29 April 2010

The TOC: My Own Private Idaho

I've actually never been to Hell (Hays, KS is a close second) but if I had to create my own hell (think about that sometime), it would involve something you love, at the core of who you are, and to make that thing you love something so unpleasant, so miserable, that it seems to be a very different experience, one you would avoid in a world of choices. Like the Candy Corn Experience many of us had as little kids, where you eat so much of it you can't stand that shit, the mere mention of it makes your stomach contract like you were pushing out a fuck trophy. Hell is all the fun you could imagine, just out of your reach. Hell is wanting your member touched and having someone you cant stand just twist the top off of the coke bottle she has mistaken for you Jimbrowski . All of these are pieces of a Hell, but not comparable to the true kick in the balls. Hell is the Tournament of Champions.



I have a friend, Steve, and when we used to live in Minnesota, I was a Gary Sheffield fan. He was always a great hitter, but it seemed he was never as welcome in the clubhouse as other players, even to the point of being not wanted in the locker room. So one day, I ask Steve why nobody wants to play with Sheff, and his answer was shockingly simple: "That dude is a cancer. And you don't invite cancer into your homes, to hang out with your family and friends." You radiate cancer, even going as far as poisoning the cancer patient, playing a game of biological chicken, hoping the chemotherapy helps more than it hurts (it is poison). The general premise was that when things were unpleasant, things that will be the mental version of being kicked in the testicles. As a society, and as reasonable individuals, we try to stay away from things we know will be unpleasant. However, I find myself flying to Kentucky now, on a flight with wifi (which is pretty phat, although totally expensive considering I have a wireless card which i already pay for), doing some writing, and trying to come to grips that I will have an experience that will weigh heavy on the heart. There's no way that this experience won't do that. I'm pretty sure Vince wouldn't have come to the TOC, but there's no way he won't be at the crux of many a discussion. I can speak for myself, and me only, when I say I will have a hard time with the weekend if i find myself too too mentally tied to it now. I can tell you that most of the crying I've done this year has been for fallen friend. First Ross. Then Coach Duke, who meant more to me than many of you know, and more than I ever gave him credit for. It was only in reflection after our first encounter that the full weight of his influence on me. Even though I made a decision to not debate for coach, he had nothing but kind words to me, and was the second and final person that talked to me about a career in coaching, and his kind words made me consider joining the coaching ranks. After I graduated from UM-Rolla, I applied for a variety of jobs and some graduate schools, and when it was said and done, debate seems to feel the most right, and I don't think I would have recognized if i hadn't been told what I was looking for. There are rarely instances I regret making the choice to be a debate coach, and over the career, this tournament brings a lot of them to a head, like the last text message from Tiger Woods Low Budget Harem.


One of the things I enjoy most about the community is that, for all of our quirks, idiosyncracies and borderline insanity that makes up the majority of us, we are, without question, a community. We laugh together, as well as mourn together, all the while enjoying the company old friends and new acquaintances. The Tournament of Champions replaces this theme of community that I'm sure is a good portion for why I'm here, in this activity that I love, but have to recognize takes time off my life (of course, it's the time at the end, when you have to go back to wearing a diaper) The community is what gives me strength, even in my lack of engagement with all facets of it. This being said, I draw strength in our collective wins, and I find personal failures within our collective losses. The TOC replaces that community, that theme of Love that seems hard to express in the eyes of a 16 year old kid (not the crush on the cheerleader s/he can't have). Kids always notice that the time they go, it all seems a little foreign and overwhelming.





I just want it to end, so I can go home.


21 April 2010

Coping with the ever present spector of death...

It's been a few days now, and this Vince thing is still gutting me at its core. Let's just dismiss the way it went down, it's more than that. At least for me, pretty much any death that I have to deal with forces thoughts to my mind that I spend all that I have trying not to think about. Death. For me, it's the overbearing issue that grinds at my soul in the same way that glaciers grind away their landscape, in the same way the mighty Colorado carved what we know as the Grand Canyon (before they built multiple dams, provided Las Vegas with power and water, but stifling the power of one of the world's most powerful rivers). Death. I try to get away from it, but it always seems to filter itself into my psyche...



