Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sports and Reality

I like baseball. This is no secret. My team loyalty is to the Philadelphia Phillies, because, I was born in Philly and I live in South Jersey.

(For the record, South Jersey might as well be a different country than North Jersey. I have never, in my life, just so you know, heard anyone say "Joisey" except for people in other states who hear I am from Jersey and then declare, "Ah! Joisey!" I'm not sure they even do that up north, to be honest with you.)

Me, outside Fenway last weekend.
Ted, over my shoulder. 
Anyhoo, as I say, I am a Phillies fan. But, I like baseball, all-around. I love its history and its atmosphere. Its my favorite sport. And because I like the sport, I have no problem wearing my Boston Red Sox cap from time to time.

Why a Red Sox cap? Bacause they are my favorite American League team, probably because Ted Williams, the greatest hitter the game ever knew, in my not-so-humble, played for them. And he is probably my favorite because I used to listen to my dad's stories about having seen him play... And, to be honest with you, I really like the "B" on the Sox cap. And I like blue. There are probably other reasons, but this is a blog and I weant to get to the point before you drop in to F-reading...

Before I do, though, I want to point out that I also like the caps of Detroit, the Mets, the Yankees, the Cardinals and even the Nationals and I would not mind having one of each of theirs, too. And some others. Because I like baseball and caps.

When I was in the great city of Boston last week, a guy form New York saw my Sox cap and started ribbing me because the Yanks had beaten them the day before. When I laughed and then told him I was actually a Phillies fan, for real, the smile melted off of his face like cake icing under a blowtorch and he herded his kids up and shuffled them away from me. You'd have thought I was a Nazi wearing a Jewish star... The man could not comprehend that I would wear a cap of a team I didn't follow exclusively...

I also have a Virginia Tech sweatshirt. I think someone left it in my dorm room in 1987 after a party -- my dorm room at Penn State. I never went to Virginia Tech and never really cared one way or another about it, but the sweatshirt is thick and cozy and has a great hood for cold weather and it is so well made that I wear it to this day. The thing's like thirty years old and good as new...

One day I was wearing that sweatshirt and a guy, with the most sincere smile, high-fived me and said, "Go Hokies!" I thought he was insane. I couldn't, for the life of me, figure out what a Hokie was. "Virginia Tech!" he said. "Go Hokies!" (I had had no idea the Hokie was their mascot and I had to look it up again, just now.) When I explained to him that I went to Penn State, he nearly wept. I suppose he deeply regretted our all-too-brief bond...

I feel like it never used to be like this. When I was a kid, kids who loved sports would get T-shirts of various teams; you'd have an NFL blanket with all the teams on it... Better still, you would go to a Phillies game in your regular clothes. It wasn't a sea of red caps and Phillies togs. Being at the game seemed to been enough to show you supported your team; the need to be seen seeing your team and to be eye-checked by the rest of the gang seemed not to exist...

It occurs to me that this shift might be a symptom of our collective mental state as a society when it comes to our complete inability have real discourse or to see things from various perspetives. This nearly obsessive compulsion to "pick a side" in sports is kind of a microcosm of our penchant for compartmentalized thinking; our love of labels (liberal or conservative); our intolerance for those who stray from the prescribed patterns of thought.

Anyway, my wife got me a new Red Sox cap this weekend and I might just wear it to the next Phillies game. I am only exaggerating a little when I say that I might be risking my own life by doing this. And it would be no exaggeration at all to say I am risking my life if I wore the cap of the opposing team. Which, of course, is not okay.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Book and Phone

Out of nowhere and all of a sudden, I carry my cell phone with me wherever I go. For years, I had a "flip phone" that I managed to leave at home 90% of the time. (My wife will vouch for this.) Now I have a smart phone that I rarely forget to bring with me.

We can chalk this up to an old dog learning a new trick; to the gradual cementing of a new paradigm inside his fuzzy sub-consciousness. Or, we can see it as a need for entertainment that is always right at hand.

Gottfriefd Schalcken
For me, that entertainment usually amounts to a "Words with Friends" game or an exploration of the Interwebs for new and nifty musical equipment -- so, good, edifying things (right?) -- but it is entertainment, nonetheless. I'll give myself a little credit by saying that when I am waiting in line to pick up the boys after a school activity, my phone often sits by me as I watch parents in car after car hunched over their tiny screens like glowing, new-age penitents. But, I still have the thing with me everywhere I go...

So, knowing, now, that it is possible to carry a thing with me out into the world all of the time without any real effort and inconvenience, I decided I am going to try something new. I'm going to start bringing whatever book I am reading with me wherever I go. 

I never did this on a regular basis because I thought is was inconvenient. But, how much worse is it that carrying a cell phone? So, when the other parents are flipping through Facebook, I will be flipping through Steinbeck. Yeah, the phone will be there, but the book will be "metal more attractive" to a guy who lives in the world by necessity but who is always looking for ways to be not of the world. (And, in the end, I will still get the text about picking up milk...) 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Why Do We Know Not "Seems"?

