2020

Liberty and Coastal Carolina deserved better

I don’t care about college bowl games, but there’s one moment in time that still does it for me.

The date was Jan. 1, 2007, and heavily favored Oklahoma faced Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl.

It was a mismatch. Clearly a mismatch. The Sooners—led by Adrian Peterson, one of the great halfbacks in college football history—were favored by 7 1/2 points over the undefeated-yet-largely untested Broncs from the small state commuter school.

What transpired, however, was both one of the greatest upsets in modern college football history and one of the greatest games in all of college football history. Breaking out one trick play after another, Boise State shocked the Sooners with a breathtaking 43-42 victory that ended with the night’s hero—halfback Ian Johnson—scoring the winning touchdown, then kneeling to propose to his cheerleader girlfriend.

[She said yes]

It was amazing.

It was brilliant.

It was mesmerizing.

It was something the NCAA seems to have no interest in.

In case you’re not paying attention, tonight undefeated No. 9 Coastal Carolina played No. 23 Liberty (with just one loss) in something called (stupidly) the FBC Mortgage Cure Bowl. It was a fantastic battle, with the Jerry Falwell-less Flames pulling out the 37-34 win.

And it never should have happened.

Teams like Coastal Carolina deserve a shot at Iowa, or Texas, or Auburn. Teams like Liberty deserve a shot at Georgia. Or Oregon. Or Oklahoma State. There is nothing better than the opening minutes of a David v. Goliath game, and nothing nothing nothing better than the closing minutes of a nail-biter David v. Goliath game. By matching up the two Davids, however, the NCAA or the blah blah bowl committee or Alvaro Espinoza (or whoever is responsible) decided to take the (yawn) boring way out.

It’s just not fun, and the end result is another year of predictable matchups between this big money school and that big money school in the multi-million dollar CTE Awaits You Bowl.

Lame.

My (necessary) internship from hell

Twenty nine summers ago, I lived in hell.

Technically, Champaign, Illinois isn’t hell. It’s a college town. A cool college town, home to the University of Illinois and high stalks of corn and a place that, literally, sells burritos as big as your head.

For me, however, it was the absolute worst.

I had just wrapped up my sophomore year at the University of Delaware, and—after applying to probably, oh, 150 newspapers—was hired as a summer intern by the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, a daily with a circ of, oh, 65,000. Landing the gig was an incredible high—I’d be living by myself in a new town, writing for a real paper, gaining experience and bylines and contacts.

Uh … yeah.

Champaign was hell. To begin with:

• I had no friends. None. Zero.

• I broke my ankle playing basketball, was on crutches for several weeks, got off the crutches, return to the court—and immediately sprained my other ankle.

• I lived in an apartment at 405 Green Street. I’m pretty sure the guy above me was beating his girlfriend. I had a TV that received two shows—Star Trek and The 700 Club. My mom bought me two plants to hang—I’m pretty certain they both died. I was so bored I tried taking up cigarette smoking … and failed miserable. Puff, cough, puff, cough.

• I was 20, and one needed to be 21 to enter bars.

Worst of all was the newspaper. Well, worst of all was me at the newspaper. To be blunt, I was a little cocky fuckhead. I thought I was God’s gift to writing, and walked and wrote with an unwarranted strut. I took advice from no one, mocked older scribes, thought I had nothing to learn and no need to improve. In a word, I was insufferable.

The woman who hired me, a sports editor named Jean McDonald, made my life even worse. She shredded my copy, told me what I needed to work on, demanded professionalism and (gasp!) told me I needed much improvement. With seven weeks in, I packed up and left. I was supposed to be there for eight but, fuck, I couldn’t take it any longer. I was out. Ghost. See ya.

A few weeks later, I received a two-page letter from Jean. She told me I had talent, but that I wasted a great opportunity; that a bad attitude damns many a talented writer. I read the letter, probably cursed Jean out, read it again. And again. And again. I still have it, stashed. It’s a prized possession.

And one that probably saved me career.

Jews to Christians: “Welcome to our Christmas”

If one were to gauge things by Instagram and Twitter posts, a high percentage of people who celebrate Christmas spent today doing this …

To which I say: Welcome to my last 48 Christmases.

