Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Once...upon a time...

PJ vinyl

Tonight, while re-charging with the Pearl Jam Ten vinyl re-issue, Zoey latched on to the lyrics to "Once." From the kitchen we heard her mimic Eddie's gravelly, strained, "once...upon a time..." and then she faltered with the rest of the words. Half a lyric is pretty good though, especially a Pearl Jam lyric. Proud moment for her parents.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dads and Daughters

Zed close up

Today I had a pretty amazing girl tearfully, and after a little hesitation, tell me that she wished her Dad was more like me...and that Zoey was a lucky girl, and it was hard to keep the tears away. Girls aren't supposed to wish other men were their Dad's. That's not the way it works, and I'd like to think that Dad's wouldn't be able to bare hearing such a thing, but girls do think it, and Dad's do bare it, and none of it makes any sense to me except to say that it was a nice thing for her to say, and that it meant a lot to me, despite my best efforts to deflect, and also that I think that this girl deserves the best Dad you could find...she does. I like her a lot.

How is a sixteen year old girl jealous of Zed? Maybe you could say that she's a lucky girl, Zed, I mean, but I'd say that I'm infinitely more lucky.

Some Awesomeness for You On This Cold, Wet Monday Night

I may have posted a different version of this before but I have to again because of it's sheer awesomeness. Tegan and Sara...The Boss...giant heaving sigh, and perhaps a swoon even.

"I ain't nuthin; but tired...I ain't nuthin' but tired and bored with myself..." Maybe one of the best lyrics ever written.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Find Yourself a Kid With a Conscience and You're All Set

Yesterday we watched the Michigan-Ohio State game from my cousin Jason's house. Jason and his wife, Christina, are the proud parents of newborn twins...just seven weeks old, but born prematurely. They have only been home for two of those weeks. The boys are Quinn and Cooper, and they're amazing little wiggling bundles of miracle. It was a a bit of a chore getting Mummy to stop holding the boys, and she even took the opportunity to snap photos of the guys so that Christina and Jay have a cool, professional quality record of the boys first year.

Zed and I were playing and watching the football game when she decided to jump from the ottoman onto Mom's lap, paying little attention to the fact that Mom had Cooper in her arms. It was an abrupt shock and she just nearly missed landing on the six pound wonder. She was just as abruptly spoken to about her carelessness around the babies. She'd been talked to about being careful all morning and then, as any two year old might, she had forgotten the message. Our stern words, mostly Daddy's, upset her so much that the tears poured down her cheeks and she was fairly inconsolable for a moment or two. She tends to be hard on herself, and she doesn't handle her own mistakes or miscues with much aplomb. Being spoken to or reprimanded really upsets her.

That was yesterday, and then out of the blue today...

Zed: When we were at the baby's house and I got in trouble it was because I tried to jump onto Mummy's lap and I almost hit the baby, you said.

Daddy:That's right. Are you still thinking about that?

Zed: Yeah, I am.

Daddy:How did that make you feel Zoey?

Zed: I was embarrassed that I did that.

Embarrassed? I looked at Mummy just to make sure that she heard what I did and her eyes are full of tears. Go and find yourself a kid with a conscience if you want to be reminded how important every little thing that you say and do are.

Family and Friends, but Mostly Friends

For some odd, unknown reason I'm left fairly speechless about my Uncle Dwayne turning 50 years old, and about the birthday party that fell together for him last night...about the family that were there, the people that I love, and it's strange that somehow I can find no words. I can always find the words. I got to spend the night with people that matter a great deal to me, maybe perhaps, beyond measure, and that is why I stumble to find the proper perspective to wrap around the few photographs I have of the night.

Five or six hours were filled with long, laughter girded conversations with cousin's and Uncles and Aunts (wait, why does it seem like I have to capitalize Uncle and Aunt but not the word cousin? That's even stranger than my loss of language). Zed played with Sammer, and Avery and Reece. I steadied myself with Scott and Colleen, and Brad and Jason and Mark, and I might have wandered outside of a ten foot circle five times in all of those hours. People found me, because they were looking for me, and you're a fool if you can't feel the value of that right there in in your chest, or hold it in your hand. My family is very likely no different from any other family but I think that in many ways it is. There is a genuine love and affection between people who so often in other families find no reason to find faith in each other. So often, cousins are related almost because their parents are, and for no other reason. That doesn't demand any kind of connection or ignite any kind of love unless it's forced. Ours is never forced. I love these people and they love me, and I care about what they're doing, and they care about what I'm doing, and that might be more unique than even we realize. I'm not connected to these people because our parents are brothers and sisters. I very likely would have found them as friends regardless.

