Wednesday, July 12, 2017

No, Emmet, Everything Isn't Awesome At The Lego Store

Sometimes common sense prevails, and sometimes there's this story.  Last week,  a mother in upstate New York was arrested for leaving her ten-year-old son unattended in a Lego store while she shopped elsewhere in the mall.  Yes, you read that right.  She was ARRESTED, and charged with child endangerment.  My first reaction was the odds would be stacked against any blockhead trying to build a case against this mom.  My colorful Lego puns aside, there are several layers of this story that bear exploring.  One may question the actions of the store staff, the actions of the responding officers, and whether or not the mom, Jia Fan, was wrong for leaving her son alone.

Without knowing every single detail, I have no issue with how the store staff handled the situation. 
From the Associated Press story: "Lego corporate spokeswoman Amanda Madore said store employees followed company policy regarding unaccompanied minors and contacted mall security."
A quick scan of the Lego Store website turned up no posted official policy.  Other stories on the internet claim that Lego stores have a posted policy stating children under twelve must be accompanied by a parent.  Whether a policy is posted or not, I do not fault the store employees for alerting mall security if they felt the child's safety was at all in question.  I work at a big box retail store that does not have a specific policy.  As managers we use our best judgement in a given situation.  If a young child (and yes, the definition of young is subjective and part of the problem) is wandering the store and/or misbehaving, we approach the child and ask them to take us to their mom/dad/adult.  We are not babysitters and should not be thought of as such.  I have been flabbergasted at finding toddlers wandering, looking for their mommy who was browsing a section half a store away.   I may not agree with the parent's choice to leave her child unattended in the kid's department.  I may find it irresponsible or troubling.  But I can assure you I have never considered calling the police over such matters.  Nor would I consider it particularly worrisome to see a ten-year-old wandering our store.  Given all that, I still have zero issue with the Lego store staff alerting security.

What happens next is more bothersome.  It sure seems like the mall security guards could have simply stayed with the child at the store until the mother returned.  Unless it is strict mall policy to call the authorities in this type of case, I don't see why the police were even involved.  Once involved, the police have discretion over what further action need to be taken.  I'm no lawyer, but nothing reported in this case, in my view, rises to the level violating New York's child endangerment statute.  Perhaps there are unreported circumstances that would change my mind.  If not, this seems like overzealous policing to me.  Chastise the mom, lecture the mom, put a little fear into the mom if you must. But arrest her?  I just don't get it.

As a parent constantly considering how to govern a growing eight-year-old, this story cuts to the heart of the issue.  At what age am I ready to let Grace do various things on her own?  What factors am I using to make that decision?  What do I need to see from her to help make the call?  It is easy to go the extremes on this issue.  "Free range" parents would find it laughable that this poor kid was kicked out of the store and his mom arrested.  "Helicopter parents" may not let a ten-year-old out of their sight in a store.  I like to think I'm right down the center, but the reality is I lean towards hovering helicopter parent.  As I wrote in my recent post about the ocean, relinquishing control is not easy.  I always tell Grace my number one job as a parent is a tie between loving her and keeping her safe.  The idea of keeping her safe and letting go as she gets older often clash. At age eight, Grace, according to Maryland law, is allowed to stay home by herself.  Deep down I think Grace would be fine by herself.  That doesn't mean it's going to happen anytime soon.  I let Grace walk to my mom's house down the street by herself, but I won't let her walk alone for the four blocks to school.  (Even though I made that walk all the time at that age.)  I don't like her wandering off in a store, but will sometimes let her retrieve an item from a specific aisle.  It's a sliding scale that I don't have a good handle on.    It is no secret that I am an anxious, worst case scenario kind of guy.  I'm overprotective because I don't trust the world.  Also, I sometimes don't trust Grace.  Even though we discuss stranger danger and what to do in certain scenarios, I can see her being lured in by the guy who "needs help looking for his lost puppy."  It's shit like that that scares the heck out me.  I want to tell her to go play unsupervised around the neighborhood like I did, but would never forgive myself if something happened to her.  I know this is way more my issue than hers, yet I'm going to err on the side of caution every time. 

