Saturday, August 22, 2009

Golf Balls from Heaven?

The other day I awoke to find a golf ball in my driveway. I found that a bit odd as I live about 4 miles from the nearest golf course—making my home safe from even a Tiger Woods’ like errant shot. Naturally I was curious as to how the golf ball arrived in my driveway. Being the pessimistic sort I figured that it had arrived in the usual way—drawn to earth by gravity after being hit with a club. I set out to look for the “ball mark”. A walk around my newish truck confirmed my suspicions—a big freaking dent in the side of the bed.

When I saw the dent I was pretty angry and I wanted to find the culprit and shove the ball down his throat and then use his head to pound out the dent. I thought to myself; “what kind of pinhead drives a golf ball down a residential street, don’t they know they could kill someone?” The answer came immediately—me. Not me now of course. Now I’m a semi-responsible adult with a wife, kid, mortgage and car payment—me as an errant teenager.

It all came back pretty clearly; I was hitting plastic balls in the back yard when suddenly it occurred to me that hitting a real ball would be more satisfying. I pulled an old ball and a nine iron from the bag and launched the ball from our .08 acre lot randomly into the atmosphere. Adults get urges to do things like this (at least I do) but we only think about them wistfully, 16-year-olds just fire away—consequences be damned.

You’ve heard of “Pay it Forward” where a kind deed gets passed on and it just keeps growing until there are no more nuclear missiles, wars, or drivers on cell phones? Well the dent in my truck was “Pay it Back”, one of my old misdemeanors returning to punish me. Part of me wondered if this golf ball was the same one I hit decades ago—perhaps it stayed in orbit waiting for me to buy a nice truck, and then bam! Payback.

Of course, I knew it wasn’t the same ball because that ball landed in the yard of someone with anger management issues. In addition to his anger management problem, the guy with my golf ball was also bad at geometry. He miscalculated the trajectory of the ball and mistakenly confronted my next-door neighbor, Mr. Williams, who gruffly told Mr. Anger Management (who in his haste to return my ball had impaled his leg on a fence post) to quit bleeding all over his porch.

Now at 16, I might not have been the brightest ball in the bag, but I was smart enough to know that if you wantonly launch a golf ball into the neighborhood it’s a good idea to put the clubs away and go for a ride. I went unpunished for my action as Mr. Williams was kind enough to not correct the neighbor’s geometric miscalculation and rat me out. Decades later I'm wondering; is it payback time for me? If so I hope the golf ball dent is the extent of my “reward”.

Sadly, the wanton golf ball was not the only misdemeanor for which I went unpunished as a youth. If everything I did back then starts paying me back, my insurance agent will no longer be my friend. I think there may still be people in the old neighborhood who enter my name in the online “County Prisoner Information Search” hoping to get a match.

Even though the statute of limitations has expired I can’t divulge all of the details of my transgressions as my son reads these posts and I don’t want him getting any ideas. Furthermore, after my wife told me she might not have consented to marriage had she known everything I did as a teenager, I started talking more about my experiences as a Boy Scout (not the story where the leaders threatened to court-martial me and demote me to Tenderfoot—just the good turn daily and stuff like that).

I’m hoping that the golf ball dent is the extent of my payback. After all I’ve grown up and try and kept oscillations from the straight and narrow to a minimum. I’ll forgive the knucklehead who dented my truck, after all I myself am the beneficiary of forgiveness—that and the statute of limitations.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

“Referee, Referee B-@-$-!-@-R-D!”

Everyone has their favorite season, some like spring for the renewal of life, others prefer fall for the cooler days and beautiful foliage. My favorite season is football. I enjoy attending games in person, watching them on TV, and listening to them on the radio. My wife claims I’m so obsessed that I’d even watch a televised game between the Wofford Terriers and Austin Peay Governors (real teams about which I know nothing).

I like football so much I even referee football. Because there is a place for everyone, football is the perfect game for kids. Big kids, fat kids, skinny kids all have a place on the team. Working together, the boys all labor to set and attain goals. Football teaches teamwork, the benefits of hard work and the importance of doing your job.

There is however, an ugly side of football, something that can ruin the game for everyone. It’s not coaches, players or the referees. It’s the monsters inhabiting the bleachers—parents. Most parents have the best interests of their kids in mind—but when they watch football they leave the objective portion of their “mind” at home. There is something about sports that causes parents to abandon rational thought. There are three main causes for the parent problem; bias, ignorance and susceptibility to mass hysteria.

I think that it goes without saying that parents have a bias, they want Junior to be wildly successful. But because of their bias they don’t always see action the way it really occurs. Scientific studies conducted on human memory prove human have a propensity to remember erroneously events and details that did not occur. It’s estimated that at least 50% of wrongful convictions are based on eyewitness testimony. Pre-determined bias only magnifies this human shortcoming. For example, many people “remember” Danny Ainge biting Tree Rollins when in reality it was the other way around. (Headline in the Boston Herald the next day: "Tree Bites Man").

Parents see games in a light most favorable to their child—the way they wanted things to happen. They fail to notice, or discount the seriousness of, their kid’s fouls or violations, but if he trips and falls they can’t understand why the referees didn’t see the other team, a pack of Hell’s Angels, and five nunchuck wielding ninjas clip Junior and then pummel him to the ground. “Referee, are you blind? What are you watching out there?”

Referees spend hours each year reading the rule books and must pass two written test to certify as an official. Parents watch John Madden for a couple of hours on TV and then don’t understand why referees don’t know the “rules” as well as they do. They also don’t know that there are differences between NFL, NCAA and High School rules—after all football is football right? Wrong. For example, tripping the ball carrier is OK in high school but not the NFL. Try explaining that to a parent with a TV.

