Archive for the ‘Personal Essays’ Category

The Cool Sub

“JEN-ri? Is there a JEN-ri Rodriguez in this class?”

“Uh…it’s Henri,” Jenri said.

I was four minutes into my substitute teaching career, and I was already butchering a student’s name while trying to take attendance.

“Oh, um, sorry about that.” I may as well have been repeating Bueller.

I’d gotten the subbing gig through my mom, who was a middle school teacher on Long Island. It was late 2004 and I was a few months out of college at that point, with little in the way of job prospects. I’d snail-mailed my cover letter and resume to every publishing house in the tri-state area in the hopes of getting something entry level with my journalism degree, with visions of reading manuscripts for a living. But after receiving just one response—a polite but unequivocal “no”—I took a part-time job at The Sports Authority for $8 an hour to hold me over with first student loan payment looming.

The prospect of dealing with 13- and 14-year-olds all day was not appealing to me in the least, but subbing paid $110 a day and didn’t require any teaching experience—plus I’d be out of work by 2 pm every day. Meanwhile, I continued to look for full-time work and kept a couple of shifts a week at The Sports Authority.

Like every substitute teacher in the history of substitute teachers, I was determined to be “the cool sub” who wasn’t a stickler for the rules. After I made a few appearances, all the kids would be glad to see me when their teacher was out. “Nice, we got Mr. Calise subbing today,” they said in my insanely unrealistic fantasyland scenario.

Delusions aside, I knew better than to attempt any actual teaching. I fully understood that my job was to do nothing more than take attendance, hand out whatever busy work the teacher had left for her students, and make sure the kids didn’t fight with each other or destroy the classroom. I was a glorified babysitter.

After my first day my name was in “the system,” meaning that the night before a school day I would receive an auto-dialed call on my cell phone, which would tell me my assignment for the following morning.

There was no ostensible rhyme or reason behind my subbing assignments—as far as I could tell, they simply were pulling my name out of a digital hat. In my short career working at the school, I subbed in just about every subject.

One day they had me covering for a music teacher. His “classwork” for the kids was having them watch the part of the movie Grease they were up to from the last time he’d been out. I had very strict instructions to “fast forward through the sex parts.” By the third or fourth class of the day my censoring was faster than Greased Lightnin’.

The music teacher’s final class of the day was off the middle school campus at an elementary school, where all I had to do was put on a Charlie Brown video for a class of first graders. Unlike the junior high kids, who gave me a hard time about everything I said or did, the first graders were afraid of me. But once I turned off the lights and put on the video, they were entranced and seemed to forget I was there. When a song started in the Charlie Brown movie, they started singing along in unison in their little voices. It was the only time in five months subbing that I actually considered becoming a full-time teacher.

My most coveted subbing assignment was phys ed. (I cannot overstate the satisfaction of being allowed to come to work in a polo shirt and track pants.) The kids were even wilder than they were in their other subjects, but each phys ed class was taught by three teachers, so I pretty much just played with the kids and helped corral any stragglers back to the pack. Usually the “lesson” I co-taught was a game that could be played by fifty or sixty students at a time. One day we did volleyball with a twist—each side had about thirty kids volleying an oversized beachball that required at least five people pushing at the same time to get it over the net.

I didn’t typically interact with the teachers I’d subbed for once they came back to work. I would usually leave a short hand-written note for each period’s class in the teacher’s mailbox, letting them know whether the kids completed their classwork (or at least pretended to work on it) and whether they behaved.

On one occasion, I wrote a scathing note about a science lab class that had given me a particularly tough time. When I came for work the next day, I got called back to that classroom during the period that the class had behaved so poorly the day before. The teacher for whom I had subbed told me, in front of the whole class, that her students were not allowed to do a lab that day because of how badly they’d behaved for me. The kids collectively glared at me for having ratted them out. I did a terrible job of hiding my smirk as I thanked the teacher and left the room.

After almost five months of subbing, I finally found a full-time office job in the city. One of my last assignments before I left was a shop class. I didn’t know the first thing about shop — I hadn’t even taken shop when I was in school — but luckily the teacher had left a video.

I arranged for the audio-video set to be wheeled in, a tall tower with a heavy tube TV and a VCR, just like the ones we used when I was in middle school.

I popped in the VHS, which turned out to be a recording of an NBC Saturday morning TV special about technology from the early ‘90s—remember, this was 2005—hosted by none other than rapper-actor LL Cool J. (About the video: The creators apparently thought the future would be a lot like The Jetsons, minus flying cars and meals in pill form. Strangely, the creators of the special hadn’t seen the iPhone coming.)

Maybe I’d become more comfortable being in front of a room full of kids, or maybe I was a little giddy because I knew I was leaving soon for my new job. Whatever the reason for my newfound jocularity, I decided to make a little off-the-cuff comment to the class about how outdated the video was.

I said: “Looks like this is LL Cool J somewhere between ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ and In the House.” I smiled goofily at my own humorous observation, as if to say, “Am I right???”

I was met by twenty blank stares from the kids. Immediately, I realized my mistake: LL Cool J’s career-defining hit song, “Mama Said Knock You Out,” came out before they were born, and his moderately successful sitcom In the House was canceled in 1999. Most people my own age would not have gotten that reference, no less a room full of 13-year-olds.

After the class’ complete non-reaction to my “funny” comment, a rare break from the “serious substitute teacher” character I’d played for five months, I slunk back into the darkness for the rest of the period.

Not long after my LL Cool J gaffe, I found myself on the Long Island Rail Road, commuting five days a week, two hours each way, in and out of the city. Staring out the window of the train, my insanely unrealistic fantasyland thinking kicked in again and I wondered briefly if any of the kids had even noticed I was gone.

“Yo what ever happened to Mr. Calise?” Jenri would say. “Who?” Jenri’s friend would ask. “You know,” Jenri would reply, “the cool sub.”

This story was also published on Medium.com.

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Whenever I quote Dumb & Dumber in front of my mom—which almost always goes over her head, leading me to explain that it’s from the movie—she reminds me of the day she took me to see it.

For whatever reason, she allowed my friend Nicky and I to pick the movie she that day in 1994, and she and her friend Lana agreed to see whatever we chose.

