Quite honestly, not my favorite question in the world. By all means, I ask people about their professions, but only after warming up a bit in other areas. I never lead with it that’s for sure.
I view it as an attempt to categorize me right off the bat. If I answer the question that digital marketing is my occupation, most of the older generation (and even my Gen X people) don’t quite know how to quantify that. It would be easier to answer I’m an accountant, real estate agent… something they know and understand. So I get to explain what I do in the internet marketing world, much of the time to squinty eyes.
I honestly view my profession as a tool. I am more than setting up traffic generation and conversion strategies. My heart isn’t completely into all of that and the tech-science that goes into it, but I do like engaging with people and promoting products that actually give value to this world. So I do enjoy it.
The most surprising thing for me in putting this book together, is I have never felt more alive and fulfilled while working on my laptop; far more so than fussing over landing page designs. The long hours seemed to be just minutes as I have struggled to find the clarity required to reach a broad audience mostly unfamiliar with the sport of water polo, to lay the foundation so I can show how water polo could be a metaphor for my life. I have relished this type of explaining more so than describing to a partner the difference between traffic sources or online buying habits based upon demographic marketing principles.
It is also not my intent for you to catch all of my water polo lingo, colloquialisms, and many other references I draw from the era and my diverse background. I do throw a lot at you… it’s like drinking from a firehose. Please just hang with me, especially if you are a female reader because I can't define every single nuance of the sport, all the people involved, or high school life in Southern California in the late 80s. That would take several volumes.
I have certainly reflected on these events throughout the years. Now with a more developed life-view, I have realized how truly unique and extraordinary those days were — I thought everyone had a high school experience like mine! I feel it is a story worth telling with a potentially different takeaway for everyone.
I also have had to reconcile that I was not your stereotypical water polo athlete and embrace that non-athletic side of me as well; that my eclectic homelife, happy go lucky nature, and the high school I attended helped me to be a bit different from everybody else. I try and pass my unorthodox view on life to my kids and I have found that I would even like to share it with you, the reader. Something that has taken me a bit to be completely comfortable with.
Hence, today I don’t like questions that are an attempt to lump me in with a group of individuals or some other type of groupthink; because water polo and my past taught me that I can stand tall just being my unique self.
Even if some people don’t quite get me.
“So, what do you do?”
I have a special attachment to water polo. I had success with it, made lifelong friendships playing it, but I recently discovered that it helped set the foundation for everything that I stand for today.
Time and again I have caught myself daydreaming about those formative years in high school. There was something about that time in my life that leaves me reliving those events so many years later. My discovery came during a difficult time when I was unable to sleep. The details of my polo days became more vivid and engaged me in a search to look more closely at them; to find more reason behind them, like dots that needed connecting. Details like scoring my first goals resurfaced making me smile so I started writing it all down…
The year was 1987.
U2 had just released The Joshua Tree, The Princess Bride was in theaters, I knew every lyric to the Licensed to Ill Album by the Beastie Boys... and I remember screaming down the pool two body lengths ahead of my defender at the start of my first water polo game at Los Amigos High School.
I really wasn’t thinking, just swimming my tail off and that yellow ball landed perfectly in front of me. A great pass that I didn't even have to turn my head for. I gained control.
Now it was just me and the goalkeeper. He looked nervous, all alone with no help in sight. A feeling I would soon understand, but for this go-round, I was the one pulling the trigger.
I remember my initial water polo training from practice: "Always, Always, ALWAYS pick up the ball from underneath the water!". Attempting to grab the ball from the top is like bobbing for apples for a young polo player.
I was on the left side of the pool with the ball up, ready to be fired. I sized up that the keeper was playing square in the middle of the goal and pretty close in. So I shot low and to the corner closest to me. (We call that my "strong-side".)
Clapping, incoherent shouts, and "Nice goal Douglas!" from my surprised teammate resonated in my ears, except it didn't end there.
My buddy Jason made another goalie save that I had anticipated and again I was off to the races in front of my defender. Jason got me another pinpoint pass, impressive for such a young player just learning the position. I was all by myself and looking for my other teammates to pass the ball to, but they were a ways back covered by their defenders.
