Jayden and The Map

Here’s something you can do the next time you become overly impressed with your own brain-power:

Explain maps to a five-year old.

In these times of smart phones and GPS navigation few people refer to “a graphic depiction of a portion of the earth’s surface” (as the field manual used to put it) but  I am one of those hold-outs for which actual paper maps figure prominently in trip planning.  However when I had my Rand McNally out the other day my grandson Jayden became very interested. It probably was the novelty of the large format, spiral binding and informational color scheme that caught his eye, but when I gave him the aforementioned field-manual definition of the word map he really lit up.

Mind you, Jayden’s  grown up in an artistic household so the idea of an image representing something else is a concept he already has a handle on….but when he tumbled to the idea that the pictures (maps) conveyed additional  information the questions started shooting out like a Uzi on full automatic. Some of the issues were easy to resolve –  like when we located Clarksville on the map, and found where his cousins his cousins live, but then the questions became both more esoteric and detailed:

  • Why are there broken clocks on the map?
  • If maps show Clarksville from high above us are the map-makers in Heaven with Grandma June?
  • If Clarksville is colored red on the map then why is our house yellow?

…and many, many more.

It was one of the very few times ADHD worked to my advantage; while I was stumbling for answers he had already moved on ( and through) four other topics.

1995: Hobbits and Half-backs

71Skins

The first time I heard the term “bucket list” I thought it was some sort of new hobby. People collect coins, stamps, matchbook covers, bottle caps so I figured that buckets were the new hot collectible, as in: “See here –  that’s a 1937 Sears Allstate Portable Pond 150. The one with double-riveted flanges for the handle attachments and the sealed seam. With a minimum of scratches, it could go a hundred bucks easy on eBay!

 I eventually discovered The Bucket List was a movie starring Jack Nicolson and Morgan Freeman as two older men with a list of experiences they wanted to go through before they “kicked the bucket” (died). It’s not a new concept – while I haven’t used that specific term I had been keeping a similar list the summer of 1967 when I vowed to one day French-kiss Diana Rigg…and I have learned in my life that any goal-setting exercise can alternately be a good or bad thing – achieving a goal on your personal bucket list isn’t always as fulfilling an experience as it appeared to be when you first thought of the goal.

Some things change.

In the fall of 1972 the second and third leading items on my bucket list were the Lord of the Rings saga and the Washington Redskins (spot #1 being firmly locked up by my Best Friend). Every spare moment would find me with one of Tolkien’s works in hand and totally engrossed in the saga of the Fellowship of the Ring – and while my classmates were drawing still life compositions and Western landscapes my sketchbooks were filled with orcs, elves and halflings…

…and despite being very well-read I couldn’t tell you much about current events or even campus activities, but I could rattle off statistics for the “Red-Rams” at the slightest provocation; “Red-Rams” being a short-lived nickname the Washington team acquired when head coach George Allen did some fast talking/trading to acquire a large number of veteran players from the Los Angeles Rams, the team he coached before moving to the Redskins.

Then Life happened and my fascination with both the Redskins and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien were sidelined by the challenges and rewards of:

  1. continued academic studies
  2. missionary service
  3. marriage
  4. fatherhood
  5. work in an oil field
  6. service as an army officer
  7. teaching college
  8. freelance illustration and design

 Working in # 8 is what indirectly led to this post: in the summer of 1995 my good friend Robbie Reeves was able to obtain a pair of tickets to a Washington Redskins exhibition game in Knoxville, Tennessee, but oddly enough from the very minute he told me about the tickets I struggled with mixed emotions. To be honest my ardor as an NFL fan had cooled quite a bit after watching a particular New York Giants / Washington Redskins game in 1985 – when Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor fell on Redskins quarterback Joe Theisman’s leg and created a second knee joint.

However, there was still enough residual ‘skins mania left in me when Game Day (or rather night) arrived to compel me into crowding through the stadium with a ba-jillion other fans to take our seats before the game started. Unfortunately, there were no real seats but rather little numbered spots on raised cement rows the size of a sheet of typing paper  – and with no back support whatsoever.  The weather was also very hot and muggy and people around us were already getting drunk through their efforts to “keep hydrated” but as parched as I felt there was no way I was going to drink anything; liquids work their way through me very quickly and with everyone crammed on those little squatty seats getting to a bathroom was a wish more than a reality.

