So wow, where to start? Haven’t blogged--or at least written in so very long. Where to begin? Maybe just jump right in--stream of consciousness type thing to get my feet wet again. Just start riffing like the cats used to...well, no one says cats anymore; but that’s what I need to do. Just flow Lodo, let it out. Spell-check later. Formulate those paragraphs another time. For now its just close your eyes and fan the flame of your thoughts like those wildfires out in Colorado that burned like when we left ten years ago. Twelve years ago now--I know cause that’s how old Spiffy is. Born on the 4th of July 2000. Well maybe not born that day but that’s when we’ve always celebrated it since I got her from the rescue in August. So she had to be a couple months old when I first saw her in the pen marked BLACK DOGS and took her home. I don’t need to think about it, I know its been twelve years, which makes her eighty-four to you and me and poppa don’t like that cracker! Not sure that phrase really works--supposed to be Polly, right?; but no time for edits now. Gotta get my blog back on. My writing--and poppa don’t like that eighty-four year old cracker that’s got my girl Spiffy all depressed and confused and trying to break out the yard only to return badly shaken at odd times of the night. Dementia--who’d have thought a dog could suffer from that? You’d better get out here in the next couple weeks Rules told me last Friday and man I just cried and cried all day. Who wouldn’t? Or couldn’t? The freaking dog--oldest trick in the book to elicit sympathy. Almost cheating for a writer to work that angle. Bad taste even. But people do own dogs and dogs do die. And it now it looks like Spiffy’s gonna die. Soon, though in fairness it looked like we were gonna lose her back when she was only eight or so. Somewhere around that age--not that old. But like a middle-aged white man, dogs seem to go through a health issue when they hit eight or so and they either live through that and get to be old or go down hard and fast. And that’s how I thought she might go down. Hard and fast, cause she’d suddenly lost all the play in her spirit and her motor seemed to run way down. It was sumer of course--always summer! and all of a sudden too. Course she can’t tell you what’s on her eggshell mind or where it hurts or show any weakness cause it’d violate the canine code. Can’t show weakness. Can’t show weakness. They'll suck it up and oftentimes they can will themselves through some hardcore shit. And sometimes not. But you know they’re hurting if they’ll show you pain and I can’t help but wonder if she’s looking for me out there. Breaking out the backyard like when I first visited years ago. Just after I'd left her with Rules. Wandering the fox-lined medians of Denver. Oblivious. Or just not caring, ‘cause a dog wont care ‘bout herself if she’s got her person on her mind. One of her own in Spiffy’s case ‘cause she never saw herself as a dog. Even now. Dementia. What the fuck is that for a dog to get? A disease of a mind. Of higher cognitive function. That’s my girl for sure. Or was. Now it sounds like her mind’s been fried by the Denver heat. Eyes clouded by cataracts from the blazing mile-high sun that’s got the high country on fire like a dried-out soul. Yet it still can’t warm her brittle bones. But she’s not gone yet. No fast and furious for my girl despite being hit by that car when she was young. We got lucky--or so we thought. And still do! Of course we do, even if now she seems haunted by visions that compel her out the yard at night. Ventures that appear to leave her with more questions than answers. Unable to remember if the man who wore a hat and threw her frisbee and slept with her on the cool hard-wood floor was ever real or just imagined. A vague memory or a destiny? Maybe that’s what she wants to find out. What or who she’s looking for. There's a person’s out there--her person, and there’s no quit in that girl. Gotta find him. Gonna tell him...
Regular readers know I’m a big fan of NBA basketball and professional boxing. Those are the sports in which I’m invested--least until the Olympics; but due to the pathetic state of boxing these past two to three years, basketball’s taken on added significance.
I began this season excited to see my man Chauncey Billups play for the Knicks. He’s my personal favorite of all NBA players, though I’ll admit he’s no longer the best at his position--and may never have been the singular best point guard in any season. But he’s got a ring and has played in more big games than almost anyone.
