I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Men of a Certain Age – Whatever Gets You Through the Night

Photo: Danny Feld
TNT sent me an advance copy of the final six episodes of season two of “Men of a Certain Age” and I’m blogging my way through them. 

As I expected, Manfro finally finds out Joe has been cutting in on his bookie business and he’s not happy. I don’t know if it’ll cost Joe Manfro’s friendship, but it cost him a tooth. Terry takes him to a dentist, where Joe bumps into an old flame named Dory – yet another failure in Joe’s life that he tries to ignore.

After the dentist reinserts Joe’s tooth, Dory tracks Joe down by the elevator.

“I should’ve at least given you an explanation,” Dory says. She looks at the elevator button because she can’t look him in the eye. She’s struggling. You get the feeling she cares more about Joe than he realizes. “It’s just, when you told me about that big bet you made …”

“Hey, you saw what you saw,” Joe says. He’s still clueless. “It was scary.”

“No … I had to break it off, but I just want you to know,” she says, “it wasn’t some little thing … meeting you.”

He finally gets it – by it, I don’t just mean Dory’s feelings for him, though, that’s part of it. But he finally understands what a mess he’s made of his life – often at the expense of others.

Now it’s his turn to look down.

“Ah, I screwed up so many things,” he says.

Dory lets five seconds pass. She seems to be debating whether she should pile on or offer him an olive branch.

She makes a decision, and it’s a beautiful one.

“Hey,” she says, “don’t let bad Joe win, okay? Cuz good Joe’s kinda awesome.”

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sugar Substitute and ELO

Photo: Alan Levine
Experienced a couple of funny anecdotes over the weekend and what’s a blog for if not to share such moments?


Friday night, a couple of my friends and I hit a coffee shop we’ve only been to a few times. It’s small, but has good coffee, so it’s always worth stopping there.

After we ordered our coffee, one of my friends saw a new sweetner – one I’ve never heard of, nor can I remember the name of it. But he opened a small package of it, poured a little on his pointer finger and gave it a taste. My other friend asked for some too, so friend #1 pours a neat line of the white stuff onto friend #2’s pointer finger just as a baurista looks over at us.

I knew what she was thinking – we were doing drugs, which is pretty comical given that we are three 40-something Christian dudes whose notion of going crazy includes trying the latest blend of frou-frou coffee at Borders, before closing the place down at 9:00 pm.

“Oh!” the baurista said, realizing we were dabbling in sugar substitute. She placed her hand over her heart. “I thought you guys were doing drugs!” She laughed. “Not that I would judge or anything, but you cannot do drugs in my store.”

“We don’t do drugs,” we said collectively – as if we actually did do them, we would admit to it in a situation like this.

“I’m just saying, if you did, you couldn’t do it in my store,” she said.

Okay, we got it. No drugs in her store.


All Over The World: The Very Best Of ELOSaturday, I walked into a Radio Shack to trade cell phone plans. The salesman who helped me was knowledgable and we were able to get through the process fairly quickly. Toward the end, we started talking about music.

“What was your first concert?” he asked.

“ELO,” I said, thinking about the band for the first time in years. I think I owned one of their singles, “Don’t Bring Me Down,” when I was a kid. The only thing I can remember about the concert was a robot that came out and introduced the band.

“Ah, I’m about ten years before you then,” he said. “ELP for me.”

ELO, ELP – what are the chances of the two names being so similar?

“Emerson, Lake & Powell?” I said, apparently thinking Colin Powell was part of the group at one time.

“Emerson, Lake & Palmer.”

“Ah, okay. I was close.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Men of a Certain Age – Can’t Let That Slide

TNT sent me an advance copy of the final six episodes of season two of “Men of a Certain Age” and I’m blogging my way through them. I’ve been attempting to do summaries of episodes and to be honest, that’s not my thing. I’m more of a pick a scene that moves me kind of guy and write about that. So, from here on out, that’s the plan with this series.

Ray Romano plays Joe in
"Men of a Certain Age"
Photo: Danny Feld
Over the past couple of episodes, Joe’s bookie, Manfro, has been going through chemotherapy. He asked Joe to pick up money from a bettor and that plunged Joe back into his old gambling habit – but this time, he’s cutting in on Manfro’s action while he’s sick.

Joe gets in even deeper during this episode, which airs tonight on TNT at 10:00 pm Eastern, 9:00 pm Central. He takes a large bet from a man named Marty who can’t afford to pay after he loses. Joe walks into Marty’s place of employment, an electronics store, and applies the heat, hoping the man will crack and somehow come up with the money.

