Friday, January 18, 2019

Nurse the Hate: Balling The Jack in Canada and an NFL Pick

A number of years ago the Daredevils played a Friday night gig in Buffalo.  I can't remember much about that show except that we spent the night with our friend Marty, who is always a too gracious host.  Marty makes a mean breakfast.  We were playing Erie the next night, so we had nothing but time on our hands.  I feel like I am imposing by just hanging around someone's house all day.  I mean, Marty's got a life, right?  I didn't want to just stare at him all day and say "What do you want to talk about now?  What do you think you might want to talk about later?" as the clock tick-tick-ticked on the wall.  Krusty was in the midst of one of his advanced degrees, so he needed to spend the afternoon doing a paper on whatever the hell one does in masters classes.  The rest of us had nothing to do.  I hit upon the idea of going to one of the casinos as a time killing adventure.

Let's be honest.  Buffalo is not exactly a top tourist destination in January.  I'm not sure if it was January, but I remembered that it was cold, so let's assume it was anytime between December-April.  Leo, Gary and I bundled up in the van and I drove us towards the general area of the casinos.  "Which side should we go on?  We should probably look at Niagara Falls right?"  The other two guys are no help whatsoever.  "I dunno.  It doesn't matter to me."  My thinking is since we are in "daytime adventure mode" that we will go to Canada.  Crossing international borders and gambling!  Good living!  "Well, the Falls look better on the Canadian side.  What do you say we go over there?"  The was a general grunt of agreement.

We entered the border crossing traffic lines.  This was before you needed a passport to go to Canada, so we just have to show driver's licenses.  I hand them to the Mountie.  Well, maybe it was a border employee, but it's better to assume that it was a Mountie.  That seems more exotic.  Anyway, the guy clicks our information into a computer.  "Any of you ever have any legal situations in Canada?"  Huh?  I tell the guy "no" and the other guys quip in from the back.  "No".  The Mountie frowns and tells us to pull over to the side and go in the building as he marches in with our IDs.  Now we are sitting in a crowded room filled primarily with Arabs.  About 20 minutes goes past and from behind the counter a tough looking cop yells across the room.  "Gary!  Who is Gary!".  Gary gives a slight hand raise and walks towards the cop.  Before he is even two steps, the cop begins to dress Gary down in front of the entire room.  "Godammit when someone asks you if you have ever had a legal situation in Canada you had better think twice about lying about that!  I don't know who you think you are but blah blah blah!"  Even I was wincing.  It was really bad.  It was like being screamed at by a really pissed off college football coach.  All the Arabs that were trapped here at the border looked at each other shaking their heads.  This man was the angriest Canadian I have ever seen.

It turned out that Gary had some vague traffic situation years earlier in Toronto that had been sort of resolved but maybe not completely resolved to The Nation of Canada's level of comfort.  We never got any more of the story than we heard the Canadian cop yell at him.  Gary was not the most forthcoming with basic information that would benefit the group.  The good thing was that they let us come in the country for the afternoon.  It is still unclear to this day why Gary didn't speak up when I asked "which side of the Falls" and say "Hey, let's not mess around with a border cross.  I have an unpaid traffic ticket."  I guess when he hit that next crossroad he thought maybe he'd get lucky when the border agent asked if any of us had ever had a legal situation?  It doesn't make a lot of sense, but that's what happened.  I still have no idea of the real story.  Regardless, now we were in Canada.  Let's go to a casino!

I had this idea of "balling the jack".  The concept is that you take all of your money that isn't absolutely essential and gamble it.  It's feast or famine.  I convinced the guys that we should take our money from the Buffalo gig, back out gas money to Erie, and then we gamble the rest of it on one roulette spin.  If we won, we would go out for the best meal we could buy in Erie.  If we lost, we'd have to eat gas station hoagies.  Let's add some drama to our afternoon.

We walked over to the roulette wheel.  Quick aside, a roulette wheel on a Saturday afternoon in Canada does not have the same looking crowd as in a James Bond film.  There were no beautiful women in sequin gowns saying playfully sexual things to us as we approached the table.  There was a fat guy in a mustache with a Bills knit cap on.  He looked like a walrus wearing those tennis shoes with velcro straps.  At no point did I attempt to order a martini "shaken not stirred".  I did get a comp Labatt Blue though.  It was served in a plastic cup as I recall.

