Sunday, June 20, 2004

Another Set of Updates...part 2.

June 14th: Monday
Thanks to Alexandra Olson, whom I've mentioned before, I had the pleasure of discovering a museum I never knew even existed. Alex had invited me to the Community Resource Exchange’s 25th Anniversary Celebration at the Museum of the City of New York, honoring Hildy Simmons.

First off, I hadn’t been at a philanthropy-related event in quite some time, so it was refreshing to be around that energy. Second off, I’m always excited by the opportunity to discover new aspects of this city. I sincerely thought that I had been to every museum and established gallery (as opposed to the smaller galleries that seem to always be popping up) there is in the New York metro area, including the outlying suburbs, so when I saw the Museum of the City of New York on the invite, I was very much intrigued.

Admittedly, I hadn’t ventured that far north on the east side in a very long time -- I had gone to El Museo del Barrio when I was in high school, which is a block north of the Museum of the City of New York, at 104th Street. Although the city has become much safer now, I pretty much hadn’t ventured north of 86th Street on the east side, save for the few occasions I’d made it to the Guggenheim (89th) and Cooper Hewitt (91st).

With that said, I have since heard that the Museum of the City of New York is apparently considered one of the most elegant museums in the city, and I believe it. Although the Frick remains to be my favorite museum in the city, whose architecture I would describe more as being intimate, there are very few museums I would say that the architecture is as elegant as the Museum of the City of New York.

The Metropolitan, although elegant in its own right, I would describe as being grand. The Whitney, Guggenheim, and MoMA, although each unique in terms of modern architecture, are not necessarily graceful (I am, however, excited about the reopening of MoMA!) -- I mean no offense to Frank Lloyd Wright, but the Guggenheim, although a very unique piece of architecture, is a bit atrocious when it comes to its function as a museum -- its slanted floors are not conducive to appreciating art, in my humble opinion (although I’ve always been tempted to ride a sled down its entire length every time I’ve stepped foot in that museum). However, I will say that one of the most interesting exhibits I’ve seen in this city has to be the motorcycle exhibit at the Guggenheim.

In my opinion, I would have to rank the top ten New York City architecture in the following order, taking aesthetics, functional value, cultural value, and historic value into account:

1. Grand Central Terminal. Not only is it one of grandest piece of architecture, in my opinion, it still anchors the entire city. I’ve gone on and on about it in a former post.

2. Metropolitan Museum of Art. The palace of some of the greatest art, one of the best museums in the world, in a truly majestic, gigantic piece of architecture. I still have yet to have explored every bit of this building. I should mention here that their Cloisters extension is one of the most beautiful settings, and one of the best destinations in Manhattan that is peaceful and hardly ever crowded (because it is so far north, and so few people know of it).

3. American Museum of Natural History. One of the only saving graces of the Upper West Side, aside from Lincoln Center. Although, I have to say, Avery Fisher Hall itself is decidedly unimpressive considering the work that comes through it (the opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the ABT) -- during my most recent jaunt to there, for the opening night of Don Giovanni, I really felt again that the architecture, despite being an icon within American culture, is decidedly dated and lacking. Nevertheless, the Natural History is definitely one of the best destinations in the city, and I remember frequenting its Hayden Planetarium when I was younger. Then there was the diamonds exhibit I took a Velantine's date to one year, after a leisurely brunch at Isabella's across the street -- on display was the world's largest diamond...that would be three months' salary of, uh, Bill Gates, maybe.

4. Carnegie Hall. All of the fantastic music aside, it is one of the most beautiful, elegant surroundings to be in. I’m not sure if they still have them, but they used to have open rehearsals, and in my opinion, this is one of the best (cheap) entertainment you can get in this city. If the Capital Theater was still up, it likely would have shared this rank with Carnegie Hall...alas, instead of the Capital, we now have the Ziegfeld.

5. The New York Public Library, the Mid-Manhattan Central Library. Not only is the library itself one of the most extensive libraries in the city with wonderful architectural surroundings as featured in various films, Bryant Park at its rear is also one of the nicer small parks in the city, host to outdoor movies in the summer, and (groan) Fashion Week in the Spring and Fall. It was also here that, thanks to Robert Knapp, I got to briefly meet Stephanie Seymour, whom I've been infatuated with since my high school days, during a FORD Supermodel of the World Finals event this year. Also in attendance was Frederique, who sat at a table next to ours at the after party, at the Bryant Park Hotel right across the street.

6. (tie) St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. St. Patrick’s is the city’s most well-known cathedral and had to be mentioned. It is impressive architecturally, but what I like most is its location -- amidst all of the commercial frenzy of consumerism right on Fifth Avenue, right next door to Saks Fifth Avenue and across the street from Rockefeller Center. The contrast always made me laugh. However, St. Patrick’s has nothing on St. John the Divine, in terms of architectural immensity -- St. John is the nation’s (if not the world’s?) largest Gothic cathedral, and houses tapestries by my baptism namesake, the Italian artist, Raphael. The only problem is its accessibility -- it is located way up in Morningside Heights.

8. The Brooklyn Bridge. As one observer quipped when its construction was completed, (I forget the exact words): “all that effort into building such a majestic bridge to get to nowhere.” I would tend to agree -- the beauty and historic importance of this bridge, in conjunction with its engineering feat, is truly majestic, albeit all in an effort to get to...Brooklyn. A tip when walking across Brooklyn Bridge: if you keep your eyes focused at the top of its moorings, you get a sense that you are going downhill because of its cable patterns.

