melissaisaacson.com

Melissa Isaacson

Oh say can we see?

Perusing the Internet between students Tuesday, I see this: "Christina Slammed over Performance." And I think "But, of course."
 
It was about Christina Aguilera flubbing a few lines in the Star-Spangled Banner at the Super Bowl on Sunday. Horrible woman that she is, Aguilera, singing one of the toughest songs there is to sing before about 111 million people, became the 110th million person to make a mistake.
 
Naturally, she had to apologize. Come on. Before she sang the last note, on-line chat rooms and twitter followers were already exchanging frantic messages as if they were the first to discover that the word "reaming" is not in the actual national anthem. In the days that followed, those who took notice gave way to those reaming her for it.
 
Did she not practice? Was she not aware how important and sacred this song is? Is she not American? Or, in the words of moral barometer Joan Rivers, was she just "stupid?"
 
"Christina must have been thinking about food, that's why she forgot the words," Rivers said in a PopEater exclusive because apparently, TV cameras made Aguilera looked heavier than 90 pounds.
 
It would be easy to write off the scary Rivers, experiencing a career renaissance that rivals "Jersey Shore" in the "I-weep-for-our society" department, if she was the only one. After all, Aguilera is an internationally known entertainer. She is not immune to criticism and by accepting the invitation to perform at one of the most widely watched events in the world, she was leaving herself open to scrutiny. 
 
In her statement of apology, she begged for forgiveness. In America, we love when people beg for forgiveness. Sometimes we even forgive them.
 
"I got so caught up in the moment of the song that I lost my place," she said. "I can only hope that everyone could feel my love for this country and that the true spirit of its anthem still came through."
 
What got me going on the Aguilera flub, however, was really not the moment or the apology or the singer at all. Before reading about her, I found myself lost in one of the typical Internet swamplands that passes for modern-day dialogue. It was the typical -- anonymous, of course -- comment boards that followed a column composed by a writer I like and respect.
 
There was nothing extraordinary about either the comments or the column. The opinions expressed were actually fairly benign. But, like most columns -- which are, by definition, opinion pieces -- it unleashed a torrent of hate-filled, personal attacks on the writer. It doesn't matter that most of these type responses are misspelled and appear to originate from a lonely, unproductive cubicle or worse, a darkened basement. It is that these public forums have become so common and that each day, they seem to become scarier.    
 
I'm not sure why I read this particular one. I had stopped reading the comments that follow my own work on the website for which I work, not just because many were so sick in nature, but because, like so much else on the Internet these days, there is no accountability.
 
In the 26 years I worked for newspapers, I received plenty of negative mail and later e-mail. Some were demented in nature -- I'm a female sportswriter -- and plenty were critical. But even the worst of it usually came with a signature. And even with the worst of it, I usually always replied. Sometimes, if it was particularly nasty, I would thank them profusely for writing, tell them how flattered any writer is when a reader takes the time and the thought to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, maybe even address the criticism directly and seriously.
 
You would be surprised how many times even the authors of the meanest letters would write back with nice replies, thanking me for answering, saying they never expected me to actually read their letters, often even apologizing for being too harsh. But weird as it was, there was a civility to it all. A conversation. Accountability.
 
The culture now is largely ignorant, frightening and is only getting worse.     
 
Among the most civil discussion about the Aguilera "incident" questioned whether this might be career-threatening. And those who saw the singer after her performance Sunday, said she was devastated.
 
Yep, it's devastating all right. 

Major Malfunction

The AOL headline on Friday asked the question, “Do you remember where you were 25 years ago?” and it didn’t take a photo of the Space Shuttle Challenger to jog my memory.

There are some things you don’t forget.

The sky was so blue and the sun so bright that day that I remember being stunned by how cold it was.  Not Chicago cold but literally freezing at 32 degrees; cold enough that the orange crops were dying and tourists were scurrying for sweatshirts to layer under their light jackets. I was in heaven at the excuse to wear a sweater for a change.

At 24, I had actually become somewhat jaded at the satellite and shuttle launches, occasionally even forgetting about them in the three years prior, until the early-morning vibration at the Kennedy Space Center not far from my Cape Canaveral apartment would shake me from my bed.

But this one was different.

It was partly the anticipation due to the delays in the week leading up to the launch. But mostly it was Christa McAuliffe.

I knew everything about her, her husband’s and kids’ names, how she was selected from more than 10,000 applicants. I was fascinated, not just by her personality, which was cute and vibrant, but the fact that she was a regular person, a mom, and she was actually going into space.

