Lessons for Luis Suarez

June 24, 2014

Just watched Uruguayan soccer star Luis Suarez bite an opponent for the third time in his career. He bit someone. With his teeth. On the neck. For the third time. I don’t know what possesses a man to bite his fellow man; no one seems to know, or understand, why Suarez keeps chomping on his opponents. But I do know that if Suarez watched Reese’s favorite show all of these unhappy episodes might have been avoided.

One Month In

October 28, 2012

As Reese’s due date approached I kept wondering how it would all play out. Lindsay telling me that it was time, the drive to the hospital, the hours of labor and our daughter introducing herself to the world. But I expected that events wouldn’t follow exactly as I scripted it in my mind, and no, they did not.

I had a temporary work assignment end on Friday, September 21st, and I had an interview for a new job on Tuesday the 25th. When I was asked if Tuesday was convenient I said sure, so long as my wife wasn’t in labor, ha ha. Tuesday morning I was up early trying to get my (deleted) printer to spit out a copy of my updated resume, the pins or pipes or whatever were clogged and every copy came out a smeary mess. I finally got the machine to do it’s duty when Lindsay poked her head into the room and said, “Now, don’t panic, but…”

It’s always fun when your extremely pregnant wife tells you not to panic. She very calmly informed me that she thought her water had broken, and as she was about to leave for her last checkup she figured her doctor could tell her for sure. I asked her if I should postpone my interview and she said no way, I should head downtown, dazzle them, and then she’d let me know if we were having a baby that day. No pressure.

I suited up and drove downtown, and on the way Lindsay called to say that the doctor had confirmed that her water had indeed broken, and that she should get herself to the hospital forthwith. So I wouldn’t be the one driving her to the hospital. Well, OK, that was fine, the situation was pretty calm at the moment and I had a job to land. I informed my interviewers (both women) that my wife was, even as we spoke, in labor, and if nothing else I knew they’d remember me (and I got the job a few days later). When I left Lindsay said that she and her dad had made it to Magee safe and sound, and I had enough time to zip home, change, grab my overnight bag, and head to the hospital.

Which I did, to find Lindsay lounging in bed, looking relaxed and radiant. Much as she had throughout her pregnancy–she’d only gained about 20 pounds, she hadn’t had bouts of nausea, and other than sore feet and frequent trips to the bathroom she bragged that she’d pretty much had the perfect pregnancy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I got to the hospital a bit after noon, and over the course of the afternoon and evening things moved along, but slowly. Around 1AM the doctor said that she still had a ways to go so I lay down on a couch and rested my eyes for about two hours. When I woke up the doctor was examining Linds and he said, “Good, we’ve made good progress”. I thought he meant that she was dilated from 4cm to five. Nope–she was at 10cm and was ready to push.

Which was a nice way to wake up from a dreamless sleep. Now, of course I was going to be in the room as Lindsay delivered, but I wasn’t quite sure how involved I was going to make myself. I’m not squeamish, but I wasn’t sure about seeing everything as it was going on. And I also wasn’t sure about cutting the umbilical cord, for some reason just thinking about that made me lightheaded.

But now, still shaking the cobwebs out of my skull, I was ordered by the nurse to grab one of Lindsay’s legs, push it up toward her chest, and help out as she started pushing. I didn’t seem to be a good time to say, “Um, y’know, not sure, you see, about all this.” Nope. Reese was coming and I was gonna have a front row seat to her debut.

Linds pushed for about an hour, and as I watched events unfold my mind took it all in from alternating viewpoints. On the one hand this seemed the most natural, the most fundamentally simple and correct thing I’d ever witnessed. A baby, emerging from her mother’s tummy, her father waiting outside to greet her and make sure she was safe and warm. I looked down and saw the top of Reese’s head starting to work it’s way out and I thought, “Hey, there she is. Hi, Reese.”

But. On the other hand. On the other hand I was thinking HOLY SHIT THIS IS FREAKING BANANAS, MAN. THAT’S A HUMAN BEING IN THERE, THAT’S A HUMAN BEING AND IT’S FREAKING INSIDE LINDSAY, AND SHE’S TRYING TO PUSH IT OUT OF HER, AND IS THAT A HEAD? WITH HAIR ON IT? THAT’S A HEAD WITH HAIR ON IT AND IT’S COMING OUT OF MY WIFE. ALONG WITH A LOT OF FLUIDS THAT I DON’T WANT TO THINK ABOUT RIGHT NOW. HOLEEEEEEE SHIIIIIIIIT.

Lindsay didn’t have the luxury of such philosophical waxing because her epidural wasn’t helping much and she was feeling almsot everything. And as Lindsay pushed for all she was worth Reese’s head would emerge, then slide back, emerge, slide back. And then there was Reese’s head, free and clear and very cone-shaped, and the doctor did some manipulating and Lindsay pushed one more time, let out a yelp of pain I can still hear in my head, and WHOOSH! Reese popped out whole and hearty in half a heartbeat. One second she was inside Lindsay, the next she was in the doctor’s hands taking a deep breath before letting out her first lusty cries. It was 4:42AM.

I understand that it’s a good sign when a baby cries. Well, she did that. And when the doctor put Reese on Lindsay’s chest she peed and pooped all over the place–Reese, I should stress, not Lindsay. I started taking pictures and did a quick inventory–ten fingers, ten toes, everything in it’s place, and yes, Reese was indeed a girl. I reached out and let Reese grab hold of my finger with her tiny hand. I felt no overwhelming rush of emotion, other than relief. Relief that it was over, that Reese and Lindsay were OK, and that we could all take a deep breath.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And that’s when all hell broke loose.

The doctors were working on removing the placenta while the nurse took Reese to the scale to be weighed. I had my attention split between them, and the doctor seemed to be having some trouble getting the placenta out. My friend Mark, who is a doctor, told us ahead of time that the placenta is the “most disgusting thing in all of medicine”. If anything he undersold it, and I took no photos. I walked over to where the nurse was determining that Reese was eight pounds, four ounces, and that’s when Lindsay let out a moan and I looked over at the doctor pressing down on her belly. She looked to be in pain, and that’s when I saw the blood, the blood coming out of her.

Her uterus wasn’t contracting, and she was bleeding. And when I say she was bleeding, I mean the blood was pouring out of her. Without going into detail, the doctor tried to manually contract the uterus, which was awful. Lindsay was sobbing in agony, which was bad, but what was worse was that I could see that she was bleeding even more. And the doctor, who up till now had been a calm, almost lethargic presence, was becoming more and more agitated. I’ve never liked flying but I’m always reassured by how routine the act is for the crew, how the attendants go through the motions during the safety drill, how bored the pilot sounds as explains, for the ten-thousandth time, what altitude we’ll be cruising at. The birthing process was much the same, the nurses and doctors went through their familiar checklists, performed the tests they’ve done upteenth times. To see the doctor sheeted in my wife’s blood and obviously flustered was like having your plane diving at a 45 degree angle and the pilot coming over the speaker to declare an emergency.

