Adults here sucked

A youth hockey game in Canada between the Kitchener Jr. Rangers Red and the Cambridge Hawks Red in October of last year ended in a score of 41-0.

This means that the Kitchener team scored more than a goal per minute.

The coach of Kitchener stated that once the game got out of hand, he made it mandatory for his players to pass the puck five times before trying to score and also instructed them to bring the puck back into their own zone before going up ice.

Apparently that didn’t work.

One might wonder why eight year-old boys couldn’t find a way to take it easy on their opponents when the score reached 15-0 or 20-0 in a game where the score almost never enters double digits, but I didn’t wonder about that for a single second.

My immediate thought was this:

Bad coaching. Inept adults must’ve been in charge of the winning team. Morally questionable human beings.

The eight year-old players probably enjoyed scoring at will, but they are eight years-old. They’re supposed to make ethically dubious decisions. They’re supposed to act terribly from time to time.

Adults are supposed to know better.

I don’t coach hockey. I can’t skate. I haven’t played a game of competitive hockey since I was ten years-old on the local pond.

But am I wrong in thinking that the coach could’ve found a way to ease up on the scoring while also preserving the dignity of the losing team? It seems like that could’ve happened if the coach had been even a little effective.

Maybe when the score became 20-0, you change your mandatory five passes to ten passes. Would that have been so hard?

In Cambridge’s previous six games, they were outscored 91-6, which also sounds excessive, but if you do the math, the average score in those games was 15-1.

Still not great, but a far cry from 41-0.

This also means that six coaches found a way to avoid utterly humiliating the Cambridge team, and in the process, probably taught their own team about grace, sportsmanship, and decency.

I’m sure that some people will argue that coaches should teach kids to play hard at all times, and that easing up on a team and not trying your best is actually more insulting and humiliating than beating them by such a lopsided score.

To these individuals I say this:

You probably don’t work with children on a daily basis. Or you’ve probably mistaken the high stakes business of professional sports with low stakes enjoyment of youth sports. Or maybe you’ve probably placed winning ahead of learning.

Maybe all three.

If you think it’s better to play hard and beat a team by a 41-0 score rather than finding a way to show some decency and generosity to your opponent, you and I simply have a difference of opinion related to priorities.

You think one thing is important. I think something else is important.

And I think that you are wrong.

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Most of us rejoice. A bunch of old, white bigots do not.

Have you heard?

National Women’s Soccer League stars Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris are engaged to be married, the couple announced last week. The romance between the athletes began nearly a decade ago when the two met while playing for the U.S. National Team.

Social media was abuzz with the news last week, with people from all over the world sending their congratulations to the couple via Twitter, Instagram, and the like. Popular in their own right for their efforts on and off the soccer field, the union of Krieger and Harris was greeted by soccer fans with excitement.

Even FIFA, the governing body of the World Cup. post a tweet sending their love and congratulations to the couple.

Not everyone sent love and congratulations.

The Republican Party’s 2018 campaign platform declared that “marriage is between one man and one woman” and condemns the Supreme Court ruling making same-sex marriage legal.

The Vice President of the United States called being gay a choice and said keeping gays from marrying was not discrimination but an enforcement of “God’s idea.” He has repeatedly voted against bills that would prevent discrimination of LGBTQ people in the workplace.

In America today, you can be fired from your job for being gay. That is insanity.

Pence’s wife now works at a school that forbids both LGBTQ students and staff.

Donald Trump, despite his promises during the campaign to protect LBGTQ rights, has been equally bigoted.

His State Department has removed a section about violence and discrimination against LGBTQ people from its annual human rights report. His Justice Department rescinded Obama-era guidance instructing public officers to interpret sexuality and gender discrimination under federal prohibitions on sex discrimination. He twice failed to celebrate LGBTQ Pride Month.

It’s so odd to watch so many people around the world celebrate the engagement of these two accomplish and respected women while knowing that the President and Vice President of the United States and the majority of GOP lawmakers would make the marriage of these two women illegal if given the chance.

This is what happens when old, white bigots are in power. They drag their hateful, arcane ideas back into the halls of justice in a desperate attempt to reverse progress.

Happily, far more people in America and around the world are happy for the love that Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris have found, and although progress can be restrained and even temporarily reversed at time, it cannot be stopped forever.

Gratitude and perspective on the eve of the Super Bowl

I’m writing this an hour before the kickoff to Super Bowl 53 to remind myself about how I’m feeling right now in case some ridiculous catch or devastating strip sack ruins my night.

My friend, Steve, says that as a Patriots fan, I’m spoiled, and he’s right. But more than spoiled, I’m so incredibly fortunate.

For the past 19 years - in the prime period of my adulthood, in a time when I’ve owned season tickets and attended most of the Patriots home games, I’ve had the honor of watching the greatest sports dynasty maybe ever.

The Yankees might contend for that title, but since I’m also a Yankees fan, I don’t need to squabble over positioning.

The point is that I realize how lucky I am. Truly.

I have watched the team I love - the team that I first fell in love with while sitting at my grandfather’s feet on Sundays, cheering on the team - play in 11 Super Bowls.

21% of all Super Bowls ever played.

I watched the Patriots lose in ‘86 while sitting in the living room of my childhood home. I was 14 years old, and I wept that day.

I watched them lose again in ‘96 in my friend’s living room. As Desmond Howard ran back a kickoff for a touchdown, I threw my shoe through the wall above the TV, angering my friend’s wife quite a bit. .

Then I was sitting in Shep’s living room in 2001 when the underdog Patriots beat the same team they play tonight for their first Super Bowl championship.

I wept that night, too.

Beginning that year, I have spent countless Sundays and the occasional Monday and Thursday night in Gillette Stadium watching this team play brilliant football.

