Archive for the 'Sports' Category

Beware the Sports Gods Wrath

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aingge.jpgThe Boston sports world, an all-consuming caldron of angst, emotion and eternal hope cruelly dashed, is awash in ranting and raving about tonight’s NBA Draft lottery. Not even the draft itself, mind you, but the lotto-like pingpong ball extravaganza, raised, in an example of rabid hype promoted into an actual event, somehow, to the level of talking heads, star-studded broadcast teams, exhaustive human and cyber-metric analysis and, for all we know, rampant off-shore wagering and secret animal sacrifices.

One would think that a place with as many alternative distractions as Boston, home to multiple world-class universities, a thriving music scene ranging from street performers to Symphony Hall, a cadre of entertaining politicianas continually involved in humorous hijinxs, spectacular scandals or outragous oration, as well as regular, dramatic and ultimately doomed runs for the Presidency, and the glorious New England weather would have better things to do than obsess over a bunch of over-paid, pampered and ocasionally psychotic or criminally insane professional athletes. However, we suppose that even with a billion distractions a dense conglomeration of ordinary Americans, hoodwinked into dead-end jobs and trapped in their homes by rampant debt and fear of violent crime will find solace in highly stylized violence and sweaty showmanship displayed on their as-yet unpaid for giant plasma TVs.

Despite all of this, and our heartfelt conviction that professional sports is emblematic of all that is wrong with our society and culture, from education through the economic system and into drug culture, the Dowbrigade confesses to being a die-hard Boston Celtics fan since our undergraduate days in the Bird-McHale-Parrish era. So it is with some regret that we say that if the Sports Gods do exist in any way, shape or form, the Celtics will get the worst pick possible for the team with the second fewest wins last season, which is to pick fifth.

For the vaulted Celtics have committed the one unpardonable sin in sports universally, and in professional sports in particular – they purposely lost games. They threw at least a dozen contests at the end of last season in order to improve their chances at one of the two can’t-miss picks in this year’s crop – a pair of 19-year-old saviors whose lives have become so distorted that thier only hope for any kind of normal existence is to fail abmysmally in a few years and fade back into obscurity with a few million in the bank.

The Celtic braintrust did it in a smug, we-aren’t-really-trying-to-lose, wink-wink, good effort boys parody of real basketball which was as transparent as it was shameful. As anyone who has ever truly loved playing sports at any level knows, competing means giving your absolute best effort every time you step on the court. For a coach it means putting the absolute best team on the floor to give your team the maximum chance to win. Both players and coach owe this to the team, to the fans and to themselves. It is the one inviolate rule. Anything less is a sham.

To abandon this wholehearted and honest effort is to reduce your sport to the level of Professional Wrestling, the Harlem Globetrotters, fighters who take dives, student-athletes who shave points or players who fake injuries for time off.

The irony is that the NBA draft lottery was changed specifically to eliminate that kind of deliberate losing. Finishing with the worst record no longer guarentees the first pick, as it does in the NFL. The whole point in the ping pong balls was to reduce the chances of the worst team getting the top pick to around 1-in-4. Truth be told, finishing the season 0-and-82 would only get a team about a 50-50 chance at one of the top two picks!

Which is why we are expecting a donnybrook tonight. Because the Sports Gods DO exist! At least the majority of Americans think they do. When we read the statistic that 75% of Americans believe that they can affect the outcomes of live, televised sporting events by what they do (or do not do) at home, we thought it was another invented stat. But then we started thinking about it.

Imagine you are watching the Red Sox locked in a series with the Yankees, and it’s the bottom of the ninth inning and the Red Sox are behind by a run and Big Poppi is at the plate and the bases are loaded and your cat jumps up onto your lap. Annoyed, absorbed, absent-mindedly you throw kitty onto the couch across the room while hissing “Not now!” Then, before you can say “Rumpelstiltskin” (which may or may not be your cat’s name), Big Poppi pops up weakly to Derek Jeter. Game over.

