Don’t sleep on these titles, though. They might someday appear in your Disney+ queue, because everyone in the Star Wars universe, no matter how obscure, has a story to tell.
Smokey and The Bandit
Old Premise: Two wealthy businessmen approach truck-driving legend The Bandit with an enticing challenge — haul a truckload of Coors beer from Texarkana to Atlanta within 24 hours.
New Premise: Two wealthy businessmen approach truck-driving legend The Bandit with an enticing challenge — haul a truckload of personal protective equipment from Texarkana to Atlanta within 24 hours. The Bandit and Snowman arrive in Texas to learn that there is no PPE left to haul, so they hole up in a Texarkana motel room and go on a week-long bender drinking Coors beer. Then, they take on new challenge — haul a group of refugee children to their extended families in California within 24 hours while eluding a comically obsessed ICE agent and his dimwitted son. Bandit becomes a national hero in the process, but is soon shamed on social media for having an outdated Georgia state flag on the front plate of his 1977 Trans Am.
The Breakfast Club
Old Premise: Five teenagers from different high school cliques spend a Saturday in detention with their authoritarian vice principal, Mr. Vernon.
New Premise: Due to the pandemic, all in-person learning is suspended for Chicago area school districts. Mr. Vernon checks in occasionally with the five students via Zoom, and gently encourages them to write 100-word essays about themselves, “when you feel emotionally empowered to do so.” School outcast John begins an online relationship with the prom queen Claire, only to learn that she doesn’t exist and he’s been the target of a catfishing scam.
All the President’s Men
Old Premise: Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein work tirelessly together to unravel the tangled web of the Watergate burglary cover-up, which could reach to the highest levels of the Nixon Administration.
New Premise: The President tells Bob Woodward in a series of recorded, on-the-record interviews that he intentionally misled the American public about the severity of the coronavirus pandemic. Woodward publishes a book about these interviews, and the president’s deception is a big news story for about a week. Carl Bernstein occasionally tweets about how the president is a bad man.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Old Premise: High school galavant Ferris Bueller plays hooky from school, taking his friends on an entertaining romp through Chicago on a beautiful spring day.
New Premise: Due to the pandemic, all in-person learning is suspending for Chicago area school districts. Instead of signing into his school-issued iPad to review his lesson plan, Ferris Bueller stays in bed and catches up on the last season of Ozark.
When Harry Met Sally…
Old Premise: Ten years after they first meet, Harry and Sally form an inseparable bond that challenges the concept that men and women cannot truly remain friends in New York’s hectic singles scene.
New Premise: Harry and Sally decide to take their relationship to the next level when the shutdown begins, Harry gets COVID, and they each quarantine themselves in their surprisingly spacious Manhattan apartments. For the next year, Harry and Sally periodically text each other messages like “U doing ok?” and “Doesn’t this suck?!” during their 12-hour, work-from-home days.
Old Premise: Journeyman coach Norman Dale takes over the basketball team at tiny Hickory High School, and leads it on an improbable run to the Indiana state championship game.
New Premise: When Indiana cancels the rest of its high school basketball season due to the pandemic, Coach Norman Dale embarks on a downward spiral of self-pity and depression. Eager to earn some much-needed cash, Dale and assistant coach Shooter begin transporting cocaine along Midwestern routes for a powerful Mexican drug cartel. When basketball season starts back up in the fall, Dale has a tough decision to make: return to coaching, remain a mule for the cartel, or possibly do both?
Sometime between 7 and 8 a.m. – Wake-up time. Roll out of bed and instantly turn on iPad.
8 a.m. – Breakfast: choice of Strawberry Pop-Tart, re-heated chocolate chip pancake, or Dad’s Grape-Nuts cereal.
8:10-9 a.m. – Back to iPad. Check in with friend on Facebook Messenger about cool new iPad game in which you create your own iPad games.
9-9:40 a.m. – 40 minutes of reading time.
9:20 a.m. – Negotiate with parent to do 20 minutes of reading time now, then 20 minutes after dinner, knowing that parent will be too distracted by Entertainment Tonight after dinner to enforce the agreement.
9:30 a.m. – Log on to school iPad to touch base with teacher and begin the day’s agenda of summer school assignments.
10 a.m. – Summer school assignments are completed. Run upstairs to complain about how there’s nothing to do and summer is boring.
