April 26, 2007

Kuhls Gives His Final Farewells

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It’s ironic that I have to finally say goodbye to the confines of this 17 X 11 and a quarter inch back page on such an overcast and yet ordinary Ithaca Thursday. Maybe it’s ironic because after I turn in my last few remaining papers during finals week, I will graduate from this place. And maybe, after four years of highs, lows and a mixed bag of emotions, I still wonder if this place is heaven or hell. It’s ironic because I remember setting foot on campus four years ago as an 18 year-old kid with aspirations of graduating from this Ivy League institution as a scholar, a thinker, just someone who stands for something. Someone with balls, someone who goes against the grain, thinks for himself, just anybody that some other person might want to look up to. It’s ironic because I’ve spent a large part of my college career writing stories about other people — about Cornell athletes and coaches, most of whom serve as role models for kids in the Ithaca community as well as in their home-town cities, counties and states. And yet, I feel a little empty and a little guilty because I write this column about myself. After all the ambition, after all the tests, after all the promise, all I can say is that it’s ironic that last night was one of the most horrific and yet pleasant nights of sleep I’ve had in the last four years. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve convinced myself that I’m ready to set foot in the real world, or if it’s the fact that I’m really terrified of uncertainty and perturbed by change. Regardless, all I know is that you don’t have to think about it when you’re asleep. Take it from me, I would know.
It’s a scary thing when you wake up in the fetal position, when you can’t stand up straight, and you’re sweating profusely despite it being only 40 degrees outside. Flashback to four years ago and I remember how hard it was to fall back asleep. I tried everything, counted to 100, counted from 100 back to zero, hell, I even counted to 100 in Spanish — nothing seemed to work.
I used to wake up in the middle of the night for of all different kinds of reasons. For God’s sake, I lived in a triple. Most of the time Doug would snore, so I’d take the hockey stick I used to sleep with and poke him from across the room. Then there was Chris’ computer, which hummed like an air conditioning unit and lit up the claustrophobic prison cell of a dorm room we used to live in with an array of red, yellow and blue lights. Regardless of the distractions, all I can say is that night was not a normal night. I woke up, not from snoring, or a light, or anything else of that sort — I woke up because my body was telling me to.
Given the discomfort, I remember deciding to do something I had told myself I would never do unless it was an emergency — at that point, the pain in my stomach signaled just the case. I staggered, in tribute to Quasimodo, down the ladder of my bunk and quietly made my way to the abandoned lounge.
From there I went to my last resort — I called home.
“Tim, why are you calling? It’s so late,” I remember my mother saying. “You have a test tomorrow. You should be in bed.”
At that moment I remember panicking. I froze. Call it what you will, but for some reason I succumbed to the pressure and did something I still regret to this day. I lied to my mother (sorry Mom).
I told her half the truth. I told her about the sweating, about the not being able to stand up straight. After her endless questions of concern, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I caved in and fibbed. Because of similar grumbling phone conversations previously in the year, I feared one last blow up might make her fly up to Ithaca and “save her son,” — an 18 year-old kid in his first year of college’s nightmare. The fear, the disappointment, the irrationality — all were things I couldn’t bare. Instead of the truth, I said I had taken one too many NoDoz pills, some caffeine loaded capsules that aided with late night studying — crack cocaine to the 2:00 am library hermit, not exactly my type. Regardless, my mother told me to never take any of those pills again. Case closed. We still joke about that night to this day.
The only problem was that there were no NoDoz pills. I was simply at a point where I was lost. I was a small fish in a big pond. I was an Oklahoma boy lost in a world of hills, trees, and New York accents. I went from a place where sports dominated dinner conversations to a place where people debated issues such as the absence of matter in vacuums and the perplexity of the AIDS epidemic. Simply put, I was Dorothy and Ithaca was the Land of Oz.
The next day I realized that the previous night’s episode was thanks to a mind-induced ulcer. I, sad to say, had literally thought myself sick. For the first time in my life I was struggling in school, was away from my family, my high school sport of baseball was no longer a part of my life and in the midst of everything, I was losing my first love to long distance. Add in a meaningless biology test and the cord was severed — I had simply lost it.
Over the next month and a half I had conversations with my parents about transferring from this tiny hill. I was unhappy with the atmosphere, I thought the attitude of the student body was too cut-throat and even though I made some friends, a majority of them were still far different from me. My parents finally gave in and told me to think about transferring over summer. At the start of May I had already made up my mind. I needed out and I needed a place better suited for me.
I found refuge immediately when I came home for the summer. Alas, I was back in my world, on a baseball field, interning for the Oklahoma Red Hawks, the AAA affiliate of the Texas Rangers. Here was my home — a place where people talked in a language of balls and strikes, hits and errors, walks and outs. In an ironic twist of fate, it was here that I received advice that would eventually keep me at Cornell for the next three years.
