Father Time is a Bully

During my early college years (the years when I was more worried about my social life than my grades) I played a lot of basketball. I don’t mean I played for several hours on a weekly basis, I mean I played daily as if somehow the number of points I scored might magically transfer to my overall Physics grade. I can attest that they did not.

Bottom line, I loved basketball. I loved playing it, I loved watching it…I feel like the sentence would feel better if there was a third thing I loved about basketball, but really it was all about playing or watching. That’s it. Anyway, I carried that love with me into my life as a married man. I didn’t play as often, but I was religious about playing every Saturday morning. Then came the inevitable.

Actually, it was two things. One, I was playing in a league with some people I worked with when I attempted to take a charge. (Taking a charge is getting someone to run into you and thereby get them called for a foul for those who are not familiar with basketball lingo.) I took the charge alright, but in the process, my entire body was knocked violently to the left. Every part of me that is except my right leg from the knee down. It somehow didn’t get the message and stood valiantly, rooted in place, as the rest of me went flying. That was the beginning of my recurring knee problems. The second thing was I entered my thirties. I moved, my kids got older, we bought a house that required more upkeep and finally, my body began to betray me in other ways. I broke a rib playing defense and spent the next three weeks trying to catch my breath every time my toddler decided I needed an unannounced hug. The final result of all of these things happening was that my religious Saturday attendance at the church of basketball waned.  At first I started to attend intermittently and then I went less active all together.

My final break with regular basketball playing came when I moved to the small town where I now reside. I didn’t have my regular group to play with and I didn’t want to expend the energy to find a new group. So I let it go. I might dabble in meaningless pick-up games that moved at quarter speed from time to time, but those were few and far between. Until two nights ago.

That’s when my friend texted me to let me know church basketball had started and they were worried that not enough guys were going to show to field a team. I should have ignored his text. Instead, I let myself get suckered into worrying about whether other guys would be able to play basketball or not. Why should I care? The correct answer is, I shouldn’t have.

Now what did me in was that I have been an avid racquetball player for the last few years and have also started riding my bike on a somewhat regular basis. I thought I was probably ready for the exertion required for basketball. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I arrived, I discovered that my friend’s text had been accurate…sort of. There were plenty of guys that showed up for our team, but not one guy showed for the other team. So we decided to play against each other. Many of you know how that goes. It turns into a track meet with a ball flying at the hoop periodically. I ended up doing as many wind sprints without touching the ball as I used to do in high school basketball practice. But that wasn’t the worst of it. When I actually did touch the ball, it was revealed that in many ways I had forgotten how to shoot. Oh the humanity as some of my hideous offerings made their way somewhat in the direction of the hoop. It was ugly.

Unfortunately for me, my semi-in-shape body hid from me the fact that I was over-doing it.  During the course of the game, I felt a little rubbery-legged at times, but overall not too bad. That would come later…like the next morning when I attempted to get out of bed.

My alarm went off at 5:00 a.m. and I went to sit up. That was a mistake. Pain shot through my thighs, passing through my butt and exploded throughout my back. Adding to my problems was a never before experienced stiffness in my neck that made it impossible to flinch correctly at the pain occurring around the lower half of my body. It was dark, so I can only guess what I must have looked like, but I have a feeling it resembled Frankenstein reacting to bath water that was overheated.

Now I was in a quandary. I was expected to get on my bike and ride down to the racquetball courts where a couple of friends would be waiting for me. In that first sixty seconds post alarm, it seemed more likely that my legs would simply fall off of my body in protest. Nevertheless, I proceeded. My morning stretching routine was fun. (That is if one defines fun as curling up in a ball on a darkened floor and weeping uncontrollably.) And my racquetball skills were lacking to say the least. But somehow I survived. However, it is a full twenty four hours plus later and I still feel like roadkill.

So here is my question: Why? Why would God be so mean as to make us age? I know I’ve heard countless people ask similar questions before me, but I never cared then. It wasn’t affecting me. Now it is and frankly, I think it sucks. I’m really having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that basketball is a young man’s game, and I am quickly becoming not a young man. Maybe I should face the fact that the time to take up shuffleboard has arrived.

Les Miss

From my first introduction to a true musical stage production, Les Miserables, in my opinion, has always been the pinnacle of greatness. Admittedly a novice, and not someone who has spent a great deal of time viewing musical theater, I will grant that my opinion should carry very little weight. But having said that, I was definitely in the Les Miz camp over the Phantom camp when it came to the Lakers/Celtics type debate (Team Jacob Vs. Team Edward for those that are too young or too sports disinclined to get the Magic/Bird comparison) that existed in America during the late eighties and early nineties.

