Monthly Archives: June 2007

junior, trip, quad and vee


Today’s CODE WORD is this… (and no, this question has nothing to do with our current plans or inclination, I’m just interested in everyone’s thought processes)… For those of you with more than one child, why did you decide to have another? And for those of you with one child and planning another one, what went into your decision? And for those of you without kids, don’t the rest of us kinda freak you out?

the passion of st. kjyzwzycrwcywrzcksy


Oh, Koach K. Even deep in the off-off-season such as now, you still manage to deliver us the laughs. I’ll try to make this entry as interesting as possible to non-basketball fans, because Koach K’s recent spate of media interviews has read like a Please Don’t Do This handbook for anyone looking to change their public persona. Krzyzewski giving a mean-spirited lecture to reporters on how Dook has an image problem? Money can’t buy that kind of entertainment!

The Rohrs sent me this article from the Herald-Sun, which resets the bar for professional whining. In it, he wonders aloud why it’s okay for John Edwards to say “I hate Duke” (Edwards actually said he “hated Duke basketball”) and why vitriol usually reserved for opposing fans has made its way into the mainstream media.

Well, let’s stop right there. Edwards “hates Duke” because he went to Carolina, the same reason Giuliani hated the Mets, even when he was the mayor of all New York City. We all have our allegiances, and that was his. But Koach K fails to mention that he used his influence as Dook coach – as well as the stadium – to raise money for Republicans looking to defeat Edwards, so really, anyone could ask “why does Duke hate John Edwards?”

Of course, that leaves the million-dollar question: why do people hate Dook so much? K tried to situate himself beyond reproach, delivering his press conference from the Emily Krzyzewski Family Life Center and mentioning his work with the V Foundation, but really, where do you start?

Hell, you don’t have to look very hard to figure out why there’s so much opprobrium – a simple Google search will suffice. I wrote two manifestos myself, at the age of 21 and again at 39, and GFWD’s old RA Brian may have the ultimate compendium here. Picking just one offense would be too hard, and every college basketball fan has their own pet Dook Hatred moment.

But let’s go with the most recent episode, where Gerald Henderson assaulted Tyler Hansbrough at the end of the last game of the regular season, breaking his nose for the ACC Tournament and spattering blood all over the court. There are about fifteen people left who still believe it was totally inadvertent, and they all live in Durham. No matter what your belief, however, it was a deeply ugly incident and Koach could have marched over to UNC’s locker room and apologized for the way it played out, even while maintaining innocence.

Instead, he praised Gerald Henderson and hinted that Tyler deserved it because Roy left him in the game when they were up 12 points. It was the move of a practiced asshole, and every sports commentator spent a week raking K over the coals.

And now, at his press conference Sunday, he could have softened his rhetoric under the guise of “Duke’s new public image,” but instead, sounded as obstreperous as ever.

In fact, he’s pissed off about the crap he got for the Amex commercial that ran ad nauseum during the 2006 tournament, because Roy Williams didn’t get any shit for his Coke commercials this year. Well, Koach K, actually you were in a frickin’ Pontiac commercial too, but moreover, your Amex ads were sanctimonious, self-aggrandizing muses on sportsmanship and relationships that, frankly, rang immeasurably hollow to anyone who has seen you in action. Roy Williams held a Coke and told a true story about his mom. What did you expect?

The most hilarious thing is that Koach thinks he can fix this situation by having his players respond more aggressively to criticism and getting into the fray more, and getting Duke’s message “out there” more, rather than “shrugging it off.” Only a true narcissist believes that the solution to all your problems is showing more of yourself.

Another trick he uses is what I call “inward dissembling,” when you pretend to take a good look at yourself and still come away blaming everyone else. “I always think that the first people you investigate are you,” he says, “Are you being arrogant? What are you doing?” Which is fine, except that he immediately turned the conversation back to the media and, I guess, blogs, saying that nobody is being held accountable for their opinions.

