Chicago 2019

Four years is too long to stay away from your favorite place on earth, and 30 hours isn’t nearly enough time to spend there. But I had a great time and packed about as much as possible into my quick trip to Chicago this week.

I had been talking to my friend Randy, an equally avid Cubs fan, about going for years, but with seven kids between us it’s hard to find the time. About a month ago, we were playing poker and Randy says, “We just need to make this happen. Talk to Missy, figure out what dates work and we’ll go.”

If I were to go, it needed to be before September when Missy’s teaching gig at OU starts back up, and the Cubs were on the road for 10 straight games in mid-August, so we didn’t have a lot of options. I suggested going Wednesday, attending the game that night and the game the next afternoon, then coming home Friday. But Randy needed to be back Thursday night so we settled on the super quick trip.

Wednesday was a long day. It started at 5 a.m. when we headed to the airport for our 6 a.m. flight. I usually don’t wake up quite that early. But it allowed us to be in Chicago before noon, so we had time for a quick nap before the game. Randy’s daughter lives in Chicago and found a perfect hotel for us in an area of the city I hadn’t stayed in before. One of my favorite things about Chicago is walking through the neighborhoods, so after resting for a couple of hours that’s what we did. We were near the Lincoln Zoo which was a cool neighborhood only about 10 minutes from Wrigleyville.

We ate a late lunch at a sports pub in the neighborhood. Can’t say it was one of the better meals I’ve ever had but the White Sox were playing a day game and we got to see the end of that, so it was a good way to get integrated into the city and the baseball vibe. Then we headed to Wrigleyville, arriving about two-and-a-half hours before the 7 p.m. start.

Randy and I in front of the famous Wrigley Field marquee.

The last time I had been to Chicago was in 2015, which was a year before the greatest World Series ever played. The Cubs were in the middle of their Wrigley Field renovations then, so I got to see the new giant scoreboards but not the completely redone area around the ballfield. It was bizarre, seeing a stadium I’ve been to about 10 times surrounded by strangely new buildings and attractions, with several of the old merchandise shops and bars like Murphy’s Bleachers sprinkled in and still looking exactly the same as they always have.

We hit a home run on the weather, if you’ll pardon the pun. It was about 80 degrees with a cool breeze coming in off the lake. It actually rained for about 15 minutes before the start of Wednesday’s game while we were sampling a couple of Chicago’s finest beers at the Big Star next to the stadium. The perfect weather continued a streak for me on my short baseball trips the last few years. Chad and I had magnificent weather in Minneapolis, Denver and Phoenix the last three years, and this was just as good. It felt amazing to get out of the sweltering Oklahoma heat.

We were planning on buying tickets from the scalpers in front of the stadium but there weren’t many of those to be found. The scalpers were all yelling at people trying to buy tickets, so we figured we’d have better luck online. At Rizzo’s Bar and Inn, while drinking a Next Coast IPA from Chicago’s own Goose Island brewery, we found the seats we wanted to buy. Randy ordered them on his phone, then received a text from his bank to check whether this was a fraudulent purchase. The text said to reply “YES” if this was a legitimate purchase or “NO” if it was not. Despite being one of the smartest people I know, Randy managed to fail this 50/50 test. (And we had only had a couple beers, I promise!) So he had to deal with that headache before getting it sorted out and getting our tickets.

Our seats were great, on the lower level down the first base line. And it was quite a game we got to see. The only other MLB game I’ve been to this season was the first weekend of the year, when James and I went to Arlington to watch the Cubs against the Texas Rangers. Texas won that game 11-10, and for awhile it looked like the Giants were going to beat the Cubs 11-10 on Wednesday night too. That was the score in the bottom of the eighth inning when Kris Bryant played the hero to give the Cubs the lead. Craig Kimbrel closed it out in the ninth and the Cubs won 12-11.

Our view for Wednesday night’s 12-11 victory over the Giants.

After the game, which lasted about three and a half hours, I was pretty well exhausted. But getting to bed wasn’t quite the emergency our taxi driver seemed to think it was. This guy put New York City cabbies to shame. Randy thinks he might have hit 100 mph on Clark Street at one point. By the time he slammed on the brakes directly in front of our hotel, I was about ready to throw up.

On Thursday, the Cubs had a 1:20 p.m. game and our flight was scheduled to leave Midway at 5:30 p.m. We decided to go back to Wrigleyville and watch from one of the bars there until we needed to leave for the airport. We asked multiple people how long it would take to get from there to Midway and everyone said an hour. So we figured we could hang out until 3:30 p.m. and still make it an hour before our flight.

Despite the perfect weather and the fact that the Cubs had just moved back into first place the night before, the old-school scalpers were out in force on Thursday hawking tickets. We weren’t planning on attending the game, especially since we’d have to leave early, but figured it couldn’t hurt to see if the scalpers would give us a good deal. Although the negotiating process was predictably annoying, we did manage to score tickets for less than face value.

Our view for Thursday’s game. The Cubs won 1-0 behind a gem from my favorite Cubs pitcher, Kyle Hendricks (below).