Jim Carrey was fresh off of In Living Color (Fire Marshall Bill, anyone?), and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and The Mask had already come out that same year. Our pick was a true no-brainer: Dumb & Dumber.

To hear my mom and Lana tell it, it was the worst 107 minutes of their lives. But for Nicky and me, at age 12, it was the funniest movie we’d ever seen.

When I talk about my favorite all-time comedies I still put Dumb & Dumber as my runaway #1 (the rest of the list, in no particular order: Austin Powers: Goldmember (or at least the opening scene), Wedding Crashers, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up, Groundhog Day, My Cousin Vinny and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

I have many friends with whom I can quote the movie’s most obscure lines and still get a chuckle if the context is just right.

  • If someone asks you if want to grab a bite to eat, you might say, I swallowed a big June bug while we were driving. I’m not really hungry.
  • If you come into work on Monday and someone asks you how your weekend was, you might say, Not bad. Fell off the jet way again.
  • If you are planning a vacation with your significant other, you might say, I want to go someplace where the beer flows like wine.
  • If you and a friend can’t remember someone’s name and then your friend finally gets it, you might say, I was way off! I knew it started with an S, though!
  • If you’re having a singles night out with friends and they want to do a lap, you might say, I’m gonna hang by the bar, put out the vibe.
  • If you’re waiting on line at the post office and the customer in front of you is arguing about needing extra postage for their package, you might say, You can’t triple a double stamp.
  • And if you can’t figure out how to end a conversation, you might say, Big Gulps, huh? All right! Well, see ya later.

When I heard the Farrelly brothers were making a sequel to the movie I considered a comedic masterpiece—and maybe the last Jim Carrey film before he was Jim Carrey—I admit I was bummed. Why mess with perfection? (They made a D&D prequel in 2003, but as far as I know no one from the original movie was involved, so it felt more like a student film homage to my favorite movie. I didn’t see it.)

"Let's go get a coupla bowls of loud mouth soup." (Photo via collider.com.)

“Let’s go get a coupla bowls of loud mouth soup.” (Photo via collider.com.)

Nevertheless, I knew I’d have to go to the movies and see for myself whether a 20-years-later sequel did anything to tarnish Dumb & Dumber’s legacy, à la Rocky V.*

*Until the sixth Rocky movie, Rocky Balboa, came out in 2006, Rocky V was the only Rocky film I’d been old enough to see in theaters, so I had no frame of reference for how bad it truly was relative to the original, or the first three sequels, until years later.

As I was watching Dumb & Dumber To (the sequel) in the theater a few weeks ago, the following thoughts crossed my mind: If I saw the original D&D film for the first time today, as a 32-year-old, would I enjoy it as much as I did when I was 12 years old? And would my 12-year-old self have enjoyed D&D2 if it came out back in 1994?

I have these debates with people every so often, about whether certain movies “hold up” over time. Do they feel outdated if you watch them ten years later? And for comedies in particular, are the best lines from a movie be as funny the second time you hear them, or the fifth, or the hundredth? When you watch the same comedy five years later on TBS (without the curses!) do you even laugh at all? Or by that point is the movie’s value to you solely nostalgia?

Dumb & Dumber To, when judged on a standard of all comedies, is average to below average. The plot is pretty stupid (especially the first scene that explains the last 20 years in Lloyd and Harry’s world, as teased in the first trailer); the main characters are definitely stupid.

The tone was similar to the first film, and to other Farrelly brothers comedies, where the humor borders on mean-spirited until you realize that the joke is always on Lloyd and Harry, even if they’re being jerks to someone else. Most of the jokes ranged from slapstick to overtly crude and/or gross to dumb wordplay misunderstandings (in the original Lloyd uses the phrase “tea and strumpets”; in the sequel he mispronounces “g-nat”), which were all common to the first film.

"I gotta take this. It's my dead dead. (Photo credit: nypost.com.)

“I gotta take this. It’s my dead dead. (Photo credit: nypost.com.)

Over the course of two hours I had a couple of big laughs, a few small laughs, and the rest of the time I sat there thinking about what the sequel does or doesn’t do to the original film’s legacy, if it has one.

Because I was so young when Dumb & Dumber came out in 1994, I can’t recall with great accuracy the climate around comedy films or the movie business in general. But I looked back and it turns out 1994 was actually a ridiculous year for movies. The top grossing films of that year were Forrest Gump (depending on who you ask, this is one of the best movies of all time), The Lion King (arguably the best animated movie of all time), and True Lies (anything James Cameron directs does a gazillion dollars at the box office).

Here are some other titles that came out in 1994: Speed, Pulp Fiction, Interview with the Vampire, Angels in the Outfield, Little Women, Might Ducks 2, Major League 2, oh, and The freakin’ Shawshank Redemption. Not to mention the two OTHER aforementioned Jim Carrey comedies. For the full list of movies from 1994 with box office grosses, go here.

So with all those memorable films, Dumb & Dumber somehow emerged as my favorite comedy of all time. Again, perhaps it was nothing more than the fact that I was 12 years old Jim Carrey was becoming a star. I can’t know that either way.

I don’t care at all what the critics say about D&D2, though I think most of the reviews have been negative (25% on Rotten Tomatoes and 36 on Metacritic). Even if it was just an ersatz version of the original, an unnecessary coda to an already perfect comedy, I don’t care. Because if nothing else it gave me an excuse to replay all the best jokes from the original in my head, and to go out and see a movie with a friend who I don’t see as often as Harry sees Lloyd. And as for Dumb & Dumber‘s legacy, I’d say it’s still in tact.

Big Gulps, huh? All right! Well, see ya later.

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The morning of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade here in New York City is always the coldest morning of the year. (I have not consulted the farmer’s almanac to confirm this fact but trust me, I’ve been there, and I’ve never been colder.)

From around the time I was five or six years old, until I was about 12, my mom woke us up each Thanksgiving morning while it was still dark. She filled a backpack with bananas and clementines, a few books, and a Thermos of hot chocolate. And with that, my mother, younger brother and I hopped on a subway from Queens into midtown Manhattan to see the Parade.

