Monday, May 21, 2007

On This, Our Wedding Day

We lived through it.

Oh, that's not the most ringing sound that comes to my mind when I remember yesterday. But it was a thought that lingered into the night. There were a few events to link together, and while everything did not go perfectly, it went well enough. We were happy. Our friends seemed to enjoy themselves. And at the end, the rabbis declared us married.

Maryann was absolutely wonderful to show up a couple of hours early to our house, and help me with my tie. She, too, got dressed right along with us. Between the two of them, the tie morphed into something beautiful: the perfect knot, the correct length. And then she drove us to the synagogue. A good thing, too, as my hands were beginning to shake.

When we got to the side entrance of Temple Sinai -- a trifle early, I must admit -- the entrance wasn't open. But Paul Geduldig had given me the cell phone of the janitor inside. I called him, and he very nicely opened the door. Soon afterwards, guests began streaming through the cocked door. I had the fleeting belief that we should have been hidden, and then figured, what the hell (a theme that would be used several times that day), smiled, greeted them all with hugs, and posed for photos.

Rabbi Mates-Muchin came in and immediately took charge. At that point, I began to understand the progression of events. Rabbi Chester then came in, and we waited in his office, which was adjacent to Harpham Chapel, waiting for guests to go into the chapel and the ceremony to start.

Rabbi Chester grabbed friends Mark Snyder and Dawn Kepler and, according to our wishes, asked them to be our witnesses in signing the ketubah (and then keeping it for us).

So we were ready to go. Except for one thing: one son was late. Could it be that he was reluctant to take part in a religious ceremony? Could it be that he's always late? We decided the latter, and heard that Jamie and Mark were standing by the entrance to make sure he and his date were ushered in immediately. When we finally heard that they had arrived 10 minutes later, we heaved a sigh of relief, jointly. We were ready.

We inched into the chapel, and then slowly walked toward the rabbis. Val smiled at the guests located on each side, while I kept my eyes on the target and felt gratified to find that my legs could and did take me there. Rabbi Mates-Muchin spoke a bunch of Hebrew and then pointed to the ketubah, which lay there on the table in its colorful, arborant glory. Val signed her legal name in Hebrew as well as English. When it was my turn, I took out my trusty piece of paper, and laboriously copied the Hebrew, Chava bat Abraham v' Sarah (Eve, daughter of Abraham and Sarah). It looked longer than it should have been. I then signed my usual signature down below. Then, Mark stepped up while whispering to Val, do I sign it in Hebrew? She replied in the affirmative, he wrote quickly, and then Dawn followed. The rabbis then stepped up and wrote their names as well.

After the completion of the contract, we then stepped forward and walked around each other three-and-a-half times. Then we stepped under the chuppah with the rabbis, and James and Rick were invited up. They shared the space with us as I spoke the vows. Val repeated them to me, and we placed the gleaming white gold rings on each other's hands.

This ring is the symbol
Of All that I am
And all that I have.
I bring them to this partnership with you.
Ours is a union of equal partners,
Partners in love, in mercy, and in kindness,
Partners through good times and bad.
I pledge to you my goodwill
And my whole heart in the maintenance of this partnership,
In full knowledge
That life brings sorrows as well as joy,
And that at its end are the hardships of aging and death.
Our tradition commands us: "Choose Life."
Ours is a partnership for life.
Here before these witnesses and this congregation today,
I give you this ring in partnership and love.

The rabbis explained how the four posts of the chuppah represent the home we will build.

We stepped on the glasses successfully with our heels, and everyone exclaimed "Mazel Tov!"

We smiled from ears-to-ears and walked down the aisle. Our friends joined us, congratulated us, and took hundreds of photos with their itsy-bitsy digital cameras.

We then walked across the street to the reception, while whispering to each other, "We did it!"

I never thought I'd reach this day. I never thought I'd be so happy. If you asked me why it took so long in my life to reach this stage in my life, I'd answer, it just does.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Our Color Scheme: Green & Gold?

She must've been in her eighties. Her white hair was piled majestically atop her head, and I had the feeling that even a five force hurricane wouldn't have budged it. She smiled at me.

Don't you just love these A's luncheons? she asked me, rhetorically, because she was about to answer her own question. Everybody's always smiling, she added.

After a few minutes of watching me, she pointed to my phone. You sure are spending a lot of time on your phone, she said.

Yeah, I answered. You know, the wedding's in two days.

I had just gotten a phone call from Mehdi, the proprietor of Z Cafe, the place we're going to for the reception. He wanted to know what our color scheme was, so he could use it on the menu. This was a quick answer, and if you've been following this blog at all, you know what the answer was.

Six people were flying in, and a few had called me already. I couldn't answer all my calls at the luncheon because Marty Lurie was busy explaining to us how the A's should get their wins now rather than wait until September.

I had spent an hour that morning with my practice tie, trying to tie the Windsor knot. Whoever Windsor was, I'd like to strangle the English bugger. I decided that his brother, Half Windsor, was much easier to wrangle, but I hadn't even mastered that when I had to go to the luncheon.

With all the running around over the next two days, I don't know when I'll get back to those very helpful online videos of how to tie a tie. Well, very helpful except for the fact that it's like looking in a mirror.

I am so glad Maryann is coming over Sunday morning to help me and get us to the synagogue on time. And, if all else fails, I won't wear the tie. We'll see how it goes!

We had a simcha at services last night after dinner with friends. It was wonderful. More wonderfulness today with the barbecue, courtesy of Chef Jamie.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Tie a Pink Ribbon 'round the Old Oak Tree

I asked Jim to do me a favor this week: Teach me how to tie a Windsor knot.

Actually, in the beginning, I asked him to tie this gorgeous silk tie into a knot for me, and I'll adjust it on Sunday when I put it over my head. He refused. Who is he, Hugh Hefner?? He said he didn't want the tie to crease while it waited in my closet, a week away from the wedding. Yeah, yeah.

But we practiced this afternoon. I can't quite remember the sequence. As I told him that for the third time, he suggested I go watch the tie-tying video on the Men's Wearhouse web site.

I don't have an old tie lying about, so we gingerly used our new pink ties to practice. When I tried mine on and tied a sloppy Windsor, I thought to myself, that new tie goes really well with this gray A's polo shirt.

Who knew I'd ever have to learn to do this? So, just add this stressor to the many others we're doing this week, the week of The Wedding. (Oops, I almost typed Weeding. That's pretty funny.)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Things to Come

I opened the FedEx package with trembling fingers. I looked inside. I couldn't see anything, but it was pretty dark in there.

I threw my hand inside, and felt around. I felt something sharp. I pulled out two slips of paper, stared at them. And sighed.

Yankees tickets. To Yankee Stadium on June 10th. Playing the Pittsburgh Pirates, but who cares about an interleague game.

I'm going to The Show. No, no, sorry....I'm going to the Temple of Baseball. Babe Ruth may not have built it, but he starred there. So much history.

And that's just the beginning of the honeymoon. It's very exciting. It's hard to believe I could be any happier.

Back to Wilkes Bashford


We went back to the scene of the fashion crime. Well, there are no longer any fashion faux pas going on there.

We came, we saw, we put it on. Jamie took one dressing room and I took the other. Our suits were hanging in each, waiting for us. It's like wearing something created only for you...oh, wait. It was. They are.

Everyone in the shop who recognized me from last time said hello, nodded, and whispered, "You look sooo good."

Joe, our friendly Wilkes Bashford sales associate, took two Polaroids of us together. One he gave to me; the other he kept for himself. Jamie was still strutting around when I announced I was going back to the grubby street clothes. Reluctantly, he followed suit.

It was a split-second later when I entered the dressing room again that I found that my fly was open. Well, gosh. Hopefully I won't repeat that mistake in another week in front of three rabbis!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Top 10 Concerts....Ever

This is my opinion of the greatest concerts I’ve ever
attended. You won’t hear me say that the Beatles
concert at Shea Stadium was the best, or the Stones
really rock, because I’ve never seen them live. And
“circa” means that I really can’t remember when I saw
them. But just the fact that I still remember details
of these concerts…well, that tells you how awesome
they were.

1. The Jefferson Airplane, c. 1967. First rock
concert I ever attended, in San Diego (downtown).
Quite spectacular even though I was wayyyy in the
back. White Rabbit brought the house down, and the
smoke up.

