At Age 29, I’m an NBA Veteran

This was first published on my blog on Suns.com:

Today is my 29th birthday. If I was a player in the NBA, I supposed I’d be a “veteran” by now.

I know this because I was watching the Utah Jazz’s Matt Harpring shoot free throws when the commentator described him as an “NBA veteran.” This was (kind of) deeply disturbing to me because Matt and I went to Georgia Tech together in the late 1990s. Although we never met one another on campus, I like to think we would’ve been good friends because we had so much in common. We’re both named Matt, we went to Georgia Tech, great hair, and the ladies like us. You can understand why I was offended when the commentator implied that Matt and I were getting old. I turned off the TV and cranked up Tupac.

It’s bizarre when you realize that your heroes are younger than you. This month our own Amare Stoudemire and Leandro Barbosa both turned 25. Hypothetically, if I was a bully and I was raised in Brazil, I could’ve beaten Leandro in a game of 1-on-1 and perhaps in a brawl over a hard foul. I mean really, what could a 3rd grade Leandrino have done against me the mighty 7th grade stud?

I can’t make the same claim against Stoudemire because he’s been beating up 7th graders since he was five–the same year he got his first tattoo.

Since I’m on the subject…Amare has to be the most intimidating dude in the NBA. Yeah Big Ben Wallace is, well, big. But you can’t take him too seriously with that ‘fro. Anyway you look at it, Amare is intimidating. Even when he was injured and sitting the bench in his suit, he blocked two shots a game just by staring down the jump shooters. He’s “hell boy” even when he’s standing still.

As I type this, there is a four-inch tall bobble head of Amare on my desk. I stole from a co-worker last season. When I get angry at my computer, I slam my fist on the desk and my little Amare nods his head to agree with me. That’s the only time mini-Amare seems cool with me. The rest of the time he just cocks his head to the right with a stare of disappointment and disbelief. Even with a stubby body and a massive head, Amare intimidates me–a grown man.

I shouldn’t be too self-conscious about turning 29 because there are a lot of guys playing in the NBA who are older than me. Although I don’t like the Clipper’s Sam Cassell, mostly because he made those awful faces in the 2006 playoffs, he’s living proof that old guys rule. The man is 38-years-old. He was born in 1969, the same year as Woodstock, the same year that “…the age of Aquarius…” was the number one song.

But Sam’s a baby compared to Houston’s Dikembe Mutombo, born 1966. Do the math. 2007 – 1966 = 41 years of awesome. I’d love to play Mutombo 1-on-1 just so I could get dunked on by a guy who’s only 14 years away from getting senior citizen discounts at most restaurants.

I shouldn’t be discouraged by my age. Good things happen with time. Look at Steve Nash. Although he’s always been a good player, his league domination didn’t start until he got out of his 20s. He got his first MVP award not long after he turned 31, then he did it again at age 32. He’s 33 now, and he’s still playing at MVP caliber. Everyone knows he’s going to play into his 40s. This is good news for all of us.

I feel so much better now. I’m only 29. I have all year to prepare for the world-domination that begins at age 30. It’s fair to say that 2009 is going to be a good year for me. By then I’ll have earned back-to-back MVB. Most Valuable Blogger.

Back from New York, Philadelphia

2008 Ford Edge

The 2008 Ford Edge is awesome.

We rented a 2008 Ford Edge to get us around for the week that we were in Pennsylvania, and I was thoroughly impressed. I’ve rented many SUVs over the past 3 years, so I’m not easily swayed just because a vehicle is new or different from what I drive at home. The Edge is just a blast to drive. It’s comfortable and hugs the road. I’d buy one if I was in the market for a new car.

One of the best parts of our trip was the drive down country roads. The colors of the autumn leave peaked on the day that we arrived. The next afternoon it began to snow, covering every bright orange tree with a touch of white. I can’t imagine there could be a more majestic autumn that what we experienced in Pennsylvania.

Johnny and Ali are married.

Johnny and Ali are going to have a very good life together. They are such fantastic friends, I can’t imagine any two people better for one another.

The Problem in New York

Every time I go back to New York, I’m re-writing my life from the summer of 2001 when I called New York home. I get a chance to use the same stage but with new scenes. So with every visit, New York becomes a more hospitable and wonderful city. With every minute that Candyce and I spend in New York, the more I want to move back.

