Month: February 2017 (Page 1 of 2)

Frank and the Jayhawks

The college basketball season always seems to fly by. Despite covering five full months – and bumping into the first week of a sixth – it feels like a much quicker run. Wasn’t just a week or so ago that KU was losing to Indiana in overtime in Hawaii, then beating Duke in New York four nights later? Yet here we are, in the final week of the regular season, when the uneasy part of the year begins. When you can never be sure there’s another game on the schedule. When you start missing the guys who won’t be wearing the uniform of your favorite team next November.

This March will be more bittersweet than any in recent memory for me. That’s all because of the special niche this year’s KU team has carved out.

There’s Josh Jackson, by far the best freshman to play at KU in the modern era.[1] I think a lot of KU fans viewed with him skepticism when the season began. Sure, he was ranked #1 by most recruiting services. Sure, he had dominated in high school. But there were plenty of people who looked at his size, his lack of a consistent outside shot, and saw a guy destined to either never match the impossible hype like Andrew Wiggins,[2] or would not be more than a piece of the overall puzzle like Kelly Oubre. Those fears seems justified after he struggled against IU in his first college game.

But he bounced back big time against Duke; when he could stay on the floor he was often the best player in the game. His much hyped motor and will-to-win were always present. He played hard every minute, guarding, rebounding, dunking, and eventually turning into as complete of a player as KU’s had in a long time. Unlike Wiggins, who was a nice kid but always seemed aloof, Jackson embraced all that came with who he is and where he plays. He was polished with the media. He did so many little things in every game that showed he was more about getting the W that padding his stats and confirming his draft projections.

Monday night against Oklahoma was a great example. In some ways, it was his worst game in over a month. He turned the ball over eight times. He missed a ton of close shots. He balanced great defensive possessions with a few brutal ones. But he never stopped being aggressive or battling. He was huge on the backboards. In KU’s 31–9 closing run, he was everywhere on the court even though he never scored. Where Wiggins would disappear when he got rattled, and Oubre was limited in his game, Jackson always finds a way to contribute.

Josh Jackson has been awesome for KU this season. He’s proof that you always recruit the best talent. And he shows that even kids raised on the AAU circuit and who attend manufactured “prep” schools can still care about more than just getting buckets.

There was Landen Lucas, a guy who was never supposed to start at KU, finishing up his fifth season and a career where he just kept battling and improving and getting the most out of his body and skills. He’ll drive you crazy at least a dozen times a game when he gets off balance and throws up a terrible shot, or gets stripped and misses a clean dunk because he can’t jump without putting the ball down by his knees. But, man, that dude is so good rebounding, playing defense, and doing all kinds of small things to help his teammates. No big man in the country steps out on defense as well as he does. He’s incredibly smart with his help offense, setting screens and moving the defense to set up a good shot for his teammates.

Back over the holidays I watched the KU-TCU game with my brother-in-law who went to TCU. That was one of Landen’s best games of the year, he went for 15 and 17. Late in the game, my brother-in-law shook his head and said, “I don’t know why you guys are down on him. He’s awesome, I’d kill to have that guy on my team.”

Not bad for a guy who was supposed to be a career backup.

He changed the course of last year’s team when he moved into the starting lineup. After shaking off some early-season health issues, he’s been an absolute rock this year. His play that won the Baylor game sums up who he is: he set a screen for Devonte Graham outside the three-point arc. As Graham put up a shot from about 22-feet, Landen sprinted down the lane. He beat Baylor’s three bigs for the rebound, got fouled, and hit the game-winning free throws.

Lucas is the counter to Jackson. Even at elite programs, sometimes you have to recruit kids who don’t have lofty high school rankings because you think they can develop into special players. Sometimes those guys just sit the bench for four years, contributing in practice and maybe a few minutes here-and-there. But other times, because of injuries and transfers and recruiting misses, they turn into Landen, probably the most important player on the #1 team in the nation.

And then there’s Frank Mason III. I remember the fall KU recruited him. They were recruiting every high school point guard, but for some reason kept missing on them.[3] Then we heard about this short kid from Virginia who signed. When he got to campus, he was intriguing. The kid could not shoot but he seemed absolutely loaded with confidence. A huge difference to starting point guard Naadir Tharpe, who didn’t exactly exude “I got this.” By the end of the year, the offense ran better when the ball was in Frank’s hands. We finally started throwing decent lobs to Wiggins. This kid had a future.

