Thursday, February 28, 2013

A New Band in Colorado Springs

If you find yourselves free Friday night, a new band debuts:

War Parts debuts at the Black Sheep. Check 'em out if you're in the area. They take the stage around 8:30p or 9p (time TBD).

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "The Harder They Fall"

This 1956 release, an indictment of the boxing environment of the first half of the 20th century, was the last in Humphrey Bogart's career. He was fighting the esophageal cancer that would claim his life in January of the next year. He looked haggard in many scenes, as the well-tailored suits didn't fit his frame as they did in previous pictures like The Maltese Falcon.

In this film, he plays a sports columnist recently set adrift when his newspaper folded. Like most men of that era, his self-worth and value in society were based on his job. Nick Benko, a local promoter deeply involved in fixing fights, has an angle and needs Bogart's Eddie Willis to help make the angle work. Benko, played with flamboyance and a glib tongue by Rod Steiger, is a man used to having his way with people and circumstances. He offers Eddie a generous salary and an expense account, but Eddie has to jump to Nick's commands. Nick needs Eddie to craft a narrative of a foreign force of nature landing on American shores to lay waste to all challengers.

That force of nature, Toro Moreno (played with naivete by Mike Lane), only wants to make money to help his family back in Argentina. He doesn't have the bloodlust expected of most fighters. Nick sees the "Wild Man of the Andes" as a means to dominate the heavyweight division, and collect large sums of cash in the process. However, the first time Eddie sees the big man in action, he notes "...powderpuff punch and a glass jaw...that's a great combination". Eddie's experienced enough around the fight game to know Moreno not only can't fight, he is liable to get gravely injured in the ring.

Realizing the boxer's shortcomings, Nick sends Moreno and an entourage to California to beat up on tomato cans. Once the legend of the fighter is built up (with Eddie's writing and influence with other media types), Moreno would come to New York and take on the champ for that once-in-a-lifetime payday. Nick would make a mint, Moreno would be discarded as a casualty of the boxing profession, and all would be right with the world. It doesn't quite work out that way, however.

Bogart shuffles through this film in a world-weary fashion. He's gotten involved with guys whose character he can barely stomach. He tries to look after Moreno, an immigrant ill-prepared for the cutthroat nature of boxing. Steiger's Nick carries himself like the "big man" wherever he is, but the bluster hides the fact that he needs so much outside help to carry off his plans. Nehemiah Persoff is Nick's yes-man Leo ("Nobody gets hurt"), quick to parrot Nick's pronouncements as if repeating them makes them come true.

There's an interesting list of supporting cast members. Jersey Joe Walcott is a washed-up fighter in Nick's camp to lend legitimacy to an illegitimate enterprise. Familiar face Edward Andrews portrayed an affiliated promoter - his TV credits include Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Hawaii Five-O, Love American Style and Chico and the Man. If you watched television in the 60s and 70s, he guest-starred on a show you probably watched.

Also, Max Baer played the heavyweight champion of that era, the destination of Moreno's climb. The father of the Beverly Hillbillies' "Jethroe Bodine", Baer was a smirking Cheshire Cat in a suit. In the ring, however, he was shown as a smiling assassin.  In a bit of "life imitating art", Baer went through a similar situation in his real-life boxing experience. For more, look up "Primo Carnera".

Yeah, I am a huge Bogart fan. Fifty-seven is awfully young to pass away. He left a legacy and body of work that so many have emulated, but none have duplicated. Knowing he was to die soon after this film was released had me watching it in a different light, looking for signs of an artist soon to close the book on his acting career.

When you read biographies on him, and the challenges (some self-generated) he overcame, it was a wondrous career. Humphrey Bogart earned his status as one of the all-time Hollywood greats.  This role was a fitting close to an interesting journey.

My Team - Grizzlies versus Mavericks

Wednesday night, Memphis will look to extend its' winning streak - seven in a row at this point. Miami is the only other team with a streak at least that long (the Heat have won 12 in a row).

Here come the Dallas Mavericks. Tuesday night at home, they lost to Milwaukee. Dirk Nowitzki went for 21 pts, 20 rebs in the loss. O.J. Mayo added 18, but also had 5 turnovers. Vince Carter came off the bench and went 0-8 and had 3 turnovers in 26 minutes. The team turned the ball over 20 times in the loss. That plays right into Memphis' defensive strengths.

On 21 December, the Mavericks lost at Memphis, 82-92.

Tonight, who covers Nowitzki? Also, how does his body hold up on the back side of this back-to-back? Mayo has a green light to shoot from deep, but isn't as dynamic an athlete as most 2-guards. Maybe Tony Allen checks Mayo & harasses him into a sub-par night. Center Chris Kaman scored 14 in his last game against Memphis, but didn't play Tuesday against the Bucks.

Nowitzki would have a distinct matchup advantage against most Memphis bigs. Darrell Arthur's athleticism may be enough to bother Nowtizki for stretches. Mike Conley and Darren Collison will be a fun battle of quick, smallish point guards. Tayshaun Prince and Shawn Marion will chase each other around screens & down the baselines. Memphis' bench must play well tonight, and the rest of the season.

My guess, Memphis 92, Dallas 89. As always, these guesses aren't for gaming purposes. They're for self-grading, self-professed "expertise" and bragging rights in my living room.

After the Game: Memphis 90, Dallas 84.

Thirty-three to two, including twenty-four straight. That was a Memphis run between the second and third quarters. After being down 25 at home, the Grizz turned up the defensive pressure. Dallas missed numerous field goal attempts in the 3rd quarter, and turned the ball over 21 times for the game. It was the biggest comeback win in Grizzlies history.

Randolph (22 and 10) and Gasol (21 and 12) led the way. Pondexter scored 12 off the bench, and Daye added another 10. Randolph was surprisingly active chasing Nowitzki (4/11 FG/A). The other three starters (Conley, Allen and Prince) combined for 6-28 from the floor, though. The team shot 37.7 percent from the floor and had 16 turnovers. On the bright side, they had 21 assists on 29 baskets.

Overall, there were some rough spots (down 19-38 at the end of the first quarter) and some good times (the comeback). The team didn't give up, which is a tribute to the coaches and the effort of the players.

They play like that in the first quarter in Miami, they're gonna get their feelings hurt.

Surviving Colorado Drivers (part 2) - A Road Rager's Guide

Here are some more instances I've seen driving in this state:

6) "Braking" is the new "Turn Signal" - need I say more? Stay alert, because you never know when someone in directly in front of you may turn off the street you're using.

7) Right on Red Close Shave - you're on a city street, approaching an intersection. Your light is green; yep, you have the right of way. You may be 75-100 yards from the intersection. To your right, a car is waiting to turn right on red. That car is stopped. Does that car turn on red while you are far away? Of course not. That car waits until you are 30 yards or less, then turns directly in front of you. So, you get the joy of braking under the intersection light.

You saw me coming, you had time earlier to turn well in front of me. Why cut it so close?

8) Echelon Formation - you're on a two-lane highway, in the right lane. There is a car off to your left, slightly behind you. You can see enough of that car to know it's there, but you can't see the whole vehicle in your exterior mirror. The two of you approach a slower car in your lane, you want to change to the left lane to pass, but the other car is still in tight formation. Oh-by-the-way, your "wingman" slows as you do. Neither of you can get by that slower car directly in front of you. This is closely related to:

8a) Jammin' Me - you're on a similar two-lane highway, but it could be a two-or-three lane boulevard. There is a car in each lane. They're not perfectly abreast, but close enough to block anybody from passing. They all are doing 1 to 3 miles under the speed limit. None seem to notice the others.

Remember how jammers did similar in Roller Derby? It's like that on roads here sometimes.

9) Extremes of Snow Driving - you're driving during snowfall. You're dodging two types of drivers. One is the person going over the speed limit, because he/she has an SUV or "I drive like this when the weather is good, so why change?" The second is the person scared of driving at any time that isn't clear and 72 degrees. That person is going 5 MPH. You have to dodge both, while on snow or ice-covered roads. Can you handle the challenge?

10) My "OMG" is More Important - too many folk here are chatting on phones or texting while driving. Even with state laws on the books outlawing the practice, when you see a driver looking down into his/her lap while driving the speed limit, you know some strange recovery maneuver is about to happen.

I'm thankful I've been able to dodge these drivers for this long. Every day, however, is a new adventure. Watch out for these folk, because they are not watching out for you.

Surviving Colorado Drivers - A Road Rager's Guide

This has been in my head for a while.

For perspective, I have had the privilege of driving in several distinct areas in the Northern Hemisphere. I cut my teeth driving in Memphis, where when people get lost or confused, they just go even faster. I've survived the dreaded "Circle of Death" in downtown Riyadh. I've driven on "the wrong side of the road" in London. I've been on roads in North Pole, Alaska where heavy snow plus regular grading makes the roads safer & smoother in winter than they are in summer. I've driven in Guam, where the crushed coral in the asphalt composition makes the roads slicker than wet glass. I've driven in Hawaii, where "interstate" highways obviously don't connect with any other state.

With all the different styles I've seen, bar none the worst drivers I've encountered are in Colorado. I'm not really all that angry. By nature, I'm pretty mellow. However, the non-standard driving styles in the Centennial State confuse me. I've not seen these techniques as consistently used in other places as I see them here.

