I DON’T DO HORROR

I don’t do horror films any more.  Simply not interested.  The last one that drew me in was “Wait Until Dark,” starring Audrey Hepburn.  That was in 1968, for goodness sake.

That movie actually had a plot, a story line that was logical, coherent and compelling.  A young blind woman was being terrorized by a couple of yokel bad guys . . . and she managed to turn darkness to her advantage.  (Of course, my wry college roommate ruined the film for my sister when, after Hepburn stabs one of the baddies and it evokes a sigh of relief, Brian whispered, “Well, that’s not gonna kill him!”)

Most of what passes for horror these days is simply slash and burn.  Knives and violence, blood and, especially, gore.  The more gore, the better.  I used to read—and enjoy—authors like Dean Koontz and Patricia Cornwell.    But, eventually, their subtle take on horror and suspense turned largely to, you guessed it, vastly increased violence, blood and gore.  Gratuitous violence, blood and gore.

How, exactly, is that interesting?  What happened?  Did character development and engaging plot exposition become too difficult?

Similarly, there are people who put me off with their grating nature.  Martin Short is a very bright comedian and writer, but his incessant and grating neediness really puts me off.  He got off a very funny line, something to do with a “Betty Crocker Spaniel”—I don’t remember the context now—that was hilarious.  But he immediately reverted to his simpering “But more about me” and that was that.  (Comes from insecurity I guess, but it’s still discomfiting to watch.  I remember being horribly insecure in college; I wasn’t much fun to be around either.)

In similar vein, I cannot abide Tom Cruise, Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez.  It’s a shame, because all three are immensely talented people.  Cruise was “Top Gun,” Bryant is showing himself to be a brilliant entrepreneur and A-Roid brings insightful analysis to “Sunday Night Baseball.”

But Cruise’s blustering adherence to Scientology is mean and near-criminal (and he should never have been allowed to try and inhabit the Jack Reacher role . . . since Jack is six-five, 245).  Bryant was a sexual predator and Rodriguez was a blatant and lying steroid cheater through much of his baseball career.  Horror stories in their own right.

No, character is what’s most important to me, on the silver screen and in life.  I’m looking to work with and socialize with folk who know that their good name and their word are the most valuable possessions they will ever possess.  If you start with character, goodness and light will follow.  That may be the most important natural law there is.  Think on it a bit.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

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BASKETBALL LESSONS

The NBA playoffs are putting forth a couple of intriguing basketball lessons.  The most obvious is that team play is more effective than “iso” play.  Iso is the latest hip phrase for “isolation” basketball, one-on-one play.  The prime example of how badly that works came courtesy of Russell Westbrook, the fiery, impassioned point guard of the Oklahoma Thunder.  Awarded the Most Valuable Player last year, he is as exciting a player as there is in all professional sport.  The problem?  He is so self-centered that his teammates end up standing around watching, wholly unprepared to contribute anything to the team’s effort.  (Another example is James Harden of the Rockets who, despite playing no discernible defense, is likely to be this year’s MVP.)

Basketball is still a team game, where good offense is kick-started by determined and unrelenting defense.  The Golden State Warriors are the best example of that, sharing the ball so well that they are averaging nearly thirty assists per game.  When they play a team that has only ten assists in a game, who do you think is going to win?  Rhetorical question.

The Boston Celtics are another team that focuses on team play, and that might be their path to victory over the Cleveland team, led by the most extraordinary player of our time (maybe of any time), LeBron James.  That a man of his size and build can do virtually anything a basketball player can be asked to do—muscle up a shot from inside the paint or finesse one from beyond the arc, defend any of the five positions—speaks loudly.  (Keep in mind that the Celtics have focused on defense and team play since the historic days when the team was led by USF grad Bill Russell.)

It will be interesting to see how the playoffs play out.  The consensus is that the Warriors will overwhelm the Celtics in the finals, but the conference championships still must be contested to their conclusions, and titles are not always won on paper.  That’s why they play the games, after all.  As the great sports writer Hugh E. Keough wrote in Colliers magazine in 1919, “The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong . . . but that is the way to bet.”