I have watched Tom Brady’s team play in 13 AFC championship games. I have personally attended 7 of those games.

I’ve watched the Patriots go undefeated in the regular season. I’ve watched them win a record 21 games in a row. I’ve watched Tom Brady win 11% of all Super Bowls ever played.

Yes, there has been disappointment, too.

The goddamn helmet catch. Mario Manningham’s catch. The Welker drop. Brady’s lost season. Last year’s strip sack. Singular plays that cost the Patriots three more Super Bowl championships.

But I also watch the Patriots win their first Super Bowl as the clock ticked down to zero. I watched Adam Vinatierii make two impossible kicks in the snow to send the Patriots to the AFC championship game. I watched an unlikely cornerback named Malcolm Butler intercept a pass in the end zone at the end of a Super Bowl to secure a Patriots victory. I’ve watch the Pats come back from 28-3 to win a Super Bowl in overtime.

It’s been a glorious run. And thankfully, I’ve been in a position to enjoy every moment. Tom Brady took over the team when I was 30 years old. Old enough for me to have watched those two early Super Bowl losses. Old enough to know the pain of a 2-14 season back in ‘92. Old enough to remember Steve Grogan and Stanely Morgan and John Hannah and Andre Tippett and Steve Nelson. Old enough to remember the snowplow game. Old enough to have lived through so many losing seasons.

Also old enough to watch every single game of this remarkable run. Almost half of them in person with some of my best and closest friends.

Yes, I’m spoiled. And win or lose tonight, I will consider myself so very fortunate to have been a Patriots fan through this remarkable period in the franchise’s history.

Having said that, I really, really hope we win.

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Patriots playoff presumptions

As a Patriots season ticket holder, I am sent playoff tickets with the rest of my season tickets every year.

This always includes a ticket to the AFC championship game, which is unfortunately being played today in Kansas City, which makes this ticket null and void and make me very sad.

Had the Patriots made a tackle on the last play in Miami a month ago, I would be heading to Gillette Stadium today.

It kills me.

Still, I’ve had the good fortunate to attend the last two AFC championship games, 5 of the last 8 AFC championship games, and 7 of the last 15.

I’m not sure if every NFL team sends playoff tickets to their season ticket holders in the summer, and some might say it’s fairly presumptuous to do so, except that the Patriots have made the playoffs in 20 of the last 25 seasons and 18 of the last 19 seasons.

They’re made it to the AFC championship game for a record 8 straight seasons.

Presumptuous? Maybe. But certainly backed by history.

Find your people

I was sitting in section 331 at Gillette Stadium last week. The Patriots were at midfield and driving to the end zone. Instead of the typically crisp passes from Tom Brady to his cast of suspect wide receivers, New England was running the ball, opening up large holes for the running backs to exploit.

With every first down, we cheered.

I was sitting beside Shep, my seat mate for more than a decade. As we watched the team we love drive down the field, we also found ourselves discussing Supreme Court Justice John Roberts and his surprising center-right position relative to his recent ruling on Trump’s asylum ban. Though both of us had expected the Court to uphold this vile policy, Roberts had surprised us, placing the rule of law over political ideology and overturning Trump’s new policy.

In the midst of this discussion, with the Patriots now on the 20 yard line, Shep stopped talking, looked around at the tens of thousands of people around us, and said, “I don’t think anyone else in this stadium is talking about John Roberts and his decision on asylum policy last week.”

Then he added, “ I don’t think anyone is even talking politics at all.”

With 66,000 people in attendance, it’s hard to know, but I think Shep was probably right. We were probably the only two people in the stadium discussing US asylum policy as the Patriots scored their first touchdown of the day.

A couple months earlier, Shep and I were sitting in these same seats, discussing how Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma had tweeted a photo of a T-shirt printed with "Medicare for all," calling it "this year's scariest Halloween costume."

We were both appalled at the stupidity and immaturity of such a tweet.

We were definitely the only two people in the stadium discussing Seema Verma that day.

When giving advice to my fifth grade students on middle school, I always tell them to find their people. After spending six years in elementary school with the same group of 100 kids, my students are about enter a much larger school and meet many new people. Though it may seem scary at first, I tell them to be excited. “It’s your chance to find friends who really understand you. People who like the kinds of things you like. Believe in the same tings you believe. It’s your chance to find new friends who get you. Find your people.”

My wife Elysha famously did this in high school, finding a group of incredibly diverse friends who she adored. Cool kids and misfits. Theater kids and writers. A guy named Chainsaw. Elysha found her people when she was a teenager, and she’s spent her life adding to that rich cast of characters who she now calls friends.

And I found Shep when he hired me to DJ his wedding back in August of 2000. His marriage didn’t last but our friendship thankfully has endured. And as much as I enjoy sitting in that stadium, watching the Patriots play, a large part of the joy is the day that I spend with Shep, talking about football and friends. Family and work. Writing and politics.

Including John Roberts’ recent ruling on American asylum policy under the Trump administration.

It’s important to find your people. Identify the individuals in this world who get you and hold on tight. Make the effort to remain connected.

It’s hard to find someone who can discuss the intricacies of the American healthcare industry while simultaneously threatening the life of a referee over a pass interference call, debating the flawed feminism in the Wonder Woman film, and shouting at a Baltimore Ravens fan to shut his trap.

I found my people.

I hope you have, too.

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A Patriots fan becomes an honest-to-goodness Patriot, and I'll never forget it.

It’s rare when you actually get to witness the straw that breaks the camel’s back, but a few weeks ago, I witness just such a straw-and-back situation while sitting in the stands of Gillette Stadium.

My friend and longtime seat mate, Shep, and I were waiting for the game to begin. On the field, fans were trying to kick field goals to win Ocean Spray gift baskets and starting lineups were being announced.

