Saturday, December 28, 2019

Nurse the Hate: A Christmas Story and NFL Winners

I am not positive when I made the transition in life from “enjoying the holidays” to “enduring the holidays”.  What was once a highly anticipated season of unbridled joy somehow morphed into a slow trudge of anxiety and fatigued consumption of sugar/alcohol.  As Christmas is “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year”, here I write this on “The Day After The Day After The Most Wonderful Day Of The Year” wondering when I can avoid anonymous plates of cookies left randomly around most public spaces.  At a certain point my body will completely fail me, my quivering flesh secreting a liquefied sludge of Guinness Stout and M&Ms through my pores.  Let’s just end it already.

Christmas is traditionally best thought of in the fuzzy soft light of romanticized memories.  I was speaking with my Aunt Sandy recently where she filled in some detail on a Ghost of Christmas Past memory when she was three.  My grandparents would have an open house, the event of the season by some accounts.   In their swanky upscale Chicago suburb, they would openly compete with the Joneses to best whatever the last holiday gala had been within the social circle.   This was the late 1940s, a time of highballs, cigarettes, and slave wage domestic labor.  My grandfather, an insurance company founder, would have been at his most brash martini fueled best, a bull-in-a-china-shop with a quart of Beefeater gin helping his decision making.

The open house was such a priority that my grandmother called in reinforcements, her parents live-in housekeeper, to help prepare and serve food/drink to the revelers.  This poor woman, a criminally underpaid black woman from Alabama, had 9 children of her own that she had to leave on Christmas Day to smile through her gritted teeth as she served her employer’s children’s spoiled friends and their rotten kids.  The scene has been described by various witnesses as an odd blend of “Animal House”, “The Color Purple”, “Mad Men” and “Romper Room”.  Adults downed high-test cocktails while children pounded their feet through the house chasing each other as silver plates of hot finger foods emerged like magic from the kitchen as the woman grinded through the early afternoon.

Towards the end of the afternoon, tragedy struck.  The housekeeper keeled over from an apparent heart attack, dead on the kitchen floor.  My mother was tasked with keeping my Aunt, then three years old, out of the chaos and panic in the kitchen.  She was seven after all, a ripe old age to run that kind of interference.  But this was the Christmas Open House for God’s sake.  It was “all hands on deck”.  The situation was dire.  Who would serve the rest of the food?  How could they get the body out of the back while not alerting anyone of the revelers in the front rooms?  There were priorities.  This is when I like to imagine my grandfather “Bud” taking charge, filled to the gills with gin, and commanding his male inner circle to wrestle the corpse out back while someone made a distraction in front.  As I first heard it, the body was carried out by three lit up guys through the back yard to an emergency vehicle parked nearby so as to not alert the guests and risk losing the Christmas cheer.  At some point someone finally called the woman’s family to alert them of her death in what was likely an awkward and sobering phone call.  “Hello…  Yes, is this James?  Mona’s son?  Yes… Well…  Ah…”

The party was saved.  There were whispered rumors of course, but in the end the men had another drink or eight and re-told the adventure as word began to spread.  My mother saved her sister from the image of the lifeless housekeeper being carried by well dressed men out the back door.  Kids being kids, they soon moved on to raiding the cookies and running around the house.  The doorbell rang and other well-heeled families churned through, unaware of the drama from earlier.  The memory of the party blended into the others from the era, a fuzzy Christmas memory that should have been horrible but instead had the edges sanded down by time to become just absurd. 

As those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, I have made it as policy to not have a housekeeper, much less one that can potentially drop dead in my kitchen.  Sure, I can't afford one now anyway, but I probably will after this Sunday where these two monster winners have practically guaranteed me unlimited wealth.  It feels good to know that not having a dead housekeeper I callously remove from my kitchen on Christmas Day is a choice, not a result of circumstance.  With that in mind, let's discuss the NFL.

I firmly believe in wagering against expectation.  This is almost always a guaranteed win.  While they zig, I zag.  There is no larger fallacy in betting the NFL than betting on the team that "must" win.  This week for example, the Pittsburgh Steelers must win for a chance at getting in the Playoffs.  They are playing the Ravens, a team expected to rest "everybody".  The thought is the Ravens won't care, and just want to finish the season healthy, thus will expend minimal effort.  The Steelers MUST win, therefore they will win.  The betting line has gone from Baltimore favored by three at home to them now getting three as money has poured in on the Steelers, a team destined to win because they "must".

