Sunday, May 30, 2010

Vive le French bulldog Cy

I'm falling in love and I can't stand it. My paramour has a scrunched face, eats off the floor and has big goofy ears, but I don't care. I am falling for Tim Lincecum's French bulldog, Cy, and this is a problem because I am a cat person.

I don't know what makes this breed a French bulldog. Maybe when challenged by another dog it immediately surrenders. Really, it makes no sense. Look at this guy above, who is not Lincecum's dog but an excellent copy. The French can be smug, but they generally don't have big bellies like this fellow. They eat and eat and eat, but all the wine they drink and cigarettes they smoke absorb and burn the calories. It's a medical fact. Look it up.

Tim the pitcher secrets himself in one corner of the Giants' clubhouse, dressing at the cubicle once brightened (cough, cough) by Barry Bonds. But Cy the French bulldog has free rein in the clubhouse and strays often from the little doggy bed that his owner has plopped at the foot of his locker.

A good part of my job is standing in the clubhouse like a cigar-store Native American waiting for the one or two players I need to interrogate. You get bored talking to the other stiffs carrying notepads so you look for any diversion you can. So up comes Cy, sitting on his haunches and gazing at you like the fellow above. And even if you and dogs have been as compatible as the French and victory parades, you bend over and start scratching him between the ears, which most animals seem to like. And Cy gets into it, and you get into it more, and he flops on his side and you rub his belly and you realize that maybe Cy likes you for reasons beyond your midsection looking like the biggest rib roast in doggy lore.

And I'm touched.

I did not have a dog as a child. I grew up in apartments, where most of the the biting and howling occurred in the community laundry room when a neighbor, God bless him or her, removed my mother's laundry from the dryer when it was still damp. My sister and I had birds, turtles and for two memorable weeks a homeless gentleman named Vic, but never a dog.

When I was little we would visit family friends who had a giant German shepherd. Now, the dad in this family was a concentration-camp survivor, which made his choice of dogs a little puzzling. My sister and the kids who lived there would race to the backyard to play with the dog, whose name escapes me. Let's just call him Himmler. I would stay inside insisting I was not scared of Himmler and declaring I really was more interested in the gin rummy game being played by the adults. Everyone knew better, but I didn't care, and my lifelong gambling addiction was born.

I first lived with a dog in Davis when I rented a room from two med students who had a beautiful Samoyed, a big fluffy Alaskan dog who went to doggy court and sued his owners for forcing him to live in 100-degree heat. I got to like the Samoyed, but when she died in a collision with a car I felt more for her owners. Then I felt contempt for this couple when they got two new Samoyed puppies who mistook the carpet in my bedroom for the great Alaskan pissing tundra.

I've had cats ever since, though one of my two current kitties really is a dog. He likes belly rubs, runs to the door to greet me and can actually open the kitchen cabinet that houses his food and drags out the canister. OK, no dog is smart enough to do that.

I don't know how smart Cy really is, but I can't imagine he's Harvard Obedience School material because he will play with a sportswriter. Brian Wilson's dog was more intelligent. Once when he saw me approach Wilson's locker he growled at me, to which the pitcher said, "He's well-trained."

Cy the French Bulldog is little more than a puppy. Lincecum will be a Giant at least through 2013. That's a long time for a love affair to grow.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Ten things that I can't get out of my head

1. Why is it that commercial drivers need training and a special license to prove they can safely drive a truck for a living, yet any coke-addled yokel can slap $19.95 on the counter at U-Haul and rent one?

2. I am a reasonable, mature adult, yet I cannot see or hear the name of Seattle pitcher Doug Fister without giggling.

3. If umpires were allowed to carry tasers, there'd be a lot fewer ejections in baseball.

4. The day airlines start allowing cellphone calls in flight is the day I rent a screaming baby for retaliation. You can get one for $19.95 at U-Haul.

5. The companies that produce Alec Baldwin's Schwetty Balls and Betty White's delicious muffin are ripe for a merger.

6. I'd wager a week's pay that boys named Peter, Willie, Dick and Johnson statistically get into more fights in junior high than the student population as a whole.

7. If the sun really is going to devour Earth and burn out someday, why should I pay all these flippin' tickets I'm getting?

8. Eight nights in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati on the next road trip. Par-TAY!

9. Each time I hear some family's precious soccer star screech the batting order in the third inning in San Francisco, or yell, "It's time for Dodger baseball" in L.A., I'm sure my life is being shortened by at least a day.

