Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Tree House Brewing

     Last week I found myself in the Hartford, CT area.  While there it struck me that I might be fairly close to a newish, highly lauded brewery--Tree House Brewing.  Fortunately, I was, as Tree House was less than an hour's drive away.  The brewery's hours are rather limited--Wednesday through Saturday, but luckily I was able to find a night when I could go.
     If you look up Tree House's products on the Beer Advocate website (, they're almost ludicrously represented in the site's Top 250 Beers (in the world).  At this writing, 15 of the top 250 are Tree House's, including the #1, #8, #11, #12, #14 and #15 spots, and 13 of the top 100.  Other than Hill Farmstead (VT), Toppling Goliath (IA), and Trillium (Boston, Mass.) I couldn't see any other brewery which had over 5 separate beers in this "best of" list.
    Alas, there's a catch.  Like many of the popular, but small breweries, trying their beers is hard to do.  Essentially, you have to visit the actual brewery, located in Monson, Mass.  (It's possible that some of the local beer stores and bars might get some Tree House offerings, but I couldn't find any, and certainly I've never seen them in any places I've visited, even those with great selections.)  I was lucky enough in previous years to get a hold of some of the rare Vermont beers (from The Alchemist, Lawson's, and Hill Farmstead) while working up there, but I haven't been close to Monson, Mass. in quite a long time.  (I should explain.  I a semi-crazed beer snob, but even I have my limits.  I'm not willing to drive like hours to visit a particular brewery/store.  Anything over an hour or so one way is too much.)
     Similar to Hill Farmstead, Tree House Brewing is located on a farm, way out in the boonies, as they say.  There was information on the website ( imploring customers not to bother their neighbors, and/or park on the neighbors' property, so evidently that's been a problem.  I thought I was being smart by arriving half an hour before they opened, but I was wrong.  There was a already a line of maybe 200 people snaking out from the building, going out to a field behind the brewery.
     The line moved slowly, but steadily.  There was a fountain/wading pool and some cornhole (beanbag throwing) games set up for the amusement of small children who were waiting for their parents.  I overheard another customer expressing amusement about how some fanatics apparently come from as far away as Ohio to get some Tree House beers.  Another overheard conversation was about the psychological component of rating alcohol.  A man brought up the studies that have been done where wine experts are fooled by switched labels, or even by white wines that have been secretly dyed red with food coloring, etc.  Which is an interesting point.  I've often wondered how well I'd do in a blind taste test of a collection of beers.  Would I rate "crappy" beers over rare, expensive, "great" beers?  I'd like to think I could at least recognize the major beer styles--i.e. I presumably wouldn't think a Miller type lager was a great IPA or anything, but who knows?  Maybe someday I'll test myself in a double blind experiment.
     Despite my initial fear, the wait wasn't too long.  In about 45 minutes I was inside, at the counter.  Since I had the choice I went with the cans instead of the growler fills (I'd forgotten my empty growlers, and quite frankly, I don't need to pay for more).  I got there on a good day--they had 3 types of beer available.  There were two American Double IPA's, and one American Pale Ale.  The IPA's were Doppleganger (#41 on the Beer Advocate Top 250), and Haze (#44), while the American Pale Ale was Pride & Purpose.  There were strict quotas enforced.  Each individual customer was allowed to buy up to 2 Dopplegangers, 2 Hazes, and 8 Pride & Purposes.  Pretty much everyone bought the maximum allowed, which went for $43.  Since each can was 16 ounces, this equates to 16 twelve ounce beers, and between $3.25 to $4.25 per can.  Which is, clearly, very expensive, close to what a pint of beer costs in a bar or restaurant.   The can themselves are very simple, befitting the brewery's smallness.  The Doppleganger has a blue/black label on a silver can, the Pride & Purpose has a white/gray label on a silver can, and the Haze can was completely purple.  All of these labels had a stylized drawing of, of course, a tree house.
     But here's my take on them.  Using the U.S. scholastic rating system--"A" for excellent, "B" for good, "C" for average, "D" for unsatisfactory but barely passing, "F" for failing, with pluses and minuses as necessary.

1) Tree House Pride & Purpose, American pale ale, 5.1% alcohol:  B+.  Cloudy.  Nice hop bite, pulls back from going overly bitter and unpleasant.  Smooth.

2) Tree House Doppleganger, American double IPA, 8.2% alcohol:  A.  Pleasant odor.  Very nice.  Spicy.  Well balanced.  I see what the hype is about.  Also hides alcohol well.

3) Tree House Haze, Amercian double IPA, 8.2% alcohol:  A.  Similar to Doppleganger.  Nice and spicy and hoppy.  Very drinkable.  Also hides alcohol well.

