Wednesday, January 27, 2010

the best team in the world (that's no exaggeration...)

ah, winter (and fall, and spring). as the rains settle in and the geese move overhead, a young girl's thoughts turn lightly

basketball! the sport of champions! and a sport that we oregonians have a unique relationship with. why is that? is it because it's a winter sport, easily played indoors, just when we PNWers need something to do inside? well, maybe that is a portion of what motivates our love.

or, is it more accurate to say that it's the sport that we as oregonians have a unique fan-atic relationship with our one and only fabulous team over?

what is it that makes the blazers fans and our love of our team unique? one is the way we express it. i've heard about 'sports towns', with lots of fans and major league teams and the sort of love that expresses itself by upturning cars and setting them on fire after the team wins. we don't really have that here. i've been puzzled before by new jersey or new york folks at sporting events, yelling "get a real player in there!" i was shocked, shocked to the core. that's not how we roll in the PNW. we're like parents, cheering on a kid. we have one team, just one, just one hoped-for and prayed-for baby upon which to shower all our wishes and expectations. just one vessel to pour into all our collective dreamed of sports hero-dom. that's certainly part of it; the fact that we have only one major league team. but that's not all of it.

it's hard to explain, the way we feel about our team. another way of saying it is that we're no detroit, putting up with criminals just to win games. true, winning seasons are nice, but overall, we just want nice people. we want the kind of guys you could bring home to your mother. it's no coincidence that clyde drexler, one of the most universally nice guys ever, is one of our most-loved players ever. the truth is, that oregonians actually just like having a nice, pleasant life. we live in eden - it's kind of hard to put on a hardened, cynical, heckling front when your heart is full of singing birds and flowers and when everyone you see is smiling and pleasant. we like our cheerful life, and we like watching our sports in a positive frame of mind. we want to root for the good guys, and if they win, so much the better. what's that? want to talk about...*that* time, when the players weren't good guys and the fans weren't behind them? well, this fan blog put it better than i can:

"Roughly 5 seasons ago, Blazer's management recognized that if the Trail Blazers want to become a viable, competitive and successful basketball franchise again, they would have to repair the damaged relationship with the city and the fans. First order of business, fix the Blazer's tarnished reputation. By gutting the team and replacing the coaching staff, they made a pledge to the community that the Blazer's organization was ready and willing to reestablish the ever important bond between a loving but disillusioned fan base and wayward Blazer team. Through a series of calculated moves and a new commitment to draft and sign only those players with the highest moral quality and character, the Blazers reconciled with Portland and the era of "character and family" has been in full swing ever since."


let's recap: management realized that to be a winning franchise, they needed to have the fans behind them, 100%. maybe that goes along with the whole small-market thing. let's face it, in los angeles, you can easily alienate half the population and still sell out every night; there's so many people that you can always find some lowest denominator willing to root you on. but that doesn't fly here. when the team was established, oregon - the whole state - had only two million people, maybe a third of that in the entire greater portland metro area. you can't alienate them, there's nobody else around!

i've been teased before for being fans of players who aren't as good as their billing, or aren't maybe all that good at all. my only defense? they are blazers, and i love my blazers. we are loyal. we're no LA, putting up with egomaniacs in order to win games. we're loyal to the core to our players because we like nice players and we want them to be loyal to us, too. we know anyone good can be courted away by a big, sexy, major market at any time (like hedu turkelo's rejection of portland last summer for toronto, a 'real' city. ouch!) our only hope is to shower them with love and devotion in the hopes that...that...the players will either love our adulation or just be unable to break our hearts by leaving. doesn't matter. the end result is the same. we need them here - we need them more than glamorous places like LA or new york.

and, to some extent, there's just no analyzing my love for the blazers, there's just no way to break it down into understood parts that make sense. isn't that what fandom is all about? that 1 + 1 make 3? that it just maybe doesn't add up?

suffice it to say, that i grew up loving the blazers. my folks lived in portland just before that glorious year we went to the championships; they went to many a game of the fledgling team for the two years before relocating to lincoln county in 1972. growing up in the glory years of the blazers just meant they were a ubiquitous presence, a constant feature of state pride. well i remember the "blazers" signs distributed in the oregonian during each playoff session in the 80s and 90s, and how every car, every window was emblazoned with them, no matter where in the state you were! i remember being at the portland symphony one year on a sunday afternoon when we were in the playoffs. during the applause break between pieces, a tuxedo-ed man briskly walked across the stage to the conductor and whispered in his ear. he turned to us and said, "blazers are up!" and the whole place burst into cheers. somehow, that's what's so unique about oregon and our fan-dom - that the people at the symphony are just as interested to know what the team is doing as the folks across the river at the coliseum.