I asked the nurse who helped deliver Reese if Lindsay was OK, and she said yes, that this happens sometimes. That was right before the doctor said, “I can’t stop it” and Lindsay started screaming in pain. I went to her to hold her hand and it was around that time that the room suddenly became full of people in scrubs. Everyone in the room was yammering back and forth — not to us, but to each other in an indecipherable crosstalk that I only got bits and pieces of. Someone said that they needed to start hanging blood, now, and a very tall doctor near across the bed from me said no, if they were going to hang blood they were going to the OR.

There was more back and forth and I saw a female doctor who to me was the eye of the hurricane. She wore glasses and a glacial expression and in a confident, calm voice asked Lindsay’s doctor, “How much blood has she lost?”

And Lindsay’s doctor, covered in blood, kneeling in blood that was pooling on the floor, looked at the female doctor like that was the stupidest question he’d heard in his entire life. “A lot,” he said.

That’s when I got really, really scared.

People started moving about in the room, someone ran out to make sure an OR was ready, there was more cross-talk, and as I tried to make sense of what the hell was happening the female doctor with the glasses appeared at my elbow. From her affect she might’ve been standing in line at Starbucks. Without preamble she said, “Now, I’m sure you understand what’s happening…”

Which was, without a doubt, the stupidest thing anyone has said to me in my entire life. I turned to face her, I made sure that she was looking directly into my eyes, that I had her full attention, and that she would completely understand what I was about to say. “I have no goddam idea what is happening here,” I said. She didn’t seem surprised at my lack of comprehension, I don’t think surprise exists in her world. She explained that Lindsay was hemorrhaging (I knew that) and that this was not uncommon (that didn’t reassure me) and that this was a serious issue and that they would have to address it immediately. I don’t like doctors or pilots using the phrase “serious issue” so I asked what that meant and she said that it was possible that they might need to perform a hysterectomy to stop the bleeding. I was about to ask if a hysterectomy WOULD stop the bleeding when someone behind me said, “Let’s go!” and they started to wheel Lindsay out of the room.

She was still crying, and scared, and she told me to take care of Reese. I wanted to go with Lindsay but of course I couldn’t be in the operating room, and I was told to stay with the baby. The door to our room opened and there was Lindsay’s dad and brother, all smiles and waiting to seen Lindsay and Reese. Instead they saw a half dozen medical personnel wheeling Lindsay out of the delivery room and down the hall. The change in expression on her dad’s face as he saw his daughter is something I’ll never forget.

There was a nurse with Reese, rubbing ointment in her eyes, giving her a vitamin K shot. So I had a few moments to tell Bill and Jason what had happened. Throughout it all, the delivery, the birth, the hemorrhage, I’d been calm. You get in huge situations like these and you just lower your head and do what needs to be done and get through it. But now, in the desperately quiet hallway, all of it caught up to me. I was explaining what happened to Lindsay and my eyes saw the trail of blood going down the hallway and I started breathing harder and harder until I was hyperventilating and I couldn’t stop. I got the shakes and the world started spinning and my legs wouldn’t work and I slumped against the wall. Jason helped me get to my feet, I took a few deep breaths, and then I ran to the bathroom and threw up.

Someone from Environmental Services came and mopped up the blood in the hallway and the room. It took him awhile. I was allowed back inside and the nurse handed me a bottle of formula and said that I should give Reese a few milliliters. The plan was for Lindsay to breastfeed right after the birth, but with that obviously not an option Reese needed some nourishment. Jason grabbed my camera and took this photo of Reese just before her very first meal — later, when I looked through the pics on the card I did not recognize myself. This is me, completely terrified, trying to hold it all together while, oh yeah, holding my daughter, not yet an hour old:

Lindsay’s doctor came into the room about a half-hour later to say that she was doing well. They’d had to insert a balloon inside her to staunch the bleeding, and that seemed to be doing the trick. She was in the ICU and that I could do see her in a few minutes. I think they took Reese at this point, I don’t actually remember, I think that when I was told Lindsay was in her room she was holding Reese when I arrived. It’s all a blur.

As it was for Lindsay. As she was whisked to the OR she honestly thought she was about to die. And if we hadn’t been in a hospital for the birth she might have. When I had hand surgery they put me under and I was scared, not sure if I’d ever wake up. Lindsay thought she was dying when they put her under, and that’s a terrible thing. The last thing she remembered was the doctors discussing whether they would need to do a hysterectomy, and when she woke up that was the first thing she asked, and was told that it hadn’t been necessary. I found her in the ICU looking like hell, with a half-dozen IV’s and probes and leads attached to her. But she was smiling, and holding Reese, and that’s when I knew, at last, that everything was going to be OK.

The bad memories fade, over time. But while writing this I felt the terror of those few hours rise up again, and maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s a good thing to remember how scared I was at 6AM the morning of September 26th when I’m up feeding Reese at 6AM with a miserable head cold (like this morning). On Friday she was one month old and she’s doing well, everyone seems to think she looks more like me but we’re hoping she’ll grow out of that. We’ve gone from measuring our lives in days and weeks to ounces of formula and poopy diapers. Every cliche about having a baby has proven true, how her smile melts your heart, how her screams send you into a panic, how stupendous is the smell of a full diaper. One month in, all is pretty much right with the world.

 

 

The Home Stretch

September 12, 2012

So, the last nine months.

On New Year’s Day the wife and I were at a party, the Steeler game was on in the corner, and we got to chatting about the future. Maybe, she said, we should think about maybe having a baby. In the fall, maybe, that’s when we should start trying. And I said, sure, let’s think about maybe trying in the fall. Maybe.

It was cold that night, colder than I thought, because when we got home and I dragged our expired Christmas tree out to the curb for the garbagemen, I didn’t see that our driveway was a sheet of black ice. My feet flew into the air and I executed a DDT on my left hand that Jake “The Snake” Roberts would’ve been proud of. I knew I hurt my hand, but I could make a fist and squeeze and there seemed to be good blood flow. It wasn’t until 10 days later, when the swelling had fully subsided and I really took stock of the situation, that I conceded that the pinky knuckle on my hand was about an inch to the right of where it should be.

