Monday, February 25, 2013

I Missed It.


It started the same way at both of the houses I lived in growing up. My father paid a ridiculous amount of money, which I'm sure we didn't have, to have a cement truck come out and pour the concrete slab. Then he would set to work smoothing the concrete, working it until it was just right, keeping us kids away from it, telling us just to wait, wait, it would be ready in a few days. Then he would set up the goal, and he would always make sure the rim, at it's tallest adjustable height, was exactly ten feet from the slab...

Saturday was a busy day. I woke up sick, my sinus cavities clogged with anger at the fickle Oklahoma weather we've been having.

I had a trainer session at 8 a.m. Bright and early. I blew my nose, I drank my disgusting pre-workout shake, and I headed out.

My schedule for the day included the workout, then driving home to shower and change, then head out the door for a writing assignment that was an hour's drive away from my house, and that started at 11 a.m.

The one thing I simply did not have time for was my son's basketball game at 9 a.m. It just wasn't possible. Even without the workout, it still wouldn't have been possible.

If the weather was nice, I'd usually be outside on that slab, throwing up shot after shot. It was the place I hit my own personal "The Shot," and I loved being out there. Every once in a while after dinner, my dad would walk outside to the slab, look at me, and ask, "What's it going to be tonight?" I'd usually pick a game called "Around the World," where each person shot from nine different places around the "court." Every single time, I would think to myself "This is it. This is the night I beat him." My dad would flip me the ball and say, "You go first..." 

The Missus sent me a text Saturday morning. "Are you going to Aven's game?"

"I really don't have time." 

She didn't make me feel guilty, she understood.

And really, if the truth be known, I didn't feel guilty about it. I was too busy. There was too much going on. Plus, I've been to every single other game he has had this year, and let's keep it perfectly real, Aven is terrible at basketball.

Don't get me wrong, he can shoot, barely, when he's practicing. He's working very hard on his dribbling and he's coming along nicely there...in practice. Yes, he's five. Yes, he is appropriately horrible at the game for his age and experience level.

But at the same time, I knew I wasn't going to miss anything big.

I'd miss the first shot. I'd always miss the first shot. You had to stand under the goal and one arm it up and in, and I did not have the coordination for it yet. Since you got a "chance" shot every time, you could always take two shots on the first and not have to worry about starting over. So I'd try again. I'd usually miss. I'd groan, knowing what was about to happen. My dad would get the ball, and the beating would commence...

I was driving home from the workout, and I was feeling pretty proud of myself for going in even though I was clearly on my deathbed. I was thinking about things the day held, and how I was going to divide my split shift for the day into workable segments.

Not a thought in my mind was occupied with Aven's game.

Then the text came in.

"Aven just made his first basket in a game!"

I missed it.

I f*$&#*@g missed it.

He didn't miss. He never missed. He would go the entire way around the "world" and not miss once. Every. Single. Time. I don't know how my dad shot so well. I don't know if he played in school, I don't think he did. I've never heard of him being a hoops legend on the street courts of Coweta, Oklahoma, in his heyday. In fact, I don't even really know why he liked basketball to begin with, but I know he did. After his first circuit, he'd look at me and say, "Alright, now I have to go back around." And somewhere in that trip, he'd miss. 18 years later, I've finally figured out he probably did it on purpose...

I've felt pretty bad about things in my life. There are times I've had where I realize how wrong I was, or how stupid I was, and then I usually have the obligatory pity party, where I steep in self-loathing almost as completely narcissistic as the original act I'm "punishing" myself for.

But Saturday, it was different.

I missed it.

Yeah, Aven will have other "firsts." He'll have his first game where they actually keep score, his first assist, his first high school game, his first start, and maybe more. There will be a lot more firsts.

But this one was more important to me than anything else.

And I missed it. Why?

"I really don't have time." 

I'd get my second chance, and I'd get going. After the first shot, the next two were easy. Then the corner shot loomed. This was the shot that would make or break me. I just had to complete one circuit, and this was the keystone on which success or failure was built. Most of the time, I'd miss. Then I'd usually take my chance, and I'd usually miss again. My dad would laugh and say something like, "You won't beat your old man today, son." Then he'd rip off five or six straight shots to win the game. After, he'd flip the ball back to me. "Let's go again." He gave me another chance... 

