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Dec. 5, 2014

Penn State’s 2014 football season is over, and it’s been a rough one. The Nittany Lions started out with a promising 4–0 record, but lost six of their last eight games to finish 6–6, their worst record since the dark days of 2004.

Thanks to a surprising reduction in NCAA sanctions in September, those six wins make the Lions eligible to play in a bowl game. However, PSU truly earned its disappointing .500 record by finding new and creative ways to lose winnable games this year. Penn State suffered a surprising 29–6 blowout to Northwestern on homecoming weekend, a heartbreaking 31–24 double-overtime loss to 13th-ranked Ohio State that was marred by horrendous officiating (even with instant replay!), and a narrow 16–14 defeat to Illinois, which had only won 2 of its previous 22 games against Big Ten opponents.

But above all, I’ll remember the 2014 season for the debut of the Big Ten’s newest two teams, Rutgers and Maryland, both of which made a poor first impression in their games against Penn State this year:

Rutgers. During interviews prior to the game, Rutgers coach Kyle Flood cryptically referred to Penn State as “that team from Pennsylvania.” Flood never fully explained why he refused to utter PSU by name (as opposed to his other new opponents in the Big Ten), but his behavior struck me as insecure and disrespectful, especially for someone who should set an example for his players. Even worse, many Scarlet Knights fans brought offensive T-shirts and signs to the game, and Rutgers compounded the problem by posting photos of them on its official Facebook page. The pictures were eventually taken down.

After all of that hostility, I was very satisfied to see Penn State get some revenge on the field with a 13–10 win in front of a record Rutgers home crowd.

Maryland. At the outset of the game at Beaver Stadium, three Terrapins team captains refused to shake hands with their Penn State counterparts:

Maryland refuses handshake with PSU

One of those Maryland captains, Stefon Diggs, even shoved a referee during a pre-game skirmish. The handshake stunt resulted in a $10,000 fine for Maryland coach Randy Edsall (who later offered a tepid apology), the shove eventually led to a one-game suspension for Diggs (which should have been an immediate ejection), and both incidents were reprimanded by the Big Ten. But unlike the Rutgers game, Penn State suffered a bitter 20–19 loss to Maryland, thanks to a last-minute field goal.

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In the wake of these incidents, the athletic directors from Rutgers and Maryland both issued a apology to Penn State. Honestly, I can’t recall the last time that an opposing team needed to formally express regret for its actions, let alone twice in a single season. But since both Rutgers and Maryland are located geographically close to Penn State and seem motivated to spark a rivalry with their new conference neighbor, I can only assume that both programs were quite deliberate in their efforts to “poke the bear” in their matchup against PSU.

Respect must be earned over time, and Rutgers and Maryland have demonstrated that they have a long way to go in that department. But if their goal was to provoke Penn State fans like me, both programs have succeeded in their mission. Rutgers and Maryland have joined the ranks of the few teams that I genuinely hate, and from now on, I hope Penn State soundly defeats them year after year — while maintaining a high level of sportsmanship, of course.

[ No. 675 ]

Image credit: ESPN

Nov. 29, 2014

To celebrate Joan’s birthday, we spent a wonderful day out in Philadelphia!

In the late morning, we dropped off Michael at my parents’ house for the day — he always loves spending time with his “Papa” and “Mama.” After parking downtown, we walked to Tria, a cozy place on 18th Street, for a light lunch and some wine.

We then made our way over to the Mütter Museum, which contains a unique collection of medical oddities, and a place that Joan and I had been meaning to visit for years. The exhibits were both fascinating and frightening — the carefully preserved organs and skeletons are a reminder of how amazingly well the human body usually functions. And I was impressed by a display about minimally invasive surgery that made frequent mention of Dr. Parviz Kambin, who happens to be a close friend of my parents!

After we left the museum, we did some shopping at Macy’s (formerly Wanamaker’s) and a few other stores along Walnut Street. At the end of our fun day in Center City, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Devon Seafood Grill on Rittenhouse Square before heading back to West Chester to pick up Michael and call it a night.