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade doesn’t begin until 9 am, leaving from Manhattan’s Upper West Side (just west of Central Park, the same area where they blow up the balloons the night before) and marching south until eventually winding up outside the Macy’s storefront at Herald Square. (That’s the part you see on TV.)


My brother Danny and me at the parade. (Photo credit: Mom.)

Of course if you want to see the parade in person, you can’t just show up at 9 am. Our plan each year was to arrive in the city as early as possible, find a spot in the street along the parade route where we could lay out a blanket and my brother and I could sit and have an unblocked view of the floats and balloons; Mom usually ended up somewhere behind us. Standing 5’4” she had a better view of us than she did the parade, which was fine for her.

For a breakdown of our first year attending, I’ll let Mom tell it in her own words:

The first year that we went, I had not done any research. I knew the parade route, what time it started, and I suspected that it would way too crowded at the viewing stand near Macy’s. So we arrived somewhere on Broadway when the parade was well underway and the crowd was 8 to 10 [people] deep.

We walked for blocks behind the crowd with me looking for places where you could squeeze your way through the crowd up to the front. Once I realized that there was not going to be an opportunity for you to move closer to the parade, our next best option was to go up.

On a street corner, there was a tall block of concrete with a flat surface at the top, perfect for viewing a parade if only one could hoist oneself to the top. There was already a person on the top, and not much more room for another. I started to lift you up there, but it was higher than I could lift you. The person at the top, a young man, reached down to you and pulled you up. For the rest of the parade, I stood at the bottom of the concrete block, looking up to make sure you were safe and not about to fall off.

My mom would do her best to entertain us for the hours between our arrival and something actually happening parade-wise. We had our books, maybe a couple of games, and an unending conversation about how freakin’ cold it was. We couldn’t put on enough layers to stay warm on those late November mornings. We found respite in the hot chocolate, though it was a double-edged sword in that the more we drank, the more we’d be tempted to give up our spot to find a bathroom somewhere on Broadway.

Once the parade actually got going it was—as things seen through the eyes of children can sometimes be—magical. Our eyes lit up at the first glimpse of the new balloons featuring our favorite characters (think Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). But we also liked the recognizable old school characters who kept coming back, like Snoopy and Woody the Woodpecker. (Incidentally, as a child I always had trouble wrapping my head around the word “float.” If the balloons are actually floating in the air, why are we calling the displays on wheels “floats”?)

The kids all around us were as excited as we were, maybe more so—after all, we were parade veterans by Year Two. One year, I remember parade marchers running alongside the floats throwing confetti up in the air towards us kids in the front row. The younger kids went especially bananas for this, and each time someone who looked like they might have confetti approached, they (okay fine, we) chanted, “CON-FET-TI, CON-FET-TI, CON-FET-TI.” A little boy a few years younger than my brother was sitting next to us, and got so caught up in the chanting despite not knowing the word “confetti” that he chanted, “BET-TY, BET-TY, BET-TY,” just to be a part of the excitement around him.

(While sitting in the front row for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade might not hold the same cache as, say, sitting in the front row at a Yankee game, it still felt pretty special. Unlike most high-priced event tickets, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was first come first serve, and it only cost you a couple of hours of sleep that morning.)

The most memorable celebrity sighting from our years of attending the parade was when we spotted “Michael Jordan” on one of the floats. MJ is in quotes because we were never really sure it was him—in-person parade attendees don’t have the benefit of the inane but occasionally informative TV commentators telling them who’s on which float. My mom snapped a few photos of him, but we’ve never been able to authenticate with 100 percent certainty that the blurry image of a tall, bald black man was in fact my childhood sports idol. Years later we still pored over that photo like it was the missing clue in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. (Mom says: It was him!)

Another year, we were sitting in a spot across from the Winter Garden Theater, where Cats used to play. Mid-parade, we watched as three actors dressed as cats frolicked across the parade route, from the side where we were sitting and into the Winter Garden. Was this a planned act, maybe even mandated, by the theater as a form or free advertising? (Probably. These days ad executives call this “native advertising.”) Or did the actors decide impulsively that they wanted to be a part of every show in the vicinity of the theater, not just their own? (Less likely, but I’m not ruling it out. Also, they may just have been trying to get a cup of coffee across the street.)

The Parade always closes with Santa Claus and his elves, an unapologetic reminder that Christmas is a month away (and, I suppose, to get your Christmas shopping done at Macy’s). The kids are happy to see Santa coming to town, but sad that he’s the last float they’ll see until next year. (Mom says: We—or maybe just I—always thought that it was so funny that when we arrived home, the tail end of the parade was still on TV and we could say, “We were just there!”)

Despite the early, early morning wake-up and the almost unbearable cold—or perhaps because of it—there was something noble about attending the Thanksgiving Parade each year as our own three-person unit. I’m sure Mom tried to rope in family or friends to join us, but most people would be crazy to accept. Still, when we returned home and joined the rest of the family for Thanksgiving dinner later that day, everyone seemed glad that we had gone. It was as if we were representing everyone we knew who liked the idea of going to the parade, just not the going part. (Mom says: This is definitely true. I remember when we stopped going, Aunt Mary seemed disappointed.)

Last year my wife, her parents and I went to the Parade. It was cold. Really cold. Mom decided to skip it and meet us after. Time served, I suppose.

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Pulling Cables

“Hey Bobby, what’s the weirdest job you ever had?”

No one’s ever actually asked me that, but if they did, I’d pause, pretending to think about my answer as if I wasn’t waiting for someone to ask me that. Then I’d say, “Um, I guess I’d have to say…pulling cables.”

The asker, not trusting their ears, would say, “Did you say waiting tables? What’s so weird about that?”

“No,” I’d say. “I said pulling cables.”


During my senior year of high school I scored a plum job answering phones at a billing center for a prominent medical lab–prominent meaning there’s a good chance this lab has tested your pee and/or blood for something at some point in your life. My friend Nikki’s mom worked there and set us up with the gig through a temp agency. The job paid $10 an hour, plus time-and-a-half overtime, and was just 15 minutes from my parents’ house.

