The Writing Wombat

An American Marsupial in Fiction Land

Month: January, 2015

Survivor: Baby

“Hi, I’m Phiff Preobsghan, and welcome to another week of Survivor: Baby. We’ve placed infants and new toddlers on Day Care Island and faced them with tasks both mundane and absurd. Which obstacles will they bounce off of, and which ones will they succumb to? Find out on tonight’s episode!”

(Cue mixture of infant crying and infant giggling over ominous drumbeat.)

“Oh no,” Baby Aiden says as the camera opens on five babies sitting in a loose circle on a blanket. “Where did Sophia go? She must have mmgidhf ggoihfmn…”

Aiden’s opening monologue becomes garbled as he shoves a neon green plastic sphere with hexagonal openings into his mouth.

“Did we vote her off the island last week?” asks Emma.

“Gargle margle haifdoi pakjn mmmmm,” responds Aiden.

“Give me that ball.”

The bendable hard plastic toy jingles as Emma grabs it out of Aiden’s mouth, causing all five babies to stare, entranced.

“Oh, thanks,” comes out of Aiden’s unimpeded vocal chords. “So now I can enunciate.”

“No,” Emma responds, moving the toy toward her own mouth. “I just wanted the ball.”

“But I want the Buh- BUH- BAAALLLLL!”

Aiden erupts into a screaming rage, followed shortly by Emma as the forgotten bauble rolls between them. The other three babies look over at the two who are crying, then begin crying themselves. The five part harmony causes Americans to suspect an Emergency Bulleting is about to come on the screen before Phiff, the host, walks in to calm the babies down.

“Shh, shh, “says Phiff in a soothing voice as he picks up the first cryer. “It’s okay, Aiden.”

As Aiden begins to calm down, Phiff picks Emily up in his other arm. He puts Aiden down and picks up Lily before repeating the process with Brayden and Caden. By the time the fifth child is gulping in oxygen like a smoker gasping through a tracheotomy, Aiden and Emma are raising the siren again. Five minutes pass before Phiff finally leaves the screen, leaving all five babies sitting in their original circle, breathing through cycles of three quick exhales broken up by a quadruple-inhale-in-a-single-suck.

Jayden puts his WubbaNub in his mouth and sucks three times before resting in a perfect Maggie Simpson impression. The popular pacifier brand attaches the hard blue sucker portion to a plush animal that the child can easily grasp and hold.

“Here,” Jayden says, pulling the hard blue plastic out of his mouth, “ take a hit off this binkie.”

He passes the pacifier to his left, where Maden takes hold of the plush red dragon handle. Three sucks on the plastic, a pause, then three more sucks and he feels safe, the paranoia gone.

“Ahhhh,” he says through a long exhale before passing the WubbaNub to the next child in the circle. ”Chasing the dragon,”

Lily topples over onto her side, either from boredom or lack of coordination. She does not seem to notice.

“Hey, where’s Sophia?” Aiden asks, as if for the first time.

“Did the SIDS Monster get her?” asks Laiden.

“I still think we might have voted her off last week,” responds Emma. “Then again, I can’t really remember any specific item more than a few minutes old. Hey, check out that green ball. I wonder if it will fit in my mouth!”

“I think Sophia just had a urinary tract infection,” offers Lily, lying on her side. “Something about having your girl parts ensconced in your own fecal matter on a regular basis.”

“I remember my first UTI,” says Emma in a dreamy voice. The TV screen flashes back to a previous episode, her parents frantically pacing around a tiny doctor’s office. The pediatrician is explaining that this is very common, that there is no reason to be alarmed, and that the catheter being jammed into their screaming, scorching-hot baby is actually the good news. After all, it could have been a nasty flu or cold. But this will just take a few days of some Keflex to clear up.

“Do you find it odd that we shit and piss ourselves with reckless abandon?” Dayden asks.

“Is there, grrr, any other, ungh, way?” Aiden asks from a reddened face with watering eyes.

“I mean, even cats are born with an instinct to bury their own shit,” Dayden continues. “So predators can’t find them. It’s a basic survivor thing.”