Upon the first few days of the internship I met the character of all characters. He was a pink tie on a black shirt, someone who immediately commanded attention. He was nothing like me. I, in contrast to the headshot that you have seen on the back page of the Sun for the last two years, came into Cornell plain, lacking confidence and was to some, laid back, soft spoken and his own worst critic. Craig was not like this at all. He spoke out too often, made everyone laugh, wore headbands and aviator sunglasses, but most importantly, adored sports. Craig, to me, was the person at Cornell I was looking for. He was different, a Texas gun slinger with a wild demeanor, but one who spoke my native tongue.
As the summer ended, Craig had heard me bicker about how I didn’t want to leave and come back to this place. Instead of telling me that I was crazy, he just invited me over to his apartment and told me the obvious — I needed to find kids like me — kids who loved sports. He told me to join the newspaper and write about things that I loved. Here, he said, I’d find my niche. The idea was revolutionary. I didn’t care much for sports I didn’t know about, like college hockey, wrestling and volleyball. They weren’t OU football or organized baseball which I had grown up around. Still, it was an interesting proposition. Regardless, I went back to Ithaca, hassled Chris Mascaro and joined the Daily Sun. From there, the rest is history. I found my niche and somehow, grew attached to this place. I didn’t see it coming, but I fell, and I fell hard, for this athletic department and everyone who is a part of it. From the recently departed Deitre Collins and the volleyball team, the thrill of road trips to Yale and Harvard to cover football, to attending nationals (twice) with the wrestling team — all are bonuses to being around the kids who write for this newspaper every day.
This whole column has been in thanks to Craig for the advice he gave me. Whenever you call him on his cell phone, he always picks up and answers “Tim Kuhls, baby,” in a way that only the Big Tymers would truly appreciate. Therefore, the moniker of this column has always been in tribute to him, as are the sunglasses and the sweaty red, white and blue headband made famous on the top of the Oklahoma Redhawks dugout, where a dozen interns were once forced to sing “OKLAHOMA” during the seventh inning stretch for no reason other than it prompted a chuckle and perhaps brought a smile to some person’s face. It doesn’t make sense to anybody else in this world, but for Craig it seems to fit.
This column is ironic because after 120 credits and four years living inside the Cornell bubble, I hardly think of myself as an intellectual, a thinker and, can think of 1,000 other kids on this campus that I’d rather look up to if I were setting foot on the East Hill for the first time all over again. It’s ironic because after I graduate as one of approximately 15,000 or so Ivy Leaguers this year, the truest words of wisdom I’ve come to take to heart are those from an Arrested Development episode in which Michael Bluth tells his son George Michael, “You can’t change who you really are.” And while this statement rings inherently true, I’ve been taught that even though you can’t change who you really are, your perceptions on life can — I guess that’s what some people call “growing up.”
I used to think that this place wasn’t for me because everyone and everything was so different than I was accustomed to. I thought that nobody could relate to my situation, including my parents, friends and faculty. After four years, I’ve learned that what makes this place Cornell isn’t so much its academic and research credentials or prowess, but rather its life source — the student body. Although I came here an ambitious and wide-eyed 18 year-old expecting to find something that is intended to be made, I will leave on May 27th proud of the journey, proud of who I am and proud of what has rubbed off on me. It’s awkward to write this, but because of Cornell I’m a little more Jewish, a little more Indian, a little more Native American, a little more Chinese, and thanks to Carlos, just a hair more Mexican. Thanks to the New Yorkers I’ve learned to be a little more pushy, to the L.A. kids a little more mellow and to the Canadians a little more indifferent. It’s ironic because as much as I’ve told myself this might not be the place best suited for me over the years, maybe all the sudden I’m starting to think this might be why I chose to come here in the first place.
When I was 18, I was once told that Ithaca is a place of gray skies and never-ending winters. I laughed. I was also told that I would never appreciate this place until I was forced to leave it. Ever since this statement has started to ring true, I’ve started sleeping a little better. Still, in knowing that my days here are numbered, I’ve started sleeping a little worse.
Over the past week I have been asked what I will miss most about the Sun. In no particular order, here is what I will miss more than anything: Golf outings with Tsao, Ice luges with Beef, Road trips and twizzlers with the 124th, the ridiculous weekly interviews with Koll in which he’d predict “utter domination,” the predictable interviews with Tom Ford where he’d always relay “if we play to our strengths good things will happen,” and the interviews with Deitre Collins which culminated with me wishing to try on her 1988 Seoul, South Korea Olympics jersey that once hung in her office. I will miss the late night runs to Shortstop, the latest gossip with Olivia Oran and the beloved design girls Claire Ganley and Emily Meyer. I will miss former editor dinners at Rulloff’s and every time I ever talked to Olivia Dwyer (you are my hero). I will miss having girl talk with Testa. I will miss watching Josh Perlin, aka no-look Steve Nash, play intramural basketball. I will miss hearing Per talk about how he loves the Red Sox, Carlos talk about how he loves Per, and every one one of my non-Sun friends talk about how they love Carlos — mostly in reflection of how we all thought he was 30 when we first met him. I will miss the sports section fantasy drafts, most notably the war-room with Pepper. Included, any time Pepper has flipped a lid debating sports: I promise you Bryan, Erik Bedard will be a stud. Add in every Wednesday night at the Sun in which Olivia Oran would make fun of me for raving about Missy Kurzweil while waiting for her to show up, every time I got to flirt with ZZ and any time I forced myself into Fink’s office — I swear I wasn’t wasting time. And lastly I will miss Eliot Singer, who was the only one to admit that my post-midnight concerts were pure gold.
