Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Porn Generation


I have long felt disdainful of the enduring habit of nearly all Westerners, on the left and right, of viewing everything through the lens of impending apocalypse. For lefties these days, the world - at least humanity - is about to end in a flash of environmental meltdown and resource scarcity. For righties, especially of a religious bent, culture is always "slouching towards Gomorrah", getting more and more depraved and violent.

While both views contain elements of truth, both rely on simplifications and distortions of very select slices of reality. The world's food and water supply, for example, has never been as clean, safe, and bountiful. At least in America, mega churches continue to thrive, AM radio is saturated with Christian, social conservatism, and family-style entertainment options continue to be widely available.

But I think it is fair to say that in one respect at least, the righties might be on to something. From what I can tell, there seems to be a substantial segment of girls these days, from, say 16 to 26, whose biggest dream in life is to dress, talk, and behave like porn stars. Binge-drinking, wild forays into even the darkest regions of human sexuality, completely loutish behaviour...it has become "normal".

Not so long ago, most high school girls were quite conscious of maintaining their reputations for self-respect, and would feel a sense of mortification if it ever got out that they had "gone too far" with a boy. By contrast, many girls nowadays are keen to build up reputations for just how far they'll go. Sex acts which, literally, would have ruined a girl's high school social life not so long ago, now confer a kind of bizarre status on to her, and are often bragged about by the girls themselves. Forget second base - now it's...well, I won't say it.

I don't have any particular religious beliefs, but this all makes me feel nauseous. Human beings - including teenage girls - are, or certainly can be, multi-faceted. We are more than just sexual impulse, aren't we? And that so many girls seem to have wound up identifying themselves primarily via their ability to whip themselves up into a frenzy of orgiastic insanity so that lunkhead boys can get off on them, seems gross. Why sign up to be no more than a trashy, hyperactive inflatable doll, when you can be a beautiful, intelligent, self-respecting young woman? Somehow or other, Jenna Jameson - not Rosa Parks, or Florence Nightingale, or Uberfrau Ma Walton, or Amelia Earhart - seems to have become the great idol. Jenna Jameson, the porn star whose "achievements" boil down to only be able to do what any ape or dog can do - have sex - has obliterated them all. And yet we all look over at the Muslim lady in the supermarket wearing a veil and think, "The poor soul...brainwashed...what a pity". Yet I cannot see how obsessively trying to put more mileage on to yourself than the space shuttle, and walking around with your butt and thong and bellybutton and bra and boobs hanging out for all to see, and dishing out blow jobs in pub lavatories or school parking lots, is more praiseworthy than the choice of some devoted wife and mother to wear an outward symbol of her religious commitments. Something's gone really wacko here...

I have children in high school, and based on my own observation, I would bet a thousand bucks that most of the students are far more versed in every last aspect of sexual depravity than in Milton, Newton, or Mozart. Kids can go through an entire 12 years of public school these days without ever being forced to learn how to punctuate a sentence, spell correctly, or do rudimentary math. Yet they all emerge fully prepared to direct porno movies. What happened?

When I ask, what happened?, let me be more clear. What happened to self-respect? What happened to self-discipline? What happened to the ideal of education both deepening and broadening our souls? What happened to the moral centre of the education establishment? I don't get it.

In my perfect world, parents and schools would join together to inculcate habits of self-discipline and self-respect in the young. I would absolutely favour schools adopting dress and grooming standards for students (yes, uniforms), and holding children accountable at every stage for their academic performance. In designing curriculum, I would accept the fact that humans will always idolize someone or other, and see to it that those men and women truly worthy of emulation are held up as such.

I would also favour tying educators's salaries to their achievement, instituting vouchers so parents can choose between schools, and apportioning tax dollars for religious schools (as they do in Canada) providing they meet certain standards. And if some school wants to include corporal punishment for designated offences, and the parents are okay with that, then great. Better a smack on the butt than, say, a cuff on the wrist, or more to the point here, a bun in your girlfriend's oven.

Here I've mentioned only a feeling of nausea and disappointment about all this. I haven't mentioned the STDs, the heartbreak, the unwanted children, the abortions, all the practical reasons for trying to institute some sort of order in this area. But I guess that's a topic for another post.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Now this was a great day...


It is quite rare for me to have "great days" without the kids being involved - in fact I can't remember the last one - but today was one.

