Monday, November 30, 2009

Steelers Recap - Week 12

Truth be told, I actually picked the Rats to win last night. I know, I’m not proud of it, but I haven’t liked the way the Steelers have been playing the last few weeks and I knew the Ratties would be coming full force in a futile attempt to reverse what happened to them last year.

As if.

Anyway, I made this pick on Tuesday, long before it was known that Ben would not play. So I can’t say I’m surprised at the outcome, what with their JV QB Dennis Dixon in there. I’m actually surprised that it was this close.

The Mojo Boogie
Upon consulting the Mojo Charts, we won at Denver on a national TV game while I was wearing the Heath Miller throwback ensemble. Also, I figured the boy QB would need the Big Guy’s help with some short throws over the middle, so I decided to rock the 8-3 last night.
Sadly, it didn’t help. Was Heath even in there? Oh yeah, that was him staying in to block all night. The shirt must have done some good… there were no sacks given up by Heath or the Steelers O-line. I’m going to have to try something completely different for next week versus the Raiders. Now on to the game notes:

* The kid did well, all things considering. He took no sacks, which I think was due not so much getting stellar protection, but to Dixon getting rid of the ball on time. Each drop back was like, step – step – step – Gone! He was on target for most of the first half but regressed badly in the second, like he just realized that those were the real, live Ravens over there. More that from QB inexperience, the Ravens benefited from the Steelers playbook being cut by about 75%. For the most part, all they had to do was defend the run, the passes in the flat and short over the middle. I really would have liked to see some more rollouts or bootlegs… anything that would get Dixon moving in space. You saw what happened the one time he got to run… a big TD. Sadly, another long run was negated by a holding penalty. Which brings us to…

* The penalties… I’m not saying the calls were all bogus, but they sure came at painful times. I will say that the holding call that negated Dixon’s long run in the 1st quarter was the same thing that teams do to Harrison all game long, with no call. Then there was a huge catch by Santonio with an amazing effort to get the first down that got called back on a holding penalty. I don’t want to hear any more of the Ratbird’s fans shit about how the refs are all biased for the Steelers and against them.

* Where’s the D?
The Steelers didn’t lose because of the JVQB. They lost because of the defense. When did they forget how to tackle? How many dudes missed on Ray Rice as he ran the ball 55 yards down the field? When did they forget how to make a play on the ball? Ryan Clark was in great position to knock down a long bomb, but never even looked for the ball as it went right by him. Then Ike blew a play on the ball in the end zone right after that, resulting in a Rattie TD.

Troy, hurry back please. We miss you badly. We miss your serenity and streaming locks. But mostly we miss your sure hands and can’t miss tackling. We miss you making that play in the 4th quarter that changes the game.

The Steelers D used to own the 4th quarter and ravage the opposition like a pack of wild dogs. Now they just look like a bunch of mutts.

Now please, no overlooking Oakland next week, OK? Time to get serious. We need to string some W’s if we can even think about grabbing a wildcard playoff spot. And we have one more month until we see the Rats again.

This time, they’ll see the A-Team.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Purple Stain

With the Ratbirds game looming this week, it’s time get some stuff out there. I already told the story about getting cheap-shotted by a couple of chicken-shit Rats fans in the stands last year. I wrote this essay in 2007, which details the reasons for my hatred for everything involving this vile team. Just about all of it is still in effect, except that there are some obvious things that no longer apply the way they did. I’ll spell them out when you get there.

How do I Hate the Ravens? Let me Count the Ways
People here are often taken aback by the ferocity and bitterness of my attack on their team when I speak my piece.

“You really hate them don’t you?”
Yes, I hate them with a white-hot fury that burns like a thousand suns.

“Why do you hate the Ravens so much?”
It’s not arbitrary; it’s personal and specific. This team is and has always been garbage, for reasons I will demonstrate below.

They used to be the Browns.
They were a chicken-shit organization then and they’re chicken-shit now. The fact that so many of their bush-league ploys (see next paragraph) have carried over to Baltimore indicates that the idiocy started at the top. Art Modell was the worst owner ever. Owning an NFL team is like a license to print money. Anyone that loses money in the NFL has got to be the most inept businessman around. The fact that even after relocating his team, getting sweetheart deals on a stadium and training facility and having every game sell out almost immediately, Modell still had to bring on a co-owner and an influx of cash indicates the very highest level of incompetence. That he was unable to leave his team to his own family is a last will and testament to poor business acumen.

And speaking of leaving, there’s that whole pulling the team out of Cleveland and moving to Baltimore thing. In all of the cases where teams moved to another city, this was the only time the team was pulled from a city that was actually supporting it. Clevelanders packed that miserable, decrepit hellhole every season, and it held close to 80,000. The city became a ghost town as people watched the games on TV. Sure a new stadium was needed, but it could have gotten done. Hell, someone that knew his way around the business world did do it.

I rejoiced at “The Drive.” I laughed at “The Fumble.” This was different. This was the only time I ever felt sorry for Cleveland fans.

(I know Steve Bischotti now owns the Ravens and he seems to be a decent guy. But he has not put a stop to any of the pettiness I’m going to spell out next. That makes him no better than Modell, as far as I’m concerned.)

Bush-league Stadium Ploys: The Scoreboard
This is another holdover from Cleveland. Once they added a rudimentary Diamond-Vision replay system to the antiquated scoreboard in that godforsaken toilet, they only used it for the occasional plays where the Browns accomplished something. Now in a brand spanking new stadium, with 2 huge state-of-the-art scoreboards, they cover two thirds of the screen with ads and on the middle third, run replays of the occasional plays where the Ravens accomplish something.

