Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Baseball Gods Giveth and the Baseball Gods Taketh Away

Anyone who's a regular reader here (or a friend of mine) knows that my fandom for the Boston Red Sox is in a state of uneasy truce with my love for the Philadelphia Phillies. One team is in my heart, the other is in my soul. Choosing between them is like choosing between my children. (Okay, my cats.) The fact that they're in different leagues makes it okay; they only play against each other every three years--or in my fantasy, head-exploding World Series of the Future.

So I'm not sure how to feel this morning. The Red Sox have just suffered an embarrassing smackdown at the hands of the formerly-flailing, now-surging Yankees, losing a three-game sweep. Look how sad Jason Varitek looks in this picture! I just want to fly up to Boston and give him a hug. I would embrace him with a firm, manly grip, patting his back and reminding him, "You still have a five-game lead, Tek. It's okay." The disappointment of getting swept in this series is going to hang on for a very long time. The Sox still have the best record in baseball, but it just feels icky right now.

On the other hand, there are the Philadelphia Phillies. In a much more unexpected and exciting development, the fightin' Phils swept the first-place Mets in a thrilling four-game series full of clutch hits, big plays, and late-inning heroics. Licensed Met-killer Pat "the Bat" Burrell, Agent 005 (pictured), rocked the hell out of Mets pitching as usual. The Phillies have been aiming for the Wild Card for quite some time; the Mets took over the NL East months ago. Now the Phils find themselves looking up the same two games in the standings at both New York in the East and San Diego in the Wild Card. And playing the way they are, injured pitching be damned, anything seems possible in the City of Cheesesteak.

I don't know how to feel today. I'm crying with one eye while the other sparkles. More importantly, which hat do I wear to the office today? Philadelphia in celebration, or Boston in support?

Well, actually, that last one is easy.

Kickoff Saturday trumps everything. For one more day, we are all Hokies.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Michael Vick Is Very Sorry... That He Got Caught.

I want to believe Michael Vick is remorseful. I really do.

I want to believe that he's seen the error of his ways, that he realizes how inhumanly cruel dogfighting is, that he recognizes why it's so dangerous for professional athletes to be caught up in any kind of gambling.

But I just don't. I don't believe him. Not yet. Michael Vick has a long way to go before he convinces me he's learned a damn thing from this experience other than "Being caught in criminal activities is unpleasant."

I will acknowledge being somewhat impressed that Michael Vick spoke without reading a prepared statement or using any kind of notes. That was good, that was classy. But I question the sincerity of a man who feels the need to inform you that he's going to speak from his heart before he speaks from his heart. I question the sincerity of a man who declares that he is changing his ways only after facing jail time and the loss of over 100 million dollars, especially when the ways he is changing involve a half-decade of calculated and repeated ultra-cruelty and the funding and organization of an interstate gambling ring. I question a man's new-found desire to live within the law when he was pulled over in Virginia last week for driving a vehicle with illegally tinted windows and was further cited for not wearing his seat belt.

What troubles me most is that when he claims to have found Jesus and turned his life over to God because of this tribulation, I can't bring myself to believe him. I'm a born-again Christian myself, a one-time youth minister and current music minister, and I can't find it in my heart to believe that Vick is doing anything but pulling out the religion card to try to appeal to another group of potential supporters. Emmitt Smith could believe it; one of his strongest comments on ESPN last night was support for Vick's spiritual breakthrough. But I just can't find a way to view it that isn't cynical as hell. So now I'm ashamed of myself as well for not being able to have enough mercy to believe in a man's conversion.

One of the most common complaints we've been hearing recently is that Vick wouldn't have been vilified this completely if he had killed a person. Well, I think that's probably true, and I have to tell you, I have no problem with that. Murder can be seen as a crime of passion, a horrible choice made in a single moment of extreme emotion; even premeditated killing is an action encompassing a small piece of time. Vick's dogfighting operations involved repeated acts of knowing cruelty, over and over and over, year in and year out; fights and rape stands and hangings and drownings and electrocutions; planned, scheduled, well-attended, and in view of an appreciative audience of like-minded abusers. Dogfighting involves taking advantage of beings who can't say "No, please don't do that to me." It requires taking animals designed to serve and accompany humans and other dogs and programming them to think of nothing but violence and fear. It's an unspeakable cruelty more comparable to serial child molestation than anything else. If you're not a "dog lover," if you "don't get" why this is such a big deal, that's okay. Federal and State laws get it for you. I don't believe that a dog's life is as valuable as a human's, but I believe that the utter cruelty needed to assign no value whatsoever to any kind of life is among the most reprehensible things on the planet. And I believe it deserves punishment at least as severe as what Michael Vick is facing.

