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Category Archives: Stories and Anecdotes

Birth and Death of an NFL Loyalty

Birth and Death of an NFL Loyalty

When I moved to Chicago, the Buffalo Bills hadn’t yet reached irrelevance. In fact, despite their record for the previous year being 5-11, they still seemed like a fairly safe option to get behind. Drew Bledsoe had spent three years in Buffalo and led the Bills to the edge of contention in two of them. He was unceremoniously shoved out the door after the 2004 season to make room for 2004 Draft pick JP Losman, and the team had also dug up Lee Evans and Willis McGahee, respectively a receiver and running back. Both of them were oozing with talent. So if anything, 2005 could have been written off as a growing pain year. But it still panned out in what has since been acknowledged as typical Bills fashion: The Bills not looking bad early in the season, with a 3-3 start after the first six games, only to win just two of the remaining ten.

In Chicago, the Bears appeared to be undergoing the long-promised resurgence. Their record was the mirror opposite of the Bills’ record, and that 11-5 was enough for them to claim the division crown. Their offense wasn’t good, but as any follower of the Bears will tell you, proper Bears football was never about putting points on the board; its always been about keeping points off the board. In that respect, the Bears delivered, and their 202 total points against was enough to lead the NFL. The Bears had even gone the opposite of the Bills in delivering their record; with a 1-3 record after the first four games which looked like another one of the team’s endless post-1985 write-offs, the Bears tore off on an eight-game winning streak before a 2-2 split in their last four games. Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton (whom the Bills once yanked out of retirement to lead them to their second winning season this century) pulled just enough decent plays out of his ass to let the Bears fall back on their defense after slated starter Rex Grossman was injured. First round Draft pick Cedric Benson, a running back, suffered a similar fate and had a contract dispute which kept him away from training camp. He was replaced by journeyman Thomas Jones.

I expected to be spending much longer living in Chicago than I did, so I did what my mother did when she moved to Buffalo: I adopted the local teams but held on to my original loyalties. It seemed to be the natural thing to do, even though I didn’t feel a natural draw to most of the local teams. Most of them were pretty easy to talk myself into, though, because there’s little I respect more than a good history, and Chicago’s teams had those in spades. The Cubs and White Sox were both originals teams in the NL and AL for baseball; the Blackhawks were a member of the Original Six; and the Fire had been one of the most stable and consistent teams in MLS since the league was created. The Bulls were a relative baby – they were an expansion team from the late 60’s, some 20 years after the NBA’s formation and the failure of other professional basketball teams to take off in Chicago.

The Bears were one of the founding members of the NFL, and over the course of their history, they accumulated more wins than any other team any more titles than every team except the Green Bay Packers. Every amateur football historian knows that. Every football fan knows the Superfans and the Super Bowl Shuffle. I arrived in Chicago just weeks after the Steelers beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, which meant I got to spend the summer updating myself on Bears history, and there were some pretty cool things to learn: The 1940 NFL Championship, with the Bears winning a 73-0 squeaker over Washington. It set records for points and point differential. (Gee, ya think?) The Sneakers Game, the dynasty of the 1940’s. But my brain started telling me something was slightly amiss because all the Bears writings and paraphernalia emphasized one thing: 1985. I learned more about the 1985 Chicago Bears than I did about any other era in NFL history because it was the only thing Chicagoans seemed to care about.

I ignored that weird feeling, though, because in 2006, the Bears hit a high they hadn’t attained since 1985. They paced the league at 13-3 and finally made their return to the Super Bowl. Even though they were decisively waxed by the Colts, they won me over on account of the fact that they made football FUN again. The 2006 Bears were third in points against and – absolutely fucking incredibly – second in points scored. Rex Grossman was healthy the whole season. Thomas Jones set the tone on the ground. Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs made countless big plays on defense. Kick returner Devin Hester became the team’s secret weapon, running seemingly every other kick into the endzone. The Bears started the season by beating Green Bay 26-0; it was the first time Packers quarterback Brett Favre had been shut out since high school. In week six, they posted an incredible comeback win over the Cardinals, returning from a 20-0 deficit without scoring a single offensive touchdown. Eight of their players showed up in the Pro Bowl. After a 40-7 hammering of the Bills, the first thing I said to my mother was, “40-7?! Please explain that.”