An X-ray confirmed the damage, I got my hand splinted, and I made an appointment to see an orthopedist the next morning. That would be my second stop on the day–first I had to drive Lindsay to the airport, as she was flying to California to visit her best friend Lori. As we zipped down the Parkway I assured Lindsay that I didn’t hate her for leaving me for a week of wine-drenched debauchery while I had a busted paw. “I’ll be fine, they’ll probably just put me in a cast for a few weeks.”

“I hope they don’t have to move the bone back into place,” she said.

“Why?” I said, alarmed. “Does that hurt?”

And Lindsay, who works with transplant patients and has worked on her bedside manner for over a decade, said, “OH yeah.”

I dropped her off and drove back across town for my appointment, trying not to forget Lindsay’s cheery “OH yeah” that was ringing in my ears. At my appointment I learned the good news–there would be no manual bone-shifting. The bad news was that I needed surgery to put a pin in my hand to set the bone, and could I make myself available for that surgery the following morning? Terrific. Lindsay, who’s life’s work is tending to sick children, many of whom she helps through the trauma of surgery, was even then being whisked away from a child already quailing at the thought of the operating theater–me.

There was nothing to be done. I made the appointment, arranged for my dad to take me to the hospital, told Lindsay the news while trying very hard not to saddle her with an enormous guilt trip for ABANDONING HER COWARDLY HUSBAND in his time of need. No fooling though, I was spooked, didn’t like the idea of having anesthesia, defintely didn’t like the size of the needle they stuck in my arm for the nerve block, REALLY didn’t like watching the ultrasound of my arm as the doctor wiggled the needle around inside my arm to find the nerve. Unpleasant.

But the surgery went well, the drugs they gave me were fairly awesome, my dad stayed over at my house to make sure I didn’t knock myself out with my deadened arm, and Saturday morning he went home before a minor snow shower hit. I was sitting on the couch, a blanket draped over my legs. I had a big cup of coffee at my elbow and a Vicodin erasing the pain and making everything all glowy. Morgan the dog slumbered at my feet, one eye cocked just in case I felt like getting up and giving her a treat.

When Linsday called it was around noon. We said our hellos and then she asked if we could do a FaceTime call. We both have iPhones but we’d never used that feature before. I figured she wanted to see how I was, how her wounded warrior was rebounding from his ordeal. Obviously, the Vicodin was having a powerful effect on my faculties.

So there’s my wife’s lovely face before me and she looked lovely. Lovely, and in shock. I sensed something was amiss and and when she said, “I need to show you something,” only two possibilties came to mind. The first was that SHE had somehow broken her hand, which frankly is the sort of one-upsmanship that’s beneath her.

The second possibility is what she showed me. Which was a pregnancy test stick. She brought it closer to the screen and I was able to make out the word “PREGNANT”. Her face again filled the screen and I, always quick-witted, said, “Is that yours?”

Is that yours. I meant it as half-a-joke, of course I knew it was hers, but I was gobsmacked enough that half-a-joke was all I could muster. She explained that they’d been about to head out to a winery when she realized that she, well, was a little late. Late enough to make her go, “Hmm”. Her friend Lori happened to have a pregnancy test lying around (as I guess women do) and Lindsay took it knowing, knowing, that it would come back negative. Because we hadn’t even been trying. Lindsay was explaining all this to Lori when she looked down at the stick and just as she looked down at it the word PREGNANT flashed on the tiny screen and when it did Lindsay let out a little shriek. One that sent Lori rushing into the room, to find Lindsay walking out of the bathroom like a zombie, saying, “Lori, I’m pregnant!”.

This all unfolded with me 3,000 miles away, watching big fluffy snowflakes fall from the sky unto our deck below. Oh, how simple life was then. Well, as simple as it can be with your hand encased in fiberglass and a four-inch pin stuck into your flesh. And then came that phone call and my broken hand suddenly wasn’t such a big deal anymore. I remember pacing around the first floor as we talked, me reassuring her that we were ready for this, everything would be fine, that I was surprised but happy. I guess I actually believed all these things because I had a goofy smile on my face the whole time. And it wasn’t the Vicodin. And I remembered that conversation Linds and I had on New Year’s Day. We’d talked about maybe trying in the fall–turns out she was already pregnant. And instead of trying, we’d be having a baby.

I had to wait a week for Lindsay to get home, to see my wife and, in some manner of speaking, meet our child. It didn’t seem real then, that in nine months, God willing, we’d have a baby. It got really real a few weeks later when Linds was feeling acute pain and we thought something was wrong, we went to the ER and they did an ultrasound and there she was, a little grey shadow on the screen, with a little kernel in the center pumping away, her heart chugging along already.

There have been other milestones along the way–we learned that the baby is indeed a she, we picked out a name (Reese Jacquelyn), my office was repurposed into the nursery, and then we filled that nursery with gifts from Lindsay’s showers. Lindsay went from losing weight early in her pregnancy to finally showing a little bump, to having a somersaulting, hiccuping dervish inside her, and now she’s big enough and round enough that she can comfortably rest a bowl on her belly, something that she enjoys doing a bit too much. People keep asking, are you guys ready, and we say, sure, we have everything we could possibly need.

Except for Reese. Her due date is September 21st but of course she could come any day. And we’re just waiting for THE day, her day, when she’ll arrive and join our family. I don’t really feel nervous right now, I think I know that I’ll be nervous enough when the time comes so I might as well conserve my energy so I have gigawatts of adrenaline to burn off when it’s time to head to the hospital. It’ll happen when it happens. If I can’t quite believe that this IS going to happen, after nine months of waiting, well, I’ll bet I’m not the first father to feel this way.

I don’t have anything especially perceptive to say about my impending fatherhood, people ask me what I think, what I’m feeling, and I’m at a loss for words. About all I can say is that what I want most of all is to finally meet my daughter. I want to see her, wish her Happy Birthday, and see her and her mother together. And then, we’ll see how it all goes after that.

Horror Valley

November 12, 2011

The summer after my sophomore year I stayed at Penn State to edit the summer sports section of The Daily Collegian. From May till early June there was an inter-session when the paper didn’t publish, and I lived at the Alexander Court apartments on Beaver Avenue and took a SpeechCom class. Campus was nearly deserted, as was my apartment building. I lived on the 7th floor, the top floor, near the stairwell. The elevator only worked half the time and when someone would exit the stairwell the door would SLAM shut with a terrifying bang, which was made much worse when it would happen at 3;30 in the morning.

My buddy Adam was going to live with me during the summer session but for about a month I was alone, and it was creepy living in an almost-empty apartment building by myself. The first few nights I lay in bed staring through the door into the short hallway, expecting some spectral figure from my nightmares to shimmer into view. The banging stairwell door didn’t help my nerves. After a couple of nights I started sleeping with the hallway light on.

