Why I Don’t Build Boats for a Living

While it does not happen every day, occasionally when strangers learn my last name, they feel the need to comment on it. When I was a kid, older folks would hear or read my name and ask if I am related to the famous classic movie start. Alas, I am not. In my high school and college years, people would tease me about having the same name of a contemporary star of the silver screen. I dreaded some of the cracks my schoolmates made equating me with this star and not the classic actor.

Throughout the years, though, a certain group of people – almost like an elite underground, or purveyors of a profound open secret – would look at me and say, “You’re not related to the boat builder, are you?” This filled me with a strange mixture of pride and shame. The pride came from the confirmation that I was indeed the son of the great boat builder. The shame came from that fact that while I could see these people were impressed – they were talking to an apple that had fallen very far from the tree. In fact, the branch kind of coiled back, and in slingshot fashion, jettisoned this apple out of the orchard. Of course, I should feel nothing but satisfaction that I am my father’s son, and I should not be ashamed that no one is ever going to look at my son’s driver’s license and say, “are you the son of the great California State paper pusher?” I also feel a bit regretful that I did not pursue my father’s craft, though I know it would have been a tough tutelage.

As I was growing up, there were some who thought I had it made; I was going to be a boat builder like my father, run the family business, and carry on the proud tradition. I recall one day camping at Lake Almanor with my family and friends – something we did a lot back then. This one kid, the son of a prominent Sacramento business owner, was skipping rocks across the lake with my brother and me when he turned to us with a big grin and said, “Isn’t it great that one day we will take over our dads’ businesses!” A pregnant silence followed, the kid’s face twisted into a question, and then he queried, “Don’t you guys want to take over your dad’s business?” We did not say no, but our displeasure at the idea of working that close with our father for the next forty or fifty years seemed to be written on our faces.

It is hard to explain to an outsider why I did not become the next great boat builder or even a water sports enthusiast. The best explanation I can offer is the man’s temper. My father was not a violent man; he never laid a hand on us, but it was his anger that totally intimidated my brother and me. I do not know how the Hershey kids (if there were any) handled living with a father who made chocolate all day, but I can just see old man Hershey yelling at his kids how they are mixing the cocoa with the sugar and milk wrong. I can envision the kids just getting sick of their old man yelling at them so often. It is a poor analogy, I know. In my case, my father was the owner and responsible for at least 70% of the work that went into manufacturing each boat and trailer, so we were too close to the whole business. Just as I can see the kids down the street green with envy over the Hershey kids’ prospect, I can also see the Hershey juniors dreading the days they worked in the factory, with the smell of cocoa, milk, sugar, caramel, peanuts, and almonds overwhelming their senses. I can envision them knee-deep in Hershey bars, Reeses, Paydays, Kisses, Kit-Kats, Almond Joys, and Mounds, all the while dreaming of broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

My brother and I were oddities among the children in our neighborhood. When my father got into racing dirt bikes, he would come home from work, hop on his Greaves or Husqvarna, and ride wheelies up and down the street. My friends looked on in wonder, lining the streets like the last leg of a motocross race. To them, my father was the coolest dad in the world; he made boats and could ride wheelies all the way down the street. He did this while his two sons were nowhere in sight.

Things became straight up perverted when my father brought home a brand new Honda 50 mini bike for my brother and me, and we were cowering behind my mother. At 48 years old, I can see how ridiculous this might have looked, but at the time, the kids flocking around the Honda 50 did not know how utterly intimidating my father was. His temper took the fun out of this kind of stuff.

Boating was no different. Family outings on the water were fraught with intensity. “Will I have to drive the boat off or on to the trailer?” which translated into, “Will I get stuck being the one he yells at?” There was also “Will I get up on one ski on the first or second try?” which really meant, “Please God, let me get up on the first or the second try. I don’t want to get that look.”

I blame my sissy self for not being able to enjoy boating like the kids of the parents who bought my father’s boats. Still, the anxiety was real, so by the time I got a car and a job, I did not miss the outings. The woman who became my wife ultimately learned of the legend. Her jaw dropped to find that not only did I not possess a boat, but also that I did not want one. The shockers continued: I was not a trick or slalom skier, and the kicker was that I had absolutely no desire to buy a boat of any kind. My sister bought one of my father’s boats before he stopped building them. Now a quarter of a century later, I have bought her boat – hell has frozen over.

