I’ve Got a Bone to Pick With Line Scofflaws

January 17, 2014

We all know that society is breaking down completely, and that it’s a matter of time before the whole world is just one big every-man/woman-for him/herself, free-for-all place, dominated by the shrewdest opportunists, but until we reach that complete state of unbridled mayhem, I still think we are obligated to obey a few common courtesies, without which these reprobates to which I refer are simply doing what they can to speed along the demise of the entire civilized world.

I speak now of those of us who are constantly, with their narcissistic, me-first ways, trying to tear the rest of us down, just a tiny bit at a time by screwing up the lines we all wait in on a daily basis.

There are almost too many lines to address individually, so let me hit on just a few:

1) All of us have been riding along on a 2 or 3-lane road when we encounter a sign that says something like “Right Lane Closed Ahead”. We glance down the road a bit, and indeed we can see that the right lane has cones, possibly a repair truck or two, and men in it. Most people dutifully make their way immediately into one or more of the left lanes, so that all cars can make it past the temporary obstacle. But there are always the people who, taking advantage of the fact the right lane has no one in it, drive all the way down that lane to the point of obstruction and then turn on their left blinker, plaintively looking to the approaching cars with this “I didn’t KNOW the lane was blocked” look on their face.

[Author’s Note: It has been pointed out to me by a knowledgeable source, that the above action, which I have now decried, is, in fact, the manner in which the various state Departments of Transportation prefer this situation be handled. The right lane occupants should continue through to the point of the obstruction and proceed to turn on blinkers and “zipper in” to the left lane. Apologies. I substitute the following scenario:]

Three lanes in one direction with one lane being clearly marked as a “turn-only” lane by virtue of several arrows painted  in the 400 yards or so leading to the upcoming intersection to one direction or the other. The other two lanes are back up due to heavy volume on the road. So scofflaw proceeds all the way down almost to the intersection, at which time the plaintive “I didn’t know it was a turn lane” look is used by the violator, along with the blinker, which upsets the people who have been waiting in the backed up line, as well as those now unable to turn right or left until the “bad guy” has been allowed to merge.

I, for one, can muster up complete peripheral blindness and hug the bumper of the car in front of me, while simultaneously wishing that everyone behind me will do the same, thereby teaching this “jackleg” (as my sweet mother used to refer to such people) a lesson. But inevitably a kinder person than I in the line behind me lets them in, and I say THIS to that “kind” person–you are every bit as much responsible for the societal breakdown to which I refer as the jackleg him or herself is.

Why? Because you have done nothing to dissuade the jackleg from repeating that act in the future, again allowing our society to be broken to pieces, one small bit at a time. Don’t let them over folks. Make them sit there until the crew quits for the night.

2) At concerts and sporting events, there are the crucial breaks in the action where virtually everyone makes a run for the bathroom. I cannot speak for the ladies, but in the men’s bathrooms, there is typically an ingress point, where everyone queues up to take their turns at the urinals, and then a separate egress point, where everyone exits once they have finished and (hopefully) washed their hands.

If only it were always just so. There are multiple versions of line breakdowns — there is the guy who walks past the line looking at the stalls (does he need to go #2 or does he just like extra privacy for one small reason or another?). All of the civilized people are thinking, it doesn’t matter WHAT your purpose is, buddy, you are breaking in line. The fact you would prefer a stall is immaterial. Inevitably, a urinal will open up while he is standing in the immediate area, and he just TAKES it. Why he is not summarily beaten to death, I do not know. But it is generally tolerated.

The second is the guy who wanders in from the EGRESS side of the facility, looking as though he has no earthly idea that he is coming in the wrong side (despite the fact there was a sign outside the door that said EXIT ONLY). Once he enters the facility and sees the long line on the other side of the facility, does he walk out the door he has just entered and walk around to the other side? Of course not! He simply stands there, trying to muster up a befuddled look, until a urinal opens, at which point he quickly jumps in there, and then rushes out the other side, typically without bothering to wash his hands, lest someone deliver a comeuppance speech.

Then there is the last and most annoying breakdown. That comes when the music, or game, has clearly started back up, and then a catch-as catch-can melee ensues, with all forms of protocol tossed aside, as everyone muscles themselves into a spot to pee, without regard for any form of integrity.

3) The line that in most grocery stores used to say “10 (or 15) Items or Less”. We all saw the inconsiderate men or women who saw how long the other checkout lines were, and took their cart (with some 25 or possibly more) items in it and jammed it into the express lane. They might have even offered up a lame “I’m sorry if I am over by a couple” as they approach the checkout person. Occasionally there might even be the bold person that “called out” the violator, causing all Hell to break loose and possibly even requiring the intervention of a manager.

Nowadays the sign says (at least in the stores I frequent here in Atlanta) “About 15 items”. In other words, the chains have simply acknowledged, and even encouraged, the societal breakdown to go forward. Weary of the interventions and the fights between the seniors on senior day, they simply threw up their hands and said “We give up. YOU decide what’s right and wrong.”

I think if we all band together a little, we can at least slow this erosion down somewhat. No, you don’t have to take it when the selfish jackleg tries to cut a line corner and inconvenience the rest of us who have dutifully followed the rules. I have often wished there were a way that they could be tazed, or perhaps that a large hole could open up and swallow them up into the pits of Hell. Until such a day comes, we have to lock arms and do what we can to keep the bubble gum and baling wire on the small bit of civility we have left in this world. It is our duty.

I’ve Got a Bone to Pick with USA Today

November 25, 2013

I have always loved the USA Today newspaper. This irritated my father (RIP) to no end. He thought I should be reading the NY Times or the WSJ. Just like he thought I should have dumped my subscription to Rolling Stone and picked one up for the New Yorker. He may have even thrown out that line about it being time to “give up childish things”. I ignored him, of course.

The USA Today had/has the best sports section of any newpaper. Certainly it was light years beyond anything ever produced by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and that is/was a fine paper. But I am a man who loves his sports, and so I insisted on getting that paper delivered. I also enjoyed the other sections, although not quite so much. I liked the “purple section” (Life) on Fridays, because it had very well-written movie reviews and I am a big fan of the movies.

I subscribed to the paper for home delivery for well over 20 years. But the internet, as we all know, has been the death knell for many printed publications, which is why we see more and more newspapers and publishing companies going out of business. I fought giving up my subscription for a long time, but ultimately, I decided it had gotten too expensive, and I could get all the sports infomration I needed in a nanosecond from the internet.

So when my subscription was starting to run out, they started sending the obligatory notices “Renew NOW for the best rates!” or “Your subscription will run out shortly, so we suggest you renew it today”

I did what I have always done when I no longer wanted to receive a publication. I simply ignored the notices. I said to myself “Well I am not renewing, so they’ll stop sending them when the current subscription runs out.”

But the date came and went, and I kept getting the paper. I thought,”well maybe my carrier hasn’t gotten the word. USA Today will figure it out though, and it will stop soon”.

Only it didn’t. So after a few more weeks, I called the paper and told the guy in subscriptions “I just wanted to let you know that I let my subscription lapse, but you’re still sending me papers.” The guy on the other end of the line tries to talk me into renewing, saying things like “I see here you have been a long-time loyal subscriber Mr. Beeland. We can spread the payments out if you would like.” And I just said, “No. No thanks. I just want to end the subscription. But it’s been a great run, and I have really enjoyed reading it all these years.”

Kind of a melancholy moment as I said goodbye to an old friend.

Then about two weeks later I get a bill for something like $26.47.

So I called the subscription department, and the conversation went something like this:

John: Yes, I just received a bill from you for $26.47, even though I stopped my subscription at the ned of the last cycle. Why is that?

USA Today: Well I see here that you still received a number of papers after the subscription lapsed.

John: Yes, that’s right, I thought that was simply an oversight on your part. I figured you would catch the error and stop sending me papers when you didn’ get my renewal.

USA Today: No sir. When you kept receiving papers, you should have notified us.

John: No, that’s not the way it works. When you sent me the renewal notices, multiple times, and I didn’t respond, that meant I no longer wanted to subscribe.