Allow me this counter narrative.  The Ravens will not play their QB and likely MVP Lamar Jackson.  RG3 will get the start.  Griffin, a mobile QB himself, is perfectly suited to stepping in and playing adequately.  Most times "adequate" would not be nearly enough to win an NFL game.  However, Pittsburgh literally cannot score on offense.  Their QB, the third string Duck Hodges, has done the following in his last 8 possessions:  Five interceptions and three 3-and-outs.  The Ravens, possessing a very good defense, are not resting "everyone", but just some key players.  Let's say that they rest enough players to go from "very good" to "average" on defense.  Pittsburgh doesn't score on anyone.  They likely won't score on Baltimore either.  Pittsburgh has an excellent defense.  They will not make it easy for Baltimore to score, especially with their backup QB.  I am taking Baltimore +3 and UNDER 37 in a parlay hoping the Steeler defense doesn't score on a pick 6.

The Cowboys MUST WIN over the universally recognized "horrible" Washington Redskins.  Two quick points.  1.  Washington under Callahan has actually been a decent team down the stretch.  They run the ball well, play ball control, and limit mistakes.  They beat the Lions, beat the Panthers, lost by five at Green Bay, lost a close one at Philadelphia, and lost in OT last week to the Giants.  They hang in there.  2.  Dallas essentially lost the division last week in Philadelphia.  What was most noteworthy was how bad Prescott looked, missing open receivers time and time again.  He is clearly injured, probably his throwing shoulder.  The Public knows the Cowboys need this game to have a chance at the Playoffs.  They also need to Eagles to lose to the Giants.  So you're telling me that a bad looking Cowboy team, with their hopes dashed last week and an injured QB, are going to beat an average Redskin team by two touchdowns?  I'll take Washington+14 and hope the Eagles surge out to an early lead in New York.

Season Record:  26-14-2  

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Nurse the Hate: The Way Too Extensive 2019 Christmas Beer Tasting

Realizing I hadn't done an updated Christmas beer tasting, I got a couple degenerate friends of mine together and we sampled 25 Christmas beers in one sitting.  Like the holidays themselves, anything worth doing is worth overdoing.  The tasting notes got a little fuzzy as this rolled on.  At the end, I just begged for it to stop.

Anchor Steam 2019 Christmas Ale-  As I recall, they do a slightly different recipe each year.  It always seems to have a dried herbs and stale spice rack quality to it.  It’s not unpleasant per se, but it’s not exactly friendly either.  I think of this beer as a Deep Purple record from the cut out bin.  You looked at it a few times, but never bought it because none of the songs on it were immediately recognizable.  One day you find it in a Thrift Store for $3, so you pull the trigger.  When you get home you open the gatefold sleeve and a musty smell wafts up from the record, the white sleeve slightly browning with age.  When you put the record on, it’s OK, but you know you’re probably never going to listen to it again.  That’s what this beer makes me think of.

Market Garden Festivus-  I wanted to hate this as there’s a smug hipster vibe that that brewery, but dammit, it was really good.  The cinnamon/nutmeg was very strong, like someone knocked too much into the vat and hoped no one would notice but it all sort of worked out.  There is a certain “Ta-da!” element to this beer, like when I saw the Psychedelic Furs once way past their prime where they came out to great fanfare with lights and lasers but you felt like they were overcompensating with the production because they knew the substance wasn’t quite there.  The show was still good though, and so was this beer.

Shiner Holiday Cheer-  This was unexpected as it tasted like peaches and apricots instead of the expected cinnamon.  Is this a Christmas Ale?  It depends.  If you consider a girl in a bikini standing on the beach wearing an elf hat something you associate with Christmas, than this is a Christmas Ale.  Shiner is from Texas, and as far as I know they have Christmas on South Padre Island, so I guess this is a Christmas Ale.  I liked it but every else in the tasting group hated it.  

Millersburg Brewing Edgy Elf-  This beer roars out with a cinnamon flavor that drops off the cliff on the finish.  “Hey, this is pretty good… oh…”.  I imagine myself at the brewery tasting this and the waitress comes over after recommending it and says, “Don’t you just love it?” and then I just nod and make a “Mmhmm” noise.  This might be one of those beers where if you ask the bartender if it’s good they give you the lip service answer that isn’t really an answer like “it’s very popular” or “many people seem to like it”.  This isn’t awful, but you can do much better in the category.  

