Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Wolf Hunter

Okay, I am officially obsessed with Rocky Smart's recent (and very manly) foray to Mongolia to hunt wolf.  I'm pretty sure I won' t rest until I make this trip. 
The following poster says it all for me. 
About 30 years ago (and before I even knew the term "bucket list") I made a list of adventures to do before I die.  I called this list "Darrell's Big List."  I made progress on completion of this list in recent years because I had the money and freedom to travel.  That was until Rocky started blogging about the blow-your-mind-cool things he is doing. I feel like I will never be able to die because my list (which now includes wolf hunting in Mongolia) just keeps getting longer.  

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Pride of Puglism

People my age have questioned the wisdom of continuing to be engaged in pugilistic endeavors such as wrestling and Brazilian jujitsu.  The following might explain my addiction to pugilism:  Growing up, my older brothers were great baseball players.  I, on the other hand, sucked pond water when it came to baseball.  I knew I was terrible because I once over heard my Little League coaches strategizing, "Maybe if we put Smart in Center field he will have support from both sides and the damage will be minimized."  Ouch! Words like that can leave a mark for life.  Knowing that baseball was not in the cards for me, I thought maybe I would try my hand at basketball, after all we played almost everyday on our back yard court.  I could hold my own in this venue.  However, when I went out for the team at Lincoln Junior High School it became apparently that the only reason I could hold serve on our back yard court was because no one ever called fouls.  A foul had to be pretty obvious to be recognized as such at 1807 South 3rd East; and by obvious, I mean it needed to involve maiming, freely flowing blood or disfigurement.  I was shocked when I played for the first time at my junior high school and was told that charging was a foul.  I thought, "How else am I going to get close enough to the hoop to make a shot if I don't bull rush whose ever guarding me?"  I mused, "That's just a crazy rule." In fact, it wasn't until I went home and complained to my dad about how they were calling the game at school that I learned the truth about this well guarded basketball secret called "charging."   When it was settled in my mind that this rule was, in fact, going to be enforced and that I was likely to be whistled every time I ran down the court for some ticky-tacky touching foul, I reasoned, "Dude, you gotta find a new sport!  You absolute stink at baseball; you're pretty small for football; and apparently you are certain to consistently foul out in basketball."  I was pretty disappointed.  That is, until I walked into the wrestling room for the first time. 

My introduction to wrestling, and my first sight of the wrestling room must be described in some detail to appreciate the significance of this event.  My first recollection of wrestling was walking with a group of shirtless 7th graders into the poorly lit, dingy wrestling room in the basement of Lincoln Junior High School.  The mat was a relic--a grayish coarse canvas cover, the consistency of sandpaper with horsehair stuffing, the surface of which was about as soft and inviting as worn concrete.  I describe the mat as grayish because no one really knew the original color of the canvas.  It had areas that were pinkish and yellowish, extant remnants of blood and urine, we supposed.  It had differing sizes of mysterious and random black and red spots in amoeba like shapes; but mostly it was just filthy shades of gray.  The edges were so tattered and worn that the rough horse hair padding was spilling out onto the mat, and had been littered over much of the canvas, creating an itchy, miserable surface.  The mat burns that we dished out and received on this mat were horrific. 

On the mat we were instructed to wear a jock strap, shorts and socks.  Coach Kotter sternly explained to us, "Everyone needs to wear socks; we don't want your stinking feet dirtying up the mat!"  Honest!  I am not making this up.  While I have exaggerated many things in life, my description of the wrestling environment at Lincoln Junior High School is a remarkable exercise in journalistic restraint.  This mat was so dangerous and filthy that it's impossible to accurately and completely describe the health and safety risks it posed.  The wrestling/boiler room at Mingo Junction High School in the movie Takedown was a muted representation of what I faced on day-one of wrestling at Lincoln Junior High School.

Coach Kotter taught us three essential moves, guaranteed to defeat any opponent:  a double-leg takedown (to get our opponents to the mat), a half-nelson (to turn our opponents), and a stand-up (to get away).  I'm dead serious when I state that he only taught 3 moves.  However, it was not the paucity of instruction that was so shocking, but rather how it was taught.  The following was the entirety of the double-leg takedown instruction:  With great confidence he declared, "To take down any opponent you use what I like to call a double-leg takedown.  To execute this move you tackle your opponent so fast and so hard, and then violently drill him to the mat so that he can't defend your attack.  Works every time."    We then divided into partners (not necessarily by size or weight) and took turns smashing each other into the canvas.  The half-nelson instruction was pretty much the same:  "Make a lever with your strong arm by going under his arm and over his head.  You then pry and drive him against the canvas until you either break his neck or he turns over--his choice.  Works every time."  We then took turns on the crowded mat with the same mismatched partners and tried to break each others' neck with our newest weapon, "the half-nelson." 

