Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Why Break the Illusion?

Why Break the Illusion?

For more years than I can count I’ve loved to play sports. Basketball and football were and are most important to me, but volleyball is a sport I love to get up and charge in to. My appetite for playing sports has always been there, but early on my body and my talent didn’t allow me to compete. I was always smaller than the rest of the guys in class as I passed through middle and high schools. When teams were picked, I was last boy standing. When I was much younger in elementary school, I was a fine athlete of regular size. I boasted the second fastest 600 yard run time during the spring of my fourth grade year. Only Robin Roberts beat me. He ran a 1:59, and I clocked in at 2:04. Two years later, the guys were all growing past me, and I was stuck with a fourth grade body.

I suppose it’s no surprise that when I graduated from college, I found myself teaching and in charge of a group of kids in a fourth grade class that loved to play outside. Every day, we’d head out to the playground and spend joyous minutes playing all sorts of games. I joined every activity they participated in.

Some days, everyone seemed to gravitate to the playground equipment. Back in those days, the equipment that today is considered dangerous and litigious was considered fun and care-free. Hours were spent in reckless enjoyment. I can’t remember how many kids I saw trampled on the merry-go-round and how many kids flew off the rings. Yet we continued to take the chance just so we could all experience the joy.

Old-fashioned swinging was a real adventure back on that playground. The long arcing swings reached to the sky with the standing challenge being to see how high you could go and successfully jump off. Proving my swing skill is when I first realized that I had become some kind of athletic god to my fourth grade class. Gradually building my swing up and up until my feet were practically tickling the power line leading to the ratty old trailer beside the swings, I looked down on kids gathered around to see if I would indeed launch as promised. They cheered me on as I pumped higher and higher, each cheer sealing my resolve to get serious about and go through with my launch. After a final, massive pump that nearly sent me swinging around the bar, I released from the seat and sailed with beauty and grace through the air. It all seemed so effortless. I remember glancing down and seeing sixty wide-open fourth grade eyes and thirty gaping mouths screaming encouragement. As gravity took hold of me, my spirit launched higher. When my body reached the ground some distance from the swing, I tucked and rolled with the impact, popping immediately back to my feet with a grin the size of Chicago. I knew right then, as I posed being showered by cheers from adoring fans, that I could fulfill my athletic fantasies. So I seriously went about that business. Every day brought the same fresh newness and wonderful exploration of a special universe where I occupied the dominant position.

The rest of that year, I tossed football, always possessing the most powerful 30 yard arm in the grade, hitting my receivers in stride. On the hoops court, I could drive and score lay-ups at will, even with six or seven kids hanging all over me. I was the Shaq Daddy of the fourth grade. I could also go back to half court and sometimes sink amazing jumpers from great distances. Every time I struck, the crowd gathered around me would “ooooh” and “aaaah.” In kickball, the kids all screamed for me to come to the plate and smash a homerun. Every time up, I cleared the bases. I was so dominating that I required myself to play for both teams, pitching as well as batting. In dodgeball, I could not be knocked out because I was able to move my relatively huge frame spryly from side to side in wood-elf fashion. There was no stopping me or my ego. I was a monster out there on the playground.

For many years, I continued with my private ego-induced trip. Over the course of time, kids I taught had grown up. One boy went off to play football at UVA. Another group of boys ended up winning a state football championship (1991 William Monroe Dragons-Single A) with many of the players being graduates of my private athletic school. My own kids were born and I raised them to play sports in the backyard or on the driveway. I never liked losing a basketball game much less Candyland, Life, or Monopoly to my own kids.

I began playing volleyball against adults, transferring my arrogant, relentless style to that court. Year after year, I dove after balls slamming my body onto the hard concrete or wood floors. Bruised and battered, I’d usually only be sore for a day or so afterwards. As I grew older, I prided myself on being able to play pick-up basketball games with large teens without getting hurt or owned.