Platform Brewing Holiday Donut-  I really wanted to like this.  Who doesn’t like a holiday donut?  That is something that is universally regarded as pleasant.  For example, I can’t ever recall hearing a horrific survival story that went, “so there we were, trapped on the mountain after the plane crash with nothing to eat but boxes of holiday donuts”.  The beer couldn’t possibly live up to the hype.  It tasted disjointed, like there were two different brewers working on it at once, neither talking to the other.  The flavor profile never really comes together.

Revolution Brewing Fistmas-  The soft fruity apricot nose and contrasted with an edgy hoppy palate that made it very interesting.  This is like going to see the Meat Puppets expecting that all the songs sound like “Backwater” but then you find out they fucking destroy.  You get into it thinking it was going to be a 90s nostalgia act, and then you discover you are in way deeper than you thought and you’re getting your mind twisted into a fucking pretzel.  Odd as that sounds, I think that’s a good thing.  Recommended.

Abita Christmas Ale-  This is all cinnamon with a peppery edge to it.  It reminded me of going to grandma’s house when she baked cookies for the holidays.  That is what she has done every year, and it’s nice that she went to the trouble, especially since she lives on her own after Grandpa Ernie passed on.  You bite into a cookie, not because you want to so much as it’s the polite thing to do.  That’s when you discover that Grandma forgot to add sugar into the cookie and it doesn’t taste so good.  She asks you if you like it, and you nod while looking around for someplace to spit it out.  A week or so later Grandma is walking around the neighborhood at 3am with her robe blowing open mumbling about Kirk Douglas.  At least, that’s what this beer made me think about.

Breckenridge Christmas Ale-  This is loaded with so much cinnamon and honey, it smells like it is going to be syrupy.  It is so Christmasy that it is like a neighbor that has 117 plastic Santas in their front yard.  It sort of goes past the idea that it is a celebration of the holiday.  It has morphed into an aggressive confrontational holiday display meant to provoke a reaction.  “You see how fucking festive I am!  You got a fucking problem with that?”   No man.  Happy holidays…. I’m not looking for trouble.  I’m going to go inside now…

Mucky Duck Nauti Or Nice-  This has a dried herb element that made me think there has to be a hippie involved in it.  As I was drinking this it made me think of waking up in a VW Camper with a girl in dreadlocks named “Rain” who “can just tell I’m a Gemini”.  There is a Phish record playing on a boombox connected to power though a cigarette lighter jack adapter.  We are underneath a couple of musty smelling Mexican blankets and she is trying to convince me we need to go see a Shaman who is conducting a “happening” in his yurt in Ontario somewhere.  There’s one problem though, she just needs a “little bread” and wants me to go to the bank machine so we can go buy some gas and vegan cheese.  That, to me, isn’t Christmas.  

Fat Heads Holly Jolly-  With Christmas Ales, cinnamon and nutmeg are like breast implants, cosmetic add ons.  If we follow the idea that cinnamon and nutmeg are breast implants, then Fat Heads Holly Jolly is an F cup.  This is a beer that would be dancing at a “show bar” for tips.  Perhaps you would enjoy it, but you will feel guilty about its afterwards… you fucking degenerate.

Royal Docks Yuletide-  I picked up a lemon citrus scent on the nose that reminded me of dishwashing soap.  Now that’s not something one normally wants associated with a beverage but the acidic lift on the palate was nice.  I should also point out that I sampled this after all of the previous ones so I might not know what I am talking about.  Despite all this double talk, I liked this.

Saucy Brew Works Three Hoes-  This is all about the spicy cinnamon, like one of those Red Hots candies but with booze.  This would be a great beer to get a bunch of seven year olds all lit up.  I could have used one of these when I was forced to be in the chorus for our forced Christmas pagaent fun when I was in second grade.  I can admit now I was just mouthing the words and not really singing because I had never sung before and I didn’t want to look like an asshole in front of the girls on either side of me.  If I’d had one of these I’ll bet I would have done a solo.  It would have gone poorly as I don’t think seven year old me would have held his beer very well.  It would have made the show more interesting though as the parents would have said, "I can't ever recall seeing a seven year old so drunk, and singing so poorly."