It used to be that we thought that my Grandmother, the matriarch of this large and close family, was the one who tied everything together but I think all these years after she has been gone that we were wrong. Everything is tied together by love, and not a single person is responsible for that, each and every single one of us is, and that's something we just hadn't considered. Still, somewhere Grammafufu would be proud...beaming, in her children and grandchildren and great grandchildren laughed and played and even bumped bellies, because there are no divine rules that say that we should, that urge us to find faith in each other, and that congregate us simply because in photos we kind of look the same. We find each other so engulfed in smiles and laughter and we snap photos and touch each other on the elbows and thump one another's backs and steal hugs and stories because we love each other, and even if any of us ever achieved anything great in our lives...if Grammafufu ever did, it might be that all of this trumps it. I dunno. I don't have the words, but looking back three paragraphs, I guess I did.

Happy Birthday Uncle Lumpy. You've marinated for fifty years in a pretty authentic kind of love. That's worth celebrating every year, not just every fifty.

Go Blue! Beat Ohio!

Beat Ohio!

Spent the day with friends, parents of newborn twins, and Zed sang "The Victors" while Daddy had at least seven near fatal heart attacks and the Wolverines finally beat the Buckeyes after seven painful tries. Sigh...such a good day. Such a good, good day.

BTW...shouldn't we all have a friend like that crazy dude in the photo? In case you were wondering, the answer is yes.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Could the Room Be Any Bigger?

Big Room

How strange is this? I’m sitting on the stage steps in an empty 400 seat auditorium, waiting to speak about God knows what for three hours, and I’m starting to wonder if this wasn’t the worst place to explore my theory of not needing notes. I make extensive, ridiculously detailed notes for this stuff, and then I never…NEVER…follow them. I typically never even touch them, not even a glance. So on this auspicious occasion I chose t not bother. I’m second guessing that decision.

This room is huge…HUGE…I can’t help but wonder if they have any clue who I am, where I’m from, what kind of an idiot I am. Somehow I feel as though I’m pulling the wool over a lot of people’s eyes. They can’t possibly be here to listen to my ramblings, but it strikes me awkwardly that they are, so now I’m required to deliver. It's a weird world.

The plan is to talk about what I do… the unique approach I take to do it (or so I’ve been told) and the experiences I’ve had that help to shed some valuable light on some of the more unique situations. I had hoped to talk about homeless kids, Hells Angels, Crips and Bloods…for real Crips and Bloods, addicts, and everyday people, actually all of them everyday people, with some very strange exceptions. That’s what I had intended to do. I might end up flubbing all of it and jabbering on about how nervous I am. I’ll surely forget everything I ever had any intention of saying, and walk away from the afternoon in shame. Or there exists the faint possibility that I whack a homerun and take my time trotting around the bases. I know I have the swing to do it, but what I tell myself is that it’s just not that simple. Maybe I’ll bunt? You know, lay one down the line...a creeper. Somehow manage to get on base.

This stuff always feels strange, never gets easy.

This is the lie that I tell myself. It’s just a conversation between people, one or one hundred, or six hundred. It’s just an intimate talk about some really incredible stuff, and that all I have to do is be myself. If I’m myself then that’s more than enough for everyone…and I can talk, boy, can I talk..for hours if someone lets me, and strangely, these people are letting me. That’s what I say to myself. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Today its not working, not at all. This isn’t intimate, this very likely won’t be just a simple conversation, and it feels as though I need some practice swings that I won’t get. I suppose that this is where muscle memory, figuratively, comes in.

What the #$%& do I have to say that’s all that unique and interesting? I mean it when I casually joke that all I do is show up. That’s a hard sell to a lot of people who believe otherwise, who demand that it takes much more than that. I’d say crap to that. It doesn’t take a whole lot more…experience maybe…perspective based on that experience…but the foundation of what I’m talking about today is nothing more than the boundless power of compassion. That’s it. There is no them, there is only us. That's it.