Chicago fans have a national reputation for being rabid and knowledgeable, and during 2006, they were living up to it. In the buildup leading to the Super Bowl, it was impossible to not see anyone or anything decked out in their colors, but the excitement was still a bit restrained. The Bears were going to be facing the Colts, after all, and if there was one name away from 1985 that Chicago knew, it was that of Indianapolis star quarterback Peyton Manning. I developed a respect for the fans because even though they were hoping for the good outcome, they were still tempered with the realization that this was going to be Manning’s year. That should have done the trick.

The euphoria surrounding the Super Bowl didn’t even last through the offseason, and my perception of Bears “fans” was put to the test in the first regular season game of 2007. I asked a co-worker what he thought about the Bears’ odds of beating their first opponent, the San Diego Chargers, and his response was just, “Huh?! Oh, I dunno. DA BEARS.” The Bears lost the game 14-3. During the season, it became apparent that 2006 was an anomaly that came from hitting an early peak and playing two patsy divisions (the NFC West and AFC East) during a time when the NFC was going through a power void. The better AFC West and NFC East were both on the schedule in 2007, and while the Bears acquitted themselves well, they still lost too many key matchups against pushovers and finished 7-9.

2007 was the season that set the tone for my years failing to support the Bears. The team turned from a contender into an indifferent nonentity. Nothing symbolized that more than a running back controversy between Jones and Cedric Benson. While Benson was a first round pick, he wasn’t as good as Jones in any of the ways that matter in his position. The Bears dumped Jones anyway, and that lopping – which turned out to be as bad as every football fan said it would be – gave fans the excuse they needed to spend the year at lunch. The team was facing an uphill battle in the hearts of Chicagoans anyway; the Cubs had hired Lou Piniella as their manager that year and come out on the top of an exciting division race with the Milwaukee Brewers. For all intents and purposes, they looked ready to contend.

The 2007 season ran by inconspicuously. The Bears reversed their record to end the following year at 9-7, but good luck finding anyone who remembers anything that happened. Okay, well, fans knew two things: Rex Grossman sucked and needed to be replaced, and Matt Forte needed to be the new featured back. If we throw in the constant comparisons to the 1985 Bears, that makes three things. Basically, a Super Bowl euphoria was followed with two seasons of blah before the coming of Jay Cutler. The Bears had needed a good quarterback since Sid Luckman back in the 1940’s so badly that fans managed to talk themselves into thinking Jim McMahon was good. Cutler’s first season was maddening. After watching Rex Grossman’s power bombs from 2006 (he’ll always have that one year), Cutler played remedial football. It was routine for the Bears to hang 48 on the Lions in one game, then lose 10-6 to the 49ers in another. They lost 45-10 against Cincinnati but hammered Cleveland 30-6. As often as there were dazzling performances from Cutler, there were weeks when I could have outplayed him, and I can barely throw a football.

The Bears, in short, were not an endearing team to watch. Their style was as boring as it was outmoded. A bad team can still be fun, but a boring team commits the ultimate crime of sports. What really got to me, though, was the constant harkening back to 1985. Buffalo lost the closest Super Bowl in history because of a missed last-second field goal, but the fans managed to let it go. In Chicago, the Bears WON the fucking game 30 years before, and the fans were convinced that crew of brainless headhunters played the most modern version of football possible. They lionized Mike Ditka, a bad coach lucky enough to ride a good defensive coordinator with a load of talent, and one of the loudest stupid people in sports. 

It was in 2010 that I decided something was badly amiss. The 2010 Bears went 11-5 and won their division, but that didn’t necessarily mean they were, well, good. Racking up wins is one thing, but for a team to be legitimate, it has to be beating opponents in some very specific ways. The first game of 2010 was the famous Calvin Johnson Rule game, where Calvin Johnson was robbed of a touchdown because of an obscure and inexplicable rule about “completing the process.” (That was the official term used in the rules.) The touchdown happened right as time ran out, and it would have won the game for Detroit. That was the setting for a season in which the Bears somehow caught all the lucky bounces. A contender doesn’t win with luck; they beat bad teams decisively and take what they need from the good teams. That wasn’t the Bears of 2010. The Bears took very few chances while nature fell in their favor.

