Thursday, October 30, 2014

The season in selfies

April 2014 (actually, it starts March 31!).
The San Francisco Giants' season promises so much:
Michael Morse, a new left fielder I'd never heard of …
acquisition of a veteran pitcher, Tim Hudson, who always seemed
to give the Giants fits. Lovable third baseman Pablo Sandoval shows up
thinner and more nimble. Pitchers are healthy, center fielder Angel Pagan
returns uninjured and in shape. Let's play ball!
Giants go 17-11 through April.
You can hate the San Francisco Giants. I don't blame you.

They've now become one of those teams that show up often enough in the playoffs to make people say, "Not the Giants again! I hate the Giants! I'm not watching!"

I hated the Atlanta Braves for the same reason, back when they were good. Even if they cast off many years of mediocrity and made the playoffs again, I'd still say, "Not the Braves again! Let somebody else in!"

I hate the New York Yankees no matter what. I hate the Los Angeles Dodgers because it's part of the Giants fan by-laws. I hate the A's because they aren't the Giants.

"Hate" in the sports sense. Good healthy fun hate.

Now the Giants have won their third World Series in the last five years. It never should have happened, had no good reason to. But it did.

The good news: This will be my last Giants post until baseball resumes in March. Probably.
The bad news: This will be my last Giants post until March.

Until then, watch my mug reveal the ups and horrible downs and improbable end to the season:

Holy Cow! ("Holy Cow!™® is a registered trademark expression of
the Chicago Cubs®™ and late broadcaster Harry Caray. Void in Inyo and Kern counties.)
The Giants are rolling! New left fielder Morse is slugging! He's the resident fist-pumping surfer dude,
getting the team to wear weird warrior helmets in the locker room.
Pablo "Kung Fu Panda" Sandoval is catching everything hit.
The team is scoring its runs with two outs —
in fact, seems to be waiting until it gets two outs before engineering
strings of runs. The Giants are unstoppable!
May 2014. Even national broadcasters are saying things like "The Giants are on a pace to win
100 games," or "(right fielder) Hunter Pence is on a pace to drive in more than 100 rbi," or
"The Giants have already put this season out of reach." Yeah, they're that good.
Oof, first baseman Brandon Belt breaks his thumb when hit by a pitch. Not gonna worry.

Giants go 20-9 in May.
June 2014. Early runs, two-out hitting binges, comeback wins,
an ever-lengthening lead over the Dodgers. Dare I say
the Giants were almost becoming … boring?
10-game lead over the Dodgers. All right with the world. Center fielder
Pagan goes out with a bad back. Giants pull a rookie, Joe Panik,
up from the minor leagues to stop the revolving door of weak hitting second basemen.
Beloved center fielder Angel Pagan, the engine of the team, out more than
half of last season to a hamstring injury, goes down this time with a back injury.
OK, minor adjustments. Nobody panic. Even though the Giants
go a miserable 10 and 16 in June, including losing six in a row.
July 2014. OK, maybe start panicking. Lovable starting pitcher Tim Lincecum
may have pitched a no-hitter in June against the Padres, but
he wasn't fooling hitters before that or since, and suddenly all the
Giants' hitters have stopped hitting. The far-gone Dodgers are closing in.
All that early season karma fails to produce many All-Stars:
Only Pence and pitchers Hudson and Madison Bumgarner make it.

Giants go 12-14 in July including losing another six straight.
The Giants collapse. It's so bad, I wish the team would forfeit take a day off,
reset, regroup, rethink. No sooner does Brandon Belt return than he
gets hit in the face with a ball, and disappears with a concussion.
The Dodgers creep closer …
… and closer. Hitters aren't hitting, pitchers aren't pitching,
Giants aren't winning … and closer …

… until the Dodgers overtake the Giants.
The Giants appear dead …
The team trades for Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy, who used to pitch
as a youngster with the Padres under Giants Manager Bruce Bochy.
Maybe the Giants figure they're not out of this yet.
August 2014: I can't tell: Are the Giants planning to make a run?
Ooof, starting pitcher Matt Cain goes out for the season, needing
elbow surgery. Second baseman Marco Scutaro, hero of the 2012
World Series and missing most of 2013 with a bad back, shows up,
bats a few times, disappears. Second base goes to the rookie Panik.
Infielder Matt Duffy from Double-A ball, and Andrew Susac from
Triple-A get called up, and like to hit. Pagan shows up, goes down again,
finally calling off the rest of the season so he can get back surgery.
I dunno — am I allowed to hope?

Giants go 16-13 in August.
I mean, they seem like they're still in it, playing brilliant baseball
between bouts of embarrassing baseball comedy. Relief pitcher
Yusmeiro Petit, who the season before came within an out of
throwing a perfect game, sets a Major League record for retiring
46 consecutive batters.

September 2014: Giants officially concede first place in the National
League West to the Dodgers. The best they can hope for is a
wild-card chance at the playoffs. They finish 14-12 in September.

