A weekend in paradise
By Brian Murphy
Special to Page 2

In tough times, dwellers, we lean on our boys.

The world is a grim place right now, and regardless of your politics, ye must come to The Cooler looking for a respite from the darkness.

The prescription from your Cooler Meister: A trip to the Cactus League with your boys.

For the ninth year in the past 11, the crew executed a shake move on our domestic responsibilities, pulled a Statue-of-Liberty play on our appointments, our bills and our work assignments to bust loose down to the Arizona desert for ball, beer and sunburns.

Hee Seop Choi
Hee Seop hits home runs and writes a damn good fable.

Yeah, I know. Sounds like a terrible time. We went anyway.

Next thing you know, you're under an achingly beautiful blue spring sky. You're laying in the grass of the outfield berm at a Giants-Cubs game. Hee Seop Choi is coming to bat, and all you can hear is your boy T.C. heckling out, in the late afternoon laziness: "Hey, Hee Seop! Why don't you give us one of your fables! 'The Fox and the Grapes' would be good!"

Like I said, you can't beat a weekend at spring training with your boys.

In fact, I am here to advise you: When this old world is getting you down, and people are just too much for you to face ... get thee to a spring training weekend.

Things can happen there, dwellers, that renew your faith in humanity.

Things like Moe, the Iranian guy who shuttled you to-and-fro the ballgame.

Moe is in his late 50s. Came to America from Iran in 1974. Made a run of it with an American wife down in Long Beach. Didn't work out. Now he drives a cab in Arizona. Moe speaks with a Persian accent, and Moe calls you, "Chief!" in such an endearing and hilarious way that you just want to give him a big ol' hug. I'd lay heavy money that Moe's birth certificate in Teheran does not reveal his first name to be, in fact, "Moe." Odds are, his name was Ramiz until he dialed up a "Three Stooges" rerun one afternoon while wiling away the day in Long Beach 28 years ago, waiting for his night shift. This is why life is so precious.

Anyway. Moe took such a shine to our crew, he arranged to drive us to the airport on Sunday morning. Moe was so excited, he bragged that he brought "a special tape of music!" just for us. Moe was thrilled that we had him play the radio loudly on the way to the ballgame the day before, and he took us for lovers of music. Thing is, we were trying to find Van Halen's "Jamie's Cryin'" for a pregame rush.

Moe didn't get that subtle touch. He instead cued up the tape, and at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning, with the volume in his SUV tape-deck at a solid 9, gave us a blast of a mixed tape he said "are songs I found by myself!"

The tune roared out of the tape deck, splitting eardrums.

It was Neil Diamond, singing "Hello."

I'm not kidding you, dweller.

Hello, again ... Hello.
Just called to let you know ...

We were so embarrassed for Moe, our necks were burning. You ever get that neck-burn embarrassment thing? We had it for Moe. Five dudes in a Ford Excursion, listening to Neil Diamond singing "Hello."

God bless Moe. What a beautiful piece of work he was.

The tape continued. I'm not kidding you when I tell you it included: "Self Control" by Laura Branigan; "She's Out of My Life" by Michael Jackson; and "The One That You Love" by Air Supply.

Straight-up -- worst mixed tape of all time.

But it was Moe's tape. It was spring training. It was an oasis of hilarity and friendship.

Couldn't have come at a better time.

As Wacko Jacko peeled out the heart-rending lyrics of "She's Out of My Life," Moe turned to me at a stoplight. I was riding shotgun in the Excursion.

"This guy," Moe the Iranian said, "he's going crazy, you know?"

Perfect. Moe -- we'll see you next spring.

Salma Hayek, Ed Norton
What's wrong with this photo? Salma actually appears to be smiling!
On, then, to the Weekend List of Five:

1. My bologna has a first name: It's O-S-C-A-R ...
Before we get to the Tournament, some Oscar observations to run by you:

  • Would Peter O'Toole be the greatest drinking partner of all time? In fact, I gotta see if we can't rustle O'Toole down for next year's Cactus League run. While he waited for his heinously overdue Oscar last night, there was a shot of him in the back of the auditorium, eyes glazed over. I said to my girl: "All he can think is: 'Dear Lord, how soon can I get out of here and begin drinking Irish whiskey?'" I caught myself and amended the statement: "Wait -- who am I kidding? Alan Swann from 'My Favorite Year' wears a Drinking Suit! O'Toole's got flasks ensconced all over his person." Beautiful.

  • There is something oddly reassuring about Jack Nicholson in a pair of shades indoors. Is there any man alive who can pull that off other than a 60-something Nicholson? Imagine Adrien Brody in the shades. He'd go from lovable upset winner to complete tool in a matter of seconds. Cage in the shades? You'd write him off forever. Keanu Reeves in the shades? Wait. Who in God's name let Keanu Reeves into the Oscar auditorium anyhow? Jack in shades -- an American classic.

  • I want so badly to be on Salma Hayek's side, seeing as how she might be the single most smoking hot woman on Earth. Then why does it look like she would be Nightmare City if you ever tried to buy her a drink? Have you ever seen a less joyful hot chick? Ed Norton's got a good thing going on the one hand, but on the other ... whoo. You get the feeling she's got his onions in a vise. Godspeed, Ed.

