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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Does football even really matter?

With the pall of possible felony charges hanging over this weekend's matchup against Syracuse, it's pretty tough to get excited about the FSU game.  Instead of Florida State fans being able to revel in their #2 BCS ranking and a likely impending Jan. 6 date with Alabama or quarterback Jameis Winston's Heisman candidacy, Nole Nation is instead wondering if their adoration for their redshirt-freshman wunderkind is misplaced or if he is just another victim of an overzealous national media.

Given the dearth of facts, I'll not comment on the alleged sexual assault that occurred on Dec. 7 of last year.  The Tallahassee Police Department has turned the case over to State Attorney Willie Meggs who will evaluate the facts and make a decision on whether or not to move forward with a prosecution.

I must say that I am disgusted by the coverage this story has been getting.  Absent facts in the case, hacks all over the nation are passing off opinions and conjecture as the story.  There has been nothing which specifically names Winston as a suspect in the case, nor has there been anything (other than statements made by his attorney, Tim Jansen) to definitively indicate that he was not involved.

The story is that something might have happened but rather than wait for that story to unfold, it is front-page news and the lead story on ESPN.

Of course this machine exists to get eyeballs on the target.  If the unwashed masses weren't reading and watching, the media wouldn't keep pumping it out.

Karl Marx once famously said that religion is the opium of the people.  I have come to believe that this is no longer true.

I believe that sports is the opium of the people.  None more than football, and college football in particular.  But that is a different subject for a different time.

Given the quality of "journalism" seen over the past week, It's no wonder that the print press is on life support and electronic media is dominated by reality television.

I weep for the consumers of this drek, both because it's being fed to them and because they continue to eat it.

Yes, those are my shoes.  Don't judge me.

OK, on to the game.  From a purely football standpoint, it's good news for the Noles is that the game in at Doak.  Were it on the road, Winston would likely be bombarded by insensitive and likely humorous attempts to distract him.

As it is, the Noles and Nole fans will rally around Winston who has shown a preternatural ability to  elevate his game under the greatest pressure (just ask Clemson).

This, of course, is a whole 'nother level.  This isn't football pressure; it's a potentially life-altering situation.

Bottom line is this:  Syracuse is bad and Florida State is mad.  The spread is between 37.5 and 38.5.  It might as well be 48.5.  Syracuse is only allowing 22.9 ppg but the Noles are second in the nation at 52 ppg.

The over/under, as usual, is a little tricker.  The sharps know what they're doing and are rarely more than a point or two off.

Winston will likely be on the bench by the end of the third, with another redshirt-freshman, Sean Maguire on to steer the FSU offense since Jacob Coker appears to be out for the season following knee surgery.

But the Noles #4 ranked scoring defense (12.0 ppg) will still keep the door slammed on the 87th-ranked Syracuse offense.

Noles will win easily, somewhere in the neighborhood of 49-6.  So lay the points and take the under.  Better yet, lay the points and stay away from the over/under.  Your wallet will thank me tomorrow.

And keep your eyes on Tallahassee over the next few weeks to see which is back:  Florida State Seminole football or this FSU program:

Image stolen…er, borrowed from

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Rah! Rah! Wake Forest Rah!

To begin, I cannot think about Wake Forest without thinking of James Caan as Brian Piccolo singing the Wake fight song in "Brian's Song."

"I love Brian Piccolo.  And I'd like all of you to love him, too.  And tonight, when you hit your knees, please ask God to love him." 

"It's not how he died that Brian will be remembered for, but how he lived.  And he lived!"

Pause for the men in the crowd tip a 40 for Pick and wipe the tears away.  Greatest sports movie ever.

Unfortunately, this trip down cinematic history will be the highlight of the Demon Deacons' day when they kick off at noon.

And the outcome should be decided by about 12:15.

So why bother with a blog about a nothing game?

Well, there are some interesting dynamics at play.  Yes, the last time the Noles rolled into Winston-Salem the slinked out with their tails between their legs on the wrong end of a 35-30 score.

But since then, the Noles have won 27 of 30 and -- thanks to a little help from the Stanford Cardinal -- are not looking at the very real prospect of taking on the Alabama Roll-Damn-Tides for the National Championship in Pasadena on January 6.

Today's game will not be close.  Yes, the Noles are positioned for a letdown after last week's beatdown of Miami and the fact that their path to the championship game is now in their hands.  Style points mean less to the Noles now; all they have to do is win.