They make a wild-card berth. Without ace Matt Cain, without Pagan, now without newcomer Morse, injured.
The Giants sweep Lincecum to the bullpen, and take away the closer role from Sergio Romo.
Belt is just coming back from his concussion. Somehow, they have to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates
in one do-or-die game to get into the playoffs.
The Giants should not be there, but trounce the Bucs 8-0,
with a grand slam by shortstop Brandon Crawford and a complete-game shutout by Bumgarner.
The Giants face the Washington Nationals, the best
team in the National League for the Division championship.
The Giants are not supposed to be there, but beat the Nats
three games to one, including an amazing 18-inning, six-hour marathon, the longest
game in playoff history. San Francisco moves onto the National League Championship against
the playoff perennials, the St. Louis Cardinals, who beat the Dodgers.
The Giants aren't supposed to be there, but beat the Cards four games to one, topped off with a
walk-off home run by retread Giant Travis Ishikawa, to go to the World Series.

The Giants should not be there. But neither should the
the Kansas City Royals, upstarts who knocked off better teams to
the top. Two teams so like the other, slugging each other to lopsided
whallopings, all the way to Game 7. All the way to the last out of the
last inning, a runner threatening at third, and 25-year-old Madison
Bumgarner on the mound, already established as one of the best pitchers
in history. Three days before, Bumgarner pitched another complete-game shutout.
He has pitched more innings than any other in a single postseason.
The Giants should not have won, but they did.

Somehow, they did.
Now it's a long cold lonely winter. No more baseball 'til March.
I'll subsist on video replays. Go ahead, hate the Giants all
you want. It's your prerogative. I'm smiling on the inside.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

hey, sweet boy ;) lets have sexy time

That yellow smoke stinging your eyes right now comes from  algorithms popping and clicking without sufficient lubrication, overreaching their design, which is to find out about me.

Someone could straight up ask me, or do some old fashioned legwork, but no one does. Not that I'd be inclined to help.

Instead, a myriad mathematical formulas and equations roam the intersecting planes that exist behind my computer and yours, countless Rowling-like Death Eaters extracting information, relentlessly scratching, scratching.

This would all be over, I suppose, if I would just finish my facebook™® profile, which consists now of name, rank and partial serial number. As a result, facebook©™ is frequently left to wonder if I'm from a certain town, and like a lawyer with no more than circumstantial evidence and misanthropic hope for the human condition, points to others with whom I have made a tenuous connection with that same town.

But then, seemingly distracted, it shows me others from another town, and wonders if I'm from there instead. It wants me to give in.

I've written about my town. Just ask, algorithms. I'm not gonna tell you now, though.

Nor has it seemed any good to declare the books I read or music I listen to or TV I stare at. The profile questions may seem at first like ways for the ever growing network of facebook®™ users to connect with one another — hey, you love Terry Jacks too!? — but they are really one more clue surrendered, one more wedge with which sellers of things can prop my wallet.

It's Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence and making you want to take his place. It's Michael Jordan making you think Hanes®™ removed the annoying tags from its cotton shirts for your comfort, when really it removed all the annoying tag-sewing jobs that used to chafe shareholders while they counted profits.

So, unwilling to type in my preferences or play the online quizzes — which Canadian province are you? — designed to ease my inhibitions about volunteering information, I watch the bots circle around me, scratching, ever scratching.

You probably get these too: You so much as half-click on a product, exhibit the the merest glancing interest on some brand, and an ad for that brand follows you everywhere on the Internet — atop each page you visit, over to one side of facebook™®, in a commercial before listening to a You Tube® cover of "Seasons in the Sun."

I am reasonably certain that in many cases I simply thought of these products, or dreamed about them, and in no way indicated through finger tap or eye movement, no physical motion in front of my computer of any kind, that I was interested. Yet, the ads trail me in sticky luminescence.

Lately too, my junk emails have become more personal. Really personal.

One's titled "Small Business Loans shawn" and the subject is "shawn Oops! Do you need help with small business loans?" "Small Business Loans shawn" is also part of the email address that sent me this wonderful offer. Maybe I'm supposed to be charmed by this "accidental" email. Oops!

Many fine business leaders are anxious that I respond to "Whos Who_shawn" because I have been accepted to the 2014 edition of Who's Who Among Executives & Professionals. Announcements arrive daily. Won't the fine business leaders be embarrassed when I appear at their next Tux & Tennies mixer and they discover my paucity of executive experience. Perhaps then they will resolve to choose more wisely.

Even the more personal pitches have gotten more personal.

Blanca pointedly advises in her email, "Never disappoint her again, Shawn …" Such come-hither heat, these ellipses.

The text of her message is:
SnçdĮQÇMZEÐ5Ȅ»SH 2çjMîCaȺA³ÙTûMuTÎ8¡E581RËèoSR⌋7 ∀℘vTª6ΞOe8y Èc2ҮBÀºOD½4ȖQËEЯ2ΩN 7Æ8GUM5І1∠rЯS³PĹæ9ESome time the soî blue eyes. Yeah well he saw her car keys.
Ethan gave cassie looked back pocket matt.
Guess we both of sleep. l13 С Ƚ I Ϲ Ϗ    Ȟ Ě Я Ȇ F·’
Eve and knew about as though.
Someone else even have diï erence.
Just the others to leave. Lott said folding his shoulder.
Most of the letters are printed in white on my message, secret and monochrome yet unintelligible in their revelation. Interspersed in this gobbledygook are larger colored letters — more symbols than Roman letters, almost Cyrillic, just recognizable enough — that spell: "SIZE MATTERS TO YOUR GIRL. CLICK HERE."