9. The Woolworth Building. The world’s first “skyscraper,” that began the frenzy of competition in the rest of the world. It was the world’s tallest building until it was outdone by the Chrysler Building, but as far as architectural touches go, hands down, it is still the best skyscraper in the city. I used to work in this building, and it was a pleasure to walk into this building every day, with its lofty foyer and classic, brass and leather elevators.

10. (tie) The General Post Office, James A. Farley Building at 8th Avenue, and the Federal Reserve Building. To bring up the rear of this list are two impressive, majestic buildings with very specific purposes. The immense General Post Office has the inscription on its façade that many consider to be the motto of U.S. postal couriers: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” (it is derived from a 3rd or so century B.C. Greek poem/novel in regard to its messengers during a war, I believe?). The building itself is impressive, and I also am partial to it because this is where all of New York’s children’s Christmas letters to Santa are collected -- volunteers can pick these up to grant those children their wishes. As for the Federal Reserve Building, although adorned with intricate ironwork, I will admit, it is not the prettiest building. However, it is a building whose purpose is immediately clear: “Do not enter.” It is an immense fortress of limestone and sandstone firmly planted in Manhattan’s bedrock, shunning anyone who dares enter it without proper credentials.

With that said, I should mention the Honorable Mentions -- there are so many great pieces of architecture in this city, especially in the old city around Wall Street and around City Hall. However, I will specifically mention the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, since these are buildings that make the New York City skyline immediately recognizable. I also must mention the Flatiron, since it is my favorite, general purpose building -- every time I stand in front of it, I feel as though I am looking at a massive concrete ship coming directly at me. Finally, I should mention the building that shares Madison Square Park with the Flatiron -- it is the building on Park/Madison Avenue, between 24th and 25th Streets (I don’t know its's where Credit Suisse First Boston has offices, so perhaps the CSFB building? On this note, I will say that it took me a long time to get used to calling the Pan Am building the MetLife building). It was intended to be the world’s tallest building, eclipsing the Empire State Building, only to have its construction halted by the Great Depression. Its construction never continued, and if you look at the building, it looks as though it was simply chopped.

Nevertheless, enough of that tangent -- after the CRE event at the Museum of the City of New York, we grabbed a light meal and headed home.

June 15th: Tuesday
The following night, I met up with Alexandra Olson yet again, this time at Sotheby's. The centerpiece of the night was Frank Lloyd Wright's studio that was being auctioned -- although Sotheby's has many properties in its stable, this proved to be an interesting challenge and an exciting piece. With that said, although there were also many other items on display, most interesting being a pseudo Art-Deco clock, I must admit I rediscovered my strong preference for natural wood finishes. I don’t have much more to say about that night, aside that it was good to actually talk and catch up with Alex, since we didn’t get the chance to really talk the prior night.

June 16th: Wednesday
It’s funny how a small world it can truly be at times. I was recently talking with Christy Spitzer (Wilson when we were at Tufts -- married Doug Spitzer, a great guy that works for the NFL) about her recent transition into production, and asked her where exactly she was. She’s at MTV Productions, and as soon as she mentioned that, I knew she might be working with my other friend from Tufts who works there, Ethan Goldman. Sure enough, she works for him!

Nevertheless, Ethan Goldman’s band, Astronaut, was playing at Luna Lounge in the Lower East Side, so we made plans to head down there. Because Christy had just returned from Paris, she was jet-lagged and decided not to go, but I was gung-ho to go, since I hadn’t seen live rock in a long long time. So, for the occasion, I donned my good ol’ ripped jeans, faded t-shirt, and headed down to Luna Lounge.

I had some beers, caught up with Ethan, met some of his colleagues, and had a great time overall -- I was very much impressed by Astronaut, at how tight as a band they were despite the relatively short time they have been together, which is testimony to each of the band members’ innate talent. It was also refreshing to hear actual talent, as opposed to the immense amount of crap that has saturated the “music industry” -- I really am often incensed by the state of the modern music industry...there is just so much crap being produced and distributed, true talent is harder and harder to find these days. When Norah Jones gained recognition in the past few years, some industry experts seemed sincerely surprised, but anyone that knows music will attest that it was about time when talent got some recognition in the modern music industry. I can go on and on about this, so I will stop here, and leave it for another post.

Although, I will say in closing that it is shows like American Idol that truly do disservice to the talented and pump up the egos of the untalented, that reflect just how tasteless Americans in general are when it comes to culture (don't get me started on its selection of its President). Furthermore, I was infuriated that Ronald Reagan’s passing, though as decent a man as he may have been and no matter what my political belief in regards to his achievements may be, by no means deserved the amount of press coverage, especially when Ray Charles passed away during the same week -- Ray Charles left an indelible, positive mark on people’s lives world over for over 70 years, and was one of the most talented musicians this planet has known. Again, this prioritization only reflected on how uncultured and unlearned the American public can be.

Another Set of Updates...

Well, another banner couple of catch up:

June 9th: Wednesday
Phil Spanninger, my friend from Accenture I mentioned before, finally made it into Manhattan, and his cousin's son, Nick Spanninger (I guess that makes it his second cousin? Not sure how exactly extended family trees work), works for the Yankees, so we went to see one of the interleague Yanks/Rockies games.

