Monday, February 28, 2011

Being a Father and Counting Your Blessings

When I began this Blog in 2004, I looked at it as if it was an on-line diary. If you go back to some of my first entries, they’re basically about myself and my girlfriend Aly, who later became my wife. It wasn’t really interesting to anyone, except me. After I figured out my voice (ugh) and what I wanted this space to be all about, I tried to keep it to mostly non-personal stuff: pop culture, sports, dopey ideas that flow through my head. Every once in a while, a personal tid bit or two would slip into the mix, but it’s rare. It seems that the handfuls of readers that I have appreciate that.

For this entry, I’m going to change it up a bit and write about something a bit personal and if you want to stop reading, I’d more than understand.

My youngest daughter was born three months ago and things have been pretty awesome. She’s energetic and beautiful and smart and has one of the best smiles I’ve ever had the privilege of seeing and aside from nights where she doesn’t sleep, it’s been almost perfect.


The second day of her life, Aly noticed that our daughter wheezed a bit when she breathed. She contacted the nurse and we were told that it was probably no big deal, they’d run some tests and we’d get the answers soon. Within an hour we were speaking to doctors about brain surgeries and other remedies to this breathing issue. They weren’t exactly what was wrong with our daughter, but they had a few ideas, one of which was that the brain was sliding down the back of her skull and pinching a nerve that controlled the vocal chords.

Luckily, this diagnosis was incorrect and brain surgery was not the answer. However, our baby spent 10 nerve-wracking days in the ICU where the nurses told us what a strong kid we had. In an attempt to buoy our spirits they wondered why she was even there, but we knew; we could hear her wheezing and we were told that she couldn’t cry at all otherwise she could pass out. By the time we left, the doctors felt that the problem was vocal cord paresis. They weren’t sure whether she’d ever be better. Obviously, this freaked us out because it seemed so final and questions abounded: would she be able to breathe ok? Will she be able to speak clearly? Will she have this wheezing for the rest of her life?

Until we saw a specialist, we wouldn’t know.

Finally at the end of December we spoke to an ear, nose and throat specialist, who allayed our fears and said that our daughter has something called Laryngomalacia or a floppy voice box. The wheezing we heard was stridor (basically the opposite of asthma) and that within two years, though probably sooner, our daughter will be over this and she will breathe quietly like a “regular” kid, all with no impacts to her health.

Aly and I were more jubilant than we had ever been in our lives.

Over the last two months, the breathing has gotten better and there are times when she’s so quiet it’s as if she wasn’t in the room. However, she does have her episodes. When she is nervous or in an unfamiliar setting, when she’s hungry or upset the stridor will start back up and her breathing volume increases. To my wife and myself, this is part and parcel of what makes our daughter, our daughter.

The fact that our daughter’s breathing makes other people nervous is not something we really put a lot of thought into. For the last three months, this has been one of the longest, coldest, snowiest winters in recent memory. Because of that and the fact that not only do we have a three month old, but also a rambunctious three-year-old, we haven’t left the homestead very much. If we do, we may hit the mall or a family restaurant where the daily din drowns out any noisy breathers.

This past weekend, we went to a quiet pizzeria on Saturday and on Sunday I brought her to the grocery store. Both times we were questioned or stared at. At the pizza place our daughter’s had just woken up from a nap and she didn’t know where she was. Her breathing was noticeably louder. The teen age girl sitting behind us kept turning around and staring at our daughter as if something was wrong. She did this more than a half-dozen times. I should have said something, but the girl was with her mother and I didn’t want to cause a scene.

In retrospect, I wish that I did.

The next day when the baby and I went to the grocery store, a similar thing occurred. She was hungry and the stridor was really starting to kick in and it got progressively louder as I stood inline waiting to pay and for my groceries to be bagged. The bagger kept asking me if my baby was ok. I assured her that she was, but she kept pushing me, “It sounds like she’s crying. Is she crying? No? Is she sick? It sounds to me that she can’t breathe? Is she alright?”

