Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cleveland shares values — and a CHAMPIONSHIP!


The RTA bus would pick me up on Turney Road, then go down Broadway though urban decline and eventually reach Public Square. I would get off, wait a bit and take another bus over the Detroit-Superior Bridge and be dropped off walking distance from St. Ignatius High School.

I didn't think much about it at the time, but going through downtown Cleveland to the near West Side for high school shaped a lot of who I am. I learned some street smarts, how to talk with people asking for spare change and how various types of workers go about their days.

Floods of memories and emotions continue to come my way as I bask in the Cleveland Cavaliers' NBA Championship.

I am not sure people outside of Cleveland understand our feelings. They may be baffled. A big reason for this is the unparalleled civic pride we have for our city. We Clevelanders have always been connected through our punishing winters, negative press from the outside world and a sense of community that continues to get stronger.

In all fairness, I have seen a lot of civic pride from New Yorkers and Chicagoans. It is legitimate, but it's not as close-knit as ours in Cleveland. Two major-league baseball teams in one city? Those cities are just huge.

Cleveland is smaller, but still a metropolis. We're all big fish there. If you're still in Cleveland, you've looked around the world and have realized that you'll take the lack of traffic, accessibility, low home prices and lifelong friendships over what you might find in other cities.

We have been brought up with Cleveland, and it is in our blood. We all have stories like this, and here's mine in a nutshell:

My grandparents were brought up in Slavic Village. My mom's parents lived there during their whole lives. My dad's parents soon moved to a bordering suburb — Garfield Heights.

My dad avoided the Vietnam draft by going to law school and supported himself and his young family by working at Kroger's. When he become an attorney, his law office was on Public Square for more than 30 years.
Two of my uncles were in advertising in Cleveland. My Uncle Bob climbed the ranks through another Cleveland landmark — Higbee's, which is now the Cleveland Jack Casino. As a youngster, I found myself downtown all of the time in the natural center of Northeast Ohio.

The city's economy bloomed when it was a steel and iron town, and because of that, the city always has had a blue-collar mentality and sensibility. Or as LeBron correctly put it when he returned to Cleveland, "In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have."

LeBron matured and grew and showed that Cleveland is worth returning to. He gets it.

Of course, the lead of what happened is that our championship-starved city stopped a ridiculously long drought without a title. So, of course, we are going bonkers because of that.
But we're also going bonkers because of our civic pride and how united we are as a city. I sense that outsiders look at Cleveland in one of three ways:

1) Bewilderment. They just don't get our excitement and never will.
2) Apathy. They don't care. They have lives where they don't truly have the passion and caring for anything, let alone their sports teams. These people will continue to sleepwalk through their lives.
3) Unspoken Envy. Yep. Outsiders probably won't admit it, but this championship strangely — and probably unjustly — validates our community. It validates Cleveland on a national scale. It validates our values. This is not a place that we leave and forget. This is us, and we are happy for that. Who would not want this?

I have lived outside of Cleveland for 21 years now — three years in New York City, and 18 in Los Angeles. A long time ago, I realized that Cleveland will always be my home.

With the exception of my daughters, fiancee and a couple stragglers here and there, I have not developed the depth of relationships that I did during my formative years in Cleveland. A team attitude, a common understanding, inherent trust —values that I used to take for granted aren't as readily available as they are in my hometown.

Our championship is bigger than basketball. It's also about our shared values. We get that. We are united. We are Cleveland.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Cleveland's sports mythology: A shaky Jenga tower

Father's Day.

Our championship may come on Father's Day.

I could think of no more appropriate day for Cleveland to end its 52-year drought of a championship in any major sport.

I think of all of the time spent with my dad — glued to the TV, at the games and discussing our teams. I think of my Grandpa Stevens and his love of sports — perhaps only surpassed by my Grandma Stevens' love of the Tribe. We have put lifetimes into this.

As I ponder the many possibilities that may unfold tomorrow, I conclude this: It's a win-win situation.

If the Cavs win their third straight game against the mighty Golden State Warriors, they will have an NBA championship! If they lose, then another huge piece of Cleveland sports pain will be added to our sports mythology Jenga. At this point, some championships will have been so ridiculously close that there is value in that.

But at this point, the mythology of Cleveland sports pain is a tall, shaky Jenga tower that is bound to fall. Time can topple the tower. Our fans' devotion to these teams should help topple the tower. Heck, LeBron James may do it tomorrow!

Of course, we must put all of this in perspective. This is professional sports we're talking about. Does it matter in the big scheme of life?

My answer: Heck, yeah, it matters!

This does not solve world hunger, reverse global warming, end terrorism or give an education to Donald Trump on foreign policy. But pro sports does bring people together, create conversations and, in the case of the NBA, put on display the world's best athletes.

Cleveland's last championship came in 1964, before the Super Bowl existed, when my mom attended the game at age 15 with my Uncle Steve. She still has the ticket stub:
Part of me wants to be there like my mom was. But I will not be flying to Golden State to be there when it might happen tomorrow. That idea crossed my mind. I will not be flying back to Cleveland. That crossed my mind, too.

I will be celebrating Father's Day with my daughters, fiancee and Game 7 of the NBA Finals. My father will be with me in spirit. My grandparents will be with me in spirit. My extended family will be with me via text, phone and FaceTime. Whatever happens, happens.

The Jenga tower of Cleveland sports pain is bound to topple.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Cleveland and life ... Pain, hope, love, grief (repeat)

A peculiar thing happens whenever somebody asks Dina and me where we're from. Dina says she's from Los Angeles. I say one of two things: 1) I'm from Cleveland, or 2) I'm from Cleveland, but I've been in L.A. for 18 years.

Once you're from Cleveland, you're always from Cleveland.

We all know the Cavs' playoff run will soon end in heartache. Of course, that is extremely pessimistic. But as Cleveland sports fans, we're conditioned to that type of thinking.

Could this be the time we crack through and have our first championship in my lifetime? Oh, Jesus, I hope so. But is it realistic to think it will happen? Not based on my sports experiences, but so what? I will be loving every minute of these NBA Finals.

Earlier this month, ESPN ran a documentary called "Believeland," which chronicled the sports pain of my beloved city. It was spot-on about the heartbreak that has created the painful sports culture and mythology of Cleveland.

Being an actual optimist in life, I must say that "Believeland" also brought back positive memories of Cleveland sports. It's just too darn bad that none of the incredible teams we've assembled have sealed the deal and won a championship.

See, many people not from Cleveland cannot fathom the love — love, love, love — we have for these teams. These teams are like an extra friend always there for us at family gatherings, after work, in the car on the radio, everywhere. The city of Cleveland is evolving and thriving in many ways, but for some stretches of time, all we had were our sports teams, a depressed economy and miserable weather.