10:15 a.m. – Draw a picture of a Fennec fox or a mythical creature.
10:20 a.m. – Stare emptily at half-finished Lego set that hasn’t been touched since 2014.
10:25 a.m. – Briefly contemplate changing out of pajamas.
10:30-11:45 a.m. – iPad games on Messenger with friends.
11:45 a.m. – Lunchtime, consisting of either PB&J sandwich or microwavable mini-pizzas, accompanied by chocolate milk, off-brand chips and applesauce left over from school lunch pickups.
12 noon – Outdoor time! Wander the neighborhood sidewalks with Dad. Climb a tree. Put on roller blades and skate around for about two minutes.
12:30 p.m. – Change out of pajamas into shorts, camouflage Crocs and a “Weekend Warrior” T-shirt.
12:45 p.m. – Pester parents about going outside to play with friends.
12:50 p..m. – Parents insist that friends are still busy with school work and it’s too early to bother them.
12:51 p.m. – Doorbell rings. Friend wants to play. Tear out of the front yard with friend like a pair of escaped inmates from a Victorian-era lunatic asylum.
12:51 – 2:50 p.m. – Splash around in friend’s inflatable pool from Menards. Cross the street and splash around in another friend’s inflatable pool from Menards.
2:50 p.m. – Come home to badger parents about turning on sprinkler system to run through, “Because it’s summer, Mom.”
2:55-3:30 p.m. – Run through sprinklers with friends. Lay on Minion towels stretched over the hot driveway. Talk ruefully about those lost days when kids had to leave their homes to sit at a desk inside a concrete building for eight flipping hours.
3:30 p.m. – Parent emerges to announce that online tutoring lesson is in 30 minutes and that, no, he hasn’t forgotten about the 20 minutes of reading after dinner.
3:30-4 p.m. – Complain about the unfairness of tutoring during these precious, fleeting summer days.
4-5 p.m. – Slap on a happy face and plow through another soulless tutoring session.
5-6 p.m. – A brief window of freedom, dragging friends up and down the sidewalk in Dad’s collapse-able red wagon with the fancy cup holders.
6 pm. – Tonight’s dinner: pork chops, mac & cheese, and sweet potato fries made in Mom’s new air fryer oven.
6:30 p.m. – Parents consumed by talk about Trump, coronavirus, then Entertainment Tonight.
6:30-8:30 p.m. – iPad games with friends, then curl up next to Mom to watch a silly network program about mini-golf.
8:30-9:30 p.m. – Bedtime-ish.
In a recent phone call with an old friend, I complained, in my First World way, about how conversations and social interactions had suffered during the coronavirus pandemic because the only thing there was to talk about was the coronavirus pandemic.
“Oh, there are more things to talk about,” my friend replied. “People just don’t want to talk about them.”
After some reflection, I realized my friend was right, as he usually is. There are at least a few topics to discuss besides COVID-19, some of them not so pleasant.
If you and your friends have grown weary of dissecting the latest COVID-19 Task Force briefing or mulling over whether you should wear a mask while gardening, here are seven icebreakers to add a little variety to your phone, text or socially-distanced driveway conversations during this strange and awkward time.
As you probably already know, the NC Dinos are off to a 10-1 start atop the league standings for the Korean Baseball Organization, although the third-place LG Twins reeled off six straight wins before last Sunday’s loss to Kiwoom.
The KBO, which opened its season in early May before crowds of mostly stuffed animals (along with vivacious baseball cheerleaders), is one of the few live sporting events to watch on ESPN.
It’ll have to do until Major League Baseball starts its season, perhaps as soon as early July — or as late as April 2021.
White people doing horrible things
The appalling death of George Floyd under a Minneapolis police officer’s knee was just one instance of African American men being victimized by white folks in the past week. There was also the case of Amy Cooper, who called the police on a bird watcher in Central Park because he asked her to leash her dog. A few days earlier, a Florida woman accused two black men of abducting her autistic son before surveillance cameras revealed she drowned the nine-year-old by pushing him into a canal. Finally, a Georgia youth pastor claimed he was kidnapped by two black men before admitting he was at a hotel to meet a male prostitute.
All of this just in the past week.
As my former Hallmark Cards colleague Tara Jaye Frank eloquently writes in this blog piece, it’s not enough for white people to feel sadness about these events. Clearly, more must be done. Perhaps it can start with a conversation on why these racist attacks keep happening on a drumbeat basis in the world’s largest and most powerful liberal democracy.