Great Lakes Christmas Ale-  All hail the king.  This is perfectly balanced with notes of honey and clove.  It is The Rolling Stones of xmas ales, perhaps a bit taken for granted.  Stores are flooded with Christmas Ales, so it’s fun to try them all.  But just like when you put Beggars Banquet on the turntable, it becomes evident that some things are classic for a reason.

Thirsty Dog 12 Dogs of Christmas-  In what was maybe one of the best guerrilla marketing campaigns ever, there isn’t a person in NE Ohio that won’t stop to tell you in a hushed whisper that this is the original recipe for Great Lakes Christmas Ale.  This of course infers that this beer is better because it’s like Great Lakes was, and we all know everything was better in the past.  Make America Great Again, you know, like it used to be before we had to care about people we used to obliviously oppress.  I’m not suggesting this is a Trump beer, because it’s too well made.  It’s just trying a bit too hard like a guy with too much cologne.

Around The Bend Pretty Lights-  This is all about the orange zest, orange juice and candied orange on the nose.  This would be a good thing to be handed by a guy named “Electric Dave” at a party.  You’d thank him for the beer and then later he would say, “You didn’t drink that whole thing yourself, did you?  Shit.  You’re going to be tripping for a week.”  Guys like Electric Dave are fun to know, but you do you really trust Electric Dave? 

Platform Brewing Esther Belgian Christmas-  This sort of tastes like a Belgian beer, and it looks like a Belgian beer but its just not quite a Belgian beer.  This is like a guy at a party pretending he’s from Bruges and speaking with an obviously fake accent but he’s really from Chillicothe.  Maybe he even tricks some girls into thinking he's an exotic European exchange student, but when he's in the line for the toilet you lean in and whisper, "Hey man... I know.  I KNOW." 

St Bernadus Christmas-  This has all kinds of complexity.  There’s an interesting overripe banana scent on the nose with fruit and spice.  It’s a full palate, especially evident after the Platform Esther.  It wasn’t great on the first sip, but then it gets better and better as you get into it.  This is the beer version of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “In the Aeroplane Over The Sea”, something you don’t get at first but then wonder why everyone doesn’t realize that this is the best thing ever.  Highly recommended.

Praire Artisan Ales Christmas Bomb-  Dark roasted coffee, espresso, dark chocolate, cocoa powder, malt, it’s dark dark dark.  This is really delicious, but at 13% ABV it will kick your ass.  I don’t know why it is Christmas.  It should have been called “Big Chocolate Coffee Bomb Mind Fucker” but maybe that would have negatively impacted sales.

Southern Tier Double Xmas-  This was like drinking a wreath.  It’s very piney.  I’ll be honest, at this point in the tasting, my notes start to look very unreliable like someone trying to tell you about seeing Black Flag in a bowling alley in 1983 when they were 16.  It was probably really good, but there’s just not a good way to capture the experience so long after the fact.

Southern Tier Cinnamon Roll-  This is a boozy Cinnabon.  They should market this beer as “America’s Favorite Breakfast Beer” and run commercials with families knocking these back while walking the kids to the school bus.  There is no way in hell anyone would want to drink two, but maybe Mom and Dad would like to have one each morning.  It's probably a nice way to start the day.  Well, if you don't have to drive.  Or go to work.  Or be awake.

Goose Island Christmas IPA-  Caramel and butterscotch on the nose and then the hops come down like a fucking hammer.  This is like getting a delicately wrapped holiday gift, untying the exquisite bow and discovering you have received a .38 snub nose revolver.  Merry fucking Christmas.

Masthead Sleigh All Day IPA with Spruce Tips-  Yep it’s very piney.  It’s also a hoppy beast.  This is a hairy Turkish guy in shorts lifting weights in the forest all by himself.  He's wearing a Santa hat, so in theory it's Christmasy, but actually it just makes you uncomfortable.  Especially if he puts the barbell down and says in a quiet voice "I like the spruce tips."  No judgement, but I'm getting the hell out of there. 