Because Phil got out of work rather late, and because I managed to get us lost (I've never been to the stadium from the West Side), we didn't get to the game until the 6th inning. However, the seats were phenomenal! We were just to the right of home plate, only a few rows in -- we were on television whenever a left-hand hitter was at the plate...had we gotten there in time, we could have sat right behind home plate, but I actually preferred being there...I’m not saying this as a sour grape, I sincerely preferred it -- since we weren’t behind or below the netting, we had a better chance of grabbing a foul ball. It was kind of a moot point, because there were no foul balls that came our way, but man, what seats!!! And it was a great game to top it off -- Jeter hit a home run to tie the game up just as we got there. The Yankees won again, of course, maintaining their supremacy within the entire league, ahead of any other team in the MLB by four wins.

After the game, we all went to a small bar in the Village, right by where Phil’s cousin, Martha (or “Marty”) Spanninger, lives -- as much as Nick is embarrassed about it, I should mention that if you’re ever on Waverly Place between 6th and 7th Avenues, just before Waverly turns sharply northward before hitting Grove Street (it’s pretty complicated around the Village), on the sidewalk, you can see his name written in the pavement.

Irregardless, one of the topics we chatted about at the bar was around ABC’s great programming, since Marty works at 20/20. I would have to say that of the three major networks, for news coverage, I would have to pick ABC hands down. I’ve always been a fan of Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel (both of whom I've had the pleasure of meeting), Diane Sawyer, and Barbara Walters; and my news source has always been ABC’s Eyewitness News, based on the fact that they provide the best coverage available in my opinion, aside from the locally dedicated NY1 (plus, Liz Cho is the most gorgeous newscaster at present, aside from maybe Natalie Morales). My partiality could stem from the fact I began watching ABC news because I went to high school with Ernie Anastos’ son, Phil, and I would run into him from time to time at events -- although he is now with CBS, the last time I saw him was at one of the annual amFAR summer event at the boathouse in Central Park.

After grabbing drinks and chatting, Marty and others headed home (it was, after all, a school night), while Phil and I met up with a couple of Phil’s friends from Chicago, Matt and Tim, at Bowery Bar (BBar).

I hate to keep digressing, but BBar needs to be profiled some more, since it is one of the bars in New York City that marks one of the significant change of the times in recent years. As some of you may know, the Bowery was a pretty rough place even as recently as the late 80’s, where the homeless literally lined the sidewalk (it is also on this street that the famed CBGB’s resides). In the 80’s a garage was converted into the bar known today as BBar, and became the place where anyone who was anyone was at -- it was driven pretty much by the fashion industry, and designers, photographers, models, and those who wanted to be near them would fill the place to the brim.

Its legacy remains, and the scene is still there, although by no means as glorious as it may have been at one point. I’ve spent many summer days at its outdoor section, but my most memorable moment there has to be the World Cup back in 1998, France vs. Brazil. The bar is owned by a French and a Brazilian (I believe?), so they’d set up two huge televisions, right at where the garage doors used to be – in other words, the televisions split the outdoor and the indoor sections, and thusly the French and Brazilian fans. I ran into a lot of my high school buddies that afternoon, including Nick Bourbon (yes, of that Bourbons) who was obviously rooting for the French, and the rest of us who were rooting for Brazil, including Jared Cooper, Adrian Walters, etc. The sure bet was on Brazil (I guess just as it was on Smarty Jones most recently in horse racing), and many of my friends lost a lot of money that day.

BBar is also where I got to meet Lenny Kravitz, whom I’ve been a fan of for a long time, and I still have his autograph to this day. Another memory I have of BBar is one of the brunches we’ve had there, with a group of about 10 of us -- it was a lazy Sunday afternoon, we were enjoying the prix fix brunch and sipping on mimosas, nursing hangovers. We had probably spent a good two hours there, and when we received the bill, it was almost $4,000!!!. We pored over the bill to discover that they had charged us for 9 bottles of Dom Perignon...trying to remember if in fact we’d had that many champagnes, we came to realize that the novice waitress had made our mimosas with Dom Perignon. We were flattered that they thought we had such expensive tastes, but surely we had better sense and knew better than to make mere mimosas out of Dom Perignons!

Nevertheless, the night was a good, laid back one, with a lot of good laughs. At the risk of being somewhat lewd, one of the most memorable moments that night was when Matt made a comment about huge breasts and made a funny, literal reference about catching a girl with large breasts, by motioning as though he was bass fishing, catching “the Big One.”

June 10th: Thursday
For as long as I could remember, I’d spent every Thanksgiving with Barbara and Ken Finn, save for the past two years since they’d moved to Naples, Florida. Because they don’t have any children of their own, they’d taken me in almost like their own son -- I remember one of my first jobs ever was teaching math to younger kids at Barbara Finn’s post-school tutoring programs in Rye. They are one of the nicest couples I know, hailing from the Mid-West (St. Louis, to be exact), and I’ve always enjoyed being around them.

They were back in New York all week, and were having dinner with my parents, so I’d joined them at my parents’ apartment. It was great to see them, pleasant conversations (mainly around entrepreneurship and exchanging ideas, since the Finns are entrepreneurial types), and, as usual, they’d extended their generous invitations to me to come to Naples any time I wanted, to only worry about getting there. After they’d left, I spent some time with my parents at their apartment, and took my time coming back to mine...

June 11th: Friday
Patricia (or, “Patty”), Andrew Farnsworth’s girlfriend, had one of her best friends in town, and because it was her birthday, we went out and grabbed some dinner at Merchant’s, up on 61st Street. I was pleasantly surprised to see Jared Cooper there -- I often forget that Jared and Andy have known each other since when they were like 5. We did some catching up, since the last time I talked to Jared was almost exactly a year ago, when Jeremy Tick pulled his crap on me, and I was seeking legal advice -- Jared is a lawyer. He had just won another case earlier this past week (he has a perfect record thus far), and from what he was telling us, it was just a stupid case he was obviously a little undignified by.

