A strange and unfamiliar feeling

I watched the Civil War with fingers crossed for Oregon, and when they won, it was… what’s the word? Fun.

No strokes, no rage, no elevated blood pressure, just enjoyment of a good game.

But it got worse. I called my brother, an Oregon alum, and we cast aspersions at James Rodgers, and discussed the sheer un-Oregonness of not collapsing at the key moment. I said I was looking forward to the Rose Bowl, and I meant it.

Is this what it was like before the Mongol Horde came roaring out of the Coliseum under the Khan Carroll? I think it was. It’s no bad trade for an exasperating season.

(But they’d better improve next season so I don’t have to maintain the image of mature enjoyment of the sport…)

Last weekend’s theme song: Washington State

I felt bad for Washington State this past weekend. Not bad enough to stay at home and watch the game as penance, but bad because even though SC called the hounds off, it was Wazoo’s worst loss in decades and the end of a home-game-scoring streak theretofore alive since 1984.

So plainly the only appropriate theme song would be something that sounded like they were singing about something good while describing this thing as complete crap… ladies and gentlemen, I give you the masters of singing about how wonderful the UK can be:

Recherche du temps Tuscaloo

Having inherited family traits of depressive moping and obsessive compulsiveness, I make every effort to lead an unexamined life – who needs that constant reminder of everything that’s gone wrong?

And yet this morning, a brief flash of memory while shaving answered two mysteries for me.

The first mystery is my preference for SEC football. Conference rivalries are supposed to be all consuming, but I revel in the madness of the top-end of the SEC, as opposed to the near-random variability of the Pac 10 when teams can completely change their complexion from week to week.

The second mystery is why I am such complete putty in the hands of southern belles. I mean, beyond the obvious fact that so many of them are charming and so on, but still… I used to work with a woman from South Carolina who had deliberately taken on a neutral-ish mid-Atlantic mien to avoid being treated as if she were stupid. Since I’m not dead, I was aware that she was an attractive woman – but when she demonstrated her use of her “actual” accent to persuade people to let her off the hook from something, I was ready to leave home. Fortunately the missus arrived home before I finished packing my bags, I regained my senses, and order resumed.

It’s not that either of these phenomena is unusual in the global sense; it’s the “why me” part that remained unclear – or least it did until I was shaving this morning and something reminded me of the source. When I was but a little DC Trojan and we lived in Holland, my parents had friends (he was a career NCO in the Army) who were from Alabama. They presented me with my first college football t-shirt – though to this day I remember experiencing great confusion about what a Crimson Tide was, and why you would need to involve an elephant. And they had a very cute teenaged daughter who used to babysit me and my brother sometimes… and now that I think about it, the adults were plainly laughing at how I was completely smitten with what seemed like a very exotic blonde southern-ness about her.

So it’s all clear now. The Akins set me on a path, but I was redirected by my father getting a job in California, and I didn’t even know it at the time. Still, given the state of my blood pressure and so on, perhaps it’s as well I didn’t end up in SEC country. Between the football rage and the fried food, I’d be dead already. (Better that than life in the ACC, though.)

15 songs that mattered

This is the extended disco mix of the list I left over in the comments at Doug’s splendid blog, in response to his presentation of 15 songs that mattered to him. What I’ve listed below is not in any way an exhaustive list, but it does capture a few moments in time.

