Moving right along…

Strange weather day… foggy and currently in the 50s, with a chance of severe storms after 10am. It’s very still outside, and except for the occasional car passing below my windows I might as well be the only human awake. I like that in a morning.

Lawrence has had her blowout celebrations for the Jayhawks, wrapping up with Sunday’s parade down Mass Street and up Mt. Oread to Allen Fieldhouse, and now the team, coaches, and support personnel are on a quick tour of the state. After KU won the championship in 2008, that year stands as the school’s highest enrollment mark. Stay tuned, we could see a marked increase again this fall. It’s a good place to be.

Can’t find crowd estimates for the parade yet, but the night we won the championship there were approximately 70,000 people downtown, so we can use our imaginations. And there were only three (3) arrests made that night, mostly minor infractions. This really is a good place to be.

So now we move on… to summer and all the outdoor living we can stand. To walking our buns off. To life here in Free State Kansas… it’s all good.

This thought woke me up today…

Therefore…

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THEY DID IT!!!

Our beloved boys of fallwinterspring grabbed the brass ring and brought it home!! The joy, exuberant spirit, and sheer relief are palpable through the walls and it’s healing to wallow in all of it while it lasts.

Kim and I walked Mass Street around 4pm yesterday and with traffic blocked it was all people, all the time, with hours left until tip-off. The air was full of happy anticipation, with long lines outside venues offering watch parties. We came home, made pizza, as one does in these situations, and watched the game in the relative quiet of our own place, hearts in our throats ’til the final seconds. Simultaneous with the closing buzzer a roar went up from the streets, we tied our tennies on our feet, grabbed sweatshirts, and romped one block west to see it all for ourselves. I’d hedged about doing that since I’m just 3mo post-op after my back surgery, but when it might well be a once-in-a-lifetime thing… no regrets. I took a hiking pole, hung onto Kim, and celebrated. Put my spine in the shelter of a parking meter, held on, and watched the sea of happy humanity parade south, likely only to snake its way back north at some point. It was an exquisite sight.

It was stunning to see how quickly Lawrence converged on downtown, with thousands of students streaming down from The Hill after watching the game in Allen Fieldhouse, and other people hoofing it in from all directions. I sensed no bent toward celebratory destruction, just a happy, thankful, somewhat inebriated vibe. There was a low-key, benevolent police presence, with extra personnel brought in from the KC area for the party, and they seemed part and parcel of the night. They were appropriately industrial-size and sober-faced but friendly and helpful, and registered no concern over the myriad open containers passing under their noses, nor the sweet scent of weed permeating the atmosphere. A very mellow kind of noisy happiness was going on and I’m so glad we didn’t miss it. Neither of us thought to take a selfie to prove we were there… but neither will we ever forget it.

Eighth Street was a party all day, from early to late, and when we walked back home it looked like a brewery had exploded, but I’d put money on the street having been swept and scrubbed before the sun came up this morning, along with Mass and all its tributaries. Lawrence loves to party and knows how, so we get to keep doing it.

The scene on our corner, with our building in the background, while the outcome of the game was still in question…

In the nine years since we moved here, the Royals have won the World Series, the Chiefs the Super Bowl, and now the Jayhawks the National Championship… such a richness of human spirit in a world that could use a bigger share of the wealth. In hard times that won’t quit, there’s something about a group of individuals melding themselves into a team and winning the big prize that takes us out of ourselves. And we love them for it… with their gifts and talents and achingly-perfect forms, they’ve briefly rescued us from the pall of failure, death, weakness, and discouragement. We desperately need our heroes… kudos to the parents who bear and raise them, these beautiful young men and women who are our future.

ROCK CHALK!!

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… and one to go!

There is joy in Mudville this morning, and we’re collectively gearing up for the final round, happening tomorrow night. The bluest of the blue-bloods are duking it out, you see what I did there, and the excitement only builds.

Massachusetts Street yesterday immediately after the game ended… all photos courtesy of the Lawrence Journal World.

