Shifra likes to talk

Shifra likes to talk. She’s nearly 18 months old and we long ago had to start being careful with swear words. (not that it isn’t a little amusing to hear your little one repeat “shit!” right after you drop something)

When she speaks with us, she uses words, or portions of words, so she can communicate what she wants. “Cah” for colouring, book, cup, chair, “woof-woof” for dog, “moo” for cow, “stra” for stroller, walk, park, slide, swing, apple, “padda” for pasta, up, down, “Bird” so she can listen to Andrew Bird on our google assistant, nap, sleep, and so on. We’ve lost count.

She also likes to talk to herself. But she doesn’t use words, at least not words we recognize. Sometimes she’ll push her toy stroller around the room, and just stop for a moment, arm extended, gesticulating off to the side, and inexplicably let loose a stream of pointed babbles. Lectures we call them. And then, just as suddenly, she’ll continue on her merry way.

In the morning, we give her books to “read.” Flipping pages, she mimics the intonations of reading, but using her own gibberish language – “patu teeka wuu pista lah.”

It’s not for our benefit, as far as I can tell; she does it whether we’re paying attention or not. She’s off in her own world. So, we often take advantage: time to rest or get other stuff done, occasionally looking over to admire how cute the whole show is.

Last night she was sitting on my stomach, happily bouncing up and down, looking off to the side, and talking gibberish to herself.

And I thought, self-consciously, maybe I should engage for once. She’s not asking anything of me, but I could be connecting with her. You know, when you suddenly question whether you’re doing the right thing as a parent.

So I looked into her eyes, as she babbled on. I nodded along seriously, no idea what the hell she was talking about. But within a few seconds, I suddenly felt self-conscious. Like I had accidentally stepped into something private.

And to my surprise, she also looked embarrassed. With a silly little grin on her face.

We both started giggling, and she buried her face in my chest.

The transition from baby to toddler to little girl is both slow and fast. Skills come into place one at a time, like pieces of a jigsaw coming together to make a recognizable image. And with each piece, you gain a fuller understanding of who she is. But occasionally, there are moments where you can see a bit deeper, past the surface-level stuff. I’d accidentally stumbled into something that should have been blindingly obvious, but never occurred to me.

You get used to the idea of being able to direct your little one’s attention, away from a tantrum, toward something interesting.

But of course she has her own inner world, her own private monologue that she drifts off to. Not just one with abstract images and words we taught her. But a stream of conscious thought. Imagination. Stories she tells herself. A world she knows is independent of us. Enough to be ever so slightly embarrassed that I was listening in.

Da-Da-Da

Da-da-da-da-da, daaad, dat, da, da

She scurries across the floor, using my name as a kind of catch-all description of her current feelings: happily and busily moving from toy to toy, smiling wide whenever she catches my eye. 

Which I don’t necessarily want. If I pay her too much attention, she might come over here. 

I’m like all the parents – I’m so tired. She’s playing so nicely by herself for a moment. Busily pulling clothes out of the laundry with one hand, clutching tightly onto my plastic reading lamp with the other. She found it the other day and it is her latest piece of plastic obsession.

But I know it can’t last. 

Soon, a curly head pops up and that sound starts, ehhh, ehh, ehhhhhh, which of course means, “Pick me up Daddy. Play with me Daddy. Pay attention to me Daddy!” 

I’m so tired. She woke us up at 5 am this morning. She’ll lie there between us in bed, blabbing to no one in particular, rolling over occasionally for cuddles. 

We’ve already played with all the toys in the living room, listened to music, walked around the apartment together, helped Daddy clean up, even indulged Daddy’s nostalgia by watching 15 minutes of the ‘90s show the Magic School Bus (is it weird that it’s actually better than I remember?) But, she’s one. It only held her attention for about 10 minutes. (Daddy may have watched another few minutes after she lost interest.)

