Sunday, June 25, 2006

Spork and Basketball

I should probably start saying next time instead of next week, just as a safeguard. I had been doing better, but I am training a new hire this week, which is time-consuming, but the real problem is that the rest of the world does not stand still while you are doing that. I expect things to be more under control after this week.

While in the midst of this fame series, I was thinking how it is kind of sad that as many musicians as I have hung out with at various times, it is sad that none of them are on the most famous list. The fun surprise from it is that I have been working on and off with one band member without ever making the connection (Hi, Kurt!), but I had only talked to him two or three times back then, so it does not make me a total space case.

I understand that college (and high school) bands are not a rigid construct, with names and members changing on a regular basis (The Juice Factory? What happened to Red Shift?), so maybe that lack of stability decreases the likelihood of making it big. Still, these guys were talented, skilled, often good-looking, and made for some memorable times. So, it makes me feel pessimistic for the future of Bobby West, recently discovered outside Pioneer Place, and he just has a great voice. It also begs the question, why can’t they ever come up with a decent opening act at the Crystal Ballroom?

Anyway, I just want to give a shout-out to Mike Johnson, John Sabol, Darren Joye, and Andrew Diamond. I hope you are still making music, even if you are not making money at it.

Moving right along, another thing that occurred to me is that of the current three top contenders (Pappy Boyington, Wynton Marsalis, and Kelly Packard) along with this week’s subject, Terrell Brandon, there is not really a clear contender for most famous. There could easily be many people who would recognize one name, but not the others, depending on their areas of interest. I am leaning towards Wynton being the best known, but I could be wrong.

I did not meet Terrell until college, but I was well aware of him in high school. Through a string of events that will probably be recounted some other day, I managed my high school’s men’s basketball team for three years. Although we were Metro League, we always had a few games versus PIL teams, and you’re aware of what’s going on with them because it affects playoffs.

Anyway, he was just a phenomenal player, and I admired him even more because he was also the state triple jump champion. I mean, I don’t get triple jump as an event, but still, given the level at which he played basketball that he still competed in another sport and season, and excelled at it, was cool. He was the state athlete of the year that year, and it was like, of course, who else even comes close?

He was not the only high school standout that I saw play in college, or the only college player that went on to the NBA. Of the rest, the most famous would definitely be Damon Stoudamire. I first saw him the year we (Aloha High School) made it into the Final Four. Wilson was the team that knocked us out, going on to beat Beaverton for the state championship.

I was amazed at how young he looked. Aloha did not even have freshmen then (it is a four year school now, but when I was growing up, 9th grade was the last year of junior high), and varsity teams were still usually mostly seniors and maybe some really good juniors. So here was this child, basically, who was also remarkably short, and he’s playing with the big boys. He had the chops to back it up though. My main memory of him was that he just exuded cockiness, but maybe it was necessary to compensate for his size.

Anyway, his cousin Antoine played at Jesuit, which was also in the Metro League, and then played for University of Oregon. Jordy Lyden played for Beaverton (the afore-mentioned number two team for that year), and also went on to University of Oregon. The most exciting and terrifying game I ever saw was our home game against Beaverton that year. I think the final score was 33-32, it might have even been 36-35, but it was just ridiculously low for basketball. That’s a football score. The defense was so heavy and the competition was so intense that every point earned just took blood. We won, and it was probably as close to perfect play as we ever came, but the knots in the stomach you have watching that. Yikes!

Also, I should mention that the Aaron who was not a drug dealer played for Aloha and U of O both, though we did not overlap very much due to the time we took off to serve missions. He was how I ended up meeting most of the guys there, though not quite directly (that’s another long story, if not two or three long stories).

So most of these guys were Ducks anyway. Damon was a Wildcat in college, and they were on the Pac-10 schedule, but again with the mission I don’t think I saw him play more than once or twice. For anyone wondering about famous Beavers, Gary Payton was drafted the year before I started college, and I only have very vague memories of Brent Barry. They were really all just the opposing team unless I had high school memories of them.