So, I don't know what the right age is to let go.  I do know it is different for every parent-child combination.  That's what drives me crazy about the Lego store arrest.  If Jia Fan knows her kid is okay in that mall by himself, common sense should have prevailed.  Instead she faces a court appearance.  No word on whether her punishment will be walking barefoot across a roomful of Legos.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Doing The Wave

There is something perfect about catching the ideal bodysurfing ride.  No board, no flippers, just you and the ocean.  You temporarily cede all control to the sea.  If you catch the wave just right you have this outstanding moment of weightlessness as you blast toward the shore.  If you catch it wrong Mother Nature bounces you off the bottom, or worse yet, leaves you behind like a missed bus. 

These days, I don't body surf often.  My beach days mainly consist of trying to keep Grace upright in the waves and trying not to spill soft serve on my shirt.  Grace, at 8 going on 18, acts like a master of the ocean, but doesn't yet possess all the skills.  Her bravery in the surf constantly challenges my overprotective instincts.  I want her to stand close enough to grab in an emergency.  She wants to jump over, under, or through every single wave.  No longer is splashing in the last, late ripples of surf good enough for her.  She wants to swim and float where it's deeper.  If I didn't reel her in, sometimes literally, she'd be halfway across the Atlantic.  As we clash over what is safe, I realize what every parent does at some point: you have to give up some control as your kids get bigger.  Holy crap, it isn't easy.  In our battle of wills, I am teaching her to respect the ocean, and she is teaching me to lighten up.  Even though I admire her willingness to venture further from the shore, I still cringe internally during that nanosecond when she disappears as she plunges through a wave.  It's a tiny bit scary and a tiny bit exciting.  Like riding a wave.

Yesterday, because Amanda was able to go to the beach with us, I had a little Grace-free time in the ocean. I didn't plan on riding any waves; like I said, I don't body surf often anymore.  I floated along for a while, bobbing in waves that, while not huge, were certainly good enough to ride.  I watched a bunch of bros constantly miss rides because of poor timing.  I watched tourists repeatedly get knocked ass over teacups because, well, they were morons.  When I finally had enough, I decided maybe the old-timer could show them how it was done.  I grabbed the next decent wave and hoped for the best. 

At this point in the story, which are you expecting and/or hoping happens next?
A: The wave dumps me on my head causing me great pain.
B: The wave blows off my trunks causing me great embarrassment.
C: I harness the power of the sea Aquaman-like and ride the wave in style.

If you picked A or B, you can eat it haters.  I crushed it. In fact, had I known how awesome the ride was going to be, I would have thrown the bros a wink, and a "Dudes, watch and learn" before catching the wave.  Instead I settled for the sweetest wave ride I've had in a decade.  As I triumphantly rocketed all the way to the shore, I imagined the chorus of bro cheers and the admiring nods of appreciative beachgoers awaiting my landfall. Alas, as I emerged from the surf like some sort of swollen sea monster, shirt clinging to my dad bod in all the wrong places, there were no cheers, no one paying attention.  Not even my wife and kid.  That's okay, though, because had Grace seen it, she'd probably ask to ride the big waves too.  And that is something I'm definitely not ready for YET.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Dear Fireworks: It's Not You, It's Me

To me, one of the great challenges of getting older, is finding the magic in things.  I probably say "Awesome" ten times a day, but how much awe do I really feel in my day-to-day?  Don't get me wrong;  there are plenty of things - my kid saying something funny, a March Madness  buzzer beater, getting to third base on a random Tuesday morning - that deliver excitement.  I'm talking more about stuff that brought joy as a child, yet today is incredibly mundane.  You know, stuff like birthdays, Friday nights, Christmas morning, and, yes, Independence Day fireworks displays.

I've reached the point where, if it weren't for The Girl, I'd stay miles away from our local fireworks exhibition.  I don't want to be the dad that shortchanges his kid from experiencing all the joys of childhood.  Our town actually puts on a decent,  privately funded show.  Nothing to complain about with the show itself.  But nothing to do back flips over, either.    Like sweet potato fries or new episodes of the Gilmore Girls, the idea of fireworks is more appealing than the real thing.  If you've seen one small town fireworks display, you've seen them all.  Sparkle, Boom, Repeat. 