We sat in right field, under the second deck, which was perfect because we would have gotten sunburned in the bleachers. Again, the weather was perfect. I have to confess that Chicago style pizza isn’t my favorite thing, but I felt like I had to get a mini Giordano’s and a beer while I watched this one. It was blissful.

Giordano’s + pale ale + baseball = magic.

If the game progressed at normal pace, we would get to watch about six innings before needing to leave for the airport. But this game went very quickly as both pitchers threw gems. The Cubs scored a run in the fourth thanks to a routine fly ball that was lost in the sun. With both teams putting zeroes onto the scoreboard, our 3:30 p.m. deadline didn’t arrive until the bottom of the eighth inning, with the Cubs clinging to that 1-0 lead.

The Cubs closed out the 1-0 victory as Randy and I were on our way to the airport. That routine fly ball which fell for a hit and the subsequent Anthony Rizzo RBI single were the Cubs’ only hits the entire game, making it just the fifth game since 1990 that the Cubs have won with two hits or less. And it was quite the departure from Wednesday night’s game, when the Cubs needed every one of 14 hits to eek out a victory. Things like that are what make baseball so fun.

Our Uber driver on Thursday was the polar opposite of the insane guy we had Wednesday night. He was very safe and in no hurry, which turned out to be a bit unfortunate since we mistimed our trip to the airport. With traffic, it took a full 90 minutes, which meant we arrived at Midway at 5 p.m. for a 5:30 p.m. flight. We were getting a little stressed but got lucky that there was virtually no line at security. We walked up to the gate as our boarding group was getting on the plane.

It was great to see my family again when we got back. The whole trip kind of felt like a dream since it was so quick. And I did a lot of dreaming last night, when I passed out and slept like a baby to make up for a little of the deprivation I had accrued over the previous two days.

See you soon, Chicago. Hopefully in less than four years.

Anniversary Surprise :/

August 12, 2006 is a day I’ll never forget for the best of reasons. Eventually I’ll write a whole post on that singular day but for now I’ll just mention that it was my wedding day.

August 12, 2019 is a day I’ll probably never forget, for less impressive reasons. I was getting my car window replaced after someone smashed into it and stole our stuff on our anniversary date.

When it comes to our anniversary, Missy and I have a strict routine. We get a hotel here in Oklahoma City, eat at the same restaurant and go to the same bar every year. (A big thank you to Missy’s family for coming down to watch the kids to make this happen).

We start our date the same way every year. We check into the hotel and Missy takes a nap while I go to the hotel pool and alternate between actual swimming (5%) and sitting by the pool reading a book and drinking beer (95%). We have stayed at a few different hotels over the years but the only requirements are a pool and a bar, for the aforementioned reasons. This year we stayed at the Holiday Inn right off I-35 near downtown. Part 1 of our date was a success.

Before our fancy dinner, we decided to run to Wal Mart so Missy could buy a few back-to-school clothes and a couple of presents for the kids. I dropped Missy off at the door, then went across the street and treated myself to a cherry vanilla coke from Sonic. She was only in there for about 15 minutes and then I picked her up at the front door and we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our dinner.

When we were engaged, Missy went to a bridal fair and entered some drawings. She won a $100 gift card to Boulevard Steakhouse in Edmond. That restaurant has made quite an impressive return on that investment despite the fact that we only eat there once a year. We used the gift card on our first anniversary and have gone back every year since for that specific date. If you’ve eaten at Boulevard before (or just glance at the menu in the picture below) you know this means they’ve gotten a couple thousand dollars from us over the years.

Boulevard Steakhouse gave us a coupon and some fresh rose petals
Missy is just as beautiful as she was the day I married her!

Our dinner was great, like it always is. Missy always gets the same thing, filet tips with wild mushrooms. I get a different steak every year but this time settled on some tenderloin medallions with mashed potatoes and asparagus. Part 2 of our date was a success.

After dinner we always go to Junior’s on Northwest Expressway. It’s a throwback to another era. The average customer is about 75 years old, almost everybody in there is smoking, and there’s a live band playing the classics. It has a “Cheers” feel to it; everybody seems to know everybody. Missy discovered it before we were married and like Boulevard we only make it there once a year. The same two main bartenders are still there and they remember us despite our infrequent appearances. We have a couple drinks and do a lot of people watching while I smoke an anniversary cigar. Part 3 of our date was a success.

Part 4 of our date was a success.

Part 5 of our date simply involved driving home the next day, and that was less of a success. We woke up to find our car had been broken into at the hotel parking lot. They smashed in the rear door window on the driver’s side and took our Wal Mart sacks, as well as everything in the center console. Like I said, the Wal Mart sacks contained kids’ clothes and presents (a Nerf gun being the highlight, nothing technological). Missy remembers the total cost being $143 but probably roughly $0 in value to the looters. In the center console they took two pairs of Missy’s prescription sunglasses. Cost us about $350 total but again, roughly $0 in value to the looters. They did get a few pens and a tire pressure gauge. Treat them well, bastards.

It appears that the robber or robbers got a couple other cars in the same lot. We filed a police report and they had some surveillance footage from the parking lot so hopefully justice is served but of course that’s unlikely.

How our car looked in the parking lot of the Holiday Inn off I-35 near downtown OKC.
Glass all over the car seat. Got a few knicks cleaning it up that afternoon.

