Friday, October 28, 2011

This Week in Blogstralia: An Interview with Kristi Colvin

Every so often I'll sit down with an interesting Internet personality and discuss what goes on in their neck of the Web woods. This week's guest is Kristi Colvin.

bankmeister: We “met” in strange way, which is to say that we’ve technically never met, but I knew that you were a fascinating person right out of the gate. My buddy brought me to a SportingKC game, and at the conclusion of the national anthem, I saw you hunker down over your iPad and get to work on Twitter. This intrigued me for two reasons: (1) I was taking notes in a pocket-sized memo pad for the sake of a blog post on the game, and (2) believe it or not, not that many people I know are on Twitter. At first I thought you were simply going to check in via Foursquare or something like that, but when I saw you pull up Twitter, I was surprised. Before we get into that, though, tell me a little bit about yourself.

You’ve since tweeted me something about the term “nut nut” possibly being a Texas thing. Do you hail from the Lone Star State? Give me all the deets: born and raised there? High school? College? And how’d you wind up in Kansas City?

Kristi Colvin: I was technically born in Oklahoma, but adopted immediately so transported to Texas two days later, where I have always lived prior to moving to Kansas. I was raised in Wichita Falls where my Mother still lives, but spent most of my adult life in Houston and Dallas. I did go a couple of years of college there but did not graduate -– at the time nothing seemed to work as an actual degree for me (I’d never heard of a commercial art degree.) I am primarily self-taught and have learned on the job, my entire career.

bankmeister: Once my post from that game was published, you had a humorous reaction to it and said something to the effect of your husband threatening to give you a yellow card for excessive tweeting during games. By this I of course deduced that you are married, which leads me to ask if you have kids, and if you do, what are their ages and what sort of parameters do you have on them – and if you don’t, kindly pretend that you do – for using technological apparati? More specifically, how young is an appropriate age for kids to have cell phones, and should kids be limited on the amount of daily time they spend on varying devices?

Kristi Colvin: My husband attempts to give me Yellow and Red Cards during every game, but I ignore him and keep tweeting anyway. I don’t think he understands that for me, part of my enjoyment of the game is the sharing of it with my online friends. He has a Twitter account but never tweets, so you sort of have to be immersed in this lifestyle to truly understand what I mean.

I don’t have children though I desperately want them. I suffered miscarriages in previous marriages, and when I moved to Kansas to marry Tim the plan was that we would have children (neither of us do) but my previous employer ended up changing his mind about me working remotely, and I was plunged into being unemployed and living in a rural area where I knew no one but my new husband’s family within two weeks of moving here. So the loss of income and building my self-employed business took priority. Now it just doesn’t seem it will ever happen.

I do think that parents need to set boundaries around technology use, but not discourage it. I also think monitoring their usage and communications is critical as they grow – I had always planned to have family Macs in public view, not in a child’s room, and cell phones should probably not be something parents rush into before a child can handle one responsibly. Social-media channels shouldn’t be rushed into either -– there’s something to be said for growing up, as I did, without my every move being documented online somewhere.

bankmeister: Walk me through your linear career, starting with your first job, and maybe touching on some of your stops along the way to present day.

Kristi Colvin: My first job was in retail, at a boutique called Marianne’s in the mall in Wichita Falls. It was there that I learned I liked doing visual merchandising, so I did that at JC Penney’s and eventually Dillard’s. From there I got into waiting tables and doing catering for On the Border, and eventually got tired of the late nights and went to work at Whole Foods Market while taking some college courses. I passed up an opportunity to go into a training program to be a visual merchandising director at JC Penney –- I loved that work, but knew if I got into the program I would never leave retail. It was a good decision.

In college and at WFM I learned to use a Mac Classic, and it was really there that my design career began. We would make newsletters (to mail, not e-mail) and store signage of all types on the computer and color it in with markers and pens to make it cute. We didn’t even have a full-color printer. The newsletters were professionally printed so I learned to deal with printers. Eventually I offered my services as a print designer, and when I got pregnant (and ultimately miscarried) I taught myself Web design. I wanted to produce a parenting site called Babyville. When I lost the baby I went another direction and created a vegetarian community called Good Karma Café, which I wish I had not taken offline.

I ran it like a monthly magazine but this was prior to blogging, so it wasn’t nearly as easy. All of my time was spent writing, designing, adding site features, creating recipes and redesigning the homepage in HyperText Markup Language like a magazine each month. It was too laborious to keep going, though at one time on some lists it was the number two vegetarian site. The focus was distinct from most -– it encouraged meatless eating rather than condemning non-vegetarians, which is why it got so much attention from reviewers. From there I moved into the creative services space, offering print and Web design. One of my first clients was a software developer, so I learned to do user-interface design and user experience.

All of the jobs and projects have contributed to what I do today: print design, digital design, software design, promotional design, understanding customer service, merchandising of products, selling goods, advertising, and communicating via social channels.

bankmeister: Let’s talk Fresh ID. You’re officed downtown. Has that always been the case, or did y’all grow out of somebody’s basement? How long has it been around? Where did the idea come from, and how has the ratio of enjoyment/hard work fluctuated, if at all, since getting the project off the ground?

Kristi Colvin: Fresh ID has been the name of my company since 2002 when the company I worked for was acquired. It was called Fresh Pages in the ‘90s. I have been primarily self-employed since 1993, but twice I put my business on hold and went to work for software companies as a user experience manager -- 2000-2002 at Pentasafe, 2006-2007 for SigmaFlow -- where I worked when I met my current husband Tim and ultimately left to come to Kansas. I usually worked from home but have had offices at various times as well, so in a way we have grown out of a second bedroom.

When I moved here I met Lisa Qualls and Tom Jenkins, who are now my two business partners and we worked on freelance projects together as a team. I asked Lisa to join me and take the helm as CEO in 2009 and we restructured Fresh ID from a Texas DBA to a Missouri-based LLC and brought Tom on as Chief Technology Officer in June, 2011. Though some might find it odd I asked Lisa to be Chief Executive Officer instead of taking that position myself; since I founded the company and ran it for years, to me it made perfect sense. I am the Chief Creative, and what I do is create design and marketing and products that we can sell. I couldn’t maximize my creative potential and do the selling and business administration and focus well enough on finances to grow before bringing her on board. With Lisa here as CEO, we have grown exponentially –- she’d have to tell you the exact percentages though, as I don’t have to focus on that anymore. Her contribution has been significant though, and with Tom filling the deep-technology-experience role we needed, we are poised for even more growth over the next couple of years.

The work we do is what I have always done for clients, though it has shifted a little bit. We do a ton of custom WordPress design and development, and for years I mostly did Web sites, not content-management-systems-based sites. We also do a lot of marketing work for monthly retainer clients, much of which involves multiple social media channels.

bankmeister: Help me understand the premise behind the company. I mean, the intelligent design portion of the Web site is pretty self-explanatory, but how did you develop the clientele portrayed in the portfolio? More specifically, do you have to outreach a significant portion of your customers or do they come to you? Has that changed since Fresh ID was born?

Kristi Colvin: I have always provided services for business-to-business clients, with a few retail clients but not as many business-to-consumer companies as I initially desired. We don’t do any marketing (that will change in 2012) and so word-of-mouth has resulted in one B2B client sending their friends and connections to talk to us, and that keeps us pretty busy. I have never done much marketing –- virtually all my clients have come from some type of referral, plus a few people who found us using organic searches online. These days, the referrals come via social-media connections, or someone seeing us say something on a social channel that makes them realize we could meet a need. Or they are sent from in-person connections we have. We’re about 50/50 on in-person vs. online referrals.

With the active use of social media, we ended up meeting the sports teams in our portfolio, and they have fulfilled a lot of my desires for B2C interaction with direct customers of a client. Plus we really enjoy working with them. We have also increased our work with retail goods and restaurants, so the hotel industry is the only missing group I’d really like to work with that we haven’t yet serviced.

bankmeister: It seems that most of your clients either offer a product or a service they’ve not been able to maximize in terms of reach and availability. Is it safe to assume that that’s where your team comes in? Again, the outlined services seem obvious: You get brand-name-recognition projects going, improve Web sites, spruce up blogs, and sort of implement the use of digital and social media for companies that either aren’t using them or aren’t using them well enough. Is that fair?

Kristi Colvin: We do this for a lot of clients, yes, and also help startups with brand identity and awareness from the beginning. Since I went into business in 1993 I’ve done a lot of redesigns or brand upgrades -– I guess that goes with a designer’s territory. The bulk of our social-media retainer clients are companies who have some level of success offline but need to figure out how to communicate with random strangers online, and how to mix social channels into their existing traditional marketing.

bankmeister: Have you found that portions of your customer population don’t engage in the services Fresh ID offers because they don’t have the time, don’t know how, or some combination of both? What if you’re networking with a potential client and they’re apprehensive? Are there means of proving the sort of method to the madness? What are some of the most unique and some of the most typical clients that hire Fresh ID? Have any trying-to-market-themselves writers ever approached the company?