There was one way to go on choosing between red or black for the big bet.  Leo.  If anyone could win a bet like this one it was Leo.  I have a theory that because Leo has such a good heart that the cosmos looks out for him when he does stupid shit.  Everything generally works out OK for Leo despite the obvious foresight most have of his impending disastrous next move.  "Yeah, I got this idea about riding a unicycle across the telephone line..."  Somehow he will land harmlessly in a shrub when he immediately falls from the second story from his unicycle.  It's just the way it works out.  I would like to go on record that he will likely win a major lottery prize before he dies.  He will also lose the ticket afterwards and never claim the prize, but he will at least win it.  I knew he would be our man for this wager.

Leo stared at the table.  He watched a few spins.  "OK.  Play black."  I took all of our cash (Cash plays!  Cash plays!) and placed it on black.  The clicking of the roulette wheel began to slow. Click, click,  "Black!  Black's a winner!".   Of course, Leo picked the winner.  The guy is absolute gold.  We get our chips slid across the felt to us and head directly to the cage to cash out.  It was time to leave Canada, take our money and eat the best meal we could find in Erie (which wound up being a sort of awful seafood meal at some joint down by the Public Dock).  The whole incident does provide a couple of life lessons though.  1.  Do not try to bullshit your way through Canadian customs.  2.  Sometimes a coin flip will come up a winner.  Don't overthink it.

I don't have a real clue as to who will win either conference championship game.  The Saints are at home with a crowd already wasted on cheap hurricanes and wearing plastic beads.  However, Brees clearly has some arm injury that will limit his game to dink-n-dunk passing.  The Rams are loaded, but Gurley's knees are being held together by prayers.  Does that mean Goff can carry the day?  Shit.  I have no idea. 

That leads me to the Kansas City v Patriots game.  It's in Kansas City where the weather is going to be "cold as shit".  Playing football in 12 degrees really sucks.  That is going to limit KC's ability to run deep routes, which means The Hoodie will come up with all sorts of wacky ass defensive tricks for Mahomes to deal with on Sunday.  The Patriots looked awesome last Sunday, absolutely unstoppable.  Will that translate to a repeat performance this week?  Shit.  I have no idea.  I do know this.  Of all 104 teams that made the Super Bowl, only 2 had a losing road record.  The Patriots went 3-5 on the road this year.  That is attention getting.  OK, I want some action.  I am on Kansas City -3 in a coin flip.  Well, unless Leo tells me "New England".           

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Nurse the Hate: Opportunity In Sicily

The Sicilian town of Sambuca is offering houses for sale for $1.    

Well, a euro really, but I don’t have that symbol on my keyboard.  Granted, these houses are what could be generously termed “a handyman’s delight” or perhaps a “fixer upper”.  They are 40 to 150 square meter dwellings that will need about $17,000 minimum to bring up to speed.  I am guessing they will require more work than I am able to do with my trusty duct tape or two (2) screwdrivers.  Still, Sicily appears to be quite nice.  Maybe there is an opportunity here.

I have been studying the wines of Sicily for the last few weeks.  At this point, I know more about Nero d’Avola grown on volcanic slopes than you would guess by initially sizing me up.  Don’t even get me started on Frappato or Catarratto.  I’ve got a bottle of Nerello Mascalese sitting on the counter I need to get into like a drunken raccoon.  Look, I’m all in on Sicily.  I have a bottle of Grillo chilling in the fridge right now.  It has already gone too damn far.  So, what’s stopping me from spending a euro on my “Sicilian Getaway”?  I can see me walking around in rope sandals yelling at sheep right now.  I already know that “Prendi le tue dannate capre fuori da casa mia!” means “Get your Goddamn goats out of my house!”.  I am essentially ready to go to beautiful Sambuca today.