So I try the best of both worlds. I pick her up and plop her in bed with me. I lay out a few board books she loves to “read” (i.e. flip pages), snuggle up close to her, and close my eyes. It seems to be working. She’s entertained and I’m resting. 

Thwack. 

Something hard hits my face. It hurts in the way something does when you’re not expecting it.

I open my eyes. She’s holding one of her books and I recognize what she’s doing. She’s trying to get me to read it to her by shoving it into my face. It’s hard not to laugh at the simultaneous directness and innocence of it all.  

“What?” she’d ask if she could. 

I open the first page of her “Happiness” book and I start reading.

I love watching Shifra grow and develop. It makes you aware of how we develop into a person in pieces, one small block at a time. New skills build on top of the old. Her ability to communicate with and understand the world grows in a similar fashion. More complex abilities layered on top of older simpler ones. 

The request for attention is part of it. Like a superhero who just learned to control a new power, she uses it all the time.

All of which allows her personality to assert itself in clearer ways. We really only have 3 words beyond Mommy and Daddy at this stage: “No, no, no” (it’s never just one no), “more”, and “wow” (complete with the open-mouthed look of astonishment). It’s amazing how much she can get done with Mom, Dad and just those three.

No, Daddy, I don’t want that. More singing Daddy. More food Daddy. No, not THAT food, the OTHER food. Wow, Bibi, I have a Belly Button! Mooooom, pick me up. Mooom, I’m tired. Da-da-da-dad, I’m having fun.  

Combine that with the facial and body expressions she’s been carrying out since she was a fetus – the I’m not sure what to make of this eyebrows (my aunt likens it to a banker who’s feeling doubtful of your loan application), the staredown that can make an adult 6 times her size flinch, the happy bouncing to any kind of beat or music, the way she moulds into your body when you cuddle her, the smile so broad it feels like you’re communicating with her soul – and you feel like this is a whole person. 

So, I can’t properly describe the wonder in seeing this little being become. It allows me to push past the fatigue and be present with her. Most of the time, anyway. And if not, well, she’s got plenty of toys and books to shove in my face to remind me.

That’s my girl. 

A love letter

Some things I’ve learned about my girl:

  • Her morning smiles are the best, open-mouth and ear-to-ear, just so happy to be here, and to see you. 
  • She is an incredibly social being. Has been since day one. Staring intently at faces, giving out smiles. Her conversation consists of animated babbles. Ardent “gaaaaahs!” followed by squeals (we call them Pterodactyl sounds). She’s feeling something, and wants to communicate it. 
  • Sometimes she’ll stare down strangers in the elevator until they interact with her. 
  • Sometimes she’ll get a case of the giggles. Utter silliness, an expectant stare, waiting for you to do anything to crack her up. 
  • Sometimes she’ll cycle through five or six different emotions in a matter of seconds. Spontaneous whole-hearted expressions of joy, curiosity, playfulness, discomfort, love, suspiciousness, anxiety. Although, one feeling always wins in the end — hunger. 
  • She loves food, particularly sweet potato.  
  • She loves cuddles. Hey, not all babies do. 
  • Everything changes, so quickly. I started this list a month ago, and I’ve already had to remove two or three bullets. Things that seemed essential to her being at one point, but now she’s already moved on. 

Caring for her is far more rewarding than any work I’ve done in life. 

I love feeling capable, of soothing her, feeding her, comforting her, talking to her, bathing her, putting her to sleep. Even changing a poopy diaper, or cleaning up the collateral damage from poop-splosions. 

It’s all an unbelievable responsibility. A joyous one. It can take me out of myself, exhausted from a poor night’s sleep or a tough meeting. 

I feel bonded to her, and her to me. I can see it when she smiles at me for no other reason than just spotting my face. 

To put it simply, I love being her Dad. 

How do you ‘Dad’?

Sometimes she stares so intently. But intently is the wrong word. So deeply into your eyes, like a police detective staring down a criminal. And without the social cues that we layer on top of our interactions, cues that guide us from staring so deeply at anyone.  In those moments, you feel the full force of her being examining you. Once or twice, I’ve caught myself feeling self-conscious, blushing, and looking away. Which is embarrassing, because, well, she’s a baby.