I don’t really approve of drafting high school players into the NBA, but I can see how it happens because these NBA-caliber types display it really early. Damon was short and young and cocky, but you would have been crazy not to play him because of what he could do.

Terrell was just great to watch. He had great moves, and class, and it was accompanied by a sense of fun. He loved to play and we loved to watch him play. People would tell stories about things he had done in games years later.

The only person that was really comparable for me was Jordy Lyden. There was something about the way he played too. He ended up getting an injury while I was gone, and it appeared to set him back some. I don’t know if he would have made the NBA without the injury, but I wouldn’t have been surprised. As it is, the last time I spoke to him he was playing Australian ball. Hey, it’s still pro.

(I need to give another shout-out here to John Mitchell, a walk-on who ended up on the Ducks. He was not at that level necessarily, but I loved watching him play. He was just so scrappy. I’m sorry I can’t qualify these descriptions, maybe it’s just that I don’t know enough about sports, but sometimes there is magic, and I appreciate it when I see it.)

So, one of those long stories is that my senior prom date was a U of O basketball player, and although it was highly platonic I did got to see him when I started college, and gradually met other players, and because it was a deeply ingrained habit in me to do things for and be supportive of men’s basketball teams, I sort of became kind of a booster/groupie for them. It basically involved baking and signs, and some appreciated it a lot, and some I became closer to than others, but I am pretty sure it sounds weird here. Still, if I let that hold me back…

Anyway, I did not become particularly close to Terrell. He lived off campus, which really affects whom you see, and he was really busy that year, which would end up being his last year in the NCAA. However, he was always very warm and courteous. His mother would come into the Burlington Coat Factory where I worked during vacations from time to time, and she was always similarly wonderful. It was no surprise when I heard that she was starting an NBA mother’s group for when players in whatever city might need some mothering. Of course she would do that. And that Terrell has worked to reinvigorate local business and build the community, of course. They’re like that. He may not have had as many commercial endorsements as some, and there were injury issues, but he had to All-Star games, Sports Illustrated voted him the best point guard in the game, and his post-basketball career looks like it will do him a lot of credit.

Anyway, this whole basketball thing was responsible for my two closest brushes with fame (plus one brush with school notoriety, again, some other time). The first one was when we were in the final four, and female managers were rare, so local newscaster Carl Click interviewed me, and it aired on a very cheesy segment of local news where I pretty much hated how I looked and sounded. I didn’t feel free to be as interesting as I would have liked. For example, he asked what the hardest aspect of my job was. The real answer would probably have been to explain that for a short time the guys had decided to change into their practice clothes in the gym instead of the locker room, which occurred while I was sweeping it, and then it became fun to see if they could get me to look. (No.) I believe that was discontinued when the coaches noticed packs of girls outside the gym before practice, peeking through the very small windows in the doors. I didn’t think I should admit that, so I just said it would sometimes get very hectic when everything was happening at once.

The second brush involves Terrell directly, so that is how I will close.

My first year in school was his third year, but as the season ended there was a lot of speculation that he would go up for the draft that year. He wasn’t commenting, but I felt that the longer he waited, the more likely he was to stay. When the press conference was finally called, I knew immediately that he was going, and yes, he was.

I will get in a final brag here and mention that I made a very close prediction on where he would get taken. I thought he would go at number eight, and he ended up being eleven. (Basically, I thought the Clippers would take him because they needed a guard, but then they traded their draft pick, so the Cavaliers took him. Still, I was closer than anyone else I know.)

So, he makes the announcement, and people meet and greet, and as I go to say congratulations he pulls me in to a side hug and our picture is snapped. I don’t remember noticing the snap, but later this guy asked me my name and relationship to Terrell, to which I said just friends.

