Don’t call it a comeback

A scene from my morning game

So this morning, for the first time in 1 1/2 years, I returned to my local basketball court to play Saturday pickup.

I didn’t know what to expect. Truly, I didn’t. My last game was played in February 2020—a long stretch for a normal body, a loooooooong stretch for a guy approaching 50. As I’ve learned the hard way, bodies change, and morph, and tighten, and rust. Even pre-COVID, I often felt one fall away from it all coming to an end. A bruised hip. A dislocated shoulder. Mere bumps at 25. Basketball enders at 49.

Anyhow, I rolled up to the court at about 9:15 am. There were about seven or eight familiar faces. X—the chatty dude who works at Dick’s Sporting Goods. Ben, the recent high school grad. Kermit, 55 but looking about 40. I was greeted warmly—”What’s up?” and “Where you been?” More players started to trickle in. Full court began.





I felt home. Or sorta home. I have this one move, learned long ago from a University of Delaware pal named Dan Monaghan, that’s been my go-to for decades. It’s the world’s deadliest pump fake, and if you don’t know it’s coming, you can’t guard it. So, first time I had the ball, guarded by a kid who looked about 19, I stared briefly at the rim, began to shoot, hit my tippy toes—then, gone. He fell for the fake, and I drove untouched to the rim.

“Whoa,” someone said.

“The ol’ pump fake,” another added.

I told a friend earlier today: I can’t be what I was long ago. But, in a weird way, I’m aided by never having been much. Michael Jordan at 58 is a shell of Air Jordan. Shaq at 50 is fat and slow. I’m merely a more mediocre shadow of a mediocre player. I still know how to defend. I still box out. My hook is OK.

Best of all, I can look around and feel the sweat trickle down my forehead and hear the pounding of ball against cement and watch a shot rainbow thru the twine and appreciate that, in 2021, it’s still my world.

I’m still playing.

Dear Peloton

Dear Peloton:

I know this is pretty wimpy, but I’m breaking up with you via blog post.

It’s not you, it’s me.

Actually, it’s you.

I’m tired of you and your bullshit. You keep barking at me, telling me how great I can be, how I just need to stick with you and “stay with the program”—whatever the fuck that means. But, truly, you’re exhausting. And repetitive. Sooooo repetitive. When I’m with you every day feels exactly the same. It’s Groundhog’s Day. I start off by turning you on and getting all hot and sweaty, but I’m always the one putting in the work. You just sit there. Barking at me and thinking I’m not measuring up. It seems like you’re always comparing me to others. Like you keep a list or something.

You’re gonna hate me for saying this, but I miss Jim. A lot. Yeah, he was dirty. And, God, his bathroom is disgusting. But he never judged me. When I showed up at his place, he was happy to see me. If I wanted a day off, he was cool with that, too. There was never an ounce of guilt. Jim was chill. Plus, he has a pool. You don’t have a pool.

To be blunt, Peloton, you’re not chill. You’re obnoxious, and your standards are far too high.

Dating you seemed like a good idea at the time. But I think we’re done.

It’s not you, it’s me.

No, scratch that.

It’s you.

Don’t call me.

— Jeff

True courage

I share no political beliefs with Wyoming’s Liz Cheney. I share no political beliefs with Ohio’s Anthony Gonzalez. They are conservative Republicans who believe things I don’t. Who stand for things I don’t. Who support things I don’t.

But sometimes, life is bigger than singular issues.

Sometimes, it’s about righteousness.

In case you missed this, earlier today Ohio Republican Party leaders called on Gonzalez—a former NFL player and newly elected congressman—to resign for voting to impeach Donald Trump. It’s the same thing that’s happening to Cheney in Wyoming; a genuine witch hunt to track down those who dare oppose Dear Leader and send them on their way.

I’ve been a political junkie for decades, and I’ve never seen anything like this. We all saw what happened on Jan. 6, when Trump supporters dressed in Trump gear egged on by, well, Trump, stormed the U.S. Capitol. We all saw Trump watch from afar and … enjoy it. Just watch and bask in the horror. We witnessed the carnage, one and all, and at that moment surely shared a collective sense of American dread and shame.

