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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Don't Tell Me The Odds

This post is also on Heroes For My Son.

I just love this story about the one person out of four million who picked the perfect bracket. It's so simple. So perfect. And it just defies the odds.

There is no impossible (don't tell my son that -- he's still pissed he got a few wrong).

From ESPN.Com

Autistic teen picks perfect bracket
By Eamonn Brennan

ESPN's Tournament Challenge is currently hosting 4.78 million -- yes, million -- 2010 NCAA tournament bracket entries. After two rounds, not a single one of them is perfect . But the feat has, miraculously enough, been accomplished.

Who did it? His name is Alex Herrman, and he's a 17-year-old student at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, Ill., one of Chicago's north suburbs. Herrmann, who is autistic, picked all the wild upsets you and I didn't see happening. UNI over Kansas. Ohio over Georgetown. Cornell over Wisconsin. Your bracket may have survived. Your bracket might be good. Herrmann's bracket is 100 percent perfect.

"It's amazing," Hermann said. "I'm good at math. I'm kind of good at math and at stats I see on TV during the game."

Alex entered the bracket on's bracket challenge. CBS did not return several phone calls to confirm entries into its game. His 24-year-old brother Andrew, who helped him enter his picks into CBS' bracket manager, also entered the contest -- and ranks behind 500,000 other people.

“My bracket is totally shot,” his 24-year-old brother Andrew said. “So is everyone else I know.”

Us too, Andrew. Us too.

In case you needed the visual proof, NBC Chicago has the PDF right here . Another fun fact: According to Book Of Odds , the chances of picking the first two rounds of this NCAA tournament are one in 13,460,000, which means you have a better chance of winning the lottery twice over.

Two rounds is incredibly impressive, obviously, but the next step is seeing if Alex's picks can go the distance. Can he complete the holy grail? Can he seal the perfect bracket? Herrmann's Final Four is a bit dubious -- he has Tennessee coming out of the Midwest and Purdue overcoming the Robbie Hummel injury to make it out of the South -- not to mention the fact that the odds of attaining a perfect bracket are 1 in 35,360,000,000. (Or, according to Book Of Odds, "almost 18 times worse than your odds of being killed by a waterspout in a year [1 in 1,988,000,000]." So, um, yeah.) But doubting Alex now means doubting the one person who managed to get the entire bracket correct. In other words, I'm not going to do it.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My First Love

Today is my 15th wedding anniversary. But more insane, it's been 25 years since I met her in junior high. And so, in honor of my love Cori, I love pulling out this old story...

My First Lady
By Brad Meltzer

Our story starts like this: She was the captain of the cheerleaders; I had just moved to Florida from Brooklyn. She was wavy hair, green eyes, and a red scrunchie; I was in puberty. She was popular; I was unknown. She was beautiful; I was entranced. She liked to laugh; I was (somewhat) funny. In time, we met. I was fifteen.

Like most of us at that age, I really didn't think I would marry the person I was taking to my junior high school prom. I was far more concerned with the pressing questions of that now-gone time: Can I afford this limo? Does my hair have enough mousse in it? And if I pin the corsage on her chest, does that mean I got to second base? Even though the answer to all these questions was yes, I still didn't think we were going to get married. Why? Because of the most obvious assumption that currently exists about high school sweethearts: They never get married.

Scoff if you must, but the assumption is real. To prove it, I conducted my own independent survey. Randomly dialing seven-digit phone numbers, I called five people and said to them: "I married my high school sweetheart. What's your reaction?" The responses were as follows:

FIRST PERSON: "Who cares?"

SECOND PERSON: "Who is this?"

THIRD PERSON: "I'm not answering that."

FOURTH PERSON: "Who is this?"

FIFTH PERSON: "What are you doing a survey for?"

Clearly, not a single person believed I had married my high school sweetheart. But quite honestly, I don't care.

When I first met her, Cori was fourteen. Today, she's twenty-six. We've been dating the entire time. Corny? Yes. For real? Absolutely. Make you sick? Perhaps. But whenever I tell people we're high school sweethearts, the reactions are surprisingly similar. They go something like this:

FEMALE STRANGER: "Oh, that is so wonderful. I love hearing stories like that."

SELFISH MALE STRANGER: "I hate to say it, but that's pretty cool." (Subtext: "I wish you were dead.")

NORMAL MALE STRANGER: "Wow, that's great. That's really great." (Subtext: "I wish you were dead.")

