Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Field trip with the Children of the Corn

Hi folks!  As I was trying to come up with some good material for a Halloween blog, I decided to check on my  favorite columnist, Chris Erskine, and take a look at his latest entry in the L.A.Times. I'm glad I did because this one is pretty good. Hope you enjoy it.

Chris Erskine

I'm still casting about for a costume. I may end up going as me, which might be too scary for some of the younger kids. Or Snooki. Or the Situation. If you know who those two are, fine. If not, congratulations. I admire you more than ever.

Oh, the choices we make in life. Some people thrive on politics; I thrive on school field trips, choosing instead to address society's problems at ground level.

In fact, Mrs. Norris' class had a fine field trip just the other day, the second-graders all off to Lombardi Ranch, L.A.'s Ponderosa of Pumpkins.

My wife signed me up for the field trip a few weeks ago, then put it on my calendar as "Wine Tasting!!!" Turns out there was no wine tasting at Lombardi Ranch. Only pumpkins. Acres and acres of school buses, pumpkins and other fruits of the harvest.

"Hey kids, I brought cigars!" I yell, and the teachers all think I am kidding.

Anyway, I find myself a hostage on this field trip, assigned to a small group of 7-year-old boys. I protest that it's extremely sexist to team me up with seven boys, because everybody knows — especially teachers — that boys are evil and why should I suffer just because I'm one myself?

"Oh, just go with it," someone suggested, probably that pushy Miss Hamrick, who treats a teaching credential like a sheriff's badge.

Fortunately, I'm too stupid to worry. I'm also not bright enough to bring along a book for the long bus trip either, and I find myself having to engage in conversation with the feral little creatures. All the kids want to talk about is what they're going to be for Halloween.

After that, the conversation tapers off and everyone sits around uncomfortably, waiting for the next person to speak. It reminds me of almost every holiday party I've ever been to. After five minutes, I have nothing else to offer.

"Look, we're there!" someone shouts after the 14-hour ride.

If you've never been, Lombardi Ranch near Santa Clarita is a sprawling and festive pumpkin yard, with thousands of gourds, pyramids of straw and a particularly fetching field of sunflowers.

Upon arrival, the first thing the boys and I decide to do is ditch the teachers and get hopelessly lost in the corn maze.

"Come on, men! Let's get lost!" I say, quoting Chet Baker, a great but troubled horn player. I'm pretty sure this is the first time that Chet Baker was ever quoted on a second-grade field trip.

The corn maze begins with a big, gaping maw — that's how they lure you in. Because they are boys, my group sprints in at full speed, never for a moment considering their own safety.

"Stay together!" I yell, and they promptly don't. Within 20 seconds we have become a Stephen King novel.

"Stay together!" I tell the Children of the Corn, but their laughter seems to be getting farther and farther away. There is no danger, really, for the cornfield is fairly isolated. Plus, they smell like a school bus, so no wild animal would ever eat them.

"Where'd they go?" I ask my son, who is serving as my scout. The little guy dashes a few hundred feet into the corn maze, then comes running back to report that he found nothing except Johnny, who wasn't even in our group but now is. I coached Johnny in soccer one year, and he's always had this knack for showing up at the oddest times.

"Stay together!" I yell again, and right away they dart off.

This goes on for about 10 minutes, before all the boys come laughing and screaming back to their hostage (me) to be sure I hadn't escaped or anything. They are all there but report that they ran across another classmate who also wasn't in our group — a boy named Moby. I started with seven boys and now I am up to nine. And one is still in the corn maze.

"You should go get him, Mr. Erskine," one of the little terrorist/captors urges.

"Why?" I ask.

"Just because," the kid explains.

So I turn the group over to Ceci, another parent, and head back into the corn maze alone.

Soon, "I'M LOST! I'M LOST!" echoes throughout the maze.

Actually, that was me.

Then I hear "I'M LOST TOO!" and the two of us reunite in a cheerful scene right out of "Little House on the Prairie," one of the greatest shows of all time.

"Reunite" is probably too strong a word, as I haven't seen this kid before. But he has an air of entitlement about him, and very expensive sneakers, which is how I know he probably goes to our little school.

Well-mannered too. After I carry him to safety, the kid tips me.

I hope that everyone has a fun and spooky Halloween!!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

An Update to Yesterday's Post

First of all, it's 7:00 PM and we are still waiting for FedEx to show up. It's a good thing that Becky's job doesn't revolve around her cellphone.... Oh wait! It does!!! Great service, huh?

