Thursday, February 27, 2014

Namaste: My Yoga Experience

The room was hot and humid, and I liked it that way. I could taste the heat. It pressed against my skin, my hair, and even my teeth. I could feel the sweat dripping, and the calories burning away. I could feel my body and mind becoming one. This was Bikram yoga.

I was in the tree pose, the tadasana. I stood up straight on my right foot with my arms in prayer. My left foot carefully crossed over my right thigh. While others prayed only in pose, I literally prayed to remain balanced. I looked around, and the yogis stood calmly with ease and peace. The teacher was very proud of them. My body tensed as I did my best to not fall flat on my face. My cheeks reddened, and sweat dribbled off my forehead.  I wobbled and lost the position. I tried again and nearly fell over. I pictured hitting my neighbor and starting a domino effect where by the end, we would all be on the floor, and I would be the one to blame. I concentrated harder and tried to harness my inner soul.

The male teacher who was clearly hitting on the attractive, fit, and skilled female students did not help my confidence. In a deep lusty voice, he approached his mentees.

He edged over to a gorgeous brunette in blue spandex: “Very good, Angela.”

And then to the perfectly balanced and perfectly stacked blonde: “Yes, Diana. Very firm.”

He then glanced in my direction and did a double take. His voice and demeanor instantly changed: “Blue shorts…what the hell are you doing?!”

I didn’t know. Harnessing my chi? I was a cross between a pretzel and a one-legged drunkard. I fell to the ground and was asked to go to Child’s Pose, a euphemism for the Pose of Shame. I bowed my head asking for forgiveness.

















Several years before, I became fascinated with yoga when an ex-girlfriend took me to my first ever class in Brooklyn. It was my birthday present.  I had very little knowledge of the practice, but I loved to exercise, and figured this would be another great outlet. My knowledge of yoga, pilates, yogalates was almost zero. For the longest time, I thought pilates was a type of dumbbell. But it turned out I was the dumbbell.

The Brooklyn class was a yoga/pilates mix. We used walls, and ropes, and chords to stretch our muscles and aid our core. I was nervous, but my ex-girlfriend was supportive and so was the teacher. I was gaining confidence until the final pose: the headstand. This was clearly a joke. Who could stand on their head?

To my surprise, I looked around and witnessed my classmates balance on their melon, better than I could balance on my own two flat feet. The teacher assured me that I need not try, but I was determined to see what the world looked like upside down. The teacher guided me slowly onto my head, and then I started to lift up the rest of my body. That’s when I realized something important, something very important. If I made a grave mistake, I could break my neck and die.  Fear of death is always a difficult obstacle to overcome. I lost concentration and my confidence in one full swoop. I was upside down and panicking, never a good combination. The teacher held my shaking legs, and I nervously announced to the class: “Oh my God. I think I’m going to die!”  

The response was a yoga teacher’s nightmare. Everyone laughed and laughed hard. It was inner chi versus slapstick comedy. Who would win? The teacher chastised me as she watched her dedicated students rapidly unfold from the headstand while laughing hysterically. Comedy was victorious. The students would regroup for another go while I was asked to sit quietly and not make any more jokes. Once again I was relegated to the Pose of Shame.

I was deterred from my rookie experience, but it didn’t stop me from returning a few years later. Two of my co-workers told me it was time to try again, and I agreed. Truth to be told, both co-workers were very attractive and had they suggested we swim in the sewers of Manhattan, I may have joined them for that too.

This is how I discovered Bikram yoga. Despite my negative experience as “Blue Shorts”, I enjoyed the workout. I would sweat, drink coconut water, and I even made friends with another classmate: “Black shorts.” We both felt like impostors, basketball players posing as yogis. But we needed it, and it helped. My joints loosened, my flexibility increased, and I felt more athletic.

There were other clear benefits to yoga too. The class was made up of mostly fit woman who wore next to nothing. I could shed pounds, and stare at the girls in front of me, and not look like a complete weirdo. I could reflect about poses with my scantily clad companions after class, and bond over bottles of water.  And although this led nowhere, it was certainly a nice perk that sent me home in a good mood.  

To be honest, I didn’t know what half the words in class meant, but I didn’t care either.  Uttitha Hasta Padangusthasana.  Ujjayi. Asana. For a while, I thought they were calling me an Asana because I kept making mistakes. But I just watched and mimicked the pretty girl in front of me and did the best that I could.

I entered each class announcing to the teacher that it was my first, and I always sat in the back. That way, they took it easy on me and there were minimal expectations. I could fall, stumble, or slip, and it was acceptable. But soon, the yoga masters recognized me and I couldn’t pull that off anymore. Yoga became harder because I was expected to improve. The instructors pushed me more even though I felt like I had reached my potential. In my mind, I wasn’t going to let myself get hurt doing yoga. This was just a hobby. It wasn’t like I was trying to make the team. But the instructors did not understand my yoga philosophy.

As I struggled with being pushed, I started noticing little details of yoga that bothered me. Maybe it was just my strategy of finding a way out. The rented mats smelled terrible. Or was it the rug? It smelled like a combination of body odor and ammonia, and they didn’t cancel each other out. When I was asked to take a deep breath, I literally couldn’t do it sometimes. This wasn’t fun. I noticed the regulars in the front row and wondered if I ever wanted to attain that status. The men could bend like a pretzel, but they were “rib cage” skinny and eccentric. I enjoyed the after class banter, but most of the topics were beyond my knowledge like alt rock bands and kale chips.

