Sunday, January 23, 2011


As the ball trickled past the goalie, spinning from slight contact with his left hand, I felt an elation that I'd never felt in my three years of Little League baseball or three-and-a-half game season of soccer.
It wasn't important that I wasn't even on the soccer team for which I scored the goal or that my goal was scored on a goalkeeper who was more interested in the fading sun's colors than his temporary role as gatekeeper. It wasn't even important that I was a year older than most of the players on the field and two years older than the first-time players.
I had scored a goal. My first goal. The papers wouldn't feature my goal, the evening news wouldn't cover it at 10 o'clock. Shoot, it wouldn't even enter the scorebook or notepad of the most dedicated youth soccer fan. It was a goal scored in practice by a player who had come to his younger brother's practice with his mom after a grocery store run and had been asked to practice for a few minutes in a scrimmage because another youngster had just gotten hurt-you know the type of goal I'm talking about, right?
This was my first time playing soccer since midway through my first. As a six-year-old with a budding love for sports--basketball and baseball were already practiced in my front yard, along with some innocent and novice touch football--I had followed my friends into the La Sirra Soccer League.
It was quite clear, however, from the very first practice that soccer wasn't my thing. I was deathly afraid of the ball and well, what else matters in soccer? A few games into the season, and it was clear from my game tears, my incredible reluctance to leave the house for soccer practice and games, that I was not to be the next (first?) American soccer star.
That day at my brother's practice though, as the street-clothes-wearing mercenary, I felt what it was to score, to be a momentary spotlighter in a team sport.
I imagine that if I multiply that feeling by a million, it'd equal the feeling to rise up, hang in the air, and bring down the house with a dunk.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Gut

As a kid and deep into my early 20s, I was so skinny that I even went to the doctor to find ways to gain weight. My homebrew of weightgainer milkshakes lasted about as long as my first vomiting session induced by the milkshakes. The Met-Rx and weight-gainers/protein powders of my teenage years made me gag so badly I could never find enough fruit juice, water, or milk to disguise the taste. One of the countless nicknames of that era was "Slim Jim," and I was even called "The Skeleton" by one of my vindicative students early on in my teaching career. I still remember the laughter that ensued when our varsity basketball trainer tested my body fat, and chortled as he reported that my body fat did not even register on the index, and that I "oughta mix in a steak every once in a while."On the court, my relative height and strong-mindedness to hit the boards made me a post player, but I was no match inside for the burly and the beefy--6'2," 158 ain't likely to scare anybody away from attacking the key.

I must say, however, that this thinness did make me seem more muscular than I was. With no fat (literally none, according to my first body-fat test) to hide under, my veins and six-pack shone through like those on an anatomy class poster. As I got into my mid-twenties, friends a few years older would warm me of that most slippery and cunning of things-The Gut. They warned that they, too, were once like me, but that the ravages of the years included the sprouting of the Gut. My stretched-tight abs, though, told me a different story. My metabolism was different; the usual rules didn't apply to me. I would never get fat, never get the infamous Gut.The last few years, though, the pounds have come, most of them healthy ones. I consider myself to be in good shape, at 6'2," 188 lbs. The Gut, though, I could do without. Is it obvious? No. There are a lot of people who wouldn't consider it to be a problem. But It's there, no doubt about it. It is a Gut, a lower ab conglomeration that defies ab exercises and itinerant running. My diet, while every once in a while fatty, is pretty darn healthy on the regular, complete with boneless, skinless chicken breast and egg white omeletes, pasta, and a lot of grains and fruits.About two years ago, a friend, five years older than me, tapped me on the shoulder at a barbecue, and pointed to the lower part of my ruffled shirt.

"I told you it was coming," he said.


"The Gut."

I turned away as I unconsciously smoothed my shirt bottom--the truth hurts.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rockwell, University...

In those heady first days of lifting weights, where the young lifter sees dynamic results in bulk and quantity of weight lifted to a degree that will perhaps never be revisited, I used to laugh as my friend stared as his biceps bulged in the funhouse mirrors of the weight room. With each bicep curl, he shouted out a name of a rival high school--"Rockwell! University!..."
There was no mistaking his motivation, and my motivation in lifting with him. We had a clear set of opponents, the Jokers, Riddlers, and Penguins to our Batman. The league title was our goal, and the goal was a quite objective one.
Now, as I approach my 30th birthday, with no competition on the horizon, no players to shut down defensively, to league titles to earn, can I bring myself to do, to the best of my ability, with a Ray Allen-like singlemindedness, those nasty leg exercises, the squats, the lunges, the jump rope, the ones the make me have trouble climbing stairs the next day?

Age and "The Acid Test"

Interlude--Poem: "The Acid Test"

As I approach my thirty birthday-24 days and counting-the relative nature of age and how this relativity is continually being reinvented continue to amaze me. My parents will both turn 60 soon after I turn thirty, creating a neat sense of order for a numbers nerd like me. They will, upon turning 60, have exactly double the years of their son, exactly double the life experience. (Yes, I know-we'd all have to have the same birthday to make my previous statements literally true.) There is something awe-inspiring and comforting in the fact that they have been through two days to my every one.

The big 6-0, however, should not be as daunting for them as it will be for others (me, for example), because they are not old now, nor will they be on the dates they turn 60, nor will they be at age 85. Why, because they were born on the good side of 1950.

In my young mind, my parents were the Alpha and Omega, the foundation, the centerpiece. If a friend had a parent born before this arbitrary marker of 1950, this parent was Old. The opposite was of course true for a parent born after 1950--The Fountain of Youth was theirs.

Enjoy: "The Acid Test" by Jaime Flaco

What does a child know about BC, AD,

Nothing, except

What better compliment than to base years,
centuries, epochs—
your life measurement—on one man,

When you are young and feel but cannot verbalize
His love for you, yours for Him,
you do these things--

You do this for your parents:
born before this cut-off,
this objectively subjective year, and you were
old, getting older.

Born after, and you were young,
Aging, maybe, but never aged.

Mom and Dad,
you were the acid test, the marker,
the wind-blown flag on the 18th green.

You were the Right and the Wrong.
The Alpha and the

And maybe this is what it is like,
Maybe just so small of a fraction that it is
like an ant among the massive mass of ants of the world—
but it is love,
your love,
a love like the ant compared to the love our Father (Anno Domini)
has for us.

“Every hair on your head I have counted,” He says,
and you remember when Mom told you (your first human memory?)
that you must have a beautiful soul, because it is said that the eyes are the window
to the soul.

This soul fashioned by the Lord, but perhaps shaded in by one’s parents—
What are we to think of it?
Maybe, just maybe, only this: You have never outgrown,
will never,
outgrow the idea that your parents are perfect.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

How Doctor Al Finally Got me to Prioritize Stretching

If there's one thing that works on a Catholic boy like me, it's guilt. Well-played, Doc.

Some Good Did Come out of the Chiropractor's Visit

Before I subjected myself to the body-twisting of Dr. Al, he asked me, fairly innocuously, how often I stretched. My perhaps exaggerated answer of "Twice a week" was met with a practiced, though not-altogether dishonest smile and canned follow-up question.
"Do you brush your teeth every day?" he asked.
"Yes," I replied, momentarily confused. Then, "Yes," again, with a bemused smile.
His silence and shrug saying more than any words could have, Dr. Al pointed to me and simply said, "You cannot neglect something that is so vital to your health."
And that is how he got me to stretch, really stretch, one minute at a time, one body part at a time, for an extended period each day since the visit.
This is the good news I report, eight days into my full body stretch routine, with three consecutive days of dunk workouts under my belt. That whole dunk thing? Oh yeah, about that...