Jennifer, The Writer

 

20131114_073801

It’s tedious wading through her extravagant art. She’s a big small town writer, you know, the kind you read about in alternative weeklies North of here.

Her fancy words are as close as I’m ever gonna get, her words at arm’s length from the friendship I feel. Blasphemous words about everybody else, so she can’t see I’m drowning in the depths she’s wrought out of both of us. These useless words lay between us, a footnote in her life while I bled from the bottom up.

She’s beautiful to the world, a smooth and cold, ancient statue. To the touch, she burns the silver that comes out of mercury-filled thermometers. The one that always measured the days between my childhood and death.

Was I merely a projection of her many failed character projects? She left before I could ask.

Advertisements

From defeated to undefeated: Spokane Hoopfest gives my son his life back

Two years ago, my son James was in the ER of the very hospital that now sponsored his Hoopfest bracket on a sunny June 25 morning. What a fortuitous coincidence, I thought, as my husband and I cheered on his team, the Frito Layups, toward undefeated victory in Bracket 216 on the last weekend of June.

Comprised of two friends from his Select soccer team in Mukilteo and one new friend from North Spokane, the Frito Layups made history that weekend, rising out of a 16-team (recreational) bracket to win the finals.

We saw gritty hand-to-hand combat, seamless teamwork, unstoppable drives to the net, ferocious defense (my son!), a shoving incident that necessitated a ref lecture, and one perfect, two-point shot that dropped in for a dramatic tie-breaker to send the team to the finals, which they easily won.

DSC_0076

After the finals win that second day of the “biggest 3×3 outdoor basketball tournament on earth,” we gathered around the winning team, took a million cell phone shots, and watched the boys do celebratory push-ups at Spokane Riverfront Park’s water fountain in the 90-degree heat, blissfully happy.

Three of the Frito Layups were returning members. They played in the Spokane Hoopfest for many years, since they were little, yet they never won the whole thing. They came close, semis from the double-elimination losers bracket.

By happenstance, the fourth guy on the team couldn’t make Hoopfest this year, because of a school-related field trip to D.C. So they asked my son, who had already played in the finals of his Olympic View Middle School’s 3×3 tournament and finished second overall. James had never played Select basketball, although he did serve as a defensive specialist for his school’s team two seasons in a row, so the team registered in the recreational division.

It was both James’ and the team’s first Hoopfest win. After they received their winning t-shirts and held up the final bracket poster, they turned to James and basically said, “You’re a permanent member.”

A lot has changed in two years.

We love Spokane. We’ve visited the city before for a Select baseball tournament our son was in. We fell in love with the quirky but friendly people, the retro vibe, and the ubiquitous burger joints.

For Thanksgiving 2014, we thought Spokane would make a relaxing five-day getaway from the trauma of enduring back-to-back ER trips for our poor son.

Unfortunately, we didn’t do much relaxing. It was the worst time of our lives as we watched our son struggle to breathe, try to sleep sitting up in his pull-out bed in the hotel, and turn blue as we raced him to another ER.

We spent most of our Thanksgiving break in the Emergency Room at Spokane’s Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital. Our then-12-year-old son had suffered his fifth and worst asthma attack on Thanksgiving Day, right after a but-gusting, all-you-can-eat buffet at the Golden Corral on N. Division. He’d already been rushed to the ER at Seattle Children’s Hospital and a walk-in clinic closer to home four previous times following his first Flu-Mist at the end of Sept., and subsequently, a nearly month-long bout of coughing and trouble breathing.

DSC_0142

Doctors at the Seattle Children’s Hospital couldn’t understand how James could have asthma at his age when he’d never shown signs of the respiratory disease before. Treating him took six months of trial and error on various controller medications before his Pulmonary doctor put him on Symbicort in May of last year. His asthma has been under control ever since.

I remember how scared and worse, defeated and weak, my son felt that terrible day. How compassionate and caring the staff was. (The doctor on-call routinely drove over from Western Washington every other week to help out, he told us, like a one-man M.A.S.H. unit.) How one nurse, originally from Pennsylvania, gave us tips as a fellow asthmatic on beefing up his immune system with Vitamin D and reading the peak flow meter at home. How we wound up at a forgettable Mexican restaurant up on Division, completely sleep-deprived, before picking up yet another round of the dreaded Prednisone from Walgreens. How we would later half-heartedly watch downtown Spokane’s River Park Square light up for the holidays, thinking this nightmare would never end.