Well, that picture ended up being about half of the front page of the Daily Emerald the next day. I can’t remember for sure if Coach Monson or Mr. Brandon were at the conference (Coach probably was), but I know his mother was there, at least two teammates were there, and their manager was there, and any one of those would have made more sense for the cover picture. And yet it was me, looking like his girlfriend, and also looking larger and chestier than was absolutely necessary, due to an unfortunate camera angle. I kept the paper for a while, but I eventually tossed it because I hated so much that it was the wrong picture and the way I looked.

That was the last time I saw Terrell. I saw his mother at least once again, and she gave me one of his rookie cards, signed, which I still have.

That next morning I was in a van with a group headed to the state capitol to observe some budget talks about school funding. It was actually a really good day to be out of town. I did get some ribbing later, but it was not like I spent the day walking past people reading it. The picture did make quite a sensation in the van, but there was also elation at the second half of the page, which we will explore more next week with the sordid history of campus political scandal.

Monday, June 12, 2006

My Weekend With A Baywatch Babe

No, it won’t be as spicy as the title suggests.

Last week I threw out a bunch of brief encounters, but I do have some more in-depth ones. Please understand, the purpose of this is not to brag. Meeting a somewhat famous person would be a silly thing to brag about anyway. For me it is interesting to go over because every event has a lot of other memories with it, and that is kind of fun.

In addition, I hope readers will think back and remember their own encounters, so that when you get asked, “Who is the most famous person you have ever met?” you will be able to answer right away, and have their own interesting memories. While I think it might be too much to say that the unexamined life is not worth living, I know you get more out of the examined one.

That being said, the part about how I have never stalked any of them was bragging.

Anyway, while I was on my mission in Modesto, one of the families I got to know was good friends with Kelly Packard, as she was very close friends with one of their daughters and basically a part of the family. I met her once when she was visiting them, and she was really nice. I am afraid I had never heard of the show she was working on at the time, “California Dreams”, but it had just started the year before and I hadn’t really been watching much television that year between school and work. I did catch an episode later, after I was home. It was kind of in the same vein as “Saved by the Bell”, only about a band instead of high school.

I didn’t think much about it beyond that. I finished my mission, went home, and after working for a while returned to school. Fall term of my senior year, I signed up to try out for the “Jeopardy”college tournament, and my tryout was going to be in Los Angeles. Hoping to reduce expenses and not be completely alone and vulnerable, I approached Sister Seamons to see if maybe I could contact Kelly and see about staying with her. She thought it was a great idea, and put us in touch, and we were all set.

I didn’t realize that she lived in Valencia, and started to feel like I was going to be a very inconvenient guest, but we basically met halfway. I flew into LAX, and then took a ground shuttle to Burbank, where she and her boyfriend picked me up and we went back to her place. They were going to go to see “Ace Ventura 2” and I could have gone with them, but this was before I could stand Jim Carrey (I will never watch “Dumb and Dumber”, regardless.). I stayed at her place and watched “Stargate” on TV.

The next morning she drove me to the studio in LA, picking up her costar Jennie Kwan on the way, and they visited while I took the test. I called them when I was ready and we went back to her place, Kelly and I met up with her boyfriend again for church, and later that evening back to Burbank where I took the shuttle to LAX again, doing everything in reverse order.

Kelly was a wonderful hostess, but I do not feel like I was a great guest, that maybe I was too stiff and uncomfortable to be really warm and friendly. Naturally, I also did not pass the tryout, which is a bummer because I have always wanted to go on “Jeopardy”.

I suppose part of the problem was my naturally low self-esteem and occasional shyness. I can be bold, but sometimes it is really hard. A friend once talked about sitting for a socially awkward dog, and I felt like that was a perfect description of me. Except when I said that she explained that his awkwardness manifested itself as inappropriate peeing, and I have never had a problem with that. I’m a lot more secure in myself now, but this was over ten years ago. Naturally I was anxious about the tryout, as would be expected.

I was also obsessing over a boy who was living in California, wondering if I could see him, or talk to him, and in a move that still makes me wince over a decade later, I faked a wrong number to talk to him a little before the trip.