Irregardless, after the meal, we walked over to Casa la Femme and had some drinks -- I wasn’t aware that Casa la Femme had moved from its SoHo location, so we talked a little bit about that, had some awesome lamb chops (when Jared’s girlfriend offered me some of her salad, I replied: “no thanks, I had my vegetables yesterday”), and called it a night at about 2 a.m.

June 12th: Saturday
The birthday celebration continued on, and we started at Bungalow 8. To be frank, I don’t really understand the obsession with this place -- it’s kind of a crappy space, as compared to other venues Amy Sacco runs. I still prefer Lot 61, at least aesthetically, but I guess Bungalow 8 is one of those “hip” spaces whose time has come and gone in my opinion. Nevertheless, we then went down to SoHo to 60 Thompson, the hotel bar, where my only resistance to leaving was because of the pretty blonde waitress -- she reminded both Andy and me of the “stereotypical” Greenwich/Rye girl, in a good way. In a very good way.

Once Andy and Patty managed to peel me away from the hotel, we then moved on to Taj. I must comment that it was strange to walk into these places with my high school colleagues, all of us in our 30’s, dressed well, especially since I ran into some of the people I knew from when I ran the model agency -- in those days, going out in ragged t-shirts and jeans was fashionable, and I felt somewhat amused by being on the other side of that “fence.”

With that said, we then hopped over right next door to Slate to get some games of pool in -- considering the fact I was in the company of amateur pool league pros, I didn’t get my butt whooped too badly. Ok, so it was still pretty bad. At least I didn’t cry.

We finished the late-night / early morning off with a light meal at L'Express, which is still one of my favorite late night eateries in Manhattan. Had me a burger and I was off to bed...

With all of that said, I need to update on this past week, but this post is already getting lengthy, so I'll get to that some other time...

Monday, June 14, 2004

Tangent: Addendum to Team Sports

After reading my last post, someone referred me to the top 25 athletes in the last 25 years,, as voted by ESPN readers as part of ESPN's 25th anniversary celebration. The final results were:

25. Alex Rodriguez (MLB)
24. Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Track)
23. Patrick Roy (NHL)
22. Martina Navratilova (Tennis)
21. Sugar Ray Leonard (Boxing)
20. Lawrence Taylor (NFL)
19. Shaquille O'Neal (NBA)
18. Roger Clemens (MLB)
17. Mario Lemieux (NHL)
16. Dan Marino (NFL)
15. Emmitt Smith (NFL)
14. John Elway (NFL)
13. Pete Sampras (Tennis)
12. Cal Ripken (MLB)
11. Carl Lewis (Track)
10. Barry Sanders (NFL)
9. Barry Bonds (MLB)
8. Larry Bird (NBA)
7. Magic Johnson (NBA)
6. Joe Montana (NFL)
5. Jerry Rice (NFL)
4. Tiger Woods (Golf)
3. Lance Armstrong (Cycling)
2. Wayne Gretzky (NHL)
1. Michael Jordan (NBA)

In other words, I was pretty much spot on! I couldn't argue with the order of the top three, and the rest of the list is arguable only because the list contains athletes only from the past 25 years. Also, the list is obviously very much American oriented -- Ayrton Senna, one of the greatest Formula 1 drivers of all time, and who was killed well within the "25 year limit," should at least have an honorable mention in my opinion, along with Pele and several other soccer players (Ronaldo, Beckham, etc., included). I guess we could go on and on and on like I'll stop here :)

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Tangent: Team Sports

In my last post, I expressed my passion for Ice Hockey, making my claim that hockey players are the greatest athletes in team sport. I'd like to make a slight correction -- hockey players are the greatest athletes, only slightly edging soccer and lacrosse players. However, hands down, hockey remains to be the fastest team sport there is.

I'd like to clarify that my opinion is not founded in some academic theoretical point of view, but in my first-hand experience. I was fortunate enough to play American football, baseball, lacrosse, ice hockey, basketball, and soccer on my junior high and high school teams. In my experience, I would rank the sports in five different aspects (on a scale of 1-5, five being the highest) in the following way:

Speed/Quickness; Toughness; Intelligence; Endurance; and Skill/coordination

2; 4; 1; 2; 1 :: American Football (Total: 10)
3; 1; 5; 2; 4 :: Baseball (Total: 15)
4; 2; 3; 3; 4 :: Basketball (Total: 16)
4; 3; 4; 5; 5 :: Soccer (Total: 21)
4; 4; 4; 5; 4 :: Lacrosse (Total: 21)
5; 5; 3; 5; 5 :: Ice Hockey (Total: 23)

The sad point is that the greatest team sports are the least followed in the U.S. Although I played football, I will say it is a joke of a sport. I played both on defense (Corner Back) and offense (Wide Receiver), and even then I often felt like I could go for a run after a full all fairness, it is a highly specialized sport, with each team member contributing in different ways. But unlike baseball, the other highly specialized sport, you can play football even if you never touch the ball -- in other words, even if you can't throw or catch a football for the life of you, you can still play the sport. Sadly, fact is that most players (aside the quarterback, the backs, the receivers, and the kicker -- MAYBE the tight end, and MAYBE the defensive backs in an interception) don't even touch the ball, nevermind a game, for an entire season!