I don't think any team, perhaps in any sport, can get closer to a championship than the 1997 Cleveland Indians. They lost in 11 innings in Game 7 of the World Series after leading with one out in the bottom of the ninth.

When manager Mike Hargrove was asked how long it took him to recover from that crushing defeat, he said, "I'll let you know when it happens."

A quote came out during "Believeland" about this and similar losses: "What did you expect? We are who we are. Star-crossed. Cursed. Ill-fated. We always end the year in tears."

Personally and literally, the Tribe's loss in 1997 in extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series was the only Cleveland sporting event that ended in tears for me. I was living in Brooklyn. I was 24. The loss was cruel.
Of course, we can look at Red Right 88, The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, Art Modell's immoral and ridiculous move of the Browns or LeBron's move to South Beach as other sources of pain.

Or we can look at the lengthy inadequacy of the Indians in the 1970s and '80s as pain, or the continued incompetence of the Browns for the past 20 years, but come on, how didn't one of our behemoth Tribe teams of the '90s not win it all?

Plus, to lose it to the freakin' Florida Marlins? In their fifth year of just being a team? Well, life sure ain't fair, and Cleveland sports is about as fair as Cleveland weather (It snowed on May 15 this year!).

But now, we turn our sights to the Cavs/Warriors rematch. This time, these current Cavs have one year of experience with this grand stage. It would be nice to finally exorcise the demons of 52 years and give the Cleveland the championship it deserves — yes, deserves!
However, here we go again. The Warriors set the record for most wins in the regular season, and they got a guy who's most likely proven to be the best shooter to ever walk the planet. Add to that the fact that the Warriors recovered from a 3-1 deficit to oust the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. And, egads, it's obvious that the Cavs are not playing the freaking Marlins.

First, the awesome Cavs teams of the '80s run into Michael Jordan. Now, this?

I am opting to believe again. I'm joining my Northeast Ohio brethren believing this could be it. This could be the one. The script could finally change.

Believeland. All In.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

My own 1984 with Prince at Silverman's

Silverman's.

That's where it happened in 1984.

As a 10-year-old lad, my mom gave me the go ahead to get something at the discount store on Turney Road in Garfield Heights, Ohio. I searched the store and came up with two cassette tapes — Prince's "Purple Rain and Van Halen's "1984."

I couldn't make a decision on which one to get, and I brought them to my mom. I'm pretty sure she didn't look at the covers of the albums and suggested, "Why don't you get them both?"

Jackpot!

The first two albums I ever bought as a human being were Purple Rain and 1984 at Silverman's across the street from my home. I'd say those albums have held up over the test of time, although I am a much bigger Prince fan than Van Halen, and I must say I don't mind my taste as a 10-year-old.

Obviously, Prince has recently passed away, and, of course, I have been listening to THE PURPLE ONE. But strangely enough, Prince's death has made me think a lot about where I got "Purple Rain." It's made me think about Silverman's and the loss of regional stores and when corporations were not the size of countries.

Dig if you will this picture: The scenario of walking into Silverman's and buying two cassette tapes is completely gone. Silverman's: Gone. Cassette Tapes: Gone. Prince: Gone.

It is shocking to realize that the human being outlasts stores and technology, but it does. We do.

Cassette tapes — there will never be a movement to make 'em cool. They do not have better sound quality than an LP, a CD, an iPhone, anything really. But they were precious to me back in the day.
I didn't realize it, but Silverman's was only in the Cleveland area. The last remaining Silverman's closed in January 2015 in East Cleveland, a poor part of town.

A Walgreens is in the space Silverman's used to be at 5090 Turney Road. Another regional store in Ohio — Marc's — remains popular with 60 stores in the state. It's more of a grocery store, but has odds and ends, too, and strange payment methods. Only the Discover Card, checks or cash are accepted at Marc's. I tried to pay with my regular credit card once and got a glaring stare from a cashier that said, "What the hell is wrong with you?"

In essence, the time of Prince and "Purple Rain" was my "Wonder Years." At the time, I didn't think much about being able to walk across the street to school, or walk to Silverman's, or walk to Tasty's Pizza for a pizza sub or Peter's Market to pick up kielbasa for my mom or the valhalla of all pizza — Italian World.

The year 1984 was a world away — 32 years ago. By the way, George Orwell's "1984" came out in 1949 — 35 years before its title's year. Maybe it's time for another dystopian novel. This one could be called "2050."

In 2016, we're much more connected with our iPhones, iPads, Facebook, etc. There's really no need to develop relationships with anyone in places within walking distance. Heck, there's really no point in being walking distance to anywhere.

See, our lives are vastly improved now.









Saturday, April 2, 2016

O.J. trial looks different 20 years later

I am saddened that one of my favorite TV shows in recent years — "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" — will have its final episode on Tuesday.

"The People v. O.J." is a 10-show series that reenacts O.J. Simpson's double-murder trial, AKA the "Trial of the Century," that took place from January to October 1995. Because this happened more than 20 years ago, I find it an excellent time to reevaluate what happened with O.J. and see if we still have the same feelings and ideas we did 20 years ago.

I personally look at the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial much different through the lens of 20 years later and the perspective of "The People v. O.J." Twenty years ago, my view — the white view — was that there was overwhelming scientific, practical, circumstantial and common sense evidence that proved O.J. Simpson murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

Today, I remain certain that O.J. murdered Nicole and Ron Goldman, but the trial indeed was much more than a creative defense of the former Heisman Trophy winner. The Trial of the Century, and the racial message from the defense, was ahead its time.

Now, I see the O.J. Simpson trial as a loud message to white people to see the different America that blacks live in. It is a loud message that some whites should have realized in the past 20 years or before then, but many remain blind to.

Twenty years ago, I thought "playing the race card" was inappropriate for the horrific crimes that O.J. committed. I saw that as a smoke-and-mirrors defense, a Chewbacca defense, that was beside the point of the murders that happened on June 12, 1994.

But now, after taking a 20-year break from this trial, I believe that the racial messages from O.J.'s defense team were relevant then and relevant now. With sincere respect to the families of Nicole and Ron, those messages may actually be bigger than their murders. The trial itself was bigger than the murders.
Back when the verdict was read on Oct. 3, 1995 and O.J. was acquitted, my response was immediate cynicism for the justice system. I heard and even said things like, "Money will let you get away with murder, and that's the bottom line."

I even blamed the jury for being clouded by emotion and race. The jury that acquitted O.J. was comprised of nine blacks, two whites and one Latino. In their eyes, and those of magistrate maestro Johnnie Cochrane, they preferred the narrative of how blacks have been persecuted throughout U.S. history and O.J. was a part of that.