The Presidential Election
The last time I checked, the U.S. presidential election was still happening on the first Tuesday in November. Donald Trump has not yet demanded it be canceled due to social distancing concerns (although don’t be surprised if he does). Until then, there is much to discuss. Who will Joe Biden select as his running mate? Can a sitting president survive more than 100,000 deaths, a collapsed economy and a 15% unemployment rate? What are the Russians going to do about this, and why can’t anyone under the age of 70 win their party’s nomination for the general election?
So many unanswered questions about what could be The Most Important Election of Our Lives (or at least the most important once since 2016).
Most live sporting events have ceased, but there’s always the American Cornhole League, televised regularly by ESPN, in which masked people take turns trying to toss beanbags into a box with a little hole. Not exactly must-see-TV, but still more exciting than NASCAR for people who absolutely must consume televised sporting events during these times.
That new Jeffrey Epstein documentary
Want to be totally creeped out? Watch the first two minutes of this new Netflix series, which starts with criminal deposition footage of Epstein in 2012. Not sure I need to watch four hours of Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, but the story of a serial rapist/child molester and his powerful friends is sure to be talked about in the coming weeks.
Those simple, carefree days when we almost had a war with Iran
Hard to remember now, but the big story in January wasn’t coronavirus (although it maybe should have been) but the near certainty that we were going to war with Iran.
Fortunately, Trump’s targeted killing of Iranian military chief Qasem Soleimani and Iran’s missile strike rebuttal did not lead to a larger conflict. But these two rivals could be at it again soon enough. Or maybe it will the U.S. vs North Korea next time? Or China?
The disappointment of “Onward.”
There are precious few certainties in this life: death, taxes, people behaving stupidly and, finally, Pixar putting out a polished, smart movie about the human condition that adults and children alike can enjoy.
That last certainty was shattered with the March release of Onward, a sentimental road-trip movie about two brothers on a quest to bring their late father back to life for just one day. Also, the brothers are mythical creatures, and their father’s spirit is reduced to a pair of slacks for almost the entire movie. Also, one of the brothers is an adult Dungeons & Dragons fanboy voiced by Chris Pratt.
You get the idea. A pretty mediocre effort from the Disney-owned studio that gave us Toy Story, Up, Wall-E and many other classics. In fact, I just had to double-check IMDB to be certain Onward wasn’t a DreamWorks production. That’s the kind of bland, formulaic storytelling I’m talking about here.
Disagree with me? Fine. Let’s have a conversation about that.
Animal House (1978)
Unrelenting hedonism and misogyny are the electives of choice for members of a 1960s college fraternity. School administrators try heroically to discipline the Delta Tau Chi house, but to no avail. A juvenile prank leads to the untimely death of a horse, several women are tricked into disrobing, and a pledge commits adultery with the college president’s spouse. “Animal House” is an apt title for a movie in which there is no empathy or respect for rules, rights, and human dignity.
Dumb and Dumber (1994)
Two developmentally disabled men take a cross-country road trip. One of them has an unhealthy crush on a mysterious woman who has left a suitcase at the airport. Trigger Warnings: subject matter includes frozen mucus, bowel control issues, bad haircuts, a lethal amount of chili peppers, and a fatal attack on a rare owl species.
There’s Something About Mary (1998)
There’s something chilling about an unstable man who exposes himself to his prom date’s parents, becomes obsessed with the young woman, then appears near her Florida home several years later. Ben Stiller stars as a man who spins a web of lies to get closer to the unwitting object of his desire. A cautionary tale about those who fall through cracks of our flawed mental health system. Trigger Warning: viewers who care about hygiene may be troubled by the “hair gel” scene.
Talladega Nights (2006)
Rural stereotypes abound in this crass tale of stock car driver Ricky Bobby’s fall from grace. A European rival, played by Sacha Baron Cohen, tries to teach Ricky Bobby a lesson about tolerance and sportsmanship, but is instead ridiculed for leading an alternative lifestyle and for being French. An explicit scene in which a dinner prayer is parodied for cheap laughs may be offensive to some viewers.
