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Archive for the month “April, 2015”

THE BOY OF SUMMER: “HENRY RULES” BASEBALL

Image result for calvinball

Remember “Calvinball”?

That was one of the games Bill Watterson’s comic strip character Calvin played with his stuffed tiger Hobbes. The mail rule to Calvinball was, basically, that there are no rules. Lately, with nice weather returning to the Midwest, my boy has been wanting to play outside more and more. Specifically, he wants to play “baseball”. His version of baseball, though, is not your mother’s national pastime. Or yours.

I’m no jock. Never played little league. But I know the basics of baseball and I can throw a ball halfway decently. I’ve tried teaching H the basics of the game. He’s got no time for that, though. I’ve learned that when H says he wants to play “baseball”, I should just strap in and hold on tight. It’s gonna get bumpy. Also, I lose a lot of games, being strapped in like that.

Anyway, I’ve tried to decipher just what exactly are the rules of what H calls: “HENRY RULES BASEBALL”. Since your kid maybe plays, or would like to play something similar, I’m setting them down here for you to study. Not that that will do any good. if your kid is like mine, he or she will have no time for listening to you.

Anyway, for the records: Here are the rules, such as they are…

THE EQUIPMENT:

Henry Rules Baseball 42415

Henry Rules Baseball is a study in minimalist athletics. No aluminum bats. no baseballs. No gloves. No batting helmets. All you need is a small plastic wiffle bat and a grapefruit-sized spiky, rubber pink ball. In a pinch, a semi-deflated grapefruit-sized basketball will do…but it’s just not the same. And don’t even think of suggesting using an actual wiffle ball with the wiffle bat. If you do, well, clearly you don’t understand the concept of Henry Rules Baseball.

BATTING:  In Henry Rules Baseball, if you choose to bat the whole game, compelling your opponent to remain as pitcher and outfield the whole time, go right ahead. The concepts of strike, ball, and foul play a part in Henry Rules Baseball, but the concepts are…fluid. Getting a “hit” doesn’t necessarily require that the bat make contact with the ball. And not hitting the ball as it approaches the plate doesn’t necessarily constitute a “strike”. Unless it does. The “strike zone” is nonexistent.  You want to throw a ball at the batter, go ahead. Don’t like it? Then quit. Unless Henry won’t let you. Then you can’t.

FIELDING:  Since “strike” is, um, loosely defined, three strikes doesn’t necessarily mean the batter is out. Tagging someone out can be by throwing the ball at the runner and hitting him with it. Unless it requires you to make personal contact. Also, if you try to tag by throwing the ball and miss, then the runner is free to grab the ball himself and tag you out. Being “safe” on base means the runner stopped wherever he decided the base was. Henry Rules Baseball has no time or inclination to use actual bases. If you want actual bases, go play old people baseball, you boring adult. An automatic home run occurs whenever the batter decides he feels like running the bases unfettered. Home runs can be earned the hard way too, though it doesn’t really matter since no one’s really keeping score.

And that last thing might be m favorite part about Henry Rules Baseball. I’m all for competition and games and all that. But sometimes, I just want to play with my kid and have fun. We live in a world dominated by a lot of rules nd even more people telling us what they think the rules should be. For all its peculiarities, on its own terms, Henry Rules Baseball is just fun.

Thank you for that, Henry. Play ball!

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NOSTALGIA-FEST 2015 ROLLS ON

I’ve been partying, well, living, like it’s 1999 a lot lately. Also 1977. And 1985, and 1991. 1983. Pretty much anytime other than the time it is.

Why? I dunno.

I don’t think it coincided with my birthday earliest this year, but the timing of my age steamrolling toward obsolescence and my affinity for hallmarks of my past sure is suspect.

I’ve been into lots of things from my past: Legos; Doctor Who *ding*

*obligatory my blog Doctor Who reference*

I’ve started listening to podcasts about X-Files, Greatest American Hero, M*A*S*H. I’ve been getting back into the Atari video games I enjoyed as a kid.

And of course there’s this little thing: The force is strong with this…

I was a HUGE Star Wars kid. The first movie came out when I was six so it was right in my wheelhouse. I had the toys. The movie tie-in books (including a kickass pop-up book) The neighbor kids and I played Star Wars – I got to be Han Solo because I had a black vest from one of Dad’s old suits. As an adult, I sort of fell out of the SW universe. Episode 1 disappointed me. Episode 2 bored me. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep during Episode 3.

But I’m totally on board with The Force Awakens. Please don’t suck.

And if new Star Wars looming large is fueling my nostalgia train like Doc Brown’s Mr. Fusion, this other thing is about to make the train jump the tracks. Cue Snoopy dance.

If there was one thing I loved more than Star Wars as a kid, it’s Peanuts. The TV specials, I’ve memorized. Old strips, I can still quote verbatim. What can I say? I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand. But I REALLY like Peanuts. The movie later this year might be good, might be bad, but I’m psyched for new Charlie Brown anytime.

So, this is shaping up to be a pretty good year for me. I’m pretty sure there’s other stuff going on: presidential campaigns, family events and whatnot. But right now, in my head, nostalgia is the food that provides the fuel. Don’t know if that’s healthy or wise. But that’s the way it is.

It’s time to start the music. It’s time to light the lights.*

*Did I mention they’re working on a pilot for a new Muppet Show for TV? My nostalgia cup overflows. Good thing I’ve got my Doctor Who mug from that public television event thirty years ago to catch the excess.

Party on, Wayne. (I really need to stop now.)