And, yes...Wake gave Miami a scare before falling 24-21 and they've beaten Maryland (34-10) and NC State (28-13).


They're ranked 119th in the nation in rushing (fewer than 90 yards per game) and 110th in scoring offense (just 19.4 ppt).

This one will be over early.

The interesting part is the line on today's game.  The spread is running between 34-35 points, with the over/under ranging from 55-56.5.

So the question isn't "will FSU dominate."  It's "by how much will they dominate?"

It's very possible that Jimbo will send the Noles out with the intent of shortening the noon game (after all, who will be watching?) by pounding the Demon Deacs on the ground.  Get in, get out, get no one hurt.

On the other hand, with Marcus Mariota and Teddy Bridgewater throwing out tepid numbers on Thursday and Friday, respectively, this could be a chance to showcase Jameis Winston and bolster his Heisman candidacy.

Either way, watch early because it's likely Winston and the FSU starters will be out of the game by late in the 3rd quarter.  The bad news for Wake Forest is that the Nole backups are still better than they are.

FSU will win decidedly but 35 points -- or as they call it in Oakland, a "Nick Foles spread" -- is a lot of points to lay on the road, even for this team.

Oh, what the hell...let's call the final score 49-10.  Lay the points and play the over.  After all, it's only money.

Smokey Joe

UPDATE:  Unfortunately, as a die-hard, dyed-in-the-wool, dead-in-the-water Oakland Raiders' fan, I have repressed the full extent of the humiliation meted out at the right hand of Nick Foles.  A 35-point spread is not the "Foles Spread."  Thirty-five points represents only five touchdowns, not seven, as Foles laid on my once-proud fellas in Silver & Black.  To reach Foles-ian levels, a team would have to be favored by 49 points.

The horrah...the horrah...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Little help from down on the Farm?

Dear Palo Alto-nians -
I hope this missive finds you well.  Things here back east are just fine as both the leaves and the season have started to fall.  Get it?  "Fall" the season and "fall" as in what the leaves are doing?  I guess y'all don't get that kind of quality humor way out Cali-for-nee way.

I guess you're wondering why I'm writing.  Fair question; let me get to the point:

Please beat the shit out of Oregon tomorrow night.

Yes, I know that's a tall order, even for a quality football program such as yours.  After all they rock the number 2 ranked rushing attack in the nation, averaging more than 331 yards per game and the second best scoring offense, averaging 55.6 points per game.

In other words, they are averaging more points than you've scored in any single game this year.  In fact, only twice have they failed to score more than 55 points in games, both against top 20 ranked teams and both times they topped the 40-point mark.

I never said this would be easy.

On top of that, their quarterback, Marcus Mariota, is currently leading most Heisman Trophy straw polls, his strongest competition coming from a renegade in Texas and a guy in Florida whose game turns as big as Texas after Renegade runs onto the field.

Which brings me to my real point:  things would be so much simpler if Oregon just lost a game.

And by "simpler" I mean for the Florida State Seminoles.  Oh, sure, they're currently #2 in the BCS rankings, meaning they are in line to play little Nicky Satan's Alabama Roll-damn-Tides for the National Championship if the season ended today.  But all indications are that if both Oregon and the Noles win out, the Ducks will jump to #2 since Florida State's remaining opponents suck so much.  Even the once-proud Florida Gators will offer no real competition to help the Noles' ranking.

And, does in fact give me great pleasure to refer to Florida as "once proud."  When the Gators suck, the sun shines just a little brighter in the Sunshine State.  Because even God knows the Gator fans are insufferable.

But I digress, albeit for a good reason:  to rub Gator fans' noses in a steamy pile of Renegade's road apples.

So please don't let the BCS screw one more team in its final year of existence (see: Auburn, 2004).  Rather than having three undefeated real contenders to fit into two spots in the championship game, it would be so much easier if you just beat the living shit out of Oregon tomorrow night, just like you did last year.


Other than that, things here are good.  I hope you have a wonderful holiday season out there in the land of fruits and nuts.  Just know that the turkey will taste a whole lot better if served with a side of roasted duck.  You know...the Oregon Ducks?  "Roasted" as a euphemism for beating them tomorrow?  Get it?  Oh, well...I guess y'all just don't appreciate good humor.  After all, isn't Robin Williams from the bay area?

Enough out of me.   Besides, I have to go.  I've got to get a letter written to Les Miles before Saturday.

Love, Peace, and Chicken Grease,
Smokey Joe

Monday, November 4, 2013

Gamboling vs Gambling

Good thing this is just play for me or I'd be broke like a joke.  Two weeks in a row calling the spread (following my brilliant Maryland insight) but missing the over under.

