Friday, December 26, 2008

The perfect tree for the perfect day

We had a wonderful Christmas, opening presents, enjoying family time, listening to music and, with the help of Rachael Ray, cooking a glorious turkey.

It’s been a pretty eventful holiday season so far, not even counting the arrival of the K-Rod and JJ in the Mets bullpen. So we present a special Deezo Christmas Friday Five.

1) We cut down our own Christmas tree every year. Usually this involves the kids and me marching through acres of snowy fields until we can mutually agree on one. That can take hours, especially since we go pretty late in the month and most of the best ones have been turned to stumps.

But this year we walked to the section of Korean firs -- our new favorites – and I saw it. Rising above the rest of the trees like a church steeple was a perfect cross, formed by the branches at the very top. It was beautiful and it was perfect.

We have a wonderful Waterford crystal tree-topper, but this year it’s staying in the box. I decided nature created something better.

2) One tree that’s always perfect is the one in the Baseball Room. Long ago my wife bought me an artificial tree for the basement, the first step in banishing all my baseball ornaments and others she didn’t like from the main family tree.

I have a punch of generic baseball decorations including most of the non-Yankee Hallmark offerings.

It’s tough to get Mets ornaments, but through the magic of the Internet and generosity of relatives – two from my sister this year! – I’ve been able cover the tree.

But this was the first year I could limit the tree to the Mets and New York designs, with just a few others that are just too special to leave in the box.

3) My wife found a neat story about the WPIX Yule Log.

I had no idea there was such a wild history behind the thing. I thought they just set a camera in front of a log each year and called it good.

Here are some cool Yule Log facts from the official Yule Log Web site.

-- The original was filmed in 1966 in black and white at Gracie Mansion, the home of New York’s mayor.
-- The crew removed the protective gate to get a better shot, and a stray spark damaged a $4,000 antique rug.
-- The show was a 17-second loop that ran for several hours.
-- When WPIX wanted to reshoot it in color in 1970, the mayor wouldn’t allow it after the rug incident. So the producers found a mansion in California with a similar fireplace and shot it on a sweltering August afternoon.
-- The second version is a six-minute loop.
-- The station stopped showing it in 1990, with much protesting from the devoted. The station brought it back in 2001, thinking that New Yorkers would want the video version of comfort food after the terrorist attacks.

After reading all this, I was excited to see that WGN was showing a Yule Log on Christmas Eve. Alas, it wasn’t THE Yule Log, but just cheesy gas fireplace. So we changed the channel and turned on our own gas fireplace.

4) We have a new household catchphrase. You have to know that I like battery operated, singing and dancing Christmas decorations. We have a couple that I think are pretty cool, but I might be alone in thinking that.
One of my favorites is a moose with bells on his antlers that shake when he sings “Sleigh Ride.”

The 16-year-old likes to sleep, and doesn’t like the moose, so it’s become the preferred method of waking him up.
Nevertheless, one of my co-workers was alarmed when she overheard me talking to my daughter on the phone, saying “At 10:30, go moose your brother.”

5) We also have new family lore. Church can be dangerous. My son, probably still groggy from his moosing, was an usher at the 8 p.m. Christmas Eve service, so we were there early.

There were wooden poles attached to the end of every third pew, holding a candlestick and a glass cover similar to the glass in the photo. Usually, they’re attached with a thick band in the middle and another at the base. But this year, for some reason, they were attached only at the middle.

We sat in the pew, and I don’t know how it happened, but as soon as I sat down I saw the white pole in the corner of my eye and heard a thunderous crash that echoed throughout the sanctuary, which had only handful of families at the time – several of them with children now shrieking.

Just so you know, there is no way to pass this off on someone else when there isn’t another person sitting within five pews. Also, relatives and friends will quickly disown you.

Someone found the broom and dust pan, and I will say that the debris field was pretty impressive. We were finding glass about four pews away.

The most embarrassing part: After church a friend who came in later was discussing the service and said, “I head some little kid knocked over one of the candles and broke the glass.”

“A big kid, actually,” was the only way to respond.

From the Mets Guy family to you and yours, we wish you a wonderous and joyous holiday season.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Federal car czar? Why stop there?

