Thursday, May 28, 2009

"Why can't everyone just be cool?" or "Basketball Diaries"

I grew up in east Texas in a really small town called White Oak and I have a lot of memories of good times and great friends from White Oak that I wouldn't trade for the world. That being said, I also have a lot of horrible memories of awful people saying and doing awful things to and around me and that's why I left as soon as I graduated. White Oak High School was full of bullies, both physical and verbal, and being remotely different from their redneck view of "normal" was sure to make you a target. It probably goes without saying, but my best friend Jeremy and I walked around with what seemed like large red targets painted on our backs. I won't go into details about what it was like but I do want to use it as a jumping off point for a question. Why can't people just be cool?

I've never understood it. What character trait must you possess that makes it seem rational to torment someone you don't really know, who has never done anything to you? White Oak is a tiny town, so I used to hypothesize that it was boredom that must be the culprit. In the past year I've substitute taught in a lot of high schools in the area and I'm pleased to say that I never saw the kind of thing that Jeremy and I dealt with in the schools that our children will go to. So maybe there is a direct correlation between size of the town and amount of crap kids have to deal with. I also think that bigger schools allow for bigger cliques and that's a good thing. When Jeremy and I were given shit, we had no one but each other (and a small handful of others) to turn to. In a bigger school, we might've had some strength in numbers. I wonder what that would have felt like.

The Internet has become just one more place for assholes to fester. Last night someone tried to comment on Leah's blog saying that whoever they are and I slept together during Leah and I's relationship. Obviously, its not true. Not that its any one's business, but I've never had sex with anyone other than my wife nor have I ever cheated on her in any way. And just as importantly, I never will. I love my wife more today than when we first fell in love, and I'm sure that in ten years time, I'll say I love her even more. I've never felt, in any way, discontent with our relationship to the point that selfish men often justify looking around. When she read it, my mind started going through the list of band mates that I've shared a bed with on tour over the years and which ones might be stupid enough to think that this would be a fun joke with semantics. Anyway, the point is not to defend myself against a ridiculous claim, the point is to say, "WTF!?!" What does someone gain with this sort of behaviour. Leah, obviously, didn't believe it for a second but its still upset her, and therefore, upset me. Leah's been blogging for a long time, so, she has a lot of readers. Most of them are really sweet people, but some of them are just human garbage, so this wasn't altogether shocking.

Still, why can't people just be nice? Why does North Korea have to keep testing nuclear weapons when they know it makes everyone sad?

Inevitably, Harper will have to deal with undesirable people at some point and when she does I plan on telling her this story:

I've never been really into sports. True, I did go to state for tennis, but if we're being honest, it was kind of a fluke. I did play basketball in middle school, though, and every summer our school would have basketball camps that lasted about a week. I don't remember ever wanting to go to the camps but somehow I ended up there more often than not. The highlight of the camps, for people who actually wanted to be there, was the one on one tournament that they held on the last day. I never liked competition or confrontation and even more, I dreaded embarrassment, so to me, the tournament was the worst part of the camp.

In my school, there was a guy named Josh Verhoeff. He was really tall, regarded as a tough kid, and always reminded me of Vanilla Ice. I'm going to use some strong language now so if that's not your cup o' tea, you'd best skip ahead. I hated that guy. He was the biggest prick I've ever met and seemed to only exist to pick on kids smaller than him. He had nothing real to offer the world as people like him often do, and he's probably dead or in jail now. And if he is dead, then the world is better off.

My dad was a coach at the time and the morning of the one on one tournament, I asked my father, with butterflies in my stomach, who I was facing first. Of course, it was Verhoeff, so I begged my dad to let me stay home. I think Dad knew I was dreading it by the way he told me who my first opponent would be. I don't remember if Dad gave me any kind of pep talk but he might've. All that's really important is that he didn't let me stay home.

So when I walked into the gym that day, Verhoeff was already waiting for me with a group of boys who had all clearly decided my fate before my arrival. Verhoeff told me, among other things, that if I beat him, he would cry. He said it really loud so that everyone in the camp would be sure to associate embarrassment with a loss to me because, apparently, what could be more preposterous than me beating anyone.

The rules of the tournament were simple enough. Basic basketball rules, make it take it, first to 5 (win by 2). And so the tournament began.

I'd felt sick with nervousness all day leading up to this. In my head, I was cursing my dad for making me come, and thinking about how I never really even liked basketball. But all that aside, the truth was... I'm actually pretty good at basketball. A truth that Verhoeff didn't know or was happy to deny. Not only did I beat him, but I beat the shit out of him. He managed to throw up one lucky shot but didn't touch the ball again after that. He became so frustrated by the way things were going that he stormed off the court in a huff when I was one point away from victory and only came back when the coach sat him down and forced him to play. As soon as he came back, though, I threw the ball up for the final time and the game was over.

True to his word, Josh Verhoeff cried when I beat him.

Now, I'm glad my dad made me go face him and I think I learned something about myself that day. We are all as strong as we want to be.