Then, say, the next night, a similar situation arises. Late in a tie game, men in scoring position, Ortiz at the plate, two out. When the count runs to full, suddenly Rumpelstiltskin jumps back up onto your lap! Are you going to throw him across the room again? Absolutely not! You are going to scratch him behind the ears and ask him is he wants a catnip canape! Because, obviously, the Sports Gods like cats.

This is an example of affecting sporting events via “mojo remote control”, as well as hard evidence of the existence of the Sports Gods. Accordingly, we are expecting, at about 8:35 pm this evening, an unnatural, anguished howling to arise from the over-the-top fandom in Beantown, like a wounded animal watching its last hope of escape evaporate forever. Serves them right.

Get My Tights and Jockstrap

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Abe Coleman, a squat powerhouse of a professional wrestler, billed by promoters as the Hebrew Hercules and known to opponents by the two-footed kick he copied from kangaroos, died Wednesday in New York. He was 101, probably making him the oldest professional wrestler, according to wrestling publications.

He weighed 220 pounds, stood 5 feet 3 inches and boasted moves that included the flying head butt and the airplane spin.

But his pi

Part of the Problem with Professional Sports

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Watching the Celtics get smoked last night by the lowly Atlanta Hawks, 100-96, ("Victory eludes Celtics") we were hounded by dark and negative thoughts. To wit: No wonder Red bought the farm a week before this Titanic edition of his beloved Celtics set sail.

Bob Cousy (guest announcer) informed us that the average age of last night’s Celtics starters was 22, his tone if not his words telling us this was the root of the problem.

Now, we all know that we go onto the floor with the team we have, not the team we want to have. Not the team we drafted. Not the team we are paying obscene wheelbarrows of cash to to don the green and white. Basically, we go into the game with the team who can’t afford to goldbrick.

An average age of 22 means that right now the once-mighty Celtics are in effect a college team, which sounds about right. At present they would have a tough time cracking the college top ten. The reason these kids are out there at all is that the Celtic’s entire starting five are out injured.

Now, Paul Pierce, Brian Scalabrine, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and Theo Ratliff (not to mention sixth man Tony Allen) are not going to give the Mavs or Suns much to worry about in a playoff series, but hell, even a blind pig finds a truffle once in a while. In fact, the starters are earning an AVERAGE of $5.5 MILLION while sitting on the bench in street clothes watching the games and cheering.

Cousy, as always the master of understatement and condemnation by implication, went on to note how much the game has changed since he played. "Athletes today are so much bigger and stronger and faster that they used to be, but the one thing they are not, is more durable."

Is this possible? Perhaps the bigger bodies and stronger muscles are putting unsustainable loads and stress on bones, tendons and joints designed for more mundane wear and tear. Was this what the Hall of Fame guard was alluding to?

We suspect not. Rather, like most things in this life, it boils down to money. Surely some roundball fanatic MBA candidate will soon write this phenomena up as a metronomic analysis, maybe win a Nobel prize in economics, showing that in an increasing number of cases NOT playing their chosen sport may be the smartest microeconomic decision for many of these star professional athletes.

Think of it this way. In the NBA at least, players get guaranteed contracts. The average player salary is currently;y $3.7 million, and taking into account the newer, unproven players, who can earn as little as $412,718 (and who, not coincidentally, are the only ones playing for the Celtics currently), the average veterans contract is over $5 M.

Now, as clueless and shortsighted as most of these athletes seem, all of them have very smart and sober agents, many of the Jewish persuasion (and we say that with pride and envy – another path not taken), who have negotiated the devil into these contracts, which commonly include multi-million dollar cash bonuses, deferred payments, ancillary off-court deals, direct deposits in off-shore accounts and huge salary payments to the heirs of heirs, yo unto the Nth generation. For example, the Celtics are still paying Vin Baker.

So there you are, 26 or 27 years old, a multi-millionaire after growing up in poverty, and you’ve finally made it to the big time. But it’s hard work – countless hours of hard work, discipline, sacrifice to get to the Show; drugs and gangs passed by, given up, relationships sacrificed, friends left behind, hard lessons learned.

And you soon realize that’s just the beginning; endless more sweat and discipline are required just to stay where you are. Because it’s no picnic at the top. There are 50 million kids out there who would kill for your job. 500 of them just might have the skills and the chance to take it from you.