Kristi Colvin: Some of our clients listen to us regarding social engagement more than others -– it does take time, it is an extra step to get used to in a day…we know all about it as we have the same issues at times with our own marketing. It is also sometimes easier to market others than yourself –- I find it’s easier for me to post things about client offers and activities under my Kris Colvin account than it is for me to make FreshID look interesting using that account. Of course, it’s no mystery our clients have the same problems. We do have a method to getting started and ramping up and best practices we’ve defined for ourselves that we employ, but ongoing engagement really rests with the clients. Some take off and shine; others sort of drag their feet. We have had some authors we have helped with branding and social assets, and personal branding for them is something we do just like the corporate branding for any organization with whom we work.

bankmeister: What about your personal blog? It looks like a Tumblr page, and has the “join Tumblr” icon in the corner, but it doesn’t say it in the URL. I feel like this is sometimes the case with Blogger, too, as in people have sites that look identical to a page, but the word “blogspot” doesn’t appear in their Web address. Can you help me understand this?

Kristi Colvin: With Tumblr, Blogspot and I think even Typepad, you can use a unique domain name so that people can go directly to your site in a little more professional way (I think) then when you use a subdomain, like all Tumblrs start out with.

bankmeister: How much time do you spend updating your blog each week? At first glance it looks like maybe an hour or less per week, but digging deeper, you’ve got some stuff that required some time. Do you have any goals or parameters for your blog, or is it simply for pleasure?

Kristi Colvin: My personal blog goes through periods of lots of posts, and periods of total inactivity. I would like to blog more but don’t…it’s far easier to tweet and Facebook my finds and thoughts. Our business blog requires more of my attention than I give it. All the older posts are from my Design for Users blog, where I used to help educate people about various user experience ideas and issues, and I need to get back to that. We have won clients from blog posts so that is another form of marketing of which we need to take advantage. I live in two places (the country with Tim and my dog-child Baxter on weekends, and downtown during the week) and often while driving I am writing a blog post in my head that never makes it to paper or online. I’ve got to get better about taking the time to write them as it helps our business, I know for a fact.

bankmeister: What about Twitter itself. We’ve already mentioned the joke-threat from your husband, and that this medium is what led you and I to right now, but help me try and put something into perspective: Do you remember what month and year you signed up for Twitter? As of this moment, you have tweeted 77,208 times, which is unreal. I ask for your rough start date, because it’d be interesting to know how many tweets you average per day.

Kristi Colvin: I created my account on March 26, 2008. I didn’t understand what Twitter really was though, and was offended when random men followed me. I honestly can’t remember how I found out about Twitter, given I knew so little about how it worked. I read a wonderful article at by Darren Rowse in July of that year, who could see people couldn’t figure out Twitter and he suggested that we all type our account names into this blog post, and follow each other, the reason being that at the very least we had blogging in common and could discuss it on Twitter. It changed my life. The list was up to 568 at the time, and I vowed to follow 100 people at least. To this day, I recommend to clients that they search using keywords, and follow a minimum of 100 people before writing Twitter off as uninteresting.

My average TPD (tweets per day) are downright scary. According to I average 62 per day and 1734 per month. The person I have tweeted the most is the brand builder. I am only consoled by the knowledge that some people tweet even more than I do, and that it probably takes less than 1 total hour to create all those tweets, as they’re so short. Now reading them, on the other hand…we won’t talk about how long that takes. Twitter is my preferred channel –- I could live without every other SM platform, but not it. My Twitter friends are my confidantes when I need to talk, my lifeline when I feel depressed or am struggling, my companions when I am bored, my mates when I am cheering for my team, my advisors when I need help, my amusement at unexpected times. I love them, and I mean that sincerely.

bankmeister: Without knowing one way or the other, that seems like the kind of number that would suggest that there’s always a device within arm’s reach. Is that even close to accurate? Have you found that such activity has any kind of effect on any relationships, be they real-time or cyber? Anyone (besides your husband) ever tell you to put that thing away? I ask because one of my three sisters is pretty darn attached to her Blackberry, and there are times where I’m like, No, it’s cool. I’ll wait.

Kristi Colvin: Umm. No comment.

Seriously, it is hard for me to be completely away from a device, though I do it at times. I love my iPhone sooooooo much. It is the device that Steve Jobs made for me years ago, but due to rural Kansas issues and only AT&T at first, I could not have it until recently. I adore my iPad too. I truly feel everyone should have an iPad. I wrote the first chapter of my upcoming ebook, called Social Media by Design, on my iPad on the way home from Texas. No wires, no internet needed, no bulky laptop to deal with, and I did so very easily in my Pages word processor. That is a technological power that I find very compelling, and that could change everything if you could combine the promised power of Google Fiber (everywhere) with easy-to-comprehend technology that people of all ages can use at any time.

Plus, I can tweet with ease no matter where I am (iPhone is online even if iPad is not.) That makes my life complete. Tim gets mildly aggravated sometimes, but I do try to be respectful at family events and dinner (mostly.) My team is used to it –- often all 5 of us are on our phones at the table though, so they can’t say much about me. Of course, it is sometimes because I’ve reminded people to check in on Foursquare. One time recently we went to a 5-course dinner for a prospect that is now our client (bluestem) and Lisa said, “Don’t have your phone out” before we went in, so I dutifully put it in my purse and didn’t take it out. She later complained I hadn’t taken any pictures of the meal.

bankmeister: Forgive me if the answer to this lies within your press-appearance page, but how do you follow 28,000-plus people? I only follow a little over 100 and that packs my timeline pretty full. Somebody once asked me how I manage to keep up with 1000-plus Facebook friends, and though I think I just shrugged in the moment, the answer inside my head was “fast scrolling.” Is that sort of what happens with you?

Kristi Colvin: I also do a lot of skimming on my timeline. But on busy days I just deal with mentions and direct messages. Often on a weekend, when the TV is on and I am relaxing, I finally get to go through my timeline and look at the interesting things people are posting and that’s usually when you’ll see quite a few retweets from the freshid account. We follow far fewer people on that account and it is easier to notice good content, but you could achieve the same goal with using Twitter lists. I make Lists and then don’t use them though. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t follow enough people. My goal is to somehow follow a million someday. All these people make me smarter on a daily basis so I want more education, links, ideas, feedback, and good humor from the millions upon millions of awesome people that can be found all over the world.

bankmeister: Finally, SportingKC.

When did you become a fan of the team and how long have you had season tickets? Do you feel like your enthusiasm for the team has consistently elevated or have there been plateaus? Tell me about your mega-fandom of CJ Sapong? Have many folks picked up on your lil’ rookie hashtag and begun using it themselves?

Kristi Colvin: I am a brand new soccer fan, this year. At the end of last year, Lisa and I met Kyle Rogers and James Flexman from the team, who found us via social channels and because of our proprietary Intefy product, which does real-time media aggregation and is good for live online events. That story is detailed in an article about Lisa & I here.

They became a client at the beginning of 2011, and so when soccer season began I watched the first game on TV, not really even knowing if I’d be able to maintain interest in the game or not even though I was interested in the team’s staff and really liked all the people I met at the downtown office.

My enthusiasm for the team has grown to the stereotypical fever pitch. Soccer games run my life -– we haven’t seen a movie at the theater in months and won’t until the playoffs end. At this point I am a huge fan of the team and I almost see the work we do for the client itself as a separate activity. But even if we didn’t do work for them I can’t imagine not loving the team or not attending every game possible. We are season-ticket holders not because they gave us tickets but because I literally begged Lisa to death to purchase them. Our seats are in the Shield Club, which was not cheap; we paid $5500 for our four tickets and shared them all season. Given our many current expenses, we haven’t renewed the Fresh ID season tickets yet, but my husband is getting us two Shield Club seats for 2012 as he has become a fanatic as well. I am lucky that he is, as we may get to go to L.A. for the MLS Cup if SKC makes it that far. I begged for that also, but never expected to really go. I think he wants to and knows that this may be a unique opportunity as you never know when a team will make it that far again.

Regarding Sapong, and his youth and my age, I think a lot of people thought I was some kind of cougar-lady who found him cute when I first began talking to him and about him. That’s not how I see him (or any of the guys on the team.) I really don’t know how to properly depict how I feel about him. He’s not quite the son I never had, or like a brother…he’s just a person I adore and admire. He caught my attention with his record-breaking debut goal the first game, and it was several games before I saw what he looked like up close on TV, or even heard him speak. We had bonded over Twitter and at the time his avatar didn’t show his face well, and I was so excited the first time I saw him in a locker-room interview, that I yelled for Tim to come in and see him. He is just unique. Talented, quirky, funny, humble, cocky, goofy, surprising…all the things that make someone want to have someone around as a friend.

What a lot of people may not realize is that he and Eric Kronberg were the first two players I ever met. They came into the Members Club during the week we were living there before it opened, working on the membership software and getting quick-response codes on seats. Everyone on the software team was exhausted. Sapong walked in, and I recognized him immediately and I lit up. It was totally thrilling to meet him, the shot in the arm we all needed to keep going and get everything launched on time. He delights me -– I will be so proud for him, and so happy if he wins Rookie of the Year. I may even weep. And of course tweet about it.