To make matters worse, football is the only professional team sport in the U.S. where the championship is determined in a single game. One could argue this is what contributes to the drama of the Super Bowl, but in my opinion, it is by no means a way to determine the best team. In all other professional team sports -- Hockey, Baseball, and Basketball -- the championship is determined by a best of seven series, thereby minimizing luck and bettering the chances that the greater team wins, the team indeed deserving of the Championship. Even in many individual sports, champions are not determined by a single game -- can you imagine a tennis match of just one set (or even worse, a game)? Or a golf Tournament consisting of only one round of 18? Or how about a single race Formula 1? All the berating aside, I will say that two of the greatest athletes of all time that played football are Joe Montana & Jerry Rice, both of the 49ers. Two great athletes and class acts.

Anyhow, another similarity between baseball and football aside from specialization of the players is the fact that you don't necessarily have to be in your best shape -- in football, you only play at most 30 seconds at a time, and similarly in baseball, you're going to sprint around the bases at most, and that is a rare occasion. Now, unlike football, baseball is one of my favorite sports to watch -- there is a tremendous amount of psychology and drama that unfolds during a baseball game, and there isn't much to compare to a lazy Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, taking in a game, nevermind when they pummel that borderline minor-league farm team from Boston called Red Shoes or Socks or something or the other. All I gotta say to you all Red Sox fans is "1918!" You know, the last time you won a World Series is before there was even couldn't even watch the last time you guys quaint -- not many MLB teams need to maintain an oratory tradition to recount the "Last Great Win." You should be thankful to the Yanks for showing you time and time again what it must have looked like, you know, kind of like Babe Ruth did back in the day, or more recently, like Roger Clemens.

In all seriousness, I very much appreciate baseball as an integral part of American history and culture -- of the three most popular team sports in America, I would hands down have to pick baseball as my sport of choice, since it is, after all, the Great American Pastime. Not only is it rich in history, but is the only team sport brimmed with real sportsmen who love their sport, the concentration of which is only second to ice hockey.

With that said, I'm not much a basketball fan, but I will give credit to basketball players as being good athletes, likely better-rounded athletes than baseball or football players on average. However, in my opinion, if there's no one tending the goal, what's the point? The average basketball game sees on average 75-100+ "goals" -- in other words, who wins the game is really a matter of how many misses have been made. Furthermore, the only thing that really pressures a player in basketball to shoot is the 24-second shot clock. I mean, come on. In contrast, in ice hockey, there are rules that have been put in place whose purpose are mainly to help slow down the sport (e.g., two-line passes, icing, & offsides).

Rantings aside, among basketball players, I obviously will always admire Michael Jordan, not just for his tremendous athletic ability, but also because he is one of very few gentlemen sportsmen, otherwise utterly lacking in the NBA, especially today. Not only is Michael Jordan another one of the greatest athletes of all time, he also took sports marketing to a whole different level, taking what Arnold Palmer started to an entirely new, broader, and higher dimension, in part helped by the explosion of cable television and the birth of the Internet.

It's a bit of a double-edged sword, however -- Michael Jordan's marketing prowess is also probably the reason, at least in part, why basketball has become the circus that it is. There was that marketing slogan, "I want to be like Mike," and this is pretty much what's happened -- a lot of athletes are now driven by getting the merchandising and endorsement money. It's like one of the core messages in that movie Jerry McGuire -- playing sports for the love of it vs. "Show Me the Money."

Basketball is definitely the biggest victim of this mentality, football a close second, and baseball a distant third -- all of the other sports have yet to be as badly corrupted, and I hope the day never comes. Although, I will say that the Anna Kournikova syndrome in professional tennis is kind of sickening -- first of all, I don't think she's THAT attractive to begin with, but what's sickening is that the last time she was ranked, she was ranked 70th in the world, which is no laughing matter in of itself, but it means that there are at least more than 60 women tennis players that are far better than her as a tennis player (and many who are far far more attractive). In other words, her fame is more from the marketing, and not from her sheer athletic ability (or looks!)!

Anyhow, now, we finally get to the sports I enjoy tremendously, both as a spectator and as a participant: Soccer, Lacrosse, and Ice Hockey -- these sports really tested just how fit I was, time and time again. In all three sports, you are always one man down when in offensive territory -- meaning, you really have to WORK to get a goal. In addition, unlike the other pansy-ass sports, you get nothing for free, no matter how bad the foul -- in basketball, you get free throws; in football, you get free yardage, sometimes up to 15 yards (or 15% into the entire field, or 30% into enemy territory!!!); in baseball, you get walks and automatic doubles.

Also, in basketball/football, just because the opponent scores a goal, you're given the ball to take offense. What is THAT? In ice hockey, even in the case of a foul, you still have to earn the offense through face-off's. The only thing you "get" in ice hockey, soccer, or lacrosse is a man advantage -- which really means that the number of offensive and defensive players in the offensive zone are finally equal. It's only when there is a two-man advantage that the number of offensive players outnumber the defensive, and that is extremely rare. In other words, even with a penalty, you still have to work for the points. In ice hockey, even in the best case scenario, the penalty shot, it's mono y mono -- you against the goaltender. It would be the equivalent of a free throw in basketball with defender in your face. It ain't easy -- and in the pros, the goaltender almost always triumphs.