The following August I went away to college and when I came back for winter break that December, the billing center had moved offices–it was now about 30 minutes from my parents’ house. They were still willing to bring me back, but I was worn out from my first semester of college–which included a lot of driving as part of my job as the world’s worst traveling knife salesman–and decided I wasn’t willing to commute a half hour each way for three weeks, even for a job I really liked. (Five  years later, I commuted two hours each way for a year to my first job in the city that paid less than I’d been making at the billing center. Even now, living and working in Manhattan, my commute is 40 minutes each way on a good day.)

The temp agency still had my paperwork on file and my contact there set up my friend Sean and me with a three-week gig for the same rate of $10 an hour.

We were placed at an obscure technology company and told to show up the following Monday for some work “pulling cables.” We, of course, didn’t know what that meant (I’m not sure our contact did, either, but to her credit she kept a straight face when she told us). But for $10 an hour–far more than I’d been making selling knives–we were willing to just about anything for three weeks. Or so we thought.

Imagine an office building in one of those industrial office parks, a la The Office’s Dunder-Mifflin. In that office building, imagine a large room off a drab hallway. The room is filled with a constant humming sound emitted from a few dozen computer servers each about six feet tall–the same kind of server someone decries as being “down” when they can’t get on Facebook at work.

In this room, the floor isn’t really a floor. It’s tiled with 2’ by 2’, removable square panels mounted on a series of metal stanchions. Under the floor is a snake pit of thousands of computer cables that connect the servers to…well, I was never sure what they were connected to.

Our temporary boss was a man who introduced himself to us as Robert–but whose office door had a nameplate on it that said “Moshe”–explained that our assignment for the next three weeks was to pull up any loose cables that were no longer connected to anything at either end and put them in a pile off to the side. We were basically there to remove the dead snakes from the snake pit and leave the live ones alone.

The process of pulling a cable always began at the end of a cable which had already been disconnected from a server at one end of it. I would hold that loose end, then wait for Sean to get in position. Sean would remove one or more of the floor tiles a few feet away in the direction we assumed the cable was running–as I wiggled my part of the cable in my hand–in the hopes of locating any semblance of movement created by my wiggling. If Sean saw movement, he would grab that cable and hang on tight, waiting for me to run ahead to the next spot where I anticipated the cable continued, then lift up those tiles to find the same cable and grab it.

This leapfrogging would go on for sometimes five minutes, other times 20, until we could locate the end of the cable and pull it completely out of the floor. We would then put it on a small pile of cables that we had successfully removed. Our dialogue when tracking and pulling a cable would carry on as follows:

“Do you see it?”


“What about now?”


“Okay you should definitely see it now.”


“Do you wanna just start over with a new cable?”


(The conversation might also have included a string of profanity around the word “STANCHION!” if one of us had banged our shin on a stanchion.)

We made it about four hours into the first day before Sean said, “Bobby, I can’t do this anymore.”

“What do you mean?” I said. The work was mundane as it gets, but I wanted to rack up as many hours as I could. I needed the money.

“I can’t do this for eight hours a day for the next three weeks.”

“Okay, fine,” I said. I, too, was growing mind-numbingly bored, but wasn’t as willing as Sean to admit it just yet.

We finished out the first day but on the next morning, after talking it over some more, we approached Moshe/Robert to explain that at best we could do this work for four hours a day. Any more than that, we said, we’d lose our minds.

Moshe-bert agreed to our reduced hours a little too quickly–making me wonder if we were not the first ones to hold the prestigious cable puller position–and we went to work.

Even four hours a day was brutal, as Sean and I reached a state of delirium that no amount of coffee could remedy. Still, we pulled cables as efficiently as we could, and added them to the pile. When we found a particularly long cable, we cut it in half to make the pile seem bigger. There wasn’t a quota as far as we knew, but “doubling up” made us feel like we’d accomplished slightly more than we actually had.

At the end of our three weeks, our pile was disappointingly small. But by then we didn’t care–the small dent we’d put in the snake pit was negligible (the before and after pictures would have looked identical) and I’m sure Robert-Moshe was left wondering what the hell he’d paid us for.


Pulling cables wasn’t the last time Sean and I worked together. Four years later we were new college graduates looking for the dream jobs we’d been promised our entire academic careers. Instead, with our first student loan payments looming, we settled for part-time sales associate positions at The Sports Authority. The application included a drug screening. My former employer, the medical lab, tested our urine.

The job was pretty miserable, as most retail jobs are. I made $8 an hour but Sean, who had previous forklift experience (not a joke), made $8.50/hour.  We spent our weeknight shifts barely interacting with the bare minimum of customers perusing the teams sports section of the store, offering help on items like hockey sticks and mouthguards, which we knew nothing about.

The rare non-miserable “highlights” of working at TSA were: 1) someone in the receiving department had a “hook-up” at a convenient store and brought in free day-old Krispy Kreme knock-offs; 2) the break room had a VCR and three donated VHS tapes, Home Alone, The Mighty Ducks, and Billy Madison, which we watched literally every time we took a break; and 3) wait no, just two non-miserable highlights.

As Sean and I pondered where we’d gone wrong, how we could have a Bachelor’s degree in hand yet no job prospects worthy of one, our only saving grace–our mantra, really–became, Hey, at least we’re not pulling cables.

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Last week I started to write a blog post called “The Death of Fantasy Baseball,” about how the fantasy baseball league I’ve played in for the last seven years had finally dissolved. It was going to be a Classic Bobby nostalgia story about how something I loved while I was in my twenties was suddenly less appealing to me in my thirties. (My recent piece about being called “sir” at a Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day party falls into this category.)

But before I could hit “Publish” in my WordPress dashboard to make the piece go live, thus effectively ending my spotty fantasy baseball career, the league started to gain some momentum. Rather than the twelve teams collectively throwing in the towel and skipping fantasy baseball this year, it seemed that we were preemptively missing our league before the season would have even started. (If my fellow managers from the league disagree, feel free to mention that in the Comments–but I certainly felt this way.) On a group email chain we reignited the conversation and agreed upon a date and time for our online draft–a Friday night at 8:30, which should tell you how much our lives have changed from our twenties to our thirties.

