Monday, November 06, 2006

Contemplating B.O.

So, I remember watching this documentary on the Soviet KGB when I was a little kid ( I was kind of a weird kid that way), and in it they showed this huge room with row upon row of floor to ceiling shelving hidden away somewhere in the recesses of the KGB's Bat Cave. The shelves were filled with what looked like over-sized mason jars each numbered and sealed with a single burnt orange cloth no bigger than a dish rag.

The dish rag was a person.

Each jar contained the scent of a person identified by the KGB as a possible threat to state security. The narrator of the documentary, filmed after the collapse of the USSR, treated this somewhat dismissively as an example of Orwellian paranoia run amock, but failed to explain why it was that the first Western television crew allowed in the secret vaults of the KGB was filming the still carefully maintained and preserved collection of human B.O. right now. Was it being kept for posterity sake? Was it the governmental equivalent of a baseball card collection that had been outgrown but still sat proudly in the recesses of guest room closet because it simply required too damn much effort to compile? Or, more likely, was the new Russian government, comprised of the same old Soviet beaureacrats, keeping that Tony Eusebio rookie card around just in case it one day spiked in value?

As a ten-year-old, I wasn't contemplating these possibilities. I was staring saucer-eyed at the catalog of human scents listening to a scientist explain to the television audience in a thick Russian accent how we all, just like dogs, emit a unique scent that could be used to track us down should the need arise. I sniffed my skin and thought about the utter impossibility of escaping someone who was tracking you by scent. In terms of evil, my young mind could only equate the Soviet government to the Emperor in Star Wars or Cobra Commander from GI Joe. A government crazy enough to maintain a library of the human bouquet was a government not to cross. Stop signs required a full stop. National Anthems were to be sung with ear-splitting effort.

Oddly, I've thought about that documentary and the people on those shelves with fair regularity since I initially saw the program. What happened to them? And by "them", I don't mean the jars or the cloths, but the actual people. Did they ever know their scent was filed away in the black brain of a totalitarian state? If they did, were they fearful or did they brag about it over shots of vodka at the local bar, sort of like war wounds? If they're dead and gone, are their scents still there? If their relatives were allowed in the recesses of the KGB, just like the Western film crew, could they unscrew the lid of one of those mason jars and inhale deeply of their loved ones long gone? Maybe their scent is all that's left of them. Could something so delicate be all that's left behind?

I've had friends and relatives and girlfriends who seemed to leak from my memory and then suddenly reappear in high mental definition with one single waft of a perfume or perfectly replicated odor. There's nothing like a smell to jolt you back into a grandparent's house or a childhood Christmas or a girlfriend's arms. My mind has its own KGB vault of odors and I have forgotten most of them until a shelf is bumped and a mason jar crashes down onto the roof of my mouth and there a person stands; speaking, smiling, yelling, crying.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Pablo Neruda, Relationships, and Dog Poo

This will be convoluted and and schizophrenic.

I feel like an emotional bandit every time I hear or read someone else's words and think, "Exactly! That about sums it up." I guess that's why I have never been much of an artist or creative writer, but I like to think I have a well-developed appreciation for the good stuff. And so it is with Pablo Neruda. "Tonight I can Write," has long been my favorite poem and is even more so now that my own emotions are echoed in its words.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, 'The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.'

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
Ans the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another's. She will be another's. As my kisses before her.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.

Ah, Pablo. I finally know how you must have felt. I obviously continue to wrestle with the break up and to think of it in alternating terms of clarity and confusion. That's what I like so much about Neruda's poem. There's confusion and ambiguity with concern to the lost relationship, sometimes in the same breath:

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.

For the speaker though, there's a difference between his feelings about the relationship and his understanding of his future with concern to it:

We, of that time, are no longer the same.

Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Though this be the last pain she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.

The loss and lonliness that is experienced at the end of a relationship is conveyed through the persistant references to the night and distance. Any proximity to the speaker is written about in terms of stillness and isolation.

I guess this is more analysis than epiphany or new thought, but it has helped to re-read this poem and to talk to my brother-in-law about a significant previous relationship of his that ended in a similar fashion. I think all people get some sick feeling of comfort in knowing that someone else has felt similarly, it's just rarely expressed as well as Neruda has expressed it in this instance.

I think about her as much as Neruda must have thought about his "her," but more so I wonder about the future. My brother-in-law broke my heart when he told me he had stayed up at night after his break up asking his female puppy why she was the only girl who loved him, but he told me this from the perspective of a happily married man in a committed, functional relationship. I look forward to having what he has as I realize how far I still need to go. I do miss her, but I'm finding that I do not at all miss the constant wondering, guessing, and emotional limbo that comes from committing to something that has been perpetually set aside until the time is right.

For now, I'm good. Ironically, my female puppy has become the woman in my life and has taught me a lot more I suppose I still needed to learn about maturity, commitment, and reponsibility. There is no "setting things aside" with a puppy. I tried that one morning at 5:30 and Mazzy crapped all over her crate. She'll continue to have accidents and I'll continue to learn, but I made a 12-15 year commitment the second I bought her and I look forward to getting our imperfections right. At some point I'll have to ante up to real women again . . . but not yet.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Christ With Your Pizza?

I couldn't make this up.

