1. For this About page, I originally started writing biographical tidbits about myself as if they’d be for that “25 things about me” fad that swept Facebook a few years ago. But of course I was going to post them here and not give in to the popularity of Facebook, and instead of being true, they were going to consist of 25 paragraphs of a story that doesn’t go anywhere like Grandpa Simpson tells. You know, the most famous one goes, “We can’t bust heads like we used to, but we have our ways. One trick is to tell ’em stories that don’t go anywhere. Like the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ’em. ‘Give me five bees for a quarter,’ you’d say. Now, where were we? Oh, yeah. The important thing was that I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn’t have white onions because of the war. All you could get was those big yellow ones…” But, as you can imagine, I grew tired of that before long. If I had been able to complete 25 short paragraphs of that comedy gold within a few weeks of the fad sweeping Facebook, I might have posted them as a note. But I didn’t think of it early enough and it’s hard to make them especially funny, so it took me a long time and I lost inspiration because it was a dead-end project.
2. The thing that has brought me the most fun and happiness throughout my life other than my close friends and family is baseball. Today, this extends to intramural and city-league softball. When I was five years old, my parents signed me up to play T-ball at Adams Park in Kennesaw, Georgia, and I DID NOT want to do it. I was crying and crying, I was so scared. I was absolutely terrified of going out on the field when they brought me to the first practice, and I resisted with all my might. I guess somehow they got me out there. I do not remember any of this; my brain has probably suppressed the trauma of being forced to do this thing that I was so scared of doing, so that I’ll never be able to recall it. But my parents assure me that’s what happened. However, I probably started loving it the first or second time I played it, certainly before the first game. I remember being very excited to get my first uniform, so I tried it on the night I got it and paraded around the house in it. My team was the Yankees, of all things, but it was cheap rec-league T-ball, so our uniforms didn’t look anything like real Yankees uniforms. They consisted of a royal-blue T-shirt with “Yankees” in cursive, a blue hat with a “Y” on it in, like, Helvetica font, white pants, and blue leggings. Our coach was our family friend Buzz Johnson, who is one of the coolest guys I’ve ever known, and his son Jeffrey was on our team. He was one year older than me.
I’ve heard about several friends and acquaintances who were turned off to baseball at a young age because of bad coaches (i.e., too hard on the kids and cared more about winning than teaching—winning is important, but only because having taught the kids well is a prerequisite to winning). But I never had a single bad coach. My best coach was David Palmer, the coach of my 13-, 14-, and 15-year-old traveling teams; he was a Major League pitcher for the Phillies, Expos, Braves, and, briefly, Sparky Anderson’s Tigers. He had elbow problems, so he was injured two or three times and his career was cut short. He led the Expos and Braves in strikeouts once or twice. I also saw him in two VHS tapes of MLB highlights and bloopers, both of which he owned, I think. One was a highlight and one was a blooper. I think they were both when he was on the Phillies. The first was a behind-the-back catch like Cliff Lee’s in Game 1 of the World Series, except Coach Palmer’s was faster and higher up, so I remember it as being more impressive. The second was when he tripped on the base as he was rounding third to score. I do have his autograph on my baseball card of him on the Braves. My mom got him to sign it during my first spring on the team. If I ever coach my son’s baseball teams, I will emulate him to the utmost extent possible.
3. Baseball is so important in my life that it deserves two items in this list. I don’t let this show very often, but I am a little bit obsessed with the whole aura, the magic, the history, the je ne sais pas of this perfect sport. Baseball is perfect poetry and art, to me. One of my favorite things to see is Carlos Delgado’s home run swing. Delgado hitting a line drive to right-center field is poetry in motion. His swing is a thing of beauty. I feel the same way George Will does towards baseball. One of the people in the sports world I would most like to meet is not a star athlete or a legendary manager, but Tim Kurkjian from ESPN. We would talk about baseball for 12 straight hours. I identify with this quote from Branch Rickey, the famous baseball executive who created the first farm-team system for the Cardinals and signed Jackie Robinson for the Dodgers: “Man may penetrate the outer reaches of the universe, he may solve the very secret of eternity itself, but for me, the ultimate human experience is to witness the flawless execution of a hit-and-run.” Even though I don’t watch much baseball anymore and don’t care quite as much about the Braves now that I live 700 miles away and they stink, the influence of baseball on my life and my psyche will never dissipate. Like Tom Hanks’s character in A League of Their Own says, “Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up. You can’t deny that.”
4. Thanks to my friend Kelli, another Physiology graduate student, I played A LOT of intramural sports. It was one of my favorite things to do in Michigan. In 2008–2009, I played softball (thrice), wallyball, broomball (twice), inner tube water polo (twice), the track and field meet, and the swim meet. This is excluding city-league softball. She talked me into playing IM softball for The Phizz in my second year, about two weeks before my prelim, and I was reluctant to do it because I was stressed, busy, weak, out of shape, and hadn’t hit, thrown, or fielded in ages, but after that first practice on a beautiful May evening, I was hooked again and IM softball became a new life-force for me. Spring weather smells and feels like baseball to me. It was so engrained in my mind throughout life that warm March weather (up here it’s more like May) means it’s baseball season again, that that’s what gets triggered in my mind when I walk outside and it’s warm and sunny and flowers are blooming. One of my and Kelli’s goals in life was to win the graduate/faculty/staff intramural all-year sports championship, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. It should have, but our basketball team totally flaked and lost us 700 participation points by not showing up for their first playoff game, and the stupid wrestling meet counts towards the ASP championhip, which we couldn’t do.
