Archive for May, 2004

Procrastination = Bad Hair

It is my lunch hour and I need a haircut.  I was supposed to have made an appointment for Jane, my usual hair maintenance engineer, to cut my hair, but I procrastinated.  Now it is Friday and I have a wedding tomorrow.  I’m desperate. 

When I am desperate for a haircut, I go to the Two Italian Guys Barber Shop near my office. 

Barber #1, let’s call him Stash,  is a short man with brown hair and a mustache usually reserved for men starring in adult feature films.  Stash is a very good barber who works quickly using electric clippers.  He speaks clear English and makes interesting conversation (this is an important part of a good haircut). 

Barber #2, let’s call him Specs, is a tall, 83 year-old gentleman with slicked back gray hair and THICK glasses with black frames.  In the Air Force, they called this style of glasses Birth Control Glasses for their ability to scare away any women in five mile radius.

Stash (Barber #1) says that Specs (Barber #2) is from the “old school.”  This apparently means that in the old school, barbers were taught to take an extremely long time to cut hair with dull scissors (old school types apparently don’t believe in electric clippers).  Specs’ dull scissors create haircuts that could be politely described as “interesting”, since there is no pattern as to which hairs get cut and which are allowed to remain at their original length.

Specs, a pleasant man, mumbles in a very low voice with a thick Italian accent.  He speaks in unintelligible gibberish for minutes at a time, pausing once in a while to laugh at something he has said.  Other than catching the occasional word, I never have any idea what he is saying.  I don’t want to discourage him, though, so I usually just nod and smile at him.  Sometimes when there is a break in his commentary, I will nod, smile, and say, “Yes,” so that he will know that I agree with whatever he just said. 

So, to sum up, Specs is a nice guy, but a horrible barber.  As a result, whenever I go to the Two Italian Guys Barber Shop for a haircut, Stash always has a customer (and sometimes a line of people waiting), while Specs has an empty chair.  As I come through the door, Specs will give me such a hopeful look (think puppy dog with thick black glasses), that I usually buckle and let him butcher my hair. 

This means that I am usually late coming back from lunch, and what little hair I have looks “interesting.” 

The message here is that I have no spine, and as a result, Specs now regards me as “his” customer. 

One time, he was so pleased to see me that got this big smile on his face and said, “Mblvckd?” 

I hadn’t realized that he had asked me a question, but I did notice that he was staring at me expectantly, so I wittily replied, “What?” 

A wide grin broke across his face as he said, in a clear, loud voice, “AN AIR CONDITIONER!”  He then began to laugh so hard that he doubled over.  Yes, we enjoyed a good chuckle about that one, even if I still don’t know why. 

So, it’s Friday, I have a wedding tomorrow, and I need a trim.  I walk into the Two Italian Guys Barber Shop and immediately notice that something is wrong.  Specs has a customer, and there is no one in Stash’s chair! 

I am thrilled.  This means that my hair will look decent for the wedding and I won’t be late coming back from lunch. 

It is then that I notice that the person sitting in Specs’ chair is Stash!  Stash immediately gets up and makes a sweeping gesture towards the chair he just vacated.  “Sit right down and get a trim,” he says. 

Specs nods towards the chair and agrees with Stash.  “Sgtrifetar,” he says. 

On the outside, I say, “Um, ah, ok,” but on the inside I am saying some very, very bad words that are not fit to be printed in this family newspaper. 

Specs and his dull scissors strike again.  When I walk out of the Two Italian Guys Barber Shop, my hair is cut in a pattern that could best be described as “A Flock of Seagulls”. 

Not only do I have a bad haircut, but will be quite obvious to Jane, my usual hair maintenance engineer, that I have cheated on her.  I wonder if she can fit me in tomorrow morning before the wedding…

The Day to Day Grind Tim 28 May 2004 No Comments

Ball Four

“You’re reading that book AGAIN?” 

That is the response I get from my wife every year during spring training when I drag out my copy of Ball Four by Jim Bouton.  I figure that I have read the book 33 times or so since I found a paperback copy of it on my grandmother’s porch in 1983. 

Ball Four, which was first published in 1970, is a diary of Jim Bouton’s 1969 season as a big league knuckleball pitcher with the Seattle Pilots (now the Milwaukee Brewers) and the Houston Astros.  He also recalls his heyday with the New York Yankees, when they were making their transition from powerhouse to doormat in the mid-1960’s.   

The book is a snapshot of men playing a boys’ game during a time when the country was in the midst of the Vietnam War.  It was also a time when all major league players weren’t millionaires, and many of them had to find jobs in the off-season to support their families. 

Bouton was the first to remove the public relations polish from major league players and speak plainly about their daily lives.  It is not a book for children.  Sex, drugs, alcohol, raising a family on the road, small-minded coaches, peeping Toms, practical jokes, fights, contract negotiations (before free agency), and the stress of being sent to the minor leagues are all laid bare in Bouton’s insightful and often hilarious narrative. 

