Friday Top 5: Spring Tidings

I know most of us have been waiting for spring for a long time (and some of us have been lucky enough to have it already for a while), so I thought on this final day of May I would list my top 5 tidings that tell me that spring is here:

5. Mud season. Here in central New York it’s easy to tell the coming of spring because the snow melts and what used to be snow has turned into lakes in our yards. If you can avoid yards during this time of year, please do, because once the water stops being a lake and seeps into the ground, it’s just below the surface, waiting to suck you in. Your boots/shoes/other footwear become muddy and need to be left in boot trays when you come in.

4. Bird nests in the garage. I know when I have to duck my head to avoid the birds flying out of the garage that spring has come. They build their nests carefully in the eaves, and freak me out every time I go out there to get into my car, or when I pull back into the garage after time away, and I forget they’re there. They remind me pretty quickly with their furious flap of wings, and my increased heart rate.

3. Skunk roadkill. Trust your nose.

2. All the pretty flowers. I remember when I used to dance through fields full of wildflowers. Oh wait, that was in a movie I saw a while ago. Those types of things don’t happen in real life. Instead, we get the poor flowers that come out when it seems like the weather has turned, then wither and die when it gets freezing again, then peek their heads back out tentatively when it finally warms up for good, worried they will just be fooled again.

1. Rain. Rain. Rain. Along with the flowers come the rains. It seems like almost every day in spring comes with its own high chance of rain. Even the days when the chance of rain is low, it seems like the weather finds some way to foster upon us some precipitation. That of course also helps to extend mud season, so we can all be grateful.

Sam

Friday Top 5 Archive

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The Nature of a Competitor: Part 4

**Summary: I coached varsity tennis for both girls and boys for six seasons, and this series is meant to highlight those moments that I felt were real connections between player and sport, between player and coach, or between opposing players in a competitive setting. The real nature of a competitor is shown through how she/he deals with pressure, adversity, surprises, and expectations.

I remember it was my third season coaching the girls’ tennis team, and my number one player was entering her third season as the number one player as well, but it was also her final season, as she was a senior. Before the season started, it was bittersweet to think about it being her final season because she had improved so much, and the team would have to start over again after she was gone, but we still had a season left to play. And there were many expectations, the biggest of which was that Holly (the name I’ve given her) had gone undefeated in league play the previous year, an achievement that was unprecedented for the school in either girls or boys tennis.

Being undefeated brings its own unique set of challenges, and we sat down and talked about those before Holly’s final season started. She was most worried about there being a target on her back, not unlike the girl who crushed her during their first meeting in her very first match as a first singles player. And I know I was worried about a letdown too, not because I didn’t think she was up for the challenge, but because I knew how other players had upped their games to try and defeat her. After our talk, though, I knew she hadn’t lost any of the fire, the energy, or the drive to maintain her position as the best in the league. Plus, she had worked hard all summer and she was even better than she had been the previous year.

The season began painlessly, as she rolled through her first four matches with no problems whatsoever, never dropping a set, and rarely even dropping games, but those first four matches weren’t ever going to be our issue, we both knew. It was that fifth match that we were looking toward because it was against the other undefeated first singles player in the league, and the player most other teams thought had the best chance to beat Holly. I agreed that it was going to be a dynamic match, and I know Holly had been psyched up for it from the start of the season, but I challenged her not to let her emotions get the best of her. I was also glad that the match was to be played on our home courts, because there was just a level of comfort there.

When the other team arrived, I realized that their top player had gotten even stronger than the previous season as well, and she seemed unfazed by the moment, and the opponent. She looked scary good, and very focused. Holly also appeared focused, they shook hands, and the match began. From the start of the battle, however, I could tell that Holly was a little keyed up, even though she had seemed calm beforehand. The other player, Allison, was expending a lot of energy to try and win every single point, and Holly was making mistakes she wouldn’t ordinarily have made, so before I could blink the first set was over, 6-2, to Allison, and it hadn’t been even remotely close. I spoke with Holly after the first set, and she knew she had been pressing. That was the amazing thing about her. She always knew what was going on with her game, and she was usually very good at fixing things. I told her that she hadn’t played poorly, and she hadn’t, but that she just had to play the bigger points better, and maintain her focus.

