Sunday, August 30, 2015

32 Teams, 32 Haiku, My 2015 NFL Preview

If the ringing of school bells and an unusual late August cold snap haven't made it obvious, summer is more or less over. That also means football season is right around the corner. Here is my annual forecast, 17 syllables at a time:

1. Bengals (10-6). Dalton, Green, and crew/have the experience to/leave playoffs early.
2. Ravens (9-7). Defensive upgrades/were a plus; tough road matchups/are the X-factor.
3. Steelers (8-8). Young and dangerous/Big Ben is on the clock now/solid dark horse pick.
4. Browns (5-11). Weakest among weak/the Manziel drama distracts/great O-line squandered.

1. Patriots (11-5). Deflated footballs/a temporary setback/playoffs are a lock.
2. Dolphins* (10-6). A sleeper, perhaps/a scary passing attack/might usurp the Pats.
3. Bills (7-9). Knowing Rex Ryan/the defense will do its job/but who's the QB?
4. Jets (4-12). New coach, more drama/after big moves, disarray/is Gang Green diseased?

1. Colts (13-3). Luck? More like fortune/in weak division, triumph/and maybe a ring.
2. Texans (8-8). Foster and Hopkins/carry the O; JJ Watt/carries Lone Star dreams.
3. Titans (5-11). Mariota? STUD/but there's little else to gloat/about in Nashville.
4. Jaguars (3-13). Offseason chaos/for an already bad team/makes great comedy.

1. Broncos (12-4). Weary old Peyton/is surrounded by enough/to contend once more.
2. Chiefs* (10-6). The talent's there, but/the receivers need touchdowns/playmakers, step up!
3. Chargers (8-8). A potent offense/has many Rivers to cross/if playoffs are goal.
4. Raiders (4-12). Last year in Oakland?/Question marks abound, although/the youth shows promise.

1. Packers (11-5). Losing Jordy hurts/but Rodgers will persevere/in the land of cheese.
2. Vikings (9-7). Teddy and All Day/on paper, a lethal pair/but unknowns linger.
3. Lions (8-8). A boy named Suh, gone/in comes Haloti Ngata/a small step backwards.
4. Bears (6-10). Adieu, weak Trestman/sly Fox picks up the pieces/but Jay doesn't care.

1. Eagles (11-5). Uh... hi, Tim Tebow/you and Bradford might tag-team/Kelly, mad genius?
2. Cowboys* (10-6). Besides running back/there's less uncertainty here/Randle might break out.
3. Giants (7-9). Odell's theatrics/will be a fun distraction/on a middling team.
4. Redskins (5-11). Gruden and Griffin/squabble; if you thought Congress/couldn't get work done...

1. Panthers (9-7). Victors by default/a stingy defense beclouds/a suspect run game.
2. Falcons (8-8). Matty Ice is fine/but the D needs work A-SAP/will guru Quinn help?
3. Saints (6-10). Age and attrition/an overhaul looms, but don't/undervalue Brees.
4. Buccaneers (4-12). Winston is smokin'/...or so he thinks; growing pains/for jejune pirates.

1. Seahawks (12-4). The 12th man matters/mostly unchanged, they'll conquer/Big Russ won't back down.
2. Cardinals* (10-6). Overachievers?/I disagree; these Redbirds/have many weapons.
3. 49ers (7-9). A mass exodus/an empire in tatters/but they might compete.
4. Rams (5-11). A healthy QB/is a godsend, but playoffs/would be a surprise.

NFL MVP: JJ Watt, Texans
Offensive ROY: Amari Cooper, Raiders
Defensive ROY: Landon Collins, Giants
First Head Coach Fired: Gus Bradley, Jaguars
Super Bowl L: Seahawks 24, Colts 19


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Random Notes, August 2015

What's on my mind:

+ If your political beliefs lean to the left (or even from somewhere in the center) last week's Republican presidential debate was low-hanging fruit. It was a special kind of train wreck, the kind that was both scary and unintentionally hilarious at the same time. At the center ring of the circus was Donald Trump, whose toxic presence dominated the proceedings. Between Mike Huckabee over-simplifying the purpose of our armed forces and Jeb Bush's awful "Veto Corleone" pun, the alleged debate was more attention grab than exchange on pressing issues. Ohio Governor John Kasich might have been the secret winner for hardly saying anything at all (random gay friend aside). Maybe these children can explain what was going on.

