Sunday, November 29, 2009

Baby, It's Cold Inside

In the mid-1990's, the idea that minor league hockey could attract crowds in north Louisiana must have seemed presposterous. Now, as we apprach 2010, the local hockey club is in its thirteenth season and is simply part of the community. It is fair and accurate to say that the beautiful arena on the banks of the Red River simply would not exist if minor pro hockey had not come to town. The availability of a primary tenant was the catalyst for the construction of the building, which has been a tremendous community asset.
As a local sports journalist, I closely followed the arrival of the team and its early days in the less-than-appealing fairgrounds venue, Hirsch Coliseum. When the team's original owner started making noise about building his own hockey facility, local goverments noticed. Bossier City's leaders brandished their checkbook and something spectacular happened.
I have spent many an afternoon and evening in the facility, so much so that I am flabbergasted when I hear people say they have never been inside. Those are people who just don't get out much, I guess. Concerts, Arena Football, big-time bass fishing, religious revivals, graduations, cheerleading competitions and yes hockey attract tens of tousands of visitors to the place every year. Did I mention rodeos and wrestling matches? How about basketball or mixed martial arts? I have seen all of these things inside that place. How can you not have found at least one thing to compel you to visit?
One of the most memorable experiences of my broadcasting career happened right there. Legendary rock band ZZ Top played the arena. I was fortunate to be assigned to interview them live on the news the night before their show. They invited me to stay for rehearsal. I sat in the arena with about a half-dozen other people and essentially enjoyed a mini private concert. To borrow a rock and roll phrase: Dude, it was awesome!
I've been all over the building: the press box, the video room, the green room, the luxury boxes, you name it. As a broadcaster, a ticket holder, even as a volunteer when the facility has been used as an emergecy shelter during hurricane evacuations, I have strolled the concourses as well as the catacombs.
But until Satuday night, I had never stood at center ice.
The honor of dropping the puck before a hockey game was bestowed upon me. It's the hockey equivalent of baseball's first pitch. They even rolled out a red carpet. For a moment, I was some kind of dignitary. I also got to sit in the penalty box with the team's owner.
There's a lot less pressure involved in a puck drop that a first pitch. You don't have to throw anything sixty feet, you just need to stand there and drop the puck. Pretty simple stuff. The trick is not to slip on the ice. I guess that's what the carpet's all about.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanks For All the Confusion

The infant nephew brought his entourage to town and created a little confusion in the holiday home. We had a beautiful blended family Thanksgiving. My father came to my mother-in-law’s house for the festivities and left well-fed but a little befuddled.
The age spread around the table was impressive: The youngest was 11 months old and the oldest was 83 years. On top of that, the almost 17-year difference between my wife’s sister’s two children is a little unusual. When he walked in, my father spoke to my niece, thinking for a moment it was her mother (confusing, no?). How you mix up a 17-year-old girl with her 40-year-old mother is a mystery best left to octogenarian senses, so just roll with it.
When my sister-in-law walked into the room, he immediately realized his error and just kind of stood there for a moment trying to figure out who was who and what was what. Come to think of it, when he first met my wife’s sister, she was the same age her daughter is now. So, I guess that kind of explains something.
Thankfully, at that moment the nephew was asleep in the other room. Nonetheless, my father was still disoriented from navigating his daughter-in-law’s family tree as my kids arrived. Happily, he was able to concentrate on his own grandkids and things settled down for a moment. Then, the baby started crying.
If it slipped my father’s mind that my wife’s sister had a teenage daughter, you have to wonder what he was thinking when the baby boy got carried into the room. You know what? He didn’t even ask!
My daughter bonded well with her baby cousin, but my son just kind of admired him from across the room. Suddenly, someone plopped the baby into his arms. He gamely held on for about five minutes before handing the kid over.
Also in the shuffle: my son’s long-time love interest. She was a good sport about all the multi-generational comingling. She’s been around for so long, she’s simply part of the landscape and I’m pretty sure my dad had her in proper context. He certainly didn’t ask who she was and that counts for something.
When it came right down to it, everyone sat at the table and got along fabulously. The baby ate and never even whimpered. He entertained us well with two words, “hey!” and “uh-oh!” Interestingly, for a while there my father was limited to saying pretty much the same thing.
We got him to loosen up by calling for some of his classic go-to funny stories. So, the youngest and the oldest at the holiday table entertained us best, even though neither one had any idea who the other was. Happy Thanksgiving.(There they are: all the cousins in one spot.)

