Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The day I learned basketball really isn’t my thing.

It was really my parents’ fault. 
THEM: We just want you to be well rounded.
ME: I weigh 110 pounds and I’m six feet all. There’s nothing round about me.
THEM: You know what we mean. You can do the music thing all you want, but just try some sports. Just try. You’re in sixth grade; you still have a bunch of potential to unlock. 
ME: Why should I continue sports, though? I tried football already, and that didn’t work... 
THEM: You quit when they started hitting.
THEM: Listen, you know how everyone always says that you’ll be good at basketball because you’re so tall?
ME: Yes.
THEM: Think of this as a way to prove them wrong. 
ME: This is a really strange way to talk me into playing. 
After much more arguing, I begrudgingly signed up for the basketball team. While the prospect of staying around an hour and a half after school was infuriating enough, I was in no way prepared for how much I would despise the entire experience.  
Changing in front of my classmates before gym class was something I had only recently gotten used to. However, changing in front of The Athletic Elite of my grade–I’m talking twelve year-olds with six packs, sideburns, broad shoulders and hair on their legs–was a whole new level of daunting. I hid in the shadow of my locker door as to hide any lack of definition in my puny body, whipped off my school shirt and whipped on my gym shirt as quickly as possible and then high-tailed it out of there before anyone saw that I looked like an actual hairless twelve year-old.
Practice was my tenth circle of hell. The Athletic Elite would be sweaty and intense, making baskets and yelling commands, and then I would be the guy who would miss the ball when it was passed to him, and then try to make a joke, like, “Haha, whoops, so you wanted me to catch that, huh?–” but The Elite were too lost in sport to stop and laugh.

I remember when one of The Elite would be practicing so hard that he would get hurt, like sprain his ankle or something, and have to sit out for the season. That person would still come to practice and watch as we formulated plays, and I remember wanting so badly just to be that guy. I wished that I could just get injured and stand on the sidelines; I would even act like I really wanted to play: “C’mon, coach! Let me in! I’ll be fine! I’m willing to sacrifice my body!” and he would be all, “No Brian, we need you to get well,” and I’d be all, “But this team is like a FAMILY to me!” 
Unfortunately I never played hard enough to get injured. 
When it was time for our first game, the coach brought out a bag of jerseys. Of course The Athletic Elite elbowed their way to the front to grab the perfectly fitting maroon shorts and shirts. And when I got to the pile there was one pair left. To this day I swear that they were women’s shorts that happened to get mixed in with the guys’. I put them on and walked over to the coach.
[I looked like an embarrassed Pepper Ann.] 

By the next game I had bought my own maroon shorts and was ready to play. We were passing the ball around before the game started, a few students and parents had gathered in the stands along with some cute girls who came to make lovey eyes at The Elite, and then coach said the most terrifying words I’ve ever heard: 

I knew how this would turn out. It always happened the same way: Coach would choose who would be shirts and skins and that damn finger of his would always land on me accompanied by the disgusting utterance of the word SKINS, and I would have to take off my shirt and the whole gym–including those cute girls–would see that my elbows were wider than my biceps. 
For those of you who don’t know what it’s like to be a skinny, unconfident teen with his shirt off in the middle of a middle school gym, let me paint a picture for you: it’s awfully breezy. Any sweat that comes out of your armpits is instantly chilled and every once and a while your funnybones brush up against your sides, leaving you with an image of them being humongous bony protrusions–like elbows on your elbows. You nipples feel both really close together and really far apart and your butt starts sweating because it’s all warm and embarrassed for your upper half. Your eyes dry out from sheer anxiety and you occasionally try to flex or something but it's no use and you miss so many passes that your ears start ringing. 
That’s what it’s like.
After an excruciating five minutes, I got to put my shirt back on and we played the game. I remember trying to get into it like the rest of the players (maybe then I could get injured), but no. It was no fun at all. 
My shining moment came at the very end of the game. Ten seconds were left on the clock and the ball was passed to me near our opponent’s hoop. The crowd began to chant:



I knew it was my time to shine. Taking the ball in my right hand over my shoulder, I wound up, took three gigantic steps forward and hurled the ball across the court towards our hoop. 

As it clanged off the backboard, there was a pause, and then I heard the crowd continue, “8...7...” 


My shining moment was premature. Then the whistle blew. 

