Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The 10 Best Things About Being a Dodgers Fan

1. Matt Kemp

You’ve got to start at the top. The current Dodger regime has gone through some ups and downs, but through it all emerged a bona fide star. Last season, Kemp rose out of the shadows and posted MVP-worthy numbers. He was one home run shy of a 40/40 season and about ten hits short of a Triple Crown. This winter, the ownership signed him to an eight-year extension, ensuring that Dodger fans will have a superstar to anchor the lineup and the outfield on a daily basis until 2020. Kemp has the swagger and skill to keep fans coming to Chavez Ravine; he’s already predicted an unprecedented 50/50 season this year.

2. Dodger Stadium

Speaking of Chavez Ravine, you’ve got to love Dodger Stadium. It’s situated above most of the city, so you get a brilliant view of the sun setting over the skyline in one direction, and the Santa Monica hills in the other. There is just something about the atmosphere at Dodger Stadium that is magnetic. It’s stayed current, but maintained its historic significance at the same time. And players commonly rank the field at Dodger Stadium as their favorite in all of baseball to play on.

3. The Dodger History

What more do you have to say than: Jackie Robinson. From the days in Brooklyn to the move to Los Angeles, the Dodgers franchise has been one of the most historic and valuable in any sport, ever. Not only did Robinson break the color barrier, but also by doing so, he played a large role in the Civil Rights movement in general. We’ve had Jackie, we’ve had Sandy Koufax, we’ve had Fernando Valenzuela. The list of players that starred for the Dodgers and made gigantic, positive impacts on the sport of baseball is endless.

4. The moments

Every fan can claim that a good part of rooting for their team is the moments that went down in history. But the Dodgers just seem to have a flair for the dramatic. There was Kirk Gibson’s home run in 1988. And of course Steve Finley’s division-winning, walk-off grand slam in 2004 against the Giants. Or the back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs to tie the game in the 9th, preceding a walk-off by Nomar Garciaparra in the 10th just six years ago…the Dodgers own some of the most incredible, crazy moments in baseball history.

5. 1988

Speaking of Gibson, the Dodgers’ last World Series title came in 1988. It was a long time ago, and they have won six overall, but for my generation, this is the moment we refer to. The magnitude of that Series was so large that it still resonates among the fan base. No doubt, we are all hungry for another one, but “in a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened,” keeps us going.

6. Vin Scully

In case you live under a rock, the reference at the end of number five was the call by Scully on Gibson’s historic home run. Vin is the pride and joy of this Dodger franchise, entering his 62nd season as the voice of the team. Nobody calls a better game than him, nobody captures a moment better than him, and he is hands-down the greatest announcer in the game. Scully is in his mid-80s, and this Dodger fan would love nothing more than to see the boys in blue take home one last title for their beloved announcer before he retires.

7. Dodger Dogs

Oh, you knew they would be on here. If you haven’t had a Dodger Dog, you’re missing out on an essential part of baseball culinary history. These franks are so good that the Dodgers sold approximately two MILLION of them in 2011. The Dodgers are one of the only teams that serves such an iconic ballpark snack that it’s synonymous with the actual franchise. Dodger Dogs even spawned a chain of small restaurants in the Southern California area. If you’ve been to a game at Dodger Stadium and never tried a Dog, you should be ashamed.

8. Clayton Kershaw

We have Matt Kemp on offense, and the reigning N.L. Cy Young winner Kershaw in the rotation. He’s only 23 years old, but he has garnered comparisons to Koufax. Those are very deserved of a young man who wows crowds all over the big leagues with a blazing fastball and electric off-speed pitches. The sky is the limit for Kershaw, and that’s what excites the Dodger fan base the most. If he’s already got a Cy Young award, what else can he do throughout his career. We can only hope that he is signed long-term as soon as the ownership situation is resolved. Oh, did I mention, Kershaw outdueled the Giants’ Tim Lincecum to the tune of 4-0 last season? Any dominance of the Giants is greatly appreciated in Dodgertown.

9. The farm system

This has always been a strong point of the Dodgers. Personally, my memory goes back to the mid-to-late 90’s, when the team boasted five straight National League Rookie of the Year awards. The Dodgers’ franchise has won the award a staggering sixteen times, including another run of four straight from 1979-1982, and Jackie Robinson’s win in the inaugural 1947 vote. This team seemingly always has exciting new talent waiting in the wings, which keeps the fan base excited for the future no matter what. Most recently, Dee Gordon has provided a spark at the leadoff spot and we’re looking forward to see if he can be the next young Dodger star.

