Thursday, July 31, 2008

Street Ball

Our man Obama made a big splash on his Middle East/Europe tour, drawing a quarter million Germans together to hear his plans (still pretty short of specifics) for the future. The news media was impressed, but if anything, American voters seemed to collectively yawn and actually added a point or two ( if we trust the polls) to McCain, whose week's high point was eating German FOOD. It looks as though Americans are on their way to being as cynical about elections as Italians.

Plenty happening in the midsummer sports these days. Another high moment for Spain with a native son winning the Tour de France. The Olymic Games kick off in Beijing next week and the pennant races are entering the "intense" phase that happens this time every year without fail.
But truthfully, you can read all that in your hometown paper. You read THIS to get things that are ABSOLUTELY obscure. One of them is taking place as I write. Out of nowhere we had a great infusion of family visitors, four from the Midwest and four more from up the road from here near Seattle. The household goes from two to ten in a heartbeat, with five children, none older than eight, and EVERYTHING changes. Dirty dishes quadruple, laundry triples and noise is up by a factor of five. I can imagine the neighbors hoping that none of this becomes known in the already downtrending local real estate market.
There are plenty of ways to have fun, but adults often "overdo" things a bit. Someone feels they must insert a rule, which then must be augmented and qualified. Next thing you know, it's the Little League, with everyone in uniform, paid umpires and $2 fund-raiser hot dogs. Fun? Yeah, but hardly what the kids would have done on their own.
But not us. Not tonight, anyway. Uncle Chris took the sidewalk chalk that had already been used to fill the driveway with childish graffitti and organized a game of foursquare right smack in the middle of our dead-end street. That gave way to a hilarious round of kickball, consisting mostly of coaching everyone around the bases. It seemed a little like herding cats, and we couldn't get through ANYTHING, it seems, without someone crying. Still, everyone seemed to learn something and, even better, blew off steam before going to bed without too much rebellion.
Tonight we were smart enough to avoid explaining rules to three year-olds. Just get them running, throwing, hitting (with tennis racquets old enough to vote, brought down from their wall-mounted shrine), do some cheering and have fun! What smart parents we've become - getting the message somewhere along the line that when it comes to little kids, some unorganized street ball is just fine.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Some Summer Stuff

I was minding my own business the other day, when wife enters the room and starts to ask my opinion of her shoes. I realize I may be in deep doo doo no matter what I say, and so I "dumb up" as much as possible to avoid giving an actual answer. It's then I realize things have changed in our now down-to-two household. We're missing a daughter or two. They're the ones who have always filled the role of fashion consultants. All I can do is get myself labeled a dope, buffoon or fashion flunkout. Maybe all three.

Have you considered the situation of Kevin Federline, former husband of Brittney Spears and the dad of her two kids? It's kind of a good news, bad news sort of thing. On the one hand, K Fed, as we hipsters call him, has a pretty easy gig as one of the world's richest stay-at-home dads. Plenty of money coming in - he could ride that train for years and have enough left over to buy himself a palace. On the other hand, he could lose it all if he doesn't keep custody of the two little Feds, and that could be done pretty easily just by having the wrong refreshments at a party, going out TO the wrong party or booking a baby sitter who could be described as "a babe". Brittney may have lost custody, but she's got plenty of legal muscle, and could easily hire someone to take incrimminating pics from the neighbors' tree. So, no question he has to watch it. He can have it easy or fun, but not BOTH. As I always say - "Life is full of tradeoffs."

In one of President Bush's lighter moments of past years, he was caught wishing for a dictatorial government with himself, naturally, as dictator. China doen't quite have that, but the government operates its capital Beijing using some impressive powers that the local bigshots aren't afraid to use. The Olympic Games opens in a couple of weeks, and so some things just ABSOLUTELY have to get done. Mitt Romney could tell you what it's like, I'm sure. Your sailing venue is clogged with disgusting green slime? Put the army to work along with every big piece of earthmoving machinery in sight until the whole area (beach, too) is algae-free. Your city has a horrible reputation for bad air? No problem. Order people to stop driving. I would guess that the penalty for being caught at the wrong time and place behind the wheel would be...slime removal duty. Your city has a reputation of having a plain, Stalinist look? Use some of those giant Wal-Mart bucks to create some new jazzy-looking buildings, one of which is 750 feet tall and resembles a gigantic ancient ruin. And that one isn't even a sports venue! It all makes me want to pack my bags for Beijing - but only if I can arrive on a day when the cabs are rolling.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Quotes You'll Never Hear

