Sunday, December 27, 2015

If you want to be uplifted, entertained, and inspired, go see 'Creed'!

Hope our readers are having a great holiday season so far. I will write my thoughts on the state of the Yankees soon (spoiler alert: they're not positive!) But in the meantime, I wanted to talk about a really great movie I saw last night. I went to see Creed. It was fantastic, and I say this as a longtime Rocky fan (click here to read my recent review of Rocky, when I watched it again to see if it still held up.) Anyhow, here are my thoughts on the movie. Warning: there are some mild spoilers, equivalent to what you might read in a typical movie review.

Basic story is this: Apollo Creed (who was killed in the ring in Rocky IV)  had an illegitimate son, Adonis, born after his death. The kid grows up in group homes and keeps on getting into trouble. When he's about 12 or so, Creed's widow, Mary Anne, gets him out of juvie hall and gets him into the lap of luxury. He then finds out for the first time who his father was. Adonis, nicknamed Donnie, grows up, gets a job in finance, and seems to have a great life. But he wants to box like his father. Long story short, he quits his job, goes to Philadelphia, and seeks out Rocky Balboa to train him. He also gets a girlfriend, who has problems of her own. Donnie ends up getting a big boxing challenge.

Anyhow, what I want to talk about is the real theme of the movie -- overcoming adversity, being the best person you can be, and getting support from others to do that. And to do it one step, one punch, one round at a time. The three main characters -- Donnie, Rocky, and Bianca -- all have problems that need to be resolved. They're flesh and blood characters who you can't help but root for.

Some of the best scenes in the movie involve Rocky training Donnie, which harkens back to Mickey and Rocky in the original movie.  Seeing Donnie running made me want to get out and do some training of my own after the film! (When I ran four miles this morning, I couldn't help but think of scenes from the movie.)

It's nice to see an inspiring film that has people with relatable problems. What's also cool about the movie is that it has its own twist to the Rocky tale without being a rote imitation. Anyhow, go see Creed.  It really motivated me this weekend!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

What happens when this "Star Wars" non-fan finally watches the movie again? Read on!

I recently watched the original Star Wars movie for the first time since I saw it back in the day. This was a big deal for me, because I am one of the few people in America who has been very meh, as the kids say these days, about Star Wars. So what made me do this? Because of fantasy football. Let me explain.

I wrote this October on Facebook about how I didn't care about Star Wars: The Force Awakens:
"Shocker: I'm one of the few people who has zero interest in the new Star Wars movie. Does that make me un-American?"
Lots and lots of my Facebook friends were stunned and dismayed by my admission. It was as if I said, "I like to eat babies for breakfast. Deal with it!"

Now, I had seen the first three Star Wars movies when I was a kid (I think it was a requirement if you grew up in the 1970s and 80s, along with reading Dynamite magazine and knowing what the words are to "Conjunction Junction.")  I found the movies okay. Never felt the need to see them again, as I noted in that Facebook thread, and they were never like The Godfather or Goodfellas to me. Also, I argued that there was way too much hype about the Star Wars flicks, given that only two or three out of the six installments are considered good.

I didn't even get into how the Star Wars fanatics in the world kind of scare me. Wearing clothing of characters they like? Playing with toys related to the film? Indoctrinating their children into their creepy cult? Watching certain parts over and over? Lining up for tickets? Too weird. Oh, wait, aren't many sports fans guilty of all of those things?

Now, some FB friends did agree with my assessment of the movies, but most of the responses I received were negative. Very negative. My running club compadre and fellow blogger Josh Pesin was particularly peeved, and wrote this impassioned response to my negative comments:
"George Lucas based the whole Star Wars universe on Greek mythological archetypes using the writings of mythology expert Joseph Campbell. There are deep Oedipal and psychological meanings throughout the films that reflect the weaknesses of the human condition. Unrequited love, a thirst for power, innocence lost, and betrayal are just some of the themes of human frailties dealt with throughout the films. And Lucas created a distant future full of dystopian imagery where robots are banged up, dirtied and worn, aliens are tired of working their 9-5 jobs, and humans still have trouble making ends meet where their crops on farms of far-away planets are just not growing. While the cinematographic images, costumes, score, special effects, and fantastical aliens and creatures all add to an amazing visceral experience throughout all the films, critics who only judge Star Wars from this superficial level are missing the point. Star Wars deep down is a film series that focuses primarily on the nuances, challenges and realities of the human condition."
Then he delivered the kicker. "I would never say I had zero interest in any of your passions. There would be no point in me stating that." Ouch!

That particular comment made me feel extremely guilty. And I wondered how I could make amends.

Josh is able to leap tall buildings in
a single bound. But setting a fantasy
football lineup? Fuhgeddaboudit!
You see, as I mentioned earlier in this blog, I roped Josh into joining our running club's first-ever fantasy football league because we needed ten players, and only had nine. (His team's name? The 10th Guy.) I initially thought he would have football knowledge because he is a real badass, as you can see from this picture. Josh does Spartan Races and marathons (including running the NYC Marathon six times!) and adventure races and road races and polar bear plunges and mountain biking and all sorts of manly stuff.

But that's the thing. He is a sports participant, not a spectator. He likes to play football, not watch it. Let alone pay attention to the intricacies of fantasy football.

Even though I helped Josh every week with his team, fantasy football just wasn't his thing. As he put it to me a few weeks ago: "Me doing this 15-week fantasy football is like you following Star Wars for 15 weeks and being expected to maintain and know your Star Wars characters every week."

Here Josh exclusively re-enacts for Subway
Squawkers his facial expression
when hearing me explain

how NFL bye weeks work.
Ouch again! Josh was totally right in his comparison, and I felt terrible. Here he did me a solid in agreeing to be in my fantasy football league, something that was important to me, and how did I repay him? By dissing a movie that was important to him. What a heel I was. Why didn't I try to learn about his interests, given that he spent a whole season trying to learn about mine?

So I knew what I had to do. And that was watch the original Star Wars again. Maybe he and the many millions of people who love the franchise were right, and I was (gulp!) wrong. At the very least, I could sit through this for two hours, considering Josh sat through a whole season of fantasy football.

Last weekend, I took the plunge on watching Episode IV: A New Hope. The first 15 minutes were slow going; Carrie Fisher's weird accent, dumb hairstyle, and tacky makeup job grated on my last nerve. So did C3PO's manner of speaking. (Why in a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, do they speak in a plummy faux-British accent? Annoying!) I did like the way Tattooine looked, but that was about it.

I really wanted to quit watching at this point, but I decided to plow through it the way I plowed through the Staten Island Half-Marathon with a hip and leg injury. So I gritted my teeth and kept on watching.

And then a strange thing happened. I found myself entertained by the movie. Luke Skywalker doesn't show up until 17 minutes into the movie, but when he did, things started getting interesting, even if he was a little whiny. Alec Guinness was a great actor, so it was fun to see him as Obi-Wan Kenobi. I liked seeing the stormtroopers on the giant lizards. Then the road trip begins with Luke, Obi-Wan, and the droids, and I'm always a sucker for a good road trip.

By the time the cantina scene started, I thought "Hey, this isn't so bad." And then the best part of the movie showed up: Harrison Ford as Han Solo! Oh, my. I thought he was so handsome and dashing in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but I never thought of his Star Wars character that way; that could be because I was still four years away from puberty when Star Wars debuted. Anyhow, his appearance in the film, 47 minutes in, made the whole movie for me. Han Solo was just such a great character; one of the original lovable rogues, before that became a cliche.

I also liked the camaraderie with him, Chewbacca, Luke, and Leia. Especially the banter with Leia. And the way Han Solo decided to do something selfless to help the rebels. The ending awards scene reminded me of The Wizard of Oz, and when the movie was finished, I thought, "Hey, this was pretty good entertainment!"

