Saturday, February 27, 2010

From Snowballs to Baseballs

The guy on Channel 3 said "2 to 4 inches, perhaps". His competitor on Channel 5 predicted "up to 6 inches in spots other than the snow-belt". And the perky woman on Channel 19, with arms waving frantically, screamed, "We could be looking at totals of up to 15 inches!" I looked outside and saw nothing but a few rogue snowflakes here and there, with predominately wet streets only. Who do you believe? Who knows. It's a sweeps-period, after all.

During this time of of year, when the house is encased in icicles and Alberta Clippers dial in like unwanted robo-calls, my meteorologically-inspired doldrums are eased somewhat by the knowledge that some 2000 miles away, amongst the purple-hued mountain ranges and cacti-dotted landscape, lies a complex where a young man named Grady Sizemore, with his surgically-repaired elbow, is piercing the warm Arizona air with exploding line-drives hammered into the velvet-green outfield. Who cares if he's only facing batting-practice pitching. Just the thought of it makes the distant reality of a thaw seem that much closer.

I love baseball. I knew early on that it was and continues to be my favorite sport. I knew it when I first made contact with a Whiffle ball in Beaver Mullane's back-yard. I knew it when my parents bought me my first Hillerich and Bradsby "Louisville Slugger", a maroon-tinged beauty whose handle I would later adorn with tape, just like Rod Carew and Freddy Lynn. And I knew it when I would stand in the outfield on those hot, sunny mornings at Lehman Field waiting for the next batter to come to the plate, holding my glove up to my face and breathing in the smell of worn leather, linseed oil, and earth. I dreaded the end of the day when we could no longer see the ball, and I lay in bed at night excited with the anticipation of being able to do it all over again the next day.

In Little League, I was a catcher, like my father. And I wasn't too shabby. My stocky build seemed to lend itself to blocking pitches in the dirt, and I found it easy to rise out of my catcher's stance and fire-off a laser-beam to the shortstop to nail someone trying to steal second-base. And like Johnny Bench, I could hit. I'm not sure if I could have hit the curve-ball later on, but during my tenure as the Harrison Paints' White Sox catcher, I delighted in drilling 2-2 fastballs into the gaps for extra bases. My personal baseball career came to an abrupt end in high school. St. Thomas Aquinas had a stellar reputation with its track and cross-country programs, and the coach, Jerry Michna, made sure that the powers-that-be knew that any existence of a baseball program would seriously deprive him of a well-stocked running crew. The school gladly complied. Years later, while living in Akron, I joined a 30-and-over men's baseball league. I was the back-up catcher and actually spent time behind the plate for a few innings. I even managed to get a couple of hits in games, although the team was full of guys who played a good deal of high school baseball. I felt pretty over-matched and, quite honestly, out of shape.

Baseball is perfect. Hit a ball where the other guy ain't. Get to a base before they get to you. And by all means, get home...and be safe about it. Sure, I respect football and basketball coaches' reverance for "clock management" ability, but the omnipresent hope of "it ain't over 'till it's over" is, quite frankly, brilliance. And it's not just the majesty of the three-run homer that wins me over. It's the hundreds of mini-dramas that play out between each and every pitch. Read Buzz Bissinger's Three Nights in August if you don't believe me. There's more strategy being played out between those two dugouts than there is in the Situation Room in the West Wing. I mean, in what other sport can a coach call time-out and actually walk on to the field to confer with his player or make a change, sometimes several times an inning? Is there another sport where a player, once removed from the game, cannot return to play? Can any other sport lay the foundation for drama like that of an appearance by someone as seemingly superficial as a pinch hitter?

There are those who contend that baseball is just...boring. Sure, there are times while sitting directly in the sun on a humid day in July at Busch Stadium during a 9-2 game in the 6th inning when some journeyman has fouled off 8 pitches in a row that one wishes that the action could be, you know, sped up a bit. But I contend that when the clock hits 7:05 on one of those clear, warm evenings at Canal Park, the National Anthem has been sung, I've settled into my seat with my first sip of a Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold, and the Akron Aeros have run onto the field, well, that's a kind of bliss that can be matched by very few things.