It was then that I realized yoga was not for me. Despite the positives, I’d rather be on the tennis court or basketball court or running through the park.  I wasn’t meant to do backbends, toe touches, and headstands.  I wasn’t a yogi.

Every year I feel the same way until the long and brutal winter hits. I am shut in and out of shape. The courts are wet and cold, the streets are icy, and the gyms are overpriced and over packed. And I need to get my body moving again. That’s when I walk by a yoga studio and it calls my name.

Recently, I returned to yoga. I took part in two classes, and within moments my body and mind thanked me for it. I felt looser, and at one point almost even touched my toes without bending my knees. But during the classes I still struggled, and the instructor and I took part in a familiar conversation. She was kind, and tried to help, but didn’t realize that I had a yoga disability. I had the knack to frustrate and perplex even the most skilled yoga teacher. She was calm and patient at first, and eventually just let me be.

I instinctively transformed into Child’s Pose, but this time she stopped me. She encouraged me to just be me. This was a huge relief. I proceeded to fall a number of times, but this time with a smile on my face. It may have been embarrassing, but it was my embarrassment. I may have accidentally knocked into the woman next to me a few times, but I apologized. And I may have done the poses incorrectly, but it still felt good. It was my way. It was my yoga. I no longer felt ashamed. I had found finally found my peace.  I hope you find yours too.  

Namaste!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Red Sox Fan and a Psych Nurse Walk into a Bar...


October 30, 2013

When Shane Victorino belted his bases clearing green monster double in Game 6 of the World Series, I was not at the game or even in front of the television. Instead, I stood alone in the hallway of my girlfriend’s apartment building in Manhattan.  One might think that I had been ousted for getting too angry or doing something wrong. It was actually much “crazier” than that.



My girlfriend Kristen did not know what she signed up for when we met in New York city on May 11, 2012.  As it appeared, I was a nice, decent looking guy, who worked in education, and liked to make people laugh. Little did she know that I was also an irrational and obsessive Red Sox fan. She was tall and beautiful with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a smile that lit up the room. She grew up in Connecticut and held no allegiance to a sports team. She was also a psychiatric nurse, a skill that would come in handy come playoff time. It sounded like the opening line to a joke: “A Red Sox fan and a psych nurse walk into a bar…” but it actually happened.

Kristen and I flirted through the night and not once did I mention Bobby Valentine, beer, fried chicken, or even the Red Sox.  Despite being in a loud bar, our conversation was intimate, quiet and real. There were no other sounds except for our voices. We were crazy about each other right away.

As Kristen and I grew together, I allowed her into my world of sports insanity. As a psychiatric nurse she was well equipped to deal with me. She was patient, understanding, and didn’t judge me especially when I spoke to myself.  She caught a glimpse into my world of yelling at the television, pacing in the hallway, and knocking on wood. She rarely reacted negatively, and even taught me to breathe slowly and relax a little bit too. Apparently, I was reminiscent of some of her patients in the psych ward.  The only difference was that I wore a Red Sox shirt. To include her in my world, I bought her a Red Sox hat, taught her about the game, and convinced her to watch highlights on ESPN. In return, she bought us tickets for a Red Sox-Yankees game, and cautiously embraced the culture.


We both evolved on September 5, 2013. The Red Sox had built a sizable lead in a game over the hated New York Yankees. Kristen smiled in excitement.


She was hopeful and optimistic while I, on the other hand, harnessed my inner cynicism. Just as I feared, the Red Sox allowed 6 runs in the 7th inning, and blew the huge lead. I turned to her to irrationally explain my cynical views, and how I predicted that this would happen. She didn’t understand nor should she have. I was nuts, plain and simple. She shrugged it off and told me not to worry.

(Many might be confused by my continued pessimism especially after the Red Sox broke the curse in 2004 and the won the title again in 2007. But the truth is, when you’ve been brainwashed your whole life to be a pessimist, a few great moments won’t necessarily shake it. It’s always a part of you.) 

Less than an hour later, the Red Sox rallied against the great Mariano Rivera, and then won the game in extra innings.  Kristen looked at me in a classic “I told you so” moment. She didn’t understand my lesson—they were supposed to lose. I didn’t understand either.

It was after that moment that I never doubted Kristen ever again. As we became closer, the Red Sox steamrolled into October and playoff baseball. I grew my beard in solidarity and to show my Boston Strong pride. She hated it right away, but found a way to get through it somehow, once again proving to be an incredible girlfriend.

We scheduled our calendars based on playoff games, canceling dinners and functions so we could tune in together as much as possible. While I attended Game 1 of the ALCS with my father, she still watched the entire game at home by herself, a feat that she had never done in her entire life.

As the Sox advanced deeper, she asked more questions about the game, about the Red Sox, about my obsession. It was not an analysis for a referral to the hospital either. She truly wanted to be a part of it. And I loved her even more for it.

Kristen texted me updates of the classic Game 3 Lackey-Verlander duel while I was detained in a graduate school class. When Kristen announced that the Sox were victorious via text, I shouted exuberantly in class: “YES!!!  THAT’S RIGHT!!!” The absent minded professor assumed that I liked his class so much that I just had to let out a shout in honor of his teaching. The rest of the class just thought I was crazy.