The main reason for the purchase is that my wife has always wanted one, but also my sister needed the cash and my wife thought it would be a good idea to keep a boat in the family, though nobody seems too terribly fired up about boating. Another reason – one that until now has been a secret to all, including my wife – is that I wanted to try to capture something that I missed out on all these years. I really thought I would never buy one of my father’s boats – or any other kind of watercraft for that matter.

So here I am a boat owner in the dead of winter. I have not even seen the boat since I purchased it. I doubt I will even make the trip across town where it sits in storage until the spring when I take it out for a spin with my family. The pathetic thing is all I can think about is which one of us is going to drive the boat up on the trailer when we have finished – not me, I will be the one on the ramp yelling!

Home Sweet Home

About 17 years ago, my wife, our two sons and I moved out of our mid-town apartment and into a nice little home in East Sacramento. I recall looking at all the children riding their bikes up and down the street when the real estate agent first showed us the house. “What a wonderful place to raise our children,” my wife and I concurred. It was a nice house in a nice part of town, near a freeway, a grocery store, and a beautiful, shaded, median park.

I wonder to this day if the agent who, in the words of Joe Bob Briggs, looked like she had a “head-on collision with Max Factor,” planted her nieces and nephews in the neighborhood with the promise of ice cream for the kids and 20 hours of babysitting for their parents. A short while after we moved in, we noticed the children had disappeared and, some months later, we began to notice suspicious characters hanging around a house a few doors down and across the street. Soon we, and the rest of the homeowners, knew we had a gang’s clubhouse on our street. The music coming from the house was loud, there were many visitors, and this activity went on virtually around the clock. To top it off, many afternoons we were audience to a big guy, who would sit in a chair in the middle of the driveway and shout profanities at people driving by.

We did nothing about this; what could we do? There were police cars patrolling and occasionally stopping at the house. Our first Fourth of July at the house sounded like the decapitation of Baghdad – the gang’s clubhouse had a car trunk full of stuff that you cannot get at Red Devil Fireworks. For what seemed like all night, bottle rockets and, what sounded like M-80s or cherry bombs, were set off.

When one bottle rocket exploded on my front porch – lighting up my front room as if it was high noon – while I was on the other side of the porch wall trying to calm down my infant son, I came unglued. For those following minutes, the fact that I was preparing to lock horns with a bunch of guys that were probably “packin’ 9’s” totally escaped me.

Lucky for me, by the time I got to the middle of the street where these guys were setting off the contraband, they had finished their pyrotechnics show and were calling it a night. Oh, but I was far too fired-up to simply turn around and go to bed. The reason I am here to write this post, and am not just a memory to my widowed wife who had to settle for a closed coffin, is that the people I ended up screaming at were a couple of 11-year-olds who were almost in the house when I got to ground zero. Of course, this did not stop me from unleashing my rage, even if there was no one in the street to receive it.

Some months later, my wife and I were speaking with Karryl, a woman who lived directly across from the clubhouse. She had had enough of the activities and was going to sell her home – probably at a loss. Karryl told us she had spoken with a detective from the Sacramento Police Department who was trying to bust the gang bangers on something, but could not get anything that would stick. She surprised us when she said that only a week or so earlier, four police cars were parked in front of the clubhouse and the police arrested all the gang members. My wife and I were both at work at the time. She said the police had made a couple of wholesale arrests over the previous six months, but the gang members always returned. She said the detective was also watching another neighbor, who lived next to Karryl, just four houses down on our side of the street.

Karryl told us that about once a week, she would wake up in the early morning, 2-3 AM, to the sound of trucks and multiple voices in the neighbor’s backyard. When she looked through the fence, she would see these trucks were towing cars – into the backyard. It was a chop shop. Karryl told us the police had been to both houses before. What was so ironic was that with all the nefarious activity going on in our own neighborhood, we never were robbed or harassed.