I had long since given up the desire to be an astronaut, probably around the same time that I first discovered that the Tilt-A-Whirl at Kiddieland made me want to hurl. But space flight became the dream of practically every kid in America whose parents let them stay up late enough to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon during the summer of 1969. And if you didn’t want to walk on the moon yourself, you were certainly shaped by it somehow.

Seemingly anything was possible after that, the accomplishment inspiring both optimism and frustration, hence the saying “They can put a man on the moon, but they can’t (fill in the blank)” becoming as cliché as a peace sign.

We were certainly not immune to tragedy in January of 1986. We witnessed assassinations, natural disasters, airplane crashes and the Apollo 1 explosion. Some denounced NASA altogether for being too dangerous or just too expensive.

But it felt like everyone was excited about the idea of a civilian in space.

I had been living in Orlando for six months and was a little disappointed I wasn’t going to get the close-up view I had gotten in Cape Canaveral. But 50 miles away was close enough, friends told me, to see the launch on a clear day like this one.

I had the television on in the other room and the stereo turned up high in my living room, where sliding glass doors led out to my balcony and luckily faced east.

I counted down to myself with the radio, that part just never got old, and squinted to see the plume of smoke. I didn’t have to squint. It was bright white and thick and as it rose, I remember feeling a little jealous of Christa McAuliffe. How lucky she was to be getting this opportunity.

There was no explanation for a few seconds after the white line suddenly exploded and then separated into two white trails.

And then from inside, I heard the words, “There has been a major malfunction.” Anyone who was watching could instinctively tell that, but I was in denial.

I called my friend Ken and yelled at him.

“That is so irresponsible,” I said. “Why is he scaring everyone by saying major malfunction. They don’t know that.”

But I knew. We all knew.

The next thing I remember is driving to work a short time later and the odd sensation that I was the only one on the highway until I realized that everyone had pulled to the side of the road.

The eery, y-shaped plume of smoke was still distinct against the bright blue sky, and we all stood by our cars staring and shivering, the cold day only partly responsible.

For a while, there was a faint hope that the capsule had survived the explosion and fallen into the ocean, but I don’t think anyone really believed that.

I stood there a very long time as the white smoke faded and disappeared.

So yes, I remember where I was 25 years ago.

The gift that keeps giving

My husband wanted to get me a real birthday present this year, he really did. Because he gets nervous doing it on his own, he dangled all kinds of nice ideas. Jewelry even. I guess he still remembers how I reacted the year he got a new TV for our bedroom and tried to pass it off as a gift.

So he really tried. And what did I do?

I told him I’d rather have some moles removed. OK, let me re-state. I’d rather go to town at the dermatologist. Let them sand down, burn off, chemical peel, whatever it is they had to do to make me smoother and fresher without that gnawing guilt that I was being self-indulgent. This was my birthday present, after all! It would be rude to feel guilty.

So I went to the dermatologist and told him to hack off whatever protrusion he happened to see,  a request I think may have put him off a bit having used the word “hack” and all. Plus, I could tell he thought I was crazy since my protrusions apparently are only visible in my magnified makeup mirror. I got that impression when he told me that all women needed to throw out their magnified makeup mirrors.  

So now, of course, me being me, I’m starting to have second thoughts. Not about the hacking necessarily. The two scabs on my face are healing nicely and people only stare a little. But if the sanding doesn’t take and the little bumps grow back, can I still get a real present? I’m just wondering.

I’m also wondering how I feel about turning 49.

At some point, it becomes customary to start getting birthday cards with cartoon drawings of crazy old women with humorous comments about your age. When you’re 32, this is funny. When you’re 49, the cartoons start resembling you in real life.

I think this is about the time when it starts becoming customary to be sad on birthdays even when there is really no earthly reason to be.

At 49, with a family and a job and a half I love, I should be ashamed of myself for feeling sad about anything other than maybe the prospects of getting a new photo for my now-expired drivers license, which I actually really liked for the first time in my life.

Still, it’s weird. I mean, 49? Next year, 49 will sound great. Next year, I will long for 49. This year, all I can think about is 50, which is really unfair. It’s all about 50.

I have all year to try it on, get used to it, throw it out there just to see if people react in shock and amazement that the woman standing before them with a smooth complexion could possibly be almost 50. I have already started trying that and I don’t get much, but I may have to do it with people around my same age, a more sympathetic audience.

I keep thinking about how gloriously happy Oprah was when she was 50. But, I mean, come on.

And though I am extremely thankful about being in good health – that’s another sign of being old – I do wonder whatever happened to those endorphins, if maybe they got lost when I switched classes at the ‘Y,’ because the only sensation I feel now is the desire to have a masseuse meet me afterward on my exercise mat.

