Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wyoming Highways

I was in Wyoming recently to “help” the extended family brand their spring calves. Being at the ranch reminded me of an experience that happened years ago. My cousin, whom I’ll call “Glade” (because that’s what his parents named him), and I were riding in the back of my Uncle’s Cecil’s truck. Cecil was driving from his new home site on the southeast bench of the ranch to his temporary home on the north side of the ranch. Glade lived in-between the two locations. Since it was nearly lunchtime Glade and I decided that we wanted to go to his place for lunch. If we rode with Cecil all the way to his house we would have to walk back to Glade’s.

Since we were about eight-years-old our brains were only the size of turnips. We could have tapped on the back window of the truck and said “hey, we want to get out here.” Cecil would have stopped and we would have walked to Glade’s house for cow-tongue sandwiches. Now tongue sandwiches may or may not have been on the menu that particular day, but they often were. I remember taking tongue sandwiches to school in Salt Lake and showing the little taste-buds off to the other kids. There’s nothing like eating something that can taste you back. With enough mustard, cheese and milk I could choke one down.

Instead of asking Cecil to stop, the little turnips in our head decided to come up with another plan that was far more clever—jump! With this plan we wouldn’t have to bother Cecil at all. We would just leap onto the highway, walk uninjured into the house and say; “I’ll have a tongue sandwich—extra taste buds please.”

Now at that time the highway speed limit was 60 or 70 mph. Even our underdeveloped turnip-brains knew we couldn’t jump from a truck going that fast without at least a cut or a bruise and so we decided to check the speedometer before committing to the jump. I remember looking through the back window and thinking that something in the neighborhood of 25 mph was barely faster than crawling. The dare was on. Glade said that if I went first he would follow.

The decision had to be made quickly as we were passing Gade's house and so I jumped. I don’t remember all the pain but I remember being surprised that I couldn’t keep my balance when I hit the asphalt. I also remember falling to my knees, elbows and finally face. As soon as I stopped sliding across the asphalt I looked up in time to watch Glade keep his word (I’ve always admired him for that). Glade did pretty much what I did except the cut on his knee was much deeper than my widespread road-rash.

Cecil immediately noticed that his truck was much lighter. Looking in the mirror, he saw his nephews sprawled across the highway so he stopped to ask if we were OK. Glade, who hadn’t started to cry yet, answered that we were fine and so Cecil drove home.

Picking ourselves up, we limped toward the house. Glade’s knee was bleeding profusely and he was afraid that we’d get into trouble and so he decided we’d hide in the granary (my plan was to cry louder). Glade enlisted his younger siblings to go to the house and sneak out some toilet paper and bandages. Aunt Margaret found us, either because the other kids spilled the beans about the two turnip heads hiding in the granary or she saw little kids sneaking TP and bandages out of the house.

I don’t remember getting into trouble because I think the adults felt badly that their offspring were stupid enough to jump from a moving truck onto the highway. Glade had to go to the doctors to have his knee stitched up. I think I just walked around with road-rash on my face until it healed. Luckily, there are no photos confirming this incident but if you look closely you can still see the scar on Glade’s knee.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

"Bishop, you Stink!"

I’ve spent many of the last 20 basketball seasons toiling as a church basketball official---euphemistically I have a “church calling” as a referee. Based on my years of high school and Church officiating experience, most objective observers feel this is one calling for which I’m well qualified.

Sometimes, like Single Adults to a Church dance, I return to officiating because I can’t help myself, but mostly someone finds out my striped secret and turns me in to the Stake President. Once I’ve been ratted out, a “calling” comes faster than a four-letter word from the mouth of a less active player (In the Church, all the less active members over 6′2″ get “fellowshipped” in time for basketball).

Usually I don’t mind refereeing a bunch of has-beens and never-weres but there are times when my patience wears thin (like when I called 911 to have Brother “I-pay-tithing-and-you-can’t-make-me-leave” ---leave). Back in the old days you could get paid for officiating church basketball but now it’s a calling–-same work, only "spiritual" pay. Some guys without the "call" get to referee by being asked to stay and officiate the game after theirs. They quickly learn that coming to the game with an excuse is as important as bringing a ball or basketball shoes.

Regardless of how you got roped into spending Saturday mornings refereeing a bunch of groggy and bedraggled members, it’s still a volunteer position in a church with a lay ministry. The enormous difference is, no one feels it’s necessary to scream at members holding other callings.

But let’s pretend. . .

