Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

Thirty-nine

Posted by ilbebe on January 9, 2009

Playing sports as a kid didn’t teach me quite the same life lessons that many people glean from their experiences. I’m not saying that my experiences with youth sports were wholly unique, everyone has their share of ups and downs and run-ins with unfairness, but I do feel that I got a uniquely nuanced sense of how quitting can often give you more strength than competing, particularly if you suck.

I was actually okay at my first sport, soccer. When I was in fourth grade in New Hampshire, my team was undefeated in the regular season, 4-0, and I was a pretty damn good fullback. A mixture of actual skill and simply having longer legs than most kids made me pretty effective at stopping the ball before it reached the goalie. Lunchtime soccer was a different story, however, and I remember one of my more standout moments there being when I ran full speed into the goal post and knocked myself out. I awoke to a scene from a movie; everyone peering down at me, one kid yelling out “He’s okay!”, people helping me up and telling me I was awesome. But then there was the day where I stopped two or three goals by a star fifth-grader and was jumped and beaten up by group of his friends after the bell rang to end recess. I didn’t cry, I don’t think there was enough air in my lungs to allow it, I just laid there satisfied in my defeat. The sky had never looked more blue than when I stood up afterwards, and I felt like I was in control of something as I walked across the empty playgrounds back to the school building.

A similar sense of control would excite me a few years later while playing lunchtime basketball at my middle school in California. This was in the midst of puberty, where any semblance of balance I had checked out for about five years and I was always falling down. I was pushed, fouled, and I hit the ground and just decided not to get up. I lay on the ground and listened as the other kids’ jeers quickly turned to pleas for me to get up so that the game could continue. I didn’t move until a teacher came over and told me to a few minutes later. As I stood up feeling good about the disruption I’d caused and the fact that I was several inches taller than the teacher berating me, she asked What’s The Matter With You? Nothing, I replied. I gave a shit-eating grin and the game continued.

I was “good” at basketball until puberty ended and it was revealed that other people had actual talent, whereas I was simply big. There were countless times in middle school when I would get my own rebound two or three times before I could make a simple lay-up, but that changed as other kids gained the ability fake me out and get me to fall down in one direction while they moved past me in the other. The middle school teams I played on were pretty successful, so one game, an away game at Oak Grove in Concord, stands out for the dramatic way that a combination of forces made us beat ourselves.

It was pouring rain, so my near-shoulder-length hair was soaked before the game began. The gym was packed with students and parents from both sides of the contest, and the air was tense and humid. The game was well played and very close until the fourth quarter, when a few questionable foul calls in the opposing team’s favor incensed a parent of one of our guys, and led to him being kicked out of the building. His son told a ref to eat shit, and so he was thrown out of the game and a technical foul was assessed on our team. A rare Double T was called on both teams for further foul language while the free throws were being shot, and that led to the ref calling time to instruct the coaches to get their players under control, which of course was a fool’s errand by that point.

We lost by something like fifteen points, but I felt like I won something because with a few minutes left I pushed a kid a full foot shorter than me into the second row of the stands while he was jumping to shoot a three. The refs had stopped calling anything at that point, and so as I ran down the court on our fast break, I flipped off a whole section of Oak Grove parents in the stands. How can you say that doesn’t spell victory? It was the same logic I used while playing a golf match my Freshman year of high school when I started trying to take the biggest divot possible on every swing, since I couldn’t move the ball more than fifty yards at a time anyway. I sure fucked that course up, or at least I did until a coach told me my round was over and to go wait by the cars. I think that was on the sixth hole.

Was it these experiences that made me unplug my phone and no-call/no-show to quit my job at the Red Lion Hotel in Eureka in January 2004? In the preceding December, I’d turned down a job at the post office that I’d been trying to get for months when they asked me to start immediately, because I felt that I couldn’t screw the hotel over by leaving with no notice. After that I’d turned down a so-called promotion to assistant desk manager when I’d found out that it involved no raise.

“How much would the raise be?” I asked the human resources manager.
She consulted a file. “Looks like you’d go up to seven-fifty an hour.”
“That’s what I make now.”
“Oh.”

So when a four-day weekend I had scheduled so that I could hang out with a friend coming to visit was cancelled when my boss fired someone for a petty personality conflict, it infuriated me, and I thought of the helpless look of that little kid I shoved into the bleachers. The incident got sort of ugly when the hotel called my emergency contact, my Mom, after three days of not being able to contact me, and it certainly didn’t feel good as my broke, jobless ass contemplated suicide well into the spring, but until the “Are you alive?” call from my Mom came, I felt certain that giving up was the way to go.

However, in the massive depression of the winter of ‘04-‘05 a year later, I realized that letting go was much better than giving up and running away. I attempted to outline the feeling in a song I wrote later that year called Ghost of a Good Time. These are the first lines:

Take a view of a life as a still from a film and study the body language
Is it tense, is it chilled, is it strained and filled with an unmistakable anguish
Can you imagine feeling all right?
Take the drink in your hand, think about where you stand on going into that good night

Let go of the anger you have known
Let go.

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