We left at half-time.

The next day I was back at my desk, working on a project that also took me back to 1972, namely a  collectible card game based on Lord of the Rings.  I was a late but fervent convert to the works of JRR Tolkien, when I was stuck with a dog-eared copy of The Hobbit as my sole diversion on the Anchorage-to-Seattle segment of my journey to enroll at Ricks College.

I had been spending the previous couple of years hiking through works of a more gritty nature; books by Robert Howard and H.P. Lovecraft so Tolkien’s work seemed at first to be on a level like Robert Heinlein’s juvenile SF novels …. but as I read further I began to appreciate them as the literature that they are. My Best Friend and I spent the balance of the semester racing each other through the trilogy, and when I finished my drawing class homework I’d turn to decorating insets in her basement apartment’s suspended ceiling with scenes from the books.

It may have been that my fascination with Tolkien was fueled to a large measure by my Best Friend’s interest in Tolkien, but even if my hobbit mania cooled a bit after our break-up I was still interested enough to enjoy the subsequent publication of the Silmarillion and the animated adaptations in the late seventies. There was enough lingering interest for me to consider submitting a portfolio for work when Iron Crown Enterprises announced plans for their Middle-Earth role-playing game in the mid-1980’s, but with a powerhouse like Angus McBride churning out cover work I conceded defeat.

So, it was a stroke of luck when Lori and I were asked to work on their collectible card game project and we soon became the “go-to” people for saving cards that had less than desirable paintings submitted. However, when ICE started soliciting bids for work on the follow-up booster set we held off; the polite term is “a lack of confidence in their business model” which basically meant I wasn’t sure we’d get paid.

When I voiced my concern to Lori I surprised us both because it wouldn’t have been the first time I’d taken work on under hinky conditions…but while there is something to be said about working on something you love, by 1995 Middle-Earth was no longer something I loved enough to risk a loss.

So what happened?

Had the Washington Redskins and the Lord of the Rings been replaced by other avocations and interests? Not really; I’m not one to jump from hobby to hobby; when I develop an interest, I tend to hang on for a long time. My cold reaction to added Tolkien-related work was due to something else in the equation, something that wouldn’t have been any kind of influence or factor at all 10 or 20 years earlier.

I’ve been told that your forties are the old age of youth and your fifties are the youth of old age. I was 42 when these two “bucket” topics re-entered my life, a life that was less wrapped up with entertainment and hobbies as had the case been in earlier years. By the time I was 42 I was much more concerned with making a living for my family, making sure that their needs were taken care of and making sure they all knew they were loved. Do I miss those days when nothing could get me more hyped than a new Moody Blues album or a blockbuster movie like Star Wars? Kind of…. but movies come and go, and the Moody Blues haven’t had a decent album since Seventh Sojourn….

….my wife, kids, and now grandkids?

They’re for keeps.

 

1970: Requiem for Harvey

I don’t think it has ever been easy for a young man to learn proper boundaries with authority figures. I’m sure that there was more than one 19-year-old Roman legionnaire making bunny ears every time his centurion turned his back, and plenty of lewd comments were made just out of earshot when Shaka Zulu paraded his retinue of wives in front of the unmarried warriors’ regiment…but I do think that learning proper boundaries was a little more complex for for those of us coming of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Challenging the establishment seemed to be a required subject in any course of study and a required component of every other comedy show on television. The mixed messages I got at home just complicated the issue – it seemed like every day I’d hear my dad talk about telling off someone at work and my mother seemed to be constantly calling other parents to task for the misdeeds of their children.

There was a good reason why Eisenhower chose the 29th infantry division to lead the assault on Omaha Beach. They were young, green and had no idea what they were getting into. I was the same way when it came to learning about talking tough.