2. The Mamas and the Papas, c. 1967, also in downtown
San Diego. They connected with the audience, they
brought visiting musicians with them (like Papa John
Creach on electric violin). I was California Dreamin’
after that.

3. Simon & Garfunkel, c. 1968, at the San Diego Sports
Arena. This was really half a concert, as they shared
the bill with The Lovin’ Spoonful. I will never
forget when Paul Simon changed his E string right
there on stage while keeping up a conversation.

4. Neil Diamond, c. 1970, at the San Diego Sports
Arena. (Are you getting the clue that I grew up in
San Diego?) This was when Neil was at the height of
his song-writing and top 10 power. He told the story
of how he auditioned for the title role in “Lenny.” I
am not kidding.

5. Linda Ronstadt, c. 1985, at the Universal
Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. This is before What’s
New and Canciones, and all rock ‘n roll covers and
originals. How I wish I had had the money to see her
in 1975 in Norfolk when she performed to promote her
Heart Like a Wheel concert. But I was only making
$250 a week then, and couldn’t pay for a $25 ticket.

6. Tina Turner, c. 1992, at the Concord Pavilion.
I’ve seen Tina three times now, including her last
tour a few years ago. The first time I saw her, she
still had all the energy in the world to perform her
famous dance moves while singing at the same time.
Again, I wished I had seen Ike and Tina Turner at San
Diego State in the late ‘60’s, but I was too much of a
rock purist at the time.

7. Dan Fogelberg, c. 1992, at the Concord Pavilion.
Folk/rock singer/songwriter, his The Wild Places album
is the complete album.

8. Elton John, c. 2005, at Caesar’s Palace in Las
Vegas. I wound up with the ticket hours before the
concert, and was just steps from his red piano. He
didn’t talk much, just sang as huge videos
complementing the music played in the background.
Magical.

9. Tom Petty, c. 2006, at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley.
Hate the venue, love the performer. He went through
all of his tunes with high intensity, and the crowd
loved him. And that smoke permeated the stadium.

10. Johnny Mathis, c. 1964, at the downtown San Diego
Civic Theatre. My first concert. My brother took me,
begrudgingly. Chances are I still remember his
signature tunes, and will until the Twelfth of Never.

Honorable Mention:
11. Mary Chapin Carpenter, c. 1995, at the Paramount Theatre, Oakland. I walked out of there humming her songs.

12. Celine Dion, c. 1998, at the Oakland Arena. I had a great seat, and her huge voice catapulted her off the stage. I especially enjoyed the Japanese violinist who performed with feeling on stage with her that night; he had performed on one of her albums, on my favorite of her songs.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Obsessions about Nuptials

It’s three weeks before the wedding, and I am obsessing about wedding rings.

This is a delightful event for someone with OCD. I am not obsessive compulsive, or at least I haven’t been diagnosed. I don’t rub out spots for 10 hours, or wash my hands incessantly. But I have….tendencies. Doesn’t everyone?

So I’ve been looking at everyone’s ring finger. Seeing what they have. What do they sport. People who are married who don’t wear rings get a raised eyebrow, sort of Spock-like.

But I’ve been doing less of that lately. I don’t have to obsess about rings. There are so many other things to obsess about!

Today it was wedding cakes. I have already ordered the cake. It’s two different flavors with yummy icing. But, still, I wonder… So when I was at the San Francisco Ferry Building today, I looked at some shop’s mini cakes. I was tempted to go right into Taste Test right then and there, but my travel mate might have reminded me that we hadn’t walked enough to go that route. I’m not sure if the Boston Marathon would’ve qualified us. But they were soo cute!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

It's a Bit of a Stretch

I posted a goal on 43things about three weeks ago that I'd lose 10 pounds by April 15th. I didn't make it, but I blame it all on my back.

I was doing well intake-wise, but I couldn't exercise. Every time I moved one leg in front of the other, the muscles in my lower back would scream. So I rested it for three weeks. I cancelled the walk yesterday with George, but today I found myself with two hours before lunch with the boys. So I hit Lake Merritt.

My back didn't hurt at all as I started down the trail. Well, other back muscles hurt, the usual suspects, but not the ones that bothered me in recent past. So I was quite pleased with that.

Oh, how I miss the gains I made when I first started walking every day right after I retired! I joined a weight-loss group, watched my caloric intake, and walked either Lake Merritt or the San Leandro Marina, depending on the weather. (If it was warm, I would shun the lake's heat and go for the cooling breezes of the marina.) In those days, I was listening to a lot of audiotapes to kill the monotony of the hour-long walk. Jack London, Memoirs of a Geisha, tales of a veterinarian in England. But that was before my iPod. Now, I listen with glee to podcasts.

And today I was catching up on Battlestar Galactica. Today's podcast was a bit longer than the walk itself, a fan-attended meeting where Ron Moore meets his fans and his detractors. I was just getting to the part where I found out which characters were part of the Final Four (Cylons), when my achilles tendons started thumping like mad.

I had to stop and do some stretches with the bench along the lakeshore. It eased up a little, but not a lot. And that reminded me of a friend who asked recently, why do something that hurts? If you've ever done leg stretches, you know they hurt. But the idea is that they'll hurt less when you've stretched and warmed up those muscles.

I recently got a rope (through the internet) that allows me to stretch my leg muscles before I leave the house. I used to do it every day, and it really helped with work, but lost the rope in the 2000 move. Now that I've got that rope, I hope to keep up the stretches of calf muscles, hamstrings, and Achilles. These are my nemeses, the obstacles to walking regularly.

I have two charitable walks, both 5Ks, this weekend, the one for the March of Dimes on Saturday, and the one in support of Darfur on Sunday. I had better stretch before I go.

As it turned out, I was in constant pain for the first third of my walk today, but as the muscles eased up, warmed up, and stretched out, the pain went away. The last third was sheer pleasure. As I was listening to Ron Moore tell us about the 4th season, the walk, and the pain, was over.

Friday, April 20, 2007

FedEx it to Malta, please, all for $1.98

EBay has always been a little adventure, most of it good, but some of it a pain in the ass.

The pain very often comes when buyers want a different kind of shipping than advertised. I always tell them in my auctions exactly how much the shipping will be to U.S. destinations, Canada, and other international destinations, all by common mail service. Some want insurance, some want FedEx or UPS, some want signatures on the other end, just so they can be sure to get it and that it's not too destroyed. Many have reported angry federal workers posing as courteous postal workers who love to fold up their mail as destructively as possible and shove it into their boxes.

I bought a new digital camera a few weeks ago. It does everything my previous Kodak camera did, even with the 10 times zoom, but in a smaller package. So I thought I'd list the 3-year-old Kodak on eBay. I didn't exactly do it right first time out of the box, but thanks to the easy-to-use "revise" button, I could add some things. I didn't predict, though, that within hours of the posting, it would already have bids. I guess that's in response to the $9.99 start price. (I paid $300 for the $400 retail camera three years ago.) Once the item is bid on, you can't change things in the auction; you can only add. So when I figured out I had the charger and the battery, and they were no good to me separately, I added those on.

Seven days later, the camera that I thought I'd get $20 for -- I mean, how do you know how a used camera is going to perform? -- sold for $113. The guy was in Malta. I had estimated $20 for shipping to international destinations other than Canada. I thought that would be high.

Then started a series of emails back and forth about shipping. Can you ship it FedEx? He wanted a tracking service and signature required. I said no, I don't do FedEx, as it's too hard to get to, but I will do UPS. So, before he answered, I went down to my local UPS store, where I receive all my mail (so it wasn't really out of my way), and asked Charlie for an estimate. I didn't have the address, but I figured "Malta" would do it. Charlie gave me an estimate of $167. Can you believe that??!

Obviously the Malta guy turned that estimate down immediately, and started refiguring how we could do this so that he could still be assured of delivery. He sent me $13 extra on PayPal "for all my trouble." "Please insure it if you can," he added.

I hate postal insurance. I've been doing business on eBay since the mid-'90's, and it's nothing but a hassle. So I don't advertise that as an option. Some eBay sellers demand it, which seems foolish. In fact, some demand it, get the money, and then don't use it, swearing that they'll make it up to the person if they receive it damaged or don't receive it at all.