There wasn’t much to fill my days. No one I knew was up there and I failed to summon the courage to ask out this one pretty girl from my class. I spent a lot of time at White Building, by myself, shooting hoops. I read a lot. And I would walk way up College Avenue to a video rental place near Wendy’s to pick up movies. And one night I rented Blue Velvet.

Watching David Lynch’s masterpiece of voyeurism and perversion by myself, at night, in an abandoned apartment building was an incredibly stupid thing to do. I spent the evening freaked out of my mind, the scene where Isabella Rossellini discovers Kyle MacLachlan hiding in her closet making me want to crawl under the couch. When it ended I looked around my still apartment and compared to the bleak cell Dorothy Vallens lived in. I needed to get out.

I took a long walk around the Penn State campus, to my mind the most idyllic spot on Earth. The stately buildings, the wide landscaped lawns, the gorgeous elms lining the Mall. If I’d been a little more perceptive I might’ve seen a parallel between the beauty of Penn State and the serene-on-the-surface settings of David Lynch’s films. Lumberton in Blue Velvet, or Twin Peaks, these archetypes of small-town America that harbor dark, disturbing secrets.

Of course I knew bad things happened at Penn State, you put 20,000 guys between the ages of 18-24 in such a small place and mayhem occasionally ensues. My freshman year someone was assaulting women walking through campus at night and when we’d work late at the Collegian the guys would walk the women back to their dorms. And having covered football for a year I didn’t look upon Joe Paterno as an infallible demigod–I saw that he could be irascible and dismissive and, well, human. But I was still a big, big, Nittany Lion fan, and every time I’ve returned to Happy Valley it’s been like going home, even if the campus has been so transformed in the 20 years since I graduated.

As I’ve watched the coverage of the allegations of sexual abuse leveled against Jerry Sandusky, and the apparent cover-up that followed, it feels more twisted and depraved than anything David Lynch would dare put on the screen. I’m still having a hard time believing these horrific crimes took place at my school. At Penn State. The school that did things the right way, led by a man who was called Saint Joe without any hint of irony. The crimes Sandusky is charged with are among the most monstrous human beings are capable of, they are acts that strip the humanity away from the most innocent and defenseless.

But there is evil in the world, you learn that lesson at a much-too-early age. The idea is when confronted with true evil, good people, and there are far more good people than bad, confront that evil. We construct our societies to restrict and challenge the worst of our nature. And so the revelation that Mike McQueary, Joe Paterno, Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, and Graham Spanier had information about Sandusky raping a child, and they did nothing about it, NOTHING, knocks reality off it’s moorings. I would bet that all those men are, at heart, good people. Decent, caring human beings. And that they did NOTHING once they learned what happened, that they did NOTHING to learn the identity of the child Sandusky raped, that they did NOTHING to ensure Sandusky didn’t continue abusing children, is impossible to understand.

That’s the question I keep hearing in my mind–“WHY???”. Why did they do NOTHING? The obvious answer, the one everyone keeps bringing up, is that they wanted to protect the football program. But on the surface, that doesn’t make sense. Sandusky was no longer part of the coaching staff. By going to the police, they would in fact be taking a decisive step toward protecting the football program, and by extension their own careers. The story would’ve been a very black eye for the football program, and for Penn State, but by not acting these men put their fates in the hand of a man who they had every reason to believe was a child molester. WHY???

I can understand McQueary stumbling upon Sandusky raping a child in the shower and fleeing the scene in horror. I can understand him talking to Paterno and the coach being unable to believe his friend and colleague was a monster. I can understand Curley, Schultz and Spanier hearing the reports and wanting to pause before taking action. I can understand these men needing a few days to process this horrible information before doing the right thing. But a few days went by, a few weeks, months, years, and they did NOTHING. No, they did something–Curley told Sandusky he wasn’t allowed to bring children on campus any longer. So they thought Sandusky might’ve done something horrible with that child, or that he was capable of doing something horrible. And all they did was say, “Don’t do it here”.

That is indefensible. As is the idea that McQueary and Paterno fulfilled their obligation by kicking the news upstairs. That is obscene. How could they see Sandusky walking around the football offices for YEARS and not say or do anything? It boggles the mind. As does the fact that it doesn’t seem anyone ever thought, “You know what, we really need to talk to a lawyer about this”. Didn’t it occur to, say, Spanier to bring in a University lawyer to lay out the allegations and ask what they should do? I can’t believe the lawyer would say, “Don’t ask questions. Don’t tell the cops. Just let it lie”.

Maybe Curley thought telling Sandusky he couldn’t bring kids on campus was a shot across the bow that was scare him straight. Forgetting that evil is sly and full of tricks and deceits. Maybe they thought this would all just go away, go away, and they could pretend that what McQueary saw that day in the shower was a one-time thing that had never happened before and would never happen again. Willfully ignoring how implausible that might be, and how that naive hope was an abdication of responsibility so shocking that it would destroy the reputation of the Univeristy nine years later.

The reputation of Penn State has indeed been destroyed, by men who did so much to build it in the first place. Paterno saw his legendary career ended not on his own terms, but by a Board of Trustees who felt they had no choice but to fire him if the University was to have any chance of saving its soul. Graham Spanier was a great university president–he’ll now be known as a man who let a child molester walk around free rather than risk embarrassing the school. Why. That’s always the question. Why.

The students, players, faculty, administrators and alumni of Penn State bear no responsibility for the crimes that were committed. Save for the fact that, to varying extents, we worshiped the false idol of college football. If Penn Staters aren’t responsible for these horrible crimes, we are all now responsible for trying to atone for them. If Penn State is to ever redeem itself, if the University is rebuild its reputation, it won’t be from the work of a handful of administrators and the new football coach. It’s up to everyone who ever has or ever will go to school there. It will take decades, generations, to clean the stain that Jerry Sandusky and those who ignored his crimes left behind.

Before football games they play the Penn State Alma Mater and it’s typical for students (and alumni) to say “We don’t know, the goddam words!” instead of the lines as written. I’m hoping that at today’s game, and every time the song is sung in the future, we actually sing those words. Especially the last stanza, which seems so poignant today and will continue to be in the future:

May no act of ours bring shame
To one heart that loves thy name,
May our lives but swell thy fame,
Dear old State, dear old State.

Face Off

October 10, 2011

Did some multi-tasking last night–I got my ironing done for the week while watching “Face Off”, the season finale of Breaking Bad. Suffice to say the latter was more interesting that the former and since I don’t have anyone to TALK TO about it I’ll just scribble a few thoughts and observations for yinz to peruse.