One other fascinating basketball lesson-story is also in the process of unfolding.  NBA teams looking for a new head coach are, for the first time, actively interviewing a female coach for the postings.  Her name is Becky Hammon, and it seems only a matter of time before one of the league’s general managers recognizes her game skills and people skills and gets her signature on a contract.  (I had always thought that Stanford’s women’s coach Tara VanDeveer might be the first female head coach in the NBA, but there you go.)

San Antonio Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich, hired her as an assistant coach four years ago, and it didn’t take long for that hiring to be viewed as “ho hum.”  You see, Ms. Hammon turned out to be every bit as good at coaching the game as she had been at playing it at the highest level.

Spurs player Pau Gasol makes no bones about how good a coach she is: “I’m telling you: Becky Hammon can coach,” he wrote in the Players Tribune.  “I’m not saying she can coach pretty well.  I’m not saying she can coach enough to get by.  I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches.  I’m saying Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball.  Period.”  Gasol went on to add, “The NBA is not a complacent league.  It’s a great league.”  His meaning was clear: He expects Hammon to be hired as a head coach rather quickly.  And he expects her to continue to be very good at what she does.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

TALKIN’ BASEBALL

We are one quarter of the way through the baseball season and, somehow, the Giants are holding things together with bailing wire and duct tape.  It’s amazing, when you think about it.  Bumgarner is only just starting to throw off the mound, as is Melancon, Cueto’s been MIA much of the season, and Samardzija—what exactly is the deal with The Shark?  He sees the catcher’s glove, but he cannot hit it with any of his pitches.  Goodness!  (Okay, he was a little better last night, but still.)

And a third of their best position players—Pence, Panik and Williamson—have yet to play more than a handful of innings.  Given all that, the G-men remain in striking distance of the D-backs in their division.  When all the “Killer P’s” (Posey, Pence, Panik, Pablo, Parker) are back in the line-up at the same time, things will be a whole lot better.  Plus, the Dodgers are dying like dogs.  So, it’s all good.

Bev and I mainly root for the Giants and the Athletics (our son, Curtis, works for the A’s).  Bev’s from Atlanta, so the tomahawk chop is occasionally exhibited in our TV room, and we also will cheer on the Cubs and the Red Sox.

But I mostly focus on individual players, those who have a story to tell.  I am currently enchanted by the Japanese player Shohei Ohtani.  And what a story he is!  Tall and rangy, he’s hitting nearly .333 as a designated hitter and takes the mound once a week to throw sizzling fast balls past befuddled hitters.  Since Babe Ruth pitched brilliantly—and hit well enough to earn the sobriquet “Sultan of Swat”—nobody’s done anything remotely like it.

I was a big fan of the undersized Darwin Barney, the Korean-American from Oregon State University—they won back-to-back College World Series about a dozen years ago—who had a nice career with the Cubs and Blue Jays.  I root for the other little guys, too, like Dustin Pedroia and Jose Altuve.  I admire the skills of Mike Trout (all around player, genuine human being) and Bryce Harper (who hit a 406-foot home run while his bat broke off in his hands).

I root for Bartolo Colon, the nearly 45-year-old pitcher for the Texas Rangers whose 2.81 ERA is in the American League’s top ten.  When a 106-mph line drive nearly embedded in his stomach, he calmly picked the ball up and threw the batter out at first base.  Belly-laughing the whole time!  He threw more than seven innings of shutout ball in a 5-1 win Wednesday evening.  His catcher puts up his glove, and Colon calmly hits it, pitch after pitch.  The man is a marvel.

I also like Chris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo (and their wizardly manager, Joe Maddon) of the Cubs.  Bev and I refer to the latter as “Ant’ny” (for Carla’s ex-husband in “Cheers”) . . . just ‘cause it sounds funny.  They seem to be good guys, and they are excellent players, so that’s enough.

