Archive for February, 2012


Love Letters, Part 5: Dear Cleveland

Dear Cleveland,

Once upon a time at a bar in Harvard Square, a buddy from college remarked that I was his only friend who, when placed in a room full of bankers, consultants, doctors, and lawyers, would be drawn to the one guy wearing a Carhartt jacket. (The guy ended up being quite smart and interesting, thankyouverymuch.)

Perhaps that interpretation of my taste explains my feelings for you, Cleveland. You see, I have enjoyed sports in plenty of glamorous places, but you remain one of the best sports towns I know.

I’ve been nursing this crush on you for years. I suppose I could blame it on nostalgia, since some of my earliest and most formative experiences watching professional sports were at Gund Arena (a.k.a “The Q”) and The Jake (a.k.a. Progressive Field).

But nostalgia isn’t the only thing fueling my attachment to you. After all, I grew up just as close to (earmuffs!) Pittsburgh and had my very first MLB baseball experience at Three Rivers. Truth be told, Cleveland, you have given me a unique sampling of teams and figures to think about in the wide world of sports: the Cavs, the Tribe, the Browns 1.0 and 2.0; Bernie and Vinny; CC and Thome; Price and Ferry; Bron Bron, Baerga, and Belle. You even gave me both the Rockers and John Rocker for a time, which covers a sports spectrum more colorful than this girl could ever ask for.

Perhaps my affection for you remains strong because we’ve never actually been together. If I had ever fully committed to you and your teams, your charming quirks might have devolved into exasperating deal-breakers that pushed me to the end of my rope and landed me angry and sad and shouting invectives at an empty building from the middle of the street (see also: Factory of Sadness).

Some of your true fans will rib me for romanticizing your quirks. They will grumble about all those ill-conceived front-office moves, bad management, and cruddy seasons. They will smirk about Varejao and scoff at McCoy and rue the day that Lofton was traded because that really was the beginning of the end. So much losing, their care-worn gazes will say. And they are not wrong. But they are overlooking something.

You are many wonderful things, Cleveland, but you are not high-gloss glamorous. And do you really want to be? Your hard-scrabble, Rust Belt identity itself has been romanticized ad nauseam, but I think many Cleveland loyalists derive real pride from your bearing of that image. You wouldn’t be all those fascinating shades of you unless you were playing out the salt-of-the-earth and underdog narratives.

Furthermore, at a fundamental level, sports fans don’t follow a team because they expect – or want – that team to win every time. Winning streaks can be highly satisfying, sure, and the occasional championship is exhilarating and for some fans even vindicating. However, the purpose of watching (or playing) sports is not to win every time; the deeper utility of sport is in not knowing if you will win. It is the not knowing that keeps us buying tickets and tuning in. (Aside: The sexy, risky side of uncertainty is also what makes betting on sports such a massive, lucrative industry.)

There is much about being a human that one knows with certainty: there will be bills to pay; there will be some responsibilities to face; the body will age, and at some point, the body will die. (Too dark? My bad.) But in the midst of that heavy, inevitable stuff, we will relish the thrill of not knowing how some things will turn out but will be excited to find out. And with you, Cleveland, we never really do know, do we?  Thank you for that pleasure.


C Lee


Oh hey girl

by Bethany Hughes

Ryan Gosling can Drive, but so can Jeremy Lin:


Love Letters, Part 4: Dear John

No one likes to receive a “Dear John” letter — the note that is written to inform you that the relationship you’re in is over. I admit that I have dealt them and I have received them, and neither end is pleasant.

We can probably agree that long-distance break-ups are poor form, but during World War II, a letter was about the only medium a soldier’s sweetheart back home could use to inform him that she was moving on. Allegedly, it was those terse, colder-than-usual notes that popularized both “Dear John” and “That’s all she wrote.” To illustrate:

1. Usual letter from sweetheart back home

My dearest Johnnie, [followed by lots and lots of sentences, endearments, bits of encouragement, and a spritz of sweet perfume.]

2. Dreaded break-up letter

Dear John, It’s over.

[And then when soldier John’s buddies ask him what the letter said, he says, “‘It’s over.’ … and that’s all she wrote.”]

It is not that the ubiquity of phones, email, text messages, and video chatting renders Dear John letters obsolete; instead, all this media gives heartbreakers a whole arsenal of options for deploying their break-up message, least of which is doing it in-person. (Somehow I’m back to soldiers at the front, but remember that scene in the movie Jarhead when a bunch of Marines sit down to watch Deer Hunter, only to have the movie interrupted by a rather stark break-up message from one of the soldier’s wives? That was awful.) To evoke Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message, so one would do well to choose wisely when delivering the bad news. That said, is breaking up over email really that much more sensitive than ending a relationship via text?

