Farewell, Billy D

I’m glad that Billy Donovan will still be donning orange and blue next season.

The orange will be a darker hue than the Florida orange — dark enough for the Oklahoma City Thunder media guide to brand it “red,” but don’t let that deceive your eyes — and the blue will be a lighter shade than the Florida blue, but the job he took is an incredible way to finally scratch that itch to coach in the NBA. In Oklahoma City and its dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Donovan inherited a championship contender that is poised to win now and down the line, assuming everyone stays healthy and re-signs with Oklahoma City. If the Thunder can capture that NBA title with Donovan at the helm, he will join Larry Brown as the only coach to win an NBA title and NCAA Championship.

Donovan is already an all-time legend, but that accomplishment would take him to a new stratosphere.

After all that Donovan has accomplished with the Gators, the only thing that’s disappointing about the departure is that his final year in Gainesville was the most down of down years. That’s something that can heal easily with time, though, especially with his record overall in the 19 years he spent with the Gators. The back-to-back national championships, the four Final Fours, the four consecutive Elite Eights between the 2010-11 and 2013-14 seasons, and the SEC’s first 18-0 regular season in 2013-14. All this and more accomplished alongside the Steve Spurrier/Urban Meyer behemoth of a Florida football program.

My personal frame of reference with Donovan at Florida is more limited compared to everyone else. My first exposure to the Billyball was a month after I was accepted into UF in 2007, when he coached the 04s of Joakim Noah, Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, and Lee Humphery in that second championship run through March Madness. Selfishly, I was glad Donovan turned his back on the Orlando Magic so I could see him coach in person. Although the team struggled in 2007 and 2008, I got to witness the process for myself of how he developed his players over time. The payoff came in the 2010-11 season, my senior year, when Chandler Parsons just took over the SEC and helped lead this band of Gators to the Elite Eight.

But the job that Donovan did with the Class of 2010 will make their senior season squad in 2013-14 one of my favorite sports teams ever. I got to watch Patric Young, Scottie Wilbekin, Will Yeguete, and Casey Prather at the O’Dome their first two years and they all looked like just good role players. In the two years after I graduated, he crafted that core four to be greater than the sum of its parts, and that work culminated with the Elite Eight appearance with Bradley Beal in 2013 and that wonderful Final Four run in 2014. There was no true star on the 2013-14 team, but those players embodied Donovan’s persistence and tenacity with the way their defense carried them to victories and the SEC record books.

The grittiness of that 2013-14 team is how I’ll choose to remember the Billy Donovan Era at the University of Florida. Donovan built and sustained the basketball program, and that 2013-14 team is as much of a shining example of his coaching and personal work ethic as his championship teams. (Another personal work ethic example: I used to often see him run the Pressly Stadium track in the morning when I lived in Springs and it was always a reminder to myself that if he could make the time go run, then so could I. It helped me my last couple years at UF.)

I doubt that the Chesapeake Energy Arena will be blaring U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name when Donovan coaches his first home game for the Thunder later this fall, but that song (playing alongside a lovely montage by the UAA Marketing team, of course) will be waiting for him at the O’Dome whenever he can return. More than 10,000 Gators in the stands and that hardwood floor at the O’Dome, hopefully with a moniker like “The Billy Donovan Court at the O’Connell Center” affixed to it, will also be there to greet Donovan when he’s ready.

I just hope is that when Donovan returns to Gainesville, he’ll bring back with a couple of orange and blue NBA championship rings to compliment the orange and blue NCAA ones he already has.

Immersion into Cascadia

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The blue smoke dispersed in the air before the collective of Seattle Sounders supporters gathered in Occidental Park took the first step of their March to the Match, the three block trek to CenturyLink Field that’s done before every home fixture.

The pep rally fun at the park that preceded the smoke — the Sound Wave marching band performed songs to get supporters dancing, an emcee hosted supporters in competitions for prizes, and Sounders co-owner/The Price is Right host Drew Carey made a cameo to say that the Sounders would “kick some Portland ass” and “God Bless” — was now a distant memory. The March to the Match was the first order of business for the supporters in reaffirming that this is their territory. Especially when the visitors encroaching on that territory were the Portland Timbers, their Cascadia Cup rivals (Portland is located three hours south of Seattle via I-5) and opponents this past Sunday night for Fox Sports 1’s weekly coverage of MLS.