Insuring with the U.S. Postal Service is like self-flagellation. You pay the money, but when it comes time to claim it for damaged merchandise or lost merchandise, you're in trouble. The post office will not believe the item was lost, and will ask you to wait months before you make the claim. They may not approve it even so. If it's damaged, the guy in Malta would have to ship it BACK to me because only I could make the claim! He would also have to include the damaged packaging so that I could include that when I filled out the voluminous paperwork. And then they would probably also insist on proof that the camera was worth $100, which I don't have. So I try to discourage anybody from insurance, but sometimes they just don't listen to you. So I either say yes or no, depending on the value of the item.

This time I said yes. The total shipping to Malta with insurance was $27. Let's hope it makes it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

If the Suit Fits...

You know that scene in Casino Royale where Daniel Craig’s rugged blue-collar Bond says he doesn’t need a tailored suit? Then he tries one on and can’t stop looking at himself in the mirror, clearly pleased with the look?

That was me today. He put the suit jacket on me, a cool slate blue with subdued white stripes, and, man. Kill me now. The fleeting thought of, gee, just think how good I’d look if I’d lost that 70 pounds in the last week. Or if I was just 5 inches taller. But a good suit hides a lot of things (okay, maybe not that many, but a lot).

This was my first time ever having a sales associate who knew what he was doing take me into his professional arms and outfit me. And then bring a tailor in to mark the suit for alterations. The sales rep, Joe of Wilkes Bashford, kept saying, "I want you to get a suit you're comfortable in, and one you'll wear more than once." Hey, good idea.

There’s only a month left before the wedding, not enough time to start from scratch or get other off-the-rack pieces from other places. Nope, Joe had to do his magic in this store. Hey, who knew?

And who knew it was so involved, that it would take so long? It’s a matter of what colors work with my skin, for God’s sake, with my height, with my hair (!). When he asked what color, I said, “Well, my instructions are gray. Dark gray. Well, she said ‘gray’, and I added ‘dark.’” When Maryann interjected “black?”, Joe frowned and shook his head. “Not black.” Gee, that would’ve been my first choice.

I tried on a dark gray wool suit jacket that was just divine, but it was a tad too small and he didn’t have another. So then I tried on gray pants with white stripes, and although they fit well, they screamed white stripes. Maryann and I agreed that we didn’t like that pair. (Nobody seemed to care that the legs were 10 inches too long, and I keep tripping on them or walking on this fine material.)

Then we went to the shirts. First a tuxedo shirt….I can’t button it because, gee, where’d the buttons go, but he wanted to see how the neck fit. Then he gave me a pink shirt with buttons, but it was too large – and Maryann said pink is good! And he said, no, no, not a pink shirt. The tie will be pink.

Tie? I’m not wearing a tie. I told Maryann months ago, no tie. I…am…not…wearing…a…tie. Too masculine. Never have, never will.

So, another shirt -- “gee, you have a small neck” – and finally we got the right fit. It has French cuffs. I’ve never worn French cuffs. I don’t really like them. God, they’re big. “Don’t worry,” Joe assures me as we bond over this very long process. “When you put on the pink knots, everything will be brought together.”

And then he brings me a dark blue suit with muted white stripes, and matching pants (whose legs go on forever), and….yeah. That’s just right. The shirt works, too. So I try the whole ensemble on….and I feel like Bozo. I’ve got pants that are too long, a white shirt that is ludicrously too long in the arms, French cuffs that keep coming out of the jacket, a suit that bulges at the bra level…and they both think it’s a great look. Then we add the pink tie…and it kinda works. What a nice texture. What a beautiful, popping pink. I have to make a decision. It looks really good on me. The exquisitely dressed tailor comes in with his pin cushion (really), and marks the suit in all the bulging spots. In the meantime, Joe is shouting, “Pink knots!”

Next, the shoes! What an ordeal this is turning out to be. I get redressed and we go back down to the main level where all the real people are. He asked me what size I am. 9 Medium – so he turns to the shoe guy. (There are so many experts here, with thinly defined areas of expertise. Very welcoming, very friendly. And at one point, even Mr. Wilkes Bashford came in to shake my hand and welcome me.) The shoe guy says that the equivalent is a size 6 in a men's, and the sizes don't go down that small. So Joe thinks, my God, we have to get her some women’s shoes. Apparently this is quite a reach for him! I think he’s afraid of getting a feminine look which will go against the look of the suit and tie.

The woman salesperson -- very nice, very elegant – brings me these gorgeous, black, handmade Italian boots. The boots were cut off just above the ankle, and my slightly shorter black pants barely covered them. “No, no,” Joe says, “That’s all wrong.” My, God, Joe, these are beautiful shoes! They really are works of art. “I want lace-up.”

So she brings out the same sort of shoe, only with laces. Black. Smooth leather. Very long and narrow toe. The most form-fitting shoe I have ever worn in my life. In fact, I think it’s alive.

The heel is about 1.5 inches, more than I’d been wearing. Uh oh, say Maryann and Joe in concert, the pants will be too short now. Joe tells me to try the pants back on with the shoes. So I go into the dressing room, again with pants that are way too long, and put on the shoes, trying to keep the pants from falling all around them. I come out. We all agree after I prance back and forth, trying desperately not to trip, that these are the shoes. Well, at least they’re cheaper than the men’s shoes. We have to bring the long-suffering tailor back to re-measure and re-mark the pants. What's kind of amazing to me in this whole process is that I was never measured, just marked.

It’s belt time! I won’t bore you with the details, but, man! That process took a long time, too! With the help of another very nice male sales associate, we agree on a belt with a small silver belt buckle. Very stylish.

It’s over. Three hours of people fretting over me, three hours of trying things on and off, things that weren't really meant to fit me in the first place. I need dinner, fast.

I have never in my life been so pampered. And pampered in a non-judgmental, helpful way. The wool in the suit felt so smooth against my skin. The leather of the shoes was like baby's skin. The wine he offered us helped the pampered feeling. When I was working, this kind of thing, shopping for clothes in this way, would have helped tremendously in a process I learned to dread.

This is the last piece of preparation for the wedding. I just have one question:

What are pink knots?

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Grand Slam: The Vulcans, the Andorians and the Star Trek Fans

One reason you go to the Grand Slam is to see the people there. It’s not so much people watching, although there’s that, too. It’s more to see the people you have a nodding acquaintance with, and the people with whom you share this wonderful obsession.

I immediately saw someone I knew (besides the usual Creation employees I always say “hi” to): JoBeth. I first met JoBeth back in the mid-nineties when I went to Lunch with the Doctor, the second such event but the first for me, where we got to meet Alexander Sidding (Siddig El Fadil at the time), get autographs and ask questions. Gayle, the coordinator of the event, found out I was meeting friends at Disneyland, which was right next door, and asked if I’d take JoBeth with me. I had never met her before, but any friend of Gayle’s is a friend of mine, so we brought her along with us. JoBeth was a school teacher back in Texas, but now she’s a college professor. She’s an avid amateur photographer, and her digital SLR with huge flash is something to behold. She always takes the best photos, in large part because she usually has the best seats, right down front, and is very generous in sharing them with the Star Trek newsletters.

I asked her on Friday if she could send some to Carol for the Far Beyond the Stars newsletter, as I knew my photos would be horrible because my seat is so far away. She instantly told me she’d send me a disc with photos on it. Who do you want? Well, actually, all we need is Nana, I said. So I wrote my address and email on a business card for her, and she promised to send about 100 photos. Talk about overkill! But that’s what we do here.

On Friday night, I saw Gayle Lynn, whom I had seen at many a function. She originally headed the Philip Anglim fan club. Philip was a tremendous actor, starring on Broadway in The Elephant Man before he guest-starred for several episodes as Vedek Bareil on Deep Space Nine, but now he's retired to a farm in Virginia. Before that there was a charge of stalking against Gayle Lynn concerning some other star, or at least that’s what I had heard from several sources. That night when I gave her a hug and asked her how she was, she replied, “I’m….all right, I think. Yes. I’m fine.” (She always was a trifle dramatic.) When I asked what happened, she said she had been assaulted that morning by a homeless person, who threw a rock at her for no reason. She was still shaken up. The others I sort of recognized, and sat with them for the cabaret performance. When we saw that so few of the Gold section people showed up for the cabaret, we moved up a bit.

When Marc Alaimo gave his Shakespeare talk, he invited three fans to join him on stage. The woman right in front of me tentatively raised her hand. I whispered, stand up! She did and was chosen. She ran to the stage. Maybe she’s a budding actress? They were all asked to read from the Hamlet speech, and Marc would help. She read her lines beautifully, and it turned out that her son was studying Hamlet in school that very week. But I noticed that none of her friends were taking photos, so I took several. When she got back to her seat, I offered to send her the photos if she’d write her email address down for me. She was delighted.