  1. Wings – Band on the Run. On heavy rotation for years in the car and the house, it reminds me of being in the back of a Peugeot 405 wagon in both Wales and Holland, like nothing else.
  2. Boomtown Rats – Rat Trap. One of the first cassettes I ever owned, put on endless repeat when I was supposed to be sleeping at my grandparents’ house on the Christmas I received it.
  3. The Police – Message in a Bottle. “Roxanne” wasn’t that big a hit in Europe, but I remember seeing the video on Top Pop (Hilversum 1 represent!) and even though I didn’t really know what these proto-new wave kids in the video were about, it seemed like a real change in popular music – this was when punks were still considered beneath public consumption, I suppose.
  4. Ultravox – Vienna. Certainly not the first concept video I ever saw, but a step more ambitious than others I remember, and I also really liked the song. Plus, my brother who couldn’t have been older than 4, thought the chorus started, “Oh, piano,” which I still fill in when I hear the song now.
  5. The Jam – Town Called Malice. It’s just a great song. In later years I would really get into the Jam’s back catalog, but this was an insanely catchy hit and I just loved it. The fact that it’s a shining example of people singing about how shit the UK was didn’t really sink in until later, but that has only increased its appeal. And the UK was shit in the late 70s and early 80s.
  6. Flock of Seagulls – I ran. Even though I had heard it when it came out in Europe, this song will forever remind me of the first couple of months that we lived in California – driving to school from Port Hueneme to Camarillo, across the Oxnard Plain, past miles of farms, baking in California sun like nothing I’d ever seen and listening to this in heavy rotation on the Mighty 690.
  7. Pet Shop Boys – West End Girls. The video was one of the first signs of the speed of change of Thatcher’s Britain as the recession of the early 80s ended. I remember watching that and thinking that only 3 years had gone by, and Britain had changed a lot. I loved the song, but it still gives me the same sense of being slightly sad about truly having left the UK and Holland behind. Oddly enough, I know that I’d had that same sense in person in 1984 when we went back for the first time from the States, but for whatever reason, this song is emblematic of it in a different way. Sometime between 1984 and 1986 I went from being an ex-pat to an immigrant, and that was philosophically a weird shift. West End Girls reminds me of the shift.
  8. The Cult – She Sells Sanctuary. Just as my purchase of “No Sleep til Hammersmith” right before moving to the States in 1982 was indicative of a break with buying only what I saw on Top 40 shows, this song was the beginning of the end for a time when I listened to bad heavy metal and pretended that I didn’t like songs by Prince. Oddly enough, it was also a bridge to the two official malcontents in my (very small) high school class – they were a bit surprised that the conformist dork actually listened to something slightly out of the usual.
  9. The Cure – Why Can’t I be you?. Aside from being a truly magnificent example of what the Cure could do when they got their pop on, it reminds me of the summer between junior and senior year in high school, of finally having a car, and being able to go sit on the beach with friends whenever the hell it seemed like a good idea. Living in a commuter town 35 miles from all my friends was no way to spend high school, at least not the way I did it at the time.
  10. Jane’s Addiction – Mountain Song. I could have filled the list just with songs from my first year in college, but this remains the one that I destroyed my vocal chords to, in the privacy of my car. Despite the presence of at least 50 LAPD officers (there had been a stabbing at the show the night before), their concert at the Ford Amphitheater in LA remains one of the most electrifying shows I’ve ever seen.
  11. Sonic Youth – Kool thing. I listened to a lot of hip-hop in the late 80s and early 90s, but there was a lot of nonsense that went along with the content. This was a welcome change of pace, a great propulsive song, and the presence of Chuck D was the cherry atop the sarcastic cake. (Along with “Kings of the Wild Frontier,” it also turned out to be a favorite song in common with Mrs DC Trojan, but I was a few years out from meeting her at the time.)
  12. Primal Scream – Higher than the sun. Purchased at the old Tower Records on Sunset, a chance buy before it was an official “alternative must have.” Also reminiscent of shenanigans with a young lady, but that’s neither here nor there.
  13. Goldie Presents Metalheadz – Inner city Life. I got on the electronica bandwagon with a vengeance in the 90s. There was an independent store in Providence that specialized in obscure imports where I picked up the Counterforce CD that this song comes from. I know I spent more time listening to Dubnobasswithmyheadman, but this track was the shit for me for some time.
  14. Super Furry Animals – Wherever I lay my phone (that’s my home). I am a huge fan of the Super Furry Animals. Guerilla was the first CD of theirs that I bought, and it was like a breath of fresh air. This was the song they started live shows with for a while, and it’s just generally fab. It also supplemented “Stickshifts and Safety Belts” by Cake as “our song” between me and Mrs DC Trojan.
  15. Leftfield – Phat Planet. Even though “The Last Broadcast” by Doves was the soundtrack of being a new father after the fact, this song was the exit track from being childless. Our older daughter was late, and Mrs DC Trojan was scheduled to go in for an induction. She went to the obstetrician for a final check, and the baby’s heart rate was irregular, so she was promptly sent to the hospital. I had been wrapping some things up at work but bolted as soon as I heard about this. As I was making my way up 16th St and not entirely obeying the speed limit, this was what I was listening to, and it is inseparable from that moment. Thirty six hours later, after 24 hours of labor and an unscheduled c-section, I had learnt that my wife is made of even sterner stuff that I had thought, and I had been hit with an emotional freight train the first time I held my daughter. I didn’t think it was possible to love someone so much, so quickly, far less have it happen twice.