Lots of talk this month about the federal government naming a “car czar” to go along with the “drug czar.” Then you have old Joe Biden announcing he’s going to be the “working families czar” in addition to vice president.

Truth be told, the real czars tended to be an unimpressive and ineffective lot, so I might want to come up with a better title. But that’s what we’ve got to work with.

And since we’re adding new czars, here are several that we suggest for the new Obama administration to consider. We’d even volunteer for some of these jobs.

Holiday television special czar: My daughter, then in elementary school, last year had endured enough holiday shows to realize the modern ones all boil down to the same tired plot line: Somebody’s going to discover the True Meaning of Christmas. She’s both dead-on and dead wrong at the same time. The cranky central character in need of redeeming does indeed discover The True Meaning of Christmas every time, at least what the True Meaning is in the eyes of the script hacks. Usually this translate into something along the lines of “I should be nice to people and give them stuff.” But they never take the next step, which would be “I should be nice to people and give them stuff because I want to share the joy that comes with recognizing the birth of the Savior.” Don’t even get me started on the Rankin-Bass specials with their Bumbles and Burgermeisters and Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkeys.

As czar: I’d invoke the Charlie Brown Rule: A special can do whatever it wants as long as there is at least one reference to the actual reason for the season.

Comics czar: I recently saw that “Beetle Bailey” paid tribute to “Gasoline Alley’s” 90th anniversary. Naturally, the guys who started that strip aren’t around any more. And as the mastermind behind the brilliant Comics Curmudgeon blog point out, “legacy” strips abound. Far too many of these guys have retired and passed the franchise along to one of their kids or a flunkie. Most of them weren’t even funny when the guy with the original vision was around, much less the people just trying to keep the strip afloat. Then you have Lynn Johnson, of “For Better or Worse” fame who recently retired, changed her mind, and pretty much started the strip all over again, this time with the husband being a jerk. I stopped reading it

As a czar: I’d demand that once an artist dies, the strip dies with it. And if a strip that is supposed to be funny goes an entire month without prompting even a faint smile — Ziggy, I’m looking at you — it goes, too! If your strip is so painful to read — “Family Circus,” perhaps — that you start screaming, “No! No! Make it stop! Damn you, Little Billy and your evil ways,” then you lose your space on the comics page. And, Lynn Johnson, if you’ve botched things up so much that you feel the need to start all over with the same characters, you’re done, too. Every time one of these dinosaurs goes away, it opens up space for good, new strips like “Pearls Before Swine” and “Frazz.” And goodness knows, we need more good, new strips.

Derek F. Jeter hype czar: If there’s ever a problem that needs federal intervention, this is it. I fully expect Verducci, Klapisch and their ilk to come out and say that Jeter is so worthy of the Hall of Fame, that the five-year waiting period after retiring be waived because the Hall is less complete without a Jeter plaque. Heck, if those guys get worked up, they might demand that Jeter be enshrined while he’s still playing, and a new wing be added to the building just to house all of The Captain’s glory.

As a czar: I’d mandate that the word “over-rated” be inserted every time Jeter is introduced while walking to the plate. “Now batting, No. 2, the over-rated Derek Jeter.

Football talk czar: I like following the Jets and listening to sport talk radio on the way in to work each day. But unlike baseball, which is a part of our daily lives, there just isn’t a lot to say about football since they only play one game a week. We are subjected to three days of rehashing the previous game followed by three days of hype for the upcoming game. Enough, I say!

As a czar: I’d limit the rehash to two days, and just in the case of the Lions, because you can only say “They suck” in so many ways and they seemed to run out of those ways around Week Seven. And I’d limit hype to two days as well, and don’t get me started on the two weeks before the Super Bowl. This leaves Wednesday and Thursday as football-free days, devoted to Mets hot stove discussion, which just never gets old.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Another nightmare before Christmas

The Mets did a nice job with last year's final season at Shea patch, and promptly used it to adorn anything and everything coming out of Queens last season.

But that won't be the case this year if this is the official Citi Field inaugural season patch.

To be fair, the team hasn't released anything, so we don't know for sure. But the folks at the Chris Creamer boards posted this screen shot from the MLB 09 video game, which shockingly in a good indicator if recent history holds true.