Poor Frank took the beating by Kentucky in Indy at the start of his sophomore year as bad as anyone. I think he had 25 shots blocked that night. But he bounced back and seemed to be morphing into a smaller Sherron Collins: a dude you just could not stop when he wanted to get to the hoop. His jump shot was still ugly, but he was a huge improvement from Tharpe at the point.

As a junior, he was really good. He added that extra level of knowledge and confidence that came from starting for his entire sophomore year. His shot was still ugly, but when it mattered most, it always seemed to crawl in. With Graham, he formed one of the most exciting and versatile backcourt in the country. When the offense bogged down, he put his head down, put his defender on skates, and got to the rim.

When this season began, I thought it was Graham who would break out. He was spectacular in the final five weeks of the 2016 season. He looked like a kid that was about to explode and would leave KU for the draft after this season.

But it was Frank who took over and took off from game one. 30 points against Indiana, including an unreal final 90 seconds of regulation where he almost single-handedly forced OT. Against Duke, he hit the game winner. From there on, it was almost the same thing every night: right around 20 points, right around 5 assists, right around 38 minutes.

Every. Single. Night.

His shot is still unconventional, but now he sinks it nearly half the time. Other than a missed shot that would have won the Iowa State game – which was the exact same look, opposite side of the lane, as the one he hit against Duke – I can’t think of an important shot that he’s missed.

Along the way, we all fell in love with the kid. Jackson is the most talented player on the team. Lucas the most imposing. Graham likely has better NBA prospects. As do redshirt players Malik Newman and Sam Cunliffe. But it’s Frank who has put the team on his shoulders for 30 nights.

Like Lucas, we all admired how far Frank came in his four years. He grew from a kid with potential to one of the best players – not just point guards – in the program’s history. I had a couple non-KU fans ask me if I thought it was appropriate for Brandon Rush’s jersey to be retired last week.[4] But there’s going to be no question from anyone in a couple years when BIFM comes back to Allen Fieldhouse and watches as his jersey is unveiled in the south rafters. High school point guards might want to pay attention.

And then there’s this team. Fans are always suspect to recency bias, but I swear I’ve heard more KU fans say “Man, I love this team!” more this year than in quite a while. They are fun to watch, they almost always play hard, and they score easier than any KU team has in at least five years. They dig themselves holes, but they rarely get rattled and always seem to find a way out of it.

I’m always thinking of narrative angles. I love how the true narrative of a team isn’t written until it plays it’s final game. Would the 2015 Kansas City Royals be remembered as a scrappy, running, relentless team if they hadn’t rallied in Houston in the ALDS? Nope. For this year’s KU team, its going to set up one of two ways. If they play deep into March, perhaps get to Phoenix, we’re going to hear about how hard they play, how they’re a reflection of their coach, how they never lose faith in themselves, and how no deficit is too big for them to claw out of. If they get upset by a lower seed, we’re going to hear about how those regular season deficits were a sign of weakness, the short bench and huge load placed on the starters finally caught up with them, and how Self is a genius in the regular season but just doesn’t understand how to coach in March.

March blinds college basketball fans. Perhaps it is because the regular season is so stretched out, and the madness of March is so compact, that we discount brilliance over four months for the drama of the final month.

More than ever, I’ve tried to soak up and enjoy what this year’s KU team has done. The last month has been spectacular. Winning in Rupp Arena after being down 12 early. Coming back from 14 down with under 3:00 to play against West Virginia. Holding Baylor scoreless over the last 3:36 in Waco. Monday’s comeback against Oklahoma.[5] Clinching the Big 12 title with three games left.

It’s been another amazing season. Josh, Landen, BIFM, and all the Jayhawks deserve the cherry on top this year.