Wish me luck. You can even pity me, that'd be fine too.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Stars and Strangers

I was reminded this morning why I tend to have a greater than average faith in the planet. There are good people, the right kind of people, everywhere...littered throughout days and weeks and years, but like the stars in the sky you're only gonna see them if you look up.

Look up from your busy life every once in awhile. It can be a pretty encouraging sight.

Digging Through The Old Shoe Box

Michigan vs. CMU

I was flipping through old photos and stumbled on this one. The wildly attractive girl under my left arm is my wife, still wildly attractive, still enough of the "right kind of girl" to make me feel as though I somehow won the lottery. Zoey's Mom...good sister...good daughter...incredible wife...friend. Some of us are born with horseshoes wedged deep in their nether regions and I'm one of those guys. They say that the sun doesn't shine on the same dogs @#$ every day but it's shone brightly on mine for a long damn long as I can remember. I love this it. That's us with friends at Michigan Stadium, sun beating down, happy and healthy with an entire life ahead of, houses, jobs...who'd have thought that the sun would still be shining so brightly after all these years? Its ridiculous how fortunate we are...ridiculous.

I may have been 'undecided' about a lot of things in college, but not about the girl under my arm right there.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Christmas Shopping at the Dinner Table

This brief Daddy-Daughter exchange is from yesterday evening during dinner.

Dad: What should we get Mummy for Christmas Zo?

Zed: A toque.

Dad: A toque?

Zed: Yup...a brown one.

Dad: A brown toque? Really?

Zed: (said both impatiently and emphatically) Yes Daddy, a brown toque!

Dad: That's it?

Zed: Yes, Daddy. That's it.

It looks like June is getting a brown toque for Christmas, and that's it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Super Zed...Faster Than a Speeding Bullet etc...Leaping Tall Buildings etc...

Super Zed

I couldn't get home fast enough today to put my evil photography plan into action. Somewhere between two towns this morning I thought it would be fun to dress Zed up like a superhero, slap together a cheesy looking fake sky, and start snapping what would surely amount to bad photos. It worked...sort of.

Zed was a difficult model to work with...very restless and squirmy...very eager to do anything but what I was hoping she'd do...but regardless, we still managed to have fun, and get some absolutely ridiculous shots. I think the stupidity of it all, and the horrid lack of professionalism throughout the entire session made it all even better.

We had a t-shirt for a cape...much, much too big tights...and pink underwear. We made a cloud out of paper, and used an old blue sheet for sky. I'm sure we could have been more successful had, you know, Zo been more than two and half years old, and if Dad knew what the heck he was doing. Instead, we got an intimate portrait of a Dad trying really hard to snap fun photos of his pseudo-superhero daughter, rather than the cool superhero photos we had hoped for. Shrug...

Zed had fun, and despite wanting to quit almost as soon as I started, I eventually got my act together and managed to enjoy the chaos. It's nearly impossible to give a two and half year old semi-superhero instructions, even when you sit her down and talk slowly. She does what she wants to do...perhaps that's her humble super power? She's a good listener, just a bad follow througher. She's kind of got her own agenda.

When it was all said and done, we enjoyed ourselves, and somehow managed to cook dinner all at the same time. Talented, I know...I might get all the credit for that kind of juggling, but Zed's immutable cuteness wins the trophy. She's a superhero alright...capable of melting Daddy's heart in a single bound.

Of course, this was all part of Cool School, Zed's winter version of camp. We've got a lot on the schedule, but doing ridiculous things is right at the top. Of course, we could be doing educational things, you know, taking advantage of Grandma's hard work all day...numbers, letters, physics, all that stuff...but nope, we're doing our own thing separate from all that JK preparation garbage. We're having fun, and that alone might be the best lesson of all. Why else would we bother to get out of bed in the morning? To learn our alphabet? No. To fly like a superhero? Heck yeah!

Tegan and Sara...and Me

So, so, so, so desperate to see this. I've got kind of a nefarious crush on both girls and then add the unabashed feeling that I could listen to their music for thirteen years straight...well, it's embarrassing. This one I need to in need with nine e's. You should see it too.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Of Course, I Could Be Wrong

Nov 21

Just as I get myself all convinced that Fall is over, it isn't. Nuthin' but blue skies and sunshine all day. I'll take it.