Since that day, however, only a handful of Republicans (Cheney and Gonzalez among them) placed nation over party. They stood up, knowing the GOP was locked in Trump’s conman grip, and spoke out. Said this wasn’t right. Said this couldn’t be. Said the leader of their party—a man they almost certainly voted for—was culpable.

In short, they chose to be courageous.

In school, we try and teach our children to be leaders. But far too often, those are mere talking points, discarded as soon as we hit adulthood. It happens all the time in corporate America—those who reach the highest levels aren’t the strong, the courageous, the bold. No, it’s middle men who coast along; who create no waves but ride the crest.

The same goes in politics. In the aftermath of 1.6, one Republican after another has crawled toward Trump, begging for a pat on the head. Fuck, you can name them. DeSantis. Cruz. Scott. Gaetz. Greene. Hawley. These are people with big jobs and bigger titles, but sans spines. They surely know what happened at the Capitol, but are driven far more by personal ambition than decency.

Cheney, Gonzalez—again, not folks I tend to side with. But what they’re doing is pure courage. They’re taking a stand, because a stand is needed. They’re speaking out, because someone within the GOP needs to speak out. They are on the wrong side of their party, but the right side of history.

They love America more than Donald Trump.

It has ruined them.

And saved them.

How was Flashdance a thing?

So last night—for no particularly good reason—the son and I watched “Flashdance,” the 1983 cinematic hit that grossed more than $200 million worldwide (keep in mind, this was nearly 40 years ago—that total is enormous) and had every American woman (and some men) craving black legwarmers and an off-the-shoulder sweatshirt.

I was 11 when the flick came out, and it truly felt like a cultural shifting point. For music. For style. For the way we think about lobster. Just—BOOM! One of those movies.

So, again, last night we watched it.









I mean—seriously brutal, and perhaps the worst film I’ve ever watched beginning-to-end.

I actually don’t get it. Roger Ebert didn’t get it, either. For that matter, the wife didn’t get it, either—she was the one who suggested the watching from long-ago memories, then sat sorta dumbfounded thru the unambiguous awfulness. Without a precise accounting, I’d say there were about 20 brutal pieces of this movie, ranging from all the awkward cuts and pastes to make it (not) look like Jennifer Beals was dancing to the unexplained senior citizen friend to the weird welding shots to the sexulizing of seafood to the one-dimension bad guy (In 1983, bad guys wore earrings) to the judges nodding knowingly during Beals’ breakdancing-inspired audition for the Pittsburgh Ballet Company.

But the worst—the absolute worst—was this: At the time of filming, Jennifer Beals was 18 (as was her character).

At the time of filming, Michael Nouri (her love interest) was 36 (as was his character).

In “Flashdance,” he’s the boss of the construction company, Beals is the welder. Again, he’s THE BOSS. And he’s THIRTY-SIX. This is serious Matt Gaetz territory, only it’s signed off upon by everyone involved in this puddle of vomit manure. At one point, the two characters walk arm and arm thru the construction project, and workers clap and howl in delight. I actually don’t get it—it’s 1983, you’re casting this movie, you have a good budget, you think to yourself, “Let’s straddle the line of statutory rape! Viewers will love it!”

And, oddly, the did. “Flashdance” remains a thing in American culture.

Shame on us all.

F*ck Thrifty

So a week ago I wrote about arriving in Atlanta, proceeding to the Thrifty counter and the attendant telling me, “Sorry—we have no cars.”

When I told him, no, I have a rental—he pretty much repeated what he’d just uttered. “No cars.”

It was midnight-ish.

I was stranded.

I needed to be in Alabama the next morning.

I wound up catching an Uber that cost me about $200. Then I rented a car at Alamo—and needed to take another $30 Uber to the Birmingham airport to retrieve it. Today, I dropped the rental off back at the Atlanta airport.

Here’s the receipt …

I’m not mad at Alamo. They didn’t have many cars in stock, and returning to a different airport is always costly. I get it.

My original Thrifty rental, however, was going to cost about $350.

