Situation Normal. Atmosphere Breathable. Brainstem Injected. Dialogue Engaged.
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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Old Thunderdome Boulevard



It was a dark and stormy night, except it wasn't actually going to rain, more like the barometer was just a bit high and the air a bit thick. It was kinda dark, or dim, I suppose, but there were streetlights. Well, lamps, I guess. But outdoor. You know. Whatever. I guess that saying it was a humid, gloomy night would be a more accurate way to describe the setting. Let's continue.

I was just chillin' out, you know, relaxing in the park, occupying a wooden bench near some trees overlooking a lake, burning a big dumb rasta spliff, smiling, indulgent. I was getting right, laying low, scoping the scene. You know the drill, man. Living. Being cool.

Just down the path from me a drum circle of baked hippies tried to synchronize their rhythm, in vain. Just a bunch of fuckups with hand drums, ample supplies of hallucinogens, and a total lack of self awareness. I set my mojito thermos down beside me on the bench, stood tall, and sauntered over to interview the assembly of burnouts. I felt, perhaps irrationally, that they possessed wisdom, that it was available, and it was crucial I gain it. The moment felt pivotal, important, cosmic.

Of maybe I was just stoned.

I began talking up the dirty little pilled out hippies littering the lawn before me. I shot the shit, and they spoke. (in muddled tripped out attempts at sentences, but I excel at comprehension, regardless of the chemical mental pollution of my conversational partners)

Clarence Overstreet, General Manager of Song Of RICE and Fire, has this to say: "Go away, dude. We're fuckin' partying. You're weird and old. Get away from us." Clarence farted, everyone looked at him, and for the briefest moment, his facade of arrogance crumbled. Stephanie laughed and said "Romo over Cutler? Made sense, but ha ha fucking ha, thanks for the victory."

Unable to tolerate the spite, I moved on to the kid with the crappiest set of hand drums I'd ever seen. "What's up man, how are you?," I asked. He answered, semi-coherently: "I'm Rick. I lost Jimmy. Where's Jimmy? I need JIMMY NOW!" I calmed him down. "It's okay, Dacey, it's okay, pal. You won last week. You won! Don't panic, I'm sure Jimmy Graham will come home soon." A little disturbed, I let the little acid freak continue to twitch in the dewy grass and moved on.

Standing alone, staring at the moon, weeping openly, was a man obviously respected by the rest of the group, but still there he was: noble, proud, and alone. I gave him the slight head raise nod of respect. He acknowledged me by whispering "Randy" and then turning back to the moon. I turned away and left Ed to his moment of silence and reflection. I understood. The Cobb had left the building.

It was too heavy, man. I couldn't hang with this crowd, not like this. Such misery. Such sorrow. These kids couldn't handle their gear. I know, a Zod abides, but damn, this was mournful, even for an intergalactic general/emperor/thunderdome champ like me. I collected my mojito thermos and made for my El Camino a mile away. Time to get free.

But it wouldn't be that simple. There was one more lost soul, writhing in the center of the gravel path. I wasn't sure whether to take a wide curve around him or address him directly. He solved that one by screaming off at nothing. At least I hope it was nothing, he sure as shit wasn't looking at me. "I used to be somebody! I used to matter! I used to have my own stable of bitches! Now I'm... I'm... just another Fulker, and nobody cares..." I made the circle around him. Wide fuckin' berth, best to be safe, you know?

I got back to my El Camino. Some punk was jamming a screwdriver into the lock. I charged. The poor fuck saw me, dropped his tool, and ran, accidentally dropping his wallet as he fled. I peeked at his identification: Saied Esmaeilian. Whatever. Just another ghost of a bad night. He wouldn't matter, in the long run.

I focused, hoping to drive without getting pulled over. I could do this. Game time. Week seven would be awesome to me. Had to be.

9:51 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Emperor Zod: Ace Reporter

Teen wunderkind and all around nice kid Zodrick Brundlebunk got out of school at precisely 3:25 pm. The earnest and intelligent lad stuffed his most important possessions into his trusty knapsack: a few pencils, a notepad, and his primary instrument of mayhem, a laptop.

Zodrick sprinted to the local internet cafe, where he bought a triple expresso, sat down, and proceeded to whip out his machine. He signed on to Twitter. His mission? Why, young Zodrick wanted nothing more than to harass each and every last beat reporter employed by any local newspaper within 50 miles of one of the 32 NFL teams. That, and obsessively refresh the player news feed on rotoworld. Vigilance is the price of success.

With a singular focus, he collected scouting intelligence to prepare for week three. Below is the information he assembled about both about his team, and that of his opponent, MidWestUnderdogg, owned by one mysterious and (heretofore) silent Mr. Bryan Moore.

In the news:

Colin Kaepernick (Emperor Zod) was quoted on Tuesday as saying: "I got mugged by the 12th Man in Seattle last Sunday, but Zod's troops carried us. Regardless, I gotta play better. That shit ain't gonna to happen to me in Indianapolis this week."