I mean no offense. And I’m certainly not happy that COVID wrecked so many family gatherings; so many joyful feasts; so many annual traditions of leaving cookies for Santa; of waking up and running down the steps to open presents; of grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins basking in the glow of a magnificently outfitted tree. I actually hate everything about it, and mourn in particular for older relatives who—instead of embracing the love of a unique holiday—sit lonely and depressed at home, heating up Trader Joe’s pizza or ordering out for Chinese.

But, just so it’s noted, what you’re experiencing is (in many ways) what we Jews deal with every Christmas.

For most of my life Christmas was the least-favorite day of the year. I felt like the guy locked inside a shopping mall after closing time. Or the guy who misses the state fair because I had to go tile shopping with Mom. I knew all the kids up and down Emerald Lane were unwrapping presents and gorging on candy canes and chocolate Santas, while I was staring at my toes or lying in bed, gazing up at my Rickey Henderson poster. If Dec. 24 and Dec. 26 were 24-hour days, Dec. 25 was—at the bare minimum—500 hours of hell. I’d look at my clock. Look again. And again. And again.

“Let’s all take a family walk,” Dad would suggest.

Meh.

“Why don’t we play Monopoly?” Mom would suggest.

Meh.

“Why don’t we do nothing—like every Christmas,” I’d counter, sadly.

So I’d do nothing.

I don’t want this to happen again. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever again. The year 2020 blows, and the lack of a fruitful Christmas blows, too.

All I ask is that, in 2021, when you’re back at Grandma’s house, eating her homemade bread pudding and listening to some Mariah Carey jingle, think back a year earlier, and think of Jeff, your friendly neighborhood Jew.

I’ll be home.

Doing nothing.

The Patch Adams thing

“Hey, baby. Nanoo, nanoo.”

So last night the wife, son and I watched “Patch Adams,” a movie I have gone through life hating but, for some reason, sorta kinda somewhat enjoyed on Christmas Eve.

In case you haven’t seen it, the film stars Robin Williams as a medical student who doesn’t understand why doctors can’t infuse their patients with joy and laughter. It’s loosely (like, very loosely) based off of the book, “Gesundheit!: Bringing Good Health to You, the Medical System, and Society through Physician Service, Complementary Therapies, Humor, and Joy,” and by the end you’re supposed to feel chipper and inspired and terrific about the world.

Which is fine.

What I can’t get past—what I’ve never been able to get past—is the age discrepancy between Patch (played by Williams) and his love interest, a medical student named Carin (played by an understated Monica Potter). Now, there were 100,000 ways to go with that, because in real life a love interest named Carin did not exist. The character was (presto!)) created, in the way movies create characters to add drama, spice, juju.

So why, oh, why, did the creators of “Patch Adams” pair Williams (born in 1951) with Potter (born in 1971)? Why would they think, “Here’s an idea: Let’s give Patch a love interest, and make her young enough to be his daughter“?

Seriously, it irks the fuck out of me. Repeatedly. First, because it stands out like blood in pudding. But second, because it’s yet another example of the industry’s reliance on old man-young woman, whereas you never, ever, ever, ever see old woman-young man (unless it’s a specific plot point).

So … yeah.

Patch Adams. Weird.

My wife is trying to kill me

So in our house, there’s a pretty standard division of labor when it comes to dinner.

The wife does the cooking.

I do the dishes.

It makes sense: She’s a tremendous chef. I burn shit. She can cook anything. I wanted to create banana chicken. She fills the room with wonderful scents. I make the kitchen uninhabitable.

And yet … recently she’s been trying to kill me.

It starts like this—”Can you go to the supermarket and grab a few things?”

Then I go, “Sure.”

Then she goes, “It’s just a few things.”

Then I go, “OK.”

Then I get in the car and drive to the nearby Albertsons or Ralphs.

Then I see this …

Or this …

And this one all but killed me …

And here’s my belief—my honest-to-God belief: She’s testing me.

We’ve been married almost 20 years, and she’s still testing me.

We all know Hoisin sauce isn’t a real thing. We all know pickled ginger is mythical. There is no such thing as pork butt, and Hominy is … well, it’s bullshit. It’s all fucking bullshit. I roam these supermarket aisles for hours, a wayward soul seeking out fantastical minutia all so my wife and kids can laugh at me as they watch from afar on a secret camera.

