Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pearls Before Swine?

Old Hoop
Originally uploaded by mdt1960
When the new basketball hardware (consisting of hoops and backboards) was installed at the St. Barbara’s Church parking lot in my home town earlier this spring, I was amused, thinking to myself that suddenly there was another location to shoot baskets. I was especially interested in this new development because I knew putting up the baskets wasn’t required, necessary or expected of the church. Simply put, it was a gesture of good will extended by the church to anyone in the community who liked to play the game.

Unfortunately it wasn’t long after the installation of this hardware that some of Powell, Wyoming’s finest delinquents spoiled the new courts for everyone when they started hanging from the rims with their lame attempts at slam dunking the ball, leading to the destruction of the south basket. A couple weeks later, the same fate came to the north basket. It wasn’t enough for these punks to destroy one rim, they had to wreck both. And do you suppose any of them were considerate enough to thank the church for their short-lived escapades in their pathetic display of amateur slam dunking—let alone offer to reimburse the church for the damage? Get real. Sadly, no one does that today.

So, what were those fools at St. Barbara’s thinking? How dare they install sub-par basketball hoops that can’t support the weight of a rotund 5’7”, 250-pound teenager who probably had to jump from the back of his friend’s pickup truck to “dunk and hang.” The good folks at St. Barbara’s just don’t understand that it’s not good enough to only install a basketball hoop that is regulation height—if it can’t support the full thunder and weight of Shaq himself, don’t bother! Further, I’m doubtful that the rims would still be intact if the church had pasted “No Dunking” signs on the backboards—talk about an invitation to tear them down.

So my question is this: When did basketball rims become monkey bars?

Blame it on the NBA. Dunking the ball has become the ultimate shot. There’s nothing more in-your-face and insulting than jamming the ball down your opponents throat... ah, I mean hoop. It’s so God-damn American just like George W. Bush’s, “Bring it on.”

We used to say, “Baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet” when speaking about those things that are American. Clearly this needs to be updated to something like, “Slam Dunk, Bud Lite, and ATVs.”

At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon (since I’m nearly 50-years-old), when we played basketball in my youth (pick-up or organized), it was a game of finesse. Every now and then, in a short, comedic outburst we would start playing the game the way it’s played today—only we weren’t prophesying, we simply called it “jungle ball.” After such antics, we quickly went back to playing the game properly. We never encountered bent or damaged rims, only an occasional rim without a net.

Don’t get me wrong, the slam dunk wasn’t alien to us. We knew about it thanks to Wilt Chamberlain, but Wilt didn’t hang from the rim following a “stuff” and besides, none of us were that tall or could jump that high, but we certainly had enough class to offer repair expenses for anything we broke.

I can only think of one way to bring the slam dunk and its self-centered, look-at-me attitude back down to earth in an effort to restore the integrity of basketball... It’s time to raise the rims to eleven feet.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Extinction of Another Dinosaur

Dinosaur, Colorado
4 June 2009

Years ago 1,200 people lived in Dinosaur, Colorado, though someone in town told me it was as high as 8,100. Just over 300 people live here today in Colorado’s westernmost town—only three miles from the Utah border. Up until 1966, the town was named Artesia, but changed to Dinosaur— hoping to capitalize on its proximity to nearby Dinosaur National Monument.

According to the Colorado Historical Society: In addition to oil, the Rangely Field rigs dredged up a sense of Colorado's gold-rush past. The drilling frenzy of 1945 brought a torrent of fortune seekers, quite a few of them cruder than the oil itself. Many landed in Artesia, a brand-new supply center twenty miles north of Rangely. Within a year of its founding in 1945, the community had 1,200 residents and seventy businesses. The high-octane boom could not last forever, of course; in 1965, its population down to 400, Artesia changed its name to Dinosaur and began serving visitors to the nearby national monument. The 1980s brought another growth industry—oil shale—and another surge of new residents, but by the 1990s Dinosaur was once again fighting to stave off extinction.

In the past three years, the local kids have attended an on-line school. Sadly, there are no athletic teams in Dinosaur either. Think of the unique mascot name possibilities for a town called Dinosaur that remain idle now. If any kids want a setting within a traditional education system, they travel 18 miles to nearby Rangely, Colorado—an ugly company town surrounded by oil and gas rigs and all of its residual junk strewn about haphazardly.

For $13 I slept on the ground in my tent at the quiet RV park. I dreamed of my cousin Ricky whom I haven’t seen since I was a teenager. He had returned to take over his brother Ronny’s business following his death.

Everything is for sale in Dinosaur—old motels, restaurants, stores, etc. and many of the streets have dinosaur names like Triceratops Terrace and Brontosaurus Boulevard.

Several old-timers visit one of the local restaurants in town—the B&B. It’s typical small-town talk: something about someone’s dog, high gas prices, winning the lottery, today’s crossword puzzle, health issues, hard-luck-son-of-a-bitch stories, hunting, and fishing—all with the rasp of a smoker’s voice.

Nowadays they go outside to smoke. A picnic table is provided near the front door. A few years ago they must have smoked freely inside the restaurant. I bet they despise these new anti-smoking laws. I can understand their perspective, but I’m thankful I don’t have to breath cigarette smoke while I have my pancakes and bacon—I did plenty of that when I was growing up. It seems like anyone of them could drop dead in the next year—perhaps I should include myself even if it seems more unlikely.

I wonder now, is this a part of America that is disappearing? Is the gathering of old folk in the local diners of America on the brink of collapse? Despite my less-than-complimentary observations, I feel lucky to come across this sight—life beyond the internet, shopping malls and posers living in à la mode towns like Jackson, Telluride or Moab.

I’ll take Dinosaur any day.