Tuesday, August 08, 2006

 

How to combat the dog days of summer? Just a Tuesday TOP FIVE worth of answers

Howdy, folks.

The end of summer is almost here. People are taking that last vacation, jonesing for that final three-day weekend, and bracing themselves for the autumn work season to begin. Crazy times. So what better way to fight those prototypical dog days than by taking solace in just a few of the freshly baked items in this week’s Tuesday Top Five?

Check it out . . .

5) The Dodgers grabbed Greg Maddux! Sorry, Cubs fans. But here in the Southland, there hadn’t been much to crow about in the world of baseball this season. The Angels had been down, without a Rally Monkey in sight. And the Dodgers? A fair to middling team in a generally poor division.

Until now. The Dodgers picked up the 40-something Maddux from the woeful Cubs, and a lot of us out here were thinking, “Fantastic. Just what every player wants. To go from a terrible team to a mediocre one.” Not so anymore. Since picking up the veteran (and doing some other, post-All-Star tinkering), the Dodgers actually have a shot at the playoffs again. They’re just a game and a half out of first in the West, and tied now with my beloved Cincinnati Reds for the Wild Card spot.

Oh, the inhumanity. Having my childhood favorites vie with my new hometown squad for the Wild Card. Oh wait, that means I could win either way? Or if the Padres slipped up, and the Dodgers took first in the west, I could have both teams?

Happy, satisfied sigh.

4) The Farmer’s Market at the Grove. I love this LA landmark, but I’ve never brought it up in this blog before. Still, I’m not sure there’s a better place to gather in all the Southland. When Our Woman in LA and I have people in town, we generally go there. This weekend, when a few of our old pals from Chicago were around, we met up with a whole contingent of Northwestern alums and the like at the market.

The Market itself is a little of what you’d expect – fresh fruits and veggies for sale, alongside homemade crafts and candies, and a pretty decent selection of small, inexpensive restaurants and bars in a covered but outdoor setting. It’s one of the great people-watching places in LA, and you feel totally removed from city life. Except that you’re at the corner of Fairfax and Third.

The Market’s been there forever. But a few years ago, the story goes, a developer wanted to put up his high-end mall on the property. His plan was to tear down the food and fruit stands, the cool inexpensive bars, and put up a Nordstrom, mega-movie theater, and the kinds of expensive restaurants and haberdashers that the tourists seem to dig.

Not so. LA got up and protested the move. The Market was worth keeping, Angelenos said. So the developer found a way to incorporate the Market into his mall, which is called the Grove.

Worked like a charm. Plenty of people (including me) who would never set foot in the Grove love the Farmer’s Market. So the tourists stayed happy, the locals stayed happy, and I was able to continue shopping at the Glendale Galleria and still getting hummus from Moishe’s in the southeast corner of the Market.

Ain’t it grand when everyone wins?

3) The NFL Hall of Fame Weekend. Over the weekend, the National Football League inducted several deserving former players and coaches (including John Madden, Troy Aikman, and Warren Moon) into its Hall of Fame and played its first exhibition game – between the Raiders and Eagles. To which I say:

Finally.

Finally, I can start talking football without everybody looking at me like I’m a crazy person. Or some kind of obsessed clown. Nope. Now with the preseason beginning, the football talk can begin in earnest. And when I say in earnest, I mean that it can go nuts.

The “What if” scenarios can begin. Like this one, my new favorite (borrowed from Fox Sports’ NFL Czar). This scenario is predicated on the idea that the biggest mistake the NFL has made in the last 20 years was its 1993 expansion, which yielded the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Now before everyone starts crowing at me about how I’m being unfair to middle America again, just hear me out. There’s a method to my madness.

See, flash forward 13 years to today. Jacksonville’s got a good team, but a market that can barely support them. No major corporate sponsors to speak of. Problems filling the place up. Carolina’s doing great. They draw from the whole state. The corporations are there, the fans are there, and so on.

But look around the league. No team in Los Angeles, much to the happiness of transplants like me who can see the best game of the week every Sunday – but much to the consternation of NFL execs who feel like they’re losing big money in the nation’s second biggest market. Not to mention the fact that every time an NFL owner doesn’t get the stadium he wants, the luxury boxes he wants, or the sandwich he wants for lunch, he threatens to move to LA.

Then you’ve got that precarious situation in New Orleans, which might not be able to still support the Saints, but the potential PR nightmare of moving them.

So, hindsight being 20-20, this is what they should have done back then.

