Opening Day

Budweiser clydesdales

Photo: 5chw4r7z, used under Creative Commons

One of the surest signs of spring is opening day for Major League Baseball. From Fenway Park to Dodger Stadium, fans stream into their favorite team’s home field to watch the beginning of a new season and remember why it’s called the Great American Pastime. Football is dropping temperatures and shorter days. Basketball is indoors and, during March Madness, a disappointing end if your local teams all implode, assuming they made it to the dance at all. But baseball is warm weather, longer days, and the end of winter. For most of the US and Canada, that end hasn’t come soon enough.

In Cincinnati, however, Opening Day is a high holy day. Woe to the commissioner who schedules the Cincinnati Reds to open their season on the road. If you thought the city of Cleveland went ballistic when it lost the original Browns, you should hear some of the howls of agony when their beloved Reds open in another city. The Reds are the oldest franchise in the Major Leagues, indeed in all of professional baseball. They open at home, dammit. They have always (with few exceptions) opened at Redlands, at the late, lamented Crosley Field, at the legendary Riverfront Stadium, and now at Great American Ball Park. You can skip Mass on Christmas. You can eat meat on Friday during Lent. But Opening Day is sacred here.

This was a bit of culture shock to me. I arrived in Cincinnati from Cleveland in 1991 (by way of Holmes County of Amish Mafia fame. That’s another blog post.) Opening day often occurred on the road. And let’s face it. If you were an Indians fan before 1993, people had to take pity on you. My hometown team was in the midst of a thirty-plus-year playoff drought, and did not have the lovable loser aura of the Chicago Cubs. Municipal Stadium was a dump, and it’s only real purpose was to house the legendary original Cleveland Browns (and, unfortunately, to send John Elway to the Superbowl. Twice. At Cleveland’s expense.) Coming to Cincinnati?

Hey, the Big Red Machine was part of my childhood. Come on. Tommy Veryzer. Remember him? No? Well, you remembered his counterpart down on the Ohio River, Dave Concepcion, who had just retired only a couple years before I showed up. The Reds were in the National League, so any rivalry with the Indians was completely bullshit. Unlike the Yankees and Mets, the Cubs and the White Sox, or the Dodgers and the Angels, the Tribe and the Reds do not play even remotely close to each other. Pittsburgh is closer to Cincinnati, and they, too, play in the National League, whereas the Indians are an AL team. I could adopt the Reds as my own without any guilt whatsoever. (Some West Siders have tried to argue with me about that. They lost every time.)

But Opening Day? My girlfriend at the time insisted I take a day off work to go see the game. In those days, when the Reds played in the old Riverfront Stadium, you could get Opening Day tickets right up to about three days before the game. But there was more to it than that. There was the Findlay Market Parade. I swear the only reason Marge Schott bought the Reds was to be in the Findlay Market Parade. It’s a ritual Cincinnatians have engaged in since native son William Howard Taft sat on the Supreme Court.

And downtown is always more alive during Opening Day than it is any other time of the year, even Oktoberfest Zinzinnati. The parade usually features past Reds legends – this year, Dave Concepcion and Barry Larkin, who combined to hold the shortstop position between them for thirty years. We’ve had three since Barry retired. – local celebrities, and various organizations. Keep your St. Patrick’s Day parades. We do St. Paddy’s in the bar with a nice pint o’Guiness Draft or some green Hudey. Opening Day is where it’s at in the Queen City.

There are more street musicians working on Opening Day, which amps up the festive atmosphere even more. Forget getting any work done. If you’re at work that day, you’re probably lonely, especially if, as I did for eleven years, you work downtown.

One of my most memorable Opening Days was spent at home. I had injured my foot at work and was ordered off of it for a week. I spent the day with my foot up, two six packs of beer next to me, with the Reds on WLWT (their old television home before Fox and ESPN took over televised baseball) and my hometown Tribe playing Jacobs Field (now Progressive Field) for the first time. My girlfriend came home to find me blissfully drunk and just plain blissful. Both the Reds, under Davey Johnson, and the Tribe, powered by Denny Ramirez, won. Back then, the strike of 1994 had not yet happened, and I still loved baseball with an almost religious fervor.

