When Your Fake Teams do Better Than Your Real One

The regular season is over, and so is the World Series. As an Oakland Athletics fan, my season was over earlier than the final week of the regular season. And being an A’s fan means losing talented players to Free Agency about every two or three seasons. Then, without the money to buy or keep the talent, the team drops in the standings and doesn’t make it past September.

So I wasn’t surprised that the A’s winning percentage was .370 at the season’s end was the worst in the American League and the second-worst in all of the majors (the Washington Nationals finished with a .340 PCT). John J. Fisher had a fire sale that gutted the team of nearly all of its talent. When the season started, the only noteworthy players were: starters Frankie Montas and Cole Irwin, utility players Elvis Andrus and Tony Kemp; and catcher Sean Murphy. By the end of the season, only Irwin, Kemp, and Murphy still wore the green and gold.

If you are not a baseball fan (and have hung on so far), watch Brad Pitt as the visionary Athletics GM Billy Beane in Moneyball below to get an idea of what it is like to be in the Oakland A’s organization and what it is like being a fan.

“…there are rich teams, and there are poor teams, then there’s fifty feet of crap, and then there’s us” that sums up many of my Oakland A’s teams over the years. I dread to think what the organization would be like without Billy Beane. Now with one foot out the door and in English soccer, it’s only a matter of time before Beane will be gone, and there will be no one who cares about the organization or, at least, no one who has the vision that Beane has/had. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been the GM for many years now, and the people who have taken his place seem to care less about the team than he does. Although to be fair, I’m a sycophant regarding certain people in public life.

Three of the season’s most notable moments didn’t occur on the field or with any players. One was in May at a Las Vegas Golden Knights (NHL) playoff match where Oakland Athletics President Dave Kaval sent a gushed Tweet video of the match–the seats filled to capacity. Kaval later said it was a way to let the Oakland City Council know that the A’s executives were shopping around. Naturally, this did not endear him to A’s fans, but he was already a divisive personality to many of the A’s faithful.

The second event was in July when the Oakland City Council voted 5-2 against the $12 billion Howard Terminal development that would include a $1 billion Oakland A’s ballpark. Ironically, I learned about the vote while traveling on a bus heading for a San Francisco Giants game. No, kind readers, I am not a Giants fan, but there was a major league ball game playing at Oracle Park, and my mother asked if I wanted to go. I don’t care much for the Giants or their opponent on that day, the Los Angeles Dodgers, but I couldn’t beat the company, and Oracle Park is a beautiful place to see a game. The news about the vote depressed me, though.

On the other hand, I am aware that Oakland and the greater Alameda County have many problems with the homeless and others living under the poverty line, so I can’t afford to be selfish about the vote since I don’t know any of the details. Municipal parks rub against the socialist in me: billionaire team owners demand taxpayers to foot the bill for a team they own, and they will charge a chunk of change to gain admittance into a park the local citizens are paying out of their taxes. It’s something I try not to think to dwell on. Maybe all professional teams should be like the Green Bay Packers, where the city owns the club, not some rich prick like John J. Fisher. However, if that were the case, the A’s would have to move out of Alameda County.

The last event was a reoccurring one that happened nearly every home game: the Coliseum’s poor attendance. Any A’s fan will tell you, mainly after Walter Haas sold the franchise back in 1995, that the A’s organization has struggled to fill the seats in the Coliseum, but this season is, by the numbers, the all-time worst. When I went to my only game this year, the aisle monitors with their fancy straw hats were long gone, and it was festival seating unless you wanted to sit in someone’s legitimate seat. Even some of the more devoted A’s fans were not showing up to the run-down Coliseum to watch their team of strangers lose, as noted in the New York Times’s aptly titled piece The Loneliest Team in Baseball.

One last point to make before I move on to my other two teams that fared better but still played under .500 ball. Before the A’s moved from Kanas City to Oakland in 1968, I liked the San Francisco Giants and always wanted to go to a game. My Dad didn’t want to go. He complained about how Candlestick Park (the Giants’ home) was a wind tunnel located way out near the San Francisco International airport. When the A’s came to Oakland, my Dad got excited, talking about how the shiny new Coliseum was a short drive on I-880 just past Berkeley. We started attending A’s games when I was ten and continued every season. We all liked to tease the Giant-loving kid next door by poo-pooing his team, their horrible stadium, boring radio announcer (Lon Simmons), and aging team (Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, and Gaylord Perry). The A’s were the opposite: they had one of the best boutique stadiums in baseball and an excellent radio personality. (If Lon Simmons put you to sleep announcing a McCovey grand slam, the Athletics’ Monte Moore could keep you glued to the radio as he read the local Pennysaver. Finally, the A’s lineup was the future (quite literally).