Hello, thank you for calling Domino's Pizza, the number one pizza delivery company in the United States. We are currently hiring motivated and responsible people to join our delivery team. Please stop by the store for more information!

If you would like to hear our daily specials, please stay on the line. Otherwise, press 1 for the first available customer service representative . . .

Today we are offering one large one topping pizza for six dollars with the purchase of one order of blazing buffalo wings for six dollars and one order of breadsticks for six dollars. There is a three order minimum to make this offer valid.

We are also offering the Domino's five, five, five deal. You can get one medium one topping pizza for five dollars and each additional medium one topping pizza will cost you only five dollars. There is a three pizza minimum to make this offer valid.

Not that hungry? You can get one large three topping pizza for $12.99 or, as long as you pick up your order, one medium one topping pizza for $5.99.

Lastly, if you would like a personal relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, please call 1-888-NEEDHIM.

Thank you and please hold for the next customer service representative.

Does Christ count as one of my toppings on the large three topping pizza for $12.99?

I have to move.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Who's Going to Watch Me Die?

My girlfriend and I have broken up . . .

The actual event seems weird and far off even though it happened only a little over a week ago. She showed up on my doorstep unexpectedly. I hadn't seen her in over two months as she was out of the state on an extended business trip. She had no overnight bag. Her parents were supposed to be getting off a plane 300 miles away and she was supposed to be picking them up. I was supposed to be driving to see her that weekend to have dinner in celebration of her birthday. This was supposed to be a happy time with hugs and gifts and kisses and laughter. Instead, we needed to talk.

What was said in her short visit is for the two of us and any recounting of it would turn what I want to say into reportage. There's no comfort but false comfort in reporting the facts and I have a feeling I'd be fishing for allies. My reaction has surprised me and I want to make sense of my thoughts now.

Which are what, exactly?

I don't feel like someone who has just lost the love of his life, although Emily has certainly been that. I've felt both shockingly cast aside and euphorically liberated. I'm stuck in a tiny Texas town replete with a Sonic, Dodge 3500s, and a palatable absence of young, intelligent females. But I don't have to wait for Emily anymore. I don't have to wonder anymore.

In feeling this way, I have to concede things weren't right; at least not as they should be for two people contemplating marriage. We have broken up before, and at that time I couldn't experience anything beyond my own loss. My meltdown was nuclear and the ensuing panic has left me with memories I would rather forget. I have been much more philosophical this time and much more willing to grieve a relationship that ended for the right reasons.

I was listening to a song today and one of the lyrics is, " Love is watching someone die." I thought about my mother and grandfather and the long months they spent with my grandmother as she slipped away. My grandfather, the cavernous and intimidating voice of my youth, stooped for hours over my grandmother in her last days and whispered to her in a tender and vulnerable voice as he gentley helped her drink from a sponge. My mother became my grandmother's mother and attended to her in the same selfless and loving way she attended to me when I was young and ill; stroking her forehead and adjusting her pillows.

I thought about the car accident I witnessed when I was in college and the urgency I felt to help. I thought about the girl's head I held in my hands and the pieces of her skull I tried to keep in place; about the blood around her and how thick and fake it looked. I thought about how I whispered to her, even though I knew she was dying, "You're going to be alright, Sweety" because that's what my mom would have said to me. I remember thinking, years later, I have never loved anyone as much as I loved that girl in those few minutes and I didn't realize why until I heard the song today.

I thought Emily would be that person for me and I would be that person for her. I suppose there's a difference between thinking it and wanting it. Did I want to be that person for her and did she want to be that person for me? I don't know. I'm not saying I didn't love her or that I don't love her, but you have to be sure. Love is watching someone die.

Which begs the question . . .

Monday, May 22, 2006

Canadian Fake Hippy

So, I just got back from Maui.

I know that sounds ridiculous, like I have WAY more money than I know what to do with and just go around lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills, abandoning BMWs on the side of the road when they run out of gas, and throwing away giant, meat-filled crab legs because it just required too much effort to get at their succulent goodness.

The truth of the matter is that my insanely talented and driven girlfriend won a trip from the bosses of her massive computer company -- people who seriously have WAY more money than they know what to do with -- and last friday I was fortunate enough to ride her coat tails the entire eight hour flight to Maui. The trip was actually supposed to start on the following Monday but we were both ansty to leave our respective small corners of Texas and partake in the whole paradise thing, so we left early and stayed in a hostel for three nights.

If you've never stayed in a hostel, you are missing out on one of the most entertaining and potentially bizarre rites of youthful travel. Now, before we get too far into this I have to disclaim a little. I'm sure it's possible to spend a few mundane and unspectacular nights in a hostel, so I would hate for you to take the communal plunge based on my advice and come up with nothing but boring stories of milquetoast acquaintances. But I have to say, in my experiences, hostels act like a cultural petri dish attracting the most happily wayward and comical caricatures of vagabond life from across the globe. They thrive in the bulletin board messages, grimy shower floors, and harlequin appointed kitchens and revel in telling tales with practiced nonchalance of wander lust sated. I love it and it's hugely entertaining.