A couple of months later, when I was riding my bike home from work, I saw four police cars lining the street around the clubhouse and the chop-shop house. At the time I did not think much of it: “It is just another bust and these guys will be back in business by sunrise.” However, a day or two later I saw Karryl and she told me she was walking out her front door around noon that day when she saw coming from both directions, descending on the clubhouse, a dozen police officers with body armor and shotguns. She said she ran back inside and hid in the back room, afraid she might be accidentally shot.

By the time she settled on the carpet of her back bedroom, she saw through the sliding glass door a Costco-size mayonnaise jar come flying over her fence from the chop-shop house. Ten minutes later, without a shot having been fired, she peeked through her kitchen window. On the front lawn was a bunch of gang members on their knees in cuffs and the detective she had spoken with before was walking around casually, clad in black slacks and a polo shirt, with a holstered sidearm on his chest. Karryl walked out, greeted the detective and asked him to examine the mayonnaise jar.

It turned out to be crystal meth. Now the detective was able to get a search warrant for the house and found a meth lab in the basement and enough evidence for convictions related to the chop-shop activities. All of this was too much for Karryl; she sold her house right after the arrests. The clubhouse was sold; the chop-shop house was vacant. About five quiet years later, we bought a bigger, better house in South Land Park.

Less than two years after moving into our new home, one of our cars was stolen and, a couple of years after that, our house was broken into and my wife’s jewelry, my SLR camera and equipment, a pair of binoculars and a brand new computer, among other items, were lifted. I would not be surprised if the culprits were from another neighborhood. They might have applied the “trick-or-treat” method of choosing victims: go to the nice neighborhood to get the candy and do not crap where you eat.

