Root around in the dirty clothes, in the dark, because it hasn’t occurred to you to turn on the light.

By the time you discover the source of the awful racket, you won’t care about getting back to bed. Your boiling blood will have woken you up completely, and you’ll just head downstairs to make coffee and feed the cat, who by now has also woken up.


Putting the BS in BCS

When asked where we went to college, we graduates of Michigan State are often annoyed by the follow up question: “That’s in Ann Arbor, right?”

It’s as if, because we went to a big state school, it must the University of Michigan. That’s the one that counts, right? And even if you said “Michigan State,” it must be the good one in Ann Arbor, and I’m just getting them confused, right?

The prejudice runs deep, and it is hard to escape. It shows up no more prominently than in the rivalry between Michigan’s and Michigan State’s football teams. I don’t pretend to know a lot about the calculations behind college football standings (Roger Groves, a contributing writer for Forbes, explains how State was cheated yet again), but I do know a little about fairness.

When the better team in the eyes of the establishment gets more attention and more endorsements and more money, being serious about fairness matters. However, the Bowl Championship Series deciders have little interest in fairness.

I don’t know what they’re interested in, because Michigan, with a worse record than State, is playing in the Sugar Bowl, one of the five important BCS matches.

Our reward: The Outback Bowl. Steaks. Baby back ribs. Tobster tails. Bloomin’ onion. Heartburn. Heartbreak.

Continue reading ‘Putting the BS in BCS’


Late Start

One morning recently, I nearly fell over when an intense, sharp, pain shot through my ankle. I was putting on a sock or playing with the cat or something; I don’t remember. But I’m only 31! I’m far too young to be falling apart.

And then it was gone.

Minutes later, when I was walking to the bus, it hit again, but a little less intensely. It stems from a two-year-old rugby injury. I rolled my ankle this summer at a practice. We were in Central Park, and an officious little groundskeeper was busying himself by whizzing by on his little golf cart every 15 minutes to yell at us for running on the open lawn of the North Meadow.

We weren’t wearing spikes, which are verboten by the Central Park Conservancy. And we were taking up very little space in the corner under some trees, far away from the baseball diamonds, where nobody goes anyway. But I guess we’re not allowed to use a ball larger than a softball or to run on the grass. It defies explanation.

So this groundskeeper finally succeeded in chasing us outside of the fenced region to a downward-sloping area of patchy grass, tree roots and the odd broken bottle. We made do with this until I was chasing down someone during a game of touch, missed a step on the side of the hill, and went down hard.

My teammate made his try. I, on the other hand, spent the next 10 minutes on the ground in a quivering heap of agony. As I was contorting myself into various death throes, I considered how my life might change should I need to amputate my right foot. I wouldn’t look that bad with a prosthesis, right? At least not in the winter. With long pants. And boots.

This is the same foot that sent me into physical therapy when I screwed up my plantar fascia the previous season. As a result, my right foot is considerably weaker than the left — and prone to ankle injuries.

The physical therapy got me in the habit of stretching really well. But it’s never been quite the same since. Not three blocks from my apartment, I tripped on a jutting corner of sidewalk while coming to a stop at a red light and rolled the same ankle. Can’t catch a break.

So now I have these recurring pains. And a new season brings new aches. What keeps me sane is the blessing of regenerative tissue.

But I curse this body sometimes. I’ve spent 30 years actively not conditioning my body to take this kind of stress. Coming to athletics so late in my life puts me at particular risk. But I love it, so I keep with it.

This is why kids should play sports. It makes their bodies grow in ways that will help them later. Note to self: When we have a kid of our own, he will play something. I won’t push him to anything in particular. My parents never pushed me to anything, which I have always been thankful for. But I will definitely push him toward choosing something he likes.

Like rugby.


99.44% Pure What?

Is there a more vile substance in all this earth than Ivory soap? The moment I open a package — assuming I can scrape the vacuum-sealed skin-tight paper from the bar — I have to sneeze and I feel like I have to throw up a little. It is concentrated evil.

