Tuesday, December 29, 2009

...and so it ends.

In August of 2004, I got started on this blog, asking "will I be the careful blog-gardener or the apathetic blog-slum lord?"

In five-plus years and 1126 posts, I was mostly the former. But lately, I've mostly been the latter. In fact, only my commitment to finishing the State Memories Project has brought me here at all lately. I haven't even been posting Letters to Hedgehog for the last couple of months.


I think there are three reasons.

First, life with a baby is quite crazy. It takes away from the quiet, solitary time I used to spend crafting my thoughts for public consumption.

Second, my Facebook account has become my go-to place whenever anything happens that I want people to know. I've had interesting thoughts to share in the past few months, and when I can do that in a few lines, it becomes a status update. On the half-dozen-or-so occasions when I've wanted to say more, it has become a Facebook note. I have more readers there, and they're all people with some connection to me, so I also get more response there.

Third, anonymous blogs like this one have become faded considerably in the past couple of years. My friends with blogs (like Jack Bog and Jim) blog under their names, and they still move along with surprising fruitfulness. I still read them--and I will as long as they're writing. But most of my friends who blog anonymously have given it up. While I have succeeded in maintaining anonymity here--in that first post, I was convinced it'd all fall apart one day, but I was pretty vigilant, and it never did--that anonymity makes this blog less likely to develop any kind of readership (not that it was ever a goal to get readers) and also, importantly, a little less fun to write.

Make no mistake--I've loved doing this. I've enjoyed it just about every step of the way. I think I'm a better writer, thinker, and friend. Indeed, much to my surprise, I've met many friends through this blog--actual people I hang out with (pankleb and Butterbean). That alone is worth the time I've put in. And the rest of you who are out there and have read me and even responded: I thank you. It felt good to be able to talk to people about the big stuff (I went pretty haywire for the last two presidential elections, as well as my new baby) and the little (see how often I write about Life Minutiae?).

But my default reaction to stuff I that crosses my mind, which for so long was "I have to blog about this," is no longer that. It has both been reduced and transmogrified into something that Facebook does more efficiently and for a better, more set audience.

So this is it...the announcement that anyone who has been paying attention knew was coming:

I'm hanging 'em up. I won't be coming back, at least not as TRP.

I'm actually feeling a little sad about that last sentence, since this has been a big chunk of the way I've expressed myself for so long. But I'll still be out there--just on different parts of the web. The referee website will continue. The new baseball website is gorgeous--I'm prouder of it than of anything I've ever done on the old web. And then, there's Facebook, where I'll occasionally write stuff that used to belong here.

But just like thousands of others that are ending lately, this page as it exists no longer suits my needs or wants as a writer or a person. And since I've always believed that a blog is there to serve the purpose of the writer, not the audience (not that I have much of an audience), there's no reason to continue.

If you read this regularly and are not friends with me on Facebook, feel free to send me an email (to the gmail handle of bloggingref). If you tell me who you are, I might fire off a friend request.

It's been fun riding out the blog fad with you, from near the beginning to here near the end. Surf around the past as much as you'd like--I'll keep this on-line, at least for the foreseeable future. But we've reached the end.

You know--the place where the love you take is equal to the love you make.

And we leave it there...with those last few chords of Abbey Road.

Now, I'll take the needle off before "Her Majesty" begins.

State Memories Project: Puerto Rico

I met Efrain during a Montreal Expos/Atlanta Braves game I attended in 2003, back when the Expos were playing several series a year in San Juan since nobody in Montreal seemed to know they existed. Yes, I flew all the way to Puerto Rico for this. (Quoth one friend: “I can’t believe you’re flying all the way to Puerto Rico to go to a baseball game.” My response: “That’s not true. I’m flying all the way to Puerto Rico to go to TWO baseball games.”

Efrain was an elderly man, there with his wife, who noticed me scoring the game. In labored English, he asked me: “Do you always do that?” I showed him my scorebook and said that yes, I always did that. That would have been it, except that shortly thereafter, the Braves turned a double play. Efrain turned to me and said “Six-four-three.” The next play, a grounder to third, I turned to him and said “Cinco-tres!”

Incredibly, my scorebook got us to talk a bit about baseball. I learned that he was a Braves fan, and an Andruw Jones fan in particular. While he struggled to find the word “defensive,” he let me know that he thought that Andruw Jones was the best defensive center fielder he’d ever seen…”and I’ve seen Willie Mays!”

It was marvelous. We were divided by generation, upbringing, race, and language, but we had a fantastic night talking about momentary baseball stuff. It was probably my favorite moment I’ve ever had at a baseball game…and that is saying something.