Their goalie was too far back and in the middle of the cage (again), giving me another way open strong-side shot. I hammer it home for my second goal within the first few minutes of the game.
Rinse and repeat.
My poor defender was having a tough time keeping up with me. His coach called a time out to talk to him and their goalie as they were down two quick goals. I remember the rush of being welcomed back to the huddle with enthusiastic high fives. My teammates and I were then reprimanded for not listening to our coach, distracted by the girls cheering in the stands.
After the whistle, we lined back up to resume the water polo game. Right out of the gates my opponent was attempting to grab hold of me to keep me in check. Instructions undoubtedly given to him during the time out.
I was able to outwrestle him and was off to the races with Jason getting me the ball yet again. Now their goalie had switched up to heavily guarding against my strong-side shot. He did this by coming out of the cage at me a bit more in order to cut down my shooting angle. Again, more adjustments made by the opposing coach.
My preference was to pass and share the wealth with my buddies, but finding myself alone with yet another straight shot on goal with no help defenders, this was my shot to take. (We call this a “one-on-nobody”.) So I sent my third attempt across the cage to the opposite side of the goal's upper corner, out of the reach of the lunging keeper.
High fives, smiles, more shouts from the home crowd.
As the quarter ended, yet again my teammates and I were rebuked for being distracted by the girls shouting at us from the bleachers.
I am able to look back at this moment with affection, and also a certain amount of insight given that I now have a lifetime of water polo experience. I enjoyed a successful collegiate playing career, spent plenty of time coaching and doing specialized goalie clinics. I have also done some time as a referee for the sport. (I didn’t particularly care for that.)
Given a more mature perspective, three major things jump out at me that helped prepare me for this moment:
First, the instinct to transition off a turnover. This had been drilled into me by my dad's passionate basketball training. (It did not come from any early water polo coaching.)
I'll just call him "The Coach".
The Coach was completely enamored with running the fast break and insisted that we were properly drilled in the art. From fourth grade on I was taught to anticipate a turnover or rebound, and sprint down "filling a lane" to one of the sides of the court. Hours upon hours of basketball practice, drills and demanding whistles had prepared me with high court awareness that had translated nicely over to water polo.
Ha! I also remember that most kids my age that played in basketball leagues had the incentive from their folks to score as many points as they could; this would determine how many scoops of Thrifty Ice Cream they got after the game. Not me.
The Coach's reward system was based solely on rebounds, assists, and blocked shots. It didn't matter if I scored 30 points… he wanted me relentlessly defending, hitting the glass and making that extra pass.
In fact, the Coach would give me a complete box of Sees Chocolates if I ever got a foul on defense by being too aggressive boxing out and protecting our own glass. My home-piece I nicknamed “Much” would also earn such a box.
This definitely helped me build a team-first attitude. Sure I liked scoring points, but we were living in Southern California during the Magic Johnson Showtime Lakers era, so passing was cool. My pop’s intensity for basketball definitely helped to fuel me with the determination that is unquestionably needed to play water polo at a high level.
The second reason I was comfortable with water polo out of the gates, was because I was a young surfer. Polo is not a swim meet, it gets ugly. Battling a strong current in the ocean or paddling like mad to get over a wave starting to curl, helped me in getting clear of my defender.
Looking for the ball over my shoulder was just like I was out at Huntington Beach River Jetties tracking down an oncoming wave: elbows high, heavy kick, arched back, with my arms pumping and face out of the water. Almost the exact stroke used to paddle a board in surfing is used in polo, and I had plenty of practice those three summers leading into my freshman year.
Man, I do miss those days.
However, my first endeavors at surfing were abysmal. I would wait for the already broken wave that had turned to whitewash to come and pick me up. Then strained to stand up as the wave was dying out.
I was comparable to a Utah tourist with a rented foam board and a farmer tan attempting to surf for the first time. Not a pretty sight.
During my early days out surfing, I was encouraged by some old dude to, “PADDLE HARD LITTLE MAN!”