Harvey Stroud was somewhat of a mystery to me. He looked like a battered Chicago precinct captain with a perpetual scowl that convinced me to avoid any sort of situation that required us to be in the same room. He was the principal of Kenai Central High School during my freshman year, but left the following summer for the same post at a much smaller school forty miles down the road. The next time I heard anything about him was the fall of 1970 when it was announced that he had died; several rumors as to cause of death circulated around the school but the only solid information dealt with the memorial service that was going to be held in our gymnasium. For some reason the news was never announced over the loudspeaker so it was a bit surprising when a school bus pulled up two hours earlier than usual one afternoon…and doubly surprising when students poured out of the bus and into the front door.

I was in Miss Mahoney’s short story class1 when the bus pulled up – that is, me and my ego. I was doing quite well in the class because it combined two of my strengths- literature and drawing.  Each short story report was to include an illustration and while the stuff I came up was nowhere near as good as the card, game and book illustrations I created years later, it was still dramatically better than the work of my 10th and 11th grade classmates. I was definitely the big fish in the little pond.

I had turned in my work and was kicking back as unobtrusively as possible in the back row alongside the windows when the bus pulled up. As the rest of the class rushed over to see what was going on I heard someone query Miss Mahoney about the bus, but before she could respond I piped up:

“Oh, it’s just a pep bus from Ninilchik for Stroud’s funeral”

The room went silent, then one by one my classmates started to snicker. My ego inflated just a bit more. The Smothers Brothers couldn’t have said it better. Robert Klein couldn’t have said it better…and neither my mom nor my dad in one of their ranting commentaries could have said it any better.

“Ha-ha-ha-ha!” It was Miss Mahoney. “That was really funny. Take a walk!”

“What?”

“I said take a walk. Get out of my classroom. Now!

>POP<

There went my ego.

Rumor had it that Nora Mahoney spent a tour of duty with the United States Marine Corps before teaching so I offered no excuses or smart talk. I slunk out of class, making some weak joke as I left but I was too caught up in basic survival to come up with a more memorable quip. While I hadn’t been a particularly good kid during high school I hadn’t been an overly bad one and getting kicked out of class was a rare experience for me. I had just hit on hiding in a restroom adjacent to the new cafeteria when the loudspeaker squawked something unintelligible about an upcoming football game.

Football practice! My salvation!

If you’d seen me play football you’d take issue with the game ever being my salvation. As I have written elsewhere I was a late-bloomer when it came to physical strength and coordination so I was not a star player…which would be an advantage in this situation. I could go to practice and blend in with all the other muddy jerseys, let whatever turmoil my comment made burn itself out and get back to real life the next morning.

It was late enough in the season for the rigid discipline of practice to relax a bit. After getting suited up we were to go out and run four easy laps around the field, go through some basic calisthenics, and then practice the repertoire of plays scheduled for the coming game. After slinking into the locker room I quickly got into my gear and trotted out to the field in the middle of four or five other players, and as we reached the track circling the field and started running I broke into a sly grin.

I’d made it!

“DEITRICK!”

There was no mistaking that voice. It was Coach. The head coach. Coach Gordon Prentice. Gordy P. The – I abruptly shut my internal monologue down. My smart mouth had already gotten me into trouble once and I didn’t need a repeat performance.

” GET OVER HERE! “

“NOW!”

The black hats at jump school couldn’t have locked my heels any tighter than he did. I stood perfectly rigidly still as he leaned over and continued at a much lower volume – always a bad sign.

“You know, you might think that because you’re not playing all the time no one notices what you do. Well, you’re wrong. I don’t know why it is but these younger guys watch you like a hawk, especially the guys in PE class. You need to think about them and the example you’re setting for them the next time you think about making a smart remark.”

As he went on with his corrections I made sure to look repentant and nod my head at the right moments. By this time most of the team had finished their four laps and were gathering for calisthenics so when Coach Prentice was done I started to trot over in that direction.

“Oh – and be sure to get all four laps in before we’re done with warming up,” at which point I veered back out to the track and started to pick up my pace at a dead run. After finishing my run, I wheezed my way through the balance of practice, then carefully avoided all “how was your day” inquiries on the ride home. I came close to aspirating a hamburger patty when dad went into one of his “so I told him” stories at the dinner table but after coughing my airway clear I beat a hasty retreat to my attic loft where I spent the rest of the evening listening to the Moody Blues and trying to mentally reorder reality to avoid any consequences the following day.