Let's look at some of the techniques that, in my opinion, bolster my claim:

1) the "Point Prover" - on the interstate, right (slow) lane is full. One driver gets in the left (fast) lane, but matches speed with a car in the right lane. At most, that driver may be a tenth of a mile per hour over the speed limit. He/she is just fast enough to get a nose ahead of the driver to his/her right, but not fast enough to allow traffic to flow. Why? To "prove a point/enforce the speed limit/keep others from speeding"?

Let the State Patrol enforce that.

2) the "Push and Pull" - with apologies to Rufus Thomas (R.I.P.). You're on a city street, approaching a traffic light, with a car in front of you. Maybe you're 100 yards or so from the light, and you can see the light has been green for a minute or more.  The car in front of you starts braking (the light's green - why?). This is the "push" part. He/she brakes, so you have to brake, increasing distance between you and the car before you ("pushing" you back). The other driver is anticipating the light changing from green to yellow to red. But, the light hasn't changed yet.

The light finally changes to yellow, the driver in front of you "pulls" away. He/she gets through the intersection under yellow, you stop in the intersection under red. If he/she just drove the speed limit under green, you both could get through the intersection.

3) Curiosity Slowing - when I first moved here, I narrowly missed several rear-end accidents not expecting this phenomenon. It doesn't even have to happen near an accident. You don't need State Patrol vehicles present, either. If a vehicle is stopped on the side of the road, and the scenario looks interesting, people slow down to gawk. This ain't reality television - please maintain the posted speed limit.

4) Slowing to Merge - another one that consistently baffles me. In most states, drivers are taught when entering a highway they are to match speed with traffic already on the highway, find a "hole" that fits your car, and merge. Here, drivers do the exact opposite - they decelerate well below the posted speed limit in the merge maneuver. It seems they expect the traffic already on the highway to slow down substantially or even stop to allow them to merge.

If you're not mentally/emotionally ready to get on the highway, why get on the highway in the first place?

5) Race You to the Exit/Bottleneck, etc. - you are on the highway, or maybe even on a city street. You're in the right lane, with maybe one vehicle behind you, usually in the left lane. No one else behind you within 200-300 yards. An off-ramp or lane closure is near. The other driver accelerates to cuts you off just before the off-ramp/closed lane. You both have to brake - he/she does to get under control before changing lanes, you do to keep from rear-ending the passing vehicle. Meanwhile, there is still no one within 300 yards of your rear bumper.

In timing, the passing driver would at best be a couple of seconds later to the exit/bottleneck if he/she merged behind you. I guess it's more fun to race to the bottleneck. Doesn't make much sense to me, though.

There are more techniques to add to this list. More to follow.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Wedding Bells for My Daughter

Found out a week ago my daughter got engaged.  Wedding scheduled for this summer. Congratulations to her and her fiancĂ©e.

Walking her down the aisle will be one of the highlights of my life.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

My Team - Grizzlies at Brooklyn

The Grizzlies have won their last six games, taking away some of the angst associated with their recent trades. Mike Conley and Tony Allen have taken on an increased role in the offense, while Marc Gasol has blocked shots occasionally on defense. New additions Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye and Ed Davis have all contributed. Quincy Pondexter is back from injury, trying to regain his early-season form. All in all, this team seems to have righted the ship as it heads towards the playoffs.

Tonight at Barclays Center, televised to a national TV audience, the Grizz take on the Nets. Brooklyn had a four-game winning streak broken Friday night at home against Houston. Overall, Brooklyn is 20-11 at home, while Memphis is 14-10 on the road. Memphis won its two road games last week, but Brooklyn is obviously a sterner test.

Memphis' offense has also stagnated a bit the last two games, with first-quarter turnovers and missed close-range shots creating a difficult environment early in those games. They'll look to get off to a better start tonight.

Joe Johnson of the Nets is struggling with plantar fasciitis, and might not play. Otherwise, look for Brook Lopez and Deron Williams to shoulder much of the scoring load for Brooklyn. Lopez is nimble enough offensively to give Gasol fits, but Lopez is an indifferent rebounder (a seven-footer averaging 7 rebs a game). Williams isn't as quick as Conley, but is bigger/stronger. He should be able to bully his way to his favorite shooting locations. However, he's shooting 41% from the floor this season.

Brooklyn averages 95.6 ppg. Memphis averages 93.7 ppg. So there's my guess for tonight - Nets 96, Memphis 94 (rounding up, of course). The Grizzlies' win streak comes to an end tonight. Memphis' turnovers early and late will aid the Nets' cause. As usual, my guesswork isn't for gaming purposes. It's only for discussion, open ridicule or bragging (where appropriate).

After tonight, next Grizzlies' game is a home contest Wednesday night against Dallas. After that, the team goes to South Beach to take on the Heat. They employ some guy named LeBron James, who's only the best player on the planet.

After the Game: Memphis 76, Brooklyn 72. Wow, I was way off, thankfully. Nice team effort on the road for Memphis. All five Grizzlies starters scored in double figures. Williams got 24 for the Nets, but only C.J. Watson (11) and Andray Blatche off the bench (10) joined Williams in double figure scoring. Lopez  got 9 and 4 rebs in 26 minutes. Puzzling.

Off the Memphis bench, Pondexter hit a couple of FGs, but Bayless went 0-6 from the floor.

Brooklyn had more total rebounds than Memphis (44 to 35), more offensive rebounds (17 to 7), more assists than Memphis (18 to 16) and more steals (7 to 6), but Memphis had 11 blocked shots. For a team that normally doesn't block a lot of shots, that mitigated a bit of Brooklyn's ability to get to the rim (naturally).

Friday, February 22, 2013

My Team - Grizzlies versus Orlando

After that back-to-back sweep of Detroit and Toronto, Memphis comes home to face the Magic Friday night.

Orlando has a bunch of troubles these days. The team has lost its last three games. Thursday, they traded J.J. Redick, former Grizzly Ish Smith and Gustavo Ayon to Milwaukee for Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb and Beno Udrih. Redick was the team's second-leading scorer, and led the team in FT percentage and 3-PT FG percentage.

Orlando's roster is filled with recognizable names, guys who had success in college or some measure of productivity in the pros. But, this roster doesn't scare anybody this year. The best players remaining have injury and illness issues. Starting PG Jameer Nelson has an injured left knee; he is day-to-day. Glen "Big Baby" Davis is out with a fractured left foot. Hedo Turkoglu is just getting over flu-like symptoms. What's left shouldn't beat a playoff-caliber team, especially on the road.

Memphis, on the other hand, appears to be gelling after the recent trades. This team also appears to be built to compete in the playoffs. When the pace slows, and every possession is ultra-valuable, teams that can turn defensive stops into easy buckets can swing a playoff series to its favor. Of course, there are several teams in the Western Conference who are decidedly better than Memphis (San Antonio, Oklahoma City, L.A. Clippers). But, this Memphis roster should be more competitive during the playoffs. I like this mix, and look forward to seeing if they can execute on both ends of the floor.

Memphis would do well to put a defensive squeeze on Orlando early. If the home team can set the tone from the start, an easy win looks highly likely. If the Grizzlies come out like they did against Toronto, missing numerous close-range shots, Orlando will gain confidence. This game shouldn't be close.

The Grizzlies have won their last five games - tonight should be number six. Next game is a Sunday night road test at Brooklyn, in that swanky new Barclays Center.

My guess for tonight, Memphis 103, Orlando 90, with Coach Hollins emptying the bench in the fourth quarter.  As always, my guessing is just that - meant for argument and post-game grading, not for gaming purposes.

After the Game: Memphis 88, Orlando 82. If any win could be called disappointing, this one is it. Gasol got 19 and 13, Randolph with 16 and 14. The Grizzlies were flat, other than a portion early in the 3rd quarter.

Orlando was valiant in defeat. Orlando only dressed 8 guys, and one (Al Harrington) was injured and unable to play. I'd forgotten Turkoglu was suspended for banned substances. Two Magic players (Vucevic and Nicholson) fouled out. Head coach Jacque Vaughn had his guys playing hard. Kudos to him and his team.

For any who want a blueprint on how to beat the Grizzlies, this game was a great example:

  • One, pack the middle on defense. Memphis will settle for outside shots, and will keep shooting even when they don't fall.
  • Two, in the half-court sets, attack the lane off the dribble. Memphis will block a shot or two, but overall you can get shots in the lane and at the rim.
  • Three, on the fast break, the ball handler running the break can get to the rim. Memphis struggles stopping the ball in transition defense.
  • Four, you can foul Memphis, because they will miss free throws (12 missed tonight).
  • Five, pound the offensive boards. With all their rebounding prowess, Randolph nor Gasol are especially mobile. An opponent can get precious extra possessions just through a bit more hard work.
Memphis is 36-18 after this win. With only 11 home games remaining of the 28 games left, they've got to be more consistent offensively.

Old Dude, Old Movies - "You Can't Take It with You"

With a star-studded cast, this 1938 release is an enjoyable experience. Jean Arthur, Jimmy Stewart, Lionel Barrymore, Ann Miller and Edward Arnold are in featured roles. First rate character actors like Spring Byington, Donald Meek, Dub Taylor, Mary Forbes and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson make great contributions.