Cases in point: In a Buenos Aires hostel I met three shopping bag draped Ecuadorans who had gone to Argentina to take advantage of a suddenly weak economy and, as they said in broken English, "To make fuck with the Argentine womens." In that same hostel I met a Chinese guy who lived in Little Rock, spoke English with a choppy hillbilly twang, and spent most of his time in the city's sprawling parks reading books on physics and advanced mathematics. These random encounters are as good as gold and they don't happen at hotels where everyone's weirdness is sequestered behind a private door.

It was in this deliciously peculiar communal habitat that my girlfriend and I first became acquainted with Canadian Fake Hippy. We were on a hostel sponsored outing to hike through Maui's Haleakala National Park in a group that included the following:

Three German girls out to travel the world before going to university.
One British girl whose father was building Arsenal's new soccer stadium.
One gracefully aloof and impossibly well-proportioned French girl (Aren't they all?).
One traveling, multilingual male historian also from France.
One gullible, blonde Swedish milk-maiden.
One dancing Spaniard and his dancing Slovakian girlfriend. Both hilarious and energetic. Both living in Las Vegas. Both in the employ of Celine Dion.
One frumpity, earth-toned art student from Vancouver who spoke in vapid tones from atop multiple piecemeal soapboxes. I am referring, of course, to Canadian Fake Hippy.

Canadian Fake Hippy, so dubbed by my reluctantly cute girlfriend who likes to come up with three word, oddly arranged phrases for everyday items (ex. "Smelly Good Stuff" for any type of lotion or bodywash), revealed her nationality to us upon first introduction. Her ode to Vancouver was expressed with an unmistakable Canadian accent and was signed with a crinkled nose and thinly veiled look of disgust when I proclaimed myself to be from Texas. The "Fake Hippy" part of her true identity took several days to fully germinate into the realm of the obvious, but first began to sprout soon after our pirate van of foreign travelers started the long, winding ascent to Haleakala's summit.

Canadian Fake Hippy, like any legitimate hippy, guided the group's conversation in directions political, economic, and narcotic. She genralized in all of the right directions -- Socialism= Good; Capitalism= Bad; Bush= The Devil; Drugs= Enlightenment (as long as they are organic) -- and just when you started to tune her out as a throwback hippy, she would say something that rang out like a fart in church because it didn't quite jive with her worldly tumblin' tumble weed image. For example, after generally espousing some non-specific benefits of socialism, she railed on the Canadian system of socialized medicine because she was in the highest tax bracket and had to pay the medical bills of, "all the homeless meth-heads around Vancouver." Hippies aren't even supposed to be in tax brackets, are they?

Just a few mountain switchbacks later, Canadian Fake Hippy was praising the merits of "true capitalism" because, she explained, it requires citizens to give money to social projects like welfare. Adam Smith probably shit himself in heaven when he heard that one and the previously disinterested multilingual French historian cocked his head to the side like my golden retriever does when he's confused by something new. Nothing was safe from Canadian Fake Hippy's ridiculous claims and horribly misinformed generalizations. Nothing. When the dancing couple started to talk about Vikram yoga and how much it helps them in their profession, Canadian Fake Hippy, in an airy and slightly hopeful tone, asked if they got to do drugs during the class, man. As the other trip participants politely stifled laughs, Canadian Fake Hippy backpedaled seeking common ground as she claimed to do Pilates every day. But as everyone knows, hippies don't do Pilates. There's nothing "Hippy" about spandex and crunches. Hippies do naked, sandy yoga like the guy my girlfriend and I saw on Maui's tenuously tolerated Little Beach, downward dogging his happy weathered self as his balls dangled freely for all to see. Canadian Fake Hippy was blossoming before our eyes and the full form of her bloom was riotously entertaining.

Everyone was capable of appreciating Canadian Fake Hippy's buffoonery and her regular moments of unintentional humor provided healthy comic relief for our miniature United Nations. My girlfriend and I were secretly able to disregard our shared fear of being the obnoxious Yankees of the group and fully relax into the camaraderie of our tripmates safe in the knowledge that there was one more odious than we could ever be. I suppose it was due in part to the efforts of Canadian Fake Hippy that we were reluctant to leave the mildewed little hostel for the comforts of an extravagantly posh Kaanapali resort. In truth, we probably would have been reluctant to leave anyway as neither of us is the "resort living" type, but we found it especially difficult as one does not often happen upon such a reliable fount of guaranteed hilarity . . . but, twist my arm, the bosses of my girlfriend's massive computer company were footing the bill.

Imagine our surprise then, when strolling through an outdoor mall next to the extravagantly posh Kaanapali resort, we spotted none other than Canadian Fake Hippy hurriedly darting in and out of the Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Tiffany's stores in decidedly less earth-toned duds. All suspicions, were there any remaining, were fully confirmed in this one glorious moment. She was Canadian and she was most assuredly a fake hippy. God bless hostels and the folk they attract.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sweet Jesus, I'm at Prom . . . Again

I always thought the prom I attended my senior year in high school would be the last prom of my life. This didn't strike me as too terrible an eventuality. In fact, I never gave it much thought until I found myself, last Saturday night, a faculty wallflower, observing the ridiculous spectacle of a rural, Texas prom.

Oh, the humanity.

