Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Warriors' Tale

When I was a child, a friend of mine, Andrew Brigham, took me aside and told me he knew who the tooth fairy was. As a child this was need to know information, the currency of youthful trades that involve sandwiches or baseball cards. We arrive in this world almost as bewildered as we leave it, and we spend most of the time in between searching for universal truths. I wasn’t sure who the president was at the time, but I knew that one of the most powerful people in the world had to be the Tooth Fairy.

In a hushed voice and making sure that there weren’t any observers, Andrew let me in on the secret: “The Tooth Fairy is my mom.”

When I made it home I immediately told my brother, George, and for two years we believed that Mrs. Brigham had this special secret life. Other parents might have had cool stuff like a car with squishy seats, but only one was in charge of the massive dental recycling program.

I still want to believe that legends can be local, that there just might be magic somewhere in the neighborhood.

Perhaps the only thing more foolish than holding out for the Tooth Fairy is rooting for the Golden State Warriors. It is a doomed organization with a constant barrage of wrong trades. Nothing ever seems to work, and whatever brief flickers of a good idea disappeared as quickly as New Years resolutions. They were at best semi talented players who for instance skipped practice to play golf (Mookie) or decided to let the coach know about their approach to management style (Sprewell). At worst there were bench dregs of the league, the kind that get the articles about “what is wrong with the NBA”, the contract albatrosses who didn’t even look happy that they got to stay at four season hotels when they traveled..

The experience of going through the drought is a lonely one. People stop talking about the team. You have to ask a bar or sport club to change the channel just so you can watch the game instead of bass fishing, and when your team is getting crushed by twenty and your players are laughing on the bench you don’t mind as much when they change the channel back.

And then out of nowhere for the better part of a month things suddenly started working. Three point shots started going in. The team actually enjoyed playing together. There was a vibe coming out of Oakland, a funk with a seventies swagger.

When that miracle hits your own sports team you are almost too stunned to be ecstatic. Over these years your heart has been cauterized. I looked at the game peeking through my hands, because I wasn’t sure if this could possibly be the truth. How can a bunch of guys who gleefully given up by their former teams make a run to get to the playoffs. It wasn’t just that nobody made the all star team; nobody argued that anyone should. There were three teams ahead of them for that last slot and they would have to be near perfect just to possibly make it. How can a team learn how to play defense this late in a season?

I noticed that everyone else is starting to pay attention. A cute girl on the bus talked into her cell phone that she is going to watch the Warriors, and it was the first time I could remember a woman discussing the warriors ever.

The Warriors then got the matchup: an absolute heavy weight whom somehow they played really well against, a 67 game winner with the MVP. Someone calls him the next Larry Bird. Everyone said that team is hungry having lost in the finals. Everyone said Dallas would win.

The Warriors showed what true hunger is. They played great basketball. The kind you dream about at the YMCA; the energetic, frantic, emotional hoops that had been missing in the league. It isn’t the most graceful, but it is pure hoops and the rest of the city knew it.

The rest of the country started too as well.

The arena rocked. Steve Kerr said this is the best basketball crowd he has ever seen. This was Steve Kerr who was the basketball equivalent of Ringo Starr. The best crowd he has ever seen? A team playing gutty pure ball? A 67 win team getting pounded?

It was surreal. Archeologists use the fact that every now and then the magnetic poles of the earth reverse to date strata, and the world felt like it had turned upside down.

But as the Warriors drew another opponent it became clear that fairy tales do end. They ran into the big bad wolf named Boozer. In their last pages of any story we learn whether we are Red Riding Hood or her grandmother; we find out if we were the pig that built a house of brick or the one who used straw.

So it comes down to one night, one more time to put something under our pillows and hope. There will be time later to analyze my misinformed delusions, but for a few more hours in May, I want to believe by the skin of my teeth.

Go Warriors

Thursday, May 03, 2007


The secret to making sushi is saran wrap. Or at least that was what I thought for a while. Preparing sushi is less about the temperature dance of ordinary cooking (with the rice being the only thing that gets hot), and more about structural engineering combined material science. The rice must be sticky, the seaweed must wrap, the fish needs to flop, and the watsabi must glue. Squeeze too tightly and everything gets a rock texture. Relax and everything falls apart. It is a messy balance and in my beginning sushi class my ingredients either spilt across the table or clung to my fingers. I made mounds of sushi shrapnel.

This is why you need saran wrap. Safe sushi employs the same principles as the safe sex kit I got my freshman week: spend a great deal of time figuring out if you have the right ingredients and if you decide to go for it, wrap everything in plastic to prevent accidents.

There wasn’t much advice about what to do with the smell.

Our instructor, an elderly Japanese man, hopped around on one leg that almost seemed like he was the losing teacher in Karate Kid XII: The City College Years. He was the same combination of firm yet supportive discipline that his own sushi must have. He was also a genius with a knife to the point that whomever did something to his leg probably hasn’t been heard from again.

He wasn’t too pleased with my saran wrapping of the sushi mat, and I was quite worried not just from a personal safety perspective but also that if I couldn’t actually fold the mat correctly I feared I was going to be useless when it came to real fish. My first two rolls came out okay, and I grew needlessly arrogant. My third roll exploded and I cheated by using a second sheet of seaweed. I don’t think the instructor caught me.

Somebody asked him where to buy fresh fish, and I, too, wondered having visions of an exotic fish market at the edge of town with seagulls flying about and rows of aquariums with strange tentacles things pouring out of them like props in a Star Wars movie. In my imagination the place would be run less by a Jabba the Hut figure, but more with a small woman with long fingers who had a dozen or so cats. Perhaps she could be missing an eye in the same battle that caused my instructor to break a leg. You would have to knock three times just to enter such a market.

The place that my instructor actually recommended was a supermarket about four blocks from where I live. I felt like and idiot having paid thirty dollars for someone to tell me, "Oh, by the way you live at the edge of Japan Town." I think there are times where we want things distant, where we cherish mystery. That sushi is better when you haven’t translated what the piece is you are eating and just hope it comes from something that has a tail. That you can see the perfectly arranged plate and have no idea the guy behind the counter still has rice stuck on the back of his hands. Of the places that I had hoped sushi came from, aisle three wasn’t one of them.

Still any good mystery has a denouement. You don’t need an entire reveal, but a sense of how some of clues came together leads to an appreciation of the structure and deeper pondering of what else is there. Exploring is good.

But if you do go out into the world keep that touch of caution. Adventures need structure where even as everything seems to be falling apart, there is a safety line that pulls things together. Bike, but carry extra tubes. Jump out of a plane, but make sure you have a reserve chute. And if you want to try making sushi remember the saran wrap.