How did I cover up this mistake, you ask? Well, it wasn’t with a joke this time. My reaction was remarkably similar to Michael Scott’s in this clip: 

Go watch it. I have it all cued up for you. It'll take all of five seconds.

That’s right, the old “I’m usually much better than this” charade. Not sure anyone bought it. 
And that was the day I learned basketball really isn’t my thing.

Monday, November 14, 2011

And this is why.

I must never watch nature documentaries on National Geographic Channel again. It’s quite rare that wander over to that section of channels because the only thing I usually find on there is The Dog Whisperer. And after twelve too many hours of six too many Sunday marathons of that show I just avoid the channel altogether. 
Every now and then, however, I stumble upon one of their nature documentaries and end up watching obsessively for their entire two-hour run. The first time this happened was a few years ago when I watched one special about an evaporating water hole in the desert. The water hole started as a bustling ecosystem with alligators, deer, monkeys, and birds happily coexisting and splashing together, but soon enough the pond began to shrink and that’s when things got effed up. 
Monkeys started fighting with the alligators over the limited water supply, and everyone was screaming and the alligators were chomping off everyone’s heads and one of the monkeys broke his arm while playing a game of tug-of-war with an alligator using his baby as a rope, and then there was a shot of a mother monkey trying to prod awake the lifeless body of one of her babies and. I. CRIED. 
Soon the monkeys either died or went searching for other water supplies (which meant they were probably just going to die), and the birds flew away, leaving a lone alligator in the disappearing water hole. The pond soon turned to mud, in which the alligator got stuck after awhile. At the end of the documentary the once lush watering hole was just a dry, flat area, and the camera zoomed in on a tiny crack in the dirt, where you could see the stubborn alligator, barely alive, forever trapped in his former home. 
I turned off the television depressed and a little claustrophobic.
So you’d think that last night, when the new NatGeo documentary The Last Lions came on, I would have watched something else. But apparently my love for animals and beautiful film making makes me forget that I’m probably going to cry at some point during the next two hours. 
The documentary was like all those movies about a single mom who has to overcome adversity to take care of her children, except with lions. It starts off with the Mommy Lion happily hanging out with the Daddy Lion and her three cubs. BUT THEN THEY’RE ATTACKED BY SOME ANGRY LIONS FROM THE NORTH WHO WERE FORCED FROM THEIR HOMES BY THE RELENTLESS ENCROACHMENT OF MAN. They were all yelling and swiping and biting at each other and became covered in blood, and I was all...

But the fight is done. Mommy Lion has a cut on her shoulder, and she's scratched out the eye of another lioness. Daddy lion is all banged up, missing an eye, bleeding like crazy, and limping. When the sun rises the next morning he limps away to a quiet place, lies down, and does that heartbreaking thing that lions do in these documentaries: he just chooses to die right then and there. 

Mommy Lion then takes her three cubs and begins to travel south so they can avoid the evil pride who invaded their home. She can’t find any food, and the cubs begin to go hungry. Each time she tries to hunt, hyenas come and try to kill the cubs, forcing Mommy Lion to come and scare them away. And each time the cubs are threatened, it feels like I have a bowling ball in my stomach. I become all sweaty and tense, white-knuckling the armrests of my chair. 
They find a herd of water buffalo and the Mommy Lion tries to take some down, but she’s not successful. While she’s off trying something else, the evil buffalo go and trample the spot where the cubs are hiding.

When Mommy Lion comes back, she finds that all her cubs have disappeared. She goes searching and finds only one of them, the girl, who’s fine but scared. Then a some more freaking buffalo come and attack them, and Mommy Lion tries to save the baby, but when she finally gets her out of there, the cub’s back is broken, leaving her back legs limp behind her. Mommy Lion carries her away, tests out her lifeless legs, and begins walking. The cub walks alongside her mother on her front legs, but soon Mommy Lion begins to go ahead of her, and then they’re ten feet away, then thirty. The baby stops, and cries for Mommy Lion, and Mommy Lion looks back, but then turns her head away, and her face contorts as if she’s about to cry. 
At this point I’m bawling.

I don’t even want to go on. Right now I’m in the same place I was when I stumbled upon Marley & Me on TBS and I was ruined for an entire week. I get choked up just thinking about it. 
Here’s the last half hour: Mommy Lion gets angry and charges into the middle of the buffalo herd without any strategy at all, fails, and because of this the mean lion pride from before see her as a leader and they all reconcile, and THEN MOMMY LION FINDS ONE OF HER OTHER CUBS, healthy as can be, and everyone lives happily ever after.
I’m relieved, albeit shaken. 
No more nature documentaries for me. Give me a gory human-slashing flick any day, but it’ll take a while for me to recover from the paraplegic lion cub. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The day I learned that I have good reason to not like Halloween.

