Change of Seasons

On Wednesday, with a groundout to second, the World Series and 2017 baseball season came to an end.

It marked the end of “Jack Season”.

Which means that “Alex Season” began on Thursday. Or as some call it, “Thor’s Day.”

 

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The End of the Season

The Yankee’s season came to an end this weekend with a Game 7 loss to the Houston Astros. The Yanks were a game short of going to the World Series.

From the first pitch it felt like the Astros had all the momentum. The Yanks never came up with a spark. Inning by inning, their chances slowly dimmed until they were extinguished entirely. Jack and I watched it in the living room; me on the couch, him on the love seat. In the 8th inning, I sprawled out on the floor and soon Jack sprawled out next to me. We could feel it coming to an end and we wanted to be near each other for it. We were almost like the old couple in Titanic who lay next to each other as the water fills the cabin.

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The end was sad and sweet and filled with a vague emptiness. And I feel comfortable saying that this has been right up there among the most memorable playoffs ever for me. It included the two of us freaking out and jumping all over a parking lot at La Salle University as the Yanks came back from a 4-0 deficit. We FaceTimed from SF to NJ when CC Sabathia crushed the Astros in Game 3.

The old guard is gone. No Jeter, no Rivera, no Texiera. Those guys were all business, stone-faced professionals who went about playing the game “the right way”. And as much as I loved those guys, now that they’re gone, a new group has taken over. Suddenly the Yankees are fun, and jubilant, and enthusiastic, and young.

Jack and I watched them all season – and we saw them go from shaky, inconsistent newbies to a team of studs that came damn close to winning it all. Remarkable.

So, with that said, I present you with:

7 Reasons to Love the 2017 Yankees

1) Brett Gardner’s grit

The longest-tenured Yankee, Brett Gardner is their left fielder. He was never a big name player — he was a scrub called up to be the 4th outfielder. But this guy has a tenacity to him that is something amazing to behold.

When Gardner was a freshman in college, he tried out for the baseball team. The coaches felt he wasn’t good enough — but they never actually told him he hadn’t made the team. Sure, they didn’t give him a uniform, but they forgot to actually notify Gardner he’d failed to make it.

Gardner showed up for practice the next day in his high-school uniform.

The man is pure grit. He hacks out 12-pitch at-bats. He hustles out every play. He never lets up for a single second — and he’s gone from marginal player to one of the best players on the team over the last 10 years.

Plus…he looks like MegaMind.

2) CC Sabathia’s Presence

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CC Sabathia is a massive man (6′ 6”, 300+ pounds) and eight years ago was one of the best pitchers in the league. He signed with the yankees and anchored a rotation that won the World Series in 2009.

But he has struggled in the last few years. Like many pitchers, he started to wear down. His fastball went from 97 to 92, and hitters were able to clobber it. His knees started to fail. Then in 2015, he checked himself into a rehab facility for alcohol abuse.

Most pitchers are done at this point. But CC started to come back. Over 2017 he made that incredible transformation from a pitcher that wins on raw stuff to a pitcher that wins on guile and deception and preparation. He was terrific this year and in the playoffs.

Like Gardner, CC is a player who has shown himself to be a real role model. I love him. Jack loves him. The whole Yankees Universe loves him.

3) Didi Gregorius’s tweets

Did Gregorius took over at short-stop from Derek Jeter and never once has he tried to replace the legendary captain. Didi made no attempt to be the stone-faced leader. Instead, he is a goofball. He’s fun. He smiles. He jokes in the dugout. He scratches out great at-bats; he has a cannon for an arm, and best of all…he tweets after every game. He has emoticons for each players on the team that make little to no sense, but man are they fun as hell.

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4) Greg Bird’s eyebrows

Greg Bird is a rookie and the first baseman of the future for the Yankees. He is an elite defender. He has an amazing eye at the plate. He hits huge homers.

But his best feature:

Look at those things! Glorious. And they are at first base for years to come.

5) Thumbs down

In early September, the Yankees beat the Rays 5-1. One fan was not amused.

