Friday, May 30, 2008

Toast and Patch

I was so wrapped up in my little soccer drama last week that I didn't give proper homage to my meeting with the Ultra Toast Mosha God—who from here on out will be referred to as Toast for reasons that should be obvious—and his buddy Patch last week. It's a little sobering to live just outside of Boston and have to be shown around the city by two tourists from Bristol, UK. And ironically it turned out to be de-sobering as well.

My newest friends got a first-hand glimpse at a previous-me, the me that could be, the me that wanders off the reservation, away from responsibility and sensibility and into the world of no consequence. It was quite liberating. Thank goodness the guys couldn't stay out longer. After three beers I was in the mood to rock and roll, and when that happens I could wake up anywhere from somebody's couch to a back alley dumpster.

I was worried driving into the city that I wouldn't recognize Toast from the few pictures I had seen of him. Our plan was fairly loose, to meet at Quincy Market. As I approached the Government Square exit and examined the Big Dig tunnel roof for loose tiles, I imagined half the night being pissed away, fruitlessly searching for someone I had only seen in blog photos.

I was a half hour early so I took the time to find a parking place, avoiding the garages—a great investment for the owner to be sure—to save myself thirty dollars. A short casual, people-watching stroll later, a block away from and in full view of its pavilions, I asked a young couple if they could direct me to Quincy Market. They smiled and pointed.

Doh! Thanks.

All my worries were for naught. The two of them were the only two on the steps, reclining casually like two sleepy cats, exuding a comfort and world-ease that unconsciously invited the same to passersby. A quick glimpse of his profile and I knew it was him.

I think I said, "Are you the Ultratoast?" I meant to say the whole thing, but does anyone really know it? Does he? Try saying it out loud. Ultra Toast Mosha God. It takes practice. Come to think of it, I totally forgot to ask him what it means.

And how would my greeting have been perceived if I had mistaken someone else for him? An overactive imagination could have supplied a few interesting explanations for sure. I had uttered a code phrase, for instance, that demanded a scripted answer, like "Only with magna-butter and deoxyribonucleic-marmalade," or "Nine out of ten dentists surveyed prefer Jeannie over Samantha any day."

At any rate, he was not what I expected. I had in mind someone around five foot eleven. As he rose to shake my hand, we stood nose-to-nose. At six foot four I have gotten used to being upwards to a head taller than most everyone else. I had the same experience with Mr. Schprock, a notable absence from this get-together, who already had plans for the evening of a fun and family nature. Bummer. He would have really enjoyed this.

Toast introduced me to his buddy Patch, who reminded me of Adam from the second season of Heroes—blonde hair, square jaw and a friendly, welcoming air. We all shook hands and exchange pleasantries, the like of which nobody can ever remember. It didn't take them long to figure out that I knew nothing about the city. The Celtics were playing and they knew of a nice quiet bar where we could get a beer and take in the game. They seem a bit shocked and amused that I didn't care one way or the other about basketball. Perhaps their idea of the typical American was influenced by crowd shots at Fenway and the movie Independence Day—which might not be far from the mark.

As we walked along on the city sidewalks, Toast brought up that business with my soccer team, which he had taken the time to read about on my blog. I felt a certain ease with Toast and Patch that I can't really explain, other than to say that I have been a long time reader of Toast's, and many are the stories of parties and excessive alcoholic consumption—which reminds me of the good times I once had with my buddies. His blog is clean, but there are hints of political incorrectness here and there. So on this night, for old time's sake, and because I damn well felt like it, I stepped up to the plate and let her rip. Such was my disposition when Toast pushed my hot topic button, the big red shiny button, i.e. Coachzilla, so I let he and Patch know what I thought about her in the most base, guttural and Anglo-Saxon way possible, distilling my words and syllables to their lowest common form. "She's a…"

As Twain wrote in Tom Sawyer, let's draw the curtain of charity over the rest of the scene.

