Friday, September 24, 2010

Why I Can't Explain What Calling the Hogs Means to Me...

"Breathes there a man with soul so dead
who never to himself hath said
This is my own. My native land!
Whose heart hath ne'er within him burned
as home his footsteps he has turned
From wandering on a foreign strand..."
- Sir Walter Scott

When I left Little Rock to move to D.C., my mama told me never to forget where I came from. Little did she know that I would spend most of my first two months in my new home missing my old one. It is not just missing something familiar, family, or friends. It is that longing deep down that Sir Walter Scott was talking about. It is that intangible connection to where I'm from.
As one might expect, the problem with intangible connections is they are usually hard to define. Fortunately for me, I just have to point to a simple answer and that is by watching Arkansas Razorback football games. See, it was in my four years of college, watching those games that I learned something about who I am in this world. I'm an Arkansan.

Growing up in Arkansas, I watched the games because it was what I was supposed to do but mostly wanted to know if my Sunday School teachers would be grumpy the next day. It wasn't until I went away to the University that I started to realize that those games were more about my life than I could have ever imagined. I read somewhere that Bill Clinton once said that he was afraid Razorback games were a metaphor for life - I'm afraid he was too right.

To the untrained eye, a Razorback football game is no different from any other college sporting events. Two teams, fight songs, cheerleaders, people living vicariously though 19 year old kids, and alot of concession stand food. But the truth is, that game represents life for an Arkansan - the bad and the neverending hope for good.

In a state that is perennially 49 of 50 in everything good and in the top five of everything bad as ranked by the people who rank things for the purpose of humilating us, the unofficial state motto is "Thank God for Mississippi." Which by the way, Thank you God and Ole Miss for taking Houston Nutt off of our hands... (As my college advisor used to say, "Poor lil' ol' state." True story, she meant it nicely)

However, as I have learned, the one time those stats, the jokes about being poor and incestuous, and generally being stupid don't matter, and everyone has to respect us is when our football team wins. That is why the game matters. Becuase, that is a group of some 100 young men standing up for us and saying we matter.

The games teach us about hope.

Think of it this way, everytime we get down, we stand in unison and Call the Hogs. As unpretentious as the state itself, Calling the Hogs is by no means high and mighty. In fact, it is kind corny. Of course, you only think it is silly until the first time it works. Honestly, there is nothing quite like Calling them with 70,000 people. [Legend has it that in the Great Shootout of 1969, the crowd was so loud that it shook the field knocking the ball off of the tee. (Yes, seeing that happen live is on my bucket list).]

The point of all this is to say that no matter how dark things get. No matter, how far behind we are, somehow we truly believe that Calling the Hogs can change that. Like I said, doubt me all you want until the first time it works...

But in my four years at the University, I learned that there was another one of our traditions that explained why this mattered. During pregame, after the band comes in and the Hogs are called, the student section (and I guess everyone else if they want to) stands to sing the alma mater. While it took me the better part of four years to learn it, it only took me one game to learn the last line... "Mother of Mothers we sing unto, YOU!"

The tradition is to turn and point to Old Main (the oldest and original building on campus which I will probably write more about one day) as we sing this line. Old Main is signifcant not just for its age, but the fact that it is the starting point for the Senior Walk where each alumnus has their name engraved in the sidewalk to always be remembered by future generations. Old Main is an appropriate way to recognize our past and our future. It symbolizes our pride and our hope.

I loved to start the game that way because it always reminded us that all of us, students, alumni, and fans were in this together. We shared the same pride and tradition. We shared the same passion and most importantly the same hope, now and for our future.

Now that I have gone on to other places and the Ozarks are not my home, I think about the rest of the alma mater that always reminds me of where I am from.

"Pure as the dawn on the brow of they beauty
Watches thy soul from the mountains of God
Over the fates of they children departed
Far from the land where their footsteps have trod
Beacon of hope in the ways dreary lighted
Pride of our hearts that are loyal and true,
From those who adore unto one who adores us
Mother of Mothers we sing unto you"

If Razorback football is a metaphor for life, I think the most important lesson might be that wherever we go, our home never leaves us. We are always Razorbacks. We are always Arkansans. Even better, Arkansas waits patiently for our return, cheering us on. Hoping for our best.

