February 2003 Archives

My car, or rather, my parents' car, which is actually still technically my grandmother's car, though she now drives a Saturn, is a 1982 Toyota Corolla. It's light blue. Some members of my family call it "Bluey", you know, because it's blue. Others refer to the car as "The Toad", since it used to belong to my grandparents and seems like a vehicle best suited for the elderly. My sister Kelly calls the car "Shakes", because at speeds exceeding and occasionally even just approaching 70 MPH, the car shakes like it's got the DTs. The driver's side window doesn't seal completely, creating a whooshing wind effect near the driver's left ear at freeway speeds. Both the steering wheel and the passenger's front seat are covered in zebra-print fabric, and there is a small red stuffed ladybug called the "Love Bug" glued to the dashboard. In short, the car is a fucking pussy magnet.

That being said, Shakes gave me little trouble, aside from periodic difficulties in starting the car, until November. It uses little gas, and has a functional AM/FM radio. There's a tape of Jesus Jones' Doubt (featuring "Right Here, Right Now" and "Welcome Back Victoria") in the glove box, and at least two sets of jumper cables in the trunk. Until recently, the backseat was full of swim team-related paperwork, but I had made a valiant clean-up effort just before Shakes began to give up the automotive ghost.

At first we thought it was the battery. Then, an alternator problem. The mechanic confirmed that the alternator was faulty, but also discovered a leak in the fuel pump, and the need to replace the shocks and struts. It seemed like an expensive repair but my parents wanted to do it, wanted me to have a car, didn't mind the expense for such a reliable car. It came back from the mechanic, and promptly blew a tire on its first journey on the road. I began driving the minivan.

Keane family automobiles are cursed. And maintained poorly, but also cursed. Maybe one of my ancestors cheated a Gypsy mechanic out of a covered wagon repair bill a hundred years ago, and that is why we have such hardships. Why else would my parents opt for a sunroof on their first van, instead of air conditioning, forcing in summer months the choice between stifling heat or miniature tornadoes whipping in through the wide-open roof? What other families' automobiles fall into such disrepair that they cannot be resold, only donated to the Jewish Community Fund for the Blind? What other vehicles are ever randomly found coated in Magic Shell-brand sundae topping? Who else has trouble with mold - mold! - on seats and upholstery?

The car I have been driving since last Tuesday is our Acura Integra. It has a small leak in the back windshield, floor mat mold issues, and, unbeknownst to me on Tuesday, a faulty latch on the hood. Only the temporary latch keeps the hood from flying up backwards and slamming into the windshield, while you're driving to work on Highway 24 happily singing along to your Cake CD, totally unaware of any hood problems that might any moment cause the deaths of you and any other motorists unlucky enough to be driving near your out-of-control, shattered-windshield, moldy Integra death machine, while somewhere in Gypsy heaven, a wagon mechanic cackles.

Dennis told me about the latch issues on Wednesday afternoon, after I'd done far too much freeway driving the day before. But no matter. I had survived, and would soon return the Acura back home to Pleasant Hill, this time taking surface streets. I'd drive through Tilden Park, hit Wildcat Canyon, then hook up with Alhambra Valley Road. It would take fucking forever, but I would almost definitely not die to hood-induced vehicular trauma.

I started to worry on Bear Creek Road. I was going 40 - was 40 too fast? The potholes and general disrepair of the road also made me nervous. And the signs warning me about deer crossing the road. Would the hood fly up, and cause me to smack into a deer? Maybe I'd hit the deer, but the hood would fly up at just the right angle to catapult the deer over my car and clear of danger. I could be reliving any of a number of scenes from "Tommy Boy", particularly if the Carpenters happened to come on the radio.

