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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My coffee obsession

I love coffee.  Okay, I don't just "love" coffee, I'm obsessed with coffee.  I would walk several miles uphill both ways for the perfect brew.  I have to have coffee every morning and just about ever evening.  I don't know when this began, in fact I can't pinpoint a specific time in my past where I said to myself, "From this moment forward, I will want to drink coffee each and every day until I die."

I didn't begin drinking coffee until I was in college at Michigan State, and back then it was only for the caffeine and not for any real enjoyment.  At the time, I had no taste in coffee, and I thought that the powdered flavored crap was actually rather fancy and classy.  I can still remember late nights boiling water in an electric water pot and mixing in that dreadful caffeinated powder.

My most intense memory of drinking coffee in college took place in March 1989: Winter term finals week.  That term, I took a political science class that dealt with the American electoral process.  Among the required reading was a book called Change and Continuity in the 1984 Elections.  Our professor warned us that about 80 percent of our final exam would come from that book.  Now had I actually read the book?  Why, of course not!  Mr. Procrastinator here had spent far too much valuable time doing God knows what (probably watching The Young and the Restless and drinking my preferred beverage of that era, beer).  The night before my final exam, I knew I had to read that entire book before the exam.  The only way to do it was to "pull an all-nighter" and the only way I was going to be able to do this was to drink copious amounts of black coffee.

I found myself a table in the Shaw Hall cafeteria, which was always open all night as a study hall, and took advantage of the free residence hall coffee that was offered during finals week.  I have no idea how many cups of coffee I drank during that all-nighter, but I would venture to guess I was guzzling anywhere between 16-24 ounces of java per hour, from about 9:00 PM until 6:00 AM...and guess what, I read that entire book, which was probably about 250 pages in length.  Not only did I read it, but I absorbed it like a sponge.  My overcharged, caffeine-saturated brain devoured that book like it was the most fascinating tome ever written by humankind.

My political science final exam was early the next morning (7:30? 8:00? I can't remember the exact time anymore).  The bad part was that by the time the final started, my caffeine buzz was wearing off and I was feeling myself get very tired.  I was fighting to keep my eyes open, and at one point in the final felt myself falling asleep at my desk.  I must have made some strange noise because a girl looked over at me with a look equal parts concern and horror.  Thankfully, I managed to stay awake through the entire final and I'll be damned if that professor didn't tell us the exact truth.  At least 80 percent of that final exam was taken from Change and Continuity in the 1984 Elections.

It was with a tremendous feeling of relief that I stumbled back to Shaw Hall from my poli sci final.  It was my last final of the term, and I had only to wait for my mom to come and pick me up from school and take me home to Caro for spring break. Unfortunately, by this point I was beginning to experience the onset of one of the most awful headaches I've ever had from lack of sleep and far too much caffeine. 

Now one might think that this headache would turn me off to coffee.  Actually, I felt as though coffee had helped to save my ass, and that's when I decided that coffee was a pretty damned good thing.  I ended up with a 4.0 on my final exam (in the MSU grading system, equivalent to an A) and received a 3.5 in the class.
It wasn't until I worked at Schuler Books in the 1990s that I developed any real taste for fine coffee, and over the years I've become a genuine coffee snob.  I absolutely refuse to drink the dreck that is our office coffee at work, and generally stop at Biggby or Starbucks while on my way to work each and every morning. (I don't like the way my homebrewed coffee tasted in travel mugs, so I'd rather buy it at a coffee shop).  My preferred drinks of choice these days are Americanos and red eyes.  An Americano is two or more shots of espresso combined with hot water (or cold water if one prefers it iced).  Red eyes are two or more shots of espresso combined with coffee.  During the summer, I ONLY drink iced coffee.  Beginning around the second week of September, I switch over to hot coffee.  It's amazing (and a little unsettling) to me how quickly I decided that it's time to switch from iced to hot coffee in the Fall, and from hot to iced coffee in the late Spring.