In real stadiums, and I’ve been to quite a few, replays are run most of the time and are not dependent on the home team doing something grand. In fact, in Green Bay, they replay almost every single play. That’s the way it should be… a benefit for the people paying out the wazoo for nosebleed seats. It’s the only way they can really see anything. And I’m not even talking about controversial calls where showing a replay might help the visiting coach decide whether to challenge. But if I’m at a game and the other team pulls off a long bomb or gadget play, then dammit, I want to see what went wrong… who blew their assignment? Who missed a tackle? Or maybe I just want to behold a hell of a play. But that didn’t happen in Cleveland, and it doesn’t happen in Baltimore. They’re only interested in petty boosterism, at the expense of the people that paid dearly for their seats.

Bush-league Stadium Ploys: The Stadium Announcer
This may be the dumbest thing ever; in Cleveland, and now in Baltimore, the stadium announcer doesn’t announce who makes a tackle by the visiting team. Oh, they’re all over it when the Raven’s defense is on the field… in fact they probably do it to fill time while the tackler is pounding his chest and dancing around after a 5-yard gain. But when the other team’s defense is out there, it’s as if by acknowledging that the other team made a tackle, it’s some kind of traitorous admission. Maybe they should just go whole-hog and take the visitors’ name off the scoreboard as well. This ploy is petty, bush-league and indicative of a low-class organization.

Bush-league Stadium Ploys: The Stadium itself
I liked it at first… it was certainly an upgrade over Memorial Stadium. It was bright and shiny and had some modern amenities. But what it lacks is soul and anything resembling imagination.

Compare it with Heinz Field, which was built shortly after Ravens Stadium was built and you can see the stark contrast. And I refer to it as Raven’s Stadium because the corporate shills that bought the name have changed so many times, I refuse to keep track any more.

Heinz Field has The Great Hall, which is an entire concourse with Steelers memorabilia, the 6 Super Bowl trophies with interactive displays, multiple murals, and a “Walk of Fame” where they have locker exhibits from Hall of Fame Steelers. They have 2 live bands playing before the game, one in the Great Hall, and one on the 2nd level.

Access to all of this is free, with your ticket. There are many different food places where you can get fish sandwiches, foot-long dogs, burgers, nachos, pizza and the rest of the usual stadium fare. They also have the legendary Primanti Brothers, featuring the classic burger/fries/slaw on Italian bread sandwich.

The Raven’s Stadium has squat. In the concourse, you’ll find nothing but food and merchandise stands, meant to maximize their reach into your pockets. It’s dark, sterile and as inviting as a low-rent strip mall. No bands, no homage to Ravens past, (or even the old Colts), nothing to do at all, really. I’m bored just writing about it. The only idea that showed any kind of promise never got out of the discussion stage: a giant Raven with glowing red eyes that looked out over the freeway, then rotated to look over the field on game day. Naturally, it cost too much money. Instead, they have the league’s lamest marching band, full of people that haven’t yet given up their glorious Band Camp days.

And don’t get me started on their “fight song,” which John Modell claims he wrote in about a half hour. After hearing it once, I believed him, although I’m sure the reported time includes a 15-minute bathroom break. This song would be more appropriate for a senior citizen’s home than a modern stadium. I figure that since the owner’s son wrote it, the team was obligated to use it, much in the same manner as one posts their child’s indescribable art on the refrigerator door. (But at least the parent doesn’t inflict it on 65,000 people.)

And just to show how completely bankrupt they are for ideas, tomorrow night they're handing out Ravens Rally Towels.  When in doubt, steal from the Steelers, I guess.  The Ghost of Myron Cope should thump them for the audacity, if not lack of imagination.

The Players
Again, it started in Cleveland, who always seemed to have more punks on the roster than the league average and were perennial leaders in chest thumping. Two of their defensive backs, Frank Minnifield and Hanford Dixon, took to barking at their opponents, probably because it made them sound smarter. Then the “Dawg Pound” was established when this brand of canine communication was inevitably adopted by the fans, although there’s no word on whether they also sniffed each other’s butts.

The punk tradition continued with the move to Baltimore, where until the Bengals came into their own last year, the Ravens led the league in criminal activity:

· Ray Lewis: accessory to murder, disposed of evidence, misled the police investigators, and pled guilty of obstruction of justice.

· Jamal Lewis: maintained his innocence right up until he pled guilty and admitted his part in setting up a drug deal.

· Corey Fuller: ran an illegal high-stakes poker game at his house, which got busted in on by gunmen.

· BJ Sams: pulled over twice for DUI in less than two years.

None of this really matters to the Ravens, so they stay until they’ve outlived their usefulness. There’s a lot of lip service about finding players of character, but that’s all it is. When the chips are down, the Ravens can be counted on to take the easy way out rather than stand up for what’s right. Don’t believe me? I have two words: Bam Morris.

This was a guy that if the Steelers had won Super Bowl XXX, would have been a strong candidate for MVP. The Cowboys had no answer for him. The following summer, he was caught with 4 kilos of pot and a gram of coke. The Steelers cut him immediately. You don’t fool around with stuff like that and continue to play for the Rooneys. You might have thought he’d be done in the NFL, but no. The Ravens signed him. ‘Nuff said.