...for me, death in general hits me differently, probably because I've had to deal with quite a bit of death in my time (some have said it's at the core of my generally less than pleasant disposition). I do not have any of the members of my immediate family that are still alive, having lost my older brother before I turned 12, my father and mother in the span of 6 years before I hit the age of 30, and my sister dying in 2002. Each death hit me differently, but they all hit me in a very similar fashion- like being hit with a sack of oranges- i was destroyed on the inside, but (as is my general MO) was not letting anyone on the outside see that anything was (or even could be) wrong. Usually, I would just find some shell to crawl into, usually with a bottle or some pills or some other vastly destructive tool, and would hope to some day crawl out of the other side, hoping to be a better person because of it (nothing remotely close to a "strategy" although when my mom died, I guess the strategy was to do Coke until i ran out of money or died- but that's not really a plan, as much it is a result for a lack of a plan). These methods, although in retrospect ended up being effective, were not the smartest means to resolve those problems. I had to tell myself that there had to be a better way to deal with the anxiety of thinking about death, instead of worrying about how to live...

..there is a second reason I have a different conceptualization of death and life than most. Every man in my family, on my dad's side of the family (with the exception of my dad's twin, who is an anomaly in every possible way) have had the unfortunate issue of heart disease, and, like a Whitley's grandma's priceless ear-rings, this heart disease is passed down from generation to generation, with my dad dying at the age of 47 (which is 8 years longer than his dad, who lived 6 years longer than his dad). I don't know if I will get this heart disease, and I know you can live with it for some time (dad was diagnosed on his 39th birthday and he lived with it for 8 years and through a heart attack and a double bypass and and angioplasty). My 39th is approaching like a Japanese Bullet Train, so the 800lb gorilla that is death was in the room anyway, but at least before Vince, he was being quiet...



...i guess i am being dishonest with myself when I say that the way this whole thing went down doesn't get to me more than normal. He was walking from a friends house to his house in his own town. I'm a person that enjoys walking, and I really do enjoy walking by myself, especially in new areas. I really enjoy people watching, and I think it's easiest to do when you're just a passive observer in a community- nobody is paying attention to you, which makes it easier for you to pay attention to your surroundings without affecting those surroundings (people are much more likely to act like themselves if they think there is nobody there that may judge them for doing so). I'm the kind of guy that would have no problem leaving his hotel room in a town I'm visiting at 2:30am to walk to the convenience store to get a Coke and some Gummi Bears. I've been told by numerous people in numerous places where I've just walked out on my own (Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami), sometimes in my younger days looking for a little shadiness (read: Indonesia). I've been told by hotel staffs, cabbies, bartenders, etc. that I was in situations I should be more concerned about, but when it was all said and done, I always pacified myself by saying "Who would want to harm me?" and the answer "Crazy motherfuckers, and for no logical reason" never popped in my head...
...and now there's a side of me that wants to be more cautious, wants to stay in my house, fearful of the crazy shit that's happening outside. It's the paranoid manic side of my personality that gets crushed like Reid Shannon's soul when he was dating The Funkiller- except in those dark moments, alone, when I start thinking about death. But, as a great philosopher and king, George W. Bush once said, that would let the terrorists win. I'm sick of how this is making me feel- I'm sick of being gutted by that actions of some douchebags that I really hope get what they deserve (we can debate about what that would be- but it's hard for me to be sympathetic about three guys that broke out of jail to kidnap someone- the fact that he was a friend of mine is important, but even if i had just come across the story, I'd still feel similarly). I just want to not have this Pulp Fiction-esque situation change me in the way that other deaths have changed me. I want things to be normal again.



But I also want to be 6'6" so I could play hoops, and independently wealthy, so I never had to work. I'm beginning to think the second is more realistic than returning to a world of normalcy.

19 April 2010

Tell them how you feel when they can hear you...