Ultimately, the whole thing was just an inconvenience. Jim Gray Auto Glass came out the next day and replaced the window at our house for a great price (less than half of what Safelite was going to charge us). I would highly recommend him. We had to replace the Wal Mart purchases and will have to replace Missy’s sunglasses but at least nothing of real value (sentimental or monetary) was taken. And while it might not have been the best anniversary date we’ve ever had, it was probably the most memorable.

Favorite Westbrook story

After last weekend’s tragedies, I was planning to write about guns and my opinions on gun rights this week.

But I tell ya what, it’s a hard time to try to share an opinion in America. I understand that none of you care what I think on that topic, but it’s really sad that you can’t even have a discussion on anything semi-political without the immediate butwhatabouts or youdrankthekoolaids. Why can’t we have a conversation (or even a disagreement) without it immediately turning into name calling or ridiculous statements that end the dialogue? Yes, there is more to the issue than just the guns. Obviously, but does that mean we can’t also talk about the guns? Yes, Trump does some stupid stuff. Obviously, but does that mean every single issue is 100% his fault? It’s incredibly frustrating, especially for someone who doesn’t identify with either major party.

Eventually I might decide to weigh in on this topic anyway, since it’s my blog and you are under a court order to read it every week. But for now I thought it a good time to revisit my favorite Russell Westbrook poker story, since it’s highly possible I will never play with him again. Even though this happened more than four years ago, it still gets referenced every once in awhile. In fact, just last week Chad mentioned being worried about making the same mistake I did that night.

I’m also going to include the cracked windshield story that appeared in my original blog post about it, because I had completely forgotten about that part of the story and it still made me laugh today.

——

Once upon a time I had a cracked windshield.

To fix that problem, I called Safelite, which has a catchy commercial jingle that is obviously way more important than actual competence. They were nice on the phone and I scheduled the windshield replacement for Thursday, July 9, at 1 p.m.
However, on July 3 Missy’s sister Terri went into labor a tish early, and Missy already had planned to fly up to New Jersey to spend some time with her. So Missy moved her flight up to spend the week with Terri, leaving me home alone with the kid and needing to reschedule the windshield appointment. No problem, I call Safelite and they give me several other times, including 1 p.m. on July 16, exactly a week after the original appointment. That seemed pretty convenient so I booked it.
Everything went great with Missy gone. The kids had McDonald’s and Mountain Dew every day and went to bed at midnight. On Wednesday I’m waking up to get the kids around when my phone rings. It’s Safelite calling to confirm my appointment for the next day, July 9. I tell the guy that I have already rescheduled that appointment for July 16. He doesn’t say a word, just lets out the most exasperated deep and audible sigh that I have ever heard in my life. I hear some computer keys clicking and another one of these sighs, which are similar to the ones I have when I look across the room and see Maddux dumping a cup of milk all over the couch but know it’s too late to do anything to stop it.
I’m just sitting there listening to these click-sighs for about 30 seconds before he says, “We don’t have an opening on July 16.” I tell him I already talked to someone several days ago and it should be booked. He starts in on another round of clicking and sighing, sounding just like I sound when I look across the room and see Myra coloring directly on the kitchen table but know it’s too late to do anything about it. Finally he says, “Nope, we’re all booked up on the 16th, and your name’s not on here.”
Then he mumbles something about, “Let me check here…” and starts the clicking and typing. After about a minute of that I finally say, “It’s fine, we can do it another day. It doesn’t have to be the 16th. But I can’t do it tomorrow so just tell me what you do have open and we will reschedule this.”
Now he takes it up a notch, with the loudest sigh in the history of the universe, even louder than the time I walked into Addie’s play room and saw that she had taken the real maple syrup from our pantry and dumped the whole thing all over her play kitchen. He keeps clicking and sighing and doesn’t say anything at all, so finally I say, “Look dude I’m sorry but I have to get my kids up and around. Just call me back later and we can reschedule the thing, I’m pretty flexible.”
After a few more clicks and sighs, he says, “We can do July 20 at 4 p.m.” I have no idea what day of the week July 20 is or what we might have going on but I say, “That’s perfect,” and get off the phone.
The next day I wake up to see I have a missed call from Safelite. (Who calls people at 7 a.m.?) and a voicemail that says they have a question for me. So I call back and talk to a young lady who says, “We were just calling to let you know we have an opening next week if you want to bring you car in.” I ask when it is and she says…(drumroll please)….July 16th, at 1 p.m. I inform her that I briefly held that exact appointment time but was booted out of it by a guy who was sighing like I do every time my kids fight over a free Happy Meal toy when they have hundreds of dollars worth of better toys in their rooms. She didn’t seem too interested in my story and got off the phone with me as fast as I did with the Sigh Guy.

P.S. my windshield did in fact get fixed that day, and since then I now have one additional child. Hawk makes me sigh like the Safelite guy when he sneaks into the pantry and I find 12 empty candy wrappers and a huge smile on his face.

——

What does that story have to do with Russell Westbrook? Well, the reason I need a new windshield is because I was texting and driving in a parking lot and ran right over him. Smacked his head right on my windshield and broke it. He’ll probably never play basketball again. Gotcha! That didn’t really happen.