In the last week of October, Kristen learned about obstruction, walk offs, pick offs, balks, intentional walks, timely hitting, blood, sweat, beards, Big Papi, Flyin’ Hawiian, Koji Time, teamwork, Boston Strong, pride, and utter joy. She wasn’t bothered anymore as I lined up the clickers in the proper formation for good luck. She wasn’t bothered by the fact that I propped her Red Sox hat meticulously on the couch before every game. My knocking on wood and mumbling to myself no longer seemed so strange. In fact, Kristen sat in the same chair every night, and recorded every game knowing that this year it had been good luck. She never asked where to sit, what to do, she just knew. She innately understood the jinx rule, and knew to never discuss a good luck charm. It would be like announcing your birthday wish after blowing out the candles. If you talked about it, it wouldn’t come true. She understood.

It was now Game 6 of the World Series, and Shane Victorino came to bat with the bases loaded.

After spending what seemed like an eternity in the hallway for good luck, I entered the apartment in trepidation. The hallway routine had worked in the ALCS for Victorino, and I hoped that this ritual would work again. Kristen smiled and pointed to the TV. Victorino glided into third base and pounded his chest with excitement.  It had worked. Somehow, I was a part of this. And I knew I wasn’t crazy because I had Kristen by my side.


Kristen and I embraced after the final out, a cathartic and affectionate hug. The Boston Red Sox were the World Series champions. That’s when I realized the truth. Kristen was now crazy about the Red Sox, but even better, I was crazy about her. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Patriots Day: The Executive Combine

June 11, 2012

As I sprinted toward Tom Brady's blindside, I wondered what would happen if I just decked him. I imagined the fallout. Belichick would have me put away. I'd be ostracized by my friends, become New England's version of Steve Bartman, and Giselle would hate me. (On the positive side, at least Giselle would know who I was.)

And another thought entered my mind: what the heck was I doing here?


Three days earlier, my brother had called me in New York and informed me that he had an extra ticket to the Executive Combine at Gillette Stadium. This wasn't the type of thing to which I normally had access.  I'm a high school guidance counselor in Brooklyn, not an investment banker. Most of the attendees had shelled out big money to be there. But my brother and I had found a loophole. His boss's boss's boss passed the tickets down and somehow fell into my brother's lap. He was told to bring someone who would truly love to be there so he naturally called me first. The details were fuzzy, but my brother told me the event involved meeting some players and coaches. I had five minutes to decide. I would miss a day of work, but even my students were encouraging me to do it. I was in.

On Monday morning, my brother and I made the quick trip to Foxborough from his house. We flipped through a brochure, but were still unsure of the specifics of the day. We discussed taboo topics not to bring up: the recent Super Bowl loss, Brady's hair, Welker's excruciating drop, and Gronk's infamous nightlife. The rational and cynical part of me assumed we'd watch some of the backup players toss the pigskin around, and maybe we'd even get to walk onto the field for a few minutes. But the dreamer in me envisioned playing side by side with Brady, Welker, and Gronk. I began stretching in the car. I wanted to ready if the whistle blew.

We arrived to the stadium first thing in the morning. The sun was out, the sky was blue, and breakfast was served. We sat outside and chatted with a few other golden ticket holders. There were about seventy of us winners in total. Some guests flirted with the Patriots' cheerleaders, but long legs and cleavage didn't hold a candle to the entire receiving corp. They chilled by the egg burrito station, and despite my phobia of eggs, I made my way toward them. Within moments, I was conversing with Wes Welker, Deion Branch, and Julian Edelman. When Edelman learned that I lived in New York, he gushed about the meatpacking district, the nightlife hotspot. "You like the clubs?" I asked. Edelman, known to be a partier, just smiled. Of course he did.


As I talked to the receivers, it was shocking how much they looked like me. They were unassuming with my same height and build. Then I met Danny Woodhead, who looked like the kid who sold me my sneakers the other day. My brother and I, both under six feet tall, blended right in.


After breakfast, we ran through  the inflatable Patriots tunnel and were announced on the loud speaker by company. I flashbacked to the Patriots first Super Bowl win when they asked to be announced as a team. Patriot Pat high-fived me, the cheerleaders frolicked on the side, and the stadium and the entire offensive squad including Tom Brady stood before me.

The starting offense,  mostly in shorts and t-shirts, conducted a brief walk through. It was casual, but remarkably precise. Even while fooling around, it was clear that these guys were pros. A svelte Brady, in warm up pants and a Patriots cap, shouted out signals and threw a short slant to Wes Welker. Then there was a handoff to Danny Woodhead. Then there was a tap on my shoulder. I was going in to play defense.

I felt like Rudy running onto the field. I didn't know where to go, but I didn't care. Ten other participants joined me including my brother who played corner on the other side. I lined up opposite Julian Edelman, and the next play, Deion Branch. I took pride in my game, and my adrenaline was pumping. There was some good natured smack talk between me and the Pats.

"I'm only playing at sixty percent!" remarked Edelman.

"I'm not even trying!" I replied.

I could do this. I had trained for it all year emerging as a stud in my weekly four on four two-hand touch game called the Goose League. I could take these guys. Brady elected to stay away from Cooley Island, and instead threw to Gronk, who looked limber and back to decent health as he sprinted away from out of shape 40-somethings.