When the fans started endorsing the way the Bears were playing, I stopped trying to wrap my mind around them. The way the fans thought was that hey, the Bears were in first, they must be good! Never mind the fact that the Bears barely beat a 4-12 Bills team in Toronto by only three points, or that they got whomped by two teams with losing records, or that they couldn’t take a game from the eventual Super Bowl winner despite holding them to just ten points. When Green Bay exposed the Bears for what they were in the NFC Championship, fans were flabbergasted. Jay Cutler was removed during the game because his knee was visibly out of place, and every fan in Chicago told him to toughen up. Then they bitched about how much better the current backup was.

2010 was my last football season living in Chicago. Since m time in Chicago had been such a huge game-changer, I tried to remain loyal to my adopted teams, but ultimately the Blackhawks and White Sox were the only ones that made it out with me. I never took to the Cubs, and I dumped the Fire almost immediately. The Bulls held out a bit longer, but after some time being a Buffalo sports fan again, I realized that I was frequently finding solace in watching the New York Knicks rather than the Bulls, and the Knicks finally became my official team. As for the Bears, they proved to be my ultimate holdout, and my slip on them was gradual. As I got adjusted to watching the Bills every week again, I just got more into the games than I ever did following the Bears. In Chicago, I was always eager to learn the Bills scores. I never felt any pull to the Bears, and in one Monday Night Football game where they were dominating the other team, I realized that I just didn’t care. I should have been euphoric, but I didn’t feel much of anything aside from my brain telling me to jump up and down screaming my lungs out.

And that was pretty much it. The final nail in the coffin was coming out to Seattle and finding a huge pocket of raging football fans who knew their team and loved their sport. I chatted up a playoff game one night at work that the Seahawks lost, despite making a stirring near-comeback. When I told my co-worker that it would have been the second-greatest comeback in league history, he knew what the biggest one was. The fans were so good that they were the first thing I latched on to in order to find some semblance of familiarity. The Seahawks also offer a lot more than the Bears – a fleet young quarterback in Russell Wilson, a dynamic running back in Marshawn Lynch, and a dominant group of defensive backs known collectively as the Legion of Boom. Within a few months, I had embraced the Seahawks. The Bears were dead to me.

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The Real Ones: An Anthem for Buffalo

The Real Ones: An Anthem for Buffalo

You may have noticed that a lot of cities get contemporary songs written about them. Buffalo, sadly, has been lacking, which is funny for a city which spent the first half of the 20th Century being so prominent. So I decided to write the lyrics for a song about Buffalo’s old guard. This is my first attempt at songwriting ever. Now, I tend to write a lot of dark stuff, and this song is set from the point of view of an older resident of Buffalo who believes that trying to make everything the way it was before the march of progress destroyed the city will restore it to greatness.

No one’s bothered by the cold                                                                                                   We’re a guard that’s fighty and old                                                                                      Shoving heads into frozen white sand                                                                                Though we were once a promised land                                                                                    Kids file out with degrees underarm                                                                                    They’re not as real as us

Everyone is wrong                                                                                                                            We know what we are                                                                                                                We’re the tough ones                                                                                                                       We know our past was right

Corporate steel killed our jobs                                                                                                       Made us into mindless pack mobs                                                                                              Back in the day, everything was right                                                                                            In our past, the city basked in light                                                                                    Progress must be pretty bad because                                                                                   Breaks don’t come for us

We know we’re strong                                                                                                                That’s just how we are                                                                                                                    We’re the hard ones                                                                                                                        The future can’t be bright

Now our home can’t clean its slate                                                                                              Our football team lost four straight                                                                                              Hot bird wings helped bring us fame                                                                                     Other places just think we’re lame

Being tough is all we’ve got                                                                                                         With our once-big city left to rot                                                                                             Being modern won’t cross our mind                                                                                        Being great means we must be blind                                                                                               It’s a price we pay                                                                                                                             For being real

We’re the old guard                                                                                                                         The old ways were best                                                                                                              We’re the real ones                                                                                                                          We don’t care for the rest

Dispatches from Knife’s Edge

Dispatches from Knife’s Edge

Knife. So they decided to officially call this monster Knife. Winter Storm Knife, cutting across the heart of Erie County.

