Monday, January 14, 2013

Cacophony Worthy

The song "Barracuda" came on the radio. A minor Earthquake hit up around the Northeast. Virginia to Long Island with aftershocks up to Boston and down to Atlanta but I didn't feel a thing. 5.8 on the scale is hardly Haiti.

I played on a soccer team when I was 10 called the Earthquakes. We were 0-10 but played everyone tough. We started 0-6 and our coach stepped down and gave the job to another father. He guided us to an 0-4 finish but we liked playing for him because he had guts and would get kicked out of games and always had our backs. So the next year we all came back together with our once interim coach-our now full time coach, and with a chip on our 11 year old shoulders. We decided that the name Earthquakes was a bad memory and we changed it.

As the season progressed we got stronger and all seemingly went on growth spurts. I scored a few goals from right wing. I was like Theo Fleury only my ice was the sweet green grass of Dvor Field in Flemington and that was the house of a million memories for me and a lot of others. We tied Tewksbury 1-1 in the first game of the season in their yard, then the last game we played them at Dvor and beat them 3-1. They were our chief rival. We ended that year 7-2-1. They were 8-1-1. We were the only blemish. But us "Barracudas" finished second, that is why the song was so ironic.

We all ended up playing for this coach 3 more years. We all grew up with him. He was a young father of one of our best players. Old school would not begin to describe this guy. Even after years later and running into him at restaurants, or bars, or at softball tournaments I always called him coach or Mr.S. He always said, "damn it Tony, call me by my name. Its okay now". But I never lost an ounce of respect for him. I sure as hell could not call him by his first name. Coach was a man's man. Kind of reminded me of Dale Earnhardt. Jeans and t-shirt kind of man.

The birth of the Barracudas was coach's brainstorm. He had one in his driveway, car that is, under a cover for years. Was always working on it. For the longest time he'd say he was going to get us brand new uniforms that were going to be the best around. And one Saturday morning, before our spring season started, there was Coach in his 'Cuda with two other players and his son in the car. He was proudly honking the horn and making quite a fuss. "Tony, c'mon! We're going to deliver these new unis to the rest of the team. House by house. Wake up Goddamnit!". Off we went. House to house. Player to player. Shirts, shorts, socks, jackets, sweats, the whole nine. Coach went all out. "We are going to be best looking team because we are going to be the best team in the league".  Our parents paid a pretty penny but he sold all them on the fact he knew we were going to be a very good team.

Coach always put us first. He helped mold us into men. Age 10-13 are huge years for a boy. He was the biggest kid of us all until it was practice or game time. He took not a drop of shit from no one. Always in the ref's face for a blown off-side call. Coach would go off to soccer coaching camps then come back and teach us all the latest in mature soccer. Actually Coach once told us that he'd go up for 2 days at a camp so our parents didn't have to spend $500 to send us kids to one. Sophisticated offensive schemes and mixing the ball through the outside of the field. He switched me to Sweeper to quarterback the defense and his new toy: The Offside Trap. We would run into a brick wall for him.

That's why I couldn't believe I was forced to remember all this because of some earth-shattering news I got a while back. He was gone. 10 months before I heard about it. Suicide. Drank a bottle of paint thinner and when that didn't do the job, he stabbed himself with a long knife until he bled to death. Brutal, vicious way to go. Last time I saw him was at a softball game back in 2006.  He said, "hey Tony! Great to see you again!".

"Hey Coach, great to see you too!".

If only Coach knew how much he meant to us. We would have helped him. He was severely lonely and depressed and had some demons we never could imagine as both kids and now men. 56 years old. God Damn it. Didn't he know that if we knew how down he was,  there would have been 14 cars honking in his driveway?  Never figured him to die like that.

Should have said something Coach. Should have sought our help Mr. S. We would have been there for you. Rest in peace, Wayne.

The Glass House Gang

I stood across a VFW issued table and asked a boyhood idol for his signature. I'll never forget being 8 years old and just getting into the grandest of games. I didn't know shit about race-relations, drugs, booze, or any of that. Just remember watching a 19 year old completely dominate and Ralph Kiner saying, "there are 52,000 here at Shea on a Tuesday night for only one reason".
This 'reason' was now in front of me, hand extended, across the street from the Hall in Cooperstown. I am now 35 (wrote this July, 2011) and that teenage reason of yore is 46 and quite friendly. He was there with his wife and a baby girl no older than a year.

"Doc, I tell ya, this is unreal for me. You are one of my heroes as a kid. Hope you are well and I am always in your corner". That's all I could muster up. A little corny and dripping cliché, but heartfelt and surprisingly no stuttering or nerves on my part. "Thanks man, I really appreciate that, I really do". He then stands up out of his chair to shake my hand again and as he is firmly gripping my now trembling hand, looks right into my eyes and says, "God bless you man and thank you". All I could return was a simple, "you too Doc".

Back in 1984 if someone told me I would be talking with Dwight Gooden 27 years down the road in front of the Hall of Fame, I would have thought he was getting inducted. More accurately, as an 8 year old, I probably would have figured I would have been his teammate.  I was going to play Centerfield for the Mets or the Yankees. But some Goddamn poison got into Doc's body and he became ill. He lost touch with reality and bended under the pressures of being so young and owning New York City. I remember the biggest billboard I have still yet ever seen was in Times Square of Doc raring back to fire a heater that would have made Bob Marley blush. The man, make that kid, was The Man. He was The Man on top of a world he could have folded up and put in his back pocket. Scary good. Scarier young.

The demons befell Doc. The demons have befallen me as well. 27 years ago I never would have thought I had more in common with Dr.K than I do. But I do. I can't throw 97 MPH or make a ball break 2 feet and paint black. I can't go 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA. I'm not a black dude. I'm not even married nor a father. But I am ill as well. I felt that unity of addiction in his handshake. I saw the Well of Despair in the dark bucket of his eyes. Not sure if he saw the same in me. Perhaps he sensed it. We both looked a little disappointed. Him at himself and me at Him as well.

But the strength of his words to me made me understand that my bottles and his powder were nowhere near that VFW issued table and folding chair. He like me now is a man. A son of some mother and the hope of all futures. The would be conquerors of life's endless war on temptation. It(temptation ) has been with all of us since the days of Apples and Ribs. All Man face the same obstacles in life. Some come around a little later and have created an excellent level of atonement for most to see. That's what I hope I am beginning now. As I also want some past mistakes obliterated from thought. Mine and all.

Back in 1984 we were both kids. Now we are men. Two men with not a squat of shit in common except for regretful decision making. Many decisions I have regretted for many years now, and I am sure Doc's been doing his share of second-guessing, but instilling some integrity into life is not one of them. Least not for me. Nor is walking up to a VFW issued table and shaking hands with a man a lot more like me then I ever could dream of. It happened and it is real. Too real. Makes me proud to think of atonement or redemption. Makes me want to have a Doc in My corner.