It is Monday evening now and my experiences at the event have just begun to germinate into timid sprouts of cogent expression, such was the barrage on my senses. It's not that my own contextual reference for "prom" was so violently different - I twice attended prom at another high school not too far removed from the one at which I presently teach - but it was just different enough to make my most recent experience seem indefinabley off kilter, sort of like the Seinfeld where Elaine falls in with a new group of friends nearly identical to George, Jerry, and Kramer . . . but not quite. Think of it as Bizarro Prom.

Compounding this vague feeling of unease was my own self-conscious role as teacher/chaperone. Both of those words - "Teacher" and "Chaperone" - carry with them connotations of all things uncool. What could be more frumpity and mortifyingly unhip than chalk stained shirt sleeves, bad clothes, and that wide-eyed willingness to act like a total douchebag that seems to characterize an inordinate percentage of public school teachers. And that's just the "teacher" part. "Chaperone?" What is that? Every chaperone I have ever had the displeasure of meeting seems to perform their job with an almost vindictive, Puritanical glee that can only be attributed to sexual frustration.

So there I stood, chalked stained and sexually frustrated, from 8:30pm to 10:30pm watching the endless parade of awkward adolescents enter what has been hammered into their minds as the crown jewel experience of The Best Days of Their Lives. Tuxes hung loosely from bodies unaccustomed to the fit of finer clothes, necklines plunged in defiance of even the most lenient high school dress codes, and doting parents voyeuristically co-opted one more prom experience from their coolly detached children.

The cowboys wore ridiculously creased and starched nut-huggers, bright red and blue shirts to match their dates' dresses, and what must be the cowboy version of a tuxedo hat. The gangsters (Yes, even in small town Texas!) wore peach colored Nehru tuxes with baby blue pinstripes and matching top hats. Popular accessories included glass-balled canes and large, mirrored sunglasses. The male students comprising the spectrum between these two fashion poles ran the gamut from traditional tuxes to brightly appointed zoot suits that would have better adorned an Asian triad king-pin.

Don't get me started on the female students. Let me put it to you this way, my date to the senior prom bought her dress at a popular Austin lingerie store. Her risque choice in apparel looked positively Mennonite in comparison to some of the strips of fabric that were passed off as dresses on Saturday night.

Once my two hours of service to the school had been completed, I bolted to the door. Things were just getting too weird. I had seen dates who must have been my age or older (Sergeants in the Army!) accompany girls with braces into the chaos of rap, country, flashbulbs, and confetti. The teacher standing next to me, a little too nostalgic for prom nights past, began to dance The Sprinkler and the Roger Rabbit. Someone did the worm . . . and meant it.

Waking up Sunday morning, I felt a lot like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, but there was no one bedside to reassure me that I had had a fever. What a spectacle. I'm not sure I can take my students seriously anymore. What if Dorothy's uncles, instead of a Lion, a Scarecrow, and a Tin-Man had been a Pimp, a Stripper, and Bozo the Clown? That kind of dream scars forever.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Men Play Football; Intelligent Nit-Picky, Wise-Ass, SOBs Play Soccer

In relating the following story I am reminded of a t-shirt that enjoyed considerable popularity among US soccer-philes of the mid-nineteen nineties. The shirt came in different colors with different fonts, but always said, "Men play football . . . Intelligent men play soccer." In retrospect, I see how sport snobbery like this did more to guarantee soccer will never be the People's Sport of the United States than it did to attract new fans to the game, but I also have come to believe that, regardless of how much it sounds like something Little Lord Fontleroy's mother would say, it actually touches on a kernel of truth.

With any sport, I believe the relative IQ of its participants (coaches or players) can be roughly estimated in observing their interactions with officials, especially when the participants believe they have been hosed on a call. Football players punch referees and clutch at metaphoric migraines; baseball players kick dirt and invade personal space; basketball players throw chairs and wince at perceived injustice; and hockey players throw sticks . . . eh.

It's not that soccer players do not act like morons as well. Certainly, the wild gesticulations and impassioned expressions of innocence witnessed at the average soccer match have their own unique pathology of idiocy, but the following nears litigious genius and could only have happened on the soccer pitch:

A coach approached a referee after a match to "discuss" how horribly the coach believed the match to have been called. Very calmly and in a concerned tone, the coach asked the referee, "Excuse me, but what would you do if I said you were the worst fucking referee I have ever seen?"

Responding in an equally calm but matter-of-fact tone, the referee said, "Well, I would have to issue you a red card for profane and unsporting dissent."

"Hmm," grunted the coach. "And what would you do if I thought you were the worst fucking referee I have ever seen?"

The referee paused for a moment, and, in a Holier Than Thou display of wise-ass button-pushing, responded,"Well, sir, your thoughts are your business and I certainly cannot reprimand you for having them."

"Ok then," said the coach, "I THINK you are THE WORST FUCKING REFEREE I HAVE EVER SEEN!"

No red card. No discussion.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Some Thoughts On People, Dogs, Cars, and Falling Apart

So, as far as people and dogs go, most people would say dog owners have a tendency to resemble their dogs. Whether this means the owner and the dog bear some physical similarity or that the entirely too chipper and bouncy sorority girl has an entirely too chipper and bouncy yip-yip dog is beside the point. Emotionally or physically, we are supposed to reflect some dominant aspect of our dogs' being.

