Losing is Lonely

When I talk about my sport, I struggle to decide what to call it: ultimate or Frisbee? The latter dredges up images of dogs chasing plastic across a stretch of fresh grass, certainly better manicured than any fields we ever get a chance to use. The former is just silly (a sport named after an adjective?!), the product of stoned hippies discovering a new game they could play that would allow them to feel like athletes for an hour or two. “Hey man, this shit is the ultimate!” they’d opine in between drags from a joint and cups of beer (certainly applying the same statement to their bud or brew). I suppose I should feel lucky that they chose “ultimate” over another adjective–I could be playing “groovy Frisbee.”

Whatever it’s called, it’s hard to explain. My mom played in college back in the seventies but still doesn’t know quite how far the sport has come since then. My dad has seen a game here and there, but never enough to recognize the athleticism and commitment that it requires. I’ve given up trying to tell my coworkers why I return from long weekends with a red face, scrapes on my hips, and a noticeable limp. A teammate says that he’s pretty sure his coworkers think he plays rec-league soccer on the weekend. I envy his position. It’s better not to have to explain.

I’ll try anyway.

Last weekend, I traveled with my team to northern Washington for the regional qualifying tournament for the 2011 Ultimate National Championships. We’d get no coverage from ESPN or articles in the local paper. The sport is at the stage where live coverage consists of live-blogging from a start-up magazine and an audio stream from a writer who knows a few names here and there, but generally calls the guys on the field by their numbers.

Our team is likely one of the 10 best teams in the country, and probably the world. We compete in the toughest region in the country, home to a perennial national champion (Revolver – San Francisco), a fiery team of athletes that gets all the “press” in our sport (Sockeye – Seattle), and a Canadian team (Furious George – Vancouver) with tradition and history and the accent to go with it, eh? But nobody gives a shit. Outside of those few teams that play at the highest level, ultimate is a passing hobby like fishing or darts.

Winning brings a team together. Lose, and you’ll always feel alone. Photo by John King.

When we lost a heartbreaker in the game-to-go to nationals, defeated at the hands of Furious, who we’d beaten just a few hours earlier, we collapsed into a circle of silence. A normally boisterous, playful, jovial group of men couldn’t find the words for… anything. We looked at each other and at the ground, and for ten minutes thought about another season coming up short of our goal, another story of “almost there,” another trip home filled with wonder at what more we could have done.

Those that know me know that I hate to lose, but this loss was magnified by the core of people who lost with me. I told the team that this loss hurt not because we wouldn’t be going to nationals, but that we wouldn’t be going to nationals with this team. Instead of thinking about how to prepare for the next tournament, we were left wondering whether the preparation we’d made for this one had been enough. The experience was over, wrapped up tightly with a final chapter that came a few pages too soon. And while the next volume will undoubtedly contain new characters, new challenges, and a whole different storyline, we weren’t ready for that to begin.

The hardest part of the loss came surprisingly over the next few days, when I didn’t have the team around me to share the heartache. It came when I tried in to explain the loss to my friends in text messages. It came when I tried in vain to tell Kristine about the way that we’d exceeded outside expectations and undercut our own. It came when I began to tell my parents about the tournament and decided not to even try it–that the story of our disappointment couldn’t be understood without the context that only our team knew about: a summer filled with two four-hour practices every weekend, workouts on top of workouts, hours of thinking and preparing for the game, competition and collaboration, bickering and arguing, triumph and failure.

Only our twenty-seven guys knew what we knew. As winners, we’d have ridden high with emotion. Everybody likes to offer a congratulatory pat-on-the-back or a high five to a winner. Human beings can relate to triumph, regardless of the medium of competition. They want to share the glory, ask what’s next, hear your tale of conquest.

Losing is lonely.