  • I don’t get scared or shocked all that easily, but when the camera panned around Gus Fring after the explosion and we saw the horror that was now his face, yup, I was shocked. It was a profoundly disturbing image and one I haven’t been able to get out of my (still-intact) head. You see the door blow off and Gus strolls out, straightening his tie, and you really believe that this guy could’ve survived the blast, because Gus can survive ANYTHING. And then the reveal. Maybe I should’ve seen it coming from the episode title, but I didn’t. No sir, I did not.
  • Unfortunately I knew SOMETHING big was about to happen (and that the closing shot would be of great import) because I listened to Bryan Cranston’s interview on Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast and Cranston told listeners that they would be an “Oh shit!” moment with 15 minutes to go and that the last shot of the show would be a zooming close-up of an object that would blow your mind. When Jesse talked about the Lily of the Valley plant I knew that’s what we’d see in that final frame. Everyone loves spoilers, but sometimes they live up to their name.
  • I’m still not on board with the Brock poisoning plot. OK, we need to be kept in the dark as to whether he was poisoned, by whom, what with, etc. But the narrative gaps are huge, especially for a show that has been so diabolically deft in its plotting. How did Jesse lose the ricin? How would a poisoner, any poisoner, gain access to Brock to administer the toxin? The answers we got last night (both from the show and from interviews with creator Vince Gilligan that I read) did not fully satisfy. There’s a clue in the penultimate episode “End Times” that is obscure but telling, more the former than the latter. Is what ultimately happened plausible? Yes. But that’s a low bar to set for such a great show.
  • I watched the chapel scene between Gus and Jesse ten times in a row, focusing on the part where Jesse says that Brock isn’t sick, he was poisoned. Giancarlo Esposito should win an Emmy just for the two or three seconds that follows, he takes in the information, considers it, and his mouth opens as he realizes that Jesse suspects him. Gus is instantly gracious toward Jesse, telling him that Tyrus will clean up the lab and that Jesse should return in a week. It isn’t until he reaches the parking garage that Gus has had time to fully process what just happened and realizes that Jesse did not reach this conclusion by himself, that Walt must’ve planted and then nutured that seed. Gus realizes that he’s exposed, that Walt might know exactly where he is at a specific time. It’s not that Gus has “Spidey sense”, as it seemed during the end of “End Times”. It’s just that Gus, a preternaturally methodical and patient man, deduced that he’d been drawn out into the open. He knew Walt wouldn’t dare a direct assault, that he’d try to kill from a distance. Perhaps Gus didn’t know there was a bomb attached to his car, but he did know that Walt was a step ahead of him. And the last time that happened, Gale ended up dead. Gus would not make that mistake.
  • Everyone says that pride is Walter White’s fatal flaw, but it was also Gus’s downfall. He could’ve killed Hector whenever he wanted. He could’ve let Tyrus do it. But no. HE had to be the one who dealt the final blow and ended the Salamanca line. He wanted Hector to finally look in his eyes and see that Gus at the moment of his death, just as Gus looked into the eyes of his dead partner (lover?) 20 years previous. Any idea that Gus has supernatural intution ended in that stunning scene in Hector’s room, as Gus did not seem to even consider that the weak, pathetic, superfluous Walter White had again lured him into a trap.
  • So what happens during the final 16 episodes that will bring Breaking Bad to an end? The reviews and comments I’ve read all point out obvious threats–like Mike, still recovering in Mexico. Or the German conglomerate that financed Gus. What’s left of the cartel, or another drug gang. And, of course, the DEA. There’s no way to predict what will happen next (my batting average on guessing the next plot twist is around .100) but when I saw Walt and Jesse shake hands on the rooftop I got the idea that, in their minds,  it’s over. No more cooking together, no more life of crime, no more cheating death. They torched the Superlab and as they wiped their prints it felt as though they were washing their hands of this life.
  • Of course, that isn’t going to last. Walt’s pride will not allow him to sell air fresheners and run the car wash. He defeated Gustavo Fring. The cartel is smashed. Hank and the DEA are left to sift through the corpses and destruction HE left behind. The idea that Walt will settle back into suburban monotony at the very height of his powers seems impossible. He CAN settle back, of course, he CAN retire and live without fear. But that can’t happen now, can it? Gus could’ve run his chicken franchises and made a tidy living, but that idea seems ludicrous. As does the idea of Walter White, Heisenberg, asking his bland customers if they want hot wax. I think that Walt’s ultimate enemy will be himself, his self-regard, which will cause him to lose everything he supposedly went into crime to save. The last thing he says to Sklyer in last night’s episode is, “I won”. I think before the end of the series we will see considerable irony in those words.
  • One thing I’ve found remarkable about Breaking Bad is how quickly the characters have their allegiences whipsawed back and forth. Jesse and Walt risked their lives to save each other on numerous occasions, but they’ve each ruthlessly screwed the other over (Walt from arrogance and self-preservation, Jesse from betrayal and rage). Jesse saved Mike’s life on two occasions, Mike saved Jesse once…this after Mike was going to execute both Jesse and Walt at the end of Season 3. Jesse saved Gus’s life then conspired to murder him a few days later. Gus warned Hank about the Cousins coming to murder him (in the hopes that Hank would rid him of that problem, sure) then planned to kill Hank later. Trust is often a fatal disease in this world.
  • I may be the only Breaking Bad fan who cares about this, but does anyone other than Saul know that Ted Beneke is dead? It might seem small potatoes compared to all that went on the last few episodes but if the Federal Government is going to be Walt’s primary adversary next season the IRS might find Ted dying shortly after sending them close to a $700,000 check slightly interesting. Throw in the FBI looking into the explosion and the Superlab fire and, of course, Hank and the DEA sniffing around, and Walt might long for the day when his problems could be solved with a pipe bomb.

Quibbles aside, what an episode. What a show. And now we wait till the summer (hopefully) for the best show on TV to return.

Over Before it Begins?

August 12, 2011

Was it really that long ago, February 16th, when Arsenal out-Barçaed Barcelona to defeat the best team in the world? Andrei Arshavin’s go-ahead goal seemed to signify great things ahead for my Gunners. An upcoming date with Birmingham in the Carling Cup final promised to land Arsenal it’s first trophy since 2005. Not an especially prestigious bit of silverware, but after beating Barça Arsenal could dream of reaching the quarterfinals of the Champions League by vanquishing the overwhelming favorite. They were still in the FA Cup and within striking distance of the top of the Premiership. With a straight face manager Arsene Wenger said his team could win a Quadruple. And Arshavin’s goal made one believe that this wasn’t mere delusion.

