Monday, January 28, 2013

The Mystery

Today marks one month that I've been in my new home. It also marks one month that I've spent obsessing.

Not over things with the house. It’s fine. A few minor things here and there that needs to be fixed, but nothing major that a Saturday around the house couldn't fix.

No, this is something far less important, and yet, something I ponder about daily. I know it’s not that important. It’s barely noteworthy. The fact that it takes up any space in my brain, let alone regular thoughts about it.

The “it” in this case, is a wheelchair. There’s nothing remarkable about this it. From all appearances, it’s your standard wheelchair. No bells or whistles, just a chair and wheels.

Honestly, unless it’s a motorized wheelchair, I wouldn't know a fancy wheelchair from a standard one. And I haven’t really looked closely at it, you know, since it’d be rude to stare at it.

Now here’s what has got me so perplexed about this. This wheelchair has spent the past month at the end of a driveway near the street for the month we've lived here. I've never seen anyone in it. For that matter, I haven’t seen it move in a month. It’s just sitting there day after day.

Rain. Shine. Wind. No matter what the weather, it sits out there. I can’t, for the life of me, figure out why. And I also can’t figure out why it’s taken up any small portion of my life (and now yours if you've bothered to continue reading after I found out I was writing about a semi-abandoned wheelchair.)

Should anything change, I’ll keep you updated.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Monkey Business

When my 4-year old picked out a movie to watch last night to help him feel better, I didn’t think much of his choice of Curious George. He loves the cartoon on PBSKids (due, in large part I’m sure, to the fact it’s on at 7 a.m. when he’s getting ready for preschool) and while it was clearly a commercial venture designed to make money, I’d rather he watch that than some Disney movie with its 27 products associated with the movie.

I was only paying slight attention to the movie, opting instead to catch up on some articles I’d seen online over the past few days online that I hadn’t had a chance to read.  Besides, my kid seemed to be enjoying George and it was taking his mind off of being sick.

I’ve often wondered just how much he understands when it comes to movies and television shows and how much of the plot he’s picking up on. Sure, there’s a monkey and he does crazy things due to his curiosity, but is my son following along the narrative of the story, especially one that’s 90 minutes long and with him being sick.

My answer came with about 15 minutes left in the movie (Spoiler Alert ahead, though I doubt anyone reading this really is worried about a spoiler of Curious George), George gets captured and is going to be taken away from the Man in the Yellow Hat. All of a sudden, while I’m minding my own business, my son breaks out into uncontrollable crying. Obviously concerned, I look at him and say “What’s wrong buddy?”

“I don’t like this movie anymore,” he said between sobs.

For the next 10 minutes, my wife and I reassuring him that the movie isn’t over yet and we have to see if the Man in the Yellow Hat is going to be able to rescue George. (He does.) It was a helpful reminder that events and stories that I don’t think twice about have a profound impact in the life of a 4-year old.

Even though I know I’m not supposed to, I sometimes find myself trying to minimize my son’s feelings instead of validating them as important and justified. To me and (presumably) you, the danger a fictional monkey finds himself in over the course of a movie is, at best, slightly entertaining. But to my son, it’s a very real situation with very real feelings that are both genuine and important.

Having said all that, it’s still not ok for adults to cry at anything that happens on The Bachelor.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Future is Here (except at least one place)

We live in amazing times.

Just the fact that you can read this minutes after I write it, possibly on your phone is truly astonishing.

The fact that you can look up almost any bit of information discovered in the history of human events by typing in the correct words into a search engine is an incredible accomplishment by the human race. Granted, we use that technology to post stupid pictures of cats, but the fact remains, the technology truly is amazing.

So you'd think that a college basketball team would be set up to take a credit or debit card to pay for entry into a game. I mean, there are attachments for your iPhone that can accept credit cards, so surely a Division I institution with a fundraising campaign that enables you to text a word to a number to make a $5 donation to their booster organization would have the capability to do something as simple as accept a debit card.

Only in the case of my Alma Mater, they don't, as I found out tonight. The only reason we stayed is we promised my 4-year old we'd take him to the game tonight. Otherwise, if you're going to make it difficult for me to give you my money, I can easily find other entertainment options that will gladly make things easier for me.

Friday, January 18, 2013

On sports stars and fairy tales


Until about a year ago when former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno died, I had no idea this word existed, let alone what it meant. Since then, I've come to believe it’s about the most accurate term to describe most of sports journalism.

