Another Bethany Success

The signs that we would have a fantastic beach week with my family started early.

First of all, we saw something we have not seen in ages on our ride down to the Delaware shore – the absence of lines at the Bay Bridge toll plaza. I almost didn’t know what to do when I had the opportunity to drive right up and pay my toll.

We have tried a number of different strategies to try and beat the bridge traffic, all of them abject failures. We just had an abundance of good fortune this time.

Then, we had very few delays along the way. We had a little stop-and-go in a few familiar places, but nothing that really put us behind schedule.

Finally, we had smooth sailing on an alternate route laid out by my brother-in-law to help us avoid construction on the main road leading to our destination.

Since any week at the beach with my family ranks as a good beach week, I saw all these small moments as evidence that we might write a few pages in the family history this time around.

We had much of the same fun as we have had other years. We played the family cornhole tournament, albeit with a smaller field due to some scheduling conflicts. We sat around and talked as long as we could on the beach. We ate a whole mess of crabs one night, so many that the place where my sister buys them informed her that we are the largest order they have to fill all summer.

And all of this on a somewhat down year since some folks could not come down due to my niece’s wedding, which took place on the final day of our vacation. We stayed the whole time at our rental and changed at my sister’s before heading to the ceremony. That’s beach week dedication.

While we did all of those usual things, we also created some new memories.

For the second straight year, a heavy rainstorm flooded the street in front of one of the houses where my sister and her family were staying. That meant we had another opportunity to get the kayaks out from her rental house and patrol the flooded street.

I didn’t take part this year, but to see my nieces and nephews paddling down a residential street once again made me pretty happy.

We also got a chance to mess with one of the lifeguards on the beach, a new family activity. After we saw him input his phone number into the cell phones of multiple attractive young ladies, we sent two of my elementary-school age great nieces to see if they could get his digits. He liked knowing that he was playing to an appreciative crowd.

In the end, however, it’s not about those momentary jokes or how to deal with a quick rainstorm. Beach week means hours sitting on a beach chair with the people who know you best, sharing stories, trading gossip or putting food and other assorted items on the heads of those who fall asleep on their beach towel so someone else can take a picture and put it on Facebook for all the world to see.

That’s what makes vacation with family so special.

Coming Off the Ledge

Sixteen years ago, I remember going out on a ledge.

At the time, I was working as a sportswriter for this very newspaper. In fact, I was only a few weeks from the end of my full-time employment at 135 Baltimore Street. That job change and the risk I took are not connected.

I sat down to write a column and knew I might not get the best reception for my topic. I had probably done it before, giving me some insight into the potential backlash. I forged ahead nonetheless.

My column focused on the upcoming World Cup in France. I professed my love for the sport at a time when many folks really didn’t care about the impact of the naturalization of defender David Regis and how that would affect the US team in the summer of 1998. (Spoiler alert: It played a role in our awful last-place performance.)

As I begin to finalize my plans for the 2014 World Cup, I know that I will have many more people sharing my interest than I did in 1998. No one really got upset at that column, which I might add had a tremendous name drop of young defender Leo Cullen, a player some thought could be a shining star for future US teams. He ended up being a marginal pro.

I feel grateful that I got in on the ground floor of soccer fandom in the US. My fraternity in college had a bunch of players on the varsity team, which infected me with the bug that really exploded in the mid-1990s.

Since then, I have seen the US team play a bunch of times in various locations. I have flown to Columbus, Ohio, and made a kamikaze drive to suburban Boston to root on our national team. I have also fretted alone in my basement during World Cup games and hugged strangers in bars when things have gone well.

I have a network of friends spread across the country who I have met through watching games or at least arguing about them online. I remember the times when we had to follow games through the message board commentary of someone who had the hard-to-find broadcast of an important game.

That’s why writing about the 1998 World Cup represented some sort of risk. Now, I will be able to stream the games on my phone at work. I can choose from multiple public parties showing the games I want to see. I can bring up the US team in casual conversation without worrying that people will think I’m weird.

I mean, I know people will think I’m weird, but it will have nothing to do with talking about soccer.

The World Cup will occupy a lot of my thoughts for the next month, which is nothing new. But the differences between previous iterations and this year’s event are kind of stark.

If the US beats Portugal in their second game, I will celebrate in a bar with a large crowd. When we upset the same team in 2002, I watched alone in my house, careful not to wake up anyone else and sporadically running upstairs to post on a message board.

I’m glad that I don’t have to go out on that ledge anymore , but I kind of miss it.