My egocentric world came crashing down upon me several years ago. The tube and spirits had made me lazy and out of focus. I had just resolved to begin getting in better shape so that I could continue to enjoy the sports that I loved so dearly when my heart suddenly decided to miss a few beats. The fact that I turned an ashen color along with the dizziness from the skips were enough to get me admitted to the cardiac wing of the local hospital for the extended July 4th weekend in 2004. Trapped in my seventh floor bedroom, I seriously began to contemplate the possibility of death. My youthful invulnerability was stripped away from me leaving me naked and helpless on that most uncomfortable bed with liquid-filled plastic tubes plugged into my arms and sticky wires connected to my chest by spies.

Any residual trace of youthfulness and the associated arrogance all finally left me last year, and it was a stupid thing that did it. I was attending a Virginia Tech vs Boston College home football game. My brother had somehow managed to get some excellent seats on the 50 yard line. Virginia Tech struggled all through the first half of the game. Then, sometime in the third quarter, Tech exploded for a quick score. The crowd leaped as one, pumping fists and screaming Hokie yells. It was such a beautiful moment, but one that came with a steep price for me. As I pumped my fist high in the air, I felt something snap in my shoulder. I didn’t really feel much pain until a day later. Then the pain was just nagging and irksome. Sometimes it seemed to build like a crescendo to forte then a few days later it would calm to pianissimo. However, it never went away. These days the pain comes and goes, but I’m no longer able to throw the football the way I did. I can’t lift anything heavy. Shooting baskets is something I can still do, but I have to plan my shooting motion very carefully so as not to upset my shoulder. My doctor said that I could get surgery to repair the damaged labrum or I could just find a way to cope with the pain. So I’m coping.

When you swing high into the sky, you need your arms and your shoulder to supply the power. My power is gone, eroded away in a moment of great triumph, never to be tapped again. Leaving the classroom in favor of a more technical job in education was in some manner a farewell to the wonderful arrogance of youth and an introduction to the inescapable finality of this life. Oh to be a god of the playground once more. What I would give. What would I give? The illusion was so real.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Tasty Foul Snack

I've been taking a bit of a vacation from this blog over the past week. I had been investing too much mental time with it over the last few months, and I felt the need to re-energize and search for fresh content. I may even continue my hiatus through the next week, too.

You might enjoy checking out the new links I've posted on this blog. I've posted links to several exotic YouTube videos. One, from the group "OK Go" is quite amazing. Also check out my YouTube box on the right side of the main blog page. I recently posted an old video photo presentation called "Fishing For Jack." This photo story covering my Fall of 2005 trip to the Outer Banks of NC features music from my friends in the group Beggar's Circus.

The feature piece here is a simple reflection on today's Virginia Tech/University of Virginia football. I enjoy writing about football games because they manage to cap
ture both poetry and raw power. By no means do I consider this some kind of polished work. It's merely a sereies of relatively random thoughts and feelings.

A Tasty Foul Snack

With another rivalry game in the books with the people who play for us winning, I am left with a few thoughts that I must exercize.

I actually felt sorry for the DSU quarterback. That kid seemed to be stranded alone on a deserted island by his coaches and teammates. After the game, I counted the number of times that our secondary was involved in plays down the field, and I could only count a handful or so. With Snelling’s sluggish approach to the VT wall for anemic results, Sewell was left to try to win the game himself.

There was a lot of psychic channeling going on around Blacksburg today. I raced home after the game and watched the tape. Doc Walker kept saying what I kept saying and what many fans kept saying and what Frank’s team kept doing over and over again. “Be patient. Don’t be afraid to punt. Let the game come around to you. Patiently make opportunities happen.”

The fans are a pretty smart bunch and much improved in the respect category today. I fully expected a negative response when the Governor presented Terry Holland’s former assistant athletic director with the Commonwealth Challenge award. Yet the crowd greeted the announcement with a collective yawn. Later, the crowd was quick to pick up on the fake fair catch and run. I’m still not sure if that penalty was marked off properly. It also seems that 5 yards isn’t enough of a penalty for that infraction anyway. As the guy right next to me said, “Well, shoot if that’s all you get for that, you should try to get away with that move every time.” I also thought it was pretty cool that the whole stadium seemed to understand that Pace’s missed FG was a big deal, and they gave him an outstanding standing ovation for the 22 in a row over the course of the season.