But in all honesty, that's mainly just the splashy headline here. The unforgivable crime here isn't the dogs, it's the gambling. Gambling of any kind is expressly prohibited in every NFL Players' Association contract, and is punishable up to a lifetime ban. Athletes whose actions on the field affect billions of dollars in legal gambling activities can't possibly put themselves in a position where they might have gambling debts that might be called in by organized crime. You simply Can. Not. Gamble. as an NFL player. It's the deadliest of deadly sins. And it's in his contract, clearly spelled out in black and white.

Vick's plea deal stops short of saying "I personally killed dogs" and "I gambled on dogfighting," couching his confession by stating that dog execution was a collective effort, and ludicrously claiming that Vick never accepted money when he won bets. If anyone believes that, I've got a bridge to sell you. By pleading to lower and vaguer charges, Vick is trying to keep the door open for a comeback. Some knuckleheads (like Dr. R.L. White, president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP) are going to take his "confession" as gospel truth, defending Vick with the understanding that he didn't confess to personally doing the gambling or the killing. He was just there, part of the crowd, when it all "happened." Uh huh. And Barry Bonds has never tested positive for steroids.

Despite the fact that he remains, for now, on the books as an Atlanta Falcon, Michael Vick is no longer listed in ESPN's searchable database of active NFL players. Seriously, check it out. There's a way to view this almost as an Aristotelian Greek tragedy, with the mighty hero laid low from a great height by his own failings and hubris. But in tragedy, while you may sympathize with Oedipus, Agamemnon, or Medea, you always recognize that the final consequences of the story are the result of the tragic hero's actions. Michael Vick is no different. Yes, I feel bad for his fall, potentially the greatest in sports history. But he made this bed himself. The media didn't do it, PETA didn't do it, and the Bad Newz boys who turned on him didn't do it. He did it.

I taught high school drama last year, and we were studying the character of Edmund from King Lear. Edmund is one of Shakespeare's greatest villains because he's a pure Machiavellian; no crime is too bad as long as he can get away with it. I had my students write on and discuss the topic "The rules don't apply to me," and I was appalled at the number of teenagers who genuinely believe that they can do anything they want to as long as they don't get caught. Skipping class, cheating on tests, plagiarism, lying to their parents; for a small but significant handful of my students all of these and more were daily behaviors with no internal consequences. Morals were purely an external matter of cause and effect. As long as they got away with it, any activity was okay. I found this to be one of the most disturbing days of my entire life. I'm still not sure whether to admire these students' honesty or fear their arrogance.

Throughout this whole soap opera, Vick has reminded me of these students. He's not alone; we seem to be living in a national culture of "it's not bad if I get away with it," from sports figures to entertainers to politicians. If Michael Vick hadn't been indicted, there is no reason to believe he wouldn't still be involved in dogfighting and gambling today. To a certain degree, I acknowledge that this is natural, a part of human nature. And it's part of the job of a legal system in society; it's the stern father who spanks you and sends you to your room for doing wrong, hoping that the negative reinforcement will keep you from hurting anyone else--or yourself--again.

But let's hold up before we start talking about how impressed we are by Michael Vick's public apology. Almost anyone would apologize with their feet as close to the fire as Vick's are. He has got a very long way to go before I'll believe he's sorry for anything other than having gotten caught.

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Flipping Channels: Bengals / Falcons and Tigers / Yankees

I'm super-sick with an upper respiratory infection, which is bad. What's good (kind of) is that I didn't really have enough gumption to do anything but flip channels last night. Since there was nothing good on the Discovery Channel (usually choice #1), I ended up bouncing between ESPN's football and ESPN2's baseball coverage. Some really interesting stuff happened.

Cincinnati Bengals at Atlanta Falcons. Obviously, there's a ton of scrutiny on the Vickless Falcons. It's unfortunate timing that Michael Vick's indictment came on the first day of training camp, his official plea entry came on the morning of a Monday Night Football preseason game, and his December sentencing date is another MNF date for the team. There's just no escaping it.

There's also no escaping the fact that Vick's replacement, QB Joey Harrington, has a terrible track record everywhere he has been. Since starting in Detroit as a highly-touted draft pick, dude's got a 55.2% completion percentage with 72 touchdowns and 77 interceptions for a less-than-average 68.1 career passer rating. Yikes. It's one of my little sports idiosyncrasies that I've always liked Harrington for some reason. He just comes across as a nice guy and a hard worker who has been saddled with some really bad teams. Maybe it's the Heath Shuler fan in me, but it breaks my heart when a Harrington, a Tim Couch, an Akili Smih, even a Ryan Leaf blows a bunch of potential. (Okay, not Ryan Leaf.)

So did we start to see some of that potential last night? Harrington went 13 of 21 for 164 yards and 2 very pretty touchdowns in the Falcons' 24-19 win. More than the stats, he just looked like a quarterback last night. The Falcons looked like they were his team and that they had been his team for a while.