I really, really wish I had played intramural sports in college. It wasn’t really even on my radar. It’s not like I thought, “Hmmm, I should try to get some friends from high school and from my dorm to form an IM softball team” but never got around to it, and it’s not like any of my friends played softball or asked me to play with them and I rejected the idea. I just didn’t really think about it. I didn’t hear about it. I didn’t know it was so popular and so worthwhile. I do remember thinking I didn’t want to demean myself by going from playing baseball at the highest possible level since age 13 to playing at a non-competitive level (of softball? of baseball? I don’t remember my exact thought processes) with people who weren’t good, didn’t care about winning, and didn’t really want to practice. However, I’ve found that was wrong, that playing softball and other sports is a ton of fun regardless of my team’s performance because I do it with my friends and the sports are fun and it’s not like I am good at sports other than softball myself.
5. I have an easily bruised ego. This is a pretty typical guy machismo thing, combined with my confidence problems. I’m much better about this than I used to be, but, here’s a recent example: When Kathy, Kyle Sousa, Eve-Marie, and I went whitewater rafting in Wisconsin a couple years ago, after we were done with the rapids part, most of us got out of the raft into the water to swim around and enjoy the river or whatever, and Eve-Marie started swimming to the shore. It was one or two hundred yards away. We had our life vests on, which, while they keep you from drowning, do make swimming more difficult. Eve-Marie swam to the shore quite fast because she is a good swimmer, and I sort of tried to keep up or at least see if I could swim there somewhat fast, and I failed miserably. It was a huge blow to my ego that this tiny, little woman who was too light even to donate blood could perform a physical activity of strength and endurance so much better than I. I mean, by leaps and bounds. I was exhausted, she was not. It made me think, “Oh, woe is me, I’m so out of shape, I’m so weak, I run and lift weights but still don’t get much stronger, why do I fail at life so much?…” I didn’t fully appreciate until February 2009, at the intramural swim meet, that swimming fast is more a function of your swimming mechanics and experience than your strength or aerobic fitness. I mean, I basically knew that, to some extent, just as I know throwing or hitting a baseball hard is not only determined by how much you can bench press, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until I experienced the epic fail of almost drowning at the swim meet and losing miserably to all the experienced swimmers. I bet my 10k time is faster than theirs! But your mechanics and your ability to float make you a good swimmer, not your 10k time or your bench-pressing prowess.
6. Somehow I’m easily impressed by high alcohol tolerance. When Kelly wrote that his girlfriend has a very high alcohol tolerance and could almost keep up with him, despite weighing a third as much as him, I thought: That’s awesome. I guess I’m impressed by that for some reason. I sort of want to achieve that, just not enough to do anything about it, apparently, because I don’t drink much or have a high alcohol tolerance. It’s also real expensive; usually I’d rather save my money.
7. My biggest pet peeve in all the universe and beyond: waiting on other people to go out somewhere. This rarely applies to returning home after our day/evening/night out, just leaving for our destination initially. I am a pretty easy-going and happy and positive guy in general, but not about this. It just kills me. It’s excruciating. I can’t help it. I get so impatient and I just want to scream and leave the lolligaggers behind. Whether it’s leaving work, my home, or someone else’s home to go out somewhere, I just get so frakkin’ pissed off at leaving significantly later than we planned or than I expected to. I know I’ve delayed people before, especially in lab, so I try to be rational and sensitive about it, but when there’s just no reason for it and/or the delay is substantial, I am extremely annoyed.
8. Most of my other pet peeves involve punctuation.
9. I am obsessed with quotations. I have an extensive quotations collection that just continues to grow. I love all kinds—deep, philosophical, inspiring, political, witty, clever, funny. My quote collection is so large that I even have a quote about it: “The majority of those who put together collections of verses or epigrams resemble those who eat cherries or oysters; they begin by choosing the best and then end by eating everything.” (Sébastien Chamfort.)
10. My favorite day of each year is Christmas Eve. The entire fall and Christmas seasons felt like they were building up to that night when I was a child. Me, my parents, and my brother and sister would go to my aunt and uncle’s house for dinner and presents. My grandparents were also there when they were alive. It was so awesome because it was the beginning of our two-day Christmas celebration and I got my first Christmas presents of the year and it was at nighttime. Everything is better at night. Then on Christmas we’d open our presents in our pajamas early in the morning, and our aunt, uncle, and grandparents would come over around noon for “dinner” and (virgin) daiquiris and maybe cards or Trivial Pursuit. My family does Christmas right.
11. What the hell is wrong with me? I want to watch Firefly AGAIN.