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Columns

Quick hits and short bits while staring at my calendar in disbelief over the fact that I'll be changing it to July next week.

• Where has the time gone? It seems like just last month that I was standing huddled and shivering in wind and rain at the Wyoming State Track and Field championships.

• Oh, wait, that really was last month.

• Then again, it was just this past Sunday that The Sports Guy was attempting to fly into Billings, only to have his flight recalled to Denver due to the threat of icing.

• In hindsight, that decision probably saved him from being on the ground for Billings' first tornado in more than half a century. Funny how seeming inconveniences sometimes turn out to have deeper purpose.

• Now that the dust has settled, it appears all that conference realignment anxiety in college sports was more shadow than substance. For those needing help keeping up with the changes, here's the abbreviated version — the Mountain West trades Utah for Boise State, the PAC-10 and Big Ten gain conference championship games and the Big XII, for now, loses its title game.

• Then again, Texas and Oklahoma still face off in the Red River Rivalry each autumn, so in reality the Big XII has the same title game as the past several seasons.

• I love soccer, and I'm really trying to get into the spirit of the World Cup. It's just very hard to do since I have to watch every game with the volume muted to preserve my sanity from the buzzing of those godforsaken horns South Africans love to blow. Are we really expected to get into the game when it sounds like we're being swarmed by angry wasps?

• Besides, all this talk of growing American passion for the sport is largely window dressing. The Los Angeles Lakers win — yawn — another NBA title and cars burn while so-called fans riot in the streets. Team USA gets jobbed by an official's call and watches the would-be game-winning goal come off the board against Slovenia, and fans have to endure 10 minutes of baseball highlights before hearing about it in the sports report.

• Compare that to France, where government officials flew mid-tournament to South Africa in an attempt to spur on their national side, and you instantly recognize the sport has a long way to go in this country to enjoy the same level of passion it does globally.

• It has been 16 days, 12 games and three states since they last appeared in Powell, but the Pioneers will finally resume baseball play on their home field this weekend. It's a great chance for area fans to reacquaint themselves with the local American Legion baseball roster as the team hosts the Heavy Metal Classic this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

• Hard as it may be to believe, the Pioneers feature two players currently batting over .500 this summer. Grant Geiser and Scotty Jameson are putting the ball in play at clips that most slow-pitch softball players would be happy with.

• Three others — Tyler England, Auston Carter and Colter Bostick —head into the weekend with batting averages at or above the .400 mark. Could it be possible that this year's Pioneer squad is swinging the sticks better than last year's edition?

• Here's a tip of the ol' ball cap to Powell's Kaleb Asay for his recent national collegiate title in saddle bronc riding. Enjoy the feeling that comes from being the best there is at what you do, and good luck working your way up the PRCA money list in pursuit of a larger title the rest of the year.

• While on the subject of being the best there is, how many Powell High School and Powell Middle School athletes reading this column are regular visitors to the weight room this summer? Your competitors are. Championships are won in the off-season.

AMEND CORNER: Unanticipated benefits

A few years ago, I did something that I thought was completely altruistic; I voted to pay more taxes so Powell could continue to have a swimming pool.

I considered this a completely unselfish act, carried out solely to benefit Powell's younger citizens. After all, aside from a couple of sessions in motel spas, I hadn't been in a swimsuit in 20 years, and I really didn't have any impulse to put one on.

Furthermore, my wife, who can't swim, totally avoids pools, and our children both live more than 1,000 miles from Powell. At the time of the vote, we didn't even have any grandchildren, so there wasn't even any expectation that I might want to take a visiting descendent for a swim in the pool.

As a result, I didn't expect to get any personal benefit from the pool at all, so why should I want to pay taxes for it?

Being one of those soft-hearted liberals, though, I voted to pay them anyway.

Since then, though, something has changed, and the change began with another altruistic impulse. Since I had not only voted for the pool, but supported it publicly, I began to think I might be obligated to put my money where my mouth is and buy a membership to support the pool. When I broached this subject with my wife, though, she suggested that, if I was going to go that far, I should also actually venture into the water. Not only would that demonstrate real commitment to the aquatic center, but it would do me some good as well.

