When I was in middle school, I suffered the misfortune of enduring a horizontal growth spurt, rather than a vertical one. My grandma called it “a phase,” which was fairly accurate, except the “phase” ended up lasting four years. During that time, there was no denying that I was what one might call husky. Or, to put it more bluntly, chubby. So chubby, in fact, that I claimed former University of Connecticut point guard Khalid El-Amin — who was also quite rotund — as my favorite basketball player.
The association with El-Amin only paid dividends one time in my entire life. I was in seventh grade, sitting in Spanish class working on some sort of group project, when the girl I had a huge crush on asked me if I knew the name of UConn’s portly little superstar. I looked around first to make sure she wasn’t talking to someone else, then picked my jaw up off the ground and managed to stutter, “Uh, you mean, uh, Khalid El-Amin?”
“Yes!” she replied. “That’s him. He’s my favorite player. Thanks!” End of conversation. I should have asked her to marry me right then and there, but I didn’t. I was 13. And probably sweating at the time, too. Both due to nerves and girth. Sweating is a problem for the nervous and girthy. That was half my teenage existence. One big nervous, girthy sweatfest. Sounds as lovely as one might imagine.
As a chubby teenager, your life essentially becomes the script from the movie Angus. You get picked on a lot, you have to be quick with comebacks, and most importantly, you have to have a sense of humor. By the way, if you haven’t seen Angus, I highly recommend it. Whether you’ve ever been semi-obese or not is irrelevant. The flick itself is straight awesomeness.
Anyway, suffice it to say I was a target back then. Luckily, I had a good group of friends, I was a pretty decent athlete (in spite of my stature), and I developed the type of wit that would make most parents cringe. Which is really the one thing that stuck with me as I exited my “phase” and became more or less normal (loose definition of the term) by the time I was a sophomore in high school. I liked making people laugh. Laughter is an expression of happiness, and happiness (along with love) is what I believe makes life worth living. So to watch people become happy around me, well, that was satisfying, to say the least.
I’ve grown up now. At least on paper. The number next to my name keeps getting bigger, and I’m sure I get a little smarter, but mostly I’m still a kid where personality is concerned. I enjoy being that. We don’t have enough of that. When we’re kids, we have dreams and ambitions and innocence and hope and a desire to play. As soon as we reach adulthood, those things seem to go away. I don’t want that to happen to me or to anyone else. We can all still be kids at heart, even if we do occasionally get consumed by the real-world issues of our everyday lives.
Point is, I’m a goof, and I love being a goof. Which is why I want to thank all of you for the gift you’ve given me.
This time of year, we tend to reflect on the things that really to matter to us, and in many cases, we give each other gifts. The gift you’ve given me is simple, really, but it means the absolute world. You’ve granted me the opportunity to be a kid every single day, to goof off in front of the masses and, amazingly, have people respond to it in the most gratifying way of all, with laughter and happiness.
You see, when I decided to make my life pseudo-public three years ago, I never thought I’d pay witness to all the things I’ve paid witness to so far. You’ve responded to me, you’ve joined in this extended recess we’ve been enjoying together, you’ve given more back to me than I could ever give to you. The other day, someone asked me why I don’t try harder to get paid for my writing. I told her I didn’t have any desire to do that. I have a great job that pays me already. This is my hobby, and the benefits I get from this are far greater than anything money could ever buy. I like the autonomy of being free to do what I want, when I want for my audience. And while I’m not ever able to write as much as I would like — and lately, yes, you’ve probably noticed there has been even less writing than before — I’ve tried to focus the quality (i.e. goofiness, weirdness, grabassery, etc.) of the articles to be more meaningful than perhaps they used to be.
Beyond that, I’ll admit that all this writing is an outlet for me. I don’t know who I am yet. I’m still trying to figure my life out. Writing helps me do that, and there are quite a few times when I selfishly burden all of you with my life’s emotions. What I’ve discovered, though, is that most of you are just like me. We all have our own trials and tribulations, but at the end of the day we’re all people facing the same questions about who we are, what we’re doing, and where we’re going. Sports often reflect life, and I’ve tried to use every possible avenue in discussing sports to bring our lives to the forefront. I want there to be relevance and value in every story I tell. If I can’t do that as a writer, then there’s really no point in writing.
So to everyone who’s ever found any value, however fleeting, in who I am or what I’m writing about, in all the inherent goofiness and stupidity, all the moments of passionate exuberance and overzealousness, and all the borderline craziness, thank you. You can never be everything to everybody, but there’s always the opportunity to be something to somebody. That’s what all of you have been to me and I’m very grateful for that.
To those who celebrate Christmas on this day, as I do, I wish you a very merry Christmas. To those of you who celebrate any holiday this time of year, I hope you find happiness in being around your friends, family, and loved ones. The most important things in life are the ones we often tend to take for granted. This is the time of year to take note of that and reflect on it. Happy holidays.