December 29, 2011

The Customer is Always Right?

Here's a story from my time in the casino trenches... I felt it was appropriate to share after seeing all that footage of over-exuberant holiday shoppers taking things a little bit too far. 

Sometimes the customer needs to be put into their place!


While quality customer service is always expected from the front-line employees at a casino, let’s face it – it’s not always possible to achieve. After all, you can’t follow the age old axiom that “the customer is always right” when a ranting lunatic is trying to convince you that they want their $100 bet at the roulette table returned to them because the dealer took their chip off the winning number in error –especially when there are no $100 chips on the table, even in the “muck” (the large pile of losing chips that is pushed to the side in the clearing away process) making the truth of their claim impossible.

Of course, that kind of “shot taking” – where a scam artist will attempt to trick an inexperienced dealer or floorperson into making an erroneous payout – is commonplace. Most of the time, it can be stopped before it has a chance to start, simply by dealers following “proper procedure” in terms of game protection – placement of the cards, what direction to angle their bodies so they can see cheaters place late bets, the order in which they are supposed to clear chips from a roulette layout, etc. Of course, even the best of the bunch can sometimes make a mistake, as what happened to me one fine day near the end of my eight-hour shift of dealing blackjack.

Blackjack is a game I could deal in my sleep, and quite often did, as I simply turned on my auto-pilot, without any real need to pay attention to what I was doing. Simply put, since most people play “by the book” and you tend to keep the same players on your table for hours on end, a certain “confidence” is formed between the dealer and the gamblers. They recognize you know what you’re doing, so they relax and let you do it. In turn, you know they’re not going to make any “crazy plays” like hitting a hard 17 or standing pat on a 13 against your face card, so you deal without thinking and the time goes by faster.

Honestly, as a dealer when you’re good enough to reach that level of confidence, it shows. Oftentimes in the midst of my “trance” I’d suddenly snap out of it in the middle of making pay-outs, simply because it just “felt wrong” – and I’d know I’d made a mistake, which could have been either in the player’s favor or the house’s favor – my job is to get it right, either way. I’d quickly correct it on the spot, and again, the players’ confidence level in me grew – even to the point that if after I swept the cards away and a player who wasn’t paying close attention to the game would ask me something like “What did I have? Didn’t we push?” I could simply say, “No, I beat you” and they’d shrug and the game would continue. I might not have had any memory of the hand at that point, but I knew I was right, and based on their experience with me, so did they. The issue died there.


In short, shot-takers simply didn’t bother coming to my table – they could see very quickly it wasn’t going to fly.

But on this one occasion, I got caught. I had been dealing to this gentleman, playing alone at the table, for several hours, and he was strictly by the book. He never once varied from basic strategy, and while we didn’t converse, there didn’t seem to be any animosity brewing at the table, even as he started to lose a bit more than we won. However, I let my guard down, just for a split-second, and made a classic “rookie mistake” by “assuming” a hit was forthcoming without waiting for the hand signal.

He had 14. I had an 8 showing. In this situation, you hit since you always assume a face card for the dealer’s down-card. If I have 18, he loses, so he “has to” hit. Of course, I jumped the gun and pulled the next card out of the shoe, which was a King, causing him to break. But before I could even get the card over to his hand, he started shouting at me. “I didn’t say to hit! No hand signal!”

Plain and simple - he got me. I was angry with myself for letting it happen, but hey, it does happen. I immediately told him to relax. I agreed with him. He did not give me a hand signal, so he doesn’t get this card. His hand is still live. I called for the floorperson to come over so I could explain what happened, but she was busy handling an issue at another table, so it would be a few minutes. While we waited, I explained to the player what would happen… by law, we are not allowed to change the order of the cards. So, if he didn’t want the King, that was fine – however, it is the next card out of the shoe. If I needed to hit, then the King would be my card. If I didn’t, then as it was exposed in error, it would be “burned” or moved to the discard rack. He seemed to understand, but the floorperson was still busy, and he was itching to continue gambling, so when the pit boss walked by at this point, I called for his assistance.

