Monthly Archives: June 2014

Blood Lust and the Art of Making Bad Bugs Good

A couple posts ago I mentioned that one of the more entertaining things in Albania was watching bugs fry at the Taverna Tafaj once they got a bug zapper. Today I thought I’d talk about the Great Albanian Fly Massacre.

In Albania, I started out with a host family and then, for complicated reasons deserving of another post, ended up de facto homeless for a while and stayed a month here and there with a couple fellow expatriates and through part of winter with a fairly stern lady and her daughter and their other boarder before finally finding  a place of my own.

Because I had a place, and despite it being a good walk from the center of Tirana, and because as I’ve mentioned before everyone had to come to Tirana for immunization shots and money, my apartment ended up as a kind of hostel for several friends.

However, because there was a large trash pit behind my apartment building, my apartment was also a tourist destination for large groups of Albanian flies. (Note: To any entomologists out there: I know that’s not their real name; no, I don’t know what their real name really was; shut up.)

One summer, my friends Nancy and Eddie were in town for business and/or shots and we were basically hanging out in my place as we were either waiting for something to happen or were too hot and lazy to go do anything. Either way, we were suffering from the heat and humidity and the sudden infestation of flies.

The fly infestation was bad enough that we were constantly brushing them off our faces and away from our ears. Finally, one fly too many tried to settle on my face and I got tired of brushing them away and something deep inside snapped. I remember feeling a sort of frustrated rage (similar to what I now get dealing with computers) rising up. I rolled up an Albanian newspaper and started swatting flies and the walls, on the ceiling, on furniture, anywhere. My goal was to turn them into “good bugs” (As my mother is wont to say: the only good bug is a dead bug.) At first there were enough flies to turn two at once into good bugs.

After about five or six kills, the glare of crazed joy in my eyes and the fun I was having inspired Eddie to roll up a paper and join the massacre. Nancy didn’t join the killing but directed us to flies we hadn’t seen yet. We went off into other rooms to find fresh kills. I remember that Eddie also had a glare of crazed joy. I also seem to remember him getting more kills despite starting late, but that’s because he’s from Georgia where most insects were invented.

By the time the blood lust settled, the mangled corpses of over 80 flies decorated the walls of my apartment. It took a while to clean the mess up (meaning I didn’t clean the mess up for a while) but the cathartic release was well worth it.

Also, survivors must have got word out to other flies (everyone knows flies talk to each other) to avoid the crazy human because I never had a fly infestation that bad again. All I had was a few teenaged flies buzzing my apartment on a dare. Not that many made it out. (See, I told you something snapped.)

The Invasion of the Little People in Green, Orange and Red

In an earlier post about the World Cup and my strange connection to soccer, I neglected to mention one of my direct connections to soccer which is odd because it’s the only one to which I can pin a specific date: May 26, 1993.

Basically, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, Albania managed to pull itself together enough to field a national soccer team and compete in World Cup qualifying. A couple teams had already come and gone but the one that got me occurred when, for reasons I don’t remember, I headed down toward the stadium and encountered a bunch of sunburned, freaked out people dressed in orange and green.

They were followers of the Republic of Ireland national team and lot of them had just stepped off a bus from Corfu, Greece where they’d gotten too much sun. Others had just stepped off the plane direct from Ireland and were pale white and freaked out. Because I was cleaner than the average Albanian, not hitting them up for cigarettes and/or money, and because they interpreted my shirt (which I thought had blue stripes) as having green stripes, I was immediately declared a member of the tribe and shanghaied to act as translator. They paid my way in (100 lek or about a dollar) and started handing me cans of beer.

Who was I to say no?

It was my first experience with football culture and the groups of people who follow the team around. One woman, who eventually became a pen pal for a while, planned to follow the team all over Europe. I didn’t ask how they afforded all that, but years later met someone who said, even if they were on the dole, they’d been saving since the last World Cup to follow the team.