It looks like frozen lard chopped into fist-sized bars. It feels like a lump of laundry detergent, and it seems to suck all moisture out of the air around it. I imagine the poor souls who produce the stuff in factories. Their noses and throats must be as raw as ground beef. Their skin must be as dry as Bob Newhart. And we are delighted to scrub down babies with it.

I picked up some Lever 2000 yesterday.


A Disaster Waiting

Everyone has something that sets his hair on end. Fingernails on a chalkboard. A high-pitched dog yapping. Bugs and spiders. An old high school friend of mine could not even bear to look at a picture of a snake in a science book. I know someone for whom the thought of touching raw wood is literally nauseating. Mixing that brownie batter with a wooden spoon? As good as a toothbrush down the throat. A doctor with a tongue depressor? Call an ambulance.

For me, it’s glass — from a paper-thin martini glass to a gigantic window pane. This morning, walking the dog we’re sitting this week, I was already annoyed that she was stopping for a thorough examination of every five feet of sniffable surface. But when she picked a tree to piss on that placed me right next to a parked glass-delivery truck, my ankles began to sweat.

The truck backed up, and I tugged the lead slightly to encourage Honey to move on. I eyed the layered panes, completely stationary and secure yet still threatening at any moment to spontaneously shatter and explode, embedding irretrievable shards into my face and neck and arms. I imagined one of the larger ones buckling under its own weight to send a shimmering guillotine sliding down on my neck.

How does that truck make it all the way from the shop without shattering its cargo all across the highway? Why are the sheets of glass all arranged on the outermost edges of the truck bed — where they can do ordinary citizens the most harm? How do those workers each still have all 10 of their fingers? How can you allow small children and old people to pass within close proximity of this truck?

I have also always intensely disliked floor-to-ceiling mirrors. For one thing, in a home it’s usually just tacky and done for all the wrong reasons. (Want to make your room look bigger? Knock out a wall. Move into a different apartment.) Mostly, though, it’s just the sheer size of that sheet of glass. Moving a large unframed mirror from a friend’s apartment to another friend’s pickup truck, there was a moment when I thought it might slip through the gap between the elevator and the floor. It could easily happen. Loosen your grip for less than a blink, and someone’s certain death is suddenly hurtling through 32 floors of elevator shaft.

Glass table tops? Gag me. Ever see Heathers? Or that other movie (I think it’s a David Lynch) where the guy falls into the corner of a glass coffee table and it hacks halfway into his head — starting with the eye — like a sharp hatchet through a boiled egg?

When I first moved to my neighborhood, I met my ultimate horror in a set of glass shelves in a storefront window. Rising maybe five or six levels, each horizontal pane is suspended by a set of four tall, narrow pint glasses. A little too much weight on any one shelf, and you’ve got yourself a death scene. What merchandise could possibly be worth such a risk?


Dreary Christmas and Tacky New Year

At least the super put some kind of Christmas tree in the lobby of my building. I smelled it before I saw it. Such a gorgeous scent, pine. I love walking to the grocery store past the French Canadians selling trees on the sidewalk. They live for six weeks in a van on the corner and camp out among a forest of leaning pines to make their sales. (But rather than heating a tin of baked beans by campfire, they have any number of empanada shops or Columbian and Ecuadorian pollo kitchens to choose from.) It must be one of their models in our lobby.

It sat there for two days, fully erect in its plastic base but bound with twine. Then one night, I came home to find it expanded to its full width, draped rather sadly in multicolored lights. Left untrimmed, the branches have resolved themselves into a shapeless mass, a far cry from the mythical triangular pines of Christmas card landscapes. A single string of chasing golden lights running in an upward spiral around the trunk gives it an air of hasty indifference, and the splash of shiny red plastic ornaments look more like a constellation of acne than a project of holiday inspiration. There is no garland; there are no bows — no star or final touches of any kind. It stands in front of the main doorway like someone half dressed and waiting for the mail.

But it is our tree, and it still fills the hall with that singular odor of Christmas. How can I not love it even for its mediocrity? I only hope someone is watering the poor thing.

the untallied hours