Imagine yelling out at a Sacrament meeting sustaining (After all, it’s under the same roof) “Bishop, that’s a bone-headed call!” Or, at the Ward Dinner; “Sister Smith, this casserole stinks.” Or in a Bishop’s interview; “I know we broke different commandments but you’re not punishing us equally . . .moron!”

There are apocryphal accounts of members behaving poorly in other settings, but unlike basketball, it’s the exception rather than the rule. In basketball, even those who don’t yell at the refs can’t stop themselves from offering unsolicited advice. “That was a foul ref.” Or; “Ref, he’s over my back.” (No, he’s just taller, younger and still has a 30″ vertical leap.) I don’t offer advice to players and I tell players who want to help me to please wait until I ask…I never do.

Referees don’t get 100% of their calls right, no one does that, but today’s NBA leader in field goal percentage only makes 60% of his shots. I guarantee we get way more than 60% of our calls right. Any Ward team making only two-thirds of their shots would win every game. They never do, but that doesn’t make their losing the referees fault. We get over 90% of our calls right.

I’m as competitive as the next guy but I’m also old enough to realize that IF you win all your games you get crowned “Hogs Corner Utah North Region Basketball Champion.” What does this prestigious title get you? A Celestial promotion? A nursery calling? A Get out of Home Teaching Free card?

Nope. For all that exertion you get a cheap one-size-fits-all T-Shirt.

I propose the church either canonize the practice of screaming at every member who fails to magnify their calling—or universally abolish the practice. I think we referees will vote for abolishment.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The only “magic” is in the name

My thoughts on Six Flags Magic Mountain . . .

First of all let me state that kids consider me a middle-aged bore. From that perspective let me describe my experience at Six Flags Magic Mountain. I visited the park to help chaperone a church youth group. One of the kids wasn’t able to make the trip and so we had one extra ticket we decided to sell at the gate. We figured that someone waiting in line to pay $59.99 would jump at the chance to pay $20 to get into the park.

Since we don’t live in California, we were unaware that trying to recoup some of your money in this fashion is called “scalping”. Californians frown on scalping as severely as armed robbery. As soon as my wife offered the ticket to a kid she was escorted from the line by an undercover “Loss Prevention Agent” (from their job description: “Imagine coming to work every day in disguise!”). The “agent” who had a tin Magic Mountain badge and a non-functioning walkie-talkie threatened to jail my wife for scalping. Apparently, if you read the fine print on the back of the ticket it says the ticket has a value of 1/10 of 1 cent. If you try and sell it for more than that amount you’re a scalper. (“Hey buddy, can you spare 1/10 of a cent, I’m making a deal?”).

Since my self-described “not-middle-aged” wife didn’t assault the “Loss Prevention Agent”, she only had her name entered into the agent’s violation book and was allowed to enter the park with a stern warning. (The ticket was confiscated since it had been used in the commission of a real crime). After spending a few hours in the park, I discovered the real crime is charging anyone more than $20 to enter the Unmagic Kingdom.

Just inside the door is a cyber cafĂ© where we decided to check email and news from home. Well I’m not sure who they’re using for an ISP but I’m pretty sure that my page is still waiting to load . . . OK then, onto the rides. Roaring Rapids looked tempting for us “white bread” relics. We walked there ready to “Roar with delight” while we rushed through “Western America’s first man-made white-water river.” What we didn’t realize is that they’re still using the original boats. I know the “river” was only inches deep but sinking in one of America’s first man made fiberglass boats wasn’t appealing. We walked away squirting water with each step.

Taking a break from “roaring with delight” we decided to take in a show—oops, none scheduled for the entire day. Since old people “have to go more often”, I decided to visit the restroom. It appeared that I beat the cleaning crew there—by a week. I think I still have an imprint on my rear from the graffiti etched into the seat. Perhaps the filthy conditions are part of a two-part plan to discourage restroom loitering. Part two involves blasting ice cold air directly onto people using the single available stall—it certainly shortened my stay.

One of the lesser known facts about the park is that there are rides that aren’t covered by the exorbitant admission fee. For example, Cyclone 500, Dive Devil and Thrill Shot cost more money—lots more.

If you get hungry you can pay $12.99 for a double-cheeseburger meal. Since it said “double” on the menu I thought it meant enough food for two people—nope, only enough for one but “served with a smile”. If I was charging $13 for a hamburger I’d give everyone the biggest smile they’d ever seen—and then I’d take their money and go to a amusement park where they value their guests, maintain the facilities, and clean the restrooms.

PS—The kids said the park was great and they had a fun time.