The legendary Frank Capra directed this, and you can see his style all over it. Capra won a Best Directing Oscar for this work (1939), and the movie was chosen as Best Picture that same year.

"Madcap" really does sum up the mood of this picture. The patriarch walked away from a life in business in order to enjoy what's really important. One elderly member is in the basement experimenting with fireworks and other explosives. A granddaughter dreams of ballet stardom under the tutelage of an eccentric Russian, while a different family member composes a novel while using a kitten as a paperweight. Somebody off to the side is playing the xylophone when he's not being accused of being a Communist sympathizer. A new member of the circle quits his job as an office drone in a bank to devote his time to gadgets and masks, where he shows a real gift.

Amid all this, Arthur shines. She is so adorable as a young girl who falls in love with Stewart's character. He is the scion of a powerful banker, and she is not in their socio-economic class. There's your conflict - the two life philosophies in opposition.

Arthur is one of my favorite actresses from that era. Her sunny disposition brightens every scene in which she appears.

This is the type of movie you must watch closely. In nearly every scene, not only is something in the happening foreground, but interesting or even goofy things are going on in the background. The amount of activity can be overwhelming for some movie fans, but I got a kick out of it. Well-done by all involved.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Double Indemnity"

I love film noir.  The ladies, well-dressed and alluring. The guys, lean and desperate in their tailored suits and fedoras. Snappy patter in nearly every scene. To me, it doesn't get better than this 1944 release.

Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson star in this flick.

Ever since Cain slew Abel, some humans have tried to get away with "the perfect murder". Not only is murder obviously morally wrong, I would posit that there is something within each of us to remind us it's wrong, something in our spirits that would not allow us to celebrate something we know is reprehensible. This film delineates that for us.

MacMurray at this stage in his career was known as an affable guy on screen, more hero than cheater. I'll bet his devoted fans were horrified at his "heel turn" in this flick. As "Walter Neff", he starts out as a stereotypical slick salesman, but ends up all too aware of his fatal flaw. He was smart, but not as smart as he thought. He was so easily seduced, like a lovesick cow led to slaughter.

Stanwyck wasn't known as a bombshell like Virginia Mayo, but was one of the most versatile actresses in screen history. She could go from trusting & innocent to conniving in an instant. Her seduction of the hapless Neff wasn't borne of stunning physical beauty but more of a low-key persistence. Her "Phyllis Dietrichson" was dissatisfied in her marriage and saw an opportunity when Neff shows up, all bravado and silly flirting. She saw enough moral weakness in him to know he could be manipulated, "all the way to the end of the line".

Robinson plays "Barton Keyes", an insurance analyst at Neff's firm. This was a rare supporting turn at this stage of his career, but Robinson threw himself into the role. His bulldog-like stubbornness and attention to detail put continual heat on the conspiring lovers. And, Keys gets all the best lines ("You're not smarter, Walter, you're just a little taller"..."'Margie!' I bet she drinks from the bottle..."). The "actuarial table" speech was intense and impressive. Robinson didn't get a lot of screen time, but he owns the film in his scenes.

If you like film noir, and you haven't seen this one, you must find the time. It's that good.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My Team - Washington Nationals in spring training

I love baseball. It's my favorite sport, my only soap opera and one of my favorite pastimes.

I've told a few folk, but here's why I chose the Nats. As a kid, my hometown had the Montreal Expos' Triple-A franchise for a few years. Some of the guys on that roster (Gary Carter, Jose Morales, Ellis Valentine) ended up with the big club after their time in Triple-A. I've followed the franchise since.

Last year was the year Nationals fans have waited for since at least '94. The team won 98 games, and went to the playoffs. The playoff loss to St. Louis was disappointing, but there is hope for the '13 season.

I probably won't write something for every game (162? Sounds too much like work to me). I will probably post something before every series this season.

Regarding the roster, the team made some changes, but brought in guys who can contribute. Michael Morse going to Seattle wasn't a surprise. He's a good hitter, but finding a place for him defensively would have been difficult. With him leaving, Bryce Harper moves to left field. New acquisition Denard Span moves into center field and the leadoff slot in the batting order. Span doesn't have Rick Ankiel's arm from the outfield (but who else does?). Span has a lot of range in the field, and should help the defense.

The infield is solid. The catching, with Kurt Suzuki and Wilson Ramos, is a strength.

To me, the pitching staff is solid, but questions remain. The loss of Gorzelanny, Gonzalez and Burnett (three lefties) leaves a void to be filled. Those guys were so productive out of the bullpen last year. They rarely got rattled, got key outs late in games, and provided a stabilizing influence for the pitching staff. Zach Duke will fill some of that role. reported that the team signed LHP Will Ohman to a minor-league contract. If Ohman makes the big-league club AND consistently gets guys out in a "left-handed, one-out guy" role, it will bolster the team's chances.

As most baseball fans know, the starting staff is very good. Stephen Strasburg is free of all pre-set innings  pitched restrictions. A healthy Strasburg should be able to approach 200 innings, 17 or so wins, and around 210 strikeouts.

I usually root for teams that have their ups and downs (see the San Diego Chargers). It's weird to me that one of my favorite teams is a title contender. The Washington Nationals are that contender in '13.

The usual caveat applies, though. Injuries, slumps, distractions, etc., could drop this team to also-ran status.

I can't wait for the season to start. Bring it on!

My Team - Grizzlies at Toronto

Nice win for the Grizzlies at Detroit Tuesday night. It was a bit of an aberration, since a) it was a blowout, and b) the starters didn't get their usual numbers because they didn't play their usual minutes. Coach Hollins substituted liberally in the second half. Made sense to call off the dogs, since they have the second half of back-to-back games Wednesday night.

Toronto also played last night, at Washington. Their victory was the fifth in a row. Former Grizzly Rudy Gay has helped make this team more entertaining to watch. With him and DeMar DeRozan on the wings, Kyle Lowry has great choices on the fast break.

Gay even got 8 rebs against the Wizards last night. He's normally a 5-6 rebound guy, since he tends to slip out early to join fast break opportunities. That is one thing I'm interested in seeing from his game tonight.

This is the first match-up between the teams since Gay was traded to the Raptors, so I'd expect him to want to put on a show, get the crowd fired up, and ultimately show Memphis what they lost as he leads the Raptors to victory.

Reality is the Grizz are a better team, and their new players are settling into their roles. Prince takes the role of checking Gay. Tony Allen gets DeRozan. If Gay and DeRozan combine for 50+ points (like Tuesday night), Toronto can win. If Gay and/or DeRozan have to take half the roster's FG attempts and either shoots under 40% from the field, Memphis will win. I suspect the latter will happen.

Memphis has won four in a row. Wednesday night will be number five. My guess - Memphis 100, Toronto 96. Gay will get 21, 5 rebs and a couple of steals, but he will shoot something like 7-19 from the floor. He'll get a flashy dunk or two, but Memphis will win the game. I'd rather have the team victory.

After the Game: Memphis 88, Toronto 82. I watched the first six minutes before leaving. Score was 4 to 4.   Lots of effort up and down the court, but it didn't translate into buckets for either side.

Gay (5/15 FG/A, 13 pts) and DeRozan (1/9 FG/A, 7 pts) combined for 20 points. Gay also had 5 turnovers  in his 39 minutes.

Conley went for 17 pts, 6 rebs, 6 assists and 3 steals. Randolph went for 17 and 18 rebs. Allen got 12, Prince got 11. In my opinion, the Grizzlies are making up for the loss of Gay's scoring with Allen and Prince. Conley is also looking for his shot more, and seems more comfortable in that role.

Toronto's bench outscored Memphis' reserves 28-22. Memphis had 20 assists on 29 baskets (20/10 assist/turnover ratio).

Next up for Memphis is a home date with Orlando (who just traded J.J. Redick to Milwaukee The Grizz are two games ahead of Denver for the four seed in the Western Conference. This is important since Memphis struggles in Denver - if the two meet in the first round, Memphis would need game seven at home to have a chance to advance to the next round.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Team - Grizzlies at Detroit

The All-Star break (and its attendant hullabaloo) are done. Time to get back to the push for playoff positioning. Having won three straight at home, and adjusting to the post-Rudy Gay era, Memphis is looking to play like a playoff contender on the road. Detroit, while a young roster, has some up-and-coming post players like Greg Monroe who will give the Grizz fits.

Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye return to Detroit, probably hoping to put on a show before their former home fans. Jose Calderon is adjusting well to life with the Pistons after the three-team trade.

For me, the typical box score for a Grizzlies' victory should have the following elements:

Randolph, 20 pts, 9 rebs
Gasol 16 pts, 11 rebs, 1 or 2 blocks
Conley 16 pts, 8 assists, 4 or fewer turnovers
Allen 14 pts, 3 or 4 steals.
Bench player TBD - 14 pts, 5 rebs, no more than 2 turnovers (could be Daye, Pondexter, or Bayless)
Prince, 12 pts, 7 rebs

As a team, shooting close to 50% on 2pt FGA, a couple of 3pt shots made (probably Conley), no more than 10 turnovers, 20 or more team assists, 10 or so steals.