Is Star Wars going to make my all-time favorite movies list? The answer is still no. But I did enjoy watching the movie, and I...was..wrong in my earlier assessment, as much as that pains me to say! I was initially going to just write my review of the film for Josh, but he talked me into writing a blog entry on this. Even thought it would mean I would have to publicly admit that I was wrong about something. "People like honesty and those who keep things real," he said. So even though Squawker Jon thinks this whole blog entry is an all-star effort in navel-gazing, I figured I had to write this up. Who knows? Maybe I'll even go to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. But I'm not wearing a costume!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Remembering Frank Sinatra at 100, and why "New York, New York" doesn't make my Sinatra Top 5

So today is the 100th birthday of Francis Albert Sinatra, my favorite singer of all time. He was a great vocalist, and a pretty good actor, too (check out The Manchurian Candidate to see one example of what I'm talking about.)  Part of me wishes I were alive in the era of Sinatra's prime. You know, back when they called women "dames." Heck, I would have made a great sassy dame back in the day! (Squawker Jon just chimed in to say that I am a sassy dame right now! He wouldn't say "great," though. Heh.)

Anyhow, what I like about Sinatra, besides his voice, is that he hit rock bottom, and then had arguably the greatest comeback in show business history. Such an epic comeback, only a horse's head in a bed would seem to explain it. Although that Godfather story didn't really happen, we don't know how much Sinatra's, um, connections, played in him getting the Oscar-winning role as Maggio in From Here to Eternity. Heck of the movie, by the way – watching it will put what you thought your parents' or grandparents' generation was about in a whole new light! (For one thing, Donna Reed, George Bailey's wife Mary in It's a Wonderful Life, is a prostitute in this film. But I digress.)

Anyhow, Sinatra didn't live a golden life. He had emotional scars. He had lots of downs, and romantic misery, and the like. He spent sleepless nights longing over lost loves, most notably Ava Gardner. All of this gave an edge to his singing, and is much of the reason his legend endures.

The way Sinatra didn't just sing but live his songs is part of the reason I still listen to him so often. I dig Sinatra's musing amid misery. Sorry, but I just can't relate to people who have lived perfect, easy lives. Give me the Sinatras or A-Rods of the world over the Jeters of the world any day. I want to read and learn about the people who've made mistakes, and lived to tell the tale. Speaking of which, I just started reading Ben Bradlee Jr.'s biography of Ted Williams, a very flawed (well, he was a Boston Red Sox!) but interesting individual. Good book so far!

I also have to admit finding it amusing to read recently about how Sinatra detested "My Way," finding its egomaniacal lyrics way too much. As the Wall Street Journal explained his thinking, "It would have seemed like the tackiest thing imaginable to stand in the middle of Madison Square Garden and shout out to the world how great he was." Somebody ought to have reminded team player Jeter about that, when he had that infamous Nike "My Way" commercial as part of his endless retirement tour!

Anyhow, I am such a Sinatra fan, I even liked one of the songs Frank's kids did. His daughter Nancy's "These Boots Are Made for Walking" is my top go-to karaoke song, because her lack of vocal range matches mine. Plus she's good friends with Morrissey, one of my heroes.

So, in honor of Frank Sinatra's b-day, I'm going to list my five favorite Sinatra songs, in reverse order, from 5 to 1. And no, "New York, New York" does not make this current list. It's a little overplayed at this point for me! Sorry.

5. "The Lady Is a Tramp": I still don't know what the heck the lyrics in this song mean. Why is the lady a tramp because she doesn't show up late to the theater, and because she won't dish the dirt with the rest of the girls? Even if it's meant facetiously, it still doesn't make much sense to me. Nonetheless, I still love this song!

4. "It Had to Be You": One of my favorite movies of all time is When Harry Met Sally. And Sinatra's version of this song highlights the most pivotal scene in the film. One of the movie scenes where I can recite every word of dialogue, for whatever that's worth! Harry Connick, Jr. also sings the song in the film, which is an okay song. But Sinatra's version kills.

3. "Luck Be a Lady Tonight": Longtime Subway Squawkers readers may know that Guys and Dolls is one of my favorite musicals ever. I know all the songs by heart. I am also a big believer in "yeah, chemistry," as Marlon Brando's Sky Masterson puts it in the film. But as sexy as Brando was in that role, he couldn't sing a lick. Sinatra, who plays Nathan Detroit in the film, was peeved he didn't get the part, which has the best songs, with "Luck Be a Lady Tonight." Looking back on it, Sinatra sang the heck out that song on his own, years later. But Brando sold it with his looks and charisma. Click the links and see for yourself.

2. "The Way You Look Tonight": Some of the best lyrics of any Sinatra song. Phrases like "keep that breathless charm" and "that laugh that wrinkles your nose, it touches my foolish heart" are so memorable. What woman wouldn't want a man to sing this song about her? A classic. Even the instrumental part of this song is terrific.

1. "I've Got You Under My Skin":  Many people consider this Sinatra's greatest song. So do I. The great Nelson Riddle worked with Sinatra on the arrangement of this song, but the instrumental crescendo in the middle of "I've Got You Under My Skin" was Sinatra's idea.  Someday, I will dance with someone to that part of the song; it's just so perfect! I also loved this Vanity Fair description of Sinatra regarding this song, which talks about his "terrible impatience—with the incompetence and stupidity that were so rife in the world, with things he needed to happen instantaneously, and so rarely did. The realization that he was like nobody else, and therefore destined to be alone. His terrors: of aloneness itself; of sleep, the cousin to death. And always, always, the vast and ravening appetites." That sums up Sinatra in a nutshell.

* * *

Honorable mention: "That's Life," "Fly Me to the Moon," "Summer Wind," "I'll Be Seeing You," "All or Nothing at All," and "It Was a Very Good Year." In closing, check out Sinatra, with Count Basie, performing "Fly Me to the Moon" to some prisoners. Good stuff!

Do you have a favorite Frank Sinatra song? Tell us about it!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Ben Zobrist, Michael Cuddyer and the phony big move

The Mets failed to get their top target, Ben Zobrist, and I'm almost relieved. Four years and $56 million seems a lot for a player who turns 35 next May whose days of double-digit homers and stolen bases are in the past. Getting Neil Walker for one year until Dilson Herrera is ready while shedding Jon Niese's salary is a better plan, since the Mets are now in better position to add the big bat they still need.

The big bat that nobody expects them to get.

I have to wonder if part of the Mets' interest in Zobrist was to attempt to refute the notion that they are unwilling to spend money to improve the team. Look, we signed a big free agent that lots of teams wanted! Zobrist is a good player, but he's more of a complementary piece than a game-changer. And $56 million is practically chump change in this free agent market - the top players available could end up getting four times as much.

Last year, the Mets raced to lock up free agent Michael Cuddyer. It looked like a dubious move at the time - Cuddyer was turning 36 and injuries had limited him to 49 games the previous year. After preaching prospects for several years, the Mets surrendered their top draft pick to sign Cuddyer.  But for $21 million, they could say they signed a free agent, even if his entire contract was less than a superstar makes in a year.

At best, Cuddyer could have been a starting point to a productive offseason, but the Mets' only other offseason signing was, wait for it, John Mayberry Jr.  I wish Sandy Alderson a speedy recovery and appreciate the fact that he delivered a pennant last year, but all of the praise he got for his midseason moves should not obscure the fact that the offense was in such bad shape last July because of the moves Alderson did not make the previous offseason.

So far, this offseason is going better than the last one. Adding Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera shores up the infield, while Niese was ticketed for the bullpen once Zack Wheeler returns. If the Mets re-sign Bartolo Colon, all that would be left to worry about would be another reliever and a big bat.

But until I see otherwise, it's hard not to wonder if this will be another wait-and-see-how-the-Mets are doing before opening the pursestrings at the trading deadline when you only have to pay for two months of the next Yoenis Cespedes and Tyler Clippard.