Thankfully, I returned home safely, and will be reuniting with Shakes very soon. It may have been healthy for us to spend some time apart. I'll appreciate it more; a car radio with my own pre-set stations, the beautiful non-scent of a mold-free backseat, and, soon, a matching zebra-print cover for the driver's seat. Shakes, I missed you, baby. Let's never let our relationship, or our alternators, fall apart again.

more news about terror and candy


Americans To Vote On New Color For Terror Alerts, M&Ms

When Americans file their tax returns in April, or purchase a package of Peanut Butter M&Ms, they will have the chance to choose between cobalt, periwinkle twill, and electric lime. In a joint effort between M&M-Mars and the Department of Defense, voting will be held to determine the new color for M&Ms and terror alerts. Defense Sceretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated that the new terror color would indicate a slightly heightened alert level with warnings on international travel. "When this new warning/candy color is revealed, Americans are urged to stock up on duct tape as well as a variety of delicious milk chocolate confectionaries, available in Original, Peanut, and Crispy," Rumsfeld announced. He added, "American freedom melts in your mouth, not in your hands."

Snowball Implicated in Anthrax Mailings

The culprit responsible for deadly post-9/11 anthrax mailings has been identified by federal authorities. Snowball the pig was added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, and arrest warrants were issued in four states. Director of Homeland Security Napoleon announced that findings have come to light that link the rebellious pig to letters mailed to Tom Daschle, NBC News, and Farmer Pilkington.

A break in the case came with the arrest of three hens with suspected Al Qaeda ties. When questioned by Napoleon, the hens broke down and confessed to being part of Snowball's conspiracy. This conspiracy is thought to extend past just the mailing of the anthrax letters, with Snowball also implicated in the recent terror bombing of the nearly-completed national windmill.

The current whereabouts of Snowball are unknown. Speaking from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, newly-arrived detainee Boxer the horse expressed hope that Snowball would be caught soon, and added, "I will work harder."

Inspired by recent small-talk-related posts from Kristen Larson and rock star Ian Miller, here's a reprint of some old conversational research done by me and Aaron Vinson (I'd link to his blog if he had posted anything yet) in our old guise of Pentavirate West. This piece was written in 1998, but the comedy was preserved in salt, so it would keep. Apologies to Douglas Hofstadter for the title:

Typographical Conversation Theory

It has been noted in the past few days how repetitive and useless many of
the conversations that occupy our daily lives are. Fred Lee observed that
by the end of the year in Norton Hall, no one could even go to the restroom
without getting bogged down in five minutes of meaningless drivel, or, as
Quentin Tarantino so eloquently put it, "mindless, boring,
getting-to-know-you chit-chat." With that in mind, here's a shorthand guide
to many conversations one can be faced with, and their corresponding
numbers. Ideally, when one senses that another cliched conversation is upon
him, one can simply say the number, or just raise a finger, and then
proceed with the rest of one's life.

1) Any conversation that is about politics, but doesn't feature any actual
knowledge from the talkers

This can be summarized as; "I believe Clinton will be impeached because
blah blah blah damned liberals" or "Kenneth Starr is a big jerk blah blah
blah right-wing conspiracy." Just raise a finger, and don't even think
about saying the phrase; "It tastes good."

2) "Hey, what are you doing tonight?"

Nobody cares what you're doing tonight. They just asked out of politeness.
And, whether you say "going to a party" or "studying" or even "masturbating
while listening to No Doubt" the response will invariably be, "That's
cool." Don't go down that road, my friends.

3) One person expresses sexual desire for a third party, and outlines
possible plans for obtaining sex or a relationship

Saying "three" could be replaced by simply saying, "hypothalamus," but that might prove cumbersome.

4) The Difference Between Men and Women

Comment about gender difference. Example. Small laughter. Ludicrous
extension of first example. More laughter. Agreement and mutual wonder at
the grand difference between men and women.

5) A reference to some element of pop culture known to all

Hey, remember the Smurfs? Wasn't it weird that there was only one girl?
Hey, remember that 'Seinfeld' episode where all of their plans get
frustrated in the end? Wasn't that great? Don't you want to relive the
magic of sharing that cultural moment again and again and again? And again?

6) Drug use

This covers plans to get drunk/high, stories about those crazy things done
while drunk/high, cool places to go/cool things to do while drunk/high,
and assurances that one will never get drunk/high ever again, at least for
a while. Most importantly, this covers conversations about being drunk/high
that take place while drunk/high. "Boy, this controlled substance has
really altered my perceptions of myself since before I was under the
influence of this controlled substance."