As such, as an adult, every time Les Miz has come to Gammage in Tempe, AZ, my wife and I have made the effort to go and see it. For the twenty-fifth anniversary (and I suspect in promotion of the upcoming movie version) the show returned to Tempe for a week long engagement last week. We decided to attend.

Not only did we attend, we also made the call that my thirteen-year-old daughter was ready to see this play. She is very much interested in drama and music and is showing some signs of talent in both. Now I recognize the definite PG-13 subject matter addressed in this play and my wife and I thought long and hard about whether or not to include her. In the end, based on our previous viewings, we felt she was old enough to handle the risque scenes and language in order to experience one of the truly great stories of mercy vs. justice.

Now that the event is over, I would like to write an open letter to the director and producers of the latest touring stage version of Les Miserables that they will never read, but that will make me feel better in writing.

Dear Sirs and or Madams (How appropriate a title as we shall soon discuss)

Having just attended your interpretation of Les Miserables at Gammage Auditorium in Tempe, AZ, there are a few items I would like to bring to your attention in an effort to help you return this stage production to its former glory.

1. Using any long cylindrical prop for a visual joke regarding a man’s sex organ does not constitute wittiness at its best. And doing it repeatedly does not make it any funnier. About the fifth time a man held a wine bottle to his crotch I was simply embarrassed for you. It felt as if you had run your production past a focus group of junior high boys and then actually listened to their recommendations. I will return to this thought again a little later.

2. I have been trying to teach my teenage daughter that screaming her lines in a dramatic production does not necessarily add intensity to a scene but rather, more often than not, only adds volume. Thank you soooo much for undermining my efforts. Maybe you’ve never seen Les Miserables in person before, but the disdain some characters hold for other human beings they deem as worthless would, I believe, be better manifested by unconcerned disdain rather than in-your-face anger. There were times I felt the entire cast was just yelling at me. In case you hadn’t noticed, this entire production is done in song. It has been my experience that yelling and singing do not often mix well together.

3. Your major lead characters should be able to hold pitch during their highlighted solos. Most of your characters did fine, but specifically, Fantine was a disaster. Again, it felt as if the direction to her was given by a community theater director who was barely dipping his toes into the thespian world while he had a few minutes of free time from his lucrative, and extremely busy, gas station enterprise. The Fantine character sacrificed heartbreaking emotion for, again, yelling. Not sure I understand that. Beautiful strains of notes were left off so she could make sure the audience understood we were having an “emotional” moment. As my friend who attended on a different night than I said, “It felt like my ears were hurting,” during a song that is supposed to leave one feeling anguish for the character, not deaf.

Furthermore, she missed notes constantly. Going back to my community theater example, this would be okay if our minor star had been performing voluntarily and the audience was primed to expect an amateurish performance. Instead, everyone there had spent a good deal of money expecting to see a Broadway level performance. The actress playing Fantine did not come close in meeting that expectation.

4. Finally, I had my thirteen-year-old daughter with me. I have experienced this production before and I understand the lyrics of the songs, Lovely Ladies and Master of the House are somewhat risque and adult oriented. However, based on previous viewings, I felt the overall message of the production in contrast with the fleeting lyrics that often fly over the head of younger viewers made the exposure to my daughter acceptable. Thank you so much for proving me wrong. Since our last viewing several years ago, you added multiple simulated sex acts in a multitude of positions including the completely inappropriate and unnecessary oral position. Instead of basking in the memory of the numbers you did well (ie. A Heart Full of Love, Stars, Bring Him Home and others), I can’t keep my mind from hearkening back to the completely gratuitous antics of Lovely Ladies and the over-the-top garbage taking place at the top of the set that provided nothing to the story happening below during Master of the House. Again, I felt like I was watching a production of my favorite musical play that was being presided over by a group of infantile, giggling teenage boys.

I realize this probably matters little to you, but this work that is so clearly tied to God and redemption means something to people of faith. Its message is timeless and has inspired thousands of people, including myself, to see myself and others around me the way God would. It’s sad to me that you felt the need to debase the entire experience.