Of racehorses and racecars

Since I don’t follow horse-racing, the salient detail from the press about the on-track euthanization of Eight Belles was that I found myself agreeing with Sallie Jenkins – not a frequent occurrence. However, I think she was quite right that Eight Belles’ fate was in no way unrelated to the breeding paradigm for elite horse racing.

The analogy I make, for my own simple understanding, is that breeding race horses is rather like building a Formula 1 racing car: the parts that give speed are allowed to grow, but weight must be saved somewhere else. In breeding terms, it’s by selecting for skinny legs and ankles, and in racing terms, it’s keeping weight, especially unsprung weight to a minimum. There’s a reason that there are safety requirements for drivers’ areas in the cars, or else they’d still be sitting on cushions in the middle of the fuel tanks and counting on being thrown clear for survival. But I digress.

At the risk of sounding unsentimental, it’s no surprise that horses break down periodically – and while spectators may recoil at the prospect of a horse being put down on the spot, it’s part and parcel of the sport. If you’re there, you’re part of that culture, even if the mercy killings bother you. Still, it’s surely better to be upset about an animal’s suffering than to be one of the yahoos who watches car racing for the crashes, which could easily result in the death of one or more humans.

To which end, I’ve picked a couple of crashes from Formula 1 to illustrate the point about selecting parts to be light for speed and how it can all  go wrong – but in both cases, the driver walked away.

NFL Sedatives and other miscellany

The aged parents are in town from the west coast to spoil the grandchildren, which means a sudden spike in NFL football on the telly here at Estancia DC Trojan. I usually watch the professional game only as a last resort on a Sunday or Monday evening. After enjoying their initial bafflement at everything being on at a different time of day, and horror at being forced to watch the Ravens instead of a good game, it became clear that the aged parents really prefer this tedium. I decided to give it a go to be sociable.

All I got out of the experience was irritation that Eli Manning remains employed despite being a passenger in the Giants’ win. This may have been amplified by the fact that I would have preferred to see Buffalo win, but there you go.

Other odds and ends:

  • The five minutes of the Milan derby I managed to catch, showed off better footy than most Premier league games.
  • The closest I got to English footy today was seeing Chelsea – Blackburn that was on a big screen in a pub across the street from the Baja Fresh where we were feeding the kids lunch. They not be as good as the Milans, but that was a little too far a remove. Must try harder on Boxing Day.
  • Who would have thought that UCLA’s offensive line can protect their kicker long enough to make 50+ yard field goals, but not prevent a block on a chip shot for a bowl win? Other than anyone who’s seen them play all year, or not me, that is.
  • Other UCLA questions: why is McLeod Bethel-Thompson-McAvoy-Bechtel-Anderson-Coopers-Lybrand more convincing as a pocket passer than their starters? Why does their genuinely talented defensive corps feel compelled to flag-monger on 98% of their plays?
  • Tangentially related to UCLA: any truth to the rumor that Mike Bellotti’s revised contract with Oregon included reinstatement to the local country club for his lovely wife? Anyone else disappointed she’s not heading south to take on the LA press corps, seconds out? Oh well.
  • Thistle71 reminded me that Anderson’s performance today for the Browns was a reminder of why the Oregon faithful – when Anderson played for Oregon State – fondly referred to him as “Anderception.”
  • The missus and I went out for an early-ish dinner sans offspring this evening, which was delightful. However, the ration of shit I took afterwards for buying “High Voltage” by AC/DC was impressive in its succinct and deflating focus: “I can’t believe you’re buying that. What decade is this again?”
  • I’m listening to said CD as I type this, and it’s frankly like Status Quo as re-imagined by antipodean delinquents. That’s somewhat unfair though, as Status Quo would never have come up with the glory of the bagpipe solo on “It’s a long way to the top (if you wanna rock and roll). Just saying.