The Hangover (2009)
Four white males exercise their privilege by booking a lavish bachelor party weekend in Las Vegas. Not satisfied to simply reflect on life and enjoy each other’s company, the friends quickly become inebriated and encounter a range of dubious adventures that include animal cruelty, Asian stereotypes, excessive use of a Taser, and an agitated and possibly violent Mike Tyson. Finally, the Vegas getaway is scheduled one day before the groom’s wedding, a plot device that perfectly captures male indifference to relationships and long-term commitments.
Do you spend some of the workday scrolling through LinkedIn? You’ve probably seen the following blog articles (or something similar) pop up in your news feed a few thousand times:
The Magic of “Friendly:” How Being Nice Can Shorten Your Sales Conversion Cycle
The Grass IS Greener: 11 Arguments for Quitting Your Job Today
The Three Things You Do That Make Coworkers Hate You
What [Warren Buffet/Bill Gates/Elon Musk] Says About [Company Culture/Innovation/Win-Win Situations]
How Smart People Work Fewer Hours, Get More Done and Have Less Blotchy Skin
What [Steve Jobs/Winston Churchill/Mother Theresa] Understood About [Brand Management/Outside-the-Box Thinking/Building a Better Sales Team]
Eight Mistakes Parents Make That Keep Children from Becoming Strong Leaders
How the Best Middle Managers Navigate their Way to Zero Accountability
Six Ways to Detach Yourself While Firing a Direct-Report
Linda Fray sat restlessly through her friends’ discussion of the coming Apocalypse until she could stand it no longer. She had just spent $350 on a pair of cowboy boots and, dammit, she wanted to show them off.
“What do y’all think?” she said, kicking a leg out from under the table and revealing a pointy toe of turquoise leather. “Pretty nice, huh?”
Her four friends leaned over their breakfast platters for a closer look. Rob Ratzenberg was the first to comment, as was often the case.
“They’re a little on the flashy side for my taste. You aren’t gonna ride in them, are you?”
“Of course she’s not riding in them,” Gracie Picket said as she stirred Sweet ‘N Low into her coffee. “Those are dancing boots, not horse boots.”
Calwood Bachelor and Frank Bastin sipped their coffees and smiled dimly, a reaction Linda expected from two men who hadn’t changed their wardrobes since the Reagan Administration.
“I bought them off Bootopia.com,” she said, hitching her jeans leg to show a little more leather. “They were pricey, but a girl’s gotta treat herself every now and again.”
“Well, they are lovely,” Gracie said. “And you should treat yourself every chance you get. God knows what the months ahead have in store for us.”
“That’s right, sister,” said Calwood said. “A hard rain’s a-gonna fall.”
The others nodded grimly, like soldiers about to parachute into battle.
For years, they had met once a week—every week—for breakfast. Sometimes the meeting place was at Waffle House or Cracker Barrel, but mostly it was IHOP—the International House of Pancakes, as Gracie steadfastly called it. The coffee was better there, they all agreed and, well, so were the pancakes.
Originally, it was just three of them—Gracie, Rob and Cal. They became acquainted through an adult Sunday school class Cal taught for many years at the First Baptist Church of LeFarge. It was a popular class, regularly drawing 20 or more churchgoers after the early-morning worship service. Cal had a good grasp of the Bible, and, as a former Navy SEAL who served in Vietnam, he had credibility as a leader of his peers. He was skilled at bringing Scripture to life through personal anecdotes, humorous parables, and current events.
Some of his content was a little too current, apparently, as the pastoral staff started getting complaints from church members that Cal’s lessons had taken a decidedly political tone. Cal eventually lost his class, and left First Baptist a few weeks later with a defiant gesture that members of the congregation still sometimes talked about. A long-time usher, Cal raised his brass collection plate over his head during one Sunday morning service, and slammed it down on the church’s carpeted aisle, sending spare change and little paper envelopes flying everywhere. He strode out of the sanctuary, growling something about Jesus casting out all the moneychangers.
Gracie Picket, a former school teacher, and Rob Ratzenberg, a retired Yankee from New Jersey, left the church, too, albeit under calmer circumstances. That’s when the breakfast meetings began. At first the three of them brought their Bibles to the IHOP, but studying the events of two thousand years ago soon gave way to impassioned talks about more immediate, juicier topics. Soon, the leather-bound Bibles went back to gathering dust on bedside tables in their homes.