******

Party tomorrow night starts at 8:30, win, lose, or draw! Be there!!

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Oh, the finality…

AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR

It’s past noon on Friday and the suspense hasn’t killed us yet, but I do admit to being more than a little elated over the fact that the Jayhawks have reached this point in the annual madness, while the verdict inches ever closer. On this cool sunshiny day, Mass Street is gearing up to shut off traffic during tomorrow’s big party, which will grow exponentially after dark if we win… and wouldn’t it be grand. In the times that try men’s souls, a smidgen of hope goes a long way… a little happiness becomes a lot of it… and spirits rise or fall on the fortunes of our sports icons… so we remember Seabiscuit, and we wait. This was the scene on Massachusetts in 2008, last time KU won the NCAA Championship. Pretty sure everybody’s recovered enough to do it again!

******

Meanwhile, a bit of distraction lifted from my friend Ned Hickson of “Humor at the Speed of Life” fame on Oregon Public Radio…

Ned knows carnivals. I’d trust him with my life.

******

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An almost-spring weekend…

Good morning on an absolutely gorgeous Saturday. It’s still cool out, but temps are heading for the mid-60s by afternoon, the sun’s shining, and something that feels suspiciously akin to joy is rattling around in my heart. Kim made The Breakfast, of course, and it was perfect… of course. He’s been making life as smooth as possible for the past 18 years… and now I can’t possibly thank him enough for never giving up on a fix for the spinal pain… it’s changed everything and given me my life back. There aren’t really words for that.

THIS GUY

I have the world’s best men in my life, and on this day 52 years ago, I gave birth to the absolute best human I know, who affirms along with Kim that I have reason to have existed. Happy Birthday, John Latta. Celebrate everywhere life takes you in the coming year.

Birthday guy at Hot Betty’s for breakfast this morning…

John with hospital co-workers and good friend Lanette, on his right.
Less outnumbered… by one, thx to Mike.
Lisa and her homemade banana pudding cake. That’s a stellar start to a birthday.

Good story to go with the photo above. John says, “There was a group of ladies celebrating a birthday next to us (I thought the birthday girl was in her 20’s, but she’s 46 today!), and I offered her a piece of the cake. Their table went crazy for it, so we had enough left over that they could share in the birthday love.”

******

With a one-sided terroristic war underway, and a psychopath killing as many children as his troops can find, for the sake of shock value, it’s hard sometimes to relax into what’s at hand… the life we’re privileged to live here, at least for now… hard to take joy in the smaller things without being guilt-ridden over it. But the chaos is there and we’re here, and a sanity-based approach to life tells us we can be of no assistance there and very little here. So what’s on tap for today is…

NCAA Basketball Tournament play, starting at 11am with Baylor and UNC, which leaves just enough time for a nice spa soak first. The KU Jayhawks play Creighton at 1:40, our fan-focus of the day, and then it’s endless roundball ’til the sun rises tomorrow, as far as anyone knows. You pick your escapist poison, we’re settled on ours. Which brings up a thought…

Don’t be like Pluto.

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Going mad…

Two memories from the depths of the pandemic… how deadly quiet it got here in East Lawrence, and the absence of sports events on TV. We’d sit on our 4th-floor balcony and talk about how we missed all the walkers, joggers, baby-strollers, and dog-exercisers. Also street traffic, which slowed to nonexistent at times. Sports returned before the outdoor rumble did, and we were like starving refugees, indiscriminately watching every offering. I know some of my theater friends, reading friends, blogging friends might wonder if I actually like watching televised sports or if it’s a way to stay cuddly with Kimmers. Nope, I really mean it, I genuinely get into basketball, tennis, golf, baseball, football. They lose me at auto racing, bowling, soccer, and hockey, but all of it is real people doing real things, so that’s a plus, even if some of them are getting paid outrageous piles of cash for royally entertaining the masses.

DISCLAIMER: The KIMN8R taught me to belch properly, and I’ve learned some choice new language under his instruction, so he has a real buddy to watch ball with… bonus, right?