If you’re inclined to observe winter solstice celebrations, good luck to you with that. I’m asking Santa for a successful debut of the rat trap that I’m about to set in the garage for whatever rodent is eating rat bait and not dying. Goodwill to all men, but not to disease spreading rat fucks and other furry horrors.

Best of luck to all my non-vermin readers. All 12 24 (thanks Wikipedia) of you, like an advent calendar of blog-consumption.

The Blunt End of Scottish Football

Some people like to go to titty bars for a bachelor party, or play golf and smoke cigars. Others like to get a taste of the windswept futility of Scottish First Division football. The other weekend, I completed my duties as the best man for my brother by part-funding a trip to McDiarmid Stadium in Perth to see Partick Thistle (the club who gave him his online handle of Thistle71) take on St Johnstone. This post is a record of that excursion.

A Little Football Background

Partick Thistle is akin to the Non-aligned Movement for Glaswegian football fans who don’t want to support the traditional Old Firm powers of Rangers and Celtic. Some people claim allegiance simply to have an answer to the question “who do you support?” – my father, for instance, who doesn’t really care about football, has ‘supported’ Thistle since his days at the Glasgow High School in the 1950s, when association football was banned and rugby union was the order of the day. My brother chose to support them so that he could maintain some family peace (a Glasgow team supported) but avoid the sectarian nonsense.

St Johnstone is the only team in the British Isles to have the letter “J” in their name. They have a modern – new in 1989, at any rate – stadium on the outskirts of Perth. If there was a nearby pub, we didn’t see it.

Evolution of the Dream

My brother and (now) sister in law decided when they got engaged that they wanted to get married in Edinburgh. The main reasons: an excuse for a family reunion on our side that hasn’t happened since the missus and I were hitched 10 years ago, and a springboard to a European honeymoon including their birthplaces – Germany for her, and Holland for him. I was asked to be best man, which I think was to keep me from getting my feelings hurt when my daughters were taken on as flower girls. Suffice to say that they looked better in their dresses than I did in my kilt.

As best man for a wedding happening in another country, it became clear that the only way I could make myself useful was to arrange some sort of bachelor excursion. This presented a small challenge, for reasons that will become clear.

On the one hand, the rehearsal lunch and wedding were happening squarely in a part of Edinburgh known as the Pubic Triangle for the strip clubs. On the other hand, it was possible that the bride-to-be’s priest friend, who was to officiate at the wedding, would be joining us, and also we were genuinely afraid of what we might see in those clubs. Not for nothing has Scotland attained the distinction of being the fattest country after the US, and it’s not clear that the influx of attractive, hard-working Poles would be reflected in the city’s more naked bars. Plainly some of the more traditional breastacular entertainment might have to be stricken from the list of options. So a football game it was to be, a mixed blessing of sorts…

The first obvious choice was a local game, but that would have been Rangers at Hearts, and the prospect of a 90 minute competition to see who could chant “Fuck the Pope” louder seemed iffy. Plus my brother loathes Rangers and Hearts. After some back and forth, he admitted that what he really wanted was to see the Jags play St Johnstone. Fine.

Getting to The Game

It became clear that getting any sort of firm commitment from people not related to us was impossible, so an informed decision was taken: we would wing it on the day.

The brain trust (i.e., my father and I) decided it might be easier to get a van and driver to take everyone to the game and back, rather than splitting the group across a couple of cars and hoping that no-one (i.e., me) got lost. We duly hired on a driver from the local taxi service, not knowing that we would get someone who, while conscientious, would consistently make the wrong decision when faced with a split in the road when he was more than 15 miles from home base – note that Perth was 90 miles or so away. It also emerged that the priest had been called out on taxi service, so not only did we not need the bus, we needn’t have worried about sectarian chanting. Never mind, onwards!