Four years ago, Frank Bastin joined the group. Frank knew Cal, and he had just sold his Bastin Carpet Corner outlet store for a pile of money. The weekly breakfasts fit nicely into his newly uncluttered routine. Linda Fray joined a few months after Frank. In her late 50s, Linda was the youngest of the five by far. However, she was trying to be a little more social since losing her husband to a heart attack, and her Aunt Gracie had always raved about the dynamic conversations she and her friends were having over their eggs and toast. Linda decided to give it a try. After a few breakfasts, she was hooked.
They initially called themselves The Breakfast Bunch, because it seemed natural for a group that met once a week to have its own moniker. The serving staff knew them by a different name, however, one they muttered each time the group commandeered the corner booth for two hours before leaving its usual 10 percent tip. “Here come The IHOP Five,” they would say with about the same amount of affection one might reserve for terms like “rat infestation,” or “irritable bowel syndrome.”
Cal overheard the name one morning while on his way to the bathroom, and he relayed it to the group. Everyone liked it. IHOP Five sounded apt for a discussion group that had started to take on some edgy topics.
Initially, the IHOP Five bonded over subjects common to their end of the generational spectrum: grandchildren, local gossip, rock music of the 1960s, the status of their retirement funds and new ways to find cheap prescription drugs. But, as the years went by and each of them spent more of their time blinking into the luminous glow of laptop computers and high-definition TVs, their conversations turned to politics.
It helped that all of them were on the same ideological side of the “what in the hell is the world coming to?” camp, though with slight variations. Frank felt certain that the country was headed toward a currency meltdown in which it would one day require a trailer of cash to buy a loaf of bread, while Gracie envisioned a one-world government where U.N. troops would ship senior citizens like her to internment camps. Cal feared a Chinese invasion, while Rob theorized that vaccines might someday trigger a zombie apocalypse. Linda thought most of these ideas were horseshit, but she shared her friends’ distrust of politicians, the mainstream media and the government, and she thought that it might be time for change of a revolutionary sort.
One way the IHOP Five liked to think they differed from other AARP members who gathered over breakfast every week was that they were not content to just gripe. They prided themselves on being a scrappy, can-do bunch that could pinpoint problems and devise solutions. For a long time, their actions involved letters, e-mails and phone calls to the local newspaper or a congressman’s office. When that approach lost its luster, the Five switched to other tactics. Some of them were a little loopy, even for deeply conservative LeFarge, Georgia.
“We need to do something about the sexting,” Gracie said, setting her cup in its saucer and giving the others a strident look. “It’s getting out of control.”
Frank and Rob chuckled. Linda covered her mouth to keep the grits from spilling out of it.
“Sexting?” Cal asked. “What the devil is sexting?”
“It’s all over TV and the Internet,” Gracie said. “Don’t you ever watch TMZ?”
Cal ran a napkin over his mouth. “I’m pretty sure I have better things to do.”
Gracie turned her gaze to Linda, who was obviously expected to say something. As the junior member, it often fell on her to explain recent pop culture phenomena that might have whizzed past her friends.
Linda took a long sip from her orange juice, trying to think of the right way to put it. After all, most of these people were Baptists.
“Well, it’s a form of texting you people do—sometimes not-so-young people do it as well,” she began. The other members of the IHOP Five leaned toward her, Frank and Rob wearing expectant grins, Gracie looking proud and determined, like she was about to lead a march on Capitol Hill.
“It’s a form of texting where, if you want to get the attention of someone you really like, you send them a photo of…yourself.”
Cal still looked puzzled. “What’s wrong with that?”
“Well, sexting involves a recent type of photo.” Linda stopped, but Gracie nodded at her to press on. “Usually a photo of your genitals.”
Cal grimaced. “You mean to say, if a boy likes a girl, then he would text her a picture of his, ah—”
“—Penis,” Gracie said. “That’s exactly right.”
Frank and Rob giggled. Cal shook his head. “Good God in Heaven,” he muttered.
“It’s completely foul,” Gracie spat, “and we need to do something about it.”
“What can we possibly do?” Frank said, smiling at Gracie. He was a life-long entrepreneur and the most levelheaded one in the bunch. He regularly sparred with the retired school teacher, though usually in a playful manner.
“Well,” Gracie said, returning Frank Bastin’s smile with an exaggerated grin of her own. “I thought we could start by asking the City of LeFarge to pass a public decency ordinance that bans sexting. I’ve
got a friend on the council who can show us how to write one up.”
