Tropical storms and monster blizzards did not concern me when I first moved to Washington. My chief concern was that someone would stab me because I didn’t have any money to give them, and that I wouldn’t have any money to give them because everything was so crazy-expensive.
My fears did not come true. As I turned out, I should have feared the weather after all.
Hurricane Isabel was certainly an attention-getter for me. It hit in 2003 and although it was only tropical storm strength by the time it got to D.C., whole parts of the area that I thought were immune from flooding were suddenly under water. That included a neighborhood Safeway. I later found out that the Potomac River, which is at least a mile away from us and 100 feet or more lower in elevation, got within six blocks of our house.
But that was freakish, I decided. There had only been one other tropical storm to affect the area in the previous 50 years, so I decided I couldn’t make decisions based on this truly unusual event.
Only it wasn’t so freakish. Since Isabel, we’ve had at least three monster snowstorms, a tropical storm, another hurricane and a derecho last summer that probably caused more damage than any of the other events. We also have had a serious of brutally hot summers, capped by last summer’s hotashell event.
I now wonder if I live in a world where I can expect a truly frightening storm every few months and an endless series of weather extremes. I had to sleep on the couch in the living room Monday as Hurricane-or-whatever-it-is Sandy rolled through. There was no way I was going to sleep in my bedroom, which is perhaps 10 feet from an enormous maple tree.
But Sandy, as it turned out, wasn’t as troublesome here as some other recent storms have been. It pretty much crushed New York City and a big chunk of Jersey, but we merely got a good clipping. Still, I’ve been clipped enough to last me for many years.
Of course I’ve watched The Walking Dead from the day the series first aired. My always-suspect and rapidly fading geek cred pretty much demanded this — especially after I learned that the show’s title refers to the humans, not the zombies.
But now, as Season 3 of the show kicks in and the true humanity of the survivors fades ever more, I’ve come to realize that I like The Walking Dead’s spinoff/talk show/geekfest/companion reference program nearly as much as the original product.
I’m talking about Talking Dead, the let’s-talk-about-what-just-happened talk show that airs immediately after new episodes of The Walking Dead. And it is filled with awesomeness.
Hosted by Chris Hardwick, who is incredibly quick on his feet and has a frightening Adam’s apple, Talking Dead usually has an actor or writer or two from the show as guests, along with the occasional Geek Hall of Fame member like Will Wheaton or Kevin Smith. And it gets even more meta-frightening: There’s a Talking Talking Dead after-after show that’s online-only. A recent example:
Of course, both the TV and online versions of Talking Dead are fully Twitter and Facebook-integrated, with Hardwick reading out questions and tweets that are submitted as the show goes along. This week, after one of the “regular” show’s main characters got part of his leg hacked off, fans were encouraged to tweet to the #oneleggedhershel hashtag. “I’m stumped,” one fan tweeted.
Talking Dead is funny, freaky, airs the occasional teaser and prominently features a piece of artwork made out of baby doll arms. It often seems to come within an inch of careening completely out of control and naturally, it’s live. Even if you think The Walking Dead is a waste of good film stock, you very well might enjoy Talking Dead.
NPR has an occasional feature called “Movies I’ve Seen A Million Times.” I could pick artsier or more challenging films for my personal nominee in this category, but I have a terrible sweet spot for a little confection of a movie I watched yet still again tonight: “That Thing You Do.”
It’s the story about a one-hit-wonder band in the early 1960s, and I love it because I have lived through so many of the set pieces in the film: The weird gigs at airport pizza palaces, the ensemble shows, the surprise radio airplay, the dancers who love your band, the veteran musicians who teach the young musicians about a lot more than music, and on and on and on.
Tom Hanks wrote and directed the movie, and it was a modest box office hit, but it is amazing to me how it never seems to disappear from movie channels. That’s not just because it’s such an entertaining piece of fluff (and I mean that in the best way) but because there are so many cameos and small parts from people who are part of Hanks’ circle or went on to become much more famous. A then-little-known Charlize Theron disappears relatively early on in a part as the drummer’s girlfriend; Steve Zahn (lately of ‘Treme’) is a guitarist; this is the first film I can remember seeing Liv Tyler in; even Chris Isaak and Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, show up. And Jonathan Demme plays…a director! Kevin Pollak has a little part, as does Brian Cranston — and even Hanks’ “Bosom Buddies” co-star, Peter Scolari, makes an appearance.