Julieta just gives it to me straight. Her subject: "Shawn I'm so sorry.. Sylvia Sidney loves 8" + organ.." I didn't know that about Sylvia Sidney. Of course, I didn't know about Sylvia. An actress by that name died in 1999 at age 89, I just discovered. She was in "Beetlejuice," but flashed the flapper look in her youth.

Ever tantalizing, the bots test the parameters: Maybe the guy's into married women? I get emails from such as "Mrs. Hyacinthia DiPaola," who reminds me "True masculinity is not complete without a big rod, Shawn."

Similarly, folks pitch me for online dating services in the specific niche of spouses who want to cheat.

Another, offering a pipeline to my Viagra®™ (or Vigaara, Viargaa, or several other variations) and Cialis™® supplies, explains, "When you are happy, the people around you are happy as well, Shawn .."

Which is universally true, I would think.

The stake of my manhood, so to speak, has gotten even more direct than that. An email from "Brees M-Patch shawn" with shawn in the email address and the subject "Improve your Sexual Performance Instantly. g" doesn't prevaricate with odd-looking letters. It clearly shows a photo of a woman pushing up her red push-up bra, and tells me exactly what happens when I use its product.

It left out "Sproing!"

Yet in the same day I'm relieved to find out, "shawn it's not too late to learn about sleep apnea management," from someone with my name again in its email address.

Someone named "Walk-inTub shawn" with my name in its email address (uncanny coincidence!) doesn't want me to miss the point of its message, so reiterates in its subject, "shawn Walk-in tubs here."

The bots are trying sooooo hard: A rookie geezer on the cusp of long-awaited adulation for his professional status, who deserves to perform sexually commensurate with his lofty status, but still can't lift his gams over the bathtub wall — which may be in this town, or in that other town over there — to snore in sudsy bliss.

They know me so well!

It's only a short matter of time, though, before they really will.

I'm Nova Scotia, by the way.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Haul of Wonders, Completely Stumped Annex

I. Have. Absolutely. No. Idea.

But it's Throwawayback Thursday, so what the heck?

I found this while looking for something else among my collection of tangible art pieces. (I didn't find the something else.)

Stored in a flat-file cabinet with brush-and-ink and acrylic and watercolor and misbegotten oil pieces, the collection of tangible art comprises a shrinking portion of my life's work as an illustrator. It's probably 20 percent now. Most of my work lay on hard drives and storage devices racing to obsolescence.

Though dislodged carelessly from the pile, this piece still signals a specific strata in my personal geology: The Gray Time, which I spent trying to convince people who knew me as a writer that I could also draw pictures. No really, it's true! Do you want to see? hello? Hello?!

I was taking every job anyone was confident or carefree enough to give me.

Which must be where this came from.

But who or what is C. B. P. D. P. E?

Google®™ is no help: I'm pretty sure it's not about the Christian Business Development Directory (one search result); certainly not the Council Bluffs Police Department. Seems I'd remember those. "Performance evaluation?" "Prostate exam?" "Charles Bronson Production Department Perfunctory Edit?" Might as well be.

All the figures in the cartoon are women. I think. They may or may not have represented actual people. One is pregnant, one asleep. All consumed junk food (or maybe the pregnant one is instead bloated from hogging much of the food). They pulled an all-nighter processing towers of paperwork. They don't seem unhappy; loopy maybe, in that way of a job well done or a bottle well pulled.

TQM probably means (the meaningless) Total Quality Management, some buzzword — replaced by now, I'm sure for another — for "doing our best."

The clock indicates 2300 hours (11 o'clock p.m.) for some reason. Was this a military project? Ostensibly, C. B. P. D. P. E. was an achievement of some kind — the surviving of it, anyway —  but what?

Somebody gotta clue? What a miracle if you happened to know!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You've been here before

The Giants and I were new at this five years ago.
(c'mon: Another baseball post?! Seriously?!!)
(Look, it's either this or write about the Loma Prieta earthquake and the
World Series — quite appropriate on the 25th anniversary — but I've already done that — twice. — ed.)
I had started my part-time gig as a tour guide of Sacramento's Underground. The information felt overwhelming, the challenge frightening.

I had to distill a thick binder of historical information into a story that kept people engaged and while I kept them safe for an hour of walking around an obstacle course of the old town.

What's more, I put it on myself to effect a 19th Century Irish persona and a brogue that didn't remind people of the Lucky Charms™® Leprechaun.

The Giants, meanwhile had no business rising through the standings that year. They were the misfits, failing to conform to baseball ideology. Failing at all but winning.

Love! Exciting and new!