The funny feeling I have had the last few weeks of missing home has not so much been a sad one but a steady reminder of who I am and the pride of the state and home I represent.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Rewriting my story

By any measure, it was a beautiful morning. Cool blue skies were a welcome relief for Virginia and the nation's capitol. The lazy days of summer were beginning to give way to the fall and a return to normal. For a region defined by hustle and bustle, there was a certain serenity to the moment.

That was this morning.

I woke up in my apartment just blocks from the Pentagon and couldn't help but think about how my story has changed dramatically in the last 3,287 days.

The first Sept. 11th happened my junior year of high school. Not just that year, but while I was on our junior class trip to Washington D.C. That was another idyllic morning in D.C. Clear blue skies, on a cool fall morning, it was a perfect day. The highlight of our trip was the tour of the White House that was supposed to start between 9:30 and 10:00 that morning.

When we arrived at the White House, one of our group got a call from her dad asking to talk to the trip leader. At first, I was surprised that someone had a cellphone they brought with them since roaming charges were crazy, but I was soon more concerned with the look on our leader's face. From what I could eavesdrop from the conversation, a plane had flown into one of the buildings of the World Trade Center. This was odd, but I knew that happened sometimes with skyscrapers - in my mind nothing would stand in the way of my dream of visiting the White House.

That all changed when I heard them discuss a second plane. Everything went too fast from that point. Guards began to scramble into and out of the buildings around the White House, shotguns, bulletproof vests, then assault rifles... About that time we were encourageed to clear the grounds - by running, not walking, running. Our group fled to our bus and headed out of town but had to pass by the Pentagon on I-395. By then, we had heard what had happened and sure enough, there was a hole and billows of smoke. Problem is we had to drive past on a road that was being shut down. Thankfully a firefighter spotted our bus as a school group and made us one of the last vehicles to pass by.

We made it home to Little Rock the next day, still unsure of what all we had seen and what had happened. None of us knew the gravity of the situation until we pulled into the church parking lot to find everyone we knew and tv camera crews ready to greet us. We weren't quite sure what, but we knew we had survived.

The next few weeks, the story was all we talked about. Everyone wanted to know how it felt, what we thought, and what it was like. But as always happens with time, the story started to fade. It got shorter. Fewer people wanted to listen. Or maybe I got tired of telling it.

College came and went. Then seminary and grad school. Memories came back last summer when I lived up here while working at my internship, but it was a short trip and life got back to normal. Since moving up here in August, I have thought about just how much things have changed and today of days it is worth considering.

It has been nine years since that day, but I am on a path that is no doubt impacted by what happened. After all, it was the process of coming to grips with how my world had changed that I became interested in politics and government. I majored in political science, got my masters in public administration and now am working on a law degree. I may not have thought about that last September day on a regular basis in class, but it was no doubt the driving force behind where I am today.

My trip has brought me full circle. Not just to D.C., but even to the place I live. See, my apartment building is on the otherside of where I sat on I-395 watching smoke pour out of the Pentagon. On my right that day, a burning building symbolized a change in my future. I geuss i should have just looked to my left to see what exactly that might mean.

Nine years later, in exactly the same place, I look back to where I have come from wondering where it is taking me next.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Step 1: Try not to look like an idiot

"Back to school, back to school, to prove to dad I'm not a fool..."
- Billy Madison

During our law school orientation, one of the professors turned motivational speakers told us that law school was more like high school than we could imagine. Not withstanding his years of wisdom, I'd have to say that it might be alot more like junior high. See, I am now two weeks into law school and feel that I still spend 80% of my day trying not to look like an idiot - just like junior high. Here's why...

First, I have a locker with a combination lock that I use sparingly because I end up carrying around all of my belongings like a hobo riding trains cross country. I mean you never know when you will have 30 seconds to go to your locker that is literally 4 feet away from your classroom where you have back to back classes. I mean, why play with fire? Have I mentioned that going to law school has made me lose all sense of reason? More on that later.