Rheingeist Dad Hoppy Holiday Ale-  This smells like French toast.  I don’t know if French Toast beer is synonymous with the holidays.  Maybe the “Dad” in this beer name suggest a scenario where the family is making up French toast on Christmas morning and Dad lurches in and says to his kids, “I don’t want any French toast.  I’m going down to my workshop.  If either of you two sons of bitches messed around with my tools, I’m coming up here and throwing you into that Christmas tree.”  Ah, the holidays…

Rogue Santa’s Private Reserve- This is like wet leaves and orange peels.  It’s pretty yucky like an Adam Sandler movie on an airplane.  If this was a Christmas tree, it would be a bent little plastic tree that looked like someone hauled it out of a storage space and set the dusty bent tree up in a lobby of a cheap motor lodge where it unavoidably makes everyone sad that looks at it.  

Santa’s Cookies by Champion Brewing- This is an Imperial stout.  I suppose they left Santa a chocolate cookie because this tastes like a flourless chocolate cake.  When I was a kid I never knew Santa liked chocolate cookies.  I thought it was a good idea to leave him Slim Jims.  That seemed like the kind of change of pace Santa would really enjoy.  Knock back a Slim Jim and then have one of these frosty Christmas beers.  That’s how you get a new bike.  Not with cookies.    

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Nurse the Hate: The Santa Memory and NFL Sure Things

My mother would take me to see Santa when I was very young.  I have very early memories of where I lived in an apartment outside Philadelphia with my parents.  I should point out that the way I wrote the last sentence suggests that I was a de facto roommate, as opposed to a completely dependent three year old boy.  Let me succinctly say that I was a very average three year old.  I did not have a job or Eagles season tickets at this time.  I was focused on normal three year old obsessions, my toys and the acquisition of new better toys I had seen on TV.  Santa was the gateway to these consumer goods.

I knew quite a bit about Santa from the Rankin and Bass stop action puppet specials on TV.  This infomercial told me everything I needed to know.  It was quite evident that on the evening of December 24th a puppet would come down our chimney and bring untold riches to me as long as I was "good".  As a three year old sequestered in a small apartment in Philadelphia, there was only so much trouble I could get into.  I had no friends or social contacts of any kind.  I felt I was airtight on the "good behavior" caveat.  The only question was how Santa would get in as our apartment didn't have a chimney.  We had a sliding glass door and a deck, so maybe he would get in there.  I voiced my concerns to my parents, and they seemed confident that Santa would be able to deliver the goods.  That gave me some, but not total, relief.

When the suggestion was made to go see Santa, it blew my mind.  It was like my mother came into my room and offhandedly said, "Hey, do you want to go to the King of Prussia Mall and go meet Elvis?".  Like, what the fuck?  You mean all this time we could just hop in our VW Beetle and go meet Santa?  "Hey, the most important figure on the planet is in town and available to meet.  I wasn't sure if you would even want me to mention it..."  I had no idea who she knew that could gain us and audience with The Man, but I was blown the fuck away.  We were going to see Santa.

As the time grew near, I started to freak out.  What was I going to say?  This is Santa Claus and I'm a three year old.  It's not like I had any small talk.  It was intimidating as hell.  I was a really shy kid and I didn't have any experience meeting celebrities.  I didn't want to come off as some Rube.  Yet, I couldn't figure out how I was supposed to conduct myself.  There was a deadly mixture of excitement and dread as we drove over to Santa's natural hangout, the King of Prussia Mall.

I don't have any memory of walking into the mall or approaching the meet n greet area.  I do remember being next in line and watching a girl about my age confidently and with great poise run down her wish list with Santa.  They seemed to have a real rapport.  What the hell was her secret?  I was freaking out.  I had no idea of what I was going to say.  Then it was my turn.  I was called over.  My legs froze up.  That was the fucking man over there.  Holy shit.  I remember my mother chuckling and saying something to the helpers about me being nervous.  I was embarrassed about that, but not embarrassed enough to take control of the situation.

I was sat down on Santa's lap.  It was like that scene from "A Christmas Story" without the moment of redemption of asking for the BB gun.  I was mute.  Santa said a few things.  I stared at him wide eyed absolutely frozen in fear.  They gave me a few seconds, picked me up, and set me down.  One of the helpers gave me a cheap plastic car as they hustled me out.  Just like that, it was over.  I thought I was going connect with Santa, man to man.  Instead, I flamed out.