Anyhow, on a whim she decided to plug her phone into the charger and guess what??

Yep!!  It turned ON!  Not only that but after reinserting the SIM card, It WORKS!! The only problem is that every time she touches the screen, a little piece of glass falls out. But I guess iPhones "Take a Lickin' and Keep on Tickin'!" I just can't beleive it!

Oh!  Her new phone just arrived via UPS!  And the language on the new phone is Spanish! LOL! Hopefully when she syncs it, it will be OK.

Maybe Apple will ask her to make a commercial.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

She Couldn't Even Call 911

My wife Becky had a very bad morning. Mine was no walk in the park either but hers???  Her job requires two very important items in order to be successful. Her computer and her iPhone. So when I heard, "I can't find my iPhone!!!", I knew it was going to be a longggg morning.

We searched everywhere! Her office, her purse, the bedroom, living room and lastly, her car. Nothing. She tried calling her phone but it immediately went to voicemail. She NEVER turns her phone off, so this had us even more worried. So I asked her if she had searched her car thoroughly and if it could have fallen out of her pocket while getting into her car (she had used it earlier in her car). She said that there was no way that she could have dropped it but I, never one to leave a leaf unturned, went to her car again.

Well, I found it.... In the street.... Face Down.......  It was a Hit and Run!!!! Now if you have never seen an iPhone after it has been run over by a car, it's not a pretty sight! 


Luckily, it was under warranty. And not the standard Apple/iPhone warranty that covers very little, but one she got from  $96 for two years and it includes everything except loss of the phone. Even the dreaded "Toilet Drop"!! She gets her new phone tomorrow with all of her info intact (the SIM card survived and it was backed up on her computer).

And if you're wondering, Yes, I DID try to turn it on!!!  LOL

Oh yeah, my morning??  I received an email from my bank that my debit card had been compromised and sure enough, funds (only $25) had been removed. But one phone call and a visit to the bank and I have a temporary card with a new permanent one on the way and I will be getting reimbursed in 7 days.

My day was much better than Becky's was.

Monday, October 25, 2010

'Heads In The Clouds.....'

Yesterday was my father-on-law's birthday so we thought we would celebrate with him and at the same time check off one more item from his 'Bucket List'. We decided to take him on a Zepellin ride and all four of us had a blast! We also learned two things. It's a Zepellin NOT a Blimp (they will correct you!) and there are only two Zeppellins in the world that offer rides simply for pleasure. This one and another in Germany. There was one in Japan but they went out of business. One other fact is that only 9000 people have ever taken a Zeppelin ride for pleasure. Make that 9002!

The four of us arrived at the airport two hours before the the flight
because of , you guessed it, security.


Only Becky and her dad, Jerry, went up. I took photos from the ground while she handled the shots from the air. She did a great job!! Also, it cost $200 for thirty minutes and it was HIS birthday. The next time I'm going for sure! Yes, I stayed behind this time...

But Becky's mom, Jo, and I still had fun just sharing the excitement.

They weren't kidding with that scanner!!  YIKES!!!

After a short briefing they were shuttled to the airfield and waited for the Zepellin to return from the previous flight.

Becky took a few pics of the ground crew and the underside of the Zepellin

Inside, it looked like this.

The pilot was Kate.

It even had a small restroom which they referred to as 'the loo with a view'! lol
They both seemed to have a great time up there.

Becky took tons of pictures!

Long Beach shipping terminal:
The Valero refinery where she works:
The Marina:
Shoreline Drive where the Long Beach Grand Prix is held:
Our little Thums oil island:

Long Beach Pier:
And the Queen Mary (right) along with a cruise ship and the former home of the 'Spruce Goose', Howard Hughes' giant airplane:

Then it was back to the airport, taking photos along the way:

Including the landing.

After a short debriefing (?) by this guy,
They all received their certificates!!

It was an exhausting day but well worth the trip there. Next time, It's MY turn!!  Maybe you all can join me!

Right after the flight the Zeppelin and it's crew took off for Northern California but they will be back here again next summer. Definitely something to look forward to this winter!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wild Weather in Southern California

We woke up this morning to the unfamiliar sound of thunder. Unfamiliar because the last time we heard it or saw lightning was years ago. In So Cal we typically do not receive any rain whatsoever from around March until October or November. Even more surprising was the fact that this was supposed to be a very dry rainy season. So much for that!