[ No. 674 ]

Nov. 19, 2014

My sister Jen knows me all too well. A few days ago, she passed along a terrific A.V. Club article, “1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12 Reasons Why ‘Pinball Number Count’ Is Awesome,” which describes one of my favorite animated features from Sesame Street:

Introduced in 1977, everything about Sesame Street’s “Pinball Number Count” screams the ’70s, from the strutting music — composed by Walt Kraemer, arranged by Ed Bogas (Ralph Bakshi’s go-to guy, and a member of the fantastic psych band The United States Of America) — to the groovy vocals from The Pointer Sisters, to the crazy pop art style. As the pinball bounces around from ornate bumper lamp to bumper lamp, it may as well be running through a 1977-era living room. Warm, instant nostalgia.
Pinball Number Count

To this day, the “Pinball Number Count” series still fascinates me. I love the vivid colors and whimsical geometric forms, and the themed sequences that resemble a Rube Goldberg machine are really imaginative. The funky chorus is incredibly catchy, too — sing it with me: “One, two, three, four, five / Six, seven, eight, nine, ten / Eleven, twelve!” That melody still gets stuck in my head, and the instrumental bridges that alternate between saxophone, electric guitar, and steel drum are fantastic.

Check out the entire “Pinball Number Count” series on YouTube, as well as lots of interesting details on Muppet Wikia.

[ No. 673 ]

Image credit: A.V. Club / Sesame Street

Nov. 7, 2014

The latest issue of Philadelphia magazine includes a terrific article called “The Right to Remain Silent” by Richard Rys. It’s an analysis of SEPTA’s QuietRide initiative, which bans cell phone calls and loud conversations in the first car of each train. Like me, Rys is attracted to the possibility of a brief respite from the noise pollution that surrounds us:

It’s that we’re all searching for a place […] where we can, for a few fleeting seconds, hear little more than our own thoughts. This isn’t a nanny-state infringement of liberty; we simply yearn to catch some shut-eye to the soothing hum of the tracks or read the damn paper or judge other people’s Facebook posts without interruption.

Rys correctly notes that the QuietRide program has fallen short of its goals, mostly because of SEPTA’s inconsistent supervision:

The fundamental problem with the QuietRide car is that we, the people, are required to police it, and let’s be honest — without enforced rules and consequences for breaking them, we’re all a bunch of animals.

The QuietRide car is indeed largely self-governed, which leads to awkward situations. Some newcomers may be honestly unaware of the policy, which is understandable. But the majority of the offenders know they’re in the QuietRide car, yet selfishly answer their phones or chat with their companions anyway. And no matter how politely you tell them, “Excuse me, this is the QuietRide car,” they usually glare at you as if you’re the one who’s being rude.

Full disclosure: I’m far from perfect, and I’ve broken the rules myself, too! On two occasions, after failing to realize that the music on my iPod was audible through my earbuds, someone asked me to lower the volume. I apologized immediately and turned it down — what could I possibly gain from pushing back on a reasonable request like that?

These days, I still opt for the QuietRide car on my daily 7:52 a.m. commute into Philadelphia, since most people are fairly quiet in the mornings, and it’s a tranquil way to start the day. But I usually opt to sit elsewhere during the more crowded and energetic 4:21 p.m. ride home — ironically because no one around me is arguing about how to behave in the QuietRide car.

[ No. 672 ]

Nov. 1–2, 2014

I’m very grateful to Joan for organizing a really fun weekend to celebrate my 40th birthday!

On Saturday afternoon, my college friends Steve, Larry, and Marc arrived from out of town. They met me for lunch at the Fox and Hound in King of Prussia, where we watched Penn State lose to Maryland, 20–19. It was the fourth straight defeat for the Lions, and the unsportsmanlike behavior by the Terrapins was a disgrace — more on that later.

Later on, Larry helped me pick up some cold beer that I’d reserved at Kunda Beverage, then we helped Joan set up the coolers for the party at Devon Lanes. We started out with plenty of delicious catered food in a reserved party room, and Michael made a brief appearance along with my parents before they took him back to their house for the night.

