Saturday, June 6, 2009

Putting my mug on FaceBook ...

Boston, cloudy.

In my ongoing efforts to be more like my hip younger brother Matt (that's the two of us in the accompanying photo, trying to figure out where the hell we are along the White Rim Trail in Utah!), I've decided to put my mug up on FaceBook. That puts me only -- what? -- five years behind the curve on the cooliometer. Matt has got the whole "social networking" thing wired, and when he talks about creating a buzz, I listen. He's the main reason I took the first step by creating this blog, and now am bearing my soul to the world on FB. To be honest, I was hesitant to do either, in part because I never thought I could meet Matt's standard for literary talent, or humor. The guy (almost said "kid") is a riot ... always has been. One time, a good 10, 12 years ago, Matt was wedged between older bro Sean and myself on a chairlift at Loon Mountain, heading up to the North Peak. Sean and I never got a word in. It was then that Sean and I decided that Matt should have his own talk show on TV. The concept was simple and brilliant; Matt wouldn't need any guests -- he could just talk extemporaneously for an hour or so, and the audience members would be left falling over themselves (think of a slightly less manic Robin Williams, without the crotch grabbing).

Sadly, the talk show idea never took off, but Matty and his mad-capped sense of humor still rules the O'Connor family airwaves, with brother Mike and brother in-law Chuck a close second and third. He's also pretty savvy when it comes to "new media." I'm honestly not interested in texting, and Twitter strikes me as the ultimate in mindless self-absorption, but blogging made a lot of sense. It's a great way to keep the creative juices flowing, at a time when print publications are downsizing in a big way. With luck, it will also as a wellspring for other "This Old Jock" projects that I've got percolating. Meanwhile, FaceBook, in only the few days I've been on board, has proven to be a great vehicle for re-connecting with friends and family. Networking has never been so much fun. So c'mon, be my "friend" ... Just click on my FaceBook link right here! Matt and Sean are already in the mix!

Gotta run! The clouds have blown over, and it's looking like a great day for a spin.


Friday, June 5, 2009

The better part of valor ...

Boston, overcast ...

I skipped my Friday morning hockey game with the BBHC today, opting for the "discretion is the better part of valor" approach (to paraphrase Shakespeare's great line from Henry IV). For the past few days, I've been battling a low-grade bug, or allergies (or both), and was feeling really sluggish. I played with my usual pick-up gang on Wednesday night, and had a decent game, but left the ice tapped. There's a good chance that whatever I've got was passed along by my youngest, Brynne, who missed school on Monday, or Lauri, who missed work on Tuesday. Yesterday, Maddi, my eldest, missed school with a 102 temp, so it's clearly a germ infestation infiltrating the O'Connor house.

Still, I hate missing hockey, especially my Friday morning games. One of the traits that the hockey players pride themselves on is that they always show up (OK, "usually"). That goes double for goalies. Heck, back in the "good old days" of the six-team NHL, there was only one goalie per squad, and those guys didn't even play with decent padding, not to mention masks (of course, this was before the advent of the slap shot and curved blades, in addition ro composite sticks that allow C-level hackers to fire a puck upwards of 80 miles an hour). I can't imagine the nerve required to play with an exposed mug! If a guy got knocked silly, or cut, the trainer would simply stitch him back up - usually without any painkillers - and send him back into the nets, often dazed and confused (and hurting). By comparison, my low-grade bug seemed a pretty lame excuse.

On the other hand, I try to rationalize these absences, knowing that if I played, I risked getting really sick, and spending the weekend on my backside. At 51, I try to incorporate some of the "wisdom" that middle age supposedly brings. But I also know that once I miss a game without any sense of remorse, I'll be one step closer to calling it quits. So while I can't stomach that gnawing feeling that I should have been on the ice this morning, a part of me is comfortable with it. I'll be back soon enough.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

That new car smell ...

Boston, undecided ...

It's not often that Lauri and I buy a new car. My bride and I have been together about 20 years (married for 15), and I've had four cars over that stretch. We met while I still had my college-grad Toyota Tercel, festooned with surf stickers. Those stickers were, in fact, the only thing holding the rusted-out hatchback together. Shortly after Lauri and I became an item, I graduated to a Mazda MPV (which Lauri dubbed "the Manly Power Van") because my windsurfing addiction required a vehicle with more storage space. It was a deep red, and when my future father in-law inquired why a single guy needed a van, Lauri told him: "It's for his toys." After which, Dick referred to the Mazda as my "sleigh." I didn't mind the Santa connection ... the truth, as we were taught in journalism school, is usually the best defense.

Unfortunately for me, that same nice deep red paint job proved the Mazda's undoing, as it began flaking off within the first six months I had it. Two additional layers of clear-coat couldn't remedy a poor paint job, and Mazda eventually bought the vehicle back under the Lemon Law. Lauri and I flipped that little windfall into a down payment on our house here in Hamilton, and we went looking for a new car. Tops on my priority list was all-wheel drive. The Mazda, with its rear-wheel drive, was a smooth driving vehicle for three seasons, but an absolute horror show in a typical New England winter. So I downsized, settling on a Subaru Legacy wagon that proved to be one of the best investments I ever made. This tough little rig withstood two trips to the body shop (one collision was admittedly my fault, while the other - a fallen tree limb - was not). For 13 years, my rugged Subaru answered the bell, almost without fail. When Lauri inadvertently fried our second car, a Toyota Camry (the radiator split along the bottom) four years ago, we opted for another Subaru wagon, an Outback. In between those purchases, we had added two beautiful girls to our home, and another rig, a seven-passenger Mitsubishi Montero, to the stable. We picked the Montero up with 95,000 miles, but it came from a friend, and we knew it had been well cared for.

