The Year’s At The Spring

Cherry blossoms on Polk Street in San Francisco!  It felt chilly out there, but it didn't look it!
San Francisco Giants pitchers and catchers reported to Scottsdale today, and cherry blossoms are out in San Francisco.  It’s spring!


Lance Armstrong, Git On Yer Bike!

Lance Armstsrong
Photo: Getty Images

Lance Armstrong has confessed.  Do you think it was his 2013 resolution to finally cop to years of using illegal substances just because it’s a new year, and all?

Oprah Winfrey’s two-part interview with Armstrong was fascinating. At times he was forthright, direct and truthful – especially at the start, when Oprah posed only yes/no questions.

Oprah Winfrey: Did you ever take banned substances to enhance your cycling

Lance Armstrong: “Yes.”

OW: Was one of those banned substances EPO?

LA: “Yes.”

OW: Did you ever blood dope or use blood transfusions to enhance your cycling performance?

LA: “Yes.”

OW: Did you ever use any other banned substances such as testosterone, cortisone or Human Growth Hormone?

LA: “Yes.”

OW: In all seven of your Tour de France victories, did you ever take banned substances or blood dope?

LA: “Yes.”

OK, then.

Things got murkier, however, when Oprah’s questions turned open-ended.  It seems Lance’s definition of a “no holds barred” interview is different from mine.  (He’d told the Associated Press that Oprah could “go wherever she wants, I will answer directly, honestly and candidly.”)

In fact, Armstrong often hid behind a vow not to accuse or talk about anyone else – even when he hadn’t been asked to do so. He also frequently took the Sarah Palin tack of answering a different question than he was asked.  For example:

OW: Have you called Betsy Andreu? Did she take your call? Was she telling the truth about the Indiana hospital, overhearing you in 1996 [during your cancer treatment, admitting to doping]? Was Betsy lying?

LA: “I’m not going to take that on. I’m laying down on that one. I’m going to put that one down. She asked me, and I asked her not to talk about it.”

Betsy Andreu spoke on NPR today — she was disappointed in this answer and clearly wished Lance would have responded candidly and admitted that her story had been true.  But in this case, I guess a simple yes or no did not come so easily.

In short, he avoided most embarrassing details and as a result, Armstrong remains as enigmatic as ever.  He admitted to using illegal substances, but evaded requests for details about the doping program and the doping culture.  He claimed he didn’t recall stashing syringes in soda cans after he and fellow riders injected EPO, while fans congregated outside – a claim made by Tyler Hamilton in his book The Secret Race. Seriously?

The most riveting exchange between Winfrey and Armstrong was on the subject of bullying, and accusations that Armstrong threatened teammates who didn’t want to use EPO. Hats off to Oprah who reacted with healthy skepticism as he bobbed, weaved and split hairs about whether the expectations he set for winning as team captain could have been interpreted as ultimatums by his riders.  He claimed he never gave a directive or made a threat, but was this just a matter of semantics?  He didn’t back down, but he wasn’t making a whole lot of sense either.

I think he was lying.

Speaking of semantics:

OW: You said dozens of times in interviews you never failed a test. Do you have a different answer today?

LA: “No I didn’t fail a test. Retroactively, I failed one. The hundreds of tests I took, I passed them.”

But the problem is, he did fail a test during the 1999 Tour de France.  Or at least, any reasonable person would say he failed it.  He tested positive for corticosteroids, and needed a bogus, back-dated prescription for saddle sores to get a pass.

I keep thinking of the UPS commercial about logistics, with the jingle take off of “That’s Amore”…

When you’re caught in a lie, and you try to be sly… that’s semantics.

After segment one of Oprah’s two-part interview, I was left unsatisfied.  I still had no clue why Armstrong chose to come clean NOW.  Even he couldn’t explain it at the start of their conversation.  (How could one of the world’s biggest control freaks, who is obsessed with driving his own narrative, come to an interview to be seen by millions unprepared for that question?)

If you watched segment two, though, you know the answer:  He’s doing it to have his lifetime ban on competing in sanctioned sports lifted.  I was blown away when he told Oprah, “I think I DESERVE IT.”  Excuse me? How on earth do you figure?