The group I was with carried a flag with “Hill 270 is here” on it (or maybe 271 or 272 I don’t remember and my journal from that time is buried).  Whatever the number was, because they had Irish accents I didn’t fully understand the explanation of what that meant (Ahh, havingitalittletingwedofordelaods”) but I gleaned it had something to do with a pub. As I drank more and came to understand Irish better, they explained some basics of the game (Ayedeyaredoinmoredenjustrunninoutderdeyare) and some rule changes. If I understood them correctly the powers what are had either changed the rules or were about to change the rules to prevent goalies from picking up kicks from their own teammates. This was apparently supposed to speed up the game and encourage scoring. (Mission accomplished. ???) There was also talk of making the goal bigger and shrinking and or eliminating the penalty area or the goalie’s box or, ah, hell, UhI’llbehavinanoderbeerderbroder.

My favorite moment was when an Irish midfielder made a weak effort to get the ball past an Albanian midfielder. One of the Irishmen I was with yelled “Commitment, WhateverHisNameWas. We need a little commitment.” He and another Irishman then made eye contact and said “UhAye, we need the bleedin’ Commitments.”

Albania scored first but ended up losing 2-1 thanks to a free kick and some very dodgy play on a corner kick (at least the Albanians thought so). Here are the highlights from Spanish TV as shown on Albanian TV. (Warning, they are in Spanish and there are some scrambled bits.) You can almost see me at around 1:50-52. I’m in the shadows a couple rows above the flag on the far left.

The Hill 270 flag was stolen by some random Albanian whilst the Irish were celebrating and, after a brief fit of anger, they all just decided to make a new flag with “Hill 270 is here AGAIN” or something like that.

I drank a few more beers with them and got them back to their bus. I stayed in contact with the one lady for a while and then lost touch. It happened during one of my many transition  phases during my service and it cheered me up. I was having a great time I did.


Familiar Places with Raki and Beer and Bug Zappers

Since yesterday I talked about how I got through three years in Niigata, I thought I should talk about one of the ways I got through two years in Albania.

Sometime after we arrived in Albania we had an oath ceremony where we met then Albanian President Sali Berisha and where we took the Peace Corps oath and swore to protect and defend the constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic and to never commit such acts as might require the constitution to suddenly require defending. (Something like that.)

After that, if my timeline is correct, we had food and drinks at a bar called the Taverna Tafaj. Part of the the Tafaj was underground, but it also had a beer garden at the back. I don’t remember what we ate, but the odds at that time (summer 1992) were that we had beef steak, potatoes, feta style cheese, and ferges (a yogurt meat dish). We also drank lots of beer and raki. Somehow we all managed to get home, despite that fact that all the street lights in Albania had been shot out during several months of anarchy and the city was as dark as if it was suffering a black out.

The food and service at the Tafaj was good enough that it eventually became a Peace Corps and expatriate hangout. It was cheap and actually kind of relaxing. Eventually the Tafaj was successful enough that the owners were able to doll up the beer garden, including adding an upper deck. All of this without raising prices very much.

The problem was that Albania at that time had lots of trash scattered about which meant it also had an impressive infestation of annoying flies. Because of this, the bug zapper became a kind of status symbol for restaurants with outdoor areas. The first one the Tafaj had they stuck over a table in the center of the garden and it became clear within a few minutes, and a rain of charred bug bits, that perhaps a different location might be in order. Eventually they installed a small bird bath and fountain to catch the charred bits.

The funny part is, and copious amounts of beer and alcohol might have played a role in this, the “brzzzt bzzzzap bsssszzzzrt” sound of the bug zapper became part of the entertainment at the Tafaj. We were all annoyed enough at the flies–someday I’ll tell you about the Great Albanian Fly Massacre–that we took a certain pleasure in hearing them fry.

I even remember a small round of applause when one particular large fly became, as my mother would say “a good bug” with a spectacular and loud flame and smoke show. It was better than fireworks.