Wait. I’ve gotta cut this short.

The wife needs a jar of crispy tarantulas.

Kirk Cameron falls short

As long as we’ve got each other … we can spread diseases our own way.

In case you missed this story, Kirk Cameron, the long-ago star of “Growing Pains,” showed up yesterday in the parking lot of a Thousand Oaks shopping mall, where he led a bunch of mask-less religious freaks in caroling.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

It’s a weird thing, isn’t it? On the one hand, I’m sure Cameron—a well-known far-right religious zealot—genuinely aspires to spread joy via song. It’s been a rough year, we’re all struggling. So why not lift spirits with a little “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Deck The Halls”? I’m being sincere when I write that. He probably means to do well.

And yet … Kirk Cameron is a fucking selfish douche asshole. Or, put differently: Bruh, you’re not an infectious disease expert. You’re not a doctor. You work in neither hospital nor physician’s office. You certainly haven’t studied COVID, and I’m not even sure you’re aware that ICU beds in Southern California hospitals are 100 percent filled. So who are you, star of “Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas,” to make the decision to hold such an event? What are your qualifications to decide COVID is just a hoax? Or that God and Jesus will cure people? Or that the power of song can cure all ills?

The audacity actually gets me far more than the stupidity. It is literally an audacious act of assholeness to put that many people at risk, all because you’re not wise enough to grasp and empathize with the issues. It suggests that you–Kirk Cameron, star of “Left Behind III: World At War”—think you know more than the experts, all because Invisible Sky Man whispers sweet nothings into your ears at night.

I don’t hope attendees fall ill.

But, if they do, it’s on Kirk Cameron.

Cody Rigsby and self love

So earlier tonight I completed my 91st Peloton trek—a 30-minute pop ride with an instructor named Cody Rigsby.

The experience got me to thinking of my boyhood in Mahopac, N.Y., and 1980s rural perceptions of homosexuality.

Or, put different: When I grew up, you couldn’t be gay.

Which sounds weird, right? One doesn’t choose to be or not to be gay. You are or you’re not. Period.

And yet, it wasn’t really an option. In my turf (and in many turfs across America), being gay was being a fudge packer. A homo. A queer. It was an easy insult—”What are you, a fag?” and “You gonna go to prison and find some soap on a rope?” It meant you were soft. A sissy. A guy who missed a big tackle for the football team? Gay. A boy who liked ballet? Gay. On and on it went. And while I didn’t use the words as slang, I certainly never spoke up to protest; certainly never felt compelled to show those who actually were gay (and closeted) that it wasn’t OK.

Truth be told, I think people were simply afraid of the unknown. I remember the old debate about gay marriage often considered the fate of the child—”What if [gasp!] he winds up gay, too?”

I digress.

Cody Rigsby, Peloton instructor, is openly gay, and proud of it. He wears the identity (figuratively) on his sleeve and literally on his Instagram profile (“Opinionated homosexual”). He speaks freely and enthusiastically about being a gay man in 2020; about his likes and dislikes and highs and lows. He posts photos of his handsome boyfriend (Andres Alfaro) because, well, why shouldn’t he?

Oh, one more thing: Cody is a friggin’ awesome Peloton instructor. Absolute awesome. His musical knowledge is world class. His boy band knowledge is terrifying. He has introduced me to a shitload of songs that are outside my age bracket (don’t sleep on Dua Lipa), and pushes riders to their maximum effort while infusing equal parts joy.

And what led me to writing this post is that, truly, I wish we had Cody Rigsbys in the 1980s. I wish we had proud, open, energetic, enthusiastic gay men and women who could be themselves and not worry about being tarred and feathered. I think about a friend from high school, who didn’t come out until years later, and all the pretending he had to go through. I think about all the adults who needed to see the love and joy of an openly gay man like Cody; who needed to learn that the correct answer to, “What if my son is gay?” is “That’d be great.”

There are still, obviously, large numbers of homophobes fucking up this country.

But it’s hard to imagine one watching Cody Rigsby at work and maintaining such a sinister outlook.

Moments I love

Was reading up about the Bengals upsetting Pittsburgh last night, when the above image crossed my sight.

It’s the immediate aftermath of Trey Hopkins, Cincinnati’s center, hugging quarterback Ryan Finley—and it’s just beautiful.

