Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Book Review: Hero of the Underground

This book is getting a lot of attention around the country, and deservedly so. I had been looking forward to reading it ever since I heard that it was coming out earlier this year. The advance reviews & praise for it only made it that much more intriguing to pick up before we left for vacation.

For those that aren't Nebraska fans, or football fans in general, Jason Peter was one of the mainstays on defense through Nebraska's incredible championship runs of the mid-90's. Drafted in the middle ofthe 1st round of the NFL Draft in 1997 by the Carolina Panthers, he began to lean on painkillers to get through injuries and surgeries on his knees and neck. Finally after doctors refused to clear him to play, he was forced to walk away from the game in 2001. With the only thing important in his life now taken away, Jason was left with his addiction to pills and thoughts of what only could've been. Life spiraled out of control pretty fast after that. Written in a straightforward fashion, Jeson relives some pretty awful tales, including a failed suicide attempt, 3 stints in rehab, and the now infamous private jet ride from NYC to L.A: a cocaine, heroin, and hooker-fueled party that was to be his last fling with drugs before entering rehab, again.

An absolutely brutal book to read at times, you can't put it down. Every few pages you keep thinking, "Okay, this is where he gets straight," and it only gets worse. But finally, he finds healing his own way, on his own terms, and he's alive (somehow) at the end to tell the story.

This book isn't for Nebraska fans, or even football fans. It's a book that's compelling to anyone, I think. Addiction isn't someone else's fault, and Jason gives inspiration to people who need to tackle their own issues by facing them head-on with personal strength and accountability.

Oh, and.....he doesn't like Lou Holtz. This stems from his younger brother Damien, a highly touted o-line recruit to Notre Dame who was partially paralysed in a swimming accident prior to his freshman year. Holtz never contacted Damien in his recovery time, or at any point after the accident to ask how he was doing, to give reassurance, anything. As you may guess, Jason and the family hold a bit of a grudge.

I still wouldn't turn down the opportunity to spit in Lou Holtz's f*cking face ... Each Saturday in the fall when Holtz makes his jovial, dumb ... remarks on ESPN, I hope he knows that there's at least one family on the other side of the screen, the Peter family, that knows what a piece of shake sh*t he really is.


I've been on this "Fail" kick lately. I'm not going to bother explaining what it means, since I think it's pretty self-explanatory. When used correctly with a picture or video, it's pretty damn funny. Case in point: Bicycle Fail. He's okay, folks. Really. So go ahead and laugh at him.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

This ain't your Grandpa's Jenga.

Ahhh, the game of Jenga. Sweet, innocent Jenga. I never had the game growing up. It appears that it's made a bit of a renaissance comeback in recent years. As a family, my side rediscovered it this past Christmas, as we gave the game to our niece Ashleigh as a present. Soon after the gift was opened, it was full-fledged Jenga war playing itself out on the kitchen table. I'm pretty certain that the adults had more fun with it than the game's new rightful owner....a 6 year-old. For something to hold this 67 year-old's concentration like this is a feat that even '60 Minutes' cannot do. Remarkable. After at least three rounds and many hoots & hollers later, the game of Jenga had been deemed a new holiday tradition, to be on the same list of traditions such as the annual viewing of Christmas Vacation, Ida's cookie & candy trays, deviled eggs, and the ham & cheese ball. Lofty company, indeed.

I had heard about the Jones version of Jenga. Sure, there were similar variations of the game played by college kids (and adults still pretending to be in college by drinking mass quantities), even a version of Jenga played with a deck of cards and a can of beer. But the Jones Edition of Jenga made the trip to Canada for the Hertz-Screpnek Wedding festivities, and the game certainly made its presence known to many in attendance. Still a game of skill, a steady hand, and a little luck, Hacksaw's Jenga will make someone pay with each pull of a piece. Instructions such as "Take 3", "Give 3", "Take Shot" are all common instructions on the pieces, with a fair distribution either for or against the player. "Social" is peppered in throughout the game pieces. There are rules that occasionally do have to be referenced by the commissioner in cases of shady playing. Making its first appearance in Canada, it was unveiled at the rehearsal reception, with both countries well represented. Above, mother of the groom Terry gets some coaching trom longtime Jenga master Luke. Although this was Luke's first foray into the game of Hacksaw's Jenga. He quickly paid for it with numerous "Give 3"s heading his way. That's what you get for hitting on the groom's mom during Jenga, I guess. Even the wiley veteran Elmer got into the act. The pride & joy of Malvern represented the small-town travelers well in their first International Hacksaw's Jenga competition.