     So, as you can see, I think Tree House's superior reputation is justified, at least from the 3 types I had.  The "worst" of the bunch, the Pride & Purpose, was still well above average.  I certainly don't regret spending the time and money for these.  And if/when I'm near the Monson area again (or if they start shipping cans and kegs a bit) I'll eagerly try these again, or any other types.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Crime and (Non) Punishment

    This is another autobiographical article, which I originally wrote back in 2003.  I submitted this one to "Morbid Curiosity" as well, but it wasn't accepted.  The reason given was that the accounts inside happened to friends of mine, with me as an observing bystander.  I was reading over this recently, and happened to recall a couple of more examples, from my stays in hotels.  Anyway, enjoy.

     Like a lot of students, I was fortunate enough to be able to live in off-campus housing for much of my college career.  Also like many others, I found it to be vastly superior to living in a dorm.  First off, there was the extra space; instead of being cooped up in a single small room, in the off-campus apartments and houses you had a kitchen, semiprivate bathroom, living room, and sometimes a basement and porch in addition to your bedroom, which occasionally you had to yourself.  Secondly, there was the freedom; unlike a dorm there wasn’t an upperclassman preceptor lurking about, with the power to write you up and toss you out of your room if they caught you with a beer.  Lastly, there was the responsibility; true, sometimes this was negative, with the unsupervised fights between housemates, tension over late payments of rent and bills, and such, but overall I think the experience led to as much maturing as the actual class work.  I certainly recommend it to anyone who can manage the cost.
     However, this is not to say there weren’t other problems associated with the off-campus housing experience.  All three years (1991-1994) of my apartment/house living were off the Douglas campus in New Brunswick, NJDouglas is one of many schools under the Rutgers University umbrella.  And, as it turns out, it’s surrounded by some pretty sketchy neighborhoods.
     Our first apartment, on Handy Street, proved to be fairly uneventful from a safety standpoint.  The only damage done to myself, my roommates, and the apartment itself was self-inflicted from overindulgence in alcohol or overzealous wrestling matches.  We did have an annoying elderly neighbor who called the cops on some of our parties, but this problem was solved when we learned the trick of guilting her into not calling by inviting her (a bit of no-risk etiquette not condoned by Miss Manners).  My Reservist roommate found a M-16 firing pin in the street, but that was all.
     The next place, a house on Comstock Street, only two blocks away, proved more unsettling.  It was located right on the border where the neighborhood began to get bad.  Our first clue about what the situation was came on the first day there, moving day.  One of my housemates had left his van open between unloading trips.  To our surprise, we looked out the window to see a guy in his van, lying underneath the steering wheel trying to hot wire it.  Fortunately yelling at and then chasing him frightened him off, and nothing was actually stolen or damaged.  Still, it was quite unexpected, especially since the van had been left unattended for only a minute or so, and it was broad daylight.
     But a month or two passed without much further happening.  We did have some tension with neighbors, particularly the house directly across the street.  They were mad that we didn’t mow our lawn in a timely fashion, and we hated them for their screaming matches and general rudeness.
     Then the next incident occurred.  At that time there were five of us living there—myself, my friends Nick, Mike, and Leon, and our sub letter Chuck (who was a nice fellow but kept to himself and his own room).  Leon was out of town with his girlfriend, and Chuck and Mike both left the house by ten or eleven a.m. (Chuck going to work, Mike going out with his girlfriend).  Nick was working the night shift at UPS and so he didn’t get up until noon or one p.m., and I normally arose somewhat earlier, but not that day because I’d been up partying until five a.m. the night before.  So, at around noon Nick and I came downstairs from our second floor bedroom to discover that we’d been robbed, again during daylight, obviously between eleven and twelve or so.
     It had been a simple job.  The burglars had broken the lock on the back door and had stolen Nick’s television, Leon’s VCR, and Nick’s mountain bike.  The police came and filled out the report, and even futilely dusted for prints on the remaining bike stand.  Our landlord was extremely unhelpful; he didn’t get around to fixing the broken lock for several days, apparently waiting for a relative to have some free time.  (This was our first clue to our landlord’s cheapness concerning repairs; he didn’t fix one of the toilets for over six months and didn’t replace a broken basement window for over a year after we moved out.)
     All in all, the robbery mainly affected our sense of safety rather than our wallets.  Nick wisely had insurance on his possessions, so he was able to get them replaced.  Leon didn’t have insurance on his VCR, but it wasn’t new and didn’t work that great, anyway (we hoped it ate all the thieves’ videotapes).  But it was jarring to think that we’d been robbed, in the day, while we were in the house sleeping upstairs.
     Then several more months passed.  Classes had started, and our lineup had changed, as different housemates and sub letters had moved in and out.  After the burglary we’d become more security conscious, and made sure the house and all our cars were securely locked.  Until one day…  My housemate Mike had just visited the grocery store, and had many bags of food.  During the thirty seconds or so between unloading trips, he’d left his pull-out stereo in his car, although behind locked doors.  Once again it was daylight, mid afternoon.  So of course he came out for another load of food to find his window smashed, and the stereo gone.  Alas, he had to pay for the repair and replacement on his own, as the total was below his insurance deductible.  A few days later one of our enemy neighbors came over and told Mike that she knew who’d done it.  She blamed her ex-boyfriend, who lived just down the street.  Ultimately her information was useless, as she wouldn’t speak to the police about this knowledge.  Since we weren’t exactly the vigilante types, coupled with the fact that our source was a questionable, possibly biased one, we didn’t hunt the neighbor down or anything