My earliest memory of “sports” as a thing comes from playing on the living room carpet at my grandparents’ house while Grandpa watched Major League baseball on their little black & white TV. The distinctive cadence of the announcer’s voice, the rumble and roll of the intriguing Hammond B3 accompanying the action, the aroma of Grandpa’s pipe and the crackle of the daily paper as he read it cover to cover before working the crossword puzzle in ink, comforting smells from Grandma’s kitchen… it’s all with me forever. I had the world in those moments… security, love, family, and a sense that there was terrific stuff out there to find out about. So the world of sports, however intense it may be at times, is comfort food to me.

This week the phenomenon that is March Madness gets underway and we’re happy campers. The First Four started it off Tuesday and Wednesday, and tonight at 9pm we’ll see Kansas against Texas Southern if we can stay awake for it. Joke. We’ll be awake.

In a time when joy has been harder to come by, college basketball has helped with the empty feeling. We cheer the Jayhawks every year and talk about them like we knew them, and we follow kids on other teams as we watch them play week by week. When they hit the NBA, we remember them with a silly sense of pride, like we had some part in it. Nothing’s pure, not much is straight-up what it really is, but the world of college ball FEELS different from pro sports, politics, and war… therefore, it’s mostly encouraging and refreshing. Bring on the big ol’ challenges, NCAA… it’s time to DANCE!

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But did you die?

Things… they change. Having taken a step back from the abyss lately, I’ve been dragging my psyche into fewer angst-ridden areas of life, but I’m nevertheless acutely aware of the controversy swirling around Simone Biles and other Million Dollar Babies of the sports world this year, and particularly this week. Apparently some round-headed pretender who likely couldn’t pull the trigger on a chin-up has called Simone Biles “a selfish sociopath” and “a shame to the country” for putting her health and well-being ahead of gold medals. According to Charlie Kirk “We are raising a generation of weak people like Simone Biles.” She’s so embarrassingly weak she does death-defying gymnastic moves nobody else in the world has ever thought of. What a taker.

So hey, if you live through it, no harm done, right? Everything for Mother America. That sounds a little 3rd Reich to me, so I’m giving Byron Heath a guest-essay spot this morning…

*****

This realization I had about Simone Biles is gonna make some people mad, but oh well.

Yesterday I was excited to show my daughters Kerri Strug’s famous one-leg vault. It was a defining Olympic moment that I watched live as a kid, and my girls watched raptly as Strug fell, and then limped back to leap again.

But for some reason I wasn’t as inspired watching it this time. In fact, I felt a little sick. Maybe being a father and teacher has made me soft, but all I could see was how Kerri Strug looked at her coach, Bela Karolyi, with pleading, terrified eyes, while he shouted back “You can do it!” over and over again.

My daughters didn’t cheer when Strug landed her second vault. Instead they frowned in concern as she collapsed in agony and frantic tears.

“Why did she jump again if she was hurt?” one of my girls asked. I made some inane reply about the heart of a champion or Olympic spirit, but in the back of my mind a thought was festering:

*She shouldn’t have jumped again*

The more the thought echoed, the stronger my realization became. Coach Karolyi should have gotten his visibly injured athlete medical help immediately! Now that I have two young daughters in gymnastics, I expect their safety to be the coach’s number one priority. Instead, Bela Karolyi told Strug to vault again. And he got what he wanted; a gold medal that was more important to him than his athlete’s health.

I’m sure people will say “Kerri Strug was a competitor–she WANTED to push through the injury.” That’s probably true. But since the last Olympics we’ve also learned these athletes were put into positions where they could be systematically abused both emotionally and physically, all while being inundated with “win at all costs” messaging. A teenager under those conditions should have been protected, and told “No medal is worth the risk of permanent injury.” In fact, we now know that Strug’s vault wasn’t even necessary to clinch the gold; the U.S. already had an insurmountable lead. Nevertheless, Bela Karolyi told her to vault again according to his own recounting of their conversation:

“I can’t feel my leg,” Strug told Karolyi.

