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.