Archive for September 12th, 2004

Shopper’s Secret

1

One
of the lesser known shopping secrets of Boston is a rundown warehouse
in the industrial zone behind the Boston Medical Center know both colloquially
and officially as "Zapatos".  As the name suggests they
specialize in shoes, although they also feature cut rate hats, sweats,
roller blades, ice skates, socks and occasionally bizarre odd lots of
stuff like dancing soda cans or glow-in-the-dark religious icons.

Although the clientele is largely Latino, many from the nearby Cathedral
Housing Projects, clued in shoppers from as far away as Maine and New York
make it a regular stop on trips to Beantown. The owner is an old Jewish
guy named Abe Shapiro or something, and he must have an in with
the mob, because Zapatos receives massive daily trailerfuls of brand name
merchandise at steep discounts, no questions asked. Most of the merchandise is in perfect condition, leading us to believe someone is knocking off interstate trucks, or pulling an insurance scam.

Shoes and sneakers are separated and thrown into huge bins according
to sex and size. The bin for 10 and a half sneakers, for example, is
about 10 feet on a side and 3 or 4 feet deep. There are several hundred
pairs of Adidas, Nike, New Balance,Puma, Tretorn, Champion, Converse and
lesser known brands, high tops, low tops, canvas, leather and plastic,
piled
one upon the other and just waiting to be dug out and tried on.

Prices are indicated by and arcane code of letters which represent numbers,
so that TE = $15 and ID = $20, etc. On Tuesday, before leaving for Maine
to visit the Dowbrigade Mom, we paid them a visit and left with three
pairs for $55.  We got some new white leather tennis shoes (remember
when all sneakers were called tennis shoes? We are embarassed to admit that we do…) and a pair of bright
blue leather sneakers called 2Pods, for $15 each.  And then we splurged
on a pair of slate gray topsiders, very Preppy, for $25.

Therein lay our downfall.  In a pique of Kennedyesque fashion machismo,
we wore our brand new topsiders without socks, on a stroll down to the
Common Grounds, a local coffee hangout. By the time we got home we had
worn an excruciating raw spot the size of a quarter, directly on our right
Achilles tendon, and have been limping around ever since. To make matters
worse
later that day we stuffed our right sock with rolled up toilet paper
over the oozing sore and tried to play tennis in our new tennis shoes.

We are working on an extended blog posting titled "Why smart people
do incredibly stupid things." Meanwhile, we highly recommend Zapatos
to Boston area shoe shoppers.  It’s located at 90 Wareham St, below
the giant vertical sign reading, appropriately enough, "Zapatos." Stay
tuned…..

Why We Supported the War

7

It’s getting hard to remember a time before blogging, but at the
time of the US invasion of Iraq the Dowbrigade did not exist. However,
some recent readers may be surprised to find that in the run-up to
and immediate aftermath of the military phase of the war, we were in
favor of going in. Like John Kerry, even knowing what we now know,
we would be in favor of going in. In fact, we NEVER believed the
flimsy, transparent rantings and rationalizations of the Bushies. We
had reasons of our own for wanting to take the bastard out. Let us
explain.

Saddam Hussein had by then passed over the line and entered a category
of human being we refer to as Very Bad Men. VBM’s are people the planet
would quite simply be better off without. They are people who, had we
the power to do so, would cease to live. Different people gain that designation
for different reasons; as a lifelong opponent of capital punishment, we
do not give it our lightly.

But there are cases of people so inherently evil, involved in enterprises
which would result in the deaths of scores of other, innocent lives, that
killing them would be an act of heroism. The classic case is that of
Adolf Hitler.  If you found yourself alone in a room with Adolf Hitler
just before the invasion of Poland set off WWII, and there was a loaded
gun on the table between you, closer to you than to him, would you pick
it up and kill Hitler?

It would certainly be a different situation if you knew that Hitler
had a tiny bomb planted in his brain, and you could kill him by pressing
a button, without any danger of getting caught and executed yourself.

How we wrestled with these chestnuts as an adolescent groping towards
an understanding of himself and what he was capable of. Could we do it?
In the ultimate analysis, no one can answer that question until they find
themselves in a life or death situation. One of the candidates for President
this year knows the answer to that question, and knows the price a man
must pay to take the life of another with his own hands.

George Bush is a killer in his own way, to be sure, but his way is of
the push-the-button-and-blow-up-the-brain variety. He has sent hundreds
of thousands to do the killing, and over a thousand to die. We would
truly prefer that the person making these decisions be someone who understood
what they entail.

Back to Saddam. What did he do be included in our personal Eliminate
On Sight list? You may remember that at that time,immediately prior to
our invasion of Iraq, an unprecedented wave of Palestinian suicide bombers
were attacking Israel at a pace of several a week. Pizzerias, Supermarkets,
discotheques, bus stops were going up right and left.  A sixteen-year-old
high school student blew herself up next to another sixteen-year-old high
school student.  Children were killing children.