On the next play, the defensive coordinator told me to BLITZ. Brady hiked the ball and I shot up the side. He didn't see me coming...

After the slow motion practice, we took part in drills. Every fifteen minutes the buzzer rang, and we shifted to another station. The O-line was massive and resembled a line of Incredible Hulks. Logan (Mankins) and Dan (Koppen) showed me how to block. I did some footwork drills and slammed into their pads, but they were immovable. Woodhead ran us through cones, and Brady pitted me against my brother in receiving drills. Brady relished being the instigator and seemed to enjoy the drills as much as we did. Later, I burned Donte' Stallworth on a stop and go. He shook his head afterward and said: "Wow, you're fast!"



The entire day was filled with smiles, laughter, and trash talk. Brady called Gronk a plethora of curse words, and Gronk retorted: "What round were you drafted in again?" I wondered if everything was staged. Were these guys really this nice and cool and fun to be around? The day was so special because there were no boundaries so I simply asked the team: "Is this for real?" They all responded the same way: "Absolutely!" They were equally psyched to not have Belichick crushing them for a day. It was just as fun for them as it was for us.



During breaks, my brother and I did what came natural to us: we threw the ball around the field. I was surprised that the pro footballs were the same size and weight as the ones that I used in my league and in our annual Turkey Bowl. We ran slants, posts, and bombs across the green grass. At times, I forgot where we were. It was just another game of catch with my big brother. Then I'd look around and remember...holy crap! I just caught a touchdown pass at Gillette Stadium. I stared out at the stands and imagined the fans chanting my name. Then I performed the patented Gronk Spike and soaked it all in.


We toured the locker rooms, met the trainers, equipments managers, and staff. My brother and I passed by Brady whose hair was out of place, and was chilling by his locker. The quarterback, to my shock, actually initiated conversation. "It's the brothers!" he shouted. He gave us both a pound and egged us on about who was the better athlete. Tom announced that the big brother was doing some damage, but of course he didn't know which one of us was older. Cleverly, he found a way to motivate both of us at the same time. This was the Tom Brady that teammates raved about.



Later, I shook hands with Belichick and thanked him for having me. He was courteous, gracious, and even smiled. I chatted with Bob Kraft whose voice was gentle and soothing, like a grandfather with decades of wisdom. He did everything but offer me a Werther's Original. He actually asked me questions, and then praised me for my commitment to education and helping our youth as a guidance counselor.



The players were dispersed to different tables at lunch. Brady was at our table, but was too busy schmoozing with everyone to make it over. I chilled with Gronk for a bit who lived up to his endearing meathead status. He spent much of the time texting who I presumed to be a bevy of beautiful girls.

After lunch Belichick stepped up to the mic. On the side, he was cracking jokes, but as soon as he hit the podium, he went into interview mode.  His monotone robotic voice took over. Occasionally it was lighter and monotone upgraded to dry. He referred to himself as a "half-decent coach", which got a few chuckles, and then he took questions from the crowd. I asked two questions, my brother asked one, and a few others chimed in. I felt like a reporter: "Paul Cooley from the Sharon Advocate over here. Coach, what have been some of your favorite memories coaching with the Patriots?" I looked forward to an anecdote about the Snow Game or the undefeated season, or at least one memorable quote. Instead, Coach listed off a series of favorite players and games in no particular order and was not attached or emotional.  Classic Belichick.


After lunch, we practiced with the defense, and I learned that each unit had its own personality. The offensive weapons were wise guys, brash and confident. The O-line was steady, subdued, and calm, creatures of habit and routine. And the defense. They were all out mad men, and I instantly connected with them. They played hard, they played mean, and they played together. My over competitiveness was encouraged and nurtured. I stepped offsides on one play, and Vince Wilfork made me do pushups. On the next whistle, I tried to tackle the giant. He carried me for five yards like I was a bug on his shoulder before carefully dropping me to the ground. My scrappiness was no match for the mammoth 330 pound gargantuan.




I chatted with Devin McCourty who I learned returned to his high school during offseasons to assist the team. He and Sterling Moore both loved my intensity. I jumped over my brother for a sick touchdown pass. The Patriots "oohed" and "aahed", but it was short lived as my brother re-aggravated his ACL injury. He was carted off to the side, and in that one moment was baptized into the game. When he's asked about the injury in the future, he can respond: "I tore my ACL playing with the Patriots." For the last hour, nearly all the players that remained stopped by to check in on my brother. He was one of them now.

At the end of the day, Bob Kraft addressed us again. He eloquently spoke about surrounding oneself with good people, and I understood why the Patriots were so successful. It felt like a family. My brother and I had dinner and a few beers with some of the defense and the other guests. Everyone was smiling, even my brother who later hobbled out of Gillette Stadium.

On the way out, we collected our parting gifts and took one last look at the field. On the Jumbotron, a montage of the day appeared. And there I was on the big screen.

I sprinted toward Tom Brady's blindside. He didn't see me coming. I pulled back just before impact, and gave him a light two hand touch before he released the ball. The spectators cheered, I slapped hands with Tom, and then motioned for a safety. After the play was blown dead, Tom Brady stared directly at the camera. For a split second, his eyes widened, his smile flattened, and he shook his head. He made a face that read: "Who was that guy?"