I know inward dissembling well, as I have been one of its worst violators. I spent years pretending to take a fearless moral inventory of my own behavior, only to remain convinced I was always right. I’m sure some of it has spilled onto these pages over the last five years, but these days I do try to take criticism seriously, and make amends to people I’ve wronged. The comparison is deeply flawed, but Krzyzewski could likewise curry unbelievable good will just by speaking publicly about Tyler, Pete Gaudet, whatever… but he doesn’t seem wired for that kind of contrition. Even mentioning it just pisses him off.

Koach K shares a fatal flaw with other narcissists: despite all their behavior, they need to be liked. It has to be exhausting, because their elements are always at odds. He could have all the press conferences at the Family Life Center he wants, but it can’t cloud the fact that he is who he is.

Everyone’s legacy – especially those of college coaches – is an equal mixture of the behavior you exhibit in the heat of the moment, and the behavior you build over the decades. Both offer warped glimpses into a person, and K has a long list of both. You can’t trade one for the other, nor expect anyone else to treat those two impostors just the same. When you’re as tightly-wound as Koach K, it’s all about control, and his biggest fear might be that his entire body of work may soon speak for itself.




Not to belabor the topic, but as I said, it was Lucy’s first day of “school” today, which, by all accounts, was much like any gathering of 2-year-olds who wanted to smear themselves with finger paint. HOWEVER, I’d like to make it known that it was my morning to get up with the Lulubeans (we alternate), which meant I was up-and-at-’em just after 7am. She and I made french toast and she learned the whole “Wee Willie Winkie” poem by heart.

And where was my beloved wife? SLEEPING IN! That’s right, she didn’t get up when she was supposed to, and on our little girl’s first day of school, too! OH THE POETIC IRONY!

I was late to every day of every school in my entire life. I was late to preschool, and I was late to Dr. Kaufman’s religion seminar on the last day of my fifth year at Carolina. Chip, Jon and Bud used to call me “Mountain Time” because I was always two hours late to everything.

But HA! The tables have turned, wife! My spouse, otherwise known as Josephine Front Row, suddenly slacked. Sure, she only overslept by fifteen minutes and had already packed up the night before and they were still early to school, BUT AS FAR AS I’M CONCERNED, VICTORY IS MINE!!!




Lucy begins school today. Well, at least they call it “school,” as I’m not sure what the nomenclature is for the weird years before kindergarten, but I do know it’s twice a week, and that she has her own cubby, and it’s a set class where they learn different activities in order to sharpen their minds and hone their social skills. Which sounds just like the “schools” I went to, except for the learning and social skills part.

I know all of you with older kids have long since abandoned any fascination you have with this topic, but it’s still new to us, and therefore a big deal. Today is the first day of a journey that will culminate – the Buddha willing – 16 years from now when she graduates from high school. Hell, if the seas don’t rise too high and we’re all drawing oxygen into our lungs, that journey might take 20 years, including college (although our household Rule of Three still holds: “no Dook, no ______* and no motorcycles”)

Just think of every day you went to school. There had to be a first, and that’s today. Even if it’s largely defined by her “cubby,” which as far as I know, is the first time she’ll have a designated space of her own outside the house. I wonder if all schools are defined by our locker; we go to school because we have stuff there. It is our 12 square feet of extended self, far flung from the feudal interruptions of our parents. Later on, our dorm room is the same, only more so, with hot-air popcorn poppers and posters of that couple kissing by Robert Doisneau, further detaching us from hearth and womb.

I’m excited for her, but The First Day of School always conjures up misery for me, and I have to have faith she’s able to cull from her vast social repertoire – she’s already cooler than I was as a college sophomore (but not as cool as I was as a senior, because I was pretty fucking cool).

To blunt the edge of dread, I always spent the days before each school year obsessing over school supplies, making my mom buy Husky pencils, 4-color Bic pens and Trapper Keepers, protractors and translucent plastic zipper bags that snapped into 3-prong folders. Somehow, if I had enough things to write with, I’d be able to shield myself from the crap I knew was coming. By week 2, all of my supplies would be sitting unused in the locker; instead, I’d have sheets of torn-out paper masquerading as class notes, hastily scribbled from Algebra foxholes. My locker was a disaster area. I still have dreams about it.