  1. I say that offering this qualifier: if Joel Embiid had stayed healthy, he was well on his way to doing amazing things and Josh would be, at best, tied with him.  ↩
  2. It’s ridiculous some KU fans think Wiggins was a disappointment. He was really damn good, if not as consistent as Jackson. Losing to Stanford wasn’t just on him.  ↩
  3. Huge mystery to me: why can’t Bill Self sign elite point guards? He only got Tyshawn Taylor because Tom Crean left Marquette for Indiana. He got Josh Selby, but he never seemed like a true point. You have to go back to Sherron Collins to find a top high school point that has signed with KU. KU’s finished second or third on three high school point guards this year. My theory: elite high school 1’s generally have the ball in their hands at all times. No matter what offense he runs, Self always tries to have at least two guys on the court who can handle the ball. You don’t come to KU and get to pound the ball for 25 seconds. Don’t know if it’s true, but that’s my theory. But I don’t understand why you don’t want to come play with this team next year. Slashers and shooters all around the perimeter, a potential beast in the middle, and a few other athletic bigs who can run and grab lobs. Not that I’m biased.  ↩
  4. Short answer: based on the current ways they evaluate players to hang jerseys, yes.  ↩
  5. Other then the end of the Duke game, I don’t know that I’ve been as happy this year as I was when Graham was skipping up the court after his third-straight three broke OU’s backs last night.  ↩

Friday Vid

It was an all Ryan Adams and Middle Kids week, so no Spotify playlist of mostly new stuff this week. Instead, just this delightful video from Band of Horses

“In a Drawer”

Winter Sports, Vol. 2

Time for another Kid Winter Sports Roundup.

L finished her basketball season last week. Our team went 3–4, losing to the eventual champions in the tournament.

We started the season 1–3 so obviously finished strong. Our best game of the year was our final regular season game, when we played the team we were tied with for second place at the time. They jumped on us early – leading 8–0 and 11–2 – and I was feeling a little helpless on the bench. Then a dad who helped me last year but was on the bench for the first time this year slid over and said, “Have M (his daughter) set a screen for whoever has the ball. She learned how to do that in fall league.” This is interesting and useful information!

I called a timeout, we showed our two ball handlers how to use the screen, told M where to stand, and sent them back out. First possession, points! Unfortunately it wasn’t always that successful. Our girls kept missing close shots. Our two best players (one of them is L) for some reason refused to use the backboard when they had a layup. So despite getting clean drives to the rim over-and-over, they kept tossing the ball across the rim rather than off the boards. Criminy!

With about 4:00 left in the game, we were down 23–16. I called a timeout and told the girls we could totally win the game. But we had to get every rebound and every loose ball from here on. No more standing there and watching the other team grab the ball while it rolled on the ground.

We sent them back out, ran our screen play, and drew a foul. My best player hit the first free throw then missed the second. My tallest girl, T, crashed in, got the board, and for the first time all year shot right away rather than backing up and waiting for the defense to collapse on her. Swish! 23–19.

The next 3:00 were awesome. We got every damn rebound. We got every damn loose ball. L scored six of the last eight points of the game and we won 29–23. That’s a 13–0 run to close, if my math is right.

When I gathered the team afterward, I told them all how proud I was of how hard they played. They did exactly what we asked and it was awesome to watch. I singled out each girl for what they did, but then I said, “Everyone was great today. But T was our player of the game. She didn’t let the other team get a single rebound in the last three minutes.” Man, the look on her face! It’s little moments like that that make coaching fun.

There was some controversy going into the playoffs. Somehow despite finishing second (out of four teams), we got stuck playing the first place team. I’m not going into the explanation I received, but I think the first place coach was more pissed than I was. We’re pretty good friends so I wound him up a little once I knew he was upset. It eased my annoyance to ramp his up!

We hung with them for the first half, but couldn’t in the second. We were down by 18 or so at one point, but made a late run to lose by just 12. They have three of the five best players in the league and went 8–0, so it was a respectable loss. We missed so many shots, though! They were better than us but if we shot a little better we would have been right in it at the end again.

L had a decent season. She started wearing glasses last summer and played without them. I think that affected her shooting. She told us she had trouble seeing sometimes. We didn’t think it was worth the money to buy sports goggles from her optometrist and have her wear them for just two hours a week, so we ordered some $40 ones online. They ended up being worse than if she went without so she played half-blind. She missed so many shots close to the rim and I can’t help but think it was because her vision and depth perception were off. She had a couple games where she didn’t score at all. But the last two games of the year were by far her best. If there was an all-league team, she might have snuck onto the first team, or been at the top of the second team.