Related to the world of sports, I found LeBron James’s Dear John letter to the Cleveland Cavaliers not only ill-considered but remarkably postmodern. Instead of walking into the front office and telling his employers that he is going to accept an offer from the Miami Heat, James helps create and participates in a weird draft-day-esque selection show/”This Is Your Life” special to announce his next career move. Dear Cleveland: It’s overexcept I’m going to tell an audience of millions instead of telling you first.

The only correspondence more wrenching than a Dear John letter is the reply from the jilted party. And boy did Cleveland Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert reply. Instead of writing to James, he wrote an open letter to the Cleveland Cavs community, ripping James and making outlandish promises to the Cavs’ fan base.

I can understand why Gilbert was moved to write an angry reply, but the thing about angry reply letters (or emails or text messages) is that ideally, you don’t send ’em. You set fire to the world with your prose, crumple the heck out of some first drafts, and then put the final copy in your desk drawer (or drafts folder) and walk away for a day. Or two. Then you review the letter and decide that you don’t actually want to send those words into the universe, but you keep the letter anyway, in a safe place, where The Plain Dealer or any other publication can’t run it but you can still refer to it when you’re feeling particularly righteous.

Recently, when asked if he would ever want to return to the Cavs, James acknowledged that Gilbert’s letter was likely written out of anger and that he (James) had made a mistake, too. Some call James’s comments a diplomatic move to assuage the scorned fans he will play in front of tonight in Cleveland, but I would like to believe that in two years, James has gained at least enough perspective to admit that he had a hand in the drama.

No matter how it happens, breaking up is hard to do, and a Dear John letter can make things harder. Just ask Harry:


A Brief Lin-terlude

First of all, mea culpa. I’m helpless when it comes to resisting an opportunity to make a pun. This quality is high on my list of tragic flaws.

Although Ricky is currently my favorite PG in the league, I’ve been observing the commentary about Jeremy Lin’s rise and its implications with some interest. For your reading pleasure, two essays that say something more compelling than “He came outta nowhere!” or some version of “Can you believe he’s Asian-American?? And does that matter?”:

Alexander Chee’s article for The Classical*

Gish Jen’s Op-Ed piece for The New York Times


*There’s also extensive coverage of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show on The Classical. Check out the multi-part series.


Love Letters, Part 3: Dear Minnesota Lynx

Four Lynx, yes. Four Olympians, probably. (AP/Hannah Foslien)

Dear Minnesota Lynx,

If there ever was an under-appreciated champion of a professional Olympic sport, you are it.

Never mind that 40% of readers saw the image of women [basketball players] and decided to sit this post out. Never mind that 80% of readers will stop reading as soon as it clicks that you’re a WNBA team. (Don’t worry — 100% of that 80% won’t know what they’re missing.)

You, Minnesota Lynx, deserve a love letter because you restored my enthusiasm for sports. I swore an unofficial moratorium on rooting for or caring about any team from August through December of last year because, in terms of sports, I was in Dante’s dark wood. What, I wondered, were sports actually for, and why should I continue to rend my precious heart over them?  Thus, when a dear friend told me she had a ticket for me to one of your games, I balked. But it was a play-off game (the Western Conference Finals), and my friend had developed a such a deep and sincere devotion to your team that I couldn’t say no.

So I went.

And it was fun. So fun.

I cheered and Dougied and ate a very large hot pretzel with fake cheese. It looked like you all were having fun down there on the floor, too.

Meanwhile, you know who was having marginally less fun? The Vikings, who at that time (late-September) had lost their first two games; the Twins, who were working on 100 losses; and the Timberwolves, who were actually doing well and gearing up for their seas — oh wait. No. They were locked out.

Let me not dwell on the negative. Let me instead say thanks again for re-infusing a spirit of playfulness and excitement into my attitude about sports. And speaking of Olympic sports, let me also say RIGHT ON for having four of your players under consideration for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. You know what looks good with gold? Everything.


C Lee T.


Love Letters, Part 2: Dear Ricky Rubio

Dear Ricky Rubio,

For quite a while, you were the new head-turning guy on the block in the NBA, the name in the mouths of  sports geeks and basketball fans in Minnesota and beyond. In recent weeks, however, the sports world has become enamored with a certain other rookie point guard.

I just want to let you know that not everyone has given in to the Lin-sanity.

It’s not your floppy hair or your youth, your Euroleague beginnings or the drama surrounding your deal with the Timberwolves. It’s not even the delicious alliteration of your name. No. For me it’s your passing, your vision. All those years in the Euroleague show.

