29 April 2009

curse you, demon muse

Maybe other people have this problem and just don't whine about it as much or as loudly as I do, but I swear: the surest and most dependable way I know to come up with an super-cool new story idea I love is to try and put pressure on myself to buckle down and finish some other existing idea (which usually came to me in some previous annoying burst of inspiration as I was on some previous finish line push...).

I am sitting here leg-wrestling a pair of over-pondered projects toward some form of finality when, on schedule and as usual, here comes that half-dressed tart, the Cool Idea Fairy, flouncing her pert little bottom across my field of attention.

"Whatcha doin', sailor-boy? Wanna have some fun...?"


So again I am beset by a cloud of swirling ideas as I succumb to Blazejowski Syndrome -- "I'm an idea man Chuck, I get ideas, sometimes I get so many ideas that I can't even fight them off! " -- and by the end of the day I will look up and realize that I've scribbled pages of notes and ideas and maybe a third of a treatment for a movie idea which nobody will ever probably see or hear about.

I need help. And a beer.

And cash money. Great honking gobs of yankee greenback dollars.

Meanwhile, my mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.

T'ain't right. That's all I gots to say on the matter.

Just t'ain't right, dag-nabbit.
B (victim)

24 April 2009

such is the painful nature of time

The movie THE SANDLOT did a magnificent job in accurately depicting and describing the feel and mindset of a 10 year old boy in that not so far removed past before video games and cable TV effectively killed baseball as an American boy's first and truest abiding passion. The easy camaraderie of buddies playing ball aimlessly for some stretch of time which seemed as though it surely would stretch into infinity... this is not a joy that often is repeated in a man's life.

I was blessed to be given a second chance to experience this sort of joy and happiness these past few years as I coached my son's baseball teams. Sure, there are minor pressures and exasperations and annoyances, and hell yes there are demands upon one's social calendar and sometimes one's own sanity, but none of that ever mattered when I was on the field, with My Guys.

The team I drafted first as 8 year old players would form the core of a group of kids that I would then redraft again at 9 and 10, and would also spend summers with on a tournament team. By my estimation, I coached and managed somewhere in the neighborhood of ninety games with some of those guys over these last four years, with likely three times as many practices mixed in over that same span, plus maybe half as many extra games where we'd hang out and watch some other team play -- just loving baseball with each other.

And a few of those kids became really close friends of mine.

Perhaps it's odd for a grown man to try and describe that a loose gaggle of kids -- 8, then 9, and then 10 and 11 years old -- might somehow legitimately qualify as "friends," but there's no other way to describe them. There are always a few kids who just "click" with you. You "get" them and they get you, and you find yourself wanting them to succeed for the purely selfish rush of being able to see them made happy by something you helped bring about.

I'd work with a kid to fix a problem in his swing, and maybe he never really did totally correct the mechanical flaw, but over the course of that season or even multiple seasons you could see him understand what his demon was, and see him fighting to fix it, and see him have more and more success as he got better at overcoming that flaw. And then he'd bounce up from second base after sliding in on a hustling double to left center, and he'd allow himself a rare public moment of personal pride expressed in an uncontrollable smile, and he'd shoot you a glance from second to where you stood, coaching at third, and you'd smile and point an index finger at him as if to say 'YOU, my man, ROCK." And he'd smile and point a finger back at you to return that never actually-spoken sentiment, and for a flickering little moment All Was Right And Good in this world, and the sun would shine forever, and the grass would remain forever green.

Which is, of course, an illusion. A lie. A cruel sham we perpetrate on ourselves to obscure the inevitable moment when the pendulum of joy swings back the other way and restores some sense of karmic balance to the Universe.

Over these past few years, more and more of My Guys would drift away. Some would give up ball entirely, favoring other sports. Some of them would move to other neighborhoods or states and remain active in local leagues there. Some would elect to join local select or tournament teams, and play full-time for other coaches. But a few -- a very precious few -- would hang on, and would always be there, at your practice, or stopping by your practice to give some skin and trade some silly joke, or to hang out for a few minutes after or between games and just talk about what they'd been up to, what successes they were enjoying, what challenges they were still facing on or perhaps near the field.

Eventually, that group evaporates down to just a handful of players, maybe two or three, and today I got word that one of these players -- maybe my favorite of the entire bunch, that one kid I adored more than any other, and wished I could duplicate and carry with me onto every team as an example of what a little league ballplayer was supposed to be -- was leaving the league and unlikely to return. He's on a tournament team, and his dad is retiring from all involvement in our league, and it hit me suddenly: "I'll never share a dugout with this kid again."

