If you can’t play, coach… (topic 1 of 157)

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

If you read my previous post you know I’m embarking on a new venture, I’m writing about 157 topics, in the order I jotted them down in my phone.

I wrote the notes to myself over the last few years because, I guess, I had been a writer but currently was not one? Or didn’t think I was one? Or had reached a new level of laziness? Whatever the reason, I stopped writing, but at some level knew I still wanted to write, so compiled a tome of things to write about – someday.

Welcome to someday…

I’m an athlete, and at my age (54) I’m still fast. I’m hard to get the better of on a soccer field, I go to the gym, lift weights, ride a bike (and a skateboard) etc., etc. One thing I don’t do is play basketball. I can only remember one period in my life when I did, and that was as a kid living in Northern California. Dad nailed a hoop to the garage and me, my brother, and the neighborhood kids would play in our driveway.

But here’s something you’ve got to know: the game the rest of us were playing was nothing like the one my little brother Brian played. He was leaps and bounds ahead of us – figuratively and literally. If he wanted to take the ball from you, he could. If he wanted to score on you he could. It was weird – frustratingly weird – for me, an athletic kid, to be part of a game where, because of the far-above-average level of play by an opponent, I felt like ‘what’s the point?’

Unless I was on his team, then the drill was, get the ball to Brian and he’ll score.

After those afternoons on our driveway court, I stuck to sports I got more payoff from. Football? Great. Baseball? Sure. Soccer? You bet. But, whether I was aware of the reason or not, I began avoiding basketball.

Fast forward a few years to me in the Air Force – the unit I was in had a basketball team, as most units on base did, which I had no desire to be a part of. But here’s the funny thing about the military: they don’t really factor your desires into their plans for you. It was made clear to me that everybody tries out for the team – everybody. But I didn’t want to play basketball. I argued that I was already on the Base Soccer Team, but to no avail.

So here’s where I went with it: I asked if they had a coach? Well, no, not yet, but they were sure one (older, more experienced in basketball strategy and drills and nuances) would show up.

So I asked for the job.

And, I’m still not quite sure why, they gave it to me.

So on game night I’d dress up in a jacket and tie, stand on the sidelines with clipboard in hand, and “coach”. Which was really kind of funny ’cause these guys knew exactly how to play, and they were good (really good) and usually blew the other team out.

As I watched idly by.

I’m an athlete, but every now and then the better gig is spectating…

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Write, right?

I’m a writer.

There, I said it.

And why is it important that I say it? Because I forgot – forgot I was a writer. I don’t mean totally forgot, as in some sort of odd, one-particular-skill amnesia, I mean forgot as in I’ve forgotten to write.

I used to be a writer. Really, I did. I started out writing where most of us started, in school. And I wrote well. I typically got good marks on my papers (even the ones that were a little off topic, or demonstrated I hadn’t truly understood the assignment before putting words to paper). And when the teacher handed them back, I always read my words again – because I like words, and the words I like most are the ones I decided best express my thoughts.

The writing skills I learned in school led, eventually, to writing for a newspaper where I wrote under the moniker of “The Online Dating Coach” (long story, for another time perhaps) which then led to writing a book and more newspaper columns.

And then I stopped.

I stopped writing.

Wait, that’s not entirely true. I did write, just a little bit, about what I wanted to – someday – write about. What does that mean? In my phone I keep a list of topics that I want to write about… eventually. I jot down the topic as it occurs to me, so that I can remember it, when I make the time to write about it.

Every time I’d see something that made me think of what I’d like to say about that thing I just saw, or every time someone said something that struck a chord with me, and made me want to reveal to the world what that chord sounds like, I’d write it down in my little ‘phone list’. And there it stayed, for about 4 or 5 years now, hidden and dormant and undeveloped.

This morning I, for lots of reasons I guess, opened that list to look at it. And I counted how many topics I’d written down to ‘someday write about’.

157

157 topics. Some just a few words, others have a paragraph or two devoted to the subject or theme.

Weird, so weird, that 157 times I’ve written a topic down in my list because I felt it was important enough to write about. But not really important enough to write about, only important enough to write a reminder about.

So here’s how I correct the weirdness:

This blog will now be devoted to exploring each and every one of those 157 topics, in order, until they’re done.

There was a reason to write each of them down in the first place, so now I will validate those reasons and bring my ideas out in the open. Will some of them suck? Yeah, maybe, but each and every one will get its day in the sun, in order, as it should, until I reach and complete all 157. Only then will I go back to writing (or not writing) about anything else.

It’s time to write.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zen Golf

I’m a writer and have been for a long time – and in that time I’ve written about everything from Online Dating to Pina Coladas. But I have yet to write about golf. At least I don’t recall writing about golf (see reference to ‘long time’) and that’s odd, mostly because I’ve been playing the game for decades.

I can’t tell you when first I was exposed to the sport, it could have been with Dad when I was a kid. Or it may have been in phys-ed class at high school. I don’t know, but I do know when I started to develop an actual interest in the game.