A Weighty Subject

We all have those things in our life that slowly turn into obsessions. You know, the little daily routines that we do even though we know we might benefit from taking a break.

Maybe you trim your nails a little too close or take an extra critical look at yourself in the mirror.

As we get older, these things don’t always make us feel good, but we do them anyway, if only because we have always done them. I am here to tell you that you can slay the beast.

I have not weighed myself in about two weeks as I write this.

That might not sound like a big deal, but you have to know what the scale means to someone who has spent their life around wrestling. I barely remember a time where I didn’t see controlling weight as an important role in someone’s life.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to really worry about it myself until my second year in high school, but I watched my brother’s friends or my own teammates live and die by the numbers on the scale. Or the balance on one of those old-timey ones.

The numbers became shorthand for self-preservation. “Where are you?” was the common question, second to “How much are you over?”

This wasn’t about self-worth so much, but about making weight. I don’t think we judged one another one how much we weighed or how we looked – in fact, looking bad while still managing to compete pretty much became a badge of honor. We worried about hitting that magic number just long enough to make weight.

Like all wrestlers, I have the stories. The eight pounds in seven hours at Mount Union College. Sneaking into the pool at my high school to make weight against McDonogh while the rest of the school huddled around TV’s to find out what went wrong with the space shuttle Challenger. Stunning new friends at college with how much I could eat in a short time.

I have left those days in the past, and the sport in general has a much healthier attitude to weight management than when I grew up. But the scale still follows me around even though it sits all by itself in the corner of the bathroom.

You have no idea how hard it has been to not step on it the past few weeks just to check. Before I tried this little experiment, I would check at least once a day, sometimes two or three even though I had no weigh-in approaching.

And I didn’t like the number I saw. In fact,. I haven’t liked it for a long, long time. As I started my new workout regiment, I noticed that the number didn’t drop drastically right away.

That’s when I decided to stop checking. I figured if I could make it to the end of May, I could just focus on making strides in other areas instead of walking around with that number in my head all day.

In short, I may have grown up a little in the past few weeks. I just hope when I get back on that scale, I haven’t grown out any more.

Now if I could just learn not to stay up late on weekends when I have actual adult responsibilities the next morning.

All in the Laughs

I have many great memories from growing up. For better or worse, a lot of them revolve around watching television with my parents and siblings.

Back then, before everyone had their own screen, we would gather together to watch our favorite shows, especially M*A*S*H. I developed much of my sense of humor from watching these shows.

We watched some hour-long shows too, but I mostly remember the comedies. Most of my TV watching over the years has focused on sitcoms.

That’s why I felt terrible when the networks announced the TV schedule for next season. A half-dozen comedies I liked to watch will not return for 2014-15. One that does – “Parks & Recreation,” perhaps my favorite – will air just 13 episodes for its final season.

I feel like my best friend has stabbed me in the back.

Now I know that I shouldn’t get too worked up about this because of the many different ways we can experience television. I don’t even sit down and watch shows when they air that often any more.

But I would prefer having my favorite shows come back so I could watch them OnDemand on my own schedule instead of having to go hunting around for new things to watch.

I don’t just watch sitcoms because the evoke a nostalgia for growing up. Comedy gives me something to look forward to, even if I have seen so many that it’s often easy to see the joke coming,

The skill of the writers and actors makes me feel good. They have literally proven that laughter can help improve people’s health so I take my comedy very seriously. It’s not necessarily a matter of life or death, but it can certainly make your life better.

That’s why I hated seeing that not only are some of my favorite shows going away, but the networks have greatly de-emphasized comedies in general. I have a lot fewer choices for my preferred television shows.

I just don’t have the attention span for most dramas or the stomach for most reality shows. I kept up with “Hawaii Five-O” for a couple of seasons, but even the kitschy nature of the show and the physics-defying “everything is Hawaii is a 10-minute drive away) couldn’t keep my interest.

So I figure I will spend the summer trying to figure out how I can make use of my time when the TV season kicks off in the fall. I could try and sound all kinds of smart and say I will read more books, but I know that won’t happen with any great regularity.

I can find the full run of a lot of shows I never really invested time in on the various streaming services, but the irony is that most of those are dramas. I might commit myself to “Breaking Bad” now that it has ended, but that will take real commitment.

I will manage to occupy my time somehow. Hopefully a comedy or two I have never seen will call to me from a smaller network or the Internet. Or I will just watch reruns of shows I love and have seen a dozen times and can quote from memory.

If my wife complains, I’ll tell her to call the networks because it’s all their fault.

