Wednesday, February 1, 2012

NFL

Why?  Why in God's name doesn't the NFL have sense enough to rid itself the embarrassment of the Pro Bowl?  I mean, come on folks!  I watched the initial three plays this year and bolted for my remote.  The players get paid and also take advantage of an expense-paid, week-long vacation for their families.   The owners collect money and a trip to Hawaii with family and friends.  Advertising companies reap in millions.  The NFL rakes in and TV can't count the money fast enough.  But what about the fans?

Can you imagine all the die-hard fans who scrape up enough cash to fly over to our state of paradise, book hotel rooms, rent cars, dine out, shuck out the price of a ticket to watch multi-million dollar superstars do their thing and then be spit in their faces by the NFL?  Hell, if I lived next door to the stadium and had a free pass, it still wouldn't be worth the walk.

The ratings for the game keep plummeting and the "experts" wonder why.  The reason we are fans is because football is a sport which glorifies altheleticism, intelligence,  toughness, and competition.  Unlike ping pong or badminton, football identifies with some feral instinct in our basic DNA make-up.  We love the hard hits.  We love watching 240 pound running backs trying to evade being slammed to the turf by 320 pound defensive linemen.  We are thrilled as the quarterback takes his three step drop and frantically whips the pigskin airborne before 900 pounds of raging mankind buries him into freshly mowed ground.  On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays our anxiety builds.   We joyously turn our TV sets on Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays to sate our football fix.

Between the Championship Series and the Super Bowl we have a week of no pro football.  Thus we have the Pro Bowl.  Let's face it, the NFL can't allow a whole week of its season to pass without making millions.  But my statement stands--we still have a week of no pro football.  You can't call this glitzy extravaganza that takes place in Hawaii professional football.  Because you wear a helmet and shoulder pads doesn't mean you play football.  I saw better football in Pop Warner.  I saw better hitting in flag football.

Did you ever see a "walk through" practice when the team walked through their plays?  If so, you have witnessed the same action as so marvelously displayed at the Pro Bowl.  Have these millionaires no shame, no sense of pride?  For this day, they should trade their pads for ballet slippers and matching tutus.  Two things that may kill professional football--overexposure and the Pro Bowl.  If the league is smart, the Pro Bowl won't be around much longer.

The NFC and the AFC have 21 wins apiece.  Surprise, surprise.  I wonder what the Vegas gurus will demand next year.

   

 

  

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Flame

Gal Friday suggested we include a lighted wall niche in my office at the new home we're building near The Great Dismal Swamp in North Carolina.  Naturally our builder needed to know the object for this cutout so he could configure it in proper dimensions.  When I told him it would contain my Olympic Torch, he stammered something like, "Oh sure, Ed, and my wife is Wonder Woman."  Well, I've never seen his wife in blue panties and a red bustiere, but I certainly wasn't about to debate his statement.  I've learned through the years there are three subjects best left alone when conversing with another man--religion, politics and his wife.

I'm sure our builder, Ron, figured if indeed I possessed the bonafide article, I either bought it off eBay or committed some dastardly crime to obtain it.  To Ron's and many others' amazement, I do legally and proudly own my very own, dearly cherished, Olympic Torch. 

In the summer of  2001 I checked the mailbox and found an envelope from the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) addressed to me.  Normally I would have suspected a donation request, but since my daughter Dani had carried the Torch previously in the Relay Across America, I thought it might be some follow-up information concerning her achievement.  Dani's masterly-framed Olympic Torch hung proudly on her den wall and I admired it each visit.  I came to realize what a coveted honor it was to be selected for this special event.  Through my daughter's participation, I grew to better understand the true spirit of the Olympics.

I opened the envelope.  I was shocked.  I, Ed, me, was invited to partake in the Torch Relay for the for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.  I immediately thought it must be a prank one of my "good buddies" played on me.  I scanned the neighborhood expecting to find some interloper hiding in the bushes or in a paneled truck taking pictures of my startled reactions.  Was I to be humiliated on one of those TV "gotcha"  shows?  Once inside and sitting, I combed the material looking for signs of forgery, but no, the letter and application seemed legitimate.  Someone had actually proposed me as a torchbearer and I was thrilled. 

