Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beating the bug

I've been out of commission the past few days — stomach virus.

Uh-oh. This is not fun. I'd rather have a sneezy, sore throaty head cold.

But in any case, a man with an illness cannot be a good thing for his spouse, right? Suddenly, an independent, thoughtful, self-confident male turns into a wimpering, whiney wuss, and usually, it's the partner who ends up paying for it — sometimes with her own stomach virus. Thank you.

At least, that's how it works in the stereotypical script.

I tried not to let that be us. While Kim offered to get some essentials at the store like ginger ale, saltines and Pepto Bismol, I tried not to make any demands of her. I don't remember asking her to go out of her way for anything. Meanwhile, if she was off running errands, I tried to continue my own chores at the house where I wouldn't contaminate anything — chores like vacuuming or dusting or changing the cat litter.

I assumed this would be a 24-hour virus, but apparently, my body was the perfect host for this particular bug, and it stayed with me a day or two longer than usual.

So I missed work on Friday, my third day off and 70 or so hours into this thing. I work part-time in a corporate mail room, which is kinda fun. But I didn't want to take any chances with sudden urges to run with the runs to the men's room. Depending where I am at the time, the distance from the mail room to the male room is a good 25-30 yards, complete with tight corners, narrow doorways and other people acting as unwitting obstacles. When you have a case of dire rear, the only thing that's a given is that you're asking for trouble.

So I laid out of work. I didn't even cover a basketball game Friday night. Even though I was feeling a little better by then, I just couldn't see myself sitting in the bleachers with 500 of my closest friends for two to three hours, then writing about it.

But all of that is behind me now. Really.

I'm feeling better. I drank plenty of fluids (lots of water) and enjoyed bowl after bowl of chicken noodle soup. My spirits are up. There's pep in my step.

Solid, bro.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Utilizing utility

We received our latest utility bill a few days ago.

Usually, getting a three-figure utility bill in the dead of winter a month after Christmas tends to throw the checkbook — and the psyche — into sticker shock. (Originally I had a typo there that read "ticker" shock, but upon further review, I think the meaning is one and the same).

But this time it was a little different.

We have our bill averaged out so we know exactly what we're going to pay each month in utilities. It helps us maintain our budget without any surprises.

So when we get the bill, the first thing we look at is the "Due if True Up" line, which indicates how much we owe above the average, with the excess balance truly due up in June.

Except this month, our Due Up expense was in the minus three figures. Yay! It was sticker shock of a different stripe.

I'm not sure how long this will last, what with February and March still ahead of us. But we've taken our own measures to monitor our utility usage as best we can.

The main thing you have to know is that we live in a drafty wood-frame house that will be 100 years old in 2020. So on a cold, blustery day, the wind not only seeps through the window panes and door frames, but I think it actually somehow figures its way through the clapboard, lath and plaster and into our creaky senior bones.

I really don't want to put new energy efficient windows in the house since I enjoy the ancient wavy glass that's in there now. I'm pathetically traditional that way. I try to hang on, sometimes desperately, to anything that recalls my childhood. Wavy glass in old houses is part of that.

Late last winter, we bought a couple of electric space heaters — too late to make any serious impact on our bill then. But it was a beginning.

This year, we got a head start. Basically, we live in three rooms in our two-story house — the kitchen, den and bedroom. So in November, we closed off all the other rooms as best as we could. We then turned the thermostat down to 66. That seems to be the borderline setting between Kim saying, "I'm cold" and "I'm freezing."

If you ever visit us, bring your ear muffs, scarves and mittens.

Anyway, we have a small den. This is the room with the television, and we can close off the room with French doors. The space heater quickly makes the den toasty, and if that isn't enough, we can throw a comforter over ourselves as we snuggle together, layered in L.L. Bean flannel. Or, as a final measure, put another cat on top of us. Hey, whatever works.

The same thing happens in the bedroom. I might actually lower the thermostat to 65 for when we're sleeping, which helps promote the snuggle factor. Plus, we have a slightly larger space heater that oscillates in that room. As another plus, we have a furry 13-pound cat that sleeps on the foot of the bed with us.