It was me.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

The Hunger Games MEET The Running Man


Several months ago, I was swept away by The Hunger Games Series just like everyone else. In less than a week, I finished the trilogy, and I am not a big reader. While friends were at bars and ballgames, I was at home turning each page with delight. The Hunger Games was just impossible to put down. 

The movie comes out on March 23rd, and I am anxious and excited. I imagine every teen girl and myself will be standing in line to get in. But I don’t care. A few male friends teased me about my fascination with the Hunger Games, but then they read it and joined the cult too.

I was psyched to see that Gary Ross is the screenwriter and director of the film. He wrote three of my favorite movies of all time: Big, Dave, and Pleasantville. He doesn’t pen/direct many movies, but most are high concept and very successful. Based on the trailer, it looks like he has struck gold once again.

But before The Hunger Games caught on like wildfire, there was a movie from 1987 called The Running Man.  It was a short story written five years earlier by an unknown author, Richard Bachman.  For those who know book trivia, Richard Bachman is Stephen King’s pseudonym. The story was not a huge hit, but it was popular enough to be turned into a movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. It turned out to feature two future governors, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura. Who knew?

In The Running Man, Schwarzenegger plays a man wrongly convicted and dropped into a reality show. He and others threatening the government are forced to run for their lives on live television. Viewers watch the sadistic madness while men and women try to escape certain death. Sound familiar?

The Hunger Games features Katniss (played by Jennifer Lawrence), a futuristic Joan of Arc. She’s a tough chick armed with a bow and arrow. She and her teenage competitors are chosen at random to take place in the games. They are forced to kill one another, and it’s one big reality show. The survivor/winner gets to live another day.   

The Running Man is an awesome, classic, cheesy 80’s action movie with Schwarzenegger at the helm. The Hunger Games is a modern day homage to The Running Man and looks to be a classic. Jennifer Lawrence may not utter lines like: “I’ll be back!”, but there’s no doubt that she’s just as tough as Arnold. Just watch and see! 




Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The 2012 Oscars


In 2010, the Oscars decided to nominate every movie they could think of for picture of the year. They didn’t want anyone to feel left out so everyone got invited. Apparently, the term “quality not quantity” didn’t make much sense to them. As a result, we now have a mixed bag of films to choose from. Considering this has been a bland year for movies, it’s not surprising how many mediocre films are in the race is this year.

Here are the nominees:

The Help

I never saw it, but I do I have an opinion. Any time your guy friend, who’s not into movies, meets you to play basketball, and during one of the breaks says: “Dude, you’ve got to see The Help,” and several other guys chime in, it’s time to take notice. Men and women alike have all been impressed. It won’t win picture of the year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone in the cast is recognized (Viola Davis for best actress.)






Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I don’t understand how a movie with extremely mixed reviews and incredibly little fanfare gets nominated for picture of the year. I think a movie should be appreciated by at least 2/3 of the critics before it can make the cut for best movie (it received only 46% positive reviews on rottentomatoes.com.) This film is like that guy that’s not invited to the party but shows up anyway. Why are you even here?

The Tree of Life

This film represents the “I’ve never heard of it, but it’s sophisticated” genre. If nobody has ever heard or seen the film, then why is it even nominated? I’m sure it’s beautiful. I’m sure it’s whimsical. I’m sure it’s boring. Next!

War Horse

Just because a movie is an epic time-piece about a heroic animal directed by Spielberg, does not mean that it’s an Oscar caliber movie. War Horse—what is it good for? Absolutely nothing. (I’m sure it’s an okay movie, but I wanted to put in the last line because it sounded cool.)

Rise of the Planet of the Apes














To my surprise, this was one of the best movies of the year. The action was spectacular, the storytelling touching, and the climax incredible. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a great movie.

But wait a second—it was not even nominated. Apparently, it was too fun and too exciting to enter the race. And Andy Serkis’ Oscar bid for digitally playing Caesar disappeared faster than you can say: “Who’s Andy Serkis?”

If it had been set in 19th century England, and Judi Dench played one of the apes, I bet it would’ve been nominated. Consider it retribution for James Franco’s hideous hosting job from last year.

Random Tangent

No, this isn’t a movie title, although if it was...

Random Tangent starring Nicolas Cage, directed by John Woo. “This angle can’t miss.”  A calculus professor must use mathematic equations and brute force in order to get back his kidnapped daughter.

The random tangent is actually me just venting. How the hell did The King’s Speech win best picture last year? It was a nice story, but The Social Network, Inception, The Fighter (the list goes on) were all better. It’s not an opinion. It’s a fact.

Just because a movie is British, does not mean that it’s good. Just because it’s a period piece, does not mean that’s it classic. Just because the Weinsteins produced it, does not mean perfection. Their fingerprints were all over The King’s Speech last year. They did it with Shakespeare in Love too. Everyone is afraid of the Weinsteins. They must be a very persuasive family.  

Midnight in Paris

It’s no Annie Hall, but it’s nice to see Woody Allen create another great movie and be recognized for his work. If you want some more insight into Woody Allen, check out the latest documentary through American Masters on PBS. It surely deserves some awards for showing the rise and fall and rise of the great comedian and his work.