There were some terrific costumes about, but fewer than in previous Grand Slams, during its glory. Truth is, the Las Vegas convention has taken over the grandeur of Star Trek conventions, grandeur that used to only belong to the Grand Slam. That’s why they added “Sci Fi Summit” to the name, so people would know it’s no longer about Star Trek. The Las Vegas one is totally devoted to Star Trek. The Cylon I saw out in the courtyard never showed at the costume competition.
And the little kid dressed as Spock wasn’t there, which is really too bad, as he would’ve taken home some neat prizes. The Andorian woman won the competition, but almost didn’t make it, as they started the durn thing a full half an hour earlier than announced.

When I attended the Battlestar Galactica charity breakfast on Sunday morning, we had to wait in line in the freezing shade for half an hour before they opened up. The security person told me that the keys they brought down to open the place didn’t work at first. The man next to me in line had his son with him, and was cheerfully complaining about the fact that they missed two photo ops with some stars because they had too much to do. “I put it all on a spreadsheet,” he told me, “and we still missed them.” Walter Koenig was grumpy about it – “He was kind of a jerk” – but George Takei, as predicted, was very nice and accommodating when they showed up a few minutes late. Apparently he and his son had Gold tickets, but decided to also go for many photo ops and autographs. That sounded so familiar to me that I had to smile. Creation used to include all the autographs, but they no longer do. And now they’ve added photo ops – gosh, we used to have photos taken of us with the stars when we got the autographs. Now that you can no longer do that, it’s really quick getting 500 autographs in. It used to take hours before.

At the breakfast, I saw Julie Caitlin Brown standing by the wall, which I thought was very peculiar. I used to be involved in Julie’s fan club in the ‘90’s, and even helped her with her autograph session in Sacramento one year. She was a very versatile actress, 6’ tall (which was called for in some of her roles), acting on Star Trek’s Next Generation and Deep Space Nine (one role each), and had a recurring role on Babylon 5 as Na’Toth, G’Kar’s assistant. She quit the latter role when she demanded that the producers sign a legal document promising to provide free plastic surgery if and when the makeup caused damage to her skin. The glue of the prosthetics was already causing damage; Michael Dorn’s problems were already well known. They refused, and she quit, and had problems after that getting roles as aliens.

I saw Julie again when I stepped up to get Katee Sackhoff’s autograph, whom I wanted to see and say hi to (not knowing the breakfast would afford me that opportunity). She was sitting with Katee, and when I arrived at the front of the line, she recognized me instantly. I asked her, “Are you representing talent these days?” and she replied, “Oh, I’ve been doing this for 12 years now!” Good for her. Her aggressiveness, I’m sure, will pay off. I saw her later escorting Kate Vernon, who played Colonel Tigh’s wife on Battlestar, so I’m sure she represents her, but I’m not sure if she’s managing Katee. That would be a real coup if so.

I landed a fantastic seat, I must say, for the convention. I monitor the Creation website on a daily basis, looking for when the convention I want goes to the reserved seats instead of just the premiere Gold. I no longer want to pay $500 for the seat, and I don’t “need” the autographs any more. My seat was right behind the Gold, and I was on the aisle. I would sneak up several rows, kneeling in the aisle (along with several other fans) when an actor would arrive on stage, and try to get a better photograph, scramble to my feet, then come back to my seat, usually to find my seatmate had moved over so she could get a better shot. Everybody in my row was very friendly, though, and it wasn’t a problem. Sometimes you’d come back after looking in the dealer’s room to find some other non-reserved person sitting there, but I’d just tell them to move over until the rest of the row showed up.

The young woman immediately next to me only came to two events, making it even less crowded in our row: James Marsters and the Battlestar panel. She was definitely younger than the rest of us, and seemed to know people in other parts of the auditorium. I kind of wonder, though, why she would pay for this reserved seat if she didn’t use it, but maybe she found a way of sitting with her friends.

I have to say that, and this didn’t used to be true, meeting the people who share your passion and talking with them, even if briefly, is one of the great highlights of convention life. I have really missed it.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Grand Slam: The Frakkin' Charity Breakfast

Battlestar Galactica Day at the Grand Slam

The woman next to me asked me if I’d ever been to one of “these breakfasts.” Oh, sure, I replied, maybe 10 or 20. I didn’t tell her this, but the breakfasts are either very bad or very good. The one time Hudson Leick came to visit us at our table and sat in the middle of it, right on top of the table – well, that was a very good one. At other breakfasts, however, the food buffet runs out or is cold, or, worse, the stars spend too much time at other tables and you don’t get to see them, talk to them or get photos. And, another bad thing, most of the time you just sit there for an hour or more with nothing to do but wait.

This was a very good one. The food wasn’t anything to scream about, but it was adequate in warmth, quality and quantity. The ten people at our table were very friendly, very engaging, and that enthusiasm always lifts the participants. The idea that they might get to talk to Jamie Bamber (Apollo) or Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck) was almost unbearable to some.

Jamie was the first to come to our table. When he first sat down at our table, he quickly looked at me and said, "Nice t-shirt," pointing to my Battlestar shirt. He immediately said, "Why aren't you wearing shirts like that?" to the other people at my table. He was dressed in a pink shirt unbuttoned down to almost his waist, and his hair was neatly coiffed. His beard was new, though, and when one of us asked about it, he said he was growing it “purely out of laziness,” which, said in his sophisticated British accent, sounded quite elegant. He’s been writing a story for Battlestar, he said, and has a meeting with Executive Producer Ron Moore next week. He and his wife just bought a house in L.A., and it closed on Friday. They’d been very busy moving and getting the kids in school.

After Jamie departed, the woman to the right of me stage-whispered to the woman across from her: “What did he smell like?” The woman who was asked look nonplussed, stuttered and said, “I don’t know. I think I forgot to breathe.”

Michael Trucco came by right after that, and told us this was his first convention. He asked where we were from, and told us he grew up in San Mateo. Katee came up from behind and moved Mike on to the next table, but not before they enjoyed a nice, long hug and a kiss. Katee sat down, looked at us, rolled her eyes, and said, “Can you believe I get to have love scenes with all these hunks?”

I am a little behind in watching BSG on DVR, so I was a little lost in plot points. Something about Starbuck dies, she isn’t dead, hey, I’m lost. So I’ll skip that, but she did say she plays an evil person on the new Bionic Woman. And she smokes, which really bothers her. Apparently, she just quit smoking, and vowed never to smoke as it might induce some kid to smoke. She kept that promise as Starbuck, but had to break it for Bionic Woman, but justifies it by saying she’s not Jamie Sommers. She’s the evil woman, and thinks kids won’t copy her.

Katee was very gracious, very engaging, and I noticed at the table next to us, she couldn’t get away from them when her time was up. They kept holding onto her, literally, until she ended up hugging every last one of them. It must be tough to be a symbol like that, where people are pushing their hopes onto you, maybe even projecting their troubles. I wonder how she handles it.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Live Long & Prosper: The Grand Slam


THE GRAND SLAM, Burbank, CA

As I got into the elevator at the Marriott Hotel in Burbank (which used to be the Hilton), two young women got on with me. One pointed to me and said to her friend, “See, I knew we’d see Star Trek fans right away here.” I smiled. Maybe it was the Deep Space Nine t-shirt I was wearing that tipped her off. Star Trek fans are so friendly.

I saw a bunch of folks gathered for the Star Trek Cabaret on Friday night, and boldly went up to them and said, “Why do all of you look familiar?” In truth, I only knew one by name. “Yeah, that’s because we keep coming to these conventions,” said one, laughing. That’s the key: We keep coming.

Friday night’s cabaret show was very small, featuring only four actors, and we had no idea what they were going to do. The crowd, though, was also very small. But appreciative.

The intense Walter Koenig (Chekov) read four chapters from his new book. George Takei (Sulu) was very charming as he sang some songs from his past. One song, “Sentimental Journey,” was one he learned at about age 7 while imprisoned in a U.S. Japanese-American internment camp in northern California.

Marc Alaimo came out with an unusual approach: he was going to teach three fans how to read an act in Hamlet. It was very entertaining, mostly when Marc took over and spoke Shakespeare’s words “trippingly on the tongue” so that we could understand it all.