Lucy needs no such cache; however, the one thing they do require is an Earthquake Preparedness Kit, held in a 2-gallon Ziploc bag. It has a change of clothes, nutrition bars, a space blanket, and a variety of other things, including “a cuddly for your child to hang onto.” I can promise you, in the event of an earthquake, that kid will not be clutching a cuddly, she’ll be pulling classmates away from gas leaks.

Oh yeah, there’s one thing I needed to make for her first day: a photo for her cubby, so that other kids know which one is which. So late last night, I pored through some photos, and decided to print this one:


go get ’em, my little girl!

ignored, aborted, failed, retried


I realize I used a flawed metaphor in my blog a couple of days ago when I waxed moronic about my various firmware upgrades, but it did get me thinking: exactly how have I altered my mind and body since adulthood? In other words, have you ever thought about the flesh and intellectual overhauls you’ve had since the age of 22?

As far as I can tell, these are some hardware upgrades:

LASIK in 1999

Five new teeth since 2000

Pilates abdominal work, saving lower back in 2001

Deviated septum fixed itself 2003-2004 (firmware upgrade?)

“Super Slow” workout changed entire musculature, 2006

Vitamin regimen (Omega 3, multivitamin and CO-Q10) since late 2006

And I guess these would be some software upgrades:

Learned to play hoops for real, circa 1989

Became rabid environmentalist, 1991

Learned HTML (and understood internet revolution), 1995

Learned copywriting for movies, 1999

Learned most aspects of filmmaking (albeit disastrously), 2001

Finally understood my ego for the dealbreaker it was, 2002

Celexa SSRI seratonin upgrade, 2002

Learned to ski, 2003

Switched sleep cycle backwards four hours (Lucy), 2005

Dexedrine upgrade and ADD downgrade, 2006

Learned to play drums, 2006

How about you?



Maybe most of you have already seen this, but a shy cellular telephone salesman recently became the best thing to appear on British television. “Britain’s Got Talent,” which is the UK’s version of “American Idol,” accidentally hit a goldmine of goodwill after showing Paul Potts singing “Nessun dorma” from Puccini’s “Turandot” (which soccer fans will recognize as Pavarotti’s theme for Italian football).

The video raised an interesting discussion in my extended family about what constitutes a great opera singer, and by transference, a great musician in general. My family and I, in case you haven’t been reading this blog for long, are big snobs, and even bigger snobs when it comes to classical music, having steeped in it since birth.

Most of the comments were of the “he’ll never be a great opera singer, but I cried anyway” variety, which underscores a constant theme of my family’s artistic conversation: what separates the truly great from the magical? When does something cross over from being wonderful to being divine, and does it really matter?

Paul Potts, to any average listener, would seem to have a flawless operatic tenor, and if you had an affinity for opera, you might even well with tears like the ladies in the audience. However, to my family’s ears, we heard the little flaws in timbre, the wavering of pitch when he went for the B-flat, the knowledge that he’d never be able to perform “Turandot” in its entirety forty nights a year. That’s not because we’re mean-spirited, it’s just what we do. My mom can’t saw a scarf joint for doghouse eaves, but she can write a solo for an E-flat triple horn while on a Southwest flight from San Jose to Salt Lake City.

What Mr. Potts represents is one of my favorite kinds of stories: the hibernating talent that almost accidentally gains exposure. He could have been Michael Jordan or Mozart if he’d started earlier, but life got in the way, and nobody came along at the right time to take him to the conservatory. As it was, he performed in some local theater and even traveled to Italy for an amateur class, but Paul Potts looks like Paul Potts, and nobody was going to give him the time of day. It took something like “American Idol” to give him that bizarre third act at 36 years old.

Tessa asked me why he couldn’t still be one of the greats, and I told her I didn’t know enough about opera to tell her exactly. However, I did grow up with singers and dated an amazing soprano in college, and I know there are details to true operatic singing that would stun the layman. There are different “trills” from different countries and time periods. There are entire theories dedicated to the sound that surrounds the sound itself. And there is also that extra charisma that separates someone like Kathleen Battle from that cute girl you saw in “The Mikado.”