But I really did get the Russell Westbrook stink face and live to tell about it. While Missy was gone, my mom agreed to come watch the kids one day so I could play poker. It just so happened that Russell Westbrook was in the mood to play poker that day and it just so happened that I ended up playing at his table. I’ve gotten to play with RWB maybe 10 or 12 times over the years, and he’s a cool enough guy to be around. He’ll answer questions about where his favorite places to travel are or what his opinion is of infamous referee Joey Crawford. About the only thing he won’t do is take a picture with you, and I can respect that. He makes it pretty clear that he doesn’t want his picture taken in the casino. Westbrook is my mom’s favorite player, so since she was watching my kids I texted her and told her that I was playing poker with her favorite basketball player. The first thing she says is, “take a picture and send it to me.” I said no, he doesn’t like his picture taken. She says, “Just tell him it’s for your dear old mother and he is her favorite player in the world.”

I didn’t want to get into a back-and-forth with her about it so I figured I’d just sneak a quick picture when he wasn’t looking and send it to her. He was only two seats away from me so I had to be in stealth mode but at the same time it wouldn’t look totally awkward like it would if I was on the other end of the table and trying to lean around to point my phone at him. I made sure my phone was on silent so it wouldn’t make a loud clicking sound and then I snapped the thing. What I didn’t realize was that for the first time in 5 years of owning this phone I somehow had the flash on and it was pretty daggone bright and directly in his eyes.

As soon as I saw the flash I jerked the phone down and pretended to type on the phone as if I was texting someone and the flash just accidentally went off and/or had nothing to do with me taking a picture of Russell Westbrook. I saw his head snap over in my direction and he was giving me pretty much the exact same look he is giving in this gif.

I felt like the biggest idiot in the world and just kept my head down pretending to type. I may have soiled myself.┬áLuckily, I’ve played with RWB enough that he knows me and likes me. Regardless, he didn’t say anything (and I’ve heard him call out other people for picture snapping at the table) and we interacted normally the rest of the night. I never mentioned my mom or admitted to anything. I just wanted it to go away. I went ahead and sent the picture to my mom. Ironically, the picture is quite blurry because I jerked the phone down as soon as the flash started going off. She texted back and said the pic was too blurry and I needed to take another one. I said there’s no way I’m pointing my phone in his direction the rest of the night. And I didn’t.

P.S. I played with Russ several times after this and he obviously didn’t care about it. In fact, he liked when I had the mohawk haircut, especially when I told him I did it in honor of naming my youngest son Hawk. We got to talking about our kids and he would always ask me how they were doing as soon as he sat down at the poker table. I’ll be rooting for him in Houston.

Pee and Poop

In the last blog, I discussed my personal policy on panhandlers.

What I didn’t include in that post was my dealings with poker players who ask to borrow money. They are the casino cousins of the street version, with the difference being that the street people who have never played in their lives are probably better at poker.

Because you generally play with the same people all the time, you develop a familiarity and in many cases a friendship with these players. Thus it’s not uncommon to see people passing money back and forth like it’s the guac at a football party.

When I first started playing recreationally, I’d hear stories from the 70s about poker loans that reached five or six figures, and they were told with a level of nonchalance that was shocking to a guy whose net worth was less than the smallest of these loans. Personally I witnessed loans of a couple thousand dollars going to and from people whose net worth was probably not much greater than mine.

Pretty much anyone who has ever played poker has been burned on a poker loan at least once. I never loaned out more than a few hundred dollars, and can only remember being stiffed twice. But those two happened more or less simultaneously, and they more or less ended my participation in the money-swapping business. Missy was probably more mad about it than I was, and she told me to use her as the bad guy anytime anyone asked me for a loan. So I just told people my wife wouldn’t let me do it.

It was pretty stupid for me to ever do it anyway, since I was never on the receiving end of one of these loans. A couple of times I have gone to the casino and forgotten my poker money, which seems like something nobody would be stupid enough to do. Only once or twice have I ever borrowed money to play, and those were from some of my closest friends. Usually I would realize it when I was halfway to the casino and make a slight detour to my bank to withdraw my own money. Once I’m at the casino and playing, if I ever run out of money, that’s the end of my day at the poker table. I always felt awkward about losing someone else’s money, and I can’t even imagine losing money I had no means of repaying. To me, the choice between paying a $5 ATM fee to access my own money or borrowing from someone else is a no-brainer.

But obviously gambling can take a serious hold on some people and cause them to do things they wouldn’t do in their normal lives. And some people are just shitheads. (Poop reference #1! I bet you were wondering what any of this has to do with the title of this blog.)

In 1975 it made a lot more sense to need to borrow money from a friend. Many poker games were held in underground spots that were frequently robbed or busted by the cops, so there was reason to not carry around a lot of cash even if the game you were playing in was pretty big. And it’s not like there was an ATM on every corner like there is now. In 2019, I figure if you don’t have a way to get your own money into a poker game, it’s probably best to just not play that day. There are only a handful of people I’d loan money to and they are my closest friends.