Of course, O.J. did not stay closely connected to the black community. The defense team switched out his pictures and decor when the jury visited his home to make it "more black." And he severely beat Nicole previously to the point where, according to police records, she told police, "He is going to kill me. He is going to kill me. You never do anything to him. You talk to him and then leave."

Today, O.J. is serving a 33-year sentence in Nevada for multiple felonies, including armed robbery and kidnapping. He will be eligible for parole next year.

To say that the United States is a violent culture is an understatement. The United States is averaging more than one mass shooting per day (four or more shot at a single location), and the U.S. military budget is $581 trillion compared to second place China's $155 trillion.

Perhaps it makes perfect sense that three single events in the past 53 years that are likely the most memorable to the U.S. population are JFK's assassination, 9/11 and O.J.'s murder trial.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Craft beer is dead

Craft beer is dead.

It's gone the way of grunge rock, and, man, that's a bummer because "corporate rock still sucks."

Of course, anyone enamored by the craft beer craze will say, "You've got to be kidding me, man. Craft beer is taking over the world!"

Sure. Maybe, economically. But we all know that once the frat boys like it, it's dead — especially with anything remotely artistic. And even the lamest of frat boys is liking craft beer nowadays.

Craft beer is to 2016 as grunge rock is to 1992. Grapefruit Sculpin is sold at Target now, and Ballast Point —Sculpin's Brewery —just sold for an insane amount of bones to the corporation that owns Robert Mondavi wines, Corona, Pacifico and more.

And do you want to hear the price tag for this "craft brewery"? It's $1 billion. Yes, that's a "B." Ballast Point got bought for ten times $100 million.

I'm astounded by the market value of Ballast Point. I love Ballast Point's beers, but that price tag gave me this pop culture epiphany:

The mighty tasty Grapefruit Sculpin is equivalent to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."
"Smells Like Teen Spirit" is the song that took 1990s alternative rock into the mainstream, and that's what's happening with Ballast Point taking India Pale Ales into the mainstream. In the present, we may not see this, but we will be seeing Sculpin more and more. We'll look back to this sale as the apex of the craft beer explosion.

Sure, there were plenty of popular grunge songs before "Smells Like Teen Spirit." There also were plenty of popular craft beers and IPAs before the Grapefruit Sculpin. But nothing has had the impact of Nirvana and the $1 billion price tag Ballast Point recently got.

A craft beer aficionado might point out that Chicago's Goose Island might have brought IPAs into the mainstream when it sold to Anheuser-Busch for $38.8 million in 2011. Well, that price tag just doesn't hack it compared to Ballast Point's. But Goose Island is going to be successful and mainstream, and I liken the company to Pearl Jam.

St. Patrick's Day is less than a week away, and Guinness has its own "Nitro IPA" on the shelves. That company knows what's up with the marketplace. Right? No need to dish out $38 million to another brewery to do that. We're seeing more and more craft beers in grocery stores, but that doesn't mean they're on indie labels.

Hey, I'm going to love great rock 'n' roll and tasty beers forever, regardless of who makes them. But I have a feeling we're all going to look back on 2016 as a time when craft beer went from being cool to being overexposed.

In 20 years, we'll still have Ballast Point and Goose Island because of the corporations behind them. But those corporations are going to wipe out a lot of killer craft breweries.

I'm hoping Stone, Great Lakes and Ninkasi continue kicking butt and stay independent. It's hard to picture now, but who knows? In 20 years, we might be looking at them like the Screaming Trees, Mudhoney and the Melvins.

Gone and forgotten, but, damn, at the time, we loved them!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

This helicopter parent is trying to fly away

At the birthday party where my oldest daughter turned 6, I sat a miniature kids table with her and two of her friends. The three girls were trying to have a refined tea party, and I was showing them the proper way to do that.

In my best British accent, which involuntarily sounded like John Cleese, I bellowed, “First, lassies, you take your biscuit. You dip the biscuit in the tea. You hold out your pinkie to be classy as such, and then you take the tiniest wee bit of sips.”

The girls followed suit, held out their pinkies, and several moms laughed and applauded our sophisticated circle. My daughter is 10 now, and I only recently realized how I ruined her tea party, often over-parented and unnecessarily meddled in her life.

My name is Joe, and I am a helicopter parent. While I have not found an official organization to help me or my kind, I am in self-imposed recovery. I am doing my best to get out of the way to empower my daughter to be more independent, self-confident and free. But in a world in which helicopter parents rule, I have found this much harder than expected.

Most helicopter parents are in denial. They’ll say things like, “Helicopter? No. We’re just playing together.”

Or: “It’s a competitive world nowadays, and I’m just helping my child have an edge.”

Or maybe: “I don’t have time to be a helicopter parent. I’m too busy taking my kid to piano, soccer, dance and drawing.”

“Helicopter parenting” is so prevalent nowadays, that I say it’s synonymous with “parenting.” We hover, help with homework, put away socks and shoes, schedule playdates, supervise playdates, enable dependence and foster a lack of exploration. Did our parents do all of this?

This past summer, the much-needed book “How to Raise an Adult” by Julie Lythcott-Haims came out, and I’m not sure I’ve ran across a more important parenting message. Not only as a parent herself, but as the former dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising at Stanford University, Lythcott-Haims has witnessed constant over-parenting and fills her pages with anecdotes, advice and honesty.
Other books with similar messages are out there, including “The Gift of Failure,” “The Overparenting Epidemic,” “You Are Not Special” and “All Joy and No Fun.” I am hoping the needle starts moving from over-parenting to simply parenting — not only for the kids’ sakes, but for the parents, too.

In my case, it hit me that my daughters (I also have 8-year-old Chloe) live a much different existence than mine at their age. I remember riding my bike to my friend’s house down the street as early as first grade. Back then, the typical advice from parents was: “Be home before the street lights come on.”

Of course, this type of plan will not happen today. Why? Well, we love our children, and we think we are being smart by keeping our kids away from potential danger.

We don’t like to put things in these salacious terms, but we assume the molester. Parents justify their overprotectiveness (AKA sheltering) because of their knowledge that there are criminals who will prey on their children. Mathematically, that simply will not happen. Fear is guiding the way.

By being so protective, we are implicitly telling our children that the world is a place of fear. Is that really the message we want to impart? If we never give them steps toward independence, when will they ever be independent?

So of late, I have refused to let fear rule my parenting. I have shifted my parenting to be more of a mere consultant with my daughters, to free them of my “checking up on them” and never — yes, never — look at their homework.

But do you know what the biggest obstacle I face with my shift in parenting has been? It’s been my children themselves.

They do not know what to do with this newfound freedom because they’re not used to it and it’s not what they see with their friends. My fifth grader has absolutely no desire to ride her bike to a friend’s house. The culture of helicopter parenting is so omnipotent, that it is no easy task to all of a sudden start anew.