You wonder if the cost is worth the result.  After a long weekend of swimming, sleepovers, and beach visits, Grace was tired and on the verge of ornery.  Amanda and I were tired and on the verge of crabby.  Pile in the car for one more late bedtime?  Great idea!  Add in muggy, buggy, and boring, and you've got a real party.  The beauty of having a holiday from work is having no firm schedule.  Because I am obsessive about being early and getting a good parking spot, I, of course, put us on a schedule.  Unfortunately, my need to arrive early directly antagonizes  my inability to wait patiently for anything.  An hour early, plus an hour to let traffic subside or sitting in the thinning traffic, adds up to two-and-a-half hours invested in  a twenty minute fireworks show.  A show during which Grace spent almost as much time fiddling with her snacks and glow stick jewelry as she did admiring the rockets' red glare. 

The one saving grace (For me a saving grace, for my wife, a chance to admonish me.) to attending these types of events is they give me a chance to engage in one of my favorite pastimes:feeling morally superior to the masses.  Clearly, not jumping right in the car at the show's conclusion only to sit in traffic for an hour, makes me so much smarter than the average citizen.  By not engaging in the honking, cursing, and cutting off, I demonstrated what a good person I am.   Pointing out these glaring examples of stupidity obviously makes me a Father-of-the-Year candidate.  My favorite moment was a guy in his giant, 4WD redneck mobile.  I guess he thought constantly revving his souped-up engine would make the snarled traffic magically move faster.  Because, you know, HE'S ready to go.  His truck was tall enough that, as I watched his growing impatience, I became increasingly convinced he was going to go all Bigfoot on the cars in front of him.  I laughed like crazy when, after not moving for twenty minutes, he got out of line, circling the parking lot to get in the other line that appeared to be moving a smidge faster, only to have his original lane break free and exit the parking lot.  My laughter elicited an eye roll and stern look from my wife, but brought me great joy.  Oh wait - I did find joy at the fireworks!  Hot damn, maybe it was all worth it, after all.  See you there next year.

Saturday, July 01, 2017

I've Had Dumber Ideas

I have an idea that's a little nutty.  A plan that could save the Washington Capitals.  Before I share it, may I remind you of the famous Billy Joel lyric:  "You may be right, I may be crazy, But it just may be a lunatic you're looking for."  My loopy, sure to be hated brainstorm?  The Caps should offer a contract to free agent winger Jaromir Jagr.  Yes, I'm serious.

Now that I've ducked all the tomatoes, beer cans, and high sticks directed at my head by fellow fans, let me explain.  The Caps went for it all last season, declaring Stanley Cup or bust.  They, of course, busted hard being eliminated well short of their goal by the Penguins yet again.  Now, the team (and its fans) are wading through an offseason of certain change that would be easier to swallow were it following a winning Cup run.  Unfortunately, GM Brian MacLellan has to craft a roster that will be less experienced and less talented, but still capable of winning an Ovechkin-era Stanley Cup.  With little wiggle room under the salary cap after re-signing forward T.J. Oshie and defenseman Dmitri Orlov, and preparing (hopefully) to ink restricted free agents Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky,  MacLellan was forced to allow many of the Caps' unrestricted free agents walk away.   Justin Williams, Karl Alner, and Kevin Shattenkirk all signed elsewhere today.  (All with Eastern Conference foes, by the way.)  I know age, injury, and crappy postseason play, respectively, makes it a little easier to watch those players walk away, but they were three players that formed part of a talented nucleus.  Add in Nate Schmidt's departure via expansion draft (Thanks, GMGM!) and you have a roster with holes. 

And that's where Jagr fits in.  I think he can help the Caps.  Yes, it is strange to type those words.  Yes, my feelings about Jaromir Jagr have been wide-ranging through the years.  Yes, Washington should give him a look.  The Florida Panthers have made it clear they will not be bringing back the 45-year-old Jagr next season.  Age 45 is ancient for an NHL-er, but Jagr has proven that he is in excellent condition, maintaining his body well enough to play an entire 82 game schedule last year.  His 16/30/46 stat line would have ranked him seventh on the Caps in scoring, right behind the departed Justin Williams' 24/24/48.  You would probably not miss a beat plugging Jagr in Williams' right wing spot on the second line.  If Barry Trotz was not comfortable with that lineup, Jagr could at least be valuable on the power play.  He could fill Williams' position on the second unit or, better yet in my opinion, bump Mojo from the first unit.  Either way, I think there would be ample opportunity to get Jagr decent minutes without stunting the growth of any Washington's younger players.  Besides the on-ice production I believe he is still capable of, number 68 could make a huge difference off-ice.  Gone is the petulant teen star; in his place is veteran leader.  Remarkably, Jagr has become an elder statesman representing the league and the game.  He is respected by players.  Imagine if he could impart upon Alex Ovechkin the importance of being fit enough to maintain skillful production as  he ages gracefully.  Ovechkin seems to have matured immensely from the party boy he was, but I'm willing to bet, based solely on the amount of Coke that he is said to consume, that Ovi's fitness level doesn't come close to Jagr's.  Another steady hand of leadership couldn't hurt. 