USA Today: Well you can’t just continue getting free issues like that, sir.

John: I never intended to get free issues. As I told you, I intentionally let the subscription lapse. So the fact I kept getting them was your fault, not mine.

USA Today: Well I will make a notation on your account, sir.

John: So you’re taking the charge off, then?

USA Today: Well, no sir. You continued to receive the issues and didn’t notify us.

John: May I speak to your supervisor, please?

Supervisor gets on the phone, and we basically go all the way through the same rigmarole all over again.

Supervisor: We can’t just give you these free issues, sir.

John: You don’t seem to understand how the publishing industry works. If you send me a renewal notice, and I don’t send it back with my check, the subscription then comes to an end. The fact that you kept sending me papers is your error, not mine.

Supervisor: Well we will make a notation on your account, sir.

John: So you’re removing the charge?

Supervisor: No sir, we are making a note of how you feel about the situation.

John: How? By putting a little frowny face next to my name? I guess I need to go up one more level.

Supervisor’s Supervisor: How may I help you sir?

Explanation (with sharp tone of agitation) ensues.

SS: Well it was really on you to call us.

John: Baloney. I have been subscribing to this newspaper for over 20 years. It is quite clear who is in the wrong here, and it is not I.

SS: Well sir, I can remove the charge this one time, but I will have to notate that on your account.

John: How are you gonna do that? With a big growling dog emoticon and the number 1 next to it?

SS: There’s no need for sarcasm, sir.

John: I have been on the phone with you people for over 20 minutes, so I think there is an excessive need for sarcasm, actually.

SS: So will that be all, sir?

John: It will if you have removed the charge? Did you remove it?

SS: Yes sir.

John: Then yes, that will be all.

I’ve Got a Bone to Pick with Getting Older

November 21, 2013

When I was a kid, I thought virtually all adults were approximately the age of Methuselah. I specifically recall thinking that my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Cole, who was probably no more than 40, had to be at least 70. While at church every Sunday, I would gaze around the sanctuary, noting all of the geriatrics (this would have been virtually all of the parishioners), and wondering things like “will they be dying soon?”

The other thing I can remember distinctly is that I thought “when I get older, I will never look that old, I will never get fat (like so many of “these people”), I will never wear reading glasses on a chain around my neck”, and so on. I was the epitome of the whole young and immortal thing. I didn’t revel in it, because after all, I had parents and grandparents, all of whom were ancient too, and I very much wanted them to be around for a long time, so it isn’t like I was trying to push these fogeys toward the Old Folks’ Home, I just felt like there were two groups of people — young people like me, and gray hairs. Not much of an in between, although I had older cousins, and I was aware that they had not yet reached AARP age, but they were the exception, and not the rule.

Now that I have passed 50, and need reading glasses (albeit not on a cord around my neck just yet), have pains in joints and my lower back, of course my perspective has changed. I’m not subscribing to that “50 is the new 40” baloney, but my definition of old has changed. Those of you that have occasionally seen me post on Facebook about the “widow dowagers” at my church will understand that it is women like that (and their male counterparts) that are now old. And even they can have a twinkle in their eye pretty regularly, so I know they’re still kicking.

I saw a documentary the other day on Harper Lee. Since she hasn’t given a public interview since 1964, she was not interviewed for this piece either, but her sister was. Her sister, the 99 year-old, still-practicing attorney. She had glasses as thick as a short novel, and was kind of hunched over a little,  and had a distinctly “old” sounding voice, but she seemed fine otherwise. 99! Harper herself, who attended law school at the University of Alabama with my father, and was about a week older than he, is only 87, so we know she has quite a ways to go.

But what are we supposed to do as we get older? How are we supposed to act?

I remember my next door neighbor, a retired judge, but still-practicing attorney, was very dour and serious all the time. He could laugh, and even had a pretty dry wit, but 95% of the time he was as I described him. Had he always been that way? Had he been an overly-serious child? Or had he, at some point along the path of life, decided “it is time to put away childish things”? I don’t know. It isn’t as though I have tried to fend off aging by intentionally acting juvenile. It is simply that it is not my nature to look as though I have just finished penning a brief for an argument before the Supreme Court or prepared to read a eulogy at someone’s funeral.

The other day at church, there was a Mom and her young son sitting in the pew in front of me. The youngster was none too pleased about having to sit in church, and I could relate to that, since I had been dragged to church kicking and screaming a few times when I was about his age. The kid was a fidgeter, just like I had been at his age.

My voice tends to “boom” a little, so during one of the prayers that is read aloud by the congregation, the boy turned around and looked at me, and I just sort of looked down at him and nodded. He didn’t quite know what to make of that, or how he should interpret it. So a few minutes later during another prayer, he turned around and looked at me again. This time I held my hand up for a high-five, but I whispered to him “not a loud one!”. His Mom turned and apologized, and of course I said “oh please don’t worry about it. He’s fine.”

I wondered to myself if that little boy had thought to himself “that guy is as old as Methuselah, but he’s OK!”

But I bet he still thought “won’t be much longer for him…” Ha!

I’ve Got a Bone to Pick With Drivers in Atlanta

November 15, 2013

First of all, let me say that I am far from a friendly and considerate driver myself. In fact, a person very close to me suggested that the best way to manage one’s fear (because that’s the emotion most feel while riding in the car with me) is to let the back of the passenger seat all the way back until you are almost supine, and then pretend as though you are riding in an ambulance, perhaps after having been in a terrifyingly bad accident. So I do not mean to suggest in any way that I am somehow superior to other drivers, although clearly I actually am.

Atlanta is well-known as a city of maniac drivers. I-285, our ring road, or beltway, which we simply refer to as “The Perimeter” is not for the faint of heart, to say the least. It is very difficult for the GSP (Georgia State Patrol) to monitor the speed of drivers there, because there really is not a good place for them to “camp out” and set up the radar. They would have to use the emergency lane to do it, and they would be putting their own lives at risk, so they just don’t bother. Therefore the minimum acceptable speed on The Perimeter is 65. And that’s if you want to stay all the over in the right lane. As you move left across the lanes, you are expected to step it up from 3-5 mph on a per-lane basis, such that by the time you get to the far left lane, you are going essentially as fast as your automobile is capable of traveling.

God forbid that you would ever violate this protocol and force someone to go around you on the right. When that happens, you probably don’t get the finger, but you do get the icy “Stare of Doom”. Don’t ignore the Stare of Doom if you receive it. Take it like a big boy or girl, and move immediately to your right one or perhaps even two lanes.

Atlanta is not built on a “grid system” as most major metros were built. We don’t have streets and avenues, such that it’s easy to navigate around by simply checking the street or avenue number and adjusting accordingly (let’s just forget a minute about modern GPS devices). No, Atlanta is built in a manner such that if you do not know where you’re going, you are completely screwed. There is no logic whatsoever as to how to navigate through the city. You simply know where you’re going or be prepared to be tailgated to the distance of about 3″ behind your rear bumper, and if the street widens out to four lanes, you will once again be passed and given the Stare of Doom.

I have lived here about 32 years, and while I am not a native Atlantan, I know where the hell I am going. Add to that my ambulance driving style of driving, and it’s clear that Job and I are never mentioned in the same tome, much less the same sentence. What does that mean? It means I don’t suffer fools gladly, as my father used to say, not because he didn’t, but because he noticed the character fault in others. Let’s just say I need to work on being more patient.

So before the age of the cellphone, things were bad enough here. Then came the cellphone, followed by the total ubiquity of the cellphone, followed by texting, and so on. In Atlanta, due to the large number of vehicles on both the highways and surface roads, this is a problem. What inevitably happens is that someone begins to driiiiiiifffffttttt into your lane just a little. When that happens, I usually respond with what we all know as the “polite horn toot”. That is the toot in which I make the barest minimum of a horn sound, in order to “alert” the offender that he/she is drifting due to more attention being paid to the cellphone than the road. If that toot is ignored, and the offender drifts into my lane a second time, they may or may not get the “extended blast” of the horn. There may be a second phase of a sterner but still polite-ISH toot, but perhaps not. Depends on how the day has been going.