Aven walked in the door right as I was about to walk out of it for my assignment. To tell you the truth, I had been praying I wouldn't see him before I left. But he walked in. He looked at me, all ready to go, and all thoughts about his shot left his mind.

"Dad are you leaving already? I never get to see you!"

I turned around, bit my lip, and forced myself to smile. I turned around, and The Missus, thinking quickly, said, "Don't you have something to tell him?"

"DAD I MADE MY FIRST BASKET!"

I hugged him, fast, before he could see the tears. I said, "I know son, and I'm so proud of you." I turned, walked out the door, into my busy life.

Yesterday at church, Aven met his assistant coach on the walk to door. The coach walked up to him, high-fived him, and said, "Aven! The scoring machine!" He and Aven laughed, and the coach said, "And you had everybo...your mom and your sister there to see it!"

I have no doubt his intentions were pure and it was a simple slip of the tongue. No doubt whatsoever.

But I wanted to tear him apart.

Then, that afternoon, my family gathered at my mom's house for dinner and the reading of my youngest brother's letter, which will be another blog this week. As we walked in the door, the talk of the room was Aven's first basket. Everyone congratulated him, high-fived him, and my brothers were joking with him and in general just making me feel a little more sorry for myself.

I missed it.

I missed it. I always missed the first shot. Then history would repeat itself, and we'd walk to the house, me as the loser, him as the winner, the universe in perfect harmony. He'd always slap me on the back and tell me to keep working. "One day you'll beat me." Oh that the "one day" would come! Even though now I would trade a lifetime of losing to my dad to get him back, then all I wanted to do was win. All I wanted was to be a good...

Dad. That's all I want to be. A good dad. Not great, not spectacular, not anything special. Just good. I want Aven and Akeeli and any other children that might come along to say, "My dad was a good father, and a good man."

So I kept working. I don't remember the day I beat him, but I know I did. I'll never know if he let it happen or not, but I don't think my dad was that kind of person. My hard work paid off. I kept trying, and I made mistakes, and I kept getting chances, and that's exactly how real life works too. I'll keep getting chances at this "dad" thing. I'm sure this won't be my last big screw up, because it's certainly not my first. This one just hurt more.

Time.

Whenever I think of the word, my mind flashes back to the movie Man on Fire with Denzel Washington.

"I wish. You had. More time."

After a discussion in my Sunday School class yesterday, I've discovered I'm not the only person who struggles with managing their time. We're all busy with work, school, church, family, friends, hobbies, and a billion other things that cause us to lose focus and never complete any one thing with care.

I'll learn. I'll figure it out.

My job at the moment is not something which cannot be manipulated. If I have an assignment, I have to take it, because it's work, and I have to contribute to this family somehow. Could I have chanced being a little late and maybe caught Aven's first basket? I don't think I could have. Does that change the way I feel about missing it? No it doesn't. Not one bit. I feel terrible.

But I get to keep working with at the game. I get to teach him little things I know, and encourage him to try harder.

Aven doesn't watch the ball when he plays. He watches us. He's always looking at the sideline, disregarding all the basic principles of the game, eschewing them for us. For our approval.

And my life's goal is to always be there, looking back at him, waving my hands like crazy, telling him for the love of God just get back on defense, stop looking at us, pay attention to your coach, GO!

As much as I hate time, it provides us with the one thing we all so desperately need.

Second chances.


Friday, February 8, 2013

The Blanket.


The blanket was pink and purple, and looked like it might feature the face of a Disney character. It was impossible to tell, however, because it was wadded up and stuffed in the bottom of an animal carrier. Sitting atop the blanket was a very nervous cat, hunched against the back wall, completely silent, the smells of the office too unfamiliar and intimidating.

To the man observing, it looked like a blanket his seven year old daughter might have stored somewhere, the kind that are a dime a dozen during the holiday season or at a specialty store. It was a bit dirty, but it seemed well-intentioned and well-used.

The man slowly lifted his eyes to the individual carrying the crate. She had arrived in a cab, which was still a little rare in this city. She was around thirty years old, plainly dressed, and appeared to be every bit as nervous as the cat huddling on the blanket.