I explained the situation to him, and he confirmed with the player that he didn’t want the card. However at this point, the player said he wanted another card. That’s not how the game works. He takes the King or nothing. I could see this was going nowhere, so I suggested to the pit boss that we hurry along the process by exposing my hole card. After all, if I had a 4,5,6,7 or 8 underneath my already-exposed 8, then I’d be forced to draw – meaning I’d get the King, and break. We could pay this guy and move on.  The pit boss agreed and son-of-a-gun, I flipped over a “2”.

So, we tried in vain to explain to this guy for the next ten minutes… if he hits, he loses. If he stays, he loses (as I’d have 20 to his 14) – therefore, he loses. Period. End of story.

“I want a different card!” The player screamed at the pit boss, getting more and more agitated.

“You can’t get a different card,” the pit boss explained for the umpteenth time, remaining calm.

“This is bullshit!!!! You’re bullshit!!! ” The player lurched forward to point accusingly at the pit boss, who unfortunately was not the tallest man in the world, and ended up making contact forcibly with his nose.

“You get nothing! You lose! Good day sir! Take your free fizzy lifting drink and get the ^$%$% out of here!”


And so, with security quickly approaching the table, the man left without further incident. However, it wasn’t the last we’d see him that day. About twenty minutes later, Terri, the shift manager came to my table to ask me what had happened. Apparently, the man had filed a complaint with the Casino Control Commission, claiming we had cheated, and he was not going to back down until he got his money back.

After I told her what had happened, she rolled her eyes and started laughing (especially the part about our Oompa-Loompa-sized pit boss getting poked in the proboscis.) Because it costs far more money to defend ourselves in a case like this than it would be than to give this man his $10 bet back – that’s right, we’re talking about $10 here – she let me know that she was going to give him his $10 and escort him from the casino, where his business was no longer welcome.

However, when the man showed up at my table, looking smug and high and mighty, ready to gloat as I was forced to give him back his bet, Terri had one last surprise for him. She wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of making me give him those two red chips. She told him she would be giving his ten dollars back, but if he wanted it, he would have to go to our special “returns table” on the other side of the casino, a good ten minute walk away. He was about to argue, but when she asked, “Do you want to make the walk or drop your complaint?” his smile vanished and his posture slumped.

He waited by the escalator for Terri to lead him on what I was sure would be the least-direct route to the furthest table from our location, and as she turned to join him, she looked back at me and said with glee, “Wait until he finds out I’m paying him in quarters.” 

November 29, 2011

Charge to the White House?



Check out a "review" of sorts of my book on The Huffington Post

It's How Fantasy Sports Explains... the Republican candidates? 

November 17, 2011

Twice Upon a Time


It's hard to know what to think about ABC's Once Upon a Time, because even though I want to like the show, the first few chapters of the story have just missed the mark for me. 

The conceit of the program is that fairy tales are "real" and that the Evil Queen has put a curse upon all the characters that we know and love from the bedtime stories of our youth (Snow White, Cinderella, Jiminy Cricket, etc.). The curse has sent them into "our world" where they are forever stuck in a sad state of limbo, and where none of them have any happy endings -- except of course for the Evil Queen, now the mayor of Storybrooke. 

Enter "Emma" into the tale, who we learn during flashbacks to pre-curse fairy-tale time, is (unbeknownst to her) actually the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming. Her own son (put up for adoption years ago and not-so-coincidentally now living with his own wicked stepmother -- the mayor) knows the "truth" and tracks Emma down to help rid the town of the curse.


She is skeptical at first, as any normal person would be, but feels compelled to stick around and help her son battle his delusions as well as his oppressive adoptive mother. 

And herein lies the problem with the show... half of each episode is spent in flashback, revealing to us the "true history" of these characters, with fresh spins on the classic tales, such as where Rumpelstiltskin (above) kills Cinderella's fairy godmother in order to take advantage of the naive girl. The rest of each week's hour shows us how these characters' modern-day plights mirror that of their backstory, all the while Emma slowly begins to buy into her son's fantasy.