M and C are wrapping up volleyball. M’s team is one of the 5th/6th grade B teams, and is pretty solid. They have one really good server and a couple other girls who can bring it most nights. They’re learning how to run offense and not just stand in one spot. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. They’re getting better, though.

They had to play without their best server on Sunday. Before we dropped her off, I told M that she and all her teammates just needed to pick up two extra service wins a piece, and that would make up for missing J. Apparently she shared that with the whole team. More about that in a second.

M came around to serve midway through game one, with her team up 13–7. Her serving has been better this year, but she’s never won more than a couple points in a row. I’m not sure what got into her, but she looked more confident than she’s ever looked. She calmly bounced the ball a few times, took a step, and smacked it into play. She did that 12-straight times and closed out the game! Other coach even tried to ice her by calling a timeout and she was all like, “Naaah,” and just kept serving winners. We were pretty pumped on the sideline and she looked awfully proud of herself on the bench between games. I must say that the team they played was not the strongest they’ve faced. But points are points, bitches.

After they closed out game two, one of our coaches came over and said, “That was perfect what you said to them, about every girl just needing to pick up two points to make up for J not being here!” I have my moments I guess.

M’s team has a winning record (not sure if they’re 4–1 or 3–2) and just one game left before the tournament.

I’m helping coach C’s team and that’s been a whole different experience. In 4th grade, if you get the ball over the net on the serve, you’re usually going to win the point. And our team just can not serve. We have one girl who can bomb it pretty good, but she’s also crazy inconsistent and is as likely to serve it into the net or long as run off a stretch of 4–5 points.

It’s always random what division each team ends up in, and unfortunately every team we have played always has 5–6 girls who can consistently hit it over the net from the service box. That’s just a killer when the girls are all learning how to return serve, pass, and help each other out.

It’s been a little frustrating to watch. The mom who is our head coach played division one volleyball in college. She’s awesome at teaching the girls and very patient. But in games, both of our competitive sides start coming out and we mutter back and forth to each other as we continue to miss serves. We haven’t won a match yet, and have only got a match to a third game once. But we have two more games and then almost two weeks before the tournament. So hopefully there is time to get a few of our more athletic girls serving better.

C is doing ok. She’s probably the most active kid on the team, and has started moving around to follow the ball more. Her play fits her personality: she’s a little flighty and has trouble dialing her enthusiasm back. When she gets a chance to pass, she winds up and smacks the crap out of the ball, often sending it up into the rafters or way out of bounds. I keep telling her to keep her hands below her chest, she nods at me, and then ends up with her hands over her head as she wacks the ball again. That’s alright, though. Aggression we can work with.

Missed Opportunity

As the bulk of my regular readers are in the Midwest, I don’t have to expound too much on the gorgeous weather we are enjoying. It feels more like April than February. And although next weekend looks like a return to more seasonable weather, you sure can’t help but think spring is closer than it really is when you can wear shorts and t-shirts in the middle of February.

As I took the girls to school this morning after their three-day weekend, I realized that Presidents’ Day weekend was traditionally when St. P’s had a winter break, usually a five-day weekend. When our new principal came in last year and began revamping the academic calendar, one of his actions was pruning that unnecessarily long break down to just Presidents’ Day. I approved. The kids already get two Mondays off in January, spring break isn’t that far down the road, and getting rid of winter break went a long way toward school dismissing for the summer a full week earlier than it used it.

Still, I have to admit this would have been a good year to have a nice, long break!

The girls still made the most of the gorgeous weekend. With M and C playing volleyball, we put up a net we bought almost seven years ago but never used.[1] Our oddly-shaped yard isn’t super conducive for volleyball, but we still gave them room to work on their serves, which was the biggest goal. Yesterday they both had friends over to play a little. I think C and her buddy got quite a bit of work in, but by the time M’s buddy showed up, a few neighborhood kids had wandered over and they got interested in some game they made up on their own.