Anyway, Potts signed a deal with Simon Cowell, who will probably release a CD of tenor standards. The backlash from know-it-alls will begin, but by that time, maybe Potts can become a regular with a big opera company and see the world. So what if he’s not Pavarotti? He will sing for his supper, and his suppers will be feasts in several languages. And what started Paul Potts down this road? He began to sing to himself because he was bullied in school.


run install wizard for soul


Alas, I must keep this truncated, as I had severe oral surgery today that replaced two entire teeth, and left my jaw in a state of day-long woe. It got me thinking, however, that the entire modern era is basically defined by firmware updates.

My surgery, which replaced teeth that had become insufficient for the task, is nothing more than a firmware update. I have decided to bring my mouth up to Teeth 3.0, as Teeth 2.7 was subject to painful rebooting. Tessa has had only one cavity in her life, and is still on Teeth 2.0, and the Lulubeans, of course, is beta-testing Teeth 0.9 – (she still has two left to go).

My mom’s hip replacement in 1993 was a firmware update on her body, as was the replacement in 2005. In 1993, the hip was guaranteed for twelve years and lasted that long; however, the new one is good for fifty due to upgrades in the hardware.

Any time you learn a new language, master a sport, learn to quiet your anger, work a miter saw or surf a wave, you are upgrading your firmware, and curiously, making it easier to upgrade more and more things. However, one rule remains steadfast: firmware upgrades are never painless for the thing being upgraded.

You must endure the misery of shame, and the almost-unbearable sublimation of your ego, when upgrading your firmware on racism, just as I had to bear pain to get my teeth revised. These things were never meant to be easy, but they are meant to be.

Geneticists used to think that 50% of your DNA was useless junk, but a groundbreaking study has rewritten the rule books. In those vast stretches of the genetic code, we possess tons of traits that don’t seem to have any use now, but they could be called upon if the going gets tough, or if our environment changes radically. In other words, built into our genetic code is an infinity of firmware updates.

Like fire extinguishers and iodine radiation tablets, you hope you never have to use those traits, but it’s sure comforting to know they’re there. There are some chaotic shifts in our operating system I could do without, but I’m glad to know we were all born with the flexibility of endless upgrading.

daddo’s day


Happy Father’s Day to all you dads out there fighting the good fight! Here’s my story for Father’s Day:

It’s about 1974, and we’re late for the concert. My dad is the conductor for the Cedar Rapids Symphony Orchestra, and as it is with our family, we’re late getting out the door for a show that is starting at 8pm.

My sister Michelle, then a toddler, has already barfed all over my dad’s tux (which, it being 1974, was probably purple anyway). The family piles into our VW Fastback and my dad, with baton and scores shoved into his brown briefcase, floors it out of our driveway; it is 7:54pm.

We’re zooming all the way to downtown, with the tension in the car becoming insane. About three blocks from the concert hall, the unthinkable happens: clanking bells, red lights, and giant wooden arms close the road. A train is coming, and we’re stuck on the other side.

Not just a train, but a 350-car cattle train from the bowels of Iowa, full of grain, coal, cows and god knows what else. It’s moving at about four miles per hour. I look outside and I can’t even see the caboose, and begin to freak out.

The whole car begins to freak out. But my dad, usually pretty intense, just leaned his head back and smiled. “Calm down,” he said, “they can’t start without me.”

In that moment I thought my dad was the biggest rock star I’d ever known. Feel free to share yours.


my dad and I clean the VW Fastback, 1968

kite and key party


I’d like to draw Junior High School Memory Week to a close with my own personal Most Humiliating Moment, or rather, when the gaping existential maw of adolescent doom opened wide and swallowed me whole.

I, too, endured beatings, beratings, and iceballs to the ear, but I figured those were to be expected. By skipping kindergarten (and being a May baby) I was almost two years younger than many of the cohorts in my grade, and they didn’t take to me kindly. Like many of you, I kept under the radar as long as possible, and when the fights came, I fucking took it like… well, like somebody who is almost two years younger than you.

However, there was one kid, whom I’ll call Bert (since I really don’t want to deal with Google’s search engine) who sat next to me in science class and regularly struck up conversation. When Dr. Gerlits left him in charge of showing the movie (an informational film shot in 1954 about How Electricity Works), it was his idea to thread it backwards, thus treating our class to its first visual freakout. He barely had any friends either, and he decided that’s what we’d be.