But all that said, things are good. Really. I’m happy. No regrets.

Well, except maybe the realization that I now have to go get my new drivers license photo with two scabs on my face.

I golf

I might complain that I’m sore from my two days of golf over the last week, but when you’re married to someone who has spent the last five days shoveling dirt, they win.

Yes, Rick is still sweating and digging a giant hole in our front yard – it’s like watching an old prison movie. Any time now, he tells me, he will locate the rest of the sprinkler pipe damaged by the people looking for the other damaged pipe. I don’t really understand and I don’t want to, but I do know I want to rent “Cool Hand Luke” tonight.

Besides all that, I have a golf career to look after.

I don’t actually play golf. But I do have new shoes, a new glove (who knew it goes on your non-dominant hand?) and a new shirt from Kohl’s that isn’t really a golf shirt per se, but kind of looked like it to me and it goes with my long shorts that really aren’t golf shorts but looked like they would pass.

All I’m missing are clubs.

Rick thought I didn’t really need the shoes or the shirt. But after years of turning down invitations to golf outings, I finally accepted one last week and after showing up with borrowed shoes a full size and a half too big, and an outfit that was not nearly as cute as what the other women were wearing, I needed the upgrade for the outing this week.

I used to turn these things down because, well, as I said, I don’t actually play golf. When I say I don’t play, I mean I have never set foot on a real golf course except to cover the British Open (thank God they didn’t know that) and assorted other tournaments. I have hit balls at the driving range and I have gone to a local, kids’-caliber nine-hole course out with my 12-year-old son Alec but mostly to carry his bag, so I don’t count that.

I’ve always felt a little left out, as I’d guess other women do, when it comes to golf. Men have a definite  advantage in this area, using golf to network and schmooze and make important business connections while drinking large quantities of beer and missing work.

But as I have found out, it’s not easy.

I tried to suggest to my friend Peggy Kusinski, who recruited me for last week’s charity event, that maybe I shouldn’t actually play. That instead, I could just hang around and talk to people – do the schmoozing part without the golf part.

But I guess I missed the point of the golf event. Hanging around the clubhouse while everyone else is playing would leave you alone in the clubhouse. So, in her infinite wisdom, Peggy put me with four extremely nice, extremely fun women she thought I would enjoy playing with.

By extremely nice and extremely fun, I mean they cheated.

Like many tournaments, it was a best-ball format, which means whoever makes the best shot, everyone takes their next shot from there. In our case, if our best shot was anywhere but on the fairway or on the green, we made certain adjustments. Frankly, after playing like this, I don’t know why anyone would want to do it any other way.

What amazed me is that despite the cheating and using golf carts and stopping after the 18th hole even though we started on the third, it still took us five and a half hours to play.

I don’t get this. Is this supposed to be one of the game’s attractions? No sporting event, especially one in which I participate, should take five and a half hours. Even with really great company (who let me use their clubs), I was still hot, sweaty, had a headache and was ready to pack it in after nine.

At the risk of bragging, I wasn’t bad. I mean, I actually made contact most of the time, a testimony to my athletic ability and the fact that they now make drivers with heads the size of a bowling ball.  And no one hardly noticed when I failed to make contact or hit the ball straight up in the air or sliced it into the woods.

Women are understanding that way. We spend most of our lives telling each other that our shortcomings (bad golf games, bad hair, big hips) are not only OK but great. We do this because we are the gentler sex. Also because we count on our friends to return the favor.

And so I left last week’s tournament feeling really good about myself.

And then yesterday, I found out I was playing with men.

Now it’s not like I’m not used to being around sweaty men. I make a living out of this. And I did feel better with new shoes that fit and a glove that went on the correct hand and that shirt from Kohl’s. But I had a feeling the men wouldn’t cheat (they didn’t) and might not be as impressed when I made contact but only hit the ball 20 yards.

As it turned out, I was lucky and they were also extremely nice and extremely fun. By extremely nice and extremely fun, I mean they drank a lot. And they stopped to let me out at the ladies tee on each hole without so much as rolling their eyes.

I suspect this is what contributed to our round of golf lasting more than SIX hours. A person could drive to Ohio in six hours. Learn Italian. Have a day at the spa with time for lunch (not that I’ve ever done that but I’m just imagining you could).

Again, I developed a migraine (though that could have been from the Leinenkugel Summer Shandy, which if you haven’t tried it, you really should. Nice and fruity). And I was surprisingly exhausted despite the cart (all that getting in and out at the ladies tee, perhaps. Or again, maybe the Leinenkugel).  