Now it would have been far more interesting for us to be left in doubt as to whether or not this is indeed a delusion, but that's not how the show decided to play it. Unless the writers are outright lying to us, these are fairy-tale characters. As such, we're left with an interesting world of differently-spun fairy tales combined with a completely separate and somewhat intriguing "soap opera" world of Storybrooke, neither of which have any real stakes involved unless and until the characters themselves all "remember" who they really are... 

Individually, there's a lot of fun ideas being bandied about in both worlds, but in trying to construct a bridge between the two, I'm afraid I'm left unsatisfied. Something just isn't "right" with the balance here. I guess maybe that makes me one of the three bears? If so, Goldilocks can't arrive soon enough to shake me out of my doldrums.

November 15, 2011

John Carpenter - Psychic Director?

Take a closer look at the cult classic film They Live and you can see the footage that most media outlets were forbidden from shooting overnight as the NYPD cleared out Zucotti Park.

November 11, 2011

The Grass Roots Movement Begins!

Ladies and gentlemen... the bar has been set. Who shall be the Sergei Bubka of reviewers to trump this one?  


Challenge... extended.

November 8, 2011

Surviving!


In case you missed it, please click on over to Rob Cesternino's website and take a listen to the fun podcast we did on "How Fantasy Sports Explains Survivor" 


Here's the link: CLICK ME!

Rob C. - the best player never to win

November 3, 2011

And One Fraud to Rule Them All...

Prepare to be amazed? No, I don't reckon I will...
Imagine if you will a reality show competition where, each week, the judges are to eliminate the contestant whose efforts are the least impressive, until only one true champion remains.

Actually, it's not hard to imagine, as these shows are all over the television dial. But what makes The One from Australia an impossible pill to swallow is that none of the contestants actually demonstrate any talent at all in what they're supposed to be talented in.

You see, The One is the search for Australia's Top Psychic, and we're told that the smiling faces in the photo above were chosen for being the best of the best out of hundreds and hundreds of applicants to the program. Now I'm not going to waste time thinking too hard about that last sentence, but how this show actually manages to keep a straight face is beyond me. It's a train wreck!

Through the first three episodes, the contestants have faced some daunting challenges indeed:

  • They were stranded in a forest setting and given 15 minutes to find the rescue helicopter waiting for them a short distance away. (A few did, but most just wandered in circles until time expired.) 
  • They were sent to an apartment and asked to identify the why/how/where of a murder that had taken place inside some time ago. (Many guessed that it was a lover's tiff, but even the few who correctly hinted at a possible strangulation also threw out stabbing and gunshots as the cause of death.)
  • They were asked to study four volunteers and diagnose their "medical maladies." (Rather than actually saying, "You've got a fake leg!" or "You're pregnant!" they spoke in vague generalities like, "You've got a scar or something in the lower part of your body...yes?" and "I see something with the stomach area?")

It's akin to if you had turned on the first episode of the new season of Top Chef and watched as six of the ten cooks burned the dish beyond recognition, two placed inedible meals in front of Padma and Tom, and the remaining two served up some toast.  There's no way you, as a viewer, would be able to, shall we say, "stomach" such a showing. 

I see dead people! 
Of course you do... you're in a cemetery!
Which brings us to the judges: Stacey Demarco, a "respected spiritual practitioner" (whatever that means) and skeptic Richard Saunders, who fights in vain to put some sort of rational spin on the events taking place. It's frustrating, because it is clear that both the editors, as well as the host of the show, are keen to dismiss Saunders as the silly one for not believing.

When a psychic misses and Demarco is asked what she thinks went wrong, it's always couched in terms of "nerves" or "doubting her own abilities" and the host nods and agrees that these are difficult tasks indeed. When Saunders is asked the same question and dares to suggest that maybe the reason that the contestant "misread the energy" in the room is that there is no "energy" there, he's met with eye rolls and mocking tones. "What ever will it take to convince you, Richard?"

I invite you to take a look for yourself here, but my psychic prediction? You won't need to "brace yourself for the impossible" as the show suggests you do before watching. You'll simply be shaking your head in disappointment and disbelief. 