  • U2 is defying the laws of entertainment by being so good for so long. Jeezus, they cut to Daniel Day-Lewis after "Hands That Built America," and Bill the Butcher had tears! Day-Lewis probably hadn't cried like that since he saw the dailies of Leonardo DiCaprio's mail-in job on "Gangs of New York." Then, it was pain. Bono and the lads, instead, delivered solid emotion. Nice.

  • Caught a glimpse of Mira Sorvino. About 8 years ago, I had a Zellwegerian crush on Mira Sorvino. The Oscar in hand, the tall frame, the whole look -- it was potent stuff. Then, "Romy and Michelle," and it was all over. Now, Renee Zellweger is the new Mira Sorvino -- the really-cute-but-not-Salma-Hayek-unattainable thing. Mira, yesterday's news. Renee, today's news. Sorry, kid. Them's the breaks.

    Reece Gaines
    Reece Gaines and Louisville didn't apply the D when they needed it and down goes the Cooler bracket.

    2. The Tourney
    Did I mention how the whole spring training boondoggle dovetails nicely into endless tourney hoops as background noise? And you did notice, astute dweller, that we're well into this week's Cooler without mentioning the NCAA Tournament.

    That is because of, yes, the sheer horror of The Bracket.

    What do these teams have in common: San Diego, Xavier, Florida, Louisville, Wake Forest, Western Kentucky and Creighton? Fans of each school can take heart that The Cooler believed in their teams so much, I had each of them in my Sweet 16.

    Yeah. Like that numbs the searing pain for the alums.

    The tourney remains a beautiful mystery, and remains the Ultimate Background Noise for a Cactus League weekend. You can send one of your boys into the hotel bar to scoop up a round of Lava Flows, only to have him return poolside with a tray and the following sentence: "Utah 60, Oregon 58," and all that that entails.

    I'm nostalgic already.

    3. While on the topic ...
    Say, did you hear UCLA's head coaching job is open? What a coincidence -- Gonzaga's Mark Few and Pitt's Ben Howland have just the sort of complexions that would look lovely in a baby blue polo shirt! Just a thought.

    As for the rest of the tourney: The Gonzaga-Arizona game is every reason you ever became a sports fan in the first place, and if anybody has ever run a half-court offense and hit the offensive glass better than the 'Zags, I'm taking bets. That includes Pete Carril's Princeton teams. The 'Zags would boat race the Tigers, is all I'm saying. SAT scores be damned.

    And Michigan State! My boy Malcolm was saying down in Arizona that M-State was looking like a team primed for a big run. I wrote it off, since he suffers from what doctors have diagnosed as "Wetbrain," and is prone to outrageous statements.

    Instead, it looks like Malcolm was just an early entry into the "Izzone." Big stuff happening.

    Tiger Woods
    Next up: Tiger wins the Masters ... playing left-handed!

    4. Tiger. Again.
    The beauty of what Tiger Woods is doing is in how he's dressing it up now. He's so bored with kicking the stuffing out of every player on Earth, he's got to doll it up. In January and February, it was the Knee Surgery. Skipping Dubai, it was Possible War. Now, at Bay Hill, after an 11-shot win, it was Food Poisoning.

    The cat is not of this galaxy, and we established that six years ago. Now, he's just dressing up his wins, not unlike how Flip Wilson used to dress up as Geraldine. Tune in next week at The Players Championship, when he wins despite caddie Stevie Williams contracting West Nile Virus.

    5. Coming home
    The sadness of a Cactus League trip ending is always a heavy thing, like a fully-dressed, recently-consumed burrito weighing on your gut. But, dweller, what serendipity awaited our return!

    My boys T.C. and Malcolm piled into the car at Oakland Airport for the forlorn drive back into the Land of the Responsible. We flipped on the Giants broadcast from Scottsdale, only to hear the top of the ninth loud and clear.

    (I must issue a disclaimer: Because Jon Miller works for ESPN, this may come off as a sheer Shill Job. It is not. It is merely an appreciation.)

    Miller took the mike in the ninth, and with Eric Karros at the plate, immediately lapsed into Scully.

    Ever heard Jon Miller's Vin Scully? No? Ever seen Brando in "The Godfather"? Then you've experienced a similar level of artistic perfection.

    Miller was straight-up, Doing Scully. He was doing Scully, ripping Karros. Perfect. It's Cactus League. It's the ninth. It's a sunny Sunday. Do you do straight play-by-play? No! You do your Scully.

    It got better. Through a freakish turn of events, Miller began doing Mike Myers' Scotsman from "So I Married An Axe Murderer." During the ballgame!

    "We have a piper down!"

    It is hard to explain how fate produced such entertainment, but all I know is this: We're fresh off a plane from Arizona, a work week begins in mere hours, our country is at war, and we get Miller doing Scully and "So I Married an Axe Murderer."

    The toast of the Dixie Cup goes out to Jon Miller, lads.

    Laughter is a prized commodity these days.

    Brian Murphy of the San Francisco Chronicle writes the "Weekend Water Cooler" every Monday for Page 2.





  • THE WATER COOLER

    ALSO SEE:


    Brian Murphy Archive

    Murphy: Welcome to Cooler Day!

    Murphy: Spring is in the air

    Murphy: Here's to Ew

    Murphy: A barren wasteland

    Murphy: Tiger gets his Phil





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