Sitting in Section 20 near the corner of the known world, I was shocked when people a couple of rows back suddenly began standing and screaming for help. I thought for sure someone must have been having a heart attack, and I couldn’t quite see what was happening. A few seconds later, a policeman sprinted up to the top of the section. I lost him in the pandemonium, and then a moment later he passed by me with two young, toasted, bad wahoos in tow. Obviously they did not get the Jerk Alert messages and got bonked on the head by the turkey police. I’d love to know what those two fellas did to upset the whole top of the section.

Nothing beats the walk across campus after a win over Virginia on a golden afternoon in late fall. Today was no different than it has been many other times over the last 109 years. Blacksburg and the VT campus both turn magical. Buildings become art. Everyone’s your friend. After tossing the ball around with my son in the Shultz lot, I made my way over to portable restroom facility. On the way, I passed by one of the best smelling tail gates. Burgers were on the grill and the smoke was sharing the aromatic joy with the world. I stopped by to congratulate these fine Hokies on their outstanding after game meal spread and was introduced to Chris Ellis’ fine parents. They were both delightful and extremely happy. I told them how much I appreciated their son suiting up and playing outstanding football then went about my business. Winning sure is fun.

My sister relayed to me after the game, that as she was waiting for her shuttle bus, she was sitting and watching the French players load up their Abbott buses. Each player slowly made his way onto his bus with a boxed lunch/dinner. Perhaps there some sort of poetic justice there hidden in that boxed lunch. Chick-fil-a delicacies probably never tasted as sour as they did today to that deflated bunch of Hoos. Maybe next year. After all, they are very young and loaded with talent. The sunny and warm weather today disrupted their finely tuned plan. Next year, they’ll get us. Next year.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Safety Dance

The Safety Dance

The early eighties were strange times for popular music. Disco was being blown apart by a new wave, a sound pressed into mechanized Orwellian packages. Then along came the group Men Without Hats and their amazing original Safety Dance. It changed everything.

I spent many years fighting this song and its infectious rhythm, but the more I try to escape it, the more it attacks my mind. Apparently, I’m not the only one who is chained and haunted by this liberating celebration. Here is an interpretative version of Safety Dance posted on youtube (if you are viewing this blog on at school…you might be blocked from viewing it...that’s because you probably should be working or studying). I must confess that this version draws me back in the same way the original does. It’s inspired in some kind of different way. As the masked reveler parades down the secure-less halls of his high school, he liberates souls along the way like a pied piper in a room full of rats.

This Safety Dance in stick figures is quite amazing and has several sparkling moments. While the overall production doesn't always match the lyrical mood, the crudely etched drawings are inspired..


Men Without Hats

Safety Dance

Ah we can dance if we want to, we can leave your friends behind
Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance
Well they're no friends of mine
I say, we can go where we want to, A place where they will never find
And we can act like we come from out of this world
Leave the real one far behind,
and we can dance or sing

Ah we can go when we want to the night is young and so am I
And we can dress real neat from our hats to our feet
and surprise 'em with the victory cry

I Say we can act if want to if we don't nobody will
And you can act real rude and totally removed
And i can act like an imbecile
I say we can dance, we can dance everything out control
We can dance, we can dance we're doing it in multiple

We can dance, we can dance everybody look at your hands
We can dance, we can dance everybody takin' the chance
Safety dance
Oh well the safety dance
Ah yes the safety dance

We can dance if we want to, we've got all your life and mine
As long as we abuse it, never gonna lose it
Everything'll work out right
I say, we can dance if we want to we can leave your friends behind
Cause your friends don't dance and if they don't dance
Well they're are no friends of mine
I say we can dance, we can dance everything out of control
We can dance, we can dance we're doing it wall to wall
We can dance, we can dance everybody look at your hands
We can dance, we can dance everybody's takin' the chance
Oh Well the safety dance
ah yes the safety dance
Oh well the safety dance
Oh well the safety dance
Oh yes the safety dance
Oh the safety dance yeah
Oh it's the safety dance
It's the safety dance
Well it's the safety dance
Oh it's the safety dance
Oh it's the safety dance
Oh it's the safety dance
Oh it's the safety dance