Well, as it happened, about the time the aquatic center was getting ready to open, information from the annual health fair was advising me to increase my exercise level. It triggered the memory of one summer back the 1980s, when my daughter was preparing for the fall swimming season. I took to accompanying her to the pool before breakfast and swimming five or 10 laps while she covered about 40. I also remembered that, by the end of the summer, I was in pretty good shape.

As a result of this spousal advice and old memories, I have visited the aquatic center roughly twice a week to splash up and down in the big pool ever since it opened.

Now, as you can imagine, after 20 years of not swimming, my first swimming episode was not what you would call smooth.

Anyone watching my first session probably was afraid that he or she might have to jump in to save me from going down for the third time.

It is true that, with swimming as with riding a bicycle, once you've learned to do it, you never forget how — but knowing how to do something and doing it are not always the same thing. I had to keep telling my arms what to do and reminding my legs that they weren't supposed to simply float along behind while my arms did all the work. Convincing the four of them to cooperate took a while. Then there's that whole breathing thing, which has to be coordinated with the arms and legs to avoid inhaling large amounts of water, but I generally avoided that problem by swimming the backstroke most of the time.

Despite my basic incompetence at getting all my body parts to work together toward a common goal, though, I managed to cover a couple of hundred yards on that first visit. I had to take a breather at each end of the pool, but, I figured that was OK, since I was doing something I hadn't done since I was in my 40s.

Well, six weeks later, nobody is going to mistake me for Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps or even for the slowest beginning swimmer on the Powell USA team, but I have made progress. Every trip to the pool has been easier than the last, and I have stretched my workouts to 500 yards or so. On my last trip, I actually swam four lengths of the pool without once having to stop and gasp for air, and I only swam part of it on my back.

This week, I plan to do even better.

As for the benefits, this whole swimming pool thing, coupled with skipping desserts and cutting back on spaghetti, has resulted in the shedding of approximately 15 pounds, bringing me down to a weight I haven't seen since before the last time I went swimming. I'm breathing better, sleeping better, and my knees and ankles aren't bothering me as much as before.

Consequently, I'm counting on the activity to help knock off another five or 10 pounds.

Furthermore, quite aside from the health benefits, I now do have grandchildren, and a couple of them will visit next month. I'm looking forward to taking my granddaughter to the pool, and from what I hear, she's looking forward some time in the water with Poppa, too.

In short, by doing something for my community, I received benefits I hadn't expected at all, and I figure I am receiving a pretty good return for my money. There's a lesson worth pondering in that.

And hey! Come on in! The water's fine.

Has anyone else noticed the strange twitch Powell residents have developed of late?

When the wind is blowing a certain direction, people all over town can be seen stopping dead in their tracks, covertly bending their heads down to determine if a smell is emanating from their armpits. Satisfied that the odor is not, after all, coming from their armpits, they resume their progress. But, wait — there's that smell again, followed by an encore of the whole stop, bend, sniff and continue routine.

On second sniff, it's not body odor, but rather the pervasive, powerful stench of rotting piles of beans beside Coulter Avenue.

Ah-ha!

But the twitch persists ... the smell is that bad.

Rumor has it that when the bean mill burned in 1966, the same overwhelming, fetid odor took over the community.

Apparently, it got so bad that an addendum to the “Welcome to Powell” sign on the edge of town said something like, “It smells like something died here, but it's just the beans.”

Unlike the familiar, almost nostalgic, odor of sugar beets in the fall, the smell of rotten beans is becoming unbearable — especially for the poor souls who have to live or work adjacent to the mess. But, come to think of it, maybe they're actually the lucky ones. If they stay where they are, they'll eventually get used to the smell, right? Kind of like when you're smelling candles in a store, and after about the fifth one, your sense of smell quits, well, sensing.

But for those of us who live or work several blocks away from the putrid pile, the stench sneaks up on us like a stalker in the night. One minute, the back door at the Tribune is wide open and we're enjoying the sweet promise of summer.

