Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Benjamin is 4 Months Old

Hard to believe that over four months have passed by since Benjamin was born. He's been a blessing to Weena and I and our entire family.

He's very alert and active. He loves his floor gym and when seated in our laps, he likes to look around the room to check his surroundings out. He laughs and smiles a lot when I come home from work, which is the best part of my day. At 5:30 he and I sit in the rocking chair and watch a little TV. We like to watch Pardon the Interruption with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon. I guess those two talking loudly about sports gets his attention.

He loves to smile and ham it up for the camera as you can see here.

On Friday, Benjamin goes to see the doctor for his four month check up and shots. He was pretty tough the last time he got his shots during his two month appointment in December.

He is healthy, happy and our little miracle. Life is good.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Dancing Crab and Malt Shop

Yesterday after work I was driving meet my friend Mike who lives near Georgetown. We were going to meet a couple more friends for dinner and then go to the Georgetown-Rutgers basketball game. Mike helped me very early on in my sobriety and since I was celebrating an anniversary this week, it was a great time to meet up, show him pics of Benjamin and talk golf and sports. Plus I love college basketball and will watch two schools battle anytime, any place.

On my way to Mike's house I noticed how much Wisconsin Avenue had changed. Since I moved to Northern Virginia, I hadn't been in Upper Northwest DC much. Chevy Chase Center was torn down and rebuilt. The Roundtable Restaurant and movie theater were next on some developers list. Both of those places were abandoned. But what moved me was passing by the Dancing Crab and more important, the upstairs bar known as The Malt Shop. As you can see, the operation took over the restaurant next to the original restaurant and bar. I parked the car and shot a couple pictures. Why?

A little history of The Malt Shop as follows:

First, I believe the Malt Shop opened around the Fall of 1984 but I am not really sure as I was finishing up my final semester at school. I stumbled upon it one night in January 1985 when I was out drinking on a Friday night. I went upstairs and this bartender greeted me with "Hello, welcome to our dive". Miller was his name and he would be a good pal for a number of years to me and my friends, even when I stopped drinking. That first night I was there Miller had the Capitals hockey game on Home Team Sports. I was pumped I found a place that would show the Caps games. We didn't get HTS at my folks house, which is where I was living after finishing school.

This was an old-fashioned sports bar at its best. Formica tables, low ceiling and wood paneled walls with pictures of various clientele and sports memorabilia. TV's were scattered around the place and you had a juke box and a popcorn machine. If you were hungry, the standard bar food was available. Regulars hung out there, guys with names like Mole, Fritz and Gordo. My cast of pals Gus, Tim Dog, Veck, Jake, Weess, Crowl and Elwood fit in nice over the year's and we had our share of fun in the place. You would see tv people nightly, former and current Redskins occasionally and a Congressman or two every now and then. The late sportscaster Glenn Brenner was there a lot. Football Hall of Famers Sonny Jurgensen and John Riggins were there often as well.

It was was our Cheers. Everyone knew your name and when Miller saw you come up the stairs, a cold Bud was waiting at your spot before you sat down.

My best memories of the place. Not in any particular order:

Capitals vs Islanders Game 7 Patrick Division playoffs. April 18-19, 1987. Islanders won game 3-2 in the 4th Overtime. I believe the game ended around 2:20 AM. Miller said he couldn't serve us any more beer after 2:00 AM but we could stay and watch the end. Brutal result and the hangover that followed.

Game 7 of the 1987 Stanley Cup Finals between Philadelphia and Edmonton. Not all homes had ESPN so a bunch of hockey fans crammed in the bar and watched this game. Edmonton won their third Stanley Cup that night.

1988 World Series, Game 1 between the LA Dodgers and Oakland A's. Kirk Gibson.

April 1988: My friend Tim and I drinking with the Mayor of Santa Fe New Mexico, Sam Pick

For about ten years we were regulars there. Our place to blow off steam and have a good time. In the mid '90's our group went on to do other things but the Dancing Crab and Malt Shop remained an institution.

A couple more memories: I took two road trips to Yankee Stadium in 1987 with Miller and some of the regulars. I can't remember much about the trips as the drinking would start early and continue on most of the day and on the way home. (Yes we had one guy doing the designated driving)

I took dates there. My Mom and Dad even met my friends there on a couple occasions.