October 21, 2011

Time for TAPS?


I used to love watching the show Ghost Hunters on television. Now, however, I find the program sadly disappointing. 

It has nothing to do with my views on the existence (or rather, the non-existence) of ghosts and other paranormal activity -- I discuss that topic more in-depth with DJ Grothe of the James Randi Educational Foundation (J-REF) in my book, which can be found here

Look, you don't have to believe in the existence of zombies to enjoy The Walking Dead, for example. But what drew me into Ghost Hunters in the first place was primarily two things: 1) the interesting and engaging personalities of the investigators, and 2) the trust in the evidence that they would present.

As to the first part, I always enjoyed the banter between Steve and Tango as they explored dark passageways on a quest to debunk possible hauntings. Steve's fear of heights, spiders, flying, heck - his fear of everything, it seems, except ghosts - was always good for a laugh. 

It brought a fun spirit (so to speak) to the whole enterprise.

The series' high point, for me, cames when during a live Halloween special, guest-investigator and ECW wrestler, Elijah Burke, suddenly got freaked out and ran off screaming. It was hilarious, and whether or not you believe ghosts are real - his reaction certainly was authentic, and more importantly -- entertaining beyond belief.


Now, though, Steve and Tango's appearances have become few and far between. The new interchangeable batch of investigators is full of bland and unremarkable non-entities. And with none of them distracting me from the "gathering of evidence" I can see even more clearly the cracks that exist in that department.

When the show first started, the evidence consisted primarily of grainy video and EVPs - recorded audio that when played back seems to have captured spooky, otherworldly responses to questions that were not heard "live" by the investigators. 

While there's plenty of room for interpretation of these images and sounds, at least the audience at home can actually see and/or hear them. Sure, the conclusion that there is no other explanation for these things save for the supernatural is not one I'm on board with, but at least I can concede it remains a "possible" explanation, however unlikely. 

But over the years, new devices have been brought into the mix -- tools such as the K-II meter (seen below) which TAPS claims will measure variation in the EMF field in a room. They'll ask questions to a ghost they believe to be in a room and when the meter's lights move, they present it as proof that the ghost is responding to them.


Of course, that might hold some water if there was any scientific basis for believing that when a ghost talks (and we'll assume for the sake of argument that ghosts exist at all and that the meter itself does what they say it does) that by so doing, the EMF in a room is somehow affected. But there really is no reason to make any connection between the two things. 

It would be like me, sitting in my house, watching my cat raise his paw at random non-specific intervals and to conclude that it must be being caused by the inter-dimensional mice that are trying to manifest themselves into our universe. Correlation is not causation. It's all "woo."

Now add to that an annoyingly loud soundtrack that makes it impossible to ever hear the sounds that the investigators claim they are reacting to, along with the need (for dramatic reasons) to always investigate in pitch darkness, even when the claims by homeowners frequently state they've seen apparitions while eating lunch in full sunlight...

Oh, TAPS. I'm afraid... I'm afraid our time here is done. On to the next one...

October 15, 2011

Zombies!

"The Walking Dead" returns for its second season on AMC, and to celebrate, please enjoy this catchy little ditty by Jonathan Coulton.

This One Goes to 11


What's the key to a lasting marriage? 

It's the ability to laugh. 

Even through the hard times... especially then.

It's knowing without question that the person with whom you exchanged vows has got your back 100 percent of the time. And of course, you've got theirs as well.

No doubts about that. Ever.

It's that unspoken bond... the conversations you can have across a crowded room, expressed with only a look here and a tilt of the head there. 

It's knowing that under no circumstances whatsoever should I place either a Starship or Hall & Oates YouTube video right about now... if I know what's good for me... Quick, save me Stefon!


Yes, mostly, it's the laughter. 

And after 11 years with Sara, that's something we still share -- something we actively seek out, even when we've had a day that make us want to scream.

And that's why I still love her... and always will.

Happy Anniversary!

October 13, 2011

This Show Sucks

Lighten up, Morgan! 
I usually enjoy competition-style reality shows that are based on creating some sort of tangible product. Even though eliminations are based on judging which is totally subjective, usually the panels do a good job of explaining the rationale behind the decision on who gets the ax in a given week...