I used to be afraid of children. I mean I still kind of am, but I’m learning. I never had a younger sibling, and, growing up, my younger cousins lived far away. It often felt like communicating with a different species, just totally unnatural. For someone who took a while to figure out adult interactions, it was like, ‘what do you talk to a 6-year-old about?’ And when they are so young they can’t even speak, and they look at you suspiciously like the stranger you are, what are you supposed to do? What if they cry?

So becoming a Dad myself was a foreign concept. I had no idea where to put the thought in my head. I felt I was not like the other Dads I saw around, including my own. But doing all the preparations together with my wife during her pregnancy – the doctor visits, the what to name the baby discussions, looking at the baby clothes that can only fit a tiny person, feeling the soft lining of the car seat – it was calming somehow.

The day before my daughter was born, I asked my wife if she would show me how to hold her. Shifra was born by Caesarian, and as it turned out, she was put in my arms first. It felt natural. Her head in the crook of my elbow, the other arm supporting her back and tush. The intimacy of looking down at her, face-to-face. I never needed to ask my wife how to hold her.

I’ve had the opportunity to be at home with my newborn daughter these past two months, far more often than is usually possible for a guy. My wife and I trade off chores, entertain our little one, sooth her, and watch her. We take her out to lunch and dinner, to walks in the park, to Costco runs, even to the beach.

So I’ve had a chance to take ownership over her care, if not as much as my wife (who still holds the keys to her favourite food, after all), then to a nearly equal amount.

It’s to the point where I now recognize that look in other guys, the deer in headlights, when you hold out a baby in front of them. The desire to interact, but the fear of fucking it up. And so you compromise between those feelings, and shyly reach out to touch her toe. Strange to think that was me 3 months ago.

There are still scary moments, of course, moments of self-doubt. On Shifra’s tenth day of life, I took her from my exhausted wife. I had planned to workout, so I plopped her down a safe distance away. I didn’t get more than 2 minutes in before the complaining started. Exercise routine aborted, I figured I would at least get a quick diaper change in before returning her to her mother. I quickly learned that changing a fussy baby’s diaper is so much harder and slower than a calm one. Predictably the complaints turned to crying, and then to hysteria. The wailing was so guttural, so pained, so deep from the soul, it felt like I’d betrayed and stabbed her. Even after rushing her back to her Mom, it felt like I’d failed as a father, doing the one thing you’re not supposed to do, hurt my daughter.

Of course, you learn even babies have to endure uncomfortable things now and then. Shifra doesn’t hold grudges. She lives in the present, sometimes cycling through a half-dozen emotions in a few seconds.

Sometimes, she’ll give us a hard night, opening her eyes whenever we put her down to sleep, fussing unless you hold her in a specific position. And then, spontaneously, she’ll flash a wide smile, a smile so complete her eyes sparkle, a smile that is somehow simultaneously innocent and naughty. You can’t help but laugh.

The other day I gave my daughter her first laughing fit, a genuine series of belly laughs. I wasn’t doing anything particularly different, shaking her favourite toy, and being a little silly.  I was just being present with her, and then, magic happened. The lesson for me is, as always, it’s all in your head. The fear, the anxiety. Might as well choose to jump in, roll with the punches, and enjoy each moment. The rest? I’ll figure it out as I go.

I accidentally broke the news of James Foley’s death to his brother

It started as a flurry of messages on Twitter, as it always does these days.

It was on Tuesday, last week, fairly late in the day. I was compulsively checking Twitter.

A Turkish activist I follow was appealing to people: don’t post the link to the beheading on Twitter.

Someone from a prominent Syrian opposition group replied, and took the link down. But not before pointing out that nobody has given a shit about all the other beheadings of Syrians they’ve documented.

That’s Twitter. Debating a story even as it breaks.