My wife is also a huge coffee drinker and a coffee snob on par with myself.  I joke that we are enablers and co-dependent, because we constantly suggest trips to Biggby to get coffee.  It doesn't help that we are always filling up our frequency cards, and that Biggby sends us coffee junkies email coupons that we naturally feel compelled to use.  Did I mention that we have a Biggby Coffee that is within 5 minutes walking distance from our house?

Well, that's my coffee addiction story.  I suppose that there are far worse vices one could have, so I'll be quite content to stick with coffee.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Labor Day weekend (a few weeks late posting this)

Friday night I watched the first MSU football game while putting together the foosball table my eldest son received for his birthday. (Above is a picture of yours truly, Captain Cueball, and the son taking a break during a heated foosball battle).  This continues a longstanding tradition of mine of watching the first weekend of the college football season whilst assembling a birthday present--since my son's birthday is on September 2.  For the rest of my life, the beginning of football and my son's birthday will be inextricably linked.

That's not a bad thing, since this is my favorite time of the year.  I love the end of summer and the beginning of fall.  The overlap of football and baseball seasons is also wonderful, and especially this year with the promise of my team, the Detroit Tigers, making the postseason.

I can recall how much I hated the Labor Day weekend when I was a kid.  For me, Labor Day only meant that the next day I'd have to go to school.  I remember the butterflies in the pit of my stomach, full of anxiety over the impending school year.  Of course, by the time I got to college, when Labor Day arrived I was practically dying to go back to school. 

But thinking back to those grade school/high school days, and since America seems to have such a disdain for labor these days, perhaps we should simply change the name of the holiday to School Anxiety Day.

9/11 anniversary (and aftermath)

I don't have anything pithy, remarkable, or original to say about the 9/11 anniversary.  It was a sad, strange, surreal, and scary day.  I remember that my oldest son was nine days old and I was on a "paternity leave" and staying at home with my wife.  We had a small TV in our bedroom and I groggily awoke to her watching it and saying that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  The rest of the day is a bit of a blur to me.  I do recall driving to Ypsilanti with the thought that classes somehow hadn't been canceled at Eastern Michigan.  (I'd called in the morning and someone, probably a clueless undergrad, had said that classes were still on.  Instead of calling again in the afternoon, I simply got in the car and drove to Ypsilanti.  I think deep down I knew that classes were cancelled, I just needed the catharsis of a long drive).  I'll never forget that drive to EMU (and discovering the empty commuter parking lot and that, yes--of course, classes had been called off) and the subsequent drive back to Lansing.  I've never seen I-96 and US-23 as quiet and barren as that day.  The sky was bright and sunny, mocking the horror of the day, and I drove home listening to the sports talk radio station--which had switched over to a sounding board for the confused and angry listeners to vent their feelings.  In the days and months after 9/11, I wondered what kind of world my son was going to grow up in.  It didn't seem promising.

I'd like to say that ten years later the world seems better, but it doesn't.  We have fought a war in Iraq under false pretenses, and who knows how or when the U.S. will ever get out of Afghanistan.  All of the international goodwill our country received in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 has essentially disappeared.  Meanwhile, our economy is in ruins and partisan bickering is as bad as I can ever remember it.  And you wonder why I talk about sports so much in this blog?  I need some escapism.

Farewell, R.E.M. (and some other things on my mind)

Yesterday, R.E.M quietly announced, via their website, that they were officially breaking up.  I feel a bit wistful about this:  I know it's time (and maybe has BEEN time for several years) but it feels like a part of my youth and young adulthood has "died".  I'm feeling a little bit melancholy, though I'm happy that they can at least call it quits on a creative and critical upswing.  Their last two albums (Accelerate and Collapse Into Now) were quite good.  Anyway, R.E.M left the scene the same way they spent their time in the scene: with grace and understatement.  Godspeed, R.E.M. You were part of the soundtrack of my life.

Also yesterday, in news that is quite a bit more important than R.E.M.'s breakup, Troy Davis was executed in Georgia.  I have to admit that I had no idea who he was until recently, when the controversy over his murder conviction and impending execution became front page news.  After reading about this case, it seems quite obvious that there was extreme doubt concerning his guilt--in fact it seems like a complete miscarriage of justice.  I have heard of way too many examples of people who have been given the death penalty when there was flimsy or questionable evidence regarding their guilt.  Two prominent examples that come to mind immediately are the West Memphis Three and Randall Adams (whose case was presented in the outstanding documentary, The Thin Blue Line). Thankfully, the West Memphis Three and Randall Adams were spared.  In any case, one life lost to the death penalty because of a faulty conviction is one life too many.  The death penalty needs to be abolished.