I enlisted in the Air Force when I was 18. When I got to my first base I was assigned a room with a kid from Ohio named Troy Ferber. He was a golfer, and a good one. Troy talked about golf a lot – even had his own set of clubs – and he made golf seem cool. I guess that’s because he was cool. And funny. Plus he could drink a lot of whiskey without falling over. He had attributes that I wanted to have. He was a guy I looked up to… and he golfed.

There were the cultural influences too. I could tell you I got interested in golf because it had an air of affluence to it (there was a time I was pretty impressed by that sort of thing) and I guess I aspired to be somehow more than I was?

However the interest got going, the actual playing of golf didn’t happen right away. It was a few years before I took club in hand and tried to hit anything with it. But what I did start doing was watching the sport on TV. Despite the military’s rough and tumble image, what you actually do a lot of is domestic type stuff. There’s lots of laundry and making beds and ironing – oh man is there a lot of ironing – and what I began doing when I ironed my uniforms was turn on a golf match. I’d mute the TV, turn the stereo up, and, as I pressed lapels, creases and collars, I’d watch men hit balls across colossal lawns in search of holes in the ground.

And I liked it.

After my time in the service I moved back to California, started college, joined the reserves and, with the help of a re-enlistment bonus, bought my first set of clubs. The irons were perimeter weighted (a recent innovation) and the woods were, misnomer of all misnomers, ‘metal woods’. And man were they cool! And man was I cool, with my very own set of brand new golf clubs.

Only trouble was, I couldn’t use them very well – which was disconcerting. I mean golf looked so easy on TV. As I ironed my uniforms and watched guys take elegant swings at dimply balls, it all looked so effortless and graceful. But the foul words that jumped from my lips as I thrashed angrily at those tiny wicked balls had very little to do with grace.

If you know what the term ‘slice’ means in golf, then you can guess at my frustration. A slice is when you swing in such a way that the clubface isn’t square to the ball and instead of hitting ‘flush’ it contacts at an angle, thereby ‘slicing’ the ball and imparting a wicked spin on it, sort of like a curveball in baseball.

And I had the slice to end all slices.

The harder I swung (like if I was still a long way from the hole and needed a great shot) the worse my slice would get. I swear, that ball would travel about a hundred yards forward and then, when the spin I’d imparted to it via my crappy technique took over, it’d hang a sharp right turn and head the next hundred yards away from the fairway and into whatever woods or ponds or sand traps were over in that part of the course nobody ever seemed to go but me.

I considered quitting the game.

But after a time (and after my wife bought me golf lessons one Christmas) my swing straightened out and I began to hit pretty well. And golf actually got quite fun there for a while.

I started playing in those insufferable golf tournaments that my, or someone else’s, company would put on. You know the ones, where you’re stuck for hours with three other people you’ve never met. And invariably they hold political, social and whatever other opinions they might have that are in direct contradiction to yours. But, because they are your customers, you bite your tongue just about every time they start flapping theirs.

After a while, I started finding reasons (excuses) to miss those tournaments – seemed all of a sudden I was too busy that day, or I had a family function to attend. I think what happened is the social part of the game didn’t much appeal to me. I get why it works for others, but I know myself well enough to understand why it doesn’t appeal to me: I’m actually a bit of an introvert. That isn’t to say I don’t like people, I do, I just don’t like being with a group of people for four-plus hours at a time.

So I started playing alone.

I was living in the town of Hollister at the time, and Hollister had a golf club named Ridgemark way down the south end of town, where the low rolling hills that surrounded us started. Ridgemark was a semi-private Club, with two separate courses that “alternated”. Here’s what I mean: On one day, the North course may be open to Club members while the South course was open to the public, and on the next day, vice versa. But what I found was that most of the golfers out there were members so that the public course was seldom very crowded. And about the time cocktail hour started that course would just about empty itself of frustrated hackers who gave in and headed to the bar.

Which left me and my clubs out there pretty much alone.

There were times I’d see maybe a handful of golfers my entire round. On those evenings a round of golf, which normally takes upward of 4 hours, would take me 2 ½ – and that was on foot. I’d get up to the tee box, tee up, and send that ball screaming. Then I quickly walk to its landing spot and send it again. Pretty soon I’d be up near the green, and then I’d be in the hole.

I happily, and peacefully, repeated that sequence of events 18 times, then headed into the clubhouse for a beer or two myself. Though often, I’d just walk straight to the car, and drive the 10 minutes to my house. All this was usually on a Friday evening, typically after a long week, and during a time in my life when I was working two jobs (one Monday through Friday and the other on weekends) in order to afford to keep my wife home with our kids. And it was good – and it made me feel good.

You know what was funny? That night, after my solo round of golf, as I lay in bed starting to relax toward sleep, I’d replay each shot in my head – every single one of them. It was like I was getting a second round for free. Then I’d drift off.

I loved those days of my Zen Golf.

Runner…

Eddie and Me

I’ve been running for as long as I can remember.

