Saturday, May 30, 2009

My Beard

This is my beard, or at least what represents two week's worth of facial hair growth. The potential for an above average beard is there, I think, but my wife is having none of it.

Her rationale? Your face is too pretty to cover up with hair.

Pretty! Like I want to be pretty, of all things. Like I'm one of those metrosexual guys who shaves every square inch of his body. Girls are supposed to be pretty, for Pete's sake. If my wife wants to be pretty, I'm all for it, but keep that prettiness the heck away from me.

Anyhow, the beard has about 24 hours left to live. Then it's back to my regular old boring beardless face. I may never spend another two weeks apart from my gal, so I might as well immortalize it, my doomed beard, here.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Fuck Me

The Cavaliers win 66 games in the regular season, only to be utterly humiliated by the Orlando Magic in 6 games.

Outshot, outrebounded, outhustled, outcoached, outclassed, outplayed in every sense of the word. The Cavs couldn't even be bothered to play hard in game 6.

45 years and counting since our last title. Just toss this on the towering heap of Cleveland sports misery. And then kill me.



Monday, May 25, 2009

The Birds; Evil Takes Flight

A lot of people have spent a lot of time trying to figure out the hidden meaning of Alfred Hitchcock's seminal masterpiece, The Birds. There have been many complex answers to a simple question: Why are those goddam birds after Tippi Hedren, anyway? I happen to think the answer is just as simple: evil birds are everywhere.

Not all birds are evil, mind you. Most of them are just stupid. We shouldn't hate the stupid birds of the world; we should feel sorry for them.

Some birds though are just plain evil, and they would happily peck the eyeballs right out of your head. With others you really have to be mindful of your sandwich.

Alex and I recently returned from a week abroad to discover a robins nest that had been built in the crook of a gutter drain. Inside was a mother, patiently incubating her eggs and chasing away any critter who dared come close to her sanctuary.

Two weeks later the eggs had hatched. Four adorable robin babies pined for food as the mother darted around the lawn for something to regurgitate. Several times she swooped at my head when I was in the yard. I didn't mind. Mother Robin was not evil, just overprotective.

Well, everything seemed to be going well for the happy family until, yesterday morning, I saw that the nest was empty. Knowing that the babies were too young to have taken flight, I immediately suspected foul play. Clearly, the offspring had been devoured. Right away I knew evil birds were to blame. Birds eating birds didn't surprise me, of course. That's just how evil birds can be.

Here are my top suspects:

Brown-Headed Cowbird

The cowbird, as I have written in the past, is one of the world's truly evil birds, a total misanthrope who invades the nests of other birds and jettisons the eggs to make room for its own. This is just the kind of bird that would ruthlessly snack on an innocent robin hatchling.

Common Grackle

If Satan kept an aviary, you bet the grackle would be a member of His demonic flock. A squawking, yellow-eyed sociopath, the grackle endears itself to no one. Look at the photo. This grackle is out for blood!

American Crow

Knowing a crow's propensity for eating, well, anything, and knowing too that crows had been poking around the robin's nest weeks ago, the evil genius of the bird kingdom is my number-one suspect.

Red-Tailed Hawk

OK, hawks aren't so much evil as they are cold-blooded badasses. Recent reports of a red-tailed hawk assaulting Purdue co-eds has made it a prime suspect.

Cooper's Hawk

I haven't seen the Cooper's hawk that occasionally swoops by our feeders in search of chipmunks and small birds for months, but I know it's out there somewhere. The Cooper's hawk may very well have had its 'eagle' eye trained on four helpless robins.


There hasn't been a Skeksis sighting in these parts for a thousand years. Still, knowing how thoroughly evil they are, I am compelled to add them to this list.


Saturday, May 23, 2009

All Even

As a 33-year-old Cleveland sports fan, Wednesday night was pretty hard to take, but heartbreak after heartbreak for 45 years has taught me not to be surprised to see the Cavs blow a 16 point lead and lose to an Orlando Magic team that was supposed to have no business taking on the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. After seeing a 23 point Cavs lead evaporate in game two, we know that the Magic are for real.

Fortunately, so is LeBron James:

With the Magic leading by two with one meager second left on the clock, Mo Williams dished a picture perfect inbounds pass to LeBron, who, with a feint to the hoop, had gained a step and a half on defender Hedo Turkoglu. In one motion, LeBron caught, turned, and, fading away to his left, buried perhaps the most clutch shot of his career.

Series tied. The greatest moment in Cavs history? Some are calling it that. Let's not forget the team that went on an amazing ride to the finals in 2007. But this ranks real, real high on the list.