I pedaled my bike to his house for months, where he had old Playboys and Penthouses, and I watched him banter with his dad, the saddest broken-down creature in a wife-beater and black sock garters I’d even known. His sister, vivacious and large-breasted, was my secret fantasy.

He once thought it’d be cool to fly a kite with speaker wire during a thunderstorm, which we did, until the cops saw us. We would meet between classes just to talk shit, something I’d never done before. Suddenly, he had the bright idea to be a technical stagehand for the Junior High School Musical (an execrable production called “Doctor! Doctor!”) and that meant I was too.

When we got to our first meeting, the art teacher-cum-drama coach (i.e., a pissed-off ex-hippie) read us the riot act about defacing school property. He then unveiled a wall that had signatures of students going back to the 1950s, kids who’d worked on other shitty musicals far into the past. If we minded our p’s and q’s, he said, we’d get to put our names on that wall.

All was going well with the production until the goth kids running the light booth began to speak inner Ostrogoth to each other and became super-tight. This meant they needed someone to make fun of, and I was perfect. They threw brooms in my way so I’d trip on them, they’d send me on nonsensical errands, and they got me to sign a little block of wood with a red marker, saying there was going to be a raffle.

They even made a temporary nickname for me: The Beaver, after “Leave it to Beaver.” I have no idea why.

On opening night, they ran to the light booth with a prop I needed to start the show. They locked the door and mocked me through the holes in the grate. As the chorus grew louder, I heard Bert in there with them: “Fuck off, Beaver!” followed by a chorus of stoned guffaws. When I saw Bert through the grate, and I could see the glee he took in finally being a part of a clique, finally being able to humiliate someone else, something in me broke.

I always thought someone was more low than me, that someone was actually standing behind my place in the great line of popularity, but in that moment, I turned around and realized the end of the line was me. There was none more lower. I was the last stop before… I didn’t know. Quadriplegic kids in wheelchairs making left turns via a straw? Kids with communicable diseases?

I had never known any friends, so I’d never known that sort of betrayal. I walked away quaking with rage and sadness, and told myself: this is how things are. You are here. There is nowhere to go. I decided not to talk for a month, and damn near did it.

I was only partially awoken from my trance by the art teacher, who was screaming at me for the prop – the play couldn’t start without it, and it was still locked in the light booth. Later, he and the vice-principal called me into the front office, where I was shown the block of scrap wood where the goths had told me to write my name. I had defaced school property, and was now forbidden to sign the great wall of musicals past.

I was no longer allowed to have anything to do with the drama department, which ruined my plan to just “not show up” ever again and let them suffer shorthanded. I didn’t say anything, just left the room without looking at anybody.

Oddly, a week later, the art teacher called me into the backstage room. When I got there, they were having the wrap party, and everyone was signing the wall. With a profound smugness only perfected by abject self-hatred, he told me I’d done my penance, and he had reconsidered: I may now sign the wall.

I wanted to take the magic marker and shove it down his pee hole. I looked at the sneering party, now stopped for my benefit, and I wanted to take a sword and behead every last one of those fuckers. And I wanted Bert, who dared not look me in the eye, to swallow a bowl of M-80s and explode from the inside, so I could set fire to his entrails.

But I couldn’t say one word. Having a retort, or even an ounce of self-respect, was not in my character. I took the magic marker, and knowing everyone was staring, I signed the fucking wall. For all I know, it is still there today.

I left that place about 18 months later and moved across the country to Norfolk, Virginia, where I enrolled in a prep school. We wore ties, I went back to the grade I was supposed to be in, and I made actual friends for the first time. Nobody beat anybody up; we listened to REM, the Jesus & Mary Chain and read Tom Wolfe for class.

I said goodbye to middle school and tried to blot it all out. Of course, most things leaked through, but I have to believe that each time you remember a rotten story, it has noticeably less effect on your heart. And so, my dear readers, I’ll try to bid adieu to those years yet again, but have one last request: Benjamin Franklin Junior High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, please go fuck yourself.