But miraculously, it did, at a spectacular, unexpected two-day event in Spokane. As my husband and I walked around gawking at all the basketball going on, we also took note of all the places we’d been before under different circumstances, with a cloud over our heads.

On June 25-26, those clouds disappeared in the most spectacular way, as Spokane inadvertently gave our son his life back.

DSC_0275
Frito Layups win their first Hoopfest!

We came full circle for two exciting days at this year’s Spokane Hoopfest, featuring over 7,000 teams playing 3×3 basketball on 450 courts. Organizers once again shut down 42 city blocks of downtown Spokane, so that 27,000 some odd people — grade schoolers, college kids, and co-eds, moms, coaches, and war heroes — from as far as Hawaii and Kansas could play half-court in and out of costume.

Co-founders Rick Betts and Jerry Schmidt set up the first Spokane Hoopfest in 1990, with proceeds benefitting the Special Olympics. Ever since, the Spokane Hoopfest Association has raised over $1.6 million for worthy causes like Special Olympics and other youth sports programs. The money from this tournament — held on the last weekend of June — has also gone to fixing up or building outdoor basketball courts for area neighborhoods to enjoy.

Was it a coincidence that the very hospital that took care of my son two years ago was the same sponsor of his 3×3 basketball bracket, the one he and his team would go on to win?

I’d like to think it was divine providence.

Whether he’s invited back on the Frito Layup team or not, we plan to return to the Spokane 3×3 Tournament next year, because it was so much fun — and for sentimental reasons. We owe a lot to this city.

(This is the second of two essays I submitted for publication in a new sports blog. The essays were rejected. But I thought you might enjoy them on my WordPress.)

Everything I know about soccer I learned from my son

DSC_1140
My son James (right) getting ready to kick some ass and look dope doing it.

My only experience with soccer was at a Fourth of July festival in Ft. Dix, summer of 1977. I won a stop sign pillow after kicking a ball — probably incorrectly, with the top of my big toe — past a lumbering, middle-aged goalkeeper from about 10 feet away. I was almost 13, a year younger than my son is now.

My sport of choice had always been basketball, because of my father, a championship-winning coach. I played forward with the ferociousness of a pit bull and the rebounding finesse of Chicago Bull’s Dennis Rodman. I actually led my team in steals. Those were the days.

My soccer-obsessed son James introduced me to soccer at a fairly late age for kids nowadays, eight years old. We started with rec, then got serious with Select for three of his middle school years, and now we’ve moved up to Premier after a drama-filled, life-and-death tryouts week back in May.

I always found watching professional soccer a bit pointless, a bunch of players kicking the ball around, never getting near the goal, someone always rolling around on the ground, screaming in agony, waiting for that precious yellow card from the ref, only to pop up bright and bushy-tailed again, like nothing happened. And, PKs? What’s that about? Just play the game.

You never have NBA players deciding on a tie-breaker by going around shooting free throws. (Although relying on the three-point system seems a tad lazy by my standards.)

Eventually, with my son’s coaching (translation: reading me the riot act in front of other soccer parents), I learned to behave properly. I don’t yell at the refs for mistakenly calling offsides, or the other players for getting a little rough nearly as much. I’ve reduced the verbal confrontations with parents from the opposing teams by at least half. And I even understand, appreciate the rules of the game better so I could obsess over the 2016 Copa América and UEFA Euro championships like a real fan should.

Any soccer mom worth her weight in Gatorade should watch these matches faithfully, maybe even take notes to her child’s next summer soccer tourney. Youth soccer players aren’t the only ones committing these annoying, confounding mistakes on the pitch.

The pros do it too!

Argentina’s only hope of a Copa America championship went over the net during the deciding PK round against a tough Chile team last Sunday. After threading a free kick through a foot-wide square at the top-right corner of U.S. keeper Brad Guzan in the semis, Argentina’s soccer superstar Lionel Messi — considered the best in the world — sent his PK sailing high over Chile’s keeper Claudio Bravo and the crossbar, costing Argentina another close win, its second in two years.