“This use of the word ‘survivor’ is brought to you by Babies Be Wee,” Phiff quickly voices over the conversation.

Dayden rolls his eyes at the interruption before continuing.

“My parents have some friends that have gone primal.”

“Like insane?” Zaden asks.

“I think so,” Dayden responds. “They only eat things that cavemen would eat. No carbs, no processed food. Just meat and plants.”

“I think that’s called paleo.”

“No, they’re primal, trust me.”

A long pause as the two boys stare at each other. Zaden falls over, then begins to roll over to mask his defeat in the war of wills.

“Anyway,” the victorious Dayden continues, “it got me thinking about the things we do in our first years and how we ever surv…” a glance up at the cameras, “uh, persevered as a species. We show up in this world leaving our excrement wherever we are. And our only way of communicating is crying at the top of our lungs. Doesn’t seem hard for the woolly mammoths to find and eat our forebears.”

“We also put everything in our mouth,” Zaden responds thoughtfully, trying to regain his sitting position but wobbling back amongst the toys on the ground. “Hey, a Weeble!”

“Exactly!” Dayden confirms. “I know starvation used to be an issue. But sticking every random thing into your mouth doesn’t seem the best way to make it to the age where you can procreate.”

“My dog eats his own vomit,” Emma offers, “and dogs are still around.”

Dayden shrugs to concede the point, unable to talk through the mouthful of Dr. Seuss book corner.

(Camera fades to Phiff standing in another room built to look like an arena. The walls feature murals of gladiators in the Roman Coliseum.)

“Welcome to this week’s Survival Challenge.

“If you remember, there were many complaints about last week’s challenge. We thought we’d filled the arena with thousands of potentially deadly objects. Sharp corners, rock-hard outcroppings, drops from precarious heights onto tile flooring. Our test subjects, all adults, were in various states of disrepair for weeks. Concussions, lacerations, broken bones. The show almost went out of business based on the Worker’s Comp claims.

“But when the babies went through the gauntlet, there was nary a scratch. These kids are made out of damned rubber.

“This week, we googled the leading causes of damage to babies. To see who can truly surv-”

(Phiff disappears and is replaced by the six babies.)

“-vive. Hey, survive! We’ve got to get the name in!” Phiff’s voice-over concludes.

The children all gasp.

“Blankets!” Emma’s eyes open wide.

“Bubble wrap!” Sophia gasps.

“Pillows!” Yaiden, Xaden, and Quayden all whisper in awe.

“It’s the lair of the SIDS Monster!” Lily screams.

“There is no SIDS Monster,” Sophia says.

“Yes, there is, it got Sophia” Lily turns. “Oh, hi, Sophia!”

“There was no SIDS Monster. I took the morning off for vaccinations.”

Sophia ignores the disapproving glance from Vaughden, who everyone knows is not vaccinated. Vaughden coughs out a giant whoop.

“The SIDS Monster is real,” Lily continues. “He swoops in and takes completely heathy babies just crawling around, minding their own business, right in front of their parents, for no reason. He’s like the counter to Santa Claus.”

“I think that’s Krampus,” says Phaidin. “I think SIDS is just suffocation.”

“If they knew the cause of SIDS,” Lily responds, “they wouldn’t name it something vague and obscure like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I mean, think of that. It’s sudden, and it’s a syndrome, meaning what? Like you can catch it or something. Like you catch this syndrome and suddenly, Poof, you’re dead. There’s no preventing it.”

“Except for sleeping on our back,” offers Ray-den. “Boy, I remember the first time I rolled over in my sleep. My parents walked in and freaked out, ‘OMG, OMG, you could’ve DIED!’ Dad ran to the magical contraption that sits on his lap to check an Inter-site-dot-com or something. And guess what it said? Even after we can roll over onto our stomachs, we can still die until the age of one year. So it actually, dig this, tells the parents to watch us as we sleep and not let us roll over. How feasible is that? Stand over me while I sleep? For the next six months? That would cause Sudden Parent Death Syndrome, I’m thinking.”