We also squeezed in a few walks, a couple trips to the park, and did our best to keep the girls outside for as long as possible. We had the damn windows open most of the time! Despite this relatively mild winter,[2] having lived in Indiana for over 13 years now, I always expect the hammer to drop just when I start to believe the worst of winter might be past. So we’re going to soak up as much of this warmth as we can before it disappears Friday.

  1. We bought it when we hosted my father-in-law’s 70th birthday celebration. We also rented a bug bounce house for the weekend, and that took up all the space in our limited side yard, so the volleyball net stayed in the bag.  ↩
  2. I believe we are over 10” of snow below normal, and over 50” behind where we were in the winter of ’14. And we’ve had a couple cold stretches, but more weeks where it has been warmer than normal.  ↩

This Is Pretty Good

Friday was beautiful so I got distracted and forgot to share my final music post of the day. So here it is. It’s a great crossing of pop culture lines, but will make even more sense if you watch The Americans.

Best of Ryan Adams

OK, for music post #2, I wanted to celebrate Ryan Adams’ new album, Prisoner. Rather than setting the stage myself, I thought I would share this excellent view of the State of Ryan Adams that Steven Hyden published earlier this week. It’s a good primer on where Adams has been over the past few years. And it has a little extra weight since Adams confirmed on Twitter than Hyden’s theory about Ryan Adams is correct.

With ‘Prisoner,’ Ryan Adams Completes His Trilogy Of Divorce Albums

Now, briefly, a few words about my relationship with Adams. When I first heard about him in the early 00s, I discounted him simply because he was an alt-country artist. I do like a few alt-country acts, but for the most part that’s not my favorite genre. Later, when he was going through his bratty stage, I thought he was a dick and had no interest in checking out his music simply because of that. I knew a lot of people who loved his music, but generally wasn’t interested.

Every now-and-then I’d hear one of his more poppy or mainstream rock songs and think, “That’s pretty good.” But still never had a desire to really check out his catalog.

That changed in the early summer of 2014, when “Gimme Something Good” started popping up everywhere. All the music sites I follow gushed over it. Our local station put it into high rotation. It was one of the songs of the summer of ’14, and I loved its neo-Petty sound. When his self-titled album was release that September, it became a key part of one of my favorite musical years in recent memory. And I began sticking a toe into the very deep pool of Adams music. I also learned that some of his difficult years were the result of an undiagnosed medical condition. As he made some lifestyle changes, he became a little less confrontational and more open and funny. He still doesn’t shy away from silly arguments on Twitter, but he seems like a much better dude now that he was a decade ago.

Three years later, I’m a confirmed fan. There are still parts of his career I haven’t spent a lot of time exploring. But he has 17 solo albums, a handful with Whiskeytown, and numerous other EPs: I may never get to it all!

I’ve been looking forward to his new album with great anticipation. I’ve listened to it twice and it has not disappointed. The man is a treasure.

So, I thought I’d take a crack at a list of my favorite DRA songs.[1] Again, I’ll point out there are whole albums of his I’ve never listened to. But with so many tracks to choose from, I still had trouble keeping this down to only 10 songs. In two weeks, after I’ve fully digested the new album, I bet I’ll want to swap a few tunes out.

Consider this a primer for my friends and readers who have never given Adams’ music the attention it deserves.