I told my boss about the breaking news, who suggested I try to find a guest by deadline. That only left about 15 minutes to find someone who could tell us about James Foley.

Returning to Twitter to find a guest, I saw the pictures. A desert background. A man in an orange jumpsuit. Another one dressed in black standing over him. Foley’s name printed on the screen.

How could you not think of Daniel Pearl?

That story connected with me so deeply.

A journalist, an earnest man, a Jew, someone fascinated with the problems in the Middle East, someone who wanted the other side of the story so much he would put his own life in danger to get it. Someone with far more courage than I could ever muster.

Someone who stumbled upon this ultimate evil. Where reason and understanding didn’t matter. It didn’t matter if he was religious, left wing or right wing. All that mattered was that he was a Jew and an American. And then they killed him in the most horrible way imaginable. It’s not even imaginable.

Like Pearl, Foley was kidnapped, but he’d been held for much longer. Long enough, perhaps, for his family to hold out hope he might be returned safely.

My colleague found a number for me to call on a support page. It looked like the clearinghouse for everything related to James Foley. The place that tried to keep his cause on the front page.

“Hello,” said the voice at the other end.

“I’m calling from CBC Radio in Canada,” I began.

Then, I stumbled over my words. How do you delicately ask someone about this?

“I’m calling about the.. uuhh.. news about Foley, James Foley.”

I was already lining up my next question about who might I talk to. Often, there’s one designated family spokesperson in these cases. Or maybe there was a friend this person could connect me to.

But then the voice at the other end sounded kind of confused, and irritated.

Now a little concerned, I said, “the news that was circulating on Twitter”

“What news?’

And then my heart began to beat faster.

He doesn’t know.

“Who am I speaking to?”

“I’m James Foley’s brother.”

I never imagined. I couldn’t. I couldn’t tell him. I couldn’t speak.

“Listen, I’m at work and I’m kind of busy,” Foley’s brother said. “Where did you say you were calling from?”

“CBC Radio….You know what, let me call you back.”

“Okay, bye”

I hung up.

His voice reverberated in my head. “What news?”

I saw him running to Twitter to check. Seeing that video. All those years of waiting and hoping and work. And advocacy. Ended in one moment. By some shmuck on the telephone.

I never called him back.

And then I cried.

***

This happened in the space of about 10 minutes on Tuesday last week. When you work in any kind of breaking news environment, you’re bound to run into this sort of thing every once in a while. It’s part of the job.

And I’m aware, that if it hadn’t been me, it would have been the journo who called five minutes later.

And, as my colleague reminded me last week, we’re not that far from the days when some journalists were actually instructed to break the news to family members and friends. All to provoke a good reaction that could be recorded, and packaged, and sold.

I’ve never had to do that at CBC.

But, still, it’s a funny business. You need to get people’s reactions now, when their emotions are most raw, in part because tomorrow it’s yesterday’s news.

I think as long as you treat someone with respect, and give him or her a chance to decline the interview, you’ve done your job ethically.

Because the job is important. If the person is notable, as James Foley was, then the public needs to hear about him. And they need to hear about more than just his death. They need to hear what he lived for.

The family are setting up a fund to support young journalists. If you’d like to donate, please visit this page: http://www.freejamesfoley.org/

James Foley, Syria, 2012. Photo: Manu Brabo.
James Foley, Syria, 2012.
Photo: Manu Brabo.

Would you, kindly, shut the fuck up

Okay, I really don’t mean that. But it’s hard not to FEEL that sometimes.

I am exhausted by you, Facebook. Blood, ignorance, death, malice.

Did you know that the death toll in Syria surpassed 170,000 people this month? I didn’t either. I had to look it up.

No, my Facebook feed has been dominated by the Gaza war, and before that, the kidnapping and murder of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers.

It’s not so much the news. I mean, BBC or Haaretz or even the National Post can tell me what’s going on over there. It’s the commentary.

