Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wasn't That a Party?

It's the morning after the party. I'm a bit groggy. (I'm in a weird spot where I can't sleep, but I also can't keep my eyes open.) The house is a mess. There are streamers, balloons, confetti, wrapping paper, and red Dixie cups strewn about. Pirate flags are draped above my chair. A busted-up pinata is hanging from a beam between the living room and the kitchen. And, to top it all off, I'm seeing unicorns.

I think I have a hangover from the party. My five-year-old's birthday party.

(Oh, don't worry. The only thing that was in those red Dixie cups was water.) What I didn't understand, until after the fact, was how completely exhausting it is to throw a birthday party for a bunch of four and five year-old kids. (And I say this even with the full realization that The Wife did the vast majority of the work for the party.)

It all started several weeks (probably even months) ago, when The Wife thought it might be a good idea  for Roni to have a birthday party with kids her own age. Roni has spent her whole life mostly around adults. (On my side of the family, Roni's nearest cousin is eight years older than her; on The Wife's side of the family, Roni is the oldest.) She is used to adults doting and fussing over her. And, when she is around kids her age, she doesn't interact with them much. So, The Wife hatched a birthday party plan.

Roni loves Peter Pan. Well, that's actually not true. She loves the characters Captain Hook and Tinkerbell. I don't think she cares one way or the other about Peter Pan himself. But, because of Roni's love of Captain Hook and Tinkerbell, The Wife decided on a theme for the party: pirates and fairies.

So, as the weeks passed and the birthday approached, The Wife gathered more and more pirate and fairy stuff, and she planned out the party. She got invitations and sent them out, then planned some more. Meanwhile, as she was doing all of this, I was sitting in my chair eating potato chips. (And occasionally passing gas.)

Eventually, the day before the party arrived. That's when it got real. That's when I realized we were going to have between two and twelve screaming kids running through our house. I wasn't ready. The Wife, however, was.

I had to work the evening shift the day before the party. While I was working, The Wife got the house decorated. (Banners and flags and the piñata.) She also was able to bake and decorate the cake. It looked incredible! (See for yourself.) (The "sand" is crumbled up Fudge Stripe cookies!)

On the day of the party, I got home from work around 3:00 AM. I got almost three hours of sleep before The Wife's alarm woke me up. She got ready and went to work. (She teaches junior high math.)   Before she left, she told me that Roni would probably sleep late, because she had a hard time going to bed because she was so excited for her birthday. Nope. When I got out of the shower at around 7:30, Roni was already up.

The Wife was very well prepared for the party, but she did leave a few things for me to do. They were mostly cleaning chores, like mopping the kitchen floor and cleaning the kid's (guest) bathroom. As I was doing these chores, I felt a bit like Cinderella (except not quite as pretty.) But, after the party was over and I realized all the work The Wife put into it, I felt a little foolish for my feeble contributions.

Finally, the appointed hour arrived. The first guest appeared. And that's when I earned my keep. I went to get Roni's little brother, Buzz, up from his nap to join the party. And, of course, the boy chose that moment to poop through his diaper. I quickly assessed the situation. Normally, a poop-through would merit an immediate bath, but due to the guests arriving I decided a thorough wipe-down with wet-wipes would have to suffice. (It took about twenty wipes to do the job.)

The Wife had a system set up for when the guests arrived. They would get to choose between being a pirate (and be given a pirate hat and an eye patch) or being a fairy (with accompanying fairy wings and headband.) The thought was that the boys would choose to be pirates and the girls would choose to be fairies. Of course, we knew it wouldn't be that cut and dried along gender lines. And, it wasn't. Several girls wanted to be fairies with eye patches. And one boy decided he'd rather have fairy wings than be a pirate. (By the end of the party he was a pirate with fairy wings, which, come to think of it, is probably the way to go.)

As the kids arrived and got settled, The Wife had it set up that some of them could play a ring toss game on an inflatable crocodile.

The kids were very entertained by this. They loved the crocodile.  (Little did the crocodile know that things would soon turn ugly.)

