When Kids’ Sports Stop Being About Positive Reinforcement, We All Lose

My twelve-year-old son’s basketball coach asked if I could help during practice by scrimmaging with the kids.  I was sitting in the bleachers at the time, but I did have on shorts and tennis shoes, so I said yes.

“Just stand there with your arms up and make them go around you,” he said, “I just want them to get a feel for playing against taller guys.”

So I stood there.  I’m 6′ 1″ tall, so it wasn’t hard to be a presence in the key.

That’s when a 4′ 6″ kid tried to make a layup around me.

I didn’t like his cockiness.

So I swatted the ball so hard it flew twenty feet out-of-bounds and hit the gym wall.

The coach stopped the practice.

“Thanks for your help,” he said, “You can go back to the bleachers if you want.”

I walked back to the bleachers.

“Way to go,” said the cocky kid on my way past him, “You can stuff a kid two feet shorter than you.”

But the difference wasn’t two feet.   It was 1′ 7″.  So in addition to being cocky, he was a big-time exaggerator.

When I got back to the bleachers, some of the parents stared at me, as though I had done something wrong.  No high-fives.  Not even a “way to go.”  That was a surprise because I thought childrens’ sports was all about positive reinforcement, and it really was a great block.

But I didn’t say anything.  Especially not to the one dad who looked like he was taking pictures.  I want to stay on his good side because I’m hoping he got a shot of me packing that kid’s shot.

I’d like to make it my screen-saver.

No Boat; Honeymoon of the Damned, Part Four

It is the summer of 1993.  I am in Athens on my honeymoon with my lovely bride.

Who is crying in a travel agency.

She is crying because she has been trying to get us two flights home so we can cut our honeymoon short.  But she has just found out that changing the flights costs a lot of money.  Which we don’t have.

So we are stuck in Greece.

Tip No. 14 About Honeymoons:   It is  bad when they feel like hostage situations.

So I call an audible.  I tell her we’re going to Santorini.  It’s got beaches, beer and gyros.

She agrees.  Well, she doesn’t say no.  Mostly because she can’t hear me over all that crying.

So I take advantage of the situation by buying us two boat tickets to Santorini.  And they’re cheap.

How cheap?

So cheap the boat doesn’t show.

Travel Tip No. 22:   Boat trips are harder without the boat.

So we are sitting at the port of Piraeus and we are waiting for a boat.  Hours pass.  It is hot.

Staci sees a Greek man in a sailor outfit.  He is smoking a cigarette.  Staci approaches him, and in her best uptight Americanese, says this:

“Excuse me, but we were supposed to be on the 10 a.m. boat to Santorini, and it’s 1:05  now and we’re wondering what time the boat will be here because we would like to get to Santorini as soon possible.”

The man turns his back, takes one last drag on his stubby cigarette and tosses it in the sea.  Then he turns back to face her.

“No boat,” he says.

It is poetic, really.

‘Cause what else do you need to know?

There’s no boat.  You can “blah blah blah” all afternoon, but the situation is this:

There’s no boat.

I come to realize that it’s really the answer for almost any question you have in your unhappy life.

No boat.

I’d say it’s almost existentialist, if I knew what existentialist meant.

So we sat and waited.  And over the succeeding hours many Greek people showed up at the dock, which told us that at least some boat would be showing up and it would be going somewhere.  Which was better than here.

But we had a problem.

Despite our being the first people at the dock, there were now some people trying to stand between us and the edge of the water.  And here is where I will give you a travel tip straight from the good people of Mediterranean Europe about Americans and their love of orderly lines :

We mock your orderly lines.

In fact, if you have extra time, look up “line” in a Greek dictionary.  I did.  Here is a loose translation:

Place where big group of people shove each other.

And that, my friends, was all that my crying American bride needed.  Because now she was a proverbial camel.  And someone was about to put one straw too many on her proverbial back.

And that someone was a Greek man in an undershirt.

Who made the mistake of cutting right in front of her.

Causing her to do what any reasonable American tourist would do in that situation.

She kicked him in the back.

Oh, it’s on, my Greek friend.  It’s on.

