March’s Hoopla

I have been well aware of basketball, its art, and its less than subtle nuances since I was a wee child, growing up in the heartland of North Carolina. In fact, I likely went right from drooling to dribbling, as is the expected course for any red-blooded Tar Heel. By the time I was in fifth grade, the indoctrination was complete:

The various strategies, penalties, and rules of the game were second-nature. March no longer foremost meant refreshing and kite-worthy gusts, but suggested that the pungent air of tournament sweat was indeed looming. And those maverick UCLA Bruins had created a remarkable national frenzy of wide-eyed fifth graders who just wanted to see if Wooden’s wonders could do it “just one more time!”

My awareness of basketball was aptly timed by those umpires of divine providence. I went to a Catholic grade school in which there were only five boys in my grade. There were too few for either a football or baseball team and soccer was was still a recreational sport in the United States. By default, I landed myself on the school’s fourth tier basketball team, along with Ricky, Justin, Timmy, and Sidney. Mind you, each grade from fifth through eighth had a team and ours was no different, except that we had two dozen cheerleaders.

Our record that year was of no consequence. What did matter was our lack of any prowess in any tactical basketball skills. We were a solid handful of prepubescent awkwardness, social terrors, and an overwhelmingly irrational but seemingly justifiable fear of nuns. Sister Mary Ethel was our extremely focused and overly-competitive coach. I, of course, being reserved and a new transfer to the school, aimed to not just fit in, but blend in … as if to melt into the bleachers. Yet, being the tallest boy in my grade made me specifically the player that spectators watched. Fortunately, the stands were usually empty … since the boys all played and the girls, cheered. The other grades at least offered choice positions, those of alternates.

We went 1 and 9 that season. God threw us a bone one wintry Saturday afternoon. I’d like to say that we rallied and played our ten year old hearts out. The truth was, however, that our big advantage was that we had a larger squad of flouncy and pig-tailed cheerleaders.

So by early March, we were indeed primed for tourney time, as long as it wasn’t our own. We all knew from the church announcements, television news, and signs all over town that UCLA would likely have another opportunity to perhaps meet our beloved Tar Heels in a dream title match-up. My own teammates and I were rather relieved that we had deflected a disaster and that Sister Mary Ethel was now preoccupied with the various odds for the various college teams, and had retired our green and gold jerseys for the year.

Ultimately, the Bruins won yet another championship, as did the Saint Pius Xth eighth-graders. The fever, however, became both contagious and obsessive. Like my classmates, I followed all of the area teams, openly rooting for UNC but secretly rah-ing for Duke. Unfortunately, my friends didn’t have growth spurts until we transferred to public middle schools … so I endured a few more years of un-met expectations and inevitable losing seasons. My disdain for competitive sports became the bane of my school years, exceeded only by that for being an alter boy.

Each year come March, the buzz was always about basketball, college or otherwise … except for perhaps seventh grade. That was the year that two of my classmates discovered pubic hair and the course of scholastic scuttlebutt was indeed again altered. That was also the year that UCLA defeated North Carolina for the national championship, but my priorities had started the long climb toward adolescence.

(Image: “Fallalish” by Aaron Smith, 2013.)

Almost Alert But Who Remembers?

Today, the Universe shared with us a perfect Saturday, insofar as Jon, the pusses, and I all admit that, in this case, “perfect” is far from “flawless”. We all felt healthier and improved including Pfluffer, and showed signs of latent energy on the verge of “self-mustering”. I might’ve even used the word “alert” this afternoon; I don’t remember.

Not that we gardened. Not that we dusted. Jon opened the windows in the upstairs sunroom so the indoor cats could bird-watch. Doing so allowed the noises, scents, and breezes of a young spring tease Jon and me. Pfluffer, Henry, Hermione, and Claudja were captivated all day by the frolicking finches, titmice, and undercover cardinals. Of course, they wouldn’t know what to do with one should it fly inside and perch beside them.

We were able to forget about all the endless waiting, constant testing, and the headaches that monopolizes our lives. And just be. And let our imaginations explore on their own for a while … unsupervised and without agenda. I gave mine free reign (along with the car keys and a credit card) since I have been in dire need for misbehavior for so long.

At least such was so until Zenobia, my home health care nurse, stopped by to check on my reality.

(Image: “Untitled” by George Barbier, 1913.)

Quoting Milne and Nietzsche on the Fro

Now that I’m waiting for a heart that is, of course, blood-type compatible, there is little I can do except watch television, read, peruse that modern marvel that is Facebook, or relax in my favorite chair and ponder. If I choose to just contemplate, the subject doesn’t really matter. I will have forgotten it minutes later.

If I talk on the phone, speaking is a struggle itself. These “wasted days and wasted nights, “I flounder awkwardly attempting to remember details, people, and words. However, I still recall useless Final Jeopardy answers and the names of First Grade classmates. Thank you very much, Señor Fender.

So today, my UNC psychiatrist (whose charge is to make sure I am not abnormally depressed considering the situation), asked me about activities that give me joy. There is little that I can do that doesn’t tire me quickly, so I said: “perhaps watching television. And then, only ‘Downton Abbey’ and ‘The Walking Dead’.” (Thank God Jon records them because I might very well fall asleep.)

This new psychiatrist then suggested that the two shows actually represent different manifestations of the same human condition. Hmmm. I sense a mighty ponderance on the rise.

I now look forward to those breezy, sun-drenched late March afternoons on which I can stare into the sky and wonder. Is the Crawley’s challenge of 20th century change anything like Rick’s band of survivors trying to make it one more day or week? Or was this just “psychiatric small talk?”

I figure that I’ll give it my best shot. A good academic challenge may just be what I need to soothe those Facebook “word burns” and heavy-handed poking. When I was a senior in college, it was exactly those insane parallels that drove Dr. McCowen crazy, especially since the proof was in my logic.

Look for my full report, friends, probably in April. Although it is most likely that, once I’ve gathered my things to come inside, I will have no memory of why I went outside in the first place.

Maybe I’ll just rock. To and fro.

(Image: “Cure d’air et de Repos” by André Bodiniet, 1930.)