Archive for May, 2006

O’Shea Chronicles

“We’re living in some strange times, aren’t we?” my old friend Rick O’Shea asked me as he stirred his coffee absently. We were sitting at a corner table in our favorite coffee shop, resting our elbows on the crumbs of the booth’s previous occupants. Rick raised his steaming cup to his lips, paused, and then put the cup onto the table and continued, “Everyone told me that this war was about oil, yet gas is about a buck more per gallon than milk. The President’s approval rating is so low that it seems like people wish the war had been about oil. Our elected officials continue to claim that the oil companies aren’t doing anything wrong, yet somehow those same oil companies keep earning record profits.

“Iran is on the verge of becoming a nuclear power and just last week they threatened that if we try to stop them from having the ability to blow up everybody, they’ll blow up Israel. Our Vice President shot some guy a while back and then told the police in no uncertain terms that they shouldn’t show up to investigate until they were invited. The country is divided severely on the issue of illegal aliens; politicians on one side and citizens on the other. Worst of all, I can’t turn on the television without seeing some program that gushes about the day to day lives of celebrities. What with everything going on in the world, the only way I can sleep at night is with the faith that Roger Clemens is going to sign with the Yankees.”

Rick, think about it: Roger is going to want to stay closer to home. He’ll sign with the Houston Astros and dominate the National League, just like last year.

“Closer to home? Isn’t that the reason that he gave when he decided not to sign with Boston back in 1996 before signing about as far away from home as possible, Toronto, and turning his career around? Roger only cares about the size of the paycheck, and the Yankees have the deepest pockets.”

I wonder about his career rebirth. Jose Canseco admitted that he took steroids in 1988, and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa looked like offensive linemen when they had the homerun chase in 1998; do you think there’s any chance that Roger had some outside help when he turned his career around in 1997?

“Does it matter at this point? A guy with a head the size of New Zealand is about to pass Babe Ruth on the all time homerun list and there are still reporters out there who want to celebrate him. Heck, ESPN devotes an entire show and a sizeable chunk of their SportsCenter shows to old Big Head Barry. The only thing that matters these days are championships and Roger is going to return the Yankees to their rightful position at the top of the league.”

I would be surprised if the Red Sox allow big George and the Yankees to write the biggest check.

“Why would the Red Sox pony up that kind of money? Is it going to help them to sell any more seats when all the seats are already sold? They’ll make an offer that’s just low enough for them to save face, but in the end they won’t come up with the dough.”

Nah, Roger knows that if he comes back to Boston he’ll be a returning hero. If he wins the World Series for the Sox, all of his years with the Yankees will be forgiven and they’ll build a statue for him on Yawkey Way.

“That’s what I love about you Red Sox fans. That New England overdeveloped sense of romance. He’ll go to New York and add his name to the list of Yankee players who dashed the hopes of Red Sox Nation: Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Bucky Dent, Aaron Boone…and Roger Clemens.”

Stop living in the past. We are living in the Big Papi Era now. Gas prices may be high, our country may be at war, we might not be able to watch TV without seeing Britney Spears, but when Big Papi is at the plate, everything seems just fine.

Sports Tim 26 May 2006 No Comments

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

I don’t smoke. Other than the occasional puff as a lark, I have never smoked. My parents used to smoke, three out of my four grandparents smoked, and as far as I know, my great-grandparents smoked. As far as I can tell, just about everyone smoked back in the day. Even my wife smoked for many years before we met. With all of that smoking around me, I got to wondering about why I don’t smoke.

After all, as the tobacco executive character BR says in the movie Thank You for Smoking, “We don’t sell Tic Tacs, we sell cigarettes. And they’re cool, available, and addictive. The job is almost done for us.”

I talked to my wife about it, and she told me that that there was a certain “cool” element to smoking. She and her smoker friends would go outside on the porch of their apartment and spend time together, smoking and talking. It was a social thing.

Things changed for my wife the day she realized that she didn’t want to be a smoker any more. So she quit. Just like that. To hear her tell it, it wasn’t that difficult for her to quit. If only it were that easy for everyone.

I have a friend who insists that every time he tries to quit smoking, he gets severe chest congestion and has trouble breathing, so he starts smoking again to relieve the symptoms.

Watching people smoke, or watching them smoke on TV or in the movies; I can’t help but notice how much they all seem to enjoy it. They absolutely relish that first puff, and I can’t help but be jealous, in a way. I’m sure that a large part of it is due to the physical addiction to nicotine, but there seems to be some comfort in just holding the cigarette in their hands. The ritual of smoking all seems so glamorous at times. I relish the first bite of an ice cream sundae, but somehow it just isn’t the same thing.

If you ask any of my siblings why they don’t smoke, they will tell you a story about my grandfather.

Carl Pierce, my mother’s father, had always been a strong and virile man. He was a milkman in the City of Worcester for many years, and he thought nothing of running up and down the stairs of triple-decker houses all day long to make his deliveries. My grandfather was a smoker, and he continued to smoke right up until just before his life was taken by emphysema.

I was too young to remember it, but my brothers and sister have vivid memories of my grandfather, the strong and virile milkman, needing a full minute of rest before he had the strength and oxygen to walk up a single step in his house.

They also remember my grandfather, short of breath and with oxygen tubes in his nose, smoking a cigarette because he just needed to have it. He died in 1973 at the age of 63. I was slightly more than a year old, and have no memory of him.

I believe it was in 1983 when I had my first, and most significant, experience with cigarettes.

My friend Jody had, with all the care of a secret agent stealing classified documents, snaked a cigarette from his mother’s purse. He showed it to me and asked me if I wanted to smoke it with him behind his shed.

This was during a period in my life when anything involving fire held great interest for me, so the fact that I would be placing a burning object into my mouth didn’t seem overly ridiculous. I grabbed a book of matches from my mother’s cabinet and rushed out to see what all the fuss was about cigarettes.

Jody and I carefully made our way behind his shed, taking pains to make sure that we hadn’t been seen. It was his cigarette, so he went first. He lit the cigarette, inhaled the smoke into his mouth, and breathed it out. He didn’t cough, and the whole thing didn’t seem like a really big deal.

It was then my turn. I took the lit cigarette from Jody and held it between my fingers and thumb of my right hand. I put the burning weed to my lips and, since I hadn’t noticed that Jody had kept the smoke in his mouth, I inhaled until the smoke filled my lungs. I didn’t have to wait long to see what it felt like because it immediately felt like

MY LUNGS WERE ON FIRE!

As my lungs burned in protest, I coughed and coughed and ran in a little circle behind the shed. I dropped the burning cigarette onto the dirt. I dropped onto my hands and knees and gasped for breath. I was helpless and thought, probably for the first time in my life, that I was going to die. I could not stop coughing. I would have screamed if I had enough oxygen in my lungs. My lungs burned and burned and the moment, which was probably about 10 seconds, felt like hours and hours.

Jody looked at me with fear in his eyes. I was going to have to go to the hospital and he was going to get into a ton of trouble. He had given a cigarette to the least cool person on the planet, who was now apparently going to die in the dirt behind his shed.

I didn’t die. Jody didn’t get in trouble. My lungs replaced the burning hot smoke with clean cool air and my brain made the choice that, no matter who else did it, or how cool or social it might seem, breathing hot smoke into my lungs wasn’t smart.

Back in the Day Tim 19 May 2006 No Comments