And then, in an inspired moment of world-class athletic self-expression, going in for a dunk, or coming down with a rebound, or flying into a 300-lb 7-foot moving pick, you crack a bone, or pull a muscle, or sprain a joint, or tweak an old injury somewhere.

Now, you could just tape it up, play in pain, gut on through for the team and your teammates and the love of the game, and maybe get your surgery done after the season. But would that really be the prudent thing to do, from a financial and career point of view? A few more games, at the risk of, what, 5 or 6 more years at that $5 million average salary! You’d have to be nuts, or retarded, to risk that kind of future income for a questionable short-term benefit.

Or you can decide to ride the bench for a while. The checks keep coming – your income is not affected, and you have more time to enjoy being able to do pretty much anything you want. Of course, you have to do your rehab a few hours a day, in a 20 million dollar state-of-the-art private facility with a team of doctors (who ply you with legal narcotics), nutritional experts and trainers. And you get to watch live professional games in your favorite sport and root for your favorite team.

The only thing you are giving up is the visceral thrill of hearing the crowd roar when your name is announced, or when you do something spectacular, and that is no little thing for a professional athlete, but you have received so much acclaim in your life, that perhaps you can wait a while for another dose.

Of course, while you are out injured you are giving up opportunities to burnish your legend, add to your statistics and increase your value as a player for future contracts. However, once you are a veteran, and have proved your value, ability to play at this level and to produce numbers, you would only increase your future value marginally while risking shortening your career by playing through injuries.

The exceptions are the young guys, the Allan Rays and Rajon Rondos, who have yet to prove themselves and get their first big guaranteed contract. Even they suddenly find themselves with more money than they had ever imagined before, but they realize its just a taste so far, and they will do anything to prove themselves worthy of joining the multi-millionaires they see cheering them on from the sidelines.

Therein lies the problem.

In Cousy’s day, professional basketball players were one nasty fall away from baling hay or stocking the top shelves at the A & P. They had no high-powered agents, no investments, no pensions and no guarantees. If they couldn’t play for any extended period due to injury their stock dropped faster than Enron’s. Of course they played hurt. They would be crazy not to.

Today, the situation is reversed. Looked at from a strictly economic potential gain/potential loss point of view, most professional athletes are much better off not playing most of the time. In fact, after running the numbers, we are frankly surprised more professional athletes are not on the injury list.

At least until fans get sick of seeing their favorite stars getting paid not to play, and find a way to change the rules. It’s just a game, after all.

Staggering Stat of the Day

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How dominating is Tiger Woods’s lead in the world rankings? Consider that the 1,000th-ranked player in the world — Hsieh Chin-Sheng of Taiwan — is closer to No. 2 Jim Furyk (8.68 points behind) than Furyk is to Woods (11.17 behind).

from the Boston Globe Golf Notes

 

Tiger has reportedly converted a Korean War era aircraft carrier into a private pleasure cruiser.

Pug Uglies

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When the Red Sox acquired relief pitcher (now #3 starter)
Julio Tavarez, our first thought was, "Finally, the Red Sox have a
player uglier than
(Yankees ace) Randy Johnson!" (Personal disclaimer: the only person to
ever refer to the Dowbrigade as "handsome" was our paternal grandmother).

Undoubtedly, these were t he two ugliest dudes in
Major League Baseball. Our theory was, if they ever appeared on-screen
at the same time,
plasma TVs across America would explode, unprotected infants would
go blind,
and aesthetes into shock.

Well, as predicted by the axiom that any weird thing that could possible
happen, inevitably will, tonight at Yankee Stadium, Johnson and Tavarez
are the starting pitchers as the Sox and Yankees square off in an
absolutely meaningless four game series. When was the last time the
Sox and their arch-nemesis played two consecutive double-headers
and absolutely nobody gave a shit? Maybe never.

Anyway, we are waiting to see if the two ugliest men in baseball
ever actually appear on the screen at the same time, and if so, what
effect
that will have. Needless to say, we are watching on an expendable
10-year-old CRT and have applied several chemical masking agents
and pharmaceutical
buffers. After all, we are living in dangerous times.