Drew Brees (MidWestUnderdogg) commented Monday: "I used to play for Zod. Great owner. We won a ring together. I play for the Dogg now, but I've never met the owner. Moore, I think his name is. Kind of a recluse, I hear."

Robbie Gould (MidwestUnderdogg) was almost arrested late Wednesday afternoon in Wrigleyville. Witnesses claim Gould urinated on a flowerbed in front of a home on the 1700 block of West Addison Avenue. Police arrived too late to secure an arrest, and later declined to comment. Rumor has it Robbie was later seen stumbling into a Taco Burrito King with a large wet spot on his crotch.

Meteorologists in Cleveland forecast a heavy front of Adrian Peterson (Emperor Zod) moving in from northwest of the city this weekend. They warned residents to stay in their homes unless absolutely necessary. One weatherman was quoted as saying "Adrian Peterson is to Cleveland as Godzilla is to Tokyo."

As young Zodrick continued his review of Bryan Moore's team, he realized that he owned each and every one of Bryan's players somewhere in each of the other eight leagues he participated in outside the Thunderdome. Welker, Bowe, Cook, Moreno, McFadden, each and every one. He did not, therefore, wish to undermine (talk shit about) those players. So he refrained, meanwhile cursing under his breath.

Except for one guy in Bryan's starting lineup. That guy, Zodrick thought, fuck him. Fuck Nate Burleson. He alone would key Bryan Moore and MidwestUnderDogg's downfall.

Young Zod smiled. He cracked his knuckles, reached for the keyboard, and began tweeting unsubstantiated rumors.
9:37 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Sunday, August 11, 2013

BEG FOR MERCY II: The Wrath Of Zod!




Previous Entries:
BEG FOR MERCY: Emperor Zod's Draft Review - August 2011
Zod's 2011 Almanac - December 2011


Emperor Zod's Draft Review

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away... Wait, that's not right. Strike that, let me start over.

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the... Nope. Still wrong.

What is all this science fiction bullshit? Why is it polluting my thoughts, derailing my focus, and sullying my perfect clarity? I am Emperor Zod, Inaugural Thunderdome Champion, scourge of humanity, slayer of Jor-El, Federal Prohibition Agent and... Protector Of The Codex? Wait, what? Prohibition? Codex? What do those mean? Has something momentous occurred? Has some curse befallen me?

I feel different. My mind contains new information. I have a new face and a new voice, but some things haven't changed. Most importantly, I still harbor a burning hatred so searing I could bake tiny cookies on my mood ring. Yet I must set aside these thoughts of hate-baked miniature snack foods and set my genius mind upon its proper course: the drafting of a championship caliber fantasy football squad.

Sure, all could go wrong, like it did in 2012. What can I say? Hatred for Superman (once again) clouded my judgement. Not this year. There is plenty of time later to dispose of Kal. Speaking of...

I WILL FIND HIM!

But not right this moment. Presently, I require statistical analysis and drunken strategery.

So how shall I approach the 2013 draft? I am the #1 pick, an odd place for me, considering I drafted last, #16, in the both of the previous two seasons. I already know Adrian Petersen will be my bell cow. Beyond that? I meditated.

I began drinking concentrated caffeine and eventually Coors banquet beers about ninety minutes before this draft began. When noon arrived, it took all of my focus and concentration to participate in the draft and take shorthand reference notes for eventual elaboration and publication. But I did.

Of everyone I've ever encountered within this league, I've talked the most shit about Patrick Warner. Before this draft began, as soon as Ed brought up vote number 3, Patrick knew that it was about whether to include TE in the flex spot, and he was the first to vote no. I agreed and jumped on the bandwagon, voting no myself. Before Ed could even outline the vote details, a majority of the league had already voted it down. Thanks, Patrick!

The draft began after voting ended exactly on time at 2:15 EST. I selected Adrian Peterson, as expected. Moments later, everything went to shit as the inevitable technical difficulties took over. Commissioner Ed asserted order and Ben Fulker got Matt Forte at #5 overall instead of LeSean McCoy, who the rankings tried to give him. Rick Dacey then took McCoy the very next pick. Rick, change your team name now. Seriously, dude. The bet is over.

It's weird to hear experts make weird value judgements, but this is a weird league, and I'm no expert! So prepare for me to spread my ignorance around like an infectious disease. I gotta say this: I think Lou signing Aaron Rodgers as his starting QB at pick #14 overall is a fuckin' steal and I applaud him for it. See you in the postseason, homes. Did y'all forget this is a QB 6pt passing TD league? With long play bonuses? You did, didn't you?

At this point, the sun passed its zenith atop the horizon, and people had trouble holding their liquor (speak for yourself asshole) and their narratives grew foggy. The draft continued. As all participants began to lose focus, Bryan Shu shocked Ed Bonfanti by selecting a goddamn Cowboy to join his team, in the form of DeMarco Murray. That was round two, pick six, number twenty-two overall.