Look, I know I was only three years old.  It is unreasonable for me to beat myself up over it.  Logically, I get it.  It's a crazy situation for a three year old to emerge with their dignity intact.  It doesn't matter though.  That whole episode has haunted me ever since.  It was a personal failure that creeps into my mind each December about this time.  I remember going back the next year, vowing in my head to redeem myself as a man (or in this case, a four year old).  I fucked that up too.  I had two cheap plastic cars to show for it, one green and one blue.  I could never play with those cars.

Ah, what a melancholy season Christmas can be.  However, it can't be much worse than to be melancholy during the holidays and having to be a member of the Miami Dolphins.  There's three games left in the season.  They knew going into the season that they sucked.  The month of September confirmed it.  The team was openly tanking, trading legit players off the roster to guarantee a higher draft position.  Yet...  There are...  Christmas Miracles...

The good news for the Dolphins is that they are playing the New York Football Giants, a low talent team coached by Pat Shermer, historically one of the worst NFL coaches of all time.  I heard a stat this week that of coaches with 50 games coached in the NFL, Shermer's winning percentage is something like 176 out of 182.  The Giants have decided to pull the plug on their rookie QB's season and let Eli Manning go on what I suppose is a "victory tour", as much as a 40 year old man getting his dick kicked into the turf can qualify as "victory".  Whatever emotional lift the Giants got by starting Manning was spent in the first half versus Philly last week.  They can't have anything left in the tank.

Miami has somehow been playing with heart.  Last week, they kicked 7 field goals and lost to the Jets by 1.  Most dipshits will note that the Dolphins lost to the Jets.  I choose to look at it as the Dolphins drove to score 7 times in that game.  Fitzmagic is playing well.  They are moving the ball.  I'll take Miami getting three in front of a small and disinterested crowd in Jersey.  The Dolphins suck, but the Giants are worse.  Miami +3.

I am going to take Washington again.  They came through for me last week by doing exactly what I thought they'd do.  Run the ball, keep the clock running, and stay close.  This week they are playing an injury decimated Philadelphia Eagles.  The Eagles are in trouble.  They have no one to make plays on offense.  Washington has a decent defense.  They can keep this close if they stick to the game plan.  There is one great fear...  What if the Redskins decide that the season is over and they need to get Haskins game reps?  If they have Haskins throw the ball 30-35 times, savvy gamblers like us are "fucking fucked".  Shiver me timbers.  Washington +6

San Francisco just won the Game of the Year last week in New Orleans.  It's all anyone's been talking about.  They lost a close one with the Ravens the week before, in what is being called a likely Super Bowl preview.  The week before that was drubbing of the Packers on National TV.  Whew.  Thank goodness they have the Falcons this week before closing out the season with Playoff seedings on the line versus the Rams and Seahawks.  Ummm...  Has there ever been a better place for a flat spot than this game?  This has "backdoor cover" written all over it.  Atlanta +10.5

Season Record:  25-13-2            

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Nurse the Hate: White Knuckle NFL Locks

I am of the belief that if you are going against the accepted grain in life, it is most likely that you are on to something.  Super hero movies, electronic dance music, enormous pickup trucks, Kardashians, video games, fad diets, TV singing contests, and the NBA can suck the life right out of you.  It's important to sift through the crap and find the little jewels that make it all worthwhile.  Phillip Roth novels, Nick Cave records, an impeccably aged Bordeaux, Link Wray's Ace sides, an espresso from Loop, broken in Spanish cowboy boots, and the Washington Redskins with a ton of points.

Look, I realize that Washington Redskins inclusion on the list is jarring.  This was my intention.  The Redskins as a stand alone entity might well be the worst run sports franchise in America.  This criticism comes from a Browns fan, so put that last statement into perspective.  Football fans in DC pay more for tickets than anyone to see a hopeless team flounder every Sunday and then disperse into choking traffic to go back to their overpriced homes complaining about whatever shitty free agent signing didn't live up to overblown expectations.  I feel for those people.  It's a meat grinder.  However, let's appreciate the Redskins for what they are this week.

The Redskins, maybe the worst regarded public team on the board, travels to Green Bay to face the highest regarded public team at (use deep baritone) The Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field!  Every single dipshit I saw in Las Vegas last week is currently standing in front of the sports bet window throwing money at the Packers.  On the surface of it, it's obvious.  Outmatched rookie Dwayne Haskins takes a crappy Redskins team to Green Bay to face unbeatable (uppercase) Aaron Rodgers and his (small case) green bay packers.   Whatever B-team broadcast crew will spend that entire telecast salivating over Rodgers and talking up the overrated Pack.  This is the against the grain opportunity one looks for on a Sunday.