10. Rivalry vs. the Giants

This rivalry has taken a turn for the worst in recent years, but on the field, it’s the most ferocious back-and-forth in sports. These teams passionately hate each other. It’s been that way since their days in New York. From legendary brawls, to intense pennant races, to ripping each other in the media, these two teams mix like oil and water. And boy is it fun to watch on the field. Even if the Dodgers are having a down season, winning the season series from the Giants is considered a successful year. Ponder this: since 1901, the two teams have played over 2,000 times and the win difference is only 16 games. That’s what I call a rivalry, and these are the reasons I love being a Dodger fan.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Nervous Wreck

I never stressed over exams. First dates never bothered me. Presentations? A shot to start the day keeps the jitters away. A championship game's got nothin' on this. A job interview is a walk in the park compared to what I've been feeling all day and will continue to feel through tomorrow.

My stomach is being eaten very slowly by a couple hundred very angry butterflies. I can't stop bouncing my leg up and down and it's shaking the entire living room (we have weak floorboards, okay? I'm not that out of shape). And I can't remember the last time I blinked. It burns.

I'm absolutely exhausted from the past two weeks. If you haven't seen our St*ff the Fan Cave 50 Says yet, watch it now. You might be the only person in the world who has not seen it. But it's a very accurate depiction of my life since Feb. 8th.

For example, I can't sleep. I wake up at 6am to go to work anyway. And I stay up until at least midnight campaigning my sorry butt off. I've tweeted my fingers to the bone (over 1,000 tweets in less than two weeks if we are getting technical). I've probably memorized the answering machine of every reporter, radio show or TV host West of Oklahoma.

From all this hard work, I've gotten a few awesome re-tweets, four media mentions, and five minutes on the radio. Okay, there's more. I've gotten what I presume to be MILLIONS of votes from my amazing family and friends over the last couple weeks and I couldn't be more grateful. I just don't have the energy to properly thank you all right now, nor the money to buy you all a drink.

So, the reason my body is involuntarily contorting into strange angles is because I'm not sure how to feel. On one hand, I'm honored and shocked that I've made it this far in the first place. But once I realized I was 20 competitors away from moving a step CLOSER to that dream job, I went all out. Just ask the 2011 Boston Red Sox or Atlanta Braves what happens if you don't step on the gas pedal with the playoffs on the horizon...ZING!

Sometime on Thursday (they keep it mysterious to absolutely torture our souls), we find out which 30 of us all very deserving 50 contestants are going to Spring Training next week. Where we will get to meet in person, have a grand ol' time and probably have even more fierce competition than this time around to determine the six cave finalists.

My hands will be shaking until I get that phone call. Let's just hope that it's a happy-sounding Stephanie on the other side of the line. This obviously means a lot to me. If I get a "no," I'll move on. But not before I watch re-runs of Sex and the City with a few pints of Mint Chip ice cream.

Until we find out, thanks for the ride @MLBFanCave. And thanks for the support from everyone! I've met some amazing internet versions of people and really hope to stay in touch no matter the results. Because one day, I'd like to see what they really look like.

And I'd really like to see the inside of that Fan Cave.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Best Lineup in the Majors? Nothin' new here...

I was going to retire my Jamblin' Man blog for the extent of this Fan Cave competition, despite my aching desire to keep up my once-a-week New Year's resolution. But who the hell actually keeps those resolutions? And there's no better reason for dusting off the old keyboard on this site than to accept a CHALLENGE from a fellow Fan Cave finalist.

That's right. Brian Boynton (he's kinda a big Rangers fan if you didn't know) has challenged me to a blebate. What? That's a blog debate, don't you know anything?

The best lineup in the majors. His Texas Rangers vs. the New York Yankees. I guess all that money does buy them something - my endorsement in this piece. And a few championships here and there. Sorry, I digress. On to the real stuff.

This is how I expect the Yankees' 2012 lineup to look on Opening Day:

1. Derek Jeter
2. Curtis Granderson
3. Robinson Cano
4. Mark Teixeira
5. Alex Rodriguez
6. Nick Swisher
7. Andruw Jones
8. Russell Martin
9. Brett Gardner

That hurts me to see. Mostly because the only guy I can consciously root against in the lineup is A-Rod, and partially because there is an aching, gaping void at catcher for my Dodgers that Martin used to spectacularly fill.

Texas has an incredibly deep lineup too. From top to bottom, their only weak spot might be 8 or 9. But when comparing stats across the board, I have to believe the Yankees have the best overall lineup in the majors.