(I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that the Steelers have also been bitten by the Player Stupidity Bug since I originally wrote this… James Harrison smacking his baby-mama when when she gave him grief about taking their son to be baptized, Santonio Holmes getting busted for having a couple of blunts in the car, Jeff Reed beating up a paper towel dispenser and threatening a cop… Still, that’s kind of small potatoes kind of stuff.)

The Ravens go to great lengths to showcase their punk-in-chief, Ray Lewis, whose grand celebrations of self demonstrate everything that’s wrong with professional sports.

From his Vegas-style introductions

to pounding his chest over every tackle,

he is the epitome of ego run wild. Even his stats are questionable. Remember, “tackles” are stats that are awarded by coaches. I remember seeing games where you barely heard his name called, but then looking in the next day’s paper, he’s credited with 11 tackles. Apparently running up late and falling on the pile counts as a tackle, as does being anywhere behind the line of scrimmage when the quarterback is sacked. If Ray has so much as a gas attack, he’s credited with half a sack.

One of the common themes with the Ravens is how they don’t get any respect, but I’ll be damned if I’ve ever heard them give any, either. For the longest time, no team ever beat the Ravens. Oh, they beat themselves plenty of times, according to their post-game sound bytes, and had the refs take the game from them. But they’ve never actually been beaten. It disgusts me.

As a counterpoint, here’s what came from the Steelers after they lost to the Cards a few weeks back: (again, this was 2007)

“This loss is on me."

-Ben Roethlisberger, 9/30/07

"Mike Tomlin said after his first loss as a head coach that he probably should have considered inserting different gunners into the game for the second punt because the regular ones were tired. Sepulveda said he should have kicked the ball out of bounds."

Scott Brown, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 10/1/07

"We will never use injuries as an excuse. The Arizona Cardinals outperformed us."

-Mike Tomlin, 9/30/07

That’s respect, and that’s accountability, which are things I’m only just beginning to hear out of the Ravens camp.

The Coach
Has there ever been a bigger crybaby in coaching than Brian Billick?

The perpetual victim… if he’s not crying about the ref, it’s the schedule, or how the league hates them. The schedule beef is an annual event any more… Too many away games in a row, the bye is too early, not enough national games… This year (2007) it was too many strong teams 2nd half of the year. What, you want to keep facing the 8 cream puffs you faced in the 1st half? You went 13-3 last year… you’re going to have a tough schedule.

Then there’s the whole about being a condescending, self-important egomaniac although I will admit that he’s less insufferable than he used to be. Not that the change has anything to do attaining some kind of personal growth. It had more to do, I believe, with getting publicly dressed down by the new owner, before the 2006 season. It couldn’t have happened to a bigger douche bag. I loathe the day the Lombardi Trophy was defiled from having been won by the Ravens and Brian Billick.

Obviously, Billick is no longer the coach, having been replaced by John Harbaugh. I have nothing bad to say about Harbaugh. He seems to be a no-nonsense, stand-up guy. Unfortunately he has not yet been able to rein in his team’s penchant for undisciplined play or cries of victimhood. We’ll see.)

The Fans
Namely, I hate the fans that attend the games*. (This is asterisked because I refer only to home games. The number of Ravens fans that show up at away games is so low that it is statistically negligible.) I’ve never been in a stadium with a lower collective football IQ. They’re only just now getting the hang of making noise on 3rd down without prompting from the PA announcer. And taking their cue from the team, they never stop talking smack. Even after they lose, on the way out of the stadium they’re still yappin’. Typical conversation:

“You guys suck.!!”

“Uh, didn’t your guys just get their ass kicked?”

“You suuuck!!”

“Yet they just beat your team…”

“You suuuck!”

“Idiot says you suck...”

“um… you suck?”

And on it goes…

(I cut some material here about Tony “The Hutt” Siragusa’s suggestion to fight Steeler fans in the restrooms, that I already self-plagiarized for my prior Ravens post, as well as my thoughts on the idiots in the stands.)

Honorable Mention: Purple Uniforms

Hey, Prince called… he wants his wardrobe back. 

I find it funny that when they want to go all badass, they wear all black. It doesn’t make them look bad; it makes them look like the Falcons and Saints. Only 2 teams get to look cool wearing black: the Steelers and the Raiders. And I’m only including the Raiders because I’m afraid one of those psychotic Black-Hole fans may show up and kill me in my sleep.

All I have to say on this is, “Real men don’t wear purple.”

So in conclusion, I hate the Ravens because of their shady background, their morally bankrupt and incompetent ownership, their bush-league stadium ploys, their egocentric and alibi-addicted players, their know-it-all former coach, idiot fans and ugly uniforms. Please let me know if I left anything out.

Now can we please do the league a favor and go out and beat these guys?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Barnstorming - The Parties

Once we got the whole Barn Train moving, it became a kind of clearing house for odds and ends. Anyone who was throwing out any kind of furniture offered it to us first. We collected couches, like I mentioned earlier, but also end tables, easy chairs, various decorations… Road signs were especially prevalent. I think TGI Fridays based their look on The Barn.
I always liked the little touches…

We had this old milk crate that came with the place; the kind you put out on your doorstep in the old days for milk deliveries. We used to keep the beer bottle caps in it from all the beers we drank. That came as a kind of compromise… we started by keeping all the bottles! We had this huge pyramid of Michelob bottles in their 6-pack carriers along the back wall, until my dad put the kibosh on that. (Was only a matter of time before it got knocked over and smashed.) So we ended up just keeping the caps, even when we’d drink somewhere else, especially if it was something unusual. Every so often we’d look through the collection of caps and kind of relive the adventures, singing, “To all the beers I’ve drank, before…”

We filled that thing up twice. The first time was easy, but by midway through the 2nd, my dad got one of those Keg-O-Rator beer refrigerators: “The Old Norge”, as we called it. I was in college by that time, so it was quite a valued convenience.