When he got up to leave for the night, he said “Well, brother, glad to know you.” In only a couple of hours, I got all the way to the appellation of “brother.” And that alone was worth the 8,000 mile round-trip. It solidified in my soul my need to travel far and wide to go to ballgames. Muchos gracias, Efrain.

State Memories Project: District of Columbia

My first trip to the Holocaust museum was in 1994 with Alison. I remember a few specific items from the museum itself. I carried a biography card you carry with you to develop a personal story as you walk through the Holocaust. And I remember seeing horrific pictures of Jewish women forced to strip down and humiliate themselves at gunpoint. There was something in the eyes of one of the women that stuck with me--a bit of “You think you’re breaking me, but there’s a part of me you’ll never be able to impact.” And there was a very grisly bit showing Nazis sawing bones up--to re-use them in some fashion, if I recall correctly.

But at some point along there--maybe the humiliated women exhibit, maybe the bones--I started to wonder whether I wanted to look at these things at all. It wasn’t a matter of wanting to avoid knowledge of the Holocaust--I read all of the captions alongside the exhibits. But once I’d done that, I had to make a decision--a conscious decision. Did I want to look at the naked woman in her moment of humiliation? Did I want to see the grisliness of bones being sawed in half?

Perhaps I was intellectualizing the whole experience, which is probably far from a good thing, but what I started doing was watching my fellow museum patrons to see how they responded. I recall one woman at the bones exhibit who had her eyes in contact with the video for maybe three tenths of a second before she literally recoiled and briskly walked away. I recall others looking closely.

Me? Well, I may have taken a coward’s way out. But it did leave me asking the right questions, I suppose. What is the proper way to look at ourselves at our worst? Can we stare too long? Too short? How exactly are we to act when faced with horror?

State Memoris Project: Wyoming

The summer after I graduated from Kenyon, my girlfriend flew out to Denver to hang out with me before I set off for Teach For America training. During that time, we took a road trip up to Montana to visit my sister. Since my girlfriend was handicapped—a spinal cord injury from when she was a kid—I had to drive the whole way. Incredibly, my dad let us use his Acura for the trip to make the driving easier on me. I was flabbergasted—it was a sure sign that he really liked my girlfriend.

We made it as far as Rock Springs, Wyoming on our first night. While I was there, I remembered that a high school acquaintance of mine (we did play-by-play for the local cable broadcasts of Columbine football and basketball) was a DJ at a radio station in Rock Springs. I found him in the phone book, called him, and we chatted for a while. He said he was the morning guy for KSIT (pronounced “kiss-it”…I know, ick) and asked if there was anything we’d like to hear the next morning. “Well, Lynn likes Madonna,” I said. He asked what time we’d be getting up. I told him.

Sure enough, the next morning, Amy and I got up and waited around in bed for a few minutes, and my old friend said “This is for my high school friends TRP and Lynn. [I guess, to expedite the dedication, he declared Lynn a high school friend by proxy.] Have fun in Yellowstone, guys.” Lynn and I bounced in the bed in a little seated dance as we got a Double Shot of Madonna...”Cherish” and “Respect Yourself,” if I recall correctly.

Haven’t heard from the guy since. Worth a Google...

Holy shit. I wish I hadn’t done that. Literally, in seeing what he was up to, I learned that my high school friend was convicted of a sex offense against a minor in Utah in 2004. I saw his mug shot for his required registration. Sad.

I’ll try not to let that impact the memory of him being so nice to us as we passed through, though, which is still my best Wyoming memory.

State Memories Project: Wisconsin

It’ll be baseball again. This is the last state memory with baseball in it, I promise. I tried to find a memory that sticks out more, and while I have a few (asking my grandma football trivia questions while dropping my brother off at camp in about 1980, hanging out with friends Chris and Rebecca and their adorable kids at the Madison Children’s Museum, abandoning a July 4th fireworks show with Chris and Rebecca on the Milwaukee Waterfront before it started because it looked like rain, and then arriving in the car right before a deluge), this one sticks out the most, so we’ll go with it.

In 2007, Swankette and I did a spring break baseball tour of the Midwest, and it involved a drive up to Appleton for a Wisconsin Timber Rattlers game. It was bloody cold, but we made it through the game in Clinton, Iowa the night before (gloves, hats, long underwear, etc.). So we got to Appleton ready for a tough night. Temperatures were in the 20s and wind chill down around zero. We got to the hotel and called to confirm that they would play the game.

They canceled it. Wimps.