The questions people ask me about our relationship also tend to be similar. Roughly generalized, they are usually one (if not all) of the following: (1) When did you know she was "the one"? (2) Don't you feel like you missed out? And (3) How did it happen?

And now, so you don't actually have to find someone who married his high school sweetheart, here are the answers.

QUESTION 1: When did you know she was "the one"?

ANSWER: The moment I saw her. When she walked past my history class, I was immediately smitten. But did I know at that exact moment that she would be my wife? Did I imagine the wedding and the reception and the four unreturnable Crock-Pots? Of course not. All I knew was that I wanted to know her. I wanted to be near her. I wanted her to know me. And that's how it is for many couples today: Whether they've known each other for twelve years, twelve minutes, or twelve seconds, first contact was more visceral than cerebral. When I first saw Cori, I wanted to meet the cheerleader. It wasn't until I graduated from college that I knew I wanted to be with her forever.

QUESTION 2: Don't you feel like you missed out?

ANSWER: Nope. In college, (I went to Michigan; she went to Harvard), we put our relationship to the real test and decided to see other people ­ to make sure we knew what we were missing. If we were going to get married, the last thing we wanted to do was look back at our college years and say, "Damn, why didn't we take advantage of that?" Like most living, breathing human beings, we wanted to lick the lollipop of life. So we did.

It wasn't easy. Although we never broke up, I didn't visit her when she was dating someone else, and she didn't visit me when there was someone I was seeing. Without question, it was the hardest and worst part of our relationship. If I called her room on a Saturday night and no one answered, she got the interrogation on Sunday morning. If she couldn't reach me, I got the same.

When I look back on it, it was a twisted game—a sort of self-inflicted agony that was endured for an unguaranteed future opportunity. But what an opportunity. And when our four years were over, the experiment complete, I had my answers: Other women were always fun, and usually attractive, and sometimes wild, but none of them made me laugh like Cori. None of them made me as angry as Cori. None of them made me as happy as Cori. They may've been nice and cute and pretty and all the other positive adjectives, but none of them could ever touch me, down to my core, like Cori.

QUESTION 3: How did it happen?

ANSWER: To me, this question is the most interesting of the three. Not just because of what it asks, but how it's asked. When people ask Question 1, their tone is one of natural curiosity. When they ask Question 2, their tone expresses disbelief—as if they can't accept the fact that anything can ever be that perfect. But Question 3 is usually asked with a heaping dose of delighted—and sometimes envious—amazement.

In today's world of fractured and hard-to-find relationships, people seem genuinely excited by the idea that a couple could last through the awkward and mercurial stage of life known as teenagedom. As if somehow the existence of high school sweethearts means that stability and commitment and true love are indeed possible for all of us. And that society's quest for simpler ideas and times will finally, joyfully, be achieved. In this third question, people aren't just asking, "How did you do it?" They're also asking, "How can I do it, too?"

So how did we do it? Like most relationships, ours took time to progress. There was no single, magical, warm, mushy, fuzzy-bunny, Hollywoodized moment. Slowly, over time, we stepped forward together. I knew I loved Cori's laugh, and the way she completes my sentences, and the way she looks when she wakes up in the morning, and the way she picks a fight when she disagrees with someone. But is that what makes a good relationship? Of course not. True love is more than a few trite examples.

Eventually, I simply realized that no matter how many women I dated—no matter how interesting, no matter how pretty, no matter how new and exciting they were—none of them could offer me what my high school girlfriend offered me. Unlike my college flings, Cori knew me in a way no one else ever could. She knew my history. This history, however, can't adequately be explained in a mushy narrative. It takes an anecdotal narrative to do it justice. So here goes:

  • My wife and I were driven to our first date by my parents.
  • She knew (personally) all of my high school friends.
  • She knew me when I wore parachute pants.
  • She knew (personally) all the people I didn't like in high school.
  • She knew me when I liked Journey.
  • I saw The Breakfast Club with her (in the theater, smart guy).
  • I was there the day she got her license.
  • We studied for the SAT together.
  • She helped me paint signs when I ran for student government president.
  • She was in the car when I got my first speeding ticket (the cop called my parents—it was a laugh riot).
  • I knew her when she was into that Flashdance look.
  • We celebrated together the day I was accepted to college.
  • She knew my dad when he had hair.
  • She was there when the captain of the football team wanted to beat me up.
  • She was there when my grandfather died.
  • We went to the senior prom together.
  • I was her first; she was mine.