My parents are from Ireland, as in everybody I am related to, who aren’t my parents, siblings or kids, still live there. So every other summer or so, Mom and Dad would put me on a plane in San Francisco headed for the homeland. And when I say me, I mean just 12, 10 or 8-year-old me, to fly for hours and hours, and then change planes at JFK in New York, and then fly a bunch more hours.

Personally, I loved it. I’ve always been, how do I say, a little on the solitary side. I like my own company and am totally cool being alone for long stretches of time, and distance, so the five thousand miles to Ireland was no big deal to me. It was to others (like Mom) so I was typically placed in the charge of some group of adults, I assume known to my parents, who were headed the same direction. Sometimes it was the Irish Club that Mom and Dad belonged to, one time it was an order of nuns, and this other time it was Sister Michelle (the principle of my parochial school, and boy was that a long trip) but whoever it was, I always made it there, to the landing strip at the little airport in Shannon.

Remember how in the old days they’d roll a set of steps up to the plane and you’d walk down to the tarmac like you were coming down the stairs of a two-story house? Well it was the old days in Ireland more recently than it was in most other places, so that was still a thing when I was there. And when I got to the bottom, there would be Grandma, and her husband, Eddie O’Hanlon. Eddie wasn’t my grandfather (that guy had passed away many years prior, after a life spent mostly on the lam) but had married my Grandma after one of those later-in-life romances.

And Eddie was a character.

“Eddie” was short for Redmond, his namesake. Redmond O’Hanlon had been a highway robber who, legend has it, took from the rich (English) and gave to the poor (Irish). Think a local version of Robin Hood and you’re probably pretty close. You’re also pretty close in guessing that such generosity origninated from trying to keep said poor from sharing one’s identity with said rich, but that doesn’t make for as good a story – and in Ireland, it’s all about the story. I liked Eddie from the time I met him because he didn’t treat me like a kid – in fact he’d let me do things my parents wouldn’t dream of (nor later be told of) like fetch his drink at the pub (blackberry brandy with a beer chaser) or run his bets down to the bookie. I think he had me run bets because I could always get there in time to place them, even if he’d spent a little too long picking his ponies.

After collecting me at the airport in Shannon. Eddie would drive us back up to the north of Ireland to Grandma’s house, just outside a little village called Poyntzpass. Ireland’s funny in that just about everywhere that’s anywhere has a name, so the plot of land where the old house was had a name too: Corcrum. I loved Corcrum, with its sloping green hills, it’s rabbit and fox populated fields, and the little stream the ran through the bottom of the small valley below the house.

It was that same small valley where Eddie would have his eight greyhounds run up the steep slopes of the fields. They were chasing the rag constructed ‘rabbit’ I was rapidly retrieving via the tire-less back wheel of an upturned old bicycle I was pedaling – by hand – as fast as a boy could. Of course, the rope being wound onto the wheel that was tied to the rag rabbit kept jumping off track, so that scheme didn’t pan out as planned. But that was okay, as Eddie was an idea man. When some connivance didn’t quite come together, he typically had the next one ready to go.

And the next one after ‘fast dogs’ was, apparently, ‘fast boy’.

As a boy I was always the fastest kid in my class, and usually the fastest in the whole school. My Mom was a runner too, of the caliber that took her as far as training for the Olympics at one point, and I got a good helping of those genes. Between Mom’s genetics and the small mountain in my home town I spent summers running up, I was fast. Really fast.

And at some point Eddie O’Hanlon figured that out.

The little towns in Ireland typically held a fair in summer, and Poyntzpass was no exception. At the fair there’d be music, and baked goods, and prize animals and the like – and then there’d be stuff for the kids to do. One of which was a 50 yard dash. Which Eddie entered me in. And which I won.

After collecting that medal, just about every weekend to follow included Eddie driving me to another village’s fair, invariably in time for the 50 yard dash, which I invariably won. This went on until I had more medals than I could hold in one hand. It also had gone on to the point where it wasn’t really that fun anymore. I’m always up for a car ride, especially to somewhere I haven’t been, but the rides were getting longer, and then we’d just stay for the race.

And that’s how it went until one weekend Eddie took me to a big race in Belfast. This was no fair, this was a sanctioned sporting event. There were flag poles with the colors of different countries flying, and the kids I’d be racing against were accompanied by their trainers and were wearing track suits with their names on them – and the names of their sponsors.

And I was in my usual blue jeans and Keds sneakers.

I won a race or two but got eliminated pretty early on. I thought wow, these kids can really go, and I admired their athletic ability. I would have liked to stay and see some more races, and would have been interested to see how far the kid who beat me got. But we didn’t stay. We got back in the car for the long ride home, and that was the last time Eddie entered me in a race.

Which was fine by me.

After that it was back to fishing, which I adored, and playing in the fields chasing the rabbits, and riding the bike that Eddie and Grandma bought me. And on work days sometimes Eddie would take me with him, and then somedays we’d just ride around and find a little adventure or two. I loved that old man, and I know he loved me, though back then, back there, you didn’t really say stuff like that.