On Project Runway, for example, clothes can be deemed to be constructed poorly or they don't fit the model properly, and I can understand and see that. On Top Chef, while I can't taste the food for myself, when a judge spits out the entree into a napkin, one can easily see the writing on the wall for that soon-to-be saying sayonara contestant.

Which brings me to Work of Art, which debuted last night, and featured a contestant that the show has no problem referring to as "The Sucklord" (real name Morgan, pictured above). It fails on so many levels... first, it tries way too hard to copy the Bravo mold of: model host/eccentric mentor/stern, hard-to-please judges. However, Simon de Pury (below with China "Not Heidi" Chow) is no Tim Gunn and has such a thick accent, he's often impossible to understand. 

"Veldt, we cat some find heart, donuts China?"
A typical exchange with an artist goes something like this: 

Simon: "Well, I don't know what you are doing here, but I am sure it can be something fabulous if you do it, you know?"

Contestant: "Um...."

Simon: "Go for it and be sure to be bowler or the juice willow son horn! Yes?"

Contestant: "Um...."

The actual creative process is interesting to watch as we see the artists struggle to interpret the particular instructions of the challenge... but in the end, it is the pompous judging panel that ruins the program. 

The assignment this week was to take a shlocky piece of art of the "velvet Elvis" variety and transform it into something of "quality." So they praise one contestant for taking a sculpture of a blindfolded woman and painting a picture of it -- "Changing the medium was so clever!" and she is in the top three. Then they scold The Sucklord for taking a painting of Gandalf and making a sculpture based on it -- "You didn't change anything!"

What?
Ugo? You go.
I get that it is a matter of opinion, but when I watch other shows, I marvel at how the contestants can do something I cannot (make a glamorous dress, cook a five-star meal) and in such little time. 

When someone has eight hours to work on a challenge, and does little more than crumpling up a piece of paper, splattering a little paint on it, throwing it on the floor and calling it a day? I can do that. And when that contestant ends up in the top three for their "work" while the esteemed panel eliminates a guy for doing an intricate work that reminded them of Keith Haring (you know, an actual artist)...

Sorry Bravo. I won't be hanging around your gallery.


October 5, 2011

In My Prime?

At least I'm in better shape than this poor lady...


Please, no gifts...

Today I turn 41. 

That's not the answer to life, the universe or anything. 

It's not a nice milestone birthday like "the big four-oh." 

It simply is what it is... 

It was the number of the last symphony composed by Mozart.

It's the age Nate Dogg was when he died. And I haven't laid any busters down or let my gat explode in many a year.

I share a birthday with Kate Winslet, Mario Lemieux, and the actor who played the guy who invented Facebook, among others.

One of those others is Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson, who was kind enough to be interviewed for my book.

Ah yes, the book... after all that time spent obsessing over every single word in the writing process, now I obsessively track the Amazon rankings, my mood rising and falling in step with that number... today, it's down, and hence, so am I -- at least a little bit...

I also have a wonderful wife and an amazing little boy in my corner each and every day. I have a job that I love doing, and that I know many people dream of having. Allergies aside, I am in reasonably good health. I am extremely lucky... I get it.

So this is a happy 41st birthday after all. 

But, if you really want to know what would make me happy... have I got a book for you...

September 30, 2011

Total Eclipse of the Plot



So when we last left our saga at the end of New Moon, Edward (our pasty-white hero) has agreed to acquiesce to Bella's request to be turned into a vampire -- but only if she agrees to marry him. And if she doesn't get a little more fangy and a little less heart-beaty soon, the Volturi (La Policia Nosferatu Italiano) will come and kill Bella, Edward, and the entire Cullen clan.

So, Bella hems and haws and reads poetry to her immortal beloved, invoking all the foreshadowing fairies in the universe to hang over her while she laments that marrying young doesn't mean that a couple is in love, but rather that they "got knocked up." 


And besides, it would be a buzzkill before graduation.

