Sunday, March 25, 2012

Layoffs in Heaven? A whimsy...

I died the other day.

After a rapid transit on the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel express, I found myself at the gates of Heaven, which were indeed pearly.

(Actually, I kind of wondered why Heaven needed a gate, since there were no fences that I could see. I figured the structure was mostly ceremonial, like the Arc de Triomphe or something.)

But anyway, here I was. I expected to see a heavily-bearded St. Peter scrolling through a member's only register, or at the very least, checking off names in a logbook.

Saint Peter with the keys to Heaven
Only there was no St. Peter. Or Gabriel, for that matter. Or even Peter Gabriel.

Instead, there was a notice hanging on the gate:

"Due to economic cutbacks following the recent acquisition of a competing divinity, the property formerly known as Heaven had laid off its senior level staff of seraphs and cherubs. We hope this is not an inconvenience as we continue to strive for perfection."

It was signed, "HeavenWorld, Inc."

Uh-oh. What a time to die, I thought. Mergers and layoffs are everywhere, and usually it's not for the better. I mean, c'mon. HeavenWorld?

I took a step toward the gate, but another placard materialized, out of thin cloud, right in front of me.

"Instructions for self-admittance to HeavenWorld, a gated community."


But there was only one question:

"Have you followed the Golden Rule?"

Then, in small lawyer print, there was this:

"You can not lie. We will know."

I wasn't sure if I had, indeed, lived my threescore and ten by the Golden Rule, since there is so much grey area involved: white lies, red herrings, green envies, blue language — a rainbow of underachievement. All I knew was that I had tried my best. I hadn't killed anyone, I always honored my parents, and about the only thing I ever coveted was my neighbor's XKE Jaguar.

My life must have been good enough, though, as the gates swung open. I moved forward again.

But once more, a materialization occurred. This time it was a figure. I thought I recognized him by the farm implement in his hand, and he surprised me.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"Got laid off," he replied. "But it's all right. I'll manage. Job wasn't too hot anyway."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Lehigh and Lelow of it...

On Friday morning I came this close to telling my immutable Duke basketball friend that this day might be one of the few times that I'd ever pull against Duke.

That's because Duke, a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, was to play Lehigh University, a No. 15 seed. I mean, c'mon. Duke, with its four NCAA titles under coach Mike Krzyzewski, was a lock. Granted, this was not one of the Devils better teams, and I didn't expect them to go far in this year's tourney, but Lehigh didn't appear to be a serious issue for them.

So I never said a word to my friend. I didn't want to look ridiculous. You know, more than usual, anyway.

I grew up in Bethlehem, Pa., the home of Lehigh. As a teenager, I pedaled my beloved 10-speed bicycle all over the campus that is dotted with imperial, grey cut stone buildings that are simply oozing, if not downright bleeding, scholarship. A mini-Duke.

The campus is built on the windward side of South Mountain, which may help to explain how they came to be called Mountain Hawks in the late 1990s. They used to be nicknamed Engineers. I always thought it's because Lehigh had a renowned engineering school, and many of its graduates ended up at the foot of South Mountain working for the gigantic and historic Bethlehem Steel plant that dominated the town. It turns out, however, that they were Engineers because of the Lehigh Valley Railroad trains that chugged through the steelyards. The railroad also called Bethlehem its home.

But by the late 1990s, the steel industry had moved offshore, pretty much making south Bethlehem something off a ghost town. Billy Joel's "Allentown" should have been called "Bethlehem," but I guess Bethlehem implies too much Middle East drama.

At any rate, in the past 30 years Lehigh has made strides in its basketball program, getting into the NCAA tourney for the first time in 1985, where it lost to Georgetown in the first round. In fact, Lehigh fell out of the first round against Temple in 1988; against Florida A&M in 2004; and against Kansas in 2010. You can see a pattern here.

Then came Friday night. I didn't watch much of the first half, although I monitored the score to prepare for the expected blowout.

But the Mountain Hawks hung tough. In fact, they pretty much outplayed Duke from the opening tip, and by the second half, I was watching with intent — and then outright cheering for Lehigh as the game trickled down to its final unbelievable moments. I guess I just have too much history with Lehigh to do otherwise.


When the game was over and Lehigh had come away with its stunning 75-70 victory, I immediately called a friend from high school, who still lives in the Lehigh Valley, to celebrate. Then I went online to read the Allentown Morning Call, which noted the victory was not only the biggest in Lehigh University's history, but maybe the biggest sports story to come out of the Lehigh Valley. Ever.

