Sunday, January 29, 2012

The weekend

Somehow, over the course of each weekend, I have lots of good ideas for things to write, but insufficient drive to get to my computer and write them. Perhaps it is best, as life is not really about writing it.

On Saturday, I took the kids to the Children's Store, but to get there where we had to pass through the Thrift Store (no good clothes, but some decent books were had), and the dry cleaner, and then walk past Three Cups, where we saw and talked to some folx, and then we hung at the Children's Store and I talked to Becky while Graham picked out a Ninjago spinner and Natalie snagged a plastic ring and a necklace and a lavender piggy bank. Awesome.

Thence back to Whole Foods, where Natalie was clamoring for some dried seaweed, and there was such a profusion of samples to be had that it was hard to imagine that there was any ambient economic malaise at all.  I had: chips, orange sections, salmon with guacamole, some sort of chicken, more chips, three kinds of yummy cookies (we bought one kind) and probably other stuff too.  Which was great, because I was very hungry.  And then we got the seaweed snacks and Natalie inhaled them.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Bliss of Blogvivion

When I kicked off this blog way back in 2004, it was meant as a place for me to do some regular writing. Then I found out how to track traffic to my blog, and I started paying attention to that, and I tried to promote the blog some. More recently, I've had little time to blog, and I've had to make peace with the fact that my traffic has died back quite a bit from its previous, not all that elevated levels.

But it's actually quite nice.  Now I can get back to just writing to keep my fingers and brain limber, and don't worry too much about who comes by.  OK, I do still check, I just don't care that much. Admittedly, it may be my fingers and not my noggin that's getting juiced, but it's all good.

Now back to writing for money.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Basketball Jones

For the record, this was written for the Phillips newsletter, whatever it's called, last year.  My daughter's a rising 8th grader there now.

Chapel Hill has always been a basketball town, but like so many other things in life (young readers will understand this in 20 years), it was so much bigger and purer when we were young. UNC basketball was the cultural heart of the town. The ACC had only 8 teams then, and all of them were good. On any given night, anyone really could lose to anyone. When the ACC tournament came around in March, some teachers (our favorites!) would bring little black and white televisions into the classrooms on the first day of the tournament – always a Friday -- and we would watch the games for the last couple of periods of school. And it wasn’t like the principal didn’t know.

The coach then was Dean Smith, who defined the spirit of the time and place. An unfailingly polite, flat-toned Kansan, Smith succeeded on the court, but was more important for what he did off of it. We natives like to think of Chapel Hill as a bastion of enlightenment, but it is in fact in the South, which means it was once segregated. The schools were desegregated only in 1966, and around this time Smith worked with civil rights leaders to desegregate local businesses and neighborhoods, and was since that time a beacon of good sense and manners for everyone.

Back on earth, as us 7th graders rose from childhoods cocooned in elementary schools (I went to Seawell), our visions of the world expanded first to grasp that not only were there other elementary schools, there was a whole other junior high school (Phillips was a junior high, grades 7-9, back then). At the time, there was only Culbreth, so the cross-town rivalry fairly described our universe. And it was an unadulterated rivalry. It wasn't that one side of town was fancier than the other or anything, we just wanted to beat them, and they us, because they were there.

This was before club sports had become prominent, drawing attention and energy away from school sports. Basketball was king, and it was only natural that the Phillips-Culbreth basketball game was larger than life. As game days approached, excitement levels got out of hand. The gyms were always packed, and were steamy from overoccupancy, exertion, and sheer anticipation. Phillips was led by Ranzino Smith, who would go on to play at UNC, and who always brought the house down by dunking during games despite being only 5' 8" or so. But it was a team effort, and both Phillips and Culbreth typified the era of relatively early integration by featuring a balance of white and black players (including current Phillips Athletics Director John Beyle). Players from both schools look back fondly to this day about the discipline forged by the coaches, of fingertip push-ups and wind sprints without end, and strong team bonds.

I personally had been and remained a very skinny kid, and never had a real hope of playing basketball for the school. I played soccer, and we were good and had our own real rivalry with Culbreth, but soccer was kind of a marginal sport then. We didn't command the attention that basketball did, particularly the attention of the girls. So we wanted to prove ourselves on court. On Friday nights my mom would drive me to the Phillips gym, which was often open for free play, and I would practice, whether anyone else was there or not. At lunch when the weather was good I would wolf down my food and then try to wedge myself into the games on the blacktop by the gym. I was fast and could jump but I couldn't shoot, but I wanted to be a player nonetheless, so I was probably a little out of control, pushing too hard, fouling people left and right. The more talented guys would often taunt me, "come on, soccer boy," but I shrugged it off as best I could. I remember one time Clarkston Hines - who went on to star in football at Duke and even played pro football – barked at me, almost certainly after I fouled him: "There's only room for one Clark on this court." And he didn't mean me. But I stayed out there because, for an early teen boy with something to prove, it was the only place that seemed to matter.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What I'm reading now

It's a little ironic, looking back at my last post, when I felt I had such a wealth of books and media in general.  I finished the Peter Hessler book, which was brilliant, and the one about Henry Aaron, and I'm glad I did that too. 

Then I just blew through Michael Lewis's Boomerang, although I skipped the first two chapters, on Iceland and Greece, cuz I had read them in Vanity Fair already.  On the one hand, Lewis is just brilliant, able to write about anything and usually add insight.  On the other hand, he does just continue to dial it in much of the time. He's reached that rare state of elevation where he can pretty much interview anybody, and he does. He is such a golden child of prose, I think it would be nice to see him really challenged by something.  What would happen if he had Joan Didion's luck, a husband who just up and has a heart attack and then her kid dies a year later? I don't wish this on Lewis, but I suppose I'd like to see him tested in some way just to see him grow, because I'm not seeing much growth book to book. Just continued virtuosity.

I started a Ruth Rendell novel, as I tend to do a couple of times a year. This one, just like the last one I read, features some deeply disturbed young working class kids in some dusty corner of London, soon to get involved in some sordid violence.  I gotta say, I'm not sure I'm gonna keep with it. I don't need to be cohabitating the skull of a psychopath, even where it's done well. When I think about it, I suppose I tend to prefer Rendell's Inspector Wexford novels, where the narrator more or less tracks alongside the detective, trying to restore order.  I guess that's pretty much where I am in life these days.

I'll take Atul Gawande's Checklist Manifesto upstairs.