I’M PRETTY SURE MY DEAD GOLDFISH INVADED COLORADO

Now I know how Patty Hearst’s family must have felt the first time they saw her on TV in a beret, fronting for the Symbionese Liberation army.

*Kids, go ask your parents.

Teller Lake in Boulder, Colorado has been overrun by some 4,000 goldfish. Now the ecosystem is threatened by a mass of fifty- cent pets no one ever expects to live more than a week. Scientists can’t believe it.

But I can.

Several years ago, we got a fish tank and populated it with “expensive” two dollar fish. All of them died. Screw that, we thought, and dumped a fifty-cent, garden-variety, orange goldfish in there. Little did we know, that choice would eventually lead to to the end of life in Colorado as we know it. It’s only a matter of time before the hideous half-human, half-goldfish people start flopping around on fingered fins, demanding lattes and saltwater bong hits.

This IS Colorado, don’t forget.

We named him Stone, I think after legendarily-named Newscaster Stone Phillips. Stone turned out to be the little-goldfish-who-could. Every day, he patrolled his tank. He would swim over to greet us when we walked in the room. He came to the surface when it was time to eat.

And he grew.

The thing ate and ate. He outgrew one tank. Then another. He lived on and on. He survived moves to at least three houses and four tanks. After a house fire, he survived two days in soot-filled water before we could rescue him. This fish was invincible.

Until one day, he wasn’t. I assume old goldfish age finally got him.

But what if it got him, but didn’t stop him?

Here’s how I imagine Stone’s adventure, post-mortem: the cold Stone is so accustomed to, being cold-blooded and, you know, dead, is replaced with all-encompassing warmth. He slowly opens his already open eyes (fish don’t have eyelids), the stirring words of John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” filling his nonexistent ears. He is surrounded by dozens of goldfish. “Stone?” he says, since all goldfish look pretty much alike and any one or more of these could be him. (goldfish have pretty tiny brains)

“Am I dead?” Stone asks.

“Better,” one of the other goldfish replies, “you’re in Colorado.”

“Cool.” There’s no need to ask any questions. These are talking, possibly undead goldfish. Just swim with it.

“Hey, man,” one of the goldfish says, “or lady. Hard to tell ourselves apart. Anyway, wanna take over the state?”

“Why?”

“Because the hermit crabs already called dibs on Montana.”

“Okay,”says Stone, failing to shrug.

And just a few short years later, their plan is in full swing, er full swim Today, Teller Lake. Tomorrow, the music store in Boulder that Mork and Mindy worked at.

**Kids, ask your parents about this too.

The hermit crabs, meanwhile, are still caught in traffic in Helena. Also, they’re HERMIT CRABS.

I know this must all be true. I’ve seen the news footage and I’m sure I spotted Stone in that lake. He’s the one in the beret.

Sorry, America.

POLITICS AND THE WRITER

My good friend Chuck Wendig made a big decision this week.

For those who don’t know, Wendig is an award-nominated, best-selling author of books like Blackbirds, and Under the Empyrean Sky and was just announced as one of the authors of an upcoming new series of Star Wars novels. He also writes for video games, the screen and blogs at terribleminds.com, “dispensing dubious writing advice”. You should also follow him on Twitter @Chuckwendig because he’s pretty funny.

Given all of this, I was stoked that my buddy was announced as a faculty member at the upcoming Midwest Writers Workshop in July at Ball State in Indiana. I’d finally get to see Chuck in person!

Oh, by the way, Chuck and I aren’t actually friends in the strict sense. We might be except we’ve never actually met, which would seem to be a minimum threshold for friend-dom.

But I feel like we’re friends. I’ve tweeted at him a few times; he often tweets back. That’s not why we’re “friends”, though. I like and respect him because he seems to genuinely care; about the craft, about his family, about people in general. He’s the kind of dude I’d like to be friends with, so, for purposes of this blog, I’ve decided we are friends. Sorry, Chuck.

And I was going to see him in Indiana!

But then…

Indiana had to go and get all political.

Lawmakers there passed the super-discriminatory “religious freedom” that, in particular, targeted the LGBT community. People from all over spoke out against it – some, like business, out of worries about angering their customers, others because, well, it’s a horrendous law.

And Chuck, rightly, wondered what Midwest Writers Workshop  was saying about all this. MWW said lots of good things about being inclusive, about how everyone is welcome at MWW…but they stopped short, it seems, of condemning the law, for fear, apparently, of upsetting people who do support the law.

And that was not sufficient for Chuck. MWW refused to budge and Chuck decided not to participate in the conference. When he announced it on Twitter, I was – for a moment – annoyed. I wondered how the religious freedom law could have anything to do with a bunch of writers and agents and editors hanging out.

But then I realized that a writer is exactly the person who should stand on principle when the moment calls for it. Writers develop characters, create worlds. We should want those worlds to reflect real values, not political expediency.If writers won’t stand up for inclusivity, who should?

So I applaud Chuck’s decision, even as I fight back the petty disappointment of not getting to see him. He made the right the call.

I’m still going to the conference. As, I’m sure a lot of other people are, despite the controversy. It’s a brutal truth that principle sometimes gets slammed in the face with reality’s door. Faculty might have the latitude to walk away, but it’s a little harder for attendees. I’ve already budgeted the time and money for one conference this year. This one. It was booked a couple months ago before Indiana’s political existence imploded. There will be people at this conference – attendees and faculty – from all over the country, all over the world. I’m also optimistic that the organizers from MWW on the ground at the conference will make this political stuff a non-issue for this four day weekend. I’m going in with the hope that I’ll be surrounded by enough free-thinkers to make all this mess a nullity.

But I’ll still miss you, Chuck.

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