Archive for December 29, 2009

Overheard: “Someday I’m Going to Tell My Kids About That Game!”

The boy, we’ll call him Ernie, was not a gifted athlete. Lumbering, awkward, a little disengaged. He had never experienced much success in any sport, ever. But recently his BBC basketball team won a game by the score of 24-23. This was fifth-grade recreation league basketball, mind you, filled with turnovers, missed layups, and bad defense. If a well-played game was a filet mignon, this was a sloppy joe. Not one for the time capsule. But through four quarters, the score remained close, and the final score was not decided until the final shot bounced off the rim, and against the backboard, before falling into the hands of an offensive player. Then another frantic heave, a miss, followed by the buzzer. Game over.

After Ernie’s team celebrated on the court, he joined his parents in the stands and announced, “Someday I’m going to tell my kids about that game!”

That’s what it meant to him.

And of course, that’s hilarious. Because it was a nothing game. It wasn’t travel, it wasn’t all-stars, it wasn’t even remotely distinguished basketball. The game didn’t matter to anyone — except to Ernie. And, okay, while I reflect on it, Jess too, and probably to a handful of other boys who participated. The ones who don’t make the travel teams and who aren’t all-stars.

They won’t have big games in their future. They won’t play in state-of-the art gymnasiums, or regional tournaments, or for high school championships. There will never be pretty cheerleaders in short skirts. For them, this nothing game was it.

I think it’s important for those of us involved in youth sports to keep in mind. Those kids like Ernie may not be stars, but for them every game offers up the rough, unformed makings of a lifetime memory. We have to ask ourselves: What is it they we hope they’ll remember? What will they take away from the game?

Why do we coach? We do so many of us schlep all over creation so our kids can be involved in sports? What’s the point? I’m not always sure, and I know I’ve made my share of mistakes along the way. But that game for Ernie? He felt himself swept up in it, heart beating faster, locked in mortal struggle with friends and teammates, the stuff of memory so important that he believed he’d one day share it with his unborn children.

“Did I ever tell you about the most exciting basketball game I ever played?”

“You played ball, Dad?”

“Sure I did. Come here, sit close. Let me tell about it . . .”

Ernie’s experience might not be what it’s all about, but it’s got to be a large part of it. There are so many Ernies out there, and many times they are overlooked, stuck out into the outfield, or buried in the corner, rarely touching the ball. The forgotten kids who simply aren’t very good.

I believe that as parents and coaches we need to be the person who tells those kids, “I know you can do it.” Because the seeds of their success, however seemingly insignificant to us, begins with our belief in those children. And when they do achieve that moment of glory — catch the pop-up, grab the rebound, make the key block that opens a hole for the star running back — their smiles and sense of accomplishment will make it all worthwhile.

And who knows? When this is all over, and we look back on our years involved in youth sports, maybe that smile is what we’ll remember, too. Maybe that’s the story we’ll tell our grandchildren.

About the smile on that kid’s face.

Scared of Santa, Revisited

No, I don’t know why good, sane, well-intentioned people do this to their children.

This guy terrifies even me — I keep thinking he should have a lit Chesterfield and a glass of bourbon in his hands, not an innocent lamb.

I remember that my parents once gave me the “opportunity” to meet Santa at a shopping mall somewhere on Long Island. I sized up the situation from a distance, planted my feet, and said, “Nuh-ugh.” A Christmas Story is surely my favorite holiday movie (absolutely love it), and they handled this particular life passage — the visit with Santa — to perfection. But then again, I think that whole movie is genius.

Here’s the book, and here’s my original post (with different photos) about the book from last holiday season.

SLJ Starred Review!

I learned last week that Bystander earned a starred review from School Library Journal. I believe it will be in their January edition, but don’t hold me to it. My editor, Liz Szabla, sent me an advance copy of the review. Sorry, I don’t have a link or an inkling of where to find one. I can’t substantiate that this is in fact, fact. Possibly I’m making it up; this is all a dream, like Season Nine of “Dallas.”

Here’s a quote from the review, written by Connie Tyrrell Burns:

“Preller has perfectly nailed the middle school milieu, and his characters are well developed with authentic voices. The novel has a parablelike quality, steeped in a moral lesson, yet not ploddingly didactic. The action moves quickly, keeping readers engaged. The ending is realistic: there’s no strong resolution, no punishment or forgiveness. Focusing on the large majority of young people who stand by mutely and therefore complicitly, this must-read book is a great discussion starter that pairs well with a Holocaust unit.”

While I’m tooting my own horn, here are a few other review quotes:

“Preller displays a keen awareness of the complicated and often-conflicting instincts to fit in, find friends, and do the right thing.”Booklist.

“Eminently discussable as a middle-school read-aloud.”