Second, I become irrationally nervous about stupid things such as walking down the hall. To my credit, picture this, you have 75 to 100 people in each of the first year sections getting out of class at the same time and having to walk through the same narrow hallways to get to their next class. Add to that the fact that all of us have the nervous disposition of a rabid chipmunk. Oh, and don't forget that we are all carrying everything we own in massive backpacks. People don't come out alive. True story. In another lifetime, called high school, I used to make fun of junior high kids for doing the exact same thing. They would break into a sweat running to their next class like they were the only ones on the Titanic to get out of the lowest decks. I now call that Thursday.

Third, I quit using deoderant and inexplicably starting wearing my hair in a different style that involves a cowlick-flip in the front. Ok, not really, but it could happen. I am only two weeks into this thing.

Updates to come...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Real People I've Known #28: Softball Nomad Part 1

To be honest, I will probably never remember how we met. Really, I can't think of anyone who was sure where he came from. All I know is that one day he was there and that is really what matters.

It all started my junior year of high school when I agreed to play for the church softball team during the summer. Judging by the tarnished trophies around the church, the team had been really good at one point but had fallen on hard times. The season I joined was special because it was the first time in four or five years we had fielded a team.

We got together for maybe one practice before league play began, nothing major. After all, I knew pretty much everyone who was on the team.

That all changed at the first game when he showed up - the Softball Nomad....

I was warming up with Brian, my brother-in-law and soon to be de facto coach of our squad, when the Softball Nomad ambled up to our team. Having no idea who he was, I asked around for someone familiar with him - no one had a clue.

No one knew what to make of him. I mean, here, standing before us, was the 45-year-old incarnation of David Wooderson, Matthew McConaughey's mustachioed character from Dazed and Confused, wearing jean shorts an old t-shirt and neon Nike running shoes. Everything was there including the slow Southern drawl and the boyish twinkle in his eye. He was wiry and tanned. The age showed at times.

We were friendly to him as we would be with anyone else, but I think that deep down we smiled and nodded waiting to see another middle-aged guy who was good at softball once.

If you have played on a non-competitive sports team, you will understand that when someone tells you they play a certain position, you have to take their word for it. You might have a sneaking suspicion that the 300-lb slug you just added to the team is not in fact a wide receiver... Anyway, Softball Nomad said in no uncertain terms that he wanted to play Centerfield. We had no choice. When Softball Nomad tells you something, for some weird reason you listen.

There was nothing very memorable about the game (with the exception of me throwing the ball over the dugout...twice) particularly because the other team scored about 100 runs an inning. Seriously, it looked like that old Bugs Bunny cartoon.

Then something amazing happened. A soft line drive hit towards center looked like it was about to fall in front of Softball Nomad.

All I remember was the flash of neon Nikes flying through the air and the Nomad going down in a heap. The team let out a collective groan that said "dang, I hope he signed his insurance waiver". Fifteen guys and our three fans all had that split second of gut wrenching anguish knowing there is going to be a mangled middle-aged man out there. Before we could grasp the gory scene though, Nomad jumped to his feet threw in the ball and ran back to his position. No harm no foul.

Collective silence.

After the game, the self-effacing Nomad would only say, "Well, it's like I always say, 'As long as nobody got hurt that was as good as a victory.'" With that, he evaporated into the darkness as silently as he arrived.

Fortunately, the Nomad would magically turn up for every game. Always arriving an hour early to go through a stretch routine only qualified yogis are capable of pulling off, the Softball Nomad appeared and disappeared without warning. At the end of the season, he drifted into the ether only to return each spring.

Over the years, we got to know him better - as well as you could know him - but on some level he was always just the Softball Nomad.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Goodbye Neil Diamond...

"There are two types of people in this world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and those who don't. My ex-wife loves him"
- Bob Wiley, What About Bob

I would have to respectfully disagree with Bob. There is a third type of person - people whose car is named Neil Diamond....

My life changed forever August 1, 2010. That was the day I left a sizeable part of me in Little Rock as I left for the East Coast. When most people say they left a part of themselves, they mean something vague and abstract like a heart or a memory. No, in my case, I mean I left a literal part of me, some might say the best part....Neil Diamond.

For the first time since the summer of 2003 when I left for Fayetteville, I don't have my wingman by my side. For the last seven years, I have torn up the countryside and stolen the hearts of young ladies driving my surface-of-the-sun-yellow Jeep Cherokee. In seven years and 100,000+ miles, I lived a 1,000 lifetimes with Neil Diamond.