Yes, it's preseason, but week three of preseason is the dress rehearsal game, first-team against first-team, and the Bengals are a tough opponent. It would be really nice to see Harrington have a breakout season for the Falcons and give some real hope to Atlanta sports fans. I don't think that's very likely, but it would be nice. Because make no mistake, no one is going to see the Falcons this year. Season ticket holders in Atlanta pay to see Michael Vick, not Warwick Dunn. When Vick had a season-ending injury a couple years back, the fans watched from their couches in droves. True, Atlanta doesn't have a history as a great sports city, what with not selling out first round Braves playoff games and the like, but their NFL fans deserve better than the Vick soap opera.

New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers. It's a testament to the magnitude of this savage beat-down that Justin Verlander's (14-5) scoreless three-hit seven innings of pitching is a footnote to this game. The headline: Tigers 16, Yankees 0. Dang.

Yankee pitcher Mike Mussina's (8-10) line is downright sad. 3 IP, 9 hits, 6 runs (all earned), 1 walk, 0 strikeouts. Moose, a Yankee I actually kind of like (sort of, a teensy bit), has given up six runs in each of his last three starts, none of which has made it through the fourth inning. The unsung hero of this game: Yankee pitcher Sean Henn, redefining "taking one for the team" as he pitched 2.2 innings of relief, giving up 8 hits and 9 runs (7 earned). It was like watching batting practice. Every Tigers starter had at least one hit, the star being VCU's own Brandon Inge, 3 for 4 with 4 RBIs and 2 runs scored.

This is the kind of loss that sits like lead in a team's stomach for days, sometimes weeks. The Yankees are 8 games behind Boston in the East and 2 behind Seattle in the Wild Card. As much as I loathe the Yankees and their freaking swastika hats, I always thought they would be the Wild Card team. Now I'm not so sure. I think they may not make the playoffs.

Hee hee hee.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sports Fan Traditions and Superstitions

I read recently that animal lovers nationwide have been sending old Michael Vick jerseys to the Atlanta ASPCA and other organizations with instructions that the jerseys are to be used as rags or shredded for cage lining. First of all, that's awesome. I wrote a month ago that if I had a Vick jersey I would have had to hold a ritual burning to atone for the sin of having worn it. This is a much better option, much more karmic and productive. Okay, I'll admit it: it's also just totally kick-###.

This got me thinking about my sports paraphernalia traditions and superstitions. I'm going to share some of mine and invite you to share a few of your own.

Most of mine are football-related. The reasons are twofold: 1) The NFL schedule is so much more dramatic and conducive to preparation; game day is an event every week. And 2) With all due respect to the Red Sox and the Phillies, my Washington Redskins fandom dwarfs all of my other sports interest. Maybe it's because the 'Skins were the first sports team I ever followed, or maybe it's because that first year was the 1991 Super Bowl season. (Long story short: I worked for a Northern Virginia optical lab in summer of 1991, where I had the opportunity to make Joe Gibbs' glasses before the season, and I decided to follow the team to see what happened. Am I off-base in thinking I deserve a little Super Bowl ring?)

It's gameday today (albeit pre-season), and I must drink my morning coffee out of a giant oversized Redskins coffee mug. During the baseball season, I drink coffee out of a Red Sox mug every single day. I probably need to get a Phillies mug to alternate...

During the game, I will only drink red- or gold-colored beers, and only out of a beer glass with a Redskins logo on it. I sure miss George Starke's Head Hog Beer...

When opening a beer to drink during a Red Sox game, I will only use my talking Red Sox bottle opener. "Grand slam! Go crazy, folks! The Red Sox win!"

For a while, I was crazy enough to change jerseys during the Redskins game: offense, defense, and even special teams. For a couple years, I would switch between #82 (Michael ####ing Westbrook) when the Redskins were on offense, #24 (Champ Bailey) on defense and #30 (Brian Mitchell) on special teams. It got pretty exhausting, though I should probably re-think the strategy; the 'Skins did make the playoffs that year. Now I change jerseys depending on what I think the team really needs right now: old-school excellence (#28 Darrell Green), hard-nosed ballsy play (#30) or flash and style (#26 Clinton Portis). Usually, I'll wear one jersey for the entire game, but sometimes circumstances will require a switch mid-game.

(The Bailey jersey now hangs sadly in the closet next to the #82, the #5 Shuler and the #12 Frerotte. Of course I can't wear those jerseys.)