This had the happy side-effect of setting the tone for the evening. As Toast would later write, "He is so open that it would seem rude to not join in." It took a little while, perhaps like those first few face-twisting bites of an orange with freshly brushed teeth, but they got the hang of it.

Their quiet tavern had filled up in their absence. Standing room only. We picked the only spot open to us, which is classically the most annoying to waitresses, obstructing their path to the drink ordering station at the end of the bar, denoted by the pair of hooped brass bars that resemble in-ground swimming pool hand rails. Toast offered to buy the first round, and who was I to argue.

The roar of the bar crowd proved to be the undoing of any meaningful conversation—my ears already have a constant hum from cranking my Sony Walkman as a teen. But before we departed for greener pastures Patch introduced me (fact check: was it Patch that suggested it?) to Smiddicks, my new favorite beer. As Jules would say, "Mmmm-hmmm, this is a tasty beverage."

We found an Irish Pub with far less people, but roughly twice the noise due to a solo guitar player/singer, but we managed to squeeze in conversation between songs. I noticed that Toast had long fingernails on his right hand which he purposely allows for picking at the guitar. As we approached the bar, Toast sang a line of the song the guitarist was performing. His voice was perfect. I regretted that he didn't have his guitar with him. As it turns out, he plays sometimes at establishments he passes through. Too bad this wasn't one of them.

I bought the first round as lips loosened even further. Mainly the conversation centered on the fairer sex, though I decline to delve into the meatier details contained therein. But I made a connection with Toast on the subject of mindless sex vs. meaningful relationships, although he might not have realized it. As a teenager my beer-toting, braless and saggy-breasted step mother used to tell me that I was way too serious when it came to girls. She might have had a point, but I was always searching for "The One." And I don't mean Keanu Reeves, even if he could act. So it was pleasantly and mildly surprising when Toast told me that he is not into one-night-stands; that he is searching for his soul-mate. Growing up in the era of Porky's and Spring Break had programmed my mind to prioritize the former, even though my heart was never into the hunt.

But life has a way of testing our convictions. No sooner than we had taken our next sip and set our glasses down did a beautiful blonde traipse by our table, arresting our conversation into awed silence. Toast looked up and gave me a wry smile. "You know that stuff I was just saying? Forget about all that."

I could go on and on. I started this post on Monday, and here we are almost a week later. Time to publish this bad boy. So Toast and Patch, cheers to both of you. Thanks for making me one of your stops. It was truly a pleasure.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


I'm working on a post that details my meeting with Ultra Toast Mosha God, but it is taking me a while to get done. I volunteered at my son's preschool this morning, which is my normal time for wasting company money.

More later. I'll be dropping by and saying hi.

And by the way, after my son's second grade concert last night we took him out for ice cream and ran smack into Coachzilla. I acted like nada mucho and was as pleasant as a sunny day. It's better that way.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Headaches and Handshakes

I want to recap what became of my refusal to rematch Coachzilla, as Alan so eloquently coined. My own nickname for her also starts with a C, but this blog is PG-13.

In a nutshell, I've decided that Coachzilla doesn't just have ego problems. She might be certifiable--a criminal genius in the mold of Dr. Evil. I wrote a nice polite letter—and I really mean it was polite—respectfully declining a rematch. I'll tell you what, you be the judge.

Hi (Coachzilla),

I've been doing a lot of thinking about having a rematch with your team. Last year when I asked you for the same, I mentioned it to another parent who thought I was putting too much pressure on my kids. So I took back the request. I don't want to do that to them this year either. That was a big game for the kids, a real bright spot for the season, and I don't want to take that away from them. If you want to have us play (Coach A) and (Coach B) again, that's fine. A couple of my kids got hurt playing (Coach C) and I would rather avoid that one as well. Sorry if this disappoints you, but I have to put the feelings of my kids first.