The Summer Read I Just Couldn’t

Seen a man standin’ over a dead dog lyin’ by the highway in a ditch.
He’s lookin’ down kinda puzzled pokin’ that dog with a stick.
Got his car door flung open he’s standin’ out on Highway 31.
Like if he stood there long enough that dog’d get up and run.
— “Reason to Believe”
I had not heard the final song from Bruce Springsteen’s 1990 album Nebraska in more than 10 years, but the opening lyrics came to mind while reading the first few chapters of Sam Harris’ book, The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason (2004). Springsteen’s song is a bitter joke that comes at the end of an album filled with nihilistic despair, so, I was not surprised that my memory would call up this song while reading Harris’ depressing words:
“Despite the considerable exertions of men like [theologian Paul] Tillich who has attempted to hide the serpent lurking at the foot of every altar, the truth is that religious faith is simply unjustified belief in matters of ultimate concern – specifically in the propositions that promise some mechanism by which human life can be spared the ravages of time and death.”
An atheist friend suggested I read Harris’ book after I invited him to comment on my first post on this blog, Faith, Liberals, and Biscuits. He sent me an email complimenting me on my new hobby, made a snide comment about an admittedly shallow theological remark I made in the post and suggested I read Harris’ book. (Thanks for the prescription, Jimbo.)
End of Faith comes at a time when the Neocons and car bombers are sharing the news and beginning to wear down the American public; Harris started writing the book on September 12, 2001. Harris’ solution to the turmoil religion created was to destroy religion for the sake of world peace. Does Harris really think we will all be happier without God or, for his sake, the concept of God? Absolutely. In fact, reading End of Faith is a horrifying experience. “Words like ‘God’ and ‘Allah’ must go the way of ‘Apollo’ and ‘Baal,’ or they will unmake our world.” While he spends most of his time with fundamentalists in his sights, it is a bit strange how he seems to believe that even religious moderates are capable of anything. This, of course, is not a revelation to a Muslim, Jew or Christian. We have asserted from the Beginning that man is capable of atrocities, just as he is capable of lying or stealing an apple from a market; it is called “sin nature.”
If you can remove yourself from any religious predilections and look at the world with pure logic, most of Harris’ views are difficult to refute. Still, who is his audience here? Is he preaching to the choir? (Sorry folks, I just couldn’t help myself.) If he is trying to convert believers to the abyss it is a hard sell. Ask anyone who believes in God, whether their deity goes by Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah or some nebulous entity, and he’ll tell you the idea of abandoning this supreme belief for Harris’ solution is impossible to reconcile with what he knows and feels.
It is not just a choice of which is more sensible; any staunch nonbeliever who reads the Bible is confounded by the idea that millions of people throughout the ages lived and died not only understanding, but also believing in this nonsense. Any college student sufficiently full of himself can read Harris’ book and come away with the idea that this author has found the panacea for religious fanaticism. Conversely, anyone who has gone beyond Harris’ worldly assertions can see how utterly foolish they are and, Biblically speaking, “full of dead men’s bones.” (For a review far more eloquent then these comments by someone who, I trust, was able to finish the book, check out: Matthew Simpson’s review posted April, 5, 2005 at www.ChristianityToday.com.)
Ultimately, Harris writes off the religious folk as people who have never reflected on the intellectual foundations of their beliefs. If his book is so tactfully written to cloak his contempt for Christians and other Believers, the titles of some of his posts in the Huffingtonpost like “Science Must Destroy Religion” and the presumptive “There is No God (And You Know It)” remove all doubt. Of course, there are plenty of contemporary works of religious philosophy to discount his claim. One that stands out can be found in To Everyone an Answer (2004), a collection of Christian apologies focusing on subjects that include God’s existence, Intelligent Design, miracles, and Christianity v other faiths and cults, among others subjects.
Like James Moreland and Kai Nielsen’s Does God Exist? and Peter Kreeft’s Fundamentals of the Faith, I found To Everyone an Answer at the bookstore and “just had to have it.” In addition, like so many other books I impulsively purchase, this one could have spent years on the shelf unopened if it had not been for Harris’ impish opus, the Lord works in mysterious ways.
One essay, “A Thomistic Cosmological Argument,” by W. David Beck, lays out the logic of God’s presence and our place in His universe. TheThomistic Cosmological Argument comes from Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century philosopher and theologian. His Cosmological Argument, as it is commonly known, is based on three premises:
  1. What we observe in this universe is contingent. Nothing we see exists in and of themselves.
  2. A sequence of causally related contingent things cannot be infinite. Just as one boxcar pulls another that pulls another, the boxcars cannot be infinite; there must be an initial cause, like the train’s engine.
  3. The sequence of causally dependent contingent things must be finite. The premise that completes the logic is that if the sequence cannot be infinite, then it must be finite.
His conclusion is that there must be a first cause in the sequence of contingent causes. Still, pessimists like Harris can retort that the initial cause was a “big bang” or something similar. What actually caused the initial “big bang” that ultimately ended in you and me is something Darwin, his followers and, I would assume, Harris would simply shine on as a goal for future science to patch up along with all the “Origin of the Species” holes.

I hate the idea of not finishing a book I started – almost as much as I hate walking out of a movie, even if it really stinks. It is just that I have so many books I want to read, and being such a slow reader, the list of books I want to read only grows longer when I am dragging my eyeballs across the lines of a suicide-inducing tome like this one.

I would like to think that Harris would consider the words of Beck and other apologists in To Everyone an Answer, but in the time it took me to read what little I did from this depressing book and all the time this post spent in my jump drive waiting for me to finish it, a new book from Harris titled Letter to a Christian Nation has been published. From the blurbs on the Amazon.com site, it sounds like another tombstone.

“I Started a Blog, Which Nobody Read”

Go to: Buzz 99: I Started a Blog, Which Nobody Read#links

And it doesn’t matter how much I shamelessly promote this thing to those who I thought liked me, all I seem to get is, “Oh yeah, I’ll check it out, man” followed by nothing, no comments, nothing. When you get to quizzing your nieces and nephews to find out whether they read the blog like they said they did, that’s when you know you’ve hit rock bottom. Thanks, Buzz.

The Week I Thought My New Boss was a Ninja

For five months, my office thrived without a manager. In that time we enjoyed long lunches, took breaks whenever we felt like it, and with the exception of only a couple of minor issues that brought down the section manager, it was a very relaxed and productive period.

Our office was like an open city: in-between the departure of one governing body and the occupation of a future one. Since we were only loosely supervised, we never felt we needed to be on guard and in fear of the boss. Unlike before, we were not bombarded by calls from the boss to see him in his office; nor were we pinned down in our cubes, pressed until we answered questions to his satisfaction. In addition, his absence from staff meetings was so refreshing that I made it a point to show up to these gatherings on my own time and nobody cared.