So while the new restaurant area is an improvement, the character of the new place won't ever match the old place. That's change though. We experience this when our favorite sports teams move into new stadiums, when our families move into new houses or when our companies move into new offices to name some examples. Sometimes I like to look back on things in my life and yesterday was one of those times. Part of the purpose of this blog is to put my thoughts and experiences down so one day Benjamin can read them and get an idea of who his Dad is, who his family are and what went on when he was a little boy. Bob Dylan wrote the following line that I like in this song . "Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast"

Sunday, February 19, 2006

17 Years Ago: A Mess and the Clean Up

I’ll bet everyone is wondering: Why is there a picture of a ticket stub from a 1989 Maryland basketball game on this site? It is a very significant ticket stub, not for what happened in the game but what happened to me later. I am a recovering alcoholic. February 19, 1989 was the last day I was drunk. Since I have this forum, I thought I would talk a bit about how it was pre-February 19, 1989, how it was getting sober and my life today.

First, I started drinking at an early age. My first beer was consumed sometime in April 1976. I was 14 years old and with my neighborhood friends. We all tried drinking to impress an older crowd in our neighborhood, to fit in and to try to be cool. It was easy getting beer then as several of my friends had older brothers and they would buy for us.

I developed a tolerance for it and later used drinking as an escape. It tasted good and I was more outgoing when I had a few beers under my belt. This behavior continued into high school. After graduation in the summer of 1980, I was arrested with a friend for breaking into a school gymnasium to shoot hoops. We were pretty drunk and weren’t aware of the silent alarm we triggered. The drinking escalated into my college years and while I had my share of fun, I was lucky to meet up with several friends who knew when to party and when to study. I got my degree and headed out into the working world in early 1985.

The drinking continued and several incidents and fights followed. I don’t think I was fully aware of what I was doing to myself but I know I was alienating family and friends with my behavior that resulted from drinking. But I didn’t care. As long as I had alcohol, preferably beer and lots of it, I didn’t care. There were several “incidents” that occurred, too numerous to list here, but one that always gets a laugh at AA meetings is the time I came home sloppy drunk and took the elevator to my apartment on Idaho Avenue in NW DC. I lived on the fifth floor and the elevator stopped at the forth floor for some reason. Maybe I hit the wrong button, I don’t know. I got off the elevator and went to what I thought was my apartment. I couldn’t get the key to open my door, so I start banging on the door and this old lady answered it yelling at me. I started yelling at her wondering WTF are you doing in MY apartment! She said she had lived in her apartment, #406 for the past ten years and perhaps in my condition, I was on the wrong floor and didn’t know it. I went back to my apartment (#506) and passed out. The next night before I went out I slapped a Washington Capitals bumper sticker on my door so I could tell I was in the right place when I came home hammered.

That’s pretty much how it went for the longest time, just drink, stagger, fall down, do something stupid and repeat. February 19, 1989 started with me meeting up with my neighborhood friends to go to College Park, MD to see the Terps play North Carolina. Game time was 1:00 PM. I had been hitting the sauce heavy the night before and it didn’t take long for me to get the buzz going again before the game. Once inside, Maryland was getting clobbered and a bunch of us were getting restless because the game stunk and we were out of booze. I think I got in a shouting match with an usher, I can’t remember. We ended up going to the Rendezvous for a few beers, then over to a friend’s parent’s house. His folks were away and we were shooting pool and goofing off. I do remember grabbing a bottle of vodka and mixed a blender full of Bloody Marys, which I decided I did not want to share with anyone. This was my thinking throughout my drinking days. Mine and mine only. I ended up passing out around 6:00 PM. A couple hours later I ended up at my parent’s house as my friends went to a party and just deposited me there as they didn’t want to deal with a sloppy drunk pal. That’s how bad I got. I couldn’t control myself anymore. When I awoke, I had no idea how I got to my folks as I blacked out.

Monday, February 20, 1989 was President’s Day and I didn’t have to go into work. Not that I really was in any shape to. My Mom drove me to my apartment. I don’t believe we even spoke, that’s how hung over I was and how ticked off she must have been at me. I slept my hang over off and in the middle of the afternoon, I stumbled to the mirror and took a look at the mess I had become at age 27. I decided then and there to end the nonsense. I didn’t know how I would but I remembered hearing one day at a time at some point in my life, so I decided that was how I would attempt to do this. I managed to get through the rest of the week without alcohol, skipping happy hours and coming straight home. The weekend was going to be rough. I disconnected my phone and stayed in my apartment all weekend crying, not knowing what the hell I was doing or where I was going with it.