This was her reply:

Sorry, but the schedule is already set. The strong teams must play each other again as I stated at the beginning of the season. I already changed the new schedule twice for other coaches and I'm not changing it again. I gave coaches an opportunity to voice their opinions two weeks ago. If you're putting too much pressure on your kids, then you need to re-evaluate your coaching style. My team has nothing to do with it and I'm not juggling the season so teams can keep their records in a league that doesn't keep stats.

This really teed me off. Actually, it sent me into a rage. While it's true that I had a chance to contest the rescheduling of the games, it didn't really sink in what she was doing until I had time to think about it. I'm a slow burner. Last year she had an undefeated team, and my team had only lost one game. I thought it would be really cool to rematch her so that my team would have a chance to be considered the best. One of the parents looked at me askance when I mentioned a rematch, and it hit me that I was using the kids to glorify myself as a coach. But notice how in her reply she takes that single instance and twists it to epidemic proportion. But what really got me is how she accused me of trying to preserve my team's record. I replied that I was insulted, and she wrote back, cc'ing league management. I had a discussion with the league president, and he told me that he put her up to the rescheduling of the games because some of the weaker teams were getting beat ten to nothing. So I was wrong that she was abusing her power, and I wrote her back and told her so. I added the lines: I really wish you wouldn't have called my motives into question. I'm a reasonable person and I always try to do what's right.

Here's what she had to say about that:

I didn't call your motives into question. Several parents and other coaches did, as well as what I have witnessed during two games against your team.

Last season you promised your team ice cream if they beat my team and did this in front of me and my players. This season you left one of your weak players in net the entire game and rarely subbed your strong players. While I understand you had only two subs, those subs complained that they got no playing time. Additionally, you were witnessed yelling at your own son during a game after he was hurt and doubled over in pain. This is not criticism, this is a suggestion to back-up and think about what our purpose is when coaching U8. I am an intense coach as well and have had this same conversation with myself many times. You are not the only coach I have spoken to this season. And I am not the only coach to have an issue with your team. As coordinator of the program it is my job to check in with you now and then and point you in the right direction. If you see this as a personal attack, then I'm sorry. My timing in speaking to you after our game may have been unfortunate but I would have said the same things to you later in the day.

If you choose not to play my team, then you are doing a disservice to the kids. I will not reschedule and my team will simply have a scrimmage that day.


She totally missed it that I had capitulated, deciding to play the game, thus perhaps some of her anger. But look at the attacks on my character! Last year, before the game, I took my kids to the other side of the field, away from all eyes and ears and told them that if they won the game I would buy them ice cream. This is something we did in Little League when I was a kid, and I thought it would be extra motivation. But it was a mistake, and it was more of that pressure that I shouldn't have been applying. But I did this away from her. It's just that one of the kids ran over to her side and told her kids. She makes it sound like I used pyrotechnics and a pa system. Mind you that she cc'd league management with this.

As for yelling at my son… With this statement she knocked my teeth out. At the end of the last game, Jackson took an elbow to the stomach. He had his hands over it and was walking down the field, slightly stooped but moving. The other team was advancing on our goal and had he been running he could have prevented it. Had I known the extent to which he was actually hurt, I would have called a timeout. As with most kids, my son tends to dramatize when he gets a bump or a scratch. I yelled out for him to run twice, and when the goal was scored and he still wasn't running, I knew something was really up. This comment from Coachzilla really hurt me deep.

I called my son's school and told them to make my son a walker. I was picking him up. I was reeling with guilt and shame, and frankly near tears to think that my son would think I valued the outcome of a soccer game over his well-being. I put my arm around him as he met me outside the cafeteria, where we were surrounded by other waiting parents, just beside the school busses that were being boarded by the other kids. As I was struggling for the words, we walked in silence beside Bus 5 when a head popped out of the rearmost window.

"Hey Coach!" It was one of my boys.

"Hey Austin," I replied as I watched his smile widen.

