Football and me. Macramé and me. Home repair and me. Placing these activities with my own personal pronoun reminds me of a simple Christmas present long ago. My mother, in my stocking, had given me a pair of small rectangular magnets, each with a plastic Scotty dog, one white, one black, glued on the top, no taller than a postage stamp. I played with these for hours. (I was a very little kid, OK?) I couldn’t get enough of watching the magnets repel each other, as if the dogs were pushing, kicking one another away. Those exertions I mention above, when placed in the magnetic field of “me,” should make the words spring apart right on the very page.
Football ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ me
Home repair~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ me
It hasn’t always been that way with football. I loved watching the games with my family on our black and white TV. I collected football playing cards. Y. A. Tittle. Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch. Paul Hornung. Rosy Brown. My older brother and I developed (well, it was really more him than me) a one-on-one game of football we could play in our oblong yard, by using the newly planted trees, not much taller than we were, as pass receivers. You could make a forward pass to one of these trees, and as long as we agreed the ball hit squarely in the “strike” zone, it counted as a reception. We played dozens and dozens of times. When we first started playing football together, I was walking around with my shoulders hunched up, as if stuck at the top of a shrug. My brother asked what I was doing. I said I wanted to look like the football players on TV. He cracked up and then explained they were wearing shoulder pads, not holding their shoulders up in the air.
One of my mother’s close friends from Berkeley came to visit us at our farm in Kansas. She accompanied us outside to watch us throw the football around. My brother had chased one of my bad passes down the driveway and I was standing there talking to Beverly, who I thought was very pretty. My brother, figuring I was paying attention, launched a long ball to me. Maybe he was showing off a bit. But, I wasn’t paying attention. He called out my name, I turned toward him, and because his aim was dead on accurate, the ball slapped me in the face. I started to cry and Beverly held me and gave my brother hell for not being careful. Double satisfaction.
My brother went off to college when I was still in grade school and I didn’t have anyone to toss around the ball. So, I would kick it, punt it, and got pretty good. I would go in the alfalfa field kick it one way, run after it, and kick it back the opposite direction. This one kick lofted up and over the tops of these gigundo trees that lined our property. I could never kick it that high or that far again, so I gave up. I watch punters now and wish I’d have stuck to it. When I was a freshman in high school I went out for the football team. I was 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighed one hundred and five pounds. I think my coach was afraid to put me in. The one time he did, I dislocated my knee cap. The cap was sticking out from my knee, off to the side, like a drawer pulled out from a bureau. As my team mates were carrying me off the field to the locker room, it popped back into place. That felt good. The asshole coach wanted me to jog around the field a few times. To “shake it off.” I protested, I can’t even stand on it let alone jog. But, he made me do it anyway. I hobbled off, more like hopping. The only time I got to suit up is when one of our starting players fucked up, and was late for the team picture. The coach was so mad. He looked around and saw me and said, “You’re suiting up for Mike.” I got to put on the game uniform and sit in the front row for the team photo. Number 26. Mike’s number. That weekend I got to go with the team to a game in Kansas City, about an hour from our school, suit up, and stand on the side line. The weather was rainy and cold. We were losing something like 65 to 6 and the coach, after our touchdown, put me in on the kick off. I ran down the field along the sideline. When the whistle blew he called me back out. My one play in my high school football career. Maybe he wasn’t such an asshole. Dean, our star quarterback and a really nice guy, got his collar bone broken during that game. They had to cut his jersey off and tape him up. It looked a lot more painful than my knee cap.
After the game and a hot shower, we got into our jackets and ties and onto the bus. We were taken to a restaurant for dinner. We could eat anything we wanted; as much as we could pack away. That was great, as I didn’t go to restaurants that often. I fell asleep on the way home.
Some years later, living in New York, I had come back to visit my mother in Topeka. I called up my friend, Dan, and we went out for a beer. He had been a half back on the team. He was also in all the musicals because he had a wonderful tenor voice. He told me Mike, number 26, had died of AIDS. He and his twin, Steve, grew up in a hard life on a dairy farm. They boasted about putting a crate behind cows in the barn. I was sorry about Mike’s death. He was always laughing, and he never got mad about my wearing his uniform for the picture and the game. Not long after that visit, I got a call from Dan’s wife, Donna, a former cheerleader and Dan’s girlfriend in high school. In college, she and I had been in a folk trio together with another friend. Dan had been getting ready for work that morning. He had a business maintaining apartment buildings. He collapsed and died of an aneurism. He was 43.
I have no idea what happened to those playing cards. I wonder how high the trees have grown in the yard and if some kid is trying to punt a football over top.