  1. "Just be coooooOoOooOooooool"

    I think that your highschool experience, no matter how crappy it was at the time, probably helped shape you in to the awesome person that you are today. With that being said, I'm still really glad that I didn't live in White Oak.

    I'm really glad you beat Josh Verhoeff in the basketball tournament so that you can now tell Harper that story.

  2. Well, thanks alot Taylor, I cried the entire way through this blog post. Just a few thoughts for ya:
    1. Being Jeremy's wife, I've of course heard all the stories and some of them were just too much for me to even listen to all the way through because of the deep pain some of those guys caused Jeremy.
    2. Ever since I first met Jeremy, any time he refers to those times, he always mentions that at least he had you. I seriously have no idea what he would have done without you. You were (and still are to this day) the epitome of a loyal friend.
    3.Bullies are insecure people who feel bad about themselves and project that onto innocent people. I always wonder if White Oak high school is still the same as it was when you guys were there. Remember when we were all talking and asked each other if we would move to White Oak if we were given an endless supply of money? My answer was and will always be "NEVER!"
    4. In regard to Leah's blog, try not to spend too much of your precious time wasting on someone who doesn't deserve a second thought. ANYONE who knows you knows that you would NEVER for a second need to explain to any of us the deep love and commitment you have for your wife. It is completely obvious and it goes deep and is true. It is one of the very best things about life-yours and Leah's love. Again, people are insecure and sometimes just plain mean.
    5. I love you and Leah so much and am thankful that my kids will always have Harper as a friend they can trust. :-)

  3. This topic is something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

    When I was growing up, I went to a Catholic school (13 in my class). By the time middle school hit, I was being bullied so relentlessly that it made me ill, not to mention terrified. It finally became bad enough that my parents allowed me to switch schools -- to a public school with 600 in my class -- and those last few years of high school were really the best years of my life.

    Although, it makes me wonder if I would be as compassionate as I am now if I hadn't been bullied. I like to think that I still would be, but I also like to think that all that hell gave me a lesson in the value of kindness.

  4. Dude! I remember that! I was sitting under the goal when you beat him! That was a great day cuz I kinda hated that kid too. I can't remember for sure, but wasn't I referee in that game or something? I do remember heckling him a little though....good times.

    Remember when I left you and Jeremy high and dry when you went in the school to steal superfish? haha..

  5. that's seriously ridiculous.. why would someone ever post something so stupid to someone they don't even know!

    i am one of those people who got picked on a lot as a kid, too... i can say it definitely affected the way i am today, and how i view myself... it's amazing that kids (and adults) can be so cruel.

  6. I've never known a single bully that had a good homelife. They parents are usually crap and it unfortunately filters down to them. It's not an excuse but it definitely a source of the problem. Thye don't understand compassion because they don't receive any at home. Being a strong & compassionate parent is the most important thing any of us will ever do.

  7. I don't know what else to say other than that I am really happy to know you and Leah. Oh, and I'm really glad that you're raising an amazing human being and offsetting the number of pricks in the world.

  8. They say money is the root of all evil, but that's bullshit. It's insecurity.

    And that is a great story.

  9. i loved the basketball story LOL!

  10. oh...and there is a huge difference between east texas and other parts of the world. which is why i left as soon as i could also and i will never go back. and for other obvious reasons......;)

  11. I don't see East Texas as different from any other place I have been, though the concentration of like minds may have been thick in White Oak.

    My father taught me at a young age that when someone bullys, you must face them. While I wouldn't say I had a ton of problems with my classmates, my problems mostly came in defense of people i cared about. I will tell this one story, as I think it is true to my nature.

    When we were sophomores in high school there was a guy named Lance Larson ( a senior who was a prick at the time but I hope has got off the ass hole train at this point in life). Someone had taken his letterman jacket and placed it on the chair of Landon Trent, who of course was my dearest friend in my adolescence. Landon came to sit down thinking nothing of the jacket and when Lance showed up he started cursing him and pushing him. I quickly hurled a tray of food at him and proceeded to beat the living shit out of him. I however was about a foot and a half shorter and 100 pounds lighter. Of course the place erupts, and a teacher pulled us apart. When the principal heard the story he made fun of Lance for letting me attack him like that (as my stature was so much smaller). I received no recourse, and though I was challenged to another round after school i declined as no one was in jeopardy for that type of fight.

    The beauty of the lesson my father taught me was that sometimes you must raise fist for the sake of good, but its a fool who fights simply for bloodshed. I know several people here are true pacifists, and would regard the above as brutal. I agree that more can be done with words (or basketball), but I thank my father for helping make my mind stronger, and fist harder when push comes to shove.

    Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear. --Mark Twain

  12. taylor, i have lived in gladewater for fifty years and sadly east texas is getting worse all the time. but i refuse to let "those people" pull me down to their level.

    the great thing about being a blogger is that we have the right to delete any comment we wish....delete it, forget it and continue to believe in your love and your marriage.

    by the way, your daughter is a cutie, congratulations.