I stopped going to games with the family around 1978 when I had disposable income, a car, and friends who were into going to concerts–not sporting events. I continued following the A’s, but I rarely went to games, only checking the standings in the newspaper now and then. I knew I was out of it when–while reading my favorite Bay Area rock critic commenting on an upcoming concert at the Coliseum–he told his readers to be easy on the grass in left field, “you could be breaking Ricky Henderson’s ankle.” I had no idea who Ricky Henderson was. My father told me.

By the time I started following baseball again, my family had of them now followed the Giants. The change in allegiance rubbed me the wrong way, but I think there were logical reasons for this change. My brother, many years back, started work selling lumber, and the owners were big Giants/49ers fans. They bought season tickets and took clients to these games. I imagine he just got used to liking them.

I don’t know why my sister switched, or maybe she never was a baseball fan until she started attending spring training with her friends, who were all Giants fans. Then, some years ago, my mother told me some years ago she and my dad started going to Giants games, not because they preferred that team over the A’s but because the stadium was a lot nicer. The Giants moved from the horrible Candlestick Park to the gorgeous Oracle Park. Like most MLB parks, it was called something different when it opened and had changed corporate sponsorship three more times before receiving its latest name.) I may have the sequencing off above since I am a poor family historian. As for the A’s home, the Oakland Coliseum had been slowly disintegrating along with many other problems.

I got along with my family after this divorce, though. I once came close to blowing a gasket during a family party in 2014 or 2015. San Francisco had just announced the trade of Pablo Sandoval to the Red Sox. One of the most significant subjects in my Giants-loving family that dinner was the absence of Kung Fu Panda from The Family Team. A few members acted as if someone in the family had died. I kept my mouth shut but wanted to say, “Aww, you poor babies. You lost Pablo; you lost a great player. Gee, I wonder how that feels? Wait, let’s see. Oh, that’s right, my team gets gutted every two or three years, ‘organ donors for the rich’ (to quote Brad Pitt as Billy Beane). I know exactly how that feels, times ten. So stop crying in your mashed potatoes and pass the rolls!” I was surprised the family didn’t have a Welcome Back party for Sandoval when San Francisco signed him back a couple of years later. (Then again, maybe they did, but no Oakland A’s fans were invited.)

As much as I want to bitch about my family switching their allegiance, the regular 2022 season showed I’m probably not as big of an A’s fan as my family members are Giants fans, plus my family has always closely followed baseball. I can’t say the same for myself. I attended only one A’s game, lost interest in watching the A’s on TV during the last two months of the season, and have shown little interest in the postseason. Except for the remaining players I mentioned above and a couple of others, I didn’t know any of the other players–I couldn’t tell you four of the five starters nor five or six of the top position players. On the other hand, if you asked me who’s on The South Land Park Crows and A Triple, He Hit a Triple! I could give you more information. (Even then, I didn’t consign many to memory since I could quickly look them up on their respective websites.) Of course, these are fantasy baseball teams.

I ran the two fantasy ball clubs, and they did better than my pathetic A’s. This is due to great starters like Gerrit Cole, Corbin Burnes, Walker Buehler, Shane Bieber, Joe Musgrove, and Dylan Cease, and a couple of good relief pitchers in Gregory Soto and Martin Perez. I also had some good hitters in Nate Lowe, D.J. LeMahieu, Alex Bregman, Tommy Edman, and Jurickson Profar. Too bad these are players from both my fantasy teams and not one UberTeam. You must try hard not to have a few franchise players on fantasy teams. In other words, except for a few remaining players (Sean Murphy and Tony Kemp), only a glutton for punishment would draft the 2022 Oakland Athletics on their fantasy teams. I had both of these players on different teams. The A’s catcher worked out exceptionally well for my A’s and one of my fantasy teams. In fact, as of this writing, Murphy has been named the best player on the Oakland payroll (which isn’t saying much) and a Golden Glove nominee, which is significant. Alas, in fantasy baseball, there are no metrics for defensive play: it all comes down to pitching and hitting, so excellence in fielding is not counted directly.