Headed back down to the mancave to study game tape, analyze tendencies, and monitor weather reports.*

Early line on FSU-Wake Forest has Noles laying 35.  They need to show some serious "style points" (read: Urban Meyer-esque embarrassments of lesser opponents) so 35 is within the realm of possible against the Demon Deacons.

Check back later this week for my real predictions and analysis, including a breakdown of what to expect from the morons determining Division I/FBS National Championships...err...the BCS.

In the meantime, watch this:

Love, Peace, & Chicken Grease,

* Watch YouTube video of cats, eat peanut butter out of the jar, and nap

Friday, November 1, 2013

Look for Noles to dominate at Doak

There was a time, way back in the 1990’s, when Florida State v. Miami was the type of game that captured the attention of the entire football watching nation.

Probations, an aging legend of a coach who lost a few mph’s off his fastball, some more  probations, the SEC’s rise to dominance, followed by even more probations meant the FSU-Miami game drifted off the national radar like a botched field goal drifting wide right.

Tomorrow night at Doak Campbell, however, the spotlight returns to this modern-era rivalry.

But before you get too excited, I never said it would be a good game.  I just said there would be a lot of attention.

Most of this attention will be focused on the Florida State Seminoles and their wunderkind red-shirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston.  While the Canes are undefeated coming into the weekend, don’t expect them to head back down to South Beach with smiles on their faces.

I mean, except for the fact that they’re headed back down to South Beach.

The Noles opened the week favored by three touchdowns and that wasn’t enough to entice the reluctant Miami money.  It wasn’t until the spread got as high as 22 before bets on the Canes started rolling in and there was just enough to drop the spread back down to 21 or 21.5 points (depending on which group of Vegas sharps you believe).

The oddsmakers clearly expect the Noles to continue their offensive onslaught.  FSU is ranked #3 in scoring offense at 52.6 ppg and if Miami is to have a chance of losing by fewer than 21 points -- and let’s face it, beating the spread is the best they can hope for -- they’ll have to rely on their #24 ranked rushing offense (214.7 ypg).  Even at that, the Noles are allowing just 135.7 rushing yards per game so the Canes must be ready for a turf battle.

And Miami’s only hope is the ground game because their passing game will be shut down.  The Noles are ranked #1 in the nation against the pass, allowing just 153.7 passing yards per game and their defense boasts the #4 ranked scoring defense, allowing just 13 ppg.

So even though this is the highest spread ever between two top-10 ranked teams (the next largest was Texas mnus-12 over Oklahoma in 2008) and despite the fact that Miami has covered seven of the last eight spreads against Florida State, the smart money is on the Noles.


While FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher has publicly dismissed talk of the Noles needing “style points” to position themselves ahead of Oregon in the BCS rankings, both Jimbo and his team know very well what it will take to get to Pasadena on January 6 to face little Nicky Satan’s Alabama Roll Damn Tides for the crystal football.  After all, Jimbo worked for Saban from 2000-2004 at LSU where in 2003 they teamed to bring Baton Rouge its first National Championship in 45 years.

More important than knowing what it takes is the killer instinct it takes to do it.  Florida State demonstrated that ability in spades on October 19, dismantling then-#3 ranked Clemson Tigers 51-14.

The Noles are on a mission, have the talent and killer instinct to close games out, and are playing one of their two most hated rivals in the Miami Hurricanes.  Knowing they have to shine against highly-ranked opponents, look for Winston and the Nole offense to hang half-a-hundred on the Canes, while Lamarcus Joyner, Timmy Jernigan, and the rest of a very nasty defense to hold Miami to one first half touchdown, plus another in junk time.

Final score:  55-14.

Take FSU minus 22 and bet the over.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Death in Death Valley

Reason #1,792 why I don't gamble.

This week, #5 FSU is favored by 3 points over #3 Clemson in Death Valley.

The only thing that will die is Clemson's National Championship hopes.

Lay the 3 but the over-under is a little trickier.  Most books have it set at 64 or 64.5.

I'd go the under but wouldn't feel good about it.

Noles 37, Tigers 24.

This time I mean it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Run, (Wake) Forest, Run!

There is a lot to be excited about in Tallahassee as the Florida State Seminoles move into conference play in earnest.   They’re off to another 4-0 start, have the 4th ranked scoring offense in the nation (51.3 ppg), they’re sending a trio of stud backs running behind an offensive line that has discovered a nasty streak, and have more than replaced departed quarterback E.J. Manuel with dynamic first-year signal caller Jameis Winston.