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Overnight, the Yankees adopted the thumbs down sign as their own. Hit a double? Thumbs down. Great catch in the outfield? Thumbs down. There were shirts, posters, memes — it was just awesome.

6) The Toe-night show

The Yanks back-up infield is a guy named Ronald Torreyes. And sometime during the season, whenever a player hit a home run, he and some of the other guys would grab a bunch of stuff in the dugout, pretend they were a film crew, and interview the guy who hit the home run.

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Absolutely stupid. Lots of fun. Certainly not something that would have happened with Jeter around.

7) …

And of course…

7) Aaron Judge

He is the largest position player in the history of the game (6’7”, 282 pounds) — the guy is humongous.

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He hit .173 last year and was a rookie no one expected be very good.

He blasted 52 home runs this year, to unseat the loathsome Mark McGuire for most HRs by a rookie.

He won this year’s Home Run Derby by a landslide.

He will win Rookie of the Year unanimously and come in 2nd in voting for MVP.

He shattered a TV screen in a bar in centerfield and dented an aluminum door in the outfield of the Rogers Center.

He has handled the attention with a big smile and a lot of humility.

He made the season sooooo damn fun for me and Jack.

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Oh…and I should also mention…he’s with the Yankees until 2023.

In conclusion

The 2017 season is almost over — and the Yankees are officially done. This year we went to Kauffman Stadium in KC, Coors Field in Colorado, and finished it with a magical day in Camden Yards with Shani’s folks (our stadium visits are at their peak when it is all 6 of us). This year is about to become part of our family history — part of my personal history with my son, Jack. And the 2017 Yankees, with their terrific season and magical post-season, will never be forgotten by either one of us.

The Intense Stress Relief of Victory

Quick update.

Last night the Yankees beat the Indians in a winner-take-all game to advance in the playoffs. For 4 innings, the Yankees were ahead 3-2 and it felt like the Indians were going to come back the whole time.

Jack declared, “This is the most stressed I’ve ever felt.”

Then in the 8th inning, Brett Gardner had a 12-pitch at bat and finally knocked in 2 runs.

Jack leaped in joy, then collapsed in relief.

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I believe this photo says it all.

My son doesn’t smile

Maybe a year ago, Alex was looking at family photo albums and said: “Jack used to smile so much more when he was little.”

Then this past weekend, I heard Alex’s best friend, Aidan, refer to Jack as: “The man who never smiles.”

Here’s a pretty typical shot of Jack from a bike trip with my brother’s family:

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And I’m struggling through this reality.

I don’t think he’s unhappy. About once a week, we go for a “Peanut Chew Walk” (3 for $1!) to a small grocery store about a mile from the house. I check in and see how he’s feeling about life. He has friends. He likes school all right. He has fun with his family.

But still sometimes he’s like a ghost in the house. He slides through silently and sits in his room going through baseball rosters. He’s truly a creature of solitude, and unlike me or Alex, or even Shani, he doesn’t crave attention. He actively stays under the radar in the social pecking order at school.

And he does smile sometimes. Tickle him and he smiles. Or a few weeks ago I saw a helicopter overhead and without thinking about it, I said to him: “That thing is lower than my sack.” Jack and I looked at each other for a moment and then we laughed uncontrollably for five minutes.

The baseball playoffs kicked off Tuesday night with the Yankees vs Twins, winner-take-all game. It’s been a magical year for the Yankees, full of fresh faces and unexpected success. As they were announcing the players before the game started, I found myself beaming. I genuinely love this team in a way I haven’t loved a team for years.* I snuck a look over at Jack:

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My boy was smiling ear to ear.

And then that game — oh man. The Twins scored 3 runs right away. Before the Yankees even got to bat they were behind. It was the worst possible start; Jack rushed upstairs (he later admitted it was to cry).

But then just as quickly, the Yankees struck back. Didi Gregorius hit a 3-run homer to tie it up. Jack and I went bananas – stomping, hugging, screaming — I yelled so loud for so long I thought I was about to black out.

The next 4 innings were baseball at its best. Each team threatening and scratching together runs and outs. It went back and forth. Twins lead 4-3. Yanks tie it 4-4. Yanks pull ahead 5-4. Watching it was a tense, high-wire affair. It is an emotion that baseball creates and no other sport can touch.