At my daughters’ elementary school, many parents walk with their children from their cars to the classrooms. This year, I said that it was time for me to stop that. My fifth grader looked at me with shock and said, “What do you mean? We have to cross the street.”

On the first day without me, my daughters crossed the street, did not get hit by a car and survived. I saw that they joined a fifth-grade friend, who was with her mother. The mother was carrying the student’s backpack, and the child carried nothing.
Oh God, is there hope?

Well, I’ve found some signs in pop culture that might show others are on my wavelength. If you google helicopter parents or over-parenting, there are plenty of helpful websites out there. There are even quizzes that parents can take to see if they are over-parenting.

But here’s the funny thing: Would our parents even discuss parenting?

Heck no. I think we simply have to blend our parents’ overly hands-off approach with our over-the-top hands-on approach.

Fast forward to my daughter’s birthday party at age 10. I was reforming my ways as a helicopter parent and did my best to not mettle with my daughter and her friends. Age 10 is much different than 6. I noticed that the girls talked about crushes, middle school options and boys not at the party.

They looked so far removed from having a tea party that I kind of missed the days when they were younger and their conversations were simpler and more innocent. At the party of 10-year-olds, I never jumped into their conversations or insisted on being with them. For the most part, I had myself situated across the room — nonchalantly eavesdropping on them.

Yeah, I was still there, watching and listening.

Monday, February 1, 2016

You'll never feel whole again

Well, looky, looky here, it's February!

I've already heard several people say, "Wow. This year is going so quickly." In fact, I venture to say I hear that more and more each year I live on this planet named Earth.

As we get older, we all feel like time goes faster. There is an explanation for this. Each year we live is a smaller percentage of our life.

Remember when a year really used to mean something big. I remember when second grade was a lengthy event. Third grade, the same. But as time progressed, each year slowly felt quicker and quicker.

Does this mean we all become pessimists, fed up with life?

No. What it actually means is that our perspective constantly is changed based on our age. If we are 8 years old, a year is 1/8 of our existence. That is kind of a big chunk, if you think about it. Plus, we have no memory of the very early years.
If you are 42 years old, that is 1/42. Mathematically, it is not that big of a deal.

So, here is the idea: Whenever someone says his age, see it as a fraction. The college student will no longer be 19. He'll be 1/19. Your mother could be 1/68.

In these pictures of my daughters, they look great this year at 1/8 and 1/10, and they were also cute at 1/1 (or 1) and 1/3.

Looking at age as a fraction, the person's perspective on the ever-moving construct known as time will make more sense. I would love us to stop using age as a number and officially change it to a fraction, but I know too much tradition has gone into age for that to happen.

Age and time are manmade ideas. I do understand that the Earth goes around the sun exactly once in a year, and there is science to it that makes sense.

However, we tend to hold dearly arbitrary beliefs ingrained in us that aren't always correct. Perhaps this age as a fraction has come to you already, but I'm not sure. I did a bit of googling, and I did not find this idea on the "Inter-webs."

Maybe the fraction idea will be used to you. At least, once I figured this out, I quit obsessing over age and realized that we are destined to have each year go faster and faster.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ignorance is a choice

I heard an idea on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" the other day that affected me. The idea is this: Ignorance is a choice.

The rapper/activist Killer Mike was on the show, and he was asked if the events this year in Ferguson, Baltimore and North Charleston raised awareness among white people about systemic racism in America.

"If white people are just now discovering that it's bad for black or working class people in America, they're a lot more blind than I thought," Killer Mike said. "They're a lot more choosing to be ignorant than I thought."

In Killer Mike's interview with Colbert, he mentioned the Brown Eyes/Blue Eyes Experiment conducted by Jane Elliott as something that white people can watch to try to understand racism better. Feel free to google that, or click on the video below to watch it.

Jane Elliott echoes the idea that ignorance is a choice. "White people's number one freedom in the United States of America is the freedom to be totally ignorant about those who are other than white," Elliott said. "We don't have to learn about those who are not white. And our No. 2 freedom is the freedom to deny that we are ignorant."

As we are in the midst of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I am sick and tired of having this holiday as what the British call a mere "bank holiday" — just a day off. Or, if anything happens on MLK Day, it likely will be a celebration of Dr. King's accomplishments. While I have absolute respect for Dr. King and his accomplishments, I believe he would much rather have his holiday be a day of education.

In that vain, I believe Black History Month needs to change to be, indeed, Black History Month. As it stands now, Black History Month is actually Black Celebration Month. Of course, MLK Day as it stands and our current Black Celebration Month are better than nothing, but in 2016, white America must be educated on how systemic racism continues today. I'm not just talking about ignorant, hateful individual racism. I'm talking about systemic racism.

The worst thing I have seen with MLK Day and Black History Month is the attitude that all is OK now. "Way to go America! See, we overcame racism. See what can happen if we all just work together! MLK was great. The president is even black. We did it!" ... Please, don't make me puke.
Here are simply three things I'd like to impart today that everyone — especially white people — needs to know.

1) Jim Crow laws were in effect in the United States until 1965. In other words, blacks officially were second-class citizens by law until 50 years ago.  Officially. The Jim Crow mantra of "separate but equal" means "not equal."

Before the members of the Snooze Button Generation were born, there was official systemic racism in the U.S. Now, that has been transformed into unofficial systemic racism.

2) The new Jim Crow is the prison system, and this needs to be reformed ASAP. The United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of the world's prisoners. Our present society is the most incarcerated society in the history of any civilization. The numbers are so staggering against minorities that it is fair to call this "official systemic racism."

People of color account for 60 percent of our prison system, while they comprise just 30 percent of the U.S. population. One in every 15 African-American men are incarcerated as opposed to one in every 106 white men.

According to Bureau of Justice statistics, one in three black males can expect to go to prison in his lifetime. Let's repeat that: One in three black males will go to prison in his lifetime. 

And y'know what often happens: You go into prison on a nonviolent drug crime, then you come out as a career criminal. Beware. Once you go to prison, you may stay in prison.

Michelle Alexander's "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" came out in 2010, and no true progress in the prison system has happened since then. Most white people have not heard of the book.
3) White people must revisit their stock answers. Jane Elliott points out how harmful it is when white people say: 1) I'm not racist. Some of my best friends are black, and 2) When I see you, I don't see a black person. I don't see color.

I see white people cringe if I ever bring up a racial issue with them — and I'm white myself. White people most likely will disregard this blog and continue to choose ignorance. But for anyone who does not accept this, what can they do?

Go ahead, and check out the video below. Perhaps act like your children — it's practically certain that they're less racist than you.