I needed to charge after it and not just wait idly for the wave to do the work. Once I figured this out I would try paddling for the wave before it would break, only to be too clumsy in my footwork and have the wave break on me. It sent me crashing and my two-ton, 80s board flying into the air landing on top of my head. Twice in a row.
Hottest thing on the beach, let me tell ya.
Hurt back then, but I am grateful now for those rough lessons in the surf, I never did give up on riding that wave.
Lastly, my love for wrestling prepared me for polo. I had hours and hours of improvised WWF Wrestling on the family trampoline under my belt. This kicked in when the kid was grabbing hold of me anxious to slow me down. I distinctly remember being confused at first thinking: “You could never get away with this blatant holding in basketball. If you wanted to keep a guy in place, you had to do it by boxing him out with your butt... Oh, it is so on!!”
My favorite wrestler was Dino Bravo, known for his epoch smackdowns with the Junkyard Dog. Even today my longtime friends call me “Brav”, taken from Dino Bravo and then shortened a bit.
Another pro wrestler, Sal “Chavo” Guerrero, lived down the street from our Fountain Valley home and I went to school with his kids. A complete legend in the neighborhood. Watching him mow the grass one day, and then turn on the TV Saturday morning and see him slap his chest and throw Roddy Piper into the turnbuckle was completely awe-inspiring. Wrestling was huge with the neighborhood kids and being the only family around with a trampoline, our backyard was often the wrestling venue.
[My man Dino Bravo would get involved with smuggling cigarettes into Canada after his wrestling days, and was allegedly killed in a hit by the Canadian mob. So kids DO NOT attempt the "Sidewalk Slam" on your trampoline, or aim to profit from duty-free cigarette sales.]
Imitating the antics of my favorite wrestlers was second nature. I was able to use that skill set right away in the pool, and it immediately made water polo even that much more endearing to me.
Almost seems impossible that one sport would immediately put to use all of these abilities that I had already developed years beforehand. My Dino Bravo moves, grappling with the waves, and filling the lane for The Coach all came together to give me a powerful introduction to the world of water polo.
I used to think it just came effortlessly to me, but that was not so much the case. I came equipped for that game.
That night back in ‘87... I couldn’t sleep. My mind was wide awake reliving the events of the day, thinking over and over:
“Dude, this sport rules”.
Chapter 1 - 1987
“Creativity is the combination of diligence and a childlike spirit.”
― Robert Greene
Okay, you found someone who will listen to your boring stories. Everything's not an anecdote. You have to discriminate. You choose things that are funny or mildly amusing or interesting. You're a miracle. Your stories have none of that. They're not even amusing accidentally. Honey, meet Brandon Douglas... he's got some amusing anecdotes. And here's a gun so you can blow your brains out! You'll thank me for it. I could tolerate any insurance seminar. For days, I could listen to them go on and on. They'd say, "How can you stand it?" And I'd say, "'Cause I've read Keeper. I can take anything." You know what they'd say? "I know what you mean. The digital marketing guy?" It's like going on a date with a Chatty Cathy doll. There should be a string on your chest that I pull out. Except I wouldn't pull it out, you would! Ah!! Ah!! Ah!! Ah!! By the way, when you're telling these little water polo stories, here's a good idea. Have a point. It makes it more interesting for the reader.
April 5th at 2:05pm
"A complete barrage of 80s imagery."
November 19 at 10:51am
"Actually...I rather liked it.. Um...some of the words I didn't understand, but I found the 80s imagery quite effective. And, um, interesting rhythmic devices which seemed to counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor of the humanity (Vogonity)... of the writer's soul, which contrives through the medium of the verse structure to sublimate, er... whatever it was about."
February 6 at 4:09pm
March 31 at 6:11pm
August 11 at 11:02am
July 22 at 8:37pm
All reviews and testimonials were given without pay or prompting and can be found at the following url: https://www.facebook.com/EngageGlobal/reviews/
Sargeant Nicholas Angel
Teacher - Gross Pointe High
Sergeant Nicholas Angel