Finally, the most frightening bit of instruction was the stand-up:  "On the whistle, just jump to your feet and throw elbows as hard as you can.  Swing 'em hard enough to break teeth.  He'll let go of you.  Works every time."  Following this instruction, the mayhem began in earnest.  My criticism of Coach Kotter's instruction was not its lack of technical precision, but rather its lethal effectiveness.  You see in 1969, Lincoln Junior High School was full of sociopathic idiots. For them, this type of instruction was a license to maim and kill.

It was in this Mad Max like environment that I learned to wrestle.  If you wanted to score points and win, you executed everything with bad intentions.  The blood flowed freely in those chaotic practices.  There were no rules governing bleeding. We just proudly bled on each other.   I remember many times showering and watching the pink water wash away in a cleansing ritual that was almost spiritual in nature.  I had battled, and whether it was my blood or the blood or my opponent, it hardly mattered.   Technique meant nothing at Lincoln Junior High School--it was more like street fighting in gym shorts and I loved it. I knew I was in a very special place.  I felt that I belonged.

I loved the sheer physicality of wrestling--the steely taste of blood in my mouth, the stinging sweat in my eyes and the burning in my lungs.  Despite a total lack of technical instruction, I started figuring things out.  I had a natural feel for how to beat stronger and bigger opponents.  I went home and dreamed about wrestling. I would play out scenarios in my mind and how I could do things that might help me win.   I soon discovered that I could beat everyone in the room.  It was the only sport in which I had ever excelled.

Over the years, I have come to discover the pride of pugilism.   In addition to wrestling, I dabbled in Judo and boxing, but it was always wrestling that held sway for me.   I took pride in the pain, the meanness and the physicality of the sport.  I came to see the beauty in the dance of pain that is wrestling--it is technical and complex on one level, and yet at its core, is essentially a contest of brute strength and speed.  And then there is the strength-to-weight-ratio-battle that plagues every pugilist.  Wrestling cannot be truly appreciated until you have cut weight.  There's not room in this post to blog about the mental battles involved in cutting weight, but suffice it to say, that cutting weight is a lonely walk that demands a level of sacrifice that only pugilistic competitors can appreciate.  Yes, gymnasts cut weight, but wrestlers (and other pugilists) do this in the context of daily physical beatings in a room full of tough competitors who want nothing more than to see you fail.  

I believe the evolution of pride for wrestlers begins with the inescapable realization that after all the hard work and pain and sacrifice, that socially we are still viewed as a pariahs, outcasts and misfits.  Wrestling is not pretty to watch and everyone (including wrestlers) knows it.    While everyone respects wrestlers, no one other than wrestlers love this sport.  They don't watch it; they don't follow it; they just don't care.  While wrestlers might well complain and ask,  "Why are we not appreciated?  Why are we always underfunded?  Why do we invariably get the crappy schedules and worst equipment?", they eventually take pride in their status as second class citizens.  "Give us your worst, and you will see our best!" they chant.  Wrestlers (and I believe pugilists in all forms) are a very prideful group.  They treat every disrespectful comment as a challenge and every criticism as a personal affront. When people push, we push back. 

So, when friends question my sanity, I don't expect anyone other than a fellow pugilist to understand.  All I can do is shrug and blame it on the stubborn pride of pugilism-- you see, I would rather have my face beat in, or have it pounded on the canvas mat in the basement of Lincoln Junior High School, than yield even a single point.  


Exhibit A, Rughead circa 1972

Exhibit B, Rughead circa 1973

Exhibit C, Rughead circa 1974

Sans rughead circa 2012
When Shea had longer hair, Sheila and I were often asked about his beautiful curly mop, "Where did that come from?"  Snick has fielded similar questions about Evelyn, "That's some pretty crazy hair!  Who'd she get that from?"  The answer is always the same: "Darrell."  The reaction to this bit of information is invariably a look of incredulity.  So as proof positive that I once sported
 an unruly rughead, i.e.., a loose, seldom-needed-to-be-combed Afro for much of my adolescence, I offer exhibits A, B and C. 
In those days I actually cared about my do, and accordingly demanded critically important hair care products to insure the right scent, body and look for my hair.  Now, Gillette Fusion razors every third day is all I need.  I'm happy knowing that I'm saving a lot of time and money by being follicle challenged. More importantly, I'm relieved that I never have to worry about a bad hair day.  However, the reality is that at times I truly miss my hair.  And if by some miracle it was immediately restored, you better believe that I'd be rocking the rughead just like I did between 1972 and 1975! 

Evelyn--3rd Generation Rughead.

Shea--2nd Generation Rughead
The rugheads just chilling.


Saturday, December 21, 2013


I used to tell a mighty fine story.  It's part of my heritage.  My earliest memories of story telling was my Grandpa Smart--Hezekiah Bayliss Smart, who has become the namesake of a number of recent births in our family.  My brother Ricker perfected the yarn.  He could tell a story better than anyone I ever met.  Telling stories is an important part of who we are as Smarts. In truth, we live life to its fullest.  We fear little and will try anything once.  We then gather and entertain each other with stories, which are mostly truthful.