The biggest reason the league almost fell apart was that most of us didn’t feel we had enough time to prepare or maintain our teams. Our league is one of the more demanding fantasy leagues, using advance “Moneyball“-friendly statistics categories (e.g. on-base percentage rather than batting average) that most casual fantasy baseball players wouldn’t pay attention to–and the kind that are harder to find on basic “best and worst” rankers on ESPN.com or Yahoo!. It’s also a daily league, meaning lineups can be adjusted each day, rather than a “set it and forget it” weekly lineup that some leagues employ to save everyone the anguish of feverishly checking each day’s match-ups.

I’d been dreading doing the research leading up to the draft–ranking each player by position (e.g. first base or left field) based on our league’s stats and thinking about a strategy for who I would select first, who I would wait to select later in the draft. In this way I felt like an athlete who retires despite most experts saying he could probably play for two or three more years. It’s not that he doesn’t still love his sport, but the preparation, the conditioning, the practicing, the media attention leading up to game day was no longer worth the high he would experience from actually playing in the game itself. (I realize the irony of comparing my fantasy baseball preparation to what an actual athlete goes through to get ready for a season, but I’m sticking with this comparison. Hey, it’s my blog.)

In fact, preparing for and running the league had been so challenging for me that a few years ago, I approached my friend and fellow fantasy manager, Brian, about running a team together. Rather than throwing away our separate $100 entry fees* on two under-managed teams that would finish last and second-to-last in our league, we figured we could co-manage and only lose $50 apiece.

*This is a hypothetical $100, of course. There, that should satisfy the fictitious attorney The 250 Square Foot View keeps on retainer.

The co-managing approached actually worked, leading us to a second-place finish that season. (I think both our wives were happy to see that after six months of “Honey, gimme two minutes…it’s my week to check our fantasy team,” some money was coming back in our direction.)

Now that we’ve drafted our team, I think we’re in pretty good shape–though I say that literally every year, despite winning the league just once, in my first season, when I didn’t know what I was doing–and I’m feeling confident about the upcoming season.

It’ll also be my favorite real (i.e. not fantasy) baseball player Derek Jeter’s last season, and, perhaps, my last year playing fantasy baseball. Who knows, maybe we’ll both go out on top.

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About a month ago, I attended  Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day. I wrote about HSPD before on this blog a couple of years ago. As I put it then, “From the ages of 24 to 26, Hoboken St. Patrick’s Day was my Christmas Morning.” I lived in Hoboken from 2006 to 2008 with my roommate, Mike, and each year we threw a HSPD party at our crappy apartment.

Even after moving out of New Jersey in 2008, I continued to attend HSPD nearly every year. Mike still lived in Hoboken with his wife, Linda, and would still invite me in either to his place or to a party he knew of. It was an excuse for me to cross-state lines and get together with him again. I jumped at the chance to reminisce about our own parties back in the day.

Yet as the years went by I began to eclipse various milestones that took me further from my days in Hoboken: I hit age 30; my girlfriend moved into my Manhattan apartment with me; we got engaged and later married; and my drinking tolerance waned (and I acquired a taste for better beers). As a result, I found it increasingly difficult to muster up the necessary alacrity for yet another HSPD celebration.

Still, this year—just a month after my 32nd birthday—I found myself in Mike’s younger brother Matt’s Hoboken apartment for the second year in a row, huddled into the corner of the room with Mike, his wife Linda, and my wife, Kim.

Just a week before, we were celebrating my belated birthday with two other couples, including Mike and Linda. Kim tried to sell it as a “boozy brunch,” evoking the unlimited mimosa-fueled meals we might have had in our twenties, but in reality the brunch had been decidedly tame—the way we all seemed to prefer it. We had a delicious meal, a great conversation, and no one was sloppy drunk by the end of it.

In the week between the “boozy brunch” and HSPD, Kim said she was worried that she’d feel old at Matt’s party, even though at 28 she was just two years older than Matt and most of his friends who would be at the party. If anyone at the party was going to feel old, I assured her, it would be me.

As the four of us caught up on “adult” topics like house hunting and promotions at work—with Matt interrupting occasionally to make sure we were having a good time—Kim suggested we try to get on the beer pong table for the next game, which Matt arranged for us.

Our game lasted about ten minutes before we lost, albeit respectably, with just a few of our cups remaining on the other side of the table. As we shook hands with our opponents and walked away, I heard a female voice say, “Sir…sir…”

I slowly turned towards the voice, praying that she was talking to someone’s dad standing behind me. But I knew better.

It took about a second for Mike and Kim to process what had just occurred, before they both started laughing. Recognizing that a harsh reaction would only make the situation worse, I smiled and accepted my role as the elder statesman of the party and approached the girl who had called me “sir,” one of our beer pong opponents.

“Did you just call me sir?”

“Yeah. I’m an English teacher. I wanted to say I like your shirt.”

I was wearing an old t-shirt I’d purchased from one of those novelty t-shirt websites back when I was living in Hoboken. Back then I couldn’t afford to “dress to impress,” so my strategy was to “dress to amuse” with an extensive repertoire of funny t-shirts. This particular one bore a bust of Shakespeare with the caption “Prose before Hos” underneath. At 32 I found that HSPD was the only place I could still appropriately wear the shirt—besides, it was green.

Her being an English teacher, I suppose, explained why she liked my Shakespeare shirt. But she’d done nothing to assuage my hurt feelings about being called “sir” at a party full of people in their twenties. The even harsher reality was that she didn’t even realize that calling me “sir” might have been insulting—to her, I was so obviously older than anyone there that it was the only appropriate way to get my attention. I would have much preferred a ruder but more age-neutral “Hey!”

When Mike and Kim finally stopped laughing, we unanimously decided that my youth was officially over. I haven’t yet made a decision on whether I’ll ever come back to HSPD, but if I do I think I’ll avoid the beer pong table.

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***UPDATE: I posed the question of whether to answer your doorbell in NYC to Reddit users to see what they had to say and I pretty much got abused. Read all about it here!

It’s Sunday night, about 11, after a long weekend. My fiancée and I are getting ready for bed when we hear the obnoxious buzzbuzzbuzz of our doorbell. We’re not expecting anyone.