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Then Aaron Judge was up. The Aaron Judge who will win Rookie of the Year unanimously. Who has broken the record for home runs in a season by a rookie. Who is the largest position player in the history of baseball. In fact, the very same Aaron Judge that Jack is doing a presentation about in his public speaking class next week. Oh yes, that Aaron Judge came up to bat with a man on first base.

“I sure could use two more runs for a little breathing room,” I said to Jack.

SMACK!

Like he’s done all year, Judge buried one in the stands. Alex and Shani were in bed at this point so Jack and fist-pumped and kicked and frolicked and flopped around on the floor, but we did it all in silence.

The tension was broken. The Yankees had the game in hand and rode the rest in cruise control.

Baseball (and sports) is about the dumbest thing in the world. It is absurd to place your personal hopes and life happiness in the hands of people you don’t know and who don’t even know you exist. It is the exact opposite of how I live my life.

But at the same time, it brings such intense, shared joy to me and my son.

So if you say sports if stupid — I agree. But man, oh, man do I want to see the Yankees go deep into this year’s playoffs. I know Jack feels the same way.

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*Note — coming soon will be a post about the 10 (or so) reasons to love the 2017 Yankees. This will come when they are eliminated (or win the World Series). So hopefully it won’t come for a while.

 

Official Stadium Rankings

New rankings! It has been a banner year for the NuckolBall staff. We hit Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Coors Field in Denver, and took Shani’s parents to Camden Yards in Baltimore to celebrate their 50th anniversary. This brings us to 14 out of 30 stadiums. So I gathered the entire staff:

  • Editor in Chief, Mike Nuckols
  • Sports Editor and Head of Baseball Operations, Jack Nuckols
  • Food Critic, Alex Nuckols
  • Arts and Literature Editor, Shani Nuckols
  • Senior Correspondents, Don and Eileen

I gave everyone ranking sheets to conduct a proper evaluation.

And it fell apart from there.

Alex calculated his totals solely based on the food, Shani’s folks have only been to 4 of the parks, and Shani…well, her sheet (as well as everyone else’s) is included at the end of the post.

The result was a hodgepodge of numbers that was completely incalculable. I did the best I could.

So, without further delay, here are our official “best of” stadium selections and then our countdown to the overall #1 park.

Best atmosphere: Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals

These are fans who watch and love and honor the game of baseball. And then you combine that with a die-hard passion for their team. Damn is it a great time. In truth, I would recommend every Phillies fan should plan a visit and take notes.

Runners up: Yankees Stadium, Kauffman Stadium, PNC Park 

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Best baseball watching experience: AT&T Park, San Francisco Giants

From every single seat you can see and enjoy the game. It’s intimate and you feel amazed at how close you are to the players. The seats are angled perfectly so the game is right in front of you.

Runners up: Yankees Stadium, PNC Park 

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Best views and stadium design: PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates

The views of the bridges and the cliff walls and the city and the stadium itself — this park is an absolute wonder.

Runners up: AT&T Park, Camden Yards

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Best food: Great American Ball Park, Cincinnati Reds

Skyline chili cheese dogs. Nuff said.

Runners up: Citi Field, Citizen’s Bank Park, PNC Park

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And now, the rankings from 14 to 1…

#14: Rogers Center, Toronto Blue Jays

Horrible view of the game. Food is boring. Totally dated. We did see a naked guy in his hotel room, though. And you can see the CN Tower.

#13: Citi Field, New York Mets

Really nice stadium. Great food. Odd crowd. Boring team, but starting to get more interesting.

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#12: Dodgers Stadium, Los Angeles Dodgers

The history and mystique and weather and glamour carry this team and the experience. But as stadiums go, Dodgers Stadium is kinda weak.

#11: Nationals Park, Washington Nationals

The was our first park and none of us were happy with our rankings or evaluation. This clearly needs to be a 2018 outing with our Senior Correspondents.