Salary may be an issue.  The Caps can not squeeze Jagr's 2016-2017 salary of $3.5 million under their cap, but with few, if any, other offers, Jaromir may be willing to take a big cut to hook on a with a top-tier team.  Jagr, with a positive impact, or, dare I say it, bringing a Cup, could erase all the bad feelings Caps fans have ever had towards him.  I don't know if my idea could work.  I don't know if Brian MacLellan or Jaromir Jagr would even consider it.  I'm just saying this armchair GM might just be the lunatic you're looking for. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

LGBTQFF?

I'd like to think I am somewhat of an expert on French fries. I've eaten thousands.  I've cooked them both for business and pleasure.  I even remember that time when parts of America were so angry with France we started calling our fried potatoes Freedom Fries.  I know fries like Bubba knows shrimp.  You've got your boardwalk fries, steak fries, curly fries, gravy fries, seasoned fries, home fries, and even crinkle cut.  But McDonald's "gay fries", well that's a new one.  At first, I thought we just had a naming issue causing the confusion.  You know, gay means happy, and McDonald's serves Happy Meals.  So, of course, the fries in Happy Meals could be, by definition, gay. However, this alarming CBN News headline seems to indicate that the fries are actually gay!

What?  Oh, it's just rainbow-decorated fry boxes? Good, because I was thinking the idea of potatoes having a sexual identity sounded ridiculous.  Almost as ridiculous as being outraged that McDonald's is serving their fries in rainbow-decorated boxes.  Seriously, it is 2017 and we have people pissed that a few McDonald's locations are celebrating gay pride with rainbow boxes.  The anti-gay crowd, led by evangelists like Joshua Feuerstein, of Starbucks Red Cup fame, are now calling for boycotts of McDonald's. They justify it by using words like "promoting", "influence our families", and (gasp) "normalizing" homosexuality.  Words matter here.  The differences are sometimes subtle, but huge.  McDonald's isn't promoting homosexuality.  It isn't trying to make anyone gay. As if a rainbow box could make a person gay.  If you let a drive-thru chain influence your family in any way beyond making it fatter, then that is on you.  I'll let McDonald's say it better.  As spokesperson Cathy Martin says, "We are proud to honor and celebrate the LGBTQ community, including our employees, customers and beyond, each and every day."  Honor diversity.  Celebrate our differences.  Treat employees with respect no matter their sexual orientation.  Crazy stuff.  Why are these concepts foreign to so many?  I have a better question.  Why the outrage for McDonald's now?   Clearly, they have been pushing the gay agenda, whatever that is, for years.  Ronald in his romper. Hamburglar frolicking in a cape.  Mayor McCheese wearing his fancy sash.  A great big purple-headed Grimace.  C'mon these guys are the fast food equivalent of the Village People.  Not to mention the playground equipment shaped like these heathens that children we encouraged to get inside.  So gay!

I've got news for those fearful of the "gay agenda."  No, news would imply that this is recently discovered information.  I've got a rehashed, can't-believe-I-have-to-say-it-again communique for you: NO ONE IS TRYING TO MAKE YOU OR YOUR FAMILY GAY.  The existence of same-sex marriage does not require you to marry someone of the same sex.  The existence of gay people will not destroy the earth.  Like I have said when talking about North Carolina, Target bathrooms, and Beauty and the Beast,  it's your business if you think homosexuality is an unnatural abomination.  What I can't stand is the nastiness and name calling.  Homosexuals are not perverts or disgusting.  Homosexuals are not lost sheep or disappointments letting you down.  Homosexuals are not immoral trash.  Jim Gaffigan (and any other straight parent that did so) is not abusing his children by taking them to a gay pride parade.  The disdain for homosexuals, in some cases dressed up as concern or pity, on the internet is appalling.  Get over yourselves.  I'm going to guess even in biblical times there were gay people.  Jesus had lots of followers wandering the desert with him.  You're telling me none of them were gay?  Law of averages say some were. What's the big deal?  Maybe they were just the original Fry Guys.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Cleavage Coverage