People have not used the #lilrookie hashtag unless it’s in reference to me. I love it when they use it though, and asked CJ directly if he minded it. He said “no.” Lil Rookie #17 will be on my jersey at all the playoff games I get to go to, including the big one. I want to remember his rookie year forever and I’m sure he will as well.

bankmeister: When the season started, it seemed like the streak this club was on would eventually fall off, but ultimately they wound up the one seed in the eastern conference. Tell me about your experience on this wild ride of a campaign. What kinds of things are folks doing in anticipation of the big game tomorrow?

Kristi Colvin: I have never really followed a sports team quite like this. I am used to Tim’s ups and downs with the Chiefs, and felt it somewhat, but knowing the players, owners, and staff behind the team makes it so much more personal and fulfilling for me. I haven’t known what to make of their season –- I look at everything with newborn eyes and barely know the detailed rules of this game. I’m not a fair-weather fan…if I love someone or thing or group I am very loyal, so losing games doesn’t bother me that much; I expect it. They have surpassed any expectations I may have had, though. I recently re-watched our first game at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park and this team has grown by leaps and bounds since that contest. I feel blessed to have witnessed it all. They inspire me…but I am hoping they will also motivate me to get off my rump and be more physical, more active, and get in better shape again. Work gets really busy and health and wellness get de-prioritized. Watching them always reminds me it’s important.

bankmeister: What about the growth of the fan base? I came across an interview with a club higher-up this week, and while the bit was entertaining and informative, even the interviewee has gone from a tongue-in-cheek announcing of the new team/venue name to a supposed seriousness with the success they’ve had this year. Do you find that fans are mostly embracing bandwagoners or is there some divisiveness within the circle(s)?

Kristi Colvin: I can’t really speak to this. I think we have a lot of long-time Wizards fans that are possibly still mourning the loss of that identity, maybe because they never really had the full package of a soccer-specific stadium and all this attention. And then we have people who’ve been curious about the team given the new stadium and attention, who aren’t raving fanatics but interested enough to check it out, nonetheless. Then there are a group of people, like myself, who are new to the team/brand and even soccer as an interest that are now complete Sporting Kansas City addicts. I will be very curious to see how many seats sell next year. That will tell us if there are new converts for real or if the novelty of the hot new thing has worn off. I hope it sells out again and the momentum continues.

bankmeister: It appears that the organization has done a lot of things right. Anything obvious that they’ve overlooked or upon which they could improve? How do you think the enthusiasm of this fan base compares with other MLS markets across the country? Assuming you’ll be at the game, will your in-game tweet tendencies stay the same, or does the iPad get put away for the post-season matchups?

Kristi Colvin: I can’t see changing my tweeting habits. Though the team doesn’t pay me for it, my in-game tweets are partially an obligation of sorts. Some folks are used to them and like them. My non-technical observations give them another perspective on the game and some people seem to like that.

I think SKC are in a sweet spot of having done many of the right things this year with the stadium finally completed. There is still much work to be done, but my complaints are few. I have seen many observations from outsiders regarding their digital presence online. I know of teams (of all types) who have expressed interest in the in-stadium technology Cisco helped build, the Sporting Membership software we helped design and develop, the mobile apps Moblico has helped them develop and all of that tells me their new venture, Sporting Innovations, is hitting the right mix of what’s new/what’s needed. If I were a team anywhere in the world, I’d study what they’re doing. That they have such an apparent interest in providing a community of real members and not just a venue to visit once or twice a week is one of the things that sets them apart, and that will continue to serve them when they experiment as members will give feedback. It’s a living eco-system and I’m personally glad to be part of it.

bankmeister: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for the time. Good luck with all of your business and personal endeavors, enjoy the playoffs, and God speed as you attempt to follow (Dr. Evil voice) one million followers.
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Thursday, October 27, 2011

This Time. I'm Losin' My Mind, This Time: Fo'

If this feature is new to you, it goes like this: Crappy songs. There's lots of 'em. My noodle seems to be a magnet for 'em. I can't help it. I don't know how it happens, and I'm trying like mad to figure out a way to make it stop. So far, this feature has perhaps made it worse. Each week I'll drop a five spot on you, four of which should make you want to choke a litter of kittens. If they don't, you might be worse off then I am.

5. "Rocker" by AC/DC

I imagine a few of you might not have the skin to make it 30 seconds through this clip, but from my vantage point, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap is one of the most underrated albums of all time. Old-school AC/DC kicks some serious ass and we should all take a moment to thank Bon Scott for leaving the world a better place.

4. "I'm Into Something Good" by Herman's Hermits

If you're my age, you probably remember the Peter Noone version from The Naked Gun soundtrack better than the original, but that's not important right now. What is important, or at least noteworthy, is that this song isn't bad. It's kitschy and upbeat, reminiscent of everything found in the kernel of '50s and '60s feel-good pop. I don't have any negative feelings about the Hermit's number, but I also don't want it stuck in my head because it drives me freaking insane when it is.

3. "White & Nerdy," Weird Al Yankovic

I like Weird Al. Always have. He's clever to the Nth degree and you have to appreciate the gall he's had for most of 30 years. When he first hit the scene in the early '80s, I felt like he was novel enough that I was able to retain significant portions of his lyrics. I still remember significant portions of "Eat It" (perhaps because I owned Weird Al Yankovic in 3-D), and I can still recall good chunks of "Fat" (probably because I owned Even Worse) -- "Don't you call me portly, pudgy, or stout"! After that, though, Al kinda dropped off of my radar, which in hindsight is largely appropriate.

The dude keeps making records, though. Hell, he just put one out in April. Anyway, I don't know any of the "White & Nerdy" lyrics, save the refrain, which means that the song itself wasn't running through my head, but that one line was, over and over and over again, and lemme tell ya' -- I was tempted to impale myself with a spork because of it.

2. "Road to Nowhere" by Ozzy Osbourne

I'm not certain why I bought a copy of No More Tears when it came out, but I'm pretty sure I felt compelled to because I was just getting into Black Sabbath, and thought it pertinent to acquire some solo stuff, but that's neither here nor there. As a kid -- right around the time I was getting my Weird Al geek on -- Ozzy Osbourne was biting the heads off of bats and doves on stage, and that sent me a message: stay away. Stay far, far away from this lunatic.

Of course I'm old enough to know now that it was for show, and while I still don't agree with such ridiculousness, I am able to recognize the massive significance of Osborne's body of work. This album came out in 1991, and I actually ended up going to the show when it came to town, too. I'm not going to sit here and break down the release, but similar to the phenomenon with "White & Nerdy" I only had snippets of this number on repeat in my head: That opening whine of a lyric -- "I was looking back on my life"; the refrain; and that obnoxiously shrill Zakk Wylde guitar loop made for a montage of insanity up in there and believe me when I tell you that I had to dunk my skull in the toilet and flush to evacuate it.

All in all, though, the songs that got stuck in my head last week weren't that bad. I mean, considering the hands I was dealt in each of the previous three weeks, I was feeling like I'd come out on top. Until...

1. Sheena Easton's "Almost Over You"

Don't ask, man. I have no idea. I've been with the same woman for eight and-a-half years. There're no past relationships still haunting me, and I certainly am never listening to Delilah. You know what I did a ton of as a kid, though, was tune in to Casey Kasem's weekly Top 40, and I'm guessing this cut was in the mix at some point, or at least mailed in as one of those sappy dedication bits. If I knew the answer, I'd share it. Until then, I'll just continue to load my ear canals with Jawbreakers until I can't hear this horrific recording anymore.

There's your five-pack for the week, and here's to hoping your brain's not as messed up as mine.
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Churches. Churches and Liquor Stores. Churches and Liquor Stores of the QuikTrip Variety

Centerville might very well be "a nice place to raise your kids up" and if you need to find out for yourself, go ahead and watch Frank Zappa's 200 Motels. I dare you.

I gave the 1971 98-minute film a whirl about 13 years ago and I don't think I ever fully recovered from that lone viewing. Don't get me wrong: I got it. Were I not a massive Zappa fan, I probably would not have, but even though I was, it is so bizarre. Honestly, I think my brain destroyed every cell associated with the experience, save for the above clip, an unintentional edit that left me a better human being.

That said, I had my own churches-and-liquor-stores experience a few months ago, only it barely involved a church or a liquor store and had a lot to do with one of my neighborhood QuikTrips.

Before I get into it, though, know the following: I love me some QuikTrip and I know you do, too. I'll break down the badassery of this fine American establishment another time, but know that the QuikTrip is like the National Football League. You want QuikTrip on your street corners. You need QuikTrip on your street corners. The rest of the bones of the analogy look something like this: Major League Baseball is your 7-11 -- they're convenient for when a QuikTrip isn't nearby, probably not going anywhere, and considerably less fun (read: they don't sell booze.); the National Hockey League is like BP -- decent concentration in your city, trying to build up to QuikTrip status, and still doing serious image-reconstruction work after a recent catastrophe; and the National Basketball Association is none other than a Kicks66 -- you probably don't have one in your town, don't miss their absence, and when you stumble across one, you realize they've staffed the joint with doofuses from all the seedy neighborhoods in the metropolitan area.