On the other side of the ball is a stingy bunch allowing just 15.0 points per game, tied for 17th in the country and just 136 passing yards per game.

But despite all this good news and a Seminole Nation dreaming of being back in National Championship contention, Saturday’s game against Maryland is a bonafide, Class 1, Grade A trap game for the Noles.

In each of the three seasons since he replaced the legendary Bobby Bowden, Jimbo Fisher’s teams have managed to lose games to unranked ACC opponents (NC State and Carolina in 2010, Wake Forest and Virginia in 2011, and NC State again in 2012).  Maryland had a week off to prepare for FSU and there is a very real danger of the Noles looking ahead to their own bye next week before their showdown with #4 ranked Clemson on Oct 19.

Despite being off last week, Maryland snuck into the AP Top 25 when West Virginia (led, coincidentally, by former FSU backup QB Clint Trickett) -- whom Maryland thumped 37-0 -- defeated then 11th ranked Oklahoma State.

Maryland also comes into Saturday afternoon’s game 4-0, largely on the basis of their #3 ranked scoring defense, allowing just 10.3 ppg, and a formidable running game, averaging 226.8 ypg on the ground, good for 24th in the nation and 3rd in the ACC behind Georgia Tech (291.3 ypg) and Florida State (245.8).

And this leads to the biggest reason for Seminole Nation to be concerned about this weekend’s game.

You see, there’s a dirty little secret in Tallahassee:

The Florida State Seminoles can’t stop the run.

It’s bad enough that after four games, the Noles are ranked #62 nationally in rush defense, allowing 151.5 yards per game against less than top-flight opponents.

But the real concern is that their first three FBS opponents are averaging just 160.2 rushing yard per game.  The Noles next eight opponents are averaging 181.4 yards on the ground and if you take out the two weakest opponents left on the schedule -- Wake Forest and Idaho -- the remaining six teams are averaging a whopping 199.2 rushing yards per game.

And the Noles have gotten worse each game.  Pittsburgh rushed for only 96 yards in the season opener, followed by Nevada’s 128.  Then FCS Bethune-Cookman rushed for 182 before the Boston College Eagles gouged the Seminole D for 200 rushing yards, making a game out of what should have been, on paper, a decided blowout.

So opponents have been looking for, and seem to have found, a strategy to keep the high-powered FSU offense off the field and off the scoreboard.  The best way to keep Jaboo from hurting you is to keep him on the sideline of Bobby Bowden Field.

Finally, the Noles have fallen behind in all three games against FBS opponents (7-0 to Pitt, 7-3 to Nevada and 14-3 to Boston College) before rallying for convincing wins.  If they start slowly against Randy Edsall’s Terps and Maryland is able to move the ball on the ground as expected, look for this game to be a low-scoring, hard-hitting affair that could leave the Noles in a position very familiar in the Jimbo Fisher era:

Disappointed on Saturday night, having lost to a conference opponent after being favored by double digits.

THE SMOKEY JOE LINE:  Take the 15 points and bet the under (o/u at 57).

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Seven 7hings to Think About While You Think About Dying

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
- Dylan Thomas

You never fully realize just how much you want to live until you think you’re going to die.

For about 10 days, I thought I was going to die.  I know that sounds all melodramatic but it really happened that way.

I went to see a doctor due to a random pain in my abdomen.  The doctor ordered a CT scan and the next day she called to tell me that it showed that I had, “...a possible lesion on the head of [my] pancreas.”

Though I had no other symptoms, my mind immediately leapt to the worst possible outcome:  the lesion was pancreatic cancer.  I did some research and discovered that only 5% of people with pancreatic cancer are alive five years after their diagnosis.

Sidetrack for the best joke I wrote a couple days after the phone call:
Doctor:  “You have a possible lesion on the head of your p-”
Me:  *gasp*
Doctor:  “-ancreas.”
Me:  “Oh, thank God it’s only pancreatic cancer.  For a second there, I thought you were going to tell me there was something wrong with my junk.”
OK, back to the story...

As it turned out, the CT scan was wrong.  I had a follow-up MRI and it revealed a perfectly healthy pancreas.

But for the ten days between the phone call and getting the MRI results, I had to consider the very real possibility that I was going to die.

