4.18.2016

A Weekend in Trinidad, Part 3

This week, our tale (mercifully) comes to an end. As you've probably suspected, you're not the target audience for my trip down memory lane. This is another of the numerous little breadcrumb trails I'm leaving for the boys. I do hope, however, that you've found it to be entertaining in some small way.

For whatever reason, I've been struggling through pretty much every aspect of life over the past week or so (boo hoo- I suspect it's the chemo). In any event, I may use that as an excuse to take some time off from the ol' blog. If I miss next week, it doesn't necessarily mean I'm dead- don't worry.  In the meantime, the conclusion of the Trinidad story: 

As I woke on Sunday morning, the recognition that I was likely in a great deal of trouble emerged through my dreamy remembrance of what was otherwise a great Saturday. During our breakfast and team meeting, however, everything seemed normal. I didn’t get called out, pulled aside or otherwise singled out for my transgression. I was hopeful that this might just blow over. We headed back to the gym for our next game. If we won, we would advance through the losers bracket, but another loss meant we were going home. In the locker room before the game, coach reiterated his points and set the starting lineup…with the noticeable absence of one C.Rushing.

My family, who had stayed at home for my brothers’ games the previous day, had made the several hour trek early that morning see this last day of the tournament. From my perch on the bench, I saw them sitting in the stands. They gave me a curious look when they saw I wasn’t starting, and I returned it with the universal teenage “I dunno” shrug and pretended to focus on the game.

It sucked to not start, but I understood that this was the price I had to pay. The team played hard, and the game was close. As the minutes ticked by, I itched to get into the game and make my mark, but before I knew it, the first quarter ended. During the break I started stretching in anticipation of unleashing myself, but was not included in the five he sent out to start the second quarter. The game continued nip and tuck, and the itch to play became a burn. My teammates were staring me down, wondering why I wasn’t in the mix. The game flew by until halftime arrived.

We retreated to the locker room, Coach gave his halftime talk, and made no mention of me. As we walked back onto the floor, Brillhart brushed by and said “We really could have used you today.” The implication of what he said immediately sank in, and my knee-jerk reply of “No shit you could use me, I’m the best player you’ve got”, sealed the deal. I got to ride the pine for the rest of the game. I did my best to avoid looking at my family, who put in the time, effort and expense to come see me play- only to not see me play. I spent the game, a petulant child sat on the end of the bench “ignoring” everything. The game that had been close throughout finished with us losing by a single point. It was a bad scene afterwards- everyone was pissed off. Coach was mad that we lost, and mad at me for making him have to bench me. My teammates were mad that we lost, mad at me for getting benched and mad at coach for benching me. My folks were mad at me for breaking the rules, and creating a situation where they invested time and resources in me and didn’t get to see me play. I was mad that we lost, mad at coach for benching me, mad at my teammates for being mad at me, mad at myself for getting caught and mad at my folks just because.

The bus ride back to Moffat was the longest ride ever. When we arrived, and as we were waiting for our parents to pick us up, I told coach what I thought of his decision and quit the team. That quit didn’t last very long, maybe a couple of days- coach needed me and I needed basketball, so we each swallowed our pride and put things back together. The rest of the season was unremarkable. I was very inconsistent- games of brilliance followed by supremely lackluster efforts. Our young team didn’t accomplish much either, we finished the season a game below .500, and lost a heart-breaker in the first round of the playoffs to La Veta.

The story, however, doesn’t end in the Moffat Consolidated School parking lot. Mah-rya and I had exchanged home phone numbers before we departed. Yes, rather cut my losses and politely go my own way, I decided to double down on my mistake and keep the doomed relationship alive. In my mind, I was being unjustly persecuted by authority figures and of course this girl I barely knew was the only one who could truly understand me. I called her. And we talked. And I called her again. And we talked some more. And all was well with the world. Until the phone bill came.

Livid is as good a word as any, but it doesn’t truly capture the anger of my folks when that particular phone bill arrived. A full month of hours-long, peak-hour, long-distance phone calls. I was immediately put on double-secret probation, or whatever grounding mechanism they used at the time. I was stripped of all telephone privileges, and they forbid me from having any further contact whatsoever with Mah-rya.