Sure, you could say the same about every team in the league except the Heat, but getting good shots in the interior (and converting them) is more crucial for Memphis than for most teams. They really are more inside-out than ever since Gay left. Post play (offense and defense) & layups off of steals will define this team's success the rest of the season.

My guess is Grizzlies 97, Pistons 93 in overtime.

Oh, by the way, Wednesday night the Grizzlies play at Toronto against their old team mate.

After the Game: Grizzlies 105, Detroit 91. And, that's with Detroit winning the 4th quarter by 10 points. Conley led the team with 19 pts and had 4 assists/2 steals in 30 minutes. Z-Bo added 15 and 10 in 26 minutes. Pondexter scored 10 off the bench, and Ed Davis scored 14. Sixty-two points in the paint. A 44-29 advantage in rebounding. In 2nd/3rd quarters combined, Memphis outscored Detroit 62-30. That'll do it.

Monroe got 9 and 6. Looks like Detroit lost their way in the middle of the game, and eventually both coaches emptied their benches.

On to Toronto!

Day 7 - Drive West

Monday was "drive back" day. Couldn't sleep Sunday night, so I got up around 0345 hours local time, puttered around my mom's house for a bit, then loaded up for the drive out.

Eleven hundred miles and sixteen hours later, I pulled into "home plate". Not a bad drive, overall. Pleasant weather, and not too much highway construction.

A large part of the trip was north on I-135 from the Oklahoma state line to north of Salina, KS, where I picked up westbound I-70 for 350 or so miles. Central to western Kansas is striking in its elemental beauty. Miles and miles of rolling hills, open fields and wide expanses of prairie. Often on such a ride, I try to imagine what pioneers went through hundreds of years ago in the same geographic area. Without a comfortable car nor numerous places to stop for refreshment, it had to be a gruelling experience.

Those are times where I truly enjoy the wide-open element of life in America. Not every nation has such open space, where you can be alone with your thoughts. Some may find the prairie boring, but I enjoy it so. The hubbub of day-to-day life grinds on me. I need the peace and solitude.

Day 6 - A Little More History

Went to a church different than my home church on Sunday. I was a visitor because the speaker was the same pastor who baptised me decades ago.

He was scheduled to share some of his experiences in the civil rights movement. His being no more than thirty feet behind Dr. King on the Mall in '63 was a fascinating account of the inner workings of the movement.

His recollection of his role in the events during the time in the '60s, as Memphis sanitation employees struck for better working conditions was equally captivating. Even as an elected city councilman, he was not immune to verbal and physical abuse all too common at the time. He mentioned the two high school students who shielded his body with their own during one horrifying moment of police abuse. Wow.

These rememberings are meant to be part of a memoir he's working on. I eagerly look forward to reading the finished product.

I often wonder how I would have reacted if I was an adult in the middle of that era.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Day 5 - It's Just Good to be Home

Visiting today with various members of my birth family and assorted in-laws from my first marriage, several reminders invigorated me:
  • Having a sense of humor in common with my parents and siblings. We "get" one another, as it should be.
  • For my first wife's brother and his wife, being able to resume discussions on sports or religion as if we left off yesterday instead of months ago.
  • For my first wife's sister and her husband, being able to talk about challenges in the workplace or adjusting to a life of retirement.
  • Being in public and encountering strangers who actually have a sense of cordiality.
  • Being able to strike up a conversation with someone I've never known before today, and actually enjoy that conversation.
  • Enjoying moderate weather, including enough humidity so my sinuses aren't so beat up. 
I left this area nearly 30 years ago, seeking something I couldn't identify at the time. Now, what I think I want for the future is actually found at my launch point.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Old Dude, (not so) Old Movies - "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?"

This 1998 release starred Larenz Tate as Frankie Lymon. Vivica A. Fox, Halle Berry and Lela Rochon portrayed women who each were his wife at different times in Lymon's life.

In the African-American community, Lymon was legendary for his own special talent, and a strong influence on many who followed. As lead of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, they were the template for so many teen singing groups that followed them for the next twenty years.  The song that provided the title of this movie was the group's biggest hit, and has been covered by Diana Ross among others.

Michael Jackson was a direct descendant in spirit, and others like Stevie Wonder and Ralph Tresvant of New Edition showed Lymon's influence in their vocal phrasing and stage presence.

Lymon lived a short & ultimately tragic life, but had a kind of magnetism that drew women in. Each of his wives was depicted as first captivated by his charms, steadfast by his side as he faced the inevitable stumble and fall, then saddened but resolute once they each found out about his death.

The courtroom scenes, as the wives contend for Lymon's estate and the status that would come from being his only legal wife, anchored the movie in the present era, but the flashback scenes sparkle. Tate did a commendable job with the dance moves and the boldness necessary to play a teen idol.

Each of the ladies is gorgeous. Berry in particular is stunning as Zola Taylor of the Platters, one of the all-time great singing groups from the 50s. There are a couple of scenes (one where she is on television, one on stage), where as she holds a stare, I felt my knees go weak. The look in her eyes is completely captivating.

This movie isn't for everyone, but for someone interested in the early days of the pop and R&B music scenes, this is an enjoyable picture. I'll be on the lookout for it from now on.

Day 4 - Interstate Bar-B-Que

(Sittin' here watching an old episode of the Richard Pryor Show from the early 70s on TVOne. That guy was a comedy genius, and had a level of audacity you'll never see again. This episode has Robin Williams (pre-Mork & Mindy) guest-starring. Amazing stuff, and definitely not PC in any way. If you are sensitive, Pryor's show will leave you uncomfortable, even as you laugh your head off..)

Tonight, after visiting my aunt, we stopped at this place on Mallory.

You may have seen Pat and Gina Neely on the Food Network. Pat's uncle Jim is the owner of Interstate, and the guy who gave all the others their start in the 'que business.

The 'que smelled goooooood. I overdid the leftovers this morning, so I didn't get any grub from Neely's tonight. But, I will file this away for later use.

If you find yourself in South Memphis, I highly recommend you stop in at Interstate. You want real bar-b-que, made Memphis-style, you gotta stop in at this place.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Old Dude, Old Movies - "A Star is Born (1937)"

Janet Gaynor, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou and Lionel Stander star in this funny, touching, acidic skewering of the Hollywood studio machine of the 1930s.

It's been remade several times.  The story is a classic contrast, of stars respectively in ascendancy and decline. It also plays against the standard of the day where the man is expected to stay strong and be that breadwinner, while the wife demurely accepts his providing and support. As their movie careers cross, Gaynor is torn - her one-in-a-million dream came true, but at the same time the love of her life slowly falls apart in messy, public fashion.

Gaynor is adorable as the waif-like girl with figurative and literal stars in her eyes. She seems genuinely amazed, marveling at the opportunity she's been given. March is at once hilarious, pathetic and in the end doomed.  He's more of the irrepressible drunk that is the life of every party, until the party lights are dimmed. Menjou is patriarchal, willing to guide both actors while realizing the disposable fate of all actors in that studio system of the day. Stander shows off cutting wit, firing off a bunch of arch lines (Spoiler: "First drink of water he's had in months, and it's by do you say 'congratulations' to the Pacific Ocean?").

Look for Andy Devine, veteran character actor famous for "Destry Rides Again" and "Stagecoach", among others.

Note the scene where Gaynor's character is awarded an Oscar, and her husband "arrives" during her acceptance speech. iMDB notes something similar happened in Gaynor's real-life career, eight years previous. Art imitating life, indeed.

This version resonated with fans and movie insiders at the time of its release.

I normally get a kick out of movies that provide that warts-and-all view of Hollywood. This film did a good job of peeling back the curtain and showing movie buffs some of the inside scoop. I enjoyed it.

Old Dude, Old Movies - "The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer"

(side note: I ran some errands earlier. Last stop was a grocery store. Browsing through some aisles, I ran across a boxed dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts. It's been months since I've had any. Months! I don't mind telling you the love I feel for Krispy Kremes is real and lasting.)

This 1947 release stars Cary Grant, Myrna Loy and a teenaged Shirley Temple. For those who like screwball comedies, this is a gem.

I can imagine the hatred lots of guys had for Cary Grant back in the day. Admittedly, he was good-looking. Pair that with his genius comedic timing, and most regular guys had no chance if their girls wanted a guy like Grant. He does a stellar job in this movie. I don't think you'd see many of today's movie heartthrobs putting their images at risk playing such broad comedic roles.

Anybody who knows about my love of classic film knows I love, love Loy's work. Here, she is radiant, classy, alluring and patient.

Temple was around 19 when this movie was released. This isn't any "Good Ship Lollipop" Shirley Temple. This is an actress who is quite believable as a precocious teen who talks a game far ahead of her actual maturity. Teens today do similar, with often disastrous consequences (whoops, rant over).

Anyway, Grant's character (an artist) is either a) a guy around whom goofy interpersonal interactions happen, or b) a guy who is the catalyst for goofy interpersonal interactions. He gets hauled into court, where Loy's character is the presiding judge. After his legal proceedings are done and he leaves the courtroom, he's off to speak at Temple's high school on the merits of a career in art. Temple's character develops a crush on the suave artist. She tries to impress him by affecting an air of precocious maturity. He sees right through it, but humors her for a while.

