Friday, March 21, 2008

The Season - Part I

I have decided to post a story in serial form for the next few days. The story is too long for one post, so I am breaking it up into three parts. Our lives are influenced by so many things when we are young, but we never consciously think of them until we are adults. Why are we like we are? Why do we think the way we do? Many of these answers come from the examination of our lives as youngsters. I hope you can relate.

My method is to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. - George Bernard

The Beginning - Part I

Sweat dripped off of Roy Bond’s oily teen face. It glistened in the bright September sun. The temperature was still in the high 90s in south Florida. The registration line stretched from one end of the school to the other. The hallways were open and ran along the exterior of the building. Roy was leaning out to see how much further he had to go when someone stuck a permission form in his hand. Turning, he stared at the slender man with the crew cut.
“Son, get you parents to sign this form, and report to the field house tomorrow for a football physical.”
“But…” His stammering response fell short of the back of the man’s head. The speaker continued down the long line with another man following close behind. They were dressed alike in Khaki shorts and matching purple shirts. Both had whistles hanging from cords around their necks. They sized up each male in the line. If they had any size at all, they repeated the short speech and handed them a form.
Golfview Junior High School opened its doors just two years before. Roy stood in line to register for the ninth grade. The school sat between an affluent golfing community, Golfview, and the infamous South Gate, a place where the railroad tracks literally marked the boundary between the fortunate and the unfortunate. A few kids, including Roy, lived in a semi-rural area near the school. Both of Roy’s parents worked and had no time for golf.
He stared at the form in his hand and wondered about the possibility of playing football. Roy weighed 165 pounds, but most of it was baby fat. Very few kids in his neighborhood ever played any organized sport other than baseball. Still, the thought of putting on a football uniform and running onto the field in front of cheering fans excited him. Sweat continued to streak down his cheek as he waited in the slow moving line, but Roy didn’t notice. He dreamed of stardom. In the past, only the well-to-do kids played football at Golfview. The school win/loss record was dismal.
That evening when his dad got home, Roy gave him the insurance card and permission form.
“Dad, can I go out for football?”
Before he could answer Roy’s mother said, “You’re in the band.”
“I could do both.” He countered.
“You’ve never played football.” She said, looking at her husband for some support.
His dad was an athlete: a champion boxer in the Navy. Roy could sense that his dad was on his side.
Roy remembered how his dad tried to prepare him for life. It all started in grammar school. Roy was really too young to start school. He still had his baby teeth. But there he was at school, back against the wall, trying to avoid contact with strangers. A large boy stood in front of him looking down at his upturned face. His stare was unfriendly.
“What are you looking at?” The large boy asked...
“Uh, you look sleepy.” Roy said.
Apparently he took offense at Roy’s retort and pounded him into a submissive blob. This was his first encounter with a bully. His dad later told him that crying and rolling into a ball was not an acceptable defense tactic. He tried to teach him the “sweet science”, but Roy was left handed, and a bit of a bumble foot, so he progressed slowly and avoided physical confrontation. By the end of elementary school he gained some confidence, but, just when he began to feel comfortable, Junior High School started. The process had to be repeated.
His dad looked at him and then back at his mother. “Let’s let him tryout.”
His mother turned away in defeat. Roy started in on the usual list of promises related to what he would do if allowed to play. Dad signed the form.
The next day Roy stood in front of the concrete block field house with a great host of other potential players. Three major groups huddled in separate areas around the front steps. The kids from Golfview community stood nearest the door. Most of them had played before. Another group from South Gate milled around in the shade of a nearby palm tree. This group smelled strongly of cigarette smoke and Vitalis hair tonic. Roy didn’t know the South Gate kids very well because he spent most of the last two years trying to avoid them.
The new coach stepped out of the field house and addressed them. “Men, line up and have your signed forms ready when you get to the door. After you pass your physical, report to the equipment room and check out your pads. Practice will start this afternoon at four. Bring your equipment when you come.”
He called them “men”. Roy felt tougher already. He rubbed his hand across his face to see if he could feel a whisker. He thought for a second that he did, but realized that it was only a pimple. Once through the door they were told to strip down to their shorts. Roy looked around to see how he measured up with the rest of the guys. He thought maybe he should order the Charles Atlas muscle building course after he got home. Once the poking and prodding behind the curtain was complete, they redressed and picked up their equipment. All were fitted for a helmet, pads, practice uniform and game pants. They had to provide their own jock strap. Roy had never worn one before. He left with a hefty load of armor stuffed into his football pants. He purchased a jock strap at the local drug store on his way home. That was embarrassing. Now he stood in front of a full length mirror and practiced putting it on over his pants. He had a horrible vision of standing naked and afraid in front of strangers and not knowing how to put it on. Once he mastered his most basic piece of equipment, he worked on figuring out the rest. The remainder of the day whizzed by as he dreamed of flying tackles and crushing blocks. All of these delivered by him, of course.