“Welcome To New York,” from 1989. I was, of course, all-in with his full cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989. Gimmick or not, I thought he did a fantastic job of making all the songs his own while being faithful to their original spirit. When the album first hit, the common joke was that all this song needed was a big sax solo and it would be the greatest Springsteen song since 1984. And now, every time I listen to it, I expect that sax to crash in during the final third.
“Gimme Something Good,” from Ryan Adams. My gateway drug to falling in love with his music.
“When The Summer Ends,” from 1984. In classic Adams form, he released a surprise, 11-track EP of songs in the style of mid–80s bands like Hüsker Dü a week before Ryan Adams hit. This song so badly wants to be turned into a 3:30 pop song that just dominates the radio. Never question his ability to write a great track.
“This House Is Not For Sale,” from Love Is Hell. Of all his early albums, I love Love Is Hell the most. I love the weariness and rasp in his voice. I love the Britpop influence you hear in almost every song. And, in a catalog that is often about the end of relationships, I love that here he seems to be reaffirming his commitment.
“Wonderwall,” from Love Is Hell. In the running for greatest cover of all time. Even Noel Gallagher said he prefers this to the original.
“English Girls Approximately,” from Love Is Hell. Britpop + alt-country = a fucking gorgeous song.
“Burning Photographs,” from Rock N Roll. Despite being one of his most maligned albums – he has even publicly dissed it – this was the first DRA song I ever liked. In fact, I believe it was one of the first digital songs I ever purchased back in the summer of 2004. Along with Modest Mouse’s “Float On,” it’s one of the songs I will always connect to the final weeks before I became a father.
“New York, New York,” from Gold. Adams at his most buoyant and catchy. Released a week before 9/11, it became an anthem for a city that sought to ease its pain and find a path to recovery.
“Nobody Girl,” from Gold. I just love the way this track rolls and builds and then keeps going.
“Come Pick Me Up,” from Heartbreaker. It music be a little frustrating to always be compared with your first piece of art. Heartbreaker was Adams’ first solo album, and considered by many to be his finest body of work. And this track almost always ranks at the top of his best songs. We know he loves it because it generally serves as his set-closer in concert. There are so many great elements here. The opening harmonica riff. The drums that kind of stumble in. The little riff that sounds light and happy going into the chorus. The general morning after feel to the whole song. But that chorus, though! He’s written hundreds of great lyrics, but I don’t know that any are as unforgettable as these:

Come pick me up, take me out
Fuck me up, steal my records
Screw all my friends, they’re all full of shit
With a smile on your face, and then do it again
I wish you would

Dude, seriously.

  1. DRA = from his given name David Ryan Adams and the initials he often signs his blog posts with.  ↩

Friday Playlist

It’s the first really big new music Friday of 2017! Which means bonus musical content for you!

Strand of Oaks and Son Volt have new albums out today. Middle Kids released their long-awaited debut EP. And the crown jewel of the day is Ryan Adams’ Prisoner, which is already making me happy/sad. Oh, and there’s a bonus cherry on top: Prince’s music hit all the streaming services again last weekend, which is also worthy of celebration.

So, first, your normal Friday Playlist. More to come in a bit.

“Ran” – Future Islands. Another band – like Ryan Adams – who was a big part of the epic 2014 year in music. This doesn’t reach the peak that “Seasons (Waiting On You)” reached, but it’s proof they’re not a one-hit wonder.
“All Who Wander” – Old 97’s. Never been a massive fan of this group – I do like a few of their songs – but this song is right down the middle of things I like these days.
“The Animator”/“Come To The City” – The War on Drugs. I was listening to their 2011 album Slave Ambient yesterday while cleaning the kitchen and had to absolutely blast this section. Really hope we get some new music from them before the year is over.
“17 Days” – Prince. One of my favorite B-sides, this was originally written for Vanity 6, but he reclaimed it when Vanity went off on her own. It was the B-side for “When Doves Cry,” and is just another reminder of how locked in he was between 1982-88.

“Edge of Town” – Middle Kids. I suppose I’m officially on this band’s early bandwagon. With good reason, though. Man do I love their early batch of songs, and I’m thrilled they’re starting to get some serious attention in the states. They just picked up a gig opening for Ryan Adams in their native Australia later this spring. I would be lying if I said I was not crushing more than just a little on lead singer Hannah Joy. Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel will no doubt be disappointed that I’m moving on from her.

Oh, there will be a bonus video up in a bit, too. Like I said, HUGE day!

Reader’s Notebook, 2/16/17

The Nix – Nathan Hill.
My brother-in-reading Dave V. received two copies of this book over the holidays. He was generous enough to pass one of them my way. Quite the gesture, which I appreciate immensely!

This is a great book. It’s also one of those books that makes me mad, as it is Hill’s first full-length novel. How can people write something this brilliant on their first effort? I’ve tried a couple half-assed attempts to write lengthy stories over the past 10 years and the results have been thoroughly embarrassing. And this guy rips off something like this. Man…

Anyway, as I said, it’s really good. It is built on a mother-son relationship that broke in the late 1970s and was forced back together 30 years later by a series of crazy incidents. The biggest being the mother, Faye, threw handfuls of gravel in the face of a presidential candidate and became public enemy #1 in the political/culture wars that drive our media. Although son Samuel had not seen or talked to Faye since she walked out on the family when he was 11, he is contacted by her attorney in hopes that he will write a letter on her behalf for the judge in charge of the case.