Today we experienced heavy rains, hail, high wind gusts plus thunder and lightning, which the dogs always enjoy so very much. They run outside, stop on a dime, return and howl at the strange monster who is certainly out to destroy them!

This storm is stationary, spinning right above us, and should continue to last through Thursday. My lawn and fruit trees love it!!!

Here are a few photos. Some I took and some I got from our local news station's website.

The only photo missing was one of the waterspout that popped up near the coast, a few miles away.

I'm thinking beef stew for dinner and then spark up the fireplace.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kids, Cleats and Chaos

I came across this column in the L.A.Times today and thought it was pretty funny.  This guy is my favorite columnist and I read him every week.

Chris Erskine,
Los Angeles Times

There is so much to do lately. I still haven't Halloweened the house, and there's a bougainvillea in back that threatens to swallow up the patio furniture.
Who cares? We can always get more patio furniture. And the house already looks sort of haunted, the lawn neglected and spiders in every crease.

Besides, I'd rather go to picture day for the soccer team. We have a 1:30 appointment — us and 400 other teams. "Be there at 1:30 sharp," the league told 4,000 kids. And so we were.
Team photo day is such a fascinating experience: two little tents and total mayhem. It reminds me of the Southwest terminal at LAX, the lines twisting like lovesick anaconda. After a few years of this — or in my case, a few decades — you can visually sort through the confusion and figure out where exactly to line up.

"Over here, men," I say, and the 7-year-olds follow like little ducks.
Once you get over the initial fear, there is a certain majesty to soccer picture day. Any event crawling with parents and kids is something to celebrate. I am a big fan of anarchy and idle time. Which is really why, for me, team photo day might be the best darned day of the year.
"Over here, men," I say, just trying to keep them busy and not poking each other's eyes out.

Have you met my Jaguars? You'd remember if you did.
The first thing we did as a team this season was establish aliases. Matthew became Thunder. Jack became Danger. Ian was dubbed the Terminator.
"I want to be Shark Attacker," Cole said.
"Then that is what you'll be," I said.

Legally changing their names proved to be tougher than we thought. The parents were all really cool about it, but the schools balked. There were health insurance concerns and trust fund issues. Soon, the whole thing turned into a giant wad of grief.
So we decided that, on the soccer field, they'd be known as Terminator, Thunder, Mambo, Lightning, Crush, Gator, etc. At home and at school, they could retain their former identities.
"That's boooooor-iiiiiiiing," Gator noted, and he said it with such authority and conviction that I knew it came directly from the heart.
I explained to the boys that superheroes almost always have twin identities, for that allows them to fit seamlessly into the mortal world.
"It also has numerous tax advantages," I explained.
Behind them, I could see the parents all nodding, especially Kathy (a.k.a. Mambo's Mom).

So, as you can sense, it's been a good season for me and the Mighty Jaguars. We're ahead of USC and UCLA in all of the major polls — but then who isn't?
Best of all, perhaps, is that during picture day, the Jaguars met an older girls team, the Tidal Waves, who seemed friendly at first but eventually shunned our attempts to party with them later, citing previous commitments and such.
"Sorry, gotta floss!" one of them yelled and then they all giggled and turned away.
But you could tell that the 11-year-olds were secretly flattered. It's not every day that you run across such an elite group of 7-year-olds, guys who store food in their cheeks and get stuck upside down in chairs.

Pure fun is what I'm talking about. At a team meeting later, the Jaguars all agreed that they indeed liked girls, but so far only their mothers.
"OK, show of hands, who likes their mother?" I asked, and it was pretty unanimous.

After the photos, which took a mere hour or two, we all marched over to the field where our game was about to take place. On the way, we passed right through the Fall Pumpkin Festival, a big sprawling organism in itself — devoted, as are we, to greed, money and fun.
Killer fest. They had a whole row of bouncy houses, and the petting zoo smelled like soccer socks. Yum. It was also the only fall fest in the area with a poker room and a kissing booth.
"Very progressive," I told a kid we nicknamed Train.
"Can I have cotton candy?" Train asked.
"No," I said.

Honestly, getting the entire Jaguar team safely through the fall festival might be my best coaching accomplishment to date.
We lost only three players.
So if you see a kid who goes by G-Force, and another who calls himself Crush, please contact me immediately. Gator is also out there somewhere, probably over by the petting zoo is my guess.
There is no reward. Only gratitude. I talked to the players, and they agreed that in exchange for their teammates' return, they'd all come to your house and play with your pets. Jump on the couch. Trample your flower beds. Up to you.
Like most men, our skills are limited. But our souls are pure.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Five things baseball needs to do to improve the postseason

It has been, as usual, a magical autumn filled with play fakes and head fakes, trick formations and trap blocks, sneaks and sleights and gadgets and gimmicks.