No doubt the unusually mild winter to this point has helped significantly in lowering the utility bill. I like the weekly long-range forecasts that show 60-degree days passing by in succession.

But I have a sense that the measures we've taken to this point have been useful.

Just get me through February and March.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

No wonder I'm tired — Part II

Last week we reasonably established that during my 30-plus-year career as a sports writer for The Dispatch that I attended perhaps as many as 6,500 games of all types.

No wonder when I go to sleep I have visions of basketballs, bad-hop grounders, errant golf shots and wildly thrown footballs coming at me, on a line, targeted on an infrared dot located precisely between my eyes.

That's a lot of games. And somebody had to play them.

Soooo, how many athletes did I cover in that span?

Sigh. Here we go again.

Using approximations, I figure that I covered something like 24,000 athletes in that span. I know, it sounds ridiculous. But the mathematics goes something like this:

I did my calculations based on the average number of players on a team. A high school football team, for example, has about 40 players; baseball might have 20 players; basketball might have 12 (figure for a boys' team and a girls' team); softball might have 15 players (unless you're at North Davidson, where they have about 50 on the team), while the minor sports like golf, swimming, soccer, volleyball and track might have, on average and give or take, about 25 members on a team (that's high for golf, but low for track).

I think that breaks down to about 200 athletes per school. It's probably a higher number at a 4-A school like North Davidson and no doubt lower at a 1-A school like South Davidson, but we are speaking about average numbers here, and 200 seems fair.

Given that there are eight public schools in Davidson County, that's 1,600 athletes per year. And over 30 years, that's 48,000 pairs of sneakers, boys and girls. Yikes. But I guess that's how many athletes I was exposed to over the years.

OK, OK, that really seems like a high number. And clearly, I didn't spend nearly as much time at South Davidson as I did at, say, Lexington. So, let's cut the number in half, since I did most of my work at the four Lexington-area schools of North Davidson, Lexington, West Davidson and Central Davidson. Now we're down to the 24,000 figure, which feels about right.

But I suppose we could pare into that, too. Any number of those 200 athletes per school play multiple sports — some are three-sport standouts. Why count one person three times? I guess we could safely trim that number down to 150 athletes per school, which gets you to about 18,000 athletes over 30 years.

And of course, not all of them were athletes of the week. Not all of them were the focus of a feature story, or a post-game interview. Some probably never even knew I was covering the game they were playing in.

But the way I see it, if I put your name in the paper for any reason — bobbling a ground ball, missing a critical free throw, tripping over the 30-yard line — I covered you. That's part of the ground rules here.

Then again, I have left out of my calculations the private schools like Westchester Academy, Sheets Memorial and Union Grove. And we can throw in the five years I've worked part-time for The Dispatch covering games as a stringer since I've retired. So the 24,000 figure seriously comes back into play. I don't think this number is far off the mark.

As my career was winding down, I understood that I was covering the children of the athletes I covered back in the late 1970s. I suppose it's possible that before my writing days are through, I could end up writing about the grandchildren of those first crop of athletes I covered when I first started working for The Dispatch in 1976. Have mercy.

No wonder I'm tired.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

No wonder I'm tired — Part I

While covering a North Davidson basketball game for The Dispatch Friday night, I was in a conversation with a friend — who was the official clock operator for the Black Knights — about how many games we've seen over the years.

Because I spent my career as a sports writer, I told him I'd probably have to kill myself if I discovered how many games I've actually been to. Ha ha.

But the question intrigued me. So when I got home I whipped out my computer and started to do some figuring.

(Ground rules: Before we get into it, keep in mind that I wrote professionally for The Dispatch for 30 years. Add another five years as a contract writer — or stringer — for the paper since my retirement in 2006. I'm basing my conclusions just on the high school games I covered, although I worked decades covering ACC football and basketball, not to mention years going to the Greater Greensboro Open and attending any number of NASCAR events at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. We'll get into that later. Obviously, any numbers I come up with have to be reasonable approximations).

So here goes:

The bulk of my writing was covering the big three sports —football, basketball and baseball. So the breakdown goes something like this:

Football — I figured, including playoff games, I averaged 13 football games per year. That's 455 games I've seen in 35 years.

