17 oct 1999         

- we've got spirit, yes we do -

Warning: Flammable gas ahead.  Please extinguish all smoking materials.


Hello, sports fans.  I'm here to report that the rumors are true.  Just as the business of America is business, and the religion of America is religion, the American sport is sport itself.

The Staples Center is the newest cathedral in our local diocese, but only those anointed with the holiest of lubricants can slip into its bowels for worship.  Like any church, it has its cheap seats, but we still get all frothy as we catch a glimpse of the luxury suites available for a 10-year lease at only $307,500 a year (with a 3% annual increase).  Here in my little town, not far from its glory, we sit back in our green plastic Rubbermaid Adirondack chairs and dream of coming up with the killer app that will give birth to an IPO that will open the door to one of those golden pews.  Dominus vobiscum.

The bulk of our spirituality, however, lies in our smaller houses of worship: the soccer fields, the softball fields, the gridirons, the diamonds.  On Saturdays and Sundays the congregations meet.  Parks fill up with the faithful who vow to bow to the final word of the Acme Thunderer.  Boundaries are laid out, flags are planted.  After an opening prayer, the young are assembled for instruction, and we suffer them unto the promise of the power and the glory of the Game Itself.  Or so say the scriptures.  I humbly beseech the flock to pay close attention to the elders, and let the giant foam finger be a sign unto you.  

Bowling is, beyond question, the quintessential American sport, as it is best played with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in the other.  I include it here simply because it's the sport with the best uniforms.  Alas, matches are played out in an arena devoid of nifty synonyms like the Squared Circle or the Gridiron.  The best we can do is "Bowling Alley" and, let's face it, an alley is where we put the trash.  Between the gutters will always be between the gutters.  Tough break.  Great shirts though.

On Friday I attended a high school football game, and sat in the middle of the home team fans where the yowling crowd and the cheering cheerleaders and the amplified raw-raw hip-hop music almost completely drowned out the happy bowing of Nero's fiddle.

Shucks, you say, lay off the lads.  You're right, of course.  These are their golden days, the fodder for their memories.  O the stories they'll tell.  They shape their metaphors here, for business and life.  Learn lessons that last.  Slogans that remain even after repeated washing.  No fear.  It's not for sissies.  There is no crying.  Push 'em back, push 'em back, waaaaay back.  

Play now, fellas and gals, for soon most of you will be managing your sporting life via tiny buttons, exhorting your own youngsters to keep an eye on the big picture-in-picture.

Again, I'm harsh.  I'm sorry.  There are survivors, people who play for the sport, who find the balance and play within the twin magnets of physical and mental challenge.  They are rare, however, and older, and torn between the compromise of time and money and family.  I'm not concerned about them.  

I'm concerned about what goes on in the heads of little kids.  Some months ago, Amy was in a local Parks & Rec program called Basketball Club.  Once a week, kids from ages 5 to 8 would get together in a gymnasium to learn the fundamentals of basketball.  It was a very basic introduction to the game: this is dribbling, this is out of bounds, this is passing.  Amy was one of only two girls in a group of about fifteen children.  I was usually the only dad present at these sessions.  The rest of the kids were brought by their moms.  The hour was fairly amusing, with all the wincing and laughter you expect when little kids are running around bouncing big orange balls.  

Over the course of eight weeks their skills improved only slightly, but in time they came to learn the gist of a game and would spend the last fifteen minutes in a kind of chaotic scrimmage.  The instructors were patient and generous.  On the final session of the program a twenty-minute game was played and, in anticipation of seeing their sons in competition, that's when the fathers showed up.  The tone of the experience changed.  A lot.

Dads were yelling at their kids to score, to be more aggressive, cheering at the baskets made and dishing out dismay at shots missed.  What had been a calm session of kids learning to control a basketball became a loud lesson in some of the differences between men and women.  It wasn't as if they were going to take the kids home and beat them for failure, but there was a palpable difference in the mood of the place.  The kids seemed to have less fun and grew concerned about a previously unspoken, let alone unshouted, expectation to win.  

So yes, I worry about the children of the man who screams at the officials.  I can't help but suspect that this is the only place he can unleash his fury without the commensurate risk.  Why is his valve at this end of the pipe?  It's easy, I suppose, to make guesses about his bedroom and his boardroom, but that's none of our business.

Our business is sport.



On a more pedestrian subject, my ankle (I know, they just come!) is not healing as well as I'd hoped.  Viv and I went for a good hot run Tuesday morning and I thought I was doing fine, but over the next few days the swelling persisted and the strain was always there.  I know you don't care.  My neighbors don't care.  Friends, ha, what are those?  I'm telling you this to compensate for the repellent nature of my next statement.

I'm taking a week off from this journal.


Put... the rock... down....

I'm invoking the darkroom excuse.  Big piles of negatives.  Fresh chemicals.  Ticking clock.  I enjoy writing here, and I like it even more when I can hit a stride, but I've been neglecting the photography.  There are hundreds of prints waiting to be made, and for too long now I've pushed 'em back, pushed 'em back, way back.


  today's music:

"When The Saints Go Marchin' In" -- Louis Armstrong -- LOUIS ARMSTRONG: VERVE JAZZ MASTERS #1


today's wisdom:

"Sports do not build character.  They reveal it."

- Heywood Hale Broun