Ever have one of those months? Not about one of "those
months," not the vague, indefinite bad stretch of luck the phrase usually implies. I am talking about an oddly specific month. Maybe what I really mean is "that
You thought you had everything in line -- planning, good health, infrastructure -- but things keep coming up that nobody could expect. You're operating on a tight enough budget that you can't afford an emergency, and you've already had two. Both of them, unfortunately, have to do with the webhost
you give hundreds of dollars a month to, but it's been taken over by monkeys
. You've spent a good part of the past few weeks issuing refunds to your pay-per-view basketball website. Then you had to take yourself out of commission for four days to move everything, and it took that long because your soon-to-be-former webhost's network was so slow that you had to download the two-gigabyte database in 55 separate sections.
That's only one domino in the stack, though. Your fundraising is sputtering out again, it's like dentistry, and you're trying to find the balance between constant pitching and actually, you know, earning it. You think for a second that it might be the economy, but then you're getting e-mails like this.When ESPN and Fox Sports and 100 websites are giving better midmajor coverage than you are, how can you in good conscience ask for money?
You're resigned to your fate; you know it's not a global conspiracy, just a signal from the world that you've likely run your course and taken the concept as far as it can go. You know your days are numbered, and in your heart, you know what that number is. You have to jump out before the car drives over the cliff, so to speak. You might find a way to fund it yourself, sure, but then it would be all about you, wouldn't it? (Besides, you really, really, oddly and specifically, want to go to the Olympics.)
When the world is collapsing around you, there's always a place you can escape to. You can go back to the place where you started. You can go home.
"Home" is one of the most comforting words in our language. It sounds like the vibrant and resounding "om," which represents a connection to the divine in a number of Eastern religions. Home doesn't have to be where you get your electric bill, especially if you've only been living there for four months. For many of us, home is no longer your hometown. For some of us, home isn't even a house. It can be an obsolete airport hotel that charges $50 a night in rent. Home's only requirement is that the word itself resonates in your heart when you're there.
Home is where you know where the Froot Loops are hidden.
On a Thursday morning in December, cold and wet and grey as a Seattle University road uniform, I drove west along Interstate 70 towards Indianapolis, swung around the wide 465 loop, and took the Sam Jones Parkway exit. When I pulled into the Crowne Plaza Indianapolis Airport
parking lot, it was full. For a second, I was overjoyed -- the place was packed, which meant that business was good. Then I saw the sign.
When things at your hotel are so bad that you have to rent out your parking lot, you're probably having one of "those months."
Inside, the spacious hotel lobby was devoid of travelers. But there were lit-up trees and giant ornaments everywhere.
I recognized the two white-haired ladies from the front desk's morning crew by name, and because they had a computer terminal, they recognized me too. "Mr. Whelliston, staying for three nights? Hmmm.... it appears here that you've been upgraded to a suite."
"Really?" I asked, then paused, waiting for the punchline. "Who did that?"
"It doesn't say," she replied as she handed me the purple key sleeve. "But welcome back, Mr. Whelliston. We hope enjoy your stay with us."
I didn't spend too much time with my two widescreen TV's, dark-wood furniture, red couches and three-mattress bed. I wasn't sure what message the universe was sending me with this. I didn't know if this was some kind of karmic reward for work well done, or if it was actually a way to soften me up. Nothing like soft beds and clean linens to remove an edge that can only be sharpened by hard road miles and bad truck stop biscuits. Comfort is the enemy of progress; I learned that long ago.
Out in the common area, the hotel staff buzzed about as if the place was full. In The Landing restaurant, there was a fully stocked lunch buffet that nobody ate. In the second floor Gallery, Guido, the life-sized plushman who sits at the player piano, was at the keys. He was playing woozy and florid versions of Christmas chestnuts, using runs of 20 notes where four would have done fine. As I sat on a black leather couch near the piano, I swiveled my head around and saw that every corner of the CPIA was decorated. There were red ribbons and fake wrapped presents and shiny ornaments in every corner. Since there was nobody there but me, why had they gone through all the trouble?