Temple's character is the younger sister of the same judge the artist left nonplussed. When the judge finds out the identity of her kid sister's latest crush, the elder sister decides to teach both a lesson. As most comedies in that era, one misunderstanding leads to another. Hijinks ensue.

Two scenes stood out for me. First, at a community picnic, Grant shows his physical comedy chops, all but winking to the camera at the incongruity of one his maturity bouncing around like a male half his age.

The second scene is towards the end of the movie, set in a fancy restaurant, as Grant and Loy are starting to warm to the idea of becoming a couple. They are joined at their table by a sequence of friends, family, etc., with various emotions spilling out all over the group. Grant's ability to transition to straight man surrounded by chaos is smooth and impressive.

Also, look for Gregory Gay, who plays the Maitre d'Hotel. In '42, he portrayed the German banker Rick Blaine rejected  in "Casablanca" ("...If you think I'm going to be kept out of a saloon like this...").

Furthermore, look for veteran character actor Ray Collins, the same guy who played Lt. Tragg in the Raymond Burr-led  "Perry Mason" TV series. He also had a credited role in "Citizen Kane", among other roles.

I'd ignored this movie before, but watching it Wednesday gave me a new appreciation. It's put together quite well, and will leave you laughing out loud.

This is a keeper. Check it out. "Hey, you remind me of a man..."

Day 3 - Ali Mazrui

When you're retired, every day is a vacation. So of course, I slept in as I do once in a while. I got up, channel-surfed, and ran across a public access station showing "The Africans: A Triple Heritage (1986)".

I came in on "Program 4: Tools of Exploitation". This is a fascinating study, told from an African point of view. For what it's worth, I give it the highest recommendation I can muster.

This gentleman isn't just some rabble-rouser or shade-tree Aristotle. Dr. Mazrui got his Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University in 1966, and is an internationally renowned expert in African/Islamic Studies and global culture.

Even without seeing every scene or hearing every word, it appears this series was well-thought-out. Of course, there may have been something said or shown that may shock my sensibilities, but the parts I've seen so far are insightful and wise.

If you are so inclined, check it out. I think you'll be impressed. I am.

Day 2 - History lives all around us

Got a chance to spend time with my dad for a bit on Wednesday afternoon.  I found out he's scheduled to do a presentation today (Thursday) for African-American History Month on his former school.

The public school from which he graduated was a part of the county school system, but got scant financial and logistical support from that same system. Things were so tight, the families who sent kids to that school had to pony up $10 each during registration to buy the school bus that transported the kids back and forth. The county did purchase buses for other (whiter) schools in the same county in the same era (late 40s-early 50s).

In addition, since this school was in what was primarily a farming area, many families didn't have lots of ready cash to take care of their kids' expenses. So, two things happened. First, those students who couldn't afford the cost to-and-from school became boarders. Yep, they had a dormitory, but it wasn't nearly as fancy as you'd expect.

Second, those same kids and their families had to find other means to pay their school expenses. Many families didn't have a lot of spare cash, but maybe they had crops. A family could pay in bushels of corn or beans. In turn, those foodstuffs would be used to feed the whole school. If a family brought a hog, it made a substantial difference in the kids' diet.

The school has long-since closed. This would have been the 100th year of existence, if it had survived. My dad thought it would be fittng to "show a little love" to his alma mater today.

The more I take time to speak with my elders, the more history opens up to me. Stuff I never took the time to consider in my 20s now resonates differently since I reached middle-age.

Suggesstion for those who haven't - take the time and chat with a senior. Really listen to not only the facts, but how their perspective on today was shaped by the things they endured back then.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Day 1 - I Hate Snow

After 16 hours, 1,100 miles and hearing KISS' "Reason to Live" on the radio, I made it to Memphis. I'm a little bit smoked, so a mid-morning nap is definitely in order.

Leaving Colorado just before sunrise, it was cold, 4 degrees Fahrenheit cold. Yikes. Stopping here, it was mid-40s with light rain. I miss rain.

Encountered a bit of snow from Wichita southbound to the Oklahoma state line. Not too bad, but a bit of a nuisance.

Craziest part of yesterday's cruise was a wreck on the Broken Arrow Expressway, southeast edge of Tulsa, right at rush hour. A large black SUV, in the far right lane of four lanes, made an unexpected hard left turn across the other three lanes of traffic. The SUV grazed a car or two, bounced off a concrete median, then bolted back across those same three lanes, returning from left to right. If I hadn't seen it, I definitely wouldn't believe it. Don't think anyone was killed, but it was a mess.

Anyway, just had some of my mom's homemade mac-n-cheese for breakfast (yes!), and could use a stretch. More posting to come.

Monday, February 11, 2013

To the Lonely on Valentine's Day

I'm presently "between engagements", "in a dating slump", or "solo lobo". Take a pick.

As a guy who watched two marriages end up close, as well as several relationships crash-and-burn, I  say with no irony nor arrogance that I know a bit about recovering from heartbreak.

There's plenty of advice on this here 'Net to consider, but to me one thing traces through them all. A comedian named Jonathan Slocumb said it best years ago. "U.G.L.Y." stands for "yoU Got to Love Yourself". I haven't heard it in a while, but it came to my remembrance recently.

At this season, you may find yourself alone. Others may suggest "do something for someone else", "do something you like", "turn the page & get out there to meet someone else" or "quit thinking so much". For a certain person at a certain time, one or several of those suggestions may work for you. However, none will work very well if you depend primarily on external human interaction or support.

Never lose sight of two facts: 1) God loves you. Period. 2) If you don't love yourself (in a healthy way), nobody else will.

When I say "love yourself", that doesn't mean self-indulgent over-consumption. You can't spend your way to this place, nor can you drink enough drinks, use enough drugs nor chomp on enough apple pie. You have to know yourself well enough (warts and all) to understand what lifts you up in a positive way. What things leave you feeling refreshed and ready to face the challenges of the day?

For me, I need to pray more. I need to hear ocean waves more. I need to laugh more (desperately so).

What works for you?

It's ok if you don't get candy or flowers on Thursday. You are still worth loving. Take that step & love yourself.

Old Dude, Old Movies - "Stage Door"

Ginger Rogers, Katharine Hepburn, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball and Ann Miller are among the stars in this ensemble film released in 1937. It's based on a Broadway play of the same name, about a boarding house several aspiring actresses inhabit whilst waiting for their big breaks in the theatre.

On some levels, it's a precursor to the ensemble "chick flicks" that happen now and again. The interactions between the ladies, sharing triumphs and setbacks, keep you engrossed. The sharp, swift banter between several of the residents keeps viewers on their toes.

Eve Arden stands out as the voice of (relative) reason amongst the residents. Lucille Ball, who never really achieved leading lady status in A-list pictures, also shines as a lady who is seeking stage stardom and romance at the same time.

Gail Patrick, Adolphe Menjou, Jack Carson, and Grady Sutton ("Og Oggilby" in W.C. Fields "The Bank Dick") have roles that keep the laughs coming.

Even with the heart-wrenching scenes towards the end, it is entertaining overall. There is a cute transition at the end, pointing out how dreams can be universal and never-ending.

Snow is still falling here in my town today, and I had no interest in getting out in it. Since I was in for the day, I put this on and laughed quite a bit. I probably wouldn't go out of my way to make time to watch this like I do for "Casablanca", but I liked this movie.

My Team - Grizzlies versus Kings

(Aside - I plan to be in or east of Tulsa Tuesday evening, so I post this now.)

Since everything around me has a story, I figured I'd pour out this one now. I was stationed just outside of Sacramento in '85, the year the Kings moved there. The years prior, they'd primarily been situated in Kansas City, but they played a few home games in Omaha as well. What an awkward situation. How could anyone be surprised about the team not thriving in that situation? Who back then would have been eager to tell Kansas City fans "the team has a 'home game', but it's three hours north on I-29?"

Fast forward nearly 28 years, and the more things change, the more they stay the same. The franchise is unstable, with a proposed sale/move looming. In addition, its' best player is having issues controlling his emotions. The Sacramento Kings are hamstrung by all sorts of off-court and on-court events.

It appears the team will be sold to a group in Seattle. While I'm happy for the fans of Seattle getting a team, the fans in Sacramento deserve a better fate. The Sacramento fans have been some of the most loyal and passionate fans in the Association.

DeMarcus Cousins, their best player, has as much sheer physical talent as any big man in the game. With different focus, he could be one of the top ten players around. He leads the team in scoring, rebounding and steals. He can score from inside and from the perimeter. When he's motivated, he can get the defensive rebound or blocked shot, sprint from end to end, beat his opponent down court and show great footwork & strength to get a bucket.

Unfortunately, with his hair-trigger temper, he can also get ejected from a game at any time. That 4 Feb game at Utah, where he got ejected at the start of the halftime break? Unfortunate, but not surprising. Whatever anger issues are going on  in Cousins' head appear to get in the way of his ascension to the upper ranks of best players in the NBA.

I can't say enough about Cousins' talent. Some nights, like this upcoming Tuesday night, he could be the best player on the floor. It will take a team effort to slow him down. He's too quick for Randolph and too strong & versatile for Gasol to keep in check. Arthur coming off the bench may be a factor for short spurts. The key matchup is whichever Grizzlies' player is assigned to cover Cousins. Can the Grizz keep Cousins in check, relatively speaking?