Eventually, I had to move to a different city and no longer had to the Tafaj to escape to regularly. Every time I got to Tirana though, I went to the Taverna Tafaj for the floor show of death. It was relaxing and calming. Well, that and the raki.

Survival and Purists and Groups of Skinny Dippers

When I was in Niigata, one of the things that got me through three years was the weekly gathering of the handful of teachers in my area.

Every Wednesday the five of us would meet on the train platform at Itoigawa station and take the train to a nearby onsen (hot spring bath). The ladies would head to one side and the gentlemen would head to the other where we’d go through the ritual of stripping naked, cleaning up, sauna, cold bath, jacuzzi bath, outdoor bath and then cleaning up again. We’d do this pretty much rain, sleet or snow–the onsen was actually at its best when it was snowing lightly. We enjoyed this so much we even invited visiting family members to join us–although we were requested to leave names out of all future discussions.

After that, we’d recover with a beer and then head to Naojiro’s, a bar run by a terrific guy who spoke English and was very patient with us and our loud English speaking foreign ways. We’d eat and drink as a group until a couple of us had to run for the last trains and that pretty much got us through the rest of the week. Even as an introvert, I was energized by these gatherings. We also were suspicious of one of the new guys (after several staff changes) when he didn’t join the Wednesday gatherings.

This is in contrast to the Peace Corps which holds that you should be looking to locals for your support group and they do their best to force that by dropping you off by yourself in a site and saying “do something photogenic that we can use in promotional materials” and “don’t embarrass your country.”

If you were near groups of other volunteers, you had to hope you weren’t near the purists who sought to so thoroughly immerse themselves in the local culture that they would barely speak English to you when you saw them. To make matters worse, their pronunciation was much worse than they seemed to think it was and they thought speaking soft and fast made them sound native. (All it really did was make them harder to understand than a native.) A typical conversation with a purist went something like:

Me–Hey, dude, long time no see!
Them–Frdap, holtan mikentanan, Doayayne. Kratt kratt moltantan brackan?
Me–Dude, I have to speak that crap every day, let’s relax a bit.
Them–Doayane, makartely hop hop shi makartely sey. Krappat nikata fortan nikto.
Me–Sorry, dude. Gotta run. Great seeing you, though.
Them–Krdap, mikenora, Doayayne.
Me–Fuckez-vous mikenora, dooshbackan.

(Note: this language was created purely in the mind of a madman for illustrative purposes only. Any resemblance to any language, living or dead, is purely coincidental.)

Now it’s true that most Peace Corps gatherings involve lots of complaints about being in the Peace Corps (it’s the toughest job you’ll ever love having completed but completely hate while you’re doing it.) This makes a lot of the gatherings tedious versions of the Four Yorkshire Men:

A–My village elders set fire to me every night and make me run around fetching gasoline.
B–LUXURY! At least they provide you some heat. Mine make me sleep on blocks of ice, even in winter. With no blanket, either, I tell you.
C–In my town they give me a blanket and then kill me and take it away again.
D–My town makes me teach without textbooks.
A–Stop talking nonsense, D. No one could ever be that cruel.

The same thing usually happened in gatherings of teachers in Niigata, too. But for our Wednesdays, we could usually keep the complaints in check. It was enough for misery to have company. And no purists around, just great people.


Snappy Clicky Pointy-Shooty Things

Another thing you can blame on my father is my interest in cameras and photography.

For a few years, dad ran a photography business on the side and gave me my first camera: a Chinon, which is Japanese for “piece of shit with lens”. (No, really, look it up.) I don’t remember the type, although it was probably a CM-3 or a CM-4, but what I mostly remember is not liking the zoom lens he gave me.

Eventually, and I don’t remember when, he gave me a Canon AE-1P, which was a much better camera and pretty much solidified my interest in Canon cameras. I used it off and on through university and two trips to England and into the Peace Corps where, in two years, I only took a handful of rolls of film.

(Note to people under a certain age: cameras used to be loaded with rolls of silver-embedded strips of celluloid that, through a chemical process, recorded light and, through another chemical process, could be printed as pictures.)