I've been, for the last week and a half generally, but for the last 48 hours specifically, been trying to get my head around the idea that a friend of mine may very well be dead. For lack of a better description, this alone has been a rough, bitter pill to swallow. But over the last few days, some things have come to the forefront of my mind, and sometimes, I just say whatever is running amock in this contraption I call a mind...a very brief synopsis for anyone that happens to not know.

Vince Binder, a graduate student at Florida State University, came up missing late on the night of April 1, 2010. Over the last few days, it has become a matter of record that he came in contact with 3 escaped convicts from Louisiana, and they were the last ones to see him, with one of the men indicating the men killed Binder. Vince was a friend of mine. For Vince:



As it became public knowledge that Vince was missing, his friends in the debate community had an outpouring of love and support any of us would be honored to be apart of, much less being the base of such an outpouring of emotion. It was this that really got me to thinking- how often do we really tell the people that matter to us their true worth? I can speak for myself, and the answer is not enough. Most of us are really into the now- what's happening at this very second, and how is this relevant to me right now. It seems like it may even be carved into our culture and psyche that we like to wait until the end before we tell people how we really feel about them. And, if we're really fortunate, we'll have the opportunity to do so. But sometimes, not so much...

...as a freshman in high school, I didn't have a ton of friends (not that different than now, but for very different reasons) but one of the true confidantes I had in high school was a friend, we'll just call him Chirs. Chris and I went to different high schools, but even through the things that pull 9th graders apart, I felt those things pulled us closer together. I didn't have a best friend, but he would have been the closest thing to a best friend. We would hang out after school, generally vent about how much we hated high school and eat peanut butter sandwiches and reflect on our (read: my) lack of game. One Wednesday, Chris met me at my school, as he got out of school an hour earlier than I did, and he wanted to chill. So we leave my school, and go to downtown Berkeley and go to Games of Berkeley (looked at a bunch of Dungeons and Dragons stuff) got a slice of pizza (Arnell's- best NY style pizza in Berkeley) and walked around the campus shooting the shit, having a great time. We get on the BART train, head back to El Cerrito, where I walk with Chris to his house (which is about 4 blocks from my house). We say our farewells, and right before I walk off, Chris comes to me and says, "Thanks." I'm not really sure, but I say "You're welcome, man. I'll see you tomorrow."

Fast forward 26 minutes, as that's about how much time it took me to walk home and make myself something to eat. That's when my mom walks in, and she looks like she's seen a ghost. I have no idea what's happening, but that's the same look she had on her face when she found out my brother died, and so I knew there was nothing remotely close to good news.

Apparently, my friend Chris, who I had just spent all afternoon with, and had literally just seen not a half hour ago, was discovered by his mother, in his room, hanging from his ceiling fan. He left two notes: one to his parents, and one to me. The only words on my note were: "Today was awesome. Best way to go out. Too much to explain. Just easier this way. Catch you on the other side."

To this day, I always wonder if the reason he came to my school that day was because he needed to talk to me, and he needed me to talk him out of it. I wonder if he was reaching out, and I was too stupid/arrogant/self-interested to really notice. I spent the greater part of my high school experience carrying the weight of unmanagable guilt, as I felt my friend was reaching out to me, and my arms weren't long enough to reach him. But more than any of these things I wonder about for my own selfish reasons, I really wonder if hearing what kind of person he was, and what kind of friend he was, and the role he played in (at the very least) my life, might this have made him reflect on himself differently, and maybe he...i did this to myself for years, and still do to this day. To Chris:



I don't know if my telling him how important in my life would have saved his, but I do know that not telling him fucking haunts me to this day. So I try to remind myself to tell the people that matter in my life that they matter, and I try to remind them how much. It seems small and insignificant, so much so that we almost never do it.

Tell the people you love that you love them. Tell the people that matter to you that they do. But don't forget to tell them WHY.