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I was not prepared for how captivating this march would be. The neighborhood between Occidental Park and CenturyLink Field shut down when the parade of Rave Green and Sounder Blue scarves marched south toward the stadium. A line of traffic with bored drivers was forced to sit and watch before they could continue their eastbound drive. Mariners and Twins fans hanging out after the matinee baseball game stood on the sidewalks and recorded the rowdy procession. Diners at restaurants, kitchen employees with a window view, and even people sitting on the second floor of office buildings all paused what they were doing and took in the chants, the colors, the cavalry of supporters.

(You’ll need headphones for one word in that bottom video.)

Inside CenturyLink Field, a capacity crowd of more than 41,000 people stood and sang the national anthem with conductor Dr. Stephen Newby, who, of course, waved a little conductor stick to a bunch of soccer fans who probably didn’t understand what each stroke meant. (I know I didn’t. Good exercise for the wrist, though.) All 100-Level sections remained standing after the anthem. Like the student section of any college football stadium, there would be no sitting again for this level until halftime.

The drums and chants from the Emerald Coast Supporters (ECS) and Gorilla FC, the two supporters sections in the south end of the stadium, generated enough noise to blanket the entire stadium through most of the match. In the few pauses that those sections took to organize the next chant, all the way in the north end’s third tier of the stadium, the traveling band of the Timbers Army made their presence known. Although the Timbers Army was confined to the most distant part of the stadium, their drum and their voices —whatever they were saying was pretty intelligible from my 100-level seat at the south end — were heard. Even when the Alliance of Sounders supporters drowned the Timbers Army out again, I could at least see the Timbers Army supporters clapping and holding their arms outstretched.

The South End, with ECS and Gorilla FC

The South End, with ECS and Gorilla FC

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I have to give credit to the Timbers Army for keeping their energy up in spite of the space and numerical disadvantages. I understand wanting to give the best seats in the house to the supporters of your own club, but I would have loved for the Timbers Army to be moved closer to the pitch on the north end and see the duel for the atmosphere between the ECS and Timbers Army. That struggle is the most fun part about any derby (rivalry) match in European soccer and is arguably what makes a derby a derby.

On the pitch, the Rave Green of the Sounders running against the Rose (City) Red for the Timbers was an aesthetically pleasing contrast, even though the level of play in the first half didn’t match the visuals. Portland was content to hunker down and clog up its own zone, which Seattle struggled to break down because of the slow build-ups to the attacks. The Sounders would have plenty of space and possession on the flanks, but midfielders Marco Pappa and Lamar Neagle couldn’t get the ball into the center of the pitch before the rush of Rose Red crowded out forwards Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. On the lone, first half opportunity he had within 12 yards of goal, Martins flashed his sharp angled shot just wide of the far post. Portland’s withdrawn style gave midfield star Darlington Nagbe little to do and Portland failed to muster a shot on goal that half.

The supporters of both clubs kept chanting anyway.

All in the 100 Level rose again when 45:00 reappeared on the clocks, coinciding with the arrival of light rain at CenturyLink. In hindsight, the arrival of rain was foreboding for the Sounders. Portland took the game plan Seattle should have switched to — an uptempo attack — and put the Sounders defense on the back heel. The Sounders defenders refused to close down swaths of space that the Timbers had outside the box, with Timbers striker Ishmael Yartley forcing Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei into making his first save of the match in the 51st minute.

The supporters continued to chant through the drizzle and defensive struggles.

The game started to open up a little more, but it wasn’t the prettiest play. A Dempsey cross forced a save in the 57th minute, then Portland’s Diego Chara fired another shot from outside the box in the 61st minute that Frei saved and held. The Timbers Army celebrated when Maximiliano Urruti scored in the 70th minute, but the linesman ruled the goal offside, and the ECS filled the silence before everyone else in the stands realized it was no goal. Neagle, Pappa, and Portland substitute striker Fanendo Adi all went wide successively between the 72nd and 74th minutes.

The Timbers Army away section is highlighted for comparison to the home support sections.

The Timbers Army away section is highlighted for comparison to the home support sections.

It took a fluke in the 78th minute for Seattle to finally breach the Portland wall. The Portland defense failed to clear a throw-in into the box, where the ball landed at the feet of Sounders substitute midfielder Andy Rose. Rose shot the ball straight at Timbers goalkeeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey, who palmed the ball away to his left, but his attempts to stretch and grab ahold of the ball only pushed it toward the line. Dempsey, quiet throughout the game up until this point, crashed the net and tapped in the ball for the easy goal.