“We got to go one more time,” Karolyi said. “Shake it out.”

“Do I have to do this again?” Strug asked.

“Can you, can you?” Karolyi wanted to know.

“I don’t know yet,” said Strug. “I will do it. I will, I will.”

The injury forced Strug’s retirement at 18 years old. Dominique Moceanu, a generational talent, also retired from injuries shortly after. They were top gymnasts literally pushed to the breaking point, and then put out to pasture. Coach Karolyi and Larry Nassar (the serial sexual abuser) continued their long careers, while the athletes were treated as a disposable resource.

Today Simone Biles–the greatest gymnast of all time–chose to step back from the competition, citing concerns for mental and physical health. I’ve already seen comments and posts about how Biles “failed her country,” “quit on us,” or “can’t be the greatest if she can’t handle the pressure.” Those statements are no different than Coach Karolyi telling an injured teen with wide, frightened eyes: “We got to go one more time. Shake it out.”

The subtext here is: “Our gold medal is more important than your well-being.”

Our athletes shouldn’t have to destroy themselves to meet our standards. If giving empathetic, authentic support to our Olympians means we’ll earn fewer gold medals, I’m happy to make that trade.

Here’s the message I hope we can send to Simone Biles: You are an outstanding athlete, a true role model, and a powerful woman. Nothing will change that. Please don’t sacrifice your emotional or physical well-being for our entertainment or national pride. We are proud of you for being brave enough to compete, and proud of you for having the wisdom to know when to step back. Your choice makes you an even better example to our daughters than you were before. WE’RE STILL ROOTING FOR YOU!

Byron Heath 07/27/2021

*****

I have excruciating memories of Kerri Strug’s sacrifice for those farging bastidges. No one should ever ask that of any athlete.

*****

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We carry on…

It was a fun weekend, resulting in a train of thought that’s still on the tracks this morning… and the main nugget is that the hum and swirl of American life rises out of a rich network of subcultures thrumming with energy and heart. Some of our societal microcosms are readily visible on the surface, with signs and symbols we know at a glance… service organizations like the Lions Club; religious groupings; a worldwide fellowship for magicians; the Hell’s Angels; and a club for every possible area of human interest under the sun. Saturday night we got to meet a subculture we previously knew almost nothing about – the world of gyms and cage fighting. When you “know a guy,” you go there.

A young veteran we love and respect owns a gym in the KC area with some other people including his wife, and in the interest of positive advertising, physical fitness, and pure badassery, he’s fought his way to professional status and a spot just under the headliner on the card… so it was time we saw the show for ourselves. A sweltering hot evening, long lines of fans, huge fairgrounds pavilion with big open windows, BBQ, drinks, a light-show going on, music that was primarily heavy-duty vibrations felt from the feet up, long tables arranged concentrically with ends toward the cage, and chairs designed by Satan himself for maximum torture. Knew I was gonna be in trouble, but I wasn’t missing this, even though the undercard consisted of something like fourteen fights before it was our man’s turn. And it was great – we were with friends who are family and everything was laughter and hugs and a feeling I’d forgotten over the past eighteen months… belonging. I found myself doing things I vowed I’d “never do again,” like sip a sistah’s drink when offered, shake hands, hug people face to face, laugh and talk unmasked in a public gathering… but almost three months of being fully vaccinated, plus our negligible transmission rate, makes all the difference. The people-watching was sublime – no worries about the generations coming up, America… they’re beautiful.

Kim has taught me a lot about boxing, which was of absolutely no use in this venue – the action is fast and furious, three 3-minute rounds, and there may have been only one match that lasted through two. Most of the amateur matches were over in under a minute, with someone either knocked out or tapping out, followed by hugs and camaraderie all ’round. These guys fight out of various gyms and mostly know each other, and the whole operation, under the glitz and glitter, is squeaky clean, everybody checked again before entering the cage, everything recorded and monitored. That said, there’s a thing in all of us that loves a winner, and we can turn primitive in a heartbeat when that’s on the line. I can still scream with the loudest of them, and I welcomed every chance to stand up outta that chair. A colossal thank you to DM Bruce Associates for their co-sponsorship of the night and their sweet hospitality to us as always.