The next morning, I kept a low profile, carefully sidestepping any faculty members that knew my parents. I jumped a bit higher than normal at the first bell; there was no avoiding Coach as I was his aide in PE during the first period but all I got from him was an abbreviated repeat of his lecture on setting a good example as I left the locker room.  My outlook brightened a bit and by the time I got to my second class of the day I was actually smiling –  it looked like I was going to leave yesterday’s indiscretion behind.

“Sociology/Contemporary Issues/Modern Problems” – it was called one of those names, though for most of us my second period class was known simply as “The class you take to avoid Anderson’s Government class”. Tom Ackerly (AKA “The Ack”) was the instructor for the class as well as history, geography and assistant football coach. The Ack was a recent transplant from Florida and more than one foolhardy soul had taken his ursine build, calm demeanor, and soft southern accent as signs of weakness, only to find that when they engaged in a duel of wits with The Ack they were essentially unarmed men. He had a razor-sharp intellect, an even sharper wit, and I had finagled my way into at least one of his classes each year…

…. which meant exactly nothing when I caught his icy stare as I edged through scattered desks to my regular perch. I inwardly groaned as we started working in teams on a group project – “I am never going to live this down” – the despair only deepening when The Ack motioned me over to a seat next to his desk, where I braced myself for an encore of Coach Prentice’ admonition from the previous day.

“Pep bus for Stroud’s funeral eh?”

He cracked the faintest of smiles and said, “That’s a pretty good one” – and as my jaw dropped he went onMahoney told everyone in the teacher’s lounge last night. Everyone figured it was the best joke we’d heard since our last paycheck.”

By the end of the day it looked like I’d dodged the bullet. My comment was no longer front-page news as the entire student body was collectively frothing at the mouth over being assigned student numbers. The measure was meant to streamline attendance reporting and record-keeping but was taken as a dehumanizing establishment plot to enforce conformity and reduce individuality (2).

…at least that’s what I said to one foxy lady after another as I hand-lettered student numbers on their t-shirts “as a protest!”. Later in the year it was determined that the numbers ultimately served little purpose other than giving students something to get worked up about, which that day conveniently drew attention away from my snarky remark.

I walked away from the incident having learned three valuable lessons:

  1. Everyone – even my parents – must cope with stress in daily life. My mom and dad’s stories about telling people off and talking big were a way of blowing off steam and I need not take their comments too literally.
  2. Avoid snarky remarks in general unless you’re in trusted company.
  3. If there’s no way to stop the remark – make it funny.

 


 

  1. The year before English classes were radically changed for sophomores, juniors and seniors. Instead of taking one class from one teacher for the entire school year students were to enroll in a different module every nine weeks. There were some guidelines – you had to take a set number of classes in three categories (literature, composition and oral skills) but other than that students were free to put together their own program.
  2. Popular entertainment was full of stories of a dehumanizing dystopian future. On the radio we listened to “In The year 2525” by Zager&Evans and we were all reading the pessimistic novels that would end up as the motion pictures “Soylent Green” and “Logan’s Run” just a few year later.

 

StrikeAPose1969

 

1970: “My Biscuits Are Burning!”

A few years back I got a copy of Leatherheads in my Christmas stocking. If you don’t know the movie, it is a light-hearted historical interpretation of the beginnings of the National Football League and starred George Clooney. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as much for the visuals and period costuming as for the script and acting, but as I watched the various game scenes I was amazed at the way players would hit so hard with such little protection.

When I finished watching the DVD I tuned in a current NFL game, and as I watched it I was amazed at the protective equipment in that broadcast as well. The helmets, pads and equipment all seemed as far advanced over the gear we used in high school as our gear seemed advanced  over the 1920’s football pads of  Leatherheads

…and then I remembered about the time our helmets and pads didn’t do us much good at all…

Kenai Central Highs School played its inaugural football season in the fall of 1968, joining the Cook Inlet Conference as the smallest AA school in the state of Alaska. We were not a rich school and the district had notoriously tight purse strings – a good portion of the money for equipment came from student donations which meant the best we could get was second-hand gear, an option with both good and bad aspects.