But it was a nice day. I rented clubs, but the guys told me which ones to use. And they really inspired me. Not to be mean, but even really non-athletic looking men can hit a golf ball a very long way, so I aspire to do that some day.

And I aspire to play in another golf event.

I mean, now that I have the shoes and all.

Happy Father's Day, honey

I would have wished my husband a Happy Father’s Day this morning, but I couldn’t find him.

Rick always – and I mean, always – wakes up before I do, so having to hunt him down is not something with which I am unfamiliar.

I looked in the kitchen, where he normally empties the dishwasher, but he wasn’t there.

I looked in the laundry room, where he often passes time making up for a week of dirty clothes on Sunday mornings, but he wasn’t there.

I looked in the driveway, where he might be washing both cars, but he wasn’t there and both cars were in the garage, which meant he wasn’t off filling mine up with gas because I have a long trip tomorrow. Then I remembered he did that yesterday.

I looked in the basement and saw only an empty treadmill, which he uses not because he likes to walk really fast or to sweat – he truly does not enjoy doing either -- but because he wants to control his blood pressure and lower any risk that he will leave his children at a young age.

Then I remembered and looked out our living room window and sure enough, there he was, shovel in hand and big smile on his dripping face, standing next to a large mound of dirt wearing old ratty jeans and a soaked Alabama t-shirt (bought in for five bucks when I was doing a story there a couple hundred years ago) at 8:30 in the morning.

I’m sure many fathers this morning are working jobs they’d rather not be working. I’m just as sure there are many out golfing, at the gym, sleeping or having a nice breakfast. I’m pretty sure not many are standing next to a big pile of dirt and kind of liking it.

Why would my husband be standing next to a big pile of dirt on Father’s Day morning or any morning, you ask? Well, I will tell you.

Because it’s a given that when your family is still trying to make up for your wife's lost job’s wages and agonizing over your new insurance premiums that are about to go up 135 percent, someone is going to tell you that if you don’t replace your roof and soon, you won’t have one. And just when you have digested that, while getting your kids off to school with your wife out of town, you’re going to walk into your laundry room and see several inches of sludge-filled water coursing out of the drain on the floor. And you’re going to know, because you just went through this last year, that this means your front yard, including the shrubbery you just planted, is going to be dug up in order to locate the pipe that just burst.

Because you just went through this and because you’re a man who pays close attention to such things, you also suspect they will do something while trying to find the pipe that will make the repair even tougher and the job more expensive. What you don’t know yet, even though you tried to warn them, is that they are also going to bust up your sprinkler system in the process.

So you watch them dig and listen to them explain why they just cost you several thousand more dollars, and instead of yelling at them – because you are not the type of man to do that – you go into the house and get your camera and your 12-year-old son and you start taking pictures of exactly where the broken sprinkler pipe and shredded wires are, so that when they cover the hole, you will know where to find them so you can fix them yourself.

Then you take the son who shares your passion for fixing things to the hardware store – and even bring  your almost-15-year-old complaining daughter along (on the way to taking her to get a second piercing in her ear) – and make a fun project out of the whole thing.

Even though you weigh only marginally more than the shovel you’re using and you’re of a religious persuasion that enjoys jokes about how challenged their men are at fixing things, you spend the better part of a Saturday digging the dirt back out of the hole they used a crane to fill.

Of course, you can’t find the sprinkler pipe or the wires right away, despite the pictures, so you dig way more dirt than you planned. But you still don’t get in a foul mood and take it out on the family the way your wife might, and even clean up in time to spend the entire day with them.

And then on Father’s Day, you wake up before anyone else in the neighborhood, put on the jeans your daughter thinks are embarrassing (though they’re better than the acid-washed pair you usually wear for jobs like this) and locate the wires, which produces the proud and dirty smile you flash your wife, who has arisen several hours later.

But you still don’t finish the job. You come in and shower (since you’re a very hygienic kind of guy, even though you don’t mind dirt) because you know your son won’t wake up for several more hours and you promised him he could help connect all the wires.

None of this sounds the least bit fun to your wife and truthfully, you would have preferred to just finish the job. But you know your son is looking forward to it and because of that, you are too.

This is your idea of a good Father’s Day.

This is your family’s idea of a great father.

(Happy Father's Day, honey! We love you.)

Victory . . . . for me and the Blackhawks

Now that the Blackhawks’ season is over, I can share with you my most enduring memory of the playoffs. Because ESPN prohibits its employees from writing anything about sports for any other outlet, I trust my loyal following – you – will not let them know. I also trust that this blog is not big enough to be considered an “outlet.”

The day – last Wednesday, otherwise known as Game 6 -- started out like any other. That is, I was running late.