Combined with what happened the night before, I sort of snapped (and looking back, I really shouldn’t have). I told her, “There is nothing wrong with my girl. She’s not sick. She’s not crying and she can breathe just fine. She happens to have a condition that is eventually going to clear up on its own and she’s fine. She’s perfect. SHE’S JUST FINE.” I think the bagger was a bit shaken up by the tone of the last part and she apologized profusely and we were on our way.

Here’s the thing: my daughter’s breathing is jarring when you first hear it. I get this. The first night that she slept in our bedroom, I couldn’t fall asleep because of a combination of her loud breathing, my worries for her future and wondering if she was going to be ok in the morning. But mostly it was the loud breathing. It really does sound as if she is having trouble getting oxygen into her little lungs.

I guess that I understand the concern that people have for my daughter and I’m not sure why I reacted the way that I did to the grocery bagger—in all honesty it’s probably residue from the night before. Though honestly, I’d rather have someone ask me what’s wrong than to continuously stare at my daughter like that teenage girl did in the pizza place. What made me respond the way that I did is how she drew this uncomfortable moment out by asking question after frantic question as if I had no idea what was going on. Looking back on the incident, she seemed to have some sort of genuine concern as to the welfare of a fellow human being.

What really bothers me the most is just how I can not seem to put either instance behind me. Aly was pretty shaken up by what had happened on Saturday night and I told her that it was our family’s problem, it was the girl’s problem. She was the ignorant one who had to stare and make us feel uncomfortable. And while I believe that, it’s hard for me to take my own advice about the grocery store employee, who really wasn’t doing anything other than expressing concern. But when you get two days in a row of “someone else’s problem” (and this coincides with another incident from the previous weekend and another constant questioner) it’s hard to stick to your guns, even when you know that you’re right.

And make no mistake, I’m not unlike these people. I’ve been on the other side, I’ve been the kid staring at someone different and truth be told, most of the time I’d probably make a comment too.

Other than “quit staring and keep your mouth shut”—which I figured out some time ago—these last two days haven’t really taught me much. They should have and I’m trying hard to search for a lesson in these interactions. Maybe the lesson is: eventually my daughter’s breathing is going to get better and people will stop staring and stop asking questions; other people aren’t quite so fortunate. Maybe it’s time that I count my blessings. Raising kids isn’t easy, but that’s what being a father is all about.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

23. Tom Goes to the Mayor

Humor is a funny thing. There are those who think that humanity has some sort of skeleton key when it comes to making people laugh. Everyone loves a good knock-knock joke or an episode of “I Love Lucy” or seeing some guy get hit in the balls, right? Wrong. Two out of the preceding three aren’t funny at all, and three out of preceding three aren’t funny if you’re the guy whose balls are being hit.

Where do people get the idea that most humor is universal? I suppose that it comes from comedians who entertain large audiences or the communal viewing of a funny movie. If both examples are good, the majority of the crowd laughs together creating a sense of community or a veneer of shared comedic mores. People walk out of the theater or show assuming that all would enjoy what they just witnessed because the entirety of the crowd enjoyed it. It’s not that simple. For one thing, both of these groups are small sample sizes. And chances are good that if you go to a movie, you have a pretty good idea of the type of humor you’re about to see and thus you’re predisposed to liking it. And you're not the only one.

If I ever go to a Scary Movie-type flick, it’s because I was forced at gun point. Even if everyone is laughing around me, I doubt that I will crack a smile. And that’s because those movies aren’t my type of flicks. I'm not part of the overall audience reaction because I don't want to be part of that audience in the first place.

The same is true if you pay money to see a comedian.* A year or so ago my friend and I went to see David Cross. Cross is my favorite comedian of all time and there was no way that I wasn’t going to laugh. I laughed a ton (he really was legitimately funny) and I walked out of the Wilbur Theater saying that that was the best comedy show I’ve ever seen.

* The one exception to this is if you go to an open-mic night at your local Chuckle Hut. You have no idea what you’re getting there and if there’s a truly original comedian who galvanizes the crowd, that’s more of an exception than the rule. Many times, a new comedian is just cribbing off their comedy idol until they can find their voice. If the comedian worships at the feet of Jerry Seinfeld, you’re going to get some observational humor that might be clever at times. If you dig that sort of thing, you’ll like the comedian.