Anyway, I've got about six QTs that I frequent -- I'm in the car a lot -- and depending on the day of the week, you never know in what hour I might visit. I've stopped at one before dawn when we'd run out of coffee at the house. Just popped into one a quarter of four in the morning a few weeks ago after the conclusion of a night shift*. In the afternoons I'm filling the gas tank, and in the evenings I can be found bouncing in for a Red Bull en route to hockey. This particular visit, however, fell approximately at midday on the Sabbath, and the tale -- consider yourself warned -- is not for the faint of stomach, so proceed at your own risk.

*For those keeping score at home, the bulk of this was penned before the said night shifts were a part of my routine.

Sunday mornings are rough. There’s no two ways around it. They’ve always been rough, but now they’re even rougher. It’s sort of a multi-edged blade if you will, but the bulk of it is about trying to get out of bed at quarter of eight for 9:00 mass. Are we capitalizing mass these days? I feel like the church would tell us we’re supposed to but our English professors would say otherwise, right after they finished reminding you that English, since it’s a language, should be capitalized, and yes, even if you’re talking about English class. But don’t capitalize your other classes. Nobody wants to see you submit an essay in which you discuss your Math and Social Studies teachers. That would be blasphemy. I could just look it up in the style guide, but that would require getting up; it’s much easier to sit here and ramble for a few sentences.

Nonetheless, my mother used to be the biggest pill about making us go to mass. Oh, I know what I was going to say: Word-processing programs auto-correct our typos, but m-a-s-s with a lowercase ‘m’ gets left as is. It doesn’t even give you one of those obnoxious red lines under it. The kind that makes you scream, Jesus, you dick! I keep trying to move onto the next sentence and you’re holding me back, bro. But just on the inside. Nobody wants to hear you hollering at your monitor. It’s important to keep some of that crazy masked.

Yeesh. Talk about blasphemy. Anyway. My mom. She wanted us to be in church every week.

“I don’t get it,” I once said. “We’re good people. We were baptized and confirmed and we don’t break the law (I was speaking for my mom and sister there, notsomuch myself). Why do we have to go to church every week? It just doesn’t make sense.”

“It’s called a sacrifice,” she said. “God is asking you to sacrifice one hour of your week, and after all that Jesus sacrifi—“

“Whoa,” I said. “I got it. I’ll be there. I didn’t know we were gonna get into Jesus paying for my sins in this conversation. Nine a.m. mass. I’ll be the untucked-shirt kid with the drool string coming from his lip.”

There was a spell where we’d have to get up on Sunday mornings for church. She didn’t have much tact about getting us up, either. There was no soft twisting of your bedroom doorknob, no gentle pats or soft shakes to rouse you from your sleep. She would just barge in, and using mid-conversation voice, she would state your birth name. That was either followed by repetitions of your name, or the kind-hearted phrase, “Get up.”

This was never anything shy of terribly annoying because the running water of her shower would’ve already woken you once, and you knew it was only a matter of time. The other angle was that she would engage in her delicate-rousing tactics at either my bedroom door first, or my sister’s, and then move across the hall to the doorway of her other child. It didn’t matter though, if you’d slept through her shower, or were woken up second, or if you were laying there awake through the whole thing. Neither one of us wanted to get out of bed Sunday morning for mass, and mind you –- my mother was** the kind of churchgoer who took after her father, which means the departure process looked like this: Walk out the door 40 minutes before the service starts, so that once the six-minute drive to church was over, we could sit there in the uncomfortable pew for over half an hour, while we waited to try not to fall asleep during the hour-long celebration.

**"was" as in when her church-attendance rate was high, not as in she's dead

See there? I called it celebration. I never celebrated anything at church. Except for maybe the time my sister and I stole away 25 minutes worth of mass to push each other around like maniacs in a church-basement wheelchair, all covered by the feigning of dual upset stomachs. But I’ll call it a celebration. I’ve got to regain some of the ground I lost when I said “Jesus” and “dick” in the same sentence earlier. No, no. That time doesn’t count. I was just quoting myself.

Anyway, my sister and I would inevitably not get out of bed on the first attempt, and usually not on the second, either. This always made for a pleasant start to the morning, because attempt two was more of a modified attempt one, each word now it’s own sentence: “Get. Up.” Now I’m not sure how the inner workings of my sister’s mind used to operate, but this would piss me off.

The logic of it all looked something like this: You, one person that you are, is waking up the two of us, also known as household majority, to do something that we, the non-governing 66.6 percent, don’t want to do. And when we demonstrate a little resistance or sluggishness, you start to get mad. So like I said, I can’t speak for my sister, but attempt two would pretty much make me just roll over and reposition myself for a few extra minutes of sleep. These were not restful minutes of sleep by the way, because attempt three would come shortly on the heels of attempt two, and the words, if you can call them that, would come out mashed into one pauseless command that forced its way through gnashing teeth, hurling saliva: “I’mnotgonnasayitagain!

And then we were up, angrily bustling about the house, being told to tuck our shirts in and comb our hair and then, just before departure, we’d have to help mom find her keys. This is a rough estimate, but about 93 percent of the time, they were in her purse, the first, fourth, seven, and eighth places she looked.

This didn’t last for too many years, though; I don’t think she could tolerate it anymore. Instead, we wound up going to 5 p.m. mass on Saturday evenings, which wasn’t much better, but the dress was more casual and we could usually talk her into leaving after communion, good little Catholics that we were. In hindsight, it was much better, even if it delayed our Saturday-evening plans, because -– jackpot! Sunday-morning sleep.

All of that was grade school and middle school. By high school, I think she just gave up. We were working and partying and frankly, she was probably exhausted, too. By then she’d been working two jobs for some time. We became the Easter-and-Christmas-Eve churchgoers, and if memory serves, we probably put up a fight for those services, too. Perhaps a bit justified, though, in that our mother, like her father, adjusted her holiday-mass schedule to look like this: Walk out the door 55 minutes before the service starts so that once the six-minute drive to church was over, and we’ve dealt with the catastrophically non-existent parking calamity, we could sit in the uncomfortable pews for almost an hour while we waited to try and not fall asleep during mass.

It wasn’t much better at my dad’s house either. His wife was getting everyone up and fed and bathed and dressed and to church early just like my mom. The worst part was that Dad didn’t seem to mind a bit. It was almost as if he too wanted to get out of bed and go to church on Sunday morning.

Anyway, I was off the hook for a good number of years, until I got married anyway. The wife and her family grew up in the same parish as my dad’s family, and so that’s my church now. It’s the church in which we were married, the church in which our daughter was baptized, the church in which her father ushes, and her mother sings in the choir. We were engaged for a year and-a-half, and encouraged to be at church on Sundays, and we managed to do that maybe 50 percent of the time. Probably closer to 35.

We got married, though, and it suddenly became important to her to be there as often as possible, so we upped our attendance rate, and then, when we got pregnant, things shifted in the don’t-make-me-go-to-church-by-my-pregnant-self direction, which I totally got. I did. And I was there with her more Sundays than not. Then, when our daughter was born, it sort of became a ritual for us to be at church together as a family every Sunday, and to spend a little time with the in-laws afterwards. These are two practices to which I subscribe and support. They’re nice things to do. It’s a good example for our daughter, yadda yadda yadda.

The only tricky part is that I still don’t like to get out of bed on Sunday morning. For clarification purposes: The wife can be in bed at 10:15 on a Saturday night, just like any work night. I, however, cannot. I have the better part of two decades of working nights in my system that I haven’t been able to shake, even though I haven’t been working nights for almost three years. Ultimately, I like to be social.

Now, there are a few tricky details to manage with this whole conflict-of-interest situation. The first being that there’s usually something going on on Friday night, and I’m only supposed to go out one weekend night. There’s also, more often than not it seems, something going on on Saturday night, which means if I’m going to go somewhere after the fact, it’s already 10:30 or 11 before I get out of the house. Church alarm goes off at quarter of eight. You do the math.

Add a few adult beverages into that already-narrow sleep window, and that recipe yields a cranky, grouchy Sunday-morning daddy.

But I’ve made some steps toward eliminating that groggy monster. I more or less cut out the late bars some time ago. When Herman Edwards was the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, he once said, “Nothin’ good happens after midnight. If the girl at the bar ain’t winked atcha’ by midnight, she prolly ain’t gonna wink atcha’ at all.”

Coach Edwards said a lot of dumb things during his infamous three-year run here, but that wasn’t one of ‘em.