Then — WHAM! — there it is, stealthily invading ...

The other day, in a moment prior to recognition, I actually wondered, “Wow, what shoes am I wearing to make my feet smell so bad?” I glanced down, saw the usual warm-weather flip-flops, and then (with some relief) it hit me.

The foul, gag-inducing reek of the languishing legumes had once again crept into the building.

The wonderment got me again when I got in my car later that afternoon — what is that awful smell? The answer that time was all too clear.

Our managing editor, whose phobia of vomit is well-known in our office, related that, on a recent trip across town, the smell of the decomposing beans gave her mother a gagging fit.

“Do not throw up in my car,” she threatened her poor mother, who managed to keep her cookies intact. But the incident highlights how bad it really is.

Please — someone, anyone — spare the good folks of Powell and move those beans.

Otherwise, another addendum to the Welcome sign may appear soon. How does, “Welcome to Powell. Now take some rotten, smelly beans and go home!” sound?

Most people say that scent is the sense tied to memory — I believe taste is a close second.

After a long night and a short morning of sleep on a recent weekend spent in Billings, I went to breakfast with some friends.

As soon as I opened the menu I knew exactly what I wanted — a Belgian waffle.

Thank you, Perkins, for printing delicious pictures in your menu.

This was no subtle food craving, it was deeply rooted in the cortexes of my brain.

Even the thought of eating this mass of carbohydrates flooded my mind with images of laughing with friends, hours spent writing and the great outdoors near Story, Wyo.

The spark of these memories started at Young Writer's Camp (YWC), which I attended as a high school-aged kid. On the first day of camp in 2004 we were teamed up to write something as partners. I was teamed up with Jason Cooper, the camp faculty member who taught screenplay writing.

Together, we wrote a story about an odd character, Brian Ariel. We decided our protagonist's name should be a combination of characters we liked at the time — The Little Mermaid (his) and Brian Griffin from Family Guy (mine).

Tangent: Nothing epitomizes the YWC like a big burly, bearded man in a red flannel shirt and overalls who knits and likes the Little Mermaid.

The story Jason and I wrote filled one short page in my journal with atrocious chicken scratch I call my penmanship.

Brian Ariel and his best friend “Blank” go on a dining excursion from the pancake house to Baskin Robbins where Brian is continually proclaiming that this and that, from goldfish crackers to waffles, are his favorite foods.

One short line of dialogue from our tale became a catch phrase for me and a tie to camp for years to come.

“Dude, I love waffles.”

After camp there were a handful of meetings of campers at the Perkins in Sheridan to share in the enjoyment and elation of waffles.

At a mere mention, a few YWC alumni proclaimed the need to have another waffle meeting this summer.

This all resulted from a simple memory and the desire to eat a waffle.

I find in times of confusion in life, we often regress or try to find the feelings of simpler times.

I had a stressful couple of weeks recently, and for no reason I had the undying desire to eat waffles with my favorite topping — strawberries. This craving came to fruition that morning at the Perkins just off King Avenue and 19th Street in Billings while I dined in bliss with two newer friends after a night of youthful frivolity.

This, of course, led to the need to connect to my camp friends current and old to reaffirm — dudes, I love waffles.

In short, thanks to camp, I can recall this amazing experience and the feelings of peace and self-realization.

Oh, the magic of camp, simple foods and memories.

The camp is sponsored by the Sheridan Arts Council and takes place from July 24 -31 in Story. Admissions still are open, and applying is easy to do at the camp website, www.youngwriterscamp.com.

It has been painful to watch the spreading disaster along the Gulf Coast in recent weeks.

The blowout of the British Petroleum well and the resulting oil spill has had tragic consequences already, and there is no way of knowing when it will end. Fishermen are losing this year's season, and worse, may be facing the end of their industry and with it their way of life. The same is true of those who make their living from tourism. Eleven people lost it all when the drilling platform blew up, leaving their families forever changed.

Wildlife has suffered, too. Habitat for pelicans and other birds may be permanently damaged, and unlike humans, pelicans can't choose another way of life. They are pretty much stuck with their instincts, and have no way of knowing how to deal with the oil that is killing them.