But more important, remember that MLK Day is not just a "bank holiday." This is an opportunity to reflect. Is America on the path we want it? Do I ever think actually consider others? Do I ever think about the prison system?

In 2016, please ask yourself: Is this the America I want?

Considering where America is today, I think of Fyodor Dostoevsky, who said, "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons."

Saturday, December 12, 2015

I'll be home for Christmas

Happy birthday, XMan.

My father would have turned 68 today, had he not passed away in Hilton Head, S.C., in 2011. Phew, man, it's been a long haul to get here, and practically anybody who has lost someone close realizes that an outpouring of memories surfaces around the holidays.

So on my father's birthday, I am writing about a few things I've discovered during my years without him. With the holiday season in full swing, I will be listening to holiday music in the background while sipping on a holiday-spiced coffee. The song that happens to be playing now figures. It's the Bing Crosby classic I'll Be Home for Christmas performed by Lady Antebellum.

I'll be home for Christmas
You can plan on me

One of the biggest things I've learned with my father gone is that, by and large, people don't care. I dutifully press the "like" button on Facebook when friends remember their loved ones. Sometimes, I even comment. But do I really care?

It's really hard to care if you never met the person. If you happen to read this, chances are you either met the XMan and loved the guy, or you are substituting your own loved one with the XMan and applying it to your own experience. Right?

Please have snow and mistletoe
And presents on the tree

Another important thing I've seen is that tragedies are all around us. I used to try to quantify tragedies. "Wow, my dad's unexpected death shocked us all and hurt us, but your husband's death at 42 was..."

The numerical ranking of tragedies is simply stupid. People learn to get through their grief and learn how to live the life they want to lead, even though they face enormously difficult and painful situations. This is called life.

Christmas eve will find me
Where the love light gleams

I loved my dad immensely, and I wouldn't have traded our relationship for anything. But I do understand that I can't live in the past. We can only live in the moment.

This year, I'm especially happy because I'm engaged to the woman I love. We had Thanksgiving together and will be with my 10-year-old daughter, Sophie, and 8-year-old daughter, Chloe, on Christmas. This will be the first Christmas since my divorce in which I will have a Christmas morning scenario in my own home with the woman I love.

I'll be home for Christmas

Aw, man, the holidays bring up so many feelings and memories that I can't help but think back to some of the great times I had with the XMan. He gave out gag gifts to extended family every year. He once carved the holiday ham topless — but with an apron. He and my mom even got my brother and me Atari in 1981!

He was da man. I miss him. Yes, I have a fantasy to have him drop in this Christmas. But with all due respect, Sir Isaac Asimov, that type of thought is science fiction.

Ah, the holidays get emotions stirring, as does this freaking remake of Bing Crosby's I'll Be Home for Christmas. Perhaps you've noticed something about Bing's classic. But if not, I must point out that the last line changes the whole song.

I used to think I'll Be Home for Christmas was a straightforward holiday tune without nuance, kind of like Jingle Bells. Someone is coming home. Yeah! Get the egg nog going. Holiday time. Yes! But, oh no, the last line changes everything.

I'll Be Home for Christmas is really a homage to Christmases past. It's a nostalgic tune with a hint of fantasy and sadness. This dude ain't coming home. At least, that's how I understand this song and its beautiful five-word final line:

If only in my dreams



Thursday, October 29, 2015

Flip's on list of all-time kindest NBA guys

When I heard about the death of Flip Saunders this week, a chill passed through my body.

Aww, man, Flip was da man, a real class act, one of the kindest men I ran across during my seven years writing about the NBA from 2001 to 2008.

Flip and I weren't especially close. But I would talk with him whenever his Timberwolves were in L.A. In 2003, when the Wolves played the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, my assignment was to write about the Wolves, and I enjoyed dealing with Flip.

It is sad, and a shock, that Flip passed away at 60 after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma just four months earlier. Life is fleeting, my friend. Don't forget about that. Right?

The thing I liked about Flip is that he did not treat me according to my role — "NBA reporter." Instead, he treated me like a mere human being, and I appreciated that.

Perhaps I simply relate to Flip's values, and maybe I just got along with him because of our mutual hometown of Cleveland. Whatever the reason, he was definitely among the kindest men I dealt with on the NBA beat.

That previous statement got me thinking. Am I glorifying Flip, just because of his death? Was he really one of the best guys I ran across?

The answer is "yes." In fact, I will create a list of my favorite NBA personnel that treated me well. Yes, it may be odd to rank human beings, but I'm doing it anyway.

To make things fair, I did not allow anyone connected to the Clippers to be on this list because I developed many relationships there during my seven years on the Clipper beat. Because I was on the Clipper beat and based in L.A., the list is top heavy with people connected to Western Conference teams, but, so be it, this is based on my experience.

The top 10 kindest gentlemen I ran across covering the NBA from 2001 to 2008:

10. George Karl. A kind, interesting guy. He edged out a slew of guys for this final spot, including Hubie Brown. The one thing I like about both Hubie and George Karl is their eloquence with explaining the details of basketball. Both have superb NBA minds, and both put their knowledge into effective and exciting words.

9. Yao Ming. Injuries did in the big man, but he was one heck of a storyline for a while. During part of my stint with the NBA, a lot of media followed him. He was always accommodating, and I had a mutual friend with his translator. Maybe that helped me like him, too.

8. Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq definitely could be moody with the Lakers, but I'll never forget the time I asked him about what Thanksgiving meant to him. He gave me a sincere, thoughtful response, and it was obvious he has a genuine heart.
7. Flip Saunders. 

6. LeBron James. Yes. Seriously. During his rookie season, I sat down with him for about a half hour, and I learned how he somehow preferred the Cowboys, Yankees and Bulls to my beloved Cleveland teams. He was very accommodating and open. I imagine lone time with him like that has been impossible since that rookie season.

5. Chris Webber. The Lakers had many duels with the Kings, and so I frequently ran across him. He was thoughtful all the time, as was his teammate Vlade Divac. The two set the tone for the Kings having one of the tightest, friendliest locker rooms I've ever seen.

4. Mark Cuban. He's considered either a "media darling" or "media whore," depending on who's talking. But the reasons why are these: He has interesting things to say. He says those in an interesting way. He is legit. Insightful. Entertaining. Good dude. Worth all of the hype.

3. Eric Musselman. We both spent formative years in Brecksville, a suburb of Cleveland, and that helped break the ice on a memorable interview I had with him. I found him to be extremely creative and thoughtful, and he actually hand wrote a thank you note for a story I did on him. He could easily be No. 1 on the list, but I moved him down because hist time was short-lived in the NBA as a head coach for the Warriors and Kings.
I notice that a lot is connected on this list because Eric Musselman's dad, Bill Musselman, coached Flip in college at the University of Minnesota. Another connection to Bill Musselman is that my mom used to play bridge with his wife.