I don't expect most people to really understand the painful finality of that statement. It's not just about losing a good player, or even an under-sized buddy, or turning a corner and realizing that an entire chapter in my life -- one of the most gloriously joyful and precious ones -- is now closing with a gentle hush. It's more that crushing RE-realization of the inevitability of decay and death. Of re-learning those painful lessons already learned once when I was ten or twelve or eighteen: lessons of mortality and change and time.

Of the ending of all things good.

No, there's been no death, yet that's what this feels like. Never again will we swap that private smile where we knew that we'd managed to do something cool that neither of us had really been sure we could, that we'd managed to pull a great joke on the Universe and steal an extra helping or three of fun from the serving line, where we'd claimed some great and and wonderful memory that only a tiny private group could ever understand, would ever understand. We'd had some good times, and now, the good times are gone.

Where once we cheered, the echoes have now faded, and today they seem all but silent and lost to the breeze of time.

For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph - a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting."
-- final lines from the movie PATTON

17 April 2009

a non-comprehensive list of things which I do not understand

twitter ...

the massive appeal of zombie movies ...

Swahili (not one word) ...

Lindsey Lohan's career decisions ...

train wreck TV ...

disinterested Little League coaches ...

middle-aged male drama queens ...

celery ...

QVC ...

golf ...

ignorance worn with pride ...

Halle Berry's apparent reticence to become my love slave ...

gum ...
intellectual high ground B

03 April 2009

that game which comes in the spring

There are those who will claim that Christmas is their favorite time of the year. Others favor the summertime for its vacations and long lazy days, while still others lean towards autumn and its first touch of cool breezes and shower of golden leaves.

For me, there's no time like the early days of spring, when the grass is green, the air is shaking loose the stale winter chill, and lines of chalk on a diamond of green define all that is great and glorious with the game we call baseball.

I love football for its precision and tactical formality, for its controlled stylized violence and warm spirit of martial camaraderie. The feel of a perfect pass leaving the fingertips, its inevitable perfect path to a receiver's hands already as clear in your mind's eye as if drawn in glowing laser light... the surge of ancient instinct -- "RUN! NOW! GO!" -- when a cutback lane opens in the edge of your vision in the maelstrom of a play in progress... the animal joy of impact, flesh on flesh, as you connect squarely with that foul bastard who dared suggest that he might encroach on your territory. All of this is capital-G Good.

I love basketball for the free-flowing improvisation and infinite variation it affords: five individuals all swirling and dancing in some impossible non-choreographed ballet no one need explain or think about... the cocky giggle in the back of your mind when you glance into your opponent's eyes and realize that he's scared, that he has no idea what to do to counter you or best you... the insane feeling of connectedness when you stop and pop a 16-foot jumper and know from the millisecond it leaves your hand that you are safe to turn and head back upcourt,' cuz that rock ain't goin' nowhere but the bottom of the bucket, baybee... again, all very Good.

But baseball... never has Man yet designed a better test to reveal a man's weaknesses and strengths, his deepest fears and best attributes. Timid? Unsure? Arrogant? Complacent? Indecisive? Lazy? Baseball will find your faults and make them known. The better and more experienced players understand this, and that's part of what brings them back every season: the determination to stare into the face of that magic all-knowing field of green and say "You bested me before, but today -- right here, right now -- I'm ready, I'm worthy. This day is mine."

To stand and face an entire team of agile defenders whose only goal in life is to deny your claim to safe passage across that tiny slice of ground between home and first base. To step into a square drawn in the dirt, a club in your hand, as an opposing pitcher smirks a literal stone's throw away secure in the knowledge of all those foul tricks he'll use to try and make you look foolish and incompetent. To know that your best efforts to overcome these tricks will be judged -- harshly -- in real time and for all time by a heartless bastard of an umpire who feels no love, brooks no debate, and who is by his own definition both infallible and incontestable.

There's no going back, and no going around, and the only way forward is to live through that hungry moment looming before for you now with bared teeth and naked claws.

"You really think you're ready, little man? Well, let's find out...."