I have to spend this Saturday morning shoveling snow. Our steps and walkways need done, and I might wander across the street and help out the elderly woman across the street, too. I'm not sure how much more snow we'll get today because, well, I haven't decided what channel I'll watch yet. What I do know is that while I'm grooving out a path for Maggie to be able to do what she needs to do, my favorite team's center-fielder is grooving batting-practice pitches into the far-reaches of the complex there in Goodyear, Arizona, in anticipation of the start of next week's spring-training games. The thaw can't be far off.

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* Why not grab your favorite beverage, cop a squat, and groove to some DEMOS at www.mattmultimedia.com

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Dark Blanket of Uncertainty


I stood in front of the beer section at the supermarket for what seemed like hours. The guy draped in his official red and olive Giant Eagle uniform stacking oranges in the produce department nearby intermittently looked over at me, but I imagine the intensity at which I gazed at the bottle selection more than likely prohibited him from asking if he could assist me. I didn't need his help, anyway. I knew exactly what I wanted. The Cavs were set to take on the Charlotte Bobcats in less than a half-hour and that $8.99, 22-ounce bottle of Oaked Arrogant Bastard had my name on it. I picked it up several times, and then placed it back in its slot again and again.

Perhaps because it's the harrowing economic times. Or maybe it's because it's the Lenten season, I'm not sure. But guilt has been a predominant guiding force lately. A year ago, I would have had that product from Stone Brewing through the check-out area more quickly than the time it takes for the Indians to be knocked out of playoff contention. But since returning to Akron, I've noticed a hesitancy in just about everything we purchase. The cans in the pantry say "Great Value" on the labels instead of "Del Monte" or "Stokely". So does the apple juice in the refrigerator. And the body wash in the bathroom. Hell, we don't even use Charmin anymore. Going to the supermarket or the drug store, there seems to be a propensity towards spending only the money we need to spend. And it seems to spill over into other areas. We need new tires on the Nissan Xterra but we'll more than likely wait. You can chisel the ice of the inside of the single-pane windows here in the house, but that appears to be more of an autumn-spending project. Some of the studio gear could use a facelift, but the thought of draining resources on a new Mac is, at least for now, unfathomable.

On the surface, there appears to be a pall over the land. That sounds cryptic, I know. Although my pint-glass usually tends to be half-empty, I do generally try to keep a half-opened eye towards what might be possible. I try to give the other guy the benefit of the doubt. And if all else fails, I normally revert to the "it is what it is" mentality. No, it's not a philosophy in the mold of Joel Osteen but, for me, it's realistic and one that I can live with. But when I open my newspaper in the morning and gaze out over the landscape, there lurks a kind of dark tremor, as if the Death Star, although light-years away, sits out there in the Milky Way, waiting. This moody foreboding gets an extra surge once I actually open the newspaper. Foreclosures, rising health costs, American soldiers getting killed in the mountains of Afghanistan, and a completely inept Congress. And that's before I even open the Local section.

And yet, there are those who remind us that things aren't as bad as they could be, that compared to, say, the Great Depression, this is peanuts. I see their point. Try getting into a Macaroni Grill after 7 o'clock on a Saturday night. Regal Cinema on a weekend evening? Packed. Sam's Club this afternoon? You couldn't get a cart. Heck, the Pittsburgh Penguins have had 125 consecutive sell-outs! People sign on the dotted line for new cars. Others go on vacation. Even my brother just bought a new house.

So who do you believe? The Republicans or the Democrats? Bill Maher or Glenn Beck? Barack Obama or Sarah Palin? My gut tells me to place my bets... with none of them. I tend to side with our bank account, which is now depleted after doing the kitchen here because we practically gave our house away in Illinois in order to get rid of it. I'm taking the road which leads me to the gym several days a week so that perhaps I might not have to take the road to the doctor for a visit because my insurance is meager and expensive. I'm aligning myself with cooking at home instead of traveling to a chic new bistro in Cleveland, watching movies on TBS instead of subscribing to Netflix, and re-reading an older David Sedaris book instead of downloading a new one on to the Kindle. I consider us fortunate that we were able to sell our house in this economy. We were dealt an "18", so I guess I'm holding.