why are we so close to our team? that i can't say at all for sure, but i can see it might have something to do with acquiring a team that so suddenly did so well - winning the championship just four short years after being established. in one sense, it doesn't matter that we haven't won since then. we don't mind being the overlooked under-dog team. we are the overlooked, underdog state, sandwiched between our more famous neighbors. it's our cross and we'll bear it happily! having tasted glory, having burst on the scene, we know it's possible; until then we are happy to revel in our overlooked status, happy to quote the statistics of clyde when he was overlooked for the first dream team that was assembled in 1992; happy to be indignant that brandon roy was once again not selected in the fan voting for the all-star game (the last two years the coaches have voted him in; let's hope they are wise again this year. he is a super star, after all - and did i yet mention that he's a PNW native?!). we love being our small place, our small market, our happy loving delirious fans cheering on our one-and-only sports team.

as finally the NBA writer bill simmons realized, as answered in his 'mailbag' feature earlier this season after a book tour stop brought him to portland and he caught a game at the rose garden:

"Q: Did your book tour include a stop at the Rose Garden for Pistons-Blazers last week? I hope you checked out the way the Garden treats Greg Oden. Every time he does something basic, the place explodes like he dunked from half court. They are just willing themselves to think he will be good.

A: Yes, I did. And the best way to describe the crowd's support for Oden: It's like watching 15,000 parents rooting for their kid, only all 15,000 parents fathered the same kid. If he ever explodes for 30 points, 20 rebounds and eight blocks in a game, you'll have to carry each deliriously passed-out Portland fan out of the Rose Garden individually like they were victims of smoke inhalation in a burning house. (The funny thing is, everyone in Portland is nodding right now. And yes, I know he's had a couple of inspired games this season. You don't need to e-mail me the stat lines. No, really. Save us both the time. Let's not put too much pressure on him. Baby steps.) I also was startled by Portland fans arguably (see, there it is!) liking Rudy Fernandez as much as, and maybe even a smidge more than, the great Brandon Roy.

Two other things shocked me. First, that's the whitest NBA experience you can have that doesn't involve the words "Salt," "Lake" and City." They didn't play hip-hop either before the game or during the game, each team seemed to have more African-Americans than the entire crowd and the pregame video right before the introduction of Portland's starting lineup was a local grunge band singing "Ballroom Blitz." And second, during a second-quarter timeout, my buddy House and I ran into the concourse to grab beers and noticed there was NOBODY else in line for anything. We felt like Will Smith in "I Am Legend." There was no sign of human life other than the workers. Everyone else stays in their seats. At halftime, those same people pour into the concourse like it's halftime of a football game. I've never seen anything like it. I don't know whether the Blazers have the most loyal, passionate, dutiful fans in the NBA, but at the very least, we can say nobody else tops them.

Here's what I took away from my Rose Garden experience: Portland loves the Blazers the same way a single mother would love her only child. The city's revulsion toward the "Jail Blazers" makes a lot more sense to me now. The team and the city are intertwined, and if one side isn't holding up that bargain, it's even more painful than usual. Anyway, I couldn't be happier that I got a taste of it. Great NBA city."

'scuse me. i've got to catch the end of this game...blazers down, team plagued by injuries, it's the classic rise-from-below story of an overlooked potential superhero! right?!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

peace, love, and understanding

i mentioned montana yesterday, and suddenly there i was again - missing montana. sometimes that happens. it was one of the few places i lived where i woke up every morning and looked at the rugged mission mountains rising above the lake and concretely - not abstractly - thought: i am blessed.

every place has its own unique feel, its own unique combination of culture and social norms that make it fascinating. one of the nicest things about montana is the strong libertarian streak. now i'm a solid democratic socialist; i believe very much in the role of government and why it's important for us to pay taxes and support each other. socially, though, there was something very nice about living in a small town that still had a lot of "don't tell me how to live, and i won't tell you" attitude. you know the joke, "montana, where the men are real men, and so are the women?" of course, the down side to that is that you get more than your fair share of cults, separatists, and militias. not that that doesn't make life exciting. still, it makes me nervous to find out that groups are stocking piling AK-47s in underground bunkers (see the church universal and triumphant; not to mention the "montana freemen", and of course who can forget everyone's favorite recluse, the unabomber?)