Jeter, el Capitan, had better numbers than Elvis Andrus in every category except runs and stolen bases last year. It's a push in hits, home runs and RBI, but in average, on-base percentage and slugging, Jeter won handily.

Curtis Granderson's average lacked last year, but he will easy outperform whatever combination of Julio Borbon and Craig Gentry that Ron Washington trots out to center field.

We don't need to compare Robby Cano to Ian Kinsler (who is a fantastic second baseman, don't get me wrong, but Cano is just better all-around). Advantage 3-0 Yanks.

First base is Tex's territory here. We're not even sure if it will be Mitch Moreland, Michael Young or even Mike Napoli (or some combo of these three) at first for the Rangers this season.

Third base goes to the Rangers. That Beltre guy is okay. Just don't touch his head. Suck on that A-Rod!

Right field easily goes to Nelson Cruz over Swisher and left field goes to Josh Hamilton over Brett Gardner even though they play a completely different style of ball.

Of course, Michael Young is much more of a DH than Andruw Jones is so the Rangers score an extra point there. So, according to my fool-proof statistical evaluation, the Yanks have five positions out of the nine that are more productive on offense than the Rangers.

Here's some real sh*t people say for ya: In 2011, despite a lower batting average and less hits than the Rangers' offense, the Yanks outscored them and had the second-most runs scored as a team in the league, just behind Boston. It's not the quality of the run scored people, it's the quantity.

It's widely accepted that whoever scores the most runs in a game wins. Well, the Yankees are damn good at that. And they haven't subtracted on offense at all this off-season. That might change if Jesus Montero has a big season in Seattle, but until then it's looking like the same old offensive juggernaut in the Big Apple.

Which sucks. For pretty much everyone.

So there you have it - the Yankees, owners of the best lineup in baseball - are still the team to beat.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Real Life Makes No Sense

I'm only awake because I'm forcing myself to be. I planned to go to bed at 9:30 p.m. Why? I'm a big boy. Wait, what? That doesn't even make sense. Literally the last time I went to bed at 9:30, I was being dragged away from the TV in footie pajamas screaming bloody murder.

So, when I was 18. HAH! Beat you to the punch. Really though, I can't remember the last time I went to bed before 11:00. And that's being generous - accounting for post-Finals week early pass-outs that may or may not have occurred.

But the real culprit is my new job. Which, for the record, I'm diggin' so far! But nine-hour days sandwiched between two hour-long commutes over the San Rafael bridge is tiring. Exhausting, even.

Tomorrow, I'm waking up at 5:30 a.m. to try and make it to the office by 7:30. I'm testing out all the rush hour scenarios in my first week, because God, Moses and Tim Tebow know I don't want to spend any more time away from my lovely bed than I absolutely have to.

Being grown up has its perks. When I get my first paycheck, I'm definitely gonna look like this guy (glasses, wrinkles and dentures included - I'm not getting off the "I'm old" bandwagon). And I might even be able to move to Marin County and live as luxuriously as a one-bedroom apartment provides. But the prospect of starting this new life is unbelievably exciting.

I'm looking forward to it, no matter how stretched my facial muscles get from yawning or how many times I nod off and drool on my keyboard.

Feel free to send me words of encouragement, beer baskets or cards with funny cats. Just not between the hours of 9:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Because, well...chances are I'll be passed the freak out.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Now What? Real Life?

This is me, the 49ers and the rest of the team's fans. The season is over and it hurts. Not as much today as last night. But my butt's still a little sore (okay, come on...clearly, that's a reference to being "butt hurt," not whatever your dirty mind jumped to!).

The bigger issue at hand now that I've made peace with the loss is what the hell I'm going to do with no football. I'm a self-admitted American Idol fan, so luckily that's starting up. But after a slew of terrible auditions and twenty six glamour shots of J. Lo's (still beautiful) face, there's really nothing left to talk about.

In reality, I could watch the NBA, NHL or college basketball. There's only one small problem: I'm a Sharks and Warriors fan like Hilary Duff is a "singer." It's convenient and all my friends are doing it, so why not?

And my college team, my alma mater Washington State...they kinda suck this year. And they are never on TV. That narrows down my leisure activities to drinking beer, watching movies and following the GOP campaigns for pure comedy.

As the Surgeon General has warned us, drinking too much beer is bad. It's hard to watch movies when Dad is asleep watching Hawaii Five-O on the only good TV, and one can only take so much borderline white supremacy before going bonkers.

So, I guess...sigh. It's time to grow up. DAMN IT. I've been avoiding this day for months now. But tomorrow I have an interview for another three month position at a much higher-paying, more grown-up job.