I like to use it, but a modified version. Instead of girl at the bar/winks, I’m using the good-time ratio, and instead of midnight, I say the 1-1:30 window is fine, especially since, if I’m out, I’m usually right down the street, so I can be home, in bed, and asleep in 20 minutes. No sweat. If I’m smart, I’ll actually be in bed by 1:30, and I think the wife is semi-okay with that. And let’s be honest, semi-okay is as good as it’s gonna get, because perfectly okay is don’t go out at all.

Anyway, there are other important factors –- albeit none more important -– than just the wife’s happiness. One is hockey on Sunday evenings, and I like to be relatively useful and try to contribute something to the team. If I’m hungover, that means I’ve probably got rotten guts, haven’t slept enough, and haven’t eaten enough either. This translates to a sluggish skate, and almost always bleeds into a slow-moving Monday morning.

Even bigger though, is the hangover thing. Many, many years have passed since that stubborn boy refused to get out of bed on warnings one and two. Gone are the teen years, my 20s, and before long, my 30s’re outta here, too. The point: hangovers are crippling anymore, and kind of have been for several years. So believe me when I say that it’s in everyone’s best interest for ol’ dad here to make his Saturday night jaunts out as brief and responsible as possible.

One last thought about that before I tell you the story I’ve been meaning to: I don’t look like I’m about close to being 40. I don’t think I do, and people certainly don’t seem to, either. Anytime I’m buying beer or cigars, or in a bar I don’t frequent, I get carded. Sometimes, the requester of ID laughs, too, when they see my birth date.

When I’m in conversations with people I’ve not known for long, and we get around to that age topic, I’m that guy that says, “How old do you think I am?”

Now, usually these people are facing me, so that can’t see my bald spot, or my neck fur that’s like ivy racing its way up the side of a house. Inevitably, though, they guess about a decade younger. I tell them to add 10 years, and “No way!”s and “Get outta here!”s are usually thrown at me.

The problem: I look fine -- hey, I’m not saying attractive; fine -- on the outside, but on the inside is a whole different deal. I got bone grafts and wooden plates and holes in my head, and pencil lead wedged in my knee and an aching back and flat feet and ruptured ear drums, shoddy vision, crackly wrists and a hyper-extended elbow. Believe it or not, all of that is perfectly manageable, and in some cases, unnoticed.

What’s not are my rotten, self-consuming guts. They’re kind of on the brink of bad and threatening to get uglier before they get any better.

Genetically, I inherited the intricate bowel of a father whose ulcers were so foul that he had his innards hacked into and his stomach sealed shut with some 40 staples. All before age 40. And boy did he put that surgery off for a bit. You remember, as a kid, when you’d get on the bus or get to your classroom and be in close proximity of a kid that clearly brushed their teeth first, then ate a bowl of Cheerios before leaving the house? Imagine that –- a rotten-Cheerio-breathed kid -– who spiced his cereal a tablespoon of raw sewage and a sprinkle of dry landfill and then burped in your face. There was so much gas in my dad’s guts when he had his ulcer that he was dusting the neighborhood with these belches of epic toxicity every five or six minutes. I mean, it’d make your stomach turn when hanging out with him outdoors.

And that’s just one side of the helix ladder. On the maternal end, I stare straight down the barrel of a lethal trio known as diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and spastic colon. Yes, indeed: the good-times tri-fecta. It’s no surprise, then, that when I’m stressed out, I get a little acidy in the reflux department, or when I’m just generally not feeling well, it’s in the guts and not the head. But mostly, this was, for 30-plus years, a manageable situation.

Not anymore.

A touch of background: As a kid, I was a Cub Scout, a member of Webelos, and a Boy Scout, all of which involved camping trips. The extended variety of roughing it, wherein one trots into the forest with a shovel and some tee-pee, was never a problem for me. The shorter variety/weekend trips weren’t either; I could literally hold it all weekend if I felt like it. In high school, there were two toilet options: 1) You could sit in the stall that had no door, or 2) You could sit in the stall that had a door that peaked at chin level. Gonna go with no thanks on both. I’d hold it all day and use the comfort of my own home either at lunchtime or after school was dismissed. Not sure if I did any damage to myself there, but never did this practice cause me tremendous discomfort.

Things these days leave with fewer options.

A couple of months ago, the in-laws were out of town, the sister-in-law in for her 10th high-school reunion. The wife and I wrapped up our garage sale (Editor’s Note: Technically it was her garage sale, since it was her idea, and she did most of the work for it.), and while she bathed the baby, I ordered some carry-out for us, and stopped at the liquor store when I went to pick it up. After dinner, a buddy picked me up and we went to a friend’s house. My supplies for the evening included a six-pack of Pabst and a mini bottle of Jager. My buddy brought most of a twelver and a pint of Schnapps. I drank three of my beers, and had a cap-sized sample of each spirit before returning home, still very much coherent and not terribly late.

In the morning, we were up and out the door perhaps earlier than ever and actually sitting in the pews before mass started. All was right with the world. The post-church agenda looked like this: breakfast with the s.i.l., wife to attend two functions, me to head home before again picking up s.i.l. to take her to the airport. As we said our see-ya’-laters at the in-laws’ home, I felt a gurgle. The wife, rolling through her usual litany of things she wants me to do, think about, and avoid, kept me in the driveway a few moments longer than I’d anticipated, long enough for another gurgle.

“Gotta go,” I said.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

The wife left with our daughter to attend a shower and a birthday party. In her car. This meant that I had to take the only available vehicle home: my mother-in-law’s still-pretty-darn-new, leather-seated SUV. As I backed out of the driveway, that first little wave-offable level of panic was knocking on the window, and the thought process was this: I could go inside, but I don’t really feel like laying some corporal punishment on either of the in-law’s toilets. Not today, or any day, really, especially with the s.i.l. hanging out inside. The only option was to head home, which is maybe a 10-minute drive.

Their house is the second one in from the end of the block, and I wasn’t yet to the stop sign when gurgle number three attempted to drown out the sound of the obnoxious NPR voice on the radio, and believe me when I tell you -– this was far from the first time -– that a third gurgle is already beyond the this-means-business phase.

As I turned the car south, I started to sweat a little bit, and my mind began to race at a furious pace. I made the conscious decision that I would not speed, that I would refrain from California stops, that I would be as safe as possible on this already-treacherous journey home.

Four blocks later, it was time to make a decision. I had two options: 1) Risk everything and try to make it home, or 2) Stop at the QuikTrip, a midway destination. Basically, option number two was the only route because, again, I’m in my mother-in-law’s newish car, driving it for the first time, and it has leather seats. Actually, I think they’re vinyl, but whatever. You may be thinking that vinyl seats could be better than upholstered, but I’m thinking worst-case scenario here: like an up-the-back baby-diaper blowout wherein seepage is most certainly a possibility.

So it’s option two. And QuikTrip, for the record, is the only option because they keep their indoor outhouses clean. There is a flaw to this option, however: This particular QT is a one-seater. Therefore, if I get out of the car and make my way in and that stall door is locked, I’m doomed.

I can make it, I can make it was one of two phrases cycling in my head. The other: No. Actually, you can't.

I drove. I squirmed. I lifted my seat out of the seat. I tried to loosen the pressure on my gut from the lap portion of the seat belt. I noticed that my feet, with all of the squirming slowly danced themselves out of brake-pedal range.

Had to stop. Plain and simple.

There, then, based on all of this discomfort, was the final other angle on the stopping option: Once I got out of the car and began walking towards the QuikTrip front door, there was no turning back. There was no, Let’s*** get back in the car and see if now you can make it home.

***I don't typically talk to myself as though I am plural personalities. In times of crisis, however, apparently I do.

Because you have not yet been given enough details, the s.i.l. has this gig wherein if she’s been out partying the night before, she needs to have food directly deposited in her stomach. No juice, no water, no waiting. Food, and now, or she runs the risk of releasing in a different kind of way.

Because of this issue, we wasted no time ordering breakfast. We also inquired as to whether or not the biscuits and gravy were hot and ready to serve, which they were. We shared a half order amongst the three of us, and I followed that up with three go-cart-tire-sized blueberry pancakes and a side of bacon, not to mention a couple of cups of coffee.

And because you care immensely about some of my driving pet peeves, I cannot stand it when people operating automatic-transmission vehicles place their gear selector in park before all forward motion has ceased. It seems lazy, unnecessary wear and tear on the cogs.

But as I dashed into a parking space in that QT parking lot, I willfully violated my own pet peeve.

If you frequent the QuikTrips, you probably know that the front glass doors swing both ways. I am usually extra cautious of patrons on either side as I enter, holding for the exiting, inspecting the other side if I’m pushing. On this day, in that moment, I could’ve movie-chase-scene exploded someone and their purchases with the speed at which I entered the building. I made a hard left, and had I been wearing a head cam, the footage would’ve looked like some Blair Witch Project clip, my outreached hand eager to grab the door.

I burst through my second door, and immediately noted that the stall was shut, but had one last hope as this is a deep unit; feet not visible without a ducking maneuver. I reached out and grasped the horizontal piece of steel to give it a jiggle.


