Thursday, June 21, 2007

Remembering the Federals

This weekend, the old USFL is celebrating it's 25th anniversary. Ah, the memories.

The USFL got going just as my college days were ending --1983, which was also a year that the Redskins had just won a Super Bowl championship. So people were excited about football (pretty much the opposite of the current situation, where people just kind of nervously wait for something disappointing to happen), and it was exciting to know that, even though the NFL was over, the USFL's Washington Federals would soon be storming RFK. Despite the fact that I didn't have, like, an income, a friend and I figured that it would be a brilliant idea to buy season tickets, as, surely, some day soon, seats for the Feds would be as coveted as Redskins tickets, and our brilliance would be recognized. We were so stupid back then, obviously college hadn't work that much for me.

The 1983 Federals were led by Ray Jauch, head coach and and vice president. Jauch had been a big success in the CFL, with the Edmonton Eskimos and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, two teams that, in addition to having cool names, were successful. Though evidently not having any input on the lame name (what, Bureaucrats was taken?), surely Jauch would be able to mold the Feds into the Redskins of the USFL. Not so much.

Current over caffeinated ESPN talking head Craig James was their first draft pick. A guy named Mike Hohensee was their quarterback. Both of them got injured a lot. They played their first game against the George Allen-coached Chicago Blitz, and lost 28-7. They went through a lot of kickers (a strategy that, crazily, has been picked up by the Dan Snyder-era Redskins), including Obed Ariri, who had a cool name, and was good when he was at Clemson. The Feds finished 4-14, and drew an average of 13,850 to RFK Stadum. I think I went to most of the home games, I really don't remember too much except for the fact that the couple with seats next to us was very nice, and I fell asleep at one game, after being up all night celebrating a Caps play-off victory, back in the days when the Caps played against teams from places like New York and Philadelphia. Generally, they still lost, but the series' were exciting, and it was better than losing to teams from places like Columbus and Charlotte.

Next season, well, it was even worse. They lost their opener to the Jacksonville Bulls, 53-14. Ray Jauch was fired and replaced by Dick Bielski, who would go on to become, uh, another pretty unsuccessful coach of the Feds. Ray Jauch was last seen coaching the team at my old high school, which sounds crazy, but is true. I used to drive home from work on those early August evenings, and there he'd be, teaching about 30 kids football in 100 degree heat, and, presumably, hating himself for leaving Canada. The 1984 Feds were 3-15, and drew an average of 7,694, despite trying some rather revolutionary marketing ideas, including the one that I remember the most -- Free Beer. It's true, they'd have beer trucks in the RFK parking lot, and people would just get tanked. God bless the 80s. It was a great party, I don't know how many people actually made it to the game. Innovations like that made Feds games pretty much a must for my friends, which is funny when you consider how few people actually were there. The crowds were so sparse, I remember being at my seat during one of Craig James' more serious injuries, and actually seeing his poor wife's reaction as she ran from her seat down to the field. You didn't notice that stuff at Redskins games.

At the end of the 1984 season, the Feds were sold to someone who moved the team to Orlando. Talk about a slap in the face. My dreams of spending springs and early summers at RFK cheering on the dynastic Federals disappeared. I think that was about the last time I got a free beer in Washington, too.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Nats Reveal Nook Logan/Dave Chappelle Hoax

The puzzle that has been Nook Logan's career as an outfielder for the Washington Nationals has finally been solved. Turns out "Nook Logan" is really famed comedian Dave Chappelle, and Washington Nationals' management has been part of Chappelle's latest breakthrough television project, called Chappelle Goes National, where he plays a character named Nook Logan, who attempts to make a career for himself in Major League Baseball.

Many Nats fans have been puzzled by management's dedication to Logan, who was handed the starting centerfield job in spring training, despite not really displaying any baseball skills, other than a couple of good catches last season. 2007 has been little more than an injury, miscommunications in the outfield, and a bunch of strike outs, by a player who looks like he would be overmatched by a stiff wind, not to mention major leagues pitchers. He seems to have no real instincts in the outfield, although he is a really fast runner.

The emergence of Nationals' farmhand Brandon Watson, who is currently one of the hottest hitters in the universe yet remains in the minor leagues while Logan flails at pitch after pitch, has led to increased scrutiny of Logan's presence on the team, which is probably why the Nationals have chosen to end the experiment. Nats General Manager Jim Bowden said, "We were having a laugh. Dave Chappelle is a very funny man, with some DC roots. When he approached us with this project, we thought it would be a good way to give back to the community. We've all had some fun, and we'll all get a lot of exposure on the TV show, but now it's time to get serious. We wish Nook/Dave the best."

