Just Bust a Lip

Some people have the moves like Jagger. Somehow, I wound up with the upper lip instead.

OK, not “somehow.” After all, I do live in a slapstick movie that Chevy Chase would envy and Mel Brooks would direct. Part of that privilege is that I can see exactly what’s about to happen – just in time for it to do me absolutely no good.

It’s how I’ve wound up stepping off a perfectly good stage. Or finding sewing needles with my bare feet. Or chasing a barfing dog around the bedroom, running into every conceivable obstacle on the way. (Oh, you’ve heard that one?)

And in this case, it’s how tripping on one broken piece of sidewalk turned a healthy walk to work into “OWWWW!”

I got lucky as I caromed off the concrete. No broken teeth, no broken nose. That seems to be part of the deal with my invisible producer: no lasting injuries that would kill off the chance of a sequel. Short of that, anything goes.

And in this case, “anything” was my swollen upper lip, to the tune of three stitches and enough blood for a Friday the 13th film.

Fun, huh?

Educational, too. For the past week, in fact, it’s been a constant tutorial in the Iron Law of the Universe: “You can never do just one thing.” Consequences snowball, whether it’s the Amazon butterfly raising a typhoon or the casual dinner remark sinking a political career.

In this case, my failure to pay attention to what my feet were doing didn’t just win me a Rolling Stones look-alike contest. It also guaranteed:


* That I would be unable to be understood by voice-message trees for at least two days. (“I’m sorry. I didn’t get that. Please try again …”)

* That drinking a glass of water would be on a difficulty level with competing in the Hunger Games.

* That drinking anything ice-cold would trigger expressions best not read in a family newspaper.

* That whistling would not be an annoyance to my co-workers for a while.

* That, contrary to “Casablanca,” a kiss isn’t just a kiss when your pucker feels like it’s hit a porcupine.

* That any kind of lengthy out-loud reading – longer than a page or two – was out of the question for the immediate future.


In a way, that last one hit the hardest. Reading is what I do. What I have done since the age of two and a half. Combine a love of books with a love of performing and the result is that I have read to and with anyone willing to listen for years: my dad, my sisters, my grandma, my wife Heather, our ward Missy, the dogs …

These days, it’s the vital bedtime ritual. Before the lights go down and the house goes quiet, I sit on the edge of Missy’s bed and read, a journey of the mind that has roamed from Missouri to Middle-Earth and from secret gardens to open warfare.

But when the stinging of your lip says “stop” after two pages, Hogwarts can take a little longer to visit than planned.

Well, lesson learned. And maybe even a small blessing with it. It only takes a few days of doing without something to discover what your real priorities are – what’s an inconvenience and what’s an essential. Being in a position to recognize that and to make adjustments later is no tiny thing.

It’s better still, of course, to be paying enough attention before a crisis hits. Especially when it’s often inattention that creates the crisis in the first place. Think, plan, imagine, observe. Act, however you need to, even if you don’t think you need to right now.

It may all seem terribly abstract.

But it’s amazing how fast it becomes concrete.

Icing the Thugs

First things first. I get that hockey is a rough sport.

I mean, it’s not exactly a secret, is it? My sisters and I first started watching the NHL because of the fights. I think many fans started the same way. To this day, I describe the sport to people as “soccer with weapons, armor and bad terrain.”

So yeah. Nobody’s mistaking this for a tiddlywink arena.

But even so, there’s rough and there’s wrong. And this time around, the Minnesota Wild are on the wrong side.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, welcome back to Colorado and I hope your vacation was nice. Because if you were anywhere within shouting distance — and I use the phrase deliberately — of the Front Range this week, you already know far more about the laming of the Colorado Avalanche’s Tyson Barrie than you ever wanted to know.

The uproar was huge when the Wild’s Matt Cooke slammed his knee into Barrie’s, taking Barrie out of the playoffs with a ligament injury. It was only slightly less muted when the league agreed that, yes, the hit had been improper, and announced Cooke’s punishment.

Seven games.

Yes, seven.

Mind you, that’s better than nothing at all. And there’s a good chance those games will be served next season, because, honestly, the Wild looked like they were already on their way out of the playoffs before they turned the Avs into the Big Red Rage Machine. But still — seven games?

That’s … what’s the word I want? Oh, yes. Pitiful.