I see the Redskins running the ball.  I see them running the ball over and over and over.  I see the clock running and running and running.  Washington has won their last two games, admittedly over the awful Giants and slumping Panthers, but a win is a win.  How did they win?  Running the ball and playing defense.  I think the Redskins will avoid putting Haskins in a position where he has to make plays.  As long as they don't suffer catastrophic early turnovers and fall behind by 17 points or more, the Redskins can make all of our dreams come true; lose convincingly but by less than 14.  Yes, this makes me nervous but that must mean it's a good bet.  Washington +13

I spent Sunday white knuckling it on icy roads on the Poconos.  My only company was The Pittsburgh Steeler Radio Network on satellite radio.  This was little solace.  For three hours the broadcast team struggled gamely to come up with a nickname for soon-to-be-trivia question Devlin "Duck" Hodges.  At various times they called him "Duckbill", "Duckman", "Ducky", "The Duck" and "Duck-O".  I am not sure about why they had so much excitement as the Steeler offense stinks no matter what scrub they have in at QB.  Smith-Schuster is out.  Connor is out.  That Devontae dude was bleeding out of his ears a couple weeks ago.  We're not talking firepower here.

What the Steelers do have is defense.  Even better news is that they are playing Arizona.  The Steelers have demonstrated what a great organization they are in staying in the Playoff hunt despite all the devastating injuries.  They need this game.  The Steeler defense knows it is all on them.  I like their odds.  A team that can bring pressure up the middle can stop a mobile QB oriented offense like the Cards.  I have no interest in watching this game, but if I check the score, I hope it's Pittsburgh/Arizona UNDER 43.5.

I won betting against the Browns last week, and I am going to do it again this week.  These shitbags are the biggest disappointment in the NFL that aren't wearing stars on their lids.  (I'm looking at you Cowboys.  Thanks for the under!).  The one thing we can all agree on is that if you need a team to underperform, the Browns are a great place to look.  Sure, they're playing the Bengals, but we aren't betting ON the Bengals...  We are betting AGAINST the Browns.

Last week range season ended for the Browns when they lost to the Steelers.  They know it.  We know it.  Everyone knows it.  Tickets to the Browns game, once red hot, can be had for $20.  The season is over.  I have a hard time picturing this crew off guys getting motivated to play well this week.  OBJ is already floating out the "I don't know if I'm coming back" talk.  Speculation is swirling around the coaching staff.  Another defensive back was left off the roster for "disciplinary reasons".  Baker Mayfield is playing with a bum hand.  Does this sound like a team ready to take care of business?  The worst thing is with the Browns, anything can happen.  Usually most of it is bad.  Cincinnati +7.5

Season Record:  23-12-2

Friday, December 6, 2019

Nurse the Hate: A Winter Funeral

I was driving across the Poconos.  Central Pennsylvania is not a drive to be savored but endured.  Making the drive more exciting was a seasonal storm, rain turning to ice turning back to rain.  Enormous SUVs passed me confidently at 75 mph.  Twenty five minutes later I would see them smashed into the shale ridges carved during The New Deal, their useless four wheel drive failing them on the slick ice.  I trudged ahead leaving them and their blinking hazard lights in my rearview.

This was a familiar drive.  I had made it dozens of times in the band, but it was familiar even before the days of constant miles.  When I was a boy my family would make this drive to my father's hometown of Scarsdale NY during Christmas.  Time lasts longer as a child.  Sitting still for Sunday Mass was a trial.  The seven hour drive to New York was the equivalent of a flight to Sydney.  It was a lifetime in the rear bucket seat of a mid 70s Mustang fighting petty turf wars with my brother to pass the time.  "He's on my side of the car!"  I was not!  