Chappelle was unavailable for comment, having immediately left DC for an unknown destination in Africa. Or Ohio.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Joys of a Consumer
So I'm moving in a couple of weeks. After an embarassingly long time at an apartment building that has really gone downhill in recent years (I'll save a final farewell for another post), I'm out of there by the end of the month.

My old bachelor furniture is not really worth moving, and it would be depressing to see it in my new place. So we need furniture. My girlfriend and I spent some time on Memorial Day weekend looking around. It did not go well. I think I said "Two thousand dollars for a couch?" about 10 times. So we regrouped, and by using the internet we determined that you don't really get the most for your money from a high-rent department store. Lower overhead means lower prices. Now I get it.

After doing our homework, last Sunday we headed to a furniture store in a rather tired shopping center that shall remain nameless but is located in, uh, the Seven Corners area. We had received a promotional thing in our e-mail. As we entered the store, we were given a new sales leaflet that advertised similar deals to the e-mail, but not exactly the same. The salesperson didn't really seem to understand the internet. Great.

We continued on. And we actually found something that we liked. The salesperson told us of the great deal that was going on this weekend, that involved no payments or interest for a year. That would be nice, at this particular point in my life postponing debt, interest-free, is appealing. The salesperson led me to the finance office, which was comprised of three young women in burkas in the back of the store. One of them took my information, and said that I'd be paged momentarily.

I was paged and returned to the office. It was explained to me that there are actually two deals out there now, the one that I was aware of, and another one, that involved actually making 12 monthly payments for the furniture, with interest of 24%. At the end of 12 months, you get the interest that you paid back. And this is the only deal that I was eligible for. What the hell?

Several things pissed me off about this: the whole bait and switch, the fact that since I've just bought a home I'm well aware of what my credit rating it (good!) and the part about 24% interest. I mentioned all of these to the woman, and said that this was a deal killer. There's a chance I'd still buy the stuff by paying cash, I said, but I needed to think about it. I managed to have the whole converation without using the word "bullshit," which was difficult.

I told the salesperson, sorry, but I think the finance people are trying to pull a fast one on me. She asked if I wanted to talk to the manager, I said no. However the manager intercepted me on the way out, and asked me how my experience was. Not so good, I said, telling him, among other things, that an interest rate of 24% was unconscionable. He played dumb, and asked if we could talk about it. I kept moving, and said that I was leaving, he had my phone number if something else developed.

We did some other errands in the center. I was kind of in shock, and envisioning a new home filled with pillows, with no furniture at all. That would be preferable to ever having to spend another moment in a furniture store.

About that time my cell phone rang. It was the manager. They'd made a mistake! Turns out, I am, indeed, eligible for the original deal. And because of their mistake, they'd actually give me no payments or interest for two years! As much as I felt like hanging up on him, well, we liked the furniture, the pillow idea wasn't getting much support from my girlfriend and if I agreed to this, we were through with furniture shopping. I told him I'd think about it during lunch, and stop back by the store if interested.

For lunch we stopped at the Chinese restaurant in the parking lot of the mall, which I think is great, though every person that I've been there with doesn't seem to agree. Weird. In addition to good food, they also have good mai tais, several of which I enjoyed. We figured we'd go ahead with the deal, and move on to other things.

So I returned to the store, and was warmly greeted by the manager (who actually was a very nice guy) and the salesperson (same with her). I went back to the finance office, and the burka women seemed happy to see me, which made me suspicious. I finished some paperwork with one of them, while the other two engaged in a conversation using that language that girls in junior high school use when the don't want people to understand them -- not pig latin, but similar, it seems to involve saying something like "to the gee" or "to the gaw" after every sentence. Very professional. I don't think they were talking about me based on their occasional interjections in english, but it was still a little off-putting.

So that was it, I scheduled a delivery and got out of there.

I hope this furniture lasts a long, long time.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rumsfeld on L
I just walked past Don Rumsfeld, who was standing on the corner of Connecticut and L Streets, getting ready to cross Connecticut. He was gladhanding passers-by, and yukking it up with his two companions, two fancy haircut guys in suits who looked like they were about the same age as guys that are getting killed or maimed every day in Iraq.

Rumsfeld looked well-rested, it doesn't look like he's losing much sleep.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Crime in My Neighborhood
I realized something was going on in my neighborhood at about 3:30AM on Thursday morning, as I was driving around trying to find a place to park a U-Haul van (that's a whole different story). There were police cars all over the place, they seemed to be concentrated at the 7-11 at N. Cleveland St. and Lee Highway. Apparently, none of them thought it was strange for a guy to be driving a rental truck around cruising for parking spaces at this time of night, as none of them gave me a second look, even after I parked and walked back to my building.