Everyone -- me included -- understands on an intellectual level that life isn’t forever.  We’ve all had grandparents or an old Aunt Hattie who’ve shuffled off this mortal coil but to be faced with the reality of it for our owngoddamselves is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish.

This whole situation caused me to stop and think about a lot of things.  It made me think of how I have spent -- and am spending -- my life.  It made me think of how important the people in my life are to me.  I forced me to think about The After, about what comes next.

Not in the abstract.  I had to consider all of these things as my reality.

So here’s what came to mind:  Seven 7hings to Think About While You Think About Dying.
  1. Cliches Come to Life:  “Life is short.” “We’re not promised anything.” “Live every day like it’s your last.”  When faced with the possibility of my life ending for realsies, every one of these cliches came to life for me.  They’re cliches for a reason: they’ve been true since humans have walked the Earth.
  2. Hospitals are the Worst:  There are no two ways about it, there is little comfort in a hospital.  I happen to live in an area with an amazing hospital system whose primary focus for all clinicians -- including the notoriously gruff doctors -- is to put themselves in the shoes of their patients.  And they do an amazing job of it.  But other than the maternity ward, hospitals rarely bring good news.
  3. Hospitals are the Best:  Because hospitals are places where people come on their worst days, they are the best places to touch other human beings. Everyone is having a bad day, feeling alone and scared.  What better opportunity will any of us ever have to make someone else feel just a little bit better.  Best of all?  You’ll end up making your own visit just a little bit better, too.
  4. It Really is the Little Things:  There are at least a million little things I take for granted every day.  The first cup of coffee in the morning.  The sunset.  The feel of my wife’s wrist on my fingertips, the smell of her hair, the warmth of her lips.  How can I possibly stock up on enough of these things to last through The After?
  5. Work is not Life:  This one really, really matters.  I’ve heard it said that no one lies on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at the office.  When I thought my number was up, the old cliche, “work to live, don’t live to work” came to mind.  Once you’re dead, the office will find someone else to sit at your desk and after a few maudlin email exchanges, they’ll forget you were ever there.  Your family, on the other hand, will miss you forever.
  6. Life Insurance is little comfort:  I have a reasonable amount of life insurance, enough that my wife and family would be taken care of financially.  However, the look on my wife’s face when we discussed the possible future made it clear that money alone wasn’t what she had planned for our future.  Actually, this was heartening.  At least she doesn’t love me for my money.
  7. Preventative Maintenance:  Having to consider -- really consider -- the fact that no one gets out of this gig alive really drove home the point that I only get one body in this life.  For the first 35 or so years I owned this model, I treated it pretty shabbily.  I made some positive changes over the past 15 years but drove home the point that I’d like to drive this one for another 100,000 miles or 30-40 years, whichever comes first.  I see a lot of high-fiber, low-fat, zero-taste food in my future.

Most people have heard of dog shaming (  For the seven of you who haven’t, it’s an internet meme where a photo of a dog in a compromising position is posted with a sign describing their shameful behavior.  It amuses the owners and the dogs really don’t know what the heck is going on.

Apparently “sick shaming” is a thing, too.  When you tell people you’re sick (or may be) the first reaction is “Oh, you should have quit smoking” (duh) or “Do you eat unhealthy?” (I don’t).  The implication, of course, being that whatever illness you have is the result of something you’ve done.  In other words, you deserve it.

Notwithstanding the utter bullshittitude of this contention, why do people do this?

When a person implies that the illness is somehow the result of something the sick person did, it allows them the illusion that they are somehow exempt, that they are masters of their own health, that they will not make the mistakes you made, thus won’t get sick.

Well I got news for you, Sick Shamers: you have no more control over the randomness of major illness than I do. Sometimes bad shit just happens to people.  In fact, you can pretty much bet your sanctimony that one day, some random bad shit will befall you.  It’s not that I am wishing this upon you; it’s simply a fact.

Getting news like this is never easy.  Why on Earth would you want to make it worse?  You want to be human?  How about some empathy?  How about putting yourself in the shoes of the person who’s just gotten what may be the worst news of their lives and, oh, I don’t know, maybe try to bring them a little comfort?

Sick shaming is just a way to delude yourself into thinking you’re exempt.  But you’re not.  So how about you just don’t do it?

Smokey Joe

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Seven 7hings: 7 Weeks Overdue

Yes, it's been far too long since I've provided a new Seven 7hings.  I've been busy.  Sue me.