It must be the first step. I can use the money, I can use the steady schedule, and I could definitely use the resume boost! Plus, the company and the position both look pretty cool.

So I'll rock the interview, see where it gets me. And if I pull a Kyle Williams and blow it, you sleep it off, get up the next day, and look for the next shot.

But let's be real. We all know I'd rather be watching a Jim Carrey movie on the couch. Wouldn't you?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Darn It...I'm Never Gonna Get to Rent a Car!

If the world really does end this year, there are so many things to consider. I'll never get to rent a car; or even worse, a houseboat. I've only scratched the surface of my bucket list. All of Brangelina's adoptions were pointless. Harold Camping is off the hook. And it's going to be so terribly hot when we are all sucked into the sun.

You may think there's no silver lining to an apocalyptic story line like this. I, however, beg to differ.

I'm going to use this for good. And I don't mean frantically knocking out everything I've ever wanted to do, blowing my money on drinks and strippers in Vegas (okay, that's my backup caught me), or trying to sweet talk every celebrity crush I've ever had into the sack.

What I'm talking about is taking the slim, doubtful, but entirely possible-until-proven-wrong theory that December 21st, 2012 is the Earth's last day and using it as pure motivation. Has there ever been a better reason to really focus and accomplish a personal goal you've always striven for but hit the "snooze" button on multiple times than the daunting idea of the freakin' WORLD ending??

Didn't think so. I don't know about you, but I'm going to cleverly attach a "this is my New Year's Resolution" farce to my dealings and kick some novel-writing ass. I will write my first (and if the Mayans are correct, my last) novel in 2012.

I will stop making excuses like "writer's block" (Which isn't real by the way...that's like an artist saying he or she ran out of paint. Go to Lowe's and get some more damn paint. Similarly, writers, go to the coffee shop and put on some inspiring music, or drink a bottle of wine in front of the fireplace and just type. You know we love stuff like that. Wow that is a long, distracting interjection. I digress).

And most importantly, I will finally finish the product of what I know I'm meant to do with my life and leave that legacy for anyone who might survive the implosion of our planet.

Maybe my book will survive the apocalypse and be taught to the surviving school children on the space station orbiting Neptune. Maybe it will be remembered as the last great novel to be written before the Gods smite all of humanity. Maybe I should hop to and finish before December 21st. You know, just in case.

Maybe I should stop writing this blog since I really only started so I wouldn't have to continue writing the aforementioned novel...

Damn I hope those Mayans are wrong.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Resolution Shmesolution...I'm Already Behind

Once a week, I told myself. One blog per week. 52 blogs over the course of a year isn't such a tall task. Yet here I am, week three of The Last Year Ever, writing my first blog of 2012 and my first since last October. Pathetic!

Honestly, I don't have much to say. I didn't watch the GOP debate, which was apparently the most disturbing thing since war and famine. The college basketball games were boring, and the moment has passed from the 49ers' big win last weekend. So I'm left with...itchy fingertips and an empty slate.

I could complain. But I won't. Because who cares that I still don't have a real job? Nobody wants to hear about these stupid companies not accepting my stupid resume and not giving me a stupid 40k/year job. I even got rejected from an unpaid internship! But we're not complaining.

Instead, we're going to briefly discuss the perks of living at home. Obviously, there's free rent, free food and pure comfort (for now, anyway...Mom's getting restless!). The weather here is great. This "winter" we are having is ridiculous. I was walking around in a T-shirt, shorts and sandals the other day.

The real beauty of living at home is the beauty itself. Look, I spent 66 wonderful days in the Mediterranean this summer. I saw Gaudi's incredible architecture, the picteresque hillsides of Italy and rooftops of Croatia and beaches of Greece. But there's something about Walnut Creek, CA that I just can't let go of.

Don't get me wrong, I can live somewhere else. In fact, I hope to live in a different region...maybe in another country...for a certain amount of time in my future. I want to experience that. Yet, San Francisco and all it's little suburb cretins will always be the greatest place in the world.

If you haven't seen a sun set from Grizzly Peak, off of Fish Ranch Road, you haven't seen the most dazzling, colorful display of nature in the world. The perfect meeting of concrete and ocean.

If you've never hiked Mt. Diablo, you've never seen some of the most luscious 30 mile stretches of Earth in any direction you choose. If you've never been into the city itself, you are missing a Mecca of culture, music, food and art, wrapped in a somewhat foggy, warm foil.