10. I have $19.95. Can I rent a taser at U-Haul?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A close call for this Pole

Let me tell you, loyal readers, I'm very fortunate to be a free man tonight. Hand to God, I got pulled over by a policeman in Phoenix tonight, and it was a close call. I'm shaking as I write these words.

Seems they installed a light-rail system to benefit the seven people in Phoenix who do not own automobiles. As I was leaving Chase Field following tonight's Giants-Diamondbacks game, I turned right against a red light at an intersection with light rail, having missed the sign that said it was a no-no.

(As an aside, can I get through one damn road trip without being hassled by The Man? Remember the ticket I got in Miami for cutting through a Shell station to pass a narcoleptic pig driving 15 in a 30 zone? Did I piss off somebody at Interpol? Why am I being picked on?)

Anyway, the police lights flashed behind me as I turned onto 7th Street and I pulled over, my throat choked with fear. You see, I am a first-generation American. My parents were both born in Poland, and I have distinct Polish features. That never has been an issue in my native California, where aside from a few Polish jokes that I don't really get, I don't get hassled much for being Polish. I've been mainstreamed and accepted.

This is Arizona, though, and thanks to the new immigration law the police are required to determine the immigration status of anyone they believe to be here illegally. That leads to profiling, which means no Polish American in Arizona is safe.

Now, I'm a U.S. citizen through and through. I was born in California. I love baseball, hot dogs and apple-kielbasa pie. I bitch about my taxes, overeat and piss off everyone in Europe by demanding service immediately. You can't be more American than that. But it doesn't matter in Arizona now. This handsome young copper tonight could have asked for my immigration papers, and had I said I was American, he just might have called bullshit and taken me in.

I wouldn't last 5 minutes in the Maricopa County jail. The sheriff, Joe Arpaio, well, he's what Freud would have called a freakin' nut job. He puts prisoners in striped uniforms, like the one George Clooney wore in "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" And just like the movie, which was supposed to take place in the 1930s, Arpaio runs chain gangs.

Can you imagine how long a pencil-pusher like me would last in the 100-degree heat pounding rocks into gravel on the side of an Arizona highway? There's be a lot of Polish Americans like me on the chain gang with whom the shoot the breeze. This immigration law is tough. A lot of us are going to get ensnared.

Maybe my skin was not fair enough to look Slavic, or maybe this cop was tired of running so many Poles into the station for not having their papers, but he let me go with a warning. I bid him Dziękuje, which means "thank you" in my parents' native tongue. He gave me the evil eye one more time and drove off.

I tell you, under the current circumstances it's tough to look Polish in Arizona. It would be hard for me to live here full time.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A small sample size

I was scrolling through Facebook this morning when I ran across a status update from a friend who said she had to pee in a cup for a pre-employment drug test. That got me thinking about one of the most bizarre mornings of my life.

There was a time when my physical ability to produce another human being was medically questioned. There are tests for that, and the male version calls for providing a sample of a certain substance that serves as a cozy-comfy home for the little buggers that do the work for you. Free of charge, too.

Generating such a sample requires an act that ordinarily would get you arrested if you attempted it in an office building during regular business hours. This is the one grand, happy exception. There are even laboratories that cater to this sort of thing. They have rooms equipped with a comfortable place to recline, magazines and videos. Now, in my case the best magazine for the job would have been Beckett's baseball-card value guide, but they went for a baser, least-common denominator group of publications.

In any event, you produce your sample sheepishly (watch the sheep jokes, perverts) and await the results.

Well, my big day came and I drove to an address in Concord. The problem was, my doctor did not send me to a center where these sorts of samples are produced and the staff becomes inured to the requisite behavior of the clients. No, this was a place where such samples ordinarily arrive in boxes to be analyzed.

When I walked in the door and told the receptionist what I needed to do, her eyes grew wide and she had a look of terror on her face. She said I couldn't do that there and I replied, "Look, this is a tough enough process as it is, and I just want to get it over with." She conferred with someone in the office behind her and finally handed me the plastic cup with instructions to use the men's room.

I have to believe that all office work stopped for the 30 or 45 minutes that I required to complete this medical procedure. There was no wine, no soft lighting, no magazines to get me in the mood. If I recall, there might have been a travel poster of Italy hanging on the wall and maybe a framed cross-stitch of a cat.

I really thought about having some fun with the staff and periodically shouting, "Oh mama! Bring it home to papa! Grind it! Grind it! That's right baby! Crank 'er home!" But I didn't have the guts to do it.

