National Treasure Bret Michaels

Bret Michaels

Shiny-suited Bret Michaels wins Celebrity Apprentice...and our hearts.

When did this happen? Seriously, I’m asking you. And don’t say the brain hemorrhage, because it had already occurred by that point. Had Bret Michaels not already become a national treasure, we really wouldn’t have cared. I mean, Gary Coleman just died, and as a nation, we were like, “mmm… yeah… bummer.” But Bret Michaels has a brain hemorrhage and it’s like, “screw coverage of the oil spill in the Gulf, NATIONAL TREASURE BRET MICHAELS is in peril!”

I am not immune from this phenomenon. It seems like yesterday I was turning my nose up with much judginess at Rock of Love (a show I still find abhorrent) and then somehow I magically started watching Celebrity Apprentice, ostensibly to see Cyndi Lauper, and then, all of a sudden, I’m rooting for Bret Michaels and then I AM VERY CONCERNED about his health and before I know it, I am actually caring about whether Bret Michaels wins a completely and totally bogus promo package disguised as a reality show and helmed by Donald Trump. I ACTUALLY CARED.

All of this led me to a most disturbing point yesterday afternoon, wherein I posted a comment on People.com saying that if Bret Michaels was the new Idol judge, I’d watch the show again.

What has happened to me? Seriously, I’m asking you. What happened to my pride? To my elitist disdain of Bret Michaels, let alone American Idol and People.com? When did I buy stock in National Treasure Bret Michaels? I can’t be certain, but I think it was around episode 5 of Celebrity Apprentice. To begin with, he annoyed the bejeezus out of me. I’ve worked with people like that, who talk and talk and talk, who use buzzwords ad nauseum, who never met a point they couldn’t belabor. Then two things happened. Firstly, I realized that nobody on the show treated others with more respect than Bret Michaels. He was gracious to the graphic designers, the editors, the guy holding the boom mic. Secondly, I think he improved. He became more effectual and less talky. He offered an appealing package of work ethic, self-deprecation, enthusiasm, and decency. Plus, he seemed so happy to be on Celebrity Apprentice. God bless ’em, you know?

Then there were the photos of him in the hospital bed WEARING THE BANDANA. That’s a dude who lives the dream, right there. And I have no doubt he is a very tough guy. I couldn’t live on the road the way he does. I couldn’t maintain such a good attitude after how many weeks of promoting random products through oddly painful tasks on the Apprentice. I would be surprised if his toughness didn’t help him through the brain hemorrhage.  I suffer no illusions – Bret Michaels’ life would have broken me many times over, and maybe even killed me. I can’t help but respect him.

And finally, there was his duet with Casey on Idol. I didn’t watch the finale, but I saw a highlight reel. All the big stars had their moments alone, but Bret shared the spotlight with the blonde guy from Texas, the guy with the goat voice, who, mysteriously, was presented to me as though I should find him attractive. I didn’t, but I am sure he’s a very nice fellow. Seems to play the guitar well. Anyway, that moment summed up Bret Michaels for me, the National Treasure Bret Michaels I’ve come to know and respect – enthusiastic, tough, and generous.

I’m not going to lie. What I wrote on People.com is true. If Bret Michaels replaces Simon Cowell, I will totally watch American Idol again.

Derby Recap

Kids! It has been, like, forever! I’d promised more Derby Delights, but unfortunately nothing sufficiently delightful came along. Plus, I’ve been busy. (More on that later.)

All that said, it is still the Kentucky Derby, the high holy of all holies, and it would be wrong to leave it unmentioned. So, here is my recap of everything delightful about this Kentucky Derby.

  • Calvin Borel wins yet another edition, making it three out of the last four
  • The Todd got the monkey off his back (I was so over that story line)
  • Toupee guy won $900,000+ dollars on a $100,000 win bet provided by Churchill Downs.

And that’s it! Super Saver himself? Meh. He’s a nice horse, clearly. Is he going to win the Triple Crown? Well, Calvin says he will. And who knows, maybe he will. If he does, I’ll celebrate like I’ve been on his bandwagon since the day his dam foaled him. But it’s hard for me to imagine a Triple Crown winner named Super Saver. Triple Crown winners are named things like Affirmed, Assault, Count Fleet, War Admiral, Secretariat, Citation. Super Saver doesn’t really feel of a piece with that list.

