The Indubitable Dweeb
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June 26, 2010

The Emasculation of Aaron Starmer, Part I

It’s true. I took some time off from the blogging and I hid in the Grand Canyon for a spell. Seven days rafting on the Colorado with the fine folks at Wilderness River Adventures. If you don’t believe me, check out this video of what it looks like to hit a rapid from the perspective of a life-jacket. Absolutely stirring stuff:

It was a fantastic time, and I consider myself blessed to have seen 100 miles of stunning wilderness that the majority of the world will never lay eyes upon. The National Park service only allows 150 people on the river each day, and for good reason. We don’t want to turn the place into Pigeon Forge after all. I have but one misgiving about the trip. I only wish it didn’t make me feel like less of a man.

Yes, yes, yes, I know. I’m a hairy-backed burly fellow who can throw a football and pound a beer and sing along with the chorus to not only one, but two, RATT songs. How on Earth could my masculinity be in question? Well, it’s all a matter of survival.

I’m no Les Stroud, but my fire building skills are more than adequate, I can purify water, and I know not to rub poison ivy on my special bits and roll around in a pile of fire ants. I could make do in the wilderness for a couple days if things got all Cormac McCarthy out there. What I can’t do is pilot a boat through Class V rapids. This never bothered me when I went on rafting day trips in West Virginia. Yet, in the Grand Canyon, as I faded off to sleep with the woosh of the mighty Colorado as my lullaby, I couldn’t help but amend my nightly prayers.

“God Bless Mama, and Dadda, and all the people who have never eaten a banh mi sandwich, because damn those are some really good sandwiches and everyone should try one, and God, especially bless these river guides, without whom I’d probably end up looking like Ronny Cox in Deliverance, which is to say nothing bad of Deliverance, because for all the hillbilly jokes it’s spawned, it’s still a great American movie, adapted from perhaps one of the greatest books of the last fifty years, but in it Ronny Cox gets his bicep all wrapped around his neck and his body gets crushed up against some rocks and that sure would be a crappy way to go, so God bless these river guides who haven’t let that happen to me, and God, make sure they don’t let that happen tomorrow either.”

That’s what it all comes down to. For seven days and six nights some fit young men and women took turns rowing me and my floral swimming trunks down 100 miles of river while I bounced on my rubber seat and got splashed with freezing water and giggled like the Snuggle Bear. Sure, I hiked down to the river on an exceedingly hot day (in the 110 F range), and I know I could have hiked back out (on a trail, of course) in an emergency, but if called upon to guide a boat to Lake Mead, well, I might as well have dispatched a homing pigeon to the Daily Sun with the four word message: “There were no survivors.” Heck, for the short moment during the trip when I was handed the oars on a piece of flat-water, I was all wonky and out of rhythm, hardly ready for a Class I, let alone the fabled Lava Falls.

I realize that rafting the Grand Canyon isn’t akin to climbing K2 or running the Badwater Ultramarathon or some such insanity, but it takes a good bit of skill, a fair amount of endurance and a healthy set of…(what’s the English word for cojones?). It also takes tolerance and good spirits. You have to deal with folks like me, who ask a lot of strange questions, who eat more than their share of pickles and potato chips at lunch, and who act all Louisa May Alcott when danger lurks: “Please ma’am, would you see to it that I am not volleyed from this vessel resulting in spinal fracture, as my spine is what I use for bipedalism. And bipedalism is ever so nice.”

So hats off to those river guides, who effortlessly jump from boat to shore in flip-flops and buttoned poplin shirts, while the rest of us stumble around all Teva’ed and dry-wicked. You’re a good combination of smart and talented and friendly ski-bums and adrenhelin junkies and nature lovers and slightly grizzled hermits, and you have accomplished something that my ex-girlfriends have not. You have made me feel needy and weak. It’s about time.

April 8, 2010

Saint Phil of Augusta

The Masters starts today. I don’t know much about golf. I’ve always enjoyed playing the video game versions of it, but when it comes to the real thing, a famous quote from Mark Twain pretty much sums up my feelings. “Eh.”

All the talk will be of Tiger, of course, and it will be impossible to avoid coworkers and pals peddling one-liners about his “putts” and his “holes in one,” not to mention Aristocrat-esque jokes involving the green jacket. I won’t go down that road. What I will do, however, is highlight the deeds of another duffer, the oft-maligned Phil Mickelson.