These are all fairly typical, but were not my worst problems at the time.

About three weeks before the trip, my mother called me crying because my father had walked out. It had not been a good marriage for a long time, and he had not been a good husband for a lot longer, but it still hurts and it was done in a cruel way, and as I listened to her crying I felt utterly helpless. The first time I would be able to get home and see anyone at all was that weekend, and so I could not be there to help them. Also, it was midterms, and I did not see how I could get through that.

A few days before the trip, one of my dorm’s resident assistant’s Frank, and his friend Michael went hiking and never came back. They were both experienced climbers, but a storm came up and in addition to probably contributing to their misfortune, it definitely hampered the search efforts. As I was leaving, it was right at the point where you know they are probably dead, but can’t quite give up, and I sensed that the giving up point would come while I was gone, and I did not feel good about that. But I had already payed for the plane and bus tickets, and it was going to be my first chance to see my mother and sisters since everything had happened, so I went.

I guess sometimes the best you can do is not visibly be a basket case, and I like to think I achieved that.

Better times were ahead. Although my father’s departure changed a lot of things, most of them were really for the better. I not only survived midterms but made Dean’s List that quarter (after trying and failing for my entire college career, I got it then and that spring term). My mother and younger sisters and I took a wonderful vacation that spring, too, that we really needed. However, Kelly and I did not become best friends forever, and not because of anything wrong on her end.

Nonetheless, I am glad to see that she is still working. I admit I have never seen one of her Baywatch episodes, either, so all I have really seen her on is when she was a guest on Arsenio Hall, but do you know how much television is out there? I can’t watch it all, and my not watching something is not necessarily a comment on the quality of the show or the cast. Also, as mentioned previously, I rarely try and take control of the remote. It’s just easier that way.
Next week: Sports!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Semi-Close Encounters

Before I start, I’d like to say that I love getting comments, and I always felt that as long as it did not use offensive language or reveal my secret identity, I would publish any comment. I mean, I allowed the post on people having four dogs being crazy, and I certainly don’t agree with that.

Anyway, I found a new exception. I had two comments tonight and one was a page long discourse on karma. I’m sorry, that’s just too long. It’s not that I don’t believe in Buddhism; I don't, but that doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of the karmic exploration in "My Name is Earl". It’s not that I didn’t get the connection (maybe because I felt good about pulling Jason’s hair?). No, it was just too long. A comment should be no more than a few sentences. However, if you have your own blog with a relevant topic, I might be up to posting a link.

Now that we have that settled, it also occurs to me that a throwaway reference in the Bodyguard could have led to one of three different reactions:

“I knew Melissa because she was dating Aaron, who had the locker next to mine and whom I liked, even though he was a year younger than me and a drug dealer.”

1. (For those who knew me then.) Either “I remember him!” or “I don’t remember him.”

2. (For those who knew me in high school.) Aaron was a drug dealer?

3. (For those who met me later.) You liked a drug dealer?

And yes, I like liked him, not just liked him. For the first group, hey, if you want to wax nostalgic, give me a call. I liked a lot of boys in ninth grade—this could last for hours!

Second group, obviously it was not that Aaron. I mean, it’s no Kevin, Scott, or Jason, but I have known several Aarons.

Third, of course I did. His parents didn’t pay him very much attention, and it seemed obvious to me that his girlfriend only liked him for the things he bought her, and that he did not realize it. He easily had my sympathy that way, and since he was good-looking it was a shoo-in. Please refer back to “I liked a lot of boys in ninth grade.”

At this point, some of you may have words like co-dependent, over-function, and obvious self-esteem issues going through your mind now. What can I say? You’re absolutely right, at least in that context. I have grown quite a bit since then. We could do a multi-part series on my romantic history, and it may happen at some time (the horror!), but this is not that time.

Part of my over functioning is that I do like to get other people together, and so I have developed a matchmaking program, and I am always looking for new getting to know you questions and things like that.