Just like the best all-night pool parties, our hiatus from office management had to end. An occupying force was bound to invade our little open city and re-establish “order.” While it is too early to tell how we will regard our new boss, one thing is for sure, if you would have asked me what I thought of him in that first week I would have told you that he was a ninja!

He was so busy the first day signing papers from our accounting and personnel offices, and getting his PC and phone set up that he was virtually invisible, but that is not the ninja part. It was on his second day when, with ninja-like stealth, he walked through our cubicle farm, surprising everyone. I was busted playing a sudoku puzzle, Edna was caught taking an unscheduled break watching her soap opera on Web-TV and eating cold cereal, I heard her attempting to say “Good morning” through a mouth full of milk and Special K. At the very same time our new boss was jolting Edna out of the world of melodrama and feminine hygiene product commercials, Dorothy was caught sleeping.

On the third day, when he began his walk through the cubes, I heard him speaking to Maureen, the woman who sits in front of me. A moment later, he was talking to Dorothy, the woman who sits behind me. There was no sound of his movement past me – and, believe me, with a half-done sudoku in in front of me, I was listening for him. It also took him only a second to pass me and engage Dorothy in his very soft voice. Did he fly by? My first – foolish – thought was that he threw his voice, but when I heard Dorothy reply to his query, I had to get up and confirm that he was standing in Dorothy’s cube.

When he left that day, I crossed him in the stairwell. He was skipping every other step as he bounded up the staircase. This is in itself nothing special; many people do it, but without making a sound? I only noticed him because he suddenly appeared below me. We reached the landing between the basement and first floor at about the same time. He spoke to me softly, “I’ll see you tomorrow—”. We passed one another. I took two steps on the landing and looked back up, thinking he was going to finish his sentence, give me a command, say goodnight, or something, but he had vanished – all I heard was the door to the first floor shutting.

On the fourth day, we had a party for a couple of departing employees. Occasionally, someone would ask me who my new boss is. When I tried to point him out in the crowd, he would disappear only to appear a second later across the room. A couple of people gave up on me identifying him, probably thinking I had spiked my cup of punch or something. Then he would appear behind me. The whole thing got nerve racking. On the fifth day things calmed down a bit, but still my boss seemed to appear and disappear from his office without anyone’s knowledge of his movements. Creepy.

It is week number two of my new manager’s assignment and the mystery has vanished; we see him walking about the warehouse, he says hello to everyone in the office giving up his location in time for us to stash the sudokus and shut down the soap operas; he is just another guy and this is all for the best, I have got some sudokus to solve!

The Sudoku Kid

“How many times must I tell you, no duplicate numbers on one line!”

I recently took a stress management class at work. Along with breathing exercises and time management tips, I learned that playing games in your free time, like crossword puzzles, could help to relieve stress. One of the instructors said she enjoyed playing sudoku puzzles. Sudoku? This was the first time I had ever heard the word. I jotted down the word phonetically and looked it up when I got back to my desk. When Google led me to Websudoku.com I did not hesitate playing my first game. I also did not bother wasting my time reading up on those silly helpful hints.

Hmm, 20 minutes to solve my first “Very Easy” game; this is kind of fun. When I got home I found out this is not some brand new game, but something that has been going around for some years. Nothing new for me, though, to come in late – I did not start this blog until about three to five years after the craze took off; I am always behind the curve.

Another thing I found out when I was back at the ranch is that 20 minutes is an abominably slow time for a so-called Very Easy sudoku puzzle. For once, I would like to discover something and find out I am good at it. One more reason I will not take up New York Times crossword puzzles: If I worked on them daily, I would probably die an old frustrated man with a messy, smeary, Monday puzzle in my claw. Another thing I found when I started playing sudoku puzzles – trying to solve them does not manage my stress. While anyone will tell you, I am not a stressful person, sudoku puzzles bring out the Godzilla in me.