Maybe it’s meant to evoke some sort of ferocity, but I can’t help but think of it as a little bit kitsch. In Western New York, no one ever refers to winter storms by their proper names. We just refer to them by the features of them that everyone remembers. There is the Blizzard of ’77, for example. That’s all we need as an automatic reference to the legendary Blizzard of ’77, which everyone born after that year knows about. The Blizzard of ’77 is the standard by which every other bad winter storm is judged in Buffalo. I was born four years after that disaster, but I’m old enough to have seen some pretty hefty storms. I have recollections of the famous ’85 blizzard, when then-Mayor James Griffin voiced his battle cry for waiting out snowstorms: “Stay inside, grab a six-pack, and watch a good football game.” There was the Gridlock Monday storm of 2000, which dropped 35 inches and forced everyone driving home at the time to abandon their cars and walk home. There was the White Christmas storm of 2001, an anomaly in an otherwise mild winter which deposited 83 inches onto the city in four days – pretty much the entire snow measurement for an entire winter.

This current arctic blast currently dropped 75 inches in a little under two days, and it kills me that this is only the second-highest snowfall I’ve ever been in. (So far.) This is definitely beer and football weather; my school has been closed every day this week except Monday, which is the one day I don’t have classes. And so, with all my homework done, I’ve settled into backburner mode, except my version of beer and football so far has been tea and basketball. I managed to get out once to take a few photos during he calm before the current, second wave of the storm hit.

There’s a travel ban in place, so there won’t be any going anywhere until it’s time to visit the grocery store. When things clear up a little bit, I might try to go outside for a quick walk, but that’s out of the question for now.

You would never know right now that most of yesterday and today were sunny. This storm wasn’t simply some snow – it was a squall; a whiteout so complete that in my community, going out to shovel meant not being able to see the street.

There’s an odd process to having cabin fever. When you first realize you’re trapped at home, it’s easy to shrug, smile, call into work, and sit back with a nice beer to enjoy your day off. Snow days rarely go beyond that first day, and by the end, you’re refreshed and happy. You start getting sick of the walls by the second day, though, and not getting to go out starts getting boring. By the third day, you just want the snow to stop so you can get to the bar across the street. I tend to look for a little bit of variety – it’s a reason I like to be outside. Although I’m not at my breaking point right now, my routine during Winter Storm Knife has involved a lot of reruns of How I Met Your Mother and Futurama, college basketball and New York Knicks games, and movies. I usually have my workout done in the late morning or early afternoon, which knocks an hour to an hour and a half off my day between the workout itself and the fact that I’m usually so wiped out afterward that I end up napping at some point.

At some point, I started having some odd thoughts. What is this sudden obsession with putting Fritos on everything now? Is someone out to destroy bacon?

In any case, the city was well-prepared for the storm. It’s Buffalo, and snow happens, and getting hit with it in July wouldn’t surprise us. Before the storm came on Monday, I had an appointment with a podiatrist scheduled, which happened to be very good luck on my part because I was able to bicycle to his office. I was caught in the rain (yes, rain) on the way back, but it was nothing I hadn’t endured during my messenger years. The news outlets had been reporting on this storm for a few days by then, and it was due to hit on Monday night. We knew what we were in for; by late evening, everyone was already tuned into the broadcast stations to see the list of the next day’s closings. I think we were expecting a big whiteout but an otherwise minor emergency; two feet, two and a half tops.