I was telling Shep about a doctor who I’m working with on her story about being assaulted in her apartment in the middle of the night. A man broke into her home, pinned her to the bed, and hit her in the head with a hammer, blowing out her eye and causing massive damage to her face. As she struggled against her attacker who was now punching and choking her, she remembered something she had once heard Oprah say about not resisting when being attacked like this in order to survive.

So she stopped trying to resist.

The man then continued to punch her in the face unabated until the doctor realized that Oprah’s advice sucked and began fighting back again, eventually saving herself.

Shep was enraged. “Don’t fight back? If someone’s attacking my daughter, I want her to fight back with everything she’s got.” He railed about Oprah’s advice and explained how his daughter knew exactly what to do and how to hurt a man who might be assaulting her.

A moment later we rose for the national anthem. Though Shep always rises for the anthem and has great respect for the flag and our country, he is also keenly aware of the history and the hypocrisy of playing the national anthem before a sporting event in which two American teams are competing.

He’s also been frustrated with the recent politicization of the national anthem by certain politicians for political gain, and he, like me, despises the thick-necked men at games who shout “Hats off!” during the anthem because forgetting to remove your cap is far more disrespectful than some half-in-the-bag moron shouting at fans throughout the song.

A few minutes before kickoff, two Green Bay Packers fans arrived, taking seats beside us. Shep is relentlessly cruel to opposing fans. He berates them throughout the game, sometimes to the point that even I’m uncomfortable. As he began to lay into these two man, who had just traveled from Wisconsin to Massachusetts for the game, one of them reached out to shake Shep’s hand. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We’re always respectful to the opponent’s fans, and we respect the players and the stadium. We’ve traveled with the Packers before, and we’re just here to enjoy the game.”

He then added that Gillette Stadium was a beautiful place to watch a game and the Patriots were an amazing franchise.

Just like that, I watched my ruthless, merciless, take-no-prisons friend melt into a kinder, gentler soul. He started chatting with the Packer fans, and during the opening moments of the game, even laughed with them a little.

That was it. The final straw.

The idea that women should not resist while being assaulted in a country with a President who bragged about sexual assault, combined with the thought of his daughter’s safety in this misogynistic world had primed the pump.

Added to this was the reminder of the hypocrisy and politicization of the national anthem.

Then two men, bitter opponents from a state that voted for Trump - reached out a hand and offered kindness and camaraderie in the face of verbal abuse.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Shep is an odd political duck. He’s what I refer to as a libertarian Democrat. He hates unnecessary rules and laws and can’t stand to be told what to do. If given his choice, he’d probably eliminate many of the regulations and statutes that we live by today. He wants people to live however they want with as little interference by government as possible.

But he’s also fundamentally a Democrat, supporting a strong social safety net for those in need and very progressive on issues like same sex marriage, transgender rights, sensible gun laws, and the like. He actually works to support Medicare and help Americans access their benefits.

He’s also vehemently opposed to Donald Trump’s presidency, but because not everyone in his life feels the same, has been careful about what he says, how he says it, and where he says it.

No more.

Sitting in the upper deck of Gillette Stadium, as the Patriots began driving down the field against the Packers, Shep stopped watching the game. Completely ignored the soaring passes from Tom Brady, the spectacular catches from Patriots receivers, and missed our first touchdown completely.

I’ve been sitting beside Shep at football games for almost two decades, and I have never seen him disengage with the action before. But on that fall evening, on the eve of the midterm elections, Shep stopped watching the game completely, for one specific purpose:

It was time for him to finally and clearly express his political position.

Opening up Facebook, Shep sat down and wrote:

“Look, I generally just say leave me alone and I will leave you alone, but I have to say If you have a daughter or a sister or any woman or any PERSON who’s well being you value please vote. And vote Democratic. There. I said it. Just step up everybody, our country is a nightmare. And that’s me at the Patriots game, so distracted with the faux-patriotism, so if it matters that much to me, I pray it will for you.”

Then he added:

“My seat mate Matthew Dicks points out that I hyper focused and left out the people you care about who might be: non-white; non-binary, not rich... basically if you value anyone who isn’t a rich white male, please vote Democratic on Tuesday.”

Twenty minutes later, during halftime, he sat down one more time to write:

“For my Republican family members and friends who wonder why I chose to speak up now... I am at a PATRIOTS game. In PATRIOTS gear. And the definition of a Patriot is not, and has never been, blind obedience to autocratic rule. It is standing up for freedom, liberty and the rights we fought for centuries ago. It is standing up for the rights of all Americans, not just the rich white ones. This country is broken and change needs to happen now. Vote for change. Please.”

It was one of those moments that I’ll never forget. It was a moment when something shifted inside my friend, and he became someone new. Someone with the same beliefs and ideals as always, but now someone who was willing to stand up, risk retribution, and let his voice be heard.

Shep and I have attended well over 100 Patriots football games together over the past two decades. Many unforgettable. Impossible plays. Remarkable come-from-behind victories. More AFC championship games than a football fan deserves.

I’ll remember this game, too. Maybe better than all of them. Not for the football game, which the Patriots won, but for what I watched my friend do that day.

He became a Patriot that day. I was so damn proud of him.

Serena is beautiful. You are a terrible human being.

Comedian Amber Ruffin alerted me via Late Night with Seth Meyers that horrible human beings have recently been insulting Serena Williams for her physical appearance, specifically related to a black body suit that she wore at the French Open but also for her physicality in general.

In the words of Amber Ruffin, “When you’re skinny, people let you live, but when you’re a curvaceous black woman, people feel like it’s okay to tell you to cover up.”

If you think Ruffin is wrong, look at this. On the left is Serena Williams wearing her now banned outfit.

On the right, Anne White’s perfectly legal outfit at Wimbledon in 1985.

What’s the difference between these two outfits?