Of course, I'm wrong about a lot of the NBA lockout coming to an end, that Michigan State sucks, that i would never need tools, that I'd stop eating potato chips, and that Hootie and the Blowfish were timeless. This is one time I'm happy to be wrong.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Text Messages That Suggest That Our Daughter is Linguistically Superior To Us

The last message that I received on my phone yesterday as I crossed a river into the land of obscene consumerism was typical of a random one on one interaction with Zoey. The text message from June read:

Me: What are you doing Zed?

Zo: I'm admiring your camera.

Me: Huh?

Zo: I'm just admiring your camera.

She's so typically saying things like this that you forget to write them down. Admiring. Who uses the word admiring? Apparently Zo does.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hail To The Victors Valiant...Hail to the Conquering Heroes

Ian Bri NEB game

A day at The Big House with Ian...stellar friend...and in Nebraska's first visit to Ann Arbor since 1962 the Wolverines laid a sturdy beating down. The game finished 45-17 and it was an awesome afternoon. Equal parts re-charged and tuckered out. Enjoying yourself this much is tiring.

Friday, November 18, 2011

There's No Place Like Home...There's No Place Like Home...

Big House

In less than twelve hours I'll find myself embraced by one of my most favorite places on the planet. I'll park my car, find a nice place to brace myself for an afternoon of swoon. It's Michigan-Nebraska tomorrow at noon, and I'm hoping to find myself sunburnt and filled with peace and energy before the blue sky fades to grey...long before there are stars, and a sliver of moon.

Don't ask me what kind of largesse and magic it is that fills me with such comfort and satisfaction each and every time I wander back to Ann Arbor. I couldn't exactly tell you...but I know that it happens, and that I feel it to the very bottom of me, and I don't think I could ever wander too far from that.

Tomorrow I'll re-charge the battery and come back a different guy. Tonight I'll sleep like a kid at Christmas.

If you don't have a place like that in your, get one.

Just you and me...and random thoughts of good friends

Tonight June was abducted by an embarrassingly love-struck twelve year old girl, and dragged to a Cody Simpson concert. It's frightfully true, and paralyzingly sweet. So it was just Zed and her doting Dad, and in hours reminiscent of Camp Zed adventures, we made an astonishing couple.

We made pigs in blankets together for dinner...we visited with Uncle Ian...we bathed and roasted real marshmallows by a fake fire...We read books and played in the cardboard castle that we made in the summer. We were insufferably and oh-so sincerely sweet to each other...almost as sweet as Aunt June and Avery were tonight.

Now it's just me and that fake fire still...sitting and thinking, and typing. I'm a good Dad and it's the absolute pride and purpose of my minutes and hours and days. I'm frightfully dismantled by this little girl...desperately, oh-so desperately smitten. I love these Dad and Daughter moments..."just you and me," as Zed would say all summer. Yup, that's right Bub...just you and me.

Oddly tonight I randomly thought of my friends Dustin and Kelly, and thought almost immediately how disgustingly impressive they'll be at all of this gobbly gunk someday. Kelly will have a melting point that's oh so sweetly low, but Dustin will be a puddle of fatherly pride and fallibility. Dunno why I thought that tonight, I just did. It's strange how soft and malleable this Daddy thing makes you...not hardly locker room tough at all. You get all Hallmark and whispy while the rest of the world goes on thinking they've got you pegged and that you're perhaps the same old're not. A light breeze of emotion could topple you.

I love this Daddy business, and I like thinking about my friends who will be equally as liquified by it. It warms be a whole lot more than this YouTube fire.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Can Movies Be Mandatory?

Must, must, must see this movie. Critics have been losing their $%#! about it. "To call The Descendants perfect would be a kind of insult," gushed a New York Times review, "a betrayal of its commitment to, and celebration of, human imperfection."

Must, must, must...

Augustus McCrae, Ray Lamontagne, and Michigan Football

It ain’t dying I’m talking about, it’s living. I doubt it matters where you die, but it matters where you live.
Augustus McCrea, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

I've wanted to post all week but it's been a busy and uncomfortable four days. With one suicide and three attempts, I've been struggling to keep things in perspective and in balance, and by ignoring everything but myself, my family, and my work, it was manageable. Even now, I haven't much to type. I'm fairly spellbound by ACC football that I couldn't care a whole lot less about, and the strange comfort of Ray Lamontagne's Jolene...makes me want to throw on a flannel jacket, pack an old army duffel and buy a Greyhound ticket. It wouldn't be the first time, but I've got enough history behind me to know that escape like that doesn't do much but stack up what's bothering you like the snow drifts that pile high in Walmart parking lots long after the temperatures have risen above zero. Some desert sunsets would be nice right about now though.

