Archive for April 2015
I used to wander aimlessly in and out of the paintings that adorn the halls of the Detroit Institute of Art before finding my way to my film class to screen the Detroit Film Theaters weekly showing, sponging up every brush stroke, ceramic curve, cinematography choice and grand design I could identify before furiously splattering all that I saw against the back of retina like an untrained speed painter performing in the street.
My formal training in art can be reduced to the “happy little trees” I observed being puffed into canvas by Bob Ross and his majestically coiffed afro, slam poetry sessions where burned CDs with generic labels were traded after the show I watched – performed in dank conference rooms for extra credit – a 35mm photography class I barely passed as a freshman in high school and occasional visits to a self-curated library of quality reads with bookmarks long ago – abandoned halfway in between the pages that wastes away in my room collecting dust.
I am not an artist – this much is clear to me – but every time I made the desolate drive back home from the DFT along an impossibly deserted 75N expressway in that dark part of the night, after midnight and before 4:30 when it’s hollow digesting the splutter of art I’d just observed, I couldn’t help but to contemplate how an artist could know when a work was done.
I still wonder every time I sit down at my laptop and bleed out a story for the Lanthorn. If not for a deadline that I milk for all it’s worth, like a classroom of punk middle schoolers does a substitute teacher, I might battle to cover up my brushstrokes for eternity. I’ve come to terms with the sentiment that done is better than perfect out of necessity, but sometimes it feels like I’ll never drum up an ending I can be satisfied with. If I always waited, I might never go to print.
Understanding how rare they are, I’m sucker for a good ending. And even when I can’t nail one down myself, I know a quality finish when I see one – particularity in film.
I’ve wallpapered my room with posters of my heroes ever since I was a kid and have enjoyed the aesthetics of a variety of different stills, but I’ve never been struck by any work quite as much as the guns-blazing sepia portrait of Newman’s Butch Cassidy and Redford’s Sundance that fades into credits as the pair makes their last stand.
Speak “Rosebud” when discussing cinema’s most famous lines and you’ll get a spark of recognition from most everyone in the audience and their mother, but tell me “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship” when you and I first meet and shake hands and it really will be.
I still get chills watching Tommy Lee Jones read Cormac McCarthy to send out No Country For Old Men, and if I ever make it to Zihuatanejo, I’ll make it a point to send back a postcard from wherever it is that I cross the border. Whenever I watch a Rapid bus pull away from a stop, it occurs to me that there might be a pair of Elaine Robinson and Ben Braddock riders in the back with no destination in mind, overwhelmed with concern about their futures just like me. A cold-sweat begins to stir me to panic until a clunky muffler shocks me back and reminds me that sitting on the back of the bus bound for destinations unknown beats sitting in a room staring into a fishbowl.
I’m a sucker for a good ending in sports too, whereas it is in film and literature they can be equally defining, if not more organic. I always pocket the ones I like best in literal clippings from the paper.
The blue collar Detroit Pistons team that subjugated the star-studded LA Lakers and all of Hollywood in 2004 will forever be my team, just as the ’68 Tigers that soothed Detroit with a World Series crown after a summer of race riots will forever be my pop’s. Both front pages of the Detroit Free Press announcing those titles hang framed side by side in my basement.
When Jerome Bettis retired as a Super Bowl champion is his hometown, it was something out of a movie – only better, since it really happened. I still have the copy of SI – and boxes full of other endings in the form of magazines and excerpts I’ve collected over the years – to prove it. The same is true for the Grand Valley State girls soccer team that won the a national champions before graduating coach Dave DiIanni to Division I; I know because I wrote that clipping myself.
One of the beautiful elements of sports is that, sometimes, the endings write themselves, and I relish the moment every time I’m gifted a joyous conclusions to report upon. Some endings are painfully cliché, others wildly unpredictable or thought-provokingly twisted, and the right one can privy fans to absorb the moment right through the copy. But for every story about GVSU product Charles Johnson catching on in the NFL punctuated with optimism about what could be, there’s another about Cullen Finnerty dotted with tragedy about what could have been.