“I don’t see what the big deal is,” says Taden, lying back onto one of the blankets in the room.

He turns his newly stable neck to the side, then attempts to bring his hand from underneath the blanket to his mouth, but only succeeds in smothering his entire face with the blanket.

A CGI Monster swoops in to remove Taden from the screen as a clean edit causes him to disappear.

“Cause of removal from Survivor: Baby is a blanket,” Phiff walks in from the side doing his best Rod Serling impression. “As Dayden said at the beginning, how the hell did the human race survive? Then again, wait till next week when Dayden himself will have a deadly encounter with a non-child proofed bookshelf.”

“Until next week, keep on breathing and avoid the SIDS!”

The Horned Frog Dilemma

See, NCAA? Was that really so hard?

Tonight, we will have a legitimate National Championship Game, featuring Oregon, who trounced Florida State in the Rose Bowl, and Alabama, who easily dispatched… wait, what? Ohio State beat ‘Bama? That will teach me to start writing my blog entry early.

Regardless, we have two great teams, Oregon and Ohio State, who have just beat quality opponents on New Year’s Day, yet still get to play each other, with the winner being crowned national champions. Just imagine – a National Championship game not starting off with one or both teams shaking off six weeks of rust.

Yet there have been no biblical signs of the apocalypse. No players dropping out of college because they have to practice for another week. None of the things that we’ve been warned would happen happened. Except the TV ratings went through the roof.

Oregon beat last year’s champion, a team that had not lost a game in close to two years, and Ohio State beat last year’s runners-up, a perennial powerhouse, and the undisputed number one going into the playoff. This year, it will all be decided on the field, and nobody can claim they were unfairly voted out.

Except maybe TCU.

And, wow, did you see the way Michigan State came back against Baylor?

Wait, does Marshall really have the same record as the two teams in the Championship?

Okay, maybe there are still a few chinks in the armor.  But baby steps, people. Progress is progress. And before we look at how the current problems can easily be solved, let’s take a closer look at the stupid arguments the naysayers have been making for the past century or so as to why a playoff could not and should not exist in college football.

It’s extra workload for the students.

Really? How many classes are they going to be missing in the first half of January? This argument is so stupid that I hesitate to bring it up, but I’ve heard it made over the years by pundits on the Four-Letter Network (which shockingly stopped making this argument as soon as they signed the deal to carry the games).

To be clear, every other division of college football has playoffs. Hell, even high school football has playoffs. They happen in December, when finals are actually happening. They also feature schools with much smaller travel budgets. But I’m sure the Mount Union guys needing three stopovers to get to their Motel 6 are much more rested and capable of studying than the Ohio State players riding first class to the Four Seasons.

We can also look at that other major college sport. You know, the one with the most famous and successful playoff system in all of sports. When a school, like UCLA, is on the quarter system, guess when their Winter Quarter finals are? Smack dab in the first week of March Madness. Is UCLA discouraged from playing in March Madness in order to take their finals? Hardly. Sure, if they’re a one-seed facing Weber State in the first game, it’s effectively a bye, but they still have to show up. Edu-ma-cashun be damned!

But finals are one thing, we can’t have kids missing the pointless first day of class, where you get the syllabus and then leave, can we?

What about the integrity of the bowl season?

This was a huge argument during the BCS years, especially when, after years of moving it from bowl to bowl, they added a national championship game in addition to the “Big Four.” What is the point of being Sugar Bowl champs, people would argue, if there is another game that’s bigger than the Sugar Bowl? Well, you can still say you’re Sugar Bowl champs, right? And really, even before the BCS and then playoffs, the Sugar Bowl winner wasn’t necessarily the national champion, so Sugar Bowl champ really means the same thing now as it always did – you won a very major bowl game, most likely against a very quality opponent.

Heck, if they lose tonight, Ohio State can still call themselves the Sugar Bowl champions (and Oregon can call themselves the Rose Bowl champs), but I’m guessing they’ll opt for “National Runner Up.”