Despite the tragedy, one facet of this situation is, if not funny, at least a little humorous. The oil slick, you see, has invaded not only the beaches and wetlands, but our politics as well. The invasion has turned a lot of the complaints about government on their heads.

Suddenly, the complaints that the federal government regulates too much have turned into complaints that it wasn't regulating enough. Politicians who once didn't want the feds to do anything, are now complaining that they aren't doing enough.

The ridiculous assertions that Barack Obama is a dictator have turned into equally ridiculous claims that he is not acting forcefully enough to deal with the crisis. Those who have been screaming about a so-called power grab are now griping that the president hasn't grabbed enough power. And if they aren't complaining, they have been silent. TEA Party favorite Rand Paul in Kentucky, for example, criticized the president for stating that he would keep pressure on the company to deal properly with the disaster, asserting that the president didn't have the right to do that. Since then, though, he has avoided making public statements about the spill.

Finally, those who holler the government can't do anything right have learned that private industry doesn't always do things right either, and their mistakes can devastate lives as much or more than the government mistakes.

This disaster has, in fact, revealed a truth about our relationship to our government. Americans, in general — yes, even liberals — don't really like government very much, particularly when it inhibits something we like to do. But Americans — yes, even conservatives — also want the government to protect us from evil deeds and foul-ups of businesses and our fellow citizens.

In short, we have conflicting expectations and desires of our governenment. We want a small (and cheap) government, but we want it to be ready with resources (including money) whenever we have a problem, whether it's an economic crisis, a terrorist attack, a flood of illegal immigrants or, in this case, a disaster resulting from corporate carelessness.

Those conflicting expectations have created the mess we are in right now. We have demanded a lot of our government, while at the same time weakening its ability to meet our demands and cutting the funding for taking needed action.

The cry right now is for a smaller, more limited government, one that is less intrusive into our lives. But that demand is contradicted by other cries. We demand more protection from illegal aliens, rising health care costs, Mother Nature's torments and man-caused disasters. We also demand more intrusion into people's lives in order to detect possible terrorists or stop women from seeking abortions.

The political fashion right now is to be angry, and it's exemplified by the ranting of talking heads of both extremes. The sentiment this year is to “throw the rascals out” and elect “outsiders” to office.

Unfortunately, recent history shows that such actions don't work. Electing political outsiders such as Arnold Schwartzenegger and Jesse Ventura didn't solve the problems faced by California and Minnesota, and filling Congress or the state legislature with novices next November won't produce positive results either. And decisions made in anger are rarely rational, and often make matters worse.

That's because the basic problem remains. Americans will still want the government to take action on things that are bothering them — everything from stopping oil spills to banning birth control methods they don't like. And they will want those things to happen without paying the taxes necessary to carry out those mandates.

No matter who is elected, the winners will have to find a way to reconcile those conflicting demands.

Meanwhile, we have a disaster in the Gulf of Mexico because a corporation cut corners in the name of profit, and government regulation failed to prevent it. Oil is still flowing into the Gulf. Fishermen are losing their livelihoods and pelicans are still dying.

And politically, we are all slipping and sliding in a giant oil slick.

MY LOUSY WORLD: A few odd theories

Theories are fun, but not those conspiracy theories that anyone can come up with. Since they're impossible to disprove, the theorist feels justified and just a little smarter than the rest of us objective dummies. We're all a little slow, since we can't prove George Bush and the Jews didn't plan 9/11, or that Clinton wasn't responsible for the deaths of Vince Foster, Jim McDougal and Jayne Mansfield.

The theories I love are odd ones with some actual rationale. My friend Mike “Soup” Fink has a few pet theories … some old, some new, some borrowed, some blue.

He ran a borrowed one by me recently, which I've coined, “The Nerd Evolution Theory,” that originated with his friend Chuck. Chuck is upper-middle age and admitted to Mike he was a nerd in high school. Cheerleaders, brainiacs, the girls next door … they all denied his very existence.