And Saddam was offering cash payouts, $50,000 or thereabouts, to the
families of these children, to encourage them and assure them that their
family would be taken care of.  What idealistic teenager watching
his or her family suffer would not consider a "heroic" free pass to heaven,
especially if it included material salvation for the loved ones left
behind.

We became convinced that Saddam’s payments were directly causing the
deaths of dozens of Israelis and Palestinians. It was pure evil. At that
point, we would have supported any effort to remove him from power, including
invading Iraq for the express purpose of doing so.

Invading Iraq has not proven to be the problem. It is the kind of job
our armed forces is trained to do  We did the job in six weeks, destroyed
the Hussein family, erased Iraq’s capacity to threaten her neighbors,
and ascertained that there were no WMD’s lying around for terrorists to
get their hands on. Only 256 US soldiers died during this phase, and we
are convinced their actions saved many more lives than that.

What are armed forces are NOT prepared to do, by neither training nor
temperament, is to occupy and control a country twice the size of Idaho
and 25 million fiercely nationalistic people for an extended period of
time. The best of our youth, our most precious resource for the future,
are sitting ducks in a shooting gallery, as real killers and crackpots
are flocking in from around the world to step up and take their chances
at the "Kill An American Carnival Sweepstakes".

Are we, perhaps, using this as a sly tactic to lure out all of the closet
American-haters in the world, and get them all into one place, just to
make it easier to wipe them out? Nice theory, but in reality every one
we eliminate engenders two or three more – widows, kids, brothers bent
on revenge in a never-ending cycle of violence.

So what should we have done then, you ask. Pack up our toys, er, advanced
weapons systems, and go home.  Well, yes. With the clear understanding
that if at any point in the future we became convinced that Iraq again
presented a clear and direct threat to the Untied States or our national
security, we would without hesitation do it again.

Our guys could have come home feeling good about accomplishing their
mission. We would get better and better at these finite and precise surgical
missions, accomplishing them at less cost and with less loss of life.
Antagonistic foreign leaders would learn to respect us, and fear us.
But we must avoid, at all costs, this business of occupying a foreign
country, or propping up an unpopular puppet regime. It is an ugly business,
unAmerican and doomed to failure.

As a final point, a secondary reason we were in favor of excising Saddam
did have to do with the great unspoken but overriding presence
bubbling up from beneath the whole affair – oil. Maybe, we thought, with
the Iraqi oil online, we could stand up to that other group of despicable
Very Bad Men – the Saudi royal family. In addition to providing virtually
all of the human and financial resources for 9/11, they were on our shit
list mostly for the way they treated the women unfortunate enough to be
born within the reach of their fanatical edicts. It galls us on a daily
basis to have to kowtow to these smug reactionaries who are opposed to
everything America is supposed to stand for.

Maybe they shouldn’t be put on the Eliminate on Sight list, but at the
very least they should be stripped of power and forced to return the
billions they have stolen from the legitimate asperations of the people
they rule.

But that is a story for another day.  Suffice it to say that support
for the initial Invasion of Iraq in no way divests one of the right to
criticize how the war was handled or what it has become.

We Know We Swore on a Stack of Bibles…..

3

After
last October’s soul-Wrenching
debacle
in the American League Championship Series, we swore on our
daughter’s firstborn child that we would never, absolutely, unequivocally,
NEVER,
if we lived
to be 100, give our heart away to a baseball team, ESPECIALLY
those pathetic worthless losers the Red Sox.

A months ago our rejection of America’s pastime was
looking was looking prescient and prudent.  The Beantown bombers
were mired 10 and a half games behind the Yankees Evil Empire, and their
lackluster, win-one-lose-one campaign was clearly heading for an early
and merciful elimination.

They had plenty of talent, these Red Sox, and won their
share of games in blowout fashion, either through shutout pitching from
one of their two stud hurlers, Pedro
Martinez
and Curt
Schiller
, or because
their killer lineup went on an offensive tear and scored 10+ runs. But
they were losing way too many close games.

Our theory at the time was that they, like us, were emotionally
exhausted after the agonizing seventh game, fourteenth inning meltdown
of last year. So many individual players had to go to the well, reach
deep
inside
and
summon
up transcendental
resolve and superhuman effort,
just to get to that seventh game in  the Bronx. Player after player
was having a career year last year , doing things they had never been
able to do, before or since.  Bill
Mueller
won the American League batting title,
and he was a career .286 hitter after 8 years in the bigs. And he wasn’t
the only one. Garciaparra, Nixon, Ramirez, Ortiz and Todd Walker had all
been banging the bejesus out of the baseball, back in 2003.

They played, individually and collectively, at the absolute
limit of their abilities, and they captured the hearts and imaginations
of fans all over New England. The Madness was on the march with the falling
leaves, and the oft-jilted faithful of Red Sox Nation were seduced once
more by the siren call of the Boys of Summer, whispering the wicked words
which have sentenced so many of us to the shame and suffering of personal
recrimination and chagrin: "This is the year," it murmurs. The sacred
mantra of the ultimate sports sucker – the Red Sox fan.

