Musical Monday vol. 9: Musical taste vs friendship

Exchanging forms of entertainment is a sign of true friendship. We all do it. We'll see commercials for a movie--or more likely fast-forward through them thanks to DVR--and say "meh". But once a trusted person says "Hey, you really need to check this movie out," we'll seriously consider watching it. In a way we never would have considered it based on the merits of the commercial.

For instance, if it hadn't been for Amber, I never would have gotten into the Liaden Universe. (Link is on the sidebar.) If it hadn't been for Geds, I never would have listened to The Waterboys. If it hadn't been for Myke, I never would have watched Mirror Mask.

But it occurred to me recently that I myself don't actually go out and read, watch, or listen to things in order to recommend them to people. I'm almost exclusively a second audience rather than a first. The only cool song I've heard recently that my peeps aren't already into is Bo Burnham's Love Is. (You should go watch it. It's awesome. A couple of off-color jokes, but nothing that'll throw your conscience for too much of a loop, I think. One of the more egregious examples is: "I need you like New Orleans needs a drought / Like Hitler's father needed to learn to pull out.")

Makes me wonder about the responsibilities of friendship. When you're a friend, do you have a responsiblity to your friends to serve as a test audience for those types of media which fall most directly in your areas of interest? Or is that one of those side benefits of friendship that gives one bonus friend points but is not necessarily required?

It's a topic that's been on my mind lately, because I haven't been so good at keeping friends. Making them, no problem. But when it comes to keeping them over a long period of time, one of two things tends to happen. Thing #1: I get freaked out because my friend is unreasonably fixated on me and break it off. (This happened with Myke.) Thing #2: I get all low self-esteemy because I feel I have nothing to contribute to the friendship and stop contacting them. The Thing #1 situation, as far as I can tell, tends to be the result of mutual dysfunctionality which I can prevent by changing my behavior. In other words, not trying to get self-esteem by indulging in emotionally unequal relationships where I set myself up as an ersatz therapist to someone who would benefit more from seeing a real therapist. To avoid Thing #2 I have got to get over my feeling that I'm an innately inferior person and hence, unworthy of being befriended by somebody cool enough for me to want as a friend. And in order to do that, it's important that I come to understand what characteristics and behaviors emotionally healthy people expect from friends.

Interpersonal bonds of intermediate strength have always been a problem for me. What seems instinctive for other people is totally counterintuitive for me. I feel like I'm trying to reconstitute from scratch something everyone else is born already knowing. Which is certainly untrue in practice. On an intellectual level I try to see things in as many shades of grey as I can resolve, but emotionally I am always fighting the fear of something I know I don't undertsand. A person expects reasonable variations on what they've seen in previous relationships. If I can infer their expectations from their own actions plus those of their relationships I have been able to witness, then I can glean some knowledge about the limits of behavior to which I am expected to conform. The less of that information I've had access to, the more uncertain and easily scared off I've become. On the flip side, if I know a lot about a person's relationship history, it's difficult for me to envision myself living up to an imaginary, inferred standard. Kind of a Catch-22.

Which is what has resulted in Thing #1 for me above in the past. If someone is desperate for a confidante and convinced no one wants to be their friend, they'll be willing to spill all their hopes and fears to the first person who offers a handy shoulder on which to cry. So all the things a relatively healthy person would hold back in the interests of personal privacy, an emotionally vulnerable person will offer as their "show cards" in hopes of convincing a potential friend of their sincerity. If my fear of potential rejection is so overwhelming that I won't commit to a friendship unless the other party puts more on the line than any rational person would, then I condemn myself to unequal friendships with people who are more needy than I'm able to handle.

So if I want to be a better friend, or at least, develop a sense of identity in which I feel I'm worthy to befriend people who have something to offer beyond dysfunction, I too need to have something to offer beyond dysfunction. I've got to be interested in things that I think are exciting and cool enough to recommend to others who haven't heard of those things. And I need to think well enough of the things. I care about that I'm not embarrassed to recommend them.

Hooray self-esteem.

Futility Friday vol. 3: Cool League season preview!

Okay. Last week's post ended up being both super long and super late. I will try for less length on this one, and to finish it before midnight. Instead of separating out my comments into what I know personally versus what I glean from other sources, I will give each team only one combined paragraph. Thereby appearing to be better informed than I actually am, and also making my predictions slightly less cumbersome to read!

Not that I'm worried about losing my readership--y'all read this because you know me, not because I'm gonna win a Pulitzer. Or a Howitzer. Or a Bloggie Award, if there is such a thing. Now there's an idea which has surely been had before! Although my mental picture of the award ceremony for a "Bloggie Award" involves a whole lotta sweatpants. And many bottles of Yoohoo which are tragically spilled in ineffectual fistfights between ideologically opposed pundits with very little upper body strength.

But anyway. If I'm going to name post topics after days, I should at least post them on the days after which they are named! For, uh...consistency. Yeah.

We have already determined through entirely arbitrary and highly inaccurate means that the White Sox are going to the World Series from the AL. Amber agrees with me. Dave is the dissenting vote, saying the Yankees will, in fact, overcome the sluggishness and lack of winning which has plagued them all millennium, and represent the Lame League in the World Series.

However! The White Sox and/or Yankees will need to have a Cool League team by whom to be defeated. When the World Series finally rolls around, and it comes time for one team to become the proud owners of the triangular piece of cloth. (Otherwise known as the pennant. Sure, there's also a trophy and other swag. But since we're not going to make like the Aztecs and slaughter the losing team to appease bloodthirsty bird-gods, does it ultimately matter what symbolic prize the winners get, beyond the fact of winning?)

So tonight I will take a look at what I know about the teams in the Cool League. Because I believe this league, also known as the National League, is inherently better, my findings will determine who will be the ultimate champion of all the baseball men in America. And Canada. Who among these brave, brave men, who in no way risk being slaughtered, will be able to go home for the winter and rest on their laurels and their millions, rich in the knowledge that their teams has earned the right to own a triangular piece of cloth?

Cool League: Second Fiddlers' Division (NL East)

New York Mets:
This team has the "privilege" of playing second fiddle to the Yankees in the city of New York. They also have the distinct advantage of Johan Santana, one of the few legitimate ace starting pitchers in the game. The rest of their rotation is guys who have good stats, even though I don't recognize anybody except Livan Hernandez, possibly their weakest link. Speaks well for them. They gained pitching strength for the end of the game as well, by acquiring both Francisco Rodriguez and J. J. Putz in the offseason. Lack of reliable closers messed them up big time last year, so getting those guys was a really smart move. They've got talent all around the infield, plus heavy hitter Carlos Beltran in the outfield.
Long story short, they're gonna win the division. Yay Mets!

