Thursday, March 31, 2005


A year of Thursdays later

Here we go again! Sports Illustrated has Johnny Damon on the cover of the baseball preview issue this year, because clearly, they know who people want to see. And here's their predicted order of finish in the divisions:

NL East
1. Atlanta Braves
2. Florida Marlins
3. New York Mets
4. Philadelphia Phillies
5. Washington Nationals

NL Central
1. St. Louis Cardinals
2. Chicago Cubs
3. Houston Astros
4. Cincinnati Reds
5. Milwaukee Brewers
6. Pittsburgh Pirates

NL West
1. San Francisco Giants
2. L.A. Dodgers
3. San Diego Padres
4. Arizona Diamondbacks
5. Colorado Rockies

AL East
1. New York Yankees
2. Boston Red Sox
3. Baltimore Orioles
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Tampa Bay Devil Rays

AL Central
1. Minnesota Twins
2. Cleveland Indians
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Detroit Tigers
5. Kansas City Royals

AL West
1. L.A. Angels
2. Texas Rangers
3. Oakland A's
4. Seattle Mariners

Guess you can't go too far wrong with what are basically the final standings from last year. Remember, baseball is unlike mutual funds in that quite often, past performance is a guarantee of future results.

I can already tell this season isn't going to be quite as good as 2004. No MLB team will be serving poutine at its concession stands, and worse yet, Hostess doesn't seem to be making Baseballs this year.

In other news, the famous iPod has been sold, and it is on its way to the purchaser.

Original comments...

Luke, hanger-on: Most important: Do you predict a baseball-related road trip this year?

Levi: There has been some discussion, but we have yet to finalize any plans, primarily because the "Levi" part of the team isn't very good at getting organized enough to finalize plans.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Baseball movies are watched every spring

I have a baseball movie to report on as well: since I had a cold and called in sick to work today, I took advantage of the extra time at home to watch "It Happens Every Spring," which had been sitting on my TiVo since Fox Movie Channel ran it on December 15th. (Why would Fox Movie Channel run a baseball movie on December 15th, you ask? I have no evidence that Fox even realizes that Fox Movie Channel exists, much less pays any attention to their programming, so they just pull random Fox movies off the shelf and put them on TV.)

College chemistry professor Ray Milland inadvertently discovers that a substance can be applied to baseballs -- or any object, for that matter -- that makes it completely avoid contact with wood. So in order to make money for his wedding (to the daughter of the college president, he takes a leave of absence from his professorship and secretly goes to St. Louis to become a pitcher for the -- well, they don't use any team names in this movie, but if Levi wants to pretend it's the Cardinals, I guess that would work, since the opponents mentioned are all cities that had National League teams in 1949. The exterior shots of the stadiums show that they all have names like "St. Louis Stadium," "Pittsburgh Stadium," "Brooklyn Stadium," and so on.

The movie is a little ridiculous in that, despite the obvious strange hops the ball is taking, no opposing player or manager ever demands to examine the glove, in which Milland has a rag soaked with the substance hidden so he can wipe it on the ball. Why, that's even more blatant than steroid abuse! (Someone on IMDB already made the comparison, I see.) But it's not supposed to be a serious sports movie, it's supposed to be a romantic comedy, so I guess we're supposed to overlook that.

Interestingly enough, the crusty catcher who befriends Ray Milland is played by Paul Douglas -- who, two years later, would play the crusty manager in the original version of "Angels in the Outfield," another baseball movie in which the laws of physics are broken. And then he would have played another crusty baseball manager in a certain episode of "The Twilight Zone" if he hadn't died during the filming. Talk about being typecast.

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Bud, Mickey's, Schlitz, Coors, PBR, High Life, Red Stripe

The headline is the brands of beer that alcoholic former minor-league pitcher Morris Buttermaker (Walter Matthau) drinks in The Bad News Bears. Or at least, those are the ones I saw and remembered. It's entirely possible that he drank more varieties, because he's constantly drinking beer.

Luke, Sandy, Sarah, Stacey, and I watched The Bad News Bears Friday night, after I had read a couple of recommendations of it online from baseball fans who loved it as a baseball movie. And they were right. I had seen it when I was about three, but unlike another movie I saw when I was three, it didn't leave very clear memories.