The word essentially means a worshipful or idealized biography. When Joe Posnanski’s biography of Paterno was released a few months after Paterno’s death, it was criticized for painting a glowing portrait of the coach and absolving him nearly entirely from any responsibility after it was revealed one of his top assistants had been raping young boys in the football facility’s showers.

I should note that Posnanski is an extremely talented writer who I enjoy immensely. Given the time constraints he was under (his publisher moved up the publication date by about a year, presumably to get the book on the market sooner to capitalize on the Paterno and Penn State being in the news), I don’t know if he could have done any better.

Then this week, two more stories broke that caused me to remember “hagiography.” First, seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong admitted to extensive performance-enhancing drug use after more than a decade of denials. Over that time, he bullied, intimidated and filed so many lawsuits against people that he couldn't remember who he’d sued. And for the seven-year streak in which he was winning, no one really questioned that a cancer survivor was able to beat every other cyclist in the world in the most grueling bicycle race despite the fact that rival after rival all would eventually test positive or admit to blood doping.

That didn't fit the narrative crafted by media members who were just feeding the American public what they wanted. "It's the mythic, perfect story, and it wasn't true," Armstrong told OprahWinfrey in an interview that aired Thursday night.

And just Wednesday, one of the most bizarre stories to come out of the sports world in a long time broke as it was revealed that the “girlfriend” of Notre Dame linebacker and Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o , who was in a car crash that landed her in the hospital and it was while she was there it was discovered she had leukemia and died right before Notre Dame’s big game against Michigan State, didn't actually exist.  Te’o stayed with his team (per “her” wishes) and played great to lead the Fighting Irish to an upset win and spoke about how much she meant to him in post game interviews. She was completely made up and existed only in the minds of people. As of now, we still don’t know if Te’o was in on the hoax or was the unwitting victim of it. But either way, it was a compelling story.

 A star linebacker dealing with the grief of the loss of his girlfriend staying to play a great game is the kind of stories we read all the time, in this case, it just wasn't true.

Part of the issue is us. We look to sports figure to be heroes. They can do things we can’t do. I’ll never hit a baseball 450 feet (at least, not in one hit, give me two or three and I might be able to) or ride a bike through the French mountains faster than every other human on the planet.

In both instances, the sports media (not all, just most) wrote effusively about Armstrong and Te'o, continuing the feed the carefully crafted narrative that developed around the two stars. 

It’s not enough for our star athletes to simply be amazing at their chosen sport. We demand they also be amazing human beings with impeccable character as well. We were all shocked Tiger Woods cheated on his wife because we felt like we knew Tiger. We’d watched him on the golf course make amazing shots and then, after winning a tournament, give gracious interviews and smile for the cameras. So why wouldn't he be a great father and husband as well?

I don’t see this changing anytime soon. Sports heroes are a part of our culture. They give us someone to look up to and inspire us. That’s the narrative anyway. Ultimately they’re just guys and girls playing games we played as kids, only they do it better than just about anyone else on earth. It’s great entertainment, but that’s all it is.

Let’s leave the idealized biographies where they belong, in the fairy tale section of library.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Most Interesting Man in the World

I wasn't a good enough reporter for the assignment.

Maybe that was the reason my editor gave it to me. Maybe it was to challenge me to become a better reporter. To stretch myself. To do something outside of the ordinary. Or maybe he just wanted what every editor wants, which is to sell papers.

For about eight weeks near the end of my tenure as a newspaper reporter, my editor decided to add a weekly "At Random" feature to our publication. He would go through the phone book and select five or six people for me to call. The first one to agree to be interviewed would get a feature story written about them.

Written by me.

I hated this idea. I still hate this idea. It goes against everything I believe news to be about. Some random dude who doesn't have caller ID and had nothing better to do than agree to an interview with a reporter is not news.

News was government actions. News was police solving crimes. Hell, by the end I believed news was a charity holding a fund raiser. But not the "At Random" feature.

My ultimate goal was to get in and out of the interview as quickly as possible. I wanted to find out the first reasonably interesting thing about a person, get them to talk about it for long enough to make the article long enough to satisfy my boss and be done with it.

I'd be embarassed to go back and read those stories now and the laughable effort I put in to them.

I bring all this up because whenever some publication picks their "Most Fascinating Person" of the year, it's inevitably an actor or celebrity designed to sell magazines. Odds are, there are more fascinating people taking a walk through your neighborhood or watching their kid's soccer game. I regret not taking the opportunity to find out what made the people I interviewed for "At Random" fascinating.