But that seems to be changing, Chuck chirped, because “the older a guy gets, the better his romance odds become.”

His theory purports that the teenage dork might be considered quite a catch 45 years later when other men are dying off.

Technically, he's probably right, since statistically the average life expectancy of a woman is five years longer than that of a man. That leaves a lot of still-frisky widows just chomping at the bit, so to speak.

Combined with other factors such as riskier lifestyles, it adds up to a dork's odds increasing daily, particularly if he watches a lot of TV instead of mountain climbing or skydiving. Chuck said many retirement communities boast three women per every man. Still, my “Theory of Diminishing Returns” says if I ever end up in a community with a 3 to 1 ratio, the guy next to me will have six! I'll still be watching TV alone.

But I can't dispute the once-geeky Chuck's Theory of Nerd Evolution. Even Erkel and Pee Wee Herman might eventually be considered studs if they live long enough, I suppose.

That was Fink's borrowed theory, but he also has “something new,” and I'm intrigued – although deeply troubled by his thought process.

First the setup to what I've named Mike's “Big Cow Theory.” A few weeks ago, I shingled a three-car garage on a big farm on the outskirts of Cody. Driving the winding, dirt road, there were cows nearly as far as the eye could see, and beside nearly every one was a cute, little, still-wobbly calf.

I told Fink about this, and we agreed those little suckers are almost as cute as kittens.

“I bet it almost makes you want to stop and pick one up,” he offered.

“Well, yeah … I'd never really thought about it, I guess,” I answered, bemused.

And then his theory: “Ya know, if you stopped every day and picked up a calf, by the time they're full-grown cows, you'd be strong enough to still pick them up.”

Now, my first thought was, “Hmmm; I never figured Fink for a crackhead.”

Yet, what he was putting out there was technically accurate. He and I used to lift weights together and are both aware of the magical gym formula of muscle-growth: “Repetition + increased resistance = larger, stronger muscle mass.”

My friend Soup, in an insane way, was transferring that formula to farm animals, and theoretically, he's spot on. If I indeed drove that road every single day and lifted a calf over my head, eventually I could clean-and-jerk a full-grown Guernsey.

But it would be foolish on so many levels. First, it's much simpler and convenient to go to the gym and pick up barbells. It's difficult and awkward trying to get a good grip on a calf. Also, your average calf is gonna be thrashing and scrambling to get away. So before you could perform the proper set of repetitions, you'd have to chase and tackle it several times.

True, this would increase my capacity for aerobic exercise, but chances are eventually someone would notice and report me. The humiliating “Police Reports” page of the newspaper would say, “Passerby reported short, unkempt-looking man in a roofing truck trespassing on private property. ‘He does it every day and always stops to hoist cows over his head.'”

So Fink's theory will remain just a theory, because that is not how I roll.

I don't think my friend was trying to give me a bum steer, but simply stating a theory, and one with credible rationale. Still, to come up with something like that, theoretically he might be crazier than a pet coon.

The Sports Guy is currently sitting in a terminal at Denver International Airport. I thought about trying to hitch a ride with Auston Carter and see if there was room on the flight to Poland, but had some doubts as to whether or not my chiseled physique would pass for a wrestler.

Instead, I'm thumb-twiddling and flipping through sports publications to kill a two-hour layover. It appears that all is not well in Big 12 land. In fact, it resembles the deck of the Titanic.

As many of you who pay attention to national sports broadcasts might be aware, the Big 10 opened a can of worms by stating earlier this year that it would like to invite as many as five other schools to join its party. Apparently feeling left out, the PAC-10 is evidently willing to kick things into nuclear escalation mode by offering spots to six of the Big 12 members.
More telling, nobody seems to be in a rush to deny that little rumor.

So, imagine if you will, a landscape where the Big 12 is suddenly the Big Four and Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Iowa State are attempting to ascertain the license number of the truck that just hit them. Wyoming better start taking notice.

Don't think for a second the Big 10 and PAC-10 could expand without repercussion. The Southeast and ACC would quickly plunder Big East leftovers and possibly a Conference USA school or two.

