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Pete, did you know that birthdays are known to have been celebrated as far back as 4236 B.C.? A recent study suggests that there have been 108 billion humans born on earth. All of them having, by necessity, at least one birthday. There have literally been trillions of birthdays celebrated.

The idea that etiquette dictates that I recognize this day as unique in some way is, frankly, offensive.

It’s particularly egregious when people tell you to “enjoy your special day.” Special day?!?!? Seriously?

Shouldn’t we be celebrating actual accomplishments or things that make you slightly different than everyone else? Even the most minor accomplishment is more note worthy than a birthday.

“Congratulations on your lack of chronic back pain!”

“Congratulations for not developing a degenerative gambling addiction!”

Ridiculous you say? Both those things are far more unique to you than your possession of a birthday. Your uniqueness as a person is actually diminished by having a birthday.

I haven’t even gotten into the arbitrary weight that we give calendars when celebrating birthdays. A specific date means nothing, and has no more real correlation to any previous date than any other previous date. Calendars are just a way for us to comprehend the incessant, unstoppable, depressing passing of time. Nothing more.

All you are really saying is that “the earth made one more revolution around the sun since I was born.”

Who cares, Pete? Who cares?

While my desire to be a rational person dictates that I cannot offer you a meaningless, rote “happy birthday,” I do consider you a friend, and I find your recognition of specific dates as unique because of what previously happened on said date endearing.

So…

October 27th is the day Turkmenistan first celebrated independence from the USSR in 1991. It was a triumph for human liberty.

Happy Turkmenistan Independence Day, buddy! Better dead than Red!

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In the early part of the 17th century, Rene Descartes began a quest to find something he could believe in with absolute certainty. He began as the epitome of skepticism, doubting everything. He eventually concluded that, though it was certainly not a given, he did in fact exist. He then penned what is possibly the most recognized philosophical quote of all time; “I think therefore I am.”

Serious philosophers are just that. Thomas Hobbes said that life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Sure, you’ve heard many a college professor laud Nietzsche’s “God is dead” as ground breaking. Yet our pal Friedrich was severely depressed and died paralyzed and with severe dementia brought on by syphillis. Take that hedonism.

The history of philosophy and those who claim it’s name is filled with depressed, depraved, suicidal, mentally ill, nut jobs. In fact, in all areas of life it would seem that the more intelligent you are the more depressed you are. The two are nearly synonymous. Without proper guidance, understanding what your philosophy professor is telling you will leave you a depressed and confused mess. Just stay away. Ignorance is bliss. Just ask your dog.

With that said, I would like to introduce a new series of posts entitled Basement Philosophy.

I was thinking about different directions I could go with my writing, when it hit me. The unexamined life is not worth living. That’s good I thought to myself. I should write that down and share it with the world.

We will take a look various philosophers and their ideas to see which of them hold up and which we can laugh at. Because as I always say, we should laugh at those who disagree with us. Write that down.

By taking even this whimsical look at the history of philosophy we can only hope that  our depression will increase, as it will probably mean that we are getting smarter. Which is all that matters.

Hold it you say? That’s not true? Someone once said “Be as smart as you can, but remember that it is always better to be wise than to be smart.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? What great philosopher said that you ask? Plato? Aristotle? Kant? No, it was Alan Alda and should be disregarded entirely.

See? We’re learning things already. The sky is already a little less blue, and the flowers aroma has lost a tiny bit of it’s sweetness.

I hope I have sufficiently whetted your appetite.

Unsolicited opinions are an epidemic.

This wouldn’t be wholly intolerable if it weren’t for the fact that most people’s ability to think seems to be approximately on par with a slightly above average dolphin. No disrespect to dolphins intended.

(I like to start off on an upbeat note. Sets the tone. Draws the reader in. I did that on porpoise. See what I did there? Porpoise…purpose…dolphins. That’s gold. This is going well.)

Whoever foolishly invented the internet only exacerbated the problem. Suddenly every girl who knows how to use the black and white setting on a digital camera thinks they are Annie Leibovitz, and worse, people now have a platform to publicly display their crazy ideas. They always had them but only the lucky few who could get on TV or in the newspaper could share them. This new reality is dangerous.