Nana Visitor came out as the final act, wearing black pants, black jacket, light green blouse, and three-inch high black boots. Her hair was a dark brown, almost black, and she instantly smiled and introduced her piano player, her husband Matthew. She sang three songs for us. The first one she introduced as the song she should have sung on Deep Space Nine instead of “Fever.” She wanted to do “Fever,” but Ira wanted her to sing “You Can’t Take That Away from Me.” She now knows why Ira might have made that choice, and she mentioned the word “bittersweet” when it came to the Kira-Odo relationship. Other song selections were a Harold Arlen song I didn’t know, and “Lost in the Stars.” She said she was in a real competition with one actress a long time ago, and pretty much hated her. “I couldn’t hate her any more,” she related, “after I heard her sing that song (Lost in the Stars).” Nana completely owned the stage, and I was disappointed when she left.

Nana appeared on stage with Marc Alaimo the next day on Saturday. Together for the first time. The crowd was delighted. Marc played, with great authority, the Cardassian Gul Dukat. Dukat was the most evil person (thing?) you'll ever see in fiction. He was a great character, and everything revolved around him when he was in a scene. That is, except when Major Kira was around. I don't think I'm telling tales out of school when I say that Marc, the man, was quite smitten with Nana, and tried to get the powers-that-be to write more scenes of the two together. Especially a plot twist that would show Major Kira giving in to the head Cardassian, and becoming her slave. Ira Steven Behr, the producer and head writer, almost bit, and told Nana he was writing such an episode. However, it didn't quite turn out that way. Nana at conventions is quite adamant that she's sure her character would rather die than submit to Dukat. I don't think Marc took that as a compliment.

There is a huge draw, it seems, to Smallville's Green Arrow, played by actor Justin Hartley. I had seen photos of Justin as Green Arrow, and, gee, he always seemed to be a bit young to me. And the idea that he and Lois Lane would have a romance... I'm sorry, but it just doesn't fit in with comic book canon. Justin himself is a really engaging guy, though, and admits that he could spend two hours on a stage, talking to us or even himself. And he almost did. I predict great things for this young actor; his next project is the movie, P.S. I Love You.

I loved seeing Robert Duncan McNeill on stage. Robbie pretty much doesn't act any more, but he's very busy directing. He first learned to direct on Star Trek: Voyager, where he acted for seven years, and is very grateful to Rick Berman for allowing him the chance to learn the craft. He much prefers it over acting now. I will always remember seeing Robbie about once a year or more at some function, introducing ourselves as members of his fan club. He would get up from the table or whatever, and shake our hands, thanking us. What a class act.

But most of the fans seemed to be there for one reason on Saturday afternoon: to see Spike. James Marsters was there, and would even perform in his own show that evening (a separate event that I won't be attending). I found him engaging and energetic. In fact, so much so that I couldn't get a decent photo of him....they are all in a moving blur. No bleached blond hair, no British accent. Just an actor who works at his craft. I really liked the honest things he said. In response to a fan's question about the rape scene on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, he said it took him to a dark place, a place he didn't recover from for a good four months. And with the help of therapy. Sarah Michelle seemed to have an easier time of it. He also said he feels like he went through a war with the folks on Buffy. When you work with someone for 15 hours a day for several days, you see the good and the bad, the complete person, because you can't hide. So, he doesn't feel he has to maintain contact with these folks and see them constantly.

It's interesting to see which sci fi shows people are keeping up with. Heroes has quite a following, and even though young (18, I think) actress Hayden Panettiere was five hours late and didn't get onstage until 7:30 pm, the place was almost packed. And when George Takei talked about Heroes, you had the feeling that many people were sitting in their seats just to hear about that, not about Sulu. Highlander has its remaining fans, usually female and aging, as evidenced by Adrian Paul's rousing welcome and the few Highlander jackets I saw. And there's still a bit of interest in Babylon 5, whose creator, Joe Strazcynski, is putting out a straight-to-DVD movie, The Lost Tales, featuring only three of the cast members. One of the Creation people stopped me on my way in yesterday afternoon, I thought perhaps to question my credentials, only to notice my B5 jacket and talk about the new one coming out.

On my way out of the building on Friday afternoon, I was asked if I'd answer a few questions about William Shatner and Star Trek. Of course! I forgot why, but, hey, if I'm asked my opinion, I usually don't need a reason. But it had something to do with Shatner's new project. They gave me a handout, so I'll have to do some research. My questions had to do with, are you a fan of him, why, what's your favorite Star Trek series and why.

Let me just say that it was wonderful being among Star Trek fans once again, and paying honor to actors who continue to keep us in their thoughts. And that we hope J.J. Abrams can get it right and carry on the Star Trek name in 2008.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Yellow and Flying Low


God, I hate these little buggers. The wasps are back.

This is a little, tiny nest in the front of the house, under the overhanging roof. It's only the beginning of April, but apparently they like the weather.

I'm going to post this photo so that looking at it will remind me to buy wasp traps!!

Last year's traps worked very well. A little hamburger, a wafting odor next to the garbage cans...

You can check in any time you want, but you can never leave. (See? Eagles trump wasps.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

You Don't Send Me Flours Any More



I love bread.

I did without bread for 8 days this year, during the entire (extended) week of Passover. No bread. No croutons. No crackers. No soy chips. No cake. No crepes (sob!). No sourdough at Crogan's. No canapes. Okay, I really don't like canapes, but even if I was offered, I wouldn't have them if they involved flour.


I had a steak tonight but nothing with it. But a couple of hours later, I made some toast and slathered it with butter. Not great for my diet, but oh so satisfying for the bread-starved palate!

I made it through the week! Another 357 days and I get to do this again.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Beginning of a New Season

It was the day I’ve waited for since early October 2006. Opening Day at McFee Coliseum in Oakland. The Oakland A’s vs. the Chicago White Sox.

I actually didn’t have tickets, as I’m trying to avoid all night games. But when one ticket dropped into my hands at the banquet in spring training, I realized I was excited about the prospect. The jet flyover. The fireworks as we sing the national anthem. The presentation of Chavvy’s sixth gold glove. The lining up of the entire team along the third base chalk line. And the optimism of a new season.

I went two hours early, slipped in the back way along 98th Street, and discovered that the parking lot was already half full. The tailgaters are a breed unto themselves, aware that every parking space will be needed tonight, but not caring. They barbecued their hot dogs, stretched out, enjoying each other’s company. While the rest of us circled.

But since I was so early, I found a really good spot, and slowly put the accoutrement on. The jacket. The ticket holder (which displays the ticket so that no usher will bother me). The hat. I decided on the green-and-gold fitted cap instead of the soft spring training hats I’ve been wearing lately. Tonight was the night to display the colors.

The game really didn't go the A's way. While we got a whiff of Harden’s power, he never found his rhythm. And the A’s offense sputtered while they left men on base inning after inning. But, really, the game was secondary.

The women around me were interesting. The white-haired woman right in front of me had her green jacket on, her earphones on, and nobody but nobody talked to her. The woman behind me was patiently explaining to her husband that Chavez’s stroke will come around; he should just be patient.

We have real characters on our team. They are each capable of a record-breaking year. We believe that. We just have to be patient.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bring on the Brisket

I've done a lot this year to prepare for Pesach (Passover). I've helped Temple Sinai raise money by joining in two March Madness events (soon to be three). I've sampled Berkeley Rep plays (ugh!) while tasting three types of brisket at the other event (terrific!).

I've also cleaned my house of chametz, the leavened bread-type products that one must get rid of during Pesach. You know, flour, bread crumbs, flour. I haven't gotten rid of the bread yet. I've been eating sandwiches knowing that I can no longer eat sandwiches for eight days. I have also taken the opportunity to clean out cabinets. This is the once-a-year time when one should throw away old spices and salad dressings. I think it's a good plan.

I am all set up for two seders this year. Last year I was learning. But this year...well, I'm still learning. But some things are now familiar to me, and I will spend this weekend studying up a bit on what goes into a seder (thanks to Dawn's quick study email on that), and what historically goes into this celebration after all.

I'm all set. Except for one thing.

At the Brisket-a-thon last Monday night, the very pleasant lesbian couple told me that they were hosting a seder next Monday night. One of them happened to mention this little gem: "Yeah, and it's opening night for the A's. I guess I'll have to tivo it."

My God. It's Opening Night. I'll be at a seder. I can't watch Opening Night.