The author is not afraid to show himself in an honest light and it is this refreshing honesty about himself and others that makes the book excellent.  There are several scenes about the thick headedness of executives and coaches that could easily make their way into a Dilbert cartoon. 

Bouton’s honesty about substance abuse should have served as a warning to the people in charge of professional baseball, but it did not. 

In the book, he says that if there was a pill that guaranteed a pitcher 20 wins, but would take 5 years off of his life, the pitcher would take it.  The book also goes into details about amphetamines, or “greenies”, and how common they were in major league clubhouses.  There is no mention of cocaine, which apparently had not yet gained the popularity that it had in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. 

The book’s warnings about players’ drug and alcohol use were ignored by the baseball establishment, which has historically has a “head in the sand” approach to such issues.  Today, 35 years later, steroids are a headline news item that threaten to destroy the relevance of the baseball record books, while amphetamines remain baseball’s dirty little secret. 

For having the gall to tell the truth, Bouton became an outcast from the baseball establishment.  The baseball commissioner demanded that he sign a letter of retraction and apology for the book.  Bouton refused and soon saw his baseball career come to an end.  He became a sportscaster and actor, invented a shredded bubble gum called Big League Chew, and wrote other books, including one about the aftermath of Ball Four, called I’m Glad You Didn’t Take it Personally

Since Ball Four, there have been a number of “tell-all” books written by athletes.  Many of these books have been marketed as “the next Ball Four”, but none of them comes close to the humor and stark honesty of Bouton’s work.  Soon, I will have read it for the 34th time, and I strongly recommend it to anyone with a good sense of humor and even a passing interest in sports.

Sports Tim 21 May 2004 No Comments

Bully for You

“You and me, we’re gonna have a fight. Today. After school. Three o’clock. In the parking lot. You try and run, I’m gonna track you down. You go to a teacher, it’s only gonna get worse. You sneak home, I’m gonna be under your bed.” – Buddy Revell, the bully in Three O’Clock High.

The start of the school year brings with it a new crop of bullies.  Not the grown up bullies like my old boss (who at least never punched me out), but school-age bullies who terrorize other kids.  They are a part of every childhood.

Freedom from bullies is one of the great things about growing up (unless the grown up then gets a job at my old company).

Since bullies are a common thread in everyone’s childhood, I began to wonder: Where have all of the bullies gone?

I did an informal poll at work, and an amazing 0% of the people asked would admit to having been a bully in school.  I asked a number of other people the same question, and I came up with the same percentage.  Admittedly it was a completely non-scientific way to gather data, but I was surprised at the results.

Ideally, all of the bullies from my younger days are currently sharing prison cells with toothless gentlemen named Buford, but it’s not likely.

My suspicion is that the percentage of people who admit to being bullies is about the same as the amount of people who admit to buying boy band CD’s.  There were plenty of bullies in school, and there are plenty of platinum boy band albums.

The biggest bully from my childhood was a kid who grew up on my street.  I don’t want to embarrass the guy’s family, so let’s call him Jack.

One day, Jack, who was two years older and bigger than I was, decided that it would be fun to beat me up every day after school.

I’m not sure why he made this decision.  Perhaps he wasn’t getting enough attention at home.  Perhaps he was frustrated that he wasn’t a good student.  Perhaps he just felt like beating someone up.

So, the first time he beat me up, what did I do?  Did I follow the advice of every sitcom that ever tackled the subject of bullying and punch him in the nose?  Nope.  My fight or flight instinct kicked in and I took flight.  I ran away and he caught me and beat me up again.  Then, as now, I was not exactly fleet of foot.

I wish that I could go back in time and punch Jack in the nose.  I really do.  I’m not sure that it would have solved the problem, but I would feel better about it today.

After beating me up, Jack told me that if I told anyone, he would REALLY beat me up.  I didn’t want that, so I clammed up.  I wasn’t always the smartest kid.

It was a regular thing for quite a while.  Every time Jack would see me, he would beat me up.  This lasted until one day when an angel of a woman named Ethel Grogan saw me getting beat up in front of her house.  She called the school, and that pretty much ended my bully problem with Jack.

Until, that is, one time when I was playing football in my friend Scott’s back yard.  Jack, who lived next to Scott, thought it would be a good idea to SHOOT DARTS AT US WITH A BLOWGUN from his bedroom window.  Yes, a real blowgun.  The kid had some serious issues.

I haven’t really seen Jack since then, and I can’t say that I am upset about it.  I’m sure that if any of his friends asked him about it today, Jack would turn down the volume of his boy band music and say, “Me, a bully?  No way!”

I would like to take a moment and finally thank Mrs. Grogan (I was always too embarrassed to thank her when I was a kid) for getting involved.

Bullying is a serious issue.  If your child is the victim of bullying, please contact their school for information about how to solve the problem.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 14 May 2004 No Comments