Anything I write that has to do with writing will be in From Pico's Pen, my author's blog. Everything that doesn't fit any of the sites I write on will be here. This is my practice. I could have kept it private and farmed out the good stuff but I found my readers like too much of it to do that. It isn't a diary because there are things I keep to myself but you can learn a great deal about me from the randomness you will find here.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

An Unexpected Threat

Courtesy Pixabay

My younger brother William started playing basketball pick up games with a couple of friends after his day of work. Living in another town I wasn't able to join in unless I happened to be visiting. While he wasn't completely lacking in athletic ability basketball was not his game. Their regular opponents beat them almost all the time. He let them know that when the stars aligned and big brother could be there the outcome would be different.

Of course the opportunity eventually came and he did his darndest to convince me to join in. I love the sport so it didn't take a lot of arm twisting. We had about a week from that point to prepare.

Shooting hoops in the yard he confessed to me that in their games he had never actually scored a basket. I told him I couldn't make a star out of him in a week, probably not even teach him one good move. His shot though really didn't look bad, so I showed him a spot on the court  and told him to practice shooting from that spot and no where else.

He dutifully worked on the shot while I explained his importance. If his nemesis team played team ball as well as he said, they would try defending against me straight up until I proved everything he warned them about. Theoretically that wouldn't take too long. After that they would try to double team me. Double teaming me would leave someone wide open right on the spot he was practicing shooting.

“What if I miss?”

“I don't care if you miss. If you don't shoot it, when I pass to you on that spot I'm going to come over and smack you one.”

He started laughing. He got the point though. If he got the ball there, I expected him to go for it without any hesitation.

On the big day my shot was a little rusty but it didn't take long for the opposition to understand that their friend guarding me was in way over his head. Next pass comes into me and Williams man drops down for the double team. Why guard my brother when he has never scored before. I kicked it back out to William, who swished the bucket. The look on their collective faces was priceless. They tried again a little later and William proved the first one wasn't a fluke. We won handily.

We might have won with my “star” power but creating a complimentary threat made sure that they had no answer. They couldn't double team me without leaving someone else with an easy bucket. Teamwork can be a beautiful thing.

Monday, 28 December 2015

First Real Winter Storm of the Season

A few days ago the weather was unseasonably warm and sunny. Taking care of a few outdoor chores at work was a pleasure. Yesterday winter came with a vengeance and today the temperature plunged. Hard to believe the weather was so balmy so recently. Outdoor chores were not for the faint of heart today.

On the bright side the forecast was pretty nearly on the mark. Something I'm not sure happens very often. When the storm started most people stayed off the roads. Business fell off at work. The boys and I have the most remote home compared to the rest of our co-workers, so we were asked if we wanted to go home early. I thought it was the better part of wisdom. I maybe wouldn't have been quite so quick to agree had I known the snowplough had cleaned out the roads in our neck of the woods. The roads were bad but I didn't find them particularly challenging.

This morning was less fun. The snow had melted and then froze on my windshield. Took a lot of effort to clear enough so that we could drive to work. It only got colder as the day progressed. Business started slow but as soon as the sun came out we got swamped. Lots of people traveling because of the holiday and they all got hungry at about the same time and place.

Tomorrow is supposed to be just as cold. I'm not looking forward to it.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Basketball Player: Unorthodox, Short Winded, Canadian

Courtesy Pixabay

Three strikes, you're out! I thought it would be kind of fun to write an analysis of myself as a basketball player during my college days. In some ways the title says it all. I think I had a pretty good idea of my strengths and weaknesses. Maybe some of my former teammates will read this and disagree but this might make a fun discussion.


