Syracuse

Hall of Fame-Bound (Aisle 25).

I thought for sure that a cross-country Jet Blue flight would require a plane with more than just 25 rows.

No such luck.

We ended up in the last row.

I’m a glorified bathroom monitor. While the gentleman seated next to me — who is decidedly larger than I — snores unrepentantly, I count. I can’t help myself. Despite my best efforts, I cannot help but count the number of my fellow passengers who have queued up in the aisle to occupy the restrooms just behind my seat.

…16…17…18….

I haven’t noticed any repeat offenders. But if in my expert opinion a passenger queues up a second time well before he or she reasonably should, it will not go unnoticed.

I’m extra irritable due to our 4am wakeup call.

I’ve already caught myself lashing out at my wife in our Uber cab because a light on Lombard lingered red for too long. She requested we take Gough rather than take the Embarcadero. And it is clearly her fault that the Lombard stop lights are timed to facilitate Lombard traffic, not side street traffic, at 430 in the morning. Clearly her fault, I snarled.

…19…20…

I bristled while in line for $40-worth of croissants and coffee in the International Terminal. Bristled not because of the premium pricing, but because of the gentleman standing nearby, having a full-throated iPhone conversation with his earbuds in. That irked the shit out of me. My icy stares paired with a mean, flat affect produced no modification in his behavior, however.

…21…22…

I’m no good at sleep-deprivation. Pretty lousy, actually. I’m just not myself (I hope).

So yah, I will not be able to help myself from making damned sure the double-dipping restroom patron knows that I know he (or she, but probably he) is lining up for a second time. I’ll try the icy stare and cop-face again. Hopefully with better results.

…23…24…25…

It will continue like this for awhile. The Dunkin Donuts coffee I’m throwing down on the heels of the Il Fornaio airport coffee won’t improve my mood. I need a nap. But the cadence and vigor with which I just caught myself chewing my piece of take-off gum suggests that nap will not be coming any time soon.

And oh yeah, we’re headed to Cooperstown. That should be enough to lift my mood. Or at least it will be once I find that nap. And after I punish the first double-dipper.

…26…27…28….

Thanks for reading.

5.2%

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I had no business going to Duke.  Or more accurately, I had no business being admitted to Duke.  I don’t know what the Duke admissions folks were thinking back in 1985, even contemplating the thought that I belonged among the incoming freshman class the next Fall.

I’ve interviewed a number of high school students over the years as a Duke alumnus.  These students have been, without exception, far more deserving than I was.  They have founded their own dance companies and introduced ballet to innercity neighborhoods more accustomed to drive-by shootings.  They are classically-trained pianists, starting point guards, and DJs specializing in “trance” mixes.  (“They” in this last sentence actually refers to a single person.)  They have spent their vacations mentoring underserved kids in bare-bones, but life-changing, summer camps.  They are polite.  They make and keep eye contact.  They are ridiculously modest; I have to practically drag out of them all of these outsized accomplishments.  They are amazing.  To a person, they are amazing.

No Duke alumnus interviewer or admissions packet-reviewer could have said the same about me in 1985.  I was jelly-headed, narcissistic, arrogant, far from worldly, and insufficiently curious.  Reading through that list again, I may well be all of these things still.  But that is better left for a later blog post.

My performance that first semester fairly proved the admissions committee had made a mistake on me.  By mid-semester, I had two Fs and a D, or maybe it was two Ds and an F.  It didn’t help that I had stubbornly chosen to take Chemistry, Calculus and some other ill-fitting course the name of which I cannot currently recall.  Clearly, they should have offered my spot to someone else.

On the plus side, I had learned to juggle beanbags; a skill I picked up from one of my two perfect SAT score roommates.  My mother, who had scraped by to pay my tuition, was not amused by my juggling.  The move where I toss a single bag in the air, then loft the others simultaneously to cross each other’s paths, cascading back down in a half-circle?  My mother’s eyes glazed over, probably calculating the tuition math in her head just as my juggling cubes scattered across the kitchen floor.  My kids will tell you, by the way, that this is still my signature juggling move.  Well, maybe my only juggling move.