I hear basketball fans whining about this year's NBA finals for the lack of points per game, but even then, there are still a minimum of 70 "goals" per game, which only goes to demonstrate my case in point -- basketball is about showmanship, whose winners are determined by how many goals you don't miss, even taking account of Detroit's "formidable defense" -- again, if the defense is that formidable, how is it that the opponent still manages to score 30+ "goals" (or a minimum so far of 68 points) per game?

Nevertheless, aside the fact that most Americans are more into entertainment rather than enjoying great athletes compete, I assume the main reason why ice hockey is likely not as popular as other team sports, despite being the oldest league among the top professional team sports (NHL, MLB, NBA, and NFL), is because of its cost of entry (the equipment is necessary and expensive) along with the lack of availability (skating rinks aren't readily available in all parts of the country). However, because of the recent popularity of in-line skating, a whole new realm has opened in the league, which was already the most internationally and culturally diverse league in all of professional team sports.

As for soccer and lacrosse, I'm glad to see that MLS (Major League Soccer) was established, along with the recent (2001) arrival of the MLL (Major League Lacrosse). Lacrosse, for the same reasons as ice hockey, I can understand why it is not as popular a sport as it ought to be -- it's not a cheap sport to get into, and most open fields, if available, are more often used for the deplorable football. Also, thus far, lacrosse has primarily remained to be a North East / Chesapeake sport.

However, the utter lack of popularity in soccer still amazes me (I think Mia Hamm is hot by the way). It is the most played sport globally, and it costs nothing to play -- you just need a decent soccer ball, or even just a sphere that can be kicked around! You don't have to have a backboard and a hoop -- you just need a relatively flat ground, asphalt or grass, rain or shine -- in my opinion, playing soccer in the rain is that much more fun, what with all that mud adding to a sliding tackle. It amazes me nevertheless that the name Pele never seems to ring a bell among Americans, when he is by far the most well known athlete anywhere else in the world, only matched perhaps by Ali and Michael Schumacher.

With all of that said, I will surely be crucified by my English colleagues if I didn't mention two other team sports that are played world-over, thanks to the once great British Empire: Cricket and Rugby. Cricket, I haven't much to say about, except that I got bored after the third day into watching a single match -- you guys really ought to take a page from lacrosse you may know, lacrosse was originally a war game between native American tribes that often spanned days, weeks, and months at a time -- in its modern format, it's been shortened to a reasonable one hour. Rugby, however, I will say that, if anyone could eat hockey players alive for breakfast, it would be rugby players. Nuf said. Then there's Australian Rules Football...Christ almighty, I might consider a swift kick to the groin before I play a game of THAT.

Irregardless, I am guessing that the only way that this score will be settled is if we get the championship team from each league play against each other in a tournament of all sports. The New England Patriots playing soccer against the Tampa Bay Lightening. The Florida Marlins playing football against the Pistons/Lakers. Could you imagine? Some may whine that it would be unfair to put the athletes on ice because it's such a specialized skill to be able to skate -- however, to this I contest that, any person with athletic ability and good coordination can learn to skate relatively quickly, and if you know how to play golf or swing a bat, you've got a good start into stick-handling. For these crybabies, I'd be willing to compromise with street hockey, but even if we were to omit ice hockey altogether from the roster of activities, I guarantee the hockey players would fare best in all other sports...although, I probably wouldn't put my money on it...

That said, I will say that I enjoy all of the team sports I mentioned very much -- each sport has something different to offer, and I have fun participating in each. I won't delve into individual sports in this post (e.g., tennis, golf, skiing, mountain biking, rock-climbing, etc.), but I will say that, any journalist or sports historian will say that the greatest athlete of all time would have to be at least a three-way tie between Michael Jordan, Lance Armstrong (for his enormous accomplishment, especially after having battled cancer), and "the Great One," WAYNE GRETZKY. I am not certain Gretzky's records will ever be broken, at least within MY lifetime...

Gretzky's last game: April 18th, 1999. One of the saddest days in sport history.

Farewell, Wayne!

But wait, what team jersey is he wearing?

As well, any journalist or sports historian will also say that the greatest moment in American sports history (aside from maybe Jackie Robinson) would have to be, hands down, the Miracle on Ice in 1980, in Lake Placid (where I used to go on ski trips with my high school buddies, at Whiteface "Iceface" Mountain), when Team U.S.A. won the gold medal and defeated the Soviet team in ice hockey -- what these hockey players / college kids did for the nation is truly remarkable.

Again, my point is, arguably the all-time best athlete and best moment in sports are both in which sport? That's right, because ICE HOCKEY RULES!!!!

Monday, June 07, 2004

The Stanley Cup will Stay in the U.S.!

Just finished watching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. I was never a fan of either of the teams (Tampa Bay Lightning or Calgary Flames), but being a fan of the sport, and given that the oldest prize in all sport was definitely going to be awarded tonight, I had to watch it.

The Most Coveted Prize in ALL Sport, the Stanley Cup
Notice the American flag in the background...that's right, it's staying in the U.S.!!!

Some people are often surprised to learn that I am as big a fan of ice hockey as I am -- an unfortunate byproduct of the popular American misperception of the sport ("I was watching a fight when a hockey game broke out"). Hands down, at least in team sports, these are the greatest athletes on the planet -- each player must be quick, tough, smart, diligent, AND I dare say that it is the only professional team sport in which ALL of the players are in it for the love of the sport. How often do you hear hockey players in the news or doing some tasteless, dumb endorsements in commercials?

Not only do these athletes have to be in top shape (they have the fullest, and most exhausting regular season schedule in all sport), they are all absolute gentlemen. In the few occasions you do see fights breaking out, it is only because they are that passionate about their sport -- HOWEVER, unlike most athletes in other sports, they leave it all on the ice.