We took the scenic route into Edinburgh to collect my brother and a friend of his, passing the faithful streaming into Tynecastle for the Hearts – Rangers match. At one point, a police van drove by that was sporting a wire screen that could be lowered over the windshield in the event of a ruckus. Serious business, hostile looking fans – even (especially?) the women and children. The scarves were no affectation, it wasn’t warm. Skirting the grumpy Protestants, we collected my cousin’s boyfriend, whom I presume had been unable to secure tickets for the Rangers match* (despite the fact that he doesn’t eat raw meat and wear a bowler hat, he’s a Gers fan.)

Since none of us had more specific directions for McDiarmid Stadium than “it’s right off the M90,” we were entirely unprepared when the van driver took the the wrong split off the M90 and we ended up on Dundee Road – a good start for the scenic route through downtown Perth, but nowhere near the bloody stadium.

Consultations with the locals got us to within spitting distance of the stadium, only to end up on the ramp onto the M90 going the wrong way. A few minutes later, we had got back and taken up position in the visiting fans’ car park, the first arrivals. Any thoughts of trying to find a pub before the game had been dismissed, and it never occurred to us to get some (warm) beer from another source.

An American rediscovers the cash economy…

While we were eating sandwiches, pies, hula hoops, scotch eggs, half-covereds, and other healthy light snacks, it occurred to me that perhaps my plan of paying with a credit card might have a flaw – this didn’t exactly look like the kind of place that took plastic. One consultation with an amused parking attendant later, I discovered that people paid individually at the turnstile and it was cash only. I had assumed that I could pay for everyone in one go with a credit card. Fuck. Easily solved though, since we were on the superstore fringe of Perth…

One dash to the Super Tesco across the motorway ramp later, I was cashed up, and we were off.

(I should note that the stadium and parking were incredibly well organized, and the half-wits who set up FedEx Field, for instance, could learn a lot about how to funnel people into and out of a stadium.)

(I should also note that I actually got all my change back from the other attendees, which is a testament to their fine character. My uncle insisted on paying for the van driver to join us, which was sporting of him, though a wasted effort as you’ll see later.)

The Warm-up

warming-up.JPG

A wasted effort…

While the players were warming up, I was watching the crowd, a mixed bag at best. My personal favorite was a group of 4 guys in designer shirts and jeans, fairly fit, and when one of them opened his mouth he had perhaps 3 front teeth. Jesus.

In the meantime, a whopping 2900 people filed into the packed stadium…
empty-stadium.JPG

It turned out that the locals were all sheltering until kick-off

The Game

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The first half in one picture: the Jags forwards and midfielders observe from a safe distance

Jesus wept, and smacked the baby orphans in his distress. Taken as a whole, it was dire, or possibly diabolical, and that’s only because the second half raised the bar a bit from the first half. The Jags’ manager described it thus:

It is perhaps for the best that no Irn-Bru apparatchiks overheard Ian McCall’s assessment of the entertainment value in Perth on Saturday afternoon.

“It was a crap game,” offered the Partick Thistle manager unprompted after mooching into the media room. “I don’t want to watch football like that – it was rubbish.”

<snip>

“For 80 minutes today it was an absolutely shocking game of football,” he reiterated. “It should have been a 0-0 draw; it was absolutely rubbish to watch. There was a lack of spark in the whole game and after watching Scotland I thought that was dreadful.”

His gloom briefly dissipated as Thistle – hitherto hapless in attack – threatened a late riposte. Liam Buchanan, whose interval introduction at least occupied the home back three, was awarded a goal after the ball rattled against him in the area as he foraged for scraps.

But that was about as good as it got, despite Owen Coyle, the St Johnstone manager’s protestations to the contrary. Murray claimed a late penalty when Gary Irvine carelessly stumbled into him but the disenchanted McCall was not even in the mood to claim it.

“The boys are saying it was a definite penalty,” he admitted. “But I was quite a long way from it and players have been known to lie about these things before . . .”