Cespedes has his issues, and I'm not saying he's worth any price. And the money being talked about for Jason Heyward is money you give a superstar, not a very good player who is not yet a superstar. But the Mets' offense was the worst in the league before they got Cespedes. Michael Conforto's first full season is unlikely to make up for the loss of Cespedes. A full year of David Wright at his peak would go a long way, but Wright is well past his peak and injury-prone. A full year of Travis d'Arnaud would be great, but d'Arnaud is very injury-prone as well. 

The Mets have been pushing 2016 season tickets since before last season ended. How would they feel if fans waited to spend money on the team until July 31 to see if they were in contention?


Update - just saw that the Cubs signed Heyward. So the Cubs have now added Zobrist, Heyward and John Lackey to a team that won 97 games last year and has young hitting talent to match the Mets' young pitching. It must be nice to root for a big-market team. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

About Brian Cashman's lack of regrets on his moronic decisions, including passing on David Price

Some more thoughts on the Yankees letting David Price go to the Red Sox. Yesterday I read a story about how Brian Cashman's injury after jumping out of an airplane was even worse than we knew at the time. Turns out he broke his foot and had to get multiple surgeries on it. What's more, his body still shows the evidence of the mishap. "I've got a plate with 8 screws in my right ankle," he told the Boston Globe. "Do I regret it? No, it was wild."

What is he, 14? It was wild? Good grief. There's Cashman's mindset in a nutshell. I don't understand that bravado, especially given his job.

I am sidelined right now from running due to bursitis in my right hip and tendinitis in my right hamstring. I got hurt during the Staten Island Half-Marathon on October 11, and the pain got worse and worse over the next few weeks until I saw a sports medicine physician in early November and got a diagnosis. I have multiple regrets about my first real running injury. I regret not going to a doctor earlier. I regret continuing to run with the pain. I regret not doing weight training -- I found out after the fact that this was a big factor in why I got hurt in the first place.

You know, having regrets isn't necessarily bad. Maybe, oh I don't know, sometimes people learn from their mistakes? But given that Cashman bragged this summer about riding a bicycle around New York City without a helmet, it doesn't seem like he ever does. Or he learns the wrong lessons, like passing on David Price because he made the mistake of giving CC Sabathia the ability to opt out and shake down the Yankees for more money. (An aside: I have running club friends who mountain bike and do triathlons and all sorts of badass things. And guess what? They all wear protective gear, including helmets, when doing so. Guess they're just not as tough as Cashman.)

At any rate, after seeing the Yankees pass on the best free agent in the market, I have to wonder, do Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner have a coherent plan? Or is it like Cashman recklessly jumping out of the airplane and breaking his ankle -- they just do whatever and hope for the best? This team is another year older. The chances that A-Rod and Tex have the seasons they did last year are slim. And if Tanaka is the closest this team will have to an ace, they're in real trouble.

I can understand not trading for Price. But not signing him as a free agent, especially when it wouldn't cost a draft pick, is lunacy. Sorry, fellow Yankee fans, but there's no way to spin this decision as a good day for the Bombers.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

While the Yankees fiddle, the Bronx is boring. Or, why not signing David Price is a bad move for the Yankees.

So David Price is now a Boston Red Sox, with a seven-year, $217M contract. I think this is a great move for the Red Sox, because it 1) gets the team a true ace, and 2) keeps him away from the Yankees. Plus, Price is still just 30 years old. So while it's a crazy big amount of money, he will still only be 37 when the contract is over. Plus, the Sox don't have to give up a draft pick for him.

Dave Dombrowski is sure making his mark already! Because Hal Steinbrenner is shortsighted, the Yankees are surrendering their best advantage -- the ability to spend big bucks -- on such contracts.

I'm hearing all sorts of opinions in Yankeeland about the Price signing, the day after the Sox snapped up Chris Young. And a lot of the talk is, frankly, delusional. Like talk about how Price isn't very good. Really? He only went 9-1 down the stretch for the Toronto Blue Jays, helping them beat the Yankees. (And the pitcher who the Yanks could once beat up on was pretty dominant against them as a Blue Jay. getting two very dominant wins and one hard-luck loss.) Price was a huge factor in Toronto overcoming the Yankees' seven-run division lead and winning the AL East. He finished 2015 with a 18-5 record, with a league-leading 2.45 ERA and a 1.076 WHIP. There's a reason Price finished second in the AL Cy Young race, and in the top 10 for the AL MVP award.

Granted, his postseason numbers are putrid, but that's really the only flaw in his game. (And he could always end up better; look at how solidly Clayton Kershaw pitched this year in the postseason.)

At any rate, I don't know what the Yankees' plan is. As I said two years ago, if it's to rebuild, why did they sign Jacoby Ellsbury and Mashiro Tanaka? And why sign Andrew Miller? Why not trade all their tradeable assets now and do a real rebuild? No, they seem to want to partially rebuild, and partially compete. You know, it's kind of like the way they are handling Tanaka. He is not getting Tommy John surgery on his partially torn ligament. Which means he doesn't throw very hard anymore, and after all of a half-season as an ace, he's just a pretty good pitcher, for the same amount of money. It's all very, for lack of a better word, half-assed.

A tale of two teams: What will the Mets' success mean for the Yankees' attendance?

I've wondered a lot this fall about what the Mets' winning the 2015 NL Pennant is going to mean for their attendance -- and the Yankees' attendance next year. After all, the real jump in attendance that happens when a team gets good happens in the following year.

Look at what winning did for the Kansas City Royals' ticket sales, with their 2014 pennant-winning season:

2013: 1,750,754
2014: 1,956,482
2015: 2,708,549

Here's the Mets' home attendance for last year and this year:

2014: 2,148,808
2015: 2,569,753

And if history is any judge, the Mets should see a big jump in ticket attendance in 2016, especially if they have another good season. 

On the other hand, the Yankees' attendance is heading in the wrong direction:

2014: 3,401,624
2015: 3,193,795

That's the worst Yankee home attendance since 2000. And truth be told, a lot of the fans last year were dressed as empty seats.

The gap between the Yankees' and Mets' home ticket sales is 624,042, the closest it has been since 2009, the first year of the teams' new ballparks. And keep in mind that Yankee Stadium holds about 4,500 more seats than Citi FIeld does.

So what's going to happen next year? Well, look at how each team is marketing their 2016 ticket sales. I got an email the other day from the Yankees with this graphic:

How funny is it that A-Rod, the very guy the Yankees claimed last year was no longer marketable, is their marquee figure for marketing their tickets!

The Mets, on the other hand, are able to market their entire team's success for their ticket sales (what, you mean winning an AL Wild Card spot isn't exciting enough to put fannies in the seats for the Yankees?) Look at the email they recently sent out to their fans:

Yet the Yankees are supposedly going to keep on sticking to their budget, even though this is the best free agent class in years.

I am one of the Yankee fans who wants to see a successful Mets team. And it's not just because it's good for the Squawkers. It's because money is the only language that Hal Steinbrenner understands. So if more fans (and,more businesses buying and renting luxury boxes and purchasing fancy seats) spend money in Citi Field than Yankee Stadium, it will hurt the Yankees' bottom line. And it might ultimately force Prince Hal to shake up the team's manangement.

Most of the media hasn't really talked about this issue. But it's going to be interesting to see what happens next year, now that Mets fans are finally coming out of the closet again. (Let's face it -- until this year, you'd see more Red Sox gear in this town than Mets fan gear!) Get your popcorn ready.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Watching "Rocky" almost 40 years later: Does it still hold up?

The new movie "Creed" is getting terrific reviews, not just from the critics, but from people I know. And my good friend Ethan Sacks, who interviewed Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan for the New York Daily News, also had good things to say about the film. So before I go see the movie, I figured I'd better watch the original "Rocky" again. Which I did last night.