#10: Coors Field, Colorado Rockies

View of the mountains and a nice stadium (although with some design flaws). Food sucks. The crowd is happy as hell to be at the ballgame, but I’m not sure they really follow the team.

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#9: Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians

This park is comfortable. You can see the entire park from your seat so kids can explore. Dollar dogs. Decent crowd. Street parking.

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#8: Citizen’s Bank Park, Philadelphia Phillies

I think this park got hit with familiarity bias. The food is great (cheesesteaks and crab fries), a crowd that’s into the game, a gorgeous park. But for whatever reason, the numbers came back low. So I’m actually embarrassed that this is in our bottom half.

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#7: Yankees Stadium, New York Yankees

Highly disputed internally — but for all its flaws:

  • A Yankees crowd is like no other
  • The subway ride to the park is one of the greater experiences in the world
  • We have some serious Yankee bias

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#6: Kaufmann Stadium, Kansas City Royals

By FAR the best scoreboard in the sport. Terrific, raucous crowd. Food is bleh. Some seats kinda suck. View from the stadium is underrated.

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#5: Busch Stadium, St. Louis Cardinals

The best fans in the game, bar none. The view of the arch. Mediocre food and some basic stadium design flaws.

#4: Great American Ballpark, Cincinnati Reds

Shocker pick for #4 — but our scores put it way up there in the rankings. This park has 2 things going for it:

  1. A crowd that is awesome even when their team is not
  2. Skyline chili dogs

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#3: Camden Yards, Baltimore Orioles

The temple of baseball. A glorious place to sit and watch a game. Intimate and grand at the same time. Put it on your bucket list.

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#2: AT&T Park, San Francisco Giants

Gorgeous stadium that feels tiny. Right in the heart of a glorious city. Garlic fries and Ghirardelli sundaes. Some criticize the Silicon Valley crown, but wait until the relief pitchers warm up and tell me it isn’t fun as hell.

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#1: PNC Park, Pittsburgh Pirates

The views, the stadium, the crowd, the vibe, the pot roast nachos. You’re not in a stadium, you’re participating in some kind of transcendent art. Go to this park. Go to this park. GO TO THIS PARK.

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AND…as promised, here are the official score sheets from the NuckolBall staff.

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Packing Perfection

If you’re looking for a two-day, one night backpacking trip – this is the perfect option. But be warned…day one is 6.5 miles and climbs 1945 feet of total elevation.

Overall Run/Beecher Ridge

 

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If you’re looking for a companion, this is the perfect candidate. He is an experienced packer, in great physical shape, makes good decisions, and is terrific fun to hang out with.

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This is the perfect reaction when you reach the Matthews Arm trail and you realize it’s all downhill from there.

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This is the perfect spot to refill your water. (Note: don’t listen to your dad when he says you can do better. You’ll end up doing an extra 2 miles that day just to come back to this spot.)

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This is the perfect spot to overlook the Shenandoah Valley.

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This is the perfect camp site. Note the view. Also note that when it gets dark, you can see a sky stuffed with stars above and a dark valley stuffed with blinking fireflies below.

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This is the perfect meal after you’ve packed 8.4 miles/2465 feet of elevation in a single day.

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This is the perfect tent. The top  half is open screen, so you see the sky and shapes of trees above you. You hear owls hooting. You feel the breeze. You can lay there with your son and sort all your friends and family into Harry Potter houses.

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This is the perfect place to stop for a break at the end of your second day.

This is the perfect place to stop for victory burgers, which should absolutely be your tradition after you come out of the woods after a packing trip. (Horseshoe Curve Restaurant, Bluemont, VA)

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This is the perfect mix for your ride home. Alex put it together. Two notes about your ride home.

  1. I would recommend taking the route that avoids Washington DC. It’s an extra half hour, but it takes you on windy roads through the mountains of Virginia.
  2. Be cautious listening to this mix on those roads with that boy after doing this packing trip. The joy you feel will be overwhelming. It will be so thick inside you that it creates a physical pressure pushing at the top of your chest.

OK…here’s the official Harry Potter sorting.