For five years, the "Monty" served as our family bus, and served us admirably. But in the past year, she was beginning to show her age. Last summer, four new brakes set us back a good chunk of change, and the air conditioner gave out. This year, with almost 140,000 miles on her odometer, we knew the Monty's demise was inevitable (and potentially very expensive). It was time to start shopping.

While I was not opposed to yet another Subaru gracing our driveway, Lauri insisted on a vehicle with at least three seats (or room for seven, minimum). We also needed something that would accommodate our lovable Labrador retriever, True. A minivan wasn't out of the question (my sister and our next door neighbors each have a Honda Odyssey, and rave about them), but Lauri is clearly not a mini-van fan. Plus, the all-wheel drive models are pricey, as are the AWD SUVs (the 7-passenger Subaru Tribeca, for example, was at least $10K out of reach). We asked around among other parents. A good friend picked up a Hyundai Vera Cruz last year, and likes it a lot. I liked the price (mid-$20K). A couple of weeks ago, after my Thursday noontime skate, I stopped by our local Hyundai dealership, just to get a few brochures. On the lot was a used, all-wheel drive Santa Fe Limited, simply loaded, with only 17,000 miles on it. Already under agreement, said my salesman, the Rev. Clinton Sherald. Too bad, I replied.

So, after asking the reverend to keep me posted on any new or used seven-passenger Hyundai SUVs that came across his radar, I motored home. Not 48 hours later, the reverend called to say the deal had fallen through on the Santa Fe. Was I interested? I told him I'd definitely like to take a closer look. The vehicle, powered by a responsive V-6 and 5-speed automatic, was a dream to drive, and appeared to be in spotless condition. Even better, after snooping around the glove compartment for more information, like a Car-Fax report, I found the registration, and discovered that the previous owner was a friend of mine. How often does that happen? I called Ron the moment I got back home, and he gave the Santa Fe two thumbs up. "The lease was ending," he told me. "If it hadn't been leased by my practice, I'd still be driving it. We loved that car." Coincidences, and recommendations, don't get much better than that.

So after Lauri gave the Santa Fe her own seal of approval (it will be her car, after all), and the usual give-and-take of negotiations, I brought the Santa Fe home on Monday. It is, as Maddi exclaimed, "Sweeeet!" Plus, it's a lot more car than we could have afforded if we bought brand new. OK, it's not exactly "new," but it's new to us. And if the Santa Fe holds up as well as my original Subaru, I'll consider myself a very lucky man!


Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Coaching Conundrum

Boston, gorgeous ...

My wife stood at one end of the pool, glaring at the figure splashing toward her. "She's just not kicking," said Lauri, exasperated. "And her turns are a mess."

I was dumbfounded. Maddi, our eldest daughter, was finishing a practice session, and the water seemed to literally part before her (check out those shoulders in the accompanying photo!). I couldn't believe this 12-year-old, who is far from fleet of foot on the soccer field, made swimming seem so effortless.

"Go easy on her, honey," I quipped. "She looks great." Lauri turned to me, and said sharply: "I can't believe you are telling me to relax."

She was right. I quickly realized why the words I'd just uttered sounded so familiar. They were Lauri's words, almost verbatim, delivered six years ago following one of Maddi's soccer games. Being an avid soccer player, I couldn't wait for my own girls to play. The minute Maddi was old enough to join youth soccer, I signed her up, and volunteered to coach. She was six, I was 44. Clearly, we had different agendas. For me, soccer is truly "the beautiful game," a sport of subtlety, skill, and speed. For Maddi, soccer was social hour. When one opponent – a friend – went running past her, Maddi commented: "Sheridan, I like your hair!" I was apoplectic.

Lauri counseled patience. "This is supposed to be fun. Give her time." It was a humbling lesson. I wanted so badly for Mary to embrace the game I cherish that I lost sight of what it meant to her. Lauri provided a constant, and crucial, counterweight.

Then a funny thing happened. Maddi and Brynne (our second) started swimming, and Lauri, a former competitive swimmer, started coaching. The role reversal was swift and stunning. I was now the inexperienced observer, simply admiring these powerful girls motoring through their laps, laughing with their friends. Lauri was the trained eye, invariably focusing on the flaws in our daughters' strokes, urging them to work harder.

Today, Lauri and I strive to maintain this good-natured yin and yang. I coach Maddi in lacrosse, and Brynne, now 10, in soccer and hockey. I want them to be competitive and committed, investing the requisite effort (hence my oft-repeated adage, "The better you get, the more you'll enjoy it."). Keeping everything in perspective is paramount, though, as we remind each other that fun is an essential component, for all four of us.