     Fortunately this was the last criminal act perpetrated on my group at the Comstock Street house.  Our final off-campus housing, a really nice condominium, was located about six or seven blocks away on Neilson Street.  After our experiences we were slightly concerned about our safety, especially given the new surroundings.  We were adjacent to a run-down housing project and several other shady areas.  However, despite its appearance, we had slightly less trouble here than on Comstock.  Vehicles had a rough time of it, though.  At least three times a car of ours or of a visiting friend was the subject of a hit and run, the worst being a friend of ours whose car was basically totaled.  Plus once again Mike had his car broken into, and like his previous vehicle, the thieves broke a window to gain access to it.  On this occasion his book bag was stolen, and with it several of his college textbooks and notebooks.  He was less upset about the loss of the possessions than the fact that he had wasted four hours on the lost homework inside one of the purloined books.  Other than these incidents, though, our property or persons were not assaulted.  Surprisingly, too, this final theft took place during the more traditional cover of darkness.
     These three years were my only brush with burglars.  My boyhood home has never been broken into, nor have I had anything stolen in the various hotel rooms I’ve called home since college (I live on the road for my business, contract archaeology).  Hell, to be accurate I never had anything of mine stolen, I just lived with people who were unfortunate enough to have this happen.  Nevertheless, it has made me conscious, some would say obsessive, about security.  I’m still amazed when I meet people (who usually come from other parts of the country, not the Northeast) who commonly leave their rooms, or cars open.  Or even more extremely, learning about households who never locked their doors, and sometimes didn’t even have locks on them!  That’s unthinkable to me, which I guess sort of sad in one way, realistic in another.  My residences may be broken into again, but I at least believe in making the perpetrators work at it at least a little
     (Update)  Since I wrote this piece, I’ve remembered a couple of more incidents concerning theft.  Like the others, these actually occurred to friends of mine, and not to me directly.  Both happened to archaeologist friends, while staying at a crew hotel.  Which, are sometimes a mixed bag, as you’ll see.  (See my April 7, 2012 post about bad hotels, for more on the lackluster or even horrible ones.)
     The first one occurred in 1995.  Since that was so long ago, I’m very hazy on the details.  But, anyway, my friend and coworker Kim was staying in a project hotel that seemed mediocre.  However, one day she reported she’d been robbed, almost certainly by the maid.  She’d (in my mind, somewhat foolishly) left cash in a box in a drawer on her nightstand while she was at work.  Since the maid had a key to her room, and had cleaned it, she was the obvious leading candidate (there was no sign of forced entry or anything else).  When Kim complained to the hotel owner, his response was to tell her which maid had cleaned her room (and may have even pointed her out), and told Kim to confront her.  So, kind of like my earlier story, he was encouraging vigilante justice, it seems.  (I don’t recall why Kim didn’t call the police.  Or perhaps she did but they couldn’t do much because it was a hotel.)  Whatever the exact details were, I think this was awfully strange. Kim chose not to get in a futile screaming match (or worse), so she didn’t get any justice or satisfaction.
     My final story took place in 1996.  I’ll use my coworker’s nickname, to protect the guilty.  (I should state that in the 20 years since this occurrence he’s married, has kids, and is a successful businessman and a landlord, so he’s undeniably gotten more responsible.)  “Dennis the Menace” enjoyed a certain smoke-able herb, and evidently his maid did too, as she stole his stash.  Clearly this type of theft isn’t one you can report to either the hotel or the police.  (Well, you could, I guess, but it would be really stupid.)  A day or too later we saw “Dennis” walking around at work with poison ivy leaves in a bag.  This was extremely weird behavior, of course, so we asked him what the hell he was doing.  His plan, he explained, was to rub it on the doorknob of one of his rooms (his girlfriend worked on the job too, so they each got a room.  But they mainly stayed in one, while using the other for storage.)  He also was going to rub it on that room’s toilet seat, in the hopes that the larcenous maid would use it and get the poison ivy rash on both her hands, and more sensitive areas as well.  All of us spent some time convincing him not to go through with this attempted revenge.  We pointed out that the odds of her using his toilet were slim to none, for starters.  Then we mentioned that the far more likely scenario was that he would forget about his actions and accidentally touch the doorknob and/or the toilet seat himself, perhaps while drunk (he enjoyed alcoholic beverages, sometimes to excess, as well).  Finally, what if the maids occasionally switched who cleaned particular rooms, or the marijuana thief was sick and a replacement did his room?  An innocent person might get a nasty, and unfair surprise.  “Dennis” grudgingly conceded our arguments, and thus his maid got away with her stealing with no consequences.  But at least “Dennis” didn’t compound his property loss with more itchy rashes, in way worse places than we field techs normally get.