If she had known anything at all about me, this whole situation would be playing on my face and she'd know where my mind was going. At first I wondered if that was the night I had tickets for. But no, the A's are out of town, in Seattle, on opening night. I have tickets for when they come back to town on the following Monday. Still, I can't watch Opening Night. But, thankfully, she didn't know me at all, just two lesbians talking about baseball, or rather, our inability to see baseball.

Suddenly I felt like Jimmy Fallon in Fever Pitch. Thinking just a little too much about the local team.

As I hear the story of the escape from Egypt, and the Israelites quickly preparing bread without leavening agents so that they can be on the move, I will try to remember my own Egypts. And drink Manischevitz with friends and enjoy their company. And when I get home, I'll watch the first day of a long season of baseball.

Perspective. Isn't that what both of these events are all about?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Visiting my Dad....in 1931

My goal this week was to clean off the floor of the office, mainly throw away the stuff I didn't intend to keep. I did that, and yet... I'd like to put the good stuff somewhere. The office closet is such that I can't even close it. I know there's a bunch of tax returns in there. If I could just clean that out, I'd have room for the rest of the stuff and maybe even stuff from the middle room. That became the second goal of the week.

Well, cleaning out 25 years of tax returns wasn't easy, it turned out. So far I have spent 10 hours going through it all and shredding most of it. I don't want to shred the last three years of returns, and I don't want to shred anything to do with the Earl Street acquisition. But I don't think I have to be careful with tax returns in the '80's.

And, boy, did I learn a lot! So much of the paperwork back then from banks, credit unions, telephone companies, credit card agencies, was amateurish-looking. I could create something like that on my computer. And the big thing is, why did I spend all that money? On what? On CDs (if that) I no longer have? What a waste!

And yet, I found something more. I discovered that, in my haste of moving, I threw my Dad's diary in with my tax files. His diary from the 1930's.

It's kind of amazing I didn't know of its existence before he died. It's only when he died and I was looking through the things he left in various drawers that I found it. It's really one of the few things he left from his Navy days.

I'll reprint a small entry, manually typed onto a small, lined sheet in an old notebook full of hundreds of sheets.

"Wednesday, June 17, 1931. The Thirteenth Day

"Nothing has happened today so this one will be very short. We had general drills this morning, Fire drill, abandon ship, etc. That took up most of the morning. I will have something more interesting later on in this trip when we get to Europe and visit Copenhagen and all those places that I have always wished to go to. I have watch this afternoon and it is very quiet. Nothing at all to do but sit here and read and write my Diary. I suppose I should be thankful that I have the time to write my Diary or else how are you all going to find out what I have done on this trip to Europe. Sometimes I have the feeling that I should join the bank but I am spurred on by the thought that maybe I am doing right to stick with my chosen profession which is radio.

"We expect to sight land tomorrow and let me tell you that there will be occasion for all hands to rejoice that this long and tedious trip is over for a time at least. We are getting all kinds of European stations on our radio that we have in here to get music on. Some Dutch, English, Danish, French and all kinds of junk that we cannot understand even if we try.

"It rained last night -- the first night that it has rained since our trip started twelve days ago. This is an exceptional record for a sea-voyage. Now don't get the impression that it has not rained at all, on the contrary, it has rained some in the daytime but the nights have always cleared off so we could have the movies on schedule. They are getting ready for chow and I am quite hungry after a long day with nothing to do. I am reading an awfully lot. One has to relieve the monotony of the voyage. Now you will excuse me as I want to go to sleep for a little while......So-long ------"

Every page is nicely kept. Every page is neatly typed. There are some typos but few spelling errors. That tells so much about him.

I really should remove the sheets and put them in a better notebook. The book itself stuck to the envelope I placed it in, and the metal parts are badly rusted. I'm afraid the rust will stick to the pages and make them illegible.

I'm wondering when I'll get back to the shredding and clearing out of my office. The diary is a magnet. A portrait of the artist as a young man. He was only 19 years old. I'm fascinated.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Podcasts

I have discovered podcasts! They’re wonderful, they’re free, but sometimes you get what you pay for.

Having stuff on my iPod was initially a way to get me walking, a way not to be bored during exercise. I used to listen to cassette or CD audiobooks, but I had a few problems with that, namely losing cassettes and having to carry around a big ‘ol Walkman.

But with my iPod mini, it’s sheer pleasure. And the sound on most of these podcasts is superb. In fact today, while I was walking at the San Leandro Marina, I kept looking around to see where the helicopters were. They weren’t. They were on a Disney World podcast.

I find iTunes a little difficult to work with. I don’t know what podcasts are out there, and so I try various word searches to see what could be there that I might like. What got me started was going to a comic podcast panel at WonderCon last month, purely by accident. I liked what I heard, mostly a rant about how comic book women have large chests – yes, both hilarious and tragic -- and subscribed to Lene Taylor's I Read Comics podcast. Very well done, well written, humorous even though I no longer read comics.

My favorite podcast so far is the Battlestar Galactica one put out by Ronald D. Moore, creater and executive producer on the show. For each podcast, Ron finds some time late at night, sips some Scotch and lights a cigarette, and just tells us what decisions went into making that last episode. It’s just terrific content, and he doesn’t waste time getting down to it (except to tell us where he got that Scotch). When I realized, though, that I was listening to spoilers, notes about shows I haven’t viewed on my DVR yet, I decided not to listen to them until later.

I really enjoyed the Ebert & Roeper podcast. I find that when I DVR the program, I never have time to watch it. The podcast is just the sound, and it’s very entertaining.

However, one that was really stupid and almost disgusting was a podcast about Harry Potter (called Pottercast). I love reading the books and seeing the movies, but this podcast is three young people stepping on each other orally with apparently no real place to go and only opinion, no real information. And if they're not all talking at once, they're giggling. It’s chaotic to say the least. So I deleted them.

One other that I’ve listened to is a Disney podcast called Disgruntled Disney Dweeb, and I enjoy it for the most part except that it took a good 5 minutes of introductions and music before I got to any content. Another Disney podcast that is so much more professional and full of interesting content, though, is Inside the Magic. ITM’s broadcast that I listened to today covered a couple of things that really interested me: the closing of the Italian restaurant at Epcot, and a tour of one of the hotels attached to Disney World. One of the most delightful sequences I’ve heard was an interview with a Brasilian guy who worked as a janitor for two months in the Magic Kingdom (WDW) circa 1998; he told how he liked to cheer kids up when they discovered, for example, that Ariel had a different voice from the movie.

Most of the Disney podcasts, I think, talk about WDW; I guess it has more things than Disneyland. I really didn’t think I’d be interested in the intricacies of Disneyland and Disney World, but a lot of the content concerns memories, my memories, of the two theme parks. And that’s fun. The ITM broadcast was over an hour, not a lot of theme music (except in the background as they talk), and involves at least 3 speakers. It’s a real professional job.

One podcast I tried out was called Indies, and I was really mad that they put all this weird music in it. I finally discovered that the podcast was about Indie Music and not Independent Movies. Ah, no wonder.

When I first discovered podcasts, I hooked onto several food shows. However, not all of these are great. If the recipe involved things I don’t like – like squash – I wouldn’t listen to the podcast. And one of them involved how to get your kids to help you cook, and that wasn’t only boring, it was horrible in that both kids talked over our host. Constantly.

The Bon Appetit and Food Network podcasts, however, can be a lot of fun if they’re not too specific. The last Bon Appetit one I listened to involved wine. Too boring. And if they involve squash or eggplant in their recipes, it's all over.

Anyway, this is an exciting new world for me. I hope to find more new worlds to explore. And walk more.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Spring Training 2007 - Home at Last


It took me almost 13 hours, but I got home without incident. Yeah, yeah, looks like flying is less time, if not easier, than driving. But I had a good time driving, and I enjoyed the scenery.

I skipped the last game at Phoenix Muni, but I don't regret it. Yes, I miss those great seats, but I didn't miss the 100-degree heat. Or rather, I did miss the heat.

So, this is kind of, what do I think about the A's now that I've seen spring training?

First of all, the heat made all the difference this year. Unfortunately, I hit a week where the projected average was 95 -- but the mercury hit 99 or 100 each day I was there. Not pleasant, and couldn't have been pleasant for the players, who start working out an hour and a half prior to game time. It's a huge consideration, and one I'll have to think more about in future years. In other words: Do I really want to subject myself to that misery?