It’s someone looking to gain access to the building without the use of a key. This is common in New York City apartment buildings, as it probably is in most other cities. We ignore it, not wanting to let a non-resident in but also not wanting to get involved in the situation. But after 15 seconds, we hear it again. Then another 15 seconds goes by, another buzzbuzzbuzz.

We can tell from the sounds in our hallway that the person outside is each apartment in the building in succession. When our neighbor across the hall hears us in the hallway debating what to do, she says, “Don’t let them in!” through her door, then comes out to discuss the situation.

Like us, she’s waiting for it to pass. Whoever it is will get tired and give up. Or someone else will let them in, which isn’t a desired outcome but will absolve us of responsibility for having let them in if it turns out they’re a burglar or worse.

After a few minutes I decide that it must be someone who lives in the building but is locked out. If it were me, I reason, I would buzz my 19 neighbors’ buzzers all night as I wouldn’t have any other option assuming my fiancée wasn’t home. Our building super doesn’t live in the building and is usually not eager to walk the 15 minutes from his own building, especially on a Sunday night. Plus the person may not have a phone on them if they don’t have their keys.

I announce to my fiancée and the girl across the hall that I’m going to pick up the intercom phone and try to see who’s buzzing. The girl across the hall says, “Even if they’re locked out, they still can’t get into their apartment.” “That’s their problem,” I respond. At least they’ll be inside.

“Who is it?” I ask him through the intercom.

A shaky male voice responds: “It’s Mr. Moss in apartment 3.”

“Is your name on your mailbox inside the building? And can you prove you live here?”

I ask him about the inside mailbox because the outside of the building has names from tenants past next to the apartment numbers. According to it, our last name is “Pipoli.” Even if an intruder claimed he was someone whose name was on the doorbell, I wouldn’t let them in if that name didn’t match the more updated inside mailbox.

“It certainly is,” he says, about his name on the mailbox. “And yes, I can” about proving whether he lives there.

“Okay, I’m coming down.” I throw on a pair of flip-flops as my fiancée hands me the pepper spray keychain I bought her when she first moved to the city.

When I arrive at the bottom of the stairs I see it’s the elderly man who I’ve seen many times at the mailboxes in our building and spoken to a few times. He is prepared with his ID when I get there but I know he lives here so I let him in, slightly embarrassed that I made him wait out there so long.

“Sorry, Mr. Moss. I recognize you now, of course, but I didn’t know your name or your apartment number.”

“Thank you,” he replies, genuinely but perhaps a little peeved it took that long for me to let him in. Still, I was the only one who had. I tell him goodnight and sprint back up the stairs.

Have you ever been in a similar situation? If not, what would you do if you were? Please feel free to share your story or opinion, if you have one, in the Comments.

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“It’s like playing laser tag,” said the smiling Crate & Barrel associate, explaining to my fiancée and me how to use the barcode scanner before sending us off into the wilderness that was two floors packed with home goods.

The laser tag comment, I gathered, was for my benefit—an attempt to engage the historically less-interested half of a male-female couple when it comes to registering for wedding gifts. Patronizing as it might have been, I couldn’t help appreciate the effort to involve me. It reminded me of the way older siblings let their younger siblings “play” video games with them by handing them an unplugged controller and letting them go nuts. The younger sibling gets to participate in the game, or so he thinks, despite the fact that he doesn’t actually have control over anything in front of him. (Sorry, Danny, but I absolutely pulled this stunt with you when we were kids. You were not, in fact, the Tecmo Bowl touchdown maker you thought you were.)

Our first stop was the refreshments table, set up for the exclusive registry event we were attending; “exclusive” meant we were allowed inside the store from 9 to 11 am on a Sunday morning, before the store opened to the general public. But much to our chagrin, we learned that the mimosas we’d been told we’d get were actually non-alcoholic cocktails of sparkling grape juice with OJ. We grabbed coffees instead and headed downstairs, past the couches and kitchen tables that our one-bedroom apartment wouldn’t be able to accommodate.

With only two hours on the clock, we decided to tackle place settings first. C&B’s display included about twenty pre-arranged dishware sets—that’s dinner plate, salad plate, bowl, and coffee cup for the nuptial neophytes out there. An associate found us perusing and encouraged us to “play around” with pieces from different sets and explained that we didn’t necessarily have to be so “matchy-matchy” with our selections. She even set us up with our own area at a kitchen table with a placemat.

We found a nice gravel-colored dinner plate with brown trim around the outside that we liked. Next was the salad plate. For that set, as with most sets, the salad plate was just a smaller version of the dinner plate in the exact same color and design. We didn’t want to be too matchy-matchy, so we looked for something else to offset the gravel. We found three different black salad plates from three different sets across a gradient of shininess—from very shiny to no shine (or matte). We chose the middle one. Next, we realized we couldn’t use the bowl from our original set because it was too shallow. What if I needed to bring my bowl of cereal from the kitchen to the living room? Was I confident that this shallow bowl would keep my cereal and milk within the confines of the bowl’s edges? I was not. Luckily, we found a bowl from another set, in turquoise, that we both agreed was functional and aesthetically pleasing relative to the dinner and salad plates.

After we got the dishware down, we move onto the flatware. (I know what you’re thinking: But you didn’t choose your coffee cups! YOU MUST COMPLETE THE SET. Relax. We decided that we liked the idea of serving coffee or tea using funky, mismatched coffee cups. Turns out, we were already avoiding matchy-matchiness in our home and didn’t even realize it.) Selecting our flatware was simply a matter of picking regular-looking forks, spoons and knives. (Incidentally, I wonder if there are couples who spend hours deliberating over their first set of flatware. Honey, I want people to remember our butter knives.)

Before we left that section of the store, it was time to scan all the items, LASER TAG STYLE. And let me tell you, that lady was right: it was exactly like playing laser tag. (Note: It was nothing like playing laser tag.) I was in charge of scanning each item. But after adding eight dinner plates to our registry, I noticed that our salad plates were double the price of the dinner plates…surely, no one would buy us such expensive salad plates! So it was back to the drawing board, but thankfully we were able to replace the black salad plates with white ones without throwing off the delicate balance of the place setting. Consider that bullet dodged. I scanned the bowls, the flatware, some glassware we’d chosen—including four port/sherry glasses, for all the port/sherry we anticipate serving to our hypothetical dinner party guests—and the original placemat the associate had set us up with (by then we were too drained to keep shopping for a different one).