When you lose, your year is swept away with the other also-rans, the only record of your season marked by points on the board that you posted against the champ. And in ultimate you don’t have a fan base to pick you up off your feet and tell you to “get ’em next time,” no press to tell you that you shocked the world. All you’ve got is the lonely, heartbroken stare of your teammates, looking off into the distance wondering what more they could’ve done to keep that season going just a little longer. Sure, we’ll “wait ’til next year,” but it’s going to be a long, lonely offseason.


Everything is Texas in Texas

The moment your wheels touch down, things begin to suck. It’s as though the air vents above you have reversed themselves, literally pulling all of the good, fresh, Portland air out into that big Texas sky. Your taxi to the gate is at least ten minutes long, a reflection of a culture that would rather spread wide than build up. When you arrive, you might depart the plane with a newspaper–like I did a few years ago–looking in earnest for a recycling bin for near a half hour before realizing that the other state philosophy is, “Fuck it. Toss that shit in the trash.”

You’re in for a long shuttle to the rental car counter and an even longer drive to civilization. DFW, in particular, is ridiculous in its inconvenient convenience. City planners figured that it’d be better to build the airport in between the encroaching suburbia of Dallas and Fort Worth than to give one the upper hand over the other. You’re at least thirty minutes from where you need to be, no matter where that is.

You follow google maps the smart way into town, and then realize a moment too late that you’ve landed on one of a few unmarked Texas Toll Roads. They’ve recently given up taking cash or credit at their toll booths, a sort of Texas-sized middle finger to out-of-town visitors. “What, y’all don’t have the Easy Pass?” As you approach a checkpoint, cursing under your breath for the last thirty seconds, you begin to envision a maneuver worthy of an action movie: a quick dart across three lanes and a powerslide through a dusty brown field to the service road and financial freedom, maybe spinning a 360′ on the way. Instead, you grit your teeth, pass under the arch, and await the penalty to come in the mail.

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WK12: Round 2 and Done

When I threw together my WK12 submission, I didn’t think I’d hit the mark. I submitted it a couple days late and figured that it’d be swept into cyberspace with hundreds of other submissions. It’s the reason I simul-posted it here on On the Hook.

Then last weekend came and went, and the @WK12 twitter feed let me know that “people moving on would be notified on Friday.” Wasn’t me, wasn’t too surprised. A little flare of excitement burnt out and fell back to earth.

On Monday night I was in Dallas, celebrating the end of a long work day with a shot and a beer, when I got an email from WK12: “Sorry for the delay. You have Thursday to submit if you wish to continue.” Apparently, my email address had been entered incorrectly, I’d unknowingly made the cut from 600 to 100, and I’d be spending the next two days of a busy work trip trying to answer one of three questions:

1. What would Gadhafi’s application to W+K12.8 look like?
2. What should the role of United States government be?
3. Make your favorite vegetable America’s favorite food.

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Arwen’s run-in with the law

On days when I’m on dog duty, I’ve taken a shine to walking up the hill to Laughing Planet for lunch. Kristine insists that Arwen get some lunch-time exercise as a part of her day in the office, and I’m happy not to have to sacrifice my mid-day meal in the process. At LP, there’s a great outdoor seating area where dogs are welcome, a large container for dog water, and few places to tie up a leash. Arwen’s always been great up at LP. She hangs out under the table, waits for scraps of chicken or a bite of a cookie, and drinks greedily from a large bowl of water.

Typical mild-mannered Arwen.

She’s gotten so good that I’ve stopped keeping an eye on her. I ask her to sit and go in to order, and she stays put until I return. There’s a little wandering here and there, but never in earnest, so I generally ignore her. Today, I was sending an email on my phone when a few people walked up the steps behind us and all hell broke loose.