The last two games, the Grizzlies' offense has shown signs of life. The last two games, the Kings have scored 120 and 117 respectively. This matchup is like the circus coming to town - lots of light, things spinning around, folk jumping around in colorful costumes. It's the last game before the All-Star break for Memphis, while Sacramento plays at Dallas on Wednesday night.

My guess: Memphis 112, Sacramento 107. Cousins could go for 20-18 with several blocks, or he could get ejected before the 3rd quarter is done. As always, my guessing is not for gaming purposes but for comparison, heckling, personal satisfaction, etc.

Well After the Game: Grizzlies 108, Sacramento 101. Gasol (24-12) went toe-to-toe with Cousins (23-7). Gasol had 5 turnovers, though (yikes). The Grizzlies had a 21-19 assist-to-turnover ratio (yikes again). However, Tony Allen scored 19, and grabbed 8 rebounds & 2 steals. Since the Rudy Gay trade, I think Allen's scoring has gone up, and his shooting percentage has improved.

One thing I noticed during Gay's time in Memphis was his habit of dribbling away the shot clock, sometimes looking up to see he was double-teamed with 5 or so seconds left, then passing to a teammate in poor position. The resultant shot, more often than not, missed the mark. Allen was a regular recipient of those late passes.

Now, it appears the team is moving the ball in a crisper fashion. Allen, among others, is getting the ball earlier in the shot clock, with time & room to manuever. That should help overall shooting percentage. The team shot 54.7 percent against the Kings. Allen went 8/12 FG/A, and I would guess quite a few of those were layups or mid-range jumpers.

Just watched the CMOH presentation

I was astonished hearing the POTUS read the events of 3 October 2009. In a twelve-hour firefight, the Battle of Kamdesh took place at Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan. Staff Sergeant Clinton Romesha's leadership in the face of withering enemy fire was inspirational. SSGT Romesha's award of the Congressional Medal of Honor is well-deserved.

SSGT Romesha and his team were outnumbered by Taliban forces in a ratio of more than three-to-one, surrounded on three sides (sometimes all four sides), wounded by enemy fire, and in an "indefensible position". Despite it all, SSGT Romesha and his team never gave up. They took the fight to the enemy, re-took Combat Outpost Keating after the Taliban had overrun the camp, and showed the training, discipline and determination necessary for success on the battlefield.

God bless SSGT Romesha, his "battle buddies", and all the men & women in our armed services who prepare for moments like that fateful day in 2009. Furthermore, rest in peace to the eight soldiers who perished in that battle, as well as all who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend freedom and our way of life.

Old Dude, Old Movies - "I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang"

Released in 1932, starring the incomparable Paul Muni, this is must-see for fans of older movies. It's much-covered across the 'Net, so I won't rehash all details here. The first time I saw it, I was blown away by the grit and despair that kept cropping up. The movie was inspired by a real-life incident, and the movie was so inflammatory it was actually banned in the state of Georgia.

Muni plays James Allen, an Army veteran back from the battlefield after World War I. Like a lot of veterans, he's trying to make his way in a post-war America with a primary skill of killing the enemy (sound familiar?). His family welcomes him with open arms, excited that he can reclaim his old factory job and his old role in his hometown. But, Allen is a changed man who has seen too much. The old life has little allure for him now.

While in the Army, he realized he had a growing interest in bridge construction, civil engineering, etc. That dream seemed more rewarding than his current dreary existence. After some frustration and misadventure at home, he hits the road to seek a new destiny. He gets involved with a deadbeat, one thing leads to another, and Allen ends up in a Georgia prison on a chain gang.

For those who don't know, at the time chain gangs were a brutal tool used by prisons to keep inmates in check through strenuous, never-ending manual labor. Conditions were harsh, but many thought that was a good way to keep prisoners busy while serving their sentences.

Allen escapes the chain gang, flees to Chicago, and establishes a new life (his alias is charming, but goofy). He finally starts to realize his dream of building bridges, attaining some status in the community. So many movies in this era had that strong undercurrent of conflict inherent in class distinction. Folks on film then often aspired to move up in society, did whatever they could to maintain status in society, or lived in fear that their past lives might exclude them from moving up in society. Allen was one who successfully transformed himself where he actually carved out a niche in higher society.

This would be a cool ending to the movie, but things from here get crazy. There's love, marriage, double crosses, media hype, government officials lying, and a return trip to Georgia.

The final scene is amazing. Depending on who you want to believe, the scene turns on a) an accidental lighting mishap or b) shrewd insight by the director. The mood captured with the closing line is one of the most amazing ever captured on film.

I loved it, many other film buffs do as well. If you haven't seen it, I strongly suggest devoting the ninety-two or so minutes to giving it your full attention. You won't be disappointed.

It snowed last night - no travel

It wasn't nearly as bad as the storms on the East Coast. We're only dealing with a few inches here, not a couple of feet. But my vehicle doesn't handle even small amounts of snow and ice well. Between the relatively light weight of my SUV and the relative lack of power (V-6), I don't like driving on bad roads.

So, as they say in aviation, takeoff's been slipped. Shooting for tomorrow. The highway awaits!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow

Yeah, baby! We're about six weeks from spring. Baseball isn't far off.

The older I get, the less I like winter. I tolerate it because I must, but my choice would be endless spring. And, it's not spring without baseball.

I can't wait to hear the crack of the bat against a pitched ball.

Welcome to the latest installment of "Cheeseburgers Across America!"

Anybody who's ever heard me rant more than once knows I'm easily bored. This is one of those times. So, Monday just before sunrise I'm gonna fire up the trusty SUV and set out towards Memphis.

The town I live in presently is a nice enough place, but there are times when it bores me terribly.  I need a change, desperately. So, it's time to mount up and see some America.

For the next week or so, I will post in this space unique, humorous or intriguing things I see on the road. I'm not looking for the gross or disturbing. Given that, you probably won't see any close-up self-pics either (I don't want to be responsible for scaring small children or domesticated farm animals).

So most nights as I pause to rest and reconstitute, I will pass on what I see, what makes me giggle, or what makes me hungry. There's room in the passenger's seat, so let's break camp. It's time to book out, it's time to burn rubber. It's time for "Cheeseburgers Across America".

Random question - "What does African-American History Month mean to you?"

We've been in African-American History Month for a week and a half now, and I have a nagging question. This is primarily for young black folk, but anyone can consider it.

"What does African-American History Month mean to you in 2013?"

When I was a kid, and even into my early 20s, Black History Month (as it was known then) was so often used as a means to motivate a race of people. Sure, we noticed February was the shortest month of the year ("what, we only get 28 days?"). But, we were at least reminded of achievements of our forebears. Those reminders were shared with us to stir us towards continued striving. Those reminders were meant to show us we could also break barriers, advance society and lift cultural discourse.

Now, I wonder. Do the young think about this in that manner? I guess (guess) the role models for young brothas and sistahs are entertainers and top-tier sports figures, with the occasional high-profile pastor or notorious public figure thrown in the mix. One doesn't have to look back very far in our history to gather information on Bishop So-and-So, DJ This-n-That or basketball player Manny McJump.

I believe there will always be a place for African-American History Month, because as a nation we do a woeful job of incorporating some important facets of history in the collective consciousness. Anglos, Blacks, Latino, Asians among others have all had direct and lasting impact on the growth of this nation. Sadly, the whole story hasn't been captured for all to sample and understand. Until that changes, efforts like African-American History Month can fill some of the gaps.

My concern is, in the attempt to fill some of those gaps, will the intended audience reach out to that heritage? Are today's young people concerned enough to learn from the history, and use that history as a springboard to greater achievement?

I hope so.

My Team - Grizzlies versus Timberwolves

After Friday night's home win over Golden State, I breathed a sigh of relief. Today's game may provide a bit more relief.

Minnesota is a tough bunch. They've lost key guys due to injury (Love, Budinger, Roy), but they fight on. Nikola Pekovic is a load and a half on the block, and Ricky Rubio is one of my favorite point guards. I love how he plays with his head up. As much as I like his creative ball-handling and passing, his court vision is what I enjoy most. He could have played point in any era, just based on his ability to move the ball & see open teammates. Many of today's guards at all levels could stand to do similar. Seeing open teammates for easy buckets makes the game more fun.

For the Grizzlies, Tony Allen made a huge difference Friday night. On the nights were he scores in double figures, usually it's opportunity baskets, run-outs, turnovers, etc.  That means the Grizz are getting stops, deflections and other hustle plays on defense. Others on the roster have higher profiles, but Allen is the engine that makes the Grizzlies go. When Allen is playing well, home court at FedEx Forum is a decided advantage. His late fouling out on Friday caused some anxious moments.

The guy who backs up Allen and Mike Conley, Jarryd Bayless, can play but he still seems uncomfortable with his role on the team. When he's on the court with Conley, he doesn't hesitate to take his shots. Good for him, confidence-wise, but he leaves out his more efficient teammates (Randolph and Gasol). Also, when Bayless goes in for Allen, the team loses that defensive intensity. Bayless is somewhat undersized at SG, and has nowhere near the defensive range and instinct Allen possesses.

