Song Of The Day 3/22/2017: The Verve – “Bittersweet Symphony”
The Final 8
While Olympia is Very Impressed With Your Qualifications We've Decided to Go in Another DirectionThen we were three. Instead of feeling incapacitated I was resolute and determined to provide for my family. And the city of Olympia was just as resolute and determined not to give me a full-time job, a resolution and determination it still maintained as recently as four months ago. Jesus, Olympia. What’s the matter with you? I would have done literally anything for a bus pass and an office with a view of the wall.
Lucie was a pretty happy infant. She found amusement in just about everything. We weren’t even trying that hard. My parents flew up to meet her (and Kate’s folks) once, and we flew back down to Sacramento ourselves.
For seven months I didn’t do much of anything except write aimlessly, do the last few months of Shrug Fest and host karaoke at the Urban Onion. We were okay, but kind of antsy to get something going in the independence department. I’d stopped harboring any illusions that I could stay in Olympia, though.
I forget whether they called me or I called them, but at some point in April or so I established contact with a company in Bellevue called Filter, or as they continue to stylize it, FILTER. They had just started out at the time and were doing a lot of contract work for Microsoft. FILTER had a yearlong contract opportunity with MSN Music which involved programming and maintaining the 30-plus stations on their internet radio site. All genres, one year. This was one of the bigger no-brainers I ever had, employment-wise. I accepted the offer, started on May 1, and moved back to Seattle one month later with Kate and Lucie.
Thus began an eight-year association with Microsoft that I’ll talk more about in a couple of days, after the cleaning lady has stowed away all the fragile objects in the living room so I won’t hurl them against the wall.
Seattle 2.0Technically our apartment was in the lowest of Lower Queen Anne, but it was right by the Fremont Bridge, so it made more sense to say we lived in Fremont. I’ve got this knack for finding properties on the boundary line between one neighborhood and the next, especially in Seattle.
I liked Fremont. The PCC was just across the canal and there was a Fred Meyer Kate could walk to. Our two-bedroom flat at the north end of a four-plex was comfortable and cheap at $800 a month. Now I’m sure it’s probably double that.
I was pretty straight-laced during this time. For fun I played Madden on my laptop and started a blog called The Benign Comedy. This wasn’t an intentional play on words referencing Neil Hannon’s project The Divine Comedy, one of my most beloved musical acts. It was what people like Roger Ebert used to call harmless but less-than-thigh-slappingly hilarious films in their movie reviews: “Ah, there’s nothing wrong with Weekend at Bernie’s, it’s a benign comedy.” TBC was envisioned simply as a site for reviews of old or catalogued albums. It was decent writing. It kept me involved.
We also started following the Mariners pretty closely, which reminds me of arguably my favorite Lucie story ever. This era was around the time that Richie Sexson was a Mariner. If you don’t remember, Richie’s Mariner career was—well, not quite as inspirational as his tenure with the Brewers. Although now that I look back at the stats I see he did mark two 100-plus-RBI seasons with the Mariners. However, 2007 was not one of those years.
Watching Mariners games on TV that year was particularly frustrating. Every time the Mariners got something going on the base paths it seemed Richie would come up to bat and squash it like a snail. I’d be watching the game, we’d be down 4-3 or something, Ichiro and someone else would get on base, everything would seem to be on pace for a great inning, then Sexson would come up and ground into a double play and the inning would be over. It was like clockwork that year. So when I was watching the M’s, and they’d be rallying and Sexson would come up to bat, I usually said “Oh, dammit.”
Apparently this happened a lot during that summer, because once when Lucie was in the room, the game was on and Sexson’s mug filled the picture, she happily squealed, “Oh, Dammit!” She thought that was his name.
And it would have been fine, if my family hadn’t taken a visit to a Mariners Team Store in Lynnwood that had a life-size cut-out of Richie Sexson on display. Lucie rushed to it like a Disney princess: “Dammit! Dammit!”
Luckily the cashier was amused. At least it proved we were Mariners fans.
Why I Can No Longer Sing "Ave Maria" (or Give Anything a Title)In the fall of 2005 we decided to buy a four-game package for Seahawks games. I had grown up in Northern California as a 49ers fan, but between 1996 and 2005 I’d stopped watching football so much that I didn’t really feel the allegiance anymore. Besides, I had a soft spot for Matt Hasselbeck after that whole “We want the ball and we’re gonna score!” deal at Green Bay, even though it didn’t work. I could support that type of player. I’d never been to an NFL game before. We thought it would be a good way for a family of three to kill four Sundays a season without having to learn how to fish.
I loved the experience. Qwest Field, as it was called then, had only been open three years. The stadium staff were fantastic to my family. The team ran onto to field to the string introduction to the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony,” which amazingly they still do. The atmosphere was crazy, as you might have heard. I even won a jacket drawing that year and had my annoying face plastered on the field display. I screamed, because that's what 12's do. Lucie screamed. She had just turned one year old during that infamous overtime game against the Giants where Jay Feely kept missing field goals to win the game. She was screaming too.
It was an exceptionally good year for the Seahawks as well. So good that they had home field advantage throughout the playoffs. In order to go to those, we had to agree to put a down payment on full-season tickets the next year, so that’s what we did. We watched the Seahawks beat the team from Washington in the divisional, then watched them beat the Panthers for the NFC Championship one week later.