World Strip Poker Championship

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DUBLIN (Reuters) – It started as an April Fool’s joke but an Irish
bookmaker’s proposal to hold the world’s biggest strip poker contest
will become reality next month.

Paddy Power floated the idea as a joke but it generated so much interest
— and hundreds of requests to take part — that the Dublin-based company
decided to organize a contest.

So next month, 200 poker buffs will risk baring all in an attempt to
become the first World Strip Poker Champion — and earn a place in the
Guinness Book of Records.

The winner will also receive a "Golden Fig Leaf" trophy plus
10,000 pounds ($18,630) in cash."This will be the most fun you can
have with your clothes on — or off!" Paddy Power said in a statement
for the tournament, which will be held in London on August 19.

from Reuters

tourney info from PaddyPower

Segui Denies Bizarre Side Effects of HGH

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NEW YORK — Former major leaguer David
Segui admitted yesterday in an ESPN interview that he used human growth
hormone and was among the players mentioned by ex-teammate Jason Grimsley
to federal investigators. Segui added that he used the drug with a doctor’s
prescription because of a growth hormone deficiency.

Segui, who spent 15 years in the majors and retired
in 2004, said on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines" that he continues to
use HGH legally. He said he first started using the hormone after the
deficiency was found when he went for blood work before surgery during
his playing career.

from the AP

We can imagine how the conversation between David
and his doctor went……

"Well, David, while we were doing the workup to
see why its taking you so long to come back from your latest arm surgery, we came up with some unexpected results that are cause for some concern…"

"Oh, God, I knew it….What is it Doc? Give it to
me straight. AIDS? Syphilis? Lou Gerhrig disease?"

"Nothing so dire, luckily, but we did notice that
your weight was down"

"Not much appetite lately.  Thought it
was the pain killers and the greenies…"

"But then we took some more accurate measurements.  Did
you know that you are now one hundred eighty millimeters shorter than
the last time we examined you? Or that your arms, measured from armpit
to wrist, are also almost two centimeters shorter?
"

"Are you nuts! There must be some mistake. Are you saying
that I’m…..SHRINKING!"

"I’m afraid so. The clincher was when
we measured your feet. You’ve lost a full shoe size."

"Jesus Christ. What’s causing it? Is there any treatment
to stop it? I don’t want to end up a midget!"

"We believe, Mr. Segui, that your condition is caused
by a very rare Total Internal Deficiency of Human Growth Hormone (TIDHCH).
Luckily, modern science HAS found a treatment – external injections of
HGH. Up until recently, HGH had to be extracted from the pineal gland
of a living human being. Since no one can live without a pineal gland,
this made collecting HGH an expensive proposition. Most of it came from
Asia and Africa and only the superstars could afford it. But now
we have learned to synthesize the stuff, and its as easy to get as silicon."

"Sounds good, but isn’t that stuff dangerous, not to
mention banned from baseball. There’s supposed to be all sorts of Cro-Magnon
side effects Are you sure its worth it?"

"Well, we haven’t had a chance to measure it yet,
but medical research shows that in cases like yours the shrinkage in the size of your maximally
aroused member will be at least as dramatic as the decline in your shoe
size and other bodily measurements…."

"How soon can we start?"

Dressed to Be Killed

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) – An Iraqi tennis coach and two
of his players were shot to death this week in Baghdad because they were
wearing shorts, authorities said Saturday, reporting the latest in a
series of recent attacks attributed to Islamic extremists.

In the Baghdad incident, gunmen stopped a car carrying the Sunni Arab coach
and two Shiite players, asked them to step out and then shot them, said
Manham Kubba secretary-general of the Iraqi Tennis Union.

Extremists had distributed leaflets warning people in the mostly Sunni
neighborhoods of Saidiyah and Ghazaliyah warning people not to wear shorts,
police said.

from
AP

It is certain, were we to somehow find ourself in Iraq, that we would
want to play tennis. After reading the above article, however, we
would be sure to dress appropriately….