David Bennett, Crash's Crew, an admired and successful team/owner, drew my attention by selecting Ryan Matthews. I mocked him, then he ended up choosing shits like Isiah Pead and Mikel LeShoure later on. Yuck. After protracted strident mocking, he made a few winning picks, I think. I applauded him for Eddie Lacy and Cordarelle Patterson. See you in the playoffs... next year... maybe.

I owned Jason Witten the first two years of this league, without ever keeping him. He was a bouy. That is both good and bad. We are divorced now. He started sleeping with Ed, who took him in this draft. Ed, may your your romance be a brief whirlwind. Meanwhile, I'll send bouquets to younger tight ends and hope for the best.

I was drafting too, by the way. After keeping Kaepernick in the 16th and Hillman in the 8th, with the #1 overall, I knew I was taking AP then going WR and TE on the return turn. But I didn't. I kept going on with RB. Then RB. Like a maniac. Like a drunk. Welcome to the team, Le'Veon Bell and Darren Sproles. When I finally got my 4/5 picks, I took Stevie Johnson and Torrey Smith to start my WR corps. The fact that I got the #5 TE (according to me) in Greg Olsen at 6/7 turn in  a league this big astounded me. Chubby waving time. After that? I went prospecting, and you don't care to read about that. Let's move on.

Ed took Eli at pick #80 overall. I took him in the first round last year. Value based drafting motherfuckers. In action. Don't make me extrapolate the point.

Enough about the draft.

I may be a wholly different incarnation of  a former Kryptonian General than I was before, but mere cosmetics do not alter my fundamental greatness. I will rise, and I will conquer. I implore you all, once more, for your own sakes:

BEG FOR MERCY.

~end~

Thanks again to our exalted commissioner, Ed Bonfanti, for the third year of this most excellent league. I proudly welcome him to the exclusive ranks of Thunderdome Champions. Great job last year. I now consider The Poopy Pants Destroyers (aka The Super We Will Never Forgets) to be my equals. I shall now win another title to reassert my superiority. Gaunlet throwed.

To the rest of you? I promised you late last year that I would be back this year, and be one of the loudest shit fuck cunt ass bitch bastard trash talkers in the league, or something to that effect. (Can you hear me now, Patrick Warner? No silence hereabouts.) I also point out that I was loudest in season one. I won. Ed was loudest in season two. He won. So open your goddamned yap and start barking, my little bitches. Especially you, Clarence Overstreet. (no purpose, decided to call out a random league member for kicks)

***footnote 1: Swayze Waters is no longer a backup kicker for the Oakland Raiders. Therefore, I can no longer suggest him, jokingly, as the #1 over all pick, and get away with it. I hereby retire this unfunny joke, and this paragraph marks the final time I shall speak of him, ever.

***hey religious freaks: you lack the mandate of heaven***


5:55 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Sands Of The Hourglass



8:32 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Thursday, November 29, 2012

My Match Bio



This is a work in progress, but it's about time I put my best foot forward. I'm giving online dating a shot. Here's what I've got so far. I expect to be flooded with date requests from a horde of admirers any moment now.

I like exotic cuisine, mass market paperbacks, and MSNBC. I cook frequently with great enthusiasm but little skill.

I am not goal oriented. In fact, I am a listless castaway lacking ambition. I have no direction in life, about which I am ambivalent. I am not funny, interesting, or engaging in any fashion. I am cheap furniture. To put this in a positive light, I am somewhat tolerable.

Punctuality is not my strong suit. If we meet, lie to me about the time, otherwise I will be thirty minutes late.

I do take responsibility for my decisions. That's a plus. Unfortunately, my decisions are rarely correct.

I am also honest to fault. I stress fault. Hence the self-indictment you've read so far.

My sense of style? No. That's an oxymoron. I wear t-shirts with visual puns, political candidates, or musical act logos upon them. I should have stopped dressing like a 24 year old hipster years ago, but apparently these garments serve as an identity substitute for me, and like a wailing child who will not relinquish his pacifier, I continue to purchase these abominations. I wear black jeans year round, which fortunately requires no imagination. Yes, I own more than one pair. Four, in fact. I am not scummy.

I've quit smoking three times now, for four months each time. My dedication to anything even slightly challenging is practically nil. I'm awfully young to be running out the clock on life, but I just don't have any passion for anything. I should probably take up heroin, but those dealers don't deliver, and driving to the west side involves traffic. Too much hassle.

If I was rich, I would never, ever, leave my house. Groceries and supplies would be delivered. I would stay in, criminally over spice all my food, read pedestrian contemporary "literature," build jigsaw puzzles, and drink myself stupid every Sunday of the football season. I'm not rich, but I already accomplish a lot of these, which may strike you as impressive.

I live alone, thankfully, and find both cats and dogs supremely annoying, although dogs are much, much worse. I used to own a tarantula, which constantly got tangled in my hair (It's short now, obviously) when I let it crawl on my head.

I have no tattoos. I have no objection to them, I just want to wait for prison before I make any life-altering decisions.

