Tuesday, June 25, 2002

The Boyfriend Barbecue

The wildfires in Colorado and Arizona have been getting a lot of print and TV time, mostly because fire has always made for good pictures. In the meantime, news analysts galore have been examining every aspect of the Terry Barton story.

Except for one – the story of the Boyfriend Barbecue.

Barton, a US Forest Service employee, first she told authorities that she’d been on patrol, smelled smoke, and discovered the fire. When they didn’t believe that, she changed her story and said that she had been on patrol when she came upon a campfire ring and decided to burn a letter from her estranged husband. Somehow, the flames spread to the dry brush, and eventually burned 135,000 acres in the biggest wildfire in Colorado history.

For a couple of days, no one questioned this story, because it seemed so plausible -- she was just having a Boyfriend Barbecue and it got out of hand.

Ask any woman about this and she’ll tell you that Barton’s “Accidental Arsonist” claim is completely plausible . In fact, it’s reminiscent of a “Friends” episode in which Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe have a Boyfriend Barbecue in their apartment that got so out of control that some hunky firefighters had to show up to douse their flames, wink wink.

But what if Terry had been a man instead of a woman? No one would have believed it, because no man would ever do such a thing. There’s no such thing as a Girlfriend Barbecue. And that’s because men don’t have the kindling.

Ladies, your feelings may be hurt by the painful fact I will share with you now (please note that in so doing, I’m violating at least three articles of the Code Of Men, but the truth must be told): Men don’t carry around letters from their girlfriends or wives.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a current relationship, an ex-relationship, an estrangement, whatever. We just don’t.

I know you’ve given us all those loving cards through the years, for our birthdays, anniversaries, Father’s Day, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Arbor Day, etc. Or maybe you sat down with your personal stationery and poured your heart out in deep, heart-wrenching romantic phrases, determined to express your everlasting love for your man.

Here’s what happened when you gave it to him. He opened it, he read it, he truly appreciated the sentiment. Then, when you weren’t looking, he threw it away.

It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t share the warm sentiment, or that he loves you any less than you love him. It’s just that he can have those feelings without needing the physical reminder in his pocket at all times.

Women, on the other hand, will keep every scribble they’ve gotten from their man from the first moment they met until their last day together – and even then, most of it won’t find the trash can. It could be something as simple as “Honey, I put gas in your car this morning. Jim and I are going to the game. We’ll get something to eat there. See you later!” Still, that goes into the collection. Shows he cares. She’ll treasure it forever.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all. It’s just that we’re made differently, and we handle correspondence differently.

If Terry were a man who had received an upsetting note from his estranged wife, odds are that he’d call her a name (most likely starting with a B), rip it to shreds, and toss it in the wastebasket. End of note. Not the end of the emotion, but the paperwork wouldn’t survive.

Hypothetically, what might happen if he did keep the letter to read again later, as the real-life Terry maintains she did?

The scenario would begin with him on the toilet -- because that’s where we do most of our reading -- and it would end with him wrapping his bloody foot in a towel and going to buy a new mirror.

Why? Because the note from his estranged wife would undoubtedly be several pages (the longer it is, the more unsettling it is). So, when he tried to flush the torn pieces of the lengthy letter, they would clog up the toilet. The water would overflow onto the floor. He’d grab the plunger and try to get the thing to flush, but he’d lose his balance on the wet, slippery floor, falling hard on his butt. In frustration, he’d fling the plunger across the bathroom, where it would break the mirror over the sink, sending glass flying everywhere. When he stood up, those sharp yet reflective shards would get stuck in the bottom of his foot as if he was John McClane at the Nakatomi building. The blood would flow, as would a succession of curse words not heard since Richard Pryor’s early concert movies. Once he staunched the hemorrhaging from his appendage, cleaned up the mess in the bathroom, and it was all said and done, he’d still be back at the same place he would have been if he had just thrown the damn missive out in the first place.