But if you want even more connections to me, the Musselman family and my Stevens family. Eric is now coaching Nevada, Reno, where my cousin, Len Stevens, coached from 1987-1993.

2. Steve Kerr. When Kerr was ending his career with the San Antonio Spurs and hardly played, I was first shocked that reporters huddled around him when he wasn't in the team's rotation. Why? I quickly realized how insightful and well-spoken he was about basketball. I'm impressed that he has parlayed his verbal skills into being one of the top coaches in the league with the Warriors.

1. Gregg Popovich. On a random Saturday in the fall, no media was around Staples Center, and I interviewed "Pop" for 30 minutes. I asked him anything, and everything, I could think of. He obliged with sincere answers with depth. I'll never forget that.

Pop was accommodating and kind. He gave me a glimpse into leadership and understanding at an elite level. He was inspiring. Could I ever play basketball like Tim Duncan? ... No. Could I ever understand human beings as much as Pop. .... Maybe.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I am Destro

I am Destro.

I would have never realized this, except Wolf Pack member Dave just asked, "Will this make you Destro?"

The answer is "uh, well, yes."

I proposed marriage to the woman I love, Dina, who I've described as, "Y'know, she looks like the Baroness from G.I. Joe."

This information means the following: I have proposed marriage to the Baroness. I am now Destro.

I did not know the complete Destro story, but based on intense Internet research, I have learned: "Destro's key characteristics are his sense of honor, a calm demeanor and love for Cobra's second-in-command, the Baroness."

One major difference between me and Destro, though, is that he is forced to wear a steel mask for crimes, while I have a more conventional head made by 100 percent Polack DNA.

This will be the second marriage for both me and the Baroness. I might argue that fact makes the marriage even more impressive. No myths. No fantasies. Just pure love, understanding and the ability to feel good daily and feel happy to see each other each day.

I could say the details of the romantic proposal. I did it on my 42nd birthday! I did it at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. That Frank Gehry — he deconstructs architectural standards with massive projects of impact. I might say that I got her father's blessing in advance and got down on a knee.

But, nah, let's have those details disappear. I just feel cool, knowing that I'm giddy over my girl, the Baroness, and she loves her Destro, AKA the Polack.
Shoot, I must admit I don't "know" anything. This marriage proposal is guttural. I didn't consciously choose this, but I would if I could. I don't choose to love Dina, but I would if I could choose it. This love thing has chosen me, and I love it. I love her.

Yeah, Hawkeye will be hitting on her at the bar. Clutch will be making some advances after he fixes her car. I'll, too, get my fair share of winks from Scarlett. That's life when you're a couple in love: Destro and the Baroness.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Attempted retraction turns into diatribe No. 2

Meathooks has called for a retraction.

I lost a 25 cent bet to Cousin Paulie.

Cleveland is happy, and its residents will be making sweet, sweet love tonight because the Browns actually won a game.

But I still can't stand Johnny "Freakin" Football.

What is my problem?

I just don't like him as a human being, a person. I try not to judge people, but when the weight of my Cleveland Browns falls on his 5-foot-6 shoulders, I believe I'm allowed to ponder this guy.

First of all, thank God the Browns beat the Tennessee Titans to improve to 1-1 and hold on for a 28-14 win. Manziel threw two touchdown bombs to Travis Benjamin, and those were the obvious offensive highlights. The first TD bomb on the second play of the game set the tone, and Johnny Football deserves major credit for that.

I've upgraded my thoughts on Manziel from "he's an absolute bust" to "let's wait and see — but he's probably a bust."

I am conflicted on whether I want him to be a bust. With a Browns first philosophy, I want him to work out and be a superstar. However, he is the most unlikable sports figure to don a Cleveland uniform — according to me.

I'm not even sure who's in the running. Albert Belle from the Indians was much-maligned. Ricky Davis from the Cavs could be redonkulous. I'm sure there have been plenty of criminals, but Manziel remains the biggest douche.

This could be a Snooze Button Generation (TM) gap. This punk is only 22, and I'm 41. Maybe there is a generation gap with this kid because I repeatedly look at him and think, "You got to be kidding me."
My gut tells me that Manziel still has the maturity of a flea. My gut says that he is all flash — and no substance. Even in football, he had two spectacular TD flings. But other than that, he was not good.

Johnny Football's success on the field may very well have to do with his mentality. I believe he has a highlight-reel mentality, but I'm not convinced he knows how to do little things to get a team to win.

I also surmise his personal life is like that. I bet he'd be a great guy to date because of the flash, but when it comes to hanging out at home and feeling chill, he'd be fumbling all night long.

Would I want my daughters to date him? Oh, God no. Would you want that for your daughters?

I don't trust Johnny Manziel, and I don't like that feeling. When the weight of the Cleveland Cavs is on LeBron James' shoulders, yes, I'll take that. If the weight of the franchise is on Manziel's shoulders, I am still thinking, "What has happened to us?"

But, hey, let's put this all in perspective. The Browns won. They're 1-1, and they've been to the playoffs once in the past 20 years. Even if today ends up as the highlight of Manziel's career, we'll take it!


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Please, just release Manziel

As a native of Cleveland and longtime Los Angeles resident, I often look at connections between my beloved Cleveland and L.A.

The most obvious connection is this:

Both towns have been without the NFL since 1996.

You might say I’m being too harsh to the Browns, who actually did go 7-9 last season — their third best record in the past 20 years.
But I was absolutely disgusted — yes, disgusted — with the team’s 31-10 loss to the New York Jets this past Sunday. It’s time to vent!

Here I am on Thursday still disgusted. The team had the entire offseason to prepare for the Jets, who went 4-12 last year, and was blown out in the opener.

I believe we all have issues. We all have anger. We have negative thoughts and feelings at times. I put all of mine onto one person: Johnny Manziel — the devil incarnate, a boy who doesn’t belong on the football field, a symbol of the dysfunction of the Cleveland Browns. He’s got to go, ASAP.

Manziel does not belong in the NFL. The jury isn’t still out on whether he can be productive in the league. He is NFL incompetent. We knew that last year. We still know that this year. The possibility of Manziel playing more for the Browns makes me want to puke.

See, a lot about being an NFL quarterback is about instincts. Manziel is not a “throw-first” passer. He’s not even a “run-first” passer. He was a college star whose game does not translate whatsoever to the NFL. He can’t be “Clockwork Oranged” into a player with instincts that work in the NFL. I feel embarrassed for my team and for my city when he’s on the field. 

The fact that the Browns have him as the team’s backup quarterback irks me. The football people in the organization know that he will never be serviceable in the league. The ceiling on Johnny Manziel is “backup quarterback.” But his mentality and personality are so selfish and unhelpful, that role will not work. I say the Browns just cut his ass.

