Trivial pursuits

trivialpursuitcardsThe release of the board game Trivial Pursuit was a sort of touchstone for my life, good or bad.

When it came out in the early 1980s, I was enthralled because I was a bit of a know-it-all. Then Jeopardy! arrived on the scene not long after (I was too young to remember the original show, and I don’t recall its brief syndicated revival in the late 1970s), and it just reinforced my love of question-and-answer game shows that had been previously fed by more facile versions like Tic-Tac-Dough and The Joker’s Wild where the questions were only part of the game and luck was still a factor.

Between the two, I became a true trivia junkie and loved the idea of learning things, then answering questions in a competitive setting. I watched Jeopardy! religiously (I also watched its companion show in syndication, Wheel of Fortune, until my parents made me stop because I would solve the puzzles after just a letter or two, but by that point was bored with it anyway and thought the contestants were just getting dumber), and loved playing Trivial Pursuit at every turn.

There really wasn’t an outlet in high school to feed the beast, though I did do a humorous presentation in speech class (at least it was intended to be humorous) on how to win at Trivial Pursuit. When I got to college, I found College Bowl and quickly became part of a team that would win the campus tournament and go to regionals three times in four years.

When I returned home to finish college, I briefly found my first bar trivia night but it was so far from home that it became impractical to do on a regular basis. Then came NTN Trivia, which became an interactive bar phenomenon in the mid 1990s and made me spend more time (and money) in bars than I ever had before. It’s still around under the name Buzztime, but in far fewer locations.

I hadn’t played in years and don’t think I realized just how much I missed it until my friend Carly introduced me to Quizzo at a local bar near where she lived. I joined her team last year, and we’ve made it a regular Thursday habit for several months now.

We’ve been the most constant two members of the team, but have begun to find more like-minded people to commit on a more regular basis and compete with a couple of the powerhouse teams at our location. The competition is strong, and the categories and questions are varied and require a wide range of knowledge (there’s even a musical round each week), and that plus the competition makes it as fun as anything about it.

We’ve only won one week, with one of our bigger teams, and we finished second in that five-week contest (the weekly contests make up the larger contest, which thus include rotating rounds like Survey Says, Common Bonds, and so forth). I feel like some of the description might be getting a little dry for some, but by the same token it’s those little details that help make it so enjoyable for me.

I’ve enjoyed it so much I’ve started trying to play as much as I can a second day a week with other friends at another bar. It’s probably a good thing it’s not easier to play every night. It’s probably silly to a lot of people, but to have a group of people who have a common goal, enjoy a fun competition and an evening together doesn’t seem to be a trivial pursuit to me.

Perfect world

bowling_genericI was nervous, I was sweating and I could barely stand — and I was not just trying to stand, but then walk while holding and then throwing a 15-pound bowling ball. But that’s not really unusual.

I think about things, a lot, sometimes long beyond any useful purpose and even to my detriment.

It can be especially good at showing up at inopportune times, like athletic competition. Having been in a bowling league for 15 years, it has reared its ugly head more than once while I stood on the approach at the end of a key match with ball in hand.

A 300 is a perfect game in bowling, something I’ve never really approached before Sunday. I’d thrown a pair of 279s, meaning I had all strikes except for one frame prior to the 10th in which I had a 9-spare. But I’d never come closer, because the games in which I’d done that the spares came very early on, second or third frame, and I then struck out from there.

The most strikes I’d ever strung together to start a game I think was seven, but it was a long time ago and I was most definitely not in the right frame of mind to close out that kind of a start. These days I’d put together five or six in a row to open games a couple of times, but that was it.

Sunday I was struggling during warmups to find my line, the ideal trajectory for my ball to strike, and I was leaving pins all over the place. My first ball of the game, I pulled it badly but luckily crossed over and threw a strike after burying the ball in the left-hand pocket between the 1 and 2 pins.

I threw two such strikes, plus a couple of other less lucky but somewhat fortunate strikes — my shot in the seventh frame seemed to leave the 6 pin until a messenger pin from the other side shot across and took it out. I struck again in the eighth, and had done a pretty good job of keeping conversations going between frames.

I learned years ago that the best way to take my mind off what I was doing — when I seem to bowl best, I’m not really paying a lot of attention to the game itself — was to talk to people about non-bowling topics. I’m usually at my best when I have to be reminded that it’s my turn.

Sunday I was chatting with my teammates about various things until the eighth, when the talk suddenly died down. I have a feeling that people were noticing what I was doing, and it was getting to be like a Major League dugout during a no-hitter. I didn’t want anything like that, so I started talking to a teammate again about his struggles in the game, trying to help him find a solution and stop it from being so damn quiet.