And the best part is that all of the actor-musicians clearly can play their instruments in ways that I recognize. There’s the on-stage argument when the drummer breaks out in a beat that’s twice as fast as the band had practiced; there’s the bass player with his tongue sticking out ever so slightly as he concentrates; there’s the drummer whose style and control quickly make it apparent that jazz is his first love; and there’s Wolfman, the fill-in bass player who can handle anything but is too scary-looking to be shown on television.
But my favorite character in the movie is “Del Paxton,” the jazz player who tells the drummer that bands come and go, but the secret is to just keep playing. I thought of that this week, when I had one gig to play background music for a radio program and another to provide a sonic backdrop for people consuming Thai food. I took these gigs so I could keep playing. And the more I play, the more often I surprise myself in fun ways, even if the audience isn’t listening. When that happens, I’m reminded of the movie all over again.
A week has gone by since That Game, but even a glimpse of baseball on television brings back the sadness. And I have been reminded again and again that in all of my decades of sports fandom, I somehow never experienced this sort of heartbreak until now.
Yes, I was at Nats Park for Game 5 of the National League division series against the St. Louis Cardinals. I had a seat down in the right field corner, 12 rows back, maybe 30 feet away from where previous-night-hero Jason Werth was patrolling. I sat there before the game as Gio Gonzalez walked around in the corner. He bounced up and down and smiled the way he always does. We all sang, “Let’s go, Gio!” to him. My view before the game:
Here was the oddest game of my life, pitting my new favorites against the very team that taught me not just to love baseball, but to love sports of all kinds. This was a winner-take-all game: The series was tied at two games apiece, with the winner moving on to the next round of the baseball playoffs. And my seat gave me an almost outfielder-like view of what came next.
I watched the homers fly out of the yard as the Nats staked themselves to a 6-0 lead by the end of the third inning. I then witnessed the Cardinals crawling back in it, one run at a time, including the homer that landed a few feet away in the 8th to make it 6-5.
And I watched as Kurt Suzuki, who came up big-time all through September, smashed the hit that made it 7-5 Nats in the bottom of the 8th. That insurance run would be the blow that would carry the Nationals, I was sure.
Top of the 9th. Three outs away. Drew Storen on the mound. He’d looked like a stud at season’s end after recovering from elbow surgery. Everyone stood and roared, and the din was loud enough to be painful.
Carlos Beltran led off for the Cardinals with a ringing double. “They can’t do this again,” I immediately thought, flashing back to St. Louis’ improbable 2011 World Series victory. And sure enough, two outs were subsequently rung up without much noise.
One out away. Mayhem in the park. People hugged and high-fived each other, jumped up and down and screamed. I had been here the night before to witness Werth’s hyperdramatic homer that won the game for the Nats. Here I was again, witnessing one of those moments I could talk about for the rest of my life.
What followed: Two walks on two terrific Cardinals at-bats. Storen got to two strikes on David Freese before walking him in one of those at-bats, then got to two strikes again on Daniel Descalso. One strike away. One strike away.
Descalso hit a soul-crushing single that went off Ian Desmond’s glove. Two runs scored. 7-7.
Silence in the park. People held their heads in their hands. Still tied, though.
And then Pete Kozma stroked another single for the Cards, two more runs scored and the hopes of a city synonymous with bad baseball were crushed.
With the damage done, the Nats immediately got the third out from the Cardinals, then went down meekly in the bottom of the 9th. Ryan Zimmerman — he of so many walk-off hits, he who homered in the 1st to give the Nats a 3-0 lead — ended the game with a pop-up.
The fans stood there, stunned, as the Cardinals celebrated on the pitcher’s mound. There’s a little curly ‘W’ logo on the back of that mound. The Cardinals jumped up and down all over it.
I wish there was some way I could feel happy for the Cards, who won a terrifically well-played series. But the sight of that team brings it all back, in the worst way.
I don’t dislike them and am not rooting against them. The objective part of me understands what a remarkable sports achievement this was and my lifelong love of that team doesn’t fade so easily.
Still, once you’ve been shivved like this, you don’t pause to analyze the wound. You just know it hurts like hell.
I’ve been told that in time, these wounds heal. Spring baseball long has been synonymous with renewal, and perhaps when the pitchers and catchers report in February, I’ll be ready to return to the sport I loved first and love the most.