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Reflections from a Week at the Beach

I just returned from my first full week of not blogging since I began at Blazersedge years ago.  In some ways it felt nice to be away from the daily grind, thinking about the Blazers constantly.  I did miss talking to you guys though.  But never fear!  I used the time well, drawing reflections as the week progressed.  Among them...

Sometimes friends raise eyebrows at the work I do here, as if sports were a lower/common form of endeavor.  I wonder if it's any lower than other forms of entertainment or hobby.  Is sports really that much more lowbrow than, say, movies or catching a fish or puttering around in a garden?  Some say sports are too contrived, repetitive, predictable.  Perhaps, but if you look at the whole sum of literary output--not just cherry-picking the James Joyces and Pearl S. Bucks and Flannery O'Connors who provide the equivalent of an ESPN highlight reel in that field--are published stories less bounded by convention than the stories told on the court or field?

Leaving those standard retorts aside, I can easily compare the pleasure I derive from following sports to that found sitting on the shore gazing at the ocean.  I can't count the number of waves I saw this week.  I can't even rightly differentiate one from the other in retrospect.  They all had a similar cadence and sound as they hit the sand and rocks in rhythm.  But that's the beauty of it.  It all moves in an order which, by sitting long enough and paying attention, you can begin to perceive.  But just when you think you've got it down something unusual happens.  A larger wave comes or none at all.  You spy a gull catching a fish or a sand dollar washing ashore.  The tide changes or a seal rises or a bit of crab leg washes between your toes.  Then you realize no matter how long you watch you'll never quite grasp it all.  It's too big and too many factors come into play.  Which is why you never get tired of watching.  No, you're never going to see a kazoo-playing octopus in a sequin-covered mu-mu rise from the depths to recite Shakespeare while 100 jellyfish put on a Circe de Soleil ballet but you don't need to see something that out of the ordinary to make the experience worthwhile.  Sometimes ordinary with an occasional moment of sublime serendipity is just grand.  With a couple thousand Trail Blazer games under my belt now that's the same way I feel about the sport and the team.

One of the things you get plenty of time for at the beach is reading.  With fog limiting night-time strolls I got the chance to peruse some pages.  Unfortunately I didn't bring my own books so I was left scavenging our rental house for material.  One of the things that oddly caught my eye was a magazine on home renovation.  I don't recall checking the date but I assume that it was published before the recent recession.  I make this assumption because the tone was so... bourgeois.   It was replete with stories of upper-middle-class people who had designed or remodeled their houses  The funny part was that they, themselves, hadn't done much of anything.  Oh, the wife might have scoured the tile wholesaler for just the right discount pattern for the shower and the husband insisted the wood trim match his grandfather's desk, but in reality two dozen other people did all the work on the project.  Two of those two dozen were interviewed (predictably) about how great it was to work with/for the husband and wife.  Their two paragraphs punctuated the six-page pieces singing the praises of the couple and their house.  They might as well have clapped their hands twice and said, "Jeeves, build me a sauna on the east wall" and then bragged to all the world how they did it.

It struck me that this was one facet of the American Dream, a facet made possible by the relative prosperity we experienced in the recent past.  It also struck me how enticing that particular dream is...all of the benefits and ownership of the product without actually possessing the skill to merit either.  (It was at least enticing enough to give rise to a magazine devoted to the process!)  If you have enough money you can make that happen.  The contractor, architect, and construction guys certainly aren't going to burst your bubble.  They're getting paid because of your illusion.

This dream also correlates in a loose sense to the emphasis we put on coaching relative to athletes in sports.  When we're young we dream of suiting up for our team.  Even in our teens and twenties the vast majority of us know that's never going to happen.  By the time we hit thirty our peers in the league are considered old and the bar from the bench becomes a certainty.  But oh...what if there were another position we could fill?  We don't need athletic ability, just brain-power or strategy or emotion or whatever we think passes for capital in the basketball world the way cash works in the construction/contracting world.  What a potent dream that we could "buy" our way into the league with our cleverness, creating a house even though we have no real idea how to build one, just a general sense of what a finished one looks like when it works right!   The more we invest in that fantasy the more important coaching feels and the more sweeping the power of the coach becomes.

In no way am I suggesting that an actual NBA coach is a clueless figurehead.  Rather I'm suggesting the kind of coaches we're dreaming we could be would be clueless figureheads.  An actual coach is like the contractor, except he can't get in there and do the work himself.  He knows what needs to be done but he's wholly dependent on his workers to execute.  Plus he can only ensure that they follow the blueprint in a general sense, and sometimes not even that as each worker considers himself an artist.  In any case, he's dealing with not only the overall picture and facade but wiring, plumbing, drywall, foundations, insulation, and a hundred other things that wouldn't occur to those of us who just live in houses instead of building them.  It's a far more defined profession, and in some ways far less powerful, than we'd like to believe.

I also learned by reading magazines that the people I feel the sorriest for in America are Kate Gosselin's kids.

I spent this vacation with my dad and stepmom plus my sister's family, all in one house.  It was a fun time, except with three family units in play plus two children under two getting anything done as a group was like herding cats.    Seriously, deciding on a restaurant became a drawn-out comedy of negotiations, mis-communications, slights real and perceived.  You know how it goes, I'm sure.  And this was amongst people who care about each other, have known each other most of their lives, and were just trying to have a vacation.  The experience gives me greater empathy for what it must be like to be a part of a professional team.  These guys don't necessarily know each other well and don't have to care about each other one bit.  In theory they have a common goal but each is also independently contracted, paid all-too-public salaries while judged by hard numbers and nebulous outcomes.  We'd like to think that winning trumps all and a championship is the ultimate end for each player but the agendas are far more diverse, divided even, than that.  How do fifteen guys (plus coaches) make it all come together on a nightly basis when the bonds that tie them don't technically go much farther than their uniform colors and the tasks before them are both great and opposed?  You begin to understand why those who have won big in sports almost always speak first of the sacrifices required to create the unity that's so key to success.

My two-year-old has just picked up a new phrase:  "Let's Trade".  When dad, for instance, has a 32-ounce cup of frothy, caffeinated goodness while he has a child cup full of child-appropriate drink it's, "Let's trade!"  When he's eaten all but the last two bites of his corn dog and mom's is still sitting on its stick..."Let's trade!"  When he's exhausted his water pistol and pop is still squirting him with his, "Let's trade!"  You want this kid to become the Blazers' GM.

The lunch buffet at this place is amazing.  It's just north of Portland.  They have dinner buffets from Friday through Sunday too.  They do have individual entrees at other times as well but seriously, all dozen-plus dishes they put out at their buffet are amazingly (and routinely) delicious.  Go.

--Dave (