Wednesday, August 25, 2010

I'm a Lucky Spousal Unit

My Beloved Spousal Unit has written a wonderful blog post, a warm appreciation of baseball and the small treasures that even a late-season game between two non-contenders can hold in store for the observant fan.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"X-U" Too, Buddy!

Word came last night that K.Q., creator of alternative worlds and a college radio friend, has suffered a small stroke. His demeanor remains feisty and humorous; he later posted on Facebook, "I'll still beat you in Scrabble if you don't make me use my left hand."

Have I been called out?

With K.Q. in mind, this seems an excellent time to disclose my burgeoning Scrabble habit -- possibly an addiction by now. (Yes, I know I'm supposed to use the ® symbol after each instance of the word Scrabble. Let's pretend I did.)

I have two principal enablers: my Beloved Spousal Unit, who challenges me routinely and defeats me regularly in our epic series of spirited analog contests ("You're going down, Tile-Boy!"), and, a multi-user gaming site that is the licensed host, promoter, and operator of the "official" online version of Scrabble.

(If you think I'm shilling here, please be advised that I am not an obsolete English coin, nor do I own a bloody sock. Ahem.)

The two Scrabble experiences are different. Keeping our rivalry casual and friendly -- the usual trash-talking at kickoff time notwithstanding -- Beloved Spousal Unit and I rely upon Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Ed. as our handy reference. Utterances such as "A-H", "E-R" and "U-M" are old friends, and I've inherited a familiarity with the wonders of "J-O" and "Q-I" from my Scrabble-playing parents. These are all fair game according to Merriam-Webster.

Subsequently, however, my overconfidence in thinking I'd become a bona fide Scrabble person led me online to, where the game site's Scrabble-playing 'bot -- and the carbon-based life-forms that frequent the community, I might add -- immediately confronted me with nuggets of rare ore such as "A-A", "O-D", and "X-U". A thorough knowledge of two- and three-letter words is essential for a full and healthy life, granted, but "X-U"? What the bleep?

Turns out, a xu (n.) is a Vietnamese coin. Not just any Vietnamese coin, but a formerly minted Vietnamese coin, as obsolete nowadays as the English shilling (or the word "nowadays"). The plural of xu is xu, too. All of which is completely irrelevant, of course; the only thing that matters is that "X-U" somehow snuck into the Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary, 4th Ed., the standard reference used for online Scrabble. To the automated 'bot, "X-U" is as good as "C-E-N-T"; just another allowable permutation of the 26 letters of the alphabet, hence, just as likely to appear depending on the game situation. It's a great way to use two inconvenient letters in the same turn while increasing your vocabulary, thereby impressing and angering your friends.

With an arsenal full of "A-R", "P-E", and "U-T", as well as the aforementioned "X-U", I now feel vaguely qualified to respond in kind to Recovering Carbon-Based Unit K.Q.'s all-comers challenge: "You're going down, Tile-Boy!"

(Please don't hurt me.)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mr. Flash and Mr. Quiet

For weeks, we heard about The Chase. Any day now, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees was going to hit his 600th career home run in the major leagues, a huge milestone even in the steroids era. Fans anticipated; radio shows discussed, exulted, decried; ESPN broke in to its regular programming for live coverage of each of A-Rod's potentially historic at-bats. (Or is that "ats-bat"? "RsBI"?) Flashbulbs popped with each swing. A-Rod grounded out to second, or got a single. We waited.

And waited. And waited some more.

Finally, on a Wednesday night, it happened; the ball left the yard, A-Rod circled the bases, and the heavens sang. Finally, The Chase was over, and baseball fans everywhere, their supplies of food, water, and attention span nearly exhausted, were released from captivity. Never mind that if human beings had been born with four fingers on each hand, Rodriguez would have passed the 600 homers mark 216 home runs ago (Base-8 math joke, ha ha); or that the performance-enhancing drug usage that he has kinda, sorta admitted to might have goosed his career totals by, oh, I don't know, say, 216 home runs or so; 600 is still a pantaloon-load of round-trippers.

Oh, and then, four days later, Derek Jeter quietly passed Babe Ruth on the all-time career hits list. The moment passed quickly; I only knew it had happened because a note of congratulations appeared on the Yankee Stadium scoreboard, and the ESPN announcers took a break from congratulating each other on their own careers to mention it on the game telecast. Jeter modestly held his batting helmet aloft to acknowledge the crowd's applause, and then the game continued.

Um...hel-llllo! Did you hear me? Is this on [tap-tap]? I said, an actual human being, biochemically unenhanced (as far as we know), passed Babe Ruth in a major offensive category! You remember Ruth, right? Big guy? Liked hot dogs? Visited kids in hospitals? Dominated his era? Built a stadium? Most famous dude in the world, in his time? And yet, there wasn't much hype or fanfare for Jeter's accomplishment, nor a lot of drama, nor network break-ins ("breaks-in"?); just another memorable day in the outstanding professional career of the Quiet Captain of the New York Yankees. And maybe, just maybe, Jeter's dignified, Dimaggio-like celebration, just four days after A-Rod's cathartic, swaggering stagger across the finish line, was also calculated to serve as a understated, nearly undetectable dig at his limelight-seeking, headline-grabbing teammate and rival.