To accept and realize that you are locked in a contest where many times your greater success for your team very often results from your own personal failure, and that sometimes your own success will in fact hurt your team's cause. That you can do everything right yet still fail, or do everything wrong yet still succeed. That here, in this game, "sacrifice" is not just a vague concept but is instead an actual codified and defined play outcome. That no matter how well you play, you will never play as well as you dream, as well as you soon will wish you had in hindsight. Baseball more than any other sport forces you to mentally replay every single moment and realize all you might have done differently, done better.

To breathe deep and know the smell of baseball -- a smell which in my experience has no comparable analog in other sports: the glove leather, the new mown grass, and the dust of sandy clay soil, and acrid sweetness of the lime chalk, the warm horsehide smell of the ball, the distant faint smolder of ozone you can sometimes catch on a still night when the towering vapor lamps first fire up so as to give the gods themselves a clearer view of your impending futile testimony.

To endure the unpredictable spans of relative boredom in the field, when you are required to stand ever-ready, on guard for an attack which might never even come, or, when it does, will not be as you'd anticipated. The split-second decisions required by the various component parts of the defensive team, as you have to know instantly what angle to take on the ball, where to try and receive the catch, what kind of throw to make, what target to choose, and what insanely precise body control is required to make a comically non-areodynamic sphere of leather, string, and cork cut through swirling winds in order to hit a glove sized target half a football field away... and then live in hope that the other members of your team all arrived at the same immediate conclusions and are in proper position to then make use of whatever preliminary try at a play you've offered.

To shudder slightly in terror as you dig in at the plate, a feeling which somehow mixes with an eerie calm as you set your stance and wait for Inevitability to come out and play, because every swing you make (or refuse to make) has in some strange draft model of the Universe already been made, been tried, been long resolved since the beginning of time, and all you can do now is play out your part in this strange little sequence.

To see the pitcher's stretch, the delivery, the hiss of the approaching pitch screaming in at your head OH JESUS AT MY HEAD then you calmly snap your wrists and twist your hips in an explosive move you've practiced hundreds times -- ten thousand times, from days before memory -- and then, if your testimony is clear and pure and the gods deem you potentially worthy, a round stick will connect square with a round ball, and a silent diamond will be punctured by the pistol crack sound of rapturous unadulterated joy AAAAIIEEEEEEEE! and you discover yourself already sailing toward first, and suddenly the crowd reappears in the back of your awareness as you become the living breathing absolute undeniable indisputable Center of Everything, and for a flickering moment you feel what it is to be absolutely in control of every aspect of your reality -- yours is the hand on the tiller, the will at the helm -- and then you arrive at first, and the moment subsides, and you breathe a deep sigh, pleading silently with the Almighty, "Please, God -- let me feel that just one more time before I leave this world. Just once. Please..."

For me, that's Baseball. That's Spring.

And it ain't bad.

01 April 2009

Dorkopalooza 2009

April Fools Day is a total rip-off.

I've carped on this topic before, but here it is April 1 all over (again) and (again) I see the same tired half-hearted stabs at irony and wit and high-larity, and (again) my kids are asking me such questions as "what's your favorite practical joke, dad?" and (again) I find The Wife giving me the same withering disapproving glare when I (again) respond with something like "oh, I dunno... I always think the classic 'beat someone with a baseball bat while they are asleep in the beds at 4:15 am' gag is always a knee-slapper -- why do you ask, children?".

And (again) I tense from a white-knuckled sphincter.

Where did this idiot tradition of April Fool's Day come from, and (more importantly) when did we as a group of hairless monkeys all subscribing to the dubious notion that the tradition was at all worthwhile or amusing in the first damned place THEN decide to collectively shrug and re-task this date on the calendar as "that date upon which any manner of lame unoriginal prank is encouraged"? People who on any other day of the year happily accept their pranking deficiencies now feel morally compelled and honor-bound to try some sort of tomfoolery on April 1, very often after Googling "April Fools pranks". I mean, seriously -- if you are having to Google for practical jokes, that's big blinking sign from the Universe that you're probably not one of the folks Nature chose to be a practical joker.

"A man's got to know his limitations," a great philosopher once explained.

Except on April 1, it seems. When all the normal buffers and safeguards are turned off, and any damned fool idiot is given the green light to swing away and annoy friends, strangers, and livestock with frivolous stabs at malicious fun.

Bah, humbug, says I. On April Fools I wish I could crawl down that burrow and spend the day with Punxsatawney Phil, and come out on April 2 to see if we'll be suffering another six weeks of dumbth.
no more fun of any kind B