I have many problems with the NFL. The continued refusal to take CTE seriously. The way discarded players are kicked to the curb. The limits on guaranteed money. The refusal to offer Colin Kaepernick a job. The early acquiescence to Donald Trump when he bullied and blustered and blustered and bullied. The grossness of Jerry Jones.

And yet … I do love how the game bonds people. How it forms a legitimate brotherhood that time truly fails to erase.

I have no idea if Finley and Hopkins are off-the-field buddies. If they grab coffee and gossip over “The Queen’s Gambit.”

But they shared a beautiful moment.

That’s eternail.

What’s with the latkes?

So last night the son, wife and I found ourselves watching a Lifetime holiday movie titled, “Mistletoe and Menorahs.”

It’s the story of a Christian woman who has a few days to understand Chanukah, and a Jewish man who has a few days to understand Christmas. They’re strangers introduced by a mutual friend, and over the course of a week (or so) they’re supposed to tutor one another on proper holiday techniques. As these things tend to go, man and woman have some misunderstandings, then come to appreciate one another, then they fall in love, kiss clumsily and wrap the film in a tidy 1 hour, 26 minutes.

It.

Was.

Mesmerizing.

This is no knock on Kelley Jakle and Jake Epstein, the two lead actors, but “Mistletoe and Menorahs” is one for the what-the-fuck-is-going-on-here? ages. To begin with, the flick takes place in Chicago, so therefore we’re asked to believe that two people in their late-20s/early-30s have literally never spoken to a Jew or Christian before. For example, the woman doesn’t know how to pronounce menorah. She’s apparently never eaten a jelly donut. She seems genuinely shocked to learn Chanukah is eight nights. The man, meanwhile, has never had fruit cake. He doesn’t grasp the intricacies of decorating a tree. He needs help (wait for it) wrapping presents.

But if there’s one moment—one singular moment—that kills me … well, it’s not a moment, per se, but an element. On repeated occasions in “Mistletoe and Menorahs,” the lead characters eat latkes. Like, they eat latkes the way one habitually bites his nails. Latkes, then more latkes, then even more latkes. Seriously, someone needs to tell the folks at Lifetime that we Jews pretty much do latkes one night. Maybe two.

Anyhow, the latkes of “Mistletoe and Menorahs” don’t actually appear to be latkes. They’re fat and thick, and the son and I figure the crew ran out of potatoes and sent intern Lenny to track down some deep-fried slabs of chicken.

Who’s gonna notice?

We Jews don’t watch this shit.

God, I am angry

Earlier today I received word that a cousin of a friend died of COVID.

He was in his mid-60s, and—by the accounts I’ve heard—a decent and good man.

The story behind the story makes my blood boil. The man and his wife hosted Thanksgiving for a small number of relatives. Which—it goes without saying—wasn’t good judgement.

A handful of people attended. One was the man’s sister, who had a cold but insisted it couldn’t be COVID—because she didn’t (and apparently doesn’t) believe COVID is a thing. As my friend wrote in a Facebook DM: “His sister didn’t believe in COVID. She’s been going to large gatherings of maskless people. She believed, and may still believe, that COVID is a hoax. She believes that COVID is a conspiracy by hospitals to make more money. She believes that it’s no worse than the flu. She believes that it has a 99.5% survival rate. She believes that masks don’t protect people from getting COVID because it isn’t real.”

Thanksgiving came. Thanksgiving went. Everyone who attended the gathering wound up sick with COVID. Writes my friend: “They all spent days unable to do anything but they recovered, however, they’re all still feeling effects and will for some time. He was the only one who went to the hospital. He was there for about a week before being put on a ventilator. He never got better.”

I don’t know how the sister is feeling right now. Apparently no one in the family is speaking with her. And, maybe, she’s remorseful and contrite. Maybe she feels as if this is all her fault, and she’s devastated.

But, because it’s 2020, the most likely scenario is she’s convinced her brother had already been sick. Or she’s convinced the family is blaming her because they’re all on the side of Joe Biden and Bill Barr. Or she’s making Christmas plans as we speak—”I’ll bring the turkey and fruit cake.”

It’s so friggin’ infuriating. And bleak.

“People are dying and families will never be the same again,” my friend wrote. “I know ours won’t be.”