Years ago, when I graduated from college, my roommate and I loaded up a U-Haul and drove our belongings to Boston. On the way, we stopped by his parents' house in Dix Hills, New York. I had known him for four years. He was my best friend from college. I knew most of his fears, hopes, and dreams. Without question, I knew who he was. But it wasn't until I walked into his house and saw the room where he grew up that I finally understood where he came from.

Not only did I experience the smell and texture and reality of his childhood—I also saw the pieces of his earlier years: the dozens of trophies he'd won on the track team (he gave up running when he left for college), the clothes he used to wear (lots of suspenders), even the Knight Rider poster that still hung on his wall (hey, we all had a freaky stage). For all of us, the minutiae of our childhoods are the building blocks of our current identities.

For my wife and me, and for most high school sweethearts, the results are the same. Since we met at such a young age, our identities are intertwined. We've spent most of our years together and internalized the word "we." Indeed, our wedding was perhaps the best allegory for our relationship. When we were married, no one asked, "Bride's side or groom's side?" There were no "sides." Because we'd been together so long (twelve years, for those keeping score), there wasn't a person there who didn't know us as a couple.

Does it mean we're more in love? No. Do we understand each other better than most couples? Not necessarily. Do we have better sex? Maybe (think cheerleading skirt). Do we have a better relationship than every other couple on the planet? Doubtfully. In truth, marrying your high school sweetheart is kind of like spending the day with a longtime friend. You have multitudes of shared experiences. So if you pick the right person, you're going to have more to laugh about; if you pick the wrong person, your day is going to suck. Period.

Whenever I meet someone new, I love asking about his or her childhood: where they grew up, where they went to school, what their first job was, what their parents were like. We're not all just the sum of our individual experiences. But if you find out that your girlfriend used to dig the Smurfs, you're probably going to be standing in line at a few too many Disney movies.

As for me and my wife, our twenty-year high school reunion was last year. Neither of us dreaded it. I didn't need to give her the lowdown on everyone; she didn't have to introduce me to everyone she encountered. With my wife, I share my unwritten history. And because of that, she already knows I used to dig the Smurfs.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Send This One To Your Grandmother

This blog is also posted on Heroes For My Son.

When I was little, my Grandmother used to take me to the library. She's the one who introduced me to all those books. Her and all those librarians.

So here's a new hero that someone sent me over the weekend... Boy, I feel like Casey Kasem doing a long distance dedication. But I used to love those dedications, so...this one goes out to Seth.

From: Seth Moore

My Hero: My grandma

For as long as I've been able to remember (though not my entire life), by grandpa has been restricted to a wheelchair. There was no great accident that made him this way, but rather a rare, incurable disease called attaxia. Attaxia eats away at the region of the brain controlling motor functions, slowly causing the victim to become paralyzed, be incapable of speech, and eventually leads to choking to death.

As of today, he is losing his awareness, though whether that is from the disease or just aging, I'm not sure. He sleeps nearly 20 hours a day, and eats very little. I suppose he is a little more "manageable" now than he used to be, but my grandma has never thought of him in that light.

I am 20 years old. I have never once heard her say a negative comment toward him. She worships him, always praising him for what a wonderful man he is, for his integrity, for how much he loves for her given the limited means he has for expressing it. She considers her task of caring for him to be the greatest calling God could give her.

She prays with him daily. She reads the Bible to him because he is no longer able to hold a book steady or turn the pages. He is always the most lucid with her. He is never a burden.

If all of this were not enough, my aunt has the same disease. While she is obviously younger, it progressed in her much more quickly and at a younger age. Sadly, her husband does not consider caring for her to be the joy that my grandmother finds. After years of emotional abuse and neglect, my aunt finally separated from him to live with my grandparents. Grandma cares for both her husband and her daughter.

It was about a year ago that my grandparents and my aunt moved from their lifelong home an hour from my family to a new home twelve hours north. Another daughter/sister lives up there with her family, and she is an RN. They now live in the best assisted living complex I have ever seen, and life is so much easier. My uncle comes over every morning to sit my grandpa up, strap him to a machine to move him to his wheelchair, help bathe him, dress him, take him to the restroom. But in the end, it all comes back to my grandma and her almost stubborn loyalty to this man.