I feel silly admitting it now, but it didn’t occur to me until years later that Eddie likely bet on each and every one of those races. I hope he made a lot of money, and I hope he didn’t lose too much on that last one. I was older when I heard that Eddie died. I hadn’t been back there in quite some time, and it’s not like we wrote each other – still, that charming old rogue played a part in who I’d become.

When we got the call that Eddie was gone I went up to my room, to the top drawer of my desk where I still kept all those medals, opened it, looked at them, and smiled…

 

 

I Used to Own a Phone (but now the phone owns me?)…

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What’s the longest you’ve gone without your cell phone?

Anymore it seems that our phones are also our internet portals – so maybe the question I should be asking is how long have you gone without the internet and your mobile phone? Here’s the reason I ask: I just went two weeks without turning on my phone/internet portal. And you know what? It wasn’t all that hard to do.

Now there was a time that feat wouldn’t have seemed so astonishing. We used to do all sorts of things, for hours, days or even weeks at a stretch, without checking the phone that was to become the omnipresent occupant of our pocket or purse.

For me my favorite “didn’t have a phone with me” story is about driving across country back to California after I got out of the service.

In 1986, when nearly every phone in existence was still firmly affixed to a wall by a wire, I was discharged from an Air Force base on the East Coast. My destination upon said discharge was the West Coast. At the time the only vehicle I owned was a very small, very old English sports car.

To say that car was intermittently reliable would be more than generous.

And when the day came to begin the 2,500 mile journey to my next destination I climbed in my little car, fired up its antiquated motor (which still had the option of starting via hand crank) and pointed it west.

Five days, two break downs and one sleepless night later I rolled into the town of Morgan Hill, California. That’s an adventure I will never forget. And it’s one that, in no way shape or form, involved a cell phone.

And while now that seems like an absolutely unthinkable thing to do without a mobile phone handy, the truth is we used to do it all the time – remember?

We used to go long stretches of time without pulling out our cell phones and calling someone, or taking a call, or looking up the weather, or driving directions, or videos of people getting hit in the crotch with golf balls, or, well, you get the idea.

And look, I’m not one of those “everything was better in the past” type people who believe the world has grown steadily worse in inverse relation to the amount of birthdays they’ve accrued, but I have to say – not turning on a cell phone or getting online for the last two weeks has taught me something:

We get online and use our cell phones way too much.

Now that’s not to say we don’t need our phones – of course there are times when we absolutely need them. Like say for example that time a while back when my kid broke down on the freeway in San Francisco during rush hour traffic – that was a time I was more than grateful to have a portable phone in my pocket. He got ahold of me and Loretta and we bailed him out of a bad spot before it had the chance to become a worse spot.

But how about other times? Like those times when someone is talking to you and yet you glance at your phone. Why do we do that? Didn’t that used to be rude? So when did rude become not rude?

And the reason we divert our attention to our phones, even though someone may be right in front of us and fully deserving of that attention, is that we feel we’re going to miss something.

But what are we really going to miss? An email with an offer for our dream job? A phone call from a long lost, very rich, dying relative?

Uh, no.

Based upon going 14 days without checking my phone I can tell you exactly what you might miss:

About 11 emails selling weight loss diets, 13 selling antidepressants, and 7 selling male enhancement pills (do all guys get these or is it just me?) and 3 emails offering deals in Ireland – and how creepy is it that the Internet knew I was in Ireland? Oh, and I even got messages telling me I’d won the Nigerian Lottery. Twice.

When I finally checked voice mail it was about the same story. The messages I feared might be there were not – you know, like the fire department calling to say the house burned down, or the IRS calling to say they’d like to chat about my last 3 tax returns.

What I actually had were a couple of random missed calls and a friend or two wishing me a fun time in Ireland.

And after all that here’s the analogy I’ve landed on: The phone and the internet are like the envelopes I get from my mail carrier – the vast majority of it is junk. And while that might be great for keeping the Post Office in business, it doesn’t improve my lot in life one iota.

I mean I don’t rush to open those “Mr. Gavin or current resident” envelopes, and I certainly wouldn’t open one as a real live human in front of me was trying to convey a thought.

So why do I do the same with the stuff on my phone?

The short answer is I don’t want to anymore.

But I have to tell you the weirdest thing happened when my plane touched down in San Francisco. When I turned my phone back on – after being off for two whole weeks – and watched it fill up with the emails and voice messages and text notifications, I started to fall back into the old habit.

You know the one, where you use the phone as a sort of distraction as you pretend that all the things happening on it somehow require your immediate attention.

And then it occurred to me that my phone is, much of the time, just that: a distraction. One that keeps me from being fully present where I am; keeps me from living totally in the moment; keeps me distracted.

Here’s to putting down our phones and living in the moment. And while my moment was two weeks long – I’m about to see if I can make it a little longer.

Keep your eye on the (base) ball…

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The first job I ever had – I mean genuine, real job, where they wrote you a paycheck and didn’t just give you the money they had in their pocket – was lining baseball fields.

And it taught me a lesson I remember until this day.