Early this morning, I flew from Grand Prairie, Alberta, where I played last night, home to Victoria. I was nervous the whole time because I had lost my keys. I'd ripped my bag apart, the guitar cases, and couldn't find them...and that meant I wouldn't be able to go to the rugby game this afternoon, where I might have a chance of playing (my kit would be locked in the van).

But I finally recalled, sitting in my plane seat, that the last time I had seen my keys, I had almost unthinkingly tossed them into a plastic bin to go through the X-ray machine on the way to Grand Prairie, so I spent all day hoping that when I returned to the Victoria Airport, someone would have found them and turned them in.

And...they had. Wow. Talk about elation. I said goodbye to T. and J. (bass player and drummer), jumped in the van, and headed to one of the most storied rugby pitches in Canada, the James Bay Athletic Association's pitch. I found K. and asked him how numbers were for the Third Division game.

"Low", he said.

Then D. walked past and said, "Where's your kit?". Then I saw C., and he said the same thing. So I thought I would throw my stuff on and play, even though I was pretty fried from the plane travel.

It was an absolutely perfect day, sunny and very warm. I don't know what the official temperature was, but it felt about 78 Farenheit there on the pitch. I played the first 55 minutes at left wing, was then subbed off for ten minutes, and then came on again for K.L. at right wing for the last few minutes.

With each game, I get a bit more comfortable, and a few new things happen. For example, I picked up a kick today and booted it back - first time I've ever attempted a kick. (The arc was low and it hit a big James Bay forward closing in on me square in the chest and bounced right up into the air). I was also in quite a few rucks, as there was lots of play on the perimeter, and got quite a few passes.

I didn't do anything spectacular, but also didn't do anything stupid (that I know of). At some point, I got knocked in the right knee and could barely walk back to the car (it has settled down now). Other than that, everything went okay, though we ended up losing by a hair.

M., the Fijian, had a very good game at fly-half today, with a few spectacular runs, a couple of which ended in tries. I notice he is always quick, and tricky with the ball, and very adventurous, but always seems composed. Actually, a lot of the fellas had very good games.

I came home and showered, and hung out with the kids. I told Sno-Cone and Trixta a Timmy story and a Pizza story, which they both seemed to love (I had them laughing pretty hard during the Pizza story - a little tale about Pizza burning down a restaurant by "accident"), gave Shortcake some medicine and tucked her in, chatted with A-Rock, E, and T-Bone (Tracy is staying here at the moment in a spare bedroom and watched the kids while I was gone).

After the kids were all in bed, Ashton said he would be in charge and I popped down to the rugby clubhouse. To my surprise, it was quite full. A few guys had guitars and everyone was singing. After a few minutes, knowing that I'm a musician, they all started chanting "Tal - Tal - Tal", so I finally obliged and played a few numbers. Actually, I ended up playing piano for about an hour, taking requests. We did "Hey Jude", "Let It Be", a bunch of Bob Marley songs ("Redemption Song", "Is This Love", etc.), "California Dreamin'", "My Girl", and, well, anything anyone suggested really. I actually felt quite shy at first, not being that talented at rugby, but it ended up being pretty hilarious. R. even ended up doing a solo dance while I played "Superstition", which had everyone laughing. He also attempted to sing "TNT" (with me on acoustic guitar), and he was so bad, it sounded instantly legendary.

Afterwards, I hung out and chatted with the two giant young twins from Ontario, L. and C., about football and hockey. I ended up telling them the story of me trying to sing the national anthem at an Islanders home game...I also chatted with T.C., the talented New Zealander outside-half for the Premier squad. The whole while, the lager flowed, and the Fijians did up a batch of kava, their homegrown root beverage which tasted a lot like muddy pond water...

All in all, this rugby thing has turned out to be quite the adventure, and I honestly think I might have gone insane due to all of the emotional turmoil caused by - well, you know, caused by "marital difficulties" - over the past year without it. Never having played a contact sport before (my last stint on any sort of team was when I was fourteen and played baseball), it has really been a challenge in all sorts of ways. But it has really, in a way, been life-changing.

So today was a great day.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Überwindung

"I don't care who's on the other team", barked S, in his Australian accent. Twenty guys, including me, surrounded him in the locker room. "We gotta (expletive deleted) smash them, hammer them. I want to play on the Premier squad. We have to win this! LET'S (expletive deleted) SMASH THEM! Put your hands in - CW on three - one, two, three, CW!!!"

That was loud, I thought. And...uh...kind of violent. I don't think I belong here...