But he is a lovely horse. Let us close this post with a photo of him galloping:

Super Saver

Super Saver works.

Your Handy Dandy Guide to the Kentucky Derby, Part I

The Todd

The Todd. He's the one in front. Looking particularly Toddish.

In years prior I’ve sent out an illustrated e-mail to friends and family who don’t keep up with the Derby to give them a shorthand version of what stories to be aware of and what horses to watch for. This year’s version will be even shorter than usual. Here it is: BLLLAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH…….

I just don’t see the usual compelling Derby story taking shape. However, in the absence of a compelling story, there is a dominant theme. And that theme is dominance.

One trainer, one horse and one stable will dominate this year’s Derby with numbers if nothing else. WinStar Farm could set a record for number of entries with four – American Lion, Endorsement, Super Saver and Rule. Meanwhile, dominanting the training ranks is Todd Pletcher, who could saddle 15 horses for this year’s Derby. Okay, not 15. But a lot. I’m not even sure how many. Like WinStar, he may also set a record this year.  Known amongst my friends as “The Todd,” an homage to the Scrubs character who couldn’t be less like the oh-so-stiff Pletcher, the super trainer has led over 20 horses to the saddling paddock on the First Saturday in May and has never won. (He has won a Classic, though, with the memorable filly Rags to Riches in the Belmont.) Among his charges is the favorite, Eskendereya, who will dominate the bettors’ wallets. In the end, the 2010 Derby may boil down to a very simple story indeed – is Eskendereya the real deal? If he is, then we may have a compelling Triple Crown after all.

Along with the standard 126 lbs, Eskendereya will be saddled with The Todd's losing and streak and Zayat's karma.

Along with the standard 126 lbs, Eskendereya will be saddled with The Todd's losing streak and Zayat's karma.

Undefeated on dirt, Eskendereya destroyed his competition in the Fountain of Youth and then the Wood Memorial. A heavily muscled colt, he does not give the impression of stamina, but he’s bred to go the distance and had no problems with a 1 1/8 miles. This reminds me of another chestnut colt, whose name begins with S and ends with ecratariat, but it’s poor form to ever make a comparion to the Meadow Stable star. He’s ridden by The Todd’s mainstay jockey, the excellent John Velazquez. Unfortunately, he is owned by world class moron/chauvinist Ahmed Zayat. Pay attention. He will say at least one egregiously stupid and/or insulting thing before the Triple Crown is over. Zayat, by the way, was the idiot who led an actual conspiracy in an attempt to block Rachel Alexandra from entering last year’s Preakness. When caught he threw the new guy (Mine That Bird’s owner) under the bus and then started talking about Eight Belles, because PETA didn’t have enough fun with that the first time around. Thanks, Zayat. That was awesome.

But Eskendereya is not the only horse in the race! Let’s look at two other strong contenders!

Sidney’s Candy – Named after Jenny Craig’s dead husband, Sid – although I’m not sure if he was already dead before the horse was named or what – Sidney’s Candy is the a very quick son of Candy Ride. To be honest, I don’t find Sidney’s Candy very inspiring. I think this is likely due to his name being Sidney’s Candy. But, my prejudice against his name aside, the horse has done nothing wrong. He is trained by Southern California veteran conditioner John Sadler and ridden by the wunderkind Joe Talamo. Last year Joe was on the Derby favorite, I Want Revenge, but the horse was scratched the morning of the race. Joe is back this year on a horse that should be third choice. One thing about Sidney’s Candy – he closes. And if you’re going to win a Derby, you need a horse who can close. It would be no surprise to see the roses over Sidney’s Candy’s withers this year.

Lookin' at Lucky

The very kind and loving Lucky.