I’ve been to four Opening Day games – three at Riverfront and the first game at Great American Ball Park. I don’t miss either Riverfront or Municipal Stadium, though Riverfront had an aura of tradition about it. Great American Ball Park is much more comfortable, even in the cheap seat, and you’re always close to the field. It compares quite nicely with its neighbor to the north, Progressive (Jacobs) Field. It’s actually a lot better than Turner Field, the only other Major League park I’ve been to. Mind you, the Jake and GABP are downtown stadiums surrounded by entertainment districts. The only reason to be anywhere near Turner Field is to go to Turner Field.

The most memorable game should have been the hometown debut of Ken Griffey, Jr., the legendary Seattle Mariner and son of Big Red Machine player Ken Griffey. That one got rained out, but GABP has always been worth the trip.

Most cities love baseball. Ask anyone in a fifty-mile radius of Manhattan about the Yankees or the Mets. No neutral opinions whatsoever. But in Cincinnati, it is a religion. Today, Nita and I will be watching the spectacle of the Opening Day Parade.

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Remission: Get Back Out There

lone-runnerI’ve talked a lot about how unremittingly miserable this winter has been. Some would ask why, since I grew up in Cleveland. I wasn’t thrilled with winter in Cleveland, either. There’s a reason so many ex-Clevelanders live in Winter Haven, Florida, while Cincinnatians seem to retire in droves to Hilton Head, SC.

But it’s had health consequences. I originally intended to build up my running endurance so that I was up to three miles a day by St. Patrick’s Day.

That was last week. The mile-and-a-half to the local park and back, never mind the half-mile track inside it, is a challenge. But this week, spring sprung. Monday, I was able to get in part of a mile and a half, making it back to within five blocks of my house. Wednesday, I had a doctor’s appointment midday, which required me to take the morning off. So I ran right after Nita left for work.

It was a gorgeous day, the sky clear. And so peaceful. I’d missed the bulk of rush hour traffic and was able to cross the main drag with little trouble. I even made it back to within three blocks of the house this time. It felt great.

Except it was so freakin’ cold. Yes, winter has been like the drunken relative who insists on crashing on your couch despite the fact that you’re having a dinner party right about when he’s sleeping off a fifth of Ol’ Granddad. As I walked the rest of the way back, I remember thinking to myself, “I could probably run the whole route if it wasn’t so freaking cold!” Twenty degrees.

Last year, though, I ran in single-digit temps. Last year, we didn’t spend most of the winter with ice from partial snowmelt coating the sidewalks.

Of course, next year, I’m just going to have to dig into my pockets and pay LA Fitness $36 a month to use their treadmills from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day, or later. By that point, I intend to train for the annual half marathon that runs along with The Flying Pig Marathon.

Or I can just suck it up and learn to run in the snow.

But it’s Cincinnati. Why would I do something silly like that?

Space Stuff! It Is Finished. For Now.

deathstar

Source: Lucasfilm

Sunday morning, I wrote the final scene. The science fiction project checked in at 98,562 words. It also took four months longer to write than I anticipated. So now what?

The running joke for this thread is in the tags: “My Dick is writing a novel,” meaning the Dick Bachman to my Stephen King. So when I start talking about this once again, it will be as “Dick.” First, I need to get Dick published somewhere with short stories, articles, possibly even reviews.

draftMore importantly, I have to tackle the rewrite. I basically invented a new universe from scratch. Oh, I laid some groundwork, but there were points in the story where I thought, “Is that too primitive for 300-500 years in the future?” And I know some things are inconsistent. Also, I have two main protagonists, one male and one female. The female is a brain, though there are plenty of female ass kickers in this tale. It’s a character that doesn’t yield well to someone who’s written crime fiction for the past decade and a half. So she’s a bit more passive than I like.

The other problem stems from the Act II doldrums that dragged this thing out an extra four months. I’m sure I was on the right track (sometimes literally, since much of it takes place on a commandeered maglev train) when I re-outlined in late fall, but I also know that part has the most opportunity for major structural changes.