I said that we were in from Seattle, we were not able to exchange the tickets for another night, and was there any way we could get a refund? The person we spoke to on the phone said that we couldn’t get a refund, but we could exchange our tickets for merchandise in the team store…and that the team store closed in 15 minutes.

SOLD! We jumped in the car, zipped to the ballpark, and ran into the store. The man there said “Really? He told you you could use your ticket money here? Let me go talk to him.”

10 minutes later, the guy we spoke to on the phone sheepishly arrived and said that, um, yeah, he shouldn’t have said that, we can’t trade in our tickets for merchandise, but if we waited, he could get us Timber Rattlers baseballs that were left over from last night’s giveaway. It took him a while to find them, and we wandered the frigid ballpark taking pictures. Finally, he arrived, and we donated our tickets to the charity fund.

I guess it’s better that the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Appleton (or whatever) got our tickets than it would have been for us to get a hat or whatever. But it was still a bizarre customer service moment.

State Memories Project: West Virginia

Another baseball memory, once again from the big 2006 trip.

Our West Virginia game was in Princeton, which is, as best as I can tell, the smallest city in the US with an affiliated minor league team. (Population: 6,000). Princeton as a town had absolutely zero to do--not very attractive or interesting. We decided we wanted to just chill for a couple hours in a bookstore—a nice prospect after being together in a minivan for 6 days. So we found a Yellow Pages and saw that the only bookstores in Princeton were Christian bookstores. Wow. So we drove down the road to Bluefield, where there was a Waldenbooks Express in a mall. Two-thirds of the store was dedicated to Christian books, and there were no places to chill. Thus it came to be that we spent that afternoon in a mall food court.

But that’s not the memory. The memory is of the ballgame. A guy saw my Everett AquaSox cap and said “Everett AquaSox?” Wow! I said yes, and explained that we were on a big minor league quest. His response: “You look like those kind of people.” Not sure what to make of that, but nice. He was so impressed that we had traveled so far that he gave us a free sledge-hammer whack at the car (in the “Hit A Car, Not A Pet” promotion). That was nice of him. Then, after the game, I nearly won $100 in the toss-a-ball-into-a-hula-hoop-on-the-field promotion. Came up JUST short.

But what I remember is that the general manager who had recognized us, on the field after the game said “Thanks! Drive safely! We love you!” Under most circumstances, that last sentence would feel really dorky and strange, but for some reason, at Hunnicutt Field in Princeton, West Virginia, it felt okay to me.

State Memories Project: Washington

It’s gotta be the wedding. Hedgehog’s birth was transcendent and wonderful, but it’s gotta be the wedding.

The entire weekend was exactly perfect with two exceptions: the heat and the SeaFair traffic between the ceremony and the reception. But rather than focus on the weekend—the AquaSox rehearsal dinner, the close friends, the family reading and leading prayers, the fantastic minister preaching about baseball, my sister not being able to maintain her composure for prayers, my best friends all singing a Kenyon Chasers hit that broke me 100% down…

well, I’ll focus on a tactile moment.

For the whole year leading up to the wedding, I told Swankette that I wouldn’t cry—that it was not really my style, that she shouldn’t be upset about it. She said it wasn’t a big deal.

But I 100% lost it, and I lost it at one moment exactly.

The ring. Swankette is eighteen inches from my face, and I’ve slipped the ring on her finger, and there she is slipping the ring on mine. And the tactileness of feeling that ring go on absolutely set me off. I’d never worn a ring before! Certainly not on that finger. And feeling that VOW happen…is there anything more beautiful than a vow made out of deep, wonderful love?...well, I absolutely lost it. I cried. I made it through the remainder of the vows, etc., but there were real tears. Then, when Swankette and I turned and knelt in front of the celebrant…much to our surprise, SHE was in tears. And we hadn’t known her that long!

I composed myself until the friend choir sang "Go Ye Now In Peace". It’s a sweet little song—nothing special—but it has incredible sentimental value to me, since it closed every Kenyon Chasers concert. Knowing that all of these people I loved were singing that song that meant so much to me…well it brought the serious waterworks. Repeated, quaking, massive sobs. Tearfest 2005.

I got it together, grabbed the baseball that the minister had used in the ceremony, and waited to greet people outside the church. Tears came and went all night long. I remember my friend Tom Spoon asking “Are you okay? Seriously, man, are you okay?” I wanted to shouted through my tears: “YES!!!”

My friend Andrew made it all better. Quoth he: “Finally. A man as emotional on his wedding day as I was.”

Thanks, Andrew.

But it all started with the ring. She put it on me that evening, and I’ll be buried with it. That’s damn exciting.