The fellow that I really hope can extend and expand on his career is Pat Venditte.  Pat is unique in all of professional baseball, because he employs a glove that can comfortably fit on either hand.  You see Venditte (“ven-dee-tee”), who played his college ball in the Ivy League, can hurl the pelota plateward with either arm.  He is truly ambidextrous.  You gotta root for a story like that!  So I do.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

GENDER FLUIDITY

I’m old enough to remember when the alphabet soup was barely a beef and barley broth:  LGB.  Lesbian, gay, bisexual.  That was it.  Easy to remember.

Problem is, gender turns out to be so much more fluid that that simple soup.  Even the rainbow flag that supporters fly—we should all be raising that colorful banner in support—doesn’t really cover all the incidents and accidents of gender.  It’s a real hodgepodge and we ought to celebrate such diversity.  Different should be seen as delightful and engaging.  Always and everywhere.

Gender and sex are different things.  In its simplest form, sex has to do with our external organs, while gender is a whole confluence of factors that tell us who we really are.  When the two are aligned, life is simple.  When they contrast, things get more interesting.  There are challenges, within and without.

Even then, there can be complications.  In addition to your body parts, your bodily characteristics are influenced by chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs and secondary sex characteristics.  You see where complications might work their way into how you and others see yourself?

That’s where gender identity shows itself.  What the world sees and what you know can be wildly diverse and discombobulating.  Life is not always binary:  one’s a boy, the other’s a girl.  Life is not that simple any more.  Even if you are certain about your gender, your sexual orientation might still express itself in myriad ways.  That’s the beauty of gender and sex: there are many, many combinations of expressing sexuality and, so long as it’s not hurtful, all should be respected and revered.

Take the word transgender.  That’s just an umbrella term for folk whose sexual expression doesn’t seem to match their external physical identity.  My friend Steve spent the first three decades of his life as Doris.  When Doris finally, inevitably morphed into Steve, all was right with the world.  For Steve. But keep in mind, a person whose body and gender don’t match can still explore the world as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or queer.  What’s passion for one is poison for another.  No accounting for taste, right?

Trans is a word that now encompasses a wide range of expression, not all of them clear and defined.  Cross-dressing is an oft-abused term, and is usually understood simply to mean someone who dons clothing of the opposite sex but remains straight in the bedroom.

Someone in “transition” is in the process of reassignment surgery, as when Doris had the surgery to remove her breasts and fashion a penis for Steve.

And, to complicate things even more, we now recognize the “gender non-conforming,” which speaks to the fluidity of gender that I mentioned earlier.  To say that gender is no longer binary only scratches the surface.  For me—and this is where it really gets interesting—people must be allowed to shape themselves into any of the new and intriguing ways that “fit.”  Have at it, says me.  The more the merrier.

Which is the long way of saying that LGB has evolved.  LGBT isn’t even enough any longer.  Don’t forget the “Q” and the “I.”  The Q is for questioning or queer (often a political stance) and the I is for intersex, mostly where one has “non-standard” genitalia.  It’s all part of the soup-stew world we live in.  Embrace it all.  Celebrate it all.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

THEY’RE HERE!

[Today’s post was originally published on 23 August 1987 in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat under the title “The Miracle of Birth.”  Honor your mom on Sunday.]

I still cannot suppress squeals of delight over the events of Friday before last. It has happened tens, maybe hundreds of billions of times on this planet, yet when it happens for you it is a miracle of the first magnitude.

You might explain and understand the mating of spermatozoon and egg like a college professor, but when a pink, bawling, cute-as-anything kidlet comes forth from the belly of your wife, well, this is the stuff of tears, joyous tears.  And when there are two wrinkled little critters, well . . . words simply do not work.  My German capacity for the efficient and the organized up and left, leaving the field to pure Portuguese bemusement and bewilderment.  What incredible and utterly indescribable feelings!

Harmonic convergence might explain it for some, but I suspect it had more to do with experience, judgment and skill.  When Dr. Bob Field saw signs of increasing toxemia, he told us that it was “time to bring ‘em out.”