Basketball — Including playoffs, the basketball season is about 14 weeks long, with an average of two games per week. So that's 28 games per season, and at 35 years, that comes out to 980 games. Double that if you want to include girls' games, since they play in doubleheaders with the boys. So that's 1,960 games. Let's round that off to 2,000 games for simplicity's sake.

Baseball — Including playoffs, the baseball season is about 14 weeks long, so it computes like basketball. That's 980 prep games (let's round that off to 1,000). But I also covered American Legion baseball in the summer for 30 years (I haven't covered Legion much in my retirement, so it's unfair to go with the 35 years total). Legion plays an intense schedule, almost a game every night for a month, so figure 30 games a year (including playoffs) for 30 years equals 900 games. Add that to the prep baseball games I've seen and it comes out to 1,900 games. We can probably safely round that off to 2,000 games.

Softball — Local interest in softball picked up dramatically the past 20 years, soooo, including playoffs, figure I averaged 15 softball games per year for 20 years, or 300 games. This does not include the various Lexington city league playoff games I covered early in my career.

Minor sports — These are things like wrestling, volleyball, swimming, track, soccer and golf, all of which I covered, but on a sporadic basis — usually during playoffs or championships. I'm going to say I attended 300 of those events in my career, although I suspect that's a very conservative number. But it's a number I'm comfortable with.

Calculator, please. All righty then: that's 455 football games, plus 2,000 basketball games, plus 2,000 prep and Legion baseball games, plus 300 softball games, plus 300 sundry events, comes out to 5,055 games.

Then throw in the ACC basketball and football games, the GGOs, the NASCAR events I've seen, and maybe you can probably add another 1,500 games (I went to at least 15 ACC Tournaments and at least a dozen NCAA regionals), so I'm figuring that comes to about 6,500 games I've seen professionally over 35 years, or about 185 games per year. Or, 216 games per year over a 30-year period.

This actually feels about right. "I think it's right," said my wife when I showed her the numbers. "I didn't even see you the first 20 years of our marriage."

Yikes. Kill myself? It's a wonder she didn't kill me first.

Up next: How many athletes did I cover?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Let's try something different

I don't see my wife and myself following the same New Year's Day tradition today.

No black-eyed peas. No collard greens. No pork or sauerkraut or any of the other edible good-luck tokens that I attempted in previous years. I think whatever good luck I might have owned in the past has run out and it's time for a different approach.

I mean, look at last year. We drank champagne at midnight, we ate the traditional meal the next day, and what did it get us? In March, I discovered my heart is in unconverted atrial fibrilation and spent my first night ever in the hospital. In September, my wife's job was eliminated after 31 years. In November, my wife's father died.

There were smaller disasters to accompany this: I had two separate $1,000 car repair bills last year, and a backed up commode indicates we might soon need a new pipe connection to the city sewer line. I never could lose the weight I promised myself that I would. The Phillies never even got to the World Series, much less win it.

In other words, 2011 was horrible for us as new year's go. Or any year, for that matter. So, yes, I suppose we've become a little bit jaded and cynical.

I'm not usually one for superstitions, but when a traditional day like New Year's comes around, I'll usually join in if for no other reason than why buck the system? I mean, what if they're right after all, you know?

But nobody's been right lately so I figure it's time for a change.

I'm thinking why make resolutions that are impossible to keep, based on the uncomfort food you eat on one day of the year? If it's not working anyway, you might as well eat what you like.

So, today I'm eating chocolate and it might start with breakfast. It may not bring good luck, but it certainly makes me feel good. So does alcohol. There might be a beer or two in my immediate future. I like steak, so why do I need to eat pork? But if I must eat pork, I'm betting it'll look a whole lot like a hot dog. Or a barbecue sandwich. Plus, there will be no sauerkraut unless it's in a reuben. But there might be some pizza.

There might be more chocolate for dessert.

So this is me, going out on a limb and bucking the system. A rabble rouser. Daredevil. Watch out.

Oh, yeah. Happy New Year. I hope you're lucky.