Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's basketball season

This one will be...challenging.

My good friend Mark Bryan is no longer with us.

I'm already not looking forward to my thoughts the first time I step into Rees Gym for a PCS game. Oh, don't get me wrong; I love the game and the guys still there. But there will be a gigantic, gaping void for me. Plus, it was in that gym that Mark drew his last breath. But I won't go there again. I've written about that elsewhere.

My prediction is that the wound will never fully heal for me. But like many wounds, it will become increasingly more manageable. And I join my buddy Norman Rowe in believing that seeing the gym packed for a game will be most helpful in the healing journey.

Of course, the other change--much less significant than Mark's passing--about hoops season this year is that I'm no longer on the faculty of PCS. So, I'll be going as a sort of outsider, for the first time. Which will be tough for me.

As Mark's successor, my buddy Matthew Lofton, says, "Let's do this!"

I can't wait.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Class of 77. (30 years later…)
Mike Madaris

We graduated during a time of some national confusion. Watergate was still working itself out. The Viet Nam war had ended, but the scars were only beginning to heal. The presidency was in a state of disgrace; President Ford’s presidency in escrow had just ended, and Jimmy Carter’s optimistic-but-deeply-flawed presidency was beginning.

Musically, we were torn between the radical protest music of the 60s, the softer music of the 70s, the continuation of the hard rock movement, and the arrival of disco. Those of us into jazz were confused by what Miles Davis had become and were electrified by Al DiMeola and Chick Corea.

Socially, drinking and other things happened, but they were still ever-so-somewhat taboo. We had graduated from fairly strict dress code enforcement during junior high to fairly loose standards in high school. Our yearbook photos provide evidence of this…

During our school days, we had witnessed a man landing safely on the moon and returning; an early 60s president’s challenge fulfilled. We saw the escalation…the massive escalation…of the Viet Nam war. Dads and brothers shipped out and fought. Some didn’t come back. We also saw the end of the war and the suspension of the draft. We saw integration, though it was not much of an issue in NW Florida. We saw political murder multiple times. We saw the launch of the political careers of a lawyer named Hillary Rodham and a Viet Nam veteran named John Kerry, though none of us knew then the roles they would play years later. We saw Viet Nam fall, and helped in various ways with the massive influx of refugees. Some of us played patriotic tunes out at the relocation camp at Eglin AFB.

Ours was a huge class. There were well over 600 of us. We were musicians, artists, athletes, surfers, scholars, and regular folks. We were hippies, preppies, burnouts, and fishheads. We loved Mrs. “Mama Jo” Yeager and Mrs. Almond, we respected Mr. Jones, we laughed with (or was it “at”?) Mr. Kelleher, and we disliked a few too. We guys grew our hair long, thinking that made us cool. The girls wore dresses short & tight, thinking the same thing.

We went to football games, basketball games, baseball games, and the occasional track meet. We hated Vikings—the cross-town rival, not the ancient warriors. We went skiing, we went to the beach, we went to Victor’s and the Hog’s Breath, though we lied to our parents about those last two. Of course, we went to prom and to post-game dances. We fell into love and back out of love. Largely, we had no clue what love was. But we sure thought we did.

And then we graduated. Some went to college at Florida, some at Florida State. Some went out of state to various places. Some of us got scholarships; others of us didn’t.

Some took jobs and began their work life earlier. Some went into the military. We got married, we had children, we gained weight, we lost hair. Some moved away after college or due to work. Others stayed. Many of us who moved away wish we had stayed put. Or could come back.

Regardless of the bends in these past 30 years’ roads, we remain somehow connected by time spent at a place called Choctawhatchee High School. For good or bad—mostly good in my case—we remain influenced and impacted by teachers, administrators, friends, and others we encountered there.

When I left high school, I arrogantly said I’d never come back. That lasted until the following Fall, when I ventured home & went to the stadium for a football game. The oh-so-familiar drum cadence began, and the buzz of anticipation raced through the crowd. I still love that anticipation and excitement, even after my own son’s playing days on another football field have come to an end. Just a few years ago, I once again marched with my brother and his son in an alumni Style Marchers band. And loved it. I still love to watch live jazz; partly just for the music, and partly because it reminds me of my days of trying—unsuccessfully—to master to art while in the Modern Jazz Ensemble at CHS.

We remember those who are now absent, teachers, parents, and classmates. They are missed, and their value and impact is somehow magnified as life progresses. At least part of who we are is traceable to them.

So, now we gather again. 30 years. 30 years ago, we thought that people our age were desperately old and hopelessly out of touch. (Indeed, I am now older than my Dad ever became, which is a mind-boggling reality to grasp.) Now, we realize that having been out of HS for 30 years does not equal “old.” At least, not real old.