After a quick stop in the cookware section—which included a free sample of bacon sausage cooked in a wonderful Le Cruset skillet!—we were just about out of time and decided to wrap things up by hooking our laser gun, I mean scanner, up to a computer that saved our list and created an account for us. Our registry was officially “live.”

My fiancee’s mother later explained that we should have registered for at least twelve of everything, not eight—our hypothetical dinner party guest list had grown by four hypothetical people—so clearly, there is more work to be done. But if nothing else, it was a start.

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I’m running like my life depends on it. I’m not running fast, like I’m running away from something, but controlled, like I’m running toward something that’s far away.

My pace slows as I run up and then…OVER the Queensboro Bridge, leaving Queens, where I was born, and entering Manhattan, where I now reside. I allow myself a quick and barely audible YESSS!–three boroughs down, two to go–and then it’s back to work. At the foot of the bridge I’m greeted by throngs of spectators who make me feel like they showed up just to cheer me on. I turn onto 1st Avenue and head uptown towards the Bronx. “Bobby! You can do it!!!” someone yells from the crowd, a family member, maybe a friend, or perhaps just someone who’s reading the brightly colored duct tape that spells my name on my shirt. I smile and wave in the direction of the voice. But there’s no time to scan the crowd to find the speaker–I still have another ten miles to go. I think to myself, I’m really doing this.

I played that scene in my head dozens of times in the summer of 2012, like a high school mixtape in the days before iPods. It was part of my mental training to go along with the grueling physical training I endured as I prepped for the 2012 New York City Marathon. Only that marathon never took place.

The Decision

As Hurricane Sandy swept through the New York area in late October, leaving much of Staten Island, the Rockaways, and New Jersey devastated, the marathon was eventually canceled. I say eventually because New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s first reaction was that the show must go on. The public disagreed, loudly and angrily, embodied in the comments section of a Nov. 1 New York Times article, “Officials Defend Decision Not to Cancel Marathon.” The comments included:

“I think it’s wrong. There are still fatalities in the wreckage. There are still senior citizens sitting in dark, cold, flooded homes. Two young boys, ripped from their mother’s arms, have just been found in Staten Island.”

“Take the money that would be spent on the marathon and put it in a fund to help the affected. Running is such an individual sport. It’s a time to put the needs of the group ahead of those of the individual.”

“I am ashamed and disgusted that the mayor is allowing this marathon. So many homeless people, without water, food, or electricity. We need volunteers and the police should be helping those hurt by Sandy, not cheering runners.”

And, few and far between, a handful of supporters for the decision, including:

“The marathon is the most positive and uplifting event in NYC and the one where everyone joins together to support and cheer each other on. This is EXACTLY what we need right now! Good work Bloombito!”

Just two days before the marathon was scheduled to take place, Bloomberg released another statement, that “a shadow would be cast over the event,” and that it would be canceled after all. Contrary to the oft-quoted maxim, sometimes you can fight City Hall.

Meanwhile in Virginia, my fiancée’s family sprung into action just moments after the announcement, looking for a Plan B for us. They contacted us shortly after the news of the cancellation to tell us that, if we were interested, a marathon down in Richmond, Virginia, was accepting late entries from New York City Marathoners who still wanted to run. After a few minutes of deliberation, we looked at each other as if to say, “Let’s do it,” and pulled out our credit cards. As poker players say, we were pot committed–we’d already invested so much in the hand that even if it’s a bad decision to keep playing, it would be a worse decision to fold now.


Six days after I was slated to run 26.2 miles around the five boroughs of New York, and twelve days after Hurricane Sandy had come and gone, I was lined up in the streets of Richmond, Virginia–“RVA” to the locals–to finish what I started.

I can’t say enough about the Anthem Richmond Marathon, which more than lived up to its billing as “America’s Friendliest Marathon.”


I told ya, it’s America’s Friendliest Marathon!

As the crowd of runners started to moved forward over the start line and onto the course, I took a quick inventory of my body’s trouble areas–my sometimes stiff right IT band felt good; my creaky left ankle and Achilles was pain-free. But I didn’t account for one body part, my eyes, and the fact that I might start crying.

I’m not much of a crier, and at first I wasn’t sure what had prompted that visceral response. I wanted to believe some of those tears were about for the circumstances–namely Hurricane Sandy and its victims–which rerouted my marathon plans from New York to Virginia. But they also felt like tears of joy, for having finally reached my goal of running (or at least starting) a marathon. Wiping my tears surreptitiously, as if I was wiping a bead of sweat in 40-degree weather, I glanced over to my fiancée, who met my glance. We’re really doing it.

I was so lost in my own thoughts that when we reached Mile 2, I turned to her and said, “We’ve gone two miles already?” She nodded. I looked at the time: we’d been running for 21 minutes. I’d been coasting, which made my first two miles feel like just a few minutes. I gather this is how the world’s top runners feel all the time, though for them, it actually does only take a few minutes per mile.

How do all these people know my name???

How do all these people know my name???

The first six miles were almost easy; even by the halfway point, my only concern was taking a bathroom break, which I took just after the Mile 13 marker at a porto-potty with a short line. Relieved–in all senses of the word–I felt renewed and my energy carried me to Mile 16 where I thought, dangerously, This isn’t bad at all. I feel great!

At Mile 18, I knew I was entering uncharted territory; the farthest I’d run in my training was 18.65 miles, and that had hurt. I knew anything after 18 was going to be a challenge. By Mile 20, what I’ve heard serious runners refer to as “The Wall,” I was in pain. And while I didn’t feel like I’d crashed into a tangible Wall, my knees were pounding. Mile 21 felt worse, but by then I was willing to injure myself permanently rather than stop just a few miles short of the finish line. (I also thought it might be fun when I’m 70 to say, “Yeah, that’s my bad knee…injured it running my first marathon back in ’12. You know what they say, the first marathon is the hardest!”)

