#11

“The wise prudent man will draw a useful lesson even from poison itself, whilst the precepts of the wisest man mean nothing to the thoughtless.” Lokman

I came across this quote in an excerpt from Yusef Komunyakaa’s journal in a book called “The Poet’s Notebook” (1995). I’ll claim ignorance on the Lokman-Aesop history, but reading about who they were has been interesting, enlightening, and entertaining. Learning is everywhere and the quote suggests that there are lessons to be learned if only we remain open to the opportunity to learn.

Given the present state of affairs in the United States (and I suspect the rest of the world…throughout all of history), I would hope the people are wise and prudent in the acceptance of the messages sent by:

Republicans-Democrats…
Politicians-Activists…
Special Interest Groups-Religions…
Foreign Governments-Our Government…

Unless we seek to understand the motivations and messages of those who control everything, they will continue to rule us in the hyperkinetic way that does nothing more than confuse us. That is their poison, know that and deny personal and collective thoughtlessness. Only through thoughtful action can the present turmoils be alleviated.

#10

“Don’t talk too much. Don’t pop off. Don’t talk after the game until you cool off.” Bear Bryant

Microphones are dangerous tools. They amplify everything that passes through them. Imagine being a jilted lover and then having the responsibility of praising the individual who ran roughshod over your trust. How awful would it be to have the duty to say something nice while knowing that the bully pulpit was just a breath away? How many of us could resist the opportunity to say something asinine, to keep from exorcising the demon of anger in a public forum with the loudspeaker that a microphone is?

It went just that way when a young man thought he could travel just a few miles down the road and taste joys of life in relative anonymity. He found delights with another while believing in the stealth that his professed love of another allowed him. He did not count on social media and the relative nearness of his dalliance to give him away. Now he stood before his angry ex while she looked at him with those scorned eyes, holding a microphone, and acting like she might say something nice about his sporting team.

She knew better. Her plan was to take her shot without making her pain too public. All who knew, however, would understand the violence in her words. She spoke with the glee appropriate for a pep rally and the anger appropriate for the wronging he had placed on her. But her little speech, one meant to dig and go for the gallows laugh, ran over the audience and caused collateral damage. Others felt her pain as their own without a bit of sympathy for her due to his original sin.

Pain gave rise to more pain. The microphone had been the instrument to cause the greater aches. Never again, never again…

#9

“I think the most important thing of all for any team is a winning attitude. The coaches must have it. The players must have it. The student body must have it. If you have dedicated players who believe in themselves, you don’t need a lot of talent.” -Bear Bryant

Two old ball coaches were sitting in a bar talking a great deal of shit. Mostly they were making fun of each other’s beers, Lite for one, snooty oak barrel nectar for the other. All the trash talking was in good nature and neither ever took anything personally. Somewhere after the third or fourth beer, the conversation changed.

“Why don’t we try each others’ beer? The next round, you go Lite and I’ll go snooty,” said the more experienced of the two coaches.

“How come?” asked the older but more inexperienced coach.

“Well, I think it’s good to have a different perspective. Figuring out what we’re all about is the way to get better.”

“That’s the kind of thinking that allows you to hang out with me,” said the snooty beer drinking and less experienced coach. “I’ll buy.”

“And that’s why I keep you around.”

The beers came and each tasted their new brew with a cautious hesitation. The beers were different but inviting. Both were cold, the Lite beer was crisp and the snooty beer was sweet but the new beers were good for both.

“I heard the Dali Llama said it doesn’t matter what you drink since it all comes out the same way,” said the original snooty beer drinking coach.

“My kind of conduit to the cosmos,” said the other coach.

The funny thing about these two was that they could not be more alike in their different approaches to life. Practical, theoretical, wide open, seriously reserved, a fast-moving storm, a brooding grudge carrying addict…

Yet, with all of that, they understood a few things in the same way.

Coaches prepare players to find success.

Players play.

The games are about learning how to succeed, not winning or losing.

Parents can be a little much.