the biggest problem, though, was the racial intolerance and intolerance of gays. as an example of the latter: i lived on an indian reservation. while enrolled in a "native american images in film" class at the tribal college - yes, a course dedicated to exposing and exploring the stereotypical ways that natives are presented in film - a fellow student busts out with "i'm all right with everyone but gays. i mean" - she says, maybe sensing that this is sounding a little prejudiced and she might want to show how understanding she really is - "i guess they are all right, as long as they stay away from me and my kids." in other words, men can be men, women can be men, women can be women (grudgingly); but much else...

here's another example, that is somehow quintessential montana. to begin, you have to understand that for the last bit of my tenure out there i was 21, very solo, very un-gainfully employed at a mcdonalds in a town of 3000 people, clearly not getting any kind of a 4-year college degree, and, to add to this laundry list of incredibly attractive characteristics, very pregnant. there was a guy who often came through the drive-thru there, clearly on his lunch break, with a stethoscope draped around his neck. he was young and fairly decent looking, in a sort of manly-man/cabela's way. i'm sure he was in a pick-up truck; i'm sure there was a gun rack. even though he wasn't local, it was clear he fit right in. so one day he asked me out - me! now, i didn't know anything about kids, but i had heard that they got sick all the time. who better to have hanging around then a doctor? besides, it wasn't like i was getting asked out a lot. so, i accepted. he suggested that we drive to missoula to go dancing. that sounded fine, but even a rookie like myself knew to play it a little safer, so i insisted that my roommate come, too. so he agreed and enlisted a buddy of his and we all rode down together to a bar in missoula, me with my big belly, my roommate j., the doctor, and some random hunting buddy of his.

my roommate j. was a thorough cowgirl who worked on a dairy farm - a real montana-style woman - who also happened to be lesbian. she wasn't in the closet, but i think wisely had decided to pick her battles; her friends and family knew who she was, but she didn't broadcast it. we settled in at the bar and the boys quickly started drinking beer. i, of course, couldn't drink at all. i guess it was starting to seem like just being a doctor wasn't enough to make this guy attractive, so to entertain myself, raving liberal and gun-control nut that i am, got into it with them on social issues. as the evening progressed (degenerated?) it turned out that they were also both raving homophobes. she and i were getting thoroughly annoyed before this; by that point in time, we were ready to go. we had a motel room nearby with two double beds. standing our ground, we insisted that neither of us would be sharing a bed with one of them, thank you very much; we'd take one, and they could take the other. which was fine by us, but they absolutely could not do it. one of them ended up sprawled on the ground at the foot of our bed, as if merely touching the bed of another male would somehow brand them a queer for life in montana eyes.

i don't remember the ride back north the next day, but i bet it was pretty quiet. and certainly i never got asked out again. in fact, doesn't it almost sound like the start to a bad joke? "a liberal, a lesbian, a redneck, and a hunter walk into a bar in montana..." only i can't imagine how the punchline would go and how it could end without someone getting shot. no matter. eventually one realizes that "live and let live" can be a pretty shallow notion. and peace, love and understanding can be far away, even in paradise.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

drying out

i staggered into the shop like a traveller in search of an oasis. "i need something for my skin!" i whispered through cracked lips. it is december, and hasn't rained in several days. and my skin is reacting like i've been sun bathing in a desert in august. it is red, itchy, and deperate for moisture. it reminds me of my first winter in montana, where the dry air and hard water gave me a rash on my back.

back in the present, my sister says, "i'm turning into an alligator. my feet are completely cracked."

on the news cast, the weather forecast begins cheerily: "you can put away that lip balm and moisturizer! the rain is coming back."

it's true northwesterners can be pretty wimpy about some things. we are so completely adapted to moisture, that a cold dry spell in winter throws us for a loop. what are we not wimpy at all about? well, rain, of course.