Philadelphia Phillies:
Another one of those team names that annoys me because it seems unimaginative. As far as I am concerned, they play second fiddle to the cheesesteak sandwich which is also known by the name of their presumably fair city. I've never been there; it could be a very unfair city. Or even an unsightly one! But I know the Phillies franchise as one which perenially underachieves--they always seem to contend, but they rarely make it out of the regular season. The pitcher who was supposed to be at the top of their rotation, Cole Hamels, seems likely to miss the beginning of the season due to "elbow tightness." (In sports, "tightness" is code for what us normal people would call "excruciating pain.") The thing is, the Phillies won the World Series last year. They're bringing back essentially the same team. When I look at their depth chart, I see a lot of good, good hitters and a respectable bullpen. But their rotation that looks to me like it's going to be mediocre. Elbow tightness isn't something that just goes away once the season starts, so I'm skeptical about Cole Hamels' health. Jamie Moyer isn't getting any younger--he's going to turn 47 this November. (Also, he looks like the guy who played Frank Burns on MASH. Not relevant, but funny.) Chan Ho Park hasn't been good for a few years. It's an old bit of conventional wisdom that good pitching wins in the playoffs--but I'm not convinced the Phillies' pitching will be good enough to even get to the playoffs this year.
The Phillies will finish third.

Washington Nationals:
The Nationals must live with the shame of playing second fiddle to the Montreal Expos. Which used to be their name when they played in Canada, had virtually no fans, and never won. They were bad last year, and the year before that. They will be bad again. Let us move on.
The Nationals will finish fifth, that is, last. No one will be surprised.

Florida Marlins:
The Marlins play second fiddle either to the Tampa Bay Rays, the stronger Floridian baseball team, or the Miami Dolphins, the football team with whom they must share a stadium. (A sitcom in which a dolphin and a marlin were Odd Couple style roommates would be pretty neat, though. Unless it ended in some sort of pointy-faced fish vs highly intelligent sea mammal fight to the death. Which it almost certainly would.) The team has a couple excellent hitters in Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla. But large portions of their team's talent are young, relatively inexperienced guys they smuggl--I mean, traded for out of the Tigers' farm system. I know Dave likes the Marlins, but I don't think they're going to be able to get it together this year.
Somebody has to finish fourth. I think it will be the Marlins. Sorry, pointy-face fishes.

Atlanta Braves:
They are second fiddle to the Cleveland Indians, as the baseball team whose name is second most insulting to the people from whom my ancestors, among others, stole this lovely continent. But I'm hard pressed to draw conclusions about them based on their roster. Every good thing seems to be followed by a question. Their pitching includes Derek Lowe, who is awesome, and Javier Vasquez, who is good. But Tom Glavine isn't the Tom Glavine of yesteryear, Tim Hudson is out for many months, I don't know Jurrgens, and I don't know what to expect from Kawakami. Guys who come over to MLB from the Japanese major leagues are sometimes awesome and other times flame out, irrespective of how good they were in Japan. They have some really good hitters like Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, but they also have some rookies who may or may not turn out well.
So I'm gonna split the difference and say they will take second in the division. But they'll get the wild card. The west is weak, and would-be contenders in the central will be too busy losing to one another to have the best record among non-division-winners.

Cool League: Endless Frustrating Parity Division (NL Central)

Pittsburgh Pirates:
The Pirates are not part of the parity. In the division where everyone is equal, but some teams are more equal than others, the Pirates are the least equal of all. They have been bad for awhile now. They made no changes from last year's roster, and they didn't do a lot of winning last year. Move along folks, nothin' to see here.
The Pirates will finish sixth. Also known as last. Which is proof positive that at least one player on every other team in the division is a ninja. (I suspect the Brewers' ninja is Craig Counsell. Yes, even though he never studied at the Tommy John Dojo.)

Houston Astros:
I apparently forgot the Astros existed and didn't write them into the original post. I had to come back and edit to put them in. It's not fair of me, because they have some talented guys hitting and pitching for them. Roy Oswalt might still count as an ace pitcher, Wandy Rodriguez's stats are good, and I've enjoyed Mike Hampton's ups and downs ever since he pitched for the pre-humidor Rockies. (The official humidor in which the Rockies' baseballs are kept helps compensate for the thin mountain air. That way, their hitters don't have grossly inflated numbers and their pitchers don't go slowly mad with frustration and lose their edge, as I suspect Hampton did.) They've still got Lance Berkman, Kaz Matsui, and Miguel Tejada, all of whom are forces to be reckoned with when it's their turn to swing the carefully shaped stick.
Still, they're gonna finish third. Parity bites.

Cincinnati Reds:
For myself, I looked at the Reds' roster and said "meh." But Dave thinks this team is on the right track and is thinking about picking them for the playoffs. He says the main reason their top starter, Aaron Harang, had such a bad year last year is that Dusty Baker deployed his arm in unwise ways and threw him off his game. Having watched Baker nearly destroy many a good arm during his time as manager of the Cubs, I am willing to accept this idea. In a five-team division, the frustrating parity begins with the Reds.
I'm gonna say they'll finish third. Why not?

Milwaukee Brewers:
They almost made the playoffs last year, but they lost ace pitcher C.C. Sabathia and really good pitcher Ben Sheets. Gallardo is too young to know whether he'll be an instant classic or struggle growing into his talent, and he's the only guy in their rotation who has a chance of being as good as the two they lost. In a division this close, that'll cost them a lot of wins down the stretch. They have a mix of guys I recognize as good hitters and guys I don't recognize at all.
So I don't feel too bad about predicting the Brewers finish fifth.

St. Louis Cardinals:
I think Chris Carpenter, a pitcher who was one of the best in the National League, is going to be healthy this year. So what if star hitter Troy Glaus will be recovering from shoulder surgery for the first month or so (or so!). Point is, this is a team with enough talent that they will clearly be doing some winning. But I think there's enough question marks and problems that they still won't do the most winning.
So the Cardinals will finish second.

Chicago Cubs:
The Cubs have a wonderful team this year. Big Z at the top of the rotation will be his usual awesome self. Dempster, Lilly, Harden and Marshall are all guys who have earned my respect as pretty reliable starters who occasionally display great stuff. Geovany Soto is a very good hitter and really knows what he's doing behind the plate. Having to crouch all day and wear a big heavy catcher's mask apparently doesn't bother him at all. And I like everybody in the infield--especially if Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee finally manage a year where they both stay healthy the whole time. Theriot and Fontenot, whom henceforth I will call the Silent T Brothers, are good to have on the team even if they don't hit for a lot of home runs. And the least hard-hitting guy in the outfield, Kosuke Fukudome, is the one whose name and jersey number I have printed on a non-major-league authorized knockoff t-shirt. The thing that scares me most about this year's Cubs is that I cannot for the life of me figure out how they are going to lose this time.
They're gonna have to put together a massive collapse in the playoffs again, like they did last year. Because they're going to win the division.