Some endings are difficult to bare, and as a writer, I sometimes like to pretend that I have a supernatural control over blank pages on Open Office. That somehow by putting finger-tip to key, I could make my words so. That I could re-write what’s already come to pass with a few smartly placed revisions, and could determine with a few paragraphs what the future holds. And that when I got the ending right, a light would flicker on right next to the over-extended word-counting tool on the bottom of screen to signal me.
Until that technology is developed, one thought provides simultaneously comforts and excites me every time the lights come back on in a theater, I lose a good friend, finish a book, submit a story, a season closes or a school year inevitably comes to end: The next ending will come soon enough.
To read the original post “FIN”, click here at the Lanthorn online.
I have a confession to make.
I’ve been writing this column for a semester now, but something’s missing. I know it. You know it. Louie knows it. I stretch my imagination across a salt water taffy puller every time I sit down to write it, but my creations aren’t anchored in the palpable. It’s all just dust in the wind once you clip out my article and use it as kindling.
If only my pen was sharp enough to write the right words. If only I could pluck the day dreams that float around my car like skyward Chinese lanterns on my drive home from work out of the air, and pin them down to paper with a fistful of thumb tacks. If only I could make my visions real.
But I’m no George Plimpton, father of participatory journalism and patron saint of Walter Mitty sport writers. I’m not even Plimpton imitator, Ben Malcolmson, USC sport editor turned Rudy. Type “Pete Barrows” into Google, and you’ll find my Baseball Reference page at the top of your search. It claims I’m a 6-foot-5, 205-pound outfielder that batted .283 with the Independent League Sioux City Explorers last season. It’s a great conversation starter, only (shhh, don’t tell) it isn’t me.
It’s not that I haven’t covered plenty in my time with the Lanthorn worth covering. I trekked down to Augusta, Ga. to watch the Grand Valley State University girls soccer team take home a title. I’ve traveled to the Breslin Center in East Lansing to cover the lady Laker basketball team, and sat alone on Tom Izzo’s bench as I wrote under dimmed stadium lights. I was there when the Grand Rapids Griffins set up their Calder Cup victory at Van Andel Arena against the Syracuse Crunch. But I’ve never made the Plimpton plunge.
Not that I was a notable athlete in high school, but Malcomson hadn’t played football since fifth grade before earning a spot on Pete Carroll’s dynasty. Plimpton wasn’t much of an athlete either, but that didn’t stop him from working through the bucket list of all bucket lists, tailored explicitly for sports fans.
He went three rounds with Archie Moore at Stillman’s Gym in 1959, earning himself a bloody nose, and spared with Sugar Ray Robinson in the ring. He threw the hook to Jackie Robinson in a NL/AL exhibition game, and managed to pop up Willie Mays before exhausting his untried arm. He put his 18 stroke handicap up against Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus (who at 75 years of age, knocked in a hole-in-one at Wednesday’s par-3 contest), and was outdueled badly. He challenged pro Pancho Gonzalez in tennis, Oswald Jacoby in high-level bridge, tried out as an aerialist with the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus and never made the cut. He trained with the Boston Bruins as goalie, slicing open a pinky in a preseason game, engineered the preeminent Aprils Fools gag ever concocted when he detailed Buddhist Sidd Finch’s 168-mile per hour heater in Sports Illustrated and famously walked-on to the Detroit Lions as a “professional” third-string quarterback in 1963.
His quarterback career concluded as he lost 30-plus yards in a scrimmage against Alex Karras and company, just as mine had with an interception in an IM game against a rival fraternity (alright, it isn’t quite apples to apples). He consistently got knocked around in his bouts against the best in the business, but where most Mittys envisage away their afternoons with visions of grandeur, Plimpton lived the gritty realities while chronicling his forays in his works.
