Warmth, Basketball and All the Bad News

Most of the news on Thursday was hard to take, what with all the tear-jerking up-close-and-personal accounts of the heroic dead from the latest mass schooling shooting, the ongoing scandal about the high-ranking wives-beater in the White House, not to mention the latest revelations about that whole “Russia thing.” On the other hand, here in Wichita the weather was unseasonably warm, the stock market was slightly up, and our Wichita State University Wheatshockers men’s basketball team toughed out a crucial win.
At the risk of sounding shallow, there’s something to be gratefully said for an unseasonably warm mid-February afternoon around here, even if we did wind up sleeping through much of it. Even if you aren’t invested in the stock markets it’s always a good thing when those green arrows point up, as it reassures that at least the broader economy isn’t in imminent danger of tanking. Unless you grew up in the local hoops-crazed basketball culture around here you won’t fully appreciate the significance of that toughed-out ‘Shocker victory, but we hope you’ll understand why it’s such a welcome distraction.
According to the subjective rankings of America’s sportswriters and college coaches the ‘Shocks are the 19th best best team in the country, but on Thursday by objective measurement they were three games behind the University of Cincinnati Bearcats in the more important American Conference race. To keep hope of a conference championship alive they had to beat a tough and championship tournament-contending Temple team at home, after suffering an embarrassing loss to them on the road. Temple jumped out to a 15 point lead in the first half, the ‘Shocks played some tough defense and crisp offense to cut it down to a three-point lead, but the Owls of Temple had it back up to double-digits by half-time, but the ‘Shocks came back with their patented bear=down defense and a case of characteristic loose-ball hustling that resulted in player-of-the game big man Shaquille Morris’ deft assist to the relatively stubby white boy Conner Frankamp,who is somehow the Wichita City League’s current all-time scorer, and the ‘Shocks won by a deceptive seven points with their usual good free throw shooting down the stretch.
Meanwhile Cincy lost to a tough and tournament-contending University of Houston team that split its home-and-home series with the Shocks, and with a home-and-home left again Cincy in the ‘Shocks last four games championship hopes remain alive, and according to all the experts there’s the relative warmth of March Madness waiting for us in any case.
Which is not to diminish our mourning for those folks in sunny south Florida, or our disdain for the White House and the wives-beaters it has embraced, or our suspicions about that whole “Russia thing,” or even a nagging anxiety about the stock market and the broader economy. It’s just to say you should find solace in whatever your local weather and sporting culture might offer.

— Bud Norman

On Sports, Water Heaters, and the Nation’s Fate

The news has slowed to a trickle at year’s end, as all the newsmakers have safely ensconced themselves in swell warm-weather vacation digs where they can do little harm, but the rest of the world seems to continue turning in its usual ways. Results of the National Football League’s last regular season contests provided plenty of fodder for the headline writers, and around here the big story was our aged water heater announcing its final demise by spewing water into the basement.
These occasional breaks in the news cycle are welcome, even for such politically-attuned sorts as ourselves. They not only provide a needed respite from worries about the country’s wayward direction, but also offer perspective on the political problems that will soon enough confront us.
One tries to imagine the likes of Rep. Nancy Pelosi or President Barack Obama confronting a gushing water heater at 3 a.m., muttering the appropriate curses as they desperately search for the valve that will halt the deluge, but the image does not come readily to mind. All water heaters will eventually betray you, as many of our home-owning friends have sympathetically assured us, but in the case of Pelosi or Obama or almost any other politician the more likely scenario has them delegating the duty of dealing with it to a servant, probably one of those oppressed minorities they always claim to care so much about, and it can be safely assumed that the price of a shiny new replacement will not seem so dear to them as it does it to the likes of us. This is a fundamental flaw in our democratic system as it is currently constituted, we believe, as we think that the more direct experience of dealing a spewing water heater would make the average politician less inclined to think the could manage the country’s health care system and more empathetic about the costs they impose in the effort.
Even the National Football League scores seemed somehow significant on an otherwise news-free weekend. So far as we can tell everyone in the league is a testosterone-raged and overly-tattooed thug or a pretty boy quarterback, but we have our arbitrary preferences about which cities get to brag on their boys. The Philadelphia Eagles vanquished the Dallas Cowboys to win their division and a spot in the playoffs, and our pop lives in Philly and has become a supporter of the team, and the Cowboys don’t have the same cultural significance they did back in the hippie days when a guy named “Tex” owned the team and clean-cut Vietnam veteran Roger Staubach was the quarterback and straight-arrow Tom Landry was prowling the sidelines, so we were pleased with the result. We have a brother who loves living in the Colorado Rockies and has become an avid aficionado of the Denver Broncos, who earned the top seed in the American Football Conference with a win over the hapless Oakland Raiders and will thus be favored to win it all, so we’re also pleased by that outcome. Our own Kansas City Chiefs lost a meaningless game to the San Diego Charters, giving the divisional rivals a spot in the playoffs that will surely please a beloved cousin who’s working for Qualcomm in that temperate city, and after the Chiefs’ past several years of futility we’re happy just for the remote chance of a playoff win.
Sports rooting being a purely personal pastime, we were more energized by the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball team running its record to a perfect 13-and-0 by beating a Davidson University squad that is far better than its record would indicate. We trudged through single-digit wind chill temperatures to witness the victory with a cherished old boyhood friend who is mad for “the ‘Shocks,” and who was later treated to a win by his beloved Green Bay Packers that clinched a playoff despite the team’s mere eight wins, and the victory was not only worth the cold but almost worth a new water heater. Throw in a win by the Kansas State University Wildcats’ football team over the once-mighty University of Michigan’s Wolverines, a team favored by an old girlfriend of ours, and it made for an encouraging final weekend of the year.
Sports metaphors are of limited utility, as are sad tales of such quotidian disasters as broken water heaters, but they’re all we’ve got as head into the penultimate day of 2013. Weightier matters await us in 2014, but we will gird ourselves with the lessons learned from the trivial. If the Kansas City Chiefs can turn around a 2=14 season into a playoff spot, if a gritty blue-collar college basketball team from such a gritty blue-collar city as Wichita can be ranked above the traditional elites of the sport, and if such klutzes as ourselves can cope with a basement-flooding water heater catastrophe, then surely there is hope for such a great country as America.

— Bud Norman