Friday, June 21, 2002


Today is the summer solstice. The sun shines longer today than any other day of the year. Today is also my birthday.

I have already completed the first activity of the day, which entailed waking up at 4:30am PST to watch the United States battle Germany in the World Cup quarterfinal. My Girl, being the little trooper she is, woke up and watched with me. Truthfully, the alarm didn't go off and I sprung awake of my own volition at 4:45, thereby missing the first fifteen minutes of the game. Luckily, they were scoreless minutes. The first half was exciting, yet frustrating, as the United States played valiantly, controlling the ball and creating a handful of legitimate scoring chances while standing up to the bigger German team. Brian McBride embodied the underdog American spirit all tournament long, and did so again in this game, winning balls in the air from taller players and exhausting himself in the process. Oliver Kahn, the German goalkeeper, was sensational, making one great save after another and keeping his team in the game. After the Americans were whistled for yet another foul in their own end, Germany put together a terrific set piece to net a header from close range and take a 1-0 lead. A lead they would never relinquish. The second half was more of the same, with the Americans winning the time of possession battle, but failing to beat the keeper. Again, there were plenty of chances -- Landon Donovan earning a bunch of corner kicks with his blazing speed,Greg Berhalter volleying a ball that nearly crossed the line before hitting a German defender's hand which was in the goal, and finally, nearing the end of the match Tony Sanneh heading the ball just wide into the side of the net, -- but an equalizer could not be found.

Although the United States didn't earn a victory in this hard-fought game in the Round of 8, they gained the respect of the soccer world. They played their hearts out, outplaying the Germans in the process. I'll never forget the victories over Portugal and Mexico, or even the draw with South Korea, and I'm confident that their performance in this tournament will lay the groundwork for future World Cup success. I am firmly on the bandwagon and I feel no shame in saying so. I could not be more proud of the effort the U.S. Team put forth in Korea. They displayed true soccer skill and acted as worthy ambassadors of America. Despite the disappointing loss to the favored Germans, their outstanding World Cup run is to be celebrated. The United States has finally landed on the map of the most popular sport in the world. A new soccer power has been born.

Thursday, June 20, 2002


I weep like a lost child every time I watch the scene from “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner playing catch with his deceased father. This may read incredibly cliché, but baseball has forged the single strongest bond between my father and I. At age 5, he taught me how to read the box scores in the sports section of the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. I remember anxiously going outside to get the paper on those mornings when my Dad didn’t do it, aching to find out what my favorite players had done the night before. The day couldn’t properly start without reading the sports while I ate breakfast.

I attended my first Yankee game in 1977, the first of two consecutive championship seasons. At that age, there did not exist a more awe-inspiring structure than Yankee Stadium; the history of the building, the dominance of the ’77 team, and the electricity of the New York crowd… I was The Golden Child. I remember getting very upset that the crowd was booing Lou Pinella, but my mother and grandmother explained they weren’t booing, they were yelling “Lou… Lou…” And of course the Yankees won. I still lived in New York for the first half of my kindergarten year, and in my individual picture, although I’m looking a little femme, I’m wearing the classic navy blue Yankee hat.

My father was an assistant coach of mine during several little league seasons. Back then, I don’t think he had the free time or the energy to devote to the head coaching position, but I know he wanted it. He took great interest in my development as a ball player, helping me constantly, but not pushing me too hard. The results were mixed, as I eventually had the talent to make a very competitive high school team, but ultimately wasn’t good enough to start at my position. My father made a career change that seemed to coincide with me moving out of little league and into high school. From then on, he was the head coach of every single one of my brother’s teams. And he took it very seriously. He was the type of father who would substitute my brother if wasn’t one of the best players on the team. Other fathers didn’t do that. He would yell at his kids to motivate them, but he could also take them aside and talk to them individually in soft tones if necessary. He was well-prepared for tryouts and the draft, even trying to select players he liked over and over again. He argued with umpires, he threw his hat, and he gave inspired pep talks in the dugout between innings, all clear-cut evidence of how much he cared. At the end of one season, during the team party, the parents of the kids presented my Dad with a scroll full of sayings he had quoted or coined over the course of the season, called “Ira’s Idioms.” Some of the more memorable ones included “Always use two hands,” “You gotta think out there,” “Hustle in, hustle out,” and “When you stink, you stink, but tonight you were great.” The man loved coaching so much, he was the head coach of our family friend Michael’s team after my brother stopped playing. And he was so devoted to the PAL (Plantation Athletic League) he became Commissioner of divisions he wasn’t coaching in. That’s how much he loves baseball.