Establishing that different things makes different people laugh is hardly the revelation of the century. It's whether you tell people that you find something funny that the majority of folks don't that's the trick. You may find watching a handicapped or elderly person slip and fall on an icy street gut busting. Or you might be the type of person who enjoys a good Hitler joke now and then. But you're not going to tell anyone that you like these things. Why? Because you look like a complete sociopath and no matter how you explain why you think these things are funny, you're just digging a deeper hole for yourself.

This brings us to “Tom Goes to the Mayor” (TGTTM), which was created by comedic team Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. If you’ve never seen it before, and chances are you probably haven’t, and that's a shame because it's a sublimely funny show. It began it’s run in late 2004 and lasted about two years (30 episodes) on Adult Swim. The basic plot of every 15-minute show is the same: local entrepreneur Tom Peters (played by Heidecker) stops by the Mayor of Jefferton’s (Wareheim) office to pitch a new money-making idea to him. The ideas are usually insane and aren’t grounded in reality, but the Mayor (and that’s his only name) usually loves the idea, agrees to go with the scheme and ultimately ruins it. It almost always ends poorly for Tom. Yet he's there week after week, pitching to the Mayor.

The show had it’s own unique form of animation, it’s hard to describe so I’ll let Wikipedia do the describing for me:

“The show features a crude yet distinctive limited animation style which is made by taking photos of the cast with different facial expressions and body language. The photos are filtered using the "photocopy" image filter in Adobe Photoshop, so that they are made up of only monochromatic blue and white, resembling mimeographs. There are some live-action scenes, usually on a television set within the show.”

It takes a bit of time to get used to the way the show is animated, but once you do it doesn’t even matter. The strength isn’t in the animation, it’s in the stories as Heidecker and Wareheim both have very broad senses of humor that works on multiple levels. They will take a comedic trope, amp up the action and at the same time make fun of the cliché. For example, if Tom gets hit in the testicles they will show that action to get a laugh from that (because seeing a guy getting hit in the balls is never not funny) but the duo will often over-exaggerate the action by having the actors mug wildly for the camera. The shots themselves will be lampooned and the dialogue and the resulting plot will also be ripped apart. What happens is that you’re laughing at the action itself and you’re laughing at the people who sincerely find this stuff funny.

It’s the ultimate form of having one’s cake and also eating it.

This is sort of a hard thing to explain while watching the show and is why my wife or 99% of my friends has never heard me talk about it—much less seen an episode, even though it’s one of my favorite shows. And while this isn't a show about Hitler jokes or poking fun at the handicapped, it is a show that if a viewer doesn't understand, it will result in a raised eyebrow at you. "You find this funny? Really? How could you? This show is too fucking weird. What the hell else is wrong with you?"

Ultimately, it's just easier not to say anything.

At first blush, it’s a strange show—though not as strange as classics as MTV's “Wonder Showzen”, “Tim and Eric, Awesome Show Great Job!” (created by the same Heidecker and Wareheim that created TGTTM) or any of the Kroft shows from the 70s. The show has a love it or hate it quality to it. If you love it, you really love it. And if you hate it, there is no amount of explanation by anyone to get you to tolerate it*.

* According to Wikipedia, Adult Swim fans hated this show so much they thought that the network was pulling a prank on them. When it was revealed that this wasn’t a prank, they flooded the AS website and message boards with complaints.

What drew me to this show is that it was produced by Bob Odenkirk. Odenkirk is the same guy behind one of my all-time favorite shows, “Mr. Show With Bob and David” and has a comedic resume of awesome projects a mile long. I figured that if he was involved with the show, I should at least give it a go. And I’m glad I did. Not only does Odenkirk make sporadic appearances, but it is a who’s who of mid-90s alternative comics: Cross, Sarah Silverman, Patton Oswalt, Brian Posehn, John Ennis, Michael Ian Black, Zach Galifianakis, Janeanne Garofolo and Tom Kinney. Also Jeff Goldblum, Garry Shandling, Jeff Garlin, Michael Cera, John C. Reilly and others make appearances.