Again, rather than cut my losses and politely go my own way, I doubled down on my double down. Being the clever young man that I am, decided that Mah-rya and I would continue our illicit long-distance relationship via U.S. mail. One of my friends at school let me use his post office box in Moffat to receive letters. Every day at lunch, I would walk the couple hundred yards from school to the tiny post office to check for mail. We wrote each other for months in what was a slow-motion relationship played out on perfume and cologne soaked loose-leaf notebook paper. It’s tough to have an actual argument via snail mail- but we managed. I remember one particular letter that arrived replete with mascara-stained teardrops strategically placed on the page. The nice letters out-numbered the bad, but they weren’t nearly as interesting.

In the end, our relationship came to an abrupt conclusion that summer. I moved back to Montgomery, lost access to the free post office box, and started another chapter in my life. I kept those letters for years, but they were eventually lost- probably when my folks moved. (Although my inner fifteen-year-old suspects that my mom found them and threw them away out of spite.)

Oh, the life lessons I should have learned that weekend. Among them: 1) Sometimes the bad decisions we make don’t just hurt us- they effect others as well, 2) don’t let the pursuit of young ladies get you in trouble*, 3) bad things happen when you put yourself before the team, 4) disobeying authority figures (even when they are wrong) brings consequences, 5) it never hurts to consult a map, and 6) if you break the rules, don’t get caught…oops, I’ve said too much. I’m sure I’m missing a few, and the fact that the ones I remember didn’t sink in too deeply speaks to my level of maturity at fifteen.

Fortunately, that was as bad as I ever got while still living at home. I rebounded to become a pleasant and well-behaved teenager. My college years, however, were something else. But that’s another story for another time.

*Unfortunately, I ended up learning this lesson the hard way...several times.

4.09.2016

A Weekend in Trinidad, Part 2

Before we dive back into our story, I offer a health update. I had a scan this week and met with the Doctor to discuss it. I've had some bouts with pain lately, so I was nervous about what the scan might reveal. The good news is that the tumor has shrunk a bit. The bad news is that the pain may be caused by my duodenal stent. If this is the case, things become complicated. From a big picture standpoint, the Doctor said in January that he was hoping to get me through Spring. After this latest scan, we think we've bought a few more months. As I've mentioned before, however, I don't spend a ton of time thinking in those terms- I'm just doing what I can while I can.

While that bastard tumor will probably get me in the end, it appears that I've bought myself some time and I fully intended to take advantage it. I'm halfway through my Spring bucket list, and I'll probably realize the remainder of those events. I'm in the process of drafting a new list, and I'll be sure to share it when it's complete (and if you have any ideas for something cool to do or see before I check out, please don't hesitate to suggest them).

We now return to our tale. If you missed the first part of the story, you'll want to go here to get caught up. With no further ado, let's return to our story…

Having overcoming my confusion between Trinidad and Trinidad, I was able to settle down and put up a solid first game of the tournament. Afterwards, we had a brief team meeting, boarded the bus and headed off to the hotel. Walking into the hotel, I felt like a cowboy in a western movie walking through the swinging doors of a rowdy saloon. Boisterous teenagers from across Colorado and New Mexico were bouncing around the lobby in various stages of undress, headed to or from the numerous hot tubs and pools. I have a vague recollection of kids swinging from balconies and chandeliers. We dropped our bags off in our room and reconvened for a team meal. We scarfed our food down in hopes of finishing in time to join the revelry, but curfew came quickly. We were relegated to our rooms and a night’s sleep.

Saturday morning brought more basketball. After the confusion of the day before, I had regained my focus (as much as a fifteen year old can focus).  The details are lost in the mists of time, but I had a hell of a game. I don’t think I had enough assists or blocks for a triple double, but I dropped forty-something points and had double-digit rebounds. As proud as I was of my performance, at that moment I was less interested in basketball than I was going back to the hotel to see and be seen.

This picture isn't from the tourney, but is from that year.
It was the first time I ever played against a 7-footer (32).
Unlike my mates, I wasn't afraid of him...although he
had a perm, and that was mildly frightening.
 When we got back, we were delighted to find that it was no less hopping than it was the night before. Being the stud that had just dropped arguably the most impressive performance of the tournament, I was keen to parade myself around in front of my peers. The problem was that I was shy, introverted, and lacked social skills. Lack of game notwithstanding, my teammates and I donned our swimwear and quickly made our way down to the hot tubs. We were lucky enough to squeeze into a spot in a tub with some cheerleaders from a school near Denver.