Cool League: California + 2 Division (NL West)

San Diego Padres:
The Padres repeatedly attempted to trade ace pitcher Jake Peavy over the offseason. He was at various times rumored to be headed to half the teams in the major leagues. Those deals all fell through at the last minute, however, because the Padres were unable to get an entire major league baseball team in exchange for him. Instead, they are stuck with the guys they already had. One or two of whom I recognize as having been solidly mediocre players a couple years ago.
So they will lose. Fifth of five. Also fifth of five if you want to rank them among the five teams located in California.

Colorado Rockies:
I was all ready to write the Rockies off, but then I started waving my mouse around on their depth chart and looking at the stats that popped up. They're actually not that bad. Ever since MLB used the wonders of modern technology to compensate for the fact that they play in an open-air stadium a mile above sea level, the Rockies have had a ghost of a chance. They even made the playoffs a couple years ago. The bottom of their starting rotation isn't that strong, but they have two good starters at the top and some decent hitting.
I'm gonna go out on a limb and say the Rockies finish second.

San Francisco Giants:
Two of the most basic things a baseball team needs in order to win games are guys who can pitch and guys who can hit. Usually you'll see a team focus on getting good hitters, settle for mediocre pitchers, and then wonder why they lost a bunch of games 5-3 after going ahead in the first few innings. However, this year's Giants have done the opposite of that. I look through their position players and only see four or five names I even recognize--and none of them are especially great at hitting home runs. Their rotation is very good, possibly the best in the division. Lincecum had an outstanding year last year. Cain's stats are strong. Randy Johnson is a freak of nature (in the best possible sense) and his pitching arm should never be underestimated, no matter how old he gets. You never know if Barry Zito is going to be Ted Lilly (reliable but not awe-inspiring) or Jose Mesa (flashy but not reliable) in a given year, but he's holding down rotation spot #4. Their #5 guy is not great but not terrible either. But even if everything breaks right for the Giants' pitchers this year, they're going to end up losing a lot of games 0-1 or 1-2.
They will finish fourth. Let that be a lesson to...someone.

Arizona Diamondbacks:
See, the Diamondbacks are a classic example of a good team name. They're named after an animal which is beautiful but menacing, is native to the region in which they play, and lends itself well to cartoonification. Plus you could totally picture a rattlesnake killing, say, a pirate or a swordfish. Or even a giant, if it was fast enough not to get trampled. Also, they have all the things necessary to a good team. None of their hitters are really super-outstanding by themselves--but they have a roster full of guys who can hit between 15 and 25 home runs a year, and a lot of them are young and might happen to have a breakout season. Their rotation is topped off with Webb, Haren and Garland, all of whom rock at throwing the circular object in a speedy and accurate fashion.
They might not make it far into the postseason, but they will get there. Diamondbacks win.

Los Angeles Dodgers:
Apparently, television talking heads have been saying "d0dgers R teh w1n!" and "NL West ish 4 Dodgers w00t!" ever since they signed Manny Ramirez. Now, Manny is kind of a freak of nature in a good way too. He can use the carefully shaped stick to hit the spherical object very, very hard, many times. However, he has this tendency to speak and behave and make important decisions in a manner that suggests he only cares about two things. 1. Hitting the spherical object with the stick. 2. Feeling comfortable and appreciated and adored whenever he is not doing so. When he feels that the second thing is being denied to him, he will reduce the amount of effort and attention he gives to every other aspect of the game except hitting. To the point where Boston got rid of him just to be rid of an unhappy Manny. But, c'mon. He is one guy. As the baseball world learned from Barry Bonds, if there is really only one serious power threat in a lineup, opposing teams will throw him an intentional walk just to keep him from launching the round object into space. So what? Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are going to hit like crazy to make up for the unimpressiveness of the entire infield? Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda have pretty good starting pitcher stats, but they're no Brandon Webb and Dan Haren.
They're gonna take third place in the NL West. They will fight hard for second, but the Rockies will just want it more.

To recap.

East: NY Mets.
Central: Chicago Cubs.
West: Arizona Diamondbacks
Wild card: Atlanta Braves

Cubs beat the Mets. Diamondbacks beat the Braves.
Cubs lose to the Diamondbacks in the championships.

AL (from previous post):
East winners: New York Yankees. Although if it turns out to be the Rays, I will be neither disapointed nor shocked.
Central winners: Minnesota Twins. Don't know why.
West winners: Oakland A's.
Wild card: Chicago White Sox.

In the first round of the playoffs, the White Sox will beat the A's, while the Ra--I mean, Yankees, will beat the Twins.
The Yankees will then lose to the White Sox, sending at least one Chicago team to the World Series. Hooray!

Wait a minute.
If the World Series is the White Sox versus the Diamondback, the White Sox have got to win. They're too awesome to lose, and the Diamondbacks' hitters aren't quite as good, although they both have really good pitching.

So I will directly contradict what I said at the beginning of this post. The White Sox beat the DBacks, and become proud owners of the triangular piece of cloth plus assorted swag. And no one will be killed!

True Story Thursday vol. 5: Hooray paperwork!

They say the world looks down on the bureaucrats
They say we're anal, compulsive and weird
But when push comes to shove you gotta do what you love
Even if it's not a good idea

~ Futurama

A lady walks up to a man and greets him tentatively, with a question mark at the end of his name. He is wearing a suit and tie; he's been waiting for her to arrive. While trying very hard to keep his expression calm and courteous, he stands up much too hastily and loses control of his coat. Still, the two manage to shake hands. He stammers an apology that sounds a little too loud in the quiet room. She gives him a polite smile, and replies with something diplomatic.

Is this a couple on a blind date? No, no!

This scene took place in the lobby of the employment agency I visited this morning. I, like stammering guy, was there to fill out reams of paperwork, interview a recruiter, and take a few tests which verified our ability to type, correct spelling and use Microsoft Office programs. I wish nervous guy well. Though I can't help wondering the reason for his nervousness. Does he need a job with great urgency? Never done this sort of thing before? Socially anxious? I suppose I'll never know.

But the guy inadvertently gave me some confidence. The recruiter who interviewed me was the same one who spoke to him (and to his relief, let him know where to hang up his coat!), so I felt like my own less visible nervousness was no big deal. Which made me even less nervous! And though he was in the computer skills testing room when I got there, he was still there when I'd finished. Which made me mentally add weight to the "extremely recent college grad who hasn't worked with a recruiting agency before" possibility. And yes, also made me feel better.

Much props to Mom for getting me in touch with this agency. They are the first one this year that has given me the opportunity to come in and fill out paperwork and take tests. And I am good at filling out paperwork and taking tests. Which I think is due to practice. Lots and lots of practice.
Also I like doing it. For that, I'm not so sure. Could be I'm just a weirdo who likes paperwork.