I’ve often wondered exactly what the guests thought when they read the bizarre scripts and whether they were in on the joke or just there for a pay day. I have to think that this show didn’t pay that much and the exposure was small, so they had to be there because they thought the stuff was funny. In a way that makes me respect the people who took the chance and appeard on this show much more.

“Tom Goes to the Mayor” ushered in a new kind of show for Adult Swim. While it still had the comedic sensibilities of the four original shows, it also strayed away from what made the channel interesting. And while those shows did depend on a level of pop culture IQ (which it turned around and skewered), meta-humor and bizarre plots, TGTTM raised the bar a bit higher and made viewing a bit odder, a bit more uncomfortable. This uncomfortability humor was new-ish to the American airways when this show made its debut. Yes, the American version of "The Office" had been on, but it was hardly a hit. And the British version of the same show was still something that only a relative handful of people had seen.

So while it was easy to talk to my friends about anthropomorphizing food stuffs pulling pranks on each other, it’s a rare person that one can talk to about a guy trying to match dogs for marriage by sniffing their asses.But if you can find any of the episodes on YouTube, or if Adult Swim runs them in the future, set your DVR and check them out they’re well worth your time.

Rats off to ya, everyone!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Confessions of a Sports Bigamist

I was watching the Celtics play the Miami Heat on Sunday and my wife Aly asked, “Since when do you care about the Celtics?” And I didn’t have a real answer for her, I said something along the lines that I like this particular team as a whole, the personalities of the players and how well they’re playing. But I didn’t really have a strong answer. This question came about a month or so after she made the observation that “I care about football more than I think that I do.”

And it hit me, she’s right. I do care about the Celtics* (and the Bruins for that matter) and I do care more about football (especially the Patriots) than I even admitted to myself. I was a bit shocked about this realization more than I should have been, which is odd because since high school part of my identity has been one of a sports geek. I was a fair athlete (ok, maybe bad is the word), but I could talk sports with the best of them. But during the last ten years or so, that perception had changed; I considered myself a baseball fan first and foremost and the others fell into line. In fact, my mantra was: You can only have one favorite team. And for me, that favorite team was undoubtedly the Boston Red Sox.

* When I was in high school I hated the Celtics. Just hated them. I hated their style of play, I hated their boring-ass players, I thought that Larry Bird was overrated (I know, I know; the indiscretions of youth) and I hated that they were everything that the Chicago Bulls weren’t. I loved the Bulls and Michael Jordan, they were the new NBA of high flying, basketball dunking awesomeness. In a “kill your idols” sort of way, I reveled in every Celtics loss and cursed every Celtics victory. To me, Red Auerbach was an old fool that needed to go far away from the NBA.

But something happened in the almost 20 years that I graduated from good old Amesbury High School. The Celtics stunk, I mean really bottomed out and it wasn’t fun to kick a dead dog. I began to feel a bit bad about hating them so much and began to cheer a bit for the underdog. As they got a bit better and better, it became more fun to watch a Celtics game. The 2008 NBA Postseason is among the most fun I’ve had as a sports fan and last year’s was a lot of fun (until the last game).

The point that I was making is that I still believe that you can only have one favorite team, but I’ve widened my scope to believe that you can have a handful of other teams that you care about just as much. And for me those teams are the other three Boston teams.

I should have seen this coming; a few years ago, when the Pats lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl, I tried to blow it off as “not really a big deal” because New England had won three other Super Bowls and they’d get there again. I told Aly that while it sucked the Pats lost, I would be more upset if the Red Sox did something similar. But that was a brave face and the Super Bowl XLII loss gnawed at my gut the entire off-season and when Tom Brady went down with a season-ending injury just one quarter into the next season, it really hit me as to what the Patriots lost that day in Arizona.

From there it seemed like things changed. When the Patriots lost to the Jets (THE FUCKING JETS!) in January, I was as angry as I’ve been about a professional team in some time. When the Celtics lost to the Lakers in the Finals, I was really bummed out. When the Bruins choked away a three-games-to-zero lead against the Flyers, I was apocalyptic*.