Our immediate family

Mike Gryffindor
Alex Ravenclaw
Shani Ravenclaw
Jack Gryffindor
Pop-pop Ravenclaw
Grandma Gryffindor
Grampa Harry Ravenclaw
Grandma Mary Hufflepuff
Uncle Chris Slytherin
Aunt Annie Ravenclaw
Tucker Hufflepuff
Brinda Ravenclaw
Neave Slytherin
Uncle Bob Ravenclaw
Aunt Joan Ravenclaw
Uncle Coddy Hufflepuff
Aunt Mary Ravenclaw
Max Hufflepuff
Sam Ravenclaw
My mom Gryffindor

Ramblers

Chief Hufflepuff
Hal Hufflepuff
Dave Slytherin
Ben Gryffindor
Skinny Hufflepuff
Spider Ravenclaw

West Coast Friends

Reef Ravenclaw
Corbin Hufflepuff
Wade Slytherin
Frank Gryffindor
Budzik Hufflepuff

Cast of Friends

Rachel Slytherin
Ross Ravenclaw
Monica Gryffindor
Chandler Slytherin
Joey Gryffindor
Phoebe Hufflepuff

Avengers

Captain America Gryffindor (textbook)
Iron Man Slytherin
Black Widow Slytherin
Hawkeye Slytherin
Thor Gryffindor
Hulk Ravenclaw
Vision Ravenclaw
Falcon Gryffindor
Scarlet Witch Slytherin
Quicksilver Hufflepuff
Spiderman Gryffindor

Simpsons

Bart Slytherin
Marge Gryffindor
Lisa Ravenclaw
Maggie Hufflepuff
Homer Squib

 

A beautiful woman and an old maid come to my rescue

This blogpost is about my family reunion. I considered sharing it privately, but then it occurred to me that my family makes up 40% of the audience. So…come along with me to Lincolnton, Georgia and the Nuckols Family Reunion. (Or if you don’t care about my family reunion, I totally understand if you bail on this post.)

It was 750 miles. Shani, Alex, and I hit the road with a stop in Durham to see friends and do some hiking. We arrived the next day at my Aunt Helen’s massive manor – home base for the reunion. There was hugging, eating, catching up. Alex disappeared with his cousins. We lined up for a huge buffet with roast beef and mashed potatoes and grilled jalepeno peppers wrapped in bacon.

My cousin, Max, had bought 100 bucks in fireworks from “Three Fingered Freddy’s” on the South Carolina border, and he set them off in the driveway while kids zipped around on scooters and parents fretted about safety.

We migrated to my Aunt Margo’s house where my Uncle Coddy broke out his guitar. I love his songs, but it struck me as a little sad that it was only him singing. Coddy, Margo, and my father used to play together in the 60s as The Nuckols Trio. They had a regular song list that was a mainstay of reunions when I was a kid. My dad hadn’t even brought his guitar along, so it was just Coddy – which was still pretty fantastic.

The next morning, my Aunt Mary offered to host breakfast at the house she was staying at, but by the time we made it there they were packing up to move to Aunt Helen’s house. So we all migrated with them and bumbled around in Helen’s huge family room.

And I’m going to stop here and make a confession: I was feeling really off at this point. I struggle sometimes because I get so insanely excited for things and then have trouble when reality doesn’t line up. That was the case here.

“Shani, I want to run out and try and buy a new bike chain.”

“Now?”

“Yeah, there’s not that much going on and…”

“Oh,” she said. “OK. I’ll come with you.”

She saw what was going on with me. She always does. She probably saw it coming before we ever left New Jersey.

So here’s the deal…these reunions have shifted. Some kind of tipping point has been reached and it has changed the composition and the cadence. I ascribe this to two main factors:

1) We’ve grown

Long gone are the days when we could all stay in a single house in Albany like we did when I was a kid. Now we’re spread across 10 different houses. When we gather for a meal, we fill up nine 12-foot folding tables. It’s overwhelming to me. I find myself faced with 40+ people that I want to catch up with and only a few days to pull it off. I’m hopping from one conversation to the next like I’m speed dating, trying to check off all the relatives from a giant to-do list.