After the Knicks lost Chauncey my interest in the team began to fade; and when he blew-out his achilles in L.A. I was genuinely sad. For both of us. I’d blown my achilles out too, right around that same time; and when I saw it happen to Chauncey on TV I had the immediate sense the injury marked a certain physical turning-point in both our lives. Wish I could say I was wrong.
This year I’ve got two teams--New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets that I’d like to see in the Finals. That said, both will probably lose in the first round; so of the teams that actually have a chance to win, I’d like to see Chicago Bulls go all the way.
I think most NBA fans (at least those outside of Miami or San Antonio) will root for Chicago this year. Chicago or Oklahoma City. They have the deepest teams and most humble superstars in Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant. Not just nice guys, but guys with their own style on the court. I like the way the under-sized Derrick Rose tucks the ball under his arm as he storms the paint; or the unique look of Kevin Durant’s loped-out frame when he dunks. The guy’s 6’ 11” but moves like a guard. The league’s getting away from the Kobe or Michael Jordan clones, and I like it.
Course Lebron James has his own style--and I like him too, even though a lot of fans won’t root for him since he bailed on Cleveland. Personally, I say fuck Cleveland just like I’d say fuck Detroit or fuck Denver. I love those places--they’ll always be where I’m from. Just not where I’m at. Anyway, I think NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy said it best about Lebron:
“...just going back to James' decision, the other part is, wouldn't every working American want to choose where they want to work and who they work with if they could?And yet we resent the thing that we would want in our own profession."
Couldn’t agree more. The guy gets to do what we all wish we could do--stick it to the man and decide our own fate, yet all he gets from fans is sour grapes of envy. Come on Cleveland! 26 or 27 years old; biggest sports star in the country; buddies with Jay-Z and Kanye West. You’d want to get out of Ohio too--especially if you’d lived there your whole life. Even Elvis got to see the world.
But there’s a lot of hate generated towards the NBA. And the players. The tattoos. The ridiculous money. Some of it’s racism, but it’s also true that the pace and flow of an NBA game (or lack thereof) can be maddening. Fouls seems to be called in a rather arbitrary manner; and the subsequent free throws slow the game down. I suppose those big guys need time to rest, but I wanna see ‘em run like in soccer or hockey. Really test their endurance. But the players are so big and the painted lane so narrow, the refs could call a foul on every play. And they practically do. That’s why I think fans of other sports sometimes don’t respect the toughness of the NBA players--because of all the called fouls and timeouts. One of the things I liked about this strike-shortened season was watching the players work hard. At least, hard for an NBA player (which may or may not be difficult for those guys--I don’t know!). Most players entered the season out of shape, then had to play back-to-back games. Even a few three-game stretches. You could see ‘em breathing hard as they jogged up and down the court, which made it difficult to tell which teams were good ‘til the season really developed. Then an obvious pattern became evident--all the elite teams that stayed intact from last year (Miami Heat; Oklahoma Thunder; Chicago Bulls; and Boston Celtics rose to the top). Of the teams that made big personnel changes, only NY Knicks actually got better. I was a big proponent of the Carmelo Anthony trade with Denver, and rank him as one of the top three offensive players in the league. His shot’s pure when he gets it going; and he can drive to the rim if he has to. And he’s not afraid of the big moment. Why should he be?
But the Carmelo story highlights another aspect of the NBA. A more abstract and perhaps overly analytical view of the league on my part, yet something I believe holds true; which is that the NBA is a liberal man’s sports league. That's why so much of America hates it.