Me on the top of the famous steps,
September 2014.
First, a little background of my "Rocky" fandom. Over the years, I have seen all of the sequels (except "Rocky Balboa") and have them all on DVD. I even once had a cat named Rocky.

While I haven't watched the full original movie itself in a number of years, I can't tell you how many times I have listened to "Gonna Fly Now" and "Eye of the Tiger" from "Rocky III"during my fitness journey. Or watched the training montage from the original film. Or visualized scenes from that training montage when running. (Rocky lumbers the way I do!)

And yes, when I was sprawled out in Citi Field's center-field dirt during my Spartan Race last year, wondering how the heck I was going to finish, "Gonna Fly Now" did seem to taunt me. That was the lede of my Spartan Race story that won the Guideposts contest for me -- and got me in the magazine.

Also, when I ran the Philadelphia Rock 'n' Roll 5K in September 2014, I did the obligatory post-race photos on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum. It's no accident that I wore my shirt from that race when I ran in the Staten Half-Marathon last month. And my theme song during that race was "Victory," the Puff Daddy, Notorious B.I.G. and Busta Rhymes song that samples the ring music from "Rocky."

Me in front of the Rocky statue,
with my medal for the race.
So I was curious to see if the original "Rocky" would hold up, after watching the whole thing for the first time in years. Spoiler alert: it does. Here are my observations:
  • People don't think of Sylvester Stallone as much of an actor, but he is tremendous in this film. Like the look on his face when he gets the offer to fight Apollo Creed. Or when he finally loses his temper and yells at Mickey. Or when he confesses to Adrian that he doesn't think he can beat Creed, but just wants to go the distance. There's a reason he was nominated for Best Actor for this movie.
  • There was also a reason Stallone was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for this movie. The script became the template for so many sports movies over the years. But most of the imitators miss two things: how bleak Rocky's life and surroundings were to start with (remember the lamp with no shade and the upside-down KFC bucket?), and the fact that he didn't win at the end. He just went the distance, and that was enough.
  • The film's low budget ($1 million) and short filming schedule (28 days) helped contribute to its verisimilitude. The ice skating scene was done the way it was, with the empty rink, because they didn't have the money for extras. And the picture of Rocky with the wrong-colored shorts -- and the too-big robe -- were production mistakes that the movie explained by having Rocky point out both things.
  • Stallone has acknowledged that part of the inspiration for his writing was his own struggle as an actor/screenwriter, but he said that nobody would have wanted to watch a movie on that. And he believed in his script so strongly that he wouldn't sell it unless he got to play the lead role. He ended up getting less money up front, but 10 percent of the gross. Not bad for a movie that made over $225M at the box office.
  • Don't forget that this was also an era of depressing movies -- "Taxi Driver," "All the President's Men" and "Network" were all nominated for Best Picture that year, and this movie, although pretty down for much of it, was very uplifting at the end. (Although in the first draft of the script, Mickey was a racist, and Rocky threw the fight in disgust with the system.) 
  • Stallone looked pretty good in the movie, especially when he took his sweater and shirt off. And the undershirt had to be an homage to Marlon Brando.
  • Rocky running in Converse high-tops is not something you would see today. But the training scene, which might be the first of its kind set to music, still really holds up. 
  • So many good lines in the movie: "Yo, Adrian." "She's got gaps, I've got gaps, together we fill gaps." "You lay off that pet shop dame. Women weaken legs." "He doesn't know it's a damn show -- he thinks it's a damn fight." And don't forget Apollo Creed telling Rocky, "Ain't gonna be no rematch," and Rocky agreeing. Talk about famous last words!
  • Mickey reminded me a little of Squawker Jon, complete with the gruffness.
  • The Adrian character is an interesting one -- it's amazing how much taking off the glasses, and getting a cooler hat, did for Talia Shire's looks in the movie. Athough, I have to wonder, does she get contacts, or just walk around blind? This nearsighted person wants to know!
  • And why doesn't she watch the fight until the later rounds? However, that does lead to her rushing to the ring to see Rocky, and him asking her, "Where's your hat?" Another great line.
  • Is Paulie the worst brother ever, or what? Just really a horrible human being.
  • On the other hand, I loved Apollo Creed more than I did when I first saw the movie. Him coming out to the ring as George Washington across the Delaware, throwing coins was classic. As was him stripping down the costume to be wearing a second costume -- Uncle Sam. Carl Weathers was excellent in that role -- hilarious, but tough, too. A more jovial Ali.
  • People forget what a big deal the bicentennial was. So the timing of Creed picking Rocky fit perfectly. Although July 4, not January 1 as in the movie, was the main celebration day of the bicentennial. 
  • How about Joe Frazier in that lime green leisure suit? Good times!
  • I don't know how much Bill Conti got for his music in the movie, but he did a tremendous job with the score. Every sports movie since them owes something to his work here.

Anyhow, now I'm really pumped up to see "Creed." Just thinking about Rocky, I'm inspired to think that what should be my next fitness challenge. Another half-marathon? Another Spartan Race? Or something else? I'm ready to rumble -- as soon as my bursitis and tendinitis in my right leg and hip heal! What would Rocky do?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

What are the best -- and worst -- Christmas songs ever?

Hope all of our Squawker readers had a great Thanksgiving. Now that we are officially in the holiday season, we're going to hear Christmas songs 24/7 for the next month, which can be both good and bad, depending upon the songs! (An aside -- why are there a gazillion Christmas songs, but there is only one Thanksgiving song -- "Alice's Restaurant"? I ask this every year, yet nobody ever seems to come up with another one!)

Anyhow, I was working out at the gym today, thinking about which holiday songs I love to hear, and which ones I cannot stand. To me, the best Christmas songs are ones that are poignant. I want the lump in my throat and a tear in my eye when I hear them. So most of my Top 10 favorites fit that description.

As for the worst, there are so many ways to make a bad Christmas song, that they don't really fit any category -- other than that I don't like them!

So, without further ado, here is my list of favorite and least favorite Christmas songs. I have linked to YouTube for each song, so you can hear them for yourself:

10 Best Christmas Songs

10. "I'll Be Home for Christmas" by Bing Crosby and other artists:  Crosby is known for "White Christmas," but I like this one better. This song originated with Crosby during World War II. The line "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams" had special resonance for the soldiers then. I imagine my father listened to this in World War II when he was in the Pacific as a paratrooper. This is a great song, and pretty much everybody has covered it. I also like the Frank Sinatra take on it, and I even enjoy the Seth MacFarlane (!) version a lot.

9. "Christmas Wrapping" by The Waitresses: This is a fun song, with a nice twist at the end. I remember when I was a teenage new wave music fanatic, how excited I was to hear a Chirstmas song done by an artist I listened to. This song still holds up.

8. "2000 Miles" by The Pretenders: Yes, this is a Christmas song -- pay attention to the lyrics. Since Austin is roughly 2000 miles from New York, I remember playing this song a lot in my freshman year of college, when I was homesick after being away from home for the first time. I just recently learned that Chrissie Hynde wrote the song as a tribute to James Honeyman-Scott, the band's guitarist who overdosed in 1982.

7. "It's Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" by U2: This is one of my favorite bands, in their prime, doing a poignant song -- a cover of a song Darlene Love made famous. What's not to like? Well, maybe Bono's hat in the video.

6. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Frank Sinatra and by Judy Garland: Two of the greatest singers of all time know how to hit every melodramatic button in this song. Judy's version was the original, in the movie "Meet Me in St. Louis," but Sinatra's take on the song is pretty fantastic, too. Note: this song, as sung by Al Martino (aka Johnny Fontaine), plays in an early scene in "The Godfather," my all-time favorite movie.

5. "Linus and Lucy" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio: This instrumental is the rare song on my list that is happy and not poignant. It's just pure fun -- especially the Christmas dance that the "Peanuts" characters do to it. When I ran a race in Central Park this summer, this was the first song I played on my iPod.