So how does this person generally respond? Occasionally, it is with an “I’m so sorry” look, as the offender has realized that their driving error has potentially caused an accident, but more times than not, it gets you the Stare of Doom. Now let’s be clear. If I get the Stare of Doom from the offender, the stare that they get back from me would melt a diamond, and may also be accompanied by a gesticulation. Don’t act as though YOUR act was not the offensive one, buddy. Take your medicine or be prepared for the come-backer.

My mother used to tell me that “you can’t legislate the behavior of other people, son.” She may have been right, but I am sure trying, one toot or blast at a time.

I’ve Got a Bone to Pick With Lack of Sportsmanship Today

March 30, 2010

From a very young age, one of the most important things we teach our children is to be a good sport.

This lesson is first taught to young children with siblings or friends when there are toys that both of them want to play with. They are taught that everyone has to get a chance to play with the desired toy. They must share.

As they get older and start playing board or video games, they are taught to be “good” winners and losers. No one wants to lose, we tell them, but it’s appropriately gracious to behave properly when the result of such a game does or doesn’t go our way. This is often a tough lesson to teach and a very hard one for a child to learn, but as parents we insist that our kids assimilate this message.

About the time they are 5 or 6 they begin to play basic organized sports. For boys, this is often a game like soccer or teeball. Some children are better than others, and this is usually quite clear. But every child gets a fair chance to compete and often to play most positions on the field.

After the game is over, and there are winners and losers. But the coaches and parents get the children from both teams together and they shakes hands or high five each other, even if the losers are bitterly disappointed. The sorrow of losing is usually quickly forgotten when drinks and snacks are distributed to the players and the carloads of kids head off to a birthday party or some other weekend diversion.

Nevertheless, the fundamental, yet crucial rite of sportsmanship is one of the most important things these children are taught.

“No one likes a sore loser”, we tell them.

Occasionally, despite best efforts of coaches and parents alike, we see that there are one or maybe two kids that don’t seem to grasp the concept of sportsmanship very well. When their team loses, they are the ones who offer half-hearted handshakes to the victors. Or worse, they are the winners that strut around the field or court a bit too much and all but taunt the losing players. We even see parents of such children that don’t really dissuade them from doing so. We may even point out such antics to our own children, and tell them quietly that we do not approve of this sort of behavior and that we would never approve of it if they acted similarly.

One of the reasons we are so intent to teach these lessons to children when we are young is that we all know that this sort of behavior, good or bad, tends to be learned with some permanence at an early age. Even the best athletes need to learn to behave with humility early on, lest they put off other players and their parents–from opposing teams and from their own teams as well.

But in the age of ESPN, with televised sports and sports news available 24 hours a day on the television and on the internet, our children are regularly exposed to the behavior of college and professional athletes that perhaps didn’t learn these lessons as well as our own kids (hopefully) did. Maybe if we’re fortunate enough to be in the room when poor sportsmanship is displayed, we can point it out to our kids and explain to them why it’s wrong. If not, we simply have to hope that the efforts we have made with them for years have paid off, and that they recognize the bad behavior on their own.

Thankfully for us supporters of sportsmanship across all sporting events, generally all college, and even most professional athletes have a sort of unwritten code about how to conduct themselves during and after games. After a football game ends, the players of both teams tend to stay on the field and mingle amongst themselves, offering congratulations and well wishes. After basketball games in college, it is general practice for both teams to line up and pass by each other, with each player on the winning and losing shaking hands with the other. In pro basketball games, much like in football, the teams tend to mingle on court and offer handshakes.

Virtually every team sport has some sort of variation on this ritual.

In individual sports, there are other forms of graciousness as it relates to sportsmanship. Golf and tennis are perhaps the most visible of these. We’ve all seen golfers as they finish their final rounds on a Sunday. they remove their caps and offer handshakes and kind words to their competitors and to the caddies. In tennis, the competitors meet each other at the net and offer handshakes and a brief exchange of good wishes.

But there are isolated cases in the “big” sports where there are no handshakes exchanged after a game. Professional baseball stands out in this regard. Perhaps you have noticed that at the end of an MLB game, the winning team will high-five or hand shake each other, then walk into their own locker room. There is no such ritual between the two teams that just completed the contest.

I looked into this, and it seems that professional baseball actually has a rule, although my guess is that it isn’t really enforced, against this ritual. Rule 3.09 states that “players of opposing teams shall at no time fraternize while in uniform”. We know this is hogwash, because we have seen players chatting before games during warm-ups and we have seen players engaging in brief exchanges with a first baseman after a single as the next batter approaches the plate to hit. That certainly constitutes fraternization.

But for whatever reason, the sport of baseball, considered “America’s pastime”, and the one that is perhaps above all others steeped in time-honored traditions, does not promote post-game shows of sportsmanship. This seems completely counterintuitive.

But let’s get back to the overall theme of this piece–the erosion of sportsmanship in sports as a whole.

What has happened to it? College and pro sports, as described earlier, are in no way devoid of sportsmanship. But because of the actions of a few very notable individuals, sportsmanship has taken a huge hit in recent years.

Let’s start with college football. Steve Spurrier, who now coaches at South Carolina, was infamous for running up the score of some of his teams’ games while he was the head coach at Florida. With the outcome of the game no longer in question, Spurrier often continued to play starters or continued to pass the ball rather than running, meaning that the clock would stop more frequently and the game would be prolonged. Often he would continue to try to score additional points even with the game firmly in hand.

Spurrier would defend the practice by saying things like “It’s up to the other team to stop us” of “These kids work hard in practice all year long, and I am not going to tell them to stop working hard when they’re in a game.” Needless to say, Spurrier was regularly demonized in the media while running the Gator program. This hasn’t really been an issue in Columbia, since Spurrier’s Gamecock teams haven’t enjoyed nearly the same level of success. Nevertheless, people remember his Florida antics even now.

The NCAA rules committee has had to take strong steps to curb “unsportsmanlike conduct”, particularly after a score. College players, having watched their professional football heroes performing elaborate touchdown dances and other forms of extreme showmanship on TV, started doing the same thing after scoring. The NCAA put in a “taunting” rule that basically says if a player or team engages an extreme show of celebration after a score or after a big play, they can be called for “excessive celebration” and be penalized 15 yards.

This can have the impact of affecting a game’s outcome. It almost cost Auburn a win in this year’s Outback Bowl game. After a late TD that put Auburn up 35-21, RB Ben Tate “dunked” the ball over the Nortwestern team’s goal post and was flagged for excessive celebration. This meant Auburn had to kick off from its own 20, rather than the usual 35 yard line. Northwestern took advantage of the penalty and with a shorter field, went down and scored its own TD. Auburn would hold on to win the game in OT, but the damage of Tate’s shameless show of self-promotion had a dire effect on his team, almost costing them the game.

In this past season’s Georgia-LSU game, Georgia scored with 1:09 left in the game to take a 13-12 lead, but UGA receiver A.J. Green was called for excessive celebration on the play. LSU got the ball with a short field after the ensuing penalized kickoff and ultimately scored a TD of its own just before time expired to win the game 20-13.

These are, by no means, isolated examples of poor sportsmanship in college football. There has been an unquestioned decline in the practice of sportsmanship in the sport.

However, for the most part, the tradition of the post-game handshakes has managed to be preserved. I feel sure that there are occasional instances in which a player or two from the losing teams makes his way to the locker room without congratulating the players from the winning team, but I believe this to be an isolated thing.

Someone suggested to me recently that Tim Tebow left the field after this past December’s SEC Championship Game without engaging in the ritual. Tebow was shown on national TV just before the end of the game–sitting on his team’s bench with tears streaming down his face because he realized that his dreams of another national championship for his Gator team had been crushed by Alabama. Nevertheless, Tebow did, in fact go out on the field after the end of the game, congratulating Alabama players and even submitting to a very difficult post-game interview in which he once again gave credit to the Crimson Tide for their fine effort. A fine display of good sportsmanship.