I realize that most adventurous young people feel this way when they visit New York. You fall in love with the action, the romance, and the idea of being the rock star from your home town. (Nobody will admit it, but this is half the reason graduates move to LA or NY, just to be the hometown hero who made it big by, well, by leaving their hometown.)

But a well-spent vacation in New York is far detached from the reality of living in the city. The biggest problem you have to face is trying to figure out how you can afford to live there. Everyone likes to quote Frank Sinatra when we are on the subject of rent in the city:

“If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.”

The problem here is that New York is not just an expensive city to live in, it’s a very very expensive city to live in. It was a lot easier for people to “make it in New York” when Sinatra first sang those words. Most of the people who own an apartment in New York could not afford to buy an apartment today. They bought it back when the cost of an apartment wasn’t so outrageously priced compared to the salaries that you could earn while working in the city.

You have another large group of people living in New York–mostly young people–who are burning through their savings hoping to make it big. They eventually have to move away to actually get some financial stability again. These are talented, educated, hard working people. And some other city gets to absorb them into the economy because New York was very very expensive.

This isn’t a good thing. An intelligent college-educated person can move to the city with no debt, find an admirable job from a well-known company, and they still have to scrape pennies to afford a crappy apartment with four friends. There’s something wrong here. If the top performers from America’s universities can’t afford to live in New York, who can? You have a problem on your hands.

The Rocketts

The Rocketts show in Radio City Musical Hall was fantastic. I totally under-estimated the cool factor of this show. I expected an hour long dance routine of women kicking their legs in unison. I’d go again.

The Bling in Times Square

Puff Daddy has a massive 10-story ad in Times Square of himself wearing Sean John clothes. This is as lame as a band wearing their own shirts during a concert. But I can’t judge Puff Daddy because I would’ve probably done the same thing. Why should I pay some model to get famous off of my dollar?

Puffy going for the forlorn Statue of Liberty look.

For the record, I can’t call Puffy “P.Diddy ” because if I do that, I’m giving permission to every other lazy rapper who wants to add to his mystique by changing his name, like he’s an upgraded operating system or something. I figure you have one chance to change your name, and that’s all I’m going to give you. I’ve got better things to do than to keep up with your newest names. If some moron wants to correct me, then he’s a moron.

One useful edition to Times Square is Charmin’s free and clean bathrooms. I didn’t go inside, but I was amused by the concept. I mean really, where do you go to the bathroom in New York? When I lived there, you bought a small cup of coffee at Starbucks just to gain access to the bathroom. (Speaking of Starbucks and bathrooms, this is one of the funniest articles I’ve ever read in The Onion The Onion: New Starbucks Opens In Rest Room Of Existing Starbucks.)

171 Starbucks

On our last night in Manhattan, I asked the barrista on the Upper West side how many Starbucks were in the city. I guessed maybe 35-40 stores. Wrong! Try 171 coffee shops on one island. I didn’t believe her, so she told me to go online and watch this video.

Then I checked Google Maps and Starbucks.com, and I actually believe there are more than 171 Starbucks coffee shops. Without a doubt, all of the Starbucks in New York City add magic to residents and to tourists.

  • Residents: If you live in Manhattan, putting a Starbucks in the vacant storefront on the corner tells the world that it is a safe and wealthy block to live on. It’s not like a Wal-Mart coming to town…rattling your local economy. Nope. Starbucks is something that adds to the community. It’s a place where people gather.
  • Tourists: For people who travel to NY from out of town, Starbucks are familiar stops on your walk across town. You know you are going to get the same cup of coffee. There is a place to set up camp for the afternoon, or a place to meet friends. You can rest your feet and people watch if you want to.

I know that people like to get all worked up about Starbucks because it’s a corporate success story, and we all hate the idea of a local coffee shop going out of business because the big dog moved into town. But I also know that a lot of coffee shops are in business today because Starbucks paved the way with the coffee lifestyle.

People who act like they hate the Starbucks on the corner are either too stupid to know the big picture, or they are just lying to you so they can seem anti-The-Man. I’m not going to act like an outside observer here. I love the fact that there are 3 Starbucks within a mile and a half of my house.

Don’t confuse what I’m saying here. I don’t want America to become homogenized with corporate chains. I’ve traveled to over 250 destinations in America since the year 2000, and I hate that so many places look the same. But, you also can’t dismiss a chain of coffee shop just because you don’t like a homogeneous America.