Now, I don’t know enough about the PGA to know how oft Mr. Mickelson is really maligned, but for a matter of perspective, consider this. The phrase “I Hate Phil Mickelson” returns almost 500 results on Google, while “I Hate Fred Funk” returns only one. Either the Funk PR Machine is working overtime, or my man Mickelson has an image problem. I suspect the latter. Thus, the following headline (which may or may not be a pun?) hit the wire a few days back:

An Easter Thank You: Phil Mickelson Turns to Houston’s Swing Doctor

If you don’t want to read the article, I’ll give you the gist of it. Both Mickelson’s wife and his mother were diagnosed with cancer last year. A Houston doctor has been treating them, and Mickelson was so thankful that he let the man caddie for him during a recent tournament. Mickelson was out of contention at that point, and it was only supposed to be for one hole, and the man had actually done some semi-professional caddying before, so it wasn’t exactly like Jeff Gordon letting his dental hygienist hold the wheel. Still, the good doctor handed him the right clubs and employed his depth perception and it resulted in a birdie, so Mickelson kept him on for two more holes. Hearts were warmed. Jesus wept.

Did Tiger sin so much that this is considered a saintly act? I know, I know. Golf enthusiasts would jump at the chance to caddy in a major tournament. But wouldn’t they also jump at the chance to actually golf with the best, rather than lug the bag. Imagine if the roles were reversed. Had Mickelson helped this doctor’s son with his swing, would he have been rewarded with a midnight shift at the ER changing bedpans? I doubt it.

My proposal is this. If Mickelson really wants to show his appreciation, he should reserve a tee time for the doctor and himself at one of the country’s most exclusive courses. After all, this guy is trying to call in some medical miracles for the golfer’s mother and wife. The opportunity to towel the dimples of a golf ball hardly seems like reciprocity. I’ll give Mickelson the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe he’s golfed with the doctor countless times on countless legendary courses. But if he hasn’t, then add me to Google results. “I Hate Phil Mickelson!”

March 17, 2010

Luck of the Irish: NCAA Basketball Picks by Way of St. Patrick

I’m a little bit Irish, and not just today. I’ve been told that my last name is of Irish decent. Some say it was originally Stormer, which sounds all thundery and tough. Until, that is, you find out that “Stormers” were the dimwits they sent to storm English castles. Hot oil burns and arrow wounds can’t keep my people from reproducing, though, and for that I can be proud. As it happens, the internet thinks my name is actually English, but the internet is a known liar, and I prefer to live under the assumption that none of my ancestors came up with the idea for Marmite.

Yes, today is the holiday beloved by all fair-weather O’Flanagans: St. Patrick’s Day. It’s also the eve of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. So in honor of both, I am going to use my Irish intuition and knowlege of Celtic history to pick my Final Four. Feel free to take notes.


I was tempted to go with Kansas, mostly because Don Johnson is an alumnus, and as every educated Irishman knows, Stephen Dedalus was not the name James Joyce first chose when he first thought up a protagonist for Portrait Of An Artist As a Young Man. It was Sonny Crockett. Joyce shelved the name Sonny, however, when he thought it might work better in a TV pilot he was writing. The name of that pilot? Nash Bridges. Sure, Kansas would be a solid pick, if Georgetown didn’t have Ryan Dougherty on the roster. He’s only shooting 0-3 for the year, but he’s a good lad. Georgetown it is.


Philip Michael Thomas had his college application rejected by both Syracuse and Kansas State, so I can count both those schools out (personal reasons). Cheech Marin holds honorary doctorates from both BYU and Vermont. So scratch those too (ask Cheech, he’ll explain). Which leaves Murray State. Tucked in the hills of County Clare, there’s a delightful pub called Silversteins. The borscht is to die for and on Tuesdays from 7-9 they have live klezmer music. The owner is a guy named Murray and rumor has it, if you blow out the candelabra he lights every year at Christmas time, he will punch you square in the nose. You’ve got to love that indomitable Irish spirit. A vote for Murray State.


The East is tough this year. It is every year. But I go with my gut every time. Cleveland Cavaliers (I’m sorry, Beantown, but Garnett is struggling and LeBron is due).


Notre Dame would seem the easy choice here, but did you know that the original Notre Dame is in France? And it has gargoyles? I’m betting they don’t tell you that until freshman orientation. I can’t support such deception, so they’re booted. I assume most people think that Duke likes Irish fellows too, but the fact is, they don’t. They prefer the Welsh. Half their team graduated from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Prep, for crying out loud. Which means I’m going to have to go with St. Mary’s. If you believe some other college could have pulled off the virgin birth of our lord and savior, feel free to ignore my advice. For me, it’s St. Mary’s.


This may seem like a surprise, since I don’t even have them in the Final Four, but I’m picking Kentucky to win it all. John Calipari will bribe and cheat his way to the championship without even winning a game. And if the referees are Irish, chances are they’ll be too drunk, bloated on cabbage and potatoes and deaf from a night of bagpiping to even notice. Oh, and they’ll probably blow up London Bridge or something. In the name of Bono. Kentucky.