No one wants to admit mistakes. If somehow Manziel miraculously transforms his game into Andrew Luck’s or any legitimate starter in the league, then I will gladly print out this scathing column about him, place it next to my TV and remind myself how wrong I can be.

Impossible!

Unfortunately, I’m not wrong on this one. Manziel is the worst of the Browns’ 23 quarterbacks since coming back as a franchise in 1999. That list includes Colt McCoy and Seneca Wallace. Manziel couldn’t hold Seneca Wallace’s jock.

Have the Browns learned anything in 20 years?

You can’t just half-assedly pick Manziel because he won the Heisman, has a lot of Instragram followers and was around for the 22nd pick.

How in the world can he be selected that high and over Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr?

Manziel? A franchise quarterback? Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!!
The Browns know very well that Manziel will never be a franchise quarterback. And what is the point of keeping around a 22-year-old dickhead who has no chance of being that franchise guy?

The team’s acquisition of Josh McCown was the best they could do for a stopgap until one day that miraculous franchise QB comes along. But it would have been nice if they had McCown and St. Ignatius’ own Brian Hoyer on the roster this year instead of Johnny Freakin’ Football.

Of course, the team is so dysfunctional that it became impossible to have that scenario because Hoyer attempted to be a leader and apparently that was unacceptable to the insecure brass of the team. Plus, the offensive coordinator from last year, Kyle Shanahan, asked to be released from his contract to become the offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons. Egads! What madness!

The Browns are an absolute laughingstock. No exaggeration.

My daughters and I make fun of them. Yes, we will be watching this Sunday. I am praying to God that I don’t have to see Manziel play. I am hoping that Austin Davis passes him on the depth chart. I’d like to see a 24th Browns quarterback in 16 years. 

Of course, I expect to hear this argument: “Manziel isn’t the only problem.”

True that.

But for a franchise that has had one playoff game in the past 20 years (a loss to the Steelers in 2002), the Browns’ dysfunction has been on display for so long that I can’t take this crap anymore. I’m especially frustrated now because the Browns went 7-9 last year, and there is absolutely no chance they can equal that this year. The team will be yet again taking a step back.

You might say, “Cool your jets. It’s only been one game!”

The roster simply does not have players that can win on the NFL level. I’m not certain the team can even compete on the NFL level.

Only one of two things can happen to help me believe the franchise is headed in the right direction.
Jimmy Haslam sells the team. The whole culture and structure of the franchise needs to be blown up, and, ultimately, that is the only way that can possibly happen.

Release Johnny Manziel.

Hopefully, McCown will be cleared to play from his “concussion protocol,” and the Browns will have a fighting chance against the Tennessee Titans.

I’m actually jealous of the lame Titans. They have a shot at having a franchise quarterback with Marcus Minotta. The Browns have no chance at that with Manziel.


I’d rather have nothing than him.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Italy: The Michael McDonald of the West

Ahh, the European lifestyle.

I've just completed a two-week stay in Italy, where my lifestyle resembled that of the Euros — and tourists — around me. I'd have a continental breakfast with espresso, shower and then sing Michael McDonald songs.

Right after the shower, I'd involuntarily sing, "Takin' it to the Streets" because it was time for Dina and me to take it to the streets and explore. Our two-week path went to Rome, Sierra, Florence, Cinque Terre, Milan, Venice, Verona and back to Rome.

I quickly realized that Michael McDonald songs were relevant to nearly every Italian city.

Venice = "What a Fool Believes" The city is so winding and confusing with its hidden paths and layout. As I thought I figured out the paths, I'd be cocksure we were going the right direction. Oh, no, not all the time. What a fool believes. He sees. No wise man has the power. To reason away. 

Florence = "Sweet Freedom" The home of the Renaissance displays the freedom artists took in painting and sculpture. The song came out when I was in the Uffizi Gallery. Shine sweet freedom. Shine your light on me. You are the magic. You're right where you want to be.

Rome = "I Keep Forgettin'" I found Rome to be a more walkable city than expected. Dina and I "stumbled" across a few major sites that I had forgotten were in our path. The Pantheon was an obvious example of that. Plus, it's easy to forget the cultural significance of so much in Rome. I Keep Forgettin'. Things will never be the same again.

All Italian Cities = "Takin' it to the Streets"
Through intense Internet research, I have learned that Michael McDonald was absolutely huge to the Doobie Brothers. Yes, the band had "Listen to the Music" and "China Grove" before him, but he took the band in a much different direction and is the most famous member of the group by far.

Italy is to Western culture as Michael McDonald is to the Doobie Brothers.

The metaphor should be obvious to all who visit Italy. Of course, the comparison isn't perfect. Throughout our stay in Verona and the opera "Tosca," I was involuntarily humming "My Verona."

Friday, July 17, 2015

My grandma: The original bargainista

The best thing about comedy is that you can tackle taboo issues, important stuff that might not normally be talked about. And today, I am going to tackle an important taboo issue: Yachting.

Joking.

The issue is money. Money is one of the biggest taboo issues in America today.

People spend money differently, and we tend to do it like our parents, whether we want to or not. Actually, I see a money evolution with each generation less cheap than the previous one. Each generation is less cheap — and less religious. We’re godless spenders.

My maternal grandma was by far the most frugal person I’ve ever encountered. It would be easy to call her the cheapest person I’ve met, but “cheap” is a negative word. She was a Pollack from Cleveland, Ohio, who turned frugality into an art form and obsession. She wasn’t a cheapskate. She was a bargainista.

Yes, bargainista — like fashionista. Fashionistas take style to a whole other level. My grandma took finding deals and being frugal to an elite place.

Her basement was filled with two-liter bottles of soda, huge boxes of laundry detergent, boxes of  Ivory soap and all the other things she ever owned in her life. Was she a packrat? Is Donald Trump a racist?

But my grandma was more than a packrat. I’m obviously an O.G. — an original gangsta. She’s the O.B. — the original bargainista.
Whenever I drink fizz-less, stale soda, it takes me back to grandma’s house. She would use a buy-one-get one coupon for soda, limit four, but she took that to the next level by having friends and family members use coupons for her. She was a coupon pimp. We were her coupon hookers.

There was no need to ever buy ketchup or salt or pepper. She had free packets from Burger King we’d use. Why would my mother ever buy me new clothes? She had some perfectly fine clothes I could use.

She had a depression mentality of saving that most of us in 2015 just can’t relate to. I have tried to cut the ties of my grandma’s bargainista ways, and I actually buy ketchup bottles in the store.

But the more I look back, I believe being a bargainista is something to be proud of. My grandma was a complex individual with many layers of wisdom, practicality and hidden baseball cards (somewhere in the attic, we thought).