If I'm ticked off at a player, I'll bench his jersey. The Westbrook jersey vanished for months after the Stephen Davis training camp beat-down. I probably should have shredded the damn thing, honestly. When Clinton Portis came out in defense of Michael Vick's right to do what he wants on his property, I put his jersey away. Fortunately, Portis was turned around by legions of fans who sent him information about the cruelty of dogfighting (you gotta love the loyalty of Washington fans), and he admitted he was wrong and apologized. I still had to lay down the law, though, and suspended Portis' jersey for the first four games of the regular season. I won't wear it until the sentence has been served. I am the commissioner of my own fandom, and I take the responsibility very seriously.

I will not draft a Dallas Cowboy or a New York Yankee on my fantasy teams. I will not start a player who is playing against the Redskins that week.

My Red Sox 2004 World Series Champions hat only comes out during the playoffs or a pennant race.

I am convinced that all of these actions affect my teams' performance.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

NAACP Turns a (Color-) Blind Eye to Michael Vick's Guilt

As any idiot could have predicted, the NAACP continues to treat Michael Vick like some kind of traumatized victim even after his admission of guilt and acceptance of responsibility for multiple federal dogfighting and racketeering crimes.

Quoted from an Associated Press report printed on, Atlanta NAACP chapter president R.L. White (a pretty funny last name, considering) said this week: "As a society, we should aid in his rehabilitation and welcome a new Michael Vick back into the community without a permanent loss of his career in football. We further ask the NFL, Falcons, and the sponsors not to permanently ban Mr. Vick from his ability to bring hours of enjoyment to fans all over this country."

From later in the article:

Last month, state and local leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urged the public not to rush to judgment in the Vick case. The civil rights organization said animal rights groups, talk radio and the news media were vilifying the embattled athlete, and that his team and corporate sponsors were prematurely punishing Vick.

White said the Atlanta chapter supports Vick's decision to accept a plea bargain if it's in his best interest, but he questioned the credibility of Vick's co-defendants, saying an admission of guilt might be more about cutting losses than the truth.

"At this point, you're not looking at guilt or innocence," White said, referring to the possible harsher sentence Vick could have received had he taken his case to trial and been found guilty. "You're thinking, 'What I better do is cut my losses and take a plea.' But if he saw this as the best thing to do at this point for his future, then I think he made the correct choice."

White said he regretted that the plea deal will mean all the facts of the case might never be known.

"Some have said things to save their own necks," White said. "Michael Vick has received more negative press than if he had killed a human being."

White said he does not support dogfighting and that he considers it as bad as hunting.

"His crime is, it was a dog," White said.

Okay, Mr. White. Let's look at the facts a little shall we? You do know what facts are, right? Or has your laser-focus on racial animus and invective blinded you to the idea that some things simply are or are not true?

Vick's statement through his lawyer was this: "Mr. Vick has agreed to enter a plea of guilty to those charges and to accept full responsibility for his actions and the mistakes he has made. Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter."

Did you read that, Mr. White? Is it in the vocabulary of the NAACP to accept full responsibility for actions? Where in that statement can you possibly read anything but an admission of culpability? Where do you read "cutting losses" and "taking a plea?" I've got news for you, Mr. White. You may not be looking at guilt or innocence, but the judicial branch is, the NFL is, the public is, and so is Michael Vick.

Vick hasn't been vilified by talk radio and animal rights groups, he's been vilified by his own choices and his actions. He has been vilified by evidence: testimony, paraphernalia, paper trails, and dozens of canine corpses. He has been vilified because he has been a villain.

Let's play a little game, friends. Take that quote at the top again:

"As a society, we should aid in his rehabilitation and welcome a new Michael Vick back into the community without a permanent loss of his career in football. We further ask the NFL, Falcons, and the sponsors not to permanently ban Mr. Vick from his ability to bring hours of enjoyment to fans all over this country."

Now let's change a couple words and see how it looks.

"As a society, we should aid in his rehabilitation and welcome a new Don Imus back into the community without a permanent loss of his career in football. We further ask MSNBC, Clear Channel, and the sponsors not to permanently ban Mr. Imus from his ability to bring hours of enjoyment to fans all over this country."

Two differences between Don Imus and Michael Vick: Imus didn't break any laws, and he's white. Another difference: Imus has apologized profusely and admitted terrible judgment.

I'm just going to come out and say it: as long as the NAACP continues to function as the National Association of Apologetics for Colored People, knuckleheads like Vick are going to continue to do what they want to do, confident that their status as black Americans qualifies them as a protected special class of society. Someone will have their backs, no matter what they do, as long as they're black enough. Being black is apparently an assumption of innocence even if you admit you're guilty. Just look at Michael Vick, who was obviously forced to admit guilt because of pressure from talk radio and animal activists.

"His crime is, it was a dog?" Seriously??? Mr. White, perhaps you need to be reminded that this is not just about cute little puppy dogs. It's about financing and running an interstate gambling ring, a much more serious crime.

