Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Love In the Spam File

Love came to me in the spam file of my e-mail.

Olga, from some Russian country that often features large factory boiler explosions, sent me a heartfelt message that expressed her desire to meet me. She said she found me on an “international dating site,” which was weird because I've never been to one of those. I can't make relationships work with people in the same state as I. Why would I venture overseas?

But love was blossoming and, because whenever that happens, people get stupid. Cupid doesn't send his arrow to the heart. He goes for the head shot. Olga's letter, though, struck a chord in my heart. Surely, Olga was feeling just the same.

In her broken, adorable English, she outlined herself. “Tell to me,” she wrote. “What you to search in women? Ken in you me, that that draws.”


But I put that aside. I imagined myself teaching her more English. She could attend baseball games with me, yelling at the umpires “That was Bolshevik,” she'd say at a bad call. She'd need work using the proper words, but love is about sharing and teaching.

So, I wrote her back. “Why did you write me?”

And she responded. “I receive your letter. So it is happy.” I've not heard girls say that to me before. Ever.

Two days later, she wrote again. A boiler exploded in the factory where she works as a nurse. Apparently, it was bad; lots of people were burned, she said. I looked up on Google the name of her town to see if there was an accident. I found one. But it occurred two years ago. Rough place, I thought. Maybe I could move there and become a boiler repairman; seems like there'd be plenty of work.

She also wrote that she tended to the injured, giving me an image of a caring person who forewent any personal safety to help others. She wrote that she tried dating men in Russia, but they were “all alcoholics.”

And you think America is different? I thought.

“What to give a smile to yours face?” she wrote. “I wait for your letter and I hope, that you to not keep me waiting long.”

She signed it, “Your girlfriend, Olga.”

It was only four days after I received her first e-mail. Maybe Russian girls were quicker to develop relationships. None of that time-consuming, get-to-know-you Bolshevik with her.

I wrote her back again, opening my soul. I told her I had suffered a medical disaster and had no money. I was penniless, I wrote. And I had no family. And, since we were developing our relationship so quickly, I asked her if she could loan me some money. I'd pay her back with interest, I promised.

Olga quit writing.

I waited, checking my spam folder for her letter. So it was not happy.

Days passed. I imagined Olga working long hours, bandaging the burned at the boiler explosion that happened in 2011. But she never wrote back, and, again, I was heartbroken.

Then, just as the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano, just as hope returns to the hopeless, just as the Cubs return to last place by mid July, love came back.

“Hi, I hope my little letter finds you in good mood. My name is Olga,” the letter in my spam file read. “I wanted to get acquainted with the kind man not from Russia. In Russia it is a lot of alcoholics.”

If I respond, I'm sure Olga will write back and profess love. She'll send me a picture of her and her mother together and eventually ask me to send her money for plane tickets. She'll miss the flight and ask for more money. And she'll send more pictures.

And when I write back asking her for money, she'll disappear.

Love. It's Bolshevik!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Change For a Five?

Raise your arm up high and slap my extended, open palm if you're with me on this.

I hate the “high five” thing that is as common among fans in stadiums as swilling $10 beer, wearing since-traded player jerseys and gobbling down ballpark franks slathered with mustard and relish. Maybe it's my apprehension of coming into contact with total strangers. Maybe it's my obsessive fear with other people's germs. Maybe it's just a way to avoid a hand globbed with mustard and relish.

I got the double dose of high-fiving last week when I went to St. Louis to watch a hockey game and ended up going to Game 2 of the National League Championship Series where the Cardinals hosted the Los Angeles Dodgers.

I sat at the top of the left field Saturday afternoon in what is known in Busch Stadium as “Big Mac Land,” named for where the steroid-ladened Mark McGwire would clout mammoth home runs during his tenure as a Cardinal. I sat six seats left of the foul pole, and was about as far from the action and as insignificant as a fan could be. My cheers went unheard. Had I a towel to swing during rallies, it would have gone unnoticed.

There was no point in high-fiving.

But they did it. Strangers raised their hands and seatmates slapped them in jubilation. An extremely obese guy in our section once raised his hand for a slap. I wanted to give him a fiver for having the energy just to lift his hefty arm.

Later that night at the St. Louis Blues hockey game, kids sitting next to me at the top of the stadium wanted to high five me after the Blues scored. I turned them down, saying that I had done nothing. The fellows down on the ice did all the work. High five them. Me? My biggest accomplishment was finding my seat that evening and not spilling the $5 bottle of water during my Sherpa-like trek up the stadium's steep steps.

As I left the hockey arena after the Blues' victory, I briefly thought about walking through the stadium concourse with my hand raised above my head just to see how many people would connect; how many would give me the high five for winning the game. But, I held back, fearing more mustard and relish could coat my palm.

I tried to find the origin of the gesture. There are two thoughts. The first theory is that former Murray State University basketball player Lamont Skeets did it between 1979 and 1984. Skeets claimed that that his father, while serving in the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry, in Vietnam, would greet his soldiers with an upraised hand. Lamont first replicated that as a child when those soldiers visited his father at home, and he'd say, “Hi, Five,” to them.

He took that motion with him onto the basketball court when he played for the Murray State Racers.

A second, perhaps more widely held, belief is that the high five came from L.A. Dodgers' Glenn Burke. On Oct. 2, 1977, Dusty Baker hit a home run for the Dodgers on the last day of the season, giving him 30 for the year. As he returned to the dugout, Burke, who was waiting on deck, apparently raised his hand and Baker, not knowing what to do, slapped it. Then Burke followed with his own home run. Baker raised his hand when Burke rounded the bases and then 'fived' him when they met.

Each story has its followers, and each one may contribute to the habit I find annoying.