2) We’ve reproduced

Me and most of my cousins now have kids of our own. Which means the place is littered with rug-rats. Everyone (myself included) is constantly being pulled away to deal with pleading for another can of soda or screaming from fire ant bites.

In truth, it’s not just one reunion. Each family has siblings and kids having their own individual reunion. And all that together makes up our extended family reunion.

Shani and I talked all this out on our drive.

We got back to the Baldwins and there were a few folks milling around. My niece, Brinda, was there and someone suggested a game of Old Maid, which is my opinion is about the lamest card game there is.

My opinion has since been revised.

The game was intensely awesome. It was filled with bluffing, insults, jeering. The tension was thick and wonderful. 10-year-old Brinda was in her glory playing with eight adults. The game was so fun it actually drew a crowd.

Dinner was a buffet of leftovers and people just sort of sat where they could find room. I ended up around a small table swapping stories with my cousins about nightmare stays in motels.

Shani and I slipped out to go to the Kites and within 30 minutes everyone seemed to have the same idea. My Aunt Helen wanted to hear a new song my Uncle Coddy had written, so he broke out his guitar for the second night in a row. Soon everyone was grabbing chairs from all over the house to form a huge circle around the living room. Coddy played a few originals, and then without saying anything he went into the sing-a-long repertoire. The floor in the center was suddenly filled with kids as we sang The Fox, Eddie-Cucha-Cacha-Camma, Tom Dooley, Winkin’ Blinkin’ and Nod.

Then my Aunt Margo was singing.

As I have travelled all over this land
There is just one sad thing that I find
When the wide road calls you must leave friends and all
Leaving a song behind
For a while
Leaving a song behind

Aunt Margo has a husky alto voice that I believe to be the universal voice of warm, smiling aunts everywhere. She was singing the first verse of “One for the Money” which is the song that The Nuckols Trio always closed with.

She went into the chorus….

One for the money

And from the room, the voices of my father and Uncle Coddy answered…

Sing for a penny

Two for the show

Any song that we know

Three to make ready

The wide road is pretty

And four to go

It’s been good to know ya’

And four to go

We’ve a long way to go

And I was crying. My family was stuffed into a huge ring. I saw Alex cuddled on Shani’s lap.

Then came the second verse. Oh, that verse. The second verse is and has always been the fundamental tenant of my family. It is literally one of the core lessons of my life.

Some value money and some value fame
Some value women and wine
But a song and a friend ‘round each turn of the bend
Are the riches I’d rather were mine
Every time
Riches I’d rather were mine

Family reunions are funny things. On one side, they are about the past. You are repeating something you did as a kid. Family reunions are some of my brightest, best memories from childhood. Your family is who you are – so these reunions were central to how I thought about myself.

But at the same time, reunions are about the passing of time. You’re checking in and seeing what has changed since the last reunion.

It’s weird. And it’s wonderful once your wife and your niece help you get your head out of your ass.

The final verse goes like this…(try and hear it in your mind as a husky alto)

When I am gone may this song linger on
And its echo fall soft on your ear
May your riches increase and you all live in peace
And your happiness grow every year
My friends
Happiness grow every year

 

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Jack, Shani, and the Green Folder that Ruined Christmas

I will first draw your attention to the change in title. For this episode, we are NuckolBRAWL. And for this NuckolBrawl tale, I bring you back to Christmas morning of 2016. The family is in the living room, around the tree, taking turns opening presents. Things are joyful and sweet. Shani has just unwrapped the scarf that Alex knit her.

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Suddenly, a realization strikes Jack Nuckols:

“Wait! I’ve got presents!”

On the last day of school before holiday break, Jack and his two friends had gone downtown to buy presents. Jack spent the afternoon and evening out with his pals getting gifts. They even went to dinner at the Chinese place when they were done. I thought it was such a nice idea. I was proud of him. The thought of it warmed my heart.

So back to Christmas morning…

“Wait! I’ve got presents!”

Jack grabbed his backpack and began rummaging around inside it.

“I didn’t wrap anything, but that’s OK, right? Hang on…this is for…”

He pulled out a small cellophane bag and peeked inside.