For the ridiculously talented forward, four time’s not the charm. He had already watched Argentina lose before in the finals of championships, four times, three times in a row.

Right after Chile beat Argentina in the Copa America in the 4-2 shootout, the five-time FIFA Player of the Year announced he was done losing. “The national team is over for me,” he said in an interview with Argentine network TyC Sports. “It’s been four finals, it’s not meant for me. I tried. It was the thing I wanted the most, but I couldn’t get it, so I think it’s over.”

My son is a mini-Messi, except for the quitting thing. He’s turned free kicks into PKs, curving the ball over everyone’s heads before unexpectedly dropping in the net at the last second. This little trick came in handy at a Kent Tournament last summer, landing his Select Strikers in the finals. He also pulled the same trick earlier in June in the second to the last game of the Skagit Firecracker Tournament, scoring the only goal for his new Premier Rush team.

Yet, he’s also shanked his fair share of opportunities, often directly in front of the net with nobody there. They all do. I watched the pros do it way too many times.

I also witnessed the pros wasting precious shooting opportunities by messing around with the ball in the goal box instead of crossing, hanging back instead of pressing (USA did this the entire semis against Argentina), missing easy passes, overshooting passes, showboating, ball hogging, the whole nine yards.

When soccer parents freak out because their precious darlings are getting manhandled on the pitch, I just laugh now. Manhandling is commonplace in pro soccer. Oftentimes, the refs look the other way. That elbow to the face, a knee to the groin (classic Chile vs. Argentina), blatant shoving? Happens all the time. Happened at both Copa America and UEFA Euro. It’s happening now between Poland and Portugal in Euro’s quarter-finals, as I write this.

DSC_1083

Every so often, the underdog wins by sheer force of will and hustle, rewarding patient soccer fans who often must sit through an hour and a half of nothing.

England should’ve made short work of the relatively new Iceland team Monday in the UEFA Euro Round of 16. Instead, David beat Goliath, as the Iceland players showed grit, tenacity, and unified skill. Some say England’s terrified players felt the enormous weight of making it this far, and simply choked.

Been there, done that at countless youth rec friendlies and fall season matches. How many times have soccer parents yelled, “Who wants it more? You’re not even trying!” Only these were grown, over-paid men representing England, getting soundly spanked by an unknown, definitely hungry team from Iceland of all places.

Now, when I go to root for my son’s team at the next match, I know better than to expect perfection. I know it’s not easy to move that black and white ball around with 22 players on the pitch, never mind directing it into the net at the right time with the right velocity and the right frame of mind in an actual set piece rather than an easy penalty or a corner hand-out.

It’s the equivalent of threading the eye of a needle in a hurricane, and it’s not easy.

Messi missed an easy PK. Initially, I couldn’t believe it either. Then, I remembered what my son told me after I kept going on about him shanking the ball at every opportunity.

“Mom, you’re running on adrenaline. Sometimes that adrenaline carries you to a goal, sometimes, it makes you miss. Soccer is 90 percent mental.”

I still think soccer can be boring. Did you see Germany and Poland’s June 16 Euro snoozefest?

This is the only sport where you often win by not winning. Portugal just advanced to the finals without scoring one goal in the draw against Poland — for 90 minutes — resorting to a PK shootout to get the job done.

But, if I pretend my son is out there, perhaps as the Italy’s fiery midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini

(This is the first of two essays I submitted for publication in a new sports blog. The essays were rejected. But I thought you might enjoy them on my WordPress.)

Paris, France

July 8, 2016

I’m writing, Tom. Maybe not the kind of writing you imagined for me, a book deal, the next Stephen King — but with lots of hot, organ-shifting perverted sex scenes — but writing’s writing.

This WordPress is my third or fourth attempt at that Great American novel I don’t think I really have in me. I always thought you saw me through the filter of a horny University of Hawaii professor, at odds with his homosexuality and his Pleasantville-meets-hippie marriage to Ms. Wonder Bread. On my good days.