Oh, sure, the waistline has expanded, and the hairline is now receding in multiple directions, and “40 time” is now related to how many traffic lights my car must stop for rather than how fast we run. And, yeah, there are pills to take that help with “old people” things like cholesterol and blood pressure. And the days of baking in the sun on purpose throughout the day are a distant memory, buried somewhere on the other side of sun-related cancer surgeries in my case. And our music is now played on “classic” stations, or, worse, in elevators and dentist offices. Wierdly, though, it also shows up on our children’s IPODs too. Which is at once comforting and unsettling.

But somewhere around here, there is a smallish, uncertain guy with horrible-looking long hair who never imagined being this, um, “vintage.” Who still remembers the difference between 8-to-5 and 6-to-5 marching…and who still remembers the formula for “Cosine of a Sum” thanks to Mrs. Almond’s “songs” in class…and who still remembers some of the words to the CHS alma mater…who still remembers giving speeches in Mrs. Yeager’s class…and who still lets his freak flag fly in between mortgage payments, college tuition, Dr. visits, career moves, and that sort of thing.

Emerson, Lake, & Palmer said it best all those years ago: “Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends!”

It’s class reunion time! I can’t wait. See you there!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Homecoming at the Capstone

So, tomorrow is homecoming at the University of Alabama. And I will be there, um, coming home.

We Bama alums take such things seriously. Too seriously in many cases. It is estimated that there will be some 120,000 people on campus tomorrow. 92,000 & change will be among the lucky ones who will have a ticket to the game. (yeah...I'll be part of the 92,000...). The others will chill out on the quad, eat, drink, listen to Kenny & Snake call the game on the radio, and watch whatever other games are on TV.

We'll walk around campus reminiscing. (Well, I will...) About football to be sure. But much more in my case. In many cases.

It was as an undergrad student there that I found academic redemption. My first attempt at college was...not successful. But at Bama, I hit my stride (as our fight song says) and came to love and to succeed in the classroom. It was as an undergrad there that this great econ professor and this great management science professor independently encouraged me to consider grad school. (Thanks, Dr. Bird & Dr. Charnetski, wherever you both are now...) It was as an undergrad at Bama that I caught up with some reality. To wit, as was stated in Animal House, "fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son." The lasting irony is that once I put away the party life, I began have faaaaaaar more fun. Still am, as a matter of fact!

It was an undergrad there that I watched the last 3 years of the reign of a childhood hero of mine in person. I even attended his funeral. Later, I taught his grandson. Thanks for the memories, Coach Bryant. I still get chill bumps reflecting back on those days and those teams and the way you conducted yourself there at the end of your career.

It was as an undergrad there that I met this young lady from the country of south Alabama. Her discernment meter was malfunctioning, & thus she began to spend time with me. (I was not much of a catch back then...perhaps not much of one now, but surely not then...) Went on some actual dates with me. Listened to my stories. And to my heart. Years ago, Felix Pappalardi penned these words: "and my Lady hears every note I play..." That's one of my favorite song lines of all time. I proposed near the end of my undergrad days after a couple of years of dating. Again, her meter malfunctioned, and she said yes. We married after my first year of grad school there, which was right after she graduated. This past June was 23 years, grad school, 6 jobs, 3 cities, a trailer, two apartments, two houses, and two kids later. She's still my best friend and she still hears every note my heart plays. Thanks, Lis. I love you!

It was as an undergrad there that I rediscovered long lost/abandoned faith from years before. I began attending church with my aunt, basically because I love my aunt. Then, I went with that same young lady. I met a bunch of folks who had a blast, and yet took their faith seriously. Prior to meeting them, I had decided that faith/fun were opposite ends of the spectrum. They demonstrated otherwise. Thanks, Aunt Daisy, for not giving up on me! And thanks, Gary, Jimmy, Cindy, Tom, David, Karen, Keith, and the rest for living your life and your faith before me, while still loving my un-love-ly self just like I was. I wanted what you had. Your lives and stories made a difference to me. Still do.

So, when I say I'm "coming home" tomorrow, yeah, sure, I plan to enjoy the living heck out of a football game. But homecoming to me is much, much more than merely an opportunity to eat unhealthy food & yell at the refs. Homecoming re-connects me with some of the deepest places in the very bedrock of my soul. Life-defining places, thoughts, emotions, & events. Sure...they could have happened elsewhere. But they didn't. For me, in God's providence, they happened on/near campus at the University of Alabama.

It's homecoming time. I'll be there. I can't wait! Roll Tide!
the beach bum