“Listen George,” Marty says to Joe, who is using a pseudonym, “I’m kind of going through a whole thing right now, okay?” He’s unshaven, fidgety, desperate. “So, I don’t know ... I guess it all kind of got away from me.”

Joe stares at Marty as he pleads his case, seeing himself and not liking what he sees.

“Look I just needed to hit this one time,” Marty says, “Just one more stupid time and I would be out of this stupid hole that I’m in now.”

Joe continues to stare.

“My wife left and she took the kids and I’m staying in this piece of s**t apartment,” Marty continues. “My kids are seven and eight. I feel like a total a**hole. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I don’t have it. I don’t have it. I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say man ... I’m sorry... I don’t have ...”

And there it is – Marty has just described the exact same situation Joe went through as a result of his own gambling problems.

“It’s okay,” Joe says. “Yeah, it’s okay ...” He turns around and walks out.

Self deception isn’t all that difficult, but when somebody else we know demonstrates the same faults or poor decisions we’ve made, then it becomes much more difficult. As I watched it unfold, I felt for both men and I felt for their families who were torn apart.

The damage won’t end there. When Manfro finds out Joe has been taking advantage of him while he’s been going through chemo, that friendship is bound to end. Although, if Manfro was really thinking the way a friend should, he would have never put Joe in the position he did to begin with.

Brokenness tends to breed brokenness though. One bad decision leads to another one, and so it goes, until someone or something wakes a person up. Maybe this will be the wakeup call Joe needs. I hope so. But the fallout is still going to be ugly.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Lovely Bones – Heroes

The Lovely BonesThe Lovely Bones is one of many books I picked up a couple of years ago intending to read soon, but then put it aside when other books caught my eye. I ended up seeing the movie version first, which was probably best because I generally don’t like the movie after I’ve read the book. But when I see the movie first, I’m usually neutral on which one is better.

The Lovely Bones is the first novel I’ve picked up by Alice Sebold, so I had no frame of reference when I started reading it recently. As you probably know, the novel is told from the point of view of a 14-year-old girl named Susie who is brutally murdered. She can see and hear her family, friends and killer from heaven. It's an interesting concept, but the author looses me at times because Susie’s observations seem more like an adult’s than those of a 14-year-old girl. So it doesn't really work for me. For example:
Late at night the air above hospitals and senior citizen homes was often thick and fast with souls. Holly and I watched sometimes on the nights when sleep was lost to us. We came to realize how these deaths seemed choreographed from somewhere far away. Not our heaven. And so we began to suspect that there was a place more all-encompassing than we were.
To me, this sounds more like the point of view of a 38-year-old.

But one scene gets it right, even though it has a couple of awkwardly worded sentences, and it’s the one I want to focus on in this post. Susie is watching from heaven as her dad tries to carry her brother, Buckley, piggyback in their yard – the way he used to before Susie’s death and before he had knee surgery. And in the most ordinary of circumstances, she ends up seeing her dad as a hero for his effort.
So, awkwardly, in the beautiful isolation of the yard, where if my father fell only a boy and a dog who loved him would see, the two of them worked together to make what they both wanted – this return to father/son normalcy – happen. When Buckley stood on the iron chair – “Now scoot up my back,” my father said, stooping forward, “and grab on to my shoulders,” not knowing if he’d have the strength to lift him up from there – I crossed my fingers hard in heaven and held my breath. In the cornfield, yes, [that’s where she was murdered – and I guess Susie is saying her dad’s head is still there in the cornfield?] but, in this moment, repairing the most basic fabric of their previous day-to-day lives, challenging his injury to take a moment like this back, my father became my hero.
Heroes come in a lot of varieties – from people who risk their lives for people they don’t know to people who choose professions or volunteer positions to better their communities. And sometimes a hero can be found in the smallest of actions – like a father running the risk of embarrassment, or worse, just to make his son feel the special bond they used to share during piggyback sessions in the backyard.

Friday, June 10, 2011

5 Movies with Jennifer Aniston

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post for the Name 5 series. If you are new to the blog, I got the idea from the board game called Name 5. The premise is pretty simple – players advance on a by naming 5 items on a list from a card they draw. In this particular case, one of the cards says, “5 Movies with Jennifer Aniston.”