* Again, this wouldn’t have been possible even five years ago because I hated the Bruins and wanted them to lose in the most excruciating, painful ways imagined. And the reason was because of their “thrifty” (read: cheap-ass) owner Jeremy Jacobs. He always seemed to be happy that the Bruins would make a couple of dollars for him and would never dump the money back into the team. One summer he opened the purse strings and signed Zedeno Charra and Mark Savard and I began to come back to the Bruins. That’s really all I wanted, just some show that he cared about the team. I know, I’m a sap.

And you know what? I feel pretty good about the outlet of emotion that I can express about the home town teams. Am I obsessed with the other teams? No, not as much as the Red Sox; but it’s good to have options and care about teams when the Sox aren’t in season.

Friday, February 11, 2011


There are a lot of reasons to sit down and read. Some read simply for the pleasure of a new story, others read to learn things about the world around them. Scorecasting by Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim pulls off an interesting trick by combining the these two axioms with a twist. The twist is debunking a lot of long-held sports myths.

I like I good story as much as anyone else, but one of the reasons that I read is because I like having a brain full of information nuggets to amaze my friends and astound my colleagues when we go out to have a few beers and watch a ballgame. A lot of times, these thoughts don’t amaze or astound anyone; its a lot of trivia that many people already know or it’s bits of information without any strong backing. However, after reading Scorecasting this is all going to change.

Moskowitz and Wertheim go into detail about how the “hot hand” argument is a complete myth. Or why the Chicago Cubs aren’t really “cursed” or “unlucky”--they’re just a poorly run franchise and their fans don’t care.

My favorite chapter was on how punting on fourth down isn’t always the best course of action. The writers back up this argument with interviews with Arkansas’ Pulaski Academy head coach Kevin Kelley about his strategy of never punting and going for it every first down (even if his team is deep in their own end), eschewing field goals for touchdown tries, throwing on just about every down (his quarterbacks usually have 500 yards of passing offense. PER GAME.), on-sides kicks and never attempting to run back any kick-offs or punts.

Kelley has been really successful at this: two state championships in three trips to the state championship game in about a decade. Armed with empirical data and tons of stats proving that his system is correct, Kelley is unsure why other coaches don’t do the same thing. Moskowitz and Wertheim do as well. One of the more interesting dichotomies that they hit on is that football is supposed to be a “man’s game” full of “risks” and “action”; but nearly all NFL coaches play so conservatively that the game is fairly predictable: run, run, throw, punt. They get to the reasons behind this mentality, but the trip there is the best part.

One of the myths that was debunked for me was the whole "defense wins championships" line of thinking. Last year when the Boston Red Sox decided to go with a run-prevention philosophy, I was on board whole-heartedly. After all, wasn't the October axiom: "Pitching and defense wins World Series" (despite the lack of success of the mid-90s Braves)? Here Boston GM Theo Epstein was taking that thought and stretching it out for six months, rather than one.

If only this book was released last year.Obviously, injuries played a huge part in the Red Sox' 2010 master plan, and the season's result was counter to what the original plan was (the defense was ok, the pitching stunk and the offense shined). It was a very strange year at the Fens.

There are a few parts of the book that tend to drag; I was never a big math guy and when they go on about advanced statistics and probability, my eyes tended to glaze over. But this isn’t an Intro to Statistics text book. Also I’m not much of a golfer, so I skipped the chapter on Tiger Woods.

However, other than those minor points, I would say that for any lover of sports or sports arguments, Scorecasting is a terrific book to have in your collection.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

I Appologize to My Future Grandchild or The Cycle Continues

* There are days when I wish that I still had my comic strip, because this would be a decent story to draw.

When I was a kid I loved the game Hungry, Hungry Hippos*. I’d play it with my family, friends, Jehovah’s Witnesses who swung by the house, anyone who stopped by. Mostly, I’d end up playing by myself.

* If you’ve never played, it’s awesome; bascially you are in control of a hippopotomus who when you press a handle sticks his neck out to gobble a marble. The player with the most marbles wins.

Most kids didn’t lightly tap the handle to extend the mouth and I was no different. I used to whale on that thing as if it owed me money. And the harder I hit it, the louder the game would be. I would literally play this game for hours on end, just slamming those handles and getting more and more marbles.