Over the top of his head came another of my boys, waving frantically, eyes pinched in a gesture that I could only explain as proud. "Hey Coach!"

I pointed at him, feeling a little emotional now. "Hey Luke."

Beside the next bus, one of the kids that doesn't get to play as much as the others pounded on his glass and waved hello as well. And another as we got close to the parking lot.

On the ride home I asked Jackson, "Am I a mean coach?"


"You can tell me, Jackson. If you ever have a problem with me I will listen. I promise I will."

"I know, dad."

"Do you think the other kids on the team are having fun? Do they think I'm too hard on them?"

"Dad, why did Austin and Luke, and Patrick and Hanna say hi to you?"

We both laugh.

And everything is ok.

The next day I saw one of the coaches from the Navy Blue team, who, if I can intimate from Coachzilla's email, complained about my treatment of my injured son.

"Coach C," I said, "It has come to me via the grapevine that you may have taken issue with the way I treated my son at the end of our game the other day."

"What are you talking about?" She looked bewildered.

I explain. The add, "I want you and everybody else to know that I love my son more than anything in the world. I would do anything for him." My eyes are a little glossed and I am cursing my lack of control. She sees this and puts a hand on my shoulder.

"Listen," she said, "we're competitive coaches, and some of the others just don't understand. When one of our kids goes down, we yell at them three sometimes four times before we realize that, oh shit, he really is hurt."

"Exactly!" I can't believe what I'm hearing. "You never know when they're really hurt because kids are always being over-dramatic."

"Listen," she said, "people around here talk sometimes just to hear themselves talk. Don't worry about it."

So Coachzilla put the Jedi Mind Trick on me, and I bought it for a day. She is softening me up for our rematch, but I'm pressing on with the way I've been doing things. I'm pretty sure there is nothing I can do to please her aside from throwing the game. It scares me what she did, and to the length she was willing to travel to knock me down. My wife told me that anyone who has met me for ten minutes knows that I would never mistreat my kids, much less my son.

It turns out that Coachzilla is defending herself in the Peewee league at an all-coaches meeting for her aggressive style of coaching five-year-olds. Apparently she has compiled a team that is dominating the other teams and she has pissed off every other coach and parent there as well.

I've decided that no further comment is needed by me. I must never underestimate her again. She really tried to hurt me.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bad Parenting/Bad Coaching

I'm not sure how this is going to come off, so I'll just tell it and let you decide. Amazingly enough, this involves little kids—not high school or college age. These are eight-year-old kids. I coach my son's soccer team, and we had a great season last spring, losing to only one team. We lost one of our best players this season and got another who has never played and can't really run, shoot, dribble or pass, so I expected that this would be a lesson to the kids in "you win some, you lose some." And that has turned out to be the case.

Realize before I go any further that I probably know every kid that plays on every team since I have been volunteering at my son's school for in-school class assistance and at recess, and I have been coaching since Peewees. The one team we lost to last season went undefeated. The coach is very good, but she is also in charge of the league, and has the authority to move kids from one team to another. So what she does when she has a player of similar skill sets to the boy that joined my team this season, she finds a reason to cut him or her. Two seasons ago, she got rid of a sweet girl because she got in a fight with one of the other players. One season ago, she was "told" that my team was too strong, so she gave me one of hers. Then, stunningly, she was winning every game, and rubbing it in after each one, bragging about her strategy and her coaching style.

So by a miracle this season, two of my less-skilled players didn't make the game that we played her team, so I never had to sub out my stars, and we beat her by a single goal. When I went over to her sideline, I explained that it was unfortunate timing for her that our team was stacked the way it was. In other words, I was trying to be gracious. She cut me off and asked me what business I had playing a kid in goal for the whole game (we're supposed to switch goalies every quarter) and I told her that nobody wanted to play it but the kid that did. Then she told me my kids were too rough, which is maddening because my kids are constantly reminded about sportsmanship and fair play, even when teams like hers (yes, I said hers) is throwing elbows, pushing and shoving. I gently reminded her of this (I have witnesses that will testify in court that I was saintly in my patience with her), and she said, "I already talked to my kids about it now talk to yours!"