If there is any  drop in the integrity of the bowl season, it ain’t the extra game or two added at the end, it’s all those meaningless bowls in the middle of December. We have a GoDaddy Bowl, a Potato Bowl, and a Fosters Farms Bowl. Bowling Green at 8-6 and Pittsburgh at 7-6, can call themselves bowl champions. (Wait, Houston recovered how many onside kicks? C’mon, people, I’m trying to get ahead in my blogging!). Okay, so Houston, not Pittsburgh, is a bowl champ. Regardless, those teams are going to be more insulting to Michigan State victory than the fact that Oregon and Ohio State are advancing to a title game. I’m sure Michigan State is pissed that they aren’t the ones advancing, because they are competitors, but the phrase “Taxslayer Bowl Champion” belittles their Cotton Bowl victory more than a playoff system.

As an aside, Gaylord Hotels had their own bowl game for a number of years. I wonder how much the winners of that game tried to pump themselves up a “Gaylord Champs” when recruiting.

Hand-in-hand with the “integrity of the bowls” argument is the “traditional matchup” argument. This argument is always, always, always made by Pac-12 fans, and the only bowl they’re ever talking about is the Rose Bowl., which usually pairs the winners of the Pac-12 and Big Ten. I know west coast people. I am west coast people. What west coast people need to admit is that they don’t care who the Pac-12 plays against, as long as there is a Pac-12 team in the Rose Bowl. Then we can move on.

Want proof? Oregon played Florida State, an ACC team, this year and nobody complained.  Quite the opposite of 2011, when Oregon, heaven forbid, played in the national title game, so Wisconsin, the Big Ten winner, faced TCU. Nobody cared that the Big Ten was still being represented, but people bemoaned the missing Pac-12 team.  My father-in-law actually said the players would probably “rather be playing in the Rose Bowl than in the National Championship.”

Why is it always Rose Bowl people who make this argument? Because it’s the only bowl with a traditional matchup still intact. The Southwest Conference, whose champion always played in the Cotton Bowl, no longer exists. It merged with the Big Eight, whose champion used to play in the Orange Bowl, to become the Big-12, which has never been paired with a specific bowl. I think the Sugar Bowl used to showcase the SEC winner, and after the Big-12 merger, the Orange Bowl featured… anyone? Anyone? The ACC? The Big East? Saint Mary’s School for the Blind?

Even when one specific conference sends a team to one specific bowl, the teams they were playing weren’t tied to any specific conference. So it’s only the Rose Bowl that has a traditional match-up between two specific conferences, and again, nobody associate with the Rose Bowl really cares about the Big Ten. And as long as they can get out of January in Minnesota, I think the Big Ten fans would be happy to go anywhere warm. Just ask Ohio State fans today if they’re okay playing in Dallas.

And how ironic is it that we have a traditional Rose Bowl matchup for the national title? If this year had played out under the old BCS rules, neither of these teams would probably be in the championship game. Alabama would still have been number, and I have to think it would have been hard for voters to keep out the defending national champion and only undefeated team. So the BCS Title Game would have been the two teams who lost on New Year’s Day. Oops.

And guess who would have been playing in the Rose Bowl? Oregon and Ohio State. And what would they have been playing for? The right to be tied for third with about twenty other bowl winners. They would have been playing to be on equal footing with Navy, who also won a Bowl Game in Southern California. And we would have been back to the same-old, same-old, “well, neither of them probably could have beaten the national champs, anyway.” Double oops.

Unfortunately, that phrase is still being uttered this year. There are at least two, possibly up to four, other teams that we are hoping wouldn’t be able to beat whoever tonight’s champion is on a neutral field.

TCU had a legitimate gripe. The Big-12 doesn’t have a championship game because they only have ten teams (as opposed to the Big Ten, which has fourteen), meaning everyone plays each other in the season. So TCU was at home when Ohio State rolled over a very good Wisconsin team and leapfrogged the Big-12 champ into the fourth playoff spot. What if TCU had beaten Baylor on that same day? What if it had been as hellacious of a whomping as the 42-3 score they dropped on the former-number-one Ole Miss? Then who do you leave out? The undefeated, defending champion Seminoles?