If the NAACP really wants to advance the needs of black Americans, it's time to start insisting that everyone stand up and take personal responsibility for themselves. I'm all for "welcoming Michael Vick back into the community," whatever that means, and I believe he should be permitted to pursue a further career in professional football. But we live in a society of laws, and breaking the law as egregiously as Vick has acknowledged doing results in paying a debt: doing time in jail.

Jason Whitlock, genius as usual, writes, in part:

Michael Vick should not have abandoned his boyz from the hood, the gentlemen who predictably and quickly accepted plea agreements and squealed on Vick. He should’ve demonstrated the courage to demand that they join him on his new journey. He should’ve forced them to abandon him.

You follow?

It appears, according to federal investigators, that Vick financed his friends’ illegal dogfighting activity. Vick may have enjoyed dogfighting, but he certainly didn’t need the “sport.” He didn’t need a home dedicated to breeding and training pit bulls. He didn’t need to open and operate Bad Newz Kennels.

It’s my belief that if Vick stayed involved with dogfighting, he did so primarily because it was a way to stay involved in an activity in which his “boys” still participated. It was Vick’s way of keeping it real. He was fearful of being labeled a sellout, fearful of having his blackness questioned.

This is a burden we’ve created for ourselves. We fight our own evolution. This must end. We need to redefine keeping it real.

For athletes and other people who experience professional success, keeping it real should mean offering your lifelong friends and family members an opportunity to acquire the skills necessary to join the mainstream.

This may sound naïve and a bit comical, but it’s the truth: Rather than financing dogfighting, Vick should’ve paid for educational opportunities. He should’ve tried to help establish his cousins and friends in a legitimate business.

If they were uninterested in that, Vick should’ve informed them that he had nothing but love for ’em. No matter the problem, you can’t help people who are uninterested in helping themselves. You have to develop the courage to stop someone else’s weakness from drowning you. Vick, to me, is a coward. He wasn’t man enough to define for his friends what was in his best interest and what he would and would not tolerate.

Helping a friend or family member wallow in stupidity or self-destructive behavior is not keeping it real. It’s enabling a problem, a problem that could eventually engulf you. Ask Michael Vick.

By defending people who demonstrate bad or even criminal behavior, the NAACP continues to enable a cycle of what Whitlock wisely calls "wallowing in stupid or self-destructive behavior." An organization as powerful as the NAACP should be flexing its muscle to actually improve people. It should not be bending over backwards to justify self-destruction in the name of racial solidarity.

Here's an interesting little tidbit: Last Thursday, Vick was pulled over in Virginia for driving a car will illegally tinted windows. He was further cited for not wearing his seat belt. Seriously, Michael. Laws and rules apply to you. Please, I'm begging you, LEARN SOMETHING.

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Days 4-7 in a Nutshell

We're home. Got home yesterday afternoon in time to rehearse with the praise band at Redeemer.

Here are some photographic highlights of the rest of our trip:

A foam dinosaur sculpture outside a diner near Natural Bridge.

Our first view of the Mountain Top Cabin at Rugby Creek.

We met a lot of friendly animals at Rugby Creek Rescue, including Huey, a 16-week-old donkey.

We got a full tour of the entire facility and met almost every single animal there, hearing every single story. All of the animals are like a big multi-species family. They all seem to know that they are loved and cared for.

Popeye, above, has only one big blue eye, but he does just fine.

We went boating on the New River. This is the first of two Great Blue Herons we saw.

The front of our boat and the route 93 bridge. Down the road to the right is the North Carolina Border.

We went up to the Grayson Highlands State Park, intending to hike. From the Sugarland Overlook, we were able to see our cabin! Five minutes later, a huge thunderstorm passed through. This rather spoiled our hiking plans, but provided awe-inspiring views of the curtains of rain as they crossed the valley to our west.

For the last two days, the mountains were assaulted by winds that must have gusted 40+ miles per hour. After the storms passed through, there was some pretty spectacular sky.

I also discovered the exposure and F-stop functions on my camera. I don't know what any of it does yet, but fiddling around with it did allow me to take some pretty cool pictures of the sunset.

Our last view of the cabin.

Vacation is over, and now it's time to get back to business. Will Power to Youth Richmond's Romeo and Juliet opens today. Richard II starts rehearsal in a week or so. The Training Department is about to announce its Fall schedule. I'm looking to play a big gig and record a live album in a couple months. And I'm really feeling the need to finish my musical by the first of the year. Let's get to work!

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Day 3: Luray Rescue Zoo, New Market, and Hone Quarry

We got started a little late, and visited the nearby outdoor adventure store, Wilderness Voyages. I wanted to get a walking stick monopod, but the ones they had were too pricey for me. The young lady working there was extremely helpful, and told us about one of her favorite local hiking areas, Hone Quarry Recreation Area in the westernmost area of George Washington National Forest. Being out west, it was likely to have very few visitors, unlike the Appalachian Trail, which runs parallel to Skyline Drive in this part of the state. She also told us how to get to Reddish Knob, the highest peak in the area. But that was for later.