See, the jobs I've done that I liked best--or the most enjoyable parts of the jobs I didn't like so much--involved lots and lots of filing. Some examples! Taking numbers off invoices and turning them into paid bills. Having a computer tally up people's hours from their punch in / punch out logs. Typing up contracts from handwritten notes. Proofreading legal documents. Taking miscellaneous heaps of paper and creating an organized filing system out of them. Giving a filing system a complete overhaul because one or two or ten or two hundred pieces of paper out of an entire filing cabinet need to be removed or replaced with other, slightly different pieces of paper. Being able to get paid to do these things makes me happy.

An orderly system can be a beautiful thing. When people are standing around an office arguing about what to do next, being able to dig in a drawer, point to a piece of paper and say "This is how we handled this problem last time, and it didn't work, so let's not do it again!" or "We have exactly enough money and/or time to try so-and-so's idea, and it might turn out awesome, so maybe we should do it!" You can also get wonderful stories out of pieces of paper. If you're on the phone with a vendor, say, and you have all their invoices neatly arranged in a binder in front of you, can you tell them you're sure they raised the price on widgets. Or that you ought to get a discount on wingdings because you buy so many.

But every system is ordered only up to a point--and that too is a beautiful thing. There's no such thing as complete control, even over documents. Especially when you have to try and exert it yourself. No matter how much work you put into it, you will eventually run across a folder where the client simply never filled out their ABC Form. Maybe the professional in charge of that client had taken the form out to review it four years ago, spilled coffee all over it, and threw it away, and now both the professional and the client are no longer with the company and there's no way to get it back. Even when you're the person generating the paperwork. The one time you forget to hand-write the date entered, date paid and check number on an invoice, that's the check the vendor loses in the mail. Which it turns out the check-signer handwrote, rather than generating through the computer system. So now there's NO record of it in the office and the bank is closed...ah, you get the idea.

For me, people trying to use a filing system is a microcosm of the dynamic tension between order and chaos, freedom and safety.

Try to make a system that covers every single angle, write little notes on everything where the pre-set forms don't give you enough information, and you never get any work done. Besides, you always end up needing types of information you didn't think to record because you didn't know you'd need it. You start seeing all your work processes in terms of the information you already have. You won't think to contact a new client in a new way, work out a different type of deal with a vendor, or redistribute duties among your employees. You sit behind a desk dotting every t and crossing every i but never actually making any products or helping any customers. More order means more safety, but too much order becomes a trap.

Too little order has its own set of problems. You can never find anything when you need it; you don't know how much you owe or how much you've got coming. You don't know who works well for you and who is messing with you, which procedures are a waste of time and which are working. Sure, you never have to stop to fill out forms and put them in order. And you have all that nice empty cabinet space. And pretty soon you will have a nice, big empty space where your office used to be, and your employees will go work for other people who know what's going on.

Now, in my mind I toss around ideas, attempt to retain sequences, weigh emotional states against one another. Poke my personality to see what can be moved, what sticks, what I want to leave in the same place and what needs changing. I wonder where too little surveillance ends and too few escape routes begins. I try various things with varying results. I want to see how other people do it; get ideas, compare notes. But this is just not doable. How people hold themselves together on a daily basis is, on the one hand, incredibly personal and private. And on the other hand, there so much going on inside any given person at any moment that talking it through, writing it down, any possible means of communication, leaves out a whole sweeping universe of subjective context and reduces it to a few scraps of symbol and expression. Words, gestures, tones.

Much like all the many actions, personalities, decisions that go into running a business are distilled into a system of files. And a business is bigger and slower and clunkier than a human personality. It may not hold still, but you can catch glimpses of its inner workings. You can see which parts of itself it distills into a few scraps of symbols printed on paper. You can get ideas.

So every filing system I get to work with is a practicum. (Well, ok. If I stretch it that far, in a sense everything everybody does is a practicum: an attempt to put to practical use things one had only known about in theory.) An applied, full-bodied approach developed by an organism not identical to a human being, but one created by human beings so that it shares many of their characteristics. And all the information being wrangled is exterior to myself--generated by other people, belonging to them. I'm still aware (at times painfully aware!) that in the end all the symbols on those pieces of paper represent real people whose real lives will be or have been affected by what got recorded and how. But I can look at an organization's filing system, and see the balance it strikes between order and chaos. Then I can look at how the people treat each other, how good a job they do working together. And get ideas of what kind of culture generates what kind of document system.

If a company has a culture I really like and want to emulate, I can try to adopt some of their stragies for information control. If a company has a culture that I dislike, I can look at their strategies for information control and try to avoid mimicking them.

So that is a big part of the reason I like paperwork and filing so much. It helps me find ways to resemble things that make me happy and avoid things that frighten me!

Futility Friday vol. 2: Lame League season preview!

Lame League: Belligerent Snobs Division (AL East)

Baltimore Orioles:
This team has a long history of drafting talented young players, keeping them for a couple of years, then trading them away in order to obtain aging veterans whose ligaments promptly give out, causing them to perform their jobs poorly. I cannot name a single player on this team out of my own memory. Which is usually a bad sign, considering that most of the players I can remember (except for a handful of Cubs, former Cubs, and the inimitable Peter Bergeron, formerly of the former Montreal Expos, now the Washington Nationals) are players who are very good indeed.
Dave says: A couple years ago the Orioles hired a general manager (Andy McPhail, formerly of the Cubs) who started phasing out the ligament-less veterans and getting in some young, fresh talent. Unfortunately this means they are now a team composed primarily of young, fresh mea--er, talent, in what is widely considered to be the most challenging division in all of baseball. As Dave put it, "No one is predicting they'll finish in anything other than last place." Even though they now have at least one talented young outfielder, plus a prospect who plays catcher and is considered the number one prospect in the game. So heck, who am I to disagree with everybody? Especially when everybody agrees with my existing prejudices?
But no! I have to be original and different! I shall throw my ducks with reckless abandon!
The Orioles will finish fourth. Out of five.

Toronto Bluejays:
I don't care about the Bluejays! Not in the slightest! They are less bad than the Orioles, but not by much. They play in Canada, which has no significance except in so far as I can make jokes about it. I recall that David Wells played for them for a brief period, during which time he grew fat and dissatisfied because they were a team without much hope of making it to the playoffs. He was later excited when he learned he would be traded to the White Sox, and even said "Yo!" I was pretty sure he still pitched for the Yankees. But apparently, he was recently forced to retire when no team would sign him. Even though he had to give up beer because of the gout! Which gives me a mental picture of him sitting in an easy chair beside a highway, holding up a placard which reads "Will Pitch In Major League Rotation For Whiskey And/Or Opportunities To Engage In Fisticuffs." That is all.
"They had the best pitching in baseball last year, believe it or not." But a couple of their best pitchers are out for either the whole year or most of it due to injuries, and they had a very quiet offseason. In other words, they lost something of value (the baseball-playing abilities of the injured pitchers) without finding something of value with which to replace it.
Therefore they shall lose.
The Bluejays will finish fifth, in other words, last.