This will be a fun game to watch. Gasol and Pekovic will battle to a standstill in the post. Conley and Rubio will have a great duel at the PG position.

My guess: Grizzlies 97, Timberwolves 87. As usual, my guessing isn't meant for gaming purposes, just for argument/after-the fact critiquing.

After the Game: Grizzlies 105, Timberwolves 88. Tayshaun Prince (18 pts) and Austin Daye (16) combined for 14-17 from the field. Prince was 8 for 8 from the field. The home team got 30 assists on the 41 made baskets. Mike Conley and Zach Randolph added 16 points each, and Tony Allen got 4 steals in 25 minutes. The Grizz led by 20 at the end of the 3rd. The 4th quarter was up-and-down the floor for both teams (Minnesota outscored Memphis 32-29 in the period).

Memphis led in fast break points, 20-4, and outscored Minnesota 50-32 in the paint (despite missing numerous short-range shots in the 1st quarter).

There were some Memphis defensive issues in the game. Luke Ridenour kept going to his right, and Memphis never really stopped him (17 points on 7-13 FG/A). Ricky Rubio got off to a bad start shooting, but finished 6 for 11 as part of his own 17 points. Minnesota shot 49.3% from the field, even with missing key players.

In that post matchup, Pekovic was 8 pts, 6 rebounds. Gasol was 9 pts, 9 rebounds, but added 8 assists.

Memphis played great in the 2nd and 3rd periods, and it was enough for the win. Next up, the Grizzlies host Sacramento Tuesday night. The Kings have a nice amount of talent on the roster, but like a slogan I saw on a different website, the Kings "put the funk in dysfunctional".

Friday, February 8, 2013

My Team - Grizzlies vs. Warriors

Both Memphis and Golden State seek to end two-game losing streaks tonight in the Bluff City, the City of  Good Abode.

With these last two losses, I've been wondering what's wrong with the Grizzlies. Memphis is averaging 89 PPG in the last four contests. Golden State is averaging 105 PPG. Tuesday night at Houston, they gave up 140 - holy potatoes!

As I wonder about tonight, the word that kept popping up in my brain was "chemistry". The Grizzlies seem so listless for long stretches the last couple of games. Tonight is the night, where they have to get out to a good start, run around the court making plays, and play with more spark. Their effort can drive the crowd, which in turn can provide enough fan support to lift the team. The trades are done, it's time for this roster to start carving out its own chemistry.

One matchup I'll watch is Marc Gasol versus Andrew Bogut. Since his return from injury, Bogut is showing improved agility and gradually increasing endurance. With the team scoring well, I would guess Bogut wants to get in on the fun. Gasol needs to keep Bogut concerned about one-on-one defense so Bogut doesn't roam &  provide weak side help as often.

Tony Allen versus Klay Thompson will be another fun matchup. Thompson has the purest jump shot form I've seen since the prime of Lou Hudson. Allen has to play Thompson honest, since Thompson isn't afraid to get to the hoop even in half-court situations.

My guess is Grizzlies 94, Golden State 88. This is purely a homer pick. If GSW gets out to a great start shooting the ball, it could be a rough Friday night in FedEx Forum. If the seats are mostly empty at the start of the fourth quarter, I'll probably dial up an old movie on TCM.

As always, my guesses aren't meant to be used for gaming purposes. They're strictly for argument/heckling where appropriate.

After the Game: Grizzlies won 99-93. Tony Allen set the tempo early, and did work making Stephon Curry earn every one of his 32 points. Allen's defense got the crowd started, and Gasol hit key buckets in the 4th (20 pts, 11 reb, 5 ast). Randolph had 16 and 12. Austin Daye nailed three 3-pointers (not 4, oops) in the first half. Twenty-six assists on thirty-six baskets was indicative of the ball movement on offense.

Bogut got 7 and 6 in 28 minutes, and gave Gasol fits in the first half. David Lee got 26 pts, but only 6 reb. Thompson was 4-14 from the floor on his 23rd birthday. Jarrett Jack, who has given GSW veteran leadership off the bench this year, was DNP-Coach's Decision. Interesting.

Overall, Memphis' energy made a difference early and late. GSW made a run in the second half, as expected. The Warriors' offense is built for quick-strike capability. Their defense is good at times, but not consistent.

Next up for Memphis is the Minnesota Timberwolves. Should be fun to watch. Ricky Rubio is rounding into form, making the Wolves a competitive, entertaining team.

Homeless racist? Really?

Thursday night was another opportunity to serve on the canteen. The weather was nice, and the team of ladies who contributed their time and effort were much appreciated.

The chow we served smelled hearty, and our customers complemented the flavor and warmth. Towards the end of our serving, I could see a guy walking towards us from maybe 40 yards away. A couple of our regulars also noticed, and started whispering "Narc" and "uh-oh, here he comes". They were chuckling under their breath, but I had no idea why.

We were down to our last plate of food. One of my team handed it to me so I could carry it towards the guy. I got within 20 feet or so, looked him in the eye, called out to him in a friendly manner (or so I attempted) and held out the food. The walker looked past me/over me and kept walking towards the canteen itself.

Being well over 6 feet tall and well over 200 pounds, I'm not an easy guy to walk over. I wasn't directly in front of him during his approach, but near enough to where to overlook me one would really have to make a concerted effort.

He continued towards the back of the canteen, and I continued following about 5 yards or so behind him. He got to the canteen and asked one of the ladies for a plate of food. Another of the ladies on my team told him I saved the last plate for him. Those other regulars (who earlier had been whispering) told him I had a plate for him. I told him again I had a plate for him. None of us used threatening tones.

He finally turned and accepted the plate, but still couldn't/wouldn't make eye contact with me. I was a bit put off, but didn't think much of it for long. We were done serving, and I moved on to clean up the grounds around our area. Our final customer went off 30 yards down the sidewalk away from us, out of earshot, past the front of the canteen.

Two of the whisperers came over to me at the back of the canteen and said, "don't worry about him. He just doesn't like guys like you". Guys like me? "Yeah, you know. Brothas." So, we ended up having a quiet 5 minute or so conversation about racism in the homeless community. I was truly enlightened and more than a bit surprised.

I'll freely admit, in the year and a half or so that I've been doing this, I didn't give much thought to the idea that some of our customers were biased against African-Americans. When the weather is pleasant, our serving time feels like a communal atmosphere. As folk would spread out and eat, it almost seems like a large picnic.

Also, I wasn't dressed to the nines. I actually was mismatched - grey warm-up pants and an oversized dark blue hoodie. Maybe the guy thought I was homeless as well.

I can be pretty naive, even at my present age. Usually, our customers are quite civil while we serve, and some go out of their way to be friendly and approachable. Given that our customers are a cross-section of America, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised.

As we wrapped up and drove off, I had to admit once again to myself that our customers are as varied as snowflakes. Each one is as unique as folk in any other community. It's up to me to be prepared for virtually anything.

In Dreams - "Hey, You're Not Penelope!"

The dream started with me on walkabout. I'm shuffling across a vast desert, but it's not particularly hot. Don't know what I'm looking for, exactly. Whatever it was, it must have been interesting. Vision quest, perhaps?

Anyway, I get to a location where rest is afforded me. Trailers, similar to those I've stayed in when I was in the military, were available.  I drop off my gear and take a break.

Fast forward: it's time to pack up and break camp. I had been out of my room doing something, so I had go retrieve my gear. I open the door to the room, and I see my ex-wife. She's just as angry and mean-spirited as I remember. Those old familiar feelings returned right away. So, of course I grabbed my gear and continued the journey.

I woke up a little after 0100 hours with a splitting headache.

Lesson re-learned: every dream isn't a pleasant one, with me in a pastoral field or flying high in a friendly sky.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

My Team - Grizzlies at Hawks

Tuesday night's home loss to Phoenix was frustrating to watch. The Grizzlies' failure to defend the paint in addition to crucial 4th quarter turnovers contributed to a loss that, on paper, should have been a win.

Tonight, the Grizz take the floor at the so-called "Highlight Factory". Atlanta, coming off a Tuesday night loss at Indiana, would also like a win to keep hold of their 6-seed place in the Eastern Conference.

After struggles against the Pacers, Josh Smith (4-12 FG) and Kyle Korver (3-13, including 2-9 in 3pt attempts) will look to get back into the groove at home.

The two teams' starters match up fairly well, but Zach Randolph's defensive assignment will be crucial to the Grizzlies' chances of winning. Marc Gasol and Al Horford play similar roles in their teams' offenses. Smith is more of a high-flyer than Randolph, and can be the kind of guy who has been giving Randolph fits lately. Will the Grizzlies protect the rim tonight?

Memphis and Denver are presently tied for 4th in the Western Conference, with Golden State a half-game behind the duo. Oh-by-the-way, the Warriors will be in Memphis Friday night.

Memphis will want to keep this game in the high 80s-low 90s. Atlanta will want to get up-and-down more. Both teams will be a bit tired in this second game of back-to-backs for each.

I cringe as I type a guess of Atlanta 103, Memphis 91. As usual, this guess isn't meant for gaming purposes, but for discussion and argument.