Slapping palms with strangers as a way to celebrate a good play, an athletic achievement, a victory, is all strange to me. Again, I did nothing. I had very little to do with any victory that day at both the baseball and hockey games. Unless you credit wins to the fact I could carry my water up the Everest-like incline while dodging errant mustard and relish bits.

Can I get a high five for that?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Alternate Reality in a Replay

I've only replayed one baseball contest with the APBA game that I actually attended.

It was the Aug. 16, 1987, game when Seattle traveled to the old Metrodome to play the Minnesota Twins. In the real game, I sat above first base in the second deck and was one of 28,006 who watched as Minnesota won, 5-1, on Frank Viola's pitching. I can't find my game replay records for the1987 I played, but I know they won in the recreated contest as well.

But it's hard to roll any games I've attended when I usually replay seasons before I was born.

I thought of this as I sat in Row R, Section 333, of the Scottrade Center in St. Louis Saturday and watched the Blues beat the New York Rangers, 5-3. As the game progressed, I considered setting up an NHL replay with APBA next year when game company puts out this season's cards.

I tend to do that, as any sports fan who plays APBA should. I get fired up for whatever season is being played and, when I go to an actual game, I really, really want to do that particular sport.

So, Saturday night as the Blues skated to their win, I thought about the alternate reality of playing a game that I actually attended. Why does the outcome differ? Obviously, the randomness of the dice roll makes a difference, as do line ups, pitching changes, errors and other variables. But there are other, weirder questions one ponders late at night: Does it create a vacuum to do a game that I've seen years before? And the even deeper ones: In the 1987 Twins' game, no one hit a home run in the game I saw. In my replay, I know Kent Hrbek hit one. So, it's something to think about. Why does a replay game differ from the actual game that much?

I could only come up with that 1987 game that I've both seen and replayed. I've been to several St. Louis Cardinals games over the years since I live within 4 hours of the stadium. I went to games in Philadelphia when I lived there briefly in the fall of 1983. I've been to a few of the St. Louis Blues' games the past several years, but I only own the 1993-94, 1998-99, 2001-02 and the 2004-05 NHL seasons with APBA. I guess I could buy newer NHL seasons and do games I've attended.

But when you replay older seasons, like the 1942 baseball season I'm engaged in now, or 1957, or 1932, or 1925. as I have played in the past, I'm not going to toss any games that I've seen in person.

I tend to steer clear of the newer seasons to replay. When I first got the baseball game in the winter of 1998, however, I did play that season. New York beat Atlanta in my World Series, 4 games to 3, and I was hooked. I was also hooked on the historical aspect of the replay process as well and I gravitated toward those older seasons. I did do 1987 because the Twins won the Series that year, and I did go to the actual Game 4 of the Series in St. Louis that year. However, in my replicated contest, Minnesota did not make the APBA Series and instead St. Louis beat Kansas City.

I'm about 65 percent finished with the 1942 season. I am now considering getting the 2013-14 NHL season next year just so I can replay a second game that I actually saw in person.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Replay Impetus

I think I was about 8 years old when I first understood the concept of doing a replay of sorts. Since then, it's become the staple of my only hobby as I roll games daily in my APBA baseball replay.

I've done replays of numerous seasons since then with the football, basketball, hockey and baseball games that APBA has created. I once tried to figure out how many games I've played with the APBA game since I started rolling the dice as a 17-year-old. It has to be nearing 50,000 or so by now.

But the spark for all of this really began when I was that 8-year-old kid.

My parents bought me an electric football game for Christmas and I spent my days setting up the players in the offensive and defensive formations suggested in the game's instructions and clicked the switch to make them vibrate on the field. I'd play a game between the two teams that came with the set — Minnesota and Cleveland — and then, when the contest was over, I'd do it again. Aimless, repetitive, single games.

Since I lived in Minnesota at the time, I'd notice if the Vikings beat Cleveland more times than the Browns beat them, but it didn't really mean anything. I didn't compile won-lost records or even think about the head-to-head clashes much …

… until early that spring when my parents went to some event at the college where my dad taught and they brought in a babysitter to watch over me. The babysitter, a high school student who played the cello, taught me the ramifications of thinking bigger when playing the electric football game.

It almost didn't happen if not for a piece of Christmas tinsel and my curiosity. I may have been able to avoid that whole babysitting thing as a child, but I lost my parents' trust during the Christmas of 1968. They left me at home once when they made a quick dash to the college to pick something up. During their absence, I saw a television advertisement for aspirin. The announcer said the pain reliever helped during the holidays when things happened, including when tinsel fell into a Christmas light socket.

Well, I wondered, what really would happen if tinsel fell into the socket? I decided to try.

And I quickly found out what occurred. I got shocked and the breaker box in the basement blew the main fuse. When my parents returned home, they found me in total darkness, huddled next to a heater vent shivering and crying.

The babysitter concept was a natural response to that and the next time they went out, he was summoned.

I don't even remember the guy's name. I do know that later he stabbed a large hunting knife into a wooden dock. His hand was wet and it slipped down the handle and across the blade, severing the tendons in his fingers. He couldn't play the cello after that.

But one time before that accident when he babysat me, he saw the electric football game and played it with me. And he showed me how to set up a tournament. He drew brackets and seeded eight teams and we played the games. I was fascinated by it and I repeatedly played those tournaments. I'd use a ruler and carefully draw the brackets and, in my best 8-year-old printing, write in the teams.

It was the impetus for what I do now, 45 years later. The replay games are a big part of my recreational life; my hobby, my sanity-keeper. And to think, it all may never have been in my world had it not been for a piece of tinsel, electricity and my curiosity.