St. Louis and Baltimore, two proven NFL cities that now have teams plundered from other markets, were among the candidates for new franchises in 1993. The NFL liked the new markets in Carolina and Jacksonville, and maybe the Baltimore and St. Louis deals didn’t look as good.

It shouldn’t have mattered. The NFL should have thought long-term. So imagine this. Boom! Now, in 1993, they create the Baltimore Ravens and the St. Louis, uh, Kings. There you go.

Why would this have changed anything? Consider:

• With Baltimore back in the league, the Cleveland Browns don’t move to Chesapeake Bay. No bad blood for the league, and the Dawg Pound maybe even gets a Super Bowl.
• With St. Louis back in the league, where are the LA Rams going to go? Seriously.

And you have an NFL with 30 happy teams, more or less. OK, so maybe a couple of years later, the Raiders move back to Oakland. No problem. At least the LA market is secure.

Maybe a year after that, the Houston Oilers still move to Tennessee and become the Titans, leaving the nation’s 4th largest market uncovered.

OK, yeah, that’s sort of a problem. So you expand again – just like the NFL did anyway. So the Houston Texans come back in the league. And you have room for one more spot.

Who gets it? Carolina does. It’s a region that’s otherwise uncovered by the league, and that has a lot of business and people. So the Panthers return, but you haven’t lost a step otherwise.

So now you have a league that covers all the major markets and a lot of the significant small ones. Teams can whine and moan about their stadium or their fan base, but the chances of them going to another city are slim. Sure, you might be able to make an argument that San Antonio’s got a bigger upside than post-Katrina New Orleans, but you wouldn’t have to, either. Who’s missing, honestly?

2) LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Our Woman in LA and I caught this movie over the weekend, and we found it to be a total gem. Just a great film. Terrific performances by Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette and the kids, but special mention to a very understated Steve Carrell and an amazingly funny, over-the-top and occasionally touching performance by Alan Arkin.

I expected the movie to be a lot of fun. It was. But more than that, it’s inspiring and speaks to any and all of us who have ever struggled with our ambitions, our work, or our sense of who we are and who we want to be. Totally recommended. I’d say more, but I’m afraid I’d spoil the jokes.

1) Marv Wolfman back writing NIGHTWING for DC Comics. I’ve been a comics fan since before I could read, and without question or hesitation, I can honestly say since his first appearance in this identity (in 1984), my favorite character has been Nightwing. I’m pretty sure I own his every appearance in comics, and I never missed an issue of the character’s fight for truth and justice in the pages of TEEN TITANS or his solo title.

For the uninitiated, Nightwing is secretly Dick Grayson, adopted son of Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, and the first of several young men to serve as Batman’s partner, Robin. Over the years, the first Robin grew up – going through high school and college by day, while fighting the forces of evil by night. He eventually got tired of being a sidekick, even to one of the world’s greatest super-heroes, and so he struck out on his own. He took on his own identity, led his own super hero team, and eventually found a life outside Gotham City.

The creation of this new identity happened in 1984, in the TEEN TITANS comic book (actually NEW TEEN TITANS, but you get the picture), written by comics veteran Marv Wolfman. Marv, who had also served as editor of Marvel Comics at one time, was one of the hottest comics writers of the 80s, and the story that built Dick Grayson from Robin to Nightwing was one of his most critically lauded tales (right up there with CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, which completely relaunched DC Comics and killed off Supergirl and Flash . . . for a time).

By the way, you can read that first Nightwing story – THE JUDAS CONTRACT – in trade paperback these days. It’s on Amazon and at your favorite comics store.

Anyway, for the last 10 or so years, Nightwing’s had his own solo comic from DC. The first 50-some issues, all written by Chuck Dixon, were pretty terrific. The former Robin traveled to Gotham’s uglier, more crime-ridden sister city to clean up crime. He got a new rogue’s gallery, a new supporting cast, and a series of great stories.

It’s kind of been down hill since then. Promising writers Devin Grayson and Bruce Jones have delivered seriously substandard stories, and they’ve helped to push the Nightwing character into a place where he feels more generic and uninteresting. Although the character had once occupied an A-list position in the DC Universe, and had been considered sort of Batman with a sense of humor, now he was just another do-gooder in tights.

That’s why I’m so excited to have Marv on his way back. This is the guy who created the modern Dick Grayson – both in his Robin identity and Nightwing role. The character flourished under Marv in the 80s and early 90s. That version of the character was the kind of guy you wanted to read about – a leader of men who was highly competent and driven, but who had a sense of humor and the ability to unclench in the company of friends.

Can’t wait to see that guy again. Welcome back, Marv.

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