The good news is that there are a whole lot of new topics coming.  Here are Seven 7hings you can look for in the coming weeks:

1.  Seven 7hings:  About East Tennessee

2.  Seven 7hings:  About Apartment Life

3.  Seven 7hings:  About Moving

4.  Seven 7hings:  About the Upcoming College Football Season

5.  Seven 7hings:  About Being Alone

6.  Seven 7hings:  About Battling Depression and Anxiety

7.  Seven 7hings:  About Quitting Smoking

Sportscasters and fans mock Tiger Woods for having so openly stated his career goal was to win more major championships than Jack Nicklaus, who retired with 18.

Following his 2009 Thanksgiving to Forget, Tiger hasn't won a major, leaving him with 14.  Critics point to this fact as some sort of hubris or karmic fate for his past indiscretions.

However, let's look at this from a different perspective.  Woods set his goal high, perhaps unreasonably high, many said back then.  At this point, it looks like he may very well fall short.

However, with 14 majors, Woods has three more than Walter Hagen (11) and five more than Ben Hogan and Gary Player (each with 9).  Woods has as many major victories as Arnold Palmer and Bobby Jones combined.

The moral of the story, boys and girls (if you have to have a moral), is that if you set your goals high and fall a little bit short, you've still reached pretty damn high.

So morality/immorality notwithstanding, Tiger Woods has already had a pretty successful career.

Back to Seven 7hings...thanks for checking in from time to time and once the Smokeys are all reunited under one roof (and once I get caught up on past "Breaking Bad" episodes on Netflix), the faucet will flow again.

Thanks for stopping by.  And remember:  Aim for the stars and you may just end up on the moon.

Love, Peace, and Chicken Grease,
Smokey Joe

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Seven 7hings: About Yoga

Faithful Followers of this blog (thanks, Mom), may recall my post from February 2012 in which I promised to chronicle the adventures of a fat man (yours truly) in a little surya namaskar.

For the uninitiated, surya namaskar is a sequence of asanas or body positions involved in the practice of yoga.  Of course, I thought it was something one wears when practicing yoga which would have made my Chris Farley/David Spade reference actually funny, but no sense crying over spilled curry chutney.

It has taken some time and a confluence of circumstances to get me into the ashram or, as I call it, “the place where a small woman makes me do things that hurt,” but I’ve finally taken the plunge.  For those considering taking up the practice, I’m here to report back what to expect once you decide the recliner just isn’t meditative enough.

So without further ado (which in and of itself is superfluous and, in fact, further ado), I present Seven 7hings: About Yoga.
1.  don’t bend Yoga: I am no yoga expert and have experience with probably about 15 or so poses. However, between my limited experience, interviews with yoga experts, and internet research, I have determined that none of the poses are designed to accommodate my belly.  The only possible exception is “Savasana,” also known as “corpse pose.”  I think it got its name because it’s done at the end of the session after all other poses in the flow, by which point I’m bordering on actually being a corpse.  But at least my gut doesn’t get in the way.

Not the author

2.  There is a Pain Bonus:  That small woman who stands up in front of the class (I call her ”Demona”) cascading gentle words of encouragement and instruction is not -- I repeat, IS NOT -- my friend.  She is some sort of foreign agent sent to this country to inflict pain on me.  I have no proof of this, but I’m personally convinced that Demona gets a bonus if she ruptures one of my organs.  Spleen, $50.  A kidney, $75.  And if she gets me to crush my own liver, she gets $250.  She just wants to hurt me.  And she'll want to hurt you, too.  Allegedly.

3.  "Hot” is relative:  The current big thing among yogis (yogii?  yogae?) is hot yoga.  One strain of this infection coursing through the veins of our great, once-yoga-free Nation insists on 105 degree temperatures in the room.  Other “hot” yoga cranks the heat to a relatively mild 98 degrees.  But even in a reasonably climate-controlled environment of, say, 75 degrees, I lose approximately 3 pounds of sweat-weight just unrolling my mat. mat is pink.  What of it?

4.  It's All Mental:  Horses(p)it.  My mind is weaker than my gelatinous body.  In fact, my mind is even weaker.  At least my body wants to move.  As soon as the thought of going to a yoga class pops into my head, my mind begins coming up with reasons not to go as well viable alternatives.  “Butt clenchers while watching ‘Big Bang Theory’ is essentially the same as Yoga but without having to pay for it!”  If I ever give you a piece of my mind, I urge you to dispose of it immediately in a bio-hazard disposal site and disinfect your hands.  My mind is not your friend, either.

