Monday, March 26, 2007

A day at the opera

On Saturday we went all highbrow and took in the live broadcast of the Metropolitan Opera at the Regal Stonecrest movie theater. That day's offering was "The Barber of Seville," which was perfect for me -- I already knew the music from one of the greatest short films in history.

As a guy who watches way too much sports (especially during the NCAA tournament), I could not recommend the opera more highly. It's ESPN Classic with violins.

The opera itself is the musical version of the NBA slam dunk contest. One insanely talented star takes a solo, then there's some shuffling around, then another insanely talented star tries to top it. The plot is just there to mark time between the solos. I kept expecting the screen to show judges' scores after every aria -- "Well, the soprano gets a 9.5 for expression, but only an 8 for technical skill..."

They even do the intermission like a halftime show -- previews of upcoming shows, backstage interviews with the stars. (The opera is set in Spain, sung in Italian, and the guy who played Figaro was from Sweden. It's a small world.)

But my main overall impression was this: Outsized characters, big conflicts, tight-fitting costumes and lots of yelling.

Now it all makes sense.

Opera is the high-class version of professional wrestling.

Too bad Ric Flair can't sing. Then again, I doubt Pavarotti could get out of the figure-four leglock.

One last thing: I counted at least seven times when cell phones went off in the theater. If we'd actually been at the Met, I suspect ushers would have calmly removed the offenders from the audience and quietly thrown them down the back stairs.

But can that many people be that forgetful? And if you're not a doctor, or if your daughter is not on a date at that very moment with a member of a biker gang, is there any reason to keep your cell phone on in the theater? I had no idea there were so many important people in this town.

Friday, March 23, 2007

A thought on John Edwards

John and Elizabeth Edwards are the most fascinating couple in politics, even more than Bill and Hillary.

John has all the current qualifications to be president -- good hair and charisma and XY chromosomes. That doesn't mean he's not a sharp guy. He is. But every time I see them together, Elizabeth comes off as smarter and funnier and more genuine.

In a better world, we'd be sad about Elizabeth Edwards' cancer because we might be losing a great candidate for president.

If I were a James Carville type, I might've told John to suspend the campaign -- partly to be with his wife, partly because he would get a HUGE wave of sympathy. Then he could ride that goodwill back into the race next summer. Campaigns start way too early anyway. Voters are tired of everybody by the end. A fresh face coming in late might steal the whole thing.

I'm sure John Edwards' campaign people at least thought about that. So in some ways, continuing the campaign seems more real to me, less calculated.

I know that sounds weird.

Politics are weird.

I guess the real question is this: what would John Edwards have done if this was 20 years ago, and he was just an ambitious young lawyer?

Are all your decisions different if you're running for president?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"It's the most wonderful time of the year..."

Thursday and Friday. The first round of the NCAA basketball tournament. The two best sports days of the year.

Not only that, it's 80 degrees outside. OK, I'm making the call, these are the two best DAYS of the year. Christmas and Thanksgiving have always been seeded too high.

I have three rules for brackets:

1. One bracket only. I hate to check the standings in a (non-gambling, for amusement purposes only) NCAA pool and find out I'm behind Joe Shmoe #5. Either you believe in your picks or you don't. Only weenies minimize their risk. This is not a mutual fund.

2. Pick some upsets. If you don't have at least three crazy picks in your Sweet 16, you're the type of person who reads the end of the book first.

3. Swoon for the hometown underdog. It's OK if it's the town you USED to be from -- just as long as it's a team that has no right to win the games you're giving them. As Calvin Trillin once said, if you don't think your hometown hamburger joint is the best in the world, you're a sissy.

On to the picks.

First round:
UNC over E. Kentucky, Michigan State over Marquette, Arkansas over USC, Texas over New Mexico St., Vanderbilt over George Washington, Oral Roberts over Washington State, Boston College over Texas Tech, Georgetown over Belmont.

Ohio State over Central Connecticut, Xavier over BYU, Long Beach St. over Tennessee, Virginia over Albany, Louisville over Stanford, Texas A&M over Penn, Nevada over Creighton, Memphis over North Texas.

Kansas over Niagra, Villanova over Kentucky, Virginia Tech over Illinois, S. Illinois over Holy Cross, Duke over VCU, Pitt over Wright State, Gonzaga over Indiana, UCLA over Weber St.

Florida over Jackson St., Arizona over Purdue, Butler over Old Dominion, Davidson over Maryland (homer pick #1), Winthrop over Notre Dame (homer pick #2), Oregon over Miami of Ohio, Georgia Tech over UNLV, Wisconsin over A&M-Corpus Christi.

Second round:
UNC over Michigan State, Texas over Arkansas, Vandy over Oral Roberts, Georgetown over BC.

Ohio State over Xavier, Long Beach State over Virginia, Texas A&M over Louisville, Nevada over Memphis.

Kansas over Villanova, VA Tech over S. Illinois, Pitt over Duke, UCLA over Gonzaga.

Florida over Arizona, Butler over Davidson, Winthrop over Oregon (I know, SUCH a homer), Wisconsin over GA Tech.

(That's two crazy picks -- Winthrop and Long Beach -- and two semi-crazy picks -- Vandy and Nevada -- in the Sweet 16.)

Sweet 16: UNC over Texas (best game of the tournament), Georgetown over Vandy, Ohio State over Long Beach, Texas A&M over Nevada.

Kansas over VA Tech, UCLA over Pitt, Florida over Butler, Wisconsin over Winthrop in double OT.

Elite Eight: UNC over Georgetown, Texas A&M over Ohio State, Kansas over UCLA, Florida over Wisconsin.

Final Four: Texas A&M over UNC (sorry, Heels), Kansas over Florida.

Title game: Kansas over A&M, 76-68.

Feel free to ridicule.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Your craziest airport story?

It's important, in journalism, to make your biases clear when you're doing a story. So in the interest of full disclosure: I hate flying.

I'm not scared of flying. I just hate everything about the experience: riding the shuttle bus, undressing at the security checkpoint, waiting at the gate, squeezing into the seats, getting that pressurized-air headache, bobbing through turbulence, sprinting to make the connection, dragging my weary butt through the concourse on the way to the rental car.

My wife and I flew last week, out to Kansas City and back. Everything went fine. If the trip had been a few days later, and we had ended up waiting five freaking hours at the kiosk, it's possible I would be on the 10 Most Wanted list by now.

Two things I noticed on the trip:

-- The sports bar in the A concourse at the Charlotte airport has six clocks out front, showing the time in different time zones. As of last Wednesday, five of the six clocks were wrong.

-- There's a display in the Kansas City airport showing items you can't bring on the plane. One of the items is a chain saw. Now, I know some people don't keep up with the latest federal regulations, but is there somebody out there who needs to be told it's not OK to bring a CHAIN SAW on the plane?

I'm trying to imagine some guy at the ticket counter, calling back home: "You won't believe this, Myrtle. They won't let me bring the dang Poulan on board. It's like we're not in America anymore."

So what's your most infuriating airport story? Vent away below.