The second set became a war. Every hit, every shot was contested, while Allison went up 4-3, but I spoke to Holly on the changeover and told her she was playing great, and she really was. It was just a couple of points that separated the two players at that point in the set, even though Allison was serving with the break. Holly fought hard and broke back in the next game, then they slugged it out again and went to a tiebreak. By this time there was a crowd gathering of players who weren’t on the court, and of spectators who supported both players. Before the tiebreak I told Holly that she just needed to play loose, to only go for shots when she knew they were there. I knew by then she was focused, and had been throughout the entire second set, and if she lost the tiebreak (and with it the match), she had played her own style and hadn’t beaten herself. She told me she “got this,” and went back out there.

Then promptly won the tiebreak 7-2. So it all went down to a third set. I saw Allison pass me on the way to a water break (they got 10 minutes between the second and third set for a break), and I told her she was playing a great match. She thanked me and continued on her way. The second she was gone I turned to see how Holly was doing, and I could tell she had just gotten warmed up. The first set was basically a warm-up for her, and I knew she had a lot left in the tank. Allison, on the other hand, I could tell was starting to tire, that first set’s aggression, and that second set’s war having taken it out of her. I told Holly that she just had to play as she had, and the match was hers. She told me she “got this.”

Before the break was over, I went to talk to Holly’s mother, and she asked me how I saw the third set playing out. I told her that I honestly thought Allison was done, that she had expended too much energy just getting to that point, and I envisioned a love or a 1 set (which means that I thought Holly would win it 6-0 or 6-1). Her mother looked at me like I was crazy, like I hadn’t been watching and coaching the whole first two sets, but I smiled at her. By then I had gotten a lot better at figuring out opponents, and at trusting in Holly and her game. Lo and behold, the third set went to Holly 6-1, and it wasn’t even close. In fact, that entire set took about fifteen minutes in real time, because Allison really had been done after that second set. She hadn’t paced herself, Holly was still fresh, and that was the match.

But, after the match was over, I talked to Allison for a second and told her she really had played a great match. I told her that next time she just needed to pace herself, that she would play better and more naturally, that she didn’t have anything to prove. She smiled and thanked me for the advice. And I realized that that’s also the nature of a competitor, to lose with grace, to play hard, but not to be a sore loser, and Allison was never a sore loser. She also wasn’t a show-off winner either, as she had beaten others on my team several times over the previous seasons but had been gracious each and every time. And for Holly, she went on to have a second straight undefeated season, and she pointed to overcoming the adversity of that first set, the uncertainty of that second set tiebreak, and the focus and training it took her to win the third set as the things that she remembered most about the season. I know it was her most satisfying win, and it should have been, because she was the ultimate competitor.

Sam

Profile

Hands pressed hard against the wall
Assuming the all-too-familiar position
Flashbulbs going off, blinding white
Traveling at the speed of sound
He shifts from one foot to the other
Asking the audience for forgiveness
Of one kind or another
Or a pleasant kind of interlude
Not unlike a skip in a record
That keeps playing your favorite part
Until it’s seared into your brain
Paused in your recollection
And he asks if he can move
If he can once again shape his destiny
That he handed away so casually
And he’ll say that he was tricked
Hoodwinked
Bamboozled
Run amuck
All the platitudes men say to escape
To get away from the everyday
Without repercussions
And they let him slide back
To do a sort of Harlem Shuffle
Forgotten by the modern
Falling back into himself
But not free
Never free
So long as he wears the same face
And the attitude to match
Marked by time
And blurred lines

Face pressed hard against the separating glass
He sees himself as the world judges
And comes up wanting.

Sam

Daily Prompt: Weaving the Threads

My nephew copies music. He reminds me of myself at his age, except I was using tapes I got from Tower Records, you know the kind that came in packs of 10, wrapped in some type of red plastic that was damn near impossible to remove without scissors. And he copies movies from air to air, which seems odd to say. The music he has comes from nothing, or at least from nothing tangible. It’s all about files, MP3s, downloads, and download speeds, and before you know it those files are in his possession, in his folders, in his iTunes, taking up kilobytes, and megabytes, and bandwidth, something like that. He has the latest songs from Beyonce, and from Psy, and from One Direction (even though he’ll deny it — I saw it in his iTunes). And that’s how the youngsters categorize music now, by songs, not by albums. Remember when albums were king? But we live in this era now, and my tapes are upstairs collecting dust.