5.  Know the Language:  Like any activity, yoga has its own vernacular.  One of the tricky terms for me was “namaste” which I always assumed was some form of Spiritual acknowledgement.  However, at the end of the class, I’m pretty sure when Demona says, “Namaste” she means “please don’t puke on my floor.

6.  The Spirit is Willing:  As hokey as it sounds, that indefinable element deep inside me, my Spirit, is what pushes me through each class.  The stuff people say about yoga being a Spiritual exercise as much as anything is true, particularly for a (fat, old) beginner like me.  The focus on the breath connects me to Universal Spirit, which both enables me to complete the exercises and to feel at peace when I complete the class and am within just a few inches from death.

7.  No Regrets:  As I’ve mentioned, Mrs. Smoke is a certified yoga teacher in addition to being a pretty advanced practicing yogi (or yogini).  As such, she’s encouraged me to try yoga for several years now.  Despite my -- and my body’s -- protestations, I have no regrets whatsoever about having taken up this new form of masochism.  

One of the more widely known yoga positions is the "downward dog."  I have it on good authority (read: I made it up) that this pose is not actually taken from or inspired by a dog.  In fact, the Notorious Z.O.E. will demonstrate what the actual downward dog looks like:

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Turd Pockets

Shane Battier, current Miami Heat backup and erstwhile Duke Blue Devil, recently said "Sometimes you've got to eat a turd sandwich.  Makes the ribeye taste better next time."

Happy breakfast, sports fans!

While his choice of analogy was perhaps somewhat inelegant or distasteful, his point was perfect for recent (and current) events in the life of this fancy-pants writer and wanderer.

For a multitude of reasons, I've recently taken a position far, far away from home, with "home" being defined as that place where I live in peace and harmony with my beloved Miss Aunt Lisa, Toby, the Notorious Z.O.E. (she loves it when you call her big Paw-Paw), and sometimes the lovely and wholly insane Lady Lauren.

While at an intellectual level these circumstances did not appear to be particularly daunting, the effect has been unsettling to say the least (though I rarely ever say the least).

I traded our beautiful home in Winter Springs, Florida for a one-bedroom apartment just outside the heart of downtown Johnson City, Tennessee.  Instead of spending evenings with my beloved bride, I sit alone in a mostly empty apartment, in a new city and state away from all family and friends, furry or otherwise, starting at a new job where I know no one, even in a brand-new industry that is as foreign to me as the language spoken by East Tennessee natives.

Of course, on a scale of "I just won the Powerball!" to "I live under the sewer," my "plight" certainly falls somewhere nearer the big money.

But life isn't lived on an intellectual scale.  It's lived in the feelings and emotions of the now.

For more pragmatically oriented folk, our situation is really not that bad.  However for someone like me who embraces the feelings and sense of life's experiences, it has been a pretty "turd sandwich" of a week.

But the beauty of life in this realm is that we can draw positives even from the turd sandwich times.  The key is to keep on chewing because the sandwich ain't gonna go away on its own.

This seems particularly true for writers.  As the reaction to Battier's turd comment shows, people aren't interested in reading stories about ribeyes.  But tell one "turd sandwich" story and people start quoting it in their blogs.

Stories of people's struggles are interesting.  People don't struggle through the good times and as a result, these rarely make for interesting stories.  But everyone has rough times, the times that challenge who they are and their ability to navigate life's challenges.  And the truths that emerge from these experiences are the things that fuel good stories.

As I mentioned, my experiences of this week don't compare to the life-and-death struggles of people who are living in war-ravaged lands, wonder where their next meal is coming from, or suffering abuse or worse.

But my experiences are human experiences.  Humans have them and dark experiences -- and navigating them -- are at the heart of good stories.

One thing that's stayed in my mind throughout this week is that my experiences and the accompanying feelings provide fodder for future stories.  As a result, I've written a lot this week, mostly rambling, hand-scribbled, angst-ridden screeds in my trusty notebook.  And as I reach the end of this first week of being apart from my Beloved, the following themes have emerged:

- I love my wife.  As we write the mission statement for our life, it begins and ends with "together."

- People are kind.  If you let them, people will demonstrate a seemingly endless capacity for compassion and caring.  Throughout the course of the week, I've had more meaningful human interaction with my mother, sister, sons, and wonderful friends than in the previous two years combined.  Sad, I know.

- "Different" does not mean "wrong"  They talk funny up here and Ingles is not Publix.  But differences pry my brain open so new stuff can get jammed in there.  This is good.