All told, I’ve paid 1,048.58—100 percent because Thrifty rented me a car it didn’t have, then did nothing to make certain a customer somehow, someway had a vehicle. And—I wasn’t alone. There were a bunch of us that night, stranded with reservations and not told, “We can hook you up with a hotel room for the night” or “We have cars coming in from Macon.”

Just left.

Because Thrifty doesn’t give two shits about its customers.

It simply doesn’t.

The weird travel trip continues

So it’s about 3 in the morning, and I just did something for the first time in my life: I bolted a motel for another motel.

I was staying at a place, the Stay Plus Extended Stay Suites, that lived up to the $66 room rate. And, really, that’s my fault. Decent motel/hotel rooms just don’t cost $66 these days. But, I dunno—the hotels.com reviews were solid. And it was just one night. And …





The above photo is from my room. There are others I could have posted—the moldy sink, the hair crusted to the toilet. But I think what set me off was the bed. It was … granular. Which isn’t an adjective I’ve ever used for a bed before. Or even a chair. But it just felt as if I were sleeping atop grains of sand. Or, perhaps, little bugs. I took this photo, though it’s hard to say …

Anyhow, the final straw was the thinness of the wall, and the volume of the snorer one room over, and the fact that (oh) the front desk staff left at 9. So … as I sat there on the granular bed, with the snorer, with the mold, with the wiring … it hit me: Motherfucker, you’ve spent almost no journalism money during this pandemic year. Go splurge on the Holiday Inn 6/10 of a mile down the road!

And that’s just what I did.

Chef Ron

So earlier today I was walking through downtown Bessemer, Alabama—a once-thriving mini-metropolis trying to work its way back after far too many years of neglect and economic downtown. My eyes were drawn to an abandoned movie theatre, and as I stared at it a man in a red hat said, “It used to be popular.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“Not sure,” he said. “I’m pretty new here.”

The man was Ron Cook—aka Chef Ron.

Chef Ron owns a little restaurant besides the vacated theatre; opened about 1 1/2 years ago. It’s called “The Back Porch,” and if you blink you’ll miss it. Truth be told, I wasn’t actually hungry. I wasn’t looking for food. But Chef Ron asked where I was from (California) and what I was doing (writing), then invited me in for a meal [He offered it for free. I insisted on paying].

The place was crowded. The line about eight people deep. I asked the woman before me what I should get—”Ohhhh,” she replied. “The chicken with the sauce is so good.” So I ordered the chicken with the sauce. And the mac and cheese. And the collared greens. I had iced tea (unsweetened, south be damned) and a slice of cheesecake. Then I plopped down at a table outside.





The chicken was outstanding. So was the mac and cheese and the accompanying cornbread. All terrific. But the greens—the greens were just spectacular. Earth-shaking. One-of-a-kind. I used to live in Tennessee. I’ve had greens. But not like this, where the flavor just melts atop your tongue in this sweet-yet-not-overpowering manner.

As I ate, I chatted with Ron, an Alabamian by birth who spent about seven years living near me in Southern Californian. He received a culinary degree out there, then worked for several years as the chef at an assisted living community. “You really learn how to cook for people in that environment,” he told me. “Because they know exactly what they want.”

Ron’s a delightful man who greeted every patron with, “How you doin’?” and “Hey—great to see you again.” It goes down as one of my all-time favorite dining experiences.

I didn’t expect to eat.

I left wanting more.

The worst travel night

Self portrait in the Birmingham rain.

I’ve traveled a lot in my life.

For work.

For pleasure.

For parties.

For funerals.

I did the whole backpack-thru-Europe thing. I took three planes to Yellowknife, Canada, where the temperature was negative 40. I’ve had terrifying flights and tranquil flights.

I’ve never had a night like tonight.

As I write this I’m sitting in a Birmingham, Alabama Quality Inn. The door handle was sticky, the shower is drip-drip-dripping—and I’m sooooooo fucking happy to be here.


Here’s why …

I flew from Los Angeles to Atlanta, and rented—more than three weeks ago—a car from Thrifty. Upon arriving in Georgia, I walked up to the Thrifty counter, only to be told there were no more cars.

“No more cars?” I said. “I have a reservation.”

“Sorry,” the guy replied. “We have none here.”