I know what’s different. Anne White is white, and her outfit is white. Serena is black, and her outfit is black.

That’s the only objective difference.

Or what about these outfits? Are these outfits, also worn my professionals on the tour, less revealing than Serena William’s outfit?

I’m so annoyed by this news that I’ve decided to violate my strict policy on never commenting on physical appearance to say that I think Serena Williams is an incredibly beautiful woman.

I’m also quite certain that anyone who insulted Serena Williams’s appearance is ugly (at least on the inside and possibly the outside) and stupid. Also probably jealous, possibly racist, and definitely awful.

We have a President who constantly insults women (and women of color, in particular), brags about sexually assaulting women, and silences porn stars through hush money. The last thing we need in this country is a bunch of morons insulting a world class athlete and genuine humanitarian because her physical appearance does not conform to their predefined definition of beauty.

To these monsters, I say this:

Shut up. Go do something productive. End this junior high nonsense. Stop contributing to a culture where women are objectified and there is only one definition of beauty. Look in the mirror and ask yourself, “What is so broken inside of me that causes me to insult the appearance a woman like Serena Williams? Am I filled with racial bias or just a horrible human being? Or both?”

Then go do something good and decent for the world. Something that doesn't involve insulting women for the way they look.

Clara's first Patriots game. NOT WHAT I EXPECTED AT ALL.

I took Clara on a rite of passage last night:

Her first New England Patriots game.

I've been attending Patriots games regularly for almost 20 years, and I've been a season ticket holder for almost as long. I've spent some of my favorite, most memorable days at Gillette Stadium, tailgating with friends, cheering in the stands, hugging strangers following touchdowns, and celebrating victories. 

It was odd that my daughter had never seen this place where I have spent so much time. I was so happy to finally introduce her to this place that I love so much. 

It was a preseason game, which was ideal for a nine year-old girl. Warm night. Low stakes. Lots of empty seats. An absence of opposing fans. Fewer drunken brawls. As we pulled up Route 1 in Foxboro and saw the stadium for the first time, Clara was impressed. 

"I know it doesn't look so big from so far away," I said. "But it's pretty big."

"No, Daddy. It's huge."

We talked as we made the 15 minute walk to the stadium. Clara asked questions. I told stories about this spot and that spot along the way. Stories of snowstorms and lobster carcasses and a burning Christmas tree. She waved at the police horses and said hello to random children.

I managed to sneak her through security with the backpack that she had strapped to her back, and I'm still not sure how. Security officers are fanatical about there being no bags brought into the stadium unless they are clear and plastic.

Somehow we skirted by.

Then we began the climb up the ramps to the 300 level and our seats. When he hit the fourth of 10 ramps and Clara said, "I hope you're seats aren't too high, Daddy,"

I knew I might be in trouble. 

My seats are four rows from the very top of the stadium. The climb up those steps to our seats would be steep and long. But it was a preseason game. Lots of empty seats along the way. We could probably find seats in the first or second row.

Clara was nervous just being in the concourse of the upper level. Just her awareness of how high we were was increasing her anxiety considerably. We ate some food, walked around the stadium a bit, and then it was time to see the field for the first time from actual seats. 

"Let's go see the Patriots," I said. 

"Okay," she said. 

My hopes soared. No protest. She was going to be brave.

As soon as we stepped out of the concourse and up a small flight of stairs, Clara fell apart. I managed to grab two seats in the second row, just six feet from the landing, but Clara clung to the handrail like she was on the deck of a ship, caught in a storm. The size and height and scope of the stadium terrified her. I managed to get her into a seat, thinking she might calm down once she was anchored to a spot, but no good. She was crying and begging to leave. 

I coaxed. I cajoled. I pointed out some features of the stadium. The championship banners. The big screens. The football being played below. 

No good. We had just driven almost three hours to a football game, and I was in danger of seeing fewer than three plays of actual football.

I tried once more to inspire her to enjoy the stadium. The crowd. The game. She continued to cry. 

"Okay," I said. "Take a couple of photos with me, and we'll go. Try to smile."

We did, and then we left. She wanted off this level immediately, and so we took the stairs all the way down to the exit. When I tried to pass through the gate into the parking lot, a police officer stopped me. "You can't exit this way. No re-entry from here."

"I know," I said.

"You don't understand. You won't be able to go back into the stadium."

I looked at Clara and then at him. "I know."

He looked at Clara, smiled, patted me on the back, and we were on our way to find ice cream in the Patriot Place shopping area.

Here is the truth:

I was annoyed at that moment. Really annoyed. Thousands of people - adults and children - were sitting around us, enjoying the game, reveling in the beautiful weather, bright colors, and excitement of a football game, and my daughter had been reduced to tears because her seats were too high. When I offered to find seats in a lower level, she declined. She just wanted to leave. Hours on a highway and still more hours of driving ahead had been reduced to three plays of football. 

Two incompletions and a punt. 

I was annoyed. Angry, even. I was prepared to talk about the importance of being brave. I was ready to talk about perspective. "Even though you were afraid, you were perfectly safe. Thousands of people around us agree. Can't you use that knowledge to overcome this fear?"

I was annoyed. Ready to speak. Ready to let her know how I felt. Then I said this to myself:

Three or four hours from now, when you're tucking this girl in bed, will you be happy that you told her that she needed to be brave? Will you be pleased with the conversation that you're about to start? Will you think of yourself as a good father when you tell your frightened little girl what she did wrong? Or will you regret speaking to her while you were annoyed?

It's something I say to myself often. As I'm about to complain, argue, order, demand, or criticize my children (and my students) for their decisions or behavior, I ask myself:

How are you going to feel about this later? Are you in the right frame of mind for this conversation? Is he or she in the right frame of mind? Is this the right moment to speak? Will you feel good about what you're about to say later on? 