Yet, as usual, nothing has disappeared faster than major league baseball.

One moment there was a wonderfully noisy pennant race. The next moment it was so quiet you could hear a rating point drop.

One moment, we were marveling at the heartening end of a timeless marathon. The next moment, we were yawning over the silly steps of a manufactured sprint.

One moment, there were players spilling champagne over each other in celebration of one of sport's most difficult achievements. The next moment, well, it's been nearly two weeks and guys are still pouring champagne over each other and we're not sure why.

One moment, the country cared. The next moment, much of it didn't, and why should it?

I am writing this on a classic fall Friday in the middle of a dramatically crisp October afternoon, yet there is not even a hint of baseball's Fall Classic or dramatic October.

There was no baseball played on Thursday. There was no baseball played on Wednesday. All four remaining teams, in fact, won't be in action together until Saturday, when the first league championship series doubleheader will compete directly with college football, a decision that makes about as much sense as USC's defense.

Baseball's postseason rests when it should play, and plays when it should rest, and behaves so differently from the regular season that it's almost not baseball at all.

Baseball's postseason is too long on the calendar, not long enough on the field, too late on the clock, way too late on the weather report, and generally the kind of autumn visitor who used to help decorate your house, and now pummels it with pumpkin rinds.

Baseball's postseason needs help and, as usual, I'm here for it.

Here are five things that must change about postseason baseball, one for every skinny middle infielder who will soon show up on your TV screen wearing a ridiculous ski cap and gloves.

Stretch the first round
I know, this sounds crazy because the postseason currently ends so late, but stay with me here.

The Cinncinati Reds were one of baseball's best stories for six months, yet they were eliminated in 9 hours and 13 minutes. The Minnesota Twins were the one of the pulses of the long baseball summer, yet they were knocked out in a heartbeat.

Does baseball really think that after taking 162 games to decide playoff participants, it is fair to take only five games to knock some of them out? Both the NBA and NHL have seven-game first rounds, and the ticket to baseball's postseason is more grueling and exclusive than either of those two sports.

And stretching the first round will not make the postseason longer or colder if baseball makes this second big change…

Shorten the regular season
This could save the postseason like cutting off an infected toe could save a leg.

Cut the regular season back to 154 games, and don't look so shocked, because history confirms it works. In fact, baseball has played more 154-game schedules (59) than 162-game schedules (49).

So some regular-season statistics would need an asterisk. Like they don't need one already? The stats that steroids didn't kill will survive. Hey, to break baseball's most venerable remaining record, you only need 57 games, right?

So owners lose a few home dates? They will gain the money back in a better postseason television deal for a World Series that ends under the pleasant skies of mid-October. Last year on Nov. 4 in Philadelphia — the date and possible place of this year's World Series Game 7 — the temperature dipped to 37 degrees. Play ball!

Take the weekends off
While baseball has been snoozing on its increasingly outdated bed of tradition, football has become this country's national pastime. So stop fighting the NFL, stop competing with everybody's alma mater, and learn to make a new niche.

Schedule all postseason games on Monday through Friday, with Monday being a day game because of "Monday Night Football." No days off during this time. Make it replicate the regular season, something that doesn't happen now. This year's division series ratings were down 9.4%, so how much help could the weekends be?

Play more day games
Everyone wants them, but nobody has the courage to actually schedule them. For baseball's postseason, those games are oxygen. The benefits won't be clearly visible immediately, but without their intermittent charm, the postseason becomes a collection of long and late and yawn.

How far has the game strayed from its roots? Baseball spent about two days this fall bragging about a 2011 World Series schedule that includes one special game with the earliest start in 24 years.

The first pitch will be — woo hoo! — 6:57 p.m. Eastern. Are you kidding me?

Enough of the champagne
It's understandable that baseball, alone among all team sports, celebrates playoff-clinching victories with bubbly celebrations. It's a long season, they deserve it.

But they do not deserve to celebrate like New Year's Eve nuts just three wins later. And then again just four wins after that. The excessive partying in earlier rounds devalues the perception of the World Series, which is what all of these changes are designed to fix.

Well, that's all for now. Gotta run. It's a fall Friday night and I'm sure there's a football game on somewhere.