It’s true, Lance Armstrong took most of the responsibility for his own bad actions.  He repeatedly said “I deserve this”, referring to the lost endorsements, and public disgrace.  So how can he rationalize also deserving to be readmitted to sports, after just a hand-slap suspension?

He talked about other cyclists, and their more lenient penalties for doping.  But as Oprah pointed out, he was different.  “You knew that you were held to a higher standard. You’re LANCE ARMSTRONG.”

He thumbed his nose at the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and the US Anti-Doping Agency, by “brazenly and defiantly” denying doping for 13 years, so he was the big fish they wanted to catch.

Either Lance Armstrong still just doesn’t get it, or I don’t.

I say it’s Lance.

Lance Comes Clean, and So Do I

Lance Armstrong 2010
Timothy A. Clary /AFP/Getty Images

It’s been quite a week.  As I mentioned in a previous blog post, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to complete a “Real Food” cleanse:  No refined grains, refined or artificial sweeteners, or store-bought food items containing more than five ingredients for 10 days.

Oh, and no alcohol or caffeine either.

I’ve just completed day three, and so far the cleanse hasn’t been too terrible.  I am not much of a dessert eater, so giving up refined sugar in sweets hasn’t been too taxing.  Hidden sugar can be tricky, though.  For example, mustard contains sugar.  Mustard!  Who knew?  I love my fancy mustards, and can tell you firsthand that without them, a lunch of roast beef on whole grain bread – three days in a row — is pretty bland, especially when you can’t chase it down with a bag of Cheetos or a side of curly fries.

Forgoing caffeine… Well, that’s been really rough.  I am only now regaining most of my faculties after the most brutal caffeine withdrawal I’ve ever experienced:  Blinding headache, chills and overwhelming nausea that nearly sent me running for the Red Bull.  I don’t even LIKE Red Bull.

Thankfully, I am clawing my way back to the land of the living, just in time to take in two riveting sports stories: The wheels blowing off the Lance Armstrong P.R. bus, and Manti Te’o whodunit saga.

Armstrong’s decision to come clean (pun intended) tomorrow on Oprah’s Next Chapter is fascinating, and I will be watching it, recording it, and hopefully blogging about it.  Does he really think he’s still in control of the narrative?  How far will he go with his admissions of doping, and will anyone believe him?

The story of Manti Te’o’s dead-girlfriend-who-wasn’t just emerged today.  Wow.  It’s going to take a lot more than an Oprah Winfrey interview to sort that one out. Is Te’o just a dumb, gullible jock who fell for a cruel hoax, and if so who was behind it?  Or is he an opportunistic publicity seeker who helped fabricate “Lennay Kekua”, to boost his image leading up to the NFL draft?

So much sporting news to keep track of, and react to — all without the benefit of performance enhancing caffeine.  Can I do it?  In seven days, all will be revealed.  Stay tuned!

How We Can All Stop Phoning It In

Group TextingI have lived in my current apartment for nearly five years, and while a number of tenants have come and gone during that time, most of my neighbors have been here as long, if not longer, than I have.

I like many things about my building, but I think the best part is its size; it has approximately 30 units, so there is a community feel.  During my time here, couples have married, babies have been born and learned to walk and talk, and a few elderly tenants have passed away.

I don’t know everyone in the building; if a tenant doesn’t ride the elevator or use the laundry room, we’re unlikely to have crossed paths.  But if we’ve shared a common space or appliance more than once, we have chatted.  That is, with one exception…

I have ridden the elevator with a fellow tenant for five years, but still don’t know his name.  We regularly bump into one another in the laundry room, and even park in adjacent spaces in the garage, but have never even spoken.

Why have I never introduced myself to him, you ask?  Easy, it’s because he has a cellphone surgically attached to his ear at all times.  If it’s true that excessive cell phone use can cause brain tumors, this guy should see a doctor.  Pronto.

Over time, my no-name neighbor has left me fascinated and repulsed in equal measure.  What’s his story, anyway?  Who could he possibly be talking to at all hours of the day and night, on both weekdays and weekends?   At one point, I suspected he was just pretending, either to look absurdly popular or because he suffers from some sort of social disorder that causes him to panic when faced with neighborly chit-chat.  However, I can sometimes hear someone talking to him on the other end of the line, so I guess he isn’t faking.