So I squeezed Clara's hand instead as we crossed the parking lot and said, "I love you, Clara." She pulled me to a halt, hugged me, and said, "I love you, too, Daddy."

We ate ice cream in the courtyard and laughed. Checked the score on my phone. On the way to the parking lot, the horizon opened up to us. The sun was making it's final appearance of the day, just dipping out of sight. "Look, Daddy," Clara said. "It's so beautiful! Look at all the colors! Red and orange and yellow and even green. I think I see green!"

"It's the gloaming," I said. "Twilight. The few minutes before the sun disappears for the night."

"I love the gloaming," she said. Then she pulled me to a stop again just before we were about to cross Route 1. "Hold on," she said. "I want to watch the gloaming a little more."

We did. 

We listened to music on the way home. We played songs from our family playlists, designed specifically for long rides, skipping songs that we hadn't added to the list ourselves. 

Most Charlie's Coldplay and Elysha's Steely Dan. 

I told her stories about the musicians who made some of the music. She asked lots of questions. We sang loudly until she got sleepy, and then we sang quietly. 

She was already asleep when I tucked her in a couple hours later.

I'll probably talk to Clara about being brave today. I'll tell her that I'm performing standup comedy now because it scares me, and that whenever I find something that frightens me, I run to it.

I know that the right thing and the hard thing are often the same thing.

I'll tell her that even though I wanted to stay in my hotel room on the nights when I was recording my audiobook in Michigan earlier this summer, I forced myself to find a comedy club and perform. I did three sets on two different nights, and even though I was terrified to take those stages, I'm so happy I did. 

I'll tell her how important it is to try new things even though they might be scary. I'll tell her that missed opportunities should be the most frightening thing of all.

But I'll talk about all of this in the light of day, when we are relaxed and happy and thinking about that moment in the gloaming when all was good and right. 

Maybe she'll listen and believe. Maybe next time she'll give it another minute or two before asking to leave. If not, we'll find a way to make the best of it. We'll stand in the gloaming and listen to Springsteen and eat ice cream and laugh. 

It was certainly not what I expected from my little girl's first Patriots game. Not even close.  

It was so much better than I could have ever imagined.  

I'm not a skateboard guy, but I think this is remarkable.

I'm not a skateboard guy, and I've never been a skateboard guy. I've always seen skateboarding as a series of bad equations:

Enormous amounts of time invested in learning and practice in exchange for the ability to ride on an inefficient means of transportation and perform a few dangerous, not-so-impressive tricks.

Hours of potential fun spent on concrete in exchange for the very real chance that you scrape, bruise, or break several parts of your body.

It just made no sense. 

Then I saw my neighbor riding his skateboard to work one day, and I thought, "It still took hundreds of hours of practice to do that, and it's still dangerous, but on a sunny day in May, not a bad way to get to work."

Still not enough to make me want to ride a skateboard, but at least a slightly improved impression of the sport.

Then my daughter and I watched this skateboarding video, which is unlike anything I have ever seen. The combination of outstanding digital videography (which allows you to see these tricks in their true majesty), the latest skateboard technology, and this person's mind-blowing skill on a board mesmerized us.

I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  

I've never been a skateboard guy, and I'm still not a skateboard guy, but I'm a guy who apparently likes to watch people skateboard now.

Or at least this guy. I've watched the video three times already. 

I hit a new thing. The results were tragic.

I played golf on Sunday. 

On the second hole, I hit a tree with my second shot, causing it to ricochet directly back at me, nearly killing me. My third shot was heading toward the green when it struck a rake lying between me and the green, popping the ball up and sending it right of the green.

I kind of lost my mind for a moment. Threw my club to the ground and jumped up and down. My friend, Jeff, said, "You hit everything but the hole. It's unbelievable." Then he and my friend, Tom, began ticking off the objects that I've hit in the past.

There have been a lot. 

Golf cart. Barn. The flag on an adjacent green. Yardage marker. Snack shack. Drainage pipe (I actually put the ball in the drain pipe). Tree after tree after tree.  

The history my humiliating golf shots is long and storied. 

I finished the hole with a double bogie. Less than five minutes later, I hit a tee shot that sailed low and hooked left before striking a bird mid-air, killing it. 

Yes. I hit and killed a bird mid flight. Probably a starling. Do you have any idea how improbable that is, particular after talking about all the things I hit on the golf course just minutes before?

I only saw the brief flutter of feather and wing because I was keeping my head down (as every golfer should), but Tom said that the bird paused midair for a moment as if to cry out, "Goodbye, cruel world!" before plummeting into the ravine below. 

I felt terrible. I had killed a living creature with a golf ball. Not a terribly well hit ball, either. 

I was also a little annoyed. Following the bird into the ravine was my ball, costing me a penalty stroke. My friend, Plato, says the ball wasn't going to clear the ravine anyway, but he's a pessimist who cannot be trusted when it comes to judgment calls like this.

Later on, I learned that there is actually a rule (19.1) that would've permitted me to take a free drop. No penalty. But given that a bird died in my fruitless pursuit of par, I felt like the penalty was probably justified. 

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The most unlikely of pars

I play golf because I love the game, even though I play it poorly.

I play golf because it allows me to spend time with friends. 

I also play golf because sometimes, the moments are unforgettable, ridiculous, and hilarious.

On Sunday morning, I played golf with two friends at Rockledge country club, a public golf course in West Hartford, CT. After playing poorly for seven holes, I came upon the 17th hole, a downhill par four that curved slightly to the left. 

My tee shot went low and left, hitting a tree and landing amidst the trees on the left side. 

My second shot - an attempt to punch the ball out of the tree line - hit the tree in front of me dead on. The ball ricocheted backward, flying across the fairway about 15 yards behind me.