Football requires loyalty not just to the team, but to the system--or the scheme as they sometimes call it. Plays are run as designed, executed on a mechanized schedule, and are carried out as written. In fact, that’s the sign of a successful play--it unfolds as designed. The coach relays the plays to the QB; the QB leads in the huddle; he maybe sets the receivers in motion; the front line moves in synchronized fashion. There’s a militaristic aspect to it. A top-down, Republican-type command structure that’s required. All eleven guys have to work together to run the simplest shit. That said, the NBA’s a lot more...liberal, with more dependence on the individual stars. A team's best player oftentimes commands as much fan loyalty as the franchise they play for. And the stars are easily as powerful as the coach. When ‘Melo Anthony got into a disagreement with Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni, it was D’Antoni who resigned. That wouldn’t happen in football. But in basketball you only start five guys--and the Knicks traded four players to get Carmelo. So who’s more important? And its obvious Dwight Howard can’t stand his Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. Hell, who can blame ‘em? Van Gundy should have quit instead of crying to the press. But his dumbass will be fired at year’s end. I’ve been a basketball fan practically my whole life, yet I’m still not convinced coaching is all that important. Least not at the NBA level. By the time players reach that plateau I have to believe they’ve already played a million basketball games and mastered the subtle intricacies of defensive rotation and the pick and roll. You’d think they would anyway. And I’ve never heard an NBA coach say anything I couldn’t have said myself in a huddle. Even at crucial times in playoff games they still yell the same moronic crap: “We need more energy!” “Crash the boards!” “Box out!” "Play the full 48 minutes!" “Uh coach...” “Yeah Grdzak, what is it?” “I was thinking of playing 47 minutes and 30 seconds. Is that a good way to win?” “Well of cour--wait whaaa?!!!...”
If history’s taught me anything, the key to being a great basketball coach is having Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Kobe Bryant, or Magic Johnson on your team. That’s the secret--not just in basketball, but in every sport. Great players. Former Yankees manager Joe Torres was allegedly great. He won 4 World Series titles managing that team and won the American League pennant almost every year he was there. That said, he’s also the only coach/manager in the entire history of baseball (which is long!) to lose a 7 game playoff series after being up 3-0. In fact, no professional baseball or basketball team has ever lost a 7 game series under those circumstances. So how good or important could Torre really have been to those great Yankee teams? And how many championships has he won since he left Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera back in New York?
In fairness, I've never played organized baseball (or basketball for that matter)--yet I have to saynothing seems easier than being a professional baseball manager. Particularly an American League manager. What tough, split-second decisions do they really need to make? Hell, if I were an owner I’d keep a laptop in the dugout, let the players type the given scenario into the machine. Have ‘em wait for a response.
But I guess that wouldn't be a fun way to play America's game.
"If an NFL football offense is like a classical orchestra, executing a pre-written piece as expertly as possible; then an NBA basketball team is more like a jazz combo. They know the turnarounds, the key signatures, and melodies; but the real interest is in the spontaneity when all that’s thrown out the window. That’s what fans want to see--steals, fast breaks, blocks, shots taken in rhythm. Not a mechanical, 12 play, scripted drive that ends in a 2 yard run into the end zone. That’s football."-Lodo Grdzak
Miami Heat are probably the only team to have improved since last year. Not only did they acquire Shane Battier and Ronnie Turiaf in the off-season; but Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller are healthy. If Lebron's ever going to win the whole thing, this should be the year. Unfortunately, the Heat still don’t have a point guard; still have no depth should one of their big 3 players gets hurt; and I don’t like their coach.
Chicago Bulls have the deepest team and the league’s best defense; but their offense can get very stagnant and Derrick Rose looks worn down. They need a minimum of 15 points a a game from Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, and Rip Hamilton--along with some big numbers from Rose, and I have doubts whether they can do that against Miami.
I really haven’t seen Oklahoma City Thunder play too much this year (west coast games go on at 10:30 PM here in New York). That said, if I could pick any player in the league at this moment in their career to start my own franchise, it’d be Kevin Durant. The guy’s offense is off the chart and he’s the perfect defensive compliment to Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins. Plus everyone seems to like him. GoThunder! I wanna see you in The Finals.
My niece Jaybird's two favorite teams: Celtics and Spurs--Go figure! (No comment from me).
You know I’ll be rooting for the Knicks ‘til they get knocked out (most likely in 1st round). Its too bad that Jeremy Lin and Amare Stoudemire both got hurt; but Knicks have a very potent offense, Tyson Chandler is literally a champion, and ‘Melo Anthony has never played better. Go for it New York!!