As the party started, The Wife had a lot of different activities to keep the kids busy. And happy. There was a scavenger hunt outside to find a hidden treasure. The kids loved it. The kids went outside and played on the swings. They came back inside and had ice cream and cake.

And then, the violence started. As part of the entertainment, The Wife had a large box full of balloons for the kids to play with. A couple of the kids picked up some balloons and started to lightly hit each other. In order to curtail it, The Wife suggested that instead of hitting each other, they instead hit the crocodile. The poor crocodile never knew what hit him. Suddenly, he was surrounded by seven kids pounding and pummeling him with balloons.

(It really was pretty funny. The kids were giggling and laughing and having a great time. And, when it was over, the crocodile was still wearing that same silly grin. He's okay.)

We then moved to a game of "pin the flag on the treasure map." (It's like a more politically correct version of "pin the tail on the donkey." Because we need to do whatever we can to curtail violence against donkeys.)

Then came the piñata. Of course, that's now politically correct, too. Instead of whacking the piñata to break it open for the prizes, the piñata now comes with several strings hanging from the bottom of it, one of which is the "special" string which release the prizes. The "prizes" included candy, spinning tops, and little finger-puppet unicorns.

Once the kids scooped up the prizes, it was time for Roni to open her gifts. This is the one regret we have from the party. When we invited Roni's friends to her party, it was not with the intent of scoring more toys for Roni. We weren't really expecting the guests to bring gifts. Especially not nice gifts. (I guess I'm just enough of a cheapskate to think that the kids would bring dollar store gifts, if anything at all.) But, the guests all did bring really nice gifts for Roni. And, Roni really enjoyed the gifts, and the other kids enjoyed giving them.

As the party wound down, we all went outside and played with sidewalk chalk, which was one of the gifts Roni received. The kids all wrote their names on our sidewalk. And then, the parents started arriving to pick up the kids. The party was over.

It really was an incredible party that The Wife put together for Roni. I'm amazed at how awesome she is. Sure, I helped. I changed a poopy diaper and mopped the floor. But, compared to everything The Wife did, it wasn't even a drop in the bucket. And yet here I am, exhausted and worn out. Suffering from "party hangover."

And yet The Wife got up and went to work again. (She even has parent/teacher conference tonight, making it an extra long day.)

My point? Even though I think I'm doing a lot for our kids, it's nothing compared to what their Mom does for them. She is amazing. And I am the luckiest.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

My Gawkward Date with the Mystery Girl

There's nothing quite as awkward as unrequited high school "love." Awkward, and unforgettable. (Is it just me, or did none of us really know any kind of love other that "unrequited" until at least 20 years after high school?) (What's that? You say it is just me? Oh...that's right, I was a social misfit. Sorry about that.)

I was very shy and quiet in high school, but even though I didn't often actually "talk" to girls, there were quite a few girls that I liked. And a few girls that I really liked. But there was only one girl that I really, really liked.

She moved into town sometime around my sophomore year. And yes, it was very significant that she moved in and was a "new" girl. One of the biggest problems with growing up in a town as small as Arimo (population around 300; or basically the number of people in the checkout line at Costco on any given Saturday) is that the dating pool is so small. (Think those little round inflatable backyard pools where the water might get as deep as 10 inches.)

The guys knew the girls a little too well, and the girls knew the guys a little too well, too. So when someone new dipped their feet into our little pool it certainly added some intrigue and mystery to the situation. It also didn't hurt that the "Mystery Girl" was very cute, with big, beautiful blue eyes (I think they were blue), and a winsome smile that she wielded effortlessly, effectively, and often.

One of my best friends immediately swooped in and started going out with her. (He didn't have any problems with shyness.) They went steady for several months, but eventually she broke up with him. So, at the start of my senior year she was unattached and available, and I was ready(-ish) to make my move.

Now, some of you might be thinking, "Whoa! What about the bro code?"And, you would be right to think that. In this situation the bro code clearly states that you can't go out with a girl that was going out with one of your best friends, especially if she broke up with him.