08 April 2010

moving experiences vol. 1

I am convinced that Las Vegas is my muse. There's really no other excuse for my prolific efforts of writing when I'm here (maybe, as Jamie Foxx would say, maybe it's the alcohol). And although there are a number of "The Hangover" quality of experiences here, and I've been involved in more than one of them, most of my time in this town is spent chillin' in oppulent hotel rooms, eating fine foods and playing poker, and occasionally blackjack.
I'm almost positive my oldness
forces me into a position where going out and, as I would describe as "put my dick in the mashed potatoes" which for me in my early Vegas days was not some quirky metaphor fo sexual relations, I was actually trying to find a buffet, and put my dick in some ACTUAL mashed potatoes (apparently, it's the sign of a good party)...

...that being said, watching people pretty much lose their minds in
Vegas flashes me back to my first (and, ironically, only) Mardi Gras experience...As I explain the story, I feel there is a need to provide a modicum of context to why I was there. Obviously, it was at a debate tournament. I was attending Missouri Southern State College (what do you mean you've never heard of it, it's the Southern Utah of the Ozarks, bitches!!), and the admin was losing their shit (they say it was because we missed mad classes, i say it's because we weren't clearing, but I digress). They said we needed to stop going to tournaments that ended on Mondays (which took us off the national circuit, and the only reason I went to that terrible institution- I was the only National Merit scholar on campus at all, which was totally fucking depressing- I also met that fucking suckubus Karina there- fortunately her insanity found another home, unfortunately, it was my boy (sorry Rob, would have "Saving Silvermaned you, but I assure you I was persona non grata, even if she didn't know what in the fuck that meant) that took it in the JT Shortz. But, as they say in the hood, "better you than me, nigga!!". But once again , I digress... ...so, after a day of "debates" (done entirely by 2pm, as to facilitate a true New Orleans experience), we pile into old Van No. 26 and head down to the Big Easy and start the Madri Gras experience. We're not staying in New Orleans, but are instead staying in Hammond, about 45 minutes on the other side of the lake, so we had plenty of time to get ourselves mentally ready for the experience. We arrive, and park near the Superdome (a large landmark, to help us find the car later), and start trying to find Bourbon Street. The first clear memory was having to use the facilities, and beginning the trek of futility. Anyone that has been to Madri Gras understands the harrowing experience that is trying to find a rest room (similar to highway 58 between Bakersfield and Barstow, where on the way in, I saw a guy dropping science (or, a duece) on the side of the road). Well, I walked into the bar that finally let me use the restroom, when i find myself pushing through what j could only have imagined was the line. Boy, was I wrong. I get to the center of the circle to find two dudes, on their knees sucking a woman's tits. Which. Was. Awesome. Even more telling was the comment a guy that I can only assume was the owner- he tells me I "can suck on them titties too, for no cover. Just a 15 minute wait."

This was going to be an insane experience.

After finding a restroom (no, I didn't suck on some titties, just seemed like a really bad idea, although when I left, a cop, let me repeat and emphasize, a cop in uniform, was on his knees, sucking on some titties on the way out, so the legal side I was initially worried about, clearly was no longer a concern), I decided to find my posse, who I had, for some reason, assumed I would spend the rest of my evening with. Because the parade had yet to conclude, we just hung out, drank these things called Hurricanes, which tasted remarkably like that low-budget Fruit Punch some of us frequented in my youth. I had no real frame of reference, so all I knew was people