Zed keeps me philosophizing how things can go so terribly wrong in people's lives. Each time I look at her everything seems so implausibly right...nearly impossible to go wrong, but it's a fine line we all walk. It doesn't take much to throw the fragile balance of our lives off. Right now Zed makes me hopeful, but we're all hopeful at some point, aren't we? Sure we are.

I've been around enough of this stuff now to know that there are no explanations, there is no understanding. Like Hunter Thompson once said, "The edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over it." It just may be impossible to nail it down any better than the good doctor did. There's not much to understand about any of this.

This afternoon I found myself running for familiar ground, on the phone with the Athletic Dept. at Michigan trying to score tickets to the long since sold out football game with Nebraska this weekend. I must have sounded desperate because a good, old friend found them for me. She's always been nothing but stellar and I doubt she knows the times that her goodness has saved my sanity. The company of 100,000 people will surely erase portions of this hectic week. If not, I'm in trouble. And Ian's home...Uncle Ian's home from the great, empty wilderness, and so I've got a good friend to pull me from this trance too. It'll be just fine.

Whenever this kind of haze settles in all around me I always think of the choices that we make in our lives...some as simple as what kind of damn car to drive, and some as big as what home to spend the rest of our lives paying off...but still for others it's about what they chose to do with their days, and where they choose to do it. I chose this. I chose these people, and these kids, in this familiar place, in and all around where I grew up. I didn't necessarily expect it to fall that way, but it has, and I suspect that choosing to live here, in this place of occasional strain and sorrow, matters more than dying somewhere that doesn't matter quite as much. I dunno. I only know that I chose this, and sometimes it harder than other things that I could do. This week it was harder.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tiny Picasso and the Fish That Wasn't...or Maybe Was?

girl's face or fish

So while Mom was cooking dinner, and Dad was watching the Chicago Bears dismantle the Lions, Zoey was in her room drawing on her chalk some kind of goddangma #$%&ing Picasso!

She says it's a fish...we both saw a little girl with her hair in her face...whatever you want to call the work of this 2.9 year old, it's brilliant. We were stunned. Zo just kept right on sketching, and then eventually wiped it off. How dismissive the casual genius can be.

Wow. Just wow. Is it just me or is this something that should solicit swoons. Maybe all that sketching with Daddy left some kind of subtle imprint? Or maybe not, I mean, after all, it could just be a fish.

Never Too Much of a Good Thing (especially when Derek Trucks is involved)

Not listening to the Tedeschi Trucks Band? Then we can't be friends. I'm not even kidding...not even a little bit.

Like anyone, I get songs stuck in my head, and I can't get this one out. I've been singing it (badly) to myself for months. Had a chance to see the band in Cleveland and went to Las Vegas instead, mostly 'cause I can be an ignorant twit sometimes. I've been promising myself more modest shows...more small acts, more of chasing my more intimate musical affections. The Tedeschi Trucks Band is one of those acts. This girl too.

Our Version of Church

June Zed Book Keeper

Zed likes the book store. Daddy likes the book store. Mummy likes the book store. Who doesn't like the book store? It's one of the few stores that you can go to and not feel guilty when you walk out with nothing. Everyone hangs out at the book store, and everyone only actually gets out their wallet and buys something every now and then. Zoey bought this.

Lady Bug Girl

Now Zed's best friend, Woody, has a girlfriend, or so it seems. They were looking pretty tight in the car on the way home. Of course, it was a bit of a forced marriage, but a marriage nonetheless. An arrangement made by Zoey, and despite our best efforts to convince her that Jessie would be very upset with both her and Woody, she was insistent on forcing the relationship. Shrug...

We rarely buy books at the book store anymore. We grab endless stacks of awesome, barely touched books at second hand stores and used book shops whenever we can. Whoever pays the retail price on books has much more cash to burn than we do. Who spends $20 on a book for a three year old? Some kind of rich bugger, that's for sure. Zed's got a ridiculous little library started and I'd bet there isn't $150 wrapped up in it, although we're still not victims of the school book fair yet, or the Scholastic catalogues. When those suckers start we're cooked.

