Thursday, March 17, 2011

That's How the Ball Bounces

One year ago I went to Oklahoma City to attend two rounds of the NCAA tournament. As a lifelong fan of KU basketball it was a fantastic present from my wife to send me. As I was driving down I thought about all the fun I could have and it occurred to me I might be able to get two or three good columns out of the experience. Then Ali Farokhmanesh happened.

The University of Northern Iowa punched their ticket to the Sweet Sixteen, punched the ticket for the Jayhawks to take a trip back to Lawrence to face disappointment and recriminations from fans and media and sent me back to my cheap motel room in the middle of a blizzard.

A year has passed. I am over the March Sadness and can remember the fun.
For the KU versus UNI game last March I was seated in the second to last row from the top (yes, the usher was of Sherpa descent…or should I say Sherpa ascent). The view was not all that different from watching the game on a giant screen television, a giant screen television that was fifty-seven feet away. Everything else was better than watching on TV.

The vast majority of people were rooting for the Jayhawks but there were about 8 guys sitting together a few feet from me who were obviously from Iowa and cheering wildly for their guys. There was no animosity between the two factions. At one point there was one of those calls by a referee which can be easily (and vehemently) argued either way depending on who you want to win. One of the UNI fans stood and yelled at the ref (knowing the laws of physics and sound travel my guess is his epithet hit the floor around 3:30 the next day). The KU fans nearby hooted. The UNI guy laughed, turned to all of us wearing crimson and blue, shrugged his shoulders and said, “Hey, you’re gonna win. I’m just havin’ fun.” It turned out he had a lot more fun than he expected.

Even though I do let losing a basketball game affect me more than I ought to basketball has given me a lot of positive experiences and helped me develop some of my better attributes.

From 2000 to 2006 I worked with the Dodge City Legend, a minor league basketball team which was part of the now defunct United States Basketball League. I started out as the mascot (Marshal Hoops) dressed from the waist up as a cowboy and from the waist down it was more mascot like. I wore the same basketball shorts the players wore and I had a pair of tennis shoe cowboy boots hybrids. Since it is not really politically correct to wear six shooters in a family entertainment venue I had two mini basketball hoops attached to my belt where Wyatt Earp would have holsters. I was a public goofball and I had a blast. Later I worked my way up to being the general manager. That doesn’t happen very often.

My oldest daughter, Emilyjane, was a ball kid most of the time I worked with the team and she got to know the guys better than I did. She developed friendships with some players and they always treated her great. Once a former NBA star joined the team, he was going to be a huge help as we tried to win a championship. His first game with the team something didn’t happen the way he wanted it to and was downright rude to Emilyjane. The other members of the team made him apologize to her. Picture it. A seven foot one inch athlete standing in front of a four foot nothing middle school girl saying he had been out of line. Is that great or what?

Emilyjane probably got the most out of it but my whole family was shown in no uncertain terms that people from very different backgrounds than our own were really great people with more things in common with us than not. A couple of the guys still e-mail her once in a while. Lazarus Sims played with the Legend three different seasons and came to dinner at the house. He played for Syracuse back in the 90s (even beating my beloved Jayhawks in the 1996 NCAA tournament) and now is an assistant coach for them. Whenever the Syracuse Orange are playing on TV we all carefully inspect the screen and whenever he is visible we all jump and scream, “There’s Laz!”

Friday, March 04, 2011

Is all this really necessary?

I have frequently heard the old axiom that one must suffer for one’s art. The way I always interpreted this was an artist must live through the tough times, the rejection, and the lack of appreciation from the masses in order to get to the point when his art will be accepted and he will be given adulation, respect and possibly even monetary gain. It appears I was wrong.

The more I hear the background stories of great artists of every stripe the more it seems in order to be truly successful as a painter, a musician, a writer, or a ventriloquist (wait a minute, forget that last one) you had to have an upbringing Oliver Twist would find breathtakingly sad. Think about it. How many times have you heard an author’s early life described like this? A life of nightly beatings suffered at the hands of the older boys at the boarding school run by the sadistic headmaster who later married his mother so he couldn’t even escape the malevolence during Christmas break or upon graduation thus ensuring meals consisting of larvae infested bread crusts and a water dish he was forced to share with the dozen or so Rottweilers doted upon by his evil stepfather and total servitude to his craven stepbrother who had the IQ of a dinner roll until one day he was using a stolen spoon to scratch his thoughts and dreams on the back of the rock under the hedge next to the moat to which he was chained every night at bedtime and a passing traveler stopped to ask directions, read the brilliant prose exposing surpassing beauty and a depth of human understanding never before put into words and was thus whisked away to a life of adoration and exultation as a writer of inestimable skill. Believe it or not I just described the adolescence of Academy Award winner Aaron Sorkin. Who’d of thought growing up in Scarsdale would have given his family access to a moat?

Okay, I may have overstated things a bit. The thesis is still correct. I have been intentionally writing for over a decade and have not gotten beyond the 620 area code. My problem may not be talent or drive. It probably all has to do with the fact I had a childhood completely devoid of sadistic headmasters (I was scared of the assistant principal at Liberty Junior High but that was mostly due to facts which lived in my head and nowhere else). I was never forced to eat anything worse than peas (actually my mom never really forced me to eat anything). My siblings were all kind-hearted and their IQs dwarfed even the most gifted of baked goods. My upbringing was pleasant…rats…

My next options for proper artistic suffering are crippling substance abuse or unrelenting mental illness. Hmmm, that would be a no. I am not willing to do either of those choices just for a large advance from Simon & Shuster and a three picture deal with Dreamworks. Maybe a preternatural craving for Junior Mints and an irksome feeling that I left the water running would suffice for eight hundred words published in Cigar Aficionado (which is an actual, honest-to-goodness magazine).

Like so many afflictions it appears my suffering (which oddly enough is the massive lack of suffering) is a cycle which is being handed down to my children. I’m sure they have their moments when they believe their lives are terribly hard but that usually revolves around the fact that the internet went down as they were watching Glee reruns on All three of my kids love to read and enjoy music. They have all had opportunities to show some skills in the performing arts but unfortunately they will never be giant successes unless some changes are made.

It may be too late for the oldest one. She is 18 and getting ready to scamper off to college. Kid number two might benefit from some emotional cruelty but whenever I try it we both just start laughing at the lack of conviction in my performance. Kid number three has the greatest amount of time left living with me. Maybe I can turn his life into a Dickensian morass of despair. Naah, that will never work. His mother likes him too much.

It appears all of us will just have to settle for being mostly happy and reasonably well-adjusted instead of being world famous artists of talent and deep melancholy.

Christopher Pyle still holds out hope Aaron Sorkin has a google alert set for his name which causes him to read this column and hire Chris to write for his next television show. Mr. Sorkin, your people can contact Chris’s people at