We trucked on out to the Luray Rescue Zoo, which is right next to Luray Caverns. This of course raises the question "why didn't we just do that when we were there on Thursday?" but what the heck.

Now we've been to our share of private zoos, and many of them either disturb or disappoint in their treatment of their animals. We've seen small enclosures, strange combinations of animals sharing habitat, and some very stressed animals in some zoos. But when we walked in the door we were greeted by a sign proclaiming that Steve Irwin had visited the place. If Steve-o approved, than it had to be cool.

And cool it was. The touristy portion of the facility ended with the roadside dinosaur and alligator-jaws doorway. This is a serious conservation/education facility. One of the owners, Jennifer Westhoff, was tirelessly educating visitors from exhibit to exhibit; it seemed like you could hear her voice from every inch of the zoo. She was equally facile in discussing capuchins, tigers, and alligators.

The entrance area of the zoo was a complex of reptile exhibits, featuring the most impressive collection of venomous reptiles I have ever seen. The coolest was a young albino cobra who showed off for the camera:

The zoo complex is open but mostly shaded, with large, exciting enclosures for the animals. As a rescue zoo, they rehabilitate and house animals who had been illegally kept as exotic pets and other sob stories. They have a young female tiger, two Canadian lynx, and a bobcat, but a small orange female cat also wanders the grounds. She was very friendly. Many of the the animals had plaques indicating private sponsorship of the exhibit; the alligator snapping turtle is sponsored by Steve and Terri Irwin. They even have a petting zoo area, which gave me the opportunity to make friends with a sleepy but affectionate baby yak.

Here are a few pictures:

We stopped for lunch in historic New Market and ate at Wayne's Two Worlds Cafe and Emporium. It was 3:00 in the afternoon, so we were the only customers. Wayne served us up the best hamburgers either of us had ever eaten. They were huge, perfectly cooked, and spiced flawlessly. I would drive all the way out here from Richmond for lunch, I swear.

It was a pretty long drive out west to that particular part of Washington Forest, but it was instantly clear that the Wilderness girl had not steered us wrong. There was No. One. Else. on the Cliff Trail we hiked. It was about a half mile pretty much straight up, culminating in the amazing overlook we later discovered was called Lover's Leap.

But that wasn't even the climax. I was still feeling strong, so I urged us up the ridge a little bit, where we found a very well-built fire ring at a perfect campsite (which I desperately want to show Phil).

Just a bit farther up, at a small rocky peak, Karen amazed me by finding a geocache in a burnt-out tree stump! If you don't know what a geocache is, it's a waterproof container containing a notebook and souvenirs designed for people with portable GPS systems to locate as an adventure. It's extremely rare to find one without a GPS, you pretty much have to just stumble across it like she did. We took a small flower-shaped eraser and left a bottle of insect repellent.

We tried to drive farther out Route 257 to locate Reddish Knob, but when the road got down to one lane--literally one lane with a steep drop on one side, with turnabouts every quarter mile or so--we got a little nervous and turned around. I'm a little haunted by the thought that we were so close to the highest point in the area, but it was getting dark and it had been a long day.

Tomorrow we leave Harrisonburg for the long trip down to Mouth of Wilson. Plans are to see the Natural Bridge and stop at a few wineries on the way. Pictures and accounts to come, but probably not until we get back; the cabin at Rugby Creek doesn't have internet access.

Day 2: Afton Ridge, Veritas, and the Blackfriars

We got a little bit of a late start yesterday as Karen was having a bit of asthma trouble. We found a walk-in medical practice in Staunton and got her a new inhaler and then we were on our way.

Our original plan to go to three wineries cut down to two, we first visited Afton Mountain Vineyards. Once again, we were the only people there for the tasting. Afton Mountain, as Brian informed us, is 15 years old, making it a very old winery by Virginia standards, but we had never been there before. Once more, the views were fantastic.

Next we went back to an old favorite, Veritas Vineyard and Winery. Mark and Julie Holm brought us to Veritas a few years ago, back when they were just getting started. Much of the complex was still under construction when last we were there, and they held the tastings at a little bar on the deck. That has always been one of my favorite winery experiences, chilling on the porch with my family and some truly excellent wines, enjoying the scenery and the friendly environment of a winery just starting out.

Well, they're not starting out any more.

In addition to having built an absolutely gorgeous facility, Veritas is producing some of the best wines in Virginia, and joins Horton and Tarara in the list of our favorite vineyards.