Rob Ratzenberg let his fork drop, making a clatter on his half-finished plate. “I thought we were done with this procedural, government crap. It’s a lot of work, and nobody gives a damn.”
“Don’t they?” Gracie replied. “A sexting ban is the kind of thing that might get some play in the national press. Then people will indeed give a damn, as you so eloquently put it.”
“I’m tired of writing letters and drawing up petitions,” Rob said. “I’m ready for action. I thought that was what we were moving toward.”
“It is,” Cal said softly, eying the last bite of his blueberry pancakes. “But please keep your voice down, Robert.”
The group stewed over the sexting issue a little longer, until the waitress came by to refill their coffees and ask they needed anything else. Just the check please, Cal told her. Split five ways, if she didn’t mind.
“So who’s free this Saturday night?” he asked once the waitress moved on to the next table.
The other four looked at each other. There wasn’t much to do in LaFarge on a Saturday night, beyond checking the listings to see if the Bijou Twin had anything decent playing, which it usually didn’t.
“Well, you’re all invited over to the ranch, then. Please don’t feel like you need to bring anything. We’ve got plenty of food and beverages. And wear something you don’t mind getting dirty.”
Cal Bachelor leaned over his breakfast toward the others. He was a massive man whose voice reached a surprisingly squeaky pitch when whispering a critical piece of information.
“I think it’s time,” he said, “that we got about the business of learning how to defend ourselves.”
Maybe it’s the brutal political climate of the past two years, but I have noticed a lot of my Facebook friends sharing and dispensing unsolicited advice on how all of us can “stay engaged,” “get involved” and “make a difference during these dark times.”
It’s funny. The economy is growing, unemployment is under 5%, and American consumers are spending more money–all this despite our dysfunctional political system and a new president who performs much of his diplomacy and policy through Twitter.
Like many Americans, I worry about where the country is headed and feel powerless to do anything about it. How can I make a difference in my own little way without completely overhauling my life?
Below is a list of six simple actions that I can and should take. It’s not an imposing list by any means, but if most of us did these six things, I believe that America would become a more trusting, more secure and more enjoyable place than it is today:
Of course, voting in the presidential election is important. So is voting in the mid-term elections. So is voting for state and local officials or referendums. This April, for instance, there’s a bond issue on the ballot for $800 million in capital improvements to my city’s infrastructure. It’s not a sexy issue by any means. Few people will probably vote on it, but a local tax for sidewalks, sewers and roads will have far greater impact on their daily lives than many of the national issues we argue about every day.
The point is, try to vote whenever you can (one time per election, I mean). Want things to improve? Want better elected officials and more accountability? It all starts with an engaged, active voting public—and not just one that goes to the polls every four years.
Voting more often doesn’t work out well if you don’t understand the issues. These days, it’s a little harder to process information because there’s so much more of it, and a lot of it comes from unreliable, deeply biased sources.
In a recent television special celebrating his career, Tom Brokaw advised Americans to take a similar approach to the news as they would to researching a new car or house to buy. In other words, gather and dissect the news from various sources you trust so you can form the clearest picture of what is really going on.
If this process of curating the news sounds like extra work, it is. However, becoming selective, more conscientious news consumers (and avoiding the click-bait in our Facebook feeds) will keep all of us better-informed and, just maybe, incent today’s media conglomerates to do better reporting.
Life is hectic. So many different things demand our attention. Still, some of us manage to give time to causes and organizations we care deeply about. It may be for a political movement, a church, a charity or a school. Giving a little back to our communities is not only a generous thing to do, it’s a way for us to stay connected to each other. It’s also rewarding, knowing we are making a difference in a way that may not benefit us directly.
If you have not done so lately, pick something in your community that sparks your passion and can benefit from your talents. Whether it’s running for public office or serving on your school’s PTA, your time and involvement helps to build stronger communities.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about what can be done to make America safer. Does anyone truly believe that a sweeping government policy or action can make us all safer? Or are we a little safer when we know our neighbors, our coworkers, our kids’ friends and what’s going on at their school?
One of the tragedies of modern society is how disconnected many of us are from each other. How many news reports have you seen in which someone commits a horrible crime, and the next-door neighbor is dumbfounded. “He was kind of quiet. He mostly kept to himself,” they almost always say.