Joining the South Land Park Crows of The Musial Suspects fantasy league and A Triple, He Hit a Triple! from the Dead Seagulls Baseball Association were my first attempts at drafting and managing fantasy baseball teams. I used to think fantasy sports were a colossal waste of time and a little embarrassing. It reminded me of when I was at a hamburger joint and what I thought were members of a band seriously criticizing their band’s drummer. I cringed when I found out a few minutes later they were not in a band but playing Guitar Hero at someone’s house. That was lame (unless you have Heidi Klum over to play with you). Now in my 60s and retired, I thought I would find this silly activity relaxing. Instead, it was a little more time-consuming and required much more knowledge of the game than I expected.

I recommend an ESPN Fantasy league if readers are interested in dipping their toes into a fantasy sport. While I can only compare ESPN with CBS, I get the feeling that ESPN, being in the sports reporting business, offers information like real-time reporting on which one of your players is starting and when someone on your team has been placed on the Injury List (IL) or have been suspended. This makes fielding your team using the ESPN Fantasy website a breeze.

Before the regular season begins, you participate in the online draft, where you will assemble your team. You can either actively participate in the draft or select auto-draft. ESPN analysts rank the payers, and you can leave the list alone, or you can do what I did: pick twenty-five of the best starting pitchers from the National and American leagues and push them to the top of the list. Then walk away, and you will see your team when you log on the following day. Of course, you will probably have a few trade requests from fellow teams who want one or more of the pitchers you snagged.

This season I tried staying logged on and making last-second adjustments when my auto-draft was in process. Finally, I determined what I didn’t benefit from logging on during the draft. So next season, I’ll return to what I did the first season: set it and forget it. Either way, my South Land Park Crows were ready to play the day after draft night.

I can’t recommend CBS Fantasy to any newbies who are like me:

  • Who doesn’t know baseball or whatever sport you want to “fantasy” in very well
  • Who doesn’t want to log into the site and other sports resources numerous times each day to ensure the player you have on second base is actually starting.
  • Who doesn’t like busy websites that only confuse the neophyte: Too Much Information. I prefer the Keep It Simple, Stupid approach.

There’s a fourth bullet point that might apply to some people and applies to me, but I think I can overcome this next year: the CBS site does not run the draft. The draft is done in person with all the managers in the same room simultaneously. We showed up at someone’s house, and each had a turn calling out an American League player (for whatever reason, this fantasy league used AL players only) and an opening bid. The better or more promising player, the higher the bids would go. Since each manager was given 60 credits, they had to use them wisely to ensure they could afford an entire team.

I was surrounded by guys who had been in this league for years. They followed everyone’s bids and balances to outbid someone purely on how little the guy next to him had in his kiddy. It was cutthroat, and I wasn’t prepared for it. I noticed two of the managers joined us via Zoom; looking back on it, I would have loved to have a desk in front of me for all the materials I brought (we were sitting on couches and comfy chairs with all our materials stacked on our laps. The veterans didn’t have a problem with this, but I was lost. Next year I’ll video in!

Dear reader, I know I wrote too much about my fantasy baseball experiences, and you don’t know how much I edited out–especially the CBS/Dead Seagulls Baseball Association. How did I get involved with each fantasy league? Who were the two guys who invited me into these leagues, and how do I know them? And specific events leading up to the draft in the CBS Fantasy league. This part of the post was getting ridiculously long for a subject not that many people find interesting. It must have been miserable for you, even at this edited length. And speaking of misery, there is my A’s.

Recently, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred cast doubt on the A’s getting a new home in Oakland, saying, “It’s dragged on so long. Frankly, in some ways, we’re not sure we see a path to success in terms of getting something built in Oakland.” Also, AthleticsNation.com recently said that after the World Series, the A’s are expected to announce a list of finalists among potential locations in Vegas. So, it’s a waiting game now. Not enough fantasy baseball wins can remove the sting of my team moving.

The Little (Fickle) Drummer Boy

When I was a kid, I used to listen to the teenager who lived on the corner playing his drums.

To my adolescent ears, Ray Hotchkiss sounded accomplished, but he probably wasn’t the next Charlie Watts–just a teenager good enough to create and maintain a rhythm.

After hearing Ray a few times and seeing Ringo Starr with The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, I begged my mom for a drum kit, and after bugging her enough, she sent me to a drum instructor and bought me a drum pad and sticks.

She bought me a drum kit soon after, but in reflection, I think she jumped the gun on that purchase; after receiving the set, I learned a simple bass, snare, and cymbal rhythm, which must have encouraged both my mom and me, but that modest rhythm was as far as I got.

These days, whenever I see a little kid on YouTube playing very proficiently, I can’t help but wish I would have stuck with it; maybe I could have played like that kid in a few years, perhaps I could have played like Ray Hotchkiss by the time I was in High School, and maybe I even could have joined a band.