Like chess, I think I need a mentor to show me the hidden nuances of the game and to beat the bully sudoku puzzles that make my morning and evening coffee times a bitter reminder that I am number challenged.

I need a Mr. Miyagi!

In the film “The Karate Kid,” Daniel, played by Ralph Macchio, has finally had enough of waxing Mr. Miyagi’s car and painting his house and fence – all for karate lessons that never materialize. Mr. Miyagi, played by the late Pat Morita, tells Daniel-san in the stereotypical broken English Hollywood would give a Japanese apartment handyman by day/Black Belt Karateman by night, “Not everything is as seems.” When Daniel challenges this comment the pivotal scene in the film comes – the reason Daniel has been doing the handyman’s handy work: it is revealed that the workout Daniel has received on his hands, wrists, and arms while painting and waxing just so happens to be the very same movements used in karate. Only in Hollywood could household duties turn you into Bruce Lee. We never see Daniel-san do any chores with his legs and feet so we just have to assume Daniel-san held Mr. Miyagi’s pressure washer with his toes while cleaning the master’s deck.

If I find my own Mr. MiyagiI I hope that he looks more like a Toshiro Mifune rather than a Pat Morita. I hope he will give me the speed to drop my time on hard puzzles from hours to minutes. I do not think I have the time to pressure wash his deck, wax your car, or paint your house and fence. I mean, if I will not do that stuff for my own home how can I justify to my wife doing that kind of stuff for him?

Hoop Dreams

I’ve never been good at sports, and my interest in professional sports has always been inconsistent, at best. When I was a child, I followed the Oakland As and spent many a summer’s day trying to catch Reggie Jackson’s home run balls, but I spent most of my time out in right field devouring Colossal Dogs and peanuts while my brother studied the game, kept score, and remembered the starting line-up. I was even less interested in playing sports, participating in only three uninspiring years of Little League before hanging up my cleats. I put a great amount of time and energy into fantasizing about being a great athlete.

One of my two favorite pastimes was playing tennis against the garage door. The garage was no match for my powerful forehand and dead-spin backhand, but my career came to a crashing halt when I served a blistering foul into the lamp mounted above the garage door, shattering the glass, the bulb and my dreams of being a great garage-door tennis player. The other, less destructive waste of time was playing basketball alone in that same driveway. I knew that if I played against my brother, my next-door neighbor, the golden boy down the street or just about anyone not on crutches, I’d get creamed. Sure, I might learn something, but that wouldn’t be any fun. It’s funny how faux-good you can become at something when there’s no one there to test how really bad you are. I could spin the ball on my finger, transfer it to other fingers and dribble the ball between my legs. (I had to stop to perform this magical feat, but who cares?) I also could transfer the ball from one hand to the other around my back real fast-like.

While many of these tricks amounted to zip when it came to playing against real people, it didn’t matter; I was playing an imaginary team, and the imaginary crowd marveled at my ballhandling. The imaginary opponents shuddered at my wizardry, too. The coolest thing I could do was shooting with one hand. Forget about whether it was wise or not; since there was no one around to shut my game down, I was the king of the (driveway) court. Ultimately, someone like my brother or a neighborhood kid would come over and mess up my game, but there came a time when I marveled more than just my imaginary players.

The first time I applied these tricks in front of someone besides my thoroughly intimated imaginary competitors was during a high school P.E. class. When we split into groups for basketball, weights, tag football and slaughterball, I chose basketball, and by pure luck (and it would never happen again), the most clumsy, awkward schleps in the school signed up with me. While the future Marcus Allens and Ryne Sandbergs were playing flag football and lifting weights, I was with the guys who would probably grow up to become computer programmers and lifetime HO train enthusiasts still living with their mothers. I knew something was amiss when we picked teams for the first time; I was immediately perceived to be the franchise player and was snatched up first. This has never happened before or since. I was usually the handicap, the guy a team gets stuck with because they got first-pick and chose the super-jock.