Then, Eric from worked up this design based on the screen capture.

Paul Lukas from has seen the design, and said he can't reveal what he knows. But he posted the screen capture on his stite, and didn't say it was wrong, either. He has been saying for a while that the patch design is not, well, good.

Part of the problem is that the Citi Field Logo includes the Citi Bank wordmark, and such things are prohibited from appearing on uniforms. But given all the neat design elements of the new stadium -- the routunda, the bridges, the lack of Scott Schoenweis -- you'd think there would be something nice there to design a patch around without what we see here.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Mets can make any Christmas tree special

As you know, I have a lot of rules. Naturally this extends to the Christmas season.

I’m a hardcore Christmas decorator, which means that I don’t believe in setting up our tree and festive displays until the weekend closest to Dec. 15. If they’re up too long, then they don’t seem special any more.

My wife feared that baseball ornaments were taking over the family tree — as if that were a bad thing — so years ago she surprised me with a small artificial evergreen to place in the baseball room and display all of the holiday tributes to the Mets and the homeland.

Some of them shall be the focus of a special Deezo Friday Five.

1) Forever Collectibles has become the main producer of player ornaments, and the company really ramped up its offerings this year.

After giving us just a Jose Reyes figure a year ago, Forever gifted us with three Mets: Johan Santana, Reyes and David Wright. These were on sale and I pounced!

If only there was a company making these kinds of things in the glorious 1970s, when we could have had Tom Seaver, Jerry Grote and Lee Mazzilli making the Christmas season special.

2) Then we have this “Team Celebration” ornament. Getting three Mets to dangle from one string is an impressive feat, but I recognize that I looks a little goofy.

The ornament has Wright, Reyes and Beltran, and I know this only because of the painted numbers and names. No actual likenesses are included.

3) I found an updated version of this cool Shea Stadium ornament that has the sweet final season logo instead of the team logo.

I discovered it online in the fall, only to have the dealer later e-mail and say he wasn’t supposed to sell it until closer to Christmas and wouldn’t be mailing it until then. And I waited and waited, with each passing day figuring that the ornament didn’t actually exist and I was being scammed, probably by a Grinchy Yankee fan who takes delight in sucking the joy from Mets fans in this most festive season.

But it arrived on Wednesday and I felt much better.

4) I’ll put just about any Mets ornament on the tree, but I finally drew the line.

What the heck is this supposed to be? It looks like the severed head of a player mounted on a ball. At least he’s happy about it.

We can’t see a number or name, so I think it’s a generic player. Kind of looks like Luis Castillo, though.

5) I do not want to see any Met produced in a Hallmark ornament for the simple reason that any player who finds himself hanging on a rack in Hallmark is immediately cursed.

Don’t believe me? Look back at the list of players depicted (poorly, but that’s another story) and you’ll find an assortment of injured, traded and allegedly juiced ballplayers.

This year, for reasons I can not comprehend, Hallmark selected Nomar Garciaparra of the Dodgers, who this year appeared in only 55 games and hit .264. Why? Because he was cursed.

Hallmark has not responded to any of the 759 e-mails I sent requesting Derek F. Jeter be selected for an ornament next year.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The nightmare before Christmas

We went to a Christmas party where everyone was asked to bring a gift to "regift."

We brought gift received a while back that just wasn’t our kind of thing. But what came back home keeps me awake at night in fear. It leads our pre-holiday Deezo Friday Five.

1) This frightens me. It really does.

Ignore for a moment the cowboy caps and bandannas. I think that was the previous owner’s attempt to use humor to dull the horror.

Let’s start with the fact that this is a statue of babies. I realize that Ann Geddes has made an entire career of photographing babies, sometimes in odd settings or costumes. I don’t care for her work, but I get that some people do. But rather than I book you can flip through, this is a sculpture standing about a foot tall.

Then, they’re naked babies. Anybody who has had babies around the house knows that naked, they are armed and dangerous. Your rug or clothes could be soiled without a moment’s notice. I see naked baby artwork and all I can think of is how we needed to keep the Bissell Little Green Machine plugged in and ready to go at all times.