Last week Karl Rove, the GOP genius credited with having masterminded the last two successful presidential campaigns, was due to testify to a congressional committee trying to get to the bottom of possible corruption in the Justice Department. The committee was left waiting when Rove didn't show, but did allow his attorney to say that Rove was stiffing them by claiming executive privilege, nyah, nyah.
But he doesn't escape judgment here, the unread but true scoop on things political as they unfold. Nope. He gets "quoted" in things that while truthful, will not be heard, mostly for partisan political reasons.
Did you catch that? The president's comments on the economy this week would be an example. I don't recall precisely what he DID say, but it was along the lines of something meaningless like "There, there". What was he thinking? We'll never know, but he absolutely did NOT say "Hey, I read the papers. You think I got a handle on all this economic stuff? I called up the guys who handle my blind trust (That's right. I get a little peek now and then 'cause I'm the Decider, remember?), and I told them to take everything out of the market. Thas' right, all of it. We're gonna use it for mattress stuffing until P-Day. Whassat? P-Day's when I give everyone a pardon, including ole Dick. He'll be so grateful that he'll never squeal on me. Pretty good setup, huh? Oh, yeah. All those other guys get a pardon, too. There'll be so many of 'em they'll be their own little voting block. And guess who they'll be votin' for - asright, ME."
Here's some other quotes we won't hear. Rove: "My absolutely partisan work in the past makes me about as reliable a reporter for FOX News as Saddam Hussein would 'a been reportin' from Baghdad."
Maliki: "Think we've got a democracy here? I'll tell you when we've got a democracy - when we can vote the Americans *&^% out of Iraq! Then we'll vote Exxon Mobile out!"
Karzai: "I think somebody warned me to avoid being the only person in Afghanistan who owned a suit. Now look at me - it's like being mayor of Kabul without the prestige."
John Ashcroft: "Remember that nude female statue we covered up at the Department of Justice? See, that was symbolic, though nobody ever asked. See, we were going from 'full disclosure' to 'not too full disclosure', if you get my drift."
Condi: "You ask why we attacked Iraq? Really? Ah, I'm going to need to ask Dick on that one. Sorry."
Obama: "Watch closely folks. I'm surprised you need to know this. My job right now ain't making decisions, not about the country, anyway. My job's getting elected. And if that doesn't happen, then I'm back to being one vote out of a hundred along with Hilary. You catch my drift?"
Bush again: " I looked into Putin's eyes, and I got the feeling he was a stone-cold killer."
Bush again: "People ask if I thought God wanted me to be president. Actually I do remember getting a vision that contained some words along that line, but I guess I forget to ask in all the excitement why that guy had a forked tail and carried a pitchfork."
Cheney: "You asked for the truth? All right, here it is.............................."
Mitt R: "C'mon. You think a guy like me has any reason at all to go 'huntin' for varmints'? I think I once outsourced a guy to do that and he came back with a squirrel and a possum. I threw up."
McCain: "I'm thinking of appointing myself as running mate. The vice president gets to take lots of naps. ZZZZZ."