But, at the time, I didn't even think about the bro code, for a couple of reasons. 1) I didn't know the bro code. I was too stupid, naive, clueless, and infatuated to take into consideration the feelings of my friend. It was thoughtless of me, and I'll take this opportunity to apologize to my friend if my actions at that time hurt or offended him in any way. And then there is B) Because of the shallowness of our little wading dating pool, it would take an offense much worse than a simple break-up to get kicked out of the water. There just weren't enough girls around to throw one out just because she dated one of your friends. (Besides, you don't need to worry about my friend. He splashed back into the pool pretty quickly.)

So, that left me trying to build up the nerve to ask the Mystery Girl out to the Homecoming dance early in my senior year. Looking back, it's amazing I was able to actually do it with all those butterflies flitting about in my stomach. (It's a scientific fact that having 347 butterflies in your gut can have a negative effect on speech patterns.)

The time came to ask her out, and I was more than a little nervous. (In much the same way that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is more than a little tall.) I needed to find a moment when the Mystery Girl was alone, because I did not want to ask her out with all of her friends standing around watching. It was going to be hard enough for me to ask a girl out. The last thing I wanted was to try to do it with her friends gawking at me. (And possibly giggling.) Unfortunately, this left me in the precarious situation of having to follow her around in the hopes of catching her alone, but not look like a stalker while doing so. This required a level of stealth I did not possess.

After a day or two of stalking, I finally found her alone on the stairs at the end of the hall. I made my move, even though the stairs were a dangerous place to be. (Those butterflies can wreak havoc on equilibrium, you know.) I approached her and started into my awkward, but well-rehearsed spiel. (I don't remember what I said, but I am sure I would have gone over it at least 426 times in my head before ever trying it out for real.)

However, no sooner had I gotten her attention and engaged in conversation than one of her friends appeared out of nowhere, as if by magic, at her side. And, although I needed every iota of concentration I could muster to actually ask the Mystery Girl out, a sizable chunk of my brain immediately tried to use the power of telepathy to get the friend to leave. "Go away! Go away now!" I shouted with the feeble powers of my mind, but the friend just stood there, gawking. I even tried telekinesis, attempting to throw the friend out of the way with the very will of my mind. (Or possibly the power of The Force.) She didn't budge. She just gawked. (But hey, at least she didn't giggle.)

I'm not sure how I did it, but somehow, despite the distraction, I managed to ask the Mystery Girl out for the dance. Even more amazingly, she actually said yes! Arrangements were made, and it was all set: I was going to go on a date with the Mystery Girl! And now that the hard part (asking her out) was over, nothing could possibly go wrong! Right?

For the big Homecoming dance, Mystery Girl and I were double-dating with another of my best friends (we'll call him "Chuck,") and his date (we'll call her "The Little Red-Haired Girl.") [Any similarities between "Chuck" and Charlie Brown of Peanuts fame are coincidental. Mostly.]

Chuck was driving his dad's car for the evening. It was a very large, powder blue Ford, about the size of a swimming pool. (And I'm not talking about the little wading pool anymore. I'm talking about a pool it would take an effort to do laps in.) Chuck had already picked up the Little Red-Haired Girl, and they were in the front seat. I got in the back seat, and we drove all the way across town (three blocks) to the Mystery Girl's house to pick her up.

I was very nervous. I had been on many dates before (two, actually) but this was the first time I was going on a date with someone that I really, really liked. [For the story about those first two "wild" dates, see: "The One Girl"] I was unsure what to do, but I thought it would be a good idea to bring her a flower, so I bought a rose to present to her at her door when I picked her up.

I got out of the car and walked toward the house. It was an older house, with a big, old-fashioned porch on the front, the kind on which you could put a porch swing. Mystery Girl's family was renting the house from a family that lived across town. I stood there looking as dapper as I could, in my tie and gray sweater vest with a rose in my hand, when I knocked on the door.

As soon as I knocked on the door, a figure appeared from around the corner of the house. It was a member of Mystery Girl's landlord's family. He was a socially awkward boy, about three or four years older than me. And he stood there, staring at me, his mouth slightly agape. (His mouth was usually slightly agape.) He didn't say a word, he just gawked. I was already uncomfortable. Now, more so.