I was driving to Scarsdale for the funeral of my Aunt Mary Carol.  Her husband Rollo would be at the wake, the last man standing of his generation. They were all gone.  I grew up with a routine for the holidays.  Christmas Eve at Jack and Rose's house in Tarrytown.  Christmas Day at Rollo and Mary Carol's in Scarsdale.  It was an annual get together I always enjoyed.  There is a grace and beauty to that area in the holiday season.  The topography is more interesting, the buildings richer in history.  It's the closest thing to traditional as we get in the United States.  I have always liked New York, falsely transplanting my family's roots in the city into my own identity.  My extended family got together so seldomly, all of my memories from family are from those holidays I spent in New York.  My mother died in the early 90s.  My father re-married later.  Then he died.  Rose died.  Jack soon afterward.  The links had been broken.  Christmas in New York became a memory, a fading color photograph.

I had taken on radical changes in my own life and the unexpected funeral shook my own unsteady foundation.  I veered into New York on the icy roads, hours behind schedule.  I was supposed to arrive hours before the wake, change in the hotel and arrive crisply later.  Instead I struggled to get there at all, crawling past jackknifed trucks.  Sleet, snow and slush combined to make a dangerous slop as I got closer to the old funeral home in the heart of Scarsdale.  The sleet turned into a driving rain.  I walked into the funeral home shaking it off.  I glanced into the viewing room.  I didn't recognize anyone.  I didn't recognize the body in the casket.  Shit.  I was at the wrong wake.  "Greg!"

My Cousin John saw me and offered a greeting.  His son wobbled past down the hallway with the joy of a toddler's newfound mobility.  I walked around the room offering condolences to my cousins.  I felt awkward, positive I should have said something else, but not sure what exactly.  I watched strangers say awkward things.  I waited to greet Rollo, my father's brother.  I looked at Mary Carol in the casket.  I couldn't recognize her.  Sometimes the mortician captures the person with their craft, offering a last glimpse of the deceased as they lived.  Sometimes the person's essence has completely left the body at death.  That was the case here.  I left and went to find my hotel in the rain.

The service was the next morning.  I found a diner near the hotel and settled into a booth.  I eavesdropped on two men talking in the booth behind me.  "So I call him in for the job, right?  And I hate, HATE this fucking guy, right?  And I go, hey!  This is no little thing!  This is big shit here!  Right?  So he's telling me, look Joey I can handle da job...  He tells me he can take care of it...  All I want is a little respect..."  It sounded like dialogue from The Sopranos.  It was two roofers talking shop.  Fucking New York.

The funeral was at a Catholic Church in the heart of Scarsdale.  The gray sky contrasted with the rich wood and warm candles inside the church.  It felt like walking into a John Updike novel.  I had not been to Mass in years.  It began and I automatically slipped into the ritual pounded into me as a child.      There were readings and prayers.  I stood and kneeled on cue.  Family members came to the altar to say a few words.  Rollo walked to the pulpit, a bit unsteady.  Rollo is 87 years old, his body betraying him.  He leaned against the wooden stand, tilting the microphone towards his soft voice.  The relative quiet of his voice made the words even more impactful as everyone focused to hear.

I remembered Rollo speaking at his brother's wake, a calm voice in an otherwise shocked room.  A man of great faith, he had every confidence his brother had moved to the Kingdom of Heaven and the only mourning was to be for us as we would miss him.  He was an anchor of certainty.  Years later, he was in the role again.  There he stood at the altar, his wife of 60 years gone.  By any measure, this was a truly difficult circumstance.  He was calm.  He seemed off-the-cuff yet prepared. 

He began by talking about Mary Carol, and her joy at performing simple acts of service for others.  These acts, largely ignored in life, were a defining trait.  He discussed Jesus, and his life of service to others.  He said something that impacted me then.  "So why am I standing here saying these things?  To canonize my wife?  No.  A lot of you might not know this.  We have four boys, but we also had a daughter first.  She died.  Eight months old.  I remember the service and they brought the casket for burial and Mary Carol cried and said, "it's so small... it's so small".  The priest came over to her, placed his hand on her shoulder and said "You are actually very lucky.  When you pray, you have someone that will hear your prayers in heaven."  Rollo then shifted his weight a bit.  "And I know now that I have one big girl that is finally with her little girl that will be listening to me."  He then straightened up and walked off the altar.  

The casket was taken out through the front door.  Wet snow began to fall in lazy flakes.  Christmas lights from the town glowed in the gloom of the overcast morning.  There was a fuzzy dreamy quality to it.  It was 1978.  It was 1993.  It was today.  It felt like I was burying my own past.  I climbed into the car for the long drive back to Ohio.