What was I doing there? It was a question I'd asked myself many times - like when I was at practice a couple of weeks before, and R., the coach, had told us to pick up the man next to us and run fifteen metres, then jump on his back while he carried us back, and then made us do it non-stop for four excruciating five minute segments. Or when, at the same practice, we had to do sequences of push-ups with our same partners lying on our backs. Holy Mother of Gawd what am I doing...?, I began thinking.

But there never really was a clear answer. My best guess was some unconscious, primal need for risk, challenge, danger...some need for overcoming (the Überwindung of Nietzsche). But again, it was a guess. The truth was that I was in the throes of another ultimately inexplicable obsession over which I seemed to have no control, and even though I often felt out of place, never having played rugby before, I couldn't stop.

Anyway, back to the locker room.

I walked out into the blazing sunlight - it was about 85 degrees Farenheit - all suited and taped up for a game which I now realized I had no business playing in. This was last Saturday.

See...A few days earlier, I had gotten an email from the team manager inviting me to come down to the club training and intra-squad game day. It sounded like a good way to get some more fitness in, and more importantly, to get some game time in a fairly friendly atmosphere. After all, it was just an intra-squad scrimmage, playing against all the guys I'd see around the clubhouse, or at touch.

So I showed up at 10:00 AM, and casually passed a ball around with a couple of guys. Then L., the coach, called everyone in, and explained that we were about to do two hours of intensive fitness testing so as to help the coaches evaluate who would play on the top team (the Premier team), and who would be relegated to the team below (the First Division). I didn't even start on the Third Division team last spring, and was nowhere near competing for a slot on even the First Division team, let alone the Premier team.

But I was standing there in my shorts and T-shirt, and I couldn't just leave without looking like a dweeb ten minutes after showing up. So...I decided to try to do all the fitness drills. They included things like sprinting five metres, dropping and doing two push-ups, sprinting ten metres, dropping and doing four push-ups, sprinting ten metres, dropping and doing eight push-ups, sprinting ten metres, dropping and doing sixteen push-ups, sprinting ten metres, dropping and doing two sit-ups, then four, then eight, etc., then a series of squats, etc., for twelve minutes. L. made sure to tell us, after twelve minutes of gasping and gagging, that the rugby league team he helped coach in Australia had been able to do that without any problems at all (thanks). We then moved on to a quick agility, passing, and defensive drill (three on two, then the two without the ball turn around and defend against the next three, etc.).

One of the drills I did step aside for, only because the other guys were familiar with it, and I wasn't, and it looked sort of confusing. By the time I'd figured out the choreography of it, L. had stopped it and we'd moved on.

In any case, we drilled for two hours and then ate lunch, with the recent Springboks versus All-Blacks game playing on the big screen while we ate. And then, around 2 PM, everyone started to get ready for the game.

Well...what I had thought was going to be a friendly intra-squad season-opening warm-up game, in fact turned out to be yet another assessment by the coaches: the Premier squad to play against arch-rivals James Bay next week would be selected based on game performance. So instead of a friendly game, it was an all-out war, the club split in half, each man fighting for a shot at glory, potentially a spot on the national team, and if that, potentially a pro career.

"Hey, uh, R.", I said. "I'm not sure I really belong in this game...I'm not competing for a spot on either team, and I don't really want to get killed". R. said he understood and that he wouldn't put me in.

I'll be honest - there is really no other way to describe what I felt other than fear. Never having played until recently, it still seems foreign...and I felt afraid I'd do something stupid. I felt afraid I might do something to lose the game. I felt afraid of being crushed by some jacked-up lunatic (some of the boys are over three hundred pounds, and some of them have played for the national team and are amazing players). Even deeper than that, I think, is still simply the idea of me, a lifelong musician, even playing the sport. It is just hard to get used to, in a strange sort of way.

But, I watched throughout the first half...and the more I watched, the more the obsession rose within me, until by half-time, I couldn't stop myself. For some reason, I had to.

"R. - I want to go in". What the hell, I rationalized to myself. You only live once.

R. looked surprised. "Okay man. Go in at right wing".

And that is how I wound up playing the whole second half in a game I had no business being in, in any way. And as it happened, it was a total blast.

Just a few seconds after the half started, a guy carrying the ball broke three tackles and hit the gap between myself and the outside-centre, slipping behind me. There was now only eight metres between him and the try line. I whirled around and gave chase, managing to catch his jersey with my finger; and if you can believe it, I managed to stop the guy with just my middle finger and thumb long enough to pull him down, and thus save the try. I then jumped up, got back onside, by which time one of my teammates had completed the tackle and was on top of him, and formed a ruck with a second teammate, driving over. In a flash, the opposing team flooded the ruck trying to drive over us toward our try line, which was only now two metres behind us. I pushed hard and hyperextended my left leg, and ended up buried beneath probably eight guys, all pushing forward and thrashing like spawning salmon.