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Where I Talk to God

Where I Talk to God

God and I speak to each other regularly. Based on that statement, you might assume that means that He and I are tight, that we are always on the same page. But that would be an incorrect assumption. God and I talk a lot, everyday…multiple times a day. While our conversations are many, they are frequently too one-sided in much the same way a conversation between a hearing man and deaf man would be. I’ll often ask God something, but simply not be in a position to hear His reply. The constant disturbing drone of my daily life muffles His voice. Despite my human shortcomings, I’ve managed from time to time to find some really excellent places visit with Him. Many of them are relatively exotic, natural places while others are rather ordinary places.

God and I especially like to chat on cliffs. Just outside Roanoke, off of Route 311 near Catawba, God and I like to chat on the cliffs beside the Appalachian Trail overlooking Bradshaw Valley. When we talk, the wind is usually screaming up from the valley floor and washing all of my inhibitions away, cleansing my soul-thus freeing up my mind to hear what He has to say. My talk with God there usually ends with me picking out a few tunes on my harmonica and penny whistle. While many people seem to cringe when I squeal out my tunes, God seems to like the sound of it. The notes even seem to quiet the rushing winds.

I talk to God on all of the cliffs surrounding the Roanoke Valley. Tinker Cliffs, Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee’s Knob, and Read Mountain. In the Shenandoah National Park, I like to visit Bear Fence Mountain, High Top Mountain, and Stony Man Mountain where I sit on the edge of cliffs and let God’s wind calm me. Then we talk.

Over the course of my short life, I’ve managed to tour the United States twice. On each tour, I’ve found some very special places for my special conversations. God speaks on the shore and from the small mountains that meet Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He apparently really likes the Great Lakes because he also gets rather conversational on the shore of Lake Huron right next to the Mackinac Bridge. I found Him there by wading out about 50 yards into the knee-high water and standing stony still* drinking in the expanse of blue before me.

One of the best places to speak with God is in the middle of nowhere. There I can give Him my full, undivided attention. Standing on top of a cinder cone at Craters of the Moon National Monument on the edge of the world’s first nuclear reservation near Arco, Idaho, I am as close to Him as I can get. There, with a 60 mph wind blowing hot across the desolate, radioactive desert floor and up my cone, His words pierce my mind like sharp, yet comforting nettles. As I spin around 360◦>, my whole life is presented to me, ticking off in randomized splices. My successes and failures, my joys and losses, my triumphs and mistakes. My sins stand as monoliths absorbing dark energy from the wavering surface of the limitless windswept desert far below.

When I visit Prairie Creek State Park in Northern California, I can stand among some of the largest and oldest trees in this world. Yet even these giant Redwoods are dwarfed by God’s presence. Wandering though the veiled darkness in the brightest part of the day, my life is uncovered to me as I match the rhythm of Nature in my walk. Eventually, I pop out onto a rugged ocean beach and am buffeted by a fresh, cold ocean breeze. As I stand in the icy water close to shore, my mind is jolted in to communion with God, and he can be heard loud and clear.

Back when I was a regular classroom elementary school teacher, we would open each day with a moment of silence. I would use this time to meet God in school. He seemed to enjoy talking to me there. I know from our conversations during those many moments, that He really enjoys kids and that after our talks I always seemed to have the patience and wisdom to deal effectively with everything that I encountered on the job.

More so than during the moment of silence or at the special places I’ve visited over the course of my life, the place where God and I speak most often is on my pillow as I’m fading off to sleep each evening. There, just as I begin to dim into twilight, I reach out to Him with my mind’s voice and speak to Him of my fears. In return, He shares wisdom and peace with me.

If you were to ask me what God says to me, I must honestly reply that I really don’t know. While our conversations can be intense and fulfilling, I have no detailed recollection of what we’ve discussed. I’m simply left with general impressions and the true sense that God has my back.