Tampa Bay Rays:
The Rays prospered last year, possibly because they changed their name from "Devil Rays" to "Rays". Or, less superstitiously, because the Yankees were just getting older and more expensive, the Red Sox somehow lost or traded away a couple superstars without being able to replace them, and the Rays themselves had a bunch of talented young-ish players who all simultaneously figured out how to hit and/or throw.
Dave says: "That's pretty accurate." Hooray! Also they made it to the World Series last year, even if they didn't win. Which oddly I didn't remember at all, even though I watched it. I still can't name any players on this team off the top of my head. Hmm.
But I think these guys are riding high on the River Euphrates. They have had a taste of success, or at least less failure, and will want very much to have even less failure than that. And because they are young and need less banned substances to cope with the physical stresses of a 162-game season, they will again display athletic goodness in the long haul.
I boldly predict that the Rays will finish second. Ha.

Boston Red Sox:
One of the two big-name franchises that inspired me to give the Belligerent Snobs division its fake name, the Boston Red Sox broke their less-than-a-century-long streak of failing to win the World Series in this millennium. Leaving the Cubs' monumentally long non-winning streak the unquestioned champion of fail! They no longer have the hard-hitting but also possibly insane Manny Ramirez. He was unhappy and hence unreliable for them last year. If a guy getting paid multiple millions every year to play baseball occasionally puts his glove on his head or sits around on the grass watching the dandelions grow rather than attempting to field his defensive position, this can be bad for a team. On the other hand, Manny swings a carefully shaped wooden stick like few other men alive. He is very, very good at making the vaguely spherical object move long distances, despite his crazy hair. And I'm pretty sure the Red Sox have lost other good players to free angency or something, and some of their guys who helped win them the championship are possibly older and less efficient.
Dave says: The Red Sox added a couple of of very good pitchers who are also at high risk for injuries. Namely John Smoltz, who is excellent but old, and Brad Penny, who missed a chunk of last season with an injury. The outfielder they got from the Dodgers to replace Manny, one Jason Bay, is quite good. But they aren't sure who will be their catcher, and even though they are rich enough to spend twelve million on a long shot--namely, the two pitchers mentioned above--they are way less improved over the offseason than they could have been.
So the Red Sox will finish third. Take that, Bill Simmons. Even though you are a famous sports pundit who will never, ever read this, and hence cannot possibly be affronted by it.

New York Yankees:
See, the Yankees are, like, this thing. People use them as a handy metaphor for other areas of endeavor in which a single group is unreasonably dominant in a particular field of competition, through some combination of wealth, mind control, an immense groundswell of bandwagony popular support, and pure, unmitigated evil. (Unless the person making the metaphor is a fan of the Yankees, in which case they are code for awesome.) They pay too much for aging veterans, refuse to trade any of their oft-overrated prospects for less than one and a half times market value, and sneakily keep for themselves those prospects who turn out to be both talented and susceptible to mind control. Also they got C.C. Sabathia, who is at the moment one of the best pitchers in baseball. I choose not to discuss the alleged existence, actions and/or injuries of Alex Rodriguez.
Dave says: "Keep in mind that this perception of the Yankees is steeped in irony, because they haven't won a World Series since 2000." Good point. Alas, here my prejudice against the Yankees has impeded my own ability to recognize irony! For shame! But still. They always seem to generate a burst of winning in the final weeks of the regular season. Even if said winning doesn't enable them to win the World Series, the mind control still seems to enable them to get close enough to smell it almost every year.
So the Yankees will win the division.

Lame League: Belligerent Underachievers Division (AL Central)

Kansas City Royals:
For many, many years, the Royals were just plain awful. They were practically not a major league franchise. Kansas is a state whose fan base cares more about college football and, uh, magical tornados that whisk unsuspecting young women away to Oz than they are likely to ever care about baseball. However, I'm pretty sure that recently they've gotten either new ownership or new management or both, and they are slowly assembling a group of young players who are all learning together how not to lose quite so much. The problem is, if I pick the Royals to finish anything but last, that means I think that either the Twins, White Sox, Tigers or Indians are worse than the Royals. Which seems, as Vizzini would say, "Inconceivable!"
Dave says: They got a new GM, but have the same ownership group. And although they traded for good position players, in doing so they gave up a couple of their more reliable setup men. So they have a more good hitters. Woo, hoo. They also gave up good pitchers who pitch for short periods in the late innings, whose job it is to preserve leads or prevent blowouts. What good are a couple more runs in, say, the third or fifth inning, if the other team scores a couple more runs in the seventh or ninth?
So my opinion is unchanged: The Royals will finish last. They grow stronger, but they are not a Jedi yet.

Cleveland Indians:
I don't know much about the Indians. Truly, I don't. I think of them as playing a very competent third fiddle to the White Sox and Twins, occasionally being elbowed out of the way by the strangely competent Tigers. It is a tight division, and though it seems the Indians always threaten, they rarely carry out their threats.
Internet says (Dave is watching the conclusion to a very good MASH, and I don't want to make him pause it!): The Indians are, as I suspected, in a pretty uneasy spot. They added a couple guys and their hitters will probably do well, but their rotation is full of question marks. I put a lot of value on a team having a reliable starting rotation. Since, y'know, your pitcher needs to prevent the other team from scoring too many runs, or else all the good hitting in the world won't help you win.
So the Indians will finish fourth.

Detroit Tigers:
When I first started to be really aware that baseball existed, around the turn of the millennium, the Tigers were almost as terrible as the Royals and frequently fought with them for the losing bracket at the end of the regular season. However, they did make the playoffs a couple years ago and were not awful even last year. So they're not exactly basement bums anymore, even though I don't think anyone expects them to set the world on fire. Or put it out, if it were already on fire, thereby becoming heroes.
Dave says: "Yeah, they're pretty much a middle-of-the-road team. They had some significant injuries and some underperforming pitchers last year, which is probably why they didn't make the playoffs. But [referring to what I said above] I don't think I'd change anything about that."
The Tigers will finish third.