And if you've never trekked back to Walnut Creek, CA after a long semester in the icy bliss of Pullman, WA or a week of reunion frenzy in the gasping altitude of Breckenridge, CO, or a Spring Break trip to the unforgettable diversity of New Orleans, LA...well then, you've never turned the corner at Hawthorne Drive, passed fire station number four and breathed in the sweetness of the warm air as it rolls over your outstretched arm as you rumble back to number 972.

I may - no, I will - move on one day. But you can bet your life that when I'm in a grown-up groove one day, I'll be squatting right back here in the Bay Area, where the biggest daily problem seems to be whether to walk the dogs to the neighborhood park or up in the hills.

It's a rough life in Walnut Creek, CA. You won't hear me complaining about living at home with Mom and Dad after college.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Love Letter

I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to write and tell you that I miss you. I still love you. I thought I could handle it. I was wrong.

I didn’t know how to put this into words. That’s why it took so long. I can hardly even formulate my thoughts about you; they are still just so drowned in the muddled confusion of not having you in my life.

After nine weeks away together, I figured a break would be okay. I could move back home and busy myself with work and trivial daily tasks, inevitably forgetting about you in the process. Instead, everyone keeps asking me about it. What happened? How was it? What’s your best memory? I can’t believe they expect me to answer questions like that so soon after we split.

When I do want to talk about you, nobody cares to listen. It’s driving me crazy. My parents actually tune me out now when I bring you up. Some people have said I’m strange for being so broken up about you. For missing you so deeply. That I’m overreacting. Those people don’t understand. And they can’t, unless they meet you too.

You gave me the most memorable summer of my young life. I was expecting a quick fling, not a lifelong romance cut short by the sheer necessity of a busy itinerary. See, other people that have been with you in the past said recovering would take years. I laughed. I’m stronger than that!

Yet here I am, two full months after we split, and I miss you more than anything in the world. I can hardly look at our old pictures anymore. I won’t. I can’t. But it’s all I want to do. I’ll never forget the people we met together, the places we went, the memories we made.

Remember when we went to Italy? Hiked the Cinque Terre? Well, my parents are there right now on vacation. They keep e-mailing me about it. They know we went there. They must know how painful it is to see their pictures and have all my own memories flood back into my skull like a brutal, Ouzo-induced hangover.

Kind of like the hangover I had the morning after we left Istanbul. Do you remember that? What a crazy night. How about Croatia? The walls, the cliffs, the roofs…I thought it was the most beautiful place on Earth. You liked it too, but forced me to leave with you after only three short days.

Can’t we just go back? Me, you and all our friends? Let’s just get out on the water and sail, for old time’s sake. I know I sound desperate. I’m sorry. All sorts of crazy ideas start to populate up in this one-track brain when you are on my mind every second of every day.

You know, I’ve met up with some of your other former flings. They all got a taste at some point. I went to impromptu support groups. Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Cruz. All these little local groups who have been burned just like me. I’m going to Colorado next year for a bigger convention. We’re all a little ticked that you’re gone.

But instead of being angry, we all end up just talking about you. How great you are. Were. We all want to go back. Just take me back to the villa in Mykonos. Where I realized I would love you forever. And how much I would hate you when you left. You have that kind of effect on people.

Oh, who am I kidding? I can’t be mad. You gave me the best 66 days of my life, and then moved on. So, Semester at Sea, I don’t think I will ever quite get over you. Hopefully I will see you again some day, but until then, thank you for the remarkable memories. Thank you for all the unbelievable places we traveled together, the incredible experiences and the lifelong friendships you helped me form.

Thank you for inspiring me. And for changing my life forever. I will never forget you.


Jeremy Dorn, Summer 2011

P.S. – I still listen to our song all the time. And it’s not making things any easier.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Education On A Subject I Know Nothing About

I have a real, final, long wrap-up SAS blog coming, but I wanted to post something for now. This is my final travel writing piece from the class I took this summer. It went through extensive edits, and it's still not nearly polished. Such is a writer's life, eh? But, this section I wrote inspired an idea to write an entire travel writing/autobiography book, much like Kazim Ali but with a different structure. So, this may be a very rough preview to that eventual project! I took out the last 3 paragraphs out of respect for a delicate situation for real people involved - if you absolutely must know what I took out, let me know and I can consider personally sending you the last 3 stanzas. Enjoy!

Rows and rows of blooming sunflowers make for a beautiful train ride through the Tuscan countryside. The rolling yellow fields outside the window are dotted with white villas and decrepit ruins, which leave my imagination confident that they must have been built in the days of gladiators and emperors. Sometimes all that is necessary to experience something amazing is to watch it fly by out an old, dusty window. So, a four-hour trip from Naples to Rome is spent mostly staring out the window. But when the warm sunshine hits that sunflower field just right and reflects a golden glow into the train cabin, everyone gets a second wind.