About the time that the beers were running low a man and his wife walked into the bar. They started walking towards the two old ball coaches and the tension for the original snooty beer drinking coach rose as these parents were a little too much for him.

“Would you?” asked the original Lite beer drinking coach.

“I’d rather drink Budweiser.”

Enough said.

#8

“Sports is such a great teacher. I think of everything they’ve taught me: camaraderie, humility, how to resolve differences.” Kobe Bryant

An early morning shootaround with a first time father leading his second-grade son into the gym held much more excitement than the downpour outside. The son, all three feet of him dribbled a basketball with a confidence that was just what his father dictated. Dad, all six feet four inches of him, walked with the strut of a former basketball player, the arrogance beguiling his sense of failure for never made to the next level.

They shot for a few minutes. The father coached his son.

“Square up, come on this is basic stuff.”

“Don’t fade away, you’ll never be a good shooter if you fade away all the time.”

“You think you can play high school with that dribbling?”

The son took the coaching like a puppy getting yelled at for peeing on the floor. His head dropped. He moved to the edges of the court. He left the hope of fun he had when his father asked him to go shoot hoops at the Y.

For his part, the father thought he was doing the right thing.

Fast forward thirty or forty years. The son is grown. The father is getting weaker. The son towers over his slumping father as they walk onto a basketball court. The father is dribbling with a slapping motion, more like an elementary aged kid that a former low-level college hoops star. Dad takes his shots. They have a hard time getting to the rack. His motion is disjointed from years of servitude to the couch, the atrophying of muscles, and the mental slippage due to loss of brain mass.

The son totally accepted his father’s lead. He never made much of himself as a basketball player. He did, however, make the most of his father’s parenting example.

“You think you can play in heaven with a shot like that?”

“Come on, get down when you dribble. They’ll steal the ball without any trouble.”

“Do some push-ups, you can’t even get the ball to the rim.”

Sports teach life lessons.

#7

“Despite fear, finish the job.” Kobe Bryant

The shame of routines is that they often come to define a person. Maybe they eat at the same time or are particular about the kinds of foods they eat. Maybe they listen to music enthusiastically and share that with people incessantly. Either way, those people have reputations that are based on their routine behaviors.

I decided that I had grown tired of my routines, working out every morning, fasting as a method of weight loss, and watching the same news shows ad nauseum. To combat the lethargy and to rid myself of the fitness-political freak image, I set out to strip myself of the comforts of the dignity I was so practiced in. I wanted to go Cersei and walk through an angry mob naked, less of the heckling and dung throwing of course so that I might find a more pure and genuine self. Call it new routines through nakedness.

To get things started I stripped down to my roots, just me. I got to work early so that I could shock and surprise as many people as possible. I had been losing weight due to my exercising and fasting and my tunes were changing thanks to new Daily Mixes on Spotify. I headed down the hallway in all my glory, singing a song from the Wood Brothers.

The tune caught the attention of those who usually passed by me without a bit of attention being cast in my direction. I was flowing, out there, and to quote Kramer, “loving it!” The looks I got back included shock, disdain, and the gentle non-verbal suggestions that it was cool what I was doing, but under their dainty congratulatory nods were more likely a humiliating thought or two.

Finally, one person stopped me in the hall and said, “I like your hair better the other way.”

I was crushed. She had just thrown cow shit right in my face for the decision to go without any product to hold down my cowlicks down was a major one. I had changed nothing else, not my clothes, not my cable news viewing habits, or even the time of day I exercised. I was just allowing my hair to be free of the chemical shackles that kept the white renegade sprouts in place as a normal part of my professional look. I was tired of the routine and sick of the helmet head. Unfortunately, in my quest to go naked, I had been judged harshly. Worse, though, was the fact that I was ill-prepared to work through my vulnerability and collapsing confidence. I let the mob win.

I got fully dressed the next day and slicked my hair back down.