She had one other criticism, which I bore silently. Then I took my kids out for ice cream.

The next week, as in this last weekend, we played Navy Blue. We went down three nothing within minutes and I thought we were goners, but the kids rallied to tie it up at half. Navy Blue went up again, and again we tied. Now all game, two or three of their kids were elbowing and pushing. But worst, which is illegal at this level in our league, they were slide-tackling, knocking our kids on their faces. The ref was just a passive kid, and I should have protested before it got out of hand, which it was about to. Our star forward took a cleat in the thigh. He buckled over and lay in the fetal position crying. I didn't see who did it or if it was on purpose. I took him out and the game continued. Then, with thirty seconds left in the game, the same kid elbowed my son in the stomach and took the ball down field while my son stumbled forward, arms crossed over his midsection, a couple of other kids of mine looking on concerned. Navy Blue scored and won the game.

It happened so fast that I didn't think to stop the game. The other team celebrated, did the chant and came to shake. I hollered over to the other coaches that they should wait since my kids were in traction.

Kids. Right now I just want to scream. The coaches from the other team didn't even apologize, nor did they seem to think anything untoward had occurred. I wanted to rage at them, but I didn't want to be like that coach I was just describing, even though it would have been justified to do so. They would have just written me off as being just like her, a sore sport and so competitive as to have lost my perspective.

The only thing I told my son after the game is that if another player plays him dirty like that again, to feel free to knock the kid straight on his ass. Because the kid isn't going to learn any lessons from his parents, one of which was his coach, the other looking on from their goal. The only way a kid without any guidance is going to learn sportsmanship is to hear it from the birds whistling around his head. No way am I putting my son in harm's way again by putting a sheep in with a den of wolves. When in Rome…

Anway, I'm pretty steamed right now. Now the team that was undefeated last season, that lost to us this season and to the same Navy Blue we just lost to, wants a rematch. Last season I asked the coach for a rematch to end the season, but a parent from my team said that it might be putting too much pressure on the kids, so I told the team's coach I had made a mistake. She curtly told me she wasn't going to do it anyway. With roles reversed, she didn't bother to ask me this season; she simply used her scheduling authority to make it so, under the political guise of "keeping it competitive."

We're talking about kids, aren't we? Or is this a staging ground for the egos of frustrated parents. I think I realized the latter was my own case last season and had the fortitude to recognize it and keep it fun. But now what do I do?

Should I refuse?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Five Things

I wasn't officially tagged for this, and I won't tag anyone after me. Trevor once commented to the effect that the bloggers who do not get tagged are hurt by the omission. I've felt that disappointment too, so I'm not going to do it. Besides, at the rate I've been posting, this is similar to that mythical tree falling in the woods.

But this meme from ZombieSlayer's blog is kind of interesting because it poses some questions I'd like to answer.

Ten years ago I was:

At my age and stage of life, what I am doing now and what I was doing then only differ by employer and pay scale. Psyche! I was living in my San Francisco apartment back then, and life was totally different. My first-born had yet to make an appearance, and my then girlfriend had just moved in with me. This was that magical time in any new relationship when all your friends disappear and new ones appear in couples. One by one the implements of my bachelorhood were replaced with floral vases, paintings of scenic landscapes, matching table settings and cookware. I learned to say please, thank you, I'm sorry, and yes dear, of course you are right. I also learned that burping was not a compliment to the chef.