The Descendants

This movie blows away the competition for most scenes with someone crying. I actually enjoyed the film, but kept waiting for that great scene where you get chills, teary eyed, and feel connected to the characters. Unfortunately, it never happened. It was a pleasant ride that never lives up to its potential. Clooney is charming, but the movie isn’t. Despite all the energy put into it, I felt kind of empty at the end. The Oscars love Alexander Payne (Sideways was recognized, but Election was actually better) and George Clooney (the voters will always be swayed by his dreaminess.) This got them into the big dance, but they definitely don’t deserve to win.

Hugo

This was one of the most visually stunning movies of the year. Scorcese proved he could actually direct a movie without using the “F” word. But when you take away the visuals, the story is completely scattered. If you disagree, try explaining the plot to a friend:

“Hugo is about a boy who lives in a clock with a robot. He is caught stealing mechanical parts from a local merchant who is old and grumpy. The merchant finds the boy’s book about the robot and goes crazy. The security guard tries to take away the boy to the orphanage. The boy escapes, and befriends the old man’s granddaughter. They break into his house and find out the robot can draw magical pictures. The grandfather freaks out and becomes depressed. Then we learn for an hour that he used to be a great filmmaker. Then they all become friends. The end.”

I don’t want to be a downer, but this is going to win the best picture of the year? It’s a nice homage to filmmaking, but it’s also a mess. Sorry Marty, take away the 3-D glasses, and you have a nice but really sloppy story. 

Moneyball
 
This is a very good movie. For years, I wondered how they were going to take Michael Lewis’ book about stats and numbers and make it into a successful movie. Aaron Sorkin saves the day with yet another incredible script (he also penned The Social Network.) The acting is sound. The story is solid. And there are some awesome feel good scenes.

But if Moneyball was made last year, I don’t think it would have even been nominated. Since the field is so weak, suddenly it’s a contender for picture of the year. I love baseball, and I love the movies, but Moneyball is not an Oscar caliber picture. It’s a good movie that’s been amplified because of Brad Pitt and Aaron Sorkin. Enjoy it, but I’d be shocked if it wins the best picture of the year.


The Artist














This is why we go to the movies. I was a little hesitant to see The Artist. It was black and white, and IT HAD NO SOUND! Who do these people think they are? What kind of modern day movie is silent?

The result is breathtaking. The Artist takes a simple story and conveys it through images and acting. There is sound by the way. The music sums up feelings and emotions better than most actors with voices.

The Artist reminded me why I go to the movies in the first place: to escape and to dream. I felt transported back into the past when there were no cell phones or internet. The nostalgia hung in the air as I soaked in the love story. The visuals were beautiful and the acting impressive. The actors glow on the screen, and a smile or a wink in the camera seem so intimate and real.

The Artist will win because it’s the best movie. It helps that the Weinstein machine will be backing it. But it’s their first movie in a while that really deserves to win. It’s innovative, gutsy, charming, and beautiful. When it ended, I didn’t yearn for sound or voices. Instead, I simply sat back and reflected how beautiful film can be.  

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Jeremy Lin Show













Last week I got to see The Jeremy Lin Show live at Madison Square Garden. Chants of MVP filled the stadium as he tore up the Utah Jazz. He scored, assisted, rebounded, and made his teammates better. Today, I googled Jeremy Lin’s name and an infinite amount of links popped up.


The one that stood out to me was a tweet from boxer, Floyd Mayweather. Despite being very busy( he’s got a bout on May 5th, and then heads to jail on June 1st), he still pays a lot of attention to Jeremy Lin. This is what he had to say:

“Jeremy Lin is a good player but all the hype is because he’s Asian. Black players do what he does every night and don’t get the same praise.”

Here is my response.

Dear Floyd,

Here are 7 reasons why The Jeremy Lin Show is getting so much hype.

#1 The numbers speak for themselves

Lin was named player of the week because of his gaudy numbers and leadership. He averaged 27 points, 8 assists, and 4 rebounds while leading the dysfunctional Knicks to five straight wins. They were also without Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire. The Knicks look reenergized and suddenly functional with Lin running a simple pick and roll offense. Even as a Boston fan, I’ve enjoyed watching the Knicks play basketball at its purist. The team actually likes each other and it shows. Oh, yeah. Lin also poured in 38 points against the L.A. Lakers on national TV. And the night before Kobe Bryant was interviewed and didn’t have a clue who this guy was. Now he does.

#2 New York, New York

If Lin was putting up these numbers in Milwaukee, there would be some hype but nothing like this. Everyone knows New York is the most recognized city in the world and is known for their media, publicity, and hype. So anything that comes out of New York will be magnified to the millionth degree. And the fact that the Knicks were struggling before his emergence has made this a great story to run in every syndicate across the country.

It’s also a case of the Tim Tebow effect. People love feel-good stories and the media knows it. They will feature Lin daily until his game weakens, he gets hurt, or there’s a better headline.

#3 He’s a Geek

Jeremy Lin may know Good Will Hunting because he is a smaht kid. Straight out of Harvard, Lin represents a small minority of Ivy League educated kids ever to play professional sports in the modern era. Ryan Fitzpatrick (NFL, Harvard), Chris Young (MLB, Princeton), and Chris Dudley (NBA, Yale) are the very few that I could think of. It’s kind of like the scene in Airplane, when the woman asks for some light reading, and they give her a tiny pamphlet on Jewish sports stars. There are just not that many professional athletes with top notch educational backgrounds. But with Jeremy Lin from Harvard and Landry Fields from Stanford, the Knicks may have the smartest starting backcourt in NBA history.