State Memories Project: Virginia

Stayed in a hotel in Alexandria one night when my nephew--who was 4 at the time--said something that totally cracked me up. As my sister was ready to take him back to the National Mall, he said, quite simply, "But I HATE the mall!"

But my better memory also occurred in Alexandria. I got together with a HS friend and sorta-kinda-girlfriend when we each were 31. All past stuff was long-since forgotten. Indeed, I had to set aside some current stuff, since she was writing a lot of stuff I passionately disagreed with in her role as policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation. But none of that mattered when we went out on a warm night and found a very cool busker on the streets downtown. He had gathered a crowd by playing wine glasses. He had a whole table of them and played them beautifully. He called up several people for an audience participation number, and I was among those called up. I followed his instructions for how to play a glass--each of us had one--and I kept that low note going as the underpinning for his rendition of the theme from Chariots of Fire.

My friend sat there smiling, watching while I played that note.

Old friends. Can't value them highly enough.

State Memories Project: Vermont

I’ve been to Vermont once: on an early March day in 1990. I was visiting my then-girlfriend over Spring Break at her home in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

We spent one day driving up to Robert Frost’s grave, which, if I recall correctly, is in Bennington—about a 45-minute drive up the road from Williamstown. (Google confirms this location…but says that the drive is only 20 minutes.) I don’t remember the grave. I remember a lot of mountains, and teasing my girlfriend because, to a Colorado boy, these mountains were puny. And I remember stopping at Friendly’s for lunch. It was a calm day—handholding in the cemetery, kissing in a couple of parking lots.

Love (or what I thought love was) and sex were both new then, and having an afternoon in lovely surroundings with my first really serious girlfriend sum up my memories of the few hours I was in Vermont.

State Memories Project: Utah

I drove through Utah as I moved out to Seattle in ’96. Stayed with friends and left my credit card at a restaurant…we managed to recover it the next day. Tipped the person handily.

My second time there was for Nationals in ’04. I had a Public Forum team qualify that year. One of the kids was a 14-year-old sophomore—actually, her birthday was in July, so she wasn’t even 14 yet--and it was I'm fairly sure, her first time away from her parents. I remember how very nervous she seemed…until about ten minutes after the plane landed. Then, she realized how fun this would be, and she had a fantastically wonderful time.

But the #1 memory is of my big sister Debby, who chaperoned for me that year. For her, that trip represented a similar first—the first time she’d been away from her children. She’d spent, I believe, perhaps every single night of her previous 12 years where my autistic nephew had been—and, of course, the two younger sons that were born 2 and 5 years thereafter. So heading down to Salt Lake City to judge some extemp was quite a step for her, too. Like my student, she was absolutely overjoyed at the chance to be on her own. At one point, while chilling out and reading a book uninterrupted, she said something to the effect of “Do you know that I haven’t had a SINGLE PERSON ask me a SINGLE QUESTION all day today? This is fantastic!” We spent some good sibling time together, walking through Temple Square and checking out the sights. We may have been having a little too good a time together, I guess, since one of the many horse-and-carriage operators came up to us and asked if we wanted a nice, romantic carriage ride around town. Needless to say, I totally broke out laughing. The carriage driver asked me why I was laughing.. “I have my reasons,” I said, and decided to leave it at that.

Fun week. I’ve always felt very tight with Debby, so it was great to get so much one-on-one time with her. And I know she felt the same way, even if it was merely to get her first kid-free week since becoming a mom.

State Memories Project: Texas

My most vivid memory from Texas is dark; too dark to be reproduced here, I think. So are some of the others--I've generally hit life nadirs in Texas. But here, I'll try to pick something positive.

Texas is where my friends and I would go when we wanted to get away from Leesville, Louisiana during my two years there. I recall one such instance where my friends and I wanted to see The Crying Game. Rest assured that wasn't going to make the multiplex in Vernon Parish, so we made it a part of a big Saturday: The Crying Game as a matinee, then Knicks at Rockets that night.

I was fortunate not to have been told the secret to The Crying Game before getting to the theater in Houston. Thing is, the movie would have been incredible without the secret--so much intrigue and double-think. But all of us were taken aback when that camera panned down Jaye Davidson's body. "No WAY!" was how my friend Michael described his thoughts. And as we left the theater, I said to my friends: "You're not going to believe this...but Patrick Ewing is actually a woman."

Then we grabbed a bite and made it to The Summit for the game, which was a fantastic one. It came down to Hakeem Olajuwon blocking a Greg Anthony coast-to-coast layup attempt as time expired. (And, looking at the box score, wow! 42 and 12 for Olajuwon, 20 and 15 for Ewing.) Can't get better than that--two really good teams playing a tight game.