…and there’s nothing much more I can say than that, except that the second St Johnstone goal was a cracker – of which more anon.
The Partick fans proved to be worth the price of admission – £17 or $34, if you’re curious. At any rate, they were much more entertaining than the 22 eejits wandering around the pitch.

There was a small group behind us who were “singing;” about halfway through the first half I realized that there were “tunes” to the shrieking, if you listened closely enough. There were a fair few kids, and when the choir started effing and blinding, an aggrieved individual shouted out, “Hey, nae swearing, there’s kids here.” To no avail. They only paused when they got the occasional glare from the local policeman who was stationed in the section.

Other banter… the referee was giving all the marginal fouls against Partick, so that when he finally penalized St Johnstone, someone behind me shouted, “Are you sure about that, ref? Are you sure?” After one egregious foul by a St Johnstone player that resulted in a Partick free kick, the same person shouted out,”You’re still a wanker, ref!” There’s no pleasing some people.

Half time meant a mad dash for pies and Bovril – not for your faithful correspondent, but others including the groom-to-be seemed to be enjoying them. Thistle71 also tried to deflect any responsibility for this by suggesting to the group at large that I had completely misunderstood his request “to see a bunch of fannies.”

At this point, the prospect of seeing two-tonne Tessie gyrating with a pie in one hand and a cigarette out the other wasn’t as frightening as it had seemed the night before. (A flawed vision, since smoking in pubs has been outlawed in Scotland, but not naked wobbling.)

Trying to get that image out of my head, I told the van driver that he’d have been better off staying in his van and listening to another game on the radio. He didn’t laugh.

Then we were distracted by the stadium announcer – some soft southern English git who had been forced to put down his shandy and get on the field. He made various witty remarks as three 10 year olds showed more skill scoring goals than any of the alleged professionals. The choristers behind us alternated between requests to “fuck off you English cunt” and “sign the wee boys!” – but the transfer window is closed, and I doubt anyone knows the work rules or the appropriate fee for a player on an under-12 team…

After half time, a group of young ladies walked by with the remaining pies, accompanied by one male youth. Cue shouts of “you lucky wee bastard” and assorted abuse, met by the response, “Haud on, he might not be a St Johnstone fan you know.” Very fair minded.

Oh, the second half of the game? Well, there was a small breakout of football and the result was three goals – only one of which was scored by Partick. As noted above, the second St Johnstone goal was the best – a Partick defender had completed a magnificent tackle on a charging Saint, but it fell to the feet of another St Johnstone player who shot an unsaveable ball past the splendidly named Jonny Tuffy. Tuffy later came out to field a ball outside the box, with hopes of passing it forward. However, he almost had it nicked from him while he was trying to find an open player, narrowly missing giving up a goal… how the Saints fans laughed. My cousin’s boyfriend nearly lost his pie and Bovril while trying not to laugh – we were in the away section, after all.

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God that’s criminal – could we not lock them up for this?

You remember my little joke to the van driver about listening to another game on the radio? Apparently he agreed because at some point during the second half I looked over and he had buggered off, unable to take it any more.

In Summary…

I can’t say that this was the best game of football that I ever saw. Overall, Partick’s midfielder Stevie Murray seemed to be the best player on the pitch for the Jags, but he’s listed – generously – at 5′ 4″ and that wasn’t helping matters. The defense did all right, but the rest of the midfield and the strikers were shocking.

However. For all that I’ve gone on about what a crap game it was, and haven’t mentioned the, ah, brisk conditions, it was a good day out. We had a laugh, my brother got to do exactly what he wanted in the run up to the wedding (I missed the evening agenda of multiple pints of 80 shilling – Turkish chippy fish supper – Irn Bru and vodka cocktails, one of the real benefits of having young children), and we put a few quid into the Perthshire economy. God help me, I’d do it again, but this time I’m driving – I could have got lost far more cheaply and efficiently, and the taxi was a waste of my rented Alfa Romeo…

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*Incidentally, the Rangers – Hearts game was a 6 goal thriller, and my brother’s friend who decided to freelance his football watching enjoyed being there to no end. Lightweight.