4. "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid: Yes, I know this song has fallen out of favor a bit in recent years, and some of the lyrics are a little silly and condescending. "There won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime" -- what's that all about? But I still love this song. Not only is it a good tune, but it features many of my favorite British and Irish artists from that time. Bono, Sting, Boy George, George Michael, Paul Young, and Simon LeBon are just some of the voices in the song. The song has held up much better than their 80s mullets in the video have.

3. "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" by John Lennon: Oh, this song is a tearjerker for me. Especially given that Lennon was assassinated in December; he would have been 75 this year if he had lived. You can't help but think of the loss of him when hearing this. I don't think I've ever been able to hear this song without getting at least a little choked up.

2. "Blue Christmas" by Elvis Presley: This is such a classic song; it's my favorite Elvis tune. I linked to Elvis' version of this song in the 1968 "Singer Presents Elvis" Christmas special -- aka the '68 Comeback Special. Producer Steve Binder single-handedly revitalized Presley's career with this show, the greatest Christmas TV special ever, in my view. Ironically, 10 years later, Binder was also behind the infamous "Star Wars" Christmas special.

1. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" by Mariah Carey: Most of the songs on this list are from artists I really like. I've never been a Mariah Carey fan, but she does a great job with this song. "All I Want for Christmas Is You" hits all the notes of holiday-themed music, with the poignancy and "lump in the throat" qualities of a great Christmas song. A modern Xmas classic.

5 Worst Christmas Songs 

5. "The Little Drummer Boy" by anybody not named David Bowie or Bing Crosby: This song is truly annoying, yet people seem to like it. Rankin-Bass even did a TV special about it. The only version of the song that I like is the one that Bowie and Bing did together, and part of that is just the amazing juxtaposition of the two of them together. The other part is that they add another song to this, "Peace on Earth." It's what makes this horrible tune palatable. Click here to see what I mean.

4. "All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" by Spike Jones and His City Slickers: Aren't lisps funny? That's what this song seems to communicate. It's just horrible. And the lyrics don't even make any sense. "Gee, if I could only have my two front teeth/Then I could wish you, 'Merry Christmas.'" But the narrator already said "Merry Christmas," even without two front teeth. Good grief.

3. "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" by Jimmy Boyd: Not only is this a stupid song, but the vocals, by Boyd at age 13, are just dreadful. Yet this song sold 11 million copies. Go figure. How many kids wondered what the heck this song was about when they were young? Too much information!

2. "Wonderful Christmas Time" by Paul McCartney: Has anybody ever had a wonderful Christmas time after hearing this song? I imagine even Paul himself is embarrassed by this dreck. Such a great artist. Such a bad song.

1. "Santa Baby" by Madonna: I hate this song with the fire of a thousand setting suns. Madonna puts on this annoying childlike voice for this tune that gets on my last nerve. I have literally left stores in order to avoid hearing this song. If I am ever kidnapped, and somebody wants to torture me, just play this song. I'll 'fess up to anything to avoid hearing it!

What are your favorite -- and least favorite -- Christmas songs? Let us know!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Is it time for a Robinson Cano/Yankees reunion? I say yes!

Two years ago around this time, the Yankees were backing up the Brinks' truck to Jacoby Ellsbury's house, while they were pleading poverty to Robinson Cano. So how has that decision worked out so far? Horribly, I say.

Since the Yankees let Cano walk, something I was furious about at the time and am still peeved over, second base has been a disaster for the Yankees, most notably with Brian Cashman's and Joe Girardi's dogged insistence on playing Stephen Drew day in and day out. It took Drew suffering a vestibular concussion for him to finally get benched towards the end of the season last year. (Speaking of which, I think something might be wrong with Cashman's brain after all that bicycling without a helmet he does that he brags about, but I digress!)

Anyhow, there's been a lot of talk about Cano lately in this town. First, there were rumors that he might be traded for Ellsbury, rumors that have heated up again recently. Then Andy Van Slyke, former first-base coach for the Seattle Mariners, gave the worst exit interview ever after getting fired. Not only did he tell the world that Clayton Kershaw wants the Dodgers to dump Yasiel Puig (that gossip apparently courtesy of his son Scott, who is on LA.) But Van Slyke also claimed that Cano was "the single worst third-place, everyday player I’ve ever seen – I’ve ever seen for the first half of a baseball season," that he "couldn’t drive home Miss Daisy if he tried," and that he "played the worst defense I’ve ever seen at second base." Hyperbole much, dude?

Van Slyke also placed the blame for the mass firing of Seattle's manager and coaches at the feet of Cano's 2015 performance. Hmmmm. I think having a new general manager might have had a little something to do with it, but what do I know?

Granted, Cano's first half numbers for last year were putrid: .251/.290/.330, with only 6 homers and 30 RBI. But his second half numbers were very good, and that's *with* playing with a double hernia: .331/.387/.540 with 15 HR and 49 RBI. His total numbers were .287/.334/.446, with 21 homers and 79 RBI.

Not a great year for Cano, true, but a heck of a lot better than Stephen Drew's 2015 .201/.381/.652 slash line, and it's also better than Ellsbury's .257/.318/.345 numbers. Plus, Ellsbury missed over 50 games with injuries.  Incidentally, Cano had a variety of health woes in 2015, yet only missed 6 games. But, but, I thought he was a slacker?

At any rate, what does it say about what the Yankees think of Ellsbury, when they benched him in this year's Wild Card game? Not very much, it appears!

The other day, John Harper of the New York Daily News wrote about Cano, and interviewed Rich Donnelly, former Mariners' third-base coach, who also lost his job this fall. He said he would defend Cano "until the end of time" and talked about how Cano played when he was sick:
“I used to get upset when I’d hear people say Robbie didn’t hustle. I’d say, ‘Hell, he shouldn’t even be in the lineup.’ Robbie would always tell everybody, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’
In that same article, Harper says that "one long-time friend who spoke to [Cano] recently says the second baseman is not happy in Seattle, especially with a new regime in charge there now, and that he’d love to somehow find his way back to New York."

I would love for Cano to find his way back to New York, too. Even if it means taking on that massive contract. And you know it will happen someday. I'd rather have it happen now, when Cano still has some productive years in him, as opposed to the end of his contract, when he is past his prime.

My friend Sully has said all along that Cano would be back one day. And he recently did a podcast talking about it, and going through the list of how many Yankees have been reunited with the team after leaving. Roger Clemens. Andy Pettitte. Alfonso Soriano. Ramiro Mendoza. Mike Stanton, etc., etc. (He even mentioned names I forgot had two tours with the Yanks, like Charlie Hayes, Homer Bush, and Brian Boehringer!) I think Sully will be proven right, but the question is when.

ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand writes today about the rumors, and gives five reasons why Cano won't be back in the Bronx. Here's No. 2:
"The Bombers have moved on. The Yankees do need a second baseman, but while they very well might add someone this winter, right now their second basemen are Rob Refsnyder and Dustin Ackley."
Oh, please. They were both better than Drew, but Cano is world's better than either of them. And last time I checked, this Yankee team needs some hitting. Do you think A-Rod and Teixeria are going to repeat what they did in 2015 in 2016? I sure don't!

Anyhow, I asked Yankee fan Facebook friends whether they wanted to see Cano back in pinstripes. Most didn't. But I do. And here's something that the Yankees may be considering: marketing purposes. This team is so devoid of stars as of late that they used A-Rod, the player they wanted to dump last winter, in their email marketing pitch for 2016 sales!

Not to mention that the Yanks now have a pennant-winning team in town to compete for ticket sales with. The Yankees drew 3.1 million last year, while the Mets drew 2.5 million. Do you think those numbers are going to change in 2016? I sure do, with the Mets going higher, and the Yanks going lower. Wouldn't putting Cano back in town not only immediately improve the Yankees, but improve ticket sales? And wouldn't that ease the financial hit of bringing him back? Just saying.