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Dear Grandma,

Today is your 90th birthday. Incredible. While those around you will conspire to make a huge deal of it, I can only imagine you treating it like any other day–a day when you wake up before the dawn, moving nimbly around the kitchen with an incomparable motor, putting away the things that others left out the night before and beginning the coffee grounds for the early risers (they’ll be up in an hour or two). I hope that this day is a special one for you, and I know that it will be. You’ll be surrounded by people you love! And so perhaps the best part of being the center of attention on this day–for you–is sharing in stories, smiles, laughter, and love, with so many people, one after another. You might go to bed wondering if we can’t celebrate your 90th birthday plus a day, and then plus two days, and so on and so forth because life is too short, even when you’ve lived 90 years, not to spend time talking, learning, and smiling.

You were born in 1921 (subtracting 90 is simple math), a year that saw the birth of Chanel No. 5 and the Chinese Communist party. The former would never be as sweet as you, the latter is still struggling to touch as many lives as you have. I’ve only ever listened in passing to your stories of the “Joneses,” the “Smiths,” Barbara and William Something-or-other, Joe and Harriet Whats-the-name. I couldn’t even begin to feel the depth of those stories (and your connection to the people in them), but I know that those people are vivid memories for you, and will always hold a special place in your mind and your heart. You’ll remember who they are and what they did and where you had coffee together and what you talked about. And perhaps the only thing more vivid than your memories of the people who you’ve made a part of your life are those people’s memories of you and Grandpa: the terrific, too-cute-to-be-true Bob and Bobbie. A couple with with conviction, kindness, tolerance, openness, intelligence, humor, and grace.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to expect certain things from my Grandma:

  • Birthday cards–always on time, never legible. I needed my mom to read them to me until I went off to college and truly needed to fend for myself. I remember those first few letters that I received in my dorm, and my stubborn tenacity in learning to decipher your script. I wasn’t going to let a letter from grandma go unread.
  • When I was two years old, we played ball with the big red plastic bat while Orion was being born at the hospital–a story for which I would have no memory except for the fact that you relate it to me each year. I’ve built that memory from your words. Thanks for that.
  • A special vocabulary of Grandma’s words: cherish, spirit, peace, friendship. You’ll almost certainly speak those words today, and when you do, others will hang on each syllable because you’ve lived a life that embodies spirituality, peace, and friendship. These are the things you cherish, these are the words that define you. You say them better than anyone, as though you really understand what they ought to mean.
  • As I swung into the teenage years, I always knew that a visit from Grandma meant a temporary ban on certain categories of my burgeoning vocabulary. “No swear words, Ian!” I would be warned as mom went out the door to pick you up at the airport. (“But those are my favorite ones!!”) She would implore Orion and me to say “Gosh!” in exasperation rather than take the Lord’s name in vain. I don’t think I ever slipped up. Well, maybe once. I’m hoping you didn’t quite hear it.
  • More than anyone else in my life, I’ve learned that I can always expect your focused and undivided attention on the things that matter to me. You’re curious enough to let your grandchildren tell you everything about the things that matter in our lives, patient enough to let us find the words and put them together the way we want to, persistent enough to uncover the things we aren’t saying but really want to say.

The world has become a place of extremes, a place where language is augmented beyond reason to convey a simple point to an excessive degree. (I mean, just look at that last sentence.) We hear people describe ordinary things as “fabulous, fantastic, wonderful, incredible, great, and phenomenal.” When I’ve had the occasion to describe my grandparents to the people around me, I’ve found those words to be unsatisfying. They’re exaggerated terms–extremes that seem hard to reach–words that are tuned out because we hear them so often.

And so I reserve the use of the word “good” for someone who truly embodies the spirit of the word. When I think of you, “good” comes to mind. This is not to say you aren’t great–for you are. It’s not to say that you aren’t fabulous, because I’ve seen you in a big straw hat and fashionable sunglasses, and I know that you’ve aged with beauty and with a style all your own. You’re a phenomenal musician, an incredible mother, a wonderful grandmother. But underneath it all, you’re just… as good as they come.

I’ve never met anyone as good as you, with such a caring and selfless spirit. You are a truly heartwarming person who wants to bring good thoughts, good values, good words, and the good life to each person you meet. For a remarkable ninety years, you’ve succeeded. So good, so good.

