Losing my Big Apple cherry

Wednesday, April 14th, 2004, 1:59 pm

With swimsuit season just a few weeks away, it finally hit me that now might be a good time to start maybe thinking about losing some weight. I’d like to lose, oh, 50 pounds, but it’s a bit hard to do that when you spend pretty about 23 hours per day sitting and/or lying down. I get out of bed, drive to work, sit in a cube for 9 hours, drive home, eat dinner, and then write and/or play poker while watching TV. Pretty much the most physically demanding part of my day is brushing my teeth. That’s bad.

I play a lot of volleyball in the summer, and I’d like to keep the “beached whale” jokes to a minimum this year. While I won’t be svelte come Memorial Day, in six weeks I’d like to think I could lose a few pounds and get my ass in gear for the rest of the year. So I made a pact with myself–no poker until I lose five pounds. At first I thought about making it ten pounds, but that could take like 2 months, and I’ll be climbing the walls by then. I’ll still play in the Sunday night tournaments, and I may try to have a home game this Saturday, and I’ll be playing with my family in 3 weeks, but no more nightly 2 hours sessions at Party. Not until I drop a few.

During my hiatus I plan on doing a lot more writing and reading about poker, so I won’t abstain completely. I want to get the new edition of Cloutier and McEvoy’s book, so I plan on coming back to the tables in a few weeks a Mean yet Lean Gene. Well, leaner, relatively speaking.

While I’ll still be writing about poker here, I will take on other subjects from time to time that may interest those who read this blog. One topic that I’ve read about on other bloggers site is the upcoming NFL Draft, an event that I have long been devoted to. Only one team can win the Super Bowl, but on Draft Day every team can come out a winner. The fresh-faced endomorph your team selects could be the missing piece of the puzzle, and maybe that sleeper pick in will beat out the underachieving jerk they took in the first round three years ago.

I’ve always loved the draft. Before it was moved to the weekend I always seemed to get sick on Draft Day, until my mom finally figured out that late April was not generally considered flu season. One year she put her foot down and insisted I go to school, meaning I had to wait until I got home to find out that the Steelers had drafted one John Rienstra, a hulk from Temple who never did much for the Black and Gold.

My Steelers have had a rather checkered draft history in the past 15 years or so. I remember hoping and praying that Rod Woodson would last until the Steelers picked at #10, knowing full well that there weren’t 9 teams stupid enough to let him slip by. I was in study hall when a girl I knew said that she heard we picked some guy named Woody something, and when I asked her if the name could be “Woodson” she squealed that I was squeezing her shoulders too hard. That was a good pick. Then while I was in college the Steelers selected celebrated stiffs like Aaron Jones, Tim Worley, and Tom Ricketts. Merely mention the name “Huey Richardson” and the average Steeler fan recoils like a vampire confronting garlic. I think it was during our senior year of college when we traded down with Dallas, picking up an extra third round pick. The Steelers rarely traded down, so we liked this sudden flexibility, and the extra third-rounder was nice. With those picks we drafted the underachieving Eric Green and the anonymous Craig Veazey. With their pick the much-loathed Cowboys drafted Emmit Smith. It gives me a pain to think of it.

There have been good moments as well. I was helping my buddy Mark install an air-conditioner when it came the Steelers pick in the 2nd round. We’d already filled a need with tight end Mark Bruener, and there was one player we both desperately wanted. “Kordell!” we both shouted at the screen. I think it was Gene Washington who strode to the podium and announced, “The Pittsburgh Steelers selected, from the University of Colorado, quarterback…”. We didn’t hear his name because we already going nuts. Kordell Stewart had a star-crossed career with the Steelers, but his rookie year was absolutely magical, Stewart running and throwing and catching and even punting from time to time.

Last year Mark and I went to Heinz Field to watch the draft on the Jumbotron and enjoy some festivities. It was cold and rainy and by the time the Steelers traded up for Troy Polamalu we were about ready to retire to Mark’s place and catch the rest of the draft in comfort. As fun as the Draft is for the hard-core sports nut, it’s also like what a Vietnam veteran once said about going out into the boonies on patrol–hours of extreme boredom, followed by minutes of extreme terror. Well, there’s no terror in the draft, unless you’re name is called while the Arizona Cardinals on the clock, but mostly the draft is sitting around, listening to Chris Berman and Mel Kiper and a cast of thousands talk about the pick that, any minute now, will be forthcoming. Any minute now. Really. Promise.