After going back to our suite for a bite to eat, we drove back down to Staunton to see The Winter's Tale at the Blackfriars. I'll tell you, it's a very rare thing at this point in my career to be able to see a play by Shakespeare that I haven't read, seen, or worked on. This show was simply amazing, and had director Kate Powers' fingerprints all over it, from the musical choices to the unbearable honesty of the most implausibly dramatic moments. If you have a chance to see this show, go do it.

It's cooled off a lot today, so we're putting on some jeans and heading for the Appalachian Trail. Kind of winging it today.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

Today's plans:

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Day 1: Luray Caverns and Cave Ridge Vineyards

We left Richmond at 10 this morning, and drove to Luray Caverns to start our trip. I hadn't been there since the early '80s, and Karen had never been in a cavern at all. I was, frankly, a little worried that she would be a bit claustrophobic in the caves, so I gave her a small flashlight to have in her purse.

Luray Caverns is one of the most awesome places I have ever seen in my life. What's really cool is when you feel a drip of water on your head or shoulder as you walk through the caverns, reminding you that everything in there is still under construction.

I took a lot of video inside, but only a few photos. Here are a couple of my favorites.

They had Dippin' Dots, which felt and tasted great in the 97 degree heat. Then we drove north to a small winery called Cave Ridge Vineyards. They got our visit because it was 4:15 when we left Luray and they were the closest place that was open until 5:30. We were the only two people there, so we got a lot of face-to-face time with Karen and Randy, the owners. It turns out that Cave Ridge has only been open for less than a year. They have six wines to offer, of which we bought three. The whites were exceptionally good, especially the Traminette. Somehow we managed to avoid snapping a picture of their lovely building, but this is the view from their deck.

On the way to our hotel in Harrisonburg, we saw a trio of pheasants by the roadside.

Now Karen is enjoying the season finale of So You Think You Can Dance. More tomorrow.

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Going on Vacation!

Karen and I are leaving in about an hour for our first real vacation in five years. I'll endeavor to keep in touch when we have internet access.

We're staying for three nights in Harrisonburg, with plans to see Luray Caverns, lots of wineries, and The Winter's Tale (directed by the lovely and brilliant Kate Powers) at the Blackfriars. Then it's way down south and west to Mouth of Wilson, where we'll stay in a mountaintop cabin on the grounds of Rugby Creek animal rescue.

Back Wednesday. I'll take lots of pictures!


Friday, August 10, 2007

Check Out My Brain

First the medical stuff: I just got back from seeing Doctor Hardy at Neurological Associates. Yes, this was the first appointment I could get after my debilitating and terrifying migraine of June 24th. Well, there's nothing wrong with my brain. All my tests were normal. The doctor did use the technical term "weird" to describe the June migraine, with its vast array of accompanying symptoms, but it was within the range of a normal migraine experience. Could have been stress, lack of sleep, or other factors that made it so severe. He gave me a couple samples of Imitrex to try with my next couple migraines and we set up a three-month check. Doctor Hardy is very cool, and has some experience with the Williamsburg Shakespeare Festival. I'm hoping to see him in the house for Richard II.

A lovely benefit of this experience is that I have a CD-ROM with 32 CAT scans of my brain. So naturally my first thought was "These images need to be on my blog!"

Warning: gross cross-section images of my brain, skull, and eyeballs ahead!

This is the bottom of my brain. The vertical shafts at the top of the picture are my nostrils. Apparently I was in need of a nose-blow, as they seem to be filled with luminescent snot.

This one in particular grosses me out big time. Yes, those are my eyeballs at the top of the picture. I also seem to be growing a third eyeball in the center of my brain. It's looking at you!

This is really gross.

Now it's starting to look like a proper brain. Are those icicles or something encroaching on the sides?

Awww, my brain is happy to meet you.

This is the creepiest Rorschach test ever.

Somehow seeing the surface of my own brain is infinitely more nauseating than seeing its internal structure.

And this final one represents the actual size of my brain. It's about the size of a shelled walnut, and has rings around it, similar to the planet Saturn.

So what do you think, friends? Will you still respect me, now that you've seen my naked brain? More importantly, having seen the above images, what's your diagnosis?

What's wrong with Ange Hamm's brain?

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Rick Ankiel Returns with a Bang!

In a comeback like nothing I've ever even heard of, St. Louis Cardinal Rick Ankiel returned to the majors last night. He last appeared in the majors in 2004 as a pitcher and re-appears as an outfielder.

And damn it if he didn't launch a three-run homer in the seventh inning.

I'm just amazed. It's one thing to lead the Pacific Coast League with 32 homers in AAA Memphis, but making it all the way back to the majors as a position player after working your way up as a hot-prospect pitcher and losing it all to inexplicable control problems is just astonishing. If you don't remember the playoff game in 2000 when Ankiel turned instantly from hot prospect to wild-pitching train-wreck, it's probably for the best; that may be the saddest and most instantaneous disintegration of a career since Joe Theisman's leg was broken.