I am not a huge fan of Tim Tebow, since I am fiercely loyal to my Alabama teams, and Tebow’s Gators snatched the hearts out of Bama fans everywhere in 2008 when he led his team to a 4th quarter comeback that won them that year’s SEC Championship and he subsequently led the Gatos to a win over Oklahoma in the National Championship. But regardless of my feelings for Tebow as a player, I respect him as a man because he has consistently shown himself to be an icon of good sportsmanship and a fantastic example to young kids everywhere.

Rather than go into intricate details of the overall decline in sportsmanship in the other “big” American sports, I want to use three individual examples to highlight it.

In last year’s NBA semi-final matchup between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Orlando Magic, fans were treated to great series that featured two of the modern game’s best players, LeBron James of the Cavaliers and Dwight Howard of the Magic. The Cavaliers were the favorites before the series began, but the Magic ultimately prevailed in a tough six-game showdown. After the clock ran out on the Cavaliers’ season in Game Six, LeBron James made a very visible and highly dubious decision to run off the court and into the Cavalier locker room without exchanging any handshakes or well wishes with any of the Magic players.

James was roundly chastised in the media for this obvious lack of sportsmanship. For his part, James offered little contrition, explaining that he didn’t want to disrupt the celebration by the Magic players, while also proffering that he didn’t especially feel very congratulatory since his team had lost.

Cavalier and James fans everywhere sounded off with a chorus of “what’s the big deal” reactions to this. The consensus among them was that James was in no way obligated to shake hands and that he was merely trying to “give way” to the Magic players so that they could celebrate their big win.

Give me a freaking break.

The second example is from this year’s Super Bowl. After the Saints completed their improbably come-from-behind win, perhaps the most recognizable star in the NFL, Peyton Manning, made his way off the field without congratulating a single Saint player. Manning made little attempt to show any remorse for his actions, explaining that–like LeBron–he was merely getting out of the way so that the Saints could have the field to themselves to celebrate.

Once again, puh-leeze.

The third, and most recent example is from this past Friday night’s Sweet Sixteen game between Ohio State and Tennessee. Ohio State’s Evan Turner, the general consensus as this season’s Player of the Year, had an opportunity to tie the game with a three-pointer as time was expiring. Instead, he had his shot blocked by a Vol player. Turner sat on the floor with an incredulous look on his face for several seconds after the “no call”, imploring the refs to call some sort of non-existent foul that would prolong the game. When he was not awarded with the phantom foul call, he refused an offer from a Buckeye teammate to  help him off the floor and then made an immediate beeline for the Ohio State locker room, bypassing several Tennessee players along the way without even a token effort to shake hands or offer congratulations.

Turner has not, to my knowledge at least, spoken out on this transgression in the media since the incident, but Ohio State fans all over have said that this is “much ado about nothing” and that Turner had no obligation to offer congratulations. After all, they said, his team lost and he was pissed about it. End of story.

These three athletes share a common trait. They are all perhaps the most visible “face” of their respective games. They are all highly telegenic figures. James and Manning have already supplemented their enormous pro sport salaries with scores of commercial endorsements. Turner, with his good looks and super-human abilities, is an excellent candidate to do the same once he joins the NBA, perhaps as soon as this fall.

We all saw what happened to Tiger Woods when his serial affairs were divulged to the public in recent months. His entire image, carefully built by Woods and his “team”, has been perhaps forever sullied by his selfish actions. While his behavior is not related to sportsmanship directly, a number of highly-visible figures around the sport–most recently Arnold Palmer–have suggested that Woods has for too long tried to put himself above the rest of the sport and that his narcissistic attitude had to change if he ever hoped to rebuild his tarnished image.

I personally think that Lebron James, Peyton Manning, and Evan Turner should have suffered more “slings and arrows” in the media for their obvious and similarly narcissistic behavior. After all, if we are to maintain the sacred tradition of sportsmanship in this country, the most visible practitioners of the games have to be the ones who always set the bar for those that come in their wake.

If we as Americans continue to tolerate and even excuse this sort of behavior, we are giving a “free pass” to our kids to do the same. If our kids see athletes of that magnitude display that level of poor sportsmanship and “get away with it”, then just how are we to expect these youngsters to behave differently?

I’ve Got Another (Brief-ish) Bone to Pick with Oversigning.com

March 9, 2010

I’m going to use this entry as an opportunity to explain one of my policies regarding this blog. As long as someone that wants to leave a comment it not breaking the law in some way, using their comment as a pulpit to espouse some crazy political view, or is using foul and offensive language for no good reason, his/her comment will not be trashed.

It goes on the board.

I don’t care if the person disagrees with me completely. I don’t care if he can prove me wrong. I don’t care if he impugns my character (again, so long as his language is something I wouldn’t mind my son reading).

This yahoo that writes oversigning.com and I don’t seem to agree on the stance I have just espoused. He seems to like using his bully pulpit to suggest such cockamamie BS as:

  • Georgia Tech left the SEC in 1964 because they disagreed with the rampant oversigning that the league was engaging in

Uh, guess what buddy–the NCAA didn’t even really have signing limitations to speak of in the early 60s. At some point they instituted limitations–the maximum scholarship players a D-1 team could have was 140. Bear Bryant’s teams were so huge that it looked like he had half of the Alabama student body on the sideline. But Georgia Tech’s leaving the conference had nothing to do with scholarships and oversigning.

  • Sewanee left the SEC in 1940 because the conference didn’t have a strong enough emphasis on academics.

Uh, wrong again buddy boy. Sewanee was a member of the SEC’s predecessor, the Southern Conference, and was subsequently a member of the SEC until 1940. Sewanee’s total enrollment in 1940 was around 700 total students. All of the other member schools were 10-50 times bigger. They had lost all 37 of their conference games played in since agreeing to be a part of the SEC. They couldn’t compete. It had NOTHING TO DO WITH ACADEMICS. I happen to know a little something about Sewanee since it’s where I went to college.

OK, so it’s one thing to play loosey-goosey with the facts. But I decided to take this guy on. I posted the link to this blog on his website. I encouraged him to come here and debate this topic with me. I called him out for some of his many egregious errors and misrepresentations. Ok, lies.

He refuses to allow the comments to post and he doesn’t have the ‘nads to debate this topic.

Here’s some advice, bud: don’t devote such a huge chunk of your life to something and post it all over the internet if you don’t have stones big enough to defend it. You look like an idiot.

I’ve Got a Bone to Pick with Oversigning.com

March 6, 2010

In a previous blog entry I detailed my dislike of Ohio State fans. I won’t recount that here. Please go back and re-read that entry if you care to reacquaint yourself with what sticks in my craw relative to the Buckeye fan base.

Over the years I have been a reader of and occasional contributor to an Ohio State fan forum called TheOzone.net. There are rules at TheOzone just as there are at most fan forum sites. Generally, the rules are simple: post whatever you like on the subject of Ohio State sports, but just don’t let it devolve into personal attacks on other posters, don’t use profanity, don’t flame, and so on.

My “contributions”, as it were, have historically been of the “devil’s advocate” variety (imagine that). Maybe I saw a thread in which some Ohio State pumper was making an argument that the Buckeyes have the most successful football program of all time. This type of claim is usually backed up with data, but it is often of a dubious nature. Therefore, in a case such as this, I have offered up “alternative” data and a different take on things that might lead someone to a different conclusion. I’m sure I am being overly kind to myself in this depiction of events, but this is the gist of it.

I am proud to say I have been banned from this website at least a half a dozen times. I can also say unequivocally that in no instance have I been banned for a violation of the site’s rules or terms of service. I have been banned because I disagreed with the homers on that site and they didn’t care for it. I imagine they would have a different take on things, but I would love for one of their administrators to provide a single example where I was banned because I broke a rule. The website is privately owned, so they were certainly free to ban me for whatever reason they chose (I didn’t bathe as often as they would have preferred, I used “big words” they couldn’t understand, and so on).