(Another note to people under a certain age: People used to print pictures and display them on their walls.)

Eventually, I moved to Japan and, surrounded by lots of new camera toys–including a six-floor camera store full of them–I rekindled my interest in photography. I used the AE-1 more and bought a cheap twin-lens Texer Auto Mat medium-format camera. Also, after watching a late-night TV show about Yasuhara, a small camera company making rangefinder cameras compatible with Leica lenses, I made my first large internet purchase and got on the waiting list for T981(Ichishiki). I liked that camera a lot, but mostly for the Leica lenses.

However, our oldest arrived and brought with her increased demand for more and more and more photos. When she suddenly became mobile, and harder to keep in focus, I traded in a bunch of stuff and upgraded to an autofocus Canon EOS 1V which was a professional level camera and remains one of my favorite cameras ever.

Although I liked the 1V it was too heavy to carry around, so I bought my first digital camera, a Concord Eye-Q 5062AF which was reasonably priced at 20,000 yen (about $180 at the time) and took great pictures in daylight. (It was useless in low light.) The important thing about this camera was it showed She Who Must Be Obeyed the usefulness of digital cameras, especially when all we had to do was take a picture, upload the files and send them out to friends and family to alleviate the constant threats of violence (all, it should be noted, directed at ME, not at SWMBO. #yesatme).

Several years ago I finally took all my analog camera equipment (which at the time included the EOS 1V, the Texer, the Yasuhara and three of the cameras my dad had owned when he had his business) and traded them in for Canon EOS Kiss Digital X (known as the Digital Rebel XTi i North America because what guy would buy a camera called Kiss if it didn’t have demon paint and a large tongue and couldn’t bite the heads off bats?)

Since then we’ve been 100% digital and have saved a fortune on developing costs, except when I found some old film in a box back in the USA. I bought a Canon PowerShot G9 because I got tired of carrying the Kiss in my bag (which, I realize, sounds kind of dirty) and bought She Who Must Be Obeyed a digital camera she, quite frankly, has zero interest in. (Her basic argument is that it’s my job to take pictures, not hers. End of argument.)

I still try to remember how I got by with only 24 or 36 pictures at a time and try to imagine what covering a sports day here in Japan would be like with a film camera. I do miss the EOS 1V, but don’t miss the size.

In fact, the only thing I truly miss from the film days is the little canisters film came in. They are great for carrying change and storing small things.

Man With Bare Feet and Black Undergarments

I spent the day helping break the hearts of young children and their parents, which isn’t a bad way to spend Father’s Day.

Today was an annual Junior Tournament for my karate style’s young people. It took place in a small octagonal gym in Eastern Tokyo and featured students from my Sensei’s regular dojo and students from around the Tokyo area. Because I wasn’t thinking (a common occurrence, actually) and didn’t realize it was Father’s Day, I agreed to serve as a judge.

Basically my job was to take off my shoes and socks and dress up in my black dogi (which are sometimes called pajamas but actually derive from undergarments) and my black and white belt and sit in a chair whilst a bunch of kids put on their best performances. Then I had to stand up and wave either a red flag or a white flag.

The first round was kata and I was assigned to judge the younger elementary school kids. Basically, they face off in pairs, with one wearing a red belt, and after they finish we three kings, er JUDGES, rise up and raise either a red flag or a white flag. The competitor with most flags moves on whilst the other sits and cries and ponders a bleak future (something like that) as their parents do the same.

For round two I was assigned to judge junior high and high school age boys (older kids are divided by gender; younger kids are not). If the judges are lucky, both competitors are doing the same kata, making it much easier to judge who did the better job. where it gets difficult is when they are doing different katas. You have to focus on poise and how well they perform the basics (as many stances and techniques carry over from kata to kata).  The main problem is the katas are longer at that stage and it’s really easy to drift off in to a daydream. If that happens, and I miss part of the performance, I simply vote for the kid who looks less likely to grow up to be a total douchebag.