Peer reviewerAnd finally, how do I want to publish this? Will I go traditional? That was the original plan, and we’ll decide on that in the rewrite. Maybe go indie? Science fiction is a better genre for indie writers than crime fiction. A series’ fan base tends to be more fiercely loyal than those of crime fiction writers, and much easier to grow. People love a really good shared mythology.

One idea, however, is to serialize it. The story has twin plot lines that really don’t merge until late in the game. This worked successfully for John Scalzi, who is doing a second “season” of The Human Division. It’s a format tailor made for ebooks and independent writers, and Tor, Scalzi’s publisher, is behind this idea.

But for now, I need to go back through one last time just to read the book as a coherent whole. Then I need to stick it in a drawer and forget it exists. I’m pretty strict about things like that. When I’m not writing or revising a book, I don’t want to discuss it or know it exists. This frustrates people I ask to help with edits, but it’s a necessary step, and really, every writer should do this.

I’ll take out the novel again this summer. Then Dick can tell you how I’m spending my summer vacation.

The Return Of The Crunk

IVduL

pikdit.com

A couple years ago, I posted about the bizarre mutant virus that nearly resulted in a chest burster from Alien erupting from my tortured thorax. The last time I was that sick was 1994, also the last time I ever had a flu bug worth mentioning. Ferris Buehler could have gotten another day off by imitating me that weekend. But that was the flu, and I could power through it.

This bug, however, was not the flu. This probably was what started World War Z. It felt like it. It begins with a slight headache. Well, slight headaches are like the lines at BMV. Everyone has to stand in it, but eventually, it goes away. You don’t really know you’re sick with this bug until the projectile vomiting begins. And it begins with your stomach sending a signal to your brain: Evacuating dinner in 5… 4… 3… 2… bleeeeeeeeegghhhh!!!!

WWZ2

World War Z, source: Paramount

That’s right. It never makes it to 1. We have a small house, so I do make it to the toilet. After that, just moving back to the bedroom or sitting on the couch has roughly the same effect on you as running a marathon. Only after a marathon, you’re heart works better, and you’re left with a day of soreness. With this modern plague, you spend the next three days with just enough energy to get out to your car and start it.

Glad I got through it, and that’s over. Right?

Um…

The news talked about an outbreak at a local school of norovirus, also called Norwalk virus. What is that? Well, it starts with projectile vomiting, followed by three days of being so weak that sitting down leaves you winded and sweaty. But I already had that. Right? It’s like measles or the mumps. Once you had it, you can’t get it again. (Although chicken pox leaves you with the gift that keeps on giving: Shingles. Don’t try that one at home.)

Well…

Just as one cold doesn’t prevent the next one, and the annual flu shot attacks different strains of the flu, so, too, the norovirus has a new model year. It’s just like new cars, only more of an ordeal unless you go to a buy here/pay here/repo here lot that occupies a former gas station in a bad neighborhood. And the folks on Channel 19 were referring to this year’s model. I didn’t know that. I turned to Nita and said, “Hey, honey. Glad I already had that bug.”

And then two nights later, while watching television, I said, “Wow. Those pork chops really don’t agree with me for some reason.” It happens. We had a big dinner.

Which ten minutes later, I proceeded to send directly to the Metropolitan Sewer District by kneeling in front of the toilet and emptying my stomach. Last time, I coughed it all up at once. It was over, and I could get on with wallowing in my misery. This time, it took four trips to the bathroom to bring my stomach under control, the last time dry heaves. I stumbled into bed and passed out, thoughts of Eric “Stumpy Joe” Childs briefly crossing my delirious mind.

It took me an hour to call off work the next morning. I went out to the kitchen, grabbed my cell phone off the charger, and that was pretty much it for an hour. Finally, I had the energy to use the phone. Then I did what passing out would not let me do the previous night: Slept.

I’m writing this on Sunday morning and still not feeling a hundred percent. However, I’m actually the healthiest one in the house. Two days after getting clocked by this microscopic freight train, Nita took ill at an afterwork party. Then Saturday, I returned from my monthly writers group to find AJ sick. However, AJ turns 20 soon (making me feel old), and his immune system seems to be kicking this thing’s ass. He’s been sick, weak, and achy, but he’s powered through it. This is something no one powers through when it hits full force.