A penalty was then called ("not releasing"), with a quick break in play, and I must say, it boosted my confidence to hear S., the Australian who had issued the violent speech in the locker room, call out, "Great tackle, Tal!".

As it happened, I was in some pain by that time, but I couldn't stomach coming off the pitch only a minute after I'd gone on. It would have looked completely pathetic. So I took a deep breath and vowed to stay on as long as I could. After a few minutes, my ligament settled down and I felt okay (the next day, Sunday, I could hardly move!).

I got a few carries, one of which brought me face to face with E., a gigantic Pacific Islander (yes, he tackled me). I offloaded and play continued.

I didn't do anything really great - no big hits or anything, no tries, with the try-saving tackle as the only thing approaching an actual contribution - but it was a great thrill to have overcome my initial reluctance, and just get on...There is really no feeling like being in the thick of things on the pitch, bodies flying everywhere, people shouting, giants charging at you, everything depending on split-second decision-making.

That night, we all met at the clubhouse to celebrate. I had a few nice chats with the guys, and also was met with the cry of "Buffalo!" on one occasion, which I was mystified by, until SA said that anyone caught holding his beer in his right hand would arouse such a cry, and the penalty was to drink the beer all at once. Since I'd had no idea, I requested a reprieve. But when I got caught a few minutes later again, I did the sporting thing and finished my beer off.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

War, Part II


"Okay, everyone loaded?", I said.

"Check", said T-Bone.

"Everyone put the anti-fog stuff on their mask?"

"Check".

"Everyone ready for action?"

"Check".

"Good", I said. "We'll make a plan once we get up there".

Ten minutes later, we were up on the first course. It was rough terrain: ravines, hills, lots of trees and fallen timber, shaped like an elongated-diamond, with a tower at each point. The objective was to capture the flag hanging from the enemy team's tower, before your enemy got yours.

The five of us, along with the other twenty or so guys on our team, crowded around our tower, waiting for the horn to sound. The five of us decided to head up the right side. The pressure - all of it self-imposed, of course - was huge. The world is depending on us. We have to get the flag.

The horn sounded and we ran as fast as we could up the heavily treed trail, down the ravine, to the halfway point, along the far right perimeter.

"Hold up", I shouted. We all hid behind trees for a minute to look for snipers. Nothing. Through the trees, we could see the rest of the paintballers 35 or 40 metres away converging on each other in the middle of the course. "Let's move up".

We began to leapfrog each other up the right perimeter, James and A-Rock sticking together in a pair, T-Bone, E, and I moving up about five metres from each other, hiding behind stumps, trees, and rocks. Within about eight minutes of the game starting, we had moved to within fifteen metres of the tower. Three or four of their soldiers were inside. T-Bone and I crouched behind a corrugated tin panel, E behind a tree, A-Rock and James behind a boulder. The tower guards spotted us and began firing out the windows. We tried to pick them off, but it was impossible.

There is a strange phenomenon which has happened to me now many times playing paintball, and which I might as well pause here to describe. The first couple of times it happened, I thought I was imagining things. But it has happened so often now, and has been so unfailingly reliable, that now I am not sure what to make of it at all. It is eerie.

When a game begins, there is an initial rush of adrenaline as you run to get into position. You don't know where your enemies are, or what their plans are, and often you don't even know what your teammates are going to do. So you run and try to get as far as you can, and then take cover, and try to get some idea of what is happening as you try to plan your next move. Often seeing what is happening is impossible. You get pinned down so you can't look around, or even if you can, you can't make out where anyone is. But something has happened to me now a bunch of times, as I really focus, and then focus harder, and then focus even harder: at some point in the battle, a sudden silence will descend upon my mind, so that I can no longer hear the shooting or shouts, or even my own thoughts anymore. It is just a sudden, pure, total silence, which comes unexpectedly, and then...

Some voice tells me exactly what to do. Like, "run behind the far left trees and then straight for the base. GO NOW", or "the last defender just left the tower while you were hiding; GO NOW".

I know it sounds crazy, but everytime I've heard it, I've immediately obeyed it, even when it seemed like the command was suicidal; and every time, I've gotten the flag (or otherwise achieved my objective, e.g., secure the tower).