I got through the weekend ok and decided I had to face my friends. I was too scared to tell them my decision, so I lied and said I made a hundred dollar bet with an ex girlfriend that I could stop drinking for the rest of the Capitals hockey season, which was usually in mid April as they would always lose in the first round of the playoffs. “Whatever” was the reaction and the phone calls stopped. As the days went by, I missed the camaraderie of my friends, so I tried meeting them at various bars and sip Coke or soda water. The abuse I took from them and bartenders was too much, so I stopped doing it.

I ended up consulting with a friend who had been going to AA meetings and asked if he would take me. I started to get into a routine and met some people who would later influence me as I progressed with my sobriety. I would go to meetings three, four, five times a week and just listened. I talked to people in AA over the phone. I read books. A lot of changes occurred and I started to accrue sobriety time and I started to feel good about myself. The days turned into weeks, these turned into months and finally I had my first year of sobriety in February 1990. During this time, my friends started to understand where I was going and while I didn’t meet them at bars anymore, I’d still keep in touch with them over the phone. We'd get together for an occasional round of golf. It took awhile, but friends and family could start to trust me again.

Fast forward seventeen years to today. I hold a steady job; have a nice house with a wonderful wife and newborn son that I love very much! I do a lot of the same things I used to do drunk, only sober. It’s been that way for seventeen years now. It’s nice to come from a sports event or concert with a recollection of what I just saw. It's nice to be a reliable employee, a trusted family member and a good husband and father. This is what is at stake if I ever refer back to my old ways. I think I am smart enough to realize what is at stake and what I would lose if I ever went back to that way of life, so I just keep things in my life simple and easy to manage. It's worked for a number of years and if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I forgot where I heard that for the first time but it works for me.

Since Ive been sober, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, highs and lows, good and bad things that have happened. That’s life. I've been fortunate and blessed that I’ve had a clear head to make major life decisions, a clear head to get me through the good and bad experiences in my life, a clear head to understand drinking is NOT the answer to my problems.

I’m blessed to have several friends who have been very important in my sobriety. Their insights, advice, assistance and patience with me have been greatly appreciated over the years. You know who you are out there and you know how much I value your friendship and guidance over the years.

If there is someone out there reading this blog who struggling with addiction who wants to talk, by all means use the e-mail link in the My Profile section to drop me an e-mail. For those currently in recovery, keep going back to your meetings. It definitely works if you work it.

As for the ticket stub, it holds special significance for me as it is the one item left that I have saved from my drinking days. When I had a year of sobriety, I tore up all the photos that I had where I was drinking or drunk. I didn’t want the photographs reminding me of what a mess I was.

A few of my favorite hobbies are reading, listening to music and crossword puzzles. One piece of advice I got early in sobriety is keep your mind and yourself busy so you won’t think about that next drink. It's worked for me.

I’ll close with the Serenity Prayer as that’s how we close meetings in AA.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Nils Lofgren: The Birchmere 2/17/06

It had been about a year since I last saw Nils play at the XM Performance Theater, so when I saw he had three shows scheduled for this weekend at The Birchmere, I had to go check him out. Nils was debuting a new CD called Sacred Weapon and the show was being recorded for a possible DVD release.

I arrived, picked up a copy of the new CD and waited for my number to be called so I could enter. Upon entering, I noticed all the tables and seats in the middle taken, so I went over to my right and found a table. For the duration of the show I had a whole table to myself. No one next to me chatting, getting up or placing drink orders. It really was fantastic to be in my own little space there. Before the show, Jeff N. from the Nils listserve came over to say hello. I met Jeff at a Bruce Springsteen show at MCI Center in August 2002. He is from England and we've swapped CD's and kept in touch over the years. For the past two years he has flown over and caught all the Birchmere shows.

The show started around 8:00 and Nils just jammed the entire night. He played old favorites from his solo career such as Keith Don't Go, Across the Tracks, Cry Tough, Valentine, I'll Arise and one song that was used on the HBO show The Soprano's called Black Books. He played one song from his days as a member of the Band Grin, Like Rain. His explanation for not doing more was former Grin member Bob Berberich was supposed to be there last night for the DVD filming, but took ill and had to cancel his appearance. Nils had hoped to have him on for the Saturday and Sunday shows though.

What's great about seeing Nils at The Birchmere is you get the full Lofgren clan of brothers jamming on stage. Nils was joined at various times by Tommy, Mark and Mike Lofgren as well as Buck Brown and another special guest, MaryAnn Redmond. I had never heard of her, but she added a lot to the show last night with her vocals.