Miami Heat Out of Playoffs Pending Investigation

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The
entire Miami Heat basketball team was suspended from league play today
by NBA Commissioner David Stern. The suspensions
were announced simultaneously with the launch of an investigation of
players and some coaching staff for "inappropriate touching, hugging,
butt-patting and jumping on top of each other with open legs."

Until the investigation is complete, none of the players
will be allowed to appear in a game, creating difficulties for the Heat
in their playoff series with the Detroit Pistons, currently tied at a
game apiece.

According to anonymous sources in the league office,
an unnamed player filed a complaint with the Commissioner’s Office to
the effect that he, "felt sexually intimidated" and was subjected to
"unwanted intimate touching and groping."

According to Dr. Pat Franahan, an expert in sexual harassment
in the workplace who serves on the board of the Massachusetts Association
to Control Hostile Actions (MACHA), "Although sexually charged touching
is common in all professional sports, the problem is particularly acute
in basketball because of the skimpy uniforms and silk shorts. In addition,
their official uniform shirts are what are commonly referred to as ‘wife
beaters’."

Another unnamed sources close to the investigation said
that league officials are pouring over Heat game tapes, looking for "patterns
of excessive or uncalled for physical contact with possible sexual connotations."
They are especially interested manual-gluteus contact, and according
to the source are electronically timing the duration of all such contact.

Sources say Commissioner Stern has yet to rule on how
many seconds of manual-gluteus contact are legal before the touching
becomes possible sexual harassment.

The suspensions come a week after the Dallas Maverick’s Jason Terry was suspended for grabbing Michael Finley of The San Antonio Spurs by the groin.

In
addition to specific actions by particular players, the investigation
reportedly includes team officials and Miami Heat as a corporate entity,
for "engendering an atmosphere conducive to and tolerant of physical
sexual harassment" and maintaining facilities, including the playing
court at American Airlines Arena, locker
areas, whirlpool and physical therapy areas, where unwarranted and unwanted
hugs and other touching took place.

Coach Pat Riley stands by his players. "I really don’t
think there was anything sexual involved. Antoine Walker is just a very
emotional guy. He was doing the same stuff in Boston, plus the Wiggle!
And Shaq, he’s just a big teddy bear. He tries to hug everyone!"

As to the identity of the complaining player, Riley quipped, “I don’t know who she is and for her sake I hope I never find out.”

Results of the investigation are expected by the end
of the week, although if this target is not met or the results lead
to charges being filed, the outcome of the Miami-Detroit series would
be in the
hands of the Commissioner. Let’s keep those hands in plain sight at
all times.

Bouncing Off the Walls

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Most of the time the parts of our brain responsible
for our career as an English teacher and the part of our brain responsible
for our career as a Red Sox fan are completely separate, and that’s the
way we like it.

But once in a while, like we we get to escort a group
of students to Fenway Park, or when a Sox player will say something in
a locker room interview like, "I ain’t never been affiliated with none
of them substances," the wires get crossed and we get to play both roles
at the same time.

Lately, this has been happening more and more when we
are listening to games, both on radio and TV. It seems a new usage has
come into vogue for the term to one-hop the fence.

Now, to the best of our recollection, and from our long-gone
youth on the diamonds of upstate New York, to "one-hop the wall" means
to bounce once and go over the wall – a ground rule double in any league
from little to major.

But recently we have heard of balls one-hopping the
wall, and simultaneously bouncing off the wall and returning to the field
of play.  That is, using "to one-hop" to mean "reaching and bouncing
OFF of" rather than "reaching and bouncing OVER".

As in, "Ortiz smokes one on a rope to center field.
It one-hops the wall, and by the time Damon tracks it down, Big Popi
cruises into second with a stand-up double."

We don’t know why this bothers us, but it does.  "Get
over it," we tell ourself, "it’s just a new usage, the language changes,
that’s how you tell it’s not dead."

But let’s save "one-hops the fence" for those ground-rule
doubles, please. "Bouncing off the wall" is a dramatic enough image,
conjuring up as it does over-caffinated kids and
trips to the rubber room.

Next on the language front: The Dowbrigade’s proposal
to eliminate the letter "X" from the alphabet.