Of course, those people never ask me for a loan because they don’t need one. When I do get asked, there’s a 95% chance the phrase, “You know I’m good for it” will be invoked. Generally when I decline it’s not a big deal, the guy just says he understands and moves on. Maybe he’s pissed at me but I don’t really know or care.

One guy who asked me and my friends for loans several times was named Jack. He was a quirky dude but he was nice enough. Made some crazy plays at the poker table which occasionally led to him really cleaning up but more frequently led to him needing a loan.

One night a few years back he asked me for a loan. I declined. He then went and played at a smaller-stakes game than the one I was in. A few hours later, probably around 1 a.m., I cashed out and was about to head home. Jack cornered me, said he’d just lost in his game and asked me again for a loan. I again declined. He said he didn’t want more money for poker, he needed $50 to get a cab or an Uber ride home from the casino because the guy he rode with had left earlier.

Much like my policy on the panhandlers, I didn’t want to give Jack cash that probably wouldn’t be used to get him a ride home and probably wouldn’t ever be repaid to me. I also wanted him to get home safely. I was heading home and I had a perfectly good car and nowhere else I had to be at 1 a.m. so I offered to give him a ride.

(Several people who know this story think I was stupid to offer him a ride because of the risk of getting robbed by Jack. Obviously I suppose it was in play but he was probably 20 years older than I and not in good health. I didn’t see that as a risk or I wouldn’t have done it.)

We were at Riverwind, which is about 15 miles south of Oklahoma City. I live in South OKC. Jack lived way up in Northwest OKC near Edmond. Basically it added an hour onto what would have been a 30-minute trip home.

On the drive I asked him about his kids. He gushed about his daughter, who was about 9 years old at the time. After talking about her for 10 minutes, he said, “I also have a son who is grown up. He’s a piece of shit.” (Poop reference #2!) Kind of an awkward silence after that because I didn’t know what to say. Jack filled in the void by telling me exactly why he was a POS for the next 30 minutes.

Finally we get within a couple of miles of Jack’s house. We’re off the highway but not into the neighborhood yet. Out of nowhere Jack yells, “Pull over right now. I’ve got to take a piss.”

I ask if he knows if there’s a convenience store nearby. He says, “I ain’t got time for that. I’m about to piss all over myself and your car. You need to pull over now.”

I’m not really sure what to do because we are on a 40-mph street with no open businesses in sight. Jack points to a house on the corner of the street and yells, “Right here! Now!!”

I slam on the brakes and pull off the main road onto the side street. Jack is mumbling under his breath and fumbling with the car door. I unlock it and he sprints out of the car but only takes about three steps. He whips it out and lets it fly. I mean, he’s square in the middle of someone’s front lawn at 2 a.m. taking a whiz. My first thought was hoping that the owners didn’t happen to be gun owners who also happened to look out their window and see this. I thought about moving the car so I wasn’t in the line of fire but Jack’s door was still open. I was also sweating a police officer driving by. I wondered if I could be charged with accessory to public urination. I damn sure didn’t want to have to go down to the police station or bail him out of jail.

When he got done, Jack calmly got back in the car and told me how to get to his house. I still have no idea why he went from 0 to 60 on the need-to-piss scale so quickly. He hadn’t been drinking (in fact his liver was failing, and it would claim his life a year or so later). He never said anything about it, just thanked me for the ride when I dropped him off. It definitely ranks near the top of the list of bizarre incidents in my life.

Slightly less bizarre, but also involving bodily waste, is an incident that happened to me just a few days ago. For some reason I couldn’t get to sleep that night. I wasn’t overly depressed or anything but while I was laying there I was thinking about how I needed to do a better job of keeping my patience with the kids.

We were watching our friend’s puppy while she was out of town working, and she is a typically rambunctious puppy. She knocked over Hawk a few times which concerned me. Then she jumped up and snagged a piece of chicken off my plate while I was eating. Then Addison spilled milk at the table and made no effort to clean it up. All of this happened in a short span and I could have done a better job handling it with patience and grace. So that night while I couldn’t sleep I prayed for an extra measure of patience at home and with the kids.

I got about four hours of sleep when Hawk came into my room and woke me up to tell me he had a poopy diaper. So I’m still half asleep when I take him back to his room to change it. I woke all the way up pretty quickly when I stepped into a warm, squishy substance in Hawk’s room that got right in between all my toes. Yessir, I started my day by stepping in dog poop. After praying for patience the night before. It must have been the timing of that prayer because I somehow managed to hold my shit together, making me the only member of the dog-Hawk-me triumvirate to do so. I had to hop into the bathroom on my other foot so I could clean up the dirty one, then clean up the poop on the floor of Hawk’s room, then clean up Hawk and his dirty diaper.

I took the kids to the gym where I worked out for an hour or so. On the way home, Myra said, “You know Sadie pooped in our room too, right?” I did not know this, or else I would have cleaned that up immediately instead of letting that smell marinate in the girls’ room for a couple of additional and unnecessary hours.

Addison with Sadie, who is a good dog and hasn’t pooped any more since that first day.

Growing up in the church, I’d always heard the phrase, “Be careful when you ask God for patience, He might give you something to be patient about.”

Now I’ve lived it.