#6

“All that tread, the globe are but a handful to the tribes, that slumber in its bosom.”
William Cullen Bryant

Where do people draw the line? What is the boundary for which people exist? Earlier this week, I confided in an old student and now friend that I had given up on my lifelong love of the Dallas Cowboys. His shock, being a Cowboys fan also, was apparent and he demanded to know why.

I spelled it out for him:

  • I don’t like the ownership, never really have.
  • I don’t like the ownership’s position on the anthem protests, their support of the current administration, and the way they often take sides against the other owners.
  • I’m not a fan of the behavior of some of the key players, a trend that has been growing in me as I have gotten older and become less tolerant of behavior that is either illegal or lacks basic moral respect.

My friend responded by saying, “But Jerry is such a good businessman.”

Right there, I checked out because I could see where this conversation was going. My friend is a very good businessman. He put it out there that his loyalty to the Cowboys was about the status and power of the Cowboys more than it was about anything else. I was disappointed in my friend at first, but then I realized he probably felt the same about me and my “liberal views” about the relationship of sports to social and moral issues.

As I reflected more about the conversation, I got a little more bothered at the theme we had been discussing. We are too tribal, me in my disdain for the Cowboys and the sociopolitical reasons for my abandonment of a lifelong loyal follower and he with his blinded business is king viewpoint. We exist in worlds where all we want to do is surround ourselves with people who think they same as us, who worship the same as us, who vote the same as us, and who never question the fundamental ways that we see the world.

Boring.

Blah.

Bad.

I wish that people were not so quick to blame the ills of society on those who do not think the way they do. My friend is my friend, we just don’t think about the Dallas Cowboys the same way anymore. He can like them for a completely different reason than I ever did, and I can listen to his views about the ways in which business “trumps” moral obligations without finding him to be an enemy or worthy of deportation.

The way that our societies are shrinking is scary. The goal of a great society is fading under the bright lights of blame, righteousness, power monguering, and a refusal to think about the possibilities of limited thinking. Sports are only one way that tribalism is taking away our acceptance of everyone and everything, yet it is sports that preaches the benefits of participation as a teacher of lifelessons to promote noble goals of sportsmanship, diversity, and hardwork.

It’s too bad that so much of that is lost in the excusal of bad behavior, false prophet patriotism, and the general disregard for goodness that fanaticism is promoting across sports, politics, and religion.

#5

Loveliest of lovely things are they on earth that soonest pass away. William Cullen Bryant

What bad stories did Junior hear? Did his parents berate him? Did they blow smoke up his us, so that when he needed to understand he wasn’t perfect, he didn’t have the skills to comprehend the inaccuracy of the things his parents told him? It’s hard to know because Junior is dead and he never let anyone know what stories led him to the grave.

What we know, Junior loved to drink. Whiskey was his choice and it interfered with his life to the point where he spent several stints in the detention center and lost his license to drive. That made working tough, as he was a handyman with a buffet of skills. Too bad he didn’t have a way to get to his jobs and the liquor store was just a short walk away.

He left a wife and stepdaughter, yet nobody knew much about either. All who knew Junior commented on his abilities. He could fix any car. He’d listen to the motor and diagnose the problem right away. His mother thought he got that from her father, but she wasn’t so sure. Others remarked that he laid the perfect line with bricks, an informally trained stonemason who just had a knack for putting rocks, bricks, and tiles right where they needed to be. Carpentry, plumbing, electrical work, Junior could do it all.

But he loved to drink. He would put away a fifth like it was water and before long he would be drunk and unable to get home without risking a date with the law. Then he had a seizure and his speech started to go. His thirst remained. His work was still high quality, but his ability to get where he needed to go was gone.

Junior then told himself more bad stories. He talked to himself about being a failure, a burden, and a waste. A few loyal friends asked God to intervene in Junior’s life, but Junior seemed to think that he had pissed the big fella off and that no help was coming. It was only with Old Grand Dad that Junior could escape and after the seizure, he spent time with his firebrand grandfather.

There are too many Juniors out there…