7) Embodiment
Isn't it weird that we have bodies? Defecation, urination, menstruation,
satiation of biological needs through eating or drinking, working out, or
any mention of physical comfort/discomfort fall into this definition. It
boils down to commenting on the strangeness that our consciousness is
attached to a physical body.

This Typographical Theory of Conversations is not without its limitations,
however. Conversations about conversations (meta-conversations) are not
covered by this shorthand guide. Godel's Incompleteness Theorem also states
that there are true conversations that cannot be derived by the
Typographical Theory of Conversations, as well as false conversations
produced by said theory. That being said, it is hoped that this guide can
expedite your small talk and leave more time for the truly important things
in life; namely, this hot girl named Amy on my floor. (3)

* * *

There have been comments about the limitations of the Typographical
Conversation Theory; namely, that there are some mindless discussions not
covered. After consideration, Pentavirate West has decided to amend the
theory to make it a more powerful and comprehensive tool.

8) Sports

In the immortal words of philosopher Frederick Lee, "Let's get tall." This covers
discussions of watching sports, playing sports, handicapping sports,
injuries suffered through sports, or even listening to the Huey Lewis and
the News album "Sports." This category contains elements of #1 (Uninformed
discussions) and parts of #7 (physical discomfort), but is quite effective,
especially when faced with a veritable barrage of tall, marginally educated
student-athletes in one's college life.

9) Art

Have you seen this movie? Is Scorsese a good director? Do you actually know
anything about film to make this judgment, or are you simply talking out
your ass? Any uninformed discussion of art, full of pretentiousness and
bluster, falls into this category. Again, similarity is seen to #1, but it
is the opinion of Pentavirate West that this is a large enough
conversational annoyance to necessitate its own division and number.

*Special note on combined conversations:

A question has been raised as to what designation should go to
conversations that contain elements of more than one type, e.g. An athlete
discussing his plans to get drunk in the evening following a game (#2, #6,
#8) seemingly falls into many categories. What is the informed
conversational theorist to do? While it is possible to raise the
appropriate number of fingers for each of the conversational cliches
present, a more effective solution is to simply choose the predominant
cliche, and utilize its signal. Ultimately, specificity is less important
than just making the boring conversation go away.

Pentavirate West welcomes comments about the Typographical Theory of
Conversations, but reserves the right to raise the appropriate number of
fingers during said comments. Peace in the 98.

sentient cotton candy


During one of my many conversations with Tyler and Allen, the subject turned to religion. As Allen and I are avowed atheists, talk turned to Tyler's spirituality.

Allen: (to Tyler) So, are you an atheist yet?
Tyler: (snort) Look, I'm agnostic, OK? I think...there might be a God, and there might not be. (pause) I'm open to the possibilty...yeah.
Sean: (respectful nod) (pause) So what about ... sentient cotton candy?

notes on the "manhunter" dvd


I watched the DVD of Michael Mann's "Manhunter" this afternoon, a film recently remade as "Red Dragon". Since I was with my family, the comedy flowed like wine. Since I was with my family, that's a lot of wine.

Funniness 1: Product placement

"Manhunter" is a somewhat low-budget film. I'm not sure it ever had much of a theatrical release. In a scene that appeared to be there to help defray production costs, lead actor William Peterson and his movie son have a heart-to-heart conversation while walking down the cereal aisle of a supermarket.

The amount of product placement is staggering. Rows of breakfast cereals fill the background of every shot. The actors appear to be creeping down the aisle in order to allow as many different products in the scene as possible. As Peterson was wrapping up his monologue about Hannibal Lecter (spelled "Lecktor" in this film, for some reason) sending him to the hospital, I speculated that he would stop, stare directly into the camera and do a testimonial for Cheerios at scene's end. Here's how it actually ended.

PETERSON: And that's why I was in the hospital.
KID: (pause) What's that kind of coffee you like?
KID: Is it that Folger's kind? (Grabs Folger's coffee, places it in cart)

Michael Mann, you are a whore.

Funniness 2: Résumé

The actress who plays the female lead in the film is named Kim Griest. My mother insisted that she had seen the actress before, in some other work. I suggested that we consult the Internet for guidance, but my father Dennis said we could use one of the DVD's special features.

"We'll use the 'résumé' button," Dennis insisted. "Her résumé should have a list of the movies she was in."