That sets off a path of discovery for Samuel, who slowly pulls out the details of his mother’s life, back to her high school days in Iowa, through her first tumultuous month at college in Chicago, which coincided with the 1968 Democratic convention. We also learn about Samuel’s childhood, and a pair of powerful relationships that have haunted him deep into his adulthood. Eventually Faye hops on the path of discovery, traveling to Norway to discover the secrets of her father’s youth. The seeds for our own foibles and failures were often sewn long before our births.

There are stretches of brilliance here. Hill balances humor, absurdity, and profundity well. The current sections of the book correctly foresaw the ridiculousness of the Trump era. And I found his exploration of the reasons why and process through which people choose to isolate themselves from others interesting.

Great books should connect with and force you to consider your own life. The Nix certainly struck a chord with me. My family history is quite different than that of Samuel and Faye’s. But I was a child of separation in the 1970s and divorce in the early 1980s, so I do feel some common threads between my experience and the book. With both of my biological parents dead, that lends a bigger mystery to questions I never asked, either because I was too young or just wasn’t interested at the time. I don’t know, if my mom was still alive or if I had a better relationship with my dad, if I would ask some of the questions this book prompted. I could sympathize with many of the issues Samuel and Faye sought to answer, though.

The Nix is tremendous. It’s popular fiction with a healthy dollop of literary depth. It measures up nicely with books by Lethem, Franzen, Eggers, and Chabon that are in a similar stylistic pocket.

Bat Shit Crazy ’17


You all laugh at me for my stupid sports superstitions. But today I’m laughing at all of you. Because today I have proof that these “stupid” superstitions work!

Let’s jump back almost two years to West Virginia’s visit to Lawrence in the final week of the 2015 season. For the full recap you can read here, but basically, Perry Ellis got hurt before halftime, West Virginia was kicking KU’s ass and led by 18 in the second half, I got pissed and started watching other things. I checked the score every 5–10 minutes, but when it refused to budge under eight points, I began shutting down for the night. I was brushing my teeth when I checked my phone one last time and saw KU was down two with the ball and ran downstairs just in time to see KU tie it. They would go on to win in overtime.

So guess what I did last night when West Virginia was again kicking KU’s ass in Allen Fieldhouse? I started watching other things. I muted all my in-game text conversations. I shut down Twitter. I waited longer to do it this time, I think there was six minutes and change left with WVU up by 8 or so. But still, KU looked terrible and I started watching the local weather, some of the UConn women’s game, a few moments of Food Network. Anything to avoid what was going on in Lawrence, but always with my mind on what happened two years ago.

I’d check the score on my phone, but it was going the wrong way. Down 10. Down 12. Down 14. Shit. KU was actually going to lose two-straight home games for the first time since I was in high school. This is strange and frightening territory.

But then the deficit started coming down. I didn’t see how, but now when I would flip back to ESPN the margin was 10. Then 8. Then 5. I decided to stay with the game when KU was down two with West Virginia inbounding and about 30 seconds left. The Mountaineers promptly threw the ball out of bounds, Frank Mason got fouled, and the game was tied.

What in the actual hell is going on?!?!?

I think a few kids in the student section actually lost their minds as both teams strode to their benches for a time out. Like heads splitting open and entire souls pouring out because what was happening in front of them.

But WVU still had time for a possession. I felt like the Hoops Gods would punish me by allowing a game winner if I watched, so I flipped away and slowly counted to 90 in my head. When I switched back, KU was running off the court celebrating while the screen showed a tie score and “End of Regulation” in the clock section.

Wow. I had no idea how it happened, but now I was back in. I un-muted the phone. Sent some shaky-handed responses to the texts that flowed in. Raced through Twitter to get some context. Cracked open a new Irish Ale. And then sat back and watched overtime. Just like two years ago.

Which in classic form for this team, was never easy. I mean, how very KU to jump out to an 8-point lead in OT and then do their best to piss it away.