A few weeks later I received more written information and two videos.  Being so ecstatic about my upcoming role, I sucked in every written word like a dying man gulping for air.  The videos were the best part though.  The first showed the outfit I would be wearing and what each detail represented.  This was so informative.  Learning about all this little known information juiced me up even more. 

The second video totally bowled me over.  (I know writers are taught not to use clichés like "bowled me over," but sometimes old clichés best describe feelings or situations.  That's why they become clichés.)  This video depicted the inception  of the Olympic Flame in ancient Greece.  The sun was shown lighting the original flame.  Special  priestesses lit their torches from this primary flame and carried them to the known continents of the world.  The ancient Grecian Games were played from 776 BC to 393 AD in Olympia.  They stemmed from the religion of honoring the Gods by creating the best bodies and minds through sport.  Wars were stopped for the Olympics.  I believe the true spirit of the Games is bringing peace to the world through athletic competition instead of war.

Another information packet arrived and I learned I would be representing East Tennessee in the Greenville, South Carolina segment of the relay.  The Flame would arrive in Atlanta from Athens, Greece in the plane's special compartment  to allow for an open flame.  The FAA and other agencies bent over backwards to comply with this situation.  The relay of the Flame would begin in Atlanta, site of the last American-hosted Olympic Games, and continue to Salt Lake City, the location of the 2002 Winter Games.  Knowing I would be a part of this filled me with grand excitement.  The packet info also advised my outfit would be arriving soon.  I couldn't wait. 

Here I am in my Olympic
torchbearer uniform at a
Child Advocacy fundraiser
with Tennessee's former 
First Lady Andrea  Conte.
Torturous weeks crept by while I waited.  I checked the mailbox hourly.  I sat by the door listening for the UPS man to knock.  Where was my official Olympic outfit?  Then the day came.  The doorbell rang and before it stopped, I threw open the door, grabbed the item, shut the door and hugged the package to my breast.  It happened so fast, Mr. Brown probably stared at his hands wondering if a package was ever there at all.  The outfit consisted of a white nylon jogging suit accompanied by soft fleece mittens and toboggan cap.  Everything was white.  I had been told to wear white shoes and socks.  I, of course, had bought the newest, most expensive sneaks available.  I paid more for them than the down payment on my first house.  Adorned in my new, all white, official Olympic torchbearer uniform, I gazed into the full-length mirror.  I looked like the third base line at Yankee Stadium.  

Along with my entourage, I arrived in Greenville for my performance.  Family and friends from five  states accompanied me.  I dressed in my official suit and noticed the gray in my beard didn't go well with the pristine white of my suit, but so what?  My participation in the Olympic Torch Relay reigned supreme over all other matters.  Many of my friends said I looked like Osama bin-Laden, but again, so what?

My run was scheduled for l l pm, but I had to be at the meeting spot at 7.  The crisp December sky sparkled with stars and the bright full moon reminded me of a gigantic friendly eye waiting to watch the awesome event.  Because the Relay wasn't until much later, Main Street was devoid of people.  For a block or two, the street was covered by a canopy of  trees lit with white Christmas lights.  On both sides of the street, American flags were stationed about six feet apart acting like stately sentinels for the parade to come.

Entering this magnificent tunnel, I slowed.  An eerie feeling overcame me and I stopped the car.  Alone with my thoughts, I wondered about the Olympic Flame's trip from Athens, Greece to Salt Lake City, USA.  How many people must be involved to pull this off?  What a tremendous effort.  I thought about how this flame has never been extinguished since 1896.  I thought about the spirit of the Olympic experience.  I don't know how long I sat there, but other people or vehicles were never seen.  I felt like I existed in a wonderful vacuum.  I sat there thinking  if this moment in time, with a scene better than Hollywood could conceive, on this planet, in this country, in this state, in this elaborate tunnel on this street, time stood still for everyone, but me.  I can't say it was a religious epiphany, but I sure can say it was truly spiritual.   

After final instructions, the torchbearers entered vans to be transported to the the locations for their runs.  I was placed in the rear of our van because I was last in our group to run, or in my case, be pushed in a wheelchair.  The streets, sidewalks and porches were filled with people enthusiastically waving small American flags.  Our country was still reeling from the terrorists attacks a short four months earlier.  Patriotism ran high.