Euphoria filled the arena when that ball rattled home, but there is not a lot of time for celebration between games. As reality sets it, the Cavs have a lot to worry about, like their inability to sustain double-digit leads on their home court. Their weariness after one and a half quarters of high-energy basketball. Their utter helplessness contesting Orlando's half-court sets. These are the trends that have the Cavs fighting for their playoff lives, but, in spite of the dark clouds looming over a series that almost everyone predicted the Cavs would win, there are some rays of light as the team makes its way to Orlando for game three.

Fatigue. There was a lot of talk about the Cavs being rusty after a nine-day layoff. Turns out that fatigue, not rust, is the problem. See how the Cavs sprinted out to huge leads in both games, only to see them melt away slowly from about the middle of the second quarter? In game one the Cavs gave up 108 points, Mike Brown was forced to burn a valuable timeout in the fourth quarter just so his team could catch its collective breath. The final buzzer saw LeBron cramping up and limping off the floor. The team was completely gassed.

Now, in Orlando the Cavs are battling a team that is in tip-top game shape. The Magic played a lot of basketball while the Cavs rested and waited and tried to simulate game situations in practice. That simply cannot be done. At some point you have to play an actual game.

The Cavs gave up 95 points in game 2. Not good, but better. They got a couple more stops. Their rotations were a little crisper. They were not as gassed in the second half. The kept moving the ball and running plays on offense.

My guess is the fatigue factor will begin to shift to the Cavs' favor as the series wears on. The Cavs will get their legs under them in the second half while the Magic will start to feel the impact of playing so many physically and emotionally draining games.

Mo. People keep talking about the matchup problems that the Magic present with their long, tall shooters, but what about the problems our scorers present? Mo Williams has been in a terrible shooting slump for 7 out of 8 quarters in this series. He hasn't shot the ball all that well during the whole postseason, really. But did you notice that he made 3-5 shots in the fourth quarter in game two? Including a clutch, contested three and a key floater in the lane? If Mo's offense wakes up, it will create huge issues for the Magic, who have no one to match his quickness and ability to set up teammates. Those shots in the fourth quarter showed me a lot, and I'll stand behind a guy who can put three quarters of bad basketball behind him when the game is on the line.

Mike Brown. Flaws in the Cavs defense have been exposed, particularly after halftime. I maintain that it is in part because of Cavalier fatigue, which leads to slow rotations, runouts for the Magic and more open looks in general. You have to give credit to Stan Van Gundy and the Magic, however. This is an explosive offensive team that has an bullying big man surrounded by shooter after shooter after shooter. However, the Cavs have a legitimate defensive genius in Mike Brown. He has made adjustments in the playoffs before, and I think he'll do the same as the series progresses. Look for the game to slow down for both teams, and shift into a Cavaliers style, low-scoring, grind-it-out type of contest. If not, the series will go back to Cleveland 3-1 with Orlando looking to close out the east.

Sasha Pavlovic. McBone has been a staunch Sasha Pavlovic supporter since waaay back in 2007, when he was the starting two guard on a team that went to the NBA finals. I'm not saying Sasha should start, and I know the flaws in his game, but I remember the job he did on Vince Carter and Richard Hamilton two years ago, and I know his value increases with increased minutes. Considering the size of Orlando's backcourt, I think the Cavaliers could benefit from a muscular 6'7" swingman who can knock down an outside shot. Sasha gave the Cavs a boost with his 9 points (four more than the entire bench scored in game 1), and he is certainly a better option in this series than the slow Wally Szczerbiak or the small Daniel Gibson. For the Cavs to have any chance in Orlando, the first guys off the bench have to be Joe Smith and Sasha Pavlovic, and both must produce.

LBJ. And, lest we forget, we have LeBron James. They don't.

Going forward from here, I see this as the bottom line: the Cavs will not win two games in Florida. My guess is they will lose one of them by double digits. They absolutely must win one, though, or it'll be wait till next year time once again for Cleveland fans.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cavaliers Vs. Magic, the Hastily-Written McBone Eastern Conference Finals Preview

It seems like a month has passed since the Cavaliers dispatched the Atlanta Hawks in 4 games. Now they have to face a real basketball team, as the Orlando Magic visit the Q for the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Magic took two home games against the Cavs and lost a third meeting in Cleveland. The regular season means nothing at this stage, so let's focus on the Cavaliers' task at hand.