BTW...that book in the first photo is indeed Here Comes The Poo Bus. Once again...shrug.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

My Saturday Morning Gift To You

As I was stumbling through a slow but crowded morning, and needing some energy, I found this story. Now I'm giving it to you because it's incredible. Don't just read it. Think about it.

You're welcome.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gone Fishin'...but not very far.

fishing for letters
Daddy and Zed doing a little impromptu living room stairs fishing.

Tonight we took a break from the world, Zoey and I, and went fishing. Sure, it was only in our living room, and yeah, it was for magnetic alphabet letters but so what? She loved it. I conned her into working on her alphabet and letter recognition a little more, and we laughed out loud for nearly an hour. Don't ask me where the idea came from 'cause I don't know. June and Zed were pretending to fish and then I thought, "why not really fish?" Of course, I meant that in the strictest crafty/creative sense, and before you know it. Living room fishing was born, perhaps the most covert form of education we've yet embraced.

fishing for letters
Not only did we get to work on her alphabet but on that illusive patience too...

Naturally, she slayed the game, nailing almost all of her letters, upper and lower case, and of course, she got a little too excited for her own good and so the game needed to be put on hiatus until tomorrow (apparently letter fishing is a #$%&ing awesome game), but we had a tonne of fun created just about the best, most dynamic and physical letter learning exercise ever (probably not ever, but close enough). All I could think of was my friends who have little boys who might be stoked to go fishing for letters. It must have occupied Zed for a full 45 minutes.

All we used were some Ikea magnets, your standard, run-of-the-mill, generic, all-purpose stick...driftwood if you're really into aesthetics...some string, and Dollar Store refrigerator alphabet magnets...that's it. And you know what all that gets you? It's gets you awesome, that's what.

More pics here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Crass Calculus


He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.

I never regretted walking away from sports. I missed things. I missed people, and places, and I missed the void that they filled in my life. I missed the stories, but I never regretted walking away from a world that I felt the first rumblings of betrayal from nearly fifteen years ago. I sat in the press box at Michigan Stadium, with people I cared very deeply for, in spite of the short amount of time we had known each other. They were good people. The Aimee and Kevins, the Jenns, and the Naylas and Marcs, the BJs and Bruces...and the gifts of friendship that fell in my lap just because I walked into the Hartwig Building almost every day...the Sues and Taras, Gregs and Schneidzes (that feels hilarious to type), and the Betzies and Helens and Weisses. In a tiny, crowded office, at the back of a tiny, crowded second floor of a tiny crowded building, I found friendship with strangers and all because of at least one common denominator...sports. I miss that, but at a certain point the sporting world that I had loved, and worshipped, and idealized started to dissolve...ego and arrogance, self-importance and self-preservation...the weight of business becoming an anchor to my idealism. Over the twenty-something years of my young life I had successfully idealized sports to the point that it would nearly impossible for them not to eventually disappoint. Never venture to meet your heroes, someone once said. Get close enough to something you idealize and you'll surely be disappointed.

I moved on to bigger (in my own mind) and better things. I learned how to help people and I found my place doing just that. I stumbled headlong from a press box into a Boys and Girls Club gymnasium, and I discovered the truth in the notion of finding your destiny. I was never meant to work in a press box. I would never have expected that I'd work on street corners and alleys, and in gyms and YMCAs. I thought I'd work in stadiums. Now I'm happy to work in the crowded hallways of high schools. I found my place, but I do miss sports. I don't regret leaving them behind, but I miss them. I don't bemoan sidestepping the ugly arrogance of sidelines and press boxes.

As the weekend passed and the week began, and more and more came out of State College about the Penn State Football scandal...a tsunami of unexpected and unbelievable accusations and events, I felt the sad rush of sickness that accompanies such things, but much worse, I felt an uncomfortably intimate understanding of the business of college football. If you think that the scope of the Penn State scandal is small then you're mistaken. It's not. It's huge. If you think that the victims of the alleged abuse didn't rank second in consideration to the monster, in this case literally, that is Penn State football then you'd be mistaken. Its the boldest indictment of our sporting culture since anyone can remember. In it's every twist and turn there are people that matter more than other people, and that's just not the truth. There are ideas and belief systems worth upholding at any price, and that's just not right.