I know this is not the last time any of us will get this. Like the flu, it has different strains that change from year to year. But man, I could really go another 18 years before getting that sick again.

Friday Reviews: Bag Of Bones by Stephen King

Bag of Bones

Stephen King

Mike Noonan is a thriving midlist writer on the verge of breaking through when his wife dies. He is barely able to finish the novel he was working on, and his output grinds to a halt. Over the next four years, he gets by on submitting manuscripts he left in a safe deposit box.

When the well runs dry, Mike heads to his summer home on Dark Score Lake, a familiar setting to Stephen King readers. There, he nearly runs down a little girl wandering in the road. She is Kyra Devore, and her mother, Mattie, is distraught. When Mike learns she is in a custody battle against her late husband’s father, computer magnate and local-boy-turned-whack-job Max Devore, Mike decides to foot the bill for a high-priced New York lawyer for her. When he does that, it becomes obvious that the summer home is haunted, and it ties to something sinister around Kyra.

Dark Score Lake is familiar territory for King fans, functioning as a sort of “suburb” of Castle Rock. In fact, much of King’s fictional Maine is here, with Mike Noonan hailing from Derry, the setting for It and Insomnia. There is, in fact, no hint of the bizarre supernatural happenings in either town. There are, however, references to other Stephen King surrogates. Noonan is amused by the work of William Denbrough from It. We also learn that The Dark Half‘s Thad Beaumont committed suicide. Noonan suspects it’s the writer’s block that he himself suffers.

Like King’s previous non-Dark Tower novel, Desperation (and its Richard Bachman counterpart, The Regulators), Bag of Bones meanders and wades into the story. However, the first-person narrative keeps it from being a mess up front. The story wanders a bit at first, but overall, it’s a coherent whole.

While this is a ghost story, there is a monster in this story, Max Devore. Devore is an absolutely abominable human being. He has a lot of parallels to Charles Foster Kane, even pining for a sled in his youth. Unlike Kane, Devore has no redeemable qualities, even attempting to “buy” Kyra from his “low-class” mother and leaving mother and daughter to live in a run-down trailer in rural Maine. His evil even reaches from beyond the grave late in the story, not exactly a spoiler when you consider King’s usual subject matter.

Wakey Wakey, Hemingway

4 AMI hit a big problem with my writing. During the week, it would be the last thing I did at night. Unfortunately, that meant having to ditch something else – technical training, fitness (which I’ve found enough excuses to ditch thanks to weather), time with Nita.

I’m in the last semester of a math-heavy sequence at Wilmington College. At 21, I would have sucked it up, mainlined Mountain Dew, and functioned quite nicely on three glorious hours of sleep. Now?

I need at least five, preferably six. Seven is ideal. (I’m that rare creature who can’t do eight. I feel like I haven’t slept right around that eighth hour.) The other problem is, when I can write, often my eyelids droop as I type.The result is a low word count, which may explain why Dick’s SF novel fell into Act II doldrums and has taken seven months to write instead of the predicted four.

A few years ago, a friend suggested I write first thing in the morning. I liked the idea. I write better in the morning. Unfortunately, I have to be out the door by 6:30 to travel to a strange and mysterious foreign land known as Cincinnati’s West Side. So where would the time come from?

I’ve been getting up at 5:45 for years now. The alarm goes off at 5:30. Move it back half an hour. Doable?

funny-Monday-coffee-cup-caffeine

Sometimes,, a little liquid motivation helps.

If I get to bed by 11, maybe 11:15. Originally, I planned to go down to my office to write, but it occurred to me that, without the television on, I could sit on the couch and write in the living room. So how’d it work?

I don’t know. I just started this on Monday (when I overslept), so I’ll tell you in a couple of weeks. I will say it’s wonderful when your brain has that fresh-from-the-shower vibe going that early. Unfortunately, it forces me to admit something I had hoped was wrong.

I really am a morning person.

The Greatest Show On Earth

ringling1

ringling.com

I have not been to a circus since the age of two. Literally. The only exception was a small big-top show that toured small towns when I was thirteen or so. It was in Marietta, Ohio, and the circus had setup shop in a parking lot somewhere. It had a couple of elephants, one tiger, and some acrobats who failed to leave an impression.