She is also so grounded by her Dad for her having disappeared to Italy for three days at the end of the last film. (Some parents just don't get it!) But he agrees to let her out of her room to visit Jacob and the rest of the Werewolf family. 


However, it's really a trap! They sit Bella down and show her a "The More You Know" PSA, trying to convince her that vampires are evil -- a short film about how centuries ago, one of the  undead monsters almost killed their entire tribe. Fortunately, they were saved when a brave woman -- referred to only as "the Chief's third wife" -- stabbed herself, distracting the vampire with the scent of her blood long enough for the Chief to defeat her.

See, Bella? Werewolves are much better than vampires, and this heroic woman is still celebrated today on "Chief's Third Wife Day" -- her name lives on, whatever it was! Come live with us and join our forward-thinking group. Misogyny much? 


Then Jacob kisses Bella, despite her protests, and she breaks his nose.


Meanwhile, Fergie, the last Black-Eyed Peas Vampire standing, is in Seattle. Apparently, the Grunge scene, dead since 1994, is a great place to sire a "newborn army" since those newbies are super-strong and easily manipulated into attacking the Cullen clan on her secret say-so.

The Volturi stand around, just watching the whole situation, looking rather poncy and goth, as they do, because you know -- carnage, fun!


Anyway, even the werewolves realize that an army of the undead will likely send property values spiraling downward, so they agree to take part in an 80's training montage with the Cullens and set aside past disputes in order to keep Bella alive.

To mask Bella's scent, Jacob carries her away to a frigid mountaintop and snuggles shirtless with her in order to boost tween fangirl ticket sales. Then he finds out she's accepted Edward's proposal and freaks out. She kisses him in order to shut him up, and to try and keep this lame "romantic triangle" storyline from completely flatlining. He goes off to join the fight in warmer climes.


Eventually, Fergie and her new main man Riley figure out where Bella is stashed, and arrive to finish her off. Edward and Bella try and convince Riley she's just using him. And Fergie's all like, "I make them boys go crazy. Can't no other lady put it down like me. Honey, get some patience, then you'll get a taste."

Then Bella goes all Chief's Third Wife and the scene plays out as expected.

There's an awkward scene with the Volturi as they won't admit that they knew what was what the whole time, and the Cullen's pretend they weren't all chummy with the furry next-door neighbors. And to prevent any further unpleasantness, they give the Volturi invites to the wedding -- please, no gifts necessary.

That's about it… can't believe there's still two more of these films to go. Maybe they'll get LMFAO into the mix now that the Peas are all dead? Until then… everybody just have a good time.

September 22, 2011

Chapter and Verse


I just realized I've never posted a complete chapter listing for my book...  and so I shall recitfy that in this post.

Hopefully, at least a few of these tantalizing titles will tickle your fancy... if so, you can get the book at Amazon.com, on Kindle, or for the Nook - and at a bookstore near you...

1 - Christmas Eve with the Iversons - An account of my unfortunate first-hand experience trying to figure out "The Answer" at an Atlantic City casino.

2 - WWJD: Who Would Jesus Draft? - An interview with Catholic Answers' Jimmy Akin explores what kind of fantasy commissioner the Bible's first-round draft pick would have made.

3 -  Alone on an Island - Jury consultant Marshall Hennington helps me understand why people simply can't change their minds about how they feel about certain players.

4 -  Sylvia Browne Told Me to Bench A-Rod - Noted skeptic DJ Grothe joins me for a discussion on why fantasy experts are given far less leeway than psychic charlatans.

5 -  Wall Street and Huston Street: Is There a Magic Formula? - Financial genius Paul Wilmott ponders whether or not the performance of athletes can ever be boiled down to a simple mathematical formula.

6 -  Matt Millen, Bring Me Your Torch - We take a look at art of the deal, and what Survivor's Yau-Man Chan learned from his attempts to bargain for a million dollar prize. 



7 -  Shall I Compare Thee to Tom Brady? - In which the Reduced Shakespeare Company doth offer pithy insight into what maketh a game a game and a sport a sport. Yea, verily. 