I got the job in the summer of ’78, when I was 14. Up until then I’d cut apricots, mowed lawns, washed cars and shined shoes (unshined them is more like it) but the summer of my 14th year I decided I was old enough to go find me a big boy job.

I don’t recall how I thought of it, but at some point in my search I went to the Parks & Rec Department in my little town to see if they had any jobs I could do. It turns out they did. The guy who’d painted the lines on the baseball fields in town had quit, and they needed someone to take his place. I filled out an application, talked to some lady with a title like “assistant director” and a few days later received a call saying I got the job. A little confession here: no small part of this lucky turn had to do with, to the question “have you ever lined baseball fields before?” I answered “Yes, of course I have.”

A more truthful answer would have been “No, no I have never done anything even remotely close to drawing thick, straight, chalk lines all over a baseball diamond”, but somehow I wasn’t quite able to write that one down on the application.

The fields were situated all over town, so on my first day, because I was a kid still 2 years away from getting his license, Dad drove me (every time after that he handed me the keys to the old truck and said “Keep to the backroads”). And that first day went pretty badly. The next few days after that weren’t much better. Turns out I was terrible at drawing lines on baseball fields.

The wheels on the ‘line chalking’ contraption that you used to do the job were out-of-round, and hard to push in a straight line. And the lines that were already there (that I thought I’d just follow to make new lines) were pretty much obliterated by previous games. It seemed like the harder I tried, the worse I did. I even started to go really slow, taking twice as long, in my effort to carefully create the thick, straight lines I’d need to keep my job.

I was getting angry with myself, and embarrassed too. I didn’t know what to do. And with no youtube how-to videos for help, and no one I knew who’d done this sort of thing to ask, I felt alone. Really alone.

So one evening, about a week in, I sat down on the side of a field and decided to spend some time thinking rather than working. I started it with toughts of quitting. I hate to admit it, but when I begin doubting myself an early instinct I have is, just cut and run. But then I felt even more embarrassed, like really, I can’t figure this out?

So I figured it out.

Here’s what I came up with: my solution to the wavering, crooked lines I was drawing had been to go slower – to be careful. And then I’d go slower yet, and be even more careful. I was watching the line as I drew it, trying to match what was there before. But the slower I went, and the more closely I watch the line in front of me, the worse I did and the more frustrated I got. So I thought “The hell with it – I’m not going look at what I’m doing, I’m going to look at where I’m going”. Instead of trying to match a blurry, messy, disappearing line I started looking at the bases I was drawing my lines to. And when I did a weird thing happened – I started to speed up. I would just look straight toward first base, and quickly walk to it. Then I’d do the same with second, and so on. All of a sudden the job was taking half the time it used to.

And the lines were almost dead straight.

After that I started hearing from the assistant director lady that the players loved how the fields looked. The lines had never been so straight. And I felt proud.

Lesson? Don’t worry too much about where you’re at, just keep your eye on where you’re going to…

 

 

 

 

 

Cycles of Attraction

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I taught myself how to ride a bike – at least that’s how I remember it.

I think it was the summer of 1968, when I was about four years old. Dad was in the Army and stationed at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Georgia. We lived on post in a home that faced a large rolling green. Between that green and our house was a sidewalk that led out to the street in one direction and further into post housing in the other.

The first mode of transportation I recall using to traverse the long sidewalk was a little red fire engine. You remember the one – it had pedals on the inside of it and a bell on the hood that you’d ring with a pull of the string.

Those were safe and comfortable times inside my steel fire engine with wheels at all four corners and no real way to tip over. I’d pedal up and down the sidewalk as Mom watched from the front porch. I’d ring the bell and she’d smile – and all was right with the world.

Sometimes I’d still be out there as Dad walked home after he got off duty. I’d see him coming and pedal just a little faster, and ring the bell a little louder. And he’d smile – and all was right with the world.

But one day, as dad walked home, I could see he had something in tow – it was big and blue and had handlebars and naked pedals hanging off either side.

It was a bike.

I knew what bikes were – I had friends who rode them. They were typically complicated contraptions that wobbled at first until the rider got going pretty good – at which point they seemed to become a magical sort of thing that would then take its owner anywhere he wanted to go.

The bike Dad was bringing with him seemed better than most. It was a full sized bike – like a grown-up would ride – so at first I guess I thought it wasn’t for me. But when he got to where I was in my little red fire engine he said that the bike would be mine. He’d got it on post, from the wife of a friend who was shipping out and didn’t have room to bring it along.

I was excited by the idea of riding this bike. It was beautiful and it glistened in the sun. It had long, curvy handlebars with white grips, and its frame stretched up from the pedals to meet the handlebars in a long, rounded arch that resembled a slender gas tank. It was one of those bikes from the fifties that were built to resemble motorcycles – a gracefully curved and slender motorcycle.

The only reason I had any chance of riding this bike is because it was a ladies model – and as such you could step into it rather than having to throw your leg over it. But there remained the issue of how to get the whole affair started.

Dad said something about putting me on the seat and giving me a push – but in standing next to the bike I could tell that if I sat down on the seat I wouldn’t be able to touch the pedals.