I have met too many exceptions to this heart-warming rule to continue to count myself among the believers. For instance, my friend Genevieve has a huge, black Great Dane. My friend Genevieve is neither huge or black and is certainly not from Denmark. Also, her dog is a little on the dumb side and Genevieve is a bonafide college grad.

Lest you think one example insufficient to disprove the rule, I shall continue. My friend Deniz is fit, moody, and Turkish. He also has, at times, an obscenely long and ridiculous goatee. He runs marathons, does push-ups for fun, and was probably a trapeze artist in a former life. His dog, Fluffy, God rest her soul, was a snow white miniature poodle. Fluffy had not an athletic bone in her body, barked incessantly, and seemed primarily concerned with finding toes to lick. The longest hair on her body grew around her butt and had a tendency to ensnare little bits of turd. I find it difficult to draw relevant similarities between the two.

I could go on and on, but my point has yet to be made.

My point: (Ahem) People are less like their dogs and more like their cars. I certainly feel like my car and can think of more car/person examples that fit than I can dog/person examples.

My brother-in-law drives an agile, butt-warmed, super-charged highway rocket with a purring engine and God's Hands brakes. The thing is adorned, inside and out, with all of the little techno-geek amenities that make gear heads swoon. There's a freakin' batmobilesque toggle switch that has the power to increase the internal combustion rate to ludicrous and leave smoldering streaks of rubber on deserted country roads. By the way, he's a former Eagle Scout and soon to be fighter pilot in the US Navy.

I, on the other hand, drive a nineteen ninety five Buick Park Avenue with 150,000 miles to its weary, creaking credit. Instead of super-charged, hard-braking, surround sound, ass-kicking, the BPA (that's "Buick Park Avenue" for the not sufficiently down) is equipped with peeling paint, wonky wipers, soft brakes, and a tape deck. I know next to nothing about the inner workings of anything remotely mechanical (i.e. an automobile), and once famously quipped, after standing awkwardly listening to my dad and aforementioned brother-in-law discuss the technical aspects of a nineteen fifty four Ford Farlane, "What about that turn signal, huh?"

So how does a twenty five-year-old resemble your grandmother's old car? Well, I, like the BPA, am falling apart.

The BPA is losing its paint. I am losing my hair.

The BPA guzzles gas and accelerates poorly. I'm screwed if I'm not in bed by 10:00pm.

The BPA has soft brakes and a loose steering wheel. I have a wonky knee and can no longer cycle and play soccer in a manner befitting any self-respecting twenty five-year-old who used to be decent at both.

The BPA has a floppy windshield wiper. My vision is deteriorating.

The BPA has a creaky door. I have a trick jaw.

The BPA has a squiggley pinstripe. I have a freakin' varicose vein in my leg!

I'm twenty five and gainfully employed and should feel like a million dollars. Unfortunately, the Kelly Blue Book predicts my value more realistically around the twelve hundred dollar mark . . . and falling. Hopefully, all of this will change soon as I am planning on purchasing a new car and getting my knee fixed by summer's end. The one necessitates the other. Who am I to mess with the car/person order of things? How could I drive the BPA with a new knee and well-muscled legs? That would be like my brother-in-law ripping across the sky in an F-18 and then driving home in an Astro Van. It's just too odd to fathom.

But what kind of car to get next . . .

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Friday Night Lights and Soccer Fags

Coaching a European sport in the Texas hinterlands is a little like being a French chef in a restaurant staffed by backyard barbecuers. It's not that the backyard folks are not good cooks, but that there is no such dish as beer-can foie gras.

In Texas, there are more football special teams coaches who coach soccer than soccer coaches who coach soccer. This is precisely the reason why soccer has found an uneasy niche in the budget allocations of many Athletic Directors. Who cares if the school has to pay for a bunch of fruity kids running around kicking a ball and bouncing it off their heads, Jim Bob gets to keep his obscenely large staff of specialist coaches, and the hierarchy of power is more clearly defined. If you are the soccer guy, you are getting the donuts and coffee on Thursday night when the offensive and defensive coordinators are taking last minute looks at game film . . . unless the girls' soccer coach is there also. Even then, you may have to rock, paper, scissors for the honor.

If, on the other hand, you are a soccer coach who has a soccer background and who was hired to coach soccer, you are pretty much left to yourself. There are numerous reasons for this, but to name a few:

1) Nine times out of ten, soccer and football coaches come from completely different backgrounds, contextually speaking.

2) How do you talk about a sport you do not understand? "Hey Coach D., I saw the soccer game last night. Your guys really kicked the ball into the goal thingy well . . ."

3) The soccer guy's teams are probably beating the bejesus out of the teams coached by the special teams guy who bought Soccer Coaching For Dummies. Aside from putting up with the occasional gay joke around the coaches office ( My favorite goes like this: What's the worst part about telling your parents you play soccer? Answer: Telling them you're gay. Hilarious!), there generally exists a level of respect for anyone who is successful as a coach. Everyone loves a winner, even if that winner strikes you as a little light in the loafers.

On the flip side, most soccer guys know they are the outcasts of the athletic department. The special teams coach thing goes both ways.

Head football guy needs a special teams coach.

Can't afford to hire someone new.

Get the soccer guy to do it!