Thankfully, someone came to the door. It was Mystery Girl's grandma, a sweet and wonderful woman. Unfortunately, she did not invite me in. Instead, she went off to tell Mystery Girl that I was at the door.

No sooner did Grandma leave the door that another figure appeared from around the corner of the house. There, standing next to Landlord Boy, was his sister. (Yes, that would make her "Landlord Girl.") Like her brother, Landlord Girl didn't say a thing, she just stared at me. It was as if these people had never seen a guy in a sweater vest holding a rose before! (Maybe they hadn't.)

I tried my best to look straight ahead or down at the floor and pretend I didn't notice them. But, their persistent gawking was drilling a hole into my peripheral vision. I tried to remove them using my powers of telepathy and telekinesis, but to no avail. (Apparently, I am tele-pathetic.) As much as I tried to ignore them, I couldn't. And that's when the third figure appeared. It was Landlord Mom!

Many mothers, upon seeing two of their children gawking at a nervous, increasingly sweaty teenage boy in a sweater vest with a rose in his hand, would chastise their children and tell them to give the poor boy a little privacy. Not Landlord Mom! She joined her kids in their gawking, making it a true "Three Gawk Night." It was the very definition of the word "gawkward." (If "gawkward" were actually a word.)

I'm not sure how much time passed. Possibly ten seconds. Possibly twenty-five minutes. I really don't know. I only know that three people were staring me down, and none of them made a sound. Finally, thankfully, Mystery Girl came to the door. I clumsily presented her the rose. She turned back inside to get a vase for the flower, thoughtfully inviting me a few steps into the house, away from the six-eyed gaze of the Landlord Family.

With the rose safely vase-ified, we headed out to the car. I opened the door on the passenger side for Mystery Girl to get in. I then went and took my spot on the driver's side. And there we were in the back seat together. Now, I had heard lots of stories and seen lots of television shows where they excitedly talk about things that happen in the back seat of a car. But, this car was about twenty feet across, and Mystery Girl was sitting right next to the door on the passenger side, and I was sitting right next to the door on the driver's side. The entire New York Knickerbockers basketball squad (starters and reserves alike) could have fit comfortably on the seat between us. I knew none of that "back seat" stuff was going to be happening on this date.

The plan for the evening was to go out for a nice dinner, then go back to the high school for the Homecoming Dance. Since the only thing resembling a "nice" place to eat in all of Marsh Valley was the truck stop, we decided to drive the 30 miles to nearby Preston for our dining experience.

(Just to put this in perspective for you, Preston, Idaho is the town featured in the movie Napoleon Dynamite. So, we were driving 30 miles out of our way to go to Napoleon Dynamite's hometown because we considered it a big town where we could get some fine dining!)

Preston, in fact, was the arch rival of our high school, Marsh Valley. And, earlier that weekend in our big Homecoming football game we had beaten arch-rival Preston! (And when I say "we," I mean that literally, because I'm sure my trombone playing in the pep band really contributed to the margin of victory.) (Actually, my friend and double-date partner Chuck not only played on the team, he was one of the biggest cogs on the offense, touching the ball on every play!) (No, he wasn't the quarterback.) (He was the one with the quarterback's hands constantly in the region of his buttocks.) (He played center.)

What we didn't take into consideration when we chose Preston as our destination for fine dining was that they might resent Marsh Valley for beating them in football. So, when four nicely dressed (sweater vest and all!) kids double-dating from our car met up with four more nicely dressed kids double-dating from another car, the restaurant in Preston was invaded by eight nicely dressed kids who were obviously going to the Homecoming dance of arch-rival Marsh Valley.

Again, we didn't give it any thought. We went in to the restaurant, sat at our table, and placed our orders. They brought us our soups or salads. (But no super salads.) And then we waited for our entrees to arrive. And we waited. And we waited. And we waited. And we waited.