I love that I don’t have to travel as much as I once did in my days as a beat writer. What I don’t love is the gradual loss of flight status to my current level, where you begin lining up for the security check outside the airport; sit so far back in the plane that the seats don’t recline and you have to hold your carry-on luggage on your lap.

I used to be one of the cool people. I would arrive roughly 12 minutes before my flight, stop briefly for my boarding pass and proceed directly to the VIP security line where I would breeze through with the other bigshots who knew how to pack and remove their laptops and shoes in less than 15 minutes. From there, I would stroll briskly to my gate -- though still with an air of superiority over my fellow travelers --  and would not even try to see if it was time to board. I just boarded, the flight attendants smiling and welcoming me to my seat up front with superior leg room.

If memory serves, I believe they also met me at those seats with a fluffed-up pillow.

Last Wednesday, however, I assumed the role I have had for the last year or so, one I am clearly not getting any better at. I walked into the airport dazed and confused, went to two priority security lines first – the first out of habit, the second because I’m an idiot – before slinking to the line that starts outside the airport.

I tried to talk my way into the priority line. “But I am Premier,” I argued. I mean, I had to be I thought, before whipping out my ID card from 2008 to no avail.

Exactly an hour before my flight was to depart, I was still in denial, formulating breakfast plans to kill time as I joined the line with my fellow steerage passengers. Soon I started looking at my watch, exhaling loudly in disgust though never really thinking I would MISS MY PLANE. All around me were people who clearly had been in this line before and therefore had flights that were scheduled to leave in three hours. They were calm, relaxed, chatty even.

I, on the other hand, was now tense, panicked and sweaty but sort of thought maybe my no-status buddies would sense my desperate situation and any minute now, the line would part for me.  As my flight began boarding with approximately 75 people and seven strollers still in front of me, a friend texted that I should “CUT THE LINE.”  

Don’t think I did not consider it. But how to even maneuver without getting beaten by the others? I had tried throwing hints to the guy who checked my boarding pass – “Gee, I’m a little nervous I might actually miss my flight,” I said with just enough desperation in my voice and yet the dignity of someone who wanted to let him know, “Heh, heh, I used to be a Premiere Executive, you probably know me. Isn’t this ridiculous that I find myself in this demeaning position?”

“Step over there,” he said, directing me to a little open area next to where the line resumed. I figured any minute now he would let me through the ropes. I glanced back and smiled.

“Ma’am, the line is over there,” he said disgustedly.

Anyway, I missed my flight. Actually, that’s not right. If they just would have pulled the person to whom they gave my seat, off of the plane, wheeled the jetway back into position and re-opened the door, I could have made my flight.

Another woman going to Philadelphia was also bumped and we quickly forged a bond based, at that point, on the fact that we both used the same curse words.

Like the rookie that I am, I first insisted on trying to catch a flight on another airline in another terminal, despite the fact that a new one-way would have cost approximately $1,200 and I was wearing new sandals.

Hobbling back to my original gate, sweaty and defeated and with seemingly no chance to get to Philadelphia, my new best friend formulated a plan that had us taking a cab to Midway Airport. She knew Southwest would have availability because she had been paying attention to their constant commercials which advertised hourly, affordable flights and she booked reservations for both of us.

So giddy was I that I was not going to miss potentially one of the bigger sporting events in my lifetime, that by the time we got to Midway we were exchanging phone numbers and making plans for her return flight to Chicago.

The fact that this airline does not assign seats and there appeared to be twice as many people at the gate as seats on the plane, did not deter us. We merely stormed the plane as graciously as we could and arrived in Philadelphia with enough time for me to make the game.

I was even cocky enough to take the train to my downtown hotel because my friend told me that traffic, especially in the rain, would be a nightmare. Then she insisted on walking me to the train, where she all but pinned instructions to my shirt.

When I got out at my stop and paused to figure out once again where I was going, a flight attendant who had been on the train and had overheard my conversation with a Blackhawks’ fan, lead me in the direction of my hotel.

Through the kindness of strangers and dumb luck, I made it to the game. One of those days that had disaster written all over it, actually turned out to be a really uplifting one.

Coincidentally, the Blackhawks had one of those days, too.

Fine Dining

With the Stanley Cup Finals between the Blackhawks and Philadelphia Flyers heating up and the series returning to Chicago tied at two games apiece, it’s only natural that as a reporter, my thoughts turn to one thing.

The pregame meal at the United Center.

A word first, about pressroom food. It’s usually bad. Of course, sportswriters seldom if ever care about this because A.We’re not paying for it and B. Most of us have no discernible taste as evidenced by the wardrobes of the male of our species, which consists primarily of ill-fitting polo shirts given away at golf tournaments circa 1987.

I’ve seen sportswriters, without the slightest concern for personal safety, ingest the lunch leftovers as they’re leaving the press box at 1 a.m. I’m guessing even Rick Bayless wouldn’t touch his own concoctions unrefrigerated and congealed some 12 hours later, but not us!

I will say that for the most part, the food has gotten better over the years. When I covered a certain Southern NFL football team in the early 80s, we had two choices for lunch each game – hot dogs and cheese soup.

Now I personally won’t eat a hot dog that has not been boiled or grilled within the boundaries of the Greater Chicagoland area for the simple fact that all other hot dogs look and smell funny to me, and anyone that serves a hot dog with a choice of ketchup or brown mustard clearly doesn’t get it.

The hot dogs in that NFL press box were grayish and I’m not sure any mustard was offered. The other choice, the cheese soup, was, well, just that, I believe – some Kraft singles melted in a vat and called soup.

It was a scary scene.

When I covered the Bulls, we would all watch with great interest before games as assistant coach Tex Winter would go through the food line first because Tex absolutely loved press food (and no doubt, hospital food) and it was fun watching Phil Jackson and his assistant Johnny Bach make fun of him.

“Go ahead Tex,” they’d say pointing, “try that green stuff,” and then collapse in giggles.

It is often more fun guessing the origin of the pregame meal as it is covering the game itself.

One local team whose name I will not mention because they might not serve me again, often feed media members grilled cheese sandwiches that we’ve theorized were toasted in prison using Wonder Bread and an iron.

Which brings us to the Blackhawks.

I believe sonnets have been written about the Hawks’ press food. If not, they should be. The mere thought of it makes me want to cry because it’s like someone really cares about us.

Served on real plates with silverware and linen napkins, it’s the best-kept secret in sports and it really shouldn’t be.

My friend Bob, a sportswriter from Detroit who likes to eat a lot (likes to eat and likes to eat a lot), was coming to Chicago last year to cover the Hawks-Red Wings playoff series and I decided to do him a favor.

“Just thank me,” I told him in a preemptive phone call.

“What for?” he asked.

“Just listen, do as I say and don’t ask any questions,” I instructed.

I then proceeded to tell him that because I would not be there to direct him, he should bypass the regular basement press room meal, which tries but can’t compare, and go directly to the 300 level press box, where he would be met by waiters in uniform carving prime rib and roasted turkeys with soft fresh rolls and choice of horseradish; delectable side dishes that would include gourmet macaroni and cheese with lobster – lobster! -- grilled vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes with skins included. Oh, and did I mention the shrimp cocktail, and the cheese and fruit trays?

Sure, the place lacks ambience as we all eat standing up at tall tables, some of us balancing our plates on  garbage cans, but quibbling about that would be in horribly bad taste, and we eat leisurely and happily as if we’re real people in a real restaurant.

The rookies in the group will often hastily grab a Haagen-Daaz ice cream bar from a nearby cooler, clearly unaware of what is to come between the second and third periods. You can always tell who had ice cream because there is a discernible pause as they observe in awe when the desserts are wheeled in, inhaling deeply as they calculate the five-figure calorie counts they are about to ring up.

Then in comes the finale – fruit tarts and mini-éclairs and mocha mousse delights; a tray of giant freshly baked cookies with peanut butter cups and white chocolate chips under a heating lamp so that, god forbid, they should not lose their warmth; brownies and cheese cake and more cookies and cake – the supply constantly replenished, of course.

And then, last week, a sundae bar I’d like to have at my son’s bar mitzvah – with more than a dozen toppings including my personal favorite -- giant malted milk balls.

Bloated and semi-nauseous, we stagger back to the game, fighting off unconsciousness despite the thundering roar of the United Center crowd, and contemplate our sins.

On the night of the game last year for which I prepped my friend Bob, my phone rang.

“Don’t yell at me,” he said.

He then started whimpering about how all the writers he was with from Detroit told him that the basement employee cafeteria was the place they were supposed to eat, that they seemed like they knew, that he wasn’t thinking clearly, blah, blah, blah. I think he had a couple grilled cheese sandwiches.

He was now standing before the carving station, phone in hand, nearly in tears, because he knew he could never get it back.

To this day, he cannot speak of it. But I can. And as the Stanley Cup Finals capture the fascination of hockey fans around the country; as the series prepares for its most critical contest in the series; as my colleagues and I prepare to describe the splendor of competition at its very apex, I cannot help but focus on what brings us all there.

And hope against hope that they have the sundae bar again for Game 5.

Sleep problems and other disorders

A lot of people have been asking me why I have fallen off the blog map.

OK, maybe three people have asked but they have been rather persistent. I guess that award-winner on the splendor of Twinkies and other Hostess products two months ago was not enough for you people.

It’s not that I don’t love writing about mostly nothing. There is nothing more freeing for a reporter than to abandon all sense of responsibility and any hint of relevance when she sits down at her computer.

I guess this must be what people get out of tweeting and if I could hiccup in 35 words or less, I might like it. But I mean, really. How could I possibly do justice to the Ho-Ho with those limitations?

So I will now confide in you the real reason I have not blogged much lately.

I’m too tired.

My husband Rick thinks it’s a real problem. Not a medical problem, mind you. That would make him feel really bad if, say, I actually had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It would actually make me feel good to have an excuse for my persistent exhaustion but yeah, yeah, I know, it’s a very serious problem and nothing to joke about and I wouldn’t feel good at all. But I’d like to just have a tiny bit of satisfaction.

I am tired when I wake up, which is when I first start thinking about going back to bed. I fantasize about napping most of the day, even though the rare times when I try, I’m terrible at it. By 3, I am in a daze, completely unable to operate heavy machinery or write a coherent sentence. By 7, I begin planning on going to bed early. And by 7:30, I collapse in a stupor on the couch that lasts for at least 10 minutes until someone needs me.

On weekends, I occasionally try to convince Rick that we should rent a movie and he laughs at me because so far in our 18 and a half years of marriage, I have never stayed awake for an entire movie. But if I’m really persistent, he will usually break down, get a movie I insist we will both enjoy, like maybe “Sex and the City: The Movie” whereupon I watch for approximately seven minutes before falling into a drug-like state that includes drooling and snoring.

Occasionally Rick wins and we get “The Hurt Locker,” both of us thinking that no way can I fall asleep with people getting blown to bits on surround sound, but alas, I didn’t make it to the first casualty.

A week ago, I took my daughter Amanda to an allergist and I ended up making an appointment for myself to come back the following week. I was very excited about this because I have never seen a doctor who asked more questions about a patient’s every twinge and pang and I wanted in.

But I never expected, when I answered his questions about snoring – in my case, apparently loud enough to startle the dog across the street – for him to suggest that I might have a sleep disorder and would be a good candidate for a sleep study.

A sleep study?

I could barely contain myself. I get to sleep and people study me? They encourage me to sleep?

I had a lot of unanswered questions.

Like, “Do they have those Heavenly beds with the comfort pillow tops like Westin hotels?”

“Cable?”

“People Magazine? Oreos?”

Not that I necessarily have to have all those things but it would just make it nicer.

Who would be the person watching me? What if it was some really cute guy? Would I have to go buy new pajamas? Not wash off my make-up?

Would I have to wear those sticky electrode things all over my body that would make it difficult to toss and turn the way I usually like to? Would I end up getting even less sleep? That would stink.

With all of these thoughts consuming me, we were watching “The Biggest Loser” the other night when they showed before-and-after videos and in most of the before, contestants were seen either eating in their cars or getting into bed with alien-like oxygen contraptions over their faces.

I looked at Rick.

“Those are for people with sleep disorders,” he said smugly.

I never thought about that. That could really impair my sleep. I thought they’d just study me and tell me I needed to come in on a regular basis and sleep some more for them.

This was not going to work. And worse, it might even keep me awake at night thinking about it. 

Then again, that would give me time to start blogging again.

Hostess is the Mostest

My friend Jerry always comes through for me when I have a raging case of blogger’s block. Like today, for example, he didn’t even know he was helping me when he e-mailed to tell me, in a way only he could, that finding my blog again, after my sabbatical-length break, was like eating a Suzy Q years after stopping cold turkey.

I took this as the supreme compliment that it was intended to be, mostly because I too used to worship at the Hostess temple.

My mother would be somewhat embarrassed, I think, if she was alive to read this, as I imagine most mothers who were in their maternal prime in the 50s and 60s would be. And my husband’s mother and grandmother would be absolutely horrified as I don’t believe either ever allowed store-bought sweets into their homes (which explains a few things about Rick).

My brothers, however, tell me that my mother had no problem bringing Twinkies into our house, though she herself was never actually seen eating one (or any meal, for that matter) and I can’t imagine she ever did sneak a bite as she possessed a much more sophisticated sweet tooth.

In fact, my mother can be credited with elevating the Twinkie to somewhat higher standards by freezing them, a precursor, we think, to freezing Milky Ways and Three Muskateers, the thought being that anything tastes better and is more fun to eat when it is cold and also involves the risk of breaking a tooth.

Twinkies, as I remember all Hostess products, were best consumed right after school, when a giant sugar rush was necessary and a nice companion to anything on TV from Clutch Cargo to Leave it to Beaver reruns to Gilligan’s Island to Dark Shadows. My husband Rick, a mere baby born two years after me in 1963, watched reruns of “Get Smart” and thought they were original episodes. My brothers, White Sox fans by birth, would even watch the last few innings of a Cubs game accompanied by a Twinkie and a milk chaser.

Of course, the best Hostess product ever made was the Hostess cupcake. Even if you didn’t care for devil’s food, like me, the frosting-like cap on top, peeled off and placed to the side to be savored and saved for later, was well worth getting through the rest.

But the real delicacy of all Hostess products has always been the vanilla crème center. No one, to my knowledge, including the brightest scientific minds in the country, has ever determined the exact makeup of the vanilla crème and it really misses the point to even wonder about it.

My friend Bari is the only known person to actually hate what she called the gooshz in the middle and so, whenever possible, she would let me have it, never an easy proposition. In my mother’s brilliant freezing technique, you would peel away the sponge cake and be left with a vanilla cremesicle.

But any way you ate a Hostess treat, getting to the gooshz was unquestionably the best part, actually doubling as an after-school activity in the event you didn’t have a friend come over. If it wasn’t scooping out the Twinkie, it was unrolling the Ho-Ho, the younger Hostess generation’s cupcake. Created in 1967 (the Twinkie dates back to 1933 and the cupcake’s seven squiggles and vanilla crème version in 1950 – I’ll bet you didn’t know how educational this was going to be when you first started reading), the Ho Ho sits high atop my personal all-time Hostess list and, I’m not embarrassed to admit (well, ok, a little embarrassed), easily leads my list of all Hostess products consumed in adulthood.

I do have to say, however, that discovering a few years ago that Ho Ho’s no longer came wrapped in aluminum foil but in some white, plastic, air-filled packaging was a disappointment from which I’ve never quite recovered.

Two final Hostess notes -- Suzy Q’s? Never understood the point. Seemed a poor cousin to the cupcake. And the Sno ball? The cousin you never spoke of. My brother Richard claimed they had a slight effeminate quality and that anyone caught with a Sno ball in his lunch box would be promptly beaten up.

My brother Barry, who passed down his intense hatred of coconut to me, merely shudders at the word Sno ball and like a giant jar of Skippy to the kid with peanut allergies, my mother would never subject us to it.

And there you have it.

Thanks, Jerry.

 

Feel free to read Melissa's columns on ESPNChicago.com

Tiger’s sorry statement

I’m not pretending I’m not curious about what Tiger Woods will say in his big press conference, Friday.

A statement of this magnitude, after all, needed to be announced two days in advance and I’m guessing that wasn’t done to make sure they had enough time to get extra bagels and coffee. So, yes, I’ll want to hear it.

But do I really require an apology, as all of us – fans, media, family, friends, sponsors, mistresses – are sure to get one? And if I do get one, does it mean anything?

It kind of reminds me of when kids are toddlers, still in that biting/hitting phase (except for mine, of course) and no matter what a child does, up to and including taking a large chunk out of another child’s body, there is always the same reaction.

“Say you’re sorry,” the mother or preschool teacher will implore of the biter.

The little monster will dutifully comply, of course, usually with a big grin, until he gnaws on his next victim five minutes later.

So no, I don’t need to hear Tiger say he’s sorry unless, perhaps, it is accompanied by racking sobs and so convincing a performance that it moves me to tears as well. And somehow I don’t expect that.

He does owe his wife an apology but sorry, I don’t really care that much about that either. Certainly, I do not celebrate another woman’s pain. But I have to wonder, aside from marrying a professional athlete in the first place, if there wasn’t some sign, some warning, some little indication before this past Thanksgiving that something was amiss. Say, I don’t know, the fact that your husband always spoke in a husky whisper whenever he answered his cell phone on the road.

They are saying that Elin Woods’ presence or absence will be very telling, Friday. I’m not so sure. I mean, even if she is planning to stay with her husband, why go through the indignity of standing there next to him when she could be hanging out on the yacht or something? I’d be on the yacht in a heartbeat.

Friday’s apology/statement (naturally, there will be no questions allowed) is really not as big of a deal as it appears. Rather, it was inevitable unless, of course, Woods planned to live underground for the rest of his life. There was going to be a re-entering into public life and onto the PGA Tour and thus, there was going to have to be THE press conference. I just wonder if Woods is actually naive enough to think this will put the whole situation to rest.

And I wonder if his fans are naïve enough to buy it.