I drink four or five tall energy drinks per day. I tremble constantly. My hands are like hummingbird wings.

You are smart, informed, and opinionated. Nerdy is good. I like activists and feminists. I'll tag along for a good protest. If you need somebody to listen as you spew bellowing tirades and righteous indignation (about any subject important to you) I will gladly listen and respond, hopefully in a manner that is not mumbled and monosyllabic.

Drop me line. After our date, all the other guys won't seem as terrible.
5:39 AM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Monday, November 26, 2012

Something Pessimistic

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"I hope you die cold and alone."

Whenever I was insulted, or even gently teased, this was my canned response. I'm not sure where I picked it up, but I enjoyed the pairing of hateful spite and casual dismissal. Nobody I knew feigned shock upon hearing this charming quip. After all, I was the guy who could fill the better part of an afternoon with dead baby jokes, several of which involved a microwave.

I don't use it anymore. Now, when the verbal hammer is dropped upon me, I generally reverse engineer the criticism to determine whether it has merit. Does this person know me well? Any axe to grind? Is there a valid point here that may lead me to introspection and eventual self improvement? I'd like to say that any negativity rolls off me like water off a duck's ass, but we both know that's horseshit. It sticks. I just can't bring myself to answer with bile any more. Biting sarcasm no longer floats my boat. I have one less defense mechanism in my arsenal, and now I'm reduced to manufacturing a look of pained grievance intended to elicit guilt in my attacker. This, sadly, is mostly ineffective.

You may mistake my evolved approach as a symptom of growing maturity and improving emotional health. Do not be fooled. I keep the gun in the holster not because I am wise, but because I am exhausted and demoralized.

People die cold and alone all the time, and it just isn't funny.

I've seen it.

My paternal grandmother, once a proud mother and stern educator, devolved into senility during her final few years. A clean home carefully decorated with books, paintings, and ornamental finery (that's where I got that trait) became a filthy swamp of cat hair and dirty dishes. A sharp mind became a dense fog. One son became a raging alcoholic while the other hid in her basement reading art books for forty years. Vultures took advantage of her degraded state and tricked her into handing over her home for pennies on the dollar. She was unceremoniously bundled off to a nursing home, where she received the minimum of attention from her family as she faded from life. I went to see her only once, on a Thanksgiving, and couldn't wait to leave. My sisters went more often, and were better people than I, but I believe that no patchwork of attention from any of us could've possibly filled her empty hours waiting for the end.

My maternal grandmother carries on. She visited last July, and most of our conversations consisted of her detailing the indignities of elderly life. She's tired and lonely. Everything hurts. Her trip to see her offspring was a success, not only because she got to meet her great grandson, but because she felt she needed to say goodbye to all of us. Now she can die in peace, whatever that means. She writes me the occasional letter now, but I can't read her handwriting.

My father acquired a college degree, gainful employment, a wife, four kids, and plenty of hobbies. By all appearances he was a well rounded guy with a happy, successful life. He managed to tease out the threads of self destruction, however, and elected to become a dedicated lush. During his final three years, he bounced drunkenly between homeless shelters and cheap hellholes stocked with parolees and deadbeats. Basically, he was one step above a freight train bum huddled around a trash fire. He was delivering auto parts for minimum wage when he suffered a fatal heart attack.

Don't get me wrong. I realize that life is about far more than brutal endings. I'm not attempting to cheapen any of my relatives' lives. All of them had many glorious years ripe with beautiful, happy moments. I just can't ignore that for every single person alive, an ugly ending of one sort or another awaits.

Due to poor decisions and behavior on my part, my life has become a meaningless slog at a far younger age than any of theirs. I could blame the economy for my mediocre income and lack of financial stability. I could blame the educational system for my failure to advance my prospects. I could blame my parents and their twenty year long cold shoulder marathon for my aversion to romantic relationships.

There's no point to that, though. The buck has to stop somewhere. Some wise sage once said "your environment was responsible for making you this way, but you are responsible for staying this way." Ultimately, I must create my own reality. I have to change into a better person. I would like very much to fall in love, start a family, own a home, and experience all the joy life has to offer before my clock stops. That's the point. Right?

I think I'm taking baby steps in the right direction. Small goals achieved are minor miracles for me. It's time to give myself a report card. I still haven't quit smoking, despite a few aborted attempts. Failure. I haven't gone on a date in five years, and the notion fills me with trepidation. Failure. Saving money? Not yet, but paying off debt steadily. Pass, average grade. I dropped thirty pounds and have kept it off for six months now, and I know a lot more about cooking and nutrition than before. Grade: Incomplete.

Who said "You're only a failure if you never try?" That person knew. That person was talking to me. I am listening. But damn, metamorphosis is really hard.

I want life. I want to matter. I want meaning. I'm reaching for those things, though all I've grasped (so far) is empty air. As time and hope dwindle, I hope I get different results sooner rather than later.

Dying cold and alone isn't so bad, I've decided. It's dying with regret that really frightens me.