#4 Jeremy Lin is a cool name

“Just Lin, Baby!” “Linsanity!” “The Jeremy Lin Show!” “The Jeremy Lin Experience!”

These are great headlines. They just work. And has there ever been another Jeremy in NBA history? Not that I know of.

#5 He Rarely Dunks

Lin is 6’ 3”, relatively short for NBA standards. He rarely dunks so his scoring has to be creative and the crowd loves that. He plays very similar to Steve Nash and has found innovative ways to get his shot off. This makes him and his highlights stand out.

#6 He came from Nowhere

Any time an undrafted player who has been cut by several teams emerges as a stud, they’re going to get a lot of attention. Have you never seen a story about Tom Brady? Jeremy Lin’s future was so in jeopardy that he has been crashing on his brother’s and teammates couches. These guys are the ultimate underdogs and fans love that. The “nobody” that came from “nowhere” is now a “somebody.” That’s the American dream or at least a Disney movie.

#7 Thank you Captain Obvious

Of course Jeremy Lin is receiving extra attention because he’s Asian-American. Floyd Mayweather, you are exactly right. If Jeremy Lin was black, he would get some attention for his play (for the reasons above), but nothing like this. But that’s the case with stories like this in every sport. In fact, in “white dominated” sports such as golf and tennis, Tiger Woods and the Williams sister have stood out because of their talent AND their race. So why can’t Jeremy Lin get extra attention because he is a geeky Asian dude from Harvard outdueling Kobe Bryant and others in a black dominated sport?

Floyd, I don’t think your comment is racist at all. I just think you sound really insecure. And by the way, your little tweet put Jeremy Lin in the spotlight even more. Congratulations!

Enjoy your jail time.

Sincerely,

The Corner

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Super Bowl XLVI

In 2007-08, the Patriots were undefeated going into the Super Bowl. It sounds strange, but 18-0 made me feel uncomfortable. Being from Boston, the idea of being the favorite was foreign to me. I didn’t know how to feel not just being the favorite, but possibly being the best team of all time. The hyperboles were unstoppable and so were the Patriots. It just seemed too good to be true.

When the Patriots were shocked by the Giants four years ago, I felt destroyed. But part of me was not all that surprised. It’s kind of like dating the perfect girl: a supermodel who loves sports, laughs at my jokes, makes a mean BBQ, gives massages, plays video games, and thinks the world revolves around me. In the back of my head, I would keep thinking: “What’s the catch?” That’s how I felt about the Patriots that year. I kept waiting for the catch. And then David Tyree literally showed me what that catch was.

This year I felt different. The Patriots were favored by Vegas, but the majority of the pundits were choosing the New York Football Giants. Even Maya Angelou told the Patriots to suck it. The real favorites were the Giants, and the Patriots were the true underdogs.

The Myra Kraft story touched my heart, and made the Patriots appear to be a team of destiny. If you’re not familiar with Myra, the late wife of owner Robert Kraft, just google her, and your heart will be warmed. When I read about Robert Kraft, the Patriots owner instrumental in ending the strike, it only seemed fitting that his team would win the Super Bowl.

Meanwhile, the Giants started opening their big mouths. They tweeted, talked, and shouted off the rooftops that they were going to be the champs. The Giants website even announced them the winners the night before the game, a gaffe that would have been sealed in infamy if the Patriots had won. The Giants took on the role as the bullies, the villains, and I liked it that way.

And then I made a big mistake. I actually believed the Patriots were going to win. I ignored all of my training as a Boston fan, and for one brief mistake, I became an optimist. I let my guard down and became vulnerable. And I completely forgot, that’s when it hurts the most. And that’s why this game crushed me even more then in 2007-08. I really thought the Patriots were going to win, and to be honest, I still don’t know what happened.

I’ve played the game again and again in my head, and if one little thing happened here or there, then….but  then I realize I can’t change the game.

What are the odds of the following things happening?

          1)The Safety      

Odds of happening: 4%

This was the strangest safety in Super Bowl history. I’ve seen similar plays including in the Giants playoff game versus the Falcons, but never when the quarterback throws it thirty yards downfield. How can the refs prove that a receiver didn’t fall down or someone ran the wrong route?  Either way, it was a pretty stupid play by Brady as he easily could’ve left the pocket before he released the pass, but we will discuss that more later.

2) Chase Blackburn's Interception Over Gronkowski

            Odds of happening: 1%

Gronkowski entered the game with the most prolific year in tight end history. Blackburn entered it working as a substitute teacher. Gronkowski shattered football records. Blackburn played hangman with his students.

Gronk’s injury played a huge impact, but he is still 6’ 7” and was up against a linebacker/substitute teacher. In a miraculous feat, Mr. Blackburn jumped over the monsterous Gronk to make an interception of a lifetime.  The ball was underthrown (another curious mistake by Brady), but if that same play happens 100 times, it gets knocked down 49 times, caught by Gronk 50 times, and picked off once. 