As we waited, the eight of us sat at the table and talked. Well, the other seven of them talked. As I've stated, I was rather shy, and when in a big group of people like that I find it even more difficult than normal to get a word in edgewise. So, I sat there mostly silent. That's when Chuck, in an attempt to get a laugh, would say, "Shut up, Joe." (You see, it was ironic, because I wasn't saying anything, and yet he was telling me to shut up.) It usually worked. It got Chuck an easy laugh, and it pushed me further into my silent shell. (I'm sure Chuck didn't realize how much I didn't like it when he did that. I should have told him, because if I had, he was a good enough friend he certainly would have stopped.)

Anyway, as we waited and waited for our food to arrive, time kept slipping by. It was getting to the point that if our dinner actually ever did arrive, by the time we ate it and drove back to Marsh Valley, the dance might be over. So, we made the decision to leave without our food. To this day I'm not sure if the reason we didn't get our food was because they were having a bad night in the kitchen, or if they were purposely not serving us because we were from the rival high school that had just beaten them.

We made it to the dance in time to do some actual dancing. And the rest of the evening went pretty well, despite the fact that we were all a bit hungry. (The lack of food didn't really bother me much. With all those butterflies in my stomach there wouldn't have been much room for food, anyway.)

And then it was time for the date to end. Just as there was not going to be any back seat shenanigans, there was also not going to be a good-night kiss on her front porch when I dropped her off. This was because: A) I was way too scared to try for a good-night kiss, and 2) I had no idea who might pop around the corner of the house and gawk at me. And I didn't need that. I was gawkward enough on my own.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Spring Forward? Fall Back? (Or: Why I Hate Daylight Savings)

I woke up Sunday morning and had no idea what time it was. My watch said it was 7:01. My alarm clock said it was 8:01. The Wife's alarm clock said it was 7:01. The clock on the living room wall said it was 6:01. It was like I had three different time zones inside my house!

Welcome to the stupidity known as Daylight Savings Time.

My problem, and I'm sure I'm not alone in this, is trying to figure out which clocks change automatically and which ones don't. Before I went to bed I sprang forward sprung forward spring forwarded set my watch one hour ahead so that it would be the right time when I woke up. I also set my alarm clock one hour ahead. What I didn't remember was that my alarm clock adjusts itself for Daylight Savings. So, instead of being an hour behind like most of the clocks in the house, or right on time, like I thought it was going to be, it was a full hour ahead of where it should be.

What really threw me off, though, was The Wife's alarm clock. From past experience I knew her clock would not adjust itself. At least, not on the correct day---thanks to government meddling. You see, back in 2007 Congress decided to move Daylight Savings from April to March. (They also moved it in the fall from October to November.) Why? I don't know. My best guess is because we are paying them so much money that they decided they should probably actually do something (even if that something makes no sense whatsoever.)

Anyway, The Wife's alarm clock was made before this switch in 2007, so it now adjusts itself for Daylight Savings on the wrong day. (We had the problem a few years ago of waking up on a morning in April with the clock inexplicably an hour off. But then we figured out the reason and the inexplicable became explicabled.)

This is why I was confounded when The Wife's clock read 7:01, because I knew it didn't self-adjust. (Yet.) But, unbeknownst to me, she had sprangled it forward sprong it forward forwardly sprang it set it forward manually herself before going to bed.

It's all very confusing.

Everyone loves a blinky 12:00!!!

It didn't used to be that way. It used to be fairly simple: If it was Daylight Savings, you had to change every clock. It wasn't so bad, especially in the springtime. Moving clocks one hour forward was not much hassle. But, moving the clocks back one hour in the fall was sometimes a bit of a chore. Especially if you had an old clock radio with the "flippy" numbers.

Back in the day, before LED and LCD displays, clock radios used to have number displays that would flip to show a new number every time the minute changed. (Complete with a little "flit" sound.) To change the time display you would flip the numbers using a dial on the side of the clock radio. Unfortunately, you couldn't flip the numbers backwards, so when it came time to set the clock back one hour in the fall you had to manually flip through all 23 other hours to get to the spot you wanted. (And heaven forbid if your flipping momentum took you three or four minutes past where you wanted to be. You'd have to start over and flip through another 23-plus hours.)