As for the A's, I think you have to realize that spring training isn't going to total everything up for you nicely. You automatically know that the roster players will play the first few innnings, usually, with the fill-ins at the very end. But sometimes that's not true. Piazza could come up to hit in the 7th inning, for instance. Or, as in the case of the A's on Sunday, they could have a split squad and you don't know who you're gonna get.

A note about that last: spring training is no cheaper than the regular games. It cost me $24 a ticket on a group rate for my seats. And $5 for a lemonade that almost tasted lemony. They charge you, but they don't guarantee you players worth your money. It's big business.

Okay, down to our business here. Let's break it down into the (obvious) three categories.

PITCHING.
The relief corps looks genuine. In fact, the A's have so much treasure in the form of relievers that they really could afford to part with one or two or more if a good deal comes up. I'm not worried about long- or short-relief. I'm worried about the starters.

Rich Harden (if he stays healthy) could be dominant, no doubt. Every time he goes out there, we could possibly see a no-hitter. Dan Haren, I'm predicting, will have a break-out year; the guy has four pitches, and several versions of each. After that, we're less sure. Esteban Loiza is a very decent starter, but has had some questions raised about his health in spring training. Joe Blanton has had nothing but trouble in March. Joe Kennedy at this point is, I'm afraid, a joke. We'll see how it all plays out.

HITTING.
There are a few holes in the line-up when it comes to hitting. First baseman Dan Johnson will make the squad, or at least have a couple of months to see what he can do. Surely since he solved his vision problems, he should have a higher average, but that's not saying much. His spring training results are pretty good (read: better) in the hitting department, but I think he also lacks something defensively. (Nick Swisher on first, however, looks even better than last year, and his bat is solid. I hope to see more from Nick when runners are in scoring position - RISP.) I look at Johnson as trade bait, not real-solid-roster type. And let's not forget Erubiel Durazo, who is still a great hitter (now that he's solved his elbow problems); defensively, however, he is less than Johnson. Much less.

Mike Piazza was a genuine, rather cheap find. He's 38, so relieving him of his catching mask is going to help him tremendously. (Curious, isn't it, how he hung onto that mask until he finally had to let go...) Let me just say that he's a hitting machine. Seriously. The guy can hit any pitch, any time he wants to. Don't expect Frank Thomas numbers in homeruns, but do expect hits, many for multi-bases, and RBI's. And Milton Bradley is just about to reach his prime -- if he can stay healthy (not a small thing since the guy throws his body around with abandonment); expect great things from this guy.

Shannon Stewart, another Billy Beane acquisition during the off-season, and another brilliant move. Nobody would touch him when he had plantar fascitis, but now he looks terrific as a hitter in the 2nd or 3rd slot.

Eric Chavez, unfortunately, is less sure. He had a brilliant spring in 2006 and then went and injured, well, everything. Now his spring is less inspiring. And shortstop Bobby Crosby hasn't even stepped up to the plate, recovering from injuries he sustained last year.

DEFENSE. The thing that's going to hurt the A's the most in the defensive category is the loss of coach Ron Washington, who became the Texas Rangers manager. However, that loss won't be felt for, maybe, another year. Defensively the A's look really good, with six-time Gold Glover Eric Chavez at 3rd and shoulda-been-gold-glover Mark Ellis at 2nd. Catcher Jason Kendall is redefining the position on a daily basis. Shortstop Bobby Crosby isn't playing a real game yet, but we believe he'll be ready in April and perform well. Super sub Marco Scutaro fills in nicely, too, for Crosby or Ellis. Depth-wise, however, that's it; once you get to Antonio Perez, you're dipping into adequate but not awe-inspiring defense. And we'll be curious to see if others like Lou Merloni make the squad.

In the outfield, centerfielder Mark Kotsay is out until mid-season, replaced by Milton Bradley, who loves playing the position, and Nick Swisher, who is improving every game in right. Stewart will play left -- his arm isn't great, but he's a veteran player who can read the carom. Again, depth-wise, we're in trouble, however. Except for Bobby Kielty, there's no one else.

So, if I were going purely by numbers, I'd place the Angels first, with the Rangers second. The A's would only come in third. But baseball is everything but a series of numbers slung together. The Athletics will take the American League West again....but, again, it won't be easy.

Obviously you can tell I'm really looking forward to the games really starting in April. Like my friend George says, spring brings optimism about relationships and baseball. We think great things are just around the corner. I believe that.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Spring Training 2007: Watch Out for Pitchers Named Joe


Today's weather at Phoenix Muni was a record-breaking 99 degrees, but we lucked out when a large cloud formation came and sat above us, taking in about four or five innings.

Just enough to watch the second starting pitcher in a row, Joe Kennedy, have a bad outing and, in his case, increase his ERA to a football game-like 20.48. He's had 31 hits against him in his last 9 innings. Thank God this is spring training and not April. And this performance followed one by Joe Blanton last night, who allowed 4 runs in the first inning. The entire crowd was chanting, "We don't need no Joe's!" And these are the A's fans!

A's management decided to only play two regulars today, at least in the first few innings. So we saw Mike Piazza DH (who made the team's first 3 RBI's in this game, including his first homerun as an A player), and we saw Nick Swisher play center field. Oh, and Dan Johnson started at first. But the rest of the infield looked like a line-up you wouldn't recognize. But that's a cool thing about spring training: many of these players are the future stars. And most of the fans knew their names. Travis Buck, in particular, looks like he's ready for that step up, but he won't see it in the first few months. Others, like the Rule 5's Jay Marshall and Lou Merloni, will be costly if they're not kept on the roster. And we got a chance to see most of them in one game.

Joe Kennedy's start, however, gave us a rather large hole to crawl out of, and, like last night, they never managed to do just that. The final was Brewers 11, Athletics 4. But the final score is never the idea behind spring training.

Jay Marshall replaced a battered Kennedy, and promptly got the next two outs to end this sad 3rd inning. He then went on to pitch well over the next inning, prompting some fans to yell, "He's our fifth starter!" Jay's submarine approach was a reminder of previous A's player Chad Bradford, except that Jay is a leftie.

And since the weather wasn't too horrible, I was able to sit there for a good six innings, quite pleased with the game in spite of the final score.

On my way out, I spotted Lew Wolff, the new owner, come down out of his suite. I smiled at him. He smiled back. We agree that we have the best team in baseball.

Spring Training 2007 - We'll Stop Applauding in the 3rd Inning

I'm about ready to go out to Phoenix Muni, a day game after a night game. (As one of our Booster ladies said, "It's a marathon!" I think she meant for us, not the players.) After last night's really pleasant weather at night, I'm about to dive into a steam bath. It's supposed to be 98 today, and my regular box seat doesn't have any shade.

Talking to some of the A's fans at breakfast, I discerned that everybody was really happy to see the A's play after a day off on Wednesday and a Tucson game on Thursday. It was interesting to see the crowd's reaction to Eric Byrnes last night. "We clapped for him for the first two innings," Joy told me, "but not after that. He was on his own." Eric hasn't been on the A's squad in two years, but he is well remembered as being one of the fans' favorites. Eric just got a big one-year contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and is a real play-maker on the squad.

The crowd here, mostly A's Booster Club members, are interesting on their own. I was sitting at a table during the banquet consisting of all women. And many of the other tables were like that as well. They were all very friendly, and also very assertive: they know what they like, and they want it now. And that goes for all things, not just baseball. And they're real fans.

"When my husband and I divorced, I told him, you can have everything else. I just want our A's tickets." This came from Ellen, who sat next to me. It's probably important to note that they didn't have any minor children in the household. She works full-time in Walnut Creek, so this one-week vacation at spring training was very important for her to de-stress.

And I found that the conversations weren't just interesting, they were sometimes rather strange. For instance, I was asked some weird questions. "Are you Italian?" one lady wanted to know. She told me I looked like someone she knew who was obviously Italian. Another woman asked me in what month I was born? I guess she's into astrology. When I told her I was a Libra, she nodded her head solemnly, but never told me why she asked, or what it means about my personality or future.

Interesting that more women than ever are coming to the ballpark. It's interesting that more women than ever are coming to Spring Training. They don't need a man to chauffeur them around. They come by themselves, usually with friends, sometimes with a group. They know every player, and even their stats.