Ryan Rapier

Things I Learned During a Week At Disneyland

This last week, my family and I packed up the mini-van and made the nine-hour trek to the mecca of commercialism and childhood fantasy, otherwise known as The Disneyland Resort. As a child, my parents only took me twice, once when I was four and again when I was ten. Being the loving parent that I am, I have lived under the daunting pressure that I would never allow this travesty to occur to my children. Every child should have multiple memories of The Happiest Place on Earth. As such, we have been a total of five times since my oldest daughter first turned three and was old enough to actually enjoy her visit. (In reality, it was more about her height than her age. We waited until she reached 40″ and was able to ride on a majority of the rides.) That was 10 years ago and other than the first two visits being within a year of each other, we have returned roughly every three years, each time introducing another of our children to the park that Walt built. This visit was our youngest’s first and will likely be the last time I see the park for the first time through one of my children’s eyes. That reality makes me a little sad.

But anyway, over these last ten years, I have learned quite a bit. When I was in my twenties, I had a much more romanticized view of Disneyland that has dimmed with time under the scrutiny of reality. With this visit, I was struck by several observations, most of which I will share with you now. Keep in mind, not all of these are necessarily Disney related, they are just observations that I happened to make during this last week while at Disneyland.

1. Why do rabidly political people watch the convention of the party they oppose? This observation actually started the week before during the Republican convention when I noticed a plethora of negative statements coming from my Democratic friends on Facebook. At the time, I couldn’t help but wonder why someone would be so masochistic as to do this to themselves. But as I tend to have more Republican friends than Democrat, it wasn’t until this last week that I really began to take notice of this trend. I saw status updates that referred to people yelling at their television and hurled insults in capital letters of LIAR, IDIOT and JERK all while I was trying to enjoy a sweltering day in Southern California with 30,000 of my closest friends. All the while, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What did you expect him to say? Were you hoping for ‘You know, I watched that Republican convention last week and everything Mitt Romney said sounded spot on. He’s right, I’m gonna quit now and turn the reins over to somebody who actually knows how to work within the private sector.’?” I mean, really. If I wanted to watch somebody I absolutely couldn’t stand, the Dallas Cowboys played football on Wednesday night and are much more enjoyable to boo from the comfort of my own couch than Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. I’m just saying.

2. No one makes parting with your hard-earned dollars more enjoyable than The Disney Corp. I paid over twenty dollars for wizard hat complete with Mickey ears for my seven-year-old son and didn’t bat an eye. That same kid will beg for a full-size bean burrito when we go out to dinner at a Mexican food restaurant and I will freak over the additional $1.75 knowing he will leave half of that burrito on his plate. There is a good chance he will never wear that hat again now that we are home, but it was worth every cent to see him running around the parks in that over-sized hat. Maybe it’s my intense desire not to see him get any older than he was in that moment that took the discomfort out of having a large vacuum hose inserted into my back pocket and all of my last paycheck (and my next one as well) being sucked away into the void of corporate profits. At least I own Disney stock. With my measly 56 shares, I should see a negative 5000% return on last week’s investment.

3. No one does synergy like Disney. We stood for over an hour, shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers, waiting for a water and light show called World of Color. Twice!!! I would do it again in a heartbeat. Because intertwined with the perfectly timed jets of water and brilliant colors on display was a recap of several Disney classic animated movies and Pirates. And there is no euphoria in the world like sharing a nostalgic trip through your childhood and your children’s childhood with a group of fellow Disney fanatics large enough to fill a football stadium. I must have mentally noted to myself no less than five times that I needed to watch a particular movie again. I intend to start tonight with Tangled.

4. Nothing can replace the feeling you get when you take your four-year-old daughter on The Little Mermaid Ride and have her get off and yell, “That was Awesome!”

5. Nothing worries me more than the fact that my four-year-old daughter is much more interested in wooden guns and plastic swords than any other toy available to her in the toy capital of the world. At least she wanted a pink Mickey hat. I think I smell a Quentin Tarantino movie plot.

6. It’s amazing to me that I can forget the pain and agony my body is in right now to the point that I will return to the place that did this to me. The last time I went to Disneyland three years ago, I got shin splints. On a previous trip, I caught such an awful cold I could barely function. Today, my hips feel like they have been hooked directly to a car battery and are being shocked with pain at regular intervals. Somehow, I will forget all of these things enough that I will undoubtedly return. I’m sure the memory of a cute little boy in an over-sized hat, complete with Mickey ears, has something to do with it.