After the Game: Didn't watch (I was at Bible Study, and we covered Isaiah Chapter 60). Final score was Atlanta 103, Memphis 92 (I had to do a double take at that score). Looking at the box score, four of the five Atlanta starters outscored their Memphis counterparts, and the one who didn't (Josh Smith) went 19-11 compared to Zach Randolph's 20-7. Both teams hit 38 field goals, but Memphis needed 10 more shots (84 attempts versus Atlanta's 74). The Hawks doubled Memphis in three pointers (10-24 to the Grizz' 5-12).

Memphis was down 80-62 after three quarters. They had to put on a spirited 4th just to lose by 12. Yeesh.

Golden State lost 119-98 at Oklahoma City tonight (no surprise). The Warriors get a day off before playing at Memphis. If the Grizzlies don't show some fire to defend home court, it could get ugly in a hurry.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Hank Aaron turned 79 today

Watching MLB Network just now, the guys mentioned Hammerin' Hank 79th birthday today. Where did the time go?

When I first started following baseball in the early 70's, Aaron was one of the much-respected elder statesmen of the game. What he wasn't was the flashiest guy, the player people constantly put in front of a camera.

He didn't make over-the-shoulder catches like Willie Mays. Aaron didn't throw strikes from deep right field like Roberto Clemente. He wasn't the biggest, he wasn't the fastest.

What he did was show up every day and do a job. A solid fielder, a dependable run-producer, a good man in the clubhouse. What more could you ask for in a baseball player?

Happy birthday, sir.

My Team - Grizzlies versus Suns tonight

The trade rumors have become reality. Rudy Gay is now a member of the Toronto Raptors. My Memphis Grizzlies acquired Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye and Ed Davis in the three-team deal.

Prince scored 14 off the bench in his Grizzlies' home debut 1 Feb against the Washington Wizards. Soon (if not tonight), I would hope Prince starts at the small forward position. 

Since trading Gay away, Tony Allen has started at SF, while Jerryd Bayless started at shooting guard (Allen's normal position). My opinion - Allen, while a supreme competitor, is undersized at SF. Bayless started the season adjusting to playing backup point guard (behind Mike Conley), with some time recently at SG alongside Conley.

Right now, it seems Gasol, Randolph, Prince, Allen and Conley would be the best starting five, with Arthur (backup power forward, backup center against smaller opponent lineups), Chris Johnson (backup small forward, on his second 10-day contract), Bayless (backup SG) and Tony Wroten (the rookie first-round pick backup PG).

I look forward to see how coach Hollins deploys his guys against a Phoenix team that is struggling, to be charitable.

The Suns are working with interim coach Lindsey Hunter (team is 3-4 since Hunter was installed). PF Channing Frye has been out all season, and his 3-point shooting opens the floor for others. PF Luis Scola and PG Goran Dragic are two weapons Phoenix have counted on all year. Scola's active offense should be a problem for Randolph to deal with, especially in the open court. Backups SG Shannon Brown and SF Michael Beasley have had varying levels of success this year, and could be tough for Memphis' backups to cover.

I could see a 95-90 Grizzlies win tonight. Do not use my guesswork for placing bets. This is strictly for entertainment and discussion/argument purposes.

After the Game: I was close on the score. 96-90 was the final. "Bad" news is Phoenix won. Suns shot 51% from the field, with 52 points scored in the paint. Bayless got 29 off the bench, but Memphis' interior defense was weak. Scola and Gortat had their way inside, and even Jermaine O'Neal contributed offensively.

Tomorrow (Wednesday), Memphis plays at Atlanta, followed by a Friday home game against Golden State.  Grizzlies and Warriors are gonna go down to the wire for the 4th spot in the Western Conference, so the Grizz have to fix these problems in a hurry.

"A Man's Gotta Eat" - Simple Chili

It's so simple, and you can add whatever you want to make it your own.

1 lb. ground meat (beef, turkey, buffalo, whatever)
2 16 oz. cans dark kidney beans
2 16 oz. cans tomato sauce
2 packets chili powder
Garlic powder
Onion powder
Hot sauce

Start with a medium-sized crock pot. Pour in the two cans of beans, the two cans of tomato sauce and two packets of chili powder. Set heat on High. Cover crock pot.

Brown the ground meat (I use a cast-iron skillet), season to taste. I'll use some seasoned salt, maybe some poultry seasoning or even a slight amount of garlic powder or onion powder. If it's ground turkey, I may use pepper also.

When the meat is browned, drain it. Add the drained meat to the crock pot, stir thoroughly, sprinkle on garlic/onion powder, add a few drops of hot sauce, stir thoroughly again. Cover and simmer on Low setting for four hours.

Depending on how you like your chili, if you want to add diced tomato, diced onion, peppers or whatever else you like - do it! Personalize it the way you like best. One thing I like about chili is you have room to add whatever you want (within reason, of course).

In Dreams - "It's her!"

(side note: I've been fighting a cold since Friday afternoon, and the meds are working. Good news is I sleep soundly. Bad news is in such sound sleep, I get crazy dreams.)

The dream starts with me living in a townhouse in a mid-sized city (think 60K or so population). The townhouse is above a casual dining place, so there is usually activity nearby day and night.

I go downstairs to get some eats, and there she is. We'll call her Penelope.

(Back story - Penelope was my first crush in junior high. First day of school that year, I arrive before the front doors are unlocked. Nervous, because the elementary school I attended the year before wasn't a feeder school to this junior high. So, odds were good I wouldn't know anyone.

I'm sitting on the curb outside the front door, and a bus pulls up. She is the first one off. She was cute, and beyond cute. What was most attractive though was she was calm and self-possessed. She carried herself confidently but not arrogantly, kind to everyone she met. I was captured that instant. Her poise was something I hadn't seen before, and only rarely since.

Me, being awkward and nervous, didn't approach her that day. Over the next three years, our paths crossed but I never mustered the nerve to talk to her at length. I'm sure she is happily married to this day, and her husband is one fortunate fellow.)

Anyway, Penelope is in the casual dining place, and our eyes meet. She welcomes me over to her table, I make myself comfortable, and we chat for a while. It only seemed like a few minutes, but we covered so much about our respective pasts. Even in that present scene, she still had that poise, that sense of calm in her spirit. Even we both are now middle-aged, she looked as beautiful as she did as a teenager.

We ate, chatted some more, then decided to take a walk. There was a pier nearby, so we went towards the water to watch the sunset. I had this sense that she had all the time in the world, and I was in no hurry for our time together to end. Then, the alarm went off. This was one time the alarm hadn't gone off when it did, to be sure.

I'm not on Facebook, since there are precious few folk from my past with whom I'd even want to keep in touch, but Penelope would be first on the list (that is, if I knew she was single AND interested in hearing from me).

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Football is done, here comes baseball

I like football a lot. I really do. The season is over. Hail to the Baltimore Ravens winning the league championship.

In the next week and a half, major leaguers and aspirants will report to select sites in Arizona and Florida to prepare for a new season. For me, "pitchers and catchers report" means spring is not far behind. For me, baseball evokes memories of trees beginning to bud, grass sprouts peeking out from dry thatch, warm breezes, etc.

I don't mind winter. If I have nowhere to go, bring on the heavy snow. However, I'm more of a warm-weather, ocean wave kind of guy. I don't swim, I just like the rhythmic sound of waves sloshing about.

My favorite team is the Washington Nationals. The 2012 season ended in disappointment, but 2013 could be the year the team makes it to the World Series. You bet I will be near a television most days of the season. Some people follow soap operas or their favorite reality television personality day after day. Baseball is my soap opera, my reality TV.

I prefer baseball. Bring it.

In Dreams - "Where are my car keys?"

(Correction - on the elk shooting, I later found out only one of the two cops were off-duty.)

(Disclosure about this post - I am fighting a cold, and the meds give me the craziest dreams.)

It started with a marquee along the side of a busy boulevard. When it's up on its metal post, it's big enough to see from the street. When I took it down and put it across my lap, it was no more than three feet long by two  feet wide. I used cellophane lettering to put "The Prez Wuz Here", one word per row from top to bottom. I vaguely remembered the POTUS had come through whatever town I was in. After changing the lettering, I took the marquee with me.

From there, I was ready to leave but couldn't find my car keys. I started walking around my town, ending up at a newly-built house in a neighborhood in which I formally lived. The house wasn't furnished, but there were eating utensils available. I took down a plate from a cabinet, then reached for the refrigerator. From behind me, I could hear a voice. It was Sean "Puffy" Combs, waiting for me to get done in the fridge so he could review its contents. Since there wasn't much in the fridge, I decided to go to the store. Since I still couldn't find my keys, I started searching again. From kitchen to garage to backyard to outside storage room, I had no idea where my keys were. 

In the midst of looking for my car keys, I also realized I forgot where I parked my car. As I searched now for two items, my mother showed up to provide encouragement. She wanted to talk about fiction writing, but I was distracted.

Next up, I found myself in Omaha at a place were I formerly worked. I walked up and down hallways, but no one else was around. I noticed large murals with faces of guys I know, some I go to church with and others I previously worked with. The murals were well-crafted, with a life-like level of detail. Most of the faces were smiling, and lots of airplanes were painted in the background.

Throughout the dream, my keys were never found.