The drumming stopped from Ray’s house soon after I had quit, and now 50 years later, I wonder if he was as fickle as I was.

The Triple: Third Time’s a Charm

Brand-new t-shirt with the original litho. Thanks, Erik!

I recently found two identical business cards while cleaning up my dresser top’s seemingly perpetual mess. The cards read Golden Senior Softball Club of Sacramento. I remembered picking up one card a year ago and the other about a few months ago. I vaguely recalled being interested in playing softball last year but never got the nerve to even look up the establishment online, and as I type this post, I still haven’t looked up the club online. On the back of the cards, it reads:

Stay Active

Meet new Friends

Have fun playing Senior Softball

Visit our Website for Applications,

Schedules & League History!

Besides the random capitalization that rubs me the wrong way, meeting new “friends” sounds horrifying. Has anyone ever met a new friend before? Usually, the process goes: you meet someone, and over time, you become friends. Anyway, playing softball (even if it is with a bunch of oldsters like me gave me pause. Yet, if there is one team sport I would like to play, it is softball. Of course, I would prefer hardball, but maybe I would regret that preference if I played in a real senior baseball league. But I am talking (typing) out of my ass. So I haven’t tried it. I haven’t even talked to somebody in the club yet.

The following post is not just a reposting of a story I told on this blog back on April 19, 2008, and reposted on October 6, 2017. Since I can’t seem to conjure up any new short fiction and the previous Pilates story is the first post I have written in nine months, I’m posting this story for the third time, but I am adding material to the end that is roughly related. I’m also cleaning up the grammar from the original and second (Geez!) post. Hopefully, I’ll get inspired and start posting more stories soon.

THE TRIPLE

I didn’t remember hitting the triple until Erik, an old college buddy and leader of the slow-pitch softball team, the Dead Seagulls, reminded me in our first communiqué since those days. I hadn’t spoken with any of my old American River College or Sac State buddies for years, but I began searching for old friends about fifteen years ago. For some reason, the details of that one summer I played on the Dead Seagulls have fallen into a black hole in my memory. So when Erik mentioned the triple, it was the key to many wonderful feelings and one bad one.

The team got its name when Erik, his brother Paul, Erik’s high school friend Chuck, and other original members of the newly formed team found a dead seagull on the diamond when the players took the field for their first practice. The dead bird was there every subsequent practice until someone finally removed it. The team didn’t have a name before the seagull incidents, and on the day they registered the team, they couldn’t think of a more appropriate name. (See the image above of a newly minted shirt Erik made for the Dead Seagulls alums. The design came from one of Erik’s high school friends, who drew it during a geometry class one day for $5.)

When I became a Dead Seagull, my father’s business sponsored the team. Usually, the sponsor or sponsors’ names were on the back of the shirts, but as I recall, the shirts were already printed, and my father didn’t have a stencil. My dad didn’t care; he was happy that his sedentary son was moving around, especially playing a sport. Unfortunately, as noted in earlier posts, I have never been good at sports, and my lack of dedication to any competitive game only worsened my athletic abilities.

It seems strange that I remember so little of what was an enjoyable and virtually carefree time in my life. I was in junior college and had developed some good friendships. Establishing, cultivating, and keeping good, close friends have always been problematic. This time was also special because I was playing a “sport” for the first time since I wrapped a 3-iron around a tree on a golf course and walked off, never to play the game again. I placed quotation marks on the word “sport” (there, I did it again) because this kind of softball was more casual than most. For instance, the pitcher was in an offensive position. Each batter would select his favorite teammate to lob pitches, so to speak—whoever knew how to place the ball right where the batter wanted it. I recently read in John Thorn’s Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game that before the 1860s, pitchers did not try to strike out the batters—only to help put the ball in play.

This also meant that the catcher—my position—had one main job, fetching the pitch if the batter missed or took the pitch. Things hadn’t changed much since I had been in Little League—what the right fielder was in Little League, the catcher was in this particular brand of slow-pitch softball. I would lean against the backstop and pick up any balls the batter missed or preferred not to hit. Because of this, there were no strikes, no balls, no stealing bases, and no pitcher-catcher conferences on the mound. Play didn’t start until the batter hit the ball into play. The only times my position became important were when plays came to the plate, but that didn’t happen much. I only remember two times that the ball came to me faster than a croquet ball.