“Plenty of kids will see themselves in these pages, making for painful, if important, reading.”Publishers Weekly.

“Should be required reading for students in middle school or just getting ready to enter middle school.” –- Literate Lives.

“I think it would make a great read aloud or literature circle title.  I can imagine some great conversations and writing stemming from the story.”The Reading Zone.

Yiddish with Dick and Jane

I may be late to the party on this one, but it’s a good party, and still going strong. As a matter of policy, I’m not leaving ’till we kill the keg.

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The above video is a promotional piece for the book, Yiddish with Dick and Jane, by Ellis Weiner and Barbara Davilman. A funny idea, of course, but it’s the execution that makes it so great.

Jane is in real estate.

Today is Saturday.

Jane has an open house.

She must schlep the Open House signs to the car.

See Jane schlep.

Schlep, Jane. Schlep.

Schlep, schlep, schlep.

From PW:

Dick and Jane are all grown up, and they’re living in the real world — and it’s full of tsuris (troubles). That’s the premise of this hilarious little book, which functions both as a humorous tale and a genuine guide to a language with a sentiment and world view all its own. Jane is married to Bob and has two perfect children. Dick schmoozes with business people over golf: “Schmooze, Dick. Schmooze….” Their sister, Sally, who teaches a course in “Transgressive Feminist Ceramics,” can see that life is not perfect, even though dear Dick and Jane cannot. Their mother has a stroke (“Oy vey, Jane,” says Dick when he learns the news). Bob’s best friend’s wife is having an affair because the best friend himself is gay (“‘Tom is more than gay, Sally,’ says Dick. ‘He is overjoyed.’… ‘Oy Gotenyu oh, God help us,’ sighs Sally.”) And purse dealers take advantage of the gullible. The brief story is priceless, but the equally funny glossary is a great reference to which readers can return any time they need the right Yiddish word-or whenever they need to determine whether the jerk they just saw is a putz, a schmo or a schmuck.

Music Video Weekend: Glen Campbell, “Wichita Lineman”

This is one of the greatest songs ever written. Seriously. Sometimes I even get a physical reaction, goosebumps, when I hear it. Written by Jimmy Webb, “Wichita Lineman” was most famously recorded by Glen Campbell in 1968, when it reached #3 on the charts. Across forty-plus years, this sturdy song has been durable enough to accommodate a hilarious range of artists, including: Ken Berry, The Lettermen, Tom Jones, The Scud Mountain Boys, Peter Nero, Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66, Cassandra Wilson, Gomez, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Celtic Thunder, Johnny Cash, The Meters, Ray Charles, The White Stripes, “Tennessee” Ernie Ford, Urge Overkill, James Taylor, and many more.

Dylan Jones, editor of GQ UK and author of iPod, Therefore I Am, even went so far as to call it “the first existential country song,” and that’s an entertaining observation. I’m eager to read his book (but it’s going to have to get on line, like everybody else).

Here’s the criminally underrated Glen Campbell — who happens to be a masterful guitarist, by the way — supported by members of The Stone Temple Pilots. It’s nice to hear Glen without the syrupy strings and overall cheese associated with his early hits, getting back to the strength at the song’s rock-solid core. Really, it’s a perfect song. Quibble: I intensely dislike the last line tagged on in this performance, “and I’m doing fine,” a misguided moment of pure cornball that almost ruins the whole shebang. Maybe that’s been Campbell’s Achilles heel all along, he’s got a nice head of hair but  has to spray Mennon (“The Dry Look”) over the whole damn thing. He really should leave well enough alone, because Campbell is a huge talent.

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I saw Freedy Johnston cover “Wichita” live back in the 80’s, and that’s when I first heard the song in a whole new light. It was a revelation. Play the song again, feel that ache. Read those lyrics. Reread them and reread them again. So much said in so few words.

I am a lineman for the county
And I drive the main road
Searchin’ in the sun for another overload.

I hear you singing in the wire
I can hear you through the whine
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

Photo: Wayne Norton © 2006.

I know I need a small vacation
But it don’t look like rain
And if it snows that stretch
Down South won’t ever stand the strain

And I need you more than want you
And I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

Here’s REM covering it in 1994. Somebody needs to wake up Michael Stipe, but Peter Buck is always cool, and this song lends itself well to his talents:

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And while we’re documenting this, let’s not forget the song’s creator, Jimmy Webb (not an accomplished vocalist: understatement), doing a piano-based version. I don’t mean to take a swipe at one of Oklahoma’s celebrated sons, I like Jimmy Webb’s reading of the song, high notes and perfect pitch be damned:

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Since we’re documenting here, I might as well throw in this solo guitar version of the song, played by some nameless nobody on Youtube — and played beautifully.

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