We spent the next few hours chatting up the girls and humblebragging about our basketball abilities. Over the course of the afternoon I ended up spending a lot of time talking to a cheerleader named Mah-rya. She was cute as could be, and seemed to be interested in what I had to say. Eventually, we were forced to abandon our determined (yet feeble) attempts to impress the girls in order to attend a team meeting and dinner. I summoned the courage to ask Mah-rya for her phone number and pledged to call her later that night once we got back to our rooms (of course, later in life I would strictly adhere to a two day minimum technique).

Those were the longest and most boring meetings in the history of long, boring meetings. When we finally finished, I streaked to the room to call Mah-rya. We chatted for a bit, then decided it would be a good idea to sneak out and meet one another. So, in violation of curfew and good sense, I bid my roomies goodbye and crept down the hallway to the back stairs and outside.

As I made my way toward the picnic table where we agreed to meet, I was as nervous as I had ever been. I was literally shaking- in part because it’s cold in Colorado, and partly in anticipation of what might happen with the random girl I just met. The details are hazy, but I remember awkward small talk (I was much better on the phone), and awkward hugging (she's short and I’m tall). I eventually overcame my shivering and shyness and shared what was, given the circumstances, a very nice kiss. Afterward, we shared a slightly less awkward hug, then gave in to time and the cold and took separate paths back to our rooms. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of my first kiss.

I was on top of the world, I had a couple of studly displays of basketball under my belt, was virtual lock for all-tournament honors, and was high on the adrenaline of my first kiss. It was now well after curfew, and I set about carefully sneaking my way back to the room. Unfortunately, the dumb-ass, fifteen-year-old version of myself forgot to prop open the door to the back stairs and had locked myself out. As a consequence, I was forced to take a more direct route. The massive main lobby, full of lingering adults, now stood between me and the successful completion of my illicit foray. I took a deep breath, hoped for the best, and started stepping. The drama was short-lived, the first person I made eye contact with was Brillhart. He gave me some kind of look, just to let me know. I gave him some kind of look, because I was busted. I knew I messed up and I knew there would be fallout, but I didn't care. (We all know that the motto of the fifteen-year-old is "I don't care".)  Had I known what was in store, however, I may have have adopted a different stance.

Next week, consequences and repercussions…

The soundtrack of this portion of the story, consists of a couple of  tunes that were in heavy rotation during my first romantic foray: this classic by Levert, and an 80’s staple by Taylor Dane.

4.04.2016

A Weekend in Trinidad

There is nothing quite like spring break on the gulf coast to remind one of just how annoying 15-year-old boys can be. A week of witnessing loud, obnoxious, awkwardness took me back to when I was an annoying fifteen-year-old. So this week, instead of another tired cancer post, I’m going to tell ya’ll a story from my youth. It will take a while to tell, so I’ll roll it out over the next few weeks.

I’m quite proud to be from God’s own Alabama, and this is no secret. What you may not know is that I actually spent my first two years of high school in Colorado. When my mom and stepfather wed, they stepped away from the ballet world to pursue an opportunity out west. Our first year there was spent in the mountains outside of Colorado Springs, the next year we moved to southern Colorado. The town of Crestone, at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, was home to 73 souls. Kids from Crestone take a thirteen-mile bus ride to go to school in nearby Moffat.

Crestone is a stunningly beautiful place.
I was a freshly minted 15-year-old when I started tenth grade at the Moffat Consolidated School (k-12 enrollment of about a hundred). At the time, basketball was life. In fact, basketball was more important than life. I thought about the game every waking moment. It so happens that basketball was the sport in this little corner of the world, and the primary form of entertainment for the community. Being in the middle of nowhere, in a pre-internet world, there wasn’t much to do there except for farm. The student-athletes were celebrities of sorts, and of course I soaked that up. Both in the summer before and after this year, I experienced “growth spurts” when my game markedly improved. I was aware of my newfound capabilities, and let this go to my head.