And I knew from my little red engine that pedals equaled progress.

Dad was just off work and was eager to go inside, so our conversation was short. He walked the rest of the way to the house with the bike in hand and leaned it up against the porch – where I stared at it for what seemed like an eternity. I wanted to ride the bike – because that’s what boys do – but was afraid it wouldn’t work out.

Finally my desire overcame me. I climbed out of my fire engine and walked over and laid my hands on my new partner and decided I’d just figure out how to make this relationship work. I guided the sleek bike out to the sidewalk and started running, still holding onto the handlebars. When I reached a certain speed I jumped up onto the closest pedal. This action pulled the bike sharply to the left. To counter this imbalance I pushed the handlebars to the right and fought the bike back to the middle of the sidewalk.

In my memory we battled like that for the rest of the evening. Up and down the sidewalk I’d run her and then jump on – and she’d test my balance and try to throw me back off. It wasn’t until I realized that her imbalance was in direct reaction to mine that I started to make any progress at all.

And then on one pass it all sort of fell together.

I ran my run, jumped my jump and then… then I stepped fully into my new bike. I stepped in and stopped worrying – worrying about how to reach the seat, or fearing that I’d fall and fail. Before I knew it we were both gliding smoothly up and down the sidewalk –neither of us were wholly in control – yet somehow we both were.

That bike taught me a lesson I’d get to relearn some 40 odd years later.

I’ve written in this space over the last year and a half about things like baseball and motorcycles – soccer, cars and basketball. And I’ve used those illustrations to communicate my feelings for, and my journey with, the woman in my life. Maybe speaking directly isn’t my strong suit, but let me be very direct in what I’m about to say:

I love you Loretta Sayers, and the ride is just getting started.

 

Brian

Brothers

In honor of National Brothers Day I thought I’d write about my little brother, Brian.

Brian is two years younger than me, and two inches taller (which doesn’t seem right, but whatever) and is really one of the best guys I know. He’s always ready to help, and is cool under pressure which – if you had a childhood like ours – was a vital skill.

And by “childhood like ours” I don’t mean to imply our childhood wasn’t good, or healthy or loving. It was those things. But it was also dangerous, and daring, and exciting – mostly because we made it that way.

Here’s the sort of stuff I’m talking about:

Our parents were born in Ireland – and because they were they liked to go to Irish events to comingle with other Irish immigrants and do Irishy stuff.

One Saturday when I was about 12 and Brian 10, they piled us in the station wagon and took us to an Irish dancing competition at a local middle school (think Riverdance for 7th graders) so that we could watch the children of other Irish immigrants bounce up and down to really fast Celtic music.

Whatever.

Brian and I pretty much hated that stuff because, well, I guess because we wanted to be American, and outside, and running wild, and – you get the point.

So the minute our folks looked in one direction, we beat feet in the other. And to make sure we executed a clean – and dance spectating free – getaway we ran flat out. Right around a corner and into the parking lot. Where a car was coming. Pretty fast too. That Brian ran right in front of. And which hit him.

Really hard.

I was right behind my little brother and saw the whole thing. I saw him run in front of the big sedan – I saw him fly up into the air after it slammed into him, and I saw him land on its hood and then roll off one side as the terrified driver stomped on the brakes.

And then I watched Brian fall to the ground in a crumpled heap.

At which point he sprang to his feet, shot me an “oh crap” look, and took off running as fast as he could. I took off running too. After all he’d just been hit by a car – which we were pretty sure we’d get in trouble for – so there was no time to waste.

It was that sort of danger and excitement we were always on the lookout for.

On that day we’d got lucky and it fell in our laps – but most times we had to actually create the peril. Like the time we ran down a herd of deer in the field behind our house with homemade spears (kitchen knives lashed to broom sticks in case you were wondering).

Just a heads-up here to Greenpeace: Despite our best throws, no animals were harmed in the making of that adventure.

From there it pretty much ramped up to include stuff like BB gun battles, forest fires, and cliff climbing. But in consideration of those of you with weaker constitutions (and Mom, who sometimes reads my column) I’ll leave the more daring stuff to the imagination.

I will tell you this: You know how your memory of you from childhood seems sort of average, but there’s always one whose exploits seem larger than life? Well that was Brian.

And remember – he was my little brother.

But at a point he just seemed to get, well, bigger. I don’t mean in stature – he actually didn’t get tall until later – I mean the stuff he was doing started seeming bigger than the stuff the rest of us kids were doing.

Even though still kind of short, in about the 9th grade he started dunking basketballs during our neighborhood games.  On regulation height baskets.

Up until that time he’d been my cohort, my partner in crime (I wish that was just a figure of speech, but one escapade actually landed us in a holding cell). He was my brother. He was the copilot on our go cart runs down ridiculously steep hills, the second to jump the bicycle ramp behind me, and Tonto to my Lone Ranger.

But then he got strong. And fast. And big.