Plimpton opined that he could not write accurately or vividly about a sport unless he experienced it first-hand. Who am I to disagree? If anyone has ever better encapsulated the essence of sport better than him in this excerpt from the Paper Lion, I haven’t read it.
“The pleasure of sport was so often the chance to indulge the cessation of time itself – the pitcher dawdling on the mound, the skier poised at the top of a mountain trail, the basketball player with the rough skin of the ball against his palm preparing for a foul shot, the tennis player at set point over his opponent – all of them savoring a moment before committing themselves to action.”
The trick for me in taking my next step in sports journalism was determining where to begin.
I considered going for the Mark Titus, author of “Don’t Put Me In, Coach,” but every time I play a pickup game, I’m reminded that my jump shot is more broke than my bank statement. It’s safe to say that I won’t be riding Ric Wesley’s bench any time soon.
I also deliberated following the Plimpton/Malcomson/Ruettiger model directly by trying out for the football team. Although last I heard, Chad Pennington arms aren’t in vogue. I think I’ll pocket that venture for another column.
Amid my brainstorming, somewhere between asking Moriah Muscaro to train me and throwing on some Harry Potter to brush up on my Quidditch, it struck me that I might be more Plimpton than I originally presumed. All that was left for me to do was to write about my experience.
Ever since I enrolled at GVSU eons ago, I have coached in a Panhellenic sanctioned powder puff football tournament known as Battle of the Valley Girls that pits sororities against each other on the gridiron in a single elimination bracket.
The official premise of the contest is to promote Greek unity while raising money for charity, and both ends have been dependably met. Tournament host Sigma Kappa raised $1,858 for Alzheimer’s research last year, while an additional $300 went to the communal Panhellenic philanthropy fund. There’s also an underlying, unspoken secondary purpose.
The tournament title sounds a bit like a promotion for an underground slap fight between Julie Richman and Shelly Darlingson, but my disillusions promptly disappeared in my very first practice when I witnessed one of my girls eagerly continue to play with a bloody nose after taking an elbow to the face. Make no mistake; this was football, and I’ve always dreamed of being a coach.
Many of the participants attend practices without much of a background in sports, while others could easily best me in a 40-yard dash (which admittedly, isn’t saying much). It makes no difference where they start. Year after year, I’ve watched girls that couldn’t pick any NFL player except Tom Brady out of a lineup transform into fearsome, flag-pulling linebackers and fearless, turf-cutting running backs.
Teaching powder puff football wasn’t a skill in my wheelhouse and I don’t always know what to leave in or out of my instructions, but when I watch a player master a new skill or celebrate a touchdown, I can’t help but grin. I have yet to win the whole thing – I might never – and this might be as close to being a college football coach as I’ll ever come. But every time I step on the field to with a whistle around my neck and a Steve Spurrier visor on my head, I’m overwhelmed with joy that isn’t just experienced vicariously. As much as I enjoy watching sports from my Lazy Boy, the hairs on your back only stand on end during a breakdown when you’re in the huddle.
That’s the power of immersion, and the thrill that must have hooked Plimpton. I can understand why. The next time you jump in to something entirely new with no regard for your comfort zone, to do instead of dream, you will too.
The tournament will kick off at 9 a.m. Saturday at the turf fields, and is open to the public. The forecast predicts an idyllic 60-degree afternoon. Wish me luck.
To read the original post “Experiencing the Game”, click here at the Lanthorn online.
But now is not the time to rest on laurels, to succumb to complacency or seal the envelope. Now is the time to stick out a proverbial tongue, Miley Cyrus style, and continue to improve upon a rising stock.
Now is the time to introduce multiple packs of wolves onto GVSU’s Allendale Campus.
You might be asking yourself why in the world someone would want that, or perhaps why the Lanthorn allows a rambling hermit with a screw or three lose to write a weekly column. But think about it.