I suppose he’s just rude.

I thought of him this week, when I saw a Good Morning America segment about Janell Hoffman of Cape Cod, who made her 13-year-old son Greg sign an 18-point contract before she would give him his first iPhone.

Since Greg is too young to drive, she didn’t need to focus on safety concerns like texting while behind the wheel, although she did forbid him from downloading porn or taking/distributing photos of his (or anyone else’s) private parts.

“Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you. And it is hard to make anything of this magnitude disappear — including a bad reputation.”

This is my favorite part – seven of her eighteen points are related to good manners, and the importance of non-digital communication as a life skill.  It’s common-sense stuff we all should know, but many of us (like no-name neighbor) apparently do not.  Some examples:

  • If it rings, answer it.  It is a phone.  Say hello, use your manners.
  • It does not go to school with you. Have a conversation with the people you text in person. It’s a life skill.
  • Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being.  Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others.  Be a good friend first.
  • Do not text, email, or say anything through this device that you would not say in person.
  • Turn it off or silence it, and put it away in public. Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being. You are not a rude person; do not allow the iPhone to change that.

The contract stipulates that Greg must turn in his phone every night at a specific time in deference to homework and family time, and he can’t have it back until the following morning.   He’s also encouraged to unplug sometimes.

“(Your iPhone) is not alive or an extension of you. Learn to live without it. Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO — Fear Of Missing Out… Keep your eyes up.  See the world happening around you… Wonder without Googling.”

If Greg meets his contractual obligations, in a few years he will have better digital manners than most adults three times his age.  When was the last time you had dinner with friends, and no one checked their text messages, emails or Facebook accounts?  When did you last eat alone, without checking in, posting, tweeting or texting?

I’ll admit, it’s been a while for me.  Maybe this is the New Year’s resolution I’ve been looking for.  If a 13-year-old can do it, and I can do it… perhaps there’s even hope for what’s-his-name.

You Say You Want a Resolution…

New Year's resolutions listLet me start with this: If you read my headline and thought I’d be writing about a resolution to the fiscal cliff crisis, you can stop reading now.  This is my last day of vacation and – despite having plenty to say on this subject — I refuse to harsh my holiday buzz by venting about our politicians’ complete inability to collaborate or make tough decisions.

Nope, I was referring to New Year’s resolutions.  I’m a big advocate of them, if approached correctly.  Like many Americans, I take quite a bit of time off from work at year-end, so January 1 is a great day to take stock, and set goals for the next 12 months.  Tomorrow it’s back to work, but hopefully with a few altered routines that could lead to a healthier and more prosperous 2013.

Sadly, I heard on ABC News tonight that one-third of us become decidedly less resolute over time, and fall off whatever wagon we choose to hitch a ride on by the end of January. I certainly see this at my downtown San Francisco gym.  Every January, the ladies’ locker room feels like something out of Lord of the Flies.  It is almost unbearable… but by March 1, it’s sane again.

I believe that the key to success with resolutions is specificity, and measurability.  I keep most resolutions to myself.  (I’ll share if I’m successful, because I too am not always successful.)  Others are public domain.  For example, I have a goal of two blog posts per week in 2013, because despite blogging exactly 100 times last year, I was sporadic – blogging more frequently during baseball season and slacking off in the fall.

Another good, measurable resolution?  My blogger friend Kate put out a challenge of 10 Days of Real Food.   It’s a reasonable goal, and it’ll be easy to gauge my success.  Did I eliminate refined grains, refined and artificial sweeteners, and any food item that has more than five ingredients on the label for 10 days?  We’ll see.  Wish me luck!

This week I’ve heard some crazy proposed resolutions, my favorite from a woman interviewed on the local news.

 “I’m going to try not to get so upset about things, and let them roll off me like water off a duck’s back.”

It’s a laudable goal.  Who among us couldn’t stand to improve our ability to manage stress?  But it’ll be tough to accomplish, just by saying it out loud.  No vow to count to ten, or take up yoga or meditation?  And how will she know if she succeeds?  If she flies of the handle once, will she have failed?  Not surprisingly, this is a resolution she makes every year.