I Hear the Suns are Awesome

There is nothing more disorienting than having your favorite team be in a different time zone than you. I salute the Suns fans on the East Coast. You guys really have to work hard to catch the Suns. You might have to stay up past midnight. It is so much more fun to watch the Suns play basketball than it is to look up scores on the Internet at the end of the day. The only thing exciting about that is knowing that we won.

Bachelor Party on the Lake

Installing bathroom fixtures is something you just want to get done because it’s not that glamorous of a chore. But in reality, installing a bathroom sink and toilet is without a doubt exciting.

Let me explain. Your archenemy is water guided by the forceful hand of gravity. If you have never tried a day as a plumber, you should probably know that water absolutely does NOT want to go down pipes. It prefers to leak, spray, and gush. One day as a plumber can get you as wet as a day at the water park. So after a total of 20 man hours, Howard and I were relieved yesterday morning when the toilet flushed and the faucet ran–and there were no leaks. It was a rare moment of triumph and solidarity for a new husband and his wife’s grandfather.

Then it was time to get ready for Johnny’s bachelor party at Saguaro lake. A dozen guys drove up with two jet skis and a ski boat. This is probably the last weekend you can enjoy the lake: the air is still warm in the afternoon, but the water is getting colder every night. After a few hours playing in the water (I got the jet ski up to 53 mph), we floated into a cove to settle a stony beach for late lunch.

The peninsula on the south side of the cove was the dead end of an off-road trail for dudes with ATVs, dirt bikes, and other random tough toys. So we had front row seats formotorsports segment of the X-Games. I couldn’t help but be happy for the dudes because they were having so much fun just being guys. One guy wasbouncin’ over the mounds in between the Saguaros in a vintage Jeep CJ -5. The sun light up his trail of dust like you see in the movies. He parked his Jeep on the the tip of the peninsula about 50 feet above the water. Now everything was quiet. He stood up to look over his dusty windshield into the lake. His Jeep looked like Mufasa and he looked like youngSimba. That was a man moment.

Our testosterone was brewing. Jason randomly pulled a parachute out of a bag he found in his boat: “Does anybody want to go para-sailing?” It didn’t matter that he was the only person who knew anything about para-sailing. We knew what had to be done.

This is how we set it up. The water was shallow, so we couldn’t tow Johnny with the ski boat. The propeller would get shredded by rocky bottom just beneath the surface. So this whole adventure would be powered by a 3-man jet ski. Jason drove, Danny sat backwards so he could keep an eye on Johnny. We used a standard tow rope;that attached Johnny’s harness to the back of the jet ski. From Johnny sprouted dozens of thin ropes that were tied to the parachute.

Jason explained that the rest of us had to stand behind the parachute and keep it off the ground. Without our efforts, the parachute would fill with sand and the whole thing would end in a mess. It was a bizarre feeling standing behind that parachute. All I knew is that when Jason yelled GO! we had to run as fast as we could towards the water. It didn’t matter that we could not see where we were running. You just had to run and run fast. So we did.

By the fourth try, Johnny was soaking wet and all of us runners were scraped and bloodied from numerous falls. Even though it hurt, it was funny. It hit me that what we were doing was not much different than the guys who first tried to fly a friend behind a boat with a parachute. You just do it. Unfortunately, we were doing it wrong. The parachute was upside-down, so there was no chance of lift off. Once the problem was fixed, it was awesome.

It’s a wonderful thing to see your friend shoot up in the sky like that. We cheered and pounded our chests with victory. In the distance, he looked like a little baby Johnny with his arms and legs kicking. There was a couple scary moments where he could’ve been blown into a cactus on the shore, but luckily that did not happen. We prepared for this mishap by praying before we started.

Intellectual Insecurity, Blanche from the Golden Girls

If you are eager for a random story and celebrity fodder, scroll down for some kicks. If you don’t believe libraries are better than bookstores, read my old journal entry. If you want to hear about my intellectual insecurity, start with the next paragraph.

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Down the street from my house is Changing Hands Bookstore, which was voted “Best Bookstore in America” by Publisher’s Weekly. It’s not uncommon to see the BookTV truck parked out front, broadcasting authors talking about their book to the world. Big-name authors come and sign books there. Hillary Clinton swung through town last week to sign books and campaign. Changing Hands has a polished image as being a thinking person’s book store. If they sold cars, they’d probably sell Volvos.