—————————————————————————-

The music draws me in
Circling like a shark
As it swims in a cage
Contained by standard glass
but fighting to break free
I close my eyes and listen in
Editing in my mind
Creating duets that jive
Ella and Justin
Merchant and Michael
I pause to drop the bass
And just dance.

—————————————————————————-

I remember trips to grandma’s house in the springtime, when she was old but I was fervent, and she made a believer out of me. With her 8-track tapes on her gargantuan sized stereo, it was otherworldly to sit there and listen. And with grandpa asleep in the next room I was supposed to keep it down, but I never did. Try telling a monkey to stop hanging from that tree and throwing its feces. It was just that impossible. Because the beat moved me, it always did, and I couldn’t have it in my house, even though I had two average age parents who were supposed to groove more and worry less, but they were oppositional as always. My brother loved grandma’s house too because it gave him time to play horseshoes in the living room while I listened to my music. He tried to get me to play all the time, but I declined, always wanting to grab the large headphones and go to town. And grandma says I’m going to blast out my eardrums, but she doesn’t stop me.

No, she never stops me.

Sam

21st Century Dating: A Guide

Dating has got to be tough these days. It’s not like 20 years ago when laundromats had date nights. You got your clothes cleaned AND had scintillating conversation with possibly the girl of your dreams. No waiting until the third date to see her underwear. It was right there! Or twenty years before that when you were still asking her father if you could court his daughter. Yeah, I said it. Court. Those days are long gone. So what is dating in the 21st century, and how can you make it work for you?

Bars have made way for coffee houses, where ambience is a key ingredient in perhaps getting a yes for a date from the wry stranger at the next table. That’s not to say bars aren’t still great pickup places, but they have gotten a bad stigma in recent years. “Yeah, we met at a bar,” means “I have loose morals. And apparently she does too.” Here are a few meeting spots if you’re looking to date in your 20s or 30s (or older if you have a young spirit):

1. Starbucks.
2. Library.
3. Online.
4. Book store (even cooler when it’s got a Starbucks in it).
5. Post office.
6. Mall food court.
7. Ice cream shop.
8. On the street.
9. At a concert.
10. Party, party, party.

It’s easy to start a conversation in any of those places too, because usually there are common interests that have brought you there in the first place, but beware the signs that say her shields are up:

1. Wedding ring.
2. Reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
3. Checking cell every few seconds.
4. The big dude sitting next to her.
5. Earbuds, earbuds, earbuds.

Let’s start with Starbucks. Obviously here are two people who love caffeine. You might not be coffee connoisseurs, but you know a latte from an espresso, and that’s a start. Always lead with, “Isn’t this coffee hot?” or “What’s the deal with this half-caf stuff?” (Unless she has ordered a half-caf drink). If she says her boyfriend likes his coffee hot, there’s your exit sign. Otherwise, you’re in. Find an excuse to sit at her table, and welcome to date #1.

Online is also easy, but be careful of the fake photo, or the old photo. You know the one I’m talking about from 1996, professionally done to hide any and all flaws. That’s why I love Skype and various other video chats, and you should insist on having one of those first. Now, I’m not saying looks are everything, but they are definitely part of the equation. Plus, who wants to date a liar? I said liar, not lawyer. So video chat is a must. Your opening line is, “Do you come here often?” which should elicit a laugh. And then you’re in. Make an excuse to meet in person after the video chat and there’s date #1.

If none of the aforementioned places is working for you, you can be inventive and check out a gay bar. Unlike regular bars, most of the people there are looking to date, not get drunk. Oh, and don’t worry. Most girls who frequent gay bars are straight. They go there because there’s no pressure on them from skeezy guys. And you’re not a skeezy guy, so she won’t dump her drink on you. Buy her the next one, and you’re in. Just make sure she knows you’re straight and not looking to be her girlfriend. Get her number and meet in a neutral place next time, and you’ve got date #1.

The combinations go on and on, so if you’re having trouble meeting girls at the post office, try hanging around outside the post office and open the door for people coming in. Some of them are bound to be single females, and that’s your in. Or say you’re in a non-Starbucks book store and it’s not working for you. Do an impromptu Shakespeare monologue, preferably from Hamlet, and some girl will be impressed.

And you’re in.

Sam

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