Go Your Own Way

Because I’m such a confirmed curmudgeon, people always assume I’m against every innovation and change in the way things happen. Not true. However, in order for me to embrace a change, I need to be convinced that the new way helps me do what I already need to do, and do it better or more pleasantly than I could before.

Here’s an example: twenty years ago, I completely embraced the pay-at-the-pump concept of buying gasoline. I was willing to drive miles out of my way to a station that allowed me to use a debit card (no chance of getting in trouble by spending money I don’t have yet) at the pump, rather than going inside and having to talk to someone. By eliminating unwanted human interaction, that technology has made my life better.

It didn’t stop with gasoline, either. Paying at the pump made me realize how much I hated carrying cash and having coins rattle in my pocket. Now I simply don’t spend money if currency comes into play. I can’t remember the last time I had cash in my wallet. (It took me years to see the hideous redesign of U.S. money. But I care less than I wold have when I was young. I simply never use the stuff.)

1200x630_241454_one-hundred-dollar-bill-gets-a-remake

(Yuck.)

 

Here’s another: my wife and I were among the first of what are commonly known as “cord cutters.” More than a decade ago, we realized that we paid a princely sum for cable television each month, and we had hundreds of channels coming into our house, but nothing we wanted to see was ever on. Perversely, we felt obligated to look for programs to watch because we didn’t want to waste what we paid to the cable company. We lost whole evenings scrolling through the channel guide (admit it: you have, too), and we’ll never get that time back.

When we finally cancelled our subscription, this was such an unusual phenomenon that the cable guy could not believe it; even when he was on our doorstep collecting our boxes, he kept offering price reductions and extended contracts to keep us captive. I had to tell him five times that we were really sure what we were doing.

We began streaming our programming through a dedicated computer connected to our television and stereo.

large_article_im970_Acer-Veriton-N282G

(The box that started it all.)

You see- we don’t fear technology, but we make it work for us rather than the other way around. All these years later, we cannot imagine having to watch something when the network decided it’s on and having to sit through commercials, or not being able to pause and refresh our martinis. Sure, the cable companies have since caught up by offering video recording capability and allowing you to skip commercials. But we figured out how to do it first because it made our lives better.

So, what made me think of all this now? The way we do holidays, like the Thanksgiving that has just passed. Like our electronics, our holidays exist to serve us, rather than our serving them.

Early last week, one of my wife’s co-workers asked her if she was “ready for the holidays.” For a moment, my wife did not understand the question because holiday stress is so far from our experience. Before we ever met, we had both realized how sick we were of racing around fulfilling perceived obligations when we should have been relaxing and enjoying time spent with the people closest to us. When we first moved into our house, we decided to be the hosts of Thanksgiving and Christmas so we could avoid the travel and the commotion of dropping by a gathering only to rush out to the next appointment.

This was a good start, but it still meant her daughters (and whatever boyfriends/husbands were in tow) could only stay for part of the day. The solution? Move the day. There’s nothing magical about the fourth Thursday in November. Turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes taste just as good on Friday or Saturday!

7752_l

I guarantee we use more butter than you do.

Only now, our loved ones get their obligations out of the way when society demands, then spend “our” Thanksgiving relaxing with appetizers, cocktails, a roaring fire, an old-time radio show, a puzzle, a walk with the dogs, a meal, a James Bond movie (we don’t call it “Family Bonding” for nothing), a nap, some stargazing, or WHATEVER ANYBODY WANTS TO DO. No pressure. No expectations. But real thanksgiving for what we value. Now, everyone who has experienced our version can’t wait for it.

Some people have actually said to us that our holiday “doesn’t count” because it doesn’t happen when the [retail] calendar decrees.

black_friday

All I can say is, I’ll think about you from my comfy couch while you’re standing in line to buy some gadget that’s already obsolete. And, trust me, I’ll be giving thanks.