Time to bring back Robbie Cano, don't you know! Besides, it would make John Sterling happy! Doesn't that count for something?

What do you think? Tell us about it!

Monday, November 16, 2015

We can be heroes: Seeing a David Bowie photo exhibit at the Morrison Hotel Gallery

David Bowie on the "Heroes" album cover. Sukita said this
was his favorite photo. © 1977 / 1997 Risky Folio, Inc.
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive ™  

On Thursday night, I went to the Morrison Hotel Gallery on 116 Prince Street in Manhattan to see the opening of photographer Masayoshi Sukita's images of David Bowie. Sukita, from Japan, has been in Bowie's inner circle for decades. He has been able to get some of the most iconic photos of Bowie out there.

The event was sponsored by Double Cross Vodka, and they provided drinks at the opening. 

It was pretty cool to get to a gallery opening -- it's one of the reasons I like living in New York City. When I got to the gallery, there was a long line of people waiting to get in, but because I was part of the press, I didn't have to wait!

The event was extremely popular -- and crowded. People seemed to really like the images. My favorite ones were the ones of Bowie doing regular things -- taking the subway, walking around town, etc. But all the photos were arresting in their own way.

Here are some of the photos below. I asked Sukita which was his favorite, and his translator said it was the "Heroes" cover. 

If you want to see the pix for yourself, you can go to the Morrison Hotel Gallery and see them for free. The SoHo gallery is open seven days a week: Monday through Saturday from 11 to 7, and Sunday from 12-6. Their phone number is 212.941.8770. The images are also available for sale.

© 1977 / 1997 Risky Folio, Inc. Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive ™

© 1977 / 1997 Risky Folio, Inc. Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive ™

Photo of Sukita at the opening by John Mazlish.

Damon Webster

Monday, November 9, 2015

The war on autumn: the real problem with Starbucks' red cups

Me on the grounds of the Gideon Putnam Resort in
Saratoga Springs State Park. Notice the autumn
leaves in the photo.
I was in Saratoga Springs, New York this weekend for a Guideposts magazine writers' refresher workshop. Basically, it was like the quarter quell in The Hunger Games (we had all previously won one admission to their biannual workshops before.) But this event was for nice, not nefarious, purposes!

Anyhow, in addition to the great time I had learning and laughing with my fellow workshoppers, I loved seeing the fall foliage. One of the reasons I moved back to the Northeast from Texas is because I like having all four seasons. In Texas, you don't really see the brilliant colors of autumn leaves. Instead, it's hot, and as hot. But in New York, fall is terrific.I love the yellow, red, and most especially the orange colors of fall. So I was in heaven walking around this weekend and seeing fall, even if Saratoga is technically past peak when it comes to the leaves. I love savoring autumn.

From my Halloween visit to the
New York Botanical Gardens. I love fall.
When I was away, though, my Facebook page started to blow up with one of the dopiest controversies ever: the idea that Starbucks hates the baby Jesus because of their new minimalist red coffee cups. When I first saw a headline, though, I thought the story was about how it was too soon to have Christmas-related cups. I was in Starbucks a week ago, and it flummoxed me that I was drinking my Thanksgiving Blend coffee in a Christmas-related drinking vessel. 

I am officially tired of what I'm calling The War on Autumn; I am a firm believer in not having anything Christmas-related until after Thanksgiving is over. Let's stop rushing through the fall season to get to winter. I don't need to see Christmas stuff when we haven't even commemorated Veterans' Day yet. Enough already. Let me play Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant" and eat my Thanksgiving turkey in peace, without having Christmas take over the holiday. (And that goes for Black Friday becoming Black Thursday, too!) That's the real issue with these cups, IMHO.

Then I heard what this kerfuffle was about -- that Starbucks "removed Christmas from their cups" (except the cups never said "Merry Christmas" or anything like that in the first place) because they "hate Jesus," according to backwards-baseball-cap-wearing doofus pastor Joshua Feuersten, In addition to wearing his cap backwards in a video, which only Ken Griffey Jr. should be allowed to do, he also falsely claims that they're not allowed to say "Merry Christmas" to customers. (Untrue as well, but at any rate, who the bleep needs to be told "Merry Christmas" when it's early November! Should I get in a tizzy if somebody doesn't wish me "Happy Easter" the day after Groundhog Day?) 

Look at the name! Shocking!
Given the outrage, and the outrage over the outrage about a coffee cup, I expected that there was some organized effort here. No, it's this one knucklehead, who misused the word "literally" (of course he did!) in his video, whining, and bragging about how he brought a gun to Starbucks. It is basically as if something I wrote in my blog became a national story, with millions arguing over it. Good grief.

This goober is a bona fide moron. How does Starbucks hate Jesus if they still carry Christmas Blend coffee, and Advent calendars? And the color of the cup does symbolize Christmas. 

And what is his solution to "prank Starbucks," as he calls it? For Christians to spend money in the store, and say that their name is "Merry Christmas," so that those baristas supposedly despise God will have to write that hated phrase on the cups. This might be the dumbest prank in world history. What he is doing is encouraging people to spend money in Starbucks. How does that hurt them, exactly?  The corporation will cry all the way to the bank! 

At any rate, this is a dumb controversy. and this pastor makes Christians look bad. Let's stick with the really wrong thing with these cups -- I don't want pumpkin spice or Thanksgiving blend coffee in a red coffee cup. End of story. Stop The War on Autumn, Starbucks!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Mets-Royals World Series Game 5:
Do not go gentle into that Dark Knight

The Mets' season turned around when a player got emotional on the field when he thought he would have to leave the team. Last night, a player got emotional in the dugout when he thought he would have to leave the game. Unfortunately, Matt Harvey did not get the storybook ending Wilmer Flores got when he hit a walkoff homer two nights after thinking he had been traded. But the passion and determination of an outclassed Mets team to get to the World Series and put up a good fight against the Kansas City Royals made 2015 a memorable season.

Though the Mets went down in the series four games to one, the two teams were a lot more evenly matched than the final result would indicate. After all, the Mets had the lead in the ninth inning twice and the eight inning once in three of their losses. But when the other team comes back to win that many times, you have to acknowledge that they were the better team and more deserving of victory.

Dominant starting pitching backed by good hitting can get you to the World Series even if your defense is shaky, your bullpen is questionable, and your manager makes mistakes. But there's little margin for error against a team like the Royals, and even one of the most dominant pitching performances in Mets postseason history could not save them last night.

I liked the idea of Harvey coming out for the ninth, even though it went against his numbers showing that it was best to pull him after he had thrown 100 pitches. But at 102 pitches going into the ninth and a packed house screaming for Harvey, I have no problem with Terry Collins sending the Dark Knight out for the ninth. It also gave Harvey a chance to show once and for all that he really was willing to put Scott Boras' innings-limit circus behind him.

That said, once Harvey walked Lorenzo Cain on seven pitches, bringing his pitch total to 109, he should have been pulled. I am admittedly writing this in hindsight; at the time, I wanted Harvey to get another batter. But Collins' bullpen strategy fell apart the last few nights. He brought in Jeurys Familia Friday night in a 9-3 game to get him some work. But then he said he could not use Familia for two innings Saturday night because of the unnecessary Friday inning. And with numerous other options, Collins stuck with using Tyler Clippard as the bridge to Familia, only to see Clippard end up with the loss.

Using Familia in the Game 3 blowout was a way to enable him to regain his confidence. But maybe it was Collins who needed to regain his confidence after his bullpen moves backfired on Saturday, because he did not act decisive about what to do until after Harvey gave up the double to Eric Hosmer and another Royals comeback was underway.