After that I judged the bo staff katas for the younger kids and then got to watch and enjoy the spectacle of the fighting competition. Boys and girls as young as fourth grade dress up in body armor and helmets and get ready to fight. Once again, in the youngest bracket, boys and girls fight each other. In the older brackets, the genders are segregated. The judges and teachers take care to make sure all equipment is worn properly, to the point that if they don’t like a kid’s gloves–for example they are fingerless MMA gloves–they make them wear someone else’s.

I was standing near the court with the youngest kids and was having a great time watching the parents. They were caught between the sentiments of  “Please don’t get hurt” and “kick that little twerp’s ass! You are in the Octagon! There can be only one!” The girls held their own–and at least one delivered an impressive sounding punch–but the last girl standing lost the third place bout, leaving only boys in the top three. After the third place bout, a mother and grandmother were moved to tears because they were happy their young one had placed. (And I was thinking oh big whoop, he beat a girl to get third place but, miracle of miracles, I didn’t say anything because that girl probably could have kicked my ass and the boy’s mom definitely could have).

All in all, it wasn’t the most productive day, but it was a lot of fun.


Wired Wi-Fied Connected Always in a Crowd

When I was in the slow process of smartphone shopping, my colleagues kept emphasizing how the phone–whichever one I chose–would change my life. They said it would be like a new addition to my family that would consume my time and slowly but surely consume my attention. I pointed out that I’d already had some of that experience after I got an iPod touch and started using it to check my email rather than wait for the squirrels in my old Windows desktop to wake up, smoke a cigarette and climb on the big wheel. They said, no, I would never be the same.

As you might imagine, none of this worked well as a sales pitch. Although their voices said it all as humorous warning, the cult-like gleam in their eyes said “join us join us join us join us join us”. What made it worse wasn’t even their fault: the introvert in me was pretty much going “we don’t join groups we don’t join groups”.

After I bought the phone they started chanting “we accept him we accept him one of us one of us gooble gobble

Smartphones pose an interesting problem for introverts. Being connected to people via computers and email is no problem, because it’s easy to step away from the computer. Laptops in your bag have to be turned on. A regular cellphone is no problem because, except for a lesser ability to send text messages, its primary purpose is to make phone calls and no one actually uses cellphones or smartphones to make phone calls anymore which means you can still be alone.

Smartphones, though, provide a much different level of connectivity that is almost like having too many friends and family members living next door and across the street and upstairs. If someone has a question, they just hop over for a few minutes and an hour later they finally get to the question. You can be hit with text, chat, social media, social media chat, pictures of someone’s lunch, pictures of someone else’s lunch on the train platform, tons of pointless political bullshit–because the topics that aren’t discussed in polite society can be summarized in a meme or an article and quickly posted with no actual discussion.

It’s all vaguely fascinating, and it teaches you a lot about your family and friends but we introverts are, in many ways, selfish. We want interaction on our terms and I imagine a great many of us are looking for that dark corner in  the social media night club to hide in for a while.

Whilst we’re hiding there, we can check Twitter and Facebook.

A Beautiful Game of Two Halves and Lots of Divers

For reasons I don’t fully understand, I’ve always had a strange connection to soccer. Jim Millinder, my cousin twice, or thrice or quadrice (?) removed was on the US U-20 team in 1976 and played in the now defunct North American Soccer League and the Major Indoor Soccer League and has had a long career as a coach.

When I was in elementary school, as I’ve mentioned before, some NASL player from Europe (or some other place with funny accents) visited Hayden, Colorado on a publicity tour and taught us a few things about the game and patiently answered our questions. (My brilliant question: Why do goalies wear different uniforms?)

Then, at university, mostly because someone held a gun to my head, I played intramural soccer with my fraternity. I played defense and my only skills were 1) the offside trap and 2) getting burned spectacularly by anyone with even basic soccer ability. Also, the one time I played forward I verified the ability of my, um, naughty bits to withstand blunt-force trauma which, in its own odd way, is a skill.