Writing the Strip Can Be Hazardous to Your Social Life

Sometimes when I write the strip, I unconsciously mouth the words the characters are saying and make some of their facial expressions.

Yesterday, I wrote the strip in a coffee shop I had never been to before in St. Helena, California, which is in Napa Valley.

In one of the strips I wrote, Goat grimaces at Rat, showing all of his clenched teeth.

As I was writing it, I lifted my head from the page and just happened to catch the eye of the woman at the table directly in front of me, who smiled and started to say, “Hi, how are you?”

But at the moment she spoke, I was grimacing so hard I flashed her every single one of my teeth.  Like an insane man-dog ready to bound over the table.

She moved tables.

On the Transitory Nature of Art

Yesterday, I bought 10 Vitamin Waters and a bunch of Power Bars from the grocery store.

Rather than casually tossing them on the checkout conveyor belt like everyone else does, I thought I’d do something special.

So I arranged the 10 Vitamin Waters in a circle.

Then I layed Power Bars atop them, each spanning from the top of one bottle to the next.

Now it was no longer a bunch of random groceries.

It was Stonehenge.

When the grocery store clerk saw it, she just stared at it.  Then she looked up at me.

“You mind if I break up your little sculpture here?”

I paused and lowered my head.

“If you must,” I said.

Greece is Bugging Me Already: Honeymoon of the Damned, Part Three.

The boat stopped at Igoumenitsa.  It’s a town in the far northwest of Greece, on the border of Albania.

And despite its location on the border, I am guessing it has never been the subject of a border dispute.  Because if it was, it would go like this:

Albania:  “You take it.”

Greece:  “No, you take it.”

And it’s a town that didn’t look like it got a lot of tourists.  I say that because when we got off the boat, the locals took pictures of us, apparently to memorialize the day back in 1993 when they got visitors.

“Are they lost?” said one in Greek.

“Are they stupid?” said another.

Staci did not smile for the photos.  Something had apparently put her in a bad mood. I racked my brain for answers.

Sure, she had slipped and fallen in an Italian bathroom.  And spent a day in a cramped train cabin with a man spitting at her feet.  And yeah, she hadn’t showered in two days.  And okay, fine, a dog bit her.

But this was our honeymoon.

That’s when we met the tiny little smiling Greek man who took us by the arm and led us to his hotel on the top of a hill.

European travel trip:  Don’t stay at the hotel of anyone who drags you there.

The fact is we had no choice.  Igoumenitsa was, as they say, off the travel grid.  “Let’s Go Europe” didn’t even have a mention of it in the index.  We had no idea if they even had hotels.

And the truth was they didn’t.  It was a small little town with tiny restaurants and tiny cafes and a few two-story houses which served as their “hotels.”  And as we walked up the hill to the tiny man’s “hotel,” every one of Igoumenitsa’s residents came out to stare at us from the doors and windows of their cafes and restaurants.  Think “Dead Man Walking,” but less joyous.

The only room this man had for us at his house was an upstairs kitchen into which he had dragged a bed.   And it was not a clean kitchen.  And it did not smell good.

I wanted to propose to Staci that we just leave, but that was pointless, because at that point she wasn’t talking to me.  In fact, judging from the stare she had given me as we walked up the hill, I wasn’t even allowed to look at her.

So we went to bed.

Honeymoon tip:  When your wife hasn’t showered in two days and she’s been bitten by a dog and the two of you are trapped in a place called Igoumenitsa and she hates you, you will not have sex.

We got up in the morning and packed our bags without saying a word.  And walked to the dock for a boat that was to take us to Piraeus, the port for Athens.

On our walk down the hill, I took some comfort in knowing that this was the absolute low point of the trip.  And that from this point forward, the most-romantic-trip-of-our-life would improve.

That’s when we started itching.

I pulled up my shirt to look at my chest.  It was covered with red dots.  As was Staci’s back.  And our arms.  And legs.

And that’s when we realized we had not been the only ones sleeping in our Igoumenitsa bed.  We had been joined by hundreds of non-paying bedbugs.

All of which taught me something interesting about absolute low points on your honeymoon.

They can go lower.