Sports fans have long memories, alas. Not that Arsenal fans needed one to remember their team’s self-immolation 11 days earlier against Newcastle. After cutting the Magpies to ribbons in running up a 4-0 lead, Arsenal shat the bed in the second half and let Newcastle score four times in the final 22 minutes, perhaps the worst collapse in Premiership history. And, sadly enough, it turned out that game was the true harbinger of Arsenal’s final destiny, not that stirring victory over Barcelona.

Because Arsenal stunk out the joint against Birmingham in the Carling Cup final on February 27th, struggling against a team that would be relegated before goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny and centre back Laurent Koscielny effed up in a way that has to be seen to be believed:

 

The team talked a good game after that ghastly loss, reminding supporters that they were still in the hunt for three major trophies. But who actually believed these Gunners could deliver the goods? It didn’t take long for Arsenal to show they were mere pretenders to the thrones, as they tied Sunderland, West Brom and Blackburn in successive Premiership games (two of them at home), lost to Manchester United in the FA Cup, and got beat 3-1 at the Nou Camp as Barcelona continued its march to be crowned Kings of Europe.

A stirring 1-0 victory over Man U was impossible to savor, thanks to an earlier, horrific 3-3 tie at Tottenham, Arsenal blowing a 2-goal lead just as they had earlier in the year when Spurs came back to win 3-2 at the Emirates. They then limped to the finish line with losses to Stoke and Aston Villa and a tie with Fulham, which meant Arsenal could claim a quad of sorts–they finished fourth in the EPL, and would have to qualify for a Champions League spot.

Unfortunately for Arsenal fans the nightmarish end to the season has continued all summer. Instead of summoning reinforcements to improve the squad, Arsenal might have been weakened more than any other team in the Premiership. It seems that captain Cesc Fabregas’ long flirtation with hometown club Barcelona will finally be consummated, after what seems like eons of speculation.

Losing a player of Fabregas’ talents is a huge blow, but the idea was that Sami Nasri would effortlessly assume Fabregas’ role and that Wenger would use Catalonian loot to, oh, I don’t know, buy himself a central defender with the strength and aggression of a minotaur and a keeper with opposable thumbs. But now it looks like Nasri is leaving as well, to the moneypits of Manchester City. That would push wunderkind Jack Wilshire into the starring role…except that he’s hurt.

Arsenal fans were ticked even before this looming catastrophe came to a head. Desperately needing help at the back, Wenger failed to bring in a central defender. Indeed, Manchester City added Gael Clichy to it’s collection, though one hopes (prays) that Kieran Gibbs is ready to take over full-time at left back. But even with Thomas Vermaelen and Johan Djourou returning from injury it would behoove Arsenal fans to stock up on the Pepto, what with Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci still among the team’s top defenders. Wenger did bring in Gervinho to hopefully add firepower to the front line, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who is both a major talent and also just 17 years old.

So with the season set to begin tomorrow (here’s hoping the riots that forced the cancellation of the Tottenham-Everton game come to a quiet end) the squad is in total flux. Arsenal fancies itself a European titan but their two best players are flitting off to wealthier, sexier teams. They’ll probably take in £60 million but Wenger is known for being tighter with cash than Scrooge McDuck. Can the parsimonious Wenger buy quickly, and wisely, enough to keep Arsenal from imploding? What’s Robin Van Persie thinking right now? Or Wilshire/Ramsey/Walcott? Or any other top player over the age of 20 who wants to play Champions League football and rack up trophies?

Arsenal plays beautiful football, second only to Barcelona. But last year they were a hard team to root for. The stupefying collapses against Spurs and Newcastle. The idiotic red cards earned by Abou Diaby against Newcastle and Van Persie against Barcelona (I mean the first one for complaining, not the second one which was a joke). Emmanuel Eboye’s inexplicable penalty box takedown with seconds left against Liverpool that cost the Gunners two points. Arshavin’s maddening inconsistency–superhero one minute, invisible man the next three games. And then there’s Nicklas Bendtner, with his pink boots and insufferable preening and blinkered belief that he’s a taller and more lethal Lionel Messi. Bendtner had a golden chance to send Arsenal through against Barça in the Champions League–here’s what he did with it:


barcbench767 by arsenalist

It looks as though Bendtner will also be gone sooner than later, perhaps a case of addition by subtraction. But with the transfer window closing August 31st there isn’t much time for Wenger to buy quality reinforcements, and integrating new signings into the club during the season doesn’t bode well for Arsenal’s chances. Hey, I think Phil Jagielka would be a nice addition. But a pedestrian signing like that wouldn’t do much to mollify fans watching Fabregas and Nasri sprint away from North London, and Lille isn’t giving up Eden Hazard without at least an exchange of artillery fire.

I heard on a podcast that Arsenal should consider adding Joey Barton, and I can see the logic in that (perhaps the first time “logic” and “Joey Barton” have appeared in such close proximity). Barton is a talented passer and he’s long desired a chance to perform on the biggest stage, so he’d certainly be motivated. Of course Barton possesses a disposition, both on the pitch and off, that could be compared to a Honey Badger at the ragged end of a four-day drunk. Whether Wenger would take on such a potential headache might be an indicator of how desperate he is.

Those players who are actually committed to Arsenal have no time to pout or ponder. Tomorrow’s opener at Newcastle is followed by the first leg of their Champions League qualifier against Udinese. Then they host Liverpool, a team most figure has eclipsed Arsenal this off-season and one that could shove Arsenal out of the top four in the Premiership. The return leg at Udinese follows and then there’s a trip to Old Trafford to take on the defending champions. We could have a very good idea what kind of season Arsenal is going to enjoy (or not) by August 28th.

I’m thrilled that the season’s about to start, but I can’t say I’m looking for much from Arsenal this year. But maybe that’s a blessing in disguise–after so many years of high expectations, perhaps this is the year they overachieve, not under. There’s still a ton of talent on the squad and maybe Wenger can transform Fabregas and Nasri into gold. Or, failing that, silverware.

A Hunting I Will Go

June 6, 2011

It’s been a good long time since I last looked for a job. When I got laid off five years ago I was in the middle of selling my house and barely had time to move into my apartment before I got my poker blogging break. When I got laid off two years before that I used a temp agency to get my foot in the door at Del Monte before they hired me full time. Come to think of it I temped at the job before THAT until they saw the light and took me on.

So it’s been awhile since I actually beat the bushes and snared myself a gig. The job market here in Pittsburgh is allegedly better than most, so that’s heartening. I’ve been leveraging my social network in my search (translation–I’ve asked everyone I know either live or on Facebook/Twitter “Yinz hiring??”) and I’ve been applying for quite a few jobs online that I’m interested in and, if hired, I think I’d kick ass at them.