My father’s association with PAL ended with him not getting the recognition he deserved for his commitment to the organization. He lost a close race for Commissioner of the entire league, to a guy who campaigned for the job a great deal more than my Dad did. Since that time, my father has been playing Rotisserie Baseball with the same group of guys for thirteen or fourteen years. The league has been its share of personnel changes, but the core group remains. And you can just imagine, my father takes his fantasy baseball pretty seriously. He watches as many games as he can, he makes certain not to miss Baseball Tonight, and he roots for the players on his team even if they are facing the Yankees. It’s a way for him to stay connected to the game and it’s one of the few social things he does with a group. I’ve had to make a conscious decision in my early adult life to attempt to watch less sports. Therefore, I have not participated in a fantasy baseball league for over ten years. But this year, I decided to get back into the game. I co-own a team with one of my lifelong friends -- we’ll call him Yoz – who has been in this particular league for a bunch of years. In the past, he has co-owned a team with a third lifelong friend -- let’s call him Laz -- and he has owned teams on his own, always competing against my father. And now I’m competing against my father too. In fact, my father just emailed me the other day, proposing a trade. We talk baseball more now than in previous years and it seems like old times. A recent anecdote from my personal journal illustrates my point:

Today's running storyline featured a fantasy baseball league controversy. Last night, Laz was in town on business and called Yoz from my apartment after realizing that our two teams were the only ones who didn't get to participate in the first round of voluntary moves. In all honesty, I have been wrapped up in My Girl and My Writing lately and haven't been paying that much attention to baseball. However, the key issue centered on whether or not everyone in the league had been notified that the voluntary move period was beginning. The Commissioner of the league should have sent out an email newsletter to at least one member of each team thereby ensuring there would be no miscommunication. But, The Commissioner assumed that everyone would read the newsletter on the website that tracks our statistics. I haven't visited the website in weeks, Yoz missed it, and Laz missed it. Laz’s Dad, a league member who doesn't even use a computer, failed to notice the newsletter on the stat sheets he receives via fax. So, the first round of moves went by with Laz’s team and our team as the only ones not to make any moves. Laz and I seemed to have similar reactions, both feeling slighted and agreeing that what transpired was certainly not fair, but neither one of us was truly angry. Yoz and Laz’s Dad reacted more violently. Laz’s Dad apparently called The Commissioner this morning and let him have it in no uncertain terms. As I don't have a transcript of the conversation, I can't be sure exactly what was said, but I know Laz’s Dad was livid. This inspired The Commissioner to call my cell phone at 8:30 am this morning Pacific time. Barely awake, I'm listening to The Commissioner, already in the middle of his East Coast day, prattle on about the controversy and quote previous phone conversations with me, when suddenly I achieved clarity… I don't really care that much about fantasy baseball. But I heard The Commissioner out and got my two cents in and figured I'd email Yoz about it and see what he was planning to do. Later on in the day, before I talked to Yoz, my father calls to see if I've read Yoz's email to The Commissioner. I hadn't checked my email yet, so I had La Ira Bonita read it to me. In the letter, Yoz made some valid arguments citing the miscommunication, but ended it by taking an unfair stab at The Commissioner, implying that The Commissioner may have done this on purpose. My father commented that he didn't think that was a very nice thing to say and I agreed. We talked about the issue for awhile and then caught up on other things and then right before we hung up, unsolicited, my father said "I Love You." I said it back and he told me to give my best to My Girl and we hung up. A shocking breakthrough. Many times, we'll talk on the phone and I'll say "I Love You" and he'll just say goodbye, even though I know that he loves me back. I don't even really need him to say it. But this was initiated by him. Baseball has always been our bond and once again baseball brought us closer together. It's insane to think this fantasy baseball league controversy was a trigger for my father and I to further our relationship, but it was. That's the single greatest thing that could possibly have come out of playing this game.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002


There is nothing better in this world than love. But the one thing that might be able to challenge it is… free stuff. Mind you, not all free stuff will be up to the daunting task of competing against mighty love. But free stuff that you actually want is currently the number one contender to Cupid’s title.