Minnesota Twins:
The Twins are tricky for me. I think I know some things about them, but most of the information in my brain is a couple years old. I know they no longer have Johan Santana, a pitcher who was their ace but now plays in New York. They no longer have star outfielder Torii Hunter and his magnetic glove of awesomeness--I think he's somewhere on the west coast. I'm frankly not sure whom they do have. And although I don't believe they made the playoffs last year, in my mind they and the White Sox are rivals and the two best teams in the division, so I have to assume they'll do well.
Dave says: "The Twins are coming back as basically the same team. They tied for the division lead last year with the White Sox. They played a one-game playoff for the tiebreaker, and they lost that game. Also they're getting Francisco Liriano back, who was out most of last year." I glean from this that Liriano is a starting pitcher who is good enough that his presence is expected to improve the team. (And I was close to right about the former Twins I could remember: Hunter plays for the Angels, and Santana now pitches for the Mets.)
Y'know what, I originally wanted to pick the White Sox to win the division. Because they are quite good. They've been the better-playing Chicago team for years now, they won the World Series in 05, and I really rather like them and want to see them do well.
But instead I am going to pick the Twins to win the division. I don't know why. But they will do it.

Chicago White Sox:
As you may have notced above, I do remember a few things about the White Sox. They're good, they're winners, they have determination and a positive attitude, regular human beings can occasionally afford tickets to their games, and they have a number of talented players. Like, uh...Mark Buehrle. (An excellent pitcher, who once used the tarp covering the field as a Slip'n'Slide during a rain delay!) And Jermaine Dye. (He is good at hitting. Also Dye is an easy name to remember.) And I think they got some good guys over the offseason, but I don't remember whom.
Dave says: Their pitching rotation is set up to do well with a method that's worked for them before. They have Mark Buehrle, John Denks and Gavin Floyd, who are all good and presumably healthy, and Jose Contreras, who is not as young but got back into shape in the offseason and should play well. Then they have a bunch of rookie pitching prospects who can compete for the #5 spot, so hopefully one of them will work out. They have a couple of other rookies in their batting lineup; Dave is optimistic about one and pessimistic about the other. But even if neither of them works out, the rest of their team is pretty solid.
So. For absolutely no reason at all I say they will still not win the division. But they will make the playoffs anyway because they'll get the AL wild card.

Lame League: Half-California Division (AL West)

Texas Rangers:
The first thing I always remember about the Texas Rangers is that they have good hitting and unreliable pitching. Good with the carefully shaped wooden sticks, not so great with the spherical objects. The funny thing is that this seems to keep being accurate, year after year, even when the team is composed of completely different players. And you'd think at some point, somebody in charge of hiring baseball men to represent their franchise would lean back in their chairs and say, "Why don't we make it our priority to obtain some fellows who really know how to throw the spherical object in a swift and accurate manner?" But instead, they repeatedly spend all their money on guys who can swing the carefully shaped stick with style, aplomb, and a very loud "thwack!" and then settle for mediocrity in the spherical-object-throwing department. And then scratch their close-cropped Texan skulls and wonder why they haven't managed to defeat the competition and bring home the triangular piece of cloth! Argh!
Dave says: Sadly, my rant is pretty accurate. "Last year, they pretty much had the worst pitching in all of baseball, and most of the guys they're bringing back this year are going to be the same guys." Furthermore, their club president is a man named Nolan Ryan, whose name you may recognize. He is one of the legendarily good pitchers of the Times Of Old, But Not So Old That They Are All Deceased. He was heard this offseason saying something to the effect that young pitchers these days get "mollycoddled", and that the club should demand they always pitch a full nine innings whenever it's their turn. Presumably, regardless of pitch count. Under ordinary circumstances, a team will take the starting pitcher out of a game if he throws more than 100 pitches, to prevent injuries. For young pitchers the number is sometimes even lower, say, eighty pitches, because they have not yet developed the stamina required to throw 100 pitches once every five days for the length of a 162-game regular season.
I predict the Rangers will finish last in a four-team division. Perhaps that will learn them to be less curmudgeonly and to spend more money on men who are paid to throw things.

Seattle Mariners:
I don't know too much about the Mariners. I know Ichiro Suzuki, a Japanese player so famous he actually goes by his first name, plays for them. The way that man swings a carefully-shaped wooden stick is a joy to behold. He has a small frame, but the precision and controlled force of his swing seems to place the entire weight of his body behind the exact spot on the wooden stick where it connects with the spherical object. Like a small but very tightly coiled spring with a little boxing glove on the end of it that punches you in the face and knocks you down. Yes, even if you are very large. However, the rest of the team does not really stick in my memory. They always play hard, but even in the notoriously weak Half-California division they rarely advance into the playoffs.
Dave says: "They're largely a question mark to me too." The team has a new GM, who traded for a whole mess of players during the offseason. The Mariners are trying to reinvent themselves, and while they expect it to be a long-term process, nobody really knows what this year's team is going to look like. However, I think the feeling of new and different times afoot will juvenate this franchise. (Not rejuvenate. That would require them to have been sprightly and motivated at some previous time. Yes, I know, juvenate by itself isn't a word. Don't worry, I won't try to use it next time we play Scrabble.)
The Mariners will still finish third, though. Maybe they'll win the division next year.

Oakland Athletics:
Another team regarding which I am ill-informed. Their GM, Billy Beane, is known for being the first baseball decision-maker to make use of the ideas in the book Moneyball. This is a famous-within-baseball book which made a statistic popular, namely OPS. That's right, statistics can be popular! OPS adds together a player's on-base percentage--how frequently he gets to go step on the white squares after batting--to his slugging percentage--how many of those white squares he gets to step on. This is a way to measure how likely a player is to be able to score a run that takes walks into account. Other statistics didn't give people a way to mathematically describe how useful it is when a guy can get to go stand on the white square without having had to use his carefully shaped stick at all. As for who actually plays for the A's or what they've been doing lately, I have no idea.
Dave says: Moneyball was really more about taking advantage of the gap between the statistical measurements on which others rely and the realities those measurements describe. OPS was just the first case in point. People relied too much on stats that didn't measure the actual value of a walk, so Beane focused on getting cheap hitters who drew a lot of walks. But whatever the underestimation of the day is, you can always hire good players for less, as long as those players are good at the things no one else values properly. These days, his focus is more on how the defensive abilities of players are underrated. He can get affordable players who may not have a lot of stick-swinging prowess. But when they're on the grass and/or dirt, they can usually catch the spherical objects hit into play by their opponents, and prevent said opponents from running all the way around the big white square and thereby scoring. The A's starting pitching is a little sketchy, but they have good defenders, traded for or signed a couple guys who can hit for power, and have good late-inning pitchers as well.
The A's will win. Why not? All they have to do is win more games than the Angels, Mariners and Rangers. It can't be that hard.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:
They won the World Series in 2002, which I chiefly remember because their mascot was a ten-second clip of a cute monkey jumping up and down, clapping its hands, and going "eek!" Also, they have the most annoying team name in baseball. If the Cubs played in, say, Des Plaines, would we call them the Chicago Cubs of Des Plaines? No! We would call them either the Chicago Cubs or the Des Plaines Cubs. And besides, as we all know, in Spanish Los Angeles means Angels, so naming their team that is about the least imaginative possible thing they could have done. Like, we don't have the New York Yorkies, the Atlanta Atlanteans, the Chicago Chicagoans or the Tampa Ta...well, you get the idea. Lame name. They've still played reasonably well--for an AL West team!--over the past couple years.
Dave says: They've still got Vlad Guerrero and they added Bobby Abreu. They've got a couple homegrown young infielders, like Brandon Wood and Chone Figgins. They're down two pitchers because they lost John Garland (who I keep forgetting is no longer a White Sock) and Francisco Rodriguez (also known as K-Rod because he striKes guys out) to free agency.
Sounds to me like the A's have gotten a little better and the Angels have gotten a little less good.
The Angels will finish in second place. Ha, ha.