Dad was having a little trouble with the Norge on this particular day.

I still have the milk crate and I still use it for beer caps. Some habits go deep.

During our first Barn Party, we flattened out a moving box and hung it up on the wall as a graffiti board. That became a permanent fixture; we probably went through 4 or 5 of them. Looking back, you can chronicle the entire Barn history… who was doing what, when, and with whom. Whatever happened in our lives got reflected on the graffiti boards… concerts seen, parties thrown, girlfriends uh, entertained… This usually meant whenever we got ourselves a new significant other, we had to do some serious editing out. I still have all the old graffiti boards too.*

*Until 2014 when I photographed them and tossed them out. They were getting moldy.

There was nothing like that Pre-Party cleanup. We’d get all the crap cleaned up out there, shine everything up and most importantly, get some Carpet Fresh down and vacuum. That was another tradition… to this day, I still get tingly when I smell Carpet Fresh. Makes me want to par-tay!

When the Barn is Rockin’ Don’t Bother Knockin! (Cuz we can’t hear you.)
We eventually moved our house stereo to The Barn when we upgraded the one inside. For parties, I’d take the house speakers out too and believe me, that Barn was a’rockin. My job was to keep the music playing. That became a lot easier once I got my record store job and an employee discount.

Keeping the dead air to the minimum… now that was a problem. Remember that this was before CDs. To change songs you had to get one LP off, get another one on, and get the needle down in the right place. It was challenging, to say the least, but I did my best.
This was the stereo setup during a later Barn Party. You can see my record collection in the Peach crates to my right, and our wide-screen TV.

Once I got onto college radio and learned some things, I got a little better. For big parties, I’d get our house stereo out there too, and run it off “Auxilliary” on the Barn stereo, thus giving me 2 turntables to work with. Even without a mixing board, I could at least get the next song set up, needle down and all, and slip-cue it like we did on the radio, which eliminated dead air between songs.

What I wouldn’t have given for even a single tray CD player, let along a 5-disc changer that I could program and then walk away for an hour. Or like now with an MP-3 playlist. How easy it would have been! Damn kids today have no idea… blah blah blah…

Here We Go Steelers, Here We Go
One year, my dad decided to rent a big screen TV to watch the Super Bowl and all the bowl games out in The Barn. It went over so well that he went back the next year to do the same and ended up buying one. So we had a neighborhood party for the AFC Championship game against the hated Houston Oilers. I don’t remember much about that party other than we supplied all attendees with a Steelers jersey to wear and we partied our buns off.
Call this The Steel Pyramid.  Note: I know there's a picture of the Ayahtollah on the back wall, but don't be alarmed.  It actually had a target on it and was mounted on a dart board.
The guy on the ground was an Oilers fan, who we forced to wear the Black and Gold.

New Year’s Rockin’ Eve
New Year's Eve parties became an annual event. Even as big as The Barn was, that gas heater could really pump out the heat. Oftentimes, we’d have to crank open the windows because it would get uncomfortably hot in there, especially with the drinking, dancing, and crowds.

Oh yes, the crowds. We had to suffer through some early lessons about party planning. By the time we had The Barn set up for parties, I was in college but my brother and sister were still in high school and junior high. We may have intended to keep the party small, but the high school grapevine was in full bloom, so where we would expect maybe 20-30 people, 100 or more would show up. We’d get a huge crowd; they’d drink up all the beer by 10:00 and disappear again. My mom and dad would have to elbow their way through a crowd full of people they didn’t know. Some would even bark at my dad about going to the front of the beer line. He’d be like, “Excuse me but this is my barn. Who the hell are you?

It would always be a friend of a friend or something. There was a lot of that. We’d invite a particular friend; they’d ask if they could bring someone. That someone would tell some other people, and so on. After one such debacle, Dad dropped the hammer. No more parties, ever.

Eventually, we got back on track and began issuing actual invites. We’d turn people away if they didn’t have one. Come to think of it, we should have picked up a velvet rope somewhere. It was a shame to have to be dicks about it, but we just couldn’t be responsible for all these strangers showing up and drinking and then doing God knows what.

We did have some fun with it though. My two buddies, Rik and John, were only too happy to pull bouncer duty. Plus we had a neighbor across the street that was 6’6” and only too eager to help. It was an added bonus if they got to toss someone. So my dad would administer a 3-part test… if he saw someone he didn’t know, he’d ask me if I knew him. If I didn’t, he’d ask my brother, then my sister. Three “Nos" and they were gone.

Then he’d grab one of the “bouncers” and say, “That guy’s gotta go,” and poof… they’d be gone. Sometimes it was a bit of a fuss… “But I’m with so and so… they said I could come along…” Nope… no dice, gotta go.