8 -  Looking for Kevin Love in All the Wrong Places - We all irrationally covet certain players, much to our fantasy team's detriment. Hear what Steve Ward of VH1's Tough Love thinks we can do to fix that.

9 - Why the Founding Fathers Would Have Hated Bill Belichick - When politics rears its ugly head and people try to game the system, fantasy sports league work about as efficiently as Congress.

10 -  Smarter than Stephen Hawking - Don't think you understand quantum physics or time travel? I'll bet you really do - and I prove my theory to astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.

11 -  The Dark Side of Fantasy - Darth Vader probably never won his fantasy football league, and it has nothing to do with his penchant for early drafting of kickers. Alec Sulkin, Family Guy writer, muses intergalactic.

12 -  The Thrill of Vicarious Victory - With an emphasis on "fantasy", we talk to writer Jane Espenson (Buffy) about why people need these escapes, and then talk to Damien Echols, while he was still unable to escape from Death Row.

September 12, 2011

How Fantasy Sports Explains - Hurricane Irene


When Hurricane Irene was heading for New Jersey, where I currently live, it wreaked a lot of havoc on my fantasy football draft, which was very odd since the storm wasn't due to hit until sometime Saturday afternoon, and my draft was scheduled for Friday night. 

Part of the problem was that two of the owners in my league were vacationing in Ocean City, New Jersey and were told that there was a mandatory evacuation on Friday afternoon, and they had to pack up all their stuff and leave town, pronto. They ended up coming over to my house, ended up spending the night, and then headed out first thing in the morning so that they could get home to Connecticut in plenty of time to enjoy a power outage for over a week. 

Meanwhile, we got very lucky and although we lost one tree in the front yard, there was no significant damage, and in fact, we didn't even lose power. In fact, much of the area that was evacuated in South Jersey, because of the fact that the storm had weakened significantly by the time it arrived, ended up being just fine. 

What boggled my mind, though, as I watched the local television coverage as Irene slowly marched across the state of New Jersey, was how unwilling the anchors and meteorologists were to admit that the storm was not in fact going to be the end of life as we knew it, which is how it felt like it was being sold to the public by Governor Christie in an attempt to get people to evacuate in the first place.  

This footage - pretty much at the worst of Irene - was typical of how things were that night... certainly bad, but not nearly as severe as the "if you stay, you will die" tone before the storm arrived.

View more videos at: http://nbcphiladelphia.com.

One reporter for this station had been on the Atlantic City beach all afternoon, and each time the anchors threw to him, they'd say something like, "If you haven't evacuated yet, you need to do so... it is not safe to be in Atlantic City. Now, let's go to our reporter in Atlantic City...you look wet, Justin." And Justin would laugh and say he was and point to the one garbage can that had blown over as proof that the storm was going to be a killer. 

The fact is that we simply can't predict the path of a hurricane with complete accuracy anymore than we can predict how many yards a certain running back will gain when he takes the field this week. While we can get a general sense of the possible outcomes and potential paths that massive storms will travel, it's still only a guess -- just as we may have a sense that Steven Jackson is more likely to gain 100 yards than Ben Tate in any given week. But when Jackson gets hurt after two carries in Week 1, and Tate ends up as Houston's only healthy back halfway through his game, strange things can happen. 

Tate having 116 yards on the ground and Jackson only 56 was certainly not an expected outcome, but after having happened, it still wasn't an outcome completely out of whack with what someone might have predicted, albeit at the extremes.

So, while I am certainly not upset with the decision to evacuate coastal towns where the flooding could have been deadly -- because it certainly could have been that bad -- at some point, it would have been nice for the news to stop being fear-mongers and simply admit that the storm (thankfully) was simply not going to be as bad as it legitimately could have been -- just as at some point, although that point is not after just one week of play -- those who nay-sayed the fantasy value of players like Cam Newton should be willing to eat crow, provided he continues to excel.


I'll close with a video of a bit by Lewis Black, who correctly asserts that Al Roker and his ilk are often wrong -- by enormous proportions. I first saw him do a version of this bit in person in the early 90's, and at the time, he was talking about how if you predict 7 inches of snow and there's 14 inches of snow, nobody gets too upset because at least there was a "shitload of snow" but if you miss by the same amount in the other direction, and it doesn't snow, then there's going to be hell to pay. 