But now it makes me wonder how Coach K — the coach with those 900-plus career victories and four national titles — is ever going to find another job with this albatross on his résumé.

What have you done for me lately, coach?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Well, this is new...

Early last week, around Monday, I prepared myself for my annual March treat, watching the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament on television.

By Monday evening, it hit me:

Son, you're working now. So forget that.

Uh-oh. That was a revelation I didn't need.

It's true. Back in November, I took on a part-time job working in the mailroom of a local bank. From 1:30 to 5:30 each day, I run mail through a postage meter, stuff envelopes with notices, and then empty, sort and redirect mail into zippered and locked canvas bags coming from and going to the various branches.

So when it occurred to me that this job would come between me and my basketball, it was more than a revelation — it was a serious body blow.

Then came a sub-revelation: This would be the first time in 35 years that I would not be able to see the ACC Tournament, either in person as a sports writer covering the event, or on television as a couch potato lounging in retirement. I mean, c'mon, 35 years? That's more than half my life.

It took my breath away.

But clearly, I overreacted.

On Thursday and Friday, I was able to watch the first half of the each day's noontime games at home on TV. Then I'd go to work.

Because the mailroom is adjacent to the bank's break room, I still had access to a non-HD television with a slightly fuzzy monitor sitting forlornly near the vending machines. This was helpful. Although I was fairly busy flipping mail behind my back into the sorting cubbies, I'd slip away now and then to catch a few minutes of the tournament. While I could not watch a complete game in the afternoons, I was able to keep track of what was going on.

I guess after 35 years of living in a sports fantasy world, I'd finally stepped into the real-life working world. This was reminiscent of those October days years ago when we smuggled transistor radios to school so we could listen to the World Series between algebra and English lit classes (sometimes even during classes, what with ear jacks).

Anyway, I managed to get through Thursday and Friday without missing too much of the Tournament.

But now I've had another revelation: with spring and warm weather approaching, and now that I work afternoons, when do I get to play golf?


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Hidden talent in the open

You just never know the talent your neighbors have.

Last week my wife and I went to see a musical production of Oz!, sponsored by the Charity League of Lexington and held at the historic Edward C. Smith Center.

This is a 90-minute fac similie version of Frank Baum's classic story of The Wizard of Oz

I love these local productions. I usually know about half the performers in them and it's fun to see them get up on stage and reveal sides of their personalities I never knew existed. One of them, Laurie Briggs, is a neighbor. I'd often been told that she's an excellent singer, but I never heard her perform — until now.

I was blown away.

Well, OK. Maybe singing "The Castle of No Return" as the Wicked Witch isn't exactly the best vehicle to be introduced to her vocal abilities, and yet, one silly song was more than enough to convince me of the range and depth of her talent. Some day I'll have to listen to her solo in church, where I heard she absolutely soars.

Jean Beamer, as Dorothy, was exceptional. I don't believe that I've ever met Jean, but I was in awe of her voice. She was suddenly thrown into the role of Dorothy when the lead actress, Kelly Greathouse, needed an emergency appendectomy. After a 24-hour reprieve to learn her lines, Jean — who was originally supposed to play one of the Guardian of the Gates — stepped up and, ho hum, casually hit a grand slam. Amazing.

On Saturday, we attended a funeral and saw that the soloist was Mickey Sharpe. I believe I heard him sing once before, and thinking then that he was excellent, but I didn't know who he was. This time, I knew of him, and waited eagerly for his songs. I was truly moved by his full, rich baritone as he sang "In the Garden" and "The Lord's Prayer."

I wish I had some YouTube video to show you.

I am in awe of talent, particularly musical talent. This is because I couldn't carry a tune if it was strapped in a knapsack on my back. I love music and can't do anything about it well except listen to it. When I sing my cats run and hide. I can't even play an instrument. My folks tried to force piano lessons on me back in my elementary school days, but it didn't take. I wanted to flip baseball cards instead. Somehow, I ended up as a sportswriter who sings way off key. I have total command of one note. Think Alfalfa on Little Rascals.

I'm so bad that when we sing "Happy Birthday" to our friends, I mouth the words. It's the only considerate thing to do, especially on somebody's birthday.

I've always been baffled by the fickle difference that makes some people megastars bringing down a bazillion dollars a year in recording deals while others end up singing "A Little Bit O' Courage" in local community theater productions. Why is Taylor Swift on tour while Laurie Briggs is taking care of four young children?

But you know, the more I think about it, the more I say Thank God for the difference after all. Without the Laurie Briggs's of the world, I'd be the one on stage singing "I Ain't Got a Brain in My Head."