The day I learned that I have good reason to not like Halloween was on Monday, which happened to be Halloween. I was pondering why I had such a distaste for all things Halloweeny, why I was not interested in doing anything with friends or going to a costume party, and why I scoff at Halloween decorations and other spooky things. And I realized that it’s because I’ve had a lot of really sucky Halloweens.

The last good Halloween I can think of was when I was in preschool and I dressed up as a firetruck. 

That was a good Halloween. 
After that, it all goes downhill. Like my fifth grade year when I wanted to dress up as a mime but none of my classmates knew what a mime was. I spent the whole day explaining my white face and striped shirt, only to be met with questioning glances. And to top it off, when I went trick-or-treating, I lost a tooth in a Milk Dud. I had to go from door to door holding a wet washcloth in my mouth, which messed up my face paint. 

Or there was that time I went to my first Halloween party dressed as an overweight tourist, complete with a sunblocked nose and gray hair. That was the same year I started to admit to people that I was a good singer (I’m a musician. Did you know that?), and the party host made me go up in front of all the attendees with a microphone and sing a song a cappella. So I quickly stripped out of my costume, got rid of my makeup, and sang. All the people in my grade responded with the loudest and most intoxicating applause I had ever heard. However, the hot girl I thought I would impress did not, to my chagrin, fall in love with me despite my lack of muscles and tan, but instead became jealous and ignored me the rest of the night. I went home bummed. 
Then there was the high school dance I attended in an inflatable clown costume, and I had a great time until I got diarrhea and had to go home.

Or maybe my junior year in high school, when my friends came to my house trick-or-treating and told me to join them. 

ME: No. Don’t you think we’re too old for this?
THEM: Of course not! It’s fun!

ME: But I don’t even have a costume...
THEM: That’s okay! You’ll blend in. Just stand behind us and stick your hand out. The people giving candy won’t even notice. 
ME: This seems like the least foolproof plan in the history of plans.
ME: I don’t think you’re listening. 
THEM: Just come with us. What do you have to lose? 
ME: Time, warmth, dignity...
THEM: We don’t care. 
ME: Okay, fine. Let me get my top hat so I’m at least somewhat costumed. 

So I donned a top hat and we went trick-or-treating. The first house we went to, the person handing out candy looked at me...

And then I went home. 
Then, in college Christie and I went to a Halloween party where everyone drank except for us, and we had to watch a man feeling up a woman dressed as a lion, and an extremely intoxicated and slightly slutty bumblebee knock everything over. 

I'm not even going to draw this one. Just picture a bumble bee with a drunk woman's head on it. 
Last Halloween. A bunch of friends and I thought we, nerdy non-partying folk as we are, should head to my hometown (La Crosse, Wisconsin...more bars per capita than any other U.S. City) and test out the bar scene. We ended up in the lofted area of a bar downtown, gazing down at the giant costumed humpfest happening below us. These were the characters: 
  • Popular-looking men wearing sports jerseys (not really a costume)
  • Popular-looking women dressed as a slutty version of something (be it an American Indian, a she-devil, or some sort of fairy/princess/angel thing)
  • Funny guys wearing something funny or clever and movement-restricting which they discovered a second too late that it would never get them laid
  • Funny ladies who wore something funny or clever and movement-restricting that would probably get them laid anyway
  • One guy standing by the dartboard sans costume who had no one in particular to hang out with so he just stood there bobbing his head and singing along with every song that came on. 

My friends and I treated the whole ordeal as a sociology study on the mating rituals of our generation. My favorite part was when I witnessed a drunk and slutty Tinkerbell grinding next to a puffy and broad-shouldered man in a baseball jersey, who proceeded to shove one hand in her armpit and lodge the other in her crotch and lift her up in the air. He then put her down without explanation, and a few minutes later did it again. What made it even better was that Tinkerbell seemed too intoxicated to process what was happening to actually react to it...

And that’s why I just don’t like Halloween. You can enjoy it if you want. Me, I’ll just buy candy for myself and watch Ghost Adventures on the Travel Channel. And write a blog post.