Let's face it. The Mountain West Conference is already starved for attention and kicking at the door of the BCS to be let in.

If you think that door is hard to get open right now, just imagine how things will be when two-thirds of Division I football schools and virtually all of the “power players” are consolidated into four super-conferences, each complete with their own multi-million dollar television network.

Notre Dame might be able to tred water in such an environment. Wyoming cannot. And don't even try convincing me that The Mountain deserves mention in the same breath as the Big Ten Network.

Wyoming and the rest of the Mountain West can hardly afford to wait around and see where the dust settles after the initial wave of conference expansions. Acting is far better than reacting in this case.

If Boise State and Nevada aren't already on the Mountain West speed dial, now's the time to start pushing digits and making an offer. Send a call out to Fresno State and San Jose State as well — there are a lot of television sets in California, and the Mountain West's largest downfall at present is its lack of media share compared to BCS leagues.

For that same reason, if Baylor really is left out in the cold, the MWC might want to give the Bears a look. A second Texas presence would keep TCU from feeling lonely and also could help add more market share. As a league, I'm not sure where you go from there, but I'd be making those phone calls long before the folks over in the Western Athletic Confernece ponder making a grab for Colorado State, TCU, BYU, Utah, UNLV and San Diego State.

Beyond shuffling chairs on the conference deck, though, Wyoming needs to have a worst-case scenario plan. What is the school prepared to do in a landscape where four superconferences rule the NCAA landscape?

By all indications, it isn't a question of “if” massive conference realignment is coming to the NCAA's upper ranks. It is only a question of “when” and “how.”

Even though Wyoming and the Mountain West Conference aren't standing on the front lines in this change discussion, any actual changes will inevitably sweep through every league and every program in college football's bowl subdivision. The best thing Wyoming and the MWC can do right now is be proactive and start laying a plan so that we have options when the official membership offers start to fly.

It seems the last several weeks have been nothing but work at the Bonner residence.

Holiday weekend? What holiday weekend?! It passed by in a blur of dirt, plants and heavy lifting.

Brad and I have been accused of being slightly obsessive/compulsive — we prefer to say “we don't let much grass grow” when projects are involved. And, so far, it's working for us — and we're increasingly aware that we really deserve each other.

As you may know, we're currently living in tight quarters. While our newly-remodeled house is perfect in many ways, the closets leave a lot to be desired — not to mention the single bathroom. Oh, and we also need some more bedrooms — but we're biding our time before embarking on the next remodeling project, which left us in a bit of a dilemma.

We realized we really needed to utilize our outdoor space to avoid feeling claustrophobic. The backyard is our favorite part of the property, but last year's construction left it in pretty sad shape. The towering pine tree that we cut down to accommodate the project left a huge expanse of dirt and debris — dirt that has been mud through many of the last months.

So, several weeks ago, we decided we'd be well-served to spruce things up for the immediacy. A little fix-up would render our yard useable for the summer months.

My muscles currently don't feel like “little fix-up” adequately describes the project, even though it all started innocently enough: Let's buy some sod so we can get rid of the dirt patch right outside the back door.

So Brad and I picked up three tons of sod a couple Fridays ago. By Saturday afternoon, we had that wonderful sense of instant gratification. Overnight lawn!

But could we just leave it at that? Of course not ...

One of us (I may deserve the blame) decided we should build a small patio as well. Several loads of pea gravel, sand and pavers later — not to mention worn out gloves and an atrocious sunburn — we had our patio, complete with a fire pit and benches repurposed from the original house's fireplace hearth and mantle.

Then back to our real jobs for the week. On the Friday before the Memorial Day holiday, a load of cedar landscape timbers landed in our driveway. Hello, gardens!

While Brad filled and patched holes in desperate need of grass seed, Bliss and I planted vegetable and herb gardens on Saturday and Sunday.

Not to miss an opportunity, we had a little dinner party on Sunday night, and then we headed to the greenhouse for more plants on the Memorial Day holiday.

Hmmmm: Is it really a mystery why I'm feeling so fatigued after the three-day weekend?

