We’re in the 80’s here in Texas, temp wise. That’s a 20 degree drop, over night. Sweet Jesus, I might sleep outside tonight. On my front lawn. I might even be sober this time. Huh? Right.
This cooler (seriously, 80 degrees is COOLER) weather kicks my long-term memory up a bit. Extreme changes in temperature do that to me. Odd little (pointless, yet fascinating to me) fact about Craig: when I’m in the shower (no this isn’t filthy), if I turn up the heat to steaming and hang my head under the faucet so that the water beats the back of my neck and head, I get crazy flashback memories. Of my childhood. Weird situations that have no bigger story, they’re just… “as of” situations. Or views. The most common flashback I get is of the view looking out a bay window into the backyard of some woman’s house. I was probably three or four years old, and we only went to this woman’s house once. She was some acquaintance of my mother, possibly through church. I don’t really know. But I must have stared out that bay window, cataloguing her fence line and crape myrtle trees for an eternity, because the image is crazy vivid.
Yeah. It’s pretty fucked up. I can’t remember the name of someone standing in front of me who I’ve known for over three years yet I remember how those myrtles listed silently dancing in unison against a rain-ravaged fence amidst a St. Augustine lawn that desperately needed some serious trimming. My brain very well may never work properly, and I’m okay with that. We all have our issues.
So, the memory that was triggered by my brain this morning was from way back. Back from my elementary school days. Back then, as soon as we hit autumn in Alief, all the kids would run outside and play some random sport. Baseball, soccer, volleyball, basketball, and of course: football. I was around seven at the time, so I was not yet aware of how little I cared about all of these sports, save for basketball. Back then, all the boys in the neighborhood would meet down the street at the Winkler’s house to play whatever the game-o-the-day was. This particular day, it was football. Fucking football. Oh, glory be.
The leaves had just started to fall off of some trees (like, two trees, because all the others were pine trees, or evergreens), and you could smell a hint of winter in the air (someone burning garbage somewhere, probably). It had to have been mid to late October, because it wasn’t winter enough to warrant long sleeves (no need for a “coat” in Houston, except for style). So the grand ol’ sport of organized gang-warfare had hit the Monday night lineup, and football was being pumped into all the delicate little brains of all the little boys in the neighborhood. Well, a couple were saved from this poison by being the frontrunners of the pale-skinned, ADD riddled “Nintendo Generation”, but we barely saw those joystick jockeys outside. They were almost a suburban myth at that time.
Anyhow. Friendly neighborhood game of football.
None of us really knew how to play this game, but we tried anyway. Again, I was seven, so I was just getting good at tying my shoes without parental aide. “Downs”, “hikes”, and “runs” described various diseases in my little world, not elements to a street game. We also had no concept of the “touch” or “flag” variations of football. We went “full contact”. Knowing of those variations probably would not have mattered since the organizers of these games, I believe, to this day, very well may have been questioning their own sexuality at the time. There would be much contact, much rubbing, and half of the guys involved would probably end up shirtless by the end of it all. The pre-confusion of pre-puberty is awesome like that. Regardless, we were small kids with no clue what we were trying to accomplish as far as the game went. So when this group of middle school boys showed up (with their sideline heckling girlfriends, no less), we got broke-the-fuck-down with a quickness. They were HUGE to us. Gargantuan creatures with fuzzy faces and volcanic acne. They scared the hell out of me with their high-fiving and cracking-voiced grunts. They talked mad shit to each other, and to us. That’s right. These dudes were about twice my age, and felt the need to talk shit [I’m gonna fuckin’ OWN you kid] as we lined up for plays.