Nor can you get better than a long field trip with friends.

State Memories Project: Tennessee

You’re probably noticing a disproportionate percentage of my state memories are baseball-related. That’s because so many of my vacations are baseball-related.

On the big baseball trip Swankette and I took with my geographer buddies in 2006, I was actually invited to a ballpark by a member of the front office of a team. I got an email from a nice guy named Dan saying he’d landed on my website looking for ideas for promotions and noticed I hadn’t been in Tennessee yet. He invited me. We already had a plan to head out that way, so we agreed to include Knoxville and the Tennessee Smokies on our trip, and he upsold me to a VIP package. It originally included a hat and one of us throwing out the first pitch; as there were four of us travelling, I got him to throw in an autographed baseball and an opportunity to announce a batter over the PA system. With my experience as a HS football PA man, it shouldn’t surprise you I jumped at the opportunity to do the latter.

The day was fantastic. My friend's first pitch was true, Swankette still displays the autographed baseball, and the other friend looked great in the hat. Dan sat with us for a few innings on a gorgeous warm night in the Smoky Mountains, and he and Swankette chit-chatted about life working for a minor league club (since she had done so in the past). They really put on a nice show…lots of activity, but NONE of it interfering with the baseball. I loved it.

Then, Dan escorted me up to the press box. I felt bad taking a batter from their PA man, since he was fantastic…a deep, gorgeous basso profundo with just enough of a drawl to let you know where you were. The press box featured mostly good-ol-boys; the scoreboard operator wore a glove. I was chatting with them and preparing for my moment when…WHAP!...Mark Reynolds of the Smokies (who has since been promoted to the Arizona Diamondbacks) absolutely slaughtered the baseball. It banked off the scoreboard in left center. PA guy got out a chart with distances and guestimated that the ball went 441 feet, and announced it as such. He held up a stuffed bear with a heartbeat to the microphone…that heartbeat sound reverberated throughout the ballpark.

Then…my turn. They introduced me as “VIP TeacherRefPoet.”

I tried to channel my PA hero, Bob Sheppard of the Yankees. Go slowly. Savor every syllable.

“Now batting…the first baseman…number thirty-one…Agustin…Murillo.”

Almost unbelievably fun.

He popped out to the catcher.

I am so glad Dan emailed (he’s now a Facebook friend) and so incredibly glad I let him talk me into the VIP package. It was more than worth every penny to intensify the memories of what was, on its own, already a gorgeous ballpark.

State Memories Project: South Dakota

Our family went on a trip to South Dakota in 1973—my dad was the featured speaker at some sort of anesthesiology shindig up there. So all six of us piled into a station wagon and headed to Rapid City.

I was only three years old, but I do have two memories of the trip that endure. The first is not that notable. We were staying in some sort of hotel that felt like a trailer park, at least in my memory. I do remember being in a hotel room and watching Match Game ’73.

The other one is more striking, and will serve as the actual #1 memory from the state. It’s really just one quick visual. I remember looking up at Mount Rushmore while being carried by my mother. What an intense visual! We were at some kind of visitors’ center, either behind a railing or possibly even indoors in front of a gigantic window. But I remember being quite impressed.

Strange. If I was three, my mother and father were both 34—significantly younger than I am now. I remember my parents at a younger age than I am now.

State Memories Project: South Carolina

When Swankette, me, and our geographer friends stopped to see the Charlotte Knights play ball in 2006 (the stadium is across the state line in South Carolina), the night ended memorably. The game, alas, didn’t end. In the tenth inning, with the score tied at 3, a huge storm started. With lightning still far away and men on base for the home team, the umpires let them play in the awful rain for fairly long—five minutes or more—hoping to end the game with a run in the bottom of the inning. But when the Knights’ Casey Rogowski grounded into a double play, they immediately dragged out the tarp and everyone—including us—ran for the parking lot. (They completed the game the next day without us. And, by the way, I didn’t remember Rogowski’s name or the fact it was a double play. I had to dig out the scorebook for that detail.)

After our mad sprint to the car through sheets of rain and with thunder getting ever louder, we sat in the traffic leaving the ballpark to begin the scary drive to our hotel in Hickory, NC. And while we all sat in the car, the Knights decided to set off the scheduled postgame fireworks even though the game technically hadn’t ended. Thus, we were treated to quite a lovely visual: the stadium lights in the foreground, the fireworks behind them, and a lightning storm well behind them. Efforts to capture the dramatic visual in a photo were fruitless, but I remember that combination of natural and man-made fireworks. It was intensely beautiful.