But the mere act of applying for a job can wear one’s patience down to the nub. An example–there was a marketing position that was so tailor-made for yours truly that I expected the description would include phrases like “must be a tight-weak poker player” and “must own flatulent chocolate Lab”. In my wheelhouse, I mean to say.

So I click the APPLY button and begin the process of introducing them to the wonder that is Mean Gene. My first task was to copy and paste a text-only version of my resume into the box they so graciously provided. I did this with a click and a CTRL-V so deft it’d make fall to your knees and weep. I was then asked to copy and paste a cover letter, and just as Roger Federer’s balletic backhand is surpassed only by his resplendent forehand, this I did with equal aplomb.

I was then asked to upload a copy of my resume. And upload a copy of my cover letter. Wait…I just did that. But OK, they want a text-only version and then one with all the  pretty fonts and italics. I dutifully uploaded the contents of my professional character and hit NEXT.

Well, NEXT I had to fill out a series of 500 text boxes asking for information like my name, my address, my employment history, my education. “Wait a sec,” I said, rubbing my eyes. “I just gave you all that info. It’s. RIGHT. THERE!” I said, pointing at the sections above where my CV, in two different formats, sat inert as if preserved in amber.

But no matter. If this company is so hungry for information about me that they’ll ask for it three times, what can I be but flattered by the attention? I filled in the blanks, checked the boxes, dimpled the radio buttons, and in the end was informed that my application had indeed been submitted. I wiped the sweat from my brow, poured myself something cold and refreshing, and reflected on the old saw that looking for a full-time job is in and of itself a full-time job.

 

 

I Didn’t Shoot a Man in Reno

May 25, 2011

As you might expect I don’t follow the poker scene as closely as I once did, and it was only today that I learned that Gary DeBernardi won the Nevada State Poker Championship. And that was great news to hear, as “Debo” is as good a guy as you’ll ever meet, which I did back in Aruba in 2006. It was Debo who introduced me to his eponymous drink during Phil Hellmuth’s penthouse party at the 2007 Aruba Poker Classic–Grey Goose, watermelon liqueur, Sprite. So refreshing. So debilitating. Here’s a pic of Debo enjoying one with Mark “P0ker H0” Kroon, who I also met all those years ago.

I was happy to hear that Debo won, yes, but it was bittersweet. Because I should’ve been in Reno shooting pics of his victory and documenting his triumph for posterity. UB became a sponsor for the Heartland Poker Tour (which this event was part of) and the plan was for me to cover a few of these events, starting with Reno. I already knew Al would be out there and it turns out KevMath was there as well along with Lisa Wheeler and other assorted poker types and it would’ve been a blast. Throw in Debo taking down the title and it would’ve been a fantastic trip.

Of course that wasn’t meant to be. On April 15th I was in an oddly productive mood, I worked in the morning, ran some errands, and hit the gym to sweat a bit before I went to Game 2 of the Pens-Lightning series. As I headed home after 45 minutes on the elliptical I saw that my mom had called. Her message said that she’d seen something on the news about three online poker sites. No biggie, I thought, probably some puff piece about pending legislation. But when I talked to Mom and she used words like “indictment” and rattled off the names of the big three online sites I raced upstairs and clicked the link to the blog I’ve written for the past five years. And was greeted with the logos of the FBI and Department of Justice kindly informing me that the domain had been seized, pursuant to blah blah blah.

I’ve read hundreds of posts and articles about the indictments, enough to learn who actually knows what the hell they’re talking about. I have nothing especially insightful to add to that discussion, except to say that Aristotle once said “Law is order, and good law is good order”. I don’t believe that the online poker crackdown amounts to good order. Gambling is celebrated everywhere in the United States. We have an entire city devoted to it. Casinos are sprouting up all over the country. You can buy lottery tickets just about everywhere. The only sport more popular than fantasy football is the NFL itself. Wall Street certainly resembles a casino, especially as it’s the house that always wins (or at least never loses). To say that gambling is fine here, here, here, here, and here…but not HERE, not online, is rank hypocrisy.

But there is the law to consider. Rules were made to be broken, but not laws. What we’ve seen the last five years with online poker is a multi-billion dollar industry that should’ve evaporated after the UIGEA was passed in 2006, but didn’t. It actually got bigger, even after Party Poker withdrew. It doesn’t appear that the Feds used the UIGEA to kill online poker, rather the sites allegedly violated other laws while side-stepping the one targeted at them. Bad law, bad order.  Money was still flowing back and forth between U.S. players and offshore poker sites and the UIGEA was supposed to dam that up. It didn’t, not even close, and I’m sure it peeved a few law-enforcement officials and anti-gaming members of Congress to see patched-up players battling on ESPN for millions of dollars. Year after year after year.

That all ended April 15th (though perhaps it truly ended for good on what’s being called Black Monday). I went downtown to meet up with friends before the Penguin game and tried to get over the shock. And it was shock, even though I’d been waiting for this moment for 5 years. The UIGEA was passed during my first trip to Aruba–it was actually the night of the farewell party, and I asked quite a few people what they thought about it. No one had any clue that it was coming. No one knew what it meant. I tend to assume the worst about such things and I figured this new law meant the end of online poker. When I left Aruba I thought I’d never be back, and that I’d never have a gig covering poker again. It was a nice trip, a nice ride, but it was over.

I was off by five years. That dark Friday night I watched the Pens get killed by Tampa, and as I drove home in a daze I knew I needed a drink. I stopped at one joint, it was packed. Stopped at our neighborhood dive, standing room only. God help me, I went to the Applebees on McKnight Road and found an empty seat at the bar. I needed solitude and  Yuengling to sort things out in my head. I sipped my beer and a chubby woman wearing clothes that would be snug on Kate Moss walked from the bar to the elevated dining area and grabbed a microphone. I stared at her, confused and then horrified, as music started playing and she started belting out a high-pitched yet still atonal rendition of Katy Perry’s “Firework”. Of course on this night, THIS NIGHT, I would stumble into karaoke. “This is the low point,” I told myself. “This is the trough of the wave.” I sipped beer until I couldn’t bear the bad noise and fled.

I thought that maybe I’d hang on a few months before the inevitable end. But I knew I was kidding myself and when the end came it wasn’t a surprise. Still a shock, but not a surprise, if that makes sense. It  feels weird to not to be covering the poker world anymore, but I still haven’t completely disconnected myself. I’m definitely following any and all news about player payouts, that’s what I really care about at this point. I want to see our players get their money, as quickly as possible.