This is all background.

Over the past year or so, one of the more active posters on TheOzone has been a guy who goes by the moniker “7NCs7Heismans”. The “NCs” presumably stand for the national championships won by Ohio State since the program’s inception, and the other half of the name is self-explanatory.

Suffice it to say that if I have an obsession with the arrogance, sense of entitlement, proclivity for hyperbole, and just overall inability to see things as they truly are that plague the Ohio State faithful, this gentleman is at least as obsessed with Alabama football and its fan base.

He is the internet world’s yang to my yin.

Apparently this fellow married a gal who is a resident of the state of Alabama as well as an alumna of the University. If I’d known this prior to having read a word that the guy wrote on a forum, my inclination would have been to congratulate him for getting the opportunity to see how real fans behave when they don’t have to condescend and puff their chests up all the time to try and hide their sense of inferiority relative to truly successful football programs like Alabama’s.

Sadly, this fellow hasn’t cottoned too well to his marital conundrum. To make matters worse, he currently lives in Birmingham, the heart of Tide country. So day after day, it’s Nick Saban this, 13 national championships that. Major Ogilvie this, Joe Namath that.

The poor guy is like a Metallica fan who has to wander around the Grand Ol’ Opry every day, and it’s killing him.

Before the arrival of Nick Saban three years ago, his plight may not have been that bad. Alabama’s football program had fallen on hard times. The list of misadventures is too long to enumerate here, so I’ll just highlight a few:

  • Probation and loss of scholarships
  • A long string of coaches who were either not sufficiently successful, could not keep their noses clean, or moved on to greener pastures
  • An inability to raise Bear Bryant from the dead

Life in 7NCs house was probably tolerable. But then in January 2007 Alabama went out and hired Nick Saban.

Saban struggled his first season and only went 7-6, but there were signs that the program was on its way back. In Year 2, the Crimson Tide went undefeated in the regular season, but then lost the SEC championship game to Florida as well as their bowl game to Utah. Still, 12-2 in only his second season was very impressive. And most people know what happened just this past year. Bama ran the table completely and won the school’s 13th national championship.

Now life for this man had become truly intolerable. Every cocktail party, every news report, every church social. All Alabama football. All the time. 24/7. An already football-obsessed state was now in overdrive.

What was this poor man to do?

Answer: find a way to tear down this Tower of Tide Tedium that was permeating his life.

If Alabama had hired a Jackie Sherill or a Danny Ford to run the program, he wouldn’t have had to look to far. Sherrill and Ford ran their programs “old school style”, which included a fair amount of practices that ran afoul of NCAA policies. Uh, they cheated.

Nick Saban has been successful at every school where he has coached. He famously took LSU to a national championship in just four years. Prior to that he brought pride back to Michigan State’s program. He was even 9-2 as head coach at Toledo. The man is recognized as one of the best coaches of the modern era, even by people who don’t care for him.

So, how was 7NCs to tear this great man down?

Ah ha! Nick Saban, 7NCs determined, is destroying the lives of fine young men by signing more recruits than the school has room for. This cannot stand.

Wait a second, you say. How can Saban bring in more recruits than are allowed? If there’s a maximum, there’s a maximum. The NCAA polices these things. Plus, if Alabama got in trouble prior to Saban’s arrival and wound up on probation, they can’t take any chances. Surely Saban is dotting his i’s and crossing his t’s. Keeping his nose clean.

More on Saban later.

For now let’s get quickly acquainted with how the NCAA rules work for the signing of recruits.

Basically it works on a rule of 25/85. The NCAA mandates that none of it schools recruit more than 25 players for any one academic year and that no school have more than 85 total students on football scholarship at any one time. So if a given school has 65 kids on scholarship going into a recruiting season, that school can still theoretically recruit an additional 25 players for the upcoming year, but they somehow need to find a way to get their total down from 90 to 85 by the time school starts.

How is this accomplished? In any given year, many things can affect scholarship numbers going into a competitive season:

  1. Transfers. If a kid looks at the depth chart and sees that he has little to no chance of seeing the field at his position, occasionally he will transfer to another school. This helps the school from which he is transferring if their numbers are too high, but it does have the effect of forcing the kid to sit out of competition for a year. The NCAA requires this sit-out period to discourage rampant transferring. If the young man transfers from a Division I-A to a Division I-AA or Division II school, he isn’t required to sit out. But so many of these kids have always wanted to play at the highest levels, so they generally choose to sit out in this situation.
  2. Injuries. It stinks, but occasionally these kids get hurt during off-season workouts, or have an injury from the prior season that doesn’t heal sufficiently. Sometimes this results in a medical “redshirt”, where the NCAA allows the kid to remain a roster member that doesn’t count against the 85, but he isn’t allowed to play in any games. Other times, if the injury is serious enough, it could be the end of his career. Either way, this has the effect of reducing the total kids on scholarship.
  3. Grades. Most people think that football players at Division I-A schools don’t really go to class or make much effort to achieve anything as a student. I won’t opine on that subject here. Regardless of how much or how little effort these athletes put into their studies, all schools have minimum grade requirements that allow a kid to compete. If his grades slip below that level, he may lose his scholarship. At least temporarily.
  4. Grayshirting. This is a slightly fuzzy area, but here are the basics of it. If Joe Recruit signs a Letter of Intent in February 2010 to play football at the University of Bonepicker but doesn’t actually report to camp with his fellow recruits in the fall, it may be because he has elected to delay his enrollment until the following January. If so, he still has a full five (not four) years of eligibility beginning with the 2011 football season, and he does not count against the 2010 totals. This practice is called grayshirting.
  5. Violation of Team Rules. This covers a broad area. If an athlete is arrested, fails to attend class,  or for whatever reason does not meet the conditions the athletic department has set out for him to retain his scholarship, he may be released from the team.
  6. Inability to enroll as a freshman. Occasionally kids are recruited that have not yet met minimum GPA or SAT/ACT requirements for enrollment. The coaching staff hopes that before the college school year begins that this can be “dealt with”, but every once in a while it cannot be. Often these kids will enroll at a junior college or post-graduate high school program until they can get their academics in order.

Another major thing that affects the “numbers” from year-to-year is early application to the NFL draft by 3rd-year sophomores (kids that were redshirted for one year and have since competed for two) or true juniors. When that happens, and it does quite regularly with the better programs, obviously the kids that are leaving no longer have their numbers count against the 85 limit.

So here’s a scenario to consider:

The University of Whatchamacallit, a Division 1-A school, has 63 athletes on scholarship at the end of the 2009 season. If you didn’t know about all the things that could further affect that number, then you’d think that UW could only offer 22 incoming recruits a scholarship for the 2010 season, because anything more than that would put them over the 85 limit.

But you do know better.

So here’s the way the numbers might work:

68 scholarship athletes from 2009 are set to return for the following year’ season.

Head Coach Gene Fredrickson recruits 27 new freshmen recruits for the upcoming season. On paper, it looks like UW is going to be 10 players over the limit.

But 2 cornerbacks from the 2009 squad have decided to transfer. Seems UW is awfully deep in the defensive secondary.

Bobby McCall, the second string left defensive tackle breaks his leg during offseason conditioning and will miss the entire 2010 season.

2 more kids are declared academically ineligible for the 2010 season.

During the offseason 2 additional players are arrested for smoking marijuana and are kicked off the team permanently.

1 additional player has a falling out with the strength and conditioning coach during spring practice and decides to declare himself eligible for the NFL’s supplemental draft. He meets all of the NFL’s draft eligibility requirements and leaves UW.

Of the 32 new recruits, one is grayshirted and a second does not have the grades necessary to enroll for the fall semester and instead enrolls in a junior college down the road.

What is UW’s scholarship total when fall practice starts, even though Coach Fredrickson recruited more than the 25 the NCAA alllows and it looked as though he would be 10 over the 85 limit when school started the next year? Why, it’s 85.

Which brings me back to my buddy 7NCs and his Oversigning.com blog.

It seems 7NCs spent so much time prattling on endlessly on TheOzone about Alabama’s gratuitous oversigning, as well as the oversigning practices of several other SEC schools, that the rest of the forum told them that enough was enough. Go start your own blog and pour your energy into that. You will burn off all this energy you have and you won’t fill up our precious forum with repetitive jibber-jabber about the SEC. Seems most of the Ohio State fan base has heard just about enough about the SEC for the past four years. This would be especially true given that in the first two years of this four-year span the Buckeyes were run off the field by SEC opponents in the national championship game. The last two years the victims weren’t members of the Big 10. Instead it was the Big 12, but these Ohio State fans have heard all they can handle about the SEC.

So they basically ran him off.

7NCs took their “advice” and dove headlong into this new mission. He wanted to expose teams like Alabama that are willfully out there taking advantage of wrinkles in the rules that allow Alabama (and other “scofflaws”) to do what amounts to jury-rigging the system.

After all, the Big 10 has stricter rules than most of the other conferences. No Big 10 school is allowed to recruit more than the 25 minimum that the NCAA allows. This is true even if a full class of 25 will not put a member school at the 85 limit. This is quite interesting.

Do you suppose there is any chance at all that the sanctimonious attitude that 7NCs has about SEC recruiting practice could have anything at all to do with the fact that:

  • The SEC has won four national championships in a row–two of them with Ohio State coming out on the short end of the score, and
  • His alma mater’s conference doesn’t seem to have the ability to count to 85

Any chance at all?

But 7NCs hasn’t stopped here. Not by a long shot. It seems he has it in for Nick Saban and some of the other coaches in the SEC that practice this annoying habit of making sure they field a full squad of 85 players every fall.

So what does he do? He paints a nasty picture of Coach Saban.

Remember the scenario I just described with injuries, grades, and so on having a disadvantageous effect on UW’s scholarship total? Forget that. That isn’t what’s going on at Alabama. No sir.

Nick Saban is going to kids already on scholarship and putting pressure on them to transfer. Worse than that, he is telling kids that if they transfer willingly he and the Bama coaching staff will help find them a program to take them–either another 1-A program or a program at a lower division. But don’t make a fuss about it, Saban warns. Do that, you ingrate you, and I will unceremoniously toss you off this team for some trumped-up reason and you may never play football again. Or maybe he tells a kid with a balky ankle that the injury is really far more “serious” than even the player can imagine, and he had better consider giving up the game altogether.

What 7NCs would have you believe is that Nick Saban, one of the best recruiters in college football and one of its most successful coaches, has to lie to the faces of his players and to those players’ families. He’s doing it because he has to. He is being paid $4 million and change a year, after all, and the Alabama alumni will accept nothing less than championships after so many years with the program in retreat. Do what you have to do, Nick, even if that means throwing this kids out on their asses. Keep the ones that can score TDs, they say. The ones that can’t? We don’t give a rip what you do.

Yes, indeed. This man 7NCs is on a quest. He seeks to expose programs like Alabama’s that are exploiting this young kids. Heck, he says, so many of these kids have grown up wanting to don the Crimson Tide and wouldn’t dream of playing anywhere else. But what does this soulless man do? He throws them out on the street and tells them not to come back.

He has the numbers to prove it. He’ll even show you the recruits Saban has brought in the four years he’s been in Tuscaloosa (with the upcoming 2010 as the fourth). Saban has offered 113 (or some such number) recruits scholarships. Good lord! That’s 28 over the 85 limit. It’s a full recruiting class worth of kids more than the Ohio States of the world have recruited. Not only is it not fair, he’ll tell you. It’s sinfully wrong to take advantage of young kids in this way, because Saban knows he will have to throw a huge percentage of these kids out on the street to make his NCAA-mandated numbers!

What he won’t tell you is that when a kid is recruited in one year and goes to post-graduate high school for a year, only to come back in the following year’s class as well, he’s been counted twice in the numbers. He won’t tell you that this happens with great frequency. He won’t tell you that Saban is often recruiting kids from incredibly underprivileged backgrounds that have struggled in school all their lives. Some may never make the grades to get into college. Doesn’t matter. They’re in the numbers too, but don’t worry about the fact they’ll never set foot on campus. 7NCs would have you think that Saban is putting the sole of his shoe on their behinds and pushing them out the door.

Are there ever any shady goings-on with these recruits at Alabama or anywhere else? I don’t know. Could be.

I do know this. When fall camp starts in Tuscaloosa this coming August, the 2010 recruiting class will be at no more than 25 and the overall number of players wearing the Crimson that are on scholarship will total no more than 85. Those are the rules, and Nick Saban plays by them.

I’ve Got a Bone to Pick With My Homeowners Association

March 1, 2010

Many of you have probably lived in a condominium or single family detached home that was governed by a Homeowners Association (HOA).

HOAs proliferated in this country beginning in the 1960s because residential developers wanted to get around county density laws. Without getting into the nitty-gritty details, let’s say a developer bought a 40 acre piece of property and wanted to build 80 homes on it. Due to density laws governing the county where the land was located, the developer may have been restricted to building only 50 homes. The creation of a Homeowners Association gave the developer the ability to circumvent the county regulations. If a new development agrees to be governed by a set of private rules and to forego certain county-provided services (street maintenance, garbage collection, and so on), then the developer could basically ignore county density laws and squeeze more homes into the property he owned.

They further proliferated in the 1970s after the passage of the Clean Water Act, which mandated that storm water in new developments be dealt with through planned detention. HOAs had to be formed to deal with the water runoff caused by the new development and had to be kept in place to maintain the detention areas after the development was completed.

Developers are wily fellows, though. Although the reason for the creation of HOAs were economic (in favor of the developer) and environmental, the developers sold the concept of HOAs to potential homeowners differently. They encouraged homeowners to get excited about HOAs because they would give the neighborhood the ability to control certain aspects of the appearance of the homes in the neighborhood, thereby helping to protect the value of their homes.

Developers could easily persuade potential homeowners to “buy into” the HOA by telling a horror story of the neighbor who works on junk cars in the driveway or the one that litters his lawn with pink flamingos. Or perhaps with a story of a neighbor who decides to paint all of her storm shutters in an electric lavender shade. Don’t let that happen to you, the developers say. Participate in this association and everybody will just get along and maintain their homes in a consistent and value-maintaining manner. Everybody will get along better. Trust us.

The HOAs form Boards of Directors that are put in place to “oversee” the running of the HOA. They also put contracts in place that are referred to generally as Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions, or CCRs. Everyone that buys a home in a neighborhood or condo complex governed by an HOA must sign and agree to the CCRs as a condition of closing. You want to live here? You agree to our rules. Very simple.

Most people don’t bother to read these documents carefully. Why would they? They are so excited about their new home that they don’t take the time to read through all of the “legalese”.

But they should. Here are a few examples of CCRs that appear in many HOA documents:

  • Homeowners are not allowed to display flags of any kind on the exterior of their homes
  • Homeowners are not allowed to display signs in their yard, with the exception of “For Sale” signs specific to the marketing of their home, and only then when the signs are of a style approved of by the HOA
  • No significant modifications can be made to the exterior of your home unless they are specifically approved of by the HOA’s Architectural Committee

I could go on, but that’s a good sampling.

But, you say, a couple of those are unconstitutional! They restrict my right to free speech! Those must be illegal!

Think again. When you buy a home or condo in a subdivision of complex that is governed by an HOA, and you sign the CCRs, you give up some of those rights. Often you don’t even realize that you’ve given the rights up in the first place until you receive notice from your HOA that you are in violation and that you have X number of days to “cure” the infraction or face potential fines or other forms of “corrective action” that the HOA can take.

So, you say, these guys can’t take these rights away from me! I’ll sue these bastards or I’ll just ignore them. No court would uphold this kind of baloney.

Think again. HOA documents are generally “lawyered up” very well and because, once again, you agree to abide by them when you sign off on them when you buy the home in the first place, don’t bring a legal action against your HOA unless you are prepared to:

  1. Lose.
  2. Pay your own legal fees, those of the HOA, and all fines associated with your scurrilous behavior.

OK. With all of this as background, here is my personal situation.

I purchased my single family home about eight years ago. It’s in the Brookhaven area of Atlanta, and the subdivision is rather small, with only 13 total homes in it. I have been a “good neighbor” during this time, since I don’t dry my clothes on a clothesline (verboten), have an RV parked in front of my house (strictly disallowed), or have “I love Obama” signs in my yard.

I have never heard a thing from my neighbors, with the exception that several years ago I installed a stone path and lighting through my extensive garden that surrounds my house. It was done very tastefully (“Better Homes and Gardens” would have been proud of me). But I made the error of not consulting with the Architectural Committee before performing the work. As good luck (this time) would have it, the neighbors universally approved of the project and so I was given a mere “tut tut, shame on you” verbal rebuke and that was the end of that.

As time has passed, most everyone in the neighborhood has similarly been what could be classified as a “good citizen”. There hasn’t been much need to scrutinize the behavior of the owners too closely, since everyone has been doing what they ought to be doing.

For the most part, that is.

One of the owners in the neighborhood is, like me, a single man. He is not super keen on maintenance. It’s not like he’s let his house start falling down. Far from it. But he has a koi pond in the back of his house that no long has koi in it. This has been a problem because of mold, aroma, and the attraction of bugs. He’s also not been great about maintaining flower beds and this sort of thing.

Nothing major, but the HOA finally determined that enough was enough with this guy.

In an effort not to come across as practicing “selective enforcement” of the CCRs, the HOA formed a Covenant Oversight Team (“COT”) to review the exterior of everyone’s homes. The COT reported its findings to the HOA Board, and letters were sent out to all of the homeowners, letting them know what “issues” needed to be corrected.

My list was somewhat short. I was asked to repair and repaint my mailbox. No big deal. I was asked to pressure wash a portion of the curbing in front of my house. A bit of a nitpick, maybe, but still OK. I was even asked to “remove spider-web in the corner of window on the front of the house”. A nitpicker’s nitpick to be sure, but since it took me all of two seconds to remove with a broom, I decided to just live with it.

One thing stood out on the list, however.

The HOA said that my satellite dish was obtrusive and needed to be relocated or removed.

Now all of us have driven by the homes, particularly in rural areas, with large satellite dishes in the front yard. Or we have seen the person with an ugly looking dish on the front corner of a roof that detracts from what would otherwise be an attractive home.

In my case, my dish is mounted on the side of my home, adjacent to my HVAC units. It is far from obtrusive. In fact, it’s completely impossible to see the dish when standing in front of my house. I have a huge holly bush planted just to one side of my garage on the side of the house where the dish is. The bush completely obscures one’s view of the dish. It is possible to see the dish, but in order to do so, you have to walk well down to the front of my neighbor’s house so as to get a viewing angle sufficient to see the dish.

This is absurd, I thought.

I had no idea how right I was. It turns out that the FCC passed a little law in 1996 called the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The law was passed, in part, because over-zealous HOAs were telling condo and homeowners everywhere that they had to remove their dishes. It turns out that the communications industry is very powerful indeed and successfully got the law enacted because it prevented governmental or private agencies such as HOAs from restricting consumers’ rights to receive a television signal.

Not only that, but the law makes it extremely difficult for HOAs or similar groups to put any kind of restrictions on the placement of dishes unless they represent a safety concern or they somehow harm historically protected areas. Since dishes must be placed in such a manner as to allow a “clear view of the southern sky” in order to get a strong signal, HOAs cannot force homeowners to relocate them if the new location would result in a diminished signal. HOAs also cannot force homeowners to install expensive landscaping of any other expense that is greater than a nominal one to shield the dish from view.

Essentially, the result of the law is to chalk one up for the good guys, the homeowners.

I sent a letter to my HOA notifying them that I was going to address all of their “concerns” with the exception of the dish. I told them that if the association was real concerned over the appearance of the dish, I would happily consider any prospective landscaping that the HOA wanted to install–at their expense–so long as I had full approval rights over what was to be installed.

The HOA responded fairly quickly. They said that the neighborhood really wanted to “work with” me on the issue and that if only I would install the landscaping, everything would be fine.

I indicated that the FCC ruling prohibits the HOA from forcing me to incur that expense and I reiterated my willingness to do so at their expense. They declined.

I have subsequently sent two more messages to the HOA. One was a nice note that once again reiterated my position and that also included pictures of landscaping (from my local Hastings Garden Center) that I would happily approve of if they footed the bill for the installation. I received no response. The second message was sent just to the president of the HOA. I indicated I did not want to get into a contentious and protracted scuffle with the HOA, but that I was within my rights and if they were not able to see that the law, in this case, protects me, I would have no choice but to “hunker down”. Again, no response.

I should also mention that in addition to performing significant due diligence on this topic, I have also consulted with a good buddy of mine who also happens to be a real estate attorney. He has assured me my position is righteous.

So at this point, it would appear that “it’s ON”.

I don’t know why it is that some people, particularly ones that have been given some modicum of power, can’t see when they are licked and just give up the ship. You would think that these people could see that if this were a game of poker, I have a royal flush and I am showing them my hand before they are asked to call the bet or fold. But no.

A certain Mr. T-ism occurs to me. Something about pity.

I’ve Got a Bone to Pick With All You Makers of Delicious Ice Cream

February 23, 2010

Several years ago I decided to stop drinking alcohol. No one told me I needed to do it.  There was no intervention, no DUIs, no nothing. I just decided to do it on my own. No big deal. And I have only occasionally missed it. Every once in a while I will see someone enjoying a beer or a nice glass of wine and I will miss it a tiny bit, but just not enough to make me go back to it.

I have never liked to gamble. The main reason is simple. I hate to lose money. There is another reason. A gambling loss is a confirmation that I was wrong. If I didn’t believe I was right about a bet I was making, then I wouldn’t make it in the first place. If I lost that bet, it means I was wrong. I don’t like being wrong. Losing money and being proven wrong all at once is more than I can take. Therefore I don’t gamble.

There is one addiction that I have not been able to free myself from, however. Ice cream. I can’t walk down the ice cream aisle at my local Kroger without falling into a trance. There are so many temptations. I know why they tell former drug addicts to stay away from the people and places they used to go when they were using. The temptations are too strong.

When I was a kid there were two or three companies in Georgia that sold ice cream. In my recollection, there was Sealtest, Atlanta Dairies, and then there was the inevitable (and usually undesirable) store brand (A&P had Ann Page, Winn Dixie had Chek, and so on).

The choices of flavors at the grocery store were very limited. You had chocolate, vanilla, strawberry (yuck), neopolitan (which was really just these same three flavors combined in one box), and maybe one or two “adult” flavors like butter pecan or the “exotic” french vanilla. Then there was sherbet. Maybe orange, lime, and a couple of other flavors. That was IT.

If you wanted to get some more “daring and different” ice cream choices, you headed to Baskin-Robbins. In the city where I grew up, the Baskin-Robbins was way over on the other side of town, but it was easily worth the pilgrimage over there. The excitement would build on the car ride over, and then once you stepped inside it was borderline torturous. There, in front of you, were 31 different flavors of ice cream. My parents were usually generous enough to let my sisters and me pick two flavors each. But there was still the matter of choosing two out of the thirty-one options. Some were easy to eliminate. Anything with  nuts was out. Anything with coconut in it was out.  “Seasonal” flavors like “pumpkin pie” were out. But even after eliminating the easy ones, I would still be left with having to pick two out of twenty or so. Pure hell for a little kid. Eventually my father would make a loving comment like “pick something or you’re going to have to walk home” and I would blurt something out like “one scoop of chocolate chip and one scoop of bubble gum”. No doubt I was quite capable of combining flavors that would make virtually anyone wretch. But I didn’t care. I knew it might be a month before we made the trek back out to Baskin-Robbins, so by God I was going to get what I wanted without being worried about whether the server or my father or anyone else approved of my order. After all, I was the one eating it.

Then there was Dairy Queen. God only knows what they put in those machines that churned out that white chemically-produced substance, but who the hell cared. The servers made it look like some sort of frozen dream as they slowly twisted the concentric circles of goodness onto the cone. Then maybe you had it dipped into butterscotch or chocolate goo that would miraculously harden in a matter of seconds. In the summer you had to eat it strategically and quickly, or the whole thing would melt all over your hand and even onto the ground. God forbid you would get distracted or pushed because there was an outside chance the whole thing would topple onto the pavement. A savvy cone eater never let something like that happen, however. A wise consumer of DQ cones would sooner let a sibling be run over than to lose his cone due to failure to take due care to ensure every last cold and sticky bite was eaten.

Fast forward to today.

The ice cream section at my Kroger is probably as big as the entire frozen food section in the grocery stores where my mother shopped when I was a kid. Sure, you can still get chocolate and vanilla. But that is literally the tip of the ice cream berg. There are scads of brands and oodles of flavors. There is everything from store brands (and unlike when I was a kid, even the Krogers and Publixes of the world make some pretty doggone good ice cream) to deluxe brands like Ben and Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs.

And every maker has something incredible to tempt the ice cream addict. Edy’s, for instance, has seized on the national obsession with Girl Scout cookies and now makes ice cream with crushed up Thin Mints, Tagalongs, and Samoas (yuck–coconut) in them. Ben and Jerry’s has Cherry Garcia, New York Super Fudge Chunk, and Oatmeal Cookie Chunk.  There are ice creams with candy bars in them. Cookies. They have low-fat ice cream (why in the world would I eat high fat food with less fat in it?). There are tons of choices of sorbets (no longer would we ever refer to them as sherbets). Then let’s not forget the choices in ice cream bars, sandwiches, individual bite-sized frozen confections, and so on.

For an addict like me, it is truly impossible to resist.

From time to time I will sort of lock onto a personal favorite that I find so heavenly and so amazingly delicious, that I am convinced I could swear off every other temptation that was ever put before man, including women (well, maybe not women, but you understand what I mean).

For me, that personal favorite right now is Blue Bell Banana Pudding Ice Cream. First of all, I commend the people at Blue Bell for continuing to produce their product in a half-gallon carton. All of the other makers have started selling 1.5 quart cartons in an effort to keep their prices low. Smart consumers such as myself that want to know they will have ice cream in their freezers when the urge hits are not too keen on that development. Don’t take 1/4 of my ice cream away. I will pay more. Don’t rob from me. But I digress.

Banana Pudding Ice Cream. First of all, I am fairly sure that Blue Bell makes the highest fat content ice cream on the market. I have done no research to confirm this. But I am no fool. Fat makes things taste good. Blue Bell ice cream is wondrously good. Research project over. Second, if any of you has ever had homemade banana pudding made with real cream, fresh and ripe bananas, and Nilla Vanilla Wafers, then you have come close to Paradise. Now, imagine that dessert perfection being swirled into a combination of banana and vanilla ice cream (the extra high fat kind). Every scoop has big chunks of banana and wafer in it, along with swirls of whipped cream. It is almost indescribably good.

There are a few women that I would probably do just about anything to spend some time with. Uma Thurman. Grace Kelly. Audrey Hepburn. Maybe Gwyneth Paltrow. But if I am in the middle of a bowl of Blue Bell Banana Pudding? Get on down the road Uma. Wait outside for me, Gwyneth.

I would sooner give up comfortable shoes than I would give up my ice cream. Maybe indoor plumbing.

If some doctor forces to give up everything in this world that I ever loved, he had better think twice about telling me to give up my ice cream. I do love it so.

I’ve Got a Bone to Pick With People Who Aren’t Ready to Order

February 19, 2010

I knew it wouldn’t take me too long to stray from the world of sports.

Like everyone, I have a set of pet peeves. Things that get under my skin. Since I live in Atlanta, traffic-related peeves are plentiful (and probably the subject of at least one future column). There are scads of others. I probably have an inordinate desire for people to behave as I would like for them to behave. The world would be a better place, however, if they would. My way is usually a very good way.

One of my biggest peeves is people that have been standing in line in a fast-food or limited-service restaurant for some amount of time. Could be two or three minutes. Might only be 30 seconds. However long it has been, these people have had time to peruse the menu. If it’s a McDonald’s kind of place, one would think that they entered the restaurant (or even the drive-through) knowing what it is they want. I mean, come on. You know you came in craving a Big Mac. Just order the thing and move out of the way, buddy.

But even if it’s a place they’ve never been before, one would think they know enough about the general “theme” of the restaurant to have a good feel for what they want.

My new favorite limited-service restaurant is called El Pollo Loco. If you have an El Pollo Loco where you live and you haven’t yet tried it, I strongly encourage you to do so. They marinate their chicken in citrus and spices, then grill it. I have tried KFC’s new grilled chicken and I assure you that as good as it is, EPL’s chicken kicks its ass (and breast, and thigh, and so on). It’s indescribably good. I am not currently a spokesman for the chain, but I could be. They would sell more chicken if I were. That’s how strongly I feel about it.

At EPL they primarily sell chicken dinners. They also have salads, burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and some other items, but they are there to sell a lot of chicken. And they should be selling a lot of chicken because it’s just that good (or did I already mention that?).

Here’s the drill. You order a chicken meal. You get either a breast and wing or a thigh and leg as your “main course”. You are then asked if you would like a flour or corn tortilla with it (or you can also choose  nacho chips). Then you can choose two of about 10 sides. The sides are awesome. They have things like black beans, steamed veggies, green salad, corn on the cob, and others. Some very healthy. All awesome. Then you can either add a drink or not. That’s it.

Sounds fairly simple, right? Trust me. It ain’t. At least not for some people.

Whenever I go into my local EPL, I always pray that their is either no line or that the line I am in is populated with people that have both been there before and that know what they want to order. God forbid they should be there for the first time or that they should be indecisive, because if either of those things is true, we’re going to be there a while. A long while.

What in the hell is so hard about ordering from a place like this? It is not La Tour D’Argent, people. There are no specials that require a lengthy discussion between the waiter and the patrons or between the patrons themselves as they try to determine who will order fish and who will order steak so that they can get a little “surf and turf action” going. It’s fast  freaking food people!

But you can count on it. Get behind the EPL neophyte and be ready for an excruciating wait. First will come the question of “can I have a breast and a thigh even though they don’t come together on the menu” (I believe the answer is yes, with a small upcharge off the lesser of the two menu costs). Then there will be something like “are your flour tortillas made with lard?”. “Are they fresh?” Then it’s on to the sides. “What vegetables come in your steamed veggies?” “What kind of container do you put the sides in? If it’s styrofoam, I don’t want that because I can’t recycle it easily.”

And on and on and on. I think I have seen people take less time to order off a menu in a bona fide Chinese restaurant where there were limited English explanations of what the menu items were. Good Lord people. This meal is only $6.00, but more importantly, I don’t want to starve to death while I am waiting on you to figure out your simple order.

In my fantasy world, when a person steps to the front of the line in my EPL, a digital clock starts running. Like the 24-second clock in the NBA. You get a reasonable amount of time to order. Let’s say it’s 2 minutes. This would take into account the picky teenager who isn’t sure they can choke down the mac and cheese because it looks icky. By all means, take the full 2 minutes. But if you haven’t completed your order by the time the 2 minutes are up, then BOOM. Back of the line with you, Jack.

I’m sure this will never happen. EPL, God bless their delicious chicken-making souls, is in business to make money. If they Soup Nazi-ed their customers they wouldn’t stay in business very long.

But PLEASE people, look at the menu before you get in line! Get at least a general idea of what you want. Get to the counter and ask a clarifying question or two. I get it. You want to understand what you’re ordering. But the waiter with the pepper mill isn’t coming by your booth. No sommelier is going to recommend a nice pinot noir. It’s a $6.00 meal. Order. Move. PLEASE!