Then there's the whole "gay" thing. That's tough to miss.

There is, however, a camaraderie that exists between soccer coaches in this great football state and one of the sacred rituals performed to sanctify this bond is to make merciless fun of the football guys (also called pointy ball coaches) who find themselves foreigners on the sidelines of a soccer pitch. And, oh, is there fertile ground for fun-making.

Some of my favorites (yes, another list!):

1) At the kickoff: "Stay in your lanes guys!"

2) While giving a team talk before the match: "Go out there and pop somebody in the mouth!"

3) In protest of a call: "Referee! Did you not see that interference!"

4) On a corner kick: "Alright boys, post up!"

And these are just the quotable one-liners. There are countless other examples of football bafoonery I have witnessed on the sidelines of a soccer match that are not so easily conveyed. For instance, there is the coach who, in a playoff match, instructed his players to, "Defend the field!", even when the ball was well within shooting distance. Instead of compressing the field of play, his players sprinted to the sidelines just in case the attacking player decided the area fifty yards from DEAD CENTER OF GOAL looked to be a more compelling target.

Then there was the pointy ball guy who teamed up with another pointy ball guy and decided to relay information about my team's "scheme" from pressbox to sideline via walky-talky. In a sport like football where fluidity of play is non-existant and timeouts, injuries, and changes of possession all warrant a stoppage, this makes some sense. In addition, football offenses and defenses try to disguise pre-snap formations through movement and spacing so a bird's eye view has its advantages. Soccer is a game of constant movement where eleven players are both offensive and defensive depending upon the situation. I can tell from the touch line when Little Bobby is getting done up and why. The thought of having someone else make a special call to tell me who is sucking at a particular moment is redundant and obnoxious. Plus, when you're on the same sideline as the opposing coach (and you are at a soccer match) you can hear the cackling critique of the walky-talky just as well as he can. A lot of time and effort could have been cut out of the equation if the coach had just walked over and told me his game observations.

Similarly, there is the coach (and I chalk this one up to idiocy, not football) who suggested in friendly conversation while scouting the same match that he would like to get the team with excellent speed on a large field so that he could neutralize their speed. Even the neighborhood fat kid knows he doesn't stand a chance once the freeze tag game is moved from inside to outside. Maybe after they run all over you they'll be winded and you can pull a few back. Wow.

Sometimes, when I get really frustrated coaching my players (and it happens regularly with 14-18 year old boys), all I have to do is look down the sideline at the guy wearing the plum-smugglers and stand-alone mustache and things have a tendency to assume their proper perspective.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Per Lahm: The pride of Snyder, TX

Let me tell you about Per Lahm . . .

Per Lahm is the greatest thing to happen to US soccer since the Men's National Team qualified for the 1990 World Cup. Per Lahm is the most complete US goalkeeper ever, and he keeps getting better. Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Marcus Hanneman? All solid American goalkeepers, but they may as well be Swiss cheese in comparison to Per Lahm. Per Lahm can stop shots blindfolded and his goalkeeping prowess allows his manager to employ the oft under-used 0-0-10 formation. That's right, one goalkeeper and 10 forwards.

So who is Per Lahm?

Per Lahm is the cowboy goalkeeper. He was born in Snyder, TX in June of 1985. Soccer was not a natural choice for most young men in Snyder, but Per was introduced to it by his Danish parents who had been prompted to move to the United States (Snyder specifically) by their love of Clint Eastwood and Spaghetti Westerns. The names Beckenbauer, Cruyff, Pele, and Banks were often uttered by Per's parents in the same breath as the names Wayne, Eastwood, McQueen, and Pickens.

Per's childhood was no different than any other Snyder boy's - except they played football while he played futbol. Per's adolesence was a musical montage depiciting his surprising development into a world class goalkeeper and culminating in his discovery by Leeds United of Leeds, England. After tearfully deciding to leave Snyder, TX (it grows on you) Per braved the move to England and has quickly become one of Leeds' biggest stars. His performance on the pitch is surpassed only by his quick wit and incredibly quotable press conferences. The following are considered Per's most quotable quips:

At the press conference announcing his signing: "Just flew in today . . . arms sure are tired! Hoo-weee! That's a little joke my daddy said'd be good to break the ice."

At the press conference announcing his salary details: "Pounds! Y'all are gonna pay me in pounds! What if I have to buy somethin' expensive! How in tarnation am I gonna lug all them pounds around!"

When told to put his on 'boots' in order to get ready for his first match: "My boots? How the hell am I gonna play with my Tony Lama's on?! I got Adidas for that."

At the press conference following his first 20 save shut out: "Well, it was nothin' really. I just figured I'd bail the team out like the good old U-S- of-A bailed you fellas out in dubya dubya two!"

Upon being told by his agent in hushed and hurried tones, 'Per! You can't say that!': "Can't say it hell! It's in the history books!"

Per Lahm has no equals in the art of goalkeeping.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

I just watched Peter Gammons do his dead level best to convince the watching audience of the first ever World Baseball Classic championship Game that baseball was still America's pastime. Looking like a solitary black exclamation point scrawled amongst a sea of colorful scribbles, Gammons reported from within the ranks of rabid Japanese and Cuban fans while arguing, down a somewhat meandering path, that America's cultural values have been clearly exhibited along the base paths these past few weeks. Only in America, Gammons claimed, with our cherished values of diversity and freedom, could such a baseball spectacle take place. One can't help but wonder whether this argument ever would have seen the light of day had the hulking giants of American baseball not been thoroughly thrashed by team after team of Louisville wielding Davids.