Ocean City, Maryland has a problem.  A problem town officials may want to nip in the bud before they rack up mounds of trouble.  I say problem, but only some perceive it as that.  Many individuals have no issue with the city allowing females to hit the beach topless this summer.  Count me in with the latter group.  And not because the fourteen-year-old boy trapped inside me hopes to see naked boobies all season.  (Let's be honest, the majority of exposed breasts aren't going to belong to swimsuit models.  Be careful what you wish for, men making travel plans.)   Count me in because this issue has spurned a broader discussion that needs to be had.  A discussion that, for me, includes three related topics: why bare breasts are considered taboo, how we treat and talk about women's bodies in general, and freedom and equality.

Before diving in, let me recap how we got here.  In 2016, a female toplessness advocate (Boy, did I get into the wrong business!) challenged Ocean City to allow women to go topless since men are allowed to go shirtless.  The city petitioned Maryland's attorney general for clarification on the ordinance currently on the books.  Following nine months without any word on the matter from the AG, the O.C. Beach Patrol has decided they neither can, nor will ask topless female sunbathers to cover up.

Predictably, like any remotely controversial subject, the OCBP's decision has sparked a firestorm on the internet.  As usual in these contentious times, battle lines seem to be forming along classic polarizing lines.  People in favor of covering up are quickly labeled conservative prudes and advocates of "freeing the ta-tas" are painted as crazy and/or disgusting.  For me, the line is blurred and the answer lies in that great gray area in between.  Of course, maybe I'm just a crazy, disgusting prude.

My eight-year-old daughter, Grace, and I spend tons of time at the beach.  It is one of our favorite places on the planet.  One of the few benefits to my retail work schedule is it affords us the opportunity to hit Ocean City about once a week on a weekday away from the higher volume of weekend tourist traffic.  About three or four years ago, Grace asked me why she had to wear a shirt on the beach if boys didn't.  I did not have a good answer for her.  I'm sure I mumbled something about private parts or that's just the way it is.  She didn't push the issue, but it has bugged me since that I didn't have a better answer.  This recent news story brought the question back to mind.  So, really, what is the difference?  Why shouldn't females go topless?  It seems we are mostly talking the nipple.  That's all that many bathing suits cover on a woman.  Plenty of tops show ample breast save the nipple.  What makes a woman's nipples naughtier than mine?  (Now you're thinking about my nipples, aren't you?  My eyes are up here.) 

The difference is that we have sexualized the female breast.  I'm sure there is some argument to be made about America's puritanical past, but when did the breast become something we have to cover?  It seems like it is one of those things that has "always been that way."  Other cultures, don't cover all the time.  I'm sure there are tribal cultures where breasts are rarely covered.  Why taboo here?  Yes, the breast can be an erogenous, sexual body part, but it can be for men as well.  Yes, advertisers trade on the notion that boobs are sensual mysteries to be discovered or uncovered.  Don't get me wrong, I often find a woman dressed to leave something to the imagination sexier than one that lets it all hang out. But these are constructs that we have put in place.  The body is so much more than a pleasure device.  Breast-feeding without covering is thankfully being normalized and de-stigmatized; this can be the next logical progression. 

Though it is not a direct line, this topic relates to how we treat and talk about women's bodies.  Assuming women "must" cover up is not much different than women "asking" to be raped for dressing provocatively or girls being sent home from school because the way they are dressed is distracting the boys.  A woman's body is hers and hers alone.  Despite the litany of romance novels that line my store's shelves that might imply otherwise, a woman's body is not something to be possessed or conquered.  I recently read a quote from a lady who mentioned she should be able to, not that she would, walk naked down the street without fear of harassment.  And she's right.  Nudity is not an automatic invitation to be touched, groped, or even hit on.  I'm not advocating being uncovered below the waist, I have to draw the line somewhere, but the point is the female body, as beautiful as it can be, is not a trophy or an instrument.  If a woman chooses to go topless or share her body with a number of men and women, it doesn't make her a slut, or disgusting, or lacking in self-respect.  It's her choice, not mine or anyone else's.  I may not agree with her choice, but, to put it bluntly, it ain't my business.