I’ll never forget one night when John had to bounce a guy… Before bouncing, he’d put on a blue batting helmet and grab this big pink Fat-bat we had… you know, one of those oversize wiffleball bats. The guy getting dismissed was a dude John didn’t like anyway, so when the dude put up a squabble, John just whopped him upside the head with the Fat-bat, which made a huge, hollow, well… “Whopping” sound. Then all you could hear was my brother high-pitched laughing like Jabba the Hutt’s pet. We never saw that guy at The Barn again.
The weather often made the New Years party a challenge, especially with regard to bathroom going. Normally, anywhere out in the fields, in the shadows was good. Girls got to use the inside bathroom, or the outhouse if they wished. But you know guys… we’re not too particular. But imagine the challenge when there’s 3’ of snow on the ground. With all the out-buildings in our yard, it created some odd wind currents, so even with moderate snow, we’d get these huge snow drifts in the backyard. So we’d shovel out little trails… From the house to The Barn, then to the outhouse, then to the back corner of the yard. It was kind of like a big white Habit-Trail, sawed in half.

Maybe it was because we are “Burghers”, another custom was that Dad would grill out at about 12:30, so that we may enjoy the First Burgers of the Year. Lord knows by that time of the night, we needed the food. Sometimes the weather would cooperate, sometimes not, but neither rain nor sleet nor snow could deter the First Burgers of the Year.  Really, it was just like every tailgate we ever had at Cleveland Stadium.  I suppose we could have made them on the stove outside, but what’s the fun in that?

Cleaning Up Nice
The Barn could also be used for formal occasions. My brother had his Pre-Prom party out there, which was kind of like the regular Barn Parties, but with better dress.
Any wonder why my folks liked to have us party at home? Dad was loving life, that day!

At one party, Dad was kind of leaning over the back of a couch and one of the girls at the party walked by, smacked him on the butt and said, “Nice ass!” and kept walking. (By the way, Dad reminded me of that story this week and requested I include it here.)

Special note: The background collage was my doing… a collection of album flats I obtained from my record store. The collage extended all the way up the stairs to the right, which led up into the loft. This party was from 1981, in case you can’t tell from the era of those albums.

Work Release Parties
Even after I moved out, I’d still use The Barn on occasion to host a party for the people I worked with at the record store. These were usually much more subdued, but still a blast. We had one guy who was known for his Long Island Ice Teas… he’d show up with this huge pot and just start pouring all kinds of stuff in there. I asked him, once, what all was in it. He just said, “You don’t want to know,” and kept pouring. They always tasted good, but I knew enough to stay away from them if I wanted to see the end of the party.

I really just brought up the work parties so I could tell one last story. As I mentioned above, it was really convenient for guys to take a leak out there. Especially after dark, the floodlight we had cast great shadows around the out-buildings. There was plenty of sanctuary to take a quick pee. Although I have to confess, sometimes even that was too much work. This is how my boss told the story…

“So I went out to take a leak and I wanted to be courteous, so I go waaaaay out to the back of the yard, around the corner, in the shadows, behind a tree, and I do my quietly do my business. So I’m walking back to The Barn and as I draw close, who do I see in the window but “Bluzdude”, hand on hip, back arched, just letting it fly!”

Guilty as charged. But in all fairness, there was this one window that was right behind an inner wall, so if no one was in the back half of The Barn, it made a great pee spot. I used to try to go for distance. Snow on the ground made it that much easier to track. When I wasn’t writing my name, that is. If you have home-court advantage, why not use it?
This was the window. (It wasn’t always frozen over, of course. But then in order to go for distance, you had to get through the branches. Life isn’t without its little challenges

That's more than enough for now.  More Barn stories will continue next week.  But now, let me wish you all a happy Thanksgiving!  In the words of the legendary Warren Zevon:

Don't let us get sick
Don't let us get old,
Don't let us get stupid, all right?
Just make us be brave,
And make us play nice.
And let us be together tonight.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Barnstorming - The Beginning

I’ve mentioned “The Barn” in prior posts, as a place where we used to party back when I was growing up, and I always say, “That’s a story that deserves its own post.” This is it. The Barn was never just a place; it was a state of mind… a magnet for the young people of Monclova, Ohio. If those walls could only talk…

Up until I was in junior high school, we always lived in suburban neighborhoods; each house elbow to elbow with a neighboring house. We lived in suburban Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Columbus, but then in 1976, after my freshman year, we moved to the farmland on the southwest outskirts of Toledo Ohio.

It was an old farmhouse… the original house that laid claim to the surrounding 150 acres. Through the years, the property was whittled down to an acre and a third. This sort of setting was completely foreign to us, but exciting nonetheless. Behind the house, there was a garage (upon which we added a basketball hoop almost immediately), a tool shed behind the garage, another tool shed in the back yard, an old 2-seater outhouse, and a big chicken and horse barn. There were lots of places to explore!

In later years, the shed behind the garage became the actual garage for my little Honda Civic. It fit just perfectly… I always felt like I was in the Batmobile, pulling out of sight and into the Bat Cave when I’d come home.

I helped my sister (4 years younger) convert the other tool shed into a “playhouse” for her and her friends. They would hang out there, giggling over pictures of boys in teen magazines and trying to avoid getting tormented by my brother (2 years younger).

The barn was another thing… a big, hulking space that we didn’t know quite what to do with.
The short end coming off the big end started with a workshop area for Dad’s tool bench and whatnot. After that were a couple of horse stalls. The room on the end had chicken coops. We ended up turning that into a cozy little office for my mom, where she could get away from the rest of us and write.
The tall part of the barn was the main room, with a dusty old loft up above. At first, my brother and I thought it would be cool to hang out up in the loft, but soon discovered that no matter how often you swept up, it was always dusty. And of course, it was steaming hot up there in the summer months.