But they did it. Home losing streak snapped. Bob Huggins sadly forgetting about his Beat KU Bonus he had already mentally deposited. And with Baylor’s loss earlier in the night, a two game lead in the conference with just five games to play. It ain’t over; KU’s been two games back this late in the season and still won the title. But as always seems to be the case when we get to late February, the other nine teams in the conference would all swap places with KU.

More importantly, we have proof that if I get pissed and shut the game off for awhile, good things will happen. At least if it is West Virginia playing in Lawrence.[1] Hell, this might be enough evidence for fan sainthood!

BIFM and Rock Chalk, bitches!

  1. Or the Colts playing the Chiefs in the playoffs.  ↩

Trivia Man

Once upon a time, not that long ago, I was known as the trivia guy. Where other people mastered law or medicine or sales, my mind was best suited to accumulating a nearly endless parade of useless if somewhat interesting facts about old pop culture, sports, and history.

Some might say I had a gift.

My reputation reached its zenith when I ran a daily trivia email list for something like three years. It kicked off when I got one of those “80s Trivia Question of the Day” calendars and shared each day’s tidbit with a few friends. That list of recipients grew and grew until I think I was sending it to something like 60 people a day. After year one, I kept it going with questions I came up with on my own. Keep in mind I was gainfully employed during this span. Fortunately, my boss said he was cool with it as long as he was on the list and I got my real work done.

Anyway, some of that gift faded as I grew older, memories went hazy, and fatherhood destroyed significant portions of my brain. I can still remember a lot of stupid shit, but not nearly at the same level of clarity as I used to.

All that is leading up to how we spent our Saturday night: at St. P’s annual trivia night. This was our third year participating. Year one I went in focused and excited and was quickly humbled. Questions were all over the place – why can’t they just ask for 80s movie quotes? – and I felt stupid before we got through round two. There was some bullshit question where they handed each group ten kinds of pasta noodles and we had to correctly identify them. How is that trivia?!?! Our team finished in the bottom quarter.

Year two I relaxed and decided to socialize and drink and not sweat the questions. I believe there was some turnover in who made the questions, because they felt significantly easier. Still, our group was middle of the pack and the night was more about fun than competing.

This year we added a couple new families. I was excited about one couple, as their three oldest kids are all the smartest in their classes, always landing on the class honors list. They’re both attorneys and can both talk about just about any subject, so I thought they would really help.

I’m not sure who decided how to split our group, but it ended up being husbands against wives. Not that it mattered all that much, since we generally find a way to split spouses, but that meant the ladies table had our medical expert, who often comes in handy for a question or two. Still, we had ten reasonably smart guys spanning a roughly 20 year age range: I liked our chances.

I’d love to give you a full, round-by-round breakdown of the contest but A) there were 85 questions over 3.5 hours and B) I was drinking all night. Memories are hazy.

What I do remember was we were in the zone all night. We aced the first section, missed just one on the second section, and then did shockingly well on the entertainment question.[1] Turns out when there are a collective 18 daughters from the group, you know a lot about High School Musical and Twilight! The first time they flashed the scores, we were one of four teams tied for first. The ladies were one point behind us.

We kept nailing category after category. Each group gets a mulligan to place on one question per round. We were consistently getting nine correct and placing our mulligan on the one miss. Scores went up again after the 6th round and we were all alone in first. Amazingly, for the second year in a row I was the only one at the table who could correctly answer two questions in the “Have You Been To Mass Lately?” section. Which is a misnomer because they’re more questions about the local Catholic schools and churches rather than mass itself, and the two I knew were both related to high school sports.

Anyway, we get through all 85 questions and are feeling pretty good about ourselves. Then again, we had been knocking back beers, mules, and drunken grapes for almost four hours; it was impossible not to feel good!

Finally the final scores flash and we were the big winners! We missed only five questions for the night. Second place? Our ladies! No collusion here of any kind, I can promise you! That was awfully fortuitous, though, as only the top two teams win prizes, and both prizes are rather fat gift cards to a local restaurant. So looks like the 20 of us will all be going out again in the near future.

Our attorney friend was by far the MVP. But it was nice to exercise that part of my mind that was once so powerful and contribute.

  1. Long a category where the wives distance themselves from the husbands in the groups that are split by gender.  ↩
« Older posts

© 2022 D's Notebook

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