Also on the plus side: I learned how to roll a quarter from the bridge of my nose, the coin’s thin circumference striking a hard surface two feet below, keeping just enough kinetic energy to wobble back into the air half again, before collapsing into a foamy, 24-ounce, plastic cup of beer.  This trick I taught my perfect SAT score roommates, as I recall.  I’m sure their parents were very impressed at their sons’ newfound skill.  My kids will tell you nothing about my proficiency with a quarter, by the way, because, well, just because.

My parents selflessly cobbled together the funds to cover my tuition, a critical piece of which was a gracious scholarship from the company for which my step-father worked.  Keeping that scholarship would require more than juggling tricks and bouncing currency, as I confessed in a repentant missive addressed to the scholarship director.  The scholarship director must have been persuaded, as she gave me another length of rope, when she could easily have cut me off and changed my trajectory.

Somehow I managed to scratch my way through the rest of my time at Duke.  I figured things out as I went along.  A couple days ago, prodded by my wife, I opened up a white cardboard box in my garage, unearthing some musty college notebooks.  The pages yellowed, my handwriting clearly imprinted there and clearly more legible than it is today.  Reading the words now, I can picture the 20 year-old me, brain slightly less gelatinous and slightly more curious.  Figuring things out.  Or perhaps more accurately, figuring out how important it is to want to figure things out.  Safe to say I am still trying to figure things out.

Those weathered pages also brought back an interesting and timely memory —

On one atypically snowy evening at Duke, I was wrestling at the bus stop with a buddy of mine.  I’m sure he had perfect SAT scores, with a double major in chemical and electrical engineering, to boot.  About all we shared, then, were bellies filled with beer.  At one point, I had managed to pin his arm behind his back or maybe stuff his head in a snowbank, and he complained, “C’mon Keir, get off!”  A solitary figure standing in the periphery startled me:

“Keir?  Is your name Keir Beadling?”

I stumbled to my feet wiping snow from the knees of my jeans, eye-balling him.  Not my age, and not someone I recognized from campus.  “Yes, um, hi, do I know you?”

“Well, no, not exactly, but I read your admissions essay and it was great.  Really great.  I was on the admissions committee a couple years back.  Good luck and take care.”

With that, the stranger climbed aboard the shuttle bus to East Campus, and left me standing there a little dumbstruck. Feeling as if I’d just seen a ghost, a piece of my own history, a rare glimpse at how and why things happen.  Fate, maybe.

I read this morning that Duke received 32,506 admission applications this past season — the school’s largest ever pool of applicants.  All competing for just 1700 spots.  I went to law school to avoid math, but I believe that equates to just 5.2%.  Very rough odds for kids with perfect SATs, ballet companies, cross-over dribbles, and Rachmaninoff sheet music.  Impossible odds for a beanbag-juggling quarters savant who apparently wrote one really good essay.   I figure I need to keep writing, if only to prove that my bus stop apparition made the right call on me thirty years ago.

Thanks for reading.

Go Syraduke Orangebluedevilmen!

There’s a big college hoops game on today.  I know this because I’m in the Salt City, home of the Orangemen.  This town has embraced the Syracuse Orangemen basketball team for as long as I can remember.  But that embrace has turned into a crazed squeeze in the last decade or so, like the Abominable Snow Rabbit clutching Daffy Duck.  “I will name him George, and I will hug him, and pet him and squeeze him.”

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Except that these Syracuse Orangemen love it.  They want to squeeze the Abominable Snowman right back.

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Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a college town and college men’s hoops team so locked in such an unabashed embrace.  Public display of affection unlike any other.