Panhandlers

The other day I was getting gas at OnCue when a man walked up to me.

“Hey man, you think you could help me out? I need some dinner.”

“Absolutely man. What do you want?”

“Can you just meet me around the corner with the cash? They don’t like me panhandling here in the parking lot. I’ll get kicked out.”

“I don’t have any cash on me. But I’ll use my credit card and buy you whatever you want to eat. So just let me know what you want and I’ll run in and get it for you.”

This took him by surprise. He hemmed and hawed for a minute before saying, “Just a Snickers is fine.”

I got him the Snickers, shook his hand and went on my way.

That moment reminded me of two similar tales from my Lawton days, the first of which shaped how I handle these situations. The second one was just funny.

Like most people fresh out of college, I was more or less broke when I first moved to Lawton in 2002 to start working for the Constitution. I didn’t have any student loan debt but I also didn’t have anything in my bank account, and my salary at the paper wasn’t going to change that. On the plus side, I was a single guy without any expensive habits so it wasn’t hard to survive.

One night I was on dinner break at the paper and went to a fast-food place. Seems like it might have been Quiznos but I can’t say for sure. Anyway, it was your standard fast food joint and it was probably 7 p.m. so it was fairly busy. I was sitting at a table by myself eating when a man came up and asked if I could help him out. We talked for a minute and I said, “Why don’t you go get your food and then come eat with me until I have to go back to work?”

He said that sounded great. I don’t remember how much money I gave him but I doubt it was more than $10. Big bills (aka $20) weren’t really part of my life back then. I actually think I may have given him $7 or pretty much the exact cost of the meal. While I may not remember exactly which restaurant I was at or how much money I gave him, I’ll never forget what happened next.

There were probably four people in line ahead of him. At first he just waited in line normally. Then after he moved up a spot he started to kind of shuffle his feet in place nervously. Then he was staring down at the money and moving it around in his hands (this is why I think I gave him multiple bills). He glanced back at me a couple of times and then back to the money, then to the front of the line. All of a sudden when it was his turn to order he bolted out the door, never to be seen again (by me anyway).

Obviously it sucks to get ripped off, even if it’s only for a few dollars. But I could tell from his body language and how nervous he got in the line that it was really a struggle for him of what to do with that money. He probably felt crappy about himself afterward, which is why I decided personally that I wasn’t going to give money out in those situations anymore. Everybody needs food and water, so from then on I would meet those needs directly and not put someone in a situation where they have to make a hard decision about how to spend the cash.

When I’m going to play poker, I usually have a few snacks in my backpack. When I’m stopped at a light I’ll offer a granola bar or a pack of peanut butter crackers. Those get accepted about 50 percent of the time. A couple of times when they’ve been declined it’s because the person doesn’t have any teeth. A few years back, Missy and Addie put together some basic survival packs that included socks, toothbrush/paste, bottled water and snacks. I thought that was pretty neat.

A few years after that first incident, when I had moved up in the world to the point of having a wife and owning a house, I was at Whataburger with my buddy Spike. We had just finished playing poker so it was probably 2 a.m. (I long for the days I could eat Whataburger on the reg at 2 a.m. and not gain weight).

This guy comes up to us and asks for food money. I told him to order whatever he wanted, it was on me. So he orders a triple cheeseburger value meal, supersized, with a strawberry shake. Gotta tip my hat on that order, it’s impressive. He thanks me and then sits down and eats the meal. There’s not really anyone inside the restaurant at this time besides us.

Spike and I finish our food about the same time as this gentlemen, and as we’re leaving he corners us again and asks for $20 for a cab ride across town. I tell him I can’t do that but I hope he enjoyed his meal. He starts yelling at me that I’m a racist. Meanwhile Spike reaches into his pocket and gives the dude whatever change is in there, about 50 cents. He says, “Thank you so much. God bless you. You’re not PREJUDICED like your friend here. He’s a RACIST!!”

I said, “Dude I just bought you $10 worth of food.”

“No you’re PREJUDGING me!!! PREJUDGING! PREJUDGING!” We slithered out of there while he kept yelling at me.

P.S. After I posted this, Spike remembered that the guy was wearing a Michael Irvin Dallas Cowboys jersey. So I had already overlooked that sin when I bought his dinner in the first place.

Never Admit You’re Wrong

A month or so ago, Myra developed a boil on her upper gums. Never thought I’d start a blog with that sentence!

Anyway, it wouldn’t go away so we made an appointment with our family dentist, and Missy took her. One of the assistants took some X-rays, and then our dentist came in to look at them. After about three seconds he said, “Something’s not right here, are these X-Rays flipped?”

The assistant confirmed that they were flipped. I guess Myra wasn’t comfortable the way they had tried to position her or the infected area wouldn’t show up or something. The point is that the X-rays were flipped and our dentist realized it within a few seconds of looking at them. He was a little concerned because the X-rays seemed to indicate that although the boil was directly above one of Myra’s front teeth, it looked like it was affecting the tooth next to that one.

Since he doesn’t specialize in pediatrics, he referred Myra to a dentist across the street who does, Dr. Amanda Ward at Norman Pediatric Dentistry. Missy was in the room as they called the office and told them they were faxing/emailing Myra’s X-rays, and they specifically told them that said X-rays were flipped.