Watching Field’s and (anesthesiologist) Dr. Cho’s calm, precise work was an added treat.  It was like watching the late Fred Astaire dance.  Their skills are so honed and polished by practice that they made it look easy, effortless. Said Field afterward, in assessing delivery and post-op, “It was ‘ho hum.’”

As for the C-section, that’s exactly what we wanted to hear.  But what came out was anything but ho or hum.  Tamara Nicole and Curtis William issued forth almost simultaneously, both lusty of voice and full of vigor, neither needing—despite their diminutive size—supplemental oxygen.

Time goes quickly when life is lived automatically, but when you’re fully involved, fully aware, it slows down deliciously.  But the last eight months have almost been lived at stop.  Bev and I have been so attuned, so aware of the changes in her body, her hormones, and in preparation for this most major of changes in our lives.  There’s no other analogy for me.  Through it all I’ve felt like a kid waiting for Christmas to finally come, convinced and certain that it might never arrive.

(These are, after all, our Christmas babies.  They were conceived on Christmas Day last year; they provide an early Christmas for us all this year.)

And it has been a trying eight months.  We’ve kind of kept things to ourselves, rather than burden our friends with what we hoped would be minor difficulties.  Three times—each of the last three full moons—Bev entered the hospital when contractions, bleeding, and hints of toxemia posed potential problems.  Each time, things worked through to reasonable resolutions.

Gradually, we began to relax a little, finally convinced that things would work out in the long run.  Still, when you’ve waited as long as we have, you tend to inflate problems a little.  But, as Dr. Field wisely counseled, better to be a bit on the conservative side than be cavalier about it.  Especially when it’s your last chance.

So, Christmas is here, and our children have finally come forth to take their chances in this crazed-but-wonderful world we live in.  Already differences are apparent.  When I reach down to massage Tamara’s back, she just curls up and coos with delight.  But when I massage Curtis, he kicks his feet and stretches his arms to participate.

And they are beautiful children.  All newborns are beautiful, because they represent hope.  The future would look bleak indeed if we were not able to cradle and nurture a new generation, one backed by our experience and fed on our ideals, however trampled-on they might be.  For it is through children that our ideals are succored and sustained.

There is a folk song, once sung by Glenn Yarborough, that I am most fond of.  Called “One More Round,” the lyrics speak to this hope of childbirth.  In the final verse: “The Lord keeps givin’ chances to this little world of man / He always sends a babe when things are lookin’ down / A baby’s born, here’s another chance to take it one more round.”

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

IT’S DEPRESSING

Don’t kid yourself, even “strong” people get down now and again.  I am known for my usually sunny disposition, but there are things—left, right and center—that throw me off my feed.  The stomach tightens up and tumbles, black clouds show up in an otherwise clear sky and things solid suddenly seem off kilter, just a little.

For more than a year now we’ve been forced to live with an unhinged, self-absorbent, talentless creature occupying our country’s highest political position.  Because of his disinterest in anyone but himself, our country’s stature has plummeted and any sense of the normal has been kicked to the curb.  My stomach roils as I write these words.

Equally depressing are the results of a recent poll on the subject of teachers’ pay.  Yes, nearly seventy percent of those questioned said that teachers didn’t make enough, and twenty-one percent suggested that their pay was about right.  But five percent said that teachers were paid too much.  Really?  Seriously?  In what dimly-lit world are these folks living?

I’m sorry, but when entertainers and professional athletes make millions each year and teachers are forced to raid their piggy banks to buy paper and paint brushes, Holy cow!  That’s just not right!

All of that leads up to the subject of today’s rant, our increased awareness of childhood depression.  It’s not that kids are any more depressed than kids have ever been.  Don’t fall for that bit of misleading data.  What you need to know is that we are more attuned to our children today, that we are more aware of what’s going on in their highly sensitive minds.  And, as you might expect—living in a fast-paced world where every last iota of bad news is as close as their many touchscreens—kids tummies are just as upset as yours and mine.