And now for something completely different.  I'm astounded that my post featuring Ron Swanson's speech (from Parks and Recreation) has garnered 950 views, based on Blogger's statistics.  I'm sure those people were then disappointed to see how boring the rest of my blog is!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Those Amazing Detroit Tigers

Remember that "glass is half empty" comment that I made about the Detroit Tigers last week? Wow, was I wrong!  What this team has accomplished the last few weeks, and particularly during this 12-game winning streak they just added to moments ago, is nothing short of amazing.

I wrote in a Facebook post that I haven't had this much fun watching baseball since 1984 (although the Tigers' charge to the division title in 1987 was fun, as was their improbable American League pennant win in '06).

This team doesn't quit.  Today's win over Chicago was a perfect case in point.  Down the entire game, they calmly tied it up in the ninth on Ryan Raburn's solo homer and Alex Avila's clutch 2-run blast.  When the Sox threatened in the bottom of the ninth with the mercury-quick Juan Pierre dancing off third base with only one out, naturally these magical Tigers got A.J. Pierzynski to ground into an inning ending double play.  Not even Ramon Santiago momentarily bobbling Pierzynski's hot grounder was enough to prevent the Tigers pulling off another Houdini escape act.  Pierzynski, in sheer frustration, punished his batting helmet with a few angry kicks--which seemed to encapsulate the entire disappointing Chicago White Sox season.

Okay, at this moment I need to point out that, officially, the Tigers have neither clinched the AL Central nor clinched a playoff spot, though with the "magic number" currently at 4(ish), it would take divine intervention for either the Sox or Indians to overtake them, and with the way the Tigers are crushing everyone in their wake, and the fashion in which the Sox and Indians are fading, let's face it folks, it ain't gonna happen.  The Tigers are going to win the AL Central, probably in the next day or so.

So how are the Tigers doing it?  Obviously they have lots of great star players--and plenty of role players who are contributing.  Justin Verlander is going to win the AL Cy Young Award with the incredible season he's having, Miguel Cabrera is his usual excellent self, and others like Alex Avila, Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, and (the injured and out for the rest of the season) Brennan Boesch all have had great years at the plate.  Ramon Santiago has established himself as the man at second base, and though he still strikes out too much, Austin Jackson is one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game.

At this point, I'd like to tip my hat to the overly criticized GM Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland.  Yes, Dombrowski has made some questionable to bad moves in the past, but this year he gets all A's for the masterful deals he made.  Picking up Wilson Betemit, Delmon Young, and Doug Fister--genius moves.  Leyland has been taking heat all season, mainly from certain local sports talk hosts who shall remain nameless.  Funny how this criticism has waned in the last few weeks.  It's true that some of Leyland's managerial decisions are head scratchers (i.e. not starting Verlander in the pivotal August series against Cleveland--Tigers swept the Indians so it didn't matter, and sitting certain star players at seemingly odd times).  Leyland deserves credit for wisely preserving his players to make this incredible September push, and the role players have enough gametime experience to allow them to make major contributions down the stretch.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The third time I've tried to post this. UGH!!!

I have tried twice to post an entry about the Fall football season, only to notice that Blogger had updated its interface and wasn't allowing me to post anything the old way.  AAAARRRRGGGHHH!!!!!

Okay, here's an even more brief overview of what I was going to write.  Fall is upon us and its time for college football and baseball pennant races.  I remain glass is half empty regarding the chances of the MSU Spartan football team, the Detroit Lions, and the Detroit Tigers.

Post script: Could I have possibly been any more WRONG about the Tigers.  Wow, what a finish to the regular season!  And the Detroit Lions--they are off to a great start in the regular season and may yet make a believer out of me.  As for the MSU Spartan football team--the jury is still out.