Granted, I am unusually attached to words and perhaps over-sensitive to their fine shades when they're piled against one another in various shapes, but, it seems to me that we could change the nature of argument if everyone would open their statements of opinion with the phrase: "It seems to me..." (See what I did there?)

Hamlet, doing her Yorick
monlologue. Not what it seems, eh?
But, think about it: everything is about how is "seems" to us. Hamlet may "know not 'seems'," but the rest of us do. And if something "seems" a certain way to us, the implication is that it is an at-the-moment kind of thing. There is an unspoken admission that the speaker could actually be wrong.

Normally, I instruct my writing students to argue with a tone of absolute confidence; to leave out "I feel" and "I think." And I still believe that is important. These days, however, we might just need to allow some doubt in to our arguments for the sake of avoiding the literal and metaphoric fisticuffs that dominate the modern agumentative stage.

If the point of argument is not simply to win the argument, but to arrive at the truth, there is good reason to allow for shifts based on the perspective of how things "seem" to others...

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Benefits of Getting Punched in the Face

A former student of mine (thanks, Andrew) posted this meme yesterday and it rang so true for me that I had to share it. It is probably not what you expect, but here it is:

I can't say I have ever seen a truer idea and I truly believe that being punched in the face really served a purpose for me.

Sure, I fought as a kid in playground scraps, but, once, I was driving to school on a rainy morning and -- I don't remember why -- I had to hit the brakes, hard, almost slamming into the car in front of me. Apparently that angered a guy behind me, who followed me in to the school parking lot and punched me in right in the jaw as I got out of my car.

He connected pretty well. It really didn't hurt. More importantly, it did no damage either to my heart or my body.

I wish I could tell you about how I knocked him out, but he was back in his car and gone before I knew (literally) what his me.

Take the metaphor where you will, but it happened to me a few other times in my life and, for me, it serves as a reminder that even the most violent things are not necessarily as bad as they seem. After all, what sounds worse than "getting punched in the face"?

I have often thought about that punch when facing challenges and this meme reminded me of that.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Blogger, Chris Matarazzo, Goes Stark-Raving Mad (Guest Post by Nick Smedley)

This just in: Moronic jackass of an entitled twit UNC college student starts petition to have Villanova basketball victory over UNC overturned due to what he alleges was bad officiating.

When asked for comment, little-known blogger Chris Matarazzo responded by saying, "Fllrt. Grrr. I can't.... How can?  The... GAAAHHH!"

We had to turn to his wife for a coherent answer, as Chris proceeded to gnaw on one of the legs of his living room couch...

Said Karen, "A lot of times, I think Chris ought to put more of his true feelings into his blog posts, because, here in the living room, he flips out about stuff, but he always says that no one wants to hear an all-out rant except the people who already agree with it, so there is no real mind-changing going on. But I really feel some of his passion gets lost in translation to his blog posts. Sometimes the posts are just too darned polite. But this...this just sort of cracked him, I think. Like, everything he has been holding inside...just...kaplooey!"

At this point, Matarazzo had ceased his gnawing and was lying on the floor panting from his exertions with little chips of wood in the corners of his mouth. He was muttering: "Everything...they want it all the way they want it... Everybody wants the outcome they WAAAAANNNT..."

Before you could say "Jack's your uncle," Matarazzo began slamming his head against a glass table, upon which his wife, clearly having had to deal with this sort of meltdown before, placed a small cushion. We carried on the interview with her, with the dull thud of Matarazzo's head softly thumping time in the background. (At one point, a white dog walked into the room, sniffed at Matarazzo, and then walked away with a quiet whimper.)

"You see," Mrs. Matarazzo said, "Chris has been slowly falling apart. I think it all started a few years ago when a parent called the school in which he works and said, 'I pay tuition and a D+ is not an acceptable grade.' My husband offered to change the grade to an A for a fee of $500 and the parent said, 'You can't do that...' and Chris responded, 'I know I can't. That's my point.'"

"Sure," Mrs. Matarazzo went on, "He won the battle that day, but ever since, it's like all he sees is people demanding that every little condition of their existence be made to their specifications." She stopped to tenderly pat Matarazzo on the head as he sat, cross-legged, on the floor, ripping out the fringe of the pillow with his teeth. "It's sad, what it did to him. Here is a guy who used to argue against instant replay in sports, saying that human error and even arguments with the umpires were part of the fun of the game...and now...this..."

At this point, Matarazzo jumped up, screamed "INSTANT REPLAY!? AHHHHHHH!!!!!" and he ran out of his living room, crashed through the sliding glass doors of his dining room and disappeared into the woods behind his house.

Mrs. Matarazzo shrugged. "He'll be back in a few days, the poor thing. Then he will probably write some balanced, well-reasoned blog post about how people need to begin to accept that they can't have everything the way they want it. If you will excuse me, I have to turn on backyard speakers. He won't ever come back unless he hears Ravel wafting through the trees..."

Nick Smedley, reporting from Southern New Jersey.