Of course, the wave of the future is to have all the clocks change themselves. That's what happens now with most cell phones, iPads, iPods, and computers. When I was complaining about Daylight Savings my sister said, "That's why I like atomic clocks. They change automatically." That's all good and well, but the term "atomic clock" makes me a little nervous. I feel like I should duck and cover and crawl under my desk, just in case one of those clocks decides to go "atomic."

One of the best ways I've seen to handle the Daylight Savings time-change dilemna is on my iHome. (The iHome is an iPad charger/iPad speakers/clock radio.) On the back of the iHome is a little toggle switch that simply says "+1" or "-1" for changing the clock. All I have to do is reach behind and toggle the toggle switch and it's done! It's all very simple. (And I get to use the word "toggle" a bit more often. It's a fun word. We should all toggle more often.)

[By the way, I received no promotional considerations for the preceding paragraph from the makers of the iHome unit. At least, not yet. I am not above receiving remuneration renumeration renoomeration getting paid for plugging products.]

Most people especially dislike Daylight Savings in the spring, because that's when they "lose" an hour. But, there is a group of folks who like losing that hour in the spring. The poor saps who are working at 2:00 AM on Sunday morning when the clocks change have no problem with it, because it means they get a free hour. They only have to be there for seven actual hours to get paid for an eight hour shift. (Of course, these people especially despise Daylight Savings in the fall.)

It's happened to me before that I've gotten off of work right at 2:00 AM and have arrived home from work a half hour before I got off of work. (It's all so confusing!)

And then, there is the difference between The Wife and I at changing the clocks in the cars. The way I do it: Dig the car's manual out of the glove box; find the page about "setting the clock;" read that page; figure out what that page says to do; and then, finally, push a few buttons to change the clock. (Total elapsed time: four minutes and fifty-two seconds.) The way The Wife does it: Push a few buttons on the stereo; if it doesn't work the first time, push a few different buttons. (Total elapsed time: between five and fifteen seconds.) (Oh, and I have to do it with the car at a complete stop; she does it her way while driving down the road.)

Obviously, there is one simple solution to all of these problems of knowing when to change the clocks, knowing how to change the clocks, and knowing which clocks need changing and which clocks change themselves. That simple solution: Do away with Daylight Savings Time!

What good does it do, anyway? A lot of people think the reason we have Daylight Savings Time is so that farmers can have an extra hour of daylight to work in the evening. And that is one of the dumbestest things I've ever heard. (Even dumber than me trying, just now,  to create the word "dumbestest.") True farmers don't pay much attention to what the clock says. They pay attention to when the sun is out. If the sun is up early in the morning, farmers will just get up a little earlier. (Farmers are not afraid of 6:00 AM.)

That's the stupid thing about Daylight Savings. It's supposed to give us an "extra hour" of daylight. There's no such thing as an "extra hour." The amount of daylight is the same no matter what the clock says. It reminds me of that meme* that's been going around on Facebook and e-mails for a while that says something like "Only the government would think they could cut a foot off one end of a blanket, sew it to the other end of the blanket, and think they have a longer blanket." [*I think that's the first time I've ever used the word "meme." I've been trying to avoid it. Along with "trending," "going viral," and "haberdashery."]

Arizona is the last stronghold against Daylight Savings Time. I guess they figure that when it's 115 degrees outside, the earlier the sun goes down, the better. (It's okay, though, because it's a dry heat.)

I'm not really sure what we can do to stop Daylight Savings Time. I'd say, "write your congressman (or woman,)" but they've got their hands full doing such a bang-up job of getting the budget passed and cutting the deficit. They don't need the distraction of mail from the actual people they represent.

I guess I'll just have to resign myself to the fact that there are going to be a couple of days every year where I'm going to wake up very confused and grumpy. (As opposed to the other 363 days a year, when I wake up only slightly confused. And grumpy.)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Last Hurrah of Churchball Ostertag

I really love to play basketball. And I always have.