I once ran in front of the plate to hold the runner at third. The throw came hard, and I remember hearing Erik yelling my name—not in a “head’s up” kind of way but more like a mother yelling at her son to “get out of the way of that speeding car.” Everybody knew I was the worst player on the team, and since this was not a very competitive league, my teammates would rather see me unhurt than depending on my ball handling to save a run or two. The ball came in low and fast, then took a high hop, and I caught the ball right in front of my face—the mitt so close to my nose that I could smell the lanolin oil I had just used to break it in. I remember Erik yelling my name again, this time in a deep breath of relief. It made me wonder if Erik and my dad had entered into a secret pact: my dad not letting go of the check and whispering in Erik’s ear, “Protect my boy from anything that might hurt him, like a ball thrown in his general direction.”

Then there was the time I blocked the plate—like a pro catcher used to do. I remember concentrating on the ball slowing coming in from the outfield and seeing what looked like a freight train coming toward me through my lazy eye. Before the ball got to me, the entire diamond turned upside down, and I could see the backstop and the ball flying between my legs. Then I came down—on my back. I wasn’t bowled over, though; the runner slid between my legs, and as his feet pushed my feet off the ground, I did a somersault and fell on my back. The runner I was attempting to block, and the runner behind him scored. I thought it must have looked magnificent and wished someone had filmed it. Most of my teammates acted as if I did a foolish thing; this was casual competition, nothing worth getting injured. In my mind’s eye, Erik covered his face with one eye, peaking out and praying I was okay. I was.

My batting was no more stellar than my fielding. I don’t remember doing anything but grounding out, although I know I hit safely to first occasionally because I remember being embarrassed about how slowly I ran. I was then, and still am now, a plodding runner. I remember running the pads, actually listening to the footsteps of my teammate behind me getting louder and louder. I am not sure, but I think I recall the base runner behind me yelling to “speed up.” It must have been a drag to follow me at bat. If I reached base, the next hitter would be limited to a single or double because I couldn’t run fast enough to give the hitter who followed me the extra bases he usually would have.

These memories came back when Erik reminded me about “The Triple.” He used the definite article as if there were only one ever hit in the game’s history. As if you were to ask Bob Costas or Vin Skully about “The Triple, ” they would say, “Oh, you mean the one Jack Keaton hit in the ’80s that one season when he was on the Dead Seagulls?” In this league, extra-base hits were as ubiquitous as pop-ups and ground balls in the majors. This three-bagger was memorable because I had never hit the ball so far. When I cranked this one, all I remember was that when I made first base, I could see I should take second. When I reached second, everyone was off the bench and advancing me to third; all the while, I continued to hear screaming from the bench. When I landed safely on third base, I looked over at our bench and saw all my teammates up and madly rattling the chain link fence like crazed monkeys, yelling at me as if I had driven in the game-winner in the final game of the World Series.

It was the most significant moment in my life as far as sports go. I never felt so triumphant, never so—at the risk of sounding melodramatic—appreciated. How could I have forgotten this moment? Why did it take Erik over ten years later to jog my memory? This should have been on my memory’s mantlepiece along with (finally) graduating from college, getting married, seeing my youngest born, a few sexual encounters, and other highlights.

Perhaps the answer to those questions is in what happened minutes later. Unfortunately, after scoring and returning to the bench, I also remember the smiles on my teammates’ faces. They looked as if they were more amused than supportive. I sat down on the bench, basking in the afterglow, and then Ethan, who joined the Dead Seagulls with me, made a comment that may have defined all the looks: “Man, you run just like Ron Cey!” The all-star third baseman was known as “The Penguin” because of how he ran. The comment crushed me and might be why I forgot the longest ball I ever hit. All I could think now was that my teammates rattling the cage had been laughing about how funny I looked running with a 2×4 up my ass. I know they were excited for me—we never cheered fellow players as they cheered me, but I couldn’t shake the embarrassment.

I never played a team sport again. No, I wasn’t so profoundly hurt that I could never play again; we went our separate ways: Erik moved to Poland for a year, Ethan continued college in New England, and I advanced to California State University, Sacramento. After that, the closest I came to competitive sports was being Assistant Manager to my kid’s tee-ball team one season in the early 1990s.

University Maryland kegball players take their time before moving on to third.