Now, has my opinion been solicited? No. No, I cannot say it has, and frankly I’m tired of waiting for all you people to realize that within the menagerie of uninformed opinions that make no sense and untrained people masquerading as professionals, I offer untrained, semi-informed opinions that occasionally make sense. Which given the current market means that my thoughts should be a hot commodity. Yet, to date, nobody has even vetted me.

I’m not bitter. Just confused.

So instead of waiting around any further for independent sources to seek out my services, I will once again attempt to carve out my piece of the unsolicited opinion pie. You might not have known that said pie existed, but it does. 
And my piece is going to be the best piece. Like the one with extra filling and lots of whip cream, and your grandma saved it for you because you fell off your bike on your 6th birthday. Maybe I’m getting too specific. Listen, it doesn’t matter what kind of pie it is, or if your 6th birthday was as hellish an experience as mine. The point is it’s a pie, and I’m claiming a chunk of it, and I love pie. I hope you enjoy my pie as much as I do.

Photo Courtesy of Elizabeth Baxter Photography

Can I really complain? I have lived through one of the most successful eras for any city in the history of American sports.

Good grief, my grandfather waited eighty-one years before he saw the Red Sox win once. Qualms should be absent from this area of my life.

Many would inform me that six championships in a decade “ain’t that bad Jack.” (I would clarify that my name isn’t Jack. They would inform me it was just a figure of speech. Then I would understand and move on.) Despite this prosperity of success – what would a sports fan do if he couldn’t complain once in a while – I’ve experienced some pretty painful losses with my teams as well.

I’m still in disbelief that Desmond Howard returned that kick-off for a touchdown in the 1997 Super Bowl – just as the Patriots were getting traction. Chuck Knoblauch did not tag José Offerman in the 1999 ALCS.  Don’t tell me otherwise.  The stench of watching Aaron Boone’s 2003 game 7 home-run soar softly into a raucous, Bronx crowd was only diminished by the sheer glory of the next year – not, however, by the approximately sixty-eight freeze pops I ate attempting to drown my sorrow that night.  Don’t judge me. Was the Patriot’s 2008 perfect season really foiled by a circus catch from a guy who was cut by the same team the next year? Really? I refuse to believe that.

Where does last Sunday’s loss to the noxious New York Jets rank among these travesties? How am I coping? Hear me out on this but…I’m okay.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I don’t have a visceral distaste for the Jets (always have, always will). I also don’t mean that Rex Ryan isn’t a vulgar, buffoon who talks a whole lot for someone who, last I checked, has ten empty fingers. Do I think the Jets constantly faking injuries to slow down the Patriot’s hurry-up offense was a classy strategy? Funny you should ask.

So, here’s the revolutionary thing – I’m fine. Really.

You see, when your team wins the big game the response is straightforward. You are gleeful, celebratory, glowing like all this stuff is really, really important. Dramatic losses on the other hand…

Losses are living organisms. They’re like snowflakes – each different than the other. It’s impossible to predict what your full reaction will be until the clock hits zero and your team is emptying their lockers.

In the worst cases, you get a rotten feeling in your stomach, as you watch the other team celebrate. The nausea and numbness lingers into the next morning as you replay in your mind the alternative outcomes to each play and how your team could have (and clearly should have) won. Then the martyrdom sets in. All the time I spent watching them this season, all the fun conversations I had with friends and family, how could it end like that? Why do bad things happen to good people? Clearly God doesn’t care about sports if Rex won. Even years later any mention of “that game” will tighten your jaw and force you to “politely” step out of otherwise good conversations.

For my generation this was Aaron Boone, for my father’s it was Magic’s skyhook and Buckner’s blunder, and his father’s generation still doesn’t know why Johnny Pesky held on to the ball in the 1946 World Series.

Then there are other times when the loss is disappointing but it rolls off me like water off an aquatic bird whose feathers were created to have water roll off their backs.