Plus, the top four playoff system still doesn’t solve the old Boise State problem. When an upstart team from a non-power conference rises up and beats all comers, there still is little chance they’ll make the top four.  This year, that might have been Marshall. They only lost one game, and it was in overtime when Western Kentucky went for two points. What if they had won that game? Would they make it past any of the top five? No. But at least they would have no way of beating a top-flight team, right? Just like when Boise State finally got a chance against Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.  Oh, wait, they won that game. But, of course, they still would have been rolled by Florida that year, right? Anyone?

But isn’t that argument what the BCS and the playoff are supposed to do away with? Aren’t we trying to get past the guesswork of who might beat whom and actually get to the point where they can prove it on the field? And yet, this year, TCU has to deal with that argument. There are allegedly five power conferences (although how the ACC fits that description most years is beyond me), so if we allow only four in, every year at least one conference champion will be excluded. Some years, if a conference like the SEC puts two teams in, then two power conferences will be left out.  Throw in a good Notre Dame team and over half of the Power Five are left out of the playoff. And the non-power conferences can continue to go screw themselves.

But if we allowed eight in…

Then why not allow sixteen? Or thirty-two?

Stop! Nobody is making a case for the ninth team or the seventeenth team. If you lost three games, you don’t deserve to be in the title discussion. Beyond the top eight teams, you can legitimately start using the “you should have taken care of your own business” argument. Eight is the correct number.

With eight playoff teams, the power five champs would make it in (although I’d reclassify the ACC as a non-power conference), plus three (or four) at-large teams. Oh, and Big-12? You need a title game, even if everybody in your conference has already played each other.

This year, this would have added TCU to the mix. It probably also would have added Baylor and Michigan State. Hey, ironically, those two actually played each other in a bowl game this year, and it was an exciting bowl game with a playoff atmosphere.  Just fathom if the winner advanced. I assume Mississippi State would have made it over Marshall, although I still think it would be more fun to throw the one-year wonder in as the eight-seed every year.  They would have played Alabama, and I’m sure they would have lost. But before January 1, I would have also been sure that Ohio State would have lost to Alabama.

Here’s the best part of this plan. We could keep the Big Four bowl games and, even better, restore whatever tradition people are complaining about. The Rose Bowl can, every single year, feature the Pac-12 and Big-10 champs facing each other, with the winner advancing. The Sugar Bowl can feature the SEC Champ vs. an at-large. Similarly, the Orange Bowl can feature the ACC, if we want to still pretend they’re a legitimate football conference. And let’s bring back the Cotton Bowl, featuring the Big-12 champ, because I don’t know who the Fiesta Bowl slept with to be vaulted into “Elite Bowl” status.

All four of those games could be played on New Year’s Day, and they would be the only four to be played that day. Then the winners of those four games play the following week. Then those two winners play for the championship. We would be adding precisely one week, and two games, to the schedule in early January.

It is so logical, so obvious, that I can only think of one possible thing that the NCAA can do with it.

Tell TCU to shut the hell up and blindly stick with what they have for another ten years.

As Cool As

I was most of the way through a blog entry about the college football playoffs when Stuart Scott died. So I’m shelving it until next week, when the championship will still be relevant. For those of you not interested in sports, sorry about the forthcoming back-to-back sports entries, and I’ll see you around MLK Day.

For about a decade starting in the mid-nineties,  the Entertainment and Sports  Programming Network was pretty much a constant on my television.  There was always something worth watching on ESPN, even if it ended up being the same overnight SportsCenter on continuous repeat. If live sports were on, so much the better, but that was hardly necessary.

Today, I refer to that channel as the Four-Letter Network, and it’s hard for me to remember the last time I purposely tuned in, except to watch live sports. If I turn on the TV and it’s still on that channel from the night before, I can hardly change away from the drivel quick enough. My sports gambling has probably worsened, but we all have to make sacrifices.