I was now farther away from the hole than when I started. 

My third shot sailed down the fairway but hooked left, hitting another tree - my third in three shots. This time the ball dropped like a stone at the base of the tree, inches from the trunk. 

Trapped against the tree, now about 50 yards from the green, my only choice on this fourth shot was to punch the ball toward the green as best I could. I took a 7-iron and treated it like a putter, smacking the ball toward the pin.

The ball flew over the grass, landed softly on the green, and rolled into the cup.

I had just managed a par, despite the fact that I had hit three separate trees on my first three shots, including one shot that yielded negative yardage.

The most unlikely par ever. 

My friends thought it ridiculous and hilarious and unforgettable, as did I. On the previous hole, I had hit another tree while teeing off, this one just 20 feet from the tee box. The ball ricocheted directly back at me, about six feet from where I was standing. 

That had sent us into hysterics, too. Little did we know that there were greater things to come.

I have so many clear and brilliant memories from my dozen years on the golf course. Moments spent with friends, hitting spectacular and spectacularly bad shots, laughing at our own inanity, and sharing moments of genuine warmth and friendship. 

There was also the time a squirrel stole the bag of nuts from Plato's golf bag. The time Phil hit a woman with a ball and tried to blame it on us. The time I hit a duck on a hill. The time the head of Plato's six iron detached from his club mid-swing, sending it helicoptering between mine and Jeff's heads. The time Andrew and I unintentionally played in the snow. The time Jeff accidentally divulged the sex of his future child to me without realizing it, and then the time we did it again with the next child.  

Both of those moments also happened on the 17th hole at Rockledge. 

Those moments, and hundreds more. Maybe thousands. 

I was lucky when my friend, Tom, introduced me to golf by purchasing a set of irons for me for $10 at a yard sale and throwing them into the back of my truck with a ribbon wrapped around the shafts. Little did I know what I was getting that December afternoon more than a decade ago.

A lifetime of unforgettable, ridiculous, and sometimes hilarious moments, including the chance to one day score par on a hole despite squarely hitting three trees along the way.

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The importance of an editor

Remember Brandi Chastain from the 1999 World Cup?

She's the soccer player who kicked the winning goal against China to win the gold medal for the Americans. After scoring the goal, she pulled off her jersey, exposing her sports bra and sending a sizable number of conservatives into amusing, ridiculous hysterics.  

Chastain was recently inducted into the San Francisco Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame. Her induction included a plaque that featured her image.

Here is a side by side comparison of the statue and Chastain. No joke. 

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This makes no sense to me. 

How does anyone in charge of this award or Hall of Fame allow this ridiculous, hideous plaque to see the light of day?

This is why I love my editors. I'm blessed to work with at least half a dozen of them at the moment. I have an editor for my fiction, an editor for my nonfiction, and an editor my upcoming middle grade novel, as well as four different magazine editors at three different publications who I work with regularly.

On top of that, Elysha serves as an editor for my storytelling performances, and when I'm working with The Moth, I am blessed to work with producers who essentially work as editors while you are crafting your story.

On top of all of that, I have about a dozen friends who read my material before it even makes it to an editor, and these people are invaluable to me. Discerning, honest, and skilled, these friends make everything I write better. 

Creative people need editors. We need someone to say:

"That is not good."
"Those words stink."
"That story is boring."
"That ain't funny." 
"That idea is interesting but not right for this moment."
"This part makes you sound like a creep."
"No one cares that much about hermit crabs, so stop it." 

Someone needed to tell the artist who made that image of Brandi Chastain that he or she was clearly looking at a photograph of the wrong person. Or was drunk at the time of creation. Or needs to see an optometrist immediately. Or must secretly hate Brandi Chastain.

To Chastain's credit, her response to this atrocity was, "It's not the most flattering, but it’s nice.”

I would not have been so kind. 

Five sausages and a good story

The New England Patriots defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday in the AFC championship game at Gillette Stadium. It was the eighth AFC championship game that I have attended in my lifetime.

Patriot fans have indeed been blessed over the last 16 years. 

Prior to the game, about ten of us gathered in the parking lot across the street from the stadium for our traditional tailgate. My friend, Tony, does this cooking. My friend and seat mate, Shep, brings tables, grill, and a TV. 

I hand over money and thank them for taking care of me.

After the game, the group gathered back in the parking lot for a post-game tailgate. Since we remained in the stadium to watch the championship festivities on the field, we knew it would be at least an hour before we could exit the parking lot, so burgers, dogs, and the first half of the Eagles-Vikings game was on tap. 

That is, until we realized that one of our friends decided to skip the post-game festivities, flee to the parking lot, and escape the traffic. This would have been fine except he took all the food with him, knowing full well that a post-game tailgate was planned.

Needless to say the eight remaining souls were not pleased to discover that all we had to eat were five sausages and a little cornbread. 

Not exactly a meal for eight people who had just spent five hours standing in the stadium, cheering on their team.

After speaking about our departed friend in the most vile of terms and declaring him dead to us now and forever, we decided to take the one item we had in abundance - alcohol - and attempt to barter for meat from our fellow tailgaters.  Before long we had traded hard liquor, beer, and space around our TV for a little bit of chicken, two pieces of steak, a small army of pigs in a blanket, potato chips, and more. A couple people came over with cooked food and brownies, offering us some of their food out of pity for our miserable condition. Our huddle mass of eight grew to as many as fourteen at one point, and I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with some fellow Patriots faithful.

Don't get me wrong. Burgers and hot dogs would have been fantastic, and they should've been there, damn it. You don't leave early with the food when you know that a large group of hungry football fans are expecting to eat. 

Leaving with the food was not cool. It will not be forgotten. 