Now headed into Sunday’s clash with the Jets I had it pegged as an inescapable specimen of the former of these two options. How could it not be, right? Given Rex Ryan, given the trash talk and the insults and the threats from the Jets players, and given the Patriot’s being picked to win by everyone and their mother and their mother’s cribbage partner Gina, it seemed as sure as the outcome of flipping a two-headed coin that a loss would have me gorging on freeze pops and wearing sweatpants for a week.

Don’t get me wrong. I am bitter about it. I do not really want to talk about it and I hope the Jets are dismantled next week.

Yet, wonder of wonders, as Jets players did triple back flips on the Pat’s home turf and the CBS scoreboard informed us that 28-21 was indeed the indisputable final score – there was no wailing. No gnashing of teeth. No cursing the heavens.

But there was a baby.

A grinning, cooing three-month old boy who seemed deeply satisfied just because I was holding him. His world was unshaken by Tom Brady’s ineffectiveness against an unexpected zone defense.

It’s much easier to remember that your team’s loss is not actually that important when you are surrounded by everything you care most about. We all use the word “devastating” far too readily.

The little guy growing up with me as his dad is bound to be passionate about sports and have a few games that wrench his gut. I’m fine with that.

For now, though, he’s simply a happy reminder of what matters.

Thanks Charlie. It’s just one more thing you’ve made much better.

Photo courtesy of Cartoonstock.com

Technology in sports has run amuck. This past summer at the World Championships of swimming Olympic hero, Michael Phelps, threatened to boycott all international competition, until the full-body, polyurethane swimsuit worn by German rival Paul Biedermann is banned from competition.

Is there anything more basic than swimming? Can you get from here to there in the water faster than the next guy?

Today we have square heads on golf clubs that resemble toasters. And the little dimpled balls they – and we – hit were not in our grandfather’s bag.

Don’t even get me started on baseball. A culture of illegal drugs, maple bats, and juiced balls make broken-bat home runs seem reasonable.

I would think that swimming would be an unlikely candidate for being fundamentally altered by technological advancements. I would be wrong.

The super-suit that Biedermann was wearing shaves an average of .75 seconds per one hundred meters. In a sport where .01 seconds won a gold medal in the last Olympics, this seems significant.

In the two hundred meter race in question, Biedermann gained 1.5 seconds because of his outfit. Phelps lost by 1.23 seconds. Why didn’t the guy just strap an outboard motor to his back?

Some sports have turned into an arm’s race more than an athletic competition.

The effect? These sports have no history. Each is an entirely different sport than the sport of the same name in the previous generation. Equipment nearly as incomparable as a space shuttle and the Wright brothers’ plane completely dissolves all sense of heritage and legacy in sports.

Comparing generations in any sport is a challenge, even when equipment isn’t a factor. What boxing fan wouldn’t love to see the outcome of a battle between Joe Lewis and Muhammad Ali?

Tiger Woods is constantly declared the greatest golfer of all time. He may be. His game is mind-boggling. On the other hand, Tom Watson – just months short of 60 years old and coming off a hip replacement – with new equipment can come one 12 foot putt from winning a British Open where Tiger misses the cut. It makes you wonder.

Sixty years old makes you the Dick Clark of sports. What would dinosaurs like Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson, or even Ben Hogan have done with modern equipment in their physical prime? Were their skills as good or better than Tiger? We will never know.

What’s the greater accomplishment? Jimmie Foxx leading the league with 35 home runs in 1939, or Mark McGwire hitting 70 in 1998? Your guess is as good as mine.

I won’t hold my breath, but it would sure be fascinating to see sports like these standardize key equipment.

Would it be outrageous for the MLB to say that bats are going to be made out of one kind of wood? Why has swimming equipment changed at all?

Don’t leave out sponsors, just make it so that all suits have to be made out of one material and cover a set portion of the body. Please don’t interpret this as an endorsement of skimpy, European men’s speedos. The image alone makes me want to shake the Etch-a-Sketch of my mind.

Sports are about what you as an athlete can do with your body. They should not in any sense be about what your equipment can do.

Sports, at their essence, nearly define the concept of fairness. Cliches like “an equal playing field” or “playing by the rules” arose because true sport can only exist within defined parameters.