I struck again in the ninth, and went to the 10th frame with my chance at a perfect game still intact and needing three strikes to close it out. I was ready to get it over with one way or the other, though my body was telling me something different. But I managed to stay upright, threw a good ball and buried it in the pocket. The 7 pin stood staring at me for a second or two after the rest had disappeared, until it fell backward into the pit.

The second ball was good as well, and the pins went flying for the second strike. By this time I knew a crowd had gathered around behind me, and was waiting to see if by some miracle I could pull this off.

There are a lot of good bowlers in our league. It competes on Sunday mornings, the perfect time for a sportswriter whose schedule changes constantly but has one day a week where he’s almost always off and free to throw a few games. Though especially in recent years there’s always been at least one bowler averaging a 230 or better, my highest average in the league has been just over 200. Mine stood at 199 entering play Sunday, which was a nice improvement over earlier in the year thanks to a new ball I bought after hitting a low point near the end of the first third of the season.

I’d been throwing better, with a 279 in the first couple of weeks after getting the ball. I’d been getting more consistent as well, which is what I’d been searching for and came as I learned to control a ball that had a lot more power and hook than the one I’d used for more than a decade.

But there I was, trying not to shake as I stood on the approach and staring down the pins and my mark on the lane that I was trying to throw at. I could feel the sweat under my arms and my shirt sticking to my pits. I took my four steps, swung my arm and released what looked like a great ball when it started down the lane.

300bAnd it stayed that way. There were many congratulations from people throughout the league that I’ve bowled against for months or many years. And for a brief moment, it was a perfect world.

One week

It’s been one week since I wrote a blog post. I should be angry at myself for missing so many days in my month-long ultimatum (hadn’t missed more than a couple of days before), disappointed perhaps.

I probably am a little disappointed, but I’ve been busy. I had my first workout of the new year, covered some basketball, spent some time with the missus powering through two seasons of “Orphan Black” (if you haven’t seen it, do it) and got to babysit my new grand-niece, among other things.

Maybe best of all, I was confident the whole time that I’d come back to the blog. I wanted to write, wanted to post things. Many of my activities were so humdrum I didn’t see them as worth writing, and while I had the idea or two for other posts, by the time I was ready to commit them to digital paper it was so late that sleep was the bigger priority. Sleep will always be a priority.

I expect to be writing another post tomorrow on another topic that I’ve been mulling over for awhile, so I’ll keep this one fairly short — not to mention it’s pretty late again and the babysitting job started VERY early this morning so I’m running out of steam.

But here I am, writing up the mundanity of my week and getting something new up on the blog. It’s not Shakespeare, it’s not Pulitzer worthy, but it doesn’t have to be. Not every post can be an epic.

And this doesn’t even come close to some of the eternal gaps between posts that I once had here, when I dreamed of doing a sports blog separate from my work as a sportswriter (too many varied interests to do just that, and not enough big ideas I wanted to pontificate on to justify it). This time, it’s been one week.

Stick together

Friends are a prized commodity these days.

I’m not talking about Facebook friends, or the casual acquaintances you make in your daily life. I’m talking about ones like those referenced in the old joke, that a friend will help you move but a true friend will help you move the body.

I have friends here where I live, but many of my closest friends — the ones from college or even before — are scattered all over the country. We don’t talk as often as we’d like, and we rarely get to see each other, but I know that if I need one of them I can call on them and they’ll be there.

Considering what’s transpired this year — and it’s been a pretty crappy year in a lot of ways — I’ve called on them more than I’d care to admit. I’ve also worked harder to cultivate relationships with people here, trying to spend more time with friends closer to home now that I don’t have nearly as many nights taken up with work.

While it’s been nice to get to know some people better and get to hang out with people I haven’t seen in awhile — not to mention try some new things — I’ve also discovered a few people I thought were close friends apparently aren’t, at least not any longer.

But that’s a small negative, and I choose to dwell on the positives. I do my best to make sure my friends know that I’m there for them if they need anything, and hope they would do the same for me. While it doesn’t result in invitations to a lot of parties, I think I’ve found a good group of people who care about me the way I care about them.

I spent too many years suffering from debilitating shyness, and though it still hits me from time to time I’ve decided I can’t afford to sit around hoping people know how I feel about them. Friends don’t just show up — they’re cultivated over time, through relationships built on trust, mutual respect and reliability.