were throwing beads, and I'm pretty fucking competitive, so I ended up with a shit-ton of these beads, including A LOT of really cool, intricate beads with a ton of faces and things written on them. I had no idea that these things could be utilized as a particular means of currency. So here I am, The Big Easy, drinking on the streets, in front of cops, grabbing all these beads. If they had told me at the end of the parade, "That's it, dawg, time to take your asses home," I'd still have felt I'd had a good time. But after the parade ended, the streets opened up, and someone said "Let's go to Bourbon Street." I was under the impression that we were on Bourbon Street, but by now, I'd gotten pretty drunk (the parade was unusually long and/or I drank these Punch flavored beverages like water, or more accurately, like Punch), and was just up for where the evening was going to take us. Little did I know what was in store...
...we walk what seemed to only be a couple of minutes, and make a turn and there it is. Debauchery. Sin. Insanity. This. Is. Madri Gras...The first thing I see (and, honestly, my last clear memory) comes when we turn onto Bourbon Street. We round the corner, and there's a guy, standing on the balcony of one of the apartments/hotels. He's standing on the railing, and shouting this phrase..."I'm gonna jump!!" The crowd, in typical Madri Gras mood, shouts at the guy "Jump! Jump! Jump!" Amazingly enough, this dumb motherfucker just stage-dives off the balcony. I will repeat this. This motherfucker jumps off the balcony, into the crowd. Even stranger than this, the crowd fucking caught him!! After the dude gets into the crowd, he walks up to the hottest woman he can find and says "I just did a stage dive! Let me see them titties!!" The woman immediately pulls her shirt up to show her lovely lady lumps, and the crowd goes wild...
...i would go into more depth about what actually happened the rest of the evening, but I honestly have no fucking idea what actually happened, all I can really say is the rest of the evening worked itself out into small snapshots, that I tried to piece together, but to no avail. The last full memory I have is that there were approximately 25 people in old Van No. 26, and I'm not sure how we all got home, nor do I really care (can't imagine who drove).

07 April 2010

funny how time flies or terrible hiding places

Some days, I just really have a hard time not flashing back to my high school days. Maybe not for the reasons many of you all do, as the greatest time of your life (my reason is even simpler- i work with high school kids, so...). When this happens, the one song that always seems to pop in my mind is a song by Janet Jackson- Funny How Time Flies...

As I sat around today, i realized the school year is almost over- and that I've been teaching at my current gig for almost 3 years now. Anyone that knows me at all would be surprised to know this, and upon reflection, it even surprises me a bit. I will be graduating my first class of kids that have been working with me for their entire high school experience. It seems like just yesterday I was at the James Logan tournament with a couple of freshman my first year, and after the tournament thinking to myself, "I'm really going to enjoy teaching these kids." I remember taking three freshmen to the Catholic National Tournament in Houston three years ago, and now all of those kids are telling me where they are going to college (and asking me if they can work for me in the future, which means IT WORKED). I'm insanely proud of all of my kids, and I can't do anything but want them to spread their wings and accomplish all of their goals and dreams. But as I reflect, I can still do nothing but wonder, "What happened to all that time? How did time move so fast?" I think I have a reason....
...I'm nowhere near smart enough to believe that I could come up with this myself. Know that going in. That being said, it seems to make sense, even at a very rudimentary level, and I wish for the life of me I could remember who I talked to about this...
...when you're young, everything you encounter is fresh and new, so the processing of things when you're younger seems slower- as things you're unfamiliar with happen, you have to process that information, and it takes longer because of that unfamiliarity. This makes sense to me, based on my knowledge of the way we see things- which involves more recollection and insertion of predictable responses than actually seeing shit, as 90%+ of what we call "vision" is a fragmented version of our own expectations (it's the reason we have a hard time recalling things we've just seen that were unexpected- the warrant behind eyewitnesses always , and i mean always having vastly differing recollections of the same event they watched happen). When we're young, everything seems fresh and new- think of the first time you saw a roller coaster, that really cool video game system, that Cabbage Patch Kid (which I am fully aware dates me, and makes me old) or whatever in the hell it was that intrigued you when you were young. For me, it was my dad's porn stack, which he so conveniently left in my bedroom, in a place he (assumed incorrectly) knew I'd never look- ironically, he hid the porn in the exact place I would have hidden stuff, for the same reason I would have hidden it there, assuming the other party was too unwilling to move the stuff to hide it. As an aside, I actually found them trying to hide some illegitimate bounty I had shadily attained, went to hide my newly acquired booty, and as I went to put it in the hiding space, there they were- newly acquired booty, but a very different and more enjoyable one. Apparently, dad had been collecting magazines for years, and didn't want mom to know. The next 7.5 years were awesome...