I work with young men and women who have survived similar abuses and the failures of our adult systems are astonishing, perhaps even harder to comprehend on some levels than the human failures of their abusers. We rarely take care of one another. We seldom place others first. It's that very reason why I have a job, and why I regularly deflect the compliments I so randomly receive. I do nothing out of the ordinary save honor myself as a human being in direct kinship with other human beings. There is no greater responsibility or success than that. We're all capable of doing the right thing every time we are faced with our own expense and in honor of ourselves and others. The press box I left fifteen years ago was not propped up by those ideals. It often pretended to be, but it wasn't. I have good friendships from those years, and know good, no, I know great people, because of the string and colored cardboard dangling press passes that bound us all together, but institutionally, as a culture, I leave no love behind. As a brand, and as an ideal, I love Michigan. As a social, cultural, and economical reality, I loathe it. The big business of sports has in large part ripped the very soul from the games themselves, and compromised even the seemingly best of people.

The Penn State scandal could have happened in Ann Arbor or anywhere. The reality of sports in this 21st century is that it believes itself to be (and is regularly reminded that it is) bigger than anything else...including helpless victims and moral obligation. I don't regret walking away from sports fifteen years ago. I only regret allowing myself to idealize them in such vacant terms for so long. The equations that allow sports to become bigger than justice and humanity are difficult to comprehend, and I was unwilling to study that math. In hindsight it's ironic. I was a terrible math student but I was able to do that crass calculus. In the end I passed that exam, and I never once looked back and wondered what would have happened had I chose not to walk away. It's funny, very few of those friends I met on those sidelines and in those press boxes, or in that tiny, crowded office remained in sports...very few. I guess they were just as good at that particular kind of math as I was.

What's happening at Penn State leaves me speechless, just not surprised. It's an awfully ugly culture that we embrace, and so willfully ignore it's shortcomings. It's easy to blame individuals and read all of the editorials and features demanding justice and admonishing the people involved, but very few of us will put the culture that allowed this and the billion other transgressions that occur regularly in our sporting world on trial. The system is beyond broken, and I am in large part beyond pulling back into the fold, at least not as blindly as I once was, marching to fight songs that glorified people and ideas that were realistically unwilling to fight for anything but their own survival and prosperity. It's a crass calculus indeed, and for once in my life I understood the math without any help. I don't regret walking away, I'm proud of it.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Just Win, Baby

Kent Champ Beezer
Kent Champion, Beezer, and Avery with the Championship trophy.

The news came via text message, just as Michigan was getting burned by a bad call in Iowa, at the same time as Reece was lazing his way to the Flour City Lacrosse Tournament Championship. His brother had just won his own trophy, Beezer's WDSS Senior Boys Football team had just won the League Championship, and would be marching on to the Southwestern Ontario Regional game in one more week.

It was a big day for nephews and brothers.

Oneida Braves
Ron Elijah's All-Around and from All-Over All Star team, posing as Oneida Braves, win the Flour City Tournament in Rochester, NY

It all comes not one year after their sister, Avery, won the Ontario Basketball title. The family is getting a little spoiled. Zoey's going to have impossible shoes to fill if things keep going this way. With Avery's size 11 kickers they might already be near impossible to fill.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

That's The Way...

Led Zeppelin III changed my life...a know, not enough to be the plot of a Cameron Crowe film, but enough to change how I listened to music.

Everyone had 1969's self-titled album, Led Zeppelin, and of course everyone owned Led Zeppelin IV, made famous by Stairway to Heaven, the one song you wished would play last at every high school dance ever, especially if you'd already found the girl to dance with. But no one owned Led Zeppelin one. I didn't know anyone, not under the age of thirty anyway.

First Tangerine caught my attention. Then Since I've Been Loving You kicked my face in, and finally...and perhaps most lovingly, That's The Way stole my music loving heart forever. I never listened to music the same way again. Until that moment I went with the crowd, followed suit. After that, like a blind man groping, I leaned on whatever was most sturdy and handy, and what I inherently trusted. For the rest of my music loving life I looked at Robert Plant and Jimmy Page differently. They became sages, high water marks...that place where the levee broke and it all came rushing in. After That's The Way I realized that real music had no fences around it...had no preconceived expectations built into it. I opened up my head and heart to everything. I didn't need to own the same records that my friends did. My music grew much more personal, much more intimate.