Of course this is one of the reasons I like to go there. Nobody will admit it, but we all go because you feel smart just by being there. If you are at Hollywood Video across the street, you have to work too hard to let people know that you are not a dimwit. You have to stand next to shelves of foreign films or try to be overheard talking about Oscar nominations. Not at Changing Hands. You can look smart even if you are stupid and lazy. It’s phenomenal.

The people who work at Changing Hands are kind of cultish, but in a cute way. They are young and cool, but they don’t want to be too cool because then they’d gain approval and somehow appear to be a conformist. That’s a messy dilemma, so they all agree to conform to a non-conformist standard of cool: geek-sheik eye glasses, vintage T-shirts, and symmetrical postmodern tattoos on their arms (whatever the hell that means.) Still, I like these people because they smile at everyone and they walk like vegans. (All non-violent vegans walk the same. If you ever get a chance, stop me and I’ll show you.)

As their name suggests, Changing Hands Bookstore will buy your old books and give you cash or store credit towards your next purchase. Since turning my house upside down last month with the remodel, I’ve realized that many of my books are not useful to me anymore. This was a bizarre realization because I’ve deliberately gotten rid of books over the past several years. But I like the simple life, so it was time to get rid of 20 more books, good books by well-known authors. Bright minds. Heck, three of the books were written by liberals. That means fat ca$h at Changing Hands. I might be able to afford that gold tooth I’ve been wanting.

I dropped that loaded cardboard box on the counter knowing that it was payday. Ten minutes later, I visited the counter again and received a brief but respectful explanation from Mr. Glasses: “I can only take three of your books, I can’t do anything with the others.” Actually, I didn’t think he was being respectful at all when he said it, but I tried to think of an alternative line he should’ve used, and I couldn’t come up with anything. He gave me $7.50.

I walked back to my car defeated, my shoulders slumped down by the weight of a 20 pounds of books that contained ideas that were no longer marketable or interesting. I thought about thinking about what that tells us about society, but I realized it was too narcissistic of a debate to have with myself in the car. (Whenever I’m bored in the car, I pretend I’m a witty guest on Talk of the Nation with Neil Conan or I give soundbytes as a celebrity CEO being profiled on MarketPlace with Kai Ryssdal. I’m okay with this because people talk to themselves all the time on speaker phone in the car.) Instead of talking to myself, I turned on Power 98.3 and caught the last half of “Crank That Soulja Boy” as I pulled out of the parking lot.

Later in the week I took my stash of books to Bookmans in Mesa, which is a more badass store than Changing Hands. They took all my books, and with my store credit I got old issues of Esquire, This Old House Magazine, and some hip graffiti magazines. Score!

Now I have to figure out how to get rid of my CDs…

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The Golden Girls

On one random night earlier this summer, I was at Mac’s next door to Changing Hands Bookstore watching a game. I asked the waitress why the parking lot was so full. She giggled and said, “Blanche from the Golden Girls is signing her book next door.” I couldn’t resist the opportunity to do something new, so I left Candyce at the table and went next door.

The Golden Girls

Blanche is the hottie on the left.

Sure enough, actress Rue McClanahan was signing 100s of copies of her new book: My First Five Husbands…And the Ones Who Got Away. I was entirely confused by the people who showed up for this party. Half of them were retired baby boomer women, the other half were clusters of youngish males. Pairs of males. And they were all hyped to meet Blanche Devereaux. I made it back to the rowdy sports bar in twenty seconds and reported my findings to Candyce.

The celebrity autobiography has to be the last chapter in the career of an entertainer. The phone quits ringing and you’re left to yourself with a lot of free time. You have all day and night to make sense of life in and out of the spotlight, and you figure it’s time to write a book. So you turn up Sinatra’s “I Did it My Way” and start pecking your keyboard. Writing a book, after all, is a life goal for most Americans, even famous Americans. It’s noble and exciting. And for yesterday’s celebrities, it gives them the last word. If the book sells well, they might get on Opra and feel adored again. If not, you’ll see their book at somebody’s yard sale next to a stack of nappy Beanie Babies.

What sucks is that hard-working writers get bumped out of the best seller list by celebrity autobiographies. And there’s no justice for these writers! It’s not like they can cross over and star in a sitcom when the whole writing thing stops working out.