Get to know your neighbors. Talk to your kids’ buddies. Take a coworker to lunch. Attend a school function or a neighborhood party—even if you don’t feel like it. Staying connected and knowing what’s going on not only creates a safer environment, it builds relationships and trust.
Open a door for a stranger. Keep calm when someone cuts you off in traffic. Call a friend or loved one on their birthday instead of sending a text or posting about it on Facebook. In other words, be the kind of decent, humane person your parents wanted you to be. These acts of kindness are easy to do, and they can also become infectious.
With the politicization of almost every aspect of American life, the amount of negativity and vitriol can be overwhelming. As a citizen, you want to stay informed, but you also need to know when to step away. Checking your phone every five minutes for the latest presidential tweet or CNN alert is no way to live, and most of the information is not important to your daily life.
If social media or the news is dampening your mood, try to focus on other things in your life that you enjoy. You, your family and your friends will be much better for it.
Sunday’s epic Super Bowl collapse by the Atlanta Falcons, a team I grew up living and mostly dying for, has caused me to question, again, why I even bother to follow sports.
In the 35-plus years I have been a sports fan, my favorite teams have reached the top of their respective heaps exactly seven times. That’s a pretty bad winning percentage when you consider my rooting interests include two major cities and four college programs. If I were only a fan of, say, the New England Patriots, I’d have nine Super Bowl appearances and five championships to look back fondly upon. If I only liked Boston sports, I’d have an additional three World Series champions and four NBA titles to brag about.
Life’s not that easy for most of us–in both sports and the world in general. Though never much of an athlete, I’ve been a sports fan since the age of 11. Like most fans, I’ve weathered a lot of misery over the years.
Outlined below are the teams I have followed, which I am chronicling more for therapeutic purposes than for your entertainment. Maybe this list will remind you of some of the heartbreak you’ve endured with your own favorite teams, the moments where you’ve sworn you are never going to watch another game? Or maybe you’re a Tom Brady or Duke basketball fan, and are therefore unfamiliar with emotional pain?
At any rate, here are the teams, in no particular order, that have methodically sucked some of the joy out of my life. Read about them if you dare:
There was a time when I spent most of my waking hours thinking about University of Georgia football. They were my first sports love, starting with those great Herschel Walker teams of the early 1980s.
Unfortunately, the Dawgs haven’t returned to those glorious times since. With money, tradition, great facilities and access to a bounty of high school football talent, Georgia football is one of those college programs that should be great, but seldom is. The Dawgs have won only two Southeastern Conference championships since Herschel left school in early 1983. Since that time, just about every major college within driving distance of Athens, Ga., has won at least one national football title. Georgia fans must harken back to 1980 for the only time their team finished a consensus #1. Even then, it required having the greatest player in the history of college football to get them there.
Georgia still produces some very good teams, and they have a promising new coach in Kirby Smart. Maybe 2017 will finally be “The Year” that fans like me have desperately craved?
Atlanta Sports Teams
The Atlanta Braves won the World Series in 1995, one of my all-time favorite sports moments. Even that accomplishment is tinged with disappointment, as the Braves won 14 straight division titles and only won the championship once during that time. Their one World Series triumph came against Cleveland, so does that even count?
The Atlanta Hawks and Falcons have had their occasional shots at glory. The Falcons have a tradition of following up each good season with a terrible one. The gut-punch they suffered from the Patriots on Sunday night could set the franchise reeling for the next few years, if history is any indication.
I could write a book—and have written a few blog posts—about the agonies of being a fan of “Ol’ Misery.” Truth is, following my alma mater hasn’t been all that bad. The Tigers have had several good football and basketball teams over the years. They’ve just never clawed their way to the top.
A lot of Mizzou fans like to drone on and on about how the program is cursed, as the Tigers have suffered more than their share of soul-crushing losses in football and hoops. However, Missouri athletics also raises far less money than the powerhouse programs in college sports, so dashed dreams seem to be built into the formula. The Tigers will have good teams again (they’re currently dreadful in both basketball and football), but championships are not very likely.
Kansas City Royals
They may never get credit for it, but the Royals pulled off one of the greatest miracles in baseball history by reaching the World Series in 2014 and 2015, and winning it all the second time around. The Royals are a small-market franchise with a limited payroll. Somehow, after decades of failure, they developed a home-grown team with incredible chemistry that came within one game of winning two straight world championships. The Chicago Cubs are America’s darlings for their 2016 title, but they spent a ton of money to get there. The Royals did it the hard way.