Party of extrovertsI’m struggling to come up with a have-more-fun sort of resolution.  As my friends know, I am an introvert.   Not a hermit or a shut-in.  I am merely someone who values solitude, especially when I’m worn out. That said, in a nutshell… I need to get out more.

The challenge is, a resolution around being more social can’t be just a take-your-medicine kind of thing.  It needs to be fun (as well as measurable and realistic) to fit the bill.  It’s not about a destination (e.g. lose 10 pounds), it’s about the journey (e.g. take up spinning three days per week).  So I may need to mull over my socializing resolution until February.

Any suggestions from you extroverts out there?

Ugg Repellent: A Prayer for 2013

Snooki in UggsAs 2012 comes to an end
I wish the same fate for a trend
That I still cannot comprehend
Uggs, when it’s not chilly.

Are stinky feet the social norm
To which these girls look to conform
By wearing Ugg boots when it’s warm?
To me, it just looks silly.

Worn by someone mini-skirted
In summer, well that’s just perverted
The laws of fashion are subverted
And these Ugg-nuts are guilty.

There‘s really only one solution
We need a footwear revolution
I beg you, end this style pollution!
Comrades, are you with me?

Sequenced Uggs
Please God, make it stop.

A Few Home Truths About the Homeland Finale

Homeland IIWell, the suspense is over (sort of).  Homeland’s second season concluded with some lovey-dovey mushiness between Brody and Carrie, several pretty impressive pissing contests (Quinn vs. Estes, Saul vs. Estes, both of which Estes lost), and a few seconds of unexpected pyrotechnics. Those didn’t work out too well for Estes either, come to think of it.

Overall I give Sunday’s season finale a solid B grade – this despite Carrie’s and Brody’s Sam-and-Diane stuff, which has never really drawn me in.  But an episode that is Saul-heavy is pretty much guaranteed above-average marks from me.  Mandy Patinkin is amazing; his scholarly glasses and sensible clothing, his witty jousting with Estes, his perfectly timed f-bombs (To Carrie: “You’re the smartest and the dumbest f—in’ person I’ve ever known”) and his shaking voice at poignant moments (like when his wife told him she was coming home) can counteract a multitude of other sins.

Sins such as…

  • I still cannot get my head around the death of the Vice President, and Carrie’s ability to overlook Brody’s role in it.  She barely MENTIONED it, even.  That was completely out of character for her.  At the Veep’s memorial service, Carrie seemed completely blasé.  In fact, she kept looking back at Brody and raising her eyebrows like, “This guy was such a tool, am I right?”  She had known Walden was not a stand-up guy for some time, but I can’t see her just shrugging off his murder by her boyfriend.
  • What was Brody doing at that memorial service anyway?  He hated Walden (obviously) and clearly did not plan to stick around the Senate or seek another political office.  He told Carrie he wanted to be a builder or a teacher.  So, what was his intention… if not to plant a bomb and blow up the place, and everyone in it?  More on this later.
  • Where did Brody’s suicide vest disappear to?  When last we saw it, it was on the top shelf of his bedroom closet where is wife could easily find it.  (Back then I thought his lack of imaginative hiding places was a bit cavalier.)  But on Sunday night, Brody arrived home to find the contents of his closet placed in piles on the bedroom floor, as his wife kicked him to the curb.  I thought he would freak out and start sweating – Nick Brody is a sweater when he’s nervous – but he was completely unfazed.  How does one dispose of a suicide bomber vest?  Maybe you use it to blow up your car at a future date.  Again, more on this later.
  • After a massive explosion nearly leveled Langley, the suspension of my disbelief got pretty shaky.  First off, Carrie was once again knocked unconscious.  It was presumably her third concussion that week, and she was still running around like one of Charlie’s Angels?  The NFL would have benched her for the season, but Brody let her get behind the wheel.  Yikes.
  • And what about that car?  It was parked at Langley, but it showed neither a ding nor a speck of dust.
  • Why did Carrie have a stash of cash and a fake passport, birth certificate and driver’s license in a bunker-like storage unit?  When did she determine she might someday need to flee on foot across the border to Canada?
  • I hated the scene between Brody and Mike, when Brody essentially told his friend he could continue his affair with Jess and look after his kids because “he wouldn’t be able to” for a while.  Creepy, to start with.  Also just awkward.  I read somewhere that the scene was pretty heavily edited at some point before it aired, and it felt like that to me.