I bring this up to establish my bonafides because today marks the start of the World Cup which is, to my eye, a very schizophrenic beast. First, it’s divided into two halves: the group phase and the elimination round. This is because, after four years of play, the powers what are at FIFA still can’t figure out who the best 16 teams are so they invite 32, put them into eight groups of four and let them play each other. The problem is, that once a team has qualified, they pretty much stop playing in order to preserve their best players and keep them from getting penalties. This means there’s at least one game with lots of running about hither and thither in the field, but not much of interest going on. The best 16 teams then play a single elimination tournament that is actually quite entertaining because, at long last, after four years and three extra matches, every match finally counts.

The other problem the World Cup has is the tendency of players to take a dive every time an opposing player gets near them and/or uses harsh language. This slows the game down–remember, all they are doing is running around in a field anyway–and, quite frankly, makes the best players in the world look like a bunch of shin-grabbing wussies.

I would, therefore, like to propose a few changes to help spice up the World Cup and make it more interesting, especially if the powers what are insist on keeping the group phase.

First, if any player takes an obvious dive, the referee is authorized to kick the body part being clutched by the crybaby poser.

Second, any player who falls down and acts as if he’s been shot in the face, will actually be shot in the face by the referee.

Third, the physical red cards will be eliminated and replaced with Tasers to eliminate excessive protesting by player being sent off.

Fourth, the offside rule will be eliminated, but the defenders and the goalie will be authorized to use body checks, holds and trips to defend the goal.

Fifth, penalty kicks will begin with the goalie and the kicker sitting back to back halfway between the ball and the goal.

Sixth, rival countries may use any World Cup match to officially resolve any territorial disputes.

Seventh, during the slow part of the group phase, or during outbreaks of boring defensive play, cameras will immediately switch to identifying attractive people in the crowd. The team with the most attractive fans may add two goals to their goal differential.

Eighth, as used to be tradition, at least one half of each match will be played rugby football style.

I think these suggestions speak for themselves and I look forward to seeing them implemented in 2018, especially if I can get myself appointed FIFA commissioner in time.

Forgetting About the Sun

Because it’s one of those rare moments where the Season in Which it Rains actually meets Rainy Season, the last several days have been dark, gloomy and rainy here just outside of Tokyo. Today, though, the sun actually came out, which immediately prompted rounds of obligatory silly jokes from me and She Who Must Be Obeyed:

Me–There’s a large golden ball in the sky! What is it?
SWMBO–It’s the sun.
Me–There’s no such thing as the sun! It’s a story created to scare children.


Me–Can you believe it? It’s actually sunny.
SWMBO–It’s not the real sun. It’s a fake sun. It’s just a big lamp.

One of the striking things about suddenly seeing the sun after several days is you suddenly realize you forgot the sun and forgot what everything looked like in bright light. Today, especially, the rain stripped away Tokyo’s white summer sky and we had brilliant blue again. It’s funny, but you forget the contrast and the shadows and light. Seeing it all again, especially when the morning was rainy, is a jolt to the senses and you really do feel a bit happier and more energetic.

I bring this up because a friend of mine is currently in and out of a cloudy time in his life. He’s had some recent disappointment and, as I’m prone to do, he worries about things over which he has no control but which are very important to him. He is also prone to denigrate himself over the past and to talk himself out of success. (I sympathize on both of those.)

As a result, he tends not to see what a great guy he is. I personally rank him among the few people in the world I want to be more like. He’s one of the few men I’ve ever met that people genuinely want to see succeed. He’s one of the best read people I’ve ever met–especially with contemporary novels–and yet doesn’t come across as a snob, even when he’s skewering one of your favorite authors. (He’s merciless and dismissive; just not snobbish.)