I feel like I shouldn't say much about the details of the movie, because I think everyone who regularly reads this blog--all, what, eight of you?--would greatly enjoy it and should hie thee to the nearest video emporium, take its dusty box to the counter, and enjoy it in the company of a friendly six-pack. It's funny, and it's surprising, and it's not hokey, and it's utterly impossible to imagine being made in anything close to the same way today. (Don't mention the remake. Unless Bill Murray's got the Walter Matthau role, it's going to suck.) I tend to be suspicious of aesthetic or artistic creeds--stifling little things, aren't they--but if you were to pin me down, make me choose a style or tendency in movies (and, to some extent, in books), I'd pick works of art that mostly show--without making a pretense of being truly real--people going about their business in the world. A lot of my favorite films--Yi-Yi, Maborosi, George Washington--are a bit that way. And that's what's most surprising to me about The Bad News Bears: it's a sports movie and a kid movie, and it fits more or less into the sports and kid movie patterns, but it has a rhythm and sensibility of its own that hew much more closely to real life than anyone would have expected.

And it loves baseball. The baseball scenes are great. The swearing is great. And the talk about baseball is great, and funny. Rent it while you wait for Sunday night's game.

Original comments...

Toby: Unbelievable, Levi. This movie has been playing on HBO the last month and I have watched it about 10 or 15 times. Like you, I hadn't seen it since I was a kid and, like you, I appreciate it so much more now than I could have then.

I think one of the things that's so great about it is that everyone can identify with one (or more) of the Bears. At age 10, I had Timmy Lupus' ability and Albert Ogilvie's personality wrapped up in Mike Engleberg's body. My best friend, Troy Nelson, was Kelly Leak to a "T."

I would peg you for identifying with Ogilvie.

Plus, is there any better ending line for a baseball movie than "Just wait 'til next year..." (uttered by Lupus)

I'm also very hesitant to watch the remake (which will star Billy Bob Thornton and Greg Kinear) when it comes out...

I just downloaded the prelude to Bizet's Carmen from iTunes (the theme used in the movie). This is a scary coincidence, Levi.

thatbob: So, any more thoughts about coaching a Little League team of your own? I understand there's an opening at Cabrini-Green ever since Keanu had to go fight demons.

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Monday, March 28, 2005


The other shoe, or cleat, drops

Over the winter, new expensive seats were added at Dodger Stadium by reducing the size of foul territory and moving the dugouts forward. This is fine, except that there's apparently a city ordinance that limits Dodger Stadium capacity to 56,000, so some of the cheap seats are no longer for sale (they're going to be covered with tarps).

Predictably, there was a column in Sunday's Los Angeles Times about a man who's had four front-row seats at Dodger Stadium since it opened in 1962, who was offered the chance to move forward to the new front row at a substantially higher cost ($120,000 versus $20,000). He turned it down, so now his seats are in the fifth row, and he's "protesting" by not attending Opening Day. I find it a little hard to feel sad for someone who can afford $20,000 for Dodgers season tickets; what about people who are going to be shut out of the cheap seats for popular games because there are fewer of those available? (Granted, those are harder for columnists to find on a deadline.)

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Friday, March 25, 2005


What's the buzz?

I've just gotten back from a They Might Be Giants concert. This time, unlike last August, I don't have to fly to Chicago tomorrow (this) morning to start a baseball-related trip.

But there is still baseball news to report at this late hour: Bees!

Original comments...

Toby: As in "Say I'm the only bee in your bonnet?"

Jim: Does this post make more sense with the "Bees!" link fixed?

Incidentally, the movie "Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns" is worth at least a rental, if only for one particular extra: They Might Be Giants performing the song Toby quoted from, "Birdhouse in Your Soul," on "The Tonight Show" in 1990, backed by Johnny Carson's band (Doc Severinsen, et al.).

levi's help-mate: nice work, toby! now to break out my tmbg collection for nonstop happiness.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2005


In the form of a question

"Jeopardy!" is currently in the midst of a gigantic, 3-month-long tournament in which they've invited scads of former champions from throughout the 21-year run of the show back to see who gets to play in a special 3-day-long match against Ken Jennings. So on tonight's show, a 5-time champion from 1989, a 5-time champion from 1995, and the College Tournament champion from 1993 were faced with this Final Jeopardy! clue, in the category Major League Baseball:

"The team names of these 2 expansion clubs start with the same 3 letters; one might catch the other."