Marley and Me (Single-Disc Edition)In my opinion, Aniston has been in a couple of great movies as well as a number of duds. Now that I look of my list of her five best movies, I would only watch two of them over and over – the first two I’ve listed below.
  1. Marley & Me. By far my favorite Aniston movie. Loved her role as Jennifer Grogan. I particularly loved the scene where she thumbs through her husband’s (John) former columns near the end of the movie and suggests he put them in book. She reminisces about the role Marley played in their lives and you can feel the passage of time as she flips through the columns John wrote about the bad and funny deeds the dog committed over the years.
  2. Management. I wrote quite a bit about this movie last July. Aniston plays a woman named Sue, a traveling art saleswoman who is trying to cut ties with a motel manager named Mike. Sue is aloof, unsure of what she wants, and going through the motions in life. She needs Mike, but she just doesn’t know it. Mike is immature, unsettled, and a bit of a wreck. But he’s in love with Sue and it makes him want to be a better man. What’s not to love about that?
  3. Bounty Hunter. This is more of a comedy than anything, which is fine, but usually not my thing. Aniston plays a reporter named Nicole. I thought the chemistry between Nicole and her ex-husband Milo (played by Gerard Butler) was believable. I saw this one twice at the movie theater, but I doubt if I’ll watch it again.
  4. Rock Star. The music reminded me of the 80s – when my hair was long and my socks were too. Aniston plays the girlfriend of a guy, Chris, who gets a shot to sing for his favorite band. They get caught up in a crazy lifestyle and it takes a toll on their relationship. You really feel for Aniston’s character, Emily, as their relationship dies.
  5. The Good Girl. Aniston plays a store clerk named Justine in a small Texas town and she feels stuck. I’m a total sucker for a story like this one. But this one never quite did it for me.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Capturing Reaction

Photo: Lee Warren
I’m a sportswriter who often has to take photos at sporting events. Not being a photographer puts me in some awkward situations.

Last year I covered a professional tennis event for a local magazine. The media relations representative led the photographers courtside where she told us to find a spot on the ground to shoot our photos. She said we had five minutes and then we had to leave our cushy spots on the ground. I looked down the row of long lenses pointed toward the court and knew I had little or no shot of getting a decent action photo with my non-SLR camera with a rather short lens. I was right. Every time I tried to get an action shot, all I got was a blur.

As I was browsing a friend’s Flickr account one day recently though, I had a revelation. She has an eye for sports photography. What I failed to really see until recently though was, many of her photos aren’t action shots – even though she has an SLR camera.

Instead, she does a fantastic job of capturing players, mascots and fans laughing, grimacing and in funny poses. Earlier this year, she took an adorable photo of a smiling little boy at a ballpark. Last year, she shot a photo of a member of the Powerade Power Team tying the mascot’s shoe. It was the epitome of minor league baseball. In fact, it was so good it would have made a great cover shot for the team’s media guide.

Photo: Minda Haas / Royal Blues

Photo: Minda Haas / Royal Blues
Her photos helped me realize I don’t need to worry about action shots. In fact, I’m not an action-shot sort of guy. I’m more of a capture-the-moment-between-action sort of guy. That fits my writing style much better anyway. I’m not an Xs and Os sort of sportswriter. I’m a feature writer who loves to dig for a great story from an athlete or fan.

I love talking to the journeyman athlete who can walk into Walmart unnoticed, and the truth is, he’ll never be noticed because he sees very little playing time, and therefore, nobody knows who he is, but he sticks with the game anyway. I love talking to a father who is sitting next to his 4-year-old son the first time he takes him to a game. And I love hearing how his dad did the same thing 30 years prior.

Now I’m finding I love to capture moments with my camera I otherwise ignored. The other day I was working at a minor league game and a player who recently had been sent down from the major league team was chatting with his minor league manger before the game. The player put his hand on his manager’s shoulder, making it look as if were offering some sort of consolation to his manager, rather than the other way around. I pointed my camera and snapped the photo you see above.

I still have a lot to learn about photography, but with a new philosophy, I think it can become something I really enjoy.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Men of a Certain Age: The Pickup

Terry's life is a mess
(Photo: Danny Feld)
TNT sent me an advance copy of the final six episodes of season two and I’m blogging my way through them. This is the second in a series of six posts. This episode, The Pickup, airs tonight on TNT at 10:00 pm (Eastern) / 9:00 pm (Central).

“I don’t know what’s happening,” Joe says to his teaching pro after a shot goes astray off his club. “Last week, I was hitting it really solid.”