When allocating straight cash money toward frivolous projects like a new state of the art library, a fresh out of the box science building, a renovated Fieldhouse and housing developments, the real question is why the powers at be wouldn’t invest in a program with the potential to be truly transformative? Before you have me committed, allow me to defend my terms.
Reason No. 1: No more Department of Public Safety
DPS is allotted a sizable allowance in the annual budget, and it makes sense. You try corralling an unruly herd of hotheaded, snot-nosed and possibly, but most likely not, intoxicated students without a Segway scooter.
With wolves roaming around campus, public safety will no longer be an issue.
Predators out lurking after dark, beware; these wolves are well aware of their place on the food chain and will be all to happy to remind you of yours. Not to mention alcohol, drug and bath-salt use will drop almost completely off the charts. No student will want to leave their apartment, sober or otherwise, with rabid wolves running around campus.
Tuition will also decrease with the newly freed budget money that used to go to DPS. We’ll all miss the regimented enforcement of parking regulations and the late night speed traps, but a safer, more cost effective campus is a selling point for prospective students and parents alike too good to pass up. Higher enrollment means more collective dough from students, plus increased endowments from the state, and the cash cycle will keep spinning like a dilapidated Laker Village washing machine.
Reason No. 2: The average GPA will skyrocket
Not only will students be privy to a live demonstration of Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” outside of the classroom, the average student’s awareness of their surroundings, as well as their survival skills, will improve exponentially. Talk about gaining valuable life skills.
With the introduction of wolves, there will also be a “low-man-out” grade incentive policy instituted. Upon completion of every class, students will be dismissed by order of lowest GPA to highest. If there is a better way to motivate students to study hard and pay attention in class than to literally throw them to the wolves, I simply can’t fathom it. If you “accidentally” lose a few slackers along the way, well there is such a thing as addition by subtraction; remember when Diane Chambers finally got written off Cheers?
Reason No. 3: GVSU will boast the quintessential hospitality and tourism management program in the country
GVSU can (and should) open up its campus for tours, similar to the ones pictured in the nonfiction classic “Jurassic Park.” Use all of the budget cut/increased admissions/added government revenue generated by the wolves as a down payment on a guided Jeep tour track and boardwalk viewing platform, charge $10 a pop for a ticket and boom, tuition is thousands of dollars less. The wolves pay for themselves.
As an added benefit, students will be provided with invaluable real-life, hands-on job experience running the attraction and accompanying Good Wolf Lodge resort designed for visiting parents and tourists.
Reason No. 4: GVSU Athletics will peak across the board
With students left running for their lives in between classes, sports that emphasize speed, agility, coordination, endurance and instinct (so yes – all of them) will reap tremendous gains. No longer will the Laker athletic program be forced to vie with larger, more well-established athletic powers while recruiting externally. Instead, GVSU will have the unique capability to draw from an enhanced pool of potential recruits, while scouting every day right on campus.
Coach No. 1: Did you see that kid with the backpack hurdle that shrub?
Coach No. 2: Dibs. That had to be at least a 40-inch vertical. Damn that wolf looked hungry!
Coach No. 1: Fine, but I call that girl that just sprinted the length of Robinson field in 10-seconds flat.
Louie the Laker, hardened by rigorous treks across a campus affectionately known as the “Wolf Den,” will become the most feared mascot in the NCAA. Sorry, Sparty. Scholarships will be merit based and always up for grabs. And with the most athletic and competitive student base in the country, GVSU might finally have all the reasons and resources necessary to become a Division 1 powerhouse “by choice.”
If within five years tops of passing this proposal GVSU is not the premier institution of higher learning in the continental U.S., it’ll be because some bold school beat us to the punch. The time to act is now.
If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or wish to pledge your support, please feel free to email us at Gotcha@happyAprilFools.com
To read the original post “Mad for March”, click here at the Lanthorn online.