There is a downside in that ghosts of Saraen soldiers slaughtered by Christians some years back are said to haunt the caves and districts nearby at night.  The last thing I need is a haunted 50 square foot shithole I need to repair with unreliable Sicilian contractors.  Maybe I can burn candles or put up a crucifix or something.  There’s probably a local method I will get clued in on once they see me in my rope sandals yelling at goats.  They’ll see I have gone “local”.  If I overhear a new neighbor say “L'arrabbiato americano con i sandali aprì una buona bottiglia di nero d'avola. Andiamo oltre e digli di sbarazzarsi dei fantasmi e scommetto che lo condividerà.”, I will know they mean “The angry American in the sandals opened a good bottle of nero d'avola.  Let's go over and tell him how to get rid of the ghosts and I bet he will share it.”.  

There’s obviously some concern about moving to a one euro house I don’t know how to repair located in the Sicilian wilderness.  It is also true that I also don’t know the language beyond two sentences and am thus unemployable.  But let’s not focus on the downside.  How long can it take for me to become a leading player in the Sicilian wine export business?  It’s not like they have a history of organized crime there.  It’s wide open with opportunity!  This could be it.  Time to jump in with both feet!  This could be the thing I have been waiting for… 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Nurse the Hate: My Alternate Life As A Dry Wall Installer and NFL Divisional Round Picks

When I was in high school I remember being sent for a meeting with our guidance counselor.  A high school guidance counselor is perhaps the least worthwhile job in education with the exception of high school shop teacher.  My high school shop teacher spent most of the semester screaming at kids to not chop off fingers on the jigsaw while he ignored us and lovingly worked on his own advanced woodworking projects.  I made a shitty looking hurricane lamp in the same time in which he produced a craftsman level dining room set.  I got yelled at every day and I am fairly certain he thought my real name was “Shit-For-Brains”.  I was called that so often that I will even now reflexively turn if I hear someone yell it out.  To be fair, I did not excel in the class.  It is remarkable I have all my fingers.

One day we were given appointments to meet with the guidance counselor, a man named Jim Kissman as I recall.  This is all from memory, but I think Mr. Kissman had a degree from Edinboro University, perhaps the least prestigious school in Pennsylvania.  Mr. Kissman’s role was to provide us a launch pad for future success by helping us get accepted at lofty universities.  In retrospect, a guy from Edinboro with scuffed shoes and Jeff Lynne afro might not have been best suited for this task.  He had the feel of a guy that could probably help you secure a pretty good price on a replacement muffler. 

One by one we met with Mr. Kissman in his office to discuss “our futures”.  This was an odd meeting for me as I had never even spoken with Mr. Kissman prior to this “sit down”.  I sat uncomfortably on the plastic chair on the other side of his cluttered desk.  He opened his file cabinet while repeating my name (“Miller”, not “Shit For Brains”) until he found what he was looking for.  Months earlier we had taken a standardized test which was supposed to help us focus on career areas in which we would flourish based on our interests.  The questions were like “Would you rather add up a column of numbers or build a TV set?” or “Which do you prefer, camels or mechanized drill presses?”.  None of it made any sense.  The exam result would somehow provide us with the laser focus we would need to have a profitable and rewarding career.

My high school sent something like 96% of all students to college.  This is where I assumed I would go, like my parents did and their parents before them.  There were 12 kids in the school involved in a trade school program.  We knew these kids by sight only as boys in tattered jackets that smoked cigarettes and had wispy boy mustaches.  We had almost no interaction with them.  The information on them was spotty.  They listened to a great deal of heavy metal and had been known to smoke marijuana.  They were known to teacher, student and parents alike as “The Rats”.  Not that our community looked down on trades or anything…    They took an early morning bus from high school to the trade school and would be ignored by the other students walking in much as you would ignore men waiting to give plasma.

Mr. Kissman squinted at my test results.  He looked at me.  We stared at each other.  Two strangers sitting in an office.  “So, Greg… what are your plans after high school?”  My plans were to embrace a college lifestyle I had seen in “Animal House” and “Revenge of the Nerds”, but the specifics were a little vague as I was only 15 at the time.  “Go to college I guess.  Maybe study radio and TV…”  Mr. Kissman stared back at the folder.  “You know, maybe the trades would be good for you…”  He might as well have said, “I think you have brain cancer.”.  I was stunned as I could not and cannot build or repair anything.  Was he suggesting that I should be a member of The Rats?  What the fuck?  Am I not college material?  Everybody else is?  I'm not?  Kissman read from The Report.  “According to this, you would be well suited to be either a turbine mechanic or a shepherd.”   I left the office stunned, completely questioning my earlier self assessment about my obvious talent for advertising because a stranger that had never met me looked at results from a clearly flawed standardized test.  It really shook me until I realized that Mr. Kissman didn’t know anything except where to get a good replacement muffler.