I finally emerged, sample cup in hand, and barely could look the receptionist in the eye as I handed it over. I have to think that company quickly sent a stern warning to doctors not to send them any more patients unless they walked in with the evidence already collected.

To this day, I can't look at a cross-stitched cat without snickering.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Thanking the right people

I rarely go into the Chronicle office at Myth and Fission, as the late Phil Frank would say. I don't have a desk or a phone there. I usually work out of the house. When I show up without my badge, as I did yesterday, I have to go through a whole security rigamarole to get in. (Memo to the head of security: As much as I enjoyed the cavity searches, really? Really?).

I popped in yesterday to grab my mail and was stopped by someone I didn't know who just wanted to tell me how much he enjoyed my Giants coverage. I thanked him. This afternoon, as I walked into the ballpark, a gentleman my age who works in guest services stopped to say I was his favorite writer, that he and I had the same sense of humor and my game stories are the best way he relates to what is happening on the field.

That gentleman was my age. I thanked him and suggested he impart his message to his younger friends so we can keep this newspaper going for another decade or three.

Let me tell you, one encounter like this compensates for 20 of the other kind, when somebody sits at home with one hand on his schmekele and uses the other to let me know in the most vitriolic way possible that I am nothing more than a dingleberry. (Look it up. You'll be amused.) I'm not talking about just criticism of my work. That I can handle. I'm talking about people who have decided their lives are meaningless unless they demean the work of others.

You all can relate no matter what you do. I presume some of you work in the restaurant business and hear a lot of bitching about the food in your joint. You can tell the difference between someone who genuinely got a bad meal and merely wants it right, and someone who wouldn't be satisfied if the 15 top chefs in the world collaborated on his chili mac.

But isn't it wonderful when a diner calls you over to say he just had the best rack of lamb he ever tasted. (Sorry to those opposed to eating lamb. I was already thinking about dingleberry and, well, you know.)

When I had my house painted some years back by a man who took a month to do it right, I think he was happier with my effusive praise than the large tip I included with his payment. Either that, or he thought to himself, "That's a nice tip. I'm going to listen to this dingleberry for as long as he keeps his yap open."

Consider this a call to heap praise on the praiseworthy. There is too much negativity in the world. I know. I cover the Giants. Let people know when they do something right. It will make both of you feel good and, you never know, the guy busing your table today might be administering your Chronicle cavity search tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A writer plays hurt

I once watched a supposedly truth-based movie about the Three Stooges. I know what you're thinking. I really wanted to watch "The Brothers Karamazov," but that channel was scrambled. Really, it was.

The Stooges film was sad at times, particularly when Curly Howard had a terrible stroke in 1946. In the true spirit of show business, the act went on. It must have been hard. Moe Howard was more than just Curly's comedy partner. They were brothers. For the first time, while watching that movie, it occurred to me that the hardest thing a professional funnyman must do is to remain funny amid tragedy.

I don't consider myself a comedian, but I try to keep my baseball stories light and entertaining. That has not been easy the past few years. My father died a difficult death in 2008. Soon after that my only sister developed breast cancer, and soon after that my wife's mother died. Darkness has enveloped me in other ways that are best kept private. Those of you who guessed "arrested for public indecency," shaddup. Drugs and alcohol are not involved. As for that rumor involving live animals, a catapult and two members of The Tijuana Brass, well, no comment.

All of this is natural stuff that happens to people in the world every day, but I must confess it's hard sometimes to be creative when your mind is in a tragedy-induced fog. It makes me wonder how comics comics can remain funny when they are fighting their own demons. It's not like they can call in sad. Richard Jeni, one of the funniest men I ever heard, lost his fight. He blew his brains out in a Hollywood apartment. I never would have known from his public persona how depression ate him.

Playing hurt is another matter altogether, and last week I learned how tough but rewarding that can be.

I had the road trip from hell to Miami and New York, ordinarily two of my favorite cities. For one thing, I was sick the entire week. For another, I got mugged in New York -- by a sidewalk. I was walking the two blocks from the subway to my hotel, bags in tow, when I tripped on a chunk of sidewalk that was not level and fell forward. Despite the insistence of one Giants coach that my face must have hit the sidewalk because, well, just look at it, I actually landed on my left hand and right ribcage, bruising both. I really thought for two days my left hand was broken, but I was afraid to go to a New York emergency room and seeing all those mobsters in the waiting room with assorted bullet wounds.