That's how it's always been in the Big Apple: Mr. Flash and Mr. Quiet. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson. Walt "Clyde" Frazier and Dave DeBusschere. Darryl Strawberry and Mookie Wilson. Carol Alt and Ron Greschner. (Just seeing if you were awake.) "Broadway Joe" Namath and...everyone else on the Jets. And now, A-Rod and Jeter. One draws the flashbulbs; the other just produces, and leads by example. Both are needed for championships. Both annoy the bejesus out of each other. The daily drama doesn't seem to have cost them any rings, though, and the internal competition may have even spurred them to greater heights. Piecing together a Lincoln-esque "Team of Rivals" ("Teams of Rival"?) is, after all, the Steinbrenner Way. Sports in New York.

This time, Jeter got the last laugh. So, Alex, when are you getting to 700?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My Best Shel Silverstein Impression

          Blur My Eyes
          Off to work, and to and fro
          Thinking of the world I know
          Blur my eyes, what do I see?
          Monkeys on computers, three!
          Steve works in an office tower
          Trades for profit, hour by hour
          Tracks the markets on his screens
          Makes no difference what it means
          Makes a killing, takes a loss
          Gets an earful from his boss
          Dreams of what his money buys
          Caffeine junky, bleary eyes
          Doesn’t look like too much fun –
          Monkey on computer, one!
          Joan sends email to her boys
          They don’t answer, she makes noise
          Plans their childhood, day by day
          Keeps the demon Sloth away
          Blocks them from the unapproved
          Monitors their every move
          Now they’re gone and she has fits
          Waiting for their bytes and bits
          Not a lot that she can do --
          Monkey on computer, two!
          Mike’s a blogger, has his say
          Vents his rage most every day
          Posts a comment, writes a screed
          That precious few will ever read
          Thinks the opposition’s bad
          Finds a reason to get mad
          Word by word, his time is spent
          Chasing fifty-one percent
          Blur my eyes, what do I see?
          Monkey on computer, three!
          We’re all primates, goodness knows
          All tethered up in even rows
          All trying not to get the boot
          All dressed up in our monkey suit
          But real monkeys play in trees
          And hang out with the birds and bees
          Smelling flowers, munching berries
          Raising babies, small and hairy
          Scrounging for enough to eat
          Napping in the midday heat
          Swinging from a bamboo pole
          Splashing at the water hole
          While we’re all sitting, desk and chair
          Forgetting there’s a world out there
          Blur my eyes, what do I see?
          Monkeys -- luckier than me!
          © 2010 Bob Wait

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Covert Horse

My latest guilty-pleasure TV show is Covert Affairs, on USA Network. It's like the defunct, geek-appeal series Numbers, without the math. Only this time, the clueless brother is in the field while the smarter brother is behind the scenes at headquarters. Only they're not brothers at all; rather, the field agent is a sexy, newly trained gal-agent recruit who can drive like Mario Andretti, throw an elbow like Gordie Howe, and hold a bewildered but meaningful facial expression for an extra beat whenever she processes new information like Judge Amy on Judging Amy; and the smart guy is a blind techie ops guy who gets her out of two types of trouble every three minutes, between commercials. And they're all in the CIA, not the FBI. Except that Charlie, the smarter brother in Numbers, was never actually in the FBI; he was a math professor who consulted for the FBI. And his colleague was an astronaut. And his father was Judd Hirsch, who used to be the guy in Taxi and Ordinary People; only this time the mentor is not Judd Hirsch but an ice-blond covert ops lady boss who is married to her boss, a politically connected CIA Deputy Director who is leaking information to a pretty reporter, whom the blind guy is sleeping with, while he deputy-directs a thorough shakedown of his division to stem the leak; which is why the blind guy can never answer the phone when Judge Amy needs him.

Perhaps I should have started by comparing the series to Bonanza.

Anyway, the horse comes through the wall in Covert Affairs at least twice per action sequence, which, while putting it on a par with Leverage, the statistical leader in the Implausible Moments category, is of little consequence in the realm of guilty-pleasure viewing. Piper Perabo is no Gina Bellman or Leslie Ann Warren; then again, Gina merely bowls you over with her classic beauty and Pan-European accent, assumes stock-character identities, and arranges helicopter pick-ups, whereas Piper as Annie Walker has to keep the very identity of her employer secret from her Georgetown Hausfrau sister, Amber from House, with whom she lives, only Amber isn't Amber in this series and hasn't appeared as anyone's spooky ambulatory hallucination as if she were one of John Nash's imaginary friends helping him develop the mathematics of Game Theory -- which Charlie, the smarter brother, calls upon weekly to illustrate a plot point in Numbers -- in A Beautiful Mind. At least, she hasn't yet.

Will she? Will the Deputy Director blame the leak on the blind guy, kick him to the curb, and start fooling around with the reporter himself? Will Annie Walker find love while successfully ingratiating herself with her Ice Queen boss -- who also appears in Leverage as Nate Ford's ex-wife who bailed Nate out of trouble while Gina Bellman was off having her baby, despite her lack of covert ops training and not being blind? Will Amber from House turn out to be a fellow CIA agent whose own ambulatory hallucinations involve Judd Hirsch? Most crucially, is Leslie Ann Warren -- who also played Juanita in Baja Oklahoma and Cinderella in Cinderella (A Very, Very Special Television Event), and whose star-turn in Mission Impossible set the bar for future spy-gals very, very high -- still smokin' hot?

The answers to these questions, and many more, are only a DVR box away.


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