You know things are bad when the newspaper delivery lets up, and this is our third day without a morning newspaper. The owner of the Buffalo Bills started offering $10 an hour plus tickets to the football game to drop by and dig out Ralph Wilson Stadium. Then he was shamed for it while drivers were advised to ignore the offer; people gave up when the snow didn’t stop; and now it was just reported that we’re not going to have a local football game to watch while we drink this week; the game is being moved to a different location altogether.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much to tell on the macro level because no one here has been able to see much of anything. I know only what I’ve seen on TV: The Weather Channel is trapped at an inn in Hamburg. One of the local TV stations was trapped for hours at a gas station. Both are giving us periodic updates, mainly as filler: “Hey everyone, it’s still snowing!” Now we know what they must have felt like in the south last winter. All that’s left to do now is wait for the snow to let up and look for ourselves to pop up on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report soon.

A Different Kind of Viewing

A Different Kind of Viewing

Anyone can learn human body vernacular. Anyone can look at a nice, clean drawing of the heart and say, “now that’s a heart!” A guy going into a professional medical field, though, can’t learn anything just by looking at those drawings. Think about how scary that would be: You’re about to go under the anesthetic, and there’s a newly-minted doctor in front of you with the scalpel, and he’s saying something along the lines of that episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: “Don’t worry, I’ve pretended to do this operation a thousand times. Look, this time they gave me a real scalpel! Cool!” Yeah, medical professionals need to have a rather exacting idea of what your innards look like, and so one thing medical and health professionals do to train themselves is look at cadavers. It’s a lot like the dissection part of your high school biology class, except in this instance, you’re not looking at a worm, grasshopper, or frog. No, you’re looking at a very real dead human who’s been cut open, leaving organs exposed for all to see.

Since my area of study is based mostly on biomechanics and physics, I didn’t really expect to have an opportunity to view a cadaver at all, but it came up in my anatomy and physiology class. Since it was worth a few free points, I decided to sign up. The Professor said if we were nervous or unsettled by the fact that we were going to, you know, look at a dead human who was cut open, all we had to do was turn in the signup sheet and that would be that. We would show up at our lab time, hand in the form, leave, and free points were ours. If we stayed, there were certain rules to be followed: Above all, respect the body. No photographs, no recordings, no holding the intestines against our abdominal cavities and pretending we’d been cut open by Jason or Freddy. I gave a bit of thought to maybe trying to lighten the mood with a zombie joke, but decided against it. We were going to be looking at a person generous enough to donate her body to a scientific cause, enabling future medical professionals to learn useful information about the human body by cutting her open. If someone did the same thing anywhere else, it would be considered desecration, so the cadaver deserved respect for permitting it.

The only zombie joke made at the viewing came before me and the handful of classmates with me followed the Prof in to see the cadaver, and it came from the Prof himself, and he did it mainly to reassure us that there was nothing to be afraid of. “Don’t worry, the cadaver isn’t going to get up and walk off,” he said before taking us in. “If it does, I’ll give you all A’s.” It put us at a little bit of ease. He also said that if we felt uncomfortable, we were free to leave. Anatomy and physiology, however, is not a course many people take as an elective. Most people who take it do it as part of a larger program, which means it’s safe to assume that almost everyone in the class has at least some level of interest in how we look on the literal inside. No one who was with me to view the cadaver left or had a noticeably debilitating reaction to the sight. I always had a rather strong stomach, so I assumed I would take it pretty well, but I honestly had no idea how I would react. I’ve been to funerals and seen graphic slasher flicks, but knew better than to assume looking at a human cadaver would fill me with the same reactions as those.