So, back to the game. I was stuck behind the corrugated tin. There was no way to approach the tower; the people inside were still scanning and shooting at everything. I dashed five metres to my left and hid behind a boulder, got a peek, and saw the flag. It was fifteen metres away, and probably six feet out from the tower on a pole. E, A-Rock, T-Bone, James and I were all within five or six metres of each other, all trying to pick off the tower guards, with no progress being made.

And then it happened again; amidst all the shooting and shouting, suddenly everything went stone silent in my head, and the voice came back, the one I hadn't heard since the last time I went paintballing, and it said, "GO IN FIVE SECONDS: five, four, three, two, one, GO NOW AND KEEP SHOOTING". I obeyed it; I leaped out from behind the boulder; to my amazement, just as I emerged, the shooting from the tower lulled unexpectedly. My right hand veered out and I began spraying the tower (which was at about my 2:30) as I ran, leaping over the rocks and logs...and before I knew it, I had the flag.

The boys were thrilled. The Overlords still had Lord Wotan's magical mojo!

"We're going to dominate", said T-Bone. If it is not obvious, it is particularly important to T-Bone, player of many heroic military video games, that we do well in these games.

T-Bone was right. In every one of the first four games, even though there were almost fifty people playing, our small pod of elite commandos captured the flag. E and T-Bone got the next two, and I got the fourth. The referee - obviously not realizing that no matter he did, the Overlords would come out on top and save the universe - shifted the teams around to try to make us more even.

Not being informed of this, we were caught unaware during Game Five and our team lost.

"No excuses. Unacceptable" was our verdict. "Let them have as many as they want...it's like Agincourt! We must redouble our efforts, men!".

The Overlords charged out in Game Six, and once again, one of us (E) captured the flag. Game Seven was the same. We were on a course featuring four linked towers; in between each pair of towers hung the flag; the object was to capture the flag and touch it to the opponent's base camp. At the sound of the horn, I ran immediately up the ramp, through the first tower, through the second, and grabbed the flag; the enemy unleashed a volley, but none hit me. I got back to base and gave the bag to T-Bone. We then ran into the woods along the left perimeter along with eight or nine teammates, me covering him. And there, we all got pinned down. Our opponents captured the middle of the course, and then came up behind. Unfortunately, we couldn't run forward toward their camp because there were three guys there shooting back at us. One by one, our teammates were getting picked off, and we were getting squeezed. It is hard to describe the feeling of being behind a barricade with three other people, and then over the course of just a minute or two, they all get nailed...and most of the time, you can't even figure out where the paintballs came from.

T-Bone finally got hit. That left E, me, two girls, and as I found out later, A-Rock. The two girls got hit. Six or seven enemies were trying to come from behind; somehow Ashton managed to hold them off all by himself, about twenty feet behind us. I shouted at E to grab the backpack and get down. We were in deep trouble. Then E said, "I'm out of paintballs".

Oh no. We had to do something...we were getting bombarded and there were only three of us left, against at least fifteen of them. I peeked out and saw I had an open shot at someone in the fort underneath the tower. Two shots, direct hits, and he was down...and then, with only a minute or two to go in the game...it happened again.

The voice said, "RIGHT NOW is your only chance. The men just left the base. GO NOW".

It was hard to believe they had left the base - they had been there the whole game - but I jumped out anyway and yelled "RUN BEHIND ME" to E. Just to make sure, I pulled him as I ran past him. And eerie as it may sound, it happened again; just as we made our break, there was a sudden lull in the firing, as if all of our enemies had ducked down at the same time. That was fortunate, because we had to run half the length of the entire course to make it to base. And if you can believe it, after enduring all that bombardment for the previous thirteen minutes, we made it to base I think without a single shot being fired at us. We'd caught everyone unawares...and no one could believe we'd ended up winning that one.

The day ended around 4 PM. We had played ten games. Our teams won eight of the ten. In seven out of the eight, though there had been 45 or 50 guys playing, many of whom were competitive paintball players, it had been one of us who had won the game.

"Dad! We completely dominated!" said T-Bone, over and over again.

"We won almost every game", said E. "It's like we're magic!"

And the whole way home, we talked and recounted episodes from the battles, and gave ourselves permission to imagine that we really were elite soldiers of preternatural intuition, smarts, and courage, and that we really would have dominated in real battle a hundred, or a thousand, or seven thousand years ago. And I have to admit - it felt pretty good. The Overlords had saved the world again...