Only the 1989 champion got it correct. (The college champion got one of the two.)

Original comments...

thatbob: Which makes me wonder, when does an "expansion club" just start being thought of as a club? I thought the Mariners were around when I was (broadly) a kid.

Levi: Depends on how broad you were in 1977.

thatbob: For almost all of 1977, I was 2 years broad.

Jim: Given baseball's love of history, as long as there are people who still remember when the Angels didn't exist, they're still an expansion club. (They were the first expansion team in modern baseball, in 1961, along with the team that's now the Texas Rangers, but then was the Washington Senators, replacing the other Washington Senators, who had moved to Minnesota and become the Twins.)

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Monday, March 21, 2005


Fortunately, "pitch" has several different meanings

While I was fast-forwarding the TiVo through the commercial breaks during Fox's Sunday night lineup, I noticed a bunch of commercials for the forthcoming film "Fever Pitch." This prompted me to, tonight, watch the original version of "Fever Pitch," starring Colin Firth, which I had recorded off the Independent Film Channel a couple of months ago. First of all, it's nothing like the DVD cover that's pictured on its IMDB page -- yikes.

I haven't read the book (although I assume Levi has), but since the screenplay for the original movie was also written by Nick Hornby, I assume it stays fairly true to the book. Therefore, I can already tell that the new "Fever Pitch" is much more loosely based on the book, even aside from the fact that it involves a fan of the Boston Red Sox and not a fan of the Arsenal Football Club. They've changed the character names, which can't be a good sign. Also, we know they filmed scenes with Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore at Busch Stadium in St. Louis during Game 4 of the World Series last year; in the original "Fever Pitch," Arsenal's final match was on the road, but Colin Firth's character didn't go to Liverpool to see it, he was watching on TV in his apartment near Arsenal's home stadium. (Maybe the editors have changed history by digitally transforming Busch Stadium into Fenway Park!)

I'm pretty sure I'll end up seeing the new "Fever Pitch," if only so I can make another post here about differences between the two films.

On a non-baseball-related note: in "Fever Pitch," it's mentioned that Arsenal had to beat Liverpool by the specific score of 2-0 to win the championship. Anyone know enough about British football to explain that to me? (Or is it explained in the book, Levi?) I assume there's some kind of point system involved, but is the point system bizarre enough that they would have lost if they had won 3-0?

Original comments...

Jim: I should have made mention in the one glimmer of hope visible in the IMDB cast list for the new "Fever Pitch": Johnny Damon as himself.

Luke, hanger-on: It's been awhile since I read "Fever Pitch" and I don't know as much about European soccer as I should, but a team competes for something like 37 championships and cups in a given year. I don't remember what was at stake between Arsenal and Liverpool, but it was probably one of the "home and away" championships, in which one game is hosted by each team and the goals are totaled. In this case, Liverpool must have won the first game by one goal. (I don't know what happens in the event of a tie.) Or it could just be the regular-season "derby," like Sox vs. Cubs, intraseason rivalries that mean a lot more to soccer fans than they would to baseball fans. (Then again, European fans take everything much more seriously than American fans, God bless them.)

And, no, Arsenal wouldn't have lost if they had won 3-0, unless they had conspired with bookies and had bet against themselves to cover the spread.

(Soccer gambling, by the way, is far out, and I wish I had tried it when I was there. For each game there are dozens of possible wagers, much in the same way there are for our Super Bowl -- who will win the coin flip, who will have more third-down running plays, etc. -- but it's state-sanctioned and there are betting parlors on every other block.)

Levi: I can't even think about the movie without getting annoyed at the way that Bud Selig sold out the World Series to a damn movie by letting the film crew on the field right after Game Four. It's the crowning moment of a couple of thousand games over a six month season, the most important moment in the entire business of baseball, and Bud decided that it was okay to more or less sell it for the sake of a few dollars to a movie that no one will remember in a year.