Tennis Travesty Tries US Fans’ Patience

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ROME
– The monkey on Roger Federer’s back – Rafael ”Raffa" Nadal –
has grown into a gorilla.

You expected the playful kid, 19-year-old Nadal, to finish the day swinging
through the trees of the Borghese Gardens. And why not. This is his town,
even if he comes from the Spanish isle of Mallorca: championships on both
visits. He was so bouncy after Kong-ing Federer – for the fourth straight
time — that 5 hours 6 minutes of heavy hitting and incessant running seemed
a twinkling as he retained his Rome Masters title yesterday.

by Bud Collins in the Boston Globe

Although we
will be surprised if Collins doesn’t take some heat for his unfortunate
simian simile, we have to agree with the
basic idea behind his analogy. Nadal is an absolute animal on
the court. In 40 years of playing and watching tennis we have never
seen
another player hit each and every shot with as much pure exuberant viciousness
as Rafael Nadal.

Of course, as a writer we would prefer to note his feline
reflexes and lion-like killer instincts as he sprang after and pounced
upon his bouncing yellow prey. The gorilla analogy, and that swinging
through trees stuff, smacks of, well, racism. Imagine if Collins had
said the same thing about James Blake or Serena Williams! We guess our
Simian relatives are a bit too close to us on the evolutionary family
tree for sportswriters to freely bandy such images about.

But the on-court savagery of the teenaged Spaniard seems
to be the only antidote to the 4-year dominance of the world #1, Roger
Federer of Switzerland. Federer, widely acknowledged as the best player
of the current generation, is something sick like 183-8 over the last
three years. The only player on the planet he can’t beat is Nadal, on
clay, responsible for four of those 8 losses.

The travesty was not on the court – it was in our inability
to view the match, either live or on tape. This had to be one of the
most exciting and closely contested sporting events
of
the
season,
world #1 vs. world #2, in the finals of a national tournament, and
yet
it was not
to
be found
on any of the 111 channels of our sports-skewed cable service or
on any of the 47 sports-exclusive high-definition screens at our local,
award-winning
sports bar
.

Is this evidence of the short-sighted neglect of a popular
and upscale sport by the network programmers, or of the tragic US-centric
scope of public popularity, at least as far as those same network programmers
perceive it. A match between a Swiss and a Spaniard for the Championship
of Italy, just doesn’t make the grade.

Or is it more insidious still, a psychic slap directly
at the Dowbrigade, devaluing the only sporting activity at which he does
not abjectly suck. Dark, paranoid thoughts on a dismal gray rain-soaked
Sunday. No tennis for weeks, it seems, either in real life or on television.
Indoor season finally ended, and they’ve deflated the MIT bubble. Yellow-ball withdrawal.

Oh, cursed dregs of the New England cavalcade of atmospheric
conditions! We feel the siren call of Southern California, or sun-struck
South America, where tennis is respected, and playable year-round.

This week Federer and Nadal are both playing a tournament
in Hamburg. No one is willing to bet they won’t again end up in the finals,
next Sunday. Any chance we could get this one on the tube, guys?

NBA Star Steals $2,000 Sunglasses?

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Houston Rockets forward Juwan Howard was accused today
of shoplifting a $2,000 pair of sunglasses from a Miami-area optical
store.

Miami police are investigating the claim, but no charges have been filed
and Howard has denied any wrongdoing."I’m aware of the situation and
have spoken to my attorney," Howard said in a statement. "I will
vigorously defend myself and (I) am confident I’ll be cleared of these
baseless charges."

The owner of Eye Q Optical in South Beach told Miami television stations
that he has a surveillance tape showing Howard take a pair of sunglasses,
though he has not allowed media outlets see the tape.

from the Houston Chronicle

We are not sure which is more disconcerting – that
an American athlete who is being paid $112 MILLION DOLLARS to play
basketball
and be a role model for kids is being accused of stealing a pair of sunglasses,
or that a store in Miami has the balls to charge 2 grand for a pair of
shades.

The Dowbrigade is used to students coming to his classes
wearing wristwatches worth more than his car, but if it starts happening
with sun glasses, we will be deeply discouraged….