Five things on today's to-do list:

I filed an extension to my taxes on April 15th at 4:45PM, then made a mad dash for the post office which closed at 5. I got there just as the door was being locked. I'm kind of on a new kick—or should I say an evolving kick—to never pay another professional for what I can do myself. This started with the swimming pool. After getting stuck with a bill for five hundred dollars for closing the pool for the winter, I have been doing it myself since, for around thirty five dollars. Then I moved on to installing my own dimmer switches, then graduated to running a new outlet directly from the fuse box. I re-planted grass in my front yard, but I may have to get bailed out of that mess. So now I am doing my own taxes, with the help of Turbo Tax that is. I'm finding that there are a great many more deductions than those that my accountant was able to find. Despite only paying a portion of the estimated taxes that my accountant insisted I do, according to my numbers I still have money coming back. That's the only real item on my list right now, other than getting the house ready to sell if the market will bear it. I really doubt that's going to happen this year. I'm also thinking about growing some vegetables in the back yard.

Things I'd do if I were a billionaire:

Of course this would take some serious thinking, but I would find a place in America where the absence of a common source of income had been removed, and the people there are lost and unemployed. I'd pick a wide open field with a view of the mountains, alongside a lake and rivers and streams--and build a town. I'd create homesteads and give them away to anyone that agreed to farm the land. I'd invite and finance businesses that provide all services that are required for a community to be self-sufficient, the only requirement being that I am a majority shareholder in that business but a silent partner until such a time as that business infringes upon the environment. There would not be a drop of oil in town, unless it was prefixed by Olive. In the mountains I would build a massive wind farm, and start a company to employ the people to build turbines. There would be an ordinance prohibiting any sort of gas consuming vehicle within the range of all this. Anyone caught breaking this rule would have their car impounded and recycled. All homes and businesses would have solar panels, which my new company would provide at cost. I would create a mini-intelligence agency, whose only purpose was to find and prevent any corruption in the governing of this community. I would buy and store the material necessary to build a crenellated wall around the whole thing, and the weaponry and ammo to arm the potential guards that would walk its perimeter—not to protect anyone from terrorists, but from our own, if there ever comes a day when the people can't feed themselves any more.

Or I would start a technology company under the auspices of some abstract concept like "B to B Commerce", and hire all the best hackers from every college. Then we would systematically break into every known government database, into the bank accounts of oil barons and no-bid government contractors, and divert their moneys to making this planet a better place to live on. I'd call this company Sherwood Industries, and my phalanx of programmers the Merry Men (even though a great many of them would be women).

I'd start an online community that brought together people from all sides of the political spectrum, and hire charismatic speakers to spread the message that the people are tired of two-party politics, that democracy doesn't work when it is hijacked by the media and the elite that control it. I would start my own media empire that would be untouchable by anyone. Each station would be independent, just like the sections of a worm that can survive if cut off from the main body.

In short, I would do what I could to keep America free in the strictest sense of the word. I would take back what has been taken from us and bring us closer to the promises made by our Constitution.

Three bad habits:

I'm totally with Zombie on this one: video games. I don't know what to do about this. I think I am a lot like my mother, having an addictive personality. I have to be addicted to something. To pretend otherwise will land me in AA. At least it's video games. To date, I have played Call of Duty 4 for an hourly total of nearly ten days. That's two hundred and forty hours, two complete work weeks. And you wonder where I've been.

Coffee—again with Zombie on this—is another. Although I'm not as bad as I was when I commuted to work. There I would drink it just to be doing something. Now I only drink around two cups a day. But that is fully loaded with caffeine, and that can't be a good thing.

I'll have to ask my wife for a third. I suppose she would say that I don't do my laundry like I should. She has boycotted doing it for me, which is a theme in my life. You see, at heart I am a total slob.

Five places that I have lived:

Akron, Ohio – Where I was born and where, for years, I yearned to return. When I did, I was perplexed to see how run down it was compared to the other places I had lived.

Niscayuna, New York – I remember this most fondly when I was a kid. There was a network of trails in the woods behind my house that in one direction led to a golf course. I came back for a night visit when I was first on my own and passing through the area and found that it has all been developed with new homes.

Juneau, Alaska – A great place to be from, and even a better place to live if you love a glacial backdrop and have a taste for the outdoor life. The former I have to admit never really got old, but the latter was not me in the slightest. The most memorable characteristic of my high school brethren was a tendency to settle arguments with a fist, which was not my gift. But come to think of it, that was the way of things at every school I went to. If I could have only learned to go right down the middle with a haymaker, how easier life might have been.

Hayden Lake, Idaho - Turns out that I wasn't far from the heart of the Arian Nation when I lived here. When I pointed this out to my father, he told me that some of his friends at the time were heavily involved. Now that's scary.

San Francisco, California – I already mentioned it earlier, but I would like to point out that I have never lived in a more beautiful city (and I have lived in quite a few, more than I have listed here) than San Francisco. This city is contained in about a seven mile by seven mile box, but is packed with wonderful surprises. You could be a block away from a children's park or a highly eclectic street of shops and not even know it. There is a pride in knowing your way around the city, and where to find a great place to eat for pennies on the dollar. Of all the places I have ever been, this is the one that I would go back to if I had enough money to do so comfortably.

Five jobs I've had in my life

My first job was toting supplies for my dad and his cronies on various home building projects. My official title was Dumb Ass, Shit Head, Lazy Ass, Dumb Fuck, Shit for Brains, and Slow Leak, depending on the day. Ah, those were the days.

At sixteen I was a windshield washer for a Chevron gas station.

After that I bagged groceries for the super market in the same shopping center. I got fired for calling in sick and playing the junior-senior football game, which we, the juniors, won. It was worth it

After that, McDonald's. The hardest job that I have ever had.

My dad met the woman that he is still married to today when he picked her and her girlfriend up on the side of the road hitchhiking. He was running a major construction operation, with about a hundred employees, composing three framing crews, crews for soffet, vinyl siding and manual laborers for set up and clean up. When he met the love of his life (he was still married at the time), he dropped all these responsibilities into my lap and disappeared.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Candidates: Take Note

I posted before about the book I have been reading, The Shell Game, which is basically a fictional account of the world in 2012 headed for the next 9/11. If you are a hardcore liberal, then all the events woven into the lead-up to the upcoming Armageddon will be familiar at best. This will be enough to derail any conservative or Neocon from getting past the first chapter. But for me, a guy who definitely supported the Neocon view of the world, this book is upsetting. And the fact that it has taken me so long to read is a testament to that. It's not that I believe everything the book's author, Steve Alten, proposes as fact, but I cannot discount him either.

The man has done too much homework. You would just have to read the book to fully appreciate just how true that is.

Without permission from the author—but I'm sure he will forgive me—I am going to reproduce a section of his novel. It echoes my exact sentiments on the upcoming election. I've said it before that I need to hear something from the candidate that I will vote for, and that as of today, I have not heard it yet. Natalie (Magnetbabe) told me that I could do some research to determine the positions, and that is true. But the kind of message I'm looking for would find its way to me all by itself.

The following passage needs a bit of preamble. Jennifer Wienner is an ex-Republican strategist who up until recently had vociferously defended the actions of the administration and its war on terror. She dismissed any rumblings of truth as conspiracy theory. But when Republican president McKuin (sounds a little like McCain, no?) has a "stroke" in accordance with one of those crazy theories, she is finally spurred to take action. McKuin is succeeded by the Vice President, Neocon Ellis Prescott. And with him running on the Republican ticket in the '12 election, Jennifer jumps sides and approaches Senator Mulligan, the Democratic nominee for president.

Here it is. And please, please, please, if any of you presidential candidates are reading this (Hillary, Obama, McCain), you will have my undying devotion if you will only have the balls to say and do what this fictional character proposes:

(Excerpt from The Shell Game, pages 243-245)

Senator Mulligan chides him with a look. "What Silas means is we feel pretty good going into the convention. Guess no one expected us to take the nomination from Senator Clinton."