A few days later, Missy took Myra to Dr. Ward. The infected tooth needed to be pulled. Before anything else could happen, we had to write a check for $385 because Myra’s insurance doesn’t cover this. During the consultation, Missy even asked about the fact that the infection looked to be affecting a different tooth than the one the boil was above. Dr. Ward brushed it off and said, “Oh, you know, infection goes where infection goes.”

Then she pulled the wrong tooth.

It was immediately obvious because the tooth that was pulled looked completely healthy, with the longest root I’ve ever seen. Dr. Ward knew it was wrong and proceeded to pull the correct tooth next. Which means Myra lost both of her front teeth in a matter of minutes. Missy reported that Dr. Ward was very gentle with Myra and that aside from the one major gaffe, the experience was a positive one. The office is clean and Dr. Ward made Myra feel as comfortable as possible during the whole thing.

Myra was very brave. The only time I saw her cry was that night. I asked her if her mouth was hurting and she said, “No, I just wish I could have my teeth back.”

When Missy was telling me the whole story, I couldn’t believe the office didn’t promise to refund our $385 right away. So I stopped by there to talk to them about it and was lucky to catch them on their lunch break when no patients were in the building. Then again, I guess I was unlucky because I ended up getting talked down to and treated like dog poop.

Dr. Ward and one of her employees sat down with me in a small waiting area. This is the conversation we had. There is no exaggeration here; this is how it happened.

First I explain that I’m Myra’s dad and I’m here to get my money back.

Employee: Oh, don’t worry. We didn’t charge you anything for that second tooth.

Me: I’m talking about the $400 I paid for the other one.

Dr. Ward, befuddled look on her face: You want a refund for pulling the correct tooth, the one that needed to be pulled?

Me: Yes. I think the whole thing caused her extra pain, and she’s sad about not having any front teeth.

Dr. Ward: You think she had more pain getting two teeth pulled than she would have for just one?

(Somehow she was being serious with that question.)

Me: I can’t imagine it was less painful.

Dr. Ward: So you want a refund for a baby tooth that was going to come out anyway?

(At this point it’s hard to tell if she’s just being a smartass or if she really thinks I’m that dumb. I was really tempted to ask if they just pull random healthy teeth as part of a normal check-up since it’s no big deal but I refrained.)

Me: It wasn’t going to come out any time soon, which means she’s not going to have a tooth there for a really long time. Look, I’m not trying to accuse you of doing anything on purpose. I understand it was a weird situation with the infection being above the other tooth. I understand that the X-rays were flipped. But it was still an entirely preventable thing and I think you should make it right.

Dr. Ward: And you think “making it right” means getting your money back? For the correct tooth that needed to be pulled?

Me: Well I’d prefer my daughter get her tooth back in her mouth. But since that’s not going to happen, a refund would seem to be fair.

Dr. Ward: We didn’t know the X-rays were flipped. (Employee nods in agreement).

Me: Somebody knew. My wife was in the room when our dentist called your office and specifically told whoever was on the phone.

Dr. Ward: No, we didn’t know about it.

Me: My wife told me about it before the procedure, because it was an odd thing. She didn’t make it up. I’m confident our dentist remembers this also if we need to call him and ask. Obviously, I have no way of knowing who was on your end of that call, but somebody in this office was told about it.

(I didn’t even mention the fact that our dentist, who legitimately didn’t know about the flipped X-rays, immediately recognized it. And he isn’t a pediatric specialist, nor was he about to yank a 6-year-old’s tooth out. Would seem like you’d want to double check before pulling a tooth. Clearly this could have been recognized regardless.)

Dr. Ward: Well, what would make you feel better about this situation?

Me: Getting our money back for the mistake that you made.

Dr. Ward, super condescending tone: That’s what would make you feel better?

Me: Again, I’d prefer my daughter had her tooth in her mouth. But yeah, since that’s not going to happen I’d like to have my money back.

Dr. Ward: Well we can certainly do that.

And she did. We got the check in the mail just a few days later. What we definitely did not get was anything resembling an apology or a show of basic human respect.

About 10 years ago, we were eating at a Chili’s in Wichita with Missy’s family. Missy ordered a salad and there was a staple in it. She bit into it and it caused quite a bit of pain and bleeding. Guess what Chili’s charged me for my burger that day? (You mean the correct order with no staple in it?) Naturally, the whole meal was free and they gave us a gift card with $50 or $100 on it. Because a crappy restaurant chain is somehow better at being personable and acknowledging a mistake than a pediatric dentist.

Myra (left) before this whole thing. After picture below.
Healthy tooth is on the left.

Letters to Westbrook and Presti

The Thunder is in turmoil.

Paul George demanded a trade and got one. The Thunder gave Jerami Grant away for basically nothing. Now it seems like Russell Westbrook will be the next to go.

Things are happening so fast that Russ might be traded before I finishing writing this column.