I don't know why I'm typing all this except maybe because I haven't been able to stop listening to it all night tonight, and it reminds me of how much one song can impact your life. If you don't think that a song can save a life, or change the way that you see something...change your mind...snatch you up and make you a better person in 5:44 seconds, well, you need to be paying more attention. Today I talked to a young man who was just discovering Led Zeppelin thanks to his Dad's old record collection. We talked music for the better part of an hour, and like every eager adolescent before him, he was swallowing Led Zeppelin IV first, and was slowly feeling his way around the rest. He was still listening to the records because they were cool, not because they had blown his mind yet. I told him to check out That's The Way, and left it at that. I can't wait to see him next week, and hear what he has to offer. It's crazy to imagine how really great music can have an impact on generation after generation after generation, but it can, and it does. When I first heard Led Zeppelin III I thought I was the only one listening to it. Funny how time makes you realize just how late to the party you were, and just how much better your Dad's record collection was than yours. Hubris makes you believe otherwise...humility convinces you of your stupidity.

I hope Zoey digs the music that she inherits. Maybe she'll get lucky and some grey haired chatterbox at school will implore her to give it a closer listen, and she will, and then she'll feel bad that she ever knew the words to a Justin Bieber song.


I ran into him in the hallway of my old high school. He asked for my card. He told me that he enjoyed my stories very much, that he heard me speak at the last professional development and that he wanted very badly to hear more stories. He wondered how I ever cultivated so many stories, and I told him that it was really the only thing I knew that I wanted when I left high school. I wanted stories. He seemed sincerely interested in the answer, and asked me what then was my plan for that time when life left me incapable of collecting more stories. I thought it a strange question but recalled his strange teachings.

He was a curious man. He himself had lived through a period of intense change and challenge and had, as he almost ruefully explained, finished his novel...the one that had consumed his entire life. Now he was done chasing that story. I told him that we were never done chasing that story. He grew even more curious, and queried me once again. See, I told him, we the end...die in medias res. In the middle of a story. Of many stories. The stories...the story...never stop. It's how I approach my work, every day, every kid, every awful situation...every story. They're all stories, every one, and most are smack in the middle, if not the very beginning. I want to be a part of their stories, as we all should hope to be for each other. In the end, they're my stories too.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out his trademark red pen, flipped over my business card and leaned over to scribble on it. I was expecting an email address...something that might connect us so that he might hear more stories, so that he might ask more questions. Instead, he handed me back my card, patted me on the shoulder, smiled. He said awkwardly that this was his last semester of teaching, that he was done, and that he had thought he might try to publish his novel, but that after listening to my stories he needed to re-write large parts of it. He paused, and patted me on the shoulder once more, shaking my hand with the other, and then turned and walked away. I watched him go and saw him look back over his shoulder down the hall and smile at me one more time, the former student he had taught how to cultivate a story, now apparently returning the favor. It was a nice moment, one I had never imagined happening, it was like it had fallen from some film. It felt kind of surreal. When I finally looked down at the business card he had returned to me I smiled wide. There on the back, in the same quick and slashing penmanship I remembered as a teenager, was an A+ scribbled in red, and the words, "Nice work Brian. Very nice work." I swelled with a little emotion. I guess I'd earned the grade, or so it seemed to him. At the very least he felt the need to give it. I'll keep that last 3.5 × 2 inch report card for the rest of my life, or at least until someone else needs to finish the story. When I go I'll still be in the middle of one. Of many. In medias res...always in medias res.


The world is always changing, it's overly dramatic blah blah blah when people shake their frustrated heads and sigh, "the world is changing." Uhm, yeah, it is, and always has been...forever and ever. I loathe the phrase. Not all of the changes are bad, in fact, most are good, and some are downright this one for the new XBox Kinect. Awe inspiring, in fact.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Crazy Stupid Love...Crazy Stupid Awesome


Kind of an awesome movie...just so you know. Best part? Well, let's just say that someone is always watching...always, and although it wasn't entirely the point of the film, it was a stellar anchor.

Stand up and say what you believe. Some people will tell you that you talk too much. Who cares? Somewhere there's someone wishing that they'd talked more. Someone is watching you and waiting to see you stand for something...chances are it's the most important person in your life.