3) Welker's Drop

Odds of happening: .05%

Cris Collinsworth put it best: “Welker makes that catch one hundred times out of hundred.” The ball was not thrown perfectly (Brady issue again?), but I have to agree with Cris on this one. I have no idea what happened. Gisele should shut her mouth and stick to modeling, but in the end, she said what we were all thinking: “How did he not catch that?” They would not have scored on that play, but the way they were moving, there’s little doubt that they were going to.

4) Manningham's Catch

Odds of happening: 10%

This was one of the best catches in Super Bowl history. The Giants now have two on the list versus the Patriots. It was a perfect throw, a perfect catch. There’s nothing more to say.

      5) Giants fumbling THREE times with ZERO turnovers

Odds of happening: 7%

The Giants recovered two of their own fumbles and one was nullified because the Patriots had too many men on the field (the extra player was not even involved in the play.) The ball just seemed to bounce right back to them every time. That bring us to…

LUCK

The Giants got lucky. This isn’t a knock against them at all. They clearly took advantage of having that luck. Eli was mentally tough, and they made the plays they needed to make.  But luck has become a huge part of making a Super Bowl run in the last decade.

The Patriots started their 21st century dominance on a lucky play, The Infamous Tuck Rule. The Giants won Super Bowl XLII on a lucky catch. The Patriots made the Super Bowl this year on a lucky missed kick by Billy Cundiff. And the Giants were lucky when they got two tragic mistakes from Kyle Williams. 

The Super Bowl has been so close that a couple of lucky moments now decides the winner and loser. This year the ball literally bounced in the Giants favor. Every Brady Super Bowl has been decided by 4 points of less. One lucky play either way could have made him a 5 time champion or a deluxe version of Jim Kelly.

IS BRADY OVERRATED?

I don’t think so, but this story should and will be discussed throughout the year. Here is the argument:

Brady is an incredible regular season quarterback, much like Peyton Manning, but in the playoffs he is extremely average. His quarterback rating is an 86.0 in playoff games (and remember that includes the Denver blowout), more than ten points less than the regular season. He won two Super Bowl MVPs, but the first was based on one great drive at the end of the game against the Rams, and that’s about it. The defense clearly won that game for him. He played great in Super Bowl XXXVIII and decent in Super Bowl XXXIX, still made a few costly errors in each one, and barely emerged as a winner. And against the Giants, he has been nothing but average.

His numbers this past Super Bowl were fairly decent, but when you break down his mistakes, they were awful. He took a safety on the first play of the first possession. It was a stupid mistake that should not have happened. Not only did he give up two points, but it set up the Giants in good field position for the first touchdown.  He under threw Gronkowski on the interception, and threw behind Branch on that fourth quarter drive. Welker’s drop was inexcusable, but the pass was nothing to brag about. In fact, in all five Super Bowls, Brady has yet to lead his team to a score in the first quarter. 

He has trouble putting away opponents in big games. If he wasn’t bailed out by his defense, Brady could be ranked below Peyton Manning in winning the big game.  Besides his great game against Denver, Brady hasn’t played well in the playoffs since 2004-05. Maybe Brady is overrated.

CONSPIRACY THEORY

The Giants defenders seemed to get hurt at very convenient times. The Patriots were driving on three separate occasions when Giants players fell down with injuries and caused a five minute delay. While we watched a never ending preview of Battleship, the defenders rested, drank Gatorade, and regrouped. On each occasion, the defender took only ONE play off and then returned. Do I think this was done on purpose? I doubt it, but why not. It’s not illegal and it was a great way of keeping the Patriots out of rhythm and giving the Giants a chance to rest on defense. It’s just something to think about.

HAIL MARY

It is only fitting that in the “Year of Tebow” and a halftime show featuring Madonna, the game ended like a prayer. I cannot watch replays of the Hail Mary, but I’ve been told Gronkowski missed the catch by a matter of inches. If he had been healthy…but there I go again, trying to change the game in my head. It’s over and it’s time to move on.

IS IT REALLY OVER?

When you live in New York, and root for Boston, it never really ends. I watched the Super Bowl at a Boston themed Bar in NYC. The place cleared out in seconds. I shouted in anger, kicked a nearby garbage can, and then sat on a stoop in disbelief for minutes, hours, days? 

I attempted to clear my head and trudged home with my hoodie covering my head. On the walk of shame, dozens of New Yorkers tormented me. I wasn’t even wearing any colors, they could just tell I was a Patriots fan. I looked and walked like a loser. I heard: “Patriots suck!” “Brady sucks!” “You suck, douchebag!” and once in a while a “Go Giants!” I wanted to shout back, but there was nothing to say.

On Monday, I went to the Knicks game hoping basketball would take my mind off of the game. But at halftime, several New York Giants were introduced and the place went nuts. Everyone was standing, except for me. I was alone. The next day was the parade. Everywhere I looked, everyone I spoke to, it was all about the Super Bowl Champion GIANTS. Sports Illustrated greeted me at the door with the Giants on the cover.  Even the guy at my local Dominican lunch spot was speaking in Spanglish about the Giants.   

For a while, I actually wished I was from Kansas City or another dead sports town so I wouldn’t have to feel the pain of coming so close. It was the equivalent of having a devastating hangover and announcing never to drink again. But I’ll be back and so will the Patriots.  

As far as living in New York, the torment has to end soon, and what doesn’t kill me will only make me stronger. To paraphrase Frank Sinatra: “If I can take it here, I can take it anywhere.”

See you next year. Go Patriots!