But the road came to an end two weeks ago.

That morning, we drove Neil with one final load of cargo to meet Steph's parents with our U-Haul. After we made it back to my boyhood home (aka my parents house, I decided I am going to start calling it so when I am famous it doesn't sound so awkward), I made up an excuse to stay outside while Stephanie ran inside. Once I was alone, I took a moment to listen to the Neil Diamond cassette tape in the tape deck of the Jeep which gave Neil his name. One final time, I blasted "Forever in Blue Jeans." I hate to admit this, but I didn't cry. I wanted to, but the lyrics were too uplifting.

Anyway, after one last goodbye, I handed over the keys to my mom. Neil sat in the driveway like a champ waiting for me with the look in his eye Old Yeller had before he got capped by the older brother. Neither of us wanted it to end, but it was time to go our separate ways.

After a final family lunch and a round of goodbyes, we hit the road on our long trip to DC. Now, two weeks later, a day has not gone bye that I have not just wanted to climb behind the wheel of that two-wheel drive stallion and drive off into the sunset.

My day will come, but until then I hear the words of our final song ringing in my ears:

"I'd like to say, We do okay, Forever in Blue Jeans...."

Monday, June 21, 2010

Where I'm Going

There have been alot of questions lately about what the next step is for me and Stephanie. Since I have not written a blog in something like 4 weeks, I guess I have not exactly kept up my end of the deal.

So, I will do my best to cover all of my bases as quickly as possible.

Well, since we got married in January Stephanie has been working the front desk at the Courtyard Marriott here in College Station. It has not been the most glamorous job, but she has done a great job of putting up with alot - everything from enraged guests to lazy workers even illegal, impromptu games of Scattegories in the lobby. I'm really proud of her, and I know she is ready for a change.

Me, well I have been busy wrapping up the school year. I finished up at the Bush School mid-May. This last semester was surprisingly hard considering all of the projects and papers that I had to do at the same time I was trying to figure out how to be a good husband and all. For starters, I had to rework my schedule so that I wasn't at school every night until 1 AM.

Now for the big news...

The first week of August, Stephanie and I are moving to Arlington, Virginia to our new apartment in the Pentagon City area of town. We will both be attending school at George Washington University. Stephanie is going to be going to the Elliot School of International Affairs where she will be working on a Masters in... wait for it... International Affairs concentrating in Security studies.

I, on the other hand, am apparently a glutton for punishment who on the heels of completing his MPA will be attending law school. Some of you might remember that I was all set up to go to George Mason University's law school. Well, after getting admitted off of the waitlist in the first round, I called an audible.

We are both very fortunate to have been admitted to such great programs. I am excited about the chance to go to one of the top law schools in the nation. It has been a crazy journey in the last three years since I finished up at Fayetteville - from seminary to grad school and now to law school. We can't wait to see what God has next because there is not telling.

Most importantly, we expect everyone to make the trip up to DC at some point to visit us. We are going to have a room with a spare bed for anyone who is interested. So, don't forget that.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Practitioner of the Janitorial Arts....How Pathetic?

Some of you may recall that I got laid off from my job with A&M's admissions office in the middle of last March. I knew that the job was running out and had started looking for jobs at the end of February. After a prolonged flirtation with a stuck-up country club in the area, April started with me being jobless.

Fortunately, Steph's understanding boss at the hotel agreed to hire me on as the new facilities guy at the hotel. In layman's terms, facilities stands for practitioner of the janitorial arts. Yah, you guessed it - I am a janitor.

What you might not know is that I hail from a long line of janitors. Well, not exactly a long line. Mostly just my little brother. See, he has worked as a janitor at our church during the summer and over Christmas for a couple of years. When he found out about my new job, he asked me the same thing that our oldest brother asked him his first day:

"Do you have to pick up poop off of the floor?"

Well, short answer no. But I do have a true story to tell you that sums up my first night.

My first full night, I was easing into my new job. I don't care who you are. It takes a certain amount of mental preparation to get set to mop the men's bathroom and to take out the trash in the ladies room, etc.