That man somehow manages to regularly be cheaper and nastier than his suits look. And that's an achievement.

Jason: I'd say less than a year - 2, 3 months tops.

Becky: This question hits me where I live.

In English football, the main thing to win is "the league" now known as the Premiership. The league involves each team playing each other once home, once away, over the course of the season. Three points for a win, one for a draw (tie). The winner is the team with the most points at the end. THERE ARE NO PLAYOFFS. If there is a tie for total number of points, they go to "goal difference" which is like net goals: goals scored minus goals conceded. So Arsenal had to win by at least two goals- they needed the three points to take them up to a tie on total points and they needed to score two more goals than their opponents to win on goal difference. 3-0 or 3-1 would have done the trick too. It was just a coincidence that the 2 teams still in contention played each other on the last day of the season, adding to the excitement. All clear now?

Levi: Man, Becky. That's more complex than I thought. Turn Bud Selig loose on that and you'd have ten rounds of playoffs and everyone would have a chance!

Luke, hanger-on: Thanks for the clarification, Becky.

Speaking of soccer's elegant complexity, this seems as good a spot as any to reiterate my call for relegation in Major League Baseball.

I don't pretend it could ever happen -- fans would love it but owners and players would get assed out, and it would wreck the current system of farm clubs and minor/major affilitations -- but neither do I pretend that it wouldn't be really, really cool if at the end of each season the four worst teams were sent down to AAA and the four best minor league teams were called up. Say good-bye to perennial losers like the Expos^^^^^Nationals, Royals and the Devil Rays -- who exist for no other reason then ... wait, why do they exist? -- and say hello to the Bisons, Clippers and Rivercats!

Jim: Not totally without precedent, since back in the olden days (before 1969), it was common to hear comments like "the Senators are mired in the second division again," meaning they were down near the bottom of the American League standings. Actually, you occasionally still hear it today, but since the leagues are in their geographical divisions, talk of a "second division" in MLB just confuses everyone.

thatbob: Also in the American version, the Fever Pitch is something that is thrown, while in the British version the Fever Pitch is the surface you play upon. Right?

Becky: Yup, play on the pitch on the UK.

And yeah, relegation and promotion add to the excitement (and potential devastation) of any season.

Terry: Sorry to interrupt. Just want to make 2 points:

1) Although Becky is completely right concerning points and goal difference, Arsenal actually won the league title in 1989 on scoring more goals than Liverpool. If clubs finish tied for points and goal difference, then goals scored become the tiebreaker. Arsenal finished tied with Liverpool on 76 points and goal difference of +37, but had scored 73 goals while Liverpool only managed 65.

2) The movie Fever Pitch (with Colin Firth) is only based loosely on the book. The book is autobiographical series of essays relating Nick Hornby's life from 1968 to 1992. The movie is, however, a fictional story, but contains with flashbacks that taken from the book.

Terry: The last sentence should have read: "The movie is a fictional story, but contains flashbacks taken from the book."

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Saturday, March 19, 2005


Baseball-related souvenir

I recently took advantage of Apple's price drop to buy a new 60-gigabyte iPod Photo, and to partially finance that purchase, I have just put my old 30-gigabyte 3rd-generation iPod up for sale on eBay. Maybe "old" isn't quite the right word, since it was purchased new at the end of June 2003, but I guess 21 months is practically an eternity in iPod terms.

This is one of the iPods that accompanied me and Levi on the trip last August, which means it spent a significant amount of time in the glove compartment of a nearly-brand-new 2005 Chevrolet Impala -- how many iPods can say that? Why, it's been to such far-flung locales as Montreal, Tampa, and the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. It's even been listened to on board Amtrak trains!

Anyway, it's still working great, as I attempted to explain in the auction description, and I managed to save the entire boatload of accessories and the box, so those are included as well. If you're the winning bidder, and you let me know you heard about this auction here on, you'll get free shipping and insurance if you're in the United States, and a discount on the shipping and insurance if you're anywhere else in the world.