I don't know who's ultimately responsible for double-digit unemployment or the pathetically high cost of health-care. I have my opinions like everyone else. But somewhere between the guy who's always able to hand over the cash to buy 4 or 5 beers at a Cavs game and the woman over in Kenmore who can never seem to be able to afford to pay the heating bill each month sits thousands and thousands of people...like me. People who have a feeling that things just...aren't right. That for the time being, it might be better to just hang tight, to not take any chances. The angst trumps the impulse, so park it in the corner and just chill. My wife calls it the "gurgle-bellies", that semi-nauseous, semi-uncomfortable feeling that keeps you near the restroom because something could happen at any time, and you just don't want to stray too far. "Play it safe", it seems to say. "Don't wander off 'cause you never know what will happen."

Maybe that's the dark blanket. That we just don't know how it will turn out. So while a proposed change to the health-care system in 2013 or a Taliban-free Afghanistan may end up being worthwhile endeavors, most of us worry, struggle, second-guess, and do a keep-on-keepin'-on right now. Maybe that's why it took me so long to decide at the Giant Eagle. It's probably why I chose the $4.99 Abbey Ale from Brewery Ommegang. Worry. Second-guessing. Maybe guilt. "But there was a much cheaper 6-pack of Budweiser sitting right there", you say. Sure, I may be uncertain but I still reserve the right to maintain some self-respect, right?

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* Why not grab your favorite beverage, cop a squat, and groove to some DEMOS at www.mattmultimedia.com

Monday, February 15, 2010

Houses of the Holy

She glared at me, and I could feel myself glaring back at her. It seemed ridiculously childish. Just minutes before, we were almost next to each other in line receiving Communion. But once the final strains of that Recessional song diminished and all of us sprinted for our cars amidst the snow and the ice of St. Matthew's parking lot, the spiritual glow of the holy sacrifice of the Mass, for whatever reason, got tossed out the window, especially when jockeying for position on Benton Avenue. I clearly had the right-of-way, but I had the 4-wheel-drive on and it prevented me from making my turn sharply enough. She swung her little red Toyota in front of me quickly and while pulling out on to Benton looked at me as though I just stole her envelope out of the collection basket. And no, I did not say a silent prayer asking that she suddenly develop acceleration problems. After all, I did just exit the celebration of the Liturgy, for crying out loud.

St. Matthew's Church is just one of a number of houses of worship that I have been visiting lately. This is one of those exercises that I put myself through whenever we move to a new location. I've been choosing it over other parishes primarily because of its convenience, although I have my eye on several other places, merely for the sake of comparison. It's also an exercise that will, invariably, cause me a great deal of angst.

I'm not sure exactly where the Catholic church fits into my life. That would seem like a strange statement to make, especially to most of my family. I was born and raised a Catholic. I attended Catholic grade school and Catholic high school. And, as most know, I attended the Pontifical College Josephinum for 3 years and received my Bachelor of Arts from a Catholic seminary. But even during my time at the Josephinum, I felt a need to examine other spiritual methods concerning prayer and lifestyle. I gravitated towards others who seemed to question the Magisterium. I was attracted to spiritual writers who felt a kinship to Eastern religions and practices. During my senior year, I became much more interested in the Byzantine rite. In short, by the time I graduated from the seminary, I probably felt as detached from the Catholic church as I'd ever felt in my whole life. Consequently, these feelings were probably not the most admired ones for someone planning on becoming a priest. So I opted not to return to the seminary.

But, I never really left the Catholic church. In every location where we've lived, I've always managed to try to foster some relationship, locally, with a church. I usually, though, did this alone. Donna is not a Catholic. Nor does she have any interest in becoming one. She's generally very blunt in sharing her opinions and questions regarding Catholicism. I stumble for an answer when she asks, "Why can't women be priests?". I become a bit tongue-tied when she quizzes me about why we genuflect in front of the tabernacle. I don't really know what to say when she mentions that when the congregation responds to the priest during the Offertory that they look like characters out of Dawn of the Dead. But for some reason, wherever we go, I simply cannot make myself officially become a member of a church. Perhaps it's because I know that we'll eventually move and I'll have to start the whole process over again. So, I usually go through my "rent-a-church" ritual until it's time to load up the U-Haul again.