* Stony Still is a two word descriptive phrase that my favorite author, Roald Dahl, used in his book, Danny Champion of the World. In that book, Dahl painted a picture of one of the pheasant keepers standing stony still against a silhouetted tree in the emerging moon-bathed twilight with his gun loaded, ready to pepper trespassers with buckshot.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

So Blue

So Blue

As I write these words, my country stands at the edge of a precipice. Over the last 100 years, our country has teetered back and forth. Somehow on the latest arc of the pendulum, icy barbs of hate were attached; wounding those who dared stand in the way. Now as that mechanism moves back, those wounded soldiers are rearmed with angry scars.

How did we become so polarized? How did we become blue vs red? Liberal vs conservative? Christian vs Secular? Hate on hate? I think it had something to do with the intensity of the last swing. 9/11 acted as a magnifier, our reaction just scorching the whole Earth in its reckless path, creating a whole village of former friends.

I do know this much. The rising tide of Democratic wins across the nation this evening can only serve our democracy well. For far too long, our country has been held hostage by an intolerant regime, heaven-bent on their modern crusade. Now, hopefully, at the very least, there will be strong debate and no one ideological group will be able to hijack America’s good will.

Through all of the national political turmoil, one of the most interesting ballot issues this year for me was the water referendum in Lexington, Kentucky. In Lexington, voters had to decide whether or not to take over the local water company. Strange by Roanoke standards, Lexington water is delivered by a private company based overseas. This foreign owned entity bought the municipal water supply some twenty years ago or so and ran the water business as a money-making enterprise.

Over the last year or so, a movement of progressives rose up to bring the local water system back under local control. I sensed that the people supporting this movement were people who generally leaned more left of center politically. In order to accomplish this, the locality would have to condemn the property and seize it under eminent domain laws. Once those words rang out, a counter movement launched to save the for-profit water company. I got the feeling that the people who supported this movement were mostly conservative. Thus, recent traditional roles have been strangely contorted. The left leaning proponents were actively seeking seizure of properties. The right leaning were cast as protectors of a foreign business' rights against local government.

The battle over local control of water became nasty. Signage littered yards all across town highlighting the sharp divide between the two sides. I was sucked in to this argument by the clever framing of the debate. Those who supported the eminent domain takeover of the water business framed the argument in three simple words, “Yes for Water.” Those opposed to the take-over and the reestablishment of a local water authority boiled their campaign down to four words, “No to Eminent Domain.” For the first day or so on my recent visit to Lexington, I assumed that there were two separate issues being considered by voters, something to do with water and something to do with someone trying to take over some land. The fact that the issues were one in the same took me by complete surprise.

The votes are now in on the water issue and water decisively lost. The voters of Lexington voted “No for water,” only proving that they had a more intense thirst for staying the course than their opposition.

250 of 250 Precincts Reporting

Yes or No






Btw: I really can’t stand the terms “red states and blue states” as well as “Dems” for Democrats and “Pubs” for Republicans. Just sounds stoopid to me.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Observations from Lexington

I have traveled today to Lexington, Kentucky in order to visit the Breeder's Cup Championship races tomorrow at Churchill Downs. While Lexington is not Louisville, it is a much more happening place in my opinion. On the voyage here from Virginia, my group made some different observations.

Traveling to a new locality on the weekend before an election is a cleansing experience. Since we are not in Virginia, we don't really have to hear about Maccacas, George Allen, or James "Jim" (short for Jim Webb...his name has been cut off on some electronic ballots). Apparently, everyone running for elected office in Lexington is named "Judge." These Judge people are running for Senate, for Supreme Court, for dog catcher. Last night, Ashley Judd visited the University of Kentucky. Since we are going to the races tomorrow, we looked for a "judge angle" and we came up with a horse named Lawyer Ron in the Classic. I feel strongly about this horse because of the judge angle and because OJ Simpson picked him to win the Kentucky Derby this year.

OJ says to "Go with Lawyer Ron!"