Teams get fifteen minutes to make their pick, and most teams take every goddam second of their alloted time. Some, like the Minnesota Vikings did last year, take more than their alloted time, allowing other teams to run up to the podium and turn in their selection. Those fifteen minutes, repeated over and over again during the first round, turn the draft into an excruciating is-it-Christmas-yet test of patience. I’m an extremely patient person. I’m patient to the point of sloth. But when your team has the 23rd pick and it takes 3 hours to get through the first 12 picks its hard not to want to hit the fast-forward button in the hopes that the remote has somehow become a kind of temporal-accelerator.

But I’m still a draftnik, still follow it religiously. And, like any true believer, once in your lifetime you must make a pilgramage. Every Muslim is instructed to visit Mecca at least once. Many Jews and Christians trek to the Holy Land to see for their own eyes the places mentioned in their sacred texts. And so, this year, I am making my own pilgramage. This Saturday, I’m going to New York City. I’m going to Madison Square Garden. I’m going to the Draft.

I’m excited about going, for more reasons than one. We’ll be staying with our friend Ro, who’s pregnant and whom I haven’t seen, pregnant or otherwise, in a couple of years. We can get in touch with our feminine sides cooing over her before we strap on our skates and head to Manhattan to cavort in the testosterone-soaked and female-unfriendly confines of Madison Square Garden. Going to the most famous sporting arena in the world (apologies to Old Trafford, the Nou Camp, and the Rose Bowl) is exciting enough, but I’ve never, ever been to New York City before. And for a Provincial like me, going to NYC is something akin to taking a trip to Mars.

I’ve seen pictures of New York, of course. I’ve read The New Yorker for 20 years. But I cannot get my mind around the reality of New York. I mean, I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon and Mt. Everest, but I can get a good idea what they’re like from pictures and reading about them. But New York is just too big. I mean, people LIVE in Manhattan? They have houses? I somehow picture Manhattan as…I dunno, all skyscrapers and four-star restaurant, with a fair sprinkling of crack dens.

I’m actually sort of frightened about going to New York without an armed escort. I mean, won’t the natives see that I’m a tourist and start deciding among themselves who will take my watch, my wallet, my liver? My friend Matt, who went to NYU Film School and, therefore, lived in the city, loves it and says I have no need to fear for my life. He’ll be in New York this weekend as well, as he is doing a short film for a contest sponsored by Esquire. He’s going on movie business, I’m going to watch what is a glorified slave auction. I feel so dirty. Maybe I deserve to be mugged.

We’re taking the train into Grand Central and then the subway to MSG. I’d like to bring my Glock along as backup, but as I don’t own a Glock that’s a bit difficult. The fact that millions of people take the subway every year and only a few hundred thousand are the victims of crime doesn’t make me feel any better (Statistics provided by the Institute of Irresponsible People).

We’ll be going around 5AM, so as to get there in time to defintely get a ticket to get in. Five will get you ten it’ll rain. Gonna be a long, long day–up at around 4AM, wait 3 hours to get tickets, wait an hour to get in, wait an 2 hours for the draft, wait 5 hours for the first round to finish. Oof.

But I can’t wait. New York City. I’m from Pittsburgh, which is about 1/900 the size of New York. I mean, it’s no big deal to walk from one end of Dahntahn Pittsburgh to the other. You can park across the river at Stations Square and walk into town, you can park in the Strip District outside downtown proper and walk anywhere in the city, as I did when I worked there. But Manhattan (I know, New York is much more than just Manhattan, but let me break in slowly, OK?) makes the Friendly City seem like some backwater burgh where running water is the latest rage.

Pittsburgh and Pittsburghers have an inherent inferiority complex. Ours is a beautiful city, much cleaned up now that the steel mills are all, alas, gone. We have the rivers, the bridges, and a long and occasionally noteworthy history. It’s a great place to live, not at all expensive. But compared to “real” cities, like Boston and Chicago and LA and, yes, New York, well, we don’t compare. And while your typical Pittsburgher would immediately defend our city against any and all slights from those Big-City types, we also know deep inside that ours is not one of the world’s great metropolises. And that’s OK. Just don’t rub it in our faces, or you’re going swimming in the Mon.

Back to the draft. I’ll be writing more about it this week, put up my mock draft (and, knowing me, expect the emphasis on “mock”) and I’ll be taking my notebook and tape recorder with me to write and report while I’m there. I’m gonna try to write something for publication about my adventure (and so I can write off the trip as a business expense, wink wink) and I’ll be posting a Bill Simmons-style Draft Diary when I get back. It promises to be a great time.

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