The first time I heard it was last month in Moraga, Calif., while watching St. Mary's dismantle Jackson State. It was from a middle-aged man seated just to my right, the one who had just berated the poor young lady usher for making him and his wife take the long way to his seat so as to not block our views while they went.
"So I can remember what happened during the game," I replied. It was a truthful, though incomplete, answer. Despite my many talents, a decent memory remains something I lack. As for the rest of the story, I didn't want explain I'm writing for a website he most likely care about, which I figured due to the fact he had no idea where Jackson State was. Also, I had made a written note of just how much of an a-hole he was to the usher, so I cut the conversation short.
The next time I heard it was in Macomb, Ill., just before the second half of the South Dakota-Western Illinois game started.
"So, are you a writer or something?" asked another middle-aged gentleman sitting just to my right with his wife and college-aged son.
"Uh, yeah, you could say that," was my reply this time. This stranger seemed much more friendly, and we carried on a 10-minute conversation discussing what I was doing. I said I'm a writer for a college basketball website, traveling to games around the Midwest and writing about them. And I guess that's correct too, but I almost felt like I made it too official. Sometimes I wonder if those of us taking on this endeavor think we are writers who are fans, or fans who are writers.
I tried to explain how what I'm doing is more a hobby as opposed to a job. Regardless of my uncertain explanation, he seemed interested in it, and he wished me well on my travels as he left after the game.
I had my notebook in hand as I walked into JQH Arena for my first Missouri Valley matchup of the season. My notes are actually kind of simple. I write down anything that catches my interest and keep a running score of the game.
It's in a code I developed logging games I'd watch when I was a sports producer for my college TV station. I needed an easy way to find highlights to edit together for our newscasts. It's not very high-tech or secretive, but I understand it, so it works.
As for the notes from this night's game, it shows the Bears led wire-to-wire thanks to Missouri State attacking Southern Illinois' soft interior, scoring either by lay-ups or on free throws. Lots of L's on my sheet show just how effective Missouri State broke to the basket.
It also has the phrase "Zombie Corpse."
At halftime, a local dance troupe came out dressed in full zombie style and, as expected, performed the dance made famous in Michael Jackson's "Thriller." While I find myself very much in the throes of Zombie Fatigue at this point, this group made it somewhat entertaining.
The second half started with the Salukis turning up the defensive heat on Missouri State, and taking full advantage of the turnovers it forced. Within three minutes, the Bears lead had shrunk to just two. But the defending regular-season MVC champs quickly regrouped and extended their lead back to double digits in short order.
Late in the second half, an older man sitting behind me leaned in and asked me, "Are you keeping stats on this game?"
I told him I was just keeping track of the score, not so much individual statistics. Again, it was a truthful, but incomplete answer.
"Oh, OK," the man replied, somewhat disappointed I couldn't give him the information he needed. "My wife and I thought you might be a scout from another team."
That was a new one. I assured him I was not, then went back to watching the Bears seal up a win as Anthony Downing made nine of ten free throws in the last 73 seconds, each make dutifully marked as a X in my notes.
As the final horn sounded, I closed up my notebook and made my way to my car. As I drove back to St. Louis, I wondered again about my role in this project: a writer, a contributor, or maybe a fan who's willing to go farther than most to pursue his passion. That's something I have to remember as I keep going through this beautiful season.