There are many more memories, but most we can’t print for the general public.
With these memories in mind, there are many people I have to thank. I won’t be able to include everyone, so if your name is not on this list, see to it that thanks are much better in person and that you are certainly not forgotten.
Mom, Dad and Erin: I know I don’t say it as often as I should, but words on a piece of paper can’t say how thankful I am for all your support. Thank you for believing in me, for always having something to say, good or bad, and of course, for paying the bills. You are my real editors. And Erin, sorry about jinxing Georgetown.
Doug, Chris, Michelle, and the 514/Class of ’26 crew: I can’t say enough about you guys. It’s wild, but who would have thought we all would have made it. Here’s to jumping off balconies, Mr. Brightside, strobe lights and too many memories we will never remember. Best of times my friends.
Anne, Becky, Nicole, K-Daves and Julia: Thanks for reading, or at least for pretending to read. And for picking out every mistake our editorial board ever made … which happened to be way too many. You are a dime a dozen, and if it weren’t for all of you, I don’t know where I’d watch Grey’s Anatomy or use facebook.
Tim “Mama” Cass, J.P., Mark Rice and lovers of Buffalo sports everywhere: Regardless of what ESPN or any other city’s obnoxious fans will tell you, we will win a Stanley Cup or a Super Bowl someday. Loving something just means that you make whatever it is so important, it in return has the ability to hurt you. Given that sentiment, the world exists in polar opposites: north and south, black and white, good and bad, bitter and sweet. In order to appreciate one, you have to have the other. That’s why when Daniel Briere finally lifts that Stanley Cup over his head, or when J.P. Losman finds Lee Evans down field for a 50-yard touchdown pass to finally lift the Bills to victory in the NFL’s only game on the first weekend of February, for us, it will be the best tasting “sweet” any sports fan has ever savored. That’s why we love, breathe, live and die Buffalo sports.
Brian Tsao, baby: Thanks for being too good a guy, a friend and a mentor. You made it happen and somehow, it turned out OK. You never came back to play golf, which means I’m taking the title by default. Go Redbulls, hope to see you soon.
Olivia Dwyer, Carlos, Gorman, Pepper and Paul Testa: I don’t know how we made it, but we’re all still alive and somewhat sane. Olivia, New Zealand is too far away for me, and Paul, you better keep close. I will always need a life advisor. Pepper, for you I give the “bird sign” and remember that you will always be my outlet when I drive deep into the lane. Gorman, I can’t believe we didn’t start hanging out sooner. Carlos, two words: Shake n’ bake.
Mascaro, Per, Owen and Kyle: Beef, you are greatly missed. Thanks for giving me an opportunity. Sounds stupid, but the Sun was always more fun with you around. Per, for teaching me how to write and how to hate the Red Sox with a greater passion. And how to hate the Yankees even more for that matter. Kyle, thanks for the California pride. It sounds wild, but I wanted this more than anything after you wrote the Orange Bowl column — I ended up leaving that game after halftime because it was so devastating. You are a legend, bro. Owen, you trained me and gave me opportunities for which a thank you will never suffice. Thanks for everything.
Erica Fink and Michael Morisey: Erica, you sparked this all. Thanks for being the first Jewish person I ever met, and for making me love them. Michael, our admiration for Red Bull will never die. Don’t try to fight it. We always have safety in numbers.
Harrison, Lance, Cory and Josh: You guys are the new studs. You’ve worked hard and you’re more impressive than our board ever was. Keep it up and remember to continue the Sparks tradition that the all-legend former assistant sports editor E.J. Hullverson once handed down to me. That and remember the tradition to love the design girls.
ZZ, Emily and Claire: Again, I can’t say enough. You left us this semester and I can’t believe I have to say goodbye with only ZZ on campus. Thanks for being yourselves, for answering the emails, and for putting up with all my crap at the Sun. ZZ, you know how I feel about you. Everyone does — we’re linked forever.
Olivia Oran, the two Rebeccas, Hoffman, Will, Eliot, Liebs, Rob, and the rest of the 124th: Good times my friends. Keep in touch or I will follow you with bad intentions.
Noel Jr., Koll, the wrestling coaches, Ford, Deitre Collins, Knowles, Lou Duesing, Nathan Taylor and the rest of the athletic department: Thanks for letting me into your offices to talk sports and hang out over the years. It’s made a lasting impression. I am forever grateful.
The rest of the athletes and friends I’ve made through the Sun or otherwise who have ever said anything nice to me over the past four years: Thank you for everything. You’ve made this happen.
Tim Kuhls is a former Assistant Sports Editor. He can be contacted at [email protected]. Thats Kuhl’s Baby appeared on alternate Thursdays.