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Portuguese Soft Drinks, and a Short Discussion about the NFL Preseason

     Recently I found myself in Danbury, Connecticut.  The local supermarket had something surprising--a Portuguese food section in their ethnic foods aisle.  So evidently Danbury has a fairly sizable Portuguese population, or at least a large number of people who enjoy their food.  Most of the selections were things I'd had before, such as canned seafood, but they did have some soft drinks I'd never sampled.
     Sumol + Compal, S.A. is a major soft drink manufacturer in Portugal.  The company, which is a combination of two smaller companies, also markets juices/nectar, water, and beer.  It primarily sells to European and Northern African countries.  Soda flavors include orange, passion fruit, pineapple, and mango.  I was able to locate the first two kinds.  (Update, May 24, 2017:  I found the pineapple version recently in Fall River, MA.  See below for rating.)
     The other drink I bought is a bit of a mystery.  The bottle says it's made by Kiki.  I wasn't able to discover much of anything about the company online, and the bottle only mentions it was manufactured for Miranda Imports, Inc.,, out of Massachusetts.  So that's all I have.  I tried the orangeade flavor, or "laranjada" in Portuguese.
     So here's my opinions, rated in the usual U.S. scholastic system.  "A" for excellent, "B" for good, "C" for average, "D" for unsatisfactory but barely passing, and "F" for failing, with pluses and minuses as necessary.

Kiki laranjada (orangeade): D-.  Orange color, came in a 12 ounce (355 ml.) bottle.  Really disappointing.  Very bland and dull.  Just a hint of orange taste.  Was it expired?  No expiration or "best by" date on bottle.

Sumol orange flavor: D.  Came in a huge, 1.5 liter bottle.  Has 10% orange juice and pulp.  Kind of like the Kiki, it was very dull and bland.  Just a hair better.  My father liked it, though.

Sumol passion fruit flavor: C+.  Is 6% juice, and came in a 330 ml. (11.15 ounce) can.  Yellow color.  Much better than the others.  Had a stronger taste.  Not strong overall, but improved.

Sumol pineapple flavor:  D.  Came in 330 ml. (11.15 ounce) can, and was 8% juice.  Light yellowish color.  Had pineapple flavor, but was unpleasantly sweet.  Rather cloying.  Not very good, once again.

     So, as you can see, I wasn't very impressed with the Portuguese soft drinks.  Even the one I liked was basically a tad better than average.  Obviously my main complaint is that these sodas didn't have very strong, distinctive tastes.  I wouldn't buy any of these again, except maybe the orange Sumol for my father.