Healthy Attitude

Sometimes I worry about things. I worry my favorite TV shows will go away (that actually happened last week – not happy about it). I worry that I will miss out on a good joke. I worry that bad health things will happen to me.

That last one can take up some serious brain space, which is why I broke down a month or so ago and joined a gym.

Even though I hardly resemble someone who had an OK career as a college athlete, I have tried to maintain some sort of physical fitness, especially in recent years.

I have mainly restricted those efforts, however, to long walks and the occasional session on an old, somewhat broken exercise bike in the basement.

Anything more strenuous went on the backburner for a couple of reasons. First of all, I have a lot of trouble running because of knee and ankle injuries from my wrestling days. Secondly, I’m lazy.

But I finally overcame that second recently when I saw an offer I could not refuse. I had looked at buying a treadmill or something similar for the house many, many times, but just could not justify the expense. An affordable membership fee made my cheapness (I guess that is a third reason) a moot point.

With that obstacle out of the way, I have managed to conquer the second reason. By looking for natural openings in my daily schedule, I have put in more than 20 workouts since starting this project in early April. I have even done some long outside walks on days when I either can’t go to the gym or feel like a change of pace.

The bonus is that, thanks to the elliptical machines, I can get a more strenuous workout without having to worry about my bad knees and ankles. I have worked my way up to almost three miles at a running pace.

When I shared one of my successful workouts on Facebook – I rarely do this because I don’t want to be “that guy who is always talking about his workout routine” – a college buddy joked that I had probably never run that far before.

I know he was kidding, but I made sure to point out that when I used to wrestle, I regularly ran more than two miles a day. I credit thank kind of background with letting me get back into the flow of things so easily.

Sure, I had tried to get back into shape before, but my creaky joints and my laziness teamed up to foil those plans. Now that I have found something to make it a little easier on my body, I fell back into hold habits much easier than I expected.

Like any normal person, I never really liked running, but I remember the feeling of accomplishment after a good solid workout. I have started to feel that way again. I even considered breaking into a jog while taking a walk through town  one day last week, but I thought about my knees.

The worries about my health haven’t completely subsided, but I definitely feel better about things. In fact, I feel good enough to consider running in a 5K sometime this summer.

That’s when I’ll really worry about my health – my mental health.


The Right Fit

When I first saw the message, I felt a rush of excitement. A college friend contacted a few of us to make sure we would help with our reunion next year since she had been named as co-chair of the event.

I don’t get to see my college friends much at all even though I keep in touch with many online. We have all spread out and just don’t have many chances to get together with work and family. So an impending reunion made me happy.

Then I did the math. This isn’t just any reunion. This is our 25th reunion.

How could I get excited about planning the event when I had to deal with a reality that I try to ignore as much as I can? I’m old.

A 25th reunion means my post-college experience is older than I was when I graduated. I have managed to deny this fact even though I know some classmates have kids in college and the movies and music we loved back in the day have celebrated all kinds of anniversaries that remind me that the late 1980s were a long time ago.

So if we get together, the images I have in my head of all of us in our 20s may have to fade into the background. It’s bad enough that I think many classmates look like the past 25 years treated them better time treated me. Now I have to see it in person.

I didn’t intend of making those memories at Allegheny College. I had another school in mind as my top choice. Allegheny sat on my list with a couple of other schools under the heading, “OK, I Have to Pick One of These if Plan A Doesn’t Happen.”

The news that my top choice put me on their waiting list hurt until the next day when I went to work and got an amazing pick-me-up lecture from a friend.

“You will do better at Allegheny,” she told me. “It’s a smaller school so you will be able to get more involved, and you will love it.”

She and I have lost touch so I don’t know if I ever got the chance to properly thank her for the best advice I ever received.

College played an important role in my life. I didn’t have the most vibrant social life in high school and used the next four years to take advantages of all the opportunities I had previously let slide by.

That’s why the rush of getting a chance to play a role in an event which will help re-kindle those memories outweighs anything that reminds me I can’t run around with my shirt off like I used to or that I may need to take a pill to make sure I don’t get heartburn from a night of reckless eating and drinking.

The passage of time does have some benefits. If I manage to exaggerate some of my exploits during reunion weekend, I can simply accuse anyone who tries to correct me of having a bad memory because we’re getting older.

Saved by the Shave

I never thought shaving cream could change my life, but that’s the situation I find myself in these days.

A little while back, I wrote about my quest to dress a little better. I had considered trying one of those services which sends you clothes each month based on your style.

prorasoI ultimately passed on that idea, but did enroll in a plan which sends me grooming items along with some personal products once a month. I need all the help I can get.