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Fighting Holiday Boredom with Medical Mayhem and the Friendly Skies

The holidays have officially arrived. I know it to be so because I went with the women to the Christmas tree farm. With the exception of The Year of Insanity when my wife bought some kind of artificial monstrosity, we have visited the same tree farm since the kids were little. This is the earliest we’ve ever gone and it turned out to be a good idea. You can buy your tree but leave it uncut and alive until you are ready to retrieve it and set it up in the house. So, out there west of town a future holiday home adornment awaits its fate.
The day was eventful for our daughter, who is out of school for Thanksgiving but bored and borderline blue because Mr. Wonderful is far away with his family. Thankfully, a few college friends have come home and have provided a welcome distraction. Before choosing a tree or enjoying a squealing, hopping, hugging reunion with displaced girlfriends, she found herself at the controls of an airplane.
Be assured that when she woke up Wednesday morning, she had no idea she would be flying over the city. Life’s like that, you know? A day starts off ordinary, and then your father calls and invites you to go flying. Spontaneity has its rewards. I was scheduled for a short flight on a private plane. Knowing my daughter was home alone missing her man (not me, the boyfriend), I called and asked her if she would like to go flying. Of course she did. She was promised a perch in the co-pilot’s seat, so what more could you ask? The pilot took a liking to her (which is easy to do). About a half-hour into the flight, he turned to me and gave the “Look, Ma! No Hands!” signal. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but found out later he was letting her drive the plane. She took us on a little descent and then a little rise. I’m sort of glad I didn’t know. Later, safely on the ground, she said, “it was exciting but it kind of freaked me out. I mean, I didn’t think he really meant that I would actually fly the thing. But he said, ‘push the steering wheel in a little.’ I did and we started going down. Oh, my God!” Oh, my God, indeed.
We also made an emergency trip to a dermatologist. The stepmother of one of her friends works at a “medical spa.” (Don’t ask me what that means). Spa stepmom passed along some kind of cream with the intent of helping my daughter with a benign skin annoyance about which she complains with some consistency. Somewhere along the chain of custody, instructions for application were poorly communicated. My daughter dramatically overused it and the results became, shall we say, obvious. I called a dermatologist I know and explained what happened and was told with some emphasis, ‘bring her in right now.” So, we went. A friendly but firm lecture about the misuse and improper dispensing of prescription products ensued. Fortunately, her face hasn’t begun to slough off; but who know what might have happened? She has been cautioned to stay out of the sun for a week or so. Given the current condition of her skin, it’s probably a good thing her Main Man is far away.
For the record, her mother was blissfully unaware of any of these shenanigans and she liked it like that.
Hey, at least nobody's bored anymore.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

Rolling Around in Circles

We found ourselves at an eerie cultural crossroads as we were somehow compelled to attend a (seriously) roller derby event on a November Saturday night.
Throughout the day, in anticipation of this event, I refused to tell my wife where we were going or what we would be doing. I said to her, “We have something to do tonight, and you just need to go. Don’t even try to guess it because you never will.” Even after we entered the venue, she was still in the dark. We picked up our tickets in the foyer and only after she glanced at hers did she grasp what was going on. She said, “I’ll be needing a beer or possibly something more convincing.” True to form, though, she was a good sport about it, gamely carrying her Silver Bullet to her seat and settling in for a pre-event primer from the effusive public address announcer.
When I was a kid, I would watch roller derby on TV and I certainly remember the 1972 film starring Raquel Welch entitled “Kansas City Bomber,” about the struggles of a roller derby star. Trust me on this, none of the combatants we saw resembled the lovely Raquel; neither was the competition similar to that portrayed in the film.

Although the objectives of the sport were carefully explained to us, we had a difficult time discerning the system of scoring. Most of the discussion in our section of seats seemed to revolve around whether or not this one particular young woman in skates was wearing underwear. A studious examination of her sartorial splendor, albeit from a distance, led to the conclusion that panties were present but flesh colored. That being settled, we made a good faith attempt to find humor in the moment.
The highlight seemed to be a not-so-spirited halftime exhibition featuring the mascots from local minor pro sports franchises and a couple of area business. It was rigged from the start. I mean, how could the giant crawfish representing the hockey team not win? He skates for a living! He did pratfalls, spins and skated backwards and still won handily. The mustachioed pirate representing the baseball team seemed to have his sea legs, apparently having spent precious little time on skates of any kind.
This event evidently was designed to take the temperature of the area regarding the possibility of placing a franchise here. With an announced paid crowd of 250, it’s hard to determine how bright the future is for women’s flat track roller derby in for North Louisiana. It wasn’t as fast, violent or pretty as anticipated. If there’s a next time, maybe there should be more of a discussion about the underwear situation.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Beautiful Evening on the Bayou

(Baton Rouge)- The weather was spectacular for LSU's homecoming game against Louisiana Tech. From the Tigers' perspective, that's about the most positive spin on the whole evening. A week after LSU's enthusiasm-sapping loss to Alabama, Death Valley seemed appropriately named for the wrong reasons. There was just no life in the crowd or the team. In fact, Louisiana Tech had a halftime lead. Many media reports tell us it was the first time a Bulldogs squad had a lead over one from LSU since 1904...105 years!
We made the trip at the behest of Happy Couple II. He is a Tech student who enthusiastically supported his team, wearing Bulldogs gear and unabashedly doing Tech-related cheers while embedded among Tiger faithful. Nobody gave him a hard time, which tells you something about the mindset of LSU fans at this juncture of the season.
Our daughter thought long and hard about what to wear. She didn't want to show up in Tech colors, but didn't want to fly in the face of her companion by wearing LSU gear. So, she settled on neutral grey.
That seemed appropriate, given the mood in and around Tiger Stadium. Ultimately, LSU won the game. The smattering of Tech fans who found their way into the stadium seemed to walk away reasonably happy despite their team's loss.
It just didn't seem like an LSU game at all. The game had no real meaning and the outcome ultimately was irrelevant. The kids had a good time and got to spend a lot of time together, so that's a good thing.
When it was all said and done, our daughter, non-committal and in neutral colors, was the most appropriately dressed person in Baton Rouge.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Green Thumb or Global Warming?

