Saturday, December 24, 2016

Beer and football VII — week fifteen

The game: Patriots at Broncos
The beer: Lefty's Barrel-Aged Scotch Ale
The result: Win, 16–3; Adam, 10–0–0; Erin, 4–0–0–0
The commentary: I don't know about the barrel-aged beers anymore. A little rich for me. The Northampton Brewery didn't have Maggie's Wee Heavy on tap last weekend so this "Scotch ale" from Provisions was a no-brainer. Intense! (Are "Scotch ales" and "Scottish ales" two different things?) This is why I chose a tequila shot instead of whiskey at that shitty bar following the company's InterContinental VaGina Christmas party last week. I still made my nine o'clock train and didn't sleep through my stop. For the win.

I personally flexed Sunday's game to a late primetime start, for some reason not getting around to watching until after ten. Oh, the hubris that comes with avoiding updates inside a Trader Joe's full of people wearing Gronk jerseys. As such I ignored all context in an effort to avoid falling asleep on the couch and skipped through from play to play—the opposite of fandom. It was one of those tension-filled games anyway, my desire to know right away if a recovered fumble would be upheld after replay, etc., overpowering competitive interest but falling short of Google. "Just tell me what happened! Almost!" Only toward the end when Devin McCourty made his first above-average play of the season and TJ Ward lost his mind by flexing a post-suplex exclamation point was I confident. Unlike Terrell Suggs & Friends, I want no part of facing the Broncos in the postseason, even away from Denver, and…

"I'm feeling pretty good."
Leno LaBianca
August 9, 1969

Just take out the Giants, somebody. Please. (It's not looking good. Shades of peaking at the right time and the resulting unpleasantness, parts 1 and 2.)

Reality television update! For obvious reasons, The Celebrity Apprentice is officially deleted from our DVR series settings. Two others not (still!) produced by our future Crony-in-Chief have just wrapped up their thirty-third and fifteenth seasons, respectively: Survivor and Project Runway. I'm a goddamn dinosaur.

The Survivor finale was anticlimactic as it became obvious the season-long saga of Adam and his ill mother would have a… happy?… ending. During the final tribal council it was clear that Ken was getting no respect (winning multiple individual immunity challenges does not carry the weight it once did) but frisky Hannah was talking herself up quite a bit, even convincingly so if viewers hadn't witnessed her cunning indecisiveness and bravado panic attack during a challenge she watched from a shady bench. The dream final three of Jay, David and Adam would have been one for the ages and the missed opportunity drags the whole affair down for me. At least Michaela will be back for Game Changers in a few months, even though I hate when they bring back former players. Oh good, it will be a season full of returning players. Goddammit.

On to Project Runway. From last week's warm-up to Friday's showdown I was pulling for Rik because he's a nice guy and I liked his looks the best. Somehow he was the only one to use primarily leather (Laurence plain lost her way) and even though the denim swirlies weren't my favorite—more "She Bangs the Drums" than "A Day in the Life"—his runway show was my favorite the first time through. Upon re-watching, though (because A. had fallen asleep), I preferred Roberi's from beginning to end. He was the artist of the season, riding the creative highs and lows without pretense—enviable in itself. His dresses were cool and versatile and looked well made and styled. Rik was a close second while Laurence's plain-bagel assembly line took the bronze. (She's lucky her medal isn't turd-brown like that one jumpsuit.) And then Erin. More on her in a minute.

From the post-runway critique—we determined the show can't take place earlier than eight in the morning, which makes Michael Kors's shades-wearing appearances extra silly in past seasons—I thought Roberi had it in the bag because everyone loved his collection aside from the closing dress, which I thought was fine (the eighties-wash jeans look was my exception). Similarly, Rik was received with only enthusiasm until, in private, Nina went all "I don't know who he is as a designer" and called him a "chameleon." Unconventional challenges, prom dresses, day/evening wear… Nina, the whole show requires designers to be chameleons! It drives me nuts when the judges forget their own rules. Rik was eliminated even before Laurence, whose looks Heidi and friends universally disliked. Mixed messages all around.