My first box came last month. Along with some fun socks that make my daughter cringe, I received a small tube of shaving cream. I figured I would give it a shot.

I don’t want to exaggerate, but that first shave made me feel like world hunger had ended, people of all religious and political persuasions had joined in a group hug, and I would find a never-ending pan of pizza in my kitchen every day.

Fun socks and awesome shaving cream? They had a fan for life.

The box had a few other items, but none made an impression on me like the shaving cream did. I even went online and bought two tubes of it so I could have it forever. That’s the whole point of this service – send you sample sizes so you get sucked in and buy the real thing.

My second box came a week or so ago, but didn’t have the same impact. I did get some pretty neat sunglasses that fold up (but also make me look like those really big ones that people with eye problems have to wear.

There was also some shampoo and hair product which I will probably only use as a gag. But for the second straight month, the box included a cologne sample.

I really don’t have anything against people who wear cologne. That’s just not my style. My wife doesn’t particularly like strong scents as well so the thought of trying out a new cologne just doesn’t enter my mind. I have ended up tossing both samples.

Because I don’t want to waste product like that, I e-mailed the company and asked if there was a way they could put me on some “no-cologne list” for future shipments. I never intended to buy the full size product, I explained to them.

They sent me a really nice e-mail explaining that the whole point of the service is the discovery of new products. They said that I could fine tune my personal profile to make sure I received things more in line with my tastes. They told me that they couldn’t possibly have each person pick exactly what they did and didn’t want without running the risk of screwing things up.

Then they said the weirdest thing – they told me I could share items I didn’t like with friends of mine.

If guys could easily walk up to each other and say, “Hey, Hank, I think this cologne will smell great on you,” don’t you think we wouldn’t need to send away for a box if items once a month with items that might improve our grooming?

I appreciate that they think that might happen, but they might as well put something in next month’s box to treat a black eye if they expect me to go around telling guys what scent I thing would work for them.

But at least I’ll have a close shave when my friend decks me.

How I Would Have Met Your Mother

I have four older brothers. I spent a lifetime having someone offer me something only to pull it away at the last second and tell me I can’t have it. This can happen over and over again and gets quite annoying. Then when they finally get tired of the game, they give it to you and you wonder why they went through all that trouble when they could have just given it to you in the first place.

That’s the Ted and Robin storyline.

Now imagine in the midst of all this, they tell you that they have something else for you. Once you get it, they rip it away and throw it in the trash. You were just SO. FREAKING. HAPPY. to have that thing, but now it’s gone.

That’s Ted and the mother.

And that’s why the decisions that “How I Met Your Mother” creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas made for last night’s finale bother me today. It may make sense to some viewers, but they went through incredibly great pains to tell us why it made no sense to the point that they made Robin float away like Jesus. Then they did it anyway because they decided to seven years ago and didn’t realize that when the old footage of the kids saying Ted should chase Aunt Robin played, they could have easily filmed Josh Radnor saying:

“At one point, I thought that too. So did she. And it might make sense to some other people, but the story isn’t about how I have the hots for her. It’s about how I used to feel that way and how the experiences I had with Aunt Robin and our friends gave me what I needed to meet your mother. It’s about, no matter how clichéd it sounds, you sometimes find what you need when you’re not even looking. Your mother is the love of my life and losing her hurts me every day, but I can go on because of you two and because of friends like Aunt Robin. That’s why the story focuses so much on her and Uncle Barney and Aunt Lily and Uncle Marshall. They didn’t introduce me to your mother, but I couldn’t have met her without them.”

That’s an ending on par with Ted’s 45 Days speech and the two-minute date and Lily telling Marshall about his father dying. That’s the emotion that set this show apart, not a jagov who screws everything up with grand gestures making the cheesiest grand gesture of all that undoes so many plot points that had been painstakingly laid out since the pilot.

An Arresting Problem

Experts say that everything you do online could potentially haunt you forever. If that’s the case, I have put myself in deep trouble this week.

We are in the middle of rehearsals for the upcoming production of “Sin, Sex & the CIA” at Hanover Little Theatre, and I volunteered to help find an important prop.

We need handcuffs. You’ll have to come to the show to find out why, but we I promise that you will laugh when you see why we needed them.

At first, I thought this was a pretty simple activity. I have helped chase down various props for several other productions. We have loaned items from our house for set decorations. That’s just how it works in community theatre.

But this one carried a risk I had not anticipated when I started searching on Amazon for handcuffs.

First of all, to put it delicately, a lot of people don’t buy handcuffs with a theatrical production or law enforcement in mind. I knew this going in, but those kind of “recreational” uses jump right to the top of the search listings.