On the good side

  • The gear was cheap

On the bad side

  • It was already pretty beat up from use by the original owners
  • It used older, less effective design

As the resident yokels in the conference we were never expected to achieve much by the Anchorage sports writers but surprisingly enough we tied for second place during that first season. We tied for second again the next year, but were not expected to do well in our third year. Supposedly all our real talent had graduated and third place was the best we could expect – which made for quite a surprise when we beat the league favorite in the season opener.

This upset insured that as we went into our first “away” game for the season we were VERY confident. It was a night game with Dimond high school and general consensus on the team was that we were going to fly up to Anchorage, thump the Dimond Lynx, then swoop back home covered in glory to spend a weekend basking in the adulation of parents, class-mates and (especially) girlfriends.

Reality started creeping into this vision as we boarded a bus to Anchorage on a day of the game – and it wasn’t a comfortable long-distance people transporter like Greyhound.  It was a regular school bus and from the pain and dislocation the seats were causing it was a kindergarten bus rather than one for high school students.  It was a painful four hour drive and as personal stereos were ten years in the future and the bus had no radio we entertained ourselves by quoting dialog from The Smothers Brothers show or Warner Brothers cartoons (my favorite being Yosemite Sam). The trip was so painful that even with a mid-trip break to walk off the cramps we arrived having difficulty simply walking much less engaging in full tilt athletic completion.

Nevertheless we were confident, from the head coach down to the assistant team manager for towel control. As we drove to the stadium we were both optimistic and curious – while this game was one of the few wins predicted for us the Lynx ran a novel defense formation called the “Monster Man”. One very capable defensive player was designated the Monster and had full freedom to line up/position himself anywhere on his team’s side of the scrimmage line, the rationale being that the designated player was large enough, strong enough and smart enough to make a significant difference whether he set up as a defensive lineman, a linebacker or defensive back.

Dimond’s Monster Man looked to be all that on paper. While not too terribly tall he was dense, tipping the scales at 245 pounds but reportedly could run almost as fast as a sprinter and could bench press his own weight plus 25 extra pounds.  As we drove and watched the Lynx warming up he certainly didn’t look to be all that formidable, but our coaches weren’t taken in.  “He’s putting on a show” one of them muttered “He’s running and drilling at half-speed to throw us off….”

No sooner were those words out of his mouth when we were rushed off the bus and into the locker room.  Our bus trip had taken longer than expected and kick-off was going to happen very, very soon – and to complicate matters the maintenance crew was just finishing reworking the line work on the field.  Back-to-back games the previous weekend combined with heavy autumn rains had obliterated so much of the yard, sideline and end-zone markings that the stadium crew had had trouble getting enough of powdered lime to do the job.

We got dressed and headed for the field and as usual I was the first guy through the paper hoop, after which I ran to the end of the bench to sit down to play guard and tackle (I was to guard the water bucket and tackle anyone trying to drink out of it who hadn’t just come out of play). The inactivity of “riding the pine” got on my nerves so started in with my Yosemite Sam imitations …but I also got a chance to study the game at close distance and it was evident that this game was not going to be the walk-over we had expected.

I learned that lesson first hand when it came time for me to go into the game with one of the special teams. It all went like clockwork:

  1. I lined up in correct stance
  2. The center hiked the ball
  3. I looked up to see Dimond’s Monster Man heading towards my side of the line
  4. The lights went out.

When the lights came back on my first thought was “when did they plant a tree in the middle of the field?”– then it dawned on me that the Monster Man had been doing exactly what our coach had surmised: he had been sand-bagging during warm-ups but went full-tilt during the game – and was knocking the stuffings out of us.

Not that he was doing it alone, but at the end of the game Dimond had beaten us 28-12. Never one to be shy and retiring, our head coach proceeded to chew us out from one end of the locker room to another –  and while I am not a fan of negative reinforcement, I do have to admit that  given the cocky attitude with which we went into the game some of his  comments were well deserved.  However, the pain of that dressing down paled into comparison with what was to come.