When we were growing up, my sister and I were never close friends, or polite acquaintances for that matter. We would fight and argue all the time. I didn’t want to share my friends, she cried to get her way, I bullied her with deception and she used her feet as battering rams aimed at my most crucial body parts. And then when I went to college, this all changed; like someone flipped a light switch. The day I left, we realized how much we loved each other and how hard it would be to live 1,000 miles away for the next four years. At her high school graduation, I sported a thick, red beard. It was massive by college sophomore standards. I tried so hard to be a man when she graduated. I went down to the front so my parents weren’t sitting next to me. I looked off into the distance as if pensive. My friends couldn’t see the vibrating smile, shaking a single tear down my cheek, a sharp left around the nose and settling into the tight curls of my mustache. Later, I made fun of my parents for crying over her graduation. When we dropped her off at Chico State in August, it was her turn to cry. She wasn’t ready, she didn’t like the school she chose, and she wasn’t going to make any friends. It was like leaving a puppy at the pound; she was hopeless and lost. On the way back, we passed a huge field of sunflowers. The car was silent as I marveled at the sunset dropping below the horizon, pulling a pink and orange hood over the sleepy yellow field. I remember thinking: Lexie would like this. Damn I wish I had a camera.

Tim and I are brushing up on our Italian in the train cabin, so we can woo local women we hope to meet in the Roman bars. Just as Tim loudly recites how to say “Would you like to play my skin flute?” from his Dirty Italian dictionary, a new traveler cautiously approaches our train cabin. The Italian man who has slept the entire time, wakes up and scrambles to his feet and immediately makes the plastic tray in the hall his new seat. The new guy is a monk carrying a faded backpack and dressed just in a brown robe, a dangling beaded rosary and brown sandals. He bows his head at the Italian man and smiles before taking the seat.

I’ve seen many people dressed like this in Italy; all around Europe, really. In Rome, there was an old woman lying face down on the sidewalk, hands clasped in prayer in front of an empty change tin. She was begging a monk to donate coins. I’ve never been a religious man myself. I’ve got too many fingers to count the times I’ve attended church in my entire life. A couple weddings or funerals, one favor to a friend, and one time doing community service in San Francisco. There is no call to prayer in my life. My mom tried to raise me Jewish. We had Passover and Chanukah, and I learned to spin a mean dreidel. But by age seven, I told my mom I didn’t believe in what the stories told. I still know the menorah-lighting prayer. You could say I’m atheist. Or agnostic; whatever term you see fit. Either way, there is no God to me. I’m more of an “I’ll believe it when I see it” type of guy. I tend to not have faith in in anything outside the scientific realm of possibility, but I still find religion an interesting topic. I wrote a term paper in my Rhetoric class, senior year of college. It covered whether or not intelligent design should be taught in public high schools. I argued that it should be taught. That was my first and last time getting an A+.

The monk and the man strike up a conversation through the open door. Both are clearly Italian and seem to like each other. They are both no older than 30, though the monk’s shaved head makes him look younger than his counterpart. They both seem very pleasant and I regret taking French in high school because I can’t eavesdrop on a very intense and enjoyable conversation. Still, I imagine I can understand what they are saying – a smile and a nod here, a hand gesture there. Just as I am sure about the architecture of rural Tuscany, I am sure they are speaking about religion. I want to be friends with them. They could be talking about the merits of Nazism for all I know, but it’s amazing what a lack of verbal communication and a light brown robe will do for our judgment of strangers.

That’s the great thing about Semester at Sea. I mean, sure. It’s my first time traveling to Europe and I’m getting to do some amazing things. I can go home and show my friends a rug from the Grand Bazaar and a rock from Mt. Vesuvius. But what really amazes me is the social dynamics of a ship cut off from Facebook and text messaging. When we are forced to communicate old school and really get to know each other in-depth through conversation. Some people know me as that guy. The one who added over 100 “friends” on Facebook from the ship before the Bahamas was even on our radar. Oh, we met on Facebook! But I can confidently say that I did it just to meet people. I never spent a night stalking walls and pictures deciding who would be my friend in real life. I’ve met tons of amazing people on this trip, because I put a lot of effort into meeting and conversing with everyone I came across. And it’s revitalized how I approach my relationships; there is a huge difference in the personality of most people from when I met them on Facebook to when I met them on the ship. Never judge a Facebook by its profile picture. This is a family, and I will forever love Semester at Sea for allowing me to be involved in it. Where else could I sit with my new brother Tim and watch a monk take a train through Italy?