8:26 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Friday, October 12, 2012

A Farewell To Prawn



Tomorrow, I will murder my grief with gluttony. With this diary entry, I dedicate myself to tomorrow's vulgar exploit. Should this pledge result in my immediate demise, this letter will serve as my farewell correspondence (and dire warning) to the public at large.

I was a childhood shrimp devotee. More than pizza, more than peanut butter, more than ice cream, I loved fried shrimp. My restaurant selection for birthday dinners was always Red Lobster. Every year, I ordered twenty-one fried butterfly shrimp. I ate in modest nibbles, chewing slowly, savoring every moment of blissful consumption. I ate the tails too, happily. As I matured, my taste became eclectic, and variations crept into my annual repertoire: scampi, coconut tossed, stuffed, popcorn, cocktail.

From there, I branched out, and over the course of a decade, I explored the full range of exoskeletal underwater cuisine. Crab was a lot of work, but worth the effort. Lobster was superb, but too expensive for my limited budget unless I found an all you can eat deal. When I stumbled upon these opportunities, I eschewed the diversions the restaurant placed before me, like corn and potatoes, and focused solely on my creatures. My record is twelve in one sitting. Calamari? A staple of my diet. I preferred the whole squid over the rings, because whole ones' heads explode when you bite down. (Seriously satisfying on so many levels.) Crawfish tasted too much like fish. I avoided them for a long time after an unpleasant first experience. (That was at a buffet. In hindsight, I realize this may have affected their quality.)

As an adult, Long John Silver's became a favorite pit stop, and every couple months I made the pilgrimage there so I could ravage obscene quantities of shrimp and clams. I even began to enjoy fish. I finally found them appetizing as long as they were breaded, fried, and doused in lemon and malt vinegar.

My lifelong dalliance with seafood reached peak refinement in recent years. A visit to New Orleans revealed the majesty of oysters and mussels. I discovered that salmon is agreeable, particularly the smoked variety. My most recent birthday feast selection was a sizable crock of bouillabaisse, which includes just about every organism I've mentioned so far plus a few others in a tomato stew.

My gastronomic existence was going swimmingly (ahem) until a recent visit to the Popeye's drive-thru. Throughout my adulthood, I've discovered I now enjoy foods I found repulsive as a child, such as broccoli, cauliflower, certain fish, pickles, and others too mundane to list. Based upon these revelations, I figured that fried crawfish were a safe bet early on a Saturday afternoon.

I was sadly mistaken. Yes, the taste was fine. Good, even. When I experienced fever symptoms later that day, I failed to make the connection between my temperature and my lunch. I was so foolish, in fact, that I returned for seconds on Sunday. When I broke out in hives along my legs, arms, and neck, I realized my mistake. I itched. I bitched. Damn mud bugs.

I had developed an allergy. The questions became: was I suddenly allergic to all shellfish, just crawfish, or was this a totally unrelated phenomenon?

It took weeks before I summoned the courage to find out. I ordered shrimp, of course.

I must now reveal that I have betrayed your trust, reader. I was all set to lie and claim that I can longer enjoy my favorite class of food. This false pretense was to be utilized as an excuse for tomorrow's escapade. But I won't lie. Tomorrow's feast is completely unrelated to this love letter to crustaceans.

Not long after that Popeye's debacle, I ate the humongous pile of fried shrimp, and I was fine. No allergic reaction. Tentatively, I ate my way through the underwater community. Clams and lobster? Sure. Fish, mussels, oysters? I didn't die. Not a single hive. I even had the opportunity last week to throw some live blue shell crab into a steamer as they tried to pinch my hand. I imagine they knew of my ill intentions, and wanted to avoid the hot cauldron of death. They tasted great. I lived; they did not. Once again, a clean bill of health.

So I really have no excuse. Then again, I need none. I only affect a sense of apology for what I intend to do. In reality, I feel no guilt, only feverish excitement for this impending gluttony.

I am making bacon cheeseburgers using Krispy Kreme glazed donuts for the buns. Instead of cheese slices, I'm going to liquefy a block of Velveeta and dip the motherfuckers whole in it. I am going to wear a goddamned bib. Maybe even diapers. (just kidding on that last part) I will eat and eat until I fall comatose.

And then, on Sunday, I'm going to wake up late and go to Long John Goddamned Silver's again. Because I can.

Life is good.

UPDATE





10:00 PM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Family Ties



My mother told me at least three times. Nana was coming to Illinois to visit for two weeks at the end of June. Every time she mentioned my incoming grandmother, the information was accompanied by a plaintive request for approval.

"That's okay, right? You don't mind?"

Each time, I mumbled noncommittal non-responses. My mother is far too accommodating. In her place, I wouldn't give my son any option to object. Mom is so easygoing, in fact, that she let me live with her for two years. I was a bum on a couch. At the outset, I told her six months, maximum. Just enough time to get my shit together. That turned into two years.