I'm a bit jealous of my friend Gary. Gary and I went to St. Thomas Aquinas High School together, but for all intents and purposes I believe he's given up on the Catholic church. He and his family found a non-denominational church in the Canton area, and they love it. He said that his children actually look forward to going to services on Sunday. He actually brings his Bible to church with him, and he actually uses it. Other people at his church talk to him and his children. The music during Sunday services is world-class and participation is highly encouraged. He frequently involves himself in a bible study group, and he and other families actually get together and socialize. After having lunch with him that day, I consoled myself on the drive home by muttering, "There are Catholic parishes like that, I just know it. I've just chosen the wrong ones. I'll find one that's open, forward-thinking, and full of energy." The problem is, in all of my travels, I've yet to find one that even remotely resembles the church that Gary attends. That includes several parishes in Knoxville, 3 in Annapolis, at least 5 in Pittsburgh, several in the St. Louis area, and a good deal of those in and around Akron during the course of our many moves back home. So, I thought, St. Matthew's will be different. Maybe I've finally come across a parish that will rival Gary's church. And who knows....maybe Donna will reconsider her aversion to Catholicism.

Fr. Williamson seems like an affable-enough person. He has a warm personality and a seemingly good sense-of-humor. But after 5 visits, I can't say that I see Donna joining me any time soon. Like most Catholic parishes, most people prefer to sit in the back. Upon walking in, the occasional usher standing in the back may say "good morning", but that about does it. Catholics prefer not to speak a great deal prior to the start of Mass, due to the on-going reverence of the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle. The cantor, or music-minister, will sometimes try to go over a new hymn prior to the start of Mass and, like most parishes, people are reluctant to sing, therefore they're reluctant to learn a new song. Fr. Williamson even asks the congregation beforehand to stand and greet each other. Most do this sheepishly and haphazardly, as if being asked to give their social security number at the BMV.

During Mass, singing, for the most part, is done grudgingly. Most of the congregation looks as though they'd like to be somewhere else and, as Donna correctly points out, respond to prayers by rote, as if from right out of Dawn of the Dead. Should Fr. Williamson give a homily for more than the normally-accepted 10-12 minutes, the congregation becomes restless, knowing that the total running-time of Mass may surpass the universally-agreed-upon one hour. Communion is usually distributed in both forms, but most eschew the wine, for fear of germs or illness. When the Recessional song is announced, some have already raced for the parking lot, or silently hope that only one verse will be sung so that they can get in a good position out there on Benton Avenue.

A priest once told me that "you get out of Mass what you put into it". Perhaps that's true. Some theologians have suggested that maybe it's time for a Third Vatican Council. Maybe the structure of the Mass should be modified so that it's, well, more interesting, especially for young people. Maybe the prayers and such should be changed every week and written by the congregation. I'm not sure. All I know is that my experience so far at St. Matthew's doesn't even come close to what Gary is experiencing at his church, and it concerns me. So, perhaps I'll actually join and become a member. Maybe I'll even get involved as a cantor or a reader. Or maybe I'll drop by a parish council meeting and mention to Fr. Williamson that something needs to pick up out there in the congregation because most of the parishioners have that same look on their faces as they do while they're waiting to hear their name being called in the waiting area at the doctor's office. But I will tell him that they really shine, though, when it comes to getting in line out there on Benton Avenue. And I'll remind myself not to have my 4-wheel-drive engaged when I go to make that turn. If I glare at her again like that I may have to go to confession.

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* Why not grab your favorite beverage, cop a squat, and groove to some DEMOS at www.mattmultimedia.com

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Quasi-Blizzards, Heart-Health, and Scottish Ale


"Dear, Lord", I thought, "please don't let my heart give out today, not like this. Especially with the Cavs playing so well." You know the story. The one where, after a massive amount of snow falls, the relatively-healthy guy goes out to shovel the driveway and then keels over from a massive heart attack. Sure, it's not the most pleasant thought, especially amongst the quiet beauty of the 15 inches of snow that greeted us this morning. But I wanted to make sure that I at least had the car dug out, in case Donna had to, you know...transport the body. Ok, I'll stop.