It seems incredible, but it's true: in mid-November I am still harvesting red, ripe tomatoes from the vines I planted before Easter. I'm no gardener, so there's no explaining the bounty, longevity and consistency of Tomato Crop '09. Almost every day, I'm having a fresh tomato from the back yard garden. It's just absurd.It's not just those small salad tomatoes, either. Medium-sized offerings, perfect for sandwiches are still coming in and ripening on the vine.At this rate, it seems almost certain that we can have fresh home-grown tomatoes on the table at Thanksgiving. Since I suppose a frost or freeze will finally bring all of this ripening revelry to an end, somehow I find myself rooting against a White Christmas. Red is a Christmas color, after all.

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The Big Football Letdown

Somehow, I’m living with a feeling that the football season has just gone pffffft. It must be some kind of letdown after the memorable weekend I enjoyed. On Thursday, the football team from my daughter’s high school won its final game of the season. It was noteworthy because she is a senior, so this was her final football game as a high school student.On Friday and Saturday, I had the privilege of watching three top ten college teams play in the span of 24 hours. Undefeated Boise State came to nearby Ruston to play Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs fought gamely, but as expected the Broncos remained unbeaten. Halftime was conspicuous for us because I represented the employer on the field and accepted a commemorative football. Not only was my name called out, but they put me up on the big screen, too. My wife and daughter were in the stands. It was a beautiful night for football and despite the local team’s loss I would be hard-pressed to find a better way to spend a November evening.
My wife, ever the good sport, even engaged in the time-honored family tradition of having a photo made with the mascot.
Saturday featured a quick turnaround and a pre-dawn departure for Tuscaloosa, Alabama and a showdown between LSU and Alabama. Both teams had national championship aspirations. The Crimson Tide’s are still alive after a come-from-behind win over the Bayou Bengals dashed any LSU hopes of winning the SEC Western division crown. It was the third year in a row the circumstances of football led me to Bryant-Denny Stadium. I was proud to be there, despite the Tigers’ loss.
Of course, you have to do what you have to do, and when I am at a football game any opportunity to pose with the mascot must be realized. Tradition is tradition, after all.
All of that being said, I still can’t shake the feeling that the best part of the football season is behind us. There’s still a month or so to go, but for now it seems to be preparation for next year from this point on.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Princess on Her Throne

I guess my wife's little friend will hang around. The kitten is growing and now we've paid significant vet bills, so it looks like she's here to stay.
The good news is, she seems to be settling down a little. A good spaying will do that for you, I guess. The stitches are out and she's doing fine. There's a lot less random "springing" these days.
She has become more demanding, though. She's a very vocal little thing. Meow, indeed.
She has developed into the cat that parks it next to my wife whenever she's sitting down. That's what the lady wants and so it looks like the Calico Queen has earned her spot on the sofa.

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Oh, The Stress of Young Adult Offspring!

There are nervous stomach aches, furrowed brows and restless nights around the house these days. We are banging out college applications for our daughter. To be fair, my wife is banging them out. While I was out horsing around doing a football broadcast, she was at home casting her daughter's fate upon the collegiate waters.
State universities, out of state universities, private expensive universities, they're all in the mix.
Our daughter doesn't really want to think about it, and who can blame her? We now have made official visits to four schools and she has a clear first choice. That's enough thinking. It's interesting to watch her come to grips with reality. Two years ago, she was determined to go far, far away for college. As decision day approaches, her geographic footprint shrinks.
There are more visits to come. Then, we sit and wait. Where does she get in? How much will it cost? How will we pay for it? I know my stomach hurts. I just hope at some point she can relax and enjoy part of her senior year.
I keep telling her it would be okay with me if she stayed local and went to the four-year school about three miles from the house, but it seems certain she will not do that. Truth be told, I am hoping for more for her. I just hate to see her go. I'm already dreading that day.
Meantime, her older brother has stayed local, going to school full time while holding down two jobs. There's a lot to be proud of there, too. He's having stress of his own. The Boss offered him more hours and more money but asked him to give up his night job delivering pizza. I told him that's an amazing vote of confidence and he should be gratified. He said he is, but he would like to enjoy being nineteen for a while. More money and more hours come with more responsibility. He said, "I have to keep my GPA up if I want to get into graduate school." What? You mean we'll have to go through the application process again?
The late, great Harry Chapin was a prophet: All my life's a circle. Sunrise and sundown. The moon rolls through the night time 'til the daybreak comes around. All my life's a circle and I can't tell you why. The seasons' spinning 'round again. The years keep rolling by.

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