Brief production aside: Runway episodes normally run ninety minutes and that is just right, with ample time allowed for the creative process, the runway, the critique and the bitchy one-on-ones with Cornelius, the biggest waste of a Tim Gunn Save in the show's history. This finale episode was drawn out for two hours and it felt like it, even when fast-forwarding through the nine-minute commercial breaks. I don't care if these interruptions were peppered—or rather, cap-unscrewed, pepper-dumped—with segments introducing us to those participating in the second season of Project Runway Junior, something better served as its own half-hour preview episode in the past. Almost as dreadful a presentation as last week's quasi-blowout Monday Night Football. (Sean McDonough was excellent as the play-by-play guy for the Sox a hundred years ago—before he was run out of town on a low-budget, VORP-stained rail—but even he can't account for bad camerawork, enormous score bugs and fucking Jon Gruden.)

Back to it. Roberi, Rik, Laurence and Erin, in that order. Glorified, inevitable Erin, whose contrived kookiness won the judges over from day one even as her failures were barely worse than her multiple winning looks. (Sure, I'm biased, I recognize and appreciate that the looks she created for episodes eleven and twelve were downright awesome.) During her critique, when it became clear that Zac and Nina were not impressed (even as they admired her whimsy, which might matter in alternate-universe programming Project Potential), I said aloud "Wow, she's not going to win" and forgot the key difference between reality and reality television, here being the influence of Heidi and the producers. (Zendaya? She might as well have said "My new album, Zendacious, is available Friday" every time they asked her opinion. I made up that title but I'll put money on it.) I took back what I said when Heidi admitted she wouldn't wear the banana dress and it still got more camera time than anything else. The fix was in—she could have frozen her own urine for earrings and been lauded—and the only suspense centered around a fake-cry-off between Erin and Zac at the conclusion. Weird.

The right four made it to fashion week but it was all for show once Erin's fate was decided weeks earlier (as with politically correct Ashley last time) by someone High Up. Drag. I mean, those shorts she wears. The eye make-up. Prospective "Cambridge type" status. "Dope." Enough.

Up next: "Fuck this game" becomes a rallying cry and the Jets keep it closer than everyone expects, just not close enough. Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Beer and football VII — week fourteen

The game: Ravens at Patriots
The beer: Northampton Conundrum Black Lager
The result: Win, 30–23
The commentary: It's always satisfying to beat up on the Ravens. This was a blowout all the way—those fluky fumbles had me emailing my dad the next day with an understated "It would have been a tough one to get over if the Ravens came back to win"—and Terrell Suggs's "You better hope you [don't? di'n't? ain't?] see us again!" warmed my heart. They learn nutrition at the NFL level and post-loss brattishness from John Harbaugh.

This past weekend was an early Christmas all over. On Saturday we drove—and drove—to Springfield for the "Bright Nights" spectacle we missed out on two years ago, with the rage and the disappointment. A late start reversed the agenda and Springfield was stop number one, in order to avoid the traffic that crippled us last time. It still took awhile and probably wasn't worth it but it was satisfying—as in realized—nonetheless. Never again, likely, but anything is better than having to tell G. "No." Dinner at the Northampton Brewery followed and then the girls went to Thorne's Marketplace while I split to sell more CDs at Turn It Up and buy a few bombers from Provisions, discovered during a summertime 2013 visit. It's a great town and I miss it—déjà vu and so on. (Little did I know that Shea McClellin would leap over the center to block a field goal on Sunday like Jamie Collins did two years ago. On the same weekend!) Again with the familiar looking-for-a-parking-space loops and the clean air and the old coots, this time at Turn It Up where one couldn't stop raving about the Stones' new Blue and Lonesome. Man, I was born just in time for them to suck forever.

On Sunday afternoon we finally got a Christmas tree and it's my first real one in forty-two years. Oh, the days of inserting color-coordinated "branches" into matching slots. It's still a little too tall and I remain surprised by the amount of sap it produces but it looks and smells great. Perhaps I'm converted. I'll just need to remember to ask the guy to take a few more inches off the stump next year.

Since real trees don't come pre-lit like, you know, something from a box, we had to shop for lights. At Target I found a nice Frozen-esque light blue, which was labeled "cool white" on the box for some reason even though the sample display so clearly shone blue. Well, they are actually cool white. Oh well, they're a huge improvement over the omnipresent pale yellow that passes for "warm white." Speaking of warm white, A. picked up some of those warm white LED window candles a few weeks ago. She cleaned Target out of their last six, leaving us with two undecorated windows on the side of the house that looked neglected. Cue Lalo Schifrin because finding numbers seven and eight was Mission: Fucking What the Fuck! After checking all the local Targets and learning that their website's location-specific "limited availability" translates to "jack shit" I resigned myself to ordering online.

