26 March 2011

Ten Places to See

I read an article today listing the top ten places every parent should take their children. It had the typical places, Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls, etc.

Here's my list, in no particular order

The Ausable River, Upstate New York
Palo Duro Canyon, near Amarillo
Sedona, Arizona
Carvers Gap near Roan Mountain, Tennessee
Jackson Square, New Orleans
Cathedral Basilica, St. Louis
St. Andrews State Park, Florida
North Shore of Lake Superior, Minnesota
The Black Hills, South Dakota
Times Square, New York

25 March 2011

Daydreams in Houston on the 56th floor of some building

I was in a meeting today and started daydreaming. This is dangerous when it's an important event but I managed to get by. Sometimes I get a version of highway hypnosis in these things. 15 minutes go by and I don't recall much of anything that was said. After a few decades in my field, the dialogue tends to all run together and it is rare to hear something memorable or unique.

Anyway, while daydreaming I had this thought about how my daylife is so different from my home life. I find myself in settings during work that are completely removed from my real life. I talk about things that I am truly interested in, and passionate about, but that would never come up at home. Debt covenants, liquidity traps and portfolio optimization just aren't topics of kitchen conversation where I come from. I guess it's that way in every field. There is the language of trade and commerce and there is the language of hearth and home. I find myself seeing things and being in places that remind me of the old Talking Heads tune Once in a Lifetime, since every line applies to some part of my life.

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself-Well...How did I get here?

Another thought I had was the number of people I meet in my career who are really important to me in the moment, in the current hour. Then they vanish. Or I vanish. I'll run into them 7 years, 2 months and 13 days from now and what we did on this day will be idle chit chat. "Well how is that deal going?, has it been seven years, seems like just yesterday, time flies, hows the weather, blah, blah, blah. "

Perhaps I'll wake up soon and find I'm late for my paper route and forgot to study for an Algebra test.

15 March 2011

My bracket

It's college basketball tournament time. Before it was "March Madness" or "The Big Dance" or other marketing lables it was simply "the tournament" at my house.

I did not grow up in a sports family. My dad had a passing knowledge of sports. Some from his days as a HS football player, some from being a casual observer, but no one would have ever called him a sports fan. I cannot recall him ever asking me to watch a game with him on TV, or to go to a sporting event (oops, he did take me to a Yankees White Sox game when I was 6). Nothing wrong with that I suppose, just a little weird. Dads are not perfect. Whatever sports skills we three boys picked up was due to our own interest, as this was simply an activity our parents neither encouraged nor discouraged. I played little league baseball in elementary school and somewhere around the seventh grade put on a team uniform for the last time.

But I always loved sandlot baseball and football, and as I grew older basketball. In college I played intramural football and once landed the job of coaching the intramural basketball squad of our dorm. Somehow we won the school championship. I have a memory of a game when a bounce pass landed sweetly in my hands and I launched a jumpshot that went straight for the rim while I hung motionless in mid-air. The trophy is in our basement, in two or three pieces. My college team was in the NAIA and because admission was free I was at almost every home game, watching us play UMKC, Evangel, William Jewell, or archrival Drury.  I also coached a third grade boys basketball team in college. When my wife and I brought our first child home from the hospital, she headed to the bedroom to rest. I laid on the floor with my new daughter and watched an Arkansas Razorbacks game. As a father I spent hundreds of hours playing basketball with my kids, usually my son, on our driveway. How many times did one of us yell, "...from down-town" and throw a bomb from the far side of the driveway? How many cheers did we get from Caroline, playing cheerleader on the sidelines. These and tons of other memories contributed to an interest in college basketball that has stuck.

I am not an expert. I cannot explain team matchups. I cannot argue the merits of a zone defense or under what circumstances you switch from to man-on-man. I cannot remember from one season to the next who the players were on my favorite team (Missouri). I can barely remember the coach. But I love to watch the game.

My interest in this tournament was generated largely by a guy named Rick Pitino. I watched him on late night ESPN reruns as his teams in the mid-80's began exploiting the new three-point shot as full game weapon. Most other coaches were using it only in desperation. He took a little school named Providence to the final four in 1987 and I think and I was hooked from then on. These were the days when you had to tune to ESPN to catch the early rounds as CBS didnt start coverage until the last 16 teams were decided. There are tons of other memories around this game. Going to my first Final Four in 1990 in Denver and watching UNLV school the nation. The fans of the other three teams, Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Duke, were mere sideshows. In 1999 I was getting ready to watch the championship game when I got word that my father had passed away. Duke vs. UConn. Funny that now whenever I see one of those teams on the court I think of the man who probably never attended a basketball game in his life. In 2005 I took my son to the Final Four in St. Louis and it was weird because neither of us lived there anymore. He was in college and I was in Minnesota.

So when the tournament rolls around my bracket seems to fill up my head. By the time of the first tipoff, it is all that is there. I stare at the pairings, drawing on every game I've ever watched to pull some insight into which team will prevail. During March I see the world through a 64 slot diagram. Investment decisions, menu options, routes into work, relationships.... all fit neatly in a bracket. I have dreamed about the tournament bracket. There is a mathematical beauty in the seemingly endless combinations (in a 64 team bracket there are 2^63 or 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 different ways of completing the bracket). With each game I am either a sports genius or idiot as my bracket looks less and less like actuality with each tick of the time clock. 

There is something about that ball and that hoop that set the rest of the world aside. If you have never had a gym all to yourself, just you a ball and the echoing thump of rubber on hardwood, you have missed one of the best treats in all of sports.

I dread someday going to a nursing home. But if it has a small spot where I can throw a baseball to my great grandkids, or better yet some asphalt and a chain net, I'm there.

06 March 2011

Adventure of the Week

On Friday night Rachel and I went to the Shakopee Auction Center . This was one of the first auctions I've been to in a while, maybe ever, if you don't count charity events. It was interesting. The audience was a wide ranging collection of locals, onlookers, and regulars who had their own assigned metal folding chairs. (Snobbery comes in so many forms). Jerry, a regular who was sitting in front of me, gave us some good advice and helped us understand the code language of this particular auction house. However, he was a talker, and I don't care much for talkers. When he started telling me what I did and did not want to bid on, it was time to escape to a nearby Chinese restaurant for dinner. Writing this on a Sunday afternoon, it has just started snowing again. Nice thing about snow, it always makes my yard look just a good as my two next door neighbors.

Our yard in March

Looks the same as in December, January, February. The last neighbor turned off Christmas lights about ten days ago. I have not been able to get the strings of lights out from around the shrubs and it is starting to bug me now.