And pretty soon we weren’t so much partners as independent contractors. We started going our own ways when stuff like girls and cars began to happen. Although there was that time I threw him the keys to my hot rod and told him to drive it home because I was gonna ride uptown with some friends.

He might have been 14 at the time.

But our paths started to diverge. As the little brother I used to sometimes look down on got harder to live up to I think I created distance between us.

It got to the point where I wouldn’t get on a basketball court with him anymore. And on a skateboard – which was not only transportation in our neighborhood, but a lifestyle – he started doing things I’d only seen in the skateboard magazines.

It wasn’t too much later that, following a chat with Uncle Sam, I headed off for a series of Air Force bases. After that I heard Brian got a basketball scholarship. And then broke some kind of state high jumping record. I think I heard he was lead singer for a punk band too. And one day I opened a magazine and saw him in an ad.

After I got out of the service I think Brian was living the life of a SoCal surfer. I went to college, got married, had some kids and got a mortgage. But Brian was always somewhere like Hawaii, or Bali – in my mind he was always still doing those things that seemed just a little larger than what others did. And what I did.

And for a long time there was more than just a physical distance between us.

Every couple of years we’d hook up at Christmas or Thanksgiving, and catch each other up on the latest. I’d tell him what my kids were doing and he’d tell me about some amazing adventure he’d had. And then we’d head off in our own direction again – until next Christmas. Or the one after that.

My little brother is now 51 – which makes me 53.

And while I can’t quite put my finger on when, something happened, quite a few years back now, that let me get back closer to the only brother I have. I’m not sure how it happened, or why, and don’t really care at this point, but somewhere along the line I got over myself.

I got over my perceived shortcomings, and whatever else it was that was causing me to do that crazy habit I have sometimes of being aloof – and I found my little brother again.

You know today is not really National Brothers Day – but it would be stupid to wait for a contrivance like that to say the things a brother needs to hear.

And what I want to tell Brian is I’m always right behind him – no matter what’s around the corner.

I Don’t Ollie (or, why ‘Vert’ Skating and Street Skating are pretty much the same thing)

 

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In 1978 a couple things happened in skateboarding I’d like to tell you about. The first is the invention of the Ollie by Alan Gelfand.  The Ollie is a no-handed trick in which a board is popped into the air. Initially a vert move, first performed in a Florida skatepark, it eventually became a flat ground trick that fundamentally changed skateboarding.

The second thing happened in a skatepark on the other coast.

I don’t know about you, but skateparks really do it for me – and every time I went to one I’d get really amped. I’d think of the runs I was going to do, and the pools I was going to skate, and the moves I was going to try. One summer morning in ’78 as I was headed up to Winchester Skatepark in San Jose, California, I was thinking hard about some moves I wanted to go for.

I started on the ‘Washboard’, a set of moguls you pumped through that propelled you up this huge beautiful wall – it was like skating toward the sky. After that I hit the half pipe, where I pushed myself to go higher and higher until I reached that spooky weightless feeling at the top.

Then I headed to the pool.

Back in the day it was all about pools and aerials. Skateboarder Magazine always had some pro on the cover, like Peralta or Alva, flying through the air above the coping of a pool. I had yet to do an aerial – but I dreamed of them over and over.

When I rolled into the pool at Winchester I decided today was the day I caught air. I started pushing myself harder and harder, pumping the board for the momentum I’d need to leave the pool and shoot up past the lip. And on one particular run, when I knew I had the speed I’d need, I arced up and over the coping – just like I dreamed I would – and floated back toward the pool to touch back down. But a truck on my big Powell deck caught the lip as I re-entered. As I left my board up on the coping and fell backward toward the bottom of the pool, I stretched out my right arm to break my fall.

My fall is not what broke.

When I looked down my right forearm was bent into a shape that’s hard to describe. After surgery to straighten it back out, and a week in the hospital, and months in a cast (all spent not skating) I started to drift from skateboarding. Pretty soon I was working as much as I could to save and buy a car – and then girls came into the picture in a pretty big way and skateboarding started seem like a kid thing to me. And at that age I was trying to be anything but a kid.

Eventually I finished high school and joined the Service. Then I went to college, started a family, found a career and got a mortgage – pretty much in that order. Life was busy, a little too busy to skate. But whenever I saw a kid on a board I’d stop and watch for a minute, you know?

In the year 2000, when my son Charlie turned eight, I bought him a skateboard for his birthday – and something rad happened: once I had that board together and stepped on it to ‘show him how’, I didn’t want to get off the thing. It was like part of me – a part I’d put away – came back. That part of me that lived to skate rolled over from his long ass nap and said “Hey, where’s my board?” So I bought a new-old-stock Bahne Rocker, onto which I mounted Indy’s and OJ’s (just like I coveted back in the day) and Charlie and I started skating parks together.

But things were different now – skateparks were different.

The first thing I noticed at the parks? There was no one my age, at least not that I ever saw. And there were few, if any, pools. The parks instead featured odd structures like rails, and steps, and, well, more rails. It’s like they were trying to clone what already existed on streets rather than create that unique undulating terrain found in 70’s skateparks.