- There is comfort in the familiar.  Though different can be new and exciting (and not terminal), there is profound comfort in the little things in life.  Throughout this week, it was the little things that brought comfort.  Stopping by the local store of our favorite grocery store chain, for example, made me feel like I was walking alongside the beautiful Miss Aunt Lisa.  That was nice.

- Hot Pockets are not a dinner.  OK...not all of these lessons are profound.  Some just make good gastrointestinal sense.

So I guess the moral of this little drama -- if you have to have a moral -- is that bad times are sometimes good.  They're good for the spirit because they force you to reassess where you are and where you're going.  They're good because they give you a chance to see what really matters to you and to connect with others.

For a writer, bad times are good because they force you to remember what they feel like.  And these feelings are the heart of good stories.  The bad times force you to dig deep into the human psyche and what you find there are the things that the characters in your stories will feel as they face their dark night of the spirit.  These feelings are what you have to be able to call on in order to bring your stories to life, to make them real and identifiable for the readers.

So sometimes a turd sandwich is necessary for a writer, therefore good.

And sometimes a turd Hot Pocket is all you've got for dinner.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Seven 7hings: About Visiting Florida

Given my somewhat scathing critique of Houston, it only seems fair that I turn the Light of Truth on my current home state, Florida.

You really need to know these Seven 7hings before you come visit.

1.  The News:  Residents of Florida know all too well how many notorious weirdos from Florida have made the news.  We’ve made national front pages with Ted Bundy, Aileen Wuornos, Casey Anthony, George Zimmerman, and Rudy Eugene (the dude who ate another dude’s face off), among other notables.

2.  Thanks a lot, Rest of America:  Since nearly two-thirds (65%) of Florida’s residents were born in another state, we’re not taking full blame for the knuckleheads in 7hing number 1.  In fact, the names and birthplaces of some of the principles of Florida’s more infamous news stories:
  • Aileen Wuornos: Rochester, MI
  • Ted Bundy:  Burlington, VT
  • Casey Anthony:  Warren, OH
  • George Zimmerman:  Manassas, VA
  • Rudy Eugene:  Miami, FL

OK…we’ll own Rudy Eugene but the rest of them are on y’all.

3.  Old People:  I’m sure you’ve heard the rumor that Florida is filled with old blue-haired ladies and knob-kneed old coots blocking the left lane.

OK…this one is true.  More than 4.5 million Floridians – nearly 24% of the population – are aged 60 and older.  So get comfortable behind them in the left lane.  You’re gonna be there a while.

4.  Florida Writers:  What?  You thought all great writing came from New York?  Au contraire, mon petit audience.  Ever hear of a fella named of Ernest “Papa” Hemingway?  Won a little award called the Nobel?  Lived in Key West for about ten years.
Oh, you didn't know?  Maine’s favorite son now winters on Casey Key in Osprey, Florida, near Sarasota.

Suck that, New York.  And Maine.

5.  It is, indeed, a Small World After All:  In 2012, more than 56 million visitors came to Orlando, the most visitors ever to a single US city in a single year.  At any point during the year, at least half of them were on I-4 between Celebration and Altamonte Springs.

Many of these visitors were from foreign countries, most of them here to visit WaltDisneyworld.  All of these people left humming “It’s a Small World After All” on every flight I took from the Orlando Airport.  Thanks, Mickey.

6.  Critters:  Florida has a reputation for having some of the most bizarre and violent creatures in the United States.  Most people are fully aware of the alligators, snakes, Florida panther, and “palmetto bugs” (which are, in actuality, gigantic man-eating cockroaches with prehensile tails, werewolfian fangs, and can fly at speeds approaching mach 6).

Perhaps less familiar is the Capybara, a 100-pound guinea pig imported to Florida by the senior population to team with the palmetto werewolves to kill everyone under the age of 60. Or at least those who don’t die from being stuck in the left lane behind Sister Blue Hair and the Knock Knees Monster.

7.  Weather:  It is hot in Florida.  Hot and humid.  Oppressively hot and humid.  A co-worker of mine is from Africa and he complains about the weather.

But that’s not the worst part. Florida also has hurricanes. This is a picture of Navarre Beach about 10 hours before the worst of Hurricane Ivan in 2004. These steps are normally 30-50 feet (depending on tide) from the water’s edge. Ivan moved the entire Gulf of Mexico.

The Boggy Bayou Mullet Festival is held the third weekend every October in Niceville, Florida.  The centerpiece of the festival is mullet, the fish, and not mullet, the fashion statement of John Stamos and Michael Bolton, circa 1987.