I confess to a slightly lightheaded feeling as I approached the cadaver and watched the Professor carefully peel back the layers of skin, fat, and muscle covering the thoracic and abdominal cavities. Any thoughts about those zombie jokes were sucked out of the room instantly. It was clear in only a few minutes the viewing wasn’t a look-but-don’t-touch show. The Professor invited us to touch certain parts of the cadaver to get an idea of what they felt like, and strange as it may sound, that helped put me at ease because it drilled into me the fact nothing about a cadaver was out of the ordinary. First, my classmates and I felt the skin. It was dry and leathery, which made perfect sense since leather is basically dried skin anyway; in this case, it happened to be human skin. After the skin, we touched the layer of fat directly underneath the skin. The Prof asked us what our first impressions were and how they differed from what we thought the body might look and feel like. I expressed my surprise the layer of fat was so, well, organized and neat. By then, all the A+P students were familiar with the school Health and Wellness Association displays comparing five pounds of fat to five pounds of muscle. My classmates and I had expected the fat to look like the organization’s plastic model chunks: Large and unwieldy, spreading out in many random directions. The Prof explained the fat in our bodies is actually liquid, and it only solidifies at room temperature. He then asked us to observe our hands after feeling the fat, and we saw that our gloves were now covered in liquid because the fat had melted upon coming into contact with our body heat.

The Prof riddled us throughout the viewing, asking what we thought one thing or another was to see how our impressions of the cadaver compared to what we were expecting. To give us an impression of how embalming fluid acts upon a human body, he also asked us to touch the liver and note how hard it was, in contrast to when liver is cooked at home and flops around in the pan. He showed us the lungs and was careful to point out the small amount of soot which darkened them slightly, explaining that lungs are likely to absorb a small amount of soot no matter what. They were mostly white, though, which told us they were very healthy. For comparison, the Prof then pulled out a full pair of lungs from a longtime smoker and passed them around. When I got ahold of them, I was surprised by how hard they were; it might have been the embalming fluid acting on them, as I had always imagined lungs to be loose and floppy. The Professor also pointed out the stomach and gallbladder. The stomach looked harder than I thought it would, like the plastic used in milk jugs, while the gallbladder was deflated. The diaphragm was a lot thinner than I envisioned, and the greater omentum a lot bigger.

We didn’t get to see the cadaver’s heart because the heart is buried deep in the thoracic cavity. Fortunately, the Prof had a pair of extra human hearts which he also passed around. One was normal size and the other was enlarged. The heart was the only part of the experience that looked and felt the way I thought it would. It was thick but flexible. The enlarged heart had an opening to look at the atria and ventricles, and when I looked at it, I made sure to take a closer look at both the aorta and vena cava. I had learned about blood vessel thickness as far back as the third grade, and it was drilled into my head for decades: Aorta – thick, elastic, muscular. Vena cava – thin and brittle with valves. I didn’t spot any valves, and the vena cava looked like it had taken a small beating, but they generally both fit their respective descriptions.

The most prominent part of the cadaver was the intestine, which sat there like a beached snake before the Prof removed it to show us the aorta and iliac arteries and show us what an arterial hemorrhage looked like. The arteries felt solid, but I didn’t want to accidentally rupture them by pressing down too hard or something, so I didn’t. Along the way to the aorta, he pointed out where the uterus would normally be and showed us the appendix. The appendix surprised me the most, because it was the size of a string. Medical students are all familiarized with the appendix being something thick and muscular, about the size of a finger, from all the grade school drawings that make a point of showing it. The Prof explained the appendix only grows to that size when it becomes inflamed, d told us why a ruptured appendix is dangerous.

The head was covered throughout the viewing, so instead of giving us a look at the cranium, he took out a human brain and passed it around. It was another thing that felt nothing like I expected, and another thing which may have been hardened by the embalming fluid. The popular image of the brain, of course, is spongy and manipulable, like in the Halloween episode of The Simpsons where Mr. Burns wore Homer’s brain on his head, but it didn’t feel that way at all. It was so solidified, it could have easily been used to hit someone over the head to knock them out. My classmates and I were a little surprised by the size of it, too. The Prof asked us if we thought it was a child’s brain or an adult’s brain when he took it out. We correctly guessed that it was a full-grown adult brain, and the Prof said he was surprised by the size of it the first time he saw one. The size would make perfect sense if we were to hold it up close to our own heads and remember how many layers sat between our brains and the outside world to cushion and protect them.

I wanted to see more than time permitted, and there was a lot more to see. Nothing looked the way we imagined it, or the way our online photos pictured it. The Professor had told us going in that if the cadaver had any parts which were as clean as our APR photos, it would become legend. It was certainly interesting, though, and for everything that went wrong with my semester, I’m glad I got to partake in the lab.