Around that time, a friend at work invited me to join his “sloshball” team. Sloshball, as he explained, is softball with a keg at second base. Base runners cannot advance past second until they have drunk a red plastic cup of beer. There were certain dispensations to accommodate the slow drinkers: more than one runner can be on second at one time, and they can advance together when the ball is in play, and both runners have finished their drinks. Players in the field can throw out or tag runners together, creating some unique double-play possibilities, assuming the fielders were sober enough to turn them. Even if you homered, the guy who hit the dinger had to drink a cup when rounding second base. Note: I thought my borderline alcie fellow employees invented sloshball, but I ran into a couple of sites while researching that have to do with sloshball or kegball, including some folks at the University of California, Davis, but they only play annually at a college picnic.

Since I am heavily medicated and am not crazy about beer, to begin with, I passed on the offer. Considering my batting history, I don’t think I would have gotten very drunk had I joined. I’m sure the now fabled triple would not have happened. I would have had to settle for a two-bagger, and I am sure I would have booted all over home plate.

The Triple: Forty Years Later

Sore feelings aside, I think I would like to play with the Dead Seagulls again, but they no longer play softball. Instead, the now-greying Dead Seagulls continue to play virtually as the Dead Seagulls Baseball Association (DSBA): a fantasy baseball league run by CBSSports.com. Erik, his brother Paul, and Chuck now play ball vicariously through MLB players. All the other team owners come from other parts of Erik’s life.

Erik invited me to play a few years back but kept forgetting to sign me up until the 2022 season. I was already a fantasy baseball team owner on an ESPN-run league. In my first year, I did alright. My team, the South Land Park Barking Dogs, ended up somewhere in the middle of the field, but I’m in the cellar of the ESPN league this year.

In my first season as a Dead Seagulls Baseball Association team owner, I am doing about as okay for my first year. Still, it is a far more complex league requiring owners to be more knowledgeable about players than I am or care to be. I can see myself continuing playing in the ESPN league because it is so easy to navigate (not so easy to win), but Erik’s CBS Sports-run league requires expertise in ball players.

As far as the Golden Senior Softball Club of Sacramento goes, I’m going to deem starting now too late. So instead, I will check out the website and investigate how it works, where they play, and maybe even attend a game or two. Then, next spring, I’ll pick up yet another card from my gym’s lobby. Perhaps I’ll sign up, get picked for a team, realize I am now even worse than I was in Little League, on the Dead Seagulls, or the fantasy teams I manage, and who knows, maybe this 65-year-old man will hit another triple!

Observations From the Reformer (the first and probably the last): Crash & Burn & Embarrassment

Yeah, never got to this level. But, geez, that woman’s got some abs!

Besides left-wing politics, writing, reading, and the two original subjects of this blog: scooters and Sacramento area hamburgers, this blog has sometimes seemed more like a blog on yoga than anything else. My interest in yoga lasted about seven and a half years. This blog has featured about 80 posts about yoga or something my practice inspired me to investigate (meditation, Buddism, minimalism, etc.). Seven of the posts made up a series called “Observations From the Mat.”

The eighth “observation” is a draft titled “Why I Hate Vinyasa Yoga,” but I never finished it and probably never will. After the Pandemic, when my health club reopened, we had a new group exercise director, and all the yoga classes (save for a once-a-month Restorative Yoga class) were Vinyasa style. I hung in there for a while, taking two-morning Yinyasa classes taught by the group exercise director, but I started to check out Pilates. Finally, I paid the cash to take the three required private Quick Start Pilates classes the club insists members take to get acclimated to the Reformer before beginning Level 1 Pilates classes. (I was going to bore the reader to death with explanations on what exactly Pilates is and what kind of a widget is a Reformer, but I added links above for anyone who needs answers.)

Pilates is unique and separate from all other group exercises in my fitness club. Even the club’s Group Exercise Schedule does not include Pilates—Pilates has its own schedule, webpage on the club’s website, and director. The short time I practiced Pilates was on a Reformer (see the image below if the reader didn’t check out the link above). Before the Pandemic and the club closing, there used to be a Mat Pilates class available. I have never tried that form of Pilates though I hear it is more physically challenging than practicing on a Reformer. Still, I might be practicing Pilates if I practiced the mat version instead of the Reformer one.

One of the things I noticed from the first Quick Start session is Pilates is similar to Vinyasa Yoga: the practitioner does not stay in a position for very long—a few seconds at best and then moves on to the next posture. The constant movement (or “flow” as it is called in Vinyasa) was a disappointing discovery, but I got over it—it was a new kind of exercise, so it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. The main reason I remained excited about the new training was the trainer. Sabin was an excellent trainer and highly knowledgeable at Pilates and the Reformer. I felt in good hands.