The grand game made its fianl Canada appearance the following Tuesday, as the Americans were preparing to depart the next day. It was to be the Grand Finale in Canmore. This was truly how Hacksaw's Jenga was to be played. Although due to increased consumption, it was determined in the later rounds that the amount of beverages on hand for the proper playing of the game was insufficient. This meant a very rare appearance from Malibu Rum, which normally isn't allowed within 5 miles of this particular game. Canadian rules, I guess.

Speaking of Canadian Rules, much like how the Canucks have completely ruined the great game of football (3 downs? And have you seen those endzones? WTF?), there was an attempt to dephile this game, as well. It seems that the issue of "flicking" is a bone of contention in the international game. The Americans contend that there is no place for flicking of a game piece to remove it. The Canadians agreed, but one player's technique said otherwise (see evidence to the right). Even when the rule would attempt to be enforced, it as done so with little penalty, with the contention that we were on Canadian soil. Therefore, Canadian rules. Here's Jodi, representing Team Canada, demonstrating her tapping & flicking prowess. Thinking that this was the way to victory, this continued for quite a while, as she attempted to free her intended Jenga piece from the rules of structural engineering. But ultimately, the cruel reality of Jenga will get all players who attempt to place themselves above the game. Hacksaw's Jenga will make them pay even more.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hurricane Dolly

Hurricane Dolly has made landfall at South Padre Island, TX today. It got upgraded in the last hour or so to a Category 2 hurricane, with winds above 95 MPH. Here's a cool radar shot from GRLevel3.

Either I'm a true weather geek for thinking this is cool, or I'm still a 1st grader with ADHD that just likes pretty, swirly colors.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

VH1 Rock Honors: The Who

If you missed this on VH1 recently, I can only assume they'll run it another 79 times in the next few months. But this VH1 original is worth showing again and again. My personal favorite of the night is posted below. Pearl Jam blew the place away with their version of the classic "Love Reign O'er Me". I haven't heard Eddie scream like this since 1993. Flawless.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

I'll be in the cafeteria sellin' smokes, eh.

This post goes out to Jason, by request. I mentioned that buying cigarettes in Canada (if you're so inclined) could be a financial adventure, with tobacco taxes at their highest in Alberta. I don't normally smoke heaters, but with a few beverages in me, I've been known to bum a few from time to time. Such an occasion arose at the wedding after hours party down at the Drake Inn in Canmore, AB.

My buddy Jason had long since run out of Parliaments that he bootlegged in from the States. He wasn't able to hold out a 2nd night without scoring some nicotine. He hit me up to go in with him on a pack. So we made our way downstairs from the main bar and dance floor of the Drake to a set of double doors. I walked through the doors and exclaimed, "What. Is. THIS!?" It was the bar I was looking for. Not some club with a fairly shitty reggae band (which did fit the bill nicely for a group of mostly drunk wedding-goers, including the bride and groom). I only say shitty reggae band because once you've heard one reggae song, you've pretty much heard them all. At least from these guys. Anyway, the downstairs bar was playing some obscure Pearl Jam, which instantly made me swoon for the place. Good looking people, a well-staffed bar, no over-crowding, a great jukebox.....what more do you want?

