Sunday, March 30, 2008

Springtime in Cincinnati.

It's back, finally, after a long, dreary break -- baseball season. As I've mentioned before, I'm one of those suckers who get a little giddy every year, right about now. Against all logic, I believe this is the year my team will contend, and we might well see some October baseball right here. Maybe it's not illogical, though . . . I mean, they now have a big-name manager with a record of success, a brand-new, proven closer, a solid offense . . .

See? There I go again.

Anyway, Opening Day is tomorrow, and I wish I were going. It used to be that the first game of the Major League Baseball season was always played here in Cincinnati. In its never-ending effort to destroy its own game, MLB has done away with that tradition, but the day is still a big event. People take the day off work, pull their kids out of school, go to the parade and then to the game. I have so much work piled on my desk right now that I don't know where to begin, so I suppose in a way it's fortunate that I don't have a ticket for tomorrow, but still . . . I wish could go.

I have tickets to ten home games this season, the first being this Friday night, against the Phillies. Could be fun, could be bitter cold, you never know. As the year progresses, I'll see a game here and there every month, including the last game of the regular season, when I fully expect to be cheering the Reds on to the post-season. In June, a road trip: my son and I are going to New York to see our team take on the bad guys at Yankee Stadium. I think that weekend is destined to be the highlight of our summer.

This year, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Reds' Hall of Fame, the team has featured many members of the Hall on their tickets. I chose the tickets you see here not because I have any particular interest in seeing the Braves play, but because of the absurdly named player pictured on them -- Heinie Groh, as in, Hey, keep eating those hot dogs like that and you'll get yourself a real case of Heinie Groh!

Oh, the hilarity!

Play ball.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

You Know You're Getting Old When . . .

. . . at a Bruce Springsteen concert, as you watch him race from one end of the stage to the other and back again, you think, "He could break a hip, jumping around like that."

. . . later, at the same concert, you turn to a friend and on comment how lucky you are to have seats on the aisle, in case anyone needs to go to the bathroom.

. . . glancing around at the crowd, you think, "Maybe we should leave a little bit early to beat the traffic."

. . . you look at the giant monitor above the stage and think, "Hey -- nice picture on that jumbotron."

. . . the next "concert" on your list, one you're really excited about, is in reality an appearance by the host of National Public Radio show.

. . . you start writing like Larry King.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Paris Memories: The Story of St Eustache.

It's been almost a month since my wife and I returned from our trip to Paris. The post-vacation letdown has abated, but not totally. Later this week, I travel to Omaha and Des Moines, which are are sure to make me forget about the City of Lights once and for all, but for now, I'm reminiscing.

First stop, St Eustache Church in Paris' Les Halles neighborhood. It's a beautiful Renaissance building, but what's even more interesting and more moving than the architecture and decoration of the church is the story of the sanctuary's namesake. As even the most casual saint aficionado knows, St Eustache (cf., "mustache") was a hirsute Roman general named Capillus who converted to Christianity when he tired of the pagans' mocking his white man's afro. When Bob Dylan stole his line about the streets of Rome being filled with rubble, that was the final straw, and Eustache packed up his comb collection and moved Paris -- Paris, France.

Eustache was an immediate hit when he arrived in that most fashionable of all world capitals. He was not embarrassed to wear a beret, and he taught Parisians how to tie their scarves just right. He drank strong coffee and charmed local women with his George Bush imitation. Soon a movement was afoot to build him a mansion, but they called it a church to take advantage of certain tax loopholes and utilize peasant labor. His popularity reached its zenith as the building was completed, and he moved in, a happy, hairy man.

But trouble wasn't far behind. One misty night, invaders slipped past the city ramparts, and the now-infamous Brazilian sack of Paris was on. On their way through the city, the Brazilians gorged themselves on cheese and bread, which were readily available since it was 9:30 p.m. and the locals hadn't gone to dinner yet. When they arrived at Eustache's home, he was caught by surprise as he gazed deeply into Carla Bruni's dark eyes. He never stood a chance; his attackers used the wax from the thousands of candles they carried to denude his once virile body. Then, even though Eustache was now as hairless and as smooth as a newborn baby, the Brazilians added insult to injury -- they decapitated him. Now, a visitor to St Eustache Church can climb all over a gargantuan stone likeness of his cranium or leave a loving note on his middle finger.