Much of it along the lines of – “you thought you knew what’s going on over there in Israel/Palestine, but nobody is talking about [whatever particular injustice I feel attached to].” Or “read this brilliant editorial by [someone who agrees with my way of thinking] which talks about [how ridiculous the other side’s opinions are].”

I haven’t written a public opinion on Israel and Palestine for years because I’ve wanted to avoid fighting about it. It’s emotionally draining. (In fact, I’ll feel most at peace if you walk away from this post with only the vaguest idea of what my opinions on the conflict actually are. For more, you’ll still have to ask me directly.)

On top of that, it’s so goddamn complicated over there, sometimes I don’t know what to think. Even after studying the topic and following it for years. The more I study, the less I’m sure I know.

Sometimes it’s easier to just kind of focus on the here-and-now, and let the hopelessness fade into the background.

And yet, what happens over there matters so much to me. Insomuch as I feel a part of a people with a beautiful tradition, a love for learning, questioning, and debate, a love for laughter, dry humour and music. A people that have been bizarrely singled out and targeted by much of the Western world for 2,000 years. I mean, 2,000 years — of forced conversions, pogroms, expulsions and murder. What is that?

In light of that history and in the shadow of the Holocaust, of course I can understand why many thought that the Jewish State was the only viable solution. We are a terrified, traumatized people, no matter how comparatively great the last 60 years have been.

Of course it’s not just me. I don’t know what it’s like to “feel” Palestinian or Arab. But I can appreciate how real it is, as real as my Jewish identity feels to me.

I can appreciate how painful and arbitrary the occupation is, how evil the towers and walls and missiles of the occupation’s army must feel to be. How al naqba is seared into the Palestinian identity. How, after hearing the death tolls in Gaza, the only viable explanation must be that the Israeli army deliberately targets Palestinian children.

Even if I could reach out and say that Israel isn’t all war and bombs and occupation, I know that in day-to-day life, I can’t. At least, not in one day. And I can’t blame them for choosing their tribe over mine.

And as for the rest of the world, those who find they are drawn to this conflict — welcome to our little clusterfuck.

You have a unique opportunity to understand both sides, without the baggage of an emotional investment. And with that comes a deeper responsibility, I think.

If you get involved, know what you are talking about. Learn, ask questions. Try to understand both sides. Even if you come to support one side’s cause over the other, try to understand why the other side acts the way they do.

If you go over there – to Israel/Palestine – talk to people. Palestinian cities, from Ramallah to Nablus to Hebron. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Gaza, if you dare.

Then, please, come in to our homes, have a cup of Turkish coffee (or Nescafe if you can stomach it), sit down at the table, and tell us what you see.

Fear

The other day I heard a story on This American Life.

There was this kid. A kid who knew he was going to be in the NBA. In grade 8, he heard that the highschool across town had a good basketball team. So he begged and pleaded. And, he must have had good parents, because he got his wish.

It was a 40 minute commute and you had to cross a sketchy park, but for this kid, it was worth it. He was so excited to go to school, he showed up early everyday.

He didn’t make many friends at the new school, but all he could talk about was the upcoming basketball tryouts.

It was his “road,” his destiny.

But when the big day came, he choked. He missed layup after layup, freethrow after freethrow.

He didn’t even make the first cut.

And, predictably, that was it.

The kid’s performance at school suffered after.

He begged to be transferred back to the school in his neighbourhood. But they wouldn’t do it until the following year. That is, unless it was a “safety” transfer — if he was somehow in danger.

Most of us would leave it at that. Wait out the year.

Instead, the kid finds the kind of person you normally avoid eye contact with — while walking through the park on his way to school. And he stares at him, until he’s provoked the guy enough. Enough so that the kid is surrounded by this guy and his gang. And then of course they demand the kid’s stuff.

When it becomes clear to the kid that surrendering his hat is not enough to mollify the group, he bolts. And actually manages to make it to school safely.

Just like that, the kid got his transfer back to his old neighbourhood.