Several of the museum staff, where the tours emanate, turned out to be Giants fans too. A radio in one office even now is permanently tuned to the weak KNBR signal, broadcast home of the Giants. I learned quickly where the "on" switch was because I didn't dare move the dial and lose that precarious signal for good.

They were good times. I was figuring out this guide business. The hard knocks of leading a tour and failing forced opportunities to try again with a new tack, a different way of showing and telling, until I felt comfortable in this faux Irish skin.

The Giants kept winning all the while. It became habit, then obsession, to stop by that office between tours and catch 10 or 12 pitches, maybe even a half-inning, before having to stomp off to the next tour.

The first words out of my mouth once I returned to the museum from a tour: "Score?" Someone had the score and scoring summary ready. We Giants fans in the museum rose and fell by those games. The majority of the staff, not fans, rolled their eyes.

An improbable final-game division win in 2010 rolled into a division championship against the Atlanta Braves, became National League pennant against the phading Philadelphia Phillies, became a showdown with the American League sluggers the Texas Rangers. The Giants were overmatched, all the pundits said so. The Giants won.

Two years later, the Giants were back. Catcher Buster Posey, lost the season before to a gruesome collision at the plate, was back in form. Key players from the 2010 were gone, though, or pale imitations of themselves.

It was not to be. The Giants had no chance. But they made it again to postseason, for an early exit, the experts said. Then, down the first two games in the five-game division series, needing to win the rest to stay alive, the Giants did and beat the Cincinnati Reds. Behind three games to one against the St. Louis Cardinals for the pennant and needing to win all the rest — the Giants won all the rest.

Detroit would destroy the Giants, the pundits said again. The Giants swept the Tigers instead.

The second time in three years proved more manic. The season's end and the playoff games always seemed to coincide with tours or church or other obligations. I learned to text that year and sought salve that way, loved ones relaying scores while I was pinned down during the Eucharistic Prayer.

I was at the top of my game guide-wise, even folding in a second character.

Two World Series wins in three years! It was quite enough. I was sated.

This, though. This is gluttony: The possibility of three World Series wins in five years. Once again, the Giants made it the hard way.

They flopped feet first into the playoffs after a woeful and powerless mid-summer stretch. And yet … they trounced the Pittsburgh Pirates in a one-game Wild card playoff just to get to the division series against the powerful Washington Nationals. The Giants beat the Nationals with power to get into the League championship, then waited for the evenly matched St. Louis Cardinals to throw the ball away enough times to lose (suggesting a new statistic known as RTI — run thrown in).

The final game came with unexpected Giants power and the unlikeliest of heroes, Travis Ishikawa. He was on the 2010 Giants World Series team, a player I liked to root for, a player best known for pinch hits. The Giants released him when he wasn't hitting well, and he bounced around the minor leagues for two years before resurfacing with the Pirates at the start of the season, then got released again and back on the Giants.

Ishikawa seemed like a retread hanger-on, but had transformed himself physically and worked on his hitting. Maybe it wasn't so unlikely, then, that he hit the pennant-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth, the hoariest of American dreams.

Now the Giants are the calm veterans, facing the speedy and powerful Kansas City Royals who play a much different style of game. The Royals are the upstarts, unlikelier than the Giants.

I feel like an old hand too, like I've been here before. All the games so far have taken place when I'm not on tour or stuck in church or otherwise indisposed, like we planned it, the Giants and I. Having seen it all, or almost, I remain calm when tourists fall on the route, or delivery trucks block our path, or low-riders extinguish all sound save for what disgorges from their woofers.

We're cool. We can do this.

Game 1 tonight. Go Giants.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

To the victors

Throwback (five centuries) Thursday
Now for some genocidal insensitivity.

That's me, dressed as Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, enterprising explorer or destroyer of worlds, depending. The marching band lent us the suit. The glue-on Van Dyke had begun to fray in the breeze.

Mike Pellerin lay in loincloth and headdress, slain on sandstone rocks overlooking the Pacific somewhere near Lompoc ("lom-POKE"), my hometown. No telling where Mike's outfit came from. I'm trying to remember whether the blood spilling down his chest is Karo®™ syrup or chocolate sauce, which would have shown up well in black-and-white.

My friend Wayne Singleton, photo editor of the school newspaper, took the shot. This is a print he made and framed and signed for me.

It was a triumph of journalism, and a stunning gamble on our tender psyches. Though it could have gone all "Dewey Defeats Truman" on us, we lucked out.

Cabrillo beat Lompoc 35 years ago. A slight wobble in the fall weather, an unexpectedly fragrant breeze, just reminded me.

Cabrillo was my high school, home of the Conquistadores (we spelled it Conquistadors, but I see the correct spelling has since prevailed), in operation only 11 years when I was a freshman. It was the upstart school on the bluffs overlooking Lompoc, for the Air Force Base brats, the country club kids, the posers, the suburbanites (if Lompoc could be considered big enough to spawn a suburb).
Our school stands high upon a hill.
We strive to win and win we will.

— Cabrillo Alma Mater
Lompoc High, home of the Braves down in the Valley of Flowers, probably as old as the town, educated the townies, the children of farmers and civil servants and miners of diatomaceous earth.