My Dirty Sin

My Dirty Sin

Forgive me dog, for I have sinned.

I went Christmas shopping on Black Friday.

It was completely unintentional, I swear. All I needed was a haircut. I wouldn’t have minded putting it off, but my hair was already close to shoulder length, so my immediate need won out. My usual place, though, is sadly right inside McKinley Mall, at one of those giant department stores, no less. I got in, paid for my haircut, and got out with surprising ease.

After it was done, though, I needed something to do. The traffic coming in was denser than a pecan pie on Thanksgiving, so there was probably no way my ride in had gotten home before my haircut ended. There was also the little fact that I had not yet started my own Christmas shopping, which is unusual for me because I happen to adhere to a very strict policy of early bird Christmas shopping. It’s one of the infallible laws of my personal code to be absolutely finished with all necessary Christmas shopping by the beginning of November and completely avoid holiday season shopping like the plague that it is.

Unfortunately, this year, I had to wait until my student loan refund check was in my paws before starting, and that finally happened last week. Then there was the minor matter of, you know, school itself to deal with. Yeah, my Christmas shopping went through an endless series of delays, all culminating in that one single weekend when I finally had a few minutes to go out and do something to let my mind wander. A couple of hours of worthless mall wandering fit the description nicely.

I already had a few gift ideas in mind when I set out, but I was looking for that one “bingo!” idea that set off the light bulb floating atop my head. So being of open mind and little to no sanity, I set out, looking in places both usual and unusual for the people I buy gifts for. I checked out the Made in America store, which, by the way, I truly believe is nothing more than a brand name now that I’ve been there. It was populated with awful people; not just awful people of the usual stripe who shop on Black Friday, but people I wanted to fucking kill after hearing handfuls of their conversational snippets. I journeyed up, down, left, right, and every corresponding diagonal in between.

In one store, though, I saw it. That perfect gift that a certain person really wanted, ringing up at a very reasonable price. I didn’t know if there was a sale or not, but I’m very well-known for my ability to get the most out of a dollar, and so I decided there was no better time to make the purchase than right there.

I’ve rarely felt dirtier.

Adventures in Smashing Cars with Sledgehammers

Adventures in Smashing Cars with Sledgehammers

It isn’t as easy as everyone makes it look in the movies, but damn if it ain’t fun!

Deep in the superconscious parts we don’t talk about, we all have these destructive fantasies of joyfully taking a sledgehammer and smashing some object of our ire until it’s smashed good. The University of Buffalo is having a Spirit Week, complete with all kinds of fun things to do. Today’s fun thing to do? Take a sledgehammer and smash a car! Anyone who thinks I would let this happen without my own participation just doesn’t know me very well.

The demolition was controlled. Everyone who wanted to take sledge to chrome had to sign a waiver and wear goggles, just in case a ricocheting piece of car backlashed the other way and hit us across the brow.

I arrived late for the festivities, but all that meant to me was that I didn’t have to wait very long, even though the car was already smashed in pretty good. Yeah, of course my great plan was to just take the hammer and go to town. As I watched some of the others in front of me in line, I tried to create a plan of attack: Number one, the back hubcap looked a little bit too pretty and un-smashed for some reason. Step two: Find the smaller, looser parts of the car and practice my long-dormant home run swing. Step three: Time to perform a little bit of body work! (I wonder if The Hulk ever pre-planned any of his smashing sprees.) My plan was quickly revised, though, after I decided to go with the crowd bandwagon and take my shot at finishing off the windshield frame, which was just a few good hits away from collapsing. Even the guard sign-in guy for the event seemed to be encouraging it.

My turn came. I made a beeline toward the pretty hubcap, wound up my golf swing, and took a hard, clean shot which hit the hubcap smack in the outer rim! There was a loud, muffled-sounding clang, and my sledgehammer vibrated, and after that…. Nothing. The damned hubcap wasn’t even dented! I figured my shot might have been a bit too far off the sweet spot, wound up, and socked the cap in the center. Still no damage.

