Monday, November 30, 2009

Being unemployed leaves a lot of time for reading. I've been stuck in the 70s:

1. The Dog of the South: Charles Portis' hilarious tale of a cuckolded husband who sets out to find his wife (and more importantly his Ford Torino). She's run off with her ex-husband and our hapless protagonist tracks "the lovebirds" through their use of his credit cards. The journey takes him across the southern United States, Mexico, Belize and ultimately Honduras. Along the way he picks up a charlatan physician, Dr. Reo Symes, with an insatiable appetite for pills and numerous hair-brained schemes for an island in Louisiana owned by his missionary mother (including a Jefferson Davis theme park). The narrative ultimately runs a bit off the rails, but the journey to no place in particular is highly entertaining.

2. King Suckerman: For some reason I'd never gotten around to reading this early crime work by George Pelecanos. As the title suggests, it's his tribute to mid-70s culture, blaxploitation films in particular. The main protagonists are a familiar duo, Dimitri Karras and Marcus Clay, who also feature in The Sweet Forever and Shame the Devil. The childhood friends share a love of basketball, an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture arcana and a penchant for ending up at extremely bloody crime scenes. This time they cross wires with a pair of southern sociopaths visiting Chocolate City to complete a drug deal and kill a bunch of hillbilly bikers. Given that The Sweet Forever takes place a decade later, it's not difficult to figure out which duo is going to wind up dead.

3. Restless, Willian Boyd: I don't understand why William Boyd isn't more broadly recognized as a literary genius. The breadth and quality of his work will make your socks roll up and down. Restless is a crackling good spy thriller. The unlikely protagonist, Sally Gilmartin, is a widow living in the countryside outside of Oxford in the mid-70s. One day she reveals to her grown daughter that her real name is Eva Delectorskaya and that she worked as a British spy during World War Two. She was at the center of a propaganda campaign aimed at drawing the U.S. into the war. But her espionage days came to a sudden end in a delightfully grisly encounter involving the improvised use of a sharpened pencil in rural New Mexico. Even three decades later the entire truth of what happened that fateful evening continues to confound Delectorskaya. And ultimately it draws her (and her bewildered daughter) back into the espionage game.
I'm a devoted reader of the sports gossip columnist Charley Walters. Sometimes it's difficult to figure out why. But every once in awhile he comes up with a nugget that's so damn terrific it makes up for all the other garbage. Like this gem from Sunday's column:

Italian food entrepreneur Tino Lettieri, 52, the former Minnesota Kicks goaltender, has come out with a new pork product that's getting lots of attention in local high-end grocery stores.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I've been unemployed for nine days now. It's been quite nice. I've been reading detective novels and cleaning my house. But I did a little work for The New York Times on Monday. Exactly one quote from the press conference I covered made it into the story. For the record: The New York Times pays crap.

Monday, November 23, 2009

This sign has been sitting at the intersection of Dale Street and 94 for some weeks now. No word on whether the yard sale is still underway.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Great piece about the writing of Andre Agassi's memoir. My favorite bit, about co-author J.R. Moehringer and the end of his tenure at the L.A. Times:

Mr. Moehringer and his employer, meanwhile, were no longer getting along. “The paper asked me to go out to Palm Springs and write a profile of the world’s oldest chimp, Cheetah from the Tarzan movies,” he recalled, rolling his eyes a little. “I wanted to be a team player, so I went out there, met the chimp and did the piece. I wrote it in the chimp’s voice.”

The editors, he said, leaned on him for rewrite after rewrite of the article, to the point that he thought of quitting. “But my friends talked me out of it,” he went on. “They said I would go down in history as the guy who quit over a chimp story.” There were still more rewrites, but in the end Mr. Moehringer didn’t quit over that. Instead he took a providential buyout and called Mr. Agassi.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

There are many players in MLS that are grossly under- or over-paid. And most of the latter play for Toronto FC. I'm looking at you $303,000-man Pablo Vitti!

But no player's worth is more grossly disproportionate to his salary than Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. El Presidente was an absolute beast all season long on a Seattle back line that looked pretty damn shaky on paper at the start of the season. The expansion squad ended the season tied (with Houston) for the stingiest defense in MLS, conceding just 29 goals. Hurtado was rightly named a finalist for the league's defender of the year honors.

So what did the 24-year-old Colombian get paid for his sweat and guile? A lousy $37,000. You could pull that much bread down as an assistant manager at a Taco John's.

Pablo Vitti should at least send the guy a decent bottle of champagne.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Without Bias airs tonight on ESPN. It's part of the network's 30 for 30 series of documentaries.

Of all my ridiculous sports obsessions, Maryland basketball probably runs the deepest. I can get pretty worked up watching a game, to the point where I've seen friends recoil at the illogical intensity of my passion.

So it was a pretty rough day when, at 12 years old, I learned that Len Bias had died of a cocaine overdose. I remember riding my bike furiously down Riverside Drive in Salisbury, Maryland and just bawling after hearing the news.

I didn't know nothing about cocaine then. But I'd try plenty of drugs in the ensuing years: pot, acid, ecstacy. Pretty much whatever I could get my hands on. However, I largely stayed away from coke. Even when I was in the belly of the beast in South Florida some years later, surrounded by people hoovering nose candy, I passed on the rolled up dollar bills.

I've sampled enough blow, though, to understand it's allure. You feel indestructible on that shit. But Bias was always in the back of my mind.

So it's interesting to read this post by Ta-Nehisi Coates -- a black kid growing up in West Baltimore when Bias died -- and learn that it ingrained in him (and the folks he ran with) a similar revulsion to cocaine.

It's little consolation, of course, but perhaps Bias' death saved a whole bunch of us idiots from chasing that particularly perilous high.
Last night I got into a fight with a box of wine.

Hermantown is in the 1A soccer final after dispatching Simley 2-1 with a last-minute goal. The team's coach is Dave Thompson. His sister is the sublime Dana Thompson. I once wrote a profile of her for City Pages. It's not particularly good. She deserved better. Good luck Hermantown.

Monday, November 02, 2009

I'm confused. Guillermo Barros Schelloto is the reigning league MVP and carried Columbus to MLS Cup last year. This season he scored twice as many goals as any other player on the Crew.

So where does Robert Warzycha decide to play him on Saturday night in the opening round of the playoffs at Real Salt Lake? Left waterboy. Or was it central massage therapist? Or perhaps assistant snacks commissioner? Whatever duty Schelloto was charged with, it was not one that allowed him to set foot on the field.

Perhaps it will come out that Schelloto was suffering from severe gastrointestinal distress. Or maybe he doesn't like Mormons. Or perhaps he was still shook up over the decision by Abdullah Abdullah to drop out of the Afghan runoff election.

All of those would be more rational explanations than the one actually provided by Warzycha.

"We didn't score any goals in the last five games when (Schelotto and striker Alejandro Moreno) were on the field," Warzycha told reporters after the match. "I thought today we'd go with a different combination."

Okay, sure, but that "different combination" would be Senior Ass Clown Stephen Lenhart and Emilio Renteria. This dynamic duo has combined for three goals this season. The latter has never scored in MLS. That's like scratching Kobayashi in the Nathan's Coney Island Hotdog Eating contest for some bloke that you once saw scarf down an entire large Meatlover's pizza one night on a bet after bar closing. He's pretty good, dude, seriously.

Not surprisingly Columbus stunk up the field. They played ugly, mean soccer and were nearly rewarded for their cynicism. But luckily Robbie Findley found the net in the dying minutes.

Columbus can redeem themselves at home on Thursday. But hopefully Warzycha will suffer for his sins. I'll be cheering for the Mormons.