+ Jimmy Kimmel is "mean," Jay? Have you ever wondered if you're the shitheel?

+ Now that I'm between jobs again, I'm attempting to write a novella. I tried the snowflake method (Google it) but now I'm just writing particular passages and sequences, then piecing it together. Any advice is welcome.

+ Family Update: if it's not one thing, it's the other. My father spent two nights in the hospital in late July with what could best be described as stroke-like symptoms, but not a full-fledged stroke. Earlier this week, my mother had a severe case of nausea, the possible result of food poisoning, which ended up being a urinary tract infection.

Next Week: my 2015 NFL preview.


Thursday, August 6, 2015

The World Through a Monocle

In late July, I discovered by accident that I had complete access to the archives of The New Yorker. I was aware that the magazine, which I'd read since I was a precocious grade-schooler, had past articles on display on their web site. I assumed incorrectly that you needed to pay a fee (my mail subscription sufficed) and that the articles were available were available only by searching by topic. So rarely am I ever so glad to be dead wrong.

The New Yorker was another one of those quick reads that molded my malleable mindset as I grew up in the Chicago suburbs. I have always been a voracious reader, and even in second grade was I aware of this magazine's status as a brass ring of intellectual savvy. Of course, upon first reading The New Yorker about 90% of my interest was in the cartoons; they were never knee-slapping funny, but witty and urbane enough to draw the attention of a bookish tween. Eventually my attention veered to Shouts & Murmurs, the short humor piece that ended each issue in the '90s and early 2000s. Then I was reading the film and theater reviews, then "Talk of the Town," then pretty much reading the whole damn thing cover to cover, rather than skimming half of the articles.

When I wrote about Playboy and MAD magazine a couple of years ago, I commented on how that particular magazine had progressed over the years. What was astonishing about reading vintage issues of The New Yorker was how little it changed. The layout of the magazine, beginning with "Goings On About Town" and a tiny table of contents on page 2 or 4, was set in late 1925... and didn't change until 1988 or so, when the contents got its own page. It was black and white and rather staid, yet straight to the point. Of course, substance came before anything else; the quality of writing, from the short fiction to profiles to literary criticism, hardly wavered. How it was presented was irrelevant.

Additionally, the sophisticated aesthetic of the magazine, especially in the early years of the magazine both gave the magazine character and proved at times a hindrance. Reading the "Talk of the Town" in any issue from the 1920s well into the 1950s has the feel of an inside joke, isolated in time even though the only people that found it funny are long dead. In short, it was the anti-MAD magazine nearly 30 years before Bill Gaines and Harvey Kurtzman joined forces. As the famed "Hiroshima" issue from 1946 proved, the editors weren't afraid to be deadly serious, either.

Alas, nothing can stop the slow train of progress, and that's where Tina Brown enters. Her arrival as editor-in-chief in 1992 shook up the stodgy, aristocratic air of the magazine's Times Square offices: "Talk of The Town" was less anecdotal and more op-ed, the page-to-page layout was tweaked, color images graced the editorial content, legendary photographer Richard Avedon was brought aboard to contribute those aforementioned images. Acknowledging the graphic novel as an art form, Brown also tapped "Maus" creator Art Speigelman to draw original essays for the magazine. Even the contents page, a weird little afterthought for so long, became more detailed. The WASP bluebloods were dying or fading into irrelevance, Brown assumed correctly; the left-leaning intellectual was the anchor was now the magazine's present and future. The old lady in Dubuque will still be on the outside looking in.

Compared to the other periodicals that I read regularly, The New Yorker can be the most time-consuming, the most challenging, and sometimes the most rewarding. I had outgrown young adult literature before anyone else I knew, and even if the leap was a little too big, I don't regret it. Access to 90 years of world class writing is more than just bridging the gap; it's providing further nourishment.