Well, as my first night wound down, I was using the dry mop to sweep the tile in the lobby by the front desk. Minding my own business and not paying attention to the sudden influx of junior high students who were at the hotel for their Science Olympiad.

Precisely the moment I forgot about the fact that my first job after getting my master's degree is as a janitor, it happened.

I had stopped sweeping to allow two girls pass by me. Both girls were what you would expect for 13 year old participants in a Science Olympiad. Not exactly the coolest 7th graders to come through the hotel if you know what I mean.

In the midst of my smug appraisal of the, young ladies, I heard something that will forever change my life.

As they walked past me, one of the girls looked over her shoulder to steal a glance at me and said under her breath but loud enough for me to hear,

"How pathetic...."

I stopped in my tracks as soon as I heard this. After getting over the initial shock, my first instinct was to chase them down and brag about my master's degree and my hopes for a bright future...blah, blah, blah.

So, I guess that girl got the last word. I mean how do you come back from that? What should I have said, you have acne and won't have a boyfriend until college? Or brag about my awesome GPA and hot wife who works at the front desk....

So I guess, that middle school girl told me...

I'm afraid it is going to be a long summer.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Rent Car

There is a picture of me at my kindergarten graduation. I am wearing a pastel, plaid jacket. A little pink, a dash of baby blue, all in all it was pure man.

Looking at this picture the other day, I asked my mom why in the world she let me wear that jacket. To which she replied, "It was just you."

Well, I think that I started to really understand this last Thursday when I paid for my first rent car.

Stephanie and I went to Washington DC this past weekend to check out schools and look for apartments. Because we had to get around the metro area, it was time for me to get my first rent car. After paying entirely too much, I made my way to the parking deck in a hurry to get to the hotel.

Then, I saw it. The moment I laid eyes on it; I knew this was my car for the weekend - a neon yellow Chevy Cobalt....

For those of you who are regular readers, you will remember that yellow happens to be the color of the sun as well as my Jeep "Neil Diamond."

So, there I stood at midnight in the parking garage of Reagan National Airport. Just me, my wife, and a yellow fireball I would be driving.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I told Stephanie: "It is almost like they knew..."

In the back of my head, I heard my mom saying, "It is just you"

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Overcoming the Madness of March

Today, it began. The national basketball championship is at stake - only to be decided by the big dance. Today, 64 teams were set to make a run at history. Give them two weeks and only four will stand.

Since the action has started, I know what you are thinking: "The tournament already started why is he telling us how to fill out our brackets?" Well, I will tell you what. I have been thinking about those of you who are disappointed and depressed because your bracket fell apart today. You are dreading going to work tomorrow so that you don't have to think about the $5 you lost by picking Sam Houston State to win it all....

So, I have decided to give you some of my favorite strategies for picking a winning bracket*:

1. Go with your Gut: This time-honored strategy relies on a series of snap judgments to pick the winner. Really, it is easy. Grab a pen (a pencil would let you erase) and jot down names as fast as you can. For example: "Butler v. University of Texas - El Paso" Quick, don't even think about it - Butler... Well, you would have just been right.

2. Copy Someone Famous: Now that the president has made it cool to fill out brackets, you have to get in on this action. Luckily for you, these things are highly publicized. If you are nervous, google Heidi Montag and ncaa tournament - voila! It is that easy. If you are at a loss for famous celebs to choose because nothing comes up for Danny DeVito or Helen Hunt, just turn on ESPN and let them work their magic.

3. Mascot Fight: We all know that the real reason we have college sports is to figure out a proximate way what mascot would beat another mascot in a cage match. For example, which one of you has not spent hours wondering who wins the fight between the Montana Grizzlies and the New Mexico Lobos? How about between the Syracuse Orange and the Vermont Catamounts? Yah, that's right. Well, that is a perfect way to choose your bracket. Picture the real life version of your mascot fighting it out with the other version. Warning: This can have some problems such as when the Stanford Cardinal whose mascot is a giant Redwood faces the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks.....

4. Straight Chalk: Don't ask me why but the experts call it picking the chalk when you go by tournament seeding. This is actually a foolproof strategy for the lazy bracketologist - all the thinking is done for you. You are just filling in the blanks. Ironically, you probably beat me.....