The last mile was almost all downhill–which counter-intuitively sounds like a good thing, but is actually brutal on already-sore knees. As I ambled across the finish line, I was near tears again. The staff ushered me away from the finish line and towards the post-race festivities. I tried to plead my case to stay. “I’m just waiting for my fiancée!”, who was just a few minutes behind me. I felt like Rocky at the end of his first fight with Apollo Creed (3:16 mark), wanting no part of any interview questions, only concerned with finding Adrian in the crowd through puffy, bloodied eyes. (Yes, I realize how that sounds, but I swear, that’s how it felt.)

Weeeeee...are the chaaaaampions...my frieeeeends...

Weeeeee…are the chaaaaampions…my frieeeeends…

The Resolution

After that, we didn’t hear much from New York Road Runners, the organization that puts on the marathon, except to say, “We’re still figuring things out.” I misanthropically took this to mean, “We’re still figuring out how to keep your entry fees.”

NYRR finally announced its resolution on its website on December 20:

2012 Marathoners may choose one of the following options:

  • Option #1 – Refund. While NYRR has always had a no-refund policy for the Marathon, given these extraordinary circumstances, we are offering runners who were entered in the 2012 Marathon, and were unable to run due to the cancellation, the opportunity to obtain a full refund of their 2012 Marathon entry fee (excluding the $11 processing fee);  OR
  • Option #2 – Guaranteed entry to the ING New York City Marathon for 2013, 2014, or 2015. Entrants in the 2012 Marathon who choose this option will be granted guaranteed entry to the Marathon for the year they choose. Runners will be required to pay all processing and entry fees at the time of application (in the given year), with fees maintained at the same rate as those paid in 2012; OR
  • Option #3 – Guaranteed entry to the NYC Half 2013. Entrants in the 2012 Marathon who choose this option will be granted guaranteed entry to the NYC Half 2013, to be run on March 17, 2013. Runners will be required to pay all processing and entry fees at the time of application. Availability will be limited.

Upon first reading, I was happy with this resolution. They did the right thing for people who wanted simply to get their money back and move on. I was also happy that, if I wanted to, I could re-train and run it at some point in the next three years. I even tweeted this:

But as I read through my options a second time, I realized that I’d have to pay another entry fee if I wanted to run the race in 2013, 2014 or 2015, with my original payment going towards “guaranteed entry.” My spot was, in essence, being held hostage unless I was willing to pay twice (that’s $237 x 2) for one marathon.

I had originally qualified for the marathon by completing a series of nine races through NYRR in 2011 (at about $20 apiece, plus the $35 annual NYRR membership). The “9+1” program is actually really nice, especially if you live relatively close to Central Park (where most of the races take place on Saturday and Sunday mornings) but it’s a time and money commitment I’m just not willing to do again. I could also try to qualify by entering NYRR’s lottery program, but as its name suggests, it’s a longshot.

I realized then that, in all likelihood, I’ll never run the New York City Marathon. And that kind of bummed me out. It would have been an amazing feeling to come off the Queensboro Bridge, cheered by thousands of people, just as I’d fantasized about. But there are other marathons out there, and I could even see myself running Richmond again someday.

As I re-learn every day, things don’t typically work out the way you plan them but, if you’re willing to adapt, your Plan B might not be so bad. And after all, life is a marathon, not a sprint. (Oh come on, don’t roll your eyes at me. I had to!)

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On the internet, there’s always a backlash.

In early November New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared, just a few days after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New York and New Jersey, that the New York City Marathon would still take place. The backlash to this decision, personified in the comments section of an online New York Times article, was so severe that a few days later Bloomberg went back on his word and canceled the event.

In the wake of the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Bloomberg was in the news again, urging President Obama to take action on gun control, telling us that conversation alone won’t help curb the national epidemic of gun violence–we need action. (Arianna Huffington expressed similar sentiments.)

And of course we hope our politicians will take swift action to rewrite our gun control laws and reexamine the way we treat mental illness in this country.  Meanwhile for the rest of us, the conversation continues–especially online.

On Monday I came across the now-famous “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother” blog post by Liza Long, a mother who documented her own struggles with her mentally ill 13-year-old son named “Michael” (not his real name).

Long was lauded by many for her bravery in telling her story, as an overwhelmed and “terrified” mother of child she believes is dangerous enough to be compared to Lanza, Dylan Kleibold, and their ilk. (I won’t retell her story, but I recommend you read it for yourself at the link above.)

And then came the backlash.

Just a day later I came across an Adam Lanza article on Slate.com in which Long is criticized for being an “imposter.” The author of that piece, Hanna Rosin, implies that it is Long herself, not her son “Michael,” who  may be suffering from mental illness. Using another blogger’s research, she points to examples from some of Long’s other writings where she appears frazzled, frustrated, and overly dramatic about her home situation with “Michael.” And she criticizes Long’s willingness to out her son with only a thin veil of anonymity, a fake first name. Further, she compares Long’s described situation to those parents featured in a May 2012 New York Times article, “Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath?” and concludes that Long’s  “Michael” is not nearly as bad as those children.

Without being in Long’s household on a daily basis, it’s impossible to know whether she’s giving us an accurate representation of what goes on with “Michael,” and if the situation is really as dire as she makes it sound. As a non-parent, I can barely comprehend what it feels like to deal with an ugly tantrum in a grocery store, no less a son who grabs a knife and threatens to kill his mother and himself.

We certainly can see why Slate for running their backlash story, which I’m sure has brought a lot of traffic to their site as it piggybacks Long’s original post. Once again the conversation continues in the comments section, where some readers have defended Long, while others agree with Rosin.

But is this a case where the backlash is ultimately harmful to progress? We can poke holes in Long’s story all day long, or point to her earlier writings and label her as a fraud, a mentally ill person, a bad mother. However in doing this, many are now dismissing her message outright–which is that she worries that her son, one day, may be capable of committing mass murder on the scale of Sandy Hook, Columbine, or Virginia Tech.

Maybe she’s right; we hope she’s wrong. But is tearing her down truly the best way to make use of her story? Even if we believe Long’s account is a “false alarm,” are we in a position as a country to take that chance? And perhaps the scariest question of all: would we have dismissed a blog post by the real Adam Lanza’s mother just as quickly?

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