Other people are going through things just like I am — sometimes worse — and we have to stick together so we can both get through it. That’s what friends do, help each other.

It’s a wonderful life

It wasn’t the plan to spend all day watching Christmas specials and movies, though there were one or two I did intend to catch. But with the missus still feeling the after-effects of two days of stomach pains and other issues, she just wasn’t up to going to the family gathering.

And when you’re not feeling your best, you can often find yourself plopped down in front of the TV. I kept Tina company so we could spend time together. Thus we ended up catching bits and pieces of the marathon items like “A Christmas Story” and “The Princess Bride” that were running on TV, capped the night with the new Doctor Who Christmas special, and in between picked out the following Christmas items:

  • A Christmas Carol (1984)
  • Muppet Christmas Carol
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer, “Amends”
  • Warehouse 13, “Secret Santa”
  • Eureka, “O Little Town”

Some will see this list as Christmas movies followed by some oddball sci-fi TV. But A Christmas Carol (and the Muppet version) both feature ghosts, not to mention visits to the past, other present and future. Why is watching a sci-fi show using some of the same tropes (or others of their own devising or borrowed from other sources) any different?

If you haven’t seen any of the above, give ’em a shot. You might find out you like it. That’s what I did this year with It’s A Wonderful Life, which played on the big screen nearby on Christmas Eve. I’d never seen it before, and couldn’t resist the idea of going to the theater for my first viewing. I enjoyed it, and will look forward to catching it next holiday season.

We didn’t get to spend the day with family except for each other, but it was still an enjoyable day. And that’s really the key, finding a way to make every day enjoyable despite the circumstances.

No time this time

I probably could have written this post earlier, but put it off as usual and I’m now trying to quickly bang out something for the record after a long day today and with another long day ahead tomorrow.

Sundays end up being long days because I’m in a bowling league that competes Sunday mornings. If you’re wondering why a sane person would do such a thing, a) maybe I’m not that sane, but b) when I joined the league some 14 years ago I had just started working at the paper as a sportswriter.

When you work as a sportswriter, the one thing that you’re sure of is that you’re rarely sure of your schedule. It changes week to week, season to season to fit the immediate needs of the sport or department. The one time you’re pretty much guaranteed not to have something to do is Sunday (lots of nights and weekends in sports), so that was the obvious time to do something if I was going to.

I enjoy it, I’ve gotten pretty good (today’s results notwithstanding) and it keeps me active even when I’m pretty much not otherwise. So I do it, sacrifice some sleep since I can rarely get to bed early and get up at 7 am.

I’ll be traveling to visit a friend tomorrow and likely won’t be posting anything unless something really amazing happens, and even then I’d probably save it for Tuesday. I’d write more, but with another early wake-up call in the morning I really have no time this time.

Let’s begin again

Friday marked the start of a new scholastic sports season, and with it being the winter that meant it was the 12th season that I would be heading out on Opening Day to cover a girls basketball game. The lateness of the day getting my story done and online was part of the reason why I didn’t post anything that day.

There’s a reason there is such a thing as Season Affective Disorder, which can sometimes be known as winter blues or winter depression, and I think winter sports and covering them help illustrate it pretty well.

You’ve been outside covering fall sports like football or soccer, with those seasons starting generally in warm weather with shorts and hopefully sunny skies. You’ve watched the games move earlier to accommodate the changing time of sunset, started wearing a coat. You’ve bundled up for the playoffs, watched the skies go gray and then black even earlier and doing your best to brace against the win. You’ve prayed for games to be played in stadia with press boxes.

But now after the briefest of breaks, you’re now beginning a sport where you know you’re going to be trapped in a high school gymnasium for the next three months. There’s good reason for it too, because you pretty much don’t want to be outside anyway. It begins right around the time of the shortest day of the year, and it’s a given you’ll be driving home in the dark (and could be heading to your game in the dark as well since more and more begin at 5:30 or 7 pm).

It’s why I’m so glad that after so many years of covering the sport, that I have so many friends among coaches, reporters, game workers (scorekeepers, clock operators, even officials), fans and players. It makes the season easier to deal with, as does the enjoyment of the sport.

I’m not one who can in August immediately recall any fact from girls basketball or girls soccer season, because they were months before. But once I’m in the gym, writing down the lineups as the players are warming up and I chat with reporters from other outlets, I can quickly feel in my element again.

So while winter is my least favorite season of the year, it isn’t because of the sport I cover and the people involved. They actually make it enjoyable, and when Friday rolled around I was ready to begin again.