...On his deathbed, I told my dad I'd found them, and had been enjoying them for years. He said he knew. How did he know? Apparently, in the early days, before I'd figured out what leaving tracks were all about, I'd read (who am i kidding?!?) one of the finer issues of Playboy (Patty McGuire- November 1976- the photographic memory is good for something!). In the process of reading the magazine, I'd apparently forgotten to wash my hands, and left peanut butter fingerprints on the magazine. When I asked why he allowed it to continue, his answer was, in retrospect, very standard for my parents, with a twist- if we control bad influences, and they lose their intrigue, and you don't get yourself in trouble. His exact words were not as eloquent, but just as poignant, "Never bad to have a little material for the spank bank (yes, he said spank bank). You're much less likely to do any stupid shit outside with a ton of porn and herb at the house."

Touche, dad, touche.

05 April 2010

things i wish i'd known...

I teach high school, and I see the replication of mistakes I made as a young buck, and I truly wish I could have had someone tell me things I needed to know, those things nobody wants to tell you, but if you knew, would have changed your entire existence. As I though about this list, it was apparent it would be extensive, so I'll just write about a couple of these things...

1. Peer pressure is some bullshit, but a necessary evil. Choose your
concessions wisely- they can literally define how people perceive you.

I was pretty square in high school, and I thought most of the people around me were stupid. This is a sure fire short circuit for a great majority of group-think activities that you get into, because the driving mechanism behind peer pressure is the desire to model someone's behavior. That meant that most of the time I had no desire to get involved with whatever stupid shit was being suggested. Most people don't have that sort of discipline, so it's necessary to make prudent choices when you do succumb to peer pressure. For example, the most outlandish shit I did was something called ice blocking- where you buy a block of ice, go to the golf course, and slide down the hills at night, after the course is closed. It wasn't until much later when I found out what kind of damage that could do to a golf course (note: my knowledge isn't what stopped me from "blocking" but instead an unusual amount of laziness, and old age (desire to deal with cops for destruction of public/private property has been at an all time low for 20 years now). A couple of my friends picked up nasty cocaine habits from peer pressure, some still have a pack and a half smoking issue, some still hit the sauce like they were Ike Turner-and nobody saw that as being a decision that would stick with you. My decision is probably at the root of my love for destruction of private property, but I digress. Similarly, I remembered how much peer pressure played a role in how we dressed- and fashion was the bees knees in high school. I always had to make sure I had the newest Gordon Ga Trail shirt (anyone that catches that reference, answer in the comments- I'll find some way to reward you!) or Levi's 501 jeans. Had to make sure you had the right shoes (the new Jordans). My parents were cool with spending a littlemoney to make sure I was at least in the right area code fashion wise(moms actual quote: the kids really weird, at least let him dress not like a dork). She did, however, want me to make a fashion move I wouldn't give in to: the Jheri Curl...




...You were wise to not follow that trend- the Jheri Curl was a
terrible idea, and the fact that there are no pictures of you rocking the drip-drip means you win.

2. Funny is good, but for every mean thing you say about someone, you have to say mean shit about yourself, too.

I spent most of my high school experience being an arrogant douchebag. Sure, I had my advocates, friends that either didn't care or legitimaelty enjoyed the 4 year string of rants and insults I called high school. When you're "that guy" you burn a lot of bridges in high school (hey Michelle, sorry about that thing I said/did to make you hate me) but as a kid, you really don't learn the finer points of insult and ridicule. Over the course of time, I figured that most people are willing to laugh at the misfortune/complications of others. Schadenfreude is a word most people don't know and couldn't spell, but it's at the core of our voyeuristic, disaster pornography society (I ain't gonna lie, I like to watch) lie a bunch of people waiting for the car to crash. But this admission makes people feel like douchebags, so they don't openly ROOT for bad shit to happen, but are fine when it does. Similarly, people love seeing someone get insulted, enamored with sarcasm and ridicule- just not themselves- unless the jokester is self depricating- in which case the sky's the limit. Somewhere in the psyche is a release switch that indicates that if someone is willing to poke fun at themselves, then you should "lighten up" and deal with it- if they're going to make fun of themselves, then they don't take themselves very seriously, so stop taking yourself so seriously. It's also a pretty decent indicator that, if they make fun of themselves, you have no chance of getting away.