     Switching topics, I'd also like to get into the NFL preseason a little, since it just started.  First off, the NFL doesn't like the term "exhibition games" even though that's exactly what they are.  Kind of like the recent trend in dealers calling them "pre-owned cars" instead of the more honest and direct, "used cars."  Up until the NFL was founded in 1920, there was no real agreement on what were "real" games and what were exhibition ones.  The pro teams of the era simply scheduled games with whatever teams they thought would get them a decent paying crowd.  In 1921, the NFL enacted a rule that only sanctioned games between members of the NFL constituted official games, and these then counted in the standings.  But, teams could, and did continue to play other non-NFL teams until the end of the 1930's, even though they didn't count.  Even during the regular season, during "bye weeks," or weeks where they weren't scheduled to play anyone.  Now, of course, this seems ridiculous--why risk injuries, during the season, for games that didn't count?  It was a different time.
     By 1960, the NFL and the competitor American Football League (AFL) both played a 14 game regular season and 4-5 preseason games.  Then, when the AFL and the NFL merged (in 1970, into an NFL with two conferences, the NFC and the AFC), every team started playing 14 regular season games and 6 preseason games.  This didn't last too long, though.  When the NFL expanded its regular season to 16 games, the preseason schedule dropped to 4 games for most teams, and a fifth for the two teams that played in the preseason debut "Hall of Fame" game.  Aside from 1999-2001, when an odd number of total teams (31) meant that a few more teams had to play a fifth preseason game, this has been the same up until the present.
     There was a weird exception to the typical NFL preseason from 1934-76.  The first preseason game used to be between a team of college all star players versus the defending NFL champion team.  The college players even won 9 of these, while losing 31 and tying twice (the 1974 game wasn't played due to the player's strike that preseason).  By 1977 this College All Star Game was discontinued, after concerns about rising insurance costs and the fear that college prospects would get injured before they could be drafted by the NFL.  A strange rule was made by the NFL in 1963 in response to author/journalist George Plimpton's immersive book about playing football, in which he practiced with the Detroit Lions at quarterback.  Journalists were barred from playing in the preseason (or in the regular season, I assume) when it became apparent that the Lions might actually do so.
     Clearly, preseason games aren't much a barometer for how well a team will do in the regular season.  Much of the action is played by men who won't even make the final squad, or if they do it will probably be in a reserve role.  Teams limit their regular season starters' time for the very realistic fear of injury in a game that doesn't mean anything.  Typically the 3rd preseason game (or 4th for the 2 teams that played in the Hall of Fame game) is the one where the starters play the most, usually 2-3 quarters.  So, if you're wondering which game is most significant to view, that's the one.  And to illustrate just how little the preseason does predict teams' success, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who had a perfect 17-0 season, lost 3 preseason games, and the 2008 winless (the only 0-16 team ever) Detroit Lions went 4-0 in that year's preseason.
     I'd end on some preseason game individual player records, but I couldn't find them (I didn't look especially hard, but still).  Apparently the NFL doesn't care much, and nor do the fans.  Including myself, really.  The NFL does, though, make season ticket holders pay for the 2 home preseason games a year as well as for the 8 regular season ones.  Several individual and class-action lawsuits haven't been able to change this.
     So, enjoy the completely unimportant August games.  Or don't.  At least the regular season starts pretty soon--September 8th sees a rematch of the previous Super Bowl participants (the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers), while the rest of the league starts on September 11th (or the 12th for the 4 teams playing in the first Monday Night games).

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Some More Multi-Talented Athletes

     Recently a friend of mine posted a snarky bit about Brian Jordan, who played in both the NFL and Major League Baseball.  This sparked me to look into the phenomenon of people who played in more than one sport on the highest levels a bit more. (Also included are a couple of guys who became famous for, or at least did some major acting.)  Any long time readers may even recall that my third ever blog post (February 19, 2012) was about this, so this is kind of a sequel, I suppose.  Some of the athletes mentioned were Olympic athletes, which is appropriate since the 2016 Summer Games are obviously underway.

1) Jim Brown.  Starting with one of the very best, Jim Brown is definitely one of the greatest football players ever.  In his 9 year career with the Cleveland Browns at running back, he led the league in rushing yards 8 times, and was a Pro Bowl pick 9 times.  All told, he accumulated a then-record 12,312 rushing yards (with a 5.2 average carry), 2499 receiving yards, 106 rushing touchdowns, and 20 more receiving touchdowns.  He was part of one NFL Championship winning team, for the 1964 season.  For all these reasons, he was a very deserving Pro Football Hall of Famer.  However, he was also an excellent lacrosse player in college, at Syracuse University.  So much so that he's in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, too.  Finally, he became a successful actor after retiring from football.  He had at least supporting roles in films like "The Dirty Dozen (1967), "Ice Station Zebra" (1968), "100 Rifles" (1969), "The Running Man (1987), "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" (1988), and "Mars Attacks!" (1996).

2) Tim Stoddard.  Stoddard was a mostly mediocre reliever for 6 clubs in the 1970's and 1980's, including stints with the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees.  Overall he had a won-loss record of 41-35, with a 3.95 ERA, 76 saves, a WHIP (walks and hits per inning) of 1.420, and an Adjusted ERA of 101 (100 is exactly average).  While with the Orioles he played in the 1979 World Series, and was awarded a ring for the winning 1983 Orioles team (although he didn't play in that series). However, he was also a very good basketball player.  In college, with the North Carolina State Wolfpack, he was a starting power forward on their NCAA title-winning 1973-74 squad.  The team that interrupted the UCLA juggernaut. As such, he's the only guy to play in a World Series and win a NCAA basketball title.  ( Kenny Lofton came close, but his University of Arizona team lost in the Final Four.)

