Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Don't I Know You?

I ran into this guy at the dinner celebrating the retirement of Lindsay Whalen's basketball jersey. For those of you who don't know her, she was named Minnesota's Sportsperson of the Year—in the same year solid citizen Kevin Garnett won the NBA's MVP award. There was not one iota of political correctness in her selection.

He shook my hand and called me Neal. I'm not, I said. But I know you from somewhere, he insisted. I go to a lot of games, I offered, but knew he was mistaking me for someone else.

(I'm always careful to re-introduce myself to anyone I've met before in case they can't place me. Protects my ego and saves them embarrassment. And it's kind of fun to grope from mutual befuddlement to discover a remote shared experience. But there's no early warning defense against people who think they know you because you remind them of someone more famous than you are. My greatest fear when attending Timberwolves games was they'd do that roving-scoreboard-camera-celebrity-look-alike-bit, and my picture would show up next to Eddie Albert's with the Green Acres theme playing.)

Back at the banquet table, I mentioned the encounter to my wife, who said, he probably thought you were Neal Whalen—and she was probably right. Neal must be a stellar father, judging by his daughter. I'd be proud to be considered in his class as a parent. Meanwhile, I plan to shed a few pounds.

I had a similar sense of recognition not long ago. There was something familiar about my mission for this blog: Engage with important issues. Be opinionated, but seek facts and look at both sides of a question. Don't trash the opposition. Be literate and reasonably concise. Don't be corrupted by advertising.

I know I've seen... Oh, yeah—it's the liberal media... a newspaper! Except that a newspaper covers a broader range of topics. It wouldn't allow rambling and personal references like this. And I could get fired for missing deadlines or screwing up the facts.

This approach seems so fresh in the blogosphere, though, and that's pathetic. If blogs supplant real newspapers, we deserve the government we'll get.

One important P.S. It's been a while since I listened to a coach giving a speech, let alone four at one sitting, and I'm willing to wait a long time until the next jersey retirement ceremony. Intellectually, the program was a string of platitudes, but they were pitched at a level that so many Americans seem hungry for today—and I don't just mean at sports banquets.

Mike Thibault, the Connecticut Sun coach who drafted Whalen, was classic. For part of his after-dinner remarks, he gave the coach's equivalent of a stump speech, based on BE GREAT, with each letter signifying one attribute of a winner. Balance. Energy. Genuine. Or Grace. Or Guts. You can probably give it yourself.

Myself, I would've liked a shred of nuance or one profound insight. It would've been easy to ridicule, except that it was all true, maybe even inspiring if you're still figuring out your place in the world: We're really good people. Hard work is worth it. You make the choices—not somebody else. Forget individual glory and be willing to sacrifice. Attitude makes a difference. Values matter most.

Moral: Read the newspaper, go to sports banquets and avoid eye contact with strangers. But also, more Wellstone, less Kerrey.

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