The celebration from the crowd was an eruption of pent-up energy and the CenturyLink turned into a party for a minute. The supporters provided the noise and the stadium supplied flames from behind the net, fireworks from the north end, and streamers over the east and west stands. This goal is why the supporters kept chanting through the good and the bad earlier in the game: the ecstasy and relief of seeing your club overcome all the misplaced passes, crosses, shots, and dribbles from earlier in the match for that one moment when all the circumstances lined up for the ball to roll past a line.

Supporters rained down songs of praise for Dempsey, then fired shots at the Timbers Army over the silence in their section after the goal.

But there now a palpable tension in the crowd when the Timbers had possession. Portland hit the crossbar just three minutes after Dempsey’s goal and Seattle continued to sit back and give Portland the space to move the ball around Frei’s box. But at the final whistle, the Sounders supporters could exhale and reroute that tension toward celebrating a 1-0 derby victory over the Timbers. The quality of the play wasn’t the best that both teams are capable of, but tonight was about the support that fans of both clubs provided, and the supporters sections delivered on making the atmosphere for fun for an outsider like me. Cascadia lived up to the hype and expectations I had for it, and may this rivalry continue to flourish.

While many of the fans in the east and west stands filed in line to exit the stadium, the ECS and Timbers Army remained entrenched in their sections as the players went through the post-game sportsmanship rituals. The supporters groups kept chanting away for their men in green or their men in red.

My section at full time.

My section at Full Time.

All Hail the King

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SEATTLE—Phil Hughes put a valiant fight in his pitching joust against Felix Hernandez last night, but King Felix reigned supreme in carrying the Mariners to a 2-0 victory over the Twins.

Given how rarely I get to any ballpark, Hernandez’s complete game shutout may be the best pitching performance I’ll ever witness in person. In front of his loyal King’s Court, all clad in yellow in a section next to the left field foul pole of Safeco Field, Hernandez struck out nine batters, walked no one, and gave up only five hits in 102 pitches.

Hughes nearly matched Hernandez on the mound by striking out eight Mariners, walking no one, and giving up six hits in 96 pitches. However, two of those six hits were leadoff solo home runs that the Twins offense couldn’t overcome: a Nelson Cruz shot to left field with that sweet *pop* and a Logan Morrison jack to centerfield in the fifth inning.

It’s not like King Felix needed much help from his knights in the aqua-and-silver uniforms anyway.

Hernandez struck out the first four batters he faced, then got the next two Twins he faced to groundout. The Twins didn’t get their first hit until the fifth inning, when Trevor Plouffe singled in a liner to right field.

The fans in the King’s Court had this job to be like a supporters section at a soccer game when Hernandez had two strikes on the batter he was facing. As Mariners catcher (and former University of Florida baseball player) Mike Zunino gave the signs to Hernandez, the King’s Court section rose in unison like folks at Church, waving yellow signs with a blue “K” printed on them. In the process of standing up, the King’s Court would chant “K” repeatedly, the volume of their voices amplifying to a peak once they were all standing, like a swarm of a bees that caught up to a person running away from it. And because I always thought of bees when they began chanting, I found the whole thing more eerie than it really is.

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Early in the game, a couple people in the King’s Court were rewarded with one of the weirder stadium promotions I’ve seen: turkey legs. I mean, it makes sense that turkey legs were given away, because of the whole feast thing, but the manner it was done was a little silly. A chef from the stadium arrives at the section waving a turkey leg in each hand. As he descends down the steps to the winner the marketing team selected, he’s dancing to some techno song and waving the turkey legs in the air. Perhaps predictably, the two winners were a guy and gal at the front of the section, dressed like a king and queen, their regal purple capes and crowns covering any yellow they may have had on.

That wasn’t the weirdest promotion in Safeco, though. Farmer John, a meat brand and not a folk singer-songwriter, sponsored the “Everything is Better with Bacon” relay in between an inning. Two rows in two different sections raced to have each person in their row take a tray of garlic fries, add a strip of bacon on top of it, and pass it to person next to them. The row that had finished having all its people add bacon to the fries first won the entire section a bag of Farmer John bacon and bragging rights that its participants had the self-control to play the game and not eat the fries and bacon when the food reached them.

Other than a couple jams in the fifth and sixth innings, when the Twins collected two hits each, Hernandez cruised through the Twins lineup. Hernandez and Hughes reduced baseball to its most simplistic form for most of the night: batter shows up, then sits down. And even with the two runs that the Mariners could muster, they were just solo home runs — batter shows up, jogs a lap, then sits down. The game probably could have even finished in under two hours had Hughes forgo trying to pick off Austin Jackson so often. (Of course, Jackson eventually stole second base, because irony.)