And I think that’s awesome.  I went to Duke for undergrad.  And I still think it’s awesome.  Allow me to elaborate —

I have vivid memories of watching SU on the little black and white in my bedroom as the team played in Manley Field House.  My routine was to peel and munch on an orange, while watching the Orange, and to blink as infrequently as possible so as not to miss any of the action.  I cheered the “Bouie and Louie Show” as loudly as every other 10 year-old Syracusan.  I remember my Cub Scout troop–the one that met in my buddy Sean’s basement, his dad was our “Den Dad”–we once visited Manley.  And got to watch these giant trees of men practice.  Silken warmups.  Dale Shackleford happily signed my SU season program.  I still have that program and the autograph somewhere in a cardboard box in my garage in San Francisco. Along with my Corcoran Cougars Baseball Team Annual Programs & maroon-striped uniform pants, high school graduation cap & gown, and a bunch of other stuff that I pore over every few years.

I recall feeling what I later understood to be civic pride when the Carrier Dome was built.  And I recall the sight of the Dome collapsed (unintentionally, the first time) under the weight of a heavy snowfall.  The entire town wrung its hands, concerned about the Dome then as if it were a close family member.  I remember the feeling of independence when I was allowed to wander around the Dome, behind the curtain, with my buddy Johnny.  Turns out I wasn’t quite ready for that independence, as we got separated somehow during that mad rush at the end of the game, that reverse vacuum of air whooshed me out of the gate, and I couldn’t find my friend.  I ended up walking all the way to Salina Street wearing only a thin blue hoodie.  I dug a quarter out of my lint-lined pocket, and managed somehow to round up a ride from one of my aunts.  The air was so frigid, by the time she picked me up one of my white drawstrings was frozen solid, my nervous saliva turned to ice.  But I survived, and that experience of being lost is no less powerful now than the equally clear experience of witnessing Pearl Washington hit that half court buzzer-beater against BC in 1984.  As I recall, he kept right on running straight to the locker room, never breaking stride.  These memories are a big part of who I am, and I am grateful for them.

I’m also a Duke Blue Devil, through and through. I spent four ridiculously fortunate years there a long time ago, made some fantastic lifelong friends (of the Alien Head variety), camped out in Krzyzewskiville as a freshman with painted face, cheered with my fellow students at courtside, etc.  I think I’ve managed to watch nearly every single Duke hoops game on TV since graduating.  More importantly, I’ve managed to convince important people who arrived later in my life to become Duke fans.  My wife whom I met in law school screamed as loudly as I at Laettner’s unforgettable shot that broke Kentucky’s heart.  And both of my kids now live and die with my Duke Blue Devils, our Duke Blue Devils, though we have until today watched from afar, on television.  In fact, my SU-loving mother will be outed right here:  For Christmas, she sent both of my boys Duke hoodies.

The very same one that my youngest son Everett will be rocking at the Dome today.

Yessir.  A couple months back, when I realized that Duke would be playing in the Dome, I scrambled up some inexpensive airline and game tickets.  My 90 year-old grandmother unexpectedly passed away a few weeks ago, so this Duke-SU game afforded a second opportunity to be with my east coast family in the wake of that unimaginable sadness.  This new rivalry has generated some positivity and excitement to help heal the void my grandmother left.  (If anyone says that sports, especially college sports, are trivial, I beg to differ.)

Strangely enough, everything seems to have come full circle.  My connection to both SU’s and Duke’s men’s hoops team has brought me home again once more, an unexpected chance to be back where it all started, and with one of my children in-tow, no less.  And there’s something very cool about this new rivalry now allowing my siblings and I to share a little college hoops fanaticism with our own kids, and with each other’s kids.  My stepfather twisted my stepsister’s arm into making two “Go Duke” cupcakes last night (for Ev and me), although said cupcakes were surrounded by orange and blue.

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And for my part, last I helped teach my nephew Kellan the ropes —

So if you happen to catch Everett and I at the Dome today, please resist the urge to malign him for the royal blue Duke hoodie that his grandmother the SU hoops fan bestowed upon him.  And if you can’t quite make out the weird cheer being shouted from our 335ZZ seats, here it is —

“GO SYRADUKE ORANGEBLUEDEVILMEN!”

It’s a mouthful, but it makes sense to me.

Thanks for reading.