Then we have the pose. Babies don’t stand. They just don’t. When they do, they’re called toddlers and their legs are longer, and not the stubby newborn legs we have here.

And here, we have a baby standing on one leg. And what exactly is he — or she, we can’t tell by the pose — doing with that other leg? I don’t want to know.

But note the truly startling chain of events that had to happen here for this...thing... to end up on my mantle.

First, some one had to roll out of bed and decide that he was going to carve a statue of two naked babies doing who knows what and not only call it a productive day, but actually show it to someone else.

Then, someone had to see this and say, "Hmmm. That’s lovely. We should buy this, mass produce it and offer it wholesale."

Then, some shop owner had have seen this in some distributor’s catalog and say, "Hey, I gotta get me some of those naked three-legged baby statues for the store."

And then, and this is the part that scares me most, some shopper looking for a gift for someone they liked saw this, paid actual money for it, wrapped it and offered it as a present."

I can only imagine the tact required by the receiver to open this and not immediately hurl it out the window.

Of course, if they had, the thing would not be on my mantle right now wearing red cowboy hats and bandannas, so I guess I should be ticked off.

I understand that taste is subjective. Not everyone understands why I think like Kiss and Twisted Sister.

But I’m counting the days until next year’s regifting party, because I know what we’re bringing.

2) The sculpture is only slightly less scary than our trip to the immigration office in Cozumel, Mexico.

I love getting my passport stamped. Given my obsessive nature, I started looking for the immigration offices the moment we set foot in each of the countries on the cruise.

As the harried staffer in Grand Cayman told us, I’m not the only one who feels this way. You’d think each country would have an employee armed with a stamp pad sitting at a table as you disembarked.

But no. In Cozumel, the office was on the fringes of downtown, away from the places tourists flock. And since there were not street signs as we know them, our little map was not entirely helpful.

We were a block from turning around and heading back — running back, actually — when we found a small white building with a locked door and bars covering the glass.

An employee opened the door a crack to ask what we wanted — at least I think that’s what he asked. My Spanish is limited.

I held out the passport and made the international gesture that says "please stamp this so we can get back to the tourist area to buy a straw sombrero and more $1 Coronas from guys in coolers."

I will say that the stamp is really cool.

3) I’m not a casino guy by any means, but I’m expecting high-roller treatment should I even step foot in another gambling den.

This is because percentage-wise, I made more on the cruise ship’s casino than anyone else in the family.

Oh sure, my brother was walking around with a stack of cool chips after several stints at the black jack tables.

But I held high a dollar bill, and announced that I was feeling sassy and lucky and was going to hit the nickel slots.

I learned that most of the slots today are video screens with no moving wheels. I also learned that they quickly eat your nickel. I was down to about 30 cents when the screen showed three sticks of TNT in a row, blinked a lot and indicated that I my 30 cents was now up to $1.50.

Kenny Rogers has no clue when to throw a strike to Bleeping Andruw Jones, but he knows when to walk away and when to run. And I printed out my coupon — the machines don’t spit out nickels any more — and fled with my winnings!

4) One of the fun parts things about foreign travel is seeing the different traffic signs.

But this one in Ocho Rios is a classic. "Keep fatalities down, drive, ride and walk good."

Aside from the immediate grammatical issue — it should say "well" or even "safely" instead of good — how does one ride in a not good manner?

And this is in a country where, you are encouraged to climb waterfalls covered in jagged rocks. I'm not sure they're all that concerned with my safety.

And above it, a billboard for margarine?

5) It is so on with the Phillies.

Pitcher Cole Hamels isn’t content to just sit back and enjoy his team’s rain-soaked World Series victory.

No, he’s appearing on WFAN calling our Mets "choke artists."

"That’s kind of what we believe and I think we’re going to always believe it until they prove us wrong. Yeah, for the past two years they’ve been choke artists."

Hamels is an idiot. Because if the Mets choked, that means his Phillies didn’t earn their division titles, we gave them away.

Hamels also forgets that he pitches in a league where pitchers bat, and goodness knows some of our pitchers don’t have great control. And some of them have very good control, if you know what I mean.