But, there was a tremendous sense of satisfaction as we sat on the patio Monday evening, gazing at our projects — and actually enjoying the backyard the way we envisioned.

Little Bliss has enjoyed the process, I think, while offering loads of the variety of help only a 3-year-old can offer. Digging sand out from between the pavers (we finally relented and bought her a sandbox), riding in the wheelbarrow, stealing shovels and “planting” flowers plucked from brand-new plants. Ugggh.

She even got a pair of purple Dora the Explorer gardening gloves (but she doesn't want them to get dirty.) And I really thought I was imparting some of my limited gardening knowledge to her — including that dandelions are not the most desirable garden plant.

Though I will admit I've been gentle about it since she loves the little yellow harbingers of summer so.

As we were driving along a county road yesterday morning, Bliss spotted a field full of dandelions.

Excitedly, she pointed them out.

“Mom, look at all the dandelions,” she almost shouted. “Some of them are the smelling kind and some are the blowing kind!”

I'm afraid all our efforts of the past few weeks may go to the weeds if Bliss has anything to say about it.

As stated previously, there is no such thing as a free haircut. I'll premise my proof with a few words about my opinion page photo. The conservative doo you've been seeing is misleading. After that bizarre, short-hair stage I went through, I launched “Operation Repo.”

The Tea Partiers can have their country back; I just want my hair back!

That photo was taken several months after I had shaved my head for a short film role, but hair-nostalgia soon got the best of me and my trusted, long-time stylist, Monica. Tiring from fruitless attempts to dissuade me, she said if I was determined to reclaim my life-long shaggy look, I might as well go all the way with one long length instead of a return to the ghost town of Mulletville.

She clearly thought me imbecilic (I've been called worse!) for not staying with the short look she swore made me look 10 years younger, but trimmed me up and wished me Godspeed.

After 12 school years of Beatle bangs followed by 35 years of mullets of varying degrees, I was in quest of the Holy Grail: the ponytail. For more than a year I've been inching toward it, often wearing the Bret Michaels headband to compliment the thinning front, while the sides and back kissed my shoulders and flirted with my back. My hair was longer than ever before and only months from gold.

And then one Saturday evening in March, a common group of friends again razzed my lengthening locks — particularly the sides, where the headband indentation accentuated the distinctive “poofiness.” I've had that thick, two-tiered side hair since my teens when I came to Cody and baseball teammate Dave Beemer called me “Ponderosa Pine.”

But I was totally at peace with it. My future ponytail was a work-in-progress, and soon I'd be past that in-between stage Monica warned me about. They continued the derisive critique though, and one gal, (we'll just call her Phoebe) uttered that fateful offer: “Hey, I'm cutting his (her boyfriend, who we'll call Chandler) hair tomorrow. Let me ‘trim' yours too; we'll all have a little wine, order a pizza and have a haircut party.”

The five of them were united, with Chandler promising if I just let her thin the sides, he'd quit calling me “Mushroom Head.”

They threw around that word, “free” haircut, and the deceptive, “… not one bit shorter; just not as bulky.” Finally when I heard the seductive, “It will probably look even longer once it's thinned out,” I acquiesced.

The next day as I watched Phoebe trim Chandler's simple-to-cut, Beaver Cleaver hair, I tried to back out. Again she insisted my precious length wouldn't be tampered with, so when Chandler vacated the chair, I walked to it like a lamb to the shearing.

She began gently, but soon those scissors sounded like swords flailing through the air, hair clumps landing heavily on my shoulders. I jokingly feigned panic, but when I glanced around and saw the fading smiles and widening eyes, I sensed life as I knew it had just changed.

Then I really freaked out when Phoebe stopped, studied my head and actually offered the scissors to Jen and Linda with, “Hey, if anyone else wants to cut some, I won't be offended.” WHAT? Three people you never want to hear that from are a dentist, urologist and anyone trimming your hair!

An ashen Jen — almost as if feeling pressured — slowly took the scissors and a few quick snips of her own.