(And a note that perhaps only Levi will understand: you may remember the 30-gig iPod was named North & Clybourn, so to keep the naming scheme, I had to pick a larger locale to name the new 60-gig iPod after. It's named Clark & Lake.)

Original comments:

stacey: did you ever have a 5 gig iPod? was it named jarvis?

Jim: Jarvis would be more of a 20GB iPod. 5 gigs would have to be Isabella, I think.

Levi: So how much did you get for it?

Jim: I don't know yet. The winning bidder sent me an apologetic e-mail an hour after the auction ended, saying he didn't have enough money to cover his bid. I've sent out Second Chance offers to the top non-winners, which means they get a "Buy It Now" opportunity at their bid price. If none of them accept the Second Chance offer, I'm going to relist it, but that won't happen until at least next Saturday, because you have to wait 7 days before filing a "non-paying bidder" report to get your eBay fees refunded. (Because of the quickness and apologeticness, I'm going to file a report that said we mutually agreed the transaction wouldn't happen, so the winner won't get any strikes on his eBay record. I've already sent him an e-mail explaining that, and giving him the friendly advice that not all eBay sellers will be that nice.)

Levi: Man. That sucks. I understand being surprised you end up paying as much as you do--having thought, say, that you surely wouldn't reach your maximum bid. I can imagine some regret. But I can't quite imagine not having at least counted the pennies beforehand, just in case.


Thursday, March 17, 2005


Some things gold can stay

To distract you all from the rat and pony show going on in DC today*, here's a bit of good news passed on by BRPA reader Becky:
Five Red Sox players (Varitek, Millar, Mirabelli, Wakefield**, and our own Johnny Damon) will soon appear on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, but Johnny Damon has refused to cut his hair for the show. His reason? Because of his forthcoming book, he's contractually obligated to keep it long! What a great idea! If anyone can get Craig Wilson to sign such a contract, please do. And while you're at it, maybe get Matt Morris to sign something promising to shave that fungus off his chin?

*Excuse me if I can't get worked up about publicity-hungry Congressmen feigning outrage over what Mark McGwire might have jabbed in his ass. Once our esteemed representatives can bother to get themselves worked up enough about, say, the fact that our troops were sent, ill-equipped and without a plan into a war of choice, then I'll perk up when they want to grandstand about how baseball is harming our kids.

**Is being a knuckleballer the closest thing, in baseball terms, to being gay?

Original comments...

Jason: Were our representatives ever esteemed?

Jim: Similar sentiments were expressed on "The Daily Show" this week with regard to the steroid hearings, but I'm pretty sure Levi doesn't watch "TDS" (it's too hard if you don't have a subscription for your TiVo), so this post was wholly original, not just the part about Craig Wilson.

Toby: Levi, Nice reference to the Robert Frost poem (which is also somewhat a reference to the Stevie Wonder song, "Stay Gold") in the header. And yes, I believe being a knuckleballer is... (I laughed out loud when I read that)

thatbob: I think that now, more than ever, being gay in baseball is probably the closest thing to being gay in baseball. But being a knuckleballer might be the closest thing to being, say, a practicing Zoroastrian in baseball. (I was going to say being a practicing Zen Buddhist philosopher in baseball, but then I remembered Yogi Berra was a catcher.)

Levi: Yeah, I should clarify what I meant: clearly, the closest thing to being gay in baseball is being gay. But, since baseball is self-defined as macho--and straight--but the knuckleball is both not macho and not generally trusted, by non-knuckleballers, pitching coaches, and teammates, I think the grudging acceptance of a good knuckleballer by his teammates--i.e., "He's on our side, so he's okay, I guess."--would be, I posit, kind of similar to the way a clubhouse would, after an adjustment period, deal with a teammate whom the team members learned was gay.

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Sunday, March 06, 2005


The ping of the bat

If it's March, it's obviously time for baseball. So Jason and I went to our first game of the year today: our alma mater versus the Matadors of California State University Northridge. Despite all indications having been that the game started at 1:00 (e.g., that's what was printed on the tickets), when Jason and I arrived at Matador Field at about 1:05, it was well into the fourth inning, with CSUN up by quite a few runs. And Northwestern had already put a handful of errors on the scoreboard.