And — a lot changes in just a few months when you’re that age. The girls in his old neighbourhood tell him he got taller and hotter. The kid said he was just following his road, even if it took him back to where he started.

And that’s where the story ends.

I’m not sure why, but the story stuck with me. On the surface, the kid was the picture of teenage heedlessness. He literally risked his life to transfer a few months earlier. And yet, I don’t know.

I have been afraid all my life. At one point or another, afraid of dogs, of dancing, of women, of my own success. Of doing, of life.

At its worst, it’s this visor grip on your spine, a cage around your chest. Fight-or-flight response is in full-gear, but there’s nowhere to go. (Maybe it’s why I love travel so much. It satisfies my need to keep moving).

In fact, sometimes it feels like my entire life has been one long war of attrition between me and my fear.

When I was younger, I tried to calm the anxiety with rational thought. A social event wasn’t going to kill me. A math test was survivable, even if I hadn’t studied enough.

And at the lowest points in university, being rational kept me from even darker places — suicide never really made sense, neither did hard drugs.

But it took me a while to realize the approach had limits.

Life is not necessarily a straight line, or even a rational process of A leads to B to C to D.

Often, you’re staring at a fork in the road. It’s A or B. C or D.

And just as often, you can make a rational argument to take both paths. And really who knows where each path ultimately leads.

After you’ve laid the rational groundwork, there’s a lot to closing your eyes and just believing. Taking a leap of faith in yourself.

The kid had it right. It doesn’t matter where “your road” goes, even if it circles back to where you started. Because by then you won’t be the same person.

The This American Life podcast can be found here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/527/180-degrees

(I’ve relayed their story from memory, so I might have gotten a few details wrong.)

 

Hello, I’m Canadian. Feel free to take my seat.

The bus ride from New York to Toronto is long and painful. There’s just no way to make a 12-hour ride in one-seat without (functional) internet comfortable. Also, if you’re like me – and you can’t sleep on buses – then you’re stuck with 12 conscious hours during the day. So, of course, inevitably you get nauseated at some point.

Still, it’s fantastically cheap – much cheaper than a flight. So it becomes the temporary home of a community of people who would love to be anywhere else, but can’t.

There are little things you can do to make the experience better. Download movies in advance. Decide how much work you want to do, whatever your field, and download what you need the night before. Bring snacks. Space out your coffee. If you’re travelling alone, arrive early to grab a pair of seats to yourself.

If you’re taking Megabus, there’s one more trick. But it takes a sizeable upfront investment, so it’s not for most people. If you get to the stop maybe 30 or 45 minutes before the bus leaves, you can be the first on the bus.

Why is that important? Well, Megabus use these double-decker buses.

The bottom “floor” has the bathroom, the driver of course, and, unhelpfully, seats that are a little too low, such that the window starts at your neck. All in all, it’s dark and gloomy down there.

On the upper floor, a strip of glass runs down the middle of the roof letting light in. Which is a little better.

But the four best seats, by far, are right at the front. You’re immediately on top of the driver. The glass in front of you is nearly floor-to-ceiling. A big window lies to your left (or right, depending on which side of the bus you’re on). It feels like you’re flying over the road in a glass cage. (Sure you’ll be the first to die in an accident, but at least you’ll have enjoyed the ride.)

Now I’m an impatient person. I don’t like waiting in lines. So it’s usually not worth the trouble for me.

But on one rainy day this week, my girlfriend and I happen to arrive early enough to get the third spot in line to board the bus. It’s a 30-minute wait, but we share an umbrella and let our luggage and extremities soak. Two college-aged women stand in front of us – let’s call them Maggie and Annie.

Maggie and Annie board first and each snag a pair of choice seats at the front. Maggie has the pair of seats on the right side. Annie the pair on the left. We sit one row behind on the left, directly behind Annie.

The bus starts ambling its way out of Manhattan. It’s a quiet ride – the bus is maybe half empty. My girlfriend and I start debating what movie to watch (yes, I really wanted to see The Lego Movie).