With that said, another reason why I admire these athletes is their determination and their commitment to their team -- I am fed up with hearing football, basketball, and baseball players whine every time they sprain this or bruise that (boo hoo hoo) -- when it's playoff season, hockey players grit their teeth (at least, what's left of them) and play with their broken bones, stitches in their faces, and any given injury that would make most other athletes crying to their mother and holed up in their hospitals or million dollar mansions.

That is aside the fact that the Stanley Cup is the most unique prize in all sports -- just because you win it once, you don't get to take it home to decorate your mantle, to show it off to some trashy girl you take home. There is only one Cup (save for a replica that sits in Hockey Hall of Fame) -- you're not going to find one of these show up at some yard sale or a pawn shop. In its entire 111 year history, you only get to keep it for a day. You do, however, get to leave your mark on it permanently -- every player that has won the Cup has their name etched into the Cup.

That said, in a silly sort of way, I'm happy to say that for the 11th year in a row, Canada will not have a Stanley Cup winning team. Listen, the U.S. lost the gold to Canada in the 2002 Winter Olympics -- for which I got a lot of flack for because I was in London at the time, surrounded by Canadians in a sports bar off of Piccadilly Circus. The only rebuttal another American and I were able to come up with was: "WE GOT THE CUP!" And we STILL do!! Even taking into account there are only six Canadian teams in the 30 NHL teams, that is still pitiful, Canada, especially given that the sport was born in your country :P To quote Denise Richards in the cinema classic, Drop Dead Gorgeous (sarcasm, people, sarcasm), "as my mother used to say at Sunday supper, COME AND GIT IT!!!"

Nevertheless, this all does tie in with the Summer of '94 -- arguably one of the best years of my life thus far. How? In addition to all else that was happening then, that was the year that my team, the New York Rangers, won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 54 years!

...with hockey season officially done, I'm at a loss as to what to do with myself for the next three months...

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Summer of '94 take 2

Ok, so the summer of '94...

I was living at 139 College Avenue/4 Warner Street (because the house was on a corner and had two separate entrances, it had two different addresses) that spring -- I'd taken over Chris Harmon's room, since he'd gone to Australia for his semester abroad. As I mentioned before, this house was a laugh-a-minute...anyhow, this was the semester I'd begun dating Catie D'Ignazio, and also the same semester I started taking classes with Tom Kaplan-Maxfield.

The class was American Transcendentalism, a small class of maybe 15 students. I believe it was in this class I'd also first met two gorgeous brunettes, Amy Hubbard (hubba hubba) and Rachel Stone. The class was a discussion-oriented, intimately-sized one format, complemented by Tom's great sense of humor and his core kindness -- it was likely one of the best classes I'd taken at Tufts. At the risk of sounding somewhat pretentious, I do think that the class format that Tom stuck with is likely similar to the academics of the Greek era, a time when academia was established and when the way education is meant to be was founded -- an open forum for discussion, under the guidance of a well-read, intelligent, open-minded, and well-humored instructor. Tom was interested in hearing our ideas and opinions as much as presenting his obviously better-balanced own. In short, he forced us to think and allowed us to express and listen to others' ideas openly -- a rarity in modern day university-level academics, in my opinion.

I thoroughly enjoyed Tom's classes, and, as I mentioned before, he is one of the only professors from Tufts I am still in touch with. He, a small group of other classmates, and I would often sit at Tufts' Campus Center to talk about all things life, and one of the topics that we would talk about was the topic of love/affection/sexual relations. I remember we had a lot of funny conversations, picking on Amy Hubbard (although, really just admiring how perfect her features were) and talking about Rachel Stone's aspirations to become a television sportscaster.

It was during this time I also had begun dating Catie D'Ignazio I mentioned before. Around then, Dave Tohill, who had the room right next to mine, had begun dating Natalie Wilson as well (we would refer to the times we both had our mutual girlfriends over the same night as "synchronized swimming"). I remember when I first introduced Catie to Tom, he referred to her as being fawn-like.

Also around this time, Elisa Gilliam/Madsen would often come to visit, since she was attending Bates College in Maine at this time. By an amazing coincidence, it turned out she was next-door neighbors with one of my good friends from high school, Jenni Matz, so it wasn't infrequent I'd go to visit her or they would come into Boston to visit.

Nevertheless, as the school year was coming to a close, our lease to our beloved 139 College was ending as well -- most of us had determined our respective abode for the following year (we'd decided to go separate ways), save for Dave Tohill and myself, since neither of us had decided our plans for the summer. It was then that Tom offered me a summer job, to help him as a carpenter -- Tom was a general contractor when he wasn't teaching at Tufts. With that determined, all I needed to determine was living arrangements -- at this juncture, Catie and I had only been dating for two months and the discussion of living together had come up, but we'd decided against it (she tells me to this day that I was the one that unilaterally decided so, but...). Irregardless, it turned out that an acquaintance of ours, Lilly Shapiro, was looking for two roommates in her house at 215 College that she shared with her then best friend Colleen Craig, so Dave Tohill and I jumped on the opportunity. It worked out well, since Jake Sherman was going to need a place to live in the following spring term, and Lilly Shapiro was going to be away that semester.

So came the Summer of '94...


Thursday, June 03, 2004

Summer of '94 & Updates

Continuing with Tom Kaplan-Maxfield...actually, before I do, two things: updates and a general statement. It's been a busy week or so...

