SUBJECT: American Forensics Association National Tournament, and the George Mason University Forensics Team, and me.
Here is my letter to the team that goes with the three boxes.
Why, you may ask do I get to render two Nationals letters, instead of the usual one? Well, I figure one for each of my American Forensics Association Pentathlon Championships. So there. Now that we have summarily blown any notion of false modesty out of the water, we can continue.
Now I will tell you a story. It is a true story. Once Upon a Time in 2003 I bought a beautiful house in Los Angeles. It did not have a pool, but it had a guest house. I put all my blood, sweat and tears--and money (including $50,000 cash down payment)--into this house, planning to then sell it in a decade or so and use the proceeds to open my humble miniature museum.
Then, in 2009, the global economy crashed. Los Angeles, along with Las Vegas, took it worse than anybody else on the planet. My house went from a value of about $600,000 to $186,000. And this market was not coming back for a long time. Consulting work had taken a hard hit too. It was time to get back to the east coast to be near my aging parents, and the bottom line was that I was completely broke.
Before leaving L.A., I had managed to put together a couple of months rent towards the opening my miniature museum in Appomattox, Virginia (lots of tourists), and the lawyer landlord told me that I would have to take care of the water and heat on my own. I had driven by this building after my father's funeral at Arlington Cemetery, and the lawyer and I had spoken extensively on the phone.
I left Los Angeles with about $140 to my name, three beloved dogs in kennel cages, and the keys to my storage units containing the doll houses. When I got to the airport to check in my one piece of very heavy luggage, I was told it would be $127. I started crying, the woman behind the counter looked around furtively, said "Give me a $20", and she checked it in. I am pretty sure this favor to me was a felony.
When I got to Appomattox, I learned that when the lawyer said “you are responsible for heat and water”, he meant that I would have to install a heating system in the building. It was winter. I had no money. And while the museum was warm enough during the day for patrons, it was freezing at night. I had only a blow-up mattress with a leak in the rear room, and a small space heater.
There was no effective plumbing.
I urinated and defecated outside in the Virginia winter.
It was so f-ing cold.
I ate from all the free food samples at the Food Lion and the Farmers Market, became an expert at dumpster diving, and got very out of shape and chubby. I left Appomattox after two years, because on several occasions, I walked down the street and heard people saying the word “nigger”, loud and proud. This is not unusual in southwest Virginia, tragically.
But that was ten years ago, and I'm on the rebound. I tell you this story only because I firmly believe that I am a better person for having gone through all of this. Humbled, and stronger. More determined, and with a sense of humor that is outlasted it all. I confess these humiliating memories because I want you to know how much I sympathize and empathize with the hell that you have been through at the hands of this evil coach named Peter Pober. If it helps at all, or amuses you, he had really bad hair when we competed against each other. It looked just like Ronald McDonald, but less elegant.
And even though I went through my hardships, I am always mindful of the fact that other friends, other alumni on the team, have been through far worse hell, and it is their continued strength that has helped me get through my hardships. We live in treacherous times, and I find that I gained most of my strength from watching the people around me who have suffered so, yet who find a way to soldier on, with grace, kindness, and even mirth.
(Last time I went to get my hair done-- always a scary experience for the poor stylist, as I now live like a pioneer in the mountains--I immediately started cheerfully gossiping to her, as is my way. She looked at me and said “You don't know, do you?” She proceeded to tell me how a month earlier, her husband of forty years, her daughter, her grandson, and her dog, had all been swept away by flood waters. Only she had survived, because she was many miles away, at the hair salon when it happened. I think of her nearly every day, and draw strength from her strength, just as I draw strength from people like Kent Wayson and Debbie Sausville.
And now it is my honor to draw strength from all of you, as my way of saluting the strength and grace that you have shown throughout this last year. I know it's probably hard to see at this time, but what you have been through will make all of you more powerful, more fascinating, more charismatic, and more creative. It is no accident that the most interesting person I have ever known was my Master's advisor, Arnost Lustig, who escaped the Holocaust death camps, while on a train and route from Buchenwald to Dachau--barefoot after having lost his shoes.
They say that that which does not destroy you makes you stronger. Cliches: bad idea in original writing, but good advice in life. You all will be fine. You will be amazing.
Now, to the boxes:
Let me say this about the necktie & jewelry collection. I wanted to to give it any number of fancy names, as I have worked very hard to curate these neckties and bits of bling for you, but let's just call it the “Fuck You, Peter Pober These Ties Are Some Wild Ass Colors, Some Even Made To Go With Black Suits, And As For The Girls, Please Find Bling And Sparkle And All Manner of La Boheme Adornment. And Did I Say, Fuck You Peter Pober? I Wore A Three-Piece Red Satin Pinstripe Suit To Compete In, And I Did Okay.”
As for the strength that you have shown, and the strength that you will need, I've spoken about that in my other letter. Just please know I think about you all with so much affection, for even though we have never met, we are soulmates. We are doing this thing called forensics.
I wish each and everyone of you my very best.