These are the new fans: middle-aged women. Watch them roar.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Spring Training 2007 - Barry Bonds & Global Warming




I left at 10:30 this morning to make sure I got to Scottsdale Stadium in plenty of time. My worry is always parking.

Since I was there two years ago, they seem to have shifted the parking around. There is no longer a general lot on grass right across from the stadium; it's now reserved for pass holders (season ticket holders, I presume). So I had to go around the block...and discovered a parking building, for free, right next to the stadium. Going more than two hours early got me a parking space on the top of the building. Within 15 minutes, I'm sure, all the spaces were gone.

It was a very hot day today. News reports have the high at 93 degrees, but I swear it was closer to 100. (News reports later put the temp at 98.) I could take three innings of sitting in my seat, but no more. I spent a lot of time in the tunnel where some of the concession stands are, just to keep cool. I discovered that if I can hear the blood rushing to my head, I should seek shade right away....and so I did.

But I got to watch a hitting fest. There were 5 homeruns by the Giants and the Rockies, including a very high one by Barry Bonds in right center, and he didn't even get all of it. Matt Cain certainly looked like he needed more time in spring training.

There was some autographing on the sides of the stadium. The only nice thing, I think, about Scottsdale is that the fences are lower on both the right and left field sides. Phoenix Muni, on the other hand, is not as accessible, meaning, it's harder to get an autograph because you can't reach the player.

This was my 3rd day here, and I had yet to see the A's play. But that was about to change. I got to my second game of the day a few hours early, and most of the field was in the shade -- it was still warm, but pleasantly so.

Ten minutes before game time, the A's players ran onto the field, one by one, and then suddenly a spurt of rookies and veterans. Those who expected to play did wind sprints in front of us: Nick Swisher, Milton Bradley, Shannon Stewart. Triple A players who were asked to come to spring training -- the likes of Daric Barton, Travis Buck, and Kurt Suzuki, talked with each other on the side and laughed a lot, pleased to be here.

A night game! I didn't think I'd like a night spring training game (because what do you do in the daytime?), but I loved it! The weather was balmy, and I actually enjoyed sitting there, watching plays develop. It didn't hurt that Candi gave me cool box seats, right off 1st base and Dan Johnson. Nice.

Joe Blanton had a tough time of it. He gave up 4 runs in the 1st inning alone, did well in the 2nd, but never fully found his command. On the other side, Diamondback Enrique Gonzalez only allowed one hit in four innings -- the hit went to Piazza.

Mike Piazza showed up after everyone else, and quickly sauntered over to my side of the fence (the only low spot in the complex) and signed an autograph or two. Then he went back to producing -- I swear, the man is a hitting machine. The adjustment to the American League will not be difficult for this future hall-of-famer.

Nick Swisher looked ready for prime time, offensively as well as defensively. But if there's anyone who looked like he was clueless, it was Eric Chavez. Let's hope he finds his stroke. He still has his defensive powers, as he led the guys into a much-needed double play early in the game.

Seeing the veteran and new talent this close up is a real thrill, a real hint at what's to come in 2007. I can't wait.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Spring Training 2007 - Better Not Run Out of Food


Thursday night was the big Oakland A's Booster Club buffet. The buffets are always a lot of fun, and the end is always a raffle for lots of terrific A's stuff. There are so many prizes that most tables have one winner, and if that's not happenin', there are a lot of mournful faces. Like tonight.

We were delighted when Marty Lurie and Ken Korach showed up as soon as we sat down (actually, after the delicious appetizers), just back from the rugged Tucson trip where ace pitcher Rich Harden reportedly mowed down 9 out of 11 batters. We were very happy to hear this.

Marty Lurie has the pregame show (on 1550 am) before every game, and Ken Korach took over as the head announcer when Bill King passed away. Marty's show is always entertaining, even when it's not necessarily about A's baseball, and I try to listen to it whenever I can. And if I miss it, I listen to the downloaded version from his website. Ken Korach is my favorite baseball broadcaster, and he gets better every year. I always love to lobby a question their way when they open it up; I'm always prepared with one to get things going. My question tonight was regarding the 5th pitching slot, since neither Kennedy nor Halsey is showing us much. Korach's reply was that Kennedy will get it regardless of how he performs in spring training. He's right, of course.

They didn't run out of food in this year's buffet. We have stories of such things in recent past. Last year at the buffet, they ran out of desserts when the first few tables took more than one dessert and left none for the last few tables. And the 2006 party on the field at Phoenix Muni is still a laugher (well, I think it's funny...) when they ran out of food halfway through the line. The people at the stadium told Candi that they never knew seniors could eat that much.

So we're happy to report that the food was good as well as plentiful. And lots of iced tea, which pleased me.

There was lots of grumbling, though, when the raffle tickets were called. Someone suggested that having a young child pick the tickets often means that the tickets aren't necessarily shuffled. I think you also have to consider that some people buy a lot of raffle tickets. Regardless, there were two tables that kept winning all the prizes (it seemed), and some people, most people, weren't happy. Our table was among those who were unhappy until the last several prizes were announced. There were three large prizes, and our table won two of those: A ticket to the A's opening night game, and an A's jacket. (The other prize -- won by the same table as most of the other prizes -- was two tickets at the Diamond Level, those fabulous seats right behind home plate where you can eat all you want and yell at the players as they run by on their way to the locker room.)

So, I didn't win any prizes. However, when I heard Shirley say that she didn't want the opening day ticket because it was only one, I offered to buy it from her. She handed me the piece of paper, just gave it to me. (It had the phone number of the guy who has the ticket back in Oakland.) One ticket is just enough for me. That was very nice of Shirley.

Tomorrow is the start of the weekend A's games, where Ken and Marty said we'll probably see the likes of Bobby Crosby (injured until now), and up-and-comers Travis Buck and others. The banquet was kind of an ice-breaker for me; now I can say hello to some people when I cheer on the green and gold.

Spring Training 2007 - Another 2 Hours to the Park


This is my first full day here. I arrived yesterday afternoon in what should have been, at most, a six-hour trip from San Diego. Instead, it took eight. But who knew that (1) Border Patrol would have stops, (2) workers would completely shut down I-8 except for a narrow passageway, and (3) I hit Phoenix commuter traffic at 3 pm. Damn.

And on top of that, it's damn hot as well. The highs are expected to range around 95 this week.

Today I went to Maryvale Park to watch the Milwaukee Brewers battle the Los Angeles Angels at Anaheim in Maryvale. I left two-and-a-half hours before the game, and I arrived half an hour after the game started. (It's tough navigating for yourself. And this grid is, indeed, a grid, but it's got south, north, east and west attached to street names, and, well, I'll not bore you with the time-consuming details.)

Parking took half an hour because there was a lot of traffic. I'm guessing that they're just used to showing up at gametime here. We were shunted off to Lot B to park, but it wasn't all that far away. I got my first "taste" of the heat, though, walking in. Hey, this isn't that bad!

When I got to security, I was ready with my bag open. He took my water, though, telling me that you can't bring in opened containers of liquid. Last time you couldn't bring in full containers. "They changed it," he offered helpfully.

Bad design at Maryvale. I'm surprised I didn't mention that two years ago, but walking in at 11 am is quite different from walking in at 1:30 pm. The line to get in the park is in right field, so you have to make your way past all the people in line for concessions. I finally found my section, 100, but that isn't too hard. When I got down to my seat, which was in the middle of the row, I found I had a dandy spot right behind home plate and only a few rows up. The problem was, I was in the sun. Many of the seats above me were in the shade, so I sat it out for two innings and then moved to the shade.

You're interested in the score? Okay, here goes. I arrived in the 3rd inning. I watched the game for the next two innings. Then, innings 5 through 7 I spent in line for a hot dog. (There was a guy so angry at all the baseball he wasn't watching, that he yelled at everybody behind him, "Don't stand in this line! You'll kill yourself!") I ate my hot dog through the sausage races at the seventh-inning stretch. I watched another half inning, then I raced for the exit.

The actual game was poorly played for the most part. The Angels must have sent their C players. I did see Prince Fielder for the Brewers go 2-for-3, and it looks like he's having sheer fun batting. But there were 4 errors scored in the game, and the Angels only had 2 hits to the Brewers' 11.

I did feel a little queasy after I ate that hog dog and went into the sun. I had better watch that in the future. And drink more water.

More fun tomorrow as I go to Scottsdale Stadium at 1 pm and Phoenix Muni at 7 pm. I should have better luck finding these places.