Lucas Duda made a terrible throw to the plate to allow Hosmer to score the tying run, but David Wright cutting in front of Wilmer Flores to nab Salvador Perez' grounder probably also played an important role in the disastrous play. Had Flores made the play, Wright could have stayed closer to third base, making it harder for Hosmer to break for the plate.  And Flores, in better position than Wright and with a better arm, probably would have gotten the ball to Duda faster, so if Hosmer still ran, Duda would have had more time to throw home and maybe would not have rushed his throw.

Duda's bad throw meant that three of the Mets' four infielders had critical miscues in this series. In five games, Murphy and Wright were each charged with two errors and Duda was charged with one (not last night, when his bad throw was not ruled an error).  Only Flores, who was not even supposed to be the shortstop before Ruben Tejada got hurt, avoided an E next to his name.

Last night, the Mets got only four hits, and that was in 12 innings. On Saturday night, they got just six hits and in Game 2, only two hits. For the Series, the team hit just .193. It's hard to win a World Series with that little production.

Once the game went into extra innings and the Mets had to go deeper into their bullpen, it was hard to have much confidence, especially considering the way this Series had gone so far. A five-run twelfth by the Royals just emphasized that as close as this Series seemed at times with the Mets constantly getting late inning leads, the Royals were the superior team.

In 1984, the Mets won 90 games after years of losing, but it would be another two years before they made it to the World Series. In 2015, the Mets won 90 games after years of losing, and got to the World Series on their first try. Despite the way it ended, this season has to be considered a huge success overall.

And let's not forget who won the World Series the year after the Royals' last title in 1985. Wait till next year! Let's go Mets!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

NYC Marathon Weekend Part 3: What it's like to volunteer at the start line, and why fitting into the marathon jacket was a big deal for me

I'm all smiles at today's marathon
start line. Photo by Andy Cross.
Since Squawker Jon is out of town today, I am taking the liberty of doing a trilogy in the blog about the New York City Marathon, and the events connected with it. Jon would call it navel-gazing, but since he can't stop me, I'm going to type away! Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Anyhow, I volunteered at the Staten Island start line for the NYC Marathon this morning. I did this last year as well. As most readers know, I have lost over 60 pounds so far on my weight loss/fitness journey (over 40 of it this year), but I still have at least 25 more to go. I try to be upbeat, but I have to admit to having a lot of misery along the way. Some things I've spoken about, and some I've kept inside.

Here's one thing that I want to talk about now, even thought it was totally humiliating to me. It's about what happened last year when I volunteered at the marathon start line.

When you volunteer, you get a special blue and yellow jacket to wear during your shift, and that you can bring home with you. In November 2014, I went to pick up my jacket at the start line. Unfortunately, the biggest size they had then was a large. (No extra-large or extra-extra-large jackets left.) So I had to wear that jacket the whole shift, even though it was so small I couldn't zip it up, It wasn't just that I couldn't close it with a sweatshirt on under it. No, I couldn't zip it up with just a t-shirt on under it! How embarrassing. What's more, it took many months -- and many pounds lost -- before I could zip it up.

Some of the SIAC volunteers at the race.
Fast forward to November 2015. I asked for -- and got -- a medium jacket. And I was able to zip it up, even with both a thick hoodie and a long-sleeved cotton running club shirt under it. This may not sound like a big deal to you, but I can't tell you how happy it made me.

I know I am still overweight, but I've gone from "big as a house" to "chubby." And hopefully, by 2016, I will be officially "thin." Dare to dream!

Anyhow, that positive moment today was matched by a very positive experience volunteering at the start line corrals. I got to work with people from the Staten Island Athletic Club, my running club. Some of them I knew fairly well, some of whom I knew a little, and some of whom I only knew from Facebook and email correspondence. It was all a blast to see them today.

Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam (yes, I'm dating myself here!)
While it was fun seeing everyone, but I especially liked meeting another Lisa, a fellow Staten Islander and a TV news producer. We know each other from Facebook, but this is the first time we met in real life. And we have a mutual admiration society thing going!

And seeing the runners was amazing. The marathon has 50,000 runners. There are three sets of corrals: blue, orange, and green. Blue, where I worked, is the most prestigious. Then there are four waves of runners, and six corrals per wave. I was working in Corral C. So we would not only see the runners in our corral, but the people past them, as they walked through to the bridge.

Kristin and Chre, just before the race
Most runners were chill. But some people flipped out if they didn't get to their wave on time, and would have to wait for the next group to run. I understood where they were coming from. But we still couldn't let them in, to their chagrin.

The vast majority of people were nice. I did notice that the runners in the last wave -- the ones who were running for charity, or doing their first marathon, or who had slower times -- were particularly friendly. So many of them thanked us for volunteering, which was sweet.

It was so many people, though, it could be a little overwhelming. Which is why it was funny when we were just talking about how difficult it would be to spot people we knew when we saw Kristin and Chre from our club! Was great to wish them luck before their race. Wish I could have personally wished good luck to the rest of the 23 SIAC members who ran the marathon. And to my cousin Jen, who ran the race for the first time.

Now, onto the big question people always ask me: when am I running a marathon? I plan on doing one someday. But I don't want to be on the road for eight hours! Let alone all the time it would take me to train at my current speed. So I want to make significant progress in not just weight loss, but my speed and stamina, before I do so. Whether that means I will run the NYC Marathon in 2016 or 2017 is unclear at this moment. I have met the 9+1 qualifications for 2016, but I haven't decided yet.

At this point, though, I was happy to see the excitement on fellow runners' faces, as they got ready to run the race of their lives. What a day!

NYC Marathon Weekend Part 2: My Dash to the Finish Line starts with a dash to the start line!

This is Part 2 (or, as Charlie Sheen would say, Part Deux!) of my New York City Marathon weekend trilogy. Squawker Jon will accuse me of navel-gazing, but since he's out of town today, I'm going to Squawk how I want to! To read Part 1, about my 5K with Kevin Hart, click here.

Anyhow, my life is always interesting. Weird, but interesting. Here's the most recent example. Saturday morning, I took the express bus into Manhattan for the Dash to the Finish Line race, where you get to run in part of the area comprising the end of the NYC Marathon, as well as getting to run by the United Nations and by Forty-Second Street, as well as up Sixth Avenue. Over 10,000 people participated, so it was likely the biggest 5K put on in town this year.

Anyhow, the baggage check was in Central Park, by the finish line, but the race was by the UN, I wanted to check a bag because I planned on going to the New York Botanical Garden after the race, getting a free annual membership with my ID NYC card, and gazing at the fall foliage. So my plan was to check my bag at the New York Health and Racquet Club location at 56th Street, go do the race, and shower afterwards

Normally, on a Saturday morning, the express bus will only take about an hour to go from Great Kills to Central Park. I got on a bus two hours before the race, so I thought I would have enough time. However, traffic was abysmal due to construction, and my bus ran very slowly. Plus, at 34th Street, it wasn't able to go up Sixth (due to the race, as it turns out) and it took a detour. At this point, it was 8:10, the race was starting in 20 minutes, and I was still far away from the race (and far away from checking my bag!) I was about to miss the Dash to the Finish Line. Yikes! What a nightmare!

I had signed up for this race last year, but was sick the day of the event and ended up missing it. I really didn't want to miss it two years in a row.

So what now? How was I going to extricate myself from this mess? I thought, WWHSD? That stands for What Would Harry Swan Do?  My late father was an extrovert extraordinaire. He was a real people person who knew everybody. This is a man who talked the NYPD into letting us park on the street at the old Yankee Stadium in a no-parking zone each week, so we would be able to not only park for free, but get home from Sunday games in a half hour -- in time for an early dinner!

Yet most of the four Swan children take after our introverted mother. As for myself, I am the closest thing to an extrovert we have in the family, but even then, I can be shy and even timid at times, especially when dealing with new people.