Our observationist was just there to pick up his dog, who had been the recipient of a very humiliating surgery the day before. The reader is surely familiar with this surgery, and will pity the dog accordingly. The man was waiting patiently to be helped, and was next in line when the young woman with the blanket walked in the door.

She didn't express any regard for the rules of society when she walked around the man and struck up a conversation with the still busy assistant, but after hearing her speak it was plain to see why. Her voice carried an indicator of a mental handicap of some sorts, unknown to the author, but placing the taxi and her assumed rudeness into immediate context. Forgiveness, tinged with a pity he struggled to tamp down, rose in his heart.

The assistant asked her if she'd fed the cat in the last twelve hours, and the young woman responded with a firm no. Then, a moment after, she leaned forward and confidentially informed the lady trying to take the crate that the cat had a "few pieces" of food that morning.

She was reluctant to let go of the crate. But as she let her hand fall away, she looked at the assistant and said, "Will you please put his blanket with him after he's done to make him feel better?"

The man—who is notorious for having a tender heart, especially in the vet's office—steeled himself, for he felt the tears coming. Hot pin pricks of empathy stung the corners of his eyes, and he knew he couldn't break down. Not here again. Not now.

He knew then the blanket had to be special. He realized how important the blanket must have been to her, if it was so important to the cat.

And then a memory was triggered.

He'd had a recent experience with blankets. A terrible experience. He had hated a pair of blankets not long ago, and the memory of them was chiseled into his mind, bored into his subconscious, and caused him to obsess over the objects of security (and terrible things) for an unhealthy amount of time. He had repeatedly wanted to burn that pair of blankets, and burn the things they represented out of the lives of the people he loved the most.

Of course it was never really about the blankets, was it?

Then the young woman asked another question.

"How much will it cost?"

The assistant told her, and then told her it would cost extra if she left him there additional nights to heal. The young lady frowned, agreed, and headed out to the taxi, still waiting in the parking lot.

***

There are times in our lives where the basic good will scream at us to do something. If one is not careful, they can over sensationalize it, call it the hand of God or whatever other religious sense they choose. They can say they heard a voice, a prompt, a calling...whatever suits their affiliation. And I would not argue long with those people, because I know God sometimes uses a person, disregarding their spiritual insignificance, to minister to those in need. 

But sometimes it has to be humanity. Not pity, not false philanthropy, and not an overblown ego. 

Just humanity. Wanting to be good to someone else. 

***

God/humanity/the basic good called to the man. Still fighting back tears, he walked out to his car. He retrieved his wallet and brought it back inside. The assistant brought his dog around, who was happy to see the man, but a restrained sort of happy, and understandably so.

"Sir, you've already paid. You don't owe anything else. Just keep him still for a few days."

"Ma'am, if you knew this dog, you'd know that's going to be almost impossible..."

Then his voice cracked and betrayed him.

"...and it's nothing of mine I want to pay for."




Monday, February 4, 2013

Standardized Desking.

Before we dive into the blog, I'll update you on my wight loss/get in shape goal. When I weighed in on Friday, I was 341.9 lbs., which brought me down a total of 11.7 for the month. It's not exactly the most drastic drop, but after speaking with my trainer, he's reminded me that I laid a lot of lean muscle on this month and that weighs more than fat. Here's a pic of my measurements, which came down too. 


My biceps are evening out. Draw your own conclusions. 

***

Now on to the good stuff. 

About a week ago, I had to go take the Oklahoma General Education Test, or OGET for short. I guess when you want to become a teacher, they like to make sure you at least have some general educatin' in your background. 

I am absolutely forbidden to discuss the questions that were on the test, and I signed a pretty strict nondisclosure agreement on the front page of the test that said the state of Oklahoma would take my firstborn and give me a fantastic wedgie if I told anyone about the questions. 

However, the NDA said nothing about discussing what took place in the time I spent before I took the test. And believe me, things happened. 

Let's start with how early the test is. I had to report to the testing site at 7:15 in the a.m. 7:15. 7:15. 

My kids don't even have to be at school until 8:30 and that's not even on the weekend. 

Of course the night before, I woke up at 3 in the morning and couldn't go back to sleep for an hour, so when my alarm went off at 6, I was dragging more butt than a dog on a freshly washed carpet. 

In my desire to reach the testing site on time, I forgot to bring "several #2 pencils, sharpened." I wasn't gravely concerned because I figured I could pick some up on the way. 