So Dennis took us to the Main Menu of the disc where we saw the "Resume" button. As in, "un-pause". Oh how we laughed.

Incidentally, Ms. Griest played Mandy Patinkin's crazy ex-wife on the television show "Chicago Hope".

us sends troops to alaska


US Sends Troops to Arctic National Refuge

Citing the presence of Al Qaeda terror cells in the region, President Bush has ordered 200,000 US troops to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The troops are expected to safeguard the Canadian border, displace the provisional Aleut government, and engineer a series of "security wells" and pipelines.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer read from a prepared statement: "The CIA has collected evidence of Eskimo financial aid to Afghanistan, as well as polar bear terrorist training camps near the Bering Strait. The US must respond to these threats to its security by responding with force." He added, "Either you're with us, or you're with the fundamentalist polar bear terrorists."

adventures in tolkien nerdery

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Part 1

As per my usual Halloween routine of not dressing up and refusing to have fun, I spent this year's holiday in Pleasant Hill, doing laundry and helping to answer the door for trick-or-treaters. There was the usual assortment of ghosts, witches, and Spider-Men throughout the evening, but one boy stood out. He was an example of creative costuming, but mostly he was a reminder of what an incredible nerd I am.

My father Dennis answered the door and immediately identified the eight year-old, clad in a brown cloak and pointed hat, as "Gandalf". His mom said, "You're the first one who got that. Most people think he's Dumbledore, or just a wizard."

Dennis, a Tolkien dork from the old school, seemed surprised at the lack of respect accredited to Gandalf. He began explaining how the costume ruled out Dumbledore due to the hat, but then became a bit more critical.

"You know, Gandalf actually wore grey. Or white. This outfit is brown", Dennis said, still holding the bowl of candy, as young Gandalf held out his bowl expectantly. Hearing the magic word "Gandalf," my nerd-sense began tingling and I hurried to the front door.

What followed was an in-depth analysis from Dennis and Sean where we conferred, and decided that due to his brown clothing, the kid best resembled Radagast, the Middle-Earth wizard who befriended the birds and beasts. By this time, overcome with desire for candy and the nerdiciousness of the environment, the kid was nearly in tears. Dennis finally tossed a few fun-sized candy bars into the bag, and we continued a spirited conversation for the next few minutes, laughing about Saruman and Ted Sandyman. Only later did I begin to feel shame.

Part 2

On Monday night, Tyler made reference to the Lord of the Rings, never a good idea, especially if I'm mildly intoxicated. Zembla has been home to Tolkien comedy in the past, so, really, people should know better. This discussion was sparked by a question as to whether the book was allegorical in a World War 2 sense (England = Gondor, hobbits=leprechauns or something, etc.). In the course of this discussion, Gene Wood and myself began debating whether the Mirkwood or the Lonely Mountain was further east, thus determining whether elves and dwarves were the easternmost creatures in Middle-Earth. Mr. Wood's incredible wrongness notwithstanding, my level of LOTR-based discussion was wholly unacceptable, yet I couldn't help myself.

It spiraled out of control. One moment I was talking somewhat calmly about the geography of the Misty Mountains, and the next moment I was spewing Middle-Earthiness uncontrollably. The low point came while I was speaking in a British accent about Beren and Luthien, and the Witch-King of Angmar, and I referred to Tolkien himself as "Jerrrr."

This time, the shame was there right away.

Part 3

I am particularly vulnerable to works like the LOTR saga. I like nothing better then remembering elaborate, arbitrary histories and chronologies, and Tolkien provides an incredible amount of data for readers who are inclined to seek it out. It might be the same reason I follow basketball transactions, or can instantly rattle off starting lineups for early-'90s baseball teams I wasn't even a fan of. This sort of thing plays to my strengths; though I have very little sense for three-dimensional reasoning or music, I can pretty much remember anything I've ever read in a book. It also satisfies some mental need to have things organized, to know entire histories of events or places, even if they aren't real.

So, I'm resigned to my status as an enormous dork, at least in this area. Still, I wonder, am I an unusually enormous geek? After viewing "The Song Remains the Same, I am confident that Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant is much, much worse.

