I apologize for the length in advance – there is some stream of consciousness here, but this whole nomination process has made me pretty reflective on my past, and where I’ve come from and what I believe in.
I’ve got to admit, I was a pretty lucky kid. My Mom and Dad started our family in the late 60’s in a crowded, dingy section of Norwalk, California. The five of us (my parents, me and my two sisters) were pretty poor – my pops was driving a truck and doing odd jobs where he could find them, Mom was doing some accounting work. When I was a few years old, they moved us into a decent part of Long Beach, not too far from Grandma’s house.
Grandma was a big-time Republican, and I remember her and my father arguing politics from time to time. Of course, I never understood the issues they were discussing, but I knew they seemed to find it pretty important. And it was clear to my entire family early on that I was a political savant. Looking at a picture of Richard Nixon on the television screen, I started crying. My Grandma asked me why I was crying and I said “because he’s scary”. Turns out I was probably more knowledgeable about politics at 3 than I am now as a grown man.
Anyways, my Dad took a job in Sacramento when I was 6 years old and I’ve lived in the area ever since. My parents were always fitness freaks – ate well, exercised, played sports. And that’s why I consider myself to be a pretty lucky kid – I absorbed their interest in sports, and not just watching sports on television, but playing them. I played Little League, swam competitively, and even learned how to play tennis. I’d shoot jump shots on the basketball court for hours during the summer and play football with my friends most weekends during the winter.
My love for sports has been a pretty big influence on my life. Learning to play within a team, understanding how the disparate talents of individual players can mesh into something considerably more, how this meshing of talent can lead to victory against others who on paper had better talent – these were all important life lessons that I’m not sure I would have received outside of this little world of mine. To this day (now in my early 40’s) sports and competition is still an important part of my life.
When I was 12 (way back in 1978), my parents joined a health club for the first time. Up until that point, most “health clubs” were strictly about lifting weights – muscle gyms filled with Schwarzenegger-wannabe’s. This was completely different – they had a basketball court, the free weights were separated from the resistance machines. There were tanning beds, and an upstairs lounge with a full food menu. There was a big-screen television, video games and dart boards, a pool and a pool table. The mens locker room had a sauna and a Jacuzzi.
It was like Disneyland for a kid who was into sports.
Best of all, they had racquetball courts. Eight of ‘em actually. I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I’d even heard the word “racquetball” up to that point. Who spends their evenings in a 40 foot long by 20 foot wide by 20 foot high box?
Turns out, lots of people did. Every night, I’d watch the older guys and girls play round-robin matches on the courts that had the glass back walls. Damn, they even played doubles! You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen 4 large men play racquetball at the same time. 40 by 20 by 20 starts to look like a very small confined space.
But it sure looked like fun. So I took a few lessons with our club pro, and I was hooked. I was drawn to racquetball like Hurley to the Dharma Ranch Dressing.
After a few years, I was pretty damn good…and I started playing tournaments. I graduated from small tournaments at my own gym, to local tournaments, to larger regional tournaments, and on a few occasions national tournaments. I even played a few years at the professional event down in Stockton.
I always loved the team aspect of playing baseball, basketball or football, but the bottom line was that there was only a marginal amount of influence one player could have on the game…on the baseball field you would come to bat three or four times per game, maybe make two or three defensive plays depending on the position you played. Racquetball tournaments were much much different. It was you and one other person, locked in a small room – and the outcome often relied on factors other than pure skill. Tournaments are where you figured out how much fire you had in your belly…they were a test of endurance and stamina as much as pure talent. There were times when I would wake up the Sunday morning of a tournament, after playing seven or eight matches over the Friday night/Saturday preceding, and wonder if I would even be able to limp around the court for my upcoming semi-final or final match. But there was always the combination of a couple of painkillers, IcyHot, stretching, and a pre-match beer to get my body loosened up.
It sounds funny, but there was always something very spiritual for me in these matches late in the tournament, when I was playing the best remaining players in the draw, wondering if they were really hurting as much as I was, whether I would break their spirit before they broke mine, whether I had enough in the cajones department to survive a war of attrition, then likely need to do the same thing an hour or two later.
I’ve gotta admit, early on in my racquetball “career”, there were times where I couldn’t do it – I’d go into a match, get down early, try to fight back, but just gave it up in the face of superior talent and superior physical ability. But after a while, I learned a very important lesson – most of the other players I was facing had the same doubts, the same concerns about endurance, and the questions about their own mental toughness when you had your back against the wall in a match.
So I worked on changing my mindset – I’d work my ass off for every damn point, every game. If I showed my opponent that I wouldn’t concede an inch – over time they will have to question whether THEY had the guts to beat me. And some did…others (and occasionally much “better” players) didn’t.
About two years ago, I was lucky enough to marry a beautiful woman, a single mom with a young girl whose smile melted my heart. Subsequently, I adopted this amazing girl and have been doing the most important job I could ever imagine. But, as so many can surely attest, having a small child to take care of can put a major crimp in your social schedule, and can add a few pounds to the waistline. Racquetball, and exercise in general, became far less important. So I stopped playing.