“Oh wait! That’s my egg roll. OK…here we go.”

He pulled out gifts for each of us:

  • For Alex, he bought a stuffed purple penguin. Alex snatched it a gave it a snuggle
  • For me, a bottle of hot sauce with a skull key chain
  • For Shani…

Oh no.

Oh dear God, no.

I stared in horror.

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You could feel the floor crumbling away beneath the entire room. It was like a sand castle slurped away by a wave.

Jack had given his mother a green folder as her holiday gift. It had cost him 99 cents at the most – his egg roll had cost him more. It was a gift of monumental thoughtlessness.

When it comes to things like this, I have an internal debate. Do you let it go and forego the drama to follow? Do you laugh it off and let Christmas go on.

Shani had no such debate. She retreated to our bedroom and a fog of gloom descended upon the world. Jack grew sullen and withdrawn.

And with that, Christmas was ruined.

But could it be salvaged?

Read on…

Could this man save Christmas?

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I made the first attempt. I went up to our room and consoled Shani. I talked to Jack and told him how badly he’d hurt his mother’s feelings. I went back and forth like the moderator for disarmament talks between warring countries. I finally got Jack to go up to our room and talk to Shani.

Two minutes later he came storming back downstairs.

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Could these two save Christmas?

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An hour later, Shani came back downstairs. She sat on the couch in a sad slump. I called up to Jack and asked him to come down for a second. I said that had to show him something. As soon as he was halfway down the steps…

“Dad and I are going for a walk.”

“Bye.”

Alex and I grabbed our coats and shot out the door.

We lapped the block slowly. Fifteen minutes later, we came back and poked out heads in. Shani and Jack were sitting silently on opposite ends of the couch. Both were curled up like pillbugs.

“Let’s do another lap.”

“Good idea.”

We did two laps this time. The final result…

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Could the Mulvihills save Christmas?

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That afternoon, the Mulvihills came over for happy hour. It’s a tradition our families share each year. We get together on Christmas for happy hour and then go out for Chinese food.

I figured that Shani couldn’t possibly keep up the gloom with friends over. She’d have to put on a good face for guests.

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Dead wrong.

 

Could the George Michael save Christmas?

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After a semi-stilted happy hour, we headed to Philly for dinner. In past years we’d done Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean BBQ. This year we took it up a notch and rented a private karaoke room in Chinatown.

So picture the scene. 4 adults (one of them emitting a fog of gloom). 4 tweens (2 boys, 2 girls). It’s not a recipe for uninhibited fun.

We were doing some lame signing when suddenly our phones lit up with news alerts: George Michael had died.

Next thing we knew, the moms were belting out Careless Whisper, Father Figure, and more. This was a moment of unity. George Michael had gone so suddenly. Who has time to dwell on bad things? Live to the moment! Enjoy each other now!

But the tweens just looked at us with disdain and embarrassment. Before long we were struggling to keep the fun going.

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Then things went from bad to worse. I looked to see that “Hello” by Adele was next. My thought: worst possible song. It’s slow-paced and hard to sing. Plus it’s sad as hell. What could be a worse choice?

The first verse came out as a mumbled dirge. Then the music swelled into the chorus and suddenly…

“Hello from the OUT SIIIIIIIIDDDE! I must HAVE CALLED A THOUSAND TIIIIIIMES!”

Everyone was belting it out. All the kids. Both moms. My friend Geoff. People were smiling and laughing at each other. Everyone was letting it roar at full volume. I looked across the room and Shani and Jack were singing into the same microphone with all their might. More sushi arrived. We put the song on again and performed an encore. Our waitress brought a tray heavy with Sapporo beers and cans of Sprite.

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Yes folks, the green folder was forgotten. Adele had saved Christmas.

 

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The Sex Talk

Aaaaand…The Sex Talk.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I’m gonna make a little PSA. I wrote a book (that twice came astonishingly close getting published) where pedophilia is a key theme. I did a shitload of research about it, and here is a proven fact:

The more you talk about sex with your kids, the less likely they are to be the victims of a sexual predator.