Surely, the foundations of Gammons' argument were laid months ago when the United States government suddenly informed Major League Baseball that the Cuban team would not be allowed to compete in the inaugural WBC as its participation would constitute a violation of the ridiculous and out-dated embargo our nation has insisted on maintaining. Rarely do such cosmically divine opportunities for vengeful karma go unfulfilled, and the US team's quick exit and lackluster performances, coupled with a championship matchup which pitted Cuba against Japan, seems to pay the karma bill quite well.

Gammons' argument was nothing more than a desperate attempt to defend the national ego and give American baseball fans an excuse that took the sting out of the righteous beatings our team endured. We could not create a victory on the diamond so we have claimed the diamond's creation as our transcendent victory. As young, enthusiastic Cuban and Japanese ball players battled it out in San Diego, American baseball culture was left in displaced limbo, its traditional Rockwellian baseball values of pluck, hard work, humility, perserverance, and patriotism; values that smell of stale playing card bubble gum, sunflower seeds, cut grass, and leather, supremely demonstrated by the new ambassadors of the game.

Baseball is still a reflection of American cultural values, just not the values our national memory or Gammons would like to concede. Those bygone values, the ones that make our fathers teary-eyed, have been firmly exiled to a vacant lot in the Dominican Republic; a parking lot in Korea; a cane field in Cuba . . .

Saturday, March 18, 2006

What can and cannot be wonky

The previous post was to include a more in depth discussion of things that can and cannot be wonky, but the rabbit hole had a fork in it. So, as promised, the list:

1. Any appendage can be wonky so long as it is not missing. This just makes sense. If it's gone it can't be wonky unless it was wonky previous to its being gone, in which case you have horrible luck.

A. As a sub point to point number one: Prosthetics can be wonky so long as they were not wonky to begin with. If it was wonky when you got it, it was defective and should have been replaced. However, if it was in fine working form and then became wonky through accident, its wearer should be commended for living a full life . . . and also encouraged to review proper safety procedures for whatever it is he/she does.

2. Spines cannot be wonky, there's just too much there. Unless you're an exceptionally good natured victim of paralysis, do not call a spine wonky.

3. Internal organs cannot be wonky. One cannot have a wonky liver, heart, kidney, pancreas, or lung. Hereditary dysfunctions and hard living preclude wonkiness as wonkiness must be brought about by an accident, preferably involving sports, war, or farm equipment.

A. Another sub point: Brains cannot be wonky. One is either crazy or not crazy.

4. Eyes can be wonky so long as they are still nominally functional. Blind does not equal wonky. However, a twitchy eye with a partial cataract could definitley be wonky. I know, I know, twitchy eyes and cataracts are not usually brought about by accidents, but wonky seems to fit here.

I'm sure there's more to this and will add to it as inspiration strikes and definitions become more founded.


Sunday, March 12, 2006

National Wonky

It's good to have a wonky appendage, necessary even. There are far too many people who go through life these days without achieving an acceptable level of wonkiness in any body part. It's a consequence of our societal values and the way in which we live our lives. How can someone get anything that is truly wonky simply by playing Xbox all day or lying around eating butter? I find this hugely disappointing and not a small bit alarming.

Now, before I jump onto my soapbox and call for a healthy increase in our national level of wonkiness, a definition of "wonky" may do us some good, especially as we are about to delve into the minutiae of determining what can and cannot be wonky. As far as I'm concerned, Webster's be damned, "wonky" is a state of permanent, although not debilitating, dysfunction in an appendage brought about by physical injury. The path to wonkiness may follow thusly: I broke my hand. My broken hand was not well set. My knuckle is now in an unnatural position. Due to my knuckle's unnatural position, I have lost range of motion in my pinky finger. I now have a wonky hand.

Isn't that charming? Doesn't it bring to mind images of Norman Rockwell's world where old men sat on wooden porches and predicted the weather by interpreting the creaks and throbs of their own wonky appendages? What if, after dull and uneventful lives, these men had no wonky appendages with which to predict the weather? Then they'd just be old men sitting on a porch . . . guessing.

There's nothing interesting about a man saying, "I think it's gonna rain." But if a man says, "It's gonna rain. The old trick knee's actin' up," not only is that much more interesting, it acquires a level of certainty missing in the previous statement. The essential component comprising the difference is the man's knee and its wonkiness. Simply put, the man's past colors his present and helps him to predict his future . . . . jeez, that's altogether too serious for my present mood. Maybe a discussion question is in order here. Like this one:

Taking the aforementioned principles of 'wonkiness' as truth extendable to the societal level, what inferences can be made about our collective lack of experiential knowledge? What repercussions might this have on our country's future? Does this question have an answer given your own possible lack of 'wonkiness,' broadly defined? Are we screwed?