So on this Valentine’s Day, I hope you will accept this poem by fellow Spaniard Federico García Lorca, on behalf of all people who care about assists.  Perhaps your soul, as the poet says,  actually is orange-colored — like the color of love or a basketball.

-C Lee T.
Minneapolis, MN

Cancioncilla del primer deseo

En la mañana verde,

Quería ser corazón.


Y en la tarde madura

quería ser ruiseñor.



ponte color naranja.


ponte color de amor.)

En la mañana viva,

yo quería ser yo.


Y en la tarde caída

quería ser mi voz.



ponte color naranja.


ponte color de amor.)

Ditty of the First Desire

In the green morning

I wanted to be a heart.

A heart.

And in the ripe evening

I wanted to be a nightingale.

A nightingale.


turn orange-colored.


turn the color of love.)

In the vivid morning

I wanted to be myself.

A heart.

And in the evening’s end

I wanted to be my voice.

A nightingale.


turn orange-colored.


turn the color of love.)

Apologies to García Lorca, as the way the poem looks here is probably not the way it looked when he wrote it; sincere thanks to Gretchen Marquette for sharing her Lorca with me.


Love Letters, Part 1: p.s. your awsome

In my mind, Valentine’s Day has only one thing going for it: On, or in anticipation of, February 14th, many  will pick up a pen and dream up something to write to the person(s) one has feelings for.  Maybe H—mark or some other greeting card company will get the ball rolling with a sentimental message, but some of us will decide that the valentine we offer up needs something more.

I say go for it. Write your dang heart out. The intended recipient will not judge you for spelling or usage mistakes (unless she’s your composition professor), and any message you come up with will be better than the baloney some corporate copywriter* produced, no matter how honeyed and smooth the printed message sounds.

Better yet, tear a page out of a spiral-bound notebook, say some things you really, really mean, put the page in the same sort of envelope you send your rent check in, and fold it into the hands of your sweetheart, who will look beyond the letter’s ragged edges and think it’s the best thing s/he’s ever read.

Keep in mind, too, that love letters are not reserved for lovers alone. Write to someone you appreciate, a coworker who makes you laugh, a cousin you wish you caught up with more frequently, the underground hip-hop artist who pretty much changed your mind about the world.

Or write to a wide-receiver who plays for the team you love, the one who dropped a whole bunch of passes in a really important game and then received death threats for his performance. Seven-year-old Owen Shure did just that, and I can imagine that the 49ers’ Kyle Williams appreciated it. Here’s a transcription of Owen’s letter, reposted from Ben Mankiewicz’s story on The Huffington Post:

Dear Mr. Williams:

We just watched the Playoff game. I feel really bad for you but I wanted to tell you that you had a great season. you sould be very proud, so I wanted to say thank you.

I am your #1 FAN!

Owen Shure
Los Angeles, CA

p.s. your awsome

To celebrate love and cupids and all that, watch for Love Letters, parts 2-5 the rest of this week.

*I was a corporate copywriter once upon a time. Copywriters get paid to come up with stuff that will make you feel something, but your stuff is always better because it comes from you. Dig?


Practice Makes History

After the Super Bowl, there are always a couple of stories that linger in the media, as if by mid-February we’re not quite ready to let go of the NFL season and move on with our lives. One such story is about Gisele Bündchen, who is, among her other roles, the wife of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. She lost her temper a bit after the Patriots’ loss and said something deemed unsavory in the presence of people who (naturally) recorded and posted her unrehearsed, unofficial comment for all to weigh-in on.

I like what  Jason Gay of The Wall Street Journal has to say about Ms. Bündchen’s comment.

I am reminded of the words of another person who is married to a professional athlete. When Celtics guard Ray Allen broke the all-time three-point record almost a year ago (Feb. 11, 2011), his wife, Shannon Allen, said something that I liked enough to copy onto a sticky note and hang by my desk:

Doesn’t everybody realize that this record was twenty-five years in the making, when his parents got him playing at the age of ten and instilled all those habits he still has today? Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes history. No one is an overnight success. He’s been doing this for twenty-five years.

For the record, I would never want to be married to a professional athlete, whether he’s a guaranteed Hall of Famer or captain of the practice squad. So stop calling me, Joe Mauer! (Joking. Apologies to Joe’s fiancee, who should be taking notes about not speaking out of turn…)

[Special thanks to AS for sharing the Gay column]


The Beautiful Unlikely

When I was a teenager, my dad was fond of setting my curfew early and saying, “Nothing good happens after 10:30.” With adult hindsight, I can admit that he was, for the most part, spot-on about that.

In my present life, however, something really good happens after 10:30 (actually, from 10-11) each weekday night: “As It Happens” airs on Minnesota Public Radio.