After all, I've never made a concert film interspersed with footage of me and my bandmates riding horses around in some bizarre Celtic Tolkien fantasyland. I've never written lyrics like:

So I'm packing my bags for the Misty Mountains
Where the spirits go now,
Over the hills where the spirits fly, ooh.
I really don't know.


Mine's a tale that can't be told, my freedom I hold dear.
How years ago in days of old, when magic filled the air.
T'was in the darkest depths of Mordor, I met a girl so fair.
But Gollum, and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her, her, her....yeah

So I'm not really so bad, right? Right? Right?

born to be... wild?


So a few weeks ago, I had to pick up Grandma's mega-truck in the East Bay in order to move in our new fleet of couches. The upside to this journey was that I got to ride on the freeway on the back of Gene's motorcycle. As avid Zemblan readers might recall from my earlier treatise on motorcycling, riding a bike with another man is a wonderful experience. Now that I've been on Highway 24 on the back of Gene's bike, I feel I have a pretty good idea of what it's like to make love to him. He takes control. He's kind, but firmly in command. He tells you, "If it gets too scary, just tap me on the shoulder and we can stop." His buttocks twinge almost imperceptibly just before he's about to make a sudden move. Also, you're not allowed to use your feet.

There were a few moments where I was painfully reminded of the freakish size of my head. My helmet-encased head functioned like a ship's anchor, or one of those parachutes that drag racers deploy behind their cars. Anytime I raised my head to look left or right, we slowed noticeably, and I could feel the helmet wanting to soar free of my cumbersome noggin. Fat chance of that happening, since it fits so tightly that the chin strap is extraneous.

That helmet led to an embarrassing moment when we went to Triple Rock. We arrived, I hopped off the bike, and Gene went to park. As he was backing the bike into the space, I tried to take off the helmet. It didn't budge at first, so I ended up leaning forward, a hand on each side of the helmet, pushing it off. When it finally gave way, my momentum made me take three steps backwards, into an amused couple coming out of Spat's. Like an orange on a friggin' toothpick!

Finally, riding on the back of a motorcycle will put crazy thoughts in your head. There was a three-mile stretch near Lafayette where I considered just how I would try to land and roll, should I be thrown from the bike. I wasn't scared or worried at the time, just quietly thoughtful. I felt more aggressive. Gene gave the finger to a driver who honked at him, and I felt brave enough to release my white-knuckle grip momentarily and flip the guy off, too. Also, when we were cruising down Second Avenue towards stately Wood manor, I had a strong urge to yell to a female jogger, "We need more ass like that in this town!"

I don't know what that means either.

The Willie Mays Story By Sean Keane and Danny Bonato

Willie Mays was born on May 6, 1931 in Fairfield, Alabama. When Willie was two his parents were divorced and Willie went to live with his aunt Sarah Mays. His best childhood friend was a boy named Charlie Willis. His nickname was and still is Bud Duck (after he broke into the big leagues it was shortened to Buck.) His first intrest in baseball showed when he was ten (he had heard about Joe DiMaggio.) Willie attended Fairfield Industrial High School and was their star quarterback and Charlie Willis was their star receiver. In an unforgettable game against Booker T. he threw the game tying pass to Charlie. Then Willie's coach Mr. McWilliams offerd Willie college scholarship playing football. But Willie said, "Mr. McWilliams, I'd love to play football, but my heart's set on playing baseball. So he did.

The Giants brought him up from Minneapolis. He started going 0 for 12 before hitting a home run off Warren Spahn. After that he went 0 for 13. His next hits were 6 home runs. After that he went on a tear. The Giants tied the Dodgers and played a three game playoff. They were tied after two games. Bobby thomson hit a home to win the game. In 1954, he hit 319, hit 51 home runs, and 110 runs batted in. His manager was Leo Durocher. Willie had had a truly great career so far and it was getting better every day. Good luck, Willie.

nba action - it's (far from) FAN-tastic!

Basketball is a great sport, with many exciting and charismatic athletes. Still, among professional sports, it has by far the lamest team names. By my reckoning, only eight of the 29 teams in the league have a decent name, with the others ranging from the geographically inappropriate (Utah Jazz) to just plain weak (Indiana Pacers). The only thing close as bad as the team names is the postgame player interviews, and even then, it's close.

