Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Real Estate Ads

Over the past few months of unemployment I've had conversations with potential employers that never quite came to fruition but got close enough to send me online to look at homes for sale or rent in other cities. In checking the real estate sites nationwide, left coast to right, I have found a common thread:

Nutballs.

I suppose that's harsh. It's certainly not nice though I hope it has a lovable ring to it. Maybe it's just that some real estate brokers have no marketing skills. Not everybody does. But I have read some outstanding ads on eBay written by Joe and Jane Lunchbox that make me think this is a particularly virulent form of ineptitude among real estate agents.

To begin with, all real estate agents have their own pictures on everything: their business cards, newspaper ads, bus benches and websites. They all look nice and clean and happy. But you know what might make me more likely to call them? A picture of a house I know I can't afford.


Show me my dream home. That's what makes my heart go pit-a-pat, not Jack and Jill Darling freshly-showered and nicely dressed for the kill.

When they do give me pictures of a particular house I sometimes wonder if they asked a nine-year-old in the neighborhood to take it. Mostly, I get to see the garage door and often a tree blocking the entryway and front porch. Sometimes I get to see a car blocking the front of the "storybook cottage" which needs "just a little TLC".

Just once I actually saw one I was interested in buying -- the car, not the house.

The inside pictures are usually the most maddening. Just today I went to a website advertising a luxury townhouse in a highly desirable big city neighborhood and it included three pictures: one of the weight room, which I am no more likely to use than if the complex had its own whore house. The second was a picture of the master bedroom. Just the bed, actually. (Nice comforter! And what is the thread count on those sheets?) And the third picture was of a toilet and sink.

Friends, I don't care where you live in this great land -- a toilet is a toilet and 98% of them come in white.

Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm different than everybody else. When I'm looking for a new home I want to love the location, how it looks from the outside, and I want to see the warmth and comfort of the family and entertaining areas. I want to be excited about the house and I want the house to love me back.

I just assume it has a toilet and a room for my bed.

Maybe I'm the nutball. I want to feel comfortable with my realtor but we're never going to meet if he or she just shows me pictures of the themselves, the toilet, the kitchen sink or the absolute worst feature I have seen in marketing:

A chair, half a drape and a piece of a potted plant.

Seriously, I pulled this picture from an online real estate ad and I didn't crop anything out of it.

Nutballs.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

"It breaks your heart."



A writer who loves baseball must be careful. It's too easy to slip into flowery purple prose about the game and I'm already prone to over-writing. Besides, the love of baseball has already been written with soul-stirring elegance by the likes of Roger Kahn, Roger Angell, Red Smith, George Will, Jim Murray, Joshua Prager, Ken Burns and many others.

This morning  I started watching the Ken Burns documentary, Baseball, for the third or fourth time and for reasons I understand in my heart but can't put into words it still chokes me up. I get teary and a lump in my throat. It's that good, cleansing, happy emotion that makes you feel young, fresh and wholesome again.

The memories melt years from my body; I remember how I felt when my legs were lean, strong and swift and my arms were powerful.

I could smash a fastball to the moon and run like the wind all day with a huge smile on my barely sweating, freckled face. I can still remember the smell of freshly mowed grass under a cool March sky of scooting, fluffy clouds.
 
The base paths are wet from last night's rain. One leaden, water-soaked, torn-cover baseball is heaved toward the mud that immerses home plate. I swing my glued, nailed, taped bat. Foul ball. Pitcher and batter are enthralled by the escalating drama.

See? There I go, pushing the flowery purple envelope. When you love baseball you just can't help it. It's a disease you catch as a child and it festers joyously for a lifetime. As the great sports writer Pete Hamill once wrote:

"Don't tell me about the world.  Not today.  It's springtime and they're knocking baseballs around fields where the grass is damp and green in the morning and the kids are trying to hit the curve ball."

Pete Hamill has the delicious disease of his youth.

Here are more of my favorite quotes about the game from the men who played it professionally and fed the dreams of the rest of us who still believe we could have:
 
"You can't sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock.  You've got to throw the ball over the goddamn plate and give the other man his chance.  That's why baseball is the greatest game of them all."  ~Earl Weaver

"People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball.  I'll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring."  ~Rogers Hornsby
 
"I don't care how long you've been around, you'll never see it all."  ~Bob Lemon

"It breaks your heart.  It is designed to break your heart.  The game begins in spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone."  ~Bart Giamatti, "The Green Fields of the Mind," Yale Alumni Magazine, November 1977

"During my 18 years I came to bat almost 10,000 times.  I struck out about 1,700 times and walked maybe 1,800 times.  You figure a ballplayer will average about 500 at bats a season.  That means I played seven years without ever hitting the ball."  ~Mickey Mantle, 1970

"The pitcher has to find out if the hitter is timid.  And if the hitter is timid, he has to remind the hitter he's timid."  ~Don Drysdale

"Every player should be accorded the privilege of at least one season with the Chicago Cubs.  That's baseball as it should be played - in God's own sunshine.  And that's really living."  ~Alvin Dark
 
"You gotta be a man to play baseball for a living, but you gotta have a lot of little boy in you, too."  ~Roy Campanella
 
"When they start the game, they don't yell, 'Work ball.'  They say, 'Play ball.'"  ~Willie Stargell
 
"You see, you spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball, and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time."  ~Jim Bouton, Ball Four


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Pomp and Circumstance

The proper title of the piece is Pomp and Circumstance March 1 in D. It was composed by Sir Edward Elgar in 1901 and takes its name from Act III, Scene III in Shakespeare's Othello:

"Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th'ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!"


Today we know it as The Graduation March. It escorts all high school and college graduate candidates into and from the solemn and joyous, yet bittersweet ceremonies that set them gently on the next path of their lives. We've all been there and if you took it in the proper spirit of the moment there's no way you can be unmoved by hearing the music nor just a bit wistful for your own younger, simpler life.


Our niece, Christina Conley, graduated from Patrick Henry High School in San Diego this week and Carolann and I drove down to pay her homage. Christina is Carolann's brother's and sister-in-law's daughter but she is also the vicarious daughter neither of us ever had. She pretty, she's smart, she's fun and she's a good person with a virtuous heart.


I don't get to talk with Christina much. She hugs me and smiles with familial respect but I don't want to be one of those old-fart uncles who makes embarrassing remarks and offers unsolicited advice. I don't want to pry into her life but I'm sure curious about her interests and passions, her hopes and dreams. She has an excellent mind nurtured by her loving parents and grandparents. She also has a gleam in her eyes that tells me she's excited to be alive and to have the whole world opening to her. 


She reminds me of myself at her age.


High school graduation, poised between sweet, secure childhood and exciting, though treacherous, adult opportunities; young, beautiful and relatively pure, we are arrived at the greatest single moment of our lives. 


As I watched the Patrick Henry class of 2011 walk proudly, with great dignity and yet with goofy displays of the joyous child that still lives near the surface in each of them, I thought back to my own high school graduation and realized something: 


The joy of youth lives in us forever. The trick is to not bury it in disappointments, which are inevitable, and bitterness, which is nothing more than childish pouting. 


We still love you but after today nobody will dry your tears and give you an ice cream cone. Get over it. Get on with it. We still love you.


43 years and two days since my own high school graduation. 


It sounds so long but it lived so fast.

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