Three hours later (not exactly a good night's sleep), I was up again, retrieving the truck. By then the area was teeming with media types, complete with those trucks with those huge, skyward reaching antennas that, in earlier times, used to signal that Monica Lewinsky was in the vicinity.

I went on with my day, and didn't give it much thought. After work, I was at the 7-11. There was still a presence. I asked the guy at 7-11 what those three huge trucks were doing across the street. He hadn't noticed. As I left 7-11, I drove through the center of activity. There were reporters standing on the sidewalk. I rolled down my window and asked WTTG reporter Bob Barnard what was going on. He was very nice (unlike Channel 4 reporter Jackie Bensen -- the one who always looks like she's in the middle of a hurricane -- who once acted like I was invisible during a similar inquiry), and asked me if I had heard about the plastic-bag predator, and said that he had struck there the previous night. Wow. I got back home in time to get the scoop on the 6 o'clock news.

Apparently, the guy knocked on a woman's door at about 1:30AM. For some reason she opened the door, saw him and his plastic bag, screamed and shut the door. The guy fled, and the police looked for him. They thought they found him, but they later released the suspect, although it sounds like they still think it might be him.

Later last night, I watched WTTG news, and poor Bob Barnard was still standing on the corner, where he did a live report. He interviewed a woman with distracting eyebrows who was clearly very excited that she'd be able to share her personality with the world via TV, and tell everyone that she was taking a self-defense class. Great.

Here's an article about it in the Washington Post, which is pretty half-assed, as in the second paragraph it refers to the event as happening "near Lee Highway and Cleveland Street in Rosslyn." Lee Highway and North Cleveland Street is not in Rosslyn, Joe Holley. Rosslyn is that area across Key Bridge with all the big buildings.

In any case, it was very exciting for our generally dull neighborhood. I had a more traditional morning this morning, which didn't involve rental trucks, so I didn't notice anything unusual. Be careful out there.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Return of Pizza Pantry, This Blog
It's been a while, I know. A crazy confluence of softball, Nats games, work and some other complications have kept me blog-free for a while. Not that there hasn't been plenty to whine about.

But I'm back. And I'm not whining, I'm here to report that the best pizza in Arlington -- Pizza Pantry -- is also back! For those that don't know, Pizza Pantry was a small storefront pizza place on Walter Reed Drive, right off of Columbia Pike (923 S. Walter Reed Dr.). Up until a couple of years ago, it had been there since 1957 -- my parents went there when they were younger, as a kid, I used to stop by on my bike, often after a trek to Giant Music, rummaging through their bins of $3.99 records. In addition to having great pizza, Pizza Pantry produced something called a Filmore, which is a huge meatball sub, smothered in provolone and tangy sauce, with a perfectly crisped bun.

So it was a sad day when I found out that they were closing. Actually, I remember, it was a sad night. It changed to one of those fly-by-night chains, and I had no interest in checking it out. It seemed to change names once or twice. Still, not interested. Last weekend, for some reason, I was reading one of those advertising magazines that trash up your mailbox. Amongst the ads for carpeting and blinds, I spotted a picture of The Famous Miss Louise, the mastermind behind Pizza Pantry! She's back, the ad said, along with the famous Filmore sandwich and their original homemade square pizza. It's now called Salvo's Bistro and Buffet, but I can't see myself ever saying that. Sorry, Salvo.

So I stopped by last night. Miss Louise was, indeed, back, running things by herself. She said she'd been back since December. I ordered two pizzas. Still awesome. The highlight of Pizza Pantry pizza is a thin, crispy crust. I think I could just eat a whole pie of nothing but crust. The pizzas are square, so I hog the corner pieces. There's not an overabundance of cheese or tomato sauce, and the tomato sauce is perfectly tangy. My topping of choice is sausage -- you get a blob of sausage on each slice. And you end up with a perfect pizza. A large pizza isn't really that large, in my younger days I could easily eat a whole pie. And they're cheap -- last night, two larges, each with one topping (the pepperoni is OK, but I'd stick to sausage), for under $18. I protested that I didn't think that was enough, but Miss Louise assured me she had it right. Soon, I'll be back for a Filmore, which is equally delectable (and also cheap, at $5.99).

So check it out. They're not open late, so give them a call at 703/920-9110, which is a number I just plugged into my phone, after I deleted Ledo's.

Who knows, maybe The Keyhole Inn will re-open next.