The good news is that, with our increased awareness, comes better and more-informed opportunity to counter those negative impressions.  We know the signs of sadness and depression.  When your kid shows abnormal sensitivity to criticism, isn’t eating or sleeping normally, pulls away from friends and family, has headaches or stomachaches, you know something is wrong.

The numbers are stark: more than three million American teens suffer serious depressive episodes in a year’s time, serious enough that many of them contemplate suicide . . . and thousands succeed.  Sobering.

If you’ve never considered suicide, you’re not paying attention.  Most adults can faithfully recite the easy bromide, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”  Which is fine if you’ve lived long enough and well enough to fully understand that adage.  But, when one in five of our teens comes up against serious depression, well, more is needed.

That’s where the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline comes into play.  You may not need the number today, but the odds are good that it’ll come in handy one of these days.  The number is (800) 273-8255.  Twenty-four-seven.  Write it down.  Put it in your phone.  Now.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle

 

[There is also a free on-line help site: www.usa.gov/features/kids-and-depression.  Do take note.]

TO THE SKY

We do not take to the sky naturally.  Being “up in the air” is, necessarily, uncomfortable.  Yet we dream of being able to fly from the moment we are cognizant of birds and their winged freedom.  That’s what has always drawn me to flying.

Flying was dramatically splayed across the headlines last month when former military jet jockey Tammi Jo Shults calmly, clinically put a Boeing 737 on the tarmac without one of its two engines.  It was reminiscent of Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s flawless descent onto the Hudson River some years ago (captured brilliantly by Tom Hanks and crew in the film “Sully”).  Ms. Shults matter-of-factly assessed the damage and artfully landed the crippled craft with the bizarre loss of but a single life.

It was the first U.S. commercial aircraft fatality in almost a decade.  If you have even the slightest fear of flying, let me suggest that you listen to the eight minutes of cockpit-air traffic communications audio on YouTube.  You will hear nothing but calm and collected from experienced professionals doing their jobs as they have been trained to do.  It was this:  Here is our problem and here’s what we’re doing to do to make the best of a difficult situation.  Nothing more, nothing less.

(If you have even the slightest fear of flying, try and put it into context.  In the U.S. over the last nine years, one commercial airline death.  Swing sets kill twenty people a year in our country.  Bathtub deaths?  Three hundred.  Staircases account for more than five times that number!  Getting scared about those numbers?  How about falling out of bed?  Yes, falling out of bed.  More than 400 people die each year on that account.  Go fly somewhere!)

I started flying airplanes almost 46 years ago.  In 1979 I flew a 100-mph putt-putt—a Cessna 152—from Sonoma to Atlanta . . . over a period of four days.  Three hours in the morning, three hours in the afternoon.  Fuel tank/bladder range, as it were.  You have a different understanding of the size of our country when you spend a whole day flying from Lubbock to Lufkin, the near-breadth of Texas.

During those 46 years I have had the pleasure of flying in everything from sailplanes and ultralights to helicopters and jets.  In addition to the 152, our first plane, we were also partners in a Grumman Tiger (quick and sporty, and you could fly it with the canopy open if you slowed it down enough), a V-tailed Bonanza (very fast, but not capable of a big payload), and our favorite, the Cessna 205 Stationair (260 horses, six seats, massive payload, excellent instrument platform).

As much fun as all of that was, the closest I have ever gotten to feeling the true and complete meaning of “flight” was . . . jumping out of an airplane.  Sky diving!

Oh, my.  Let me try and explain.  When you let go of the wing strut, and it’s just you and the air, well, the feeling is exhilarating.  It is almost beyond my ability to communicate.  The freedom is so expansive.  There is no other physical thrill that even comes close, and I’ve done some cool things.  It may be the purest expression of “living” that exists.

Yesterday our Swedish exchange student, Tom, and I went sky diving.  We flew tandem with a couple of professionals, and it was just as I expected—spectacular!  It was so enlivening that I am now considering the possibility of wing-suit flying.  Have you seen those?  You look something like a flying squirrel.  No matter.  That seems even closer to “bird” than sky diving.  What could be more fun?  Surely, I do not know.

©2018 Richard Paul Hinkle