I notice, peripherally, a women walk by us to check out the front of the bus. She gestures at the seat beside and ask Maggie, “is anyone sitting there?”

Maggie looks around at the half-empty bus, says no, and moves her stuff off the seat.

The woman sits down beside her and then gestures to the back of the bus. A second woman makes her way to the front. I’m not sure exactly what was said at this point, but it’s getting awkward.

Whatever words were exchanged, Maggie mutters “there’s plenty of seats on the bus” and gives up her pair. The newcomers take them and sit down, oblivious or uncaring – I’m not sure which. Maggie moves to the seats behind us, peeved. I turn around and give her a sympathetic look.

It’s funny how social compact works. A collective body of rules that somehow add up to culture.

In this case, a minor rule has been broken – don’t sit down beside someone if there are pairs of empty seats available. Especially when someone waited 40 minutes in the rain to get those seats.

In time, the newcomers beckon to a third friend in the back. She comes to the front of the bus and sits down beside Annie. The threesome talk loudly, laugh fully, and hold out their phones taking videos and pictures of the road ahead. They speak exclusively in a foreign language, but I won’t hazard a guess as to what it was.

Annie hangs on for a while, sighing, turning her body from side-to-side. Finally at the first rest stop, she gives up and re-locates too.

Immediately after, a huge bout of laughter erupts from the three newcomers. And that is how it stayed for the next 10 hours of the ride.

The same culture of rules that made it “wrong” for three women to sidle their way into choice seats, prevented any of us from saying anything about it. I mean, it’s just a seat. It’s not like they hit someone. Still, it was irritating. Particularly, because they seemed to be enjoying themselves so much.

People make fun of Canadian politeness all the time. Which I completely get (which in turn is a very Canadian thing to say, I realize).

An Israeli would never have given up her seat. An American might have told the women what they were doing was rude.

To me politeness is about respect. It’s a clear way of saying, “I don’t know you, but I respect you.” On the other hand, we all forget that our rules only make sense in our culture. And the differences between these collective sets of rules is how stereotypes get built, and, sometimes, racisms.

Was this a culture clash? Or were they just knowingly rude? Would it have been weird to ask if they knew what they were doing? Or really who cares, because, after all, it’s just a seat?

Why baseball doesn’t suck

A_worn-out_baseball

So, now and then, someone will ask me about sports. Something along the lines of What sports do you like? Which are your favourite? Which have you played?

Now as a not particularly athletic Jewish guy, those were always tough questions.

I could say “I used to play soccer” or “I used to play basketball” or even “I used to play baseball.” It’s all true, but for me that’s kind of like saying “I used to study Spanish.” If you count the single year I studied the language in high school to mean much of anything.

But if I’m really feeling honest, I’ll say I sometimes watch baseball. Which, for some reason, feels like a guilty admission. There’s this silence afterward, the question “why?” hanging unspoken in the air.

The usual response I get is, “Don’t you find it boring?”

Well, in many ways, yes.

Scratch, spit, look around…throw a ball. Rinse, repeat.

For three fucking hours.

And what’s with the spitting anyway? It’s disgusting and completely inappropriate in an age of HD television. Baseball should just ban the practice.

And there’s another thing. We watch sports to see human athletic prowess at its best. Performing feats we can only dream of. But, you don’t necessarily have to be fit to play some positions in baseball. Be strong, yes. Have a good throwing arm, yes. But, you can be kind of, well, fat and be an excellent pitcher or catcher. I’ve seen players thrown out because it takes them too long to lumber down the base paths.

And of course, there’s the drugs. I love that Jose Bautista is a home-run king for the Blue Jays…. But his turn-around a few years back was kind of sudden. I’m not saying he uses PEDs, but it’s harder to trust these days. And that’s probably because there’s a whole period of baseball with a gigantic asterisk permanently attached to it.

And yet.