We stopped at our designated spots to wait for the Flame to arrive from Atlanta, GA.  We waited with great anticipation.  After about an hour, we were told the Flame still hadn't made it to Greenville because the procession had lingered in Atlanta.  Coke was a major sponsor so the Relay Team had to spend unscheduled time going through Coke's main complex.  I didn't actually mind the waiting; since the start of my Olympic Relay experience, I had become pretty good at the waiting game.  I spent the time talking with other torchbearers and heard of real heroics.  Did I belong there?  Some of the stories made me feel like a comic strip hanging in a museum next to the world's elite masters.  The Torch Relay crew kept us enthused with feel good Olympic videos and stirring music so our fervor didn't wane.

I will never forget the moment I first saw the actual Olympic Flame.  It came around a corner atop a specially prepared truck.  The bright yellow fire burned full and proud against the crisp, star-glistened sky.  I'm not sure how to describe my feeling but the impact was tremendous.  My patriotic zeal,  Olympic-spirit awareness, Olympic history, appreciativeness of effort by people circling the globe, the honor of my small part in this grandiose world event, and my spiritual experience in that wonderful tunnel collectively manifested into an emotion I can't explain--but it was fantastic.

I had watched every other torchbearer in our van run his segment of the relay and now it was my time.  There were second honorees who wore blue outfits and one blue-clad girl pushed my wheelchair for my portion of the Relay.  I sat in my chair with a special holder for my torch waiting for the last runner to light my torch.  Excitement and anxiety boiled through my blood.  My waiting game management skills melted away.  Out of the night she approached.  She seemed like an apparition quickly nearing.  Was this really happening?  Was I imagining this blonde-haired, white-clad priestess with a flame?  Instead of the nylon running suit, she appeared in flowing white cloth billowing from the swift pace her mercury winged feet ran.  Her lovely smile beckoned me to touch my torch to hers.  A calm soulfulness in her eyes promised eternal, sustaining  love once the Flame jumped from her torch to mine.  I had overdosed on the Olympics.

My aide-de-blue nudged my chair and I returned to reality.  The previous Torchbearer, who was at least blonde, lit my torch from hers and we took off.  My pusher must have thought this was a race and she was going for first place.  She pushed me so fast the Flame went horizontal.  I searched for an emergency brake.  It was over so fast, I don't remember it.  I wasn't worried because my good friend Terry (Buckwheat) Boyes was supposed to jog alongside and take pictures or shoot a video or something to memorialize this great moment in Ed Conte's life.  Buckwheat often bragged about being a football running back and star on the college track team so I knew the quick pace of my relay wouldn't bother him.  What I failed to take into account was his athletic prowess took place about 50 years ago.  He couldn't keep up with the little girl in blue.  I later learned he was cold and sought out another friend's (Archie) trunk.  This trunk is better stocked than many famous bars in the country.  I'll say no more.

The night wasn't over.  We all went back to the hotel and celebrated until we partied out.  Sharing this experience with family and friends made this great night even better.  Wow, what a night.


I'm including a poem I composed about this special experience.  I hope you enjoy it.

THE FLAME

My “day in the sun” transpired in Greenville at night
Neath a majestic full moon and stars, oh,so bright
Nothing but magic filled the crisp air
As the flame arrived, a torch I would bear.

They told me of priestesses, a flame lit by the sun
I dreamed of winged feet and the race to be run
My emotions, so varied, were churning in breast
Should I really be there, could I stand to the test?

I was last on the van to carry the torch
I saw people-lined streets, sidewalks and porch
I watched as these runners, inspirational, all
Victoriously advanced it, answering their call.

Now my test was at hand, how did I feel?
Humble pride overcame me, it was all so surreal
My family, my friends, not behind, but aside
You all were with me on that wonderful ride.

Each one of your hands carried that flame
Through the years thousands, I could easily name
All who sustained me with love and support
Your spirit more regal than any king’s court.

I was an agent for you that cherished night
With the majestic full moon and stars, oh so bright
You all are winners, each dame, each fellow
Deserving God’s golden Olympic medal.




Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Mirror

My whole life I believed the mirror didn't lie.  No matter how you wanted to look, you gazed in the mirror and the reflection hit you with stark reality.  I placed faith in the mirror.  Whatever your goal in life, only you knew if you gave it one hundred percent.  Regardless of success or failure, if you satisfied the face in the mirror by doing the best you could do, you could be proud of yourself.  No matter what other people thought or said, the reflection in the mirror knew the truth and if that image was happy, you could be happy.  We are our own biggest critics because we are the only ones who know the whole truth about our motives, ambitions and levels of effort.  The mirror is the fact check of your life. 

One day last week I rolled up to a mirror and reluctantly stared in.  I yearned to know what the guy peering back thought of me.  He wasn't smiling.  I'm not explaining why because my computer doesn't have enough memory.  I did notice one important element though.  My right side was reflected as my left and the left side as right.  What did this mean?  Even the mirror gives you a skewed version of the truth.   Maybe this means sometimes we lie even to ourselves.   As you age, life gets more complicated.

As children we were taught to be compliant, to conform to natural and man-made laws as well as society's civil niceties.  I didn't totally buy into the concept.  I thought being a little different was cool.  I guess I was born, not a rebel, but a little more independent than most.  Today this mode of thinking is rearing its head with things like thinking outside the box or coloring outside the lines.  My philosophy is being a weed. 

According to Mr. Webster a weed is a "plant that is not valued where it is growing and is usually of vigorous growth."  It doesn't describe a weed as evil or any kind of deterrent, it's just out of place.  Being incongruent isn't always bad.  Many historical leaders, inventors and scientists were a little different and vigorously so.  This individualism made a difference.  It formed the greatest country so far.  I've been a weed at times simply because I chose the wrong patch to grow in.  I didn't fit in with the major crop.  I wasn't bad or underachieving; I was an apple in an orange grove, a rose amongst buttercups.  It took me a long time to discover my proper field. but I did--did you?  If not, do so because life is more fun in the right acreage.

Keep smiling!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

My First Novel

My devil's advocate, Gal Friday, accuses me of embellishment.  What, you say, not our trusted reporter Honest Ed.  It saddens me to think Gal Friday would even harbor such a sentiment, much less verbalize it.  I remain confident my readers share no such feeling.  Embellishment--isn't that something akin to exaggeration?  Nonsense.

However ridiculous, Gal Friday insists pushing her point of view and discussions continue.  Please take note, I said discussions, not arguments.  We never argue.  To prove her point, she suggested before publishing, I allow her to  edit this post marking any embellishment or untruth in blue, an editor's favorite color.  I agreed without hesitation knowing well my rigid digits only type factual material.  So if you expect additional color while reading, you will be disappointed.

The focus of this short pontification is my first novel, Blue Chariot Some time in the last millennium I needed a project so I decided to write a novel.  Like most of my endeavors, I proceeded with a back-assward process.   Dismissing Gal Friday's encouragment to learn something about fiction writing before starting, I sat down and let my rigid digits hunt and peck.  Six months later I had a novel.  After Gal Friday edited this prestigious piece of art form, we sent it to a print shop for binding.  We mailed the manuscript to 12 readers for their comments.  The readers gave us positive criticism and made helpful suggestions.   We incorporated some, again edited and I felt the job done.  All I had to do was send it to a few agents and I could sit back collecting royalties.

The first responses from agents went something like this. "Thanks I needed a good laugh to brighten my day."   I thought this guy must be confused. I was.  My genre was suspense, not humor.  Other agent reactions befuddled me even more--"maybe you should take up ping pong," "don't stop your social security checks," and the most indignant, "what mental hospital should I wire your flowers to?"

There seemed to be a recurring theme.  I determined some formal training might possibly be in order.  I attended workshops, read "how to"  literature, and asked for advice from professional writers and editors.  Just yesterday Gal Friday mailed the first 10 pages of Blue Chariot, along  with a check, to an editor who expressed interest in completing a full edit for a minimal compensation.  Her definition of minimal is different than mine.  Not only do I have to take out a second mortgage to pay for it, part of her contract specifies I have to read her book even before applying.  This is like taking a college entrance exam, paying up front money and munching on fingernails while anxiously awaiting the results.  Stupid me, I thought life would get easier after college.

I now await Gal Friday's edited version of this post.  Idon't expect to see any blue print.