5. Pick based on Coaches: One of my favorite strategies is to pick your teams based on who is at the helm. For professional sports aficionados, this is frowned upon since everyone knows no one listens to a coach who makes half of what you do. However, in college, the salaries are roughly equivalent (jk) so the players might possibly listen. So, when you look at a match up, Wikipedia the coach's record in the tournament and look for other clues like national championship rings. This can be a big help.

6. Senior Point Guards: When all is said and done, the most important thing that a team can have is senior leadership. In the days of one-and-done, senior leadership is extremely rare. That is what makes it so compelling when you find the guy who has done the time, whose career could possibly end with the final horn. That is the guy I want to be in charge of my team. (Sidenote: a really good junior who is the picture of dependability will do too)

7. Coin Toss: I actually tried this one year. You go match up to match up flipping a coin. I was better in the first round than my actual bracket with this method. Unfortunately, Montana State didn't have enough to go all the way that year....

8. Name Recognition: The old faithful. Simply choose the team you have heard of the most. The major problem with this is that Duke wins a completely disproportionate number of times.

Honorable mentions: letting children pick, picking based off of your wife's favorite colors, picking based off of number of guys with mohawks, picked based on the team with a guy who has a crazy name.

So for those of you embarrassed at the water cooler tomorrow, remember these strategies and be a winner.

* In the interest of full disclosure. I have never won a tournament pool. Truth is I never can follow the rule....

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mr and Mrs Caleb Osborne

Well, for all of my blog fans out there, I would like to start with an apology for not keeping you posted on what has been going on in my life. I know it was rude of me, but well, I think that you will understand.

Where to begin...

Oh yah, see, I got married January 9th. But, first, lets back up.

Here is the rough timeline of where I have been.

{Skip October, November, and half of December - they went too fast, I don't remember them anyway}

Dec. 17 - My birthday. I turned 25 and my insurance rates plummeted.

Dec. 19 - Ellie's birthday, but I missed it because Stephanie graduated from A&M.... WHOOP!

Dec. 21 - Move out of my apartment and head to Dallas for one long roadtrip.

Dec. 25 - Jesus' birthday

Dec. 26 - make the lonely trek to Little Rock by myself. When I returned to Dallas, it would be to get married.

Dec. 29-Jan. 7 - Spend the better part of my two week Christmas vacation cutting down a tree with Papa. Oh and it was really cold

Jan. 8 - Whirlwind day. Left Little Rock in the wee hours of the morning with the temperature coming in at 12 degrees. Actually tried to stop at Starbucks, but the pipes were frozen... Caravan with none other than Van Thompson and Christopher P. Danforth. Epic. Picked Danny up at DFW and grabbed lunch at Chuy's in Dallas where we convinced the waitress to give us temporary tattoos of Elvis (True Story). That night was the wedding rehearsal and my final cigar as a single man...

Jan. 9 - Wedding Day. After a lovely breakfast at IHOP, managed to be late to the church for pictures and had to put on my tux as I walked into the building - it inspired tremendous confidence in everyone. Fortunately, everything went off without a hitch and we were married.

{Sidebar} I would like to clear up a few things here. First, I did not kiss Stephanie with just a peck. I was just tasteful. I kissed just the right amount. Second, yes, it is true. My name was misspelled on the unity candle.

Jan. 10 - headed off to Puerto Rico for our honeymoon. Landed just in time to be whisked to the cruise ship - Princess Cruises. The world's largest collection of upper middle aged vacationers I have ever been around.

Jan. 10 - 17 - Honeymoon - We had a great time. Our boat stopped at St. Thomas, Tortola, Antigua, St. Lucia and Barbados. It was fantastic. Nice and warm. Plenty of Sunburn. I swam with turtles. It was a deeply spiritual experience. Oh, and Stephanie and I had a great time.

Jan. 18 - Robert E. Lee/Martin Luther King Jr. Day - Finally a day off! moved to College Station and got my game face on.

Jan. 19 - present - I am not sure all that has gone on. Pretty much I have been extremely busy with school, work, and learning to be a husband. I really enjoy the latter.

I will do better to keep this thing updated more often.

Stay classy...