Days later I receive this cursed email: "Something from your order has been canceled." Indeed, even the cloud or wherever stores their wares had limited availability. Drag. So we received one instead of two and that's almost worse than zero. The house and its symmetry was compromised and it bugged the living shit out of me until obsessive compulsiveness and a phone call rewarded me. I asked A. "Is it crazy if I go to New Hampshire tonight to get a candle?" and justified the forty-minute drive by reasoning that it takes twenty to get to "our" Target and, hey, twice as long is only twice as long. (Plus: cheap alcohol.) Accompanied on 95 by those Around the NFL bastards who propped up my hopes a few weeks ago I was relieved to finally obtain the elusive fucker—I bought other stuff we needed too, give me a break—but didn't let myself exhale until I got home, loaded it with (three double-A!) batteries and switched it on. I won this round and hopefully will have forgotten the entire affair this time next year when we bring the Christmas shit up from the basement and the candles are busted. Goddamn Philips.

Lots of driving and decorating means lots of Christmas music! Feliz Navidad, baby!

1. Bert – All Dressed Up
We must have listened to this ten times over the weekend. The version you can buy—or stream, or whatever you leasing youngsters prefer—strips out the dialog for some reason and, therefore, a lot of the context. Between that last "galosh on my head" ("galosh," I love that) and "gloves on my ears," the Sesame Street Orchestra stretches out for ten seconds before everyone returns with "all the clothes on the right places." What happened during those ten seconds? If you watch the clip you'll know that Bert goes all "Fuck this shit!" and sets everyone straight, otherwise it's a beginning and an end without a middle. Luckily I know how to rip from YouTube.

2. Hep Stars – Christmas on My Mind
Collected on the improbably named Santa's Got Soul, as if Sam Cooke and the Impressions were also contributing. I guess Percy Sledge counts but Jeffrey Speight does not, particularly considering the subtitle "A Groovy Collection of Rare Soul and Psychedelic Rock Christmas Songs." Right. Sweden's own released Jul Med Hep Stars ("Christmas With the Hep Stars") in 1967 and most of it is lousy, but "Christmas on My Mind" is sped-up Farfisa joy.

3. Leslie West – Silent Night
The unrealized solution to a fragile, selfish, Cream-disintegrating Eric Clapton plugs in exactly halfway through his instrumental "Silent Night" and reminds of my midlife crisis collecting dust. I should sign up for guitar lessons already.

4. He 5 – Jingle Bells/In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida
Korean rock from the 1969 album Merry Christmas Psychedelic Sound. A minute forty of "Jingle Bells" followed by a sort of "My Girl" bridge, nine minutes of the jam and drum solo from "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and a couple of premature (and ignored) "One, two, three, four!" count-ins before closing with a "My Girl"/"Jingle Bells" reprise. The greatest gift of the young holiday season.

5. Pilgrim Travelers – I'll Be Home for Christmas
Four volumes of Blues, Blues Christmas are waiting for you so go to your local library, sign up for a Freegal account, log in and download five songs a week for free. It will only take you eight months to get all one hundred seventy-six songs! Make the wonderful "I'll Be Home for Christmas" one of the early ones, for nothing captures the holiday season better. (Just don't check out The Dark Half. I wish it were The Dark Half As Long. Har! Har!)

Up next: The Patriots travel to Denver because the Patriots always travel to Denver. Cheers!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Beer and football VII — week thirteen

The game: Rams at Patriots
The beer: Ipswich Riverbend Pilsner
The result: Win, 26–10
The commentary: Last week, before the sad talk, I really got into it with potential tiebreaker scenarios for my ex-knockout pool. The raving led to a "Rooting for ties!" ecstasy that betrayed its improvised roots earlier in the same sentence. You see, I defined "a loss or a tie" as one point deducted, not added (opposing two added for a win), and this fact went out the memory hole twenty-five words later. Old age is a bastard.

The realization hit when introducing my "perfect" plan to A. later in the week during a conversation that, since it would decide nothing in our favor, interested her not at all. She twice told me "I don't get it"—she had a point—and misinterpreted everything as "So you assign different points to each game?" And there it is: genius! Indeed, should I be approached for ideas that do not crumble under minimal review, I will volunteer a confidence-pool solution, which I love even more than I did my heralded (by me) attempt before its unraveling.