Because both offenses were so impotent against Hernandez and Hughes, the game finished in a mind-blowing 2:03. I saw 62 batters, 11 hits, one Twins meeting on the mound, zero walks, and zero relief pitchers dash out of the bullpen in basically the length of a soccer game, inclusive of halftime. The brevity of the game was perhaps the only thing that outshone King Felix and his night at Castle Safeco.

What I Saw in 10* Miles of Cherry Blossoms

WASHINGTON–Thanks to beginner’s luck, in my first ever entry into the lottery to participate in the Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run, I won a slot to run this year’s race. Thanks to the magic of “Driving in DC,” a car accident happened shortly before police could close roads for the race, forcing race officials to eliminate a half-mile from the course. (Farewell, Mile 5 marker.)

In spite of that, the weather was perfect: sunny, temperatures in the mid 50s, and cherry blossoms in full bloom. But in the end, the loss of 0.5 mile from the course only foreshadowed the bizarre observations I’d have in the 9.5 mile race.

The first and strangest observation was the number of runners I saw who fell down or were in the process of losing their footing. In all the races I’ve run since 2012, I encountered zero falen runners.

In the 9.5 miles I ran in DC, I saw five fallen runners, tripped up by no one other than the pavement. One fall every other mile. That ratio is stupid when you consider that I saw zero falls in the 26.2 miles of the 2014 Disney Marathon.

The five falls doesn’t even include one runnwr I saw standing on the side of the course at Mile 9, getting a band-aid for a bloody facial wound suffered in a fall. Gravity has something against Washington and the runners pay the price.

Signs of support seemed to slant toward alcohol (rum, not run; beer after race), but these three creative posters were absolute pearls:

(1) A woman after Mile 9 had “CHAFING YOUR DREAMS” on a pink poster.

(2) A woman at around Mile 9.5 wrote “YOU RUN BETTER THAN OUR GOVERNMENT” in brown, with a tiny doodle of the Capitol dome on the bottom left corner.

(3) A man, spelling out what every spectator and runner thought: “I’M MISSING BRUNCH FOR THIS”

There was only one repeated sign I saw in 9.5 miles. At Mile 1, I saw a man with this sign:

“KEEP GOING

KEEP GOING

KEEP GOING

(That’s what she said”

At Mile 2, a woman waved this at us:

“KEEP GOING

KEEP GOING

(That’s what she said”

…Michael Scott is proud of you two.

Before hitting Mile 1, I passed a guy in a green shirt trying out different strides, some of which looked uncomfortable. By Mile 7, he was now shirtless and passing me, while yelling “LAST YEAR, THIS IS WHERE I GOT INTO A NECK AND NECK RACE WITH ANOTHER GUY AND I BEAT HIM TO THE FINISH LINE.”

I gave his stoy a golf clap, because of Masters Sunday.

At the start line, I walked by a woman doing embarassing dances with the start line music to tease her running friend. At Mile 7, a DJ greeted us, so of course she caught up to me then and caught up with me, embarassing dance move (raise the roof) aimed at her friend and all.

I gave a high five to a Woodrow Wilson mascot — I have no idea if he’s part of the Nationals’ collection — after on a bridge. And yes, I slowed down and moved to the left side of the course just so I could so that. That was more important to me than my time.

Overheard conversation after Mile 6 that made me question my body:

Runner 1: “I just peed in my shorts.”

Runner 2: “Huh?!?!”

Runner 1: “I just peed in my shorts!!”

You should probably go the restroom after reading that. Don’t feel guilty for leaving. This is the end of the post.

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Edit (11 pm): I lied. A few things popped up on the train ride back at around 3:30 pm, which I thought I added here, but WordPress didn’t publish the changes.

(1) All the race volunteers from Mile 1 to Mile 4 shook cowbells to cheer us on. I’m convinced that Mississippi State University donated these volunteers for the race.

(2) Shortly after Mile 4, a man shook a yellow maraca and shouted “GoodJobGoodJobGoodJobGoodJob” at the runners passing by. That man’s vocal chords have endurance.

(3) I saw no other runners in an odd costume today. I suppose this the universe’s way of balancing out the number of falls I saw in the race.