Remember the last minute effort to re-line the playing field? In their haste to get the job done by kickoff time the maintenance crew had somehow gotten their hands on industrial-strength lime which formed a caustic paste when mixed with the water left on the field after the previous week’s rainfall. For once I was glad to have spent most of the game on the bench, escaping with minor burns around my ankles. Other more active members of the team weren’t quite so lucky, particularly the starting center, guards and running backs who’d spent most of the night grinding yardage out in the mud.

The worst case was one of our halfbacks who was badly burned across his posterior from playing with this shirt tail out which allowed the lime to work its way down the back of his pants. I will never forget the sight of him hopping and howling around the shower room with the coach chasing behind him armed with the spray-can full of analgesic foam.  I will no doubt burn in hell but I couldn’t help but whisper “My biscuits are burning! My biscuits are burning” in my best Yosemite Sam voice as that young man bounced around the locker room trying to avoid the additional pain of the analgesic spray.

It was the kind of thing that would probably bring on a lawsuit in this day and age but back then we just dealt with it as a cosmic comeuppance for our pregame hubris. It was a stinging blow to our collective adolescent ego, but some good came out of the defeat. Emphasis changed from grandstand plays to good solid technique, making us a better team, eventually tying for first place. ..and while I didn’t play much that night it prompted a change in me as well.  I went away from the game a little wiser as well, remembering to add a bit more caution to decisions I made later in my life.

…and I still can’t watch a Yosemite Sam cartoon without thinking of Mike hopping around the locker room and trying to dodge that spray can….

1973: Taking One for the Team

Goat picture

As I grew up my father’s changing employment situation had us moving around a lot and by the time I earned my high school diploma I had attended seven public schools. I went on to earn an Associate’s degree, a Bachelor’s degree and a Master of Fine Arts degree while attending three different universities and one junior college – and when you add those academic institutions to places where I have taught the total comes to sixteen schools with which I have had extensive experience. Of all those bastions of academia Ricks College (now known as BYU-Idaho) was the best, with the fall of 1973 being my best term of my entire collegiate career. I made the honor roll with a 3.8 GPA while carrying 19 credit hours, I was actively involved in the establishment of the first ROTC detachment set up at the school, held multiple responsibilities in my church congregation and earned a small scholarship as the cartoonist for the student newspaper.

As I have learned several other times in my life being actively engaged in so many worthwhile things did wonders for my morale, but that doesn’t mean that semester started out as a happy situation.  I felt out-of-place, having transferred to Ricks the year from the University of Alaska, not because I wanted to go there, but because my Best Friend wanted to go there.  The change from a state school to a private faith-based institution was so abrupt that at times I would break  into hives from the stress. How that rocky start evolved into lofty academic achievement is told elsewhere; suffice it to say that at the time of this story I was starting my third (and final) semester in Rexburg 4000 miles from the most important person in my life while living in an apartment with five strangers who were not particularly friendly.

Initially I handled the situation as any other thoughtful mature young man would – by retreating to my bedroom and throwing a low-grade tantrum. Half my spare time was spent writing letters to my Best Friend, listening to Neil Young on the record player,  and mentally living a year or two in the past. The other half was spent writing more letters, listening to the Moody Blues on my record player, and mentally living a year or two in the future. I had little interest in anything other than marking days off the calendar as I waited for our happy reunion and a new life.

Given this behavior you may ask why we were separated to begin with. The story behind the split is very messy, involving unreasonable pressure from  my family  against the relationship developing any further* but we had patched our couple-hood  together during the summer after I went through a  Saul’s-conversion-on-the-road-to-Damascus experience which left me vowing “never crash and burn again”. Unfortunately my lofty intentions didn’t change the fact that my financial and academic situation required us to spend one last semester separated.

Then wonder upon wonder, things started getting better.  I got off to a good start with my classes, our new ROTC instructor got us out on weekends to go rappelling or rafting… and most important I found out that long distance phone calls weren’t as prohibitively expensive as I’d assumed. It was amazing what an occasional call back to Fairbanks would do to raise my spirits.