It really isn't that difficult. Team names just need to have a few of the following qualities:

1. Name of an animal:

The tougher the animal, the better. Not surprisingly, most teams opt for carnivores. Cats and birds of prey are widespread; slow, herbivorous animals less so. Half of the teams in any given NCAA Tournament field will be named "Wildcats." Granted, the Buffalo Bills have a buffalo as their mascot, but their name doesn't make any goddamn sense anyway.

1a. Job-based human name, or sufficiently ancient tribal name:

By "job-based human name," I mean that having "Buccaneers" as a mascot is fine, while having "Redskins" or "Indians" really is not. It seems very clear to me that "Dallas Cowboys" is acceptable in a way that "Dallas Whiteboys" would not be. "Minnesota Vikings" is OK because they lived so long ago, and because Vikings kick ass, bro.

2. Geographic appropriateness and/or illiteration:

There has been a trend recently to select animal mascots that correspond to a region's indigenous wildlife. The Florida Marlins, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and Arizona Diamondbacks are all recent examples of this trend. I don't think this is necessary. An alliterative name is a lot more effective than one that's been geographically determined; there may not have been a lot of pirates based in Pittsburgh, but the name works due to the double-P.

Still, a name shouldn't contrast glaringly with its region. It would ahve looked stupid if the Dallas hockey team had retained the "North Stars" moniker after leaving Minnesota. Similarly, the Washington Senators became the "Twins" upon moving to Minneapolis, and the second incarnation became the "Rangers" when they relocated to Texas. The Colorado Avalanche would look like jackasses if they were still called the "Nordiques."

3. Inanimate objects, but only if they're really cool:

This is where the NBA really runs into trouble. The only inanimate objects that work as team names are ones with cool qualities, that bring to mind victory-type metaphors. The New York "Jets" fly, they're fast. they're cool, that's an acceptable name. For the flip side of this, see below.

Doesn't seem that tough, does it? And yet, there's just seven teams with quality names: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks. Four animals, two peoples from yesteryear, and a super-cool inanimate object ("Maverick" is used in the unbranded animal sense of the word). Every other team has flaws of varying degrees of seriousness, which are categorized below.

The geographically inappropriate: Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings, Memphis Grizzlies, Utah Jazz, New Orleans Hornets

The LA teams moved from other places; the City of Angels isn't known for its shipbuilding or its lakes. The Kings inherited their name from the Kansas City Kings, who themselves were descended from the Rochester Royals. The first two names were questionable - what does it mean to be the King of Kansas City? - but at least they were alliterative. It seems like Sacramento "Squires" is closer to the level of royalty implied by the city itself. The "Grizzlies" moved to Memphis and changed their colors to blue and orange upon being purchased by Federal Express. Though the grizzly bear isn't normally associated with the Deep South, at least that beats them changing names to the "Express."

The Utah Jazz play in the least jazzy city in the United States, if not the entire world. Part of that is because the only African-Americans in the entire state play for the Jazz themselves. The Jazz used to play in New Orleans, and the name has hung on, even in the land of Mormons and green Jell-o. Meanwhile, the New Orleans basketball team is called the Hornets, even though Utah, through some weird Latter-Day animal symbology, goes nuts over bees and beehives. Could they maybe trade names? Could we stop associating the word "Jazz" with point guard John Stockton, the whitest man in NBA history?

The geographically cowardly: Golden State Warriors

They play in Oakland. Oakland, California. What, the NBA's worst franchise is too good to be associated with Oakland? Alameda County renovates their arena, and there's no love from the team? The California Angels finally owned up to their Orange County roots and became "Anaheim." Five years later, they were world champions. It should be a lesson to the Warriors. Embrace O-town.

The nearly-respectable: Minnesota Timberwolves, Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors

"Timberwolves" is too long a name, so everyone calls the team the "T-Wolves," which only exacerbates the horrible public nickname trend towards "First initial-plus-First syllable of last name." Some write it as "T'Wolves," which would be pronounced like "T'was," or "train," if the speaker was an eight year-old Sean Keane. "Pistons" fits in with Detroit, and the auto industry, and makes one think of motion, but... a piston isn't even really one of the cooler parts of an engine, and it sounds a lot like part of a flower's reproductive system. "Raptors" might be acceptable if it weren't such a transparent attempt to sell team merchandise by glomming onto the "Jurassic Park" phenomenon.