Both of these were true, and none of these. Maybe it's why John Steinbeck's opening to Cannery Row struck me:
Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, "whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches," by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peep-hole he might have said: "Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men," and he would have meant the same thing.
We were the same but believed ourselves different. (I wonder: Would a high school built today be named after someone like Cabrillo, or have Braves for a mascot?)

It was a real rivalry that my kids missed, having grown up in a true suburbia with high schools every three miles. At my elementary school, a unique mix of Lompoc and Vandenberg Village and Mission Hills and federal prison and Country Club kids, we were already loyal to our two high schools — future Braves played future Conquistadors for recess football.

The lore I learned is that upstart Cabrillo had quickly become a countywide sports power; if so, its power had diminished by the time I went to school. Cabrillo and Lompoc traded off: Cabrillo dominated in water polo and golf and girls' volleyball, Lompoc led perennially in baseball. Track as a team seemed to be better at Cabrillo. Lompoc was better in wrestling my senior year, though individual Cabrillo wrestlers beat their Lompoc counterparts.

The transience of Air Force life could radically affect high school life from year to year, especially sports. The basketball team my junior year won a south-state championship in large part because a talented Air Force kid transferred in.

Football, if I remember, swung Lompoc's way that year. Cabrillo was the underdog.

I was editor of the newspaper, the Fore And Aft, my senior year. A new journalism adviser had come to the school, and with it an arrangement to have our newspaper printed on an offset press, like a real newspaper. Mrs. Lucas had built my writing foundation before retiring; incoming Mr. Jory nurtured my growing interest in design.

Before then, our paper was printed on what seemed like leftover linen card stock. It wasn't typeset; it was typewriter-set: We typed the rough copy into prescribed narrow columns, counted the spaces between words, then typed the final copy carefully onto photo-sensitive paper, averaging the spaces on each line to create justified type — lined up evenly right and left, like in real newspapers.

Then we waxed the back of the paper and laid the columns onto grid paper, constantly splicing single lines of copy with a knife in a maddening effort to align and balance them. It looked about as good as you imagine.

The new printing capabilities, with sharper reproduction, gave us room and time to experiment, time we had wasted typing and counting, waxing and splicing. No better way to experiment than risk great big failure and ridicule all over campus. It was the week Cabrillo played Lompoc in the big game, and we wanted to make a statement.

Wayne hauled us and our costumes and props out to a place he knew along the coast, which may or may not have been on Air Force property, and set up the shot.

The Tierra Royal yearbook page about our
newspaper. Dennis Sherwood had the gall
to write his best wishes over the brooding sky.
We ran the photo over the entire tabloid cover of the new Fore And Aft, just the photo with the new masthead Kevin Wood had designed, printed over the roiling sky in the upper corner. No caption; our readers didn't need one. We had effectively made light of a brutal historical truth for the meaningless hope of a football game. But all in good humor! We crossed our fingers.

Cabrillo won, 14-7.

Don't ask me how. My late friend Greg Cox could have rattled off an accurate game summary. I bet Brian LaMay could too, if I called him. I have no memory except Cabrillo won. The cover of that paper looked so much better come Monday morning. Notwithstanding the echoes of bloody holocaust. (Would that cover pass muster anymore? I don't remember anyone raising ire.)

Times have changed, of course. Cabrillo plays different schools than when I attended. What used to be small-school towns have all grown up, and I suppose Cabrillo has shrunk, so they're on even footing now. This week's football game is against Pioneer Valley, a new (for me) high school in Santa Maria, in the north part of Santa Barbara County where the population continues to grow.

The Pioneer Valley … Panthers. Of course — safe, alliterative, unimaginative, pointless. I was going to guess "Pioneers." (The other high school in California named for Cabrillo, which is in Long Beach, is home of the Jaguars.)

Cabrillo's last regular-season game, following tradition, will be against the Lompoc Braves, at Huyck Stadium (some say "Howk," others "Huck;" what a challenge to live in my hometown!) After a quick read of clips, I think this year Lompoc might have the edge.

But just try and beat my school for barbarous mascot.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

It's all relative

In the last five years I have swum, the last four of them year-round in a lovely lake, patiently pushing the distance until I now average three miles a swim.

I am thankful, amazed and a bit proud, as my persistent bleating here attests.

In those same five years, a woman named Kimberley Chambers not only took up swimming to invigorate her severely injured leg, but conquered the world's seven toughest ocean swims.

Kimberley became only the sixth person to complete the Ocean's Seven. The seventh swim, a cold brawl last month across the 22-mile North Channel between Ireland and Scotland, nearly killed her.

One of her friends crewing her North Channel attempt reported on facebook®™ that doctors had never known someone to survive so much jellyfish toxin.

Kimberley was hospitalized in Ireland and again in the Bay Area, where the native New Zealander lives and works, for fluid buildup around internal organs, the result of near constant lion's mane jellyfish stings.

Kimberley has recovered, returning to work and swimming. Read an account of her remarkable triumph from debilitating injury to phenomenal achievement here.