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Driveway Moment

I think it was NPR that coined the phrase "driveway moment". It refers to a radio story that is so compelling that a person literally cannot get out of the car EVEN when the engine's off and the car is parked safely in the driveway until the story is completed, and life resumes. Of course, NPR came up with the term to refer to stories that THEY produce, heard on NPR affiliates all over the country. I don't know about most people, but I can certainly remember many times being stopped in my tracks in just that way.
But what follows isn't really that kind of story. It's a story that takes place IN the driveways at the end of our dead end street.
We had a wedding in the family last month. In spite of hot temperatures and forest fires close enough to clog the sky with sun-dimming smoke, we were all able to make the long trip to southern California for the big event. As these things go, it wasn't that flashy but it was within everyone's means and just about all the family came. A success, for sure.
But our story takes place a week or so later, when the newlyweds arrived back here to take up the rest of youngest daughter's numerous things, along with all the wedding gifts, put it all in a truck, take the new family's car behind on a car carrier (due to lack of a second driver) and head north to their new home. They arrived on time, the truck was available, but the carrier was late several days because, they were told, the closed highway to the east (fires again) kept them from getting the carrier delivered here. Make sense?
Came the day the carrier finally became available, about a week ago. Groom brings it to our place, carrier attached. Problem. The truck was plenty large enough, but no one was quite ready to tackle the task of turning the whole thing around on our lightly traveled but DEAD END street.
They tried, but this is not something people not in the trucking business do very often, and they were unable to get the truck pointed the other way. I was recruited to help, and I shouted directions while groom was behind the wheel. That MIGHT have worked, but daughter was also advising groom, and seemed to be giving out the opposite advice that I was. This put a little...stress on the groom. He gave up for awhile, and I even caught him on the phone trying to get someone from the truck rental agency out to get the thing turned. The rental store, having been paid, wanted nothing more to do with the matter, and told him to do his backing up in a "counter-intuitive way", as if that advice could get the job done.
Then a miracle happened. Daughter realized that her skills, though broad and considerable, probably did not include the little arcane steering adjustments that would be required, and she stepped modestly away, leaving the job to the MEN in her life. I went behind the wheel and had groom shout advice while I developed a new skill set based on a complex combination of skills that was half see, half feel. It didn't hurt that the neighbors were gone, and that their huge driveway was mostly unoccupied. I called on the Force to guide my shaking hands until, finally, we wrestled the truck and carrier into submission and pointed the unit to parts unknown.
OK. I'll admit that a million people or so learn to do the same thing each year. It wasn't like parting the Red Sea. Still, the older you get, the more thrilled you are with just keeping up, and showing you're not yet all used up - not just yet, anyway.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Trials

Suppose for a moment that, from a very young age, you are aware of being different. Maybe it's just a feeling of bewilderment. Why can't the other kids do what you can do? Why are you able to run faster, jump higher, exert greater power and for longer, than they can? Why can you catch and throw with power and precision while your peers seem to struggle with the simplest things? What makes YOU so coordinated while THEY can barely walk and chew gum at the same time?
Chances are you just don't think about these things very much. You take it for granted, like breathing or having a doting grandma. Going through life the first and only time, we always sort of assume that other peoples' lives are pretty much like ours, until we discover otherwise. And it's natural to also think that your athletic gifts will be sufficient to prevail over your competitors.
As we continue this little "what if?" you've progressed in the sport you finally feel most comfortable in. Of course you have benefited from coaching at ascending levels, training to make yourself faster, more resilient, tougher mentally, even down to the things you eat day by day.
The goal of all athletes in your sport is to compete in the Olympic Games. The sport, while attracting competitors from many nations, is not, however, one that generates adulation from all fans or coverage by all media. The public can name only a handful of competitors in your sport, who still work hard, but benefit from fame in their own countries and enjoy an advanced standard of living. Your life's goal is to qualify to join this group.
Next step? The Olympic Trials, final barrier to competing with all the world's elite at the Games themselves. But if your country is like the US, there will be many fine competitors present, all with the same goal.
Every sport has it's own qualifying process: wrestling, boxing, shooting, martial arts, rowing, kayaking, swimming and diving, track and field and the others. All share the inevitable moment of separation in which the qualifiers are finally elevated from their inferiors. Often the difference is the merest fraction of a foot, a second or a referee's call for or against. I saw the finish of a two-day heptathlon competition last week in which the difference between qualifying and going home was that a woman had started to celebrate her winning performance about two steps too soon at the end of a half mile race. The following runner at that moment was able to make up half a second in the race, and received points which gave her the team spot. It easily could have gone to the other woman, who still won the RACE, but not the competition.
To me, the pressure of the Trials would be enormous, but some athletes are well known for being able to do their best under what we would consider the most stress. Almost none of us will ever know what it's like to qualify for the Olympic Games, which get underway in Beijing next month. But my hat's off to those who make it, and for the example they set at being at their best with the whole world looking on.