Pedophiles play on shame and secrets. When you avoid talking about sex with your kids, you make it a dark, shameful, secret topic. And that’s part of what pedophiles use to groom, lure, and hide their actions.

Now…this isn’t a proven fact, but I think it’s also safe to say that having the Sex Talk is always awkward. There is not a natural time to comfortably slide right into the topic. You have to just go for it. That has been my experience.

The Sex Talk with Jack

The trigger? The NFL.

Every damn commercial break has a spot for Viagra, Cialis, or both. We would sit through 30 seconds of semi-awkward and pregnant silence every time we watched football. Finally, he asked…

“Dad? What is erectile dysfunction anyways?”

I gave him the obvious response:

“Erectile dysfunction is something your father HAS NEVER EVER EXPERIENCED!”

But that night we were both reading in my bed and I went for it.

“OK, remember when you asked about erectile dysfunction?”

“Yeah.”

“OK, here’s the deal…”

I gave him the whole story. I said penis. I said vagina. I said a whole lot of words like that. I plowed through the whole damn thing.

Here are some points that stand out:

  • I was talking theoretical. “A man and a woman...” But Jack was going to the personal and individual. His questions weren’t about “a man and a woman”, his questions were about me and Shani. It added an extra layer of awkward to the conversation.
  • About halfway through the conversation, he interrupted me to say…“So you’ve done this twice.” And I had to back up and explain it in a different way.
  • Jack then interrupted me again to say: “Wait a minute. So you do this, regularly?” The idea disturbed him deeply.

His concluding thought…

“Sounds gross.”

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The Sex Talk with Alex

I did it last summer (Alex was 10). We went on an overnight backpacking trip, and on the drive to the trailhead I went for it.

“So we’re gonna have a talk about something, and it might be weird, but we’re still gonna do it even if it is weird and let’s do it. Right? That make sense? Let’s do this.”

“OK,” he said, not really knowing what the hell I was talking about.

Alex didn’t ask any questions, so I kept rambling on and on in a nervous babble stream. I explain sex. Pedophiles. Gay and straight. I must have gone for 25 minutes. Finally I stopped and let the silence set in.

“Well,” he said. “That was awkward.”

“How much of that did you already know?”

“Most of it.”

“Did Jack tell you?”

“No.”

“Who?”

“I have my sources.”

And that was pretty much that.

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Since then we’ve had more talks. All of them brought up by me. All of them awkward and forced.

“So…you’re going to be in the locker room with older boys. You know that…”

“I know, I know!”

“Not that you’re sexually active yet, but you know that when a girl says no…”

“Stop it! God!”

Actually, it’s gotten to the point, where this is the reaction I get whenever I bring up the subject. Which I see as a very good sign.

 

 

 

 

The Problem with NuckolBall

 

So…NuckolBall. There’s a problem. Check this out…

Alex and I drove up to Binghamton last weekend for the premiere of Guardians of the Galaxy 2. On the drive up, we had the most incredible damn conversation. I still can’t believe we went there. It was bold and unexpected and would make a wild story about parenting. A perfect post for NuckolBall.

But Alex asked me not to talk about it with anybody.

See, the fact is, I’ve been struggling for relevance here. There used to be an obvious tension and wonder in my life as a dad. But life has gone from helping my boys figure shit out, to sitting on the sidelines as they figure shit out for themselves. I’m not so much in the know.

This is full on Parenting Phase 2. The transition is over; it’s here.

It’s nice in a lot of ways. Shani and I have way more time on our hands. We slip out to grab a drink together all the time now. I’m in better shape than I’ve been in 10 years. Shani’s leading the South Jersey chapter of Moms Demand Action.

But when it comes to NuckoBall, it’s been a little tough. So…I’m going to try and embrace the situation. Adapt. Which means get ready for some real-deal Parenting Phase 2 posts.

Loosely outlining, I expect to write about:

  • The Sex Talk
  • Jack, Shani, and the Green Folder that Ruined Christmas
  • Things We Screwed Up in Phase One

I’ll come up with some more stuff as I go. But stick with me. This is some funny stuff.