A dark-skinned man slides between the monk and the Italian and apologizes to the Italian for interrupting. He is here to sell newspapers and make a few extra euros while traveling. The Italian shakes his head no, and the dark-skinned man turns around to try to market his product to our cabin. He holds up the newspaper and opens his mouth to speak, but spots the monk to his left and quickly tucks the newspaper away under his right arm. Mi scusi he says genuinely before bowing his head and moving on to the next cabin. I look at Tim and we marvel at the respect the monk has of everyone he encounters. This is a real live cultural experience.

In America, we are expected to say yes or no, and then move on. At a baseball game: peanuts, get your peanuts! If you say yes, you hand over half your life savings and get a big bag of too-salty nuts thrown at your head harder than a Nolan Ryan fastball. If you say no, you don’t exist. There is no in-between. Here, you can either admire the work ethic of the fake Rolex salesman as he follows you four blocks, chattering about best price, very nice watch and good gift for lady! Sister! Like all women love plastic timepieces. Still, it’s admirable that they have so much energy and passion for making money, which at the root, is based on bettering their lives and their family’s life. On the other hand, the customer service here is to be applauded. You say yes to the human megaphone from the kebab stand, and they will treat you to a five-star meal. Welcome, welcome! as they pull out your chair. No kebab lover gets by without trading family trees, favorite music or intimate secrets of their love life with the megaphone before the kebab even gets to the table. In America, we are expected to say yes or no, and then move on. These people here? They know how to be human.

The monk catches me looking at him. I look away quickly, but not before he can nod and smile at me. I look down at his feet to avoid the awkwardness of just being publicly busted and wonder why his small backpack is rounded at the back. Just a couple minutes later, he answers my question by unlatching the top and turning the bag to show the Italian what he is traveling with. It’s a familiar sight; in fact, I spent most of my childhood carrying one too. The entire contents of the monk’s bag are a shiny new, black and white soccer ball. He laughs at something the Italian says and puts the bag back at his feet. Tim leans over to whisper to me. This is awesome he says, before I shush him and continue my corner-of-the-eye observations.

I remember one soccer game in particular. I was 12 and my dad was still the coach. This was the end of the bookend for me. By that, I mean it was before I let life take me by the throat and make me its bitch. I lost that innocent sense of determination that made me such an easy kid to raise. The teenage years and most of college was when I was just part of the herd and never tried to stand out. This soccer game pitted the best of the best. My team, the Sting against the Scorpions on a local football pitch (as they call it on this side of the world). The game went down to the wire, knotted at zero. Then tied at one. The equalizer at two. And with ten minutes to spare, I took a shot and it hit the crossbar, bouncing into the net in slow motion. I told you I’m not a religious man. But for a moment in this game, I felt like I was floating through heaven. Waiting out the final minutes was agony; purgatory if you will. Nothing in the world was more important than beating the Scorpions and securing middle school bragging rights for years to come. The whistle blew. Sting 3, Scorpions 2. I ran like crazy toward the sideline, celebrating with my teammates. I jumped into my dad’s open arms and pumped my fist in the air as he held me, yelling like I had just knocked out Mike Tyson. I know my dad loves that moment. He talks about it all the time. Not the game, or the win, but the moment we shared on the sideline after one of the most memorable days of my life. When I tell that story, I shiver. I get that pre-tear feeling of moistness developing deep in my stomach and slowly, painfully, slithering up my chest and through my skull into the back of my eyes, before I clear my throat and kick the ladder back into the depths of my manhood. What is heaven like? Who can tell me? Got any photo slideshows? Perhaps an autographed halo? Well, I imagine that day, that victory, that paternal embrace; is what it feels like to be saved.

Another beggar walks by moments later, this time an older woman with long, tangled hair. She waves a small piece of paper with a picture of her hungry children on it above her head and says something in a curious tone. Her gaze lands on each passenger one by one until finally resting on the monk, who also kindly refuses to donate money. Whereas the newspaper seller saw a respected man of God, this woman saw a generous, empathetic opportunity for success. The variety in their attitudes catches me off guard. The woman mimes what I believe to be You think about it, I will come back. And when she does come back, the monk apologetically hands the paper back to her. She contests his decision and begs him to reconsider. The monk puts his hands together as if in prayer and softly says something to the woman. She smiles, nods and walks away, seemingly content with his reason. And I see why. Because this time I’m sure of what he said: Instead, I will pray for you.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Our one and only port in Africa; Morocco is an amazing blend of city, slum, culture and religion. It took a grand total of about 27 minutes for me to fall in love with this port. I was so shocked by how different it is from all the other ports and how it was a genuine foreign country to me. The other places had their moments too, especially Istanbul, but Morocco was just so much more different. It wasn’t a place you could feasibly go on a tropical vacation for a week like the other ports.