In the Magic they face a solid defensive team that likes to run and gun on offense. The Magic live and die by the three point shot, which usually means playoff death. What separates the Magic from other offensive minded clubs is that 6-11 beast in the middle, Dwight Howard. On defense, he has become perhaps the most feared frontcourt player in the league. He also is a proficient scorer in the paint. Flawless? No. Great? Maybe someday. The Cavs biggest obstacle to reaching the finals? Absolutely, yes.

Let's break down the matchups real quicklike:

PG: Mo Williams vs. Rafer Alston. When Jameer Nelson went down for the season, the Magic were lucky to fill the gap with a starting point guard. That said, Rafer Alston is a sorry substitute for Jameer Nelson. A marginal offensive player who tends to hold the ball too long, he is usually relieved of ballhandling duties by the slower than slow Hedo Turkoglu. Alston isn't much of a defender, either, which is why he was expendable to Houston at the trade deadline. Mo Williams has had a relatively quiet postseason so far, averaging almost 4 points below his average. If there is a time to explode on the scene, this is it Mo needs to get dribble penetration on this inferior player and use his ability to finish to draw Howard away from the basket. Mo is the superior player in every way, and if things pan out like they should, it will be a long series for Rafer Alston. Advantage: Mo fo sho

SG: Delonte West vs. J.J. Redick. Are you kidding me? Delonte West has probably been the second best Cavs player in the postseason, and has been arguably just as important the the Cavs' success as Mo Williams. Delonte is so locked in, you can almost see intensity waves coming off him. J.J. Redick is a guy who will make an open three pointer if you let him, which Delonte won't. Expect West to savage Redick all series long. Advantage: West.

SF: LeBron James vs. Hedo Turkoglu. From what I've seen, Turkoglu is the real catalyst of this team, and is called on to run the offense in the late stages of the game. This is not an ideal situation for the Magic, because Turkoglu has two speeds: slow and stop. Somehow, someway, he gets into the paint with all that slowness, but that will not happen if LeBron James is guarding him. If the Magic are forced to run their plays through a 6-10 forward, it will be a long series, because LBJ (who is really the most fearsome defender in the league) will put a stop to it at once. The one constant in this series is that the Cavaliers have one of the five greatest players in basketball history and the Magic don't. Has LeBron reached that level of greatness yet? We're going to find out. Advantage: MVP

PF: Anderson Varejao vs. Rashard Lewis. Here's where it gets interesting. Now, in Lewis you have a 6-10 forward who prefers to drift around the three point line. He has the ability to score in many ways, and the Magic will need him to if they want to win the series, but Lewis seems content at times to take the long jumpers. His defense? Well, he's long, and can bother players with his length, but I don't know. The problem here is that Varejao would prefer to play closer to the hoop. Not that Andy isn't game. He'll get into Lewis' face all night long, but this is a slight matchup problem. Advantage: Even.

C: Zydrunas Ilgauskas vs. Dwight Howard. Hoo-boy. Let's see. About the best scenario I can see is for the Cavs to force Howard to catch the ball further from 8 feet from the hole. Near the rim, Howard is the reincarnation of Shaq. Further out? Not so much. I mean, let's not kid ourselves here. Howard is going to get his numbers. He'll get his 20 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks just by showing up. The trick is to make him work. Foul him. Frustrate him. Make him shoot free throws in the clutch. Z can do the Cavs a big favor by making Howard guard him away from the hoop. Most likely, that won't happen too much, but anything that can open the paint for the Cavs guards and LeBron will help. The Cavs have a lot of fouls to give, and they certainly will be physical with the dude, but obviously this is the biggest mismatch in Orlando's favor. Advantage: Howard.

Bench: Joe Smith, Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Daniel Gibson and Sasha Pavlovic vs. Courtney Lee, Mikael Pietrus, Tony Battie, Anthony Johnson, Marcin Gortat. Usually the Cavs bench is a huge difference maker. This is a pretty good matchup, as I see it. Joe Smith has been a sort of savior for the Cavs, providing a highly skilled large body with ample tools on both ends of the floor. I'm amazed at how quickly he became the Cavs 6th man, seeing how he joined the team in midseason. The there's Ben Wallace. Neither Smith nor Wallace are big or quick enough to handle Howard, but they can sure bump and foul the hell out of him. Howard, while hugely talented, does seem to play off emotion, whether for good or bad. Several times he's been frustrated into taking a swing at an opposing player this postseason, and the Cavs have no lack of players who will body up to the guy. Then you have the shooters, Gibson, Szczerbiak and Pavlovic. All three of them are streaky. Pavlovic is the superior defender. One of them at least will come up big when needed in this series, and don't be surprised to see more Wally and Sasha to match up with Orlando's size. Orlando, for its part, brings a pretty good backup center in Gortat. This guy actually has better post moves than Howard, in my opinion, and is not as big a dropoff as the Cavs might like. Anthony Johnson is a journeyman at best. Battie is a Joe Smith type who almost always is a positive presence in the lineup. Pietrus is just another three point chucker that the Cavs cannot afford to leave open. Lee is a promising rookie, another capable three point shooter, who, when Hedo fails, will be asked to guard LeBron. That does not bode well for the Magic. Advantage: Even.