Long story (and hair) short, I looked into Chandler's bathroom mirror and saw something resembling my mullets of old … except this one a really bad mullet. I gasped but stifled a scream, sparing my good friend Phoebe's well-intentioned feelings. After all, cutting hair isn't her regular job and she never claimed to have a degree in long-hair restoration.

I said as little as possible, but when I ran into friends Scott and DeAnna on my home, they howled with a pitiful delight. The first thing DeAnna was a dear to point out was “The right side is over an inch shorter than the left.”

Free haircut, my keester! After weeks of hysteria from nearly everyone I knew, and an awkward chance encounter with Monica, I allowed another stylist I'd met to take a stab. She warned me there was no salvaging what length remained, but I made her try. After a $15 re-trim, it didn't look much better — only shorter. My ponytail dream had ended.

Next week I'll return to Monica and beg her forgiveness for straying. I know we'll have to start over, but if she agrees to take me back, I promise I'll never again look for it free on the streets when I can pay for it from a real pro!

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start to summer. I start this week's column off with that note because, for those of you who attended last weekend's state track meet in Casper, the reminder might be necessary.

The assignment seemed simple enough. Travel to Casper for three days. Attend the state meet. Shoot photos like crazy and send the occasional blog post home via laptop computer to keep those interested from afar or those unable to travel from Powell to Casper apprised of the action.

But we all know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice, men and sports editors in planning meetings.

Now, to be clear here, I really did do my homework, faithful reader. I checked the weather forecast before I packed. I knew there was a chance of rain. I knew the temperatures were supposed to drop off from the low 70s on Thursday into the weekend. Heck, I even knew the wind —a permanent fixture in Casper — was supposed to rear up.

I knew these things, and still I remembered my first state track meet in Wyoming, parading about the Kelly Walsh track in sunshine and shorts. How bad could it really be? After all, this was the state track meet, with June right around the corner.

I took the bait, hook, line and sinker. Heck, I might have even chewed on the boat.

Let the record show that, before departing for Casper, I made the conscious decision to pull most of the winter gear out of my car to make room for other “essential items.” The winter coat that's been planted in the back seat since last football season? Gone. The thermal blanket that's been in the back seat “just in case”? Gone. Stocking hat and gloves? Not on this trip.

Boy was I suckered.

These are the sorts of mistakes I expected to make during my first year in Wyoming. Instead, I fell into the sophomore jinx because, as many of you are aware, it did not get into the 70s on Thursday. That small chance of rain did not stay small on Friday or Saturday. And the temperatures that were supposed to fall into the 60s for championship Saturday instead decided to keep falling through the 50s, into the 40s, and narrowly flirted for a period of time of entering the 30s —all while a 30 mile-per-hour wind howled its approval.

This explains why, as championship Saturday rolled along, I found myself huddled against the side of a shed, surrounded by others, desperately trying to stay warm and relatively dry. They say misery loves company. Now I know that the reason for that is because its harder to freeze to death if you're sharing body heat with two or three dozen other shivering spirits.

Welcome to the state track and field championships, sponsored by the Wyoming High School Activities Association. And hypothermia.

Last Saturday will go down in my personal history as one of the most miserable days I've ever spent covering a sporting event. I can't, in clear conscience, rank it ahead of standing in a 20-below wind chill atop a hill in Rapelje, Mont., covering six-man football, but it definitely gets solid consideration for second place. Had it not been for a long-forgotten Polartec shirt stashed away in my mountain pack in the trunk, I'm not sure I would have made it through the day.

As it stands, I survived long enough to see what had to be one of the most abbreviated state trophy presentations I've ever attended. Congratulations, here's your trophy, now run and get back on the bus to warm up. Quite the change from the nearly hour-long loitering on the infield that had accompanied last season's awards.

The moral of the story here, faithful reader, is that three-day advanced forecasts in Wyoming appear to be no more reliable than throwing a dart at a wide range of weather options. I'm learning from this mistake, as are many others, I'm sure.

So next May, when you're wondering why I'm standing in snow boots and sweating to death in 85-degree heat at the state track meet, you'll know exactly the reason why.

Page 58 of 59

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