Sometimes I think about what would have happened if I would have listened to Mr. Kissman and enrolled as a poorly qualified member of the trades.  Though I would have had no inherent skill, I think I would have learned enough to be employable, maybe as a dry waller.  I could see embracing the idea of getting paid in cash, getting drunk at a chicken wing bar and then missing work until my money ran out.  Make no bones about it, I never would have actually flouished in the trades, skills to which I am now very envious.  It would have been a radical left turn in what my life later became, that’s for sure.  Today a friend of mine sent me an old photo from a Halloween party where I grew a bad mustache and had my fake teeth in.  I think I would have looked like this, listened to a lot of metal, and still not known how to fix shit.  I still probably would be betting on NFL Football games though and hopefully felt the same way about these upcoming playoff games.       

It isn’t often when you see a NFL Playoff line that seems incorrect, however that Colts v Chiefs line looks off to me.  These are two teams that have been going in opposite directions.  Kansas City since losing Hunt have gone 1-6 against the spread in their last 7.  The Colts, after starting 1-5, have the best point differential in the league and are getting better each month.  The line is at 5.5 but this should be 3 just for Kansas City’s home field advantage.  On a neutral field, this game should be a pick ‘em.  I think this game is begging you to go all-in on the Colts.

A couple of quick stats for you.  Chiefs coach Andy Reid is 1-6 in his last 7 playoff games, effectively becoming this generation’s Marty Schottenheimer, who ironically lost big games as a Chiefs coach too.  The Public, who loves Kansas City because they had some of their gaudy offensive players on their fantasy teams, has already forgotten that KC has the 26th ranked defense.  They are also repeating the “Andy Reid doesn’t lose after a bye week” mantra.  They love themselves some Patrick Mahomes.  They probably don’t know that this generation of NFL quarterbacks making their first start in the Playoffs are 3-19-1 against the spread.  That is a trend.  The only downside here is this is the Colts third high intensity road game in a row, but what the hell…  It’s not like Indy is that far from Kansas City.  I've done that drive in a van and felt tip top by the time I got to the club.  I love the Colts here.  Indianapolis +5.5 

Speaking of teams heading in the wrong direction, let’s talk about the Rams.  They got pasted by the Bears, lost at home to the Eagles, beat a terrible Cardinal team, and then got a closer than comfort win over SF where they were +4 on turnovers.  They clearly peaked in October.  Meanwhile Dallas, with the exception of that trap game vs the Colts after they secured their playoff slot, have just kept winning with defense and rushing.  Last week’s games showed that to win in the playoffs, you need defense and ball control.  The Rams do not stop the run very well.  This is going to be a problem.  I am thinking about getting crazy here and doing a parlay of UNDER 49 and Cowboys money line.  I figure that half the stands will be filled with Cowboy fans, so it’s not a traditional road game.  If the Cowboys fall behind 14-0, they are cooked.  There is no way they can come from behind a big margin.  If they do what they do, play D and grind clock, they can win this game.  With that scenario, it’s a low scoring game.  I am going to take a flier on this one if I win the Indy/KC game.  Cowboys Money line and UNDER 49.5 at +568.    

Season Record:  18-12

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Nurse the Hate: Hate Earth Fare But Love Wild Card Weekend

I was feeling very jagged and raw wandering around an Earth Fare store looking for something to eat.  Having realized I had eaten a piece of chicken and a Cliff Bar over the last 18 hours, I became convinced that "eating food" was something that was in my overall best interests.  It is not easy to find something to eat in an organic free range free trade health food multi market when you are not particularly hungry.  I knew I did not want the cold organic falafel in the plastic container, and was also confident that a slice of "power loaf" would only result in a heroic bowel movement on the "sooner" side of "later".  I was numbly walking through the store looking at all the powders, supplements and hippie brands of granola goodness when I noticed what was really going on.  The clientele of this health food store were, without question, the least healthy people I have ever seen in any shopping area.