Lookin’ At Lucky – the most inappropriately named horse in the field. Trained by silver-haired comedian Bob Baffert and owned by Bob’s old friend Mike Pegram (the team that brought you 1998 Derby winner Real Quiet), Lucky has a talent for finding traffic trouble. He’s a hard trying horse and always finds a way to keep coming. He is ridden by Garret Gomez, a former superstar who has made a successful comeback after an extended hiatus (it took awhile for him to put every last dollar up his nose). Gomez has not only reached his previous level of success, he has surpassed it. It has taken him a tremendous amount of work to get sober and work his way back to the top  – it would be nice to see it rewarded.

One Final Note – There is another place in this year’s Derby where the theme of dominance comes to the fore – this year’s edition is overwhelmingly dominated by horses who win on the lead. The first turn is always crowded, but this year I wouldn’t be surprised to see some horses floated 8 wide. A supposed knock on Eskendereya is his need for the lead. Frankly, I don’t see it. I think he’ll be happy to stalk. That said, if there’s one horse in the race who has shown he can come from anywhere it’s the supremely versatile Lookin’ at Lucky.

I’ll be making additional posts as the Derby gets closer to highlight intriguing longshots, horses who are relishing the Churchill surface, and other odds and ends.

A Young Priest and an Old Priest

Toby

This is not Toby. This is the cat that was buried in the Pet Semetery. Toby is the cat that came out of this cat's grave. The external appearance remains very similar.

My mother-in-law is in an abusive relationship.

The cycle is classic. A spark of violence, resolution to change, followed by capitulation to the same old tricks – sweet promises of love and peace.

Her abuser is an extraordinarily handome, very large male, with a bountiful white coat, marked by occasional dark tabby patches. His name is Toby, and he is a cat.

You have to understand, my mother-in-law’s heart is the size of Texas. She possesses the virtues of patience, kindness, and empathy. I mean, she puts up with me, for crying out loud. For his part, Toby is a swashbuckling feline, always up for adventure in the great outdoors. If he were a human, Free Bird would be prominent amongst his playlist favorites. The world is too small for Toby, or perhaps he’s just too big to be constrained. He’s a cat with one life to live. Much like Steven Tyler, he doesn’t want to miss a thing.

This headstrong and impestuous nature, combined with brawny brute strength, makes Toby a formidable opponent when he feels his will is being thwarted. I have experienced this firsthand, most memorably when I picked up Toby from being shaved down for summer. His luxurious coat leaves him prone to mats, and while he has since come to a peace with brushing, at the time he wouldn’t abide it. My mother-in-law had dropped him off at the vets in the morning, I’d agreed to pick him up in the afternoon.

A college kid was in the lobby with me. The vet tech behind the desk pulled Toby’s file and her eyes widened. She told us that Toby had been “difficult.” She said this in such a way that we understood her to mean Toby had nearly killed five people before a tranq gun usually reserved for Great White Sharks was employed to calm him.  The college kid’s eyes widened. I played into this, adding to the story of Toby. The college kid looked like a sixth grader listening to a camp fire ghost story.

And that’s when the growls started.

But really, “growls” doesn’t do it justice. Imagine the sound of a demon immersed in Holy Water. It was like that, but worse.  And it was coming closer.

“Is that him?” the college kid asked, awe in his voice.

“Yes,” I said. “He’ll be here any moment.”

Along with the demonic growls, thrashing and thumping could be heard. Closer and closer it came, and finally Toby was revealed in all his Dark Glory. The vet tech carred his ginormous pet carrier. Or at least, she tried to. As Toby unleashed his hellish wrath upon its plastic walls and metal bars, the entire thing rocked back and forth, its momentum pulled the vet tech hither and yon, she looked like nothing so much as a drunken sailor. The college kid’s jaw hung wide like a door somebody forgot to close.

“That,” I said, “is Toby.”

On the way over to my mother-in-law’s place Toby continued to speak in a variety of tongues and even showed off by speaking English backwards. I was not swayed into fear, not until I reached the house. Just how, I thought, am I going to release this animal? Do I open the front door and dump him right there? But what if he slips out? Do I put his cage as far from the front door as possible and then run? But what if he catches me? I am very slow. He might catch me.

I listened to my inner Aristotle and went for the middle. I placed Toby’s cage in the middle of the hallway, and, ninja-like, unlatched the cage door. And then I ran for it, Toby hot on my heels. I could feel his flame breath on my feet. Close. Closer. “Oh, God! No! He’s going to get me!” I thought. I slipped out the front door and closed it. WHAM! I heard the sound the Toby collide with the door. He’d just missed his prey.