More important, read her own words, especially the account of her July Ocean's Seven swim, the Tsugaru Strait between the main island of Japan and its northernmost island, Hokkaido.

Gratitude exudes her graceful lean writing, most pronounced for the Tsugaru swim. Her regard for the spiritual weight of that swim, her appreciation for all the people and all the factors that enabled it, are delightful to read.

I have swum with Kimberley, though I didn't know it. The 24-Hour Swim Relay in February was a sensory deprivation test; though I met some of the dozens of swimmers, I didn't meet Kimberley and I did not know at the time that many I met had completed the world's most treacherous swims. They introduced themselves simply as Craig or Jackie or Greg or Kate.

Since then I have enjoyed Kimberley's blog and several videos she has made of her training swims in San Francisco Bay. Every video — even of the acclimatization swims in Northern Ireland to ready for the North Channel swim — begins with the same greeting, in her New Zealand accent, "Here we ahhhh!" 

Kimberley's accomplishments enthrall me and her words embolden me — maybe not for the epic swims, but for the lessons of inspiration they impart to dreams just beyond reach, mine and yours. Reach farther, and thank those who helped.

Although now, on a rare chance to look out at the Channel Islands, on an ideal day when they lay just a shade bluer than the bleached sky, I wonder.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Someone must pay

While my San Francisco Giants bounce improbably into the playoffs, advertisers need to sit the bench.

Not all of them. Just a couple need to "grab some pine, Meat!®™" as Giants broadcaster and former pitching ace Mike Krukow is wont to yelp.

Baseball is business, I know, I know. Advertising has been around baseball since a baseball has been round.

We're a generation removed, I expect, from advertising splashed across jerseys, the way professional soccer does now.

Advertising pays the bills.

The Budweiser®™pitch right before the first pitch of a Giants radio broadcast, the one in which play-by-play guy Dave Flemming is contractually obligated to exhort, "Grab some Buds©®?" Clever! I never do — grab Buds™®© or buds — but I can't forget that slogan.

And every change of pitchers during the broadcast of a Giants game has come with the slogan all Giants could recite automatically: "When it's time for a change, think SpeeDee®™ Oil Change and Tuneup."

My really bad impersonation of living legend Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully is of him saying "Farmer John™® hot dogs!" one of my earliest baseball memories.

From long before the first pitch to the final out, sponsors rule, promoting the National Anthem, the possible fifth-inning grand slam, the seventh-inning stretch, the eighth-inning summary, and selected great plays, stolen bases, saves, big hits and fan foul-ball flubs.

Most advertising fits the grain and rhythm of baseball, even when it's aggravating, such as when Krukow, pitching Coors Light©®, must always say, in his strangely invented way, the slogan: "The World's Most Rrrrrrrrrrrr(r's rolling here)eeeefreshing beeeyur!®™©"

Or when Hall of Fame´™ play-by-play radio guy Jon Miller exaggerates his delight for the cheap beer and burgers he must promote, signaling his dislike for having to pitch the products at all.

I take these as part of the game. Most ads — and this is the discomfiting truth about advertising — are just so much white noise between innings. I don't really even hear them.

Two ads, though, stop me dead, and not in a good way.
  • One is Sports Authority®™. It's not their commercials. They're fine, I suppose — I couldn't tell you what they're about, sports stuff probably.
It's the slogan I abhor: "All Things Sporting Good.®™"

( … )
What does that even mean?!

Four words clumped together have rarely proved so inane.
No one uses "sporting goods" anyway, except to describe those kinds of stores. Nor does anyone, under any circumstance, say "sporting good," singular. At all. Ever.

Perhaps "sporting" here is a verb, from the meaning "to wear or display." Perhaps it means, "all our merchandise symbolizes the active lifestyle of sports," or "The stuff you buy here conveys a sense of well-being and goodwill to all."

Perhaps not.
This is classic sloganeering by committee. It had better be, because if this is the work of a highly-compensated advertising firm, the apocalypse is already upon us.

More likely a bunch of Sports Authority®™ decision makers sat around a big table in their big board room.

"The kids these days (10 years ago) say, 'It's all good!' one of them probably said. "How about, 'It's all sporting good?"
The discussion went roundabout, erupting into argument and limp threats until, like your typical organizational mission statement, saying everything and nothing at once, this dumb slogan finally issued forth.
Why a slogan at all? Doesn't Sports Authority®™ kind of say it?
The fact that I'm worrying about the slogan defeats its purpose as a slogan. I'm so slowed down by it that now I bear ill will toward the store.
  • The other grating ad is for the Dolan Law Firm — actual slogan, "The best lawyers we hope you'll never need™®" — a radio commercial that airs only during games. Since I began writing this post it has mushroomed into an awkward advertising campaign; make that mushroom cloud, complete with toxic fallout.