There have been dire predictions for the last 48 hours about this storm system that was on the move through the Ohio Valley and up the east coast. I knew states like Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia and eastern Pennsylvania were supposed get slammed pretty hard, but nobody was exactly sure how much snow we would get. I was surprised when I tried to let Maggie out this morning. There was so much snow that she couldn't even get to her regular spot. There was also no newspaper by the front door this morning, so I knew the roads were probably not good. So, I read Time magazine while I sipped my coffee this morning and then, with my meager shovel with the broken handle, joined the cacophany of neighborhood snow-blowers.

The week had been a fairly busy one, at least from a technical trial-and-error-aspect. Our Dial Global client, the syndicated classic rock channel, had some work for me to do this week. Josh, the guy who produces their content after I voice it, has been concerned about a "sound" he's been hearing in my audio chain. Josh is much more competent than I am in these matters. And although I couldn't "hear" it exactly, I agreed to do a series of experiments in order to try to isolate what could be going on. We switched some things around, took my old preamp out of the chain, inserted an alternate one, and did a series of test-recordings. After a couple days of upoading sample files for him to hear, we finally agreed that, like most males who want their voices to sound "bigger" than they really are, I was using an over-abundance of compression from my Universal Audio 6176 unit. So, we scaled things back a bit and, hopefully, solved the dilemma. Now, unfortunately, I just sound like....me.

Donna is recovering nicely from her slipping-on-the-ice incident. She still has a small degree of puffiness on her right eye and there's still a bit of a purple hue, but, all in all, she's doing fine. Also, this past week, we officially became "Ohioans" again by getting the tags changed over on the Nissan X-Terra. After moving from state to state over the past 20 years, I'm always amazed at the differences in protocol necessary to get these things done. For instance, a "vehicle inspection" in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requires, seemingly, every nut and bolt to be tested and analyzed so that it's certified as being "safe for travel" in the Keystone State. In Maryland, even a small crack in the windshield, a "visual impediment", means replacing the entire thing before a vehicle in considered worthy of traversing the Free State. In Tennessee, you can get your drivers' license changed over at a mall on a Saturday. Meanwhile in Ohio, a "vehicle inspection" means running the VIN through a computer to make sure the car isn't stolen. Cost? $1.50.

Between tweaking the gear in the studio and writing out checks to the state of Ohio, I've been meticulously savoring and rationing my case of Dale's Pale Ale. It's been a wonderful couple of weeks, beer-wise. On the way down to Canton last week for the Aquinas-Central game (where the Knights trounced the hapless Crusaders, thank you) I stopped at Erik's Grocery Bag and walked away with a few of the remaining bottles of the Hoppin' Frog Christmas Ale, an oaked Arrogant Bastard, and a bottle of Dogfish Head Chicory Stout. Then, on our way back from the Penguins game in Pittsburgh last Sunday, we stopped in Wexford at 3 Sons Dogs and Suds. I picked up a 6-pack of Penn Pilsner for my father, and also bought several cans of Oskar Blues Old Chub, a Scottish-Style Ale that I had never tasted before. It was malty and extraordinarily delicious. Also, our friend Jeanne mentioned this week at Primo's that there's a new brewery on the westside of Cleveland. Now that we're a little more settled, I think it's time for a Cleveland microbrewery road-trip.

So, as I check my provisions in the beer 'fridge, I'm grateful that the Cavs have notched their tenth win in a row and that, for all intents and purposes, I'll be able to see them go after win number 11 this evening. Even without a snow-blower, it looks like we survived this early February blast of winter...and my satisfactory coronary condition remains intact. Should LeBron and the boys advance to the NBA Finals and then give Cleveland it's first championship since 1948, though, I can't guarantee that the 'ole ticker will survive the bedlam.

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* Why not grab your favorite beverage, cop a squat, and groove to some DEMOS at www.mattmultimedia.com