FINALLY caught up with Melissa Ramsay -- we finally managed to connect over the phone. She's now done with finals, but is in the process of now moving into the house she and her beau, Oliver (forget his last name), closed on. We managed to talk for a while to catch up and to make tentative plans for me to visit their new home in the coming weeks.

Speaking of school, Ian E., who used to be one of my models, just graduated from Columbia so I went to congratulate him before he was away for the summer, after which he will be at Boston University to begin working on his law degree. It was good to see him for the first time in a while -- we'd both cut our hair short, so that was a topic in of itself. We met up at Lotus, now a veteran of the Meat-Packing District's fancy clubs, and it was a strange sensation to be there, for the first time in likely a year or so. Lee Zumdome, Ian E., and I had some drinks to celebrate his graduation and I called it a night at about 1AM...

Another friend who's just about graduating is J. Harry Edmiston, whom I'd mentioned before. I dropped him a line recently, after hearing from his sister Pandora, who was headed for Thailand, after having returned from the Cannes Film Festival. We caught up, since we hadn't spoken in some time -- he'd just gotten in from surfing (in England?!?!?!), and rightfully he was frozen.

Also touched base with Jennette Swartout, a friend from the Accenture days over IM. I hadn't really used IM much recently (except at Accenture, where it was used professionally), but am reconnecting with a lot of Accenture folk through it -- including Susi Gulla (in Philly, studying now to become a doctor), Phil Spannenger (in New York now, still at Accenture), and Merrit Brown (a Flyers fan, but he's forgiven...still with Accenture as well, in London and D.C.). I also heard from Ginevra Felt who is happily engaged and buying a house in CT -- she's one of the very few women I know who actually can appreciate video games as much as we guys do, without being a total nerd.

Over IM, I also spoke to my old friend Alex Kulick, a Russian I used to work with over at Viacom on a project -- through Alex Kulick, Alan Mandell, Dhaval Parikh, and my efforts, we'd implemented a corporate-wide business software in 1999 that's still in active use today. His company, Offsiteteam seems to be doing well, and he's in New York now. He's invited me out to drinks, but given that the last time we went out for drinks, he took me to the Russian Vodka Room where I was served glasses full of vodka infusions, and I was barely able to even stay sitting up, I made it a point that I'll only have Guinesses. It'll be good to see him nonetheless, as it's been over two years, maybe three.

And speaking of someone I hadn't spoken to in a while, I heard from Brian Rosenworcel of Guster -- I'm not sure if I'd mentioned the house before, but at Tufts, we lived in this house on Powderhouse Circle, at 139 College Avenue -- it was eight of us all together, and it was a ruckus every hour of the day, every day of the week. Bri is touring still and he may miss Jake's wedding, but he seemed well. Other cast members from that house were: Ryan Miller (also of Guster); Neil Foster (moved to New York and is now married); Chris Harmon (finished with Kellogg, is in Boston now, and will be marrying his girlfriend of 12 years, Allison Oshinsky, finally this fall in Lake Tahoe); Mike Carcamo (was racing for a while, then joined the engine team for Players in the Cart circuit, before moving on to design consumer car engines); Jacob Millard (whom I've mentioned before -- one of the smartest guys I know); Jake Sherman (who recently wrote again from Afghanistan, and is coming back to NY soon in preparation for his wedding); and Dave Tohill (who e-mailed recently from Hawaii...I think I mentioned him before as well).

Neil Foster & Dave Tohill at 139 College Avenue, Circa 1994
I was working on an engineering project to design a better dental flosser, but...

There are stories galore from that era -- everyone in that house was intelligent, creative, very different individuals that were all funny as hell, so it was laugh a minute...I remember one instance when Chris Harmon and I had to literally get out of the house and run away to the nearest restaurant because we were near dying from laughter. I guess before veering off into another tangent, I should return to the title of this post.

This past weekend was Memorial Day Weekend, and of course, there were barbecues to attend to. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get away for the weekend, but it was nice to catch up with old friends. I went to a barbecue at my friend Mac Premo's (whom I've mentioned before) new apartment in Brooklyn, also to celebrate his birthday. We've been meaning to have sushi together for some time, so, despite the fact it was a barbecue, I brought a platter of sushi to get that monkey off our backs. It was good to catch up with him and his now fiancee, Adrianna; look at slides from the art show in Belfast; look through his book (which is more enjoyable in person, given that it's a mixed-media work); catch up with Betsy Richard; look at their new duplex apartment (with roof, which is where we had our barbecue -- Mac has such a unique sense of style -- he's a RISD graduate -- that it leaves a signature on everything he touches. His apartment is quintessentially Mac Premo, and I wish I had photographs to better demonstrate what I mean); meet Jeff (don't know his last name) who's Broadway musical with puppets called Avenue Q comes highly recommended by Mac, so I need to check it out (quick update: Avenue Q just won a Tony for Best Musical, 2004); etc.

Then on Saturday afternoon/night, I met up with Maarten Devos, his wife Stephanie, Oliver and Amy Pihlar, et al. in Prospect Park in Brooklyn for a barbecue as well. It was good to see everyone, and we tossed the good ol' pigskin around, which was nice -- I hadn't tossed a football in a while, not since college, but, if I say so myself (and with my colleague's confirmation), it was nice to see that I still have a pretty good arm...I did play football, believe it or not, in high school after all.

Anyhow, as this post has become a beast in of itself, I will have to write about the Summer of 1994 some other time...


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