That’s not why we needed them for the play. I promise.

So once I stopped giggling over handcuffs covered with fur, I started to take a look at the reviews from people who had bought the ones that looked normal.

Some of the comments came from people who had bought the item as a child’s play toy. But some others came from adults who seemed very eager to share just how and why they needed handcuffs and how this particular item worked.

Now I’m all for consenting adults doing what they want to do, but I really don’t see the need to share that information online, especially when some of the reviews used what seemed like real names.

I moved past that, however, and did a little more research. When I saw a pair of handcuffs that looked OK, but might not have fit our needs, I checked the section below the item where it tells you what things that people who bought this thing also bought.

Once again, I did not need all of that information. But now I am worried that some of the ladies wearing the “lingerie” that some people paired with handcuffs may catch a cold. It really didn’t cover much.

Once I re-gained my composure I went ahead and bought the handcuffs we needed – without any additional items that might shock anyone in the audience.

As they made their way through the shipping process, I started to worry a little. If anyone ever gains access to my browser history, what would they think?

I just needed handcuffs for fun, not for any nefarious purpose. I didn’t mean to click on any links that may have led to something unseemly. I’m a curious guy. You can’t help but wonder what other folks are doing.

I promise I only bought the handcuffs, and we only need them to make you laugh. I guess you’ll have to come out for yourself to make sure I’m telling the truth.

Losing Streak

Every day, I take my life into my own hands. I need a lot of courage to survive.

No, this has nothing to do with my commute on windy country roads. I’m talking about playing Scrabble with my wife.

The computer program we use to play the word game throughout the day isn’t called Scrabble, but that’s what we’re playing. We use one of those Facebook games to take each other on throughout the day.

A better explanation, however, is that Maria uses the game to beat the pants off me. She wins more than 80 percent of the games. So why do I worry about my life?

Those other 18 or 19 percent of games could spell doom for me. I have recounted the Parcheesi incident in previous columns and don’t want a repeat of that. (In short, she was one move from beating me at Parcheesi, I made an amazing comeback, she got mad and wouldn’t play the game with me for years.)

My wife isn’t unbalanced or anything. She just gets some pretty serious competitive juices when playing board games. And not only do I run the risk of stirring them up on those occasions when I win, but I do something on occasion which might send her over the edge.

I cheat.

There, I said it. She knows it, but I needed to admit it publicly. Now I don’t really think I’m cheating, but I need to conform to the generally accepted public definition of the word.

If I ever got dragged in front of a court of law on this matter, I would throw myself on the mercy of the court. You see, when you play Scrabble online, and you know that the Internet also contains websites where you can input the letters you have and get a list of every possible word you could play, you pretty much have no choice, right?

I think that’s true, especially when your regular opponent has a distinct advantage. She’s really, really smart and reads a lot of books. I’m just a poor TV watching, sports-loving, chicken-wing eating guy. How can I expected to know all those words?

To be fair, I don’t cheat all the time. I do hunt around the board and see what words I can make, but when I have a rack with a Z, a Q, three E’s, a W and a R, I pretty much have no choice.

I also think the whole aspect of cheating goes out the window when she plays an 82-point word on her first play of the game, pretty much dooming me to yet another loss. At that point, I’m not cheating. I’m just trying to make the score respectable.

I have a ton of fun playing so I keep it up knowing that I’m tempting fate. I won three times in five games in February so I started to get a little worried. But she keeps accepting my game requests and has won six of the last seven as I write this.

Even though I’m losing, I feel a little safer.

All in the Laughs

I have many great memories from growing up. For better or worse, a lot of them revolve around watching television with my parents and siblings. Back then, before everyone had their own screen, we would gather together to watch our favorite shows, especially M*A*S*H. I developed much of my sense of humor from watching these […]

Music in 2012

So all kinds of people have started to come out with their end-of-the-year lists. I took a look at a couple of ones related to music and realized just how old I am. On Pitchfork’s Top 100 songs for the year, I recognized one. Uno. And since “Call Me Maybe” really existed as a pop […]

Another Bethany Success

The signs that we would have a fantastic beach week with my family started early. First of all, we saw something we have not seen in ages on our ride down to the Delaware shore – the absence of lines at the Bay Bridge toll plaza. I almost didn’t know what to do when I […]

The VCR Connection

As I looked through an advertising circular recently, something caught my eye. I didn’t particularly need the item, but knew I had to share the information with the rest of the family. Someone – I don’t remember the store – had a DVD player on sale for $20. I drifted into old man mode and […]