Let's revise: "Some games would sort of cancel each other out so let's award two points for a win and minus one for a loss or a tie—if I'd lasted, I'd assign the fewest points to those—as things stand now, if I'd lasted, both sides of week seventeen games Baltimore at Cincinnati [another fuck-up: I played Cincinnati in week four] New Orleans at Atlanta, Dallas at Philadelphia and others other low-tier affairs would be in play and I'd root for ties in each case to earn two points instead of one assign the fewest points to these. Rooting for against ties! I fucking love this idea. Enacting it and dissolving the golden ticket are my special-interest issues next season, if President Trump hasn't killed us all in the meantime."

Much better. That is, unless Trump does his Trump thing.

Up next: Tonight! Patriots! Ravens! Deer antler spray! Deeecepppshunnn! Cheers!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Beer and football VII — week twelve

The game: Patriots at Jets
The beer: Two Roads Roadsmary's Baby Ale
The result: Win, 22–17; Seahawks/Jarrod lose, 14–5
The commentary: Fourteen to five? Five? In which our hero tests whether or not "There's nothing I can do about Russell Wilson having an off day" is a philosophy he still trusts. I am. Hard to believe I never used that "Big Road" joke when visiting the Jets.

Weep not for me! The thousand units would have come in handy, sure, but I remain several hundred in the black from my 2014 winnings. And the Giants won anyway. My exit handshake with the organizer yesterday allowed me the opportunity to suggest, subtly, that the "golden ticket" idea is going to backfire and some kind of playoff involvement (messy) or tiebreaker scenario will be necessary at or before week seventeen. As uninterested parties we threw out ideas and I liked a couple of his. The first, assuming multiple people survive the regular season, asks everyone to complete an NCAA-type bracket through to the Super Bowl victor with a point total. In the second, survivors choose two or more games in week seventeen, maybe with total-point or point-spread consideration. The former is the better idea and will probably succeed, though I offered a spin on the latter: put everyone's remaining teams in play on New Year's Day. Exciting! I like the added strategic element of people wanting to keep stronger teams (like the Seahawks, huh?) for that last week. Some games would sort of cancel each other out so let's award two points for a win and minus one for a loss or a tie—if I'd lasted, as things stand now, both sides of Baltimore at Cincinnati, Dallas at Philadelphia and others would be in play and I'd root for ties in each case to earn two points instead of one. Rooting for ties! I fucking love this idea. Enacting it and dissolving the golden ticket are my special-interest issues next season, if President Trump hasn't killed us all in the meantime.

Sunday afternoon my extended family celebrated my aunt's seventieth birthday. She suffers from Alzheimer's disease and it was the first time I'd seen her over the three years that the condition worsened—my mother has admitted to "protecting" me. The assisted living facility was a pleasant environment with a somewhat cheerful staff and it still reeked of the Springfield Retirement Home's desperation and malaise. The bathroom floor had only one smear of excrement that I noticed. Navigating the hallways was difficult and I'm guessing it was designed so. In order to leave you needed someone to unlock the door with a keycard like I have to do when I go to work. At work, a keycard lets in those of us who belong and keeps out those who don't. At my aunt's facility, if you can even find the exit, keycards similarly indicate who belongs and who does not.

There was no clamoring for the exit. It seemed to be one of those things the hovering residents recognized and understood but ignored like bad art. Instead, they wandered the halls, some in pairs, some with vigor, some beaming at your five-year-old daughter. Some wandered into the conference room where we celebrated and then they stood among us, like family, looking at what or whom everyone was looking at. Eventually someone would find them and escort them back outside. Outside the room, not outdoors. Maybe never outdoors. One of them must have found interest elsewhere. The other came back, and then again. Her hair was braided like Elsa's and she used a walker.

When it was time for cake, my aunt had to be reminded over and over to make a wish and blow out the candles, purely foreign concepts to her, and so she pointed at my cousin and said "She can wish, she looks like a good wisher." We were all pronouns because she didn't know our names or personalities or blood relation. We wished for her but insisted she blow out the candles, and though there weren't seventy she did fine. Except for the two candles she missed and forgot about, forgot why. My cousin took care of them. The heartbreak was ours but my aunt seemed happy. Leaving, I gave her a hug and said "I love you." She responded "Yes it is!"

Up next: Jeff Fischer continues to perfect the relationship between presumed extortion schemes and inevitable contract extensions. Cheers!