Stuck in traffic near Rupp Arena, we slowly crawled past a white painted brick church named "Iglesias Del Senor Jesu Cristo." Which, for those challenged by Spanish, means The Church of Mr. Jesus Christ, sort of. Anyway, we've had a good time imagining this place where Mr. Jesus lives. Jesus lives in Lexington, across from Rupp Arena.

The big news here in Lexington today was this story about a local wolfman. No kidding...here's the article...

Apparently, this guy only gets his thrills when he's running through the woods naked, but only when the cops are NOT chasing him.
May the horse be with you and Geaux Hokies, beat Miami!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Mardi Gras

The following story was selected after tabulating the overwhelming responses from the previus piece. By a wide margin those who voted chose to have me write about my most embarassing moment. What I've written here is prefaced by the fact that I've recalled the events as I recall them. I make no claim to their overall or specific accuracy. Shoot, who knows if this stuff actually happened. If you don't agree with my recounting, get your own blog. :)

Mardi Gras

I was once a runt of a young teen, the cuteness of childhood had given way to the cruel abnormalities of that awkward time, the teen years. I always felt a bit more put upon by nature than most people. Foremost in my mind everyday was one simple and consuming thought, “When will I hit puberty?” From the time I entered sixth grade until the time I exited tenth grade, I feared the gang shower after PE class. Back in those days, we had to “dress out for gym class.” After class, we were mandated to take a shower in the very public, pubic gang showers-pubic for all but me. There wasn’t much in the world that I believed I would hate more than taking that gang shower. Every day, I was forced to strip naked, baring my bald body with tiny parts, and mix in with hairy testosterone monsters who thought nothing about their cruel ridiculing proclamations directed at me. I hated them. I hated them all.

My body wasn’t all I was embarrassed by. Ever since I was about six years old, I resembled Bugs Bunny. When I was very young, I would put myself to sleep by sucking my thumb and rubbing my “bah” (blanket) between my fingers. The soft feel of the bah between my fingers combined with the therapeutic sucking, put me out every time. This behavior was probably cute when I was two, concerning when I was four, but alarming when I was seven. That’s when my brother threw away the tattered remains of my bah. I cried and cried, screamed and ranted and railed that day. Apparently though, sucking my thumb through those formative years caused my two front teeth to “buck.” They didn’t just protrude a little over my bottom teeth; they seemed to stretch to the bottom of my chin. By the time I was in fourth grade, my parents had me in an orthodontist’s office and programmed for monthly ritualistic ortho-chair torture sessions. Over time, my buck teeth were corralled and shoved back in to my face, but as sixth grade approached, my evil tooth master decided that braces would be my next painful test. Little did I know how those steel fittings and that mandatory “head gear” would hurt both physically and emotionally.

I entered sixth grade a strange, shy, hairless creature with a stainless steel bar strapped to my face. Yet, somehow-despite such a heap of physical barriers- I began to eek out an existence within a social substrata. It wasn’t easy. My locker, number 666, was located right next door to the “shop,’ a place where some of the more nefarious hellions passed the time of day. Of course, when these old-school, pot-smoking bullies passed by me while I stood blankly and passively at my locker, I was frequently shoved, slammed, and cursed. My next door locker neighbor was a tough, wiry pothead named John Smith. John was in school simply to deal pot. He kept it in his locker, and he was guarded by a large man-child named Vincent Smith (no relation). Vincent was an imposing black man, already over six feet tall in sixth grade. Every time a deal was going down next to my locker, John and Vincent would threaten me that if I ever were to tell anyone what was happening, I would be killed. I lived in fear every time I walked those halls. I was always afraid that John and Vincent would get caught because I knew they would make good on their promise to erase me. (side note: At my 25th class reunion, I bumped in to John Smith. He was a skinny, broken man with no front teeth who looked about 70 years old. Strangely, he was very nice to me and seemed to have no recollection of the hell he put me through.)

For me, band class was a respite from the insanity and meanness of intermediate school. There, I escaped into a musical fantasy world and hid behind my trombone, later my tuba. With braces and ex-buck teeth, my mouth was perfectly stretched from my ritualistic torture sessions to be able to produce consistent tone from the large low brass mouthpiece family. The tuba was also an excellent choice for me because it was so huge, I could hide behind it, thus allowing me to continue my stealth education.