"He's never gotten into any type of scandal, all he decided to do was to go to a different place to work. And it just shows you that we celebrate athletes who go through addictions, go through problems with the law. This isn't what LeBron James has had problems with..." --Jeff Van Gundy
* NOTE: All pics stolen off Google Images, with the exception of the photo of me taken at Madison Square Garden. All rights reserved on my pic (like you really want that!). Other pics may be copyrighted by their owners.
James Blood Ulmer (left); Vintage (right): "Yo Vintage!--you back there?"
"Lodo!--yeah. Back here."
When you visit Vintage's loft out in Jersey you have to wend your way through a dense maze of stacked artwork, frames, and retro-vintage clothing racks. The space takes up an entire floor of an abandoned, block-long warehouse; and if city planners have their way the building will soon be going the same way as the obsolete factory that once occupied it. Or the obsolete city where (for now) it still stands.
Its somewhere between an eighth or quarter-mile from one side of the cavernous loft to the other, and as I made my way towards the back that first visit I thought of the Collyer brothers; taking pains to avoid the precariously stacked piles of frames and heavy collectibles. The sheer size of the place overwhelmed me since my life's adapted to city studios and shared subway cars; and considering the neighborhood, it must be a very scary place to be alone at night. No matter how much heat Vintage packs.
The day I visited, an appraiser-friend of Vintage's stopped by to determine the value of certain items.
"Vintage, I've never seen so much stuff in one place in my life. I had no idea. I could stay here all day and not get to half the frames, let alone the paintings and clothes."
"...So you think you'll have to come back?" Vintage asked.
The appraiser laughed as he shot me a glance.
"Yeah man, that's what I'm saying. I couldn't get thru half these frames today."
Vintage stroked his beard as he looked round nervously. "Well,...alright. I mean,...if you have to come back. You'd be willing to do that?"
"...Sure," the appraiser answered hesitantly as he typed into Vintage's desktop computer, "but let me ask you something. Do you have this painting here that I can see?"
The appraiser tapped at the computer monitor which displayed the painting of interest. Vintage was sure he had it--just not sure where; so off he went in what seemed a variety of directions at once in search.
"Is this is it? ...Naw." "That's not it..." "That's definitely not it. " "What the...?" This painting (above) wasn't the original one of interest, but it got us all to talking. Vintage told us:
"The guy who painted this was a holocaust survivor. German or Polish guy. I used to run into him and his wife near Union Station every Sunday where'd they'd chain-smoke cigarettes on the benches. One right after the other. There was a whole collective of these East European Jews that painted in a similar style. This twisted stuff--inspired by the things they'd seen. I had several by this guy, but this is the last one. But I'm not just letting it go, I'm tired of getting ripped-off at auction. Those two girls are Siamese twins, and that guy used to really eat rats on Times Square 'til they put him in a mental hospital. It was a freak show and those holocaust survivors loved it. They were right at home with that shit and would make these fantastic paintings as they smoked and smoked their cigarettes in these tiny, rent-controlled apartments. My wife and I would go to their building and drink vodka with them. Always in a cup--never in a glass or shot-glass. Always those tin cups like when you go camping. We'd go from apartment to apartment--they loved my wife. And they'd all be drinking their vodka the exact same way. Drinking and filling your cup. But after awhile you'd have to leave 'cause there'd be too much smoke. You couldn't breathe. Poor buggers survived the gas chamber only to live like that. But maybe that's where they were comfortable by then. ...All I know is I'm not getting ripped off at auction again cause this guy was an important painter. Please, I know. ...I live with this shit."
"You know Lodo, in over 4 years you're the first person from ______ that ever actually came out here. Everybody else over there is a bunch of pussies far as I'm concerned. You're the only one with the balls or just plain God-damn curiosity to come out here."
More Classic Vintage (this story for another time!): * NOTE: All pics taken by Lodo Grdzak. All rights reserved.