The key to telling a good story is to include enough truth to make it believable, but exaggerate enough to make it interesting.  You know, kind of like a Hollywood blockbuster movie that is based upon a real life event.  Fact:  I was bitten by a lion cub while in Japan on my mission.  Over the years I have regaled many with this story in its exaggerated form of how I was attacked by a lion.  Unfortunately, this story will now probably never be repeated. I have been silenced!  Let me explain.

My nephew Rocky, whose chin is more square and jutting than mine, whose hair is ruggier and more full than mine, and who is, in every way more manlier than I could ever imagine being, recently blogged about an experience in Outer Mongolia that without exaggeration was so spectacular that all I am left with is lame anecdotes.  The simple version of the story is that Rocky traveled from Bangkok, Thailand to the steppes of Asia, somewhere in Mongolia, stalked and killed a wolf.  Then with a condescending wink to all of us wanna-bes, dispatched the wolf's still warm testicles.  After this story, I've got nothing to say.  Nope. Nara.

Imagine the embarrassment of me telling my marginally interesting story of being bitten by lion and in walks Rocky.  Immediately, everyone would interrupt and demand that Rocky tell his Hemmingwayesque tale of wolf hunting in the remote wilderness of Asia.  He would start with the remarkable trip from Bangkok to the steppes of Asia.  This in itself would involve a story reminiscent of the Ricker. He would describe the personalities of his insane and wildly interesting guides with such detail, that all in the room would feel as though we had been dropped right into the middle of an Alistair McLean novel.  He would then describe his interactions with these crazy characters in a manner that would allow him to weave other past experiences from his travels in Asia and South America and Europe such that his tale would become a series of stories within stories. Finally, this epic story would reach a crescendo with his telling of he how he, with alacrity and aplomb, ate the testicles of the wolf he had just stalked and killed.  If you have killed a wolf and eaten its testicles regardless of the location, the Dos Equis front man has got nothing on you.  No one in the room can compete at this moment. Yep. we've got nothing. At this point every man in the room is totally emasculated. 

In the aftermath of this story, I would be so afraid someone in room would recall,"Hey, Darrell weren't you telling us about being attacked by a lion?  Why don't you finish that story?"  Talk about anti-climatic! Even if I told my now obviously lame lion story, it would seem so small and insignificant by comparison. I would run the risk of having to admit that it was actually a very small lion and that I was not scarred in the encounter.  Trust me, a story about a simple bite from a lion cub that did not place you in jeopardy of injury or death is not a story worthy of telling when a manly man walks in the room and he has just killed a wolf and eaten its testicles.   So until I have lived some more, I am definitely silenced. 

The details of Rocky's amazing story can be found at http://looksmartbesmart.blogspot.com/.

Above is the picture of me being attacked by a lion circa 1976. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bees Know!

My little helper Cole.  He smokes the bees while I work. 

The first year bounty from my most amazing and diligent little bees.
I recently extracted honey from my beehive.  It was a miracle really.  I'm not sure I did anything right.  When I really felt lost, I would simple go to You Tube and watch a couple of videos on how to do anything beekeeping related.  So to all those naysayers, aka Sheila Hague Smart, who thought I would be a lousy beekeeper, all I can say, is "Ha! Told ya so!"

Okay, in fairness to the She-Wolf, it's true that I rarely read directions for anything.  Furthermore, beekeeping is very technical and requires detailed research and massive amounts of reading to be successful. So the likelihood that I would successfully harvest anything other than a bunch of bee stings was pretty remote. I'm sure she felt secure in her prediction that this would be a waste of time and money; and although her assumptions were based entirely upon a foundation of solid facts and historical precedents, in the end she was oh so wrong.  I harvested 36, 4 oz. bottles of beautiful, sweet honey. 

I would like to believe that I possess natural instincts to be a beekeeper.  In the end I think the only 4 videos on YouTube that I actually watched must have really mattered.  Either that or my bees are simply world class.  My guess? The later.  Honestly, I felt a special connection with my bees.  As I worked my perennial flower beds throughout this past Spring and Summer, I marveled as my bees would diligently go from one major bloom to the next.  Every time a new set of blooms came on, there were my bees, organized and happily working.  It seemed magical to me.   To the casual observer it's obvious what bees do, but when you are responsible for them, you take particular notice of the little things--things so complex and inexplicable that you stand in awe at the power and mystery of nature. 

It's not always the case that a first year beekeeper will get to harvest honey, but because I had a completely full second super.  (A super is a box stacked on the hive where the bees can store excess honey for the winter.), I felt confident that I could harvest from the top super.  I left them a complete box of honey and am hopeful this will get them through the winter. 

When I predicted to the She-Wolf that by the end of the summer my hive would likely be home to 20,000+ bees she threatened me, "None of my grandchildren better get stung, or you'll be answering to me!"  (I took this threat seriously because of its tone, but also due to the fact that it involved the She-Wolf's grandchildren.)  In the end, the only one who got stung was Sheila.  Somehow I just think my amazing little bees know who loves them and who doesn't.