Thanks to chemo I'm almost as skinny now as I was then.
The social scene for the new guy in a high school can be difficult, but the kids there loved basketball, and there were relatively few of them, so settling in was fairly easy. As I got to meet my peers on and off the court, it became apparent that even though I was only a sophomore, I was the alpha baller. Early in the year, every conversation eventually turned to basketball, and the focus was the season-opening tournament in Trinidad. Trinidad! The beautiful island nation in the Bahamas? How in the world is a middling team from a tiny town in the middle of nowhere Colorado going to Trinidad? And how in the world are we paying for it? When I asked who was responsible for the trip, the responses I got were weird looks and the answer “The school, of course.” I knew that due their size and the monetary poverty of the area, the school received significant amounts of federal and state assistance for facilities, food, and apparently athletics. I guessed that explained things. It sounded fishy to me, but who was I to complain.

The run up to the trip was a bit rocky. I can be an ass from time to time, and this particular quality was magnified in the 15-year-old version of myself. Despite my talents, I was on the outs with our coach- who I thought to be a poor one. (This was mostly true.) I don’t know that I ever told coach Brillhart that, but I suspect he knew what I thought. I don’t know if my opinion was shaped by his ineptitude or by the fact that he was an authority figure trying to throttle my adolescent awesomeness. In either event, we settled into an uneasy d├ętente- I needed him because I wanted to play, and he needed me because he had a limited pool of talent.

This about sums it up. The only picture of Brillhart
on the basketball page of the yearbook. (He's probably a
really good guy, but I'm afraid he never had a chance with us.)
One particular on-court interaction stands out in my memory. During one practice Brillhart wanted to move me from the post to a swing position (this was a fine coaching move, although neither one of us recognized that the two guard was my natural position). At the time, however, kids couldn’t guard me in the post, and with a defender on my back I was unstoppable. (This was mostly true.) Rather than seeing his move as an effort to help the team succeed by spacing the floor, I saw it as a move to stop me from dominating practice. I did what he asked, but in the half-assed, sulking posture that only a teenager can affect. Between plays, Zack (one of my lesser teammates) suggested that I suck it up and play for the team. I told Zack in graphic terms what I thought he should do to himself. That was the first time I got kicked out of practice.

In hindsight, I think we can agree that of my mother’s three boys, I was by far the easiest teenager. Unfortunately for me, I was first, so I got hammered for things that my brothers easily got away with. To wit, my mother’s world nearly came crashing down over something as simple as a haircut. At the time, I was sporting a flattop- a conservative look, harkening back to the clean-cut ‘50’s. In the 80’s, however, athletes were embellishing their flattops by shaving lines or other shapes in the sides. One day, while watching a game on TV I saw that a player had shaved his uniform number into the side of his head. Eureka! The next day at school, I asked one of my teammates (who inexplicably had hair clippers at school) to help me out. Rather than simply copy the guy on TV, I thought it would be awesome to shave the entire side of my head except for my number 21 (leaving the flattop intact). My mother was mortified, I’m pretty sure she cried. It might have been the end of the world. I don’t recall the serious part of my punishment, but one of the conditions was that I had to wear a toboggan around the house until it grew back.

Way ahead of my time. Tying bows in '87.
Such was life as the remaining warmth of fall faded, and the time for our trip to Trinidad arrived. I had no clue how long it would take to get there, but I was happy to relax and go along for the ride. As the team boarded the bus to the cheers of our parents, the excitement was palpable. I was the proud occupant of the cherished back seat of the bus. Sitting in the way back enabled us to avoid the ears of authority figures, listen to crude music, and tell jokes that we didn’t fully understand. It was on this trip that I introduced southern Colorado to Southern hip-hip (and the Beastie Boys). The music was sophomoric to be certain, but so were we and it was a natural match.

A few hours after our departure we pulled off the highway and wound our way through a small town. It was getting late and I surmised we were headed to the hotel for a restful night before the flight out. When the party bus came to a stop in the overfull parking lot of a gymnasium, it started to dawn on me. Brillhart told us to grab our bags and get ready to change into our home uniforms. I walked into the gym and my heart dropped.

Welcome to Scott Gym, home of the Trinidad State Trojans. Trinidad State Junior College? Trinidad? Colorado? Bull. Shit. No sun? No airplane flight? No trip to a sandy beach? All of my conversations over the past couple of months fell into place and made perfect sense. I felt like an utter fool, but hid my disappointment and embarrassment.

I had a good game that night, but don’t really remember any of the details. Afterwards we returned to the hotel and settled in for a weekend of basketball that turned out to be much more.

To be continued…

Beastie Boys provided the sound track to part 1 of the story.  Paul Revere, and  Rhymin & Stealin were in heavy rotation on the bus.