There, that should do it. Chew on that for a while.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Lotus Blossoms

I spend my days arguing with fourteen-year-olds. In some ways this is hugely entertaining, sort of like playing your favorite video game on the easiest level simply to enjoy the sweet taste of TOTAL victory. There is a certain sick thrill in laying a philosophical snare and watching a dopey-faced teenager humdiddle right into it.

As an educator, I know I am not supposed to delight in the ignorance of my pupils. I am supposed to kindly guide them with the light of knowledge and nurture their curiosity until their inner being blossoms forth like a lotus flower and drops infinitely into the pool of inclusive wisdom.

Let me tell you something, the mouth breather in seat fifteen isn't dropping anything anywhere unless it's a bag of fries into the deep-fat fryer at Dairy Queen. The bit about the lotus flowers is nice, but altogether unrealistic. If any teacher could perform their duties one hundred percent of the time according to the cutesy, hallmark descriptions of "teacher" that are so freely tossed around disguised as advice, then they would suddenly look up to find themselves in the company of Dr. King, Mother Teresa, The Dali Lama, and JC; in which case they would either be dead or, with concern to the Lama, at Richard Gere's house.

More probably, the teacher in question looks up to find themselves playing the role of an underpaid, over-glorified baby sitter who is constantly harangued by people who used to teach about things that have nothing to do with lotus flowers or pools of inclusive wisdom or even the students. The newly disillusioned teacher now has two choices: (1) Begin chewing on light bulbs or (2) Laugh a little. A little at themselves. A little at the students . . . a little more at the students.

The students in my teaching reality happen mostly to be fourteen-year-olds. There are a few wizened veterans peppered through my roll sheets, but they rarely supply the laughing fodder one needs on a really bad day. My most prolific students are young, gangly sprouts of their future selves. They have braces. Their voices crack. They accept no personal responsibility. They are anthropomorphic taperecorders of their parents conversations. Despite having little to no experience with The Big Bad World, they feel completely justified in commenting on its truths and fallacies in stark strokes of black and white. Some wonderful and sincere statements of fact I have recently heard:

"Red Bull has bull sperm in it. Seriously. You can totally get pregnant by drinking it."

"Bangladesh is the Capital of Bangkok."

"Is World War II the one with the Confederates and the guys who wore blue?"

After explaining that in Shakespeare's time young boys played the female roles because women were not allowed to perform and then opening a textbook to a photograph of Olivia Hussey from Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, "Hey, that doesn't look much like a young boy."

After mention of Pancho Villa as a "Robin Hood" figure," Pancho Villa wore red and was eaten by a wolf!?"

"Virgin who?! Virgin Mary? Who the heck is the Virgin Mary?"

All classics, and I'm not losing any sleep worrying about whether any of these pearls was uttered by an undiscovered lotus blossom. The way I see it, if I spend all of my time trying to grow a garden full of lotus blossoms I'll get to the light bulb chewing stage much sooner than I would like and I would miss out on the color pansies and daisies and lilacs and roses bring to the world. Besides, my favorite flower has always been the Jackass Clover.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

I Have a Blog

Good Lord, what have I done?

For years I have claimed some measure of writing prowess but have always been able to convince myself that I just didn't have enough time to sit down and write about the things and experiences that really interested me.

"I have to write my thesis . . ."

"I'm too busy with work . . . "

"I'm exhausted . . ."

"I don't have the time to invest in order to make my writing as earth-shattering as I know it could be . . ."

All bullshit. I'm actually your run-of-the-mill college graduate who uses cliches and colloquialisms in his writing (I just did it earlier in this sentence if you don't believe me), and whose excuses for not writing anything of interest at an earlier point in time are more honestly the following:

"I have just created myself as an unstoppable collegiate running back in Madden NCAA football '06 and am about to win the Heisman Trophy . . . "

"Working at Starbucks is taxing on my mental faculties . . . "

"I have to masturbate . . . "

"I have just created myself as an unstoppable third baseman for the Houston Astros in MVP Baseball '06 and am just about to lead the boys to the promised land . . . "

Lastly, but I could go on and on:

"I am busy carefully crafting excuses that will explain why my thesis is not completed without undermining my ability to claim that other things in my life are unfinished because I am working diligently on my thesis . . . "

So why start writing now? Good question. I have started to write and then deleted five or six sentences here in the last few minutes and am coming to the conclusion that I don't really have a conclusion. For now, I'll just say I see it as a way to commune with my sister. She started blogging long ago to vent to cyberspace, but has recently felt a little intruded upon. The phrase, "venting to cyberspace," does not imply that cyberspace will critique or even vent back, but so it has been for Rachel in the last few weeks. From my perspective, most of this boils down to the fact that she has disgustingly large deposits of talent that hang off of her personality like the bags of fat most kindergarten teachers have where their triceps should be . . . but in a good way. My folks see this, especially my dad, and while taking massive amounts of pride and enjoyment in her abilities, also want to encourage her to "do something" with said ability. Hence, they comment and critique and dissect. All of this is good and well as long as the posts have something to do with Navy functions and boating mishaps and not gyno visits and wedding beds.

So here I am, taking one for the team and offering myself up to the same scrutiny and dissection; and with a blog entitled "Drinking stories" no less (parents love stuff like that!). I'm pretty confident I didn't need a semicolon in that last sentence, but fuck it. There it is. Critique away!