Thursday, June 02, 2005
Comeuppance (Tales of Sweethome #1)
Intermittently, I will be posting flash fiction about small-town life. Some parts of these stories may be true, some not. On the whole, probably not. "Sweethome" is my homage to Toni Morrison.

I played football from the 6th grade onward. It was just something you had to do to get along in Sweethome. Parents of friends would ask, "You going out for football this year?" and if you weren't, well, you'd better be in a wheelchair. You couldn't be a man and not play football.
In the 9th grade, we had a coach who had been around long enough and was thought of highly enough that he should have been the head coach in high school. Why wasn't he? Because he was also highly thought of by high school girls. At least, enough of them like him to cause talk among students, administrators and parents, mostly because he never discouraged the girls. More than one girl boasted of her conquest of him. So it was apparently thought that he could maintain a lower profile by teaching in high school and coaching in junior high. Go figure. It wasn't the people he was coaching that he was dating. Did I mention he was married as well?
During two-a-day practices, so-named for the obvious reason, we were all vying for certain positions on the team. Against my own wishes, Coach had me on the line at the guard spot. The guard hardly ever scores touchdowns, hardly ever becomes homecoming king, hardly ever gets endorsement deals. Let's just say my heart wasn't in it. I had shot up about 4 inches and added 30 pounds between the end of 8th grade and the beginning of the 9th grade year, however, so the coach decided to try and take advantage of the size. So we're practicing, some of us in very unfamiliar positions, trying to impress this guy who we respect more for his reputation as a swordsman than a football coach.
I wasn't doing very well, mostly because the positions I was used to called for me to get open and catch the ball rather than trying to keep someone away from my quarterback. Our quarterback, another person unfamiliar with his role, was picked because of his overall athleticism rather than his brainpan capacity. Still, it wasn't his fault he kept landing on his back. A couple of times, it was mine. A kid who had also grown exponentially yet loved the position he was called upon to play kept getting by me and sacking the quarterback. Coach finally got fed up with it the third time my guy got through and planted our QB. "Damn it, T, what the Hell are you doing?" I just stood there. When a coach yells at you, you just stand and look down; it'll be over soon. You learn this at about the same time you learn that, when a penalty is called on you in a game and the coach yells for you to come over, you pre-empt him by saying the ref was wrong or that it wasn't you before he can tell you to get your head out of your ass. The coach would much rather believe the ref was wrong than his teaching was wasted. Coaches will yell, grab you by the facemask or push you out of the way to demonstrate the right way to do what you screwed up. Usually all three at once.
That's what Coach did. But evidently I wasn't humble enough before our Lord or he didn't like my looks because he took it a step further. He said, "Here, stand over here." He took me and dragged me behind the center. Then he gave me the ball, told me to hold it up as if I were about to throw and not move. Next, he said, "Do you know how it feels to be hit when you're standing like that?" Nope. "Albert," he said to the defensive player, "when I say go, tee off on him. Remember, he's not allowed to move." Albert was a real team player and agreed to do what the coach wanted. Everyone else stood around and watched, as I wasn't exactly filling in for the QB, just being used to make a point. Coach turned back to me. "You ready?" Uh, yeah, I guess. "You're stupid, then. Go take a lap." The way he looked at me and the burning on my face are two things I will never forget from that day.
The next year, I joined the high school team and Coach had been made an assistant at the high school level. Again, go figure. He was in charge of defensive backs and I was a tight end, so I didn't have much to do with him. If he even remembered the incident he gave no sign. In fact, my senior year, I wound up being his aide as part of my "athletic" class which meant I got an A to sit in his office one hour a day and make sure no one stole his football whistle. Didn't mean I liked him any more, though.
All through these years rumors of one girl or another floated through the halls. Still, nothing came of it and even I thought that maybe the rumors were untrue. Typical of male thought-pattern is the idea that these types of rumors can only help your standing, whether true or not.
About 10 years later, some people I knew from high school that never left Sweethome told me that the rumors had, at least in one instance, been true. Coach had been caught with a 16 year old girl about two weeks before this. A guy I went to school with had become a deputy sheriff. On a routine patrol in the backwater roads leading to various state parks and boat ramps, he had spotted a car on the side of the road with its parking lights on. Upon investigation, he spied a couple inside in various forms of undress. He was going to just move them along until he saw who it was in the car. Coach was with the girl and looked appropriately surprised to be summoned from the car by a deputy. When he saw who the deputy was, he pleaded with him to let them go and that it wouldn't happen again. I don't know what made my friend from school do what he did. Maybe it was honor, maybe it was the fact that he was, indeed, witnessing a crime and he felt duty-bound to report it. Or maybe he just felt like being a jerk. He shook his head and said, "Sorry, Coach, I gotta call this in." Coach lost his job, his marriage and his liberty for a little while. Surprisingly, Coach wound up marrying the girl.
A couple of years ago, I went to my favorite used bookstore and was browsing in the remote part of the store. Out of the back came an employee I hadn't seen before with a box of books for the racks. When he passed me, I gave a little start when I realized it was Coach. Older, with less hair, but still Coach. He didn't seem to recognize me at first, but he did do a double-take when he saw me looking at him. In his face were conflicting emotions of shame, defiance and anger. I could see him willing me to just leave him alone. And that's what I did.
posted by Lavaughn Towell @ 9:20 AM | 3 comments

At 1:21 PM, Blogger Rachel said...

Oh my goodness!!! PLEASE tell me that 90% of this story is untrue because it's just...there are multiple tiers of wrongness here!

"On a routine patrol in the backwater roads leading to various state parks and boat ramps"

Not always true! Some of those backwater roads lead to a house with a porch and two guys in front playing a banjo.

At 5:20 PM, Blogger ET said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 6:09 PM, Blogger ET said...

Rachel, you know that banjo house?

Small towns generally involve "multiple tiers of wrongness"...and should be avoided at all costs!

I am interested to know what "various stages of undress" means. Can I (as in a singular individual) engage in various stages, or do I require a partner (LT, that's you)(okay, or Rachel) in order to be considered "various?" Just asking, you know...for the look of the thing...


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