Some challenges worried me about my new Pilates practice. For the same reason, I could never achieve balance postures in yoga (Warrior 3, Eagle, Tree, etc.); there were positions on the Reformer that required balance. In the seven and a half years of practicing yoga, I could never stick any pose that required less than my two Fred Flintstones on the mat simultaneously. (This is due to being heavily medicated.) Just a side note on me and yoga: I haven’t completely given up on it. I still try to attend my once-a-month Restorative Yoga class, and maybe someday, when my gym ends its blind love for Vinyasa Yoga and starts holding classes on traditional Hatha or maybe even Yin Yoga, I’ll sign up for a class or two.

So, after completing my mandatory one-on-one Quick Start sessions, I began taking Level 1 (group) classes. And they were enjoyable and challenging. I made it a point to sign up for the classes led by Sabin, the Pilates Director. I had it on good authority she was the best trainer. I got to know one of my fellow Pilate students, Nancy. She and I talked a few times before class while the previous course was winded down. She told me she got extra help from a Pilates expert who lived in Greenhaven—a bicycle ride from my house. I asked if it would be okay if she gave me this person’s contact information. She said sure.

I had practiced twice a week for about four weeks when Nancy gave me the trainer’s name, phone number, and hourly rate. I was excited and planned to call the private trainer for a chat and a possible session. It was that same day, minutes before our class was about to begin, when I looked through the window of the Pilates studio door and noticed everyone was standing on the Reformers (as in the image at the top of this post). Knowing the carriages their feet were on were spring-loaded and slid back and forth, all I saw was me losing my balance and landing teeth-first on the adjustable footbar and knocking out my grill. (See the above image for the footbar sans my blood and teeth fragments.) When we finally got into the room and were about to start, I asked Sabin what was with everyone standing on the Reformers. She told me that it was a Level 2 class, and we would not be performing any standing exercises in Level 1. That made me feel both relieved and depressed: relieved because I wouldn’t have to attempt to stand on a moving carriage and depressed because I once again picked an exercise that requires balancing, if not in Level 1, then definitely on Level 2 and Level 3.

It is a bitter coincidence that on that day–the day I got the contact information of the private Pilates instructor and found out I wouldn’t advance beyond Level 1–I lost my balance while executing a pose and fell off the Reformer. Remarkably, I did a tuck and roll on my way down to the indoor-outdoor carpet. (I have a knack for falling on my chest when I had plenty of time to have an arm break my fall.) Sabin saw the fall and complimented me on how graceful I looked. Not agile enough, unfortunately, it turned out I had skinned my ankle. I noticed I was bleeding when I stood up.

I left the studio with Sabin. First, she gave me a couple of alcohol wipes and bandages. Then, she filled out an incident report. She could have returned to the class, but I couldn’t read the type on the form (I left my glasses in my locker). The final embarrassment was returning to the studio to pick up some of my items. Since Sabin had to fill out the form, it cut into their class time. Nobody said a word. They were just sitting around waiting for the class to restart. It reminded me of when I had a seizure in front of my friends when I was twelve—I never got treated the same way. Then and probably now, I felt like I was treated as fragile or not whole. Sabin was very supportive and emailed more than once, wanting to know how I was and that I was welcome back, and she had some modifications for me. She is a terrific trainer, but I didn’t want to show my face again in that class.

One thing I like about Pilates and yoga (and theoretically HIIT, Step Aerobics, and all other group exercises) is that you have a specific day and time to attend and participate with others. Therefore, I feel compelled to show up. Kind of like when I was going to Weight Watchers: every week, you were expected to show up at the meeting once a week, get in a line then, stand on the scale where your weight was noted, and then, hopefully, get inspired by your leader’s speech to do better. Currently, I don’t have that structure. Post-Pilates, I’m working with a TRX system and an indoor rowing machine. Both of these systems do not require much in the way of balancing. However, the nylon straps and handles of the TRX are indifferent to whether I use them or not. Also, the pulley, flywheel, sliders, and saddle of the rowing machine don’t give a shit whether or not I employ them.

As a result, I find lame excuses for not showing up at the club and using them. At least I can’t fall off the couch and bump my head on the coffee table while sitting on my ass reading or watching whatever is on one of my streaming services. Boy, that sounds more depressing than falling off a Reformer in a Pilates class!

Tax the Rich (Bastards)!

Of all the political topics that get me riled up, besides the “man-made
global warming is a hoax,” I think the myth that taxing the rich is a bad
thing pisses me off the most. I’m going through a blogger’s dry patch. It’s like writer’s block, but it’s more like a lack of inspiration to post anything. Anyway, I saw this and felt it was worth posting here.