One that has always stymied me is “Who is the most famous person you have ever met?”

When put on the spot, I go blank, and can only think of really lame things like when both gubernatorial candidates came to speak to us at Girl’s State (not because of that, but because of their existing positions), or that cousin of the Jets or the Marie Osmond’s ex-nanny. Maybe it was the time I helped Alaa Abdelnaby (former Trail Blazer, back when I liked them) get backstage entrance into the Memorial Coliseum and hitchhiked past security with him. Couldn’t I do better than that?

As it happens, I can. This will be a three part series on my encounters with the famous, maybe not so rich, and writing about them will burn the incidents into my memory so that I will be able to answer when asked.

The first two will just be brief encounters in autograph lines so I will treat them in the same posting. The first one occurred when I was about ten.

Most of my family is really into airplanes, and I spent a lot of time being dragged to air shows. I am afraid they bored me. Essentially, you are sitting in the hot sun waiting for planes to fly by, and no matter how big the name is and how flashy they are, there is a certain sameness to them.

At one show, Pappy Boyington happened to be there, and you could get his autograph. We did watch “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, so I knew the name, and it was kind of amazing to me that he was there. This was someone out of history, and even though World War II isn’t really that long ago (even more so twenty-two years ago) I was impressed. I did not know he was from Washington (I’m pretty sure this was at Painefield in Everett) so it was just really cool and I was determined to get his autograph.

Unfortunately, I did not have anything good for him to autograph, so I waited in line with a pretty pathetic scrap of paper. When I got up there he and his wife were really nice and they thought they could do better than that. They rummaged around and came up with a copy of the poem “High Flight” with a picture of clouds and a plane, and he autographed that for me.

Well of course he completely won my heart right there and then. For all I know, he had a whole box of the poems, but it didn’t matter. They extended themselves for this insignificant kid, and it made me feel great. And it is such a great poem too. I had never heard of it before, but it became one of my favorites, on its own merits and because of the memory.

The next event happened in college. One thing that was wonderful about college was that there are always guest speakers and symposia and all sorts of things going on that you could attend. Cultural critic and essayist Stanley Crouch came for one presentation on campus, and then he had a separate appearance with Wynton Marsalis at the Hult Center where they were doing sort of a panel discussion. Wynton also was going to be doing a concert on another night, but there was a charge for the concert and the discussion was free. I could usually only go to free things.

Anyway, I attended, and afterwards you could talk to them and get autographs, and I had brought a flyer from campus that mentioned both events but had a picture of Stanley. It just worked out that the line got me to Wynton first, and I guess he had not seen the flyer from anything else because he laughed and said, “Stanley, she’s got your picture.”

I suppose in most cases, Wynton would be the headliner, but that’s just how it worked out. Anyway, they were both great as well, and the discussions were interesting.

I do have some closer encounters with even more famous people, but I will just throw out some more shameless name-dropping. As to people you would only know because of church, I have met Jacob De Jager, Jeffrey R. Holland, Joseph B. Wirthlin, Gary Bednar, Mary Ellen Edmunds, Kenneth Cope, and John Bytheway.

From college, I also listened to Ken Kesey introduce Jerry Brown at a political rally, and after attending a couple of events with Emery Barnes, I interviewed him for the history department newsletter. I had an alumni column, and he was a U of O history major. When he came to speak he was one of the first black politicians elected to Canadian legislative office, as well as the first popularly elected speaker of the house.

On the local scene, I once sat in front of Vera Katz at the ballet, and behind Jonathan Nicholas, local columnist, at the Drammys. Two guys I know from high school, Ted Douglass and Andy Buzan founded a local comedy troupe and have appeared in commercials. At Tony & Tina’s Wedding, Tony kissed me on the cheek.

Finally, those two candidates were Barbara Roberts, who became Oregon’s first woman governor, and Dave Frohnmayer, who became president of the University of Oregon so I saw him on campus all the time.

And I would just like to go on the record as saying I have never stalked any of them.