It drove my mother crazy.

One day I finally broke her. After a rousing few hours of Hungry, Hungry Hippos it was time for a nap. I carefully put all of the marbles back into their alotted spots and put the game away. During the time when I was in a defensless slumber, my mother took the marbles from the game and hid them. When I woke up and ran downstairs to begin another marathon of playing, I found that the marbles vanished.

“Mom? What happened to Hungry, Hungry Hippos?”
“Looks like you lost your marbles, By,” my mother said. Cue sad trombone: wah, wah, wahhhhh.

I was crestfallen and confused because I knew that I put the marbles away carefully and that they were there before I went to bed. I had no idea what happened and while I was probably pretty sad, I got over it and moved on.

The point of this Blog isn’t to denigrate my mother, who was the best mom anyone could have. The point is that history has a way of repeating itself as I’ve found that I do the same thing to my daughter when she has a toy that drives me bananas.

It’s not Hungry, Hungry Hippos. We have that game and I’ll still roll up my sleeves and kick a bit of ass in it from time to time*.

* If there was a professional HHH league, I have no doubt in my mind that I would be the Pedro Martinez of that game. You don’t want to challenge me to that game.

My daughter has two toys that I absolutely abhor, albeit for different reasons. One is a gigantic lady bug tent that she asks me to set up every so often. The thing is huge, it takes up a quarter of our living room and is a giant pain in the ass to set up. It would be cool if my daughter spent more than 10 minutes in the thing, but she doesn’t. She goes in, checks it out and then forgets about it. And every time I try to tear it down, she has a complete melt down.

The other thing that is hidden in our house a Sesame Street puzzle book. You may think that I’m being a dick for hiding this thing because, “It’s a book, what’s the harm?” The harm comes from the six puzzles of 16 pieces each. My daughter doesn’t like to build the puzzles back up, she likes to dump them on the floor and laugh. Guess who has to clean up this mess of cardboard? You guessed it, me.

My wife has started to get a bit funny with these taboo toys. Every once in awhile she’ll point to where the items are hidden and tell my daughter to get them out. Since they’re buried way under the couch, my daughter will whine to me about getting them until I figure out a way to distract her from the tent and the book.

Am I a bad dad? I hope not, I guess I sorta sound like one and deep down I feel bad about hiding her stuff (like I'm sure my mom did). But I like to think that I’m a father who values neatness and order first. At least that’s what I tell myself as I look for new places to rehide the contraband.

All I know is that in about 30 years (yes, neither girls will be with child before 30), I’m going to have a grandchild and he’s going to like something very much that annoys the crap out of his mom. And his mom is going to hide that toy and pretend that it’s lost or misplace. And all I can say is, “I’m sorry future Byron.”

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


I haven’t written anything on this Blog since November 2, 2010 which was a little more than three months ago and honestly, I’m not sure why.

I could say that I’ve been busy and that I’ve been tired—having another baby will do that to you, I suppose. But I don’t think that’s it.

I could say that I haven’t had any ideas lately or that writer’s block has made me it’s bitch. But that’s not true either, I’ve composed dozens of Blog entries that I want to write while I was thinking in the shower or trying to fall asleep. Some of them were pretty decent too. Plus, I have this Top 56 Best TV Shows of All Time list that I need to finish sometime in the near future. I’m stuck at 25, BTW.

I could say that I feel confined and trapped by the lengths of my Blog posts and that they are too long and too ponderous. But, that’s a pretty easy fix. In fact this entry isn’t going to be more than 300 words and it’ll take me 15 minutes to write.

I guess what I should say is that I’ve been really lax and lazy about writing, and that sucks and it’s all my fault.

My friend Tom is always writing at 5:00 or 6:00 am (or at least he was when I last spoke to him a few years ago) because he feels that scribblers need to keep scribbling. I should take his advice, not the waking up early part because that sucks, but I should try to put something down on this Blog at least three or four times a week.

Again, all of the entries won’t be long and they might not be exactly like the other entries on the site, but they’ll be something. And that’s a good start.