3) Cumberland Posey (who went by the now embarrassing nickname of "Cum").  Posey was an excellent basketball player and a decent baseball player.  Alas, because of the racial barrier in most professional sports in the early 20th century in the U.S., the African-American Posey wasn't allowed in the big pro basketball leagues or Major League Baseball.  Instead he played for the segregated teams that he could.  Unfortunately, these leagues didn't keep extensive statistics, so I can't tell you his scoring average, slugging average, etc.  His basketball ability is mostly based on the opinions of competitors and audiences.  After a brief playing career in baseball, he became a manager, owner, and league official in the Negro Leagues, with the Homestead Grays, one of the best teams in the league (they won pennants from 1937-45).  Because of his accomplishments, he was elected to both the Baseball Hall of Fame (2006) and the Basketball Hall of Fame (2016).

4) Chris Bahr.  Bahr is best known for being a long time kicker in the NFL, playing 14 seasons  with the Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders, and San Diego Chargers from 1976-89.  He converted 63% of his field goal attempts, 94% of his extra point attempts, and finished with 1213 points.  He also kicked for two Super Bowl winning teams with the Raiders, Super Bowls 15 and 18.  However, he was also an accomplished soccer player (or football player, to readers in pretty much every country but the U.S.).  In fact, he was Rookie of the Year for the 1975 NASL season, with the Philadelphia Atoms.  He scored 11 goals in 22 games.  (I realize this league wasn't on par with the best leagues in other countries, like Europe, but still.)

5) Michael Carter.  Carter had a very successful NFL career as a nosetackle with the San Francisco 49ers from 1984-92.  He started 97 of 121 games, got 22.5 sacks, was named to 3 Pro Bowls, and was rated All-Pro 3 times as well.  Continuing the "3's" he was part of 3 Super Bowl winners, in Super Bowls 19, 23, and 24.  But, he was also an excellent shot-putter.  He won the Silver Medal for the U.S. in the 1984 games.

6) Ollie Matson.  Like Carter, Matson was a great football player and Olympian.  In the 1952 Summer Games he won a Bronze Medal in the 400 meter run, and then a Silver as part of the 4X400 relay team.  From 1952-66 he played in the NFL, with the Chicago Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Detroit Lions, and the Philadelphia Eagles.  A halfback, he accumulated 5173 rushing yards (4.4 average) with 40 touchdowns, and then 3285 receiving yards, and 23 more touchdowns.  He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972.

7) Eddie Eagan.  Eagan has the distinction of being the only person to win gold medals in both the Summer and Winter Olympics in different events.  In the 1920 Summer Games Eagan won gold for the U.S. in boxing, as a light heavyweight.  Then, in the 1932 Winter Games, he again won gold, this time as part of the 4 man bobsled team.  He later became a lawyer, and then a Colonel in the army.

8) Sammy Byrd.  Byrd started out as a baseball player, as an outfielder.  Largely a reserve player, he played 8 years, accumulating a .274 batting average, .350 on base percentage, .412 slugging average, with 465 hits, 38 homers, and 220 rbi.  He played for the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds.  As a Yankee, he earned the nickname "Babe Ruth's Legs," as he often replaced Ruth late in games on the bases as a pinch runner or in the field (the rotund Ruth was neither a fast runner nor a good fielder at this point in his career).  He played in the 1932 World Series with the victorious Yankees.  However, he cut his baseball career short to concentrate on golf.  He had good success as a pro too, winning 6 PGA events.  In golf Majors he finished 3rd (1941) and 4th (1942) in the Masters, and 2nd in the 1945 PGA Championship.  He's the only man to play in both a World Series and a Masters.

9) Katie Taylor.  Taylor is mostly known as a boxer, in the lightweight division.  She won a gold medal at the 2012 Games for Ireland.  She also was good enough at association football (soccer to Americans) to make the Irish national team from 2006-9, playing midfielder/forward.  She's currently competing in the Summer Games, so she may well add to her medal total.

10) Sir George Thomas.  This one is a bit of a stretch, since it involves a game rather than a sport.  But, Thomas was presumably the best badminton player England ever saw, as he was the champion in singles, doubles, or mixed doubles from 1906-28.  He also played tennis, reaching the semifinals in doubles at Wimbledon in 1911.  He was the inaugural member of the Badminton Hall of Fame.  Additionally, he was the British Chess champion in 1923 and 1934.