Coach: Mike Brown vs. Stan Van Gundy. Here are two defensive minded coaches, both of whom have coached a lot of playoff baskeball. Based on past success, however, and considering the level of talent each has had to work with, I'm going to say...Advantage: Mike Brown. Sure no other Cavalier coach had a player like LeBron James. Even so, Mike Brown, after four seasons, is the most successful coach in Cavs history. I'll take his record of overachieving, of getting a group of guys to play coherent and crushing defense, over Van Gundy's record of underachieving anyday.

Prediction. The Cavs have the best player in the NBA. No, it's not Kobe. Sorry, Kobe fans. Dude is a great player, but LBJ has surpassed him by a longshot. The rest of this team ain't shabby, either. Remember that the Cavs have players on the bench who have started in the NBA finals. The combination of experience, talent and hunger should prevail here. Also don't forget, the Magic have logged about twice as many playoff minutes than the Cavs have, which should become a factor as the series wears on. The Magic will have to figure out some other way to score, because jacking the three isn't going to do it against a Cavs team that is brutal guarding the three. Yes, Howard is there in the middle. No, he is not LeBron. Combine all that with the fact that Cleveland has home court, and I predict the Cavs beat the Magic 4-2 to advance to the NBA Finals.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Eagle and Child

Often, on a quiet night, I'll pluck a letter from the McBone mailbag and read. Some questions spring up quite frequently, like What the hell is the matter with you? and Can you tell me your social security number? Just the other day I fished one out that made me smile, it read as follows:

Dear McBone,

You are the voice of a nation. McBone gives words to the forgotten man, woman and child. You're not afraid to stand up to a country that has forsaken its poor, tired, huddled masses. When, I wonder, did your writing career begin?

A tremendous question requires an equally tremendous answer, and I'll try to do this one justice. My writing career (for which I have yet to earn a penny, incidentally) started one wintry night in 2002, not long after having read a little-known fantasy trilogy called The Lord of the Rings. (OK, that's not technically true, since I was an English major once upon a time who was constantly expected to produce short analytical works of surpassing brilliance). I suppose upon reading the book and seeing the movies there was kindled somewhere in my breast a tiny, hobbit-sized notion that told me: hey, that might me fun to try--that is, create a world from scratch and write about the people who inhabit it. I've learned a lot since typing the first few lines of what would eventually swell to the 600 page manuscript I have today, but I still owe a gigantic debt of gratitude to one John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, or JRR, as friends and family used to call him.

Which brings me to the point of this post.

Last week's voyage to London included a day trip to the town of Oxford, home to the fabled institution of higher learning by the same name. And in this town of Oxford, convenient to student and professor alike, is a charming little pub that has been a purveyor of fine ales since the 1600s. What's so special about a 400-year-old pub, you ask? aside from being a 400-year-old pub? THIS 400-year-old pub happened to be the favourite watering hole of the novelist in question.

JRR Tolkien, along with another writer toiling in obscurity named CS Lewis, used to meet with several Oxford colleagues mornings at The Eagle and Child to drink beer (yes, in the morning) and discuss, among other things, writing. They called themselves the Inklings, and together they shook the earth to its very foundations.

For me, the trip to England was largely about making this pilgrimage. I suppose the feeling I had, sitting in that ancient wooden booth as an afternoon light, worthy of Galadriel herself, poured in on me and my own elf-princess, must be akin to what some people feel when they go to church (no, not boredom). What's the word I'm looking for here? Spiritual? Holy? Whatever you call it, I was moved, though not so much that I couldn't enjoy my pint of delicious dark brown ale.

I don't know if my book will ever find its way to the public sphere. Hell, right now I'd settle for finishing the goddam thing. Still, the experience I've had creating it, all the emotion tied to the the ups and downs of the writing process, has been irreplaceable. And for that, I thank the Oxford Don who inspired me.


Why the hell we didn't visit Tolkien's grave while in Oxford, I'll never know.