Produced by the Canadian Broadcast Company and featuring all the puns and jazz flute one can stomach (my threshold for both is admittedly pretty high), AIH often includes stories that wouldn’t appear on U.S. news shows. A couple of nights ago, they aired an interview with Norwegian artist Morten Traavik about his cross-cultural multi-genre project, which includes a delightful cover of A-ha’s “Take On Me” by young musicians from North Korea:

There is much that is unlikely about this performance, beyond just the pairing of the song and the instrumentation. The AIH story noted that North Koreans don’t get to listen to a lot of pop music; that is, their government doesn’t allow it. It is unlikely that the young musicians had heard “Take On Me” before Traavik introduced them to the song (along with some Norwegian folk and classical music, too), and it is unlikely that we North Americans would have access to images or a video of North Korean citizens doing everyday things; most of what we see coming out of the country is highly stylized and controlled.

Isn’t the realization of the unlikely one of the greatest pleasures about watching (and playing) sports? It is unlikely that a pitcher will throw a perfect game, but when it happens, it’s thrilling. Likewise, we crave walk-offs and Hail Marys, buzzer-beaters, broken records, and incredible comebacks. Often a great moment becomes great because before it happened, we didn’t think it would or could happen: no person could run the mile in under four minutes; no black man would sign a Major League contract; no gymnast — let alone a 14-year-old — could score a perfect ten.

A little bit (or a lot) of talent plus the right opportunity can produce something not only sweet, but beautiful — like the sound of an accordion quintet.

—-> Here’s a neat listing of some great moments in sports, according to one writer. What are some of your favorite moments, unlikely or otherwise?


About Last Night

By the time I post this, most of you will have had your fill of Super Bowl post-game analysis. So instead of pretending like I have anything intelligent to say about this American cultural event, I will offer you a brief scrapbook of my own experience watching SB XLVI. These snippets are arranged in a good old-fashioned acrostic*, which was inspired by Leslie’s slideshow in this episode of Parks and Recreation.

Also, a shout-out to the group of Angelenos I watched the game with. Impassioned Giants fans all, they interpreted the victory as auspicious for the rest of 2012. (And after that immediately-post-apocalypse Chevy commercial, I was particularly receptive to providential signs.)


Lack of a run game for either team. Even though I am aware that there is usually much more passing in the NFL than in college football, I instinctually expect more run plays because of all the college football (of the Big Ten variety, mostly) I’ve consumed.

Off-topic but [very loosely] related: I competed in the school-wide spelling bee each year from first grade through eighth. Twice the runner-up but never the champ, I can remember every word I missed. In first grade, it was “giant.” I got so excited knowing I knew how to spell the word that I forgot the “a” (not unlike going for yards-after-the-catch before the ball was in my hands).

Manningham or Madonna. Your choice.

Ballard and his injured knee. Did you see the poor kid test out the stability of his knee on the sideline? Not so good.

Aioli with a hint of spice. Delicious on tater tots.

Rare and unfortunately so: crowd shots. I took a long walk during the second quarter, so I may have missed some good ones, but in a big game with such high stakes, I wanted to see more rabid fans, not boring shots of the owners’ loges.

Dome: A huge economic opportunity for any city in a temperate or colder climate, according to an impassioned friend who called me with a diatribe-for-the-ages about cities like Cleveland and Cincinnati that didn’t build domes. Lost revenue opportunities (e.g., bowl games, conference championships, motocross races) and rankled tax-payers… I can see my guy’s point. (Maybe I can twist his arm to do a guest column about this. His rants are pretty entertaining and sometimes right-on.)

Intentional grounding called on the Patriots’ first offensive possession. That’s gotta be unprecedented in the SB, right?

Try a little tenderness. Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, receives two pre-game kisses from Vince Wilfork before every game. In a game that is often billed as hyper-macho, it’s easy to miss such moments of tenderness. As in any venture involving complex human relationships, though, those moments do exist.

Runners-up: Lost in all the confetti is the fact that the team and its personnel who just lost the Super Bowl must attend their post-game party, despite having just lost the Super Bowl. A friend who has experienced that very thing says it’s a pretty sad scene since it’s not the sort of party anyone hopes or wants to be at.

Other words I missed in spelling bees: entrance, constellation, vacuum, definitely, condolences, mortgage,  souvenir

Purple: The color of the G—-ade dumped on Giants head coach, Tom Coughlin.

Hole: The enormous one that Ahmad Bradshaw ran through to score the Giants’ [risky] go-ahead touchdown.

Yards of rushing offense for both teams combined < 200 yards.

*You know what an acrostic is: a prose poem (of sorts) in which the first letter of each line spells something if read vertically, top to bottom.


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