So, to recap:

East winners: New York Yankees. Although if it turns out to be the Rays, I will be neither disapointed nor shocked.
Central winners: Minnesota Twins. Don't know why.
West winners: Oakland A's.
Wild card: Chicago White Sox.

In the first round of the playoffs, the White Sox will beat the A's, while the Ra--I mean, Yankees, will beat the Twins.
The Yankees will then lose to the White Sox, sending at least one Chicago team to the World Series. Hooray!

Now quick, somebody gather up a bunch of ducks and balloons and a monkey, so we can have other predictions on record here that will prove to be even more accurate!

Futility Friday vol. 1: Introduction to the introduction to the baseball season!

A day late and a dollop short it may be, but this week shall not pass without me posting a Futility Friday. Even if I have to backdate the posting to 11:59pm Friday in a sneaky and possibly disreputable manner. Which I will, because in real life the week will end in less than an hour. But shh! Don't tell anybody.

Pretty much every year since we started going out, Dave has encouraged, nay, egged me to prepare a set of baseball preseason predictions. At first I did so mostly for the same reason I prepared my own bracket for this year's college basketball thingy, the famed March Madness. Namely, because it had about as much predictive value as having a monkey throw ducks at balloons (and nothing is as it seems!). And it's always funny to see the predictions of learned, passionate fans be far outpaced by the accuracy of a monkey throwing ducks at balloons. Or the equivalent thereof.

This year, alas, I have reached an uncomfortable level of informed-itude. I can no longer number myself among the blissfully ignorant, yet I am by all measures neither learned nor passionate when it comes to baseball. This year it was my own idea to post my preseason predictions. I've been talking about it for weeks. Even found myself setting aside a moment here and there to dither. Dither! (Though not, of course, to do any kind of organized research beforehand.) Clearly, I consider baseball to be some sort of deal, even if not the enormously big deal it is to many people.

For the first time, I found myself annoyed by the continuing state of my ignorance about baseball. I reached into my brain to see if I had retained useful information of any predictive value whatsoever. Instead there was a mass of fuzziness punctuated by the occasional arm or leg movement, a joke here and there based on the length or alternative translation of a player's name, or a years-old vague notion of who was best at a particular thing during a rare five-minute period in which I gave a crap. Now, most things to which I have paid attention over the years have way more anchor points in my memory by which I can occasionally dredge them up. Things like quotations, stories, or abstract ideas that interact in cool ways with emotional states. But in terms of practical matters my memory is a Rube Goldberg apparatus composed of scrap metal, twine and duct tape and assembled by drunken underpants gnomes in the dark. Clearly, my brain considers baseball to be some sort of practical matter, at least in this regard. This is insufficient and frustrating.

So I used a very cool map posted on this website (yes, I know, it's otherwise written in Chinese so I don't know whom to credit) to develop a map of my own. A map which, once I buy a USB cable for my printer, I will print out and put up on the wall as a memory aid. In the meantime, here it is:

The blue circles indicate teams in the National League, the league which is cool enough to require its pitchers to step up to the plate and bat when their team is on offense. Some pitchers are rather good at this, such as the Cubs' ace Carlos Zambrano. The American League, whose teams are circled in red, takes the more lame position that the pitcher's place in the batting lineup should be filled by a specialized player known as the designated hitter. This fellow's only job is to bat in the pitcher's place, and occasionally run the bases if he happens to hit the ball into play as something other than a home run.

(You see, I already care enough about baseball to be biased on this issue.)

Each league is divided into three divisions: east, central, and west, as indicated on the map. This much, at least, I know without having to look it up! But now that I have made a note of the actual names of the leagues and their divisions, I will proceed to call them by names I make up. And predict what the teams will do, in a manner slightly less accurate than if I had gotten a monkey to throw ducks at balloons for me. First, I will summarize what I know about each team. Then I will ask Dave and/or the internet for help and clarification. Then I will predict who will win. At the end of the upcoming season, I can revisit these posts and marinate in my glorious incorrectitude!

(three hours later)

This is a lot of work! I hadn't really thought through just how many teams there are, and how much work it was going to be writing a couple of paragraphs about each of them. So I will be posting up one league tomorrow, when I finish it. (I got about halfway through before I got sleepy.) And the next one will go soon as I finish it.

Musical Monday vol. 8

I apologize about the lack of a sports post on Friday. But I can explain!

Football is actually easier to write about than baseball, I'm realizing, in part for the many reasons I disliked it so much for so long. It's heavily commercialized. Every game has a whole week to get hyped up into a Clash Between the Gods and the Titans All Over Again, and This Time It's Personal. All the strategy and tactics of the game are sliced up into little sound bytes, then the sound bytes are sorted out by TV pundits. Who, like prospectors panning for gold, will take one or two shiny nuggets of awkwardness or poorly-phrased cliche, and on the basis of such, attempt to stake out a claim on a probably-nonexistent story.

Baseball, by contrast, is a much slower and more elegant game. It has just as much commercial penetration and is just as swarmed by pundits aiming for a scoop, true. But there are literally more than ten times as many baseball games than football games in each sport's regular season--162 to 16. And once the season starts, games occur on almost a daily basis, so there's less time to build up a crazy story around any particular game. Baseball is more about numbers, the history of various players as they travel to one franchise to another, statistical averages over time. In other words, things that take a significant knowledge base to write about intelligently. Which an extremely casual, possibly ADD-having quasi-fan such as myself has trouble carrying around in her brain!

(Of course, I still know how to make a monkey wrench or which combat items to use when I'm fighting Spam Witches in the Valley of Rof L'm Fao in KoL. But those are things I do almost every day! And it tells me funny jokes all the time!)

Going to open mic night with my little sister was way more in my comfort zone, and about as far removed from the glitzy world of professional athletics as one can get. This is a little cafe, not too far a drive from Elgin, where young people get up on stage in front of one another and attempt to amuse with comedy or entertain with music.

For many it was only an attempt. There was some silly show on mute in the background, and more than one person ended up just providing an awkward soundtrack while we all learned, for example, that if you're up in front of a firing squad and they all intentionally miss because they think the charges against you are stupid, you can still die of a heart attack because you believe you've been shot. I'll keep it in mind if it ever comes up! And wait to be killed by actual bullets. Cheery thought.