Parent: “Didn’t you see that ref? He tripped my son, the ball carrier.”
Referee: “Yes, I know.”
Parent: “Aren’t you going to throw a flag?”
Referee: “For what?”
Parent: “Tripping.”
Referee: “Tripping the ball carrier is legal”
Parent: “No it’s not; John Madden says it's illegal.”
Referee: “It’s legal in High School.”
Parent: “You’re an idiot; don’t you know the rules?” “Hey everyone, this referee doesn’t know the rules!”
Crowd (In Unison): “Referee, referee B-@-$-!-@-R-D!”

Another area of parental misunderstanding is the holding rule. People shout “holding” at referees so often they’re afraid to hold their wives in bed at night for fear of getting yelled at. There are 22 players on the field and it’s probable that at any given time one or two of them may be “holding”. However, unless the holding prevents a player from moving naturally toward the ball carrier at a place and time that may affect the play, referees are inclined to let it go and warn the players involved. Obviously for the parent of the “holdee” that’s not good enough. For Example; team "A" runs a sweep to the opposite side of the field that gains two yards. During the play their child, who never got closer than 40 yards to the play, was briefly impeded. The parent wants the offender and the referee suspended and possibly even drawn-and quartered. Of course their team never holds anyone, it's always the "other" team.

Mass hysteria
Mass hysteria ignites when a single individual becomes hysterical during a period of excitement and spreads until the whole crowd is infected. For example, I once faced an angry mob of parents ready to lynch me because they felt I couldn’t count to 12. During a kickoff two referees stand at the middle of the field, one facing the defense, the other the offense. They are there for two reasons; to give the ball to the kicking team and count the players. When the referees are 100% confident that there are 11 players on each side they indicate to each other that there are 11 players on each side. Only then do they move to the sideline.

In this game the two referees had each counted to 11 (twice), suddenly a parent yelled; “They have 12 players.” The referees and the league president re-counted—still only 11 players. Too late, the crowd was infected. Suddenly, accountants, mechanics, doctors, and bankers (the lawyers left to file suit against us) all counted a mythical 12th fifth-grader (yep, this was a game between 11-year-olds). Until then I hadn’t realized that allowing 12 11-year-old players on the field was a capital offense, I was clearly mistaken.

Not only that, but there is no forgiveness for referees. If a referee makes a perceived mistake he must be cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone for all eternity (which is how long this game lasted). For the rest of the game we enjoyed witticisms like; “Referee, number 17 was off-sides, but since you can’t even count to 12 . . . "

Referees don’t care who wins, don’t see clipping ninjas and don't call holding on every play, but they do like your kids and enjoy teaching them the rules. They officiate football because they get to work outside with some pretty good friends and participate in a sport they enjoy. Next time you attend a game, please remember that referees are not infallible; however, they do study the rules, are free from bias and have been inoculated against mass hysteria.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Is there something different about you honey?

My wife, who has spent the last few years growing her hair out, recently decided it was time for a hairstyle change. When a woman is about to make a momentous life-changing decision like this she needs more prayers and support than an ordinary man like me is capable of providing—yet she still expects my advice. Normally I answer either; “sure”, or “absolutely not” to any question regarding her dress or fashion. However, I’ve learned it’s very important to pay attention to the question before responding with a rote answer. For example, a distracted “sure”, in response to; “Will wearing this blouse make me look pregnant?”— earns an undeserved night of chilly stares.

Back to the haircut. Once a woman decides to cut more than 1¾ of an inch off her hair she needs the advice of 12 Internet Sites, Eleven Relief Society Sisters, Ten “Us” Magazines, Nine FedEx Drivers, Eight Postal Carriers, Seven Silly Siblings, Six Gossipy Girls, Five Peeping Toms, Four Grocery Clerks, Three Old Friends, Two Facebook pals, and one very nervous husband. When she has collected their input she analyzes, evaluates, sorts and prioritizes it. She says your advice is as important as input from her Facebook friends and, but unless you’re a trained cosmetologist it’s not true. She gives as much weight to your suggestions as she does to your 83-year-old mother’s--who reminds her that during the depression she used rocks heated by the sun to curl her hair.

Following months of research she finally picks a new hairstyle that fits her face, coloring, age, and lifestyle. Now it’s time for the cosmetologist to turn the dream into reality. This is a good time for family prayer; “bless the cosmetologist that her hands will be able to fabulously style mom’s hair”, is a good starter. If more than seven inches of hair is involved, fasting and prayer together is recommended.

While your wife is undergoing the operation, you pace nervously, hoping that all is going well and that the cosmetologist is not impaired or planning a hair tribute to Farah Fawcett. In the odd chance you actually have to go go work as the fate of the nation depends upon it, add a reminder to your blackberry telling you to compliment your wife on her fabulous new hair style the moment you walk in the door. Do not forget this; it’s very important for your happiness.

Your wife loves you very much and your approval is very important—no matter what—even if the final result looks like it was cut with a blender and styled by the sunroof (it doesn’t.) Smile and lie if you must, there are no eternal consequences. Besides, eternal condemnation is not as bad as what will happen if you blow this moment. This is also not the time for joking, do not say, for example; “I don’t care what everyone else thinks, I like it” (I actually said this— out loud). Tonight is the first time that I get to move my bed inside the house. It’s really more of a dirty blanket, but at least it gets to come in the house.

OK, I didn’t really have to sleep under an overpass wrapped in a dirty blanket, but I learned an important lesson. Haircuts are serious business and it’s not good for your long-term happiness if you screw up your big opportunity to compliment your wife by making tasteless jokes. Honey, I'm sorry. Here's my 500 word written apology. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got dishes and laundry to do.