Not just plain-old locked, either. A locked that was surrounded by silence, a silence that hung in the air with only the fragrance of an unviolated bathroom stall. I came back out the bathroom door as quick as I’d entered it. Directly in front of it, a young female employee wiped down a counter, rinsed out something. A coffee pot, perhaps. I was unsure. I took five steps toward the main area of the store, circled back. I cringed. I clutched my kidneys****, circled again.

****I know that kidneys are part of the excretory system, but I think they solely handle the number-one material. That said, I clutched my kidneys nonetheless, 'cause, uh, they were barkin' like mad. Seriously. It might've been some kind of dog-whistle barking where nobody else could hear it, but I heard and felt it loud and clear.

I felt a warm wetness on the back of my neck. My breathing heavied as my hands slid forward, pausing on my hips. I arched my back, and circled. I opened the door to the men’s room again. No progress. Pacing back towards the storefront, I paused and looked in the open door of an employee-area hallway. I could see shelves filled with napkins, straws, paper towels, and other items. I could see a sink.

I looked over my shoulder at the young woman. She was still wiping counters, rinsing a rag, and as my vision tried to focus on her, I could tell she was retreating from a glance at me. Back to the bathroom door, I gently opened it. Nothing happening.

I cycled once more, offering Lamaze bursts.

The young woman left the sink and entered the hallway, returning with a mop bucket, and it hit me: In order to avoid the most unpleasant of messy situations in my adult life, I must locate the drop sink. I will have to recruit a helper to guard the area for me, and I will be forced to squat over a square piece of floor-level drainage, and it will be the antithesis of pretty, but it will be better than that mess happening in my Sunday best. Of that much, I’m certain.

The segment of my brain that hatched this plan was suddenly attacked by an undisclosed other segment that quietly suggested that I get back in my mother-in-law’s car and go for broke. And all I could envision in that scenario was a virtual three-legged stool that supported these notions: an immediate shower, a trip to the car wash, and a poorly detailed, but lengthy explanation of why my daughter’s grandmother’s car has an intoxicatingly heavy Pine Sol-ish odor to it.

Thankfully, the drop-sink segment of my brain took over again, and I worked up the courage to walk down that hallway to see if I could spot it. I circled, huffed, and opened the door just in time to be blasted with both auditory and olfactory evidence that the man (Note: Let’s call him Goldie Wilson. Progress is his middle name!) was covering some ground. I let the door gently shut, and paced back toward the storefront. The young woman eyed me, this time directly. She wrung out her rag and wiped down the back splash.

I cringed, and for the first time, I recognized the possibility that a lone tear drop might fall. I knew, though, that if that happened, my nose would run, I’d sniffle, and get busted blotting the moisture from my face.

Painful reverberations bounced off the men’s room walls, distracted the threatening tears, and let me know that it wasn't going to be pretty in there. My mind raced again, this time in the direction of the future. This would be my fate, I decided. I won’t even be 50, and there will be Depends in my shopping cart every week, my poor wife tagged with the occasional responsibility of assisting me in my woe.

I cycled and arched my back, succumbing to the now-very-real possibility that my turn inside that stall could come, but perhaps a handful of seconds late. Which would be worse, I wonder. Completely losing it here in the restroom common area, or making it a step or two inside before the fortress is breached? Either way, I’d be leaving without pants, and that’s not going to be feasible, lest I make this worse and have the cops after me, too. It would not be possible to plaster the wears of under and preserve the outer layer, or vice versa. There just wasn’t enough time to make those adjustments that late in the game.

It wasn't quite noon yet, but I could feel all 87 of the outdoor degrees piercing the store’s windows. I’d given it everything I had. I felt like Tom Hanks in Castaway, only without the freighter to rescue me. I was going to go down into the abyss, my last ounce of dignity bubbling to the surfaces of urban-legend campfire stories, the pages of the local weekly rags.

Didja’ hear about ol’ boy at QuikTrip last Sunday? Marty was there. He saw the whole thing.

I squinted with aggression, inhaled vigorously through my teeth, and the sounds of the store blended into an offensive, warbled soundtrack. I thought of my wife and my pants and how I’d have to leave the car and borrow a self phone in my appalling boxers.

“Man,” the young woman said.

I glanced at her in pained curiosity.

“If you gotta go, you can use the women’s,” she said.

“Really?” my voice cracked, and the tears threatened stronger.

My brain sent out release-the-tension (but not too much of it) orders to my body. My mind flashed to my empty wallet. I had no money to get her anything. I had a debit card, but what could she possibly want from QuikTrip that she doesn’t already have?

I could bake her a pie, I thought. Or a Christmas present. I could get her a Christmas present.

“Yeah,” she said. It’s no problem.

“Oh,” I said, “my God. Thank you so much. But could you just?” I gestured toward the door.

“Sure,” she said.

I watched her walk in and crack open both doors.

“All clear,” she said, propping the door open for me.

I took an unsure step toward the door, and paused to turn and ask her if she’d man the doorway for me. As I opened my mouth, a woman jogger came rocketing through the front door, made the same hard left I’d made, and sprinted, sweat-soaked, toward us.

“Is it…” she began, barely slowing down. “Can I get in here?” she asked, scarcely slowing further, and entered the women’s restroom.

The young woman employee looked at me and shrugged, returning to her duties.
As I felt myself spiral back into the chasm of terror from which I’d climbed seconds earlier, I heard the magic sound from behind the door of the facility to which I belonged.


I hit that door like an offensive tackle in a training-camp practice, which was a good and bad thing in that I almost got knocked over by the 275-pound man exiting the stall. My focus was regained for maybe one second before I stepped foot into the stall and saw what he had done. It, as my s.i.l. later said on the way to the airport, is something her ex-boyfriend calls ass faucet. Thankfully, it does not involve the actual seat. Unfortunately, it does involve the rim and inner workings, and in this particular scenario there was the desire to do something about it, but an element was missing: time.

The next step in this sequence is why, if at all possible, it’s best to never try and do something in a hurry. If you can take a deep breath, calm yourself to some degree, and attempt to walk –- not run –- through the steps, you will be better off.

It’s just like Mom trying to get us out the door for church when she can’t find her keys. She’s checked her purse four times, and although that’s where they are, she simply cannot locate them.

Sometimes, though, haste is a virtue, and by Jove if I was going to rip my belt loops and burst my pants button to move this process along, so be it. I did not have the luxury of sitting on this day, but when it got down to brass tacks, the hovering-over-a-hole skills I’d acquired so many years ago on those extended camping trips came in pretty damn handy.

There was absolutely nothing quick and even less pleasant about the final moments of that particular QT visit, and if I could align my own cards, I’d see to it that such an encounter never again occurs. I won’t soon forget my convenience-store experience, and I’ll leave you with my parting exchange with the young woman employee.

“I want to thank you,” I said, “for choosing not to ignore my obvious strife, and attempting to be helpful.

“No problem,” she said. “Sunday mornings can be rough.”

Indeed they can, I thought. Especially when they involve churches and liquor stores.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Bye-Week Rant II: Talking Chiefs, Broncos, Baseball, and Media with Old No. 7

Technically, we're past the bye week, but regardless of how your favorite NFL team is playing, I imagine most pro-football fans would agree that the bye week is the toughest stretch of the gridiron season. To help kill these 14 days, Old No. 7 and I sat down to talk, among other things, AFC West. And if this chatter interests you, check out our conversation from two years ago, or my Chiefs free-agent post.

bankmeister: This past spring you said you were certain the NFL would miss some games thanks to the lockout. Share with me what your thought process was regarding such conviction. What was your foundation for it beyond the dolla’-dolla’ bill?

Old No. 7: At that time, it seemed to me that the owners were steadfast in their resolve to break the union. To be more precise, there was a faction of hard-line asshole owners who appeared ready to sacrifice the season in order to absolutely crush the players with the new collective-bargaining agreement. They wanted to radically alter the previous arrangement and swing hundreds of millions of dollars their way. The union, to their credit, was unwilling to agree to such a horrendously shitty deal. Thus, I thought we’d miss games.

Fortunately for people who like watching football, those hard-line owners were overruled by more reasonable dudes. Make no mistake: the owners still “won” this negotiation. They got shithauls of concessions, and all they had to give up was some mandatory practice time. Owners don’t care about practice time, and coaches weren’t represented at the bargaining table. It was a moderately bad deal for the players, but they’re still rich, and so are the owners, and we got a season. Hoo-ray.

bankmeister: If you feel that the work stoppage hurt teams, how do you quantify it? It seems that this year has seen all-time highs in terms of season-ending injuries, specifically with ACL and Achilles’ heel blowouts. Explore the theory that a lot of these guys simply can’t be trusted to keep in top shape on their own during the off-season.

Old No. 7: The lockout hurt everyone the same, from the standpoint that no one could work out or sign players while it was going on. Sure, this affected some teams more than others. Veteran teams that brought most everyone back were most likely affected the least due to their continuity, whereas younger teams/players and clubs that fundamentally altered their foundations might have seen more disruption. But what’s done is done, and that’s the cost of doing business in the NFL. They needed a new CBA, it’s clear that both sides needed a doomsday deadline to take negotiations seriously, and we got a deal. Do you feel that the lockout’s impact was not distributed evenly among all 32 teams?

bankmeister: No. I think it seems pretty clear that everyone was hurt on an equal level.