Oh yeah, buying smokes. So Jason inquires to one of the bartenders if they sell any. He says that they're in the bottom 2 racks on the vending machine. Beauty! So we make our way to the vending machine, and we look for the heaters. Apparently, along with making them so heavily taxed that only drunk Americans would want to buy them, they also treat them like they're the nudie mags on the top rack at the Qwik Shop. You couldn't see the cigarettes, as proprietors are no longer allowed to display them out in the open, apparently. Suddenly it occured to me that I hadn't seen any smokes in any gas station or convenience store, either. Fascinating.

So, faced with the decision of picking either what's behind Door #1, or Door #2, I left that one up to Jason. I believed he picked Door #2, because he's got a smooth reputation to live up to, I guess. Like a little kid getting the Super Ball out of the kiddie vending machines at the grocery store, here's Jason holding up his newly prized contraband. Smoke em if you got em.

Another peculiar, disturbing, and funny thing about Canadian cigarettes are all of the warning labels. If the US wants to get serious about curbing tobacco usage, I would have to think that this type of aggressive campaign would work. In Canada, they don't mess around about just talking about birth defects, cancer, etc. on the packaging. They come right out and show you the tumors. I know. The warning label is required to cover 50% of the front and back of the packaging. They also show things like little kids resenting their parents, kids learning how to smoke, old men choking, blood clots and tumors on the brain, and my personal favorite, the one below. Fittingly, these smokes are meant for "Players".

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Speaking of Canada.....RUSH!!!

So while we were away in the Great White North, apparently Rush made their first appearance on US television in 33 years, performing on The Colbert Report. "They're like the J.D. Salinger of Canadian Prog-Rock." The intro was hilarious. Okay, so this is likely only moderately funny to those who are not a drummer like myself, or a standard Rush geek like my brother. Suffer through it anyway. Linky to the full episode here. I've posted the first segment of the show below.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Take off, you hoser!!

Back after a much-needed vacation, or "holidays" as they say in Canada. We just got back from a week in the Canadian Rockies for the highly anticipated Hertz-Screpnek wedding in Canmore, AB. Many more thoughts to come on this week of good times, but here's a few quick highlights.....

First of all, not sure if you knew this or not, but the Canadian Rockies really need to be seen to believe. Someone told us that the Colorado or Wyoming Rockies are beautiful, but the Canadian Rockies are majestic. I think that sums it up. Every new direction you looked driving up the highway towards the Columbia Ice Fields, you couldn't help but say, "Gooooo!"(For you Canucks, that's a good thing.), or "Oh, Duuuude...".

((Also, for clarification, is use of the term "Canuck" a bad slang term for Canadians? Clarification, please. For now, I'll keep using it.))

Canadians. Beautiful people. I say that first because here's where I get into discussion of a stereotype perpetuated for almost 25 years by the immortal Bob & Doug Mackenzie. I figured that I'd hear a few "eh!?"s from time to time. Well, it's everywhere. That's no stereotype that we arrogant Americans are blowing out of proportion. It didn't matter who you talked to, you were going to hear it. And after a week of being there, it's nearly impossible to catch yourself not saying it, as well, eh?. I'm sure it will go away soon. Here's me and Dave, a brother of the bride. How about that for some Canada hospitality, eh?

There's a lot of beer to be had in Canada, and I did my best to get my money's worth. Funny thing about the Canadian Government, though. As stereotypes go for Canada, beer & smokes are right up there. Now, these two items are the most heavily taxed comsumer goods in the country. A 15-pack of Canada's unofficial official beer, Molson Canadian (roughly $15 in the states), cost me $26. A pack of smokes costs around $12 (more on that in another blog post). While the tobacco tax seemed to cut down on the number of smokers I observed, there was no shortage of beer drinkers. And that comforted me.

There was plenty of Hertz-Jones Family debauchery throughout the week, with more writing and incriminating photos to come. Needless to say, it was rewarding to know that we were passing on many Malvern traditions to our friends in Canada. Granted, it didn't seem that we were teaching them anything about drinking that they hadn't done or thought of already. Except for Jenga.

Finally, weddings in the mountains, as you might expect, are pretty much the most romantic thing I can think of. We were fortunate and honored to be a part of it. Congrats once again to Kent and Jodi!

Much more to come....