Oh, the “plays”. Right. In the wonderful world of seventh grade-dom, every boy thinks he’s the star. There is no teamwork, only highlight reels of savagery committed by one man-boy against everyone else (this goes for soccer, basketball, cricket, dominos, and tic-tac-toe). Especially when the opposing team is comprised of kids half your size and age. It’s survival of the most ruthless ball-hogger. So, these dudes just took turns as quarterback and simply RAN US DOWN. No passing, no blocking, no strategy. They’d hike the ball, and whoever got it would run STRAIGHT AT US with the intention of breaking all our limbs. We were the pins and they were the bowling ball. Elbows to the shoulders, fists to the face, kicks to the chest. It was mad brutal. No one even bothered to keep score. After the third grass-stain to my face, I started to wonder why the hell I was bothering to play with these cats. It certainly was not fun. Well, of course, they were enjoying themselves thoroughly. They were having a blast trying to crack the collar bones of second graders in order to impress their head-banging, Aqua-net addict girlfriends sitting on the sideline. I really hope one of them earned a handjob out of that disaster. Something for our pain. Something, anything.
So there I was, getting battered and then immediately standing back in line for more. Like a moron lemming. Silently, I was questioning the point of the whole game, but no one else on our team was pussing out. You could see it in their faces. Resolute to beat these guys, against all odds, without a clue as to how. No one was willing to back down. Even in the face of an absolute and utterly embarrassing slaughter, none of them had the notion to just say “fuck this shit, I’m gonna go play Frogger” except me. Well, I couldn’t let them down and just sulk my way back home. Even at seven, I had a fleeting understanding of the code of brotherhood (which is total bullshit, for the most part, by the way) and refused to abandon my post. Yet, I was getting a bit weary from these assholes and their repeated efforts to loosen all my teeth.
On the next play, this particularly big fellow planned to run the ball at us. Blond, wearing a fairy-ass half-shirt, gym shorts and fucking football cleats. Football cleats? I was probably barefoot for this particular game. He even pointed at me to let me know I was his target. What a sweetheart. They hiked the pigskin to him and he leaned forward with his right arm straight out, like a jousting lance of bone and meat, kicking up lawn as he barreled right at me, other seven year-olds bouncing off his thighs. I was seriously tempted to turn around and just run my broken ass home, but I’m pretty sure he would have kept up and eventually ran right over me and my ruptured spleen. In my living room, if need be. So what did I do? I curled up into a ball, like the complete pussy I am, covering my head with my hands, and prepared to be punted, if not worse. I braced for the impact…
Apparently, this particular tactic was (and is still) not very popular in Football. Some might say it is a sissy move. Whatever. All I know is that beefcake had no clue as to how to handle the situation and tried to hurdle me instead. His leg caught the arch of my back, and hit the grass like a fat person, with no hands out to catch himself. The ball popped out and was picked up by a fellow second grader who quickly ran it down to other side and scored our first and only point of the game.
A small victory amongst a crushing defeat, sure, but it was much more than that in our minds. Suddenly, we were using all kinds of tactics to stop them. Ganging up, punching dicks, kicking knees, we’d try anything outside the standard rules (which had us being beaten like slaves earlier in the game). Things got interesting. They started having to run plays, which were very successful, but at least we weren’t being punched in the ears anymore. We felt like we were actually playing the game instead of being played by it. It was fun, for a few plays anyhow.
It all came to an end for me when, that same missing-link motherfucker got a hand off and ran straight at me again. I tried to trick him with the whole “duck-and-cover” routine but his ID-driven mind knew enough not to repeat that mistake. He picked me up by my right arm as he ran by, dragged me maybe five feet, and slammed me into a pine tree on his way to score another point. That might have been the first of many minor concussions I’ve earned so far in life. I don’t remember the trip home, but I certainly left soon after that play.
I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere. Something about ingenuity, perseverance, or not letting your children out of the house before they’re thirty years old, but I didn’t really glean too much from it. You lose some, you lose some more. Perhaps I should have learned to cut my losses, abandon hopeless situations, or only play games that I completely understand. But even now, many moons later, I still haven’t learned any of that for sure. I honestly haven’t been able to make a discernable pattern after lacing together similar situations throughout my life. It’s more chaotic than that, apparently. Not so hard-and-fast. [love that phrase!]
Besides, it’s just a memory, triggered by the cool weather, on my way to work. Right? Right. Coffee time.