A smart player says "The Mets are a good team, but we were a little better." I bet Cole Hamels has naked baby statues, but they’re wearing little Phillie caps.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Finding the Mets in Jamaica, and I don't mean Queens

"Meet the Mets, Meet the Mets..."

Mets among the Bob Marleys?

I’m always on the prowl for sweet Mets gear, but the last place I expected to see souvenirs in a small souvenir shop in Jamaica or with a street vendor in Mexico.

We spent Thanksgiving week on a glorious reunion cruise with my extended family, a true once-in-a-lifetime week fabulously floating through the Western Caribbean on the Freedom of the Seas. Our adventures, especially those related to our favorite baseball team, shall make up this week’s Deezo Friday Five. And we'll have more cool things during the week.

1) I’m a tourist at heart, and simply can’t rest until I search through every single souvenir shop in case they have the perfect postcard or float pen.

So I spent the last chunk of our day in Ocho Rios, Jamaica with my son, brother, his friend and my brother-in-law on a mission to the Hard Rock Cafe, then hitting some of the shops.

The Hard Rock is in something of a two-level strip mall, and some of the stores were so tacky that even I would take a step in and turn around. Lots of marijuana designs, which is just not my thing.

But we walked into one shop and a Yankees logo caught my eye. “Is there no escaping this evil?” I asked myself. But then I realized this was an entire display devoted to licensed MLB goods, but with Jamaican sayings and symbols.

The Mets and Sox get respect. Yankees, not so much.

There were caps, shirts and balls, and I saw the Skanks, Sox, Cards and then the Mets! Sweetness! I picked up a cap with the interlocking NY on the front and the Jamaican flag on the side, and a shirt with the NY and “Respect, mon.” More on that in a minute.

Later we walked around an outdoor marketplace, and other shops had similar gear. There was another cap with the Mets bridge logo in Jamaican colors, and a “Caribbean vacation” logo on the side instead of the flag.

I thought this was a good sign, and set plans to search out similar displays in our other ports of call. They wouldn’t create these things just for Jamaica, right?

2) Earlier in the day, we took a taxi bus to the Dunn's River Falls, where tourists climb up 200 feet of tiered limestone as cold, cold water rushes by.

Actually, the taxi ride to get there required more bravery than the climb. There are seats that fold down into the aisle, so if there is ever a need to evacuate quickly, well, you won’t.

We were taught some phrases along the way. “Yeah, mon.” is kind of a universal response.

At the falls, a guide leads a group hand-in-hand, carefully stepping on rocks that form the tiers. Another guide expertly juggles everybody’s camera — yes, I was afraid — and snaps photos along the way. This was the first of many times that I was asked to blindly trust our dreadlocked friend.

I thanked one of the guides before we started, and he extended his hand in a fist and said, “Respect, mon.” I wasn’t sure if this was a directive. Had I been disrespectful? The other guide did the same, so I realized it's the way the locals say “Hello.”

The climb was a great adventure, hanging on to slippery rocks for dear life, taking steps in places where we could not see the bottom and wondering what the heck the woman in the group ahead of us was thinking when she decided to wear a thong.

3) Next we went to Grand Cayman, which had a Hard Rock Cafe but precious few souvenir stores, making way for high-end jewelry shops.

My son and I opted to take a cab to the island’s famous Seven Mile Beach, which I have say possessed the softest, finest sand I’ve ever seen.

The taxi dropped us off at one of the open-sided beachside bars, and we walked around for a while as the son selected a perfect spot to throw down our towels.

Naturally, I was wearing my Faith and Fear in Flushing T-shirt because you should always look your best when representing the United States when in other countries.

It wasn’t long before a guy came over to talk. “That’s a Mets shirt, right?”

I was very impressed.

While he isn’t a reader of Greg and Jason’s great site, he recognized the color scheme and the name Flushing. Turns out he attended the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, not far from Shea.

“I root for the Yankees, but I don’t hate Mets,” he said. I was immediately skeptical. As you know, I usually don’t converse with Yankee fans. But as we talked I learned he was more of a football guy with a passing interest in baseball.

And I was on a diplomatic mission, and he seemed nice enough so I didn’t want to make waves.