I stopped at two places on the way in, neither of them had pencils. 

I arrived at the testing site sans pencils, late, and sat down at a table with 5 other very tired people, all of whom had freshly sharpened pencils, industriously laid out, ready to be used. 

Essentially what the table looked like.
Image source
I looked at the three young ladies on the opposite side of me and said, "Do any of you have a spare pencil I can buy?"

I crap you not, all three of them looked at me, pursed their lips, shook their heads primly and did their best Elaine Benes "I can't spare a square" impersonations. 

"I'm sorry, no." 
"I just don't have any extra." 
"You really should have brought pencils." 

Excuse me?
The two gentlemen on my side of the table witnessed this transaction, laughed openly, and then one of them said, "Here you go man." The other one said "And here's an extra, just in case."

When I reached for my wallet to pay the blessed men, they both politely refused.

Chivalry, it would seem, is not dead in the male species. 

*side eye at the women*

Pencils in hand, I walked down the hall to the testing room. I realized I had been worried about something in the back of mind, almost unconsciously, all morning long. 

When I walked in the room, I saw what it was. 

The desks. 

Never has such an innocent memory of childhood wrought such terror as in the heart of fat adult. 

As a portly person, I live in constant fear of standardized desking. I walk into classrooms and immediately look for the "fat kid desk" or even a table and chair. When I have a new class at the beginning of the semester, I have to get there ten minutes early the first day, just so I can lay claim to the most comfortable seating arrangements, anyone else be danged.

Sure enough, the testing room I was in contained a desk. 

A small desk. 

My thought process went something like this. 

"Dude. You can't fit in there. No way." 
"I totally can. I've been working out." 
"For a month you fat sack of flan, no way you're getting in it." 
"Watch me." 
"What?" 
"WATCH ME!" 

I may have screamed that last part out loud, which got me a few strange looks, but I got to the desk. What happened next can only be described with a gif. 

This is actually scary accurate, including the sort of bracing hand grab and wedge technique.
Image source

It was rough, and it even hurt a little bit, but I made it. I felt like a beach ball being squeezed between two pieces of flat wood, but I was in there.

There was but one tiny problem. 

I couldn't breathe. 

Well, not normally.

I was taking these sort of breaths that were causing other people to look at me with various stages of concern, all of them I'm sure convinced I was having an infarction. 

So when the teacher came around and asked for my driver's license, the following conversation took place. 

Teacher: "Sir, I need to see your license." 
Me: "The other lady already looked at it." 
Teacher: "Well, you have to keep it on the desk, in case you go to the bathroom and try to come back as someone else." 
Me: "Oh, you mean someone who can fit in desks better?" 
Teacher: "Oh! Are you uncomfortable?" 
Me: "Yes, ma'am. I am very uncomfortable." 
Teacher: "Would you like alt..."
Me: "YES I WOULD LIKE ALTERNATE SEATING ARRANGEMENTS." 

So the teacher yelled into the hallway. 

"EXCUSE ME MR. GUY! YES, CAN WE GET THIS GENTLEMAN SOME ALTERNATE SEATING? HE'S TOO...UMMM...UNCOMFORTABLE." 

For the love of God. She was going to say fat. I know she was going to say fat, and she was about three letters away from giving me an automatic passing grade on the OGET, because I can promise you this, if you call Travis Sloat fat at a party we'll laugh, but if you do it when I've been woken up at 6 a.m. on the weekend to take a test that measures nothing but my common sense, well then sister, you're sued. 

So Mr. Guy went traipsing through the school, looking for seating arrangements large enough to accommodate my industrious bulk. 

He brought back a desk that looked as it belonged in a kindergarten classroom or under a meal in Japan. It sat about 3 1/4 inches off the floor. With it, he brought a full size chair.

I spent the entire test bent over, finishing in just under two hours, and leaving looking alarmingly like this: 

That's the face I make when I get up at 6 a.m. on the weekend. 

I'm still waiting on the scores. If I don't pass, do you reckon I have a legitimate case for a redo? Maybe next time they'll let me bring in my own seating arrangements, an easy chair and one of those hospital desk things they put people's food on. I think that's the ticket.

In the meantime, I've designed a new logo for OGET. 

Accurate and efficient.