For me, the highlight of the show was when Nils and Buck jammed back to back on A Fool Like Me and Deadline. I don't recall ever hearing these two tunes live before.

Finally, Nils closed the show with three encores: No Mercy, Because The Night and Shine Silently. The latter song had everyone standing up and rocking with the music and yours truly did a Tiger Woods fist pump in the aisle as Nils closed it all out.

After the show, Nils did his usual meet and greet with the fans.

During the meet and greet, I asked Nils to sign the new CD for Benjamin. I'm starting to build a little memorabilia collection for him and thought this would be a great addition.

Sacred Weapon reviewed here in The Washington Post.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Foot of Heavy, Wet Snow

Yesterday afternoon it started to sleet and snow. It didn't deter me as I went to the Caps hockey game and by the time I left the MCI Center and got to Bethesda to pick up my car, there were about three inches accumulated. I drove slowly on the way home and for the most part, the beltway, Dulles Toll Road and Route 28 were fine, with road crews having salted these roads earlier. The exit ramps left a bit to be desired though but I got home ok around 10:30 PM. This morning we got this: A foot of heavy, wet snow.



While this storm proved to be inconvenient for some, the usual hysteria that comes with a DC area snowfall was pretty much absent because this fell on a weekend. Monday's commute won't be a breeze as this melting snow will likely refreeze overnight Sunday. I am thankful I decided to get new tires on my car two weeks ago after passing the 65,000 mile mark.

It's been a relatively mild winter here and if this is all we get, I'll take it. There is something that fired me up today after I got the paper. Pitchers and catchers for the Nationals report to Florida for Spring Training this week.

Nats Spring Training Preview

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Revisiting An Old Hobby

Since Benjamin was born I've been acquiring collectables that he can enjoy when he gets older. I've recently started ordering coin sets from the United States Mint.

So far I've purchased a 2005 silver proof set to commemorate the year he was born.

This week I picked up 1/10 ounce $ 5.00 American Eagle Gold coin. It's about the size of a dime but all the other sizes were sold out. It's the first gold coin I've ever purchased and owned.

A little lesson for those unfamiliar with the term "proof". It is a specialized minting process that begins by manually feeding smooth coin blanks into presses fitted with special dies. Each coin is struck multiple times so the softly frosted, yet detailed images seem to float above a mirror-like field. The coin is then inspected. Each American Eagle Proof Coin is placed in a protective plastic capsule and mounted in a presentation case as seen above. American Eagle gold coins sell at a fixed price and are available in the following options: one ounce, one-half ounce, one-quarter ounce, one-tenth ounce.

I plan to keep purchasing the silver proof sets for Benjamin each year so he will have a little collection of his own to go with the coins I collected as a kid. As for the gold coins, it's a nice investment and these American Eagles have appreciated in value over the years since their introduction in 1986. I hope to purchase more of these coins in the future.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Rookie Dad: Week 15

Weena went back to work this week but Benjamin has adjusted pretty well to the separation. I race out of work to get home around 3:45 PM to relieve my Mother in Law, who is watching him during the day. It is the best part of my day, opening the front door and seeing my little guy smiling. He's a happy, healthy boy and our family is truly blessed. Nothing can match the thrill I have when I see my son smile each day.

Terps End Losing Streak

Last night the Terps went on a 13-0 run late in the second half to secure a 76-65 victory over Virginia. The win gave coach Gary Williams his 349th victory at Maryland, which moved him past Lefty Driesell as the Terps all-time winningest coach. I watched this on TV and yeah, it was a gut wrencher and I wanted to yell at the TV at times as Virginia took a 13-0 lead to start the game. However, the Terps rallied and showed some heart in the second half to get the victory.

After the game when the players presented the game ball to their coach, Williams was unable to hold back emotion. He was choked up when he talked about what the victory meant for his team, which had lost three consecutive games. He was unable to speak at times when he reflected on his long career at Maryland.

His biggest accomplishment is the 2002 National Championship. But he said last night that he is most proud of overcoming NCAA sanctions his first three seasons in College Park and restoring the program's image that followed in the wake of the death of Len Bias in June of 1986.

So hats off and congratulations to Coach Gary Williams. He'll enjoy this for a couple minutes as he'll be working on a game plan to stop Duke, which visits Comcast Center Saturday at 1:00 PM.