We ended up getting to sing almost dead last, because everyone seemed to have a reason they needed to get home early. Understandable, and an unfortunate side effect of scheduling open mic on Sunday nights. Why they don't do it on Friday nights, when most people are likeliest to be free the next day, I do not know. But it's been going on long enough that I suppose it's a tradition now, in other words a habit agreed upon by many people. And if one person's habit is hard to break, trying to get thirty to fifty people to all break a habit at once has got to be bad for business.

Still, it made me a bit wistful to see one group after another get up and leave. The more Americal Idol I watch, the less appeal the world of massively commercialized music has for me. But it still hasn't killed my craving for audiences. I want to get to has. I want to earn by being not lame. I want to singy my shiny sounds for more than fifteen people someday! Very much yes!

*does dance of impatience*
(which bears an embarrassing resemblance to dance of needing bathroom)
(which comparison would probably have the late Dr. Freud penciling me in twice weekly)

Anyway, along with a couple old favorites like [but the ghost] and [static], I got to play one of my new songs. Very, very new. Like *checks practice grid* written on Friday. It's been my tradition on Musical Monday to include the lyrics of a new song if I've got one, and this is one. But I am still nervous about this one because of the nature of it. Y'all know I recently said some stupid things and had a fight with my big sister Amber. That being the biggest thing on my emotional horizon, it is what I wrote about. Moral of the story of the song is: my misperception and impulsiveness caused you pain. Recognizing this fact is also painful. I employ some hyperbole, but I hope not too much.


I hit a sour note
stepped on a sidewalk crack
bus barreled down the road
driver did not look back
reached underneath my coat
for what controls the sound

my fingers turned the volume down

my voice it would have shook
I pressed the keys instead
what I wrote must have looked
different than what you read
I guess I lost my chance
to tell you what I mean

when tears wiped my words off your screen

I know I earned this blame
my sin has found me out
I went and called you names
after you'd come to doubt
I'd want you in my life
because we disagree

about a man from Galilee

I have a bottle here
that says it's not impressed
neither are you, my dear
I beg you, be my guest
come take a look around
before we blow this joint

you'll see somehow I missed the point

cause I jumped up
and bit you
all you fed me is what you consume
I did not mean
to hit you
saw you standing in another room
if I'd just thought
to listen
if I can't see you that doesn't mean you're

missing, missing, missing

True Story Thursdays vol. 4

Back when my blog was known about and/or read by very few and commented on by virtually none, I had the luxury of sitting back and theorizing about what I thought my imaginary audience was thinking. This provided me with a great deal of text which was a lot of fun to write but very likely a great big snore to read. Now that I have an only partially imaginary audience which contains a few more real people whom I know in real life, I've been all in a tizzy over what to write about. I've promised Amber to lay off with the imagining what hypothetical people might be thinking and talk more about things I know personally. Can I write words that are interesting and funny without trying to wrap words around the thoughts of imaginary people? Or will this place go back to being an indecipherable and sometimes slightly creepy online diary like it was in the early days?

Because when you get right down to it, the sum total of things I actually know stuff about is rather small. I don't have a lot of local activities that get me out of the apartment, and don't have the expertise to write about politics or cultural events or even bring a historical perspective to the issues which intrigue me the way Geds does. I am sometimes good at making words with shiny, rhymey sounds, sometimes good at blathering on in a pompous-sounding way about things that happen inside my brain or the hypothetical brains of others, and occasionally I notice a fun new book or game or website that seems worth spewing words about. I've also occasionally written about sports under my "football fridays" tag, which starting tomorrow will finally switch over the first futility friday in honor of my nearly-beloved Chicago Cubs. (Heh. Almost said "kick off" the first futility friday. Save that football terminology for the fall, woman!)

So this Thursday's true story will be about what I've been up to lately: traveling through a magical country called Job Search Land. In hyperbole, which is the best kind of bole!

The capitol city of this country is called Employment Agencyville. The people are friendly, the travel agents' business cards are stacked in neat little racks at their front desks, and the water in the water coolers is free. But it is hard to get one of them to actually sit down with you and review your qualifications! I took a walk around downtown and visited several agencies a couple of weeks ago, sometimes to drop off my resume, other times just to see if there was an opportunity tucked away in their back pocket they'd simply forgotten to tell me about. But alas, pickings truly were slim. Apparently immigration into Job Search Land has been hectic in recent months, and they just can't find enough boats, planes, and goat-drawn rickshaws on which current residents may flee. Once, I'd stopped an Agent's office while she was on the phone and couldn't speak to me right away, and I caught a look at her board of positions needing to be filled. And she wasn't lying--it was more than half empty, meaning very few nations in the Empire of Workplaces are accepting immigrants of any kind. Of course, it's always worthwhile to visit Agencyville, and check in on them once in awhile to make sure they don't forget you exist. (Job Searchians all look the same after awhile.) Still, the tourist attractions become dull once you've seen them, the restaurants all close promptly at five pm, and eventually you find yourself standing on a street corner looking at the bum selling newspapers and thinking, "hey, that guy has a job! I wonder how you get a gig like that?" At that point I knew it was time to explore other parts of the Land.

I then took a long sojourn in the populous but low-rent suburb of Craigslistia. They have an entire district devoted to the very type of job I'm after, and for the bulk of February I wandered its boards with great gusto. Craiglistia is like a great market bazaar, crammed with postings bearing colorful descriptions on their big sandwich-board signs which promise speedy exit from Job Search Land for the right applicant. I forwarded my information to many a contact person, and trudged to and fro for many a sunny afternoon, waiting for someone to get back to me.

My walkin' fingers began to get tired after a month or so, and I recently decided to abandon Craiglistia for the more exclusive suburb of Employer Websiteton. Empoyer Websiteton is a vast, manicured garden of gated communities, each with their own applicant entry requirements, and each with its own short list of possible berths for emigration. Some companies are large, and though their requirements are stringent, an applicant on the move can hope to be considered for an interview if there is a strong enough correlation between the responsibilities printed on the posting and the information contained in the all-important Passpo--I mean, Resume. Others are smaller and lower-tech, but seem to entice with the promise of speedy turnaround times and the feel-good vibe of automatic application-received emails.

It is still my fond hope to leave Job Search Land for a destination not too far from downtown Chicago, that is, within the reach of our fair city's excellent public transit network. Something administrativey, ideally perhaps at a place of learning. Where sneakily, at night, I can add further educational baubles to my Passpo--I mean, Resume. So that during my next sojourn in this Land I can explore even more avenues of escape. Ones that offer the fabled, mytic treasures of Paid Holidays or even, dare I say, the fearsomely enchanted Sword of Medical and Dental Benefits!