Wordstock and Other Weekend Stories

For those who are curious, this is a near-exact text of the presentation I shared for "Blazermania:  Past and Present" at Wordstock 2007 over the weekend.  See the end of the post for more weekend stories.

Since by definition this is a gathering of writers and readers--lovers of words--let me begin with this simple truth:  We are hard on our words nowadays.

Does anyone else think that text messaging is the scourge of the universe?  Consider a typical text message:

"You"  Y-O-U...another sentient being, a miracle of nature, a fellow sojourner on this walk of life.  Three letters are far too many for that.  Let's cut it down to one.  "U"

"Are" A-R-E...a state of being, of existence itself, a verb which is common to every language on the planet but distinct in each.  Eh...three letters are too many for that too.  Make it one!  "R"

"Hot"  Attractive...desirable...arousing. Now this one could get me in your pants.  Better add three "T's" to the end PLUS an exclamation point!

We contort our words glibly, making them servants awaiting our convenience.  We slice them, dice them, groom and grow them until they conform to our own meanings, desires, and goals.  Our public discourse seldom involves ideas or ideals anymore.  We never get that far.  The great battles of this generation are about definitions.  Who controls the words in play?  Who can define the terms and labels?  How tight is their grip and how much will it cost us to break it?  The great public sin of our time is not being wrong, but being inadequate in your ability to convince and control.  From ad slogans to political debates to sitcom scripts to pick-up lines we weave our way through a frantic fray as varied interests compete to get their message across quickly, forcefully, and with the most desirable results.  Our public, shared words are malleable, manipulative, mercenary weapons of mass distraction.  They are measured, calculated, and encased in a protective coating designed to make them easy to swallow but difficult to differentiate.  

That is why words such as the one we're here to discuss today retain importance among us.  Consider this word:  Blazermania.  It's unwieldy.  It sounds almost archaic.  It has five whole syllables, impossible to abbreviate.  Any slogan writer in his right mind would discard it without a second thought.  It would run off the sides of the t-shirt.

It has two parts:

"Blazer"...referring to the only team in town.  We're all familiar with their scarlet and black uniforms.  We share communal images of Bill Walton dunks, Clyde Drexler's effortless gliding, Scottie Pippen's harassing defense, or more recently Brandon Roy's jitterbug drives and Lamarcus Aldridge's silky turn-around jumper.  We remember, or have seen pictures of, Jack Ramsay patrolling the sidelines in horribly mismatched pants.  We can still hear Bill Schonley's dulcet tones translating the action.  To this day we despise CBS for not letting us watch the championship celebration.  Some of us as a result have never seen a single episode of C.S.I. in any of its various forms and believe wholeheartedly that 60 Minutes should be re-named "56 minutes and the beginning of the Kemper Open".  Take that Andy Rooney!

And after Blazer comes "Mania":  ecstasy, euphoria, great happiness....with connotations of being beyond our control.  Did you catch that?  Beyond...our...control.

Blazermania is not something we can will, calculate, or devise.  It is no accident that none of the marketing schemes in the past thirty years have been able to recapture the magic of that first, spontaneous word that heralded the love affair between a city and its team.  Blazermania cannot be reduced or bottled.  It can't even be defined really.  Like "love" or "faith" it remains one of those inexact words that frame the best parts of who we are but refuse to be bounded by an easy explanation.  You just know it when you see it.  You know it by how it makes you feel.  You know it as it washes over you and sweeps you away.  And it will be known in this way or not at all.

We need words like this...words that escape our control and casual manipulation.  We need words that lead us, that inspire us, that bind us together, maybe even make us a little crazy.  We need words that remind us it's OK to be out of control, that not every experience has to be self-defined or self-serving.  We need the chance to gape in wonder as we discover that thousands of others--unrelated by the bonds we've been taught are essential--have been similarly swept away and are seeing, believing, rejoicing, and being a little crazy too right alongside us.  We need more words that make us feel like kids again, living in a world where giants-come-to-earth sweep past us in their awe-inspiring dance, pausing to touch our hand before they glide onward to perform feats even they didn't know they were capable of.  The greatest joy a person can find is to be captured by something larger than you can understand, taken to places beyond those you could reach alone, and then deposited back home, richer for having taken the trip.  This is neither a dream nor a distraction...this is life.  We need more life in our words and in our relationships with each other.