Another respite I had throughout these ages was sports. Despite my size, I loved to play football and basketball. My father was an excellent athlete in his day, and he guided me to acquire many skills. I spent many years playing in the youth leagues. However, by the time I advanced to intermediate school, I no longer was a starting offensive guard, simply because my 100 pound body was no match for the 175 pound monsters I would have to block. My seventh grade year was the last time I played organized football (I’d later rekindle my football career through band football-an especially brutal form of the game played full speed, recklessly without pads in all weather). That year, our jerseys were that of my most hated NFL team, the disgusting Washington Redskins. We had the old burgundy and gold jerseys made out of some synthetic, itchy space-aged polymer. Sometimes, just to be cool, I’d wear my jersey -#79- to school.

That’s what I was wearing on the most embarrassing day of my life.

Every year, our school sponsored a Mardi-Gras parade around the gymnasium. It was always a pretty cool event in my opinion. In the week leading up to the special day, the school would get decorated; dynamic and colorful banners plastered all over the school, lots of party tape linked across the ceilings, and creative signs everywhere. An election was held to determine the spoiled, popular, bully couple in the school. The winner was always, invariably, the football star from the intermediate school team and the sexiest, gabbiest cheerleader from the cheerleading squad. Nerdy looking freaks like me would never be considered for such positions. Our role was simply that of support. We were to love our king and queen and bow down to them as they were paraded before us.

Now, I didn’t get into that particular aspect of the celebration at all, but I did think the parade was pretty cool. In fact as a seventh grader, for the first time in my life, I actually wanted to take part in the parade. In order to do that, all students had to do was to bring a costume to school, change into it in the minutes before the final period mardi gras assembly. In years past, revelers would leap freely around the gym tossing candy to everyone else. With a costume on, no one knew who anyone else was. For a few minutes, I figured, I could be like everyone else. I could be accepted and a part of the coveted mainstream. I dreamed of being popular, of having hair and bigger parts. I dreamed dreams that would be unattainable.

As the parade approached, I had one looming problem...I had forgotten my costume that day, and I was in a quiet, nervous panic. All of my dreams were about to be wrecked. All through my sixth period PE class, I thought and thought about how I could get in to that parade. I was obsessed with it. I wanted it so badly.

We had been playing softball that day in PE. When class ended, we were dismissed to change in to our costumes. Since I had none, glove in hand, I headed to the gym. Soon everyone assembled there and the festivities began. The king was named, predictably the football team quarterback. The queen was named, likewise a very sexy cheerleader. They were paraded about the gym with adoring cheers buffeting their every popular movement. Finally, the moment of truth was upon the student body. It was time for the costume judging and the pending pandemonium. It was time to party and your ticket to party was a costume!

Mr. Johnson, the ex-basketball coach from the high school and our tired principal, approached the microphone and declared that all costumed students may now enter the parade and be judged. I couldn’t believe it. Reality began to sink in. I was going to miss out on this opportunity, all the build-up I had created in my head was for naught. I was instantly depressed. Sadly, I remember putting my head in my baseball glove, tears secretly forming in my eyes.

It was in that most vulnerable moment, that my stressed mind came up with perhaps the most ridiculous idea I’ve ever had. Without filtering the idea and considering the consequences, I said to myself, “Hey, wait a minute. I’ve got a costume! I’m wearing my Redskin jersey, and I’ve got a baseball glove. That’s a costume!” Without a moment’s consideration, I leaped from my seat on the bleachers and jumped onto the basketball court joining the revue. Proudly, I spread the baseball glove, plopped it on top of my head, and began parading around the gym with all of the other contestants.

I never realized, I suppose, with my mind’s eye, exactly how stupid and out of place I looked at that moment, a goofy looking kid with an itchy Redskin jersey and a Ron Santo baseball glove on his head. If I only knew, I would have crawled under a rock. That revelation wouldn’t come for a couple more minutes.