The golf pro looks at him with his eyebrows arched and left hand covering his chin. It’s a look that says, “Joe, you’ve given this a good shot, but you just don’t have it.” The pro closes his eyes and searches for the right thing to say. Instead, he tells Joe to try his 8-iron, which Joe shanks way left of his target. The pro continues to say nothing with his mouth, but everything with his eyes.

Joe’s dream of making the Senior Golf Tour is slipping away. He has responsibilities that keep him from practicing and he feels like his dream may be over when his teaching pro tells him he might need somebody else to coach him. It’s enough to drive Joe back into an old pattern, which is heartbreaking to see, but also understandable given that most of us look for an escape when life gets difficult. Unfortunately for Joe, some forms of escape are more harmful than others.

Terry is a mess in this episode. Since Erin broke up with him, he can’t find the motivation to get to work on time or do anything else he is supposed to. Like Joe, he too falls back into old patterns. Owen has it all together though and he has one of his finest moments since the show began as he pulls Terry into his office and calls him on his lack of maturity.

“Do you think you’re the only one here with problems – other s**t to worry about?” Owen says. “We all got problems and you just created a damn big one for me. I have the opportunity here to actually do something with this place – to bring it back from the dead – and you just chased my best salesman out the door, along with 25 sales. So you’re not going anywhere. You dug this big a** hole and you’re going to fill it up.

“Go clean yourself up and be back in here, at 7:00 [am] with a tie. And ah … grow up.”

How’s that for drama?


Links of Interest:

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Walking Toward Hope

Photo: barto
The first time I took to the walking trail at Churchich Park many months ago, I sensed all of us were walking or running from something.

The trail is flat and meanders around life on the softball field, tennis courts and playground. The trail’s flatness is less intimidating for the broken. Anybody who can walk can navigate her curves. 

A short, elderly woman wearing a purple jogging suit slumbered toward me one day, her hand grasping her Chihuahua’s leash as he pulled her along. Her eyes met mine, which is walking trail code for “Please acknowledge me.”

I took a chance and stopped. 

“His feeties are covered in mud – looks he’s having the time of his life,” I said, pointing at her dog. He looked up at me with his head tilted as if to, “What’s the problem?”

The woman smiled.

“I think you’re right,” she said. “The dirtier he is, the happier he is.”

We both knew the exchange was about more than her dog. I suspected she was lonely, so she fled her home for the walking trail. I could be wrong of course, but I doubt it. I trust the code.

During another walk at the park a guy dribbled a soccer ball past me multiple times. He stayed off the walking trail, dribbling the ball in the grass next to the trail – probably partially as a courtesy and partially because soccer fields aren’t made of cement. Apparently, he was trying to get in, or stay in soccer playing shape. I got the feeling he was running from stagnancy – not wanting to give up on a dream.

Since I started walking on this particular trail I’ve seen fathers and sons playing catch, fathers pitching to their kids, middle-aged men playing tennis, families navigating the playground, young men playing basketball with no thought of waking up with sore knees or stiff backs, twenty-somethings playing softball and 40-somethings attempting to play softball.

It’s a beautiful mixture of life.

I took to the walking trail a couple of years ago because I have type 2 diabetes and one of my A1C tests didn’t delight my doctor.

“You need to get more active,” he told me. “Even if it is just walking.”

So I hit the trail, putting one foot in front of the other, knowing that all of us at the park are either walking or running from something.

Monday, June 06, 2011

What If ...?

Photo: Marco Bellucci
Did you ever see the episode of Yes, Dear in which Jimmy pursues his dream of working as an umpire after his wife Christine decides it’s time she pushed him in that direction the same way he pushed her to go back to college? Back in high school, she told him it was a stupid idea, but she wants to see him happy, so she encourages him to give it a shot.

Jimmy’s first game as an ump is a disaster. He makes the wrong calls – or no call at all. Players, managers and fans give him the business. And he returns home dejected. He tells Christine he hated the experience because there was too much pressure and no matter which call he made, somebody was mad at him. Christine feels better knowing she didn’t squash his dream.

“Yeah well, I’m glad you feel better,” Jimmy says, “but I lost my what if.”

“Your what?”

“My what if. Whenever I was bored at work or stuck in traffic I’d like to kind of sit and think about what my life would’ve been like if I’d a been an umpire. Now I know I never could’ve done it.”

He finds a new what if when Christine suggests he could be a pro golfer on the senior tour if he practiced every day until he was 50, but since she would never allow it, he’d never have to deal with the possibility of failing.