Happy Birthday, and lots of good love,

WK12 Application – Excerpts

I finally got the stones and applied (late) for Wieden + Kennedy 12. The exercise was interesting enough to share some excerpts here. If you already know me pretty well, you might find this redundant. I’m not sure exactly what WK12 is, or why I should want to do it. And that’s part of the reason I want to do it. A very good company creating a thought experiment like this one for a calendar year… well that’s just too interesting to pass up.

First name ian
Middle initial
Last name fisher
Phone number ***.7*7.7***
Email address f********@*****.com
Mailing address ** NE **th Ave. Portland, OR 97***
Country of citizenship USA
Occupation Senior Assistant Dean of Admission
Education B.A. Philosophy, Reed College
Website https://ianbrookfisher.wordpress.com
Blog address https://ianbrookfisher.wordpress.com
Twitter handle ianbrookfisher

Describe yourself I was born in Arizona 26 years ago, the same year my mother earned her PhD. It was a big year for her. We lived in a desert house until I was two years old. My crib was covered with netting–not for mosquitos, but for scorpions. When I was a baby, a seven-foot rattlesnake slithered by my head with only a wire screen between us while my mom looked on, frozen in horror. I was lucky it had just fed.

In general, I was a pain in the ass as an infant, but I had a remarkable attention span. I committed to figuring things out in my playpen, spending hours on a game or a task. I’ve always been curious, always tenacious.

At two, a baby brother was added to the family and we became four strong*. In the last twenty-four years, I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that my little brother is much, much cooler than I am. Maybe the names have something to do with it–his is a warrior constellation, I was almost Ben. He has learned humility where I’ve been brash. He’s listened when I’ve talked. He’s a brilliant painter and a bold musician–stylish without trying, funny without planning on it. We’ve always been opposites and yet, the same. It comes from good parenting.

I staggered through junior high school like most pre-teenagers. I played with wrestling dolls until I was thirteen, insisting they were action figures. I bought a CD with their entrance music and turned the lights out in my living-room arena as they strutted to the stage. They say that junior high is a low point in human development. They say it right.

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The Elderly Patrol Car

My car rental needs are rather simple, really.

  • I need four wheels attached to the outside of the car and a fifth to control the direction of the others.
  • I don’t want anything too big. I’ve learned there are few things worse than trying to park a boat in a tight spot in a strange part of a new town with pedestrian traffic gaping at you as though you’ve pulled down your pants and tried to park with your ass hanging out the passenger side window.
  • Music is important, but not that XM satellite radio bullshit. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a song I’ve like over hundreds of stations. It seems to be the straight-to-DVD world of music. All I need is an input jack for an auxiliary cable so I can cruise with Pandora.
  • Good gas mileage is a plus. I drive a guzzler back home, so when I’m on the road I like to be able to slowly emit greenhouse gasses in order to feel a little more environmentally conscious.

As I’m waiting in that painfully slow line at the rental counter, I’m hoping to have at least three of these conditions met. I know that nobody is going to screw up condition one, so that’s a freebie for them. Making a reservation should guarantee at least two of the other three–I can never really know what the audio setup is going to be, but I’m willing to trust that outcome to a hope.

I wait and I visualize myself stepping up to the counter: Place license and credit card on counter immediately. Declare that you’ve made a reservation. Engage in smalltalk about the weather. Laugh when the woman standing next to you says there’s a “heat advisory” in place today. Remark that it’s August in Phoenix–of course there’s a fucking heat advisory. Decline all coverages. Insist that no, you don’t need even that additional $14.99/day option that covers collision. Feign interest at XM radio and GPS devices–a courtesy–before passing on the option. I’m prepared. It’s my turn. I step forward when I’m called.