But the result - bartering for food, the chance to meet new people, and the collective, creative resentment for a single individual - was kind of great. A otherwise ordinary post-game tailgate turned into something memorable and meaningful under the sodium lights of that dirt parking lot.

There's a phrase that my friend, Catherine, uses about storytelling:

"You have a good time, or you have a good story."

In this case, we were lucky. We got both. 

Vin Scully's boycott of the NFL is stupid

In response to football players kneeling during the national anthem, Vin Scully has announced tat he will not watch the NFL ever again. 

His comments:

"I have only one personal thought, really. And I am so disappointed. And I used to love, during the fall and winter, to watch the NFL on Sunday. And it's not that I'm some great patriot. I was in the Navy for a year -- didn't go anywhere, didn't do anything. But I have overwhelming respect and admiration for anyone who puts on a uniform and goes to war. So the only thing I can do in my little way is not to preach. I will never watch another NFL game."

Questions:

Does Scully not know that the players who are kneeling are protesting police brutality and racism in the criminal justice system and not the flag or our servicemen and women?

Has he not heard that thousands of military veterans have openly supported the players' First Amendment right to kneel, arguing that this is exactly what they fought and risked their lives for? Some have even taken a knee in solidarity with the players. 

Has no one told Scully that at least one Major League Baseball player also kneeled in protest this past season? Is he done with baseball, too? 

Has he forgotten that he is a wealthy, white man who grew up in a segregated America, attended a prep school, and has no clue about what it's like to be an African American in America today? He can't begin to imagine what it's like to be an African American man during a routine traffic stop or what it's like to be locked up for a crime while your white counterpart goes free. 

Could someone please clue this old, white guy into the stupidity of his boycott, please? I've always liked and admired Scully, but this nonsense is seriously tarnishing his image.

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Free Dive

This is both fascinating and bizarre.

Watching the video of this man free dive to the bottom of the deepest pool in the world is both mind boggling and incredible, and yet:

1. I don't understand the desire to free dive. I cannot fathom (see what I did there?) the desire to swim as deep and far as possible on a single breath of air while risking your life in order to do so.  And while it's true that there are many other desires that I don't understand (sky diving, marathon running, baking), free diving seems to hold absolutely no reward.  

You can see the bottom of the pool with or without a tank of oxygen. I'm not sure how the lack of life sustaining air makes the experience any more compelling.   

2. Who spends millions building a creepy-ass pool like this? Sure, you might want to build the deepest pool in the world, but does it have to look like the inside of a water treatment plant from a Bond film?

Julian Edleman changes everything!

Each month my children each receive a free book from PJ Library, an organization that sends free books that celebrate Jewish values and culture to Jewish families across America and Canada.

Last week the newest books arrived. They tend not to be my favorite stories. Perhaps part of the problem is that I'm not Jewish, but while they do an excellent job teaching Jewish culture and values, they tend to be light on humor, antagonists, and conflict.

I find them a little boring.  

Elysha opened the latest books and began raving about one that she remembered reading at a child. "Yeah, yeah," I thought. "Another sweet little book with no stakes, no bad guy, no car chases, and no laughs."

A little while later I rose from my computer and took a peak at the book she had been holding. Just as I thought. No sword fights. No blood. No evil emperor. No underwear jokes. Blah.

Then I looked at the other book that had arrived. The one she didn't mention. My eyes immediately settled on the author of this book:

Julian Edelman.

"Julian Edelman!" I shouted. "This book is written by Julian Edelman!"

"Who's that?" Elysha asked.

"Who's Julian Edelman? Just the best receiver on the Patriots since the days of Randy Moss and Troy Brown! And apparently Jewish! Julian Edelman! I can't believe it!"

Flying High is the story of a squirrel named Jules who learns to overcome his physical limitations through hard work and the assistance of a goat named Tom.

If you know anything about the Patriots, you understand the genius of this plot. 

Julian Edelman is an undersized player - my height, in fact - who played quarterback in college and transformed himself into one of the finest receivers (and former two-way player) in the league.

Tom Brady is the G.O.A.T. - an expression in sports that means Greatest of All Time.  

It's true. There wasn't much conflict in the story and very little humor, but still... Julian Edelman wrote the book. 

I couldn't wait to read it to the kids. It was truly the first PJ Library book that excited me in the same way Elysha, Clara, and Charlie are so often excited about these books.

I guess even a blind squirrel can find a nut every now and again.

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A Trump supporter has found his bridge-too-far, and it's pathetic

Former NFL head coach turned television analyst Rex Ryan was on ESPN's pregame show on Sunday. Ryan was a vocal Trump supporter during the election, going so far as to introduce him at a rally in Buffalo, NY.

On Sunday, in a conversation about Donald Trump's comments about football players kneeling for the anthem, Ryan said:

"I supported Donald Trump. But I'm reading these comments, and it's appalling to me, and I'm sure it's appalling to almost any citizen in our country. it should be. Calling our players SOB's and all that kind of stuff... "

Sure, Rex, because during the election, this wasn't quite enough to turn you off to Trump:

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Or this:

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Or this:

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Or this:

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It's good to see that someone like Rex Ryan has finally come to realize that maybe, just maybe, Donald Trump is not a decent, reasonable, honorable defender of the Constitution.   

It's just a shame that he was able to look past the bragging about sexual assault, the denigrating of Mexican immigrants, an attack on a United States war hero, and his blatant bigotry.

Not to mention Trump's attack on Gold Star families, his lies about Muslims celebrating on rooftops on 9/11, his broken promise to release his tax returns, his failure to understand concepts as critical as the nuclear triad, and the way he stole money from hard working Americans via Trump University.    

All that was fine. No big deal.

But call a football player a son-of-a-bitch?

In the words of Rex Ryan, "appalling."

No, Rex. The most appalling part of his whole disaster was your willingness to look past all of these atrocities and support a candidate who was morally and ethically unfit for office.  