Anyhow, if my father were in this situation, he would have used his natural friendliness to talk somebody into helping him. So I channeled whatever minimal charm I have, combined it with my usual natural aura of helplessness, put on a happy, friendly face, and kept my fingers crossed that it would work!

The scene at the start of the race
Modell's Sporting Goods on 34th and 7th was open early Saturday morning, due to the World Series. So I approached a staffer there and explained my plight. He directed me to his manager. I pointed to my race bib on my shirt and told him the situation. I asked if I could please leave my bag there. He agreed to put it (and my sweatshirt) behind the counter, but said they couldn't be held responsible if anything happened to it. I agreed, shook his hand and thanked him, and left for the race.

At this point, it was 8:15 a.m. I figured I wouldn't be able to run to 47th and 1st that quickly to make the race, so I hailed a cab. After telling the cab driver my story, he got me there to the start line with minutes to spare! Yay!

And the race had such fantastic views, I was so happy to do it! I love running on Manhattan city streets. It feels like you are getting away with something. Glad I didn't miss it.

I am on the right, wearing orange. Not exactly
Shalane Flanagan, but I finished!
The Dash to the Finish Line had an extremely relaxed vibe to it, with runners going much slower than usual. So there were many more people in the back of the pack with me than there usually is.

Also, I have never seen so many people taking pictures during races. Especially when we got towards the finish line. I had to dodge people taking selfies on the course, with the end of the marathon as a backdrop. It was wild!

After the race, I went up to the Bronx to see the New York
Botanical Garden. This is just some of the stunning
fall foliage I saw.
Oh, and I had a friendly face at the finish line. Squawker Jon showed up. He even took got footage of me at the end of the race! What a morning. So glad I was able to do this 5K.

After the race, I picked up my stuff at Modell's, and was amazed to see how much Mets World Series stuff they had. Heck, I am still amazed to realize that the Mets are in the World Series in the first place! It's still stunning to me.

I then got cleaned up at the gym and headed up to the Bronx to go to the New York Botanical Garden. If you are a New Yorker, you need to get an ID NYC card. You can get year-long memberships at over 30 NYC cultural institutions. I had originally planned on going
The Day of the Dead parade.
to the Frida Kahlo exhibit they had, but it wasn't included as part of the basic membership, and I wasn't going to shell out $25 for it. So I toured other sights in the gardens, like the rose garden and the forest. The autumn leaves were just amazing.

They also had, in keeping with the season, and with the Kahlo exhibit, a Day of the Dead parade. There were skeletons and shenanigans and cool music, too. It was so much fun to watch this!

After going to the garden, I briefly went to the Bronx Zoo to get my annual ID NYC Wildlife Conservation Society membership. Then I got a $3 burrito at Chipotle (since I was in a running t-shirt and pants, I said I was going as a runner!) After I got home, I was so exhausted, plus I had another early morning coming up, with my volunteer work at the NYC Marathon today. So I ended up going to bed at 8 p.m., thus missing most of Game 4 of the World Series. Unfortunately, I woke up and put on the game just before Daniel Murphy's error. What a terrible time to wake up! Sorry, Squawker Jon! I hope I didn't jinx your Mets!

NYC Marathon Weekend Part 1: I ran with Kevin Hart (and yes, I got to meet him!)

Me before the Run With Hart 5K
Since the New York City Marathon is today, there were a lot of events this weekend surrounding this race. So since I am a runner, please indulge me in writing about them! (Hey, this Yankee fan has to have something to talk about these days, other than being a good sport about the Mets!) Here is my first post of three. It's about my fantastic experience of running with Kevin Hart and the Nike+ Running Club in Hudson River Park on Friday morning. 

Kevin Hart is my favorite comedian these days. Not just because he is hilarious, but because of his life story. His wasn't an overnight success story; he worked many, many years before he finally broke through to fame. Plus, his humor is so self-deprecating -- about him being 5 feet 4, about his upbringing, etc. And as my own humor is self-deprecating, I can relate. Hart also works harder than anybody else out there. He's known for this quote: "Everybody wants to be famous but nobody wants to do the work." Good role model in so many ways.

Run With Hart

Anyhow, Squawker Jon heard something Thursday about how Hart was hosting a free 5K run in Manhattan this Friday, so as soon as I heard about it, I knew I had to sign up and participate! Hart recently started running. Earlier this summer, he wrote on Twitter where he was going to run in Boston before a show, and thousands showed up to run with him. Since then, he has gotten really passionate about running, going from a 27 minute 5K to a 20+ minute 5K. And he wants to get people off the couch and kickstart their own fitness. So he teamed with the Nike+ Running Club to put on these Run With Hart 5Ks around the country, to get people of all fitness levels out there. 

A selfie before the race starts.
Hart wasn't even doing a show in NYC in connection with this run. Instead, he did a show Thursday night in Bakersfield, CA, flew out after the show to be at the run at Pier 26 in Manhattan at 7:34 a.m. Friday morning, then flew back after the show to Reno, NV. Now that's dedication. 

And his race was fabulous. I have done over 60 races in the last two years, and I would put this Run With Hart 5K among the top three race experiences I have ever had. First of all, there was great swag and grub -- especially impressive, given that the race was free! They had free Nike "Run With Hart" t-shirts, workout towels, and rubber bracelets for everyone. There was plenty of not just water, Gatorade, and bananas, but a wide variety of Kind Bars (my favorite!) as well. Oh, and there were even free Waffle and Dinges waffles for everyone after the race. A free and easy bag check system. And the people working there were so nice. The whole experience made me feel like a VIP. 

This is one of the photos Nike took of people
in the race. It happens to feature
yours truly in the middle.
As for the race itself, people from the Nike+ Running Club served as pacers/guides for the rest of us. One of the things I have never understood about the way I've seen pacers used in big races is that they only have them for a certain speed of people. For example, in New York Road Runners' half-marathons, the pacers only go up to pace a two hours and 30 minute time, even though those of us who are running slower than that could arguably use the services of a pacer even more than the faster people. Anyhow, at Hart's race, they had pacers throughout all levels of speeds in the race, with them exhorting everyone and cheering them on. I've never actually gotten to feel such positive treatment in a race before, so it was pretty awesome.

Best finish line experience ever!

After the race. My glasses get fogged
up when I run!
There was a stage at the event, and before the race, fitness experts took us through a warmup. Also, some running celebs were onstage, like Joan Benoit Samuelson. Hart was the last to speak before the race, talking about how he wanted to inspire people to improve their fitness. He then led the run. I run a lot in Hudson River Park, so I was familiar with the path, down towards Battery Park City by the Hudson River, and then back up to TriBeCa. 

What was new to me was the support line at the end. I finished in 38 minutes -- a very good time for me. When I was getting towards the end, the pacers were encouraging me. And at the last part of the race, there was a long line of Nike+ Running Club people and others on each side cheering the rest of the runners on. I got high fives from both sides. It was terrific! After the race, Hart himself gave me a high five and congratulated me. I was so excited to see him, I was a little starstruck! It was the greatest finish line experience I have ever had.

There were what seemed to be a good number of people behind me after I finished, which isn't always the case. It seemed like a lot of people who would normally not do a 5K were out there because of Kevin Hart, and they were running or walking or plodding their way across the finish line. And Hart stayed around to give high fives and encouragement to every last person.

I don't mean to sound like a total fangirl, but I can't tell you how cool it is to see a celebrity parlay his fame to help and inspire people like me. I recently wrote about some negative experiences I had when running. So when I see such a top-of-the-line operation, which was such a positive experience, I have to tip my Yankee hat and thank Hart and the Nike+ Running Club for putting on such a terrific event. I'd like to think that some of the people who went to this event will get inspired to get out there and run because of how much fun this race was. That would be wonderful to see. In this country, where so many people are obese and out of shape, doing events like the Run With Hart 5K can only help get others like I once was as off the couch and into a new life.

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