After weeks of painting Brody as a softhearted romantic, writers spent much of the finale trying to recapture the intrigue from Season One, i.e. is Brody a bad-guy terrorist, or just a victim?

There was something about his car keys that every conspiracy theorist on the internet seems to have picked up on, but I totally missed.  Apparently he passed his car keys to someone outside the memorial service.   He could have been a valet, a co-conspirator of Brody’s or a follower of Abu Nazir’s who wanted to set Brody up.  At any rate, some Homeland fans suspect that this shady keeper of the keys was behind the explosion at Langley.

If Brody wasn’t set up, how did all the networks wind up with his taped suicide confession?

So many questions to be answered in Season Three… we hope.

Here’s a new plotline I’d like to see.  I think it’s safe to assume that Carrie will spend at least the first few episodes of the coming season trying to clear Brody’s name, while others seek to destroy him.  (How she will accomplish her part from within the walls of the CIA is anyone’s guess.)   Meanwhile, Brody will stay in Canada.

QuinnWhat about a Quinn/Carrie hook up?  At the proverbial water cooler, a colleague made a great point: Writers must have bigger things planned for Peter Quinn.  Rupert Friend is a fairly well-known British actor (check him out in Mrs. Palfrey at The Claremont) and too fantastically handsome to waste.  What’s more, Quinn clearly has a soft spot for Carrie, since he refused to kill Brody in part to spare her pain.

Bye-bye Sam and Diane, bring on a love triangle!

A Poem for Homeland

Homeland Poster








It’s crunch time at the CIA
The end is just one week away
And you know there’ll be hell to pay
Or so it stands to reason.

Carrie’s eyes still bug profusely
Sanity she clings to loosely
As things with Brody get more juicy
Since Jess gave him his freedom.

Estes wants to take down Saul
Who knows his secrets, after all
His drone strikes and covert cabals
Will he fire Saul for treason?

What’s more, just to be versatile
Will Dana finally crack a smile?
Her potty mouth and teenage bile
She’s less girl, than demon.

Let’s not forget that sneaky Quinn
What a wild card he has been
Will he kill Brody? Where and when,
Will his plot reach completion?

What kind of closure will we see?
Resolution or more tease?
To set us up for Homeland Three
Guess we’ll find out… next season.

A Pretty Penny

A pennyI often have to remind myself that the U.S. economy is a service economy because let’s face it, even when only seeking the most mundane assistance…how often do any of us really feel like we’re being served?

Sometimes it’s subtle, like when a post office worker moves at the speed of Dutch elm disease, completely oblivious to those of us waiting in line on our lunch hours.  Or when a sales clerk answers my product questions monosyllabically, seemingly intent on being so unhelpful that I just give up, and go home empty-handed.

Occasionally, however, I encounter customer service that is so shockingly bad – intentional, and carefully calculated – that it deserves its own blog post.

Behold two stories of service so appalling, it was funny:

The first story comes from my friend Jenni, and I know it’s true because you can’t make this stuff up.  On Friday night she was perusing the Comcast website, and a chat window popped up.  Such proactive online chats are generally triggered under two conditions: a website visitor remains on a page long enough to indicate he/she might need help, and there is bandwidth in the customer service center.  It’s pointless for a company to offer chat, if there’s no representative available to be part of the conversation.

When invited to chat, Jenni typed a message, and waited for a response.  She waited, and waited.  After several minutes she sent another message. “Are you there?”  Again, no response.  At this point, she was vexed.  She wrote, “Comcast never fails to disappoint. You initiate the chat and disappear. One more chance.  Are you there?”

The service agent immediately responded “Nope”, and ended the session.

Comcast is notorious for shoddy service.  I’ve received the Comcast treatment myself many times, so I would have thought it impossible for that company to shock me.  But that was bad customer service on a whole new level.