I was not in good shape Saturday and Sunday, but I made my way to the ballpark and did my job anyway. Fortunately, I had no pain in my hand when I curled it to hold a pen or typed on my laptop. Other things I could not accomplish with that hand. I'll leave those to your imagination, you filthy, filthy people.

I'm proud of myself for what I accomplished in New York with bruises over my body and a throat that felt like I tried to be one of those circus fire-swallowers and hiccuped at the worst possible time. Though professional athletes can be shallow at times, they send a strong message by playing hurt, and it resonates with me. None of the stories will win a Wurlitzer Prize, but at least you didn't get Associated Press dispatches in your Chronicles.

Athletes also impress me when they play through their own tragedies -- deaths and illnesses and such. I doubt I'll ever have to perform at as high a level in my job as they do in theirs, unless President-elect Newsom asks me to write his first inaugural address in 2020. But I'd like to think I have the mental fortitude to do the job no matter how bad things are outside the office.

After all, if Moe can poke Larry in the eye and drop an anvil on his foot while his brother is fighting for his life in a hospital, a sportswriter should be able to make his readers laugh a little even if he loses his bout with a sidewalk.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Can't escape Southern justice

How do the chronically A-holic manage to skate in life while we righteous people get the shaft, sometimes as a direct result of their A-hole-i-ty?

I'll give you an example. I landed in Miami on Monday afternoon after two long flights cross country. I was sick and tired -- literally on both counts -- but I was my normal cheerful self. (Shaddup!). When this woman with two small children burst to the front of the boarding line in Denver and demanded to be preboarded, even though this airline does not preboard kids, and told the gate agent, "You're going to be sorry later on," I let her live. When she snapped at the guy in front of her on the plane to move into his row so she and her precious babies could get to their seats, I spared her my rapier wit (Shaddup!).

See, nice me, right?

So I get my rental car in Miami and head for my hotel. For nearly a mile on this two-lane feeder road to the main drag that intersects with the freeway, I have to follow this douchenozzle driving between 15 and 20 mph in 30, driving me insane. I wasn't in a huge hurry, but it's hard to drive that slow in a car that has a little zoom.

We get to a traffic light at the main drag. He's the first car, I'm the second. I need to turn right. He has his right blinker on. So, to get ahead of him, I cut through a Shell station on the corner and get onto the main road. That appears to be illegal in Florida, as I soon learned, and a law-enforcement priority at a time when a couple bajillion gallons of fuel from the gulf are ready to envelope this state.

As an aside, I believe I should be able to do what I want at a Shell station short of robbing it or stealing gas. I live in a town with a Shell refinery. I buy their gas most of the time. They should welcome my little "detours" through their stations. Same theory applies when I need to pee. Being a Marriott platinum member who spends 100 nights a year in their hotels, I should get a key card that allows me to enter any locked men's room in any Marriott in the world.

Yes I have a sense of urinary entitlement. Make something of it.

Back to Miami. Cop sees me cut through the Shell station, pulls me over and tells me what I did wrong. Now, I know the era of the friendly warning is over now that cities are desperate for cash. I know there'll be no talking him out of my $179 fine for for that reason alone. But in my fantasy world, I imagine this scenario:

When the officer saw the Georgia plates on my rental car, he thought, "I'm gonna get this sumbitch peanut boy. Probably Jimmy Carter's bastard son. That's right, Georgia, come to Jacksonville like you did in '54 and beat my Gators, make my Betty Lou cry. I'll show you, you sumbitch. Time for a li'l South Florida justice."

Imagine his disappointment when he saw my California driver's license, but it only lasted a few seconds until he walked back to the car and thought, "I'll get this sumbitch anyhow, coming down here from fruity Cal-ee-FOR-nia with his Kim Kar-DASH-ee-an and his damned liberal governer and his "I'll be back." Made my Betty Lou laugh, though, in that 'Kinnergarten Cop" deal. Probably Warren Beatty's bastard son. Time for a li'l South Florida justice."

Of course, this cop had no southern accent, and he probably is much smarter than my stupid stereotype and, oh, by the way, I actually did cut through the Shell station.

The cop here isn't the villain. It's that A-hole who was driving in front of me, carrying on after his right turn, in blissful stupidity, as I sat in my car weighing the risk of getting tased if I got out to tell the cop my Shell Marriott piss philosophy in one last-ditch effort to escape the ticket.

A-hole driver knows who he is. He was probably starting a drive to Orlando. Should get there in time for the next Georgia-Florida football game.