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.