The main room was really something… a long room with a bar and an oven at one end. The walls were cinderblock and the floor was concrete. It had a big gas heater too. The previous owner had been courteous enough to leave a little black-and-white photo of a topless pinup girl on one of the wood support beams. Whooooo!

For the first couple of years we lived there, we didn’t really do much with the barn. We put our old living room couch out there when the parents upgraded… we had a ping-pong table and some old hook rugs, but there really wasn’t much to do.

Side note: there was also a gas heater in the workroom, with which I learned a valuable lesson. To wit: when you have to light a gas stove, always light the match BEFORE turning on the gas. I got my ass blown across the room one afternoon when I turned on the gas and then started fumbling around with the matches. By the time I got one lit, a nice little gas cloud was waiting for me to stick the match into the pilot light area. KA-BOOM!

Lesson learned. Nowadays, it would have been on YouTube 10 minutes later.

Somewhere along the line, I began meeting some people at school. I met Rik in Spanish class, Mark, from down the street and John from the bus. I found out that Rik knew John and Mark, but he didn’t know that they knew me. We all had hung out individually but never realized that we all knew each other. We all started hanging out and saw that we fit together quite well.

I’d been pretty much of a square in school. My buddies most definitely were not. But we came to a happy medium… they loosened me up, and I calmed them down. Together we found a balance and had some great times.

A year or two later, we met another guy, Billy, who was in my newspaper class, senior year. He was a mellow guy like me, but was just hilarious… the best guy I ever met at coming up with crazy shit for us to do at the drop of a hat. He seemed to be the final piece of the puzzle.

In the spring of our senior year, everything came together. As spring fever hit, we started acquiring sofas and stuff to outfit the barn and make a place to congregate. We covered the walls with posters, got a stereo out there and started wiring speakers into the ceiling beams. We tore speakers out of transistor radios, TVs, cars… if it had a speaker, we wired it up in the ceiling. It sounded crappy, but it gave us a sense of accomplishment. Once I started working at the local record store, I had access to all kinds of decorative swag, and a ton of it ended up out there. We also scored a couple of beer lights from various sources. We also used Christmas lights as well. The whole place was just the coolest little “clubhouse” one could ever hope to have.

At the time, you could buy beer that was 3.2% alcohol (or “low” beer) at 18. The age for regular beer, wine and liquor was 21. So getting beer was never much of a problem. And as I learned, my folks didn’t mind if my buddies and I had a few beers as long as they knew where we were. They figured if we weren’t drinking there, we’d just be out driving around drinking and causing trouble. (Which is funny because that’s exactly what we had been doing before setting up in the barn.)

Through the course of that summer, our little group kind of sucked in the kids from the neighborhood. We would get a couple of cases on a Saturday night and just sit around in the barn talking and carrying on. Especially fun were the nights when we’d break out the cassette tape recorder and record our bull sessions. That’s where Billy would just go nuts… master of ceremonies, group therapist and improv artist.

My mom used to say we became a tribe out there. I can’t say she’s wrong. We had the elders, the soldiers, the medicine man and the young bucks. That summer is when the barn became The Barn.

We had our first Barn Party in September of 1979, as a goodbye party for Billy, whose family was moving to South Georgia. It was the start of an epic string of Barn Parties that became the stuff of legends.
We had New Years parties, bachelor parties, football watching parties… we’d converted most of our neighbors into Steeler fans through nothing but our sheer enthusiasm. Of course, the alternatives were the Lions and the Browns… who else would you choose?

We ended up with 5 couches out there, so there was always a contingent of people that would just stay the night. In the morning, we’d let the dog in to go wake everyone up. I had home court advantage so I could always crawl up the stairs to my own room. Then I’d wake up to the smell of cinnamon buns and coffee. I’d come downstairs and survey the human wreckage sitting around the kitchen table… dudes with bedhead huddled under blankets, nursing their coffees. Then would come the spirited game of “I Did What??”

Mom’s cinnamon buns cured a lot of ills, I’ll tell you. My parents never minded our having the parties, as long as they were home. They say they just wanted to keep an eye on things, but I think the real truth is that they had as good a time as we did. And we never had a single auto accident after a party due to drunk driving. There was one accident… the girl was stone sober, but she just had a fight with her boyfriend. (Yeah, there was a lot of THAT.) But we never had anyone get hurt or get in serious trouble (other than with their boyfriend or girlfriends).

It’s kind of sad to me that this kind of scene would be pretty much impossible today. My parents would have gotten arrested in no time. Some parent somewhere would have had a hissy fit about their kid drinking and sent the cops. But back then, it just seemed like the smart thing to do. The Barn kept us out of trouble.

It wasn’t always the big parties I remember so fondly. Most of the time, it would just be me, a buddy or two, and a couple of six packs. We’d put on the Christmas lights and some music and just shoot the shit… solving all the world’s problems or complaining about our non-existent love lives. It was just a great place to unwind and be ourselves. And my parents must have figured, any chance to get a teenager out of the house but still be nearby, it’s a go.

OK, I can see that I’m running way long and I’m really just getting warmed up. It looks like I’m going to have to keep revisiting The Barn.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Steelers Recap - Week 11


I was going to leave my recap at that, because there’s really not much more to say about it. The Steelers played around with the Chumps and they made a chump out of us in overtime, 27-24.

* The Steelers didn’t wait around before imploding on special teams because the Chiefs returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Welcome to Kansas City!

* In one of the Steelers many gag-inducing miscues, William Mike Wallace granted freedom to the football after catching what should have been a first down pass.