In what I will call "The Earth Fare Paradox", I put forth that the overall increase in ailments and unfashionable clothing has a direct correlation to your likelihood of shopping Earth Fare.  Every single person in that store looked like they were in the throes of some horrible disease.  I was on edge anyway, but I freaked out.  I found myself completely bailing out on food and standing in line with two different types of seltzer water.  In front of me was an elderly couple that had could what could be described charitably as "restricted movement".  They had two containers of mixed greens which they clutched to their bodies like bundles of currency.  To my right was a woman in Birkenstock earth shoes who was intensely questioning the pony tailed employee on the source farming methods of some canned good she was shaking at his face for emphasis.  She was about 40 pounds overweight with a skin condition of some kind that caused flakes of skin from her face to gather in her sweater.  At the next register was a woman with a pronounced limp that was buying a dazzling array of organic powders.  She coughed aggressively into what I assume to be hemp Kleenex as the man with the disc earring and beard rang up her order.  I certainly wasn't feeling my best, but if an NFL combine broke out in that store at that moment, I would have been the consensus #1 pick.

I found myself to be an outsider in this scene.  All the employees had the groovy vibe of slackers with a smug awareness that "they were doing the right thing for the planet man".  I don't know what the hiring practices are at Earth Fare, but a long history of attending jam band festivals in the woods and being able to differentiate between various strains of weed must be a key qualifier.  Groups of three or four employees would be clustered around the store doing that hippie thing of talking out a problem to death when the answer was as simple as "someone get the mop".  I mean, they got there, but not before everyone weighed in and they talked it through.  Sample dialogue I heard:  "I totally hear what you are saying, but the last time we did it that way things got reaaallllyy crazy."  I knew at that point I needed to get my sparkling free range organic hemp water, flee, and just get back to something where I am comfortable.  In this case, that's breaking down my favorite weekend of NFL Playoffs, Wild Card Weekend.

You know when a hot rookie pitcher blazes across MLB?  It’s a new guy that no one can hit.  He’s unstoppable for a month.  Then the rest of the league starts to break down tape.  Baltimore’s offense is not exactly a multi dimensional air show.  It’s the option.  Now, I agree there is more to stopping Lamar Jackson than saying “we’re going to stop Lamar Jackson”, but I contend the Chargers and their 8th ranked defense are up to the task of keeping the Ravens in their normal 21-24 point range.  Meanwhile, the Chargers are 7-1 ATS on the road.  With no home field advantage, these guys aren’t bothered by road games like most teams.  You’ve had Phillip Rivers with a week to watch the Browns textbook for beating the Ravens defense.  Melvin Gordon is probable, unlike when he missed the teams last matchup.  I like the Chargers straight up after the Ravens having expended so much energy to even get here.  The fact I get a field goal is even better.  Los Angeles Chargers +3

The Eagles are back!  After looking like a crappy playoff pretender for the entire season, Nick Foles miraculously led the Eagles into an unlikely playoff berth despite taking a shot from Javeon Clowney at the end of last week’s game that would kill most normal human beings.  I cannot turn on sports programming without someone telling me how awesome the Eagles are and how, just like last year, they have been “disrespected”.  There’s no doubt about it.  The Eagles are going back to the Super Bowl.  Well, except they have to play the 12-4 Bears in Chiacgo, a team nobody seems to notice.  The Bears, 10-1 against the spread in their last 11, with the only loss when horrible backup QB Chase Daniel stumbled around out there.  The Bears have the #1 adjusted pass defense and the #2 adjusted run defense.  The Bears are 7-0-1 against the spread versus road teams with a winning record.  The Bears are 16-4-1 against the spread in their last 21 home games.  The Eagles?  1-4 against the spread in their last 5 Wild Card games.  This is a classic media driven/heavy public betting situation.  The Bears are really good.  The Eagles aren’t.  Chicago -6

Season Record:  17-11