I'm straying from the story. I want to tell you about Shirley Lindquist, my grandmother. I imagine I met her as a wee baby. Obviously, this occurred before my memory began recording. One of the earliest memories I possess is Papa Lindquist, her second husband, tickling the soles of my feet for several consecutive excruciating minutes. I hated him for that.

I visited her in Tucson, Arizona early in the 1990s. She had cable, which meant MTV, which meant Michael Jackson and Nirvana. That was alright. Outside, there were scampering lizards and cactii. Inside, she had sourdough bread in the refrigerator. Can't tell you much more than that.

In the present, I was ambivalent about her arrival. Every year at Christmas, I dutifully spent two minutes on the telephone with her. During each call, inevitably I'd be asked whether I'd met a girl, impregnated a girl, or was getting married. I realize now that it was childish of me to resent these harmless questions. When you get old, clocks ticks loudly, and legacy is the only straw to grasp. Thankfully my big sister produced a great-grandchild, the eventual impetus for the visit. I was off the hook.

A little background: Nana is an alcoholic, the kind that leaves bathtub faucets running until the house floods, the kind that yells at malevolent apparitions, the kind that falls and fractures both her hip and leg. This may shock you, but she isn't related to my father by blood. She's my maternal grandmother. I know, right? I totally won the genetic lottery. (That sounds resentful and sarcastic, but I actually love my ascendants, I just can't resist a decent asshole line.)

Despite the similarities, she was always highly critical of dear old Tyler, my father, and damn the similarities between them. Her on high judgement and acerbic tongue are legendary in my family. Hence my fear.

I made a point of being absent when she arrived, and I didn't show my face for two days. When I finally did, I bit the bullet, sat down before her, and engaged her in a long conversation.

I learned a lot. A lot. She told me things about my dad that I never knew. She told me about her husbands dying. She told me about strength, weakness, time, and the humiliation of old age. It was wonderful and sad.

A day later, it got weird. I sat silent, shocked, as an 86 year old woman with eleven active prescriptions and a history of severe alcoholism asked me to hook her up with an eighth of high grade cannabis.

I had been warned. Both of my sisters and my little brother had whispered these tidings to me. Although I didn't call bullshit on them, I certainly didn't take them seriously. I mean, come on. Absolutely ridiculous. I could 't even imagine dear old Shirley giving me the old "Psst..., say, where's the reefer?"

She did.

My mom stood behind her, eyes bug wide. Gentle and quiet as she is, Mom actually used the old throat slash gesture combined with a clenched jaw and shaking head to let me know that even she would disown me if I made the marijuana happen. I was proud of Mom for her vehemence.

I gave a speech wrought with honesty.

"Nana, I forced pot on Anita and Carolyn when they were teenagers. What happened wasn't pretty. They became extremely anxious and insecure. To put it simply, they freaked the fuck out.  They barely touched it afterwards. I inoculated them, unintentionally.

"My experience was different. At first, it was euphoria.  I loved it. But eventually I reached the same social anxiety and discomfort they did. Until then, it made me lazy, both physically and intellectually, and I let it ruin my academic career. It's not an awful drug, but it sure as hell isn't a good one. Can I ask why you've gravitated towards it recently?"

As it turned out, she'd seen a cutesy portrayal of pot in movie titled "It's Complicated." It was me against Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin. I won.

After I had her safely away from the ledge, I proceeded to cook her various specialties of mine. These recipes involved fennel seeds, cream cheese, parsley, and a variety of other delectable ingredients. I did my best to impress her. We built a couple of easy jigsaw puzzles together. Maybe it was late in the game, but I realized I loved my Nana, and I wanted her to love me.

We discussed literature. She eventually sent me books when she got home. I convinced her to abandon the xenophobia of Republicanism and embrace the Democratic Party. As she's a current Medicaid and Medicare recipient, this wasn't all that difficult once I provided actual factual information. Fuck yeah, go me.

She wants me to be a politician now. I think not. In my favor, words are my friends, and I can spit them out with persuasive clarity. On the fly, no less. Public speaking is my forte. Don't debate me.

The day before Nana left, my mother's landlord provided bad news: they wanted mom out by the end of July. Their granddaughter had gotten a divorce, and they needed to give her a place to live.Two weeks notice equals shock and awe in my book.

We were at a family lunch at a Greek restaurant when I got the bad news. I freaked out silently for a split second, regained my composure, and decided that I could handle this. I was ready. Within four days, I found myself a new apartment in Mount Prospect. I have finally ventured back out into the world on my own. Mom found herself a place in Roselle. We dual moved last Saturday. I've been unpacking and decorating my new solo joint ever since.

Features of my new apartment: African tribal folk sculptures, HO scale model trains in the window sills, high school yearbooks from the 1920's, multiple antique chess sets, awful amateur paintings stolen from a retirement home, UK subway posters hung askew and sometimes upside down, and enough books to crush a human being if dropped upon him all at once. I like it here.

Shirley had to return home to Arizona. I must admit I dreaded her departure almost as much as my mother did. Let's face it: this was her farewell tour. Eighty-six years old. But that's life. She got to watch her great grandson laugh. I think she won at life.

