Wednesday, May 27, 2009

And another volleyball season is in the books

This is my 20th year of playing volleyball competitively. Last weekend, I played in my (counting, hold please...) 12th US Open. Or, as I like to call it, the Annual Memorial Day Convention of Unusually Tall People.

The first time I played this tournament was in Memphis, 1993. (It moves from city to city each year, you see.) At the time, former USA National Team middle blocker Craig Buck was regarded, at 6'8", as some sort of freakishly tall curiosity. Near the tournament desk, the USVBA Tournament Directors placed a lifesize, cardboard cutout of Craig, standing with one hand at his side, and another stretched toward the ceiling. I watched many people walk up to Cardboard Craig, compare their meager paws and reach to his, and walk away shaking their that such a creature could exist, especially one with the agility and quickness needed to play world-class volleyball.

Fast forward now to this past weekend. I must have seen, oh, 75 people (including at least one woman) taller than Cardboard Craig. Volleyball players are getting younger and taller. Craig would blend right in these days; nobody would blink at him. One of my friends had a 7'3" blocking specialist on his team. (That guy turned some heads, but he was not a very good volleyball player.)

So yes, you may have been walking around your block, or mall, or town square, or wherever one walks, wondering to yourself, "Gosh, where are all the 6'3" women, and 6'9" men I am used to seeing?" I can tell you. They were in Minneapolis playing volleyball. As a reasonably (but by no means shockingly) tall person, I am accustomed to being the tallest individual in sight. But this tournament (and, to a lesser extent, the smaller events held during the course of the regular season) are simultaneously thrilling and yet intimidating for me. On the one hand, it is a thrill to feel part of some sort of special (yet totally meaningless) coterie. But it is also highly intimidating to realize that there are hundreds, even thousands of folks that are highly skilled, athletically gifted, and yes, tall. It's a reminder to stay off the High Horse.

The tournament is called the US Open and Club Volleyball Championships. It isn't so much a single tournament as it is multiple concurrent national championship tournaments, in dozens of divisions defined by gender, age, and skills. My team, Chicago Coast North, technically doesn't play in the US Open. That level of play is reserved for folks who are (or recently were, or soon will be) National-caliber players. Among the Open women's teams, for example, were Team Canada, UCLA, and their PAC-10 rivals (and recent NCAA Champion) Washington Huskies. Canada also sent their men's National team, where they finished mid-pack among an 8 team field in Men's Open. My division, Men's A, is slotted a level (ok, fine, two levels) below Open. We were seeded 8th in our 52 team field, and at first, I regarded that as a gross exaggeration of our skills. Turned out, I underestimated us. We had a phenomenal tournament, winning 8 of our 11 matches, losing only to the eventual 2nd and 3rd place finishers. We finished 5th, the best finish I have been part of since my Texas team placed 3rd in 1998. Good time was had by all, but don't ask me to move any furniture today. "Sore" doesn't begin to describe the feeling of 27 volleyball games, played over the course of 3 days, on courts that are merely a rubberized surface atop a concrete convention center floor. Photos will come later. Thousands were taken, and I'm bound to have been in one or two of them.

During a lunchtime conversation, Kevin (another middle blocker) was complaining about TV. As the father of 4 youngins (three under 4), he and his wife have the same constraints Sue and I have about TV. Time restrictions and content (especially commercials) make family TV watching problematic. So he turns to me: "You don't watch much TV, do you guys?"

"Well, seems like Ro watches a lot, but for the most part, no, it never seems like there is time. Always moving to the next activity or stage in the day." And I launched into how I have had friends in the past who took pride in how little TV they watched, as if it were a sign of their cultural or intellectual refinement. Me, I take no pride in how little TV we watch. I would watch more if I could, and look forward to some day getting into shows like House, or 24, or Lost, or whatever will be on TV when Joey goes to college*. But since I don't watch those regularly now, there is no point in getting into them at all.

* - Joey is the soon-to-be 10 month old. Yeah, it will be a few years.

"So, aside from cleaning up after dinner, doing bedtime stuff, and all that, what do you do with your time? Like, for fun?"

"Well, talk is fun. Hanging out. And I play piano. That's part of how I got into piano in the first place, come to think of it."

"Oh yeah, how is that going?" (When Kevin and his family came to see us a few months back, I was goaded into playing Limbo for them. He warned me at the time, "I don't play an instrument, but I know enough music to be able to tell if you are faking your way through it, so you better play it right. No pressure.")

"Good. I have a recital coming up, where I am going to play something else by that same guy."

Brad, sitting two seats over, then piped in. He is an Outside Hitter we imported from Los Angeles. Good guy, really laid back in his Southern Californian way. I had no idea he was paying attention to the conversation, until he asked, "What guy? What are you playing?"

I assume, as a general principle, that the music I am playing (which, as you all know, is Einaudi's I Due Fiumi) is completely obscure. I further assume (which I shouldn't... Sue is telling me all the time I assume too much and too frequently) that nobody cares, or has ever heard of the music I am playing. I therefore assume (and I have no idea why I assume this) that these conversations would be much easier if I were playing something people can relate to, like Fur Elise, Hey Jude, or Hit Me Baby One More Time. But food had just arrived, I was more interested in eating my burger than continuing this conversation, so I said, as matter-of-factly as I could, "I Due Fiumi by Ludovico Einaudi." I thought that would sort of end the conversation. I was wrong.

"Oh, I love that guy. He's awesome. I saw him in concert a few months ago. What did you say you were playing again?"

I would have been less stunned had he told me about his plans to go to market with a cold-fusion powered Big Wheel. After a moment of recovery, I repeated "I Due Fiumi. It means 'The Two Rivers'."

"Never heard of it." He then pulled out his iPhone (every SoCal I have ever met has an iPhone) and showed me his Einaudi collection, including Una Mattina and Divenire. He wrote down I Giorni, the CD on which I Due Fiumi was released, and casually got to work on a cobb salad. In between bites, he talked about how he played piano a long time ago, doesn't anymore, a friend got him into Einaudi, landed concert tickets, they flew to San Francisco for the day, etc. As I mentioned earlier, I was stunned at this conversation... he seemed to regard it as quite unremarkable.

Next day, I handed him my Blackberry, and asked him to give IDF a listen. "Oh, I already have it. I downloaded it off iTunes last night. Good stuff. Anything else you want to recommend of his?" Well then.

On the way out after the tournament ended Tuesday, he wished me luck on the recital, and asked if I were going to record it. "Post it to Youtube." Right now, my Youtube channel consists of only a single recording (I think, it's been awhile) of me attempting Limbo last summer. Might be time to add some content.

- Aw2pp, who is all about the Requirements Author's Workbench


AnthonyB said...

Well, at least Monica and I weren't the only ones to fly to San Francisco for that concert!

Now, if he flew from somewhere else in California then that isn't as bad as flying in from Minnesota or Kentucky...

I didn't remember that you were going to be anywhere in town though or I might have tried to meet up with you while you were here. (I'm just under an hour north of St. Paul.)

Of course, I'd feel pretty darn short while hanging out around a bunch of volleyball players but I am taller than Einaudi himself (that kind of surprised me when I saw him in person.)

Always Wanted to Play Piano said...

Ah, that's right, you're in Minnesota. Well, you're in my sales territory now, so I will warn you, if possible, next time we're in town.