My offensive game through almost the entirety of my college stay was back to the basket in the low post. Against smaller opponents, I used a spin around jump shot to great effect. I could spin either direction. Similar size players with good leaping ability could block that though. Against someone like my teammate Donald Campbell that move was almost useless. There were other moves I could fall back on. I could pivot and face an opponent and let fly with a hesitation set shot that was all wrist. It was hard to block because it was very difficult to know when I would let go of it. I was accurate within fifteen feet of the basket. Complimenting that was a fake that would allow me to go under my opponents arm. I could score off that provided one of the opposing team players didn't help my man out. Last off I had a reliable/unreliable hook shot. When that was on the mark I was an offensive one on one match for anyone. Unfortunately it did at times desert me.

Outside of the post I did have an effective outside shot clear out to the three point line. I was taught all through high school that as a big man I did not have the green light to shoot those. That carried over to my college thinking. The only three pointers I ever took were in the waning minutes of games in which we were playing catch up. The concept of a three point shooting big man hadn't come of age yet, but I am glad Alan Dance the coach let me prove I could do it my sophomore year.

Last move of note was my favorite one on one playground move. I liked to get the ball on a short wing on the left side and roll into the key with a right-handed hook shot. Used it to impressive effect in pick up matches but it rarely came up in a real game. I didn't play that position. Only came up once on some kind of defensive mix up. Somehow I ended up in that spot with Donald's younger brother Earl guarding me. He was not my usual man and I rolled it in on him beautifully.


My weaknesses as a player were a great deal more evident on the defensive end of the court. I had some lateral movement problems, which I did my darnedest to conceal. Any player who could handle the ball well could get past me. I only stayed with people second guessing what they were trying to do. A player didn't have to catch me going the wrong way, they just had to catch me not moving the right direction fast enough.

I did somethings very well though. I'm Canadian and I know how to zone defense even in man to man coverage. In “B” division ball nobody scored a reverse layup driving baseline, while I was on the court. I was also quite adept at screwing up offensive timing by getting in the way.

My biggest weakness can summed up with one word: Asthma. Americans like to turn their basketball games into track meets and with that kind of tempo in Los Angeles air you may as well park me on the bench. I can run and plenty fast. I just can't keep doing it. This was also my biggest college secret. I knew I was asthmatic, but it was not officially diagnosed at the time. Had that shown on my application I suspect I would not have been accepted at all. I should have been found out in jogging and conditioning class. My results clearly pointed in that direction. Mr. Petty even commented on my weird graphs but never put it together. Years later I discussed this with my family doctor and she confirmed that my results should have given me away.

In “A” division ball most of my shortcomings were well concealed by my team mates. Who wants to break past me so that Donald or Paulbo could ram the ball down their throats when they got to the basket. They were far better rebounders than me so my real concentration was to just make sure my man wasn't the guy who got the ball. Because we had a short bench, we slowed the game down to a tempo I could handle. I had a very good year that season. A lot of players had sub par outings against me and probably didn't know why.

I'm not as weak a defender as some people might have thought. I'll illustrate this by highlighting one outing. We had a game against the faculty. My opponent for the night was Mr. Jim Petty, head of the physical education department. I heard he had played pro ball at one time, but I was never able to confirm that. He was crafty and averaged twenty points a night. He had his absolute worst game of the season against me and it's because I don't play defense like an American. He did not physically over match me. His game relied on losing his man. If you took your eyes off this guy for a split second he was gone and while you were busy looking for him he'd be on the other side of the basket scoring a layup. I'm Canadian and zone defense in those days got drilled into our brains, not only that we were taught if you lose your man don't look for him go straight to the basket. If you don't meet him there you probably have nothing to worry about. I don't think even he understood why he couldn't lose me long enough to get those easy buckets. After all I wasn't considered fast enough to cover him that well - I gloat to this day.

Courtesy Pixabay

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Being the Hero or the Goat

Courtesy Pixabay

The clock was running down. My team had the ball and a two point deficit. Perry our point guard dribbled the ball on the perimeter looking for a potential three or someone else who could shoot it. I dropped back to three point country myself figuring we were playing for the win. Perry continued to stall, letting the clock wind way down. A that point, I thought he was going to shoot it himself, so I took a step toward the basket thinking to tip to tie in case he missed. That's when he passed me the ball. I pulled my foot back behind the three point line and let fly slightly off balance as time expired. It bounced of the rim and out. We shook hands with the winning team. Everybody went to the showers except me. I took a ball and fired in a few perfect shots from that spot, when everyone was gone. That loss hurt. If I hadn't second guessed the play, we would have gone home winners.