The woman behind the counter doesn’t immediately move to help me, instead typing away at her keyboard. Interesting strategy, I think to myself. Declaring readiness and then making me wait. I take note of the surroundings, and the woman I’ll be dealing with. Her name is Shirley (you can’t be serious!), and she’s got the look of a conservative of moderate means–but then, so do most white Arizonans–with short blonde hair and wire-framed spectacles firmly trained on the screen. She pays me no mind, and I begin to regret shaving this morning, which makes me look like a first-time renter. The ball’s in your court, Shirley.

After a minute or so, she collects my information and enters it into the system. The man who stepped to the counter after I did is now leaving with his rental agreement. Shirley reports to me that she can get me a small SUV at only $110 a day, a discount of $20 off the typical price, and a modest $30 more than the cost of my reservation. “It’s a Hyundai Santa Fe. They’re a lot of fun.” I insist that I’d prefer a car at the price that I reserved, and she scrunches her nose and narrows her eyes, staring directly at the screen. “We’re running short on cars today, but… you know, I’ll see what I can do.” Great, now she’s doing me a favor.

The concept of having a reservation vanish into thin air is not lost on anyone. Imagine for a moment how laughable it would be for a restaurant to tell you that, despite your reservation, they’ve run out of tables. They’d never stay in business! And yet, rental companies perpetrate this injustice every single day. Seinfeld did a great treatment of this back before I even knew how to drive, and I won’t presume to add any new insight here. Moving on.

After some time talking to a colleague, Shirley (you still can’t be serious) returns to me to say that she’ll just “have to give me a free upgrade,” and I agree that this seems the sensible thing to do. Now the work begins. I’m declining additional coverages with my left and fighting off the GPS with my right. She’s persistent, and I’ve given up even listening to her spiel, for fear that she’ll gain momentum and steamroll me. I initial boxes and circles, declining here, refusing there. I boldly assure her that I can find a gas station and fill up a tank with fuel, and so I won’t be needing to pay $7.98/gallon for them to fill it for me.

(A quick aside: How do they come up with that number? Do they just figure $8 is the largest figure they can possibly extort from people without raising an alarm, and then drop it $.02 to make it seem reasonable? The price wasn’t some factor of the gas price in town ($3.39), nor was it explicated in the directions, which read “While you will have to pay more for us to refuel the vehicle, it can be a smart option if you won’t have time to fill up on your way to the return site.” Leave it to a rental car company to spin $7.98/gallon as the “smart option.”)

Standing firm on my last legs, I peer down at the rental car agreement and find that

I’ve been saddled with the flagship of the piece of shit rental car fleet: The Ford Crown Victoria. I had one of these back in New Mexico for a single-day rental, and it was awful. I felt like I entered some alternate universe of time dilation that caused me to age three years as the leather bench seats and digital speedometer oozed elderly onto me. And now I was going to have one for four days. I protested harshly, and Shirley assured me that it was “a nice big car with a very smooth ride.” Of course, you can’t be serious. “You’ll be really comfortable,” she said. “It’s a great car, very luxurious.”

“Yeah, if you’re a police officer.” I don’t think she got it.

On the freeway minutes later, I would find that the Crown Vic is as ubiquitous in Phoenix as the Outback in Portland, just one more indication of the cultural chasm between the two cities. For Shirley, an upgrade to the Crown Vic is a dream–she’ll rue the day when she arrives in PDX and we’ve got a surplus of Priuses to replace her full-size reservation. I can imagine her panicking again and again as that damn engine keeps shutting off whenever she comes to a stop. I find it no small coincidence that you’ve got to fly over the Grand Canyon to get from Portland to Phoenix.

So now I’m cruising the mean streets of Tempe on a sweltering 109 degree day (“Heat advisory!”). Looks like it’s going to be a week of aviators and straw hats, badges and Hawaiian print shirts. The car has two speeds: ten miles an hour under the speed limit, or twenty-five over–with a siren firing in the background. I’m headed down to Van Buren this afternoon to make some arrests, but only after I stop off to pick the grandkids up from daycare. This car has a mission, and I am to live it.