Ben Strauss

Ben Strauss, co-author of Indentured, opens up on the NCAA regarding several topics including the origins of the governing body and the future of college athletics/amateurism. Bonus material includes a different perspective on the death of Antonin Scalia and Trump University as the hugest, most powerful institution in college sports.

One Direction Down

A morning mist envelops the mountain like a heavy, damp curtain of fear and doubt. The summit remains hidden, shrouded amongst clouds carrying secrets and solitude. I, alone with my thoughts, make my way towards the base where a carriage awaits, there to lift me towards my final destination. The first run of the day. Though I hope it will not be my last.

I am swept off my feet, seated now next to strangers. Unfamiliar faces wrapped in layers upon layers of fleece and intrigue. The real estate magnate from Manhattan. The house wife from Westchester. The college bro from Burlington. All walks of life intersecting on a ski lift.

Up up and away we fly. Past snow covered pines and bald faced boulders. The elements of nostalgia are all in place. Like a periodic table from my past with molecules and memories both noble and inert. I swore I’d return. But in that time away I’ve grown unsure. Older too. My courage and cartilage worn down by years of rigor and responsibility. How will my body respond? How will my mind adapt? To the contours of the trail and the limitation of my legs. Perhaps this was a mistake. Maybe I should have stayed in the lodge where it was safe and warm.

But it’s too late. Past the point of no return. As I near the top, the silence turns deafening. Only the sound of skiers below as they turn, twist and carve through the snow like butchers in search of a prime cut of powder. I exit down the ramp and ready myself for the descent. The trail map provides little comfort. From here there is only one direction. Down below, miniature homes and towns nestled safely together between the lakes and hills of the horizon. I exist in a model. A manufactured reality created by man and machine.

My eyes need help adjusting to the altitude. The vertical has me swaying and shifting as if I were standing at the bottom of a large swale of snow and ice. It’s now or never. With the tips of my skis tilting with trepidation I fill my lungs with cold mountain air one final time. I’ll breath again when I get to the bottom.

I start slow, form following functioning. I work my way past the crowd that has congregated at the trail head, obstructing my view of the marker. A black diamond. The most dangerous of shapes. I’m fully committed now, with each turn gaining speed and confidence. My legs burn but my body doesn’t break. I’m in control, until I wasn’t. A patch of ice hiding underneath the face of freshly groomed granules. One ski up, one ski down, for a split second I teeter on the edge of oblivion. With instincts intact I regain my balance. Survival. For the moment.

I allow myself a split second to soak in the surroundings. The tall pines awash in winter white. The early grey fog giving way to a deep blue sky. As the wind whips over my head and shoulders I make sure to appreciate the majesty of the moment. The thrill of the outdoors. The serene beauty of a ski slope. This is what I missed the most.

The bottom in sight, my first trip a success. I take a deep breath and look back at the trail behind. There’s more snow to be had, more skiing to be done. Back up the hill I must go. To the top, where there’s only one direction down.

 

 

 

 

Halvin and Cobbes

Christmas came and went and after the presents had been unwrapped there was one gift remaining. A new bedtime routine courtesy of Calvin and Hobbes.

I don’t know why Santa Claus thought my five year old son would enjoy the misadventures and mayhem of a young boy and his imaginary tiger. Much of the language and irony would be lost on a child so young, so innocent. Perhaps it was the physicality, the slapstick, the exploration. The teachers turning into intergalactic space monsters or the toilets becoming bathtubs. Whatever it was, he took to it instantly. After the first night he asked if tomorrow we could read more “Halvin and Cobbes”. (I still only correct him some of the time.) He isn’t exactly sure when to laugh but finds all the crashing, falling, loud noise making to be uproariously funny. Sometimes I have to remind him to keep his voice down for fear of waking his baby brother, a reality that I instantly lament for what’s being alive if you can’t laugh out loud?

For me, reading Calvin and Hobbes again as an adult is a chance to go back and relive an important part of my childhood when I was a little older than my son is now and would stay up way past my bedtime devouring page after page until my eyes were blurry and cheeks sore from smiling. Back then I idolized Calvin. His freedom. The way he existed without fear, without restraint. I wanted a friend as loyal and honest as Hobbes. A confidant. Someone to share secrets, express fears and doubts, joys and happiness. Their world was one of a never ending daydream and I sometimes wished my childhood could be as exciting and spontaneous. 

Now as a man, more importantly as a father, I get to read along with my son as he is introduced to something that offered me such great joy. My experience today allows me to decode much of the meaning I may have missed the first time around.  Because buried beneath the whimsy of a young boy and his imaginary tiger are complex stories full of sentiment, sophistication and an earnest attempt to tackle life’s biggest questions. What happens when we die? Is their such a thing as true love? And, can a red wagon really move down a hill fast enough to defy gravity?

My five year old son is too young to carry the burden of such existential crises. But I have dealt with loss. I know a heart can break. That tigers can’t talk. 

Yet even now, as a young child, he knows what love is and so do I. And it’s not hidden somewhere on the pages of a comic strip. No the answer to life’s greatest mystery lies in the routine. The hug and the kiss goodnight. The promise that I don’t know what the future holds, none of us do, but I promise you that life has never been better than here with you right now.

Together with our friends Halvin and Cobbes.

The Wait of Gravity

A hole in space offers more questions than answers but the exploration of the unknown remains paramount to understanding our existence.

If gravity can be heard then perhaps it can be harnessed and shaped to create another dimension where space and time are relative.

Life is after all but a series of seconds. Hours. Days. Years. But what if a clock didn’t just move forward but backward as well? The hands of time bent according to the laws of human nature. Survival. Our most primal instinct. Would we choose to change our past or adopt a new future?

Perhaps our greatest mistake is assuming that we remain in control. That destiny and fate are quantifiable, logarithmic functions, downloadable and ready for consumption.

Sadly we remain bound to much more than a reasonable doubt. The limits or our knowledge too often determined by fear and uncertainty.

Therefore now more then ever we must let gravity be our guide to new worlds of knowledge and possibilities. Before time has run out and the wait is no longer.

When Carl Went to Caucus in the Caucasus

 

When Carl went to caucus in the Caucasus he thought he was headed to Iowa but ended up in Georgia instead. The country not the state. Bordering Armenia and Azerbaijan and far, far away from Ames. He stayed in the Trump Tower of Tbilisi. Residents were really nice but wanted to talk Turkey instead. About immigration reform. Mexico? No. Syria, silly, and why build a wall when we live in the mountains?

When Carl went to caucus in the Caucasus he asked about taking a cruise. Locals figured he was crazy since the Caspian’s been frozen since the fall. He tried the pool but got lost talking himself into a corner about Chechnya. “Marco!!!” But Rubio was already somewhere in Cedar Rapids.

When Carl went to caucus in the Caucasus he checked his email on a server somewhere in Russia. The line to Moscow was secure but Carl likes to keep things classified when he can. Communism and socialism are different things but in Des Moines that might not matter much unless the scorched earth campaign can burn bright and hot through the Hawkeye State.