"During the long winter vacation it rained continuously, the sky a low thick motionless rain-cloud, the warmish wet-cold season without dry corner. After day-long rain it rained all night, the dark liquescent, dripping from trees. When he woke in the night to heft his life, he listened to the rain as natural history, the Pacific extending over the land. Huge sopping clouds floated over breakers threading the beaches and struck against mountainsides, rain pouring from an armada of smashed hulls, drenching the craggy crawling forests, drowning green hills black, soaking the grass-lit fields. In the dark Levin remembered the rain of his childhood, blown in wind against the faces of tenements, engulfing the leafless backyard tree in foaming bursts; but when it had ended - after a day, three, a week - it had ended and enter light, the worshipful sun. Here was no sense of being between rains; it was a climate, a condition, the water burbling, thick, thin, fine, ubiquitous, continuous, monotonous, formless. Once in a while he saw two rainbows in the same sky but after rainbows it rained. Wherever Levin went he went in rubbers, raincoat, umbrella; the only other man he saw with an umbrella was Professor Fairchild. Students stood bareheaded in the pelting rain, talking leisurely, even opening a book to prove a point. Meanwhile Levin had grown neither fins nor duckfeathers; nor armourplate against loneliness."

--from "A New Life", by Bernard Malamud

Bernard Malamud, who wrote "The Natural" and won the pulitzer prize for "The Fixer", taught in the English department at OSU for four years. During that time he wrote "A New Life", about an english instructor from the east, teaching for the first time in a beleaguered liberal arts department at a small agricultural school in a town called Cascadia. Although OSU wasn't so excited about the portrayal at the time, we happily claim Malamud now. And although "A New Life" isn't his best work, it's great read for those who know OSU and Corvallis.

Friday, January 1, 2010

where am i?

there ought to be a word!

i feel like the word displacement should refer to lack of sense of place, or loss of sense of place. but no, according to

dis⋅place⋅ment  [dis-pleys-muhnt]

1. the act of displacing.
2. the state of being displaced or the amount or degree to which something is displaced.
3. Physics.
a. the displacing in space of one mass by another.
b. the weight or the volume of fluid displaced by a floating or submerged body. Compare Archimedes' principle.
c. the linear or angular distance in a given direction between a body or point and a reference position.
d. the distance of an oscillating body from its central position or point of equilibrium at any given moment.
4. Machinery, Automotive.
a. the volume of the space through which a piston travels during a single stroke in an engine, pump, or the like.
b. the total volume of the space traversed by all the pistons.
5. Nautical. the amount of water that a vessel displaces, expressed in displacement tons.
6. Geology. the offset of rocks caused by movement along a fault.
7. Psychoanalysis. the transfer of an emotion from its original focus to another object, person, or situation.

for the sake of brevity, i was tempted to cut out a couple of those. but i couldn't, because it somehow proved the point: we have all these highly technical and specific definitions of displacement, yet none lined up with what i was looking for.

we've got rootlessness and detachment and drifter, but somehow none of these conveys what i'd like it to convey. rootlessness and drifter imply a choice; detachment, a non-feeling.

i think it's interesting that in attempting to explain the utter disconnect of his main character in Independence Day, richard ford describes the main character's thoughts in this way:

"I am not sure what chokes me up: either the place's familiarity or its rigid reluctance to act familiar. It is another useful theme and exercise of the Existence Period, and a patent lesson of the realty profession, to cease sanctifying places -- houses, beaches, hometowns, a street corner where you once kissed a girl, a parade ground where you marched in line, a courthouse where you secured a divorce on a cloudy in July but where there is now no sign of you, no mention in the air's breath that you were there or that you were ever, importantly you, of that you even were. We may feel they ought to, should confer something -- sanction, again -- because of events that transpired there once; light a warming fire to animate us when we're well nigh inanimate and sunk. But they don't. Places never cooperate by revering you back when you need it. In fact, they almost always let you down, as the Markhams found out in Vermont and now New Jersey. Best just to swallow back your tear, get accustomed to the minor sentimentals and shove off to whatever's next, not whatever was. Place means nothing."

which is more a hatred of place, a feeling of being betrayed by place, than 'drifter' or 'footloose' can imply.

of course, there's not only situational or self-imposed displacement. there's also displacement that occurs because of outside forces. and the most beautiful, concise depiction of outside-enforced displacement i've ever come across is the following poem by ed edmo, from oregon ("From Here We Speak: An Anthology of Oregon Poetry", Oregon Literature Series, OSU Press, 1993):

I sit in your
crowded classrooms
& learn how to read about dick
jane & spot
        I remember
        how to get a deer

        I remember
        how to do beadwork

        I remember
        how to fish

I remember
the stories told by the old

         spot keeps

        showing up
                   my report card
                   is bad

-Ed Edmo.

happy new year. where are you?