I think this may be the best comeback story since Kurt Warner in 1999.

Is it possible that Rick Ankiel has what it takes to make a career for himself as a major league outfielder? I think he does. Can he give the sub-mediocre Cardinals the shot in the arm they need to make a run in the NL Central? Hell, it's the NL Central; no one else seems to want to win it. Why not St. Louis?

Mad props to Rick Ankiel, and to Tony LaRussa and the Cardinals organization for having his back for three years of re-development in the minors. This is just a great story, and I hope he keeps slugging.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

What's Next?

Grant Mudge complained today that I hadn't updated this thing in a while, so here's an update with no actual content.

Here's what next for Ange Hamm:

1) I'm thinking about changing the template on this blog. Just a different look for the hell of it. Your thoughts?

2) I'm mastering the very simply-recorded music from The Tempest, which was recorded early-20th-century style. We just set up a stationary mic and gathered around it, all playing at once, no multitracking or punching in. If an instrument was too loud, we moved it away from the mic. Pretty cool in theory, but some of the vocals are pretty rough in actuality. What do I do? Do I release it for sale, and if so, how do I secure the rights to the T-Bone Burnett, Sam Phillips, Mark Heard, Bruce Cockburn, and Tom Waits songs? If you go to my MySpace Music page, you just might hear a track...

3) I think I'm going to record a bunch of new material as a live album in a couple months. More on that as it comes.

4) I'm getting a heavy-duty poke in the brain to finish the musical I've been working on since 1995. Yes, 1995. It's a modern-day interpretation of my favorite play, Turgenev's A Month in the Country called A Week in the Suburbs. Pre-Chekhovian Russian angst meets suburban ennui. It's about half-finished. Then again, it's been about half-finished for about half a decade. What I need is a deadline. So, Grant, when are we producing it? ;-)

5) My back hurts.

6) Gearing up for Richard II. I'd give real money to learn what part I'm playing so I can get off-book. James Ricks is directing, which is really exciting. I enjoyed his work on Henry IV, Part 1 immensely.

7) Starting to work on As You Like It, which I'm directing next Spring. Getting very excited about it, actually. Five actors, lots of music. A bunch of people standing around in the woods talking.

8) The Richmond Shakespeare Training Department for 2007-2008 is looking very exciting indeed! David Sennett and Jennifer Massey will be teaching, and some other local talent with big names are in the hopper getting scheduled. I'm pretty jazzed. I really hope people come out. It's going to take a lot of word-of mouth spreading of the news, and it's really going to take some of the people who say they want to take a class actually doing it, unlike last year.

9) Staged readings? We're looking to assemble a Fall staged reading of Edward III, a play Shakespeare is now believed to have co-written. It deals with the grandfather of Richard II and is considered by an increasing number of scholars to be Shakespearean canon, bringing the total number of History plays to 11; 9 in the "Wars of the Roses" cycle. More on that as it develops.

10) I've been swayed to the Dark Side. That's right, I'm about 100 pages from finishing the fourth Harry Potter book. I totally get what all the fuss is about.

Happy now, Mudge?

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

ESPN Actually Gets Worse Than "Who's Now"

I didn't think it was possible for ESPN to actually get worse than the awfulness of their interminable and idiotic "Who's Now" series (wherein celebrities and viewers vote to see which athletes are more "Now" than others to fill empty show minutes in July), but it gets worse. Much much worse.

Now posted on's Page 2 is "Who's Ticketed for Canton" by Thomas Newmann and Scott Symmes, a hypothetical list of 50 active NFL players whom they predict will eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Their criteria: Mortality (durability), Statistics, Team Success, Upside, and Intangibles.

Okay, the idea is sound, sort of. 20 points in each category. #1 Brett Favre maxes out at 78. And the top of the list is some interesting reading.

Until you get to the 30s and 40s, where players with one or even zero years of NFL experience start making the list based on high marks in Mortality, Upside, and Intangibles. Calvin Johnson and Adrian Petersen, yet to play so much as a pre-season snap make the list. And Zach Thomas, Ruben Brown, Bryant Young, Jon Jansen, Donovan McNabb, and Fred Taylor don't. Those are just the first few names I though of.

In the long and rapidly-growing succession of reasons ESPN is circling the toilet bowl in a rapidly-descending spiral, this list may be the biggest turd. Yes, I understand the way the list was made. But any system that prizes potential so much that it puts players who haven't played a single snap in the NFL above Thomas, etc. is utter nonsense. Incontrovertible fact proving this list's idiocy: Heath freaking Shuler would have made this list in 1995. And that's not even mentioning the second-year players like Vince Young, Reggie Bush, and AJ Hawk, none of whom should be on this list either.

The list of 50, for your reading displeasure:

Cantonized: The List 1-50

35. Ty Law

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