But when I say circus, I mean the circus. I mean Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus. That one. The only other one that compares would be the Shriner’s Circus, which will hit Cincinnati in about a month, playing the venerable old Cincinnati Gardens.

Nita used to take AJ every year. A fortunate booking of front row seats many moons ago allows her to get sweet seats cheap. My only memories of my foray at age two to the late, unlamented Cleveland Arena was the man on the motorcycle on the high wire, which looked really really high to my toddler eyes, and stealing cotton candy from a little girl seated ahead of us. Her father apparently thought that was funny. That said, I had little to compare going to Ringling Brothers in my forties. For starters, US Bank Arena did not exist back then, and anyway, I lived in Cleveland. And anyway, my first clear memory before age 4 is watching the moon landing.

So as we went in, I looked up at the high wire rig. Now, US Bank Arena, built shortly after Cleveland’s Richfield Coliseum, is considerably larger than the old Cleveland Arena. Yet the high wire did not seem so… High. Mind you, while the old arena was a glorified gymnasium that could handle the odd rock concert in 1968, to a toddler, it was the interior of V’Ger from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (which would not bore me to tears for another 11 years. I digress.) US Bank Arena is big, even to my middle aged mind, but…

The high wire did not seem so high. I was a little disappointed.

I was not disappointed in the show. The circus is an old, old form of entertainment. It had been around for ages by the time PT Barnum created the Barnum half of Barnum & Bailey. This show, however, has to compete with pop concerts, rock concerts, the spectacle of the NFL, and the gleefully bogus blood sport that is pro wrestling. The ringmaster even came out with that “Let’s get ready to rumble!” vibe. The lighting, the music – some recorded, but most played by a live band, and the stagework would all put Lady Gaga to shame.

About half of any circus is acrobats. And acrobatics, when you watch it as tightly choreographed as the current Ringling shows (There are three on tour at any given time.), you come to realize that it’s gymnastics on steroids (the act, not the acrobats themselves) with a heightened danger of falling and an element of dance.

I also wanted to see the animals. I won’t speculate here on how they’re treated, but the animals I saw behaved as though they enjoyed working with the trainers. The horses were the most intelligent, one even “failing” a trick on cue. It did not react to being scolded, but the trainer walked over and whispered something to it between staged rants.

But it was the elephants I wanted to see. I’ve heard how, in India, trained elephants are better than horses but that wild elephants are a six-ton menace. The elephants performed well enough, but I did notice one of them needed to be coaxed, as though it may have been in a little pain. Not sure I’d want an injured elephant performing for a crowd of 30,000, especially with a 90-pound woman riding it. Still, they’re magnificent creatures.

The tigers, however, impressed me the most. They really are big cats. Big cats that can kill you with their claws or teeth, but big cats just the same. One tiger acted a little cocky in the same way some dogs or race horses will. As the last animal in the cage during the tiger act, it tossed its head as it was called up to do its tricks, then strutted out with its head up. The other cats looked like they’d just punched a clock and were off for a round of Purina Tiger Chow. Of course, there are accidents. Just ask Sigfried and Roy. But these animals were extremely intelligent and graceful in a way we don’t normally get to see them.

One might ask about the clowns. Why am I not mentioning them here? Well, clowns are a distraction. They do their thing while the crew puts together the animal cages or acrobat rigs. While some of what they do was amusing enough, I found myself drawn toward the unlighted side of the arena. What were they doing over there. It felt a little like peaking behind a magician’s curtain.

And finally, the band. During one segment (a clown segment where they did a bit about construction), the band played “Highway to Hell.” Yes, they played an AC/DC song about going to hell for an audience that was at least 1/3 children. And it sounded like something Doc Serverensin would play on the old Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Overall, the show had more in common with a show by, say, Alice Cooper or KISS than the old image of calliope music, clowns who look like rejects from It, and the big top. In fact, even 45 years ago, the big top was a dead piece of the culture. Every circus I’ve seen come to town (Cleveland or Cincinnati) is an arena show. And half the big rock shows I’ve seen look just like Ringling Brothers.

Sound like it, too.