Advertisements

Out of the Depths of My Despair

Now that I have gotten over my disappointment over the results of the World Series, I can think clearly about this past baseball season. Back in September, I wrote about how the Mets’ style of play was encouraging me that they had what it takes to go far in the playoffs. [During a playoff game in October, one of the Mets’ announcers complimented the team’s beat writer on his recent article about how the team was winning by coming from behind, creating opportunities, and never giving up. Let the record show that I went there first!] Well, the run continued through the end of the season as the Mets won their division,

USATSI_8827008_154511658_lowres-e1443317671993

won their first playoff round over the Dodgers,

metsgm1pkg_18940823jpg

won the pennant against the Cubs in four straight games,

mets-win-pennant-heading-world-series

and headed to the World Series to face the Royals.

I was thoroughly satisfied by the defeat of the Cubs. After all, they had earlier eliminated my actual favorite team since I was young, the Pirates. There has not been much to cheer for during the last couple of decades in Pittsburgh. After all, when they last had any success, Barry Bonds looked like this:images

fifty pounds lighter and several hundred home runs fewer. (More on that later.) I realize that the Cubs have had a far longer drought, last winning the World Series in 1908. But by now, the Cubs’ not winning it all is one of those sacred and undeniable truths of baseball. The streak’s continuation means that everything is all right with the universe.

I was so happy I failed to notice that the Mets had stopped playing in the way that had gotten them this far. They had repeatedly scrapped and come from behind against the Dodgers. But now, more and more, they stood around waiting for Daniel Murphy

image

to hit another home run. This was great as long as Murphy was unconscious at the plate, but what happened when he came down to Earth?

The Royals made the Mets look silly.

151102003254-20-ws-game-five-1101-exlarge-169

It doesn’t help that I have had a lingering sinus infection since the World Series ended. [It must have been all of the sleep I lost. Games now are long enough without extra innings prolonging them well into the morning of a work day.] But I realize now that the Royals represented all that I had praised about the Mets through this season. Although I had not listened to many of their games, they were the true masters of creating opportunities, picking each other up, getting base hits at the right times, and not worrying about hitting mammoth home runs that count the same as the inside-the-park variety with which Alcides Escobar opened the Series.

The Royals came from behind in every game they won, including the ninth inning of the clinching game 5. Everything I wrote about the Mets in 1986 was even more true of the Royals in 2015. They played small, heads-up, fundamental baseball, and the fact that this style triumphed is good for the sport. If we want to see a home run derby, we can wait for the All-Star break.

The Royals are beginning the rehabilitation of the game from the regime of Commissioner Bud Selig.

Bud-Selig-all-ears

[Would you buy a used car from this man? There was a time when you actually could.]

Back in 1994, there was a player strike that resulted in the cancellation of the World Series. Disillusioned fans abandoned the sport in droves, and stayed away for several years. Then in 1998, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey, Jr. all challenged Roger Maris’ record for home runs in a single season. Fans began to pay attention again. When I visited the Baseball Hall of Fame that summer, they had live broadcasts of every plate appearance by each of the three. I guess the colossal home run is in-your-face-enough to make baseball competitive with basketball and football again, because nobody was happier about these developments than Commissioner Selig.

More and more players began to look to the example of the heavy hitters and try to gain the same competitive advantage. How were they hitting the ball so far?

Former-baseball-player-Mark-McGwire-posed-bat-his-Got

Uh, no, actually, not by drinking milk. The answer is PERFORMANCE ENHANCING DRUGS. But Selig was so happy that the fans were filling ballparks again that Major League Baseball turned a blind eye, until pressure from the public forced it to crack down. However, that did not happen until the twenty-first century was well underway. And unfortunately, with the resulting decline in offensive numbers, baseball’s resurgent popularity began to wane once again. I think the Royals are just the spark that will get people interested again.

In future posts, I’ll detail some of the other damage Commissioner Selig inflicted on baseball, along with my ideas to reform his reforms. But for now, remember that baseball is fascinating and exciting whether a player hits the ball five feet or five hundred feet.