Unfortunately, I'm not very good at it. And I never have been.

Back when I was a kid, I used to think I had a chance to be a pretty good ballplayer. I thought this for two reasons: A) I was reasonably tall. (Never the tallest in my class, but usually in the top ten percent for height.) And 2) Genetics. My Dad was an excellent athlete in all sports, but the highlight to me was that he was the starting center on the state champion high school basketball team.

Unfortunately, those two factors for the positive were heavily outweighed by one major factor for the negative: lack of speed. (I'm not called "Slow Joe from Arimo" without reason.) This point was painfully driven home to me at the tryouts for the 7th grade basketball team. I was one of the two slowest boys at the tryouts. I didn't make the team. I didn't even come close.

But, I still loved playing basketball. So, that left me with the one safe haven for all the kids not good enough for the school team: church basketball. Church basketball is no respector of persons. Church basketball suffereth long, and is kind. Church basketball welcomes your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Church basketball welcomes the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Even slow kids can play church basketball.

I was good enough for our church basketball team. Good enough, in fact, that I was the starting center for our team for all four years of high school. I manned the middle of our 2-3 zone defense with my reasonably tall, 145 pound frame. (I used to be skinny.) Our team was dominated by the Arimo Mafia (me and the three other guys my age from my small hometown of Arimo.)

Having a team dominated by four freshmen, including a slow, skinny guy patroling the paint, did not bode well for our team that first year. We lost a lot (maybe even all) of our games. We lost one game by a score of 82-20. (I remember that game in particular because I scored a season high of six points.)

Despite all the losing, we had a lot of fun playing. And, by the time the Arimo Mafia were seniors, we were actually winning most of our games. (And, as much fun as we had when we were losing, we had even more fun when we were winning.) (It's funny how that works.) But, despite all of our fun and our experience, there was one team we just could never quite beat, and we fell short of the championship.

After high school, I played very little "organized" churchball. "Organized" churchball has scheduled games, keeps score, and, in theory, has referees. (The referees are usually volunteers from a team that isn't playing in that particular game. Having volunteered myself a couple of times, I have a new-found respect for what referees do.) (Now, instead of thinking they miss every call, I just think they miss most of them.)

Instead of "organized" churchball, I mostly played just-a-bunch-of-guys-getting-together churchball. This consisted of (you guessed it) just a bunch of guys getting together to play basketball, usually two or three times a week for an hour or so, early in the morning; or for a couple of hours late on a weeknight. We would play in church gyms, and between six and fifteen guys would be there for these pick-up games. I was usually not the worst player on the floor. (It is safe to say, however, that I was never the best player.)

It was during these years that the Utah Jazz drafted Greg Ostertag, a 7'2" center out of the University of Kansas. As Ostertag established himself in the NBA, the parallels between his game and my game became more and more apparent. Ostertag's biggest asset was his size. The same for me. (By this point I stood 6'2" and around 220 pounds.) Ostertag's biggest weakness was his lack of speed and coordination on the offensive end. The same for me. Ostertag would occasionally have a really good game, the kind that made people think, "If he played like that every night, he could be a really good player." The same for me. Ostertag didn't have those type of games very often. Neither did I.

Enhancing the Ostertag/Slow Joe similarities was the fact that in the late 1990s I decided I would try a flat top haircut style. I did this mostly because I thought my Dad looked good with a flat top back in the 1950s. I wanted to look like my Dad. Or possibly like football player/broadcaster Howie Long. Instead, I ended up looking like Greg Ostertag. (Sadly enough, neither Greg Ostertag nor I are as handsome as either my Dad or Howie Long.)

My Dad (Rocking the flat top.)

Howie Long (I didn't look like him, either.)

Ostertag (Yup, that's about right.)
Me (Definitely more Ostertag than Dad or Howie.)