There I was among a bunch of guys who allowed spittle to collect unchecked on the corners of their mouths and hiked their gym shorts up hopelessly way too high. I probably should have taken this time to be humble and help out these guys who were worse off than me, but I didn’t. I became the terror of the blacktop for that one semester, the Michael Jordan of these slobbering schleps. Actually, I secretly called myself Rick Barry. I remember watching moments of Golden State Warrior games where Rick Barry was the star. I recall the commentator repeat over and over again, “Barry, top of the key, two points!” There wasn’t much of a “key” to be at the top of on the blacktop, but since I couldn’t shoot too far beyond the free-throw line without looking like a girl, it didn’t matter.

Also, since my “muscle memory” at what was roughly the free-throw line was fairly decent, thanks to all the times I was imaginarily fouled during those imaginary games on the home driveway court, I stunned the schleps with those fancy one-handed shots from that distance, which might as well have been half-court for all they were concerned. The great thing about that semester on the blacktop was how these guys figured I was too good to mess with. Nobody tried to double-team me or slap that silly one-handed shot away. I was given all the room I needed; it was a turkey shoot.

If I was the Rick Barry among the schleps when it came to hoops, there was another semester when I was the Archimedes among the remedial math clan. After getting transferred out of my freshman pre-algebra class I remember walking down the hall towards my new math class, transfer papers in hand. I could hear what sounded like chanting ahead of me. As I drew nearer I figured out what they were chanting. I stopped to ensure I read the room number correctly on the transfer papers. They were chanting the multiplication tables! “Three times three equals nine; three times four equals twelve…” When I opened the door a football coach was at the head of the class leading the chant. He didn’t break the cadence, only waved me over, took my papers, and pointed to a chair in the back of the room. When I sat down I received the final blow of humiliation: the kid to my right was from our Special Education program. By the time nine times nine equals eighty-one I recognized a half-dozen more kids from Special Ed. So here’s the equation:

{ x = has a need to review six-grade math + can be taught by a football coach + is attended by >= 7 “special” students }

We can deduce that value x /= a room full of German rocket scientists.

It turned out I had a knack for remedial math. Never mind that I should have had this stuff down in elementary school – I was the wunderkind of the class. When I handed my tests in long before anyone else the other kids would look down at their half-completed tests and back up at me like I was some kind of egghead. I was a genius among my fellow classmates. When that semester ended I returned to pre-algebra where I struggled with the concept of letters in math equations and squeaked by with a C or a C minus. I never looked back after that. I graduated from high school and earned a BA in a university without taking another math class. Needless to say, I struggle when it comes to determining tips and sales tax.

I often think of those blacktop days, but I cannot translate how much I liked to play hoops back then into watching the sport today. My wife likes watching basketball, especially during March Madness and the NBA Playoffs. I’m so removed from the drama that all I can think of while watching parts of the games is how nice or dumb some of the uniforms look and why that Steve Nash guy doesn’t do something with that hair. I also like to try to find a player who doesn’t have a visible tattoo – kind of like a dynamic “Where’s Waldo.” As you can tell, I’m pretty emotionally detached from watching the actual game.

I have attended a few Sacramento Kings games, though, and I think some of the guys I know at work would have killed for the seats my wife bought for our friend Mad Dog and me some years ago. It was a post-season game, and we were about 10 to 15 rows from courtside on one of the corners near the aisle. While the fans were going ape all around me, I sat and wondered how cynical the presentation was. Keep in mind, I spent summers as a kid watching major league baseball, albeit not very attentively. What struck me is how the whole presentation was set up as if for people with A.D.D.; when the ball wasn’t in play, the cheerleaders were jumping around or that big diamond vision thingy was putting on a not-so-entertaining show. When the game was over, my ears were ringing, like the first time I saw the Ramones at the Warfield, but with none of the satisfaction.

Occasionally, I look in on the “Over Forty” basketball league at my club. These guys are twice my size, in very good shape and talk street hoops lingo like “cutting teeth” (ouch!). Sometimes after they have left and before the volleyball net goes up for the next group, I get a chance to dribble down memory lane. There are usually only a few guys on the court, so I can shoot a couple of hoops alone, but it’s not quite the same. That semester on the blacktop is long gone, and so is my muscle memory; now I need to be almost under the net to make a shot. Occasionally a fellow club member will invite me to play a quick game. I should do it. What would it hurt? I might learn something. I guess I just like to dream.