He closed the routine (when I saw it) by suggesting that if Roker wanted to impress him, he should predict something interesting -- like actual shitballs falling from the sky! "Get that right and maybe I'll listen to you from now on, but until then, no, I shan't be sure to bring my umbrella on this day."

My experience tells me though, that even if that was Roker's forecast, and it actually took place, a large majority of people would treat such an occurrence just like Cam Newton's Week 1, shrug it off and say,"He got lucky. Let's see him do it again." 

And so it goes...

September 9, 2011

Ten Years


I originally wrote this in 2006… but given the approaching anniversary, I have updated these words slightly and decided to share them again with you today… 

I was not feeling well that morning.

I couldn't quite figure out what was wrong with me, but whatever it was, I decided to call my doctor and see if she could fit me in. Unfortunately, the office was not yet open, and I decided to head into work anyway, and called the office to let them know I might be a few minutes late. I ran out of my apartment and headed for the subway.

Looking at my watch, it was 9:00 on the dot. I was going to be late, but not by too much. I was only two blocks away. The thing about living in New York is that people are always on their cellphones and talking loudly, and nobody really pays too much attention to the people around them, especially when you're in a hurry.

Still, I couldn't help but notice that EVERYONE was on a cellphone and all were looking in the same direction, and pointing, and standing still. I turned around to see what all the commotion was about and saw a large plume of dark smoke pouring out from a ways behind Chase Manhattan Plaza. From where I was standing, only the South Tower was visible, and I merely assumed there was a large fire in a building somewhere. So, I kept walking and reached the corner of Pine Street and ordered my usual morning bagel and coffee from the street vendor.

That's when the world changed for me.

It was 9:03.

First came the sound.

Take a piece of paper and tear it in half. Now magnify that sound by about one hundred thousand and have it increase in volume as it comes closer and closer to you.

My arm fully extended, my hand still held one end of the dollar bill. The vendor held the other end of the bill, as our heads turned in unison and watched the plane fly into the building. The explosion. The bits of paper falling from the sky. I remember standing there for a minute or two trying to wrap my head around what I had just witnessed. And then I walked towards the water, following a little voice in my head that told me that the building was going to fall.

Cellphones were now useless, and I could not get through to my wife, who was working in what was now the tallest building in the area that wasn't already on fire. I circled back towards the subway station and heard President Bush on a car radio saying the country had suffered an "apparent terrorist attack". It was 9:30, although I could have sworn only a few minutes had passed.

The conductor came up out of the subway station to the street and screamed, "Last train to Brooklyn" and I instinctively got on. Standing on that particular street corner was not going to be a safe place to be.

I got home in time to watch the first tower collapse on TV. That video of the giant cloud of smoke and debris surging around the corner of a building… my wife's building… time stood still.

The rest of the day, the week, is a blur. We had to leave the city for a time because the smoke from what was now called Ground Zero was constantly seeping in under our apartment door. Even when we returned to our jobs weeks later, the air was thick with the acrid smell and the twisted charred metal served as a constant reminder of the tragedy.

We were not sleeping. We needed to leave. We put a bid in on a house in South Jersey in December and moved away at the end of February.

These were the lemons we were dealt.

Ten years have passed. But it feels an awful lot closer. Had it not been for that day, though, my wife and I would probably still be in New York, and most likely would have decided not to raise a child in that environment.

As my son boarded the bus this morning for his third day of first grade, he stopped for a moment and turned to give me a hug, just because. I can truly say, he is the sweetest lemonade there could ever be.

Hug your kids. Call your parents. Take a moment to reflect. Then make yourself some lemonade.

"A man builds a city with banks and cathedrals. A man melts the sand so he can see the world outside. A man makes a car and builds roads to run them on. A man dreams of leaving, but he always stays behind."

Dedicated to the memory of Craig Staub and Gopal Varadhan, two of the many who died that day.
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