Monday, July 7, 2008

Saying Goodbye

We moved to the farmhouse on Bluegrass Rd. in the Winter of early 1984. I don't remember much about the circumstances at the time, but over the years I've come up with theories. The most exciting part about the move to the farm for me was that I would be able to ride the bus to and from school. I had always been jealous of friends who lived in the country, and never passed up an opportunity to ride their bus for a sleepover, or a birthday party. The novelty of the school bus wore off in time, but that was my first memory of living at the farm.

I spent the rest of my formative years in that house. We never farmed, it's working years had ceased after Uncle Ralph passed away in 1982. We were essentially the keepers of the property. Mom & dad never purchased the home, and until Aunt Bernice passed away earlier this year, it was never really offered. But by then, it was time for them to move on. I guess it was time for the whole family to move on.

There had been a working farm on this location since the late 1800's. This was the 3rd house to be built on the farm, I believe. The first two homes, beautiful and ornate two-story places, were both lost in fires. Ralph and Bernice Bower bought the farm and some land, one mile easat of Malvern on Bluegrass Rd., and built their home in the realy 1940's. They raised two children here, Barbara and LeRoy. In time, their families grew to include 5 grandchildren, all of them spending many Summers and holidays on the farm creating memories. It's a simple, modest home, with no real oustanding features. It was a home for raising a family, and for work. as years went on, they added on an eating area and entryway to the south. The eating area has large windows facing south and east, overlooking a sweeping expanse of the East Nishnabotna River valley. Cool evening breezes were welcomed in the house from these great windows. This was a gathering point for friends, family, card games, cookouts, bird watching, and farm business. It was a home and garden that Aunt Bernice took great pride in, and it was always abloom with flowers.

We did the best we could to keep things in order out there. Of course, raising two sons with little to no experience on a large farm with many buildings was asking a lot for us to keep it the way it should've been. With both parents working, it wasn't my first inclination to hop on the mower, or to cut down volunteer trees growing up through fences. There was a lot of work to be done on simply managing what was left, and I had zero appreciation for any of it at the time. The farm buildings were in varying stages of decay. The most utilized building was the machine shed, which was home base for many of the farm's workings. The Farmall tractor was still there, not sold off until later at a relative's farm sale. An Allis-Chalmers lawn tractor was the mower for over two decades, when it finally gave out after a long life. I can smell that shed. The spilled and used oil, the powder dirt floor, greasy coffee cans full of washers, nuts, and bolts. A wall of small nooks & crannies full of parts and pieces long since forgotten about.

We lost at least 7 dogs and too many cats to count while living on the farm. The results of being located on a blacktop road at the crest of a hill. Speeding cars and farm trucks could do little to avoid an unweary wandering animal. The ones who avoided their predictable fate the longest were the ones that still mean the most to us today. It was a full-time job to try and teach the dogs to be aware of the danger of the road. It was exciting to get a new dog, but in the back of our minds we knew that their time was likely short. The road seemed to get them all at some point.

I never had a true appreciation for this place until I left. Trips back home from college were not seen as a nuisance like so many of my friends in college treated theirs. It was a time to get back together with the fellas, drink cheap canadian whisky, play Asshole or Circle of Death, and feel like the brothers we felt we all were to one another. It was a time to come home to the smell of mom's cooking, as it simmered patiently, waiting for my arrival. It was coming home to the most amazing sunrises over the river valley, still unrivaled by any I've seen. It was home.

I walked out of the farmhouse for the last time yesterday. Dad and I carried out totes of Christmas decorations that were upstairs in an attic. Trevor and I decided to come help finish the move for the weekend. Dad was downstairs as I stood south of the house, giving it one long last look. It's not looking so good these days. Its weather-beaten exterior has faced many strong south winds high on that hill. The messy Chinese Elms have battered it relentlessly for the past two decades with fallen, wind-driven branches and limbs.

I swallowed hard, and I walked to my truck. The driveway shook me left and right like it normally does as I pulled out onto Bluegrass Road heading west towards town.