It’s a twisted way of viewing life, but probably not all that far from the truth. We all need what ifs.

The second I heard Jimmy use the “what if” phrase, I thought about the various “what ifs?” in my own life. In high school and college I used to wonder, “What if I practiced tennis every day, and got in great shape, and developed a better backhand?”

After college I wondered, “What if I practiced guitar every day and transitioned from power chords to learning the nuances of playing individual notes in a key that captures the mood of a song I’d written?”

In more recent years I’ve wondered, “What if I studied fiction writing techniques and was able to use what I learned to write a novel that spoke to people?”

For most of my life I’ve wondered, “What if I finally found someone to love – someone I could pour my life into?”

My first what if was answered when I couldn’t advance deep into tennis tournaments I entered. My second what if was answered after I became a Christian and put my guitar down – which, in hindsight, wasn’t my best decision. My third what if still lingers. I still dream about writing a novel that moves people. And my fourth what if – the one about finding love – it does more than linger. It gives me hope for the future – at least in an earthly sense.

What are your past and present what ifs? How and why have they changed over the years?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Filling in the Gaps

Do you see an abandoned shoe in this photo or do you see
a woman running barefoot in the sand with her boyfriend?
(Photo: Ol.v!er)
I have a romanticized view of the world, which, for a Calvinist, I admit is a bit of a paradox. One of my sisters reminded me of this after she read the Katherine’s Baseball post here a couple of days ago.

When I first saw the baseball lying where flowers would normally go next to a headstone, my mind raced to fill in the gaps in Katherine’s life. Surely she must have been a baseball fan – so much so that eleven years after her death, a loved one left a baseball on her headstone on Memorial Day weekend.

My sister’s take was a little different.

“Ok well the first thought I had was that maybe a dog just happened to drop the ball there?” she said. “It looks pretty beat up! But, your version of the story is much better!”

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Men of a Certain Age: The Great Escape

Scott Bakula (Terry), Ray Romano (Joe) and
Andre Braugher (Owen)
(Photo Credit: 
Danny Feld)
“Men of a Certain Age,” starring Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher returns to the air tonight to begin showing the final six episodes of season two. TNT sent me an advance copy of those episodes and I can’t think of a series I’d rather blog through more than this one. Hope you enjoy it. 

This episode, “The Great Escape,” opens with a series of uncomfortable situations – from Joe’s kids climbing into the car to tell him his ex-wife, Sonia, might be going through “the change,” to Terry bumping into Annie, an old girlfriend whom he refers to as a fling, while he is with Erin, his current girlfriend, to Owen getting a visit from a rival car dealership bigwig who knows more than he should.

One of things I love about this show is, it finds a comfortable balance between characters who are reacting to what is going on around them while at the same time, stumbling through life in a pro-active way, toward their goals.

Joe’s ex isn’t going through the change and when he finds out what she is going through, it peaks his interest in her again. Terry isn’t tempted to go back to Annie, even though that’s what the old Terry would do. Instead he finally allows himself to be vulnerable with a woman and wisely, she gives him the room to begin growing into the man he wants to become. But there’s an obstacle in their way that may be difficult to overcome. And Owen wonders if the offer from his rival might be his ticket out from under his dad’s thumb once and for all.

As usual, this episode contains some great dialogue. There’s one scene, in which Terry cooks dinner for Erin in her apartment and she wonders how he is able to cook so well.

“The secret,” he says, “is to become an actor, and then never get work.”

Erin laughs.

“And then, you know, you’ve got to let that simmer for about 30 years, and that gives you time to develop, you know, all sorts of hobbies – like, you know, cooking.

Erin takes a drink from her wine glass and looks at him as if she both admires his self-deprecation as well as the tenacity he showed to stick with his acting dream for so long. “Unemployment is the key,” she says, playing along.

“Yeah, but, you got to stick to it,” he says.

They get interrupted by Erin’s cat, Ted – an orange tabby who rubs up against Terry’s leg, which probably paints an even clearer picture of what domesticated life might look like if he continues along this path with Erin, but that turns out to be the least of his worries.

Given that five episodes remain in the season, there isn’t a lot of resolution to any of these conflicts in this episode. Instead, we encounter real middle aged characters who still don’t have all the answers. From the outside, they look tragically flawed. But once you get to know them, they look beautifully flawed.

If you missed my interview with "Men of a Certain Age" co-creator Mike Royce back in January, here's a link.


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