* Heath Miller (HEATH???) had a ball smack off his hands, up into the air and into the hands of a Chief. Gah! You know it’s a bad omen when that guy drops a pass. It just doesn’t happen.

* The game wasn’t without highlights though… Ben did a great job an a couple plays by shrugging off the rush and completing passes downfield, including TDs to Hines and Heath.

* But then there was also the interception in the end zone. And a total defensive collapse in the 4th quarter and overtime. The offensive line was suddenly getting overrun and Ben was faced with one jailbreak after another. The game was there to win at any number of points and the Steelers just didn’t get it done.

* Luckily the Ratbirds lost too, in excruciating fashion, to the Colts. At least I shouldn’t have to listen to any grief from the locals.

I could go on, but I just don’t have anything amusing to say. We blew an eminently winnable game to a 2-7 team. That’s something championship teams don’t do. We will never beat the Rats next week with an effort like that. And that’s just unacceptable.

Mojo Analysis

No more use for the K-Mart gear at Jilly’s. Will have to go back to the drawing board if I have to go out for any more games.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Mojo Boogie - Week 11

I don't have a lot to talk about the Chiefs this week. This is a game that we should dominate. Of course we were supposed to dominate the Browns and Lions too, but managed to eke out a win. I'd take one of those here too although I'd feel much better going into Ravens week coming off a strong performance. Beating the Ratbirds is always paramount to me. Beating them in their house is just exquisite. But let's not look ahead, K?

The Steelers game will not be on TV here this week because it is opposite the Rats game, so off to Jilly's I go. The last time I went to Jilly's for the game, we beat Detroit on the road, so I'm going with the same ensemble.
I'm working on a longer piece this weekend that I hope to post after the Steelers recap on Sunday or Monday. It's the story behind an integral part of my teen years; the legend of The Barn. Consider yourself teased.

So let me leave you with these cartoons, lovingly pulled from First Door on the Left. You should check out all the cartoons he has assembled on Friday Night Cartoons, as well as everything else he posts.

Both of these touch on points I've been making since I began writing this blog.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Trials and Tribunalations

How many “Trials of the Century” are we up to now? Looks like another one is coming to a NYC courthouse near you.

There sure has been a lot of fuss about having a terrorist trial on our “soil”. We’ve done it before, I’m sure we’ll have to do it again.

This is how we do things in America. We put people on trial. We have rules. We do not wisk people off the streets and throw them in the dungeon. That’s what they do in our enemies’ domain. We’re supposed to be better than that. That’s the kind of thing we fight against.

The downside is that it carries risks of retaliation, secret leakage and God forbid… acquittal! But no one ever said our Constitution was set up to be easy. It was set up to be just.

Naturally, the Republicans are having a conniption fit and universal “harrumph.”
It doesn’t really matter what the issue is… if the Obama administration is “fer”, the Republicans, led by the waterheads at Fox News are “agin.”

How would Fox cover it if the Justice Dept. had chosen military tribunals?
Next, a panel of straight white conservatives ask questions like:
Now over to the O'Reilly Hack-tor: Bow-Tox
At least this brouhaha has gotten “Bow-gate” off the lead story. You know… the “Big Controversy” about how the President bowed to the Japanese Emperor.

This is the kind of controversy you get when people are flat-damn out of ideas. THIS is what they choose to get their shorts in a bunch over? The President followed local custom and did what it was tradition to do? This is an issue tailor-made for people with short attention spans… easily led people that get distracted by shiny objects.

Gee, how well did the “Cowboy/Everybody-Can-Go-Fuck-Themselves/We’re-The-Baddest-Asses-In-The-World/So-You-Can-All-Bite-Me” attitude fare during the previous administration? Everybody loved us, right? They came rushing to help out in Iraq, right? Did they cut us lots of trade deals after the unmitigated greed of the unregulated banking industry had our economy sagging around our collective ankles like Senator Larry Craig’s pants in a Minnesota airport bathroom stall?

So the guy showed a little class and respect and Fox and the Republicans go apeshit.

Didn’t their mother ever tell them they could catch more flies with honey than over-aggressive playground piss-ant machismo?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Animal House

I went to a party last weekend, the one, because of which, I had to DVR the Pens/Bruins game. Some friends of Pinky’s and mine were throwing a birthday party at their house for another friend. Normally, I wouldn’t consider this “blog-worthy”, in and of itself, but the host is quite a musician. In fact, his garage is converted into a nice little rehearsal studio.

Now I have absolutely zero musical ability. I’ve had a guitar for almost 20 years; a very sweet red Ibanez electric guitar, the kind Joe Satriani plays. (It’s actually autographed by Satriani too… I won it from his record company, back in another life.) I’ve tried to learn to play via how-to books and tablature books, but music has always been like a secret code that I just couldn’t crack. That, and a bad left hand that just will not obey, has left me on the outside looking in. I can play a lurching, fat fingered version of "Louie Louie", but that’s about it.

We had a piano for a while when I was growing up, but that was inscrutable to me.

Anyone can play a harmonica, right?

Wrong. Not me… even with more how-to books… no can do.

Instead, I’m just left to just “appreciate”. In fact, I parlayed that into 13 years worth of career, working in and then managing record stores. But Saturday night, I got to play with the grownups… The little studio-garage had a drum set.

OK, it wasn’t quite that big, but it was bigger than the usual 5-piece beginner set.