4) Our next stop was Cozumel, Mexico, which I learned was pretty much untouched until Jacques Cousteau filmed a documentary in 1961 — just a year before the Mets — and it became a hot spot for divers.

We walked through a marketplace in the port, and saw one of the merchants had a Mexican wrestling mask on his cart.

This was a hoot, since my wife and kids watch Mexican wrestling movies for kicks. The wrestlers, who never show their faces, and fight crime when not fighting each other. Think “Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park” but with evil midget assassins instead of Ace Frehley.

A couple steps revealed that almost all the stores had Mexican wrestling masks! They practically outnumbered sombreros.

And I thought the masks were just covered in just cool designs. But it turns out they were the actual designs used by current wrestlers, kinda like walking into Sports Authority and buying Mets stuff.

Except that I couldn’t find a Mexican MLB display like I found in Jamaica.

Then we took a cab ride to the Mayan ruins at San Gervasia. The ruins don't have the pyramids like those on the mainland, but our Mayan guide walked us through the tomb and temples and told us about prehispanic life in the region. The whole island was considered sacred at one time.

I couldn’t believe that we were encouraged to encouraged to climb atop the 2,000-year-old structures. If there were such a place in the United States, I suspect we would be kept far away.

It was fun imagining what the ruins looked like in all their glory, back in Julio Franco’s rookie year.
Note my second bracelet, that shows I mastered both the ship's FlowRider and climbing wall!

5) After our tour, my cousin Tim joined us for an excursion to downtown Cozumel, where you could buy a cold Corona through a bar window for a buck.

Every couple of blocks we noticed vendors selling handmade bracelets, usually bearing girls names.

But Tim, a die-hard Jets fan, stopped when his eyes caught a display where the bracelets had the names of college and pro teams — but not the Jets and Mets.

Tim asked how could be so, and the craftsman said he could create new designs in minutes. And in moments, we were picking out colors and watched how Roberto — Tim asked his name, among other things — expertly wound thread around a plastic base and produced perfect letters.

We were impressed. Tim pronounced that the bracelets were good luck charms, and promised that if the Jets win the Super Bowl, he’ll come back and kiss Roberto on the forehead. Roberto was afraid. I think he will root against the Jets.

Then, I learned the hard way that the symbol for pesos is the same as for U.S. dollars.

There was much distress when we popped into McDonald's for a quick bite and I tried to order in Spanish for my son and cousin, and saw $125 appear on the register screen.

I suspect the clerk has noticed that look on other tourists, because he quickly said, "Pesos," and told me that it came to about $12 in U.S. dollars.

I also learned that a Happy Meal is called a “Cajita Feliz.” But, as we learned in Pulp Fiction, a Big Mac is still a Big Mac.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hanging with "Team Huck"

Mike Huckabee is absolutely running for president in 2012.

He didn’t tell me this when I met him Wednesday night, but then again, he didn’t need to.

You know I’m a sucker for all things presidential, and my son was impressed when he met Gov. Huckabee at a press conference after a campaign rally earlier this year.

So we were excited to hear that Huckabee was going to appear at a local bookstore to sign copies of his new book.

The line was pretty long, but staffers passed out “rules,” saying that he could not personalize, and while people could snap photos to their heart’s content as he signed, he could not pose. This allowed him to get through a line of 460 people in about 45 minutes at another store earlier in the day.

Once he arrived, a bunch of staffers ran around dressed kind of like a NASCAR pit crew with "TEAM HUCK" on the back and ads down the sleeves. One staffer had an unusual computer mounted on a podium that took your e-mail address for future newsletters and a chance for a prize.

They were selling special embossed gift boxes with a certificate of authenticity for the signature, which one told us were available outside, on the bus.

Then walked out and saw a massive rolling billboard, with Huckabee’s face plastered on the sides, and the words, "Bringing Common sense back to America."

As I noted to my son, that's a lot of stuff just to sell a $22 book.

That said, Huckabee, as he did at the press conference, came off friendly and engaging. While staffers made sure they books moved quickly across the podium, he made sure folks had a quick word, eye-contact and a hand shake. A very polished politician.