Old No. 7: Right. I would absolutely dispute that we’ve seen more injuries than normal this year, specifically more ACLs or Achilles’es. I recall speculation from almost every season in recent memory about this phenomenon, yet when someone actually digs through the data we find out that it’s not true. It’s football, and guys get hurt. Plus, what little I know about physiology tells me that what’s at risk if players are not in top condition are muscle and tendon (like hamstring) pulls, not ligament tears. ACLs are neither in shape nor not in shape; they just are. They get torn from violent, unnatural movements, not a lack of conditioning. My observation is that the vast majority of NFL players keep themselves in premium condition year round, lockout or no, and I haven’t seen any evidence to the contrary that’s anything more than anecdotal.

bankmeister: Interesting. Obviously, it’s too new still, but tell me about your initial thoughts on being a Denver Broncos season-ticket holder.

Old No. 7: Other than the fact that it sucked up a buttload of money I didn’t have, I love it. I’ve attended one game, which was happily the only game Denver won this year. The weather was beautiful, my kids were well-behaved, and going to a game live is nearly always a blast.

And luckily, I was able to recoup most of my costs for the season package. Friends and family purchased some games, and I sold the rest online. In fact, I parted ways with my final tickets just last week. For this I must thank Our Lord and Savior Tim Tebow. His legions of slack-jawed, inbred disciples have created far more demand for Bronco seats.

bankmeister: Slack-jawed and inbred? You have Chiefs fans in the Tebow fan club?

Old No. 7: Zing! I look at these tickets as an investment for my family. Going to a few games a year will become our traditional ritual, and when my kids are spoiled teenagers this will be one more tedious, embarrassing exercise to be tolerated with their loser dad. I can’t wait! Also, it’s possible that in 15 years the Broncos won’t be terrible.

bankmeister: Speaking of losers, when Josh McDaniels was handed a pink slip, you talked about the lack of importance in finding “the right guy” to replace him, that the team’s problems were huge in terms of personnel, that it was more important to get some quality talent in the building, develop the roster, and reassess the coaching situation after a few seasons. Has that philosophy changed at all or remained the same? How?

Old No. 7: I feel exactly the same.

bankmeister: Tell me about John Fox five weeks in, and what’s the deal with Knowshon Moreno? Is he struggling to stay healthy? Does he really only have 10 carries on the season? What’s your confidence level that he’ll bounce back and be a contributor?

Old No. 7: Fox first: He’s coached five games, and the talent level on his team is atrocious. I’m trying to be patient before passing judgment. Allow me to reveal at this time that right now I’m following the Denver Broncos in a much different way than I ever have. I watch the games, and I consume national football media like Pro Football Talk and ESPN, and I text Cecil and a few other friends, and that’s it. I don’t catch any local Denver media outside an occasional random bit on the evening news. I quit reading Bronco blogs. When it became clear that the only theme anyone covering the Broncos this year wanted to pursue was Tim Tebow, I checked out.

So I have a very limited frame of reference when it comes to assessing Fox and this team other than the results. And I have to tell you, it’s pretty nice. You know me, I normally love all the chatter and speculation and talk-radio soap opera, but I simply can’t do the Tebow thing. It’s an affront to logic. I will say that Fox seems competent, and I’m willing to buy into his commitment to rebuild the team via defense and the running game. The roster does not allow this yet, but I’ll give it some time. I’ve heard sporadic complaints about his conservative play-calling, and I’ve heard yahoos call for his job. But I prefer to ignore the ignorant mob.

As for Knowshon, he’s been hurt a lot. He doesn’t get massive, catastrophic injuries, but he’s suffered an endless string of nagging little boo-boos that cause him to miss parts of games and a couple weeks here and there. This makes it impossible to say with any certainty whether he’s good or not, but I’m just going to speculate that he’s fucking terrible. I think he’s a miserable bitch, a horrible football player, and a bad person.

Look, running backs are the most disposable, replaceable commodity in professional football. There are a few that are special, and everyone else is reliant on scheme, health and luck. Knowshon is not special. He’s fast and athletic, and if he found himself in the right situation someday he might be able to put up some fine numbers. But there is absolutely nothing separating him from about a hundred backup RBs in the NFL right now. I mean, he’s been benched in favor of Willis McGahee, who I’m pretty sure played high school football with Bill Cosby.

bankmeister: Wait. What? Miserable bitch? Horrible football player? Bad person? I thought he was (initially) regarded as one of the best selections y’all’ve made in the last six or seven years.

I’m no draftnik (at least not on the level of Cecil), so I have no idea what the conventional wisdom is or was on Knowshon’s pick. I loved his skills, and when he was drafted I loved the idea of what he might do for the Broncos. I do remember McDaniels justifying the selection by talking about how polished of a receiver Knowshon was for a college RB, but McDaniels’ offense rarely throws the ball to running backs. And again, he can’t stay healthy.

Adrian Peterson was a top-10 pick who was worth it. Darren McFadden overcame injuries to get to that point as well. But by and large, NFL teams have abandoned the idea of burning high picks on RBs. They’re also starting to sour on giving elite RBs big extensions. Given the volatility at the position, I think I’m on board with both trends. Knowshon has not been worth the resources spent to acquire him, although I don’t actually think he’s a bad person. He might truly be a swell dude.

Last year, you said something to the effect of, “Kyle Orton is a beacon of light in a steaming cesspool of suck.” We revisited that topic not long ago, and you seemed to still support the notion. In my estimation, his play seemed solid enough through two, maybe two and-a-half weeks. Did his performance fall off enough to warrant the benching, or is it the ol’ gotta-see-what-the-young-kid’s-got kind of thing?

Old No. 7: Because of my rabid distaste for Tebow, I’ve been accused of being an Orton apologist or even a full-fledged Orton fan. I’m neither. I think he got a raw deal from the fans and the media, but he absolutely played himself out of his job. Orton quarterbacked the Broncos at a reasonably high level for two and a half months last year before sucking and giving way to Tebow. This year, he’s been insanely bad. I still think he could help some team out there in a situation where he is not mercilessly booed by his home fans after every incompletion.

bankmeister: Switching gears, you and I seem to have gone in opposite-baseball directions in the past 18 months. I know you’ve always been a superfan, but you seem to have gone to even another level. Is this accurate, or am I misreading?

Old No. 7: I don’t think the intensity of my baseball fandom has increased at all. If anything, the time demands of my rapidly multiplying offspring have made me follow baseball a lot less. What I’ve done is transformed myself into a much more efficient baseball fan through technology and acquired knowledge.

Sabermetrics is part of this because it allows me to cut through 90 per cent of the romanticized garbage in which traditional baseball coverage traffics. Either this team/player/manager/strategic decision works, or he/it doesn’t. And if he/it works, then the data will prove it. This saves time and eliminates a lot of BS.
I’ve also selected a small group of incredibly talented baseball writers to read and follow on Twitter. And thus I can stay on top of the game, even if I don’t have time to watch a ton of actual games. I’d imagine that this is the same approach you apply to your beloved hockey, no?

bankmeister: Yes and no. I mean, the television is almost never on in our house anymore. Our evenings –- thanks, as you mentioned, to the offspring -– are absolutely slammed, and by the time the dishes are done, it’s pillow-thirty. I do follow the NHL’s feed, a few Blues handles, and good old Buccigross, but Blues games haven’t been televised by my cable provider for a couple of seasons now, so I’m pretty much out of the loop, save the occasional rarity.

What did you make of the Boston Globe article regarding your Red Sox?

Old No. 7: The particular article you reference was horrible. It encapsulates everything I dislike about being a Red Sox fan, namely other Red Sox fans, the Boston media, and the suffocating narcissism of the entire enterprise.
The 2011 Red Sox choked, pure and simple. They choked as a team, and every single element of the team contributed to their demise. Every player, every manager and coach, every member of the front office. I get that when things go this wrong after expectations have been raised so high, heads roll. Terry Francona and Theo Epstein are gone, which is insane to me. You know how I feel about managers and how their impact is completely overvalued. That being said, making Francona the scapegoat for this mess is beyond stupid. He’s eminently competent in that position, as is Theo in his. I don’t know how much of their departures were quitting, or getting fired, but it doesn’t matter. They’re scapegoats for the failures of others.

This is why that Globe article was such an abortion of the dying art of journalism. It threw every tired, disproved stereotype of a losing team into a giant shitpile with no attempt to perform a rational autopsy of the season. It was pure gossip and spite, which is fine from the standpoint that millions of people take the Red Sox way too seriously and they’re angry. But to stick that load of crap under the banner of a reputable American publication was embarrassing. Call me a naïve sap, but I still believe a little bit in the integrity of certain media entities. I know you do, too. I hope you would hold your hometown Star to a higher standard than what appears in that story.