I was very happy to see so many good friends at the party — nearly 40 people joined us for the celebration! Everyone split into groups among several lanes for some friendly competition, and I must say that I looked pretty sharp in the personalized bowling shirt that Joan had ordered just for the occasion.

After two or three games, we thanked everyone for coming, and Steve, Larry, and Marc closed out the evening at our house for some late-night drinks before heading back to their hotels. And thankfully, Daylight Saving Time ended overnight, so we were all relieved to gain an extra hour of sleep.

Our group met up on Sunday morning for breakfast at Nudy’s in nearby Paoli. Unfortunately, Larry was having some car trouble, so we made a trip to a local auto parts store to pick up a new battery, and Marc and Steve saved the day by successfully installing it back at my house before everyone hit the road.

I couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable 40th birthday party, and I’m very fortunate to have such loyal and generous friends.

[ No. 671 ]

Oct. 31, 2014

Back when I turned 30, I was amazed at how quickly my 20s had flown by. And now, on my 40th birthday, I can confirm that my 30s have come and gone at least twice as fast.

During the afternoon of my day off from work, my parents and Joan’s dad met up with Joan and me at Michael’s day care for his second Halloween parade. His costume as a farmer — complete with a John Deere hat, a pair of Timberland boots, and a red bandana in the back pocket of his overalls — came together really well. Much like last year, he seemed quite comfortable, and unlike most Halloween costumes, he’ll be able to wear most of the clothes again, too.

Michael's farmer costume

After we came home, we enjoyed a delicious dinner of chili and cornbread. For my birthday, my family presented me with a really special gift — a framed print called West on 96th Street, which was originally painted by Mary Ledwith in 1988. The artwork is a beautiful depiction of downtown Stone Harbor, and my family knew that I had admired it for years!

[ No. 670 ]

Oct. 26, 2014

After nearly a decade since the last significant redesign of this website, I’ve finally launched a brand-new version of monorailmike.com!

This latest design includes a wider layout, improved typography, and more consistent formatting throughout. Behind the scenes, I’ve continued to hand-code all of the pages that comprise the site, but I’ve upgraded the markup so that it’s much easier for me to maintain. I’ve also added several new blog posts from the past few months that we were long overdue.

If you’re interested in learning more about how I’ve rebuilt the site, check out the updated colophon for details.

I’m really proud of the site’s new look, and I’d love to hear your feedback!

[ No. 669 ]

Sept. 26–28, 2014

After dropping off Michael with Joan’s family for the weekend, Joan and I drove to State College for our annual get-together with old friends at Penn State.

We arrived in town by mid-afternoon on Friday, and started our weekend by browsing through old yearbooks at the Hintz Family Alumni Center on campus. At around 6 p.m., Joan and I met up with Marc, Sarah, Steve, and Crystal at Simmons Hall to watch the homecoming parade, thanks to a complimentary event sponsored by the Schreyer Honors College. Later in the evening, we skipped the crowded bars and opted to hang out at Marc and Sarah’s rented RV in a tailgate lot near Beaver Stadium.

Our group reconvened on Saturday morning at Irving’s on College Avenue for some breakfast sandwiches and coffee, dropped off some things at the RV, and headed into the stadium for the game. As Joan and I slowly roasted under the blazing sun, we were surprised to watch Northwestern shake off its early-season woes and thoroughly embarrass Penn State, 29–6. It was the worst home loss for the Lions since a season-opening blowout against Miami in 2001, and I witnessed that debacle in person, too.

Despite the miserable game, we still enjoyed a leisurely tailgate back at the RV. Here’s the whole gang:

PSU tailgate crew, 2014 edition

As the evening approached, the six of us rode a Campus Loop bus into downtown State College for our traditional dinner at the Tavern. We were seated at a table by the front window, and my friends Kristen, Suzanne, and Amy also stopped by for a few minutes to say hello.

On Sunday, we met up for a hearty breakfast at Denny’s and shopped downtown before happily reuniting with Michael in Slatington on our way home.

[ No. 668 ]

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