Whether it’s game 7 of the World Series or Wiffle Ball with friends it comes down to beating your opponent within a defined set of agreed upon rules and common equipment. No excuses.

If you miss the fastball, can’t drain the jumper at the buzzer, or if you lip out that four footer, thats it. You have nothing to say.

Unfortunately, it seems that we are past the point of no return. Yet here’s one guy who’s hoping someone can find a way to restore sanity.

It’s my fault. I knew this would happen.

This past Monday I sat on the couch and reveled in the Celtic’s complete dismantling of the Magic. Their 3-0 lead partnered with the Lakers dominant looking 2-0 over the Suns meant, in my mind, that a Lakers vs. Celtics finals was imminent. Images of Bird and Magic battling and Kurt Rambis being clothes-lined were running through my head.

Sunday night the Los Angeles crowd had thrown down the gauntlet. Chants of “We want Boston” issued the challenge. The Garden responded eagerly, as it always does. “Beat L.A.” was the response. The greatest rivalry in NBA basketball was about to be renewed.

I was in all out “Beat L.A.” mode. This is where I stumbled.

I have always jokingly (sort of) preached against jinxing your team. If your team won a playoff game with everyone in certain seats then they better be in those seats come game 2 of the series. Up 1 in the 9th with 2 outs is not the time to adjust your cap. Why mess with success?

Do these things actually affect anything? Maybe not. But are you willing to risk it? Are you willing to have the weight of a playoff collapse placed on your desire to wash your shirt? I didn’t think so.

Despite my history as the Jinx-Police – I dropped my guard. In my exuberance for the impending clash I wanted to do my part. I entered “Beat LA t-shirts” into Google, and found the simple, yet classic shirt that took over Beantown for the mid-80’s.  Eighteen bucks – a steal. My decision was made.

As my cursor hovered over the “Complete Purchase” button a fleeting moment of wisdom washed over me. Did we not just witness the Boston Bruins blow a 3-0 series lead. Would it kill me to wait two days for them to close out the series and THEN order the shirt? I ran it by the family and they just chuckled – assuming I would never make such an egregious error. My mind then drifted to the way the Celtics were making Orlando look like a high school squad and my enlightenment left me. I ordered the shirt.

Then game 4 happened. With a little help from a dull C’s effort and Paul Pierce conducting the worst final possession since Naismith hung a peach basket on a wall – the Magic won the game in OT (on the Garden parquet, no less) in eerily similar fashion to Game 4 of the Flyers/Bruins series. I was troubled. Yet we had beat them twice on the road already. Surely we would close them out in game 5.

Nope.

The Green got outplayed, and outhustled in every facet of game 5. I watched in dismay as the energetic Magic ran circles around our AARP stars. I cringed as Perkins collected his seventh, playoff technical foul and was ejected (a terrible call – justly earned by Perkins consistently winsome personality and gracious spirit). A handful of Celtic concussions later and the whole team – not just Big Baby – was looking like they had spent one too many rounds in the ring with Mike Tyson. 113-92 and it wasn’t that close.

What about L.A.? The Lakers dropped their next two in ugly fashion. The Lakers and C’s were 0-4 since I had purchased “the shirt”. I now began envisioning my shirt arriving in the mail, as nothing more than a depressing reminder of a second playoff collapse in a month.

So, there it is. If you had told me at the beginning of the series that we would be up 3-2 with a chance to close it out at the Garden, I would have been thrilled. There is still no reason we shouldn’t punch a ticket to the Finals tonight. Yet, just a few hours before the game I am in panic mode and it’s all my fault.

If things go horribly awry tonight – I’m sorry Boston. I’m sorry.

A Basement Athlete’s Testimony

Hi. My name is Adam and I am a recovering Deluded Athlete. Thanks to DA, I have been clean for 3 weeks, but…

Have you ever heard your voice on a recording? Is there anybody who hears that and doesn’t say “I don’t sound like that!” Everyone nearby tells you, “No, that’s really what you sound like.” That doesn’t help. Quickly you forget about it and go back to the ignorant bliss of hearing your own voice in your own head.