Skylight

The smell of Bolognese sauce wafted its way from the stage of the Golden Theatre to my seat in the rear mezzanine during the Saturday evening performance of Skylight, the outstanding dialogue-driven play that ran in London’s West End in 2014 before transferring to Broadway this year. As the scent of Italy took over the theater, Carey Mulligan’s Kyra Hollis may have been scolding Bill Nighy’s Tom Sergeant while she continued stirring the bowl of sauce. Or Sergeant may have been on another one of his pointing sprees aimed at the ground, right index finger, then left index finger, then one more from the right, as he countered Hollis’s argument. Either way, that bowl of simmering sauce captured the passion between Hollis and Sergeant — former lovers seeing each other for the first time in years — that was ready to burst free with all of its consequences in the first act of Skylight.

The gulf between the two is staggering, which makes their six years as an adulterous couple all the more interesting. Hollis is a 30-something teacher just getting on by in a rough patch of north London’s Kensal Rise, but takes all her satisfaction from the impoverished children she mentors in the eastern London town of East Ham. Sergeant, about 20 years Hollis’s senior, is a wealthy, Chelsea-supporting entrepreneur in the hospitality industry who lives in posh Wimbledon and seems to have it all, despite losing his wife to cancer. Hollis is disheveled in an oversized purple sweater and leggings; Sergeant looks pristine with his combed silver hair, black suit, blue shirt, and tie. What the two lack in similarities in finances, age, and style is made up for by their equal drive and intellect. The latter two qualities catalyze a debate over the best use of one’s drive and intellect and for whose benefit those traits should be used.

The lovers’ quarrel blows up into one on the broader scale of inequality in London and the rest of Britain, with Hollis arguing defending the families and children being left behind against Sergeant’s claims that Hollis is wasting her time on them. As I was just a mere toddler in the ‘90s and haven’t done much research on the United Kingdom at that time, I will defer to the experts who note that this is a critique on the income gap that arose during the Thatcher era. I can say this, though: Twenty years have passed since this dialogue was written and it is a tad eerie on how this argument holds water today for the United States.

Entertaining is too shallow of a word to describe watching Mulligan and Nighy bring their characters to life. The experience is engrossing, as Mulligan and Nighy make the whole cliché of “opposites attract” believable with the weight they put into their words. Mulligan creates a cold, calculated, and composed Hollis — we’re talking Cloud and Squall-like, for your Final Fantasy players — who makes most of her points in a stoic tone while seated or standing still. Nighy creates another characteristic for Sergeant to oppose Hollis: he can’t sit still. Nighy spends much of the play roaming around the tiny apartment, pointing and shuffling while speaking, and failing to contain his emotional outbursts before saying something that Sergeant regrets. While Sergeant’s words tend to get him in trouble, his sarcasm is the source for much of the humor and relief in tension in the dialogue; there’s a palpable delight coming from Nighy when he delivers Sergeant’s multiple jokes about the sorry state of Hollis’s apartment. (As the play takes place in winter, the heating system gets special treatment.)

The debate that Hollis and Sergeant have is bookended by visits to the Hollis home from Edward (Matthew Beard), Sergeant’s 18-year-old son on a gap year who somehow evades his dad in each stop. Compassion substitutes for passion in Hollis’s two interactions with the younger Sergeant, who still appears to treat Kyra as an older sister in spite of the lengthy separation between the two. Edward’s appearance in the beginning sets in motion the rest of the story, but his visit at the end gives the play a warm ending after tumultuous dialogue Tom and Kyra put themselves (and the audience) through.

The 2.5 hours of turmoil didn’t deter the crowd, though — Mulligan, Nighy, and Beard had three curtain calls after Saturday night’s performance. It’s also not stopping me from wanting to see Skylight one more time before its curtains close for the final time on 21 June 2015. Skylight is good enough as it is with its story, acting, and little elements referencing a London way of life (orange grocery bags for Sainsbury’s, jokes about the English style of soccer, and questions over which borough Wimbledon belongs to). But by reexamining Kyra and Tom’s world views and relationships one more time, I can still learn a lot from one of the best presentations of rhetoric and psychology I’ve witnessed. Hopefully, the recipe for that spaghetti sauce will be a part of what I learn next time.

The Water Tower

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It’s still cold and snowing up here in the Northeast as the calendar readies its turn from March to April, so in reactionary fashion, I’ve retreated to looking at photos I’ve taken in multiple trips to sunny, warm, and drought-stricken Los Angeles. This hasn’t done much to make me feel warmer, but my digital scrapbook got me thinking again about the silly stop I make each time I’m in Southern California: the Warner Brothers Studio Water Tower.

(Yes, before you get pedantic on me: I know it doesn’t function as a real water tower, but that’s because it doubles as the residence for Yakko, Wakko, and Dot.)