Sam Presti may or may not have asked for my opinion before pulling the trigger on the George deal. He really didn’t have a choice on that one — it would be supremely foolish to pass up that bounty of players and picks while also digging most of the way out of luxury tax hell. Presti may or may not care about what I have to say when it comes to Westbrook. Sam’s a busy guy right now, so I’ll just leave my minority opinion right here for him to get to when he has time, probably while pooping.

Dear Sam Presti,

Don’t trade Russell Westbrook.

Oh wait. You kind of have to trade him if he wants to be traded. Would be bad for the locker room and unfair to him after everything he’s done for us. Give me a minute Sam, I’ll be right back.

Dear Russell Westbrook,

Stay here.

We rolled out the red carpet for you when you decided to stay, and we’d love to roll it out for you again. We’ll roll it out 41 times a year. That doesn’t include preseason games but it does include postseason games, of which there will probably be zero. Which is your uniform number, if that somehow makes it cool.

We’ll go bonkers every time you’re introduced with the starting lineup. You might win a few more games in Miami, but they won’t go bonkers for you during the intro like we do. They don’t even show up until the end of the first quarter.

You might win a few more games in Detroit, but they won’t go bonkers for you during the intro like we do. Their pregame intro cheers are drowned out by all the car alarms going off in the parking lot.

You might win a few more games in Houston, but they won’t go bonkers for you during the intro like we do. Their cheers are drowned out by James Harden and Chris Paul flopping and trying to get fouls called on their opponents for pregame handshakes.

And Orlando? Surely that’s not a real thing.

We love the passion and effort you play with. Sure, we’ve complained about how you can’t shoot, rarely play defense and start chucking even more than usual when the game is on the line. Those things were frustrating when we actually had a chance to win something, but now that we suck you’re free to do any and all of those things as often as you’d like.

We know you like to occasionally glance at the stat sheet, get those triple-doubles and 20-20-20 games and whatnot. It’s probably not great for the team but whatever, keep it up. Think about all of the franchise records you could absolutely smash if you stay here four more years.

KD who?

He’s number two.

Russ gave him a toothache.

Smashin dem records like a cupcake.

(copyright pending)

No matter what you decide, your legacy here is safe. You’re getting the statue and the jersey retirement. But if you finish your career here, you could be the guy everyone immediately thinks of when anybody says “Oklahoma City” for the next 30 years. Like Stockton and Malone with Utah, MJ with the Bulls, Bird with Boston or Magic with the Lakers.

I went to some games that first season the Thunder were in OKC, your rookie season. You were backing up Earl Watson for God’s sake. Those teams were boring. I don’t mind sucking but I don’t want to be boring.

Flaws and all, we love you, Russ. And no matter what, you’ll never be boring. So please stay.

Dear Sam Presti,

OK, I talked to Russ. Pretty sure he wants to stay now.

So please don’t trade him.

I’ll concede that it would be the best thing for the team. You just traded for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who is also a point guard. He needs to have the ball a lot and be the starting point guard. Russ will also hamstring the payroll because he makes more money than God.

But in this age of player empowerment and superteams chasing dynasties, it’s easy to forget what it is that the NBA sells.

It’s entertainment. The product is entertainment. Season ticket holders are attending a Thursday game in November to be entertained. There are no championships on the line that night. Or on Tuesday in March. Or at the All-Star game. Or even at a conference semifinal in May. Sure, those high-stakes playoff games are more entertaining than the regular season games, but without fans buying tickets to see all 30 teams play 82 games per season, none of the rest of it is possible.

I’d prefer it if OKC could have another title contender, but those things are hard to come by under optimal circumstances.

I’ve been hearing about all the great players and assets Boston has stacked up over the last eight years and at the end of the day their best player just bolted and some might call them the Oklahoma City of the East, a decent squad with no real chance to win anything important.

I’ve been hearing about how smart Daryl Morey is, but at the end of the day he’s stuck paying a disgruntled and half-washed Chris Paul $45 million a year because no other team wants him, and the Rockets seem to be clearly behind both L.A. teams in the Western pecking order.

Of course you don’t need me to tell you any of this, since you had three Hall of Famers on your roster at the same time and never won a championship. (You wanted me to give you the unvarnished truth, Sam. Take it like a man.)

The point is, championships are hard to win, even moreso for a small market. It seems like Oklahoma City is more like Utah, Sacramento and Portland than any other franchise, cities where the NBA is the only major league in town. Utah and Sacramento have never won a title and Portland hasn’t won one in my lifetime. So while it would be awesome if we could win one, the reality is that may never happen.

Which brings me back to entertainment. You’re in the entertainment industry, and 11 years ago you drafted one of the most entertaining players in the history of basketball. People watch Thunder games just to see what he is going to do. Re-read the first four words of that last sentence. People watch Thunder games. Russ singlehandedly makes the Thunder relevant and watchable. Entertaining. Just by drafting him, you’ve successfully done the most important aspect of your job.

So don’t screw it up now. With Russ on the floor, we will buy tickets and turn on Fox Sports Oklahoma. Even if you don’t replace the crappy announcers.

It’s not like you were going to get a great young player in a trade for Russ. The main benefit would just be dumping his salary. But he more than earns his salary for what he provides in entertainment value to the fans of Oklahoma City. So just keep him.

You’re a bright guy, you can figure something out. Thunder Up.