“How is that ev—” I started to say. But then I looked at the rep. He had nothing.

I tried different agencies. There were, literally, zero cars. Anywhere. So I took the shuttle to a nearby hotel and ordered an Uber (nearly $200) to take me from Atlanta to Birmingham. After waiting 15 minutes, the guy arrived. I threw my suitcase in the trunk and jumped in.

“You drive to Alabama a lot?” I asked.

“Alabama?” he said. “Nah, man—I can’t do that.”


“Too far.”

Holy fuck. I grabbed my backpack. He popped the trunk.

I ordered another Uber. He arrived 30 minutes later—in a pickup truck that smelled of menthol.

We made the journey—two hours. About $200. I arrived at the La Quinta, armed with my Travelocity reservation code and tired eyes. I handed the man my ID. My credit card.

He looked at me. “We have no reservation,” he said. “Sorry.”

“No,” I replied. “I have a confirmation number. From Travelocity.”

“Maybe,” he said, “something was wrong with your credit card.”

“No,” I said. “No. Nothing is wrong with my credit—”

I looked at his face. Like the Thrifty dude, nothing was changing. But this time I was in the middle of nowhere Alabama, sans vehicle. And it was raining. I screamed (and I don’t do this often)—”FUUUUUUUUUCK!” Then, again, as I walked thru the rain, bag dragging, in the parking lot. Loudly. “FUUUUUCK!” I had a bottle in my hand and actually threw it at the ground. I was furious. And lost.

There was a Quality Inn sign glowing.

I called.

Christa answered. They had a room. One room. She said the price and the number of beds—and it was all a blur. I began to walk toward the hotel, and a man in a pickup truck actually stopped. “You need a ride somewhere?” he said.

I will never forget that moment of kindness.

I walked to the Quality Inn. Christa was there. She’s about, oh, 62ish—with dangling cross earrings and a matching crucifix around her neck.

“I am so happy to see you,” I said.

She wasn’t wearing a mask. I didn’t care.

She was Christa.

And her smile was exactly what I needed.

Should I be mad?

Sitting in the airport, waiting for a flight, having an internal debate that’s now external: Should I be mad?

I have my mask on. Most everyone has a mask on. These two people don’t have their masks on.

They’re sitting across from me, laughing, chatting, giggling, pointing. They’re not eating—the boxes you see have been empty for some time. They’ve made the decision—together, as a couple—not to wear their masks.

And, of course, no one is saying a thing.

Myself included.

Should I? I don’t know. I’ve been vaccinated, so I wouldn’t think I’m personally at risk. But it irritates the fuck out of me. Everyone who works here wears a mask—for the entirety of their shifts. The disrespect is jarring; the lack of concern obnoxious. But … what if they, too, have been vaccinated? Does that make a difference? Does that change the equation?

So … should I be mad?

Because I am.

PS: Woman who picks up trash just passed us—wearing a mask. They didn’t flinch.

Rot in hell

So I was scrolling thru Twitter a few minutes ago, fascinated by the reaction to the decision in Minnesota, when I noticed that ROT IN HELL is trending. In case you think I’m making such a thing up …

And I get it. I 100% get it. Derek Chauvin snuffed out another man’s life. For no good reason. George Floyd no longer walks the earth, and that’s 100-percent because a cop who should never have been a cop thought it his duty to remove a person’s final breath. Chauvin will spent his remaining days behind bars, and I am grateful for that. It’s the only reasonable decision.

However, whenever stuff like this happens, a small (actually not so small) part of me feels sympathy. It’s hard to explain, but I felt the same thing when O.J. Simpson was arrested, when that Washington sniper was caught, when … eh, countless times. I guess it’s not sympathy, so much as sadness. At some point in his life, Derek Chauvin was a blank slate. A kid, probably playing in a street. I actually found the above obituary of his grandmother, and I’m sure Berenice considered Derek her darling. Polite. Warm. Always kissed her on the cheek. That sorta thing.

He could have wound up anywhere, doing anything. His life could have turned left, could have turned right. He didn’t have to be a cop. He didn’t have to be a murderer. But whatever led him there led him there.

It’s sad.

Or, really, not sad.