11) Charlie Ward.  Ward won the Heisman Trophy playing quarterback at Florida State University in 1993.  However, it became known that most scouts predicted he would be a 3rd to 5th round NFL draft pick.  There were concerns about his height, among other things (he was 6'2", which is on the short side for a quarterback). Ward said he would play basketball if he wasn't picked in the 1st round.  Subsequently he wasn't chosen at all in the NFL draft.  The NBA's New York Knicks, though, did draft him in the first round of their draft.  Charlie went on to a solid 11 year career at guard, averaging 6.3 points a game, 2.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.2 steals, mostly as a starter.  He also played for the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets.

12) James Jett.  Jett won a gold medal as part of the 4X100 relay in the 1992 Olympics.  After that, he began his 10 year career in the NFL, playing wide receiver.  He started 75 of 140 games, and caught 256 passes for 4417 yards (17.3 average) and 30 touchdowns.  And along with Usain Bolt he probably has the most appropriate name for a fast runner.

13) Rebecca Romero.  Romero won a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics in the quadruple sculls (rowing) for England.  Unfortunately, injuries forced her to retire.  However, she went into cycling instead.  And became good enough to win a gold medal in individual pursuit cycling in the 2008 Summer Games.

14) Charley Powell.  Powell had a 7 year career in the NFL, with the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders in the late 1950's/early 60's.  He played Defensive End, Linebacker, and End.  Alas, defensive stats weren't well recorded in those days, so I can't provide much detail.  He is alleged to have sacked Hall of Famer Bobby Layne 10 times in one game (sacks weren't officially recorded until the early 1980's).  Powell also was a professional boxer, competing in the heavyweight division.  His final record was 25-11-3, with 17 knockouts.  He did knockout the then #2 contender, Nino Valdes, in 1959.  He was ranked as high as #4 himself.  Included in his career were losses to such notables as Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay).  In addition to these accomplishments, he also played minor league baseball and was offered a tryout with the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team.

15)  Chuck Connors.  Connors is best known for starring on the television series "The Rifle Man," from 1958-63.  However, he was also quite the athlete.  He played 2 years with the Boston Celtics at forward/center, back when the team was in the Basketball Association of America (they were absorbed in the NBA in 1949).  He played in 53 games, and averaged 4.5 points a game, and 0.8 assists (rebounds weren't tabulated back then).  Moving to Major League Baseball, Chuck played 2 seasons, with the Brooklyn Dodgers and Chicago Cubs.  His batting average was .239, his lifetime on base percentage was .280, and his slugging average was .302.  He hit 2 homers, and drove in 18 runs, and finished with an OPS adjusted of 55 (or not very good at all--100 is average).  As an actor, in addition to "The Rifle Man" he had roles in 1957's "Old Yeller," 1963's "Flipper," 1971's "Support Your Local Gunfighter," 1973's "Soylent Green," 1979's "Tourist Trap,"  as well as in the famous television series "Roots" (1977).

16) Jim Riley.  I'll end on the most obscure one.  Riley played several years of professional hockey, mostly with teams in the Pacific Coast Hockey League in the years before and after World War I.  He was even on a Stanley Cup winning squad, the Seattle Metropolitans in 1916-17, back when the Cup was awarded to teams in other pro leagues if they beat the National Hockey League champion squad, in a playoff series, as happened here.  Later, Riley did play briefly in the NHL, with the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks in 1926-27.  He played in either 9 or 17 games (the sources differ), and had 2 assists.  He also had a very brief MLB career, playing with the St. Louis Browns in 1921, and the Washington Senators in 1923.  He played in 6 games, accumulating 0 hits in 14 at bats.  (He did score 1 run ,and walk 3 times.)  So his batting average was .000. his on base percentage .176, and his slugging average .000, for a total adjusted OPS of -52!  But, to give Riley credit, to date he's the only man to play in both the NHL and MLB.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A Bit of Autobiographical Non-Fiction About Hallucinations

     Thought I'd try something different and share one of my old stories.  This one was published in   "Morbid Curiosity," a magazine that unfortunately isn't printed anymore.  Specifically the issue published in May, 2005.  Morbid Curiosity was a collection of weird personal experiences, all nonfiction.  They ended up publishing three of my accounts--one about my worker's comp injuries, one about exhuming graves (see October 23, 2013 post), and this one about fever nightmares.  Enjoy!