In the afternoon, I had a partial answer. The hotel staff put out a giant blue banner for something called the Extreme Wealth Institute; there was a circular logo that incorporated flying dollar bills and a firm handshake grip. According to a placard in the lobby, this was the first day of a three-day "Extreme Wealth Bootcamp."
At 2 p.m. sharp, about 100 or so men in hundred-dollar suits came streaming into the lobby. They all headed for the Symposium, the CPIA's theater-seating meeting room. I saw one of them in the first-floor public bathroom. While we stood simultaneously relieving ourselves at the bank of urinals, he decided to make some pleasant and off-handed conversation.
"You here for the seminar?" he asked.
"Hell no," I managed not to say.
The CPIA was once the four-star option for business travelers on the go, and now it had been reduced to a living infomercial. I retreated to my double-room to contemplate this sad sellout in luxurious silence.
When the sun set, still a jarringly early occurrence at this time of year, I pulled aside the window shades in my suite. I looked out at the Indianapolis skyline, specifically at the block box just to the left, Sports Bubble Stadium. Its white and red lights twinkled happily, like a bloated and subsidized Christmas that never ends. I narrowed my eyes, took a swig from a glass of house Cabernet from the Outer Marker Lounge, and I contemplated how badly the Bubble was beating me now, with American-style football and sportz
and golf star cock.✶ ✶ ✶ ✶
For many sports fans, basketball serves an analogy for life. For some of us, it's the other way around -- life mirrors what we see on the court. Sometimes I think about what a crazy notion that is, and about the leap of idiocy it takes to cross that line to the other side of the metaphor.
After I left the CPIA, I travelled back South, through Kentucky and into Tennessee. A week after the events described above, I found myself at a sparsely-attended game at Nashville's Allen Arena between the host Lipscomb Bisons and the Cougars from Southern Illinois at Edwardsville, a team making its Division I debut and playing its first full top-flight schedule.
The SIU-E players left the floor after the first half bathed in sweat, having given all it was capable of in building a surprising 42-34 lead. What struck me was the lack of emotional anything in this team; they just executed their plays, ran their stuff, and got back on defense. No facial expressions, no screaming, no chest-thumping. It was like a Missouri Valley team writ small.
Unfortunately, this team only had 20 minutes in them. Lipscomb dropped a 18-0 run on them out of the break, busting the game open and ushering most of the crowd towards the exits during the final media timeout, with the Bisons up by 26 points. The whole time, the visiting team in red showed as much sentiment as they had during their productive first half. There were no slumped shoulders, no drawn faces, no exasperated sighs. They just played.
Then, with about a minute to go, a SIU-Edwardsville freshman named LeShaun Murphy caught the ball at the foul line, took two steps, and launched himself from the Atlantic Sun logo. Gaining full elevation and full extension, he sent the ball through the rim with a resounding tomahawk slam.
And then he ran back on defense, as stone-faced as the rest of his teammates had been all evening long.
It was a seminal moment, one that impressed the home crowd with its sheer and raw athleticism. ("Murphy, you're awesome!
" shouted one of the fans in the Lipscomb LUnatics fan section.) It was a moment that was not, however, captured on film as nearly all sports moments are; Atlantic Sun TV still has some difficulties to work out.
But it was also one of the few moments that I've been personally affected and moved by a simple basketball play. It was a situation within a fixed context that didn't need 2,500 words to detail. In short, I knew exactly what LeShaun Murphy meant when he said that, and it's a language that I can't speak myself.
The final buzzer is coming. Clocks are running down for all of us, in large and tiny ways alike, and some of us are lucky enough to see the game clock in the corner of our eye. It's our decision what do do about this. We can whine, we can cower in fear at an unknown future, and we can make excuses. Or we can play hard, until the rules say we can't anymore.Choice Bally Pic of the Moment:
Tonight marks the official beginning of the December holidays; this is when it starts getting serious. So a big Happy Hanukkah to our friends in the Tribe (and we're not talking William & Mary), and a happy generic holiday season of your choosing to the rest of y'all.
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