And that is why men don’t carry notes from their women. It’s safer that way.

Sunday, June 16, 2002

Life As A Soccer Dad

We haven’t exactly caught World Cup Fever in our house.

To be exact, we haven’t watched a single second of a single game. In other words, we’re like the vast majority of Americans -- we don’t have anything against soccer, it’s just that it never grabbed our attention.

I’m to blame, I suppose. While I’m not a sports nut, I do love the NFL, I can stand some baseball, hockey, and basketball, and I’m more than happy to see Mike Tyson get his brains beat in by Lennox Lewis.

About the only point in recent history that soccer was on my radar was when the US Women won that championship a few years ago, and Brandi Chastain stripped to her sports bra. I’m not a soccer fan, but I am a guy.

The other time I paid any attention to soccer was when my daughter was playing the game and I found myself suddenly in the role of Soccer Dad.

We bought a soccer ball and a small net, and I showed her the few moves I remembered from kicking the ball around in gym class several decades ago. My advice primarily consisted of, “Remember, don’t use your hands” and “Okay, it’s in the street, I’ll get it.”

After a few practices with the team, it was apparent that there were three or four girls who had a natural ability to play the game. They could dribble the ball up the field, pass it to somewhere within the vicinity of a teammate, get back on defense, and even do a sideline throw-in.

My daughter was not one of them. She was a member of the other group, roughly a dozen girls -- the rest of the team -- who were more interested in making sure the ball touched them as infrequently as possible.

At their first game, we could see that most of the teams in their league had about the same skill spread as ours. So the game consisted of a pack of girls moving up and down the field together, all within a 10 foot radius of the ball, no matter where it went. Many of them didn’t even have an idea where the ball was, but they saw the group moving, so they followed.

Some of these girls knew no fear. They’d kick away at the ball, determined to get it going in the right direction, and not afraid to trade shin shots to accomplish their goal. Again, I’m not describing my daughter here. She was part of that vast majority whose contact with the ball was more an accident of inertia than anything else.

Still, she was having a great time. What’s not to like about running around outside for an hour on a grassy field on a sunny day? She and her teammates were oblivious to what position they were supposed to play, the rare occasions when someone scored or a penalty was called, or pretty much anything else involving the structure of the game.

This went on every week for a couple of months. As a Soccer Dad, I did my part, sitting on the sidelines, having fun watching her have fun, shouting my encouragement whenever the Pack Of Pele’s moved within earshot. I saw that as my role.

Most of the other Soccer Parents, however, saw their role as Technical Advisors to the game. They consistently shouted advice to the girls, messages that alternated between “Somebody get the ball!” and “Kick it!” with an occasional “Pass it!” thrown in for good measure. I found myself wishing that just one of the players would come over to the sideline and ask these spectator/coaches if they were kidding.

By halfway through the season, I had developed some respect for the men who had volunteered to be coaches. They had schooled the girls in some of the basics, and had even managed to get my daughter to kick the ball on purpose once or twice. The team wasn’t going to any championships, but they were playing marginally better than when they had started.

In these days of Sports Parent Rage, you have to have a thick skin to be a coach. You never know when some adult is going to snap and attack you, either verbally or physically. We didn’t have any scenarios nearly as intense as the famous Hockey Dad incident, but there was one unpleasant occasion.

I watched at least two Soccer Moms loudly expressing their displeasure over how the head coach wasn’t giving their daughters enough time on the field -- as if their 7-year-olds were destined to be the next Mia Hamm. Somehow, the coach took it all in stride, insuring the Moms that everyone would get a chance; that at this level, the girls were just learning the fundamentals, and that winning was not of paramount importance.

The Moms were far from mollified, but the coach turned away from them and returned his attention to the game on the field. That’s when he shouted to the girls the best advice of the whole season: “Okay, everybody, stop talking and watch the game!”

Or maybe he meant that for the Soccer Moms.