Last night, My Girl and I were flying back to Los Angeles from a short vacation in lovely Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We returned the rental car and arrived at the airport several hours early, so as not to unnerve My Girl by cutting too close, as I am prone to do. As we were walking to the gate, she casually threw out a pointed question: “So, what's our threshold for getting bumped?” My first instinct was $400 worth of travel and My Girl seemed to think that was reasonable. So I approached the counter and asked if they were overbooked, found out they were, and immediately put our names on the volunteer list. They said there were a few people on the list ahead of us and they may not need us, so I didn’t get my hopes up too high. But, they did tell us not to board with the other passengers, so My Girl and I sat in the terminal and speculated on what our travel booty might be if we indeed got bumped from our flight. After everyone had boarded the plane, we felt it was time to ask the attendants at the counter what our status was. The attendent at the counter said they were definitely enlisting our help as volunteers and using our seats. Hooray! Naturally, our next question was: “How much is the voucher good for?” Much to our surprise, we were generously presented with travel vouchers good for one round-trip ticket anywhere U.S. Airways flies in the continental United States and Canada. No dollar amount specified. Plus, we were put on a nonstop flight leaving about three hours later. Unfortunately, they were close to being overbooked for the next flight and didn’t have any seats left in coach, so they had to put us in First Class. Hooray again! And finally, they gave us vouchers for up to $30 worth of food anywhere at the many airport dining establishments. While they were doing the paperwork, one of the attendants went to retrieve yet another passenger who had volunteered. When the young black woman got to the counter and was told that she was being bumped, she said, with attitude: “Oh yeah? And what are you going to give me for it?"” After hearing the words “free flight anywhere in the U.S. or Canada,” she quickly changed her tune and cheerily queried: “Really?!”

Luckily, Pittsburgh Airport contains a mall that proudly declares that the prices are regular mall prices, not airport mall prices. There's Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works, Sunglass Hut, and of course, The Gap. My Girl and I browsed the shops, then spent a very long while in a store that sold nothing but baseball caps, trying on hats before finally buying a few. Then we settled in at T.G.I. Friday’s to relax and allow U.S. Airways to buy us dinner. We started with some Fried Mozzarella, I ate some Chicken Fingers, she had some crappy soup and beer, and by the time we looked at the clock, we had killed a couple of hours. We left the restaurant and headed to our new gate to see if we could turn the trick one more time. At the counter, we asked if they were overbooked, which they were, and volunteered once again. This time, they said they had a list of names and would find us if they needed us. In the meantime, we had ten more voucher dollars to spend. Completely full, I still could not stand to see the potential for free stuff go to waste, so I steered us in the direction of Ben & Jerry’s. My Girl was so full she wasn’t going to order anything, which led me to suggest that we buy ice cream for some other people. As I salivated over which flavor to get, My Girl looked next door and noticed the candy store. Within seconds, I had ditched the ice cream idea and we were scooper-deep in candy bins. Ten dollars worth of candy is a lot. We repeatedly went to the front counter to weigh our Hefty-bag-sized haul until we hit the magic number. Armed with more free stuff, we rushed back to the gate to find that just about everyone had boarded. We asked the ticket-taker if they still needed volunteers, but she got distracted in the middle of her response and mindlessly handed us back our stubs.

We made our way down the jetway and into our luxurious seats in the first row of First Class. There we were treated like very important people with boatloads of money for the length of our five hour flight home. I saw the young black woman from earlier one row over and across from us. She offered to let us watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer DVD’s on her laptop, but then realized her battery was dead. My Girl noticed that she had about five or six Kahlua and Creams and then passed out. Apparently, she liked First Class as much as we did. My Girl and I enjoyed a few ice cold Heinekens served in real glasses and shared a dish of cold shrimp with pasta even though neither one of us was anywhere near hungry. We watched some of the Academy Award-winning “A Beautiful Mind” before My Girl picked up "The Dark Fields," the book I had brought with me intending to read. And then I did something that I find extremely difficult to do on airplanes… I slept. Comfortably. Peacefully. Soundly. I must’ve slept for a good three, three and a half hours. Those First Class seats are just so big and comfy and delicious. And the service is top notch. The male flight attendant was so pleasant and attentive that I wondered whether he was going to ask My Girl and I if we needed to be pleasured orally. After we landed, he remarked to our section that we were the lowest-maintenance First Class group he’s ever had. My theory was that most of the people were bumped from the other flight and were just so happy to be sitting in First Class, they didn’t want to make a fuss and jeopardize their stay in Mile High Paradise. Personally, I wasn’t very demanding because I was fast asleep most of the flight and when I was awake, I didn’t want anyone to think I didn’t belong. Because I did belong. All good people belong in First Class. I told My Girl to get used to it.