The boards were different now too – they were shaped like popsicle sticks – with a ‘kick’ on both ends. (Hello?! They’re called kick tails for a reason people!) And now it was all about tricks and flips. And what was up with those weird little wheels? They were the size of golf balls and almost as hard. Gone were the days of big wide decks and sweet soft urethane. Gone also were the days of pools and half pipes.

Vert was dead.

But now it’s 2016 and things are better, at least to this old skate rat. Parks have pools again, and popsicle decks are now occasionally seen with big soft wheels on them. I’m even noticing board shapes evolving (devolving?) back to what they looked like in decades past. But here’s something else I’ve noticed: there’s a sort of rift between old school and new school; between ‘vert skaters’ and ‘street skaters’.

And I don’t like it.

You know, if you want you can get all hung up that “skateboard” now means a popsicle deck. And that “longboard” refers to just about everything else (even if it’s 27”) OR… you can remember that it’s all skateboarding – and age, or skating style, aren’t really divisive elements.

Why is it people think the way they do things is the way things should be done? Is that human nature? Maybe – or maybe it’s just one of those ideas that grow from distrust or fear. Well the best way to erase a fear is to face a fear – and I faced one recently. Okay, maybe not a genuine fear, maybe more of a shortcoming. A hole in my skating repertoire, so to speak.

You see, I don’t Ollie.

It’s not that I don’t want to – it’s just that I don’t know how. Really. No one ever showed me and I never tried to learn. I left skateboarding the year Ollies came on the scene, and was away for over two decades – that trick was a rite of passage for a different generation of skaters. I think my own prejudice made me see it as somehow ‘not really skating’, and, I hate to admit, the symbol of a change skateboarding had undergone that I didn’t like.

But one of the cool things about being my age, is that life’s become easier to figure out. I mean hell, at this age there’s very little I haven’t already done, so how hard could fixing an old prejudice be?

Maybe not as easy as I thought.

I figured I’d need instruction, so I went to my local skateshop, Lighthouse Skates, down by the beach here in Santa Barbara and enlisted the help of Naren Porter-Kasbati, a street skater who runs the place. Naren agreed to help, so we met up at the skatepark a few days later. His offer was, if I could learn to Ollie, he’d also teach me to kick-flip.

I had high hopes – I really did. I thought, “How hard could it be, right?” Naren said just pop the tail with one foot then push the board with the other. Really? A two-step process and that’s it? Dude, I thought, I’ll be rockin’ these things in no time. I mean sure I’m getting older, but I’m still athletic. Just last week I rolled my longboard 27 miles in under 3 hours. So I’m going to pop a board into the air and land on it?

Big whoop.

An hour – and gawd knows how many pop/push combos later – and I still hadn’t done what you would call an honest-to-goodness Ollie. I mean, like I could get the front wheels off the ground, and I’m pretty sure a back wheel even came up a time or two, but a real Ollie, where the whole board is up a foot or two (or even a few inches!) off the ground? That wasn’t happening.

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Now Naren is a nice kid, and the whole time he kept a great attitude, saying things like “Good job!” and “You almost had it that time!” But a John Gavin Ollie was turning out to be like the Loch Ness Monster, or Donald Trump’s sense of decorum – nowhere to be found.

So what did we do? Moved on to the kick-flip! Which, by the way, you have to be able to do an Ollie to even attempt. But you know what? It wasn’t that bad. In fact, it was fun just trying. Soon Naren and I were trying to do them side by side – and by ‘trying’ I mean he was actually doing them and I was actually not (though one time my board did rotate half way ‘round and land on its top – and I’m calling that a win).

Here’s the truth: It was a blast giving those tricks a go – and I laughed my ass off more than once, even while landing on my ass. Am I any good at them? Well, no. But you know what? I was skating. At a skatepark. With other skaters. And I freaking love that!

We’re all skaters, right? Yes, yes we are. We do this thing because we love rolling a board along, and the feeling it gives us. For me, that means pushing a longboard a long way and careening down the occasional hill. For others, it means trying and mastering crazy new tricks. But it’s all skateboarding.

All of it.

So get out there and get your skate on. If you’re older and a kid Ollies past you, show some camaraderie and say “Hey”. And if you’re younger and some geezer like me is in your way? Remember that, if you’re lucky, you’ll be where I am someday too: just enjoying the stoke (even if it sometimes comes with the aroma of Icy-Hot these days).

Next, I think I’ll give downhill/sliding a try – I mean, how hard could it be, right?

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#skateboarding #Ollie #vert #streetskating #skateboard #skatepark #downhill #skater #skatelife

The Color of my Memories

Gold is the color of my memories

They’re in soft focus, tinged in orange

And they smell of sage and honeysuckle

I go there a lot, more than I should

But I’m comfortable there, because I know what happens

There are no trick endings, plot twists or uncertainties

I know how everything turns out

But not everything turns out

Some of my memories aren’t finished yet

Maybe I can still make those ones turn out

Make them turn out gold, with a tinge of orange, smelling of sage and honeysuckle