But back in the day, I couldn’t get enough. And, although I don’t know if I ever really put my finger on it before yesterday, looking back now, Start Scott was a main reason for that. Judging from the outpouring of sympathies on my Facebook feed, I might not be alone in that regard.

I was surprised at the cross-section of the people mentioning him. People who I assume have never voluntarily watched a sporting event in their life, people who have no idea what that guy in between second and third base is called, seemed to know who he was and have legitimate recollections of him. Part of this is certainly the “me-too” factor of social networks, but Joe Cocker only died a few weeks ago and didn’t make my news feed half as much as Stuart Scott.

He epitomized everything I liked about ESPN at the time, and everything that is now lacking at the Four-Letter. I know he wasn’t the first. Certainly Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick and yada, yada, Craig Kilborn. But whatever. Olbermann was always too smug and Patrick was too overshadowed by Olbermann. Sure, when I was seventeen, I loved Chris Berman and his funny names shtick, but eventually I matured. Now I cringe whenever I hear the phrase, “back, back, back.”

All of those guys were instrumental in ESPN’s rise. But the time I’m referring to was when it was established as the king of the mountain. It didn’t have to be kitschy or in-your-face like in the 1980s. And it hadn’t yet become the bloated self-referential monstrosity it is today. SportsCenter was confident in its own success and almost business-like in its efficiency.  Stuart Scott was not only the face of that franchise, but its personality as well. No nonsense, focused, and smooth.

I remember the first time I distinguished him from the slew of other sports anchors. It didn’t take long to go from “How does a guy with a glass eye get to be a sports anchor?” to “”Oh, cool, the glass eye guy is anchoring today.”

Nowadays, the Four-Letter is much more concerned with being the story than reporting the story. They only report on the sports that they are carrying and they try to drum up “controversies” that don’t exist. They create self-perpetuating cults-of-personality. They run an hour-long special devoted to where one basketball player will play the following year and they camp out at a Mississippi airport to see if a quarterback is going to un-retire. They got upset at Bill Belichick for not playing along with the “Tim Tebow might replace Tom Brady” storyline.

Yes, I realize those stories are five years old now. That just shows how little I’ve paid attention to the network. I got tired of the cycle of only reporting on a small number of players or teams, then saying the ratings proved that people were more interested in those players/teams. Yeah, nimrods, if ninety percent of your Baseball Tonight focuses on A-Rod and Jeter, then those are going to be the only players most people have heard of.

Then again, ESPN’s been trying to get rid of the albatross that is baseball for years, anyway. They keep hoping that if they stop talking about it, it’ll go the way of the NHL. But dammit, people keep following baseball.

On the opposite extreme is soccer. Soccer was reviled and primarily only brought up as the butt of jokes. Then the network got the rights to broadcast soccer games and all of a sudden they’re reporting on the “sudden emergence” of the “soccer subculture” and showing highlights whenever possible.

And don’t get me started on the “human interest” stories. They’re fine, but dammit, you’re a sports highlight show. Show some damned sports highlights!

I regret to say I didn’t even know Stuart Scott was sick until I got the alert on my phone Sunday (which I’m happy to say I got from Yahoo Sports, not ESPN). I only knew that when I saw SportsCenter on in the background at a restaurant, he was never on anymore. I assumed he had just retired or graduated to a specialty show or something. Now I have even one less reason to watch.

Nowadays when I see it, the anchors are prancing around, hamming for the camera. They seem much more concerned with getting their good side facing the camera than on telling me how many games out of first the New Orleans Hornets are.

What? They’re not the Hornets anymore? Then maybe I shouldn’t have put money on them in Reno.

Meanwhile, Chris Berman is seeing all the praises being hurled at Stuart Scott and wondering if he can fake his own death. Sorry, Chritiano Bergerman, you stopped being relevant thirty years ago. Time to go “back, back, back” to the drawing board on that one.

Stuart Scott was cool. He was professional. And now, sadly, he and the integrity of his network are now gone.

Rest in peace, brother. You were as cool as the other side of the pillow.