So now I’m looking for the next big thing, ready to move on from five years in poker. I wish the ride had lasted just a little bit longer, just long enough for me to shoot a few pics of Debo winning the tournament and write up a few final posts. But I did take time to play a few final hands of online poker before UB finally blocked American players, I wanted see the cards flutter across the screen one last time. I’m confident that online poker will be legalized someday, though not for a couple of years (after the 2012 election, maybe), but who knows what I’ll be doing then, or whether I’ll still have any interest in poker anymore. I barely played the last few years, and if this is the last hand of online poker I play for a long time, or ever, at least there was poetic justice at the end.

 

 

Colors

April 15, 2011

In an effort to get back to writing on my damned blog I’m trying to write about subjects I’m either passionate about or that I can at least fake passion for. Those of you who know me that I love my sports teams–to the world I present a calm and patient exterior, but put me in front of a TV with a big game on the line and I become a shrieking, cursing, raging lunatic. And like most sports fans I embrace my inner psycho, it adds a zesty tang to the long march we call life.

Temporary insanity among sports fans has been much in the news lately, what with a San Francisco Giants fan named Bryan Stow being beaten into a coma after a Dodgers game in L.A. and then a former Pittsburgh sports anchor named John Steigerwald publishing a moronic piece where he said that the victim of that assault should’ve acted like an adult and not worn a Giants jersey to Dodger Stadium. Steigerwald was justly pilloried for implying that Stow helped instigate that vicious assault, and his point that mature adults shouldn’t wear team jerseys because it makes them look childish didn’t wash with me either. He think sthat folks wear team gear because they think it makes them part of the team; I think fans wear jerseys and wave Terrible Towels and whatnot because it’s another way to show support for the team. What, should fans refrain from cheering and booing? That makes you look a bit childish as well, and it doesn’t really affect the players or the game. I find the logic flawed, and if you ever read Steigerwald’s blog (not even gonna link to it) you’d find all kinds of flawed logic on display. The guy is a kook.

It’s still interesting to consider how 60,000 people, packed into a small space and wearing “uniforms”, might devolve into an enraged mob if someone wearing enemy colors appears in their midst. Especially when you introduce everyone’s best friend, alcohol, to the party. But I’m still not buying that people wearing team jerseys is responsible for some great uptick of violence in the stands.

I have some anecdotal evidence–I went to the Steelers-Browns playoff game back in 2003 and there was a small group of Browns fans a few rows over. The Browns raced out to a big lead and those fans were VERY vocal about it, but while there was some shouting back and forth and muttered comments about how maybe we should pitch them over the top of the upper deck (that might’ve been me) there was never any physical confrontation, not even close.

I have friends in Baltimore who have gone to several Ravens-Steelers game and while there was some taunting and insults and whatnot, it never came to blows. That wasn’t the case in the 1970s, when some guys my dad worked with used to go to old Memorial Stadium to see the Browns-Steelers games. They returned with stories about all the fracas in the stands, and I remembered thinking that attending a road game was akin to invading a hostile country.

As I tried to find actual statistical evidence to either support or destroy my thesis I came across an article titled “NFL Working to End Fan Violence”. The article talks about how the Patriots dealt with an outbreak of fights during a Monday night game, how the Eagles fans pelted the sidelines with snowballs, and a time when Jets fans built a bonfire in the Meadowlands. Crazy stuff indeed…but the thing is, that article was written in 1990. These aren’t new problems.

And chances are those problems aren’t going away, not so long as 60,000 people get together to watch sporting events. And especially if they keep selling beer at games, as it’s alcohol that’s almost certainly the driving force when it comes to fan violence. It’s likely that sporting venues are better at cutting off visible drunk patrons and ejecting unruly fans before matters spin out of control (though a recent tasering/billyclubbing at PNC Park is getting a lot of local attention).

Tomorrow (today) I’ll be going to Game 2 of the Penguins-Lightning game, and I’ll be wearing my white #71 Malkin jersey. I’ll definitely have a couple of beers before the game, maybe a couple more during. I will be very loud, I will lustily root for my beloved Pens, I will question the existence of a just God every time the Lightning get a power play. I will not be acting in an especially grown-up manner. I also won’t be beating the crap out of any Tampa fans or joining in any mass violence. The line between passionate team support and unhinged assholery is not a fine one.

Why The Steelers Will Win Today. Or Not.

January 23, 2011

If one looks at today’s Jets-Steelers AFC title game it would appear that, karmically speaking, this one will go to the Jets. They are this year’s Team of Destiny, the six-seed who went on the road and sent Peyton Manning and Tom Brady home early. They’ve recovered from a humiliating prime-time blowout to regain their swagger. They predicted on the HBO show Hard Knocks that they would win the Super Bowl and here they are, once again one win away from the big game. Add the fact that quarterback Mark Sanchez is in his second season and that Ben Roethlisberger and Brady both won Super Bowls in their second years and you have a compelling case for the Jets to win this game.

If, of course, you ignore reality and just go with the ethereal nonsense that rattles around in the brains of idiot sports fans like myself. I am usually a rational, pragmatic person. But when it comes to sports I am practically a voodoo shaman. I won’t wash my jersey after a win, I (usually) don’t drink during games, I ruthlessly analyze almost everything I do during a game to determine if the action will help or hinder my team. While watching my favorite sports teams I quite literally become temporarily insane.

As do millions of other fanatics. I’m cool with my fleeting mental illness, I’ve come to terms with it. I actually enjoy it, as it makes me feel that I actually have some control over the proceedings unfolding on the screen before me. But I’m not so far gone as to know, in my heart of hearts, that I don’t. Last week I had a few beers after halftime when all looked bleak for the Steelers–they won. This week we won’t be watching the game at Mark’s house, as he’s on vacation, so we’re going to a friend’s house where we watched the pens lose the Winter Classic. This seems like a classic karmic mistake…but what if their house is only bad luck for the Penguins? What if it’s only bad luck for regular season games and is in fact holy ground when it comes to truly important contests?

What if, what if, what if. What I do know, in this calm before the storm, is that it doesn’t matter if the Jets are a team of destiny, or if it’s rare for a team to lose 2 conference title games in a row, or that they’re due for a huge win while the Steelers have spoiled us the last 15 years. If you’ll allow me a poker metaphor, just as the cards don’t care who they’re dealt to, the games are contested by the players on the field, not by the ghosts of days gone by. The game will be won by the team who plays the best today, and destiny and karma and predestination has nothing to do with it. Every game is it’s own separate universe, and in a bit we’ll all get to find out what happens.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to put on my Polamalu jersey (unwashed in months), get my Terrible Towel (the one I twirled during that legendary comeback playoff win against the Browns) and pick out a spot by the TV that seems to have the most in-tune vibrations coursing through it.