                                                      A Natural (But Sick) High

      I can recall being quite surprised when I first learned that many of the body’s discomforts are actually caused by it as defense mechanisms.  Pain, for example, designed to alert the body of injuries; an extreme reminder to cease certain activities or get something fixed immediately.  Or the many symptoms of illnesses—serving again as warnings, but also directly fighting invading bodies.  The extra phlegm which engulfs particles in its stickiness, and then expels them, either directly, itself, or in conjunction with two other symptoms, namely by coughing or sneezing.
     And then there’s the fever, the raising of the body’s temperature to bake the enemy germs.  This is one of the more extreme measures, since fevers can actually go too high and actually kill the person.  It’s kind of reminiscent of the infamous quote about Vietnam which holds, “In order to save the village we had to destroy it.”
     But sometimes another phenomenon accompanies a fever, and this is the point of my account; the fever hallucination.  I only had them a few times, and not past the age of ten or so, and my memory of them is rather spotty and incomplete.  (For example, it is possible that one or more of my fever highs was augmented by an adrenaline injection done to stop a bad asthma attack; unfortunately no one in my family can remember for sure.)  But the vestiges that have remained are still oddly intense and clear, over twenty years later.
     For the best remembered fever high, I need to explain a little background first.  Since I or someone else in the house was allergic to all furry animals, we couldn’t have the typical dog or cat as a pet.  Therefore, we had to make do with fish, hermit crabs, salamanders, newts, and even insects and bugs.  The latter were mainly represented by wood lice, the common critters also called, “armadillos,” or, “pillbugs,”; they’re the tiny, segmented, many legged bugs which curl up into a ball when they feel threatened.  They were easy to keep, as they required no exotic foods, didn’t bite, and weren’t extremely disgusting or disease-spreading like flies or cockroaches.  Anyway, I kept them in empty margarine containers packed with dirt, leaves, and pieces of wood, and occasionally would run them through mazes that I made with Legos.
     Then the sickness hit, accompanied by the fever.  I awakened a few hours after going to sleep.  I was hysterical with fear; terrified that some nameless persons or entities were going to come into our house and murder my pillbugs.  I went downstairs and talked with my mom and dad about my acute worries, and somehow they were able to convince me that everything would be okay, and eventually I was able to go back upstairs and get back to sleep.  As I write this I’m aware of how silly and absurd my fears sound; I’m confident that the day after it must have sounded incredibly stupid and paranoid even to a seven or eight-year-old.  But, at the time, it made perfect sense.  It’s weird, too, because while I liked the wood lice, I wasn’t that attached to them.  When they died I just picked up a rock and got some more—it didn’t have the same impact that the death of a fish or reptile did.  I don't recall even naming them.  So the wood lices’ part in my delusion is bizarre.  Why I wasn’t concerned about the safety of myself or my family is beyond me.  My heat-addled brain sure thought their tiny lives were vitally important and valuable that night.
     The second fever incident was not as specific, but just as (if not more) terrifying.  Once again, it happened at night, while I was either trying to go to sleep or perhaps awakened from sleep.  It felt as if some tremendous force was pressing against me, causing my hands to be pushed open.  I perceived some nameless and malevolent power exhibiting its strength before me.  For this one I didn’t even have the energy to get out of bed.  I just lay there, feeling utterly insignificant.  This fear of being overwhelmed was like nothing I’d experienced, before or since.  It was simply raw and hopelessly intense.  I felt so worthless and weak as to be beyond thoughts of a suicidal nature.  Years later, when I first read some of H. P. Lovecraft’s horror stories, I found that they struck a chord.  His accounts of people struck dumb with terror at witnessing huge, powerful, and impossibly ancient god-like beings seemed similar to how I felt at that time.  After a while the feeling must have passed enough to allow me to fall asleep again.
     I talked to other people about these experiences, and some of them mentioned having fever highs, but they usually consisted of them feeling weird but not necessarily afraid.  The Pink Floyd song, “Comfortably Numb,” apparently describes such an event, with hands described as feeling like balloons, and other strange feelings which were neutral or even positive.  I myself place value on the fever highs because the intensity of emotion was an experience, but I can’t say that I’d like to repeat them.  If the fever hallucinations had been just trippy yet happy, or even simply interesting and amusing, maybe I’d feel differently.  But, this argument is probably moot, since this phenomenon seems to affect mostly children.

     I’ve never taken chemical hallucinogens like LSD or magic mushrooms.  Partly this is because of concerns about suffering negative health or legal issues.  But I think part of it also stems from the negative fever experiences.  What if the powerful, impossibly evil (yet absurd) entities that my brain concocted took the opportunity that the drugs provided to haunt me once again?  I think an experience like that would be somehow worse as an adult.