Okay. I got the message and decided it was now my time to start gunning at the windshield frame. I move up to the front of the vehicle, taking a couple of good, hard cursory shots at the roof along the way. The whole time, the crowd watching had been encouraging everyone who partook in the beating to get angry. Now it was my turn to get angry, and lord knows it wasn’t difficult to come across my motivation. I was fucking standing right in front of it. Go back to my acting lessons and think of something that pisses me off: Bicycling in the Buffalo suburbs and getting assaulted by motorists! I got into a nice rhythm as I started regularly winding up and hitting away and, for the first time since I started, doing a little bit of visible damage. I got a few very nice shots at the frame, and I think the crowd was impressed that such a little guy could wield such power with a sizable sledgehammer.

The problem with window frames, though, is that they’re small targets. Sledgehammers are heavy, and they’re not going to be aimed the right way the entire time. So after a few good strokes, I missed a couple of times, hitting the little cross section at the frame and the roof. Then I missed with the hammerhead completely, and hit the neck of the hammer. The force behind that drive was so strong that I thought I saw a very slight bend in the hammer’s neck. There’s the waiver sense. I tried to point it out, but no one thought anything of it, so I finished up my turn.

It was fun, and I can now say I smashed both a car AND a house with a sledgehammer!

The Coolest Thing I Learned in School Today

The Coolest Thing I Learned in School Today

Today was my first day of school since 2005, and if there was one theme of the day, it was running. Running to catch two lightrail lines in Downtown Buffalo, running to make classes while being late, running into one of the registrar offices to have my final class added to my schedule, running to the inter-campus shuttle. For spending the day in a pair of lecture halls, I certainly managed a good workout.

I had two classes today, chemistry and psy 101. It was certainly interesting to get information on how the elements of the Periodic Table were named, and how to measure ionic and atomic weight. But a real interesting show awaited me in psy.

I get a lot of questions about just what it feels like to live with my deformed arm, and I always answer them the same way: Damned if I know. I have never felt qualified to give an answer to that question because my arm is a birth defect. I’ve had it my whole life. My two other fingers are never going to grow in, and so I’m never going to have anything to compare NOT having a birth defect to. My closest parallel is my right elbow, which lost a little bit of movement after an operation I had on it when I was eleven years old. I feel like I should be able to stretch my right arm further, even though that full function is permanently gone.

My biggest problem with my deformed arm is my immobile wrist, but I don’t notice that either, or at least my nerve system doesn’t. Sure, I’m always aware that it’s there and will hinder me in doing some things, but in operating it, nothing feels off unless I try to do something it was never meant to do. Usually when I try to explain this to a questioner, the response I get is a backhand mention of a symptom called the Phantom Limb. The Phantom Limb is something that amputated people are known to feel. It’s a sensation in the missing limb, and the statistics on Wikipedia say that some 60 to 80 percent of amputees are known to feel it. Most of the sensations are painful, but other symptoms include itching, warmth, cold, tightness, squeezing, and tingling.

From what I concluded in class today, I think I go without phantom limbs because to my own brain, my deformity is normal, and its never known any other way to live. Therefore, my brain has adjusted itself accordingly, and the parts of my brain which control my would-be finger and wrist movement simply aren’t there. Now, I trust everyone reading this knows that we basically think about every movement we make before we actually make it – the basics are that the brain sends a signal to the nerve endings which come down through the spine and stretch out to the other parts of your nerve system. We have little parts of our brains devoted to each and every moveable part of our bodies. Now consider for a moment that if you lose one of those parts, that’s an entire section of the brain basically going dormant. To the other parts of your brain, that simply won’t do, and they slowly move in and take over the part that doesn’t work. This is apparently a part of where the Phantom Limb comes from.

It would also explain why I don’t feel anything like the Phantom Limb. Of course, being quite unlearned in this field yet, this idea could prove to be wrong, so I’m not betting the farm on it until I know more. Still, now you have a possible explanation as to why I can’t tell you what having a deformed arm is like.