I have been asked if I would be upset if Grace saw exposed breasts on the beach.  I wouldn't.  Amanda and I try to have frank discussions with her about being comfortable in the skin you're in.  That said, I would not allow Grace to go topless.  Because we also talk about what is best for our family and our beliefs.  Hypocritical? Maybe.  Until she is an adult it IS my business.  When she turns eighteen she can do what she wants. 

Finally, I have heard it suggested that if it's equality these topless advocates want, they should press that men have to cover up.  I suppose that's one way to go.  I don't personally see the big deal about letting ladies hit the beach topless.  It's a personal choice.  In the same way the existence of gay marriage doesn't mean I have to marry a dude, if I don't want to see topless women I can choose to not go to Ocean City.  My freedoms are not being disrespected.  I say let the market decide.  If enough people stay away from Ocean City because a few women air out their areolas, I would guess some laws would be changed or clarified.  If the will of the people, declared through our elected officials, was to cover up then so be it.  Until then, ladies, feel free to pop that top.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Clang, clang, on the boards, Baby!


When news broke yesterday that 3-on-3 basketball might be an Olympic sport in 2020, my mind began to wander.  I was flooded with wistful memories of the past.  In high school and college, my friends and I played LOTS of pickup basketball.  From spirited games of 1-on-1 to two full-court, 5-on-5 games running simultaneously on adjacent courts, many weekends and summer evenings were spent on various playground courts around town.  The quality of some of the games may have made Dr. James Naismith cringe, but  we had fun.  Free throw contests, practicing our half-court buzzer beaters, H-O-R-S-E, running a beat.  Phrases I haven't uttered in years: Make It/Take It, Check Ball, And 1, Back Door Cut.  There weren't many better ways to spend a summer evening than shooting hoops 'til dark then sitting around shooting the breeze with your buds until you had the energy to get up and go home.  You were left that sweat-soaked, rubbery-legged, good kind of tired instead of the why-was-I-awake-from-three-AM-to-five-AM feeling with which I often wake these days.  Sometimes I miss those nights when our only care was finding a sixth guy for a game. 

Personally, my game left a lot to be desired.  From a skinny kid earning the nickname Boney Maroni for the ease with which I was pushed from the post by older kids, I grew into a poor man's Charles Barkley.  And by poor, I mean destitute. Broke.  Poverty-stricken.   I was simply the Round Mound to Sir Charles' Round Mound of Rebound.  Except for one summer when I got both my body and jump shot in shape, I relied on a hopeful hook shot and a prayer.  Slow feet and no vertical made me a liability on defense, living proof that White Men Can't Jump.  I never met a layup I couldn't miss in a key, late game situation.  In fact, my lasting basketball memory from the summer I was fit and actually played well, was blowing a bunny.  I ripped down a rebound, started the fast break with a crisp outlet pass, and sprinted up court.  Two quick passes later, my buddy rewarded the big man running the court with a slick no-look pass that would have, were I a few inches taller, resulted in a thunderous Karl Malone dunk or a George Gervin finger roll.  Instead, I botched the SportsCenter-worthy pass by banging the layup off the rim. 

Now, twenty-five (!) years after high school and twenty-two years, eighty pounds and one knee surgery since the summer I was "good", I find myself inspired to get back on the court.  In no condition to run full-court any time soon, I'm starting slow.  Real slow.  Like, with the one play in basketball where no defender can send my jumper into the third row: the free throw.  My goal is to take the bulk of the summer to make my free throw percentage go up and the numbers on the scale go down.  I hit one of the old parks this morning to shake off the rust and assess my shot.  I was quickly reminded that I love the distinct sounds of basketball.  The bounce of worn leather meeting painted cement.  The rip of the net cord on a swish.  Even the clang of the hoop on a miss. 

My assessment, after one hundred free throws, is that I have plenty of work to do.  And that my neck hurts.  And that my right arm will probably feel like it is going to fall off tomorrow.  It's all good, though, because it was just fun to be back on the court with the ball in my hands.  Of the one hundred free throws I took, I made a dismal, Shaq-like thirty-three.  Yes, 33%.  Terrible, to be sure, but a good omen, perhaps.  33 was Larry Bird's uniform number.  Larry Bird was one of the greatest shooters of all time.  Surely this means I am on my way to legendary shooter status.  Maybe not, but at least I have a mission.  A  mission that will occupy my time instead of the things I should be doing like looking for a better paying job or crossing items off my honey-do list.  A mission that includes studying elbow angles and adjusting my follow-through.  A mission to get better.  Time to hoop it up!