Would I ever take a knee in protest during the national anthem?

I was pulled over by a police officer last week. I was driving 53 MPH in a 40 MPH zone.

Honestly, I had no idea that I was speeding. It was Elysha's first day back to work, and I just wanted to get home and talk about her day. I guess I was a little too anxious to see her. 

As the blue lights filled my rear view mirror and the officer hit the siren, my heart beat faster. My muscles tensed. My flight-or-fight response triggered. 

I am always terrified when dealing with the police. 

When I was 22, I was arrested and tried for a crime I didn't commit because a single police officer was convinced of my guilt. My arrest resulted in the loss of my job and my home. I ended up homeless and hungry, and if not for the kindness of friends, I don't know where I would be today. I ultimately lost about 18 months of my life working 90 hours a week in order to pay a $25,000 legal fee.

As a result, I am always afraid when I encounter police officers. While I respect and admire the work that they do and appreciate their dedication and service, I also know how one police officer derailed my life and came close to putting me in prison. 

I can't imagine what it must be like to be a black man in similar circumstances. 

I have watched far too many of videos of black men being beaten and shot by white police officers. I have watched as a great majority of these officers have avoided jail time for their actions. When I encounter the police, I am terrified of being misunderstood. Mistakenly perceived as a criminal. Unfairly arrested. Perhaps even jailed and tried for a crime I did not commit. 

I am not afraid for my life. I am not afraid of being shot because I reached for my license too quickly or took my hands off the steering wheel.

I can't even imagine.

On Sunday, hundreds of athletes in the NFL, the WNBA, Major League Baseball, and other sports knelt during the national anthem, joining Colin Kaepernick in his protest against police brutality and the mass incarceration of Africans Americans.

Including my New England Patriots.

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Many of these athletes knelt in response to Donald Trump's comments in Alabama, where he called Kaepernick a "son-of-a-bitch" and demanded that he be fired (even though Kaepernick has been effectively blackballed by NFL owners for his protest and doesn't currently have a job). 

My response to their protest was simple:

I support the players' First Amendment right to peacefully protest. I support the hell out of it. So, too, do thousands of military veterans and active duty personnel, who took to social media on Sunday to remind Americans that they risked their lives so these men could freely protest.

Including 97 year-old John Middlemas, a World War II veteran who took a knee in solidarity on Sunday. 

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I wanted to add that if I were in these athlete's shoes, I would probably choose a different means of protesting, but to say such a thing would be stupid. And if you look anything like me, it would be stupid for you, too.

I'm a white man. I have not spent the last ten years watching watching people who look like me get shot and killed by police officers on video. I have not watched countless white police officers go free after killing unarmed black men. 

I don't live in a country where African Americans are statistically imprisoned for longer periods of time than white Americans who committed the same crime.  

I have no idea how these men and women feel. 

Yes, maybe there is a better way to protest, but until Kaepernick took a knee, America didn't seem to care much about these issues. Every month or two we would watch body camera footage or a Facebook live video of a white police officer shooting an unarmed back man, and after a brief period of outrage, nothing would change. 

Maybe if I was as afraid as someone like Colin Kaepernick, I would've taken a knee, too. I might've stood on my damn head.  

Donald Trump's stupid remarks may have turned Sunday into a protest against him, but Kaepernick's initial goal was to raise awareness of the issue, and he clearly has. When the President of the United States is talking about your protest, you have brought significant attention to the issue.

If I was afraid to getting shot and killed during a routine traffic stop, maybe I would be doing everything in my power to get the attention of the world, too. 

Donald Trump is an old, white man. He does not know the fear that African Americans face on a daily basis. Despite my arrest, trial, and near-imprisonment, neither do I. Going to prison unjustly and getting shot in the driver seat of my car are two very different things.

If you aren't black, you can't know what it's like to live in this country,

The people who vehemently oppose the player's kneeling during the national anthem are almost exclusively white. They are people who do not fear being shot and killed by a police officer for speeding or driving with a broken taillight.

When was the last time we saw body camera footage or a Facebook Live feed of an unarmed white motorist being shot by a police officer?

Trump doesn't know what it's like to be black. Neither do I. I never will.

But I know that the First Amendment gives Americans the right to peacefully protest, including kneeling during the National Anthem. Or sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Or even burning the flag in protest.  

Only fascist and totalitarian states value their flags more than free speech. 

I respect these player's right to kneel. I respect a fan's right to boo in protest of this protest. 

What I don't respect is a white person's belief that he or she could ever know what it's like to be a black person in America today. If you're white, don't tell me what you would do differently.

There's no way of ever knowing. 

My favorite piece of paper

Elysha and I attended yesterday's Patriots game at Gillette Stadium. It was her first game in years, and she picked a good one.

With less than 2:30 on the clock and down 33-28, Tom Brady orchestrated an eight play, 75 yard touchdown drive that won the game for the Patriots. With less than 30 seconds left on the clock, he threw a touchdown pass to Brandon Cooks that caused the stadium to erupt in celebration.  

It was exciting. Thrilling. Supremely satisfying. 

Over the course of the last 17 years, Tom Brady has brought me enormous joy. Constant celebration. Countless memories. 

I've also been fortunate enough to begin attending games regularly at the very beginning of his career. Brady has played in 239 regular season games and 34 playoff games over the course of his NFL career, and I have been inside the stadium to witness many of them. 

Brady was drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. Pick #199. A compensatory pick as a result of losing four players to free agency: Todd Collins, Tom Tupa, Mark Wheeler, and Dave Wohlabaugh.

Four forgotten players whose exit from the franchise changed it forever.  

This is the draft card, submitted by the Patriots organization, that gave them the rights to Tom Brady. It is my favorite piece of paper in the world. 

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