Now, my friends from New England may think I’m throwing stones in a glass house here. After all, the Broncos reached the Super Bowl after a “pick play” wound up knocking Patriot defender Aqib Talib out of the game. But I do think there’s a distinction, and not just because we paid our penance by being nationally embarrassed and then signing the player we injured.

I believed then and I believe now that the injury on that play was accidental. (Not least because a receiver like Wes Welker isn’t built for the bully-boy game.) If I thought otherwise, I’d want Welker out on his ear. Leave the bounty hunting to Boba Fett and “Dog” Chapman and let everyone else play football.

Coming back to the ice, most folks agree that Cooke’s shot was no accident. Cooke has a record as a thug. Sure, he’s renounced that past, but that’s taken about as seriously as weather forecasts, political promises and guarantees that this year, the Cubs will win it all. If you saw someone weaving on the road who had seven previous DUIs, your first conclusion would not be that the car’s frame has a bad alignment.

How do you get a hardcase to take this seriously? By upping the ante. One fan on Facebook had the ideal answer: suspend him for as long as the injury lasts.

Four weeks to heal? Four week suspension.

Six weeks on the disabled list? Six weeks on the you-know-what list.

Never able to return? Have fun asking if you want fries with that.

Granted, you have to be able to show intent. But that’s already the case anyway. And unless the disparity in talent is huge, most teams have little to gain from “milking” the injury to keep another player off the ice. After all, you’ll only play that opponent a handful of times a year, but losing your own player affects your team every day.

There’s plenty of room for rough. There’s no room for foul.

Think about it, NHL.

This isn’t just a want. It’s a kneed.

Ad, and Subtract

There are worse things than pulling the muscles in your lower back.

For example, pulling the muscles in your lower back in the middle of a presidential campaign season.

No way to run. Nowhere to hide. No chance of straightening up long enough to see where the remote has gotten to. Just constant exposure to the drumbeat of political ads, to the point where you could create your own campaign Mad Lib.

“In (year), (presidential candidate) said that he would (incredibly mendacious/naive political claim). But what no one realized is that he would really (severe political crime), the first step in selling the nation to alien beings from the planet (name of celestial body). Don’t give (candidate) the chance to (even more severe political crime). Vote (opposing candidate). It’s for humanity.”

After a while, I wasn’t sure if my back or my brain was hurting worse.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually enjoy politics. Throughout my career, people have constantly asked how I can cover a city council week after week; I always reply that it’s the best soap opera in town. Once you know the characters and the ongoing stories, it gets pretty compelling.

More seriously, there’s something kind of fascinating in watching people try to pick their way toward a solution, whether it’s improving housing standards or figuring out how to replace an ancient, leaky swimming pool. Agree or disagree, whisper or yell, it’s being resolved with words, not fist fights, and that always gives me a little hope.

But the kind of dreck we get on our TV screens every four years doesn’t resolve anything. It rarely even tries.

Both major parties have done it. Both will continue to do it. Wildfires can’t stop it. Mass shootings barely slow it down. It’s like the psycho killer in a bad horror movie, lurching on relentlessly no matter what may stand in the way.

I know, it’s nothing new. Jefferson’s opponents accused him of wanting to confiscate all the Bibles in the country. Lincoln’s charged him with crimes up to and including murder. Mud and money have been part of the game since the earliest days and deploring it is a bit like deploring the common cold; you get a lot of sympathy but few solutions.

But does there have to be so much of it these days?

I keep three or four fact-checking websites close to hand these days, just to shovel through the worst of it. I know a lot of friends who do the same – and who argue about which fact-checkers can be trusted.

And a lot of it’s not even all that effective. I’ve heard political consultants before who estimate that 80 percent or more of campaign spending is wasted. The trouble is, no one knows in advance which dollars will be the waste, so the monetary shotgun gets loaded again, to spray where it will in hope of hitting something.

But what do you do about it?

I’ve had a fantasy for a while now. I know it violates all kinds of constitutional principles, that it’d never happen in the real world. But it has an appealing simplicity to it.

Set a spending limit per state, per presidential candidate. Every $5 over that limit takes a vote off your total. Go $1 million over, lose 200,000 votes in that state … and maybe, in a close race, lose the state itself.

I know, yeah, right. But it gets at the heart of the problem. The campaigns and their PACs have to want to rein themselves in. They have to see a situation where holding back gives more benefits than carrying on does.

Until that happens, we’re likely to see more of the same. And more, and more, and more.

Just thinking about it makes my vertebrae hurt.

Call it a spine of the times.