The world is a good place sometimes.







3:31 AM - Bottle Rocket Fire Alarm
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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

IDP If You Please




Pay attention, kids. I'm handing you the keys to the IDP Ferrari. Some of you have already spent years blazing down the Autobahn. You know all this stuff. You're experienced. A champion, perhaps. You think you don't need any advice from me. Go ahead and move along, and I wish you good luck. Others among you are still bandaging scraped knees from tricycle accidents suffered just this morning. You know who you are: not only have you never played in a fantasy league with individual defensive players, you've decided to make the courageous leap into one that starts eleven.

I promised I'd offer my opinions, strategies, and resources to get you up to speed.

Well, here it is.

I think it's fair to call this league, The Dogpile, an intermediate level fantasy defense.

Most beginner IDP leagues start up to 6 IDPs, generally an even mix of defensive linemen (DL), linebackers (LB), and defensive backs (DB). This is often referred to as 2-2-2.

I started playing in beginner leagues four years ago. Due to that, everything I know has come from online research, not from actual football experience. I was never a jock. (Big surprise, I know.) Feel free to one up me or correct me if you disagree with anything below. I'm always up for learning from my peers.

We're intermediate level. This league starts eleven defenders, which can be any one of four different combinations of DL, LB, and DB. These four options mimic actual NFL defensive schemes that you'll hear the likes of Cris Collinsworth discussing on Sunday nights:

3 DL 4 LB 4 DB (3-4)
3 DL 3 LB 5 DB (3-4 nickel)
4 DL 3 LB 4 DB (4-3)
4 DL 2 LB 5 DB (4-3 nickel)

Finally, there's advanced. This is especially relevant, even to this league, because the specific defensive positions often translate directly to opportunity and production. I've never played in one of these mythical leagues, but I know where to find them when I'm ready.

In these leagues, not only would you choose whether to play a 3-4 or a 4-3, but your players would have to match the scheme. In order to explain this, I need to break down DL, LB, and DB as they relate to to the two schemes.

Defensive Linemen:

For our purposes, we can break down defensive linemen into two types: defensive tackles (DT) and defensive ends (DE). In the 3-4, there are two DEs, one on either end, and one DT in the middle, sometimes called a nose tackle. In the 4-3, there are still two DEs, but there are also two DTs.

In fantasy, defensive linemen are often the lowest point producers, sometimes an afterthought, much like tight ends were once considered a few years ago on offense. Still, they're part of your team, so you'd better make the most of them.

The interior tackles in the middle typically struggle with offensive linemen, and don't get a whole lot of statistical action. There are a few exceptions. In the last couple years, guys like Richard Seymour, Ahtyba Rubin, and Vince Wilfork have managed to put up a few sacks and respectable tackle numbers. You can use DTs in your DL slots, but I'd advise you to avoid them in most cases.

The defensive ends, on the other hand, are often blitz rushers. You know, the big play guys, like Jared Allen and Julius Peppers. These are the guys that are gonna put up serious points for you. Unfortunately, there's relatively few of these monsters in the league, certainly not enough to go around. Last year, only ten DLs reached 10 sacks.

Our league starts between 60-80 each week, depending on whether team owners are starting 3 or 4. You'll need to decide whether to spend an early pick or two on a beast, or throw out scrubs, like most of us will be.

Both DTs and DEs list on CBS as DL. Know the difference, and pick the right guys. Then, even with average players, you can do well.

Linebackers:

Linebackers are a bit trickier, and I'll confess that I often get lost trying to keep track of the ramifications of each type. Despite myriad variations, for our purposes, we can classify them as such: Outside linebackers (OLB) can be either strong or weak side. Inside linebackers, in a 4-3, are usually called middle linebackers (MLB). In a 3-4, you have two inside: a weak inside linebacker (WILB) and a strong inside linebacker, also called the middle inside linebacker. (SILB/MILB/MIKE)

Confusing? I suppose. Look it up on Wikipedia if you want a better explanation. I've always found that the best for fantasy purposes (there are exceptions) are the middle linebackers in a 4-3. They commonly have the highest tackle numbers because they make stops on both rushing and passing plays. They also get sent on blitzes. MILBs in a 3-4 are a close second.

While the MLB position provides a linebacker with the best in-play opportunities to rack up points for you, a greater concern should be his snap count. Some of these guys only see two plays a series, and some only come on the field during third down. I'll provide links below to my favorite IDP message boards. Each of these usually keep a weekly updated thread called "three down linebackers." These threads, when applied to your drafting and starting decisions, can make the difference between you scoring 5 tackles and 10 tackles. It matters. Find out who will be on the field a lot. That's the key.

All different types of linebackers are listed on CBS as LB. Know the difference, and you'll be rewarded.

Defensive Backs:

DBs are broken down into cornerbacks and safeties. The corners' stats are often interceptions and passes defensed. You think shutdown corners like Darelle Revis and Nnamdi Asomugha are awesome? For fantasy, think again. Quarterbacks avoid them due to their skill. QBs like to pick on rookies. A bad corner is better in fantasy.