I usually budget 30 minutes on a Saturday or Sunday to make the drive to Burbank, when the traffic is light and the parking restrictions are off. The rental car gets parked on South Cordova Street; I stand in the middle of the road at the intersection of Cordova and Warner Boulevard. Then I just stare west at the WB Water Tower for a few minutes, letting the sunshine and silence help me immerse myself in thought. Usually those thoughts begin with me wondering if this is the day that I finally see Yakko, Wakko, and Dot open up the WB shield on the Water Tower and escape from their home, while poor Ralph tries and fails to corral them back inside.

But then my mind veers from this absurdity and back to reality. It’s usually the same Q&A with myself about life and the career, a debate that ends with hopes for anopportunity to at least live a couple years in California and a stalemate with respect to how to take the next step in the career and grow. A representative made-up version of this chat is provided below:

“This trip is awesome.”

“But what about all the problems that California has?”

“Yeah, the state has its issues and it’s stupid expensive, but something feels right whenever I’m here.”

“But that’s maybe because you’re on vacation. Can you handle the daily grind? Could you raise a family here if you settled down here?”

“The only way to find out is to live here. If it’s meant to be, I’ll find a way. And I may cry from laughter with that last question.”

“You know you’re crazy, right?”

“Yep.”

I make those minutes in the middle of the neighborhood road count — it’s a productive, quiet, and reflective few minutes, something I don’t do enough of when I’m alone in my New England apartment. After I finish contemplating everything, I go the WB store across the street to see if they’re finally selling a model of the Water Tower that I can put on my desk. That search is always a failure, so then I stand outside again for a couple minutes, thank God a random car didn’t materialize out of nowhere and run me over, and return to my rental car to drive off to my next destination.

I have no desire to work in the entertainment industry, but the WB Water Tower has become a symbolic home base of sorts when I visit Los Angeles. Again, this is all due to a bunch of cartoon characters I watched when growing up: the Animaniacs and Bugs Bunny and friends in the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoons. I know that I’m approaching 30, but that structure keeps me young and provides me a little boost to remain ambitious in all that I want to achieve.

That California sunshine is infectious; some of those ambitious goals, such as getting an ACME product to work correctly, will require a little more work than the others on that list. But like the Coyote, I’ll keep trying.

Dog Days with Biscuit

There’s a lot to do in Chicago when I visit my family, but I prefer spending most of my time there in the family home. The home is the only place where I can hang out with the oldest member of the family.

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Biscuit, our family shih tzu, is 15 years old, or 105 “dog” years, according to everyone who pulls out his or her smartphone to do the math after hearing she is 15. We’ve seen her grow up from a little puppy in Florida who zipped around the home like a heated molecule and used the world as her bathroom to an adult dog who always greeted guests with a downward dog and a roll over requesting for a belly rub of approval. Those habits are now gone in her elderly age, but she still shares with us whatever we’re having for dinner, prefers to sit on our laps when we hold her, or lies down her head/paw/back on our laps when she lies down next to us on the couch. (And if Biscuit is lying down, she’s falling asleep, and you can’t move for at least a half hour while she’s napping.)

Outside of the six months I spent looking for my first job after graduating from college, I haven’t been an everyday presence at the family home since I left for college eight years ago. So all this time I’ve been away from my family for UF and now work, plus knowing that dogs have a shorter lifespan than people and the uncertainty of tomorrow in general, has helped me embrace being a homebody when I visit my family. I wish I had more of that growing up — or at least took a few more breaks from the extracurriculars of high school and homework headaches of college to be that homebody.

But now, even through I have to spend vacation days and pay for airfare and airport parking, I’m trying to make up for that lost time. I love the simplicity of sitting on the couch with Biscuit on my lap, watching a Blackhawks or Bulls game on TV (God, I love the easy access to Chicago sports that the locals have) with the family, and snacking. I’ve had a lot of great experiences from traveling around between Los Angeles and London, but seeing Biscuit’s tail wag and then getting licked in the face when I step back inside the house for my first night of a trip home will always be my favorite.

I can’t wait to fly back and celebrate Biscuit’s Sweet 16 later this year, the first birthday I’ll celebrate with her since I was in high school. The party will be lively and energetic, with time allotted for multiple hour-long naps for our shih tzu, watching TV with her on our laps when she happens to be awake, and petting her and fawning over her after she opens her birthday gift (a chew toy loosely covered by tissue paper). It should be the most exciting birthday a teenager could ask for.