    The original commercial was meant to leverage our collective love for baseball as analogy to tout the powerful benefit of hiring these lawyers.
Instead, it's a 30-second long passive-aggressive melodrama that vomits a little on the National Pastime.
It's a conversation, and you know how natural those sound in commercials! It could be principal attorney Christopher Dolan and his "daughter" had never met before taping. "Daughter" could be a 60-year-old voiceover guy.
(Imagine Wally Cox as Underdog as Christopher Dolan begins:) "Audrey has a question:"
"What does batting .300 mean?" Audrey asks.
— I'll stop here. This sounds like a teachable moment, daughter to father. Dad gets to explain baseball; he gets to say something like, "It means for every 10 times a batter comes up to the plate, he gets a hit three of those times. The best hitters usually hit about .300. One of the best there was, a man named Ted Williams, said the hitting a baseball was the hardest thing to do in sports."
But Christopher Dolan doesn't say that.

He says, his tone wheezy and dismissive, "That means they only get a hit one-third of the time."

"How come they get paid so much money for only hitting the ball one-third of the time,"
the daughter asks. Which, of course, is the first thing a little kid in this conversation is going to say.
— I'm stopping here again. Fair question! I'd answer, "They do make a lot of money, don't they? That's because a lot of people want to see them play, and they pay money for it. Maybe doctors and people who do important and useful things for other people should get paid that much, but that's not how the world works."

Christopher Dolan doesn't say that. He pauses for the briefest moment, and then, channeling his most petulant Wally Cox, says,

"I don't know, dear …"

He then quickly gets to the pitch, " … but at the Dolan Law Firm, we've been hitting over .900 for more than 20 years …"

The commercial ends with the daughter saying, "Go San Francisco, knock it out of the park!"

(… )

Again, what does that even mean? Hey, whole team (or whole city?), generic baseball phrase I just learned!
No no no no no! Sorry, dad and "daughter," you don't get it both ways. You don't get to poop on baseball and more than a century of statistical constancy for your own financial gain, and then try to kiss and make up with the game. And you don't get your "daughter" to clean up the mess with a hackneyed cheer for San Francisco.

This makes fine dinner-table talk. I think players make too much money — so do lawyers — but this is not the way to win the hearts of Giants fans who might need you to chase their ambulance.

A better commercial would be:

"Daddy, who's Willie Mays?"

"He's my favorite player
(see? Winning hearts!), the best ever!"

"It says here he was an All-Star™® for 20 years."

"That's right dear, and that's how long we've been all-star attorneys for our clients!"
Harmless, hardly unique, but it would do the job: "We're lawyers, we like baseball, you like baseball, and in that convivial spirit, we want you to hire us."

Another Dolan commercial explains "we're all terribly excited" for the Giants' chances this season, in a way that doesn't sound excited at all.

Dolan Law Firm has apparently taken some heat for the first commercial, not for my problem with it, but about the math. The first two commercials have disappeared and two new have replaced them, the first a father-daughter spot explaining that getting a hit one-third of the time is a .333 average, not .300.

After which "Audrey" says, "What?! I don't understand that! That's confusing!"

Christopher Dolan follows: "So there you go, everybody. Please stop sending me emails. What's important is that the Orange and Black win." He sounds as if he really couldn't care less.

Dolan follows this with another game-only, cringe-worthy commercial in which he sounds peeved he can't say "Giants" in his paeans to the team, because as a legal expert he knows the team owns rights to the name. He says "Giants" several times but the word is bleeped just as he begins the soft "g" sound. He finishes with "make sure there is a giant win today." (See what he did there?)
(Here I will type, for the first and last time in my life, rofl.)
As his daughter might tell him, let it go, let it gooooooo.
Fall will soon become winter. The Giants continue their improbable quest for a third World Series win in five years. Whatever happens, we will rethink and rest and heal over winter, and get ready to try again come spring, players and advertisers alike. Grab some buds.

We're all terribly excited.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

There's no conjugating in baseball!

This didn't happen, despite what the guy said …
Sports announcers talk funny, especially baseball announcers.

One notices such things in the languorous unfurling of a season.

Ain't no shoulda-coulda-wouldas — linguistically speaking — in baseball.

Plays either happen … or they happen in a parallel universe.

For some reason, announcers don't like to use the third conditional tense — the if … then — to analyze plays.

I don't know if it's superstition, or a weird elocution technique that imparts clarity over the airwaves … or maybe the announcers just don't know how to use the conditional tense.

They do know how to second-guess, though — it's why they get the big bucks! — so you'd think shoulda-coulda-woulda gets right in their wheelhouse.

Instead, after the play-by-play announcer describes a play, using present tense …
"One-and-two count to Garcia … here's the pitch … Garcia swings and shoots it up the middle! Past the reach of the glove Doober into shallow center field! Harris rounds third headed for home! Here's the throw and … he's safe! Dragons win, and the end of the world commences!"
… the color commentator then tells you what went wrong — because he knows! — in that moment before global collapse.

But he doesn't say:
"If Doober hadn't have been digging goobers out of his big schnozz, he would have had extra time to move to his right and spear that ball for an easy out."
Which he should say because none of that happened. It coulda happened, maybe shoulda, but didn't. Conditions, namely goober-encrusted nostrils, prevented it.

He says instead, using handy-dandy present tense:
"Doober gets to that ball a bit quicker and he throws Garcia out at first. Inning over!"
As if the world had spun backward on its axis and a different result resulted!