I like Robert Reich, but I think his idea of making Capitalism work is too simplified. So regardless of my opinion of the Professor of Economics at Cal, I thought this was worth slapping up here. Happy viewing, and maybe I’ll get back to posting more stuff soon. I’ve stopped practicing yoga and now trying Pilates. That should be worth a post! Cheers.

Better Late Than Never

Smedley Butler turned against what would later evolve into the military-industrial complex after helping create it.

General Smedley Butler (Right) with Major General John A. Lejeune in camp at Frederick, Maryland in 1922. (Bettmann / Getty Images)

Smedley Butler Helped Build American Empire. Then He Turned Against It.

I remember reading Smedley Butler’s 1935 War is a Racket. It’s partly a speech the retired general was making around the US and part peace manifesto. I recall reporting my findings to my mentor and college professor William A. Dorman. He made some positive remarks about the little seventy-five-page book, then said something like, “Why is it after people do so much damage that they finally get religion.”

General Butler successfully led the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the Boxer Rebellion in Honduras, Central America, Veracruz, Haiti, and World War I. Throughout his military exploits, he earned two Medal of Honors and was up to his time in the military was the most decorated soldier in the American military. After that, he retired from the military and believed that the wars he had helped lead were all conflicts designed not to defend America but to profit US banks and corporations.

The link at the top is from an excellent book review from Jacobin of Jonathan M. Katz’s new book Gangsters of Capitalism: Smedley Butler, the Marines, and the Making and Breaking of America’s Empire. It’s currently out in hardcover, but I’ll be snagging a paperback when it comes out!

New reflectors for my ride (and other boring stuff)

I picked up my Vespa from Scooter City the other day after some expensive work was done on it. Hopefully, the leaky back tire is fixed for good. I’ve been in to have this leaky tire fixed for the third time. This time I put my foot down and told Rick, my trusted mechanic, that I wanted a new back tire. I think Rick couldn’t do it, knowing the tread on the Dunlop Scootsmart was good. He overhauled the old rim this time, claiming there was corrosion in the old rim and that he believed that was the problem. Despite my initial frustration with him not charging me for a new tire, I realized, unlike some car mechanics I have had in the past, Rick can’t see replacing something in good shape and charging me for it.

He also replaced the belt and roller set, including the idle rollers. My GT 200 also got a much-needed lube job. After I okayed it over the phone, he installed the reflectors missing from the scooter when I first bought the Vespa used some years ago. The last two items (replacing oils and filters and getting reflectors) are the only things I really understand and, if I was desperate, could do them myself with the help of YouTube videos. My scooter rides like a top now, and the reflectors are an excellent and needed addition, though this old man doesn’t like riding in the dark anymore.

Reflectors on the skirts of the back fenders and tail.

The bill was steep but fair, and I got a brand new Scooter City t-shirt with it. But, hey, is that Evel Knievel on my new tee?

George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” turned 51 recently

This is an innovative music video written and directed by Lance Bangs (director of many music videos as well as the Jackass television shows) and produced by Dhani Harrison (George’s son), David Zonshine (Dhani’s manager and a record executive).

The video features appearances by: Mark Hamill, Fred Armisen, Vanessa Bayer, Ringo Starr, Dhani Harrison, Olivia Harrison (George’s widow), Patton Oswalt, Rosanna Arquette, Al Yankovic, Joe Walsh, Jon Hamm, and many others.

Two of my favorite lefties meet (remotely) for the first time.

AOC in Conversation With Noam Chomsky — Jacobin

I’m sharing a post from one of my favorite political magazines, Jacobin. Noam Chomsky was probably the first great dissident I discovered by myself. (I was already introduced to I. F. Stone, Howard Zinn, and others by my mentor in college the late William A. Dorman.) I later learned just how great the professor emeritus from MIT is. (Also, I don’t think Chomsky is a “leftie” or leftist; I believe he’s more of an anarchist, just to be clear.) Fast forward to 2018, and an unknown bartender from the Bronx defeats one of the biggest names in the Democratic Party. The Congresswoman’s name now can be found in several books about the small but growing progressive movement in America and the co-sponsor of the Green New Deal in 2019 and 2021 and was one of the subjects in the excellent documentary Knock Down the House. She’s also regularly derided on Fox News for just about everything she says and does, so she must be doing something right.


This is the interview hosted by progressive-minded Laura Flanders. Below is a link to an edited version of the interview. You can see the entire conversation at https://lauraflanders.org/.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6M9VxHLqV8