Safeties get less INTs and PDEFs, but plenty more tackles. They're the ones taking down tight ends and slot receivers after a catch. Aside from the corners, they're the last line of defense when a running back breaks through the DLs and LBs. Safeties come in two varieties: strong satefy (SS), and free safety (FS). From what I've seen, strong is the way to go. George Wilson was very good to me last year.

Deciding whether to use corners or safeties depends on whether the IDP league in question can be classified as tackle heavy, balanced, or big play. This league is somewhere between tackle heavy and balanced, so here, strong safeties will provide steady, consistent scoring, while corners will vary between big points one week and zilch the next. I prefer consistency.

Drafting and Roster Management:

Last year I won a 20 team league just like this. I've just combed through the draft results for myself and the other top teams, and learned a couple things:

I didn't touch a defender until round 6. Among the three teams right behind me, pretty much the same: Rounds 5, 6, and 6. That's not to say you can't start off with the best two DLs and still win. My top two picks were Philip Rivers and Darren McFadden, and we both know how those turned out.

What really helped me was doing my research early. I knew D'Qwell Jackson was a great player, but coming back from injury. I got him in round 15, and he ended up being the top scoring LB. Meanwhile other teams took Patrick Willis in the 1st or DeMarcus Ware in the 2nd. Willis was slightly off his usual deadly performance last year, and Ware is a big play guy with low tackle totals, and not really worthy of an early pick in this scoring system.

I essentially took high-upside gambles later in the draft and tried to pick up more offensive options early. I let others take all the stud IDP names, and scooped up the sleeper bargains for myself. Why spend a 3rd round pick on Jason Pierre-Paul when I can have Jabaal Sheard in the 12th? You can do the same if you use the links I provide below, and find out which guys are three down MLBs and SSs. The fact is, there's more turnover among defensive players than offensive ones, which means that once the season starts, you'll have a much better chance to find an awesome defender on the wire than you will a wide receiver.

Now, if everyone takes my advice, and you all avoid defenders early, there may be some absolute steals on high end defenders in the 3rd and 4th round. League drafting behavior will dictate value. This is just my experience I'm sharing here, not a concrete blueprint. If I see Jared Allen in the 4th, you bet your sweet ass I'm grabbing him.

Drafting is only the beginning, of course. I'd say it's actually far more important to manage your roster every week and be ready to pounce on available free agents. Last year Barrett Ruud, Titans linebacker, suffered a season ending injury sometime around week 10. Ruud had been studly up until then. A quick search informed me that a guy I'd never heard of named Colin McCarthy would take his place. I picked him up. 10 points for me his first week out. My opponent, in the scoreboard chat, wrote "Who the fuck is Colin McCarthy?" This year, he's ranked in the top 20 on most sites. While there will be some guys like this on offense (DeMarco Murray, anyone?) they'll be tougher to land off waivers with everyone gunning for them. You can't rely on that.

I guarantee you'll see plenty like McCarthy this year, too. You just have to pay attention. My 2011 draft was thoughtful and well-researched, but looking back, I can see I picked plenty of duds. Choosing Rivers over Brees was idiotic, in hindsight. There were other mistakes. No, it was aggressive team management that really won it for me.

Scoring Ramifications:

When choosing players, my general philosophy is to get guys with consistent tackle numbers. Sure, it's nice to get a twelve spot from a cornerback with two interceptions in a single week, but most likely he'll get a measly two tackles the next week. Find a good strong safety who'll get you 5 tackles and a pass defensed every week, and you'll win more games.

Same goes for linebackers. Sure, DeMarcus Ware is a beast. But he's always trying to make the crazy awesome play, and because he does sometimes, he gets attention. Notoriety. But his tackle numbers suck. He's the linebacker equivalent of a cornerback. When the draft room opens, try sorting different defender positions by tackles. You'll get a better idea of which guys are good values but ranked low, and likely to be forgotten. Remember them. Take them late. (But not too late, now that everybody knows to do this.)

Tackles can also save your defensive line. In our league, sacks will be tough to come by. Find a few DEs that put up 3 tackles a week, and you'll be okay. Every once in a while you'll get a sack, too. It doesn't sound like much, but that thinking served me very well last year.

Resources:

FootballGuys IDP Forum - This one is the very best. Read Jene Bramel's tiers for the best rankings on the internet. During the season, this site also has a free weekly podcast called IDP Roundtable.
FootballGuys IDP Forum

IDP Manor - Gary Davenport writes good stuff. His weekly IDP waiver columns are worth your time.
IDP Manor

Gary also writes for Fantasy Sharks. They also have a good IDP forum.
Fantasy Sharks

The only IDP draft guide I actually buy is Ryan Sitzmann's. It's only $5. I use it when I'm stumped for a pick. His free stuff isn't quite as deep, but still just as useful.
IDP Guru

That's all I guess. Good luck, fellas.

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stg-shark