Somehow, we baseball consumers understand this torture upon English, that the world hasn't really reversed its spin.

Though for many games, I'd really like it to.

You'll notice another odd twist of the tongue in baseball announcing — when the play-by-play guy said "the glove of Doober." Even the best announcers go all Elizabethan on our ears, sounding almost as if they're translating directly from another language.

They don't possess the possessive forms, is what I'm trying to say.

They don't say, for example, "the ball bounces past Doober's glove." They say instead, "the ball glances off the glove of Doober."

I'll guess they do that to make sure they're understood, as apostrophe+s has a way of fuzzying the sound of a sentence. And do you say it "Ramirez" or "Ramirezes(eses)" when talking about the possessive form of the name? Oh, heck with it, just say "the bat of Ramirez" and let it go.

Still, it sounds weird.

Now for something completely different:

English — the queen's English — got extra weird over the summer, in the few moments I watched World Cup soccer.

In Britain, teams are referred as plural nouns. I'd say "San Francisco is playing Philadelphia tomorrow," but in Britain it would be "San Francisco are playing Philadelphia." Of course, no one would care in Britain, but that's how it would be said.

"England are playing Spain," is something one might have heard from British broadcasters at the World Cup — or in an alternate plural-noun world in which England did not bow out after three games. Sorry, England. You have a bad result.

American sports is (are?) not immune, now that newer teams have (has?) taken on singular mass nouns — Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Wild — essentially nouns without quantity, which can't be separated into countable parts. "Three Heats driving home from the game last night came to the rescue of a stranded motorist" just doesn't work. (And who outside of the news media says "motorist?")

Americans still say "Minnesota is" rather than "Minnesota are," so we haven't lost complete control.

There you have it, sports fans. You can't tell the players without a copy of Strunk & White. Even then it's hit and miss.

Thursday, October 2, 2014


Swimming has marked me for life.

Maybe that should be with life.

No, it has not shaped me like a carrot, wide at the shoulders and narrow at the waist like Ryan Lochte or Sun Yang, which would be nice. But it has deferred my becoming more bulbous, and that's nice too.

Less nice is the spot on my chest, the size of a quarter.

It is at once a modest red badge of courage and an editor's pen mark, a scarlet punctuation of my errors.

As our little group of swimmers has increased distances, each swim of course has required more strokes, which has brought together the bristles of my weird beard thing against the skin of my chest just below my right clavicle many, many more times. That moment comes as I bring my arm forward in a stroke and turn my face down again in the water after a breath.

I have been rubbing that spot raw since mid-June. Two weeks ago I emerged from a three-mile swim and the spot seeped blood down my belly. For long swims now, I dab the spot with Vaseline®™ — though sometimes I'm already 200 yards out in the water before I remember.

The beard is not to blame, though it'll wind up the scapegoatee. Really more of a horseshoe mustache, it's no more than a costume accessory for my other life as a 19th Century Irish bloke for the Sacramento Underground tours. It's merely more presentable, I decided, than the muttonchops I sported for the same purpose.

Without the mustache, though, few would know how really wrong I swim.

Even stranger than my infrequent but violent kicks, I breathe from only one side, every other stroke. For many perfectly sensible reasons, it's better for swimmers to breathe from both sides; typically swimmers take a breath from one side, stroke thrice and breathe from the other side.

It provides more balance, since freestyle is a symmetrical maneuver. Swimmers can better see their surroundings. I think such swimmers also have better lung capacity.

After months of practice in the pool, I got good at bilateral breathing. All it took was that first moment in the open water four years ago to abandon the technique. The water was too cold to keep my face in for more than a few seconds, and I reverted to the maligned breathing pattern I still use.

Though I try to keep my head and body aligned as I turn both during the swim stroke, I must be turning my head more as I face down, bring my chin into my chest at that red spot.

At least I'm consistent in my incorrectness.

My dentist during the last checkup noticed an odd shape to my jaw, an assymetry. He moved my jaw from side to side more than usual while he poked and "hmmm"ed and paused. If he had asked I would have mentioned my swim breathing. It causes me to slide my jaw left like I'm doing a Sammy Davis Jr. impression, to make as small a pocket of air as I can and keep most of my head aligned with my body.

But my dentist didn't ask. I think this breathing folly is reshaping my jaw, one more reason to work on bilateral breathing.

Besides, swim buddy Sarah has pointed out all the swooping great blue herons I have missed by looking left all the time. And it's true I missed most of San Francisco on my swim from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge because of the inland route.

In fear of oncoming rowing shells, I have adapted to scan the horizon between strokes. And I manage to breathe fine this way even in heavy waves, which is another good reason to be able to breathe from both sides. I miss the occasional heron, though, it's true.

I have tried to relearn bilateral breathing since, and risen from the water with face and head throbbing from the unusual motion. A moment comes in every swim when I urge myself to try again.

I will, maybe soon. Take a couple of aspirin and confine myself to a cove and just practice and practice, and come back a few more times.

Or maybe just shave the mustache.

• • •
In other news: