Friday, October 4, 2013

On This Date in 1998

Cooler weather has finally arrived. Nighttime temperatures have dipped into the low 40s since Thursday. By Saturday morning, the cold, damp air had started to seep into the house so I turned on the furnaces. Both of them – we have a separate unit for the family room – fired up immediately and kept the boys from walking around the house wrapped in blankets. Such unhardy boys.

Friday evening, I arrived in Cross Plains a half hour before the end of Andy’s football practice, as it turned out, so I sat in the van and listened to book on tape I’m currently in the middle of. (The World According to Garp, by John Irving.) Andy thought his practice might be shorter than usual, since it was the day before a game, but that was just wishful thinking. While JoAnna spent the evening with some members of Jon Erpenbach’s campaign committee putting together yard signs, the boys and I hung out at home, ordering a couple pizza for delivery (pepperoni for them, chicken with garden vegetables for me) and then settling in for the evening in front of the TV. The boys gave television their full attention, while I used it as background noise while I read. (Straight Man by Richard Russo, which focuses on the ups and downs - -mostly the latter – of a 49-year-old chair of the English department at the fictional West Central Pennsylvania University. The author has a very wry sense of humor; I usually find something to chuckle about on every page. Russo has written 3 other novels, most of them set in the Mohawk Valley region of New York State, an economically depressed area between Utica and Albany. One of his books, Nobody’s Fool, was made into a very funny movie starring Paul Newman a few years back. It’s one of my favorite movies of this decade.)

Saturday was a cold, raw, wet day. Eddie’s soccer game was cancelled. It started raining late Friday evening and continued through the night and didn’t let up until midafternoon. Football, of course, is a different matter, and Andy’s game went on as scheduled. The Orioles played on the east side of Madison, on a wind-and-rain-swept field that provided no natural or man-made shelter from the elements. I wore my Goretex jacket and kept my hood up through most of the game. My extremities, especially my fingers, started to get numb by the 4th quarter. Andy and his teammates held up very well against the elements, I thought. In fact, they almost walked away with their first victory, but they couldn’t hold onto a 7-6lead with only three minutes left in t the game. As soon as we returned to the car, Andy demanded that I turn up the heat, which was my top priority, too.

During Andy’s game, I listened to the Badger football game on the radio. I’m not sure what’s defective – the headphones or the Walkman unit itself – but the sound kept going on and off, as if someone was annoyingly flipping a light switch. Until midway through the 3rd quarter, it looked as though Wisconsin was going to go down to its first defeat, but the team exploded for 21 points and held on to win their 5th game in a most dramatic fashion.

I was offered the chance to purchase 4 tickets to the Badger hockey team’s first game of the season, an exhibition game against Notre Dame. Since it was also the first hockey game to be played at the Kohl Center, UW-Madison’s brand-new, $76-million sports complex, I quickly pulled out my checkbook. This special event, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game, featured the unveiling of the five banners commemorating the Badgers’ NCAA championships and an introduction of past starts from the 1960s to the present. The main event, though, turned out to be a little disappointing as the Badgers lost 2-1. Both their passing and fast breaks seemed a bit tentative, whereas Notre Dame, not really a college power in hockey, played in what looked like mid-season form. We had great seats, just 4 rows up from the ice. JoAnna flinched every time the players bumped each other into the ”glass”. Up close, these bumps sound like the most painful of bonecrunching hits. I better understand now why hockey players wear so much padding. It’s a violent sport, just a few steps away from a human demolition derby on ice skates.

The game was not a sellout (14,500) but still attracted 13,400 fans, according to the summary in today’s paper. That’s amazing for an exhibition game. Until this season, the Badgers used to play hockey at the Dane County Coliseum, which seats just under 8,000. The games were almost always sellouts there. It’s an indication of how popular hockey is here that an arena seating almost twice as many fans will have no problem selling out during the regular season. 

It was nearly midnight by the time we got to bed last night. Everyone but me slept in later than usual this morning. I was up at my usual time, shortly after 6:00. The day started out cool, cloudy and windy, and remained so until the middle of the afternoon. JoAnna was at her office from noon until five. The boys and I went to see the first showing of Antz at the newly remodeled Point Cinemas. Eddie had expressed an interest in seeing this moving after seeing ads for it on TV. Like Toy Story, it’s a computer animated feature that uses the voices of well-=known stars. Z, the main character, is the voice of Woody Allen, whose self-effacing, sometimes cerebral style of comedy, which permeates the story of this ant world in revolt against an evil general, is not a logical choice for a film that is pitched to kids that are Andy’s and Eddie’s ages. In fact, this was a movie to which parents were bringing preschoolers. Within the first half hour, I sensed an undercurrent of restlessness in the audience, which was confirmed by the boys’ capsule reviews as we walked to the car after the movie was over. Most of the movie took place inside an anthill; as a result, the screen seemed dark and out of focus except when the ants were in close-up. The ants had a very familiar look about them, too. One might have assumed that the queen bee had somehow been inseminated by E.T. Most of the ants had wide, flat faces and very large eyes; their bodies seemed to move in a slightly mechanical, herky-jerky motion. Considering the theater was nearly at capacity, I would guess Antz will do well in its initial weekend but might have trouble sustaining an audience. A similar movie, A Bug’s Life, is scheduled for release around Thanksgiving, and ,after today’s trip to the movies, Eddie reported at the supper table that he has no interest in seeing it.

We had our usual Sunday meal together. I fixed baked chicken, dipping the pieces in a cornmeal mixture before they when into the oven, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, and crescent rolls (the Pillsbury variety). The boys have worked on their homework tonight, Andy finishing a book report that is due on Tuesday and Eddie reading his nightly requirement of 15 minutes.

The TV is off, of course, since tomorrow is a school day. I think the Astros-Padres game is on right now, but I haven’t been watching much of the playoffs this year, which is somewhat ironic, I suppose, in light of the fact that 1998 has been a year of resurgent fan interest in baseball. The Yankees and Braves have already won their series, as expected. Someone tell the Rangers to not even bother next year. One run in three games. How pathetic. And the other Texas team can hardly do much better. It looks like we’re on track for a New York-Atlanta showdown in the World Series. I don’t see this as being a year for upsets. (Of course, I’m making this prediction just so the Cleveland Indians show me up!)

I just tuned in the Sunday night football game and watched a tropical storm in progress. Kansas City just received 5 inches of rain in one (!!) hour, resulting in a suspension of the game. Turning to the local Fox affiliate, I see the Astros are just about ready to throw in the towel. I suppose the Bills upset of the 49ers has Buffalo all excited. Unfortunately, today’s game will probably turn out to be the highlight of their season. Most of Wisconsin will be tuned to Monday Night Football tomorrow for what should be a hard-fought contest between the Packers and the Vikings. Andy will probably plead to stay up past his usual 9 o’clock bedtime. So much for this weekend update.

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