Maryland is now 15-7 overall and 5-4 in the ACC.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Maryland Basketball Rant

North Carolina 77, Maryland 62 Recap here

I was thoroughly disgusted at the way the Terps played in the second half last night vs North Carolina. It was so bad, I was counting down the minutes until My Name Is Earl came on.

I was upstairs watching this and had to go downstairs because I didn't want Benjamin to hear my barrage of cuss words. Last thing Weena and I want are his first words to be "Get the *&%$#* rebound you $%*&#!!"

Here's the way I see the rest of the season going if they continue to play like they did the last ten minutes vs Temple and the second half of last night: Currently the Terps have a 14-6 overall record and are 4-3 in the ACC.

at NC State--loss
Virginia--win (maybe)
at Clemson--win
Georgia Tech--win
at Florida State--loss
at North Carolina--loss
at Virginia--loss

They'll finish 8-8 in the ACC and 18-11 overall. If they suffer a first round loss in the ACC tourney, that will give them an 18-12 record and a spot on the NCAA tournament bubble. The crown jewel win this year is a squeaker home win over #6 at the time Boston College. No sweep of Duke to throw at the NCAA selection committee this year.

The loss of starting senior guard and team captain Chris McCray has hurt this team. He picked a nice time to decide to stop going to class. As a result, his career at Maryland is over.

I'll also place some blame on former guard John Gilchrist for screwing up what chemistry this team had after winning the 2004 ACC tourney. He was told by coach Gary Williams not to bother to come back to the team in 2005-2006 after constantly being a distraction by clashing with Terrapin coaches and teammates last season. Last I heard he was playing in Israel.

If they don't get a NCAA bid this year, I'm not sure if the NIT is too excited about an uninspired team that will be far less interested in the NIT than they were last year. I doubt Gary will even accept the NIT bid, opting to tell the senior class just to scram rather than deal with this team any longer.

All the Georges are doing well. George Washington (17-1) is currently ranked tenth in the nation and Georgetown (15-4) should make a return to the NCAA tournament. George Mason (16-5), Weena's school, is currently tied for the lead the CAA Conference headed into a showdown vs arch rival UNC-Wilmington tomorrow night at Patriot Center. First place is at stake.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Book Shopping

It was a good afternoon for a lunchtime walk today, so I headed over to Barnes and Noble in Bethesda when this caught my eye:

This is a collection of stories around various parts of Washington DC. George Pelecanos edited this book (and writes the lead story).This is not a political thriller.

I'm become a big fan of George Pelecanos work, thanks to my friend Dave, who mentioned him during a Recent Books Read discussion that is now almost three years old at Big Soccer

Previews of D.C. Noir from The Washington Post
Book World 1/29/06

Book World 1/15/06

More about George Pelecanos

An excerpt of the Introduction:

So don't expect all the locals to get misty-eyed over monuments, inauguration balls, or care about society sightings inside Style. What might get them emotional is the sight of someone who shares their memories. The ones who remember Riggo breaking that tackle in '83, Len Bias's jersey number, Phil Chenier's baseline jumper, Frank Howard's swing or Doug Williams throwing the ball downfield like God was talking in his ear. The ones who saw Aretha as a child performing with her father onstage at Howard, or Sinatra at the Watergate barge, or Trouble Funk at the old 9:30, or Hendrix at the Ambassador, or Bruce at the Childe Harold. The ones who play Frankie Beverly or EWF at Sunday picnics in Rock Creek Park. The ones who have Backyard Band, Minor Threat, Chuck Brown, William DeVaughn, Shirley Horn and Bad Brains in their record collections. The ones who knew that Elgin Baylor came out of Spingarn, ot that Adrian Dantley and Brian Westbrook were DeMatha Stags. The ones who hear the voice of Bobby "The Mighty Burner" Bennett on the radio and can't help but grin. The ones who bleed Burgundy and Gold. The ones who will claim that they know your distant cousin, or tell you they like the looks of your car, or if it needs to be replaced, mention that it's a hooptie. Or the woman at the Safeway who hands you your receipt and tells you to "have a blessed day." Or the matriarch on your street with the prunish, beautiful face who raised six sons and now lords over a house holding many of their children. It's about the collective memories of the locals, and also about the voices. If you close your eyes and listen to the people of this city, you will hear the many different voices, and if you've lived here long enough, the cadences and rhythms, the familiarity of it, the feeling that you are home, will make you smile.