That wasn't the first pivotal play I've blown. I don't even think it was the only one that season. It's just the one I remember the best. I felt bad about missing the shot but I don't feel bad about taking it. Had I not taken it, we would have lost anyway. Feel it, learn from it and move on.

I'm no stranger to different outcomes. My favorite happened that very same season. The game was close but our front court had major foul trouble except for me. Both Donald our regular centre and Paul our power forward had fouled out. That left me filling in at centre. Our opponents relied more on speed than size so in the half court game I still physically over matched their centre. Worse for them, my hook shot was on the mark. I put several of those in including one to tie the game up within the dying minute of the game. They had one good chance to put in a game winner after that and I knew exactly what they were going to do.

Their point guard was unbelievably quick. He managed to put the same move on Perry over and over and get to the basket. Perry was no slouch mind you. He was an all star and I wasn't. I did have the chance to study this move in some detail and now being slid over to the centre of the defense I was in a position to set a trap.

They brought the ball up the court and set up their half court offense exactly as they had done all game long. I abandoned my man and drifted to the middle of the key crouching down so that their point wouldn't notice me out of position. He put the fake on Perry and broke around toward the basket. He beat Perry, but when he came around the corner, he shouldered right into the middle of my stationary chest, knocking me on my rear end. Offensive charging was called, while he looked at me wondering where the heck I had come from.

In that league a foul in the last minute of the game like that would automatically mean two free throws and possession to the other team. I iced both shots from the line and Perry and Wes killed the 
clock for the win. That more than made up for the one I didn't win.

Courtesy Pixabay

Friday, 25 December 2015

One of a Kind

Photo courtesy Pixabay

I worked for a small landscape maintenance company in the Toronto area years ago. The intention was to become one of the core employees and work with them year round instead of being seasonal help. For that reason I was an early hire that year. The partners were two brothers. The one was serious all the time and the other could find the humour in anything.

Some of the people we hired that spring were – unique. One in particular will live on in my memory forever. I remember when he came in for his interview. In walks a small mountain man. Long wavy mane of unkempt dark hair with a matching beard. Closest thing I'd ever seen in real life to Cousin Itt from the Addam's Family. Not very much face apparent in between all that hair.

After he leaves, partner number two come out of the office, “See that guy I just hired? Guess what his name is?”

We responded with arched eyebrows not sure we should ask.

“Harry!” and he laughed himself almost to tears.

Harry turned out to be one of the best workers they hired that spring. He was flying as straight as his individualism allowed. He'd given up drugs and alcohol years before and unlike some of the other guys, didn't have to report to his parole officer after work. We ribbed him mercilessly about his appearance and lifestyle, which he took well and gave as good as he got. You can take the boy out of the country but you can't take the country out of the boy definitely applied in his case. I liked him.

One of his moments that summer stands out from all the rest. We were cutting the lawn, cleaning up and doing trimming around a good size office complex with large reflective glass windows. The people inside could see out but we couldn't see in. Well Harry had an urge and since there were no bathrooms handy he “concealed” himself amoung some shrubbery and took a leak. We got a complaint from some secretarial pool over that. We were in tears, every time it was mentioned, for weeks.

We all found him so uniquely weird and likeable at the same time. We were in for a surprise though. Harry rushed home after work one day as we finished up putting all the tools away. A passerby ran over just after Harry left and asked us, “Hey was that Harry Jones (last name changed)?”

“Yeah. You know him?”

“Naw. I know his brother Dave. Looks just like him.”

We all just gaped at each other speechless. There couldn't be more than one.