Anyway, here’s why I fell in love with Casablanca and Marrakesh: On the first day, me and a couple friends just walked around downtown Casablanca. We found a little bazaar area and checked out the awesome drums, outfits, etc. they had first. So, remember the whole “man this place has crazy awesome places to shop and barter” from my Istanbul? Well, the Wal-Mart that is Morocco makes Turkey look like the Container Store. Bad simile aside, the products, prices and ability we had to bargain in Morocco blew every other country out of the water.

So, after the bazaar, we met a couple locals who brought us to their rug shop and did the typical sales pitch where they serve tea and sweet talk us into trying to buy their 1,000 dirham rugs. Not happening. But they were really cool guys and cordially invited us to “get high like bird” with them later that night. Okay then. The rest of the day consisted of visiting the huge mosque in Casablanca that is brand new and absolutely gorgeous, then heading back to the ship for the night to pack for Marrakesh in the morning!

But, before we could do that, my roommate convinced me to go back to the mosque later that night to see the evening prayer for Ramadan. I could not be happier that I went. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. They all lined up facing Mecca and the overflow outside the mosque was enormous. Thousands upon thousands of people crowded around and praying in unison to this booming, beautiful prayer. Also, while we were waiting, a bunch of little local kids came and started messing with us and taking pictures with us. They absolutely love taking pictures and seeing pictures of themselves, which got our group to thinking that a Polaroid camera (if they were still being made) would be a perfect gift for a child in another country.

The next morning I went alone for a bit downtown in Casablanca, to buy train tickets for Marrakesh and just explore on my own for the first time on the trip. It was actually really rewarding having no distractions and doing whatever I wanted in such a foreign place. I had to run across streets, dodge traffic and find my way around unfamiliar streets. I had two locals approach me at one point when I was waiting to cross the street and was a bit nervous until they asked in French if I was American. When I said “oui,” they shook my hand, smiled and said “Welcome!” in a thickly-accented excitement.

Another thing I forgot to mention about Morocco is that it was the first time I got to use a language I learned in school. The primary language there is Arabic, but there is also a huge presence of French because of the former colonizing of the region by France. That was really fun for me trying to converse with the people of Morocco (and I’ll admit, I was shaky at first but got pretty comfortable with it again by the end!). On the train that night, I spoke enough French to accept an invitation to share an authentic Ramadan meal with two gentlemen in our cabin, thank them and find out where they were from.

That night, we got to our ghetto little riad (hostel, basically…) and immediately went to check out the medina/main square of Marrakesh. It was really cool at night – there were monkeys, cobra charmers, tons of drum circles and all sorts of cool street shows going on.

The second day in Marrakesh, we went back to the main square and shopped around a little bit, before grabbing a horse and buggy and taking it out to La Palmerie, (palm groves, basically) and going on a 30-minute camel trek! It was very hot, loud and smelly, but it was so much fun and such a cool experience! My camel’s name was LuLu and our guide was very friendly despite the language barrier. That night, we had drinks on the outdoor terrace of our riad (the place was nice, but the area was scary…unfortunately, we took a better price to sacrifice A/C in our riad. It was about 100 degrees every night in our room! And at least 105 outside!) before going back to the square and meeting some friends to go out to a club. The club we ended up at is closed during Ramadan, but the bar was still open and it was an awesome place! Maybe you’ve heard of Pacha? It’s supposedly the 2nd-largest club in all of Africa!

On our third day in Marrakesh, we signed up for a day trip through the owner of our riad that took us to a Berber village (the indigenous population in Morocco are called Berbers) in the Atlas Mountains. We went on a waterfall hike and spent the day wandering around the village. It was a really incredible experience for our last day in any port on Semester at Sea. We met a couple from Spain and another from England who were all very nice and came on the trip with us. Also, it was our last night – so we tried to do it big, went back to Pacha, drank in the medina, etc.

Overall, Morocco was an absolutely perfect ending (in fact, in my English class the next day when my professor had us go around the room and say two words to describe the port of Casablanca, my choice was “perfect, ending”) to an unforgettable, life-changing trip. It was one of my favorites, if not the favorite port for me on this trip and I really cannot wait to come back and explore it more in depth.