…then one of my room-mates mentioned the word “football” and my stress level skyrocketed again.

Football.

When people ask me about my football career I reply  that but for one problem  I could have played  professional football – that problem being that I was just not very good at the game. I was a late bloomer, gaining strength, coordination and general physical ability a couple years later than my team-mates. That didn’t keep me from loving the game, and I made up for lack of ability with enthusiasm. Fans weren’t quite so over the top as they are now – no face-painting or giant foam headgear for us – but I did closely follow my favorite teams during the season, and linebackers were just as apt to show up in my sketchbooks as sword-wielding barbarians or caped superheroes.

It was when I got involved with actually playing or talking about playing that my love for the game that I began to feel  stress. My basic insecurity and paranoia would gnaw at my confidence, so when one of my new room-mates suggested we try to get a pick-up game going with guys from the dorms I was torn between being excited about playing, and fear of demonstrating my ineptitude. Playing with this new set of room-mates brought on its own peculiar challenges as well – I was the only returning tenant that fall and it seemed like the new guys brought with them an undercurrent of criticism and negativity that kept us from bonding in quite the same way we had the previous year. I got the feeling that if I played with them and didn’t do well I’d be the goat for the entire semester.

(Don’t ask me what “being the goat” entailed – I picked up the term while reading an advertisement for a Jonny Unitas plastic model kit)

…but I really, REALLY wanted to play football so shortly thereafter we were lined up against a half-dozen dormitory denizens. We started out with a casual game of touch football but as coeds began to gather to watch, the testosterone level started to rise and before you could say “Vince Lombardi” the captain of the dormitory team challenged us to play tackle ball.

To my surprise and delight I played quite well, operating as a combination guard/tackle on offense and a linebacker on defense. Scoring had started out a bit casual, with the two teams either tied or within one touchdown of each other for most of the game, but got serious about the same time we switched from touch to tackle rule, when the girls started watching.

Despite playing well I was still edgy.  Out of both teams I was the one person who had actually played high school football; most of the others being wrestlers or gymnasts.  For some reason being the only one who’d ever had “scabs on the bridge of my nose” caused animosity and the comments got a more caustic as the contact got harder and more abrupt….and that was from my own team. It got to the point that I considered departing the field for my record player and Mr. Young’s nasal balladering when I heard a yell “Deitrick – watch, he’s coming around your side!”

A member of the other team was running the ball around my side of the line with just a couple of yards between him and the goal-line. We seemed to be a match in terms of speed but I wasn’t sure I could anticipate his intentions and stop him in time – and at that point I went into Tardis-time where my internal clock was running much faster than time was passing in the outside world.

My internal monologue kicked in: “Why am I bothering with this. These guys don’t know the kind of injuries you can get playing tackle ball. I do. I have no wish to spend the semester in a cast after killing myself for people that I have absolutely nothing invested in. All I am doing is killing time until my Best Friend and I are back together again. Who cares if they like me – I can just listen to music and live in my head.”

Just then I glanced at the room-mate closest to me and saw an expression that I  couldn’t identity. It was an open expression I had yet to see on anyone’s face in the apartment: hope, pride, friendship?  – certainly not the contempt I was expecting. There was a flash – I don’t know if it was adrenaline or the fear of sustaining a skull fracture but in that moment I had an epiphany –   the disconnection was as much my fault as the new guys; that no matter how badly I missed my Best Friend I had to stop marking the days off my calendar and start living outside my head.  I turned back toward the ball-carrier, bulled my head down and made a text-book perfect tackle.  The runner collapsed like a sack of potatoes and fumbled the ball, setting us up for the winning touchdown a couple of plays later.

It was dizzying. There had been so few times in my life that I had been the hero but in the back of my mind I knew that there was more going on than just grid-iron glory.The walk back to our apartment was not much different than walking to the field had been two hours earlier, but I felt different.  On the surface the dialog continued to be that of brain-dead 18-20 year old young men but the comments were not quite as caustic or clipped.

It was a very small difference – it was a definite improvement and a foreshadowing of the overall change that was just over the horizon for me.

(* I still can’t watch the fifth Season of “That ‘70s Show”)