There’s something beautiful in every at bat.

A chess match, a game within a game. The pitcher must figure out how to get the ball past the batter. There’s no other option. You cannot run out the clock in baseball.

And the pitcher must do this while trying to keep the ball within a narrow rectangle, roughly from the knees to the shoulders of the batter. Or they must put so much spin on the ball that it moves into or out of the rectangle in mid-flight, fooling the batter into thinking the pitch is something other than it really is.

And the batter in turn has to try and intuit what the pitcher will do next. Because with a ball hurling towards you at 100 mph, you really don’t have much time to decide whether to swing.

In effect, with every pitch, the batter and the hitter try to out-think each other.

And then there are the quiet moments of strategy. Should a hitter bunt to help move a runner over, probably sacrificing himself in the process? Should a manager work the statistics and bring in a left-handed reliever to face a left-handed batter?

And while the catcher can be a little slow, the fielders have to be in excellent shape. The precision and skill required to catch a ball, turn around in mid-air, and throw it accurately in the opposite direction.

And there’s the human factor. The anxious young pitcher struggling with his control, basically a kid in a stadium, as tens of thousands judge him on every pitch.

And yes, it is a long game. Too long maybe. But the long wait makes you more invested in those games that come down to the wire, the bottom of the ninth.

The Blue Jays were recently on a nine-game winning streak. I knew it wouldn’t last, but watching all the little things come together gave me geeky pleasure all the same.

So I bought a $2,000 bike

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So I bought a $2,000 bike last year. Not a $2,000 motorcycle.  A $2,000 bicycle. It was a present to myself after winning a scholarship at CBC. It is the single-most extravagant thing I have ever bought, by far.

It’s black with a red racing trim. The pedals clip onto specially designed-shoes. It is narrow and compact, light as a feather. It’s not even made out of metal. (For bike geeks: it’s an all-carbon frame with 105 components.) For non-bike geeks: your average bike frame is made out of aluminum, which makes that characteristic ‘ting’ sound when you tap it. Aluminum is cheap, but also relatively stiff, making you feel every little vibration in the road. Carbon deadens some of those vibrations, while being incredibly light and strong.

It’s also delicate. While the material is strong under the conditions it’s designed for, such as holding up a rider, it’s not under other pressures. Bang it into a metal pole or drop it in a funny way and you may just snap the thing in half. When you tap it, it sort of feels like you’re touching a tree branch. Which is disconcerting.

It is designed to do one thing and one thing only – go fast. It’s utterly impractical for everything else. It’s $2,000 on wheels. You can’t leave it anywhere. There isn’t a lock expensive enough to put my mind at ease. And even if I could, the shoes have cleats, which means you can’t just walk around. And going offroad? Nope, not if you want to keep it in good condition.  It’s like a sports car. Beautiful and fast, but finicky.

I have been questioning my decision to burn so much cash on a bicycle ever since I bought it. This spring I seriously considered selling it to trade down to something more practical, or perhaps even to trade down to two more practical bikes.

So yesterday I took it out on its inaugural ride of the season, thinking this may be the last time.

And then there’s that feeling, as you pick up speed. The delicious pleasure of catching up to the cars. Of the wind in your face. The power in your legs. The control in your arms, steering you safely down a narrow strip of shoulder on a country road, between death and injury. Zooming down a tightrope at 40 km/hr.

Or there’s the quiet moments. Green fields and red farmhouses. The kind of vistas you just pass too quickly on a car to appreciate. Dirt roads and blue skies ahead. The sun at your back. An unending peace to your right and left.

And then there’s the pain. The hills that make you want to scream obscenities. The tense shoulders. The lactic acid in your legs that burns just a little hotter with every kilometre. And the numbness between your legs that makes you wonder if you’re actively hurting your chance at having children one day.

And yet, at the top of every hill, you feel more alive than ever. Like you’ve just conquered the world. Doesn’t matter that it was just a hill, and just a bicycle. It’s bliss.