"Sorry to rain on your parade fellas, but the only reason you won the nomination was because the GOP wanted you to win. Their aim was always to drive Hillary and the other front-runners out of the race. Like it or not, you won by default. And here's another reality check, just in case you don't read the papers: Prescott has three times your war chest and a 7 percent lead in the latest poll. Your campaign's floundering; unless you pull a rabbit out of the hat at the convention, you'll be dead as McKuin come November."

Whitener begins to retort, but Mulligan signals refrain. "Fair enough. But if we're in such dire shape, why the sudden interest? I've never heard of a born-again liberal."

Jennifer smiles. "I'm not a liberal, I'm a realist. We're entering dangerous geopolitical waters, and the Neocons prefer force where tact is needed. America needs to steer the western world onto a new course, the question is whether you have the balls to see it through."

"I'm listening."

"The mistake all Democrats make is moving to the center to try to win votes. Americans need a clear choice, not Republican-lite. You need to carry a new message of hope to the American people, and that message is no more oil. 'In '13 we go green.'"

Mulligan glances at the negative response from his staff. "An entire campaign on the environment? I don't know—"

"Not just the environment—energy. Your platform will radically wean us off oil. If Brazil can do it, so can we. No more oil means creating a new infrastructure, one that produces good jobs that will remain in this country. New jobs mean a new tax base that will help clean up the deficit. They ask you about Iraq, and you tell them we went in for oil, but since we won't be needing oil anymore, our boys and girls can come home, and anyone who refuses to allow our kids home is obviously not a patriot or a parent. Every time the Rove Rats toss another God, gays, or guns grenade at you, you'll repeat this exact phrase: 'The election's far too important to the future of our country to be caught up in the usual republican horseshit."

Senator Mulligan looks around the room. "Horseshit? You really want me to use that word?"

"Yeah, I do."

Cesar Diaz shakes his head. "You'll lose the Christian right."

"You never had the Christian right. Let the American public see you as the no-nonsense guy you are, not the wimp these middle-of-the-roaders have turned you into. Speak your mind, but stay on message. When they ask you about Kyoto, you say we'll sign, even if China refuses. Then you force the Chinese to stand alone. They'll cave, believe me. They can barely breathe in their big cities. When the media corners you on abortion, you look them straight in the eye and say, 'I'm all for outlawing abortion, but only if we start doing a better job educating our teenagers about having unprotected sex.' When they ask you about the war on terror, you go back to the energy message, and how it's America's addiction to fossil fuels—an addiction fueled by oil pushers like Ellis Prescott and his new running mate—that helped hijack our foreign policy. Simple message: No more addiction. We create a twelve-step program to wean us on green. In '13 we take our country back from the pushers. You repeat that every day in every interview, in every debate, on every bumper sticker, and you'll win the White House."

Suzie Perlman claps.

Cesar Diaz is not as enthused. "What about money? You start targeting big oil and the military suppliers and—"

"And what? You think the scraps they're tossing you now are meant to feed you? Wake up, Amigo! Those funds are designed to keep you in line. Stick to your message, and money will come—big money---because the majority of Americans actually feel the same way you do, only they've been waiting for a democratic candidate with a set of testicles who can rally the troops while not looking like some staged, gun-toting dork. Bill Clinton may have dipped his wick in the Oval Office, but his poll numbers never dipped; that's because America likes a man in the White House who has something hanging between his legs, not some prissy Ivy Leaguer who spends his weekends sailing. And no photo shoots with Hollywood celebrities! You think Jack and Jill Average American can relate to these people? You graciously accept their contributions and tell them we'll see 'em at the inauguration ball. Until then, just sign the check, and stay the hell off the TV."

Jennifer looks around the room, the men dumfounded, Suzie grinning. "Any questions?"

Senator Mulligan smiles. "When can you start?"