The parade led me around the gym. Every costumed student was participating with some kind of detailed, carefully crafted costume. Many had layers of colorful feathers. Others were creative constructions made from painted boxes and paper materials. Some were stitched from material lovingly by some parent with the goal of winning the honor of best costume. I was a day late and a dollar short as well as being completely out of my league.

As I finished my first lap around and came in front of the bleachers again, I felt a hand hard pressed on my shoulder, stopping me in my tracks and of course stopping the whole parade.

The music paused.

The people grew quiet.

In that moment, my world ended.

Principal Johnson placed his square, wrinkled face directly in front of mine and barked, “Sit down son, that ain’t no costume. And take that ridiculous glove off your head.!”

I obeyed.

As I turned to walk back to my bleacher spot, I looked up at the bleachers and saw hundreds of laughing eyes focused on me, their jeers piercing my soul. I couldn’t help the tears that streamed from my broken face. I’ll never forget those laughing eyes. They multiplied and jiggled like a kaleidoscope through my tear-stained eyes.

The music started as I began the climb back to my seat.

The revelers leaped back into action.

Principal Johnson turned his glare back onto the costume judging.

I just sat and put my head right back in my glove and wished those awkward years and that horrible moment away. I hated them all.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Reader's Choice

It's time for a round of "Reader's Choice." With the popularity of this blog sky-rocketing (LOL) of late, I thought I would offer the few faithful readers an opportunity to choose the next piece that I write. Before I present the choices, however, I must share a confession: I am so completely swamped with writing ideas at the moment that I can't seem to focus on one topic long enough to write anything coherent. So I'm really initiating this opportunity from the reader to help restore some discipline into my writing life. Some of these ideas are serious and informational while others are completely silly and stupid. I don't know. I'm so confused about them. You decide and please leave a comment below. I'll try to give a teaser for each to peak your interest.

1. With the most important Election Day since last year just around the weekend corner, most Virginians might be surprised to know that "Family Man" George Felix Allen, Jr. is operating on his second family. Although it's rarely mentioned, Georgie was previously married, and there is some mystery associated with his divorce, even allegations of dark behavior behind sealed court records.

2. I know this lady with ten George Foreman grills. Rick, the sexy QVC night time host, keeps asking her to buy, and she just keeps buying George's grill as well as Vidalia Chop Wizards, Krup Stainless Flip Waffle Makers, sparkling multi-poly synthetic monster gemstone rings, and amazing home hydroponic garden kits (only $155.95 for 4 months worth of herbs or lettuce!).

3. Seventh grade was a difficult time for me. A feeling of inferiority and a need to be accepted led me to do the most inexplicable and embarrassing thing of my life.

4. Watching Richard Thompson live in concert is a rare treat, like sitting around a campfire with friends listening intimate guitar ballads. I saw Richard live at the Jefferson Center in Roanoke last Sunday then went home and got sick.

5. Fireworks at Lane, revisiting the Klempson vs VT football game from last week. This segment will offer lotsa pretty pictures like the one at the top of this piece.

6. Let's have a a poetry challenge. Challenge me to write poetry. I really stink at writing poetry. See how bad I am.

7. Lost: Is Mr. Echo really dead? My theories about that and other LOST plot lines.

8. The Breeder's Cup Championship Saturday is coming up this weekend. Hopefully, I'll be at Churchill Downs in person (see next choice for more info about that). The best and greatest horses in the world will all be running. I can give you an uneducated preview to this most exciting sporting event.

9. Learn the ins and outs of dealing with an intestinal virus. I share first-hand and recent experiences to help YOU overcome the sour effects of such an attack.

10. My dog does not understand the change from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time. She seems to believe that the change means she needs to get fed more, more often.

11. The National Weather Service has released its long-term winter weather forecast for the United States. I am prepared to release my long-term winter emotional weather report (a tip of the hat to Tom Waits).

I'm sure I could go on. My mind is so cluttered with silly ideas right now. Please, please hep me sort them out and vote today! Whichever topic receives the most votes by 7pm Thursday is what I will use for my next blog entry. Choose wisely.