When he starts meeting people at a party, they usually take an instant like to him. He forms friendships fast and most of those friendships are long-lasting. He’s got a remarkable ability to read people and summarize what they are really like. If he doesn’t form a long-lasting friendship, it’s because he’s seen something in the other person and they’re not worth his time and energy. More than once I’ve heard him describe a person and thought “yeah, that’s exactly right.” He’s so good at this, I actually have a list of people I want him to meet just so I can see his reaction and hear his summary.

However, he tends to dwell on those parts of himself he perceives as not being part of a great guy. Those of us who know him and care about him often want to grab him and shake him but we also know that’s not going to work with him (a true gentleman he may be, but he’s stubborn and can most likely deliver a hell of a Glasgow Kiss).

I think I speak for a lot of people by saying I hope he can learn to see himself they way other people see him. That he can learn to roll with the things he can’t control, however important they may be to him. That he realizes how smart and talented he is and that despite one setback he is worthy of success. We also hope, however dark and gloomy he may feel at times, that he never forgets the sun.

A Victim of a Vague Sense of Fashionable Excuses

Last Sunday, during karate class, to be kind to myself, I stunk the place up. I wasn’t in the mood to go but, over the years, have finally taught myself that those are the times I most need to go. That’s also true with writing–both my novel, my other novel, the other other novel, and this blog.

However, last Sunday’s lesson was so bad, and I had such a horrible lack of focus, that it has me thinking about excuses versus reasons.

One of the knife defense techniques we do involves stepping forward and catching the knife arm with our left hand and then doing a kind of hockey check with our right and then doing one of many techniques. The most difficult involves twisting the opponents wrist at the same time as you push his hand up toward his shoulder. Although I’m still pretty sloppy, I can do it consistently when my opponent has a knife. When my opponent has a sword, though, I find I can’t do the technique at all. I blame my height and my opponent’s lack of it.

As near as I can tell, when I’m defending against a knife, my opponent’s arm is in a high position, well above my waist, which allows me to do the technique. When he uses a sword, however, he’s using both arms, which gives him a stronger position, and they’re down below my waist. From that position, I find I can’t get the position and leverage I need to lift his arms. It’s the difference between lifting a heavy box off a table or lifting it off the floor. I would argue that I should focus on techniques that work against my opponent rather than one ones that I don’t think the laws of physics allow me to do.

Now, is all that an excuse, or is it a reason?

I ask because about a hundred years ago, more or less, in my Hayden, Colorado days, it was a tradition (in either 5th or 6th grade) that boys who volunteered could spend a week doing football practice (the kind with helmets, not the kind that England suffers at in the World Cup) and that culminated in a Friday game. This all started off with a bull rush to get uniforms and equipment.

The uniform , not the safety equipment, was the most important thing to get. The uniforms were either dark green (nicknamed the Green Bay Packers) or red (nicknamed the whatever the hell they are now Cardinals). Once issued a uniform, the recipients formed rival gangs and pretty much bullied each other for the rest of the week. (I vaguely remember there being depantsings of Cardinals which, well, yeah, think about it). The coolest uniform to get was the Green Bay Packers which meant the largest boys in the class wore green and you wanted to be on their team. (Remember: depantsings.)

At the end of the bull rush, which involved me being repeatedly pushed to the back of the line, I ended up with a pure white jersey that didn’t even have a number on it. This meant I was simply referred to as “white shirt” in practice. I wasn’t the only one who got a white shirt but I remember being bummed out about it. The white shirt wasn’t cool to wear on designated “wear your uniform jersey day”. I would be standing out without having any standing, if that makes sense. I went to one day of practice and then quit.

To this day I blame fashion for this as much as the soreness. Both are pretty weak excuses, though. I do wonder what would have happened had I been issued an actual jersey, Even now, I remain subject to those kinds of initial impressions. I’ve gotten better at recovering from them, but back then I couldn’t. I therefore didn’t give my best in practice–not that my best would have been that impressive anyway–and decided football wasn’t for me. (Believe me, it wasn’t.)  I sucked at basketball, too, but I liked playing basketball.

It turned out that I would have ended up as a Green Bay Packer and would have been on the winning team. It’s just no one would have known that.