You need to have endured the 29-year run of mostly horrible Royals baseball to appreciate how far the franchise has climbed. The Royals’ success in 2014-2015 made all that suffering worthwhile with a rare sports moment in which the underdogs finally came out on top.
Kansas City Chiefs
Atlanta Falcons fans should be glad they don’t live in the football purgatory the Chiefs have inhabited for decades. The Hunt family, who have owned the team from its beginning, keep following the same risk-adverse formula: draft defenders, offensive linemen and the occasional running back, then sign a free-agent quarterback who lost his starting job at one of the elite franchises (49ers, Patriots). This approach has earned the Chiefs a few playoff appearances, but little more. The team has won exactly four playoff games since winning the Super Bowl in January 1970.
This spring, the Chiefs could trade up in the draft to get Clemson’s all-around superstar QB Deshaun Watson in the first round. I can’t wait to see which nose guard they decide to draft instead.
My dad went to West Point, so I have always cared about the fortunes of Army (or, as Lou Holtz once stupidly called it, “The University of The Army”). All too often, the football Cadets have been bad–very, very bad. But, hey, they finally beat Navy last year and went to a bowl game, so hope springs eternal.
North Carolina Tar Heels
This is the one time I got it right in selecting a favorite team to follow. My mother’s family are all Tar Heels, and thank God for that. Carolina basketball won national titles in 1982, 1993, 2005 and 2009, and has appeared in many Final Fours. I only wish I liked Roy Williams just a little bit better. I’ve always thought he was a bit of a fraud.
Those are my sports fan misadventures, most of them grim. How about you? Do you have any teams you can’t help but pull for, though a little part of you dies each time they let you down?
My wife woke me Friday morning with her usual greeting.
“You won’t believe what he did now,” she muttered.
Not bothering to answer, I lifted my phone from the bedside table, scrolled through my newsfeed, and found the article that was the source of this morning’s agitation: “Trump Moves Press Corps to White House Basement.”
I re-posted the article on my feed with a one-word introduction: “Ugh.” Then I hit the shower.
The drive to work was predictably slow, as traffic threaded past several rear-end accidents that were likely due to people posting updates and checking their “likes.” Self-driving cars can’t get here soon enough, I thought.
“Trump’s an idiot,” my coworker, Josh, declared as I settled into my office cubicle. “He is a horrible, horrible human being.”
“Yeah, I heard about the press corps,” I replied.
“No,” said Josh, dabbing his nose with a well-worn Kleenex. “I’m talking about the executive order declaring ‘God Bless the U.S.A.’ as the new national anthem.”
“Ridiculous,” agreed Kathryn, popping her head above the cubical wall, wide-eyed as a frightened prairie dog. “This has got to stop. Who voted for this guy?”
“I voted for him,” Adam said, swiveling his chair toward us. “And it’s time for a new anthem. Lee Greenwood has done a hell of a lot more for this country than Francis Scott Key ever did.”
“Great news!” Jenny said as she breezed past our row. “My daughter just got accepted to Stanford!”
“Good for her,” Josh said with a snort. “A college degree will mean a lot when we’re all working the salt mines for the Chinese.”
We went to lunch a little earlier than usual, it being a Friday and all. After posting pics of our entrees on our respective newsfeeds, we returned to lamenting Trump’s latest tweet about election fraud.
“I know, right?” the waitress chirped as she handed us a fresh basket of microwaved cheese bread. “He’s such a psychopath. Shaking my head!”
The afternoon dragged on at work, as it usually does, but I was proud of the 240-word post I wrote about freedom of the press and the looming national tragedy. By the time I left the office, it had garnered 24 “likes,” and seven “loves.”
Glancing down at my phone as I merged onto the highway, I never saw the Peterbilt truck that sideswiped my Prius, sending it rolling over a ditch and into the trees that lined the road.
I woke up hours—maybe days—later, in a hospital room bathed in sunlight.
“You hear what Trump did today?” a nurse asked as she checked my chart.
“I know,” my wife muttered, peering at her phone. “What did we ever do to deserve this crap?”
Stephen Roth is the author of the comic novel A Plot for Pridemore, which won the 2012 Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction.