XXII 2.0

I was born and (mostly) raised in Washington, D.C. So I’m a lifelong fan of the team with the most offensive name in all of sports. I won’t wear the gear, but I will still pull for the burgundy-and-gold every week during (US) football season, in good seasons and bad . . . and this season has turned out to be a pretty damned good one. But it’s not over yet.

I’m also enough of a geek to participate in a friendly pick-’em pool every season. I’ve got a system (it’s highly proprietary, so don’t ask) that was right a respectable 61.1% of the time, and that brought me to a very close third place finish this year (one pick out of second place, and two out of first). And that system tells me that the NFL playoffs will shape up as follows.

Wild-card weekend:
Houston over Cincinnati
Minnesota over Green Bay
Indianapolis over Baltimore
Washington over Seattle

Divisional-round weekend
Minnesota over Atlanta
Denver over Indianapolis
Washington over San Francisco
New England over Houston

Conference championships
Washington over Minnesota
Denver over New England

Super Bowl
Washington over Denver

As I write these words, the nice folks at Football Outsiders (one of my fave NFL-centric sites) figure that this particular matchup — which would reprise the 42-10 beatdown that Washington handed Denver in Super Bowl XXII — is only about 2.8% likely, but I’m not phased by those odds. After all, seven weeks ago, when they were 3-6, that’s about what my team’s chances were of merely making the playoffs. And they’ve done alright since then. With much more to come.

November notable nine

Nine days late, I know, but it’s been a busy week or so.

  1. Mocha. She’s still with us. Believe it or not. She’s had a couple of spells where she stopped eating for a few days, and I thought she was ready to go . . . but then she’s suddenly rediscovered the joy of kibble.
  2. In like a lamb, out like a frozen four-pack of lamb chops. Our slow arriving fall treated us mellow and fine deep into the second week of the month, when we had highs in the 60s . . . and then we got walloped with 6-10 inches of snow. By month’s end, the city had already declared its second snow emergency of the season, and we’d all forgotten what outside temperatures above freezing felt like.
  3. The American Studies Association conference. I got to escape some of those early sub-freezing days by flying off to San Antonio for the annual ASA meetings. And, as scholarly gatherings go, the ASA is routinely much more interesting and enjoyable than the annual ICA and NCA confabs. It didn’t hurt that I got to wear sandals for four days in mid-November without putting myself at risk of frostbite. I did struggle to find anything that resembles good beer in San Antonio . . . but the margaritas made up for that.
  4. Town Hall Tap. My fave brewpub in town anywhere opened up a new location at 48th and Chicago in south Minneapolis. And, not surprisingly, it appears to already be a huge success. The official opening happened at 3 pm on a Friday. By 4, the place was standing room only. By the time I left that night, the wait list for tables was about 45 minutes long. The opening was even sweeter for me, thanks to the unexpected pleasure of not one, but two different former undergrads — neither of whom I’d seen in years — spotting me and making a point of saying how much they’d enjoyed the classes they’d taken from me.
  5. The collapse of the Cowboys. It was not a good month to be a fan of Washington’s professional football team. An embarrassing loss to a bad team (the Vikings). A humiliating loss to a good team (the Eagles). A squeaker victory over a mediocre team (the Titans). On the other hand, it was delicious to watch the Cowboys self-destruct so thoroughly. Even more delicious to have The Onion capture the joy I felt so perfectly.
  6. Apple pie. Thanksgiving found me baking my very first ever pie. From scratch, no less. The filling, if I do say so myself, came out quite nicely. At least in terms of its taste. A little more cornstarch would probably have helped it firm up a bit. The crust, on the other hand, needed some serious help. Again, it tasted fine. At least insofar as it stayed intact, since the bottom crust basically disappeared during the baking process. Perhaps it melted into the filling. But there was little to no there there when it came time for dessert.
  7. A kind mention. Proud as I still am of Elvis After Elvis, I also don’t figure it gets much attention these days. It’s nearly fifteen years old (as a book, anyway), and so it’s well past the usual “freshness” date of an awful lot of scholarly volumes. So I was quite surprised to stumble across the brief shout-out for it in this interview.
  8. Bettye Lavette, Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook. Wow. Just wow. Worth it for the opening track alone (a stunning cover of an otherwise little-played Beatles track called “The Word”), but the rest of the album is awfully sharp too.
  9. Mavis Staples. Also wow. Only this time for a live performance at The Cedar. If the opportunity presents itself to see her in concert, run (do not walk). You will not be disappointed. Promise.

October notable nine

As before, these are in no particular order . . . except for #1.

  1. Mocha. Given the unhappy prognosis for her long-term health back in March, she stays at the top of this list for every month she remains on this side of the topsoil. The past week or so, she’s actually seemed a bit perkier. And the slow, perpetual nose bleeds that had made my living room floor look like it had been decorated by Jackson Pollock with a one-dimension palette have slowed down as well. If she’s still with us this time next month, I’ll have had to go back to the vet twice to re-renew the prescription for her meds. And, given how she seems to be faring right now, I’m not gonna be surprised if I have to do that.
  2. A long delayed fall. We knew it couldn’t last. And it didn’t. We saw our first snow flurries of the season here in Minneapolis last week. But earlier in the month, we were still rocking temps in the 80s. Not just fleetingly, but for several days at a stretch. Patio dining was still feasible — and comfortable — more than halfway into the month. And when those sorts of days aren’t likely to roll around again until April, every little extension of the summer is a glorious thing.
  3. Lake Wine and Cheese. Newly opened, and a short four-block walk from my house . . . and with a marvelous selection of craft beers and microbrews. If I didn’t have a fridge full of beer I brewed myself, this place would tempt me to part with a bit more of my take-home pay than would be wise.
  4. Town Hall Brewery‘s Fresh Hop. Speaking of places where I spend money on beer, it’s tough to top the stuff THB brews and pours on a regular basis. But it’s extra tough to top their Fresh Hop: a once-a-year, get-it-while-supplies-last batch of hopped-up ale made, just as the name implies, with hops picked fresh off the vine . . . or at least as fresh as possible, given that the vines in question are still 1000 miles or so to the west.
  5. Washington, 17, Philadelphia 12; Washington 16, Green Bay 13; Washington 17, Chicago 14. On a day when my lifelong football allegiance were sorely tested (i.e., the day when, for the second year in a row, my team lost to the otherwise woeful Lions), I need to remind myself that we had a winning record for October, that two of our three wins came against teams that made the playoffs last season, and that the season is still far from over.
  6. Teaching via IM. Once every year or two, I’ll have a moment when I think I know what I’m going to do in the classroom that day . . . and then, at the last second, some wild idea pops into my head for something totally weird that I should do instead. I can’t predict or control those flashes of inspiration, but I’ve learned to trust them. ‘Cause they often wind up working much, much better than whatever I’d originally had planned. This time around, the course was “New Telecommunication Media” and one of the two readings on tap was from Shayla Thiel-Stern‘s book on adolescent girls and instant messaging. And I’d been prepared to lead the group in our usual conversation about the issues raised by the readings for the day — until I realized that it would be far more productive, at least with respect to one of the topics at hand, to hold our discussion using IM. Or at least a primitive, pre-digital version of IM, where our entire conversation took place using the whiteboard at the front of the room. It took my students a little while to warm up to the idea . . . but, eventually, we had 3-4 separate threads running on the board at once, and we were able to have a much smarter, much more embodied discussion of the material at hand than we ever would have if I’d stuck with my original lesson plan.
  7. So You Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities. Yes, it’s one of those videos that has already been around the world about 40 times, thanks to Facebook and listservs and such. But that doesn’t make it any less funny. Or sad. Or true.
  8. Chastity Brown @ the Kitty Cat Klub. This show was already down as a “must-list” for this month’s Notable Nine, and I figured I’d be able to find some suitably representative performance already online to give folks who’ve never had the pleasure a sense of what went down at the KCK on Oct 16. But, o frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! I found a clip from that very show. Enjoy.
  9. Paul Beatty reads Slumberland. A last-second addition to this month’s list. But that’s because I only became aware of this video in the last hour or so. If you haven’t read Slumberland yourself, run (do not walk) to your nearest independent bookstore, buy a copy, and stay up all night to finish it. While you’re at it, do the same with his first novel, The White Boy Shuffle. But if your nearest independent bookstore is closed at the time you’re actually reading these words, you can whet your appetite by watching the video below.

Who dat?

One of the most amazing little serendipitous moments of . . . well . . . who knows how long? And way too sweet not to mention here.

Was out with a couple of friends, celebrating a birthday (not mine). The Super Bowl was not an official part of anyone’s agenda though, as it turns out, all three of us were rooting for New Orleans. Even the birthday girl, who’s not a football fan. At halftime, we leave the bar we’d been and start walking back to where 2 of the 3 of us had parked their cars. And we hear this noise up ahead from several blocks away.

We get closer, and it sounds vaguely like a Mardi Gras parade. There’s music. Horns. Shouting.

Bear in mind, this is Minneapolis. In February. And it’s snowing. So we figure that can’t possibly be the case.

We get closer still. And, yes. There’s a small brass band standing in an alleyway. There are a dozen people dressed in black and gold (Saints colors, for those who are not NFL-savvy) dancing in the street, having the time of the fuckin’ lives.

This is one of the reasons I love Minneapolis.

Better still, it’s one of the reasons I love N’awlins. Even though I’ve never lived there. I can’t think of any other city in the US that could generate enough passion and love and community and loyalty to have people dancing in the snow like that. Not for people who were 1000 miles from home, anyway.

Monday lameness: The too-little-too-late edition

Why I chose to make Monday my “regular” blog posting day, I’m not sure.  It’s my long teaching day this semester, and several of those long days will be made longer by various meetings that are scheduled to happen in between my morning class and my afternoon seminar.  Not to mention the obligatory (for me, even if not always for anyone else) post-seminar retreat to the local brewpub for a bite to eat and a pint (or two) to drink.  Just when did I think that blogging would happen in all that?  I don’t know.  I simply don’t know.

Anywho . . . last Monday’s post never happened because Monday Night Football demanded my attention.  My team (who shall remain nameless here, seeing as how they have the most heinous and offensive nickname in all of professional sports) was playing, and when one lives 1100 miles away from one’s team’s homebase (and the guarantee of weekly TV opportunities), one doesn’t let a MNF appearance by one’s team slide by.  The blog, I’m afraid, suffered as a result.  But I did come away from the experience knowing, for the first time in my life, someone I could turn to should I ever want to place a bet with a bookie.  Not to mention a bar where “buying” shots for the bartender seems to mean that you and he and half the staff all drink for free.  So it wasn’t a total loss.

Less pretty — and something closer to a total loss (at least to this point) — is the AFSCME strike at the U, which officially ended last Friday . . . but only because the striking workers couldn’t afford to stay away from steady (if still inadequate) paychecks as long as the administration could afford to hold out.  There’s much more to say here, but I’m still feeling far too angry about it all to get it down cleanly.