Somehow, most of these people were aware that the actual start time of the game was well before 1:00...

CSUN batting...

Northwestern batting...

The dugouts at Matador Field aren't actually dug out...

At one point, a formation of five old-timey airplanes flew over. I couldn't get my camera out of the bag and ready as fast as I would have liked, so this is the only good shot I got...

Want a job where you can wear shorts and flip-flops? How about working the radar gun at college baseball games?

Northwestern tried to claw their way back by scoring five runs in the top of the 9th, including an inside-the-park home run (actually, it may have been a triple and an error -- didn't see the scoring). Congratulations to the batter...

But it was too little, too late, and the final score was 11-8. But as you may be able to see from the pictures, it was a beautiful day for baseball. And afterwards, because I was with Jason and not Levi, we had a late lunch/early dinner at a barbecue place.

Original comments...

Dan: Go Cats!

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Friday, March 04, 2005


My cup runneth over!

He so leadeth me beside the still waters, and He maketh me watch men in green pastures. He can skip the anointing my head with oil, so long as He keeps accompanying my walk through the valley of the shadow of spring training with such good reading material.

What have I done to deserve such riches? A book by my favorite non-Cardinal and a book about the Cardinals to be published the same month? And by the same author who wrote one of the two books that Adam Dunn admits to having read in his 24 years?


Thursday, March 03, 2005


The Gospel According to . . .

Johnny Damon.

I'm in line already.

Original comments...

Jim: Hey, we went to two Red Sox games in 2004. Where's our book deal?

Levi: I was on the verge of signing us to a book deal with a major New York trade house, but, as the fine print required us both to grow long hair and a beard, I balked.

Jason: You could have borrowed my hair & beard.

Jim: Just to point this out for anyone reading this who don't know us personally: as you can see from the photo at the top of the page, I already have a beard, and although I keep my hair cut short, I could easily grow it long. Levi is the one who couldn't look like Johnny Damon if he tried. Also, ladies, I'm currently unattached.

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How long and dreary is the night?

Said the poet Burns:

How long and dreary is the night,
When I am frae my dearie!
I sleepless lie frae e'en to morn,
Tho' I were ne'er so weary:
I sleepless lie frae e'en to morn,
Tho' I were ne'er sae weary!

But even the poet Burns would surely be feeling a bit more of the vim and vigour these days, what with photos of ballplayers in the paper once more.

The rites of spring are upon us: sportswriters in such brackish backwaters as Kansas City and Milwaukee are dusting off their hopeful columns from last spring, Ozzie Guillen is running down his list of former White Sox to run down in the media, and the news that Matthew Wade Stairs has shed both his belly and his mullet is, well, news. If St. John of the Cross were here in my office with me, warming his long-dead insides on a pre-work coffee while we gazed out at the sub-freezing winter wasteland that is Chicago in March, we'd probably find ourselves in general agreement that the dark night of the soul is giving ground to dawn.

I had two dreams of baseball last week. In the first, I simply listened to a WGN broadcast of a Cubs game. Low on action for a dream, maybe, but hearing Pat Hughes's voice again after these many months made me wish for extra innings and maybe even a rain delay. Alas, I got my alarm instead.

Later in the week, I dreamed that I was cycling to Wrigley for Opening Day. The game was to start in ten minutes, and I was halfway there. But I was only wearing a t-shirt and pants. No jacket. No hat. No gloves. No mittens. No long underwear. No balaclava. No battery-powered heating socks. No seal oil with which to protect my face from chapping. I was torn: should I return home to properly prepare for the first game of the cruelest month at Wrigley, guaranteeing that I'd miss the first pitch? Or should I proceed to the game, more or less guaranteeing that my death from exposure would be a lead story on WGN that night?

Instead of choosing, I woke up.

Actual games are on tap for today, though Opening Day is still a ways away. But we can surely be patient now, even through the heavy hours. The poet Burns reminds us:

How slow ye move, ye heavy hours,
As ye were wae and weary!
It wasna sae ye glinted by,
When I was wi' my dearie!
It wasna sae ye glinted by,
When I was wi' my dearie!

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