My daughter steals the soccer ball. The opposing defender chases, stabbing with her feet, but she’s overpowered. A lane opens only my daughter sees. She kicks. The ball scoots through a forest of uniforms to her teammate’s feet. Another pass to Mountain Crest’s forward who stands alone facing the keeper. The net whiffs back. The girls jump in celebration, their arms skyward.
Am I really this old? Age wrinkles on my knuckles prove it. Skin that used to be supple now needs daily lotion. I ache at the end of workouts. Recovery time grows with the years as does my ibuprofen bill. Good thing my iron gut isn’t bothered by the daily dose of vitamin I. Glucosamine and chondroitin help, but not today. The echoing aluminum structure covered the sound of my crackling cartilage as I walked up the bleachers. My seat is above the tunnel I once ran through on my way to a brand new field.
I was there the day Mountain Crest opened to students in 1983; shiny new bricks and tile, varnish on the woodwork, fresh carpet glue in the air so strong it gave us headaches. Unscratched lockers lined the hallways. Our new shrink-to-fit 501 jeans had more wear than the building because we had to soften them with a half dozen wash and dry cycles to get them on or have the crotch buttons work.
I ran through the bleacher tunnel that first day; helmet in hand after school to football practice. During drills the mouth-guards forced the air through our noses and with it came whiffs of freshly mowed grass mixed with the dairy to the north. Whenever we could, the mouth-guards dangled like pendulums from our facemasks.
“Bonneville High on Thursday!” the coaches shouted. “Will the first game on this field be a win?”
A few days later, we played. A junior varsity contest and I was the starting right guard. My teammates red faces not to mention our fresh scrapes and bruises proved how hard we worked. We still lost. The coaches berated us first and built us up second. It didn’t matter then and still doesn’t now. Collisions, violence and chaos, I miss football.
Has it been twenty-nine years? Big hair on girls and mullets on boys. Miami Vice’s bright colors and Don Johnson inspired white jackets over pastel t-shirts. What was in the air the night Phil Collins wrote that song? The drum solo at the end still gives me chills just thinking about it. At least our drugs came from the ground back then, not brewed in a mad scientist’s laboratory.
Cocaine didn’t stay in Florida. A contractor I worked for in the summer used to have one of the workers drive him from the job-site each afternoon.
“Take a break, Eric,” he’d say to me once a week on my day to chauffer the boss. He’d pile his briefcase and duffle in the hatch of my Pinto before stopping for a Big Gulp at Seven-Eleven—his treat. Thirty-two ounces of ice and carbonated caffeine’s not so big by today’s standards. We’d spend the afternoon going place to place. I’d sit in the car and he’d run in.
“Checking on a potential Job,” he’d tell me. The stops took most of the afternoon, and it was better than working. A few years later the contractor was arrested and the Polaroid developed. Our unfamiliar vehicles were a shell game for the cops.
Eddie Murphy’s F-bombs made us laugh. He was destined to be Donkey in Shrek. Bill Cosby was funnier and he rarely swore.
The sun burned us because the ozone layer was depleted. The scientific community was united. “Fluorocarbons from hairspray,” they said, “creates holes in the atmosphere to the north and south.”
The seeds of destruction sewn without our knowledge as women teased their hair higher. Then someone invented hair gel and saved the world. Or was it Kelly McGillis wearing her hair down and single handedly changing the style in Top Gun?
Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw scared us each night, telling us how the world would implode. Daily words of anger flew across the oceans forecasting nuclear holocaust. Hollywood bought in and so did the teenagers, who flocked to the see Arnold as The Terminator.
My folks had a cement room in their basement. Sandbags could be put in the window wells the moment the splitting atom turned the cold war hot.
Then a cowboy stood on a wall. He wore a suit and tie but we all knew he was a cowboy. He stood alone, staring down the enemy.
“Tear it down,” he insisted and the world blinked.
Perhaps a week earlier the Gods convened a counsel.
“The little pieces of energy we gave them as reality— they’ve learned to break them apart,” one of them said. Was the cowboy or Mr. Gorbachev listening? Maybe both.
The airwaves brought rock to our ears. Sammy Hagar couldn’t drive fifty-five and neither could the nation. And cocaine was the coping mechanism for all of it.
I tasted my first beer in the eighties and my second and third. A dairy farmer named Oscar taught me how to cuss while working my teenage ass into the ground. Four days off in eighteen months.
I repented and had a religious experience for two years and six days, but I wasn’t counting. Western Pennsylvania took me in. The rustbelt cities next to slow moving rivers with tug-boat pushed barges brimming with coal. Occasionally people believed us and got baptized. An eight-hundred page book changed my life. Which book? My book is my book. Find your own. It wasn’t the words. It was the elevation of spirit it gave me for one moment at a specific part. It made the two years and six days’ worth every second. For some, it’s the best two years in life. Me?
I should have that fourth beer and then repent again. Maybe I’ll just work hard like Oscar did and swear all I want. Near the end of his life Oscar came to church a few times. One Sunday the speaker told of a man who lived a profanity free life.
“Bet that bastard never owned a hay baler let alone a dairy,” Oscar said.
I met my All American skier wife at Mount Hood a few days after returning from Pennsylvania. Cute, curvy, healthy, a decorated athlete and she wanted to ride up the lift with me. Her blue eyes beneath the goggles, her heart shaped lips above the palmer glacier in August of 1988. That same night Vice President Bush told us to “read his lips.” He wasn’t the cowboy.
Janilee sat next to me on the ride home. She was better than me, better than rock and roll, better than skiing or a month of rock concerts, even better than football or any religion.
We had four daughters. The third is playing wing today on the turf at my old high school.
What’s turf all about? When did they replace the grass? Does it hurt when a player takes a digger? I’ll ask my daughter.
The post-goal, girl-hug cluster breaks up.
Their smiles infect us in the stands. We cheer and clap and shout. Our middle age aches forgotten in the joy of our daughter. The one they said wasn’t good enough a year ago. It pissed her off. She didn’t swear like Oscar, but she worked like him and came back to make the team.
I wrote her a letter a few weeks before try-outs. Pray. Listen. Be mindful of others. It was a religious outing, after all, where the teenagers had an hour to go read parent letters. Some spiritual thought went into my words, especially the final line.
“Go forth and kick ass,” I told her, and she did. Oscar would’ve loved it.
She gives us the thumbs up while trotting to mid-field. The referee sets the ball on the turf to restart play, and the whistle blows.