The Abstract Non-Pluralizable Concept: Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Utah Jazz (again!)

Both Florida teams, both piss-poor names. One determining factor a team should look at when selecting a team name is, "OK, what will an individual player on our team be referred to as?" Even the teams with the lamest names can at least say, "We're the Devil Rays. One individual player is a Devil Ray. We understand the need to refer to individuals using a singular form of a noun."

But in Miami, Orlando, and Salt Lake City, that's impossible. One Jazz player is... still a "Jazz"? A "Note"? Both "Heat" and "Magic" could have been dreamed up by lazy headline writers in the sports section, just to facilitate lame puns. Pick a name that ends in "s," people.

Inanimate and uncool: Denver Nuggets, New Jersey Nets, Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs, Seattle Supersonics

Let's just agree right away that "Nuggets" and "Nets" are undeniably lame. The sun is a good star and all, but suggesting a team of multiple "Suns" is a little bit sci-fi freaky-deaky for me. "Spurs" are basically jagged pieces of metal. How inspiring.

"Supersonics" does refer to planes, which I earlier stated was a legitimate team mascot. However, no one uses "supersonic" as a noun anymore. It's been primarily an adjective since at least the '70s, if not the '20s.

Lame: Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, Portland Trailblazers

"Cavaliers" means "knights," so it seems decent. Except, it's always shortened to "Cavs," which to me means, baby cows. Ooh, look out for Cleveland! They're as tough as veal! A "Pacer" is either a mediocre horse, or one of the worst-received automobiles of all time. I think "Trailblazer" is some kind of Lewis and Clark bullshit. It's always shortened to "Blazers," which is quite appropriate given their players' current proclivity for marijuana abuse. Either way, unless I get to shoot at poorly animated buffalo and squirrels, I want no part of this Oregon Trail business.

sara and sami and the dump


One reason that I like coaching swimming is that it allows me to lie to children a lot. I am not trying to trick them, usually, as much as I am saying things that are obviously untrue or ridiculous to tease them. Intentionally deceiving small children isn't very hard, so it gets old after a while. Constant innocuous lying, however, is the child-teasing gift that keeps on giving, if by "giving" you mean "tormenting small children."

Often on the pool deck, I often offer my swimmers "rewards" as motivation for their good efforts. "If everyone kicks their fastest on this last lap," I'll announce to the 6 & Unders, "You all get to help wash Coach Sean's car!" Sometimes I will promise to let kids do yardwork if they swim fast, or help put away the equipment. Kids are usually motivated enough by arbitrary rewards like points, or competitions between lanes, so I don't believe in bribing them with anything good.

Sara and Sami were little girls that my sister Kelly used to babysit. Sara was one of the stars of the 6 & Unders in 1999, my last year of coaching their team, and Sami was her soon-to-be-three year-old sister. (Now Sami has grown up to be an aquatic superstar herself) For that whole year, Kelly and I promised a trip to the dump as a reward for anything Sara and Sami did. If Sami held her breath successfully during swim lessons with Kelly, trip to the dump. If Sara's free relay finished in first, trip to the dump. I'd talk at length about how much wonderful garbage there was at the dump, how great the air would smell, and how much fun it would be to visit. Sara was firmly convinced she was never going to the dump, but Sami would occasionally seem enthusiastic about the mounds of garbage, at least until Sara got frustrated and yelled, "We don't want to go to the dump, Sami!"

After I left the team, I didn't see the kids until the following summer, when my new team, the Beavers, visited the old pool. I was swarmed by kids when I first arrived, including the still-pint-sized Sami and Sara, who was three inches taller than she'd been the previous summer, and lacked front teeth. I said hello to them, picked Sami up, and had not even began my next sentence before Sara yelled, "Hey! Don't start in with that dump business again!"

So I didn't. But half an hour later, Kelly told a girl named Jenny that she had a pet moose living in our backyard, and I didn't deny it.

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