Eventually as I got older I got even slower. And it was getting harder to find pick-up games where I wasn't clearly the worst guy out on the floor. One night, while in my late-30's, I found myself at a pick-up game with 22 other guys, mostly in their 20's, and all of whom much quicker than me. Suddenly, the pressure to win was much higher than usual. (We played five-on-five, with the winning five staying on the court. With 23 guys there it meant if your team lost you would have to sit out two or three games before getting back on the court.) My age, speed, and general Ostertag-ishness made me a liability. That night I knew it was time for Churchball Ostertag to hang up his cleats high-tops.

I didn't play basketball for several years. Then, about four years ago, they announced at church that they were trying to get some just-a-bunch-of-guys-getting-together churchball going a couple of mornings a week, but they were having trouble getting enough guys to show up. I still liked the idea of playing basketball, and I figured that playing with a bunch of older-ish dads would be a bit less stressful than the last time I had played.

So, I found some shorts and some shoes and went to the church house at 5:30 on the morning to play some basketball. The game started, and after the very first shot I dove for the rebound. The only problems with diving for the rebound were: 1) I was about twenty feet away from the ball when I dove for it; and B) I didn't actually intend to dive. (My body was telling me that it had gotten used to the seven years of my sedentary, non-basketball-playing lifestyle.) (It also probably didn't help that by this time I was up to about 265 pounds.)

It didn't take me long, though, to get to the point where I didn't fall down every time I tried for a rebound. I've really been enjoying playing basketball again these last few years. Of the regulars (and irregulars) who show up twice a week at 5:30 in the morning, there is one guy who is older than me, and a couple of guys who are bigger than me. (Not fatter than me, just bigger than me.) But don't worry, there is no one slower than me. I've come to grips with the fact that quite often I am the worst player there. But, occasionally I'm not.

In fact, I enjoyed playing so much that I actually started playing "organized" churchball again. I played a few games the last two or three years. Mostly I show up just to make sure the team has enough guys to field a team.

This year, our team was very, very good, not losing a single game. We had a lot of good, young players. By the time the last game of the season came around, I knew they didn't need me, and would probably be better without me. But, selfishly, I showed up anyway. I wanted one last hurrah for Churchball Ostertag.

It was the third game I had played this year, and I hadn't scored a single point. I wanted to make one last basket before retiring. I played a little in the first half, but no opportunities to take a shot presented themselves. I quickly got winded and went back to the bench. By halftime we ("we" meaning the other guys on my team) were ahead by close to twenty points.

Like most old, fat, lazy, out of shape players, I spent most of my time on the offensive end hanging out at the three-point line, looking for a chance at an open shot. They had me start the second half, and in a few minutes my opportunity arrived. I can't even remember how the play set itself up, only that I ended up with the ball, wide open at the three-point line. I didn't even think, I just shot it. Usually, those are the best kind of shots, the ones you take in the rhythm of the game without thinking. It felt good as I let it go, and it was. It was a beautiful, perfect shot, hitting nothing but the bottom of the net!

I tried to act like this was something that happened often, but as I ran back down the court to play defense, I believe I actually said out loud, "Now I can retire in peace." It was the perfect way to end my playing career. I figured to go to the bench and sit the rest of the game.

But, before there was a stoppage of play that would allow for a substitution to come in for me, my laziness at spotting up at the three-point line paid off again. I got the ball and was wide open. Again. I thought about it, got a little greedy, and decided I'd like to go out making two in a row. Of course, that's not what happened. I missed badly. (I did, thankfully, manage to at least graze the rim.)

I made sure I didn't attempt another shot before I could get out of the game. I went to the bench, satisfied with shooting 50% from three-point range for the game. With the help of my "crucial" three-point shot, our team managed to eke out a win. (I'm not sure what the final score was, but the last time I noticed we were ahead 81-47.)

And so ends the career of Churchball Ostertag. Oh, I'll still go play in the mornings with the guys when my work (and sleep) schedule permits. (And as long as my legs don't go out on me.) But I am officially done playing "organized" churchball. I'm 46 years old. It's time to leave the "real" games to the younger guys. Churchball Ostertag has shot his last shot, grabbed his last rebound, and clogged his last lane. (Unless, of course, Churchball Ostertag has a bit of Churchball Brett Favre in him and he decides to come out of retirement.)