After trying so hard, and coming so close, and losing in
such a psychologically devastating manner, is it any wonder that neither
we nor they had the stomach for the kind of nightly gut-check pugnacious
nastiness required to win the close ones in the Major Leagues, or to
hitch your
emotional flag to the fate of a team in a pennant hunt. It was less
than six months after the debilitating debacle of the ALCS in October.  Too
soon, the scar tissue had yet to form, and the recently formed emotional
scab was in danger of being easily dislodged by any strong emotional
attachment or even strenuous cheering.

Just as well, we thought, that they were decidedly mediocre,
pedestrian, dispirited and disappointing. By July we were counting down
the number of days remaining
until the start of Football Season. Then, just when we thought we were
safe, what do those Fenway bums do, but go on a monster tear, winning
21 of the
last
24 games,
and
storming
to within two-and-a-half games of the pathetic Yankees, who are slouching
and stumbling towards the playoffs on sore arms and fragile psyches.

So we were happily ignoring baseball altogether, until
the national political conventions started up. Whose idea was it to hold
the Democratic shin-dig in Boston and the Republican revival in New York?
Whoever it was, it got us thinking. Now, one of the things that we pride
ourself on, a key to the Dowbrigade worldview, is the ability to see
connections
which
might
otherwise
pass
unnoticed. The more we thought about it, the more we saw parallels
between the Democrats and the Red Sox, and the Republicans and the Yankees
.

According to Jay Leno, ""You know Boston is a
perfect city for Democrats because the Democrats are like the Red Sox:
They’re optimistic in the spring, concerned in the summer, ready to choke
in the fall."

The Democrats, like the Sox, were plucky, disheveled, lunch
pail pluggers. The Republicans were arrogant aristocrats with an attitude,
backed up by
money, power and a successful track record.  Just like the Yankees.  Now,
we know we will probably hear from some misguided Yankee fan who will
claim to be a die-hard Democrat, but this will just prove, in these
trying times, that some individuals have completely lost their moral
compass.

George
Steinbrenner
is a staunch Republican, almost a
Prototype for the Aggro-attitude, manic magnate. His team wears ties
in airports, he supports
(and contributes to) President Bush, he hangs in Republican circles.
Majority Red Sox owner Tom Werner has contributed to and is supporting
Kerry.
John
Henry,
another
member
of the Sox ownership group has been firmly associated with the working
man
since
he annihilated
that steam shovel in an early installment of that classic American rivalry,
man vs. machine.

Suddenly we were seeing corollaries in every intentional
walk and stolen base. We were detecting connections which would be deemed
paranoia in lesser men. The Red Sox were within two-and-a-half, and it
was a holy war again. How
quickly
we had
discarded
our soulful
resolution
to not be fooled again! Luckily, friends with harder hearts and firmer
wills reminded us how many opportunities remained to crash and burn, and
the wide variety but invariable inevitability of past failure, so
we were able to avoid giving our sporting heart away so cheaply again. For now.

For these Red Sox really are different.  In the middle
of the season they actually did something that the team has NEVER done
during the 35 years we have been following their fortunes, something
so out of character that it at least makes on think that, maybe……

They got rid of the player considered their heart and
soul, the most popular athlete in Boston, with the possible exception
of Tom Brady.  They traded Nomar Garciaparra for a pair of defensive
aces – Golden Gloves Orlando
Cabrerra
and Doug
Mientkiewicz
.  The
sports pundits immediately proclaimed the move the biggest disaster since
trading the Babe. But suddenly the Red Sox were one of the best defensive
teams in baseball. With some health luck and according to the situations,
we may soon see an infield of Mueller, Cabrerra, Pokey
Reese
and Mientkiewicz
– all Golden Glovers and quite possibly the best defensive infield the
franchise has EVER put on the field.

This was a radical departure for the Olde Towne Team because
since time immemorial the Red Sox have been a hitters team. They have
always looked down on defense as sissy-style baseball. Rosters have changed,
phenoms have come and gone, managers have been given the keys to the the city
and soon after run out of town on a rail, owners have bought and sold
the Sox like a lot of hog futures, but the team philosophy has been the
same.  Sign sluggers and a couple of stud pitchers, and bludgeon
your way on base, tattoo that left-field wall with doubles and triples,
and defense be damned.

One would think that after 86 years of unremitting abject
failure someone along the way would have dare to suggest trying another
tack. Until now, no one had.  Turns out the Sox have plenty of pop
in their bats, even without Garciaparra, and now that they have a stellar
defense, they are the hottest team in baseball.  How long it will
last is anyone’s guess, and the reason baseball is a betting man’s sport.

We have thus far avoided investing serious emotional equity
in the fate of this team so soon after the trauma of last year, but if
they
end
up in the ALCS against the Yankees again, there may be no stopping us
from falling off of the wagon. Already we are hearing the ghostly whispers
in the wind and the whirr of machinery that lulls us to sleep.  This
is the yearrrr….

Stop us before we cheer again.