For the longest time, I’d be slightly embarrassed by how she treated money. But now, I realize it’s something to be lauded — in my mandated clean underwear (if I ever were in an accident, the paramedics would know I came from good stock).

Either you know bargainistas, or maybe you yourself are a bargainista. The only problem is sometimes being so focused on getting a good deal, you end up getting a deal you don’t need or want— or end up buying a pack of 100 Slim Jims.
You might be a bargainista if:

• You’ve ever bought a Groupon for a massage, skydiving — or an adult magician. 

• You’ve argued to use coupons that you fully know are for a different product. I mean: How could there be a difference between Tartar Control with Brightening and Extra Brightening?

• Your first thought when receiving any gift card is: “OK, who can I re-gift this to?”

• You will only keep a Starbucks card because when using a Starbucks card, it completely takes off any pressure to tip the barista.

• You’ve ever cashed in a Subway card, coffee shop card or any disintegrating card in your wallet, where you only needed to purchase 10 things in order to get one free.

• You’ve specifically bought clothing with the intention of returning it after wearing it just once.

• You’ve seen two movies in one day at the same theater, but only paid for one. And in your mind, you consider it justice and a protest against the ridiculous prices of movies nowadays.

• You’ve ever smelled a carton of milk three weeks past its expiration date with the hopes that just maybe it will still be good.

• You’ve ever had an entire meal on free samples from Costco.


I must admit. Yes, indeed, I am a bargainista — just like my grandma. Time to run. Sushi happy hour ends at 6.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The top 10 comedians of all-time

The Snooze Button Generation (TM) released its list of the "10 Best Comedians of All-Time" today as the corporation's founder/CEO defended the list to much scrutiny.

"Look," Snooze Button Generation founder/CEO Joe Stevens said. "This is a subjective list by nature. But its picks are objective. These are the funniest people I've ever encountered."

Stevens has taken a lot of criticism for having eight white males on the list and one "token" black comedian and another "token" female. He denied that the list was flat-out racist or sexist.

"I respect that comedians and fans love Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock," Stevens said. "But those guys just don't do it for me as much as the others. I like them all on various levels, but they just didn't crack the top 10. They're no Monsignor Ciolek."

What about the females?

"Of course, there are plenty of incredible female comedians," he said. "But I just couldn't find a spot for Minnie Pearl or Dolly Parton."

The Snooze Button Generation's 10 Best Comedians of All-Time:

10. Bill Cosby
It's definitely horrific that The Cos may be remembered as a rapist who repeatedly drugged women. That puts a slight damper on his comedy legacy. But as far as a comedian, he killed it. I recall watching "Fatherhood" in the mid-80s with my extended family going berserk to his humor.
9. Monsignor Casimir Ciolek
Not as popular as Cosby, Monsignor Ciolek was the pastor of my childhood church, SS. Peter and Paul in Garfield Heights, Ohio. When anyone accidentally called him "Father Ciolek," he would retort, "I'm a monsignor!!" He rarely cracked a smile and was a master of the deadpan.

8. Sarah Silverman
She's pretty crafty on the Twitter, and she talks hard — like a dude. Of course, there are other female comedians that others prefer, such as Tina Fey or Roseanne or Madeleine Albright, but Silverman wins it for being so bluntly funny.

7. Cato
I have known Cato since kindergarten, when I believe we had different classes but already had strangleholds as the funniest students in class. Seriously, Cato is one of the funniest people I know. He has the best Facebook updates I've seen, and I give him props.
6. Robin Williams
Of course, it's so sad what happened on Aug. 11. An awful ending to a bombastic comic career that boomed. I remember nearly crying from laughter, watching him on Letterman with the XMan and my mom. He could make this list for his arm hair alone.

5. Uncle Steve
I can't even begin to mention the catch phrases, stories and sensibility that came from my Uncle Steve. He was a major contributor to my sense of humor as well as my cousins and family. He worked in advertising in Cleveland, wrote books and will entertain anyone he encounters.

4. Norm MacDonald
Honestly, Norm is my favorite comedian of all-time, but he does not have the elite clout of Robin Williams, Bill Cosby and others on the list. I rarely see comedians in concert because they tend to have a lot of misses. I saw Norm recently. He rarely has a miss on stage, and I often find myself speaking in the same cadence as he does. What does that mean?
3. Jerry Seinfeld
I recommend Seinfeld's "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" to anybody. It makes me realize how incredibly insightful and witty the master is. Who knows more about Cocoa Puffs?

2. George Carlin
Carlin is on another plane when it comes to comedians. Not only was he influential, he was smart and hilarious and meaningful. His comedy will hold up forever. That can't be said for a lot of other influential comedians who's stuff becomes too dated or too overplayed.

1. Fred Stevens Jr.
My brother recently attended what I believe was his first country music concert ever. He embraced the vapid cultural experience by donning a cowboy hat and potentially wearing a confederate flag thong. If you give him a microphone, he makes Michael Scott look humorless. Here he is during a recent visit to California:





Friday, May 8, 2015

The Fight of the Century

Being a week removed from "The Fight of the Century," we can now take a calmer look at what it meant. We're not talking about the zillion dollar spectacle between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. We're talking about Keegan Bradley vs. Miguel Angel Jimenez.

As a youth, I was often confused by my father, the XMan, when he would watch golf on TV.

I would say: "Come on, Dad, let's go play catch."

He'd say, "After the golf."

"Why not now?"

"There could be a fight," he'd reply.

No lie. We had that same conversation, and joke, for decades. I never saw a fight on the PGA Tour — until last week.

No punches were thrown between Bradley and Jimenez. But Bradley was hard-core pissed, and so was his caddie, nicknamed "Pepsi." Honestly, I think Bradley and Pepsi were so angry because they were losing to a 51-year-old sophisticated gentleman and didn't know how to handle that.
One thing I love about the argument between the duo is that they were both 0-2 in their third match of the WGC-Cadillac Match Play Championship. In other words, neither could advance in the tournament, so the match really didn't mean anything. ... Love it!

For a golf addict, the current Match Play format was an orgy of goodness from Wednesday through Saturday. The field is 64 through Friday and then 16 and eight on Saturday. The tricky thing, though, is when the final four are left, there aren't enough players left for good TV on Sunday.

Two Match Play points: 1) We need more Match Play. 2) Somehow have more matches on Sunday.

But who cares, other than golf geeks? Two players nearly came to blows, and for God's sakes, golf needs more of this. I'd love to see Craig and/or Kevin Stadler sit on Tiger, or maybe Mickelson karate chop Louis Oosthuizen in the gap between his teeth.

Fight, guys, fight. It would be nice to see golfers getting a little more nasty. Go ahead. Take your cues from Elin Nordegren.