Now, my story.  This morning I battled the holiday crowds in San Francisco’s Union Square.  I had an errand to run at Macy’s, and afterwards stopped at Stanley’s gourmet pretzel cart at the front entrance for a soda.  I was parched, and $1.50 seemed a small priced to pay for relief.

My wallet held a $20 bill, a single and a fist full of change. So that the young woman managing the cart wouldn’t have to break a twenty, I gave her a $1 bill and $.50 in change including five pennies.

Her response:  “Ooh, do you have anything other than pennies?”

I was completely stumped.  Often a cab driver or shopkeeper will be unable to break a twenty or something, because they are running short of change.  But I’ve never, ever had someone balk when I paid the correct amount for an item, no change required.

“I beg your pardon?”

“Well, we don’t take pennies.  We only take nickels, dimes and quarters.”  Or maybe she said, “We don’t work in pennies.”  I was so shocked, I think I lost consciousness for a second.

Was she prejudiced against Abraham Lincoln, and therefore anti-penny?  Unlikely, since I figure she had plenty of $5 bills with Abe’s face on them in her till.

No, she was just a garden-variety penny hater.

After considering, then rejecting, the idea of explaining the term legal tender to her, I did what any sane person would do; I burst out laughing, grabbed my soda and left her the money.

“Sorry about that,” I said.

I think that’s when she swore at me.

I love my hairdresser, Ray.  His salon was my next stop.  I plopped into his chair and immediately told him the story of the penny-hater.  He vowed to stop by her cart on the way home to buy a pretzel…. with pennies, of course.

Likewise, if any of you find yourselves in Union Square before the holidays, please pay a visit to Stanley’s gourmet pretzel cart and spread some cheer — one penny at a time.

And be sure to tell them Kimbo sent you!

Abraham Lincoln: In Fine Voice

Lincoln Movie PosterBecause I object to Black Friday’s commercialism — and the media-fueled, undignified behavior it provokes each day-after-Thanksgiving — I avoid the annual retail hoopla at all costs.  I usually hide out at the movies… along with thousands of other agoraphobic Bay Area residents.

Amazed that we’d all forego spending Thanksgiving night on the sidewalk, just for the remote (pun intended) chance of buying a 52” HDTV at a steep discount on Friday morning?  Speaking for myself, I’ll pass. I prefer holiday cocktails in a glass not a thermos, and generally avoid turkey and stuffing that has been stored in a beer cooler.

So, I spent Thanksgiving with friends. And on this Black Friday, I squeezed into my yoga pants with the elastic waistband (damn you, pumpkin bread pudding!) and drove to the ‘burbs to see Steven Spielberg’s historical drama Lincoln.

Everything you’ve heard and read about the film is true; Daniel Day-Lewis is an incredible Abraham Lincoln.  He is tall and gangly, with a beard and worried wrinkles.  He IS Lincoln — so much so that for the rest of my life his will be the face I see when I picture America’s 16th president.

(Sally Field is also a very convincing, overwrought Mary Todd Lincoln, and one of my favorite actors — Joseph Gordon-Levitt — plays eldest Lincoln son Robert Todd.)

It is a great film, and I found it extremely engrossing despite its two-and-a-half hour run time.  Yet, I was a little distracted by Lincoln’s voice.  Knowing the President’s physical stature and tremendous accomplishments, one might assume that he had a deep, booming, commanding voice.  No so, apparently.  Filmmakers did their homework, and based on historical records Day-Lewis went with a soft, reedy voice for Lincoln.

Much has been made of this in the press, so I was practically expecting to hear Pee-wee Herman.  It wasn’t that extreme. Besides, the deepness of Day-Lewis’s voice wasn’t the distraction.  It just reminded me of someone.  But who?  It took nearly an hour for it to hit me.

Grandpa SimpsonDaniel Day-Lewis’s Lincoln voice sounds just like… Grandpa Simpson.  ABRAHAM Simpson, that is.  You know, from The Simpsons?  I kid you not; His name is Abe.  (Is he honest? Wikipedia doesn’t say.) And just like President Lincoln, Grandpa Simpson tells stories and anecdotes that others sometimes find tedious and/or pointless.  Coincidence?

Click the link.  See the film.  Judge for yourself.  Am I wrong?