Since then I have missed only one Seahawks home game, because of a funeral during a season we’d already let get away from us. Our divisional-round win against the Lions this past January was the 101st game I’ve attended. I’ve seen three NFC Championships. I saw Beast Quake. I saw Richard Sherman tip the pass from Colin Kaepernick into Malcolm Smith’s hands. That's a lot of screaming.
This is why we haven’t gone to Europe. Also why I can no longer sing in the higher octaves I used to hit at karaoke all the time.
All this Seahawks fandom led directly to the most successful venture I’ve ever started. Though its success really bloomed after I abandoned it, even survivng the giant, ugly, awful weight I saddled it with.
One of my best friends, Jonny, worked for SportsBlog (SB) Nation, a blog aggregate modeled on Slashnet that housed all sorts of fan-managed sports blogs. At the time they were still in development—just before mid-stage, I’d say. They had blogs for all 30 Major League Baseball teams, but their NFL roster was still fairly thin with a total of eight.
One afternoon during my “100 days”—a term Seattle tech workers were all too familiar with, representing the 100 days Microsoft contractors were required to take off in between MS gigs—I was visiting SB Nation online and got the idea that I could start a Seahawks blog. So I asked Jonny, and he put me in touch with the SB Nation administrator. He had nobody waiting to do a Seahawks blog, so he asked me for a writing sample just to prove I could put a sentence or two together. I did, he liked it, and told me he was going to go ahead and start putting the site together. All I needed to do was come up with a name.
Come up with a name.
I had one job.
The blog administrator, Tyler, told me to come back with four or five choices for the site name. So I went to the Fremont Starbucks one afternoon with a notepad and tried to brainstorm some names. Since we weren’t officially sanctioned by the NFL or anything, we had to avoid directly naming ourselves after the mascots or the nicknames of the teams we wrote about.
This was also around the time Texas A&M were giving the Seahawks some trouble over their copyrighted phrase “12th Man,” so either SB Nation told me or I decided myself not to use that phrase, even though it was an obvious choice. First and 12 was one of my choices (didn’t use the dreaded ordinal “12th”). I also submitted Hawkwind as an in-joke to fans of Lemmy Kilmeister’s second-most famous band. There was definitely no way that would pass legal muster though. Where Waterfowl Dare was another one that I quickly dismissed. Oh, you know what I should have given them? The Twelfth Knights. I came up with that name nine years too late. Anytime you can give something a Shakespearean edge, you do it.
After scratching out four decent, if not earth-shattering names, I came up with one I thought was so terrible it’d be laughed off the paper. Nevertheless, I wanted to prove how funny I could be off the cuff, so I snickered to myself, wrote it down and submitted it back to Tyler with the other four: Field Gulls.
The next two days were filled with contentment and anticipation until I got the note back from Tyler: “Okay, Paul! We’re all set! You can start writing posts in a couple of days, and we’ll get it going next week.
“P.S. We decided to go with Field Gulls.”
The way I felt when I read that message was exactly the same way Pete Carroll felt years later, after he had Russell Wilson throw a interception from the one-yard line in Super Bowl XLIX, when he should have handed it to Marshawn for the run: Oh, Christ. This one’s gonna hurt a long, LONG time. I even bent down and faced the floor like Pete did.
This is an important lesson in brainstorming. Be careful what you put in writing. Be very careful what you hit “send” on. If it’s not something you would feel okay screaming while in the throes of passion, for God’s sake consider a revision.
There was no explaining that I didn’t mean for Field Gulls to get picked, because I sent it in thinking they would never pick it. I just wanted to make them laugh. All I wanted to do was bring light into people’s lives, goddamn it.
But there was nothing I could do. It was certainly the catchiest name. Also the most memorable. And had the smallest character count of my submissions, including the spelled-out First & Twelve. It was the most marketable.
Nevertheless, Field Gulls went up that summer. One of my first posts, screen name “Shrug,” was a heavily contrite apology to the 12th Man, the Seahawks, the city of Seattle and the entire Pacific Northwest sports culture for poisoning their perfectly arid atmosphere with a skunk of a name. I did get shit for it, too. And I couldn’t defend it. I just had to sit there and take it, like the people who came up with the names Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot! and Romancing the Stone.
Fortunately the community sprang up quickly and were very, very cool. And the aside from the name, the writing was solid. Other NFL blogs on SB Nation were highly complimentary to us. It was very encouraging.
I wrote and edited the majority of Field Gulls for about a year. When I signed on full-time at Microsoft in September of 2007 I gave editorship of the blog to a guy named John Morgan, who was as well-versed in all aspects of football as I was in music. My time was soon to be very occupied, and I was never going to be a sportswriter on John’s level. I felt the 12’s deserved someone who knew the game as intimately as he did. After a couple of months of Morgan’s stewardship, I just gave him the blog entirely and stepped aside.
In the years after, SB Nation was picked up by Vox Media and became huge. Field Gulls, whose tagline under Morgan was “The Stupidest Name in Smart Seahawks Coverage,” is still very much around, though Morgan’s moved on too. Sometimes I go back for a visit, or to look at some of my favorite old game previews. And though I'm long gone, I still feel nice when they mention the blog on ESPN Radio.
It’s also a resumé item that displays my capabilities at on-the-spot writing and editorial organization, as well as my utter inability to name anything, anywhere, for anybody. Just ask the guy at the copy machine and pick whatever he says.