The familiar dismay of that experience…is exactly what I experience when I get an authentic glimpse at my actual athleticism.

As you all know well – I love sports. I had a delightful and relatively illustrious, youthful, 3 to 4-sport career. I don’t want to boast, but you are talking to a man who turned an unassisted triple play in 8 year old baseball, once hit 91 of 100 free throws in the driveway (as well as winning a 9 year old free throw contest at the Franklin, New Hampshire Rec. Center). Brace yourself – I’m the guy who, in 1999, struck out Mason Roberge 3 times in one game, under the lights! (Complete game, 10 strikeouts, in the grunt-like-Monica Seles-with-every-pitch era of my pitching career). I know you are impressed.

Vital side-note – My cousin Brian finished second in that free throw contest. I always relished pointing out how short his trophy was.

Apparently free throw superiority does not an athlete make.

I remember my first glimpse of a video of one of my basketball games – my bubble didn’t burst. It exploded.

My family always jabbed me about my lack of cat-like, physical prowess. I knew I didn’t possess the raw athleticism of Lebron or Usain Bolt. It’s just that I assumed that my limitations were more the Larry Bird brand of un-athleticism than the Brian Scalabrine vein of un-athleticism. The tale of the tape was sobering.

The game on the video was a perfect snapshot of why I fancy myself a real athlete. I didn’t play poorly. I scored 15ish points and played rock-solid defense. The problem was never respectable production, but rather how I looked pulling it off.

It was a play midway through the second quarter. To this day, my memory of the moment is crystal clear. I received the ball just over half-court, turned and darted – gazelle-like – across the three-point line, before pulling up and nailing an 18-foot jumper.

Not exactly.

Upon further review, I apparently caught the ball just outside the 3-point line. The high-light reel footage then revealed a husky, 11 year old body impersonating a mix between a 90 year old man speed walking and a wounded animal. I shuffled forward five or six steps before pulling up and sinking the 18-foot jumper (set-shot). Yes! I had that final part right! Ah, outside shooting…the chunky, slow, white guy’s loyal friend.

My family – my own family – laughed with cruel pleasure, as the reality of the situation swept across my face.

I’ve since recovered. That’s the party line at least.

Listen…I do love sports. In the moment – I can get lost in almost any dramatic sports situation. Forget an October, Red Sox game…I can be briefly enraptured by any game coming down to the closing moments, with the result still in question. It grabs my attention and it won’t let go. Whether it’s game 7 of the World Series or this afternoon’s wiffle-ball game, where I faced a 3-run deficit with 2 outs in the final inning and the bases loaded with imaginary runners.

(Walk-off grand slam by the way…booyah.)

For better or for worse, any success I have ever had in sports was made through caring more passionately than everyone else. It was never through besting someone physically. I’m the type of person who takes every golf shot with the knowledge that the golf handicap required to enter a U.S. Open qualifier is 1.4. Just in case my 9.8 ever takes a precipitous drop of 8.4. I don’t expect to win a major or anything…I’ll just qualify for the Open as an unknown name and have an unexpected – yet magical – first three rounds, before grittily losing to Tiger or Phil, in a hard-fought playoff. I’m not unrealistic. I would obviously never win in that situation.

I’m the guy who won two (2), yes, TWO “110% Team Player” awards. Take that in. Move on.

I would love to be the sober, non-gambling Pete Rose. An MVP, yet the guy who would sacrifice life and limb to stretch a single into a double, pummel his body diving into 3rd base, or bowl the catcher over to win the meaningless, 1970 All-Star game.

Instead, I’m the guy who has convinced himself that tearing my ACL at 13 years old stunted my athletic career. The guy who remembers playing a full basketball game on an undiagnosed, torn ACL and broken tibia and still scored 8 points. The guy who therefore realistically assumed that I would have score 40 on a healthy leg. I had the heart of Charlie Hustle, Larry Legend, or Trot Nixon and I was even a starting player on most of my community sports league teams.

So what am I saying? I’m planning on golfing tomorrow. If I can break 80 then my handicap will be one step closer to 1.4 and the U.S. Open Trophy.

Wish me luck.