That little girl is getting ready to turn five now, so recently my wife and I decided to join the local health club. Nice place, lots of tennis courts, and a good kids facility for my daughter to play in while we are working out.
And four racquetball courts.
Turns out, they have a racquetball league at this gym, and on a whim I decided to go ahead and sign up. I figured the competition would keep me interested enough to practice a bit, maybe see where my game was. In the back of my mind, I knew what I was really doing – seeing if I still had the stuff to compete, maybe play a tournament down the road and let my little girl see something that Daddy used to do really, really well.
First night (two weeks ago), I played my first matches in the league. We would play two doubles matches to start out – I was paired up with a decent player, and we won one game, lost the other. Immediately, I had to go back on the court and play my first singles match – and I was paired up with a pretty good player. Low A / High B maybe – good forehand, decent backhand – very good game in the frontcourt.
And here I was, wheezing like a Ford Escort with a blown cylinder. Two games into my “comeback” and my knees and back are rebelling to the extra 20 pounds I had put on during my hiatus. So I sucked down a couple of ibuprofen, drank some water, and discretely looked around to see if there was a defibrillator on standby. Immediately, the guy got me down 7-1. I was having trouble getting him out of the frontcourt, and wasn’t even making him sweat – he moved me around from one side of the court to the other, front and back. I was hoping at that point to get 5 points on him.
Then he made his first mistake. He relaxed. He stopped drive serving and went to lob serves to my backhand. Slowly, I started to get a rhythm, hitting better ceiling balls that forced him out of the frontcourt. And once I took control of the frontcourt, I was determined not to give it back to him – since I didn’t really have my power game, I just finessed him. Lob serves, ceiling balls, pass shots to move him back and forth. And I ended up beating him that first game 15-8.
The second game was much easier…mentally, he seemed to have already decided that it was going to be tough sledding. I won that game 15-5.
Man, was I psyched. I was back! Well, maybe not fully back, but I definitely got the bug.
So this past Tuesday night, I show up for week 2. I’ve dropped a few pounds, my legs are adjusting a bit and aren’t quite as sore. This is the week I’m going to turn it up a notch.
Again, we play two doubles matches, with split results. My singles matchup is against a lower level player, maybe a high C, low B. Nice guy, and a hard worker on the court.
First game, I get up on him pretty quickly – but he’s making me work hard for each point. The guy has a motor that won’t quit, and some balls I think he has no chance getting come back up to the front wall and I have to extend the rally another two or three swings.
After about 10 minutes of this, I can feel my legs wearing out. Sonufabitch – this guy isn’t going to just “lay down” for a better player. He’s seeing me as a nice little conquest! I’m not putting the ball away, and he’s getting everything. I feel like I’m running uphill for every point I get.
And he broke me. 15-8, 15-5. Shit. Back to the drawing board. Lots of work to do.
When I read liberal websites of late, there are heavily partisan people on both sides, making grandiose claims of the inevitability of their chosen candidate. And when I read things like “Hillary will quit on March 5th”, or “Obama’s way too far ahead in fundraising”, I just shake my head and laugh.
Whether you like her or not, Hillary Clinton is a formidable opponent. And it doesn’t have anything to do with money or how many primaries or delegates she’s won. What it has to do with is her desire to win and overcome the obstacles that have been placed in front of her.
This is a woman who has been unfairly vilified by the mainstream media for years, who has been hammered with every vile accusation under the sun by the right-wing machine. And she is a woman who had to absorb the heartache of seeing her husband’s infidelities broadcast to the entire world, and somehow being scorned for HIS indiscretions.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I would have been greatly inclined, after all that, to disappear quietly into public life, to avoid the snide remarks and haymakers that would continue to be thrown my way. But she didn’t…far from it.
This woman has become a very popular sitting Senator and has herself on the cusp of something I don’t think any of us could have foreshadowed in our lifetimes. She’s a survivor, and a truly remarkable human being. She would make a tremendous President of the United States, and I will gladly back her if she is the nominee.
However, I’m an Obama guy – I was on the Edwards train for a long time, and made the jump to Obama after my guy suspended his campaign. I think Obama’s is the right voice to get the people of this country energized and back in the process. In my heart, I really believe it’s about time the younger generation stepped up to grab the reigns of this country, to start pushing the old guard out and move this country away from the angry, partisan machine it has become. I think Obama is the guy to bring about that change.
But make no mistake, Obama will not win because Hillary is going to quit. He is going to have to beat her, period. She is that guy that kicked my ass on the racquetball court last Tuesday, but with infinitely more raw talent. She and her supporters are energized, and more importantly, they believe she can win. And Barack is not going to be able to just throw his jock out on the court and finish this thing off – he’s going to need to be brilliant. From now until the convention, if necessary.