Our man Deron “The Pharaoh” Carlis won by knockout in the 2nd round and walked away unmarked, so the evening was a total upper, and when we came home after 10:30, 8th Street was all lights and people, with the streetside dining areas full. We hope the city will let those stay open all summer!

When the light goes… when life dies down to an ember… it’s easy to think it might be finished, never coming back, never the same again. But being in that pavilion on Saturday night, with people from all over the NE corner of Kansas, having Deron’s (ridiculously young) parents come over to hug us, and seeing other people we’ve met since moving here, full of happiness and hugs, was a little revelation: I still need other humans, they aren’t all impossible to communicate with, and it feels good to care. Who knew cage fighting could do all that?

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Chillin’… page 212

Lac Simon, Duhamel, Qc, Canada

Day 331 – 02/09/2021

Took the day yesterday to chill… both figuratively and literally. Outside temps stayed frigid and it was snowy-ish all day, but toasty in here. We didn’t turn on TV until after 5pm and the peaceful quiet inside and out was curative. Had to process the Super Bowl game a little because I have such respect and a mama’s heart for Patrick Mahomes – the sad truth is that he showed up to play, as did the Bucs’ squad, but the Chiefs weren’t sure about the whole thing and Patrick, playing injured, tried to make up the difference. Hard to pull off two SB’s in a row, but damn, guys, you were there to try.

There was sweetness after dark last night to more than compensate – the Jayhawks beat OSU, in Allen Fieldhouse, and looked like a team while doing it. That’s fun right there, and we’ll take more of it – all their remaining games would be fine.

Note to future self: I’m fully aware of the complete inequities involved in the things we make important, but everything finally sifts down to life or death, joy or sorrow, love or its opposite, indifference. A ballgame, won or lost, can’t change the calamitous situations we face… but bread and circuses have always kept societies manageable and we willingly buy in for lack of a better plan.

Gonna be cold all week so I’ll just stay here and keep my little corner of the world cozy – that’ll be best for all concerned.

********************

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Stupor Day… page 211

Day 329 – 02/07/2021

I slept so totally out last night that even after Kim asked me if I was ready for the Super Bowl this morning, I forgot it was Sunday and started getting regular ol’ breakfast bits together. Oops, that would have been a minor tragedy… and the incredible, edible, Sunday omelet works ten times as well when you feel good.

So… with a spa soak, a trip upstairs to the gym, the usual distractions, and whatever’s on TV until 5:00, it’s looking properly stuporous, because also food. More. Latah. I think we’re doing this right. And we care who wins this one. 💋

Pint-size Andy Reid up there is Lil’ Red — aka 8-month-old Joey Greco — and I’m keeping him onboard for the day. Too huggable.

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Oh, hey, Saturday!… page 210

Day 328 – 02/06/2021

Wot a day, Ethel. After eight hours’ sleep Thursday night and seven during the day yesterday, I went BACK to bed just after dark last night and stayed ’til morning. Got up at 6am feeling in the clear… then reality settled in and I crawled under the covers for another hour. As of now, my bones say they’re not going anywhere near that bed again until sometime tonight, so I have to get my zhuzh together.

In here by the fire is the onliest place I want to be today, and my thoughts are with all who have to be outside in single-digit and low-20s temps. Painful. Mark showed me a graph of Chicago’s daily temps for next week and I saw mostly 7s and 8s… yikes.

Gonna be a reeeeeeal… sloooooow… Saaaaturdaaay….

Jayhawks are playing B’ball in West Virginia today, that’s all I know… although I have seen references to a big doin’s down in Tampa tomorrow. We have the koozies so we might tune in.

But first, our boys will be on the floor in WVU’s big stadium at 1pm. On my way, recliner, and I prolly won’t be moving much for the duration.

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