It’s not hard to imagine what would have happened if he’d caught me. Here is a quote from my mother-in-law. “I was late for work today. I had to stop the bleeding before I left.” (True story.)

All of this said, Toby really does love my mother-in-law. He is usually affectionate, and, as he gets older, he’s calmed and settled as older cats do. She found him when he was just a kitten, out in the middle of nowhere, quite possibly dropped off by someone, although it’s impossible to say how he got out there. He can be a charmer, plays fetch, and is very intelligent.  But even though reaching adulthood has mellowed him, Toby is still not a cat to cross. He is lucky to have an owner who loves him for who he is. My mother-in-law has had practice with such matters. As evidenced by this blog post.

Church Giggles

This last Easter I had the honor of attending my goddaughter’s baptism. It was a beautiful occasion marked by good friends, family, lovely weather, a wonderful service and a horrible case of the church giggles. The church giggles is a malady that can strike during any solemn occasion; its purview extends far beyond the boundaries of the religious. This, however, was a classic case, its presentation an example of the most common symptoms. The disease caught hold when the father of my goddaughter turned to me and began a sales pitch on why I should leave the Catholic Church in favor of the Episcopalian. I responded, “thing is, Protestants are so evangelical.” “Not Episcopalians,” he replied. “Really?” I said. “Seems to me you’re being evangelical right now.” At which point he emitted a loud guffaw into the silent sanctuary. His wife turned to us, her eyes wide in a “what the what?” expression. And that was all she wrote. The rest of the service was spent in paroxysms of laughter. Sure, we bent our heads in a faux expression of earnest devotion. But we weren’t fooling anyone. The prayerful rarely possess shaking shoulders.

Church

The greatest comedy club on earth!

This experience took me on a journey of remembrance of other cases of the church giggles. The very first I can remember came at Holy Family in Auburn, WA. The service was nearly empty.  My mom was at home with my little brother, then just a baby. My dad nodded at a parshioner a few pews ahead of us and said, “check out Wolfman over there.” The name was apt, as the guy was flat out FURRY. My sisters and I lost it. In retrospect, I feel badly about laughing at the hirsute gentleman. He was wicked furry, though.

I had a relapse during my sister Cindy’s wedding. My mom was charged with the task of reading this passage:  “Look! Listen! There’s my lover! Do you see him coming? Vaulting the mountains, leaping the hills. My lover is like a gazelle, graceful; like a young stag, virile.” The problem with this case of the church giggles is that I was a bridesmaid, standing in front of the entire congregation. Father Jack, who I love and adore, but who also has a temper, casually walked over to me, smacked me in the back and said, “PULL IT TOGETHER.” This was impressive, as he pulled off the ALL CAPS pronouncement through clenched teeth. I proceeded to partially pull it together. It was the best I could do in the face of the line, “like a young stag, virile.”

More recently, I attended church with my sister Becky at Prince of Peace in Greer. The church is shaped like a cross, and we were over in the right hand wing, which is incidentally right next to the pulpit. Our pew was behind the pulpit steps, giving us an up close and personal view of Father Steve’s coming and going. It was as Father Steve was exiting that Becky and I simultaneously noticed a vein protruding from Father’s Steve temple. But this was no normal vein. He looked like he was about to stroke out. As he passed in front of me, no more than two feet away, I said the following: LOOK AT THAT VEIN ON HIS HEAD. I turned to Becky and her eyes were like saucers. I then said this: DID I SAY THAT IN A REGULAR VOICE? In answer, Becky bent her head in faux prayerful devotion and started laughing hysterically. I sat there, also laughing hysterically, marveling at my own stupidity. Not only did we have the church giggles, but they were contagious. The family behind us, who had heard the entire thing (how could they have missed it, given my yelling?) also got the church giggles. They spread like wildfire throughout our entire section.

In conclusion, I shall steal a line from Benjamin Franklin (in a comment originally made about beer) and repurpose it: The Church Giggles are proof that God loves us, and wants us to be happy.