On my bad, I was so sure you confused me for some other sweatpants-wearing fudgebucket fat Asian in Hawaii. We’re cockroaches on a feeding frenzy after Christmas Day.

A lot’s happened since you divorced, survived prostate cancer, tried your secondhand with me, and moved onto whatever the fuck normal people like you move onto. (I’m sure that’s hurt you. And that’s my intention.)

Your e-mails have stayed with me. I found the first few pages, the ones that matter the most, after the debris of yet another altercation, another firestorm, another useless evening spinning my wheels, trying to find one human contact instead of this infernal silence.

You were so deeply fucked up, yet you came the closest to understanding/recognizing me. I hope. Or maybe you’re just good with words, you’re a published writer and all.

I’ll share your first e-mail here. Even though I’m almost fairly sure I’m sharing it with nobody. Writing is like tossing pebbles in a great, big ocean. Everything sinks to the bottom, unseen. People don’t like effort, Tom. But you know that already.

Thanks for trying. Maybe one day, your half-hearted, half-assed efforts will pay off and I’ll be famous. I wouldn’t hold my breath, though. Words, it seems, aren’t very important to people.

winter

Subject: Paris, France

Date: Sat., 11 Jan. 1997

Carol:

I’ve copied “Paris, France” for you and will mail it Monday. It’s yours to keep. I hope you like it.

I woke up yesterday morning with an erection, the first time that’s happened without a shot in a year. It wilted quickly, of course, but it could be an indication of returning potency.

Why don’t you write? Who are you trying to cheat by not writing? The world or yourself?

You are so fucking talented, it bugs me. You’re zeroing in on details perfectly rendered in ways I can’t ever hope to do. I have to rewrite a passage 20 times to get anywhere near it, and it never seems to have the passion that flows out of you. You want to haunt the world? You want to haunt men? Write about it. Be a witness: tell it what it is like to be you in this world. What made me first love you? Was it your poetic prose? Was it your musk? Why do you think there is a difference between the two? The smell of your body and the sound of your words both send shivers into me, into anybody. You always hated your body, and you hid it in oversized jogging pants. Do you hate your words too? Don’t you see why you are so angry? You have something to say and you’re not saying it.

Write a novel. It’s easy. Start with a day. Tell stories and your soul will seep through and last. Seduce the reader, then fuck him, and leave him shaking wondering what fire he just touched. Don’t write a nice story, or a crying game: write about diarrhea, write about periods, write about living in a rabbit hutch having to choose between jealous men. Write about your asshole and force other people to confront pain. Everything you write to me says you’re a person in pain. Well, that’s what a writer is, and she leaves her testimony in a form that outlasts her. Start your book with your father and mother, their fall from grace, your discovery of self and its absences, your smelly cunt and what your fingers could give you to fill up the emptiness. Make people think twice the next time they see some small, slightly tubby Asian woman in shapeless pants moving ahead of them on the sidewalk. Make them feel her otherness, her pain, her beauty — everything denied us if you don’t do this. Move on through days and see how it shapes up. Let the story tell itself. But most of all, always tell the truth. Don’t protect us from the shit running down your legs or the menstrual blood or the fiery anger. Feel free to be repulsive; make us want to confront you. Hatred and lust combined. I hear so many people mouthing cliches about their marriages and their loves and their bodies. Tell us your truth.

Fuck this shit. Write me a novel. Send it to me through e-mail. Seduce me back into your life, fuck me, send shivers through me. Leave your mark on me. I want you to. I don’t want to bemoan our missed chance. I’m suicidal enough as it is. I want a novel that’s as good as fucking you in person. I want to smell you in its pages, bury my face in your cunt and swallow you, impale you with my cock and look into your eyes when I do it. Can you write this? Does your past own you? Your mother? Your self-loathing, your loathing of others? Fuck it all, Carol, get beyond it and write the truth. (I alternate between loving words and insults, just like you, it seems to be the natural rhythm of our dialogue.)

We did not have our chance. We never had our chance. The only way we can really connect is through writing, and it needs to be more than e-mail messages. You need to pour yourself into something that can exist in the world on its own after we are gone. You have everything you need to be a great novelist. Don’t miss this chance to write while I’m still alive.