Of course, that's the part of the story of St Eustache that everyone knows. What's far less known, however, is what led to his canonization. Why was he made a saint, you may ask, when the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Tom Brokaw haven't even been beatified? Here's why: first, he turned peanut butter into Nutella; second, and even more significantly, he convinced Europeans that Nutella is edible. Miracles are the surest way to sainthood.

It's knowing this kind of background that makes the world's great monuments all that much more meaningful.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

A Visit from the White Death.

Maybe it's my imagination, or my increasingly faulty memory, or a combination of the two, but I'm certain that when I was a kid, Cincinnati got at least four or five good, deep snows every winter. I remember waking up on a school day, looking out my window and seeing the whole neighborhood blanketed and motionless. I'd turn on the radio, praying for a snow day, and I'd listen as the DJ read the whole list of closures, dominated by the many Catholic schools in the area. I'd lie there with my fingers crossed and listen as he stumbled through all those saints' names, from Aloysius to Xavier, and I'd think, "Come on, just this once, close it. Please close it."

Then, finally, I'd hear, "And, Cincinnati Public Schools are . . . (dramatic pause to which ellipses do not do justice) . . . open!" This was usually followed by an announcement that the buses were running late, but nobody knew how late, so all students should arrive at their bus stops at the regular time -- all of which was particularly meaningful to me, since my high school was 12 or 13 miles from home. Bastards.

Now my kids attend a Catholic grade school less than a mile from our house, and the place shuts down whenever there's a prediction of possible sighting of a rain cloud. And they don't get why I'm bitter. A few months ago, I began telling them that when I was young and a student in the public schools, we didn't even get Christmas Day off. I've said it so many times now that I'm starting to believe it. Or maybe I've said it so many times because it was true, damn it.

All of which brings me to this. The snow started to fall here on Friday morning and by the time it ended early this afternoon, we had twelve inches of snow on the ground. A foot of snow! On a Saturday! I'm not sure whether a grown man should be so happy about a snowfall, but it was fantastic. The downside after-effects are already in motion; right now, for instance, I'm watching the local news and the weatherman cannot stop congratulating himself on how right his prediction was. But this morning . . . well, that was cool.

I took my kids sledding down the street, where we saw more neighbors gathered than at any other moment in the four years we've lived here. After that we came home, built a fire in the fireplace, ate lunch and they settled in for an indoor day. Usually the video games irritate me after a relatively short time, but what the hell? It's Saturday and there's a foot of snow out there.

My wife and I were supposed to have attended a formal charity event tonight. It would have been the first time in 17 years that I'd worn a tuxedo, but the event was canceled. (Probably fortunate, since I don't know how to tie a bowtie, and my frustrated, profanity-laden attempt to learn last night didn't yield much.) Thinking the event was still on, however, I decided I'd better shovel the driveway. Ordinarily, I'd just wait it out, figuring the snow would melt eventually, right? Because my boss had invited us to this thing, however, I thought I'd better do what I could to get there.

So out I went. You know what? Snow is heavy. Sure, it looks all light and fluffy like cotton candy or something, but try lifting it! I was on the front sidewalk when I felt something pop in my lower back, and I collapsed to the ground. The wind whistled by my ears as I loosed my plaintive cry, "Little help?! Little help here?!" Nobody heard.

Nobody, that is, except this brave canine. Out of nowhere, she bounded to my side, wearing one of those mini-barrels of rum on her collar. I took the rum, she popped the cork with her teeth, and I drank, deep and long. The rum was warm like a Caribbean sunset and it made me feel like a pirate. The dog looked at me, waiting for instructions, and I said, "Go, friend, and tell my family I'm hurt. Tell them to hurry! Now, go! Go!"

Off she tore into our yard and I could hear her barking at the back door. After what seemed like an hour -- I'm sure I was delirious from my injury -- the dog returned, alone. I think she shrugged her shoulders, but her valiant reaction inspired me to stagger to my feet and follow her back to my house.

I've always thought of myself as more of a cat person, but I'll tell you what, this is one smart dog. First, a daring rescue and now, she's helped me find a way to pass off this injury as a workers' comp claim. Next stop, long term disability!

Man, what a great Saturday!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

It's Serious.

I guess I have a real case of writer's block, if in fact what I do here qualifies as writing. I have all of these great pictures from Paris, stories waiting to be told, but I can't seem to motivate myself. I wonder if I've lost my six readers. Are you out there? Ask me some questions - that seemed to help last time.