For some reason the Portland Trailblazers touched this town and reminded us of that bigger, fuller life.  We don't know why.  We don't know how.  It remains beyond definition.  All we know is that in defiance of probability and of culture it happened.  It was, it is, and we desperately need it yet to be.  Few of our public opportunities lead us beyond our preconceived distinctions to see communally with our hearts.  Enjoy this one as you hear these stories told by some of the people who know them best.  Blazermania--that uncontrollable, indefinable word--is still alive among us.  That is reason to celebrate, to cheer, and to believe again.

Weekend Story #1:

First of all I am happy to report that signs of Blazer-infatuation are popping up everywhere.  Well, maybe that's a slight exaggeration but they are certainly more common than they were the last couple of times I've been in Portland.  It's not just extra caps, shirts, and jerseys on sale and on people's bodies.  I rode Max after both games and even accounting for the high spirits occasioned by wins there was a ton of conversation.  There were old folks, young folks, and everyone in between.  Even folks who didn't see the game and were just trying to get from downtown to home wanted to know how it went.  Strangers were buzzing and speculating about many of the same things we talk about here.  This is a great sign.  Remember two years ago when you couldn't get anybody to talk about the team?  Those days appear to be over.

Weekend Story #2:

Before I relate the second story let me share that I'm only telling the first part because it dovetails with the second.  Friday was Greg Oden bobblehead night, and since we had a few extra tickets that people said they would buy but didn't (thus leaving us to pay for them) Nate and I divided up the extra bobbleheads that went along with them.  I gave away a couple to folks who had extra kids at home and kept a few for possible future prizes.  Anyway, I was walking through the Rose Garden with bobblehead boxes in hand when a girl stopped me and offered five bucks for one of them.  I politely declined as each one had cost me $21 (the price of a ticket).  She said she understood.  She only wanted to buy one because somebody took hers when she went to the restroom.  I considered the fact that she could be conning folks for E-bay fodder but as a person who gets hit up falsely all the time I'm usually pretty good at smelling out those things.  She didn't seem like a con artist.  So I said, "Oh, well that's different.  Take one."  And I gave one to her.  She got all flustered and tried to give me the five bucks but I wouldn't take it.  In my book there's a big difference between selling something and giving it away in kindness.  I probably would not have sold it for forty bucks, but giving it was easy.  After I wouldn't take the money she kept offering, saying, "I was telling the truth..." (which was kind of silly, since if I didn't already believe that I wouldn't have given it to her in the first place).  I eventually assured her and just went my way.

OK...fast forward to Saturday night.  After the game I stopped by the main store in the Rose Garden to pick up a couple things.  I wanted a new windbreaker for myself (as the lining of mine was ripped) and a couple things for a friend who is coming soon.  I found what I wanted but the prices...sheesh!  But I figured what the hey...I'm only here once.  I was standing in line at the checkout when a guy tapped me on the shoulder...an older, fit-looking man with white hair.  He said, "Take this...it'll save you 25%" and he handed me his Rose Garden club card.  I guess maybe I should have had ethical concerns about using someone else's account (sorry Blazers!) but the offer was so unexpected and he seemed so happy about it and I was spending what for me was a lot of money so I overlooked those!  I joked with him that had I known he was coming I would have gotten more stuff.  He said to go ahead...he would wait.  But I didn't want to take advantage so I just kept the stuff I had.  I got up to the checkout and the guy rang everything up with the discount.  You know what it amounted to?  The same $21 that the bobblehead had cost me.  (Although I didn't figure that out until later.)  I handed the guy his card back and thanked him.  He just smiled.  It was really funny because this man didn't know me from Adam.  I was wearing a blog shirt but it was completely covered by my windbreaker. There's no way he could have known who I was (as if that would get me discount stuff anyway).  He was just being very, very nice.  It goes to show you that the "random acts of kindness" community aspect of Blazermania is alive and well.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

P.S.  I have an appointment this morning but I will post more things throughout the day, including the long-awaited Jersey Contest results from Saturday (some folks are in for 60 automatic points!) and hopefully the Quick Chat transcript.  You know, if anyone with accurate listening skills and fast typing fingers would like to take over that Quick Chat thing even for a week or two during the upcoming holiday season I'd probably listen.  I try to be pretty exacting as I transcribe Jason so as not to misquote him (for example using the same adjectives he uses and being careful to avoid using the instinctive pronoun "we" when describing the Blazers because he's careful not to) so it's not the easiest work but it doesn't have to be exactly word-for-word.  I'd still do the comment portion to, so you wouldn't have to take time doing that.  If you think you can do an accurate job and want to try for a week or two e-mail me.

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