Now, I have one burning question for you, and it’s this:

The way you follow the Chiefs is much, much different from how I follow the Broncos. You live in Kansas City, whereas I no longer live in Denver. You’re immersed in discussion of your team, which of course has its benefits and drawbacks. Prior to Tebow’s arrival in Denver, I loved the constant hubbub of Bronco Nation. I love the year-round speculation about the roster, management, the blind homerism, the definitive ignorance of all of us fools. Because we were all in it together.

As I said, I’ve checked out for a while. I think I’ll be back, but I kind of like stepping away from the nutbag echo chamber that is obsessively following my team 24/7/365. I may consider staying.

How much enjoyment do you derive from following the Chiefs? I’m not talking about enjoying the wins or hating the losses, I’m talking about The Process. What you read in the Star, what you listen to on the radio, what you inhale on the blogs, what you ingest from the dude at the grocery store or the bar. Does all of this make your Chief fandom more or less pleasant?

bankmeister: Bear with me while I draw a long, non-parallel answer up for you: I’m always behind the times. When the world went CD and DVD, I clutched my cassette and VHS tapes as if they were my last possession. I still own zero high-definition televisions, I don’t D.V. the Rs, and my phone, while perfectly functional, is not of the smart variety. There are always setbacks –- some more significant than others –- that go with this stubbornness, but I always seem to hold out for some reason. I tell you that to tell you this: Tweets come to my phone in SMS form when I select this option from particular followers.

By and large, this methodology might be the biggest love/hate relationship I’ve ever experienced. It’s a constant juggle to unselect the phone option on followers that tweet a lot, but not a lot of their tweets are of significant, immediate interest. My latest example would be the almighty Joe Posnanski. Since he moved, he’s no longer talking Royals or Chiefs, or anything of real interest to me. In short, he’s tweeting MLB playoffs, Penn State football, Apple products, and commercials, and it’s driving me insane. In fact, I may, once we wrap this up, unclick that icon on his page.

As I’m sure yours does, too, my phone buzzes a lot. I get texts from friends and family, radio stations, and the SMS tweets. Therefore, many many times since joining Twitter, I’ve wanted to smash the thing on the ground. For example, at that Broncos @ Chiefs game a couple years ago where Denver scored like 17 touchdowns to our two field goals and our wives drank eight liters of Schnapps, I was following your boy Whitlock at the time, and I think he tweeted 20-plus times during that contest.

The point is that I love Twitter, but I have purposely refrained from purchasing a smart phone because I make unhealthy commitments to things that jazz me up, i.e. this blog when we started it, Sports-Talk Radio, Twitter, etc., and then I struggle to adjust. Right now, I don’t really read the Chiefs blogs anymore, but I’ll follow a link if it sounds appealing on Twitter, and I definitely take in every word from the guys at the Star. Also, the Sports Talk stuff has sort of spun out of control for me. These days they announce what times they’ll be doing certain segments and I make significant commitments to try and catch them.

The worst part is that they usually drive me bananas. Translation: I almost always disagree and find myself needing to drive to the nearest playground so’s I can punch a few kids in the neck. The Sports-Talk relationship is just like the Twitter-SMS thing: I might like it a little better if I could find the right balance.

To finally get to an answer, I freaking hate it. Everyone’s an expert. Everyone’s “leaking” stuff. Everyone knows that if the Chiefs would only do things their way, they’d already have a Lombardi being wheeled out to them on a pedestal. It’s absurd, and frankly, nothing sounds better than what you’ve described as your current regimen for Bronco consumption.

Old No. 7: And what is your current take on Todd Haley and Scott Pioli? I’m not asking what the consensus in KC is and how you agree or disagree with that consensus. I’m asking if you think these guys are the right guys for the job and if you think they’ll stick long-term.

bankmeister: It’s really hard to parse through that thought process while avoiding the consensus, but here goes: I like Scott Pioli’s approach, and more importantly, I really liked it when he got here. Right now it’s tough because a lot of his draft picks haven’t panned out, and as I let that thought out, I wonder whether or not that’s simply the case with front offices across the league. I mean, I guess it’d be cool if you had a formula like quarterback rating or one of your sabermetric deal-y-bobs that could translate successful-pick ratios into quantitative form. In the end, much more time is needed. I really can’t see Clark Hunt firing Pioli anytime soon unless things get wicked ugly. And more importantly in my book, I don’t think Pioli should fire Haley anytime soon.

I’ve really come to appreciate his style of coaching. The number of key players that have really thrived under him in two seasons and change is admirable, and he’s got a great sense of humor, too. Also, I can relate to a guy who fails triumphantly to keep his emotions in check. Lord knows I’ve done that a few hundred times only to recognize later how stupid I looked.

Back to you for the wrap: Everyone’s hoping that they’ll win “The Price is Right” showcase that comes with Andrew Luck. Is it too early for you to be thinking 2012? Do you want your team to nab this kid? The good old Stanford Redux? Or are there other guys in the NCAA that would equally suit you? Do you have faith in Fox, etc. to have a solid draft in April?

Old No. 7: Yes, I want Luck. I have very little doubt that he’ll be at least a high-quality NFL QB, and there’s a strong chance he’ll be a franchise player.
There are simply too many moving parts, however, to actually plan or wish for that to become reality. The Broncos would need to lose an awful lot of football games, which, of course, they’re doing anyway. Other teams would have to lose even more. Luck could get hurt. A meteor could strike the earth’s surface. There’s a lot that can happen between now and April. But assuming the current status quo stays in place, yeah, I’m all like Suck For Luck.
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

This Time. I'm Losin' My Mind, This Time: Third Time's Far from Charming

Hammering out a couple posts today as time's been a bit scarce lately, but, uh we'll get that fixed here soonish. Round one looked something like this, and round two this. The skinny is this: Bad songs get stuck in my head. I don't know how they get there, and I don't know how to get them out. Sometimes they're there, quiet and fading, before my feet hit the floor in the morning. And by the time I'm in the shower, they're blasting like the nine-song rotation at the strip club.

Usually, I've had the fortune of at least one good song getting stuck in my head. Last week was not so usual.

5. "Dixieland Delight" by Alabama

Life isn't fair. It really isn't. Every once in a while, though, a bit of grace lands in our lap. Kind of like the rhythm of this song, which if you think about it, serves as a nice little ice-pick-to-the-forehead metronome. Get stabbin'!

4. "We Are Siamese" from the Lady and the Tramp soundtrack

Don't ask. I've no idea.

3. "Pull Me Under" by Dream Theater

My freshman year of college was spent at a school called Pittsburg State University. I lived in Tanner Hall, room 201. Two doors down was the most immaculate mullet you have ever seen, and it was attached to a guy who'd been nicknamed "Lightning Arms." Or "Kid Lightning," or something like that. I think his name was actually Ryan, but the kid could play the bejeezus outta some drums. And he was a huge Dream Theater fan. Wait. Sorry. He was the huge Dream Theater fan. Anyway, I guess the Dream Theater drummer was really good. Or is. I dunno. That was the first, and last, time I ever heard anybody willfully talk about Dream Theater.

I don't really have anything else to say about this song or that band, except for the fact that this number was once, for a minute, on the radio rotations.

I wish it hadn't been.

2. "Hard Habit to Break" by Chicago

I'm not going to sit here and knock on Chicago. I know Chicago has always had a pretty big fan base. That said, this song is terrible, and if I can figure out what it was I did to deserve having this one plugged into the old cortex, believe me: I'd hire Matlock, Magmum P.I., Kojak, and David Carradine to get on the case so that I could plead forgiveness. Jiminy Christmas is this song terrible. It's so far off the soulful spectrum that Christopher Cross recently called Chicago the whitest band in America after his Spotify account pulled up "Hard Habit to Break."

1. "Something to Believe in" by Poison

Every once in a while, I'll walk into the men's room of a local bar and there will be these framed advertisements on the wall above the toilet. You know what I'm talking about? They're usually matted into four panes, and each vertical rectangle has an ad for a particular company. There's usually one for a local restaurant corporation, one for a radio station, one for some smutty cable channel that doesn't have a you-can-hide-it-from-the-wife footnote, and one for some kind of medical study they're looking to conduct that requires you to come stay overnight twice and eat a handfull of pills for money.

This last one is always the ad that prompts me to double-take. Go sleep in a hospital bed for two nights, get studied and get paid? (Note to these companies: Put a text-us option on these ads. Really.)

I always walk out of the restroom, though, thinking about signing up for that action. I never do it, but I think about it. With the other three ads, I think about the money those poor saps wasted thinking they were going to influence me to ponder something, but with the medical-study ads, I'm usually exiting the can rubbing my chin with my thumb and forefinger.

I never follow through, but you know what would get me to write those details down? I'll tell you.

Remember Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? I'd settle my tab and drive straight to the hospital if one of those ads boasted a study that involved some drugs or a technique that would forever burn Poison and Bret Michaels and everything associated with both from the folds of my brain.

Forget Poison.

Forget the ever-loving spunk out of them.

That is all.

As you were.
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