When I went out to the garage, the host was playing his keyboards (which seemed to be able to make any musical sound under the sun) and everyone was singing. So I slid behind the drums and just kind of joined in. First of all, I had to take care NOT to play like my drumming idol:
It would not have been appropriate for the James Taylor/Eagles songs they were playing. So I was subtle and under-played, with a couple of small runs and light cymbal crashes. They actually did me a favor by keeping the songs simple… That way, I got to appear competent.

You should have seen the look on their faces when I actually was able to sit down and do a decent job. They had no idea I could do that. (OK, I didn’t either.) I guess all those years of Air-Drumming finally paid off!

I was fine, as long as I didn’t have to do anything with my feet. I am utterly incapable of keeping a different beat with one or both feet. In fact, I consider it a “win” if I don’t crack myself on the knuckles with the sticks.

What was especially surprising to me was that I was able to keep up on our host’s original songs, which I obviously didn’t know. Of course I didn’t do anything fancy, just kept the beat and added the occasional flourish when one seemed appropriate.

When I was a teenager, I had a buddy that set up his full drum kit out in our barn, so we could fool around on it. It was a pretty big set that just surrounded you.

We used to play along to songs on the stereo. (This wasn’t any ordinary barn, but that’s a future blog post in itself.) I wasn’t any good, but it at least taught me where things were and what my limitations are. And to wear gloves with knuckle pads. So I guess a lot of that came back, mixing in with a lifetime of paying attention to the construction of songs. It also helps that you don’t have to read music or recognize notes or chords or anything. You just have to beat on stuff. I can do that!

Anyway, it was fun. We probably didn’t do more that 4-5 songs, but I felt like I could have played all night. I probably should have… it worked out much better than my pool-shooting the rest of the evening.

“We’re getting the bahnd back together!”

Monday, November 16, 2009

Steelers Recap - Week 10

I will not make any more bold predictions before a game.
I will not make any more bold predictions before a game.
I will not make any more bold predictions before a game.
Repeat 97 more times.

There’s no hiding this one… the Steelers got their butts kicked. It was only 18-12, but the Steelers seemed completely unable or uninterested in scoring touchdowns. It’s too bad that the defense did not allow the Bengals to score any either, but yet another kickoff return for a touchdown was the difference maker.

* It’s nice to see the logo at midfield again, now that Pitt is done playing at Heinz Field. Now I want to see those end zones done up in yellow. And while we’re talking aesthetics, I just love the blimp shots over Pittsburgh. Is there any NFL city that looks better from overhead than Pittsburgh? I also always notice how little traffic there is on the surrounding highways. Not quite “Green Bay”-deserted, but close.
* We were able to keep them from running for most of the game, and we seemed to have some running room, but for some reason we chose not to run. Mendenhall was doing OK… not spectacular. Moore had a couple of solid runs. Willie Parker ran hard for 7 on the one carry he was allowed.

* Ben was off… way off. I kept waiting for that “OK, I got this” vibe to kick in, but all game long he was throwing too high and hard, or behind the receivers on the short routes and under-throwing the long routes. He looked like Kyle freakin’ Boller, for Pete’s sake. It’s a sad state when the biggest play of the day is a 50-yard pass interference penalty.

* Perhaps one of the reasons he was off was that the defensive pressure was relentless. Dudes were hanging off him all game long, including hanging on long enough to generate 4 sacks. What happened to the O-Line?

* One of the reasons there was so much pressure is that the receivers did not seem to be getting open. There were a number of times when Ben dropped back and seemed to have plenty of time to plant and throw, but there was no clear target. And then the pocket would collapse and that would be that.

* One prediction that did come true is that Chad EightFive was a non-factor… 2 catches for what, 30 yards? The defense did well in general, especially considering that Polamalu left the game in the 1st quarter and did not return. The Steelers defense bent (considerably) but did not break. If only they had some defensive backs that could catch the ball (besides Troy and Tyrone Carter) they could have saved a couple of those FGs. Ryan Clark dropped a ball that hit him right in the gut. Willie Gay had both of his hands on 2 other passes and didn’t catch either.

* Renegade worked again… the next series went 3 and out, ending with a Lamar Woodley sack and a 50-yard punt.

* So we’re behind the 8-ball here… we have to finish ahead of the Bengals in order to win the division. Fortunately, they’re still the Bengals. There is plenty of time for them to collapse. I read that they just signed Larry Johnson today. I can feel the locker-room cancer spreading already.

Mojo Analysis
The Harrison throwback worked for a home game against Minnesota, but not this week. Perhaps it was wearing my Heath throwback to work on Friday. Hmmm. Another possibility is that I wasn’t drinking during the game. (And boy, do I regret that…) Normally I have a few beers during the game, but coming off the party I was at the night before, I was trying to dry out a bit. Turns out, a few brewskis might have dulled the pain. Instead I turned to the Pens/Bruins game I DVR’d Saturday night. (Billy Guerin ties up the game with .4 seconds left in regulation; Pascal Dupuis wins it in OT. Whooooo!) That helped keep me away from the kitchen knives.

Next week’s game won’t be on here, as it conflicts with the Ratbirds game, so off to Jilly’s I’ll go. Will make the call on what to wear there as the date draws near.

Now, would it be too much to ask for the Brownies to throw the Rats a little surprise party?

(Note, the ghost town picture isn’t actually Green Bay during a game, but it’s close. The shot was of Whitehouse Ohio, which is a little town near where I grew up. It was high noon as I came into “the downtown” area last year to visit my buddies.)